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Defending Against Wisconsin: Should Michigan Start Obi Ezeh over Jonas Mouton? (Gasp!)

Put down the pitchforks!

Sheesh people. I'm just asking a question. And a fairly logical one at that. I never thought this would be a question I'd be asking, but after the last few games it's something worth discussing. Yesterday, I asked whether James Rogers should be considered our best cornerback in 2010. Today I'm asking whether Michigan should start Obi Ezeh over Jonas Moutonat OLB against the Wisconsin Badgers on Saturday. Bare with me. It'll make sense.

We all know that Jonas Mouton is a Sean Crable-like player. A freak of physical nature, who possesses athleticism outside the realm of a man his size. This allows him to make plays that would otherwise be impossible for another human being of of his size. On the other hand, beind a Crable-like linebacker, Mouton is also capable of making mental mistakes in a game that end up costing his team a pile of yards and the ocassional touchdown. Huge positives. Huge negatives. That's what you get out of Mouton. We also know he's been hurt.

In the other corner, there is Obi Ezeh. Let's be honest, Ezeh has been awful this year and last at Middle Linebacker. More often than not Ezeh suffers from some sort of mental paralysis the second the ball is snapped. It got so bad as the season wore on that Ezeh was finally dropped in the depth chart in favor of Kenny Demensat Middle Linebacker. Ezeh had one game at "deathbacker" where he was godawful. Then against Purdue he was back in the lineup along side Mark Moudros at OLB. Let's be clear, Ezeh's been a disaster on the field in every game leading up to Purdue.

So how in God's name is this even a question?

Take a look at Mouton's UFR (courtesy MGo) over his last four games in which Michigan has gone 1-3:

Mouton's UFR In Last Four Games
Mouton UFR + UFR - Total Tackles TFL Sacks
Illinois 15.5 -16 -.5 14 1 0
Penn St. 6 -5 +1 12 1.5 1
Iowa 13 -10 +3 7 0 0
Michigan St. 11 -5 +6 9 1.5 0

You might notice a downward trend over the last four games, and personally, I think MGo's being far too generous with the positive plays here. Making things worse, I'll borrow from Brian's Iowa UFR:

So if Demens was such a ninja how did Iowa rack up all those yards on the ground?

Mouton. I know he came out +3 but I'm annoyed with that, and annoyed with him. There will be a picture pages later today or tomorrow discussing Iowa's 11-yard touchdown runon which Mouton fought inside a tackle and gave up the corner when Demens was scraping to the hole; most of Iowa's long runs were on plays where Mouton did not contain the ball and drive it back inside.

This sums up the "Mouton Experience 2010" perfectly. Mouton's strangely divergent numbers in UFR have come out of some incredibly positive and atheltic plays and some mind blowing mental mistakes that as a senior he should never make. Looking back at the MSU, Iowa, Illinois and Penn State games you'll notice that most of the oppositions' big runs came against areas where Mouton should've been or areas where he'd run himself out of the play. Iowa and Illinois in particular were examples of Mouton failing to either maintain his cut back assingment or failing to scrape over the top to where he should be.

Even so, Mouton is so much better than Ezeh it's not even funny. How can you even suggest this?

This video:

Look specifically at the series between 4:35 and 4:50. As you will note, Ezeh blows up an entire series by himself. That has never happened before. Ever. It's almost as if Ezeh wasn't Ezeh, but some strange incarnation of Chris Harris. Ezeh was aggressive. He was decisive. He actually drove through his tackles. Arguably, he was Michigan's best linebacker on a day where Kenny Demens played well (not great, well).

More rationale after the jump...


Here's the biggest reason behind my somewhat crazy proposition: Maintaining the OLB's gap responsibility. As we are all aware, Mouton's gap and and cut back awareness has been next to zero all season long. We originally thought that part of the issue was Mouton overcompensating for some of Ezeh's mistakes on his assignments. However, since Kenny Demens took over at MLB, that theory's gone out the window. Mouton's inability to maintain his assignments is his own fault.

Against Iowa and Illinois Mouton was responsible for allowing a number of cutback runs that gashed the Michigan defense. Put simply, the outside hasn't been Mouton's friend. For some reason Ezeh was really good at that last Saturday. Strangely, Ezeh was also pretty good at getting off blocks on last Saturday too. I don't understand it either. The only thing I can come up with is that now that he's been relieved of his extraneous duties and can now concentrate on just playing one side of the field. It's just a thought.

The thing that matters, though, is how Michigan lines up. In the last game Michigan was in a legit 3-3-5 stack, and that meant we were playing a smaller, quicker group. Against Wisconsin, which is an all-beef lineup, I think Rodriguez is going to go with size. With Roh (FINALLY) playing full time at DE, that means we need a new and more consistent deathbacker. J.B. Fitzgerald hasn't played well enough to claim it and Mark Moundros is still a walk on converted fullback playing linebacker. Brandon Herron hasn't been heard from since the Carter administration. That leaves Obi. And thankfully, two weeks in, he's showing that he can play.

Bottom line, Mouton is going to start (if healthy) on Saturday against Wisconsin. What I think you will see, however, is Mouton, Ezeh and Demens on the field at the same time. WhatWhatWhat!?!?!?!? Yup. Michigan should, and hopefully will be able to start Ryan Van Bergen Mike Martin and Craig Roh as Michigan's down linemen. Mouton at regular OLB, Ezeh at the deathbacker position, and Demens at MLB. That leaves Michigan with James Rogers and Courtney Avery at CB, Ray Vinopal and Jordan Kovacs at Safety, and Cameron Gordon at spur.

Honestly, I think this lineup gives Michigan the best shot its going to have to stop Wiscosin on Saturday.