spoiler alert: i linked this
Editor's note: we're still trying to figure out how much real estate to give non-revenue sports during football season. We're leaning towards front-paging the stuff with a quick jump, as you see below.
Michigan had a pretty successful weekend in places other than football. Team sports went 6-1, with a potential win coming up with the men's soccer team still in progress. For a full recap of the weekend, take the jump.
Michigan's chances for a decent-to-good season increased radically over the weekend primarily because they came out and dominated a decent MAC opponent and proved that they're way less incoherent than they were last year. But the performances of future Michigan opponents also helped out considerably. Notre Dame did better than most expected, but the rest of the schedule:
Ohio State faced a potentially tying two-point conversion attempt with two minutes left against Navy, causing We Will Always Have Tempe to drag out the late-era Lloyd Carr comparisons:
I'm not saying Jim Tressel is Lloyd Carr, but... what separates Lloyd Carr in say, 2002 or 2003, from Jim Tressel right now? This is a line of thought I've been seriously following for the better part of a year now. I'd like some input from Michigan fans on this.
Here's my input: that's way hasty. Hasty or not, Ohio State scraping by Navy (they out gained the Middies by just 21 yards) makes The Game seem like way less of a longshot.
Iowa. DocSat on the bizarre Hawkeye opener:
• I-AA Northern Iowa slightly outgained Iowa overall and matched the Hawkeyes at 5.1 yards per play in a 17-16 loss that featured the weirdest ending of the day. Iowa finished with 87 yards rushing, 100 yards below its 2008 average on the ground; starting running back Paki O'Meara finished with 16 yards on nine carries (1.8 per) on a long gain of five yards.
UNI had two field goals blocked in the last minute, by the way, after recovering the first one. (Which I thought was an automatic turnover, BTW. Is it not? UPDATE: a helpful reader points out the relevant rule:
If a blocked field goal is in or behind the neutral zone, it is treated like a fumble and can be advanced by either team. Beyond the neutral zone, a blocked kick is treated like a punt or missed field goal and can be advanced only by the defense, unless a defensive player fumbles the ball, after which an offensive player can advance it.
Illinois was totally humiliated by a Missouri team debuting a freshman quarterback. Missouri outgained Illinois by over 100 yards and Juice Williams got yanked. Illinois did lose Benn and the starting tailback to injuries in the second half. None of that explains 37-9.
Three of Michigan's four expected wins did nothing to disprove those expectations. Indiana barely scraped by I-AA Eastern Kentucky 19-13. Eastern lost to Army by 13 and Delaware State lost to some random I-AA team.
Purdue, Michigan State, and Penn State all handled business against overmatched opponents. Wisconsin let Northern Illinois back in their game and, after failing to recover a NIU onside kick, let the Huskies down to their 36 before closing the door on 4th and 3. The Badgers did outgain NIU handily, so I'm not sure how much of a concern that is for UW.
Those teams saw their stock remain approximately constant—Purdue may have seen it increase. Three of the toughest games on Michigan's schedule now seem considerably more attainable. I'll take that and the Notre Dame box score any day.
- About 28 players played their first game in a Michigan uniform. A lot of them had meaningful (early-game) action on special teams. The QBs and Craig Roh (in a year, he'll be up around 250 pounds, and faster than he is now) were singled out as some of the young guys who played very well.
- The offense wasn't that bad in the second half. In the third quarter, they only had two drives, one of which had a touchdown called back for a penalty. In the fourth quarter, the offense went to chew-clock mode for much of the time.
- There were a few missed assignments both on offense and defense, but a lot of that can be attributed to first-game jitters. Rodriguez didn't want to call out his players on the long Western touchdown. It was typical first-game nerves.
- All three quarterbacks will continue to play for the next several weeks, but Tate will get the start again next week. It's not fair to compare the freshman QBs, both because they're a little different in terms of skill set, but also because Tate has had 9 extra months in the system - and has about 70% of the playbook at his disposal. Denard is not just a runner, but "He ran really fast."
- Hemingway should be good to go Saturday, Same with Moundros and Boubacar. Minor looked pretty good in pregame, but they still held him out and hope he'll be able to go Saturday. All of those injured players will be a little limited in contact drills this week. Rodriguez is going to implement a weekly injury report for the team, released on Thursdays. He would like to make this a league-wide policy.
- Carlos Brown will start Saturday unless he has a bad week of practice. "We thought he ran well, he caught the ball well, and he really protected well."
- Offensive player of the game: Junior Hemingway. Defensive player of the game: Obi Ezeh and Stevie Brown. Special Teams player of the game: Zoltan Mesko.
- The QBs carried more times (21) than Rodriguez would like in an average game. Some of that was getting Denard in there and getting him comfortable. However, Rodriguez doesn't mind his QB running if nothing's open downfield. The quarterback's 4th read on passing plays should usually be to run.
- Nevada was a top offense last year, so for Notre Dame to shut them out was impressive.
- Both teams being good increases the national tone of this week's contest: "I would hope. Michigan-Notre Dame is always going to have a national tone. It's one of the greatest rivalries there are."
- To beat Notre Dame, Michigan will have to pressure Clausen. He's too good to give him a lot of time, and has some really good targets in Tate and Floyd. Brandon Graham will be double-teamed a lot, because Notre Dame likes to max-protect.
- Adrian Witty will not attend Michigan this semester. The coaches will continue to re-recruit him for the winter or next fall.
- Schilling watched film yesterday on his day off from practice. The offensive line played a lot more physical than last year (which is something Frey emphasizes). There were many more knockdowns than in any game last year. It was nice to move the ball for first downs and touchdowns, which was hard last year.
- Craig Roh is one of the quickest D-Ends Steve has ever seen. When he gets bigger and stronger, he'll be a really good player.
- All 3 QBs are different, which forces opposing defenses to prepare for more things. Tate's a leader, and acts like he's not a freshman although he's been here only 0 months. Denard's a little quieter, but he's still just learning.
- The team has to be grounded after the win. Notre Dame is ranked, and although Western will contend for the Mac title, the Irish present a bigger opportunity to make a statement.
- Tate is young, but he's going to be a great leader. Even if the seniors disagree with him in the huddle, they'll get something worked out.
- It's good to start the year injury free, and he hopes to stay that way.
- If the offense is clicking, Carlos doesn't care whether he gets 1 carry or 20 carries. One of the great things about the college game is that there are multiple capable backs that can step in for each other.
- "We're going to be prepared for Notre Dame."
- The defense made a statement against Western by playing hard, fast, and aggressive. In the first game, it's nice to be able to be aggressive with open field tackles.
- The Notre Dame game will set the tone for the whole season. The team owes the Irish after what happened last year.
- Notre Dame likes to use play action to go deep. Donovan's looking forward to the challenge, and like the opportunity to prove himself against the best. The defense needs top be aggressive on every snap to make Notre Dame's day harder. They'll disguise coverages, but that depends on everybody knowing where the help is coming from and where the defense's weaknesses are.
- He'll get in guy's faces on the other team and play tough coverage on every snap. He didn't think the pass interference calls against him on Saturday were legit - but every defensive back usually feels the same.
- Tate's enrolling early helped get him the experience he needed to start fast. "He knows that we have his back, and we know that he has ours."
- The ankle that's injured is the same one that he hurt last year. He's glad he ended up getting a medical redshirt, because otherwise it would have been a lost year. It was tough not being on the travel squad, and having to text his teammates before the game, and watch on TV.
- "I'll be ready to go on Saturday."
- The receivers have the mindset that they can win every battle on the perimeter. The offense has to make sure they know their assignments on every play.
- "Got to be out there ready to play when we play Notre Dame."
Mustache update. Dang:
You know it's good photoshop when you're futilely scanning for the LSUFreek watermark. Mustaches for Michigan provides, and explains:
My ally is the Mustache, and a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Mustache around you; here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, the football, everywhere, yes.
The power of the mustache was powerful enough to offset the long-established MGoLiveblog curse, mmm.
On the 'Downfall' thing. There were a few complaints about the Downfall parody posted last week, all of which cited Rosenberg's (presumed) Jewishness vis a vis Adolf Hitler's… well, you know. His opinions, man. I'm not trying to be an insensitive clod here but Youtube is filled with videos of Hitler being enraged at the Dallas Cowboys, XBox Live, Windows Vista, World of Warcraft, the failure of Michael Jackson to perform at his birthday party because he is dead, and everyone on the internet screwing with his subtitles. Oh and yes Hitler is also pissed off because Rich Rodriguez is evil. At this point the comic trope is so well-established that the whole Hitler bit is… well… maybe not secondary, since it's the reason it's always funny, but tangential. If the thing had mentioned the word "Jew" at all, it would have been in bad taste. It didn't.
I think this was on "Automatic For The People." Terrelle Pryor on Michael Vick, who Pryor paid tribute to on his eyeblack—hey, it's either that or John 3:16:
That's right: "everybody murders.":
Not everybody is a perfect person in the world. Everyone kills people, murder people, steals from you, steals from me, whatever.
Who loves the fact that this blog's already got a "terrelle pryor has emotional problems" tag? This guy.
Excellent. The New York bowl game I've been advocating is a possibility, albeit a down-the-line one:
The Tribune has learned Big Ten officials have met with Yankee Stadium representatives to discuss a bowl game that would be played at the so-called "House that George Built."
"It's an interesting concept," Big Ten Associate Commissioner Mark Rudner said. "It's compelling."
Hypothetical New York Bowl is not an immediate possibility, but if it gets established it sounds like the Big Ten will give it a serious look in 2014, the next time contracts come up for renewal. By that time Florida fatigue may have set in and an attractive, if cold, destination like New York should be appealing.
SON OF A. The music was piped in, and I cringed, and then Bill Martin jumped aboard and oh God:
Fans saw a winning product again and were entertained before the game and during breaks in it with piped in music such as AC/DC’s “Hell’s Bells,” and Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline.”
“We need to liven this place up,” Martin said. “When the band is taking a break, I think the music helps the atmosphere. There were about 25 songs on the playlist, I listened to every one and cut about five.”
Ugh. Band members: do you need breaks? Could you have played Sweet Caroline, thus transforming banal minor-league hockey atmosphere into authentic college football atmosphere? Are you happy or irate at the piped in music?
Etc.: Vijay isn't blogging again but he has put up a post with some clips and analysis from the last game. A blast from the past for blogosphere old hands.
You've probably noticed the ribbon at the top of the main column. There is also ad that will replace the HTTV ad on the right when I beat Drupal into submission about it, which I certainly hope is today. So here's the deal: the M-Den and MGoBlog have arrived at a mutually beneficial relationship where I advertise for their products and they give me money. It's an excellent match with the MGoStore; you can get your officially licensed apparel from the M-Den and your insidery MGoBlog shirts from the MGoStore. The M-Den is locally owned by lifelong fans and a longtime supporter of Michigan athletics, and they just lost the Michigan Stadium contract to Jerry Jones's band of carpetbaggers.
They're also a business and are looking for ROI. So if you're buying officially licensed Michigan apparel I hope it's from there and I hope it's via the ads on the sidebar or the sponsorship ribbon. It is in this way you can support the university, the M-Den, and MGoBlog.
I should also note that there will be a brief text advertisement at the bottom of a post once a week; these will be mostly for the Google purposes.
ALSO! We've placed two of Six Zero's outstanding shirts in the MGoStore, where they await your purchase. They are the contest winner and one of the runner-ups that was just too good to not put in the store. The mascot shirt was the winner:
And the "strike a pose" Desmond shirt, the runner up, has also been added to the store for total awesomeness:
I'm wondering if anyone is reconsidering The Forcier after last week's game. What say you about an addition? Yea or nay, class?
BONUS note: I'd like to thank Six Zero for the extensive work he put in on the shirt contest—there were about a half-dozen shirts that simply did not fit—and recommend him to anyone in search of graphic design of any variety. A couple people have already emailed me about getting in touch with him and I've forwarded along the inquiries. If you'd like to do the same, email me and I'll do the same.
9/5/2009 – Michigan 31, Western Michigan 7 – 1-0
Melanie Maxwell, AnnArbor.com
Towards the end of the third quarter, a guy in the row behind me started grumbling about Michigan's offense being boringly ground-based. By the fourth, cramped quarters had given way to roominess. After it was over, I was disappointed that Michigan's first-half outburst gave way to a near-scoreless second half and thought Michigan should have given the kids a little more rope via which to test their skills.
In short, it was a typical game against a MAC opponent. At least it was for a given, thoroughly inaccurate definition of "typical." Michigan's seldom had an easy time of it against anyone since the Carr era started flagging. MAC or MAC-ish opponents since 2004:
|2008||Miami Of Ohio(NTMOO)||W 16-6|
|2006||Ball State||W 34-26|
|2005||Northern Illinois||W 31-17|
|2004||Miami Of Ohio(NTMOO)||W 43-10|
Over last five years, Michigan has been just as likely to be in an actual game (6) with a supposed tomato can as the expected blowout (6). (I am counting the '07 EMU game as an actual one, as it was 16-14 halfway through the third; the others need no justification.) Hell, even in 2006—when Michigan was a Crable helmet hit away from driving to the national championship game—Ball State had first and goal with an opportunity to tie late in the fourth quarter. In no way is a 31-0 halftime lead typical in the recent history of Michigan football except against Notre Dame.
It was just a MAC team, but think of how good those words sound rolling off your lips. Just a MAC team. Couldn't be expected to cope with our freakishly accurate quarterback or our freakishly speedy quarterback or the zippy skill position players who seemed bountiful and endless. Couldn't be expected to cope with Brandon Graham or Craig Roh or Mike Martin. No chance. Just a MAC team with a quarterback who might go in the first-round of the NFL draft and four-fifths of its offensive line back. No chance.
Yes, okay, there remain plenty of concerns. There were folks that the MAC team could cope with. These were the backup quarterback—and think about how good it sounds to have the identity of that person be utterly uncontroversial, no offense to said backup—and any cornerback not named Cissoko or Warren. Oh and any defensive end not named Graham or Roh. Or… well, you get the idea. The defense is paper-thin and can fall off a cliff with a single injury. So can the quarterback position until such time as Denard Robinson develops into something a more than a beautiful freakshow.
But today there is a thread about Michigan on every opponent message board across the internet where some guy says "looks like all that extra practice paid off lol."
Last year, the Utah game was an opportunity to radically reassess Michigan's immediate future. It was far uglier than the final score, and I remember going on WCBN—which BTW I will be on at around 5 today—and telling the assembled folk there that the Notre Dame game would be "critical for bowl eligibility," whereupon we mused ruefully about how far Michigan had fallen in such a short period of time without anyone coming close to realizing how optimistic we still were.
The one piece of good fortune coming from that game was the handy metaphor:
Every rational thought in your head suggests that the whole walk-on or freshman-the-coaches-are-panicked-about at quarterback, the line of baling wire and the occasional confused chicken, and freshmen everywhere at the skill positions will combine to yield an offense worthy of Yakety Sax, but until you actual see the damn thing in action you can hold out hope it will be otherwise.
We have seen it in action. It could have gone better. At least we have an incredibly direct metaphor all around us:
This program is under construction with a completion date around 2010.
This program is still under construction, and the completion date is still 2010. But those shabby exposed girders are now sheathed in brick and lightning, shiny in the afternoon sun. As the season goes on we'll undoubtedly see the unfinished parts within brought to the surface. There's no insulation, and if you peer into the windows you can still see the girders that were plain to all last year.
For now, for right now, it's reassuring to look up and see a modern version of Yost on the way. Through controversy and people with ill-considered protests Michigan comes, echoing the past with a back-to-the-future offense and West Virginians in charge and beautiful brick arcs and, Angry Michigan BLANK-Hating God willing, a point per minute.
- Man, JT Floyd looked like he'd have no chance of ever being a legit Big Ten corner on that bomb. I watched him go from two steps ahead to two steps behind the Western WR and immediately shivered at the safety depth. Maybe I'm leaping to too many conclusions from one play, but I see a safety move in his future.
- Also, and you are going to hear this thought a half-dozen times in this space over the next week, but: man, that Western touchdown was a bummer for a lot of reasons but none more foreboding than its extreme resemblance to the one-man-route Golden Tate touchdown from last year's Notre Dame game. Cissoko's health and Michigan's ability to ignore the Notre Dame ground game will be key.
- Brandon Graham must be livid he doesn't have a sack. Or three.
- How dumb does last year's "Rodriguez refuses to adjust his offense" meme look now? Michigan used a thousand different formations, including intermittent deployments of the I-form and a heavy dose of 2 TE ace sets. He's been presented with solutions and has gone in search of the problem.
- You know, if Michigan compliance is right and they can release a detailed report about offseason activities that results in zero and Michigan does pull out of its steep dive, it's possible the Free Press will be directly responsible for dissolving the gap between Michigan fans and Rich Rodriguez, which would have to go in the Alanis Morrissette Ironic Hall Of Fame. (Note on the linked article: claims that students chanted "keep united" after the game, which would have been awesome if it was true. It wasn't, though: it was "beat the Irish.")
- No, none of the things in that song are ironic, which makes the fact that the hall of fame is named after her ironic. Obvs.
- I think everyone needs to go back into that thread posted by that guy who said Craig Roh would start and posbang him like whoah. Also, I was backing two recruits out of proportion to all reason this year: Roh and Vincent Smith. Remember this when the predictions I make in the future are all hilariously off base.
- Wait just one more before we return to your regularly-scheduled wrongness: I'm telling you about Drew Tate, man. That first touchdown, where Forcier moxied his way away from a defender and then signaled Hemingway to go deep, was vintage Tate. Hopefully it will be vintage Tate again.
- Similarly, Sheridan's interception was a perfect demonstration of the difference between the two QBs. With the safety pulled up, Sheridan actually had plenty of room to hit Mathews in the back of the endzone if he floated it a bit; instead he attempted to rifle it and the ball was undercut.
- I twittered this but if you weren't around: I saw someone carrying around a sign that said "In Rich And Staff We Trust." This is banner fail.
This this was interesting from Touch the Banner:
In the second half, WMU quarterback Tim Hiller started getting rid of the ball quicker. He found a rhythm and started hitting underneath passes to his receivers. Greg Robinson might be served well by disguising coverages on the outside, changing the look from cover 2 man to a cover 2 zone. Suddenly, instead of driving the cornerback off with his initial burst, that cornerback is sitting underneath the quick hitch to the outside. A couple well orchestrated disguised coverages might be just enough to make Hiller think twice, which would give Brandon Graham, Mike Martin, and the rest of the defensive line enough time to get to the quarterback.
Michigan's defense in the opener seemed very simple. There was little rotation down-to-down. Michigan went the whole way in the same 3-4/4-3/4-2-5 hybrid thingy, occasionally rotating in a backup on the defensive line (this was done per series, so the series Graham was out he was just out except for a couple of third downs, IIRC) and yanking Cissoko for Floyd once things got out of hand. Everyone else played almost every snap. So it seemed like Michigan wanted to get their guys doing a limited number of things well; I assume they'll expand on that as the season goes on.
Also, by the time Hiller got going the game was out of hand and I can understand the impulse to shelve the exotics with Notre Dame coming in next week.
The Diag asks if Kelvin Grady has stolen Odoms' job, which probably not but he seems a viable option. I was surprised Roundtree was invisible—only came in with the Conescrubs at the end—after his spring game; even Laterryal Savoy and James Rogers got more run.
If you follow me on Twitter (@varsityblue), you probably got most of the info yesterday, but for those who don't, or who want it in a convenient format, here are the notes from yesterday's postgame press conference.
- The drama of the week heading into the game brought the team together as a family more than they already had been.
- Rodriguez told Tate that he didn't need to do too much himself. He's surrounded by athletes on the team, just get them the ball and let them make the plays.
- Tate's never gotten nervous for a game - "and I don't think I ever will."
- Tate has no Denard jealousy - in fact, playing two QBs substantially makes the Michigan team much harder for opponents to defend.
- Tate wasn't impressed by Denard's touchdown run - "I've seen him do it so many times in practice... it's typical for him to do that."
- Tate was surprised by the offense's big plays. He thought the offense would move it down the field - not get it all in one play.
- The first game against D-1 athletes didn't faze Denard. He's practiced against the guys on his own team, and knew what to expect
- Denard's athleticism makes it much harder for the opposing teams to prepare. There's even the potential to get both QBs on the field at the same time for some crazy stuff (see: Denard lined up at slot in second drive).
- Denard said college is a lot different from high school. On top of actual gameplay, the crowd was really loud.
- There's velcro on the inside of Denard's shoes to keep them on despite the lack of laces.
- As far as the QB competition, Robinson isn't too worried about who starts. He came here to compete for playing time at quarterback, and he'll continue to compete for playing time at quarterback.
- The coaches try to put a lot of pressure on the kids in practice, so that they won't get overwhelmed in games. (Hmm, sounds a bit like one Glenn Schembechler).
- There were a couple execution errors offensively, as well as too many penalties. Once those get worked out, hopefully the offensive will be able to move more consistently.
- The biggest key for Michigan's coaches in preparing for the season was to eliminate negative-yardage plays and turnovers. They did that for the most part, and they'll try to work on the penalties (which they aren't happy with, either).
- Rodriguez is still concerned with defensive depth. However, the defense looked pretty good in the first half.
- Rodriguez thanked the fans for supporting the team. In true Michigan coach fashion, he dropped the word "tremendous" about 5 times. As far as fans chanting his name, "They can say my name, but really, they're cheering for Michigan."
- Brandon Minor looked OK in warmups. He hopes Brandon can play next week, and he's confident that Junior Hemingway and Boubacar Cissoko will also be fine for next week. (Notes: From the sounds of it, Minor could have gone if the team really needed him. I think he was held out mostly as a precaution. If Cissoko isn't healthy for next week, God Help Us against Notre Dame).
- Craig Roh has a lot of talent, and should really contribute to the team this year.
- All 3 quarterbacks will continue to play (Note: I would say it's pretty clear who 1a, 1b, and 2 are at this point, though).
- The coaches knew Junior Hemingway could be this good. He showed it last year, but then got hurt and couldn't play most of the year.
- It was tough giving up the shutout in the fourth quarter. It would have sent a big statement in week 1.
- The team's been hungry all off-season to erase the bad taste from last year. The drama of the past week didn't change that, it only amplified it.
- Obi has seen Denard making crazy runs in practice, and it's good to see him do it against actual opposition. "It's not just me" that Denard can make look foolish.
- Notre Dame has a good QB and good offensive threats. Though most of the focus in practice to this point has been on Western, they'll jump straight into Notre Dame prep. The coaches will have a good gameplan against the Irish.
- It feels good to be healthy. It almost feels weird, like he's starting over again. It feels good to be out there with the team.
- It feels good to start the year putting the team's best foot forward.
- The offense is much better this year, because everyone is on the same page, and everyone knows what to do now.
- Hemingway himself says he could have played in the second half if needed. Sitting in the second frame was precautionary, and he'll be fine to go against Notre Dame.
Alright. We are going to try this despite not organizing it well at all.
Jared is the only guy around but CIL now allows you to add moderators on the fly. If you'd like to help out, and help will be needed, type it in the box below. Approximate dispersion of people:
- PBP guy/scoreboard updater
- News item guy
- 2-3 comment moderator guys
I'll be at the game, but I wish you luck. For people new to this thing check out the Live Blog Chaos Mitigation Post.
|WHAT||Michigan vs Western Michigan|
|WHERE||Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, Mi|
|WHEN||3:30 Eastern, September 5th 2009|
|THE LINE||Michigan -13|
|TELEVISION||Nationwide on ABC|
Run Offense vs. Western
If Michigan wants to win football games this year, especially starting a freshman quarterback, they are going to have to run the ball well. As detailed extensively here and at Varsity Blue, they went from a horrible running team at the beginning of last year to an average-to-good one after the Penn State game. Returning every contributor from the offensive line with another year in the offensive system and the weight training program can only help.
The Broncos weren't particularly adept at stopping the run last year, ranking 62nd in the nation despite facing buzzsaw offenses like Idaho (#74 in rushing), Tennessee Tech (#95 - in Division 1-AA), Temple (#109), Ohio (#79), Buffalo (#75), Central Michigan (#72(!)), and Rice (#62). The Broncos did also face a couple top-30 teams, and some that were vaguely around the 50th percentile. Still, they gave up some serious rushing yardage to some bad teams. Michigan should have the talent advantage over every single one of those moribund teams and everyone the Broncos played against last year except Illinois (who the Broncos took down) and Nebraska. I say "should" because of last year.
That brings us to the horror show that is Western's front seven. The top two defensive ends and the 2nd and 3rd defensive tackles are gone. Cody Cielenski—all 274 pounds of him—is the only returning starter. That much turnover on a line that wasn't very good last year, could spell trouble for the Broncos' ability to defend the run.
The linebackers aren't quite as inexperienced, with 5th-year senior Austin Pritchard returning. He was second on the team in tackles last year, and was named first-team all-MAC. He'll be joined by Mitch Zajac and Justin Braska. Braska is a classic linebacker, while Zajac is the new-model converted-safety-type who can play in space, and will likely be a bigger hindrance to a spread team like the Wolverines.
Key Matchup: Michigan's Interior Offensive Linemen v. The Second Level. With an inexperienced defensive line facing Michigan's now-seasoned OL, the Wolverines in the trenches should be able to execute their initial double-teams and move up to the second level. If their athleticism is such that they can get blocks on linebackers and even secondary players, it could be Big Play City for the Michigan offense. Otherwise, it could be a grind-it-out kind of day, which might not be the best-case scenario for Michigan with Brandon Minor dinged up.
Still, Carlos Brown and Co. should be able to move the ball on the ground with, no matter what.
Pass Offense vs. Western
If Western's run defense was pretty bad last year, their pass defense was downright terrible. Facing the same motley crew of offenses, they finished #102 in the nation in pass defense. 9They were a more respectable #62 in pass efficiency defense.) That indicates they were in lots of shootouts last year (a couple) and games in which the opponent was trying to mount a comeback (a couple more).
The Bronco defense soared to those heights despite two players selected in the NFL Draft in Louis Delmas (2nd Round to the Lions, still technically in the NFL) and EJ Biggers (7th Round to the Buccaneers). I think it's safe to say that you can't expect WMU to replace two NFL-caliber players at one position group. Ohio State they are not. The lone returning starter is strong safety Mario Armstrong.
For Michigan's part, they're trying to erase the memory of a horrible passing game last year (#108 in the country). It's not like we'll be sending out a juggernaut against the Broncos' depleted corps. However, their must must must be an upgrade at quarterback, if only because there was no place to go but up. Tate Forcier will hopefully justify his reputation as a robo-QB, and all will be well as Junior Hemingway, Greg Mathews, and Martavious Odoms can stride from one end of the field to the other with ease.
Key Matchup: Michigan Freshman/Sheridan QBs v. Their Inherent Freshman/Sheridan Qualities. Western's secondary isn't going to be all that good. Their defensive line will only be able to provide a little bit of pressure. The main thing that can stop the Wolverine offense here is shooting itself in the foot. First-game jitters for the freshmen may lead to a little bit of that, and we all know what Sheridan can (or more accurately, can't) do.
The runner up in this category was Michigan Receivers v. The Dropsies. There have been some reports of mild problems in this category, and there are few things more frustrating than a wide open receiver droping a pass.
Run Defense vs. Western
Western has had a prolific offense in the Bill Cubit era, but they haven't been doing most of that work on the ground. They were 28th in total offense last year despite finishing #96 in rushing. Their lack of rushing yardage, however, wasn't always for lack of trying. They tried with little success to pound the ball against Nebraska and Illinois. It will be interesting to see if that extreme pass skew holds up this year; Western has experienced running backs and offensive linemen and a green receiving corps.
Michigan's defense, on the other hand, is a wildcard. Hell, we aren't even positive what the schemes are going to be. Brandon Graham and Mike Martin are the anchors of the DL, and Ryan Van Bergen should be decent unless he has leverage problems with his height. The Western offensive line is pretty big, however, and they could wear out Michigan's DL, especially with the lack of depth Michigan has. Oft-MGoMaligned Obi Ezeh could be vulnerable in space. Brandon West and Aaron Winchester are the type of little darters (Winchester much more so) that have given him trouble in the past of the variety "Ezeh totally overruns the play (-1)."
Contain and discipline will be key.
Key Matchup: Michigan's Defense v. Getting Off The Field. As long as the Wolverines' defensive line doesn't have to play too many snaps, especially consecutively, they should be pretty good. This was a huge issue last year, when they'd force a third and long, and then allow the offense to convert.
Pass Defense vs. Western
This is the segment of the review were Legitimate Fear strikes Michigan fans. Tim Hiller has been prolific in his career to date and is one of Mel Kiper's top five senior quarterbacks. (Don't take that to the bank: Curtis Painter was Kiper's #1 at this time last year.)
There are some reasons for optimism here;
- Hiller is coming off offseason ACL surgery and is not necessarily in peak physical form.
- Western lost most of its receiving corps. Gone are 3 of last year's top 4 options. Juan Nunez returns as the team's best deep threat, but he's one of the very few guys left. Freshman Ansel Ponder should be a top target for Western, with good hands and enough speed to possibly get deep. The Broncos do have a number of tight ends that they may use as well.
Michigan's secondary, however, is about as inexperienced as the Bronco receivers. They won't be tested as much as you'd think, because most of Western's passes are caught within a few yards of the line of scrimmage. That does mean Michigan's linebackers, notorious for their inability to defend the pass, will have to make plays. This will be an early test for Michigan's revamped, speedier linebacker corps and their underneath coverage.
Key Matchup: Brandons Graham and Herron v. Western's Tackles. If Tim Hiller has time to throw the ball, he will find an open play and make a play. That's what 5th-year seniors do, especially those who are coming off all-conference season last year. Michigan needs to make sure they don't allow Hiller that time to make passes.
Both Western's kicker (John Potter) and punter (Ben Armer) return. Potter didn't kick enough field goals and extra points to register any higher than 16th in scoring from last year's MAC ledger. He was decent in his freshman year, and should improve as a sophomore.
The punting game was not so kind to the Broncos last year. They were 97th in the nation in net punting, with Armer barely eclipsing the 40yds/punt mark. If Michigan's returners can hold onto the damn ball, there should be some pretty good opportunities to get serious field position.
For Michigan's part, there is Space Punter and the Unknown. Olesnavage has never kicked a field goal or extra point, and his first real contribution to the team may have to come in crunch time. There is the slight relief that he beat out a scholarship guy in Brendan Gibbons, but I guess Jason Gingell had beaten out Bryan Wright before The Horror, as well.
Key Matchup: Olesnavage v. Angry Michigan-Hating Upset-Minded God. The past two years, Michigan has suffered humiliating upsets because of key missed field goals. If Michigan starts giving away points in special teams, we might be headed for an unfortunate repeat.
Hey, you know what didn't work out last year? Lack of cats.
- The linebackers and secondary look inept in covering the short passing game.
- Either Michigan freshman QB gets hurt, leaving Sheridan as the only viable backup option.
- The offensive line's reported improvement isn't really really obvious.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- Michigan can get to Hiller over and over again.
- Tate Forcier looks as good against the Broncos as he did against backups in the spring game.
- Michigan linebackers are sniffing out the screens.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 3 (Baseline 5; –1 for You Have No Men Larger Than Minor On D, Let Alone Linemen, –1 for Still Have Pretty Decent MAC record, +1 for Sheridan Shall Be Sighted, –1 for But Not Much, +1 for Oh Lord Some Safety Is Going To Head Asplode Me.)
Desperate need to win level: 10 (Baseline 5; +5 for Duh.)
Loss will cause me to... Relive the depths of 2008, probably hear all week about how RichRod is sooo fired.
Win will cause me to... Breathe a sigh of relief and look forward to a year of potentially-competent football.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
This game looks to have the makings of an offensive shootout unless GERG Robinson is a miracle worker. Both defenses are expected to be subpar, Western's offense is good, and Michigan's offense is an unknown trending towards good. One team will probably put up decent numbers in order to win.
Offensive shootouts, of course, are typically decided by a couple key plays on defense. Be it a moment of general freshmanity for Forcier or Robinson, or a big sack by Brandon Graham to change field position, one mistake by either offense could decide this one. Considering Michigan's better overall talent level, it should be the Wolverines coming through with a big play.
Offensively, Michigan is still an unknown, mostly because of projected improvement at some positions (offensive line) and youth at another (quarterback). If Brandon Minor was fully healthy, I'd feel much better about this one, as we could probably RAGE down their throats all day. Even if he plays, though, he might be limited. That means a more diverse offense is probably necessary to find any success. That, in turn, means trusting unproven quarterbacks, which generally scares the hell out of me.
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Michigan executes a running play longer than 58 yards, their long last year. (It was Threet's gallop against Wisconsin.)
- Tate frustrates the hell out of fans at least once, but excites them more times than that.
- Hiller gets sacked at least three times.
- Michigan, 31-21. [Editor's note: put me down for 34-20.]
[Aaaaand we're out.]