BALLYHOOED SEASON OPENER IN COWBOY STADIUM IN ARLINGTON A BLOW OUT FOR TIDE, A REALITY CHECK FOR WOLVERINES
The University of Michigan Football team opened its season away from friendly home confines for the first time I can remember, at night in prime time, against possibly the most talented, physical, and well coached team in the country. The pads popped at this one. As did the Wolverines dreams of a spectacular success on the big stage, and immediate continued national football respectability.
Coach Hoke summed it up: “Obviously, we didn’t play Michigan football, and that is something that bothers our team, bothers the coaches. I don’t think we played or tackled well enough on defense. We didn’t control the line of scrimmage enough offensively, (we had too many) penalties. I mean, we had a lot of penalties, and that’s usually not like us, so that is bothersome and we’ve got a lot of work to do. We’ve got a lot of things to correct.”
Coach Hoke had no comment regarding the extent of Taylor Lewan’s injury or the injury to Countess. Lewan walked off and early speculation that Blake Countess had an ACL injury has now turned into speculation regarding a knee injury.
There is nothing like two out of the last three national championships to smooth out the rough edges of Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban. An escapee from the same position at Michigan State where he was 2 and 3 against the Wolverines, he headed to greener football pastures at several places before coming comfortably to rest at Alabama, where he floats on a tide of success. A Red Tide.
Before the contest, some M fans liked the opening game scenario and some didn’t, but all agreed that most of the benefits of the event to the Wolverines were highly contingent on a winning performance against the number two pre-season college football team. Some were even ready before hand to embrace an “at least we didn’t get beat too bad moral victory.” While a home opener would have made more money, certainly the high profile, away opener bought significant notice to the program, but with this loss comes a loss of national admiration that will be difficult to regain. Was scheduling this debacle a Brandon error? I leave it to you to decide for yourself. Certainly the Big Ten, as well as the Wolverines will suffer slings and arrows because of this game.
If M was to win, it had to come at the expense of a team which in 2012 ended up in sporting the most productive defense in BCS football. Therefore, they did not need an extraordinarily productive offense to secure the (still mythical) national championship last year. This year the offense was very productive rushing and they incorporated the play action pass effectively.
With a massive offensive line, they bullied their way with road graders, and bought the same credentials to this year’s Dallas area opener despite feeding significant grist to the NFL’s mill from last year’s team. And they continued that Saturday night as they dominated in all phases of the game, especially along the offensive and defensive fronts. Both M lines were manhandled, and knocked out of position. That contributed to arm tackles, missed tackles.
As many thought the weakest point of Michigan’s improving defense was their rebuilt defensive line, and one of the main strengths of the Alabama offense is still paving the way to victory with ball possession and moving the chains with road graders, many thought the Wolverines would be in for a long evening. The Wolverine defensive weak point against the Tide’s offensive strong point proved to be a wall as leaky as New Orleans’s levees once were during Katrina.
Coaches Hoke, Montgomery, and Mattison conceded nothing, and the team was intense in anticipation during all of the fall camp. They schemed mightily to give the Wolverines an edge in this uneven battle. They moved Q. Washington to nose guard, and W. Campbell to defensive tackle for a heavier line. Offensively, Elliot Mealer started at center, and Rickey Barnum at guard.
Hoke on the switch: “They had been both playing a lot of center, a lot of guard. Just felt some of the shotgun stuff Elliott was a little better.” That’s interesting.
In facing this supremely talented and effective team, the Wolverines were without their thousand yard rusher from last season, Fitzgerald Toussaint, and talented Frank Clark who had a timely interception in last season’s culmination, the Sugar Bowl. They weren’t on the scene in Arlington, being rightfully suspended for off field misdeeds that have been well documented prior to this account. Kudos to Coach Hoke. Kudos for demonstrated his perspective for the program, while the perspective of the players is being adjusted. The absence of Fitz made the difficulty of the task facing Denard more difficult. Rawls made but a minor contribution. Hopkins contributed, but the main man on the ground was Vincent Smith. Smith broke free for a 22-yard scamper down the sideline, but that was about all. A standard offensive pattern was little tough guy Smith running headlong into the Bama line.
Many faced this game with more trepidation than usual since was hard to get a real feel for how good the Wolverines are this year. Practices are closed to the media. Even so, the Wolverines were granted top ten pre-season standing by most pundits. That has evaporated.
The Wolverines were simply not impressive, except in punting and KO returns. Will Hagerup averaged 51.3 yards punting. True Freshman Dennis Norfleet averaged 22.2 yards per return, and had a long of 32, and he looked good doing it. With 8 returns for an impressive 177-yards, he had plenty of practice. If there was a bright spot, he and Hagerup were it.
So there were many pre-game questions, beside the strength of the revamped defensive line. That included the effectiveness of the receivers, number of carries of Denard Robinson, and who besides Denard, could ankle his way to pay dirt.
The leading receiver was Jeremy Gallon who produced 107-yards on 4 catches, with a long of 71. Devin Gardiner struggled some due to good coverage, but caught a TD of 44-yards. Roy Roundtree had 2 grabs for 12-yards
Denard Robinson did not have a Heisman day. He ran 10 time for 27-yards with a long of 9, and a first half TD on a 6-yard run. Vincent Smith got 33 on 13 attempts with a long of 22. Thomas Rawls was held to 9-yards on 6 carries, with a long of 5. These dismal stats are a tribute to the effectiveness of the Bama defense.
Denard continued his string of interceptions, tossing 2, one of which was returned for 6. Reserve Russell Bellomy also threw on. It should be noted that Devin Gardner played receiver all the way.
This game was over at the end of the 1st Quarter. Bama scored on three possessions: a two-yard pass, a fifty-one yard pass, and a nine-yard run. Up 21 at the start of the second they hit a twenty-two yard FG, and got a 16-yard interception return. At the half it was 31-7.
The misery continued in the third, with fifty-one yard FG, but D. Gardner grabbed a 44-yard TD pass for M’s final score.
Beginning the 4th it was 34-14. Bama scored on a one-yard run in the 4th for a final of 41-14. The Wolverines were out manned, outgunned and out coached. The best team won and it wasn’t even close.
The good thing is they won’t have to play the Tide again this year, and the Wolverines will be competitive in the B1G, but it is difficult to take anything away from this one but disappointment.
That bump you heard in the night was expectations of winning over a major power effectively hitting bottom along with M’s national ranking, and as unsettling as that was, achieving the team’s major season goals is still a possibility. How this team rebounds from this one, may be a major measure of the success of Hoke’s tenure. How much hangover will be left from Dallas remains to be seen, but I think the Wolverine will rediscover their growl and prove they can play some football. The side trip to Dallas is over.
Bring on the cadets of the USAF Acadamy and their triple option, and let’s get started on redemption.
See you there.