My MSU friend contends that UM’s defense will suffer against traditional big ten offenses because it only practices against the spread. Any thoughts which will address this/shut him up?
Well, first off, I have complete confidence that this staff will be more prepared for each opponent than any of the Michigan teams of the most recent years (say, 2005-2007) were. While the recent Michigan teams were unprepared to (or incapable of) defending a mobile quarterback, a good portion of this was preparation (see: App State 2007). Everything I have seen so far on the Michigan staff implies that Rodriguez’s crew will never be caught by surprise.
While Michigan’s first-team offense will indeed practice the spread offense more regularly than a standard double-wide set, the scout offenses will do what they’re designed for: getting the first team defense ready for the next opponent. Especially in the first couple of years, when Michigan still has some somewhat-highly-ranked pro-style offense recruits on the roster, their scout team will be able to give good preparation.
The main reason you see teams with spread offenses incapable of defending the pro-style sets of top teams is because teams less capable of recruiting top talent (many of which reside in conferences together) use offensive schemes that help them maximize their talent. They are also less able to recruit top-notch defensive players, who are smaller and quicker, but can be pushed off the ball with a power run game. Michigan shouldn’t suddenly have trouble recruiting top defensive talent, just because they changed offensive schemes.
Teams that play in a league that isn’t as prestigious are going to face other teams that employ similar styles. In the Big East, for example, West Virginia faced more dynamic offenses, and ran a 3-3 scheme designed to stop them (this isn’t strictly the case, as Pitt, for example, runs a fairly basic pro-style offense). Michigan, on the other hand, still intends to run primarily a 4-3 scheme. The 4-3 has been a staple in the NFL and college, and has always been capable of stopping the power run game if employed correctly.
Against Michigan State in particular, the talent difference between State’s offense and Michigan’s defense should do something to help Michigan stop the Spartans. While MSU has blockers and a couple decent backs, their quarterback position is… subpar… and they lost a couple of their top receivers in Devin Thomas and Kellen Davis. Unless Bryan Hoyer proves he can move the ball through the air, the Wolverines should be able to lead the box against State. In future years, if the talent level equalizes somewhat (as of now, it doesn’t necessarily seem like this will be the case, though MSU does have a few good 2009 offensive recruits), then perhaps the Spartans can try to pound it out against Michigan.
Of course, I don’t intend to guarantee a victory against Michigan State in 2008. Rather, a pounding run game will not blast through the Wolverine defense like your friend asserts. If the Michigan offense is in the swing of things by October 25th, I like the chances of a victory for the men in Blue.
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