Tune ups. Though coaches or players in the program haven’t uttered those
words, the first two games were indeed of the tune up
variety and this contest will be the true test of where this team is. It will
be a test of wills, a test of patience, a test of knowledge, and an otherwise
cumulative examination of all the traits implicit in the formula for what it takes
to win this game. After countless questions coming off of a blowout win versus
Central Michigan where they
allowed over 200 yards rushing, the defense showed up in the
Houston game with very bad intentions.
They rode a couple of hits that would eviscerate the average man, all the way
to a definitive and impressive 50-3 victory. That said, while Houston was a respectable
and potentially explosive offensive opponent, their rushing offense didn’t
provide an altogether accurate gauge of where this defense is against the run.
The big time stats and scoring differentials are eye pleasing and are something
to be built upon, but their importance is minor in the grand scheme of things.
Chris Perry had similar feelings on the topic.
“With all due respect to Central
Michigan and Houston, they’re
great teams, but if we would have lost to them, you would have said that it was
an upset…. (The stats) are nothing to get excited about.”
Undoubtedly the defense improved with the return of two stellar
Marlin Jackson and
Ernest Shazor, along with the rededication
of coaches and players in practice. That said, this is the game that will accurately
evaluate where this team is defensively. The magnitude of the game increased
Notre Dame’s improbable comeback
last week versus
Washington State. Despite
being down 19-0, the Irish found a way to claw back into the contest. That resilience
was evident last year as well, and the Michigan players recognize that according
Larry Stevens. Notre Dame always has ways of
if they’re not dominating the game, finding ways to win,” Stevens
said. “We know that Notre Dame is a team that if you’re up 10, 14,
or 17, it doesn’t matter. You’ve got to prepare to go four quarters,
and that starts in practice. You have got to EXPECT to go to the end of the
game because Notre Dame isn’t going to lie down for anybody.”
Some might look to Notre Dame’s struggles last week and find solace in
the visible chinks in their golden armor (like the number of times the Irish
offensive line allowed Carlyle Holiday to be hit), but it has become apparent
over the years that the performances
in other games mean very little in this one. Stevens intimated that he subscribes
to that theory. “The line that they had last year was more veteran and
anytime you have to put younger players or players not experienced in there,
they have to go through things. Everybody goes through it,” Stevens said.
“People say they had a bad performance against Washington State, but that
doesn’t matter! What does matter is everybody knows that when they come
to Michigan, they’re going to bring their best game. We’re not even
looking at the Washington State film with the mindset that these guys don’t
look good. It’s not even about that. We’re expecting a dogfight.”
wasn’t the only Wolverine expecting a fight.
Tony Pape seemed to have similar expectations.
“When you come into the Big House, it’s going to be Notre Dame and
they’re going to step up their level of play,” Pape said. “We’re
going to step up our level of play because we know it’s that type of game.
It’s going to be a fight. It’s not going to be a football game.
It’s going to be a brawl!”
The offense has been a juggernaut this season, but they too are expecting the
Irish to be a litmus test for their early season standing. “I think they’re
a GREAT defensive front,” Pape exclaimed. “They’re quick,
athletic, smart, well coached and just a great college defense. They cause turnovers
and make plays and they’re going to give us some problems.”
of the first two opponents have been significant obstacles to Michigan’s
bulldozer like running game. They have, however, limited Michigan’s passing
game. According to coach Carr, the opposition’s success was aided by the
mistakes of his own unit. “Offensively, I’m disappointed that in
our passing game, “ Carr said. “We’re not where we need to
be. The key to our passing game is to have people spaced properly, people in
the right position, and people running good routes.” The importance of
the passing attack reaches its early season apex in Saturday’s contest.
Failure to field a threatening aerial assault will allow the Irish to load up
against the run. Fortunately Coach Carr has identified the source of the problems,
and is confident that they can be rectified. “I think that (our troubles
are do to) a combination of things. Obviously we’ve got to catch the football
better, but it goes beyond that. We had a couple of problems in the protection
area. We had a couple of times where we looked left when we should have looked
right. So there are some things in there that we just need to do better and
I think that we will.”
The maize and blue faithful certainly hope that the coach is right!