By Andy Andersen
Brady Hoke’s debut as the Head Football Coach of the Michigan Wolverines was twice interrupted by thunderstorms and heavy rains. There were also some uncooperative Western Michigan Broncos when the game was on, at least in the first half.
During the second lightening delay, the threat of strong winds, hail, much lightening, and cloudbursts, extended the game delay until 7:30 PM. Before that, the game was cancelled at 1:27 of the third quarter, at 7:10PM. How about 137 degrees F on the field at the start of the game?
A football game had never been cancelled previously in Wolverine history. It was unbearably hot on the field, and stands, for most of the game, until the rains came. The score at the time of cancellation was 34 to 10, and became the final. There is no question that cancelation was the appropriate thing to do, for team and fans.
The Broncos were a tough nut to crack in the first half. They led 7-0 at the end of the first quarter. It seemed that maybe Michigan’s defense was as inept as last year’s defense. In the end that did not prove to be true.
The Broncos used half of the 1st quarter to garner their only TD on a 15- play, 74-yard drive scoring drive. The Wolverines used the last half of the 1st quarter to set up their answering TD on a 16-play, 76-yard drive for six. The EP was converted. All of them were converted except one for the Wolverines.
Denard’s QB draws and passing provided the early offensive pop. TE Koger made a great catch on a high Denard pass.
Defensively, it seemed early that the corners couldn’t handle the outs, and Carder’s passing generally. He was 22 of 31 for 183 for the game and a TD. That first scoring drive was torture to watch for Michigan fans, but the next one fortunately stalled after getting into scoring range. The Broncos missed the ensuing field goal. Where was the pass rush and coverage? A nasty Deja Vu began to surface. At 7-7 could the defense gain traction, and interrupt the Broncos’ ball control?
From the start Coach Mattison has preached 1) effort, and 2) technique. In the first part of the first half, it appeared that only 1) was available to the Wolverines. The hope had been that they would create turnovers this year, but early on opposing receivers were wide open, and turnovers did not occur soon enough to suit even the least finicky fan. It is obvious tackling has improved, and the enthusiasm and effort were on tap from the start.
But that sly old Fox Mattison has an experienced bag of defensive tricks, and he has earned his stripes on many football fields. With perfect timing, he unleashed a deadly blitz in the form of Freshmen Jake Ryan. Jake did nothing less than turn the game on its ear. He got his hand up and tipped the ball while crashing into QB Carder.
Jake had quite a Michigan debut. He appears to have a great Wolverine football future, and was a surprise starter. If you wonder why Jake started, being second on the depth chart, here is the reason. Cam Gordon did not dress because of injury, providing Jake the opportunity. It looks like there is competition at the Sam.
LB Brandon Herron plucked the batted ball out of the air and produced a fine interception return down the side lines, scampering 94-yards for six. He was gasping for air as he crossed the goal line due to the unbelievable heat and humidity.
I thought Herron might be done for the day, but that proved untrue as he later gathered up a fumble produced by Jordan Kovacs smash on the QB. Brandon lit out for the end zone again, and crossed the goal line after 29-yards for his second score on the day.
It appeared that Bronco QB Alex Carder is the real deal. He is a large, experienced, strong armed QB, who was effective, too effective at first, but eventually ended up with Wolverine donated bruises once Mattison got the defense untracked. Bronco receiver Jordan White had an outstanding day, catching 12 for 119-yards.
Since it was the first game, the list of offensive starters is: WRs-Roundtree, Hemingway, and Grady, LT-Lewan, LG-Schofield, C-Moll, RG-Omameh, RT-Hugye, TE-Koger, QB-Robinson, RB-Toussaint.
Defensive starters were: DE-Roh, Heininger, DT-Martin, VanBergan, LBs-Ryan, Demens, Herron, LCB-Woolfolk, RCB-Avery, Safeties- Kovacs, Avery.
Brown, Dileo, Mealer, Moore, Gallon, McColgan, Watson, Jackson, Smith, Shaw, Black, Campbell, Brink, Beyer, Fitzgerald, Jones, Floyd Johnson and M. Robinson also played.
As expected, Denard Robinson did not show the spectacular results he did in this game in last year’s wide open offense. They were trying to develop a ground game, use some power game, and certainly did not stick to the West Coast offense, used the gun a lot, and showed Notre Dame nothing.
Shoelace very efficiently managed his team, passed effectively, proved he is adapting to the new system, and on occasion showed the scrambling ability that makes him one of the most exciting players in NCAA football. On one run in particular he showed moves that Bo called motor genius in reference to Anthony Carter. That also applies to Denard. Michigan had NO turnovers. He was 9 of 13 for 98-yards and rushed for 46 on 8 carries. Robinson has 2,099 career rushing yards now, good for 6th in the annals of the B1G.
The running back controversy will continue to fester. Starter Fitzgerald Toussaint looked good, had 80-yards and two short TD runs, to keep the Wolverines in competition. Michael Shaw had 4 carries for 55-yards including the last TD of the day, a 44-yard sprint to the end zone for the last TD of the day (in the third quarter). Just before that, Toussaint had carried for 43.
Perhaps my biggest disappointment was in some aspects of special teams. Coach Hoke shared his view post game like this: On things U-M needs to improve before next week … “Number one, I’ll start on the kicking game. Our kickoff coverage was not even close to where we need to have it. I thought kicking the ball itself, we got one PAT blocked, and we need to be stouter in the middle. I think (Brendan) Gibbons did a nice job, and I think Matt Wile did a nice job on the punts and the kickoffs. But I think defensively, we’ve got some things we need to shore up. ….”
Those long kick returns have to be prevented, or it is going to cost games. Its not as if they are not using good people on special teams. Troy Woolfolk pulled a muscle in such usage.
Aside from the stormy day, this was quite probably the opener that Coach Hoke was hoping for. The game was competitive at first. Western is not an Akron. They had the ability to possess the ball. They have some good football players, and a coach that does not want to admit defeat. The defense produced points. It is disappointing that the front seven got so little push on the QB, as continuous blitzing is a risky business. It seems the defense is on its way to respectability and continuous improvement in spite of being thin in numbers and not overly talented at spots. Without key injuries, we are going to like them at the end of the year.
The score might have had more spread had the game continued. The offense was beginning to fire on all cylinders when the game was called.
Notre Dame is coming to Michigan Stadium after narrowly losing their opener, which I very much hoped they would win. Notre Dame will come in mad.
The stage is set for a prime time special. Hoke’s Wolverines will want and need to shine in this early ball game which is so important to their ambitions this year. Maybe the weather will cooperate. Can’t be that bad two weekends in a row can it?
If you dry out in time, see you there!