Aug. 28, 2009
By Larry Watts
The sooner the 2008 football season disappears in the rear view mirror the better for the Maize and Blue faithful. Trying to implement a spread offense with two pro-style quarterbacks turned out to be an incredible challenge for first-year head coach Rich Rodriguez. Finishing with a 3-9 overall record and 2-6 in the Big Ten (tied for ninth), the Wolverines' 33-year streak of bowl appearances, the longest in the nation, came to an end.
The eight-game home schedule may help Rodriguez to pull the same kind of turnaround as he did at West Virginia. After a 3-8 debut, he led the Mountaineers to a 9-4 record in his second season.
OFFENSE: The good news is 10 starters return from a unit that got its baptism under fire in the spread. But coming out of the spring, true freshman Tate Forcier, who had been groomed in the spread during his prep days, took advantage of junior Nick Sheridan's leg fracture to gain the edge at quarterback. Sheridan appeared in eight games, starting four, last year and completed 63 of 137 passes for 613 yards with two touchdowns and five interceptions. Speedster Denard Robinson, who clocked a 10.28 at 100 meters in the spring, will also be pressing for time on the field and all three are expected to receive reps in the season opener with Western Michigan. Three of the top four receivers, led by sophomore slot man Martavious Odoms (49 catches, 443 yards), in 2008 will serve as he primary targets. Odoms is joined by senior Greg Mathews (35 receptions, 409 yards) and sophomore Darryl Stonum (14 catches, 176 yards). Senior Kelvin Grady, who spent two years with the Michigan basketball program and hasn't played football since high school, has become a valuable addition at slot receiver while Junior Hemingway, a sophomore, will also provide receiving depth. Sophomore tight end Kevin Kroger is expected to have an expanded role in 2009. The running game will be spearheaded by senior Brandon Minor (103 carries, 533 yards, 9 TDs in 2008), but speedster Carlos Brown, a senior, figures to be a big playmaker. Junior Stephen Schilling was the lone offensive lineman with any significant playing experience heading into 2008. Schilling moves from right tackle to left guard this fall and he'll have plenty of veteran help with sophomore David Molk (C), fifth-year senior David Moosman (RG) and fifth-year senior Mark Ortmann (LT). Molk is on the Rimington Award watch list. Junior (LT) Perry Dorrestein and fifth-year senior (LG) Tim McAvoy also saw part-time duty as starters last season. Sophomore Mark Huyge figures to move into the starting role at RT.
DEFENSE: As the offense developed in the spread last season, the plan was for the defense to keep the score respectable. That didn't happen as the Wolverines yielded a school record 347 points, allowing opponents to score 40 points or more four times. As a result, Greg Robinson becomes the Wolverines' third defensive coordinator in three years. Five starters, led by team MVP Brandon Graham, a senior defensive end, return as the Wolverines take on a youth movement to fill the holes. Graham, who is on the Hendricks Award watch list, posted 20 tackles for loss, including 10 sacks in 2008. Graham will be joined on the defensive front by junior (DT) Renaldo Sagesse and sophomores (DE) Ryan Van Bergen and (DT) Mike Martin. True freshman (DT) William Campbell enrolled in January and has impressed enough to figure into the rotation. Junior Obi Ezeh, the team's top tackler (98) last year, is again back at inside linebacker and will be joined by veteran Jonas Mouton, a junior, on the outside while senior Stevie Brown will serve as a hybrid linebacker/safety. Junior (CB) Donovan Warren is the lone returning starter in the secondary. Sophomore (CB) Boubacar Cissoko got his baptism in spot duty as a freshman, especially as one of the team's top kick return men. Junior Troy Woolfolk has moved from corner to free safety while sophomore Michael Williams is running with the first unit at strong safety.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Senior Zoltan Mesko, who rates as the top returning punter in the Big Ten, is on the Ray Guy watch list for the third straight season. Mesko was one of the few bright spots for the Wolverines in 2008. A first-team All-Big Ten selection, he averaged 43 yards per punt. The Wolverines are preparing to hand over the placekicking duties to a true freshman -- Brendan Gibbons. Gibbons connected for a 52-yard field goal in high school. Odoms, Warren, Mathews, Warren, Cissoko and Terrence Robinson figure to be the leaders for return duties.
MISCELLANEOUS: Greg Robinson certainly brings the pedigree to the Wolverine defense. The former Syracuse head coach was the defensive coordinator for Denver's two Super Bowl victories and also called the defense for Texas when the Longhorns defeated Michigan in the 2005 Rose Bowl ... Expect to see several true freshmen in the mix for playing time in 2009. Forcier was one of seven freshmen to graduate early and join the Wolverines for spring workouts ... One big reason for Michigan's headaches last season was a minus-10 turnover ratio. The 30 turnovers resulted in a national ranking of No. 104 in turnover margin.