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Friday, September 02, 2005

Hello, mgoblog readers. Vijay from IBFC, Joey from Straight Bangin’, and myself thought it would be good idea to get together and talk about the upcoming Michigan season. We each moderated a third of a conversation about Michigan football as it stands on September 2, 2005. We started with the offense, which you can find over at Straight Bangin’. I took the defense, which is below. Vijay addressed some more general questions about the state of the program and its direction which you can find over at IBFC.

Some introduction to our general personalities:

Joey: Well, from my perspective: The sky is falling, Carr is a jerk, a playoff is swell, the defensive line is the thing, and Terry Malone is overrated. Like Marlin Jackson. And I, too, am a jerk.

Vijay: From my position, I am a hopeless optimist, I think 10-1 is realistic, we'll improve enough on DL to hide some schematic and back 7 flaws and we'll win the Big 10. Carr is good enough that he shouldn't have the complaint/praise ratio he has, and the only thing I hate more than ND and playoffs is the idea of ND being in the playoffs.

Brian: I, on the other hand, choose to ignore the fact that our safeties are forced to undergo Katzenmoyerization upon matriculation, Herrmann's determination to confuse his own defense into submission, and Carr's decision to leave his nuts in a jar at home whenever he plays a road game and believe we're destined for a Weis-like run of greatness and the next 6 national championships.

Joey: Aren't we a nice triumvirate of Michigan fans?

Indeed. So there you go. That’s us. And here we go:

Brian: Okay. Now to the not so sunny side of life. Michigan's D has been a lightning rod of criticism from the instant Dusty Magnum's field goal cleared the crossbar. The back seven is very green, but there's hope on the DL. The big question: is the defense going to control mobile quarterbacks?

Vijay: Okay, I'll run with this one.

Brian: Please do.

Vijay: Control, hell no, but they'll do a better job than they did last year. Last year we were simply a free meal. We will not swarm like some other teams may, but we should be able to contain a guy like Troy Smith enough that he has to make something else happen, too, to beat us. And the difference will be assignments. We had guys in the back 7 who were nowhere near where they should have been.

Joey: Against mobile QBs, I'd like to see the d-line do a better job of defining the workable space.

Vijay: Joey, elaborate please

Joey: It would be nice if a QB couldn't evade the containment and instead was forced back toward defenders.

Brian: Isn't that what happened in the OSU game? Woodley beats his blocker but holds up to keep contain, and then boom, 67 yard touchdown over Shazor.

Vijay: You know, I really think most of those big runs from Young weren't by breaking contain, they were by finding the gaps between two rushers, where an LB should be waiting. No LB. And Brian, amen. Woodley beat his man and held up. That's awful. You can't expect your SS to keep coverage for 8 seconds.

Joey: I suppose so. I guess I want to see the DEs hold their positions but make more plays. Does that make sense? It seemed like pressure from the edges didn't result in tackles. And as you've both mentioned, even when the pressure was adequate, there was no one in position to make the QB pay. So really, my answer is a hybrid. I think UM will be successful if its DEs define the space a QB has, making tackles when they can, and if the LBs can be in position when a QB goes back toward the field

Brian: Have your cake and eat it too.

Vijay: That's the "swarming thing" I was talking about. If you want Woodley flying off the edge, you have to expect him to miss a bunch of times, but at least force the QB back towards someone else. There's never anyone else there for us. How many times do you see a QB juke a DE, only to get racked up from behind by a 2nd rusher? How many times do you see that happen against Michigan. I feel the opposite. I want Woodley and JVA and whomever else just flying at the QB with no conscience. And I want our LBs behind that ready to clean up.

Joey: I think we're getting at the same thing--people playing their assignments well--but we might be articulating it differently.

Brian: Speaking of the defensive line, I think it's the key to the entire year for the team, the one unit that will make the D if it dominates like it could. New coach, new attitude, same pretty good players. What level will they play at?

Vijay: I harp on it, but I hate youth and those guys were first year starters. They will be much improved. And having quality depth will mean the world to Gabe.

Joey: Well, I was going to originally write that good defense and winning in college football start with the defensive line. Ask Iowa, USC, and LSU. If I can defend Herrmann, a little, it would have been nice were the d-line being taught d-line things.

Vijay: Agreed, Joey.

Brian: Is Stripling going to make a difference?

Joey: Yes. He's actually taught the linemen techniques to use. They might now have a better idea about how to disengage or use an o-lineman's weight and leverage against him.

Vijay: Yes. Our d-line had no technique.

Brian: Stereo action. Okay. How much of a difference? Are Woodley and Watson All-Americans at the end of the year?

Joey: That's a subjective distinction. Woodley will be very, very good (if they let him play with his hand down). Watson can be very, very good, but he'll get tired since he's fat. I thought Woodley was very good last year. He made some mistakes, and he missed some tackles, but he's the best pass rusher and he was surprisingly effective against the run.

Vijay: Well, there are only 4 All-Americans. Not sure we have 2 of the top 4 DL in the country. But they'll be All-American caliber, if you'll accept that chickening out.

Vijay: If I may change the discussion a bit: Pierre Woods ... 2003 quality, 2004 quality or somewhere in between?
Brian: (He was next, Vijay, just pretend I asked that)

Joey: In between. I feel as though he generally held his position well and strung out plays to the outside at times. I am still uncertain about what happened last year.

Vijay: No one's saying, if anyone knows.

Joey: It sounds like Woods was complacent, injured, and involved with partying off the field.

Brian: I'll throw in an answer: somewhere in between. I don't think Burgess is going to relinquish his spot. And I don't think the coaching staff will trust him to do much except pass rush.

Vijay: DE or OLB? Or both?

Joey: I like the idea of Woods at LB because his size doesn't limit his speed.

Brian: He'll play both but I doubt he sees the field against mobile quarterbacks at all. He's horrible in space.

Joey: But he was so horrible last year in space that I don't think it really works. LOL.

Vijay: So he's a go against ND and Minnesota, but no go against OSU and MSU?

Joey: Sure.

Brian: Yes. Use against those two strictly limited to pass rush duties.

Joey: I worry about MLB. Who's playing there? Originally, I thought that it was gonna be the Brick. Then I read it was gonna be Harris. Then I read that Harris has been banged up.

Brian: Harris is injured again. McClintock is McClintock.

Vijay: Graham is outside all the way. Harris took the spot and McClintock moved to back up Graham, but with Harris oft-injured, McC is back at MLB.

Joey: Does McClintock make you feel confident?

Brian: In certain situations I'm comfortable with McClintock. Again, UW, Minnesota, but not against mobile QBs.

Vijay: I am quite happy with McClintock.

Joey: He is the hardest UM player to assess. Some really like him. Some think he's kind of slow.

Brian: Doesn’t it bother you that he lost his job, Vijay?

Vijay: I never felt McClintock was the star of the defense, but with how horrible our entire LB corps was last year, people still kept praising Manning and Reid and never had anything nice to say about McC.

Brian: Vijay thinks “slow” means "white" to a lot of fans.

Vijay: Absolutely on the race thing. I could go on for a while there, but I'll pass.

Joey: I say "slow" meaning that he doesn't seem to get to plays in time to stop them. But most of our guys don't. I might be making that up, but I didn't think McClintock seemed especially effective. I know Vijay has studied this more than I have, though. Vijay?

Vijay: Here's my complaint, Joey. When Manning isn't there, if you blame Manning, you're a Herrmann apologist. When Reid misses the tackle, if you blame Reid, you're a Herrmann apologist. But when McClintock isn't there, it's perfectly okay to say "God, he's so slooooow ... get him off the field. Don't blame the players. How can you defend Herrmann? You're insane. And get McClintock and Massey off the field, 'cause they are so slooooow."

Joey: Well, that is partially racial. I won't deny that. I just think that all of our LBs play slow, though.

Brian: White people *are* really slow. Can't dance either.

Brian: Anyway. Shazor was Janus last year, the two-faced God who saved games and took them away. Now he's missing training camp with the Cardinals. Will the safeties be better or worse without him?

Vijay: Worse, but they'll look better because of improved DL play. How's that for a copout?

Joey: Shazor deserves a lot of blame. But so does Mundy. How many times did a team complete a pass to a WR while Mundy was arriving a step too late. Is the argument that Shazor was freelancing and leaving Mundy to play two positions?

Brian: Don't you think Shazor was the root of all evil after Purdue?

Vijay: The love of money? Are you hinting at reasons for his premature departure?

Joey: Are you saying that Shazor just didn't try?

Brian: I'm saying the dude freaked out. Total ninja flipout.

Joey: Does that fully account for Mundy?

Brian: Mundy was equally culpable. I am as hard on him as anyone.

Joey: I was mad at Shazor but I was more disappointed in Mundy. Some of that is my fault for buying into the hype he got coming out of high school, but he is a pedestrian defensive back who is routinely out of place. And he's already hurt. I think that the safeties will be about the same as last year, in totality.

Brian: So it's more of the same? Eight 60+ yard touchdowns?

Vijay: Nah. That's where the DL will help.

Joey: Engelmon is rumored to "be in the right place at the right time." If that's true, then we'll cut down on the big plays. If not, who knows? Vijay is right, though. A better d-line makes the entire D better. That's the whole moral of the story.

Joey: Are the cornerbacks good?
Brian: Next question: are the cornerbacks good?

Joey: Well, they'll seem good enough if QBs don't have much time.

Vijay: I am very confident we'll get at least capable cornerback play.

Brian: How so?

Vijay: Hall is very good. I think between the other guys they will find someone capable of being the #2 corner. At safety, we're looking for two distinct positions. Much tougher.

Joey: I think that Hall is good. I don't know if he's gonna be a great player, or even a leader, but I think he can cover guys for reasonable amounts of time. And like Vijay, I think someone will emerge across the field. If you believe the reports, a guy like Stewart has the physical gifts but needs to learn how to think. Experience is the best teacher. Mason seems to be decent in zone coverage, and that should be sufficient, again, if the d-line is giving QBs limited time to find receivers.

Vijay: Sears, Trent, Stewart ... all getting better reviews than our safeties.

Joey: I like Harrison as a safety, but he's a year away. If he is really put together like "they" say he is, he could be a solution at SS because he's fast.

Brian: So in summary it looks sort of like a replay of last year with a significantly improved D-line? Fair characterization?

Vijay: I think so. And hopefully less confusion in the schemes.

Brian: I'll believe that when I see it.

Vijay: Hopefully.

Joey: Yeah, especially since Marlin Jackson was so overrated.

Brian: Marlin overrated? Who what when?

Vijay: Marlin was overrated at first by people who said he was our next great Woodson-level corner. Then he was underrated by all the people who complained all the time that he was overrated.

Joey: This is my thing about Marlin: Did he ever significantly alter the outcome of a game?

Brian: That's a double-edged sword, Joey. I'll take a cornerback who is quietly effective over getting toasted by a white WR against ND cough Curry cough.

Joey: I suppose so. Some of his shortcomings, like blown coverages, weren't all on him. The d-line didn't help him.

Vijay: I can think of many, many times when guys like Whitley, Howard and the like altered the outcomes of games. Not good.

Joey: Look, I'm not saying he was bad, but he wasn't this incredible presence on defense who made plays. He wasn't a real weapon. Maybe corners like that are hard to come by, but honestly, would the UM season have been significantly different had he been hurt?

Vijay: Yes, Joey. Awful thought, yes. With all our difficulty with big plays and big play backs, mobile Qbs, etc ... imagine if we also lost our best cover man? Purdue ... loss. Minnesota ... loss.

Brian: I think that's a hell yes but that's just me. Not to mention he was great in run support. Biggest hitting corner I can remember.

Joey: When he made the hit. Dude missed a fair share of tackles.

Brian: I don't remember that at all.

Joey: I don't want to be forced into a position where I have to denigrate him to seem right. I'm just saying that he wasn't as good as many say. At least, as I saw it. There were a lot of plays--in space, usually--when he would wave his arms as a guy evaded him.

Brian: Bottom line: will we lose a game (or games) because of the defense? I'm talking like score 30 and lose.

Joey: Yes. MSU.

Vijay: I don't think we'll get lit up like we did against OSU and Texas, but we may well lose a 31-30 game, and MSU is my biggest fear. If we lose to MSU, it will be on the D, because there's no way they can stop us from scoring 30.