WOLVERINE MISTAKES GUARANTEE OUTCOME
Recent Wolverine football games against the notorious Irish have produced competitive spectacles featuring last minute victories by the Wolverines as both vaunted programs have been trying to claw back to the top of the college football heap.
But this time, the Wolverines produced no TDs, failed in the red zone twice early, produced five interceptions, fumbled twice, and produced foolish penalties. To their credit Notre Dame produced better defense than they have in the past.
M trailed at the half 10-0, despite good defense. Their offensive failures in the red zone in the first quarter were inexplicable. A Raymon Taylor interception at the ND 27 and an Irish penalty putting the ball at the nine yard line seemed to set them up favorably early. The opportunity died by reason of interception. Later in the quarter RB Vincent Smith threw a pass under pressure, throwing off the mark per Coach Hoke. When that was intercepted another great opportunity was wasted. A field goal was also missed in that quarter. Golden chances wasted. A total of seven turnovers (five interceptions and 2 fumbles) over the course of any game spells defeat for a football team nearly all the time.
Defensively M stopped the run, and forced out the starting ND QB Golson after a couple of interceptions. He was replaced by last year’s starter Tommy Rees. Rees ran for the only TD in the game. Finally, nothing could overcome Michigan’s own gaffs.
FOUR OUT OF SIX OF THE MOST RECENT GAMES AGAINST THE IRISH HAVE BEEN GREAT FOR THE WOLVERINES
In, 2007, both M and ND were struggling with perception of declining national prominence, when Charlie Weise came to Michigan Stadium for what some disparagingly called “the bottom of the barrel bowl.” It was also Lloyd Carr’s last shot at ND as the head man. Hart was hearty, and Mallet hammered. Surprising absolutely everyone, the Wolverines prevailed 38-0. The self-proclaimed “offensive (football) genius”, Charlie Weiss, then owned a notch in his own decline as ND coach, but in 2008, Charlie’ fortunes were rejuvenated, and the Wolverines were dismayed by 6 TOs and a 17 to 35 defeat. Rich Rodriguez owned this one.
Fortunes reversed again in 2009, RR’s charges winning at home, 38-34, and fortunes stayed tuned to the Wolverines for 2010 with a win in ND Stadium, 28 – 24. Denard was superb with 502-yards rushing and passing, and he really hit the big time with this game. Roy Roundtree ran in a 31-yard TD. The only sad note that day was that the great Ron Kramer passed away the day of this game.
In 2011, Brady Hoke won his first Head Coaching game against the Irish, 35-31, in the first night game in program history. Roy Roundtree caught a spectacular TD falling out of bounds with the ball being wrestled by an Irish DB, and again the Wolverines won in the final minutes in spectacular fashion after coming back from behind. Last year the Irish dominated until the final quarter, M having produced only 3 first downs in the 1st half. Denard again proved to be a football weapon of mass production as he engineered another spectacular last minute defeat of the Irish with under thirty seconds remaining.
PRE-GAME PERCEPTIONS OF SATURDAY’S GAME, AND SOME ACUALITIES
There were numerous unanswered questions regarding Wolverine’s Team 133 prior to this contest. The blasting by Alabama, the ball possession of the precise triple option scheme of the cadets of Air Force, and the home opener against winless Massachusetts, did not provide sufficient answers to the following and more.
- Could M create a passing game against a decent defense like NDs that would be sufficient to open up the running game? Actuality: 5 interceptions and two fumbles prevented any M TDs or magical comeback in this game. Would Fitz Toussaint, and all, take some of the load off Denard? Actuality: Fitz lugged 13 times for 58-yards, most of the yardage coming later in the game. Michigan presented an anemic run game outside of Denard’s efforts, until late. DRob carried 26 times, earning 90-yards.
- Would the heretofore effective pass blocking continue and the effectiveness of that blocking extend to the running game? After all, ND had held the Spartans to 50-yards on the ground. The actuality: Again, outside of Denard, M had no running game until the second half. The protection of the OL was poor in some passing situations, causing Denard to revert to flinging it downfield when rushed. Even so, M had 299 total-yards to ND’s 239. Giving all due credit to ND, which earned it, particularly on defense, this is a game that should have belonged to the Wolverines had they retained their poise.
- Would the M defense be able to get off the field, and stop up the middle? The actuality: They did a good job against the run for most of the evening. It appeared to me that the DL showed progress. ND gained only 94-yards rushing.
- Could Michigan get a pass rush, create any defensive TOs, and eliminate Irish interceptions and big plays? Actuality: Ryan knocked down a pass with a spectacular leap. The M defense played well for most of the game, got two early interceptions, but got no help from their sputtering, mistake prone offense, until late in the game, when they managed two field goals. Holding the Irish scoreless and to three plays in the third quarter was an accomplishment. Thomas Gordon got an end zone interception. But in the 4th quarter at crunch time, Notre Dame produced the drive that sealed it with a field goal. When the defense created ND TOs, Wolverine offensive mistakes (interceptions, a fumble, and penalties) cancelled any chance to obtain a win. Devin Gardner was the leading receiver collaring 3 for forty yards. He slid into some objects on the sidelines and injured an arm.
- Could M special teams contain returns, and tackle effectively? The actuality: M did not score until a pair of FGs in the 4rd quarter (Gibbons for 33-yards and for 31-yards), so there were few ND returns. Matt Wile kicked off effectively, although he did not get much chance to do so. Dennis Norfleet was again outstanding in returning kickoffs. He returned three for 87-yards with a long of 33.
- Denard is 90% or more of M’s offense and has had spectacular success against ND. Could he do it again by land and air? Actuality: Denard was responsible for most of M’s offense as usual. He also contributed most of the constant offensive miscues. Four interceptions and a fumble is nasty, but don’t lay it all on Denard. The offensive line had its moments of indifferent pass blocking and penalties. Denard when, rushed tends to fling it downfield, but ND deserves some credit. They put on the pressure. It was definitely his worst game against Notre Dame and maybe his worst ever. Five Denard turnovers a personal record, but Denard’s performance over all games has been spectacular, notwithstanding this one. With this game he passed Chad Henne in offensive production with 9,438 total yards, and he now has 1,197 career total yards against Notre Dame, but this will mean little to him right now. I can’t believe those who trash him with their ill-conceived derogatory comments in some forums. He has had and will have better days, but Saturday he did have a miserable 22nd birthday, at least the part in Notre Dame Stadium.
- Would this be another close classic? Well it was pretty close but it certainly wasn’t a classic. ND made less mistakes and won, but they had their share of mistakes. Michigan had more first downs (19 to 14), more 3rd down conversions (8 of 15 to 3 of 9) and total yardage. And more mistakes. Tiresome to keep mentioning them, but they were the key aspects of this game.
Almost every one conversant with Wolverine’s football knew that the Notre Dame game was the appropriate litmus test for the early season, and knew that we did not have a handle on the Wolverines standing from the first three games.
Now we do. This year’s version of the Wolverines will struggle to win games, although they will be more competitive once they get a handle on their own mistakes, and young players develop. They blew an opportunity to win a high profile game against a team that does not appear to be significantly better in spite of being ranked at 11 to the Wolverines 18.
Those two red zone failures in the first quarter could have been the ticket to a great win. They changed M’s fortunes big time. A 14 to nothing early lead would have changed things drastically.
To their credit the Wolverines played hard. Post-game Coach Hoke indicated that both sides played hard, and it was obvious. The running game got a little life in the second half, but I had to wonder why the ball kept going down field to be intercepted until the first drive of the second half, when some short passing game appeared.
This team is not going to roll over and play dead. Denard, (and hopefully Coach Borges) will learn and adapt, and they will not disintegrate. Nobody will quit. Maybe the defense came of age a little.
Bring on the Boilermakers in a key B1G game at Purdue. The Boilermakers played Notre Dame better than we did, and may be a contender this year. While this game did nothing at all to improve the perception of the B1G, it appears there is a lot of parity within the League. The Boilers will be tough competition having a good defense and decent offense, in what still appears to be an uncertain year. It is going to be a tough two weeks at Schembechler Hall. Team 133 will have a bye week to lick their wounds, and find some answers. They will find them.