Brady Hoke’s first game as head coach of the University of Michigan football team won’t be a gimme as the Broncos of Western Michigan will come into Ann Arbor on September 3rd fully prepared and hungry for an upset.
Bill Cubit’s team will be looking to do to Michigan this year, what Appalachian State did a few years ago…derail the Wolverine season one game in.
Cubit is 40-33 in 6 years as head coach of a Broncos team that starts the 2011 season ranked 98th nationally and 6th in the MAC. He also owns a 1-3 direct head-to-head coaching record against Brady Hoke (Ball State). Although Western’s last league title came back in the 1988 season, the Broncos coached by Cubit and defensive coordinator Dave Cohen are capable of hanging tough, if not pulling the major upset.
Western’s offensive approach is one that has given traditional Michigan teams fits over recent year as the Broncos look to spread out their opposition and attack across the entire field.
Western Michigan’s undoubted captain is the junior quarterback from Kansas named Alex Carder. The 6’2” 224lbs. Carder is not only WMU’s all time leading passer, he’s also the anchor for the Broncos’ explosive offense.
Carder will be relying on 6’2” 204lbs. fifth year senior Robert Arnheim to have an impressive outing at wideout. He’ll also need a reliable running attack which will likely come in the form of dual running backs Aaron Winchester and Curtis Cannon who are both under 5’10” and neither weighting 200lbs.
These backs collectively will best utilize their ability to produce quick bursts of speed rather than pick up the tough yards inside. The Broncos’ running game finished last season ranked 93rd in the nation.
The Wolverines must keep pressure on Carder and not allow him to make his reads and they must ensure he doesn’t drop a long ball on the Michigan secondary for a big gain. That responsibility will fall on Michigan’s Ryan Van Bergen and Mike Martin along with the rest of the defensive line to contain the run and force the quick pass.
Jordan Kovacs, Troy Woolfolk, Courtney Avery and the youthful Michigan defensive backs must be prepared to stop a Broncos’ passing attack that was ranked 16th in the nation in 2010. I expect Carder to throw early and often until Michigan proves it can stop them. Which I expect Michigan can and will do.
Defensively Western Michigan also was lacking last year ranking 73rd in total defense (62nd against the pass/76th against the run). This season they should be much improved with newcomer Rontavious Atkins out of Florida and SEC country joining the program at strong safety.
The Michigan offense has the potential to put up big points this weekend, but the overall production might be diminished some due to the transition in the offensive philosophy. Al Borges will need to strike an early balance between the tradition pro-style attack and last year’s high flying and mostly effective spread attack the former Michigan coach installed.
Whatever scheme Michigan chooses to deploy, they’ll need to be mindful of the Broncos’ inside linebacker and defensive leader Mitch Zajac.
Zajac a 6’1” 229lbs. senior out of Holt, Michigan led Western last season with a career high 97 tackles.
I don’t think Denard Robison will have much of a problem against the defense of the Broncos overall. I expect Al Borges to tone down the QB run first approach, but not eliminate it completely. Especially against a poor run-defending team like Western.
The switch to a 4-3 scheme right there should provide a much improved defensive performance for Michigan and I expect to see some pressure on Carder all day.
There is potential for a true shoot-out type game and another game Michigan fans have seen all to much of over these the last few seasons. And if it does go that route, Michigan undoubtedly holds an edge.
The broncos 16 returning starters will definitely make them more competitive. Yet, I believe as good as Carder can be for Western, he’s still no Denard Robinson. And Denard can make things happen.
Michigan 24, WMU 13