The pride of Ann Arbor Pioneer High School. [Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog]
It's a new day. Sort of.
There was plenty to celebrate in the first Michigan game of the post-Brandon era. The Wolverines thoroughly dominated Indiana, more than doubling their total yardage and earning the team's first double-digit win since the Miami game.
Devin Gardner set a season high in passing yardage. Amara Darboh posted the best day of his career. So did Ann Arbor native Drake Johnson, who rushed for 122 yards and two scores in his first extended action at running back. The defense shut down the nation's leading rusher, IU's Tevin Coleman, and even forced a pair of turnovers.
There was plenty of bad that was familiar, too. Gardner tossed an ugly interception and narrowly avoided a pick-six when the game was still competitive. Brady Hoke bungled basic clock management at the end of the first half, robbing Michigan of a chance to score before the break. The Wolverines punted from the Indiana 43 on a fourth-and-short. And, of course, the entire game came with the caveat of facing an IU squad with a miserable defense and a depleted depth chart at quarterback.
Oh, and the announced attendance of 103,111 was met with a mixture of laughter and boos; perhaps the program sold that many tickets, but on a chilly afternoon in Ann Arbor, there certainly weren't that many seats filled.
On this day, though, the good should be the focus. With Jake Butt suspended for the game for a violation of team rules, reserve tight end Keith Heitzman was able to record his first career touchdown on an improvised shovel pass from Gardner (pictured above).
Injury also created opportunity in the backfield. With Derrick Green out for the season and De'Veon Smith in and out of the game with a dinged up ankle, Johnson got 16 carries—14 of them in the second half—and he salted away the game, playing kitty-corner from where he starred in high school at both football and track. Johnson, who'd seen mostly special teams duty in his time at Michigan, showed off that track-star speed by breaking multiple runs into the Indiana secondary.
Darboh broke the century mark on nine receptions, scoring from 12 yards on a hard-thrown post from Gardner to give Michgian a 17-0 lead that would stand as the halftime score. He and Devin Funchess combined to reel in 16 of Gardner's 22 completions; no other Wolverine had more than one.
The defense dominated an Indiana offense sorely missing injured quarterback Nate Sudfeld. They got some help from IU coach Kevin Wilson, as well. Wilson benched Tevin Coleman after he put the ball on the turf twice, losing the second on a recovery by freshman Bryan Mone. Indiana couldn't generate any offense without Coleman, who'd finish with a season-low 108 yards—must be nice—on 27 carries; his mark of four yards per carry was well below his season average of 8.8.
The Hoosiers also insisted on running much of their offense from the Wildcat, which Michigan had dead to rights for most of the game. Jake Ryan recorded 2.5 TFLs among his team-high 11 tackles; fellow linebacker Joe Bolden had two TFLs of his own as M repeatedly shot gaps into the IU backfield. Any hopes Indiana had of getting back into the game were dashed when Ryan Glasgow sacked IU QB Zander Diamont, stripped the ball, and came up with the recovery in the third quarter; Johnson got the corner for his first touchdown on the ensuing drive.
The final yardage read Michigan 404, Indiana 191.
Hoke refused to address questions about Dave Brandon's resignation in the aftermath of the game, and that felt right. Today was about the team on the field, and while the opponent wasn't a strong one, they were able to ignore this week's distractions and take care of business. That alone was an impressive feat.
Throw out the records. Ignore the lack of offense. Forget that Penn State's offensive line looks eerily like Michigan's 2013 O-line.
Michigan won a game tonight in front of a packed house of genuinely excited fans, and it felt damn good. Maybe not for much of the game, an ugly slog in which the two teams combined for just 470 yards of offense, several Wolverines went down with injuries—including Devins Gardner and Funchess—and both coaching staffs seemed intent on out-bungling the other, but come that final drive, it felt like Michigan football should.
The stars of this game, without a doubt, were on defense. The Wolverines limited PSU to just 214 yards, with a paltry 65 in the second half after Michigan came out a little flat against the run. Six different Wolverines accounted for the team's six sacks. Jourdan Lewis came up with a critical second-half interception when the defensive front nearly got to Christian Hackenberg again, forcing an ill-advised throw across the field. Mike McCray anticipated a fake punt and displayed tantalizing athleticism in hawking Grant Haley to blow it up two yards behind the line.
When Penn State needed a field goal to tie with 3:44 left, the defense came through with their biggest possession of the night, as Jake Ryan and Frank Clark sacked Hackenberg on consecutive plays to force the Nittany Lions into punt formation from just outside their own goal line. PSU coach James Franklin bizarrely called a timeout to avoid a delay of game—one that would have cost his team about half a yard—before making the correct call to take a safety and go for an onside kick.
What happened next perhaps made up for the blown call at the end of last week's Rutgers game. Penn State recovered the initial kick, but a questionable flag for offsides negated it, and Blake Countess fell onto the ensuing re-kick without any trouble to effectively end game.
In feelingsball world, however, the star of this game was Devin Gardner, who recovered from a bad interception and an ugly-looking ankle injury to engineer the game-winning field goal drive. Gardner's numbers didn't look great—16/24, 192 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT—but without him on the field for two second-half drives, the offense looked helpless with Russell Bellomy at quarterback. Gardner may be inconsistent—yes, often infuriatingly so—but there's no question he's by far the most capable leader of this offense, and it showed most tonight during his brief absence.
Devin Funchess scored Michigan's lone touchdown of the evening in the first quarter, somehow chasing down a Gardner moonshot and snatching it away from PSU safety Ryan Keiser, who looked like he was preparing to field a punt—after a bobble, Funchess secured the ball and streaked towards the home sideline, arms raised in triumph.
That turned out to be the only touchdown the Wolverines would need, with Matt Wile providing the decisive points on field goals of 45, 42, and 37 yards.
Granted, the running game proved non-existent, the offense remained relatively ineffective, and Brady Hoke gifted Penn State a Hail Mary attempt at the end of the first half by inexplicably taking a timeout with three seconds left on the clock. Those are concerns, to be sure, but they're concerns for another day.
Tonight, we celebrate. Hail to the victors, valiant.
Adam Glanzman/special to MGoBlog
Human beings, and not just those associated with Michigan, are capable of extraordinary incompetence. The biggest brain fart tonight was when a guy watched Amara Darboh make a catch, take two steps, dive out of bounds, and place the ball on the ground, then “confirmed” it “incomplete.” The call on the field was malpractice; getting it wrong with the benefit of a DVR and HDTV is so staggeringly separated from reality that most fanbases will go for sinister explanations.
A Michigan Man knows better. Watching this program try to manage a clock, manage an offense, or manage a press release is the kind of thorough education in the extent of the human capacity for ineptitude that you’ve come to expect from the nation’s top public university.
“Blame the refs!” explains why Wile had to attempt a 56-yarder—which Rutgers blocked—and why Michigan had just one timeout to throw against a 1st down-and-kneel drive to end the game. It doesn’t explain why Michigan manipulated the clock to leave their opponent a comfortable 120 seconds to drive at the end of the first half. Or why they forgot they had Funchess for two quarters. Or why a heretofore deep and competent secondary gave up 404 yards to Gary Nova, overcoming a record previously held by the John L. Smith Razorbacks.
Michigan stayed in it, partly because Rutgers is Rutgers. Also because Devin Gardner laughed off two tackle attempts en route to a 19-yard 4th quarter touchdown that needs to be put to Autumn Thunder immediately. I feel awful about how this guy’s career has gone. Given the schedule from here, the Wolverines would be lucky to go 6-6 and unlikely to win four. When the team is this bad and the coaches’ meat this dead, we can check out, or just enjoy the occasional exploits of those who won’t.
People are just stupid sometimes; even Unpossible Throw God Gary Nova himself took a false start(!) this game. This will be important to remember whenever it’s time to commence a headhunt as inevitable as the Big Ten’s empty apology. Humans are only tenuously rational creatures, and as soon as a coaching search commences, all contact with reality is lost.
“We’re not going to talk about injuries and I might as well bring that out now. And some of that is because you can say something about something and then you’re wrong. Everybody heals a little differently, and the other thing is for our kids. I want to make sure we’re doing a good job protecting them.” — Brady Hoke, 9/17/14
Regardless of how you felt about the on-field performance, what Brady Hoke did in putting an almost certainly concussed Shane Morris back on the field was reprehensible and, if you believe the first job of a head coach is to protect his own players, worthy of a firing. The fact that Hoke let Morris stay on the field as long as he did in the first place—when Morris, at one point, waved at the sideline while needing a lineman's support to stand—was awful enough; to ask Morris to re-enter that game was beyond the pale.
A national television audience just saw every reason why they shouldn't send their football players to Michigan.
An ornery crowd filtered in slowly, with the "attendance" of 102,926 such an obvious farce much of the crowd booed when it was announced. Booing, in fact, was a theme on the day. It started early, when a couple inside running plays netted little. When Minnesota entered the tunnel with a 10-7 halftime lead, the boos rained down again.
By the time Morris lost a third-quarter fumble when he simply dropped the ball in the pocket—the press box announcer flatly stated "fumble not forced by anyone on Minnesota," afterward—the student section had moved on from boos to chants of "Fire Brandon." For the uninitiated, that would be in reference to Dave Brandon, Michigan's embattled athletic director.
The first half proved competitive, at least, if not at all interesting. Michigan punted on their first three drives, Minnesota on their opening four; provided stellar field position by the defense, the Wolverine offense tallied their first red zone trip and touchdown against a Power 5 team this season on a nifty ten-yard scamper by De'Veon Smith. The Gophers answered just two minutes later, however, with a ten-yard scoring run of their own when quarterback Mitch Leidner ran untouched around the corner off an inside run fake.
Minnesota added greatly to the fan unrest when they marched 92 yards in 2:17 to end the half with a Ryan Santoso field goal. Then the floodgates opened in the third quarter. Minnesota forced Michigan to punt from deep in their own territory, allowing the Gophers to "drive" eight yards in seven plays for another Santoso field goal, putting them up 13-10. Two plays later, Theiran Cockran tipped a Morris pass to the flat, and it fluttered right to Gopher LB De'Vondre Campbell, who brought it back 30 yards for an easy touchdown.
After the Morris fumble on the very next drive, Leidner ended a five-play drive with a little flip-pass to Maxx Williams for a one-yard score. What had been a 10-7 game just 4:32 earlier morphed into an ugly 27-7 blowout. When Morris was finally pulled, Devin Gardner entered the game and immediately engineered a touchdown drive, capping it off with a three-yard run, defiantly standing as two defenders collided with him upon entering the end zone. During that drive, Gardner lost his helmet for a play, necessitating either a timeout be called or a backup enter. While Russell Bellomy also grabbed his helmet, Morris went in.
On what would ultimately be Michigan's last drive, another woeful three-and-out (their seventh of the game) from the shadow of their own end zone, Devin Funchess also went down injured, and left the field with a noticeable limp. When the game mercifully ended shortly after Michigan punted, still technically down just two scores on the scoreboard, Funchess and his teammates limped to the locker room; Morris left the field on the back of a cart.
"I didn't see that. I can only answer for me," said Hoke, when asked if he noticed Morris looking wobbly on his feet.
If that's the best you've got, Brady, it's best if you let someone else protect the players.
WITH AUTHORITY [Eric Upchurch/MGoBlog]
The gulf between box score and eye test is vast this evening.
The box score says Michigan gave hapless Miami their 19th straight loss with authority, outgaining the RedHawks 460-198, moving the ball well on the ground (6.1 YPC) and through the air (8.4 YPA), and ultimately cruising to a 24-point victory.
My eyes saw Michigan cough up three turnovers in the second quarter, allowing Hapless Miami to tie the game at ten apiece and hang around for a while.
The box score shows that Miami scored ten points against the Wolverine defense, but the eyes know those should be charged against Michigan's offense, as those scoring drives covered all of 26 and 21 yards following U-M turnovers.
The box score doesn't contain a giant red "WTF" flag. My eyes saw this at the end of the first half:
You can click to enlarge that picture, or I can just tell you that Michigan ran a four-minute drill with zero urgency or effectiveness. After Michigan tried to run a quick play on fourth-and-1, only for Miami to call a timeout before the snap, Brady Hoke decided to punt on 4th-and-6 from the Miami 37 when the Wolverines took a delay of game penalty coming out of that timeout. The decison to punt was so surprising Miami didn't put out a returner, then called a timeout of the "you can't be serious" variety. Finally, U-M took another delay of game to give Will Hagerup more room to boom a punt that hit the end zone on the fly.* Insert giant red "WTF" flag here.
The box score shows Devin Gardner had an efficient 184 yards and two TDs on 20 attempts, with one lone interception blemishing his stat line. The eyes saw his mechanics, which are all over the place, and at least two should-be interceptions hit the turf or, in the case of Jake Butt's first catch, get rescued by a great effort on the receiver's part. In fairness to Gardner, the box score also doesn't show that his interception was tipped at the line.
A crease, that. [Upchurch]
The box score and eye test agree on a couple things, at least. The offensive line did a fine job opening up holes after Miami stopped packing the box with eight defenders; when the RedHawks had to adjust to account for Michigan's wide-open receivers, Derrick Green went off, finishing the game with 137 yards and a pair of scoring runs on 22 carries. Green showed off patience, vision, and the decisive cuts necessary for success in a zone running scheme, and the numbers say as much.
Amara Darboh also looked good as he stepped into a starting role with Devin Funchess in street clothes; the redshirt sophomore caught six passes for 88 yards and Michigan's first touchdown—when he caught a quick slant and powered through a tackle to poke the ball across the plane—though he did lose a fumble during that stressful second quarter. Jake Butt looked healthy after playing sparingly against Notre Dame, finishing with three catches for 59 yards and a score on a clever fake screen called by Doug Nussmeier.
The defense thoroughly dominated Miami. RedHawks QB Andrew Hendrix could only muster 165 yards with one TD and one INT on 26 passes. The Miami passing game fared a whole lot better than their running game, which managed a paltry 33 yards on 24 attempts. The defensive front looked great, and even without starters Ray Taylor and Jarrod Wilson, the secondary held strong. Jourdan Lewis recorded his first career interception with a leaping grab on the sideline, while Jabrill Peppers impressed with his physical man coverage, forcing throw after throw to sail into the sideline.
The box score, which must be taken into account—our lyin' eyes being what they are—says Michigan turned in a dominant performance, with the final score a bit deceiving thanks to those turnovers. While it took longer than anyone hoped or expected, the Wolverines ultimately dispatched a bad team with relative ease.
On my drive home, however, I'll remember the groans that accompanied Hagerup's ill-fated punt, and the boos that followed the team into the tunnel, and I'll wonder what that kind of first-half performance would result in next week, when a plucky Utah squad coming off a bye week visits the Big House. The mental image isn't a pleasant one.
*Apologies for initially screwing up this sequence of events; now edited for accuracy, though the general "WTF" feeling stands, of course. This was horrible clock management and an infuriatingly conservative call in a one-score game against an overmatched opponent.