As Indiana's passing numbers continued to pile up - 250 yards, 300 yards, 400 yards - and settled on 480 yards, former All-American linebacker Ron Simpkins sat in front of the television dumbfounded. He had just watched an undesirable history unfold before his eyes, and he has lots to say about it today
On what makes him most nervous about last Saturday's defensive performance: "You are what you are at this point. I always say you want to improve as a defense week to week and you definitely don't want to regress. I don't know that Michigan is regressing
I just think they are what they are, and what that is, is a defense that will have a very difficult time stopping anyone."
On what U-M can do at this point to change momentum: "I think the thing that bothered me the most is the lack of adjustments. If you want to run the three-down-lineman look and drop eight, that's fine, but when they've thrown for 250 yards at the half it's pretty clear you need to try something different. Now, the three-man front was actually somewhat effective, but there's another reason to rush four and that's to give Indiana a different look. We gave Indiana the same look all game and we just sort of hoped their quarterback would make a mistake. How many mistakes did he make? Not many and yet we didn't change it up at all and make him adjust what he was doing.
"What's the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. That's what it was like watching our defense last weekend. They presented Indiana the same look, three up, eight back, the occasional blitz, but they should have gone into the half and come out with a four-man look if for no other reason than their quarterback might have dropped back to pass and thought, 'Hmm, something's different.'"
On making adjustments midseason: "The thing about this 3-3-5 defense is they obviously made the switch in the spring and then practiced it throughout the fall believing these guys would get better and it would be an effective defense. But has it been?
"You don't have to change everything but if you come out this weekend in the same look as you have the past five games then you've essentially allowed Michigan State to sleepwalk through its game plan this week. You said, 'Hey, we're not going to do anything differently than what you've seen on film.' And you just can't have that mindset.
"They say if it ain't broke don't fix it. Well, if it's broken, fix it."
On sophomore outside linebacker Craig Roh's lack of big plays five weeks into the season: "When the year began, they were really excited about this kid and the fact they could use him a variety of ways, but I think what we've seen five weeks into the season is that he's most comfortable with his hand on the ground as a pass rusher, and I think you have to let him do what he does well, because if you're asking him to drop into coverage, he doesn't look confident out there.
"I understand this desire to have all these hybrid players on the field because of the spread offenses in college football, but if you have a guy that is a great pass rusher, you let him be a pass rusher. If you have a great linebacker, you let him be a linebacker. And so on.
"It's like they want him to be this so bad and maybe he has the potential to be this but right now he's not this but that and it's up to the coaches to realize a player's strengths and his weaknesses and utilize his strengths. Unfortunately, I think right now they're asking him to overcome his weaknesses much more often than they're asking him to use his strengths.
"The thing is we could use him as a defensive end also. If we're going to insist on rushing three linemen then you can't have a great player in Mike Martin and two so-so defensive ends. You need three great players to do that effectively, which is why it doesn't make much sense to have Roh playing as a stand-up linebacker on passing downs."
On junior nose tackle Mike Martin: "His stock continues to rise but it's not because of the system or the personnel around him; he's simply a dominant player with a terrific nose for the ball and physical skills that few others possess. But I'm nervous that offenses will run away from him even more and more. If I'm Michigan State this week why do I even try to run up the middle? For pride? Pride is foolish. I'd attack Michigan on the edge every time because that's where we're weak."
On if he sees any promise in that Michigan slowed Indiana's running game in the second half: "I'm not trying to sound all pessimistic about this defense, but Indiana is not a running team. That's like if you went up against Nebraska in the 1970s and 1980s with their option offenses, you held them to less than 100 yards passing and you walked off the field with your head held high. But then you realize they rushed for 400 yards. Well, Indiana almost threw for 500 yards. So no, I don't think you can get too excited about stopping their running game.
"Now, I think you can use it as something to build on because you are going to see a Michigan State team that will try to run it over you and through you. If they rise up and hold this Michigan State running game in check, then we'll have something to talk about."
On another stellar performance from Denard Robinson: "The best comparison I have is he reminds me of Reggie Jackson in October because every time he came to bat you wanted to be glued to your television because you thought he was going to hit one of those magical home runs. With Denard, every time Michigan has the ball you're anticipating something you will be talking about the rest of the week.
"We're way past the point where we think this is a mirage. He doesn't have anything left to prove to me."
On whether he's the most exciting player in U-M history: "Offensively, it's between him and Anthony Carter. A.C. was electric but how many touches did he have per game? Maybe 10-15 between his catches, runs, punt returns and kick returns? When you touch the ball as much as Denard does, and make the plays he makes consistently, it's hard to argue that he is the most exciting player we've ever had."
On whether Michigan State, with linebacker Greg Jones, can stop Robinson and the U-M offense this week: "They're certainly going to try, but as we saw Saturday, Indiana brought that eighth man into the box quite a bit and Michigan just threw over the top of them. If Michigan State puts eight in the box, I could see Denard finishing with 100 yards rushing but 300 yards passing.
"As a linebacker, like Greg Jones, he has to be so fired up about this matchup and he thinks he can be the giant killer but once Denard has some early success, the doubt starts to creep in and then it gets louder and louder until the point where before the snap you're saying, 'Oh god, please don't let him keep the ball.'"
On facing Michigan State this weekend: "To me, this is the biggest game of Rich Rodriguez's career. We have all sorts of momentum right now but no one knows for sure if we're a serious Big Ten contender or just some team that has beaten up on the teams we're supposed to beat. That changes this week. Michigan State, Iowa, Penn State, Wisconsin, Ohio State. These are the games where you make your stand.
"Right now, and for two years now, Michigan State has been winning the battle of public perception. They're getting some of those recruits in-state that would have never thought about going there 10, five years ago. There is a lot at stake for Michigan in this game. I'd love to see the defense play its best game of the season, but you just win, anyway possible."
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