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September 14, 2007 - Image 12

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 2007-09-14

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This section examines the reasons that Michigan has started
this season 0-2. We are not going to delve into the institu-
tional or larger-picture problems that exist within the pro-
gram. Instead, we offer these observations as the answers-
to the question "What's wrong with Michigan?"
By Daniel Bromwich and Jack Herman
Daily Sports Editors.

E ntering this season, senior quarterback
Chad Henne appeared on watch lists for
the Heisman Trophy, Maxwell Award and All-
America team.
Now he's on the injured list.
But that's not where his problems started.
So far this season, Henne has looked more
like the sophomore who struggled without
security blanket Braylon Edwards
than the junior who excelled
despite a young and oft-
depleted receiving
corps. Throws have
been long, short,
wide and behind
- landing in just
about every spot
but his receivers'
Appalachian State,
Mario Manningham
beat his defender deep at
least four times. Henne
under- or overthrew him
on each of those, including
Manningham's' late-game,
46-yard catch that set up
the game-winning field-goal
More inexcusable for a fourth-
year starter, Henne committed
several severe mental errors in the final
quarter. Chased out of bounds, Henne
threw the ball across his body, directly

into safety Leonard Love's hands. At the time,
Michigan trailed by just five and sat at the
Mountaineer 25-yard line.
Henne later took a delay-of-game penalty
on third-and-five rather than calling-one of
the two timeouts Michigan - leading 32-31
at the time - had saved. That created a third-
and-10 at the Appalachian State 30-yard line,
making for a tough third-down conversion and
adding difficulty to the potential, and eventually
blocked, field-goal attempt.
Henne finished the game 19-of-37,
barely better than a 50-percent completion
percentage. He wasn't any better against
Oregon, completing 12-of-23 passes before
leaving with an injury.
And with running back Mike Hart battling
injuries, Henne's struggles have been magnified.
The gameplan couldn't have been designed with
37 pass attempts in mind.
But it's not all Henne's fault. The offensive line
has struggled to pick up blitzes, and the younger
running backs lack Hart's pass-blocking ability.
Not good when you have a quarterback who has
never passed accurately on the move.
It's been an unexpected regression for the
player many considered a key reason Michigan
could contend for the National Championship.
That's now out of the question.
Michigan coach Lloyd Carr says Henne will
return sometime this season. When he does,
one question remains:
Will this season be remembered as true
freshman Ryan Mallett's first, or all-time
passing leader Chad Henne's last?

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Last season, Michigan's linebacker trio ranked was still on the field during the fourth quarter of
as one of the country's best, dominating Michigan's 34-3 blowout of Indiana). Although
opposing offenses and anchoring one the top Harris's ability to contribute on every down 'A
defenses in the nation. helped the team, it meant Thompson sat
Now one of the players has been stuck out of on the bench, missing out on his chance at
position on the defensive line, while his former meaningful playing time.
colleagues have been replaced by linebackers Thompson's lack of experience has
almost as bad as Prescott Burgess and David shown this year. He's been unable to win
Harris were good. sole possession of the middle linebasker
New starters John Thompson and Chris spot, even though his competition is
Graham have struggled to tackle soundly, blitz redshirt freshman Obi Ezeh - a late
effectively and shed blockers in the Wolverines' addition to the recruiting class who
firsttwogames this season. In addition, Michigan's came to Michigan as.the 51st best
insistence on fielding three linebackers (including running buck in the nation.
Shawn Crable) on every down has forced the That leaves Crable, who
linebackers to match up with wide receivers and has spent most of his time
running backs the duo lacks the talent to cover. this season in a three-point
Graham- in his fourth year playing -appears stance on the defensive line. He has
to be simply overmatched and outclassed. played well, but it's clear constant battles
Thompson's situation, however, is a bit more with the offensive tackles are wearing the
complex captain down.
In his sophomore year, Thompson filled in for Three four-star linebackers have already
an injured Graham against Iowa, playing out of committed to attend Michigan next year. Until
his normal middle linebacker position. Recording then, Wolverine defensive coordinator Ron
eight tackles "- three for losses - Thompson English will have to play the cards he's been
seemed ready to make significant contributions. dealt.
But last season, Michigan's leading tackler, Our advice:
Harris, rarely left the gridiron (for instance, he Fold.

A gainst Appalachian State, Michigan junior
Johnny Sears ran onto the field to receive
a kick. Only thing was, he headed in the wrong
Embarrassing in the second quarter. Mortifying
in the fourth. But flat-out inexcusable with your
team trailing by two points with 26 seconds left in
what was about to become the most humiliating
loss in college football history.
This play reflects a larger discipline problem.
In its first two games, Michigan has committed
countless boneheaded mistakes and unnecessary
penalties on its way to a pathetic 0-2 start.
Most glaring have been the mishaps on special
teams. At the end of the second quarter, Michigan
used a timeout when redshirt freshman Greg
Banks forgot to go in for a field goal, leaving the
team with just 10 men on the field.
On the final play of the game, both Banks and
senior captain Shawn Crable blew their blocking
assignments, allowing an Appalachian State
player to easily block the game-winning field-goal
What did the special teams coach have to say?
Michigan doesn't have one. That might be part of
the problem right there.
But these issues haven't just been on special
teams. After both games, players attributed
the loss to little mental mistakes. The kind a
team supposed to compete for the National
Championship shouldn't make.
Michigan committed seven penalties against

Appalachian State, all of them uncalled for.
Three false starts, an illegal procedure, a
delay game, a 15-yard facemask penalty
and an unnecessary roughness call cost
the Wolverines 56 yards.
"We just shot ourselves in the foot
too many times," captain Jake Long said
following the game. "We had times to
capitalize, get a first down and end the
game. ... Too many false start penalties,
we made some mistakes and just doing
that will kill a drive, and you'll end up
Just as mental mistakes will kill your
own drive, the inability to make tackles will
sustain your opponent's. Missed tackles
have been prevalent in both losses; for
athletes as talented as Michigan's, this
indicates a lack of focus.
Within the past two months, legal
troubles have plagued a number of
Wolverines, with charges ranging from
aggravated assault to indecent exposure.
While no direct connection can ever be
drawn between a lack of discipline on the
playing field and off it, Michigan's turbulent
off-season can't be discounted.
"Any off-the-field issues are distracting
to a team," Carr said recently. "You're trying
to deal with those. But they certainly distract
your team. How much that had to do with it,
I don't know."


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T he one weak spot of last year's
defense was the secondary. So
after losing first-round draft pick
Leon Hall and the majority of an NFL-
caliber front seven that masked its
weaknesses, nobody looked for too
much from this year's backfield.
But they probably expected
something better than this.
Opponents have victimized the
Michigan secondary for six passing
scores, five for longer than 20 yards.
On all six of these touchdowns, either
a tackle was missed or a coverage was
Midway through the first game,
two defensive backs had already lost
their starting spots. Junior cornerback
Johnny Sears - whose development
coaches praised throughout the off-
season - was benched in favor of
a true freshman. Sophomore safety
Stevie Brown - a four-start recruit
coming into Michigan - now plays
behind a fifth-year senior Michigan
coach Lloyd Carr nearly didn't bring
One sequence early in the first
game epitomizes the backfield's
disappointing performance. On
Appalachian State's third offensive

play, Mountaineer wide receiver
Dexter Jackson fooled Sears on a
simple slant route. Although Brown
was in the right position to limit the
play to a nine-yard gain, he took a
horrendous angle and could only
grasp at Jackson's shoestrings as the
Mountaineer sprinted past him for a
68-yard touchdown.
Senior safety Jamar Adams - once
a highly touted NFL prospect - was
beat on the next touchdown. On a play
that began at the Michigan 10-yard
line, Adams gave too big a cushion
to the slot receiver and was out of
position to tackle him before he dove
into the end zone.
One of the lone bright spots has
been oft-maligned redshirt junior
Morgan Trent, who was recruited as a
wide receiver.
The problems have occurred
despite the return of secondary coach
Vance Bedford, who left Michigan
after the 1998 season for the Chicago
Bears. In 1997, he coached a Wolverine
secondary considered best in the
nation; now, Michigan's pass defense
ranks next-to-last in the Big Ten.
Cushions have been too big, tackling
has been atrocious and Michigan has

been completely unable to stop the
long play. In the Oregon game, the
Ducksutorched the Wolverines for three
touchdowns longer than 45 yards.
"I think more importantly than being
a better tackling team, we need to get
people deep," Carr said.
"When you give up big
plays in a three-deep
zone, you've got some
problems. And that
is something we've
we've worked on
all fall."
coordinator Ron
English had no
better answers,
"(Big plays) are
happening in zone
coverages; they're
happening in man
coverages; they're
happening in fire zone,"
English said.
"So I'm soul
searching right now. I
just want tofind a way
to give our players the
best chance to be successful."


Eleven games into last season, defensive
coordinator Ron English appeared to
have turned around the Michigan defense.
It made him the rumored frontrunner to be
the next Wolverine head coach and earned
him a top spot to replace a number of other
team's head coaches.
One-hundred-forty-seven points, 1,953
yards and four losses later, other athletic
directors still love English.
But that's because they know that
whenever Michigan shows up on the
schedule, English will bring along his
porous, stale and outdated defense.
Teams across the country are moving to
more spread-oriented offenses. Michigan
has done nothing to put itself in a position
to stop this style of play.
Ohio State tore Michigan apart. OK, it
had Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith.
Appalachian State tore Michigan apart.
Not really excusable, but it was the first
game of the season for an unproven and
inexperienced defense.
Oregon tore Michigan apart. By now,
something should've changed.
When asked whether he saw any

differences in Michigan's defensive
approach after the Wolverines lost their
first game, Ducks coach Mike Bellotti had
a simple reply.
"I did not, actually."
Here are some of the adjustments
Bellotti might have expected:
Cornerbacks giving receivers less than a
20-yard cushion (Sears was still beat for a
touchdown even after giving such a cushion
against Oregon).
Defensive backs quickerthan linebackers
Chris Graham and Obi Ezeh covering his
speedy fourth and fifth wide receivers.
The defense's captain and best player
Shawn Crable playing his natural position
of linebacker rather than defensive end.
The defensive coordinator relaying plays
and making substitutions quickly enough
for the defense to prepare properly before
the snap.
Michigan didn't make any of these
fundamental changes.
Never mind that Wolverine opponents
have nearly a 100-percent success rate on
trick plays in the past two years.
In last year's season opener, Vanderbilt

scored its lone touchdown on a
fake-reverse halfback pass. Last
weekend, . Oregon tricked
Michigan with a Statue of Liberty
play. Later, the Ducks faked it
and fooled Michigan for an easy
"We worked (the plays) this
week because we felt that there
were certain things we saw from
Michigan's defense that would
make them successful," Bellotti
said. "And the one obviously
complements the other."
It's certainly more difficult
to scheme when you lose four
players in the first 46 picks of
the draft. No one expected this
year's defense to carry the team
like last year's. All it needed to
do was slow opposing teams
so Michigan's high-powered
offense could win the game.
Granted, the Wolverine
offense has sputtered.
But the defense has

W hen Michigan lined up for
its first offensive play of last
season's Rose Bowl, the Southern Cal
defensive line shifted to its right. Like
every college football fan in America,
the Trojans had an inkling of what was
coming: a Mike Hart run to the left,
the same play Michigan called to start
each of its 12 games that year.
. Quarterback Chad Henne was
forced to audible, and a Hart run to
the other side gained 11 yards. But the
scene was telling.
"They're a traditional straight-
up offense," Southern Cal defensive
end Lawrence Jackson said. "If they
line up one way, if they're in certain
formations, it doesn't take a rocket
scientist to pick out what they were
going to do."
None of Michigan's opponents this
year have had to consult with NASA,
Against Appalachian State, the
Wolverines began each of their first
four drives with that exact same play.
With smaller and less talented linemen
on the opposite side, Michigan gained
five yards on its first run. But the
Mountaineers stuffed the Wolverines
at the start of the second and third
drives, and only a Hart cutback on the

fourth salvaged a four-yard gain.
This isn't even close to the only
predictable part of Michigan's
Freshman wide receiver Junior
Hemingway in the game? Michigan's
running the ball.
Fullback shifts left just before the
snap? Run left.
Fullback shifts right? Run right.
Hart offset? It's a pass.
Three wide receivers line up on the
strong side with Mario Manningham in
the middle? Screen pass to No. 86.
And these are just some of the
observations of two college-aged
sportswriters. Imagine what patterns
and trends actual college football
coaches who watch countless hours of
Michigan game tape can identify.
With a core of skill-position players
as talented and experienced as Henne,
Manningham and Adrian Arrington,
Michigan should open the playbook up
a bit. We're not asking for a fake Statue
of Liberty culminating in a Henne jaunt
into the end zone, but some variation
couldn't hurt.
Opposing defensive coordinators
may never need a Ph.D. to stop
Michigan. But let's at least make sure
they've graduated from high school.

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