Michigan and Notre Dame football square off for the 44th time in their illustrious histories this Saturday.
The 16th-ranked Wolverines and Jim Harbaugh are trying to salvage anything from this season. They sit at 5-2 and come in as 2.5-point betting favorites at home, according to BetNow. They lost a tough road contest in Happy Valley and limp home to play against a top-10 opponent.
Ninth-ranked Notre Dame (6-1) comes off a bye to travel to Ann Arbor, and the first part of that bodes well for them. Since Brian Kelly became head coach of the Fighting Irish, he’s 8-1 after idle weeks. This includes three top-25 wins, outscoring opponents 277-145 in those games.
They even won off their bye during a 4-8 season in 2016, when they knocked off Miami.
For all the heat Jim Harbaugh gets for lackluster results at Michigan, he’s money at home against ranked opponents. This is unless it’s against hated rival Ohio State. UM is 6-1 versus non-tOSU top-25 teams at home since Harbaugh started at his alma mater. This includes a 196-57 scoring differential.
So which of these trends will prevail Saturday? Here’s a breakdown of one of the weekend’s hottest wagers.
Notre Dame Offense vs Michigan Defense
The Fighting Irish’s offense didn’t fail to launch in the first half of this season. Besides the close road loss to Georgia, Notre Dame has 30 points or more in each contest. They rank 13th in scoring offense.
Despite Michigan losing major assets along their front-seven to the NFL, they’ve still maintained the 21st-best scoring defense.
Josh Uche, Kwity Paye, and Jordan Glasgow combined for 13 sacks in the first seven games, showing the pass-rush remains a major threat. It’s good enough for the 8th-best sack rate in the country. The defense as a whole ranks 19th on pass downs, which does them serious favors against a QB like Ian Book.
Book started with a 14-2 TD-INT ratio, although he’s coming off his worst game versus USC. Besides the Virginia (top-10 pass-rush) game, the o-line has supplied strong protection for him. Even Georgia went without a sack.
After UVA attacked them for four sacks, though, it’s safe to say Michigan could have similar success. Luckily, the Irish establish the run early and often. Tony Jones Jr.’s seven-yard average (557 overall) is impressive. Book has more than enough scrambling ability, too.
The QB isn’t prone to many turnovers, but the secondary for the Wolverines is very opportunistic. Michigan needs to replicate a game like against Iowa, a low-scoring affair with three INTs. Winning the takeaway battle is huge in a game like this when the over/under is set at only 51.
Michigan Offense vs Notre Dame Defense
Things are on shaky ground for Wolverines QB Shea Patterson right now. After only completing half his passes against Illinois—albeit with three TDs—he went touchdown-less against PSU.
His YPA, completion percentage, QB rate, and touchdown numbers are all down in comparison to last season. He still has one of the more talented receiving groups to work with and a line ranked 31st in line yards by Football Outsiders. But when it’s mattered the most, Harbaugh’s offense loses its juice.
Their 29 PPG is a mirage considering the 52 they scored versus Rutgers and the 40 against Middle Tennessee State. They have 24 combined against their two ranked opponents this season, Wisconsin and Iowa. While those are two borderline elite defenses, Notre Dame is no slouch either.
The Irish rank 15th in opponents PPG and 21st in FEI’s defensive ratings. That latter number includes a top-10 turnover rate, going back to the TO battle mentioned above. The Wolverines rank 107th in offensive turnover rate, which includes Patterson errant passing.
One his star receivers, Donovan Peoples-Jones, needs to ascend to the next level of his development this week. With Notre Dame returning CB Shaun Crawford (elbow) from injury, this receiving corp will need to be the biggest difference-maker for Michigan offensively.
For being a freshman, RB Zach Charbonnet played gutsy against PSU (15 carries, 81 yards). But Michigan can’t expect those kinds of numbers each week.
The defensive line he’ll face is a little odd, to say the least. They’ll supply plenty of pressure on Patterson (17th in sack rate), but they’re also dreadful on pass downs (121st) and in opponents’ rate of success (120th) on carries of four yards or more.
Finding balance is important, and the Wolverines certainly could find it with those last two numbers. Patterson can’t be asked to do it all, or they risk turnovers flipping the game for the Irish.
Michigan vs Notre Dame Betting Prediction
The Wolverines protection hasn’t been particularly strong this season. They also aren’t necessarily the team to fully take advantage of Notre Dame’s soft spots in the middle of the line.
If Patterson can get in a groove with People-Jones and Nico Collins, these receivers can take over a game. But the Irish can at least neutralize some of the nation’s better quarterbacks, and Patterson’s not one of those right now anyway.
With the running game coming around for Notre Dame as of late, all the weight of the offense won’t come down to Book’s performance. That’s great against a defense they must keep in-check given the pressure they bring from the edges.
Lastly, the turnover battle still swings in the Irish’s advantage. I trust them more with the football, which means I trust them more with the game. The spread is great. Given Kelly’s success with an extra week to prepare, I’ll take Notre Dame straight up at +115.