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Final Look: Akron

September 18th, 2013 by Justin Potts


(MGoBlue.com)

As much as I don’t want to be reminded of what transpired in Michigan Stadium last Saturday, I think it’s important to close the book on that game before fully moving on to UConn. Let’s take one final look back at the big plays, numbers, stats, and observations from Michigan’s 28-24 win.

Three big moments

1. The Devin connection gets Michigan on the board

After forcing an Akron punt to start the game, Michigan’s offense got right to work. A Fitzgerald Toussaint 2-yard loss was followed by completions of six, 17, one, and five, setting up 3rd-and-4 at the Akron 48. Devin Gardner dropped back to pass and hit Devin Funchess on a five-yard hitch. Easy first down, right? Fortunately, the linebacker and corner took poor angles and Funchess spun towards the end zone. The safety came up and missed and Funchess was off the the races, pulling away from everybody into the end zone. It put Michigan ahead 7-0 early and was about the only thing normal about how the game should have gone.

Jehu Chesson scored on the first reception of his career (MGoBlue.com)

2. Jehu gets on the stat sheet in a big way

Leading just 14-10 midway through the third quarter, Michigan was in need of a big play to start putting the game away. The Wolverines gained possession on their own 8-yard line and got to work. Gardner ran for 35 yards on the first play to get Michigan into good field position. Three plays later, on 3rd-and-7, Gardner completed an 8-yard pass to Jeremy Gallon to keep the drive alive. After a 2-yard Toussaint run, Gardner found Jake Butt for 13 yards. Toussaint lost two yards on the next play, leaving Michigan with a 2nd-and-12 from the Akron 33.

Gardner hit Jehu Chesson at the 25-yard line, right on the right hash marks, and the speedy redshirt freshman did the rest of the work. He dodged a couple of tackles right away and ran mostly horizontally along the 25 towards the sideline until he was hit by an Akron defender at the 22 and pushed towards the end zone. He then raced the rest of the way for six points, scoring a touchdown on the first catch of his career and putting Michigan ahead 21-10.

3. The defense stiffens at the goal line

The Michigan defense gave up 418 total yards to one of the nation’s worst teams on Saturday, but when it needed stops it came up big. With 12:54 remaining in the game, Akron took possession trailing by four. An 11-yard pass followed by a 43-yard pass suddenly put the Zips inside the Michigan 10-yard line with a chance to take the lead. Running back Jawon Chisholm ran for five to get the ball to the Michigan two, but on 2nd-and-goal, safety Jarrod Wilson stepped in front of an Akron receiver to pick off Kyle Pohl and give Michigan the ball back.

Later in the fourth quarter, on the final drive of the game, Akron was driving for the winning score. The Zips took over with 2:49 to play, trailing 28-24, and marched right down the field, again to the Michigan two. On 3rd-and-1, Jawon Chisholm rushed to the right, but Desmond Morgan was right there for the stop. Akron had one final play to score a monumental upset in the Big House, facing 4th-and-3 at the Michigan 4-yard line with five seconds remaining. Pohl dropped back to pass and Michigan brought the all-out blitz. Brennan Beyer hit Pohl just as he lobbed the ball to the back of the end zone. It sailed over the head of receiver Zach D’Orazio and Michigan held on to win. The defense wasn’t pretty all game, but it came up with two big stops when needed.

The numbers game

107,120: The official attendance, 381 fewer than capacity

116-25-4: Michigan’s all-time record in first-ever meetings with a school. Akron was the 145th different opponent Michigan has faced

19: The number of consecutive games Michigan has won at home in the month of September

103: Devin Gardner’s rushing yards, a career high

3: Players who made their first career starts – Sione Houma, Jake Butt, and Jehu Chesson

16: The number of consecutive field goals made by Brendan Gibbons before he missed a 45-yarder on Saturday, ending his school record streak

Drive chart
AK
UM
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UM
AK
UM
AK
UM
AK
UM
AK
UM
AK
UM
UM
AK
UM
AK
UM
AK

*Hover over team initials to see drive statistics

Three observations

1. Confidence

After beating Notre Dame in Week 2, Michigan was riding high, averaging 50 points a game and looking like the Big Ten Legends division frontrunners. But there was also a sense “we just got away with that one” among the players on the team. The celebration after the win wasn’t what you would expect from such a big win, and in the postgame press conferences there was more nervous relief than excitement. They knew they had let Notre Dame back in it and almost let the game slip away.

For a young team, confidence is hard to build and easy to lose. Perhaps some of that came into play against Akron. With what transpired in the fourth quarter of the Notre Dame game on their minds, when things started going bad on Saturday, the confidence was tested. Even more so against a team everyone expected them to roll.

It will be on the senior leadership to correct this course and help the team gain the confidence back that we saw it open the season with. This is what Taylor Lewan turned down sure millions for – to return as a senior leader of the team, help the young guys grow and mature, and win a Big Ten championship. He said after the game that the senior leadership failed in preparation for the Akron game and vowed that it will improve going forward. How it does will tell volumes about Lewan and the rest of the leaders, and determine whether this team plays up to its capabilities.

2. What to make of the Akron game

Taylor Lewan vowed not to let a letdown happen again (MGoBlue.com)

Nobody expected Michigan to struggle so badly against the Zips, especially after blowing out Central Michigan and beating Notre Dame by double digits, putting up 41 points against the vaunted Irish defense. Scoring just 28 points against lowly Akron was simply unimaginable. Needing a last second goal line stand to stave off the upset was unfathomable.

Michigan started the game just like everyone expected, putting together a six-play, 75-yard drive, capped off by a 48-yard Devin Funchess catch and run touchdown. But then, the Wolverines went punt, missed field goal, fumble, interception, interception, punt, touchdown, touchdown, interception, punt, punt. Seven of Michigan’s 11 drives in between the first drive of the day and the last one went for 25 yards or less. Six of those were three plays or less. You can see it in the drive chart above. Six of Michigan’s 13 offensive possessions on the day combined for five yards on 17 plays.

I think it all comes down to a combination confidence as mentioned above (and along with that, focus), and working on things during what they assumed would be a similar game as the Central Michigan one. My guess is that they spent most of the practice week focusing on the bigger picture rather than on the Akron Zips. Some of that may have carried into the game in terms of what the offense and defense were trying to do, such as testing out the four-man pass rush, and some of it carried over in terms of the team’s focus.

When the offense really had to put points on the board it did with relative ease. Of the four scoring drives, which averaged 72 yards, only one went more than six plays (nine) and two took just four plays because they all included big plays. A 48-yard touchdown pass to Funchess on the opening drive, a 36-yard Gardner touchdown run in the third quarter, a 35-yard Gardner run and a 33-yard touchdown pass to Jehu Chesson on the next drive, and a 35-yard Gardner run on the final scoring drive.

The defense normally wouldn’t have been playing so far off the receivers in a game like this, and Hoke said that after the game. But with the youth Michigan has, especially in the secondary, it was a chance to really work them in before the real grind of the schedule hits. Expect tighter coverage and a more aggressive defense in the weeks to come as Michigan gets Courtney Avery and Jake Ryan back.

3. On the crowd

Obviously, games against teams like Akron aren’t ideal and we all hope the program starts moving away from the annual early season MAC schools. Next year won’t be any better with Appalachian State, Miami OH, and Utah coming to town, but after that it should start to improve. Oregon State, UNLV, and BYU may or may not be quality opponents two years from now, but at least they are semi-big names from power conferences (BYU is independent) and teams Michigan hasn’t played in a long time. So they will be interesting home games despite not being traditional powers.

But skipping a game or showing up late is unacceptable except under extreme circumstances. If you don’t want to go to a game, don’t buy the ticket for that game. It selfishly takes away an opportunity for someone else to purchase that ticket. You really can’t fault the athletic department for putting new processes in place to ensure the seats are filled. It’s embarrassing to see the student section half full at kickoff. If every student ticket was used every game and the athletic department started taking them away to sell at higher prices, then you’d have an argument. For now, just go to the games, get there on time, and cheer your Wolverines on to victory. That’s the end of my old guy rant.