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Published: Friday, 9/15/2006

ND sure it knows UM plan of attack

BY MATT MARKEY
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

You would expect that an offensive shaman like Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis would be able to scrutinize the Michigan offense, then go into intricate detail on its nuances, tendencies and gradations.

He would have charts and graphs, spreadsheets and analytical data on how the Wolverines will attack the No. 2-ranked Fighting Irish in tomorrow's showdown in South Bend.

But the genius of Charlie Weis breaks it all down a little more gritty than that.

"Well, they're just trying to smash it in your mouth," Weis said of Michigan's offensive approach. "They're lining up and saying we're going to maul you at the line of scrimmage."

Michigan has run the football 101 times in its first two games, and passed it just 43 times. The No. 11 Wolverines have 500 rushing yards in wins over Vanderbilt and Central Michigan, and have averaged a five-yard gain every time they've run the ball. Tailback Mike Hart has 262 of those yards, but Weis sees Hart's role as interdependent.

"The heart and soul really are those guys up front," Weis said. "I think that running back is darn good, but those guys up front, they've made a commit-ment - establishing a mentality that they're going to win the line of scrimmage."

Weis said too much has been made about Michigan not utilizing the passing game much so far - the Wolverines have had just 134 passing yards per game. With third-year starter Chad Henne at quarterback, and talented wide receivers like Steve Breaston and Mario Manningham, Weis sees a sleeping giant he would rather let rest.

"People can talk about their quarterback not having to throw it, and he hasn't had to throw it a whole bunch," Weis said.

"They've played smash mouth and done a good job. Everyone knows about Chad Henne. He passed for 3,000, 4,000, 5,000 yards faster than anyone in school history. They haven't had him throwing too much this year, but in the two games he hasn't thrown an interception either, so they're doing a good job on ball possession."

Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said his team will need to avoid turnovers and excel on special teams for its rushing game to make a difference.

"I think running the football makes you better at everything, but you still have to protect the football," Carr said. "These games, if you look back on them, what they come down to are turnovers, and the kicking game. Just take a look. I'm not going to do your homework for you, but that's what happens."

Carr, whose team has lost three straight at Notre Dame, bristles at the suggestion that history works against the Wolverines in the recent segment of the series. Michigan has lost four of seven to the Fighting Irish under Carr, and three of the last four games.

"What I'm trying to focus on is this date, this week," Carr said. "You want to go in to South Bend in a positive frame of mind, focused on just the things that you need to do as a player or as a coach to help your team win, because it's a team game. I mean, there's nobody going down there that's going to win the game for themselves or by themselves.

"Every guy is going to play as hard as he can on both teams, and there's going to be great effort. There's going to be some great plays on both sides of the football, and that's the joy of playing in a game like this against Notre Dame - in a tradition that we both have. What else could you want?"

Michigan safety Jamar Adams and Notre Dame safety Tom Zbikowski put the game in strikingly similar perspectives.

"That's why I came here," Adams said. "You come to Michigan to play in rivalry games, to play on national television, and to play against teams that are ranked top 10 in the country."

"This series has been going on for a long time," Zbikowski said, "and it's a physical game, and I love playing games like this. That is the reason why you come to Notre Dame, big games like this. You try and stay away from the hype, but it's one of the biggest things."

Weis said he expects a run on the ice bags when this one is over.

"It's always a bruising, physical game, and you know each team knows you're going to get the best performance from the other team," he said. "We know they're coming up here with the intention of winning the game. They're not coming up here hoping to win, they're coming up here expecting to win. We wouldn't expect anything less from a Michigan team that we have a great respect for."



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