As we enter the 2010 football season, and will soon begin the annual pilgrimage to our place of worship, The Big House, we should take a moment to reflect on our sins and good deeds of the past in an attempt to identify what Michigan must do in order to ensure a successful campaign this year.
As with every religion, faith is something that Michigan football football followers must have above all else. This faith, along with our team's strict adherence to these 10 Commandments will ensure a happy University of Michigan congregation come this January; showered in roses.
Let us pray....
To the team...
Never forget what a privilege it is to be able to don the Winged Helmet. Remember the history of those that came before you. And relish every moment of the season. Run out of the tunnel at The Big House, crossing the field and touching the Go Blue Banner, as if it were the last time you will ever receive that opportunity.
More than anything though, be prepared. Treat each Saturday as if it were the most important day of your life.
A wise man once said, "Luck, is when opportunity and preparation meet". In every game you play this year, there lies opportunity. Those who work the hardest, and in turn are the most prepared, will find themselves in a position to take advantage of opportunity when it comes.
In 2009, Michigan ranked 115 out of the 120 schools in the FBS in turnover margin. Just ahead of such football powerhouses as Western Kentucky, North Texas, and Miami (OH).
Michigan turned the ball over 28 times, and only forced a turnover 16 times, resulting in a turnover margin of -1. Even though the offense should be able to put plenty of points on the board this season, turning the ball over places an additional burden on a defense that is already very young, and stretched very thin; particularly in the secondary.
In order to have success this year, Michigan must find a way to generate a positive turnover margin. Both on offense by not making as many mistakes, and on defense by forcing turnovers though physical play and textbook tackling.
Speaking of textbook tackling, this is something that Michigan has not done consistently for some time now. There were glimmers of brilliance early on in the 2009 season, only to be overshadowed by sloppy tackling that led to giving up big plays later on in the year.
With Brandon Graham at defensive end, the Wolverines ranked 20th in tackles for loss averaging seven per game. Without him, that number is sure to fall. And to make matters worse, Michigan didn't have a single individual player in the top 100 for total tackles last year.
To win, Michigan is going to need to be an aggressive defensive team that gang tackles the football and is very good at wrapping up guys in the open field. Basic skills that must be mastered.
Michigan ranked in the top 10 for fewest penalties, and in the top 20 for fewest yards penalized, in 2009. Something extremely positive to take from last year. And something they need to be sure to continue in 2010. Returning 17 starting players from 2009, you would hope that this discipline would remain intact.
On the defensive side of the ball, Big Blue cannot afford to make things harder on themselves. Games can be won and lost on inopportune penalties, and Michigan needs to be sure that if they are penalized, it was necessary to stop the big play and not just a mistake due to lack of concentration.
Regardless of what your opinion may be of him on a personal level, in Rich Rodriguez you have a coach who has an excellent understanding of the X's and O's of college football. He knows how to run his offense, and prior to landing at Michigan, has had a track record of success when given a chance to implement his system.
Greg Robinson has been to two Super Bowls and while he didn't have much success at Syracuse as a head coach, he is highly respected across the NFL and NCAA for his knowledge on the defensive side of the football.
This is not to mention all of the other coaches on the team from strength and conditioning coach Barwis, to offensive coordinator Calvin McGee, and running backs coach Fred Jackson. There is simply no lack of solid football knowledge and expertise at Michigan.
Players need to listen to them, learn from them, take what they say and then go back for more. But knowledge will only take them so far. Ultimately It will be up to the players themselves to take what the coaches give them, and put it to use.
One of the biggest challenges the Wolverines faced last year was defending the short slant pass and the 5-10 yard out. This challenge will only be more difficult this year with a very inexperienced secondary.
Robinson and Michigan will need to be on their toes in an attempt to accurately telegraph when to expect the deep ball and when to expect the short pass.
Obviously, the better the corner play, the more aggressively the team can be as a whole on defense. But if Robinson cannot rely on his corners to not get beat deep, and is too afraid of giving up the long ball (as must be the case in the picture above, with one corner lining up 12 yards off the line of scrimmage and virtually conceding the 5 yard out), the Wolves will almost definitely find themselves giving up frustrating seven-yard completions that extend their opponent's drives and eat up clock time, keeping Michigan's high-powered offense off the field.
In the same breath, while the small 5-10 yard pass plays can pick a defense apart, giving up the big play can stab you in the heart, and change the complexion of the game immediately.
The good news here is that it's not entirely on the defensive secondary's shoulders to make sure the big play doesn't happen.
With Mike Martin (who strength and conditioning coach Mike Barwis calls "one of the most impressive physical specimens he's seen"), Ryan Van Bergen (expected to have a breakout season), and "Big" Will Campbell (a five-star recruit and No. 1 recruit in the state of Michigan last year) expected to start, the defensive line should be well equipped to run Rodriguez's 3-3-5 defense up front.
Obi Ezeh, Craig Roh, and Jonas Mouton all return this year and should only be better in the Linebacker position. Along with the defensive line, the linebackers will need to plug up any running lanes and stop the run from penetrating into the secondary; eliminating any chance at a big run play from emerging.
Can the corners and safeties stop the deep threat?
Steve Schilling recently stated in an interview played on the Big Ten Network that the Michigan Wolverines' goal, every year, is to win the Big Ten and go to the Rose Bowl.
If Michigan is to excel this year, they need to set their expectations high. Something that has been missing since the 2007 season.
Seven or eight wins and a mediocre record in the Big Ten is not what Michigan football is about. Winning is what Michigan football is about (as any Michigan follower will remind you, they are the winningest program in all of college football still today).
If you win the Big Ten, you have a shot at a national championship. This should be the goal every year, without excuse.
There is no denying it. The loss of Troy Woolfolk and Justin Turner at the corner positions really hurts the defensive secondary at Michigan.
With redshirt sophomore J.T. Floyd, and true freshman Cullen Christian most likely to start at the corner positions, the weight of the world will be on their shoulders.
Even with Woolfolk and Donovan Warren last year, Michigan's defensive pass efficiency was next to last in the Big Ten. This year, moving to the 3-3-5, the safeties will need to help out these young corners as much as possible.
But there is no doubt, Floyd and Christian need the support of their teammates, coaches, and Michigan fans, because they are going to need to mature quickly and learn from their mistakes if Michigan hopes to have any kind of success this year on the defensive side of the football.