This is maaaaybe premature there, ESPN. Maryland #1 FWIW.
Michigan Monday is up at the Ozone.
Every road conference win is a good win and Saturday night's 29-26 win at Minnesota (4-4, 1-3) for Michigan (6-2, 3-1) was no different, even if the Wolverines did look a bit odd along the way.
In the end, however, the Michigan defense won the game on a goal-line stand that should have been unnecessary, but thanks to the Gophers' buffoonery it absolutely was not. In a game that saw Minnesota's offense receive a number of baffling breaks, when they had to have a single yard, they just couldn't get it. Twice.
The weird parts came soon after that 14-3 lead, however, and then kept coming. Gopher quarterback Mitch Leidner was completing passes to falling receivers, receivers who were open simply because of the inaccuracy of the pass, and even one off of a Michigan defender's hands. We can call them flukes if you want, but they happened because the Wolverine defense didn't make the plays that were available to them, and that's the one thing a coach is going to ask of every single one of his players. Still, the most surprising part for me was how well Minnesota ran the ball — and they only ran for 166 yards and averaged 4.1 yards per carry — but don't tell me you weren't surprised by it either. The Michigan defense has set a standard for itself that now sees 166 yards on the ground as something wrong, and that's a very, very good thing. In the end, however, we can impugn Michigan's defense all we want for the 461 yards they gave up, but Minnesota had two shots from inside the 1-yard line to win the game and neither came close to getting into the end zone. For that reason alone, it was a very successful day for the Wolverine defense.
I applaud Michigan trying whatever they can to get a running game going, from the reverses with receiver Jehu Chesson, to all of the different things they do with Jabrill Peppers. Jim Harbaugh recognizes that every little bit counts and the more explosion he can get to his offense, the easier everything else becomes.
Michigan is No. 110 in the nation in number of plays that gain 10 or more yards from scrimmage. They have just 92 such plays in eight games. They are tied with Louisiana-Monroe, Louisiana-Lafayette and, most egregiously, Syracuse.
Of Michigan's 30-yard runs, two are by receiver Jehu Chesson, two are by De'Veon Smith, one belongs to tailback Ty Isaac and another to fullback Joe Kerridge. That's six total. Penn State running back Saquon Barkley and Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott each have five a piece. Heck, even OSU quarterback J.T. Barrett has two and he's carried the ball 63 fewer times.
The numbers are no better in terms of big plays in the passing game, which will surprise absolutely nobody reading this. Their 20 receptions of at least 20 yards is No. 97 in the nation. The five receptions of at least 30 yards is No. 121 in the nation, and bested by 39 individual wide receivers. Michigan is also one of 14 teams that have not had a 50-yard completion this season.
Minnesota attacked Michigan's safeties and linebackers in the passing game, which is something that I've been saying teams should do for a while now. Early in the game, every third down pass was aimed at a safety, and they were successful in picking up first downs.
The Gophers also caught linebacker Desmond Morgan in coverage against running back Shannon Brooks, which turned into a 40-yard gain on a wheel route. Though to term it "coverage" would be giving Morgan an enormous amount of credit. It was overall a pretty rough game for Morgan defending the pass and they attacked him on the sideline and over the middle.
Ross's first huge play came early in the fourth quarter when he sacked Leidner on third-and-7 from the Minnesota 23 for a 12-yard loss. The Gophers punted the ball from the 11-yard line, but it went out of bounds at their own 40-yard line. This left backup quarterback Wilton Speight with just a 40-yard drive in order to put the ball in the end zone, which was clearly a manageable number. Could he have done it from 80 yards? Because of the sack by Ross, we didn't have to find out.
When Michigan was Jabrill Peppers:
It's pretty clear that we need a new area to talk about defensive back/running back/wildcat/slot receiver/icon Jabrill Peppers because with everything he is doing on offense, defense and special teams, it's just easier to centrally locate it all. I wasn't charting it, but just off hand I can remember him lining up at running back, quarterback, slot receiver, cornerback, nickel back, and probably safety. He was even the boundary cornerback, which asks him to run defend more than field corner. I believe he played 92 snaps total. They really have no worries about putting him anywhere on this offense or defense, and they shouldn't.
A year ago I voted for the top 15 players in the B1G for a magazine before the season started and I put Peppers at No. 15 before he ever played a game. I don't know if he is an All-Big Ten player this season because he doesn't really have a home, but I doubt if you let the B1G coaches have a draft that he would last 15 spots.
What Does It All Mean?
It means that Michigan's offense is what it is at this point, but Jim Harbaugh is doing his absolute damnedest to make it more of what it isn't. He is trying to give it more explosion, but along the way he is also forced to entertain the neighborhood kids with sparklers because that's what he has the most of. This is an offense without a dynamic runner or thrower, and Peppers and Chesson aren't going to change it enough to make this a running game worth fearing. It does need to be respected because De'Veon Smith is a brute, Drake Johnson is an athlete, and the fullbacks are sneaky, but none of them should be feared by a defense.
So what happens if the Michigan defensive line isn't getting a push and they are facing an offense that has receivers outside and inside and they can also run the ball from every angle as well? That's a lot to ask of any defense, and in a few weeks the Buckeyes will be asking it of Michigan.
As always, there is a ton, ton more. Go to the link. Worth your time for another read.
My two cents: I'll be happy with 8 - 4 given the last two games. And if we manage to beat OSU, well, Harbaugh has some scary incredible juju that is beyond anything I've ever seen.
Ohio fan blog "The Ozone" has Michigan Monday vs. Nebraska up this evening.
It is depressing to read, but interestingly, Gerdeman isn't too harsh. In fact, his opinion is that Michigan probably would have won if Denard had been healthy the whole game. A few quotes:
Despite his struggles, we shouldn't put all of Michigan's offensive failures on Bellomy. While he was healthy, Denard Robinson led five drives and Michigan averaged 29 yards of total offense on those drives, which lead to six total points.
Those numbers with Robinson throughout an entire game probably would have been enough to get the win for the Wolverines, because they likely wouldn't have included three interceptions.
I tend to agree. We live and die with Denard this year. Gerdeman closes with that thought:
Which is the real Michigan offense? The one against Illinois and Purdue, or the one against Michigan State? The answer is neither. The real Michigan offense is Denard Robinson, and how well he performs depends solely upon how good the defense is that he is facing that given week.
There is no "Michigan offense". It's just "Denard". For better or for worse.
What can you say? If Denard is healthy, we could win the rest of our games. If he is out, we'll probably struggle in the rest of our games.
Here are some other bullets:
- Michigan has a severe lack of QB depth. (duh, but yeah.)
- Michigan has a severe lack of QB preparedness.
- People who think Devin is the answer are in la la land. The coaches would have had Devin in the rotation if he was a good option at QB.
- Having said that, Devin will return to QB in the Spring (see depth above.)
- Gerdeman is a broken record re: Fitz and the rushing.
- The OL didn't get much of a push to help Fitz (not that it would have mattered.)
- The defense once again was stellar, and did enough for Michigan to win.
You can read Gerdeman or not. The lack of offensive playmakers, both RB & WR, leave Denard terribly exposed. It has been this way for a long time, but there's nothing to be done for it this year. If Denard stays healthy, I suppose we could win the rest of our games. I wish I was happier about this, but Michigan sure seems awfully vulnerable right now.
The Ozone, one of the Ohio blogs covering the Buckeyes, has up their weekly column analyzing the Michigan game.
You can read it yourself . . . Gerdeman really isn't too snarky. The upshot of his analysis is that you can't really tell a lot from the Alabama game about how Michigan will do this year.
A few bullets
- Although he'd never admit it publicly, Hoke knew this game was close to a lost cause, with the offensive game plan, and with Michigan's player personnel, including Denard.
- Fitz might have helped, but ultimately wouldn't have made a difference in the final outcome.
- More running plays for Denard wouldn't have helped, and might have gotten him killed.
- Neither Rawls nor Smith impressed: Toussaint is the best back.
- (not said, but an observation: we need Green, and need to recruit another feature back or two for the 2014 class.)
- Gardner may have potential, but he needs to improve a lot: 1 out of 8 is terrible.
- Even given the deficiencies on the DL, the LB play leaves something to be desired.
- Special teams was the main bright spot, between Hagerup's punts, Wile's kickoffs, and Norfleet's kickoff returns.
If you are a football junkie, Gerdeman's weekly "Michigan Monday" column can give you a bit of a fix from a somewhat neutral outside perspective while you're waiting for Brian's UFR. While the analysis is not perfect, it is analysis, unlike many of pieces found in the MSM.