Preview: Western Michigan

Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, MI
September 3, 2011, 3:30 PM 

TV: ABC-Regional/ESPN2-National
(Mike Patrick, Craig James, Jeannine Edwards) [Ed: Sigh.]
Radio: WWJ-950 AM, WTKA-1050 AM, Sirius/XM 91
(Frank Beckmann, Jim Brandstatter, Doug Karsch)
Line: UM -13.5
Over/Under: 61
Series Record: UM leads 5-0
Last Meeting: 2009: UM 31-WMU 7
Michigan Record/Rank: 0-0 (0-0), NR
Western Michigan Record/Rank: 0-0 (0-0), NR

A little background
Remember Denard's first play of his career, which was against WMU two years ago?
Well, first things first...Brady Hoke's first game as head coach at Michigan, replacing Rich Rodriguez who won 6 B1G games in 3 years. Michigan begins a transition from a spread-option to a west-coast or pro-style offense under offensive coordinator Al Borges. The defense, led by coordinator Greg Mattison; who returns to Ann Arbor in the same capacity he left back in the mid-90's, attempts to make drastic improvements in every aspect of the defense which ended 2010 as the 110th overall defense in the country.
One stat that has blown my mind:
From 1935-2007 (778 games), Michigan gave up 40 or more points in a game 9 times. From 2008-2010 (37 games), Michigan gave up 40 or more points in a game 9 times. The good news: In Greg Mattison's first tenure as Michigan's DC from 95-96, UM allowed 16.3 PPG over 25 games and never allowed more than 30 points in any game.

Western Michigan makes it's first trip back to Ann Arbor since their 31-7 loss to the Wolverines in 2009. This is WMU's 6th trip to the Big House.

Statistical Breakdown (based on 2010 final stats)
I realize 2010 stats don't mean much now, but I'll do this each week and it looks better than just having a bunch of zeros. But you have to be just a little freaked out how bad we match up against WMU's passing offense. #amiright?

MICHIGANValue (Nat. Rank)Value (Nat. Rank)Western MichiganAdvantage
Rushing Offense (ypg)238.54 (13)166.58 (76)Rushing Defense (ypg)MICH++
Passing Offense (ypg)250.15 (36)221.25 (62)Passing Defense (ypg)MICH
Pass Efficiency145.97 (23)131.98 (74)Pass Efficiency DefenseMICH+
Total Offense (ypg)488.69 (8)387.83 (73)Total Defense (ypg)MICH++
Scoring Offense (ppg)32.77 (25)23.83 (52)Scoring Defense (ppg)MICH
Rushing Defense (ypg)188.92 (95)125.92 (93)Rushing Offense (ypg)PUSH
Passing Defense (ypg)261.85 (112)285.75 (16)Passing Offense (ypg)WMU+++
Pass Efficiency Defense144.79 (103)139.13 (39)Pass EfficiencyWMU++
Total Defense (ypg)450.77 (110)411.67 (34)Total Offense (ypg)WMU++
Scoring Defense (ppg)35.23 (108)32.33 (27)Scoring Offense (ppg)WMU+++
Net Punting Yards36.07 (69)6.00 (94)Punt Return YardsMICH
Punt Return Yards7.43 (67)35.07 (84)Net Punting YardsPUSH
Kickoff Return Yards21.44 (69)18.51 (6)Kickoff Return DefenseWMU++
Kickoff Return Defense21.25 (58)22.09 (58)Kickoff Return YardsPUSH
Turnover Margin-.77 (109).25 (42)Turnover MarginWMU++
Penalty Yds/Game45.9 (37)53.1 (67)Penalty Yds/GameMICH
Sacks1.38 (98)2.5 (T-91)Sacks AllowedPUSH
Sacks Allowed.85 (T-10)2.33 (34)SacksMICH
Redzone Offense (%)77.19 (T-92)73.68 (T-15)Redzone Defense (%)WMU++
Redzone Defense (%)85.96 (T-89)75.93 (T-101)Redzone Offense (%)PUSH
Redzone TD %70.18 (8)47.37 (T-20)Redzone TD % DefensePUSH
Redzone TD % Defense64.91 (84)62.96 (48)Redzone TD %WMU
3rd Down Conv. %44.77 (30)37.43 (41)3rd Down Defense %PUSH
3rd Down Defense %43.30 (95)39.89 (T-60)3rd Down Conv. %WMU
1st Downs Per Game23.0 (22)18.9 (48)1st Downs Allowed Per/GmMICH
1st Downs Allowed Per/Gm22.5 (107)20.8 (42)1st Downs Per GameWMU++

Difference less than 20 in national rank = Push
Difference more than 20 in national rank = Team
Difference more than 40 in national rank = Team+
Difference more than 60 in national rank = Team++
Difference more than 80 in national rank = Team+++

Common Opponents

When Michigan has the ball
Obviously, this is where the biggest advantage for Michigan is evident. This game marks the initial transition from spread-option to west coast/pro-style. What will remain the same is Denard Robinson being the focus of the Michigan attack. What will not remain the same, however, is Denard Robinson being the sole focus of the Michigan attack. Expect to see the ball get handed off, and often as Brady Hoke and OC Al Borges try to make the running game a much larger factor than in previous years.

A strong running attack is led by senior Michael Shaw and sophomore Fitzgerald Toussaint. Backing them up are Vincent Smith and Stephen Hopkins. Don't be shocked when you see FB John McColgan lined up in the backfield.

Along the line, Michigan is led by senior captain David Molk at center, LG Ricky Barnum, LT Taylor Lewan, RG Patrick Omameh and RT Mark Huyge. This is an experienced and deep group that should have no problem moving the front 7 of WMU to clear lanes for the RBs and Denard.

Catching passes are the usual suspects. Roy Roundtree and Junior Hemingway look to start at WR, with captain Kevin Koger starting at his normal TE spot.

Western runs a hybrid 4-3 system. They are led by veteran MLB Mitch Zajac who led the Broncos with 97 tackles last year. He is joined by sophomore Dezmond Bozeman as one of the rising stars of this unit. Along the line, DE Paul Hazel (8 sacks in 2010) leads a decent unit that is very good at getting pressure on the QB in the backfield. The line is one of the strengths of this defense.

Another strength is the backfield where CB Lewis Toler (5 INTs in 2010) is the star of this defense. He, along with SS Doug Wiggins bring a tremendous amount of athleticism to this group. Expect Michigan to have a little difficulty throwing the ball around thanks to these guys.

An area that Michigan needs to exploit is the running game and the linebackers where WMU lacks depth. Michigan can and will run the ball a lot on this Bronco defense.

When Western Michigan has the ball
Michigan will need to get better, and quickly, in every aspect of their defense from last year's squad which ranked 110th nationally overall. Western Michigan isn't Oregon, but it ain't terrible.

Michigan fans might remember OT Dan O'Neill (6-8, 300) who transferred from Ann Arbor to Kalamazoo two years ago. He is the standout lineman for the Broncos. The rest of the line is a little bit of a mess, however, especially the interior where they replace all three positions.

Western Michigan had tremendous success throwing the ball last year, ranking 16th nationally with sophomore, now junior QB Alex Carder. He threw for 3,334 yards, 30 TDs, and 12 INTs in 2010, and had a wealth of good targets to throw to...including leading receiver Jordan White (6-0, 215) who had 94 catches for 1,378 yards and 10 TDs. Veterans Josh Schaffer, Ansel Ponder and Chled Ravenell, who missed last year with an injury, all look to make a dent in the rebuilt Michigan secondary.

Running the ball, while not the strength of this offense, is not lacking with good talent. Tevin Drake is the leading rusher from 2010 with 40 carries for 405 yards and 4 TDs. But the starting role will go to sophomore Brian Fields, who notched 362 yards last year with 3 TDs. He also averaged 6.5 yards per carry. Clearly, the running game is not the emphasis of this offense, but is serviceable if needed. The big question with the running game is the depth and experience along the OL, rather than the RBs.

Michigan will do many things to try and disrupt the passing attack. Greg Mattison has said that he wants Michigan's defense to be a blitzing defense. I believe we're going to see some pretty interesting formations with the front seven. We're a 4-3 base defense, but that doesn't mean we won't mix it up. A few times in practice, we've seen Mike Martin lined up as an outside linebacker. Don't freak out when we see this this weekend.

Western Michigan is going to throw the ball around a lot to try and expose this defensive backfield. It's their strength and, as far as we know, one of Michigan's biggest weaknesses. Expect Carder to get plenty of passing opportunities. Michigan should focus on trying to get INTs. WMU is 0-3 when Carder throws multiple picks in a game (4-1 when he doesn't).

When a foot meets a ball
Michigan is quite simply starting from scratch with place-kicking. Freshman Matt Wile comes in and is the fan favorite to get the job, mostly because both kickers from last year are still on the roster and couldn't hit the broad side of a barn (we went 4 for 13 last year). But not so fast. Word is Gibbons is looking good. But as Hoke has said, it's not about how good you kick on State Street, it's how good you kick on Main Street.

At the presser last week, Hoke said he likes Gibbons, so I expect him to get the start, but both should kick. Wile will handle kick-offs and likely punts while Will Hagerup serves his suspension for the first four games for breaking team rules (puff puff pass).

Jeremy Gallon, Drew Dileo and Vincent Smith will all handle returns.

Western returns a good kicker in John Potter. He was 10-12 last year with a decently powerful leg. Ben Armer handles the punting duties, which ranked WMU 84th in the nation last year averaging 41.2 yards per punt.

Returning kickoffs for the Broncos are RB Brian Fields and leading returner Dervon Wallace who had a 91-yard return for a touchdown last year, and averages over 27 yards per return. Dareyon Chance and Jordan White both will see punt return time.

Make no mistake, in a game like this, special teams can be the difference between a nice comfy win, and a too-close-for-comfort win. WMU is a good special teams squad. Michigan? ...not so much.

Gut feeling
Openers are notoriously optimistic. Frankly, we don't know much about this Michigan team (even though I sound like I do). The offense and the defense are in transition...bit I think for the better. See what I mean about optimism?

Honestly, my gut feeling about this game is that we'll win two or three scores. Western presents few difficulties for this team (mainly the passing attack and special teams). And while just about everything we heard out of fall camp was positive, I think there's something to be said for that. I don't think this unbridled optimism is unjustified. Brady Hoke has made it a point to address the fact that, yes, we play Notre Dame next week in a huge game, but right now this entire program is focused on Western. I believe him.

I also believe that a strong component of past Michigan teams, coached under Lloyd and Mo and Bo, was a strong emphasis on playing sharp against lesser opponents, and coming out of the gate strong. I think Hoke has his boys amped up for this one, and Michigan rolls. The crowd will be extremely energetic, and the players will be excited to get Hoke his first Michigan win.

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