Big thanks to Trevor Woods (@WoodsFootball) at Maize n Brew for taking the time to talk football with me here and answering a whole bunch of questions. If you want to see the other half of our Q&A where I spouted mostly nonsense, here’s the link to their piece.
1) What’s the general feelings of Michigan fans toward Jim Harbaugh? He obviously hasn’t quite lived up to some of the initial hype, but has still had Michigan playing consistently near the top of the conference (plus it’s just kinda tough to share a division with Ohio State.... We get it. We’re stuck playing LSU and Auburn every year). So do you guys still think he’s the long-term answer at coach, or are you starting to get a bit antsy?
Fans get antsy each and every year after Michigan loses to Ohio State, but I don’t think anyone can do better than Harbaugh. He has led Michigan out of the dark ages (the Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke years) and has put Michigan in the top ten aplenty in his five seasons at the helm. Ohio State is playing at just about its highest level in the entire history of the program, and unfortunately for Michigan, it’s going to take more time to get over the hump. My general feelings about Harbaugh is Michigan’s almost at a point where they could have an undefeated regular season.
2) You seem to have a dangerous group of receivers in Donovan Peoples-Jones, Nico Collins, and Ronnie Bell. Can you tell us about the strengths/weaknesses of each and how they’re used? And is Tarik Black going into the deep dark transfer portal a big deal?
Black going into the transfer portal isn’t a big deal, I wish him well, but Michigan is stacked at receiver and he wasn’t a major contributor to the team. When it comes to the trio of Peoples-Jones, Bell, and Collins, they all can make fantastic grabs, but can make head-scratching drops. Collins is a 50-50 ball monster who can stretch the field, Bell is a slot receiver and go-to target on 3rd down, and DPJ is as elusive as anyone in college football in open space.
3) Is your running game going to be a threat? Or is it just there to keep the defense honest?
Earlier in the season, I would say it’s a threat, and it still could be. Hassan Haskins and Zach Charbonnet are a good and young 1, 2 punch out of the backfield that both run with physicality. The run game started to stall late in the year and quarterback Shea Patterson really took over and had the best stretch of his college career. The Michigan offense evolved into a vertical passing attack. So as far as a threat, the passing game is more of a threat than the run game.
4) Khaleke Hudson has about a million tackles and is listed as a S/LB/DB. I assume that’s the same role that Jabrill Peppers got so much attention playing? Is Hudson a real difference maker for Michigan? Or is he a bit more limited than a guy like Peppers?
Hudson is a VIPER, the same hybrid position as Peppers, but he’s definitely more limited than Jabrill. Hudson has made fine plays throughout his time as a Wolverine, but he’s been inconsistent far too often in the games that matter most with mental miscues and a lack of physicality against stout offensive lines. This is Hudson’s last game, though, and he does play with fire, so flip a coin as to whether he’ll have a memorable game or a bad one. Where Hudson excels is on punt coverage, he has the Michigan record for most blocked punts in a career.
5) How’s your offensive line this year?
The offensive line got better as the season wore on in pass protection, but their run blocking has regressed somewhat. Overall I find it to be a good unit that can be had against faster and more physical defenses. However, against stout defenses such as Wisconsin, Iowa, and Ohio State, the o-line didn’t wasn’t all that productive, they didn’t open up gaping holes in the run game, and they didn’t give Patterson enough time to operate. They’re average against top competition.
6) What’s the strength of the defense? Weakness?
Oh man. It boils down to execution, which has been their strength and greatest weakness. It truly is paradoxical. Michigan’s scheme on D is so aggressive that if one player isn’t doing their job in man coverage, or if one player overpursues in run D and doesn’t maintain their gap, this unit can get burnt and exposed. It’s turned into a crapshoot as to what defense is going to show up on a given Saturday. While Michigan has a highly ranked defense, they’ve been embarrassed by a great Ohio State offense two years in a row. Don Brown’s defense lives and dies by the same sword. When things are working, the defense is high flying, fast, plays tight coverage, snuffs out the run, and gets to the quarterback. When things aren’t working the unit is committing penalties, making mental errors, blowing coverages, not playing physical enough. What type of performance you’ll see from the Michigan D on Wednesday is anyone’s guess.
7) Who’s a relatively unknown name who just may make a big play or two in the game?
Well, on the national stage he isn’t all that known, but he’s known to folks in Alabama, safety Dax Hill. Starting safety Brad Hawkins might not be playing in the game and if that’s the case, Hill would start in his place. The former Alabama commit who flipped back to Michigan last December is a speedster that hits hard and always seems to be by the football. If things go right for Michigan on D, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Hill force a turnover in some fashion.
8) If this comes down to a 45-yard field goal to win the game, will Michigan’s kicker make it?
I’d say no, but I’d actually say that about any kicker in college football. Michigan uses two kickers, Quinn Nordin and Jake Moody. Moody is 6-of-9 on the year, Nordin is 7-of-10. Both players have big legs and have made plenty of kicks over 45, but consistency has been an issue for both players this season.
9) What’s your score prediction?
I don’t normally do score predictions, but I’ll roll with the tide 41-31. What I’m curious to see is how serious ‘Bama takes this bowl game. It sounds like they’re taking it quite serious and have a chip on their shoulder, but will that be the case once they take the field? For Michigan, this game means something to them. They get to play a team that in my opinion could have easily been selected as the No. 4 team in the playoff. This is a bigger game for Michigan than it is for Bama. Michigan is taking on the best program of the decade. Forget that it isn’t a NY6 bowl game because it might as well be one. While this isn’t the CFP, Michigan is treating the tilt like it is. Whether they can win the game or not remains to be seen, but with the Tide as their opponent, the team realizes this would be a big win for their program, even if ‘Bama fans disagree. Best of luck to ‘Bama.