The Blackshirts vs. The Big 10 – Part 5

By at June 7, 2011 | 1:49 AM | Print

Gone is the loathed Rich Rodriguez and hated defensive coordinator Greg Robinson. In comes Brady Hoke, offensive coordinator Al Borges and defensive guru Greg Mattison.

Hoke has given Nebraska fans fits before. He was the head coach of the same Ball State Cardinals squad that almost upset the Huskers in 2007. Quarterback Nate Davis racked up over 440 yards passing against the Cornhuskers that day.

Ball State’s was one of the toughest passing games to defend against in 2007 and 2008. However, people dismissed Hoke’s Cardinals because they were a MAC school. Now, Hoke and Borges bring that offense from San Diego State to Ann Arbor.

On offense, things start and stop with Denard Robinson, Michigan’s All-Everything quarterback. Known as “Shoelace” due to not tying them during games, Robinson chalked up a mere 4,000 yards of total yardage last season.

The offense returns nine starters with two of the most effective on the offensive line in center David Molk and guard Patrick Omameh. Roy Roundtree and Darryl Stonum return to lead the receiving corps while the running back role will be split early on by Michael Shaw and Vincent Smith.

Nine defensive starters return for a team that…well…was simply bad last year. Michigan was ranked No. 108 in scoring defense 35 points per game. There was a litany of choices for the Wolverines’ most embarrassing 2010 defensive moment. Michigan surrendered 37 points to UMass, 65 to Illinois, 35 to Indiana and 52 to Mississippi State.

Only one player is a preseason All-Big Ten defensive selection: Defensive tackle Ryan Van Bergen. This team is young and will need patience from the Wolverine faithful as they rebuild. Michigan did seem to perform better as a unit during their final spring scrimmage, but the offense was a small percentage of what’s to be expected from Hoke and Borges.

Many are curious about how Hoke will use Robinson this season. With RichRod, Robinson had plenty of freedom to break the structure of any play. With many designed runs, draws and one read passing plays, he gave Robinson the ability to make this offense work. Hoke won’t let him have that much freedom, but he realizes that until Robinson is comfortable in a more traditional offensive package, he may have to allow Shoelace to run free in the meantime.

Defensively, due to depth and expectations, there is nowhere to go but up for Mattison and the Wolverines. However, given that Mattison has been a coordinator that could be classified as “good but not great” thus far in his career, Michigan fans need to hope that he has learned a lot from being the Baltimore Raven’s defensive coordinator.

His hiring didn’t seem right at first, but it appears more appropriate as time goes on. Michigan’s schedule provides some relief, but many contests were the same that fans thought that they could could as automatic wins under Rodriguez. Notre Dame will be a great measuring stick before heading into conference play.

For Nebraska, there should be no issue with scoring on the Wolverines. The Blackshirts might be in for a long day, though. Lavonte David will need a much better game than he had against Texas’ Garrett Gilbert last year if Nebraska wants to be successful. The Cornhuskers must play assignment football and put a spy on Robinson to have success shutting the Michigan offense down.

There are no Michigan offensive players besides Robinson that stand out as potential distinct mismatches for the Blackshirts. Nebraska will be going against a better Michigan defense than last year, but there should be opportunities to score with relative ease.

Everyone in America wants to see Shoelace versus T-Magic. There’s no reason to think that the exciting competition won’t be seen at this point. One caveat though: If Robinson does go down, there is no Tate Forcier to pick up the slack.

Follow Brian on Twitter: @btbowling

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