We’ve got a proud (?) tradition here at HLS where we get one of the literate Michigan (sucks!) fans to write a preview of the ND-Michigan (sucks!) game for us. And since finding one of the literate Michigan (sucks!) fans is pretty tough and time consuming, we keep going back to Deep Tea Kup.
As our long-time readers know, DTK is an active reader of HLS, a fan of Michigan (sucks!), and Canadian. Luckily, someone loved him enough to make sure he got a real education, so he didn’t attend Michigan (sucks!). As a result, what follows should be pretty readable unless he gets pissy and breaks into French as he is prone to do.*
First of all, let me just say what an honor it is to be asked back for a third straight year doing the UM preview for this site. I may not be able to write the voluminous tomes like domer.mq or provide as much levity as The Biscuit, but I would like to think I contribute as much to this site as Bad Kermit.
On to the preview.
Offense – What a difference a year makes; Henne, Hart, Long, Boren, Manningham, Mallett, Mitchell, Arrington, Kraus. All important contributors to last year’s offense that have since left Ann Arbor. In comes Coach Rod, with his spread offense, Barwis, and a sterling reputation as a fine, upstanding citizen (suck it Biscuit). Let’s just say the cupboard is not exactly full. There is a very real possibility that the UM offense could take the field on Saturday with former walk-ons at LT (Nowicki) and QB (Sheridan). There are 6 Tight Ends currently on the roster, compared to 1/2 of one last year on WVU (Owen Schmitt, who played FB most of the time). It has been, to put it charitably, interesting to watch this offense try to work over the past two weeks, I think I saw it phrased best as a teenager with a learner’s permit trying to drive a Ferrari. You can see the potential of the system but the execution has been sporadic; WR’s getting wide open on go routes only to have the QB flat out miss it, 6’5 QB’s with “limited” mobility making 10 yd TD runs, RB’s missing huge cutback lanes.
Quarterback – In college football there are two scenarios where you see team play two healthy QB’s (Nick Sheridan and Steven Threet) regularly. The first is the Leak-Tebow or Brady-Henson scenario where you have the good-to-great upperclassman QB who should be the starter being spelled by the phenom underclassman who needs to get on the field. The second scenario is basically the “if you have two QB’s, you have none” scenario. As harsh as it may seem, I guess as a UM fan I have just been spoiled by the history of QB’s at UM, even John Navarre started in an NFL game. As hard as the QB play has been to watch at times, I think there is potential for either Threet or Sheridan to evolve into an efficient game manager by the end of the season. That is the best case scenario for UM this year. Personally, I hope Threet can solve his accuracy issues and emerge as the starter over the next few weeks as he has a much better arm. Bottom line, I don’t think ND fans have to worry about a repeat performance of the 2006 Henne to Manningham show.
Offensive Line – Going into the season, I had worries that the OL had potential to be as bad as ND’s was last year. After two games, although mistakes have been made and this group is definitely not going to be confused with the 2000 UM OL, they have not proven to be a complete liability as of yet. I think this is mostly due to the system, which does not force them to sustain pass blocks for a 7 step drop and a running game which values strength and mobility from the OL. If Tenuta unleashes his trademark blitz package, this could be a very good test of the OL. (side note: come on ND fans, do you really expect the rest of us to believe that Corwin Brown is not the DC in name only? Are we really expected to believe a guy like John Tenuta came to ND to work for Corwin Brown?)
Running Backs – Interesting mix of guys who seem to fit the new offense (Sam McGuffie, Michael Shaw, Carlos Brown), those who seem more suited to the old UM way of doing things (Kevin Grady, Brandon Minor), and two fullbacks (Wince Helmuth and Mike Moundrous). McGuffie has been the starter, mainly due to the fact that he has been the only one to not get hurt or drive while ridiculously impaired. The have been some good plays made from this group and I would fully expect that this is where UM will get most of their offense against ND on Saturday. Early prediction is that McGuffie starts and gets his first 100 yard game. Other UM fans keep saying Minor needs to play more, but in my opinion he needs to show he can hang on to the ball first. I think you’ll see Grady on 3rd and short or goaline. Shaw and Brown could be real wildcards in this group if they are both healthy. Shaw in the passing game and Brown may line up at QB sort of like McFadden at Arkansas last year (may be setting expectations a bit high here).
WR/Slots/TE – Very tough to evaluate this group so far due to the uneven QB play. It seems as though there are some weapons in this group however. Tay Odoms seems to be the prototypical slot receiver for this offense, quick feet and can make positive yards after the catch. Carson Butler is getting most of the snaps at TE and it feels as though he could be more of a weapon but just does not seems to get the ball thrown his way much right now. Daryl Stonum is a freshman who has speed to burn and has gotten loose in the secondary a few times. JR Hemmingway has made some plays, looks like he may develop into a serious go-to type receiver down the line. Toney Clemons is playing out of position in the slot right now, definitely more of an outside type receiver, maybe even a TE if keeps growing. Greg Matthews has the most experience, he is more of a possession type receiver. He missed last week’s game but is supposed to be ready to go this week.
Defensive Line – Arguably the best unit on this year’s squad going into the year I thought this may be one of the top 5 DLs in the country. The play has been a little uneven so far but as a unit they have been almost dominant in the second half of both games. Will Johnson and Terrance Taylor play the tackle position, with Taylor occasionally lining up as a NT in the 3 man line. I would say Johnson has probably been the best player on the line so far, played the run and pass very well. Mike Martin, a true freshman, has showed some flashes and will most likely anchor the line the next 3 years after Taylor and Johnson leave. The starting DE’s are Tim Jamison and Brandon Graham, who both got to know Jimmy very well in last year’s game. Graham has been an uneven performer thus far in my opinion, looking great at times and seeming to dog it at others. Ryan Van Bergen is a RS FR who has a tremendous motor and never seems to be out of position.
Linebacker – Probably the weakest unit on defense. Obi Ezeh is the MLB and though he was the Big 10 defensive player of the week for week 1 I still think he overruns a few too many plays. Last week John Thompson played SAM and showed some real weakness in pass coverage. Jonas Mouton played the WILL and showed decent coverage skills and ability to pressure the QB on the blitz. Austin Panter and Marell Evans have also played a decent number of snaps, both are decent at the point of attack but look lost in coverage or playing “in space”. I think this match up against ND could hide some of their weaknesses, it appears as though ND has abandoned the spread from last year. This should free up the LB’s to focus more on the run game and getting to the QB which appear to be their strengths as a unit.
Secondary – What a mixed bag this group is. I would put UM’s CB tandem up against any group in the nation, Morgan Trent and Donovan Warren are both great and have played lockdown corner in both games. If you watch the 1st half of the Utah game it becomes readily apparent where the weakness in this group is, right down the middle. Stevie Brown seems to follow the recent UM tradition of UM safeties that take poor tackling angles and turn 7 yard slants into 55 yard gain. Brandon Harrsion and Charles Stewart are both converted corners who also see action at S, Harrison has played relatively well and is great on the safety blitz. If ND has a clear advantage anywhere in this match up, it is in the underneath passing game.
Special Teams – KC Lopata has already hit a 50 yarder this year (yay Barwis) and is very consistent. I think he needs to be perfect on Saturday for UM to win. Zoltan Mesko may be a little overrated, if a punter can be overrated. He’s supposed to have a thunderbolt for a left leg but this year seems to be more in to directional punting. I am not sure if this is a coaching strategy or just uneven performance. Kickoff and punt coverage have both been good so far this year. The return game for UM has been disappointing. Boobacar Cissoko showed some promise at KR against Miami and will most likely start. Donovan Warren has shown nothing a PR so far, however this may be due to the fact that both punters UM has seen have averaged 47 & 53 yards respectively with great hang time. With the state of the offense UM needs to start getting something more out of the return game, there is some rumbling that Tay Odoms may get a shot here.
Coaching – Let’s put this in context for a minute. I’ve been following UM football for around 20-25 years or so. During that time I had only seen 3 head coaches at UM, and really Moeller was the only one who could have been considered somewhat different on offense. I would like to think that I have some football knowledge and can watch the game with a fine eye for detail but I am having a real hard time understanding some of the concepts of the spread. It is like night and day compared to everything I have ever seen from a UM football team. What I’m trying to say is that I don’t know how to evaluate things like play calling or play sequencing because the very fundamentals seem so different from a more “conventional” offense. As I alluded to earlier though, there are moments when everything comes together and you can see how powerful this offense can be. It’s enough to assure me that the coaches know what they are doing.
On defense, I think it is a little more clear for me. I would like to see less 4-3 and more nickel against obvious passing situations, I think I have seen way too much of an OLB covering a 3rd WR for my liking. Also, in both games the defense has been up and down, I have to put some of that on the coaches.
Special Teams seem more fundamentally sound and, unlike in past years, this staff will try new people in these roles if nothing else.
Prediction – For UM to win this game, I think they need to play great defense and win the field position battle with special teams. The offense will probably only be able to put together 2-3 sustained drives so it will be crucial to get points elsewhere. I think this is a good match up for UM’s D and they should be able to get to Claussen and cause some pressure.
Final score UM 23 ND 20.
Thanks, DTK. Given your previous 2 predictions in the ND/UM(S!) series were also close, and the actual games ended up being blowouts for the bad guys, your last line leaves me feeling the most on edge. Still, knowing RichRod’s affinity for staycations in Chokesville, I’m counting on an Irish win.
*I can make that joke. I’m largely French Canadian by blood.