Michigan Monday — In-State Incineration
By Tony Gerdeman
Michigan football got the 2013 season started in dominating fashion on Saturday, beating Central Michigan 59-9 in Michigan Stadium. The score was a respectable 21-6 late in the second quarter, but the Wolverines added two touchdowns in the final three minutes of the half to put the game away.
It was a complete effort for the Wolverines, who put up 463 yards of total offense, and held the Chips to just 210 yards of their own. The special teams added a score on a blocked punt as well. The game was never in doubt, nor should it have been.
The most important thing, however, is that Michigan didn't show much on offense or defense, and they look fine heading into Notre Dame week.
When Michigan Was On Offense
Quarterback Devin Gardner started rather slowly, but he finished 10-15 for 162 yards and a touchdown. He did, however, throw a pair of interceptions.
He rushed for 52 yards on seven carries and two touchdowns. He was fantastic on scrambles, including a long of 22 yards which resulted in a touchdown.
The first interception came deep in Michigan territory and was a little out route to the slot receiver that was jumped by the CMU defender. It could have very easily been a pick six.
His second interception was a deep pass to Jeremy Gallon, but Gallon was never open. In fact, the pass was so overthrown that the cornerback ran right under it. He added a nice return, giving Central Michigan the ball in Michigan territory.
Despite these two mistakes, however, Gardner always seemed in complete control. He was never sacked and showed great pocket awareness. When he was chased out of the pocket he kept his eyes downfield and made good decisions with the football.
It was only on the predetermined passes – which is what his two interceptions felt like – where his decision-making was poor.
Freshman quarterback Shane Morris played the fourth quarter and went 4-6 for 59 yards and an interception. His interception came on a deep pass into coverage. It was a freshman mistake.
He also looked comfortable. He had a nice bootleg to tight end Devin Funchess for 36 yards. He could have chosen a short receiver or Funchess, who was the intermediate guy, and he made the more difficult throw to Funchess.
That being said, three interceptions is two too many.
As an aside, Funchess only caught two passes on the day. While everyone has talked him up in the preseason, I had always wondered why Gardner didn't throw to him more last season. Off hand, I think he only targeted Funchess twice in this game.
Gardner only threw 15 passes, and he spread the ball out pretty evenly, so it's going to be hard for a tight end to stand out. However, I still expect a four or five-catch effort soon. Perhaps against Notre Dame, where he should be a mismatch. Also, Funchess looks bigger this year, but it may just be his new number (87).
I thought Gardner did a nice job of mixing up his throws. He hit all three levels, and connected with each. The long pass of the day was a 45-yard bomb to Joe Reynolds that put the Wolverines on the goal line.
Jeremy Gallon finished with four catches for 47 yards. I expect more from him moving forward, unless he keeps getting a bunch of second halves off this season.
Gallon, Drew Dileo and Jeremy Jackson got the starts at receiver. Jehu Chesson and Csont'e York also got in the game, but never touched the ball. Chesson didn't do much, but he did get crushed attempting to run block, as well as get flagged for a substitution infraction. I'll be interested to see how much he gets involved next week.
The running game was very effective. The Wolverines rushed for 242 yards on 47 carries for a 5.1 yard-per-carry average. Four different players had a 20-yard carry, including Gardner (22) and slot receiver Dennis Norfleet (38). That's a pretty good number, especially considering plays like that can come from any position and all directions.
Freshman Derrick Green led the team in rushing, carrying the ball 11 times for 58 yards, including a 30-yard run. He was the only one of the top four tailbacks not to be stopped in the backfield. Yes, he looks heavy, but in the Big Ten that just means he'll stay warmer in November.
Fitzgerald Toussaint carried it 14 times for 57 yards (4.1 ypc) with a long of 20 yards. He looked completely healthy and showed some nice vision in the first half. He's going to need a blown assignment or two in order to break a long one, but he showed some nice moves in this game.
Freshman De'Veon Smith carried the ball seven times for just 12 yards. I thought Thomas Rawls (3-12) looked quicker and slimmer than he did a year ago. I was surprised by his burst.
The offensive line did a nice job of clearing a path for most of the game. Offensive coordinator Al Borges was smart to run the ball over the left side with his young players. He had All-American left tackle Taylor Lewan escorting them into the second level more than once.
There were a few issues on the offensive line, however. Lewan was flagged for being too far downfield, which erased a Michigan touchdown pass. Yes, he was downfield because he was trying to finish a block, but he still needs to have better field awareness.
Also, starting left guard Graham Glasgow had a pair of false starts.
Overall, I thought it was a solid effort by the offensive line, but next week will be much different than this past week. We'll know a lot more about this offensive line after the Notre Dame front five matches up with them.
When Michigan Was on Defense
Central Michigan rushed for just 66 yards on 29 carries (2.3 ypc), and that's because of Michigan's front four (and CMU running back Zurlon Tipton breaking his ankle).
The Chips had some success running the ball in the second quarter, but nothing worth mentioning anymore than I already have.
The Wolverines finished with nine tackles for loss, with 2.5 of those coming from strongside linebacker Cam Gordon, who is replacing Jake Ryan. Gordon also finished with two sacks. Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison blitzed Gordon on the very first play, almost as an indication of what to expect moving forward.
Middle linebacker Desmond Morgan looked pretty good, filling the proper holes most of the time. He ended up with seven tackles. I was a little disappointed in weakside linebacker James Ross because I didn't really see him much, unless it was running by the ball on a blitz. He didn't have a single solo tackle.
Brennen Beyer and Gordon were thought to be splitting the strongside linebacker spot, but Beyer stayed on the defensive line, which is where he played last season. Gordon seemed fine trying to do his best Jake Ryan impersonation, so I don't know that Beyer needs to be moving around unless Gordon can't stand up to a pounding running attack.
I was impressed by a few guys on the defensive line. For one, I thought starting strongside defensive end Keith Heitzman resembled a sophomore or junior Ryan Van Bergen. The effort is there, and he's probably always where he's supposed to be, but he's not necessarily going to be a playmaker this year.
Rush end Mario Ojemudia is backing up Frank Clark, and he looked faster and more decisive than he was a season ago. He actually looks like he knows what he's doing out there this year. He ended up getting a sack in this game.
Speaking of Clark, he certainly looks as fast as has been reported. A couple of times, however, he was too fast for his own good and ran past the play. He didn't finish with any tackles, and the official stats have him with just one quarterback hurry, but he certainly hurried the CMU quarterbacks more than just once.
Michigan got 14 defensive linemen in the game, but that was more of a product of the competition than anything else. That rotation will come down next week. I would be surprised if more than eight or nine see the field, unless Mattison is still looking for the right lineup.
Even though there was a heavy rotation and the starters played limited minutes, I think it's notable that starting tackles Jibreel Black and Quinton Washington didn't record any tackles.
Central Michigan threw the ball 28 times, completing 13 passes for 144 yards. Raymon Taylor and Blake Countess got the starts at corner, and CMU went after Countess early. They stopped shortly thereafter.
Taylor had an interception and a nice return when he stepped in front of a sideline route. He didn't look out of place, though we have to keep in mind that Central Michigan's backup quarterback played most of the game.
We have an idea about the corners because we've seen them before. The Chips had some success on the slant routes, but that's not unusual. For the most part, however, the corners did just fine.
The safeties were without Thomas Gordon, who was serving a suspension for a violation of team rules. In his place was Josh Furman, who is a tremendous athlete, and is fast and can deliver a hit, but he's not necessarily a guy who you want as your last line of defense. He was a step late on a few passes down field, and he also completely whiffed on a screen pass that he read perfectly. I have always thought that Furman would be better suited for closed quarters, because he can get a bit lost in open spaces.
Jarrod Wilson was the other safety, and though he had his issues in coverage last year, he seemed fine in this game. Obviously, he wasn't really every challenged. Much like the defensive line, we'll know more about the safeties next week, because Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees isn't afraid of throwing ill-advised passes.
The Special Teams
Michigan's special teams got the scoring started with a blocked punt by freshman safety Dymonte Thomas. Though calling it a blocked punt would be a lie, considering the fact that Thomas got to the ball before before it was even punted. Joe Reynolds recovered the block and ran it in from 30 yards out for the touchdown.
Dennis Norfleet looked solid on kickoff returns (4-106), as he did at the start of last season. His long was 39 yards. The punt return game didn't really amount to much. Norfleet returned two for -1 yards, and Gallon returned one for two yards. Norfleet actually muffed a punt deep in Michigan territory (which Michigan recovered), which brought Gallon out for the next punt.
The Wolverines only punted once and only attempted one field goal on the day.
What Does It All Mean
It means that Michigan did exactly what it was supposed to do against a much inferior opponent. They dominated, and it came very easily to them for most of the game.
For me, perhaps the most impressive aspect of the defense was that they only gave up two field goals following Gardner's interceptions, both of which gave Central Michigan the ball in scoring territory. On the first interception, CMU started at the Michigan six-yard line, but could only move the ball five yards.
It also means that the Wolverines have a very confident quarterback who can make everyone else around him better, provided he's not sabotaging himself with a bad throw here or there.
I am looking forward to seeing how well this Michigan offensive line opens holes next week for a group of running backs that might need that hole to stay open just a split-second longer than ideal.
Saturday's game against Central Michigan didn't really tell us anything that we didn't already know, and maybe that's the best thing that the Wolverines can take from this game. The fewer unknowns, the better.
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