Saturday, September 26, 2009

Donovan Warren is better than Demarlo Belcher

Bill Lynch will throw his gum in 3...2...1...

The interception that essentially ended Michigan's 36-33 victory over Indiana was strongly disputed. I have to admit that as I watched the play unfold in real time, I assumed Indiana would retain possession. But despite my initial reaction, the on-field call was "interception" and the replays proved to be inconclusive.

On the play, Michigan cornerback Donovan Warren jumped a slant pass from Indiana quarterback Ben Chappell to wide receiver Demarlo Belcher. Warren reached in front of Belcher with both hands while Belcher waited for the ball to come into his body. Without the ball ever touching the ground, both players fell to the turf and had a momentary tug of war. Possession was awarded to Warren.

The rule on simultaneous possession is as follows:

ARTICLE 8. A simultaneous catch or recovery is a catch or recovery in which there is joint possession of a live ball by opposing players inbounds (A.R. 7-3-6-II and III).

This rule is tricky because it doesn't define "possession." As you can see in the screencaps from Maize n Brew, it appears that Belcher never really had control of the ball. Even though both players fell together with the ball between them, that doesn't mean Belcher ever had possession. My interpretation of the word "possession" is controlling the ball with one's hand(s), and it doesn't seem that Belcher ever had that. The only visual evidence of possession, by that definition, shows that Warren had better control of the ball than Belcher.

As Indiana fans will argue, it doesn't matter who wins the tug of war at the bottom of the pile; when the possessor of the ball is down by rule, the play should be over. But if neither player possesses the ball at the time when the players hit the ground, it's impossible to say who should be awarded the ball. When you see a receiver on the ground who's bobbling the ball, he's not given possession until that ball is controlled without hitting the ground (see Mario Manningham's catch vs. the Cowboys last Sunday). Belcher never controlled the ball and when someone finally did control it, that someone was Warren.

Indiana fans will surely never let this die. As you can see from the Maize n Brew comments, they are bitter. Just like Penn State fans still complain about the :01 left on the clock in 2005 and Michigan fans still complain about MSU's last-"second" TD pass to T.J. Duckett in 2001, Indiana will probably hold on to Interceptiongate for a while.

But I don't care. The referees weren't impressive either way. They missed several holding calls against Indiana, and they called J.T. Floyd for pass interference on a ball that was clearly uncatchable. I don't think Warren's interception was necessarily a bad call, but I wouldn't have been surprised if it had gone the other way, either.

The bottom line is this: If you leave the game up to the referees, that's your fault. It was a tight game the entire way. Indiana settled for several field goals in the red zone when the Hoosiers offense bogged down. If they had scored a TD on any of those possessions, things might have ended differently.

Michigan 36, Indiana 33

I've been busy this week. Between losing power on Thursday evening, not getting home until after midnight last night, and Saturday morning practice, I didn't have a chance to write a preview for the Indiana game. But these are the games that always scare me the most. Not the Toledo or Eastern Michigan or Appalachian State games, because we win most of those and if we don't, well, that's just how the cookie crumbles.

No, what scare me are the games against second-rate Big Ten teams like Indiana, Northwestern, Michigan State, etc. Those games are ones that shouldn't be huge impediments on the way to playing for a Big Ten title but too often rise up to bite you in the ass or at least make you nervous.

Today's game was no exception. Indiana made it tough on Michigan before the Wolverines eked one out in the last couple minutes.

Offensively, Michigan frustrated me more today than at any other time this year. They seemed completely out of sync for the majority of the game. Luckily, Carlos Brown scored two early touchdowns and Tate Forcier led two late TD drives in the fourth quarter. Between those points, though, Michigan looked discombobulated.

Replacement center David Moosman had troubles snapping the ball, and both Denard Robinson and Forcier had troubles handling it. Michigan has resurrected the freeze play, where the center snaps the ball when he sees someone jump offsides. It's supposed to earn Michigan five yards, which it did . . . once. But the freshman quarterbacks clearly aren't prepared to run it, and neither is Moosman, since he snapped the ball one time when Indiana defensive end Greg Middleton had already got back onside. In total, it lost yards for Michigan and could end up being a turnover if, for example, the snap on the Middleton play had bounced off Forcier's knee or facemask and ended up in the hands of a Hoosier.

The game always looks like it's going too fast for Denard Robinson. It's like I looked when I was little and watching my brother play Frogger; then my mom would call him to take the garbage out, I'd grab the joystick, adrenaline myself across the road, and then drown in the river. Robinson runs the ball well and has a limit of one good throw per game. He led one good drive today and made a nice throw on a seam route to Kevin Koger. After that play the coaches should have patted him on the dreadlocked head, said "Nice job," and handed him a baseball cap (until, of course, he was needed again once Forcier got hurt).

Offensive coordinator Calvin Magee went away from the running game for a while. I have no explanation for this. Carlos Brown started the game with a 61-yard TD on a screen pass, scored a 41-yard rushing TD on the next drive, and then became a bystander for a couple quarters. We can run the ball. Our co-starters at running back, Brown and Brandon Minor, had 23 carries for 123 yards. That's 5.3 yards per carry. But 23 carries is what ONE of those guys should have, not the combination of the two, especially when Forcier and Robinson combined for 21 rushes. The guys who earned scholarships for running the ball should run it, not the guys who earned scholarships for their throwing arms.

This is partly on Forcier as well. In my opinion, Forcier is horrible at running the read option. Even when the backside defensive end stays home to contain the quarterback, Forcier tries to make things happen on his own. He's simply not athletic enough to make it work. Hopefully his reads will improve as he gets more and more experience. I guess the coaches have to keep calling the play to keep the defense honest, but Forcier needs to realize that the best thing about that play is the element of surprise when he keeps the ball. If I were an opposing defensive coordinator, I would tell my defensive ends, "If you stay home, this chump is going to keep the ball a couple times when he shouldn't, and you better make him regret it."

Defensively, it really hurts to have so little depth and experience in the defensive backfield. I thought the linebackers played better than they did last week and the defensive line did an okay job, but our defensive backfield is in shambles. Donovan Warren made one poor tackle attempt, but the Indiana didn't want to test him much. Boubacar Cissoko was replaced early by J.T. Floyd, and neither played well. Meanwhile, strong safety Troy Woolfolk is a position-changer from cornerback who missed some tackles, and former walk-on Jordan Kovacs started at free safety and missed several assignments. Indiana took advantage of the inexperience on the back end, and you can bet that other Big Ten teams will, too. I think Michigan State will have an excellent day throwing the ball next week.

Offensive game ball goes to . . . Carlos Brown (2). He had 144 yards from scrimmage (83 rushing, 61 receiving) and two touchdowns. He ran the ball well most of the day, and what he lacks in toughness, he makes up for in home run ability.

Defensive game ball goes to . . . Jonas Mouton (1). Mouton led the team in tackles with 11 and had half a tackle for loss. He reacted slowly a couple times but he stepped up to fill a hole a couple times and made some nice hits. He didn't have a great game, but nobody really did.

Let's see less of this guy on offense . . . David Moosman (1). He can play guard. That's fine. He's a pretty good guard. In fact, with his main competition at center coming from redshirt freshman Rocko Khoury, he might well be our best center with starter David Molk out (broken foot). But I hope Molk is a quick healer. Moosman had a few bad snaps, and his quarterbacks didn't do a great job of bailing him out.

Let's see less of this guy on defense . . . J.T. Floyd (2). I think Cissoko re-injured his shoulder injury, but I have a hard time believing that freshmen Justin Turner and Teric Jones are significantly worse than Floyd. At this point, I have to believe the coaches are trying their best to preserve Turner's redshirt. Jones's has already been burned. But Floyd was responsible for at least three big plays today: 1) the missed pass break-up that ended in a big gain, 2) the 85-yard rush TD by Darius Willis in which Floyd made a poor attempt to tackle, and 3) the pass interference on the right sideline - the ball was uncatchable, but Floyd still had a hand full of jersey.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Michigan 45, Eastern Michigan 17

Hyperspeed: Engaged.

Yesterday's final score represented what most Michigan fans expected. The score before and during halftime . . . not so much. Michigan jumped out to a whopping 3-0 lead before Eastern Michigan tied it at 3-3. They were tied again at 10-10 and went into halftime with Michigan leading, 24-17.

The star of the game was Carlos Brown, who ran only eight times in the first half but gained 163 yards in that span. Brown started the game in place of Brandon Minor, who's still feeling the effects of a sprained ankle. It wasn't apparent that Minor was injured, so as the game went along, I thought to myself, "Brandon Minor must be a horrible teammate and completely uncoachable, because he's the best back on the team and they won't play him." In a way, I'm glad he was injured because I like him and I'm hoping those thoughts aren't true.

Star quarterback Tate Forcier had a bit of a tough day. He started off hot but only completed one of his final six passes, finishing with 68 yards in the air. Eastern Michigan did a good job of hanging right with Michigan's receivers, who couldn't get open. That's a bit scary if you're a Michigan fan. The Wolverines should have far superior athleticism and talent on the perimeter, but that just didn't seem to be the case.

However, the story for Michigan was that the Wolverine running backs were much faster and more athletic than Eastern Michigan's linebackers and safeties. Michigan finished the game with 39 carries for 380 yards, a 9.7 yard average. In other words, Michigan could have run the ball every play and practically never faced a second down. Brown finished with 187 yards while Denard Robinson had 60, Michael Shaw had 53, Mike Cox had 31, and Minor had 21. Michigan finished the weekend ranked #3 in rushing offense.

Defensively, Michigan still has plenty of work to do. Defensive end Brandon Graham and nose tackle Mike Martin can both command double teams, but Michigan's inside linebackers continue to be unable to fill the running lanes sufficiently. In fairness to the linebacking corps, starting WILL Jonas Mouton missed the game after being suspended for a punch he threw in the Notre Dame game. His backup, former walk-on Kevin Leach, led the team with 10 tackles, but neither he nor starting MIKE Obi Ezeh recorded a tackle for loss. Leach hustles and did a pretty good job of being in the right place, but he's simply not the athlete Mouton is. Eastern Michigan was consistently able to run the ball in the first half, running 28 times for 128 yards. Defensive coordinator Greg Robinson and his coaches were able to make some halftime adjustments and limit EMU to 51 yards on 20 attempts in the second half, but really, there's no excuse for the way the Eagles were able to run the ball in the first half, especially when you consider how little success they had in the passing game.

On the subject of defense, Michigan cornerback Boubacar Cissoko was the victim of one of the most egregious pass interference penalties you'll ever see. Former Michigan cornerback Johnny Sears, who now plays for EMU, was inserted into the game as a wide receiver in the first half. Eastern Michigan quarterback Andy Schmitt tossed a fade route to Sears against Cissoko, who was basically running the route for Sears and had position downfield. As Cissoko was sprinting downfield in front of Sears and reached for the ball, Sears climbed up his back and tackled the sophomore corner. Somehow the referee blamed the collision on Cissoko, who should have just as much of a right to the football as the receiver. It was atrocious and I'm sure the official will be getting a reprimand this week, whether it's public or private.

Offensive game ball goes to . . .
Carlos Brown (1). Brown carried the ball 13 times for 187 yards (14.4 yard average) and 2 TDs. One was a 90-yarder in the second quarter. Brown's lack of tackle-breaking ability is still frustrating. For evidence, see his 30 yard run in the first quarter where he's taken down by the wave of Darth Vader's hand. But his speed is scary.

Defensive game ball goes to . . .
Craig Roh (1). Roh made 7 tackles, including 1 tackle for loss, and had the first interception of his career on a pass tipped by Ezeh. He also combined for a sack with defensive end Will Heininger, giving Roh 1.5 career sacks.

Let's see less of this guy on offense . . .
Denard Robinson (2). I'm going to take flak for this because Robinson ran the ball well (3 carries, 60 yards, 2 TDs). But he can't throw the ball. He's not ready to be an FBS quarterback right now, and that probably won't change this year. He threw the ball four times and completed none to his teammates, but two were caught by Eastern Michigan defensive backs. One INT was an underthrown ball to Martavious Odoms, who was double-covered. The other was an underthrown and woefully inaccurate post route to Roy Roundtree. Robinson's quarterback rating is currently . . . wait, what? . . . seriously? . . . uhhh . . . -6.10. Yes, that's a negative sign.

Let's see less of this guy on defense . . .
eh, I'm not going to pick anyone this week. The inside linebackers didn't play great, but the options there are limited. Leach was in there because Mouton punched someone and he led the team in tackles, so that's pretty good for a walk-on. Ezeh was just okay, but J.B. Fitzgerald and Kenny Demens aren't any better.

Highlights: Michigan vs. Eastern Michigan

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Case Against Denard

Need I say more?
People on message boards are clamoring to see Denard Robinson. With Mid-American Conference patsy Eastern Michigan University coming up this Saturday, some fans are dying to see the fleet-footed Floridian start or take the majority of snaps against the Eagles.


Tate Forcier is a true freshman. He won the starting job outright. Practice observers said during fall camp that Denard Robinson was catching up to Forcier, but that couldn't be further from the truth. Forcier has thrown the ball 53 times for five TDs. He's also run for a little over 100 yards. Meanwhile, Robinson has completed 2/4 passes for 18 yards. He's just not ready.

If you don't believe me, review the WMU game. Yes, Denard took his first snap 43 yards for a touchdown, but it was on a broken play on which he fumbled the snap first. That's great athleticism, but that doesn't mean he's ready to win games for you. A good punt returner might have done what Denard did on that play. I wouldn't trust a good punt returner to take snaps for an entire game in an FBS game.

Meanwhile, each of Robinson's passes was thrown 90 mph. One completion was on a very nice catch by Kelvin Grady; the other was just a solid throw. His two incompletions were darts, one of which probably should have been intercepted by whoever was covering Greg Mathews. The only detail that saved him from throwing his first interception was the fact that Michigan was playing a MAC team.

I don't know that I've seen much of a difference between Denard Robinson 2009 and Justin Feagin 2008. The coaches didn't trust Feagin to throw the ball against decent competition, and considering that Denard didn't throw the ball against Notre Dame, that makes me think Rich Rodriguez has approximately the same confidence in Denard's throwing and decision-making. If Feagin had played against a team like WMU last year, who knows? Maybe we would have seen him throw a couple passes.

Tate Forcier needs to start the game against EMU. He's only two games into his college career, and he's thrown a total of 53 passes. He led Michigan in a great comeback win against Notre Dame, but there are still some things he could improve, particularly his reads on the zone read option. Removing Forcier from the EMU game would stunt his growth, if only for a week. He needs to get ready for the Big Ten season. You can bet that EMU will throw some different looks at him, and it's better for Forcier to get used to reading different alignments and coverages against a less talented team than seeing a certain blitz for the first time against, I don't know, Iowa or Penn State.

The reason Michigan fans want Denard to play is simple: Denard is very, very fast. Michigan fans never ask to see the backup unless the starter sucks. The starter has been awesome, so what gives? I don't see OSU fans clamoring for Joe Bauserman or Notre Dame fans begging for Dayne Crist. When the New Orleans Saints played a cupcake Detroit Lions team this past weekend, I didn't hear any Saints fans asking to see Mark Brunell so Drew Brees wouldn't get hurt. Denard hasn't shown that he can do anything with his arm, but Michigan fans want to see him take a shotgun snap and teleport himself into the end zone. That's all well and good, and I'd like to see teleportation myself. But no matter who you are, if the opposing team knows all you can do is run from the QB position, they're going to put eight or nine guys in the box.

Forcier should start the game and take the majority of the snaps. Denard should play intermittently and if Michigan gets a big lead, Rodriguez should let Denard loose and see how much of the offense he can run productively. This quarterback situation should be treated like any other. Michigan shouldn't weaken its starting quarterback just to strengthen its backup. That makes no sense.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Michigan 38, Notre Dame 34

Tate Forcier is better than you. At throwing. At running. At breaking Darius Fleming's legs. At keeping cool under pressure. At punting. He's better than you at everything except, perhaps, brushing his teeth.

I predicted a 31-27 victory for Notre Dame. I was wrong and I'm glad. But I was fully prepared for a defeat before the game, and I was even pretty prepared when Notre Dame went ahead 34-31 with a few minutes left in the game, at least compared to most Michigan fans. But then Charlie Weis got all cocky and was like, "I'm going to totally surprise everyone and throw the ball deep." Except Donovan Warren is smarter than Weis (which sucks for Notre Dame) and broke up the pass.

Forcier was 23/33 for 240 yards, two TDs, and an interception to go along with 70 rushing yards and another TD on the ground. He was the author of several of the game's most electrifying plays, including the scrambling, game-winning TD pass to Greg Mathews. But the most exciting play for Michigan was when Forcier, on a pass play against a Cover Zero defense, rolled right, planted his right foot in front of Notre Dame linebacker Darius Fleming, and watched Fleming fall down before sprinting 31 yards past the defense for a touchdown. Denard Robinson might be the "Lightning" bolt of the two quarterbacks, but ABC analyst Matt Millen deemed Forcier a "stud bolt," which . . . hey, despite its homoeroticism, I'll take it.

Can we please, please, PUH-LEEZE see more Brandon Minor on offense? I've been saying this since before the 2008 season - Minor is the best running back on the team. Not Carlos Brown. Not Sam McGuffie when he was still here. The coaches may have started Brown because Brown had been healthy and started last week, but I believe Minor only had three or four carries in the first half. And on those three or four carries, he had 26 yards. Forcier was keeping the ball too much on the read option and Rodriguez was calling too many pass plays. Minor needs the ball. He had 16 carries total for 106 yards (6.6 yards per carry) and one TD. Brown showed good hands on two catches, but Minor has the ability to outrun people and break tackles, something Brown struggles with. Minor also seems to have a better handle on when to cut upfield on those zone stretch plays.

Offensive game ball goes to . . . Forcier (2) for the second week in a row. Mathews had the game-winning TD, Darryl Stonum had a 94-yard kickoff return TD, Minor had 106 yards and a TD. But Forcier played well throughout the game and went 6-for-7 on the game-winning drive, not to mention his long run for a TD.

Defensive game ball goes to . . . Steve Brown (2), who seems to have found a home at the SAM linebacker spot. He finished the game with 6 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, and a forced fumble. And despite the fact that Notre Dame running back Armando Allen had 139 yards, Brown held up well at the point of attack and forced Allen to cut some outside runs up the field. Unfortunately, Michigan's inside linebackers - especially Obi Ezeh - had a poor tackling day.

Let's see less of this guy on offense . . . Carlos Brown (1). Brown has big-play potential and probably catches the ball better than Brandon Minor, but he's not as good of a runner. Brown had 4 carries for -3 yards. Put him in the slot or in two-back sets, but Minor should be in the backfield most of the time.

Let's see less of this guy on defense . . . Boubacar Cissoko (1). This one has many levels. First of all, Cissoko allowed two touchdowns on Saturday, both against Golden Tate. On the first, Tate ran a hitch near the goal-line and Cissoko just gave him too much of a cushion. On the second, Tate ran a hitch on the right sideline and Cissoko missed the tackle. Secondly, next week Michigan plays Eastern Michigan, so hopefully Cissoko can get some rest for his aching shoulder. Third, Cissoko had way too much TV time for a guy who was getting burned left and right. He crossed his arms in denial at one point, and after a Michael Floyd catch and tackle along the left sideline, Cissoko pushed Floyd back down to the ground as Floyd tried to get up. It was a classless play that deserved a 15-yard penalty.

As far as my predictions went for the game . . . they were so-so.

Clausen will throw for over 300 yards.
He threw for 339. Michigan couldn't muster a pass rush against Notre Dame's maximum protection schemes, and Michael Floyd is better than anyone we have at cornerback.

Golden Tate and Michael Floyd will each have a 40+ yard catch.
Neither did. Floyd had a 37-yarder and Tate's long was 27. Tate dropped at least one pass that would have gone for 40+ yards, so they were close.

Brandon Graham will record at least two sacks.
Again, the maximum protection pass blocking schemes worked pretty well for Notre Dame. They didn't trust their offensive line against the likes of Graham and Mike Martin, which was probably smart. Nobody from Michigan recorded a sack.

Either Brandon Minor or Carlos Brown will go over 100 yards rushing.
Minor ended with 106.

Tate Forcier will throw his first collegiate interception.
Safety Kyle McCarthy picked off Forcier in the fourth quarter when Greg Mathews ran a bad route.

Here's the helpful box score from

Picture via

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Preview: Michigan vs. Notre Dame

Old rivals come together on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. Two teams that have been down for a couple years suddenly have reason for optimism, but one is going to end this weekend disappointed with at least a few fans calling for their coach's head.

Rush Offense vs. Notre Dame Rush Defense
This is the one area where Michigan should have a big advantage. With three seniors and two juniors on the offensive line, not to mention four returning starters, Michigan should be able to run the ball. Notre Dame's defensive front seven have decent size, but they're not very stout. Notre Dame will have to stunt linebackers to get penetration, but Michigan's running backs have the speed and elusiveness to make the Irish defense pay for missed tackles and blitzing out of control. Michigan can run the ball out of the I-formation even if starting fullback Mark Moundros misses the game Saturday, and the Wolverines showed last year that they can run the ball from the shotgun spread formation as well.
Advantage: Michigan

Pass Offense vs. Notre Dame Pass Defense
I'm not too concerned about Michigan's ability to protect the quarterback, but the Notre Dame defensive backfield should be significantly better than Western Michigan's. Tate Forcier should start and play the majority of the game, but Michigan's receivers might not be quite as open as they were last week. The Wolverines should be able to take advantage of mismatches in the slot and at tight end, but I don't expect the receivers on the outside to be able to get deep on the Irish defensive backfield. I expect this to be a bit of a dink-and-dunk offensive week for Michigan, getting Martavious Odoms, Kelvin Grady, and Carlos Brown open in the flats and hoping they can make safeties and linebackers miss. However, Notre Dame has experienced safeties and I doubt the downfield passing game will be a huge threat.
Advantage: Notre Dame

Rush Defense vs. Notre Dame Rush Offense
With Michigan's improved tackling and speed this season, open space may not be their biggest enemy anymore. However, if Notre Dame lines up in power run formations and tries to come right at Michigan, that could be problematic. Notre Dame has a stable of solid (albeit unspectacular) running backs, and Michigan's linebackers - particularly Obi Ezeh - have struggled with taking on lead blocks and filling gaps. Notre Dame also has the ability to attack SAM linebacker Steve Brown in the run game, which should be Brown's first real test against taking on kick-out blocks. Nose tackle Mike Martin and defensive end Brandon Graham can probably cause fits for Notre Dame's offensive line, but the Irish might be able to take advantage of the opposite side of the line.
Advantage: Michigan

Pass Defense vs. Notre Dame Pass Offense
This part scares me. A lot. Michigan fans might hate The Emu and laugh about his Yakety Sax performance from two years ago, but Clausen has turned into a pretty good quarterback. He has a very strong arm and he's accurate (15-18 last week). Michigan is breaking in two new starting safeties (one of whom got beat for a 73-yard TD pass against WMU), and even with two good cornerbacks, the Wolverine defensive backs are probably no match for wide receivers Golden Tate and Michael Floyd. Tate abused Michigan in the 2008 version of this game, and Michael Floyd abused Boubacar Cissoko in the 2008 Army All-American game. Defensive coordinator Greg Robinson has to decide whether he wants to keep Donovan Warren in position as the field cornerback or if he wants Warren to lock up with Michael Floyd wherever Floyd goes on the field. Lining up Floyd outside and Tate in the slot could force some mismatches I don't even want to mention . . . but I will - Golden Tate in man coverage with Steve Brown. Yikes. Ugh. Please. God. No. I would rather see Cissoko follow Tate into the slot and have Brown cover a third wide receiver on the outside, such as Duval Kamara or Robby Parris. And I haven't even mentioned Notre Dame tight end Kyle Rudolph, although I expect him to have a minimal impact because I think Brown and Obi Ezeh will be decent enough at covering him. Clausen will end this game with many yards . . . and after being sacked a few times.
Advantage: Notre Dame

Special Teams
Golden Tate is a talented runner, but Zoltan Mesko is a talented punter. Michigan's coverage teams have been pretty solid, and I'll expect that they remain that way. After last year, I still don't trust Michigan's returners to hold onto the ball. I've always contended that Greg Mathews is a solid punt return man, if only because he's sure-handed. Neither placekicker has much status in the world, so I'll say Zoltan > Tate.
Advantage: Michigan

Final Predictions
  • Clausen will throw for over 300 yards.
  • Golden Tate and Michael Floyd will each have a 40+ yard catch.
  • Brandon Graham will record at least two sacks.
  • Either Brandon Minor or Carlos Brown will go over 100 yards rushing.
  • Tate Forcier will throw his first collegiate interception.
  • Final score: Notre Dame 31, Michigan 27

Monday, September 7, 2009

Highlights: Michigan vs. Western Michigan

A user named WolverineHistorian at Youtube already put up highlights of the Michigan vs. WMU game. And believe it or not, just like in the game, mostly good stuff happens in the video.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Michigan 31, Western Michigan 7

Wow. That's the one word that kept coming to mind as I watched the game yesterday. This is such an utterly different team than the 2008 incarnation that it's difficult to imagine Steve Threet and Nick Sheridan running this type of offense.

It's clear that Tate Forcier is the driving force behind this offense. Any argument to the contrary would be insanity. He didn't run the ball particularly well and needs to work on his reads on the zone read option. That being said, except for a couple hitches, Forcier threw the ball very well and directed the offense better than anyone else on the roster can. He looked like a veteran quarterback on the first TD pass when he scrambled and directed Junior Hemingway to head downfield. His second TD pass to Hemingway brought back memories of Henne-to-Manningham. And Forcier's play action fakes on Rich Rodriguez's version of the waggle pass were excellent, not to mention his ability to square his shoulders and fling the ball to Koger for a TD and then that one-handed snag seen above.

Denard Robinson was adequate. His 43-yard touchdown run was, quite simply, electric. But keep in mind that it came on a broken play where he mishandled the shotgun snap; he was supposed to run the ball left or perhaps pitch it to Martavious Odoms who was coming behind him for a potential end around. If you take away that 43-yard run, Robinson ran the ball 10 times for 31 yards. He completed two short passes; missed badly on another in which he and the receiver weren't on the same page; and threw a dangerous deep jump ball to Mathews that ended up incomplete. Robinson's body language and decision making indicated that the game was moving a little too fast for him. Things will slow down for him and he could be a star down the road, but that time isn't now.

The running game was a bit of a disappointment for me. Forcier made some poor reads, and Rodriguez seemed more interested in getting the ball on the perimeter than taking advantage of his stable of running backs and WMU's poor defensive line. Some of this may have been due to the fact that starting fullback Mark Moundros was injured on special teams early in the game; without their best lead blocker, perhaps Rodriguez and Magee preferred to keep the ball on the outside. Regardless, the offensive line was a strength and even though starting running back Carlos Brown finished with 5.4 yards per carry, I feel Michigan could be even better at running the ball in the coming weeks.

Defensively, I was impressed with Greg Robinson's schemes and Michigan's tackling. There were several plays on Saturday where I thought WMU's running backs would have broken tackles if they were facing the 2008 defense. But Michigan's defenders seemed to stick to ballcarriers like glue. Not only were they tackling better, but the defense was hurrying to the football. If the first guy didn't make the play, usually a second guy was there ready to clean up the mess.

In the second half, WMU quarterback Tim Hiller started getting rid of the ball quicker. He found a rhythm and started hitting underneath passes to his receivers. Greg Robinson might be served well by disguising coverages on the outside, changing the look from cover 2 man to a cover 2 zone. Suddenly, instead of driving the cornerback off with his initial burst, that cornerback is sitting underneath the quick hitch to the outside. A couple well orchestrated disguised coverages might be just enough to make Hiller think twice, which would give Brandon Graham, Mike Martin, and the rest of the defensive line enough time to get to the quarterback.

Offensive game ball goes to . . . Tate Forcier. He finished 13/20 for 179 yards, 3 TDs, and - most importantly - zero interceptions, fumbles, or sacks in his first game at Michigan.

Defensive game ball goes to . . . I was tempted to say Donovan Warren, but I'll say Steve Brown. He finished third on the team with six tackles, including five solo. His new position at SAM linebacker appeals to his strengths, which are speed and physicality. Warren made several tackles and played very physical, but he picked up two pass interference penalties and a personal foul.

Let's see less of this guy on offense . . . Denard Robinson. Until he can run the offense more smoothly and completely, he should be behind center less. I felt like the offense got bogged down when he was in the game. His passing was subpar and jittery, and it seemed like WMU's defense didn't respect his ability to do anything but run. (Honorable mention: Nick Sheridan and David Cone.)

Let's see less of this guy on defense . . . J.T. Floyd. Floyd was in there as a backup to Boubacar Cissoko once Cissoko aggravated his shoulder injury. But especially in next week's game against Notre Dame, with Jimmy Clausen throwing to Golden Tate and Michael Floyd, Michigan can't afford to put Floyd in there at cornerback. He got burned a couple times - including the 73-yard TD pass, on which Troy Woolfolk was also at fault - and he's probably just too slow to be playing corner. If Michigan had any depth at the CB position, Floyd would probably be a safety. Hopefully Cissoko gets healthy and freshman Justin Turner steps up his game in the coming week. Otherwise, I'm afraid we should expect a rain of deep balls from Clausen next week.

MGoBlue's official game information.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

2009 Season Predictions

Here are my 2009 season predictions for Michigan's football team.

Starting quarterback:
Tate Forcier has already been named Saturday's starter, but I predict he'll start every game this year . . . with a caveat. Obviously, he could get injured. But also, I can imagine an instance in which Denard Robinson may take a few snaps to start a game just to catch an opponent off guard. Robinson will get changeup snaps, but Forcier will be the "starter."

Leading rusher:
Brandon Minor is dinged up and it's unclear how much he'll play on Saturday, if at all. Carlos Brown is a capable runner, but I think Minor will end the season as Michigan's leading rusher with about 900 yards.

Leading receiver:
Because of more depth at slot receiver, which will offer Martavious Odoms a blow, I think his receptions will dwindle slightly. I expect Greg Mathews to lead the team in receptions by a slight margin, probably around 50 for 650 yards.

Leading tackler:
Obi Ezeh is a natural choice due to his position, but Jonas Mouton might make it close. I'll stick with Ezeh as my choice but I'm more excited to see what kind of athleticism Mouton will bring to the table.

Leading sacker:
Brandon Graham should lead the team in sacks, but I'm afraid he won't put up the numbers many Michigan fans expect. He'll face a lot of double teams and challenge for the Michigan season record, but I think he'll probably max out at 10 sacks.

Leading interceptor:
Donovan Warren is really the only choice here. Neither Troy Woolfolk nor Michael Williams, the two safeties, has an interception in his career. Boubacar Cissoko is also interceptionless, albeit in limited playing time as a freshman. Warren is the leading thief in the defensive backfield with two career INTs. I'll guess he picks off three in 2009.

All Big Ten 1st Team:
Zoltan Mesko should be the best punter in the Big Ten. Graham won't have the overwhelming season many predict, but he will be very good. If Minor were healthy, I might choose him over John Clay. But since it looks like he'll be missing some time with bumps and bruises again, I'll leave him off this list.

Leading scorer (non-QB, non-kicker):
Brandon Minor.

Breakout offensive player:
Junior Hemingway, by virtue of being healthy for the first time, should be the breakout player on offense. Neither starting outside wide receiver has oodles of speed, but Hemingway has the size and athleticism to make some tough catches.

Breakout defensive player:
I think Troy Woolfolk is going to be good. Very good. He's got great speed, and on top of that, he's a solid special teamer, which bodes well for his prospects at the strong safety position.

Most disappointing offensive player:
I think Kevin Koger will disappoint a lot of fans. I don't think he'll be a bad player, but he won't see the level of involvement that many Michigan fans expect. Michigan's coaches have visited ways to involve the tight end more, but WVU's tight end history combined with a freshman quarterback behind center will prevent Koger from getting many balls thrown his way. He'll be involved in different formations and blocking schemes, but I doubt he'll pull in more than 15 catches.

Most disappointing defensive player:
Ryan Van Bergen has been overhyped. He's a high-motor guy who might occupy blockers and force a few pile-ups, but he's not a kid who's going to make a ton of plays or rack up jaw-dropping statistics. Again, I don't think he'll be a bad player, but don't be surprised if you see him end the season with 20 tackles and only one or two sacks.


Sept. 5 vs. Western Michigan: WIN. Michigan won't drop another one to a MAC opponent.

Sept. 12 vs. Notre Dame: LOSS. This might be a shootout. Notre Dame has a lot of talent that's maturing. Unfortunately, I think Jimmy Clausen might pick apart our inexperienced defense.

Sept. 19 vs. Eastern Michigan: WIN. Eastern has a new head coach and not much talent.

Sept. 26 vs. Indiana: WIN. Indiana isn't very good.

Oct. 3 at Michigan State: WIN. Michigan will come back with a vengeance this year. MSU has a very good linebacker in Greg Jones, but they won't be able to stop Michigan's running game.

Oct. 10 at Iowa: LOSS. Iowa plays tough defense and I think they'll give Michigan's offense fits. This might be the most frustrating loss of the season, because Iowa lacks talent but is well coached by Kirk Ferentz.

Oct. 17 vs. Delaware State: WIN.

Oct. 24 vs. Penn State: WIN. I don't think Penn State will be as good as many of the experts think. They're thin at defensive end, lost their starting MIKE to injury, and they lost a ton on offense. This will be Michigan's upset victory of the year.

Oct. 31 at Illinois: LOSS. Illinois knows how to defend the spread option, and Juice Williams to Arrelious Benn will be a great combination.

Nov. 7 vs. Purdue: WIN. Purdue will not be very good this year. Michigan probably would have won that game last year if Rodriguez didn't make the bad decision to switch to the 3-3-5 stack.

Nov. 14 at Wisconsin: LOSS. Wisconsin plays tough at home.

Nov. 21 vs. Ohio State: LOSS. Unfortunately. Grrr.

Final record: 7-5

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

2009 Countdown: The Rest

1. Brandon Graham - Necessary to command offense's attention.
2. Tate Forcier - Michigan's next stud quarterback.
3. Donovan Warren - A make-or-break year for Warren.
4. Obi Ezeh - Third-year starter at MIKE should explode.
5. Brandon Minor - A lethal running back when healthy.
6. Stephen Schilling - Should be a road grader at guard.
7. Mike Martin - Pick your poison to single block - Graham or Martin.
8. Troy Woolfolk - Only upperclassman safety; speed to cover mistakes.
9. David Molk - Strong, agile, and smart.
10. Greg Mathews - Best hands on the team.
11. Steve Brown - Backups at SAM are freshmen.
12. Zoltan Mesko - Potential All-American.
13. Martavious Odoms - Not a gamebreaker but always a threat.
14. Boubacar Cissoko - No depth behind the starting corners.
15. Mark Ortmann - Leader on the offensive line.
16. Ryan Van Bergen - Won't make many plays but forces the action.
17. Michael Williams - Big hitter needs to solidify safety spot.
18. Carlos Brown - Potential home run hitter but often injured.
19. David Moosman - Versatile lineman provides imposing interior trio.
20. Junior Hemingway - Strong, acrobatic WR who can run after the catch.
21. Darryl Stonum - Biggest deep threat on team but inconsistent.
22. Mark Huyge - Holding off push from Patrick Omameh.
23. Mark Moundros - Former walk-on forced two scholarship FBs to transfer.
24. Jonas Mouton - Could be an all-conference performer.
25. Brandon Herron - Physical freak must stay healthy.
26. Kevin Koger - New offensive wrinkles should produce more receptions.
27. Kelvin Grady - Could make impact at slot, PR, and KR.
28. Justin Turner - Top backup if starting corners get tired or hurt.
29. Michael Shaw - Say hello to your starting RB in 2010.
30. Terrence Robinson - Must seize opportunity to make plays on returns.
31. Denard Robinson - One of fastest freshmen in country.
32. Greg Banks - Solid rotation player should see plenty of action.
33. Vladimir Emilien - One of only three scholarship safeties likely to play.
34. Renaldo Sagesse - Could probably start for some Big Ten teams.
35. Adam Patterson - Practically required to play in DL rotation.
36. Nick Sheridan
37. J.B. Fitzgerald
38. Laterryal Savoy
39. Kevin Grady
40. Martell Webb
41. George Morales/Mike Therman
42. Marell Evans
43. Zach Johnson
44. Patrick Omameh
45. Je'ron Stokes
46. Roy Roundtree
47. Kenny Demens
48. Craig Roh
49. Mike Jones
50. John Ferrara
51. J.T. Floyd
52. Jeremy Gallon
53. Brandin Hawthorne
54. Tim McAvoy
55. William Campbell
56. James Rogers
57. Vince Helmuth
58. Perry Dorrestein
59. Ricky Barnum
60. Kevin Leach
61. Tim North
62. Brandon Moore
63. Rocko Khoury
64. Steve Watson
65. Brandon Smith
66. Brendan Gibbons
67. Jason Olesnavage
68. Bryan Wright
69. Elliott Mealer
70. Mike Cox
71. Vincent Smith (RS)
72. Bryant Nowicki
73. Anthony Lalota (RS)
74. Fitzgerald Toussaint (RS)
75. Isaiah Bell (RS)
76. Teric Jones (RS)
77. Thomas Gordon (RS)
78. Adrian Witty (RS)
79. Taylor Lewan (RS)
80. Quinton Washington (RS)
81. Michael Schofield (RS)
82. Cameron Gordon (RS)
83. David Cone

Programming note

I appear to have bitten off more than I could chew when I started my 2009 season countdown. My goal was to complete profiles for the top 83 players on the roster (all scholarship players plus significant walk-ons). However, since the beginning of football season, my time has become more and more limited. Between scrimmages, scouting, a JV game, and my day job, I've worked 16, 16, 14, and 15 hours over the past four business days. That doesn't leave much time for hobbies.

I plan to write a 2009 season prediction post, as well as the remaining countdown list. Otherwise, posting may be sporadic in the coming weeks.