Eastern Michigan (2-0) vs. Michigan (2-0)
The Big House, Ann Arbor, Michigan
Kickoff 12 pm EST
Big Ten Network
Forecast: Mid 60s
In lieu of a traditional preview, for what are hopefully obvious reasons, I thought it would be more useful to point out some things to watch for on Saturday as well as a few things to expect/hope for.
Quarterback. Denard has not gotten off to the same blazing start that he did last year. Some of that is due to operating under a new offensive system, but I think more than that, Denard is being asked to make more traditional throws and doesn't have the benefit of teams overcompensating for his legs like he did last year. While some of his struggles can be attributed to the new offensive scheme, applying that logic to his irresponsible jump balls doesn't follow. Denard has been making poor decisions and often throwing inaccurately to the receivers that he does connect with.
While I've been skeptical of Denard in this system for some time now, tomorrow's game will be an interesting test. He should have open receivers and clear passing lanes for most of the game. If we see him throwing behind or beyond his receivers, it will be a sign of bad things to come this year. Denard needs to be throwing between people's numbers with time in the pocket. This should be treated as a practice for Denard to drop back and throw from the I-formation.
As for the backups, Devin Gardner should get snaps. I'll be watching his throwing motion and whether or not he can read defenses, both things he did exceptionally poorly during Michigan's spring game. I'm relatively certain that he'll never see significant playing time at Michigan, but getting him prepped for game time should Denard get injured is crucial. Behind Gardner is true freshman Russell Bellomy. I'd love to see Michigan burn Bellomy's redshirt in this game and get him some action on the field. With one more year of eligibility from Denard followed by Shane Morris' arrival in 2013, Bellomy will likely never be a long-term option, so preserving his eligibility is not really an issue. He could, in my opinion however, supplant Gardner on the depth chart if he shows better fundamentals in the passing game. This is the perfect opportunity for the coaching staff to give him some early burn and see how he handles himself on the field.
I Formation. Despite my desire to never see Michigan play from the I formation, it's clear that it's a priority for Hoke and Borges. And given the team's struggles under center, getting reps against EMU will be crucial. Namely, I'd like to see Denard throw a few traditional running back screens--the likes of which he horribly overthrew against Notre Dame and had intercepted--as well as a few more two-receiver sets for Denard. Getting Denard comfortable with his reads and building his confidence that he can make the throws from the pocket should be beneficial for the rest of the season.
Running backs. Since Michigan shouldn't need Denard to carry them through this game, expect the team to be in the I formation a lot. Hoke recently said he'd like to run more from the I and giving his backs reps against Eastern seems the best way to get them experience. For the most part, we know what Mike Shaw can do. Fitz Toussaint, if healthy, will hopefully get a few reps just to get back in the flow of the offense. Similarly, it would be nice to see Vincent Smith and Stephen Hopkins get some touches.
Mike Cox and the various freshmen still seem relatively far down the depth chart and probably won't challenge for much playing time this year. Cox will get a few carries, but as for the freshmen, I'd rather they redshirt this year than burn it getting a few reps against cupcakes only to sit the bench the rest of the season. I suspect that we'll fruitlessly burn one redshirt against EMU.
Various offensive thoughts. Elsewhere, Martavious Odoms should come in for a lot of playing time in this game. He's been injured and bumped down the depth chart despite being Michigan's most consistent offensive player since Rodriguez's first year. The other receivers should all see spot time, but given the logjam at the position, any playtime they earn will be temporary.
The offensive line will need to make hay against Eastern. They've really struggled this year in Michigan's power running game, so if they can't push around the EMU defensive front, consider that the death knell for any positive rushes coming from the I formation this year.
Oh, and let's maybe try a field goal or two in this game.