Michigan enters spring practice with numerous questions on offense, the result of a late season swoon that cost offensive coordinator Al Borges his job. Head Coach Brady Hoke raided Alabama for a replacement, luring Doug Nussmeier to overhaul the offense. Nussmeier arrived in Ann Arbor to find quarterback Devin Gardner still on crutches, a lackluster offensive line that needs to replace its two best players from last season and no clear downfield threat with the graduation of wide receiver Jeremy Gallon.
The Wolverines covered the highest pre-game point spreads in their 133 year of football, forty-five and one half points, with a fifty point victory. Yet the game did not have a feeling of a rout early as it took a while to wear down and dominate the Minutemen.
UNIVERSITY OF MASSACHUSETTS
The University of Massachusetts got another taste of big time college football Saturday, and the Wolverines got a chance to experience facing the third different offensive scheme thrown at them in three games. First, the Alabama power game, then the singular hybrid triple option offense of the Air Force Falcons (which they ran to perfection), and now the Minuteman spread.
The Minutemen are now an FBS team, but came to M Stadium having suffered at the hands of Indiana’s Hoosiers last Saturday 45-6. Some feel it will take another five years for them to be at an appropriate competitive level, but their spokesmen indicated they must achieve at a higher level much sooner, say in three years. That they have a ways to go was a certainty proved Saturday.
In the two games completed prior to meeting the Wolverines (against Connecticut and Indiana), they gave up 82-points and scored 6. First year Coach Charlie Molnar has his hands full, in their first season of competition in the MAC.
They will play their home games in Gillette Stadium which is 90 miles from their campus. Averaging only 13,000 plus fans a game last year, the crowd of over 110,000 at Michigan Stadium must have been a shock to them, except for Michael Cox, the running back who, not garnering much playing, time re-located from Ann Arbor to play in Amherst. He did well, having 18 carries for 85-yards. Amherst is the main University of the five that comprise the highly rated Massachusetts University system. A 50,000 seat stadium is in the works at Amherst.
Massachusetts scored 13 points in the second quarter, their only TD coming on a 32-yard interception return of an errant Denard Robinson pass in the second quarter. Two field goals completed their total of 13 points. They completed a good pass on a flea flicker.
Michigan’s defense yielded only 259-yards which is outstanding, but allowed 7 of 17 third down conversions. UMass ran 66 offensive plays and the Wolverines ran 68. M had 27 1st downs, UMass 15. But UMass converted 7 of 17 third downs and that is slightly worrisome. Time of possession was close, 30.57 for the Wolverines, and 29.03 for UMass. This is also slightly worrisome.
In the first quarter, Michigan put up 14 on a 26-yard pass to Devin (I make it look so easy) Funchess, and an 11-yard run by Fitz Toussaint. In the second quarter, M’s offense produced a 5-yard Vincent Smith TD, a Devin Gardner grab and run for a 42-yard score, and another beautiful Denard run for 36-yards. Shoelace tossed a shoe on on of his jaunts.
Taylor Lewan finished the scoring for the quarter by falling on a Denard fumble in the end zone for a TD. In the third, Roy Roundtree collared an 18-yard pass from Denard for 6. By then the score had jumped to 49-13 and it seemed a route was a certainty. Vincent Smith upped the ante by adding 6 on 9-yard run. In the 4th, Justice Hayes lugged the leather payload into the north end zone for six and his first collegiate TD, and the final score of 63-13 was achieved.
Coach Hoke was very serious in his post- game interview. One reporter said something to the effect that you don’t sound like a Coach that has just won a game by fifty points. Hoke indicated that he was concerned about the improvement of the defensive and offensive lines that it all starts there.
In a subsequent interview here is what Coach Hoke said regarding the margin of victory being good for team morale and the lines: “First and foremost, it’s great to win a football game. At the same time, we’ve got a lot of things that we did well, but we need to do a lot better job at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the football.” Also he stated in his presser he wants the defense to cause more turnovers to give the offense more opportunities. On the improvement on the offensive line: “There must have been some improvement. It’s hard to tell during the course of the game to be honest, but we stayed on blocks a little better. I thought Fitz (Toussaint) got a little better with his rhythm. Then, when Thomas (Rawls) came in, I thought he made some physical runs for us. That’s the sticking point right now. It might be boring for some people, but we need to play better on both sides of the ball.”
What a day he had, producing another 4 TD game. Three TDs passing, and one on the ground. 291-yards passing plus 106-yards running as only he can.
As I mentioned above, this rout did have an unusual feel. Probably because there were unnecessary penalties, plus Denard missed a wide open Gardner, overthrew Dileo, threw an interception, and fumbled on the goal line to slightly mar another outstanding performance. It has to be said when he makes mistakes he usually more than makes up for it, and he certainly did Saturday, but it is becoming apparent that in the first half of games he sometimes errs. When Denard makes a mistake he is forthright in admitting it. In his post-game press conference interview he mentioned them ruefully. The other than Denard running game waited until the second half to get going.
With 5,630 career passing yards, Denard has surpassed both Tom Brady and Jim Harbaugh. He is also in second place in career offensive yardage trailing only Chad Henne.
OTHER THAN THE DENARD RUNNING GAME
Fitz Toussaint ran 15 times for 87-yards. Thomas Rawls lugged 6 times for 42-yards, with a spectacular sideline whack which again proved he likes to run over people. Vincent Smith was only 3 for 20-yards but scored twice. Justice Hayes got a TD, and Dennis Norfleet had one run for 14-yards.
M PASSING GAME
Nine different Wolverine receivers collared a few aerials, with Jeremy Gallon leading the pack. His 66-yard reception and scamper was spectacular. Devin Gardner grabbed a 42-yarder for a TD. The nine were Dileo, Gallon, Gardner, Funchess (TD), Roundtree(TD), Smith, Toussaint, Kwiatkowski, and Jerald Robinson.
M SPECIAL TEAMS
Dennis Norfleet is going to be something special. He runs with abandon. Saw his only punt return of 11-yards from up close and he is impressive. He packaged that with two kick-off returns for 44-yards and you have to know that it is only a matter of time before he takes on to the house. This year’s rule changes have hurts the KO return scenario as now they usually have to be returned form the end zone. Dennis will overcome that. Will Hagerup is punting the lights out. He had two Saturday for an average of 46-yards, and a long of 60. Matt Will hit one KO out of bounds, but is doing a good job on the season, causing 3 touch backs Saturday on his 9 attempts. Seth Broekhuizen hit one KO 65-yards.
THE GREAT RON KRAMER HONORED
Graduating in 1956, Kramer was a rare athlete, competing in track, basketball and football at the highest level. He earned any athletic honor Michigan can give him, and was a true, life-long “Michigan” man. Tight End Brandon Moore now wears Kramer’s Number 87, which was retired in 1956.
An All-American in football in 1955 and again in 1956, first team all Big Ten 1954-56, played offense and defense, and saw time at running back,quarterback, kicker and receiver, Kramer had it all. For two years he led the Wolverines in scoring in basketball as well as football.
So far Desmond Howard, Benny Oosterbaan, and Ron Kramer have been honored. Since I was in school when Benny Oosterbaan was Football Head Coach, I will post a little something about him.
BRING ON NOTRE DAME
The Irish taught the Michigan State Spartans a lesson Saturday night 20-3. They will be nationally ranked when the Wolverines enter their Stadium. It appears that they have shored up their defense from the recent past, and they will be ready to perform an Alabama on Denard Robinson.
It is hard to predict whether or not the Wolverines will be up to the task next Saturday night. Can the Wolverines play tough enough, play poised enough, play smart enough, to nail the Irish, by putting a defeat on a team that has managed a three to nothing start. All season long we have been saying that the litmus test will be the Notre Dame game, and so it will, but it is not an all or nothing game. All the Big Ten schedule will still be before them. But this game might be indicative of how competitive the Wolverines can be later in the season. Much pride is at stake.
Youth was served as the Michigan Wolverines barely scraped by Air Force, 31-25. Freshman were used extensively and Coach Brady Hoke acknowledged that there are more playing than on any of his other previous teams.