Know Thy Opponent 2011: Michigan Wolverines

First things first: the news of the big summit in West Lafayette. It went very well, I think. I was able to get my first glimpse of the new athletic department offices in the Mackey Expansion (top notch!) and a close up look of construction. Basically, Mackey is a complete mess right now, but it will be transformed by the time November 11th rolls around.

The meeting itself was solid. I was able to address some of my concerns as well as confess my faults here at the site, and I think some positive progress was made. Best of all, I have been approved for a credential and will be attending Big Ten Football Media Days next week. I am thankful for Tom Schott allowing me and SBNation Indiana editor Brad Wells to speak with him today about this site as well as the Indiana site.

In the meantime, Michigan is the next opponent to take a look at. The Wolverines prevented what would have been a rare 3-game winning streak for Purdue with last season's rain soaked 27-16 win in West Lafayette. Now we head to Michigan trying to win consecutive games in the Big House for the first time since Bob Griese was quarterback. It begins a rough stretch of three straight games where we will likely be big underdogs.

2010 Record: 7-6, 3-5 Big Ten

Bowl Result: Lost 52-14 to Mississippi State in Gator Bowl

Blog Representation: MGoBlog, MVictors, Maize'n'Brew, Maize & Blue Nation

Series with Purdue: Michigan leads 42-14-0

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

Last Michigan win: 11/13/2010 at Purdue 27-16

Last Season for the Wolverines:

Even though RichRod got them to a bowl game it wasn't enough. It would have helped if the team had decided to show up to said bowl game. Instead, the defense was treated like a turnstile (again) and Michigan was drilled by Mississippi State 52-14. That helped the Big Ten go 1-3 against the SEC, and the one win no longer counts.

That capped a season where the Michigan defense was abysmal in all but a handful of games. They gave up more than 21 points to everyone except Connecticut and Purdue. Six times they were burned for at least 37 points, and in the game before they came to West Lafayette the defenses took a complete rest on both sides in the 67-65 win over Illinois.

That result is what makes our loss to them even more depressing. The week before they played us the Wolverine defense gave up eight touchdowns three field goals, and over 550 yards of total offense. The next week didn't even gain half of those yards and scored no offensive touchdowns. Yes, it was played in bad weather, but once Justin Siller went down on the first play (despite having not played in weeks), we acted like we never even gave a thought to Siller getting injured, so we had little game plan the rest of the day. It was an ugly game with 10 turnovers, but we were uglier than them.

Michigan now heads into the season with a new coach, and one that will attempt to fix a defense that really could not get much worse.  He has one of the most dynamic players in college football running his offense. Even with a modicum of defense they can start being Michigan again.

Michigan Offense:

It all starts with Denard Robinson. The dynamic quarterback was one of the most elusive players in the nation a year ago, rushing for over 1,700 yards and four touchdowns while throwing for over 2,500 more yards and 18 more scores. We were able to keep him relatively in check because Ryan Kerrigan racked up as many sacks (four) as the Wolverines had given up to that point in the season. We held him mostly in check with just 68 yards rushing and 176 yards passing. I feel like a big part of that was the weather, which definitely slowed him down. On the turf at the Big house he will have an advantage. The guy shreds defenses at will, with his best performance coming in a 502 yard day against Notre Dame. Robinson shattered Drew Brees' single season total offense record for the Big Ten and was the offensive MVP. That's appropriate since it took the Defensive MVP to slow him down.

It will be interesting to see the type of offense new coach Brady Hoke decides to run. He was very successful at Ball State with a balanced offense behind Nate Davis and MiQuale Lewis. Hoke does get to work with tailback Vincent Smith (601-5) to help make sure that Robinson does not have to handle all of the rushing load. Stephen Hopkins (151-4) also saw time in the backfield last season. Michigan has a big incoming recruit with Justice Hayes, who could see action immediately.

At receiver is the wizard protégé and snake oil purchaser Roy Roundtree, who has made it a habit the last two seasons of personally sticking it to the team he shafted on signing day. While we struggle to find consistent pass catchers he is leading the Wolverines with72 catches for 935 yards and seven touchdowns in 2010. He has scored a touchdown in both games he has played against Purdue and will likely draw Ricardo Allen's bead this time around. Junior Hemingway 32-593-4 will flank him on the other side to give Robinson two experienced targets. Daryl Stonum (49-633-4) is serving an indefinite suspension at the moment, but his numbers are too big to ignore. He'll likely be playing by the time this game comes around. For good measure tight end Kevin Koger (14-199-2) is also experienced, and we know he's going to be open over the middle on third down because of our complete refusal to cover the middle of the field.

Michigan's line was very good last year against anyone not named Ryan Kerrigan, but part of that stems from Robinson's elusiveness. If you take away his monster day they gave up just seven sacks on the year. Center David Molk is a potential All-American, and he is flanked by returning starters Taylor Lewan and Patrick Omameh. One big loss is Stephen Schilling at guard. Look for Micheal Schofield and Ricky Barnum to be the leading candidates to be the new starters.

Michigan Defense

This is just my opinion, but every single starting spot should be up for grabs on the defense. They were epically bad, and in the second quarter alone they gave up 194 points. They gave up 458 total for a 35 per game average and over 5,000 total yards. You can make up all the excuses you want for us not scoring on them: injuries, inexperience, weather, gameplan, whatever. We were the only team that didn't manage an offensive touchdown against them.

Hoke is more of a defensive-minded coach. He is having the Wolverines get back to basics with work more on solid technique rather than different packages. New coach Greg Mattison has decided to go back to a more traditional 4-3 from the ineffective 3-3-5. Even then, Michigan's best bet is to keep its defense off the field as much as possible.

Tackle Mike Martin should be solid in the middle after 37 tackles and 2.5 sakes. Craig Roh and Ryan Van Bergan will man the end spots. Van Bergan led the team with four sacks in 2010 and might be in line for more with the different setup. William Campbell is in line to be the fourth starter on the line after playing in all 13 games last season as a reserve. As a whole Michigan had 18 sacks on the year, making for a below average pass rush.

At linebacker virtually anyone can play, mostly because they were so awful at this spot. Incoming freshmen Frank Clark, Kellen Jones, Antonio Poole, and Desmond Morgan could all get a shot to play, if not start. Redshirt freshman Jake Ryan will also get a chance to play.

Carvin Johnson is moving from linebacker to safety, just as Cameron Gordon was shifted the opposite way. Both players saw extensive action last season, but Michigan is placing a lot of faith in them adjusting to their new roles. Troy Woolfork will be a big boost to the defense after missing all of last season with a dislocated ankle. J.T. Floyd will be back at the other corner spot. Like Logan Link, they start a former walk-on at safety in Jordan Kovacs. Blake Countess, one of the top recruits in the class, could also play immediately. Gordon led the team with three interceptions a year ago, but Woolfork, if he can return to form, is probably the best player in a unit that needs vast improvement.

Michigan Special Teams:

It was a contest last season to see what was worse; the kicking game or the defense. Michigan tried two kickers and was only 4 of 14 on field goals and missed two extra points. Their longest field goal was a meager 37 yards. Matt Wile was recruited from San Diego to improve the kicking game. He will likely start, especially since there was an open tryout at one point last season among the student population to see if anyone could kick.

Will Hagerup, the brother if Indiana's Chris Hagerup did at least have a decent season as a freshman punter. His 43.6 yards per kick average was solid. The return game was not much of a factor, making those positions up for grabs.

Game Outlook:

How much of last year's success was based on the weather vs. Kerrigan's disruptive presence? Bother were factors in us having a modicum of success against an excellent offense, but since we could do nothing when we had the ball it went for nothing. We'll need a similar defensive effort this season if we're to win our third game in four tries against Michigan.

This is going to be a scary good offensive team with all of the weapons back from last year. Hoke may go with more of a traditional attack, but with a player like Robinson a big play is always a missed tackle away. Kerrigan is not there anymore to save us, so it will be up to Kawann Short, Bruce Gaston, and Gerald Gooden to make sure he doesn't run amok.

Defensively, the Wolverines are expected to be at least a year away from great improvement, but they can hardly be worse than last year. If we have a lot more of the dangerous 2009 offense and a lot less of the ineffective 2010 offense we at least have a chance. The running game looks like it could be there, but I don't know if our passing game can take advantage of a secondary that was terrible.

Prediction:

Even with a win two years ago out history is still not that great in Ann Arbor. We have wont here only five times total, and still only once in 45 years. I have to give them the edge in this game unless our offense is vastly improved, Robinson is hurt, or both. Michigan 31, Purdue 17

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