Maize n Preview: Western Michigan

It's that time of year again! With football season around the corner, we here at Maize n Brew want to give YOU a small, but relatively filling portion of opponent previews. Kind of like a good stout - you don't need too much to feel warm and satisfied. You can also look elsewhere on the site for other previews, like glances from afar and position-specific previews. Here, though, we'll start with Michigan's first opponent of the season, the Western Michigan Broncos. September 3rd. Hopefully on ABC.

Setting the Stage

Well, not too much to say here, except, you know, a TREMENDOUS off-season for the boys in blue. Combine a precocious coaching search with a changing of the guard and recruiting bonanzas with the relative apocalypse at That School Down South and add more NCAA bombshells than anyone can remember, and Michigan fans have had an eventful offseason to say the least. One might even say positive. Fresh into hiring a real defensive coordinator (though I've said that before, GERG) and embracing the Brady Hoke/Al Borges/Denard hybrid-manball offense, Michigan enters its first game with a lot to prove. With question marks everywhere from offense (Will Denard adapt well to the new system?) to defense (Will they show up?) to special teams (Why did we suspend a punter?) Michigan certainly has a lot of work to do. The excitement, though, always remains, and it will continue to build until Michigan runs out of the tunnel for the first game of the season, with a hundred and thirteen thousand fans providing a little "atmosphere".

Getting to Know Them

Western is a big school somewhere in the southwest part of Michigan, I think. They've got a good nursing program, so I hear, and Grand Rapids is pretty decent on weekends, especially at the end of summer, because you can get cider and, uh, I guess have fun? They have a football team, and a pretty decent one at that. Coach Bill Cubit returns for his seventh try at the helm, posting a respectable 40-33 record over his tenure. Last year's team finished 6-6 on the season, with a winning record in the MAC at 5-3, and posted impressive wins over... uh, Akron and Ball State? I think Brady Hoke used to coach there. Western did, however, get pasted by the "better" teams on their schedule, including Michigan State, Idaho, Notre Dame, and Toledo. They seemed to rebound nicely, though, ending the season at .500 with three straight wins.

The Offense

Western comes to town sans NFL-bound quarterback Tim Hiller, a stalwart of past Western teams, and really the only name I can remember from the Broncos. It seems they're sporting a fairly capable passer in Alex Carder, part of 8 returning starters on offense from a year ago. Carder had an excellent season through the air, posting over 3000 yards passing and 30 TDs to helm the 16th-ranked pass offense in the country. Their backup, Tyler Van Tubbergen, has me rooting for a blowout because I mean come on what a name.

In any passing offense, you usually have some good receivers, and Western is no exception to this rule. Though Juan Nunez is gone, their other leading receiver Jordan White returns, and Carder can get the ball around to the rest of the bunch fairly efficiently. Their run game isn't much to speak of, as you would also expect from an air-it-out type of offense. Aaron Winchester seems to have emerged as the starter, but watch out for Tevin Drake, who has big play potential and boasts a whopping 10.1 YPC in 40 attempts last season. Look for Western to attempt to balance their attack a bit more this year, though against Michigan's generous secondary I expect them to throw it. A lot. Carder is a threat on the ground, too, boasting six TDs a year ago.

The Defense

This is a MAC team, so they don't really have one. Western gave up lots of points last year. They'e got some speed in the back, but it's really up to their veteran front four to provide pressure and allow their offense to win them ball games. Led by Drew Nowak and Paul Hazel, Western needs to keep the pressure on Michigan's newly under-center Denard to have a shot in the game. Their linebackers are pretty solid, but neither starter outside really has the speed to contain Denard. Look for lots of spy formations with the defense trying to shade Denard to one side of the field, where their speedy corners can disengage and prevent big gains on the ground.

Western's games were shootouts for the most part, and their defense seems to be buoyed by a ball-hogging offense. Hopefully one or both of these will slow down enough for Michigan to win.

Special Teams

They've got a good kicker, John Potter, who returns for his senior season after making all 50 of his XPAT attempts last year. He was decent at FG's as well, booting in 10 for 12, which was approximately 30 more than Michigan's kickers have made in the last several seasons combined.

Key Battles

  • Michigan's offensive line versus Western's front four, particularly in pass protection
  • Alex Carder versus, well, all-time passing records
  • Michigan's speed at DE and edge rushers versus Western's questionable tackles
  • Me versus regional cable providers who aren't showing the game

Anything Else Relevant

Western likes to win the first quarter, outscoring opponents something like 92-44 last year. Michigan needs to play well from the gate to keep Michigan fans away from the Drano. Former Wolverine Dann O'Neil now plays for the Broncos. Not much else to say here, really, but I'll think of something if it gets to me. Instead, let's talk booze.

What To Drink

Because Western is somewhere in the West of Michigan (I hope so, otherwise this whole thing seems silly) I'd suggest something from a Grand Rapids-area brewery. One of my favorites, Founders, is right in the area, and I just picked up a six-pack of their Centennial IPA.

It's got quite a kick for an IPA, but it's excellent, and the 7.2% alcohol content might just soothe those annually frayed nerves. It's way hoppy. Don't worry about any other flavors, because them hops be strong. Just don't throw a bottle through the TV if Carder gets red-hot.

Stay tuned for more previews of opponents, beer, and all other aspects of the 2011 Michigan football season! Enjoy, Brew fans!

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