Across the Field: Michigan

By Elika on November 23, 2011 at 4:00p
One of these men won the Ten Year War. The other, won national titles. Both made The Game what it is today.

It's Beat Michigan Week, and what can one say that hasn't already been said many times over since 1897? Sometimes the legends, the triumphs, the upsets and the iconic moments that this rivalry has brought to the world of sports, just need to speak for themselves.

Despite claims from other fanbases that The Game has lost it's luster over the years, it is still the greatest rivalry in all of sports, and anything is possible on game day.

This week, Brian of MGoBlog joined me to discuss Michigan's turnaround this year under new head coach Brady Hoke, the incredible improvements of the Wolverine defense, and his short and sweet thoughts on Urban Meyer taking the reigns at Ohio State. Read on, and tune in this Saturday at 12:00 PM ET on ABC... as it is always has been, and always will be, history in the making.

Michigan started their last two seasons 4-0 and 5-0 with disappointing results by seasons end. During what game this year did you see something in this Michigan team that you thought might provide better final results this time around, and why?

It really wasn't until the Illinois game that it seemed like Michigan had definitely turned a corner. Their previous road games against decent teams had been debacles and it was still uncertain how for real the defense was. Throttling Illinois in that fashion was an "oh thank God" moment.

Even if it was Illinois, the total destruction of their offense and a quietly excellent offensive performance against a D that looks like one of the Big Ten's best was enough to say "not again."

Fans on a national level are obviously familiar with Denard Robinson. Who are some other Michigan players, on both sides of the ball, that may have gone unnoticed to non-Michigan fans, in terms of what they’ve provided to Michigan’s success this year?

Center David Molk is the heart of the line, a guy with the quickness to seal most DTs and the power to maul the ones he can't.

Literally half the defense could be put in this category: freshmen Jake Ryan and Blake Countess have played older than their years and Jordan Kovacs has emerged into a legitimately good safety. But the two guys who don't get enough respect are SDE Ryan Van Bergen and CB JT Floyd.

Floyd was a tire fire last year who everyone wrote off after his awful Penn State game. This year he is at least an average Big Ten corner and he's played much better than that recently, long Nebraska TD notwithstanding. He won a one on one battle with AJ Jenkins two weeks ago and the screwup last week was the first time he'd been beaten deep all season.

Van Bergen is a plugger with only moderate explosion but he is impossible to cut, never busts an assignment, and works his way into the backfield with surprising regularity. He's totally reliable.

How would you grade the job Brady Hoke has done thus far, and what do you think are some of the changes Hoke has made, aside from the defense, that have been critical to this Michigan team’s success?

Overall he gets an A. The defensive makeover is the A+++++ that makes up for a couple of extremely poor offensive gameplans against MSU and Iowa.

Other than the D, Hoke has brought an aggressive mindset that has helped Michigan put games away early. Michigan hasn't backslid into a close game this year after jumping out to a big lead because he keeps the pedal down until huge variance is the only thing that can cause Michigan to lose.

He has also magically turned Brendan Gibbons into a mediocre kicker and put fumble magnets in everyone's gloves.

After finishing 2010 ranked 108th nationally in scoring defense, Michigan currently sits at 8th in the country in that same category. Clearly, Greg Mattison has been a vast improvement over Greg Robinson. Can you discuss some of the reasons why you think the defense has been so much more successful this year?

Every reason you can think of.
1. Pace. Michigan operates more slowly now so games are effectively shorter. This is not a real reason but it helps the scoring D.
2. Turnovers. Michigan has acquired massive numbers of them, so many that they can expect to regress next year.
3. They are running a defense the coordinator knows. This radical innovation is something Rich Rodriguez is looking into.
4. Returning starters. There were about nine, depending on how you judge these things.
5. Injury fortune. Last year they lost Woolfolk, and Martin was effectively shelved after the MSU game. This year Woolfolk's been in and out of the lineup but no one else has suffered.
6. Greg Mattison is really that good. His array of blitzes frequently gets Michigan free rushers with seven in coverage.
7. Massive improvement from unexpected sources. Floyd, walk-on DT Will Heininger, freshman SLB Jake Ryan, and freshman CB Blake Countess have all played much better than expected.

Michigan is favored in this game for the first time in awhile, and looks to be the better team; but, are there any OSU strengths that you feel matchup well against Michigan... and that make you nervous OSU could pull off the upset?

John Simon and Braxton Miller. Simon will probably be matched up with Michigan's dodgy RT Mark Huyge on passing downs and it's easy to see that going poorly to the tune of sacks and bad Denard INTs.

Miller is a huge wildcard. I remember mocking Troy Smith before the 2004 game. I fear mobile QB death butterfly emergence. He's a guy who can take your well-laid plans and obliterate them in a 60-yard burst.

What are your thoughts and prediction for the game?

This is deeply bizarre to say, but after the last two weeks it's hard to see Ohio State moving the ball consistently against a defense that's shut off two option run attacks, one of them a powerful outfit, in the last two weeks. OSU has better personnel than those two teams and will launch a couple drives that frustrate because Martin isn't completely dominating the interior OL and Miller/Herron/Hall are exposing some of the weaknesses Michigan has at linebacker. But one of the secrets of Michigan's improvement has been an awesome third and short defense. I don't think we're going to see more than a couple sustained drives from OSU.

Michigan will do a bit better than that and should have a yardage advantage. Turning that into points will be the difference. How many turnovers does Denard cough up, how many goal-to-go situations does Michigan fail to convert, etc.

As far as a prediction, I've been saying 24-14.

It's looking more and more likely by the day that Urban Meyer will be the next coach at Ohio State. As a Michigan supporter, what are your thoughts on the hire, and the impact it could have on Ohio State, and the rivalry?

Is he not Jim Tressel? If so, okay by me.

Thanks again to Brian for sharing his Wolverine insight with us this week. To read more from Brian on THE GAME and That Team Up North, check out the following links:


Twitter: @mgoblog


Comments Show All Comments

Kalamazoo Steve's picture

M has a great 3rd & short defense?  OSU is a LOCK to win!!!!  We are NEVER in 3rd & short situations, and if we are someone will move early and make it 3rd & long.  They are playing right into our hands!

Menexenus's picture

:-)  I thought something similar as I was reading, too.

Real fans stay for Carmen.

KenK's picture

Exactly. We'll foil their strength by getting into 3rd & long. This is where Shugarts pays off!

Johnny Hooker: "He's not as tough as he thinks". Henry Gondorff: "Neither are we".

buckeyedude's picture

ROFL! Third and looooooooooooong! OSU's 2011 secret weapon!



Joe Beale's picture

Nothing makes the blood boil like seeing the ugly mug of Bo Schembechler!

Menexenus's picture

As a Michigan supporter, what are your thoughts on the hire, and the impact it could have on Ohio State, and the rivalry?

Is he not Jim Tressel? If so, okay by me.

See?  Even Michigan fans know that Jim Tressel is a more fearsome opposing head coach than Urban Meyer.  And I have to point out once again that an Ohio State head coach whose initials are "UM" is an abomination.

Real fans stay for Carmen.

Is it Saturday Yet's picture

Can you quit with the jinxing already? This dude worships Woody and supposedly carries buckeyes in his pocket.

Menexenus's picture

No way!  Jinx, jinx, jinx!  :-) 

If we hire Urban Meyer and leave our former coach out in the cold, that would be some bad karma, my man.  I just pray that Tressel doesn't get hired at another Big Ten school.  Because if he started kicking our team's ass year in and year out, we'd totally deserve it.

Real fans stay for Carmen.

buckeyedude's picture

Fickell is not going to be left "out in the cold."



Menexenus's picture

Here's a nightmare scenario for you - what if Tressel gets hired by Penn State?  That would be genuinely scary.  And like I said above, we'd totally deserve the yearly beatdowns we'd be treated to for forcing him out (and refusing to rehire him) over the NCAA's petty bullshit.

Real fans stay for Carmen.

M tots's picture

You're right. But it would never happen... Imagine the media hit Penn St would take if they hired someone else who was also guilty of covering things up (even though they were much pettier things)

Bucksfan's picture

Brian, thanks for stopping by and adding your insight.  Now, go jump down a well.  Actually, first apologize you didn't respond to Elika as Ms. Sadeghi, THEN go jump down a well.

M Man's picture

This was a really great question; a better question than anyone down in Columbus might realize:

Michigan started their last two seasons 4-0 and 5-0 with disappointing results by seasons end. During what game this year did you see something in this Michigan team that you thought might provide better final results this time around, and why?

Because my own answer to that would have been, "Not until last week!"  The Illinois game was a W for us, but I don't think I ever felt much comfort in it.  The Nebraska @ Michigan  game was a true tour de force for Michigan's defensive front.

But look, my 11W friends.  We did not play Penn State this year.  We did not play Wisconsin this year.  We got seriously roughed up by Michigan State, and we couldn't beat Iowa.  That is not the sort of thing that should rightfully fuel any Michigan trashtallking.

The chanting of "Beat Oh-i-o!" at the end of the Nebraska was composed of equal parts amazement at what we had just accomplished versus the Cornhuskers, and the sudden, shocked realization that about 36 hours later, we'd be installed by Vegas as favorites versus the Ohio State Buckeyes for the first time since half the student body was watching cartoons on Saturday mornings.

As far as prognosticating goes, last week's games are probably better predictive factors than games in September; and if Michigan plays again like they did last week, I think they will win again.  But this one is so wide open, with so much room for things to go haywire on both sides, I really have no idea what to expect. 

Keys for OSU:  You'll need some turnovers and especially points off of turnovers to win.  We've seen a few sloppy turnovers this year on the part of Denard, that didn't turn into six for the opposition, thanks to inspired defense.  I expect that we're going to score 30 points no matter what your defense does, and so I think you'll need more.  (We probably should have scored 30 against MSU and Iowa.)

And I personally think it will be very, very big if Bollman and Fickell can get something going with Posey.  Posey could hurt us.

cplunk's picture

Unfortunately you don't need to worry about Posey at all. Bollman isn't sold on this whole forward pass thing yet.

faux_maestro's picture

Bollman isn't sold on this whole forward pass thing yet.


As long as you are talking about routes less than 15 yards. Requires too much precision. What requires less precision? Everyone go deep.


Also, it seems to me like we have a real problem forcing turnovers. Maybe it's my imagination, I don't have the stats in front of me and I missed parts of the past 3 games.

Your mom told me she wants a Dicken Cidar.

Baroclinicity's picture

The most intruiging matchup for me will be the UM WRs vs. the OSU DBs.  If those guys get open and Denard can pass at will, we'll be in some serious trouble. 

When you're holding a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

M Man's picture

lol.  Denard isn't sold on this whole forward pass thing either.

Baroclinicity's picture

He seems like he can hit the wide open receiver though (this year anyways).  Only way we can win is if we make Michigan one dimensional. 

When you're holding a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

faux_maestro's picture

That game against Iowa he was throwing Bauserbombs from what I saw. I hope we can keep him in the pocket. I think it may be our only chance.

Your mom told me she wants a Dicken Cidar.

RedQueenRace's picture

Well, it does require precision.

mike78's picture

I'm a bit surprised that you think you'll score 30 regardless of what the bullets do.  They have been wildly inconsistant, but they have been impressive at times.  Just wondering what you see in the TTUN offense vs. OSU defense matchup that makes you think this. 

M Man's picture

It's not a knock on your defense.  Not at all.  It's just what we do.  Truly; we really should have scored 30 against MSU and Iowa (particularly Iowa), and those are the only two teams that held us below 30.  (We beat San Diego State 28-7, when Hoke played everybody who was in a uniform that day against his last-year's team.)  The MSU game was that same dank, blustery day on which you beat the Illini 17-7.  Saturday's weather is supposed to be fine, low 50's, with only a chance of showers and light breezes.

In the Big House this year, we are averaging 38+ points per game.  Now a lot of that was against defenses that aren't in your league.  But one of those games (lightning-interrupted WMU) was also just 3 quarters.

I am counting on Denard having a decent day.  If he has a great game, 30 points is a mortal lock.  If he has an awful game, it might still mean 30 points for us, but four or five picks/fumbles for you.

mike78's picture

The last two weeks have made me fear you much, much more.  I do still think the bullets may have a shutdown game up their sleeves if they can get over the whole spotting the opponents 10 points thing.  

faux_maestro's picture

I'm in Columbus and I thought it was a great question.

Your mom told me she wants a Dicken Cidar.

tedglover's picture

My prodigous gut tells me that OSU has no shot.  Bad offense, shaky defense, on the road.

But this is The Game.  Weird things happen.  And with the Urban Meyer backstory, this version of The Greatest Rivalry In All Of Sport is taking on more of a 1987 feel.

Those Buckeyes had no business going in the Ann Arbor and winning that game, but they did.  The team rallied around an embattled and soon to be fired Earle Bruce and beat a better Michigan team.

And call me nuts, but I think we're in for something similar on Saturday.


KenK's picture

Oh, Ted, you're just nuts.


Go Bucks

Johnny Hooker: "He's not as tough as he thinks". Henry Gondorff: "Neither are we".

mike78's picture

Luke headbands.

buckeyedude's picture

Headbands would have been more appropriate for Tressel had he been allowed to finish the season. Plus, Luke may still be an asst. coach at OSU next season. I can't see player headbands or putting Luke on their shoulders should we pull this game out.



rider1's picture

Strangest week of my college football life last week(and I've been a fan for 50+ years).I rooted for Michigan and USC! I frickin hate Oregon and wanted Nebraska to take some knocks in the Big 10. Bizzaro world is over-go Bucks! Kick some Wolverine butt!

FearTheSweaterVest's picture

My biggest dissapointment of the year that gives me a lot of pause for this weekend? Foundational defensive skills. I always hear commentary on how solid and mistake free our defense is. This year? I can't count how many missed tackles, tackles being led with arms, non-plays on the ball, missed coverage etc. I've seen. I don't know if we chalk that up to youth, lack of leadership, poor coaching or what, but it's unsettleing to say the least.

No matter what, Go Bucks beat scUM!