Q&A with U-M writer Rothstein
Each week at TideNation we'll speak with a writer who covers one of Alabama's opponents this season. Today, we spoke with WolverineNation beat writer Mike Rothstein.
Q: Michigan closed the season out strong in January, beating Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl. How has that momentum carried over during the spring?
Mike Rothstein: Michigan's offense, save Junior Hemingway, struggled against the Hokies. But the win definitely gave the Wolverines more confidence heading into next season. I think it also started to set up the leadership core for this upcoming season: Denard Robinson, Jordan Kovacs and Taylor Lewan. If anything, however, the Sugar Bowl gave Michigan an idea of how far it needed to go to continue to compete on an elite level nationally. The season-opener against Alabama is such a test.
Q: Denard Robinson is obviously the biggest threat on offense for the Wolverines. What do you expect from him in his senior year?
M.R.: For much of the spring, a lot was made of Robinson's improved accuracy and decision-making. Whether it is true or not remains to be seen. Robinson played one series in the public spring scrimmage and Robinson was made to look very good in the pre-packaged highlights of practices Michigan put on its website. It'll be interesting to see how he deals with pressure from Alabama.
Q: The defensive line lost a lot from last year. How do you see the defense as a whole coming together in 2012?
M.R.: The defensive line lost a lot but everyone else returns for Michigan. The secondary, which was once a weakness for the Wolverines, now has its top six cornerbacks returning from last season and also has a strong pair of starting safeties in Kovacs and Thomas Gordon. With a Greg Mattison-led defense, though, much of what he likes to do comes from defensive line pressure. It is a defensive line with three new starters and four guys playing different positions -- senior Craig Roh moved from rush end to strong side end in the offseason. Roh is going to have to have a big year as the rest of the line is untested. Jibreel Black has shown flashes, but is moving inside from an end spot. Will Campbell has always had potential, but never shown it with any consistency during his first three seasons. Brennen Beyer and Frank Clark will play rush end and should form a strong tandem. It'll be a place, however, where Alabama can attack on Sept. 1.
Q: We’ve got months to dissect everything about Alabama-Michigan. What do you think of the hype behind this game? Can it live up to the talk?
M.R.: Yes and no. If people understand that it is an opener and both teams are going to make some errors, I think it'll be a pretty good football game. Hype always concerns me because very rarely do games live up to it -- Kentucky-Indiana in last season's Sweet 16 was an exception -- but this will be two of the top teams in the nation playing. I'm expecting a competitive game.
Q: Give me your argument for Michigan beating Alabama in Cowboy Stadium.
M.R.: If Denard Robinson has improved as much as he and offensive coordinator Al Borges say he has, he'll be a tough player for Alabama to deal with, especially as it breaks in new players on defense. Robinson is usually good for two or three long runs a game. If those long runs turn into touchdowns, especially early, Michigan will have confidence.
Q: And, now, what are some obstacles that might prevent that from happening?
M.R.: Speed and overall talent. Alabama is perennially one of the top recruiting teams in the country and whenever Nick Saban looks like he might have a team taking a step back, that team ends up in the middle of the SEC conference title talk anyway. Michigan also is replacing David Molk at center and if snaps don't go well the first few series, confidence in the shotgun could become an issue with new center Ricky Barnum. There are still major questions about Robinson's accuracy so if he hasn't improved like Michigan claims, it could be a long night because he is prone to making a few bad decisions a game with the ball.
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