Michigan Monday - San Diego State
By Tony Gerdeman
On Saturday Michigan got a win over Brady Hoke's greatest rival--the team that he abandoned in the middle of the night for greener pastures without so much as a face to face, 'So long, suckers!'
The Wolverines easily defeated San Diego State 28-7 via Denard Robinson's legs (200 yards rushing) and Aztec quarterback Ryan Lindley's arm (25 incompletions).
It's important that we talk about this game, and we'll eventually get to it, but first I have to urge the Michigan fans to stop with the Seven Nation Army stuff. It doesn't suit you. Can't you people go back to the annoyed disinterest that you have mastered for over a century? Pretending to care--or even worse, actually caring--is just not your style.
And what is THIS?
Come on. I thought we got rid of the West Virginia portion of Michigan football when Rich Rodriguez left. (I could have also gone with, "Come on. You don't live in Happy Valley, you live in Ann Arbor.")
I felt that something needed to be said. It's not time for an intervention yet. Things can still be fixed. Just please go back to jangling your keys and talking about how much your shoes cost like you always used to.
When Michigan Was On Offense
Denard Robinson rushed for 200 yards on 21 carries. In the previous two games he had kept the ball on the read option eleven times for 170 yards. On Saturday, he only kept it twice. Once for no gain and once for a loss of three yards. The fact that he ran for 200 yards despite not being effective at what he's been most effective at is very much a positive for Michigan.
However, 63 of those rushing yards came on something brand new for the Wolverines--the traditional option. Michigan ran this play four times, which starts with a running back next to Robinson in the shotgun. The back then goes in motion to the other side of Robinson right before the ball is snapped. That tailback then becomes the pitch man.
Michigan's second touchdown of the game came on the first time they showed this play--Robinson kept the ball and took it in from 53 yards out. He kept it twice more during the game--once on a fourth down, and picked up ten yards on those two carries. He also pitched it once to Fitzgerald Toussaint for a gain of five yards.
This is quite another wrinkle for Michigan's option game. They only showed it while telegraphing it with the back in motion, but it was still effective.
If he continues to be effective with the pitch, you have to wonder how long it will be until there is some triple option out of the zone read. Michigan doesn't have great tailbacks, but this would seem to make each and every one of them better.
I believe the lack of the read option for Robinson this week was by design. Al Borges called 14 designed runs for Robinson which netted 130 yards. They ran the ball with a zone read look 14 times as well, but most of the handoffs looked like straight handoffs, as opposed to reads.
With so many called runs, and the inclusion of the old-fashioned option, it wouldn't surprise me if Borges just didn't want to overwhelm Robinson with decisions.
Vincent Smith had a decent day, rushing for 47 yards and catching three passes for 44 yards. But 32 of his 47 rushing yards came on one play, meaning that he only gained 15 yards on his other eight carries. He also lost a fumble.
Smith plays a great role on this team, and can be effective, but he will always be limited. They're trying to use him at what he's best at. He just has to stop fighting the opportunities he is given.
Fitzgerald Toussaint seems to be establishing himself as the running back that can be relied on. He carried the ball 13 times for 67 yards, and he was consistent throughout the day. His long carry was only eleven yards, but he fought for every yard and he was just as comfortable running from the shotgun as he was when Robinson was under center.
Speaking of shotgun versus under center, the Wolverines were in shotgun for almost 75% of the time. They ran 16 plays from under center and gained 37 yards, an average of 2.3 yards per play. A third of those carries were short-yardage, or safe situations. When in shotgun, they gained 376 yards on 46 plays, which is an average of 8.2 yards per play. It's pretty apparent where the Wolverines are most effective.
I should also mention running back Stephen Hopkins who fumbled on his only carry of the game. I only mention him to say that this might be the last time he gets mentioned here this year. He may never been seen again.
Despite the positives with the running game, the passing game is still as sketchy as a Unabomber portrait. Robinson completed 8-17 passes for just 93 yards and two interceptions.
He was 0-4 when throwing more than ten yards down the field, including an interception into double coverage that was behind his intended receiver. His second interception was a stare down into good coverage in the linebacker zone that was knocked upward and picked off.
His longest completion of the day was a 32-yard screen pass to Vincent Smith which Smith caught two yards behind the line of scrimmage.
Getting the wide receivers involved in something other than praying has been difficult for Michigan, and it continued again on Saturday. Robinson completed just five passes to wide receivers.
At this time last year Roy Roundtree had 20 receptions. He has five right now. They did have him in the backfield and then motion him into the slot in order to get him stuck on a linebacker a time or two.
Considering Borges and company have scrapped their typical running game for what Denard Robinson is best at, maybe it's time they scrap their passing game as well and let Robinson do what made him effective last year.
Of note, Michigan is now 13-13 in redzone scoring chances, with twelve touchdowns.
There aren't a lot of great defenses in the Big Ten, so I actually think Michigan will be able to get away with this offense for the most part this season. But when they face LSU in the BCS National Championship Game, they might get shut out.
When Michigan Was On Defense
The Wolverines gave up 109 yards rushing on 21 carries to Aztec running back Ronnie Hillman. However, when you consider that he came into the game second in the nation in rushing, averaging 165.7 yards per game, that's actually a pretty good job of defending him.
They also forced and recovered two fumbles out of Hillman, who had gone 358 touches without losing a fumble. His long carry of the game went for 30 yards, but it ended in a fumble when defensive lineman Ryan Van Bergen chased him 20 yards downfield to force it.
Hillman is a very talented back, and Michigan held him in check as much as they could have hoped for. There was no outstanding performance in the run defense, just a bunch of solid play from most everybody.
In total, San Diego State rushed for 123 yards on 29 carries for a 4.2 yard average. It's a decent average, but they couldn't capitalize on it because of horrendous quarterback play.
Ryan Lindley completed just 23 of 48 passes for 253 yards and a touchdown. His passes were everywhere but where they should have been, like socks that lose their elasticity.
Lindley had dog ears when it came to hearing footsteps. He was bailing on blitzes and pass rushes as soon as he could. He was punching out early like his boss was on vacation for the week. He gave his receivers very little chance to succeed, and they reciprocated. It was not a pleasant passing game to observe.
They did have some success late in the game spreading Michigan out and going with the no huddle, but the game was so lost at that point that the Wolverines were just playing out the string.
The story of Michigan's defense this season has been the bending without much of any breaking. That continued again on Saturday. San Diego State finished 1-3 on red zone chances and reached at least Michigan's 43-yard line on nine of their thirteen legitimate possessions.
Three times the Wolverines stopped San Diego State on downs, three times the Aztecs fumbled, and twice they punted.
Michigan held San Diego State without a point until the final seconds of the third quarter. In the process they snapped the Aztecs' seven-game streak of scoring at least 14 points in the first quarter.
Individually, defensive end Craig Roh continued to show up, as he did for the first time last week. He had two tackles for loss, including a sack and a forced fumble. His first tackle for a loss came on San Diego State's first drive. He dispatched with a blocker on third and one and dropped Hillman for a loss. It stopped San Diego State before they could get going. It is probably a forgotten play now, but it set a tone early.
I was really shocked at how bad the Aztec passing game was. The receivers are inexperienced, and Lindley was inaccurate all afternoon. I also wasn't overly impressed with their offensive line. At one point they even had to hold walk-on defensive lineman Will Heininger. Nobody should have to hold Heininger. He really doesn't want to go anywhere. He's an occupier. He's the guy that shows up at your house unannounced when you're trying to get stuff done and says, "That's okay, I'll just hang out."
Holding that dude is like challenging a baby to a street fight and then sucker-punching the baby as soon as he steps outside. It's unnecessary, and it says more about you than the baby.
The Aztecs did have success going wide, once again showing that Michigan's team speed on defense is very much a weakness. Denard Robinson would rush for 300 yards on these guys. Taylor Martinez might get 150.
I thought Troy Woolfolk had some issues at cornerback. He left the game with a leg injury. I think he has now had more injuries than Evel Knievel.
The rest of the secondary didn't seem to do too bad but it's hard to judge them against a scatter gun like Lindley. J.T. Floyd is turning out to be a pretty decent cornerback, though.
I think an offense like Oklahoma would put up 60 points against this defense, but there might not be an offense in the Big Ten that can score 35 on them right now, and that has more to do with the Big Ten than Michigan.
The Special Teams
Jeremy Gallon continues to impress on punt returns. On one return, the punt actually hit J.T. Floyd, but Gallon was right there to scoop it up and keep it out of San Diego State's grasp. Last year, Gallon would have tried to scoop the ball up and would have ended up kicking it another 30 yards downfield allowing the punter to recover it.
Gallon did have a slight gaffe when he fielded a punt at the three-yard line, but immediately made amends by returning it out to the 24-yard line. Nice job kid, don't ever do it again.
Kicker Brendan Gibbons missed a 40-yard field goal. It wasn't a horrible miss, however. Just a typical too-far-to-expect-a-Wolverine-kicker-to-make-it kick.
Michigan did better in covering kicks, but did give up a 22-yard punt return.
Punter Matt Wile had a very nice day, averaging 49 yards on four punts with a long of 51 yards. He was remarkably consistent.
What Does It All Mean
It means that for the third year in a row, Michigan has started the season 4-0.
But I don't get that same sense of deja vu. The Wolverines have a terrible Minnesota team up next, and a questionable Northwestern after that.
They have time to work on their issues before they head to East Lansing in three weeks.
That's when the season will begin, and that's when stuff will finally start meaning something. Until then we're just waiting for the main event to start.
The Road To The Big One
September 3 Michigan 34 – Western Michigan 10
September 10 Michigan 35 - Notre Dame 31
September 17 Michigan 31 - Eastern Michigan 3
September 24 Michigan 28 - San Diego State 7
October 1 Minnesota
October 8 at Northwestern
October 15 at Michigan State
October 29 Purdue
November 5 at Iowa
November 12 at Illinois
November 19 Nebraska
November 26 Ohio State
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