Opponents preview: Michigan offense

Part two of BadgerNation.com's look at UW's first conference opponent

Michigan will again possess one of the best offenses in the Big Ten with eight starters expected to receive some All-Big Ten acclaim at season's end. But as good as the team's signature players are, headlined by sophomore standouts quarterback Chad Henne and running back Michael Hart, the Wolverines' depth at the skill positions is what could make this an elite offense at the national level.

2004 by the numbers

Total offense: 386.5 yards per game (No. 46 nationally); 423.6 in conference-only games (No. 2 in Big Ten)
Scoring offense: 30.8 points per game (24); 30.8 (2)
Passing offense: 232.9 (45); 248.8 (3)
Passing efficiency: 130.5 (44); 133.7 (3)
Rushing offense: 153.6 (61); 174.9 (3)
Touchdowns: 40 — 15 rushing, 25 passing
Third-down conversions: 43 percent on 84 of 194; 45 percent on 58 of 129 (2)
Turnovers lost: 21 – 12 interceptions and 9 of 16 fumbles (50); 13 – six fumbles, seven interceptions (5)
Field goal kicking: 19 of 24
Kick returns: 24.6 (8); 23.6 (2)
Punt returns: 13.3 (21); 14.2 (2)

Quarterbacks analysis

How often does a true freshman step in and lead a major conference team to a 9-1 start? Chad Henne did that last season, directing a very good offense that scored a little over 30 points per game. Sure, Michigan had plenty of talent around him, but the Wolverines did not exactly cover up for him. Henne threw 399 passes, completing 240 of them and throwing a respectable 12 interceptions. His 2,743 yards was the third-best total in UM history and he tied a school record with 25 touchdown completions. Not a bad debut.

And yet the starting quarterback last year was supposed to be 6-foot-4, 232-pound Matt Gutierrez, a junior who has recovered from shoulder surgery. Assuming he stays healthy, Gutierrez is a competent reserve, though he is largely untested. In seven career games at quarterback, he is 13 of 19 for 153 yards and one touchdown.

Now a sophomore, Henne (6-2, 225) can no longer deliver the ball to all-everything receiver Braylon Edwards. And UM may run the ball more often this year with a strong offensive line and a stable of talented running backs. But Henne proved last season that he has all the tools to develop into a truly special football player and he just might direct the Wolverines' offense to new heights this season.

Injuries are a fact of life in football, however, and Michigan will be in a bind if Henne and Gutierrez go down. Next in line on the quarterback depth chart is probably true freshman Jason Forcier (6-2, 205), who the Wolverines would like to redshirt. The No. 3 was supposed to be Clayton Richard, but he chose to focus on baseball.

Offensive line analysis

Michigan probably has the best tandem of offensive tackles in the Big Ten in left tackle Adam Stenavich, a 6-5, 320-pound senior, and sophomore Jake Long (6-7, 340), who was hampered by a shoulder injury this spring. There is also competent depth here in junior Mike Kolodziej (6-7, 330) and redshirt freshman Alex Mitchell (6-5, 320).

Senior right guard Matt Lentz (6-6, 305) is a standout performer who could be an All-Big Ten first-team selection.

Michigan, though, needs to replace its best lineman from a year ago, David Bass, who was among the best guards in the country before switching to center and winning a share of the Rimington Award as one of the best at that position too. Now, both center and left guard are question marks for the Wolverines.

Junior Rueben Riley (6-3, 305) will start, but it is unclear whether he will end up at center or left guard. He started the last seven games of the 2004 campaign at left guard, including the Rose Bowl. But he played center in spring practices.

Sophomore Adam Kraus (6-6, 310) may be the next best option at left guard or center, but a shoulder injury kept him out of spring practices. Other possibilities at both positions include fifth-year senior Leo Henige (6-4, 340) and redshirt freshman Jeremy Ciulla (6-4, 305). Reserve tackle Alex Mitchell is also in the mix at left guard.

The Wolverines should be an excellent run-blocking team, but the jury is out as far as pass blocking goes. It is not like the protection was extraordinarily problematic, but it was a clear weakness on an otherwise strong offense. UM gave up 29 sacks last year.

Receivers analysis

There is no replacing Braylon Edwards. But Michigan still has one of the best receiving corps in the nation.

Senior receiver Jason Avant (6-1, 210) and senior tight end Tim Massaquoi (6-4, 250) return to the starting lineup, while junior Steve Breaston (6-1, 180) steps in for Edwards.

Avant, entering his third year as a starter, has 35 games and 18 starts to his credit. Predominantly a possession receiver, his longest reception a year ago was 21 yards, but 30 of his 38 catches resulted in a first down. He finished with 447 yards and three touchdowns. He had a bigger season in 2003, when he caught 47 passes for 772 yards and a pair of scores.

Though Avant is more experienced, many expect Breaston to step right to the foreground this fall. A standout return man, Breaston can be a dynamic performer. He has 72 receptions for 735 yards and six touchdowns in his career. He also has 911 career punt return yards and 880 career kick return yards, putting him in position to become the first player in conference history to reach 1,000 yards in each of those categories.

Massaquoi is the reigning consensus first-team All-Big Ten tight end. Entering his third year as a starter, Massaquoi could truly become a star this season. Originally a receiver, he is very fast for a tight end and has good hands. He had 18 catches for 184 yards last year and 15-199-2 in 2003. Expect a significant jump in production this fall.

The Wolverines abound with depth. Junior tight end Tyler Ecker (6-6, 250) is a solid receiver with 17 receptions and 157 yards in his career.

Junior receiver Carl Tabb (6-2, 190) has caught 10 passes for 103 yards in 25 career games. He provides a sound backup for Breaston.

The next trio on the receiving depth chart is young, inexperienced, and talented: sophomore Adrian Arrington (6-2, 185), redshirt freshman Doug Dutch (6-0, 195) and redshirt freshman converted safety Keston Cheathem (6-1, 181).

Running backs analysis

An exceptionally talented tailback, Michael Hart (5-9, 190) ran for nine touchdowns and nearly 1,500 yards a year ago. But expect him to be more effective this year because of the depth at his position.

Another sophomore, Max Martin (6-1, 215), only carried 32 times for 132 yards and a touchdown last year, but he will have a much more conspicuous role this season spelling Hart. Martin is a very good back who should command carries when he begins to receive regular touches.

The x-factor is true freshman Kevin Grady (5-9, 230), who comes to Ann Arbor as an extremely highly touted player. If he lives up to his billing, he will be as good as Hart, perhaps better.

Michigan has depth at fullback as well, where three players will compete this fall for the starting job: redshirt freshman Roger Allison (6-1, 233) and juniors Brian Thompson (6-2, 230) and Obianna Oluigbo (6-0, 237).

Special teams notes

Place kicker Garrett Rivas (5-9, 216) made 19 of 24 attempts last season, but he does not have big-time range, with a career long of 47 yards and no attempts of 50 yards or more. He has, however, made 7 of 11 kicks from 40-47 yards in his career.

Receiver Steve Breaston is an excellent return man. He ran back 28 kicks for 689 yards, a 24.6-yard average, last year. He also returned 24 punts last season for a 12.2-yard average and one touchdown.

Matching up with Wisconsin

As talented as Michigan is, the Badgers should not be overwhelmed. Cornerback Brett Bell, if healthy, can match up with any of the Wolverines' receivers. UW has enough athletes in the secondary to hold up against UM's receiving corps. But Henne and Co. could exploit the Badgers' lack of experience in the back end.

It will be interesting to see how UW chooses to defend Massaquoi. Putting a linebacker on him in coverage would be asking for trouble for most teams, but the Badgers' outside ‘backers — Mark Zalewski and Dontez Sanders — should be athletic enough to hang with him. UW could also help with a safety, but the Badgers will almost certainly need to bring extra players into the box to support the run, which may make it all too easy for Massaquoi to get loose in the secondary.

The Wolverines' passing attack should be very good this season, but if UW can force Michigan into certain passing situations, the Badgers may have an advantage. Despite the fact that UW is replacing four starting defensive linemen, the team should have an above average pass rush as the season progresses, and after facing very good pass blocking lines in Bowling Green and North Carolina, UW's younger players will already be tested. If there was one area where UM needed to improve, it was in pass protection, and putting quick pressure on Henne could be an equalizer.

However, getting Michigan into long yardage situations consistently is a very tall task. And UM certainly has enough talent in its offensive line to have the protection schemes smoothed out by Sept. 24.

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