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


Don said...

WMU winning AT Florida State? The only game against FSU I can find on the WMU website in their recent schedules is a road loss at Tallahasee a few years ago.

Markusr2007 said...

Don, thank you. You're right and I corrected the post. I meant Virginia, not Florida State.