As part of our series previewing the Capital One Bowl, Alligator Army spoke with Maize n Brew editor Dave.
1. Florida is fourth nationally in scoring offense, and Michigan is 69th. Can Michigan play in a shootout?
In some strange way, if this turns into a shootout I think it favors Michigan. For the non-Michigan fan unaccustomed to (soon to be deposed) Offensive Coordinator Mike DeBord's anti-offense, it works like this: Michigan only scores enough points to win. Period. The only time we score more than that is if it's against Notre Dame. Explaining this further will only bore your readers into a coma, so I'll move on.
If this is a shoot out it forces DeBord to pull out all the stops and unleash what should have been a potent offense this season. Honestly, if you look at the weapons, Mario Manningham, Adrian Arrington, Greg Matthews, and Carson Butler (TE), Michigan has as talented a set of receivers as you'll find in college football. If Chad Henne's shoulder has healed, even slightly, Michigan should be able to point a serious number of points on the board. When healthy, I think Henne possesses the best deep ball in college football. However, he separated his shoulder in the Illinois game and hasn't been the same since. He never should've played against Ohio State. Period. He was that messed up.
If Henne can't go, Ryan Mallett steps in. Again, I think a shoot out helps Michigan because Mallett is the second coming of Rex Grossman, except a foot taller. Mallett be throwin' dat ball so long and deep into the sky, it be crying.
A shootout also means Mallett doesn't have to think too much. That's a good thing. Michigan can put up points. Whether the OC will let it, or the quarterbacks are healthy enough or prepared enough to do so is anyone's guess. If Henne plays and is at 50-60%, Michigan will score. If not, please don't kill him.
2. Michigan lost against spread teams App State and Oregon, but defeated Purdue and Illinois. Have they figured out the spread?
Ha! That's a good one! Figured out the spread... oh geeze. My sides. Oh. You're serious?
Hell no. The only reason Michigan beat Illinois was because Zook was trying harder than Carr to give that game away. Illinois' defense absolutely pounded Michigan. For some ungodly reason Zook decided to keep the Juice bottled up and kept him in the pocket. If Williams plays like he did against OSU, Michigan loses that game by three touchdowns.
The simple answer is Michigan has never learned how to deal with a spread. Go back to 1998 when the now useless, but then awesome Donovan McNabb ran all over an unsuspecting Michigan defense. Look at the Rose Bowl in '03 when Vince Young turned into, well, Vince Young. Troy Smith? The list goes on. Most of the problem has to do with over pursuing linebackers who can't maintain gap control (cough...Shawn Crable...Cough...). But the rest of it has to do with an antiquated notion that the spread is a passing fad that will go away. Michigan generally plays a spread offense with a mobile quarterback the same way it would play against a conventional two back set. If you look at Michigan's one "spread" victory this year it was against Curtis Painter and Purdue's paper thin offensive line.
Painter is as mobile as a sack of anvils. Armanti Edwards (ASU) and Dennis Dixon (Oregon) are tall versions of Percy Harvin, except with functioning arms. Michigan lines up against the spread in a manner that boggles the mind. The standard spread defense is to combine the worst aspects of a zone defense with that of an all out blitz. They never commit to defending the run or the pass, it's always trying to defend both in as half ass a way as possible.
Personally, I'd stack the line and make Tebow air it out. Michigan does have good corners and a pair of very good safeties. Unfortunately, that won't happen and I'll be throwing things at the flat screen by half time.
3. Who is more valuable; Hart or Henne?
Hart is the soul of this team. How he goes, so goes the offense. It's apparent from your recent posting you haven't watched a lot of Mike Hart, but have heard a lot from him. He's a loud mouth. He's kind of a pain in the ass. But he's really, really good.
Hart is one of Michigan's best pass blockers. He consistently turns 3 yard losses into 8 yard gains. He's the shiftiest runner I've seen since Barry Sanders. The big knock is his speed, and that's legitimate. In the flats Hart is slow for a tailback. He's got fullback speed. But the dirty little secret is he's the fastest and quickest guy in the nation for those first ten yards. It's one of those things you believe after you see. And you will.
But as to who is more valuable, right now I'd have to say Henne. The disaster known as our offensive line has basically robbed Michigan of its running game. The fact that Hart gained any yards against OSU is a miracle when you look at this photo:
If the line turns in a performance like the one against OSU, the game will be entirely on Henne. So, with the caveat that the line is in shambles, Henne is more valuable for this particular game. But overall, Hart is the most important cog both on and off the field.
4. Michigan is seventh in pass defense. Is this a result of their pass rush or a good secondary?
There is no pass rush to speak of. None. Zilch. Since mid season the Michigan pass rush has gone the way of leisure suits, the dinosaur, and the value of the US Dollar. Our best lineman Terrance Taylor has basically been on an island all season. Our best pass rusher Brandon Graham is a former LB still learning the position. On top of being mediocre at pressuring any quarterback not named Clausen, the line is just terrible at stopping the run.
A lot of the problem against the run has to do with a group of really bad linebackers, but no one on the DL has stepped up as a run stuffer. Hence, teams are running the ball down Michigan's throat (see: OSU) and basically forsaking the pass.
However, when the ball is in the air, since the Oregon game Michigan has been very good. Despite being absolutely set on fire by USC last year in the Rose Bowl, Morgan Trent has been outstanding at corner. Opposite him, freshman Donovan Warren is the second coming of Charles Woodson. And no, I'm not kidding or saying that to be flippant. He's that friggin good and has taken over the #1 corner job, as a freshman, from Trent. The safeties, Jamar Adams and Brandent Englemon were, IMHO, two of the best safeties in the country at the close of the season and I'm a little miffed Enlemon didn't even get a whiff of the Thrope award.
Adams is the stronger safety in coverage, but Englemon can hold his own. The key to the defense has been the improved play of Brandon Harrison. The diminutive corner has turned into not only an excellent cover man against the spread (when not lined up against Oregon's 6'7" gazelles) and one of Michigan's best blitzers. At this point the Michigan secondary is probably the strongest unit on the team. This of course means they'll be torched on New Years, but for now, I think they've been pretty damn good.
5. Will the futures of Mallett, Manningham, and Arrington affect the game?
Nah. Manningham's probably gone, but I think he ought to stay another year. My money's on Arrington and Mallet retuning. If anything, Colt McCoy's performance in the Holiday Bowl should convince both Rodriguez and Mallett that you don't have to be Pat White to play in a spread offense. McCoy killed Arizona State by simply taking what they gave on the ground. Mallett can run. He showed it against Penn State with a 15 yard designed run TD. His high school tapes are also replete with footage of him running for TDs. Rodriguez is a fool if he pushes Mallett out the door. I think he offense is a dream come true for the kid.
But to answer your question, no. Doesn't affect the team at all. Everyone's playing for a paycheck at this point.
6. Does the team want to win for Carr him or the coaches released by Rodriguez?
My guess is they're going to win this one for Carr. There's never a lot of talk about how close the players are with certain coaches. It just never really filters out. But to a man, every single player will tell you they're playing this one for Carr. He really means that much to them and to the program.
7. Are you excited to see what Michigan does next season with Rodriguez?
Does a bear crap in the woods? Of course I am! However, based on the returning talent, a new system, and all kinds of expectations, this is a 7-5 team next season with an outside shot at a losing record if the cards fall the wrong way. In three years, though, oh baby...
A big thank you to Dave at Maize n Brew. Enjoy the denim stores and British tourists in Orlando.