Michigan Monday

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Last updated: 10/07/2013 5:23 PM
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Michigan Monday — Wolverines Get Back on Track
by Tony Gerdeman

Michigan football got a week off in order to regroup and it paid off pretty well in a 42-13 win over the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Minnesota stuck around for a half before finally bowing out, as they tend to do. The Gophers never like to be the last one to leave a party, after all.

Michigan led 14-7 at the end of a very quick first half. Minnesota's second drive of the game took 16 plays, went 75 yards and lasted 9:44. Michigan only had the ball four times in the first half, scoring two touchdowns. Those touchdown drives were just 35 and 38 yards. They had a longer drive (42 yards) that didn't even reach into Minnesota territory. Michigan won the field position battle in the first half, and most every other battle in the second half.

The Wolverines are now 5-0 (1-0) and the Gophers dropped to 4-2 (0-2). Michigan gets its first division win in what should be a fascinating race to watch.

When Michigan Was On Offense

Michigan came into this game wanting to be as safe on offense as possible, and it led to Devin Gardner not throwing a pass until the 8:15 mark of the second quarter. He didn't turn the ball over, so the plan worked. He finished 13-17 passing for 235 yards and a touchdown.

His main target was Devin Funchess, who caught seven passes for 151 yards and a touchdown. He lined up at receiver as much as he did at tight end, and he looked completely comfortable. I would have thought his effectiveness would be lessened going against a cornerback, but the Gophers had no answers for him.

The rest of the team caught just six passes, all to receivers. Jeremy Gallon had two catches, and I don't know if it was by design, or by opportunity. I do know that Michigan was trying to be as careful on offense as they could, and it led to five touchdowns. They finished 5-5 on redzone touchdown opportunities, which is what they were excelling at to start the season. This is a very good sign overall for the Wolverines.

The running game was the most interesting aspect for me, however. Michigan broke out an unbalanced line, using left tackle Taylor Lewan as the extra blocker on both the right and left side. Despite the extra blocker, they ran from this formation 23 times for just 89 yards (3.9 ypc). Still, it was better than the 24 yards they rushed for on the 12 carries when they weren't unbalanced.

In total, the Wolverines rushed for 113 yards on 35 carries (3.2 ypc) against a Minnesota defense that had given up 246 yards rushing on 45 carries to Iowa the week before. UNLV ran for 193 yards on the Gophers to open the season. The 113 yards that Michigan ran for is a disappointing number, especially when you consider that they ran behind an unbalanced line so many times.

The other major change to the offensive line was that center Jack Miller was benched, and Graham Glasgow slid over to center from left guard. Chris Bryant was then brought in and started at left guard. Bryant is a better run blocker than a pass blocker, but let's not pretend that the run blocking was all that great. Several times throughout the game Bryant and right tackle Kyle Kalis were blocking air as they looked around for defenders.

Fitzgerald Toussaint rushed for 78 yards on 17 carries, and the best thing about his afternoon was that he only lost one yard on the day. Perhaps that was because 14 of his carries came with the unbalanced line. He rushed for 68 yards (4.9 ypc) on those 14 carries.

Derrick Green carried the ball 10 times for 23 yards. His first carry of the game went for 14 yards, and his next nine carries went for a total of nine yards. He still looks very average with little ability to cut. If a hole isn't in front of him, it doesn't exist right now. Green seems like the kind of back who needs a couple of yards of cushion in order to build up momentum, and that's not really what this offensive line does. They aren't a good fit together right now.

Still, the unbalanced line limited the losses on the ground, which made second and third downs shorter than maybe they have been in the past. Those shorter distances put less pressure on Gardner, and he didn't force passes the way he has in the past. He was still behind on some throws, but quarterbacks will do that throughout a game.

I wonder if Gardner was so effective because of how he was handled, or because of how he handled himself. Does this give Borges more confidence to open up the offense again? Or does he think Gardner played so well simply because he had the reins tightened?

Overall, it wasn't a pretty offensive effort, but it still led to an easy enough win against an opponent whom we all assume is much better than either Connecticut or Akron.

When Michigan Was On Defense

Minnesota went into this game hoping to attack the Michigan defense with the legs of quarterback Mitch Leidner, and little else. It didn't work. Leidner had some nice moments, but he rushed for 66 yards on 18 carries. He was more effective in the first half, and then pretty much ineffective after that.

The Gopher running backs carried the ball 22 times for 70 yards (3.2) and were completely shut down. Middle linebacker Desmond Morgan led the Wolverines with 10 tackles, though he ran right by Leidner on a few carries during the game. James Ross finished with nine tackles.

Other than cornerback Blake Countess' 72-yard interception return for a touchdown to cap Michigan's scoring, there weren't a lot of highlights from the defense. They were solid enough, not that you have to be perfect against this Minnesota offense.

Safety Jarrod Wilson again had trouble defending an opposing tight end. He showed very little awareness of the ball in coverage, and I am assuming we will see quite a bit more of that this week against Penn State.

Michigan only sacked the quarterback once, and that came from linebacker Cameron Gordon. With Jake Ryan coming back in the next week or so, I wonder what that means for Brennen Beyer, who leads the team with 2.0 sacks and 4.0 tackles for loss. Does he take snaps from Frank Clark at rush end? He's been more productive than Clark to this point. By the way, Clark has just 1.5 sacks on the season. Ohio State has four defensive ends who have more.

We haven't yet seen this defense face an offense of any merit, so we're about to learn a lot more about the Wolverines moving forward. I'll always fall on Greg Mattison's side of things, as I think he always makes talent play better than it is, but I want to see this defense face an offense that is capable of actually doing things.

Penn State is up this week, and they have a freshman quarterback with a live arm and talented receivers and tight ends around him. I am assuming that Blake Countess will find his way to the football at some point. However, it would be nice to see other pass defenders do the same. I think we would see that happen more often if the Michigan defensive line could get more pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Until they do, the secondary will continue to be put to the test.

Defensive tackle Ondre Pipkins was lost for the season with a torn ACL. While he wasn't a starter, he was certainly in the rotation. That rotation is now smaller, and the other defensive tackles will now have a little more pressure on them.

The Special Teams

Punter Matt Wile had a good day, averaging 51.7 yards per punt on his three kicks. The Wolverines did a fair job covering kickoffs, save for a 45-yarder by Marcus Jones that snuck past them down the sideline. Jones also had an 18-yard punt return. Speaking of punt returns, Drew Dileo remains UM's returner, and he finished with two returns for 13 yards. He doesn't get much help back there in terms of blocking, but he also isn't making anybody miss. It's not exactly a stellar combo.

What Does It All Mean

It means that Brady Hoke and Al Borges are still having trouble trusting their offensive personnel. Devin Gardner didn't throw the ball until halfway through the second quarter. Fitzgerald Toussaint only ran out of normal alignment three times, and the offensive line couldn't be trusted to just line up normally and beat a Minnesota football team.

I applaud Borges for trying something in order to get the running game going, and while it worked a little bit, it has to be concerning that it didn't work any better than it did. Michigan still rushed for 18 yards fewer than Minnesota's defensive average. That's a win for the Gophers.

I don't see this team running the ball well the rest of the year, except for when they're playing Indiana, of course. I still think that Gardner has to be the spark on the ground, and then build from him. If you don't want him throwing 30 times per game, then get him on the move and move some chains.

It also means that the defense wasn't really tested this week. Minnesota had some things that they wanted to do, but they're just not talented enough to do those things effectively enough. Mitch Leidner is mobile, but he's not much of a thrower. He's basically a slower Rob Henry, and Darrell Hazell finally had to move him to safety.

Moving forward, this Michigan defense is going to be facing a few offenses who actually know what they're doing, and it's going to be interesting to see how they react. The defensive line isn't getting involved enough, which puts everybody behind them in a tougher spot. The good news is that linebacker Jake Ryan has finally been cleared to play. Provided he is as close to the old Jake Ryan as he can be, he will make the entire defense better. He is a disruptor, and that's what this defense is missing most. Given the types of offenses over the next eight weeks, he is coming back at the exact right time.

The Road To The Big One

August 31 Michigan 59 – Central Michigan 9
September 7 Michigan 41 – Notre Dame 30
September 14 Michigan 28 – Akron 24
September 21 Michigan 24 – Connecticut 21
October 5 Michigan 42 – Minnesota 13
October 12 at Penn State
October 19 vs Indiana
November 2 at Michigan State
November 9 vs Nebraska
November 16 at Northwestern
November 23 at Iowa
November 30 vs Ohio State
December 7 Big Ten Championship Game

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