Before fully moving on to Notre Dame, it’s time to take one last look at the Central Michigan game. This will be a new weekly feature that looks back at the big plays, numbers that stand out, and key stats and observations from the previous game.
1. Dymonte makes his mark
Central Michigan opened the game with a 17-yard pass for a first down at the 42-yard line. But Michigan stuffed the next three plays, forcing a Chippewa punt. Brady Hoke had planned leading up to the game to rush the first punt and it paid off. True freshman Dymonte Thomas, in his first career game, came around the left side of the CMU line, extended, and blocked the punt. Senior receiver Joe Reynolds picked it up and raced 30 yards for Michigan’s first touchdown of the season.
2. Defense holds strong
Michigan forced another Central Michigan punt on its next possession and took over on its own 7-yard line. Coaches, players, and fans alike were eager to see the Michigan offense in action for the first time this season, but after an incomplete pass to Devin Funchess, Devin Gardner was intercepted by defensive back Jarret Chapman. This gave the Chips possession at the Michigan six.
The defense looked fast, strong, and deep despite being young (MGoBlue.com)
On the first play, quarterback Alex Niznak rushed for a yard. On the second, Zurlon Tipton rushed for three to the Michigan two. On third and goal, Tipton was stopped at the one. While trying to decide whether or not to go for it, Central was assessed a delay of game penalty, moving them back to the six and resulting in a field goal. Instead of tying the game at seven, Central pulled within four at 7-3 and that was as close as the Chips would get all night.
3. Freshmen march down the field
With the game in hand midway through the third quarter, Hoke pulled the starters and put in the heralded freshmen. Shane Morris took over under center and the running back duo of Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith took turns in the backfield. It was the moment Michigan fans had been waiting for as the Big House crowd cheered loudly when they took the field.
Starting on the Michigan 45, Morris proceeded to hand the ball off 10 straight times and Green and Smith did the work. Five yards for green, then two yards, then a 30-yard romp to the CMU 18 on 3rd-and-3. Then it was Smith’s turn, going for four yards, then three, then Green again on 3rd-and-3, picking up a yard. On 4th-and-2 it was time to see if Green’s big frame was all it was cracked up to be. He picked up seven, setting up a 1st-and-goal. Smith rushed twice for three yards each to the CMU 1-yard line and the battering ram, Green, hammered it in for his first career score. It put Michigan ahead 49-6, but it might have been the most fun drive of the day.
The feat will be much harder against the likes of Notre Dame, and no one wants to see Morris taking snaps this season in meaningful situations, but for a season opener, watching the heralded freshmen march right down the field was a sight to behold. With the loss of Drake Johnson for the season, Green and Smith moved up the depth chart going forward.
110-21-3: Michigan’s all-time record in season openers
3-4: Brady Hoke’s career record against Central Michigan after Saturday’s win
Nov. 20, 2010: Michigan’s last loss at Michigan Stadium, a span of 15 straight games
6: The number of players that started their first career game on Saturday (Graham Glasgow, Jack Miller, Kyle Kalis, Keith Heitzman, Josh Furman, and Jarrod Wilson)
27: The number of players that played in their first career game on Saturday (Blake Bard, Ben Braden, Chris Bryant, Jake Butt, Taco Charlton, Jehu Chesson, Jeremy Clark, Brian Cleary, Bo Dever, Ben Gedeon, Ryan Glasgow, Matthew Godin, Derrick Green, Willie Henry, Delano Hill, Michael Jocz, Drake Johnson, Jourdan Lewis, Erik Magnuson, Shane Morris, Ben Pliska, De’Veon Smith, Channing Stribling, Tom Strobel, Dymonte Thomas, Csont’e York)
59: The most points Michigan has scored in a season opener since beating Ohio Wesleyan 65-0 in 1905
213: The number of career points scored by Brendan Gibbons, passing Rick Leach and Ali Haji-Sheikh for 14th all-time
105: Consecutive extra points made by Brendan Gibbons
14: Consecutive field goals made by Brendan Gibbons, tying a Michigan record
27: Consecutive games in which Jeremy Gallon has recorded a catch
2009: The last time Michigan blocked a punt for a touchdown
4: The number of sacks recorded by the Michigan defense, which equaled last season’s best against Ohio State
*Hover over team initials to see drive statistics
One of the most notable aspects of Michigan’s win was the depth the Wolverines have at most positions. Hoke’s great recruiting classes are starting to pay off, and while there’s still a long way to go to reach Alabama levels of depth, it’s nice to see so many players rotating in and out without a noticeable drop off in talent or production.
However, most of that depth is still very, very young. Hoke said in the postgame press conference that 36 of the 68 players that dressed on Saturday were either first or second year players. In total, 61 of Michigan’s 82 players on scholarship are freshmen or sophomores and 11 true freshmen saw the field. That means there may be some regression as the year goes on, especially in big games, but the future of this team is virtually limitless.
Despite two interceptions, Devin Gardner has a lot of upside (MGoBlue.com)
2. The running game still has work to do
Michigan rushed for 242 yards, averaging 5.1 yards per carry, both of which are better than Central Michigan allowed last season. Both are also better than Michigan State managed against CMU last season (173 yards on 4.2 ypc). But Fitzgerald Toussaint averaged just 4.1 yards per carry in two and a half quarters of work, and Michigan’s 5.1 average was aided by several big runs.
Removing Devin Gardner’s rushing, the three other 20-plus-yard runs, Michigan’s running backs averaged just 2.8 yards per carry on 36 runs. Toussaint had a 20-yard gain, Green had a 30-yard romp, and Dennis Norfleet raced 38 yards, all of which helped balloon the rushing numbers. Obviously, big plays are part of the overall total, but you don’t want the run game to be dependent on big runs. It worked against Central Michigan, but will it work against the Notre Dames, Michigan States, and Ohio States of the world? We’ll find out this Saturday.
3. Devin Gardner’s decision-making
A lot has been made about Gardner’s tendency to make poor decisions, especially in the wake of a two-interception game on Saturday. But I’m not as down on him as most are at this point. The first pick was a bad decision, especially in Michigan’s own red zone, and thankfully didn’t cost the team like it likely would have against a better opponent. But Gardner said himself that he was pretty nervous at the beginning of the game. Michael Schofield also said Devin seemed to settle down on the third drive. I chalk that one up to first game nerves and expect that Gardner will have a better handle on those going forward.
On the second interception, Gardner had Jehu Chesson wide open on the right side of the field, but didn’t look his way, choosing to throw deep to a covered Jeremy Gallon instead. I kind of expected this at the beginning of the season with Gallon – and to some extent Drew Dileo – as Gardner’s crutch until other receivers step up. Gardner has a lot of trust in Gallon to make plays, and in circumstances like this one, he might force the ball to Gallon when he should look him off and find someone else. That will come in time when Chesson, Joe Reynolds, and others develop chemistry with Gardner.
In addition, Gardner will continue to develop. Let’s not forget that was just his sixth career start. He will progress as the season goes along and this Saturday will be his a great chance to show that.