Michigan Football's Top 10 Matchups for 2009
In Rich Rodriguez's second season there are going to be many necessary adjustments needed in order for the team to improve over the course of the season.
These ones will include being able to make the spread offense work as well as being able to defend it against other teams that use it. Breaking in a freshman quarterback in Tate Forcier to run it, and dealing with many defensive departures from last year's disaster of a season.
These matchups will be key for Michigan's success in the upcoming season, in no particular order.
Tate Forcier vs. The rest of the Big Ten
The Wolverines new quarterback comes in with High School experience with the spread offense from California. He enrolled early and has been on campus since January.
In the spring game he impressed the 50,000 fans at the Big House with his mobility and ability to throw on the run, but that was against the second team defense.
He will have to be up against some of the best defenses in the nation and he will have offensive linemen who, although they had a rough year last year, have had a year of experience blocking for the system and seem to be ready to play next year.
Michigan Defense vs. Terelle Pryor
Michigan hasn't beaten Ohio State in five years. A winning streak of any length in the greatest rivalry in college football is enough to irritate the loser incredibly.
Michigan has lost about half the starters on their defense from last year who gave up 42 points to the Buckeyes. They will be helped by a much more experienced offense that seems to know what it's doing (hopefully).
In spite of their failure to stop the Bucks from scoring in the game last year, they held Pryor to negative yardage rushing and Brandon Graham, now a senior defensive end, had two sacks.
Now without Beanie Wells and Jim Tressel turning Pryor into a pocket passer the Wolverines will be hoping that the Bucks will be ripe for an upset this upset next year.
Michigan Defense vs. Juice Williams
The Juice absolutely embarrassed the Wolverines for record passing yardage in last year's homecoming which ultimately set the tone for the rest of the season.
In a key play Juice went deep and strong safety Charles Stewart lept for an attempt at an interception, the ball went over his hand and into the hands of the intended receiver for a touchdown.
That play would ultimately set the tone for the rest of the season.
Stewart is gone, but the Juice is not, and one of the reasons why the Michigan defense couldn't stop Illinois' spread attack was because they were unable to simulate it properly in practice with the offense.
This year, with Tate Forcier, they will be able to practice against a true dual threat quarterback in practice. The question is, can they stop the Juice in his senior year in Champaign?
Rich Rodriguez vs. Mark Dantonio
The Spartans won their first game in Michigan Stadium since Eddie Brown interfered with Desmond Howard on a two point conversion try and got away with it in 1990.
Dantonio had been talking trash in response to Mike Hart's "Little Brother" comments from 2007, and has made it perfectly clear that he has a lot of disdain for the Michigan program and hopes to take over the in-state recruiting battle.
Rich Rod on the other hand has recently won the oral commitment of the top High School quarterback in Michigan for the class of 2010 in Devin Gardner.
The civil war in East Lansing will have a lot more at stake this year than in previous years.
Rich Rodriguez vs. Joe Paterno
If last year was any proof it showed that you can teach a (really) old dog new tricks. Last year the Penn State Nittany Lions ran all over the Big Ten with the "Spread HD," only tripping up in an upset to Iowa at Kinnick in their second ever sole Big Ten championship.
They installed the offense that was supposed to be Rich Rod's forte last year and used it to win their first game over the Wolverines since 1996.
With junior Running Back Evan Royster being the only major offensive weapon returning for the Lions they will have to rethink their offensive schemes, while Michigan will be hoping that a year of experience in theirs will be all they need for success.
Michigan "Arrogance" vs. Delaware St.
In previous years this would be a gimme as the Wolverines swagger and tradition could be used to slaughter lesser opponents in the Big House. Then the event which will not be named happened and mighty Michigan was humbled in their own home.
Ever since then it seems that the winged helmets have been subjected to a number of very cruel jokes concerning that disastrous game and the aftermath for the rival schools to feed upon, they say that the program is in the process of its demise.
A telling factor for the Wolverines will be if they can focus on winning that they will be able to pull out a good old fashioned beatdown of the Hornets to signal to the world that this is not a program in decline but a football school climbing back to the top by stepping on the backs of the bottom feeders.
Delaware State clearly thinks that they can win this game if they forfeited a game in conference play to play Michigan in the Big House. If the Wolverines can give them a rude awakening on October 17, it could be a sign of things to come from the new spread option Wolverines.
Michigan Offense vs. Ron English
The former defensive coordinator is coming back to Ann Arbor coaching intra-county (not really) rivals Eastern Michigan. He coached under Lloyd Carr and was initially thought of as a potential successor before being cleaned out for Rich Rod's current coaching staff.
The two years with him as coordinator were night and day as cliche as it sounds. In his first season 2006 he was praised for Michigan's top ranked defense undefeated defense going into the Ohio State game.
After that he was constantly questioned as to whether he could stop a running quarterback or a team that ran the spread option.
Those questions are likely to remain with the Michigan faithful when the Eastern Michigan Eagles come into the Big House for the battle of Washtenaw County on Sept. 19.
Brandon Graham vs. Notre Dame's Offensive Line
In spite of Charlie Weis getting bowled over by a Michigan player in South Bend last year, the Fighting Irish were able to pull out a victory over the Wolverines due to multiple Michigan turnovers.
With the turnovers and good field position that Notre Dame kept getting it was hard for Brandon Graham to reacquaint himself with Jimmy Clausen on the turf as he did in 2007.
This year most of the Notre Dame offensive line will be in either juniors or seniors and have a lot of experience protecting Clausen in Weis' pro-style offense.
However, will they be able to handle the likes of Brandon Graham and Stevie Brown who will be blitzing against a dual threat quarterback all summer long.
If Graham has a good season, the senior defensive end could be an All-American and possibly a first-round pick, he has enough speed coming around the corner and is hard for most offensive linemen to pick up.
If he gets reacquainted with Clausen on Sept. 12, it could be the start of a magical season for the leader of the Wolverine defense.
Michigan vs. The Camp Randall Crowd
Little known fact: the Wolverines have not won in this stadium since 2001 when they needed a last minute field goal from Hayden Epstien to do untie the game.
The Wolverines have had two painful trips back from Madison in their last trips there.
In 2005 they watched John Stocco scramble his way for the winning Touchdown in what proved to be one of the first of many problems Michigan has had with dual threat quarterbacks.
In 2007 they suffered a hammering at the feet of PJ Hill who could have been the hero last year had the Badgers' defense not choked in the fourth quarter and gave up the glorious comeback that was last year's only real highlight for the Wolverines.
Michigan will have to be able to get out of their mental block in this building, they haven't beaten Ohio State after losing the game before since 1986, and they don't want to do it this year.
Winning the game before The Game will mean so much for this team's confidence, just ask Bo Schembecler if you want proof.
Michigan Offense vs. Themselves
Let's face it the Michigan offense last year was it's own worst enemy. Sure there were a few teams that they played who had superior defenses but they just did not have the discipline or the experience to run Rich Rod's high powered spread option attack.
They should not have had a losing season last year in fact there are several instances in which if the Maize and Blue hadn't turned the ball over multiple times they would have won.
If the Wolverines can stop beating themselves they can start beating other teams and getting their confidence back to where it should be, which is on top of the college football world.