The Wolverine

November 2011

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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maize n��� view ������ michael spath T Five Reasons Not To Sweat November wo years ago, Michigan was 4-0 and riding a wave of excitement that Rich Rodriguez was indeed the right answer. Then U-M lost to Michigan State and dropped seven of its final eight games overall, finishing the season 5-7. In 2010, the Wolverines were 5-0 heading into their matchup with rival MSU. They fell, and subsequently won just two more games all year, closing out the campaign 7-6. It is not surprising then that most pundits have reached the conclusion Michigan is on the cusp of another collapse following its 28-14 loss to the Spartans Oct. 15. Many forecasts predict U-M will be lucky to win one out of its four November contests, but such talk is lunacy when based entirely on a two-year history, and not on the actual realities of this year���s team and this year���s opponents. Here then are five reasons why Michigan will go at least 2-2 and could win more games than that in November. 1. There is no Wisconsin (or Michigan State) yet to play: It may be difficult to admit for Michigan fans, but the Spartans were the toughest team on the Wolverines��� schedule, holding a physical advantage over the Maize and Blue on both lines of scrimmage. That became obvious in the 14-point loss, with MSU���s defense tallying seven sacks and its offense rushing for 213 yards. The only other team in the Big Ten that would enjoy a mismatch of equal disparity is Wisconsin, but the only meeting with the Badgers would be an engineered one for the conference crown. Iowa���s offensive and defensive lines are performing far below the expectations found in Iowa City, while Nebraska���s defensive line is limping through the season without its best player (end Jared Crick), and Ohio State���s offensive line was torched for nine sacks in a loss to Michigan State. Its defensive line, meanwhile, is solid. Illinois, which boasts two standout defensive linemen in Michael Buchanan and Whitney Mercilus, is the closest U-M will come to facing an 118��� the wolverine��� ������ NOVEMBER 2011 The defense, which has reduced its points allowed per game from 35.2 last season to 14.6 through eight games this fall, will be a key to Michigan���s success in the final month of the regular season. photo by per kjeldsen opponent like State or Wisconsin, but the Illini are reeling following backto-back-to-back losses to OSU, Purdue and Penn State to end October. 2. Michigan has avoided major injuries: Knock on wood but this has been a relatively healthy season for the Maize and Blue. Fifth-year senior defensive back Troy Woolfolk has suffered a myriad of ailments, and redshirt junior left guard Ricky Barnum has dealt with a knee injury, but the majority of Michigan���s starters have been in the lineup week after week. Operating with a full cast of characters is a luxury few teams are afforded, and in coming weeks the chemistry forged over months of practicing and playing together will provide an advantage. 3. Bye-week motivation: There is a lull during every season, that moment when a team is fading and needs to recharge. Fortunately for U-M, its bye came at an opportune time, eight weeks into the season, before the stretch run. And while the Wolverines would have preferred to have avenged their loss to MSU immediately, seven extra days to ruminate on the defeat provided ample motivation to attack the final month with ardent determination and passion. The Wolverines set the stage for the final month with a thorough, 36���14 thumping of Purdue. The most impressive coaching performance from this year���s staff hasn���t been about X���s and O���s ��� it���s been their ability to motivate their players. The Maize and Blue play with an energy and commitment to each other and to the Block M that had been missing during the 2009 and 2010 swoons. These players believe in themselves and believe they can be successful this November. 4. The defense is improving: The differences from a year ago are staggering. The Wolverines are surrendering only 332.9 yards and 14.6 points per game, compared to 450.8 yards and 35.2 points in 2010. There are still breakdowns ��� both Northwestern and Michigan State used their ground games to successfully attack the perimeter ��� but the defense is making progress week by week, and has the potential for even greater growth. Illinois and Nebraska, which both rank among the top-four offenses in the Big Ten, will provide challenges, but the Maize and Blue defense has the personnel, the coaching, and the game plan to positively match up with the opponents it will be facing. 5. Denard, Denard, Denard: Even amid struggles to become a potent passer, junior Denard Robinson remains an offensive weapon that must be accounted for by opposing defenses every week. He hasn���t been consistently great for the Wolverines this season, but he���s risen up with regularity when they���ve needed him the most. Robinson has to be more accurate because opponents will continue to stack the box with eight defenders to shut down his running game, but he is a playmaker and is determined to flourish as a strength for the Maize and Blue. ��� Associate Editor Michael Spath has been with The Wolverine since 2002. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @Spath_ Wolverine.

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