By Tony Gerdeman
Well, I hope Vanderbilt and Central Michigan provided the necessary warm up for Notre Dame that Lloyd Carr wanted.
The game against Central Michigan on Saturday didn't give us any further information other than Michigan can run the ball.
And they can pressure the quarterback.
And that's probably how Lloyd Carr wants it.
The question marks weren't yet answered. The Wolverines are still opposed to throwing the ball downfield. You have to wonder if it's merely Mike DeBord's version of Rope-a-Dope, or if this is actually how he plans on attacking the rest of his schedule.
The Chippewas had some success through the air, but that was to be expected because of their style of offense. And it's not like they were super successful, they only passed for 188 yards. However, they had several drops and could have put up a better showing than they did.
The game was pretty much everything you would expect from a Chippewa-Wolverine battle, as Michigan won 41-17 and physically beat up Central Michigan.
So, as expected, Michigan sits at 2-0.
And now, the preseason is finally over for the Wolverines, and the real season starts Saturday in South Bend.
Mr. Quinn, prepare to meet Mr. Woodley
When Michigan Had the Ball
The Wolverines broke out the running game whooping stick against Central Michigan. Six different tailbacks carried the ball in the game, and for future reference, Jerome Jackson was the only senior.
Michael Hart was his typical consistently-effective self. Hart had 19 carries for 116 yards and three touchdowns. He did, however, fumble the ball. Fortunately, Michigan recovered the fumble, keeping Hart's streak of 500-odd touches without losing a fumble intact. Hart displayed his remarkable ability to play bigger than he is and continued breaking tackles even while he was off-balance. The Wolverines' move to a zone-blocking scheme this season seems to be suiting Hart very well.
Kevin Grady had 12 carries for 46 yards and a touchdown. Don't be too concerned about that average per carry, however, as half of them came in short-yardage situations.
The breakaway threat of the group still appears to be Brandon Minor. However, he still has a little bit of miss with his hit. He did take a tremendous shot on one of his seven carries. He maybe needs to run a little lower, but you don't want to change him too much. His potential is clearly evident.
The run blocking was very good again. The Wolverines carried the ball 50 times for 252 yards, only losing eleven yards on the ground, eight of which came on back to back plays, including a four-yard sack of Henne.
Obviously, the Michigan offensive line out-sized the Chippewa defensive line, but they also showed the mobility required of zone blocking. They really didn't even need to pass, and that showed throughout the game.
Chad Henne finished the game 11-19 for 113 yards. His long completion of the day went for 20 yards to tight end Mike Massey on the play action bootleg.
Henne did not throw an interception, but never really put the ball in a position to be intercepted. He was very careful with his passes, choosing to dump off rather than gamble. Last week, I talked about the lack of downfield passing, and this week was even more close-knit. The deepest Henne went this week was twelve yards, and he did it three times, going 2-3. His only incompletion was due to a blitz from the left side.
Why mention this? Because it's not a bad thing to try to stretch the field. You wonder why Michael Hart doesn't have many long runs? Well, having ten or eleven defenders that close to the line of scrimmage is going to hinder your chances to evade tacklers.
There were a couple of instances where Chad Henne even pumped to go deep, but instead dumped the ball off to an outlet guy. The disdain for the deep pass has me believing that it's a deliberate ploy for Notre Dame.
The offensive line had a few issues pass-blocking, even though they only gave up one sack. Central Michigan has an All-American candidate at defensive end in Dan Bazuin, and he was as good as expected. He gave Rueben Riley more than a few fits. Riley appears to be a real question mark at right tackle for Michigan. Jake Long also had an issue or two with Bazuin, but held his own for the most part.
Last week, only three wide receivers caught passes for the Wolverines. This week, freshman Greg Matthews got in the mix, though it was late in the game. Tight end Carson Butler led the team in receptions, with three.
Against an overmatched Central Michigan secondary, you would expect receivers Steve Breaston and Mario Manningham to have a field day. However, when they don't get the ball, there's not much they can do with it. Manningham had two catches for 27 yards and a long of 14.
You know how you can keep puppies in small cages to keep them from growing to their full-size? That's what they're doing with Mario Manningham.
Steve Breaston had two catches for 25 yards. He also took a quick hitch at the line of scrimmage and went 26 yards, which was credited as rushing yards. And he didn't have the issues with the drops that he did last week.
Breaston may never be the go to guy, but when you give him the ball, he gives you a better chance to win as a receiver than he does as a blocker. I have to believe that he and Manningham will be very involved in the Notre Dame game this week.
The tight ends caught five passes for 54 yards. The play action bootleg is in full effect this season.
When Michigan's Defense Was on the Field
Let me just start out by saying that defensive end LaMarr Woodley is the most dominating defensive player in the conference. It's almost comical how involved he is in every bad play for the opposition. No play was more evident of this than when Woodley sacked Chippewa quarterback Dan LeFevour at the CMU 22, forcing a fumble. Shawn Crable immediately picked the ball up and commenced the rumbling and the stumbling. Before he was tackled, he fumbled the ball trying to give it to Prescott Burgess. Who was there to finally recover the ball at the CMU 49? Yep, LaMarr Woodley. After sacking the quarterback, he ran all the way upfield to make sure that if he was in need, he would be in place. It was an outstanding effort that deserved mentioning.
That wasn't Woodley's only outstanding effort on the day. He finished with four tackles, two sacks (for a loss of 40 yards), a forced fumble, and two fumble recoveries. It will be a treat to watch Woodley next week going against an All-American left tackle in Ryan Harris and a freshman right tackle in Sam Young.
For the season, Woodley already has four sacks. Brady Quinn better have his running cleats on.
Woodley's not the only impact player on the defensive line. Tackle Alan Branch also had another very good game. He is a lot like Ohio State's Quinn Pitcock in that they don't put up huge stats, but they impact nearly every snap by drawing double-teams and pushing the offensive line like a swing set.
But Branch isn't just a plugger, he's an athlete. That was shown when he chased Chippewa running back Ontario Sneed down from behind and forced a fumble, which was subsequently picked up by LaMarr Woodley.
Defensive tackle Terrance Taylor had a quieter week this week, which may have had more to do with Central Michigan's spread offense than anything else. Defensive end Rondell Biggs had another sack this week, giving him three on the season. He's nearly as active as Woodley.
The linebackers were very quiet, but again, that may just be a product of the spread offense. The Wolverines started in the nickel, and stayed there for most of the game. David Harris led the team with six tackles. Expect him to be a little busier next week against Darius Walker and the Notre Dame tight ends.
Shawn Crable again played a very good game. The stat sheet only shows two tackles, but he continues to be around the ball and is finally displaying the aggression and athleticism that got him a scholarship.
The defense only gave up 16 yards rushing, and 25 of that came on one run. So that should tell you the kind of dominance the Chippewas were dealing with.
Where things aren't so dominant, however, is in the secondary.
Morgan Trent got the start at cornerback opposite Leon Hall. Trent replaced last week's starter, Charles Stewart, who had a bit of a struggle against Vanderbilt. Trent finished the game with five tackles. He got beat a few times, but looked to be an improvement over the struggling Stewart.
Speaking of Stewart, he had another rough day. He gave up several catches and had an interception go right through his hands in the second quarter.
Leon Hall wasn't immune either, though he did have two very nice pass breakups on the day.
Fortunately for all three cornerbacks, Central Michigan dropped a lot of passes. The drops wouldn't have changed the outcome, but it did certainly mask an area of concern. Rhema McKnight and Jeff Samardzija aren't likely to drop those same passes on Saturday.
The safeties had a better showing, though Brandent Englemon and Ryan Mundy were both beaten via the jump ball for a 38-yard touchdown in the second quarter. They recovered after that, however, and settled down.
Ryan Mundy had a sack for Michigan. He wasn't the only defender in the backfield, as both Englemon and Brandon Harrison had tackles for loss.
Strong safety Jamar Adams only had two tackles, but more importantly he had two pass break-ups, one of which came in the end zone. You can't really put too much into the low tackle numbers for Adams because Central Michigan only had the ball for 23 minutes. And he'll be more involved in the running game this week. He, like the Wolverine linebackers, will need to be aware of the Irish tight ends because Brady Quinn will surely know where they are.
Michigan's Special Teams
Steve Breaston hasn't broken anything yet, but he came a little bit closer this week. He looks to be on the verge of taking one a long way.
That's the good return news, the bad return news is that Eric Fraser, a reserve kick returner for CMU, had five returns for 155 yards, with a long of 44. The numbers are problem enough, but there were times when Fraser was already at the twenty-yard line and there were no Wolverines in the picture. They were way too slow in coverage, and even when they got there, there would be a huge lane for Fraser to run through. This won't be lost on Wolverine opponents.
Michigan's kickoff specialist Ryan Ross only put one of his eight kicks deep enough to be a touchback. If you know that the kick isn't going to be a touchback, you have to get downfield in time to disrupt the return. If not, you are allowing walls to be set up and you're allowing the returner to see the lane. If the current group you have is too slow, you better get some starters out there, because you're putting your team at a disadvantage when the opponent is starting at the 35 every possession after a kick.
Michigan's punting looked a little better this week, but that was aided greatly by Zoltan Mesko's two punts, which included a long of 54 yards. Ryan Ross did put one of his three punts inside the 20, however, he also put one of his three punts into the end zone. There's still quite a bit of inconsistency here.
Garrett Rivas was perfect on the day, kicking a 38 and a 40-yard field goal and nailing all four of his extra point attempts.
What Does It All Mean?
This game was delayed due to lightning in the area, so during the interim, the broadcasters interviewed Bo Schembechler. When asked about the offense, Bo mentioned that he was worried about the consistency of the running game. He did mention that he liked the improvement in the defense and that if the defense keeps playing like this, they'll be alright. He also wondered aloud if Michigan's schedule has prepared them for the likes Notre Dame and Penn State, especially considering their respective schedules.
Speaking of Notre Dame...
Michigan's going to go into South Bend and try to run the ball. And they should be able to. However, if they don't go downfield with at least a tiny bit of regularity, they will be as much a hindrance to themselves as Notre Dame will.
I am convinced that Michigan will throw the ball with greedier intentions this week.
Henne needs to worry less about negative repercussions of a deep throw and worry more about the negative repercussions of a three-yard pass on third and eight.
Defensively, Michigan is as good as they've been in a long time up front. The linebackers, when called upon, have also been solid. The secondary, however, will need some help from the front four this week.
If Michigan beats Notre Dame, I don't see it being because the secondary locked the Irish down. It will be because Brady Quinn is getting hit and getting rattled.
And don't forget, the special teams are coming around at the perfect time.
And finally, analysis schmanalysis. Throw logic out the window when Michigan and Notre Dame come together.
And remember your conference pride.
The Road to the Big One
Sept. 2 Michigan 27 - Vanderbilt 7
Sept. 9 Michigan 41 - Central Michigan 17
Sept. 16 Michigan at Notre Dame
Sept. 23 Wisconsin at Michigan
Sept. 30 Michigan at Minnesota
Oct. 7 Michigan State at Michigan
Oct. 14 Michigan at Penn State
Oct. 21 Iowa at Michigan
Oct. 28 Northwestern at Michigan
Nov. 4 Ball State at Michigan
Nov. 11 Michigan at Indiana
Nov. 18 Michigan at Ohio State
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