December 13, 2006
Ann Arbor, MI (CSTV U-WIRE) -- Three years ago, cornerback Leon Hall found himself face to face with Southern Cal star wide receiver Mike Williams in the Rose Bowl.
How'd it turn out?
Not to Hall's liking. But he made the point during Michigan Media Day this August that if he got another chance to line up against a star receiver in a Rose Bowl, he would change the outcome.
The Vista, Calif., native will have that opportunity to do just that come New Year's Day. He will face off against Southern Cal's nationally hyped wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett.
With Trojans and Michigan matching up in what has become a classic matchup in the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day, it's time to break down the teams.
Michigan rushing offense vs. Southern Cal rushing defense:
The Wolverines entered the season a renewed offensive unit. Michigan coach Lloyd Carr and new offensive coordinator Mike DeBord ingrained the focus of the run into every offensive lineman's head, and that emphasis has paid huge dividends. Running back Mike Hart returned to form, gaining more than 1,500 yards while rushing for 14 touchdowns. From the season opener against Vanderbilt to the season finale at Ohio State, Hart has provided the spark for the Michigan offense. If he doesn't get going, the Wolverines are likely to struggle. That could be the case against the talented core of defenders the Trojans bring to the table. In the season finale, UCLA registered just 55 rushing yards, averaging 1.9 yards per carry. Still, the Trojan defensive squad is young and has struggled to stop the run. Southern Cal surrenders 97.1 yards per game. Look for Hart, behind an experienced and talented Michigan offensive line, to see some open green come Jan. 1.
Michigan passing offense vs. Southern Cal passing defense:
With more than six weeks between games for the Wolverines, the aerial aspect of their attack could be the rustiest. Toward the latter half of the season, quarterback Chad Henne and his receivers were able to come together to form a formidable deep attack. But the long layoff could hurt their timing. The good news is wide receiver Adrian Arrington no longer has to worry about court dates, as the charges of domestic violence were dropped. With Arrington crossing the middle and speedster Mario Manningham stretching the Trojan defense, Michigan may be able to move the ball through the air. But, Southern Cal's defensive strength lies in its secondary. Cornerback Thomas Terrell and safety Taylor Mays have combined for five interceptions on the season, and the Trojans give up just 196.1 passing yards per game. Dallas Sartz anchors a talented linebacking corps that could cause havoc with the aggressive blitzing package Trojan coach Pete Carroll likes to bring. Still, Michigan can pick up the blitz, and Hart's work should open up the field for Henne to air it out.
Michigan rushing defense vs. Southern Cal rushing offense:
Michigan fans saw something rare in Ohio Stadium on Nov. 18: The opposing team breaking off rushes for more than 50 yards. With so much time to dwell on the big plays, the Wolverine front seven should come out itching to get its payback against Southern Cal. Stopping the Trojan rushing attack will be key for Michigan to corral an explosive Southern Cal offense. If the Trojans can get their running game started, it makes it easier for them to throw the ball deep. Running back Chauncey Washington leads the team with 736 yards on the season, mostly gained up the middle, where the Michigan defense is strongest. The Wolverines should be able to stop the Trojan ground game, especially if the highly touted Michigan front four has anything to say about it.
Michigan passing defense vs. Southern Cal passing offense:
All year long, the Michigan secondary has been bombarded with questions as the weak link for the Wolverines. And Buckeye quarterback Troy Smith and his receivers just added to the barrage. Ohio State got whatever it needed through the air, as Smith picked on cornerback Johnny Sears and even burned Hall when he connected with Ted Ginn Jr., on a second-quarter touchdown. Look for an even more talented Southern Cal wide receiver corps
away from Michigan cornerbacks. Trojan quarterback John David Booty should be able to pick apart the Wolverines in the passing game, especially with the receiver combo of Jarrett and Steve Smith lining up alongside him. The key for Michigan will be its ability to pressure Booty with its front seven and force him out of the pocket, something UCLA did to great effect.
Edge: Southern Cal
Michigan kicker Garrett Rivas has pushed aside his struggles during his career as a Wolverine and bounced back with a solid performance this season. He has converted on 16-of-19 field-goal attempts with a long of 48. Punter Zoltan Mesko also provides the Wolverines with a valuable weapon in the field-position battle. With his powerful leg and touch on the ball, Mesko has been able to pin opposing teams deep in their territory, which could prove to be the difference against such a dangerous Southern Cal offense. For the Trojans, kicker Mario Danelo has made 13-of-15 field-goal attempts. And punter Greg Woidneck averages just 38.6 yards per punt, which should have Michigan's Steve Breaston looking to have another memorable Rose Bowl.
The Wolverines aren't too happy they've been excluded from the National Championship. But it remains to be seen whether that will help or hurt Michigan's focus. Carr is set on the excellent opportunity his team has to win a Rose Bowl - something it hasn't done since 1997. Still, his players may suffer an Auburn-like lack of energy following the snub. The undefeated Tigers defeated Virginia Tech by just three in the 2005 Sugar Bowl, after missing out on the National Championship. Meanwhile, Southern Cal faces a similar predicament. The Trojans needed just one win against a 6-5 UCLA team to book their ticket to Glendale, Ariz. But they fell short and may also suffer from a lack of focus. In the end, this Michigan team has too much pride and senior leadership to let itself wallow in disappointment. The Wolverines should come out ready to prove a point.
Michigan 34, Southern Cal 24
(C) 2006 Michigan Daily via CSTV U-WIRE