Thursday, September 22, 2005

Bucky vs Maize - A Michigan fan lends perspective

Brian from MGoBlog approached me yesterday and asked me for some thoughts on Wisconsin as they head into this weekend's showdown with overrated Michigan. I have decided to hit him up for some thoughts on the Mighty Maize and Blue. Since Brian's got the best damn Michigan blog around, I figure he's as good a source as any for information. We know the Wolverines haven't won a "road opener" since 1999, and we know they are suffering from their fair share of injury issues, but what should we expect from Michigan on Saturday in Madison (5pm CT, ESPN2)? Brian provides some insight.

(Note: If you want to read my thoughts on Wisconsin heading into this game, click here.)

1. What's the status of the offensive line? It looked like a sieve against Notre Dame, and there are a few banged-up bodies. Who can we expect to see playing on Saturday, and how should we expect them to perform?

Since the word is that both Matt Lentz and Mike Kolodziej will return to the lineup, the only starter missing is the big one, right tackle Jake Long. Kolodziej's return is hugely important. He missed the last two games with a mysterious illness, forcing Ruben Riley--a guard last year--out to RT, where he proved he's a pretty good guard. He got abused by Eastern Michigan a few times and was partially reponsible for the pressure-fest against Notre Dame. Lentz sat out the EMU game after missing a quarter of the Notre Dame, but that was just a precaution.

As to how they'll perform, probably good but not great. Long was definitely the best player on the line and without him you've got a set of specialists who can pass block (Kolo and Stenavich) or run block (Lentz and Henige) like bad muthas but don't really excel in the other phase of the game.

2. You've noted that Max Martin looks pretty good at RB. What's Michael Hart's status? If he's healthy, does he start ahead of Martin? Should we prepare for a little bit of RBBC (Running Back By Committee) against Bucky?

Hart starts if healthy, no question, but he's not and won't play at all against Wisconsin. In his place you will see some RBBC with Martin, Kevin Grady, and possibly Jerome Jackson splitting carries. Martin and Grady have very different running styles--Martin is a zone-stretch slasher while Grady is sort of a bulldozer version of Hart, a between the tackles guy--so Michigan will try both early, I think, and ride whoever looks best suited to combat the Badger D.

3. What is the biggest weakness for Michigan on offense right now?

If Kolodziej is out, the obvious answer is right tackle. Even if he's in, Michigan has had issues dealing with the blitz. Henne clearly got spooked in the ND game after getting a lot of unblocked pressure from Notre Dame blitzers. Grady missed a few pickups and the offensive line just got beat a few other times. I would say that or wide receiver depth, since Arrington is out and no one other than Avant has really shown much so far.

4. How do you expect Michigan to go after Wisconsin's defense?

Cynics will tell you it's a road game so Carr will "nut up," as they say, and I think they'll convince themselves they were right after Michigan does what it always does, mix the run and pass, avoid the deep middle a little too much, and throw less than they want. I also happen to think that's probably the right idea given the blitz pickup problems and Henne's game against ND. I think Michigan will try to protect Henne early, giving him simple throws and running an awful lot. It'll be a conservative game plan because Michigan isn't going to be quaking in fear of the UW offense (that's for next week against MSU).

(Editor's note: I don't think the Madison Memorial High School football team's offense would quake in fear of the Badger defense at this point.)

5. Besides the obvious (they lost the games), do you see any similarities in the last five "road openers" for Michigan?

Horrible special teams play and a lot of strange bounces.

(Editor's note: I have to respect a man that resists the urge to use the word "officiating" to answer a question like this.)

6. Lloyd Carr is better at hiding injury information than Barry Alvarez, which is saying something. As a fan, does it bother you that, in some cases, you don't know for sure who's going to play before the game starts?

Some of the information leaks out anyway if you're paying attention, and it doesn't really bother me because it doesn't impact Michigan's chances of winning negatively. That's all I really care about. Go ahead: ask me about punting from the 35.

(Editor's note: So, what about punting from the 35?)

7. How will Michigan's front seven hold up against Brian Calhoun?

That's the million dollar question, isn't it? I just watched the UNC game last night and was impressed with Calhoun. He can find the tiniest cracks and shoot up through them just like Davis did when healthy. Michigan ceded a ton of rushing yards to NIU and let Darius Walker get 100, but I think the D is better than that. The linebackers appear to be coming around and I'm beginning to really like the defensive line--look out for DT Alan Branch.

But the big question, figuratively and literally, is the status of planetoid NT Gabe Watson, who's listed as a second-stringer behind Pat Massey on the depth chart this week and played very little against both Notre Dame and Eastern Michigan. He's healthy, he was All Big Ten last year, and watching the tape makes it clear that he's crushing single blocking like he always did and holding up against double teams, but Massey's in because he works really hard, I guess. If Watson doesn't play I'm going to be screaming at the TV every time Calhoun dashes past a pancaked Massey. That's something to watch for: is the ginormous #78 guy in or is the 6'8" #94 guy in? My guess is that Watson is worth 1-2 YPC all by himself, but he's got to play to have an effect.

8. Is the secondary vulnerable enough for Wisconsin to make some plays through the air?

Maybe. The secondary is still untested. Against NIU they played the same zone all day, and against ND they were greatly aided by Brady Quinn's inability to throw downfield. EMU is EMU. That said, my worry level re: them has plummetted over the last three games. Brandent Engelmon has played very well at SS and hasn't been wildly out of position like a certain undrafted early entry was. Morgan Trent looks like a good nickel corner. Mason and Hall are decent starters. I think they'll have a tough time at some point this year (MSU and Iowa) but the Wisconsin passing game isn't the one to expose them.

9. Finally, predict the final score. How much will Michigan win by?

I thought this would be an easy win before the year but now it appears significantly tighter. It'll come down to Michigan's pass protection and the interior defensive line's production (and by that I mean if they use Watson sensibly). I do think Michigan wins. Barryball has always played into the strengths of Michigan's D. Call it 24-17.

Our thanks to Brian. Visit his blog. Even though he's a Michigan fan, it's usually a pretty good read.

1 comment:

Brian said...

"(Editor's note: So, what about punting from the 35?)"