Five weeks into the 2007 season the defining feature of this Michigan campaign is its defense. I'm reminded of the Seinfeld episode where Jerry is dating a girl who alternatively is gorgeous or hideous depending on the angle you view her or the surrounding light. While Brandon Graham, Morgan Trent, and Donovan Warren look pretty good, turn your head for a second then try to focus in on our DT/NT and linebacker play without involuntarily gasping in frightened surprise.
While the offense has struggled, it's not something you lose sleep over. Michigan has routinely exceeded 400 yards in total offense, and the offensive miscues that hogtied our scoring offense in [Game Redacted] and the Oregon collapse appear to have been somewhat remedied. It's there. It ain't flashy, but you know what you're gonna get.
Like Seinfeld, we don't have a clue what the defense is going to look like day to day. Will it dominate the way it did against ND and PSU? Will it fall asleep in the first half and attempt to redeem itself like it did against Northwestern and Oregon? Or will it flat out suck for three to four hours and make me regret waking up to watch it? No idea.
Eastern Michigan runs a very bad version of the spread offense. Brian has covered this in detail, so I'll spare both of us a rehashing of the work he has already done. Eastern could run the triple option and it really wouldn't matter. They're not a very good team. Actually they're not a team. More a collection of individuals who put on uniforms to take ritualistic, savage beatings at the behest of their University's treasurer, who bathes in the money leftover from the beatings, less the cost of hospital stays for the uniform wearers.
Sarcasm aside, this will not (read: Should Not) be a close game. It was scheduled for this date specifically to give Michigan a glorified scrimmage following a tough 5 game stretch to open the season (where it was presumed Michigan would be 5-0). It was also scheduled here to allow Michigan some time to heal.
Going into week six, Michigan is as hobbled as any team in the Big Ten. Our starting Right Guard (Alex Mitchell), our back up Right Guard (Jeremy Ciulla), and our back up back up Right Guard (Tim McAvoy) are all injured. The first two sustained injuries serious enough to require our back up back up to start against Northwestern. Making matters worse, our back up back up was injured against Northwestern and our back up back up back up (Corey Zirbel) was forced to come in and saw significant playing time against the `Cats. Our second string Tight End (Mike Massey) is done for the year. Chad Henne is wearing a knee brace that was last used on MechaGodizlla. Mike Hart is hurt, but he'll never tell you that. Mario Manningham is reportedly physically capable to perform, but I'm putting his current mental state or state of general malaise down as an injury (no time table for its clearing up has been determined). On Defense two starting Linebackers, centerpiece John Thompson and outside linebacker Chris Graham are both banged up and it is questionable whether either will play. Graham is listed as the starter, but the fact Brandon Logan had to replace him during the Northwestern game is not very comforting.
Hopefully Saturday's game will provide Michigan with a weekend in which to rest Henne, Hart, Long, and our extensive injury list. Hopefully it will also provide the opportunity for players like Mallett, Ezeh, Taylor, Harrison, Brown, Minor, Hemmingway/Clemmons to either garner momentum heading into the Purdue game or show what they are capable of.
If there is an area of concern heading into Saturday's contest it is which defense will show up. The one that capitalized on Northwestern miscues or the one that allowed a terrible and hobbled offense to rack up over 300 yards of total offense before the half. Judging from past performances, Michigan's defense will confuse or spike itself on more than one occasion and allow EMU to gain some yardage and possibly reach the end zone during the first half. Brandon Graham politely told us Michigan came out sleep walking against a Big Ten opponent last week. As EMU is the worst team in the MAC I can only imagine that the defense will not just play in the PJs, but likely in body bags, as the only level below sleep walking is either coma or death.
I put the onus on the coaching staff to revitalize this unit. The fact they were admittedly asleep to begin a Big Ten game where a victory actually means something for the remainder of the season was almost as embarrassing as the yards they gave up. After twin throttlings by ASU and Oregon, it's readily apparent the coaches are somewhat limited on defense. However, you expect any Michigan defense to come out motivated, play fast and hit hard. You expect effort. We didn't see that last week. If the trend continues, I truly fear the results against Purdue and Illinois. If the defense can walk onto any field without a sense of motivation after being a party to the worst loss in Michigan history, then we're in bigger trouble than our record indicates.
The issue of motivation lies with the players, but principally it lies with the coaches. While I am not a coach, I do know the best way to motivate anyone with a competitive streak is to provide them with a new challenge. To attack. To say, "To hell with it, we're going down swinging." Attack. Attack some more. Then attack again. Blitz. Bring 8 guys every damn down. Leave the corners and safeties on an island. We've been doing it all year anyway, so why not make it official. Based on the personnel that will be at linebacker this week, the safest play is the aggressive one. Give them and the defensive line the sole purpose of maiming the opposition through aggressive play calling. Let Warren, Trent, Harrison and Adams worry about the pass. What do you think's going happen against OSU? They might as well get some practice.
Michigan has looked its best when it's pinned its ears back and simplified its purpose. The stated, simple goals of burying Clausen and Morelli made things easy for the front end of the defense. Michigan has suffered when it thinks too much. Let's play soft zone but blitz, yeah, that'll surprise `em. No. Dammit. Pick one thing and do it right. No more combining bad ideas into a gigantic horrendous one. Pick one bad idea, stick with it, and try to execute it properly. Because even if you get beat doing it at least the players won't sit there with a bewildered look on their faces trying to figure out what defense was called and how many stunts they have to execute before they can actually, you know, go into the backfield where the quarterback is.
Come Saturday, I intend to wake up late. I'll stumble over to the TV, hopefully nursing a hangover, and turn on ESPN for the usual pre-game nonsense. Brew some coffee, fire up the computer, and take some notes while Michigan plays EMU. Hopefully the light will strike the defense just right so that I can forget about its two faced tendencies, if only for one game.