Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Daaaaamn Tate

Who knew Tate had a 132.84 QB rating? Not this guy.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Give Rich Rod Time

One win in the Big Ten? Does that sound eerily familiar? To many Wolverine fans, this season does not appear to be a great improvement over the last. After a hot start defeating a now-pitiful ND team, and with another squeaker comeback win over 1-win IU, we're since winless against quality opponents. Our defense is one of the worst in the Big Ten, our offense can't seem to get into a rhythm, and for some reason we're bleeding points in the third quarter. The big question I keep on getting is, is this season an improvement over the last?

The answer is a resounding and thunderous YES! Follow up question, should Rich Rod be canned if we look similarly bad next year? The answer is a resounding and thunderous NO!

This season is a vast, vast improvement over the last one. Every game we've lost this year, we have had a shot at winning (save #10-ranked Penn State, where we got completely killed), but have fallen prey to the same issues. Those issues are freshman mistakes from our freshman quarterback, turnovers, penalties and a shallow (opposite of deep, right?) defense that is unable to buttress a sometimes dynamic, but oft inconsistent offense.

These are issues that RR cannot fix in one season. Let's start with the D, shall we? The D is playing poorly for several reasons. One is that we are severely lacking talent at key spots on D. Obi Ezeh our middle linebacker (the QB of the defense), simply isn't good enough. He constantly makes the wrong reads, has terrible instincts, and takes poor drops back into pass coverage. It is no surprise that this former 3-star running back recruit was benched for Kevin Leach (a walk on...) in the Purdue game. A walk on?!?! At MLB?!?! That's gotta say something. Speaking of walk-ons, we're starting another one, Jordan Kovacs, at safety. Kid plays hard and has great fundamentals, but he clearly has a lack of elite athleticism. He's starting because there is nobody else. Brandon Graham is obviously a monster, and will wipe his tears with his signing bonus. So he's an outlier. Don't even get me started on the horror that has been Mike Williams this season.

We do have talent though, the problem is that they are young and inexperienced. Craig Roh is playing phenomenally well for a freshman, and RVB and Mike Martin, who are only sophomores, have shown flashes of talent but are struggling to execute consistently. Big Will Campbell, 5-star freshman stud DL out of Detroit, clearly has a ways to go. These guys are all starting. Sheeeeeeesh. Talk about your bare cupboard! At least D Warren won't be leaving anytime soon, and we've got some help on the way at CB (though our latest 5-star CB to see the field is no longer on the team... whoops!). Always next year, right?

So let's see: lack of talent, lack of depth, loads of inexperience at key positions... ah wait, one more thing. Since our offense is so inconsistent and so prone to those gut wrenching 3 and outs, the defense is forced to be on the field for the entire game. No defense can play well when they're on the field that long. I'm actually amazed at how well our D has been playing after being forced to compensate for our shoddy O.

Also, people calling for GRob's head are completely nuts. The dude is a proven winner at multiple levels, just give him the tools. Besides, do you really want 4 D Coordinators in 4 years? Neither do I.

That's quite a hefty post already. Let me just touch on the offense briefly. It comes down to this: freshman QB's will make freshman mistakes, and that is exactly what is happening with Tate. Holding onto the ball too long is his key issue (as well as ball security, or lack thereof in Tate's case) but he will learn. Best thing about freshmen? They become sophomores. It's frustrating, yes, but you knew this day would come. Molk getting injured was also HUGE, as our O line didn't look like they had it together really with Moosman at center until the Purdue game.

Biggest problems for our O: inconsistent play, lack of execution, and PENALTIES and TURNOVERS. We've improved on all these issues as the season has gone along, but it is clear that our O is young and that they make mistakes. These issues too have their roots in inexperience, and should improve with time.

In summary: Be patient. Give RR time to bring in his players and develop them. This will take more time than we previously thought, but it will come. To put it plainly, winning will silence all the doubters. All RR needs to do is win, and all the boo-birds will fade into the crowd. If he can't get it done in a few years, then we can start talking about canning him. For now, just be patient.

Some Bullets:
-What has taken so long to get Roundtree out on the field? After a spectacular spring game, he disappeared. And people are surprised now that he's making plays. Sheeeeeeesh coaches!! Roundtree > Odoms.
-VINCENT SMITH!!!! (for anybody who hasn't watched a game with me, I have absolutely loved this kid since I saw his high school film)
-I like seeing that RR (or is it GRob?) is rotating some bodies in on D to try a few things. We've seen brief appearances from Kenny Demens and JB Fitzgerald (!!! Big fan of this kid too), and we even saw the journeyman Brandon Smith (#4) play a pretty big role on D in the Wisconsin game. He played well, I thought, for being new to the position just this year.
-I'm glad that Patrick Omameh beat out Dorrenstein. Kid is an absolute beast (and an engineer, to boot!), and we're seeing it on the field. Just wait til RS RG Q Washington sees the field next year, and you will see him DESTROY.
-What happened to Kevin Koger? It looks like he's regressed since the beginning of the season.


Friday, November 13, 2009

The Badgers Will Crush Michigan (Jinx!)

On the road at Camp Randall in mid-November against a bruising top 25 team surely means a beat-down for Big Blue, right?

Well, probably.

And now in Week 11 this team seems to be in full-blown disarray. Coach Rodriguez is planning on rotating more heavily on defense this Saturday (get ready for prime time, JT Floyd) and there are rumors being kicked around that Denard Robinson will get his first start.

The coaches pulled the plug on the Kevin Leach/JB Fitzgerald switcheroo that put starting LB's Obi Ezeh and Jonas Mouton on the bench against Purdue by the fourth quarter. Now it sounds like all four will be rotating in. For whatever reason none of the LB's seems capable of cementing themselves as THE starter. Leach looks quicker than Ezeh and puts himself into better position but Ezeh is bigger and better at shedding the big uglies that Wisconsin specializes in. Fitzgerald's emergence last week was surprising because I think Mouton has been a good performer this season. On the one hand I credit the coaches for not being complacent and continuing to search for the right combination on defense. On the other hand, did it take until Week 10 to realize our defense needed some kind of change?

Our safety play seems erratic at best. Mike Williams comes up with a nice play every once in a while, but he often seems to be involved in every play that you groan "Who missed that tackle?!" Jordan Kovacs looks like a good find but I think the novelty of a walk-on-turned starter is wearing off and he's being exposed a little bit more in recent weeks. Donovan Warren and Troy Woolfolk often look like the defensive secondary's most sure tacklers but the only backup in the secondary the coaches seem to want to use is Floyd, so if we see him this Saturday, does that mean Woolfolk plays a some safety?

The defensive line is generally a bright spot. Bright in that it looks better than the LB's or secondary. This is the only unit that sees plenty of rotating and it features our two best defensive players, Brandon Graham and Stevie Brown (I'm counting Brown as a D-lineman because he's been too good to lump him in the LB's and secondary). But if Brandon Graham doesn't get pressure on the QB, do you really believe someone else on the line will? I hope during practice this week Greg Robinson focused his young D-line on getting to the quarterback (let's try a few stunts!).

It's distressing that in Week 11 we're still searching answers on defense.

It's distressing that in Week 11 we're also still searching for answers on offense.

I think generally our offense "gets" RichRod's schemes. M scores a lot of points and often puts together scorched-earth drives, moving the ball at will. But in Week 11, who is our "go-to" receiver? Greg Mathews either seems the centerpiece of the passing game or the forgotten man. Martavious Odoms missed the last few weeks with a hurt knee. Junior Hemingway started off hot then missed a chunk of the middle season nursing an injury. Kelvin Grady appears to be off the depth chart. Roy Roundtree has emerged in recent weeks do we want the fate of our passing game in the hands of a redshirt freshman?

Speaking of "go-to" receiver, who do you trust to get us four yards on the ground in a crucial third down? Brandon Minor of course, but he's on an every-other week playing schedule with a chronically gimpy ankle. Is Carlos Brown the man? Sometimes. What about Michael Shaw or Vincent Smith? Despite occassional heavy doses of playing time they still look they're learning on the job. How about QB's Tate Forcier or Denard Robinson? If they hold onto the ball, maybe.

Scary that after so many weeks of play, we have lots of weapons but not any that an opposing defense should fear. Maybe that's partly out of design so other teams can't key on one or two playmakers, or maybe it's that none of our skill players are truly exceptional.

This brings me to the Denard Robinson conundrum. The talk is that he'll play a lot on Saturday, possibly even starting. That sound you hear is Michigan nation saying, "Huh?"

Robinson was a non-factor against Purdue or Illinois and hasn't played well since Delaware State...and even I played well against Delaware State. If he's showing lots of growth in practice, why didn't we see it during the last two games? His feet are still electric, but if the coaches expect him to come in and throw 15 times on Saturday, they should really think about how they've only called 22 passing plays for him the previous 10 weeks. This potential switch seems to be less about rewarding Robinson and more about punishing Forcier.

Why not put them both in the game at the same time?? By my count it's happened twice this season and everyone in the stadium (and a few people just passing by outside) knew the ball would be handed off to Robinson. Let's use our weapons to be creative. A reverse? A double pass? A flea flicker? I just came up with three awesome ideas if I do say so myself.

You'll notice I haven't said anything about Wisconsin yet. That's by design. There is too much about M to discuss. Everything we need to know about Wisconsin came in the first line of this blog: they are playing at home, they are in the top-25 and they are still a big, bruising Wisconsin team.

But maybe, just maybe Michigan will put out a shocking win (at this point, it would be a shocking win) on the road. Or maybe not. Or most certainly not.

Wisconsin 28-Michigan 17...but let's just hope I'm wrong like I've been consistently wrong for the last month.

Friday, October 30, 2009

On Paper (or in HTML) This One Is Over

I'd liken the season Illinois is putting together to Brandon Minor's chronic gimpy ankle, but that would be an insult to Minor's persistent limping.

Illinois is not just limping into this game, they are barely crawling in. The Fighting Illini are 1-6, winless in the Big Ten and generally give a bad name to all other teams described as being in "disarray."

Remember how they went to the Rose Bowl two seasons ago? Remember how Ron Zook was the Big Ten renaissance man and his teams were only going to get better given his SEC-mentality and recruiting roots? Ah, time really does fly.

How in the world did Juice Williams and Eddie McGee become the least potent 1-2 quarterback punch in the conference since Steven Threet and Nick Sheridan? And let's keep in mind that Williams and McGee were supposed to be stars, Threet and Sheridan were supposed to not die.

There are so many questions to ponder with this Illinois team and at this point in the season the most worrisome is to wonder if they can beat Michigan this Saturday?

They shouldn't and here's why: Illinois simply encourages teams to run on them. They are giving up 227 rushing yards per game in Big Ten play. Michigan will likely be without Brandon Minor and center David Molk is gone for the year, but the Wolverines should still increase that rushing average. With its stable of running backs (Carlos Brown is expected to play a lot on Saturday), Michigan could run for 250 - 300 yards against Illinois. Given that Michigan is playing only its third road game, expect them to run a lot to put Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson back into a comfort zone after a dreadful game against Penn State.

I know Michigan had fumble-itis last week against Penn State and did have trouble moving the football for about 30 minutes in the middle of the game, but the Fighting Illini will basically be inviting the Wolverines to run. Don't turn them down.

Offensively Illinois is a mess - they are only scoring 16 points a game. Considering Michigan scores more than 30 a game (yes I understand the Delaware State game skewed the average), the averages are on Michigan's side. Despite the Fighting Illini's inept offense, you've got to worry that its dormant weapons could catch fire against a weak Michigan secondary. Hopefully Brandon Graham will get to whichever QB Illinois trots out there before he can throw.

The big question is how Michigan will handle the road. It's shocking and a bit troubling that on October 31 Michigan is only playing it's THIRD road game. This goes to scheduling and Michigan's unwillingess to go on the road for non-conference games, and I think it does a disservice to the team.

But Michigan really has been in both of its road games (both losses) when it played Michigan State and Iowa - both which would be on the "greater than" side of a mathematical equation involving Illinois. This leads me to believe Michigan will finally put things together on the road against the hapless Juice & Co. and win their first road game.

By Saturday night Michigan will be bowl-eligible, will be 1-2 on the road and you'll be buzzing from either Halloween candy or Halloween booze.

Final score: Michigan 33, Illinois 21

Friday, October 2, 2009

Committing to Making a Non-Commitment for This Rivalry Game

Will you at least give me a three step head start?

I’m going to need it to run away from the mobs of angry Wolverine fans after they read this: Michigan State should win this game and they probably will...but it's definitely not even close to being a sure thing.

Before last Saturday’s debacle against Wisconsin (not to mention the blown game against Notre Dame and the embarrassing, mistake-filled loss to Central Michigan) I would’ve have written Michigan State will win this game. But that all changed now that the Spartans are limping into this game with a 1-3 record and the clouds of failed seasons past are beginning to gather overhead.

Let’s take a look at this game realistically: no one expected the Spartans to be this bad coming into Week 5 and no one expected the Wolverines to be this good. You are simply lying to yourself if you thought otherwise.

Combine those two factors with the Spartans home field advantage and I think you’ll reach the same flimsy conclusion I did: the Spartans should win this game, but they might not.

Now for the why.

The one thing that should be staring everyone in the face is that MSU will be DESPERATE to win this game. Mark Dantonio’s career might depend on it. If he doesn’t win this game and the Spartans drop to 1-4, MSU will lose public support faster than Kanye West.

MSU players can’t stand the fact that they are coming into this game at 1-3 (although they didn’t seem to care enough in their previous three games to actually try and win them) and they hate that Michigan is 4-0. These Spartans want to be the team that brings Michigan back to earth. They will be motivated and will be fired up by a home crowd that last saw the boys when they were 1-1.

The Spartans can move the ball through the air – they threw for nearly 400 yards last week against Wisconsin. Blair White and Mark Dell are very good receives and BJ Cunningham provides another game-breaker. The problem is who will get them ball. This might not be the game for Dantonio to keep the two QB experiment going. MSU needs to air it out against Michigan’s soft secondary to win this game. That means keeping Keith “Crazy Legs” Nichol on the bench in favor of Kirk Cousins.

Just like USC, the Spartans have a stable of backs. Unlike USC, none of them are very good. If the Spartans are forced to run the ball they will be in for a long game.

If the Spartans go after Michigan through the air, they should put enought points on the board to outscore the Wolverines.

This brings me to the “X-factor” and I’m not talking about whether or not Denard Robinson will tie his shoes…I’m talking about THE WEATHER.

The forecast is calling for rain and lots of it. That should favor the Wolverines for two reasons: 1) it will limit the Spartans ability to throw and 2) it will limit the Wolverines ability to throw – and that means letting Brandon Minor, Carlos Brown, Michael Shaw, Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson will be running wild (that’s assuming David Moosman can get the snaps to Forcier and Robinson – a very real fear I pointed out in an earlier column).

Michigan averages 240 yards per game on the ground. Michigan State gives up 113 yards per game but has not seen a rushing attack like the Wolverines have. If the pass game is neutralized for both teams, the edge has to go to Michigan.

Also don’t be surprised if Forcier gets banged up and the Wolverines insert Nick Sheridan into the game. This is the Wolverines first road game and if the weather is bad, the coaching staff might turn to the veteran to simply hand the ball off.

Bad weather will also affect the Spartans’ kicking game. MSU Brett Swenson will be the best kicker on the field (he might be State’s best player) but lots of wind and rain could create problems for thim.

You may be asking yourself – why haven’t we discussed the either team’s defense? For the simple reason that neither team plays defense. This game is all about which offense shows up and which offense handles the elements.

I don’t even have the guts to make a prediction on this game but I will…sort of.

Non-tsunami weather: Michigan State 37 – Michigan 35

Tsunami weather: Michigan 31 – Michigan State 24

sPARTY showdown

This should be an interesting, if not completely gut-wrenching, game.

As expected, Michigan has shown flashes of brilliance mixed with flashes of frustration. They have played up to defeat Notre Dame, but they let EMU and IU run all over our thin and inexperienced D. Thus far, though, when the chips are down, Michigan has come through.

The only consistency we have had is that we have been exposed as being unable to stop even the most meager rushing attack. Thankfully we're playing an MSU team that doesn't feature Javon Ringer (or Jehuu Caulcrick!), and has already had swift reminders in this young season of why they're Michigan State: critical dropped balls, late game meltdowns, losing to directional Michigan, you get the picture. But I will join the pundits in saying that this is a very, very good 1-3 team and they certainly are good enough to beat Michigan (heck, IU was almost good enough!).

MSU's quarterback carousel has firmly landed on Kirk Cousins to start, and he is no slouch. He beat out the Oklahoma transfer Keith Nichol, who is very good in his own right (As an aside, boy I bet Oklahoma still wishes they had that guy). and he has all the physical tools of a good QB. MSU also has a great passing attack, probably the second best we'll see all year next to ND's. Blair White is probably the heir to the MSU NFL WR throne (As another aside: Charles Rogers is NOT doing great and Plax is in jail. That's why you're MSU). They also have another good WR in Dell, who has made some clutch plays this season.

Look for MSU to go straight at the corner who is not named Donovan Warren. Early, often. With anybody who can strap on a pair of cleats having 100-yard rushing games on our D, combined with a potent pass offense, look for this game to be a high scoring one. Let's keep our fingers crossed, and hope that this year we can put little brother back where he belongs.

Go Blue, friends.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Amazingly Anonymous Hoosiers Shooting For Respect

You have three seconds to answer this question - and no, you can't phone a friend and you can't use Google - who is the head football coach at Indiana University?

Didn't get it? You're probably not the only one.

The answer is Bill Lynch and he's in his third year at the helm of the Hoosiers.

But don't beat yourself up about it - Michigan hasn't played the Hoosiers since a 34-3 spanking in Bloomington in 2006 but there's a bigger reason at play: over the last decade Indiana has made its football program into arguably the most anonymous program in the Big Ten.

Not since Antwaan Randle-El graduated in 2002 have the Hoosiers had a truly "marquee player" who receives national attention (he finished sixth in Heisman voting that year). Here are some other interesting facts: Indiana's last visit to the Rose Bowl was in 1968, the last time they finished a season in the AP Top 25 was 1988 (20), and they did not play in bowl game from 1994-2006.

It's also fairly easy for Michigan fans to ignore Indiana because the all-time series sits at 50-9 (not in favor of the Hoosiers), Michigan hasn't lost to the Hoosiers since 1987 and last lost to the Hoosiers at home in 1967.

That being said Bill Lynch does have this Hoosiers team at 3-0 coming into play at Michigan Stadium this Saturday. But - and there's always a "but" - those wins are over Eastern Kentucky, Western Michigan and Akron. Now I know what any Michigan haters are saying, other than Notre Dame Michigan has played two MAC teams!

Indiana beat Eastern Kentucky by 6, WMU by 4 and Akron by 17.

Michigan beat WMU by 24, ND by 4 and Eastern Michigan by 28.

Clearly, though, M cannot take any opponent lightly - especially not the Big Ten opener. Indiana is hungry to go 4-0 and to wipe the smiles off of all M fans across the country. Michigan is suddenly a media darling again (see Sports Illustrated's September 21 issue) and all Michigan fans are salivating for a 12-0 season (realistic fans are still salivating for a 7-5 season).

Indiana will bring in the "Pistol" formation on offense. It's like a shortened shotgun formation where the QB stands back from the centers a few yards and the RB remains behind the QB. The Pistol theoretically helps the QB and RB read the running game, especially on the interior of the line.

Will this unorthodox look foul up M's defense? It's really anyone's guess when it comes to the "bend don't break" defense M has been running out so far through three games.

On defense the Hoosiers have a pair of bona fide pass rushers: Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton have combined for 40 sacks in their careers at Indiana. This will surely put pressure on M's freshman QB and a line that's been reshuffled because of C David Molk's injury. Expect them to get to Tate Forcier, but let's hope M can counter their pressure with some timely draw plays to Brandon Minor and Michael Shaw and some screens to Carlos Brown. I would also like to see TE Kevin Koger to reestablish himself this week after the passing game basically took the EMU game off.

I fully expect Indiana to put some points on the board, but Michigan is averaging 38 points a game and the Wolverines will outscore the Hoosiers.

Michigan 35, Indiana 21.

Michigan will surpass it's 2008 win total in one month of the 2009 season...the Hoosiers will remain largely anonymous at least this week.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Crying Over Spilled Molk

I'm getting a little nervous...

Center David Molk is expected to miss 4-6 weeks with a broken foot. This news is very worrisome to me. I consider Molk the most consistent offensive lineman for M in the RichRod era. Center is a thinking man's position that requires a lot of communication with the four other lineman and quarterback to adjust blocking assignments at the line - and I think Molk has done it very well in the past 15 games.

I will be interested to see how Tate Forcier does without Molk in there - a good center/quarterback relationship can really contribute to a solid offense. Michigan's running game seems to be developing nicely and it always helps to keep your offensive line consistent. Guard David Moosman missed the EMU game and M survived (some would even say thrived) but I never like to see musical chairs on the offensive line.

Am I just being an alarmist here?

Any other early-in-the-week thoughts about the upcoming Big Ten opener against Indiana?

One other note...the Big Ten Network claimed the Michigan-Michigan State game as its headliner for Saturday, October 3 at Noon. I can't say I'm thrilled about that scheduling. Frankly I like noon starts (and for this game it will give all those Spartans fans less time to drink before the game - I hope) but the Michigan/MSU game should be more of a marqee event...and that usually means a 3:30 start.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Carleton Brundidge a Wolverine!

Michigan received its first 2011 commitment today from Southfield PG Carleton Brundidge. Brundidge is consensus top 100 for 2011, and is viewed by many (many wolverine fans, that is) as the best player in a deep 2011 class in the state of Michigan.

For more on Brundidge, check out the UM Hoops commit article.

This is a huge pickup for Beilein and co for many reasons. A constant knock on Beilein is that he is purely a system coach who cannot recruit top talent. Bogus. Another is that he is unable to recruit the talent-rich state of Michigan. Bogus again. This commitment puts a lot of pressure on the two remaining top candidates, both very highly rated wings, left for 2010: Trey Zeigler (Mount Pleasant, MI) and Casey Prather (Memphis, TN). Meech being scholarship strapped, it also puts pressure on top ranked 2011 MI wing Brandon Kearney to compete for the highly-coveted remaining wing opening. If any one of these kids ends up committing, we've got ourselves a very talented future wing at U of M. If none does, there's plenty of other top-ranked talent with Meech love, so it's a win-win.

Huge, huge, huge pickup for John Beilein and co. The future looks bright for the U of M basketball program. If you don't follow Meech basketball by now, you certainly should.

-Devin Gardner does NOT want to redshirt. He wants to play NOW!
-The Michigan Daily actually wrote a piece worth reading last week. Not just surprisingly good, but I would go as far to say that it's excellent. The subject of the article is Pahokee, home of Martavious Odoms, Brandin Hawthorne and Vincent Smith.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Quick Report Card...

A few quick thoughts on today...

First and foremost a hearty welcome to "MK" to our humble sports blog.

Denard Robinson threw the ball a few times today, with at least one of them being a deep pass. Unfortunately, he threw 2 INT's which were both a product of his poor decision making. The bullet he threw to Odoms (that was incomplete) was a bullet right on target, which gives us some hope. He seems to be more comfortable and accurate throwing on the run than he is with his feet planted. Interesting that they might use that to our advantage in certain bootleg and play action plays. He is clearly still a work in progress when it comes to the passing game, but he shows promise.

That being said... he is a sick sick sick sick sick runner. His ability to make something out of nothing is really remarkable. He is very exciting to watch, and is a spark to our offense.

Tate Forcier looked just okay today. He made some questionable judgement calls holding on to the ball too long, which is to be expected with a freshman QB. But it sure was scary when he went down in the 3rd quarter. He seems to be ok, but the really impressive thing was his clear desire to want to get right back into the game. Gotta love the heart.

The receivers today looked pretty good, although we barely threw the ball all day. I would love to see us utilize the tight end in the middle of the field more, especially on QB rollouts (see: Denard Robinson. Although Tate would be great at this as well).

Carlos Brown seemed to step up huge today. Part of this is a product of our offensive line just man handling their d-line, but Carlos still looked pretty good. Michael Shaw also had a few good looking runs, including a few ankle breakers. They should both compliment Brandon Minor well for the rest of the season.

Our d-line looked fairly good, however they were mostly matched up against a mediocre o-line. That being said, Craig Roh is going to be a nasty player when he develops further.

Linebackers played meh, and Ezeh is consistently out of position to make plays. It bothers me that we have no one else better than him on the depth chart. I know he is a great athlete but his positioning routinely scares me. As we enter Big Ten season, it will be interesting to see how they match up against the run.

Secondary was ok today. Donovan played well, but that shoulder injury is clearly still bothering Boubacar. He can't press at the line, and he has trouble being physical with the receivers. Hopefully he will be better when it comes time to play against MSU etc... Safety play is much better, save for a few mental errors by Woolfolk and others, and Stevie Brown actually looks like a football player in his new position.

All in all, not too impressive of a win, but we got the job done and I guess that is what counts. Looking forward to starting the Big Ten season off with a win.

The Battle of Washtenaw County

Michigan and Eastern Michigan are separated by just 7 miles but this is hardly a Tobacco Road-esque meeting.

All time Michigan leads the series 8-0, and frankly I was surprised the two teams have met that many times. But I suppose when you start playing each other in 1896 you're bound to get in at least 8 games in the next 110 years.

The most intruiging part of this game to me is the Ron English factor. The last time these two teams played in 2007 (a 33-22 M win) English was on the M sidelines coaching the defense. Now he's in his second season as the Eagles head coach. I know he interviewed for Michigan's top spot in 2007 but I never felt he got a fair shake to truly take the job. The fact that he interviewed always seemed like a courtesy to me - to acknowledge his handful of years at Michigan and to add "Michigan" to his interview resume.

University officials always seemed hell-bent on landing a "name" coach and English at that point certainly was not a "name" coach (but could you have forgiven them if they'd bypassed him for Greg Schiano? I think not). Landing Rich Rodriguez was a major coup for M but I believe there are some out there who would still love to see English leading the Wolverines.

Michigan fans should know better than to discount English and his abilities. He deserves most of the of the credit for Michigan's stellar defensive play in 2006 (when the team went 11-2 and at was ranked #2 nationally before the M-OSU game), a year that was his first as defensive coordinator.

It's highly unlikely he has similar weapons on EMU this year but the point is that he can coach, and if he does well there for the next couple years don't expect the RichRod haters to keep quiet - no matter what M accomplishes.

On to the game...

This has the potential to be an ugly game. This is a classic stumbling block game, sandwiched in between the vitriolic Notre Dame game and the Big Ten opener (Indiana). Michigan's talent should be enough to carry them to a win, but don't be surprised if it ends up being a game that finishes 35-28 or something like that.

What Michigan MUST do today:

Establish a runner who can complement Brandon Minor. Whether that is Carlos Brown or Michael Shaw or Vincent Smith -- someone must step into the role of #2 runner (where was Shaw in the Notre Dame game? He didn't touch the field).

Throw with Denard Robinson at QB about 10 times. After just two games no one is fooled about what Robinson is going to do when he subs in. The coaching staff says he will remain at QB...well, quarterbacks throw the ball. He went 2-4 passing against Western Michigan so we know he can throw in a game situation...now do it 10 times against Eastern.

Keep Tate's fire lit. If this means playing Sheridan or Denard a lot - do it. Let's not forget Tate is a freshman (albeit a good one with 2-0 record already) and that growing pains happen. That means we need to have another quarterback game-ready if TF goes cold on the road at MSU or Iowa. RichRod lives and dies with his system, not necessarily the players in it. So while TF should get the bulk of the playing time, let's get the other QB's in there.

Throw deep. I was pleased that M unleashed a few deep passes against ND - most notably Greg Mathew's circus catch during the first drive - but this is clearly a weakness for TF. This game is as much about playing EMU as it is about scaring Big Ten teams (sorry, Eagles fans, but that's true). That means we have to throw deep to Mathews, Darryl Stonum and Junior Hemingway (if he plays). It's the old adage about keeping the defense "honest"...not letting them load up against M's short passing game.

Build some defensive depth. This is crucial for the secondary, a unit forced to play without safety Mike Williams for the second half last week and that is still seeming to lack a suitable backup at corner - apologies to JT Floyd who was serviceable against WMU. Donovan Warren appears to be developing into a true #1 corner - ND stayed away from him plenty last week - and I'm terrified of the prospect of him getting hurt. Greg Robinson began to sub somewhat liberally on the defensive line against ND and he should keep this up -- let's see what Will "The Thrill" Campbell can do! He must be getting tired of fellow freshman Craig Roh getting all the love...

Blitz! EMU has a good passing game and Michigan needs to put pressure on QB Andy Schmitt, especially after coming up with 0 sacks against ND.

Kick consistently. Zoltan Mesko and Jason Olesnavage must become weapons. M is a young team and will need its kicking game to bail it out on occassion if it wants to continue on with its solid season.

A few thoughts from last week's game...

Michigan Stadium can get LOUD. It probably won't sound the same against EMU as it did against ND, but it's comforting to know the potential for noise is there.

Favorite t-shirt seen in the crowd last week: "Don't Mesko with the Zoltan"

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A QB Hypothetical

This post was originally going to contain 2 hypothetical questions concerning our QB's, but Sports Illustrated online beat me to the punch on one of them (Forcier vs. Pryor):


So... we are down to only one. However I do want to add to that article that had we landed Pryor last year, good bad or otherwise, we would be committed to having him be our QB for at least a large part of this current season. With his current stats at a top football program, that is somewhat of a scary thought. We just may have unintentially dodged a bullet.

Before you read on, please remember that this is only a HYPOTHETICAL musing. What follows assumes a ton of things.

Although it is still way to early to tell, Michigan appears to have found itself a QB capable of running RichRod's show. Much to the delight of Michigan fans everywhere, Tate Forcier had a huge coming out party on Saturday at Notre Dame's expense. The freshman looked poised and prepared for everything that Big Poppa Weis and the God Squad threw at him, and he performed far above expectations.

Here's my question:

Now that we have Devin Gardner (the nation's #1 ranked high-school QB) interested in coming to Michigan, what becomes of Tate and Denard in 2010? Assuming that Tate can only get better from here, plays most if not all of this season as our starting QB, and improves in the offseason, he will arguably be the probable starter entering the 2010 season. Denard, who seems to be being brought along slowly, would then be our default #2 guy, with at least a shot at competing for the starting job. If we get Gardner (IF), and if he is smart and talented enough to run in this system (IF), RichRod would no doubt have a bit of a bottleneck at the QB position.

Assuming the season goes well from here on out, it would be hard to start anyone but Tate, unless he was being out-right beat in QB competitions by one of the other two aforementioned QB's. That being said, RichRod doesn't strike me as an overly loyal person (see Nick Sheridan), and would without a doubt start the guy who deserved it the most.

If Denard Robinson doesn't make some major improvements at the QB position this year, would it be safe to say that he might be the odd man out of this threesome? Obviously he is too talented for RichRod to keep him off of the field, but perhaps his days (years) at QB are limited, espeically now that he appears to be well behind the learning curve of Tate Forcier's. Maybe RichRob could turn him into one of those great Percy Harvin type players, who can be used in a number of ways not limited to any one position.

Maybe the same fate awaits Devin Gardner if he chooses to come to Michigan. Who is to say that he will be smart enough to run RichRod's somewhat complex system? Who is to say he will/won't be able to? He surely has the physical talent to do it, but will he have the opportunity to be a QB? Maybe he won't even decide to come at all if he feels he won't get ample playing time as a QB? Who knows.

No matter what happens the rest of this season, it is clear that, when it comes to talent, we have a bright future at the QB position, regardless of who may be running the show. It sure will be interesting to see what happens in the coming months.

(For recruiting film and notes on Devin Gardner, try www.YouTube.com, and more importantly www.mgoblog.com, and www.yahoo.com/sports, who I find does a better job at in-depth scouting than Rivals and Scouts, Inc. combined.)

Look for a post later this week on my immense frustration with the so-called "Worldwide leader in sports". As always, fire away on the comments and counterpoints.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The King is Dead, Long Live the King

In a simply amazing display of grit and skill, the 6th ranked man in the world, Juan Martin Del Potro, did what no one before him could; beat Roger Federer in a U.S. Open Final. After being down 2 sets to 1 and a break in the fourth, Del Potro stormed back courtesy of a monster forehand to secure a 3-6, 7-6, 4-6, 7-6, 6-2 victory. He is only the second man to ever beat Roger Federer in a Grand Slam final (Rafa being the first).

Now, considering how closely you all follow tennis and my posts specifically, I am sure you've already noticed this, but I thought I would point it out before anyone else did. This is what I said in my blog post written at the beginning of the US Open regarding the newly crowned Champion Juan Martin Del Potro:
"You've never heard of him. Though he's been arguably the second best player this summer (behind Murray) and has a chance to go far, he ain't gonna win it."
I'm an idiot. That said, the 20 year-old Argentine simply played out of his mind. It took him 3 sets or so to forget that he was playing arguably the best player in the history of the sport in the largest stadium on the planet for the biggest title of his life, but once he got over that little hurdle, he won it handily.

Charlie Weis Is A Baby

You did not lose the game based on officiating. Sack up, be a man, congratulate us on a hard-fought win, prepare for Michigan State.

Sunday, September 13, 2009



That was pretty cool.

I'm not sure we absolutely needed to win yesterday to make the statement that our program is back on the national scene, but it sure did help. Win or loose, the way we played was enough to raise some eyebrows and make some heads nod around the country. We looked comfortable on offense, and, save for a few mistakes, our secondary was pretty decent against arguably the second best offense we will face this year. All in-all, it was a huge win for confidence alone.

But all of that is moot compared to what actually happened on the field yesterday.

There was a point late in yesterday's game that I said to myself, "We are for sure good enough to win this game, but I'm not sure we are mature enough to make it happen."

I stand majorly corrected.

This team had multiple chances to mentally fold this game and give up a win that was ours for the taking. But they didn't. Untimely interceptions, a few blown leads, missed open receivers, and dropped touchdown passes were all overcome. The short memory, focus, and drive of this team is something that we did not see all of last year. How many close games like this did we lose in 2008 due to general inexperience and confusion? It would appear that that is becoming a thing of the past.

I was proud to see our team perform like they did yesterday, and it was a timely win for a program that is trying hard to make a statement. All in all, a very impressive win. It's clear that we need to make some adjustments and still have a lot of things to learn. But we are doing some serious growing up, and we are doing it mighty fast.

In other news...

It would appear that Tate Forcier has a pretty firm grasp on the starting QB job for at least the next few weeks. TF exceeded all expectations yesterday, looking like a seasoned veteran for the entire game save for a few mistakes. In my account, TF made no major errors, and as a fan, I feel much more comfortable with him at the helm. Even the late interception he threw didn't prove to be costly, due to his short memory and ability to let it roll right off of his back and get out there and keep firing. Also, let's not forget how badly he broke that guy's ankles on his TD run. This is not to say that Denard Robinson won't get some snaps in the coming weeks (especially as we play some scrubby teams), but I think his playing time will be limited and mostly in specialty packages as long as TF continues to play like he did this week.

Thoughts? Comments? Disagreements? Bring it on...

Friday, September 11, 2009

My ND opinions

Well since everybody ELSE seems to be previewing the ND game, I might as well have a few bullet points.

Notre Dame's rushing offense is meh. Their offensive line is meh. Their intermediate passing game is meh. Their deep game is HOLYGODWARPDRIVEAWESOME. Since they can only really hurt us one way (the big play), there are two keys to our success defensively. One is that we get pressure on Clausen with our defensive line and via blitzing. Best case scenario is that Brandon Graham eats Clausen. Realistically we didn't get a stellar amount of penetration against WMU, so I hope that we can improve on that.

The second key to victory is DB play. Floyd and G. Tate are both stellar receivers in the deep game, and have great hands. Even if we cover them well, they may still come down with it, which is why Clausen hucks it up all game. ND got most of their big plays off play action against Nevada (and against us last year), so our safeties must be cognizant of this and STAY HOME. If Obi Ezeh and co can handle Armando Allen and the rest of the intermediate passing game, that will allow our safeties to play back a bit in softer coverage, which may mask our inexperience back there. Expect Clausen to go deep early and often; he throws an absolutely beautiful deep ball. With Tate and Floyd on the receiving end, it behooves them to either try to draw a PI call (Looking at you, Donovan), or to let their 'ceivers do what they do best. Either way, this should be a nice test for our improved D. I have the utmost confidence that with Greg Robinson at the helm, we should be fully prepared for anything that ND will throw at us (pun INtended).

Look for Craig Roh to have another big game covering the second tight end in a 2 TE set and/or rushing the passer. Keep an eye out for Stevie Brown making some big plays as well against the rush and against their big TE Kyle Rudolph.

Though I think the key to our victory against ND lies in how our D plays, if our offense is as explosive as it was in the first half of the WMU game, we should be in good shape. If it looks like it did in the second half against WMU, we're in trouble. Then again, Coner was playing in the second half and we closed up the playbook, so no big deal. Notre Dame's rush defense was also meh against Nevada, allowing Nevada to gain something like 5 ypc. That's sad, especially against a middling WAC team. As my faithful readers may know (ha!), I want to see more from the RBs in the running game. Hopefully we'll pound it a bit more this week. Hemingway being out maybe means Mathews is the #1 receiver, maybe we'll see some of Roy Roundtree (oh please, oh please, oh please)? Eh, maybe not, but a guy can dream, can't he?! Maybe Stonum will spontaneously play up to his potential? Doubtful. It will be interesting to see who Tate goes for deep in this game (please not James Rogers).

Look for Denard to leave a vapor trail. Look for Minor to smash somebody, then get injured if he indeed plays. Look for my favorite running back Mike Shaw to rush for 1,000,000 yards!

Extra Points

Further proof that Charlie Weis is an arrogant asshole: when asked in his press conference about opposing QB Tate Forcier he said "It was interesting -- I haven't thought about him for a while." You haven't thought about the QB you're about to face in awhile!? Is Tate not a freshman sensation, or are all the pundits wrong? I want Tate to throw for 300 yards again to give Charlie Cheeseburger something to chew on that's not pork gristle. One thing is for sure, he'll keep a little further away from the sideline this year, lest those knees begin to ache. Maybe he'll just stay on the golf cart that takes him from the tunnel to the sideline. He then goes on to talk about how they looked at Tate for recruiting, but Tate was simply not the right fit at Notre Dame, for "what we do", which apparently is getting beaten by a bottom-dwelling Big East team. Oh, I burn with rage.


Thursday, September 10, 2009

2 QB's = 0? Bunk, says I! (Also, A Side Note On Denard vs. Tate)

You've probably heard the old football adage, "When you've got two quarterbacks, you've really got none." This is a popular saying for a reason, as the platoon QB system has largely not been successful throughout the history of college football (the most recent somewhat successful platoon that I can recall is a freshman Tim Tebow and Chris Leak at Florida). As there can only be one QB on the field at a time, having 2 viable QB's on a team often leads to the dreaded quarterback controversy. The most obvious reason for the unpopularity of a 2 QB system is that having two QB's decentralizes leadership on the offense, and a team divided cannot stand, as this trailblazing penguin playfully delineates:

It's the same reason we don't have co-presidents, and why there can only be one Highlander. The second reason is that football, like all sports, is a beautiful game of momentum. By constantly switching QBs neither is able to ride said momentum and get into a rhythm. Lastly, having two QB's is especially problematic when your QB's are of a similar mold and skill set because they are both vying for the exact same job, but alas there can only be one.

This last point is where conventional wisdom takes a back seat, and this is where Michigan's situation is unique to your garden variety 2 QB system. It is clear that though these players are both true freshman Michigan quarterbacks, their roles differ significantly in the offense. With Denard's dynamic gamebreaking ability and blazing speed, a coach cannot keep his most deadly weapon on the sideline. Offensive Coordinator Calvin Magee has stated that he prefers a game-changing home run hitter like Denard, whereas Coach Rod prefers a stable, effective, well-rounded but maybe not as dynamic presence such as Tate at QB. Obviously, the head coach is certainly the head coach, and the decision ends with him. But it is hard to argue with the success that RR had at WVU with Pat White, to whom Denard has drawn frequent comparisons with his blazing speed (Magee states that Denard might even be faster than White). And make no mistake, Denard is not as weak as college football's all-time leader in total yardage Pat White was in the passing game. However, having enrolled during the fall, Denard is not as comfortable with the offense and the plays called while he was in the game were obviously very limited to the "Denard, try and burn somebody" plays. The statistical probability that Denard breaks one big dramatically increases the more snaps he gets. So why not play Denard all the time? Well, that's because your other QB option is Tate Forcier.

Tate is a better all-around QB, having been groomed since his youth by infamous QB coach Marv Marinovich. He is a polished passer, is very accurate, and has solid fundamentals and ballfakes. Also, by enrolling in the spring, Tate's options with the playbook, his comfort with the offense in addition to his comfort with the players far exceeds Denard's. He can hurt you on the ground with his mobility, and he can also hurt you in the air, as he proved last weekend.

So which do you go with, and how much do you play each? Would you rather play it conservative and throw body punches for the entire match and wait it out, or would you come out of the gate throwing haymakers? So says the Michigan coaching staff, why not do both? As expected, against WMU Tate got roughly twice the snaps that Denard got. Also as expected, Tate got his multiple touchdowns in the air, whereas Denard's touchdown came on a broken play where he did something incredible. I would expect to see the coaching staff maintain this ratio barring any injuries, but I would be dismayed if I didn't see the playbook open up for Denard as the season goes along. Also, the spread option offense is predicated on creating mismatches and getting your best players into space and making huge plays. With that in mind, Denard has to see the field in a variety of ways. Hopefully the coaches will cook up some wrinkles to get Denard onto the field when he's not playing QB. You'll see something exciting either way, so I'd just sit back and calmly (yeah right) enjoy watching how this interesting season will unfold.

The leadership issue is still relevant, as both these players are quarterbacks. However, given their youth, neither Tate nor Denard will most likely be the ones that the team turns to as their rock of experience in the dying seconds of the game. This role will be shared with the quarterbacks by the more senior members of the team. So I wouldn't worry too much about the platoon QB system here decentralizing leadership, since it's already pretty much decentralized with all the youth we have on the team. As far as the rhythm argument goes, both these quarterbacks are young, both have proven themselves and have excelled in camp, and both have earned their shot at the big time. Coach Rod is a firm believer inter-positional competition, and he has stated that if he has two quarterbacks he think he can win with, he'll play 'em both. Rhythm be damned! So there you go.


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Case for Nick Sheridan

As a current law student, my colleagues and I are being taught that everyone is entitled to a vigorous defense...even the most heinous offenders. Enter Nick Sheridan.

Nick Sheridan, Michigan (3rd string?) quarterback is currently on trial in the court of public opinion for crimes against the Wolverines; specifically, it is alleged that he is just terrible. I stand prepared to advocate in favor of Sheridan, not with regards to him being Michigan's best quarterback (I think Forcier obviously took that crown on Saturday), but just with regards to Sheridan not being the worst option we've ever had.

The defense recognizes that Sheridan, on multiple occasions, has given Michigan fans reason to groan whenever he enters a game. This is because, in the course of the three snaps he gets every game, 1 is an incomplete pass, 1 is a sack, and the final throw is the inevitable interception (see Sheridan's current 2009 QB rating of -100...yes, that's possible). The defense, however, contends that it is for the very reason that Sheridan gets so few snaps that he is so consistently terrible.

Defense Exhibit A: Whenever Sheridan plays less than a quarter, he inevitably qualifies as a horrible quarterback (as defined by overall QB rating).

Defense Exhibit B: When given the chance to get into a rhythm, Sheridan often (not always) does. We bring your attention to November 8th, 2008: Michigan vs. Minnesota. This served as one of Michigan's only 3 wins of the season with Sheridan leading the charge with 18-of-30 passes for a career-best 203 yards and one TD. Rich-Rod (perhaps by virtue of having no other options) gave Sheridan the chance to actually get into the game and he didn't disappoint.

Defense Exhibit C: Sheridan has shown maturity, even if the talent is in question. One thing I recall specifically when watching Sheridan was his ability to make mature decisions in 2008. Look back at all those sacks he took. Considering the relative weakness of our front line when compared to past years and a general inability of our wideouts to get open, Sheridan actually made some great decisions in the sacks he took, especially in his first real season (he saw all of 4 snaps in 2007).

So, to conclude your honor(s), this argument sets forth to show that, perhaps, Mr. Sheridan has not gotten his due shake. Certainly he would not and should not start over Forcier. Maybe he shouldn't even see as much time as Robinson. But, in the end, he should not be marginalized and removed from the team as so many fans seem to advocate. He led the Wolverines to one win last season while the "best" quarterback from last season can only lay claim to two wins. In short, he's not great (or even that good), but he need not burn at the stake just yet.

Help Me Trash Talk My Friend

Hello fellow Meech fans. My good friend Dan Harrah grew up a fervent (some may say delusional) Notre Dame fan. He has maintained his desperate conviction all throughout his Michigan education despite repeated haranguing from myself. Dan Harrah is blessed with an excellent football mind, which has probably made being a Notre Dame fan since the mid 90's all the more painful. This being Notre Dame week, as well as this game being especially meaningful, has led to trash talking via facebook and text.

Now friends, I am but one man whose cleverness and creativity is limited (mostly to poop jokes), and Harrah, armed with his Michigan education, is a sharp and witty opponent. This is why I am calling upon YOU, the wolverine nation, to help me trash talk my friend.

I present to you, the enemy (on the left):

Some examples:

Harrah: I just did a regression analysis of seasons in which (1) Notre Dame had an overweight head football coach; (2) from New Jersey; (3) with a starting QB from Southern California; (4) With a Democratic President; (5) from Illinois; (6) who was born in Hawaii, and I found, based STRICTLY ON THE NUMBERS, that ND has never not won a National title under those circumstances.
Me: I think you and Lou Holtz use the same statistician.

Me: Our Tate is going to make your Tate look like a Tater Tot.
Harrah: Your Tate is going to get hit til his boyfriend dies.

Thanks friends, Go Blue!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

I believe in the news biz they call this "A Correction"

A lot has developed since my first post on the US Open, most of it simply serving to display how much I suck at predicting the outcome.

The last great American hope, Andy Roddick, made a shockingly early exit to the not-so-great American hope, John Isner. Unsurprisingly, Isner promptly received a good ol' fashioned tennis beating at the hands of Fernando Verdasco. So Isner, the last American left in the draw, took out the United States' only real chance at winning before exiting in the next round (why do you hate America John? Why!?).

Adding insult to injury, this US Open marks the first time EVER in the 128 year history of the tournament that an American man has not advanced to at least the quarterfinals. Great.

The good news is, we aren't the only fading world superpower in pain. Great Britain's only hope (and my pick for the finals), Andy Murray, made an early exit today against Marin Cilic in straight sets. That means that the only two men with s realistic shot at stopping Federer in his quest for 6 straight U.S. Open titles have been stopped in their tracks.

So let's do a quick recap of who we have in the Quarterfinals (Number in parenthesis represents that players seed/ranking for the tournament):

(1) Roger Federer v. (12) Robin Soderling
  • Rematch of this year's French Open final with the same result: Fed in 3
(4) Novak Djokovic v. (10) Fernando Verdasco
  • Verdasco is a great hard court player (made the semifinals at the Australian in January), but I don't think he's playing with as much fire as earlier in the year: Djokovic in 4
(2) Rafael Nadal v. (11) Fernando Gonzalez
  • This an interesting match...Rafa is, well Rafa so you've gotta favor him, but Gonzalez has proven to be a great hard courter (most notably by reaching the finals of the Australian Open in 2007). That combined with the reports of Rafa's abdominal strain could spell intrigue. Considering Rafa's battle-back destruction of a sharp-looking Monfils in the last round: Nadal in...5?
(6) Juan Martin Del Potro v. (16) Marin Cilic
  • Though, in an earlier post, I said of Del Potro, "he ain't gonna win it", and I continue to stand by that statement, I am convinced now that he has a series chance of a finals appearance. That, added to the fact that Cilic has had his fun in taking out World #2 Andy Murray in the last round: Del Potro in 4.

So, in revising my predictions, my new call: Nadal v. Federer in the final, Fed in 4.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Western Michigan Impressions


Ah, so this is what our offense is supposed to look like. RR used our depth on offense to our advantage, playing a number of bodies at the various positions. These are my observations (player first, then team):

-Tate Forcier: wow. For a true freshman, Tate showed uncanny poise, patience and knowledge of the offense. He was not afraid to keep the ball on the zone-read, as did so frequently, rushing for 37 net yards on 11 carries. By showing that he has running ability and is not afraid to keep the ball, this will force opposing defenses to honor the QB on the zone read in the future (what a change from last year!). One indication that Tate is a very polished QB is in his great ball fakes, especially on the bootleg touchdown to Koger in the second half. Denard still has a ways to go in this department, as his ballfakes and his mesh, especially on the zone-read, were not so great. In this game, when Tate set his feet he threw a pretty deep ball (esp that perfect pass to Hemingway on Hemingway's second TD). When Tate was on the move, his deep balls tended to not have enough air under them. Make no mistake, though, this kid can throw on the run very well a la Jeff Garcia. Very encouraging game from Tate, just please stay healthy!
-Denard Robinson: fast. This kid is a weapon, and is probably more dangerous when the play breaks down than when he follows the scripted play. When he sees the open field, nobody is going to catch him. It's obvious that the playbook is really limited for D. Robinson, as he was a fall enrollee, but it was encouraging to see him attempt some passes. Hopefully he'll pick up more of the playbook as the season progresses, so that it won't be completely obvious what he's going to do every time he's on the field. As my mom said, "as for putting that speedy quarterback in for every running play... how about a loudspeaker." Great Rodriguez quote on D. Robinson: "Even when goes the wrong way, he goes the wrong way fast."
-As was expected, Denard saw exactly 15 snaps, compared to Tate's 31. I think that's going to be a fairly consistent number of snaps for Denard as the coaching staff feels out this kid and learns how to best use him in the game.
-Even with Sheridan's drive ending in an interception, he is noticeably bigger this year with a stronger arm and improved mechanics. Not a bad third option for Meech compared with impending doom when Sheridan was called upon (save the Minny game).
-Kelvin Grady: Wow, did he make that transition from basketball to football look easy or what? He showed great hands (except one obvious drop on a screen), quickness, and good blocking skills. I can say without reservation that he is our best receiving slot receiver currently on the roster.
-Martavious Odoms: though he only caught one ball (hard to believe from our leading receiver last year), Odoms made his presence felt as a punishing blocking slot receiver. On Denard's TD run Odoms threw a key block, driving his player out of bounds after pursuing from the back side! He would throw a few more very impressive blocks in the game, which leads me to state that he is the best blocking SR on our roster, which in my opinion is just as important (if not more important) than the receiving SR. Nice job M. Odoms.
-Junior Hemingway has arrived. Good to have you back, Jr.
-Where is spring scrimmage sensation (ah sweet alliteration) Roy Roundtree in the slot?
-I wanted to see more of the running game, esp from the RB's. We had a very balanced attack between our passing and rushing, but I'd like to see our running backs break a few big plays next week.
-Offensive line looked very good. They are powerful and quick off the line, and when they pull, they're coming at you fast!


This is a different defense than last year. Not just in scheme with new defensive coordinator Greg Robinson, but there is a palpable attitude difference when this defense takes the field. They are hungry, they lay the wood, and they swarm to the ball. With a year under Barwis as well, we look noticeably quicker on D. Also, I was super impressed with the very obvious improvement in solo tackling skills. Robinson's goal to be the "best tackling team in America" is well on its way. We were wrapping and driving, not whiffing painfully like we did so much last year.

-Craig Roh: this kid is the real deal. I was super impressed with his play. He is so quick off the edge, has a motor that doesn't stop, and he was surprisingly strong for being an "undersized" defensive end (how one can be "undersized" at 230, I have no idea). He played well rushing the QB (and on his sack simply overpowered the lineman on a head-on bull rush), and also played well when dropping into coverage. He's got the raw talent, and when he bulks up a little bit after a year with Barwis he will certainly be a force to be reckoned with. Very nice, impressive play from Roh.
-Brandon Graham is an absolute terror. I am so glad he's on our team. Hiller will be having nightmares for weeks.
-Obi Ezeh played solidly at the MLB spot, and led the team in tackles once again.
-Boubacar and D. Warren both played quite well this game. D. Warren had a great de-cleating hit, and his coverage was good, though the consecutive penalties (esp the personal foul) need to go. JT Floyd was not very impressive in his coverage, which is why CB depth is scary. I was a little confused why we didn't see any of the 5-star true freshman Justin Turner, since he's been impressing in practice. I hope that Turner will overtake Floyd, since apparently Floyd has reached his athletic ceiling though he's supposedly pretty sharp mentally. Let's see what the kid can do! (Btw, Cullen Christian commit plz. Having four 5-star corners on the team at the same time would make me breathe a bit easier)
-All I can say is thank goodness those WMU receivers couldn't hold onto the ball, because we certainly capitalized on a lot of drops and passes that were batted upwards.
-Didn't get to see too much from our safeties, though Mike Williams made his presence felt in the run support a few times. That bomb over the top on WMU's only touchdown scares the hell out of me. Good thing Jimmah Clausen can't throw the deep ball well (note: yes he can. Very well in fact. See his shellacking of Nevada as exhibit 1). This game next week should be a very interesting test for our D.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Brandon Graham Quickie Quote

From this ESPN interview:
Adam Rittenberg: Has everything that happened this week at Michigan brought you guys together any more?

Brandon Graham: Oh, yeah. Everybody hangs out with everybody now. That's one thing that changed in my years being here. There are no more cliques. If somebody says, 'Let's go here,' everybody wants to come. We hang out a little bit more. We're more of a team.

Yet another relic from the Lloyd Carr era out the window. Toss into that light offseason workouts, a pizza-a-day diets, and babying of star players. Ah wait, I left out perhaps the most important thing: being completely unable to defend the spread.

Going into tomorrow's game against WMU and All-Mac QB Tim Hiller, I for one am glad that Ron English is not our defensive coordinator. Cast the frustration of Appy State and Oregon out of your memories, friends. Welcome to the new harder-hitting, competitive, fast version of Michigan football. A new era begins tomorrow, let's see what this thing can do. Go Blue!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

"Open" for business...see what I did there?

Yes, it is indeed that time of year again. Screw football, I'm talking about a real sport: Tennis. Well, real to me.

The U.S. Open, the last of the four "majors" of tennis, is indeed upon us. It couldn't have come at a more exciting time either, given the current state of (men's) tennis. While I know most of you are avid followers of the sport, allow me to enlighten all those n00bs out there.

In the past calender year, the sport of (men's) tennis has been cast from it's curse of predictability into utter disarray. Let's break it
down chronologically:
  • July 2008: World #2 Rafael Nadal defeats World #1 Roger Federer in an epic Wimbledon final winning his first non-French Open grand slam.
  • August 2008: Rafael Nadal takes over the top spot in the rankings, unseating Roger Federer after his record-breaking run of 237 consecutive weeks at #1.
  • January 2009: Rafael Nadal defeats Federer in the final of the Australian Open (the first slam of the year), confirming his status as #1.
Now, at this point, it seemed almost as if Fed's time had passed. He was undoubtedly the second best tennis player on earth, but he had hit an immovable force named Rafa. Even he thought his era had come to a close (as evidenced by his crying on court after losing the Australian Open).
Not so fast...
  • May 2009: Rafael Nadal inexplicably loses in the fourth round of the French Open (a tournament at which he had NEVER lost...ever) to...Robin Soderling??? (we learn later that Rafa was battling tendonitis and ended up taking 10 weeks off) Sure enough, Roger Federer takes advantage and suddenly redeems his year by winning the only Grand Slam that had, up to that point, eluded him. In the process, he added his name to a list of only 5 men who have won all four majors in their careers and garnered his 14th grand slam titles tying the record holder Pete Sampras.
  • July 2009: After Nadal pulls out due to injury, Federer reclaims his Wimbeldon title, but not before Andy Roddick puts up a monumental fight in a 5-7, 7-6 (6), 7-6 (5), 3-6, 16-14 match that goes down in history as the longest Wimbeldon final ever as measured by total games played. As a result, Fed reclaims the #1 spot in the rankings and becomes the record holder with 15 major titles to his name.
  • August 2009: Nadal finally returns from injury but not at 100%. Meanwhile, Andy Murray, from Great Britain (Scotland to be exact), has a lights-out summer and claws his way to #2, dropping Nadal to #3.
So, here's where we stand as far as "contenders" for this year's open.
  • #1 Fed has won the open 5 straight times and, in the year of his redemption, is looking like he's in good position to tie the record of 6 consecutive titles.
  • #2 Andy Murray is having an amazing run and, after making it to the U.S. Open Final last year, wants to finish the job and has the resume to back it up (currently he has a 6-3 career record against Fed, with all 6 wins coming on hard courts).
  • #3 Rafa Nadal has said himself that he does not expect to be a contender this year due to the rust he acquired during his hiatus...but is he simply lowering expectations?
  • #4 Novak Djokovic has been under the radar lately but did make it to the finals of the biggest non-slam tournament leading up to the U.S. Open (Cincinnati).
  • #5 Andy Roddick is in the top 5 again for the first time in years and looking for vengeance after a huge disappointment at Wimbledon. Don't be surprised if he takes Federer out in the quarterfinals this year. Each time they've played A-Rod has gotten closer and closer to victory...it's time he finally took one home.
  • #6 Juan Martin Del Potro: You've never heard of him (he's the person you've never seen in the picture to the right), though he's been arguably the second best player this summer (behind Murray) and has a chance to go far, he ain't gonna win it.
Excited yet? Likely not because there's a good chance you never even got this far in the post. That said, here are my bold and not so bold calls for the Open:
  1. Watch out for the 22nd seeded American Sam Querry, who hits a falling star in #8 Nikolay Davydenko in the 4th round. My prediction: Querry takes the match in 4 sets and goes on to face (and lose to) Federer in the Quarterfinals.
  2. Andy Roddick hits #4 Djokovic in the Quarterfinals. My prediction: Roddick wins the match in 4 sets and hits Federer in the Semi-Finals. If he finds a way to take down Fed with the crowd behind him, he wins the whole thing...but that's a BIG "if".
  3. My final call: Despite my red, white and blue blood (Go Andy!), it's a rematch of the 2008 final with the same result...Roger over Andy Murray in the final (4 sets). Long live the king.

Jonny Childers = Owen Scmitt?

Walk ons are a very important aspect to any Rich Rodriguez football program. As a former walk-on defensive back for WVU in the mid 80's, Rodriguez recognizes the importance of having a passionate, in-it-only-for-the-love-of-the-sport type of player. And where best to put this type of player than at the most blue collar position on the field: the fullback. Anybody who knows anything about recent West Virginia football knows the name Owen Schmitt, or perhaps better known by his charming moniker "the runaway beer truck." Schmitt was a walk-on for RR at WVU and is now in the NFL with the Seattle Seahawks. He just wants to smash people, and oftentimes himself as made famous in this incident (at the end of this video):

Awesome. A cult figure like that for Meech football would make it that much more fun to watch. With that, I present to you Jonny Childers, walk on from Muskegon Michigan. Feast your eyes:

He just looks like he's ready to break twenty facemasks per season. Childers appears to be in the mold of a RR-type fullback, though at 6-2" 216 lbs he could benefit from a year of two with Barwis (eeee!). From his ESPN writeup:

Childers is a tough, thickly-built, blue-collar fullback prospect who also is an effective inside run plugger when employed at linebacker. Looks a bit like a throwback player and his game lacks a lot of finesse. He has good height and a compact, well-built frame that could bulk up to the 240-pound range while retaining his adequate straight-line speed. More of a battering ram of runner who is effective on quick North-South hitters up the middle. Good initial quicks through the hole for his size and will surprise you now and then with his agility as a runner. Tends to run high though and flashes difficulty sliding through the small creases. YAC is inconsistent. Won't be much more than a short-yardage fullback at the next level but has soft hands out of the backfield and shows the physical tools needed to develop into an effective blocker. Can stalemate defenders but will need to work on leverage and controlling/finishing blocks at the point of attack. Not as powerful or superior at the high school level as you would think as a blocker. Defensively, he is a bit stiff, range is limited to between the tackles but he can blow up the Iso and is difficult to turn at the point of attack. Overall Childers looks good on the hoof and has the physical tools for a mid-major program to mold as a situational fullback

Lack of finesse? Battering ram? Agility as a runner? Perfect. As some of you may know, I have a soft spot for hard working U of M fullbacks (Obi Oligubo is my recent favorite). As long as he doesn't get switched to LB, I would be oh-so-pleased if Childers becomes the next Owen Schmitt. Or better yet, the first Jonny Childers. Keep an eye on this one.


The Owen Schmitt story here

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Devin Gardner vs. Pioneer quick video bullets

For those of you who don't know, this is Devin Gardner class of 2010, Michigan's QB of the future.

What I see:

1) Improved passing mechanics when he can set his feet. Stands tall in the pocket and uses his height. Sometimes when hurried compresses and dips down to add zip, needs to stand tall. His screen passes need some work, as he simply tosses them up. The screen pass is still a pass like any other, and on the next level those are going to get picked. In summary, his passing mechanics are night and day from last fall after a summer full of hard work and going to camps. I expect to see further improvement over the fall in this aspect of his game. Once he gets to Michigan under Rod Smith, he'll already be lightyears ahead of Terrelle Pryor in terms of passing mechanics at the same point in their college careers.

2) Elusiveness: what a marvelously talented athlete DG is. His burst of out his cuts are impressive, and his lateral movement is really surprising for a guy his size (6'4). It looks like he's a man amongst boys out there. For further rushing highlights check out this video from his junior year. I had heard DG was fast, but man is he FAST.

3) Leadership: DG wants to win. He elevates his teammates. No hot dogging or trash talking that I could see, but simply playing his game to the highest level. This young man will not only be a fine QB for Michigan in years to come, but a fine Michigan Man as well.


True freshman Craig Roh's father responds to the Freep accusations.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Our tight ends, Meech football, and YOU!

As the upcoming season approaches, there is much excitement surrounding our shiny new offensive weapons. We return an experienced and talented offensive line, a pair of game-changing QB's, five amazing running backs, ninja slot receivers and a handful of reliable split ends. But wait, there's more! Left over from the Carr recruiting era are also two freak athletes that play tight end. But wait, Rich Rodriguez's spread option offense historically doesn't use tight ends, you say? Will our best athletes be rotting on the sidelines?! NOT so fast my friend.

How are we going to involve these awesome athletes in our offense? I think the TE question is a good measuring stick for RR as a coach. The ability to adapt your scheme to your personnel, the ability to innovate and adjust, I think separates the incredible coaches from the very good ones. Pete Carroll and Urban Meyer have proven themselves as elite amongst the coaching ranks for this reason.

It is largely regarded that this year, the TE position is one of the most deep and talented on the squad with Koger and Webb. With QB's in the fold who can now get our TE's the ball, as well as two dominant athletes at TE, the responsibility for our TE success, I think, cannot be blamed on lack of personnel; this year it lands solely on the scheme. RR has been consulting with offensive coordinators in the Big 12 in the offseason, and will be implementing a new "Trojan" quick passing scheme this fall, so a new look is already in the making.

If RR is able to feasibly adapt his scheme to effectively use our TE's this year, it will be a matchup nightmare for defenses. I expect to see the tight ends line up in the slot a fair amount this year in our 4 and 5 receiver set formations. As an opposing defense, needing to prepare for having enormous quick humans as well as tiny lazer-powered electron athletes in the slot will be tough.

So I'm just saying, friends, that the involvement of tight ends will be a great subplot to keep an eye on this upcoming football season. Reports are that we're getting the TE's the ball in practice occasionally. Since, according to Calvin Magee, the entire offense is already installed, let's hope that we'll hear that the TE's are getting the ball more as we get closer to the season.

RR has innovated at every stop that he's made on the path to coaching at U of M. I expect Michigan to be no different. If the TE situation works out, hopefully we'll be seeing more of this (1:30 in the video).


Good summary and commentary over at Forever Saturday about the whole "mandatory practice" Freep nonsense.

Friday, August 28, 2009


I am a big Boubacar Cissoko fan. This pleases me. From this scout article, DB's coach Tony Gibson:
Question: Can you talk about the progress of Boubacar; last year, he kind of got his feet wet. It looks like you guys are going to depending on him quite a bit this year.

Tony Gibson: “Yeah he has got to have a great year. He’s a solid kid on the field. He loves to play football and he needs football. I love the way he approaches it. Once he steps between those white lines, it is all business for him and he competes on every single snap. He gets up in their face, press man. If we could tell him, you play press man 80 plays a game, he’d be in heaven. He's getting better every day and it's important to him. That's what I like."

Boubacar should have a big year. He's my second favorite player on the defense behind to Mike Martin (redshirt freshman LB JB Fitzgerald, who may get a few snaps this year, is my third favorite). I don't even count Brandon Graham since he's ridiculously awesome and everybody knows it. This whole interview is a gold mine for information on all the DB's. A must-read if you've got a sec.

With the most recent Heisman winner from Michigan being a CB, it's surprising that we've kind of had some uninspiring DB play the past few years at U of M. The last truly great CB's we had, I think, were Marlin Jackson and Leon Hall, both now in the NFL. As far as what we currently have, Donovan Warren came in a 5-star steal from the state of California, but has been hampered by injuries his whole career. With D. Warren finally healthy this year and Boubacar as a physical, very talented but undersized corner, I'm happy with our starters at the CB spot. Depth, as is the case with our entire defense, is a major concern. But right now we've got 5-star JT Turner impressing in camp with his size and athletic ability, hard working though physically-meh redshirt freshman JT Floyd in the fold, and true freshman Teric Jones catching on quickly after the position switch from RB. With underrated 3-star converted QB from OH Courtney Avery (As well as 5-star PA strong Michigan lean Cullen Christian and the physical CB from FL Tony Grimes, hopefully) coming in next year, corner is probably the position I am most comfortable with, barring injuries, for the present and future on the U of M defense.

Safety, however, is a different story entirely. Largely regarded as the weakest position on the Michigan defense for the past few years, the mere mention of safety play causes eye rolling and groaning from those who have closely followed Michigan football recently. The tendency for MIchigan to give up big plays of late has become more of a habit, and poor safety play is a large part of this. This year, hopefully, will be better than last. With perennial goat Stevie Brown's move to the hybrid position (a much better position to utilize his athleticism, size and coverage skills, IMO), let's give Troy Woolfolk and Mike Williams a shot. Though Coach Gibson has positive words for them (what is he going to say? We're screwed at safety?), the truth of the matter is that our safeties are unproven (T. Woolfolk and M. Williams have game experience, but not much), and our depth is scary. The GBMW guys seem to think the Strong Safety position battle between M. Williams and true freshman Vlad Emilien will be one to watch this year. After M. Williams and T. Woolfolk, we've got Vlad Emilien, and walk-on converted QB-->receiver--> safety transfer from Southeast Missouri State, Jared Van Slyke. After that, somewhat impressive (though injured: ankle) true freshman Thomas Gordon from Cass Tech and... well... Yeesh. Kind a terrifying depth for the position that is the last line of defense. Who knows how good these guys are, though, and I won't judge until I see them in a game. I'm hoping for a pleasant surprise, so let's keep our collective fingers crossed that the coachspeak from Gibson holds some water.

I'm not quite sold on Coach Gibson, but let's give him some good talent first and see what he does with it before we assess his ability as a coach. RR likes him (Gibson was a former player for RR at WVU), but then again RR doesn't seem to know squat about the defense. That's Greg Robinson's job.


Great RR interview from MLive, not just the same old media-spin questions.

Also, the suites are selling well.

Related to the Gruden post: the composer of the epic NFL Films soundtracks, Tom Heddon, talks to NPR.

What position will Zack Novak play for U of M basketball this year? Dylan at UMHoops has his take.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Gruden, savior of MNF announcing

Finally, my friends, the anguish is over. For those of us who suffered through the dim-witted comments of Dennis Miller, the sheer stupidity of Joe Theismann and the awkward outsider/punditry of Tony Kornheiser, we can now rejoice. With the addition of Jon Gruden to the Monday Night Football broadcasting crew, we can now watch MNF football with the sound ON. Not only that, but we can enjoy it!

As they struggled to fill the gaping hole left by John Madden and Al Michaels at the end of the 2005, the process of the higher-ups at ABC/ESPN to find their perfect three man booth was painfully transparent. It felt as if they were trying to insult our intelligence by thinking that we could not fathom thoughtful commentary and analysis, but that we needed to be entertained. But by hiring former Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden, ABC/ESPN has finally gotten back to the formula that John Madden had a pivotal role in carving out for football broadcasters and commentators.

Many do not know that behind Madden's seemingly aloof and befuddled grandfatherly facade, lies the man who helped make broadcasting what it is today. From a NYT article
Madden’s influence on sportscasting has been enormous. He parsed X’s and O’s in a clear but garrulous, even hyperkinetic, fashion never seen before. He turned the Telestrator into an onscreen tool to suit the antic personality he displayed as the Raiders’ coach and as the wild, red-headed, arm-flailing Miller Lite spokesman.

Whereas before Madden joined broadcasting, televised football thought to be more like a drama. With narrow camera angles on the person with the ball, all the pomp and bombast of a horn-heavy epic soundtrack, and with Keith Jackson eloquently narrating the action, NFL ball was more like a war film than a football game. John Madden felt the average football watching audience was adroit enough to grasp the X's and O's of football. He petitioned for wider camera angles so that one could see the entire field in order to better understand the game. He also brought the now-ubiquitous telestrator to pro football to diagram what was happening on the field. John Madden was a large player in bringing the audience into football, not holding it high above them.

Bringing Gruden into the booth is a tip of the cap to John Madden, acknowledging his spirit is alive and well on MNF. Aside from the fact that both were former head coaches of the Raiders and that they're both named Jo(h)n, Gruden is like a lusty reincarnation of Madden on Monday Night; Madden 2.0 if you will. Where the lovable senility of John Madden once reigned, the fire and vigor of Jon Gruden now resides, with some additional improvements over the old guard. Having been a head coach in the NFL as recently as last year, Jon Gruden is intimately aware of the up-to-date inner workings of personnel, scheme and culture of the NFL. He brings to the table enthusiasm, recognition and an incredible knowledge base to the booth, which serves as a great compliment to the almost transparent play-by-play of (Ann Arborite!) Mike Tirico, and the savvy commentary of the veteran broadcaster (and former QB) Ron Jaworski. Even in the waning minutes of the Jets-Ravens game last night, when the thirds battled it out for roster sports (as an aside: Danny Woodhead is awesome!), Gruden and Co's discussions were illuminating and riveting while the gameplay, simply, was not.

I for one am finally ready for some football.