Michigan Monday - Eastern Michigan
By Tony Gerdeman
It was an amazing day for Michigan's offense on Saturday when they scored an unheard of FOUR touchdowns in their 31-3 win over Eastern Michigan.
If you're a Buckeye fan, I know what you're thinking, you're thinking, “What is a touch...down?”
And I'm right there with you. I was unfamiliar with the term as well, but according to Wikipedia “A touchdown is a means of scoring in American and Canadian football. Whether running, passing, returning a kickoff or punt, or recovering a turnover, a team scores a touchdown by advancing the ball into the opponent's end zone.”
Of course, this just creates more questions than answers. “Advancing the ball”? How do you do that? And what is this “passing” that is mentioned?
But I digress.
Despite the fact that Eastern Michigan is a completely uninteresting opponent, the way that Michigan went about defeating them was actually pretty interesting.
Denard Robinson carried the ball 26 times for 198 yards and took some pretty serious shots. Fortunately for him, he's better equipped to take those shots this year, and really, how hard can Eastern Michigan hit anyway?
Running back Vincent Smith also had a nice day, gaining 118 yards on the ground in just nine carries.
Overall, the Wolverines rushed for 376 yards on 50 carries, good for a 7.5 yard per carry average.
On the down side, Robinson again struggled throwing the ball, completing just 7-18 passes for 95 yards. He threw two touchdowns and an interception.
The defense again bent, but never broke. They kept Eastern Michigan out of the endzone despite allowing a disturbing 207 yards rushing.
There are clearly still problems to fix, but better Michigan teams have done worse against Eastern Michigan than this team did. Just ask the 2007 team.
When Michigan Was On Offense
It seems that as we get further into the season, offensive coordinator Al Borges scraps more and more of what his intentions were and has just given up the ghost and allowed Denard to do what he does best.
What he is showing to do best is something that he could never quite grasp under Rich Rodriguez—the zone read. He is becoming increasingly dangerous in this regard, and Borges knows it.
Michigan didn't use the zone read until their fourth series, and they promptly scored a touchdown on that drive. They then immediately went back to ignoring the zone read on their next drive and went three and out. They used the zone read on their final drive of the half and scored their second touchdown of the game.
Last week Robinson kept the ball on five reads and picked up 79 yards. This week he kept it six times and picked up 91 yards, including a 52 yarder when his team was backed up in its own endzone. That equates to 15.4 yards per carry the last two weeks when he keeps the ball.
Naturally, you would then expect teams to begin focusing on Robinson in order to make him give the ball up, and he did. He gave the ball up eleven times, and the Wolverines still picked up 86 yards. He's making an average-to-above average running back group better than they would normally be. Despite rushing for 1,702 yards last year, with the zone read he is eminently more dangerous as a runner this year, and as long as he is running the zone read as well as he has this season, his running backs will be more effective as well.
Fitzgerald Toussaint got the start at running back, his second of the season. He finished with 46 yards on eleven carries including a touchdown. Vincent Smith was the most effective running back with 118 yards rushing. He didn't lose a single yard on any of his nine carries and was effective with Robinson both under center and in the shotgun. In fact, when Robinson was under center, Smith carried the ball five times for 69 yards, including a 38 yarder and a 14 yarder.
There is still the small matter of Denard Robinson the passer. Completing just 7-18 passes is not a winning performance against a great defense, and if he's completing just 7-18 passes against Eastern Michigan, what makes us think that he would be able to throw the ball that “well” against a great defense?
He still has receivers wide open that he just cannot see. There are times when he locks on to a receiver and nothing is going to unlock his gaze. It's almost trance-like. Sometimes he makes up his mind where he's going as soon as he gets the play, and obviously it doesn't matter if that receiver is open or not.
Where he was most effective—and stop me if you're heard this before—was in the zone read. Using it as a play-action, Robinson completed 3-5 passes for 32 yards and a touchdown to tight end Kevin Koger.
When Robinson didn't include the read look, he completed just 4-13 passes for 63 yards, with a touchdown and an interception.
If Borges continues to freeze defenses using this type of play-action, Roy Roundtree will begin to re-emerge as the Roy Roundtree he was last season, but Robinson is still going to have to be able to hit them in the numbers, which is a major issue right now.
Neither Roundtree or Junior Hemingway caught a pass this weekend. That's what happens when you don't come down with a jump ball. Jeremy Gallon had a very nice game, catching three passes for 43 yards. He is starting to emerge as an important part of this team on both offense and special teams.
Lastly, my future condolences to the families of Robinson's teammates that he is going to get killed with his numerous lobs into harm's way. On a serious note, however, if he keeps putting his receivers in a position to get drilled, their arms are going to grow shorter and shorter as the season goes on.
When Michigan Was On Defense
Eastern Michigan ran for 207 yards, which is an embarrassing number. But the most embarrassing part of that is that they ran for 156 of those yards in the first half.
They were gashing the Wolverine defense with wide runs which saw them outrunning linebackers to the corners. On their first drive, three of their five runs went for over 13 yards. Fortunately, defensive end Jibreel Black forced a fumble by chasing down running back Javonti Greene after a 14-yard gain.
It was a perfect case study in why yards don't matter, points do. On their second drive, they had two more runs of at least 14 yards, the latter putting the Eagles first and goal at the Michigan seven-yard line following a personal foul on freshman defensive back Raymon Taylor.
Eastern Michigan then outsmarted themselves and tried to play power football. They turned the ball over on downs, giving the ball back at the Wolverines' one-yard line. Eastern Michigan picked up 72 yards and didn't give up a single point in the process. Baby steps.
With the field turned in the Eagles' favor, they got the ball back after a three and out at the Michigan 24-yard line following a 15-yard punt return. They could only move the ball 20 yards before settling for a field goal, which turned out to be their only points on the afternoon.
The Eagles rushed for 122 yards in the first quarter. It was a terrible number, but I guess it's probably also okay to mention that they only rushed for 85 yards over the next three quarters.
Eastern Michigan had no passing game. They completed 3-6 passes for a paltry 29 yards, and everybody knows that to be a major player in college football, you have to pass for at least 36 yards in a game, or else you're a complete joke.
For the third week in a row the defense adjusted well over the course of the second quarter and changed the momentum that was going against them for the first quarter.
I'm not sure how much to make of the rushing yards in the first quarter. Yes, it's obviously bad, but so many times Eastern Michigan called the exact perfect play against the defense that Greg Mattison had called. It was just stellar playcalling and execution early on.
Individually, there are more and more Wolverines showing up. Safety Jordan Kovacs had another good day at the line of scrimmage, most notably stopping Javonti Greene on fourth and one at the goal line. He came around the edge and grabbed Greene by the legs and spun him down for no gain. Mattison continues to get the absolute most out of Kovacs.
As I suspected would happen, Brandin Hawthorne was given the start at weakside linebacker and led the team with ten tackles and a tackle for loss. He is a crafty blitzer and even if he isn't making a play in the backfield, he's forcing the issue.
I thought Kenny Demens was neutralized pretty well on the afternoon. He proved fairly easy to block. Fortunately, he's not fast enough to over run plays, so there usually isn't a gaping hole for the cutback.
Strongside linebacker Jake Ryan got the start and was impressive again. He only had three tackles, but he has a special ability of penetrating into the backfield by getting under the offensive line. He's tough to block already, and he is only going to get better.
Craig Roh played his best game of the year at defensive end. At least I assume it was his best game, because it was the first time his name had been called all season long. He had a sack on a rollout that rolled right into his chest. He also showed strong against the run a few times and displayed some quickness that people have been waiting a while for.
The rest of the line is what it is. Defensive tackles Mike Martin and Will Campbell are providing zero pass rush, but they're not getting pushed around either. They are getting push against the run, and with the effective blitzing, that's okay for right now. They still need to get a pass rush from the front four at some point, however.
They did show a five-man defensive front against a sure running down that was effective, and they topped it off by putting Jake Ryan on the line as well, giving them six strong up front. Clearly they weren't concerned about Eastern Michigan's passing attack. This of course means that the Buckeyes should expect to see this six-man front about 115% of the time when these two teams play in November.
There isn't really anything to be said about the cornerbacks. Given the lack of passing, I'm not sure if they actually played or not. I was impressed with safety Thomas Gordon, however. Eastern Michigan tried to attack Gordon with a double pass that would have absolutely worked last year, but he stayed with his assignment, never left his receiver and ended up with a one-handed over the shoulder interception.
Lastly, as a name to watch in the future, freshman strongside linebacker Brennen Beyer showed some pretty good quickness off the line. It may have been a fluke, but it certainly caught my eye.
The Special Teams
Jeremy Gallon had a nice day returning punts. His numbers only show two returns for 17 yards, but he had a very long return brought back by a penalty. In the past, his biggest flaw was his inability to actually catch a punt. Now that that flaw has been fixed, he appears to be a pretty effective football player.
Michigan struggled a little bit covering kickoffs, allowing Eastern Michigan's Corey Welch to average 23 yards per return, including a 32 yarder. The short kickoffs from Matt Wile combined with above average returns allowed Eastern to start with great field position for much of the afternoon.
It was not a great day overall for the true freshman Wile. He also punted three times for an average of just 35 yards.
What Does It All Mean
It means that a one-dimensional offense will gradually lose its effectiveness against this Michigan defense. Unless that dimension is passing, I'm guessing.
This coming Saturday against San Diego State, the Wolverines are going to face a running back who is averaging 166 yards rushing per game, and a quarterback who has thrown for over 10,000 yards in his career. The Aztecs are still searching for consistency at receiver, but they will not be afraid to mix things up in any number of ways when they get to Ann Arbor.
Offensively, there appears to be a change happening. By my count, Michigan took 16 snaps from under center and gained 93 yards, which is 5.8 yards per play. They took 52 snaps from shotgun and gained 378 yards, which comes out to 7.3 yards per play.
I believe it was the highest percentage of snaps from under center all season long. In the lightning-shortened game against Western Michigan, around 70% of the snaps came from the shotgun. Against Notre Dame, that number was around 67%.
If it's this high against an opponent that posed no problem on defense, how high will it be against a defense that is a master of karate and friendship for everyone?
Or is this simply where the offense is going?
Al Borges doesn't want Denard Robinson carrying the ball 26 times unless it's necessary. It wasn't necessary last week, but if that's what the read leads to, then you either have to accept a larger number of carries, or scrap the most effective offense in the Wolverine arsenal.
Above all else, coaches want to win, and right now, Robinson controlling the offense is the surest way.
But the regression with the passing game should absolutely keep Michigan fans up at night. Not that they weren't up at that hour anyway, of course. Dumpster diving waits for no man.
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 San Diego State
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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