Michigan vs. Negative Denard

As I sat down in Section 9 of my living room on Saturday waiting for the game to start, I thought about what I wrote last week, that we were going to need some more Denard magic against Notre Dame in order to have a chance to win.  Little did I know both how right and how wrong I would be.  This would be the game of the Anti-Denard, oh how I wished for just a dash of Denard the Irish Killer in there somewhere.

On the offensive side of the ball, I finally started to see development of the offense like I’ve been looking for all year. Toussaint still looked timid in the first half, but came out in the second half and started to run angry.  We need a lot more of that.  We need him to glide less and run hard more. Initiate contact if necessary and drive through holes. When he runs strong he’s at his best, we haven’t seen that for most of the year. I thought the offensive line looked substantially better.  They weren’t awesome by any stretch, but there was definite improvement in both the running and passing game. The two things that stuck out like a sore thumb were some questionable play calling and the turnovers.  First, I think we pulled out every trick play out of the playbook when we didn’t need to.   We moved the ball down field and then went to a halfback pass to go to the endzone?  That play didn’t need to happen, and the turnover that resulted didn’t need to happen either. We played pretty good all the way to the red zone, but when we got to the red zone we either backed ourselves out through bad plays, or penalties, or both, and then turned the ball over.

Denard definitely was off all game.  I know there has been a lot of speculation about whether or not Denard should have been pulled in this game, but I never thought it was the right time to pull him.  I kept expecting the Denard magic, that special play he’s always managed to pull off to take over the game.  It just didn’t happen this time.  The game was never out of reach, right down to the very end, and I thought that Denard was going to find a way to pull it out for us.  I don’t think swapping in Bellomy would have given us a better chance to win, of course hindsight is more clear than any vision at the time.

On the defensive side of the ball, again, I saw a noticeable improvement.  The run defense was better.  The tackling was better.  The coverage was better.  I really felt the defense had their most cohesive game this year.  We’re going to have to see more improvement, but this was the level of improvement I’ve been looking for all year.  We actually looked like a team that could stop the run, and we managed to get our first two interceptions of the year as well. The linebackers were probably the stars of the game. The secondary and their support of the run game probably were a close second. This performance gives hope for the future against the run game in the big ten in the games to come.

Special Teams continued to be a bright spot for Team 133. I think it’s only a matter of time before Lightning strikes and Northcutt takes one to the house. I predicted it against UMass and it didn’t happen, but I think it’s coming sooner or later. We can only hope for sooner. The rest of the kicking and kick coverages were solid despite the early missed field goal. I continue to say that it feels good not to be worrying about problems every time the special teams take the field.

I’m also looking forward to seeing Northcutt start to take a few snaps on the offensive side of the ball. I think his speed could be a big bonus in helping spread defenses, which can only make the offense more dynamic. Northcutt, Funchess, Robinson, Toussaint, Gardner, Roundtree…. Those are some potent weapons.

For the first time this season, I’m looking forward to the next game, knowing we have made improvements and expecting that we can continue to improve as we progress into the big ten season. Sure we’re 2-2, but I no longer expect us to go just .500 in the B1G schedule. Section 9 will continue to be my living room for a few weeks, but I can’t wait to be back in the Big House with an opportunity to see us truly perform on the field. I believe in Denard and I think he’ll find the magic again the next time he’s on the field in the Maize and Blue. Don’t you? If you’re reading this, send a tweet or a note to your friends to point out my blog. If you have thoughts, feel free to comment. I’d love to hear what you think about my view. From Section 9, this is so long until next week. Go Blue!


This weeks game against UMass ended up with a nice “W” in the Win column, but really didn’t tell us too much about the team.  A lot of guys spent some time on the field, and later in the year, that experience could pay off.  A lot of guys found the endzone, which is also a good thing.  But in the long run, how much do you really learn about your team when you face an inferior opponent.

Obviously, you can find out if you play down to your level of competition or not.  In the long run, I don’t think we fell into this kind of trap.  I felt like we exploited the weaknesses of UMass on both sides of the ball, but I don’t think we were stellar in doing so.  I never felt like I was the kind of fan who would find himself using coach speak, but I found I had a critical eye to our mistakes, but found little joy in all of the points that we actually scored.  It actually makes it hard for me to write about this one, a 50 point victory that really felt like it proved nothing about our team.

Let’s break this down on each side of the ball.  First on the offensive side of the ball.  We racked up 585 yards of total offense.  At one point late in the game we actually had 595, but then backed up 10 yards before the end of the game.  291 yards passing, 294 yards rushing.  This seems like a nice balanced attack.  43 rushing attempts, 25 passing attempts.  Yards per rush 6.8, Yards per completion 11.6.  Those are really nice numbers.    3 Passing touchdowns, 6 rushing touchdowns.  Only Vincent Smith had more than one Touchdown on the day.  All in all these seem like great numbers.

I went back over the game log and the numbers still seem good.  9 drives for Touchdowns, 1 lost fumble, 1 pass intercepted, and 3 punts.  Yards came easily and in bunches.  In fact, we only had 1 drive of over 4 minutes and only 3 drives of over 3 minutes.  I think all of these can instill confidence, but we have to be careful that it isn’t false confidence headed into a much tougher game against a much tougher opponent.

On the defensive side of the ball, our tackling was still a little suspect at times and Michael Cox did manage to rush for 76 yards on 18 carries good enough for a 4.2 yard average against us.  Probably the most notable stat seems to be that UMass managed to beat their average yards per game in both the rushing and passing segments against us. Having a team that is ranked near the bottom of offensive yards/game categories improve their averages against you, doesn’t really bode well for the next few weeks.

On special teams we were once again solid.  Isn’t it great not to have to worry about our special teams play?  I did wonder what kind of experimenting we were doing after a while with the kickoffs and trying to land them short.  I say boot it into the endzone every time and be happy with them starting on the 25 yard line.  A lot less to worry about that way.  We didn’t get the Kickoff return I predicted by Northcutt, but as he matures and really starts to pick his lane and run, I think we’ll get one.  We might have managed to get one against UMass if there had been more than 4 kickoffs, one of which went out of bounds and wasn’t returnable.

Hopefully this gave our Offensive and Defensive lines enough time to gel together, because they are in for quite a test based on the game between MSU and ND.

So on the overall, I’d call this game mostly a non-event and a nice “W” to pad the record, but not much more.  It was good to see Michigan cover a big spread, but I wonder if there aren’t some high school teams out there that couldn’t give UMass a serious run for their money.

It’s time to see what we are made of.  Notre Dame will be a test.  They are far from being an Alabama, but we are going to have to see improvements this week to have a solid game on both sides of the ball.  All of that said, the magic called Denard could pull this game out for us, even if we don’t play well, but I believe this will be the true test that will tell us whether we can expect a 6-6 or worse record, or a 8-4 or better record.  A loss here and I think it may be tough for us to be a ranked team the rest of the year.  That’s how pivotal I think this game is.

Now for a few pictures from section 9.  Let me know if you enjoy these and they are worth posting or not.  Just leave a comment.  I also took a new header background picture that will take the place of the current header after this post.

The entrance to section 9, the slowest entry in all of the Big House

The new cover for Big House Section 9

Denard about to throw his Pick-6.

Nice blocking for a Denard run

Reading the defense…(1 of 3)

Hand the ball to Vincent Smith! (2 of 3)

results in Touchdown Michigan! (3 of 3)

Milan’s own Eric Gunderson, on the field in the 4th Quarter at Right Tackle

I wanted 600 yards of total offense on the board. When they started counting down from 595…. I took this shot!

And… It’s final! Michigan Wins!

P.S.  Looking for some professional blogging on Michigan football?  Check out http://www.thebighousereport.com where my twitter friend Joshua Henschke gives the more professional opinions!