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