So we took about 4 months off there to recharge our batteries after becoming the 117th best Michigan sports blog on the internet. We even tried to get hired by MGoBlog in the off-season, but Brian Cook had never heard of us. Whatever, it’s a little creepy stalking 17 year old kids on Facebook (good luck Ace!).
I think this preview has to start with Brady Hoke.
My optimism towards this season is contingent on Brady Hoke not being much more than a symbolic figurehead, like Joe Paterno, only seemingly more aware of his surroundings. I don’t want to sound like an asshole, because I believe Hoke has done a great job in his first few months on the job, especially considering the circumstances around his hiring (taking over mid-January, being the absolute last resort, coming off the worst 3 year stretch in the history of the program, etc.), but if Brady Hoke is running the offense or the defense, Michigan is fucking screwed. If Brady Hoke is merely “involved” in the play-calling on offense I’m going to being throwing more remotes this year than the last three years combined.
Rich Rod fucked up. He picked the wrong defensive coordinator. Twice. But he knew it wasn’t his thing, and deferred to someone else. All early indications are that Hoke will do the same thing as Rich Rod, only with both the offense and the defense. Whether he has the right guys wearing the headsets is still unclear, but I’m going to write this preview under the belief that he does.
Michigan moved the ball unlike any Michigan offense ever last year. Unfortunately, that didn’t always translate into points. There were several reasons for this: terrible FG kicking, an inability to convert third and longs, turnovers, horrible starting field position (thanks greg robinson!), and terrible FG kicking. All of those things should be better this year, mostly because they can’t be much worse.
On the other hand, it’s unlikely that Michigan is able to gain yards in the same chunks that they did last year. I can’t find the quote, but one of the running backs admitted the other day that this offense is designed to be more of a grind it out, stay on the field type offense. That is another way of saying they’re much less explosive.
Despite the offensive design, Denard Robinson still has the potential to be the most exciting player in the country. Offensive Coordinator, Al Borges, has said he wants Denard to carry the ball less than last year, so as to keep him healthy, but he has also said that he wants Denard to be more willing to scramble when a play breaks down. Last year, Denard “scrambled” (as in, ran with the ball when there was a passing play called) about 3 times the entire year. Whether he will be comfortable doing this is a huge question, but the actual threat of Denard taking off (as strange as it sounds, he was incredibly one dimensional on third and long last year) might open even more options.
It would also help if Michigan had a RB who didn’t suck. Last year, the RBs were horrible. One would think that the threat of Denard would have opened some holes up for them, but either Denard was awful at the read option play Michigan ran so often, or the RBs just weren’t very good. Unfortunately for Michigan, they return the same underwhelming group. The hope is that injuries were the reason that they were so bad last year. Mike Shaw was constantly dinged up, Vincent Smith was coming off an ACL tear, and Fitzgerald Toussaint was never healthy enough to even get on the field. If only one of those guys is 100% healthy, Michigan will still be in a better situation than they were last year.
The receiving group is solid, but not spectacular. Darryl Stonum had to go out and pick up another DUI (and then drive around with his already suspended license), which earned him a year long suspension (and a redshirt). He was seemingly the only WR with elite speed on the entire team. Roy Roundtree put up unbelievable numbers last year, but most of his receptions came without a DB within 15 yards of him (thanks to Denard, not his incredible route running ability). He also dropped more passes than any WR in the history of Michigan Football not named Braylon Edwards. Junior Hemingway is always hurt. Jeremy Gallon earned the right to be called my least favorite player last year (which is incredible considering the defense went entire games without forcing a punt). And the always dependable Martavious Odoms rounds out the group. They should be good, but the transition to a new offense where the players have apparently struggled to pick up the timing is something to watch out for.
As pessimistic as all that sounded, there is still Denard. Denard who is not in his first year as the starting QB. Expectations are very high for him, and he is surrounded by experienced players on the offensive line, in the backfield, and spread out wide. The offense might not be as explosive as they were last year, but it would not be shocking to see them score more points.
Should we just skip this section? They can’t possibly be any worse than last year, can they? No, they cannot possibly be any worse. No Michigan defense will ever be as bad as last year’s defense. But how much better they will be is a fair question.
Troy Woolfolk coming back for his 5th year after missing his entire senior year with an injury would be the biggest addition, if it weren’t for Greg Mattison. Having a Defensive Coordinator who was coaching the Baltimore Ravens last year should help. It will likely help even more that he isn’t being made to run a 3-3-5 that he has only sort of heard of before.
There are many reasons why this defense should be vastly improved: Mike Martin is healthy. Craig Roh isn’t playing LB. There are no true freshmen in the starting lineup (yet). Will Campbell is no longer a backup OT (now he is a backup DT, whatever). Obi Ezeh is gone.
But what is tough to predict, perhaps impossible, is how much improvement we can actually expect. Last year’s Michigan defense gave up 40+ points to a red headed walk-on QB from Penn State, they let Wisconsin run the same running play 37 times in a row without even getting close to stopping it, they gave up 37 points to UMASS. Even if they’re much better, they’re still likely to be below average, and not even close to what you would call “good.”
The Special Teams
Should we just skip this section? They can’t possibly be any worse than last year, can they? Unfortunately, they might be worse.
The FG kicking probably can’t get any worse than the 3-14 on FG attempts last year. But it sounds like All-American Matt Wile was not able to win the job from former All-American Brendan Gibbons. Gibbons was atrocious last year, as was Seth Brokeniunk (or something like that). Gibbons has apparently been kicking well in practice, but as Brady Hoke keeps saying “it’s different kicking on Main Street.” Expect the absolute worst here.
The punting should also be worse as Will Hagerup went and got himself suspended for the first 4 games of the year. Amazingly, Hagerup seems like the most troubled player on the entire team, other than Stonum. Wile will fill in, and is supposedly capable. Capable means not shanking every other punt.
Kick returns and punt return duties are still being handled by Jeremy Gallon. I have NEVER seen someone make so many horrendous decisions fielding kicks. Just awful. And it’s not even a risk/reward thing since Gallon doesn’t seem to have any big play potential. If it weren’t for insisting that Michigan run a 3-3-5 defense for his entire tenure, putting Jeremy Gallon back to return kicks for an entire season would have been his worst decision. Glad Hoke is picking up right where we left off.
Despite all the negativity screaming from this post, we should be better this year. For the first time in 4 years we have a QB who isn’t a first year starter. We have no true freshmen in the starting lineup unless you count Wile. We have actual juniors and seniors at most positions. Our defensive coaches have a clue. The schedule is favorable (don’t confuse with easy). If Michigan can steal the ND game in week two, then they should be able to roll to a 5-0 start before having to play a road game. Then we’re on the road for NW and MSU, and split should be doable. Beat Purdue, and head back out on the road for games at (an undermanned) Iowa and Illinois. Michigan could be 8-2 heading into the final two games against Nebraska and Ohio State. Most people are predicting 8-4. I’ll go one higher and say 9-3.