INJURIES SIDELINE ROBINSON, BUT THE LITTLE BROWN JUG IS ON ITS WAY HOME BECAUSE OF THE WOLVERINE’S DEFENSE, AND DEVIN GARDNER AND FRIENDS.
The Michigan Wolverines football team traveled to the Twin Cities of Minneapolis St. Paul, to meet the Minnesota Gophers in their still new TCF Bank stadium on Saturday. The Wolverines were looking to improve their suddenly uncomfortably uncertain football prospects, and in so doing had to kill Gopher Coach Jerry Kill and Company’s dreams of improving their own bowl prospects with a signature win.
The Gophers must have yearned for the football respectability that a win over the University of Michigan would afford them. They were coming off their most solid win of the season, having destroyed Purdue 44-23 last Saturday. This improved their expectations and gave some probability, but not certainty, to obtaining the object of their quest. Sitting at 5 wins, and 3 Big Ten losses, they critically needed another win to go bowling.
Understandably, they wanted to lay their Gopher paws on our Little Brown Jug again. One of the most venerable and venerated “trophies” in the history of college football, it has dwelt most of its time in Ann Arbor, at home in the home of the Wolverines, and it is difficult to categorize any season that ends with its absence as a success.
Even though M leads the series 71-24-1, the Gophers have had their moments. Rickey Foggy laid a memorable loss on the number two ranked Wolverines in 1986, and for those of us in attendance, that was bitter. And there was that miserable playing surface at the Metro dome, where the fleet and shifty Tony Boles ran up the sideline for a nice gain, but twisted a knee, and lost his playing career, due it was said, to a miserable Metro dome rug. Among those 24 prior Wolverine losses there were some stunners.
The Wolverines set out, as they always do, to provide the Jug with a round trip ticket. But there were obstacles in the way, not the least of which were some aspects of the Wolverine’s team itself.
When Denard Robinson fell on his elbow in the second quarter of last Saturday’s Nebraska loss, it illustrated like nothing else could how dependent the Wolverines offensive productivity is on his many athletic skills. Some had suspected that M’s offense was a one act pony, and the Nebraska game seemed to prove the point. This injury changed the course of Michigan’s offense, just as it made Nebraska change its very conservative, contain Robinson at all costs, defense. They went to a hell for leather blitzing scheme which took its toll on Denard’s replacement, Freshman Russell Bellomy.
Russell suffered the growing pains of inexperience, the slings and arrows of some fans, and too little help from his friends as catchable passes were dropped, blitzers were coming free, and nearly everything else that besets QBs in ineffective debuts, beset Russell. It was as intense a baptism and learning situation as it was dismal. Russell was 3 of 16 for 38-yards and three interceptions.
- Could Denard shake off his injured elbow, start and play at his usual high level of performance shaking off the injury? Actuality: No, the injury has persisted. Good luck trying to find out if Denard will be ready for next week until game time.
- If Denard was not available, would Devin Gardner or Russell Bellomy replace him? Prior to Nebraska, Coach Hoke said in a presser that Russell was the back up, and that he was taking most of the snaps. Now the scenario had changed a little and they were saying that Devin Gardner would get more snaps at QB, and that there was competition at the position. Actuality: Devin Gardner started and after a dismal first quarter, got going. The ice breaker was a third and seventeen pass play in which he rolled to his right, circled back left, and heaved a perfect pass to Drew Dileo waiting by himself in the end zone. Devin held the ball for nine seconds before the toss. That play set the Michigan offensive wheels in motion. Devin’s career day included 12 completions, 2 TDs, and one interception. He hit 67% of his passes, hitting 12 of 18, for 234-yards. He had a very athletic run down the sidelines.
- Could the Wolverines run the ball with no Denard? Actuality: Late in the game, on fourth and one, Fitz broke up the middle late in the game for a 41-yard score. Almost collared, he put an arm down, regained balance and sped to six. He had 70-yards on 13 carries. Thomas Rawls ran 16 times for 43-yards, and played early in the game. Devin Gardner had 44-yards on 10 carries. Jeremy Gallon rushed twice for 21-yards. The total of 182-yards and a 3.9-yard average rush is nothing to write home about considering the struggle of the competition’s defense against the rush, but its better than some recent results. Could M throw it? Actuality: The passing was not effective in the first quarter. The offensive line did not hold its own in that quarter. The passing game was great the rest of the game. As mentioned Devin had some good runs. On his TD run, he ran as tough as any back and stretched for six . It was a remarkable play that was the game’s turning point. The receiver’s cooperated with Devin. Dileo, Roundtree, and Gallon all making outstanding catches. Gallon was a little inconsistent, fumbling a punt return, and getting a silly block in the back penalty, but he redeemed all by snaring a 47-yarder with a beautiful catch. Relatively short, Gallon showed remarkable elevation making that catch, as he has others. Gallon had four with a score. Drew Dileo had 69-yards on four catches and a TD. Roy Roundtree caught two for 64-yards with a long of 47-yards. This was a spectacular grab he as he wrestled with the defender. The catch was upheld on review. Michigan “won” all its reviews.
- Would the defense continue to improve? Get off the field and stop big plays? Actuality: The defense did well overall. They snuffed a critical fourth and ones and were great in the red zone, once backing short and goal back up to the twenty. They held Minnesota to 144-yds rushing and 147-yards passing, maintaining another 13 point effort. Jake Ryan had nine tackles, three of which were TFLs. Kenny Demens had 10-tackles with one of those being a TFL. The Gophers were limited to 49-yards offense in the second quarter. Outstanding. But with room for improvement per Coach Hoke. Probably he was thinking of third and long conversions, and that first drive.
- Would special teams again be special? Too often the Gophers had good field position on KO returns, and Will Hagerup was less spectacular punting than usual, hitting 3 for 88-yards. His 29.3 average was surprising. Gibbons missed an extra point but got a re-try on a Minnesota gift, keeping his made string intact.
- Penalties? Michigan made some stupid penalties, but Minnesota hurt themselves, once getting charged for two penalties on the same play, and an ill- advised fake kick was effectively snuffed out be the Wolverines.
BRIEF GAME AND SCORING RECAP:
The Wolverines received and it looked like a replay of last week’s troubles at Nebraska would materialize again as the offensive line and Devin struggled, tossing an early interception, but the defense proved solid and the quarter ended zip to zip. A short punt put the Gophers at the M 43 and they took full advantage of the good field position, driving 43-yards on a 6 play drive ending with a 6-yard TD pass. M-0, Minn.- 7.
The Wolverines put together a sweet 91-yard, 12-play drive featuring the 45-yard end zone reception by Drew Dileo that marked the emergence of Devin Gardner and the resurgence of the Wolverines offense. Dileo knows how to get open and he catches the ball reliably all the time, and spectacularly some of the time. The TD drought was over. M-7, Minn.-7.
The Wolverines showed they meant business by producing a 13-play, 90-yard drive. Roundtree, Funchess, and J. Robinson, caught passes and Gardner contributed a nice run. Thomas Rawls finished the drive with a two-yard TD run and it was 14-7 and halftime.
In the third quarter, Minnesota drove to the M 14, but turned the ball over on downs, and during a 7 play 86-yard drive, Gardner hit Jeremy Gallon for a 47-yard completion. M-21, Minn.-7.
In the 4th quarter Minnesota got 3 back on a 26-yard FG. The defense held them to a FG, after they had got to the M 3-yard line. A good example of the defense’s effectiveness when and opponent is in its red zone. M-21, Minn-10.
Soon Devin Gardner was at it again conducting an 8-play 70-yard scoring drive with Roy Roundtree gathering in a 47-yard reception at the Minnesota three. What a reception that was. Roy caught the ball as well as the arm of the defender, and replay verified that the call of a catch on the field was valid. M-28, Minn-10.
Minnesota produced another long drive of 13-plays and 69-yards, which ended at fourth and goal at the M 2. It was another great defensive stand. M-28, Minn-13.
Fitz Toussaint then ripped off the 41-yard TD jaunt described above and it was over. FINAL: M-35, Minn.-13.
In Coach Jerry Kill’s second season, the Gophers have been a much improved team over the one that the Wolverines destroyed in Ann Arbor last year 58-0. With five wins and three losses, they are hunting for a bowl berth in spite of playing musical chairs at QB and on the offensive line. That said, most teams have not had to pass much against them as rushing yardage has been readily available. The Wolverines rushing game again still struggled somewhat, but with Gardner’s contributions, it was enough for a very needed win.
Congratulations to Devin Gardner who had a spectacular first start, and bring on a good Northwestern team. And thanks to you for perusing these pages.