Massive Q & A with two Michigan bloggers
Michigan athletics are undoubtedly big-time, and they’re covered by several big-time blogs. I took the opportunity to pose a few questions to a couple of the biggies, Brian of MGoBlog and Dave of SB Nation’s Maize ‘n’ Brew.
1. I hear a lot of people making jokes about Michigan’s special teams, particularly the place kicker(s). Are they really that bad? If so, why? If not, why the perception?
Brian: They are really that bad. Last year the stats people said they were the worst in the country, and they played like it. 4/14 last year, with all of those from within 40. There’s a freshman but he was beaten out by one of the returners, which has everyone worried. Field goals will be an adventure.
Dave: Last season Michigan’s special teams were horrible. If we were picking a beer that best describes them they wouldn’t even be beer. They would’ve been best described as drinking hairspray. Like beer, there was limited alcohol content, but you were just as likely to kill yourself drinking said hairspray (using the 2010 special teams) as get the appropriate buzz. This season… who knows. We’ve only attempted point-afters so far (and had one blocked against Western Michigan), so who the hell knows. I’m hopeful they’ll be better but after last season (and the season before) I’ll never suggest that they’ve be better simply because “they have to improve.” As a beer this season…. maybe a Miller Lite. Not good. Not terrible. Just kinda there.
2. Denard Robinson is obviously the star, and an incredibly talented athlete. How well does he fit with what Hoke is trying to do? Does Hoke seem to be flexible, or is he trying to squeeze Robinson into his system?
Brian: It’s too early to tell yet. Early returns are mixed. They’re running a lot of shotgun but not much zone stretch stuff that the line was so good at last year. The offense doesn’t seem to have a lot of cohesion yet. The plays don’t mesh with each other.
Denard does not fit with what Hoke is trying to do but with a guy like him you figure out how to use him.
Dave: We’ve covered this quite a bit at Maize n Brew. Personally, I think Hoke and Offensive Coordinator Al Borges are doing a tremendous job of molding the system they want to run around Denard. Any hand wringing about the offense needs to be taken with a grain of salt as we’re just two weeks into the season. There’s a bit of give and take. Hoke and Borges are asking Denard to do a lot of new things and make throws that Rodriguez’ offense didn’t call for. But, by that same token, they’ve incorporated a lot of the runs and passes that made Denard successful last season. It’s a work in progress but I’m pleased with what I’ve seen from the coaches.
3. Players to watch other than Denard?
Brian: Wide receiver Junior Hemingway. He’s not super fast but he’s thick (230 pounds) and has a knack for coming down with jump balls. On defense, Kenny Demens and Jordan Kovacs.
Dave: Wide Receiver Junior Hemingway may be one of the best receivers in the conference. Great at jump balls, great routes, extremely powerful for a WR. And he wears #21. I know of another great Michigan receiver who wore that number. Also, watch SS Jordan Kovacs. The former walk-on is a certified bad ass. He understands the defensive system and how to play in it as well as the coaches. As a result, he makes plays every game.
4. Under Rich Rodriguez, the defense seemed to deteriorate almost to nothing. As EMU fans are well-aware, rebuilding a neglected aspect of a program takes time, both to bring in suitable players and to teach a new system. How is the Michigan defense coming along so far?
Brian: It’s shaky. Five star Will Campbell lost out to a walk-on and that walk-on has not played well. Craig Roh has done little so far this year and both WLB and SS are problem areas. Michigan may have found a WLB in Brandin Hawthorne, who played well against Notre Dame, but other areas don’t seem like they’ll find immediate reinforcements.
Another problem is moving from Greg Robinson’s blah conservative 3-3-5 type thing to an insane aggressive NFL-style zone blitzing scheme. It’s getting guys through and forcing turnovers; it’s also giving opponents big chunks of yards when the dice rolls come out poorly.
Dave: It’s getting there. The nice thing about the transition here is that you’ve got a REALLY good football coach (Greg Mattison) to pilot the rebuilding process. I think there are a lot of issues with depth though. Rodriguez recruited well, but unfortunately a lot of his higher end defensive recruits never made it to Ann Arbor or left before they saw the field. So there isn’t a lot of depth right now. That said, there is a LOT of talent. I think as the defensive line gets more playing time you’ll see dramatic improvement. The effect on the DBs and the LBs has been dramatic already. We’re adding hopps right now, fermentation is going to take a while.
5. Now that it’s had some time to sink in, what are your thoughts on the changes to Michigan Stadium?
Brian: I’ve always been in favor of them and they came out about as well as they possibly could. The stadium is beautiful from the outside, louder on the inside, and (slightly) roomier.
Dave: Absolutely love them. The Big House has never been prettier, it’s easier to get around, and it’s louder than its ever been. Also, it’s far more imposing than it’s ever been.
6. Your prediction?
Brian: It’s hard to see Eastern’s defense keeping up with Denard but I do think the Eagles will put together a few solid drives of their own. Call it 42-17.
Dave: You’ve got a good rushing attack, so I assume Michigan will use your offense as a means to sure up its rush defense. I’m guess Michigan wins in that 41 – 14 range. But I wouldn’t be surprised if you notch an extra TD or two.
I also answered questions for each Michigan blog. You can read what I told Maize ‘n’ Brew here. MGoBlog hasn’t posted it, but I’ll update here when I see it.