By Andy Andersen
The Wolverines have never lost a football game to their immediate neighbors about seven miles east on Washtenaw Avenue. Wolverines fans did not expect them to lose today either, but at first there was uncertainty.
This is an Eastern team that is much improved over last year’s version of the Eagles. They have their fair share of 300 pounders. They are primarily a one dimensional offensive football team, having demonstrated little passing capability. They did turn the corner on swing passes.
The list of ex-Wolverines at EMU is now enlarged by the presence of Mike Hart on that staff. Ron English is making some real progress there and is a respected coach despite his Eagle’s struggles the past several years.
The Eagles are a run first team, they provided valuable opposition for the Wolverines who need to develop more run stopping capability, and who are searching feverishly to develop an offensive threat at tailback not named Denard Robinson.
In the 1st quarter the Wolverine’s problem was they could not stop the run. And they could not run the football. Or throw it. That’s all that was wrong, while the Eagles got off to a great start.
Stats show just how dominate the Eagles were on the ground in the first quarter. EMU had 7 first downs, M 2. They had 20 rushes for 122-yards, M just 7 for 32-yards.
With only a whopping 32-yards on the ground, what many ticket holders expected to be a yawner, really was a yawner at first. A worrisome yawner. The glitter of last week’s assault on Notre Dame’s prestige vanished quicker than moon shine with the dawn.
Michigan’s OL simply could not open holes against the gritty EMU defense at that point. A whopping two first downs and 32-yards were the totals for the quarter. What? If they are clogging the box, you would expect the pass to loosen it up. M couldn’t do it. They had zero net yards passing in the first quarter. It was another one of this season’s seemingly patented slow starts.
For the quarter, Denard was 0 for 3 with an interception. Fortunately EMU only had a 19-yard completion.
The defense helped turn the game around with a brilliant goal line stand as Jordan Kovacs hammered the ball carrier short of the goal on fourth down, and an outstanding Thomas Gordon intercepted on his own one yard line. The trick play involved a lateral by the QB, and the subsequent long pass down the Eastern sideline was overthrown, and run down by Gordon, who was in perfect defensive position.
Gordon snared it with one hand and in the press conference intimated that they anticipated such a pass in practice. He said he just reached up and it stuck to his glove. He also managed a fumble recovery and 6 tackles. Coach Hoke said this regarding Thomas Gordon’s first quarter interception: “Yeah, I think Tom did a nice job. He had a great summer, he had a great fall camp, and he’s into football. I think his concentration and his intensity is something that I’m really proud of and he made a heck of a football play.”
While Denard eventually totaled 202 rushing yards on 26-carries, and completed 7 of 18 passes, accumulating 95-yards passing and 2 TDs, with the one interception, he will have better days passing.
But his overall performance was pretty good as it stands. Coach Hoke indicated it was a matter of footwork that contributed to some passing problems. On Denard’s need to set his feet: “That really is what it comes down to with all quarterbacks — your feet, your hips. We took a couple shots, and they were just a little long. He stepped up in the pocket nicely a couple times, scrambled a little bit and got some yardage. There are a couple of those shots where he stepped up a week ago and hit that were just out of the guy’s reach a little bit.”
Even so, his value to Michigan’s offense is beyond calculation. In the second quarter, the defense stiffened, allowing only a field goal and Robinson engineered the Wolverines first TD as follows: run up middle for 52-yards, run right for 4-yards, thrown for two yard loss, runs right for 22-yards, fumbles, recovered by Smith, pass left to Koger for 12-yards, runs up middle for no gain, pass right to Koger, 9-yards for a TD. 7-plays and 97-yards in 3.43 minutes is very efficient.
That is just typical of another successful day at the office for Denard.
Then the Wolverines produced another second quarter drive, a 6-play 87-yard drive that was capped by an 11-yard Robinson run up the middle. This resulted in a 14-3 half-time lead.
Today featured another great Robinson performance, but the go to tail back search is still in progress, as Denard is still the leading rusher on the team. Vincent Smith is making a bid, and had the best day of any back, scampering for 38-yards on this drive and having 9 carries for 118-yards and a TD, with a long of 52. It appears he is more than just a third down back. F. Toussaint had 11 carries for 48-yards and 1 TD, with a long of 12, and may still be slightly dinged.
In the third quarter, Denard drove the Wolverines, after the KO, from its own 17 to pay dirt. Robinson scored on a one yard run. He had stretched to the marker on a six yard run, but was denied by the officials. Review sustained the on field call. Smith had a nice 27-yard burst in the series, and Toussaint had a great 32-yard run in the series, but also dropped a nice Denard touch pass that was catchable. They produced another long drive of 12 plays, 83-yards in 5:43, and now it was 21-3.
Soon Denard was at it again. It was the same kind of scenario as above, this time culminating in a short pass over the middle to a wide open Drew Dileo. Eleven plays, for 75-yards, in 5:53, and its M 28-EMU 3.
Michigan finally hit a field goal in to cap the day’s scoring. Brandon Gibbons was perfect from 21-yards out. This was a 13-play, 85-yard drive in 6:13 featuring a deep pass to Jeremy Gallon over the middle for 24-yards. Jeremy was the leading receiver for the day with 3 snags. Finally, it was M 31-EMU-3.
While the first quarter didn’t sit too well, and this was not the game fans expected, this was a workmanlike production by the Wolverines. If they do not learn to score earlier, they are going to have to learn to tolerate defeat against the better of their competition. Again, some KO returns were problematic.
But even if this game lacked glitz and glitter, and was in the light of day, it provided a solid opponent, who hit, and was well coached. It came at just the right time in the schedule. I was quite surprised to see Denard in there so long. Devin Gardener had a nice little run at the end of the game, but did not get the ample opportunity hoped for. I carefully watched Will Campbell and it seems he is beginning to get it. He is needed.
Every game the Wolverines grow a little and every game that Denard is not seriously dinged means more trouble for later opposition.
San Diego State will come in hyped to show their old coach that they learned their lessons well. I hope Brady will not regret the success of his recruiting there. They overwhelmed Washington State in a 4th quarter surge, 42-24, throwing and rushing, at home. They are a very good football team, and present a serious competitive challenge. Twelve hours after Eastern, the Wolverines will begin to gear up for Rocky Long’s Aztecs. The Aztecs started slowly too, but winning on 21-points in the 4th quarter is a feat, even if it is at home. Look out for Ronnie Hillman. This is their first 3-0 start in thirty years.
A win will provide another serious step up on the ladder to attain resurgence of the Wolverine football program.