Preview: Western Michigan

FOOTBALL! FOOTBALL! FOOTBAW! FOOBAW! It's finally, finally here! I'm using exclamation points like there's a limited supply that expires at midnight! !! !!! !! !!!! !

After months and months of AGONY we finally have football again. Last night, Wisconsin played! It was terrifying to see what they did to UNLV, and thanks to ESPN we got to watch every. excruciating. minute. instead of, say, that Wake Forest v. Syracuse game in which 'cuse came back from 15 points in the 4th to win in OT. THANKS ESPN!

Michigan plays Western Michigan this weekend; the first game for new Michigan Head Coach Brady Hoke. Hoke's done some neat things. I like how he led the team into the Big House a week ago at night, and had them watch a montage of Michigan greats. I like how he's developed the 2011 guide to senior leadership and given it to each senior. I like how he's given everyone a trident...wait what? Yep, everyone's got a Trident now - Trident's for everyone! This is a throwback to Lloyd, who used to pick an organization, a movie, or a theme for his teams to follow during the season. During the 1997 season, it was "Into Thin Air" which is about Mt. Everest. You'll remember the Cinderella Man team of the late 2000's as well. This year, it's Navy Seals, which I guess if you're going to have an organization to model yourself after, it might as well be the most elite military outfit in the world.

Anyways, they play football this weekend in Ann Arbor, and Vegas has the Wolverines as a 13.5 point favorite. Colin Cowherd picked WMU to cover, so you can safely bet on Michigan because that guy's a jerk.

When Michigan Has The Ball or I Wonder What This Is Going To Look Like

First thing's first here, I don't think anyone really has a clue what Michigan's going to look like here. Borges has said that he's going to be in shot-gun more than he's ever been. One thing is for certain - Denard is not sneaking up on anybody this year. Last year, in the post-game glow of the thrashing of Uconn, I wrote this:

Uconn did fun things against the Michigan offense, including keeping 2 safeties deep on certain plays and letting Michigan just run the QB draw against 6 or 7 in the box. This proved to not be a good idea for Uconn, and allowed Robinson to complete arguably the most productive day for any Michigan quarterback EVAR.

This was back in Denards infancy, before we realized that he was just going to do this, or die trying, to everyone he faced. Against Western, Michigan's got some stuff to exploit. Last season, Western finished with the 73rd best total defense and gave up 24 PPG, which isn't good. They are led by senior linebacker Mitch Zajac, who was 10th in the MAC last year in total tackles. Another guy to watch out for is consensus three star linebacker, sophomore Desmond Bozeman, who has been playing very will this fall. The defense, while not stellar last year, does return a a lot of starters, and is looking to improve. Rush end Paul Hazel is looking to improve on 8 sacks from last year. Coach Cubit on Hazel:

"Hazel’s just a different guy out there," Cubit continued about his lanky junior defensive end. "I don’t know at our level if you’ll find another guy like that guy. He’s just so fast."

Taylor Lewan will likely be tasked with stopping Hazel, and since he turned Adrian Clayborne into a non-entity last year, I think Lewan will be up to the task. However, stopping a until that is self-titled "Team Train Wreck," well, I don't know what to say about that. Here is "Team Train Wreck:"

The Secondary is a position group that might prove to struggle. SO CB Lewis Tolar is a returning starter, all MAC selection, and Freshman All American, which means he'd likely start for Michigan, but behind him is recent-receiver-convert Aaron Winchester and a whole bunch of air. They're young and inexperienced. Tolar will lock down his side, but the safety and "other corner" spot should be vulnerable.

With that said, I expect Western to load up with 7 or even 8 in the box and try to make Denard beat them with his arm. My guess is that Michigan is going to line up and run right at this defense until they prove they can stop it. If they can't stop it, I think any fancy-pants stuff Michigan has will be shelved for Notre Dame. The concern, harkening back to Carr days, is whether Hoke and Borges will adapt quickly enough once it's clear that Western can stop the power game. Will Denard be able to run and gun his way out of it? As has been mentioned at mgoblog, when running power goes from constraint play designed to keep a defense honest to bread and butter designed to open up spread-type-offense, you'd better be able to run power well. We'll get a glimpse of that. I'm taking bets on whether the first play is going to be power-left over Taylor Lewan. Any takers?

SPEAKING OF WHICH if there is one thing I'm looking forward to this year, its watching this offensive line maul people. I know they're not built perfectly for the power game but they're deep and they're experienced. My guess is that they will be able to push around "Team Train Wreck" this game a bit, and open some holes for Shaw and Denard to hit the next level. Now all Shaw needs to do is stop dancing so damn much and actually hit it.

Prediction: The Michigan offense struggles at times, Shaw has a fairly big game, Denard breaks 1 big one, Lewan mauls whoever is unfortunate enough to be across from him, Tolar gets a pick.

When Western Has The Ball or OH GOD NO ITS THE MICHIGAN DEFENSE

The Western offense starts and stops with Quarterback Alex Carder, never mind that every offense starts and stops with quarterback. What a smart thing to say! Alex is good. Last year, he had up 33 points and over 400 yards of offense per game. Don't think his talent has escaped Michigan's attention:

"When I say he's a great quarterback, I do mean it," Hoke said. "He's as impressive as anybody that you'll turn tape on the entire year; with what he did a year ago and 30 touchdowns, over 63 percent in completions. I think their offense starts with him, as most offenses do, but they are really a very, very good football team when you look at them. Jordan White, the wide receiver, has a sixth year of eligibility, he caught 94 balls a year ago. So he'll be something for our secondary to contend with, obviously."

Here's what he was able to do last year in handy, video format:


Western knows that in order to have a successful day against Michigan, they'll need to have a deadly passing attack. In an article aptly titled To Upset Michigan, WMU Knows it Needs a Big Day from its Passing Attack Coach Cubit states, um, that they'll need a big day from their passing attack:


"When we’ve won the games (against BCS teams) or they’ve really been down to the wire, it’s because we’ve been able to throw the ball pretty well," Cubit continued. "In games we’ve had trouble ... you’ve either got to win that battle or it’s got to be a stalemate, otherwise it’s hard. We’re not that team that’s going to run it under center (against Michigan), run it right at you. That’s just not what we do."

That appears to be that, WMU is going to throw the living daylights out of the ball, and they're going to throw to 6th year (not a typo) senior Jordan White. White is coming off a repair job on destroyed knees, but is a big bodied receiver who is deceptively quick. Cubit on White:

"With his body, people probably don't read him as well, how fast he is, how quick he is out of his cuts,"

Michigan will put Woolfolk on White and likely give lots of safety help to that side of the field, which will open the field for Chleb Ravenell, a senior who sat out last year on a medical redshirt. It will be Courtney Avery's job to shadown Chleb, and with all the attention on White that might be the matchup to watch.

The run game will feature former Michigan player Dan O'Neill, who anchors the Western offensive line. Another of their players who has next-level potential, Kevin Galeher, will miss this game due to injury. Dan O'Neill knows what it's like to be at the Big House:

"That’s where I committed to first," O’Neill said. "I’m not knocking Western at all. I love it here. I committed there and grew up liking Michigan. So there’s a little bit of an emotional tie. It’s going to be fun to be on the receiving end of that."

He'll be blocking for Tevin Drake, who got the nod over Brian Fields to start against Michigan. Last year, the rushing attack for Western was...not so good. They ranked 93rd in the BCS in rushing offense. Coach Cubit chalks that up to the line being undersized, but with returning starter Galeher missing this game, I don't expect the run game to feature heavily.

That leaves Michigan trying to defend an accurate passer throwing to some talented wide-outs while being protected by a suspect line. Hey - this sounds like Indiana! In all seriousness, pressure on Carder will be the key. As Michigan adjusts to the 4-3 under scheme, it's going to be imperative for Roh to get in the backfield as best he can to force some bad throws. Our secondary, while improved, is not world beating, and if Carder has all day in the pocket, he's going to score a bunch of points. Kenny Demens should be able to get to the ball better than last year, now that he's not lined up mere inches from the DT's butt, but I'm not really sure how much Western is going to try to run the ball against Michigan. Martin should be able to stand up to his blockers, and I would imagine we're going to force some pressure, especially in obvious passing downs.

Special Teams

With P Will Hagerup suspended for the first four games, the onus is on FR Matt Wile to kick off and punt. The winner of the FG derby seems to be...Brendon Gibbons? Let's hope he's improved. For everything you'd ever want to know, cruise over to this mgopost:

It would be very kicker-y if Gibbons finally got it together.

This is very true. Let's hope.

Like Brian, I fail to see how Gallon has made it through coaching change after coaching change and still has the job of fielding kicks, but apparently he's our guy. I'd like to see him actually field some punts this year rather than letting them dribble for another 20 yards, but if you're going to fumble, then I suppose the 20 yard dribble is the lesser of two evils. How Drew Dileo or even ME hasn't gotten a shot yet, I don't know.

Final Prediction

Michigan is going to be too much for Western, but this will not be a blow-out of recent-home-opener variety. I think the Michigan offense is going to struggle at times to move the ball at which point everyone will pine for Rich Rodriguez for exactly 1 second before flashes of last year's Penn State game cause catatonic shock. The defense will be improved. Michigan wins 24-14.

Key Matchups to Watch

Roh vs. getting into the backfield: If Roh, man without position under the 3-3-5, takes to the 4-3 under like he should, then he's our guy for making Carder nervous

Avery vs. WMU 2nd receiver de jour: I'm confident that Troy will have White locked down as well as he can, and that we'll be rotating some safety help over there to blanket the big body receiver. How Avery does on an island, which I think he'll be on fairly often, will be key.

Denard vs. Borges Scheme: How Denard transitions to a more pass heavy offense, the prospect of being under center some, and all the other stuff that goes with Borges' offense will tell the tail for how we can expect this season to go.

Gametime Drink of Choice

I've been really into Negra Modelo recently. It's got a nice flavor, is good to drink en masse and isn't too heavy that it can't be consumed on a Saturday that is supposed to hit 90 yet again.

Alternate Programming

This is the first game of the season, if you start flipping I'm going to officially question your fandom on a message board behind a veil of anonymity. Come at me, bro.

Inanimate Object Threat Level

Given this is the first game, and the first time we get to see Hoke and company, I think the remote is fairly safe. I'm usually pretty patient. Threat level green.

Recommended for Survival

Watch this again. Feel better?


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