Each week we scout Michigan's opponent. We'll start with the basics, and then explore some relevant match-ups. For those that want to know more, we'll sprinkle in a mixture of history, reflection, and philosophy for a comprehensive look.
Michigan (2-0) vs Eastern Michigan (2-0)
(W) Western MI 34-10
(W) Notre Dame 35-31
(W) Howard 41-9
(W) Alabama State 14-7
Eastern Michigan Players to Watch:
When Michigan’s all time leading rusher Mike Hart referred to Michigan State as “little brother” in 2007, the quote still reverberates across the state. However, it probably would have been more appropriate if Hart used the term to compare it to another green and white team closer to home. It wouldn’t have been as juicy but more appropriate. Eastern Michigan is more like a little brother to the Wolverines. The stadiums are just a little more than a 10k run apart. Former Michigan Defensive Coordinator Ron English is their head coach. Lloyd Carr started at EMU and has helped promote English and the Eagles. Other former Wolverine players like Steve Morrison and Kurt Anderson are assistant coaches. Heck, even Hart himself joined the Eagles this season as the Quality Control Assistant for Offense. Michigan welcomes Eastern to Michigan Stadium and although those involved have to deny it, it has the feeling of a reunion. EMU is like family. Michigan State doesn’t seem like family at all. There are no giddy feelings with State. Michigan always wants to send the Spartans packing back to East Lansing with their heads hung low.
English, who is in his third season at EMU, has doubled his career win total in just two weeks of play. The team is 2-0 and it’s the first time since the 1989 campaign that EMU has won its first two games to start a season. Together the two teams represent 53 remaining undefeated football teams. That number will go down to at least 29 by the end of Saturday.
I feel like we are on the road to be on that we need to be on,” says English. “I feel like we have a foundation laid.”
English knows what has to be a difficult next step.
“I’ve known good friends of mine that have taken over programs like this and I think part of it is getting the kids accustomed to winning. You can talk about winning all you want but they have to go out and do it.”
Down at Schembechler Hall, it takes a lot of discipline to put aside the thrilling finish against Notre Dame and concentrate on an Eastern Michigan team that should be a show-up victory.
They have 331 yards rushing a game,” barks Michigan Head Coach Brady Hoke. “If that doesn't get our attention -- I think they are well -- I would hope there would be enough maturity in that room with those seniors to understand we are going to correct mistakes and do all those things and then we have got to move forward fast.
Complacency gets you beat, and the Wolverines haven’t won enough for that to be a real concern. Hoke’s approach is to focus on steady improvement because the execution in the first two games won’t be enough to win a championship, which is still their stated goal.
Michigan Offense vs. Eastern Michigan Defense
After two games, Michigan is relying more on the old offense to get them through games than the West Coast offense they want to become. That doesn’t mean they’ll spread the field and run zone-read out of the shotgun with every play, but it does mean that Denard Robinson (Jr. #16) will be running with the ball more often as he’s asked to bail out the Michigan ground attack.
Saturday’s game against Eastern Michigan gives the Wolverines an opportunity to showcase or audition other running backs, who had a collective 10 yards rushing last week against Notre Dame. Wolverine runners other than Robinson have struggled since 2009. Getting healthy (Fitzgerald Toussaint (So. #28)), possibly trying freshmen (Thomas Rawls (#38)), and having Robinson taking more snaps under center may help.
Standing in Michigan’s way this week is Marcus English (Sr. #42). No relation to coach English, Marcus won the MAC West Division Player of the Week with a ten tackle (3 ½) for a loss effort last week.
As a team, the Eagles sacked Alabama State eight times last Saturday, en route to breaking a 45 year old single game record, holding their opponent to -13 yards rushing. The season is early but they are the tops in the conference in rushing (41) and total defense (212).
It needs to be stressed again that a balanced, two-dimensional offense is paramount and both the backs need vision and the offensive line needs to dominate more from scrimmage.
Robinson may take a couple of shots down field to see if his vertical passing game has improved, but this game should feature a whole lot of what Hoke likes to call “the power play.”
Eastern Michigan Offense vs. Michigan Defense
In the season opener, Western Michigan allowed the Wolverines to have the ball only once in the first quarter. That’s exactly what Eastern hopes to do to make it a game. The Eagles will try to control the clock with its rushing game and limit Michigan’s possessions. Javonti Greene (So. #32) and Dominique Sherrer (Jr. #25) each average more than seven yards per carry. Eastern Michigan’s rushing yardage outnumbers their passing yardage by nearly 4:1. Gillett is averaging six ypc as well but is passing less than 50%.
QB Alex Gillett
The Wolverines will likely play more of a base defense against the run heavy Eagles. Clearly, Michigan is going to see a lot of rushes, and that’s good because they need the work. The Maize and Blue are yielding 5.1 ypc so they need to improve. A less than stellar effort should be a big cause for concern going forward.
“I’m not happy,” says defensive tackle Mike Martin (Sr. #68). We have a lot of improvement to make across the board. All the guys including myself have to improve and get better and if we do that than we’ll be better as a unit and we’ll play better as a defense.”
Both Coach Hoke and Defensive Coordinator Greg Mattison indicated that Will Campbell (Jr. #73) has deserved more playing time. He had a fumble recovery last week and asserted himself in the 2nd half.
“I thought that when he went in, he gave us a spark,” says Mattison. I thought he played with a lot of passion, and like I’ve said all along that’s a big body that can move.”
Depending on when the Eagles have to play catch-up, the Michigan secondary will get challenged. Once again, there’s no reason why the Wolverines can’t improve here. Michigan will try to generate pressure from the front four without having to blitz. The secondary will try to defend without having their backs completely turned away from the quarterback. The linebackers have an opportunity to make big plays whether the Eagles rush or pass.
My Favorite Michigan-EMU Game: 2005 U-M 55-0
Michigan has been known to have letdowns after Notre Dame losses, but not that year. #14 Michigan had five starters out that included Mike Hart, Tim Massaquoi, Adrian Arrington. Future #1 overall NFL draft pick Jake Long also had a bad ankle and his back up Mike Kolodziej was out as well. Nobody thought it would cost them the game, but there was some concern that lasted for about one minute.
After a long Steve Breaston punt return, Max Martin scored two touchdowns in the game’s first four minutes. Jason Avant scored the next two touchdowns on passes from Chad Henne and the Wolverines tied a team record by scoring 28 pts in the first quarter (ironically a feat duplicated last week, by Michigan in the fourth quarter). Once Henne scrambled for a first down on 3rd & 12 that led to a Brian Thompson touchdown before half, it was time for the back-ups.
Matt Gutierrez played the 2nd half, one year after an injury cost him the starting job. Running backs Jerome Jackson and Alijah Bradley rushed for touchdowns. You may not remember, but Antonio Bass remembers quite well about his smooth cuts for extra yardage on a screen pass and taking a direct snap for a bunch of yards on a quarterback draw. Yes, it was an early form of a Wildcat and reflective thought on “what could have been?” if he had remained healthy.
English, who was the secondary coach and the team got their first shutout since the 2003 Notre Dame game (38-0). The Eagles had only 15 yards rushing, and were at -10 yards a few minutes into the fourth quarter. Morgan Trent’s interception stopped an EMU drive in the 2nd quarter. Starter Ryan Mundy also didn’t play because of injury.
Most Likely Wolverine to Have a Career Game: Kenny Demens (Jr. #25)
Last week I dismissed Robinson because I didn’t think he could outperform last year’s effort. He almost did. While I’m tempted to take a running back, as I’m sure Michigan will try to establish their rushing game, I’m going to go defense. Demens had 13 tackles last year against Wisconsin. Demens may get close to that figure against Eastern’s rushing attack and may make a few possession killers.
“You have a guy who’s pretty sharp when it comes to making the calls, setting the front, and adjusting at that level,” says Hoke.
Most Likely Eagle You’ll Remember After the Game is Over: Greene or Sherrer
Take your pick. Greene has the most carries (by 6) and the most yards (by 35). Sherrer starts and has the better ypc (7.7). If Michigan gets a huge lead, then both won’t be memorable because they’ll have to their passing game. When that happens expect punter Jay Karutz (Jr. #37) to handle the ball the most.
ENJOY THE GAME!