The University of Michigan?s Football Wolverines invited Brady Hoke’s Ball State Cardinals to the Big House Saturday in a game designed to fill a late and vacant schedule date caused by the extension of the number of allowable NCAA football games to twelve per season. As you know the Wolverines dream season continues to survive, thirty-four to twenty-six, but it wasn?t the expected walk in the park, and it was a near disaster, being too close for comfort. Pre-game, a fly-by by a couple of F-18A Hornets provided some thunder, and I thought the Wolverines would continue to shake the stadium.
This game was expected by most to only be a warm up for the remaining Wolverine games in their pursuit of a Big Ten Title, the MNC, an unbeaten season and the showdown of unbeatens in Columbus on November 18th. Pundits predicted Michigan would provide a over a thirty-point victory margin, and the game would provide the opportunity for the Blue to hone its array of reserves. The point spread for the day was the largest for any game in the nation on Saturday.
Some reserves did play early and late, with Jerome Jackson, and Brandon Minor, adding to the significant yardage gained on the ground by Mike Hart. Some backup DBs were burned with big plays late in the game. The anticipated appearance of QB Jason Forcier did not occur, probably due to the close nature of the game. But the expected point totals did not happen even though the Cardinals dwell near the lower echelons of MAC existence, the Wolverines had already dispatched Central Michigan?s MAC leading Chippewas in impressive fashion, and Michigan produced over five hundred yards of offense.
The Wolverines own errors and the determination of the Cardinals led to early and late Cardinal leads. The Wolverines almost enabled their date with disaster. Ultra reliable Mike Hart fumbled deep in Michigan territory, which resulted in a safety and two Ball State points. Chad Henne threw into double coverage in Michigan?s end and was penalized by an interception return for six. This was all in the first quarter, and accounted for the early Ball State lead.
Suddenly, late in the game the defense did not hold on in two Cardinal scoring drives, and Michigan?s pass defense became a problem. It was not easy not to flashback to 2005 and late defensive failures. And the offense wasn?t doing its part by moving the ball with the game on the line. Again flashbacks caused by a Cardinal lead.
The late Cardinal lead was the result of a pair of nice Cardinal scoring drives. A foolish Michigan facemask penalty played a part. The first drive was against the Wolverines defensive reserves. More of the starters were back for the second drive, which put the upstart Cardinals within eight points of the Wolverines late in the forth quarter. Again a reserve DB was burned.
While Michigan?s defense was throwing everything but the kitchen sink at the Cardinals, it was impressive. Woodley, Crable, Branch, Taylor and especially Harris, were making tackles all over the field. But then they changed personnel and the defense melted, but the Wolverines were finally up to the task of preserving the victory.
The date with disaster was turned into a victory celebration finally as the clock and Brady Hoke?s hopes expired on a Ryan Mundy end zone interception.
The game went like this. Michigan drew first blood in the first quarter, even though the Cardinal?s owned the quarter on the scoreboard as it ended, while totaling only twenty-eight yards.
Michigan formulated a seventy-six yard first quarter drive that ended with Jerome Jackson falling in for a one yard TD. He had been in the endzone on the previous play, called a TD on the field but overruled by review. M 7, BSU 0.
The defense held and a nice Cardinal punt was downed deep in Michigan territory. Mike Hart coughed it up for a safety, and the Cards retained possession of the ball on a free kick by Zoltan Mesko. M 7, BSU 2.
Then Chad Henne threw into coverage and it was intercepted and returned for six. M 7, BSU 9. Oh, OH!
In the second quarter, the legs of Mike Hart produced an eight play, seventy-four yard drive, with Carson Butler snagging a seven yard TD pass. M 14, BSU 9.
Michigan?s offense diddled to a stop, so Mike Rivas was called upon to hit a twenty-two yard field goal ending a three-play forty-nine yard drive. M 17, BSU 9. A TD here would have helped relieve the tension later, but they stalled and got only the three.
Then Brandon Minor made a major run for a forty-yard TD. This guy is going to star at Michigan. He can turn the corner better than any other back they have. M 24, BSU 9.
The Cardinals answered with a three pointer on a nice 52 yarder. M 24, BSU 12. So ended the first half.
The band put on its nicest performance of the season so far, featuring TV musical themes and producing the outline of an automobile, boat and other items appropriate to the music. The outlines the band formed were recognizable from my near end zone seats, as they showed up perfectly on the scoreboard screens. A Star Trek actor conducted music from Star Track, and got the ovation of the day when he ended the performance by shouting Beat the Bucks.
Mike Hart bulled in from the run, after an impressive twelve play, eighty-yard drive to make it M 31, BSU 12. Everyone relaxed as did the defense as starters were replaced.
Surprisingly, Michigan gave up a fifty-four yard pass play and all of a sudden its M 31, BSU 19.
The Blue could only answer with another Garrett Rivas field goal. M 34, BSU 19.
The Cardinals then damaged the defensive pride of some of the starters, but again a back up DB was the main victim, with another big play and a score after, this time coming on a three-yard run culminating a three play-drive. M 34, BSU 26.
What are the lessons to be learned? Pass defense appears to be a real problem. Michigan?s pass defense gave up two hundred fifty yards and some damaging big plays. Credit some of that to BSU?s Stan Parrish, our old QB coach, who now handles OC duties for BSU. The Wolverine?s time of possession and a ton of offensive yardage were more than adequate, but where were the points? Michigan settled for two late field goals instead of TDs that would have put the game away.
Again the run defense was outstanding, but penalties and allowing long plays is anything but outstanding. Injuries are still a plaque. Was Prescott Burgess hurt for the second half, and where was Kevin Grady? Is he out for the season or will he be back? Jake Long appeared to shake off an injury.
While Mike Hart had twenty-five carries for one hundred fifty-five yards; Brandon Minor had one hundred and eight yards; and Jerome Jackson had lugged six for sixty-eight yards, and all had a TD, the offense did not move the ball at crunch time, failed in the red zone twice, dropped passes, and made costly mistakes. They have to do better and should be very coach able this week.
Chad was seventeen of twenty-five for one hundred fifty-five yards, one TD and one interception, and showed some mobility on occasion. Again Michigan ran on most first downs, with varying results. The offense did log good time of possession again. Before the game Michigan was the best in the nation in offensive turnovers.
Steve Breaston was a Henne target for seven completions for fifty-yards, Carson Butler had four for forty-nine and a TD. While he had a drop he is maturing. Mario Manningham played but was not Henne?s target, but seemed to run well.
Rondell Biggs, Mark Bihl, Steve Breaston, Tyler Ecker, David Harris, Obi Oluigbo, Willis Barringer, Ross Ryan, Carl Tabb, Brian Thompson, Jeremy Van Alstyne, Darnell Hood, Turner Booth, Alijah Bradley, Jeff Kastl, B.J. Opong-Owusu. Prescott Burgess, Leon Hall, Jerome Jackson, Garrett Rivas and LaMarr Woodley, have played their last football game in Michigan Stadium. They will be missed next year. What a group!
While this game wasn?t a blow out, and was hard hitting on both sides, the Blue did ultimately prevail. No MAC team has ever beaten the Wolverines, but Brady Hoke and his charges definitely won a moral victory Saturday and gave their best, but that won?t satisfy Brady. And Saturday?s performance won?t satisfy Coach Carr, and shouldn?t. Post game radio interviews mentioned a serious locker room. It should be.
Ten in a row isn?t bad in any body?s book. Now it needs to be eleven. The Hoosiers were embarrassed by Minnesota, and will want to defang the Wolverines to make their season, etc., etc. At least it will be on TV other than ESPNU, so most can see it.
Having been taught a lesson by Ball State, no doubt the Wolverines will be loaded for Hoosiers. The Bucks struggled with Illinois, winning by seventeen to ten, if that makes you feel any better.
Saturday?s game is not just a warm up before the Buckeyes, it is an obstacle that must be scaled for a successful season. It is as important as any game this year. I believe these Wolverines have the ladder to success, even if they do slip or slide, one way or another, once in a while.
Thank you for reading this far, come back next week, and Go Blue!