By Andy Andersen
First, the Gophers lost their Coach, Jerry Kill, to illness. Fortunately he was back on the sidelines Saturday, hale and hearty to all appearances.
Then they lost their talented starting QB, the adept Marqueis Gray, to an injured toe, and he could not play Saturday. They had to utilize Freshman Max Shortell at that critical position. He endured a very tough afternoon learning about B1G (Big Ten) football, but he showed some skill. He was 11 of 22 for 104 yards with a long throw of 33.
After that, they had to face an energized and physical group of Wolverines who wanted to get off to a good start on their Big Ten schedule in the new Legends Division. They did so offensively and defensively.
I would like to be able to cite special teams too. Some parts of that area do qualify. Gibbons hit three field goals. Will Hagerup returned from the dog house to punt twice for 75-yards, but kick-off return proficiency still seems elusive. The Gophers garnered 159-yards on KO returns. They had a 96-yard KO return cancelled by penalty. Continued ineptness in this area may prove costly against better competition.
So far this season the Wolverines have picked themselves off the floor defensively by flowing to the ball, by creating turnovers, by playing tough, and by playing for sixty minutes. They got three sacks on the afternoon, and had 5 TFLs. Ryan Van Bergen, Jake Ryan and Jabreel Black earned the sacks.
Greg Mattison’s Wolverine defense is becoming consistently destructive to the opposition, at least to this point in the season. The pass defense was decent, but sterner tests are yet to come. I can’t speak for you, but I am developing some confidence in them. What is far more important, they seem to be developing their own confidence in their game. They held the Gophers to 177 net yards, and the Gopher’s offense didn’t convert a third down.
Brady Hoke on shutting out Minnesota … “We got off to a good start on both sides of the ball. I think up front, the defensive line, the front four, front seven, responded well. And then we were able to move the football and run with the football and Denard (Robinson) threw the football very well and when that happens it opens up the run game even more”.
As usual, the offense effectively relied on the multiple skills of Denard Robinson, and Coach Borges got innovative. Coach Hoke on Denard’s passing success: “It’s mechanics, and then again the timing and routes mean so much. I thought the receivers responded well, and they are blocking in and route-running well. That helps, and then Denard, he worked hard all week as he always does, and he got his feet planted in the right place and did a nice job throwing the football.” Denard was 15 of 19 passing for 169-yards, 2-TDs, with a long of 28. He had 11 completions in his first 11 passes. On the ground he had six carries for 51-yards and a TD. What those stats do not show is the great evasiveness he showed on some of his short bursts. Unbelievable.
Hoke on the diverse offense taking pressure off Denard: “We definitely want to see if we can protect Denard as much as we can. I thought the line did a very nice job; I thought Al (Borges) called a very good game in what we were trying to get done. I think the kids ran hard, and when you start getting longer runs it’s because the receiver is doing a good job down field and obviously at the point of attack.”
How Borges folded Devin Gardner into the offensive mix was surprising. They used him early and had a remarkable option in which they lined up in an inverted V with Devin taking the snap, then optioning to Denard, who in turn optioned to the tailback. Another time Devin caught a pass in the flat, with intention to throw it, but was forced to run.
Coach Hoke on the three-back set that included Robinson: “We’ve had that since fall camp. Its things you work on and you work on it for a couple days and then you put it away so when it comes back out the kids know, and we worked hard on it the last two weeks.”
While none of these offensive variations worked spectacularly, they will give opposing DCs something more to connive against. I can’t wait to see the variations on these variations in action.
Even though Denard was spectacular, and the coaching sound and inventive, the most remarkable contributor in this game was TB Vincent Smith. Smith presents a very tough football player in a diminutive package. He is probably sick of hearing about size, but in a big man’s game, a little guy is noticed for his physical stature. He threw a TD pass, caught a TD pass, and ran for a TD. When he wasn’t busy doing those things, he recovered a fumble. He is only the 4th Big Ten player to do this since 2000.
Vincent Smith commented on passing, running and catching a touchdown … “I was just put in the right place at the right time. Coaches know what I’m capable of. Whatever I have to do for the team to help them out I’ll do. It was really fun. The last time I threw a pass was in high school, but it was three in one game.”
Vincent got the biggest laugh in the press conference where he was paired with Denard. Everybody wanted to know the name of the play where Denard and Devin and he formed the inverted “Vee”. Before Denard could answer, Vincent pulled out his jersey to emphasize his number, the number 2, resulting in an even bigger Denard grin. This pair are veteran press conferences participants who take it all with seriousness, but sincerely emphasize they enjoy playing football and being part of the team. While such sentiments are often expressed by football players it is obvious these guys mean it.
Any time your team receives the opening KO and marches 80-yards for 6 in 7 plays, you know it is going to be a good day, but when they score TDs on the next three series with long drives, and a FG on the next one, and add another before the half, it is a performance out of the ordinary. At the half the Wolverine led 38-0.
The rout continued with 20 more points in the second stanza for the 58-0 final.
In order, the scoring plays were: Vincent Smith on a 3-yard run, Denard Robinson on a 9-yard run, Drew Dileo caught a 17-yard pass from Smith, Smith caught a 28-yard pass from Denard Robinson, B. Gibbons hit a 25-yard FG. K. Koger caught an 18-yard pass from DRob to close the scoring in the first half.
In the second half, F. Toussaint ran for a 1-yard TD, and B. Gibbons hit 32 and 38-yard FGs. At 4:58 in the 4th, Courtney Avery picked up a fumble and raced 83-yards into the North end zone, displaying good speed, and capping the scoring for the day. By that time the clouds had vanished, and it had warmed a little, turning into a great fall day for football in Ann Arbor.
Brady on being able to get everyone playing time: “I thought it was good to get a lot of different guys in. Josh Furman played a lot, Marvin Robinson played a lot when you look at the defense. . got some time in there. And trying to get some of those young guys in there so that they have some game time experience is always good for your football team.”
Toussaint led the rushers with 108-yards. Freshman Thomas Rawls was next with 73-yards and Shaw had 60. Hemingway was the leading receiver with 42 yards, Gallon and Dileo has 29 and 23 respectively. Hopkins caught one for 28-yards. Rawls displayed a nice combination of evasiveness and power.
The Gophers were forced to give up their dreams of collaring the venerable and venerated jug that has become a symbol of the Michigan/Minnesota, and one of the oldest football trophies extant. The Wolverines retained their jug, just as they have most of the time over the past forty years. The jug has to regard Ann Arbor as its home, having spent so many of its years ageing in Ann Arbor while nestled in its comfortable confines.
After Saturday, the Gophers are probably pining for some of their more successful teams, with great backs that went NFL, and quarterbacks like Tony Dungy. While this lopsided victory does provide a hint of Delaware State a few years ago, the Gophers are a better team than that, but it looks like this will be a very rough year for them. In comparison to the great Gopher teams of the past, and they had some, they are a real work in progress at this point. It seems Coach Kill has his work cut out for him.
For those of us that were around then, those few untimely Gopher victories still sting, and the past has provided some spectacular games. At least the Gophers are out of that hateful Metrodome, where our great Tony Boles tore up his knee, never able to return to the sport. How about memories of pass receiver John Nevarre streaking down the sideline there, to score a needed TD. I should have said rumbling. Any streaking John could do would get him arrested. Nevertheless, it was an unforgettable Michigan football moment, and Wolverine affection for John is growing with time. To honor him at Saturday’s game was very appropriate.
I talked to several Gopher fans Saturday and they were uniformly tactful and polite, even in the midst of a stunning defeat. They say their new stadium is spectacular, and the reason they fired Glen Mason was to take that next step up. Evidently, that is a longer step than was anticipated.
Next up are the Northwestern Wildcats. They can’t accurately be called “Mildcats” anymore, even if they did lose a close one at Illinois Saturday, 38-35 on a late touchdown. They are a good football team, and can throw the ball with the best of them. The Wolverine will be challenged.
Wildcat QB Dan Persa returned from his long injury recuperation to throw 4 TGs. He left the game late, as he may have re-aggravated the injury that sidelined him for so long. Whether or not he plays next Saturday, and he probably will, the Wolverine pass defense will be severely tested away from home in a night game of importance. They will find out if their perceived progress is real.