On Saturday evening, I settled onto the couch to watch the opener between Michigan and Alabama. To be honest, my predicted score was 35-31 Alabama. My prediction was based on the fact that I was nervous about our Defensive Line, but felt that we would be able to score points against an Alabama defense that had new faces at just about every position. I was wrong!
One thing you’ll figure out about me is that I’ve always been one of those guys that will stick with the team to the brutal end. No turning off the TV, or leaving the game early because we are losing. I’ll be there when we win 49-0 and I’ll be there when we get shutout. It really doesn’t matter. If I were a quitter, this would have been one of those games where you would want to turn the game off early.
Let’s talk about the bright side of the game first. From my point of view, having an opportunity to play the defending national champion in the opening game, rather than Eastern Michigan or Delaware State is a good thing. We learn a lot about our team by how we play, even if it’s ugly. We also saw some pretty good special teams play. Some of our worst nightmares in the past few years have been on special teams, but I think overall the Special teams played well. Kickoff returns were exciting and I think we can look forward to at least one return for a touchdown this year after watching Dennis Norfleet run with the ball. Kickoffs were almost always touchbacks which I’ll take every time, even with the new placement on the 25. The punt coverage was pretty good and the punting itself was awesome even if it out kicked the coverage once or twice. Maybe the only concern with special teams might be our decision making process on catching kicks inside the 20.
As for the rest of the game, brutal is about the only word I had to describe it. Let’s break it down into two categories. First, the offense. On the offensive side of the ball, I think that Sabin and the Alabama coaching staff made it clear that they were going to stop the run and depend on their coverage for the rest. You notice I say coverage. Specifically I don’t think that they were in any way depending on a pass rush. I rarely agree with Kirk Herbstreet, but I think I heard him say more than once that Alabama was building a wall against the run, and they were effective at doing that. They were filling every gap and containing well. They weren’t rushing their ends in pash rush style, rather just collapsing down to contain Denard and the running backs. I was disappointed that we really didn’t find a way to counteract this in the second half. We did go vertical a little bit, but the vertical game doesn’t really match Denard very well or our current group of receivers. The one play I wished the coaching staff would have tried was to line up with trips and run the bubble screen just to see if we could spring something outside. It felt like if we could find a way to attack the outside we might have been able to loosen things up inside. Any of the plays we ran to the outside were just too slow to develop with the speed of the Alabama defense.
On the defensive side of the ball, I was nervous about how our line was going to fare against the monster line that Alabama had lined up against us. Early on I thought we did ok, but as the game wore on, the lack of depth on the defensive line really started to show as we wore down. Overall, I think our tackling was once again on the suspect side, often giving up 2 or 3 broken tackles before the ball carrier was brought down. Losing Blake Countess at the beginning of the game was huge and his absence was felt as Alabama attacked our corners leading to the early deficit. We’re going to have to have some of the team step up in the defensive backfield.
The overall good news of the game is that we learned that we have a long way to go, and we now know what we need to work on and improve. We have measured ourselves against one of the best, and have found out that we have a lot of room to grow. I look for Team 133 to come out next week at home and play with anger. Hopefully we can apply our learnings in growth mode, and as the team is saying, “only lose to Alabama once.” On the other hand, Alabama has drawn up a successful blueprint for other teams to take advantage of. I expect teams are studying game film to see how they can take advantage of the weaknesses that Alabama exposed on national television. We’re going to have to find a way to get our running game on track, and stop the opposing running attack, or we could be in store for some more brutality.
I’ll be there in Section 9, sampling the view of the UofM / Air Force game this Saturday. I hope you’ll stop back by to see what the view was like.