2006 Big Ten Preview: Michigan Wolverines

We continue our series on OSU's opponents and the Big Ten with a look at Michigan. The Wolverines stumbled to a 7-5 mark last year -- their worst record in 21 years. But hopes are high in Ann Arbor with the return of three-year starters Chad Henne at quarterback and Mike Hart at tailback. Click here for more.

Here is the 12th in a Bucknuts.com series on Ohio State's 2006 football opponents as well as a preview for the Big Ten in 2006. We continue with the Nov. 18 game against Michigan.

Michigan

* Date, Time: Sat., Nov. 18, 3:30 p.m. (ABC).

* Location: Ohio Stadium.

* Last Year, Bowl: 7-5, lost to Nebraska in Alamo Bowl. Big Ten: 5-3/third (tie).

* Coach: Lloyd Carr (11th year at UM, 102-34).

* Returning Starters: 16. Offense (6): C Mark Bihl, RT Jake Long, WR Steve Breaston, FB Brian Thompson, RB Michael Hart, QB Chad Henne. Defense (8): DE Alan Branch, OLB Prescott Burgess, ILB Chris Graham, ILB David Harris, OLB LaMarr Woodley, CB Leon Hall, FS Willis Barringer, SS Brandent Englemon. Specialists (1): K Garrett Rivas, P Ross Ryan.

* Big Ten Championships: 42, last shared title in 2004.

* Rose Bowls: 19, last appearance in 2004.

* BCS Bids (since 1998): 3, 1999 (Orange), 2003 (Rose), 2004 (Rose).

* National Championships (Rissman/Rockne, 1924-35; Associated Press, 1936-2005): 4 (1932, ‘33, ‘48, ‘97).

* Series Vs. Ohio State: Michigan leads the all-time series 57-39-6, including 27-21-2 in Columbus. OSU has won four of the last five meetings, including 37-21 in 2004 in Columbus and 25-21 last year in Ann Arbor.

* Schedule: Sept. 2, Vanderbilt; Sept. 9, Central Michigan; Sept. 16, at Notre Dame; Sept. 23, Wisconsin; Sept. 30, at Minnesota; Oct. 7, Michigan State; Oct. 14, at Penn State; Oct. 21, Iowa; Oct. 28, Northwestern; Nov. 4, Ball State; Nov. 11, at Indiana; Nov. 18, at Ohio State.

* Outlook: Carr found himself on the hot seat after a disappointing 2005, capped by a home loss to Ohio State and a frustrating defeat at the hands of Nebraska in the Alamo Bowl.

Michigan was ranked as high as No. 3 before a Sept. 10 loss to Notre Dame. UM's five losses were by a combined 21 points. The 7-5 finish was Michigan's worst since a 6-6 finish in 1984.

Oh, and UM lost its third straight bowl game as well.

Carr responded by jumbling his coaching staff and replacing both of his coordinators. Mike DeBord assumes control of the offense, while Ron English takes over the defense.

"I'm very excited about this Michigan team," Carr said. "We have an excellent nucleus of returning players offensively, defensively and in the kicking game. We had a great off-season, with the only disappointment being the loss of Antonio Bass in the spring. I think we have a great attitude, a strong nucleus of leaders and our goals are extremely high."

DeBord will have some weapons to work with on offense. Most think Henne had an off year, but he did throw for 2,526 yards and 23 TDs against eight interceptions. He is back for his third year as the starter.

"Chad Henne is ready to take another step," Carr said. "I think at some point he'll be a great quarterback. He's got everything it takes to be a great quarterback.

"He is resilient, he is focused, he has wonderful abilities, and I think he's certainly, because of the experiences he had, he has a confidence in himself and what he's trying to do, and I think he's become a very good leader."

Hart is also back for his third year as the starter at tailback. He fought injuries most of the year and ended up with 662 yards after a 1,000-yard season as a freshman.

"Our situation at running back is as good as it's been since I've been at Michigan," Carr said. "I think Mike Hart is a great football player -- one of the best I've coached. He is a great leader and he has no weaknesses. He can run the football, he's a great pass receiver, a great pass protector and a guy that plays with great energy. When he's healthy he brings something special to the table."

Henne will throw to Breaston (26 catches) and star-in-waiting sophomore Mario Manningham (27 catches, 6 TDs).

"I'm confident that Steve Breaston and Mario Manningham, that those guys have really -- if I had to point to two guys, I think Manningham is bigger and stronger, and I think he's fast," Carr said. "Breaston has had a great off-season, had a great fall, and I think he's learned a lot of things going through a tough year a year ago when he was nagged by injuries."

Much of Michigan's recent woes can be tied to the defense. With English at the helm, UM will try and force the issue. Woodley (seven sacks, 14 TFLs) is a disruptive force who is UM's best pass rusher. Hall (61 tackles, 4 INTs) leads a secondary that grew up a lot last year. Harris and Burgess, now seniors, are coming into their own as leaders in the LB corps.

"Defensively, I think the strength of our team is going to be the front four with LaMarr Woodley and Alan Branch," Carr said. "They are two of the finest defensive linemen we've had at Michigan. Leon Hall has a chance to be one of the best corners in the country -- one of the best corners we've had as well.

"I think David Harris has improved significantly as a pass defender, and of course he's a guy with great experience. He's been in all the big games, and I think he had a good year a year ago. But David is a very physical player, a guy that I think is ready to have an excellent year."

Junior Shawn Crable, like Burgess and Manningham an Ohio native, could also get a look at linebacker.

"Shawn Crable, as I've mentioned, I think his upside is his ability and now the knowledge that he has obtained and the confidence that he has," Carr said. "He's a big guy, extremely athletic, probably one of the faster linebackers we've had at Michigan. Shawn can run with the best of them, and he has great height and makes a lot of plays knocking balls down. But he has really come on."

* Jerry Rudzinski Says: Some may say Ohio State has Michigan's number. I think they are thinking about it a little bit. It maybe took longer than we thought to have it happen, but they have to be thinking about it.

Michigan has lost four of five to Ohio State, three of four to Notre Dame and three straight bowl losses. They have to be wondering what is going on at the end of the year and in the big games. At home or away, Ohio State is getting it done against these guys. It's a mental thing.

I was on the other end of that as a player when I was at Ohio State. I was there five years and we lost to them three times. We lost three in a row. You can approach it getting over excited or under excited. Either way, it gets in your head you have to close this streak out and you start pressing a bit.

Michigan was terrible defensively in the fourth quarter last year. Plus, they were ninth in rushing defense. You can't win in the Big Ten unless you can stop the run. They were 10th in red zone defense. All of those come down to attitude. They made some changes with the coaching staff.

They needed to shake it up. There are big expectations there and they just weren't getting it done. Coaching at places like Ohio State and Michigan is tough because you can't slip up. You have to bring it every day in practice and every Saturday.

I don't think there was much of a sophomore slump for Henne. He had 23 touchdowns and eight interceptions. I like that ratio. If Henne goes down, though, it could be a miserable year.

Manningham is special, but Breaston needs to stay healthy and step up. He scored two touchdowns all year last year.

They say Shawn Crable is ready to go on defense, so we'll see how that goes.

* Steve Helwagen Says: We are up to rendition No. 103 in this long and legendary rivalry known as The Game. When Michigan comes calling on Nov. 18, OSU and its legions of fans will be hoping that a Big Ten title and a berth in the BCS national championship game will be at stake. If so, this game could rival the importance of the 2002 OSU-Michigan game.

Last year was Michigan's worst season in 21 years. Michigan is not accustomed to these kind of failures. All of their losses were close and were predicated on just one or two plays.

They had the night loss at Wisconsin. That was tough. They had the home loss to Minnesota, when they allowed Gary Russell to run 60 yards to set up the game-winning field goal. Mind you, Bryan Cupito was out of the game. How do you not sit on the run there? Then, you have Troy Smith driving for the winning score in the Ohio State game. And the complete debacle of the Nebraska loss, where they blew a comfortable lead.

Michigan needs to get that intangible back to where they make those one or two plays and win those games.

It's great for UM that Henne and Hart are back for their third year together as starters. They've seen everything by now, so nothing should faze them. Breaston is explosive and Manningham had a great freshman year. They'll be without Jason Avant, who had 82 catches last year.

Michigan used to be the gold (or maize) standard on defense. But it has slowly eroded from the 1997 national championship to the last few years. It will be interesting to see if the coaching change starts UM back on the path toward being dominant on defense.

The schedule is brutal with road games at Notre Dame, Penn State and Ohio State. Accordingly, it's hard for me to imagine Michigan being much better than 9-3 or 10-2 this year.

Some OSU fans already have this one chalked up due to simple momentum. That would be foolish to assume anything, though. I have seen Michigan teams stop unbeaten Ohio State teams more times than I care to remember (1993, 1995 and 1996, in particular). Moreover, in my mind, Michigan is dangerous because their back is against the wall.

Below are archives of past opponent previews:

Game 1: Northern Illinois

Game 2: Texas

Game 3: Cincinnati

Game 4: Penn State

Game 5: Iowa

Game 6: Bowling Green

Game 7: Michigan State

Game 8: Indiana

Game 9: Minnesota

Game 10: Illinois

Game 11: Northwestern


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