Coach: Lloyd Carr (11th season, 95-29) 2004 record: 9-3 (Lost to Texas in Rose Bowl) Big Ten finish: 7-1 (t-1st) 2004 I-A offensive rankings: Rushing: 61st (153.6 ypg) Passing: 45th (232.9 ypg) 2004 I-A defensive rankings: Rushing: 39th (133.3 ypg) Passing: 43rd (202.9 ypg)
at Michigan State
Depth Chart: Offense
8 returning starters in red
Depth Chart: Defense
6 returning starters in red
Jeremy Van Alstyne
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Visions of Vince Young, Troy Smith and Drew Stanton running around the perimeter haunt Lloyd Carr, defensive coordinator Jim Herrmann and everyone involved with the Michigan program. Though the Wolverines must replace Braylon Edwards, the best wide receiver in the country last season, their biggest focus this offseason was constructing a counter-attack to mobile quarterbacks and spread formations.
Texas' Young shredded the Wolverines' defense in the Rose Bowl, much like Ohio State's Smith did in the regular-season finale. Michigan couldn't hold onto a 10-point, fourth-quarter lead and lost in Pasadena 38-37 on a last-second field goal. If Michigan State's Stanton hadn't been injured midway through the game against them, the Wolverines probably wouldn't have defeated that rival, either.
"The spread offense takes patience," Carr said. "If you don't have patience you end up with people over-committed and you end up giving up big plays. In terms of becoming the kind of defense we want to be, it begins with eliminating big plays."
By doing so, they can take the pressure off their own explosive offense. The Wolverines have eight returning starters on offense, led by two star sophomores, quarterback Chad Henne and tailback Michael Hart.
If Carr and Herrmann can restore the defense's confidence, another BCS berth is on the horizon.
It's quite a luxury to have a returning quarterback who led your team to the Rose Bowl. It's an even bigger asset when that player is still in the early stages of development.
No one could have foreseen the impact Henne would have. Henne passed for 2,743 yards and 25 touchdowns as a true freshman. Now that they know what they've got, coach Lloyd Carr and offensive coordinator Terry Malone can make even greater use of Henne's talents.
Henne is not the only accomplished sophomore in the backfield. Hart rushed for 1,455 yards and displayed surprising power. He may have trouble duplicating those numbers with the addition of freshman Kevin Grady, a 5-foot-11, 228-pound bulldozer.
Junior wide receiver Steve Breaston is one of the most electrifying players in the country. He will move into the featured receiver role with the departure of Edwards. Jason Avant keeps the chains moving with sure hands and toughness over the middle. The tight end duo of Tim Massaquoi and Tyler Ecker may be the nation's best. With four starters returning, the Wolverines have plenty of beefy veterans to protect Henne's backside. They will run a majority of their plays to the right side behind veteran guard Matt Lentz and sophomore Jake Long.
Losing linebacker Lawrence Reid was a sharp blow. Reid was forced to quit the sport because of a neck injury. Junior LaMarr Woodley is that unit's playmaker and an All-America candidate. He had 16 tackles for a loss last season.
Senior nosetackle Gabe Watson has never quite fulfilled expectations but anchors the defensive line. Defensive end Pat Massey is the best pass-rusher up front (five sacks) and, at 6-8, can tip and alter passes.
The loss of All-America performers Marlin Jackson and Ernest Shazor makes the defensive backfield another area of concern. Junior Leon Hall, who started nine games in 2004, will now match up against the opponent's top receiver.
Breaston in the open field is a terrifying sight for any kick-coverage team. A threat to score every time he touches the ball, Breaston has gained nearly 1,800 yards on kickoff and punt returns in his first two seasons. Junior Garrett Rivas is a reliable place-kicker from 45 yards and in. True freshman Zoltan Mesko will be given every chance to win the punting job.
Michigan has maintained its status as one of the nation's premier programs but has yet to participate in the national championship game since the BCS system was instituted. A favorable schedule could change that. Its only dangerous non-conference opponent is Notre Dame, and the Irish haven't won at the Big House since 1993. If the Wolverines can avoid minefields at Wisconsin, Michigan State and Iowa, they could head into the annual finale against Ohio State undefeated.
Unquestionably, they have enough offensive firepower to run the table. The retooled defense will ultimately decide Michigan's fate. It has to put last season's embarrassing finish behind it and get better production from the linebackers and safeties.