M FOOTBALL-2013: WOLVERINES NIP ZIPS: M-28, AKRON-24

The Akron Zips from the MAC zipped into Michigan Stadium to simultaneously garner a huge payday, and punish the very same Wolverines’ football team that trampled its fellow conference member, Central Michigan, 59-9 weekend before last. The Zips outplayed the Chippewas against the Wolverines, much to the disappointment of most of the assembled crowd of 107,120.

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The Zips have none of the Notre Dame’s legendary football lore: such as elfin mascots, Touchdown Jesus, Knute Rockne, George Gipp, Manti Te’o, or the luck provided by mastery over four leaf clovers, the luck of the Irish, and a Blarney Stone to kiss. I must have bussed that stone when I thought that, as Akron was one and one this year, and had only won one game each of the two prior years before Saturday, M would prevail by thirty to forty points.  Blarney!

Akron nearly salted another win away, playing their best game of the year while the Wolverines played their worst. If they had a little more luck, the Wolverines season would be in early shambles. Give the zips credit, it was oh so close.

That Akron didn’t prevail was no salute to lack of four leaf clovers, or any other lucky omen. The Wolverines had better talent at nearly every position, but they partnered that with poor execution on both sides of the ball and special teams.

Combine this with TOs and penalties and you have a witches brew, an upset potion. In the first half it was crummy offense. In the second half, it was crummy defense. That soft pass defense was the target and recipient of a number of slant passes, and a couple of harmful big play passes.

Coach Hoke on the big plays: “. …and we had a couple balls thrown over our head. I think two of them were defended decently well, and you have to give people credit; it was good people with the ball, and they were needed to be, and it was a good catch.

“Still, there was too many of those. They hit the post and two deep and should have been in better shape, and we weren’t. From coaches first, from me first, we’ve got to do a better job. I mean, you can’t win championships with those mistakes.”

Coach Hoke stressed many Zips had transferred in from, it seems, almost everywhere. They were ready to manufacture an upset of Toledo proportions, or worse.

Hoke on the game: “No. 1, give Akron a lot of credit. Their kids came in here like most Mid-American Conference schools are going to come in here, to win the football game and play to win the football game, and they coached it that way, they played it that way. They did a nice job. I told Terry (Bowden) that, and I told Chuck Amato, because he did some things defensively that were a little different, but at the same time, you know, they are things that we should be able to overcome to a certain extent, and we didn’t.”

This game seemed to have mismatch written all over it. You know the reality. The Zips badgered the Wolverines all afternoon, and nearly grabbed the brass ring.

While it seemed possible that there could have been a significant let down in M’s enthusiasm as compared to Saturday last, a Notre Dame hangover so to speak, the Zips had every reason to give its best effort to best the Wolverines. The Zips Head Coach Terry Bowden has been around a lot of football, and he has an efficient staff.

Akron managed 30 carries for 107-yards. Some of it straight up the middle in that wide gap between M defensive linemen.. M’s pass defense was another matter. Akron QB Pohl completed 25 of 49 for 311-yards and two TDs, with 2 interceptions.

The best M defensive player in my opinion was Blake Countess, who spent much of the afternoon as the nickel. James Ross III had 10 tackles.

Devin Gardner was 16 of 30 for 248-yards, and had three interceptions, and two fumbles, one of which was lost. One interception was returned for a TD.

This was the most lackluster outing in his young M quarterbacking career. Afterwards he said “they got to me”. The offensive line played their worst game so far this season. Coach Hoke said that they opened some holes, but were not consistent enough. To me, that is an understatement. I did not think they improved palpably over last week, and thought they regressed a little.

Devin’s passing was not sharp, he suddenly has turned into a flinger. When his team was behind, he manufactured go ahead drives, but even so, if the TOs at the QB position don’t stop it is going to be a very long season. TOs have been consistent for Devin in all three games this season.

Devin rushed 10 times for 107 net yards, with runs of 35, 35, and 36. He scored a critical TD on the 36-yarder. Again, he was the team’s leading rusher. When Fitz Toussaint had a hole to run through he did well. His 19 carries produced 71 net yards and a TD. He caught a 27-yard pass. He is running better each game, but still no 100-yard game.

Hoke on the turnovers … “The upsets are always in the mind of the favorite, and any time you don’t take care of the football, and I don’t care if we are playing Saline High School, or, you know, I don’t know, the Super Bowl champs, whoever that was; you can’t turn the ball over. And that is No. 1, turnover margins will kill you as a football team.”

Penalties rival turnovers in bad: Per Hoke: …the other thing, penalties. Fitz … got 50 yards of rushing wiped out because we fundamentally didn’t block properly, and we held and that can’t happen. That’s 50 yards of rushing. That’s a rhythm in a game. …and we had a couple balls thrown over our head. I think two of them were defended decently well, and you have to give people credit; it was good people with the ball, and they were needed to be, and it was a good catch.

“Still, there was too many of those. They hit the post and two deep and should have been in better shape, and we weren’t. From coaches first, from me first, we’ve got to do a better job. I mean, you can’t win championships with those mistakes.”

Fans that were hopeful prior to the game that the interior offensive line would continue to see improvement were disappointed. Except in the red zone the defense didn’t improve, but twice they held their team’s fate in their hands and came thru with successful goal line stands.

The special teams need attention. Right now much of the improvement focus is on Matt Wile. His punting shanked two more punts. He produced one for 22-yards, and had only a 33- yard average and one was almost blocked. But he did hit one for 54-yards. Perhaps Kenny Allen needs a shot at the job.  Brandan Gibbons broke his string of FG hits, with a miss.

Someone has to step up at running back in addition to Fitz, and no one has. Derrick Green carried only once for three yards.

Jehu Chesson made his first catch as a Wolverine, and turned it into a spectacular 33-yard TD romp. Jeremy Gallon caught 6 for 20-yards with a long of 20. Devin Funchess got 2 for 65-yards, a TD with a long of 48-yards. Jake Butt caught 2 for 27-yards with a long of 14.

Game Photos

Game Recap:

First Quarter

Funchess put Michigan up 7 zip with a 48-yard TD reception. A 6 play,75-yard drive. M-7, A-0. Akron answered with 45-yard field goal. M-7, A-3. A 21-yard punt by Wile facilitated. A dull first quarter as M sputtered offensively.

Second Quarter

The offensive sputtering continued in the second quarter. Jake Butt had a holding penalty. Devin rushed for 12-yards to the Akron 10, but fumbled, recovered by Akron. Countess then intercepted Akron at the M 33. Gardner returned the favor and the football, being intercepted at the Akron 20. Akron drove to a missed FG. Devin then threw another interception, and Akron missed another FG. Mercifully, the half ended. M-7, A-3.

Third Quarter

M received, stalled, but Wile hit a 54-yard punt. Akron took the lead on a penalty aided drive of 8-plays and 75-yards. M-7, Akron 10. Ouch. Gardner and Toussaint produced a 4-play, 57-yard drive to answer. Gardner ran 36-yards for the score. M-14, A-10. Jehu Chesson finished off another drive with run demonstrating fine athletic ability. M-21, A-10. 9-plays 86-yards.  This comfortable lead should hold, right?

Fourth Quarter

Both offenses sputtered at first, with M’s Jerrod Wilson intercepting in the end zone. Akron was on the M 2. Wile produced a 22-yard punt. Akron drove 67-yards in 11-plays, scoring on a one-yard pass. M-21, A-24. M answered again, this time producing a Fitz Toussaint two-yard TD. The drive consisted of 4-plays and 70-yards. Devin G. had a 35-yard rush, and Akron drew and interference flag. M-28, A-24. Akron drove to the Michigan 4. On 4th and 3, the Akron pass into the end zone fell untouched to the ground. Credit a Brennen Beyer with a QB hurry. Final: M-28, A-24.

The Wolverines should have learned a valuable lesson from this near miss. At the post-game press conference, Taylor Lewan was greatly irritated by a lack of practice intensity this week (at least on some days) and indicated that the Seniors and Captains should have done better in that area.. If Lewan’s intense attitude is a good sign, and it is, preparation for Connecticut next Saturday will be intense. There are lots of areas to improve while winning as the season progresses, and this game was but another opportunity to do so.

Go Blue!

About Andy Andersen

Andy Andersen, Senior Football Writer andyandersen@wowway.com Andy is a Michigan graduate and long time Michigan Football fan, having attended games during the tenures of Fritz Crisler, Bennie Oosterbaan, Bump Elliot, Bo Schembechler, Gary Moeller, Lloyd Carr, Rich Rodriguez, and Brady Hoke. He attempts to present articles consistent with the concerns and interests of Michigan Fans.