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Michigan vs. Eastern Michigan Preview

September 16, 2011

Quote That Most Represents This Game
“All this time to make amends..
What do you do when all your enemies are friends?
Now and then I’ll try to bend..
Under pressure, wind up snapping in the end….”

— Foo Fighters, song “Monkey Wrench”
Names To Know
1. Javonti Greene (RB #32) — A sophomore out of Palm Beach, FL, Greene could be considered the “lightning” part of the Eastern rushing attack. He’s listed at 5’10” 188lbs and through two games he has 36 carries for 266 yards, which is a nice 7.4 yards-per-carry average, along with one touchdown. 
2. Dominique Sherrer (RB #25) —  The “thunder” part of the tandem is filled by Sherrer, the 5’9″ 207lbs senior from Cincinnati. Dominique was on the sideline for the 2009 game at Michigan, but only had 34 yards that season so he wasn’t a big factor for that team. This year, however, he is splitting reps with Greene and has 231 yards on 30 carries for a slightly better 7.7 ypc compared to his teammate. The craziest part of his stats are that his career stats from 2008-2010 were 40 carries for 87 yards and zero touchdowns. This could clearly be called his breakout year.

 
3. Alex Gillett (QB #9) — Gillett is the junior starting QB for Eastern and will be playing in his second game at Michigan Stadium after getting a few snaps in the 2009 game.  He wasn’t very effective as a passer, getting about 10 yards total, but did get 36 yards on the ground on six carries. After reading the strength/weakness section though, these stats from two years ago may make a lot more sense.
Offensive Strength
This week is going to be the easiest strength/weakness section I will write about an opponent all year, unless we somehow play Georgia Tech or a Mike-Leach-coached Texas Tech team. Eastern Michigan is a running football team, period. After their first two games, they are ranked 5th overall in the FBS in rushing, averaging 331 yards per game.  Both Sherrer and Greene have had 100+ yards in each of the first two games, and their 7.5 yards-per-carry average shows they have some explosive plays rather than just grinding out 3-4 yards and giving them the ball 50 times. Quarterback Alex Gillett is even averaging 7.1 yards per carry while amassing 150 yards rushing in the first two games. The Big-House-sized-caveat in this though is that the first two games were against FCS opponents Howard and Arkansas State, so they aren’t exactly pushing around top competition.  They will focus on running this week though, which will be a good test for our defense since we have faced two passing teams thus far.

Offensive Weakness
Webster’s says “diametrically opposed” means “completely; utterly opposite” which I think is the best description of the Eagles passing attack when compared to their running game. After two games against FCS opponents, Eastern is ranked 118th in the country in passing, getting only 88 yards passing per game. You could argue that the running game was working, so why both trying to pass? My argument against that, though, is if you’re facing two inferior opponents the week before the biggest statement game on your schedule, why would you not work on what is clearly your weakness? I seriously doubt the coaches were hiding their ability to pass in preparation for Michigan, so don’t expect a lot of throwing unless the game gets out of hand.

Defensive Strength
This section is equally as hard to write as the last section was easy.  On paper, the strength of the defense would be the defensive line and stopping the run.  All four starters from last year’s line return to provide experience, and through two games they haven’t allowed a rushing touchdown.  Arkansas State ran for -13 yards (yes, negative, but mostly because the quarterbacks had -29 yards due to sacks) last week, and Howard was held to 96 yards on 30 carries in the first week. Seems like a no-brainer that this is the strength, right?  My confusion though is that the returning defensive line was part of a defense last year ranked 118th overall in stopping the run, and on top of that, they average about 6’2″ 260lbs, which is extremely undersized. So I’m going to call this the “strength” because they’ve played well the first two games, but putting our ~300lbs offensive lineman against ~260lbs defensive lineman should be a serious advantage.

Defensive Weakness
Arkansas State threw for 236 yards, one touchdown, and no interceptions last week, and what’s significant about that is Eastern only won the game 14-7. That means the passing yards were not inflated because it was a blowout and they were trying to play catch-up by chucking the ball downfield. This was a close game, the running game clearly wasn’t working, and they were still able to throw successfully. My takeaway is that Eastern’s secondary can be exploited, especially if they are selling out to stop the run and bite on some play-action passes.  This would be a great week for the Michigan coaches to work on some shorter routes to check timing with the quarterbacks and receivers.

My Game Expectations
The 2009 edition of this game featured the ultimate in uncomfortable-handshake-pictures between Ron English and Rich Rodriguez (http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_ovxqib0HRVY/Sr0JQSTu3FI/AAAAAAAAArg/OcqQPqarVnw/s400/sidelines.jpg). A lot of internet conspiracy theorists would say that this was a result of Rich Rod running up the score because people believed Ron English may have leaked some info to the Free Press that resulted in the articles about NCAA violations. Nobody ever came out with hard evidence of this though, and with the new coaching staff in place it definitely appears Coach English has made amends if anything did happen. He’s been back on campus for the Griese/Hutchinson/Woodson golf outing and other charity events, and seems to be back in the good graces of most in the Michigan family who remember him from coaching the 2006 defense. 

Former Michigan great Mike Hart is also now roaming the Eastern sidelines as a quality control assistant and working with the running backs.  Some fans have recently given Mike a hard time because he said he “no longer roots for Michigan.” What would it say about him as a coach though if he said he wanted Eastern to lose this week? He’s clearly a Michigan Man who hopes to get back to Ann Arbor one day and is going to focus on getting his teams winning and getting better until that becomes an option, just like Brady Hoke did for the last decade. 

This game is going to be a great test for Michigan, even though we should win easily.  We haven’t yet faced a downhill running team to see how our defense will play in a true 4-3 compared to the nickel packages we’ve seen primarily, so it will be good to see Eastern try to run this week to see what adjustments need to be made before we hit Michigan State, Illinois, and Iowa on the schedule.  We’ve also struggled running the ball, with the backs having 8 carries for 10 yards against Notre Dame. With Eastern’s “strength” being the line, we will get a good opportunity to focus on the run without needing to abandon it to try to keep the game close. 

If I was coaching this week, I would go to the running backs and tell them, “We need three things this week – a win, rest for our defense, and somebody to step up and show they deserve more carries. This is your audition week and we’re going to give each of you equal time to impress us and prove why you should be in there against Michigan State.”  To accomplish that, I’d keep the ratio around 80-20 in favor of running vs. passing, and keep Denard under 5 carries for the game. Rotate between Toussaint, Smith, Shaw, Hopkins, and maybe even try out true freshman Thomas Rawls if he’s recovered from injury to see how he responds in front of a full stadium. 

I think we’ll see a lot of running from both teams which will keep the clock running and the game close early, but eventually our size and strength snaps the bending Eastern defense and we get a few long touchdown runs. The coaches will have an interesting challenge this week, clearly wanting to push the team and see what they can do against an inferior opponent, especially if the backups get into the game, so they can run more plays before the Big Ten season starts. How will they balance that with the fact they are close with, and respect, the coaches on the other sideline?  Will they want to keep stepping on the gas against the enemy invading their home field, or will they want to go for a respectable win against a group of friends on the other sideline?  It should give us a lot of things to watch for in what would normally be a mid-September snoozer that has people flipping the channel to the other big games.
Outcome: Michigan wins 35-7

-Mike Randazzo

Andrew’s Take:

It’s been a busy week for me, so I’m just going to piggyback on Mike’s post above and throw in my prediction.  The beauty of playing these MAC schools is that they usually provide an easy win for Michigan, a nice payday for the directional school, and both teams get what amounts to a glorified scrimmage.  Unfortunately, its not that suspenseful for the fans.  But after last week, we could probably use a week to rest!

Given the losses to Appalachian State and Toledo, we can’t take anything for granted.  But here’s a little history for you.  Michigan has played the interstate directional schools (Eastern, Central, Western) a total of 10 times since 1998, and has won those games by a combined score of 372-123.  Or by an average of about 25 points.  In Michigan’s 4 contests against Eastern Michigan, its even uglier, with Michigan winning by a combined score of 192-59, an average of almost 32 points.  Eastern is better than they have been in recent years.  But, hopefully, so is Michigan.  

This is the game the backups and walk-ons work so hard for, because its probably the last legitimate game on the schedule they could see significant playing time.  Michigan should take care of business and give them that chance.   

Michigan 45

Eastern Michigan 13

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