Thursday, November 3, 2011

Talking Michigan at Iowa with MGoFootball | A Michigan Football Blog

This week I did a little Q&A exchange with Mike Weaver over at, a Michigan football blog. Mike had several questions about the Hawkeyes and I did my best to provide my opinions. The questions were about Iowa's performance at Minnesota (uggh), Marcus Coker, the defense, and Kirk Ferentz. Give the link above a look and tell me what you think.

In return Mike agreed to answer a few questions I threw back his way. I learned a little bit the Hawkeyes' opponent this Saturday and I hope you do too.

Q1. What’s with the two quarterback system we’ve seen the last few weeks? Can you break down why Hoke has gone with this and what each QB does differently?

Well first it was cool, then it didn’t work so well in the loss to Michigan State, then it seemed like it was happening too much and any rhythm Denard Robinson had as QB was out the window.

The idea is to put Gardner under center or in the gun and use Robinson as the decoy to get the defense flowing in his direction as he is sent in motion. So, many of the sets are simply designed to create misdirection plays and get Michigan’s backs out in space. Denard has lined up in the backfield, in the slot, and out wide.

When you see Gardner in the game – he will handoff/pitch first, pass second (misdirection screen or rollout), and run himself third. Devin Gardner typically hits his halfback on a pitch going the other way after faking the hand off to Robinson. He’s really had a few horrible throws; his only toss vs. Purdue was a bad, bad Interception. He also has this terrible, once comical habit (20+ yard loss vs. MSU) of reversing field as he is being pursued, which tends to lose many yards at once. Gardner will be a good QB, but man he looks green out there at times.

We’ve seen a throwback from Gardner to Robinson that was unsuccessful, other than that, Denard has not been a receiving target or even a threat for that matter when Gardner is in the gun or under center.

Why is Borges / Hoke doing this? Hoke eluded to Gardner being somewhat of a more accurate passer in the aftermath of the Michigan State loss that’s now been coined the “trash tornado” by those over at mgoblog. So maybe that’s why were seeing as much Gardner as we are at this point in the season. On the other hand, Borges is an admitted X and O junkie and he likes to experiment. By the end of the season – there is a lot for a D coordinator to prepare for.

It’s tough to get a read on new coordinators even eight games in to the season. I said this in a post earlier this week – sometimes I’m not sure whether I want to throw my phone against the wall or thank Al Borges for some of his play calls. The strange ones seem to be commonplace.

It’s not like the two QB thing hasn’t worked, but it seems like it’s too big a part of the offense at this point.

Q2. What has been the greatest impact defensive coordinator Greg Mattison has made with the Michigan defense?

First, Mattison has raised the expectations using Michigan’s long tradition of good-to-great defenses as benchmarks. In many pressers, Mattison continues to talk about expectations by position and the intense focus on playing with ‘great technique and great effort’.

To me, the greatest impact is coaching his defense to play smart football utilizing fundamental defensive principles that you learn in grade school – keep the ball inside of you, keep the ball in front of you, and pursue to the ball at all times. Michigan’s D of the past three seasons had no idea what was going on and certainly didn’t adhere to those fundamentals. Michigan’s D has created several fumbles simply from backside or late-play pursuit.

A secondary impact is consistency in the messages from the coaches. In past seasons, you had all kinds of position changes, scheme changes (changes on terrible schemes to begin with), etc. Now, it’s like “Oh WOW that’s coaching!”, because you hear the same consistent message coming from the coaching staff and it’s being translated into some consistent play on the field.

Q3. Give me your assessment of Coach Brady Hoke’s first season as Michigan’s coach.

When Hoke was hired, I cringed. I WTF’d. I couldn’t believe Michigan didn’t get a bigger name than Brady Hoke. At the time, Hoke was a guy with a good Michigan background that had a .500 record as a head coach mostly in the MAC. So it wasn’t a glamorous hire.

As the month’s rolled on – Hoke began to show up rivals Ohio State and Michigan State in the local recruiting battles. Michigan has 10 recruits from Ohio and 7 from Michigan – with a nationally ranked 2nd class for ’12 right now. So he picked up momentum fast with the Michigan fan base. He said all right “Michigan Man” words in his press conferences talking toughness, accountability to your teammates, etc...

Hoke’s first season has been a huge success. Every Michigan fan would have signed up for where Michigan is right now with recruiting and a 7-1 record. He brought in tenured and legit coaching staff – which was RichRod’s downfall in part.

Similar to what you said, no matter what team loses people are going to call for their coaches’ heads – so when losses occur, fans lose sight of everything but the fresh loss. Happens every time.

Q4. The same question you asked me, give me the Michigan football team’s strengths and weaknesses.

This is not an easy question to answer because each week seems so vastly different. On offense, Michigan’s O line was to be the strength coming into the season, but got manhandled in East Lansing against Sparty. At this point, Michigan struggles on offense when the offensive line isn’t coming through and when Michigan’s quarterbacks have a turnover-give-a-way (bank on Iowa having at least one or two easy picks on regrettable throws from either Robinson or Gardner).

On defense, Michigan’s D line was to be a strength as well, but seemed to struggle for the first half of the season. At this point, the D line seems to have picked up their play and the concern moves to the back seven. Michigan’s biggest playmaker in the secondary is Jordan Kovacs – and he didn’t play last week due to a knee injury and looks to be questionable at best this week. The starting linebacking corp is made up of a true freshman, Desmond Morgan, and a redshirt freshman, Jake Ryan. So as Michigan begins to face bigger teams that like to pound the ball – I have some worry in regards to how they will hold up.

Nevertheless, Michigan’s defense has come up with a lot of big plays, whereas the offense has struggled for long stretches in a few games.

Q5. Finally, a prediction if you would please.

I’d like to echo an assured sentiment around Iowa after last weekend - damn these B1G road games! I think this game will be more of a struggle for Michigan than Michigan fans generally think. Iowa seems to play so much better at home – see the Michigan State thumping last year and that Iowa home record of 59-12 that I keep hearing (last 10 years maybe?).

However, I expect a Michigan victory on the merits of more big plays created by the defense and relative success with a clock-controlling offense. As you said, this is Iowa’s worst performing defense in a decade.

I’m going to go with Michigan 30 – Iowa 23.

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