Ahh one of the best weeks for Wolverine Nation and for all of college football is upon us: Notre Dame Week. The history, the national exposure, the breathtaking finishes, THE RIVALRY, makes this truly a special game each and every year.
In honor of the great receivers who have shined in this game such as Brown, Ismail, Carter, Howard and Manningham to name a few, this week’s focus will be on the once-go-to Michigan senior wide receiver Roy Roundtree.
The anticipated commitment by the Irish to stop the run, the less-than-stellar and depleted Notre Dame secondary, and the surprising emergence of additional receiving threats for the Wolverines could open the door for the statistically starving Roundtree to have a breakout performance and remind us all as to why he wears the #21 Legends’ patch.
It feels like forever since Roundtree hauled in the winning touchdown pass in the back of the end zone against the Irish last year and appeared to be well on his way to being the next great wide receiver in the rich history of Wolverine pass-catchers.
It feels like an eternity since he was actually putting up numbers to even remind fans that he was on the field at all. Since Brady Hoke has taken over for Rich Rodriguez and the smallish receiver (6′ 0″ 180 lbs) was moved from the slot receiver position — a vital position that gets a lot of touches in the Rich Rod Spread — to the outside flanker position in the more traditional Al Borges offense, Roy Roundtree has seen his production drop drastically from his breakout sophomore season. So much that he has become the forgotten/invisible man in the Wolverine offense and reduced essentially to a down-field blocker as opposed to a down-field receiving threat. The numbers don’t lie:
- 2009: 32 rec; 434 yds; 3 TD
- 2010: 72 rec; 935 yds; 7 TD
- 2011: 19 rec; 355 yds; 2 TD
- 2012 (3 games): 5 rec; 42 yds; 1 TD
Don’t get me wrong, “Tree” has been a true team player with his maintaining of a positive attitude and his devotion to being an excellent blocker. The latter is vital in Michigan’s run-heavy offense. But let’s keep it real…A wide receiver’s main job is to get open and catch the football. Simple! Last season and so far this season, Roy has been lacking in that department. The reversal of this trend could greatly benefit Team 133 against the Irish and for the rest of the season.
It’s no secret as to what Notre Dame’s defensive approach will be on Saturday. They will try to utilize their mammoth and athletic front seven to slow down Michigan’s bread and butter (the running game of Denard and Toussaint) and force the Wolverine offense to beat them through the air. Sound familiar? It should. It’s the same defensive scheme that was successfully implemented against the Wolverines by Alabama, Iowa (twice), Illinois, Virginia Tech and Michigan State (twice). It also is the same scheme the Irish used to completely shut down MSU’s offense last week and hold them to a measly 3 points in East Lansing.
With that said, “Shoelace” should be airing it out more than usual and if he does it will be up to the receivers (Roundtree included) to step up and get open for their QB, keep the Notre Dame defenders honest, and make the Irish pay down field. Roundtree will get ample opportunity to make plays on Saturday night. We are now 4 weeks into the season and that knee that he had scoped in August has to be pretty close to 100% by now. No excuses. It’s time to make plays.
Brian Kelly’s defensive backs are not exactly setting the world on fire this season. Their pass defense ranks 35th nationally which is pretty pedestrian considering they have played 2 teams who are inept in the passing game (Navy and MSU). They are also a depleted bunch who recently lost their senior starting safety for the year, Jamoris Slaughter (Achilles), who will be replaced by a redshirt freshman converted WR, and had already lost 2 of their starting DBs in Austin Collinsworth (shoulder) and Lo Wood (Achilles).
This is the perfect opportunity for Roundtree to get some separation, catch some passes and build confidence. It’s understandable that he struggled to get open against the stellar defensive backs Alabama had. It’s excusable that Al Borges wanted to get the running game going against Air Force and UMass. However, against Notre Dame he will be facing corners who are average at best. I for one fully expect for him to take advantage of this weakness in the Irish defense. If he is unable to get open against this wounded secondary then I am not sure we can expect much from him down the road.
The one thing that may be getting a little overlooked in terms of opening up opportunities for “Tree” is the unexpected emergence of multiple pass-catching weapons for the Wolverines which was thought to be the position group that lacked the most depth. The Devins (Gardner and Funchess) have provided reliable and explosive big-bodied targets for Robinson and Jeremy Gallon has shown that he is capable of the big play.
All three off these guys are capable of making plays deep down the field and the Irish will have to account for them. If they are going to play close to the line of scrimmage to stop the run they will be sacrificing the help needed to shut all of these guys down. Somebody is going to receive less attention. Logic says that somebody may just be Roundtree based on his production and perceived ability in comparison to Gardner, Funchess and Gallon.
Notre Dame will also have to be cognizant of the likes of Smith and Toussaint catching passes out of the backfield as they were gashed on such plays in the 2nd-half of last year’s contest. This is the perfect opportunity for Roy to take advantage of being the forgotten man in the Wolverines offense. I’d be surprised if Borges is not thinking the same thing.
Notre Dame has a very good defense and they are going to make it very difficult for Michigan to run the ball consistently on Saturday. The passing game will have to be effective for the Wolverines to win the game, and to do that it needs to be all hands on deck. It can’t be the Garnder and Funchess show. Other receivers will need to get open on critical 3rd downs to move the chains.
Roy Roundtree, due to the reasons mentioned, could be in store for a big game and prove to be the X-factor needed to beat the Irish. He is a senior with enough games under his belt to recognize opportunities. He also is a man with something to prove. I am looking for him to come out from the shadows on Saturday and have a solid performance.
Al Borges has said that Roy Roundtree is the “essence of a team player” and if he had to pick “favorite players” he would be “one of them.” That’s fantastic but for Team 133 to have success offensively this week and moving forward, they will need Roy to perform the main duty in the job description for wide receivers: catch the football.
Will this week be the beginning of the resurgence of Roy Roundtree “The Performer,” or will we simply continue to see Roy Roundtree “The Team Player?” We’ll find out on Saturday…on national television…under the lights.
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