Monday, August 31, 2009

Western Michigan’s Hiller Has New Receiving Targets

Western Michigan has an outstanding quarterback in senior starter Tim Hiller.
Hiller had a spectacular 2008 season throwing for 3,725 yards and a jaw-dropping 36 touchdowns (approximately 3 per game!). Hiller is also a very accurate thrower. He was on target 65% of the time. Virtually the entire Broncos offense line returns, which will only bolster Hiller’s throwing confidence this fall.

Last year, Hiller really spread the wealth with his 339 completions over 13 games (30 per game). He was blessed with a pretty strong corps of receivers as well, including Jamarko Simmons (1,276 yards, 7 TDs), Schneider Julien (712 yards, 6 TDs), Juan Nunez (701 yards and 7 TDs), TE Brandon Ledbetter (464 yards, 6 TDs) and TB Brandon West (280 yards, 3 TDs).

In 2009, only WR Nunez, TE Ledbetter and TB West return with measurable experience for the Broncos when they head into Michigan Stadium this Saturday to face the Wolverines. Hiller’s new key receiving targets will include:

Junior WR Robert Arnheim, (58 yards, 1 TD)
Freshman WR Ansel Ponder
Junior WR Chleb Ravenell (JC transfer from Georgia Military College, 345 yards, 7 TDs in 2007)
Freshman WR Trey Smith (possible a TE)
Sophomore WR Dervon Wallace (16 yards, 0 TD)

Clearly the experience level and timing for the WMU passing game may not be what it was last year. Having a great QB like Hiller should make up for some of these youth, inexperience and timing deficiencies. It makes sense for head coach Bill Cubit to try and leverage as much as possible Hiller’s more proven, experienced and productive options for the passing offense: wideout Juan Nunez, tailback Brandon West and big tight end Brandon Ledbetter, while easing the freshman and other receiver newbies into the attack plan.

Where There's Smoke

An interesting question for Detroit Free Press columnists Michael Rosenberg and Mark Snyder would be whether they bothered to research a little deeper into Rich Rodriguez's past seven years as head coach at West Virginia (2001-2007) to discover whether there had existed a similar pattern of such wanton NCAA rule breakage in Morgantown.

This is a reasonable question to consider since Rodriguez brought virtually his entire coaching staff from WVU with him to Ann Arbor (sans defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel and special teams coach Bill Stewart). Furthermore, Rodriguez has been cited multiple times for referring to his "system", his "way of doing things", his "strength and conditioning staff" and what they have typically experienced in transition years.

Yet for some reason, we are led to believe that the investigative leads of wrong doing for Rosenberg and Snyder stopped at the city limits of Ann Arbor and/or rested solely with current and former Michigan players alone.

Why not make a few extra phone calls to former West Virginia players? Some of them may have had an "axe to grind" with Rodriguez too. Some may have absolutely loved the man. But who knows what juicy, malicious, NCAA rule-shattering took place down in Morgantown during Rodriguez first stint at a head coaching position? Afterall, he was taking over for a legend their too in former Michigan assistant and WVU head coach Don Nehlen.

Why stop at the Lloyd Carr transition alone?

Why not try some deductive reasoning on for size?

1. Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez blatantly violates NCAA practice rules.

2. Rich Rodriguez was a head coach at West Virginia for 7 years (2001-2007).

3. West Virginia blatantly violated NCAA practice rules.

Oh man! Is it really that easy?

If there's more smelly tidbits to be discovered here, Rosenberg and Snyder decide to leave such rocks in West Virginia completely unturned.

Here's what Bob Hertzel of the Times West Virginian had to say about the Freep article:

During his seven years at West Virginia, no such charges were publically leveled at Rodriguez or his strength staff, although few doubted that Rodriguez’s burning desire to succeed could open some doors that would be best left closed.

Then Hertzel mentions this from an unnamed former West Virginia football player under Rodriguez back in the early days (2001-2002?):

The WVU player, contacted Sunday, wrote in a message sent via Facebook:

“I can honestly tell you — it was ONLY in Coach Rod's first fall as WVU's head coach (Sept '01 - Nov '01) that I felt we were at the stadium far more than the NCAA allowed. Coach Rod made the team report to the football office on Sundays during the season only and attendance was checked.

“We had to change into our workout gear, stretch/warm-up, and the strength staff would conduct light lifting sessions and put the team through moderate conditioning on the football field. This, of course, was after 1-2 hours of treatment for injured players (if needed). When you add all of the hours, it made for a less than desirable Sunday. I can remember missing all of 1:00 NFL games which didn't end until 3:30-3:45.”

The player said other than that first year, there were no violations in this area.

“The rest of my days at WVU were business as usual — and acceptable to all of the players. Of course, Sunday sessions at the football office were no longer implemented, in part, because of the obvious displeasure among players the year before and we were winning on Saturdays.”

It seems to me that many current and former college football players simply do not understand the rules themselves. The former West Virginia player in this facebook entry is unfortunately making zero distinction between what is voluntary and involuntary in terms of his time practicing and working out for football. Also, player taping (ankles, feet, legs, etc.) and medical treatments are not countable periods of time that would lead to an NCAA infraction. Actually, the football coaches like Rodriguez and his entire football staff are supposed to be first line of defense in the enforcement of practice rules. Compared to Lloyd Carr and Don Nehlen, Rodriguez had an absolutely massive staff of personnel. He was not for want of resources. Secondarily, universities like WVU and UM also have their own independent compliance departments and officers who run periodic checks on football practices and workout sessions and review documentation of player participation, etc. to ensure full NCAA rule compliance and cite any inconsistencies for self-reporting of violations.

One thing is clear. Rosenberg and Snyder decided to omit WVU from consideration in their allegations against Rich Rodriguez and staff.

Where's The Fire?
I live in Southern California. Sure, when you see flames and smoke on the hillsides 15 miles away, you're a little scared. You're not scared so much about those same flames 15 miles away hurting you. So WHAT are you worried about? I'll tell you. You're worried about the hot embers traveling via the renowned Santa Ana winds several miles in the dry air and possibly landing on your home roof or on some dry thicket near your house and starting a brand new uncontrollable fire.

If there's smoke in Ann Arbor, the Laurel mountains around Morgantown should be burnt to a crisp by now. Former Mountaineer players and staf under Rich Rodriguez should be foaming at the mouth to substantiate or refute both Rosenberg and Snyder.
Then again, maybe not.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Chad Henne on the 20 Hours

Dave Birkett of does a superb job here going to former Michigan quarterback Chad Henne for his view on the Freep article and allegations of former WR Toney Clemons. Chad Henne never played for Rodriguez. However, he was a four year starter at quarterback for Bo Schembechler-disciple and former Michigan HC Lloyd Carr:

Here's Henne's views:

“Twenty hours is a very, very small portion of what you do, especially if you’re a quarterback at a high-profile school,” Henne, now with the Miami Dolphins, said in a phone interview Sunday. “Twenty hours isn’t enough for you. You have to be in there by yourself, studying film, no coaches around, and doing it on your own. That’s where the leadership comes in and that’s where, if you want to get better and play better, you have to do it on your own.”

And his views on those hurling the accusations:

“I really think whoever’s saying it really doesn’t want to be there,” Henne said. “If they’re saying that then they’re not really worried about the team, they’re not worried about what they’re going to do during their season and they’re kind of just giving themselves up. That’s just negative talk right there. So whoever it is just really doesn’t care about the team, I would say."

Wow. Right now I'm stroking my Michigan Mustache and thinking to myself in a fake Russian accent "bearry interestink!"

Speaking of stink, maybe I'll go back and read Mr. Rosenberg's article one more time.

Michigan Athletic Director Bill Martin: "We Have Been Compliant"

So here we go. The University of Michigan Athletic Director Bill Martin is announcing an investigation into NCAA rules violations regarding voluntary workouts and practices.

Bill Martin:
"We are committed to following both the letter and the intent of the NCAA rules and we take any allegations of violations seriously," Martin's statement reads. "We believe we have been compliant with NCAA rules but nonetheless we have launched a full investigation of the allegations in today's newspaper. We have already reached out to both the Big Ten and the NCAA and we will have more to say on this as soon as we have completed our assessment."

Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez and Associate AD of Compliance Judy Van Horn have also responded tersely:

"We know the practice and offseason rules and we stay within the guidelines," Rodriguez's statement reads. "We follow the rules and have always been completely committed to being compliant with all NCAA rules."

"During the season, the NCAA limits 'countable' practice activities to 20 hours per week," Van Horn's statement reads. "There are activities that don't count, such as rehab and getting taped. We educate our coaching staffs and student-athletes [in all sports] to keep everyone informed of the rules. Also, compliance and administrative staff conduct in-person spot checks of practice during the academic year and summer. We have not had any reason to self-report any violations in this area with any of our sports."

Former Michigan Wide Receiver Toney Clemons was obviously one of the players who previously wished to be unnamed, but stated to ESPN's Joe Schad that the allegations of both Michael Rosenberg and Mark Snyder are "true".

And a round we go.

USC's Ronald Johnson Injured

A once highly-coveted Michigan recruit from Muskegon, MI, and now an star wide receiver for the USC Trojans, Ronald Johnson, sadly broke his collarbone in practice last week and will be out for 6 to 8 weeks. Don't feel too bad for the Trojans until you check out their pathetically deep starting lineup which includes the talent of junior Damian Williams, junior Travon Patterson, junior David Ausberry, Senior Garrett Green and Sophomore Brandon Carswell.

The injury bug has so far *knock on wood* not affected Michigan much this fall, but it has sure tore up the Trojans.


Detroit Free Press columnists Michael Rosenberg and Mark Snyder have today accused Michigan head football coach Rich Rodriguez and his staff of violating NCAA rules by:

a.) monitoring player attendance to voluntary workouts,

b.) purportedly "requiring" Michigan football players to participate in 100% voluntary activities (workouts, practices, exercises, and preparation drills)

c.) issuing punishment to Michigan football players for not participating in voluntary activities (workouts, practices, exercises, and preparation drills).

I'm not sure I agree with their police work here. Gannett's stock basically tanked right about the time of the Michigan spring game. You remember, when there was a lot of good news coming everyone's way about the early enrollees, offseason conditioning, etc. Well, the Gannett stock is finally making somewhat of a comeback in late August. Leaning on trusty, sensationalist stories by Rosenberg and Snyder can only help the Freep and its ownership in the backdrop of declining sales and subscription renewals.

Look if there's something wrong in Schembechler Hall, then the NCAA search dogs will be sure to find it eventually. And if they do uncover that Rodriguez and staff have been breaking the rules at Michigan, I will be very surprised. Here's why:

No Big Ten football coach that I know of has so frequently and so publicly cited NCAA rules regarding football player recruiting, guidelines for involuntary offseason workouts of football players, and NCAA guidelines regarding early enrollees, and all of the UM athletic department's frequent compliance monitoring processes, as Rich Rodriguez. Bo Schembechler rarely if ever talked about such things. Neither did Moeller. Lloyd Carr personally installed a "Cone of Silence" around the football program back in 1995. Rodriguez changed all of that and opened the Michigan football kimono so much, it's been lying on the floor collecting dust for over 18 months.

What Rosenberg and Snyder fail to address is how Rodriguez has been pretty forthright about the whole "you gotta love football" agreement with his players, and that Rodriguez has repeatedly stated that playing time too is voluntary. After reading their accusatory release, I was asking myself whether it is possible for Rosenberg and Snyder to be a little more vague about who the "quality control staff" of Rodriguez actually are or were? And what kinds of questions were actually posed of the freshman players to elicit the responses they printed?

I would be very surprised if a coach like this one who has been coaching NCAA Division 1 football since 1999 and who is so overly open, and who talks to the press about virtually everything and anything under the freaking sun, is eventually found guilty by the NCAA of something so well understood by the coaches and his staff, and so well-monitored and documented by the university athletic department staff.

As for the timing of Mr. Rosenberg's and Mr. Snyder's column, it couldn't have been better planned. Both writers are doing a fantastic job of attempting to undermine Rodriguez at every opportunity. They will continue to drive wedges of doubt into the hearts of Michigan football fans going forward, regardless of how the season plays out. It will be very interesting to see how the Michigan coaches and players respond to these accusations in the upcoming week of practice and in the opening game versus Western Michigan next Saturday.

As for Rodriguez himself, I'm hoping that he will respond appropriately to these accusations. By this I mean he should respond with both clarity and brevity. Whether or not Rosenberg and Snyder are on target or have completely missed the mark with their story, I'm confident the truth will come out. If true, there will be and should be consequences for Michigan.

The much bigger issues at hand in my view, aside from the allegations themselves, is that kickoff lies but 6 days way, and Rich Rodriguez simply cannot seem to put the turbulent past behind him. Michigan football fans are not used to the river of negativity about the coach and the program

Also, it's abundantly clear that no matter how hard certain coaches and players try to cover it up, not all of the 2009 Wolverine football players are "All in for this Michigan".

The best thing and the only thing the Michigan coaches and team can do right now is focus on game preparation. Winning football games will silence most of the hell-bent critics eventually.

Friday, August 28, 2009

When Carcajous Attack Broncos

Michigan vs. Western Michigan, September 5, 2009 – Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, Michigan

When You Crave Irrational Exuberance On A Level Only Brett Musberger Can Deliver:
Well, it’s almost here folks! Eight days away! The 2009 football season has finally arrived. Fasten your seat belts Wolverine fans. Rich Rodriguez and the 2009 Michigan football team are going to try to bury a number of things all at once on that fateful Saturday, including:

1.) Memories of the worst Wolverine football season (3-9 in 2008) since Lyndon Johnson occupied the White House (1967).

2.) A 2 year losing streak in season openers (Appalachian State in 2007 and Utah in 2008)

3.) Recent failures to put far less talented MAC teams back in their place. Lackluster Wolverine performances at home against Ball State in 2006, against Eastern Michigan in 2007, and versus Toledo in 2008 all haunt Michigan. WMU’s 2009 football team is likely much better than any of those teams combined.

4.) Michigan’s 27% 3rd down success rate of 2008

5.) A total defense ranking of 67th in the nation in 2008, 9th in the Big Ten.

6.) A scoring defense ranking of 85th in the nation, 10th in the Big Ten.

All of it a daunting task to be sure, especially when one considers the overall youth of the Wolverine football team on both sides of the ball this season.

Three Great Reasons to Wipe That Ridiculous Smile Off Your Face:

1. Bronco Billy

I’m sorry, but Bill Cubit is simply not to be trusted. Since taking over for former Western Michigan coach Gary Darnell in 2005 following a 1-10 season, the Broncos have never looked back. Cubit’s offenses have been explosive on a consistent basis inside the MAC conference, and his Broncos have won notoriety for recent road upsets of once proud programs like Virginia (Markus CORRECTION: Not Florida State), Iowa, Illinois. The recent success of past Michigan opponents like Appalachian State and Toledo (in front of 105,000+ “down in fronters” inside Michigan Stadium no less!) will only serve to embolden Cubit. He will no doubt pull out all of the stops on this day to become the third straight team to shock Michigan on opening day.

2. Broncos Senior Quarterback Tim Hiller
Michigan’s defensive ends, linebackers and secondary are all on notice. Broncos quarterback Tim Hiller is going to play football on Sundays once he graduates from WMU. Beating Michigan on national television this fall would be a nice feather in his cap. In Cubit’s system, Hiller can do it all. He’s a veteran, battle-damaged, and highly-respected team leader and a very accurate thrower. Perhaps most frightening of all, Hiller’s got some wheels. In last year’s opener at Nebraska, Hiller was 30 of 49 for 342 yards, 2 TDs and 1 INT. Unfortunately, WMU this year lacks the same spectacular receivers a pro arm like Hiller’s justly deserves. He is protected by a massive, veteran offensive line, and can easily dish the ball off to some talented running backs and some experienced tight ends. Yet, as great an athlete as Tim Hiller is, he’s going to require plenty of help from his teammates, and quite frankly some cooperation by Michigan, to win this football game.

3. Threat of Michigan Injuries
Unfortunately this item will probably be a main stay adder for all of Michigan’s games in 2009, regardless of the opponent. In all games, Michigan desperately needs to hang on to the health of its starting line ups - by bloodied, chipped fingernails if necessary. No where is this threat more acute than on defense, particularly all secondary and defensive line positions. Suffice it to say that for some defensive positions on Michigan’s roster, utter disaster and a 2008 season redux is all but one freak injury away.

When Carcajous Attack! On Defense:
It’s actually a damn good thing for Cubit and Hiller that WMU returns with a veteran offensive line this fall. The multiple fronts and flex linebacker sets of Wolverine defensive coordinator Greg Robinson are going to be confusing to read, and difficult to properly match up against on a consistent basis. Modern science plus Michigan’s 2008 run defense statistics are practically begging Cubit to run the ball in this game with impunity behind that behemoth OL and talented Bronco ball carrier Brandon West, who slashed for over 1,000 yards, 8 TDs and 5 yard per carry average last year. Western Michigan serves as an excellent early test for Michigan’s defense to stop a truly balanced opponent offensively. The truth is that it takes tremendous self-control for pass-happy Bronco Billy to not chuck the pigskin on every damn play! Hiller has WR Juan Nunez returning as the key pass catching weapon in 2009. Nunez had 700 plus yards receiving and 7 touchdowns in 2008. Michigan’s secondary is probably not going to be very good this year, but it is experienced in places and talented enough to cover what will essentially be a greatly reduced Bronco receiving corps. Western will try to soften Michigan up with the run first and then use Hiller’s arm to exploit size mismatches with Nunez on the outside and with the tight ends over the middle. The most important thing to watch for on defense will be Michigan’s defensive line versus Western’s experienced offensive line. To win this game, Wolverine defensive end Brandon Graham and defensive tackle Mike Martin must chair several important “meetings” with Tim Hiller in the Bronco backfield.

When Carcajous Attack! On Offense:
Nothing suggests that Western Michigan’s defensive unit can stop any opposing football team from moving up and down the field at will - least of all opponents that happen to run a read spread option attack. As good as WMU’s secondary was supposed to have been with defensive backs Louis Delmas and E.J. Biggers, both now in the NFL, WMU sure got taken to task by opposing quarterbacks in the yardage category. It is difficult to be kind about this, but if you can fog a mirror, you can pass the football with success against Western Michigan. Look no further than what Todd Graham’s Rice football team did to Western Michigan defense in the last year’s bowl game (Graham was a defensive coordinator for Rich Rodriguez at West Virginia). Rice’s quarterback Chase Clement threw for 300 yards, 3 TDs and rushed for another 72 yards and 1 TD. Or what about the Central Michigan game last fall, where backup Chippewa quarterback Brian Brunner was 20 of 28 for 346 yards and just 1 passing TD. In WMU’s 51-28 win over Idaho junior Vandal QB Nathan Enderle was 25 of 39 for 334 yards and 3 TDs. Cody Cielenski is the only starter with meaningful tackle and sack numbers along the Bronco defensive line. Linebackers Austin Pritchard and Justin Braska are arguably the best players on the entire Broncos defense. The Broncos secondary was decimated by graduation last fall and have Mario Armstrong as the only returning player with considerable number of game tackles (64 in 2008). Offensively Michigan should be able to run the ball off-tackle until the cows come home, and also exploit the WMU secondary with the downfield forward pass. The dual-threat play making ability of Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson must be accounted for, and should leave big openings for other Wolverine players to explode into the Broncos secondary. The only thing that might stop Michigan’s offense in this football game is going to be Michigan.

The Last Time:
Michigan last played Western Michigan was on September 7, 2002. In this game, the eleventh ranked Wolverines rolled to a decisive victory in Michigan Stadium 35-12. The last time Bill Cubit and Rich Rodriguez faced off was September 1, 2007 when West Virginia pummeled Western Michigan in Morgantown 62-24.

What to Expect:
If there’s a year for Western Michigan to upset the Michigan Wolverines, this would be it. Unfortunately, WMU has not won a road opener in like…forever. Bill Cubit will attempt a balanced attack on the Wolverines up until Michigan gains the lead, at which point Hiller will be called upon for late game throwing and running heroics. Initially I expect a close game with plenty of youthful errors and turnovers by Michigan. The Broncos will find success running the football, but there will be a considerable number of sacks by Michigan’s defense. Despite the DL pressure by UM, Hiller and Nunez should have a great outing with high passing yardage.

However, Michigan is probably going to ground the Broncos into dog food in this football game with the rushing attack of Brandon Minor, Carlos Brown, Tate Forcier, Denard Robinson and freshman Vincent Smith. The Michigan quarterbacks, particularly Forcier and Robinson, should have a great game passing against this WMU defense, and Michigan fans will be relieved to discover that indeed the Wolverines do possess some fine wide receivers, tight ends and slot receivers (and that they’ve been on the roster the entire time). I would not be at all surprised to see Michigan rush for well over 100 yards, and have well over 300 yards passing in this game. With WMU’s linebackers Braska and Pritchard trying desperately to shore up the Broncos DL against the run of Brandon Minor and Forcier/Robinson, watch for Michigan’s tight ends Koger and Webb to have eye opening performances catching the football.

WCA Prediction: Michigan 34, Western Michigan 17

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Michigan’s Quarterback Chimera

So I'm out of it for a little while (Viva Mexico!) and then things start to get interesting with respect to Michigan football!

Jesus, the entire college sports media has their mouths agape at Rich Rodriguez's recent comments about possibly playing three (3) quarterbacks (Nick Sheridan, Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson) during the season opening game versus Western Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Rodriguez has never rotated three quarterbacks during his coaching career. Such a tactic has been observed before in Division II and Division III college football, but only intermittently at the Division I level. David Cutcliffe did it at Mississippi. John Jenkins rotated three quarterbacks at Houston in the early 1990s. Bobby Bowden has played multiple quarterbacks at Florida State several times. Rick Neuheisel rotated 3 quarterbacks at Colorado in 1997. Rocky Long tried to rotate 3 quarterbacks with some success at New Mexico in 1999, and later famously stated:

"We were trying to rotate three quarterbacks, and that's way too many to get ready,"

The scariest example I could find of a division I head coach rotating three quarterbacks was at South Carolina in 2007, when Steve Spurrier decided to rotate in Blake Mitchell, Tommy Beecher and Chris Smelley at quarterback. This was the same year that the Gamecocks started out 6-1 and then lost their last 5 games in a row!

So yeah, rotating three quarterbacks has been done before. The on-field results reside all along the spectrum between gridiron success and failure.


A.) injuries and/or

B.) inconsistent play of the starting or backup quarterbacks

force this radical coaching decision. Of course injuries are not the case with Michigan's current quarterback situation. Not yet anyway. The fact that Rich Rodriguez would consider rotating three different quarterbacks in the season opening game versus an opponent that has been 7-1 in September, 6-2 over the last 8 road games, including recent road upsets over Big Ten opponents Iowa and Illinois, lead us to one plausible explanation: Michigan’s quarterback play thus far has been inconsistent and not one candidate has stood out far above the others thus far. This is somewhat surprising to me because even though Forcier and Robinson are true freshman and will be making a ton of mistakes, they obviously both possess the total talent package that Rodriguez really needs to run this offense at full throttle: a great arm, elusiveness and foot speed.

It therefore lies within the realm of possibility - however remote - that Nick Sheridan has improved considerably in every phase since the embarrassing defeats last November versus Northwestern and Ohio State. It's also possible that Rodriguez's thick playbook has slowed down the incoming freshman Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson to such an degree that the game-seasoned Sheridan remains a viable option to lead the Wolverine offense. With one full week of practice left to go, one would expect the clouds to be separating and a clear leader to emerge at quarterback. This has not yet happened, but it still could.

Sheridan played a good game against Minnesota last fall, but if we're honest, that was about it. Still, Sheridan has reportedly done well in summer workouts and fall practice so far. Tate Forcier showed a lot of promise in the Michigan Spring game on talent and physical skill alone. During fall practice Denard Robinson has repeatedly improvised his way into the end zone, further what my investigative intuition instructed me all along: "Shoelace" has always had wings on his helmet.

Even if Rodriguez does rotate three quarterbacks this fall, this is not a viable long-term objective. There are some damn good reasons why Robinson and Forcier got the scholarship offers they did last year and why Nick Sheridan did not receive any such offers. Eventually the talent and big play making ability of Forcier and Robinson will be showcased on Saturdays, separate them by the lengths of continents from Nick Sheridan, and make Rodriguez’s decision a whole lot easier.

The term chimera means an impossible or foolish fantasy.

Back from Vacation and Redemption

You know what the Mexicans say about the Pacific? They say it has no memory.

Apologies everyone for having tuned out for a few days. Work schedule and deadlines were dragging my ass down and I had to control-alt-delete my brain for a few days. I just returned back from a business trip, and a week of vacation visiting some extended family in central Mexico. I also took the opportunity to take a few extra days of R&R in Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo (Guerrero state) on the Pacific coast of Mexico. If you have ever seen the film Shawshank Redemption, this is the destination of Andy Dufresne at the end of the film (though what you saw on screen was actually filmed in the Virgin Islands, not the Pacific coast of Mexico).

Zihuatanejo is not an easy place to get to by car, but the mountains, rivers and landscape en route is truly beautiful. And Zihua itself is a special place. If sunny and hot is not you're thing, I do not recommend going to Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo in August as I just did. Actually, the locals told me it's sunny and very hot year around, so it probably makes zero difference what time of year one visits.

I'm now back in the saddle again and rejuvenated. I realize I've missed quite a bit with Denard Robinson tearing it up in recent fall practices, something about Rich Rodriguez threatening to unleash a quarterback-by-committee strategy to confuse the upcoming opposition, the sports media and Wolverine fans alike. I'll touch on some of these developments shortly.

But I'm already thinking about my next trip: Al norte to Ann Arbor, Michigan for the season opener versus Western Michigan!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

It's a no brainer

I know I'm all alone in the belief that freshman Tate Forcier is going to end up being the starting quarterback for Michigan in the 2009 season opener versus Western Michigan on September 5. Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez has been careful to publicly praise all three of the lead players at quarterback, Nick Sheridan, Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson on their progress so far in fall camp. That's the right thing to do when they're picking things up, showcasing their skills and taking postive steps forward in the learning process.

But you really don't have to be a 5-star restaurant chef to figure out what key ingredients were missing in the Michigan offense last year. Just by simple Watsonian deduction, we already know exactly who is going to be taking the snaps versus Bill Cubit's Broncos defense. It's going to be Tate Forcier because he possesses in abundance virtually all of the key components that were missing from Michigan's quarterback position last year:

1.) Confidence
It's true. He's a true freshman. But Michigan has started true freshman quarterbacks before. It's important to note just how at home Forcier is in this offense. He loves the game of football and running this offense. And not just a little bit. He can make all the throws, scrambles, option pitches and quarterback draw plays you want as a coach. And he's not afraid to get hit. He played cornerback in high school and frequently made key, open field tackles in the secondary as well as on special teams (Tate was the punter).

2.) Quarterback Speed and Mobility
I've said before that opposing defenses essentially ignored Steven Threet and Nick Sheridan as run threats last year. They did not worry about them as passing threats either. This frequently paid off for Michigan opponents, because:

a.)Michigan's 3rd down success rate was less than 30%,
b.) Michigan's main and only legitimate offensive weapon was the superback McGuffie or Minor or punter Zoltan Mesko,
c.) Sometimes it just paid to do nothing and simply wait for the interception or fumble to fall into your mittens.

Pretty easy.

Well, it's not probably going to be so easy anymore if the eleven guys on defense have to fully account for a quarterback that can run and throw equally well, and who can make big plays when needed most.

3.) Throwing accuracy
Forcier has a stronger arm and greater throwing accuracy than Sheridan. Forcier might appear to be making decisions more slowly than Sheridan right now, but in terms of footspeed, vision, field presence, throwing mechanics and football talent, Forcier has it. The decision speed will come along with more playing time.

None of these key ingredients were present in 2008.

However, the main reason why I believe Forcier will be starting quarterback is this:

Rodriguez can't wait.

The future is now as far as the quarterback position goes, and he has to start turning the ship and winning some football games.

Over his long coaching career Rodriguez has coached the full spectrum of talent and ability at quarterback, from Jed Drenning at Glenville State to Shaun King at Tulane, from Steven Threet at Michigan to Pat White at West Virginia. By now we know what Rich Rodriguez wants in a quarterback. He wants a Turner Gill, a Terrelle Pryor or a Vince Young. He'd take a Tim Tebow, a Zak Kustok, or a Shaun King too.

So I ask you who on the UM roster at quarterback even comes remotely close to resembling such players??

Only Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson bring what's required to the table.

But sure, we could go ahead and torture ourselves again about the 2008 Northwestern game, where the Michigan quarterback connected on just 8 of 29 passes for 61 yards, or the game after that where he threw 8 completions out of 24 attempts for 87 yards in a 35 point shellacking.

There's just no way Rich Rodriguez is going to fool around with that kind of performance again in 2009.

No way.

Michigan Players And Hollywood Resemblances

I don't know if this has ever happened to you, but sometimes I'll meet somebody, look at their face, and then think to myself "Man, that guy is the spitting image of _____", or "Wow, she looks just exactly like _____!". It's weird. Sometimes it bugs the crap out of me for a few hours until a new idea flashes up like "I found the remote control!" or "But I didn't eat that."

Well, when I saw this chillin' but thrillin' new photo of Michigan quarterback commitment Devin Gardner from the ESPN article "Three Elite 11 Ball Boys Stand Out", the machinations began again within that vacuous region between my ears.

"Dammit, Devin Gardner looks an awful lot like somebody I've seen before! He looks like a famous person I know!"

"But who?"

"Oh yeah!!! Now I remember..."

Devin Gardner looks just like a dual-threat version of famous Hollywood actor John Amos!

The Triple Option Play From the Spread Formation: A Nice Overview

Steve Sharik posted a nice piece over at mgoblog about the triple option play out of the spread formation. The progression is similar to the same options observed from conventional triple option plays that most college football fans recognize out of base offensive formations like the "I formation" and "wishbone formation".

The triple option play has been frequently utlized by many read spread option football teams in the past like Utah, Northwestern, Oregon, West Virginia, Florida, and many others. When executed properly, this is a very difficult play to defend against, as the misdirection of the blockers and the QB and tailback fakes frequently places defenders out of position to make the stop. The advantage of perfecting this triple option play is that auxiliary plays tack on to it fairly easily, including regular and play action pass plays, and even run or pass reverse plays, which can really mess with the heads of the opposing defense.

Here's Steve Sharik's post which is a very concise description of the formation, positions, prescribed blocking and progression of the triple option play: Triple Option in the Spread Offense: a Brief Overview (Posted using ShareThis).

This of course begs the question whether Michigan's 2009 quarterbacks will be seen running this play very much? In 2008, I cannot recall a single game where Steven Threet or Nick Sheridan ran a full triple option play with a trailing tailback or a Y or H receiver shimming over into trailing pitch position. I may have missed it.

The answer to the question is yes. Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson both operated spread offenses in high school that utilized the triple option play.

Here is an example at the 2:11 mark of Tate Forcier running only a double-option play out of the spread offensive set, where he pitches the football perfectly to his trailing tailback Brennan Clay (OU commit) for a 35 yard gain versus Oceanside during the final state championship game for Scripps Ranch high school. Oceanside won decisively 49-14.

Here is Forcier running a speed double option play for a touchdown in the game:

I would not be surprised to see the double- and triple-options plays to be incorporated into the Wolverine repetoire at some point early this season, and possibly by the first game.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Judge Me By My Size, Do You?

And well you should not. For my ally is the Forcier. And a powerful ally he is.
- Yoda, 1 foot-6 inch, 30 lbs., 900 Year Old Senior Slot Receiver

OK, so sometimes I too can get carried away and need to retire to my nerdery with my calculator.

And I'm pretty sure I'm not the only Michigan football recruiting geek to have been slightly spooked about the smaller-sized skilled position players that now populate the Wolverine football roster. Observations and tweet messages from sports bloggers and national sports reporters during Michigan's first week of fall practice picked up on the apparent changes in Wolverine player stature as well. Of course there’s also a growing list of 3-star, sub-six foot recruits and commits brought in to play cornerback, tailback or slot receiver positions.

Rich Rodriguez’s spread offense doesn’t specify any particular player height or weight to play running back, slot receiver or outside receiver, or even quarterback. If such specs for skilled position players were ever written down for Rodriguez's read spread option offense, they'd probably include:

A. Under 6 feet tall

B. 4.6 sec 40 yard dash times or better,

C. Strength and athleticism to break open field tackles, and

D. Ability to fracture the ankles of oncoming defenders by making laser-precision, jock-removing jukes and cuts in the open field.

Michigan Freshman Running Back Vincent Smith

Football players of any size can certainly achieve the above. However, there’s been an interesting trend in offensive player profile and player size under Rodriguez, especially when we view some of the highest performing players at skilled positions like the quarterback, tailback and slot receiver positions over his coaching career.

Size of Impact Players At Tulane
I’ve probably written way too much about Rich Rodriguez’s stint at Tulane on this Michigan blog already. But it is an instructional reference point for Rodriguez’s first fully-fledged read spread option attack at the Division I level. As you can see from the 1998 season, there were several impact players under 6 feet tall and well under 200 lbs.

QB Shaun King: 6-0, 223 lbs., 3,495 yards passing, 38 TDs, 611 yards rushing, 11 TDs.

FB Okie Woods: 5-11, 230 lbs
TB Toney Converse: 5-8, 158 lbs., 982 yards rushing, 8 TDs
TB Jamaican Dartez: 5-9, 185 lbs., 679 yards rushing, 7 TDs

WR Jajuan Dawson: 6-1, 197, 74 catches, 1,030 yards, 12 TDs
Slot PJ Franklin: 5-10, 180 lbs., 79 catches, 1,216 yards, 10 TDs
Slot Adrian Burnette: 5-10, 186, 11 catches, 201 yards, 3 TDs
WR Kerwin Cooke: 6-1, 176, 31 catches, 528 yards, 4 TDs

Size of Impact Players At Clemson
Rodriguez was the offensive coordinator for 2 years under Tommy Bowden at Clemson, 1999-2000. The Tiger slot receivers and wide receivers were much taller than at Tulane. Travis Zachery was the main running back in 2000.

QB Woodrow Dantzler: 5-11, 200 lbs, 1,691 yds passing, 10 TDs, 1,075 yds rushing, 13 TDs.

TB Travis Zachery: 6-0, 190 lbs., 1,044 yards rushing, 13 TDs

WR Rod Gardner: 6-4, 215 lbs., 51 catches, 956 yards, 6 TDs
Slot Jackie Robinson: 6-1, 190 lbs., 24 catches, 276 yards, 3 TDs
TE Kevin Youngblood: 6-5, 219 lbs., 12 catches, 221 yards, 2 TDs

Size of Impact Players At West Virginia
Rodriguez coached at WVU for 7 years. I select the 2002 and 2007 seasons as samples with the size and weight of some of the top performances over this period, not repeating names:

QB Rasheed Marshall: 6-1, 190 lbs, 1,616 yards passing, 9 TDs, 666 yards rushing, 13 TDs

TB Avon Cobourne: 5-9, 190 lbs, 1,710 yards rushing, 17 TDs
TB Quincy Wilson: 5-9, 210 lbs, 901 yards rushing, 6 TDs

WR Miquelle Henderson: 6-2, 205 lbs., 40 catches, 496 yards, 2 TDs
WR Phil Braxton: 6-3, 200 lbs., 20 catches, 379 yards, 2 TDs

QB Pat White: 6-2, 190 lbs., 1,724 yds passing, 14 TDs, 1,335 yds rushing, 14 TDs

TB Steve Slaton: 5-10, 200 lbs, 1,051 yards rushing, 17 TDS
TB Noel Devine: 5-8, 170 lbs., 627 yards rushing, 6 TDs

WR Tito Gonzalez: 6-2, 210 lbs., 10 catches, 219 yards, 1 TD
Slot Jock Sanders: 5-8, 185 lbs., 12 catches, 102 yards, 0 TDs, 105 yards rush, 2 TDs
Slot Darius Reynaud: 5-10, 200 lbs, 63 catches, 725 yards, 12 TDs
WR Dorrell Jalloh: 6-0, 190 lbs, 24 catches, 271 yards, 1 TD

Impact Player Size And The Power of the Forcier At Scripps Ranch High School
Tate Forcier is not a huge quarterback by any means. He’s only 6-0, 190 lbs. and entering year 1 of the Michigan football strength and conditioning program of Mike Barwis. Forcier was a very accurate thrower, especially during his senior season of high shcool, when he connected on 65% of this throws for 3,331 yards and 23 TD passes. His top receiving targets on the Scripps Ranch football team last year, as one might expect at the high school level, were (with one exception) rather smallish in size:

TB Brennan Clay: 5-11, 182 lbs., 66 catches, 1,010 yards, 6 TDs
Slot Todd Herrod: 5-7, 142 lbs., 37 catches, 875 yards, 6 TDs
Slot Malcolm Billingsley: 6-0, 175 lbs., 21 catches, 365 yards, 1 TD
TE JT Kerr: 6-5, 230 lbs, 21 catches, 294 yards, 3 TDs
Slot Trayvon Herrod: 5-10, 140 lbs., 13 catches, 184 yards, 2 TDs
Slot Jake Curran: 6-1, 165 lbs., 10 catches, 103 yards, 2 TDs

Impact Player Size At Michigan
Since Rodriguez’s arrival in Ann Arbor, he’s continued to place quite a high level of emphasis on player speed and athleticism for the quarterback running back and slot receiver positions, as well as the defensive backfield. One cannot help but notice the physical stature of some of these lightning quick additions to the 2008 Michigan roster:

CB Boubacar Cissoko, 5-8, 175 lbs.
SR Martavious Odoms, 5-8, 171 lbs.
SR Terrance Robinson, 5-9, 170 lbs.
TB Sam McGuffie, 5-11, 190 lbs.

2009 Roster Additions:
TB Vincent Smith, 5-8, 165 lbs.
SR Jeremy Gallon, 5-9, 175 lbs.
CB Teric Jones, 5-10, 194 lbs.
TB Fitzgerald Toussaint, 5-10, 185 lbs.
WR Thomas Gordon, 5-11, 205 lbs.

2010 Verbal Commitments (so far):
TB Tony Drake, 5-8, 160 lbs
CB Courtney Avery, 5-9, 164 lbs.
CB Terrance Talbott, 5-10, 172 lbs.
WR Drew Dileo, 5-10, 175 lbs.

Rodriguez clearly doesn’t mind going after smaller-sized players, as he knows they will be well-conditioned by the time they hit the field and have the skills to perform their duties in this offense. Given the many examples at Tulane, Clemson and West Virginia, any panic about Rodriguez’s affinity for recruiting smaller profile players may be misplaced. Besides this, many Michigan fans may recognize the names of several high-impact players at Michigan over the last 40 years. Perhaps it’s comforting to know that a great many of these Wolverine players didn’t exactly arrive to Ann Arbor in “extra large” packaging:

TB Gordon Bell, 5-9, 178 lbs, 1973-1975
TB Roosevelt Smith, 5-10, 198 lbs 1976-1979
WR Anthony Carter, 5-11, 161 lbs, 1979-1982
TB Lawrence Ricks, 5-10, 205 lbs 1979-1982
WR Erik Campbell, 5-10, 168 lbs 1984-1987
TB Jamie Morris, 5-7, 175 lbs, 1984-1987
WR Desmond Howard, 5-10, 161 lbs. 1988-1991
TB Jon Vaughn, 5-10, 174 lbs, 1988-1990
WR Mercury Hayes, 5-11, 180 lbs. 1992-1995
TB Mike Hart, 5-9, 196, 2004-2007

Jamie Morris was only 5 foot 7 inches tall and 175 lbs. Yet he left burnout marks all over the Tartan surface at Michigan Stadium for 4, 392 yards and 25 touchdowns between 1984-1987.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Mustaches For Michigan, Carcajous And Dual Threat Quarterbacks

The first post on this new Michigan football blogging experiment of mine, entitled When Carcajous Attack!, proudly featured a quote from Ernest Thompson Seton, a renowned 19th century wildlife artist and author, as he described the animal called the carcajou (a.k.a wolverine) using a rather eloquent choice of words:
"Picture a weasel -- and most of us can do that, for we have met that little demon of destruction, that small atom of insensate courage, that symbol of slaughter,sleeplessness, and tireless, incredible activity --picture that scrap of demoniac fury, multiply that mite some fifty times, and you have the likeness of a Wolverine." Ernest Thompson Seton from "Lives of Game Animals". 1925 - 1928. Vol. II
And I was always rather fond, and dare I say jealous, of Mr. Seton's most distinguished-looking of cookie dusters.

It is therefore with great pride and espirit de corps that the When Carcajous Attack! Blog announce it's full support and endorsement for Mustaches For Michigan, around which Wolverine football fans everywhere have already begun to rally in one massive effort to will the Michigan team to victory on the gridiron this coming September 5th!

Indeed some of you may be shocked to find out what you may look like in the mirror with a brand new facial shrubbery with coordinates due south of the nostrils.

Do not be afraid, for I submit to you what could possibly be a more profound gesture of solidarity and support for our honorable and mighty Michigan Wolverine football players than a distinct, and handsome mustache to hail our Maize and Blue brethren!

Listen to me when I tell you that a Michigan Stadium jam-packed with over one hundred thousand mustache-brandishing Wolverine partisans on September 5th would be such a stunning sight - so powerful and endearing - and far too magnanimous for resentment, no one will be able to capture such an event and put it to words or music.

Just how in the world can Western Michigan head coach Bill Cubit possibly prepare his Broncos for such a phenomenon so beautiful, and at the same time so horrific?

The truth is, he cannot.

"My God, Tim! It's full of mustaches!"

And while it is true that Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez may be yelling profanities in your general direction right now in the name of all upper lips unshaven, Michigan remains steadfast in it's full adherence to integrity, trust and family values.
After being on the receiving end of such obscene tirades, perhaps some of you Michigan men (and women) might pause and consider quitting before those post-nasal bristles have even started their shoots.

Do no such thing! Do not pause nor hesitate!

The last great dual-threat quarterback at Michigan did not quit. He did not deviate. Quarterback Steve Smith ran the triple option attack for the Michigan Wolverines between 1981-1983 and accepted the punishment that was sure to come from the oncoming defensive ends and cornerbacks. He suffered a separated shoulder and bounced back to lead Michigan on to victory and offensive success! Most importantly, Mr. Smith proudly displayed is facial wares every Saturday for the Maize & Blue, weakening the very will of any and all Michigan opponents.

Oh, the message is so basic. So fundamentally sound. Even people who consider carcajous to make excellent house pets have received the directive and understood its meaning loud an clear:

Grow a mustache and support Michigan Wolverines football!

Bienvenue Talbott Brothers!

The Michigan Wolverines football program earned the commitment of two new players: defensive tackle Terry Talbott, and Terry's brother, Terrance Talbott. Terrance was recruited to play the cornerback position. Both positions at Michigan are in dire need of talented playmakers.

The Talbott brothers specifications are as follows:

DT Terry Talbott, 6-3, 265 lbs, Wayne High School (Huber Heights, OH), 4.87 speed. 3-Star, No. 50 DT in the nation. Terry's offer list included Cincy, Wisconsin, NC State, Michigan State, Kent State and Toledo.


Terrance Talbott
, 5-9, 172 lbs, Wayne High School (Huber Heights, OH), 4.5 speed. 1-Star, unranked CB. Terrance's offer list included Cincy, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Toledo and Ball State.

OK, so Mr. Terrance Talbott is getting just about zero love right now by and But watch the footage at 00:21 as he absolutely tattoed another Michigan recruiting target, 4-star and No. 6 TE in the nation Alex Smith, of (CORRECTION): Lakota West High School (West Chester, OH). Choice.

The Talbott brothers helped to lead Wayne High School to an 8-4 record in 2008.
Both return for the 2009 season alongside star Warrior quarterback, and OSU recruiting target, Braxton Miller for the 2009 campaign.

Welcome to the Michigan family, Terry and Terrance!

Here is the Talbott family crest:

Their family motto?

Prest d'accomplir.

That's "Ready to Accomplish".

Rodriguez's recruiting strategy is finally starting to emphasize the much needed defensive position players. The next 7 months are going to be a lot of fun on the recruiting front.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

If Michigan Had USC’s Problems

Ohio State football fans might very well be rejoicing over the next day or two about the recent news that USC QB Aaron Corp, the heir apparent at quarterback for the Trojans this fall, suffered a knee injury the second day of fall practice which may sideline him for the next 2 to 3 weeks.

Given the nature of the injury, Corp will likely not be 100% for the season opener versus San Jose State on September 5th. The road game versus Ohio State is the following week in Columbus. This development shines the spotlight anew on the USC quarterback situation for 2009, as the doors have apparently now flung open for freshman phenom, Matt Barkley, a 5-star recruit (according to and the No. 1 high school quarterback in the country last fall. Barkley, a true freshman, hails from the legendary Mater Dei High School (Santa Ana, CA), which has produced some prolific college quarterbacks over the years including Matt Leinart (USC), Colt Brennan (Hawai’i) and Jason Forcier (Stanford/Michigan?).

Forcier played quarterback at Mater Dei High School before transferring to St. Augustin in San Diego as a senior.

I'd hold off on the victory celebrations in Columbus for a moment. I know. Couches are in high supply and matches are at the ready. And yes, true freshman quarterbacks are what they are. But look Barkley is the real deal. He has a cannon arm, excellent mobility and the kind of field vision and presence that is you simply cannot coach. College scouts and high school coaches compare Barkley frequently to Matt Leinart.

One quick glance at the 2009 Trojan depth chart and I found myself shaking my head trying to remember how in the world Michigan finds itself in the current situation it's in at quarterback with 2 highly rated freshmen quarterbacks (Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson) and then, well, nobody.

Actually it’s not that bad, but before this injury news about Corp, I didn’t realize the significance of the fact that two (2) 5-star, Top 3 ranked quarterbacks were content to ride the pine at USC in 2009 and possibly 2010 behind Corp instead of committing to other football teams that might have greater (read: dire) need for the position. (And I realize none of these aside from Garrett Green are dual threat quarterbacks, but still…). That's interesting to observe.

Now if Jason Forcier possibly joins the Wolverine football team this fall (petition pending), then Michigan’s quarterback situation will be all the more fortified.

Everyone knows that USC’s Pete Carroll is an outstanding coach and recruiter. The glamorous southern California weather and LA location, not to mention on-field success, have pretty much sold themselves well to prospective Trojan recruits in-state and out over the last 8 seasons. But just look at the USC depth chart at quarterback this fall for a moment:

15 - Aaron Corp, 6-3, 200 lbs, Jr., 5-star, No.3 QB, Orange Lutheran H.S. (CA)

7 – Matt Barkley, 6-2, 230 lbs, Fr., 5-star, No. 1 QB, Mater Dei H.S. (CA)

16 – Mitch Mustain, 6-3, 210 lbs, Jr., 5-star, No. 1 QB, Springdale H.S. (CA)

14 – Garrett Green, 6-2, 210 lbs, Sr. (Also a WR), 3 star, No. 22 QB, Notre Dame HS (CA)

John David Booty and Mark Sanchez were also No. 1 ranked 5-star quarterbacks that were lassoed by Carroll. It’s almost not fair.

So is anyone really panicking in USC-land about this injury scare to the starting quarterback Corp? Here’s Pete Carroll’s smooth response about Corp’s injury:

"This is an unfortunate setback for Aaron, but we're encouraged by the diagnosis and that he's going to return quickly.”

I’m not exactly picking up on any apocalyptic signs of panic there. Maybe it has something to do with Carroll's toilet paper roll-long list of 5-star Trojan backups at the position?

Trojan fans are so spoiled, if they have anything to panic about it might be because Carroll recently earned the commitment of a meager 4-star, No.7 athletic quarterback in Jesse Scroggins on July 23rd.

Boy, let me see. Yeah, that Scroggins commitment sure sounds like the “end of the world” alright, USC fans. Man, I'd surrender if I were you.


Monday, August 10, 2009

Camp Rodriguez Back Open For Business: Feelin' Better Now.

Michigan football team started fall practice today for the 2009 season in Ann Arbor. For Wolverine football fans everywhere, the new college football season could not come fast enough.

Last year I remember that it seemed like everyone was biting their fingernails down to the nubs about the new head coach (But he's not a Michigan Man!!), the Michigan quarterback situation (Oh My God! No More Chad Henne!), the inexperienced offensive line (Ahh! No more Jake Long!), and the new read spread option offense of Rich Rodriguez (Ho'Jeeze, No Pat White On Our Roster!!).

"It's different for Michigan," junior tailback Carlos Brown says. "You're going to see the winged helmet running out of the spread. It's crazy."

Right on Carlos! At that time (August 2008) many Wolverine football fans like me latched onto every fiber of irrational exuberance we could find floating in the the air or on the internets; from the mythological web reports of the new Sack-tastic defensive coordinator, Scott Shafer, to the nail-chewing, weight room exploits of the new Michigan strength and conditioning coach and Jedi Master, Mike Barwis.

For a time it kept us sedated.

Fast forward just 9 months from the 42-7 drubbing at the hands of Ohio State in Columbus and things for Michigan look quite different. Hopeful. Confident. Again.

The 2009 quarterback question is certainly there for UM, but somehow we find ourselves less neurotic with worry about it. We know that quarterbacks coach Rod Smith has a proven track record over the longer term, particularly when coaching more athletic and less statuesque signal callers. Unlike last fall, Smith is going to have two to three guys ready to play. With an increased level of competition week after week for this key position, Forcier, Robinson and Sheridan are going to learn an awful lot about Rodriguez's green spiral notebook of plays in a very short time. They'll learn even more from one other.

There appears to be good depth and experience along the offensive line, at running back, and my goodness, at the receiver positions as well. This might be head-to-toe one of the youngest, fastest and most talented receiver corps at Michigan in a very long time. Yes, there was the famous cast of greatness from 2006 that included Steve Breaston, Mario Manningham, Adrian Arrington, Carl Tabb and Greg Mathews. They wore the Maize and Blue only three years ago, with Chad Henne under center throwing lightening bolts at them. This new crew of Wolverine receivers have a lot of speed and talent that was never really showcased in 2008. You place that kind of speed and elusiveness on the football pitch alongside a mobile quarterback driving opposing DC's nuts, and some very unexpected, cool, Michael Bishop-kind-of-stuff starts falling from the sky. There's also the important and less glorified duty of down field blocking by these receivers which will determine whether 4 and 6 yard runs by Brandon Minor turn into 15 and 30 yard bursts. I believe that these receivers are going to surprise the pundits in 2009 to significant degree. Mathews, Stonum, Odoms, Robinson, Rogers, Gallon, Roundtree and Hemingway and the tight ends Koger and Webb, have an awful lot to prove this autumn.

This year the main concern has to be about durability and maintaining team health over all 12 games. If the team can survive the hitting that's about to ensue over the next 2 to 3 weeks of fall practice, it will be an encouraging sign. To be sure, Michigan has a rather disappointing history of incurring a ridiculous amount of battle damage during spring and fall football scrimmages. I'm reasonably sure that some rotating chocolate teapot in space, or a flying spaghetti monster from Iron Mountain will someday reveal itself and admit full responsibility for it all.

Defensively, three of the front four players along the defensive line will need to grow up mighty quick. Right now Michigan has senior Brandon Graham, sophomore Mike Martin, junior Ryan Van Bergen and probably freshman phenom Will Campbell and junior Adam Patterson in the starting DL rotation. As Graham is the most talented and threatening piece of machinery here, significant pressure will be on the younger and less experienced three to bust through the line and start mixing alkali metals with water in the opposing backfield. Mike Martin played quite well in limited action last year at defensive tackle, which is a good sign.

These questions about how permiable the Wolverine defensive line will be this fall diverts only more attention to yet another area of concern from last fall - Michigan's linebacker play is either going stand out like a horrific train wreck, or blind us like a polished gem. There is probably not going much in-between-ness at this position. And the Michigan secondary has 2 juniors (Warren and Williams), no seniors, and a bucket load of talented, but completely inexperienced, freshmen clawing away at possible playing time. The difference between a 4 win and a 7 win season for Michigan in 2009 may very well hinge upon the "Michigan Middle" and how quickly it asserts itself as the dependable bulwark against the run, forcing opponents to pass. As great as Brandon Graham is at defensive end, the Michigan linebacker corps of Ezeh, Mouton, Herron, S. Brown and Fitzgerald must set the tone early and, for lack of greater eloquence, start tearing people's heads off.

Better Now - Collective Soul

Oh I'm newly calibrated
All shiny and clean
I'm your recent adaptation
Time to redefine me

Let the word out I've got to get out
Oh I'm feeling better now
Break the news out I've got to get out
Oh I'm feeling better now

Go Blue!

Michigan's Mental Edge on Defense: Where Did It Go?

ErocWolverine hits it out of the park at the GoBlueMichiganWolverine Blog today about Michigan's trials and tribulations on defense. I particularly enjoyed this excerpt:

2) Michigan has lost its mental edge. The UM defense has lost that nasty, mean "I am going to rip your d*MN head/arm off and beat you to death with it type of attitude.

Quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers have no fear at all lately against Michigan’s defense. Bo's teams scared the H*LL out of people. No UM team over the last five to ten years merits such old school comparison.

We refer back to an article not that long ago which stated that back in Bo's day the Big Ten coaches complained to the Big Ten about how physical the wide receivers were, and how they kept blocking right up to the whistle; sometimes past it.

The Big Ten sent a letter to Bo asking him to change or modify his approach. He actually framed the letter and said if other teams are worried so much about our wide receivers just wait till the other position players get a hold of them. Bo believed other teams would not be able to game plan to maximum effectiveness.

Hell yeah! I second that motion. There should be much more "I-am-going-to-rip-your-DAMN-head/arm-off-and-beat-you-to-death-with-it-type-of-attitude"!

And I agree that nothing creased that ear-to-ear grin on Schembechler's face more quickly than reading a begging letter from Big Ten coaches and Big Ten commissioner Wayne Duke saying essentially: "Hey Bo, stop playing so rough!"

I've been thinking a lot lately about Michigan's defense for 2009. And folks, I'm worried. For all of the advances that may be made offensively this fall with a better quarterback situation and improved offensive line play, I'm concerned how they could all be canceled out rather quickly with continued frustration and big play gift-giving on defense. One school of thought says, "Well, hey it can't possibly be any worse than last year!".

To that I'm here to say: "Yes, it could be worse".

Michigan lost 3 pretty decent and experienced front lineman in Tim Jamison, Terrance Taylor and Will Johnson. At linebacker Logan and Thompson are also gone, albeit on-off starters at that position. The secondary sees Stevie Brown moving from safety to linebacker, plus the loss of corner backs Morgan Trent, Charles Stewart and Brandon Harrison.

As a result, this is going to be a very young Michigan defense peppered with a few experienced starters coming back. My generous count includes:

DE Brandon Graham
LB Obi Ezeh
LB Jonas Mouton
LB Stevie Brown
CB Boubacar Cissoko
CB Donovan Warren

The safety positions are such a frightening situation right now for Michigan, I've purposely chosen not to discuss it very much on this blog. Michigan certainly has some talent there in Troy Woolfolk, Michael Williams, Vlad Emilien (Fr.) and Brandon Smith. Just not a whole lot of meaningful experience. The defense is probably going to be quicker from now on than Michigan fans have observed in the past. More importantly, major strides need to be made in the departments of tackling (see Morgan Trent in photo above) and pursuit angles.

I'm grateful for ErocWolverine's post on this subject today, because it encapsulates what I believe as well. There are some pretty damning reasons why Michigan has lost it's way defensively in recent years. Even the great 2006 team was marred by rather poor performances versus Ball State, Ohio State, not to mention versus USC in the Rose Bowl. Whether Robinson is the right guy to instill that merciless attitude, time will tell. Ken Norton Jr. did a great job of instilling defensive rage at USC, multiplied, of course, by several magnitudes of improved team speed at every position.

For now there's really only hope, that Greg Robinson and crew might bring some mental edge back to the Wolverine side of the field this year on defense.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Well At Least Somebody Believes in Michigan

I'm not sure if this is Rodriguez himself throwing down the gauntlet with his ballot, or some other coach who just likes Michigan's chances to turn things around in 2009, but Michigan received 1 vote for the Top 25 USA Today Coaches Poll.

There are plenty of bloggers and sportswriters out there who believe that Michigan's train has already derailed under Rodriguez and that 2009 will simply be a continuation of that ongoing disaster to evaporate all doubts. It's the freshman quarterback, the much maligned offensive line, the porous run defense, the inexperienced defensive line and secondary, it's the fourth Michigan defensive coordinator since 2005, plus an offensive attack that for some reason or other either hasn't been proven, or simply doesn't "belong" on the Big Ten.

Other writers have pointed to a more positive outlook: a more experienced offensive line, better attitude amongst the players, a better defensive coordinator, a more talented quarterback situation (Forcier, Robinson) than a year ago.

I believe Michigan will have a much better 2009 football season than 2008. However, I don't believe Michigan has any business in the 2009 Top 25 preseason coaches poll or any other poll for that matter until they silence most of the critics by winning football games again.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

When Your Punter and Place Kicker Have Nothing to Do

During Tommy Bowden's second season at Tulane, the Green Wave's offensive effectiveness improved so dramatically under offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez that Tulane's placekickers rarely had anything to do.

Tulane's 1998 spread option offense, which was operated by quarterback Shaun King, combined with the helpful services of speedy tailbacks Toney Converse and Jamaican Dartez, plus slot "machine" receivers Jajuan Dawson, Kerwin Cook and PJ Franklin, became so successful in the red zone, that the scoring statistics of senior Green Wave place kicker Brad Palazzo took a serious nose dive. Palazzo was called upon to kick far more PATs (73 of them!) than field goals (only 9 all year). This was a major step change from the previous 1997 season when Tulane finished 7-4-0.

Still, Palazzo ended up crushing the career field goal record at Tulane that year which had been held previously by former Detroit Lion placekicker and Tulane alum, Eddie Murray (1976-1979).

In 1998 the duties of Tulane's senior punter, Brad Hill, would also be reduced primarily to pooch punting.

And so it was to hell with field goals. Tulane was going to score touchdowns. Lots and lots of touchdowns.

Seventy-three to be precise.

That year Tulane finished 2nd nationally in scoring offense (45.5 points per game). They were ranked 4th nationally in total offense (507 yard per game and over 5,000 total yards) and 13th in the land in passing offense (305 yards per game). In rushing offense, the Green Wave finished 23rd nationally (202 yard per game). Tulane, Kansas State, UCLA and Ohio State were the only four schools in the nation in 1998 to compile 3,000 yards passing and 2,000 yards rushing.

For all of the spectacular read option TD keepers by King, and all of the prolific touchdown runs by Jajuan Dawson, it was Brad Palazzo who led the Green Wave in scoring that year with 100 points.

May Michigan's place kicker Brendan Gibbons and punter Zoltan Mesko find similar respite and notoriety in 2009.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Law of Mozes: Leading Wolverine Players to the Promise Land

Michigan football fans rejoice! The 2006 Rimington Trophy winner and former star offensive lineman at West Virginia, Dan Mozes, is now a member of Mike Barwis' Michigan Strength Staff!

Mr. Molk
, you're in good hands. Oh, and by the way, Dave Rimington of Nebraska wore No. 50 also.

Mr. Mozes:
"Mike gave me the fundamentals to get bigger and stronger," said Mozes. "He gave me the strength to do all that stuff. Coming out of high school nobody wanted me, and I had that chip on my shoulder. That's really the first thing you need to have. People always want to throw in external motivation, pep talks and stuff like that, but you have to be motivated from your own heart. That's one thing I had. Mike gave me the tools."

Welcome to the Wolverine family, Mr. Mozes!