Check out this interview I held with Dave over at Maize n Brew about how the Utah and Michigan game will shape out. Go check out his site after you read his responses. This is an excellent read so check it out.
1. Do you buy the hype over Michigan’s players not “fitting the system”?
Offensively I don’t think there’s any question that several of Michigan’s players are not optimally suited to run rodriguez’ preferred offense. A 6’6″ statue with a cannon arm is not what Rodriguez generally prefers to run his offense. However, Steven Threet or Nick Sheridan or Justin Feagin all ran the Spread in high school, so each of them has some knowledge of what the system entails and their better suited to run whatever version of the Spread Rodriguez installs than anyone who’s taken the snaps at Michigan for the last decade. So while the signal caller may not be Rodriguez prototypical player, whomever he names the starter will be more than capable for running the offense. When you get to the skill positions (RB, WR, TE),
though you’d like to see more experience on the wings, Michigan is loaded with more talent and capability than Rodriguez has ever had, with the possible exception of Noel Devine.
The real issue is on the offensive line. All of these linemen, with the exceptions of Tackles Steve Schilling and Mark Ortmann, were traditional pro style linemen who floundered under the horrific tutelage of former line coach Andy Moeller. None of the linemen were ever required to work, run, sprint, or block the way Rodriguez’ system requires. Top that off with the antiquated conditioning system Michigan formerly employed which valued girth over strength and athleticism, well, you start to get the picture. Michigan’s biggest “fit the system” problem will come at the offensive line, simply because of the lack of depth and the fact that most of them have ever run an offense remotely similar to Rodriguez’.
On Defense? Stacked like pancakes on Sunday, son. The defense is fast, mean, and loaded with speed. New DC Scott Schafer, last seen guiding Stanford’s defense to an upset over top ranked USC, loves what he’s got. This is arguably the second best defense in the Big Ten behind Ohio State’s.
stick to just one or use a rotation?
According to the projected two-deeps and various media outlets, redshirt freshman Steven Threet will take the Michigan’s first snaps this season. Threet is a former consensus 4 star, Elite 11 quarterback. He initially committed to Georgia Tech and bolted after fall practice. The reasons were never clear but the consensus was a combination of home sickness and dissatisfaction with the Tech coaches. Threet is as tall as the statute of Liberty and reputed to be just about as mobile. Though he ran the spread in high school, Threet isn’t a threat to run. There are the occasional quotes from his high school coach indicating he’s faster than he looks, or that no one’s giving his athleticism any credit, but everything I’ve seen/read/heard says coffee table like mobility. I hope he proves me wrong.
Where Threet will make his money is in the passing game. He’s got a cannon for an arm and is reputed to throw as pretty a deep ball as you’ll find in college football. This isn’t to say his arm is as strong as Henne’s, or even now departed Ryan Mallett, but it’s pretty good. Threet has also garnered praise for his leadership qualities and seems to have the best grasp of the huddle and a smidge more poise than Sheridan.But nothing is wrapped up.
As surprising as it sounds, walk-on Nick Sheridan’s performance during fall practice has him neck and neck with Threet to start August 30th. This should be and is (somewhat) a cause for concern. Programs like Michigan aren’t supposed to have walk-ons at starting quarterback. However, there is some precedent for this. Brian Griese was a preferred walk on who didn’t earn a scholarship until his senior year.
Which is incidentally the year he led the Wolverines to a national title. While no one is suggesting that’s going to happen this year, it does offer at least a little bit of comfort. Inapplicable historical minutia aside, there are several reasons for optimism when it comes to Sheridan’s potential as a signal caller. First he was a fairly successful quarterback at Ann Arbor Saline high school before a knee injury derailed his senior season. Sheridan is the more athletic of the two quarterbacks and was used to running the spread in high school as well as tucking the ball under and running.
Next, though he doesn’t possess the arm strength that Threet has, Sheridan’s accuracy has improved dramatically with the extra reps he’s gotten with the first team this fall and he’s got enough arm strength to get the ball where it needs to be. Finally, Sheridan’s a smart kid and a coach’s son. Part of the reason Sheridan came to Michigan was at the request of Lloyd Carr for him to matriculate as a preferred walk on. Sheridan’s dad was a coach at Michigan at the time (or a former coach), so there’s some nepotistic rationale for the invitation but Carr wasn’t a guy who’d take a kid who get killed at the D-1 level. So, baseline, Carr felt Sheridan would be able to contribute in some way, whether running the scout team or as a sort of player/coach during drills. One thing that’s been praised over and over again is Sheridan’s grip of the basics and how coachable he is. The benefits of being a coach’s son become pretty apparent in those circumstances.
Regardless of who starts, Rodriguez has made clear you’re probably going to see both quarterbacks on the 30th.
3. How do you think the Michigan defense will do against Utah’s
spread? Especially since they struggled against Appalachian State and
Illinois, two teams that use a spread offense.
While it’s true the spread offense has been Michigan’s Achilles Heel the last ten years, most of that has to do with the coaching that left rather than any deficiency in talent. Michigan’s past teams were built
around defending a power running team or a standard, pro-style offense. Carr wasn’t a spread guy, so no matter how much practice time the team got out of it’s practice squad it wasn’t going to match up to
the Ohio State, USC, or Texas/Vince Young offenses. But if you’re talking about defending a standard spread offense, well, Michigan’s faired better than people perceive.
Michigan really hasn’t struggled with Illinois, despite the offense it runs. If you watch the last two year’s games, Michigan had a simple philosophy with Juice Williams. Make him throw. Stack the line and do
your best to knock him around. It worked. Regarding the loss to Appalachian State, it’s a two part answer. First, Armanti Edwards did his best Troy Smith imitation, and deserves full credit for being the
best player on the field that day and arguably the third best player to set foot on Michigan turf last year (Denis Dixon and Beanie Wells are 1 and 2). Second, and more damningly, Michigan’s defense was totally unprepared for the quality of team they were facing. It was an utter coaching failure on the part of Michigan’s defensive staff. People can say what they want, but based on Michigan’s performance the
rest of the year the ASU game was more the result of a talented but lazy team taking a hungry and talented team too lightly.
It’s worth noting that in the second half ASU managed 6 points, when they put up 28 in the first. If Michigan played both halves like the second, I wouldn’t be writing this. But they didn’t, and deserved to lose. Bottom line, ASU is the less an example of Michigan’s difficulty with the spread than the team’s uncanny ability to lose games it shouldn’t over the last five years of Carr’s tenure.
The best example of difficulty that Michigan has with the Spread is Northwestern. Prior to his death, Gary Walker has Northwestern giving Michigan fits with his system which was largely derived from Rich
Rodriguez’ system. Multiple people in motion, quick slants, quarterback reads, the option, etc. All gave Michigan headaches because it was, in effect, a pure spread offense than Michigan had never been able to replicate in practice. Now, facing the Rodriguez’ spread every day in practice, and with the talent on defense this year I think the days that people perceive the “spread’s” pwnage of
Michigan’s defense are coming to a close.
But, as everyone knows, a special player makes the difference in that type of offense. Vince Young. Troy Smith. Look at what happened to Oregon when Denis Dixon went down. If Brian Johnson is healthy, then
he could be a difference maker. However, I haven’t seen enough of the guy to know just how good he can be. If he’s as good as people say, and as quick a runner as he’s made out to be when healthy, I think he’ll give our linebackers fits.
I think the QB makes the difference. I just don’t think the fact that Utah runs a spread offense matters this year, even though it might have in the past.
4. Is Rich Rodriguez going to be stubborn and force ‘his offense’ on
this team or will he gradually mix it in and utilize the strengths of
the players he has?
Will he force a square peg into a round hole? No. He’s too good a coach for that. Rodriguez has a history of molding his offenses around his personnel. Certainly he has a system, but that system can be adapted a number of ways to take advantage of the talent he has. Look at his success with Tulane. Hell, he somehow managed to get Shaun King drafted! King had all the foot speed of a wicker swing set and he
still guided that team to a 12-0 season and a bowl win. Everything we’ve heard or seen from this Michigan team indicates he’s crafting his system around his players.
5. Who wins and why?
Michigan, based on their defense. Don’t get me wrong, I think Utah’s got ever possible chance to win this game, but my questions with Utah’s defense are greater than my concerns over Utah’s offense.
Utah’s primary returning starters on the D-Line are at the end positions, where Michigan’s best linemen are located. Utah’s returning interior line appears to be a little banged up or inexperienced, just
like its Michigan opposite. There just isn’t a clear advantage there, so a push, you move to Utah’s linebackers who, with the exception of Stevenson Sylvester, are unknowns. However, Michigan’s tailbacks are known quantities each of whom went over 100 yards against Big Ten opponents, and I think they win that battle. Michigan should be able to put up enough points to beat Utah, so the question becomes can the defense keep Utah off the board? I think they can.
The interior line of Terrance Taylor and Will Johnson maybe the best combo in the Big Ten. On the ends I’ve made no secret of how good I think Brandon Graham
and Tim Jamison
are going to be. I think, despite the size and experience returning on Utah’s line, Michigan will be able to get to Johnson. Part of that also has to do with the fact I don’t think Utah will find a lot of success in the air based on the CB combo of Morgan Trent and Donovan Warren.
Both new safeties played extensively last year and our nickel back, Boubacar Cissoko, is a five star top rated CB who’s been extensively praised for his coverage and toughness (even if he does get run over by a running back every now and then). If Utah does find success in the air, it will mean trouble for Michigan. But Johnson’s performance to date, combined with the quality of Michigan’s secondary, makes this a ground and trenches type game. And if it’s decided in the trenches, I think Michigan’s stronger up front. But that’s my partisan opinion.