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Posts Tagged ‘Troy Woolfolk’

Hoke Debut Victorious in Rain Shortened Contest

Sunday, September 4th, 2011


When Brady Hoke was named the new head coach at Michigan it was received with mixed feelings. When Hoke and the Wolverines took the field on Saturday it was safe to say that the Michigan faithful were all in for Hoke as he brought the traditional Michigan style back to the Big House.

Safety Jordan Kovacs sacks WMU quarerback Alex Carder

Michigan won the toss and deferred to the second half. I’m always a fan of putting your defense out there first, but it’s been a while since Michigan has had a defense worth putting out there at all.

Being a passing team, Western Michigan came out tossing it around.  Michigan looked okay, not playing out of position and missing assignments like the past few seasons, but still looked a bit shy. WMU marched down the field almost unimpeded. Carder completed every pass he threw; not all for large gains, but all were complete.

Western came out in multiple looks, but it was the five-wide set around the nine-minute mark that did the damage. Michigan had one guy covering two receivers and Carder hit his man. Were it not for a great effort by Courtney Avery it would have been a touchdown. Michigan held on 3rd-and-goal but WMU went for it on fourth and put it in the endzone to go up 7-0. Carder was 8-for-8 on a 15-play, 74-yard drive taking up just over seven minutes.

Michigan’s new look offense took the field at its own 24. On the first play, a designed Denard run, gained 11 yards and I couldn’t have been happier. Living amongst Buckeye fans and general naysayers, seeing Borges call a designed run showed he is going to use what he has, and what Denard has is electric feet. Denard’s first throw was not as spectacular, a 3-yard completion to Roy Roundtree.

The Bronco defense had good speed and didn’t look out of place, while Michigan’s offensive line did a solid  job of opening holes for the runners, especially on yet another QB draw which led to a first down.

A great play action pass to Kevin Koger was, in my opinion, the best play of the drive. Denard stood back in the pocket looking poised and threw a strike to Koger, who made a great grab and came down with it while getting railed by the opposing defender. Facing a 4th-and-1, Michigan went for it with a power running play, Toussaint straight up the gut for the first down. While not a big gainer or a terribly exciting play, those of us who grew up watching guys like Tyrone Wheatley and Tim Biakabutuka or more recently Chris Perry and Mike Hart, had been starving for some power Michigan football.

Michigan vs. Western Michigan
Final Stats
34 Final Score 10
1-0 Record
0-1
288 Total Yards
279
190 Net Rushing Yards
96
98 Net Passing Yards
183
17 First Downs
17
1-0 Fumbles – Lost
3-2
1-5 Penalties – Yards
8-50
2-82 Punts – Yards
2-93
18:15 Time of Possession
25:18
3-for-6 Third Down Conversions
6-for-11
1-for-1 Fourth Down Conversions
1-for-1
2-16 Sacks By – Yards
0-0
0-for-0 Field Goals
1-for-2
4-for-5 PATs 1-for-1
2-2 Red Zone Scores – Chances 2-3

Denard looked good in the pocket, not getting happy feet and making his progressions, although the word on the street is Borges has a 1, 2… run progression for Denard. Michigan ate up a fair amount of clock as well, and started the second quarter still in possession and still marching. Toussaint had the honor of scoring the first Michigan touchdown in the Hoke era on a short run up the middle. The drive went for 16 plays, 76 yards and took 8:33 off the clock.

On the kickoff return, Troy Woolfolk, who had a couple tackles and a big hit on the first series, came off the field limping. Not a good sign at all. Carvin Johnson replaced him and he did not return with a sprained ankle, though Hoke said after the game that he could have come back in if needed.

WMU’s next drive was about the same as its first: moving the ball down the field with short, quick passes. Michigan started to apply some pressure, and a Kenny Demens blitz up the middle forced Carder to get rid of it quickly and throw incomplete. WMU settled for a 38-yard field goal attempt but came up shy, missing it wide right. The Michigan defense seemed to be playing a “bend but don’t break” style. Not what I expected but it seemed to be working.

After a 3-and-out by Michigan, Western took over again and started marching down the field just as before. Michigan turned loose a blitz and Carder picked it up, just barely stepping out of Demens’ way, but sophomore linebacker Jake Ryan busted through the line to tip Carder’s pass. It fell into the hands of linebacker Brandon Herron who then took it 94 yards to the house for the longest interception return in Michigan history and the first since Donovan Warren did it in 2009.

For once, broadcaster Craig James said something worthwhile, if not completely obvious, that those are the kinds of plays this defense needs, especially early on, to gain confidence in itself.

After a 3-and-out by the Broncos, Michigan followed up on its next series with some more nifty moves by Denard and another Toussaint touchdown run, this time from two yards out.

Michigan dialed up the pressure again on defense and the all-out blitzes started getting to Carder, but just a hair too late. They resulted in incomplete passes but they’ve yet to get him to the ground. WMU settled for a field goal to enter the half trailing Michigan 20-10.

WMU’s Jordan White had nine catches for 96 yards in just the first half, while Carder started hot but struggled late in the half in the face of pressure.

Michigan’s defense allowed 199 total yards in the first half, looking improved but still in need of a lot of work. Aside from the pick-six, it pretty much got owned by Alex Carder. Receivers were open all day. The blitzes late in the half forced some bad passes but overall WMU looked solid and was able to do whatever it wanted. Were it not for the missed field goal and the tipped pass leading to the touchdown, Michigan might have been down 17-7.

Michigan leaves the field victorious when the game is called due to weather

Denard had 101 yards of total offense overall, with no one else really stepping up on offense. Toussaint had 2 touchdowns, but his per carry average was under four.

At this point, Michigan fans were interested to see what sort of adjustments Hoke and Co. would make at the half, one thing Michigan lacked the past three seasons.

Michigan starts the second half with the ball and at this point, the pouring rain led to the officials call for a 30 minute delay due to the lightning. When the game resumed, Jordan White and WMU picked up where they left off in the first half, passing it all over the field. Michigan struggled to get pressure except when it blitzed up the middle.

Mattison seemed to have enough of the “bend but don’t break” philosophy and started sending more blitzes. Carder got drilled by Jordan Kovacs on a blitz, the first sack of the Hoke era, fumbled. The ball was scooped up and returned for a touchdown by none other than Herron, who became the first Michigan defender with two returns for touchdown in a game since Tom Harmon in 1940.

Mattison continued to dial up the pressure and send blitz after blitz. Carder was having a tough time and Michigan was starting to look like, well, Michigan. WMU was clearly getting rattled and the penalties started to rack up.

Michigan’s next possession looked very much like last season. Toussaint ripped off a 43-yarder, and two plays later, Mike Shaw went untouched 44 yards for a touchdown. A 3-play, 87-yard drive in just 39 seconds, putting Michigan ahead 34-10.

During the next series, play was halted again due to lightning and the stadium was evacuated. The game was called soon after with a few minutes remaining  in the third quarter.

The Hoke era began with a win, as most expected, but WMU showed some of the weaknesses still lingering on the defensive side. It certainly didn’t look as bad as last year, but until Mattison started sending some serious pressure it didn’t look that great.

The offense was solid and it was great to see someone other than Denard lead the team in rushing. Toussaint went for 11 carries for 80 yards and 2 touchdowns, while Shaw had 4-for-54 and a TD. Denard finished 9-for-13 for 98 yards in the air and had 8 carries for 46 yards.

Carder went 22-31 for 183 and an interception, but most of those completions came before the blitzing spree occurred. A sore spot for Michigan last season, pass coverage, showed improvement, though Jordan White still had 12 catches for 119 yards. Is this guy on the Biletnikoff watch list?

The game changer was definitely Mattison sending the pressure with blitzes and forcing three turnovers, two of which were returned for touchdowns.

Who knows what we would have seen had the weather cooperated and we’d finished the remaining 17 minutes. It could be a blessing in disguise for Michigan, allowing Borges to not have to show much of his hand to Notre Dame. All in all, there is reason to be excited in Ann Arbor again. Bring on the Irish!

Meet Your 2011 Recruiting Class: The Defense

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011


Since defense has been historically bad the past couple of years, and was the downfall of Rodriguez and the ultimate reason for the hiring of Hoke and Mattison, we’ll meet the defensive commits first.

Defensive Line (3)
BRENNEN BEYER
Height: 6-4
Weight: 222
Hometown: Canton, Mich. (Plymouth)
Rivals Ranking: #16 Strongside Defensive End (4-star)
Scout Ranking: #12 Defensive End (4-star)
ESPN Ranking: #24 Defensive End, 79 rating (4-star)
Chose Michigan Over: Michigan State, Notre Dame, Northwestern, UCLA, Stanford
How He Fits In: Beyer doesn’t have the size or strength to compete right away, but could develop into a solid performer for Brady Hoke’s defense. His strengths are his quickness and initial burst, but at just 220 lbs., he will need a year or two to bulk up. He has a similar build coming out of high school as Purdue’s Ryan Kerrigan, who wasn’t highly rated, but developed into one of the best defensive ends in the nation. That’s a pretty high expectation, but I think he compares to current Wolverine Craig Roh.
CHRIS ROCK
Height: 6-5
Weight: 250
Hometown: Columbus, Ohio (DeSales)
Rivals Rank: #50 Strongside Defensive End (3-star)
Scout Rank: #70 Defensive End (3-star)
ESPN Rank: #34 Defensive End, 78 rating (3-star)
Chose Michigan Over: Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Pittsburgh, Nebraska, Stanford
How He Fits In: Rock has a big body and a good motor, but needs to add some strength for Big Ten competition. Not as highly-rated as Beyer, Rock gives depth to the defensive line and projects to redshirt next season and spend a year or two on special teams before pushing for playing time in his redshirt sophomore or junior season.
KEITH HEITZMAN
Height: 6-3
Weight: 237
Hometown: Hilliard, Ohio (Hilliard Davidson)
Rivals Rank: NR (3-star)
Scout Rank: #63 Tight End (3-star)
ESPN Rank: #157 Defensive End, 75 rating (3-star)
Chose Michigan Over: Vanderbilt, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Toledo
How He Fits In: Like Beyer and Rock, Heitzman needs to add some bulk and strength to be a Division 1 defensive end. He’s quick off the ball and may end up at tight end, which he also played in high school. Either way, he’s headed for a redshirt in 2011 and will contribute on special teams for a year or two before seeing meaningful action. He probably fits best at tight end, which is a position of need for Michigan when Kevin Koger graduates, but with Chris Barnett in the fold, Heitzman will probably at least start out on defense.
Linebackers (4)
ANTONIO POOLE
Height: 6-2
Weight: 210
Hometown: Cincinnati, Ohio (Winton Woods)
Rivals Ranking: #26 Outside Linebacker (3-star)
Scout Ranking: #13 Outside Linebacker (4-star)
ESPN Ranking: #41 Outside Linebacker, 78 rating (3-star)
Chose Michigan Over: Pittsburgh, Kentucky, Miami, Purdue, Kansas
How He Fits In: Poole was one of Hoke’s first commitments after he took over and could see the field early on given the lack of experience at the linebacker position. Jonas Mouton and Obi Ezeh (who lost his starting spot) are gone, and some scouts say Poole is ready to play immediately. He’s very athletic and a strong tackler, both of which are needed on Michigan’s defense. Poole has a chance to be a star for Michigan in the next few years.
DESMOND MORGAN
Height: 6-1
Weight: 225
Hometown: Holland, Mich. (West Ottowa)
Rivals Ranking: NR (3-star)
Scout Ranking: #42 Middle Linebacker (3-star)
ESPN Ranking: #24 Inside Linebacker, 78 rating (3-star)
Chose Michigan Over: Northwestern, Akron, Buffalo, Bowling Green
How He Fits In: Morgan is a very physical run-stopper with great instincts and lateral movement. He’s a little undersized right now, but that should change with a year or two in the weight room. He’s the type of guy that Ohio State always seems to find and turn into a solid Big Ten linebacker, a la A.J. Hawk or James Laurinaitis. He most likely won’t play right away, using a redshirt year and a special teams year to bulk up and learn the position at the college level. By his third season, he could push for playing time and become a good inside linebacker for the Wolverines.
KELLEN JONES
Height: 6-1
Weight: 209
Hometown: Houston, Texas (St. Pius X)
Rivals Ranking: #29 Inside Linebacker (3-star)
Scout Ranking: #12 Middle Linebacker (4-star)
ESPN Ranking: #35 Outside Linebacker, 79 rating (3-star)
Chose Michigan Over: Texas A&M, Arkansas, Stanford, Arizona, Baylor
How He Fits In: Jones is a fast, athletic linebacker that could play inside or outside, but will probably end up outside. He’s shown a great ability to get to the quarterback on blitzes and shed blocks, though at 6-1, 209, he could stand to put on some more bulk. Still, he could see playing time on special teams this season and challenge for a linebacker spot within a couple years.
FRANK CLARK
Height: 6-2
Weight: 210
Hometown: Cleveland, Ohio (Glenville)
Rivals Ranking: NR (3-star)
Scout Ranking: #33 Tight End (3-star)
ESPN Ranking: #83 Defensive End, 77 rating (3-star)
Chose Michigan Over: Michigan State, North Carolina
How He Fits In: Clark is a huge pick up for Hoke as he cut into Ohio State pipeline Cleveland Glenville. Although Ohio State wasn’t going hard after Clark, he opens the door to potential future recruits in Ted Ginn Sr.’s talent-rich program. Clark could play tight end or linebacker, but Hoke stated in today’s presser that he will play linebacker. Hoke compared Clark to Michigan’s last Glenville product, linebacker Pierre Woods, who played for the Wolverines in the early 2000s and currently plays for the Buffalo Bills.
Defensive Backs (5)
BLAKE COUNTESS
Height: 5-10
Weight: 171
Hometown: Owings Mills, Md. (Our Lady of Good Counsel)
Rivals Ranking: #10 Cornerback, #133 Overall (4-star)
Scout Ranking: #20 Cornerback (4-star)
ESPN Ranking: #14 Cornerback, 80 rating (4-star)
Chose Michigan Over: Maryland, Georgia Tech, Louisville, N.C. State, Virginia
How He Fits In: Countess is one of the top pick-ups for this class and could have an immediate impact in a young and thin secondary that was the source of Michigan’s struggles last season. He’s a good cover corner with good hips and won’t shy away from a hit. He’s still a bit thin at 171 pounds and could probably use a redshirt year to add some strength. He has the potential to be a very good cover corner for Michigan.
RAYMON TAYLOR
Height: 5-10
Weight: 167
Hometown: Detroit, Mich. (Highland Park)
Rivals Ranking: #14 Athlete (4-star)
Scout Ranking: #49 Cornerback (3-star)
ESPN Ranking: #95 Athlete, 77 rating (3-star)
Chose Michigan Over: Indiana, Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, Cincinnati
How He Fits In: The recruiting analysts differ as to how good Taylor actually is and what position he fits best. He could end up as a slot receiver, but will most likely jump into Michigan’s secondary. He’s a great athlete with the speed and toughness to be a good corner, but like most of the other commitments needs to add some strength before he’s ready to cover the Big Ten’s best receivers. He could play instantly as a return man, however.
GREG BROWN
Height: 5-10
Weight: 180
Hometown: Fremont, Ohio (Ross)
Rivals Ranking: NR (3-star)
Scout Ranking: #50 Cornerback (3-star)
ESPN Ranking: #35 Cornerback, 77 rating (3-star)
Chose Michigan Over: The only 2011 commit to enroll in Ann Arbor early, Brown probably has the best chance of seeing the field early in Michigan’s secondary. He’s already participating in winter workouts, so he will benefit from spending time around the rest of the team and the extra few months of bulking up. He should compete for the two-deep this season and become a starter within a couple years.
DELONTE HOLLOWELL
Height: 5-8
Weight: 162
Hometown: Detroit, Mich. (Cass Tech)
Rivals Ranking: #25 Cornerback (3-star)
Scout Ranking: #40 Cornerback (3-star)
ESPN Ranking: #15 Cornerback, 79 rating (4-star)
Chose Michigan Over: Alabama, Oregon, Michigan State, Central Michigan
How He Fits In: The recruiting sites seem to agree that if Hollowell had a little bit more size, he would be considered an elite corner. Scout says he has track speed and can play well in press coverage or off the line. Like Taylor, Carter, and Countess, he will likely redshirt and spend some time on special teams before working his way into the lineup.
TAMANI CARTER
Height: 6-0
Weight: 175
Hometown: Pickerington, Ohio (Pickerington)
Rivals Ranking: NR (3-star)
Scout Ranking: #103 Cornerback (3-star)
ESPN Ranking: #154 Athlete, 74 rating (2-star)
Chose Michigan Over: Minnesota, Iowa, Arizona, Stanford, Air Force
How He Fits In: Carter is probably the biggest project of the defensive back haul that Hoke pulled in, though he has the best size at six-feet. He’ll certainly redshirt this season and spend some time on special teams before competing for a spot. Don’t expect him to outperform Countess, Taylor, Brown, or Holloway, but he could become a decent supporting player in the secondary.

Overview

Hoke and his staff hit the recruiting trails hard in the two weeks between his hiring and National Signing Day. As he said in today’s presser, he personally visited all but two of the 20 commits. The class is defense-heavy, as it should be considering the state of Michigan’s defense the past couple seasons.

I feel like the three defensive ends are essentially the same player, as are most of the defensive backs, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Building depth is vital to the success of the defense in the coming years, as we saw this past season when Donovan Warren went to the NFL, Troy Woolfolk missed the season with injury, and J.T. Floyd missed half the season. The one position that was missed was defensive tackle. Tim Jernigan, who ended up at Florida State, would have been a huge pickup for the class, but it will have to be a position of focus for the 2012 class.

I’m most excited about Poole, Morgan, and Countess on this side of the ball. They’re probably best suited to become All-Conference contributors during their careers.

I’ll give the defense a C because, while it did fill needs for future depth, the highest-rated player was Countess, which ESPN rated #133 overall. Michigan wasn’t even a factor on National Signing Day for the ESPN 150. Some of that was due to the coaching swich, while some can be attributed to Michigan’s record. I believe that will change next season with Hoke and Mattison focusing on defense.

Tomorrow we’ll take a look at the offensive commitments.

STAYING THE COURSE: All-In for Rich Rodriguez

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010


As if any more commentary on the current Michigan coaching situation is called for, I need to bring closure to the regular season by injecting my stance into the conversation.

It has been no secret over the course of the past three seasons that I have supported Rich Rodriguez. I have been one of a group that has been declining in number and popularity by the week and I’m not quite ready to give in just yet.

Rodriguez celebrates a comeback win over Wisconsin in 2008 (AP Photo/Tony Ding)

It was our beloved legend Bo Schembechler who once said, “When your team is winning, be ready to be tough, because winning can make you soft; on the other hand, when your team is losing, stick by them. Keep believing.”

I suppose you can support the team but not Rodriguez, and the argument could be made that if you truly want what’s best for the team you should want the coach who has gone 15-21 in the past three seasons gone, but I’m still believing. I’ve never been one to make knee-jerk decisions. I believe in giving people a chance and standing by a decision. I also think a college football coach should be given at least four years, or long enough to field a team full of his own recruits.

Unfortunately, that’s not the way things work these days. We’ve let our fast food mentality permeate our sports expectations to the point that if a coach doesn’t win the national championship in his first season, fans are already calling for his head.

In the case of Rodriguez, the reasons things have gone the way they have gone have been discussed over and over again, so I won’t get into that. Instead, I’ll present my reasoning for wanting to keep him.

To begin with, progress has been made in each of Rodriguez’s first three seasons. In 2008, the team went 3-9; in 2009, it went 5-7; and in 2010, it is currently 7-5 with a chance to make it 8-5 with a New Years Day bowl win over Mississippi State.

The tired, “Yeah but it’s Michigan” meme needs to stop because it’s arrogant and ignorant. I want nothing more than to be winning Big Ten championships and playing in BCS bowls year-after-year, but three years ago we were all clamoring for a change from that. We were the ones unhappy with simply competing for Big Ten titles each year and getting blown out by USC in Rose Bowls. We were the ones excited when Lloyd Carr retired because of the possibility of ushering Michigan football into the modern era.

Then the father of the spread offense came to Ann Arbor and inherited a team full of Carr’s guys, and they weren’t the ones that led the team to those Big Ten titles. They’re now playing on Sundays. He was left with walk-on Nick Sheridan and freshman Steven Three to quarterback his first Michigan team. We all know how year one went: offensive ineptitude at a level Michigan hadn’t seen in a long, long time.

The offense scored just 243 points in that first season, an average of just 20.3 per game, as it struggled to move the ball on anyone other than Minnesota. It lost at home to Toledo, Northwestern, and Purdue and got trounced by Notre Dame, Illinois, Penn State, Michigan State, and Ohio State. Those games weren’t even competitive and we all had our egos bruised.

Three-Year Comparison
  2008 2009 2010
Win-Loss 3-9 5-7 7-5
Big Ten 2-6 1-7 3-5
Scoring Offense 20.25 29.5 34.33
Scoring Off. Ranking 98 45 22
Rushing YPG 147.58 186.17 251.08
Rush Off. Ranking 60 27 11
Passing YPG 143.17 198.33 249.83
Pass Off. Ranking 108 81 35
Total Offense 290.75 384.5 500.92
Total Off. Ranking 111 59 6
Scoring Defense 28.92 27.5 33.83
Scoring Def. Ranking 80 79 102
Rush Defense YPG 136.92 171.92 187.67
Rush Def. Ranking 49 92 94
Pass Defense YPG 230.0 221.42 260.25
Pass Def. Ranking 87 69 111
Total Defense 366.92 393.33 447.92
Total Def. Ranking 69 81 108
*Rankings reflect national ranking

Year two saw Rodriguez bring in some of his own guys, his first true recruiting class, and he finally had the anchors of his offense in quarterbacks Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson.

Forcier was the quarterback to lead the Wolverines that season and the freshman growing pains were evident but the team showed significant progress. It scored 354 points, an average of 29.5 per game, and stayed competitive for much of the season. It beat Notre Dame, took Michigan State to overtime, and nearly came back to beat Iowa on the road, but still failed to really compete against Penn State, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Ohio State, and lost again to Purdue.

Progress was made, but it was essentially a freshman offense. It’s hard enough to win with a quarterback who was at prom six months ago, let alone when his surrounding cast is made up of youth as well.

This season, enormous strides were made offensively and Michigan improved to one of the best offenses in the nation, scoring 412 points, an average of 34.3 per game. The team turned a lot of heads eraly in the season with the breakout performance of Denard Robinson, who beat out Forcier for the starting spot. Robinson broke the NCAA FBS quarterback rushing record by 149 yards and still has a bowl game to add on to that.

Michigan crushed Connecticut, which won the Big East, outlasted Notre Dame on the road, and won a three-overtime thriller over Illinois, but was still unable to beat the big boys of the Big Ten, which has been the biggest knock on Rodriguez to date.

The critics say that beating up on the Indianas and Purdues of the world don’t mean anything if he can’t beat Iowa, Penn State, Wisconsin, and most importantly, rivals Michigan State and Ohio State. That’s true, but it depends on whether your definition of improvement consists of a giant leap for mankind or stepping stones. If you expect Rodriguez to be Neil Armstrong, then you’re sorely disappointed. But if you see the slow and steady improvement as reason to believe, then you should be confident that the wins over the big boys are coming soon.

Two years ago, Michigan wasn’t good enough to beat Toledo. Last year, it could beat the MAC, but couldn’t beat Illinois or Purdue. This year, it beat Illinois and handled Purdue on the road, but still couldn’t crack the top dogs. The logical line of progression would be a couple of wins over those guys next season.

I believe it’s coming because the offense is only going to get better with another year of experience and only one departing starter, and the defense only has one way to go: up.

With the offense, let’s take a look at Oregon. Last season, the Ducks went 10-3, averaging 36 points per game. It had the nation’s sixth-best rush offense and 33rd-best total offense. It outscored the majority of its opponents, but lost 19-8 to Boise State and also lost to Stanford and in the Rose Bowl to Ohio State. In short, it was a really good offense, but still waiting to break out.

This season, the Ducks’ offense exploded. It is first in the nation in points per game (49.33), second in total offense, and fourth in rush offense. Most importantly, it’s undefeated and set to face Auburn in the BCS title game on Jan. 10.

I think Michigan’s offense has a chance to blow up next season similar to Oregon this season. Robinson will be in his second season as the starter, all the running backs will return with the addition of big-time recruits Justice Hayes and possibly Dee Hart*, all receivers return from a group that was pretty dynamic this season, including one of the Big Ten’s best in Roy Roundtree, and the majority of the line returns as well. It will be the fourth season in Rodriguez’s system, which will allow the unit to function on a higher level.

Rodriguez speaks at the Michigan football banquet (Photo by the Detroit News)

While the offense has progressed in each of the past three years, the main problem has been the defense which has seemingly gotten worse each year. But despite the decline from allowing 28.9 points per game in 2008 to 33.83 this season, I believe the defense is due to break out like the offense did the past couple of seasons.

It’s no secret that this year’s unit was riddled with injuries and youth. Just as it’s hard to win with a freshman quarterback, it’s even harder to stop anybody with freshmen on defense. One or two freshmen can succeed if surrounded by experienced talent, but when your entire defense is relying on freshmen surrounded by sophomores, you’re begging for trouble.

I’m not trying to make any excuses for the defense, but we knew heading into the season it was going to be rough. Then, the week of the opening game, the senior leader of the unit, Troy Woolfolk suffered a season-ending ankle injury, leaving the defense without its leader.

Next season, Woolfolk returns, and the only defensive players who played prominent roles that Michigan loses are linebackers Jonas Mouton and Obi Ezeh and lineman Greg Banks. Mouton was hit-or-miss this season. He was Michigan’s best linebacker by default, making some big plays, but he also tended to overpursue and take poor angles, leading to big runs. Ezeh lost his starting spot midway through the season and Banks played well at the end of the season, but his departure will allow Craig Roh to move into the end spot that he should have been in all season.

The one bright spot of playing so many young guys so prominently is the experience they gained. Many people criticized Rodriguez for playing his guys and installing his offense right from the start in 2008, but that has paid off with one of the nation’s best offenses this season. The defense will follow a similar progression in the next couple of years. If it can just improve to average next season, it should be good for another couple of wins.

This season, it’s 102nd in the nation in scoring defense. It doesn’t have to be top ten, but even if you put it at 60th, which is exactly middle-of-the-road, it would have given up 7.5 points less per game. That would have turned many of the losses this season into much closer games and would have given the offense a chance to win them.

The most popular conjecture among Michigan fans right now is that defensive coordinator Greg Robinson should be fired, but I’m not 100 percent sold on that either. The young defense needs consistency above all, since it has had three different coordinators in four years. The only reason I’d be in favor of giving up on Robinson is if Rodriguez can lure West Virginia defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel away from Morgantown.

Casteel was Rodriguez’s coordinator at WVU and runs the same 3-3-5 defense that Rodriguez has Robinson running at Michigan. Casteel has kept the Mountaineers’ defense ranked highly, and this season it ranks second in the nation, giving up just 12.75 points per game. Michigan would be in the BCS national championship game this season with that defense.

All that to say, I think Rodriguez has the building blocks in place to continue getting better and to warrant another season in Ann Arbor. His players love him, he does some great things off the field, and his speech and actions at last Thursday’s Michigan football bust shows a passion that Michigan fans should revere, not mock.

Jim Harbaugh^ seems to be the flavor of the week right now, just like Rodriguez was three years ago, and he’ll most likely still be at Stanford next season. If I’m wrong, and continued progress isn’t present in 2011, then I may be willing to go after him at that time. I just don’t think the time is right yet.

_________________________________________________________________________________

*There has been some recent speculation of Hart switching his commitment to Alabama, but nothing has been confirmed yet.

^I do like Harbaugh, and if Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon does decide to can Rodriguez and hire Harbaugh, I will fully support him. But like I said above, I’m not ready to give up on Rodriguez yet because I think his best days are ahead.

UMass Puts Expectations Back Into Perspective for UM Fans

Sunday, September 19th, 2010


Michigan survived a scare from another FCS opponent on Saturday leaving many Michigan fans up in arms about the performance of the defense. It was a lot closer than it should have been, Michigan winning 42-37, and needing a failed onside kick attempt by UMass to seal the deal. Yet, after the way Michigan started in the first two weeks of the season, many maize and blue faithful seem to have forgotten what this team really is.

Yes, it has college football’s most exciting player right now in Denard Robinson. Yes, the offense has averaged 33 points a game so far. Yes, it beat Notre Dame in South Bend. But most figured this to be a 7-5 team before the season started, due in large part to one thing: the defense.

Defensive Coordinator Greg Robinson has his hands full this season (photo by the Detroit Free Press)

Defensive Coordinator Greg Robinson has his hands full this season (photo by the Detroit Free Press)

It’s not a knock on any player. Nor should it be a call for defensive coordinator Greg Robinson to be fired, as ESPN’s Mark May and many others suggest.

The fact of the matter is this is a defense starting a walk-on (Jordan Kovacs), a converted wide receiver (James Rogers), and two redshirt freshmen (Thomas Gordon and Cam Gordon, also a converted receiver), with a walk-on-fullback-converted-linebacker (Mark Moundros) also getting extended playing time. In addition, the top corner and senior leader of the secondary, Troy Woolfolk, was lost for the season just before the first game, and an opening day starter, Carvin Johnson, has been out with a knee injury that he suffered in the first game.

If you haven’t read Misopogan’s “The Decimated Defense” part onepart two, and part three, please click on those links and read them now for a comprehensive breakdown on why the defense is what it is right now.

Pinning the blame on Greg Robinson at this point is nothing short of ridiculous. This is the first season since 2007 that the Michigan defense has had the same coordinator as the year before. The defense needs some stability.

A lot of fans point to Robinson’s failure as head coach of Syracuse before being hired by Rodriguez as proof that he’s not fit to lead Michigan’s defense. They shrug off the two Super Bowl rings he won as defensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos.

Some guys just make better coordinators than they do head coaches. One needs to look no further than South Bend the previous five years. Charlie Weis was highly successful coordinating the New England Patriots offense to multiple Super Bowls in the early 2000s before leaving for Notre Dame in 2005. His time guiding the Irish was largely unsuccessful with a 35-27 record and now he’s back in the NFL, coordinating the offense of the Kansas City Chiefs – the same Chiefs that racked up nearly 400 total yards in a win over the San Diego Chargers last Monday.

The jury is still out on Robinson at Michigan, although judging him by the defensive performance last season and the first three games this season is a bit unfair given what he has had to work with. He should at least be given enough time to get a full crop of actual defensive recruits into his system.

With the electric play of the Robinson gaining all of the positive headlines (Denard), Michigan has regained national attention in the early part of this season. That will only help with recruiting as kids will want to be the next “Shoelace” or play alongside him for the next couple of years. If the offense can continue to roll and if Denard can keep putting up Heisman-like numbers, highly-rated defensive recruits might long to wear the winged helmet and Robinson will be able to fill the holes with concrete rather than gum.

We all knew the defense would struggle this year, so don’t let the quick start cloud your judgment. Just hope that Denard and the rest of the offense can continue to carry the team to victory and keep Ann Arbor a prime destination in the eyes of prized recruits.

Remember that this coaching transition is still a work in progress and keep things in perspective. Yes, losses and near-losses to FCS teams are frustrating, but the last thing we need to do is overreact.

Go Blue!

Wolverine Wednesday: The Difference a Year Makes

Thursday, September 16th, 2010


Around this time last year, I wrote this, questioning whether it was time to expand Denard Robinson’s role in the offense. Now, just two weeks into the 2010 season, he’s a human Heisman.

Denard doing his Heisman thing, photo by Sam Wolson / The Michigan Daily

Denard doing his best Heisman pose (photo by Sam Wolson / The Michigan Daily)

I’ll be the first to tell you I didn’t expect Robinson’s development to happen this fast, but even in that article after last year’s Iowa loss, it was less about his future as a quarterback, and more about utilizing his athletic ability given where his development was at the time.

Now that he has, to borrow a phrase from the Fab Five, “shocked the world” with his play during the first two weeks of the season, leading the nation in rushing yards and total offense, and vaulting to the top of the list of Heisman Trophy candidates, it seems absolutely ridiculous to think of him anywhere else but lined up behind the center.

While Robinson has captured the attention of the nation, he certainly has his detractors who say there’s no way he can keep it up through the grind of the Big Ten schedule. He’ll end up getting hurt from all the pounding he takes. He still hasn’t proved he can pass.

Those are all legitimate claims and only time will tell whether they ring true or not, but one thing is for certain: Rich Rodriguez has his man.

To be honest, I still haven’t even figured out what happened in South Bend on Saturday.  I think @cjane87 said it best: “I have had every single emotion over the last four hours.”

The game started out ominously with Notre Dame quarterback Dayne Crist leading the Irish down the field for a touchdown. Michigan responded with a punt. But then instead of Crist coming back out on to the field it was freshman Tommy Rees who proceeded to throw an interception on his second play, and Michigan took advantage with a 31-yard touchdown pass from Robinson to Roy Roundtree. Just like that it was 7-7.

Jonas Mouton's first quarter interception led to Michigan's first touchdown of the game, photo by the Ann Arbor News

Jonas Mouton's first quarter interception led to Michigan's first touchdown of the game (photo by the Ann Arbor News)

From that point through the rest of the half, the inept combination of Rees and fellow freshman Nate Montana allowed Michigan to pull ahead 21-7. At that point, I was feeling good about the way things were going, but knew for sure that Notre Dame was going to come back.

Sure enough, the momentum swung back to the Irish as Crist returned to bring the Irish back, and ultimately hit tight end Kyle Rudolph for a 95-yard touchdown to take the lead with just 3:41 remaining. At that point, I may have sworn at the thought of my wife jumping up and down. She’s a Notre Dame fan, and I was out of town for the weekend on a business trip, thankfully.

In retrospect, the quick strike was a blessing for Michigan and served as fuel for the growing wildfire that is Denard Robinson. Unlike the Iowa game last season when Robinson had the chance to lead the offense down the field for the win, but instead threw this (at 2:12), Robinson was fully in command and marched the Wolverines on a 12-play, 72-yard scoring drive that ate 3:14 off the clock and sealed the Michigan win.

Just three minutes after NBC announcer Tom Hammond proclaimed that Rudolph’s go-ahead touchdown would go down as one of the greats in Notre Dame lore, Robinson created his own history, becoming the first Michigan quarterback to win his first start in South Bend since Jim Harbaugh in 1986.

That list includes Steven Threet in 2008, Chad Henne in 2004, John Navarre in 2002, Tom Brady in 1998, Todd Collins in 1992, Elvis Grbac in 1990, and Michael Taylor in 1988. In other words: most of the best quarterbacks in Michigan history couldn’t do what Robinson did on Saturday.

Robinson proved he has what it takes to lead the team down the field for the win, not just with his feet, but through the air as well. He hit Roundtree with a perfect pass to the two-yard line to set up the winning score. He actually went 5-6 on that drive for 55 yards and only rushed for 17 yards.

Notre Dame fans will always argue that if Crist had played the entire game, Notre Dame would have won. They may have an argument there and I may have to agree with them, but the cruel nature of the game is dealing with injuries, and Michigan has faced its far share of them this season as well.

After a rocky first game, Tate Forcier was in full support of Robinson against Notre Dame (photo by John T. Greilick / the Detroit News)

After a rocky first game, Tate Forcier was in full support of Robinson against Notre Dame (photo by John T. Greilick / the Detroit News)

In the same breath that an ND fan can say that, a Michigan fan can say that Rudolph never would have gotten open down field had Troy Woolfolk not suffered a season-ending ankle injury in fall practice.

The fact of the matter is, Michigan won for the second straight year and fourth time in the past five years.

The schedule sets up perfectly for a 5-0 start before another rival, Michigan State, invades the Big House.

We’ll get a good look at MSU this Saturday night as they host Notre Dame.

An ideal scenario for Michigan this week and next is to jump out to an early lead on UMass and Bowling Green, letting the starters play through the first half and possibly into the third quarter before giving way to the backups.

It would be great to get last year’s Notre Dame hero, Tate Forcier, some playing time, as well as freshman Devin Gardner.

Over/Under

Yeah, so I was wrong with my prediction that Notre Dame would win. Don’t call me a sell-out for picking against the Wolverines. As I said in the pick, I desperately want Michigan to win, but have to put bias aside when making my picks. I was only three off Michigan’s point total, but 13 under Notre Dame’s.

For the season, I’m 10 over for Michigan and 34 over for the opponents. I guess I should start respecting defenses, huh?
I Said What?

“The combination of Michigan’s defense this year and Notre Dame’s offense virtually requires Michigan’s offense to score 35-plus points if it wants to win this game.”

If Crist had played the entire game, maybe, but I was a touchdown too pessimistic. (-1)

“While you can’t look at the time of possession alone to determine the outcome of a game, it can certainly go a long way toward helping you win the game.”

Final time of possession: Michigan 34:09, Notre Dame 25:51. Michigan had the ball for just over eight minutes more than Notre Dame. Part of that was due to the 95-yard touchdown pass from Crist to Rudolph, allowing Michigan to put together a game-winning drive while eating the clock, but nevertheless, Notre Dame had just three drives of more than five plays the entire game. (+1)

“Two years ago in South Bend, Michigan lost four fumbles in the rainy conditions and lost 35-17. The weather forecast calls for similar conditions this Saturday, so whichever team takes better care of the ball could be the one that wins.”

The rain held off, but Michigan protected the ball for the second straight week. The only miscue was a fumble by Robinson in the first quarter, but Michigan recovered. On the flip side, Michigan picked off three Notre Dame passes, one of which directly lead to Michigan’s first touchdown of the game. (+1)

“The defense has to employ the bend-but-don’t-break attitude that it used last week, making Notre Dame work to get the ball down the field, rather than making big plays.”

Eh, not so much. The Crist injury may have contributed to Michigan’s success in the first half, but the big plays certainly did happen: A 37-yard pass at the end of the first half, which should have lead to three points, but Brian Kelly chose to go for the touchdown; a 53-yard touchdown pass early in the third quarter; and Rudolph’s 95-yard romp for the go-ahead touchdown. Three big plays that lead to 14 (should have been 17) points. All things considered, that’s a success against one of the most talented passing games Michigan will face all season. (-1)

“Michigan’s lines dominated UConn last week on both sides of the ball. There’s nothing to suggest it can’t do the same this week, as Notre Dame has a very young and inexperienced offensive line.”

Michigan didn’t exactly dominate Notre Dame’s offensive line, getting just one sack, though as MGoBlog points out, when Mike Martin and Craig Roh weren’t being double-teamed, they did this, this, and this.

The offensive line did well to not allow a sack for the second straight game and pave the way for Robinson to run for 258 yards. (+1)

So hey, three out of five isn’t bad.

We Can Always Use More Denard

WolverineWatchDenardvsPryor

A new addition to Maize & Go Blue is the Wolverine Watch, which is housed on the right sidebar. Currently, it features a side-by-side comparison of Robinson and Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor, as seen above. It will be updated after every game for the entire season to show where the two stand in comparison.

If other Wolverines break out, they will be added to the Watch next to one of the Big Ten’s best at that position. Right now, the only one I could foresee is Roundtree if he continues his pace from the last few games of last season and has more games like his performance on Saturday (eight catches for 82 yards and a touchdown).

Go Blue!

The State of Michigan Football (for Dummies)

Sunday, August 29th, 2010


Being a Michigan fan that grew up in Ohio and currently lives in New York, I’m constantly bombarded with ridicule from friends and family about the state of the Michigan football program.

“Wow, Michigan has really fallen apart; I don’t think they’ll ever be the same,” one will say, or “Don’t you wish you had a quality coach like Tressel?” another will ask.

In passing conversation, especially with an Ohio State fan, it’s impossible to adequately describe the perfect storm that has been Michigan football the past two seasons.

So as we enter Week 1 of the 2010 college football season, let’s put into words how Michigan’s recent demise, while frustrating, is not quite as bad as it seems.

Be Careful What You Wish For

On the surface, it’s easy to pronounce, “Carr never had a losing season and Rodriguez has losing seasons in each of his first two years, therefore, Rodriguez is a terrible coach and must be fired.”

Yet, a little critical thinking will tell you that there’s more to it than that. The blame for the past two seasons should be as much on former Michigan Athletic Director Bill Martin as on Head Coach Rich Rodriguez. It was Martin, after all, who decided to take Michigan down a completely new path to modernity following Carr’s retirement after the 2007 season.

The hiring of Rich Rodriguez signaled a shift to modernity for Michigan

The hiring of Rich Rodriguez signaled a shift to modernity for Michigan

Carr was a conservative coach who continued the success of his mentor, Michigan legend Bo Schembechler, combining with Bo and Gary Moeller to guide the program to 40 straight winning seasons and 33 straight bowl games. His teams were never going to go out and put up 60 points or step on an opponent’s throat while it was down. But they were never going to get blown out either.

That was both a blessing and a curse. Carr’s safe approach, whether it was punting on fourth-and-one from the opponent’s 45 with a minute and-a-half left in the half, or running three straight times to wind down the clock late in the game while clinging to a two-point lead, worked out more often than not. However, in the few instances when it gave the opponent enough time to score before the half, or gave the opponent the ball back with a chance to drive for the winning score, it was enraging. Michigan fans were constantly calling for Carr to stop being so conservative and some were even calling for him to be fired.

When Martin went out and hired an offensive innovator from West Virginia, some Michigan fans were disappointed that he didn’t get former Michigan offensive lineman Les Miles, while others were intrigued by the notion of the spread offense in Ann Arbor.

Martin knew upon hiring Rodriguez that, while he was an offensive genius, that coaching IQ fit a certain system. His style of coaching doesn’t mesh with the 320-pound offensive linemen and statuesque quarterbacks of Michigan past. He needs smaller, quicker offensive linemen and dual-threat quarterbacks. Whether you think that’s the sign of a good coach or not, that’s what Martin hired.

Right off the bat, Michigan fans expecting a carry-over from the Schembechler/Moeller/Carr regime were in for a letdown. That blame cannot be pinned on Rodriguez.

An Empty Cupboard Won’t Yield a Feast

Carr officially retired following the 2007 season, but he seemingly checked out a couple of years prior. He first hinted at calling it quits prior to 2007 and many believe that had Michigan beaten Ohio State in 2006 and advanced to the National Championship game, Carr’s exit would have come then.

Lloyd Carr didn't leave much for Rodriguez to work with following the 2007 season

Lloyd Carr didn't leave much for Rodriguez to work with following the 2007 season

He entered 2007 with a senior four-year-starter at quarterback (Chad Henne) and a hot-shot freshman (Ryan Mallett) backing him up. Part of Carr’s bait to hook Mallett, the number two quarterback in the 2006 high school class, was that the job was his when Henne graduated and Carr wouldn’t recruit a quarterback in the 2007 class.

Mallett, however, had trouble adjusting to Ann Arbor, butting heads with Carr during his freshman season, while being thrust into playing time during Henne’s injury-plagued senior season. By all accounts, Mallett intended to return home following that season regardless of who the coach was in 2008.

Following that season, Henne graduated along with four-year starting running back Mike Hart and left tackle Jake Long (the 1st overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft). Junior wide receivers Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington chose to enter the Draft and left guard Adam Kraus graduated, leaving Rodriguez with just a handful of returning starters on offense, none of which were suited for his offense.

The coaching transition was further slowed when Rodriguez lost out on Terrelle Pryor to Ohio State and offensive lineman Justin Boren bolted for Ohio State, bad-mouthing the program on his way out.* Pryor’s talents fit Rodriguez’s system and would have made some difference in 2008 and Boren certainly had the talent, but wasn’t committed to working hard enough for Rodriguez’s system.

Instead, Rodriguez was left with less talent and experience on offense than the majority of college football. His choice at quarterback was a freshman (Steven Threet) or a walk-on junior (Nick Sheridan), neither of which had any game experience and neither was suited for Rodriguez’s system. That alone wouldn’t have doomed the Wolverines had there been an experienced supporting cast to make up for it.

The best running back Rodriguez had was also a true freshman, Sam McGuffie, a Carr recruit who would have redshirted in any normal situation. The top receiver was a true freshman as well, Martavious Odoms, one of Rodriguez’s first recruits at Michigan who is more suited to be a supporting receiver rather than the lead role.

It’s certainly no stretch to say that no team in college football history has succeeded with freshmen starting at quarterback, running back, and wide receiver, no matter how highly-touted they are coming out of high school. It’s also no stretch to say that no coach in the country could have fared well with what Rodriguez had to work with in 2008.

Three of the top players in Michigan history at their position (Jake Long, Chad Henne, Mike Hart) graduated prior to Rodriguez's hiring

Three of the top players in Michigan history at their position (Jake Long, Chad Henne, Mike Hart) graduated prior to Rodriguez's hiring

Essentially, Rodriguez had two choices: to design a completely new playbook to fit the talents of the players Carr left behind or to begin installing his spread ‘n shred offense.

The former might have yielded another win or two that season, allowing Threet and Sheridan to be drop-back passers and McGuffie to run for three yards and a cloud of dust. Yet it would have set back the progression of the offense Rodriguez was going to install – the one he made his living on in working his way up from Glennville State to Tulane to Clemson to West Virginia and, ultimately, to Michigan.

The latter would at least get that progression started for Odoms and the rest of the players recruited by Rodriguez specifically for that offense.

Again, keep in mind that Martin didn’t hire a coach who then surprised everyone by running some wacky offense that no one knew about. Martin knew when he hired Rodriguez that he was essentially a system coach and the best in his field.

To expect that system to work from Day 1 is ludicrous even if he had Henne, Hart, and Long. Simply put, Michigan didn’t have the right players and that’s not Rodriguez’s fault.

Imagine if Schwinn Bicycle Company hired a new CEO who decided the company was going to start making airplanes. While the company is great at making bikes, handlebars and spokes will only fly so far. Mr. CEO would have to begin acquiring the necessary components to build airplanes and it wouldn’t happen overnight.

In the world of college football, players stay in a system for four or five years, making the roster turnover a slow process. It’s impossible to just get rid of 100-plus players of the old regime and bring in 100-plus of your guys. It takes four or five years to turn over the roster, and in theory, the results should progress each year.

By planting the seeds of his offense from Day 1, Rodriguez began to water the roots of his system.

In 2009, Rodriguez was able to land two quarterbacks that fit his offensive style, Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson. Threet transferred to Arizona State when he realized he was a square peg in a round hole and Sheridan was relegated to third string.

In one sense, Rodriguez has progressed with Odoms and the rest of the returnees from 2008 already having a knowledge base of the system. But on the other hand, he was back at square one, having to start another true freshman at quarterback.

Even so, the offense showed marked year-over-year improvement, going from 20.2 points and 290.8 yards per game in 2008 to 29.5 points and 384.5 yards per game in 2009. It just lacked consistency as a result of inexperience.

Reporters With an Axe to Grind

The next fodder for the anti-Rodriguez crowd is the allegation of cheating which was exposed by the Detroit Free Press last August. While all kinds of conspiracy theories exist, the fact is that the Free Press’ reports were nothing short of slanted, biased and exaggerated.

The paper’s writers, Michael Rosenberg and Mark Snyder, succeeded in creating a national sense of animosity towards Rodriguez and ego-boosting by fans of other schools.

The NCAA’s probe, released in February found five violations that in any other situation would be considered the minor, slap-on-the-wrist types that are constantly self-reported or overlooked by other schools. However, as a result of the “Freep Jihad,” the NCAA came down hard, finding five so-called major violations.

While all are nothing more than what would be found at nearly every other school in the country, the national perception is that Michigan and Rich Rodriguez knowingly cheated. It’s easy to create that perception when you’re a reporter with an axe to grind. Just find a couple of disgruntled former players who will gladly trash their former coach as well as a few ignorant freshmen and distort their words. In that way, the situation in Ann Arbor is different than everywhere else.

The Detroit Free Press drove the NCAA allegations with this article

The Detroit Free Press drove the NCAA allegations with this article being just one of many slanted pieces by Michael Rosenberg and Mark Snyder

There is no doubt that Ohio State would find itself behind the eight-ball if the Columbus Dispatch decided to declare jihad on the school. Just this summer the Ohio State athletic department self-reported 13 minor violations between Jan. 1 and July 1, six involving the football program. In fact, since 2000, Ohio State has self-reported 375 minor violations (across all sports), the most of any school in the NCAA. By comparison, Oklahoma has self-reported 224 and Florida 112. 

This leads to two possible conclusions: either Ohio State purposely crosses the line just a little bit, and decides every now and then to self-report just to keep the NCAA at bay; or Ohio State’s athletic department and coaching staff don’t monitor the rule book well enough to know that they shouldn’t keep making these kinds of mistakes.

Either way, if the Dispatch decided that instead of just reporting these violations, they were going to dive in and blow them out of proportion, the NCAA would almost certainly have to come down hard.

So the issue isn’t that Rich Rodriguez is a cheating scumbag; it’s that he didn’t meet the standards of two local reporters.

I’m not saying that Michigan wasn’t wrong, but failing to count 10 minutes of stretching as countable practice time certainly doesn’t justify the national perception created by Rosenberg and Snyder, nor does it create any more of a competitive advantage than those 375 minor violations at Ohio State.

To Paraphrase Arnold, We’ll Be Back

So now that Rodriguez finds himself firmly on the proverbial hot seat, many consider him all but gone if Michigan fails to have a great season this year. But that’s not the case.

If absolutely no progress is shown and another losing season is the end result, then it could happen. But a winning season, a bowl game, and signs of progress assure a fourth season on the job because 2011 promises to be a good one.

Forcier and Robinson will be juniors in 2011, leading 10 returning starters on offense

Forcier and Robinson will be juniors in 2011, leading 10 returning starters on offense

Following this season, Michigan loses only one starter on the offensive side (left guard Stephen Schilling) and two on the defensive side (linebackers Obi Ezeh and Jonas Mouton).

When senior cornerback Troy Woolfolk went down with a season-ending ankle injury last week, it was both a blessing and a curse. Woolfolk won’t be able to help out a very thin secondary this season, but intends to come back for his senior season in 2011, so a position that will be a weakness this season will be a strength next year.

In addition to 18 starters returning (19 if you count getting Woolfolk back), quarterbacks Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson will be in their third season running the offense. By then, their comfort level will be enough to ensure an offense sure to be as vaunted as those Rodriguez featured at West Virginia.

The schedule also sets up nicely with Notre Dame, Wisconsin, and Ohio State at home, Penn State off the schedule, and Western Michigan, Eastern Michigan, and San Diego State as the other non-conference opponents (although the conference schedule may change due to the realignment and addition of Nebraska).  

In other words, Michigan Athletic Director Dave Brandon would be ill-advised to fire Rodriguez after this season unless things really blow up. I don’t support firing him this season anyway, since 2011 will really be the determining season.

Consider 2010 the primer for a run at the inaugural Big Ten Championship next season. Don’t write off Rodriguez and the Wolverines just yet, because it’s not quite as bad as it seems.

________________________________________________________________________________

*Many have also piled on Rodriguez for the players that have left the program for various reasons, such as Boren and wide receiver Toney Clemons who transfered, Justin Feagen and Boubacar Cissoko who were kicked off the team, and others who failed to qualify. Yet they forget that Carr had the same troubles.

In 2007 alone, Carr dismissed tight end Carson Butler, defensive end Eugene Germany, and cornerback Chris Richards from the team for violating team rules, backup quarterback Jason Forcier (Tate’s older brother) transfered to Stanford, and linebacker Cobrani Mixon transfered to Kent State (all of which subsequently hurt the depth of Rodriguez’s teams).