It's been a strange season for Michigan already this year, as the Wolverines looked dynamite in wins over Central Michigan and Notre Dame and then looked surprisingly vulnerable in wins over Akron and Connecticut.
In an effort to figure out this Michigan team, I traded e-mails with Mark Snyder, veteran beat writer for the Detroit Free Press. You can see some of his outstanding work here, and check out my responses to his questions about the Gophers here.
Q: What effect do you think the bye week had, coming as it did after the close calls against Akron and UConn?
A: The coaches and players have all said it came at the perfect time. Over the first four weeks their fundamentals had begun to slip, caught in the grind of just preparing for a game and this allowed a rest button. That's natural with a young team, but they needed to be able to step back.
Q: Knowing Devin Gardner as you do, how do you think he’ll respond with all the angst his turnovers have created?
A: Gardner is an interesting case because he's supremely confident, but late in the UConn game he stopped throwing the ball because it had gone so poorly throughout the game. He's still dangerous with his legs so he was still effective, but the coaches have worked on his mental and physical approach, citing his footwork and balance, if only to show him his mistakes were correctable.
Q: There aren’t many nationally recognized names on Michigan’s defense. What makes that unit so good?
A: Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison is simply one of the best teachers in the country. He's a perfect example of how much a coach can mean to a defense's attitude and focus. Without a dominant player -- their most effective defender, linebacker Jake Ryan has missed the first four games and also this game with a knee injury -- they've had to rely on filling their role. Mattison is also a very talented play caller and not afraid to mix up defenses and pressure.
Q: I’ve heard the Big House is louder than it was when I went there with the Minnesota Daily in 1994. Have the fans changed, or did the acoustics change with the renovations?
A: Oh it's changed quite a bit. No one expected much in 2010 when the renovations were completed essentially enclosing two sides. That has kept the noise much more contained, instead of it floating away from the underground bowl as it did for the first 83 years. But it still is not an impassioned crowd like Madison, Columbus or State College.
Q: I’m heading to Ann Arbor early Saturday morning. I’d like to grab breakfast, read my Free Press, and see part of campus before heading to the stadium. Any advice?
A: There are a number of great spots for breakfast including the Broken Egg and Café Zola downtown, a healthy but reasonable walk from the stadium and Angelo's, which has legendary French toast, but requires a drive to the opposite edge of campus. The Free Press is available all across the city, of course, you just need to separate that from breakfast because of my mug in there :) Central Campus and "The Diag" and the Law Quad are the nicest part of campus and just a 10-minute walk from the stadium.
Twitter: @Mark__Snyder (double underscore)