Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Winfred Cooper: Future Michigan Wolverine

During trying economic times like these with increased foreclosures, rising unemployment, bottomed out consumer confidence, and rampant mortgage fraud, it makes me wonder where all the goodness has gone.

Sometimes people tune it all out and just focus on football. I do that sometimes.

But every now and then you run across a great story about something bigger and better than football. Like the story below from journalist Jamie Sotonoff of the Daily Herald.

Read it. It will lift your spirit and warm your heart right up.

Winfred Cooper is a high school football player for Elgin High School in Elgin, Illinois, a community located west-northwest of Chicago. He loves to play football, and has big dreams for his future, including someday becoming a college student and playing football for the University of Michigan Wolverines.

So what happens during a local high school football game between Lake Park and Elgin when Winfred's coaches, teammates, friends, family and even athletic opponents come together and decide to make a difference, even if it's for just one brief moment?

Something wonderful. Something of dreams.

Take it away Jamie Sotonoff.

Hail to the Victors, Young Mr. Cooper! And Go Blue!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Michigan Lands Another Big Kicker

The University of Michigan received the verbal commitment from Will Hagerup of Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin. Hagerup is a 3-star rated Scout.com prospect and the No. 4 rated punter in the country with many other high-profile offers from Ohio State, Alabama, Florida, Wisconsin, Iowa and Northwestern.

Hagerup is 6-4 and 210 lbs as a high school senior. This is in alignment with the size and stature of Michigan's more recent punters like Zoltan Mesko (6-5, 238 lbs), Adam Finley (6-4, 209 lbs).

The last Michigan punter who hailed from Wisconsin also played outside linebacker for the Wolverines, John Anderson (1974-1977). Anderson was an All-American for Michigan and an All-Academic Big Ten honoree. Anderson hailed from Waukesha, Wisconsin and went on to star as a Linebacker for Bart Starr's Green Bay Packers in the early 1980s. While playing for Bo Schembechler at Michigan, John Anderson had a 39.5 yard per punt average.

Anderson's most famous play in a Michigan uniform was not a punt at all. It was a bear hug tackle of Ohio State's quarterback Rod Gerald on the Buckeyes' last threatening drive which caused a fumble, which Derek Howard recovered for Michigan, sealing the 14-6 win over Ohio State, the Big Ten championship, a trip to Pasadena, and prompting Ohio's head coach Woody Hayes to throw down his clipboard and punch things - anything - within his direct vicinity. Even an unfortunate ABC sideline cameraman.

Anderson is appropriately numbered "86":

Back to Mr. Hagerup. Yes, he punts like a maniac, and even plays TE for his high school team, the Dukes. You can follow his and the Dukes 2009 gridiron exploits here.

UM Defense: Take All the Yards You Want

It’s rivalry week in the state of Michigan.

Both teams are trying to gear up for the upcoming gridiron showdown in East Lansing this coming Saturday, where Michigan State (1-3) hosts No. 22 Michigan (4-0). These days it is probably true that when it comes to rivalry football games at the collegiate level, you can pretty much throw out team records. Conference rivalry games are different than your run-of-the-mill conference games in that there’s a massive amount of external pressure placed on players and coaches from partisan fans and alumni heading in to the game. There’s a lot of internal pressure generated from the players themselves as well. As a result, emotions really run high heading in to such games. They can get so high sometimes that players and coaches become blind to important assignments and game preparation. After the first hits are exchanged, both teams eventually start to settle down, and the very nature of the college game takes control and gradually overrides all of those pre-game emotions. It’s part of what makes the college game eleventy billion times better than NFL football could ever hope to be.

One month ago, one would have been hard pressed to convince anyone in the Michigan and Detroit sports media, let alone national college football fans, that the Michigan Wolverines would be unbeaten and ranked heading into this football game Saturday.

Going one step further, it would have been next to impossible to convince those same sports pundits that Michigan State would be 1-3 at this stage of the season and positioned last in the Big Ten. I include myself in that group of “would-have-been-difficult-to-persuade’s”.

I thought the “Bakery Basket Opponent” for the Spartans would be Montana State, and I was right. I thought the “Falling Anvil Opponent” for Michigan State would be Michigan.

But today I don’t know. I really don’t know.

If we look at both teams and what they’ve achieved so far, there are some very interesting similarities. In any college football match up, we tend to focus on the differences and any identifiable competitive advantages between the two opponents. Let’s took at some important statistics to compare these two teams after just 4 football games.

Michigan State's Offensive and Defensive Yards Per Point Statistics:

MSUMSUOppPlaysYardsPPPYpPlayYpPointOpp YardsDef YpPoint
at ND3033654590.467.115.343713.2

Michigan's Offensive and Defensive Yards Per Point Statistics:

UMUMOppPlaysYardsPPPYpPlayYpPointOpp YardsDef YpPoint

MSU Offense Vs. Michigan Defense

Michigan State’s offense is currently 22nd in the land, average a staggering 438 yards per game. They are ranked 34th in scoring, averaging 33 points per game. How do the Spartans attack their opponents offensively? They throw the football. They throw, and throw, and then throw some mo’. It’s a weird change from 2008, particularly when one considers the young talent and speed of the MSU backfield of Caulton Ray, Larry Caper and Glenn Winston. Yet Michigan State’s passing attack is ranked 3rd in the country right now! I read that and think, Christ, does former quarterback Ed Smith have another year of eligibility we didn’t know about? Did Dantonio hand over the keys to former coach Darryl Rodgers before heading to the Bahamas or something? MSU averages 321 yards passing to only 118 yards rushing per game. While on paper the Spartans are looking powerful offensively, the problem for Michigan State football this year has been translating all of that marching up and down the field into something meaningful on the scoreboard. MSU has been outscoring it’s opponents only 33 to 26 over the last 4 games. Unfortunately, their offensive Yards per Point have been increasing each week against tougher and tougher defenses. MSU’s average Yards per Point statistic is currently 13.4. For every 13 yards gained offensively by Kirk Cousins and Co., they score 1 point.

So what happens when the Spartans unleash their aerial assault on Michigan this coming Saturday? They’re going to gain lots and lots of real estate, that’s what. In 2009 Michigan defensive team can only be described in four words:


OK, actually I really meant “Bend But Not Break”.

Against the pass this year, Michigan has been spectacularly awful (to put it mildly): 975 yards given up, 244 yards per game, ranked 102nd of all 120 FBS teams. Rushing defense is only slightly better, but nothing to crow about: 568 yards given up, 142 yard per game, and ranked 77th in the land.

But when it comes to scoring defense, Michigan’s "Bend But Not Breakedness" in 2009 shows up on Saturday like an unexpected jack-in-the-box, giving up only 23 points per game and ranked 58th in the country against the score. Michigan’s Defensive Yards per Point after 4 games is, well, startling: 17.0. This means that UM opponents need to gain 17 yards to score a single point (on average) against the Wolverines.

So yes, Michigan’s defense has allowed opponents of every level of offensive potency to march up and down their backyard. For all I know, GERG and the Michigan defensive players may as well be serving their opponents free refreshments while they toil away running max protect 52 red stack all game long. But despite all their “fun in the sun” against Michigan offensively, Wolverine opponents have been so far unable to capitalize on such efforts and place points to the scoreboard.

That’s where the bending comes in.

You know – bent over completely with discoloration at cracks and the seams, coming damn close but not quite snapping right in half?

Yeah. That’s Michigan’s defense this year.

Yet, with this being Michigan’s first road test against a hated cross-state rival, one might call into question Michigan’s ability to successful mix past fortune with the walking disaster that represents Michigan’s overall defense and expect anything but a huge letdown this week.

Michigan Offense Vs. MSU Defense

If there’s any goods news in 2009, it’s that Michigan has officially turned the corner offensively. That’s right. It hasn’t always been pretty, and there will most certainly be moments of horror to come in 2009, but even the most disingenuous doubters must now admit that Rodriguez has done his homework and laid a foundation for those same strategies and tactics that worked so well at West Virginia between 2002 and 2007 to find root and flourish at Michigan.

Offensively, the Wolverines are ranked similarly to the Spartans nationally, averaging 422 yards per game, 38 points per game, and ranked 30th in total offense. When it comes to running the ball, Rodriguez has proven that his methodology for this game delivers results in about 24 months. Michigan’s rushing offense is currently ranked a jaw-dropping 7th in the country. The Wolverines now average 240 yards per game on the ground per game. The Wolverine passing offense is certainly not high on yardage, 182 yards per game and ranked 69th nationally, but Michigan already has 7 passing TDs in 4 games.

Defensively, Michigan State is about as pathetic as Michigan has been. The Spartans are almost identically useless at pass defense, giving up 997 yards passing so far, 249 yards per game, and ranked 105th nationally. Against the run, MSU is clearly better than Michigan, giving up 114 yards per game, ranked 52nd nationally. Against the score, the Spartans are giving up a comparable 26 points per game on average.

So What Gives?

OK, so Michigan State slays opponents by carpet bombing them from the air and displaying some decent run defense. Meanwhile, Michigan shreds you to ribbons with a deceptive read option rushing attack and just outscoring you because they know the defense couldn’t stop a 90 year old lady from Pasadena from rushing 85 yards for a touchdown.

Is that all? Is there any other compelling difference here between the two teams?

Above we noted that MSU’s offensive yards per point has been 13.4 so far. Michigan’s offensive yards per point is 11.3. So one difference is that offensively speaking, Michigan has been less prolific than Michigan State, but far more effective in terms of translating yards gained into points scored.

While MSU is doing an equally horrible job on defense of stopping anyone this year as Michigan, their total defensive Yards per Point is 14.3. This is worse than Michigan’s defensive yards per point of 17.0 so far after 4 games. This means that Michigan’s defense is forcing opponents work harder and gain more yards in order to score points than Michigan State’s defense is.

The Good Match Ups Unfortunately Don’t Match Up

When MSU is on offense, it will be MSU’s strength (awesome passing) versus Michigan’s weakness (god awful pass defense).

Sparty, here’s that perfect scenario you’ve been looking for but could never find after the first 4 games.

Wolverines, wake up! Coffee’s on! Hibernation time is over!

When Michigan is on offense, it will be UM’s strength (turf shredding, rototiller ground game goodness) versus MSU’s strength (run defense). Optimal situation for Sparty. Not the end of the world for Michigan, but certainly not ideal.

Unbreakable my ass

Michigan will not be able to stop Michigan State offense from gaining continent-sized chunks of yardage in Spartan Stadium. It would require a Herculean defensive effort and a major overhaul of the Wolverine linebacking corps and secondary to make stopping MSU an even remote possibility.

In summary, defensively speaking, Michigan is a bad football team. As if the Indiana and EMU games didn’t make that abundantly clear. The Spartans will ensure plenty of exposure to this truth on Saturday. Offensively speaking, this is the perfect game for Michigan to unleash the throwing prowess of Tate Forcier and his long list of healthy receivers like Greg Mathews, JR Hemingway and Kelvin Grady. By now there is no mystery anymore that Michigan State cannot stop and will not stop anyone through the air this fall. Unfortunately, Forcier is injured, may not play, and even if he does will not be 100%. Due to the anemic play of the Michigan defense, Forcier will also likely find himself in circumstances that require him to try to do too much. Whereas Indiana’s defensive front 7 was pretty tough at times, Michigan State’s might be the best defense Michigan has faced all season.

Penalties and Special Teams

Sometimes rivalry games go down to the wire and like that ridiculous sport called "soccer", it can all boil down to penalties and infuriating sissy kicks in the final moments to determine the victor.

Michigan and Michigan State are comparable in the penalties department. MSU has 28 for -221 yards, and Michigan has 25 for -209 yards. So both teams probably cancel out on the probability of penalties, though I would be unsurprised to see UM to get the shitty end of the stick with penalties and officiating on the road in East Lansing this weekend. Just somebody watch the clock, please.

As for special teams, both punters are excellent. Michigan’s Zoltan Mesko has a 44.3 average while MSU’s Aaron Bates is just killing it this year with a 45.6 average. For PATs and field goals, both teams have been extremely well served by their specialists. Michigan’s walk-on kicker Jason Olesnavage is 19 of 19 on PATs and 3 of 4 on FGs with the longest being 44 yards. MSU’s Brett Swenson is 14 of 15 on PATs and 6 of 7 on FGs with a long of 45 yards.

A final game preview of Michigan at Michigan State will be coming soon later this week.....

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Cinderella's Wearing Combat Boots...or Maybe Flip Flops

Looking at the game footage once again today (courtesy of one of the finest human beings on the planet, WolverineHistorian), Michigan has displayed some ugliness already in each of the last three games versus Notre Dame, Eastern Michigan and Indiana. The lack of position depth, experience and other warts are making themselves more than evident in the secondary, the linebacking corps, quarterback and even the more veteran offensive line.

But, man, when facing the Michigan team this year, opponents damn well better be prepared to bring it for a full 60 minutes. Defensive coordinator Greg Robinson's defense, as ugly as it has played so far, has given up 91 points total after 4 games (23 pts/game), but only 31 points in the second half. And Calvin Magee and Rich Rodriguez has the team running fast break the entire football game on offense. It can score quickly and from anywhere on the football field, either running or passing. They're not waiting for 3rd down and long either.

Things have changed.

That last TD pass from Forcier to Odoms looked.....improbable....didn't it?

Cinderella obviously isn't waiting around anymore for that stupid ass glass slipper to show up.

Michigan Escapes Indiana 36-33

They will call it an ugly win. And it certainly was. But Tay Odoms was smiling.

Down 33-29 in the final moments of the fourth quarter the sophomore slot receiver Martavious Odoms made the game winning score Saturday on a 28 yard touchdown pass reception from banged up Michigan quarterback Tate Forcier to give the Wolverines (4-0) the victory 36-33. Surprisingly, this was Martavious Odoms’ first touchdown reception as a Michigan Wolverine.

Kudos to the Indiana Hoosiers (3-1) and their head coach Bill Lynch. The new Pistol offense is improving each week for them and Michigan's defense served as a nice practice dummy to work on. Indiana came to Ann Arbor with a creative game plan: attack Michigan’s corners and the middle of the field with a mixture of short and long passes, and as for running the ball, just employ a full frontal assault on Michigan's center line and linebackers with isolation runs up the middle and to the outside. This approach worked well on Saturday against a soft, malleable Michigan defense. Want the evidence? Hoosier tailback Darius Willis shredded Michigan for over 152 yards and two touchdowns, including an 85 yard jaunt. Indiana outrushed (197 yards to 149 yards) and out-passed Michigan (270 yards to 223 yards) in this football game, and had fewer turnovers and penalties as well.

Michigan’s read spread option offense had previously been averaging 287 yards rushing per game, but Indiana’s defensive front seven halved that output on Saturday. The Wolverines also lost 3 fumbles, threw one interception and generally looked out of sync with several players replacing injured starters on both sides of the ball. Yet the Hoosier defense still struggled to prevent three Michigan scores on the ground and two through the air, including a 2 point conversion run by Forcier early in the 4th quarter.

For the second straight week tailback Carlos Brown lead the team on to victory with solid contributions and big plays, with 83 yards rushing, 61 yards receiving and 2 touchdowns. Banged up senior tailback Brandon Minor tacked on another 50 yards rushing and one TD as well.

Freshman quarterback Tate Forcier seemed off in this game, but did his best to continue his spot-on imitation of former Wolverine quarterback Rick Leach in this game. Forcier hit on 11 of 21 (52%) passing attempts for 184 yards, 2 touchdown chucks, 15 yards rushing and 1 touchdown run plus a 2 point conversion run. Forcier also just happened to be behind the game winning TD pass again. However, for the third straight week, Forcier threw an interception (1). He was also sacked twice for -7 yards and appeared to have injured his shoulder in the game. Denard Robinson led Michigan on one touchdown drive (Minor TD) and was 2 of 3 for 39 yards passing and contributed 24 yards rushing.

Next week Michigan travels to East Lansing for it’s first road game of the season against cross-state rival Michigan State (1-3). Following last year’s 3-9 finish, and Saturday’s close win over overmatched Indiana, Rich Rodriguez and the Wolverine team are looking past no one this season. The Spartans are currently ranked last in the Big Ten standings despite a strong signing of recruits in 2008 and high pre-seasons praise and accolades from the local Michigan and national press. Despite the 1-3 start in 2009, it’s worth noting that 2 of MSU’s losses were by a total of only 5 points (CMU by 2 pts, Notre Dame by 3 points). The Spartans currently lead the Big Ten in offensive yards per game (439) and are 4th in scoring (33 pts/game). They lead the conference in total passing yards (1,283) and in first downs per game (24).

Being 4-0 is the best Michigan could have hoped for to this point of the season. The past victories provide this young Michigan team much needed confidence. But the Wolverines must make no mistake, Michigan State on the road will be the toughest opponent they've faced so far this year. This game will be a key determining factor as to how good the 2009 Michigan football team intends to be and how far they might go.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Punter Recruit Visiting UM For Indiana Game

Will Hagerup, one of the highest ranked punters in the country from Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin, may be visiting Ann Arbor this weekend to take in the wares of University of Michigan and its football program.

Hagerup is a prime recruiting target for Michigan to replace its senior punter and Ray Guy finalist, Zoltan Mesko next season. Hagerup may have another good reason to come to the football game in Ann Arbor this coming Saturday. Will’s older brother, sophomore Chris Hagerup, is the starting punter for the Indiana Hoosiers. Chris Hagerup currently has a 42.0 yard average per punt compared to Mesko’s slightly better 42.2 yard punting average.

The Blue Dukes of Whitefish Bay are 3-1 so far this year. From the available team statistics so far, Hagerup has averaged about 33.4 yards per punt.

When Carcajous Attack Hoosiers!

Preview: No. 23 Michigan vs. Indiana, September 26, 2009 – Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, Michigan

When You Crave Irrational Exuberance On A Level That Only Brett Musberger Can Deliver:
“Did I mention before that we’re LIVE!!! in Ann Arbor, Michigan yet again! Two Big Ten football teams that were 3-9 only a year ago are today undefeated 3-0 in 2009 and entering their first game of Big Ten play. The last time these two schools met on the gridiron was 2006 when Michigan crushed the Fightin’ Hoosier’s 34-3 in Bloomington. One cannot overstate the challenge ahead of Indiana in this game. The Hoosiers have not won a Big Ten opening game since 2001 (versus Wisconsin 63-32 under then coach Cam Cameron). They have not beaten Michigan since a 14-10 victory in 1987 in Bloomington. They have not beaten Michigan in the Big House since 1967. Michigan and Indiana have each played at home one common opponent this year: Western Michigan. The results were quite different. Michigan defeated WMU in resounding fashion 31-7, while Indiana hung on for dear life in the waning moments of a mistake-prone football game 23-19 over the Broncos."

This football game is important for Michigan for the following reasons:

1.) From here on out Michigan faces 9 straight Big Ten opponents (CORRECTION: 8 Big Ten opponents because Delaware State is not a Big Ten team!) with no bye week. Today there are 5 unbeaten teams in the Big Ten conference (UM, PSU, Indiana, Wisconsin and Iowa). Four of them clash head-to-head this weekend (UM vs. Indiana, PSU vs. Iowa). Michigan won only two Big Ten games in 2008 at home versus Wisconsin and at Minnesota. A decisive victory over Indiana on Saturday, therefore, keeps Michigan tied for first place in the Big Ten conference standings.

2.) A UM victory over Indiana keeps the Wolverines in a position of considerable strength and confidence heading into next Saturday’s match up, and first game on the road, against cross-state rival Michigan State in East Lansing. All eyes on that damn clock!

3.) Historically Michigan claims hegemony on the gridiron over a number of Big Ten teams, but none quite to the same extent as over Indiana. Michigan has played Indiana only 59 times since the turn of the century. The Wolverines are 50-9 all-time versus the Hoosiers (only 59 meetings!?), and 29-1 since 1970.

4.) Michigan’s defense has faced essentially 2 pro-style football teams (WMU, Notre Dame) and 1 power run team (EMU) so far and had mixed results. Indiana will present Michigan with their Pistol Offense on Saturday, giving Greg Robinson’s Wolverine defense some much-needed additional preparation against a downhill, power run-oriented offense, plus a passing attack that really spreads the ball around to many different players and can score a lot of points quickly.

5.) Just like last week versus Eastern Michigan, the Wolverines need to be able to heal team injuries and be fortunate enough to avoid new ones in this game. Michigan must also continue to build greater depth and experience at several key positions by getting more reps for 2nd and 3rd string players at quarterback, along the defensive front, linebacker and the defensive secondary. This opportunity was afforded last week against EMU in the second half. Michigan has a similar opportunity for more playing time on Saturday if they can overpower the Hoosiers early.

6.) This will be Rich Rodriguez’s first game ever against an Indiana football team.

7.) Following Michigan’s 2006 road victory over Indiana 34-3 in Bloomington, the Wolverines proceeded to lose 4 straight football games (Ohio State, USC in 2006, and versus Appalachian State and Oregon in 2007) before shellacking Notre Dame in Ann Arbor 38-0.

It’s important to note that Indiana returns 6 starters on offense and 9 starters on defense for the 2009 football season. On the other hand, Michigan returns 9 starters returning on offense and about 7 starters on defense. On paper Michigan is a far more talented football squad than the Indiana Hoosiers at just about every position.

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

1. Hoosier Quarterback Ben Chappell
Ever since former quarterback Kellen Lewis was kicked off the Indiana football team, every man and his dog thought Bill Lynch and the Hoosier football team was as good as toast for 2009. I never really bought into that argument 100%. Why not? Well, aside from 9 starters returning on defense for Indiana in 2009 including 49 total letterman, it’s a little known fact that as a backup last year (2008) to Kellen Lewis, quarterback Ben Chappell played in 9 games and threw for over 1,000 yards, 4 TDs and 3 INTs. He also rushed for 72 yards and 3 TDs. So the kid did some things that made you at least recognize his arm strength, playmaking skills, and overall talent package. The 2008 experience serves Chappell well in the new implementation of the Pistol offense by head coach Bill Lynch this year. To date Chappell is now hitting on 70% of his throws for about 224 yards per game and 7.3 yards per attempt. He does admittedly have only 3 TDs and a disappointing 3 interceptions after just three games against opponents of questionable potency (Eastern Kentucky 1-1, Western Michigan 1-2 and Akron 1-2), but Chappell makes things click for Indiana and his consistency is getting better. What’s more is that Chappell really spreads the love amongst his speedy receivers. Four different Hoosier receiving targers have 9 or more catches so far this season.

Chappell has three favorite targets to throw to. All of them are big and possess big play speed: Sophomore Tandon Doss (6-3), Sophomore Demarlo Belcher (6-5) and junior Mitchell Evans (6-3, a converted QB). I suspect that covering these players with any degree of consistency is going to be a serious challenge for Michigan’s banged up and rather smallish secondary on Saturday.

Suffice it to say that Ben Chappell is a good quarterback. He has plenty of dangerous weapons to work with on offense. He is only a junior, and is already showing improvement each and every week this season. This has to be a welcome relief to Hoosier fans following the Kellen Lewis departure.

2. Pistol Packin’ Hoosiers
If you had ask me about the greatest Indiana Hoosier running backs since 1970, I could probably name four: Mike Harkrader, Anthony Thompson, Vaughn Dunbar and BenJarvis Green-Ellis. Four! That’s a pretty damning indictment on Indiana football’s stature in the run-oriented, “smashmouth” Big Ten conference over the last 40 years. But, if given time, that might change once Indiana’s new Pistol offense starts to churn out anything closely resembling what Chris Ault achieved over his many years at Nevada. This is a deceptively powerful offense and can score a lot of points quickly when executed well. With the loss of Kellen Lewis at quarterback, I really like Bill Lynch’s decision here because it plays into Indiana’s few strengths: a quarterback that can throw and experienced running backs. Hoosier tailback Demetrius McCray is the team’s leading rusher with 228 yards, 1 TD and a 5.4 YPC average. Indiana also fields a good amount of depth to complement McCray with senior tailback Bryan Payton, junior Trea Burgess and freshman Darius Willis. Of all of these backs, Demetrius McCray is clearly the one to watch.

3. The Hoosier Defensive Line and Linebackers
Indiana is sort of weird in that they have two defensive coordinators: Co-DC Bryan George who is DC but also looks after the defensive line and Co-DC Joe Palcic, who is also the secondary coach. Indiana runs a 4-3 defense and returns 9 starters on defense in 2009 including two of the best defensive ends in the Big Ten conference: seniors Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton. Kirlew tallied 11 sacks over 12 games last fall. The Hoosiers also have two of the finest linebackers in the Big Ten in team-leading tackler senior LB Matt Mayberry, as well as senior LB Will Patterson. Both are hard hitters, have nice sideline-to-sideline quickness and tackle well in space.

This level of experience and talent along the Hoosier defensive front and middle is extremely important because the Hoosier secondary, while nicely-sized, is not fortified with a high-level of talent or experience. Chris Adkins and Richard Council are the most experienced players there. After three games against relatively benign opponents, Indiana’s defense looks improved over 2008. In my e-pinion, they have the ability to beat teams like Virginia and Purdue this year and perhaps surprise somebody else as well. So far they’ve only given up only 17.7 points per game and 312 total yards per game (ranked 4th in the league for both categories). It might sound strange for me to write this, but I do predict that Michigan’s run game and pass protection will encounter a much more pronounced challenge by the Hoosier front 7 on Saturday that they’ve seen all season. And I include the Notre Dame game in that assertion. Such challenges are a good thing for this young Michigan team.

When Carcajous Attack! On Defense:
While I don’t like the fact that Michigan’s defense is ranked 9th in the anemic Big Ten in any category, particularly defensive yards per game (359 yards given up per game), Greg Robinson’s efforts have placed Michigan 5th in scoring defense so far with 19.3 points per game, which isn’t too shabby given Michigan’s more fortunate offensive fireworks displayed thus far in averaging 38 pts per game. In my view, Michigan’s defensive statistics after 3 games confirm to the severity of the situation that was predicted months ago. The Wolverines have inadequate depth and experience at all defensive positions. Still what does it say to you that Greg Robinson’s defense has not given up a single point in the 3rd quarter and has given up only 21 points in the second half after the first three games? Michigan is giving up about 235 yards through the air and about 123 yards on the ground each and every game, but they’re finally making teams work for their points this year. Michigan’s defense starts slow, but plays hot in the latter half of football games. This will be an advantage against Indiana.

Indiana is going to try and keep Michigan’s vaunted read spread option offense off the field with the power run game and a lot of quick out passes and flies from Ben Chappell to his 3 favorite receivers (Doss, Belcher and Evans). Chappell has only been sacked once this season in the season opener versus EKU. With the exception of Chappell’s three interceptions, the Hoosiers have done a very good job of eliminating lost fumbles. Unless the Wolverines found some better linebackers over the last 6 days, the Hoosiers are going to be able to run the ball on Michigan just as EMU and Notre Dame did. Like the Notre Dame game, Chappell’s throwing accuracy and the height and speed of Indiana receivers will be a problem for UM in this game.

That all said Indiana’s offensive line has not yet faced a defensive front like Michigan’s.
They must control Brandon Graham, Mike Martin and Craig Roh, or there will be serious consequences in the Hoosier backfield all game long.

When Carcajous Attack! On Offense:

As “good” as I believe defensive ends Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton are, and as talented as Mayberry and Patterson have proven to be at linebacker for the Hoosiers, Indiana’s defense is about to run into a buzz saw on Saturday. Most college football pundits are still doing triple-takes about the Michigan turnaround from 2008 after just three games. Rich Rodriguez’s Wolverines are now No. 1 in the Big Ten in scoring (38 points per game) and No. 2 in total offense (439 yards per game). Michigan has outscored it’s opponents 114 to 58 so far. Unlike the Wolverine defense, the Michigan offensive unit does better early on in football games, having scored 63% of its points in the first half.

For Indiana, nothing done right or well versus Eastern Kentucky, Western Michigan or Akron is going to matter much. Do we have to go through the yards per carry statistics and the number of different UM players that have a touchdown to their credit?

OK, then let’s do that. Michigan tailback Carlos Brown? He’s averaging 8.8 yards per carry. Tailback Brandon Minor? 6.7 yards per carry. Quarterback Tate Forcier? 3.7 yards per carry. Six different Wolverines have scored rushing touchdowns. Seven Wolverine receivers have 5 catches or more. The Hoosier front seven will need to apply significant pressure on Tate Forcier early and try tp “force” critical mistakes. Forcier played well below par last week in passing yardage, but has his star receiver Junior Hemingway back at full health from injury this Saturday.

Star tailback Brandon Minor is questionable for Saturday’s game due to injury, but Carlos Brown, Michael Shaw and Vincent Smith are capable and dangerous backups for Michigan. Second string quarterback Denard Robinson has already scored spectacular touchdowns runs in two of Michigan’s last three games. Indiana doesn’t know this Michigan team at all offensively, and since more of Rodriguez’s playbook is being installed each week, they’ll need to be prepared for just about anything.

The Last Time:
Michigan last played Indiana on November 11, 2006. The Wolverines pounded the Hoosiers 34-3 on ESPN broadcasted nationally. This set up a huge clash of highly ranked unbeaten teams in No.1 Ohio State 11-0 versus No. 2 Michigan 11-0 in Columbus in the “The Game” the following week. Bill Lynch has never coached a game against Michigan before and it’ll be his first visit to the Big House as head coach.

The Indiana-Michigan series has not been particularly exciting mainly due to the one-sidedness. It is interesting to note, however, that just 30 years ago, one of the most exciting Michigan-Indiana games was played in Ann Arbor came down to the last seconds. With the game tied 21-21, Michigan’s junior quarterback John Wangler connected on a highly thrown pass to true freshman wide receiver Anthony Carter, who reached to catch it and then proceeded to rambled past several Hoosier defenders into the endzone as time expired. This win was over one of Lee Corso’s best Indiana football teams.

If I were Hoosier head coach Bill Lynch, I’d keep an watchful eye on any true freshman on the Michigan football team roster who hails from Florida.

Pssst, Bill! Denard Robinson!

What to Expect:
Part of me believes this will be a EMU game redux because the Hoosiers will try to run the ball out of the Pistol I formation, eat clock and keep Tate Forcier and Co. on the sidelines. Another part of me believes this could be a tough challenge for Michigan’s rushing attack, requiring the Wolverines to throw much more than they had to versus Eastern Michigan. Therefore, I do expect a more balanced offensive attack by both teams offensively in the ratio of passing yards to rushing yards.

Hoosier quarterback Ben Chappell is just too good not to connect on at least one TD strike or two to those tall wide outs of his in this football game. By now we all know just how cooperative the Michigan defensive secondary will be on that one. Likewise, because of Kirlew’s and Middleton’s aggressive play and Indiana’s 9 sacks over the last three games at defensive end, Forcier is going to roll out frequently and exploit the over pursuit. With proven run threat like Carlos Brown, Michael Shaw and Brandon Minor, Forcier should have a great day throwing against Indiana’s rag tag secondary players. One should not be at all surprised to see some touchdown runs by Michigan’s quarterbacks in this game from the read option play.

Then there are the rushing attacks to consider. The Hoosiers should be able to move the ball on the ground against Michigan in much the same way as the Irish and Hurons (Eagles) did: right up the middle on delays, draws and traps. The play action of the Pistol offense is going to easily confuse Michigan’s linebackers, and open up some nice running lanes for Demetrius McCray. However, I do expect Robinson to make some good adjustments yet again at halftime to shut this down for the latter half of the game. Despite the loss of center Dave Molk to injury, Michigan should be able to pound the Hoosiers into submission with the read spread option attack this Saturday. If Minor doesn’t play, then expect Carlos Brown to have a 100+ yard day. We can expect 100 additional yards rushing split between the two quarterbacks (Forcier and Robinson) and one other running back (likely Michael Shaw).

As predicted for the EMU game, Mr. Denard Robinson’s appearance in the upcoming Indiana game will again prove to be electrifying.

WCA Prediction: Michigan 38, Indiana 17

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Eagles Taken Down by Carlos Brown

Michigan's Carlos Brown Taking It Downtown
(AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

The Michigan Wolverines struggled early with Eastern Michigan on Saturday. But gradually, over the course of 60 minutes of play, Michigan's meat-grinder rushing offense wore down the Eagles with several big rushing plays and an improved second half defensive effort to defeat the Eagles (Hurons) 45-17 with over 107, 903 fans in attendance.

Michigan's 28 point margin of victory against EMU on Saturday was the most decisive for a Wolverine football team since a 2007 victory over Notre Dame 38-0. It was also the offensive highest point total achieved to date by Rich Rodriguez at Michigan, and the second highest point total for a Michigan offense since the 2007 victory over Purdue 48-21.

Eastern Michigan kept the game respectable in the first half, closing the gap to 17-24, aided by the running of both quarterback Andy Schmitt and a fleet-footed tailback named Dwayne Priest, who had 91 yards rushing and 1 TD.

But Eastern simply had no answer for the Wolverines' own rushing onslaught. Eight different Michigan players carried the football on Saturday and half of them found the end zone at least once. By game end, Michigan had tallied 380 yards on the ground. The Wolverines were sparked by spectacularly quick runs from senior tailback Carlos Brown who had 187 yards in just 13 carries and two touchdowns, including a 90 yard TD jaunt in the second quarter.

Defensively, Michigan struggled to stop Eastern Michigan's ball control offense in the first half. The Eagles matched Michigan in first downs achieved (17). Most astonishing was that the gamestrategy of EMU head coach Ron English had managed to keep Michigan's explosive offense on the bench for 40 minutes of the game. Michigan worked to make the most of their few opportunities, scoring 45 points in the remaining 20 minutes of ball possession in the game. Michigan's defense gave up 3.7 yards per carry, but kept EMU's passing game under wraps most of the day, surrending 15 catches for only 106 yards. With Schmitt and Priest, Eastern Michigan accumulated 285 yards in total offense against the Wolverines - an average outing for the Eagles thus far this year. Wolverine defensive coordinator Greg Robinson emphasized some key read adjustments at halftime. His players responded by shutting out EMU on the scoreboard in the second half.

The hero of Michigan's last two games, quarterback Tate Forcier, was slightly off Saturday, hitting on only 54% of this throws for a meager 68 yards. Michigan's second quarterback, Denard Robinson was 0 for 4, and threw two interceptions. Robinson eventually redeemed himself via two electrifying touchdown runs of 13 yards and 36 yards in the second half.

By vanquishing EMU on Saturday, Rich Rodriguez and Michigan have already tied last year's win total of three. Also, at 3-0 Michigan is one of only 5 remaining teams in the Big Ten that is undefeated. Penn State, Indiana, Wisconsin and Iowa are all 3-0.

Some other items of interest:
  • After 3 games Michigan leads the Big Ten in scoring, averaging 38 points per game compared with 18.7 points per game this time last year
  • After 3 games Michigan leads the Big Ten in rushing with 812, and is basically tied for first place in the conference with Purdue in total yards per game (439 yards per game).
  • After 3 games, Michigan has yet to lose a fumble in 2009. By game 3 of 2008, Michigan had already lost 6 fumbles and had 3 interceptions.
  • After 3 games, Michigan's total defense is currently ranked 9th in the Big Ten giving up 359 yards per game on average. In scoring defense, Michigan is currently ranked 5th giving up only 19.3 points per game.
  • Michigan moves up from 25th in the AP poll to 23rd this week following the win over EMU.
Next weekend Michigan faces it's first Big Ten opponent in unbeaten Indiana (3-0) in Ann Arbor for the annual homecoming game. Michigan has not lost to Indiana since 1987 in Bloomington 10-14 when Bill Mallory was the coach for the Fightin' Hoosiers. The last time Michigan lost to Indiana in Ann Arbor was a 20-27 defeat to arguably the finest Indiana Hoosiers football team ever, the 1967 Big Ten Co-Champion.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Michigan LB Mouton Suspended for EMU Game

Michigan linebacker Jonas Mouton

One of Michigan's leading tacklers on the football team, junior linebacker Jonas Mouton, has been suspended by Big Ten conference officials one game for delivering a bop uppercut punch to a Notre Dame offensive lineman Eric Olsen during the middle of the second quarter of last weeks 38-34 Michigan victory last weekend.

Rich Rodriguez did not acknowledge the punch even took place and therefore did not administer any corrective action. Looking at the game footage of the incidence, it's difficult to acknowledge the incident. This was a grave error in my view by Rodriguez and his staff. I can understand one coach missing it, but certainly not all of them.

Suffice it say that the Wolverines are about as thin at linebacker as a Japanese paper window screen. Replacements for Mouton for tomorrow's game against Eastern Michigan might include:

42 J.B. Fitzgerald, Sophomore (4 star)
52 Kevin Leach, Junior (Walk On)

4 Brandon Smith, Freshman (4 Star)

25 Kenny Demens, Sophomore (3 star)

It's also possible that some of the outside linebackers on the depth chart could move inside, such as:

58 Brandon Herron, Sophomore (4 star)
81 Steve Watson, Sophomore (4 star converted TE)

I don't think I'm overreacting here when I say that no one should be shocked if EMU's tailback Dwayne Priest has well over 100 yards rushing against Michigan's defense this coming Saturday. Michigan's inside linebacker performance hasn't exactly set the world on fire after two games. Mouton and Ezeh have both played just slightly better than last year. Unfortunately, that's not saying very much. If there's any silver lining in suspending a starter like Mouton, it comes against a non-conference opponent that Michigan should rather easily defeat. There's also the possibility that Michigan might actually uncover someone else in the depth chart that can do a capable job as a replacement.

As unfortunate as Mouton's recorded behavior is, the timing could have been a lot worse for the Wolverines. Player suspensions like this one applied against EMU or a Delaware State games is far less serious for Michigan than applied against Big Ten opponents.

Back to the footage itself, as an experienced, junior football player, I do wish Jonas Mouton would have demonstrated better leadership and control here. And Rodriguez better judgement.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

When Changing Your School Nickname Is A Bad Idea

Eastern Michigan University changed the nickname of its many athletic teams to "Eagles" in 1991. Prior to that year, Eastern Michigan athletic teams were known as the "Hurons".

The Hurons were a unique, fierce and very interesting, woodland Native American tribe located in regions of Quebec, Ontario and throughout much of the Ohio Valley of the United States. In the 1840s many Hurons were even displaced by military force to far flung areas of Kansas and Oklahoma. Sadly, there are only about 4,000 Hurons left in the United States and Canada, and most refer to themselves today as the Wyandot tribe.

As for Eagles, well, let's just say there isn't a more common school nickname in the entire state of Michigan than:

Most Common High School Nicknames in the state of Michigan:

Eagles 43
Panthers 29
Wildcats 27
Vikings 26
Bulldogs 24
Trojans 21
Cougars 19
Falcons 18
Cardinals 17
Tigers 17

Aside from "Eagles", the other options on the table at the time apparently were the EMU "Green Hornets" and EMU "Express".

So yeah, there were many EMU students, alumni and faculty at EMU who were disappointed, and even outraged, by the name change from historic Hurons to the more politically correct Eagles back in 1991 because they felt that the Hurons nickname was not a racial epithet or derogatory toward Native Americans at all. It's interesting too that EMU went ahead with the decision anyway, despite a number of other schools like the University of Illinois, Central Michigan University, and Florida State University maintaining their more regional, Native American school nicknames for their athletic teams. Some EMU alumni continued an online campaign to bring back the historic Huron nickname for the school and claim to have support from elders of the Huron/Wyandot tribe.

I'm not superstitious. Far from it. But it is somewhat interesting to note that prior to the EMU nickname change to the Eagles, EMU's Hurons football team winning percentage was 45.5% (245 wins, 264 losses and 30 ties) since 1929.

Following the name change to the "Eagles" in 1991, EMU has won only 29.6% of their games (60 wins, 142 losses and 1 tie).

In fact, EMU football's last winning season was 1989 when they finished 7-3-1. EMU's last bowl appearance was the 1987 California Bowl in Fresno, CA when they knocked off the San Jose State 30-27. In both instances, they were still known as the Hurons.

The most successful era of Eastern Michigan football was the 1950s when the Hurons were 49-37-2 over 88 games with a winning percentage of 56%.

I fully understand the pressures associated with these nickname changes. But in the case of Eastern Michigan, I cannot help but think an opportunity was missed to maintain athletic tradition at the school, honor Native Americans and the Wyandot/Huron nation, and raise the historic consciousness of Americans at the same time.

Once a Huron, Always a Huron.

2007 Game Footage: Michigan 33, Eastern Michigan 22

They always say "A win is a win!", but man, this one was fugly.

I don't think I have to remind people that this 2007 Michigan team was supposed to be one of Lloyd Carr's finest since 1997 with four, count 'em, four Heisman Trophy candidates on the roster, including Chad Henne, Mike Hart, Mario Manningham and even LT Jake Long. That Wolverine team beat the Eastern Michigan at home on October 6, by only 11 points and looked pretty unconvincing doing it.

This was a textbook example of a football game where Michigan had the power to score 60 points and possibly more at home against a way overmatched opponent.

Yet, why didn't they?

Here are some nice pics from that game.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

When Carcajous Attack Eagles

I'm Ron English.
Look at my wingspan!
I will destroy you!

Preview: No. 25 Michigan vs. Eastern Michigan, September 19, 2009 – Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, Michigan

When You Crave Irrational Exuberance On A Level That Only Brett Musberger Can Deliver:
“Well, we’re here LIVE in Ann Arbor, Michigan yet again! The Wolverines are well on their way down the path to redemption in 2009 following that soul-devouring 2008 season finish of 3-9! Rich Rodriguez’s Wolverine football team is now 2-0, having vanquished two former bowl teams from the 2008 football season in Western Michigan and Notre Dame. Now the Wolverines must guard against an emotional letdown this week, as the Eagles of Eastern Michigan come to the Big House for the fourth time since 1998. Eastern Michigan fell to Rich Ellerson’s Army Cadets in a 14-27 defeat two weeks ago, and then proceeded to rattle Northwestern in Evanston last weekend, tying the football game 24-24 with just 2:40 left to play. Northwestern escaped an upset by a butt-hair, nailing a 49 yard field goal with only 6 seconds to play!

This football game is important for Michigan for the following reasons:

1.) When Rich Rodriguez first accepted the head coach position at Michigan in December 2007 he decided not retain the services of then Michigan defensive coordinator Ron English. Instead Rodriguez chose to hire Stanford’s Scott Shafer as UM’s DC in 2008, which of course turned out to be a failure of epic proportions for Rodriguez. English moved on quickly and became the new head coach of the Eastern Michigan football team for 2009. English has established an fine coach staff including offensive coordinator Ken Karcher (Pitt ’93-’96), and some former Michigan players and coaches like Tyrone Wheatley (RBs), Kurt Anderson (OL) and Steve Szabo (LBs). In at least one corner of Ron English’s brain, he’s got to be more than a little pissed off still after whiffing that interview with Rich Rodriguez. Ron will want to dish out some payback, or at least make a strong statement in his first coaching stint against the resurgent Wolverines.

2.) The 2-0 Michigan Wolverines are coming off the program’s biggest victory since the Capital One Bowl win over No. 9 Florida back back in January 2007. Michigan’s recent losses to teams like Appalachian State and Toledo remain fresh in the minds of both Wolverine faithful, coaches and players. This Michigan team must demonstrate a renewed level of focus and determination and defeat the teams like EMU in resounding fashion in order to regain national respect.

3.)Michigan is ranked 25th in the AP college football poll for the first time since the final season polls back in January 2007. Michigan must prove it belongs here in 2009 with a decisive win over EMU - a team that on paper appears to be overmatched by Michigan in the talent department.

4.)Michigan needs to be able to heal team injuries and avoid new ones. Michigan must also build greater depth and experience at several key positions by getting more reps for 2nd and 3rd string players at quarterback, along the defensive front, linebacker and the defensive secondary. A swift, early and decisive victory over EMU Saturday could grant Michigan coaches and players that much-needed opportunity.

5.) As a head coach Rodriguez is 7-1 versus MAC teams all time, with the only loss coming last year at home versus Toledo. However, this will be Rodriguez’s first game ever against an Eastern Michigan football team.

6.) EMU played Michigan pretty tough the last time they visited Ann Arbor in early 2007, losing by only 8 pts 22-33 against a Wolverine football squad widely regarded nationally as one of Lloyd Carr’s most experienced and explosive offensive teams ever. That game included a surprising EMU second half rally, and a recovered onside kick by EMU.

7.) It’s a battle for the ages for absolute hegemony over Washtenaw County Michigan (including full control over the Washtenaw Dairy in Ann Arbor, which features the best assortment of fine ice cream served in massive quantities, that you will ever taste in your life including “Superman ice cream”, one of my personal favorites.)

It’s interesting to note that Eastern Michigan returns 9 starters on offense, including star senior quarterback Andy Schmitt, as well as 8 starters on defense for the 2009 football season. Also, the Eagles finished a shocking 28th in the nation in total offense (versus mainly MAC competition) in 2008. On the other hand, Michigan returns 9 starters returning on offense and about 7 starters on defense. Again, on paper Michigan is a much more talented squad than the Eagles in terms of the vast number of 4- and 5-star players on the Wolverine roster.

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

1. Eagles Quarterback Andy Schmitt and Wide Receiver Jacory Stone
So Tate Forcier is an accurate thrower and has earned some notoriety for being cool in the clutch. Well, EMU’s quarterback Andy Schmitt is, well, EMU’s not-too-shabby starting quarterback! After two games, Schmitt has hit on 64% for 331 yards, 2 TDs and 4 INTs. Well OK, so the interceptions are not so great thing, but Schmitt is a senior and EMU’s offensive team leader! Indeed Eastern Michigan was 2-10 last year, but Schmitt championed the Eagles in surprising victories over far better opponents like Bowling Green and Central Michigan.

Eagles QB Andy Schmitt threw for 2,648 yards, 15 TDs and 8 INTs in 2008

Schmitt’s favorite target is senior wide out Jacory Stone, who has had 15 grabs for over 150 yards so far including one 25 yard TD grab last week vs. Northwestern. Stone is not a big player (6-0, 190 lbs) but he is very quick and shifty, and seems perpetually open for easy first down strikes.

Eastern Michigan's WR Jacory Stone

2. Eagles tailback Dwayne Priest
Judging from the first two games of the football season versus Army and Northwestern, Dwayne Priest might very well be the most talented and productive player on the EMU football team. So far he’s rushed for 210 yards, with 5.8 yards per carry, 2 TDs and has 28 yards receiving.
The EMU offensive line has played well enough in the last two games against a smaller Army squad, and a talented and veteran Northwestern defense. Both opponents permitted Priest to rattle off several big runs over 30 yards in each game.

3. The Threat of More Michigan Injuries
With two games down, Michigan has already struggled to keep its starting lineup intact. Injuries to Brandon Minor, Junior Hemingway and Boubacar Cissoko have left after week 1 are worrying. After the Notre Dame game, Michigan guard David Moosman hurt his shoulder and will likely miss this week’s game vs. EMU. I stated before the season began that player injuries could be the death of Michigan in 2009, particularly along the defensive line, defensive secondary and (*gasp*) at quarterback.

It doesn’t matter that an 0-2 EMU is rolling into town. If it were 1976 Michigan would put EMU away by the second quarter, rest its 1st string players, and give the 2nd and 3rd team players badly needed game experience. Of course, scholarship limits and general college football parity ensures that a Michigan football season like that of 1976 will never ever be seen again. Resting the first team players is an event rarely seen in Michigan football since 1994. Rodriguez’s coaching philosophy is rather different from Lloyd Carr’s. Rodriguez, historically speaking, has not been the pillar of mercy in terms of letting off the gas pedal in the second half of football games against inferior opponents. In fact, Rodriguez doesn’t mind drag racing the team despite a significant lead. Lloyd Carr, on the other hand, was more careful not to get caught speeding, lest it embarrass opponents or make them angry.

Moeller: "Hey Bo, it's uh...uh, 42-0, let's send in the second tea.."
Bo: "Shut the f&#* up Gary!" ("Heh, heh heh, yeah, I love this game!")

When Carcajous Attack! On Defense:
Greg Robinson made some half-time adjustments versus Notre Dame, which like, wow, is a major feat in and of itself for Michigan football since, well, Gary Moeller was the defensive coordinator in Ann Arbor.. Michigan’s secondary must be shell-shocked to some degree this week, as Notre Dame’s Jimmy Clausen and his wide receivers absolutely throttled the Wolverine secondary for 336 yards passing and 3 TD bombs. The Wolverines also gave up a disturbing amount of rushing yards last weekend, 154, as well as 34 points. Andy Schmitt will be the 3rd pro-style quarterback the Wolverine defense has faced in succession. The EMU offensive line is massive at center and at both guard positions, but considerable smaller at both tackle spots. The Eagles OL is probably as good as, or slightly better than Western Michigan’s was. Michigan did not sack Clausen at all last week, but did give him some pressure to hurry his throws. And so it will likely be for Andy Schmitt. Michigan’s weakest link is the secondary. Anyone watching the WMU and ND films of Michigan’s defense cannot avoid the obvious conclusion that the Michigan’s corners and safeties can and must be attacked, with the exception of CB Donovan Warren. Schmitt should have well over 150 yards passing easily in this game. They should also have success running the football with Priest and the other Eagle tailbacks. But if Michigan gains the lead in this game early, the EMU running attack may be shelved and more pressure will be placed firmly on Schmitt’s already burdened shoulders to pull off some magic. And that’s were the undersized EMU tackles come in, and their Wolverine friends Mr. Brandon Graham and Mr. Craig Roh.

When Carcajous Attack! On Offense:
One thing is for certain. Eastern Michigan’s defense has been absolutely ground to fine powder the last two weeks by primarily run-centric offenses, although the most obvious weakness of the EMU defense is a much less experienced defensive secondary. Rich Ellerson’s new Army Cadets football team has returned to a wishbone offense variant and proceeded to rush for 300 yards, over 6.1 yards per carry. and 4 rushing touchdowns. The Cadets passed for only 8 yards in the game on 5 attempts. Northwestern rushed for only 159 yards, 4 yards per carry and 2 TDs against the Eagles. Northwestern’s QB Mike Kafka threw for 158 yards, 0 TDs and 1 INT. Michigan’s offense is like Northwestern’s in many respects, except that Michigan’s quarterback Tate Forcier has been very accurate in the passing department, and has already developed a reputation for making incredibly big plays at opportune moments. In addition, UM tailback Brandon Minor may finally be at 100% health for the first time this week. It’s also worth noting that after only two games three different Michigan receivers have caught 2 or more touchdown passes and over 6 different Wolverine receivers and running backs have over 10 yards per reception averages. This is a very different Michigan offensive football team from a year ago. Once again all eyes will be on the freshman quarterback Tate Forcier in this game, and well they should be. So far Forcier has been very productive, and has managed to avoid big mistakes. With Hemingway and Minor likely returning to the Wolverine lineup, EMU will have to defend more big play makers than WMU and Notre Dame had to.

The Last Time:
Michigan last played the Hurons, I mean, the Eagles on October 6, 2007 in Ann Arbor. Michigan won the game indecisively 33-22. That final outcome would not be known until the waning moments of the game. This was in part due to Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr and offensive coordinator Mike DeBord approaching the football game with kid’s gloves. This irresponsible lack of creativity and aggressiveness permitted EMU to hang with the Wolverines much of the game, trailing the anemic, yet star-studded Wolverine offense only 8-16 at halftime. Then, surprise! EMU then took ensuing second half kickoff and drove 57 yards to cut Michigan’s lead to 2 points 14-16 on an Andy Schmitt 10 yard touchdown run. Then things got really interesting. Michigan countered with two big Mike Hart touchdown runs and a K.C. Lopata field goal for a 33-14 lead entering the 4th quarter. Mike DeBord took a break the 4th quarter and Michigan’s offense stopped scoring. This signaled EMU to score a 4th quarter touchdown pass and a 2 pt conversion to cut the lead down to 8 pts, 22-33. The Eagles then called for an onside kick which they of course recovered at the EMU 40 yard line. Then EMU’s backup quarterback Kyle McMahon drove EMU easily down to the Michigan 41 where his 1st and 10 pass sailed into the loving arms of a Michigan defensive back for an interception. Game over. It was not pretty. Mike Hart had over 215 yards rushing and became Michigan’s all-time career leading rusher in that game. But the slacker fashion in which the game was won reminded many Michigan fans of the earlier embarrassment to Appalachian State just five weeks before.

What to Expect:
Without question EMU head coach Ron English is going to have his Eagles breathing fire at the very start of this football game. EMU almost beat Northwestern in Evanston last week and will have renewed confidence heading into the Big House. The Eagles have an experience offense and should be able to move the ball on Michigan with a balanced attack of draws, screens and quick hitch passes in the flat. EMU has displayed improved toughness on defense against both Army and Northwestern, but ultimately will have no answer for Michigan’s meat cleaver rushing attack on Saturday. Offensively, quarterback Andy Schmitt has demonstrated the ability to execute long scoring drives for EMU. Alas, despite such advancements under Ron English, the Eagles have repeatedly beaten themselves with over 130 yards in penalties in just the first two games and with 5 turnovers that have just killed key offensive drives and positive game momentum for The Eagles time and again. It will not be any easier to cease and desist with this senseless behavior in front of 110,000 screaming Michigan fans, and the now famously seen-but-not-heard Michigan Marching Band, not to mention….wait for it…. piped in music by *shudder* Neill Diamond.

The pundits will definitely be flailing about, warning of a MAC revival and the significant risk of an emotional letdown for Michigan following the dramatic Notre Dame victory last weekend. I don’t see that this time. This UM team is just different. Any “letdowns” where likely thrown off the team prior to the start of fall practice. To English’s surprise, the Wolverines will be all business on Saturday. Defensively, Michigan will give up some disturbing amounts of yardage on the ground and through the air once again to tailback Dwayne Priest and quarterback Andy Schmitt respectively. Adjustments will be made by UM, and the EMU running game will eventually be abandoned by the 3rd quarter.

Tate Forcier will work in a swift shift in this game with 150 yards passing, 2 TDs and 50+ yards rushing. EMU had serious problems with Army’s bruising tailback Patrick Mealy (5-8, 203 lbs) who had 109 yards in just 5 attempts!!!! Expect Minor to rack up over 100 yards rushing and 1 to 2 touchdown before he tags in Carlos Brown and Michael Shaw

“Oh, Mr. Minor! Your table is ready!"
"Our special today: Broiled Eagle"

For the remaining 30 minutes of the game, attendees will be entertained with eyes wide and mouths agape at the mercurial running and option exploits of one Mr. Denard Robinson, a.k.a.

Denard Robinson: "Laces?! I don't need no freakin' laces!!"

WCA Prediction: Michigan 45, Eastern Michigan 14

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Tate Forcier Hits Cover of Sports Illustrated

The Michigan freshman quarterback has started to rack up some serious notoriety points this week (see upper right of SI cover).

APB out on 2008 Michigan Offense

Oh, 3-9 Michigan offense of yesteryear, where art thou?

After just 2 games Michigan fans can see some significant differences in the performance of the Wolverines offense, aside from the obvious 2-0 start.

While it’s not 100% accurate (or necessarily fair) to compare Michigan’s first two 2008 opponents Utah (13-0) and Miami (OH) (2-10) with the first two 2009 opponents Western Michigan (0-2) and Notre Dame (1-1) and then make definitive conclusions from them, it is nevertheless very interesting to compare these identical slices of time and observe how Michigan’s offensive team firepower appears to have changed:

After 2 Games: 2009 Michigan Offense vs. 2008 Michigan Offense

YearRush. YardsPass. YardsTotal YardsPtsPlaysYPPPPPINTFum.Total TO'sTOP

Key Observations after 2 Games:
  1. RUSHING YARDS: Massive up tick in Michigan rushing yardage.
  2. PASSING YARDS: Significant increase in Michigan passing yardage.
  3. TOTAL YARDS: Whoa. Basically doubling of total yardage
  4. POINTS SCORED: Whoa II. Almost doubling of points scored (30 more points than 2008).
  5. PLAYS: Michigan is running more plays. More attempts, more opportunities.
  6. YPP: Significant improvement in Yards Per Play (almost +2 yards more than same juncture in 2008)
  7. PPP: Significant improvement in Points Per Play from 0.34 to 0.46, i.e. Michigan’s offense has become more effective turning attempts into points.
  8. TO's: Dramatic decline in turnovers (Gee, ya think that might help!?)
  9. TOP: Significant increase in time of possession by just over 14 minutes.
And that's just on the offensive side of the ball. We’ll revisit these offensive stats each week and see how things are progressing. The above suggests that Michigan offensive coaches Calvin Magee (OC), Rod Smith (QBs), Greg Frey (OL) and Fred Jackson (RBs) as well as head coach Rich Rodriguez are starting to turn the corner on the implementation of the read spread option offense at Michigan.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

A Forcier To Be Reckoned With

Michigan did not stop Notre Dame on Saturday. Far from it. The Fighting Irish shredded the Michigan defense to ribbons for over 490 yards of total offense in Ann Arbor. Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen throttled the Wolverines young secondary for 336 yards, 3 TDs and no interceptions. He was not sacked once during the entire game. Meanwhile, Fighting Irish tailback Armando Allen rushed for a jaw-dropping 139 yards, 6.6 yards per carry and 1 TD.

But this was only half the story.

Prior to kickoff one of the fired up Notre Dame defensive players apparently told ESPN's Holly Rowe that "if they (Michigan) play a freshman quarterback, then that is just stupid!"

Well, unnamed Notre Dame defender, you see, Michigan doesn't really have a choice this fall. It's called "play a freshman quarterback (Tate Forcier or Denard Robinson) or be destroyed".

Despite such high risk of destruction on the gridiron, Michigan, a 3-9 football team only a year ago, has two freshmen playing at quarterback and plenty of youth on defense. Not Rich Rodriguez's first choice. Deal.

Indeed Jimmy Clausen had his way with the Wolverine secondary all afternoon, and the Fighting Irish were able to run the ball almost at will on the aggressive Michigan front line.

But what on earth could offset this assault by the Fighting Irish?

Enter freshman quarterback Tate Forcier. The youngster from Scripps Ranch, California, all 6 feet 190 lbs of him, threw for 240 yards, 2 TDs and 1 interception. Forcier also rushed for 70 yards and 1 touchdown. But the most impressive thing about young Forcier, aside from the stats, was that he was able to compartmentalize previous game errors and lead the team to victory by making big plays when they were needed most.

With Michigan down 31-34 with only 30 seconds to play in the game, Forcier scrambled on a roll out and connected to spectactularly-named senior wide receiver Laterryal Savoy for an 18 year connection to give the Wolverines a 1st and goal. Two plays later Forcier scrambled again, this time hitting Greg Mathews in the end zone for the game winner. Michigan 38, Notre Dame 34.

Forcier repeatedly states to the media that he never gets nervous. This claim appears to be supported by one other compelling statistic: 70%. In one of Michigan's biggest rivalry games of the year, in front of a record crowd and national television audience, Forcier connected on 70% of his passes against the Irish Saturday afternoon, compared to Clausen's 60% from the field.

That's sick. That's crazy. But it most definitely is not "stupid".

For Rich Rodriguez beating 18th-ranked Notre Dame on national television is without question the first major win of his young career at Michigan.

Friday, September 11, 2009

A Rivalry Renewed: September 23, 1978

This was the first meeting of the two schools on the gridiron in the modern era. The last meeting between Michigan and Notre Dame saw Fritz Crisler take on Frank Leahy, when football helmets were made of cowhide and there were no facemasks: October 9, 1943. Notre Dame won that game 35-12.

The 1978 game in South Bend featured senior Michigan quarterback, and Heisman candidate, Rick Leach, as well as senior Notre Dame quarterback Joe Montana. The Wolverine offensive attack included star fullback Russell Davis, lightning-fast tailback Harlan Huckleby, as well as junior wingback Ralph Clayton. Michigan also had two fine tight ends in senior Gene Johnson and junior Doug Marsh. The Wolverine defense features defensive tackles Curt Greer and Mike Trgovac, linebackers Ron Simpkins, Tom Seabron, Jerry Meter and Andy Cannavino, and defensive secondary stars like Mike Harden and Mike Jolly.

Michigan finished 10-2 in 1978 including a loss to USC 10-17 in the Rose Bowl. Notre Dame finished 9-3 including an electrifying Cotton Bowl win over Bill Yeoman's Houston Cougars 35-34.

"That boy is our last hope."

"No. There is another."