A Small Impassioned Plea Before Previewing...
Every day since the Appalachian State debacle we've heard the same thing out of Michigan's players and coaches, "We're moving on."
In and of itself, it's an innocuous comment. It implies the team is starting from scratch. Playing its second game as though it is the first. Acting as though the most important thing in the world is the game at hand. On the surface, this may be the easiest way to deal with such a devastating loss. Pretend it never happened and move on.
Haven't I heard this before? Haven't we all heard, "We've moved on to next week" after a Michigan loss over the years? Doesn't this broken record stop revolving at some point?
For the past five years opposing teams have repeated the same thing too. "We knew what they were going to do." "It was just like in the film room." "You could see the play before it happened."
During Michigan's three game losing streak, a string of embarrassing losses which dates back to last year, these phrases have been repeated by opposing players ad nauseum. Unfortunately, so has the "We're moving on" mantra.
Maybe it was possible for the Michigan coaching staff to brush these comments off when their conquerors were teams with immense talent like Ohio State, USC, or to a lesser extent Notre Dame (It's a rivalry! Everyone plays up to it!). Those losses were to preeminent schools with rich football traditions and could match Michigan in talent. But when a D1-AA hands Michigan its most embarrassing loss in over 100 years, and then repeats the same things USC and OSU were saying last year, denial ain't the river this team should be paddling down.
The problem is that by uttering that tired phrase Michigan's players and coaches really don't seem to understand that it embodies the problems that lead to the Appalachian State loss. There are certain times when dwelling in the past is a good thing, a healthy thing. When you try to "move on" without taking the time to analyze what went wrong you end up in a viscous circle. Always walking in place, always repeating the same mistakes over and over again. When you "Move on" you don't take time to fix what is broken. You don't acknowledge what you did wrong. All you do is pretend, unintentionally or otherwise, that what happened was a sneeze rather than pneumonia.
The healthiest thing Michigan's players and coaches could've done was to admit mistakes were made, problems exist and that efforts will be made to fix them. Admit that Michigan's offense and defense haven't changed in 10 years, and will be fixed. Admit that there are fewer wrinkles in Michigan's play book than on a freshly pressed shirt. Admit nowhere near enough emphasis was placed on special teams and that it cost Michigan a shot at winning a game it shouldn't have. Admit the backside of the defense has serious problems and it'll take most of the year to clear them up.
Don't just tell the fans, tell yourselves that something is wrong and desperately needs fixing. You're talented, intelligent me. At least I hope you are. Find what is wrong and fix it.
Yeah, So a Preview... (a more detailed and thorough Oregon preview can be found here.)
This brings us to Saturday. The beginning of this so called second season and Michigan's first shot at redemption. Visiting are the Oregon Ducks, a high scoring, fast, defensively challenged upper tier team from the Pac 10. Hosting is the team formerly known as the Michigan Wolverines, a relatively slow, plodding tank of an offense with a defense made up of wicker swing sets.
Sorry. Couldn't help myself.
Michigan's best shot against Oregon will be to do the exact opposite of what it did against ASU. Michigan played to prevent the big play and gave them up anyway. The defensive backs (or coaches) apparently believe the line of scrimmage was somewhere in Afghanistan and gave ASU's receivers carte blanche to run wild in the middle of the field. Here's how you fix it.
Englemon and Adams start at safety. As aliens have kidnapped the talented athlete once know as Stevie Brown and replaced him with Marcus Curry, you have to start experience. As Corner start Trent and Warren. Sears was deep fried on Saturday and there's no way he's going to recover from it quickly. Warren's your star in waiting and your best option at corner. He's a pure cover guy Michigan so desperately needed early in last Saturday's game. Oregon is far too deep at Wide receiver to allow coverage gaffs to bail out a questionable quarterback. Harrison comes in on an as needed basis.
At Linebacker, pray. Crable was both excellent and awful last week. He displayed all of the traits we loved about him last year and everything that's driven us crazy about him for the past four years. He will get better. I hope. But he's also our best linebacker. Keep Chris Graham on a short leash. Ezeh should start. Thompson may be "better" at knowing the defense, but sheesh, as a senior Thompson should've played a lot better. If Mouton is even 75%, play him. Please. I beg you.
The line, like the rest of the defense, was both productive and soul scarringly bad at different points. There was some pressure here and there, but nothing that makes you excited. Pressure will be key to knocking Dixon off his game. Dixon's the type of quarterback who is more likely to scramble into trouble at the first sign of pressure than one who will step up into the pocket and bomb down field. He was a turnover machine toward the end of the season last year and I'm betting a summer away from football didn't help that. Jamison and a (hopefully) healthy Brandon Graham will need to not only contain the mobile quarterback, but force him to step up into Taylor and Johnson. The converse is also true. If Dixon has a chance to get set and build confidence, it's going to be a bad day.
On offense Michigan simply needs to get its head out of its ass. This is not the type of defensive line that should give the Wolverines much trouble. Then again, neither was ASU. The entire offensive line was embarrassed and undisciplined during the ASU loss and if there's a group of players on Michigan's roster that will actually react well to the "embarrassment" aspect of the loss it's the line. The left side especially. Henne was wacked like a pinata last week by those speedy little buggers. A couple of people ventured Henne got hit a dozen times and that blame was shared equally, from veterans to freshmen. That never should've happened. Look for better protection and as a result a somewhat steadier quarterback.
What it really boils down to is Michigan's running game. Oregon is built for 200 yard rushers. It's as though Belotti goes out and intentionally recruits guys that are afraid of people with the ball. Oregon allowed 315 rushing yards to Houston. Houston! If Hart and Minor don't do the same I'm gonna be mighty disappointed. What I'm concerned about is whether Hart is hurt or not. He racked up an impressive amount of yardage but sat out enough time to make me nervous.
Another source of concern in this game is Carr's unique ability to play directly into the strength of his opponent. When the Ducks and Wolverines last met Carr decided to run directly at the Pac-10's top rushing defense, ignoring the fact that the Ducks' secondary was comprised of legless midgets. Against ASU Michigan had a distinct size advantage on defense, so they neutralized it for the mountaineers by playing a finesse game. The Ducks' strong point this season is their pass defense, so, naturally, expect Michigan to throw 60% of its downs. (If I'm correct about this I'm going to cry). For Michigan to win it will take an aggressive defense capable of keeping Dixon in the pocket and a stout bullheaded running game from the offense. If Michigan goes into its normal panicked soft zone, cry. Cry a lot, because it ain't going to be pretty. Pray that Trent gets up in Williams' grill, because of everyone on the field, Trent's the only guy that can run with him. Pray that Hart is healthy. Pray that Long is angry. Pray that Henne has found his form. And pray that the defense will play like it did in the third quarter of last week's game.
If the two teams play to the best of their abilities, Michigan should win this game handily. But this is never the case. Michigan will find ways to make it interesting through coaching miscues, mental lapses at the worst possible times, and good old fashioned bad luck. Regardless, I'm a believer in redemption. Michigan will have to spend the rest of its season redeeming itself from the ASU loss. From here out, everyone will say "It was a flaw exposed in the ASU game" every time something bad happens, even if it's not even remotely related. The talking heads will talk about their confidence being sapped by ASU, their spirit being broken, how they're to be counted out by such a bone breaking loss.
Michigan always seems to relish the underdog role. Now it is firmly back in that position. Let's see how they handle it.
Michigan wins by a touchdown.