Anyone who tried straight downhill running against us was going into the teeth of our defense. Our front four and rotating subs were some of the best that M has ever had. Very seldomly did we ever have to blitz with our linebackers because the front got so much pressure. It allowed us to sit back in tight coverage and ball hawk all day.
Defensively, the only issue I ponder is how our defense would have stacked up against today's spread offenses. The closest thing we faced to a spread that year was Washington State but their offense was more predicated on the pass. Today's spread is more geared towards the run so it would have been interesting to see how we would have faired.
Our offense was adequet enough to make up for the lack of major explosiveness. Griese was as competenta QB as anyone could ask for. His pin-point accuracy that year was deadly and although he didn't have a plethora of deep threats, he selectively used Streets, Shaw and Tuman very well. He was also very well at spreading the ball around that year and when the opportunity presented itself he wasn't afraid to take a shot downfield. The strength was obviously the running game as we had three highly capable backs that year including a young A-Train. We also had arguably the best offensive line in our history and one of the most unsung heroes in FB Chris "follow me" Floyd.
My issue with matching them up to today's defenses is zone schemes have evolved so much nowadays that I wonder how BG would have handled it. Our running game and play-action tricks still would have led the way but I wonder how our offense would fair when they're forced to throw the ball against a much more sound zone scheme that many teams employ today. Also, with the exception of Streets, we didn't really have any burners to stretch the field.
So let's take a look at the 97 squad going up against the 2014 schedule:
Applachian State - No contest. I doubt we would have put up 52 points like this year but I also doubt the 97 unit would have given up 14 to App. State. In fact, I have a hard time believing they would have crossed the 50-yard line. WIN 30-0
Notre Dame - This is where it gets interesting. Gholson created problems for us now and I'd have to imagine he would have created problems for us then. We didn't face anyone in 97 with quite his ability but in 1998 with many of the same defensive players, we squared up against Donovan McNabb and that didn't end too well for us. Our speed may have slowed ND's potent offense and Gholson down but they still would have put up some points. The advantage I see us having is that we didn't turn the ball over in 97 and turnovers were a huge problem in the 2014 contest. Although playing in South Bend would have been a challenge, I just don't see us giving them short fields like we did this year. Our offense controls the clock and produces just enough 1st downs to sneak out of the dance with the chic. WIN 24-20
Miami - No challenge, no let down from this physically imposing and confident team. Surprisingly was a decent game in the 1st half this year but the 97 squad would have worn them down very quickly. Miami would have had a ton of early 3-and-outs and M would have grinded away at the heart of their defense. I could see all three of our backs going for 100 yards each. WIN 34-0
Utah - This is what separates the 97 squad from any Wolverine team in the past 7 years - their resiliency. They were the toughest sons of bitches on the football field. They would never have allowed a semi-quasi hurricane to deviate them from a severe beat down of an opponent like this year's team did. The 97 squad would have been itching to get back out on the field after a lengthy two-hour rain delay and showcase their ability. The Utes would never have been able to sustain any of their drives like they did this year be ause we were so good at getting off the field on 3rd downs in 1997. Turnovers were a major issue with us in this 2014 game, something we just didn't do in 97. And even if all else failed and the Utes somehow managed to stay with our beloved NC team, if our 97 squad would have witnessed someone else striking the Heisman pose in our stadium, the red in Utah's uniforms would have quickly began to look like the Scarlett from OSU and it would have been go-time. WIN 27-9
Minnesota/Rutgers/Penn State - this is where it gets a bit jokey as none of these team's offenses would have been able to move the ball against our front 7. For as solid as the Gophers have been under Jerry Kill, you can't expect to run roughshod over the 97 squad's run defense. It just wouldn't happen. For as great as Gary Nova looked against our 2014 defense, guys like Woodson, Ray, Weathers, Hendricks, Peterson, Whitley (holy shit we were loaded) would have picked off any ball that somehow made it out the backfield as Nova would have been throwing from his ass from the amount of heat he would have felt. We probably would have picked off anywhere from six to twenty passes of his. Penn State would have been laughable because I'm not sure they would gained a yard with their offense against our defense.
Minny - WIN 31-13
New Jerz - WIN 40 -3
PSU - WIN 34 - negative 5
Michigan State - the 97 team would have found out quickly that this ain't your Grandmomma's Spartans as this probably would have been something as close to WW3 as you can find. There would have been body blows, uppercuts and right hooks back and forth for 60 minutes, possibly more. The team that compares to the 2014 Spartans in 1997 isIowa. That Hawkeye team had similar components - tough run game, capable QB, disciplined, in your face attitude, but probably not as good a defense as today's Sparty.That Iowa team gave us fits as so would have this year's MSU team. Griese would have had to come up big against a formidable D-line so check downs to his running backs and his play action deception would have came in big here. Our D would certainly be tested with one of the best RB's in Langford. I think our depth would have helped us a lot in this game as we had many moving parts that season on the defensive side of the ball. We probably would have bent a bit but I don't think we would have broke. WIN 20-17
Indiana/Northwestern/Maryland - this stretch would give the 97 team its first real life look at some type of spread offenses just without the personnel or talent. I can see our 97 squad coming away with one question from each game:
Indy - They lead the B1G in total offense? WIN 37-6
NW - If this is Northwestern then why do they have 5 WR's on the field? WIN 33-3
Maryland - Who is this team? WIN 39-7
Ohio State - Interesting. Challenging. 97 defense meet Urban Meyer. The brawn of the Wolverines verse the brains of a great coach. Uncharted territory for us back then as we never faced a more calculating mastermind. The zone read would have been an issue for us because quite frankly it didn't exist back then. We were a very disciplined team so I have to imagine we would have maintained good gap integrity and our DB's wouldn't have bought on any play actions off of the zone read options. I'd have to say that this would have been our greatest challenge. Our offense would have A.) controlled the clock like no other and play keep away or B.) keep pace by throwing the ball downfield. We would have given up points to the genius coach but for shits and giggles let's say WIN 31-30
Wisconsin (B1G Championship) - Ummmmm yeah. I have a feeling that the Badgers circa 1997 is EXACTLY the same as 2014. I wouldn't be surprised if the average height, weight and 40-yard dash times of their roster is exactly the same as it is now. Beefy guys up front, solid but unspectacular QB, and an electric RB. They gave us a game in 97 and I imagine they'd give us a game in 2014. We beat them back then and we'd beat them now. WIN 24-13
That brings us to the final four of ALABAMA, OREGON, FLORIDA STATE and MICHIGAN. The SEC wasn't as overhyped and as blown as it is today but it certainly is more talented and advanced. Oregon would have been a major issue for us simply because of Marcus Marriotta and Florida State well.....is....Florida State. As much as I am in love with the 1997 National Champs, I think their magical climb up the mountain ends in the semi-final to the Crimson Tide. Too much size, too much speed and too many playmakers for us to handle. Although how fun would it have been to see Amari Cooper going up against Charles Woodson??? The game would be an absolute dog-fight and by no means so I think we would be over-matched but I see us losing something like 27-21.
Happy Holidays and yes I was bored!