Previously: Michigan offense
Posts Tagged ‘Donovan Warren’
Since defense has been historically bad the past couple of years, and was the downfall of Rodriguez and the ultimate reason for the hiring of Hoke and Mattison, we’ll meet the defensive commits first.
Hoke and his staff hit the recruiting trails hard in the two weeks between his hiring and National Signing Day. As he said in today’s presser, he personally visited all but two of the 20 commits. The class is defense-heavy, as it should be considering the state of Michigan’s defense the past couple seasons.
I feel like the three defensive ends are essentially the same player, as are most of the defensive backs, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Building depth is vital to the success of the defense in the coming years, as we saw this past season when Donovan Warren went to the NFL, Troy Woolfolk missed the season with injury, and J.T. Floyd missed half the season. The one position that was missed was defensive tackle. Tim Jernigan, who ended up at Florida State, would have been a huge pickup for the class, but it will have to be a position of focus for the 2012 class.
I’m most excited about Poole, Morgan, and Countess on this side of the ball. They’re probably best suited to become All-Conference contributors during their careers.
I’ll give the defense a C because, while it did fill needs for future depth, the highest-rated player was Countess, which ESPN rated #133 overall. Michigan wasn’t even a factor on National Signing Day for the ESPN 150. Some of that was due to the coaching swich, while some can be attributed to Michigan’s record. I believe that will change next season with Hoke and Mattison focusing on defense.
Tomorrow we’ll take a look at the offensive commitments.
As the 130th season of Michigan football comes to an end, it’s time to reflect on what we saw and look forward to next year and beyond.
2009 yielded some highlights and some lowlights, some controversy and some challenged loyalty. A legend was made and some buds blossomed. Records fell, both good and bad, and a system started to show some promise.
No one knew what to expect from this year’s version of Michigan football in Rich Rodriguez’s second year at the helm.
The overly optimistic among us predicted a breakout season of nine or ten wins.
Realistic optimists pointed to Rodriguez’s penchant for second-year turnarounds and predicted a record of 7-5 or maybe, if luck goes the way of the maize and blue, 8-4.
Realists pointed to the true freshmen quarterbacks and lack of overall talent on the squad and predicted a 5-7 or 6-6 finish.
As it turns out, the realists were right, but the realistic optimists weren’t too far off.
The fact of the matter is, Michigan fans were so shell-shocked from the worst record in 46 years in 2008 that we were looking anywhere we could for hope.
We ignored comments that Rodriguez made in the preseason such as, “There’s still going to be some transition. We’re going to play a lot more freshmen and redshirt freshmen than we would like to.”
We thought, sure there will be a lot of freshmen playing, but Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson are surely better options than Steven Threet and Nick Sheridan. Or, yeah, but it can’t get any worse than last season.
In this space, I offered some words of caution: “Coming off a season that resulted in the most losses in school history, and pinning all hopes on a true freshman quarterback, this seems to be the window of opportunity before Rodriguez’s system begins to take hold and terrorize the Big Ten.”
But then I followed it up with an overly ambitious response: “However, I think we’re going to see a very fast, well-conditioned and much-improved Michigan team playing with a chip on its shoulder to avoid being put to rest again.”
While that may have held true for a while, reality eventually sunk in that this team was indeed loaded with youth and razor-thin on the depth chart.
What began in August as optimism and eagerness to forget the epic disaster of 2008, quickly turned to scorn as the Detroit Free Press brought into question allegations of NCAA infractions on the part of Rodriguez and his coaching staff.
The opening game against Western Michigan couldn’t come soon enough. We cursed Michael Rosenberg and Mark Snyder for the timing of their article and the witch-hunt that ensued and we promised to get revenge on Justin Boren, who transferred to Ohio State, for his comments that seemed to be the centerpiece of that article.
And then the season began and practice time was forgotten and the story of Shoelace became one we would hear every game the entire season (as my wife would roll her eyes every time the announcers felt compelled to tell the story of why Denard Robinson doesn’t tie his shoes…every…single…game).
Robinson thrilled us with a 43-yard touchdown run, Tate Forcier showed promise in his first game by throwing for three touchdowns, Junior Hemingway caught nearly half his season total in receiving yards (103) and all of his touchdowns (two), and the defense shut down what many thought would be a high-powered offense.
We saw a show of solidarity for Rodriguez, Michigan won easily, and the season started off with a bang.
The came Notre Dame, fresh off of throttling Nevada, and riding preseason BCS bowl (or national championship game) predictions.
This will go down as the game that raised all of our expectations, mostly because no one knew at that time how mediocre Notre Dame really was.
It appeared to be Rodriguez’s signature win, as Michigan matched Notre Dame score-for-score and Forcier stunned the 18th-ranked Irish with 11 seconds left.
Forcier looked as veteran and composed as ND junior quarterback Jimmy Clausen, completing 23-of-33 for 240 yards and three touchdowns (one rushing). It’s hard to imagine that that would be the high point of his season, in just his second collegiate game.
Of course, there was the Armando Allen out-of-bounds play, which, despite the evidence , Notre Dame fans will carry to their graves in contempt.
The win over Notre Dame vaulted Michigan into the Top 25 heading into week three against Eastern Michigan. Former Michigan defensive coordinator Ron English brought his Eagles to Ann Arbor and didn’t provide much of a test.
Michigan showed off its running game this time, going for 380 yards on the ground, and getting 163 yards and two touchdowns on just eight carries from Carlos Brown in the first half alone.
Robinson scored two more touchdowns to enhance the unrealistic expectations for a guy that arrived on campus less than two months earlier.
Michigan then opened the Big Ten slate with Indiana in what would eventually be the battle for last place. At the time, though, Michigan was hoping to get to 4-0 heading into its intrastate rivalry battle in East Lansing.
This game provided our first glimpse of what the rest of the season would hold, as Michigan struggled to beat the Hoosiers, needing a 26-yard touchdown pass from Forcier to Martavious Odoms with 2:29 remaining to get the win.
The Indiana victory prompted me to draw a comparison to the New York Jets, who like Michigan, started off hot with a rookie quarterback: “Following Sunday’s Jets-Titans game, Vic Carucci of NFL.com asked Jets safety Kerry Rhodes if he thought the Jets’ style of play was sustainable. Rhodes replied that he thought it was because having such a good defense allows rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez to make some mistakes.
“Unfortunately, that won’t exactly translate to Michigan. While I think Michigan’s offense is further along in its development than Sanchez’s Jets offense, relatively speaking, Michigan hasn’t faced its toughest opponents yet.”
I provided the last part of that quote because I knew we were in for a tough go the rest of the season. I didn’t know, however, that that would be our last win over a FBS team all season. Ironically, Michigan’s fall has mirrored the Jets’ collapse.
At 4-0, a return to a bowl game looked assured, and Michigan entered “Little Brother” week seeking to avenge last season’s 35-21 loss to Michigan State.
It was the first road game of Forcier’s career and we saw the fist true test of the season, as the Michigan offense was shut down much of the game. But Forcier continued his early-season magic, leading a 14-point comeback to force overtime with a touchdown completion to Roy Roundtree with just two seconds left.
In overtime, Forcier was intercepted on a tipped pass that never should have been thrown, and Michigan dropped its second in a row to Michigan State for the first time since 1967.
|Michigan Streaks Broken in 2009|
|First back-to-back losses to Michigan State since 1967|
|First home loss to Penn State since 1996|
|First home loss to Purdue in last 17 meetings|
|First back-to-back losing seasons since 1963-62|
This began a run of snapping streaks right and left.
With its first loss of the season under its belt, Michigan traveled to Iowa for a prime-time night game against the nation’s 12th-ranked Hawkeyes.
Brandon Minor had his breakout game of the season, scoring two touchdowns against a defense that hadn’t given up a rushing touchdown in 33 quarters.
The game started out as well as one could ask, as Donovan Warren picked off the first pass of the game and returned it for a touchdown.
Michigan hung around until a muffed punt (hello 2008!) gave Iowa the ball at the Michigan 16. Iowa punched it in and took a 30-21 lead.
Robinson led the offense down the field for a touchdown to narrow the gap, but on the next possession, threw an interception to end the game, beginning the Wolverine-faithful’s love-hate relationship with Denard.
Despite a second-straight loss, Michigan fans were encouraged that the team was able to hang with undefeated Iowa until the last minute of the game, and a return to the Big House to face an FCS school was just what Michigan needed to regroup.
Michigan was able to set numerous school records in the win over Delaware State that week and give many starters a week off.
Five Wolverines scored their first career touchdowns and Robinson was able to get a lot of work at quarterback.
Michigan fans even got the treat of seeing Nick Sheridan on the field without the game on the line.
Many fans didn’t like the idea of playing an FCS school, but following the game, I proclaimed, “I have no problem with Michigan playing Delaware State this year. With a roster comprised of mostly underclassmen, and a complete overhaul in progress, playing an FCS opponent was better than a bye week in my opinion.
|Michigan Records Set vs. Delaware State|
|727 total yards of offense|
|442 yards in the first half|
|28 points in the first quarter (ties record)|
|57 point margin of victory (most since 58-0 win over Indiana on Oct. 14, 2000)|
|461 rushing yards (most since 480 vs. Iowa on Oct. 3, 1992)|
|49 first half points (most since 55 vs. Chicago on Oct. 21, 1939)|
“I would love to see Michigan start scheduling another tough out-of-conference game every year, but at this point in the development of Rich Rodriguez’s scheme, it’s not time for that just yet.
“Once the team grows up and the spread-n-shred is fully ingrained, I hope the schedule will be strengthened. But when you have Florida, arguably the nation’s top team and reigning national champion, playing Charleston Southern, Troy and Florida International, one must look that way first before pointing fingers at the baby Wolverines.”
I still believe it was okay to play Delaware State this season, but obviously with the way Michigan finished the season the benefits weren’t as great as I thought.
At 5-2, Michigan looked primed to make a bowl game, needing just one more win in its final five games.
Penn State came to town and dominated Michigan, racking up 396 yards of offense, and handing Michigan its first true beating of the season.
For really the first time all season, Forcier looked like a true freshman, completing just 13-of-30 passes for 140 yards. The offense couldn’t get anything going in the cold, rainy conditions.
Michigan wasn’t expected to win this one, and despite the 25-point whooping, I considered this result somewhat of a fluke and still didn’t believe the team was as bad as the final record would eventually indicate.
Following the Penn State game, doomsday headlines abounded, and I cautioned fans not to listen to them.
As it turns out, they were right.
Michigan traveled to Champaign, Ill. for a match-up with 1-6 Illinois, a game that looked like a sure-win.
This one will forever be remembered as the epic collapse, and probably the turning point of the whole season. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bigger turnaround before.
Michigan was firmly in control with a 13-7 lead and first and goal at the Illinois one-yard line in the third quarter. After stuffing Michigan on four straight rushes, Illinois took possession and seized the game.
Six plays later, a 70-yard touchdown run put Illinois ahead 14-13 and Illinois never looked back, out-scoring Michigan 24-0 the rest of the way.
At this point in the season, confidence in a bowl game turned into hoping to squeeze out a win in one of the final three games. The best hope was the following week against Purdue.
Perhaps hope is the wrong word against Purdue, as Boilermaker head coach Danny Hope carried a grudge into the game, blaming Rodriguez for getting one of his players suspended for a game earlier in the season – nevermind that the player deserved to be suspended just as much as Michigan linebacker Jonas Mouton did the week before that.
This game was much like the Illinois game, where Michigan was in control and let it get away. Michigan led 24-10 at halftime and pushed it to 30-17 in the third, but a 91-yard touchdown drive, an on-side kick, and a 54-yard touchdown pass later, and Michigan found itself trailing 31-30.
Michigan missed a 43-yard field goal and failed to convert a two-point conversion attempt that would have tied the game, and Michigan fell by two.
Michigan traveled to Wisconsin for its final road game of the season, still needing a win to become bowl-eligible.
This game followed the mold of the past couple, as Michigan hung around through three quarters, but faded down the stretch.
Forcier bounced back from some poor outings to complete 20-of-26 passes for 188 yards and two touchdowns, but it was the defense that couldn’t hold up against a powerful Wisconsin running game.
Although Michigan knew Wisconsin was going to run it in the second half, it still couldn’t stop the Badgers.
The bowl hopes all came down to the final week of the season against Ohio State, as Michigan looked to end its five game losing streak to the Buckeyes.
Though many around the nation talked of the lack of luster in the rivalry, the game still had plenty of storylines with Michigan needing a win to make a bowl and avoid a second straight losing season, Ohio State needing a win to capture the Big Ten title outright, and Justin Boren playing against his former team in the Big House.
The Michigan defense played inspired and turned in its best performance of the season, holding the Ohio State offense to just 14 points.
However, it was the youth of Michigan’s offensive leader that doomed the Wolverines’ chances of playing through the holidays.
Forcier turned the ball over five times, including a fumble in the end zone on Michigan’s first possession, which Ohio State recovered for a touchdown.
Michigan moved the ball most of the day against an Ohio State defense that ranks as one of the best in the nation. But it was unable to capitalize on trips to the red zone, turning the ball over too many times.
So as Michigan’s season came to an abrupt end for the second year in a row, many want to know where do we go from here?
Indeed, there are many questions that need to be answered, but I’m in the minority who still believes the program is on the right track.
Stay tuned for part two where I will look at the future of the football program, both short-term and long-term, as well as the recruiting class Michigan has coming in and who is still out there that Rodriguez needs to land.
With the calls for Rich Rodriguez’s firing growing louder each week, and the threat of a second straight losing season, Michigan enters Ohio State week in what could be the most important game for the Wolverines in the history of the rivalry.
Sure, there was the “Game of the Century” in 2006 when both teams entered the game undefeated and ranked 1st and 2nd in the nation.
Sure, there was 1997 when Michigan needed a win to advance to the National Championship game.
Sure, there was the huge upset of No. 1 Ohio State in Bo Schembechler’s first season in 1969, a year after Ohio State drubbed Michigan 50-14, to claim a share of the Big Ten title.
But Saturday could be more important for the future of the Michigan football program than any of those.
No, there isn’t a Big Ten title on the line or a BCS berth to play for.
But for a young Michigan team struggling to find its identity in the midst of the most dramatic change to the program in decades, a win over Ohio State on Saturday would have huge ramifications for the future.
First and foremost, a win would make Michigan bowl-eligible. Though not guaranteed a bowl invitation with a 6-6 record, Michigan is almost certain to get one given its prestige and fan following.
Even if it is the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl (formerly known as the Motor City Bowl) it would be a tremendous boost to the program for the extra practice time and national exposure.
The regular season ends this Saturday, Nov. 22. The Little Caesars Pizza Bowl is held on Dec. 26, so Michigan would essentially have an extra month of practice. For a young and developing team, that extra practice time would be invaluable.
Many of the freshmen only had a month of practice time before the season started. Tate Forcier and a few others left high school early to enroll in January and participate in spring practice.
But most, including quarterback Denard Robinson, arrived just in time for fall camp on Aug. 10 and opened the season against Western Michigan on Sept. 5.
During the season, there isn’t much the team can work on as it prepares for each opponent week-to-week. Much of Rodriguez’s system was installed in fall practice to get ready for the season.
During game weeks, the practices are spent working on getting ready for that week’s opponent and fine-tuning certain details. Various players miss practices every week because of injury, stinting their learning ability and practice time.
New wrinkles may be installed or specific plays that the coaching staff thinks can exploit the opponent can be put in, but the vast majority of what the players learn (the schemes, the playbook, the fundamentals) is learned during fall practice.
That’s why many times a team can look quite different in a bowl game than it did during the regular season, because that month of practice serves as another fall camp.
Injured players get healthy, new plays and schemes are installed and practiced until they become second nature, and confidence is gained while the losses of the season are forgotten.
Look no further than Michigan in 2007, for example. The team, in Lloyd Carr’s final season, sputtered to an 8-4 regular season record. It endured a humiliating home loss to Appalachian State, a blowout at the hands of Oregon, and got shut down by Ohio State.
In the bowl game, the Capital One Bowl against a 9-3 Florida team led by Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow, Michigan showed a much more dynamic and diverse offense than it had all season, winning 41-35.
It left Michigan fans wondering what could have been had Michigan played that way all season and also excited about the future of that style of offense once Rodriguez was hired.
And while Rodriguez’s offense has shown great promise and flashes of brilliance at times this season, it’s still plagued by inexperience.
A bowl game and the extra month of practice time would do wonders for this young and developing team.
In addition to the extra practice time, making it to a bowl game will give Michigan exposure on a national stage during the holidays at a time when everybody is watching, and a chance to finish on a high note heading into the off-season.
Nobody wants to endure eight months of misery like what followed Michigan’s 3-9 season a year ago. By finishing the season with a win over Ohio State and a bowl game, Michigan fans will be excited about 2010, and the players will be confident heading into the off-season.
The second reason Saturday’s game is so important is that beating Ohio State would help with recruiting. Michigan has quite a few visitors coming to Ann Arbor for official visits.
A chance to see Michigan beat its major rival in the Big House on the final week of the season would go a long way toward helping a recruit tip the scales in Michigan’s favor.
Eight of Michigan’s 24 commitments in the 2007 class were in attendance for the Michigan-Ohio State game in the Big House that year.
And while Michigan didn’t win that game, it wasn’t quite in the dire situation it is in now with a need for talent, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
If Michigan lays an egg against Ohio State and boos rain down from the stands, the attending recruits won’t have as good an experience as if Michigan pulls off the big win.
Some of the visitors expected to be in attendance on Saturday include: Chula Vista, Calif. four-star linebacker/safety Tony Jefferson; Pittsburgh four-star cornerback Cullen Christian; Jacksonville, Fla., four-star safety Rashad Knight; Detroit four-star cornerback Dior Mathis; and Eagle Lake, Fla., four-star safety/linebacker Marvin Robinson.
Robinson is already committed to Michigan, but has talked in the past few months about visiting other schools. A big win and a great experience on Saturday could help solidify his commitment.
Jefferson is currently committed to UCLA, and is visiting Florida next weekend, so showing him what it’s like to beat Ohio State in the Big House could go a long way toward stealing him.
Christian is also a prized recruit, since he’s a cornerback, a position Michigan really needs to fill, due to the dismissal of Boubacar Cissoko and possible departure of Donovan Warren to the NFL.
He has already visited UCLA and West Virginia (and possibly Pittsburgh), so Michigan has a chance wrap up his commitment with a great showing on Saturday.
Michigan needs to make this weekend special with a glimpse of what the future holds for the program and show these kids that despite the recent struggles, the program is heading in the right direction.
The third reason a win over Ohio State on Saturday would be huge for Michigan is for the support of Rodriguez and a reward for the senior class.A win won’t completely erase the anti-Rodriguez sentiment, but it will at least quiet down until next season and win back some of those who have turned against him.
His 8-15 overall record and 3-12 Big Ten record includes just one win over Michigan’s big three rivals (and that was Notre Dame this season).
That stat alone has caused much of the friction among Michigan fans, since one of their main charges against Carr was that he couldn’t beat Ohio State once Jim Tressel arrived in Columbus in 2001.
Winning on Saturday would make Rodriguez 2-4 in that category, but more importantly, give Michigan its first win over the Buckeyes since 2003.
In addition to helping quell the Rodriguez detractors, a win would give the senior class its first win over Ohio State.
Guys like Brandon Minor, Carlos Brown, Brandon Graham, Stevie Brown, Greg Mathews, and Zoltan Mesko, who hung around through the coaching change, deserve a big win to cap off their careers.
Some of them (Graham and Mesko, at least) have bright futures ahead of them in the NFL and have played hard without complaining all season, despite not being Rodriguez’s recruits.
While “deserve” might not be the right word, since nothing in life is deserved, it would be a major disappointment for those guys to go their entire career without beating Ohio State.
A loss would end Michigan’s season at 5-7 (its second straight losing season) and give Ohio State its sixth straight victory in the rivalry.
It would send Michigan home for the holidays and keep the senior class winless against the Buckeyes.
It would leave feelings of despair and depression among Michigan fans worldwide until next fall.
It could prevent some highly-touted and much-needed recruits from choosing to play football at Michigan, and therefore, stunting the growth process even further.
So while many of the previous 105 games in the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry have featured higher stakes in terms of championships, this Saturday’s game could be the most important game in the history of the rivalry for Michigan.
So let’s hope that everyone is all in for Rodriguez and the senior class when toe meets leather at high noon on Saturday.
The last time Michigan played a game on Halloween, it survived a scare from Minnesota in the Metrodome in 1998, winning 15-10, thanks in part to career days by quarterback Tom Brady and receiver Tai Streets.
This time, 11 years later, Michigan is looking for its first Big Ten win in five weeks, and Rich Rodriguez’s first Big Ten win in October as Michigan head coach.
Thankfully, the opponent is Illinois, which isn’t scaring anybody this season.
Ron Zook’s squad has won just one game this season, over Illinois State, and ranks last in the conference in scoring offense (16.1 points per game) and scoring defense (27.7 ppg).
Quarterback Juice Williams was supposed to blossom into a star in this, his senior season, but instead ranks last in the Big Ten in passing efficiency.
Williams has thrown for just 963 yards this season with four touchdowns and five interceptions, while rushing for just 277 yards (3.1 yards per carry) and two touchdowns.
He’s been so disappointing that Zook is planning to rotate redshirt freshman Jacob Charest into the game.
“Everybody says they don’t want to be a two-quarterback system, and I’d be another one to say that,” Zook said on Tuesday. “But a lot of people do it and a lot of people have success with it. I think the thing we’re trying to do, just like everyone else, is to do the thing that’s best for us and what gives us the best opportunity to win.”
Charest got his first collegiate action last week against Purdue, completing four of eight passes for 52 yards.
While Charest isn’t a huge threat to Michigan himself, as a traditional drop-back passer, the combination of Charest and Williams could be the spark Illinois needs to even the playing field.
If Illinois is able to keep the struggling and injury-plagued Michigan defense on its heels with the quarterback rotation, it could be a long day for Michigan.
So that brings me to my first key of the game for Michigan:
Exercise the demons
Even though Williams is struggling this season, he had a monster game in Ann Arbor last season. He dominated the Michigan defense, throwing for 310 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for 121 yards and two more en route to a 45-20 win.
In the final few years of the Lloyd Carr regime, mobile quarterbacks were a thorn in the side. That should change under Rodriguez eventually, but not quite yet.
The Michigan defense has been tough up front, but the linebacker and secondary play have been poor all season, with the exception of junior Donovan Warren.
Illinois also has perhaps the best all-around receiver in the conference, in junior Arrelious Benn. Although Benn has just 25 catches for 287 yards and no touchdowns this season, the Michigan secondary will have to be careful not to give up the big play.
Big plays have hurt Michigan all season. The defense has given up seven scoring plays of 20 yards or more, including a 60-yard touchdown pass last week against Penn State.
In last season’s match-up, Williams connected on touchdowns passes of 57 and 77 yards.
Can Michigan’s defense finally come together for the final four games of the season? It’s a tall task, especially against a quarterback it hasn’t stopped in three years, but maybe this is the game it finally steps up.
More trick, less treat
In five wins, Michigan is even in turnovers, giving away seven, while taking away seven. But in three losses, Michigan has treated its opponents to 11, while gaining just four.
Michigan ranks last in the Big Ten in turnover margin at minus seven.
In its two biggest games, against Iowa and Penn State, Michigan coughed the ball up nine times. It’s nearly impossible to win against anybody when you do that.
Illinois isn’t much better, having a minus-five turnover margin in Big Ten games, but it really all comes down to Michigan taking care of the ball.
Suck the blood out of the Illinois rush defense
Michigan has the best rushing offense in the Big Ten, at 219.4 yards per game, while Illinois’ defense ranks worst in the conference, giving up 185.3 yards per game on the ground.Michigan was able to run fairly effectively against Iowa and Penn State, but those defenses were much better took advantage of Michigan’s turnovers.
Seniors Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown should be healthy and ready to go, and need to feast on the Illini defense more often than in past games.
Minor averages just over 11 carries per game and Brown just over seven. The duo needs to get the ball more often to punish the weak Illinois rush defense and cut down on the potential mistakes made by freshmen quarterbacks Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson.
Michigan has to win this game to have any chance at making this a successful season. It currently stands at 5-3, and a win tomorrow would make it bowl eligible, an important step in the growth process of Rodriguez’s system.
Seven wins would be ideal, but losing this game would make a winning season hard to reach, with a visit to Wisconsin and home games against Purdue and Ohio State to finish the season.
Memorial Stadium in Champaign will surely be ready for a Halloween game and a chance to knock off Michigan for the second straight year, but Michigan should be able to run the ball well enough to score some points and control the clock.
Minor and Brown will combine for three touchdowns in leading Michigan to a win.
Prediction: Michigan 31 – Illinois 20
In the week leading up to the Indiana game, Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez said that he would like to get to the point where the team could play poorly and still win. On Saturday, he got his wish.
Michigan, at times, looked like last year’s Michigan team, not taking care of the ball, picking up penalties and failing to take advantage of opportunities.
In the end, however, Michigan was able to pull out a win in its first Big Ten conference battle of the season to keep its unbeaten record intact.
But how did Michigan pull out a win in a game in which it was out-gained by nearly 100 total yards, lost the turnover battle, and was held well below its per-game rushing average?
First of all, the play of Michigan’s special teams went a long way towards helping secure the win.
Zoltan Mesko showed why he began the season on everyone’s Ray Guy Award watch list. The senior punter booted seven punts for an average of 48.1 yards per punt (46.6 net average).
Four of Mesko’s punts sailed past 50 yards and two were downed inside the 20, including one that pinned Indiana at its own two-yard line early in the third quarter.
In comparison, Indiana punter Chris Hagerup averaged just 37 yards per punt (36 net), or a difference of 10 yards per change of possession.
In addition to Mesko’s punts, sophomore receiver Darryl Stonum did an admirable job of returning kicks, constantly giving Michigan good field position to start drives.
Michigan’s average starting field position following kickoffs was its own 36-yard line. Conversely, Indiana’s was its own 27 – a difference of nine yards.
That shouldn’t be overlooked, since many of Stonum’s returns were brought out of the end zone from a few yards deep. Had he taken a knee, Michigan would have had a much longer field to work with.
Secondly, Michigan’s defense stepped up in the second half, keeping Indiana out of the end zone except for an 85-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
This has become a trend so far this season, and I think it says a lot about the coaching staff’s ability to make halftime adjustments.
In Week 2, Notre Dame moved the ball at will in the first half, racking up 295 yards and 20 points. That included scoring drives of 10 plays, 69 yards (missed field goal); eight plays, 56 yards; seven plays, 76 yards; and seven plays 69 yards.
In the second half Notre Dame had just one long scoring drive (14 plays, 80 yards). The other touchdown came as a result of a short field, following an interception at the Michigan 36.
The next week, Eastern Michigan moved the ball pretty well in the first half. Scoring drives of eight plays, 49 yards and 11 plays, 79 yards allowed EMU to hang with Michigan at the half.
In the second half, Michigan’s defense stiffened, allowing just one long drive (15 plays, 55 yards), which Michigan stopped on downs at its five-yard line.
This past week, against Indiana, Michigan allowed 270 yards and 23 points in the first half. In the second, Indiana still gained 224 yards, but 85 came on one long touchdown run. The main thing is that Michigan kept Indiana out of the end zone, with the exception of that one run.
The Hoosiers had a drive of 12 plays, 72 yards that resulted in a field goal and a drive of 11 plays, 52 yards resulting in a missed field goal. Other than that, Michigan forced two three-and-outs and picked off a pass to seal the game.
In the past three games, it seems that Michigan’s defense hasn’t been able to stop anybody in the first half, but has been able to make the necessary adjustments at halftime.
After the Eastern Michigan game, Donovan Warren and Ryan Van Bergen both mentioned that opponents have shown some looks that they hadn’t seen on film, which explains why Michigan has had some trouble getting stops in the first half.
Once the coaches have time to regroup at halftime, they are able to make the necessary adjustments to make the difference in the second half.
Finally, the offense has shown a propensity for fast starts and clutch play down the stretch.
In all four games so far, Michigan has scored at least 10 points in the first quarter. In three of the four, Michigan scored on its first possession (two touchdowns and a field goal).
In the only game in which Michigan didn’t, against Notre Dame, it scored on its second possession and returned a kickoff for a touchdown the next time it got the ball.
Fast starts have allowed Michigan to stay in the game until halftime when the coaches can make their defensive adjustments.
In the second half, while Michigan’s defense has been able to slow down opposing offenses, its own offense has started slowly, but made big plays when it needed to.
Against Notre Dame, Michigan trailed 20-17 at halftime. The defense shut down Notre Dame in the third quarter, while the offense took a 31-20 lead.
In the fourth quarter, Notre Dame’s potent offense battled back to pull ahead 34-31. But then freshman quarterback Tate Forcier led the offense down the field on a nine play, 57-yard touchdown drive to seal the win.
The next week, against Eastern Michigan, Michigan led 24-17 at halftime. In the second half, the defense shut down Eastern while the offense got off to a slow start with two punts. Then, Michigan scored on three of its next four possessions to pull away.
Against Indiana, the offense came through in the clutch once again, using fourth quarter touchdown drives of 13 plays, 75 yards and eight plays, 52 yards to out-gun the Hoosiers.
Two game-winning drives in final minutes in four games. Can Michigan keep it up?
Following Sunday’s Jets-Titans game, Vic Carucci of NFL.com asked Jets safety Kerry Rhodes if he thought the Jets’ style of play was sustainable. Rhodes replied that he thought it was because having such a good defense allows rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez to make some mistakes.
Unfortunately, that won’t exactly translate to Michigan. While I think Michigan’s offense is further along in its development than Sanchez’s Jets offense, relatively speaking, Michigan hasn’t faced its toughest opponents yet.
Notre Dame had one of the best offenses Michigan will face all season, but its defense ranks 94th in total defense through four games.
Forcier has won the hearts of Michigan fans across the country with his poise and game-winning drives, but he is also starting to show his true freshman side. He threw an interception against Indiana that never should have been thrown.
He also suffered a shoulder sprain against Indiana. Rodriguez said Forcier will be ready to go this weekend, but he could be one hard hit or one bad fall away from wearing street clothes on the sidelines.
I’m not trying to be a downer, but I do think expectations should be tempered. As great as it is to have a 4-0 record and be ranked No. 22 in the nation, we have to realize that the meat of the schedule starts now.
This week is the first road test for the young guns, and Michigan State will be hungry to avenge its disappointing 1-3 start.
If Forcier’s shoulder can’t hold up, and you can bet Michigan State defenders will be gunning for him, Denard Robinson will find himself in sole possession of the offense.
Robinson has played well in limited time, but hasn’t truly been in control of the offense yet this season. He led the team down the field on a touchdown drive against Indiana, but most of what he’s been asked to do is run the ball.
Don’t get me wrong, his quickness and elusiveness is fun to watch and tough to stop, but can it sustain the offense for an entire game?
Should Michigan get by Michigan State, it faces what could be its biggest test of the season when it travels to Iowa City for a prime-time battle with Iowa. The Hawkeyes entered the AP Top 25 at No. 13 this week after upsetting No. 4 Penn State on Saturday.
Delaware State the following week will be the final breather before Michigan finishes with No. 15 Penn State, at Illinois, home against Purdue, at 4-0 Wisconsin, and then back home to battle No. 9 Ohio State.
The road only gets tougher from here and in the coming weeks, we’re going to get a good look at how far along this team really is.
Nevertheless, Michigan stands at 4-0 (1-0 in the Big Ten) and is well on its way to getting back to national prominence.