The Michigan Wolverines’ 2011 football team far exceeded the expectations of even the most optimistic fans, myself included. The general consensus amongst most analysts was a likely 8-4 regular season record with a possibility for 9 wins if the transition from the spread to the more pro-oriented offense, run by Al Borges, went better than expected.
Not only were the Wolverines able to finish the regular season at 10-2 and beat their hated rival Ohio State, but they were able to add the icing on the cake by winning the Sugar Bowl and becoming just the fifth team in Michigan history to win 11 games. Coach Brady Hoke was obviously in a bigger hurry to turn the program around than most fans and boosters.
To say that the transition from Rich Rod’s spread offense to Al Borges’ pro-style offense went smoothly would be an exaggeration of epic proportions. Although the offense posted huge numbers in several games, the passing game and overall flow of the offense was often offensive to say the least. Quarterback Denard Robinson struggled under center and proved to not have the mechanics and foot work necessary to effectively pass in an offense that required him to stay in the pocket and make the correct reads. Multi-interception performances and completing less than half of his attempts became far too common for Denard this year.
The struggles of the passing game were countered by an explosive running attack that single handedly won the Wolverines multiple contests. Denard continued to be an effective running threat as he again eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark on the ground. The biggest surprise came from Sophomore tailback Fitzgerald Touissaint who emerged mid-way through the season as the clear #1 running back on the squad. Michael Shaw and Vincent Smith also got starts at the tailback position and contributed to the Wolverines’ ground game although not as effectively as Touissaint. Touissaint started six games and finished with just over a 1,000 yards on the season.
The biggest surprise of the season was the improvement of the defense led by first year coordinator Greg Mattison. Mattison was a big name hire for the Wolverines after spending the last two seasons as the defensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens, and helped the defense rise to sixth in the nation in scoring after ranking 107th just a year ago. The defense improved in every facet and statistical category possible and helped bail the offense out of periods in which it struggled to move the ball. The defense was anchored by Senior d-linemen Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen.
The potential for next season looks even brighter as the Wolverines will return key players on both sides of the ball to go along with a recruiting class that is ranked #3 in the nation according to Rivals and #6 in the nation according to ESPN. However, the losses of a few key seniors will need to be addressed in the offseason. David Molk at the center position, Roy Roundtree and Junior Hemingway at wide receiver, and Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen on the defensive line were all centerpieces of the Wolverines’ turnaround season. Younger players will need to step up in order to fill the production and leadership that those Seniors provided in the 2011 campaign.
Another offseason will only improve the flow of the offense as the players will become increasingly comfortable with Al Borges’ systems, and the Hoke recruits will begin to catch up to the Rich Rod recruits in numbers. The same can likely be said for the defense as Hoke and Mattison have put a greater emphasis on defense in terms of both preparation and recruiting. This year’s recruiting class is loaded with young talent at the Linebacker position which should provide immediate dividends to the Wolverines’ defense.
As far as my prediction for 2012 goes I expect very similar results from the Wolverines. I project the Wolverines to go 10-2 in the regular season with losses at Notre Dame and Ohio State. This would leave the Wolverines with just one conference loss and make them the representatives from the Legends division in the 2nd ever Big Ten Championship Game. I expect Michigan to then defeat a Wisconsin team with an inexperienced, first year starter at quarterback to punch their ticket to Pasadena for the 2012 Rose Bowl. Here’s to smelling roses in 2012. GO BLUE!!
About the Author
Written by Casey Phillips
I am a resident of South West Michigan and a graduate of Western Michigan University. Like most residents of Michigan I am a die hard Tigers, Red Wings, and Pistons fan. However, my allegiances in the NFL stand with the St Louis Rams as I have been a fan since I become mesmerized by their "Greatest Show on Turf" offense that ruled the late 90s and the early 2000s. My devotion to the Rams has not swayed through their recent struggles and turmoil. When it comes to collegiate sports my heart lies solely with the University of Michigan Wolverines. I have been a U of M fan since almost the time I was born, and will never root for Michigan State, Ohio State, or Notre Dame in any circumstance. Besides my love and passion for sports I am a young, developing IT professional for a moderate sized company. I enjoy working out, spending time out doors, and visiting with friends and family when I am not at work or looking at football box scores.