2011 Michigan Wolverines Football

Big Ten football fans

Michigan vs Western Michigan Football Preview



Saturday at the Big House in Ann Arbor, Michigan, a new era will not begin. No, not really. When the Michigan Wolverines open their 2011 season against the Western Michigan Broncos, their new era will end, and the old era – the traditional Michigan Way – will return to one of college football’s signature programs.

The three year experiment with Rich Rodriguez and his spread option offense are over at Michigan. After reaching just one bowl game (and getting blown out by Mississippi State) in three years, Rodriguez was fired. After a successful stops as head coach at Ball State and San Diego State, former Michigan assistant coach Brady Hoke returns to Ann Arbor to try and restore Michigan to its traditional place atop the Big Ten Conference. Hoke is a defense-minded coach whose commitment to the combination of smashmouth football and a pro style offense has been music to the ears of Michigan fans who quickly grew weary of Rodriguez’s new-age ways, which did not mesh with Michigan’s culture or its recruiting practices. Hoke inherits some talent at the skill positions, but, much like Rodriguez when he arrived following Lloyd Carr, he inherits a lot of pieces that are better suited for a different style of play. How well those players adjust will determine how successful Michigan is in its first year under Hoke. This Saturday’s game against Western Michigan will enable Hoke to see just what he has on his hands before the Maize and Blue tackle Notre Dame in a much-hyped week two showdown.

Michigan has a quarterback that Hoke and his staff are busy re-educating: Denard Robinson burst onto the nation scene last year as one of the nation’s most dynamic runners. He was the closest thing to Pat White that Rodriguez, the former West Virginia coach, found in his three seasons at Michigan. Robinson did it all for the Wolverines, rushing for 1,702 yards and 14 touchdowns while also throwing for 2,570 yards and 18 touchdowns. When Robinson was healthy and at full speed, he was unstoppable. However, the punishing nature of Big Ten football quickly banged up his body, casting a cloud over Robinson’s ability to play freewheeling football in a defense-first conference. Now Robinson will be asked to run the ball less, throw the ball more, and work more under center. Hoke has brought with him offensive coordinator Al Borges to install a pro style offense which will still utilize Robinson’s running abilities without wearing him down with 20-plus carries per game. However, the offense will also force Robinson to become a better pocket passer, something he struggled with at times in 2010. Robinson will benefit from having all three of his best receiving targets from last year, Junior Hemingway, Roy Roundtree, and Darryl Stonum.

One point of focus for Hoke and company against Western Michigan will be the cultivation of a more physical, downhill running attack. Rodriguez liked offensive linemen to play slightly under 300 pounds and be able to pull and reach downfield and his running backs to be smaller and be able get to the edges and exploit small creases inside. Hoke wants to line up and run the ball between the tackles and that means smaller backs like Michael Shaw and Vincent Smith will have to be durable. Three of last year’s offensive linemen return but only one is north of 300 pounds. Given the scheme change in Ann Arbor, it’s almost as if it is an entirely new offensive line anyway. Still, Hoke has shown remarkable flexibility to his personnel and it has helped him be successful everywhere he’s been. He won’t try to force square pegs into round holes (something that doomed Rodriguez from the outset).

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Hoke was a defensive player and an assistant coach on the defensive side of the ball at Michigan. That’s a good thing, because he will be called upon to muster all of this defensive expertise to salvage what has been a downright atrocious defense the past three seasons in Ann Arbor. After struggling mightily in Greg Robinson’s bizarre version of a 3-3-5 defense, the Wolverines will return to a standard 4-3 alignment that better suits its opponents in the Big Ten. The problem is, they have a roster full of guys better suited for a three man line. This game against Western Michigan needs to work out the kinks so that the Wolverines will have a credible pass rush when Notre Dame comes to town on September 10.

Out with the new, in with the old. That’s the mantra at Michigan in a season opener with a decidedly different twist.


By: Matt Zemek
DFN Sports Senior Staff Writer