I’m sorry for the late post, but this has been a challenging week for this occupant of Section 9. A tooth problem took me out of action for a couple of days and real life then intruded as I played catch up.
Last week we had the opportunity to see Michigan take on the triple-option attack of Air Force. The short of it is that we escaped with a win when we finally stepped up and figured out how to stop the option in the 4th quarter, got a couple of key stops and held on for the victory. It was far from pretty!
Pregame from section 9 was awesome as it really felt good to get back into the Big House and see and feel the experience. The crowd showed up early, perhaps thanks to the new student loyalty program, or perhaps because of the expectation of a flyover. Between the Bald Eagle’s entrance and the B-2 Stealth Bomber flyover, I think they may have stolen the show.
Now on to the game. Once again we have a limited number of things to actually cheer about. Let’s talk about the positives first and then we can talk about the flip side of the performance. Once again, I think special teams were the highlight of the day. The kicking game is solid, coverage teams were solid and the kickoff return game was electric. I’m still looking forward to a kickoff return going for a TD. I rather expect that may happen this week against UMass. If nowhere else, perhaps you read it here first in this prediction.
On the offensive side of the board, it was Denard or nothing. Denard kept us in this game with his running game and a sharper passing game. On the ground Denard was not able to make any progress on the designed runs, just like any of the other backs. He was however able to use his athleticism and vision to find the cutback lanes and turn them into big gains. This was the difference in the football game. Without Denard’s 200+ yard rushing performance, we might have been mourning another loss to a 2nd tier team. This game also marked the emergence of Devin Funchess. As a freshman tightend he is not the big blocking back, but he was impressive in his ability to get open, and we went up and made a great catch for a 30-yard TD. He is another freshman that is making an impact on this team and it really bodes well for the future. He had the first 100+ yard game from a Tight End since Jerame Tuman did it in the 1997 season (15 years!). He won’t be the big blocking tight end, although we have another TE, A.J. Williams that is showing a lot of promise in helping to fill that role. Devin Gardner continues to grow and shine in the wide receiver role. He has become Denard’s favorite target as he is able to use his larger frame to get good position on smaller defenders. He was targeted 8 times and had 5 receptions on Saturday. Funchess and Gardner are going to have to help carry us to victories once we get to the Big Ten season.
On the defensive side of the ball, there wasn’t much to talk about other than Jake Ryan. Jake took on the #47 legends jersey before the game, and the spirit of Bennie Oosterbaan helped carry him to new heights on the defensive side of the ball. He still had issues helping to defend the triple-option early, but a lot of that was not having support from his teammates. He was a key player on the defensive side of the ball and helped key the big stops in the 4th quarter. Freshman Linebacker Joe Bolden also came up with 11 tackles in the game. If you haven’t noticed the theme, there are a lot of freshman making impacts in these games which is good for the long term, but also shows a potential weakness for this year.
For a game against Air Force, I thing that we should have had a lot more highlights to talk about. There seem to be a lot more negatives than positives to talk about. Let’s start with the offense. The offensive line once again proved ineffective at creating holes at the point of attack. It’s not that our backs couldn’t hit the holes, there just weren’t any to run into. We have to find a way to open holes at the point of attack. As long as we can’t create a traditional running game, we are going to struggle offensively. As the season wears on and Denard takes more and more hits, our dependence on him for our offensive production is going to take its toll. We also need more out of our leaders on the offensive side of the ball. Fitz Toussaint and Roy Roundtree were non-factors in this game. We need contributions from these guys to take the pressure off of Denard. Seven yards on 8 carries and 1 catch for 5 yards are not going to cut it.
On the defensive side of the ball, I recognize that we aren’t going to see the triple-option again and year and most of preparation had been for Alabama, but the counter action alone is enough to get other coaches excited after watching game film. Time and again our linebackers bit on the counter flow and then were easily walled off from the option going the other way. We finally picked up on this in the 4th quarter, but I wouldn’t be surprised in the upcoming weeks if we see a steady diet of counter action running plays to test our defensive front 7. In addition, our defensive backs were mostly untested in the Air Force game and will have to shore up their coverage in the games ahead. The alternative is that we could be in for some big plays against us by teams that have playmaker receivers and quarterbacks.
The one weak area of special teams is definitely our punt receiving game. On one punt this week we gave up 23 yards of field position because we didn’t just fair catch the ball. We need to have a game plan on when we’re going to field the ball (outside the 10?) and when we’re going to let it go (inside the 10?). We don’t seem to have a game plan for this, and/or we aren’t executing it at all. In an otherwise bright special teams performance, this is one big ugly stain.
Overall again I think the Wolverines were lucky to escape with a win and while the game against Umass should be a confidence builder, we are going to have to execute much better against Notre Dame in a couple of weeks. This is the way I see it from Section 9. I’m including a couple of pictures for the visual view from Section 9 as well. See you earlier next week with my view of the Umass game!