GAME NOTES: A resurgent Michigan squad, ranked 21st in the nation this week, tries to open the 2010 season with four wins in as many opportunities as it hosts the Bowling Green Falcons in non-conference action this weekend in Ann Arbor.
Michigan, which dropped five straight and seven of the last eight games of 2009 after opening with four straight victories against lesser, non-conference foes, is hoping the defense shows up a little more this time around after barely getting by UMass last Saturday, 42-37. The output for the Minutemen, members of the Football Championship Subdivision, was their highest of the young season after putting up only 27 in a win over William & Mary and 31 versus Holy Cross, so clearly the visitors were up for the challenge in the Big House.
The Wolverines are set to jump right into their Big Ten Conference schedule next week when they travel to Indiana to face the Hoosiers, so taking care of the Falcons is certainly a priority before the games become tougher and more important.
As for BGSU, it began 2010 with losses at both Troy and Tulsa before defeating Marshall in the home opener last weekend, 44-28. Last season, with one of the most aggressive passing offenses in the country, the Falcons made it to the postseason on the strength of a four-game win streak to close out the regular season, but even a season-best 42 points was not enough to get by Idaho in a thrilling one-point decision in the Humanitarian Bowl.
Michigan won the only previous meeting between the programs back in 2000, a 42-7 romp at home when the Wolverines were ranked sixth in the nation.
"I think our skills players are very good in space," remarked Bowling Green head coach Dave Clawson after the win against Marshall. "I think Willie Geter, in space, is as good a back as there is in the league."
Geter proved his worth to the coaching staff by not only registering 100 rushing yards on 31 attempts, he also added another 86 yards on five receptions. It was important for Geter to handle the ball as much as he did because the Falcons were forced to deal with the loss of starting quarterback Matt Schilz to an injury, one that will have him unavailable for the meeting at Michigan.
Most likely BGSU will go with backup Aaron Pankratz who stepped in at Marshall and connected on 5 of 8 passes for 111 yards and a touchdown. But no matter who it is handling the snaps for the Falcons, the targets down the field will remain the same in Geter and Kamar Jorden, who reeled in 11 passes for 64 yards and a TD last weekend. A transfer from Hudsen Valley Community College, Jorden already has 34 catches to lead the nation and has turned those into 343 yards in an effort to stretch the field for the squad.
On defense the Falcons really dialed up the pressure versus the Thundering Herd, posting four interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns. One of those defensive scores came from linebacker Dwayne Woods, who took his pick back 78 yards and also came up with nine tackles as he was named the Mid- American Conference East Division Defensive Player of the Week on Monday.
While it may sound like a lot, BGSU permitted the Herd just 376 yards of total offense, a considerable step in the right direction for the Falcons after giving up 474 yards to Troy in the opener and another 546 yards to Tulsa earlier this month as well. Nevertheless, the run defense for the Falcons could stand some fine tuning as it currently allows opponents a hefty 194.0 ypg and certainly Michigan will try to exploit that with the sixth-best running attack in the country with week with 286.3 ypg on the ground.
"You can't be upset with a win, but you can be upset with the way you played, and we did not play well," said Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez after his team slipped by UMass last weekend. "We didn't play well at all defensively. Special teams were awful, and on offense we made a few mistakes that killed us."
Rodriguez, like most Michigan fans, probably couldn't believe that the Wolverines were being held in check by UMass for the most part last Saturday. Quarterback Denard Robinson, who many put on the fast track to the Heisman Trophy after he ran over both UConn and Notre Dame, was slowed to only 104 yards and a score on 17 carries, yet continues to lead the nation in rushing with 186.3 ypg on the ground. It was bound to happen, Robinson being forced to remain in the pocket and make plays with his arm, but by the Minutemen? Who knew.
Robinson was able to complete 10 of 14 passes for 241 yards and two touchdowns, was sacked once and tossed an interception last weekend. But by remaining more of a passing threat he may have opened the door for Michael Shaw, who carried the ball just 12 times but still came away with a team-best 126 yards and three touchdowns. Shaw is now tied with Robinson for the team lead in rushing touchdowns with four after three games.
In terms of total offense, Michigan is first in the Big Ten and 10th in the nation this week with 510 ypg, but that number is bound to dwindle when the league schedule kicks in and opposing defenders gear themselves towards spying on and stopping Robinson. Obviously the passing attack has room to grow, averaging a modest 223.7 ypg and that will come in time once Robinson puts more faith in the skill players around him.
"I know we're a little thin there because we have guys banged up, but we have got to try and get more guys and see if the production can be better," coach Rodriguez remarked about the defensive effort against the Minutemen. "That simply wasn't acceptable or the way we are supposed to play defense here at Michigan."
Perhaps the coach was referring to the fact that the Wolverines managed just a single sack versus what was supposed to be an inferior opponent. Mike Martin was credited with the quarterback takedown and had two of the team's five tackles for loss overall, while Jordan Kovacs accounted for a team-best 11 tackles, one forced fumble and a recovery on the stat sheet.
Tackles for loss are far from a strength for this group, averaging only 4.3 TFLs per game to rank 11th in the conference and 100th in the nation at the moment. Sacks are just as rare, occurring only 0.67 times per game, tying the team for 112th in the Football Bowl Subdivision heading into action this week as well.
Because the run defense for the Falcons is so weak, that might give Robinson reason to try and stretch the field himself and shoulder much of the offensive load for the Wolverines. Another problem for BGSU will be dealing with a new quarterback, something that could aid Michigan in beefing up its numbers on sacks and TFLs before getting knee-deep into the Big Ten slate.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Michigan 41, Bowling Green 21