Michigan Monday - Minnesota
By Tony Gerdeman
Michigan beat the Gophers 58-0 on Saturday. It was the worst opponent the Wolverines have faced since they met up with Delaware State in 2009.
It was essentially a home run derby for both the offense and defense. Minnesota put up zero fight. Fortunately, I'm growing accustomed to watching games where a team puts up zero fight.
I'm not sure who would win between this year's Gophers and the 2009 Delaware State Whatevers, but I can promise you that I would rather watch Real Housewives of East Lansing than put my eyes on that game for any length of time.
Before we get started, I'm going to apologize in advance because I can't promise that this will be the best analysis that you will have ever read here. After watching the Ohio State offense on Saturday and then turning around and watching this Michigan offense on Monday, it was like being taken out of three months of solitary confinement and being exposed to direct prolonged sunlight. I have been blinded by Michigan's offensive light, and my corneas have already sent a letter to their union rep.
My wife begged me not to watch this game.
“How will you be able to get to work if you are blind?! Won't somebody please think about your retinas!! You can't get them back, you know!!”
She was right. I never should have watched this game. It made offense look remarkably easier than it truly must be. I have been led to believe that offense is a hope and wish at best, but Michigan made it look like a reality. And I know that it couldn't have been a dream because I wasn't a cowboy.
To be fair, however, the Gophers defense is terrible. It's almost as bad as their offense.
But really, who am I to comment on what anybody is doing on offense, especially Michigan? I've been fed a lifetime's worth of McDonald's, and suddenly I'm supposed to be able to tell you if a $55 black truffle risotto is any good? How the heck would I know?!
Now where's my freaking McNuggets?!
When Michigan Was On Offense
Let's start out with the basics. The Wolverines rushed for 363 yards on 48 carries, averaging a ridiculous 7.6 yards per carry. The longest rush of the day was a 36-yarder by Fitzgerald Toussaint, so their rushing stats aren't padded by a couple of 60-yarders. They were just consistently getting yards any time they wanted.
It was like a shopping spree for the running game. Denard Robinson should have been pushing a shopping cart while he was running.
"I'll put a Vincent Smith touchdown in here! I'll grab a couple of 20-yard runs for Fitzgerald Toussaint! I'll get a touchdown of my own. And oh hey, I'll even get a pity carry for Stephen Hopkins."
Toussaint finished with 108 yards rushing on just eleven carries. Robinson carried the ball just six times, gaining 51 yards in the process. It was exactly the break he needed this week as they head towards road games at Northwestern and Michigan State that will require him to get back to his 20-carry per game regimen.
Even Michael Shaw picked up 60 yards. Heck, the Michigan coaches were so not worried about the Gophers, they even let Stephen Hopkins touch the ball. And he didn't fumble!
Last week I mentioned that we would soon start to see some triple option from Robinson, and we started to see the buds sprouting on that process. With split backs, Robinson ran a zone read look and would hand the ball off, but he always had the second tailback running behind him to be his pitch man. That will soon become a triple option.
I have been very impressed with the way Al Borges has brought this offense along. It's not stagnant. It's not stale. and it's clearly not finished. There is advancement going on. The players are learning new stuff every week--and they're able to execute it.
The newest wrinkle this week was the inclusion of Devin Gardner at quarterback with three running backs behind him. Denard Robinson was one of two wing backs, and then there was a single tailback a few yards deeper.
They ran this formation four times. The first time it was a sweep with Robinson, which then turned into a speed option that he pitched to Toussaint for a loss of four yards. The second time they ran it, they went with a counter pitch to Toussaint, which picked up fifteen yards. The third time was another sweep to Robinson, which then turned into a throwback to Gardner for a double pass. He had nobody open, however, so he tucked it and picked up five yards. The last time they ran it, Gardner took off and picked up fifteen yards on a bootleg.
There are so many things that they can do from this formation, but don't be surprised if we never see it again. This was done so that every defense from here on out would have to waste practice time to prepare for.
My experience with plays that are successful is that you only run them sparingly so as not to get too accustomed to offensive success. It makes you lazy.
The running game wasn't the only source of prominence for the Wolverines, as Denard Robinson opened the game by completing his first eleven passes.
He finished 15-19 passing for 169 yards and two touchdowns. Devin Gardner went 2-5 for 31 yards. He also rushed for 39 yards. Gardner fumbled and had a sure interception dropped. He also likes to throw back across his body, but you can see the potential.
Maybe the best pass of the day was a 17-yard touchdown pass from Vincent Smith to Drew Dileo. Smith ran a sweep, had the ball tucked in his arm, and when he drew the defense in by running towards the line of scrimmage, he lofted it up to Dileo, who caught it in the endzone for six. It wasn't an obvious halfback pass, which is why it was so effective. Buckeye fans will remember Michael Wiley being exceptional at this years ago. Smith was on that level.
Roy Roundtree dropped about the only pass that was thrown to him. He now has five catches through five games and is the sixth-leading receiver on the team. Perhaps he will be one of the guys who gets more involved as this offense continues to evolve.
One last thing to point out about the offense is that so much of it is based on misdirection, and it's successful. I hope Michigan's offensive coaches are proud of themselves for relying on deception. There's nothing sportsmanlike about that.
At least with Ohio State's offense, the defense knows what's coming. THAT's sporting! Everybody is on the same page. May the best man win, I say! The Buckeyes don't need to rely on some throwback screen to a running back for a 28-yard touchdown. Who wants to see that? That's gross! Go back to Canada.
When Michigan Was On Defense
Does it really matter? Minnesota was starting a true freshman quarterback, and as everybody knows, true freshmen quarterbacks just aren't ready to complete passes every single game.
Also, true freshman quarterbacks aren't taught how to check out of obvious blitzes, and most of the time the system they are running is so basic that it will generally go three and out in just two plays.
The Wolverines held the Gophers to 177 yards of total offense, including just 73 on the ground. There was nothing Minnesota could do. They are just a very, very bad team, and it's a travesty that they aren't on Ohio State's schedule this year.
For the second or third week in a row, defensive end Craig Roh played well. It was hard not to play well against Minnesota, but he still went out there and actually did it.
If you've been reading Michigan Monday all year long, you already know what I think of Michigan's defensive line. They could stand to be more disruptive, and they can sometimes disappear against the run.
That being said, defensive lineman Ryan Van Bergen is good for two or three bursts into the backfield per game, and this year they've been very timely for Michigan. If he can continue that as the season progresses, don't be surprised if he ends up with a game-saving play or two at some point this year.
There really isn't much to talk about this week on defense because the starters weren't out there that much. Michigan fans are starting to fall in love with freshman backup cornerback Blake Countess, who led the team in tackles the last two weeks.
However, the reason he is leading the team in tackles is because he keeps giving up completions. He's also had three passes broken up in the last two weeks, so he's not getting abused, but he's not all that just yet. Give him some time.
I was impressed with nickel safety Carvin Johnson, who had a couple of nice hits. He hasn't looked out of place this season, which is pretty crazy.
Some people want to assume that this is the same old Michigan defense it has always been. The Wolverines started out 5-0 last year as well, after all. But I don't see it that way. I still fully believe this defense can be pillaged, but who on the schedule is going to do it?
Northwestern will score some points next week, but they have no answer for Michigan's offense. Michigan State's offense is as hit as it is miss. There's no consistency. They have the balance to put a big number on this defense, but they don't have the consistency.
Illinois could put some points up against this defense, but they scored 65 on them last year and STILL lost.
Iowa? They can't run the ball, but maybe by November they'll be able to do something.
Ohio State? I'll wait until you stop laughing to move on to Nebraska.
Maybe the Huskers could do it, but the Nebraska offense I've seen to this point doesn't impress me. Michigan could definitely have trouble against Martinez running the ball, but this Wolverine team is somehow capitalizing on mistakes for a change, and Martinez would likely make some.
Where does this leave the Wolverines in terms of a won-loss record? I don't know. Nothing would surprise me yet. But for the first time in years, 12-0 is almost more likely than 7-5. Almost.
The Special Teams
The Gophers were called for six special teams penalties, one of which brought back a kickoff return touchdown. Michigan still has some issues in kickoff coverage, clearly.
Punter Will Hagerup returned from suspension and had two punts for 75 yards. It wasn't anything special. Expect those numbers to improve.
Michigan did nothing in the way of the return game. There were no kickoff returns and the only punt return consisted of Jeremy Gallon falling down as he fielded the punt.
The best sign of the day for the Wolverines was Brendan Gibbons going 3-3 on field goals and 7-7 on extra points.
What Does It All Mean?
It means that the Michigan offense is improving and learning new things as the season progresses--which is different than during the Rich Rodriguez years.
The fact that the offense continues to add new things means that the second-half collapse that we've been accustomed to probably isn't all that likely this season because defenses will have to be prepared to stop so many different things.
Though this isn't strictly an indictment on Rodriguez, because veteran players are simply better than young players, and this offense is finally full of vets. And they can handle larger loads, and they can learn throughout the season.
Which reminds me, I have been led to believe that learning new stuff on offense during the season is not allowed. Can anybody confirm this? I was under the impression that an offense had to stick to their original seven plays that they started the season with.
Defensively, this Michigan team has had the good fortune of facing five severely inept offenses. Michigan fans can be thrilled with their defense--and they should be, but don't mistake what they've done with who they are.
This is not the 4th-ranked scoring defense in the nation, no matter what the NCAA statistics say.
But with this offense, they won't need to be.
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 Michigan 58 - Minnesota 0
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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