5 keys for Notre Dame against Michigan: flustering Patterson, riding hot hand

Carter Karels
South Bend Tribune

Here are five keys for Notre Dame when it hosts Michigan at 7:30 p.m. EDT Saturday.


While full of talent and upside, Shea Patterson hasn’t proved he can rank among the best. The former Ole Miss quarterback threw nine interceptions across seven games last season. Although Patterson garners the dual-threat label, he rushed for -16 yards. Patterson joined a much better team, but the fit remains unclear. What’s certain is Tarik Black — Michigan’s No. 1 wide receiver — won’t dress out due to a leg injury. Patterson’s first appearance in a Michigan uniform will be before a raucous crowd on the road. Notre Dame’s defense can do the rest by forcing Patterson to make the same poor decisions he committed last year.


Last season, the Irish lost both games in which Wimbush threw two interceptions. Risks don’t bode well against this Michigan defense either. The Wolverines ranked first in passing yards allowed, fourth in defensive pass efficiency and third in total defense in 2017. Michigan returned each member of that secondary as well. So adversity will come. The question becomes whether Wimbush will mishandle it like he did at Miami. His best option will be limiting mistakes and sticking to what he does best: running the football. Expect the Irish to frequently rush Wimbush, especially with their comfort level in backup Ian Book.


Junior left tackle Liam Eichenberg will be tasked with one of Notre Dame’s biggest challenges. Saturday will also be his first collegiate start. The Wolverines ranked T-7th in sacks and T-1st in tackles for loss last season. Defensive lineman Rashan Gary — who Eichenberg played against in high school — registered 11.5 TFLs and 5.5 sacks as a sophomore. Gary was among five returnees from last year’s front seven. Eichenberg will receive help with tight end sets and chip blocking. But his isolations on Gary and Co. will be pivotal in protecting Wimbush.


The expected sidelining of senior Dexter Williams emboldened more competition among Notre Dame’s running backs. None of the remaining five, however, definitively separated themselves. Tony Jones Jr. has the only collegiate experience among the group. But his 44 career carries for 232 yards will not buy him assurance. The junior will be first in line, but the hottest running back against Michigan should receive the heaviest workload. Rushing yards might be hard to come by, as Don Brown’s unit ranked 18th against the run last season.


Notre Dame already needed to handle the unpredictability encompassing a Patterson-led Michigan offense. The news of senior cornerback Shaun Crawford — who tore his left ACL in Tuesday’s practice — created additional adversity for the Irish defense. Crawford’s absence lightened the depth and versatility across the secondary. He served a utility role, finding himself at cornerback, rover, safety and nickelback. Crawford’s void forces younger, unproven players to deliver or add depth at multiple positions. Clark Lea must adapt to this situation in his first game as a defensive coordinator.

ABOVE: Running back Tony Jones Jr. (34) could play a large part in Notre Dame’s backfield against Michigan on Saturday.
RIGHT: Junior quarterback Shea Patterson (2) will make his first start for Michigan on Saturday.