Michigan Monday – A Day at the Races
by Tony Gerdeman
Michigan (6-1, 2-1) hosted the Indiana Hoosiers (3-4, 1-2) on Saturday and the two teams combined for 110 points. The Wolverines came away with the 63-47 win and set a few records along the way while doing it.
Michigan set a school record with 751 yards of total offense, beating the previous mark of 727 yards against Delaware State in 2009. The 751 yards is the second-highest total in Big Ten history. The two teams combined for 1,323 yards of total offense, which is also a Michigan record.
Quarterback Devin Gardner set program records with 584 yards of total offense and 503 passing yards. He fell one yard short of the Big Ten record for total offense, which is 585 by Dave Wilson of Illinois in 1980.
Not to be outdone, receiver Jeremy Gallon caught a career-high 14 passes for a school record 369 yards. He also snagged a pair of touchdowns. The 369 yards is the second-most in FBS history. Seemingly every time Gardner dropped back, Gallon was running free. Indiana contained him about as well as a kite contains a hurricane.
Running back Fitzgerald Toussaint had his best day in nearly two years, rushing for 151 yards against a Hoosier run defense that probably has a team slogan about being friendly and accommodating.
Defensively, the Wolverines allowed Indiana to march up and down the field on them like a parade route. The Shriners even took one in from 58 yards out.
I think we all knew that this would be a bit of a shootout, but this was excessive. I predicted a 41-31 win for Michigan, and I thought that would be an acceptable number of points to give up for this defense and that offense.
I certainly didn't see Indiana putting up 572 yards of total offense, or 410 through the air. The scary thing for Michigan is that Tre Roberson threw for 288 of those yards, and he's not even the good passing quarterback for the Hoosiers.
Indiana also rushed for 174 yards, when you take away the sack of Nate Sudfeld on the game's last snap, which was a failed Hail Mary attempt. They averaged 5.4 yards per carry, and again Roberson was a big part of that, rushing for 50 yards on 11 attempts.
The reason the Roberson impact struck me so much is because when I'm watching Michigan football, I also watch to see how it applies to Ohio State. Well, Indiana's offense with Roberson at quarterback is a reasonable approximation of the Buckeyes' offense – except the Hoosiers are a notch below in talent level.
This was not a good matchup for the Michigan defense for all of the same reasons that the Ohio State offense doesn't appear to be a good matchup. Both teams can run the hurry up, which the Wolverines do not like. They both throw it short, and then take shots deep effectively. Both offenses have quarterbacks who can run, and they also have a downhill attack that should be able to push the Michigan defensive line around.
When it comes to the more diverse offenses, Michigan is going to find themselves having to score quite a few points. However, I don't really know what to expect from Devin Gardner moving forward, because every time I get back on the bandwagon he puts it into the ditch and then gets a ride from a buddy and leaves us all stranded out in the country wondering how we're going to get home.
That being said, in Big Ten play, Gardner is far and away the top passer in the conference with a passer rating of 198.58. You can say that's just because of the Indiana game, and while that's certainly some of it, he was leading in efficiency the week before as well. Overall, he is second in the Big Ten with a 159.62 passer rating, behind Braxton Miller's 160.00. We will know more when the three teams he has played aren't Minnesota, Indiana and a depleted Penn State defense.
The Wolverines are off this coming week, but they travel to East Lansing when they return to action. If Gardner can keep the Spartans away from the football, then Michigan would seem to be in a good spot. However, I don't believe they can beat Michigan State by trying to protect their best player. Gardner will have to win that game, even if that's the most dangerous way to go.
When Michigan Was On Offense
The Wolverines scored nine touchdowns on offense, with Gardner throwing for two of them and running for three. He finished 21-29 passing for 503 yards, and rushed 15 times for 81 more yards. He only turned the ball over once, though it did come inside the Hoosier five-yard line on a botched snap.
As with all quarterbacks, he still threw a couple of passes that he shouldn't have, but you can get away with that against Indiana. Indiana cornerback Tim Bennett leads the nation with 17 passes defended, but I have to imagine that 15 of those are simply passes hitting him in the back of the head as he chases a receiver who has beaten him by two yards.
Jeremy Gallon was running free the entire game, but he was also effective on screens and short stuff. Not only couldn't they cover him, they couldn't tackle him. The only thing they could do, however, is chase him down from behind because he's just not very fast. But imagine if he was a 4.4 guy – this game would still be going on and Gallon would currently be getting charged with a hate crime.
Devin Funchess caught four passes for 84 yards and continues to be a legitimate downfield weapon. He's been much more effective lined up at receiver, but when it comes to the Ohio State game, he may be more effective lined up at tight end – even if it's just for pretend.
As I, and the rest of America, suggested after last week's game, the Wolverines needed to go to more shotgun if they wanted to run the ball effectively, and they did. The results speak for themselves. They finished with 248 yards rushing as a team on 54 carries for a 4.6 ypc average.
However, just because the shotgun made the running game more effective doesn't mean they were able to run it well out of the I-formation. Toussaint's carries certainly suggest what we've all known for a while now – Michigan runs the ball better when things are a bit more spread out and the fullback is on the sideline.
Here's how Toussaint looked in the four different formations that he carried the ball from:
Shotgun: 12-74 (6.2 ypc)
I-formation: 15-45 (3.0 ypc)
One back: 4-28 (7.0 ypc)
Pistol: 1-4 (4.0 ypc)
It should be noted that three of Toussaint's four touchdowns came out of the I-formation, with two of them coming at the goal line and one coming from 27 yards out late in the game. The goal line stuff will obviously drag the average down, but of the 15 carries out of the “I”, 10 of them went for two yards or less. Only two carries gained more than five yards.
On the other hand, when running out of the shotgun, only two of Toussaint's 12 carries went for two yards or less, and only one went for negative yards. Five of his shotgun carries went for over five yards, and four more went for exactly five yards. The one negative carry was a completely blown assignment by the left guard, or else all of his carries out of the shotgun would have been for positive yards.
I think there is still a place for the I-formation offense, because if the running game is effective out of the shotgun, then perhaps teams will have to finally respect it enough to bite on the play-action and bootleg out of the “I”. Also, Gallon's 70-yard screen pass came out of the I-formation, so there is still plenty of good that can come from it. Gardner also does a nice job on the move out of the “I”, but it can't be Michigan's go-to vehicle for running the ball any longer.
On the offensive line, another change was made as Joey Burzynski started at left guard and Erik Magnuson started at right guard. They are the fourth and fifth starting guards the Michigan offense has had this season. Burzynski showed more ability to get to his combo blocks than Kyle Kalis has to this point, and rarely were the guards blocking nobody, as they have for much of the season to this point. Burzynski was banged up in the game, so perhaps a sixth guard will be getting a crack at some point.
When Michigan Was On Defense
There's not much good to say here. Michigan's defense gave up a ton of yards, and they did it in a variety of ways. They gave up completions of 67, 59 and 42 yards, two of which went for touchdowns, and three different Hoosiers had carries of at least 15 yards.
As I mentioned above, Michigan again had issues with the hurry up, and on the Hoosiers first attempt at running a ridiculously fast hurry up – I think I counted seven seconds between the end of one play and the snap of the next – it ended with Nate Sudfeld finding Cody Latimer running down the sideline for a 59-yard touchdown with Raymon Taylor two steps behind.
Taylor also nearly got beat again later in the game on the hurry up, but the pass was underthrown and broken up. It was not a great day for Taylor, who dropped a sure pick six and then on the next snap, Tre Roberson found Shane Wynn for a 33-yard touchdown. Taylor led the team with nine tackles (seven solo), but that's more of an indicator of how many times he saw a pass caught in front of him. I like Taylor and the way that he is around the ball, but he is very far behind Blake Countess and his ball awareness.
Speaking of which, despite Indiana throwing for 410 yards, they didn't really go after Blake Countess much. Michigan opened in a nickel defense, with Countess playing the nickel, and true freshman Channing Stribling got the start. He split snaps with fellow true freshman Jourdan Lewis.
Indiana's hurry up offense also caused an offside penalty on defensive end Mario Ojemudia, because he was more focused on getting down in his stance, rather than looking to see if he was lined up offside, which he was. Earlier in the game, they didn't even get set, so he was at least trying. Even little things like that will pose a problem moving forward.
Jake Ryan is still working his way back. He's not “Jake Ryan” yet, nor should we expect him to be until next year. He finished with two tackles. James Ross was second on the team with eight tackles and again found himself having some coverage issues.
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the game for the Michigan defense was that they didn't really get much push. There was only one tackle for loss on 24 running back carries, and that was on the third-string tailback.
I would have thought that this would be the type of game that defensive tackle Chris Wormley would have excelled at, being that he's a bit undersized and Indiana doesn't exactly maul a defensive line. He finished with three tackles, but he wasn't in the backfield much. Perhaps Indiana matched his quickness with quickness.
What I'm most confused about, however, is how safety Thomas Gordon didn't record a single tackle. Yes, he grabbed a pair of interceptions, but in a game that features 76 offensive snaps all over the field, how does a starting safety not tackle anybody?
The Special Teams
It was not a great day for the Michigan special teams, despite the slew of opportunities to make something happen. Placekicker Brendan Gibbons had one field goal attempt and it was blocked. He did hit all 400 of his extra points in the game, however.
Dennis Norfleet had one nice kickoff return for 44 yards, then averaged 15.4 yards per return on his five other attempts. He looked unsure of himself throughout the game, and actually had a return that started at the eight-yard line, reached the 20, then ended at the nine-yard line for a gain of one yard.
The Michigan kick coverage team also gave up a 40-yard return to Stephen Houston, and could have given up one even longer than that if Houston had the necessary burst.
Punter Matt Wile only punted twice, one for 37 yards and the other 36 yards. Neither landed inside the 20-yard line. As I said above, it was not a great day for the special teams.
What Does It All Mean
I have no idea what it means. I wrote last week that we have to be careful not to be persuaded by the eventual offensive outbreak against Indiana, and I think that still holds true. The Hoosier defense was an embarrassment to Hoosier defenses, and that's saying something.
However, in terms of decision making, Gardner looked good. Of course, the decisions he made were generally, “Should I throw to a wide open Jeremy Gallon or a wide open Devin Funchess or just take off running up the middle where the defense does not exist?” So yeah, that can be pretty tough.
What it may mean is that fans can now rejoice because Al Borges has decided to try something new. And by “new”, I mean “old”, and going back to running more from the shotgun and giving his running game a chance. This makes Michigan a much more dangerous offense, but it probably also makes them more of a danger to themselves as well.
Defensively, the things that Michigan has issues with are the things that Ohio State does well, so that should very much be a concern. They can run the ball up the middle, throw it out wide and short (as they did very well against Iowa), attack downfield (as they did against Wisconsin), run the hurry up and run the ball with Braxton Miller. Basically, the things the Wolverine defense does not like dealing with are the very things the Ohio State offense loves.
Things can get better for Michigan moving forward, but how they match up with the Buckeyes certainly needs to be watched.
Let's also not forget that over the last two weeks, Michigan is giving up 45 points per game to teams who weren't averaging 45 points per game. Aside from their games against UM, Penn State is scoring 31.4 points per game, and IU is averaging 41.7 points per game.
The Wolverines travel to East Lansing next week and right now I'm expecting a close game. Though I'm not sure Michigan State's offense can play in any other type of game. If UM's shotgun offense can move the ball against Michigan State, then you have to like their chances against everybody else, even the Buckeyes.
The Road to the Big One
August 31 Michigan 59 – Central Michigan 9 (1-0)
September 7 Michigan 41 – Notre Dame 30 (2-0)
September 14 Michigan 28 – Akron 24 (3-0)
September 21 Michigan 24 – Connecticut 21 (4-0)
October 5 Michigan 42 – Minnesota 13 (5-0, 1-0)
October 12 Penn State 43 – Michigan 40 (5-1, 1-1)
October 19 Michigan 63 – Indiana 47 (6-1, 1-1)
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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