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2011 Preview – Michigan Wolverines

MICHIGAN WOLVERINES (Last Year = 7-6, T7 in Big 10)


Whether fair or not, 2010 was a make or break season for Rich Rodriguez and his attempt to create a new culture at Michigan. After going 8-16 in his first two seasons in Ann Arbor, the Wolverine faithful were disappointed to put it as mildly as humanly possible. The season got off to an excellent start. Michigan got a 30-10 home victory over Connecticut despite being just 3-point favorites. Keep in mind that UConn went to a BCS Bowl last year. Michigan then went into South Bend as 3-point dogs and came out with a 28-24 victory over Notre Dame. Things were looking up for the Wolverines. Denard Robinson emerged as the most electrifying player in college football and the offense RichRod wanted to bring to Michigan was finally coming into focus. Michigan would start the season 5-0 and climb to #18 in the rankings before hosting in-state rival Michigan St. It wasn’t lost on Michigan Faithful that Michigan started the 2009 season 4-0 before going 1-7 in their final 8 games. A 5-0 start didn’t preclude the Wolverines from finishing 5-7.

And that came close to happening. Michigan got into the thick of their Big 10 schedule and lost 3 straight games to Michigan St., Iowa & Penn St. Two of those games came in the Big House. Michigan was unranked (again!) and the record was 5-3 with games against Ohio St. & Wisconsin. The Wolverines rebounded a bit with wins over Illinois & Purdue to get to 7-3. Rodriguez at this point probably could have saved his job with a big finish and a bowl win to get to 10-3. Unfortunately, Wisconsin & Ohio St. combined to beat Michigan 85-35. Michigan would finish 7-5, but things would get much much worse. Michigan got to its first bowl under Rodriguez, but the Wolverines would lose the Gator Bowl by a 52-14 margin to SEC West member Mississippi St. It was an especially tough loss considering that Michigan was only a 3-point underdog yet managed to lose by 38 points. Rodriguez was fired at the end of the season after compiling a 15-22 record over 3 seasons. In his tenure, Michigan would be 0-3 against Michigan St., 0-3 against Ohio St., and 2-1 against Notre Dame. In his 3 seasons in Ann Arbor, Rodriguez’s Big 10 record was worse than any other team in the Big 10 except for perennial bottom feeder Indiana.


Hardly any. Michigan returns all of their skill players. The only losses are LG Stephen Schilling and RT Perry Dorrestein. Schilling will be missed as he was a 6th Rd. draft pick of the San Diego Chargers, but senior Mark Huyge should step in for Dorrestein without missing a beat.


Obviously the big name here is 1st team All-American QB Denard Robinson. Robinson passed for 2,570 yards and rushed for 1,702 while accounting for 32TD between passing & rushing. Don’t forget either that Robinson completed 63% of his passes which is really good for a true sophomore. He’ll have plenty of opportunities to spread the ball around as Michigan returns an extremely veteran group of receivers. WRs Junior Hemingway and Darryl Stonum along wtih TE Kevin Koger are all seniors. WR Roy Roundtree is a junior, but led the team in receiving last year with 72 catches for 935 yards and 7TD. Simply put, this is an excellent receiving corps that should do plenty of damage even if Robinson is playing under center more in Brady Hoke’s offense. The rushing situation is wide open as Vincent Smith, Michael Shaw, Stephen Hopkins and Fitzgerald Toussaint all return. The offensive line returns 1st Team All-Big 10 center David Molk. Gargantuan LT Taylor Lewan (6’8/300lbs) anchors Robinson’s blindside. This should be a very exciting offense if 2010 is predictive of what these players are capable of.


With the RB situation not completely sorted out, Justice Hayes could get into the mix. Hayes was a very highly touted RB out of high school so it’s possible he gets some carries to see what happens. TE Chris Barnett is 6’5/250lbs so size certainly isn’t an issue with him. He was one of the best prep TEs in the 2011 class. Kevin Koger really hasn’t established himself as a big time receiving TE so Barnett could step into that role. O-Lineman Chris Bryant steps on campus fully formed at 6’4/330lbs! He could see some time in the interior offensive line.


One thing that is often overlooked is just how good Rodriguez was with Michigan’s offense. Remember than in going from Lloyd Carr’s system in 2007 to Rodriguez’s system in 2008, Michigan only scored 20.3ppg in that 2008 season. However, in 2009 Michigan increased their production to 29.5ppg and last year saw that number increase again to 32.8ppg. Imagine what Rodriguez could have done with another year from Denard Robinson and an offense full of veteran players returning? Michigan could easily have scored 40ppg this season with Rodriguez at the helm. A scary thought indeed. That will primarily be the test for new HC Brady Hoke. Hoke won’t run as wide open a spread as Rodriguez did and we know that “Shoelaces” is going to be under center more often instead of being in the gun. I think Hoke will get the most out of the players he has. Handcuffing Denard Robinson to under center wouldn’t be the best utilization of his talents, and I simply don’t think Hoke is going to walk in and use the players he has in a way that wouldn’t maximize their abilities. I don’t know if the offense will run as optimally as it would with Rodriguez’s as HC, but I do think Michigan’s offense will score more points per game than it did in 2010. This offense will put up points.


Michigan loses more players on defense than it does on offense, but it doesn’t lose much. DT Greg Banks is gone, but he wasn’t a huge contributor in the middle. The significant loses came at LB where the Wolverines lost Jonas Mouton who led the team with 117 tackles last season and was a 2nd round draft pick of the San Diego Chargers. They also lose LB Obi Ezeh who was Michigan’s 6th leading tackler. The secondary only really has one loss in CB James Rogers. Rogers tied for the team lead with 3 interceptions. Overall, Michigan didn’t lose all that much. As good as Mouton was, he wasn’t an All-Big 10 player in 2010.


The headline player here is DT Mike Martin. The 6’2/300lbs DT was miscast as a DE in Rodriguez’s 3-5-5 defensive scheme, but now will move inside as a 4-3 DT, a position he’s much more suited for. Even out of position, Martin was good enough to be a 2nd Team All-Big 10 player who should be all-conference this season. What might be even more exciting is Michigan’s possibilities at the 4-3 DE spot. Ryan Van Bergen is a beast at 6’6/283lbs while Craig Roh is no slouch himself at 6’5/251lbs. Both players are returning starters with incredible size on the edge. Van Bergen led the team in sacks last year and was 3rd in tackles for loss so he could make things very interesting this season. The LB corps immediately gets better too in a 4-3 alignment. MLB Kenny Demens was 3rd on the team in tackles last year while SLB Cameron Gordon was 4th. Hoke specifically coaches the SLB so it’ll be interesting to see how Gordon takes to his new mentor. SS Jordan Kovacs made 116 tackles last year and led the team with 7.5 tackles for loss. An honorable mention All Big 10 player last year, expect Kovacs to make some noise. CB JT Floyd returns as well. He led the Wolverines in passes broken up a year ago.


Redshirt freshman DT Richard Ash is 6’3/320lbs and could make an impact alongside Mike Martin in the interior defensive line if William Campbell doesn’t carry the load. CB Blake Countess was one of the best CBs in the 2011 class and he could make some noise in a Michigan secondary that isn’t that fantastic. The same could be said for CB Delonte Hollowell, Raymon Taylor or Greg Brown. HC Hoke made it a priority to build up the strength of Michigan’s corners in the 2011 class. DE Brennen Beyer could see some time, but at 6’3/225lbs, he needs to bulk up a lot. DE Chris Rock at 6’5/250lbs is intriguing.


Michigan allowed 32.5ppg last season which was the WORST MARK IN SCHOOL HISTORY! If one thing got Rodriguez killed as a coach in the Big 10 was his allegiance to the 3-3-5 scheme that he brought over from West Virginia. That kind of defense worked in the Big East. It got hammered in the Big 10. While Rodriguez saw improvement in the offense, he watched his defense get worse and worse. I don’t know if it was a personnel problem or what, but Michigan going back to a 4-3 base defense certainly makes them look A LOT tougher given the pieces they have in place. Michigan’s defense is going to be a lot better. How much better remains to be seen, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there were 10 points better on defense. The tough part about Michigan’s 3-3-5 is that theoretically you have a NT taking up 2 blockers while the DEs seal off the edges. Those DEs are run stoppers and act to a degree like your Sam & Will LBs in a 4-3. If 2 of the LBs are pass rushers, then all he really has is a MLB to stop the run if he doesn’t have a big enough NT to take up space. Martin wasn’t that guy and teams just abused Michigan with the run. Other teams running at will also keeps the offense on the sidelines. Rodriguez simply goofed here. Michigan will get LOADS better on defense this season.


Some people are predicting a down year for the Wolverines, but I don’t necessarily see it. They begin the year with a home date against Western Michigan. Don’t be fooled. Michigan wins the game, but the Broncos are going to be tough. This one is going to be closer than you might think and if Western Michigan loses a close one I won’t be surprised. I think Michigan will get it done, but it’s going to be rough. Next up is Notre Dame. This could be a BRUTAL game. I’m a Notre Dame homer so I’m going with Notre Dame here. Both teams come off tough games with Michigan taking on W.Michgian and Notre Dame hosting South Florida in Week 1. ND has the much tougher affair, but I don’t think Kelly loses to Michigan in 2 straight seasons. Plus, I think the loss will be good for Michigan. If Michigan were to beat Notre Dame then Michigan fans would be thinking the Wolverines could potentially start the season 6-0 before heading to East Lansing. After Notre Dame, Michigan gets 3 home games against Eastern Michigan, San Diego St. and Minnesota. They’ll win all 3 to get to 4-1. They then go on the road to Northwestern where I’ll call for a victory. Northwestern is going to be coming off a road win over a very good Illinois squad while Michigan will be coming off a home victory over Minnesota. The Wolverines won’t be so fortunate the following week in East Lansing. Michigan then as a bye week where I think they’ll come off of and beat both Purdue & Iowa, but that 2-game winning streak ends at Illinois. Michigan ends the season with 2 home games against Nebraska & Ohio St. respectively. Nebraska wins, but Michigan ends the year on a HUGE HIGH note by knocking off Ohio St. in the Big House. It will be Michigan’s first win over Ohio St. since 2003 and it will solidify the notion that Brady Hoke was the ideal fit for Michigan’s HC job.


I have Michigan ending the season at 8-4 (5-3). It isn’t the Michigan of old yet where 10-11 seasons were the minimum, but it’ll be closer than anything they’ve had since Lloyd Carr was disappointing Michigan fans everywhere! They lose a couple of tough road games to Michigan St. & Illinois while dropping home dates to Notre Dame & Nebraska, but it’s a step in the right direction. The big thing this year will be beating Ohio St. Despite the talent the Buckeyes have, no one can deny it should be a down (comparatively speaking) year in Columbus. If Michigan can’t strike while the iron is hot then I think it’s going to be tough for them to when Ohio St. is at full strength. Remember too we have seen some give and take. John Cooper couldn’t beat Michigan. Lloyd Carr couldn’t beat Jim Tressel. Now I think the pendulum swings back to Michigan with Brady Hoke being the guy to have the Buckeyes number. I think 8-4 is a monster season with the possibility of a 9th win in a bowl. The ball bounces their way a few more times than I think and the Wolverines could be in for 10 wins.


August 8, 2011 - Posted by | Michigan, Predictions, Previews

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