Inside The Numbers: Notre Dame Offense vs. Michigan Defense
No. 8 Notre Dame heads to Ann Arbor this weekend to take on the No. 20 Michigan Wolverines. It’s the second straight rivalry game for the Irish, who will look to improve their College Football Playoff resume.
Of course, a loss would be a resume killer.
Michigan is just 1-9 against Top 10 opponents under head coach Jim Harbaugh, but the Wolverines are an impressive 28-4 at home during his tenure, which is now in year five. Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly is 0-2 at Michigan Stadium.
If Notre Dame wants to come away with a victory its offense will have to be at its best against a Michigan defense that is once again considered one of the nation’s best.
Let’s kick off our week-long analysis of this matchup with a look at how the Notre Dame offense stacks up on paper against the Michigan defense.
Notre Dame Scoring Offense vs. Michigan Scoring Defense
This is a matchup of strength vs. strength. From an efficiency standpoint, Notre Dame ranks 19th according to the Fremeau Efficiency Index and 17th according to the ESPN Football Power Index. Michigan’s defense ranks 17th according to the FEI and 20th according to the ESPN FPI.
Notre Dame holds the advantage in scoring, red zone and turnovers while the Wolverines hold the edge in total yards, yards per play and third-down. This game could ultimately come down to the team that wins this matchup.
Neither team has been tested by multiple top units on the opposite, but in those matchups Notre Dame has fared better.
Against opponents that rank in the Top 50 in defensive efficiency, Notre Dame has averaged 27.3 points per game, 372.0 yards per game and 5.5 yards per play. Against opponents that rank in the Top 50 in offensive efficiency, Michigan is allowing 31.5 points per game, 385.0 yards per game and 6.1 yards per play.
Notre Dame has averaged 29.3 points per game, 384.8 yards per game and 5.7 yards per play against opponents with a winning record. Michigan has allowed 22.0 points per game, 343.7 yards per game and 5.2 yards per play against opponents with a winning record.
The Irish offense was not overly impressive in either of its road games this season. It scored 35 points against Louisville, but the Irish offense wasn’t overly efficient, and it scored just 17 points in a road loss to Georgia.
Notre Dame holds a huge advantage in the red zone, but the question is can the Irish offense get the ball into the red zone enough times to take advantage.
Notre Dame Rush Offense vs. Michigan Rush Defense
This is another area where both teams are evenly matched on paper. Michigan holds an advantage in yards and yards per play, but Notre Dame holds the edge in touchdowns and tackles for loss (allowed).
Notre Dame got off to a good start in the opener, rushing for 230 yards (5.5 YPC) against the Cardinals. Over the next two games, the Irish averaged just 101.5 yards and 3.9 yards per rush. Things picked up over the next three games, with Notre Dame averaging 232.7 yards per game and 5.9 yards per rush.
That includes 157 yards and 4.2 yards per attempt against a Virginia defense that is giving up just 96 yards and 2.8 yards per rush during the season. Running back Tony Jones Jr. rushed for 131 yards and averaged 7.3 yards per rush in that matchup. Jones has rushed for over 100 yards in each of the last three games and is averaging 8.2 yards per rush during that stretch.
The story for Michigan is similar, it was good in the opener, holding Middle Tennessee to just 67 yards (2.4 YPC) on the ground. Over the next two games, Michigan gave up 279.5 yards per game and 4.7 yards per rush. Wisconsin rushed for 359 yards and averaged 6.3 yards per attempt in its 35-14 victory over the Wolverines.
Since that game, Michigan has given up just 53 yards per game and 1.6 yards per carry, although those four opponents rank between No. 52 (Penn State) and No. 116 in rushing offense.
Notre Dame Pass Offense vs. Michigan Pass Defense
Advantage: Notre Dame
Michigan’s pass defense numbers should give it the advantage, but when you dive deeper into the data it becomes clear why the Irish are given the edge.
Michigan has not played a single Top 40 pass offense all season from a yards standpoint, and it has played just two opponents that rank in the Top 50 in pass efficiency offense. In those two contests, Michigan has allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 65.9 percent of their passes and allowed a 153.51 passer rating.
The Wolverines allowed 7.6 yards per attempt and 11.5 yards per completion in those games.
Michigan gave up three passing touchdowns and 13.0 yards per completion against Penn State this past weekend, and the Nittany Lions are the only team with a group of receivers and tight ends that compare to what they will face against Notre Dame.
Notre Dame, however, has faced two pass defenses and two secondaries (Georgia, Virginia) that are superior to Michigan’s. The Irish didn’t light the world on fire in either game, but quarterback Ian Book completed 63.9 percent of his passes in those games and threw for 275 yards in the road loss to Georgia.
In the past three seasons only two quarterbacks have passed for more yards against Georgia than did Book, and one of those quarterbacks was Baker Mayfield of Oklahoma.
Two keys in this game will be how Notre Dame utilizes its combination of size (Chase Claypool, Cole Kmet) and speed (Braden Lenzy, Michael Young, Lawrence Keys III) against the Michigan secondary. The other is Michigan’s aggressive pass rush/blitz schemes against the Notre Dame offensive line.