News (and other important items) bullets:
- Hopkins will be major contributor, can compete for starting position at RB
- Borges wants to use less shotgun -- Saturday wasn't representative
- Mattison does not plan to put any one cornerback on Michael Floyd all game
- Woolfolk is healthy and practicing at full speed
- Woolfolk will remain on special teams
- Barnum will be back this week
- <3 Kovacs
Coach, you look great. “Well, thank you.”
How would you assess Denard’s performance? “He managed the offense very well first time out. He had very few errors. A couple of deals, but nothing catastrophic, which is really all you ask for the first time out. He didn’t create the big plays that he’s used to, but our tailbacks did. So as long as somebody does, we’ll be fine. Eventually that part of his game will surface.”
Did you get use enough plays on offense you wanted to? “Oh, it wasn’t even close. We ran 39 plays. I mean, we didn’t even scratch the surface. There was so much left in the bag, just the way the game went, which is kind of good. Didn’t even begin to approach our menu.”
The one play where Denard scrambled and almost threw a pick, did you use that as a teaching moment? “Of all the plays he had, that was the only play that was a little higher risk. After the fact, he realized he should have probably checked the ball down to the tight end in the flat, but he got a little greedy on that one. But for the most part his decision-making was fairly accurate, other than a play or two.”
Is it hard to get a gauge of your offense with only 39 plays? “Yeah, a little bit. But you have 39 to judge, [so] judge and go from there. It was incomplete in so many ways. But it was a win, and we’ll take it, and we’ll go from there. We got another week to practice.”
This horse isn’t dead yet. Let’s beat it some more. Fitz vs. Shaw? “Both of them showed up. We ended up playing them both, probably Fitz a little more than Shaw, but Shaw did some nice things.”
Can you comment on Notre Dame’s defense? “They’re legitimate. Their third-down percentage -- [USF] got two or three third down conversions on them. If you look at their numbers, South Florida didn’t move the ball very well on them. And just because of the circumstances of the game, they lost, but the defense, I thought, was outstanding. Te’o the linebacker was as active and as physical a player I’ve seen in a while, and that’s quite a statement. He is a good football player. They get pass rush with only four guys. They don’t have to blitz, which is disconcerting. They’re good on the back end -- Harrison’s around the ball all the time. Ball hawk, physical, well-coached. They use their hands real well up front on the line. They’re good.”
What do you see in Harrison Smith? “I think he puts himself in position real well. He doesn’t get out of position a lot. He’s got a feel for where the ball’s going. It looks like he plays smart. He’s physical. He’s just one of those guys I’m sure they count on.”
Passes were distributed pretty evenly between receivers against Western. Is that going to be how you do it for the rest of the season? “Not necessarily, no. I think there’s going to be games where you’ll see one guy catch a bunch of balls, and the other guy won’t catch as many, and vice versa. Once you get into the battle, you don’t know how it’s going to go, so you’re never sure exactly who’s going to get it. Now you design certain plays to go to certain guys, but because of the nature of the defense you’re not going to get it to those guys. You always want a degree of distribution, but I’m not obsessed with [the idea that] everybody needs to catch x amount of balls. I could care less about that. What I care about is taking what the defense gives you, and if that means one guy catches ten passes, then so be it.”
How did Denard do under center going through his reads? “I thought he did a pretty darn good job. For his first time, his under center play was really good. His shotgun play was -- that’s kind of his power zone, and that’s why we’re going to use that and do that stuff. His under center play was solid. His mechanics in terms of exchange, tracks and things -- had a couple of errors on some tracks, but for the most part was pretty reliable.”
Only two of Denard’s runs were scrambles. Were you pleased with patience in pocket? “He did a nice job on one scramble particularly. I think he got a first down. He came off one of his receivers a little quick -- but for the most part, what you have to understand is you want him to give the pass a chance, but you don’t want to be so obsessed with him always wanting to check the ball down, because he is the best checkdown you could have. So what could be perceived as impatience is sometimes a little more designed than you might think.”
Talk about that NFL pass to Grady? “That was the second option. That was a good play. They jumped the slide play, and he threw the ball. That was a nice play by him. He reset his feet, got his hips set, and he hit [Grady] right in stride. That was totally designed. And no scramble there.”
How would you assess O-line play re: Schofield vs. Barnum? “Mike had a good game. Mike did a good job. He was very solid in there. And now this week, we’ll see how the thing goes [between Schofield and Barnum]. It’s nice to know [Schofield] can, if that makes any sense.”
Is Barnum back in the lineup for Notre Dame? “Oh yeah. Absolutely.”
Talk about going for it on fourth and one. Whose call is it? “It’s my playcall, but it’s [Hoke’s] decision.”
Do you coach Denard on his scrambling or do you allow him to improvise? “When the protection breaks down or the pocket gets pushed or for some reason he can’t see, he has to go to an improv mode. All our improv has structure, but Denard does a lot in there that I don’t draw on the board. The one thing you don’t want to do is inhibit a playmaker. A guy that can do some things, you don’t want to make him so that he’s so robotic he’s not doing what he’s capable of doing. Yeah, there’s structure within our improvisation, but his ability to create -- I always talk about create without doing something stupid. He’s living by the law pretty good, knock on wood.”
Would you have gone completely vanilla if there had been a fourth quarter? “Had we scored on the last drive, we probably would have gotten a little more physical. It’s hard to say, but when we get ahead, we like to run the football if we can without being too conservative.”
Is the ratio of shotgun vs. under center what you’ll stick to the rest of the season? “No, no … no. The game had no balance to it with regard to that. If we had played a fourth quarter, we would have been right about where we wanted it.”
Would Devin Gardner have gotten some snaps? “I don’t know. We’ll see. I couldn’t tell you. That’s up to Brady.”
Is Hopkins going to have a role this week? “Oh, absolutely. You bet. He was in the fold big time. Before he couldn’t play, but now that he’s back, he’s going to be a factor. He’s a good player. He brings something to the table. He’s a big back that you like to have.”
Is he competing for the starting job? “They’re all competing still. I’m not counting him out of the mix.”
(more after the jump)
A photo of the elusive Greg Mattison in his natural habitat.
Can you share what it’s like to have coached on both sides of rivalry? “It’s a great rivalry. I mean, you’re talking about two of the greatest schools in college football in athletics. I don’t think there are any better when you look at the whole package of it. I know it’s a huge rivalry for everybody involved in it. It’s Michigan. It’s Notre Dame. That’s what it is.”
Was it weird when you went from Michigan to Notre Dame? “Yeah, it was hard. I can tell you that was hard because it was Michigan … you know, I can’t honestly say if I even really knew what a big rivalry that was. I never grew up being a Notre Dame fan. I’m a Lutheran, not a Catholic. When you do that decision based on family, once you’ve made that decision, you kind of go, ‘Whoa.’ But I had a great eight years there. Got to see my family through school and my daughter in collge there, so that made it a really, really good deal.”
Assess defensive performance early in the game and how you adjusted later? “The thing that happened is what you kind of worry about happening when you have so many guys that haven’t played a lot of football. You probably got the toughest scenario you could get because it was a very fast paced -- they were switching personnel groups in and out without us really being able to see what they were, and you got defenses that you’re playing for certain personnel groups that you hadn’t against a different group. This young group needs to see everything.
“Then it goes down to when a team hurries like that and speeds up the pace, communication is everything, and that’s something we’ve been harping on. With a young group of guys and young linebackers that haven’t played a lot, the communication is the first thing -- when it all happens -- it goes. [During] that [first] drive, there was a number things that we weren’t aligned correctly on. And we’re not good enough to do that. We’re not good enough to not be perfect at what we’re doing. Once they came off the side and we settled them down, and we just said, ‘Hey listen. There’s a whole ball game ahead of us. If we get these things corrected we’ll be fine.’ And then we get the interception, and [we] let them pick back up again.”
Hoke wasn’t happy with D-line play. “Neither was I.” What stuck out to you? “I wouldn’t just single out the defensive line. When we looked at that tape, I knew what I would see. That is not how we want to play defense. Our whole thing is stopping the run. Some of those runs were me -- I’m calling pressures to try to get after the quarterback and he runs a draw, and we didn’t fit our gaps right. That kind of thing happens. Others they weren’t. We have to be able to stop the run. Anytime a team runs the football on your defense, you can’t have a great day. I think a lot of our fits, our backers fitting, our defensive line knocking them back, playing real physical every snap, all those things have to improve.
“The one positive thing in the entire game, though, was we kept the ball inside and in front for the most part. We can’t allow a big play [to become] a homerun play, and that quarterback is a big time quarterback, and that wide receiver is a great wide receiver. So our guys did keep the ball inside and in front, so we could get more guys on the tackles.”
Rees vs. Crist? “Well, I think that they’re both very good quarterbacks. The one thing that you have to understand with Rees is he was the starting quarterback the last four games [of 2010] and they won all four. And then he goes in this game in a half and throws for 300-some yards or whatever. So obviously he’s a guy that when he goes in ball games, he does a great job. I think both of them are very talented. You wouldn’t be at a school like Notre dame or Michigan if you didn’t have talent. I think they both have good arms, and they both appear to be very intelligent, and they both have a great wide receiver."
How do you get D-line up to where you want it to be? Will you keep blitzing as much? “It depends if a team is going to throw as much as [Western Michigan] threw. It all depends on what the team does. We won’t sit back and play zone coverage until we have the ability to get a rush with a four-man front. And that comes from technique -- that comes from a lot of things. It’s not fair to that secondary and it’s not fair to that underneath coverage to let a quarterback like that hold it. I’m not going to say I’m a guy that’s going to blitz every down, but when it dictates it, then I think you have to.”
Do you need to get more production out of Craig Roh? “Definitely. He has to play better. One of the things we addressed is that we had too many players in that defense that did not get production. We have a big chart up in our hallway [where] you get points for tackles, for assists, for caused fumbles, all those kind of things, and then you also get minus points for missed assignments, missed tackles, that kind of thing. [Ed-M: Mattison keeps a UFR!!!] On our defense we had too many guys that didn’t have a lot of points. You had one guy that had 47 points: Jordan Kovacs. So we gotta get more guys get production. And Craig’s one of those guys. We’ve gotta get more out of him. I think he knows that, and he understands. He saw the film himself. He understands he’s a better football player than that.”
What makes Kovacs so special? “He’s a football player. He’s a Michigan football player. If you had a team of eight of those. I’m not going to say 11. Eight of those. You might sit on a lawn chair and watch the game. That hit that he came on one of the pressures -- you all saw the picture. It was what you tell and what you coach. Put your face right through his chest. Wrap him up. Eyes up. And he put his helmet right through the football. The thing that people didn’t see on that was he was in the endzone almost the same time as Herron after he had caused a fumble and made the hit. That’s what Michigan defense is about. The same thing happened that was a positive -- Jake Ryan on his tipped [pass]. He hit the gournd after he tipped it, [and] he was the first guy down there next to Herron. And that’s what we’ve been talking about. That’s a great sign. Now we gotta keep doing that all the way through a ball game.”
Did Herron just happen to be in right place at right time or was he actively doing things right? “He was where he was supposed to be. He executed the defense and good things happen. Thank goodness he’s fast. He never looks like he’s running that fast, but not many people catch him.”
Kovacs said he expected to have fewer tackles in this new scheme. But he led the team in tackles on Saturday. At what point is that going to change? “I hope soon. You hit it right on the head. When your safety is making a lot of tackles, that’s not a good thing. It’s a good thing we have Jordan Kovacs, but that’s not a good thing [for him to be making all the tackles]. That happened a number of times -- if a linebacker were where he was supposed to be, he would have made that tackle. The great news though is Jordan was where he was supposed to be, and I think at times when I’ve watched, he’s been up in there too far, because he’s been trying to make [the tackle], and all of a sudden if he misses the tackle, [the other player] is gone.”
Does having a guy like Kovacs allow you to do more with the defense? “Well it allows you to call it without wincing. No no … I have confidence in the entire defense. I wasn’t pleased with our performance. I was pleased with the win. I was pleased with the turnover margin, but as a defense I can’t say I was pleased because I really, really believe in my heart we can be much, much better than this. And we have to be. We have to play better defense than what we did. “
How do you defend Michael Floyd? “You better make sure, number one, that you’re playing with great technique on him. If you don’t -- in the back end -- if you don’t play with perfect technique, you’re going to get exposed. I think the second thing is you can’t allow the quarterback all day to throw to him, and I think you have to give him a number of different coverages so he doesn’t know all the time what you’re getting.”
Are you going to play one cornerback on him the entire game? “No.”
Was Woolfolk on pace for Kovacs’ level of production before he left the game? “He made some very physical hits on those bubble screens, which was great to see. I would love to see him play that game. He needed that. I would have loved to have that thing go four quarters. We needed it. We need every second of playing under pressure that we can get. But I’m glad that we got out of there like we did, and we got a victory, and now we just got to improve more.”
Was Woolfolk going full speed in practice today? “Uh huh.”
Will you lobby to keep him off special teams? “No. No I won’t. honestly, I will not … special teams play is a huge, huge part in our defense -- if you saw where we started on defense after a number of those kickoffs. There’s three equal parts to the game, and I’ve seen too many coaches that will say, ‘I gotta have that guy.’ Okay then put another guy [on special teams] that doesn’t do as well and you’ll see how fast that ball comes back. We really believe in that here.”
What do you and Hoke talk about on headset? “He doesn’t have it on, does he?” But he said he did! “Oh I don’t even know. I tell you what, to be honest, he probably can hear everything I’m saying without the headset on, so I don’t know. Brady is -- he is tremendous on the sideline. After that first drive -- because he’s a great defensive coach -- He was over there saying the same things I was saying to those guys. A lot of head coaches might not have reacted like he did. And that pays dividends, because we trust these guys. We believe that they’re going to try as hard as they can. Now we gotta get their tehcnique better, we gotta get a lot of thigns better as coaches, but they’re going to try it, and they’re going to do it. Just like today’s practice. There was a whole bunch of mistakes … but you know what? They went hard. And we’ll get those corrected. We just gotta keep on eliminating those mistakes.”
Ryan Van Bergen
This is not the greatest press conference in the world; this is just a tribute.
Does Hoke talk a lot about ‘feeling players’? “A little bit, yeah.” What did he say about feeling a player’s impact? “Um, as far as whose impact?” Anyone’s impact. “Oh he just talks about everybody doing their jobs. Everybody making sure that they do their job and make sure they’re aggressive about it, and when he says impact, I think he’s just talking more about toughness and mentality that you bring to the game.”
You scored a defensive TD against Wisconsin a couple years ago. What’s it like watching Herron score? “It’s just really exciting, especially for Brandon, to have that opportunity. When you score on defense, it’s something that’s unexpected. It’s just such a big bonus for a team, when your defense is giving you twelve points, you’re going to win a lot of football games. We’re pretty excited about it, and we’re going to build off of it.”
Mattison said, ‘We’re not going to sit back.’ How much do you enjoy playing aggressive defense? “It’s fun. We’ve been excited about it for a long time. Coach Mattison is an aggressive-style coach. Once we figured what [Western] was doing offensively, we tried to attack them. One thing we have to do better though is we have to improve our four-man rushes. Coach Mattison can’t call a blitz to get after quarterbacks -- we have to go put pressure on them ourselves and help out our DBs. It was fun, but at the same time we have a lot to do.”
What do you have to do specifically to get better rush? “Up front we need to get off our blocks quicker, and execute our moves. That’ll come. That was the first game.”
What’s Hoke like on the sidelines? “Passionate. He’s got a lot of energy. You can really feed off of him. He’s got enough energy for everybody on the team. He knows when to be tough, and when to come over and tell you in a calm manner what to do. He’s got a really good feel for everybody and all the players and their attitude."
Was it hard to get consistency on the D-line with all the substitutions? “No, no, not at all. [Western] came out with a no-huddle. Hats off to them -- we didn’t know they were going to do that. So the coaches did a really good job of rotating. I think we probably played 7-8 guys on the defensive line. We needed that. It was 120-130 degrees on the field I heard. If we weren’t rotating, it could have gotten ugly really fast. We need that rotation, and coach wants to get more guys in. He wants us to be able to go full tilt when we’re in the game, and I think we were more productive because of it.”
Is there a night game you’ve played in that stands out? “Night games -- they’re fun as far as atmosphere and stuff, but the thing that people don’t realize is how much it sucks when you’re waiting around in a hotel. We wait around in a hotel before the game, so you’re sitting in your hotel room. Coach is trying to keep you occupied, but you’re waiting to play a football game, watching other football games in your hotel room. That’s a big wait when you’re getting up at nine o’clock and you’re not leaving to go play until five. But it is a good experience.
“One that comes to mind is when we went to play Iowa in their stadium. That was pretty cool. It just seems like the fans are just that much more into it when the lights are on. I don’t know why, but it does seem like it’s more electric.”
You didn’t give up many big plays. What went well? “We had some good things happen as far as we’ve been trying to limit big plays, because that’s been an Achilles heel of our defense for the last couple years, but we definitely need to improve. There are things that they did, and we knew they were going to come after us with certain schemes, and we didn’t stop them. There has to be some adjustments made. We had some good things, but we had a lot of room to improve, and luckily we got in to watch the film yesterday, so we can start working on that.”
How did you find out you were an honorary game captain? “Coach Hoke told me, I wanna say Friday? I think? He told me Friday. It was a big deal. It’s a very big accomplishment for me to go out there with those guys. A lot of players have told me they look up to me as a captain and a leader. I was excited. It was a really, really cool experience."
Does Hoke give out any individual honors, e.g. helmet stickers a la Bo? “Not really. Coach Hoke is a big advocate for ‘the team, the team, the team.’ The individual awards don’t mean anything if your team’s not winning. The emphasis on the team has really helped our guys come together and helped our chemistry. Presenting individual awards isn’t going to be in Coach Hoke’s -- that’s not in his personality. Unless I’m wrong and maybe something else comes, but right now I don’t think there’s anything lined up like that.”
Where do you rank the Notre Dame rivalry compared with MSU or Ohio? “It’s a big deal. We’ve been playing each other a long time. The history goes back. I think Michigan was actually the ones who taught Notre Dame how to play football, if you look at the history. They were supposed to go to Evanston and play Northwestern, but we went down to South Bend and taught Notre Dame how to play football. I think that’s how it went down. It’s a big deal. This goes back so far, and there’s so much history. That and we’re so competitive in terms of most wins in college football. I know they take it very seriously, and we take it very seriously. It’s exciting to be able to play in it."
Did you watch the end of the ND-USF game? What did you think of their offense? “Luckily for ND, they have two very talented quarterbacks. They had their hiccups, but it was their first game. They’re going to get into their zone, and they’re going to start playing well, and we have to be prepared to see both [quarterbacks]. No, I didn’t see the end of the game. I wanted to, but nothing against NBC, but I did not like the program they had on while the rain delay was on, so I was like, uh, I’m just going to watch the other ones. I did not see the TV copy. I will watch the film copy though.”
Talk about Notre Dame’s O-line. “Big. Notre Dame’s got some big offensive linemen. Their biggest one, though, I wanna say his name’s Charles Stewart, I’m not sure. He graduated. He was their left guard. He was like 370, a really big kid. Their right guard, Trevor Robinson, I think is his name. He was a kid that Michigan recruited, and I was his host when he was here. Their center’s really good, too. He’s been there for two years, I think, and very experienced. Their interior line is really experienced. I think they have younger guys on the outside, but they also have a year of experience underneath their belt. So they’re going to be a good test for us as far as a defensive front and where we are in comparison to other teams, because Notre Dame’s offensive line will be as good as any we’ll see.”
(more after the jump)
(Ryan Van Bergen, David Molk, and Denard Robinson will be up tomorrow morning.)
- Cam Gordon and Troy Woolfolk will play next Saturday
- Fitz remains starting RB
Press Conference (filmed)
"It is a holiday, but in your profession -- in our profession -- you really don’t have holidays, but that’s okay."
Opening remarks: “As far as last Saturday, it was good to win. The weather is -- you can never anticipate what happens -- but it was good to win a football game, and we think we learned a lot team-wise when you look at where we need to really improve. It was good to get out and obviously play someone else besides yourselves because we did that for four weeks. There’s a lot that we can learn from the film, there’s a lot that we can continue to learn from the film and improve on, and hopefully we’re gonna make a big improvement because the test gets much bigger this week.
“This is a great rivalry game, and one that we’re excited about obviously. There’s some other things that go along with this game this year with playing at night, the first night game, and the throwback uniforms, and all those things, but the one thing we talked about as a team is we can’t get caught up and distracted. The field’s still going to be 120 yards long when you include the end-zones, and 53-point-something yards wide, and so that’s not going to change. That’s where our focus has to be and how we prepare this week to play our best football and make a lot of improvements.”
Talk about the injuries to Troy Woolfolk and Cam Gordon. “Troy, he just sprained his ankle—his other ankle. It felt better yesterday. I think emergency-wise, he could have gotten back in Saturday. He’s doing a good job, and Paul Schmidt, our trainer, is doing a good job treating all those things. Cam, he tweaked his back earlier in the week, felt better but still just didn’t feel good enough. There was no sense for us to try and put him out there where he could prolong the recovery process, I would say.”
Anyone else? “No.”
Do you anticipate them starting this Saturday against Notre Dame? “Yeah, I do.”
You didn’t allow very many big plays of 20+ yards. How would you evaluate your safeties? “Obviously I think Jordan played a terrific football game, when you look at his production and the things that we asked him to do. I thought he played very well. He did miss one tackle in there, but he played well.”
“Marvin was getting his feet wet a little more in game-atmosphere kinds of situations, there’s a lot with the communication we need to have more of back there. He’s got to be more vocal -- he’s not a real vocal guy anyway.
“I think Thomas [Gordon] played well, but there’s some things that I know that he wasn’t satisfied with that he needs to improve upon, but he’s had a tremendous camp. We asked him to do a lot because when Troy went down, he moved into nickel in that situation. I think we were okay there. I think there’s a lot that we need to do a heck of a lot better this week.”
ND’s QB situation is kind of up in the air. How does that affect how you prepare? “To me, it doesn’t change anything in our preparation. With the style of offense that Brian runs, I think they’re very talented. [Notre Dame] will make the decision that’s best for the team, and we can’t worry about that. I don’t think it changes the offense in any way at all.”
What’s the most memorable Michigan-Notre Dame game you’ve been involved in? “I was here kind of in those odd years. We played Washington two years and we didn’t play [Notre Dame]. And then we played UCLA two years and didn’t play [Notre Dame]. I think [what was memorable] in the ‘97 year was when [Notre Dame] was inside the red-zone three times, and defensively [Michigan’s] guys stood up and didn’t let them get any points.”
Earlier last week it didn’t look like Herron or Avery were going to start. But then they played a lot. How come? “Some of it has to do with what kind of defensive set we were in. Courtney was the third corner coming in. Troy goes to nickel, Courtney comes on the field. I don’t think the [depth chart] played a part in it. Just what subgroup you were in. The other one was when Cam started hitching up with his back a little bit, we had to get another guy with some experience some reps in the design of the defense that we were in, and I kept going back with that because it depends whether we’re in the dime or nickel or base, where we line up -- but that was the only reason.”
You have countdown clocks for MSU and Ohio. Is Notre Dame on a different level? “Those are Big Ten conference games, that’s always part of it. In-state rivalries and obviously the rivalry on the last Saturday in November is special. [The Notre Dame rivalry] is important as anything. This has always been a game where … I remember Coach Schembechler always talking about, you always get a gauge on where you’re at as a team, because it’s always going to take a national spotlight, and it is an environment where you have expectations of how your guys are going to play.”
Is there one thing you were really happy with from Saturday? “Well, there’s probably a lot of things I was very unhappy with, but we’ll leave that for later. But here’s what I thought: Rushing for 190 yards in three quarters of game -- that was a good thing. I think that once Greg Mattison and the defensive staff made some adjustments [with] the pressure on the quarterback … The man coverage, we have to be much better this week because of the talent that Notre Dame has. But I thought there was a flow to the game then. Herron takes the ball back, and we come back out, and it’s a three-and-out. So we were starting to get some flow and momentum.”
Can you elaborate on what else you need to improve? “We have to play better run defense, we have to play tighter coverage in zone, we have to be able to pressure the quarterback with four guys at times, or with three guys at times from a defensive perspective. We had some missed alignments that were based on communication that you can’t have, or lack of communication.
“From an offensive standpoint, we took care of the football, which was big and always will be big. But there were a couple decisions that we need to make better, and we have to do a better job staying on blocks down the field because there were several opportunities for other bigger plays in the run game. Our routes, where [receivers] broke a couple of them off early -- the receivers have to be more disciplined within the scheme, especially when you’re in the timing phase of your game.
“And then the kicking game -- our kickoff coverage will get a lot of attention from where we place the ball on the kick to how we get off blocks going down the field. So that’s huge. Obviously we’re going to give a lot of attention to PAT and field goal protection on the inside. You can’t get knocked back, and that was part of the one that got blocked. A big part of it was because we got knocked back too much. Another problem was that the snap was too high. It took Gibbons a little longer to approach the ball because of that.
“I could go to the punt team, I could go on and on … kickoff return -- better decision than taking the ball out of the end-zone, getting on guys a little better, I mean this could be a marathon, but I don’t have the time for it, and neither do you.”
Will we see some different personnel in kickoff coverage? Well you could. It’s competitive, and you’re evaluated, and if we’re not doing the job we think we need to have, from a competitive standpoint, because part of getting off blocks is getting competitive, and having an intensity of what you’re doing. That part of it, believe me, was addressed yesterday and will continue to be addressed this week. There could be some different faces on there. It’ll be a fun week, we’ll put it that way.
Do you feel like D-line led the defense? “I think we played okay. We weren’t – you guys have heard me talk about ‘hearing football.’ You also want to feel guys during the course of a game. I felt number 32 during the course of the game. An impact. To some degree, I thought J.T., you could feel him out there a little bit. I never felt our front like we need to. Not to be specific – I think we played okay, but I think we need to play at a higher level and a higher standard.”
You ran 39 offensive plays. Was that enough to answer some questions or are there still some things for which you need to see more in order to evaluate? “I think it’s a little bit of both. I think there are some things that are still out there. Talking to Al and the offensive staff, there are some things we didn’t get to in the offense that maybe we would like to have gotten to a little more. We also saw some things that we wanted to get done, too.”
(more after the jump)
WMU Postgame Presser Transcript: Jordan Kovacs, Brandon Herron, Denard Robinson, and Fitzgerald Toussaint
Jordan Kovacs and Brandon Herron
Kovacs and Herron are in serious mode.
What did you think about the two TDs you scored? Herron: "For one, I want to thank God -- Jesus Christ my lord and savior -- and I also want to thank my team. This is a team effort, this is about a team, and I thank a lot of my teammates because we all work together as one. This is not about me all. This is about the team."
What happened on the INT? Herron: "Jake Ryan tipped the ball, and I was just looking up, and my legs just carried me. and I grabbed it, and then I just -- I remember Aubrey [Pleasant], our GA, he tells us, 'Any time you get an interception, run it back to your sideline.' So after I caught the ball, I just looked straight ahead --obviously no ball security whatsoever -- but I was just trying to get to the endzone."
Did it change the game? Herron: "Yes and no. It did change the game, but obviously you can have a score or you can run it in, and a lot of teams that lose a game ... so it was just a well-fought game that we just weren’t trying to give up. We were just trying to pound them, each and every play."
Did you feel like defense needed to make a play because of WMU's success earlier in the game? Herron: "Yeah, well this is our first time playing defense under coach Mattison. A real game, so it was a little shaky at first. We were struggling with the communication a little bit. We talk about poise and having that poise, so we just needed to sit down and just have that poise and just talk. We have to be able to communicate if we want to be a good defense."
Kovacs, how are you being used differently? Kovacs: "It’s a completely different scheme. I think we’ve got some more blitz packages that give me the opportunity to come down in the box and try and make a play."
How do you feel about blitz call, and can you describe your hit on Carder? Kovacs: "When you get the blitz call, you’re thinking, 'I gotta come hard and I gotta make a play.' I gotta give a lot of credit to the defnese. That was a defensive effort. I think the front did a great job of disguising it, and we had great coverage, and I just came clean and made a play."
How close do you feel to playing defense the way coaches want to play? Kovacs: "We’re getting there. It was shaky at first no doubt, but I think that this film will be pretty good to look at, so we can improve before next game."
Talk about how much more effective the defense was when you blitzed. Kovacs: "I think you gotta give a lot of credit to Western. I think they came out with a great scheme, but we kind of settled in, and we got some blitzes we hit home with, and I think Brandon’s play was a big gamechanger for us, so we did turn it around after a couple drives."
What was the reaction when game was ended? Herron: "Yeah, I wanted to continue to play. We still had a job to do."
Defense played better after lightning delay ... what did the coaches tell you? Kovacs: "I mean, we just kind of settled in I think. I don’t think that we did change too many things. I think we came out at halftime with a better scheme, and we just executed, and we played hard"
How did you spend that time during the delay? Kovacs: "It’s different. I’ve never been here during a game like that. Just kind of relaxing in the locker room, we just kept quiet and stayed focused, and we honed in."
Was it difficult to keep game mentality with start/stop? Kovacs: "I've never been through anything like that. I think we traveled up the tunnel several times. I’ve never done that before."
Hoke said he didn’t feel very good about D. What’s is his major concern? Kovacs: "I think we didn’t do a good job first few possessions. They were running the ball on us. We still have a lot of areas to improve in, and we’re going to do that with this film, and we’ll be ready by next week."
Did you do anything special for HC’s first victory? Kovacs: "We do what we do after every victory, and that’s singing 'The Victors.' "
Does this feel like any other win, or do you feel a little empty inside? Kovacs: "I mean, it’s different, but we’ll take it. It’s a win. A win is a win, and we’re happy with that.
Either of you on the kickoff team? Kovacs: "Both of us." Herron: "Obviously our kickoff needs to improve, which we’ll focus on that tomorrow or whatnot. We kind of let things get away from us a little bit."
Kovacs, have you ever hit a quarterback that hard? Kovacs: "That was my first one I guess. Herron: "It was loud, too."
How much of an emphasis is put on creating turnovers? Kovacs: "I think not only coach Mattison but coach Hoke emphasized that. That’s one of our team goals is to win the turnover battle because if you do that you’re likely going to win the game. That’s something we strive to do as every team does."
Did the mood change when Woolfolk went down? Kovacs: "We’ve got a lot of guys that can step up and play. It’s tough to see a guy like that go down again, but at the same time we knew somebody else was going to have an opportunity to step in and play. We have some experienced guys at corner."
Herron, how do you build off your performance today? Herron: "It’s just about taking one day at a time, with the involvement of my teammates. Like I said, we have to work together. This is not about an individual. This is about a team, and the team coming out here and practicing everyday and trying to get better, this is what it’s about."
When was the last time you scored a TD in organized football? Herron: "I’ve never scored a touchdown -- well, I take that back. It was probably in eighth grade when I was playing running back. Coach Jackson was not the coach." Tee hee. "It’s been a while since I’ve been in the endzone."
When you got INT, what did you see in front of you? Herron: "I saw the left tackle, then I thought he hit me, but after I got past him, I didn’t see anybody else."
What were you feeling at the 10-yard line? Herron: "Gassed."
In endzone? Herron: "Obviously my teammates jumped all over me, so that took everything out of me as well. But with the love and help of my teammates, that carried me back to the sideline."
Talk about your position switch during camp. Herron: "I was just playing my new position, the WILL and the dime. This is something I had been practicing all camp, so it was my new position."
During the fumble recovery -- did ball just come to you? Herron: "First of all, I want to thank Kovacs, but it was a call where we saw -- I can’t put it out there – but we made a check, and I ended up coming off the edge, and Kovacs got free. I don’t think the ball rolled my way. I think I went to go get the ball, and then just ran it into the endzone."
[Ed-M: emphasis mine. Eeeeeeee!]
Did you think about falling on it? Herron: "No. I just -- I don’t know. [It was] something that just happened in the moment, and [I] just picked it up and just took off."
Can you talk about anticipation of the night game next week? Herron: "I think the night game is going to be crazy. I think our fans are looking forward to next week, so with that being said, against Notre Dame, especially wearing our throwback jerseys, it’s going to be amazing next week."
What were the conditions like before the rain? Herron: "Oh, it was hot. I was drained coming off the kickoff and then having to go [play] defense. But having that camp, it mentally prepared us, and like Coach said, we’re going to have adversity. It just matters how you get through it."
Denard Robinson and Fitzgerald Toussaint
Denard and a guy who has more rushing yards than Denard.
Ever been through a game like that before? Denard: "No."
It looked like you wanted to stay out there before the second break. Denard: "We were ready to go. We were ready to keep playing, I mean, we get to play against somebody else! So we were ready to play."
What was your reaction to finding out you won the game? Denard: "When coach Hoke told us we won the game, everybody got quiet. It was like, 'Seriously?' Everybody wanted to play still."
How would you assess your performance? Denard: "I still got some learning to do, but I gotta do better. I thought I did all right."
How come there was so much shotgun and spread in the beginning? Denard: "Coach Al called all the plays, and I was ready. That’s all."
Fitz, talk about your emergence as starting RB. Toussaint: "I think it all started at the beginning of the week, we were still all competing, we still all need to work. We had to work on a couple things, and we had make sure everything was good with timing. We were just competing. I actually found out when I was taking more reps with the ones."
Can you describe the breakout run? Toussaint: "I was just running to daylight."
Any former michigan running backs get in touch with you to talk to you about the tradition or responsibility of your position? Toussaint: "No, sir."
Denard, what's it like handing off to Fitz? Denard: "I don’t want to juice his head too much. Fitz is probably one of the best running backs I’ve played with. When he gets the ball, he runs hard and he makes guys miss. He’s fast. He’s a good back."
What’s it mean for you to get two TD’s out of defense? Denard: "That felt good. I was kind of bored on the sideline. But I enjoyed it. I enjoyed it. I’m pretty sure he felt the same way, we were ready to get back on the field, and when we saw B. Herron take it to the house we were like, 'Ahh' and we were rooting on the sidelines, but then it was like, 'man I want to get back on the field.'
"But we enjoyed it. We enjoyed it."
Does this feel incomplete not finishing the game? Denard: "Yeah it feels different. Everybody wanted to go back out and finish the game, but it is what it is."
How did you spend your time during the first delay? Denard: “We treated it like a halftime, and everybody was just getting focused and getting ready for the game.”
How many of old (spread) plays vs. new (manball) plays were there? Denard: “I thought it was 50/50. We did both, and I enjoyed it.”
Is that kind of balance what you expected? Denard: “I didn’t know what to expect. We were just excited and ready to play. Weve been working on all plays, so whatever they threw at us, we had to be ready.”
Fitz, you’ve been injured a whole lot. How does it feel to finish an entire game (sort of)? Toussaint: "It’s still a little new for me. It’s a new experience for me. I just want to stay healthy and continue to keeping pushing on with my teammates, and keep the unity."
So they really didn’t tell you you were starting until Friday? Toussaint: "I mean, I kind of had a clue, but it was announced [on Friday]."
Denard, talk about Alex Carder? Denard: "He’s a great quarterback. He’s probably one of the top quarterbacks in the nation. I enjoy watching him play."
You were the third leading rusher on the team today. Is that ideal? Denard: "Oh yeah. Oh yeah. I enjoy seeing [Fitz] running the ball, and Mike Shaw get the ball, and Vince. I love seeing those guys getting out in space and making people miss."
How do you feel about short gains vs. long runs? Toussaint: "We just chip away until we get a long one. Credit to the offensive line, who keep doing their job, and eventually it’ll come."
When do you start preparing for Notre Dame? Denard: "After tomorrow, we’ll watch film on the game, and get ready for Notre Dame."
You've had some fast starts in the past but then fell off toward the end of the season. Why is this year different? Denard: "I don’t want to compare last year to this year. This is a new era, and we just want to keep going and win for Michigan."
Dave Brandon wants me to terminate in-game tweeting for my own safety.
Opening remarks: "Hi everybody. If this has ever happened before, I don’t know when, and it’s been in the way, way distant past. We did have a pretty good look at the forecast coming into today, and we spent a lot of time yesterday with contigency plans, and I thought my operations staff did a terrific job of keeping their eye on the weather. We had every weatherman in southeastern Michigan helping us out. It was an unpredictable day because these cells kept popping up and dying down really fast. We were hoping we could get it in. We got through the first delay, and we actually thought we had another hour-and-a-half window before the next big front was moving through, but this time of year, with the humidity and heat that we had, we just had buildups come out of nowhere.
"In a conference situation, as I understand it, the Big Ten has some very specific rules and protocols to follow. In a non-conference game, it's a little more open-ended in terms of how this is managed. But in the conference rules, the officials and the head coaches and the home athletic director meet with the director of operations, and in our case that would be Rob Rademacher, and we would make a call.
"The choices that we had were to wait it out -- and we looked at that -- the choices that we had were to suspend the game and leave the score where it was, and there were some other options, but none of those were acceptable. We decided after a bit of discussion, and I want to compliment coach Cubit and Kathy Beauregard at Western -- they were really terrific about this. We really thought about the safety of the fans, and we thought about the safety of the players, because to make them sit what could have been an hour and 45 minutes based on some of the projections we had with the weather, and then try to go out and get warmed up again and play more football would have not been in the interest of either team. If this was a close game that was into the fourth quarter and the game was in doubt, I think we would have waited it out because -- well, we would have either waited it out because that was what the coaches wanted to do, or we would have decided that this would have gone in the books as a non-game.
"But the agreement that was reached between Western and Michigan was that the game was in hand, and that the game would stand as the final score would be indicated, so that’s kind of where we are."
Are there any stipulations about this win (in terms of stats and records)? "It’s a win for Michigan. It’s a loss for Western. And all the records and stats will go in the books as if it were a completed game. We just terminated the game for the safety of the players and the safety of the fans and the reality of the situation with the weather."
What would have happened if this had been a Big Ten game? "If this was a Big Ten game we would have been on the phone with the commissioner’s office and would have had Big Ten officials in the booth, and we probably would have been more involved with the Big Ten office in terms of managing that entire situation. We contacted the Big Ten only because we were looking for some directions in terms of -- we anticipated the possibility of a delay today, and you saw what we did. We had the messages all up on the board, we had the script written for the announcer, we were ready to put the weather map from the Weather Channel up there. We anticipated the possibility of a delay, and we got one. What we didn’t aniticpate was what happened, and that was the weather just kept rolling in and it was a danger situation."
Was it a quick decision to cancel? "Once we went in for the second time, we thought that maybe it was going to be a short delay, and then it became very apparent that we would never get the teams out before this next round. We knew it was going to be a long time, and at that point, I got a call from the head of officials, and I was over in the operations booth by where you all sit, and I ran across the field and got over here to have the conversation with the officials and the coaches, and we reached the decision that we reached."
Would it have been possible to postpone the game? I don’t even know that that’s an option. Certainly somebody said, “Is there a way we could … ” but that was cast aside right away. Certainly somebody, and I think they were wearing a different color than maize and blue said, "Well, maybe we should just terminate the game and it really never happened." And we’d be here till 3 o’clock in the morning before we were going to settle that outcome, because I’m proud of our team, and I think we had the game under control, and our team deserved the victory, and it all worked out.
What do you think of first game of Brady Hoke era? "It’s a win. It’s a win, and I am proud of the team. I think if I remember correctly we scored defensive tocuhdowns. I think if I remember correctly we won the turnover battle by a significant margin, because I don’t think we turned it over. How many penalties did we have?" One. "One. I like that. And I thought we were pretty diversified on offense. We weren’t letting any one player get beat up, we had a lot of things happening out there, and we were getting the ball out there to a lot of people. So coach Hoke will get up here and tell you all the things we have to work on -- and boy there are a lot of them -- but I loved winning the opening game, and Brady Hoke is 1-0."
What were some of the issues concerning the heat? "We were worried about the heat a lot. The players have misters over there, and I know the coaches were working hard on rotating people in and out. But we were worrying about the heat for everybody. When members of the Western Michigan band went down before they even got out of the tunnel, that’s how they ended up stripping down to t-shirts and shorts, and I thought that was a good decision. Our band did a magnificent job, because they were in those uniforms and they were out doing their thing … we have a tough band. Tough band. But at the end of the day, it was a tough day out there, it was hot, it was humid, and that just added to the complexity of it all."
Brady Hoke thinks that my tweets lack top-end information. Accuracy, too.
Opening remarks: "For all of you that stayed dry, good for you.
"Obviously it’s an unusual circumstance to have the weather kind of stop the game when it did. I think [Western H.C.] Bill [Cubit] and myself both had concerns [about] how long we’d be stopped, how many times we would be stopped. I’ve got so much respect for Bill as a football coach and as a person -- I think both of us we worried about the kids. You go out there and you play your heart out, then you’re back in for another half hour. And you [get] a five-minute warmup, and then all of a sudden a lightning strike comes again, and then you come back in … and it didn’t look like this was going to get any better, so it ended probably not the way all of us would like it to, but as long as those kids can be healthy, and no one got needlessly hurt, then we’re all for it.
"As far as what did go on on the field, turnover margin is a statistic that’s very important in the game of football. Our offense did a tremendous job taking care of the football, and our defense created three turnovers, obviously two of them were for defensive scores, which is always fun, but I think our guys really understand that message that we sent about taking care of the football. Defensively I think some guys did a nice job up front of applying some pressure, or if you were a guy who was coming on a blitz. Kovacs did a nice job, and [so did] Jake Ryan. And they all got good push.
"The game itself, we got a lot to work on. You look at our kickoff coverage, I thought was not near what it needed to be. You look at some of the third down conversions -- and I haven’t really looked at that total number yet. I was pleased with the 190 yards rushing the football. You gotta control the line of scrimmage to do that. And I would say the other thing that I was pleased at was that we didn’t have any penatlies, and that’s an important part early in the season – all season long – but I thought our guys did a nice job for that part of it."
Did you imagine your first game happening like this? "No I don’t think so. It was kind of wild. Wet and wild."
How big was Herron's interception? "Huge. We talked all week -- offensively, they’re a very good football team. I think [Cubit] is one of the great offensive minds in college coaching, and the way he uses tempo, the way he uses personnel, and the quarterback Alex Carder, who’s as good as any guy that we may play all year. He’s got some great weapons out there. At the same time, we need to push the pocket a little more. I think also in some of the zone coverage aspect, we need to challenge a little more, be a little tighter."
What's Troy Woolfolk's status? "He sprained his ankle -- his other ankle -- if we would have needed him he was going to go back in [Ed-M: we thank you Angry Michigan Defensive Back Hating God in your mercy!] but the other guys held pretty well."
Did blitzing a lot help your defensive plan later in the game? You have a plan, and you have certain things, and you want to make sure you have enough bullets for your guys, and that was all part of it. Obviously at times when they’re in what we call 10 personnel/four wides [i.e. one back] you can outnumber them [when you come with seven]. The key to it is the guy who’s unblocked having a great path to the quarterback, and that helped us some."
Does Denard being the third-leading rusher allow him to do other things more effectively? We just had a plan, and Al had a plan that he thought would be successful against what they did defensively. Denard’s always going to have a hand in what we do. Number one he’s the quarterback, but secondly because of his ability to run with the football."
Why did you decide to make Fitz your starting RB? "I thought he finished off fall camp real well. Thought he had a nice finish."
Can you talk about Herron’s playmaking ability? "That was good. Obviously they were timely and meant a lot to where we were in the fooball game. I think Brandon’s a guy who will continue -- as a senior for us, as he learns a little more concept-wise -- will continue to grow."
Can you address the issue of the suspended players? "I think it was addressed. We didn’t dress them."
Denard’s first series looked a lot like last year's spread. Did you plan it that way? "Al and I had talked, and he was going to start the game with the 38-39 sweep: the quarterback sweep. That was a comfort level probably -- [that] you want [Denard] to feel good about, and I think we blocked it well. I think he got a first down on it, so I think we were in and out of [the shotgun] enough. I think with Shaw’s run and on Fitz’s couple times he pounded it up with the power play, those were good also."
Are there times where you look at the defense and say that’s how I want it to look? “Well it’s never 'I', it’s 'We'. We’re a long way from any kind of defense that we want to represent Michigan with.” But just to build confidence? “Yeah I mean that’s great. And it’s really good, you know. It’s always fun to score on defense. But there’s a hundred different things in that tape that tomorrow we’ll address and correct and get better with.”
Early on, Carder was 14 for 15. But then the defense got better. How do you feel about your defense right now? "I would say not very good."
Was the physical camp rewarding? "I think there was a midnset that they understand how we’re going to play. And I think you could see it a little bit -- third quarter up front on both sides, it was going to be more physical, it was going to be more attacking, it was going to be that kind of deal. I think you can feel that. I thought there were some hard runs. I thought Fitz ran the ball up in there pretty hard, took some guys on, which you want to see out of your backs."
Did you rotate on defense as much as you had planned? "Yeah, pretty much. I think if we would have been in our base front more, we probably would have rotated just a little more. But I thought we stayed pretty fresh. It was pretty humid down there, pretty hot down there. We did have a pretty good wind there for a while, but you wanted to keep those guys fresh during the course of the game."
How long will you let yourself enjoy the win? "Well, I understand they’re on TV, right? And they’re delayed? So we’ll look at Notre Dame."
Can you comment on Fitz vs Shaw at RB? "I think number one, they both found -- had good vision, let me put it that way. Michael’s got a little more top-end speed, so he was able to get away from the safety, but if you noticed on the one long run by Fitz, he lowered himself to go through a guy, and if you watch, you’ll see Junior Hemingway launching himself to try and get a block over the top. That was exciting to me. That was good football to me."
Talk about the level of senior leadership. "The one thing I’d say -- Troy -- he got banged up there and all that, and he worked himself in the trainer’s – Paul Schmidt and his crew did a great job with that -- but he worked himself, and you could keep hearing him on the sideline encouraging on both sides."
(I think this was the question, but Dave Ablauf was talking over Angelique) Will Cam Gordon be held out for Notre Dame? Yes.
Can you talk about how special teams played? "Kickoff returns were awful. On the one [long WMU kickoff return], the defense had been on a long drive, Herron gets the pick, and he runs it back 90-whatever yards it was, and there was a celebration, which you want to see. It’s beautiful, because it’s fanaticism for the game, and all the guys -- a lot of them are on your kickoff team. I thought about taking a time-out and it would be a time we didn’t have a TV time-out, so we put some other guys in, and the other guys, to their credit -- Frank Clark was in there, and he made one hit for sure, and probably should have had another one."
What happened on the missed PAT? "We got knocked back a little bit, and we’ll correct that, and in fact the young man did correct it."
Did you treat the delay as a hafltime to do some extra coaching? "Here’s the first thing that went through my mind: We played Northern Illinois in Nuncie when I was at Ball State. We had a 45-minute delay, we were winning the game 14-7, maybe 14-0. We come back, Garrett Wolfe ran for 355 yards.
"So I wasn’t feeling really good about a delay."
|WHAT||Michigan vs Western Michigan|
|WHERE||Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, MI|
|WHEN||3:30 Eastern, September 3rd 2011|
|THE LINE||Michigan -14|
|TELEVISION||ABC/ESPN2/ESPN3.com (Coverage Map)|
Run Offense vs. Western Michigan
Michigan returns Denard Robinson (who did this on his first collegiate snap, against Western, for the zero of you who need to be reminded), four starting offensive linemen, and a host of running backs of all shapes and sizes from a team that finished 13th in the country in rushing yards per game last season. The running game, especially Robinson's ability to be pure football magic, will still be the strength of this offense, even if the picture at running back isn't crystal-clear. I trust that Al Borges will find a way to get this offense to run for a bunch of yards, even if it isn't in the form of Denard left, Denard right, Denard up the middle.
Western returns all four starters on the defensive line, but one of those starters is a 6'5", 210-pound defensive end (Paul Hazel, #99)—I believe Taylor Lewan refers to those as "crippled runt donkeys"—and you can expect to see the Wolverines attack Hazel's side of the line with great frequency. The Broncos also must replace both of their starting outside linebackers with inexperienced true sophomores, although senior middle linebacker Mitch Zajac returns after leading the team with 97 tackles in 2010.
Key Matchup: The Interior Line vs. Western Michigan's Defensive Tackles.
The one area in this matchup where I can see the Wolverines getting tested is in the middle of the line, where WMU has a big pair of DTs who can slash into the backfield — 5'11", 303-pound Travonte Boles recorded 4.5 tackles for loss as a true freshman starter last year, while senior Drew Nowak (6'4", 292) tallied 6.5 TFLs two years ago before his production dropped off slightly last year. While these two aren't world-beaters, they'll provide an interesting litmus test for the undersized (at least for the MANBALL power run game) middle of the Michigan line, especially if Borges calls for a lot of man blocking.
Overall however the Wolverines should have a decided advantage in this category, and the key matchup could easily be "Denard Robinson vs. The Sideline." Seriously, Shoelace, please consider the sideline to be your friend, at least when it means avoiding a head-hunting defender.
Pass Offense vs. Western Michigan
The Broncos were mediocre against the pass last year, finishing 74th in the nation in opponent pass efficiency, but they struggled in their two games against BCS competition — Michigan State only threw the ball 22 times in a 38-14 victory, but managed 8.5 yards per attempt, while Notre Dame torched WMU to the tune of 299 yards and four touchdowns on 30 passes. They also got lit up by Central Michigan in a losing effort. The Wolverines should be able to throw for some yards early on, with the onslaught only stopping by virtue of mercy.
Western Michigan does feature redshirt senior free safety Doug Wiggins, who transferred from Miami (YTM) and started eight games last season, and sophomore cornerback Lewis Toler, who was named first-team All-MAC last year after recording an impressive 14 pass breakups. However the listed starter at the corner spot across from Toler is senior Aaron Winchester, who last season was Western's starting running back. He's also 5'6", so say hello to Junior Hemingway, jump-ball specialist.
The Bronco front four does present a decent pass-rush threat, with Hazel's eight sacks leading the way last year, including a 1.5-sack performance against Notre Dame, but Denard Robinson is pretty hard to track down — while the offensive line certainly deserves credit for allowing .85 sacks per game last year, Robinson's mobility had a lot to do with that number.
Key Matchup: Denard Robinson vs. Timing.
From last weekend's punt-tacular scrimmage thing:
Denard had a hard time finding receivers. A few crisp rhythm throws, a lot of ball-patting, scrambling, and difficult sideline improv throws. Not sure if that's on him or the WRs. Gallon twice ran comebacks that the quarterbacks expected to be fly routes, so they've got some pro-style sight reading in the O. Not functional sight reading, but sight reading nonetheless.
It would be nice if said sight reading was a little more functional, especially against a secondary so ripe for picking apart. It's probably going to take at least a few weeks for Denard to get down some basic timing with his receivers at full game speed, but with Notre Dame looming in week two, he needs to develop some go-to plays that can make the passing offense a threat. Since one-hand touch on the quarterback doesn't fly as a legitimate tackling method in real games, the hope here is that the passing game will open up as defenses have to respect the dilithium. Like every other team that's ever watched film of Denard, the Broncos will utilize "spies" on defense, but good luck with this:
“We got to have somebody that’s going to run him down, or get him before we have to run him down,” [WMU head coach Bill] Cubit said.
You can't ask your defense to do the impossible, coach. You just can't. Cubit should know that better than anyone, as the article linked above is all about how Denard's First Run is still the stuff of legends in Kalamazoo.
Run Defense vs. Western Michigan
Western Michigan's running game was, frankly, pathetic last season — they averaged just 3.9 yards per carry as a team. A part of this is due to the team allowing 2.5 sacks a game, but the bigger issue was giving now-cornerback Winchester more carries than any other running back despite his paltry 2.9 ypc. Quarterback Alex Carder led the team with 109 attempts and six rushing TDs, but finished with just 226 yards — again, sacks were an issue, but his legs are not a lethal weapon by any means. Taking over the starting job is sophomore Tevin Drake, who averaged 10.3 yards per carry (!) last season on 40 carries. All but eight of his yards, however, came against Ball State, Akron, EMU, Kent State, and Bowling Green — he struggled to find room on four carries against Notre Dame, the only other team against whom he appeared. Expect redshirt sophomore Brian Fields (6.5 ypc in 2010) to see a fair amount of action as well.
An even greater concern for the Broncos is their offensive line, which already had just two returning starters (including ex-Wolverine Dann O'Neill, who will line up at right tackle) and now is dealing with injuries to two projected starters on the interior of the line. Western is now forced to start two JuCo guards in their first year with the program, and this isn't exactly a supreme vote of confidence from their head coach:
"I'm not losing any sleep at night, but we know it's a concern," said Cubit, who considers Uitalia perhaps the best athlete WMU has had on its offensive line in his coaching tenure. "We've got to make sure we don't put those guys in tough spots."
Prepare for MARTIN SMASH.
Key Matchup: Michigan's Outside Linebackers vs. Losing Contain.
Michigan will be breaking in a pair of new starting outside linebackers themselves, and I still have nightmares of Jonas Mouton WHY DID YOU GIVE UP THE OUTSIDE WHYYYYYYYYYYYYYY.
Cam Gordon and Mike Jones are your starting outside linebackers; Gordon is at his third position as a Wolverine in three years, while Jones missed almost the entirety of 2010 with a broken leg. With the exception of Thomas Gordon at free safety, I'll be watching this pair more closely than any other Wolverine defender, especially with a couple big-play threats (at least against MAC competition) at running back for WMU. Michigan should be able to shut down Western's rushing attack, and the only way they don't is if the outside linebackers don't do their jobs.
Pass Defense vs. Western Michigan
Kalamazoo Gazette reporter Graham Couch thinks the best quarterback in the state will be on the field on Saturday. He also thinks that quarterback is Western's Alex Carder. He is hilariously wrong:
That is literally the dumbest thing I have seen written about football in the state of Michigan not related to Rich Rodriguez. In games against ND and MSU last year Carder averaged 5.4 YPA—Threet/Sheridan numbers—and threw two TDs to three interceptions. He had 104 yards on 33 attempts against Idaho in a 33-13 loss. Playing a MAC schedule he finished 35th in passer efficiency. Cousins was 18th and Robinson 20th playing in the Big Ten.
This is not a surrounding talent issue. According to Couch WR Jordan White "would be an All Big Ten wideout." He proved this by averaging a whopping 10.5 yards per catch against MSU and Notre Dame. But sure, a MAC team with a better quarterback than Kirk Cousins and Denard Robinson and an All Big Ten wideout went 6-6 last year in the MAC.
That's not to say Carder is terrible—he threw for 30 touchdowns against 12 interceptions and should improve in his second year as a starter—but he is capable of turning the ball over six times against Toledo. The Broncos do return two senior starters at receiver in White (1,378 yards receiving in 2010) and Robert Arnheim (235 yards last year after posting 759 in '09), but they lack a true deep threat and no tight end caught more than nine passes for them last season.
The Wolverines, of course, get Troy Woolfolk back from the Tragic Leg Explosion of 2010, and the secondary can do nothing but improve from last year's craptastic performance. Do not make me feel terrible for writing that sentence, Michigan, or this will be a very, very long year. If nothing else, the front seven should be able to get some major pressure on Carder against that extremely inexperienced offensive line, which should help bail out the pass defense
Key Matchup: Troy Woolfolk/Courtney Avery vs. Jordan White.
Hey, an actual matchup! While they aren't Montana-to-Rice, as Graham Couch would have you believe, Carder-to-White is still a dangerous and established combination. We'll see if Greg Mattison decides to just stick Woolfolk, his top corner, on White all game or if he lets Avery get a crack at him in coverage as well, but either way we'll get a decent gauge on how much those two have improved since the last time we saw them suit up. If T-Wolf locks down White, then there's a shot the Wolverines have a passable number one corner, which would be more than welcome. If Avery knows where to be in zone coverage and continues to show he's solid in man-to-man, we may even have two passable starting cornerbacks. Hooray!
Western Michigan has a solid kicking game, with two seniors returning at the specialist positions — kicker John Potter (10-12 FGs, long of 42 last year) and punter Ben Armer (40.6 yards per punt). The Broncos had three different players who returned either 13 or 14 kickoffs last year, with the most successful being senior receiver Dervon Wallace, who averaged 27.2 yards per return and took one back to the house. Jordan White handled the punt returns and averaged an unremarkable 6.1 yards last year, and he's ceded the top spot on the depth chart to 5'5", 160-pound running back Dareyon Chance.
Michigan has Brendan Gibbons kicking, true freshman Matt Wile punting, and Jeremy Gallon returning kicks. When the Wolverine special teams are on the field, I will not be breathing.
Key Matchup: HOLD ONTO THE DAMN BALL.
Also, KICK THE DAMN BALL BETWEEN THE UPRIGHTS.
- Carder-to-White actually resembles Montana-to-Rice
- The Broncos find room to run on the edge
- Denard Robinson is still throwing routes that the receivers aren't running
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- You be like dang
- Denard repeats the '09 run, just over and over
- Someone in blue makes a field goal
Fear/Paranoia Level: 2 (Baseline: 5, +1 for We Have No Idea What the Offense Will Look Like, +1 for Same With the Defense, -1 for Alex Carder is Not Joe Montana Regardless of What Insane Beat Reporter Claims, -1 for We Did This Two Years Ago, -1 for 210-pound Defensive End, -2 for They're Starting Two JuCo Guys Against Mike Martin and RVB)
Desperate Need to Win Level: 10 (Baseline: 5, +1 for First Game of the Hoke Era, +1 for We Don't Lose to MAC Teams Not Named Toledo, +1 for It's Western, For Goodness Sake, +1 for Please Don't Do This to Me, +1 for Seriously, That Mascot is Blatantly High and We Can't Lose to a Team Whose Mascot is Horse Towelie)
Loss will cause me to... Question Dave Brandon's "process" again, and likely lose my press credential after just one game in the, er, process.
Win will cause me to... Continue to not be able to focus on anything except the Notre Dame game no matter what I'm doing.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
Simply put, I'll believe a MAC-level team can slow down Denard Robinson when I see it. Al Borges may try to establish a pro-style passing game and some between-the-tackles running from the tailbacks, but if things don't go well, he's got one hell of a backup plan — unleash Shoelace. The offense will put up points, and it will just be a matter of when, how efficiently, and by what means. If it's with precision passing and Mike Shaw breaking runs with Denard under center, cackle away.
The defense may have some trouble early on with Carder, despite my derision, but I can't get the thought out of my head that when the team had an entire fall camp to prepare for UConn last year, they somehow held a future BCS team (Big East shenanigans be damned) to ten points. That was last year's defense with GERG at the helm. This year's defense would've been greatly improved even if Greg Mattison didn't leave one of the NFL's best gigs to come back to Ann Arbor.
I don't think this one will be close, so therefore—thankfully—special teams should not matter much except to help us all sleep well at night. Or not. Probably not. But we can hope, right?
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Junior Hemingway has at least 100 yards receiving and two touchdowns.
- Denard Robinson carries the ball ten times, a few of them on broken passing plays, and leaves the game (healthy, please) by the second half.
- Thomas Gordon comes away with an interception and doesn't give up any big plays. I'm totally asking for it with this one.
- Michigan, 41-17.