It hasn't exactly been a picnic in Ann Arbor the last couple of seasons.
The Wolverines have set all kinds of negative records since Rich Rod has taken over as coach, and the pressure is on for 2010.
Michigan has finished 8-16 over the last two seasons and 3-13 in Big Ten play. They are facing NCAA sanctions and are a combined 1-5 against Notre Dame, Michigan State, and Ohio State under Coach Rich Rodriguez.
The coach is on the hot seat, the defense has question marks in multiple spots, and the quarterback competition has some of the fanbase restless.
Of course many fans have stuck by their coach and team as they see brighter days ahead.
There are reasons to be upbeat for Michigan fans if they can improve in the following three areas.
Michigan had 28 turnovers and 16 takeaways in 2009. Their margin of negative 12 turnovers has to narrow for them to get better.
A lot of people say it all rests on the defense whether or not this team gets better, but the defense is known to be limited at this point.
The real key will be for the quarterbacks to limit interceptions while still making plays and for all the ball carriers to keep the ball off the turf (period).
This team had its opportunities against Michigan State, Iowa, Purdue, and even Ohio State, but blew it's chances at a eight (or nine) win season with too many silly mistakes and turnovers.
Even a team with a bad defense can win nine games if they execute well on offense.
This is a reason for Michigan fans to be somewhat optimistic as we do have experienced quarterbacks who are no longer true freshmen.
Will that alone guarantee more wins? Probably not, however it won't likely hurt their chances. Expect a better turnover margin in 2010.
Improvement at Free Safety
Michigan's defense had its problems in 2009. They had troubles defending the run and the pass at times.
This spring, they really worked hard at defending the run and seem to flow to the ball and tackle better as a unit.
The real question is the pass defense.
An interesting fact related to Michigan and the deep coverage safety position is that Michigan gave up more points per game when Troy Woolfolk was moved to cornerback.
In the six games Woolfolk started at deep safety (FBS teams only), Michigan gave up 23 points per game.
In the five games Jordan Kovacs started deep in the secondary, Michigan gave up 37 points per game. Certainly a 14-point difference could have a lot to do with the position change.
This spring, Cameron Gordon stepped in at free safety, switching from wide receiver. He drew rave reviews from coaches and teammates for his athletic ability and hard-nosed tackling and hitting evidenced in the video below.
He appears to have all the size and athletic ability the team needs at center field. He looks more impressive at free safety than any safety they had last season. Woolfolk looks natural at corner with Kovacs in the box.
Because the quarterback play was so abysmal in 2008, sometimes it's easy to forget that 2009's quarterbacks still have a lot of room for improvement.
This is of course not only in terms of cutting down on mistakes but making more plays as well.
Tate Forcier needs to stay healthy and cut down on turnovers, and Denard Robinson needs to continue to progress as a passer and at reading coverages. These two both have a lot of potential, but they need to show it more as the season progresses.
Also, the zone read option play has always been a staple in Rich Rodriguez's spread offense but hasn't quite worked at Michigan yet.
1) They have only had freshmen or guys who weren't physically able to run it.
2) If they can run it better this year it could be a big difference maker for this offense.
Ultimately, this team's success depends on scoring more points, protecting the football better, and playing adequate defense, against both the run and the pass.
If they can improve in these areas, it should lead to more victories and possibly a turn-around season.
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