Borges seems confident that Michigan is on the right path: “We’ll have the guys here to run any system we want but there is a transitional phase. What we tried to do is implement what we want to do now. We’re two years behind because we didn’t do it from the beginning with that comes some growing pains.”
Unfortunately, those growing pains include Gardner running for his life, just like Robinson last year.
Saturday afternoon, the University of Michigan Football Wolverines squared off with the University of Indiana’s Hoosiers after the Wolverine’s uncomfortable four overtime loss at Penn State stained chances of becoming an early contender in the Legends Division.
Showing a prolific offense, the battle Saturday evoked echoes of a Rich Rodriguez offense, and unfortunately of a Rich Rodriguez defense at times, as both offenses proved unstoppable, and dominated. The the defenses were susceptible to long plays, and long drives.
Where did the Wolverines ability to stop scoring go for most of the game? It was certainly not on display. They let out several very damaging long plays, and had trouble stopping the Hoosiers. Forty seven points against them is all that needs be said. They yielded 410-yards passing, and 572-yards over all. Yielded to a good offense, yes, but that kind of yardage? Coach Hoke was disgruntled when I said good game to him afterwards, meaning a win. “Good game?” “Good game?” was the reply. Obviously, he does not care for shootouts, and games of continued little defensive effectiveness.
The M defense finally rose to the task, got a fourth quarter stop, and Thomas Gordon collected a pair of ever so timely late fourth quarter interceptions, which, coupled with the efforts of the offense, produced a winner.
Gardner connected on 21 of 29 for a record setting 503 passing yards. He also set a school record of 584-yards of total offense. He ran for 81-yards, and was responsible for 5 TDs, 3 by ground and 2 by air. That was a historic performance caused both Gardner’s talent, and the nature of the Hoosier defense. It doesn’t matter who this was against. This was an outstanding accomplishment, one for the record books. Eighty-three offensive plays piled up a whopping 751-yards. Penalties were held to a minimum.
Jeremy Gallon set records himself, as he caught 14 passes for 369-yards. There are now new Big Ten, and Michigan records owned by Jeremy, and these numbers are the second highest totals among FBS schools. Wow! At the post-game press both Gallon and Gardner were present. Gardner pointed out, in jest, that Jeremy is only 5’9″ so harder to hit.
Gardner and Gallon had more than a little help from their friends. Fitz Toussaint ran well producing 131-yards and four TDs. He is only the sixth M running back to nail four rushing TDs in a game. A solid improvement from last week, when Fitz had 27 carries for a one-yard net average per attempt.
Devin Funchess had perhaps the athletic play of the evening. When he was running at speed along the eastern sideline, he leaped over a would-be tackler in an attempt to score, and nearly did, coming down on a shoulder, at about the two yard line. It was a simply spectacular athletic move.
The Wolverines regained their confidence after the Penn State debacle, and again put up a good fight. They improved offensive line play especially at the interior in general, although that area of the team is still in a competition, and seems likely to be a continuing question mark as the schedule stiffens in difficulty. They seemed to benefit from improved offensive coaching schemes to improve the tailback running, and certainly there was better blocking. Knowing that they had to score the offensive coaches adopted a more wide open game plan that obviously worked.
Erik Magnuson was at left guard. Although Magnuson is a natural tackle, he has speed and quick feet. Joey Burzynski showed some promise, at the opposite guard. A little more speed at those two positions is nothing but good. Last week’s starting right guard Kyle Kalis played.
With all M’s offensive line troubles this year, it is fair to say that the offense was 22nd in the nation in scoring prior to this Saturday’s game. That number should be enhanced now. While Devin Gardner may sometimes perplex with TOs, he was leading in Big Ten offensive productivity before Saturday’s game, being responsible for 285.8 average yards over six games. Over seven games, he has now bettered that.
This is an Indiana team with a whale of an offense. Indiana hammered PSU handily this season. Prior to Saturday, they averaged 504.3-yards a game, and had 572 Saturday. They have many great receivers. They played two quarter backs, Nate Sudfeld and Tres Roberson. Tres has the wheels of a running back, and was the better of the two against Wolverines. Each threw a late game interception. Roberson was 16 of 23 and 3 TDs, a long of 67-yards, and had 11 carries for 60-yards. Sudfeld was 8 of 19 for 122-yards, and one TD with a long of 59-yards. Both were sacked once. This shows that M’s pass defense needs improvement, but the defense rose to the occasion at the end of the game.
M won the toss and deferred. The Hoosiers opened the scoring with a quick 59-yard TD strike at the 10:28 mark, and the shootout was on. M-0, IU-7. Soon Devin Gardner ran one in from 13-yards out and it was 7-7. On fourth and two Fitz, then ran one in, and the quarter ended M-14, IU-7. Gallon had gathered in a 70-yard pass to the 11. M led in time of possession by about 4 minutes. It seemed that all was well.
Second Quarter: Fitz struck again from 7-yards out and it was M-21, IU-7. Fitz caught a 27-yard screen pass to the I-U 37, and Gallon contributed. It looked like a typical M pasting of Indiana was coming up. The Hoosiers put that to rest with a 33-yard TD pass. M-21, IU-14. With time running out in the quarter, Jeremy Gallon answered with a 21-yard TD catch completing a remarkable drive of 91-yards in 12 plays. M-28, IU-14. Toussaint had a nice 12-yard run, and Jeremy Jackson had a couple of first down receptions.
The Hoosiers hit a 50-yard FG to end the quarter and the half. M-28, IU-17. M owned the second quarter time of possession 13.7 to 01.43.
Third Quarter: Fitz got off to a bad start at the beginning of the quarter, dropping a Gardner pitch that was picked up by the Hoosiers and returned to the M 5. A quick TD run followed and the race was on. M-28, IU-24.
Fitz got a couple of good runs and Jeremy gallon hauled in a 50-yard TD pass. M-35, IU-24. The Hoosiers put another TD on the board via a short pass. M-35, IU-31.
Was the M defense ever going to stop this onslaught? IU drew nearer with a 23-yard FG after a great Michigan third and three stand at the M six yard line caused an incompletion. M-35, IU-34. Too close for comfort.
Then Fitz ran in from the one yard line after Jeremy Gallon caught a 70-yard beauty. He was downed at the two. M-42, IU-34.
Of course Indiana answered with a 67-yard aerial TD gem. Suddenly it was M-42, IU-40. Gallon caught a 33-yarder before the quarter ended.
Fourth Quarter: Devin Gardner scored on a beautiful, scrambling, six yard run. Gardner was hit by a cheap shot in the end zone. A shoulder into the high chest, jolted him backwards after he had scored. M-49, I-40. IU again answered with a 15-yard TD run. M-49, IU-47.
The Wolverines were at the Indiana 2-yard line when Devin Gardner fumbled, wasting a long drive. Fortunately, the Hoosiers returned the favor of an error as Thomas Gordon got an interception and delivered it to the Indiana 5. Gardner scored again from 6-yards out. The OL missed communications and split in opposite directions, leaving Devin exposed to an unblocked rusher. He was hit hard from the side but got six. M-56, IU-47.
Thomas Gordon then delivered his second interception. M put together one last drive with a Devin Funchess catch of 38-yards and a 27-yard Fitz TD scamper. Final M-63, IU=47.
Forget the fact that the Wolverines have dominated the Hoosiers in the past. This was a red letter game for the Wolverines. One that they desperately needed to win.
While the defense struggled with the hurry up offense of Indiana, they are unlikely to see another that effective. They should change the Hoosiers moniker to Minutemen. They repeatedly scored in a minute or a little more. Fortunately, it is unlikely we will see that kind of offensive hurry up efficiency again this year.
That efficiency, and the inefficiency of our defense on this occasion, forced the Wolverines into scoring points with abandon. They even scored on a fourth and two, and put the passing game into high gear, while managing a decent running game.
Even though the records set were not against one of the Big Ten’s better defenses, they are still remarkably worthwhile, even if contributing little to the main goals of the team.
There is another bye week to heal and to consider the upcoming trip to the stomping grounds of the Green Meanies. While this win did not cure all the perceived flaws and vulnerabilities of this year’s version of the Wolverines on offense, defense, and special teams, it certainly was a step in the right direction. It should provide the Spartans some food for thought.
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The University of Michigan Wolverines invaded East Hartford, Connecticut to face Connecticut’s Huskies in their second prime time football game of the season. Not only were they trying to secure their first victory away from the friendly confines of Michigan Stadium this season, where they seem to win whether they play well or not under Coach Brady Hoke, they wanted to erase any vestiges of doubt caused by last Saturday’s edging of a game Akron team. While they won, they did not accomplish that goal. For a large portion of the game, I thought Bill Martin had done us an extreme disfavor for scheduling this home and home. Many questions remain unanswered.
There were sighs of relief after the game last Saturday, but appropriately little victory jubilation was justified or evident. They were a pretty somber group of Wolverines after that game at the press conference. Captain Taylor Lewan provided a forcefully unique tirade regarding the team’s performance. He certainly was blaming the concentration and intensity without blaming individuals directly. That did not seem help to improve Saturday night’s offensive performance. The errors at the Quarterback position (2 interceptions and a fumble) and elsewhere (lost another fumble for a total of 2 of their 4 fumbles). This kept the heat on the Wolverines while the effort of Connecticut deserves credit. They also came to play. UConn had 3 sacks, their first of the year.
Last minute heroics by both the offense and defense, preserved the victory both last Saturday and this, but when it comes down to the necessary victory ingredient being a last minute scores and desperate defensive stands late in game against over matched opponents, things have obviously not gone well. Especially against two determined teams of provable lesser quality. That M did score 17 straight points is a bright spot.
The play of Devin Gardner in this one was perplexing. He demonstrated an inability to get rid of the football to avoid a sack. He often carries an unsecured football, but in spite of all this, he is still the Wolverines’ best offensive weapon, and it isn’t even close. His 11 passes netted only 64-yards, and no TDs. He had 3 sacks. Devin ran 19 times for 120 net yards and a TD.
This week was eerily similar in tone to last week. Down in the 4th quarter, and offensively sputtering, it seemed old mo was on the other side, this time UConn. Mike LB Desmond Morgan dropped into the passing lane and made a remarkable one handed collar of a Husky pass in the secondary, and rumbled forward 30-yards to the 12-yard line. Fitz ran it in for the 21-21 tie.
The Wolverines were sloppy regarding penalties, turnovers, and pass protection, both last week and this week. Their offensive execution was not consistently sharp, both weeks, but especially in the first half this week’s game. The second quarter was a nightmare. It seemed they had an extended Notre Dame game hangover. Finally, they did just enough to win.
Redemption was a prime Wolverine goal Saturday night, to prove they could play so-called “Wolverine” football, and that were ready for the grueling Big Ten season. Perhaps the defense is ready, or can soon be ready, but obviously the offense is not. This game was hardly reassuring on that count, and relieved few concerns..
The rushing game had been underwhelming, other than Gardner. They wanted to hone that against the Huskies and did to a small degree. The ground game was a priority over the spring and fall camps, yet it remains inconsistent. A 3.7-yards per rushing carry was dismal prior to Saturday’s game, and now is only slightly better.
Fitz Toussaint had his best rushing game of the season, but even so there were too many plays stopped for losses. Fitz rushed for 120-yards, and scored two second half TDs. The rushing attack totaled two-hundred yards and three TDs but was inconsistent, and ineffective for chunks of the game. Reference much of the first quarter, and the terrible second quarter. It appears that this offense is not sure of its identity, but that the defense is making strides. UConn got just one first down in the first quarter, but had three sacks on the day.
Devin Gardner again showed that he can make plays with his feet, but he took unnecessary sacks, fumbled, threw interceptions, seemed to have his confidence shaken in the passing game, and does not seem to be improving from prior games this year. Not a stellar performance by Devin. Even so, he did enough to enable a win.
Defensively, M needed a pass rush. It was thought Frank Clark would provide it, even though he had played below expectation in that area before the game with the Huskies. He was outstanding Saturday. Only five sacks going into this game was dismal for the defense. The defense improved on that statistic. Frank contributed two sacks.
In Connecticut, M faced their second trap game in a row. The Huskies home base is Rentschler Field. An estimated 42,000 attended. M visions of a switch to a nearby pro stadium and filling it with pro Wolverine fans was understandably squashed by the Connecticut AD. Michigan’s football reputation being what it is, this was deemed by them to maybe be the best football program to play in their stadium. A win would have cemented their football reputation like none other, and they almost made it happen.
Built in 2003, they packed 42,000 into Rent, which was sold out for M’s second night game of the year. Michigan had better talent, more speed, and three wins on the season. The Huskies had lost to Towson 33-18, and 33-18 to Maryland. East coast writers gave the Huskies little chance, even though the Huskies were well coached under Paul Pasqualoni, who coached in the NFL Some critics saw his job in jeopardy with the unpopular loss to Towson. A perfect trap was set.
U Conn is now a refugee from the Big East Conference. The Huskies are part of the American Athletic Conference (AAC). Their football high point was participation in the 2011 Fiesta Bowl, which they lost to Oklahoma.
UConn team has some talent, not the least of which is Yarwin Smallwood. He had 14 tackles against Maryland,16 against Towson, and 17 against the Blue. He caused a fumble. Huskies QB Chandler Whitmer has a strong arm and good receivers. Unfortunately for their cause, they had three dinged starters, including Yarwin, who played anyway, and showed no effects. Whitmer lost 34-yards rushing but completed 16 of 32 passing attempts for 159-net yards, and two TDs. He suffered 4 sacks, plus the game changing Morgan interception.
Matt Wile punted well, but put a KO out of bounds at a critical time. Drew Dileo returned three punts, one of them at crunch time for 24-yards.
Michigan’s offensive prowess played second fiddle to its defense in the first. Gardner threw an interception on M’s first possession, but recovered to score the only TD of the quarter, on a 69-yard, 11-play drive. Devin supplied a 17-yard scoring run. M-7, UC-0.
The M offense continued to stumble, with another interception being thrown. UC drove to 7 with an 11-yard pass, and it was 7 all. M fumbled and UC subsequently scored on a 7-yard pass. M-7, UC-14.
The Wolverines received the KO, punted, held, then fumbled. On a weird error by the M offensive punt team, a punt rolling on the ground was touched. UConn reovered, and advanced thirty-four yards for a score. M-7, UC-21. Fortunately that ending UConn’s scoring for the day. Fitz ran in a 35-yarder after the defense held. M-14, UC-21, to restore a degree of hope.
At 9:55 Desmond Morgan made his leaping interception and thirty-yard run to the UC 12. Fitz scored from there on a very nice run, and it was tied at 21 up. Brendan Gibbons secured the final lead with a 21-yard FG. Final M-24, UC-21. M’s defense was outstanding in the 4th quarter and U Conn QB Whitmer was often not left standing in that quarter.
The bright spot in this game was the play of the defense. Many of the younger players played at crunch time, and acquitted themselves generally well. Chris Wormley contributed.
The future effectiveness of the offense remains a question with Big Ten play coming up. Against good teams, and UConn was not one, offensive mistakes could bury the Wolverines championship hopes. It is not all Devin Gardner, although his errors are a consistent concern. The consistency of the offensive line is another. Outside of Devin, the running game is not robust, even with Fitz running for 120-yards against inferior football competition. UConn had not had a sack this season and got three against the Wolverines. The past two Saturdays have proved more of a challenge to the Wolverines than expected.
If there ever is a time to give others a look on the OL, and tweak it, now is the time with a bye coming up.
Those pesky Gophers look more competitive this year. Is possession of the jug in jeopardy?
Like last week it is so much better to teach when winning, rather than losing, but the hurdles will continue to be tougher to surmount as this season progresses. The Wolverines will have to rise to the challenge. They are not there yet.
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Last week the Wolverines barely escaped an embarrassing loss at home against Akron. Within minutes of watching the Wolverines surrender two fourth-quarter touchdowns, and very nearly two more, Michigan head coach Brady Hoke decided that a Sunday practice was in order.
This week they barely survived an embarrassing loss on the road to Connecticut, winning 24-21.
Hoke might need to have the Wolverines practice right when the plane lands back in Ann Arbor, and not stop until after their bye week.