Michigan fans are very gratified that the football season has finally arrived, but some Michigan fans were not ecstatic over a return match with ASU as the season opener. It recalled one of the most humiliating blips in the Wolverine’s past. There were concerns about the offensive line etc. This win substitutes a taste of actual game observations for speculation. Many important questions will be answered next Saturday against the venerable Fighting Irish.
There were concerns the stadium wouldn’t fill, but it did fill with 106,811 fans. It was not a sell-out, but maintained the consecutive 100,000 fan record.
Seven years ago, Michigan delusions of grandeur were lynched 32-34 on the strength of a Lynch FG, which initiated a deluge of disrespect for M that snapped around the world as fast as a satellite could carry the news. That put a black mark on Michigan’s permanent football ledger.
Some of those concerns are now assuaged since the Wolverines dominated the pesky Mountaineers, but the mark can never be erased. Even so, this year’s so-called “no win opener” is over, and won in fine style.
The Mountaineers are now attempting to mine a bigger lode, but were not explosive enough in Ann Arbor Saturday to blast out a victory. Unfortunately for them, their 2007 team was a better team.
Harbored in a good looking, newly renovated Kidd Brewer stadium , which has been upgraded to contain 23,150 frenzied fans, and with a new 120,000 square foot Appalachian Athletic Center. ASU considers themselves upwardly mobile, their program soaring to new heights on the ready wings of TV money. They are now in the Sun Belt Conference, and can earn a bowl game next year.
It seems a big stadium is no longer an absolutely necessity to prosper financially for every institution, even if it does help to become top drawer. But a payday from a televised football Saturday in Michigan Stadium will help the Mountaineers to shinny upwards.
While it will never be forgotten entirely, the echo from our ASU past is now muted (at least outside of Boone, N.C.). There are still areas of concern to be addressed by this year’s Wolverines, and questions to be answered.
One of the biggest is whether the Wolverines can learn to win on the road against good football teams. Sometimes they have not played up to the same standard of play they present in Michigan Stadium. Will there be echoes of last year’s Connecticut and Akron games? OSU, MSU, ND and Nebraska are on the road. But the first step to a successful season was last Saturday, and it featured:
DEVIN TO DEVIN
Both Funchess and Gardner were outstanding Saturday. Funchess was considered a tight end in prior seasons, notwithstanding he was utilized as sort of a hybrid, additionally playing some wide receiver. As a Tight End he wore Ron Kramer’s old number which was 87. Funchess was honored to wear Number 87 number while a tight end. But his role has changed. He now fulfills all the duties expected of a wide receiver. So he has been assigned the coveted Number 1, the number worn by Anthony Carter and other great receivers.
His style somewhat resembles Braylon Edwards. He is a tremendous leaper. Like Braylon Edwards, who also wore Number one. He occasionally muffs the easy catch and makes the spectacular catch. Like Braylon Edwards. But he is bigger than Braylon. He is making us miss Jeremy Gallon’s past production a little less. He snagged seven for 95 yards with a long of 34.
Saturday he set records, snagging three touchdown passes before the game was 4 minutes into the second quarter. First, a 9-yard TD catch, then a 34-yard TD reception, and then an 8-yard TD reception.
Hoke on the bestowal of the Number One Jersey … “The young man asked me about it, and I said that’s fine. I said call a member of the Kramer family, ask them, and that’s what he did. Ron Kramer may have been the best player ever to play here, best athlete ever to play here. So he talked to Kurt, his son, and Devin being more of a wide receiver, obviously, he thought that’s what he wanted to do. And believe me I asked him who has worn No. 1, and he started with Anthony Carter and went down the list, so I think that he earned it.”
Devin Gardner played an outstanding game. His ball was on target (except one time) where protection failed. He stepped up in the pocket well, got rid of the ball quickly, and took a few man sized licks, one a nasty face mask on the sidelines. When the Devin’s got their pass and catch game going it activated the running game. Much of the running was from the spread. Devin deserved some well earned praise for checking down on Green’s 62-yard run.
Hoke on whether the success of the offense early on came because of the shotgun, spread formation or was it a product of the opponent… “Anytime you can run some of those spread things you’ve got a pretty mobile quarterback, one of those dual-threat guys they talk about, and I think having the ability to run some of that, whether you’re going to make it, your backbone of what you’re doing, I think defenses have to prepare for it. I think it’s always good to have that in there.”
Devin was 13 of 14 for 173-yards and 3 TDs, with no interceptions. He ran five times for 17-yards. The 17-yards reduced to 9 via an 8-yard sack.
It was gratifying to see Coach Nussmeier on the sidelines actively mentoring his QB. His plan recognized ASU’s weaknesses and attacked them.
The OL enabled 560-yards of offense, with 364-yards rushing. Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith were both over 100-yards. Can you remember the last time the Wolverines had two rushers over 100-yards, when one of runners was not named Denard or Devin? And they helped enable 52 points.
Are there rough spots? Of course! They are still a work in progress. But there is palpable progress. Coach Hoke cited Center Jack Miller as improving, and Graham Glasgow, considered by some to be among the best offensive linemen, will find employment on the line against ND.
A freshman left tackle started for the first time. Mason Cole played decently, even if burned on a few occasions.
Last Saturday, Jake Butt was still on the injured list. He is the best pass catching tight end, and soon should return. Graham Glasgow was ready to play but prevented from playing as punishment. Hoke on how the offense will change with Graham Glasgow available to play next week… “How it changes, I’m not sure yet. I think that’s an option that we’re glad we have, but I can’t tell you if it’s going to be a change right yet.”
De’Veon Smith also scurried for 115-yards on 8 carries and logged a 61-yard jaunt. Another beautiful run even if he too got caught from behind. He had two TDs.
Both are tough runners and De’Veon said in the presser after that he wants to hit LBs so hard that they shy off the second time. He had two TDs.
Sometimes vision on the cuts needs work as Coach Hoke has mentioned earlier,
Johnson, Hayes, Gardner all contributed some yards, but Green and Smith were the heavy lifters.
SALT AND PEPPERS
While Jabrill Peppers only played in the first half, being removed from the game at halftime because of a tweaked ankle, he showed all the athleticism with which he has been credited, both as a nickel corner and punt returner. It appeared to me the tweaked ankle resulted from a low cut block that ought to always be illegal. He played on it for much of the 1st half.
ASU kicked away from both Peppers and Norfleet. Peppers is just learning. He ran hard and dove for a punt which is a high risk. But he skillfully made the diving catch, skidding to a stop with the ball, or it would have been a harder lesson.
The defense continues to be the deepest part of this team. Pipkins, Wormley, Bolden, Ryan, Countess, Frank and Jeremy Clark , Gedeon, T. Charlton, and Henry, among others, poured salt into the ASU wounds. They produced 4 TFLs, and 2 sacks. Press coverage on the 4 wide outs that ASU usually deployed was in deep contrast to the bend but not break defense of last year. Greg Mattison was sending them, too.
They played strong active defense. ASU could not move the ball consistently before late in the third quarter.
ASU did have some success running the ball, was it personnel fits? Coach Hoke’s comment…”I think it’s more about fits; I think it’s about guys didn’t get off blocks. You go another series and all of the sudden the same guy who didn’t get off a block, he was getting off a block, and it’s a plus one or a minus one. So it’s the consistency of doing that every time.” On what he liked about the defense … “I thought they were pretty tight on coverage. I think that part of it, and we have worked real hard on being tighter in the coverage aspect (is good). I think the flow of the linebackers, all three of them, because they rotate, and depending on what defensive package we’re in, James Ross, and James plays some of the normal defense also as an inside guy, but you felt those guys. You felt them as much as anything, breaking on balls and cleaning the hits up.”
Much of their play has already been described. Will Hargerup punted once for 44 yards. Matt Wile made some KOs into the end zone. When he didn’t, some were returned to the thirty. Some work is needed there. Matt also hit an upright with a forty-eight yard field goal attempt. Jehu Chesson made a special teams play that is the dream of all players trying to nail a punt returner. Right after the catch he dropped the receiver in his tracks, without slowing up. Perfect timing. Chesson is probably singing Hail To The Violent tonight. Beautiful timing, hit. A play that every player who ever played that position (gunner) wants to make, but but seldom can.
Mike McCray blocked a Mountaineer punt. Ben Gedeon caught the football, and chugged it 32-yards into the end zone for his first collegiate TD.
Next Saturday night, in Notre Dame Stadium will be the last round with Notre Dame in the most recent series. The last hiatus was 25 years. A win or loss to the Irish early in the season sets the tone for that season based on Notre Dame’s reputation, and Michigan’s. Somewhat mirror football images over the years, these two powerful mid-west teams strive for football supremacy without quarter.
Michigan has won the most college football games, ND has been second most years. Michigan owned the college winning percentage, but recently ND claims that honor again. Notre has distained the B1G, and Michigan. Michigan’s has famously distained Notre Dame through the comments of the revered Bo Schembechler.
But when toe meets leather in South Bend, none of that will matter. What will matter is winning a contest against great competition and great tradition. Both schools, both football teams, need this one badly. The motivation is there on both sides. Who will execute?
I believe that Michigan has the talent, coaching, scheme, and will to surmount this huge obstacle to a successful season, but there is not a pint lifted in any Irish Pub nationwide where the lifter does not believe the exact opposite.
We shall see, and thank you for reading these pages.