It's fun when the Big Ten season begins because IU begins playing schools that have more of a blog presence than the MAC and I-AA types. Earlier this week, I exchanged some questions and answers with SCM of Maize n Brew, SB Nation's Michigan blog. My answers to his questions are here. His answers to my questions are below the fold.
1. After a historically awful 2008 season, what were your expectations before the season, and how, if at all, have you adjusted them after two MAC beatdowns and a win over a talented Notre Dame team?
I can tell you that on our site we were in a bit of disagreement heading into this season. After seeing Tate play in the spring game, I knew that we were going to be in infinitely better shape at thequarterback position than we were a year ago, but I couldn't possibly have predicted his explosion to start the year. Combine that with the fact that the other 10 starters returned and I was buying into the "Rodriguez Year Two Leap" theory on offense. The defense was (and remains) the big question. In our preseason previews I was the most optimistic and ended up predicting an 8-4 year. After the first three games, I'm thrilled with the offense, it hasn't been perfect, but it is approximately 8 billion times better than last year. On the defensive side of the ball, I've been happy with Greg Robinson and the
majority of the defensive effort, but we are oh-so-thin and that has been reflected by two walk-ons seeing significant snaps (Kovacs at safety and Leach at linebacker). I can't recall the last time that happened. I don't think we'll see another offense like what ND put out on the field (thank goodness). That win was obviously huge and certainly caused a spike in the fanbase's expectations as a whole. Personally I still think my preseason thought of 8-4 would be an outstanding success after last year, but I think the ceiling has been bumped a bit after seeing what this team is capable of and how some other preseason favorites have struggled so far. We're still a team lead by two freshmen QBs and a defense that's held together by pieces of string and glue, and we have yet to play outside the Big House this year, but I think that for the first time in a while I'm confident that we can hang with just about anybody in the conference. Of course all of that goes right out of the window if certain guys on this team get hurt.
2. IU's offensive line has allowed only one sack this year. Who on Michigan's D-line (or elsewhere) should IU expect to see pressuring the quarterback?
Well the initial snap response is , but he has spent most of the year being occupied by double teams (he probably should've had 2-3 sacks against Western, but Hiller did a great job getting rid of the ball). He's as explosive as anyone off the snap, but I would be stunned if IU didn't double him all day. Truth told, the Michigan
D has done a less than stellar job with pressure thus far this year; only three sacks after three games. ND spent all day in max protect, and short of us bringing the house, Clausen had all day to throw. I think the surprise for people who haven't seen Michigan play yet will be Craig Roh, he's starting at our hybrid (or any other
of about 17 names people use) position and has shown tremendous speed on the edge. The other guy to watch is re-positioned Stevie Brown who has been an excellent surprise since moving to LB from his old safety
spot, he currently leads the team in TFLs.
3. certainly has a different personality and background compared to every other Michigan coach of the last 40 years. On the other hand, based on coverage of IU basketball in the post-Knight era, I think the media tends to generalize about fan bases with scant information. So, what do you think of him? What do most Michigan fans think of him? Are the stories of the hand-wringing old guard exaggerated?
Good question, I'll try not to write a novel here. You nailed it with the generalizing, and may I add sensationalizing, of stories/fan reactions based on scant information. The way the media has handled the hiring and all of the events since has been sickening. Lots of slanted reporting and lots of misrepresenting the way the fanbase and the team has reacted to various events. I was thrilled when we got Rodriguez and am thrilled with him still, he was the kind of change that Michigan needed, and by that I don't mean "the spread". It's more of an attitude thing, the drive and the fire and all of those other intangibles that you love to talk about with a football team. Michigan had become the kind of team that would simply try to out-execute teams due to talent disparity instead of out game-planning, etc. We needed to get back the attitude that we had to earn things and not just expect to win. Rodriguez has brought that,
and the fact that he also happens to be phenomenal X's and O's guy is obviously a huge portion of it as well. I'm thrilled he's our coach.
The idea that he's on any kind of hot seat is immensely exaggerated. The stories of the hand-wringing old guard are less so, there was a definitive faction of the fan-base who were not thrilled with the hire, then going through 3-8 last year really amped that up considerably. There's still a portion of Michigan fans that expects 9 wins and a bowl because we have winged helmets and the band plays " ". They, obviously, were insufferable last year.
In case you can't already tell, I really like Coach Rodriguez. Yes he's put his foot in his mouth a few times with the "aw shucks" type of approach, and yes I think his opening up of the doors of Fort Schembechler have probably made it easier for people with agendas to take shots at him, but he strikes me as extremely genuine and as someone who cares deeply about his team, the program, and the school.
4. For IU fans who are making the trip to Ann Arbor, where should they tailgate and what are the recommended establishments?
Michigan's tailgating set-up is a little different from a lot of other campuses in that there's a pretty large distribution of areas. You have the big spots South of the stadium: Pioneer High School and the Golf Course (Ann Arbor Golf and Outing Club). These are immediately across from the stadium and are major parking/tailgating sites. Then on the North side of the stadium you have a wide dispersal of lots and parking at houses/tailgating going on. For visitors, I'd say the golf course is a best bet for "best tailgating" location. Regardless of where you choose to go, err on the side of getting there early. If you're looking for things to do before the game, you can head towards campus and go up and down State street and see what grabs your fancy. I highly recommend making it down to Revelli Hall on Hoover prior to kickoff to watch the band go through inspection and then march into the stadium (takes place about an hour before kickoff). Depending on the game, this can be absolutely packed or pretty easy to navigate around. While the concourses around the stadium are improved, it still takes a long time get to your seats from the entrance to yoursection so allow for some extra time there as well. Don't miss the pregame, aim to get to your seats at least 30 minutes before kickoff. As far as establishments go, Blimpy Burger is awesome but will be insanely packed after the game, if you like hot dogs, Red Hot Lovers is the place to go. For watering holes, in my experience the Arena is
usually solid, tons of TVs to catch up on what's been going on around the nation that day, Rick's, Dominick's, and the Brown Jug are all other worthwhile stops. I'm sure there would be many other suggestions on that one as well.
Thanks, SCM, and good luck tomorrow.