Michigan Week means everyone has to step up their game, and this week we’re proud our opponent preview has been able to do the same.
Instead of getting five answers of insight from an opposing team expert, we’ve expanded “The Other Side” to seven questions (along with a bonus Ohio-based eighth question).
In addition, we have perhaps our most recognizable guest – Detroit News U-M beat writer, occasional ESPN contributor and Cincinnati native Angelique Chengelis.
Read on for her insight on the Michigan side heading into Saturday’s version of The Game.
1. There are different ways to approach the rivalry, and Brady Hoke seems put a lot of emphasis on it. We know about his habit of calling the school "Ohio," but what else has he show his approach to the rivalry and how important it is to his program?
It started with his introductory news conference, pounding the podium when he talked about Michigan-Ohio State. He hasn't waxed as poetic since, but it's pretty clear this rivalry drives him. He installed at Schembechler Hall countdown clocks for Michigan State and Ohio State. On the locker room door, there was a sign featuring the number of days since Michigan had last beaten Ohio State and apparently that changed to the number of days since beating Ohio State. I participated in the U-M women's football academy this year and in the weight room, there's a good-sized mural of the UM-OSU trenches and the message: “WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO BEAT OHIO TODAY?” The words "you done" are in maize and "beat Ohio" are in red. Several of the weight machines have "Beat Ohio" in red, and there's a big "Beat Ohio" message above a set of cardio machines.
2. Let's talk offense. What has stood out about quarterback Devin Gardner as he's put up his impressive stats the last three games?
His poise has stood out, not to mention his accuracy and the fact Michigan started scoring touchdowns again. Michigan went nine quarters without a touchdown before the second quarter of a 35-13 victory over Minnesota, Gardner's first start in relief of Denard Robinson. From that second quarter on, Gardner has directed 17 scoring drives, including 16 for touchdowns. Three of those drives were 90 yards or more.
3. Denard Robinson was back on the field as a running back last week. What role do you think he will play in this game?
It will be a similar role, I think, although when he was asked after the Iowa game how his arm is, he smiled and said, “You'll see.” It's certainly possible he will be healed enough to throw, but he didn't attempt a pass against Iowa and ran with the ball in his left hand. It seemed to work pretty well with Robinson and Gardner in that scheme, albeit against an Iowa defense that's not a world beater, but they had a nice rhythm, and I really think we'll see more of that on Saturday.
4. With Fitzgerald Toussaint's injury, what are the prospects for the Michigan run game this week?
It was tough to see Toussaint suffer that injury and although we don't know the specifics, he did have what Brady Hoke called successful surgery. So without Toussaint, the workload in the run game will belong to Robinson, of course, but also Thomas Rawls. A lot of people have wanted to see more of Rawls this year when it looked like Toussaint was struggling, so he clearly will get a chance, as will Vincent Smith.
5. Michigan's passing defense is ranked No. 1 in the country. Have the Wolverines truly been that good, and what stands out about the passing D this season?
I think that's a tad skewed because overall I don't think Michigan has played great passing teams. James Vandenberg gave Iowa two touchdowns off passes of 16 and 13 yards. In the previous game against Northwestern, in which Michigan needed to come from behind to win in overtime, Trevor Siemian had a 19-yard touchdown pass and Kain Colter had a 23-yard TD pass. Nebraska's Taylor Martinez threw a 32-yard touchdown pass, as well. All in all, the pass defense has been very solid but there have been those holes.
6. Similar question: How has the team's run defense performed?
Greg Mattison, the defensive coordinator, wants this to be a defense that stops the run. That hasn't always been the case this season, particularly against spread teams. Michigan has been susceptible to not always having tight outside containment. But, while the Wolverines are allowing an average 151 yards rushing, teams have scored only eight rushing touchdowns.
7. Michigan is sending out a rather large group of seniors this year including guys like Robinson, Patrick Omameh, Craig Roh and Jordan Kovacs. What can you say about the impact they've had on the program?
They really are an admirable group of seniors. We all know about Denard Robinson, and we probably all know about Jordan Kovacs' remarkable story – going through two walk-on tryouts, making the team and then being a career starter and, like Robinson, voted a co-captain by his teammates. That story never seems to get old. Omameh is inspiring with all of his off-the-field work at Mott Children's Hospital – priceless to see how these children light up when they see him come in for a regular Thursday night visit. And Roh, we heard a lot from him early last season when Mattison essentially tore him down to rebuild him. Roh handled that whole situation with a lot of grace, for lack of a better word.
8. An a native of the Buckeye State, which Ohio culinary delicacy are you most excited for this weekend: Skyline Chili, Graeter’s ice cream or Montgomery Inn?
My favorite question of all! As a native Cincinnatian, I am partial to those three food groups and also LaRosa's pizza. There is NO doubt I will be making a stop at Skyline when I head back to Michigan from Columbus. Sadly, I don't think Montgomery Inn is in my near future … but there's always mail order!