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

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