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Final Look: Minnesota

October 9th, 2013 by Justin Potts


(MGoBlue.com)

Michigan finally played a pretty good game that resulted in a convincing win just the way it should. Now, it has a chance to go on the road and prove it’s better than it played in the two games before the bye week. But before we get there, let’s take one last look back at the big plays, numbers, stats, and observations from the 42-13 win over Minnesota.

Three big moments

1. Jibreel Black forces a fumble

Many were wondering how Michigan would respond coming out of the bye week that followed back-to-back poor performances against Akron and UConn. Just like in the first four games, Michigan kicked off to open the game, which meant the defense got a chance to set the tone. The kickoff went ominously out of bounds, giving Minnesota the ball at the 35.

On Minnesota’s first play quarterback Mitch Leidner rushed for two yards. On the second Leidner completed a pass to tight end Maxx Williams for two more. On 3rd-and-6, Leidner dropped back to pass and then pulled it down to run a draw up the middle. At first it looked like he had a hole, but Jibreel Black came around and hit him at the 35. He got his right hand on the ball, knocking it loose and James Ross recovered, giving Michigan great field position. The Wolverines punched it in six plays later to take an early 7-0 lead.

2. Funchess diving catch

Blake Countess leads the nation in interceptions and INT return yards (MGoBlue.com)

While Michigan got off to a quick start thanks to Black’s forced fumble, Minnesota did a good job of keeping Michigan’s offense off the field the rest of the first half. The ensuing Gopher possession lasted 9:44 and Michigan only got to run 17 plays the rest of the half. With a 14-7 halftime lead, Michigan needed a strong second half to put the Gophers away.

On the first possession, Michigan looked to establish the run. Fitzgerald Toussaint took the first three carries for 14, five, and eight yards, respectively, and then Derrick Green ran for nine. At the Minnesota 44, Gardner connected with Jehu Chesson for a 22-yard gain to put Michigan in field goal position. On first down from the 22, Toussaint lost a yard. On second, Gardner threw an incomplete pass setting up a critical third down. On 3rd-and-11, Gardner dropped back to pass and fired a bullet across the field, towards the pylon at the front right corner of the end zone. Devin Funchess had to come back to get it and dove from the goal line, picking the ball off the turf at the 2-yard line. The play was reviewed and remained a catch and Green punched it in on the next play to give Michigan a 14-point lead. Without the great catch, Michigan would have faced a 40-yard field goal to go ahead 17-7, leaving Minnesota still in the ball game.

3. Countess takes it home

Michigan held a 35-13 lead after Gardner ran it in from two yards out with 2:36 to play. Minnesota got the ball back looking to possibly score once more, but Blake Countess had other plans. On 1st-and-10 from the Michigan 36, Leidner threw to the left side of the field and Countess stepped in front of the receiver, picking it off at the 28. He then raced 72 yards untouched for a touchdown to bring the final score to 42-13. It was his fourth interception of the season, tying for the most nationally, and the 72 return yards combined with his previous return yards to give him the most interception return yards in the country.

The numbers game

73-24-3: Michigan’s all-time record against Minnesota

86-27: Michigan’s all-time record in homecoming games

0: The number of turnovers by Devin Gardner, marking the first turnover-free game of his career to date

9: The number of consecutive games that Gardner has recorded a rushing touchdown

21: The number of Michigan players to eclipse 2,000 career rushing yards. Fitz Toussaint became the 21st with his 78-yard game

0: The number of passes Michigan threw in the first quarter

72: The yards of Blake Countess’ interception return for touchdown, the sixth-longest in Michigan history

Drive chart
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UM
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*Hover over team initials to see drive statistics

Three observations

1. Starting strong

For the fifth consecutive game, Michigan started on defense, and for the fifth consecutive game the defense didn’t allow a point on the first possession. Opponents are averaging just 3.8 plays, 11.4 yards, and 1:35 per opening possession. What’s more is that Michigan’s offense has scored on four of the five ensuing possessions, including the blocked punt returned for touchdown following Central Michigan’s first possession. The only game that Michigan didn’t score right after holding the opponent to start the game was UConn when Devin Gardner threw an interception. Three of the four scores have been touchdowns. The other, against Akron, was a field goal. So that’s a combined 24-point lead that Michigan has taken right out of the bat despite not getting the ball to start the game.

2. Funchess out wide

Devin Funchess' move to the outside provides an instant upgrade to the receiving corps (MGoBlue.com)

Devin Funchess played much of the game lined up as a wide receiver and had the best game of his young career with seven catches for 151 yards and a touchdown. His sheer athleticism and height make him an instant mismatch for opposing defensive backs, so it’s a logical move since Michigan hasn’t found a true downfield threat this season. Funchess provides that. The return of AJ Williams and the development of freshman Jake Butt has allowed Brady Hoke and Al Borges to make this move.

Funchess has struggled with his blocking, but excels at catching the ball. Part of his decline in production as the season went on last season was because opponents knew that whenever he was in the game it was a pass. Oftentimes Michigan used that as a decoy, but it resulted in seven receptions in the final nine games after eight in the first four. Now, with the move to the outside, he can do what he does best and the offense won’t sacrifice anything to get him the ball.

3. Offensive line shuffle

Chris Bryant stepped into the starting lineup, pushing Graham Glasgow to center and Jack Miller out. The numbers don’t show any improvement – Michigan rushed for just 3.3 yards per carry – but it seemed to passed the eye test. There seemed to be a noticeable improvement. Michigan did have four negative rushes, a sack, and a fumbled snap that resulted in a loss of five, but the four negative rushes were only one-yard losses and three of them were by Green.

More importantly, Michigan had just two short drives. Look at the drive chart above and then go back and look at the drive charts from the Akron and UConn games. Those two are littered with short maize lines. The Minnesota game had just two in which Michigan didn’t pick up a first down. That’s an improvement.

In addition, the coaches moved Taylor Lewan around the line on certain plays and ran all but two runs behind him. Whether that’s something they will continue to do the rest of the season or this was just a chance to test it out remains to be seen, but he’s the start of the team and it’s always a good bet to run behind him.

Minnesota’s defense certainly wasn’t a stern test, so the real test of how much this shake-up improves the line is still to come. Penn State will be much better defensively than Minnesota was, so before we go grading the offensive line shuffle let’s wait at least another week.