Michigan enters spring practice with numerous questions on offense, the result of a late season swoon that cost offensive coordinator Al Borges his job. Head Coach Brady Hoke raided Alabama for a replacement, luring Doug Nussmeier to overhaul the offense. Nussmeier arrived in Ann Arbor to find quarterback Devin Gardner still on crutches, a lackluster offensive line that needs to replace its two best players from last season and no clear downfield threat with the graduation of wide receiver Jeremy Gallon.
Saturday afternoon, the University of Michigan Football Wolverines squared off with the University of Indiana’s Hoosiers after the Wolverine’s uncomfortable four overtime loss at Penn State stained chances of becoming an early contender in the Legends Division.
Showing a prolific offense, the battle Saturday evoked echoes of a Rich Rodriguez offense, and unfortunately of a Rich Rodriguez defense at times, as both offenses proved unstoppable, and dominated. The the defenses were susceptible to long plays, and long drives.
Where did the Wolverines ability to stop scoring go for most of the game? It was certainly not on display. They let out several very damaging long plays, and had trouble stopping the Hoosiers. Forty seven points against them is all that needs be said. They yielded 410-yards passing, and 572-yards over all. Yielded to a good offense, yes, but that kind of yardage? Coach Hoke was disgruntled when I said good game to him afterwards, meaning a win. “Good game?” “Good game?” was the reply. Obviously, he does not care for shootouts, and games of continued little defensive effectiveness.
The M defense finally rose to the task, got a fourth quarter stop, and Thomas Gordon collected a pair of ever so timely late fourth quarter interceptions, which, coupled with the efforts of the offense, produced a winner.
Gardner connected on 21 of 29 for a record setting 503 passing yards. He also set a school record of 584-yards of total offense. He ran for 81-yards, and was responsible for 5 TDs, 3 by ground and 2 by air. That was a historic performance caused both Gardner’s talent, and the nature of the Hoosier defense. It doesn’t matter who this was against. This was an outstanding accomplishment, one for the record books. Eighty-three offensive plays piled up a whopping 751-yards. Penalties were held to a minimum.
Jeremy Gallon set records himself, as he caught 14 passes for 369-yards. There are now new Big Ten, and Michigan records owned by Jeremy, and these numbers are the second highest totals among FBS schools. Wow! At the post-game press both Gallon and Gardner were present. Gardner pointed out, in jest, that Jeremy is only 5’9″ so harder to hit.
Gardner and Gallon had more than a little help from their friends. Fitz Toussaint ran well producing 131-yards and four TDs. He is only the sixth M running back to nail four rushing TDs in a game. A solid improvement from last week, when Fitz had 27 carries for a one-yard net average per attempt.
Devin Funchess had perhaps the athletic play of the evening. When he was running at speed along the eastern sideline, he leaped over a would-be tackler in an attempt to score, and nearly did, coming down on a shoulder, at about the two yard line. It was a simply spectacular athletic move.
The Wolverines regained their confidence after the Penn State debacle, and again put up a good fight. They improved offensive line play especially at the interior in general, although that area of the team is still in a competition, and seems likely to be a continuing question mark as the schedule stiffens in difficulty. They seemed to benefit from improved offensive coaching schemes to improve the tailback running, and certainly there was better blocking. Knowing that they had to score the offensive coaches adopted a more wide open game plan that obviously worked.
Erik Magnuson was at left guard. Although Magnuson is a natural tackle, he has speed and quick feet. Joey Burzynski showed some promise, at the opposite guard. A little more speed at those two positions is nothing but good. Last week’s starting right guard Kyle Kalis played.
With all M’s offensive line troubles this year, it is fair to say that the offense was 22nd in the nation in scoring prior to this Saturday’s game. That number should be enhanced now. While Devin Gardner may sometimes perplex with TOs, he was leading in Big Ten offensive productivity before Saturday’s game, being responsible for 285.8 average yards over six games. Over seven games, he has now bettered that.
This is an Indiana team with a whale of an offense. Indiana hammered PSU handily this season. Prior to Saturday, they averaged 504.3-yards a game, and had 572 Saturday. They have many great receivers. They played two quarter backs, Nate Sudfeld and Tres Roberson. Tres has the wheels of a running back, and was the better of the two against Wolverines. Each threw a late game interception. Roberson was 16 of 23 and 3 TDs, a long of 67-yards, and had 11 carries for 60-yards. Sudfeld was 8 of 19 for 122-yards, and one TD with a long of 59-yards. Both were sacked once. This shows that M’s pass defense needs improvement, but the defense rose to the occasion at the end of the game.
M won the toss and deferred. The Hoosiers opened the scoring with a quick 59-yard TD strike at the 10:28 mark, and the shootout was on. M-0, IU-7. Soon Devin Gardner ran one in from 13-yards out and it was 7-7. On fourth and two Fitz, then ran one in, and the quarter ended M-14, IU-7. Gallon had gathered in a 70-yard pass to the 11. M led in time of possession by about 4 minutes. It seemed that all was well.
Second Quarter: Fitz struck again from 7-yards out and it was M-21, IU-7. Fitz caught a 27-yard screen pass to the I-U 37, and Gallon contributed. It looked like a typical M pasting of Indiana was coming up. The Hoosiers put that to rest with a 33-yard TD pass. M-21, IU-14. With time running out in the quarter, Jeremy Gallon answered with a 21-yard TD catch completing a remarkable drive of 91-yards in 12 plays. M-28, IU-14. Toussaint had a nice 12-yard run, and Jeremy Jackson had a couple of first down receptions.
The Hoosiers hit a 50-yard FG to end the quarter and the half. M-28, IU-17. M owned the second quarter time of possession 13.7 to 01.43.
Third Quarter: Fitz got off to a bad start at the beginning of the quarter, dropping a Gardner pitch that was picked up by the Hoosiers and returned to the M 5. A quick TD run followed and the race was on. M-28, IU-24.
Fitz got a couple of good runs and Jeremy gallon hauled in a 50-yard TD pass. M-35, IU-24. The Hoosiers put another TD on the board via a short pass. M-35, IU-31.
Was the M defense ever going to stop this onslaught? IU drew nearer with a 23-yard FG after a great Michigan third and three stand at the M six yard line caused an incompletion. M-35, IU-34. Too close for comfort.
Then Fitz ran in from the one yard line after Jeremy Gallon caught a 70-yard beauty. He was downed at the two. M-42, IU-34.
Of course Indiana answered with a 67-yard aerial TD gem. Suddenly it was M-42, IU-40. Gallon caught a 33-yarder before the quarter ended.
Fourth Quarter: Devin Gardner scored on a beautiful, scrambling, six yard run. Gardner was hit by a cheap shot in the end zone. A shoulder into the high chest, jolted him backwards after he had scored. M-49, I-40. IU again answered with a 15-yard TD run. M-49, IU-47.
The Wolverines were at the Indiana 2-yard line when Devin Gardner fumbled, wasting a long drive. Fortunately, the Hoosiers returned the favor of an error as Thomas Gordon got an interception and delivered it to the Indiana 5. Gardner scored again from 6-yards out. The OL missed communications and split in opposite directions, leaving Devin exposed to an unblocked rusher. He was hit hard from the side but got six. M-56, IU-47.
Thomas Gordon then delivered his second interception. M put together one last drive with a Devin Funchess catch of 38-yards and a 27-yard Fitz TD scamper. Final M-63, IU=47.
Forget the fact that the Wolverines have dominated the Hoosiers in the past. This was a red letter game for the Wolverines. One that they desperately needed to win.
While the defense struggled with the hurry up offense of Indiana, they are unlikely to see another that effective. They should change the Hoosiers moniker to Minutemen. They repeatedly scored in a minute or a little more. Fortunately, it is unlikely we will see that kind of offensive hurry up efficiency again this year.
That efficiency, and the inefficiency of our defense on this occasion, forced the Wolverines into scoring points with abandon. They even scored on a fourth and two, and put the passing game into high gear, while managing a decent running game.
Even though the records set were not against one of the Big Ten’s better defenses, they are still remarkably worthwhile, even if contributing little to the main goals of the team.
There is another bye week to heal and to consider the upcoming trip to the stomping grounds of the Green Meanies. While this win did not cure all the perceived flaws and vulnerabilities of this year’s version of the Wolverines on offense, defense, and special teams, it certainly was a step in the right direction. It should provide the Spartans some food for thought.
In its second night game ever, the Wolverines unleashed the pack against the Irish in a spectacular Michigan Stadium setting under the lights, and before an energized crowd 115,109 strong. That is a college football single game attendance record.
At his Monday presser Coach Hoke thanked the fans for their participation. This is genuine appreciation and the second time this year he has stressed it. Saturday night was a stunning success in what is said to be the last Irish appearance in Ann Arbor for some years. As you know, Notre Dame has chosen to end the series, thus removing a spectacular competition from college football’s early season.
Both programs will continue to prosper despite the discontinuance. So will college football. But it seems it may be the Irish who may have sacrificed the most.
It was especially sweet to collar the Irish in this next to last opportunity. Michigan has lately dominated the Irish, but they are always a storied and tough opponent with a vaunted lucky streak no matter where they play, and Touchdown Jesus at home.
Saturday night the Wolverines played better football on both sides of the ball, but certainly did not play their best football. They were not perfect on either side of the ball, and neither were special teams. At his Monday presser Coach Hoke cited a bad punt, being out of lane on KO returns, and of course the hit out of bounds was a foolish penalty. No youthful excuses. This is “big boy” football.
Special teams had some problems, but they seem correctable. It is also a little worrisome that Dennis Norfleet appears to have a problem hanging onto punts, as he dropped one. Dennis had an overall good game otherwise. He has remarkable speed.
The Wolverines were still good enough for an impressive win. Notre Dame came to play as expected. They managed 314-net yards passing, and 96- net yards rushing, totaling 410-yards.
At his Monday press conference, Coach Hoke addressed the passing yardage. He indicated that M had planned to give up the short passes (7-yard hitch passes) in order to keep receivers in front of them. When the pass coverage area is compressed in the red zone, things improved.
Still, that 314-yards passing appears to be an area that needs work, as does stopping the run. Monday Brady said that there were not as many missed tackles (as he previously thought). Hoke on the defense postgame: “… I think you have to give Tommy Rees some credit. I think the kid is a good quarterback. He’s proven that against us now three years in a row. He’s accurate. They have some big-play receivers, we played mostly off when we did play man. We were going to give them some of those throws, and I think the thing that was disturbing a little bit was they ran the ball in there when we were set up defensively well enough where they shouldn’t. Even though we played mostly a seven-man front all day.”
On his thoughts on changing the defensive approach in the second half … “That was critical. You know, I think Greg (Mattison), especially in the second half, mixed some things up from a front standpoint to coverage standpoint, zone blitzes and then some zero blitzes, and I thought it worked out pretty well.”
Hoke on Monday on the team… “From an offensive standpoint we’ve got to pick up some of the interior blitzes better. I know (offensive line coach) Darrell (Funk) was disappointed because he thought they had enough looks at it to do a better job. Defensively we tried to play — and we did play this way for most of the game — with a seven-man front. We’ve got to fit the run a little better with a seven-man front. At the same time (Defensive coordinator Greg) Mattison talks about changing the math; and that means getting off the block and making tackles, and we’ve got to do that a lot better.”
The Wolverines countered ND’s production with 294-yards passing and 314 rushing for a total of 460-yards. A fairly close game, but M’s two interceptions by Blake Countess (his first and second) helped to vanquish them. Michigan has risen to 11 in the AP poll from 17.
At times the Devin Gardner led offense appeared unstoppable. He was 21 of 33 for 294-yards and 4 aerial TDs. He also ran for 82-yards and a score. Participation in 5 TDs is outstanding. Before the game he was awarded Tom Harmon’s 98 Legends Jersey. For the first time in 73 years, Number 98 was seen on a Michigan player.
Devin faltered in the second half when he scrambled in the Wolverine end zone, and tried to throw a pass to escape. Trapped, he was hit as he passed. It fluttered into the hands of the Irish and suddenly a 14 point lead became 7. Obviously chagrined, Devin left the field storming according to Coach Hoke: “He was storming off the field — I think there are different storms that can happen, and it wasn’t one that I think a lot of people would notice but when good things and bad things happen during the course of the game, I think he was pretty even, you know, as far as demeanor and how he looked.” Hoke said Monday that Devin’s ability to create is both a blessing and a curse. Said he will not slide. Too competitive.
He stayed “even” enough to engineer a 10-play, 75-yard TD that rescued his team’s peace of mind and his and the team’s fortunes on a four-yard TD pass to Jeremy Gallon. The jump from a four point lead to an eleven point lead severed Irish comeback expectations. Hoke on what went through his mind when Devin (Gardner) threw the fourth-quarter interception and if Hoke went one-on-one with him … “Every time he comes off the field we talk. It may be ‘we’re going to need more’ like I told him tonight ‘we’re going to need more’ because we were struggling a little bit defensively, and they were efficient in some things.
“When he came off the field I didn’t have to say a word to him, because he was beating himself all the way off the field. It was one of those things that he knows better, and I’ll go back to the same thing, it’s a blessing and a curse sometimes when you have that ability.”
Fitz Toussaint was large in the second half even if the coaches are not entirely satisfied with TB rushing yardage contributions yet. Fitz’s 22-yard gallop in the second half was very much needed. He rushed 22 times for 83-yards.
Devin had some help from his receiving friends, too. Jeremy Gallon is of smurf size, but he plays as big as anybody and bigger and better than many. Gallon snagged eight passes for 184-yards and 3 TDs. He has become an outstanding receiver in combination with Devin. Devin on his chemistry with Gallon … “He’s like a bulldog. We work so hard, since I got here. You guys are just now seeing it, but behind the doors we’ve been working so hard, and we’re finally getting an opportunity to display it in front of the biggest crowd in college football.” On his first TD catch Gallon made a tremendous spin move to race to pay dirt.
Another reliable and talented smurf is Drew Dileo and he provided the Wolverine scoring capper with 4-yard TD grab culminating a 75-yard TD drive that iced the victory by putting the Wolverines up 41-30. Devin was poised and determined, as well as right on target, during this drive that became so critical because of his earlier interception.
Brief recap and scoring:
The defense held on the first ND possession. A 3-play, 77-yard drive ensued and B. Gibbons hit a FG of 44-yards. M-3, ND-0. Gallon then snagged a pass he turned into a 61-yard TD (as described above). M-10, ND-0.
Notre Dame answered with a 75-yard 10-play drive. M-10, ND-7.
Gardner got 6 on a 2-yard run. A 12-play, 75-yard drive. M-17, ND-7. ND and M each nailed FGs of 22 and 32-yards respectively. M-20, ND-13. Gallon caught another TD, this time a 12-yard score. M-27, ND 13. Countess came up with an outstanding interception and returned it 30-yards to the ND 23-yard line. Gardner to Gallon took it in from there, for a 12-yard score, culminating a 23-yard drive. M was up 27-13 at the half. Wrong again, I thought it was turning into a rout.
Third Quarter: ND remedied my misconception after the half by producing 6 via a 90-yard, 12-drive to make it 27-20, but Gardner to Gallon made it 34-20 on a 13-yard pass, driving 78-yards on 7-plays.
Devin gave up six by his end zone miscalculation of trading a two point safety for an end zone interception. M-34, ND-27, and then ND compounded the misery by means of a 6-play, 29-yard drive for a 40-yard FG. M-34, ND-30. This last drive benefited from two pass interference calls on ND.
A Gardner to Dileo pass already described provided the scoring capper for a happy final of 41 to 30. But with 4:18 left it was not over. The M KO went out of bounds. Starting at their 35 the Irish proceeded to M’s 6-yard line with a couple of minutes on the clock. ND QB Tommy Rees fired a pass into the end zone. M’s Taylor hit it with his knee. It caromed into the air and Countess pulled it in to preserve the lead and the win. This was the second carom reception of the day. The first was on the first Irish TD.
This game provided unforgettable spectacle and competition as well as a boost to Wolverine hopes and expectations for the season. But the Wolverines have moved on to competing with the Akron Zips next Saturday in their first meeting.
A proud MAC team, they would like nothing better than to beat the Wolverines, and the Wolverines would like nothing better than to treat them as they treated their fellow league members the Chippewas. Under Head Coach Brady Hoke the Wolverines have won sixteen straight at home. They are always in need of another.
Note: I apologize that this article was not published in as timely a fashion as usual due to some onetime and unavoidable personal circumstances. Next week and in the weeks thereafter it will be in the usual timeslot. Hope you are there.