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This will be the kind of season Michigan Coach Bo Schembechler loves. That means, after four years of gushing over his All-Every-thing flanker, Anthony Carter, who's now playing for the USFL Michigan Panthers, Schembechler is again holding court on his favorite subject, defense. To wit: "Last year we defended against 40 passes a game," he says. "Forty a game! Even though there's a lot more passing in the Big Ten, the champion has always been the team that defended best against the score, not against the pass."
Last year, Michigan, which ended up 8-4, allowed only 126 points in nine conference games. "We played all right," says Schembechler, "and if we hadn't had 10 turnovers combined in those last two games [a 24-14 loss to Ohio State and a 24-14 defeat by UCLA in the Rose Bowl], we might have done even better." This year's defensive starters aren't cast in the wide-body mold—they're lean, mean Wolverines. The front three, tackles Kevin Brooks and Mike Hammerstein and Middle Guard Al Sincich, average only 231 pounds. "They don't slug it out with you; they go like this," says Schembechler, making slithering motions with his hands. "Quick. We'll be quick." Prominent in the linebacking corps is Mike Boren, who last season led the team in tackles (111) for the second consecutive year.
In the Wolverines' pass defense the linebackers rarely blitz, usually taking deep drops to form almost an eight-man zone with the four backs. Schembechler hopes the linebackers can take pressure off his inexperienced secondary, which will be without the services of three of four 1982 starters, including second-team All-America Keith Bostic. Even so, the defense will be sound, or Schembechler wouldn't be Schembechler.
Replacing Carter will be Gilvanni Johnson, a sophomore speedster from Detroit, of whom Schembechler says, "He may not do what Anthony did, but I think he'll be better than people expect." The running backs, as usual, come by the boxcar. The best of the bunch should be Tailback Kerry Smith, who averaged eight yards on 45 carries last year. The quarterback will be three-year starter Steve Smith, who's so versatile, says Schembechler, "that he's able to direct any kind of play." Indeed, Smith, whose 4.5 speed in the 40 makes him as fast as anyone on the team, executes the option and reads defenses better than any quarterback ever to play in Ann Arbor. He's a competent thrower (118 completions in 227 attempts in '82), which is all that is necessary in Schembechler's beloved ground attack.
The Wolverines' strongest position will be tight end. There they have three solid performers in Sim Nelson, Eric Kattus and Milt Carthens. To get two of them on the field at once, Schembechler says he will use a one-back alignment more than in previous years.
Schembechler has produced at least one first-team All-America in each of his 14 seasons at Michigan, and this time his leading candidate is Stefan Humphries, a senior guard from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. Says Schembechler, "He's so smart that when he makes a mistake you've got a right to be mad." Humphries, a medical-engineering major, has a 3.76 average. "He's got this kind of sleepy look," says Schembechler, "which means absolutely nothing." Center Tom Dixon, a third-team All-America selection in 1982, is another nearly flawless blocker up front. In short, the line should open its usual large cavities.
Ali Haji-Sheikh, the Wolverines' field-goal specialist the last four seasons, is gone, and placekicking has Schembechler concerned. Any one of four contenders could wind up with the job. The punter is Don Bracken, who's outstanding. He averaged 39.2 yards a boot in '82, and he's particularly adept at pinning an opponent inside its 20-yard line.
Ultimately, though. Michigan's most important asset may well be its schedule. Last season's nonconference foes were Notre Dame and UCLA. In their stead in 1983 are Washington, which is down this year, and Washington State, which is down every year. Further, the Wolverines play their two toughest Big Ten opponents, Iowa and Ohio State, at home. Best of all, should Michigan make the Rose Bowl, it won't have to worry about Arizona or USC, the two teams that look to be the strongest in the Pac-10, because both are on probation and thus are ineligible to go to Pasadena.
Yes, 1983 could be the kind of season Schembechler will grow to love.