M FOOTBALL 2012: SEASON’S LAST HOME GAME PROVIDES THE FINAL OPPORTUNITY FOR 23 SENIORS TO ENJOY MICHIGAN STADIUM AND ITS ATMOSPHERE, WHILE OBTAINING A NEEDED WIN-WOLVERINES 42, HAWKEYES 17.

ANOTHER STEP TOWARD A BETTER BOWL AND THE SHOWDOWN IN COLUMBUS:
The Wolverines needed to overpower the would be overpowering Hawkeyes in Michigan Stadium Saturday to add another Big Ten win, thereby maintaining a shot at improving their Bowl game status, and maintaining their shot, even if slim, at the big game in Indianapolis. They got the needed win, but of course they need another. Now, finally, they can focus on the regular season finale in Columbus.

GAME PHOTOS

ABOUT THE HAWKEYES:The Hawkeyes had struggled this year being 4-6 prior to Saturday. They had compiled only 3 Big Ten wins this season, and were therefore desperately seeking another. Coach Kirk Ferentz’s teams have a way of winning against the Wolverines, and the last three years had slapped consecutive losses on them. It was Iowa 24, Michigan 16 last year, and the year before Iowa 38, Michigan 28, and the year before, Iowa 30, Michigan 28. The usual descriptions of Hawkeye lines include rough, and tough and this year was no exception, even though their record was not their best. They wanted to possess the ball, move the chains, and pound it out if they could. They played hard and were chippy Saturday, but team speed seemed a step behind. Defensively, the Hawks have had their problems, and they continued. Opponents had completed 62% of their passes against the Hawks, but the Hawks had gathered in 9 interceptions. Michigan added to those woes Saturday, passing for 314-yards, and rushing for 199 net yards for a whopping total of 513 net yards, but M brought the Hawk’s interception total up to 10.

Offensively too, the Hawks have had their problems, and the Wolverines defense helped them to continue. QB James Vandenberg has disappointed some fans this year who have called for his replacement. M’s defense held them to 128-yards rushing, and 181-yards passing. Vandenberg had more picks (6) than TDs (5) prior to the game, but remained the starter for good reason, proving those reasons by throwing a couple of TDs against the Wolverines. He had no interceptions. Their best RB was Mark Wiesman, who sported a 3.9-yard per carry average for the game Saturday. They owned the second worst rush attack in the Big Ten and that continued. Since they had two good receivers in Keenan Davis and Kevonte Martin-Manley, and have good tight ends, an air assault was expected, if the ground game failed. The Hawks air attack mostly ignored the wide outs and concentrated on the tight ends and it gave the Wolverines fits early. Coach Hoke has indicated their special teams are special, and they had some nice returns.

Before Saturday, Coach Hoke had lost to them twice at Ball State and once at Michigan. Now he is 1-3 and counting.

Last year’s loss was particularly mind numbing. Iowa established a 17- 6 halftime lead and it was too much for the Wolverines to overcome. The Wolverines had four tries from the three, but four passes went awry, and the goal line was not crossed or its plane penetrated. Gut wrenching! There was no solace in M outgaining the Hawks, 323 to 302-yards. A healthy Denard Robinson had a nice day, tossing for 194-yards, and a couple of TDs. Still it was an L.

This leads us to the major continuing drama regarding the Wolverines this season.

DENARD AND DEVIN, FITZ AND THOMAS:
Denard’s injury unfortunately lingered. On Monday, Coach Hoke reiterated for the umpteenth time that Denard was “day to day”. So the Denard or Devin at QB question lingered prior to game time.

One thing that has changed is the added confidence that if Denard cannot play. Devin can play well enough for the team to win, and he proved that Saturday as he was the M player of the game. The pregame question was, would Denard have a cameo role, play a little, or start? Be on the field the same time as Devin? Actuality: Devin did most of the quarterbacking, threw all the passes, and ran for three TDs. He showed his arm strength again and again, once throwing from the hash, to the farthest sideline, making a perfect throw. Accounting for 314 passing years, he rushed for 37-yards and 3 TDs. He had a single blemish, tossing one interception.

Coach Borges was well into his bag of tricks so Denard played at receiver and running back and QB, but never threw a pass. Borges even called a multiple option, which ended up in Denard’s hands. Denard caught a pass or two, ran the read option, pitched to an RB on an option, and showed the magic and toughness that has made his reputation. He was the team’s leading rusher with 98-yards on 13 carries. His long of 40-yards was as good as it gets. Unfortunately, he did not add to his portfolio of scores, and more unfortunately Fitz Toussaint took his pitch and headed toward the sideline where he took a hit that disabled him, and may have broken a leg. At the press conference Coach Hoke would only say that he was in the hospital and in surgery.

Coach Hoke on making use of the different offensive weapons … “I think Al (Borges) and that staff did a great job of incorporating the skill sets that both guys (Denard and Devin) at the same time. Some of those other guys who are a big part of it when you look at playmakers, they were involved.” Hoke on getting Denard involved in the offense… “Al and I have talked about this quite a bit. Al went home last Saturday night and put in nine plays, while he was watching games and thinking about different ways to use him. He had those nine and then about six more different ways, and that’s kind of how it happened. Al’s got a very innovative look at offensive football. Both of our coordinators that way have a nice two-box, of offense and defense, that they can pull from to really help the playmakers and put them in the right positions.”

Fitz was the main man at RB, but Thomas Rawls has proved his worth as a tough runner, and now will get his chance to shine. The next game is against the kind of physical team that needs to be dealt a lick, so he ought to get some carries in the spotlight. It was about time for Vincent Smith to show up again, and on Senior Day he did, but he did with mixed results, having a block in the back, then he held in the same set of downs. To offset that, he made some nice blocks, and had an 18-yard TD catch and run.

BRIEF OVERVIEW OF DENARD’S CAREER ACCOMPLISHMENTS:
Denard has created an extraordinary legacy as a Michigan man. He has been significantly team oriented, cognizant of the accomplishments of his teammates, responsive to coaching, and has kept a smile on his face though the ordeal of being recruited by one coach(s) for a specialized system and inheriting another coach(s) and significantly different system. He has carried his team in a style that is often reserved for Heisman winners.

  • Against Illinois he rushed twice for TDs, becoming only the eighth player in NCAA history to rush for 40 TDs and pass for 40 TD’s, and only the 8th player accomplish to 10,000 career yards. His current (before Saturday) total of 10, 425-yards is 1st in Michigan total offensive yardage.
  • He is among the leaders with 41 career rushing TDs, and in 4th place in career passing TDs with 49.
  • His 4,175-yards set the Big Ten QB rushing mark.
  • He is in 3rd spot on NCAA’s all-time QB rushing list, trailing only Missouri’s Brad Smith and West Virginia’s Pat White.

These are not all the areas in which he resides near the top of active career lists. His career list would be even more extensive if he had not had to endure this nagging elbow/nerve injury in this, his valedictory season. Perhaps the team’s win list would have increased by one highly important game this year if he had not been sidelined. If our style of football was an Olympic sport, and he was competing for medals, he would have earned a record share.

He does not bemoan his final season’s fortune, never complains, and never has. He just puts on that big grin and bears it. That is part of his great personality. He humbly deals with his fame, obviously enjoying the endless attention and tolerating its inconveniences. He has represented himself, his football teammates, and the University of Michigan well. He is a Michigan man.

It will be a long time before we see his like again.

HONORED ON SENIOR DAY:
Twenty-three players were honored on this year’s senior day (13 fifth-year and 10 fourth-year). When Coach Hoke is asked regarding Denard’s legacy he is carefully points out that there are twenty-three seniors who are all special kids. He has uttered on more than one occasion. Mentioned some of them have been underappreciated, and he mentioned a few. Some have enhanced special teams, like Floyd and Simmons. He mentioned Gyamati.

All twenty-three have many characteristics in common, not the least of which was their acceptance of a significant regime change in mid-career. They bought in and the results have showed on the field.

  • Fifth Year Seniors: Barnum, Demens, Floyd, Gyamati, Kennedy, Kovacs, Kwiatkowski, Mealer, Moore, Omameh, Roundtree, Simmons and Wilson.
  • Fourth Year Seniors: Backey, Brink, Broekhuizen, Graman, Campbell, Hawthorne, Robinson, Roh, Smith and Zeller.

KEYS TO THE GAME:
While most games adults play are complicated and football fits comfortably into that group, the measures of ability to win are sometimes not overly complicated. Games are still won or lost in the trenches. Good or bad line play does not diminish the importance of the skill positions, but surely does enhance or detract from their ability to perform effectively. To me the first key to this game was the ability of the offensive line to run block effectively enough against a tough defensive line to enable a ground game, thus enhancing passing effectiveness, and moving the chains.

Actuality: 513-yards of offense pretty well answers that key, even if much of that came on Devin tosses. I have never seen an M QB have that much time in the pocket. Never ever. Some of that was the OL and some of it was Iowa’s well recognized inept pass rush. Responsibility for six TDs is extraordinary. No M QB has done it since Steve Smith.

The second key was thought to be the effectiveness of the defensive line to stop the run. Actuality: The defensive line rose to the task as the game wore on but in the first quarter, and some of the second, they were not sterling, letting Iowa march on them to a TD on a 14 play, 75-yard drive to tie the score. They could not stop the tight ends on pass plays. Hoke’s take on getting hurt by the tight ends and running game early:… “They caught us off balance a bit on two drives. They can get you off balance when they have the ability to run the football. They were able to run the football a little bit, and then on the second downs and on some first down play-actions, they hit the tight end. I didn’t feel like we were settled within the defense like we wanted to be. I do think the players really saw what they had and started playing more fundamentally and with better technique.”

M’s James Ross III had 12 tackles and Joe Bolden had two TFLs.  The young ones are coming on.

The third key would be the ability of special teams to contribute in their areas of specialization. Actuality: M’s special teams were adequate in all respects, except the non-recovery of Iowa’s 4th quarter on side kick.

The fourth key was the elimination of TOs (interceptions, fumbles, as well as stupid penalties like personal fouls and late hits out of bounds) is necessary. This area can move to number one at any stage of the game, and negate good play in other areas. Actuality: Michigan had its share of stupid penalties, an area of sloppiness that will allow the Buckeyes to run up the score, if it continues. Some were described above and in addition the usually reliable Kovacs had a roughing the passer call. But there was only one interception with the ball in the air a lot.

GALLON, ROUNDTREE, FUNCHESS
Jeremy and Roy each had 5 catches in the game and combined for 216-yards, with Gallon snagging five for 133 (long of 51), and Roundtree corralling 5 for 83-yards with a long of 51-yards and a TD. In the past month these receivers have improved geometrically. It probably helps that Devin is putting the ball on target, but they have made some spectacular grabs based on their talent. Hemingwayesque. I should sneak Devin Funchess in here as he had a 29-yard TD catch. He was as alone as you can get in an end zone without possessing a communicable disease.

THE GAME:
M won the toss and elected to kick off and Iowa received, stalled and M took over. With Devin at QB and Denard at TB, they engineered a 12 play 70-yard drive which ended with a Devin run for a one-yard TD. M-7, Iowa -0. Rawls apparent TD was overturned, before Devin scored.

Iowa rapidly answered with a long drive, and a 16-yard TD pass. The defense looked soft. M-7. Iowa 7.

In the second quarter, the Wolverine’s Gardner used his arm to toss a 37-yard TD pass to Roundtree, just after Denard’s used his legs for a 40-yard gallop after lining up at QB. Now Denard had his 3rd consecutive 1,000-yard rushing season. M-14, Iowa 7.

Iowa answered with a 22-yard FG. M-14, Iowa-10. Iowa was moving the ball, but a nice stop at the M 9-yard line held them to three. M took a lead it never relinquished.

The Wolverines then produced another score at about the 5 minute mark. Gardner scored on fourth down on a one yard run after a nifty Gallon 51-yard reception to the Iowa 10-yard line. Rawls got it down to the one. M-21, Iowa-10.

Starting at its own 13, a 7 play, 87-yard drive was engineered by Devin Gardner. Jeremy Gallon contributed a 31-yard reception and Roy Roundtree grabbed one for 17. Devin hit V. Smith for 18-yards for a score with 40 seconds left on the clock, and it was M-28, Iowa-10 at the half and it is easier to appreciate the setting and the perfect football weather and half time show.

M received to start the second and moved 81-yards to a score in 11 plays. Denard and Devin ran, and Jeremy Gallon snagged another long one of thirty-one yards. Devin ran it in from 3-yards out. M-35, Iowa 10.

After a 26-yard Iowa punt, M’s offense set up at its 40, and produced a 5 play 6o-yard drive to cap its scoring. Gallon snared a 15-yard pass and the Wolverines snared an Iowa pass interference penalty, before a lonely Devin Funchess grabbed a Gardner pass in the end zone to complete their day’s scoring. M-42, Iowa 10.

Iowa produced a consolation drive of 7 plays for 19-yards after a successful onside kick recovery. M-42, Iowa-10.

Now it is on to the snake pit in Columbus, where the Wolverines will face the undefeated Buckeyes in their biggest challenge since Alabama.

Hopefully the challenge of Michigan’s new found and expanded offensive scheme will produce points, and the defense will be able to contain a mobile QB, and a spread offense.

As usual, there is much for the Wolverines to win, and to lose. This game always counts. Coach Hoke says this game is fun.  But it will be tough fun, a slugfest.

Go Blue!

M FOOTBALL 2012-WILDCATS NO LONGER MILDCATS-WOLVERINES PREVAIL IN OVERTIME WITH 38 TO NORTHWESTERN’S 31.

 

A LOSS TO THE WILDCATS WOULD HAVE HAD THE WOLVERINES BATTLING FOR SECOND PLACE IN THE LEGENDS DIVISION. THEY ARE STILL IN THE HUNT.

Saturday, the Wolverines returned to the friendly confines of Michigan Stadium to confront the Northwestern Wildcats for the first of a critical two game home stand, that could play a big part in determining the course of the their season. The Wolverines needed to win to get into position to achieve a shot at the Legends title game, which they will have, if they can win out, and Nebraska losses again.  Unfortunately, Nebraska owns the head to head tiebreaker.  After the ‘Cats, the Iowa Hawkeyes come next, and then Ohio in Columbus.  All three games are of equal importance, except for bragging rights, but first things first, and that was hosting, and trying to best the Wildcats.  The ‘Cats made it a game.  The Wolverines dramatic finish made it one to remember.

Game Photos

THIS YEAR’S WILDCATS:  Coach Pat Fitzgerald brought a pretty decent Big Ten Football team to Ann Arbor.  Seven wins and two losses through nine games is a good record, and three wins and two losses in the B1G is also decent. Their rush defense was fourth in the B1G prior to Saturday.  Statistically they were more susceptible to the pass defensively only ranking 8th in the B1G, and the Wildcats were not in the top 100 in pass offense nationally. Actuality: They proved again their vulnerability in that area Saturday yielding 286-yards passing to the Wolverines.

Arriving in Ann Arbor tenth in total B1G defense seemed encouraging to the Michigan cause because M could stop the run.  Actuality: The ‘Cats played a very good football game, moving the ball against the Wolverines with monotony, and converting far too many third downs (8 of 16).  But the Wolverines moved the ball to counter. The Wolverines managed 7 of 10 third down conversions. NW cashed in on a controversial late 1st down that seemed to seal the Wolverines doom in regulation.  There was more than one situation in this game that portended doom, but this is a team that does not quit and it saved them.

Unlike some past NW teams, this year’s edition is a rush first team, relying on the legs of Kain Colter, and tail back Venric Mark.  Both Colter and Mark had admirable games Saturday, but both ended up nicked.  Late in Saturday’s game Mark had the misfortune of providing a cushion for Frank Clark, and that ended his participation. Mark had rushed for 1,072-yards previously and he added 104 net yards on 23 carries Saturday, with one TD. He demonstrated he is a special team whiz that can return kick offs and break the big one, and he proved that Saturday, but his longest and a potential game breaking return of a  KO to pay dirt was fortunately called back due to penalty.  That play could have sealed M’s fate.

The Wildcats wanted to control the clock and dominate the line of scrimmage with the running game, and for much of regulation they did, and they did totaling 431 net yards to M’s 419, while establishing a time of possession for the game of 34.28 to M’s 25.32. In the face of Michigan’s pregame great pass defense statistics, NW wreaked a little havoc though the air at times, getting a couple of TDs, and securing 8 of 16 1st down conversions by air and ground. Kain raised Cain with M’s defense at times. QB Colter shared the task with Trevor Siemian.  Siemian completed a just before the half two minute drill with six, which after the point, tied the game 14 up at the half.

NW threw 13 times and hit 21 for 183-yards.  M completed 16 of 30 for 286-yards with 2 TDs.  NW ran 58 times for 248-yards, but only one TD.  M ran 32 times producing 133-yards and 3 TDs.

NW’s Colter was 8 of 14 for 89-yards and 1 TD, and Siemian was 6 of 7 for 87-yards and 2 TDs.  Colter on the ground carried 24 times for 106-yards.

M’s Devin Gardner was 16 of 29 for 286 passing and 2 TDs. He ran 9 times for 49-yards with 3 TDs and a long of 17.   That run of 17-yards on third down saved the day.

The last time the Wildcats took down the Wolverines, it was November of 2008, and Nick Sheridan was the QB, and Saturday it was too close for comfort again.  NW played a good hard hitting game of football.  None of that Mildcat stuff applies this year.

THE WOLVERINES DEFENSE:  Looking at the stats from M’s first nine games, it seemed that the Wolverines matched up well with the Wildcats defensively.  Actuality: the Wolverines gave up 31 points. What else needs to be said? The Wildcats managed 431-yards against the Wolverines yesterday.  NW took the measure of the Wolverine defense.  Yet, when crunch time came, it was the Wolverine’s defense that stared the Wildcats down, enabling a win, by stopping the ‘Cats cold in the late 4th quarter, and overtime. Kenny Demens and Desmond Morgan each had 9 stops.

Again, while Michigan’s defense struggled with the fine option running of Colter and Mark, they came alive in time, when the game was on the line.  Late in the game, in regulation, a late hit by Beyer almost torpedoed the Wolverines.  It was a possible game changer, but fortunately Beyer did not become a goat.

THE WOLVERINES OFFENSE:  Pregame the continuing question was the offense.  Could anyone other than Denard (if he played), or Devin (if he played) rack up significant yardage overland?  Actuality:  Denard wore headphones and Devin played an outstanding game. Would they be able to score in the red zone? Yes. By land and air.  Would they avoid offensive errors? Actuality:  Devin played a fine game, with only one interception.  The Wolverines had a single fumble, after a 50-yard run.  Devin was poised, knew when to throw the ball away, took some shots and hung onto the ball, and passed and ran well. His bootleg TD run in overtime provided the winning margin. On his one interception he may have misread man when it was a zone defense.  He is my player of the game. He threw for 286-yards and 2 TDs, and also ran for two TDs, winning the game with the last one, and stretching for the pylon on the first one.  He is a great athlete in his own right that has stepped up and out into the limelight.

Coach Hoke on Devin: “I think Devin was very consistent. I thought he stayed in the game and managed the offense. He had the one bad throw, probably two of them during the course of the game. He’s just got to see the field a little better, but he moved our offense. I thought he did a nice job on third down; I think we were 7-of-10, which is pretty good.”

Devin was chased hard for my player of the game accolade by Roy Roundtree.   Roy caught well going 5 for 139.  The hands were there.  Roundtree’s opportunistic 4th quarter catch in regulation, where he snagged a pass re-directed by the defensive back, and no doubt saved the win. Late in the game and down three points M’s chances of winning the game seemed slim if not impossible.  Impossible until Gardner hit Roundtree for a 53-yard gain, and Roy made his improbable catch.  That set up Brandon Gibbons FG to send the 31-31 game into overtime, with only a pair of seconds left on the ticker.  Gibbon’s kick was for 26-yards. Jeremy Gallon caught 7 for 94-yards.

Coach Hoke on Roundtree’s catch: “We had to get ourselves into field goal range. We used the three timeouts in the right manner earlier. It was one of those things, we got some good field position because of the punt return, so that really helped us. It got us into a good area. Then, it kind of fell into Roy’s hands. He did a tremendous job fighting for it, keeping his eye on the football, and he came down with a big one.”

Without Denard the Wolverine rushing game has been spotty at best this season.  It is a shame that at this late date in the season the offense is unsettled because of an injury to Denard, and the fact that the ground game has not lived up to either expectations or last year’s effectiveness.  I hoped to see Denard at full rushing capacity, if not full passing capacity.  His injury is a shame.

The Wolverines were attempting to go 12-0 at the Big House under Coach Hoke, and that’s the way it was-finally.

THE GAME AND BRIEF SCORING RECAP: The Wolverines received, stalled and punted.  The Wildcats went to work advancing with a spectacular one handed catch.  This for a team that the statistics said could not pass.  Venric Mark scored on a three yard run.  M-0, NW- 7.

A 10-play, 78-yard drive featuring a 32-yard catch by Roy Roundtree on the NW half of the field, and an eight yard gallop by Devin Gardner in which he stretched for the pylon, and scored, resulted in a 7-7 game.  It was reassuring to know that the offense could move the ball without Denard against this group in a critical game.

Fitz Toussaint showed some life in the second quarter with a nifty fifty-yard run, but the ball was poked out, and recovered by the ‘Cats.  M’s Joe Bolden saved the day, when NW returned the favor and donated the ball back.  On the foundation of a 17-yard Devin Gardner scramble, Thomas Rawls plowed into the end zone for six on a one-yard run, and suddenly it was M-14, NW 7.

But those pesky ‘Cats would not leave well enough alone and tied the score before the half.  Coach Fitzgerald inserted passing QB Trevor Siemians, and he produced a 56-yard drive culminating in a 19-yard TD pass.  At the half it was knotted a 14- all.

After that it was worrisome as the ‘Cats would receive to start the second.  Those worries were justified.  10 plays and 75-yards later they had another TD. M-14, NW-21.  Then they hit a 34-yard field goal, and it was M-14, NW 24, and it was looking like we might be out of the race.

But when Gardner hit Jeremy Gallon on a 42-yard pass, and then Fitz Toussaint on 28-yard scoring pass, a semblance of order was again restored.  M-21, NW 24.

In the final quarter, the Wildcats made some mistakes that hurt.  There was a costly a block in the back penalty.  The Wolverines were buried at their own nine-yard line, but not in despair, having had the benefit of two back to back passes to Roy Roundtree.  Then came the TD strike to Freshman TE Devin Funchess with under 10 minutes in the game. Great throw and catch.  The ever improving Funchess is definitely earning his scholarship. M-28, NW-24.

The wily Wildcats set off on a journey of clock domination which lasted about five minutes and ended with a 15-yard scoring pass.  The receiver was so open it was painful, and Michigan was behind again M-28, NW 31.

Enter Dennis Norfleet, who hauled the ensuing KO 37-yards to the M 42.  Seemingly trapped he reversed direction and scampered up the side line.  Gardner then threw an interception and I thought for sure, this time it was over.  The ‘Cats ran the clock down to 18 seconds, and the Wolverines had it at their 38.

Enter Roundtree, as he became the recipient of the spectacular 53-yard grab described above, which Gibbons promptly flew the ball thru the uprights for three, and it was 31 all and overtime was on tap.

NW won the toss and forced M to go first.  Devin Gardner finished the game with a roll out around end for a third and one, one-yard score. M-38, NW-31 and it was up the defense. They rose to the occasion, and by stopping the ‘Cats cold, preserved the win.

Both teams played well in a very competitive and exciting game that was worth the price of a ticket on a decent football day, in a beautiful setting, played when some feel a football game should be played.

It looks like Devin Gardner can carry the load, and he is a great athlete. He has restored confidence in the belief that there will be an experienced candidate for the position in the QB competition next year.  The injury to Denard has a real downside in almost all respects, but it has not hurt a thing that Devin has had the chance to acquire real game winning experience.

Hopefully Denard will be back at the helm next week and at 100%, for his last fling in Michigan Stadium.  Crowd appreciation for him should be as momentous as it is deserved.  Will we ever see his like again?

Bring on the Hawkeyes!

Go Blue!

M-FOOTBALL 2012: MINNESOTA’S GOPHERS GO FER IT, BUT FALL WAY SHORT AS RESERVE QUARTERBACK DEVIN GARDNER EXCELS IN FIRST START: MICHIGAN 35; MINNESOTA 13.

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.

PREGAME KEYS:

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.

 

Go Blue!

M Football 2012-NO LATE GAME HEROICS TO SECURE WIN AS WOLVERINES TAKE LOSS-MICHIGAN 6, NOTRE DAME 13.

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.

Lord, thank you for the turnovers we are about to receive…

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.

Game Photos

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.

Go Blue!