The Wolverine

2021 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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24 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2021 FOOTBALL PREVIEW BY JOHN BORTON T he winds of change have blown over Michigan Stadium, again and again, over the past 50 years. The towering figure over Michigan's football revival is gone, and the stadium itself looms much larger. Brush away the decades, and familiar scenes reappear. A young Bo Schembechler barking out orders on the sidelines. Woody Hayes tearing into sideline markers in an all- out assault against the inevitable. Billy Taylor, slashing down the stadium sidelines like — as iconic broadcaster Bob Ufer so captivatingly put it — a penguin with a hot herring in his cummerbund! An assaultive offensive line leading a preci- sion option attack, again, and again, and again, until opponents caved in against the onslaught. A defense peppered with big hitters and sure tacklers, allowing as many points in a season as some score in single games these days. Schembechler treating the forward pass like he would a spy in his camp on Ohio State week. The third-year Michigan head coach proving '69 was no fluke. Lesser op- ponents capitulating, and elite teams giving due respect. The ecstasy of a vanquished Woody's ire. The consuming agony of Stanford's final drive, in a Rose Bowl that slipped away. All of it washes over Michigan fans of a certain maturity like ocean waves of mem- ory. The Mellow Men of Michigan, times of civil upheaval, changes sweeping over the nation and the early, fiery, frenetic ex- changes in The Ten-Year War. Michigan stood as a power once again, and college football just had to deal with it. The Numbers Game How long ago and far away was it when the likes of All-Americans Billy Taylor, Mike Taylor, Reggie McKenzie and Thom Darden took the field, their winged helmets gleaming in the sun? How long since Tom Slade slid under center, knowing he'd throw an average 10 times a game and finish the season with 364 passing yards — two fewer than Shea Patterson threw for against Indiana in 2019? Put it this way — you could get gas on the way to Michigan Stadium for about 44 cents a gallon. Pump it into your $2,700 auto, the average price of a new car then. Drive it from your $42,500 home, paid for by the average U.S. annual wage of $9,100. Once you arrived — perhaps with sand- wiches fashioned from 25-cents-a-loaf bread — you could settle into your $6 seats at the stadium. That is, unless you held box seats in the front rows of the venerated ball field, for the princely sum of $7.50. Forget about driving home in the dark. All seven homes games began at 1:30 p.m., with very limited television coverage. The average height and weight of Michi- gan's starters came in at 6-2, 214, with cen- ter Guy Murdock and wolf Frank Gusich leading the offense and defense, respec- tively, as captains. Schembechler's staff, which largely came up from Miami (Ohio) with him two years earlier, reads like a Who's Who of battlefield mentors: defensive coordinator Jim Young, offensive line coach Jerry Hanlon, defensive backfield coach Dick Hunter, offensive ends coach George Mans, defensive line boss Frank Maloney, interior line mentor Larry Smith, offensive backfield coach Chuck Sto- bart, defensive ends director Gary Moeller and freshman coach Tirrel Burton. They fielded one of the most dominant teams throughout the history of Michigan football. On average, the '71 crew rushed for 332.0 yards per game, its opponents 66.0. The Wolverines passed for 59.0 yards on average — because they didn't need to throw it, most of the time. Foes fired passes out of desperation, averaging 131.0 yards per game through the air. In all, U-M built an average yardage advantage of 391.0-197.0, ranking first in the Big Ten in scoring, rushing and total yards — on offense and defense. Schembechler's Wolverines surrendered the football like a grizzly surrenders a salmon locked in its jaws. Michigan main- tained the football for 58 percent of all of- fensive plays in games that year, averaging 80.6 snaps per outing. The Wolverines were favored, on average, by 22.1 points per contest in 1971. In other words, foes faced digging themselves out by more than an average three touchdowns per game before toe ever met leather. "We knew we had a machine," assured Taylor, the MVP running back. Rumbles Of Greatness Schembechler threw down the gauntlet in 1969, knocking off Hayes and his "unbeat- able" Buckeyes 24-12 in Michigan Stadium. Although Hayes exacted a measure of revenge with a 20-9 win the following year in Columbus, everyone knew the Wolver- ines weren't going away. They returned a top- flight defense in '71, along with an experienced A FAST 50 A FAST 50 A Half-Century Later, The 1971 Wolverines Look Back At A Special Season

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