M’s DEFENSE STRUGGLED TO GET OFF THE FIELD UNTIL A COUPLE OF 4TH DOWN STANDS IN THE 4TH QUARTER SEALED THE WIN
Army, Navy, and Air Force present first class spectacle, competitive spirit, even if undersized by today’s football standards. M is now 17-11-1 against the group, but today’s melee with the Falcons was too close for comfort.
There was no question that today’s football versions of the service academies are sometimes undersized, and the Falcon linemen presented Saturday were mostly no exception. They have size limitations for Academy entrance. The Falcon’s defensive line averaged six feet one and two hundred-twenty pounds.. Their hurry up offense kept them within three late in the last half, and it finally took some M defensive pressure to maintain the lead and secure the victory. By that time starting Mike Linebacker Kenny Demens was gathering splinters, and some of the younger players were in the game at crunch time. Freshman Joe Bolden had a great game at the Mike LB, and James Ross III and Mario Ojemudia contributed. Ondre Pipkins was in there.
Frank Clark was out of the doghouse and made a defensive difference as he is a playmaker, but at this time the defense overall looks like a middle of the pack B!G defense.
Pre-game the big question probably didn’t revolve around the Falcons at all, but around the Wolverines themselves. Would the ill-fated trip to Arlington linger in the Wolverine’s psyche? Would they show up flat or fighting? Or would they produce a two loss start to the season by losing the Alabama game twice? I thought before the game that there was no way this set of coaches would let that happen, nor Captains Kovacs and Robinson.
But the defense struggled most of the game. Coach Hoke on the defensive stops on the last two series: … “I think our guys responded well. We didn’t get the first down and then the defense had to go right back onto the field. On the series before that, our guys went out and made a couple stops that they had to make. At the end, I think our front took over a little bit and got them a little uncomfortable because they had to throw the football. That’s what you want to try to do on all of those third-down opportunities.”
Except for Denard the run game was non-existent. The run game supplied by a re-instated Fitzgerald Toussaint did not produce. Fitz earned 8-yards on 7 carries. The OL is as much to blame as Fitz. The same could not be said for the Falcons who racked up 71 carries for 290-yards on the ground.
Coach Hoke on the M running game: “We talked after the game as a team. Did we play our best football? No. Do we have to play much better football if we want to win the Big Ten championship? Yes. We’ve got to get better each week. Part of that is up front, on both sides of the ball. I think we’re a work in progress defensively. We have a lot of guys in and out. And offensively, because we have some older guys that don’t have a lot of experience, we have to keep working through that and get better.”
Some of yesteryear’s versions of the service academies routinely produced the finest football players in America, producing names that still echo in the hallowed halls of football fame and tradition. Like Mr. Inside and Outside of Army in the forties, Glen Davis and Doc Blanchard. Like Navy QB Roger Staubach, who once graced Michigan Stadium and gave the Wolverines fits. I don’t remember the entire game but I remember his stellar presence and performance.
While the USAF was not represented separately by name in most of the forties it was part of that history then being the Army Air Force. The Wolverines didn’t own the only tradition represented on that field Saturday. But tradition by itself does not produce wins. It takes good coaching, football smarts and discipline, and very high motivation to compete.
The Air Force Academy has all of that and more, even if they do not pick off the nations prime football talents every year. What other institution has Freedom or Service emblazoned on jerseys where names are usually located?
Back in the fifties, I looked forward to the horde of cadets, or midshipmen, that marched into the stadium as a group, cheering enmasse, wearing the same uniforms as their brethren, and presenting as united a fan front as exists. I watched Michigan’s great Ron Kramer meet their challenge. I remember him cutting down two Army players at the same time on one offensive play. It all didn’t go the Wolverines way, as they lost 7-26 in 1954, but redeemed in 1955 26-2, and hammered Army in 1956 48-7.
I remember a smoker at the Michigan Union where one cadet was crowing as much as they ever did by saying, “Michigan sure does NOT know how to play football”. On that day that premise seemed absolute fact, but they should have sent that gentlemanly cadet to MSU to enhance his jeering credentials.
The pre-game festivities were absolutely first class. The Cadets launched a magnificent bird of prey that flew above the field and returned to its master. That was a beautiful and unusual sight. Then three of the great Maize and Blue medical choppers passed overhead while in formation. A B-2 bomber made one of the best passes above the stadium I have ever seen. Directly overhead, and going slow, that fly over was very impressive. A Congressional Medal of Honor winner flipped the coin before the game. Jake Ryan, who made some mistakes in the game, but overall contributed a lot was honored as he will wear Legends number 47, which remembers 9-letter winner and former Head Football Coach Benny Oosterbaan.
With all that and a beautiful, partly sunny afternoon in the sparkling old/new stadium reminded why I, and so many others, are willing to shell out 70 or more bucks for a seat. It was great to return there for another season.
Great also certainly describes the performance of Denard Robinson Saturday afternoon. Denard on the ground: 218-yards, and 2 TD’s. Denard in the air: 14 of 25 for 208-yds and two TDs. He amassed a total of 426-yards of offense and 4 TDs. He produced an early 1st half 70-yard TD jaunt. And produced another early in the second half, but this TD jaunt was for 58-yards. Denard’s passing game results were more mixed than his ground game results.
He threw a slightly high pass to Vincent Smith that went through Smith’s hands, and was intercepted. It seemed to me the pass should have been caught. He still misses some open receivers, throws over, below, or behind some receivers, but overall the results are spectacular. He is the most exciting player in college football.
Among Robinson’s accomplishments per the official Michigan website:
• Fourth career 200-yard rushing game. He is in second place among Michigan’s all-time rushing leaders in the category, passing Ron Johnson (1966-68). He also is in third place with eight career 150-yard games; which ties with Jamie Morris (1984-87).
• first FBS player since 1996 to record three career games with 200-yards passing and rushing. Texas’ Vince Young is the only other FBS player to with more than one such effort.
•upped his career rushing yards to 3,474 and moved to seventh place among Michigan’s all-time leaders in the category, passing Rob Lytle (3,317, 1973-76). With 15 career 100-yard games, Robinson tied Lytle for sixth place among U-M’s all-time leaders.
• With his 3,474 career rushing yards, Robinson moved to eighth place among the all-time NCAA leaders in rushing yards by a quarterback. He needs 123-yards to reach the seventh spot.
• Robinson became the first Wolverine since Tyrone Wheatley (1991-94) to record two rushing touchdowns of 50- yards or more in a game.
For three quarters the Wolverine offense outdid the defense. The defense could not stop third and long conversions, and time and again got their corner turned (on one long drive 4 times in a row). AFA produced ball possession (which is their scheme) and drives again and again.
Regardless of the caginess of the scheme, that is scary as to the future results to be produced by this defense. The offense let the defense need to regain its moxie to win the game in the 4th quarter as the defense stepped up to stop the Falcons in the two 4th down situations noted above by Coach Hoke. The offense couldn’t get a critical 1st down or more than three points in the quarter in a game that was uncomfortably close, and hard fought. Fortunately Air Force missed a couple of makeable FGs.
It was what some fans called an Oh, Oh! game. It is scary as neither the offensive or defensive lines are settled, and as yet are not comparable to last years in productivity. Position switches and the necessity to use inexperienced players at so many positions takes time to overcome. They have just two weeks before a stern South Bend test.
It is doubtful that the coaches were surprised by the Wolverine difficulties on the offensive and defensive lines. It was a good game from which to learn. And it was a win.
There were bright spots. Freshman Tight End Devin Funchess collared 4 passes for 106-yards, making it look easy. All were over 20-yards and included 1 TD. Devin Gardner is fast improving. He put his mitts on 5 for 63-yards and 1 TD. Dennis Norfleet was again remarkable at returning Kos with 77-yards on 3 attempts. Will Hagerup punted well again.
Massachusetts is up next and will provide more learning and experience even if there will not be a B-2 in sight.
Bring on the Minutemen.