The feeling was boredom, interspersed with brief moments of Norfleet-related anticipation that ended an ankle-tackle away from being actual excitement.
Boredom, in this case, was a great feeling—a pleasant return to normalcy for Michigan. A home opener against a directional Michigan school, a 50-point lead heading into the third quarter, a fourth quarter spent looking up numbers of various freshmen and walk-ons while fretting about burned redshirts; this is how it's supposed to go, fergodsakes.
The Wolverines got on the board before the Big House crowd even got a chance to see the much-anticipated new offense, as freshman defensive back Dymonte Thomas screamed off the edge to block a Central Michigan punt on the opening drive of the game; senior receiver Joe Reynolds scooped up the loose ball and took it 30 yards to give Michigan a 7-0 lead.
A muffed punt by Dennis Norfleet, recovered by Delano Hill at Michigan's seven-yard line, led to an inauspicious start for Devin Gardner; after his first pass of the season was dropped by Devin Funchess, he telegraphed a quick out to Drew Dileo, and CMU's Jarret Chapman jumped the route for an easy interception.
Michigan's defense held strong, though, forcing the Chippewas to settle for a field goal. Gardner was in fine form on the subsequent drive, picking up a first down with his legs, then buying time for Drew Dileo to find a wide open hole in the Central defense on a 3rd-and-4 for a 36-yard catch-and-run. On the very next play, Gardner stood tall in the pocket, couldn't find an open receiver, and waltzed untouched into the end zone for a 22-yard score (right, Upchurch).
From there, the Wolverines didn't look back. A 38-yard run on a Dennis Norfleet reverse set up a one-yard touchdown run for Fitz Toussaint, who looked back to his old self—aside from missing a couple open cutback lanes—in rushing for 57 yards on 14 carries. After another Gardner hiccup—an overthrow to Gallon that resulted in his second interception—led to a second Jason Wilson field goal, cutting the lead to 21-6, the redshirt junior quarterback roared back with an 11-play, 76-yard drive capped by a 16-yard touchdown pass to his favorite target, Jeremy Gallon. After Raymon Taylor jumped an Alex Niznak throw to the perimeter, nearly taking the interception back for a touchdown, Gardner finished the first half with a four-yard scoring run, again making his trip to the end zone look downright easy. Despite the pair of turnovers—and a punt block for a touchdown that didn't count towards the yardage numbers—Michigan held a 243-139 edge in total offense and a 35-6 halftime lead.
The onslaught didn't stop there. Michigan's opening drive of the second half featured a 45-yard play-action pass from Gardner to Reynolds; two plays later, Toussaint tallied his second score of the day from two yards out. After another quick defensive stop, freshman running backs Derrick Green and De'Veon Smith combined to run on each of Michigan's ten plays, including a 30-yard Green scamper on a zone stretch and the five-star's first career touchdown on a goal-line scrum.
Sacks by Brennen Beyer and Mario Ojemudia forced another three-and-out, and from there the backups took over. Freshman quarterback Shane Morris quarterbacked the next drive, completing a 36-yard pass to Devin Funchess before Thomas Rawls rumbled into the end zone from five yards out, giving the Wolverines a 56-6 lead as the third quarter expired.
The rest, as they say, was academic. The fourth-quarter monotony was broken briefly by a 36-yard punt return by Norfleet, who was one man away from scoring; a Morris interception on a tipped pass; and a forced fumble by freshman cornerback Channing Stribling just two plays later, recovered by Delonte Hollowell. That third play led to a 30-yard Gibbons field goal—his 14th consecutive make, tying a school record held by Remy Hamilton*—that gave the game its final margin: 59-9, Michigan.
Funchess sporting his new Ron Kramer Legacy jersey (Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog)
Aside from the two picks, Gardner looked like the superstar he's expected to be in his first year as the full-time starter, averaging 10.8 yards per attempt and rushing for 52 yards on seven carries; CMU couldn't keep him in the pocket and couldn't stop him when he escaped, including one play in which Gardner comically olé'd an awaiting defender hoping to hit him on the sideline.
His ESP-level connection with Gallon showed, as well; Gallon caught four passes for 47 yards and had a second touchdown catch wiped out when Taylor Lewan
wandered downfield illegally rode his donkey too far even from the generous blocking zone they give linemen on play-action these days. Funchess and Reynolds both impressed, as well, and while each left the game due to injury, those dings appeared minor. Brady Hoke said after the game that Funchess left the game due to a cramp (an unfortunately-placed one, given the rather sensitive area he clutched after his long catch), while there was no report on the status of Reynolds.
Defensively, Beyer was a consistent presence in the backfield as a lineman in Greg Mattison's nickel package, tallying a sack and another TFL. Cam Gordon, playing in place of the injured Jake Ryan, looked fantastic in tallying a pair of sacks among his 2.5 TFLs, lining up at both strongline linebacker and defensive end and playing both well. Desmond Morgan took to his new position as the MIKE with aplomb, leading the team with seven tackles despite heavy rotation in the front seven. While the much-balleyhooed Frank Clark recorded a lone QB hurry, his backup, Mario Ojemudia, came up with a sack and looked like a very solid option at weakside DE.
Of the true freshmen to see their first action—and there were many—it was Stribling who impressed the most; he was Michigan's field corner when they went into the nickel package, and while he gave up a couple catches, he showed off his playmaking ability by stripping CMU's Andrew Flory after one of those receptions. Linebacker Ben Gedeon also played well in his first career action, tallying four tackles; "The Freak" didn't look out of place at weakside linebacker.
The only major points of concern were Gardner's two picks—hopefully those can be chalked up to opening-game rust, as he otherwise looked like a Heisman candidate—and the play of the safeties. Jarrod Wilson and Josh Furman blew a couple assignments, though there's a good chance that neither is starting by mid-September—strong safety Thomas Gordon sat out the game for a "violation of team rules" and Courtney Avery could factor in at free safety when he recovers from knee surgery, hopefully in time for next week's game but more likely for Akron. The offensive line had its moments, good and bad; Al Borges called for a lot of zone running plays instead of asking for his two new guards, Kyle Kalis and Graham Glasgow, to pull; Kalis played a very solid game, featuring a bone-crushing body-slam on Gardner's first touchdown run, while Glasgow and center Jack Miller had their ups and downs.
Michigan's fans trickled out of the stadium throughout the fourth quarter, content that their team took care of a MAC opponent like Wolverines should: devouring them alive. There was little reason to stay, more competitive football games to watch, and celebratory beers to drink. Cheers to a new season, a 1-0 record, and zero heart attacks.
*If you've just woken up from a three-year slumber, this is somehow not a joke.
Manball? Manball. Please review the Liveblog Chaos Mitigation Post. Then Manball.
Something's been missing from Michigan gamedays since the free programs ceased being economically viable: scientific gameday predictions that are not at all preordained by the strictures of a column in which one writer takes a positive tack and the other a negative one… something like Punt-Counterpunt.
This is your editor speaking. As we prepped for the 2013 season, Punt decided that he wanted to hang up his spurs. This week he says goodbye to years of Michigan-related snark. As a kid growing up, I would eagerly seek out the free programs and flip to the back to take it in. Punt/Counterpunt opened my eyes to the fact that there was a different way to go about things than the one you found in the newspaper. They were an undeniable influence here. Thanks, Ken.
By Ken “Sky” Walker
August 31, 2013
I don’t remember exactly when I was first asked to write this column. I do know that I’ve been “Punt” for parts of three decades. During that time, I’ve been lucky enough to have covered the winning of a national championship in 1997. I was even more fortunate to not have written the column during the Rich Rodriguez era of Michigan football. Calling his hiring as the Wolverine’s coach a ‘misfit’ doesn’t begin to describe that debacle. However, Rich Rod did give Michigan fans the chance to be a part of The Denard Robinson Experience, so I guess we have to at least thank him for that.
Being able to experience college football from a journalist’s point of view has been a lot of fun. (Though calling myself a “journalist” is like calling Nicki Minaj a “conservative dresser”.) Over the years, this column has given me the opportunity to sit at the same table with any number of the Big Ten’s best players and coaches. While some have lived up to their greatness both on and off the field like Charles Woodson, others like Joe Paterno sadly weren’t the men we thought they were.
Being “Punt” has even brought me tiny taste of what being a celebrity must be like. From strangers calling out “Punt!” as I cross a street in town, to the guy at the rental car place giving me an upgrade because he was a fan of the column, it is at times a bit strange. Conversely, there was the guy who bent my ear for a whole half at an away game; convinced I could give him the heads up on getting into journalism (I made Counterpunt sit next to him for the second half).
Speaking of Counterpunt, this would be the point at which I should get in a few jibes at him. I don’t have it in me to truly trash the guy. There have been times when I read his column and didn’t have a clue as to what he was talking about. It’s as if the basic concept that this column should be in some way connected to football was beyond his grasp. But when the opportunity to write the column came along, he asked me to join him and for that I’ll always be grateful.
If it hasn’t become apparent by now, this will be my last column as “Punt”. I’ll be turning over the moniker to someone who has a younger, fresher viewpoint. I hope they have even more fun with it than I did. I want to thank Dave DeVarti for publishing “Punt/Counterpunt” originally and Brian Cook for resurrecting it. I hope that everyone who has read the column over the years has at least found it interesting, if not gotten some enjoyment from it. And since it’s my last prediction, why not go out big:
Michigan – 2013 Big Ten Champions – GO BLUE!
ACTUALLY, STILL PUNT
By Nick RoUMel
I’ll say it.
Nicki Minaj is a conservative dresser.
I say that with only a dim awareness that Nicki Minaj is an entertainer, and without full knowledge of said Nicki’s gender.
I say that because despite his modesty, Punt has indeed been a true journalist.
In a day where mainstream media of coverage often focuses on misdeeds, and sports writers go out of their way to put down the young men who play this game, Punt has covered the game. Since 1994, my friend, as you have forgotten.
In his first column predicting a 31-17 Michigan victory over MSU (actual score UM 40-MSU 20), Punt wrote about the rivalry:
Webster defines a rival as “a person or tries to get or do the same thing as another or to equal or surpass another; a competitor.” Having read this, I have to ask the question – does the series with MSU constitute a true rivalry? Well, it surely must be considered one by Spartan fans. After all, haven’t they been trying to "get or do the same thing" as the Wolverines on the gridiron for nearly a generation?”
While Punt has been a true Blue Michigan fan over the years, he was not afraid to go out on a limb, like his prediction that Ohio State would crush Michigan’s national championship hopes in our storied 1997 season:
“The Wolverine watched the scarlet and grey bandit soar off. He could only gnash his teeth, a scream choking in his throat. "It can’t end this way," he cried. "Is there no justice?"
I will always give credit to Punt for his ardent (and prescient) support of Tom Brady in 1999, when golden boy Drew Henson was job sharing. From October 2, 1999:
“Please, please, please just give the job to Brady! What else does the "San Mateo Matador" have to do to prove he’s worthy?”
One of the frustrating things in working with Punt was his refusal to pick against Michigan, leaving it to me to play the bad guy. He wrote in 2004:
“Counterpunt has accused me of being a "homer." He thinks I won’t pick against Michigan if I obviously think they’re going to win. Which, to a certain extent, is true.”
Referring years later to his 1997 pick of OSU to ruin Michigan’s undefeated season, Punt wrote:
“Would you have liked to be the one to pick against Michigan during the 1997 dream season? … Despite wrapping my column in the blanket of a fairy tale, I remained the object of scorn from many acquaintances, to the extent of it impacting on my enjoyment of the best season of Michigan football in my lifetime.”
The Michigan Football Guide stopped publishing in 2007, which was fitting as it was the season of the Appalachian State loss and some lean years thereafter. As Punt noted, we were mercifully spared the RichRod years. That would have been a difficult time to keep up our enthusiasm.
Writing for MGoBlog last year was been a welcome resurrection, and a fitting way for Punt to go out on top. We are grateful to Brian & Co. for giving us an opportunity to share this space with true students of the game. I am looking forward to working with my new partner, whose inside knowledge of Michigan football is far greater than my own, and who probably can even tell us Nicki Minaj’s gender.
As I now move into Punt formation, Ken “Sky” Walker, I salute you. Go Blue, my friend.
Michigan 42, Central Michigan 13
By Heiko Yang
Hello. If you enjoy reading big walls of ungrammatical text, you may be familiar with me as the guy who badgers the Michigan coaches about all the neat things they are reluctant to do. As Punt’s successor, you can call me “Spread Punt.”
I am deeply honored to be entrusted with upholding Punt’s journalistic excellence going forward. Free rental car upgrades are not truly free, after all. They are earned, and the humbling fact of the matter is that when Ken started earning his, I was still in ESL. Never mind that misinformed prejudices put me there in the first place and then subsequently kept me there for two more years. It was worth it. Becoming the new Punt is the end achievement in my quest to master the English language. Dr. McPherson (my second grade teacher had a PhD) would be so proud.
With this new great power comes great responsibility. Right now it is my responsibility to inform Counterpunt that Nicki Minaj is indeed a lovely young lady. So lovely you should probably turn SafeSearch on if you are at work, which I totally forgot to do just now.
Michigan 50, Central Michigan 9.
[ED: One of you is supposed to be negative! Argh. We'll work on this.]
Well. It's done. This year's edition checks in at 41,191 words. If you had that in the pool, congratulations.
THE STORY: ALL TOGETHER NOW
After a decade trying to find itself, Michigan points itself to the future, united.
Quarterback: I believe in Devin Gardner, so hard.
Running back: Also Fitz Toussaint. Not so much the other veterans, but have I told you about freshmen? They're all right at tailback.
Wide receiver: Yeah, they're short. So? They're damn good.
Tight end and friends: a panoply of blocky-catchy guys featuring one Devin Funchess, larger and ready to bust out.
Offensive line: It's like Ohio: rather good at the edge, increasingly depressing as you approach the center.
Questions and answers: Borges isn't perfect but he's probably good enough; reiterating Gardner squee.
Defensive ends: I do not think Frank Clark is going to be an all-wrecking force. Better, sure.
Defensive tackle: All hail QWASH. Three-tech dodgy, but deep.
Linebacker: If Ryan is Ryan, these guys will be lights out.
Cornerback: War daddy up, Mr. Countess.
Safety: Thomas Gordon, and then… well… hmm.
Questions and answers: Novacs, mitigating that, the importance of hybrid space players, serenity?
Special teams: a major strength if Michigan can just block and cover guys.
Podcast 5.0: Almost two hours of erudite chatter about socialism in the 19th century.
Heuristics and stupid prediction: Turnovers should be much better, only position shifts that are ominous at safety, 10-2 asserted.
Orson's season kickoff: "THE BUSINESS OF PROTECTION."
Holdin' The Rope: "Beginnings"
TEAM SPECIFIC HYPE
College football is a dichotomy of change and sameness. The players turn over at an alarming rate, even the most precocious slipping through our fingers almost before we've met them. But every year there's a Saturday where 110,000 file into a stadium Fielding Yost built, survey their view, hear the band, see the helmets, and think to themselves it's still here. All of it is still here. Thank God.
Life decays us all; the team is forever.
Previously here: Brian's turn to self-inflict carpal tunnel (aka the 'preview 2013' tag—if you haven't read through those by now, set aside a good ALL OF THE HOURS)
|WHAT||Michigan vs Central Michigan|
Ann Arbor, Michigan
|WHEN||3:30 pm Eastern, August 31, 2013|
|THE LINE||M -32|
|WEATHER||partly cloudy, around 80, 10% chance of rain|
Trollin' trollin' trollin'/Sparty LOL'in/This better not happen/To ussssssss
Run Offense vs Central Michigan
The good news for Central Michigan is they return four of their six starters up front (they run a 4-2-5 defense); the bad news is one of those starters is buried down at third on the depth chart at nose tackle—oh, and the Chips allowed 193 rushing yards per game last season, 93rd in the NCAA. Returning talent is good if it is talented; CMU's defense was not so talented in 2012.
The Chips return both linebackers, senior SLB Shamari Benton and junior MLB Justin Cherocci; the pair combined for 258(!) tackles last season, largely because the defensive line couldn't make plays—only two D-linemen cracked 40 tackles last season, and both have since graduated. Benton and Cherocci will be tasked with keeping five-yard gains from turning into big plays; their tackle numbers indicate they're pretty decent at doing so, though CMU's opponent rushing numbers (4.9 ypc before sacks removed) may tell a different story.
If Michigan can't get a traditional run game going against this team, it may be time to PANIC. Maize n Brew interviewed Hustle Belt blogger Ron Balaskovitz about the matchup, one that doesn't bode well for CMU given what their defense is designed to stop:
The problem for CMU when they face a team like Michigan, who wants to establish a power running game, is that CMU doesn't play a normal front seven. They play 4-2-5 defense that is designed to bend but don't break, and slow down the pass happy MAC offenses, so it leaves them vulnerable against power run teams. It doesn't typically blitz often, and relies on pressure from the front four, and lots of tackles by the linebackers. The linebackers are both back, and both had over 100 tackles last year, so the pressure rests squarely on the defensive line coming into this game.
Only one CMU defensive lineman, nose tackle Leterrius Walton, returns to his starting spot this year; last year's other starting DT, junior Jabari Dean, is now listed third on the nose tackle depth chart. CMU lists co-starters at both defensive end spots, and none of the four crack 250 pounds. Michigan should be able to control the game on the ground without breaking out much fancy stuff; if they struggle to do so, optimism for their chances against Notre Dame—and their beastly defensive line—drops several notches.
Key Matchup: Jack Miller and Graham Glasgow vs. The One Proven CMU Lineman. Actually, the non-proven ones, too. If Miller and/or Glasgow struggle to get a push against these guys, it does not bode well for the running game going fowards. I think I've made that rather clear.
[Hit THE JUMP for how do you give up that many passing yards to MSU? Also, a fearsome running back named Zurlon.]
Previously: Podcast 5.0, The Story, Quarterback, Running Back, Wide Receiver, Tight End and Friends, Offensive Line, Defensive Tackle, Defensive End, Linebacker, Cornerback, Safety, Special Teams. Five Questions: Offense, Five Questions: Defense.
The theory of turnover margin: it is pretty random. Teams that find themselves at one end or the other at the end of the year are likely to rebound towards the average. So teams towards the top will tend to be overrated and vice versa. Nonrandom factors to evaluate: quarterback experience, quarterback pressure applied and received, and odd running backs like Mike Hart who just don't fumble.
|Year||Margin||Int +||Fumb +||Sacks +||Int -||Fumb -||Sacks -|
|2007||0.15 (41st)||14||15||2.46(33rd)||14||13||2.17 (67th)|
|2008||-.83 (104th)||9||11||2.42(33rd)||12||18||1.83 (57th)|
|2009||-1.00 (115th)||11||5||1.83(68th)||15||13||2.33 (83rd)|
|2011||+0.54 (25th)||9||20||2.31 (29th)||16||6||1.38 (33rd)|
|2012||-0.69 (99th)||7||11||1.69 (69th)||19||8||1.38 (28th)|
Michigan's one year bounce was followed by a ruthless reversion to Rodriguez-era norms as Michigan's fumble recovery rate dropped to human levels and Denard threw a bunch of interceptions. Actually, Russell Bellomy made quite a contribution himself with four interceptions on just 21 throws. Vincent Smith also tossed one on his only attempt. That's quite an interception haul from 22 attempts.
Gardner's INT rate (3.9%) was not great, but it was a significant improvement on Denard and especially the random throws. If he'd taken all of Michigan's 318 throws he would have thrown 13 interceptions (actually 12.6), and one of his picks was a third-and-long chuck that became a virtual punt. Even if Gardner doesn't improve that INT rate Michigan can expect to drop a lot of interceptions.
Fumbles lost should stay at low levels as Taylor Lewan protects Gardner from blindside hits and low-fumble Fitz Toussaint gets the bulk of the carries. Robinson was a consistent source of fumbles, too.
That should get Michigan to about even, and then you'd hope increased pressure on the quarterback and a defensive backfield more oriented towards MAKING PLAYS would increase Michigan's crappy takeaway rate.
I'd guess Michigan is in a range from turnover-neutral to +0.25, but as always with turnovers they can do wacky things.
Position Switch Starters
Theory of position switches: if you are starting or considering starting a guy who was playing somewhere else a year ago, that position is in trouble. There are degrees of this. When Notre Dame moved Travis Thomas, a useful backup at tailback, to linebacker and then declared him a starter, there was no way that could end well. Wisconsin's flip of LB Travis Beckum to tight end was less ominous because Wisconsin had a solid linebacking corps and Beckum hadn't established himself on that side of the ball. Michigan flipping Prescott Burgess from SLB to WLB or PSU moving Dan Connor inside don't register here: we're talking major moves that indicate a serious lack somewhere.
WDE Brennen Beyer moves to SAM to cover for the Ryan injury. Fret level: none. Minor move and Beyer is competing with Cam Gordon to start until Ryan gets back for the meat of the schedule.
WLB Desmond Morgan moves to MLB so Ross can start. Fret level: negative? Morgan's more natural at MLB and the differences are minimal.
LT Ben Braden moves to guard and back, which leaves Michigan in a bit of a spot on the interior. Fret level: moderate. Michigan could use another bullet or two on the interior and obviously wanted Braden to grab the job.
CB Courtney Avery moves to safety, apparently to start. Fret level: severe.
This is actually a low level of motion, which is good.
An Embarrassing Prediction, No Doubt
Worst Case If Devin Gardner Is Healthy
The offensive line remains in shambles, though Kalis does bring a nastiness Michigan did not have previously. Any gains in the run game are offset by the loss of Robinson. Clark is JAG again, Ryan does not come back as Jake Ryan, and the pass rush remains stagnant as the secondary gets leaky. Gardner pulls out a couple of tough games; Michigan loses their other four and ends up 8-4.
Worst Case If Devin Gardner Gets Injured
Michigan isn't quite there. If Gardner is all that and if the offensive line is okay, they still don't get enough pass rush and safety play in one particular game that blows up a potentially undefeated season. 11-1.
Gardner's the man, Toussaint recaptures his glory, the offensive line is middling in the middle and great on the edges, Gallon blows up.
On defense, the line is a sold B+, the linebackers are good to start and great at the end of the season once Ryan gets his feet back under him. The secondary is solid but prone to giving up big plays.
Special teams is a hidden asset as some of the blocking issues get resolved, Michigan flirts with spread punting, and Norfleet brings some pizzazz to the return jobs.
Brady Hoke wins a game by going for it.
|9/21||@ UConn||Must win|
|10/12||@ Penn State||Lean to win|
|11/2||@ Michigan State||Lean to win|
|11/23||@ Iowa||Must win|
Wisconsin, Illinois, Purdue
Six games should be in the bag already, and road games against Penn State (freshman quarterback) and Michigan State (lost entire offense in the person of LeVeon Bell, four way QB duel) feature what should be immensely struggling offenses and solid defenses. Notre Dame, Nebraska, Northwestern, and Ohio State are where the season will be made or lost. Only one of those is on the road, that a quasi-road game against Northwestern in the Little Big House. It looks like 10-2. 9-3 is more likely than 11-1.
[Last year I predicted 9-3, which was a game off. I claim Nebraska as an unforeseeable event, though.]