In anticipation of tonight’s big in-state battle, let’s take a look at the unit matchups piece-by-piece. First up: the Detroit offense against Michigan’s defense.
With only one game under their belts, there’s only so much to know about Detroit in 2014. Fortunately, they return most of the pieces from last year’s unit that really rounded to form in the final weeks of the season (plus they add attack Shayne Adams, who was out of the lineup for that particular stretch).
I expected this to be a mostly attack-driven offense – which Detroit has been in recent years – with Scott Drummond serving a more versatile role in the midfield and Mike Birney mostly bombing away (at 114 miles per hour, NBD) out front. If the first game is to be extrapolated, which is not necessarily the case, the midfield is going to be a little more diverse. Drummond had three assists in addition to two goals, and while Birney seemed to still be bombing away (two goals on nine(!) shots), it sounds like he’s being used as a dodger, as well.
The attack is still dangerous, and to overlook them because they weren’t the focal point in one game (as much as nine of the Titans’ six points can be considered “not a focal point”) is foolish. Tom Masterson and Shayne Adams are both skilled dodger/finishers, and Alex Maini is a ball-carrying attackman with the ability to distribute it very well, in addition to finishing himself.
Brandon Beauregard plays both positions, and with the talent Detroit has up front, he started as the third offensive midfielder in the Mercer game. Look for him to mostly play there, but he’s going to be more capable of inverting, as well.
Michigan’s longpoles have been something of a liability in past years, or at the very least not a strength. They seem to have improved this year, at least when not facing Shane Sturgis and TJ Sanders. Mack Gembis, Chris Walker, and JD Johnson have started both games so far, and performed reasonably well. Still, Michigan’s major weakness is an elite finisher (particularly at attack).
The defensive midfielders have been spearheaded by Chase Brown at long-stick – he’s also taken some faceoffs for U-M – along with shorties Thomas Orr and Jeff Chu (with a few other players rotating in here and there). While they were able to mostly shut down Mercer’s midfielders, a good dodger at that position will likely give them trouble.
Given that Michigan has trouble with elite attackmen, there’s a good chance that the choice between leaving somebody open relatively close to the mouth of the goal and having an open shooter 12 yards out is one we’ll see a lot of this year.
In goal, it’s been a tale of two games for freshman Robbie Zonino, since returning starter Gerald Logan is out for the year after surgery to repair a torn labrum. Zonino was lit up against Penn State to the tune of 15 goals and just five saves (backup Mike D’Alessio was worse, giving up seven and stopping just one shot). He was very solid against Mercer, allowing seven goals and saving 13. Some of the goals Penn State scored were softies, on some he was hung out to dry, and on a couple Penn State’s finishing was just too good. Against teams that are neither among the best nor worst in the country, it’s impossible to say just yet how he’ll fare.
Things to watch
The big question here revolves around Zonino, and specifically how he’ll perform against shots that he should/can save. If he makes all the easy saves and lets in all the tough ones, that’s good enough for Michigan. Zonino isn’t the type of goalie who will win you games (yet, at least), and if he steals a couple should-be goals, Detroit might be in trouble.
I do think that Detroit’s dodging attackmen will be able to give the Michigan D fits here and there. While there’s not a single go-to guy in that unit, it’s because there’s enough depth to share the wealth to an extent. They should find themselves with an easy opportunity every now and then.
In order to take away those opportunities, Michigan’s defenders might have to sag off shooter, which opens the Mike Birney Show. I think on a man-to-man basis, Michigan’s short-sticks are good enough to slow down a dodging game from Detroit’s midfield – so that’s not what you’ll see. Detroit hasn’t focused on it in the past, and while they’re more able than ever to do that, that’s not their most likely path to success in this one.