The Rich Rodriguez era (or as Michigan fans like to call it, "error") at Michigan will be known as the time that defense forgot. RichRod went just 15-22 during his time in Ann Arbor and even though he did improve every year the improvement wasn't enough for the historic program. Enter Brady Hoke. There were a lot of questions about the Hoke hire and if it would work. When we did our Big Ten Preview, we didn't have a lot of faith in the Wolverines. Michigan proved us wrong by going 11-2 including a victory in the Sugar Bowl. Michigan did benefit by not playing the best two teams in the Leaders Division (Wisconsin and Penn State) but they also had some victories over quality opponents this year like Notre Dame, Virginia Tech and Nebraska.
The biggest reason Michigan took such a big step forward this season was the hiring of DC Greg Mattison. Michigan's defense went from last to second in the Big Ten in scoring defense and from last to fourth in total defense. You think defense matters? Brady Hoke does and it really helped out the Wolverines this season. Of course, those pesky rivals in Ohio will tell you that the Wolverines aren't back. Only time will tell, but the Wolverines are certainly on the right track. We caught up with our good friend and Michigan blogger Jeff Contizano to get his take on the 2011 Michigan Wolverines and also to take a quick peak into 2012.
CFBZ: Finishing 11-2 in Brady Hoke's first season, the year can only be classified as a huge success. Why do you think Hoke was able to be so successful in his first season?
Jeff Contizano: For one, Hoke brought in an elite coaching staff. Michigan got two excellent coordinators in OC Al Borges and DC Greg Mattison, who came from the Ravens to coach with Hoke and be close to his grandchildren. But the other coaches on the staff have done an excellent job with average talent and little depth at a lot of positions.
Secondly, Hoke, Mattison, and the defensive staff made a huge emphasis on defense, which as you could tell hasn't been the case the last few years. Everyday in practice the players were challenged and pushed to their limits, and even though they didn't have the talent of Michigan defenses of years past, they made tremendous strides on the field.
Honestly, I understand why LSU's defensive coordinator John Chavis won the award for best DC, but it should go to Greg Mattison. If you look at Michigan's defense and compare it to last year, the differences statically and on the field are just astounding.
CFBZ: Despite finishing third in the Big Ten in total offense the offense struggled at times. What kind of tweaks (if any) do you think Michigan needs to make on this side of the football?
Jeff Contizano: At the start of the season Michigan's coaches tried to run more of a pro-style offense, and it didn't work. But once Al Borges and his staff started to figure out UM's, and more importantly Denard Robinson's strengths on offense, it really came alive.
Michigan's roster is still not built for the pro-style, west coast attack Hoke and Borges prefer. So you'll still see a sort of hybrid offense next year. Michigan needs to get better running the ball out of the power formations, but also being more consistent. On some drives Michigan's offense churned out yards and burned the clock, but on other occasions they still struggled to move and went three-and-out too quickly.
CFBZ: What is the lasting memory you will have of this season?
Jeff Contizano: Beating Ohio State. I know, they lost their Head Coach and all their star players, but that team was probably more talented than Michigan by a longshot, and beating them at home after enduring beatdown after beatdown was so refreshing. The Sugar Bowl was just an awesome moment as well, but mainly for the seniors on Michigan's roster.
CFBZ: Looking ahead to the 2012 season, what are biggest issues facing Michigan?
Jeff Contizano: Michigan will have to replace three starters on the defensive line, including two players who are expected to be drafted in April's NFL draft. On the other side of the ball, C David Molk, a 1st team All-American and Rimington Award winner, is gone as well. That center position is going to be a huge battle heading into the fall camp.
While the coaches figure their lines out, Michigan has an awfully difficult schedule to deal with, including a week one showdown with #1 Alabama in Dallas. After that, the Wolverines have to turn around and face Air Force and Notre Dame, plus road games against Nebraska and Ohio State. Michigan may actually be a better team next year than they were this year and only win 8 or 9 games. Ouch!
CFBZ: In our Ohio State review I asked them this question so I will give you equal time. Is Michigan back?
Jeff Contizano: Not yet, but they're on the way. A top 5 recruiting class in 2012 that is loaded with linemen and linebackers, plus a great coaching staff that should be better prepared in year 2. They say a team improves the most between year 1 and year 2 under a new coaching staff, but we'll see. Go blue!
Previous 2011 Exit Surveys
Pac-12- Oregon State Beavers