By Tony Gerdeman
They say that Bowling Green came to Ann Arbor on Saturday and lost 65-21, but I'm not entirely convinced that Delaware State didn't somehow sneak into Bowling Green's locker room, drug them, put their jerseys on, and then come out to exact revenge for last year's 63-6 pantsing.
Regardless of whom the Wolverines actually played against, it was clear that they didn't belong on the same field as Michigan.
The score was 21-0 with over four minutes still left in the first quarter. Michigan went 80, 88, and 91 yards on their first three scoring drives, and the longest possession lasted for a non-whopping 2:50. They had 297 yards of total offense in the first quarter.
Wait, that stat deserves a paragraph all of its own.
They had 297 yards of total offense in the first quarter.
Of course, the superfly in the ointment is the fact that quarterback Denard Robinson went down with a knee injury on the third drive of the first quarter and never returned. He finished the game 4-4 passing for 60 yards, and had five carries for 129 yards.
If anybody else wants a shot at the Heisman, it's probably a good thing Robinson went down when he did because Bowling Green was never going to stop him. They're lucky they held him “in check” as much as they did in the first quarter. If Rich Rodriguez had wanted, he could have made Robinson the first ever 300-300 guy (at least I'm assuming he'd be the first ever). Of course, that would have meant having to play Robinson a series or two into the third quarter.
Back-up quarterbacks Devin Gardner and Tate Forcier came in and both played well in relief. Michigan may have the best third-string quarterback in the nation, though I'm not convinced at all that Forcier is actually Michigan's third quarterback. We'll probably talk about that later on.
The defense played well enough to hold a bad offense that was being led by a redshirt sophomore quarterback in his first start ever to just 21 points, so that's pretty good. Bowling Green only rushed for 32 yards, but before you get excited by that number, just realize that Tulsa held the Falcons to 41 yards rushing earlier in the season.
We can say what we want about the the level of talent the Wolverines have seen in the non-conference schedule, but they're 4-0 and two of those wins came against BCS teams. Not many teams in the nation can say that.
Of course, not many teams can say the best offense they faced in the non-conference schedule was UMass. So there's that, I guess.
When Michigan Was On Offense
When Michigan was on offense, they did whatever they wanted to and they didn't care who saw. Nine different Wolverines combined to carry the ball 56 times for 466 yards and seven touchdowns. That's an 8.3 yard average. Perhaps the most impressive statistic regarding the running game was the fact that they were stopped behind the line of scrimmage only once, and that only went for a one-yard loss.
Running backs Vincent Smith and Michael Shaw did what they normally do, combining to rush for 121 yards on 24 carries and three touchdowns. I'm never going to be a fan of either of them, but Shaw is running tougher over these last couple of weeks. But he can still be brought down by an off-hand comment most of the time.
The big news in the running game was that we actually got to see Fitzgerald Toussaint and Michael Cox carry the ball. Toussaint made his Michigan debut with a 61-yard cut up the middle of the field that saw him blow past the defense before they inexplicably caught up with him and brought him down five yards short of the endzone.
People were wanting to call Toussaint a faster Mike Hart, but I don't know if you can call Toussaint faster than anybody. He was clear of the defense and in the open, and got tracked down from behind pretty easily. In fact, the guy (freshman safety Aaron Foster) who finally got to him nearly met him at the Michigan 40-yard line, but Toussaint got by him, so he had start from basically a dead stop, then turn around and start running to catch him. Toussaint never got more than four or five yards ahead of him, which Foster closed to zero after about 50 yards. To his credit, Toussaint finished off the drive on the next play by taking the ball into the endzone from five yards out. He finished the day with two carries for 66 yards. I am a fan of Toussaint's abilities, and have been for a couple of years now, but the lack of speed was certainly an eye opener for me.
The other running back I like better than Smith and Shaw also made his debut this week—Michael Cox. He carried the ball six times for 56 yards, including a long of 35 yards. He's a violent runner, but can plant his foot and cut as decisively as anybody else on the team. and he can break a tackle while he's at it. Unfortunately, he apparently has problems with “the little things” that come with football, like assignments, blocking, etc. It's too bad, because he reminds me of what Michigan running backs used to be like.
Freshman Stephen Hopkins also carried the ball, though he was the lone yard loser on the day, and he also lost a fumble. He's Michigan's “big back”, but I'm not sure if I see any violence when he runs the ball. But we haven't been able to see much of him to this point.
I'm almost tempted to bring out my 2008 argument that Rodriguez takes a very long time figuring out who the best running backs on the team are. By the way, did you see that Sam McGuffie scored his first rushing touchdown for Rice this weekend?
The one point I would like to make about Toussaint and Cox is that they did their damage with Denard Robinson on the sideline. What more could they do with Robinson's threat to run helping them out? It will be interesting to see how much more Toussaint is integrated into the offense as we move forward. Regarding Cox, it seems like the only thing he may do well is run, and nowadays, that's not good enough to get it done.
While the running game was busy racking up a brazilian yards, the passing game didn't exactly take the day off. Three quarterbacks got to play, and those three quarterbacks completed 23 of 26 passes for 255 yards and two touchdowns.
As mentioned above, Robinson finished 4-4 throwing the ball, and again showed a nice deep ball on a corner route in single coverage. Receiver Roy Roundtree lined up in the slot on the play and had a receiver outside of him. The outside receiver ran a short route, pulling in the cornerback and leaving Roundtree to work on the free safety. It was not an advantageous matchup for the Falcons, though the sideline helped keep Roundtree from taking it all the way, I can certainly see this become a 75-yard touchdown in the next few weeks. With Robinson's threat to run, and everybody anticipating a short passing game (for the most part), the deep passes are frequently going to be thrown into single coverage—especially when it's being thrown to a slot receiver who is already being covered by a safety.
Freshman Devin Gardner got some snaps on Saturday and looked pretty good. He didn't look 65 points of offense good, but he could have led the offense to 31-38 points on the day rather easily I'm guessing. He finished 7-10 passing for 85 yards. He threw the ball downfield well also, and had a beautiful long touchdown pass called back because center David Molk hit a defenseless player during the play.
Tate Forcier finally saw his first action of the season and only went 12-12 passing for 110 yards and a touchdown. Nothing great.
It was actually good to see him out there again, and the crowd gave him a tremendous ovation. His throws were on point, and even if he were to have to take over this offense again this season, the bounce that he brought to the team has to be reassuring to everybody involved. Rest assured, if Denard Robinson is lost for a significant amount of time at some point this season, it needs to be Forcier who leads this team to wherever they end up going.
I haven't really talked much about the offensive line this season because they're doing well and the amount of yards the Wolverines are rushing for should speak for itself. But I did want to mention that redshirt freshman Taylor Lewan got the start at left tackle for the Wolverines, and it's clear that he's going to be there as long as he continues to stay in college. (I wonder if he knows redshirt sophomores are eligible to enter the NFL draft.)
He fires off at the snap of the ball and he gets where he needs to be, and then he attaches himself to his man like a giant remora. Ten offensive linemen played on Saturday, and now with three offensive tackles who can play, the Wolverines are finally in a position to weed out the weaker components of their offensive line, which hasn't exactly been a possibility the last few years.
When Michigan Was On Defense
It wasn't a terrible day for the Michigan defense—after all, they held Bowling Green to 32 yards rushing and 251 yards passing. (Passing yardage is a sinister statistic in that it can sometimes mean nothing more than an offense can't run and they have to pass all day long to try and move the ball. That's what happened here.)
But just because it wasn't a terrible day doesn't mean there weren't terrible moments. The worst of them all came in the second quarter when quarterback Aaron Pankratz threw a screen pass to receiver Tyrone Pronty, who wiggled his way out of the scrum and raced 71 yards for the touchdown.
There were two unbelievable parts to this play. The first came as soon as Pronty caught the ball at the line of scrimmage. His offensive lineman—who was supposed to be blocking for him—looked like he was trying to either strip Pronty, or tackle him, or both. Despite this two-yard struggle for freedom, nobody on the Wolverine defense could get to him to make the tackle. When he finally broke free, he left Michigan safeties Cameron Gordon and Jordan Kovacs way behind. I can't even say he left them in the dust, because the dust had already settled by the time they got to it.
Now you may wonder how fast Pronty is, and a Google search will tell you that he ran a 4.69 as a high school junior at a combine. Combine 40s are generally run on “slow tacks” (i.e. realistic tracks), and kids get faster as they get to college, but there's really no reason that you can't track a 4.6 receiver down from behind. Actually, there IS a reason—you have a slow defense.
Michigan has a very slow defense, and a slow defense that also hesitates is a problem that you wouldn't wish on your worst enemies. (Except in football, of course.)
We did see middle linebacker Obi Ezeh give way to Kenny Demens for a good portion of the day, and I liked the way that Demens attacked the line of scrimmage. He made a couple of nice plays on the day and finished with five tackles and one tackle for loss on the goal line.
Weakside linebacker Jonas Mouton returned to his old self from the first two games. He played well and didn't bite on the same play-actions that he did against Massachusetts. Bowling Green tried everything that worked for UMass, and very little of it worked for them. They ran single back formations and got nothing from it. They ran play-action and got very little. They bootlegged and Mouton stayed in his zone and got an interception. They fixed many of the problems from last week. However, against the Falcons, every single one of those problems is an easy fix. Against a team that can actually run the ball, I expect some of the problems to re-emerge.
Freshman cornerback Courtney Avery played nickel back and really impressed me in coverage. More than that, however, was the way he attacked the ball when it was about to be caught. He showed nice timing and awareness (two PBUs), and has certainly earned himself more time on the field.
I've been a critic of defensive end Greg Banks for his lack of...everything, but he did have a sack against the Falcons, so props to him. There's still not a lot of pass rush coming from the front three or four, however. When Michigan is forced to blitz, that's when a guy who runs a 4.69 can break a tackle from his lineman and then lumber 70 yards for a touchdown with nobody to worry about catching him from behind.
The final thing I should mention was the tremendous interception by true freshman safety Ray Vinopal. He was at deep safety late in the game, and broke on a pass in the seam, sneaking in front of the receiver despite coming from behind him, and then avoided the pass interference entirely. Sure, he fumbled the interception back on the return, but it was just nice to see an instinctive move from a Wolverine playing deep down the field. It's been a while.
Overall, this game really told us nothing other than Kenny Demens should see more snaps, and Courtney Avery will probably be starting before the season is over.
The Special Teams
What special teams? The Wolverines never punted and never attempted any field goals. Seth Broekhuizen made all eight of his extra point attempts, so that's something to feel good about. They even let another walk-on kick the ninth extra point.
The kickoff coverage was excellent, only allowing a long of 27 yards despite kicking off ten times on the day.
I'm still waiting on receiver Darryl Stonum to break a kickoff for a score, but it just hasn't happened yet. He was held to 49 yards on three returns against the Falcons.
What Does It All Mean
It means that even without Denard Robinson, the Michigan Wolverines could probably still win the MAC.
Everybody, except Michigan fans, players and coaches, has said that Robinson can't hold up to the workload Rich Rodriguez was giving him, and that was possibly evidenced by missing plays in both the Connecticut and Notre Dame games.
Since then—but more likely due to lack of competition than any other single factor—his workload has definitely been decreased. But on Saturday, it didn't matter. Robinson still got hurt.
Rodriguez has said he's okay with Robinson's number of touches as long as it's not the front seven who keeps hitting him. But on Saturday, it was the ground that did the damage, as Robinson jammed his knee into the turf after a 47-yard run. It wasn't a defensive tackle who did the damage, it was the ground. It's that same ground that he ends up hitting nearly every time he's tackled.
Yes, Robinson could have come back into the game. But then the possibility for further injuries emerges. What happens when he's banged up and then HAS to come back out?
Robinson has missed time against every FBS team they've played, and they haven't even faced a hard-hitting defense yet.
It will be interesting to see how he is used against better teams—especially when Michigan's best chance of winning will be running Robinson as much as possible.
That all being said, his production to this point is inarguable. He is currently leading the Heisman race by a wide margin, even after missing three quarters on Saturday. Yes, Terrelle Pryor is doing what he's supposed to be doing, but Robinson is doing what nobody else has ever done before.
But it's a long season.
It also means the defense will need to play their best football of the year the rest of the way out.
The pre-season is over and Big Ten season starts this week. Against Indiana, Michigan's defense will finally face an offense that can both run and pass, and they won't have to rely on one or the other to move the ball.
Saturday will go a long way in telling us how well the Wolverine defense is going to handle the offenses they see the rest of the way out.
Assuming the first four weeks haven't already told us everything we needed to know.
The Road To The Big One
September 4 Michigan 30 – Connecticut 10 (1-0)
September 11 Michigan 28 – Notre Dame 24 (2-0)
September 18 Michigan 42 – Massachusetts 37 (3-0)
September 25 Michigan 65 - Bowling Green 21
October 2 at Indiana
October 9 Michigan State
October 16 Iowa
October 30 at Penn State
November 6 Illinois
November 13 at Purdue
November 20 Wisconsin
November 27 at Ohio State
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