Behind Enemy Lines

I was glued to my television Thursday night checking in on the fighting Harbaughs season opening loss at Utah with great interest.  Was it simply because it was the first action of College Football since the Buckeyes hoisted the crystal ball weirdly shaped, staff like trophy after beating the Ducks in Dallas?  Was it my morbid curiosity to see how the Michigan Football program had managed to “improve” upon another disappointing season?  Was it to check on that Mr. Harbaugh guy –  the unquestioned SAVIOR to Michigan football?  Let’s just say it was a combination of everything, and I savored every minute of it.

Just watching this new Michigan squad for the first time, (awful new uniforms aside) it didn’t take very long to see new life – new hope – a new program.  The players are more confident in the system and more importantly, the man behind it all.  Last year under Brady Hoke the team never looked energized.  Displayed no passion until they inevitably played up when the Buckeyes came to town.  Harbaugh is a different animal.  He’s a motivator, a tactician, a strategist and a mad man.  He has won everywhere and you’d be foolish to think he won’t turn this Michigan program around (and inevitably head back to the NFL much sooner than Michigan fans would hope after driving his co-workers and superiors insane).  Michigan will lean heavily on their defense this year.  It was good under Brady Hoke and is expected to perform even better this year – and it will need to.  The Michigan defense will keep them in most games, but there are some glaring issues on the other side if the ball.

Harbaugh has a desperate lack of playmakers on offense.  Amara Darboh had a career game against the Utes but he certainly doesn’t strike fear in the heart of  defensive coordinators.  Jake Butt is a fantastic receiving tight end, but he needs to improve his blocking to reach his full potential.  After that you have Jehu Chesson and freshman Grant Perry as your main receivers. Yikes.  No sign so far of the uber hyped Jabril Peppers on offense.  Same for Drake Harris.  They might be needed come mid-season and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them start stealing away some reps.

The offensive line continues to be a major struggle.  This is a topic that has been discussed ad nauseam for several years under Brady Hoke so I won’t delve into it much here.  The line brings back experience which has helped them, but they lack talent.  Their line play wont magically improve by seasons end – it hasn’t the last three plus years.  Thanks in part to their struggles at the line of scrimmage (29 car 79 yards rushing total week one), it’s hard to get a feel about their backfield situation.  De’Veon Smith is their number one back and he runs with great power but lacks breakaway speed and elusiveness.  Ty Isaac, the USC transfer, is another big talented back who could see some run later in the year.  Derrick Green is… somewhere on the depth chart. (two carries for one yard in week one) Let’s just be grateful that Urban decided to pursue some kid from St. Louis named Ezekiel Elliot instead of Green – there were more than a few Buckeye fans initially upset about that decision.

The quarterback situation is still nowhere near Michigan standards.  Jake Rudock, of former Iowa Hawkeye glory, won the starting job because of his ability to take care of the football and limit mistakes.  Three picks later and the Wolverines left the field in Provost with their tails between their legs.  Shane Morris appears he simply can;t put it all together at this level despite all the physical tools needed.  I believe he will see some snaps as the season progresses, especially if Rudock continues to turn the ball over.

The key point of the early season may well be when BYU travels to Ann Arbor later this month.  Michigan gas two easy wings upcoming against Oregon St and UNLV before the Cougars come to town.  BYU knocked off fellow B1G foe Nebraska this week in dramatic fashion.  If Harbaugh loses that game in the friendly confined of the Big House, it might be a telling sign for the start of conference play.  We could be in store for some hilarious/awkward halftime interviews with the man clad in khaki.


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