[Ed Note:You may have noticed that On the Defensive and Getting Offensive have disappeared from the site over the last few weeks. This has more to do with lack of time than lack of interest. It also has to do with rewriting the same thing, over and over and over again. You can basically write those columns in the following manner and just change the game header:
Offensive Line Good. Running backs meh. Receivers meh. Quarterback okay except for AH GOD!! STOP THAT!!! Defensive line fail. Linebackers fail. Defensive backs meh.
There you go. Twenty-four words. As you can guess, my desire to string that out into 1,500 words is limited. So instead I figured I get you some more focused analysis and rumor mongering from my trip back to Ann Arbor.]
Sitting up close and personal for a game in Ann Arbor gives you a unique perspective on the team. You can see people on the sidelines, the defensive schemes in their entirety, and who is doing what well. Or poorly. I sat through the whole damn thing on Saturday, so here are my Notes from the Field, Wisconsin Edition:
1. Someone Else Needs to Step Up Running Back. Look. I get it. Vincent Smith is Michigan's most "complete back" at the moment. That's why he's getting the most time. He understands the blocking assignments and he's got the best hands out of the backfield. Even so, it's torturous watching him have to block 300 lbs defensive ends and tackles on a weekly basis. He's simply not physically capable of doing it and not getting killed. Sadly, Saturday was a prime example of this. Smith attempted to block J.J. Watt on Saturday and ended up being helped off the field. I'm tired of saying that Smith needs to be used differently or placed elsewhere. What really needs to happen is the rest of Michigan's running backs need to step it up. I know that Michael Shaw, Michael Cox and Fitzgerald Toussaint have been injured, but they've got to work through it. And whatever is keeping Stephen Hopkins off the field needs to stop too. It ain't fumbles because we've seen enough of that out of Smith and Denard Robinson. It's readily apparent that this week someone else will have to step up and take Smith's spot after a fairly obvious concussion. Hopefully someone will, but after 11 games it's hard to believe that the light will suddenly flip on.
2. Denard Robinson is Hurt. File this under "No doy, genius" but he's not throwing the ball well at all. Simple throws he made easily during the first quarter of the season are now an adventure. I don't think this is due to pressure. Why? Because he had Notre Dame all over him in game two and he was pinpoint accurate. Since Michigan State, however, his accuracy has declined like dropping a bus off a building. Wisconsin had a simple game plan, make Robinson beat them with his arm. And he couldn't. Robinson missed wide open receivers and looked like a squirrel getting chased by a Labrador. He's not comfortable back there despite having all day to throw. The line hasn't been the issue, it's been Denard throwing to the right guy or the right place. If Ohio State loads the box against Denard the same way Wisconsin did, Michigan's going to be in trouble if Denard can't somehow shake whatever arm or mental problem is causing him to miss the easy passes.
3. No Number One for Roundtree. There's no argument that Roy Roundtree has been Michigan's most productive receiver this season. He's also the most drop prone receiver to see significant time of the field. Roundtree is consistently dropping critical and EASY passes that end up costing Michigan points if not games. Further, Roundtree's blocking has been abysmal over the last few games. On the two wide receiver screens he was responsible for blocking on, his man made the tackle each time. That's a critical aspect of this offense and his ability to execute it has been sub-par. Until Roundtree is capable of making the easy catch and executing the things Michigan needs to be successful in its base offense he doesn't deserve the No. 1 jersey.
4. Since we're talking about the No. 1 Jersey Anyway, I think Darryl Stonum is More Deserving. Feel feel to disagree with this, but for my money the most electric receiver on this team is Stonum. The leap he's made this year makes him one of the most dangerous receivers in the Big Ten, and one of the elite receivers returning next year. Big time speed, great frame, and the most effective receiver against good competition. He does have his lapses too, which is an argument to keep the No. 1 on the shelf for another season, but in my mind he's doing the little things right as well as making the big catch. Take it FWIW, and God do I hope he's able to play on Saturday.
5. Taylor Lewan Sits and, Magically, There Are No Offensive Penalties. Lewan is a game changing Offensive tackle and Michigan is much better with him in the game, but you couldn't help but notice the lack of laundry on the ground against Michigan. If Michigan can get Lewan in the game and have that kind of execution from the offensive line, Michigan has a great chance to put up enough points to potentially upset the Buckeyes. I'm not saying it's going to happen, but for Michigan to even have a chance in this game Lewan's going to have to play, and play without getting flagged.
6. This Offense is Going Nowhere Without the Downfield Pass. Ohio State is going to do the exact same thing that Wisconsin did against Michigan. Overload the line of scrimmage and force Robinson to beat them over the top. Against Wisconsin, well, that didn't happen. I'll put this out there, if Robinson can't make those throws he shouldn't play. Michigan has to be able to force Ohio State off the line of scrimmage so that the running game can breath. The only way to do that is to make Ohio State drop their safeties into coverage over the top. Michigan's receivers have proven that they are capable of defending the against the interception on a poorly thrown ball, so the concern of a turnover is smaller than the threat of running into a brick wall three times before punting. Critically, Michigan has shown that when it can place a "hat on a hat" they can gash any defense in the conference. But when there is one or two more defenders play side than Michigan has accounted for, the running game goes no where and neither does the offense. Michigan must be able to stretch the field on Saturday, because zero points in the first half just isn't going to cut it in Columbus.
1. I Think It's Finally Time to Lay Off the Secondary. I've been writing about this for a while, but in no game this season have the differences in the capablities between the front seven and back four been more stark. Despite the cries of the apocalypse in the defensive backfield, since the Iowa game the defensive backfield has actuallybeen pretty good. When Michigan's been beat on pass plays, they've either been blown assignments on the tailback (Illinois) or perfectly thrown balls (Illinois' touchdown on Avery). All six touchdowns against Michigan were scored on the ground after blown assignments or missed tackles at the line of scrimmage. As this season has worn on, Michigan's issues appear to be more in the front seven than in the back four.
2. The Defensive Line Didn't Do the Linebackers Any Favors. Wisconsin's line spent most of its day releasing upfield and burying Michigan's linebackers. The defensive line's inability to do anything to slow the Badger beheamoths rumble toward their 'backers doomed the afternoon.
3. James Rogers is pretty good. Word.
4. Just as Predicted, Michigan Really Sucks Defending Against a Power Running Team. Behold the grand prediction about our run defense from the first week of September:
We're going to get curb stomped. Power running game against a spread defense? We're screwed.
Some of this comes from a defensive coordinator who doesn't really understand the defense he's been asked to implement, some of it also comes from the fact Michigan simply doesn't have the personnel to run the defense that's being implemented. But the big issue is that Michigan doesn't have linebackers capable of consistently executing the game plan. Let's face it, when you're blitzing Ray Vinopal in an attempt to stop the run... you're screwed.
1. Your Defensive Coordinator Rumor of the Week. The most recent rumor regarding Michigan's future defensive coordinator is that Gary Moeller has been hired on as a "consultant" to the defense. The rumore goes on to state that Moeller will be Michigan's defensive coordinator next season. Yeah. That ain't happening.
"No," Moeller said emphatically. "What a rumor. No one’s talked to me about it. There’s nothing there. There’s nothing in the works."
Sigh. Sign me up for this if it ever becomes a possibility.
2. Don't. Ever. Let. Jeremy. Gallon. Return. Anything. Again. I know this may be callous considering Jeremy Gallon's injury on Thursday, but there is no way in hell Gallon should ever return another kick. Gallon has 27 returns and four fumbles, that's the second highest fumble total on the team and easily the highest fumble percentage per touch on the team. He also has an amazing ability to get destoryed on his returns. I hope and pray that Jeremy makes a full recovery, but he should never see the field again as a returner. Rodirguez' continued insistance of playing Gallon at this position is one of the dumbest things he's decided to consistently do all season. You recruited Drew Dileo to return kicks. You've burned his red-shirt. Let him return kicks dammit!