After the outstanding start to the Brady Hoke era in 2011, I'm sure many had their sights set on a B1G title last year before the season started. It didn't quite live up to expectations as a couple of key losses (Ohio State & Nebraska), and a few very close calls (Michigan State & Northwestern) left much to be desired heading into 2013.
Here are some of the issues Team 134 will need to tighten up if they want to get to the Rose Bowl.
1.) Improved secondary play: This pertains to one team for the most part, Ohio State. Michigan will likely have to beat Ohio State once and maybe twice to reach the Rose Bowl and be crowned B1G champions. Last year against the Buckeyes it was obvious that Michigan was overmatched in the secondary. Urban Meyer's spread offense is predicated on taking what the defense is giving you based on the safeties. If there are two deep safeties, Ohio State will run the ball as it has the numbers advantage in the box. If it's a single deep or no deep safety look, Ohio State will throw. Last year Mattison decided to force the issue and bring the eighth man into the box with safety Jordan Kovacs. The problem was Thomas Gordon got sucked in by the play action fake and JT Floyd was beat deep to the post by Devon Smith. (Aforementioned play is at the :33 mark in the video sequence below)
This led Mattison to be much more conservative on the early downs the rest of the game, allowing Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde to rack up 146 yards on 26 carries. Another problem was the inability for the defensive backs to get off of blocks on bubble screens. Those are a staple of Meyer's offense.
2.) Transitioning to the Pro Style offense: With Denard departing, this is the year we will see what direction Al Borges and Brady Hoke really want to take the offense in. Devin Gardner proved last year that he is a capable passer and is adept at knowing when to pull the ball down and scramble. The offense has a great starting point with Gardner. In order for the offense to function at an optimum level the offensive line and running backs will have to take a big step forward. If Michigan can run the ball effectively it will make Gardner much more efficient.
Taylor Lewan deciding to come back for a fifth year along with Michael Schofield back at guard bode well for an improved rushing attack.. Those returnees coupled with some of the elite offensive line recruits Hoke has brought in should help in the transition. Michigan should also have running backs more suited to a downhill running game with Deveon Smith and Derrick Green, if Green commits to Michigan on January 26th.
3.) Having a capable backup QB: Unfortunately Michigan had to find out the hard way this year the value of having a capable backup QB. Had Gardner been ready to play at Nebraska, I believe Michigan would have been playing in Indianapolis in December. It was obvious once Bellomy entered the game that Michigan was going to struggle to move the ball and had little chance to win. That can't happen again this year. You have to have at least have one QB who is serviceable and ready to play. I think everyone in and around the program would like to see incoming five star freshman recruit Shane Morris get a redshirt. But if he is by far the second best option then he needs to be ready to play should Gardner go down. The coaching staff cannot risk another chance at a B1G title by anointing Bellomy the backup, only to find out he is non functional once again when thrown into the fire.
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