it's a major award
Bullets of informative information:
- Michigan State. This is a rivalry game. Rivalries are important.
- Vincent Smith getting held out for his hamstring was precautionary. May be back this week. Maybe not.
- Hopkins is "back."
- Frank Clark's decreased playing time was due to rotation, not due to injury.
- Denard is fine.
“You know, obviously it was a great team win the other night. Played well as a team. Played together. Probably our most complete game when you look at the offense and defense. In the kicking game I thought we did some very good things. Had some penalties that we don’t want to have when you look at hitting the returner late and we had two defensive offsides penalties that we need to be a little more poised and a little more composed about that. A couple dropped passes. I think we were 9 of 14 on third downs, probably could have been 11 of 14. Missed assignments, I think we had 10 of them on offense. Defensively, early in the game I thought they ran the ball a little too well, so we have to do a better job with the integrity of gaps and getting off blocks. Best we’ve played, but a long way from playing championship football, so we have a lot of work to do. We’ll go back to work.
"This is a great week because it’s a rivalry game and those are always special, always fun. At the same time it’s another championship game, which we’ve started that run two weeks ago. We have to prepare like we have, and I think we will because we’ve done a nice job to this point and the maturity of our team – I think we are maturing, so we just have to keep going forward.”
Something came up yesterday and I had to drive to Cincinnati, which is why this is late. I will post today's presser transcript later this afternoon/evening. Apologies for the whacky timing.
Desmond Morgan and Denard Robinson
Opening remarks about Gerald Ford’s jersey:
Morgan: “I’d just like to say it’s quite an honor and privilege not only to represent a former Michigan player -- obviously left his legacy on the program, was a standout person and player -- but on top of that the President of the United States. It’s an honor, and I’m going to wear it proud.”
Denard, what did you hurt and were you scared that it was going to be more serious than it turned out to be?
Denard: “No, it was just a boo boo. I mean, everybody gets hurt, so I mean, it was all good. I came back in and it didn’t bother me at all.”
Denard: “It didn’t bother me. I don’t know. It was nothing. Funny bone. Nothing serious.”
Denard, can you talk about the defense and how much you feel like you can rely on them?
Denard: “Uh, I think every great team has to have a great defense. It starts with the defense, to be honest with you. If they can stop people, we could score three points and win the game if they shut them out. They’re playing well and it was a team effort.”
10/13/2012 – Michigan 45, Illinois 0 – 4-2, 2-0 Big Ten
Six games into year two of the Hoke and Mattison defensive regime, Michigan stands 10th in total defense. Last year they finished 17th. The year before that they languished in the triple-digits, unsure of who they were, what they were doing, and how life was supposed to have any meaning. Now, they know.
The flow thing is no coincidence.
RYAN THE BARBARIAN
Yeah, you can use the advanced numbers to push the exact measure of Michigan's improvement to and fro—Michigan is 16th in S&P+ with FEI pending—but who cares? The exact magnitude of the improvement is difficult to measure in the same way an exploding volcano is. It is organized and has long hair and will hit you very hard. Volcanoes. Dig it.
Michigan has not quite swept across the steppes, burning all in its path yet. They're still waiting for a real test after they got run over in the opener and had to survive an option attack they were ill-prepared for. Since those two games they've played UMass, a Notre Dame team that seems to score 13-20 against any opponent more competent than Miami, Purdue, and Illinois. Competent quarterbacks have exited. Chaos reigns even before Michigan gets involved.
But but but, by whatever measures you care to look at Michigan is providing novel horrible experiences to the hapless in their path:
- Illinois was held to under 150 yards of offense. In blowout losses against Arizona State and Penn State, the former without Scheelhaase, they racked up over 300 and scored. They neared 300 against Wisconsin last week.
- Purdue's worst yardage output of the season was versus Michigan; they've played ND and Wisconsin.
- Michigan held Notre Dame to under 250 yards, also their worst output of the season.
When life gives you lemonade stands, all you can do is pillage five-year-olds. Nickels in hand, Michigan faces a recent nemesis this weekend. They've got a real nice stand set up. Would be a shame if something happened to it.
It's mostly lemonade stands from here on out. Only two of Michigan's remaining six opponents squeeze into the top half of the total yardage rankings—Ohio State (34th) and Nebraska (12th). Hypothetical Big Ten Championship Game foe Wisconsin is cooling its heels at 87th. Thanks to the BIG TENNNNNN nature of the Big Ten, Michigan's defense can get along despite being rickety in parts.
Six weeks in it's getting hard to figure out what those rickety parts are. Kenny Demens has just spent three weeks attacking third and one with abandon and dropping into all the deep seams. He's been able to do that because the defensive tackles are keeping him clean. Raymon Taylor is being avoided by opponents who would rather go at JT Floyd. Craig Roh's move to strongside end has been successful beyond all reason.
The big hole on the defense is…
…weakside end? Maybe Floyd himself? It's unknown, really.
We do know now what we hoped—maybe suspected—at the beginning of the year: the GERG to Greg turnaround was 10% fumble fluke, 90% sustainable development. I watch Michigan play defense and think about watching Greg Mattison get distracted by an endzone shot of his four DL making the exact same step on a particular cutup at a coaching clinic. The line moves with perfect choreography and Mattison's supposed to be talking about higher-level stuff but is simply incapable of looking at that beautiful synchronicity and not stopping to talk about it:
Mattison did not select the cutups himself—that was delegated to a video coordinator—and didn't know exactly what would come up. This made for an interesting dynamic as he evaluated each play live. He repeatedly digressed from his main topic to note the footwork of his linemen: Van Bergen is getting distance with his first step. All of these guys have identical footwork.
The tape winds back and forth; Mattison beams like a proud father. He fumes at imaginary people who would not direct their weakside end to put his outside foot back when he gets a tight end to him. He passes the geek test.
The same folks who made Will Heininger a key piece of a top 20 defense have reconstituted Michigan's defensive line from a converted OL, a five star at the bottom of the sea, and a 250-pound weakside end. When not battered by a once-in-a-generation outfit in Tuscaloosa, they've stoned everyone they've come up against*. That line is not where Michigan's going, but it's good enough to be amongst the best in the conference.
That is the brick on which Hoke's program is built. They will take whatever they've got and turn it into a well-oiled machine. Some years they will be undersized and coping well. Some years they will be rampant. The next ten years will feature an endless procession of mashing defenses. There will be one blip to the downside and two units that put Michigan in national championship contention.
Year in, year out, lemonade stands across the Midwest will burn. Toddlers in Elmo t-shirts will weep. Winged helmets will look on impassively, knowing what is best in life.
*[Air Force's success was not on the DL, at least not much.]
Highlights from parkinggod:
The Ford presentation:
Upchurch photos went up this morning.
Brady Hoke Epic Double Point of the week. Jake Ryan, come on down. Obviously. He's got a bullet down the page, but: 11 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, and a number of plays made that didn't even show up on that statline.
Honorable mention: Denard Robinson (7/11, > 10 YPC, no turnovers), Patrick Omameh (seems to be destroying Akeem Spence on a few of Denard's long runs), Kenny Demens (INT, two third and short thumps), Greg Mattison (knows what is best in life).
Epic Double Point standings.
3: Jake Ryan (ND, Purdue, Illinois)
2: Denard Robinson (Air Force, UMass)
1: Jeremy Gallon(Alabama)
I know, man.
My God, It's Made Of Funchess note of the week. From my vantage point in the stadium, I thought the play-action rollout that eventually turned into the Funchess touchdown had been defeated by coverage. I thought that Denard saw this too and was chunking the ball out of the endzone, which I was pleased with—WOO NO INTERCEPTION—as I saw the ball soar into the stands… at least the dance team… well past Devin Funchess's outstretched… oh.
Ace made this. ESC to stop it, unless you're on Chrome.
Wow. Is that legal? Should I clap now? Is touchdown? Is touchdown. Clap. Smile. Turn to wife and console her that the Illinois people are probably used to this anyway and she shouldn't feel bad for them because… um. Return to clapping, wait for day when Michigan throws more than 15 passes and Jim Mandich Watch returns.
norfleetwatch. hai guys here's this punt i should probably fair catch this syyyykkkkkkeeeee hey i'm going this way syyyyyyykkke I PUT OUT MY HAND AND YOU STOP BECAUSE I HAVE POWERS goodbye tackler goodbye tackler goodbye tackler hello sideline i am sorry i will never touch you sideline i just don't feel like that about you ZOOOOOOOOOOOOM wait wat is punter
wat is punter wat is
Kicking from the one. Michigan pooted in the shortest possible field goal late in the first quarter, which normally would have driven me bonkers. IMO that was a close enough call that I wasn't super peeved. The situation:
- Denard is out so you've got a freshman at QB.
- Barnum is out so you've got your 6'1" walkon at LG.
- You've just been stuffed twice consecutively since Illinois knows you're not throwing, not least because…
- It's a rainstorm that could easily degenerate into an MSU-Iowa-ish slopfest in which points are at a premium.
If an 18-yard field goal in the first quarter is ever going to be the right move, it's there. It was really hard to disentangle any emotions about the kick from the momentary dread experienced as I watched Michigan's season circle down the drain in an injury deluge, but before it was a laugher it seemed like the kind of game where the first team to 17 wins and the field goal is defensible.
This is an extension of my being fine with a similar chip shot field goal in last year's Illinois game; that one came later and extended Michigan's lead from 14 to a probably-insurmountable 17. Early in this game any points seemed like a good idea in case the skies truly opened up.
Not that it mattered, but this wouldn't be MGoBlog without minute dissection of every possible game theory decision.
Even if you didn't like the kick you should note with approval that Michigan tried to take their two-minute opportunity at the end of the half only to be foiled by a bad snap after they'd moved the ball 19 yards.
Never again. Hey, guys, we're past Annual Denard Versus Illinois Injury Scare, and this one was the best of all because Denard came back and Illinois scored no points anyway. High five.
Michigan has now survived half the season with only one major injury, that to Blake Countess. While Wormley and Brink being out strips Michigan of some of its DL depth, neither guy was playing much or projected to play much—hard to imagine Wormley being a major step up from Michigan's current three-tech/SDE production.
That's getting off relatively light. Anyone glancing at Iowa City or East Lansing will get quick confirmation of that. Brady Hoke poops magic, still going strong.
Everything is not a bubble screen. I got a half-dozen tweets after the Gallon touchdown about bubble screens, and I knew that there had been a disturbance in the force due to announcer incompetence. Watching the highlights, I found out: the PBP guy thinks any throw to a wide receiver behind the line of scrimmage is a bubble screen.
That's not true, obviously, and the Gallon touchdown was the Always Works Every Time Except That One Time Against Iowa throwback screen. That play has little to do with the various critiques leveled around here about the lack of edge pressure applied by the Borges spread. It works by getting the playside tackle out on the edge without blocking that DE, and that gets you a chunk of yards. Michigan's broke huge as Michigan picked up +++ downfield blocks from Schofield and Kwiatkowski:
Schofield got a piece of the safety 20 yards downfield. That's a throwback to his days as a guard and a reason Rodriguez was so hyped on acquiring him. Michigan's OL can still get downfield like a boss.
Anyway, the throwback screen has been a strange disconnected bit of the offense that Borges pulls out once a game that picks up between 15 and 70 yards without fail except that one time against Iowa. It's always run from under center; it's obviously a pretty awesome play but it isn't yet anything more than a dime store novelty because the core of the offense remains spread.
Lewan injury scares. Taylor Lewan wasn't the first choice in warmups and again exited before the rest of the offensive line; a couple of people have mentioned to me that he seemed to have a limp as he went back to the locker room at half-time. This is fine, because Lewan is in fact powered by injury. Tom Gholston will rip his leg off, laugh evilly, and turn around only to be faced with a being of unimaginable power created by his very own hands.
PROTIP: let's not try to throw screens over that guy.
Fitz vs Rawls vs Hayes vs Norfleet fight. The Toussaint Job Threat watch is still on after his YPC was the worst of anyone who got more than one carry—and the guy who got that one carry also almost took a punt return 90-some yards.
Rawls has earned some more playing time—if he's not taking over short yardage duties posthaste I'll be surprised—and will be given an opportunity to take some chunk of the carries, but Fitz is going to remain the starter, I'd imagine. Michigan did hand it off to Rawls on an inverted veer, FWIW.
Rotation. Michigan had more of it in this game, especially one Pipkins:
That started early on Illinois's somewhat annoying early successes straight up the gut. I'll have to see what was going on there in the UFR; live it seemed like a thing that Michigan was not quite expecting but quickly got fixed. Think early Rodriguez offenses in the first half versus the second.
Moore return, maybe not so much. Brandon Moore was back and still apparently behind Kwiatkowski and Funchess, possibly also Williams. I saw him whiff a block badly on one of his limited snaps. I don't think he's getting much playing time back.
Everybody Hates Russell. It was bad enough that Michigan receivers reacted to Russell Bellomy's passes like they were radioactive, but does the media have to pile on? Daily:
Bellomy struggles in spotlight
Apparently the offense couldn’t move a single yard without Robinson under center, and the Wolverines settled for a field goal…
Fans’ expectations for the quarterback position could be a bit exaggerated because they’ve been spoiled by the exhilarating play of Robinson, but Bellomy didn’t do a great job of living up to any expectations in his brief role on Saturday.
On the following drive, he tossed a pair of incomplete passes — granted, the second was dropped by fifth-year wide receiver Roy Roundtree — before Michigan punted on a three-and-out.
Russell Bellomy wasn't exactly sparkling in mop up duty for Robinson. He took over with the ball inside the five in the second quarter, and couldn't get Michigan into the end zone. He also lost a fumbled snap in the second half.
Michigan's backup quarterback situation is shaky. Russell Bellomy struggled somewhat. He let a snap squirt right through his hands, and he completed just 1/3 passes. I'm not a huge fan of what I've seen out of Devin Gardner as a quarterback, and I do think Bellomy has potential down the road . . . but boy, does he look shaky right now. He wasn't helped out by his receivers, though, who had their hands on both incompletions; but Bellomy looks afraid to push the ball down the field, and he's not very crisp running the plays.
Come on guys, he handed off a couple times and threw a few passes that were dropped. Given the conditions, the fumbled snap is not a huge surprise—I file Bellomy's performance under incomplete.
Hoke likes him. Yeah.
Another lost shoe. An epidemic. This never happened before. What's the deal?
Roh pretty damn good. Two of Michigan's WDE's switched positions in the offseason, and that was pretty worrying. At least one of those seems to be working out pretty well: SDE Craig Roh. Check out Michigan's first third and short stop. Watch 88, the DE to the top of the screen:
Shift a step before snap to line up right over the TE, get under the TE, move upfield and pop the pulling guard. That's why Demens is free to tackle. That's a full point in UFR that doesn't show up at all in the box score, and Roh has been doing that consistently for the first six games. There's a stretch at 2:14 that's similar: Ryan gets a TFL because Roh beats his guy playside.
Also on that first play Jake Ryan pops his guy back and disengages to make that Demens tackle a matter of stopping an already-falling guy's momentum. Funny how Demens is a lot better now that he's not eating guys on a free release. Speaking of…
JAKE F RYAN. Ryan needs no explanation, and in this game he put up the kind of stat line that makes even distant observers sit up and take notice: 11 tackles, 7 solo, 3.5 TFLs, a sack and a half. He also got some of those Roh plays—the stuffed fourth and inches was Ryan getting the two-for-one with a slant under the tackle and letting Demens roar up into the hole untouched.
Repeat of all things previous about all Big Ten, verge of—the next two weeks will either solidify that or delay it.
A screen worked, to a running back and everything. That's an everything's coming up Milhouse moment.
Scheelhaase out. At least one team in the Big Ten is willing to remove a guy with a concussion. Terry Hawthorne didn't play, either. Objection from UV withdrawn.
OL doing stuff. Big Robinson runs resulted from:
- Omameh blowing up Spence one on one.
- Lewan blowing up a DE on the easy Denard draw TD.
- Omameh blowing up Spence again on the 49-yarder
Student section fight. Michigan State:
Difference is that Michigan was up by a billion in a noncompetitive game, and they look to have about twice the people. Win for Michigan.
Yakety sax pending. THE KIDS ARE PLAYING THEIR TAILS OFF AND THE COACHES ARE SCREWING IT UP
FURMAN DESTROY. My only disappointment with the above highlight reel is that it leaves out a fifteen-yard penalty on Michigan, when Josh Furman went Fresno State on an Illinois punt returner. A personal reaction:
OHHHH HE'S GONNA LIGHT THAT GUY UP
/ball hits ground
That punt had ridiculous hangtime, is what I'm saying.
Damn you, Special K. Damn you. You know, you get through two full games without hearing the Dog Groomers play "In The Big House" and you think you're out of the woods and then they bring it back. False hope is worse than death.
I am so with you HSR:
Really, I could have like six anti-Special K bullets here, but will it really do any good?
The weirdest thing was the soulful acoustic guitar thing they played for like an entire commercial break. YEAH I'M FIRED UP HIT ME WITH THE JOSE GONZALEZ I CAME HERE FOR WARRRRRRRR.
Now you can't do it. Ace mentioned the on-field proposal after everyone had cleared out Saturday, and now the gentleman who totally one-upped you passed along the event itself:
Jonathan San declares "I've never made that many girls scream before," and he's got you topped. Unless you're Steve Breaston—in which case respext, you are good at football.
Dang big gap. The MSU line opened at M –11.5 and currently stands at M –10.5.
After watching the Spartan fan-fail, I was curious to see how UofM's students would approach the game. Even though the weather was basically the same - rain - the stands looked full to me. There were a few who left the game in the 2nd half, but I'm sure if we would have gone to double OT, the stands would have been full. So even though State may have won the last four games in the series, they have a long way to go to match the University of Michigan on the field, in the classroom, and in the stands.
Also, ST3 goes to badminton practice. MICHIGAN MENZ.
Turd Ferguson kicks off a rivalry week with a dossier of Michigan State's recent achievements, as well:
Michigan State athletics programs have become pioneers in 21st-century teambuilding. Concerned about the rapid decline of face-to-face contact, MSU athletes have repeated come together, in large groups, to contact the faces of their fellow athletesand classmates.
Spartans are known to generously extend a hand to those in need. They’ve developed a prison-to-work program seen by many as a model for how to reduce to an absolute minimum the time between prison and work. Their athletic director moonlights as avolunteer career counselor and their football coach as a public speaking coach, offering their time even to supposed athletic rivals. When one of their neighbors could use help just stretching his neck, scratching his eye, massaging his arm, or bludgeoning his face, a Spartan is always there to assist.
As I mentioned a moment ago, I was lucky enough to play football, first on Ferry Field and then in the stadium. And I was lucky enough to start a few games in the football season of 1934–and that was quite a year. The Wolverines on that memorable occasion played Ohio State, and we lost 34 to 0. And to make it even worse, that was the year we lost seven out of eight of our scheduled games. But you know, what really hurt me the most was when my teammates voted me their most valuable player. I didn’t know whether to smile or sue. [Laughter]
It’s seems like a simple expectation but you forget, especially in the aftermath of the Alabama and Notre Dame games, that these coaches have a track record of making players better. You are seeing it. The defense confident and fun to watch and they’ve retooled the gameplan with Denard and it’s clearly working. I’ll take this stat line 24/7: 7-11, 2 TD, 0 INT.
If yesterday was a heavyweight title fight it was over in the first round. The only drama came when the champion hurt his hand because he was hitting the challenger's face too much. TKO Round 1 - UMass played harder in the Big House.
One thing we do know is the defense put in an amazing performance against Illinois. They were held to 3.3 yards per carry (with a standard deviation of 5.1 yards). These two stats indicate that not only did the D hold the Illini in check, but that they kept them from pulling off many big runs; in fact, Illinois only had one run of over ten yards all day, the Nathan Scheelhaase dash that knocked him out of the game. If you calculate the standard error about the mean, it's 0.14 yards, suggested that if U-M and Illinois face of again and again, Michigan would hold them to under 3.5 YPC again and again and again. That's consistency. That's dominance.
Al Borges continues to pare down his play calling to suit this team, and it has worked the past two weeks as Michigan has run for just under 330 yards per game and thrown the ball only 27 times total. The
When Odysseus* returned home, he was met with a cohort of unruly suitors. Like those suitors, Illinois simply did not have the strength to string the bow and fire.
RAMROTH FINNEGAN declares Michigan by far his best visit. I know the kid is destined to end up at Cincinnati, where all the best names go, but let's savor this moment when it is just fate, not fact.
In our last nine Big Ten games, we’ve scored 7, 14, 7, 14, 17, 7, 7, 14, and 0 points. 9.7 points per game. Has to be the worst such stretch since the 1970′s, right? We had huge offensive failings in 2005 and 2003 and 1997 and even 1993. But we’ve never had a stretch like this, have we? I mean, since the days of 0-0 ties with Northwestern and such in the 70′s. Can anyone remember anything this bad?
Less than two years ago, we scored 63 points at Michigan. With Nathan Scheelhaase at quarterback. How could we fall that far in 24 months? Yes, Michigan’s defense has improved tenfold over RichRod’s 2010 defense. But from 63 points to zero? How is that even possible?
Mainstream folk. Grades are somewhat good from Meinke. Daily game story. Smith sat out with a hamstring issue, "boo-boo" resurfaces as nonspecific Denard injury term. Helfand on Michigan's defense. Estes on Kenny Demens. Meinke on MSU week. Baumgardner on lack of turnovers.
- Vincent Smith was held out due to a hamstring.
- Kenny Demens jumped the route and got the interception because he knew it was coming based on film study and preparation.
- Fitz's job isn't necessarily in danger; Hoke says he just wanted to get the other tailbacks some quality work.
- Hoke made the decision to pick Desmond Morgan for No. 48 before realizing the Grand Rapids connection, but learning of it made it cooler.
File, because I forgot to bring my camera and I forgot to take a picture of Hoke with my phone because I was a little out of it because I wasn't feeling well because I was ... dehydrated. Yeah. Dehydrated.
“It was good to win Homecoming. It’s good to win any time. And really thought complete game-wise, a lot of ways this was the most complete we played. Running the ball with the running backs, Denard obviously had some great runs in there. I thought defensively, after the second series, third series, we started playing Michigan defense. Played well against the run. And then I thought when we did that on first and second down it gave us an opportunity to try and put some pressure on the quarterback and helped the guys do a nice job. Some things in there -- we had some penalties, running the ball early, [penalties] against our defense we weren’t happy with, but overall it’s probably as complete as we’ve played, but it’s not near good enough.”
Both fronts look very solid. Your assessment?
“I think really up front defensively, I didn’t think we were playing with gap integrity and getting of blocks as well as we needed to. They were hitting in there and getting four or five yards, or five or six yards. That wasn’t stout enough at the line of scrimmage. I thought we had some more work to do there. I thought we played better as the game went on. I think at the same time there was a lot of improvement. From an offensive standpoint, as we continue to grow to some degree, I think we’re playing a little better when you look at pad level, I think we’re playing a little better with the speed we want to play with.”
There were a couple critical fourth down stops by your defense when the game was still in doubt. How important were those plays?
“Those were critical, but the one where they went for it on fourth down and our defense stepped up and did a nice job, we got the ball [with] two minutes, and we got nothing. That’s frustrating because we felt coming in the locker room after half time that we left some points on the board. You can’t do that when you play for championships.”
Quinton Washington and Kenny Demens?
“And I’ll tell you. Quinton has improved every game. It’s exciting as a coach when you see a guy who steps out there and gains confidence and plays better, and he’s a big part of our football team, and he’s a wonderful young man. Kenny, I tell you, the interception, he had seen the route. He was prepared. And that’s one thing we’ve done better as a team is the preparation. He knew formationally, he knew route-wise, he knew when they lined up what route was coming so he could jump the route. That’s the maturity that you like to see in your football team. Kenny being a senior, you expect that, but when it works out you’re excited about that.”
Can you assess how Russell Bellomy played, and how important is it to give him some good game experience?
“It always is, you know. Russ, we’re very excited about Russ Bellomy, and have been. He came in there with a lot of confidence. We had the one exchange problem alter in the game, and I think the ball slipped or we didn’t get it up enough, but he’s a guy that we think is a good quarterback. That’s why we recruited him. It was good to get him some work. Obviously meaningful work, but any work is good work.”
At what point do you start thinking about Michigan State?
“I don’t know. I mean I hope the guys enjoy this right now. I don’t know if you ever don’t think about rivalry games. I think that’s always part of what makes us special being Michigan.”
Why did you choose Desmond for the jersey, and did you lay any special expectations for him with Gerald Ford being a president and all that?
“Yeah. And I’ll tell you, it was very easy to choose Desmond because of his character and his integrity, because of how he comes every day in our building, I think in our classroom, in the community. He’s a great kid. It would really -- the grand rapids connection didn’t have a whole lot to do with it until I felt that I was going to do it with Desmond and then it kind of clicked in.”
What was the thought process behind using Justice Hayes and Thomas Rawls earlier in the game?
“Um, you know, we just wanted to give them both some more carries. I think competition is always healthy for everybody, so giving those guys out there some time. Vince, we didn’t play him at all becaues he had a little bit of a hamstring, and that’s where Justice got some more reps because of that. Giving Thomas more carries was part of it.”
Is it still Fitz’s job?
When Denard went out, how confident were you that you could win with your defense?
“I’d like to tell you I was very confident. I felt good that our guys on defense, and then the other piece of it I thought our kicking game -- I thought we had kind of challenged that group, challenged ourselves as coaches. Our kicking game had to make improvements and has to continue to. At that part of it, I was comfortable if that’s the way it would have gone.”
Was Denard’s boo boo a hand injury?
“Just a boo boo.”
How relieved were you that it wasn’t that serious?
“Any time any guy gets dinged up with boo boos and stuff, you always worry about it.”
It’s two games in a row that Denard hasn’t thrown an interception. Is that comfort with the game plan or just maturity?
“I think it’s a combination of both. I think he obviously reassessed probably after Notre Dame a little bit. I think we all did. I think game plan-wise, we were bound and determined that we were going to run the football. In the passing game, the play-action part of it, the part of the passing offense that he felt most comfortable with.”
Can you assess Fitz’s play today? Did he get the jumpstart he needed? Second question is how much did you stress not peeking to Michigan State?
“I’ll answer the second question first. I didn’t even talk about it because our guys never even mentioned it, looked at it. I was really surprised, but I felt real confident about every week for us is a championship game no matter what. So they have to prepare for every opponent like a championship game. There was none of that in the locker room or anywhere else. It was Illinois and how we wanted to play and how we wanted to prepare. I thought Fitz ran the ball hard. I thought he got more north and south. Jump starting? I hope. But at the same time, I think there were two runs I didn’t really like, but other than that, I thought he really started getting vertical.”
Is it fair to say he needed a jump start?
“Eh, I don’t know. You gotta explain jump start. Is that when your battery dies and you -- ”
“Well we didn’t do that with him. But I just think, and I said this before -- it’s not always the back. There’s 10 other guys other there. If Denard doesn’t carry out fakes very well, then that’s not going to be effective. And I just saw that as a piece of coaching and how you put an offense together.”
You always preach relentless effort. Can you talk about Jake Ryan missing the quarterback, hitting the ground, and then coming back to force the fumble?
“You know, Greg and the defensive staff do a tremendous job when you talk about effort and the toughness that you need to play football at Michigan with, and defense at Michigan with. And the pride that, number one, the self-pride that Jake has and how this is a football player. It’s more of a Michigan pride than team pride and a defensive pride -- that’s not why he got off the ground and forced a fumble, but that’s part of who he is and who we want to represent.”
Outside of a two-possession stretch when Michigan fans held their breath as Denard Robinson was sidelined with a pinky injury, the Wolverines couldn't have made it any easier to look ahead to next week's game against Michigan State, pounding a hapless Illinois squad, 45-0.
If anything, the final score belied Michigan's dominance. The offense moved the ball at will, rushing for 353 yards on 6.9 per carry and adding 174 through the air on just 15 attempts. The defense held the Illini to a mere 134 yards, including an unheard-of 29 yards on 16 passes; while it didn't help matters when starting quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase exited in the second quarter with an upper-body injury, his four yards on six attempts weren't lighting the world on fire.
Seemingly every play called by Al Borges worked as intended, starting with a 71-yard touchdown to Jeremy Gallon on a bubble screen* to open the scoring; Gallon weaved through the Illini defense, helped by stellar downfield blocking, most notably by tight end Mike Kwiatkowski. The next drive stalled near the goal line for a field goal after Denard exited the game with a banged-up pinky; it was the only moment when Michigan fans felt even a hint of concern.
The Wolverines continued to establish their identity as a run-first, run-second outfit on Denard's first possession back in the lineup, gaining all 68 of their yards on the ground en route to a six-yard scramble for Michigan's dreaded wonder. When Robinson opened the second half with a physics-defying 49-yard scamper to paydirt, the rout was on in earnest. Illinois's next possession ended after one play, a Kenny Demens interception of Reilly O'Toole. Three plays later, Devin Funchess hauled in a Robinson lob in the back of the end zone, bringing the score to 31-0 before many fans had returned with their halftime hot chocolates.
On the other side of the ball, Jake Ryan flashed his All-American potential again and again, amassing 11 tackles (7 solo), four TFLs, 1.5 sacks, and a devastating forced fumble as he flushed O'Toole out of the pocket, doubled back, and blindsided him to jar the ball loose. Denard Robinson may have finished with four touchdowns, 159 yards passing, and 128 yards rushing, but Ryan made a legitimate claim for best Wolverine on the field.
Ryan wasn't the only standout, as seven Wolverines tallied tackles for loss, neither Illini quarterback could find an open receiver, and Greg Mattison's blitzes hit home time and again. Two years ago, Michigan faced this same Illinois squad—with the same starting quarterback, even—and gave up 561 yards and 65 points. Against this defense, the Illini would need almost a full 17 quarters to rack up that same yardage; no matter how long they went, they'd obviously never reach that point total.
Safe to say, times have changed for both programs.
Michigan has found their perfect match at head coach and defensive coordinator. The offense under Al Borges has had their growing pains, but it's clear that they've found a suitable balance since the bye week to maximize Denard's remaining time as a Wolverine.
After the game, the marching band spelled out "Marry Me, Danielle?" as a band member dropped to a knee at midfield. Like everything the Wolverines dialed up on Saturday, the play was a success. On a cold, grey, rainy day in Ann Arbor, only the weather could dampen the spirits of those in Maize and Blue.
*On second look, it wasn't exactly a bubble screen, as Gallon started downfield before stopping and coming back to the line; a very well drawn-up play regardless.