Key Matchup: HOLD ON TO THE DAMN BALL
Truer words have never been spoken.
|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)|
Michigan returns Denard Robinson (who did this on his first collegiate snap, against Western, for the zero of you that 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 by any means. 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.
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 impressed 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.
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.
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.
Key Matchup: HOLD ON TO THE DAMN BALL
Truer words have never been spoken.
Sorry, accidentally locked the comments again. They're open now.
Bring it on, stoners...
....be like dang tomorrow. Great first preview Ace!
Not to sound like a fanboy or anything, and no offense to Ace, whose stuff I have enjoyed so far, but is Brian not going to be writing the game previews this year?
I'm just filling in for the opener, since Brian is posting an absurd amount of content already. Back to your regularly scheduled blogger next week.
And again no offense intended, just I'm sure I'm not the only one who has pre game rituals that they hate to have messed with.
None taken. I, too, always look forward to reading his previews.
but I didnt even realize Ace had written it until I read the comments congratulating him on writing it.
Well done. You're the new lead singer of Judas Priest.
I was thinking the same thing as you.
I know who I'm rooting for.
I feel like Brian should have started posting these season previews starting two weeks ago.
Other teams are going to be gunning for him all season trying to knock him out of the game. So, he MUST be smart this year and avoid most of the big hits. I see us winning this game by 24.
Sucks if this is true...
Craig James... shoot me.
This will not, however, dampen my gameday spirits.
It is true, and I probably should've given you guys fair warning. The mute button is your friend on Saturday.
Ann Arbor better stock up on hookers . . . the dumpsters will be full by midnight.
Can't we get a law passed that Millen can never do a Michigan game ever again
getting ready to beat a dead horse?
I'm going with 38-20, Michigan with the win.
I think Denard has over 100 yards rushing and 2 TDs in the game and Brady Hoke gives Borges the silent treatment after a long scowling stare for ever allowing "basketball on grass" to continue under his watch...They won't speak to each other until Thursday afternoon.
If we do not score early and often, I will be concerned. You only get one chance to make a first impression!
that I could think of a play on words of a triple crown winner and being high
the best I could think of was "smoke-retariat"
The most likely explanation being two field goals or a missed extra point.
I see what you did there.
I like to hedge my bets. You're on to me, zlionsfan.
Hell of a job
I really hope that mascot tag pops up in some future posts. Nice work.
and someone's press credentials might be lost over it.
Horse Towelie has no idea what's going on.
seriously though nice work Ace
Don't forget to bring a horse! I am so high...
It was technically his second college snap, but the apocryphal version is honestly way better.
michigan wins 34-17. lots of between the tackles running and short dink and dunk passing with a few strikes downfield. denard carries the ball less than ten times. after the game everyone complains about the offense until the notre dame game when the full gameplan is revealed.
If you could just change "Preview" to "Recap" I'd be very pleased.
I didn't even notice it wasn't Brian. My only problem with it was your prediction for the final score. You say 41-17 when THE KNOWLEDGE clearly blessed us with the correct score of 38-17.
What say you Brian, Heiko, Misopogan, and Mathlete?
If Western scores 17 points, Michigan has no chance against ND.
Personally I think they get 10 points max.
You can't make blanket statements like that. Teams often show a lot of improvement between weeks one and two.
Horse Towelie looks slightly more normal in the football getup:
Sometimes they put pads on him which helps even more!
Key to the game: Putting a giant sphere of bubble wrap around Denard and attaching lasers to it.
I never imagined I would be into beastiality, but I have to say I want to see Lewan riding some crippled runt donkeys.