Alex Whang answers some questions posed by the Bleacher Report faithful about the upcoming 2008 Michigan Wolverine football season.
Q: You have said Steven Threet will be starting at QB. How do you see Rich Rodriguez using him this year, and will freshman Justin Feagin earn much playing time?
A: Though nothing is set in stone, after Michigan’s spring game this past April, it is certain that Threet has distanced himself from both walk-on Nick Sheridan and redshirt sophomore David Cone. That being said, Threet’s play was far from spectacular.
If he is indeed the starter come Aug. 30, look for Rodriguez to ease his redshirt freshman quarterback into the college game by utilizing screens, quick flares and basically any throw that allows Threet to get the ball out of his hands and into those of his playmakers as quickly as possible.
Because Rodriguez’s spread attack functions best with a running threat at the quarterback position, when considering that Threet is not the most fleet of foot, look for true freshman Justin Feagin to receive significant playing time next season running draws and option plays, to provide the inexperienced Michigan offense a different look from when Threet is under center.
Q: Michigan signed four-star quarterbacks Kevin Newsome and Shavodrick Beaver in the '09 class. Do you think either of them will have a chance to start right away next year? Are either of them capable of producing the way the Pat White has?
A: Whether Newsome or Beaver receive immediate playing time will depend very much on the success of both Threet and Feagin this season. As we have witnessed high-profile recruits like Matthew Stafford, Jimmy Clausen, and Ryan Mallett all struggle their freshman seasons, plugging Newsome or Beaver into the line-up may not be the best course of action.
However, if Threet and Feagin struggle mightily throughout the year and Michigan finishes under .500, all bets are off. With rumblings that both quarterbacks are leaning towards early enrollment, the quarterback competition could be wide open come spring, leaving the distinct possibility that either Newsome or Beaver could enter the 2009 season starting under center.
Though Pat White is one of the most electrifying players in college football, both Beaver and Newsome have the potential to match, if not exceed his level of productivity. Though neither may be quite the same threat on the ground as the Mountaineer QB, they both appear to be more polished passers at the same stage of their careers.
At West Virginia, Rodriguez was never surrounded by the level of talent that he has at Michigan, and if either Newsome or Beaver are able to provide an above-average passing attack while remaining a threat to defenses on the ground, in two or three years, this Michigan offense could be scary.
Q: How successful do you think Rich Rodriguez's spread offense will fare against Big 10 defenses? How does his version of the spread differ from those run by Ohio State, Illinois, Minnesota, and Northwestern?
A: Although Rodriguez’s acclaimed spread attack will undoubtedly struggle next season, with Rodriguez continuing to recruit his style of athlete, the future of the Michigan offense certainly is promising.
As we have seen in previous contests, Rodriguez’s offense has been able to put up big numbers against talented defenses, posting 38 points versus Georgia in the 2006 Sugar Bowl, and 48 points in last year’s Fiesta Bowl.
With that in mind, once Rodriguez is able to put an offense out on the field adept at running all aspects of his spread attack, there is no doubt that Rodriguez will be able to find tremendous success against Big Ten defenses.
At West Virginia, Rodriguez’s spread most resembled the variation now employed by Illinois. With “Juice” Williams and Rashard Mendenhall mirroring the likes of Pat White and Steve Slaton, both offenses ran variations off the zone read while limiting the number of passes thrown per game.
The spread offenses run by Ohio State, Northwestern, and Minnesota, however, all employed significantly more balanced attacks. With Michigan in transition, look for the offense to be more balanced than Rodriguez has displayed in the past three seasons, relying less on the zone read while Threet is under center, reserving that more for when Feagin is on the field.
Who do you see emerging at the starting RB? Will it be Running Back by committee and will we get a chance to see highlight reel hero Sam McGuffie?
Out of the spring, it appears that Brandon Minor will receive the bulk of the carries next fall. However, do not count out Junior Carlos Brown, who will be Michigan’s most explosive player out of the backfield. All spring, Rodriguez had been tinkering with the offense in order to get the most talent on the field, that being said, do not be surprised to see multiple two-back sets with bruiser Kevin Grady lined up in-front of or opposite either Minor or Brown.
Though YouTube sensation Sam McGuffie will arrive in Ann Arbor with much acclaim, I am not as sold on him as so many others. Watching his performance against Cy-Falls on ESPN2 last season, though, McGuffie did show his ability in space, and a burst that would allow him to thrive in this offense.
Too many times, I saw him take plays off, failing to carry out fakes or even making an effort in pass protection. With a log-jam at running back next fall, and red-shirt freshman Avery Horn displaying the ability to be a true home run threat out of the backfield this spring, it wouldn’t surprise me to see McGuffie redshirt his freshman season.
However, as Rodriguez seems hell-bent on putting as much speed out on to the field as possible and having expressed on numerous occasions that several freshman will see playing time, expect McGuffie to begin the year on special teams (possibly returning kicks) and receiving three or four carries a game.
Q: What do you think of Rodriguez's decision to let Ron English go? How do you think new DC Scott Shafer compares to English?
A: Though some Michigan fans were up in arms due to the release of so many Michigan assistants, English included, I had no issue with Rodriguez’s decision. I was never sold on English’s “Bend but Don’t Break” philosophy on defense, and I believe that it contributed directly to a sort of lackadaisical play that has cost Michigan a number of victories during the past few seasons.
The differences between Shafer and English will be apparent from day one, with Shafer opting to do his play calling from the press box, whereas English called plays from the sidelines to allow him more interaction with his players.
It has been said that the Michigan defense played the percentages in the past, relying on the same defensive sets that were determined by where the offense was on the field.
However, Shafer’s defensive philosophy is to be “Attack-oriented, attack and react…always putting pressure and forcing the hand of the offense…a penetrating defense.”
Though we have seemingly heard this same shtick from every defensive coordinator in history, Shafer’s numbers at Western Michigan and Stanford seem to support his declaration, as his defenses were always better against the run and put up a large number of sacks throughout the course of the season.
Shafer’s defense may give up more big plays than English’s defenses did this season, however, this Michigan defense under Shafer will make more big plays of their own as well.
Q: Some West Virginia fans have criticized Rodriguez for recruiting low character players. Do you see that as being a problem at tradition rich Michigan?
A: I believe that is an unfair stigma attached to Rodriguez’s recruiting record. Yes he did recruit the likes of Pacman Jones and Chris Henry, however, several other high profile coaches have signed “low character” players and seemingly received much less scrutiny than Rodriguez (For example: Marc Richt/Odell Thurman, Jim Tressell/Maurice Clarett, Les Miles/Ryan Perilloux, Mack Brown/Cedric Benson).
Because Jones and Henry have been at the center of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s current campaign to clean up the league, their situations and association with Rodriguez have thusly been more publicized of late.
Regarding the recruitment of “low character” players at Michigan? Let’s not kid ourselves, though Lloyd Carr was one of the gentlemen of college football his teams did not consist entirely of choirboys.
Former Michigan player Chris Richards was thrown off the team 2 seasons ago for assaulting another student on St. Patrick’s Day. Defensive tackle Larry Harrison was arrested for exposing himself to a group of coeds.
Mario Manningham’s draft stock plummeted because of character concerns and a failed drug test. Current wide receiver Laterryal Savoy was accused of exposing himself to a female trainer, though eventually acquitted due to lack of evidence.
These are all incidents that have occurred in only the past four seasons under Carr’s watch. So in short, most everyone in today’s game recruits one or two bad seeds, but those few players should not necessarily be indicative of a coach’s recruiting.
As for Rodriguez's recruiting at tradition-rich Michigan, Carr had just as many “low character” players on his squad as Rodriguez, the only differences being that their faces weren’t shown on SportsCenter every night.
Q: What's your prediction on Michigan's 2008 record? Worst case scenario? Best case scenario?
A: If the offensive line gels early, Threet is able to keep defenses honest through the air, Feagin displays maturity beyond his years, the defense is dominant and the team faces no significant injury all season long? Then the absolute BEST CASE scenario is 10-2.
However, if Threet struggles early, the offensive line becomes depleted, and the defense can’t adequately replace the play of both safeties and outside linebackers? Then a season mirroring that of last year’s Notre Dame team with a 3-9 record is not out the realm of possibility.
Look for somewhere between six to eight victories for the Wolverines next season. That number depends on how quickly the offense can develop throughout the course of the season.