Michigan Monday -- A Review
By Tony Gerdeman
Generally with Michigan Monday we talk about how the past weekend went for the Wolverines. However, now that The Game is only five days away, what happened last weekend doesn't really matter anymore. Though to get you up to speed, Michigan completely destroyed Nebraska 45-17 on Saturday. They smothered them. It was a dominating performance the likes of which Michigan fans had only seen against Delaware State of late.
But last week has no bearing on this week. Talent and coaching, however, do, and right now, things aren't as disadvantageous for Michigan as they used to be.
The point of this week's Michigan Monday is to give you an idea of what the Buckeyes face when they take the field against the Wolverines on Saturday. It is not a preview, though feel free to use it to come to your own conclusions.
When Michigan Is On Offense
Once the schedule got serious, offensive coordinator Al Borges tried to de-emphasize Denard Robinson's impact. It was a risky device, and one that saw Borges have to adjust his offense on the fly. It paid off because here the Wolverines are sitting at 9-2, with a shot at a BCS bowl, and Robinson is still upright and breathing.
It has rarely been pretty, but it has almost always been remarkable.
Robinson has only completed 53.1% of his passes and has thrown 14 interceptions to 15 touchdowns. He's as dangerous a player as there is in the conference, but too often he quarterbacks like an amateur pipe bomb maker and a few of his passes explode in his basement.
Defenses expect to turn him over, but they still don't take him lightly. Robinson will fumble and he will throw interceptions, but he can also wipe each turnover away with two or three plays. And sometimes they come in bunches.
He allows his receivers to make plays, and somehow they keep doing it. He'll throw the ball as high and as far as he can, and receivers Junior Hemingway and Roy Roundtree will park under it while defenders go running past like they're late for the bus, and they simply pluck the pass out of the sky. The receivers have adapted to Robinson's inaccuracy, but it's always hard for a defense to do the same because they're busy defending their man.
While Roundtree and Hemingway have caught some long passes, they haven't really done much running after the catch. That's something that has been more reserved for receiver Jeremy Gallon, who they will use in screens and such.
Tight end Kevin Koger has 15 catches for 179 yards and is a valuable weapon in the slot—when Robinson gets a pass to him that isn't thirteen-feet high. Expect to see play-action out of the read option to Koger as he breaks from the line of scrimmage.
Michigan also loves to throw screens to running back Vincent Smith, and they block for it very well. It's not always a good throw, which limits the play's effectiveness, but when they hit it right, they can score from just about anywhere on the field.
The major reason why Borges has been able to protect Denard Robinson this year is because of the emergence of tailback Fitzgerald Toussaint. Toussaint has rushed for 811 yards, averaging 5.7 yards per carry, and that's without playing in the first two games of the season and only carrying it twice against the Spartans.
Over these last four games Toussaint was fully established as the starter. He has carried the ball 92 times for 558 yards, and has scored five of his seven touchdowns. He is a legitimate Big Ten running back. He thrives on getting past the defensive line and then making terrific cuts to avoid the second level of defenders.
Toussaint has tremendous vision and should be even more explosive next year if he can stay healthy. Even though he's jukey, he doesn't really have much wasted motion. He's rarely standing still, which is a problem that other running backs on the roster have. He's not the fastest guy, however, and can be tracked down on breakaways.
Vincent Smith and Michael Shaw will get cursory carries here and there, but Toussaint will be the bell cow.
The offensive line has been solid all season long. They haven't been spectacular, but they have paved the way for the second-best rushing offense in the conference (231.9 yards per game) and have given up the second-fewest sacks in the conference (14) as well.
They are the ones who allow Toussaint and Robinson to reach the second level, and once they get to that level, they make things happen.
When Michigan Is On Defense
Forget everything that you thought about Michigan's defenses of the recent past. Actually, don't forget them. That would be like asking you to forget 'Dumb and Dumber'. We need to hold on to those funny moments in our lives, because it keeps us grounded and reminds us of better times.
This will not be any of Rich Rodriguez's three Michigan defenses that the Buckeyes face on Saturday. This will be a defense that they actually have to beat instead of simply waiting for tackles to be missed, coverages to be blown, and rimshots to be drummed.
The front four is disciplined, but susceptible. While Michigan is fourth in the conference in rushing defense (128.4 yards per game), they are allowing 4.0 yards per carry, which is only good for seventh in the Big Ten.
The Wolverines have played a variety of fronts. Their base front is mostly a four-man look with Craig Roh and a host of others at defensive end, and Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen on the inside. Van Bergen will also get snaps on the outside as well.
They have also played with a 3-4 look, a 5-2, and even a Bear front. They blitz from all angles, and generally they do it effectively. Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison likely relishes the thought of playing against a freshman quarterback.
While the front four is active and they very much hold their own against the run, they can be neutralized on the pass rush. Van Bergen leads the team with just 4.5 sacks, but he tends to make plays in clutch situations. Roh is second on the team with four sacks. They ask him to do quite a few things, and rushing the passer is just one small part of it.
The linebackers have had quite a few issues this year. Middle linebacker Kenny Demens has started every game and he has disappeared for long stretches in each game. He doesn't make a lot of plays in the backfield, but if he picks the right gap, he is a very effective player. He is a liability in pass coverage, as most brick-footed middle linebackers are.
Brandin Hawthorne got the early starts on the weakside, but true freshman Desmond Morgan eventually overtook the spot. Morgan has moments in each game where you can see why he's in the lineup, but he's still just a freshman. He will make plays here and there, but will be just out of position on a few other plays as well. He has a future, but it may not be as bright as many are hoping.
Jake Ryan is a redshirt freshman strongside linebacker who also dabbles a bit at defensive end. He's the type of player that you wind up and let go. He's pretty relentless, but there were times early in the season when he was too relentless and would take himself out of the play. That has slowed way down, but Ryan hasn't. He gets low and plays fast. He has started nine games and has 6.5 tackles for loss.
The secondary might be the most surprising aspect of the Michigan defense. Simply put, they're no longer terrible. Cornerbacks Blake Countess and J.T. Floyd have been solid for a while now, and safeties Jordan Kovacs, Troy Woolfolk and Thomas Gordon haven't been the liabilities that many expected.
Countess has the appearance of a future All-Conference performer, and Floyd has simply done what has been asked of him. Neither is great, but do you really need great corners when you're playing a team that can't throw the ball?
The same goes for the safeties. They have not been greatly exposed all season long, and after this many games, it might be simply because teams can't expose them.
As we stated early on, this is not Rich Rodriguez's defense.
The Special Teams
Michigan hasn't been overly impressive in the return game, but returns are almost always big this weekend. They will break out every trick they have. Jeremy Gallon continues to be solid as a punt returner, but he is way overdue for a very muffy day.
Place-kicker Brendan Gibbons has made 9-13 field goals on the season, but his long is only 42 yards. He is 5-9 on kicks from 30 yards and beyond.
Will Hagerup has never really picked it up with his punts this season. His long is just 50 yards. He generally doesn't go out of his way to help Michigan in the field position battle.
What Does It All Mean?
This week? Not a damn thing.
It's Ohio State and Michigan. The only thing that counts is the scoreboard. Everything else is just noise.
The Road To The Big One
September 3 Michigan 34 – Western Michigan 10 (1-0)
September 10 Michigan 35 - Notre Dame 31 (2-0)
September 17 Michigan 31 - Eastern Michigan 3 (3-0)
September 24 Michigan 28 - San Diego State 7 (4-0)
October 1 Michigan 58 - Minnesota 0 (5-0, 1-0)
October 8 Michigan 42 – Northwestern 24 (6-0, 2-0)
October 15 Michigan State 28 – Michigan 14 (6-1, 2-1)
October 29 Michigan 36 - Purdue 14 (7-1, 3-1)
November 5 Iowa 24 - Michigan 16 (7-2, 3-2)
November 12 Michigan 31 – Illinois 14 (8-2, 4-2)
November 19 Michigan 45 - Nebraska 17 (9-2, 5-2)
November 26 Ohio State
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