The Chippewas rolled into Michigan Stadium coming off the third bowl victory in their football history. While their Coach Dan Enos surely has a “thing” about the Wolverines, as he is of Spartan lineage, he tactfully only mentioned the huge payday and preparing for the MAC, shunning inflammatory comments.
Prognosticators slated the Chips for third place in the MAC, but this year’s trip to Michigan Stadium provided few bright spots for them, even if the game did provide a serious six figure payday for Chippewa athletics. They ran into the football buzz saw Saturday that the Wolverines are striving to develop. It appears with this admittedly small sample of 2013 play, that is exactly what they will become.
It was difficult to develop a working pregame disdain for the Chips. Many of us have friends or relatives who attended or graduated from there. Coach Enos has had little success against BCS teams, but his charges did count coup on Iowa last season, at Iowa. They are not as bad a football team as Saturday’s loss indicates.
The Chippewas came into Ann Arbor with some football tools the Wolverines did not possess last season. Tailback Zurlon Tipton rushed last year for 1,492-yards, and scored 19 TDs. Saturday he was held to 10 net yards on 4 carries, partly because he was injured early. Saturday Central’s leading rusher on the day picked up just 52-yards on 10 carries.
Last season M’s best TB, Fitz Toussaint, had few holes to run through. That problem appears to be improved now. Fitz showed he is now healed from the injury that robbed him of part of last season. His was a spectacularly nasty injury. Outside of Denard Robinson’s magic, M’s tailback position provided anemic production. A now healthy Fitz had 10 carries for 52-yards. That situation appears improved also.
In addition to Fitz, Michigan came into the game with a cadre of five others tailbacks. Highly touted freshman Derrick Green had 11 carries for 58-yards, and a TD. Fitz had 14 carries for 61-yards and 2 TDs. Devin Gardner risked his health 7 times running for 54 yards and 2 TDs. Dennis Norfleet was a factor in this game, running for 38-yards from scrimmage. D. Smith ran 7 times for 13-yards. Thomas Rawls bulled in for a TD and carried three times for14-yards. Drake Johnson ran twice for 9-yards, but ended up dinged. Justice Hayes had a carry for 7-yards.
The Wolverines came out in a shotgun formation with a hurry up offense, and Devin promptly hurried into an interception. The rumored pistol was in evidence a little. There was an acceptable split between running and passing. M rushed for 242-yards, and the tailbacks accounted for a significant amount of that. The Wolverines passed for 221-yards. The Wolverines amassed 463-yards and the Chippewas totaled 210. Obviously, M was dominant on both sides of the ball in this rout.
Devin Gardner was good. He rushed 7 times for 52-yards, and ran for two TDs, including a twenty two-yard jaunt. He was 10 of 15 passing for 162-yards, with one TD, with a long of 45-yards, but threw two interceptions. Devin said afterwards that his first interception was simply a mistake, and that the the second interception was because of a hit on the arm. He of course wished he could get them back.
Hoke on Devin: “Well, he’s athletic. And sometimes I’m crossing my fingers when I see him out there being athletic. But he had a couple of decisions that I think, one for sure, was one that he should have probably made a better decision on. But at the same time he’s got a lot of confidence in his abilities. And you like that. I’d rather have a quarterback that has that confidence and a guy who you have to keep feeding all the time. So I think I thought he had a good game. I wouldn’t say elite or excellent or anything, but I thought he had a good game.”
Freshman Shane Morris got some snaps in the second half. He was 4 of 6 for 59-yards with a long of 36, with one interception and one sack. He seemed to have a decent debut, but the coaching staff will put it under a microscope.
One wag suggested that the only Wolverine smell in Ann Arbor Saturday was the odor of all the red shirts burning. Many red shirts and true freshman played.
The inside of the offensive line was a question resolved reasonably positively, at least on Saturday. They need to improve and will improve game by game with experience. I think they are already an improvement over last year. Kyle Kalis was extraordinary, and he, Graham Glasgow and Jack Miller were praised by Hoke.
As for wide receiver production, Joe Reynolds had a nice game. When Dymonte Thomas blocked a Chip punt, Reynolds took possession and hauled it in style 29-yards for the season’s first score. He also caught a 45-yard pass. Hopefully his knee injury Saturday will turn out to be a minor event.
Amara Darboh was scheduled for a high contribution year on the outside. Lost for the season he and we will have to wait until next year. The large receiver heir apparent is now Jehu Chesson but he did not contribute a reception Saturday. I could not see how well he was blocking, but in general the receivers did a good job blocking down field.
M’s experienced smurfs, Gallon and Dileo, provided significant receiver production. Everyone thought they would and could and they did. Gallon collared 4 for 47-yards and a TD. Dileo got 2 for 43-yards.
TE Funchess had 2 receptions for 47-yards. Jeremy Jackson collared one for 17-yards. TE Jake Butt caught one for 8-yards.
Dennis Norfleet caught a 15-yard pass. Norfleet now returns punts as well as KOs. He had 106-yards on 4 KO returns. I would bet that he will ankle a punt into the end zone this year.
While the right and left guard and the center are newly minted, tackles Lewan and Scofield are very experienced, and talented. They showed it Saturday. With the refurbished offensive scheme now being the pro set, a destructive ground game was effectively re-established. Happily, Coach Borges is driving the offensive scheme of his choice in the pro set, and Coach Funk has some new, large and talented pieces to solve the run blocking puzzle. But Central provided only the first test.
Central’s starting QB, Cody Kater, was not experienced, but in comparison his Wolverine counterpart, Devin Gardner, only had about half a season under his belt. Unfortunately Kater was injured, and left the game.
Defense usually exceeds offense in speed of development. Coach Mattison’s somewhat interchangeable parts (except for the back four) clicked from the git go, and will only get better. There seems a ton of potential and depth there. Mattison has said they are three deep at spots on the DL. This is in spite of the loss of Jake Ryan last season. The injured Courtney Avery was more recently and less seriously dinged. Accordingly he will return sooner, but Jake is progressing well, and will probably be back this season. Cam Gordon has grown into the position, and is doing well. Thomas Gordon is still in Hoke’s doghouse and remains suspended.
The Wolverine defense was immediately treated to the opportunity for a goal line stand, when Devin threw his first interception, an attempted short out route to Drew Dileo. Three Chippewa tries to break the plane failed, with the help of a Central penalty. The defense held Central to a short field goal on 4th and one
Frank Clark’s name surfaced as much as anyone’s on the defensive side of the ball when it came to rushing the passer. Brennan Beyer also contributed. A run first offense, M’s defense severely limited Central’s running game. Desmond Morgan was often involved and effective. Josh Furman did a good job at safety.
On what Hoke liked and didn’t like from the game … “There’s probably a lot of things in the negative side. Winning was good. The defense responding in a couple of sudden-change situations was good. I think running the football was something that we want to do, obviously. Getting a lot of touches to a lot of different guys was a good thing.”
On every Saturday, the Wolverines must hang onto the football, create turnovers, and avoid stupid penalties. They had 55-yards worth of the latter against Central.
This year’s new targeting rule is a point of emphasis (it seems that means not hitting with the top of the helmet). Punishment includes a player getting tossed for the game. If it happens in the second half, the penalty is for that half and the first half of the next game. M is a young football team, but this new wrinkle did not impact them in this game.
Brief Scoring Summary:
First Quarter: Joe Reynolds picked up a blocked punt and took it home from 30-yards out. M-7, CMU 0. CMU answered with a 23-yard FG. M-7, CMU- 3. Devin ran in for 22-yards out. M 14, CMU 3.
Second Quarter: Fitz got 6 on a 1-yard run. M-21, CMU-3. CMU got 3 more on a 27-yard field goal. M-21, CMU 6. Gallon caught a 16-yard pass for a TD and Devin ran one in from 4 out. M 35, CMU- 6.
Third Quarter: Fitz scored on a 2-yard run, and Derrick Green bulled in from the one. M-49, CMU-6.
Fourth Quarter: CMU posted their third FG, this time covering 33-yards. M-49, CMU-9. Then Rawls scored from the 5. M-56, CMU-9. After Freshman Channing Stribling forced a fumble, which Delonte Hollowell recovered, Gibbons stuck a 30-yard FG for the final of 59-9.
The no assigned student seating seemed to be a success. Although there seemed to be some vacancies in the uppermost regions, the big block of yellow drew Hoke’s post game praise and appreciation.
All in all Central provided a nearly perfect season opener, but the young Wolverines are a team that has to grow up fast. After Central, the competition goes from mid-major to high-major, Notre Dame major, quick. Next Saturday night when the Irish come to town under the lights, the collective heart of the Wolverines will undergo a nuclear stress test. We will find out how tough they are. I believe the Wolverines will pass the test.
Coach Hoke commented that this will be the last time in a while that Notre Dame will be in Michigan Stadium. I am sure that it will be a memorable occasion.