No status change with Beyer. Knee injury. Will be out for a week.
Courtney Avery missed some plays late in the game due to a back problem.
Richard Ash has a boo boo.
“It’s good to win a football game, obviously. That’s why you go out there and compete. I think when you evaluate and you see where we’re at, we’ve got to improve if we’re going to win the Big Ten Championship. We’ve got to improve at the point of attack on both sides of the ball. You’ve heard before, and that message won’t change. I think we went out with a mission offensively to get Denard very involved running the football. I thought he did a nice job of that. I think we did a nice job in the throwing game. The interception, I think Vince was fighting the umpire a little bit, but also it’s just one of those things that we have to execute that, but from that standpoint defensively, we played 98 plays. Way too much, we have to get off the field obviously, but at the same time those guys hung in there, and they hung in there when they had to at the end of the football game and made some plays. So that part of it is a very positive part of it. I think we adjusted to some things to some things they were doing, which helped in the second half. So all in all was it where we want to be? No. But at the same time, it was a good win to get.”
It's been a long time since the first game of Michigan's football season wasn't at home. It was 1998. Michigan headed to South Bend to get annihilated by Autry Denson and the option in the opening game of their title defense. The box score lo these many years later is horrific:
Michigan Notre Dame
First downs 24 19
Rushed-yards 38-150 55-280
Passing yards 322 96
Sacked-yards lost 3-29 0-0
Return yards 6 14
Passes 28-44-0 4-10-1
Punts 2-31.0 2-44.0
Penalties-yards 4-30 5-32
Time of possession 29:46 30:14
Michigan led 13-9 before four straight ND touchdowns turned it into a laugher. Michigan got blown out despite outgaining the opponent by 100 yards and allowing the opposition to complete all of four passes. They fumbled all of the balls. They stopped none of the options. That game was 36-13 before Michigan tacked on a cosmetic touchdown at the end.
This was the Michigan-ND rivalry in the 90s. If all you know about it is 38-0, "oh, wide open," and Michigan ripping Irish hearts out in the last 30 seconds, you are fortunate. I know better because I was in college then.
The next week I sat, despondent, in the student section as a group of resilient (and probably drunk) guys in front of me chanted "Cross is Boss" in the waning minutes of Michigan making a blowout loss to Donovan McNabb and Syracuse look pretty on the scoreboard. Donovan McNabb was in college once. I said it was a long time ago.
Walter Cross went over 100 yards that day, all of it racked up long after the game had been decided. Syracuse, too, had murdered us with the option.
Saturday started strangely blank. I wrote this thing two years ago about the opening of football season that I already kind of wrote back when far fewer people were reading this blog and have to force myself not to write again every Friday before Michigan starts playing football again:
I can say that most of the time I like that I find football important. It gives life a rhythm. I think my favorite part happens on the first day of the new year, when I file into the stadium an hour early. It's still mostly empty then. You can spread out in the sun. In my mental picture of this my seats are high up in the corner so I can take in the whole vast breadth of the stadium. Perched there, looking down and across, the future stretches out across the horizon. Anything seems possible, and the wait is over.
I hadn't felt a lack of possibilities since 1998, when Michigan was not going to repeat as national champions even before Donovan McNabb showed up. I went in at the usual time and sat in the usual spot and felt… not that. It turns out getting hammered 41-14 in your opening game restricts dreams of future glories quite a bit. It's like having New Year's Day on the eighth, a week after you found out you're not getting a promotion. You found this out because your boss stapled it to a bobcat he mailed to you. The stitches still itch.
So when the band rolled out, it was weird. I did the thing with the clapping and the raising of the fist. The voice in the head that has been going ermagerd fortbaw ermagerddddd the last 13 years was not there. Alabama had taken it, ripped its pigtails out, stomped on it, and returned it to me. They said "what?" confrontationally. They asked if I was going to do anything about it. I said "no, sir." It sat in the corner, petting itself, maybe whispering ermagerd fortbaw, maybe not. It was hard to make out.
Two plays later, Denard Robinson ripped through the line, cut directly towards me, and was one on one with a safety with an angle. An angle and no chance in hell. Turbo was engaged, and Denard shot into space with the same breathtaking speed he showed after fumbling a his first snap against Western Michigan.
ermagerd ermagerd ermagerddddddd
On the first play of the second half, Denard ran 50 yards in one shoe, making a cut on his sock.
Cross (@ right via MDS) was a freshman that year. He must have thought a hundred yards in his second college game was a hell of a start. Must have thought he would be watching other guys take the meaningless carries pretty soon. But Cross never cracked a hundred yards again. He'd only match the ten carries he had against the Orangemen three more times. Once a year Michigan would blow the doors off the worst team in the Big Ten; Cross would dust himself off to pick up 40 or 50 yards as the stadium emptied and walk-ons made their moms proud.
I liked him, though. I remembered Cross Is Boss whenever he'd hit the field, and how those deranged guys in front of me were taking whatever they could from the game in front of them. If the only thing it offered was an opportunity to ironically root for some guy to rack up more meaningless yards than had ever been gained by a guy in a winged helmet, that's what they were going to do. I was still sitting on those seats as Michigan fell to 0-2, but I was less despondent. Cross was boss. If those guys could be okay with life, I could maybe be too.
So, yeah, Michigan's definitively not elite. The defense got torn up by a triple option team, and the offense got stoned against Alabama, and I guess I'll be okay with that, because if some dudes in 1998 can carve some fandom out of Walter Cross, how can you not be excited about Denard Robinson's final games in Michigan Stadium?
BRADY HOKE EPIC DOUBLE POINT OF THE WEEK. Denard, obviously. More total yardage than your team gets is an auto-win.
Honorable mention: Funchess, Gardner, Joe Bolden, James Ross, Jake Ryan(?).
EPIC DOUBLE POINT STANDINGS:
1: Denard Robinson (Air Force), Jeremy Gallon (retroactively awarded for Alabama game).
Welcome, freshmen. Not really. Hey, remember when this was finally the year when Michigan didn't rely on freshmen all over the place? Yeah… nyet. Michigan rolled out not one but two true freshman ILBs (James Ross and Joe Bolden) on Air Force's penultimate drive—the last one they actually used their offense on. Hoke would later say Bolden played so much because Colerain, his high school, ran the option, but even so… man.
Meanwhile, Ondre Pipkins, Mario Ojemudia, and Keith Heitzman (a redshirt freshman) saw plenty of time on the defensive line and Jarrod Wilson was the guy who came in when Michigan went to nickel. You make shake your fist at Rodriguez's last couple of recruiting classes now.
It wasn't that bad on offense, where the only freshmen to get a lot of playing time were AJ Williams and Devin Funchess. The former is like okay, we'll deal, and the latter was going to play early on damn near any team in the country.
not having shoes is the coolest now (Upchurch)
FUNCHESS. I try not to get all I told you so because I have occasionally not been right about things—like those three solid years when I thought Rodriguez was going to work out—but dang I told you so. Not that this is any great scouting feat on my part. Pretty much everyone who went to that open practice and saw a 6'5" guy with freaky long arms getting sent deep on wheel routes thought "holy crap" to himself and wrote about it on the internet.
I'm not sure if it was wheel one, wheel two, or not-a-waggle deep bomb that was the turning point, but by the time it was over Funchess had 106 yards receiving and was the first guy out of everyone's mouths in the postgame. It doesn't take a keen eye to think that guy has potential.
In Funchess we saw the beginnings of Michigan's Swiss Army Offense. They lined him up as an H-back and sent him on a wheel against a linebacker, who had no chance because he was too slow. They sent him deep against a safety, who had no chance because he was too small. That's the stuff Borges has spent years doing instead of figuring out how to tweak a read option, and in Funchess we saw the future.
Also the present.
…and introducing Chasing Jim Mandich. Is this too early? No. For one, I'd rather put up pictures of Bo and Mandich 20 times than, like, four. For two, it's the internet. This is how we do. Suck it, guy on twitter who told me to calm down and that it was just one game. WOO!
Jim Mandich is Michigan's all-time tight end receiving yardage leader with 1494 yards. After posting Michigan's first 100-yard receiving day by a tight end since Jerame Tuman did it in 1997, Devin Funchess has 106 yards receiving and needs 1389 to pass Mandich. At his current pace he needs just over 26 more games to do so.
That was the best thing, now the worst thing. Fitzgerald Toussaint: eight carries, seven yards. Commence offensive line panic. Do not hold any in reserve. If you end up in a cornfield wearing nothing but a traffic cone holding a sign that says "AIR FORCE DEFENSIVE LINEMEN ARE 260 POUNDS," this is about right, give or take a jockstrap.
I don't know, man. Live I didn't see anything Toussaint could have done except collapse in a pile of bodies. When Carl Grapentine forgot to turn off his mic and told the stadium "they can't do anything with that" after Michigan set another down on fire by running from under center, he was only telling everyone in the stadium what they were already thinking. Most of those plays went right, we're already nervous about Schofield… conclusion… yeah.
NORFLEET. hey drew dileo what's up you're all catching this ball wrong yoinkkkkkkk now I'm going to run over here bad idea getting tackled bouncing back not getting tackled running back over here different way different direction funnnnnnnnn I am the NORFLEEET zip that was like two guys oops here's like three guys awwwwww now I'm on the ground oh drew dileo you look sad let me apologize I am the NORFLEET this kind of thing just happens sometimes go with the flowwwwwwwwwwww
Denard accuracy. Seemed pretty good, right? The interception was zinged too hard—I'll give him a pass on the "high" bit because Vincent Smith—and the third down Gardner catch-that-wasn't was short. But those are MAs in UFR jargon, and if you put college football in your head all Saturday you'll see plenty of quarterbacks make similar errors. The only throws into coverage were a couple at the end of the half when you may as well force it.
I've seen some complaints about Denard not seeing open guys. I'll check for that as far as is possible given the tape, but if the costs of the Borges transition are an inability to make tiny run game adjustments the payoff tentatively appears to be an ability to put the ball where Denard wants it to be, most of the time.
It helps when you're throwing to Funchess and Gardner, too. The Funchess touchdown was short, but given the target that's what you want to do. As long as that guy is jumping for the ball it doesn't matter that you made him slow up, because he's winning that battle every time.
Crazy enough to work? Air Force's combination of triple option with Oregon's tempo and a pro-style-esque formation blizzard was fun to watch in the same way Nebraska's double pitch was last year… except it was far less fun because instead of one seemingly indefensible play it was dozens of probably defensible ones that weren't.
Q: think that could work at a major college level? Georgia Tech is doing it in the ACC, yes, but I think the option + jet tempo combo would be absolute hell to play against if the guys getting the ball were Denards and Norfleets instead of 5'7" academy guys. It was kind of hell to play against even against guys who are going pro in blowing things up. You're getting gashed, you have to substitute to keep guys fresh, you are freaking out and guaranteed to let some guy run free for a 70-yard score…
worst waldo. Upchurch
…unless he bobbles the ball and falls over.
Maybe it wouldn't work against Alabama but pair that Air Force offense, personnel and all, with a quality defense and you're winning nine games in the Big Ten. Falcon total offense against BCS-ish foes the last three years:
2012 Michigan: 417
2011 ND: 565
2011 TCU: 416
2010 Oklahoma: 458
2010 TCU: 231
2010 Utah: 411
2010 GT: 287 (in a 14-7 win)
So unless you also run a flexbone triple option or are the 13-0 2010 TCU team that finished first in total and scoring defense and won the Rose Bowl by holding Wisconsin to 19 points (on 385 yards, FWIW), Air Force is going up and down the field on you.
You'd need a lot of breathing room to get that up and going, granted. Troy Calhoun just tweaked the thing Fisher DeBerry had been doing for decades. Implementing it from scratch would be painful at first, but if you're an Illinois or Minnesota or Rutgers or Cal, it might be worth a shot. I'd loathe it if Minnesota gradually became Air Force++ and Michigan had to deal with it annually. Therefore someone should try it.
Does that make you feel better? Those ND/TCU/Oklahoma numbers are just like ours. ND finished last year 30th in total D, 18th FEI. TCU was 32nd, 42nd FEI (schedule issues). Oklahoma was 53rd, but a shocking 4th(!) in FEI.
FEI has Air Force's offense 33rd and 32nd in 2010 and 2011, respectively. Last year's mark was better than Georgia, VT, Michigan State, Iowa, Auburn, and Florida State. With guys who are going pro in going Mach 3. This just happens when you sign Air Force up, even when you don't do it the week after playing Alabama.
"No, not really" -you. I hear you. All the rotation and getting zero out of the defensive line and freshmen and etc. What if I bring up last year's game #2 against Eastern Michigan?
We had all of those happen on Saturday. Nowadays "non-Martin" DTs are all of them, so expand that slice of the pie. The coaches worked some things out. They've got a virtual bye next week against UMass, so they'll have two weeks to prep for Notre Dame—this time State takes the bullet and we get the rebound.
I'm hoping we see some progress against the Irish, who couldn't run at all against Purdue and got Everett Golson sacked five times. Yeah, no Cierre Wood, but Purdue's rush defense was appalling last year.
It doesn't look good but hold out a couple weeks before hitting the panic button.
Also, Alabama couldn't run on WKU. LA LA LA NOT LISTENING
Marmot, city. I've heard from a number of people that Air Force mistimed a lot of their plays and ended up having Arena-style guys running at the line of scrimmage before several plays. Here's TTB:
The officials were terrible. Terrible. Air Force's first touchdown should have been called back for illegal procedure. Quarterback Connor Dietz tossed to A-back Cody Getz, who beat everyone to the edge. In the meantime, the wing started moving forward prior to the snap like he was in the CFL and chopped down safety Jordan Kovacs, who was responsible for the pitch. Without that forward momentum, Kovacs - Michigan's best open-field tackler - very well could have stopped Getz before the goal line. Later in the game, Air Force converted on a key third down when both the quarterback and the running back - who were in a shotgun formation - started moving to their right before the ball was snapped . . . and a slot receiver was already in motion. So three guys were moving prior to the snap, and the play was allowed to stand. Those were obvious, blatant non-calls and each one could have had a significant impact on the outcome of the game.
It was hard to tell if that was the case from my vantage point, but the refs did miss a really blatant illegal motion on an AF third and long conversion late. They had a guy moving, and the tailback took off before the snap, and no one noticed. I know they're military, but this is not 'Nam. There are rules.
Adventures in Special K. One: no "In The Big House." That is also two through six hundred. NO POP EVIL~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~!!!!!!!atatatat.percentsign.asterisk.
Given how much they ran that into the ground last year, that's either a sign of that thing's merciful departure from our world or Special K's greatest ever troll. I wouldn't put it past him, the scourge.
Instead, Special K put on that Flo Rida song that is not at all about blowjobs, wink wink nudge nudge:
Is that the kind of thing we want to be exposing the youth to? The guy is seen using a Windows phone in that video.
Injuries. Brennen Beyer has a "knee strain" according to Hoke, which means he has anything from a fairy tickling his patella to a Turkmeni flaming crater where his knee used to be. Other than that, Michigan didn't get it too hard from all the cut blocks. Ash's issue seems like a one-week thing, and no one else is publicly injured.
Helmet numbers. I don't miss them.
Paging 2011 Jeremy Gallon. 2010 Jeremy Gallon has started returning punts again. Please report to the maize and blue courtesy phone.
Number stuff. The first Kovacs bullet has been dodged, and I think if they were going to give him someone else's number they would have done it right away. They probably aren't changing a senior captain's number in their second or third opportunity to do so. So, hurrah. Ryan's as good a choice as any, but I was hoping they'd put it on a receiver since Oosterbaan was famous for catching Bennie Friedman's passes and 47 is a distinctive number for a wideout.
Ron Kramer's 87 is next. Hopefully that ends up on a tight end. I'm rooting for Not Funchess because 19 is not a number I have strong associations with yet.
Michigan missed chances to get off the field, giving up frustrating first downs on third and medium-to-long time and again. Brady Hoke missed a great chance at points to end the first half with some terrible clock management, ending up with a TO in his pocket. With Michigan up 14-3, Vincent Smith missed a chance to extend Michigan's drive and possibly their lead by tipping an accurate third-down pass from Denard up for an easy interception; Air Force would score a TD and keep it close for the rest of the game.
Michigan struggled early against Western Michigan and especially Notre Dame, and wasn't exactly pretty against Eastern Michigan. But it improved.
It shut down San Diego State the following week, then shut out Minnesota the one after that, and the Wolverines were in business.
The key to that success was simply getting better every week, especially on the defensive line, and Hoke sees the same thing happening this year.
"I would say there's a uniqueness to the offense, and the schemes -- but at the same time, we're a work in progress," Hoke said. "Quinton Washington is getting better every time he plays. Ondre Pipkins is getting better every time he plays. Keith Heitzman ... Mario Ojemudia ... Frank Clark, having him back.
"We're a work in progress."
Meinke also gives Toussaint a D+, which come on man that guy could have been Barry Sanders and gotten 15 yards on those attempts. BOO THIS MAN. Also, this may be a typo or it may be that DENNIS NORFLEET IS TOO FAST FOR VERBS
Denard Robinson still is Denard Robinson. And so are the Wolverines.
On days like this, that'll be enough. Just barely enough, maybe, but Robinson, with a little help from his friends, did manage to beat Air Force, 31-25, before a crowd of 112,522 in the home opener at Michigan Stadium.
A week after getting thumped by top-ranked Alabama (then No. 2), the Wolverines needed a late fourth-quarter stop Saturday to avert an even bigger disaster. And they needed every bit of Robinson's dual-threat ability, as the senior quarterback actually managed to account for 101 percent of Michigan's offense.
With 208 passing yards, Robinson is now just 12 yards behind ex-Michigan great Tom Brady for sixth on the school's all-time passing yardage list. Brady had 5,351 career passing yards as a Wolverine.
He had his fourth game with at least 200 yards rushing and trails only Mike Hart's school record by one. His 426 yards of total offense ranked fifth in school history, trailing four of his own performances.
The two Devins: Added to the postgame press conference hall of shame was the fiasco around the media trying to figure out how to address individual questions to Devin Gardner or Devin Funchess, as the Two Devins were trotted out to meet the press at the same time. The Wolverine’s Michael Spath asked the first question and intentionally addressed the question to “Devin” as a joke, but that didn’t help matters. More than a few times the players had to ask for clarification as to whom the question was addressed and it got silly. “The old one,” was offered up at one point to clear up the confusion, making Gardner, who was trying to be a bit stoic, crack up. Props to WTKA’s Steve Clarke who directed the final question to “Number nineteen”. I was going to direct mine to “number square root of 144”.
No one asked why they love bucket hats. Get with the program, media. Get with the program, Heiko.
Air Force looked exactly like I would want to see a group of my nation's future military leaders look like as a football team, disciplined, focused, moving quickly, attacking the enemy's weaknesses, and fighting to the last man. They gave Michigan all they could handle and earned the respect and admiration of hopefully every Michigan fan. I had joked earlier in the week that "It's hard playing against Air Force because you can't boo freedom*", but I stand by it. Air Force, along with Army and Navy, are America's teams. Every one of those players made the choice to not only become an officer by going the Academy route. Every one of them has taken on the additional responsibility of being a football player at the Division I level, above and beyond what is asked of them. It was the same reason that I found it so hard to be angry when Air Force beat Michigan in the opening round of the NCAA Hockey Tournament in 2009. The cadets did an outstanding job and I am proud of their service to our country.
I agree with all of that save the "hard to get angry after the 2009 Air Force hockey game."
Ryan: “It’s an honor. Coach Hoke called me in about a week ago and told me I was going to be wearing 47. It’s been an honor. This game is awesome for me and just wearing it is amazing. I’m going to wear it with pride and represent him as well as I can.”
Did wearing that number give you any strength today? You looked like you were a mad dog out there.
Ryan: “I did a little research on Bennie. I just feel like he was a really athletic Michigan man. I feel like it’s just a number, but I’m representing someone, but I don’t know I guess a little bit. I kind of had pride in what I did.”
You guys seemed to struggle with the triple option. What was going on there?
Ryan: “Yeah it was just technique. We just needed to improve on our technique. Just get back to the benches and see what we did wrong, what we needed to improve on, and just go from there.”
Ryan: “No, just technique. I mean, we weren’t playing our technique, so we needed to get that done.”
After The Jump, more Denard and OosterJake, two Devins, Kovacs & Lewan.
“It was great to win the football game, I can tell you that. It’s always good to win. Sometimes they’re not very pretty. This would be one, but you have to give Air Force a lot of credit. I think they do a tremendous job of coaching that offense and running that offense. I think they did a good job when you look at the counters they put in -- when you counter one way -- it’s a chess game a little bit. I thought Greg at the end really had some -- changed some things up that helped us. I think the stops by the end by the defense were timely and huge and needed to be there. We played an awful lot of plays on defense. That means you’re not doing a good enough job of getting them off the field, but their tempo was one of those things that’s good. And I think we learned a lot about it, and we played a lot of guys. We played a lot of young guys, freshmen, and I think that helps us as we continue throughout the season.”
Can you talk about Devin Gardner’s development as a receiver?
“Well I think he did a nice job. I think there were some -- you like to go to playmakers, so there were things set up for him. But he also makes plays. He’s coming along.”
What made you decide to go with Joe Bolden at linebacker during the second half?
“Well I think we were trying to play as many guys as we could. Joe had a pretty good feel for the option part of it. At Colerain high school that’s all that they run. He saw things maybe a little bit more than we were, but it is more just trying to keep guys fresh and trying to rotate them through.”
You talked a lot about offenses getting the edge on your defense last year.
What was Air Force doing to get the edge, and what do you need to improve on to defend it?
“Well it depends. There’s a whole series of -- do you get low, do you get arc? There’s a lot that goes into it. Are they T-blocking it or X-blocking it? And it’s who has the pitch. It varies depending on how they want to block it and attack it. Most of the time if we do a good job constricting the line of scrimmage, they can’t get a tackle up on your safety or they can’t get the tackle up on the linebacker who can continue to flow, and then your safety’s got a chance. So there’s a lot of different things that go along with it.”
You played a lot of freshmen. Are they outperforming the veterans at this point?
“We recruited them because they’re pretty good players. I think they’re all competing.”
What’s your assessment of your non-Denard run game and how your lines played today?
“You know, I think the non-Denard running game, I guess if we want to call it from now on, it wasn’t productive enough. Therefore I don’t think we played well enough up front. And then defensively, 290-some yards rushing, you didn’t play well enough up front.”
With your defense, do you chalk it up to “this is a unique offense” or do you have major weaknesses that you need to address?
“I would say there’s a uniqueness to the offense, to schemes, but at the same time I think we’re a work in progress. Quinton Washington’s getting better every time he plays. I think Ondre Pipkins, I think he’s getting better every time he plays. Heitzman -- Keith played a decent amount today. Then the four outside guys. Ojemudia. He’s getting better. Frank Clark, having him back. I think Craig and the guys who are the older guys are doing a pretty good job. I think we’re a work in progress on defense [overall].”
How big was the swing in momentum after the tipped pass interception and having to go into the half up just 14-10?
“Oh, it’s one of those things. I didn’t get a good look as I’d like to. I don’t know if it was a little high or what, but that’s football. When you’re called to play defense, you have to keep them out of the end zone, and we didn’t do that.”
A year and a half in, are you still wowed by Denard?
“Well, you know, I see a lot of it in practice. So yeah, I don’t know if you ever get used to it, but when he sticks his foot in the ground, he’s got an ability.”
Two games in, are you seeing enough out of this team that you’d want to see out of a B1G championship team?
“I think if we keep improving every week, that’s our expectation.”
Can you talk about putting No. 47 on Jake Ryan and his performance today?
“We looked at as a staff the guys who, from a character standpoint and from the standpoint of how he goes about his business every day. There wasn’t a better [decision] than to have Jake represent Bennie. So I think that was, as a staff, we came up with that. That’s the right guy. How he played ... I think he made some plays in there. I think he got on the ground sometimes. For me to say how he actually played, I couldn’t tell you. I know he played hard.”
He made a couple big plays at the end.
“Yeah he did. There’s no question about that. I think though what we’ll probably look at as much as anything is that they load blocked on him and he got chopped or he got arc’ed on him -- we didn’t have that pitch player you needed.”
Dialogue between you and Mattison re: late game adjustments?
“Greg and I think an awful lot alike. We knew we needed to do a little bit something different on the back end because we had three different possibilities, and two of them may have been too confusing to try and do on the sideline without them seeing those looks over and over again. So we kind of went back a little bit to base stuff on playing defense.”
Was Fitz rusty?
“I don’t think he ever got a chance to get started.”
“We didn’t block well enough.”
Did you see any rust or was it more up front?
“No … yeah. He’d been practicing the whole time.”
How do you prepare a defense for that insane tempo?
“It … really besides the tempo part, it takes you about a quarter to get used to the speed and how they execute that offense. We tried to mimic it. Our scout guys -- they’re playing with guards and tackles that are 255 pounds. We have Ben Braden who’s 315 pounds who’s trying to veer block, and he’s giving everything he’s got, but it’s a little different tempo, little different speed. Joe Reynolds did as good a job as anyone being Connor Dietz, but it takes you about a quarter. It really does. I thought we hung in there. We weren’t pretty. The thing we needed to do was get the ball on the ground a couple times, and we didn’t do that. It’ll be very interesting. I’ll talk to the kids tomorrow to see how they felt about the tempo. Because I never really -- I didn’t really see us not set and ready to go as a defense, which you’ll see. Believe it or not, that’s a big step that everybody’s on the same page.”
Brennen Beyer was in a cast. What’s his status?
“Well he strained his knee. I can’t -- I don’t know anything more than that right now, but that’s kind of what’s going on.”
Any other issues health wise?
“Not that I know of.”
“He should be ready next week.”
How many true freshmen have you played so far this season? And is that by design or by necessity?
“Um … I want to say 12. It’s by design and necessity. I’m being honest.”
What kind of matchup problems does Funchess cause for a defense?
“Well you know, he’s a tall guy. He’s rangy. He can run. The thing I like about him is he’s not afraid to block. Matchups on strong safeties, matchups on linebackers.”
What kind of game did Frank Clark have, especially on that last drive?
“I know Frank was active. I know he was disruptive, especially there at the end of the game. Now we’ll see how he played the other 80 plays.”
In a game that felt like something out of the Rodriguez era, Michigan showed that while there's great promise for the future, the flaws exposed by Alabama are very real.
The Wolverines edged Air Force, 31-25, and the outcome wasn't decided until Jake Ryan batted down Air Force quarterback Connor Dietz's fourth-down throw with 1:28 remaining. Denard Robinson accounted for all but seven yards of the team's total offense. The defense ceded 417 total yards—290 on the ground—and failed to keep contain all afternoon.
It wasn't all bad, however. Robinson was masterful, completing 14-of-25 passes for 218 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception—one that deflected off the hands of Vincent Smith—while rushing for 218 yards and another pair of touchdowns on 20 carries. True freshman Devin Funchess emerged as a viable threat at tight end, becoming the first Michigan TE to eclipse 100 receiving yards in a game since Jerame Tuman. Devin Gardner looked like a wide receiver, hauling in five passes for 63 yards and a touchdown while running crisper routes.
The offense lived and died with Denard, as Fitzgerald Toussaint found little room to run—seven yards on eight carries, to be exact. The offensive line failed to get a push against Air Force's undersized D-line, doing little to ease concerns from last week's debacle. By the second half, Al Borges had essentially given up on generating yards the traditional way, and he was justified in doing so.
Defensively, Michigan looked ill-equipped to stop the Falcon triple-option attack. The defensive line spent much of the day on their stomachs, unable to evade chop blocks or get any sort of push. Kenny Demens looked positively Ezeh-esque, letting blockers get into him again and again before being pulled in favor of true freshman Joe Bolden. Jake Ryan was all over the field, recording a career-high 12 tackles, but sometimes "all over" can be a bad thing—keeping contain was an issue. The final Air Force touchdown came when Desmond Morgan overpursued. The defensive backs struggled against the run as well, failing to shed blocks and come up to take the pitch.
When the defense needed a big play, odds are it came from an underclassman. Ryan continually redeemed his poorer efforts with critical stops, including two pass breakups on the final Air Force drive. Bolden replaced Demens and displayed the aggressive, instinctual play that made him a high school All-American. Fellow freshman linebacker James Ross spelled Morgan late and acquitted himself well after struggling in his debut against Alabama. Several other freshmen made appearances during the game's biggest moments, including Ondre Pipkins and Mario Ojemudia.
Last season's 11-2 record belied the myriad issues Brady Hoke faced upon taking over in Ann Arbor. After two games in 2012, those issues are at the forefront for the Wolverines. The lack of depth on the offensive line means Michigan must move ahead with the current unit—despite its ineffectiveness in the run game—unless they want to insert a true freshman. The defensive tackles will be a sore spot all year; the players expected to relieve that problem are freshmen or not even on campus yet. The offense still leans heavily on Denard, whose style doesn't always mesh well with the offensive philosophy of Borges.
The Wolverines came away with a victory, a fact that cannot be overlooked, especially against a team with a difficult style to prepare for in a week's time. Denard will still make magic with his feet—his touchdown runs were both exhilarating—and perhaps his arm as well—he looks much-improved from last year even if the numbers don't necessarily bear that out. The future looks bright, too, thanks to the major contributions from a number of young players already gaining crucial experience.
The overwhelming feeling in the aftermath, however, is that this team is still two years away from competing on a national level, the only level of success that matters at Michigan. Today's game had Rich Rodriguez's fingerprints all over it; as we know, that's a smudge that isn't easily wiped away.
Something's been missing from Michigan gamedays since the free programs ceased being economically viable: scientific gameday predictions that are not at all preordained by the strictures of a column in which one writer takes a positive tack and the other a negative one. Something like… Punt-Counterpunt.
By Ken “Sky” Walker 9/8/12
By Labor Day, I had pretty much put last Saturday’s debacle behind me. There was a time when I would obsess over a Michigan loss all week long. I’ve learned over the years to kick all that angst to the curb. I’m way beyond having my mood be affected by a Wolverine win or loss. After all, this is just a game played by kids, right?
I’d taken Tuesday off to extend the weekend. The extra day off didn’t help. It having been a holiday on Monday, every sports news outlet had the Alabama game as its lead story Tuesday. College Football Live, PTI, Around the Horn, and Jim Rome Is Burning—I’ll admit to watching them all—rehashed that nightmare over and over. I finally decided to go outdoors to take a walk, which is somewhat of a novelty for me on a non-football Saturday, in an effort to get away from the talking heads. By the end of the day, I was looking forward to returning to work.
It’s Wednesday and I’m back at the office. I venture down the hall and I’m greeted by a coworker—"Hey Ken! What happened to your boys?!" I find myself sucked into a lengthy conversation revolving around what Denard did, didn’t, or was allowed to do; Borges’s game plan or lack thereof. Is Gardner going to stay at wide out? Would having Fitz in the backfield made a difference? What happened to the defense? I ended up having similar conversations during the course of the day. By now I’m totally immersed in dissecting this game and what it means for the rest of the season.
On Thursday a young woman who just occupied the office down the hall pokes her head in. She spies my Go Blue mug and exclaims "A Michigan fan! Wouldn’t it be great if all the offices in this hall were tricked out in Michigan gear?" I point out that all the pins in my press board are maize or blue. She laughs and continues on her way. I’m struck by the fact that I pointed out to an attractive young woman that I’ve deliberately disposed of all the green and red pins and use only the maize - ah, yellow - and blue ones. OMG! I’ve become one of those Old Michigan Geezers!
I am neither obsessed nor depressed. I am aware that Air Force cannot win this game today. No amount of poor tackling, stagnant offense, or turnovers could possibly cause the Wolverines to lose to an academy team. But I can’t pick Michigan to blow them out either.
MICHIGAN 27, Air Force 24
By Nick RouMel 9/8/12
I am so glad Punt and I didn’t go down to the Cowboy Classic. I was looking forward to that party all year, but it ended a bit like “Project X.” It was not only like having the host steal your girlfriend, but then having her post on Facebook that you were nothing but a “Minute Man” anyway.
Oh, wait, that’s next week’s opponent (UMass). This Saturday we face Air Force. The mighty Falcons averaged 35 points a game last year, and opened this season by laying waste to Matt Gutierrez’ alma mater, Idaho State. Yes, like last week’s rude party host, they can score. But unlike Alabama, they do not have professional athletes on their squad, merely crackerjack trained U.S. military personnel. Thus they are vulnerable to a Michigan squad with something to prove.
Was last week’s debacle a product of bad coaching or execution? I learned from MGoBlog’s play-by-play analysis that the problem was not so much poor play, as simply being manhandled by a superior team. Air Force is a welcome respite from that mugging. Compared to ‘Bama, the Falcons are tiny. Their largest offensive lineman is a gaunt 260 lbs., and their defense is prone to being porous.
Expect Michigan to have a field day in the Big House. Denard will be on target, Devin will run better routes, and Fitz is back from the Dog House. The party that didn’t happen last week will rock Ann Arbor. The Wolverines are favored by 21.5 points for a reason. That reason is that the oddsmakers are smoking crack. Oh wait, I mean it’s because we’re going to win by at least three touchdowns! Up and down the field we will run. Touchdowns we will score. And this week, no one steals our girl.
[HEY BOO-URNSERS: I know ain't no one gonna tell you what to do, but booing a service academy when they are introduced is a terrible idea. Let's not do that! None of you are reading this blog, probably.]
Run Offense vs Air Force
what up mr kotter, what up
After a comprehensively abysmal outing against Alabama, Michigan gets a slightly better matchup against the Falcons. Subtract 70 pounds from everyone on the Alabama defense and add serious engineering degrees for most: that's Air Force. Thank gawd.
Last week Air Force beat up on I-AA Idaho State. The Fighting Gutierrezeses were 2-9 last year, losing to the various Montana, Utah, and Washington I-AA teams by scores like 54-13. They averaged—wait for it—27 yards rushing doing so. This is not data.
We don't have much in the way of data we can take forward from last year's Falcon outfit since they turned over seven starters, but if we assume they'll be a lot like last year's outfit, Michigan should go buck-wild on what was the #109 rushing defense. The Notre Dame game featured in Ace's FFFF saw the Irish go for 266 yards on 29 carries, including a 78-yard run by Andrew Hendrix(!). Brady Hoke's old outfit and 2011 common opponent San Diego State put up 201 on 35 carries, with Ronnie Hillman going for 172. Undersized and heavily reliant on confusing the opponent with blitzes, Air Force stands little chance of holding up against any reasonably good BCS-level rushing attack.
Michigan should have one of those again. They've got Fitzgerald Toussaint back, and since this is an overmatched opponent Michigan will probably run Denard 30 times. I'm not sure we learned anything about Michigan in the first game for the exact opposite reason we didn't learn anything about Air Force in the first game; extrapolating from past seasons suggests Michigan will run riot.
Key Matchup: Offensive line vs getting push. This should not be a problem, but we're all spooked after last week's total inability to block any-damn-body.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the news. Which is less bad!]
14 - I’m totally over it!, 41 - Haha over *twitch* what?
I do not remember this happening.
The road ahead:
Air Force (1-0)
Michael Ciaglo, Colarado Springs Gazette
Last game: Idaho State 21, Air Force 49 (W)
Recap: Let’s be honest: I didn’t watch this game. Nobody did. Not even Ace. Poor guy, though. Had to go down to Dallas and sit through the worst three hours of Michigan football since the Gator Bowl, and then had to break down film from a Notre Dame game. You know, my heart really goes out to him. He has a Facebook page. 1,000 likes and I’ll donate him half of my liver; 10,000 and I’ll throw in a kidney, too.
So word on the street is that Air Force bulldozed Idaho State for half a kilometer on the ground. This is completely unsurprising. Triple option teams are designed to put up 300 yards rushing on opponents like Alabama despite having far less talent in the traditional sense. 49-21 is therefore what happens when such a team plays someone that has even less talent than they do -- Idaho State is FCS.
News item: Air Force’s center Michael Husar, Jr. (Dad was a tackle for Michigan from ‘85-‘88) went down with an ACL/MCL tear. He was reputedly their best lineman, so look for their offense to be somewhat less impressive against Michigan. Get well soon, Michael.
This team is as frightening as: A fleet of MiG-15’s; Michigan is a squadron of B-52’s. Michigan will be fine as long as they get to their base before the other guys ever get off the ground. I realize that sounds a little strange, and I’m trying really hard not to say “bomb,” but the analogy works because the MiGs are smaller and have less firepower than the B-52’s, and during the Korean War … you know what screw it. Go read a book. Maybe you’ll learn something. Fear level = 3.
Michigan should worry about: Defense vs. triple option stuff. Close your eyes, cross your arms, and yell “LALALALALALA” if Kenny Demens never takes a step toward the line of scrimmage and as a result gets plowed by their backup center every other play.
Michigan can sleep soundly about: All their linemen are undersized because they’re the Air Force and the Air Force doesn’t make cockpits for fatties.
When they play Michigan: I will be sober. I promise.
Michigan faces one of football's most distinctive offenses, the Air Force triple option, this weekend at the Big House. To get an idea of how the Falcons operate on both sides of the ball, I went back and watched their matchup with Notre Dame from last season, a 59-33 victory for the Irish. How can Michigan slow down the powerful Air Force rushing attack and take advantage of their 3-4 defense? Read on for the breakdown.
Spread, Pro-Style, or Hybrid? None of the above. The option offense deserves its own category. Air Force operates primarily out of the flexbone and I-formation, and the design of their offense revolves almost entirely around the threat of the triple option.
Basketball on Grass or MANBALL? Both, actually. The option requires linemen, backs, and receivers to carry out a very specific set of blocking assignments, and those change depending on the defensive alignment: Tremendous has a great breakdown of when Air Force goes zone and when they utilize "veer" blocking—the rule of thumb is they go zone against 7-man fronts and veer against 8-man fronts. Air Force—whose starting linemen weigh an average of just 255 pounds—also requires their players to cut block like they're the '98 Denver Broncos. Mind the knees, boys.
Hurry it up or grind it out? A new category this week, as it was an oversight to not include a section on the pace of each team's offense. Air Force rarely huddles, utilizing a fast tempo (61.4% adj. pace in 2011) and a variety of formations that they run with the same personnel to catch defenses off guard and keep them from making substitutions. Here's an example from the Notre Dame game; Air Force runs a fullback dive from the flexbone, then quickly transitions to their triple-stack I-form and gets a big gain from another fullback run:
Just 22 seconds elapse from the time of the first snap to the second snap, yet Air Force is able to run from two entirely different formations while utilizing the same personnel group. It's paramount that the defense get their plays in quickly and communicate between snaps or the Falcons will eventually break one big.
Quarterback Dilithium Level (Scale: 1 [Navarre] to 10 [Denard]): Falcon senior QB Connor Dietz started three games as a redshirt freshman in 2009 and has otherwise served as a backup until this season. He did see the field some last year, averaging 6.6 yards on 38 carries, and rushed for 74 yards and a touchdown on seven carries in Air Force's season-opening win over Idaho State. The Falcons produce system quarterbacks and Dietz fits that mold; he isn't an elite athlete, and in an offense that relies on ruthless execution that doesn't prevent him from amassing some pretty impressive stats. I'll give him a 6, which turns into a functional 7-8 when the offense gets rolling.
Dangerman: The beauty of this offense is it doesn't rely on any one player to bear the load—14 Falcons tallied at least one carry against Notre Dame, 11 against Idaho State. If I must choose a focal point, however, it's running back Cody Getz. The flexbone formation features a fullback—or "B" back—lined up behind the quarterback, with two wing-backs—"A" backs—on the end of the line, a step back from the line of scrimmage:
Getz is one of those "A" backs (SB in the graphic above)—he's usually the pitch option and often motions into the backfield before the snap. While he rushed for just 102 yards in 2011, he's already surpassed that total in 2012 after picking up 218 yards and three touchdowns on 17 carries in the opener. At 5'7", 175 pounds, Getz is by no means big, but he's a senior well-versed in the system and has the speed to make teams pay for giving him the edge.
Zook Factor: Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun—a former Falcon quarterback under the tutelage of Fisher DeBerry—knows his team must play aggressive to overcome size and talent deficiencies, and therefore will never be confused with Ron Zook. In just the first half, the Falcons go for 4th-and-2 the ND 32, attempt a surprise onside kick, go for 4th-and-2 from their own 42, and successfully fake a punt on 4th-and-6 from their own 35.
After one half of football, I'm already a huge fan of Troy Calhoun.
It's no secret that Air Force will run, run, and then run some more. Last year, they ran 81.9% of the time on standard downs (national average: 60.0%) and 61.1% on passing downs (33.3%). The offense is designed to get positive plays on every down and stay "ahead of the sticks"—maintaining reasonable down-and-distance situations so the run is still the primary threat. Air Force finished in the top 37 nationally in all three advanced rushing stat categories (S&P+, Success Rate, PPP+) and were a top-60 offense, but on passing downs their efficiency plummets near the bottom of the national rankings. The key to stopping the Falcons is forcing them into obvious passing situations; this is, of course, much more difficult than it sounds.
The basic play of the Air Force offense is the veer option. Fisher DeBerry's entire 1998 Air Force playbook is available online; this diagram comes straight from its pages:
Before the snap, one of the "A" backs (in this case, the one on the left) motions into the backfield, arcing behind the fullback and into a pitch relationship with the quarterback. The first read is the dive to the fullback, and if option coaches had their druthers this is where the play would go every time. If there isn't a crease for the fullback to run through the A gap, the quarterback pulls and heads for the edge, where he'll read an unblocked defender—in this case, the right defensive end. The quarterback can keep or pitch it outside to the "A" back.