M Football- JUGgernaut

The Michigan Football Wolverines rescued the Little Brown Jug from the inhospitable Gophers that had held it hostage for a year, and avenged last year?s disturbing loss to the Gophers, with their 28-14 whipping of the  the University of Minnesota?s determined football team at the Metrodome in Minneapolis/St. Paul Saturday Night.

In my opinion, it was one of the finest Chad Henne performances that I have been privileged to observe.  He was extremely poised, showed some mobility and escapability. And was on target for most, if not all of his passes.   He tossed twenty-four passes, and completed seventeenfor two hundred eighty-two yards and three TDs. He hit his receivers downfield in stride.  With a few exceptions, his offensive line usually gave him time. He threw no interceptions, and Michigan did not lose a fumble due to the athletic ability of Steve Breaston who gathered up a Kevin Grady miscue and advanced it.  Chad?s three TD passes were in the first half.  Two were tossed to fast developing WR Adrian Arrington, and one to Super Mario.

Adrian caught three passes for fifty-nine yards, for a 19.7 average and two TDs.  Mario caught a couple of great 1st down passes in the second half, but dropped one catch able pass.  Still he again had a great game by snagging five passes for one hundred thirty-one yards for an eye-popping 26.2-yard average per catch and 1 TD.  The offense was without the services of Tyler Ecker for most of the game due to a sore ankle, and understudy Carson Butler is evidently in Carr?s doghouse.  Mike Massey got some valuable experience and made a few catches, and Brian Thompson saw action.

The offense generally held up its side of the bargain in this game, using a blend of running and play action, and down the field passes to gather a substantial first half lead.  Mike Hart made some outstanding runs, and late in the game sprinted fifty-four yards into Gopher territory to help seal the win.  Hart is a Houdini in traffic, seeming to be tackled and going down two or three yards past the point of contact, slipping out of the pile.  He is also attached to the football in the wildest melee.

Steve Breaston had some nice catches, snaring five for forty-eight yards.

As for his punt return work, it is a little perplexing that this far into the season the opposing team?s gunners are allowed to close on Steve in the manner they have.   He had a two and one half yard return average on punts.   For a man of his demonstrated abilities, it seems to me Michigan is not setting up the situation to afford him success although every team works very hard to prevent that success.

Also on special teams, Garrett Rivas missed a relatively easy second half field goal that could have helped seal the victory.  Zoltan Mesko the punted well and on one occasion bounced a punt at the one that Steve Brown was waiting for and leaning into the endzone, caught.  While it was ruled a touch back it was an extraordinary effort by Brown.

The kick offs were unexceptional, mostly short, and one was out of bounds. I wonder if special teams coaching by committee works that well. Special teams are about the only area of coaching concern to be considered regarding this game.  Well, maybe the flagging intensity of the defense in the last eight minutes of the game is a bit of a concern, too.  For a short while, it seemed almost a reversion to last year?s defensive form, but the defense was outstanding for most of the game.  When the camera shows Coach English it is apparent that he never loses his intensity.

While the defense was very effective at times, and held the Gophers for many series, they did give up a pair of TD passes. It was a game a little out of this year?s pattern where the defense carries the offense.  Saturday they seemed about equal with the offense perhaps a bit better.  The offense managed to possess the ball for a good part of the game.

Later in the game Minnesota?s QB Cupito fired quickly, and hit receivers seemingly at will to the narrow the gap from 28-7 to 28-14.  The alarm claxons began to sound for most fans.  When the Gophers successfully crafted an onside kick recovery it began to seem that despite all of Michigan?s efforts and fine plays, and positive time of possession, a TD, another onside kick and TD could bring misery. But Minnesota drew a critical penalty, and dropped some passes and another score did not materialize for them, as they failed in four shots inside the Wolverine ten.

CB Charles Stewart had a rough outing, drawing a critical interference penalty, missing a tackle, and getting burned a couple of times for both Gopher TDs.  I think that in run support he is better than Morgan Trent, and therefore played a lot.  He also gained a lot of experience in this game, not all of it positive, and perhaps learned some lessons.  He is talented and will improve with seasoning and he had a dose of that Saturday night.

Michigan received the opening KO and gave the ball to Mike Hart.  Mike ran for a couple of first downs in his first two carries, Steve Breaston caught a seventeen?yard pass and the Wolverines were moving.  Adrain Arrington caught his first TD pass as a Wolverine, on a beautiful pass and catch for sixteen yards and six.  Both sides converted all their EP?s on the day.  Wolverines 7, Gophers  0.  And that was it for the first quarter.

Adrian decided that one TD was nice, but two would be better so he caught an even more impressive one of thirty-seven yards early in the second quarter.  These two drives are among Michigan?s most impressive drives of the season, the first consisting of ten plays for eighty yards and the second a seven play seventy-seven yard drive. W 14, G 0.

The Gophers did not crawl back into their holes, but displayed an annoying tendency to fight back by producing a twelve-play seventy-five yard drive of their own which resulted in a TD after a review overturned the call on the field due to ?indisputable evidence?.  Nice Gopher pass and outstanding catch.  W 14, G 7.

Mario Manningham again contributed by making a 41-yard TD reception to complete an eight- play eighty-two yard drive, which was every bit as effective and welcome as the first two.   Manningham makes it look so easy.  W 21, G 7 as the first half ended.

The winning margin was already on the board at the half, and the fact that the Wolverines were able to sustain three long drives is reassuring for the future and confirms that the offense is developing. 

The halftime adjustments of the Gophers increased their defensive effectiveness in the third quarter.  Both teams were scoreless.

Kevin Grady finally bulled in on a one-yard run in the fourth quarter to put the game out of the clawing Gopher?s reach after a five play forty-yard drive.  W 28, G 7.

The Gophers spent the remainder of the game trying to catch up, managed a final TD, and certainly did not quit the struggle at any time, sustaining a five play, eighty-four yard drive.  Another nice pass and catch against a slightly more passive Wolverine defense, and it was W 28, G 14 as time expired.

This is a satisfying victory for Wolverine fans as the Gophers attempt to plant their flag on our field after their surprising win in the Big House last year was disrespectful.  The jug is back where it belongs, where it is supposed to be.  Michigan?s defense is solid and the offense seems to be maturing in the right way.  They have five wins and no losses.  A lot is right in the Wolverine?s football world.

But waiting in the wings, to spoil our fun, and with more humility than is their usual characteristic, are the Michigan State Spartans of John L. Smith.  This next game is one born of desperation for the Spartans.  Their backs are to the wall.  Smith will conjure up at least one trick play to fool the Wolverines.

Notre Dame stole a victory and the Fighting Illini flat out humiliated them at the Spartans own homecoming Saturday.  Coach Smith as a Coach appears to have huge emotional ups and downs.  He will have his charges fired up.  The Michigan game is their season every year. but that is especially true this year as  Coach Smith can see some Bobby Williams writing on the wall.

The health of MSU?s Drew Stanton who left Saturday?s game late perhaps with injured ribs, not to return with the game in the balance, will be a subject of speculation all week, but you can bet that he will be there raring to go, raring to perform well in his last shot at the Wolverines..

Michigan must be ready for the Spartan?s best shot. It may be necessary for Mr. Woodley to renew his acquaintance with Mr. Stanton.  Football is a game of emotion so on a given Saturday any team?…  Sorry Spartans, not this time.  Go Blue!

Andy Andersen

Clawing Back

In the most remarkable comeback in its football history, Michigan’s Wolverines stared down defeat and clawed back to victory, barely escaping from the Metrodome with a 38-35 victory over the undefeated Minnesota Golden Gophers. The Gophers were under estimated because of their soft schedule, but Michigan was the underdog in the game. Michigan trailed 28 to 7 at the start of the fourth quarter, scoring 31 points to win on a Garrett Rivas field goal with less than a minute left. Unbelievable!

In so doing the Wolverines maintained their self respect, the Little Brown Jug, and perhaps more importantly, they preserved a chance to compete for the Big Ten title for at least one more game, as a happy Lloyd Carr indicated in a post game interview.

Outplayed by a good Minnesota offense for most of three quarters, Michigan’s offense roared back to win. Late in the game the defense got a couple of critical stops.

This was a tale of two halves. Michigan was lousy offensively and defensively in the first half. They were flat. They were scoreless, and it looked as if they were clueless. The enigma that is John Navarre did not pass accurately sometimes, mainly in the first half, which helped stall drives, and all that observed probably thought that here we go again to another “away game” defeat. Michigan was down 14 at the half and things could not have looked worse for the Blue. The Gopher ground game looked unstoppable only because it was.

In the third quarter, Michigan finally scored a TD on a John Navarre pass to Steve Breaston, who in turn tossed it back to John Navarre. Navarre then galloped into the end zone to break the ice. He was accompanied downfield by at least four 300 pounders who cleared a path all the way to the end zone. John didn’t outrun the big fellows, and scored from 36 yards out.

John Navarre was the Michigan player of the game. Granted that he made some errant tosses when it counted, one resulting in an interception, and threw into coverage. He played over these mistakes by making some athletic plays, and he engineered some long fourth quarter drives that were simply outstanding. He ran for an occasional first down, and sneaked for more, and caught a pass for a touch down. He finally won one in a hostile environment against a ranked team, having failed six prior times. He was 33 of 47 for 353 yards, one TD and one interception.

Chris Perry also played with heart, and ran well. His single miscue on the day on Michigan’s last drive came as the result of an outstanding hit. That error was a potential drive killer, and game loser, but an alert Tim Massaquoi recovered to save the drive, and the day. Michigan’s winning field goal was kicked after the recovery. Chris Perry was Michigan’s leading receiver, gathering in 11 for 122 yards and a TD. Additionally, he rushed for 85 yards and scored another TD on the ground.

Braylon Edwards caught a critical 52-yard scoring pass in the fourth, Jason Avant made receptions and fought for yardage, and Steve Breaston contributed by making some receptions and some good punt returns.

The defense gave up lots of yardage. The Gophers had a hefty 495 net yards on the ground and an additional 71 harmful yards in the air. The defense let a very quick and experienced Minnesota QB, Asad Abdul-Kalig, loose on the ground on occasion, but when it was crunch time they stepped up and stopped the Gophers. Jacob Stewart intercepted an A-K pass and returned it 34 yards for a TD, in that critical fourth quarter.

Minnesota scored the only points of the first half with Marion Barber III and Laurence Maroney of the Gophers running in from 20 and 8 yards respectively for TDs. Michigan started the third quarter down 14. Then Michigan got on the board with the Navarre to Breaston to Navarre TD. Now Michigan trailed only 14-7 even though Minnesota is clearly playing better than the Wolverines. Laurence Maroney extended the Minnesota lead to 21-7 on a 38-yard run, and I have to reach for the Maalox. Thomas Tapeh then raised the deficit to 28-7 and I am considering turning the game off, and I am definitely bad mouthing the Wolverines. A 28-7 lead to begin the fourth quarter has to be insurmountable. Always before, in all the history of Michigan football, it has been enough to ensure a loss.

Surprisingly, the Wolverines didn’t fold, fought back, and closed the gap. Chris Perry caught a 10 yard-TD pass adjusting the score to 28-14. Then Jacob Stewart ran in his interception to bring it closer at 28-21. Minnesota did not surrender and answered with a nifty 52 yard run up the middle for six to put the Wolverines behind 35-21. A 52-yard John Navarre pass to Braylon Edwards made it 35-28 and a Chris Perry 10 yard run tied it at 35-35. The defense held the Gophers, and a Garrett Rivas field goal made it Michigan 38, Minnesota 35 in the last minute of play.

Spectacular! An awesome finish!

To say that a Michigan victory was unexpected when the fourth quarter began is to dramatically understate the case. Minnesota proved on the field that they are a quality football team, especially offensively. Marion Barber is a great running back this year, and their other backs are good. Asad Abdul-Kelig is quick and played a good game with the qualifier that he sometimes tries to make nothing into something. Fortunately for the Blue, Jacob Stewart returned that kind of mistake for a TD at critical point in the game. A-K made up for this with a with a 52 yard sprint from scrimmage, but he seemed more careful after the interception. The interception was a turning point. While Minnesota’s defense played well for much of the game, they were not up to stuffing the Wolverines for four quarters. Michigan’s special teams did not attract special attention this time. The coverage was adequate and the kicking was good.

Fortunately! Unexpectedly!

This will not stem all the criticism of John Navarre and the coaches, and the quality of their season, but absolute disaster has been averted and expectations preserved.

This victory will go a long way toward providing a base of confidence the team can build on for the rest of the season, and will provide the hope that Michigan can win away from home, in a loud environment. Remember we have those ugly green helmets coming up in East Lansing yet this year.

Next week we will be back in the friendly confines of Michigan Stadium and we will be able to resume the normality of a Saturday afternoon game.

Hopefully, we will be able to enjoy most of next Saturday’s game against the Fighting Illini. Friday night only the fourth quarter was enjoyable.

Of course, the Illini will do their best to see that we don’t enjoy it.