With Michigan coming up on the schedule this week, we turned to our friend Dave at Maize-n-Brew to give us some perspective on the Wolverines.
It should be a pretty exciting atmosphere on Saturday night. The student section has declared a Whiteout. It's prime time under the lights. Are the old farts in Ann Arbor ever going to allow you guys to host night games? Or are they too dedicated to the noon starts so they can get out in time for the early bird special at Bob Evans?
Haha! The joke's on you, my friend! Lights are indeed coming to Michigan Stadium, as early as the 2012 Michigan Notre Dame game which will be the first night game in Michigan Stadium history. The luxury boxes were built not only to help increase crowd noise and bring in buckets and buckets of wonderful money, but to support permanent lights. So, when we host our first night game, your record for the largest attendance at a night football game will be ours. Muhahahahaha!
And Bob Evans is delicious. How dare you mock the early bird special.
How would you say this season has met your preseason expectations so far? Have you readjusted your expectations at all now that we are midway through the season?
Well, I said 8-5 with a bowl win, so right now I'm pretty much dead on. I actually was asked about changing my expectations when Michigan went to 5-0 and I responded with a resounding "are you kidding me?" I said Michigan would be great on offense and suck like a Hoover on defense. So far this season is dead on with what I predicted back in early September:
• Wins: UMass, Bowling Green, Indiana, Illinois, Purdue (this is close to a toss up, but I can't see Purdue winning 3 straight, I just can't. Yes, this is my own prejudice showing through, but it's my blog.).
• Toss ups: UConn, Notre Dame, Michigan State, Penn State, Iowa. (Wait, how can you say PSU and Iowa are toss ups!? Here's why: Michigan almost beat Iowa last season with two freshmen quarterbacks, without it's best offensive lineman, and a defense comprised of one superstar and ten pieces of bubblegum. Iowa struggles against Michigan's spread, so I think this is a possible win. As for Penn State, I'm just not buying the Lions with a crappy, unproven quarterback. I'm also not buying that their linebacking corps will be anywhere near as effective as it was last season. You can't just replace all those upperclassmen and not have a drop off.) If Michigan wins two of these games, they're at 7 wins.
• Losses: Wisconsin and Ohio State. (I'm not sold on OSU, but they're still the better program right now. Injuries and the general smiteiness of life may change how I see this, but I'm thinking it's a loss. Wisconsin? We're going to get curb stomped. Power running game against a spread defense? We're screwed.)
That's right Penn State fans, you featured prominently in my Toss-up section and just like the above, it's pretty much dead on. I think the game's going to be pretty competitive based on the incompetence of Penn State's offense and Michigan's horrific defensive secondary. If I was to change any of these prognostications, it'd be to move Illinois to the Toss-up section.
There is a lot of pressure on Rich Rodriguez to show some kind of improvement over the past two disappointing seasons. Some people are saying this is a "must win" game for not only the Wolverines, but Rodriguez personally. Do you agree?
Not really. A "must win" is a game you have to win or go home for the season. This isn't that kind of game for either team. It would be nice to get a win in Happy Valley because it appears through the first 8-9 weeks of the season that Michigan is operating at a marginally higher level than the Lions. But, it's still a night game at Penn State and strange things happen under the lights.
I think as long as the Wolverines continue show improvement on defense and clean up the turnover issues, the whole "DICKROD HOTSEAT LOL!" thing will start to go away. The improvement on the offense and defensive line is pretty staggering, and once Michigan finally has some numbers on defense I think this will eventually be a pretty good fit for coach and program.
The last time Penn State fans saw Denard Robinson was when Rodriguez threw him in the game late in place of an ineffective Tate Forcier to try to spark a comeback. Denard then proceeded to hit Navorro Bowman right in the numbers in a horribly thrown pass. His SportsCenter highlights of 80-yard touchdown runs against Notre Dame and Indiana are already legendary, but how would you evaluate him as a passer this year?
Before the last two games I probably would've gone off on a rant about how Denard could kill a sparrow at 17,000 feet with a well timed fly route. But the MSU and Iowa games have shaken that confidence a tad. Denard's passing has improved dramatically over the last year and his performances up to the MSU game showed that. I think the MSU game rattled him a tad because he was seeing different defenses than he'd seen before and started second guessing his reads. He chucked two INTs that should've been touchdowns against MSU because he trailed an open receiver. The third, he just put up a bomb to the wrong side of his receiver and into the trailing double coverage. Ugh.
Naturally, we've come to find out that Denard had a shoulder issue similar to the injury that hampered Tate Forcier last season (is it okay to panic?). We were also later told that it wasn't as bad as Forcier's injury, and that some rest would allow it to go back to 100% by the PSU game (so, no, no panicking yet). Denard was very accurate up to the MSU game, but since then his placement and consistency has fallen off. I'm chalking that up to injury and inexperience.
That said, the bye week could not have come at a better time. It (hopefully) will allow him time to heal and time to catch his breath. I'd say he and Tate are at about the same level of competency in the offense, just that Denard's got a much stronger arm. Personally, I think he's a pretty good passer when healthy. However, if he's actually dinged up, he's basically the same as injured Tate in the passing game last year at this time, but much, much faster.
With the way Rodriguez hands him the ball 25 times per game and he accounts for 75% of the Michigan offense, it's easy for fans of other teams to wonder if Michigan has any other cards they can play. Is there any concern from Michigan fans that the offense is a one-man show?
Not really. Sure Denard was dominating the stat sheet up to the Iowa game, but when he went out a number of different players brought the Wolverines to within a touchdown of Iowa. Tate, Darryl Stonum, Junior Hemingway, Stephen Hopkins. It only seems like a one man show because you can link passing and rushing stats together, but the receivers have to be open for the gaudy passing stats to develop.
More importantly, I think nowhere near enough credit is being given to the job the offensive line is doing setting up both the run and the pass. Denard, Michael Shaw, Vincent Smith, Tate, and/or Hopkins wouldn't be lighting up the scoreboards and stat sheets if it wasn't for the job the line is doing. I think you'll see more of backs like Shaw and Hopkins as the season rolls on and less of Denard with the ball, but I still expect Denard to be in the 15-20 carries range because he simply is that electric with the ball in his hands.
It's so unusual to us to see Michigan teams that don't play good defense. What are the contributing factors as you see them?
Man. If I had a dime for this one..... The answer is the same as it was last year: Injuries, recruits that didn't pan out, bad recruiting from the prior regime, linebackers that aren't very good, etc. The biggest reason for the OMG FLOP! of the Michigan defense is that there are NO senior leaders on this team that are any good. There are three relevant seniors in Greg Banks, Jonas Mouton and Obi Ezeh. Ezeh, as you're probably well aware of having run over him repeatedly last season, is awful and has found a permanent (please god, let this be true) seat on the bench. Banks and Mouton are decent but by no means dominant Big Ten players. After that? Nothing. No redshirt seniors. All the Juniors are natural juniors who could've used that extra year.
Realizing the lack of depth, Rodriguez has recruited to fill the needs of the defense the last two years. Sadly, two of those recruits didn't qualify, one transferred, and the rest are exactly what you'd think, Freshmen. Rodriguez basically has had two recruiting seasons because he came on so late in the process in 2008, that all he could do was hold onto Carr's old recruits. Over the last two years, Rodriguez has played an ungodly number of freshmen and underclassmen trying to get them experience and find a solution to the numbers game. But sadly playing freshmen means you're playing freshmen and that handcuffs you down the line when you don't have the luxury of extra redshirt bodies to put in the game. The defense is getting better and hopefully will improve as the season goes on. But because of the lack of numbers on defense, the number of underclassmen in starting roles and the limited value of the seniors he's got, Rodriguez' defenses have struggled.
Care to make a prediction?
Michigan 31 Penn State 24