Know thy Opponent 2010: Michigan Wolverines

Has there ever been a football program that has fallen like Michigan? Even in the season they lost to Appalachian state they still finished 9-4 and beat a very good Florida team in the Capitol One Bowl. Then there was RichRod. He comes along and finishes 3-9, an offense that, in my opinion, should have warranted firing after season 1. There is no excuse for Michigan to ever be that bad. He answered that with a 5-7 season where the only conference win came in a gift over Indiana.

It is safe to say that his job situation is the biggest news coming into this year. I think there is little doubt that another losing season will cost him his job. The loss to Purdue last year virtually sealed a losing season. Would a third straight loss to Purdue seal his fate? This should be an interesting game because Purdue as a program clearly has issues with the guy. Joe Tiller called him out over Roy Roundtree's recruitment, then Danny Hope called him out with Zach Reckman last season. It has created a small amount of drama that will have an exciting conclusion in West Lafayette.

2009 Record: 5-7, 1-7 Big Ten

Bowl Result: none

Blog Representation: MGoBlog, MVictors, Varsity Blue, Michigan Sports Center, iBlog for Cookies, Maize'n'Brew, Maize & Blue Nation

Series with Purdue: Michigan leads 41-14-0

Last Purdue win: 11/7/2009 at Michigan 38-36

Last Michigan win: 10/13/2007 at Michigan 48-21

Last Season for the Wolverines:

Michigan started the season well, beating a pair of Directional Michigan schools, Notre Dame, and Indiana. The game with the Hoosiers was a it of a preview of things to come, however. Indiana got righteously screwed on a late call in a 36-33 Wolverine win. It was Michigan's lone conference victory as they finished an uncharacteristic dead last at 1-7. They managed only a 63-6 win over Delaware State the rest of the way. On the other hand, at least they finally beat a Division 1-AA team.

More importantly for Purdue fans, the Boilermakers were finally able to win in Ann Arbor. Purdue broke a streak that was more than four decades long and 17 games total at the Big House. Sure, it has come over a Michigan program that is far from what it used to be, but it was a still a landmark win for Purdue. Purdue has now won two in a row against Michigan, and a third straight win would be our longest streak since winning five in a row back in the 60's. With only 14 wins total against the Wolverines it is safe to say this is one of our most successful stretches ever against them.

This make or break season for RichRod could be broken by the time they come to West Lafayette. Connecticut is a dangerous opponent in the opener and a week 2 game at Notre Dame could have a pair of desperate 0-1 teams against each other. If Michigan's defense is no better than last season I absolutely think a powerful Indiana offense could shock them during the Big Ten opener in Bloomington. Michigan State, Iowa, and a trip to Happy Valley follow in what could be the most pressure-filled stretch in Michigan football history. It is a sign of how bad the program has gotten when even Indiana doesn't fear playing Michigan anymore.

Michigan Offense

There is one sure thing you can take from a Purdue-Michigan game: A Michigan running back will rush for at least 100 yards. Brandon Minor only ran for 502 yards last year and 533 the year before, but he had 154 and 155 yards, respectively, and six total touchdowns against us. Mike Hart had over 100 yards in just one half in 2007. He ran for 200 yards in the previous game back in 2004. Thankfully, those guys are gone, but Michael Shaw (185 yards, 2 TD's) is projected to be the new starter that will work in the spread. Vincent smith had a good season as a superback with 276 yards rushing and a score, but he tore his ACL in the spring. We must also watch the quarterbacks in the spread. Denard Robinson might be the better runner than Tate Forcier, but both are good. Robinson had 351 yards rushing and five scorers to be the leading returning rusher for the team. Forcier ran for 240 yards and three scores, showing he is a danger with his feet too. Robinson has more of a Pat White quality to him, but Forcier is the better passer.

In the passing game Forcier had a decent true freshman season, throwing for 2.050 and 13 touchdowns against 10 interceptions. Robinson was 14 of 31 with four picks and two scores in spot duty at quarterback. Allegedly the competition is neck and neck between the two. Even then, we'll probably see both, especially if Forcier is named the starter. Robinson is too good not to play somewhere.

Michgian has a pair of good receivers in Roy Roundtree and Martavious Odoms. Roundtree (32-434-3) had a huge game against Purdue after spurning us in recruiting, going for 10 catches and 126 yards with a score. Odoms (22-272-1) was hampered by injuries last season, but he has dangerous speed and will likely also be used on kickoffs and punt returns. Darryl Stonum (13-199-1) is a projected starter and has track star speed, while Kevin Koger (16-220-2) will see time as well. Junior Hemingway (16-268-2) is a nice fifth receiver since Michigan likes to spread the ball around.

Michigan's offensive line gave up 27 sacks last season and that doesn't count the critical game-winning sack delivered by Ryan Kerrigan on a two-point conversion late in last season's game. Because of the nature of the spread formation Michigan needs quick, athletic linemen in opposition to their traditional burly road-graders. Fou8r starters return with only Taylor Lewan being a newcomer at left tackle. Stephen Schilling is a third year starter at left guard and he is paired with Patrick Omameh. David Molk is a quality center, but he is small by big Ten standards at just 270 pounds. Perry Dorrestein rounds out the rest of the line, but Rocky Khoury could see time. Three of these starters are below 300 pounds, fitting the mold of slimmer, sleeker linemen that Michigan wants now.

Michigan Defense

While the offense wasn't too bad last year, the Michigan defense was a disaster. Indiana cut through them with little resistance in the Big Ten opener. Illinois, who couldn't score if they were an ovulating groupie next to Travis Henry and Antonio Cromartie, blew up for 38 points, by far their most against a 1-A opponent to that point. The numbers say that Michigan gave up only 27.5 points per game last year. If you take away the wins over Western Michigan (31-7), Eastern Michigan (45-17) and Delaware State the numbers go up to 33 points per game. 

Michigan is switching to a 3-3-5 scheme this year because their pass defense was about as effective as trying to stop Ben Roethlisberger in a college bar bathroom. Their run defense was better than only ours own in conference play. Demar Dorsey was supposed to be help with the secondary, but he wasn't admitted to school. This unit will be young with only senior safety Troy Woolfolk providing upperclassman leadership. Cameron Gordon has a lot of promise as a redshirt freshman who converted from wide receiver to safety. Jordan Kovacs and J.T. Floyd will start at the corners with Thomas Gordon playing the spur role. The spur is kind of a linebacker/safety hybrid that can move up is a linebacker moves up to create a 4-3. Of this group only Woolfolk had more than 20 tackles last year.

Linebackers Craig Roh, Jonas Mouton, and Obi Ezeh were far from solid last year. Ezeh was down to 69 tackles from 98 in 2008. Roh will be the most likely to move up in pass rushing situations after notching a pair of sacks last year. Mouton was third on the team in tackles with 66 and even added a pair of interceptions. When Roh moves up a safety will likely shift to a linebacker spot for a more traditional 4-3.

The defensive line must find a replacement for Brandon Graham, who with 10.5 was one of the best pass rushers in the Big Ten. Graham had an astounding 26 tackles for loss too. Michgan seems to be going with three tackles in Ryan Van Bergen, Mike Martin, and Greg Banks rather than the traditional one tackle, two end strategy. Much of the pass rush should come from the linebacker spots, with the tackles primed to stop the run. William Campbell will also see time in the rotation. Van Bergan can get to the quarterback too after having five sacks last year.

Michigan Special Teams

The Wolverines had one of the best punters in the nation with Zoltan Mesko, Destroyer of Worlds. Lovingly called the Space Emperor, Mesko averaged 44.5 yards per attempt. He was a Ray Guy finalist and All-American. Will Hagerup, brother of Indiana's Chris Hagerup, stands a very good chance of winning the job as a true freshman, but Michigan will miss the way that Mesko made punt returns a non-factor for the opposition.

The kickoff coverage team was average with 22.3 yards per kick, but Michigan was a danger in the return game itself. Stonum had a kick return for a score and Hemingway set up the almost-tying score against us. Odoms, if healthy, could handle both duties and did have a punt return for a score against us in 2008. Stonum, however, will likely be hte guy can can be a game-changer.

Jason Olesnavage missed a critical extra point in the Purdue game that forced the fateful two-point conversion last year. He will be replaced by Brendan Gibbons. Gibbons is a redshirt freshman with good range, but he lacks consistency.

Intangibles

Like the Illinois game, much of this contest depends on what happens before they face Purdue. It is very possible that Michigan's season could already be over and we would get a defeated team playing out the string for a lame duck coach. Still, there is clearly some bad blood between the coaching staff. It would be fun to see Danny Hope face RichRod in what Boilerdowd would call a "Prison-style Fight". I think Hope could take him too. This would be a great halftime show, especially since it is the bye week for New Orleans and Drew Brees might make an appearance to lead SHOUT.

That aside, Michigan has a tremendous amount of pressure coming into this season. If it is another losing season you can expect this project to be blown up and the Wolverines will start over. If they can get on a bit of a roll. They will look to this game to right a perceived wrong. This is a very proud program. It bothers them that 1 in 7 of their losses all-time to Purdue have occurred in the last two years. As Maize N' Brew said in their profile of Ryan Kerrigan, a third straight loss can't happen.

Game Outlook:

Michigan was the butt of a number of jokes at the kickoff luncheon on Tuesday. Yes they are changing their defensive scheme, but one fan noted how their new defensive coordinator has never run the 3-3-5 before. It is desperation time, and RichRod's fearsome face convinced me this team is ill-prepared. Many Michigan fans are scared with good reason. There is no middle ground this season and the defense must improve despite losing its two best players.

It is rare that Purdue has an edge in this series, but we must take it. Michigan couldn't stop our running game last year as Ralph Bolden had a big game. Cortez Smith broke out and Keith Smith kept the chains moving. As long as Robert Marve can keep spreading the ball around there should be room to operate. Don't forget, Justin Siller had a big game in 2008 and he gets to showcase his skills against Michigan after a year's absence.

Prediction:

Purdue gets it done for the third straight year in another high scoring affair. Michigan hasn't stopped our offense the last two years, and it should be better this year. Purdue 38, Michigan 34

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