By Tony Gerdeman
The point of every Michigan Monday is to keep Buckeye fans up to date on what's going on with the Wolverines on a week-to-week basis. It's also meant to give Wolverine fans a viewpoint of their team that they can't get from anywhere else other than a bitter Detroit newspaper.
It's all done with an eye towards THIS week. Around here, we call it “Michigan Week”. I'm not sure what you call it up there. “Annual Loss Week”, perhaps? Or maybe “Family Leaf Raking Day”? (Rivalry burn!)
Before Rich Rodriguez came to Michigan, much of what would be processed throughout the season in Michigan Monday could be thrown out this week, because rivalry games don't follow scripts. It's all improvised. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.
But since Rodriguez has been at Michigan, there isn't much straying from the script. In 2008, the Wolverines were 20-point underdogs to the Buckeyes, and they lost by 35 points. Last year, they were 11-point underdogs and lost by 11.
People want to talk about where Rich Rodriguez' Michigan program stands right now, and yes, there are some positives to look at amongst the negatives, but until the scripts are thrown out against Ohio State, there will always be something missing under Rodriguez.
Other than the defense, this is probably the biggest problem with the Wolverines the last three seasons. They rarely beat teams they aren't supposed to beat. Not only do they not beat them, they don't even compete.
This past week against Wisconsin, the score was 24-0 before Michigan's beloved offense could muster a single point. They did score 21 points in the third quarter, however, before ultimately losing 48-28.
However, the three times in the second half that Michigan cut the Badger lead to two scores, Wisconsin went down on the successive drive and scored a touchdown to put themselves back up by three scores.
The Badgers did whatever they wanted, and the Wolverines were there simply to light the way.
Like the guard dog you feed a steak to, and then they wag their tail and follow you all over the place, and eventually show you where the combination to the safe is hidden.
Meanwhile, Greg Robinson is asleep in his recliner the entire time, a snifter of brandy still held in his clutches as a Twilight Zone rerun blares across the television.
(It's the episode where the 4-3 is trying to get facial surgery in order to resemble the pig-faced 3-3-5 because he thinks he's actually the one who is hideously disfigured.)
When Michigan Was on Offense
Quarterback Denard Robinson rushed for 121 yards on 22 carries, and in the process set the NCAA record for most rushing yards by a quarterback in a season with 1,538. He also became the first player in NCAA history to rush for 1,500 yards and throw for 2,000.
Say what you want—which I usually do—but Rich Rodriguez has a record-setting quarterback in Year Three, and he could have him for two more years. What other records could fall in that span?
Robinson completed 16-25 passes for 239 yards and two touchdowns. His lone interception came when Badger menace J.J. Watt batted a pass up in the air at the line of scrimmage. It was the sixth time Robinson has thrown for over 200 yards in a game. The Wolverines are 4-2 when this happens.
As we say every week, there is still plenty of room for Robinson to grow. He missed another wide open touchdown pass when he overthrew a receiver who was running by defensive backs who were still looking into the backfield to see what Robinson was doing.
I have very little doubt that he will do the same against the Buckeyes on Saturday, but I also know he'll hit one or two of them as well. The Ohio State defense is too aggressive not to get pulled in a time or two and get burned because of it.
While he could stand to help his receivers out a bit with improved accuracy here and there, his receivers could also stand to help him out a lot more than they have been. They are dropping passes at an alarming rate recently, especially considering the fact that they need every yard and point that they can get right now. Roy Roundtree is a fantastic weapon in this offense, but there are times when his hands do more harm than good.
I tend to think that the drops are clearly the fault of not looking the ball in, but it also comes from the fact that the receivers' job is to make something out of these short passes, and they're turning before they have the ball secured. It might be a stretch to put that on the offensive system, but I don't think the system is completely innocent in all of this.
Despite the drops, Roundtree is still as dangerous a receiver as the conference has, especially out of the slot. He frequently gets matched up on safeties, and against a safety in the middle of the field, it's rarely a contest. Ohio State has been playing three cornerbacks quite a bit recently, and that might continue against Michigan specifically because of Roundtree.
There are still concerns in the middle of the field for the Buckeyes, and that's where Roundtree kills defenses.
Wisconsin safety Aaron Henry did a nice job against Denard Robinson on the run, and we might see Jermale Hines given much of that same role against Michigan this week. Moving a safety down will free up things for the offense behind him, but attacking this Wolverine offense will force some negative plays, which then leads to third and long, which kills Michigan.
Vincent Smith (the assistant to the running game) carried the ball eleven times for 50 yards, and again was never tackled in the backfield. He averaged 4.5 yards per carry without a carry longer than seven yards. He was pretty consistent, but never great. They need explosion from him this week in the worst way. He got his bell run in pass protection when he took a knee to the head, so it remains to be seen what level of effectiveness he'll bring to Columbus this week.
His backup, Stephen Hopkins, carried twice for three yards. I've said in the past that he's a big back, but doesn't necessarily run like it all the time. That was the case against Wisconsin as well. Vincent Smith fights for yardage, Hopkins generally doesn't. He needs to get tougher.
When Michigan Was On Defense
The Wolverines gave up 558 yards of total offense to the Wisconsin Badgers. Do I need to go on?
Okay, I will.
Backup running backs James White (23-181-2) and Montee Ball (29-173-4) combined to carry the ball 52 times for 354 yards and six touchdowns in place of the injured John Clay, who mercifully sat this one out.
The Michigan defense had no answer for the Badger running game's constant pummeling. Actually, they did have an answer, it was “Not in the face! Not in the face!”
When quarterback Scott Tolzien threw the ball, the only trouble he had was deciding which open receiver to throw it to. He finished the game 14-15 for 201 yards, though his only incompletion was a James Rogers interception on a bad throw.
The Wolverines had three players with at least twelve tackles. Inside linebackers Jonas Mouton and Kenny Demens both had thirteen and safety Jordan Kovacs had twelve. Only one of those tackles came behind the line, however, and that was when Kovacs sacked Tolzien on a blitz.
Montee Ball carried the ball 29 times and was never stopped in the backfield.
But then, in a non-aggressive 3-3-5, it's going to be hard to tackle people in the backfield, especially when an offensive line can block the guy in front of them, and then scoot on by to pick off anybody else they see fit.
It just wasn't a fair fight on Saturday. This wasn't a case of somebody taking a knife to a gun fight, this was a case of a gun fight showing up at a child's tea party, and the china went everywhere.
Even though this defense can't stop the run (92nd in the nation) or the pass (111th in the nation), there are still a few redeeming qualities here. I think freshman cornerback Courtney Avery will be a very good player in the future. He's already an okay corner, which makes him a standout on this team.
The opposite corner, James Rogers, isn't going to make anybody forget James Whitley, but he hasn't been terrible. He's been much better than expected in fact.
Now that Craig Roh is at defensive end full time, he can really expect to blossom next year.
Middle linebacker Kenny Demens is in the same situation as Roh. Now that he's found his spot and gotten to play there, the coaches have seen that he can produce, and produce much better than the guy who was there before him.
Speaking of which, former starting middle linebacker/first down greeter (“Hello, welcome to a first down. Have a nice day.”) Obi Ezeh is now starting in Roh's old outside linebacker spot. He is splitting time with J.B. Fitzgerald, who I saw actually dropping deep into pass coverage on Saturday. I have no idea why you would take a proposed pass rusher and drop them 30 yards deep down the sideline, but then I'm not a defensive coordinator and I don't know what tickle bears are for.
It was an enjoyable experience to watch this game and listen to Chris Spielman basically echo much of what I've been saying about this defense. I especially loved the part where he talked about the bubbles in the 3-3-5 alignment, bubbles that Wisconsin filled all game long.
Michigan has now given up 34 or more points for the seventh time this season. The did it five times last season, and six times in 2008. That's 18 times opponents have scored 34 or more points in 35 games.
It happened 17 times in Lloyd Carr's 13 seasons. (That's still seems like a lot, no?)
The Special Teams
The special teams will likely get a boost this week as returner Jeremy Gallon may have finally gotten benched after losing a fumble on a kick return. Added to that possible good news is the fact that place-kicker Seth Broekhuizen may have also finally lost his job after missing a 30-yard field in the second quarter. Brendan Gibbons then came in and kicked extra points after that and MADE THEM!
What Does It All Mean
It means that not only will Michigan need their very best defensive effort this week, but they'll also need their offense to be as high-powered as their fans think it is.
People say that a win will save Rich Rodriguez's job, but if they play good enough to win, then that tells me he was coming back any way.
Basically, if they can play with the Buckeyes, then that's all the proof you need that things are going in a direction good enough to keep Rodriguez around for another year. That's something that those close to the program would have seen all along.
It's something that they would see regardless of a win on Saturday.
But it also means that a win here sure wouldn't hurt.
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 (4-0)
October 2 Michigan 42 – Indiana 35 (5-0, 1-0)
October 9 Michigan State 34 – Michigan 17 (5-1, 1-1)
October 16 Iowa 38 – Michigan 28 (5-2, 1-2)
October 30 Penn State 41 – Michigan 31 (5-3, 1-3)
November 6 Michigan 67 – Illinois 65 (6-3, 2-3)
November 13 Michigan 27 – Purdue 16 (7-3, 3-3)
November 20 Wisconsin 48 – Michigan 28 (7-4, 3-4)
November 27 at Ohio State
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