Michigan’s 2006 Football Wolverines torpedoed the gusty and well-coached Commodores of Vanderbilt Saturday in a 27 to 7 victory before 109,000 plus in slightly renovated Michigan Stadium.
Michigan and Vanderbilt are long time adversaries, having played 11 times with ten Michigan wins and a single tie. The tie was zero, zero at Vanderbilt?s stadium dedication in 1920. Michigan last faced the Commodores in 1969, Bo?s first year. I was in the stands for that one and was disgusted at the time that the first half ended 14-14. Things went better in the second half and the Wolverines came out on top, 42-14. It wasn?t a really easy game and to the credit of the Commodores, they tried as hard today as they did then. Someone must have given us a block of tickets, which were cheap, and easy to come by at that time, as most of my office co-workers attended the game including the Sparty fans, who kept pointing out empty seats and other imagined deficiencies.
This opening day performance featured Michigan?s revamped defense. Today was the first public look at what first year defensive coordinator Ron English had promised would be a more aggressive and violent defense. While it was not perfect in yielding 129 yards passing, it was superbly coordinated in its defensive efforts, and obviously has a wealth of very talented personnel at nearly all of its positions. What a welcome sight it is to see tackling by committee again with all those Michigan helmets around the football.
This defense has made great progress since I last saw them in the spring. Woodley, Crable, Branch, Johnson, Biggs, and Taylor appear to comprise an outstanding defensive line as they, with the help of their teammates, held the Commodores to a paltry forty-two net yards rushing. Add to that a couple of forced fumbles, four Woodley tackles (two back to back sacks) and two additional sacks, and it is easy to feel it was an opening day defensive tour de force, even if they were not perfect in not defending a long lateral into the flat which was caught by a WR and flung down field for a Vanderbilt score.
Its not as easy to feel as good about the offense as the defense. Even if the Wolverines did manage three hundred eighty-six yards of offense, they struggled some, especially in the middle of the game. While Chad Henne threw two beautiful TD strikes, first to Tyler Ecker (North end zone) earlier in the second half and then very late in the half to Mario Manningham (South end zone), he was not as consistently sharp today passing as he probably hoped he would be. Or as lucky. Several dropped passes aggravated and contributed to Michigan?s offensive malaise in the middle part of the game.
It seems that this year Chad is allowed to be a little more mobile, as he pulled it down several times and hoofed it, at least once for a first down. Also, the waggle is back. The waggle is where the QB rolls out and tosses it to a TE on the same side of the field, and is a play not often used the last couple of years. I have missed it and am glad that it is back. The downside is Chad almost threw an interception while on the run, and it seems that he should not tote it as often as he did today considering the lack of an experienced back up at QB.
Steve Breaston had some nice runs after catch and his usual successful end around, but showed a perplexing propensity to drop a few that he should have caught. Yet, he was Michigan?s leading receiver with 71 yards. Even ?Super? Mario muffed a couple, one of which was ruled an incompletion by review. What I saw on the replay of that action did not seem to jibe with a drop but seemed to me to be a verifiable catch and fumble, but we were fifty-fifty in the reviews as in another instance the ruling was in our favor. I was interested in the debut of TE Carson Butler, but unfortunately the ball did not stick to him today.
The offensive line did not seem to be remarkably effective. Maybe it is safe to say they were about Big Ten average. Certainly they were not exceptional. They did not seem to play with one heartbeat. They let Henne get knocked down hard once and he was rushed. It appears to me that they still have a lot of work to do. They did run block better than last year, but it must be remembered that this was against a team in a league that throws more than it runs, and that Vanderbilt is not at the top of the SEC defensive food chain. Inexcusable penalties and mistakes killed Wolverine drives. Long, Kraus, Bihl, Mitchell and Riley started on the OL. They have to get better than average if the season is going to be one we want to remember.
RB Mike Hart had 31 carries for one hundred forty-six yards and no TDs. Mike is his usual shifty self, appears healthy, and is obviously the best back in a Michigan uniform. But I don?t like that number of carries for him as the more he lugs the ball the more likely he will get dinged.
RB Kevin Grady had a mixed bag of success and error, running five times for thirty yards, and performing a stunning 19-yard cut back run for the opening TD, but then he coughed up the ball to kill a drive, and limit his appearances. He does seem somewhat slimmer and perhaps faster. He needs to keep himself in position to have more than five carries. He won?t get them if he can?t protect the ball, and by the looks of Brandon Minor, he better watch the rear view mirror. Freshman RB Brandon Minor had three carries, the first of which was an impressive twenty-four yard run. He is an obviously talented back.
Freshman Carlos Brown took a snap and gained four yards.
Special teams were not up to the standard of accomplishment of the defense, but were better than the offense. The Vanderbilt punter had very acceptable hang time, and that coupled with Michigan?s inability to hold up their gunners, limited SB?s ability to pile up quantities of return yardage, although he did help with field position to start a TD drive. Garrett Rivas drilled a forty-eight yard field goal and a thirty-three yarder, but had a low FG kick blocked. We finally got to see punter Zoltan Mesko in action. He kicked three for one hundred twenty-five yards with a long of forty-five. A left footed kicker the ball has unusual spin for the receiver. Ross Ryan made one punt for thirty-seven yards. Since the new NCAA rules have shortened the kicking tee, more KO?s will be run back and not reach the end zone. This could also mean that more special teams players are injured over a season?s play as KOs are a dangerous business by nature. Ross Ryan only reached the end zone once today that I remember, and last year he was consistent at that. It should be noted that Darnell Hood made at least two outstanding special teams tackles, coming out of nowhere to chop down the ball carrier. They were outstanding efforts.
The scoring went like this:
Michigan produced a gem of a drive in its first possession, with Mike Hart doing most of the heavy lifting, and Steve Breaston had a seventeen yard reception, setting up the beautiful nineteen yard Kevin Grady cut back run already mentioned for six.
With the EP, it was M 7, V 0.
Later in the 1st quarter Terrance Taylor recovered a fumble at the Vandy 33. Mike Hart moved it to the 16, and an incompletion forced a Garrett Rivas FG of 33 yards. M 10, V0.
The Vanderbilt offense produced a nice drive to paydirt in the second quarter on a tricky thirty-yard pass. M 10, V 7.
On Michigan?s next drive a sack of Chad Henne forced a Garrett Rivas FG of forty-eight yards. M 13, V 7.
Michigan?s offense woke up late in the third quarter and produced a fourteen- yard strike to TE Tyler Ecker, who made a beautiful leaping catch. M 21, V 7.
Late in the 4th quarter, Henne struck again, hitting a twenty-seven yarder to Mario. Another beautiful throw and catch. Final M27, V7.
While it is clear that the offense is not totally perfected at this point in the season, Michigan did come up with some good offensive moments, flashed some improved defensive capability, utilized the strength, speed and talent of LaMarr Woodley to advantage, and left its fans looking forward to the next chapter in the team?s development when those pesky Chippewas from Central Michigan invade next Saturday.
It appears the defense has the right English.
The Chips gave Boston College a tussle, only losing by a TD. The Chips will be fired up Saturday, but the Blue will be ready.
See you at the stadium!