Chat with Michael Rothstein
Welcome to WolverineNation! On Thursday, reporter Michael Rothstein stops by to chat about the state of Michigan football.
Rothstein joined ESPN.com in 2011 after covering the University of Michigan for AnnArbor.com, Notre Dame for the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Journal Gazette and a host of colleges for the Daily News-Record (Harrisonburg, Va.). A Syracuse graduate and an East Meadow, N.Y. native, he lives in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Send your questions now and join Rothstein Thursday at noon ET!
Michael Rothstein (12:00 PM)
Hey everyone and a good afternoon to you. Michigan opens Big Ten play this week against Purdue, which gives the Wolverines new life over the last two months of the regular season. Oh, and basketball season, well, practice, starts next week. So let's get to your questions. Put them in the queue and we'll start going at 'em.
Chris Fiegler (Latham,NY)
What is the Worst Michigan College Football team ever?
Michael Rothstein (12:02 PM)
Interesting first question, but I'll take it. Tough to say because of the different eras, but probably the 3-9 team led by Rich Rodriguez in 2008. It was Michigan's worst record in the modern era and the offense that season was just abysmal.
Daniel (West Palm Beach)
Is there ever going to be a game when Denard doesnt have a turn over??????? Comon Man
Michael Rothstein (12:05 PM)
Denard has acknowledged his struggles, especially in the passing portion of the game. The running is still there, but he has to get better as a passer.As far as the turnover question, he has had one in every game over the past calendar year. The last time he didn't throw an interception or lose a fumble was against Minnesota on Oct. 1, 2011.
Eric in rochester [via mobile]
Michigan is playing purdue this week, and oddsmakers have Michigan laying three points. Michigan has struggled against the passing game and purdue has been posting 50s on their scoreboard. I'm scared of a blowout- what do you think?
Michael Rothstein (12:07 PM)
Don't see a blowout happening on either side because both teams have fairly good defenses. Purdue has put up points, but it hasn't exactly been against the stiffest of competition. I'm actually more impressed with the 17 against Notre Dame in a loss. Either way, it is going to be a close game and it may come down to the question above, whether or not Denard Robinson turns the ball over a lot or not.
Why doesn't Al Borges give up on the long routes and call more screens, bubbles and slants? How about stacked TEs with freshmen star Funchess?
Michael Rothstein (12:09 PM)
Some of it has to do with game plan. If teams consistently put 7-8 in the box to stop the run, it also makes the short passing game much more difficult because of the amount of bodies in a tight space. If Robinson hits on a couple of long passes, it will open up the defense more and allow for, well, everything else. That said, I think you've seen some short passing and will continue to see more of it through Big Ten season. Just a hunch.
Michael Fisherman (NYC Apartment)
Do you think that by the end of the year Kenny Demens will be replaced on a full time basis?
Michael Rothstein (12:10 PM)
On a full-time basis? No. I don't even know if he'll lose his starting job, but freshman Joe Bolden is going to continue taking snaps from him. But Demens will still play. How much might depend on matchup and how whoever starts the game (he or Bolden) holds up.
Where do you think Michigan stands in the Legends race compared to the favorites. Im a huge Michigan fan. I think they have chance at winning out. I think iowa is quietly a dark horse despite a rough start also so the legends division is deep. I guess im asking do you think Michigan gets to the rose bowl this year?
Michael Rothstein (12:13 PM)
Maybe. I know that's not a definitive answer, but save for one game on the schedule the rest of the way, I can make an argument for Michigan winning or losing every one of those games. That's what happens in a parity-filled league where no team is elite. I think you'll learn a lot about Michigan and its chances the rest of the way Saturday. Purdue has quietly put together a good team and one of the best defenses in the Big Ten. As for the division, Northwestern is going to be a tougher out than most think.
There appears to be consensus that the game this weekend is going to be close, with a real risk that Michigan could lose. Other than the fact that Denard was terrible against ND and hasn't been great on the road, why the concern? A relatively similar Michigan dominated a relatively similar Purdue last season. Is it going to be that different?
Michael Rothstein (12:15 PM)
Seba, Purdue's defense is, in my opinion, better and Michigan's offensive line is not as good as a season ago. Plus, the Wolverines have not gotten a solid running game going yet this season, although Fitzgerald Toussaint really broke out in the Purdue game last season. Plus, Purdue's offense appears to be better this season, although the competition save Notre Dame hasn't been what anyone would consider strong. Plus, Michigan hasn't had a ton of success away from Ann Arbor, which always factors into it.
how many games do u think we end up winning this year?
Michael Rothstein (12:16 PM)
Sticking with my prediction in the preseason. 8-4 regular season. Still a trip to the Big Ten title game.
Tony (Richmond, CA)
Will this game against Purdue on the road let Wolverine fans know whether or not Michigan is going to be a serious contender in the Big Ten?
Michael Rothstein (12:17 PM)
Absolutely. Lose Saturday and it is a major battle the rest of the way having to still travel to Nebraska and Ohio State with Michigan State and Northwestern at home. A win gives the Wolverines confidence they can win on the road and might show what they learned after a week off.
I still think the Michigan/Michigan State game winner goes to the Big Ten Championship game, your thoughts.
Michael Rothstein (12:21 PM)
At the beginning of the season, I would have said yes, however right now I think there are too many other variables in play to say that with any sort of confidence. I will say this...I think the loser of that game will have very little chance to go to the Big Ten title game. For instance, Northwestern goes to Michigan and Michigan State in back-to-back games. Nebraska has Northwestern, Michigan and MSU all in a row. I think those are the four teams you're looking at in this division as having a real shot. So it'll be interesting.
Do you see Michigan becoming a year-in-year-out powerhouse like Alabama/LSU/USC given the midwest's (either perceived or real) lack of talent compared to the South and Cali?
Michael Rothstein (12:23 PM)
Perhaps, although it will always share the spotlight with Ohio State and potentially Nebraska. The Wolverines were at that level back in the day and Brady Hoke is recruiting at that elite level now. If he can take his recruiting and turn it into on-field production, then it is possible. One more note on that, Michigan has the staff to do it. It is one of the better staffs in the country, from coordinators on down, in my opinion.
Denard just doesn't play well on the road - at all. He seems to get rattled way too easy. Almost a different player than he is in the Big House. Do you get a different vibe listening to him speak in the days leading up to a road game?
Michael Rothstein (12:26 PM)
While it is an interesting question, I don't. He was actually asked about this topic this week -- why he plays so well at home for the most part and not on the road -- and he immediately pointed to the Notre Dame game two seasons ago. He also played well at Indiana in the 2010 season. Other than that, it's been pretty pedestrian from him on the road. So no, I don't get that sense, but there is something to the question.
Providing the bye week which gave Borges time to comb through his play calling, do you see some better play calling from Borges to let Denard use his strengths?
Michael Rothstein (12:28 PM)
I think so, James, and I think you saw it in the second half against Notre Dame. Michigan changed up some of its line protections to help Denard Robinson out there -- and started using a lot more tight end sets on the line to provide extra blocking help -- but I think you'll see more calls that put Robinson in a position to succeed the rest of the way. Borges adapted to Robinson's strengths as the season went on last year. I imagine he'll do the same this time around.
Next year, how do you see the QB depth chart. I see Morris (1), Bellamy (2), and Gardner (3). I don't think they will move Gardner. He is going to be a monster at WR. What do you think?
Michael Rothstein (12:31 PM)
It's the biggest question starting the moment after Denard Robinson plays his final snap at Michigan and the answer is there is no way to tell. There isn't a true heir apparent at Michigan for multiple reasons, from the lack of playing time for any of the backups to Shane Morris' transition as a freshman to Michigan running a new offensive scheme -- at least in part -- starting next season. I think any of those three guys could conceivably be the starter in 2013 and you won't know until possibly the week of the game. In my opinion, I think Gardner would have to be a markedly better option than either Bellomy or Morris if he were to be the starting quarterback because of his talent at wide receiver. Both in statistics and in times targeted, he has become the Wolverines' No. 1 option there.
Is it time to move Denard to flanker and get a real QB in there?
Michael Rothstein (12:31 PM)
Nope. Won't happen.
In regards to the bubble screen question...bubbles actually make sure the defense CAN'T put 8 in the box. Which would help open up the run game. The fact that we're not running them has maybe cost us 3 out of our four losses over the last two years.
Michael Rothstein (12:35 PM)
When it came to the previous question, I was referring to a short passing game in general (slants, hooks, etc...) in addition to the screens. Would the screens open something up? Sure. But I disagree that it cost Michigan three of four losses because there's no guarantee the screens would have worked with a lot of consistency.
Tony (Richmond, CA)
Do you think the loss of Michigan State to the ineligible Buckeyes will the hurt the conference nationally? And eliminated any chance of the Big Ten sending two teams to the BCS.
Michael Rothstein (12:39 PM)
It was probably an uphill battle for two Big Ten teams to go to the BCS anyway considering the overall reputation of the conference and the play of other teams across the country. The SEC will almost definitely have a second team in. The Pac 12 seems like it could be setting itself up for a two-team year and same with the Big 12. So that's nine with the potential for Notre Dame or Clemson/FSU in the final spot. The Big Ten would be competing with them, probably. If the conferences beat themselves up and two Big Ten teams run the table the rest of the way, maybe that's the best shot, especially with OSU ineligible.
Big Game Bob (Norman)
Besides Meechigan, Notre Dame and OU, who are you most overhyped teams in college football?
Michael Rothstein (12:46 PM)
I don't know if teams are "overhyped," especially Michigan in that list of three, but a team that always seems to get a ton of early-season attention and doesn't always meet that success is Virginia Tech. To be fair, Tech is one of the most consistent programs in the country and Frank Beamer has done a great job, but the Hokies -- much like Oklahoma -- always seem to lose a game that just boggles the mind. For Virginia Tech that is Pitt this season, James Madison in 2010, East Carolina in 2008 and so on. Most seasons there always seems to be one of those games. But Virginia Tech is still a very, very good team.
Andrew (New York)
Mike, you did a very interesting study about Denard's greater passing accuracy while under center vs in the shotgun a few weeks back. I've blocked out so much of the ND game that I can't figure out whether that pattern continued to hold or not. Any insight?
Michael Rothstein (12:48 PM)
Yes and no, but the second quarter really skewed everything for Denard Robinson and Michigan so none of Robinson's numbers really matched up with anything. Save the second quarter, he was actually quite accurate out of both the gun and under center. While that sounds bizarre considering the second quarter, there is truth to it. I'll be curious to see what happens as the Wolverines go forward this year.
Mike, you said above that Borges adapted to Robinson through the year last year, which we all saw. Then why, do you think, things started out so poorly last year? It's like he took all that adaptation that led to great games ending the season and threw it away.
Michael Rothstein (12:51 PM)
I'm assuming you meant this season with that question and the best answer I can give is a combination of game plan, opponent and a lack of running game/offensive line that could do much early. Robinson had his best games when Fitzgerald Toussaint was an almost-equal as a runner out of the backfield. It opened up everything. So far this season, Michigan has had no consistent running game to speak of. That is what I look to the most, although as I mentioned earlier, I'm curious to see what Borges does offensively now. If he goes to more of a short passing/spread look, it could lead to more Robinson success. Last season, Michigan's most common formation was a shotgun set with a singleback and three wide receivers. Michigan hasn't run that with the same frequency this season.
Derrin (Plano, TX)
Do you think the Wolverines land both Derrick Green and Lequan Treadwell? And are there any top defensive lineman that could still find there way to Ann Arbor?
Michael Rothstein (12:56 PM)
On the first question, really not sure and I don't think anyone truly knows yet. As far as defensive linemen, Michigan already has three strong ones in Maurice Hurst Jr., Henry Poggi and Taco Charlton and brought in a big class in 2012 led by Mario Ojemudia and Ondre Pipkins, who are already seeing time. Plus you have guys like Matt Godin, Tom Stroebel, Chris Wormley and Willie Henry redshirting for next season. So my guess is they will wait until 2014 but you never know what will happen.
Brenden Costen (Michigan)
Hey Micheal, I was just what you think Michigan needs to do in order to get back on track and win the Big Ten, and make it to the Rose Bowl?
Michael Rothstein (12:57 PM)
The obvious answer is win games, but to do that it needs to establish the run game with Fitzgerald Toussaint, continue getting defensive line improvement and somehow put Denard Robinson in the best possible position to succeed both running and throwing. Michigan has yet to do that this season against a quality opponent. How the Wolverines fare against Purdue could be a big key to how the rest of the season goes.
Michael Rothstein (12:57 PM)
Just have a couple more minutes so if there are any final questions, feel free to send them to the queue now.
are you alive? so worried!
Michael Rothstein (12:59 PM)
Yep, I'm fine. Just have a little pain and soreness but appreciate you asking.
Andrew (New York)
Is Michigan doing anything to counter the pressure straight up the A gap that has given them so much trouble against MSU in the past and seemed to against ND?
Michael Rothstein (1:01 PM)
I think you saw some of that answer in the second half against the Irish, when the Wolverines had much more success blocking for both the run and the pass. While Borges and Hoke didn't truly go into specifics of what they are doing there, it seemed to me they gave more protection overall on the offensive line with an extra blocking tight end. I'd have to check how often they did that in the second half, though. Purdue's defensive line is close to Notre Dame's in talent -- although they don't have an end like Stephon Tuitt -- so it'll be interesting to see what Michigan schemes with blocking-wise Saturday.
Michael Rothstein (1:03 PM)
With that, I'm heading out for the day but appreciate all of the questions and you taking time out of your day to chat. Make sure to check out all of our coverage over at WolverineNation and follow both myself and the site on Twitter with @mikerothstein & @WolverineNation.See you all soon. Have a great weekend watching football.