Saturday, September 19, 2009

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 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"

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