Football Michigan Monday The Rivalry

Michigan Monday: Speight Is Enough

Michigan Monday UCF

Michigan moved to 2-0 on the season thanks to an easy 51-14 win over a UCF team that thinks they know what they’re doing but doesn’t have the players to actually get it done.

Michigan led 31-0 with 11:30 remaining in the second quarter, so please forgive me for only watching the first three quarters of this game. Don’t worry, though, I totally skimmed the box score play-by-play to see what happened in the fourth quarter.

This was the second of three tune-up games for Michigan before Big Ten play starts. Next week Colorado comes to town, 22 years removed from Kordell Stewart’s Hail Mary to Michael Westbrook back in 1994 that will be replayed quite a bit this weekend because there’s not much else to really talk about with this game.

After Colorado, the Big Ten season starts for UM with home games against Penn State and Wisconsin before the Wolverines play their first rivalry game of the season when they travel to Rutgers. After Rutgers they’ll have a bye week to sort of assess their overall situation as a team and to calm down a bit from playing the hated Scarlet Knights.

Getting back to the UCF game, this was a bit of an odd outing for the Wolverines, but an outing with answers, which we will get into in more detail as we proceed.

When Michigan Was On Offense

First the good. Quarterback Wilton Speight was 25-37 passing for 312 yards and four touchdowns. When he had time he was nearly flawless. When he didn’t, he was still pretty good.

UCF set out to stop the run, which left them vulnerable against the pass, and when you have pass catchers like Michigan does, you are going to pay that price. They wanted to make Speight beat them, so he did. Repeatedly.

Their plan may have worked with somebody else’s cornerbacks and pass rushers, but if they would have consulted me I would have told them that you don’t really need to gear up to stop Michigan’s running game, you simply have to get in the way and then gang tackle.

Tight end Jake Butt led Michigan with seven receptions. He picked up 86 yards in those seven catches and scored twice. Receiver Amara Darboh caught five passes for 111 yards and a pair of touchdowns of his own. Jehu Chesson chipped in four receptions for 84 yards. Basically, if you are going to allow Speight to stand in the pocket and throw the ball, the above is what is going to happen to you.

Freshman receiver Eddie McDoom also flashed a bit. He only touched the ball twice, but he is fast and twitchy. He is only going to get better and projecting him three or four years down the road he could become a real problem for Big Ten defenses.

While the passing game was terrific, the running game was not. Michigan ran for 119 yards on 41 carries (2.9 ypc). UCF was selling out to stop the run, and they succeeded in doing that. The UM offensive line simply didn’t have enough bodies to handle the number of defenders keying on the running backs.

Safety T.J. Mutcherson had three tackles for loss because Michigan had trouble accounting for him in the box. However, having a safety that close to the ball also freed up the Wolverines to complete seven passes of at least 20 yards. If you’re going to ask me to pick my poison, I’m going to select the poison the involves helping out against the guys who run 4.4s, not 4.7s. UCF chose poorly.

De’Veon Smith “led” the Wolverines in rushing with 38 yards on 10 carries (3.8 ypc). I said last week that I’m not going to spend a lot of time this year talking about Smith and his constant struggles, and I won’t do that now. Much. Two of his 10 carries totaled 29 yards. The other eight managed just nine yards. Yes, UCF was loading the box, but this was not an anomaly for him. This was the norm. In his 30 career games he has been held under four yards per carry 16 times. That’s not what a starting running back at Michigan should be doing. But let’s move on. I can only write this for so many years before I’m just writing to myself. 

“Dear Diary, today De’Veon Smith struggled again.”

True freshman tailback Chris Evans came back down to earth from his performance last week. He rushed for just 35 yards on nine carries (3.9 ypc), and he had an 18-yard run, so eight of his carries netted just 17 yards. It was good for him to get some experience with what tough running looks like. He will be better for having had to deal with it.

The offensive line for the most part was positive, save for left guard Ben Braden who struggled terribly in the first quarter. He was beaten consistently, though he did get away with a tackle on a blitzer, so at least he had that going for him. He got better as the game went on. True freshman Ben Bredeson split time with him and he did pretty well.

The offensive tackles played well enough, if not much better than that. Right guard Kyle Kalis still struggles when he is on the move. The interior also had issues with inside blitzes. The most glaring issue with the pass protection, however, came from the running backs. They missed several blocks and put Speight in tough situations.

When Michigan Was on Defense

Let’s get right to the big number, since that is what everyone is waiting for. UCF rushed for 275 yards on 46 carries (6.0 ypc) against Don Brown’s Wolverine defense. The week before, UCF only managed 197 yards and 3.6 yards per carry against Kirk Botkins’ Bulldog defense. (That’s the South Carolina State Bulldogs, by the way.)

So yeah, that’s not a good number. However, 26 of their 46 carries went for three yards or less, and the bulk of their yardage came on just five big plays. Now, having five big plays on the ground is not cool, but three of them came on quarterback scrambles of 35, 30, and 26 yards. That’s 91 yards on plays where the back six or seven turned and ran with receivers. The two longest runs came on third-and-9, so it wasn’t a run defense issue, it was an “everybody was covered too well” issue.

There were two actual home runs in the running game, and the first came from speedster Adrian Killins (10.3 100m) who took a handoff and went to the right side and surprised everyone with his speed, especially safety Dymonte Thomas who took an angle that eliminated himself from the play immediately. That touchdown run went for 87 yards. The other sizable run came from running back Dontravious Wilson and went for 34 yards up the middle for a touchdown. Wilson finished with 17 carries for 81 yards (4.8 ypc), so he was held in check aside from that one run.

Yeah, the 275 yards will hurt the average, but don’t expect it to be the standard outcome for the Wolverines this season. That being said, there are ways to attack this defense out wide, and Michigan did have trouble accounting for a mobile quarterback. If you’re a Buckeye fan, that should have you smiling. If you’re a Wolverine fan, you might have that old familiar sickening feeling. Or at least you would if you weren’t completely sold on Don Brown and what he can do for you.

Michigan’s pass defense continues to be stellar despite being without cornerback Jourdan Lewis for a second week. Also, defensive end Taco Charlton and defensive tackle Bryan Mone are still out. That’s three starters who were missing for the Wolverines who can all make an impact on any given play.

However, I’m not sure how much they are missing Mone given how well Ryan Glasgow is playing. He occupies blockers and eliminates running lanes. No, not running lane. Running lanes. I was also very impressed with defensive tackle Maurice Hurst. He made a play where he came crashing in on the quarterback from the edge, but it was a read play so the quarterback gave the ball to the tailback. Once Hurst saw that, he stopped and retraced his steps a bit and tracked down the running back in a very fluid motion. That wasn’t his only impressive play. He is a mobile dude and can get up and down the line very well for a big man.

Linebacker Jabrill Peppers led the Wolverines with eight tackles. His two tackles for loss were second to freshman defensive end Rashan Gary, who finished with 2.5 and six tackles. He doesn’t always have the best get-off, but he makes up for it pretty quickly with good power and tenacity. I think he is going to be a better player just from playing alongside defensive end Chase Winovich, who has a perpetual motor.

I still want to see what this defense looks like against a talented spread offense, but that won’t happen until late November, so what does it matter now? I did think it was interesting that the broadcasters said that UCF head coach Scott Frost told them that there are things in his offense that work against Don Brown’s blitzing defense, but they just don’t have the personnel to make it happen.

I’ll allow the Michigan fans to finish rolling their eyes before we continue.

Good? No? You still need more time. Okay.

UCF played two quarterbacks in this one because starter Justin Holman pulled a hammy or had a cramp on one of his long scrambles and had to leave the game. Both quarterbacks went 3-for-11 passing and they combined for 56 yards. They were sacked three times total. It was not a productive day through the air for the Knights.

The Michigan Special Teams

Well, the Wolverines got a hand on two punts and two field goals, so their kick blocking was impressive, but since none of those kicks actually went backward, there is still room to improve in that area. I guess.

Jabrill Peppers almost took a punt to the house. It is only a matter of time, as I said last week. Against UCF he returned a punt 35 yards to the Knights’ 12-yard line. That possession ended in a 14-yard touchdown pass to Jake Butt after De’Veon Smith lost two yards on a second-down carry. But let’s not talk about that.

Kicker/punter/kickoff guy Kenny Allen hit all three of his field goal attempts (24, 36, 37), averaged 45.7 yards per punt, and put five of his seven kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks. He did drop a snap on a punt, however, giving UCF the ball at the Michigan 48-yard line. They couldn’t do anything with it, so nothing was really lost.

What Does It All Mean?

It means that Wilton Speight is growing in confidence every day, and the confidence his coaches and teammates have in him is growing as well. This was a great outing for him because he was able to stand back in the pocket and just take a good, long look at what was available to him. He made the proper reads and got to see the success that comes from it. Jim Harbaugh had him throwing the ball well after the game was out of hand, and it was the right thing to do. 

It also means that opponents may have gained a bit of confidence after seeing Michigan’s run defense this week. I’m not saying they’re right, but there are areas to the outside that are vulnerable, provided you have the players to take advantage. I’m also interested to see Wisconsin come to Ann Arbor in a few weeks. I want to see that battle of wills. That seems to be the kind of offense that this defense will thrive against.

Interestingly, Michigan has allowed 356 yards rushing so far this season in two games. Last season they had allowed 357 yards through their first five games. I want to see this defense at full strength, if such a thing is even possible, as it always seems like somebody is missing over these last two years.

Overall, this was another dominating effort against a team that should have been dominated. The score was 31-0 before anybody even needed a refill. Everything that happened afterward with the defense isn’t worth much. You are always going to have let downs after being up so much so early.

The Road to The Game
Michigan 63 – Hawaii 3
Michigan 51 – UCF 14
Michigan vs. Colorado
Michigan vs. Penn State
Michigan vs. Wisconsin
Michigan at Rutgers
Michigan vs. Illinois
Michigan at Michigan State
Michigan vs. Maryland
Michigan at Iowa
Michigan vs. Indiana
Michigan at Ohio State