10/6/2012 – Michigan 44, Purdue 13 – 3-2, 1-0 Big Ten
For three hours on Saturday, October 6th, 2012, a rapidly-expanding event horizon engulfed the Indiana town of West Lafayette. Inside, gold chains were cool, Playboy featured natural breasts, you could lose four-year-olds in your carpet, and mass colorblindness reigned. Hair erupted from everywhere. Do not talk to central Indianans about storm drains.
A Jed Smithson from nearby Frankfort found his balding pate mysteriously replaced with a resplendent afro. Leaping atop a teal Chevy the size of a city block, he proclaimed a quest to fornicate with every hot broad in the county. He was a half-dozen hot broads into this project when the effect dissipated as mysteriously as it had arrived; the aftermath was even more appalling than that of the average middle-aged central Indiana sexual congress. Do not talk to Frankfort residents about what you can find in storm drains.
Unfortunately, due to the remote location of the event the only video evidence of this supernatural phenomenon was a foot-ball game between the University of Michigan and Purdue University in which the former team ran on every down for six yards a carry and the latter meekly accepted its place in the college football firmament. Up eighteen points at halftime, Michigan's head coach groused about his offensive line and said "you can't win football games like that" in reference to a fumble at the end of the first half. His team won by thirty-one. They ran for 300 yards and grudgingly passed for 100.
It was the greatest three hours of Jed Smithson's life, and pretty all right for Michigan fans watching on TV.
Michigan stewed for a week after intercepting away the Notre Dame game and came back resolved to boringly suffocate opponents. Thanks to Greg Mattison's ability to turn anything more coordinated than a tube sock into a functional defensive tackle and those things on Denard Robinson that aren't arms—leargs or something—their first experiment in 1970s death football was a resounding success. There were no interceptions, and one lost fumble. Michigan won by many points.
Iowa fan Adam Jacobi crashed in the guest room en route to and from Blogs With Balls 5; at some point he complained that his job required him to actually watch that incredibly dull game from start to finish, and the two halves of my brain high-fived each other. I have taken walks to the other end of sanity where Michigan beats Illinois 67-65 or loses to Penn State 41-31 and feel like settling down with a vacuum cleaner repair manual for a while just now. There are worse things than boredom.
Call it Lloydball or MANBALL or Every Michigan Game Before 1986 or whatever. The plan was obvious, and executed, and would have resulted in a resounding victory even if Purdue hadn't thrown in a free touchdown. Lloydmanbopigball it was, and it was beautiful for being so ugly.
After Michigan's first drive, a 17-play Viking saga that ended with a one yard plunge into the endzone, I told twitter that was the second half of the Notre Dame game continued. As that expanded into the whole game it seemed like Jesus had indeed been come to by both Al Borges and Denard Robinson. Borges put his head down and rammed various players into the line; Robinson threw the ball away once and pulled the ball on the read option lots.
How long will it last? Ask again later. This was an easy game to get away from your comfort zone as a playcaller, what with the enormous lead and the instant success and the 9.8 YPC from the quarterback. When things get tight and boredom threatens to send Michigan into a grim Big Ten loss with both teams in the teens, will Borges and Denard be able to find a middle ground that does not lead to crippling interceptions? Will folks be blocked, will throws be on, will anything be anything?
We've seen these moments before, moments where Michigan dials it back for Denard. Once that works and everyone's feeling good about themselves, the playbook sets to exploring the exact contours of Denard's competency, usually with slate gray results. Trash Tornado. Iowa. Etc.
At some point this year Michigan may be forced into dropping back and throwing over and over again; let's make sure we give the leisure suit offense every chance to succeed before flinging the doors open to this modernity business. Given the state of the league there's a pretty decent chance that gold chains and chest hair are all you need to make reservations in Pasadena.
Boring, Boring Bullets
Brady Hoke Epic Double Point of the week. This could go to Denard Robinson, obviously, but in the aftermath of a 213 yard performance by the opposing offense it feels more appropriate to hand it to Jake Ryan, whose sack leads this column. He picked up a second TFL, as well; more importantly he was tasked with sitting out on the perimeter against trips sets and annihilating anyone who took a step backwards in preparation for a WR screen.
Purdue was so discombobulated by this their WR-screen-heavy offense was reduced to a series of short passes in front of JT Floyd that were unsustainable as a method for driving the field. Ryan's performing at an All Big Ten level, easy.
Honorable mention: Al Borges (running the damn ball), Brady Hoke (for establishing the tone on the first drive by going for it on fourth down and likely for sitting Borges down and saying "get the gold chains, Al, and run the damn ball"), Denard Robinson (for running the damn ball), Kenny Demens (six solo tackles including the key stuff on Purdue's first three and out), defense in general.
Epic Double Point standings.
2: Denard Robinson (Air Force, UMass), Jake Ryan (ND, Purdue)
1: Jeremy Gallon(Alabama)
I be like dang. When you only throw 16 times, your freshman tight end is not going to get a ton of looks but um guys I think he's pretty good anyway.
That's Funchess's third and long catch that set M up on the goal line, which was impressive on the TV and more so in that shot. Mandich watch still won't return this week—may not return until Michigan has completed the Denard era if the ground game keeps this pace up—but I'm pretty sure he'll get there even with a freshman year detour into a 1970s offense.
Funchess did get pushed out of bounds on a long wheel route later, but I'm not sure if that's on him or just excellent coverage by the Boiler safety checking him.
Shoeless Shoelace. I don't remember more than one or two incidents in Denard's career where his shoe actually came off until this year, when it seems there's a 50-50 shot that any long run will feature one of Denard's socks. Tighten up that velcro, man.
Denard given time. …makes better decisions, and he's often given time because of his legs. Your nervous "oh God is Denard going to throw an INT" sickness was finally—at long last, sir—unnecessary, as on third and long Michigan just dropped back and threw, no funny stuff. The Funchess catch above saw Denard step forward in the pocket and shoot that ball in between three defenders:
Rollouts probably can't be dumped entirely but reducing them, as they were reduced in this game, is a good idea.
If someone on the schedule can stop Michigan's offense from the Purdue game and put up enough points to win, tip your cap and say "well done." I'm not sure anyone in the Big Ten eligible for the postseason can do both.
The Fitz issue. I don't know, man. I think some of his ineffectiveness was on Denard, who gave when he should have kept a couple times. Some of it was on the line, which was not getting creases except when the veer made it easy to do so. And some of it was on Toussaint, who got impatient and started going BOUNCE BOUNCE BOUNCE BOUNCE.
There was a particularly egregious instance in the second half where the line had gotten decent push and he could have gotten three to five by running up the backs of his linemen; he decided to go backwards around a Lewan kickout and got a yard for his trouble. He is getting impatient.
I'm not sure Rawls is going to be much of a solution because the veer is Michigan's best play and a moose like that is not going to be much of a threat going laterally as that play demands the RB do. I wouldn't mind seeing Norfleet get some cracks at that, though.
As for Rawls, Michigan can fit him into the spread offense. Think Brandon Minor: a lot of plays that go right upfield. Michigan tried a couple belly plays against ND and got defeated by shifts into the 3-4; that shouldn't be a problem going forward and is a way to get a power back going straight downhill at the snap.
Where is the stuff that fits with the other stuff? The one lingering issue with the offense was a lack of play action off the plays Michigan actually runs. I count two first down passes in the entire game(!), one of them a bubble to Gallon, the other a long bomb also to Gallon that was IIRC run from under center. Michigan's other attempt to get a big gainer was a shot at Funchess down the sideline that played off the throwback screen that always works (even when it's deflected).
That was covered pretty well, and I get why. After watching Borges for a year and a half he has a tendency to iterate through different things you can do with a new (or recycled from a while back) package. He runs that fly sweep off the veer look, then runs the veer, then runs play action. He runs the throwback screen, then runs play action off that throwback screen. He runs an iso from the gun, then runs play action from iso from the gun. He runs a pitch play, then runs a halfback pass off the pitch. The pattern may be too obvious to get guys wide open downfield.
If you're running play action off stuff you run a lot, not just once, it become a lot harder to say to yourself "okay, this time they're going to fake it." As long as Michigan's staple plays don't have ways to dick with the safeties built in, there will be a lot of Epic Viking Saga drives and not much of the five-play, 80-yard stuff. That could come back to bite M against the better teams in the league.
Here's hoping that Michigan has it but decided to keep all that stuff under wraps for another week since there was no point at which Michigan needed to do anything other than choke the game out after the Taylor INT. I'm still waiting for Michigan to get a wide open dude way downfield.
Speaking of that bomb to Gallon. I'm just like man you gotta be a half-foot taller there, Jeremy Gallon. No excuse for still being 5'9" as a redshirt junior.
Raymon Taylor entered a "free touchdown" coupon code. The game swung from plausible matchup to laugher on the fourth and two on which TerBush throws high and the WR deflects it directly to Taylor's meh coverage for a touchdown—that's 14-7 or 14-3 versus 21-0 and kind of a big deal. Given the yardage disparity, not enough of a big deal that it could have flipped the game but it is a big swing.
Holy pants defense. Film necessary to be sure but the DL kept those linebackers clean and kept contain, which led to a lot of nice sticks in or around the LOS. Kenny Demens set the tone when he shut down an outside run that looked like it was going to pick up a first down for the Boilers; he was allowed to do so because the DTs didn't allow anyone to get to him on the second level. Funny how he looks like a better player when he's not getting cut by multiple 260 pound Air Force guys on the same play.
Purdue's rushing output in this game was awe-inspiringly terrible. Restore seventeen yards lost on two sacks and Purdue still only gets to 73 yards on the day, barely over three yards a carry.
Purdue's only other relevant datapoint comes against a Notre Dame defense that's looking elite after a 41-3 stomping of Miami. Remove sacks and Purdue averaged 4.3 yards an attempt there—point Michigan.
Illinois hasn't put up more than 14 against a BCS opponent yet and have only managed to crest 300 yards once, that thanks to an 87 yard drive at the end of the Penn State game while down 35-7, so expect another outing like the last two before the Michigan State and Nebraska games define Michigan's season.
Kickoff WTF. The wind was not a factor Saturday so why did Wile cease booting things deep into the endzone? Did he get tired? Is he inconsistent? Is Michigan doing this on purpose for some reason, like maybe forcing a turnover when a returner tries to make a tough running catch?
We saw Michigan start screwing around with kickoffs in the UMass game, put all available into the endzone against ND, put all available into the endzone against Purdue until Michigan was up 14, and then more screwing around. Tentative guess is that it's experimentation with the new rules and that wind permitting we won't see anything fancy tried against MSU or Nebraska unless they've got something in their pocket.
A shorter version:
Bryan Fuller's full photoset can be found in a previous post.
Denard didn’t throw any interceptions, and actually threw a ball out of bounds. Whoo-hoo!!!
Remembering the Touchdown Rabbit.
I think it was easy to believe that "Bad Denard" was going to show up because we only tend to remember the last thing we have seen. But Denard's apology after the Notre Dame game, and all of the right things we heard from the team and the coaches during the bye week* brought me to the conclusions that this was going to be an OK day. It didn't make me any less fearful about the game, but I had staked out my position ahead of the game on that ground.
I'm all like man how do you even get Bad Denard when he throws 16 times. It's a lot harder, at least.
Also I can't agree with this bit from Touch The Banner…
Denard Robinson zone read anger. Twice in this game, Robinson held onto the ball too long before pulling it out of the running back's stomach. The first time it worked okay for him because he gained a bunch of yards, even though his running back (Toussaint or Smith, I can't remember) got smoked. The second time it was disastrous because he got Smith crushed and, oh yeah, Robinson fumbled the ball in the process. He gains a lot of yards because he's a dynamic runner, but he's never been adept at running those plays.
…when yanking the ball from his running back was something he did three times for huge gains on the veer. Michigan stayed away from a lot of reads when he was a sophomore and then de-emphasized them when Borges came in; we haven't been given a chance to see what would happen if he is put in a situation where he's doing it all the time. Probably too late now, but declaring anger after ten yards a carry against a DL featuring a first round pick that held ND to like 50 yards rushing… uh.
JAKE RYAN – After watching #47 do his thing again, one word came to mind – MANSTER. In the late ‘70s, Bob Ufer recalled how UM D-Tackle Chris Godfrey was called “manster” by fellow wolverine Ron Simpkins. Why manster? He was half man, half monster. Jake Ryan – ‘nuff said!
Michigan came out and did exactly what I hoped it would do: run, run, run. In my preview post for this game, I predicted (hoped, really) that Borges would call a run-heavy game, something to the tune of a 65:35 run-pass split. The Gorgeous One blew that figure away, with Michigan running it 51 times (not including the kneel downs) and passing only 16 times, good for a 76:24 run-pass split. It was the perfect gameplan for a team like Purdue: good tackles and good corners (with good playmaking ability) but not much else, particularly at linebacker, is basically a flashing neon sign saying RUN DENARD.
This game was also another building block in the not-so-straw house of Michigan's defense. This Boilermaker offense, while not prolific, is still the most recent team to score an offensive touchdown on Notre Dame and had properly rolled the cupcakes you would expect from a good offense (48 against Eastern Kentucky, 54 against Eastern Michigan, and 51 against Marshall). Putting aside Raymon Taylor's gift pick-six* Michigan held Purdue to just 56 yards on 26 carries (2.2 YPC) and only 157 yards through the air on 23/35. Perhaps the most promising stat of the game is that Michigan's top four tacklers were all front-seven guys (Kenny Demens, Jake Ryan, Desmond Morgan, and Craig Roh). Michigan was controlling the line of scrimmage and hitting Purdue ball carriers at the point of attack. When Jordan Kovacs only makes one tackle in a dominating defensive performance, you know things are looking up.
Linking this just for the bizarre headline:
Pur"don’t": A Gravy Train With Biscuit Wheels
iseewhatyoudidthere.jpg AND lolwutpear.jpg in the same headline: well done.
Purdue POV. As you might imagine, the Purdue folk are not taking Saturday well. Purdue: Saturday :: Michigan : Alabama game.
From the opening drive by Michigan yesterday Purdue was simply outmanned, outclassed, and quite frankly outcoached. Purdue looked lost on offense for much of the game and seemed completely baffled that Denard Robinson was running with the ball. Everyone knew coming in that Robinson was THE GUY that Purdue needed to stop in order to defeat Michigan. Purdue failed miserably to do that. Robinson ran for 235 yards in the game. That’s more yardage than Purdue had on offense. Wrap your head around that.
That was an embarrassing display in Ross-Ade Stadium this afternoon. Truly shameful. There's simply no way Michigan is that much better than Purdue. And to lose like that at home? In the first conference game of the season? When there are high hopes and getting off to a good start could quite possibly catapult you into the Big Ten title game? Much more easily than in most years? To come out like that and just stink up the joint so disgracefully?
Aaand Boiled Sports:
If you didn't watch it, congratulations. Those hours that you spent coaching your children, watching better football, gardening, painting, napping or hunting for the perfect pumpkin were hours well-spent. But the three hours that I spent in one of my favorite places in the world, I'll never get back.
Postgame thread from Hammer And Rails:
I love Purdue football and basketball like a battered spouse loves their abuser, which is why I continue to spend my hard earned money to watch games like Saturday’s debacle. I am more disappointed for the program and students than anything. This was a chance to get some fans back. This was an opportunity to win some hearts and minds. No such luck. The fact the game wasn’t sold out was sad. The michigan fans sitting behind me were semi-mocking the stadium and number of fans and I could say nothing because they were right. …
I don't know why some of you guys have to hit the special ed kid in the face. BE NICE.
MSM stuff. Michigan is ranked in the AP poll. I'm not sure where but probably first. Air Force and getting pounded by Alabama still distorting Michigan's pass D stats. Michigan had lots of time of possession, so therefore they outgained Purdue 2-1. I'm pretty sure that's the direction it goes.
Hoke is grumbling about penalties in the manner of an affronted walrus:
"We had some bad penalties, really three dumb penalties," Hoke said. "We don't want to play football that way."
This is a good sign when you have four penalties all game.
Grades of A for everyone! Except you, Fitz. Angelique suggests that maybe the defense is okay. Denard ties Ron Dayne for most B10 offensive player of the week awards. M-MSU won't have a set gametime until October 20th. Also Joe Rexrode should explore the "rotate" option in his friendly local paint program.
ESPN predicts M to the Rose Bowl.
Dave Reginek/Getty Images
A half-empty student section, a press box full of beat writers already finishing their game columns, a field littered with walk-ons and freshmen; with eight minutes remaining in the final stanza, Michigan Stadium exhibited all the telltale signs of a blowout. A one-yard touchdown run by Justice Hayes had just given the Wolverines a 63-13 lead, one that stood as the final margin.
After the last two weeks, this was a welcome sight indeed.
Denard Robinson overcame an ugly pick-six to complete 16-of-24 passes for 291 yards and three touchdowns, adding another 105 yards and a touchdown on the ground to lead the way offensively. Robinson spread the ball around to nine different receivers, led by Drew Dileo's 91 yards on three receptions. The stars from last week, Devins Funchess and Gardner, each recorded a touchdown reception—Gardner's on a stellar effort to tightrope the sideline and dive for the pylon—and the enigmatic Roy Roundtree found paydirt for the first time this season.
It was a rebound performance for Fitzgerald Toussaint, as well, as he gained 85 yards on 15 carries, showing off the agility in tight quarters that made him so effective last season; after finding little room to operate against Air Force, Toussaint reached the edge on his 11-yard touchdown in the first quarter with help from an A.J. Williams block. Vincent Smith added a pair of touchdowns from inside the ten, Thomas Rawls doled out more punishment than he took, Justice Hayes recorded his first career score, and Dennis Norfleet made his offensive debut with a 15-yard jet sweep that surely made Brian one very happy blogger.
Michigan fans were even treated to a Fat Guy Touchdown, courtesy of a Taylor Lewan recovery after Denard fumbled into the end zone. Lewan, for his part, appeared more concerned about his quarterback's error than excited for his own fortune, sheepishly pointing his palms towards the sky when the officials belatedly signaled touchdown.
The defense limited UMass to 259 yards of total offense, though there was still reason for concern. The Minutemen doubled their offensive scoring output from their first two games—six points—and strung together three first downs in a drive for the first time this year. This should not cause PANIC, of course—six points, fergodsakes—but there are still issues to be resolved, especially on the interior of the D-line.
UMass got paid. Michigan got a chance to breathe easy and give their backups plenty of run. Now the team can look ahead to Saturday night's matchup with Notre Dame; for today, they can feel content about handling business as expected. With the baby seal emphatically clubbed, it's time to move on to the real season, not unscathed but with the ultimate goal—a Big Ten championship—still within reach.
The option has always been about making a defender wrong about who has the ball, thus effectively blocking him. Since you don't have to actually block him this means you can take out a slavering rage-beast with even the daintiest of skill position players.
Rich Rodriguez's innovation was taking the hazard-laden option and turning it into a simple yes-or-no handoff. The read option makes a guy wrong without requiring a pitch, and without getting your quarterback lit up time and again. Pairing that with plays that stretch the defense across the field horizontally opens up the box, forces safeties down, and creates the kind of environments that see his teams run for nearly six yards a clip.
Borges and Hoke have a different outlook on football. Last year when the inverted veer was running riot over Ohio State, they were consistently blocking the guy a Rodriguez-style offense would consider optioned off.
This worked, but I wondered if it was working because Ryan Shazier was an injured freshman who was pretty horrible in that game. It's hard not to look at what's going on with Michael Schofield in this clip and not pine for the guy to move past the OSU DE and take on Ohrian Johnson, thus likely springing Denard for another huge gain.
Last year both myself and fellow guy who does the picture paging Chris Gaerig thought that this was an execution issue that would be hammered out given enough time, but Tyler Sellhorn, a high school OL coach who frequently emails me tips and corrections, thought this was a philosophical thing:
I think Schofield and Omameh were coached to block the DE. Hoke/Borges do not like leaving unblocked defensive linemen out there. A famous unattributed coaching axiom that I am sure that Hoke/Borges believe in is: "First level defenders cause fumbles, second level defenders make tackles." To me, this is the "MANBALL" component of M's "option" game. True power running game people think like that. I think that is the reason there have been fewer really long runs (the second level has been blocked less consistently this season).
This is one philosophical difference: RR's first thought always was, "How can we mess with the safeties to get big yards when we break through the line", Hoke/Borges first thought is "How can we mess with the DL so they are less aggro (in run and pass situations) and we don't ever have a negative play." Both work well as we have seen.
The consistency with which Michigan guys were blocking the supposedly option DL was a point in his favor. At first I thought the Alabama game was the point at which this was undeniable, but now I think Alabama was blocking Michigan, not the other way around.
Optioning Nobody #1
It's Michigan's first drive. They've picked up a first down with a (horribly spotted) flare to Smith and a third down conversion from same. They come out in a two-back, three-wide set. Alabama responds with its base 3-4 set, half-rolling a safety into the box.
Michigan will run the veer. They pull Barnum (1), use Hopkins(2) as a lead blocker, and block down on the front side. This leaves the Alabama defender (3) there unblocked… for now, anyway.
Hopkins. You are not flaring out, my man. You are doing something that isn't that.
At the mesh point, Hopkins (1) has contacted the "unblocked" Alabama defensive end. This means he is now blocked. (Science!) Hopkins is also blocked. They are mutually blocking each other. Neither can go forward very easily.
This happens really fast. The DE is doing this on purpose. His goal here is two-fold: one, to force the handoff, and two to pick off one of the lead blockers.
Barnum(2) is still pulling for the front side; since the guys blocking down have actually done a pretty good job of getting push he's got a lane. Denard(3) sees the DE underneath Hopkins and gives.
And now it's over. Hopkins has indeed eliminated the Alabama DE, and Barnum reaches the hole as Smith sprints outside. Also sprinting outside: the totally unblocked Alabama LB.
Michigan's got some other problems, too, as the playside DE came through the double on the playside when Kwiatkowski released—you can see Schofield hunched over in an "oops" way right at the LOS behind Barnum. Given Smith's angle and Barnum's this is only a further indicator that Schofield got hammered on Saturday, not an actual reason the play doesn't work.
And that's all she wrote.
Who did Michigan block with Denard's legs on this play? Nobody.
[After THE JUMP: oops they did it again :( ]
News bullets and other important items:
- 7 walk-ons got scholarships yesterday: SDE Nathan Brink, OL Joey Burzynski, LS Jareth Glanda, FB Paul Gyarmati, WR Joe Reynolds, QB Steve Wilson, TE Mike Kwiatkowski
- Still no decision on Fitz or Frank Clark
- Chris Wormley had his ACL surgery yesterday. It went well.
- If Fitz is out, there might be a running back by comittee situation. Super.
“Thanks for coming out. It’s always nice to visit with you. We’re getting a little closer to game day obviously. That’s probably an understatement. First thing I want to say is that we put seven guys on aid for the semester or for the year. They’re seven guys who have given a lot to Michigan and Michigan football. I think it’s only fair when we have them available at the time to reward those guys. Nate Brink and Joe Burzynski and Jareth Glanda, Paul Gyarmati, Kwiatkowski, Joe Reynolds and Steve Wilson are all guys that we wanted to make sure that we acknowledged. When you have the opportunity, every year’s different depending on what you have and what you’re going to do at mid terms and mid year and all that. We’re all happy about that. It’s an expensive dealing for some of them. Burzynski’s from Carlsbad or San Diego, California, out of state, and that’s -- you can imagine the price that he’s paying to be a guy who loves Michigan and wants to be part of Michigan football. That being said, that was fun. It was fun because we announced it in front of the rest of the team. There were hugs and kisses -- not kisses -- but hugs and excitement and all that kind of stuff. So that was good.
“Yesterday’s practice was okay. Not as sharp as we wanted, I wanted. We got a lot done, but at the same time you’re into a Tuesday. It’s a big workday. We’ve been working on Alabama for at least four days now. There’s a couple formation things, a little bit of communication from a defensive standpoint that we need to do a better job with. Still don’t have any decision for you on Frank or Fitz. You can ask me when I’m going to make that decision, and it’ll probably be before the game. It’s sometime before the game. With that, any questions?”
“Thomas Rawls is fine.”
Why was he held out of practice this weekend?
“That’s injury information that’s not my area. Thomas Rawls is fine. That’s all that matters.”
How much are you emphasizing to the rest of the offense that they need to take the pressure off Denard so that the offense can succeed?
“Well, we don’t really put it that way. But that’s kind of the effect of how we approach it, is that when we came here, it became real apparent that he was the centerpiece of the offense, but we didn’t want 90 percent of the offense based on his production for obvious reasons because if you lose him you lose too much. We’ve been sending out the message since we got here is that we have to have other people involved, with our run game, our pass game, all that. I think we did a pretty good job of doing that. I hope like heck we can do the same thing this year. Yet at the end of the day, we don’t want to lose sight of the fact that he is the centerpiece of the offense. When push comes to shove he’s going to play a big part in whether we win or lose.”
Rating: 4.5 of 5.
|Fitzgerald Toussaint||Jr.*||Stephen Hopkins||Jr.||Vincent Smith||Sr.|
|Thomas Rawls||So.||Sione Houma||Fr.||Justice Hayes||Fr.*|
|Drake Johnson||Fr.||Joe Kerridge||Fr.*||Dennis Norfleet||Fr.|
|FOR THE LOVE OF GOD GET THIS MAN A SLIPPERY JERSEY|
|MAKES YOU MISS|
|jukes three Gophers|
|cuts all the way back|
|stop and go six|
|ONE CUT AND GO|
|finds a gap on power|
|simply outruns Purdue|
|hits the edge vs UNL|
|NOT SMITH AS A BLOCKER|
|crappy cut block|
|find a man, man|
|WILL MISS A CUT OR TWO|
|wrong side of Schofield|
Fitzgerald Toussaint spent his first couple years at Michigan as china in a bull shop, laid up with various injuries that prevented his considerable talent from seeing the field. This did not prevent Fred Jackson from calling him both "Mike Hart but fast" and "Chris Perry but fast." God bless Fred Jackson.
In 2011 his bones and joints mended as Thomas Rawls's failed him at an inopportune time and Toussaint was thrown into a three-way battle with Vincent Smith and Mike Shaw for the starting job, one that last year's edition of this post hoped (and predicted) he would win:
Toussaint seems to have that jittery short-range quickness that allows little guys to survive, even thrive, as they pick their way through the chaos.
I'm hoping he emerges as the guy. … Anything from Mike Hart (except crappy :( ) to Mike Hart (except fast!) is possible.
Bumps and bruises continued to dog him (he missed the ND game and his inexplicable two carries against MSU almost has to be injury related) but Toussaint actually delivered on Jackson's hyperbole.
He kind of is Mike Hart, but fast:
"full on Hart déjà vu," I said
Juking in a phone booth was Hart's specialty. Toussaint has that and sprinter's speed. As a bonus, he didn't fumble in 187 carries last year. He only lacks Hart's pile-pushing doggedness.
After the inexplicable MSU game, he blew up. His first 20-carry game was the next week against Purdue; he smoked five different Boilers on his signature run of 2011…
…and ended up with 170 yards. The offense imploded the next week and took Toussaint with it, but after that he laid waste: 192 yards against Illinois, 138 against Nebraska, and 120 against Ohio State. (Then the offense imploded again.)
At season's end Toussaint had become Michigan's first 1,000 yard back since Hart and at 5.8 YPC its most efficient since Tim Biakabutuka was going ham on Ohio State in 1995. When he wasn't going off during his second half surge, it was because the walls were coming down around him and there was nowhere to go.
He is legit. He runs between the tackles, finding a crack and jetting straight upfield when it's there. He is a decisive cutter with good vision. When it's not there he can stutter-step and bounce outside. Once in the secondary his change of direction often leaves safeties flapping in his wake. If there's a downside it's a spotty blocking record and not much activity in the passing game (just six catches a year ago), but those are things that Michigan can fix as time goes by.
Toussaint would enter 2012 with a rock-solid lock on the job but for that offseason DUI, which should see him miss the Alabama game. (That assumption may be dubious given the depth chart, but I'm still guessing he gets the standard one game DUI suspension.) That gives Thomas Rawls a crack at the job, and the two subsequent games should be comfortable enough that Toussaint will get eased back into the lineup. By the time ND rolls around, he should resume his place as the feature back.
Toussaint's raw numbers won't reach Hart levels because of the suspension, the guy next to him in the backfield, and the potential emergence of Rawls, but a replica of last season beckons, plus 40 or 50 carries. He'll be All Big Ten caliber even if he doesn't get on the list.
[hit THE JUMP for the rest of the cast of characters.]