Two weeks are gone and the Michigan football team is right where it should be at 1-1. No one expected this team to beat Alabama and everyone expected them to beat Air Force. So 1-1 is not a surprise. But does anyone else feel like I do – that we don’t really know much about this team? I think there are some major question marks surrounding this team right now. For example, the running game. Does Michigan have one other than Denard Robinson?
How about a passing game? Yes, Denard threw the ball better in Week 2 against Air Force, as he was able to complete some passes to his tight ends and receivers using quick hitting passes and play action. But can Denard continue to do that against a defense that actually puts pressure on him and one that isn’t returning only three starters from last season?
And how about the defense? Do we really know anything about the team yet after being totally overmatched against Alabama and then having to lineup against the triple option of Air Force?
The running game, or lack thereof, concerns me the most. I’m not worried about the Alabama game so much. Every team that plays them this year is going to struggle to run against that defensive front seven. I would have liked to see Al Borges call more zone-read plays for Denard out of the shotgun, and some play-action passes off of that, since that is where he is the most dangerous, but I understand. It was Alabama.
What I saw in Week 2 against Air Force has me worried though. Everyone thought that the return of Fitzgerald Toussaint would mean that Michigan’s running game would be back to looking like it did last season. That was not the case. He didn’t do anything. In the few times when Michigan lined up in the I-Formation (or some other pro-style set) and ran the ball, the result was a carry for only a few yards at a time. In fact, it seemed that this was even a concern for Borges, as he rarely called these standard running plays. Michigan did have success running the ball with Denard out of the shotgun, but against an Air Force defensive front that was extremely undersized as compared to the rest of the teams which Michigan will see this year, I expected Toussaint and the other running backs to be more effective. And I’m not blaming this all on the running backs either. On anything except the zone-read, I didn’t see a whole lot of holes open for the backs to run through. Next week against UMass won’t tell us anything either, as they are barely out of Division 1-AA (FCS) and have lost to UConn and Indiana by a combined score of 82-6.
Less concerning to me is the Michigan passing game. Denard didn’t have a spectacular game against Alabama, but most quarterbacks don’t. In reality, I think he did the best he probably could while under a lot of pressure and while the receivers were extremely well-covered and forced into poor routes. Week 2 showed us what I’ve said since last season is the best way to utilize Denard’s arm: a short, quick passing game out of the shotgun, using play-action to keep the defenders honest, and throwing to tight ends and running backs out of the backfield. This also allowed Denard to hit some deeper passes once the secondary started to cheat up on the short routes. Borges also got Denard out of the pocket some, allowing him to create with his feet if the receiver wasn’t open. All of this coming against an Air Force defense not known for holding opponents to low scores. What will happen when the Michigan offense needs to pass against the defenses of the Big Ten, which won’t be as good as Alabama, but will certainly be better than Air Force? Will Borges abandon the passing game which has worked over the past two years as it did in Week 2, or will he try throwing from the pocket as is his preference?
The Michigan defense hasn’t really shown anything to anyone yet either. They were gashed by an Alabama offense featuring one of the best offensive lines in the country and a stable of running backs that were extremely talented. Quarterback A.J. McCarron didn’t have much trouble throwing either. In Week 2, they had to defend the Air Force triple option attack. Not an easy task when you never see that offense and when you only have one week to prepare for it.
But there are some bright spots. Jordan Kovacs continues to be the leader and play-maker, and the linebacker corps seems to be doing okay for being so young. The defensive line showed more promise in Week 2 as well, especially Frank Clark, whose name was called often as he made some good plays including a ball batted down at the line of scrimmage.
The concern for me is the secondary and their pass coverage ability. I don’t think we know much about this yet, as Courtney Avery was picked on when he replaced the injured Blake Countess against Alabama. Air Force moved the ball through the air to some degree, although their play-action off the triple option created some headaches for a defense that was not used to seeing it and was more focused on containing the option run. But even against Air Force, Avery and Raymon Taylor split time for much of the game after Avery’s struggles in Week 1. And for being the #1 defensive back on the team, J.T. Floyd has yet to show that he can consistently cover the best receivers on the better teams in the Big Ten.
So at this point, do we really know anything about how good the secondary will be after the loss of Countess? Alabama passed wherever they wanted and Air Force wasn’t much of a test. So what will happen when they go up against some of the better offenses in the Big Ten? I guess we have to wait to see, but the good thing is that defensive coordinator Greg Mattison has another two weeks of practice to get the secondary ready before they travel to South Bend to take on Notre Dame.
So this is where Michigan is at. The coaches have another game to get the team ready for Notre Dame and the Big Ten. That’s another week to get the offensive line to gel and start opening up some holes for the running backs. And another week to prepare the defense for weekly play in the conference. So while there are still a lot of questions surrounding the Wolverines after two weeks, they have a couple of weeks to smooth things out before what will likely be a challenging game at Notre Dame at night. Brady Hoke and the coaching staff have done a good job of making this team better since their arrival in Ann Arbor. No one on the team can relax. I like their chances of getting things up and running as they should be.
Posts Tagged ‘Alabama’
Using the Alabama game to our benefit
I’ll never say a loss is a good thing, but perhaps losing the way Michigan did on Saturday can be beneficial going forward. Most of us can agree that Michigan was overrated at No. 8 entering the season. With the unfavorable schedule and key losses, we all knew it was going to be hard to repeat the successes of last season.
After the Week 1 blowout, all of the hype and high expectations are gone, and now the team and coaching staff can get back to work in the underdog role. Of course, this is Michigan and we’re used to being the the ones at the top looking down. But the reality is that right now Michigan isn’t there. Another couple of recruiting classes like Brady Hoke has been securing and they’ll get there, but right now the underdog role suits his team quite well.
Most of us expected a loss to Alabama, but very few of us thought it would be as bad as it was. But, in my opinion, that speaks more to how good Alabama is than how bad Michigan is. Just listen to Al Borges talk about the game.
“The game plan didn’t look very effective, but the whole thing was geared to if they loaded the box up, we were going to throw the ball. If they left the box light, we were going to run it. We ran the ball into a light box 12 times and had plus-four runs three times out of the 12. And we hit two out of 10 shots down the field. So the other alternative is to plus-one run with the quarterback. We did some of that, too, but they weren’t going to let you do that. As much as you wanted to give that a shot, that wasn’t going to happen. No one’s done that to them. Look at the numbers in the past. No one’s done that to them.”
In other words, Alabama dictated Michigan’s offensive game plan, forcing Borges to all but abandon the run. Now, listen to these words from Alabama defensive back Dee Milliner about the slants that were broken up early in the game.
“We knew coming in any time that they got in that formation that they like to run the quick slants backside,” Milliner said. “So I was anticipating that and knew it was coming.”
So Nick Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart forced Michigan to essentially abandon its usual running game, and the defense knew what plays were coming. Either Hoke and his staff got severely out-coached or he decided all along that the deck was stacked against him on Sept. 1, and the rest of the season was more important than one Cowboys Classic.
With an offensive line the exact same size as the Super Bowl champions and a defense that is the best in college football, Alabama would have won with Chad Henne under center and Mike Hart in the backfield for this Michigan team. So why put the rest of the season on the line trying to run Denard 20-25 times? Work on the passing game, work out a few kinks, put up your best effort, and move on. I’m not at all saying Michigan threw the game; I’m merely saying that there’s no point in going all in against a stacked deck at the expense of the number one goal – winning the Big Ten championship.
The loss dropped Michigan all the way to 19th in both the AP and Coaches polls and already has some counting Michigan out of the Big Ten race. This season, I’d rather have Michigan coming up from behind to start the season than playing with a big target on its back. It’s just not good enough for that yet.
The loss allows Hoke and the rest of the staff to show the team they’re not as good as they thought they were. They need to work harder and execute better if they want to win the Big Ten.
The loss gives Michigan the experience of playing the best team in the nation and knowing that every game the rest of the season will be easier than that one. Not that they’ll be easy, but in comparison to the closest thing to a professional team, they’ll seem like the minor leagues. The lines won’t be as big. The linebackers won’t be as fast. The corners won’t be as strong. They’ll be what Michigan has been used to the past few years: beatable opponents.
Michigan likely won’t run the table the rest of the way. There will be some bumps along the way, but I think what happend in Dallas on Saturday will be good for this team in the long run.
A big recruiting weekend
Much of Michigan’s success going forward depends on Hoke’s recruiting classes. He has already secured a highly-ranked class and has another on the way. It could get even better with a commitment from Rivals’ number one receiver, Laquon Tredwell. The 6’3″ receiver from Crete, Ill. is one of many highly touted recruits that will be on campus when Michigan opens the home portion of its schedule this Saturday against Air Force. He’s one of the top two remaining targets for Hoke and carries offers from Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Ohio State, USC, and many more. But he won’t be the only one on campus. Cass Tech athlete Damon Webb, who may be Michigan’s top 2014 target, will be there as well.
A couple of basketball targets will be on campus, most notably the top overall recruit in the 2015 class, Karl Towns. The 6’11″, 210-pound center from Metuchen, N.J. is still years away from stepping foot on any college court, but just getting him on campus is huge for John Beilein. Call me a skeptic, but the Kentucky’s of the world will certainly lead for him. However, a recruit that Beilein has a much better chance of landing is Jae’Sean Tate and he’ll be there this weekend as well. He visited Ohio State last weekend and was at Michigan just a month ago. ESPN ranks him as the 46th overall player in the 2014 class.
A win during a big recruiting weekend doesn’t always mean much, but it would certainly help. Dropping to 0-2 and losing at home to a team like Air Force would put a bad taste in a recruit’s mouth. So let’s hope for a big victory for the maize and blue this weekend for more reasons than one.
What seemed like a good idea two years ago and we were cautiously excited about after going 11-2 last season, was in reality a disaster from start to finish on Saturday night. Michigan forced a three-and-out on Alabama’s first drive, but it quickly went downhill from there. We all know the story. We all watched in disbelief as the snowball got bigger and bigger and became an avalanche. And then halftime mercifully came.
When all was said and done, Michigan limped away battered and bruised, both physically and mentally, and the SEC superiority was proven once again. In reality, it was just Michigan’s seventh loss all-time against current SEC teams, compared to 20 wins and one tie. Alabama fans act as if Alabama has always been superior to Michigan, but it was just six years ago that the script would have been reversed as Michigan went 11-2 and ‘Bama just 6-7.
But we’re talking about this year. A year in which Michigan is still rebuilding from the disaster that was the Rich Rod era. A year in which Alabama will likely win a second straight national championship, and third in four years. Entering Saturday’s game, we all underestimated the significance of losing three defensive linemen, both in performance and leadership. We all underestimated Nick Saban’s ability to turn an extra 20 recruits over a five year period into a reloading machine. We should have seen this coming. It’s not 2006 anymore.
I’ve seen many a comment since Saturday night from Michigan fans calling for Denard Robinson to switch to receiver once and for all. These are likely the same fans who tout his Heisman candidacy after each big game, and this Jekyll and Hyde mentality needs to stop. This team would not have won on Saturday with Chad Henne or John Navarre or Jim Harbaugh under center. Whether we like it or not, Denard is the quarterback this season, and provides the best chance to win. Come February 2013 we can start discussing who Michigan’s quarterback should be.
The biggest problem on Saturday night was not who the starting quarterback was; it was how he was used. Denard has never been, nor ever will be a pocket quarterback, and yet that’s how he was used from the start. It’s easy to look back and critique the game plan when all is said and done, but that recipe is doomed to burn the biscuits every time against a defense like Alabama’s.
Obviously, Michigan wanted to win the game, but in the grand scheme of the season, beating Alabama was not high priority. Beating Purdue, and Illinois, and Michigan State, and Nebraska, and Minnesota, and Northwestern, and Iowa, and Ohio State are. Winning the Big Ten is. Whether we, as fans, like it or not, maybe the game plan was as it was to keep Denard healthy for the rest of the season. The coaches will never admit as much, but could you blame them if it was? You can call that a loser’s mentality, but Michigan would not have won with Denard running 15-20 times either. So why doom the season for one game?
While Denard stayed relatively healthy, except for making a tackle following an interception and contorting his body trying to reach a first down, the injury bug still struck the Wolverines in a bad way. Sophomore cornerback Blake Countess was lost for the year on Michigan’s first punt of the game. Left tackle Taylor Lewan injured his right leg and his status is unknown, though he reportedly told the coaches he could go back in. Tight end Brandon Moore also left the game with an injury.
Coutness’ loss was felt immediately, as Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron went after his replacement, Courtney Avery. His loss will be a big one the rest of the season, turning a position of strength into a position of uncertainty. Lewan’s loss was also felt immediately, as on the very next play, Alabama’s D.J. Pettway ran right by Michael Schoefield, who had shifted over to left tackle, and sacked Denard – the Tide’s only sack of the night. If he’s out for an extended period of time, Michigan’s strong line will be greatly reduced.
We saw the makings of what could become a great receiver in Devin Gardner. He started slow, failing to pull in a couple of grabs and running imprecise routes, but it was against a great secondary. He did make his first touchdown grab, and the more time he plays, the better he’ll get.
We also saw a glimpse of what should be a really good kickoff returnman in freshman Dennis Norfleet. He’s an instant upgrade from last season and should help with field position.
This week, Michigan will get back Fitzgerald Toussaint who was suspended for the opener following a DUI. His return will immediately shore up the running game for the rest of the season, although had he been on the field on Saturday, the outcome would not have changed. Alabama is just that good.
All we really found out is that Alabama was far superior and that Michigan still isn’t where it needs to be to compete with the nation’s best. End of story. Eleven regular season games remain and Michigan gets a pair of should-win games against Air Force and UMass to get everything sorted out before facing a Notre Dame team that looked strong on Saturday morning. We’re still in store for a great season, and while the excitement is tempered by Saturday’s performance, it shouldn’t have been a surprise.
None of the Big Ten looked great this weekend, save Ohio State and maybe Nebraska. Michigan State struggled against a greatly reduced Boise State. Penn State lost to Ohio. Northwestern, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Purdue, Illinois, and Indiana all struggled to wins over inferior teams. Michigan gained a great learning experience from Saturday, and that should not be overlooked. The team we see the rest of the season will hardly resemble the one that took it on the chin Saturday night. Let’s forget about Alabama and set our sights on winning the Big Ten.
Despite forcing Alabama into a three-and-out on its first series and looking like they could be formidable opponent, the Michigan defense was completely overmatched the rest of the night. They did record two sacks (and Will Campbell was looking quite nimble on his) but they were dominated up front by the best offensive line in the country.
After the three-and-out to start the game, Alabama proceded to score on its next three drives, all in a span of about five minutes. The Tide dominated the line play and created gaping holes for its backs to run through as Alabama ran the ball to the tune of 232 yards, including an astounding 111 yards from true freshman T.J.Yeldon on only 11 carries.
The passing game, however, left much to be desired for the Tide. A.J. McCarron finished a pedestrian 11-for-21 for 199 yards. But when throwing out of play-action, he was 6-for-9 for 123 yards with both of his touchdowns; a 2-yard pass to tight end Michael Williams to start the scoring and then a 51-yard pass on which Courtney Avery slipped and fell during a double move from DeAndrew White.
Denard Robinson injured his throwing arm making a tackle after throwing a pick in the first quarter but recovered as the game went along and looked to be fine. The same can not be said for cornerback Blake Countess, who left the game with an apparent knee injury after a special teams tackle. It appeared as though the trainers were giving him the ACL test on the sidelines and his status going forward has yet to be announced.
Denard threw another interception in the second quarter which went for six and Alabama was up 31-0 before Michigan found the endzone on a Denard 6-yard run towards the end of the first half. The run was preceded by a beautiful 71-yard pass to Jeremy Gallon, but it was one of the few bright spots of the day.
Denard and the offense looked completely out of sync; though his passes in the early going did have good velocity, he overthrew his receivers on several occasions. Devin Gardner got the starting nod at receiver and was targeted several times but didn’t make the most of it until late in the third quarter when he caught a 44-yard touchdown pass from Denard after the Tide defender fell down.
Neither team was any good on third down. Michigan went 3-for-11 while Alabama only managed 3-for-10, but the Tide had 20 first downs to Michigan’s 11. The passing yards were almost equal but most of Michigan’s yards came on two big plays, the 71-yarder to Gallon and the 44-yard touchdown pass to Gardner.
Alabama is an elite program and while incredibly disappointing, Michigan should not hang their heads after this loss. This is a program that could conceivably win its third national title in four years, and not many teams, if any this season, will hang with Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide.
According to ESPN, the Tide are now 40-0 since the start of the 2008 season when they run for at least 150 yards. Alabama’s running backs were only hit in the backfield on four of their 38 runs, and on 13 runs, they were not hit until at least five yards past the line of scrimmage. That’s not a recipe for success for any defense.
Perhaps Hokeamaniac put it best last night on his Facebook page, saying, “Alabama was the superior team and outplayed the Michigan Wolverines from open to close. The physical mismatch was glaring. The Wolverine offense was incapable of doing anything and the play execution of the maize and blue was, pathetic at best.”
It’s not that they were not prepared; it’s just that Alabama was physically (and perhaps schematically as well) superior. Michigan looked like a JV team against professional athletes, showing that while they may be on the right track to regain national prominence they are still years away. Alabama is what happens when you have elite athletes playing in the same system under an elite coach. This is what Michigan is striving for and we must be patient while Brady Hoke builds this program back to elite status.
In the grand scheme of the season this does not hurt Michigan’s main goal, though the press will inevitably call this a confidence shaking loss and will posit that the Wolverines may not recover in time. Michigan’s goal is to win the Big Ten Championship and this game does not affect their pursuit of that goal. While there were some big mistakes made, like Denard’s pass directly to CJ Mosley which led to the pick-six, the outcome of the game was not because of poor execution. Michigan was simply overmatched. Luckily for them, they won’t face another team with the type of talent and size that Alabama possesses and should be just fine the rest of the year.
We will have more reaction to the game in the next couple of days as well as a first look at the Air Force Falcons.
Last season, on the day before each game, each of the writers at Maize and Go Blue submitted our game predictions. Sometimes we were way off, but for the most part we were pretty close. This year, we’ve added a couple of staff, so it should make things more interesting and diverse. We’re not doing weekly prizes this year, but we are doing a nice grand prize at the end of the season, so follow along every Friday to see who’s the best M&GB prognosticator.
Justin: As I mentioned in yesterday’s game preview and Thursday’s Friend vs Foe, I think the number one key to winning this game is the ability of Michigan’s defensive line to stop the run. Alabama’s passing game should be held in check by Michigan’s secondary, and Michigan will score some points offensively, so it’s up to the line to at least slow down the run game. Unfortunately, asking a line with several new starters to win the battle against the best offensive line in the country is a bit too much. Michigan will put up a valiant effort and stay close, but Alabama will pull it out.
Alabama 27 – Michigan 23
Chris: Well, here we are folks! It’s time for some college football! As we all know, the Maize and Blue open up with the defending National Champion Alabama Crimson Tide in the Jerry Dome in Arlington, TX. Let’s take a closer look at this matchup.
Alabama opens this season having retuned 11 starters from last year’s squad. They lost their top RB, their top WR, and a good portion of their D to the NFL (4 first rounders, 8 selected overall). This kind of loss of players generally hurts programs, but Alabama is a different story, as they have consistently brought in Top 5 recruiting classes since Head Coach Nick Saban’s arrival and they have reloaded for he 2012 season.
It is very tough to see any place where the Wolverines are going to have any particular advantage in this game. For example, Alabama lost 4 of their top 5 secondary players. You would think this would be an advantage for the Wolverines. However, Michigan’s WR corps is a question mark as well after the losses of Junior Hemingway, Darryl Stonum, and TE Kevin Koger. Michigan does have the advantage of returning 7 of their top 10 offensive linemen, which will help against the athletic defensive front 7 which Alabama always has. If the Michigan line can hold their blocks long enough for QB Denard Robinson to find an open receiver, or tuck the ball and find an open lane to run, then I could see the Michigan offense moving the ball some. The problem I see with this is Saban’s defenses are generally very smart and I believe that Saban will have his guys prepared to face a highly mobile QB like Robinson.
I do like the uncertainty which Alabama is facing in their RB and WR situation. RB Eddie Lacy has been out part of fall camp with a knew injury and is rumored to be playing, but how effective will he be? We all know Alabama’s 2nd-team RB, Dee Hart, from when he decommited from the Wolverines last year and went to Alabama. He was injured in the 2011 fall camp with a torn ACL and he hasn’t played in a live game since high school. At least the Michigan RB situation is a little better off even if RB Fitz Toussaint doesn’t play. RB Thomas Rawls has the potential to be a gamebreaker and RB Vincent Smith has playing experience. Can Offensive Coordinator Al Borges find a way to call plays which will keep the Alabama D guessing as to where the ball is going?
Like I said before, this game is a tough matchup for the Wolverines in all areas. I like the fact that Michigan scheduled this game because it can’t hurt them, win or lose. If they win, then they will have shocked everyone because know one is expecting that to happen. If they lose, Michigan has the benefit of having played one of the top teams in the nation, which will give both the players, coaches, and fans an idea of just where this program is at. The game is also being played on national TV on Labor Day weekend, which boosts recruiting. And a loss thie early in the season to the #1 ranked team doesn’t hurt either, as the Wolverines will have plenty of time to recover over the next 11 games. I think Michigan will come out excited to play and the coaches will have some plays drawn up to surprise the Alabama D. The same will happen on defense. But this will only last so long, as the Alabama coaches will make adjustments and the athleticsm of the Alabama team will take over. I think the game stays close for the first half but Alabama eventually takes over and puts the game away.
Alabama 24- Michigan 13
Josh: Aside from the RichRod years there has nary been a game I felt Michigan couldn’t win. Saturday is one of those few and far between games where I think Michigan will be completely overmatched. Nick Saban has rebuilt Alabama into a national powerhouse and they boast a top 10 defense year in and year out. Which, ironically, is something he couldn’t do at State because he couldn’t out-recruit Michigan there (just saying). Their calling card is their run defense; Alabama has surrendered only 10 individual 100-yard rushing games dating back to the 2005 season (90 games), a mark that leads the nation. Since Saban came on board, 2007, they’ve only allowed 5 100-yard rushers in 67 games. Not to mention they’ve only give up 32 rushing TD’s since 2005, a mark that also leads the nation. They simply do not allow you to run on them, which does not bode well as Michigan’s greatest asset on offense is Denard Robinson’s running.
Michigan is back on its way to being a national powerhouse but they’re not quite there yet. RichRod didn’t leave the cupboards completely bare for the defense (Mike Martin, RVB, etc.) but Michigan’s talent level is nowhere near Alabama’s right now. I think Michigan has a better shot than most people think (Alabama fan seems to think they’re gonna win 70-0 and Michigan won’t even cross the 50) but at the end of the day it is hard for me to pick my Maize and Blue in this game.
Alabama has arguably the best offensive lineman in the country in last year’s Outland Trophy winner, Barrett Jones. Who, incidentally, is so good he has moved from tackle to center for this season. Coming in this line looks to be one of the best in a long time. Which, again, does not bode well for the Wolverines as Michigan is already thin, and mostly unproven, on the defensive line and has a steep hill to climb against these hog mollies. Not to say they will get manhandled up front and not stand a chance, but any plays behind the line will be well-earned. Brady Hoke had this to say about Alabama’s offensive line, “I’m a defensive coach and watching that offensive line, that’s as good an offensive line as I’ve seen in college football.” Call me a pessimist but I just don’t see Michigan matching up very well against these guys.
Trent Richardson is gone to the NFL but much like when Richardson picked up where Heisman winner Mark Ingram left off I expect Eddie Lacy and TJ Yeldon to do the same. AJ McCarron may not be as sexy a name as Matt Barkley coming in this season but he is a junior with one great year of experience under his belt. His stats won’t blow you out of the water (and they don’t need to with the balanced attack and stable of stud RB’s they throw at you), but he managed to toss 16 TD’s to only 5 INT’s last year and hit receivers at an almost 67% clip, not too shabby. Most of his WR production has left Tuscaloosa but I’m sure their replacements are capable athletes. The offense also takes great care of the ball, in the past four years they’ve only turned the ball over 54 times (just over 1 per game). Yep, you guessed it, leads the nation in the span.
The front seven worries me against the run but I think Michigan’s secondary might really surprise people against the pass though. Blake Countess, while having some struggles late in 2011, has the potential to be a really good CB. Not Charles Woodson or Leon Hall good, but maybe Marlin Jackson good. JT Floyd worries a lot of people but he has a lot of experience and should show marked improvement in year 2 under Mattison’s defense, as should Countess. We all know about Jordan Kovacs, a kid who I must admit I was not a fan of until recently, but he is as solid as they come and a great leader on that defense. He is going to be in position and will make some plays, regardless of who Alabama throws out there. Thomas Gordon was Johnny On the Spot last year with his fumble recoveries and seems to have a knack for being around the ball. All in all, I think Michigan’s secondary is the strongest unit on Team 133 and should fare well against the pass, if ‘Bama even chooses to pass the ball that is.
On the defensive side Alabama lost a lot to the NFL, and are replacing 7 total starters on that side. But they are replacing them with elite level talent, mostly inexperienced but very talented nonetheless. Saban runs a fairly complex defense that is not typically plug and play, kids can’t just come in off the street and be studs in his system. So while the newbies may not have a ton of game experience they do know the system well enough to be starters come Saturday. Expect them to focus on making Denard pass while taking away any opportunities to burn them on the ground. Not an easy task but we’ve seen physical teams, like State, do well playing that way.
Michigan’s offensive line is anchored by Taylor Lewan and he is a good one, but its cohesiveness (and effectiveness) hinges on Ricky Barnum’s ability to transition to center from guard and replace All-American and Rimington winner, David Molk. A tall task but I think Barnum will handle his job well and perform admirably. However, Alabama has been recruiting to their style for quite some time now while Michigan is still trying to turn quicker, smaller spread-type guys into smash-mouth lineman. It could get ugly and Denard might make friends with the backfield’s turf on more than one occasion.
As I mentioned before, Alabama does not give up rushing yards, to anyone and they will almost assuredly focus on shutting down the run game and force Denard to pass. Denard will be much improved but how much is yet to be seen and the fact that his first real test is against a Nick Saban defense does not exactly make me feel confident. I don’t care who is running the ball for Michigan (Denard, Fitz or Rawls) it will be a big challenge for the line to create holes and for those guys to elude a speedy defense. Of course Denard is always a threat to score six any time he touches the ball but everyone and their mother knows that and I doubt he will eclipse 50-yards rushing against this defense.
We all know about Denard’s passing woes of last year, and to be honest they don’t really concern me. He knows what he did wrong and what he did well and he has worked on his areas of weakness. As we’ve mentioned here on MaizeAndGoBlue.com, the first year in Borges’ system is very tough (Borges’ own admission) and there is always a great improvement in year 2. Do I expect Denard to morph into Tom Brady or Elvis Grbac? No, but I fully expect better decision making, no more back foot throws into traffic and a big drop in his INT’s from last year. 2,500 yards and 18 TD’s to 9-10 INT’s would be great as far as I’m concerned. The question now is who will be catching those balls? We know Roundtree has the talent, and Jeremy Gallon is a consistent WR but after that it’s a bit of a crapshoot. Devin Gardner is a freak athlete who may very well be their best receiver, but we don’t know how much time he will see at WR. True freshman Amara Darboh has shown glimpses in fall camp and Roundtree has lauded not only his play but ability to learn and apply. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter how much Denard has progressed if these guys cannot get open and catch some passes against Alabama.
For Michigan to win the game they need to be clicking on all cylinders, for all four quarters. Is an upset possible? Of course, anything can happen. Is an upset likely? I just don’t see it happening. Michigan will give Alabama more than most casual (or non-Michigan fans anyway) think they will but in the end Alabama will be too big, too strong and too talented for my beloved Wolverines to overcome. They play a close game in the first half as they feel each other out but Alabama blows it open in the second half to create a score that belies Michigan’s effort and play. Here’s to hoping I am wrong though, Go Blue!
Alabama 38 – Michigan 16
Matt: Like a kid on Christmas Day. I am so excited it’s finally collegevfootball time, and even better, it’s Michigan college football time!!!
We ended on a big high, not only beating Ohio State, but also beating Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl! Our team looked good. We were on top of the world!
This year scares me a little. I think we are only getting better, but we’ve got a tough schedule ahead of us. So let’s get started with game one…vs the defending National Champions, the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Obviously they have more depth, and quite possibly more talent. They’re the defending National Champions. Seems like the deck is stacked against us, but haven’t the Wolverines had the deck stacked against them for years now?
Let’s start with QBs. Alabama has AJ McCarron. McCarron is a good QB. Obviously, he led the Crimson Tide to the National Championship last year. Michigan obviously has Denard Robinson (ever heard of him?!). Denard is a threat. Not only with his feet, but with his arm too. He has solid power with his arm. The scariest thing about Denard last year, was he would just throw the ball up in the air. He’d throw it, we’d all hold our breath, and hope that someone like Junior Hemingway would jump up and catch it.
That brings me to my next point. Junior Hemingway bailed Denard out quite a few times last season. But Hemingway is gone. Granted we have Roy Roundtree back, we’ve got Drew Dileo, Jerald Robinson, and others. However, Junior seemed to be able to make plays every single down.
Running backs are question for this game. Michigan has Fitzgerald Toussaint coming back for his junior year. But due to off field shenanigans, he could possibly not play this Saturday. He’s on the depth chart, but we’ll have to see. If not we have a little bit of depth at that position, so we could possibly see 5-foot-10, 218 pound Thomas Rawls run the ball on Saturday. He’s younger than Toussaint, but he has seemed impressive. I have confidence with him running the ball for our beloved Wolverines.
Alabama running back Eddie Lacy could possibly be injured also. I’ve heard you may not play on Saturday, but again, I don’t think we’ll know until Saturday.
Our offensive line has some questions as well, just because our team is so young. We really need the young players to step up the best they can for us to be able to pull this one out Saturday night in Dallas.
Our defense is another concern, after we lost Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen, among others to the NFL. We still see Craig Roh, as well as Jake Ryan, Jordan Kovacs and others. I feel like we have more depth at defense than what some people think. There has been a lot of switching back and forth on our defensive line, but I figure Greg Mattison seems to know what he’s doing. I have faith that he’ll put the right guys in the right positions, and our D will be ready for the Crimson Tide.
Alabama’s defense has some questions as well, as they only have a few returning this year. They have a young defense, but then again, their defending National Champions, so they’re going to have depth there. Nick Saban is a great coach, and he’ll have his crew ready for Saturday just as much as Brady Hoke does.
Overall, I honestly see this game being a high scoring affair. Our defenses have question marks, and so do some of our offensive players. A lot of people are counting Michigan out, and I hope I’m not just being a homer. But I feel like Michigan really does have a chance to go into Dallas and steal a victory from Alabama. If Michigan wins, would I call it an upset? Absolutely. But do I think it’s very much possible? Yes.
If you guys read my predictions last year, I never picked against my Michigan Wolverines, and I’m not going to start today. I have Michigan pulling this one out, in a high scoring very exciting game. And when the game starts on Saturday night, I will be so excited. Like a kid on Christmas Day.
Michigan 45 - Alabama 38
Sam: Certainly all eyes of the college football world this weekend will be on Jerry Dome, where the 2nd-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide will travel west to take on the 8th-ranked Michigan Wolverines, who will themselves be traveling southwest to duel in the Cowboys Classic. I still am having trouble believing that college football, America’s true pastime, is here, but I must trust the calendar on the wall.
Alabama comes into this game the prohibitive favorite, and probably for good reason. Despite losing five defensive starters, including four to the first 35 picks of the NFL Draft this April, the Tide will most certainly reload while looking to match last year’s defense that gave up a measly 8.2 points per game. The secondary is a little banged up and All-Everything Dre Kirkpatrick is off to Cincinnati, but that shouldn’t matter much to Nick Saban. Alabama signed six four-star and two five-star (not including Kirkpatrick) defensive backs from the 2009-2011 recruiting classes. The point is, this team has talent that could easily go three-deep at nearly every position. The defensive line is led by 6’4, 320-pound behemoth Jesse Williams, and you can always count on Alabama’s linebackers to hit hard from sideline-to-sideline.
Obviously the talent will be there staring Denard Robinson and the rest of the Maize and Blue offense in the eyes. The problem for Michigan, however, could be much worse than talent. Let’s get one thing straight – Nick Saban is one hell of a shady coach and recruiter. But the man knows what he is doing on the field. One radio broadcaster put it perfectly the other day in saying that Saban’s forte (straight out of Bill Belichick’s book) is in stopping the other offense’s bread and butter. We all know that is Denard. And we all know that Saban is going to do everything he can to force Denard to throw the ball and to test Michigan’s still-questionable run game early and often. This may sound stupid, and it’s probably – check that, excessively – redundant, but Denard Robinson’s legs are the key to this game for Michigan. If he can run for more than 120 yards and a touchdown, I’ll take the Wolverines straight up.
Fitzgerald Toussaint has been ruled out, and yes, I do think this makes a big difference. Toussaint is by far our best all-around back; I cringe just thinking about Thomas Rawls, a bowling ball of a runner, going up against bigger bowling balls on the other side of the line. Those pins aren’t falling. I still think it comes down to Denard though, as usual.
Going the other way, Michigan’s defense shouldn’t have too many nightmares Friday night. Eddie Lacy is 220 pounds of solid rock who averaged 7.1 yards per carry on 95 attempts last season, but I don’t think he is Trent Richardson or Mark Ingram just yet. He’ll run for more than 100 yards on 20 carries and probably score once, but as long as we can contain decently, Alabama shouldn’t score more than 24. AJ McCarron is just a guy at quarterback. He’s efficient (8.03 YPA, 66.8 completion % last season), but he isn’t great. You keep hearing Brady Hoke and Greg Mattison refer to McCarron first as a great leader and then as a good passer. That is coach speak for “he’s pretty average”. He’s Tim Tebow without legs and minus 30 pounds. Michigan’s experienced secondary should be able to stop the killer pass plays before they happen and Mattison will certainly look to pressure McCarron into some awkward throws with blitzes from Jake Ryan and Kenny Demens. Also look for my defensive breakout player, Jibreel Black, to make some noise with a sack. The only problem with getting to McCarron, however, is his offensive line, which is being talked up as one of the best in the nation. If we struggle to get pressure, McCarron can nickel and dime us to our grave, but if we consistently get in the backfield, our chances go way up.
Here comes the tough part. I think Alabama’s defense is going to bottle up Denard a little too well and we are going to come up short. A full-strength Roundtree would help, and an accurate Robinson might give us the game, but two turnovers and we are done for. I like the defense to stand strong but the points to be hard to come by.
Alabama 21 – Michigan 13
Katie: The time has nearly come to suspend our fervent predictions that we have developed around our team for these coming months (welcome back Wolverines and any other football fanatics). Now is the time to sit back and enjoy the greatest game in sports and hopefully watch even the most outlandish dreams of victory come true.
With that being said I think that Michigan’s first game against Alabama is going to be a long, hard-hitting, hailstorm of passing kind of game. The trouble is it’s all up in the air, and if there is any reminder of last year that can be a good thing, or something that comes down into the wrong hands. Personally, I like Michigan in this one. I don’t think Hoke is the kind of man to take last year’s winning season to heart or allow his players to feel that they have vaulted Michigan back into a status that sees us playing three different night games. But levelheadedness isn’t everything. Passion isn’t everything, not without fundamentals, or without practice, or without leadership. Hoke, however, has provided those things and that’s why he will usher in a new reign at Michigan. He will see to it that we earn the big stage night games, and that the Wolverines never lose sight of the prize: the Big Ten championship.
I know that Alabama is the returning National Champs, and I know they have one massive offensive line and an experienced quarterback to boot. Michigan on the other hand, has something to prove that’s even bigger than a No.1 at the end of the season. We have to get to that ranking, and that’s something that boils in the blood on nights like tonight.
So am I overestimating us? We’ll see, but I think that Denard will be more composed in the pocket and a more efficient, confident passer. And I believe that Robinson’s confidence will inspire not only the line, but his receivers and the backs. I think our defense will step up and fill the gaps left by Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen. Maybe not perfectly, but sustained effort for a long period reveals the character of a team, and with it perhaps a bit of fear in the hearts of our opponents.
Alabama lost its top four receivers. Michigan should be able to capitalize on that to try and outscore the Crimson Tide. Bama also lost its starting running back and has holes to fill on defense with so many going into the NFL Draft. The Wolverine defense isn’t without its shortcomings, but I think there’s enough of an upward swing from last year to propel us forward and to a win.
Michigan 34 – Alabama 28
Years after he finished his coaching career, legendary Ohio State head coach Woody Hayes was asked which of his teams he thought was his best. He quickly replied his 1969 team that went unbeaten except for a 24-12 loss to Michigan. He then paused, looked into the crowd and said, “Damn you, Bo, you’ll never win a bigger game.”
The man he looked at and referred to was Bo Schembechler, his former protégé and the man who upset his greatest team. It was Bo’s first year at Michigan, hired to replace a floundering Bump Elliott whose team had lost to Ohio State 50-14 the previous year.
Ohio State entered the matchup riding a 22-game winning streak and the defending national champions. They were thought to be unbeatable. Many considered them one of the greatest teams ever. Michigan was a measly 7-2 entering the contest and was given no shot. OSU was a 17-point favorite, but on that day, an inspired and disciplined Michigan team not only came to play, but sent the Buckeyes home with a 12-point loss.
Tomorrow when Michigan steps on the field against Alabama, the expectations from everyone outside Ann Arbor will be very similar. The national perception of Michigan is that it overachieved last year and is in store for a slight decline this season and doesn’t stand a chance this Saturday because of a tougher schedule and the loss of three starting defensive linemen, despite having a senior third-year starting quarterback, an experienced offensive line, and a proven running back. All the while, the perception of Alabama is that the defending national champs are serious contenders to repeat and will dominate Michigan on Saturday with a powerful offensive line, a returning game managing quarterback and….enough replacements to make Keanu Reeves jealous.
While both of those perceptions have some truth to them, I think they’re not as drastic as we’re being led to believe. But does Michigan have any chance at winning? Let’s examine how the two teams match up.
When Michigan has the ball
Everybody assumes this year’s Alabama defense will be just as good as last year’s despite replacing seven starters. There’s no question that last year’s defense was as dominant as it gets in college football and this year’s certainly has enough talent to make a name for itself. But Michigan is in the best possible position it could be entering this matchup: opening the season. The new Tide defenders haven’t had a chance to shake off the rust and get acclimated to their starting spots. But Michigan brings a third-year starting quarterback and an experienced offensive line to the table along with two proven receivers and an unknown x-factor in Devin Gardner.
Look for offensive coordinator Al Borges to spread it out early on and utilize a short passing game and a lot of misdirection to test ‘Bama’s new outside linebackers. The middle of the defensive line will be the Tide’s strength, so Michigan will need to open it up to keep Kirby Smart from stacking the box. I fully expect a more confident and precise Denard Robinson, enough to keep the defense honest with his arm.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying it’s going to be a cakewalk by any means – but Michigan will move the ball better than most expect.
When Alabama has the ball
As I mentioned in yesterday’s Friend vs Foe, the strength of the Alabama offense is it’s line. Center Barrett Jones is the best lineman in college football and right tackle D.J. Fluker isn’t far behind. Four of the starters have a combined 95 career starts and the fifth is former five-star Cyrus Kouandjio. Unfortunately, Michigan’s defensive line is where the most turnover occurred this offseason.
When the two-deep was released earlier in the week, most were surprised to see Quinton Washington listed as the starter at nose tackle with Will Campbell at defensive tackle and Jibreel Black starting at weak-side end instead of Brennen Beyer. But what it does is beef up the line and that’s exactly what Michigan’s defense needs if it wants any shot at stopping the ‘Bama run.
Running back Eddie Lacy is a first-year starter, but he has enough experience to be a proven back. Last season, he rushed for 674 yards, averaging 7.1 yards per carry in a backup role to Trent Richardson. If there’s a weakness on the Alabama offense it’s receiver, which returns just 36 percent of its production. The leading returning receiver, Kenny Bell, was the team’s fifth-leading receiver last year with just 17 receptions for 255 yards and two touchdowns.
Quarterback A.J. McCarron has Alabama fans thinking he’s the second coming becuase of his BCS National Championship game performance, but he’s little more than a game manager. With a host of unproven receivers, he’ll have to hope they step up or rely on the run game. That’s where the big defensive line comes in. Greg Mattison will aim to stop the run and force McCarron to get every ounce of production possible out of his wideouts. And I like Michigan’s odds in that case. The back seven are the strength of the team and can handle a group of inexperienced pass catchers. But that’s all reliant on the line stopping the run, which is a very tall task.
In the grand scheme of things, this game means virtually nothing to Michigan’s season. Of course they’ll do everything they can to win, but Brady Hoke has said since the day he was hired that the goal is to win the Big Ten championship each year and that can still be attained regardless of what happens tomorrow. But it’s an important game for Michigan as far as national prestige and conference bragging rights go. The Big Ten hasn’t done itself any favors as of late and the fact that the SEC has won the last six national titles has the south on top of the college football world. Michigan has been the only Big Ten team that has had the upper hand against SEC foes, but is still getting no respect in this one. And that’s just fine with Hoke. He’ll have the team ready to play and they’ll put up an effort worthy of respect, showing the rest of the teams on the schedule that Michigan is for real.
Regardless of who gets the ball first, I think it’s imperative that Michigan not only score first, but punch in a touchdown first to set the tone of the game. Alabama doesn’t think Michigan can score on its vaunted defense and thinks it can slow down Denard, so an early touchdown would do wonders for the confidence of Michigan and let doubt start to creep in for Alabama. But when it comes down to it, I just don’t see Michigan being able to stop the Alabama run efficiently enough to win the game. It will be closer than most people think and Michigan will score enough to make it a ballgame, but Alabama’s line will outlast Michigan in the end.
Alabama 27 – Michigan 23
Check back this afternoon for our full staff previews and don’t forget to register for this week’s 5-Spot Challenge for a chance to win a $20 M Den gift card.
Welcome to the first installment of our new weekly series that will run throughout the season, Friend vs. Foe. In this feature, we will go head to head with a writer from a blog of that week’s opponent. The point isn’t to make a score prediction of the game, but rather for each of us to explain how or why our respective team will win.
For this week’s edition, we are privileged to have Todd from Roll Bama Roll. You might recognize RBR from the “Michigan Hate Week” post earlier in the week. However, that was just a fan post, not by the actual guys that run RBR. Todd is a good guy and they produce some great Alabama content. But head over to that thread for a good pregame laugh. I haven’t met enough Alabama fans yet to tell whether they all subscribe to that line of thinking, but I will say that that poster didn’t do his brethren many favors when it comes to fanbase perception. But I digress. Let’s get on with it.
The case for Alabama
In football, most students of the game will tell you everything starts up front. The team that can control the line of scrimmage and impose its will on the opponent is usually the team that will come out on top. Nick Saban has built his success at Alabama on that principle, using big and surprisingly athletic linemen on both sides of the ball to establish the Tide’s dominance in games early and often. The same will hold true this year.
Four starters return on the offensive line, with consensus All-American Barrett Jones at center, and two ESPN preseason All-Americans in Chance Warmack and D.J. Fluker at left guard and right tackle. While all the chatter from spring and fall is that Alabama is looking to ride the strength of returning QB AJ McCarron’s arm and a host of speedy young receivers, with this line and a stable of running backs that have two former five star recruits as backups there’s no reason to believe the Tide can’t be just as brutally efficient on the ground as it has the past few years and control the game with the same frustrating mix of power runs and play action that has worked so well. Given that Michigan’s defensive line lost three of four starters from last season and are facing the possibility of losing even more depth with Frank Clark suspended, the advantage is in Alabama’s favor.
On defense, the Tide loses starting NT Josh Chapman, but returns three players with starting experience and most of the backups that played significant snaps, while the linebackers return three key contributors in the middle. Trying to run between the tackles against that front won’t be easy, and if Fitz Toussaint is really sitting out the Wolverines will almost have to run wide. This could actually work to Michigan’s advantage. Alabama loses both starting outside linebackers from last season and is replacing them with a pair of untested underclassmen in Xzavier Dickson and Adrian Hubbard.
The early returns on their performances through spring and fall are promising, but Alabama lost a lot of experience at both outside spots and it does give Michigan an advantage should they want to utilize Denard Robinson’s speed and the “deuce” package to run wide against Alabama’s defense and put the pressure on the outside linebackers and secondary to keep contain. Staying disciplined and not allowing Robinson to create with his feet will be the first goal of the Alabama defense, and after having faced offenses like Florida, Auburn, and LSU’s over the last few years there’s plenty of experience against teams with mobile QBs.
Unless Robinson has the game of his life and Alabama is forced into a shoot out Alabama is still the better team. Questions about Robinson’s passing efficiency and the underwhelming production of his receivers coupled with inexperience and lack of depth make Michigan merely a good team with a lot of questions to answer. I expect this to be a fairly back and forth affair for the first half, but Saban and his staff have shown time and again that they are masters at in game adjustments, so look for the Tide to pull away late.
Alabama’s biggest advantage coming into the game is its All-Everything offensive line against Michigan’s unproven defensive line. The depth chart that Michigan released earlier in the week included a surprise starter on the line: the presence of Quinton Washington at nose tackle and Jibreel Black starting at weak-side end. If that depth chart holds true on Saturday, Hoke and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison will be choosing size over speed, and I think that’s the right call. Remember, Mattison is one of the best D-coordinators in the game and Hoke’s specialty is the D-line, so this won’t be as big of a mismatch as people think.
Alabama returns just 36 percent of its receiving from a year ago. The top three receivers, including tight end Brad Smelley, are gone from a passing offense that ranked 69th nationally last season. ‘Bama fans are high on quarterback A.J. McCarron because of his performance in the BCS National Championship game, but it was also his second attempt at LSU in less than two months. His first was far less impressive. Michigan’s back seven is its strength with a pair of proven corners and safeties as well as smart and experienced linebackers. I’m confident that they can handle Alabama’s passing game. The key will be to stop the running game.
This is where the big defensive line comes in. I would submit that getting a ton of pressure on McCarron is less important than clogging the running lanes for Eddie Lacey, Jalston Fowler, T.J. Yeldon, and Dee Hart. If the Tide are able to completely control the line of scrimmage and run at will, they’ll put up points and win the game. If Michigan can neutralize the run game and force McCarron and his host of inexperienced receivers to make plays, then we’ll have a ballgame.
Michigan will score some points – I think somewhere in the range of 20 – so it’s up to the defense to force the Tide to kick field goals rather than punch it into the end zone. Jeremy Schelley attempted 27 last year (making 21) and Nick Saban leans towards the conservative side when it comes to scoring points. So stop the run and be stout in the red zone (which Michigan excelled at last year), and we could see a shocker on Saturday night.
When Michigan opens its season against Alabama on Saturday, it will go up against the defending national champions. That’s no surprise. We all watched the Crimson Tide sneak into the title game and then demolish LSU this past January. We’ve been talking about the impending matchup all offseason and the stakes were heightened when the preseason polls put both teams in the Top 10.
But with so many starters lost to either graduation or to the NFL Draft (mostly the latter), just how good will Alabama be? We’ve been hearing all about Nick Saban’s ability to just plug in replacements, but what does that mean? Does Michigan even stand a chance? Let’s take a look at all of that, starting with Alabama’s stats from last season as they compare to Michigan’s. Since it’s the first game of the season, last year is all we have to compare, but for future opponents we’ll dig deeper into the current season’s stats.
|Alabama 2011 Statistics & Michigan Comparison|
|Alabama | Michigan||Rank||Opponent||Rank|
|Points Per Game||34.8 | 33.3||20 | 26||8.2 | 17.4||1 | 6|
|Rushing Yards||2,788 | 2,884||938 | 1,712|
|Rush Avg. Per Game||214.5 | 221.8||16 | 13||72.2 | 131.7||1 | 39|
|Avg. Per Rush||5.5 | 5.2||2.4 | 4.0|
|Passing Yards||2,797 | 2,377||1,449 | 2,476|
|Pass Avg. Per Game||215.2 | 182.8||69 | 93||111.5 | 190.5||1 | 16|
|Total Offense||5,585 | 5,261||2,387 | 4,188|
|Total Off Avg. Per Game||429.6 | 404.7||31 | 42||183.6 | 322.2||1 | 17|
|Kick Return Average||24.1 | 18.4||19 | 117||21.7 | 21.4||61 | 56|
|Punt Return Average||13.0 | 9.0||14 | 53||4.6 | 9.2||12 | 78|
|Avg. Time of Possession||32:48 | 31:15||12 | 30||27:06 | 27:28|
|3rd Down Conversion Pct||46.7% | 47.0%||18 | 16||24% | 36%||1 | 36|
|Sacks By-Yards||30-198 | 30-180||29 | 29||17-97 | 18-160||26 | 33|
|Touchdowns Scored||55 | 56||12 | 27|
|Field Goals-Attempts||23-36 | 13-17||7-14 | 12-15|
|Red Zone Scores||(51-58) 88% | 49-58 84%||19 | 45||(10-17) 59% | (28-41) 68%||1 | 3|
|Red Zone Touchdowns||(32-58) 55% | 37-58 64%||(6-17) 35% | (21-41) 51%|
Obviously, the Crimson Tide defense was dominant last season, even being considered as one of the best defenses ever. What really stands out to me from their 2011 stats is that they only allowed 12 touchdowns all season. Interestingly enough, Georgia Southern scored a fourth of those. LSU was held without a touchdown in two meetings. Arkansas’ high-powered offense managed two, scoring more than three touchdowns less than its season average.
Another interesting note is that Michigan had two individual players who each rushed for more yards than Alabama’s defense allowed all season. Denard Robinson (1,349) and Fitz Toussaint (1,071) each had more than the 938 allowed by the ‘Bama defense. Boy would it be nice to have Toussaint on Saturday.
The two teams were pretty much equal in red zone offense. They were in the red zone exactly 58 times and Alabama scored twice more, but Michigan was more efficient with putting the ball in the end zone five more times than the Tide. On the defensive side, however, Alabama only allowed its opponents inside the 20-yard line 17 times all season.
|A.J. McCarron||2,634||Phillip Sims||163|
|Rushing (RB only)|
|Eddie Lacy||694||Trent Richardson||1,740|
|Receiving (WR & TE only)|
|Kenny Bell (WR)||255||Marquis Maze (WR)||627|
|Michael Williams (TE)||191||Brad Smelley (TE)||356|
|DeAndrew White (WR)||151||Darius Hanks (WR)||328|
|Kevin Norwood (WR)||190||Brandon Gibson (WR)||140|
|Christion Jones (WR)||49||Chris Underwood (TE)||12|
|Brian Vogler (TE)||6|
|Harrison Jones (TE)||5|
|Jeremy Shelley (K)||115||Trent Richardson (RB)||144|
|Eddie Lacy (RB)||42||Brad Smelley (TE)||24|
|Jalston Fowler (RB)||24||Marquis Maze (WR)||12|
|Michael Williams (TE)||14||Darius Hanks (WR)||6|
|A.J. McCarron (QB)||12||Courtney Upshaw (LB)||6|
|Kenny Bell (WR)||12||Dre Kirkpatrick (DB)||6|
|DeAndrew White (WR)||12||Brandon Gibson (WR)||6|
|Dee Milliner (DB)||6||DeQuan Menzie (DB)||6|
|Cade Foster (K)||6|
As you can see, Alabama returns starting quarterback A.J. McCarron, but returns just 41 percent of its rushing, 36.7 percent of its receiving, and 53.6 percent of its scoring. The majority of its returning scoring is kicker Jeremy Shelley who hit 21 field goals and 52 extra points last season. Take him out of the equation, and just 38 percent of the offensive scoring returns.
As for defense (not represented in the charts above), the Tide returns 46.6 percent of its tackling, although the top three (Dont’a Hightower, Mark Barron, and Courtney Upshaw) are all gone. Alabama also returns just 23 percent of its sacks (seven of 30). Only one returning player, linebacker C.J. Mosley, recorded more than one sack last season. The seven new defensive starters will have their hands full.
There are a lot of holes to fill on both sides of the ball, but in the last five recruiting classes (the players that will fill out this year’s team), ‘Bama has finished first, first, fifth, first, first in Rivals’ recruiting rankings. Compare that to Michigan’s last five years of finishing 10th, eighth, 20th, 21st, and seventh and you see the talent discrepancy. Alabama’s average star rating has been 3.8 while Michigan’s was 3.51, and while that doesn’t seem like a big difference, consider that the Tide has secured 14 five-stars to Michigan’s three, and 76 four-stars to Michigan’s 52.
What does that mean? While Alabama has a lot of holes to fill, it has a more talented pool of players to step in. Obviously, star rankings don’t always tell the whole story (for example, Will Campbell was one of Michigan’s three five-star commits in the last five years, and is just now working his way into the starting lineup as a senior), but we’re not talking about a one or two player difference here. The Tide has signed 17 more players overall in the last five classes than Michigan has and 11 more blue-chippers.
So does that mean Alabama has it in the bag? As Lee Corso likes to say, not so fast my friend. Let’s not forget that after winning the 2009 national championship, Alabama went just 10-3 in 2010. That team returned a senior quarterback in Greg McElroy and Heisman Trophy winning running back Mark Ingram. The defense was still pretty dominant, finishing in the top 10 nationally in most categories, but the losses to South Carolina, LSU, and Auburn were three more than the previous season. Nick Saban is hell-bent on not allowing a repeat of that season this year, but if there ever was a time to beat the Tide, opening day is as good as any.
[Ed.: Sorry for missing the record watch story yesterday. I'm in Los Angeles for business this week and had the opportunity to drive down to San Diego and play Torrey Pines. Awesome course. And I shot a 77 from the blue tees so I'm pretty happy about that. I'll post the record watch story next week].
With one of the nation’s toughest schedules, Michigan faces a tall task in order to match last season’s 11-2 record. To many, winning fewer than 11 games will be considered a disappointment. To Brady Hoke, anything less than a Big Ten title will be considered a failure. With 14 returning starters, can we expect another double-digit win season? Let’s take a look at each game on the schedule.
September 1 – Alabama
The last time Michigan opened the season against a top-10 team the Wolverines steamrolled Colorado 27-3 en route to winning the national championship. Unfortunately, this time Michigan faces off with the defending national champions and it’s not a home game. Yes, Alabama lost a lot on defense, but the Crimson Tide typically rotate in a lot of players, so those replacing the departed already have experience. And they’re not scrubs either. Offensively, the Tide will be solid with an upperclassman quarterback in A.J. McCarron and another stud running waiting to shine in Eddie Lacy. If Michigan is without Fitzgerald Toussaint, it will be a long shot for the maize and blue to get out of Dallas with a win.
Alabama 31 – Michigan 20
September 8 – Air Force
Following what will likely be a loss to open the season, Michigan returns home to face a wacky offense it won’t see again. Even though Air Force is replacing 15 starters, the Falcons are a well-oiled machine for just plugging in replacements and chugging along. The trouble is Michigan has to prepare for a triple-option offense it won’t see again all season. So how much time do you devote to practicing for it? Obviously, the week of the game you do, but with Alabama leading things off, it’s hard to imagine Hoke and Greg Mattison are putting much emphasis in fall practice on defending the triple-option. That’s why Air Force will give Michigan a game – at least for a couple of quarters. Michigan will win this one, but it will be close for a while.
Michigan 42 – Air Force 21
September 15 – UMass
The nightmare scenario is UMass pulls off a Toledo-like performance and shocks Michigan with former Michigan running back Michael Cox running all over the place. But that’s not going to happen. UMass just doesn’t have the horses to keep up with Michigan. Quarterback Kellen Pagel threw for just 1,725 yards last season with nine touchdowns and nine interceptions. Mattison will harass Pagel all day and Michigan will get the win.
Michigan 45 – UMass 17
September 22 – Notre Dame
Last season, Notre Dame nearly spoiled Michigan’s Under the Lights game. The Irish dominated for three quarters before Michigan took over in the fourth and pulled off the win with two seconds left. This year, ND is hosting the game under the lights, a scenario in which the Irish are 3-0 all-time against Michigan. The biggest question of all is who will be the quarterback? Yesterday, ND head coach Brian Kelly announced that Everett Golson will start the season opener in Dublin, Ireland. Last year’s starter, Tommy Rees, is suspended for the game. Whether or not he regains his spot will largely depend on Golson’s performance in the Emerald Isle. Notre Dame will have a decent offense, but its defense has been ravaged by injuries, most notably in the secondary. It will go down to the wire, but Michigan is the most experienced team and will pull it out.
Michigan 35 – Notre Dame 31
October 6 – Purdue
Last season, Purdue finished on a high note for the first time in years, winning the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. Can the Boilermakers carry it over into 2012? Danny Hope has perhaps the most experience returning at the quarterback position in the Big Ten. Three quarterbacks who have started games are back. Three of four receivers return as do the top three rushers. The offense will be a good one. Defensively, Purdue brings back perhaps the Big Ten’s best tackle in Kawaan Short and an All-Big Ten cornerback in Ricardo Allen. Purdue has a chance to make some noise in the Leaders division with Ohio State and Penn State ineligible for post season, but Michigan should win this one.
Michigan 33 – Purdue 17
October 13 – Illinois
Illinois has a chance to be a trap game for Michigan. Yes, it’s homecoming, but it looms the week before the big battle with Michigan State. Hoke does a good job of keeping the team from looking ahead and Illinois is facing a rebuilding year with a new head coach. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase can always be dangerous, but Michigan bottled him up pretty well last season and he lost his top receiver, A.J. Jenkins, to the NFL. The top defender, Whitney Mercilus, is also gone.
Michigan 41 – Illinois 14
October 20 – Michigan State
This could be the biggest game of the year for Michigan. Alabama is big, but it won’t do anything for Michigan’s Big Ten title hopes. Ohio State will be big, but Michigan got that monkey off its back last season. MSU has won four straight and claims its not much of a rivalry anymore. It’s now up to Michigan to prove it still has the upper hand. State loses quarterback Kirk Cousins (finally) and receivers B.J. Cunningham and Keyshawn Martin but does have a good running back in LeVeon Bell. The defense should be one of the Big Ten’s best and will look to give Denard Robinson fits once again. It will be a low scoring, hard-fought battle, but Michigan pulls it out.
Michigan 24 – Michigan State 20
October 27 – Nebraska
A week after the bloodbath with Michigan State, Michigan has to travel to Nebraska for the first time in over a century. It’s a nigh game in a stadium the Cornhuskers are traditionally tough. Michigan will either be coming down from the high of ending its losing streak to Michigan State or down after its fifth-straight loss to the Spartans. Nebraska will be better than last season and will be tough to beat on the road.
Nebraska 37 – Michigan 31
November 3 Minnesota
Minnesota has an athletic quarterback in MarQueis Gray who is basically a poor man’s Denard Robinson. Unfortunately, he has no one to throw to this season. His leading returning receiver caught just 15 passes for 190 yards last season. Michigan may be a little beat up after a tough stretch against Michigan State and at Nebraska, but the Wolverines shouldn’t have much problem picking up their first win in TCF Bank Stadium.
Michigan 42 – Minnesota 17
November 10 – Northwestern
Like Minnesota, Northwestern has a talented and athletic quarterback. Dan Persa is gone, but Kain Colter takes the reigns. He led the Wildcats in rushing last season, caught 43 passes for 466 yards and played extended minutes in three games at quarterback, completing 67 percent of his passes for six touchdowns and just one interception. Thankfully for Colter, USC transfer Kyle Prater was granted permission from the NCAA to play this season, so the pair could be one of the best QB-WR duos in the conference. Three starters are gone from the Wildcat secondary which was torched by Michigan last year. Expect this game to follow a similar mold as last season’s matchup: close in the first half and Michigan pulls away in the second.
Michigan 40 – Northwestern 23
October 17 – Iowa
Like Michigan State, Iowa has been a bit of a bugaboo for Michigan as of late. The Hawkeyes have beaten Michigan three straight times. This game falls a week before Michigan travels to Ohio State, so there’s always the possibility of overlooking Iowa, but as mentioned above, Hoke won’t allow that. Iowa has one of the conference’s best quarterbacks in James Vandenberg. He’ll need some skills position players to step up, however, with the departure of Marvin McNutt and a depleted running back corps due to injuries, suspensions, and transfers. The defensive line is young, but this late in the season that shouldn’t matter. The back seven will be strong. Iowa needs its defense to be dominant this season, at least until some offensive playmakers emerge. Michigan will be deep in the race for the Big Ten Legends division title, so don’t expect a letdown here.
Michigan 35 – Iowa 17
November 27 – Ohio State
Urban Meyer has been getting the headlines and media coverage all off season and he hasn’t even coached a game in Columbus yet. Despite being ineligible for the postseason, the Buckeyes’ schedule is favorable enough to yield a very good season. Quarterback Braxton Miller has a ton of potential if – similar to Denard Robinson – he can refine his passing game. The Buckeye defense will be strong as usual led by defensive end John Simon. With no postseason, this is Ohio State’s bowl game. It’s in the Horseshoe where Michigan hasn’t won since 2000. Unfortunately, it’s hard to see Michigan winning this one. Let’s home I’m wrong.
Ohio State 31 – Michigan 27
That adds up to a 9-3 record, the same as I predicted last season. I think it’s asking too much to expect 10 wins and it’s entirely possible to finish 8-4 or even 7-5 with a few bad breaks. A senior Denard Robinson should negate those bad breaks and Michigan’s defense will be better than most experts think, so 9-3 looks like a realistic expectation. Obviously, a Big Ten title game and a bowl game would allow Michigan to reach 10 or 11 wins, so that would make for a successful season and set up big expectations for 2013.