Michigan 52, Appalachian State 14

Michigan 52, Appalachian State 14

Submitted by Ace on August 30th, 2014 at 4:12 PM


Coverage is irrelevant. [Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog]

There was Devin Funchess, galloping through and leaping over the Appalachian State secondary. There were Derrick Green and De'Veon Smith, bursting through holes opened up by Ben Braden and Kyle Kalis. There was Devin Gardner, completing all but one pass. There was Dennis Norfleet, catching bubble screens and darting past defenders.

There was offense, making sense at last.

Sure, Michigan's 560 yards on 55 plays came against an Appalachian State team that went 4-8 as an FCS program in 2013, but the coherence and explosiveness of Doug Nussmeier's offense proved undeniable. Funchess more than earned his new #1 jersey, scoring on three of his seven receptions, including a spectacular leaping grab over two defenders in the back of the end zone. Gardner had no difficulty finding open receivers, connecting on 12/13 passes for 173 yards and those three TDs to Funchess before giving way to Shane Morris in the third quarter as the blowout continued unabated.

Green (15 carries, 170 yards, 1 TD) and Smith (8, 115, 2) became the first pair of Michigan running backs to crack the century mark in the same game since Carlos Brown and Brandon Minor accomplished the feat against a hapless Minnesota team in 2007. They found running room. This was to be expected against an undersized, overmatched ASU squad, but this was not to be expected because last year happened. The offensive line held their ground and then some, giving up just one sack and paving the way for 350 yards on 36 carries.

The production excited, but more than that it was the fashion in which Michigan got that production. Screens to Funchess and Norfleet* opened up both the running game and downfield passing. The emphasis on inside zone allowed the line to find their rhythm; after some early stuffed runs, they started opening up big creases, especially when Kalis entered the game at right guard in place of starter Joey Burzynski. Michigan got explosive plays—ten of their first 30 went for ten yards or more—and also showed that they could move the ball methodically; the first scoring drive, capped by a nine-yard touchdown to Funchess, covered 63 yards in nine plays.


De'Veon Smith displayed power and balance on his way to 115 rushing yards. [Fuller]

On the other side of the ball, the defense played up to their lofty expectations, forcing punts on each of ASU's first seven drives, including five three-and-outs. 171 of the Mountaineers' 280 total yards came on two second-half drives with the game well out of reach, as Greg Mattison liberally rotated through defenders. They came through on their promise to be more aggressive, playing lots of tight man coverage and putting ASU QB Kam Bryant under consistent pressure—Michigan's two sacks and four QB hurries don't tell the whole story.

The special teams even managed to chip in a scoring play, as Ben Gedeon caught a punt blocked by Mike McCray and managed to extend the ball just past the pylon to put U-M up 35-0 just prior to halftime.

Only two things came up as real concerns during the game. Jabrill Peppers missed the second half with an ankle injury; Brady Hoke confirmed after the game that his absence was precautionary, and he'll be back on the field next week for Notre Dame. Meanwhile, Jake Ryan looked uncomfortable at times at middle linebacker, getting overaggressive on run defense and allowing a big gain through the air when he didn't get enough depth on a zone drop. If your biggest defensive concern is Jake Ryan, however, your defense is in a very good place.

"We weren't competing against the score, we were competing against our abilities," Hoke said. At the very least, Michigan showed their ability to dominate inferior competition. They certainly drew up the blueprint for how they'd like this team to operate the rest of the year, too. Next week, we'll learn a lot more about just how far they've come.

For now, it's nice to sit back and enjoy a stress-free Saturday.

----------------
*Or "Little Fleetwood" as Hoke (accidentally?) called him in the postgame presser.

Nebraska 17, Michigan 13

Nebraska 17, Michigan 13

Submitted by Ace on November 9th, 2013 at 7:14 PM

This was the high point, both from a football and comedic standpoint.

If this isn't rock bottom, it's damn close. Michigan faced a Nebraska rush defense that's done this...

Opponent Att Yds TD YPC
Wyoming 30 219 1 7.3
UCLA 50 216 2 4.3
South Dakota State 33 271 2 8.2
Illinois 45 211 2 4.7
Purdue 20 82 0 4.1
Minnesota 53 272 3 5.1
Northwestern 43 283 3 6.6

...and, with sacks removed, rushed for 22 yards on 29 attempts. Oh, and a combination of poor play-calling, poor line play, poor blitz pickup, and one understandably skittish quarterback allowed seven sacks that knocked the offense back 49 yards.

Brady Hoke's home winning streak is dead; that's not really the story. It wasn't hard to see this coming, not after the narrow escape against Akron, and certainly not after last week's debacle. When Drew Dileo dropped a fourth-down pass on Michigan's last-gasp drive, it felt depressingly fitting—of course the sure-handed receiver would let one slip through his grasp at precisely the wrong time, because that's just how this season has gone.


Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog

When Michigan attained a first down for the first time in the game, only three plays before the end of the first quarter, the Big House crowd erupted with the loudest Bronx cheer I've ever heard in this building. The sarcastic cheers turned to boos by the end of the first half, at which time the Wolverines, down 10-3, had 60 yards of offense on 29 plays.

Those boos only grew louder by the end of the game. Al Borges orchestrated a great drive to open the second half, featuring a big play for Fitz Toussaint on a slip screen, a slick pop-pass to Jake Butt against a heavy blitz, and a touchdown to a wide-open Devin Funchess on a post-curl-corner route combination.

Thus ended the offensive renaissance. That ten-play, 75-yard drive represented 43% of Michigan's total output on the afternoon, and Michigan resumed slamming their heads against stacked fronts and allowing wave after wave of pressure to hit home.

The defense did what they could, holding the Huskers to 273 yards—75 of which came on their game-winning drive—on just 4.1 yards per play despite two new starters at safety: Courtney Avery and Josh Furman, who replaced Jarrod Wilson and Thomas Gordon.* When Frank Clark lost contain and James Ross was late getting out on an option pitch (of sorts, since it went forwards) to Ameer Abdullah, who waltzed five yards into the end zone, there wasn't anger in Michigan Stadium—instead, apathy reigned, and a healthy number of fans streamed for the exits despite the Wolverines being down four with two minutes left and all their timeouts. Five plays later, those fans were proven—at least for today—to be justified in their actions.

"Well, we just didn't execute," said Brady Hoke after the game. That is 2013 Michigan Football's epitaph, and at some point it isn't going to be enough to save everyone's job.

-------------
*According to Hoke in the post-game presser, Gordon had an unspecified ankle injury, while Wilson's absense from the lineup was an attempt to shake things up.

Michigan State 29, Michigan 6

Michigan State 29, Michigan 6

Submitted by Ace on November 2nd, 2013 at 7:41 PM


Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog

Michigan had two weeks to prepare for Michigan State. This resulted in a record-setting day.

It takes a special kind of failure to achieve such lows: complete, utter failure from top to bottom. The gameplan from Al Borges lacked coherence, an issue that's plagued him during his entire tenure at Michigan. The play-action from under center isn't fooling anyone and still gets brought out several times a game, yet the shotgun runs somehow lack any sort of constraint or misdirection. A piecemeal offense isn't going to beat MSU's defense.

The offensive line couldn't open up holes for the running game, nor could they keep Devin Gardner upright. MSU registered nine sacks, and even with that yardage removed along with kneeldowns and a negative-20-yard bad snap, the Wolverines mustered 1.3 yards per carry.

Gardner often held the ball too long, for his part, and missed some open receivers, then capped the performance with an ugly interception when he hucked a designed back-shoulder fade three yards in front of Jeremy Gallon. By that point, however, he'd earned considerable respect simply for standing up and facing the inevitable beating.


Eric Upchurch/MGoBlog

Michigan mustered 168 yards on a meager 2.8 yards per play despite Gardner averaging nearly eight yards per pass when he could actually get one off. The defense fought valiantly, holding the Spartans to just 237 yards and 16 points through three quarters and setting up the offense with a chance to make it a game when Raymon Taylor picked off Connor Cook and returned it to the MSU 41. The Wolverines subsequently took a five-yard loss on an blown-up option followed by consecutive sacks—burning a timeout before the second one—to lose 21 yards in three plays; a Matt Wile punt, his eighth of the afternoon, opened the fourth quarter.

By the time Jeremy Langford capped the scoring with a 40-yard touchdown run, Devin Gardner's day was done—it would've been unconscionable to put him out there for another possession—and fans from both sides steadily streamed out of Spartan Stadium.

On Michigan's final offensive play of the game, Shane Morris tried to scramble on fourth-and-four, only to faceplant at the line of scrimmage. It was a fitting coda to a miserable day.

Michigan 63, Indiana 47

Michigan 63, Indiana 47

Submitted by Ace on October 19th, 2013 at 8:37 PM


NOT PICTURED: Indiana's defense (far left: Upchurch; center and right: Fuller)

Michigan comfortably defeated Indiana by 16 points, outgaining them by 161 yards and staying even in the critical turnover battle.

Or something like that, at least.

In real life, the Wolverines and Hoosiers traded haymakers, smashing records while combining for 1,323 yards of total offense. I'll spell that out: ONE-THOUSAND, THREE-HUNDRED AND TWENTY-THREE YARDS OF TOTAL OFFENSE. 751 (SEVEN-HUNDRED--okay, you get it) of those belonged to Michigan, a school record. Devin Gardner passed for 503 of those yards, another school record, and added 81 yards and three touchdowns on the ground, breaking Denard Robinson's U-M record for single-game total offense. Jeremy Gallon caught 14 passes for 369 yards and two scores, felling not only the Michigan receiving yards record, but also the Big Ten mark.

On the other side of the ledger, Indiana amassed 572 yards and 28 first downs while scoring on seven of their first 11 full drives. We all know this feel, probably-drunk student (via bubbaprog):

When the above occurred during the game doesn't matter, because it could've been any moment of the game.*

Remarkably, the teams traded punts to begin the game; matters escalated quickly. First, Indiana QB Nate Sudfeld hit a wide-open Cody Latimer for a 59-yard touchdown when Michigan's defense couldn't get set against the lightning-fast Hoosier attack; Raymon Taylor got beat over the top, and the safety help it appeared he expected never arrived.

Michigan responded with a five-play, 56-yard march capped by a 13-yard Gardner scoring run; all but one of the plays was a shotgun run. Clearly, Al Borges wasn't pleased with last week's effort; not only did Michigan come out with two new starting guards, Erik Magnuson and Joey Burzynski, they spread the field to make attacking a porous Indiana defense that much easier.

From there, it was the Jeremy Gallon Show. The Wolverines took a 14-7 lead after a 70-yard Gallon catch set up a two-yard TD run by Fitz Toussaint. By the end of the first quarter, he had 116 yards. Back-to-back first down passes to Gallon set up the next score, too, a seven-yard Toussaint run to the pylon for a 21-7 Michigan lead.

Indiana responded to that score in their trademark lightning-strike fashion, taking just 1:03 off the clock as Tre Roberson took over for Sudfeld, going 3/3 on the drive for 57 yards. That took some luck, as Roberson's second throw went right through the hands of Raymon Taylor, only to be caught by Duwyce Wilson; one play later, Shane Wynn took the top off the defense for a 33-yard score.

The Wolverines looked to carry all the momentum into halftime, going on a methodical 12-play, 91-yard drive that ate 5:19 of the final 5:59 off the clock; a 21-yard touchdown pass to—who else?—Gallon on a wide open flag route. As it turned out, however, 40 seconds was just enough for the Hoosiers to move into field goal range with a little help from a very passive defense, and Mitch Ewald drilled a 50-yarder to make it 28-17 at the half.


Upchurch

Michigan received to start the second half; any hopes of opening up a comfortable lead were quickly dashed, however, when Toussaint dropped a pitch from Gardner and IU LB Flo Hardin returned it 13 yards to the Wolverine five. Three plays later, Tevin Coleman dashed through a huge hole in the middle to bring the Hoosiers within four.

Even as the Wolverines tried to slow the game's breakneck pace, Indiana wouldn't allow them to do so; unfortunately for the Hoosiers, they did this by ceding a 50-yard touchdown pass to Gallon on the fourth play of the next drive. The play came on another very successful adjustment by Borges: bringing in two tight ends, going max protect, and letting Gallon and Devin Funchess work against Indiana's generous secondary. Funchess drew a lot of attention from Indiana's back seven, allowing Gallon to roam freely downfield, almost as if he were invisible.

Indiana came back with a five-yard Roberson pass to an uncovered Wynn on a broken coverage, failed to convert a reverse pass on a gutsy (read: questionable) two-point conversion attempt, and after a Michigan punt another Ewald field goal cut the lead to just one point. The offense once again answered the bell, however, this time in the form of Gardner pump-faking and scrambling through several Hoosiers en route to a six-yard score, eating an illegal late hit after he arrived in the end zone.

Despite kicking off from the 50 with a nine-point lead and a defense seemingly incapable of slowing down Indiana, Brady Hoke elected to have Matt Wile boot the ball through the end zone instead of trying a relatively safe onside kick. The Hoosiers made up the 15-yard difference in one Tevin Coleman rush, then cut the lead to two on a 15-yard Roberson scramble.

Hearts quickly jumped into throats and stomachs plummeted into shoes after Michigan moved their way down to the Indiana two-yard line, only for Gardner to fumble the snap on first-and-goal; Indiana recovered and the Big House fell silent as the Hoosiers took the ball with a chance at the lead. Michigan caught two big breaks, however: first, Roberson dislocated his thumb, forcing Sudfeld back onto the field; second, Sudfeld softly tossed the ball in the direction of an open receiver, only for Thomas Gordon (above, Fuller) to undercut it for a critical interception, giving the Wolverines the ball back just three yards worse for wear.

After two runs were stuffed by the Hoosiers, Gardner dropped back to pass, niftily eluded a corner blitz, and took off up the middle, barrel-rolling over a tackle attempt and into the end zone to make it 56-47. Roberson gamely got Indiana into scoring position again on the next drive, but Hoosier hopes were dashed when either a bad overthrow or a miscommunication with the intended receiver resulted in a ball deflecting off Jourdan Lewis's hands and straight to Gordon for his second pick. Toussaint, who finished with 151 yards and four touchdowns on 32 carries, capped the scoring with a 27-yard dash up the middle.

This felt a lot like the 2010 Illinois game, with Michigan looking unstoppable on offense and incapable on defense. The difference, of course, is that the offense was supposed to be the big question mark with the defense being called upon to keep the team afloat. For this game's good signs—the offensive explosion and adjustments from Borges—there were plenty of bad ones, especially the defense allowing five different Indiana receivers to record catches of at least 20 yards. One thing is for sure: this team still looks eminantly beatable, and after this week's bye, the Wolverines face the teeth of their schedule, starting with a trip to East Lansing to face the vaunted Spartan defense (and also, thankfully, a Connor Cook-led MSU offense).

----------------
*If you must know, it was after Gardner's fumble on the goal line, which stood out as particularly absurd even in this absurdity of a game.

Michigan 42, Minnesota 13

Michigan 42, Minnesota 13

Submitted by Ace on October 5th, 2013 at 7:38 PM


Split out wide for most of the game, Devin Funchess set career highs in receptions and yards. [Photo: Bryan Fuller, MGoBlog]

After two ugly victories against overmatched opponents, Michigan entered their game against Minnesota with a reshuffled offensive line and a pressing need to placate the fanbase by not playing down to their opponent. After a slow start, they did just that, scoring 28 second-half points en route to a 42-13 homecoming victory.

The natives were restless during a plodding first half in which the two teams combined for just eight real drives (the Gophers ran out the last 1:25 of the half), due mostly to a 16-play, 75-yard march by Minnesota—during which they converted five third downs—that saw them tie the game at seven. That came after Jibreel Black forced a fumble by Gopher quarterback Mitch Leidner on the game's opening possession; James Ross recovered and the Michigan offense capitalized with six runs in six plays, covering 35 yards and capped by an eight-yard Fitz Toussaint touchdown.

The ensuing Gopher drive ate up most of the first quarter, allowing them to not only knot up the score, but keep it close for the rest of the half. This was "old time Big Ten football" in the worst sense—slow-paced, run-heavy, and not particularly effective. Four consecutive punts followed, and the heated battle for field position eventually went in Michigan's favor—after Matt Wile's 55-yard boot was downed by Dennis Norfleet at the Gopher one-yard line, Minnesota was forced to punt it away from the nine, and Drew Dileo took a line drive kick well into Gopher territory. Four plays later, Devin Gardner hooked up with Devin Funchess—who spent most of the game lined up at wide receiver—on a post route for a 24-yard touchdown with 1:25 left in the half. Fitting the general tenor of the game, Minnesota decided to forego any chance at points, running twice and carrying three timeouts into halftime.

If that seemed questionable at the time, it looked more so after Michigan drove 75 yards in nine plays to open the second half, bolstered by an improved running game and the emergence of Funchess, Giant Wide Receiver. The first four plays of the drives were runs of 14, 5, 8, and 9 yards; a 21-yard back-shoulder throw to Funchess set up a two-yard Derrick Green touchdown to cap the drive. The Gophers could only respond with a field goal to cut the Wolverine lead to 21-10; that would be the closest they'd get for the rest of the game.

Much of the credit for that can go to Funchess, who finished with seven catches for 151 yards—both career highs—and set up a late Gardner touchdown run with a 46-yard grab on the right sideline. Even though the numbers don't bear it out, the running game looked improved as well; though Michigan averaged just 3.2 yards per carry as a team, Fitz Toussaint (right, Upchurch) had an impressive 78 yards on just 17 carries, adding a second touchdown run from 12 yards out to give Michigan a 28-10 third-quarter lead that proved insurmountable. Chris Bryant, the new starter at left guard, proved adept as a puller, which allowed Michigan to run the play they'd like to (eventually) make their offensive identity: power.

Most importantly, considering the troubles of the last two games, Michigan didn't turn the ball over once, the first time they've done so since their 58-0 win over these same Gophers in 2011, Brady Hoke's first season at the helm. After looking flustered against UConn, Devin Gardner was very sharp, connecting on 13 of 17 passes for 235 yards and a touchdown while showing a calmness in the pocket that wasn't present in previous games. Gardner wasn't needed much as a runner, carrying the ball just seven times for 17 yards and a TD; in a game like this, that's just fine.

While the defense had trouble getting off the field on third downs, allowing Minnesota to convert on 8 of 15 chances, they were otherwise solid; the Gophers mustered just 281 total yards on 4.5 yards per play and couldn't score a touchdown after their second drive. The inside linebacker duo of Desmond Morgan and James Ross combined for 19 tackles, making it tough sledding for any Minnesota run up the gut. While the Wolverines had trouble covering Gopher TE Maxx Williams, who finished with 54 yards and a touchdown on five receptions, the rest of the Minnesota passing offense generated just 91 yards. While the Gophers missed a couple chances for big completions late, Michigan made up for that when Blake Countess stepped in front of a Leidner throw and returned it 72 yards to complete the scoring with just 1:19 on the clock. The biggest concern on that side of the ball going forward may be the health of nose tackle Ondre Pipkins, who was carted off the field with a left knee injury; he's a critical backup behind Quinton Washington.

Despite the close calls and consternation from the nonconference slate, Michigan now sits at 5-0 and 1-0 in the Big Ten, and after two harrowing wins over bad teams the Wolverines beat Minnesota in a wholly acceptable fashion—the slow pace masked a dominant effort until the game broke open late. In the end, Michigan scored five touchdowns on eight offensive drives, with the defense adding a sixth for good measure while forcing Minnesota to fight for every yard. It wasn't pretty in any aesthetic sense; the score, however, speaks for itself.

Michigan 41, Notre Dame 30, Sanity 0

Michigan 41, Notre Dame 30, Sanity 0

Submitted by Ace on September 8th, 2013 at 1:06 AM


Eric Upchurch/MGoBlog

After Beyonce appeared on the Big House scoreboard, Eminem gave an astoundingly bizarre halftime interview, Devin Gardner threw the most inexplicable interception in the history of interceptions, the game-sealing interception went through James Ross's fingertips, and a couple of questionable pass interference calls set up Michigan's final score, this was the only way it could end—with a Tommy Rees pass ricocheting off Raymon Taylor's foot and into the stratosphere, landing safely in the arms of Blake Countess, who kneeled in the end zone and effectively ended a game full of lunacy even by Michigan-Notre Dame standards.

The Wolverines held a 34-20 lead to begin the fourth quarter and looked to have the game in hand after the defense forced a quick three-and-out; with the way Michigan had been able to move the ball, victory seemed assured. After a Devin Gardner keeper lost four yards on second down, however, Michigan's newly-christened #98 took a snap from his own 16-yard line, scrambled back into his own end zone to avoid a hellacious Notre Dame rush, then desperately chucked the ball ... directly into the arms of Irish DE Stephon Tuitt. The play stood on review, beginning a snakebit sequence for Michigan that hushed the record-setting crowd of 115,109 into a nerve-wracked silence.

Michigan's next drive started with a seven-yard pass to Jeremy Gallon, in the midst of a record-setting night of his own; then Gallon didn't get up, and the fans watched in horror as he limped off, favoring his hamstring. A false start by Devin Funchess on the next play negated most of the original gain. On second-and-eight, Gardner rushed for four yards—and both Funchess and Taylor Lewan came up hurt, though Funchess's boo-boo actually gave Lewan time to recover from what appeared to be a poke in the eye. After Gardner shorted a third-down pass to a gimpy Gallon, the Wolverines had to punt—which Matt Wile shanked 21 yards into the Notre Dame sideline, setting up the Irish at their own 48. Five plays later, Notre Dame's Kyle Brindza connected on a 40-yard field goal, and in less than three minutes the Michigan lead had been cut to just four.

A lesser quarterback may have wilted after committing such an egregious error; Devin Gardner (right, Upchurch), however, is no such quarterback. Gardner found a wide-open Fitz Toussaint in the flat for a 31-yard gain two plays after Toussaint broke left for a 22-yard rush, his best on an otherwise tough night. A very questionable pass interference penalty gave Michigan a first down at the Notre Dame 14-yard line. Three plays later, another pass interference flag on a goal line pass to Funchess (less questionable this time, though still not the most obvious of calls) gave the Wolverines first down and goal to go. On second down, Gardner stared down an unblocked Tuitt and threw a dart to Drew Dileo, who ducked into the end zone; the 41-30 score would hold up as the final margin after Rees's second pick, coming on first-and-goal from the Michigan six, took a most unusual path into the arms of Countess.

Until all hell broke loose, the story of the game was Gallon, who finished with career highs of eight receptions, 184 yards, and three touchdowns. His first touchdown came when he utilized his cloaking device, as Gardner found him uncovered in the middle of the field; 61 yards, one great Jehu Chesson block, and a few missed tackles later, Michigan led 10-0 with 5:35 left in the first quarter.

The Irish responded quickly, albeit fortuitously, as Rees's third-and-goal pass bounced off his intended receiver, George Atkinson, and directly into the hands of T.J. Jones on the very next drive. After a Michigan three-and-out, Notre Dame opened the second quarter with a 44-yard field goal from Brindza, knotting the game at ten.

From there, Michigan took control of the game. Gardner capped off the ensuing drive by audibling to an option play at the last possible moment, scoring on a two-yard keeper as Brady Hoke tried—and, fortunately, failed—to call a timeout as the play clock ticked down to one. After the teams traded field goals, Countess undercut a Rees pass for his first career interception, weaving through the Irish offense to give Michigan great field position at the Notre Dame 23. It took four plays for Gardner and Gallon to connect for another touchdown, this one a perfectly-thrown ball low and outside which Gallon scooped up for a 12-yard touchdown. At the half, Michigan led 27-13, held a 268-199 advantage in total yardage, and appeared to be in total command of the game.

After a halftime show featuring Beyonce—yes, that Beyonce—doing the intro honors via scoreboard video and the band playing a few of her greatest hits as the stadium lights dimmed to reveal a Maize and Blue laser show, Michigan received to open the second half. A promising drive stalled when Ishaq Williams sacked Gardner at the Notre Dame 41, forcing the Wolverines to settle for a Matt Wile punt. Rees engineered a 12-play, 90-yard drive that ended with a 20-yard pass to tight end Troy Niklas, who bulled over Jarrod Wilson and into the end zone to once again cut the deficit to seven.

Once again, Gardner and Gallon stretched the lead out to 14, this time on a bootleg pass to Gallon on a crossing route; this year's new #21 dove over a defender and reached the ball over the pylon for a 13-yard score. The game looked well in hand when Notre Dame's next possession ended when Rees, facing a heavy blitz, overthrew a corner route on fourth down, setting up Michigan at their own 17.

Three plays later, Gardner lost his mind, as many in the stands surely did when he tried his patented weaving escape, only to find himself dead to rights in the end zone. It wouldn't be a Michigan-Notre Dame game without a ridiculous finish, and only the 2009-2011 games compare to tonight's in my (admittedly recency-biased) memory.

In the end, one good tipped pass deserved another, and the PA guy not-so-fondly known around here as Special K delivered a trolling worthy of the heated rivalry with a triumphant playing of "The Chicken Dance", a fittingly absurd end to a fittingly absurd game.

Michigan 59, Central Michigan 9

Michigan 59, Central Michigan 9

Submitted by Ace on August 31st, 2013 at 8:16 PM


Eric Upchurch/MGoBlog

The feeling was boredom, interspersed with brief moments of Norfleet-related anticipation that ended an ankle-tackle away from being actual excitement.

Boredom, in this case, was a great feeling—a pleasant return to normalcy for Michigan. A home opener against a directional Michigan school, a 50-point lead heading into the third quarter, a fourth quarter spent looking up numbers of various freshmen and walk-ons while fretting about burned redshirts; this is how it's supposed to go, fergodsakes.

The Wolverines got on the board before the Big House crowd even got a chance to see the much-anticipated new offense, as freshman defensive back Dymonte Thomas screamed off the edge to block a Central Michigan punt on the opening drive of the game; senior receiver Joe Reynolds scooped up the loose ball and took it 30 yards to give Michigan a 7-0 lead.

A muffed punt by Dennis Norfleet, recovered by Delano Hill at Michigan's seven-yard line, led to an inauspicious start for Devin Gardner; after his first pass of the season was dropped by Devin Funchess, he telegraphed a quick out to Drew Dileo, and CMU's Jarret Chapman jumped the route for an easy interception.

Michigan's defense held strong, though, forcing the Chippewas to settle for a field goal. Gardner was in fine form on the subsequent drive, picking up a first down with his legs, then buying time for Drew Dileo to find a wide open hole in the Central defense on a 3rd-and-4 for a 36-yard catch-and-run. On the very next play, Gardner stood tall in the pocket, couldn't find an open receiver, and waltzed untouched into the end zone for a 22-yard score (right, Upchurch).

From there, the Wolverines didn't look back. A 38-yard run on a Dennis Norfleet reverse set up a one-yard touchdown run for Fitz Toussaint, who looked back to his old self—aside from missing a couple open cutback lanes—in rushing for 57 yards on 14 carries. After another Gardner hiccup—an overthrow to Gallon that resulted in his second interception—led to a second Jason Wilson field goal, cutting the lead to 21-6, the redshirt junior quarterback roared back with an 11-play, 76-yard drive capped by a 16-yard touchdown pass to his favorite target, Jeremy Gallon. After Raymon Taylor jumped an Alex Niznak throw to the perimeter, nearly taking the interception back for a touchdown, Gardner finished the first half with a four-yard scoring run, again making his trip to the end zone look downright easy. Despite the pair of turnovers—and a punt block for a touchdown that didn't count towards the yardage numbers—Michigan held a 243-139 edge in total offense and a 35-6 halftime lead.

The onslaught didn't stop there. Michigan's opening drive of the second half featured a 45-yard play-action pass from Gardner to Reynolds; two plays later, Toussaint tallied his second score of the day from two yards out. After another quick defensive stop, freshman running backs Derrick Green and De'Veon Smith combined to run on each of Michigan's ten plays, including a 30-yard Green scamper on a zone stretch and the five-star's first career touchdown on a goal-line scrum.

Sacks by Brennen Beyer and Mario Ojemudia forced another three-and-out, and from there the backups took over. Freshman quarterback Shane Morris quarterbacked the next drive, completing a 36-yard pass to Devin Funchess before Thomas Rawls rumbled into the end zone from five yards out, giving the Wolverines a 56-6 lead as the third quarter expired.

The rest, as they say, was academic. The fourth-quarter monotony was broken briefly by a 36-yard punt return by Norfleet, who was one man away from scoring; a Morris interception on a tipped pass; and a forced fumble by freshman cornerback Channing Stribling just two plays later, recovered by Delonte Hollowell. That third play led to a 30-yard Gibbons field goal—his 14th consecutive make, tying a school record held by Remy Hamilton*—that gave the game its final margin: 59-9, Michigan.


Funchess sporting his new Ron Kramer Legacy jersey (Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog)

Aside from the two picks, Gardner looked like the superstar he's expected to be in his first year as the full-time starter, averaging 10.8 yards per attempt and rushing for 52 yards on seven carries; CMU couldn't keep him in the pocket and couldn't stop him when he escaped, including one play in which Gardner comically olé'd an awaiting defender hoping to hit him on the sideline.

His ESP-level connection with Gallon showed, as well; Gallon caught four passes for 47 yards and had a second touchdown catch wiped out when Taylor Lewan wandered downfield illegally rode his donkey too far even from the generous blocking zone they give linemen on play-action these days. Funchess and Reynolds both impressed, as well, and while each left the game due to injury, those dings appeared minor. Brady Hoke said after the game that Funchess left the game due to a cramp (an unfortunately-placed one, given the rather sensitive area he clutched after his long catch), while there was no report on the status of Reynolds.

Defensively, Beyer was a consistent presence in the backfield as a lineman in Greg Mattison's nickel package, tallying a sack and another TFL. Cam Gordon, playing in place of the injured Jake Ryan, looked fantastic in tallying a pair of sacks among his 2.5 TFLs, lining up at both strongline linebacker and defensive end and playing both well. Desmond Morgan took to his new position as the MIKE with aplomb, leading the team with seven tackles despite heavy rotation in the front seven. While the much-balleyhooed Frank Clark recorded a lone QB hurry, his backup, Mario Ojemudia, came up with a sack and looked like a very solid option at weakside DE.

Of the true freshmen to see their first action—and there were many—it was Stribling who impressed the most; he was Michigan's field corner when they went into the nickel package, and while he gave up a couple catches, he showed off his playmaking ability by stripping CMU's Andrew Flory after one of those receptions. Linebacker Ben Gedeon also played well in his first career action, tallying four tackles; "The Freak" didn't look out of place at weakside linebacker.

The only major points of concern were Gardner's two picks—hopefully those can be chalked up to opening-game rust, as he otherwise looked like a Heisman candidate—and the play of the safeties. Jarrod Wilson and Josh Furman blew a couple assignments, though there's a good chance that neither is starting by mid-September—strong safety Thomas Gordon sat out the game for a "violation of team rules" and Courtney Avery could factor in at free safety when he recovers from knee surgery, hopefully in time for next week's game but more likely for Akron. The offensive line had its moments, good and bad; Al Borges called for a lot of zone running plays instead of asking for his two new guards, Kyle Kalis and Graham Glasgow, to pull; Kalis played a very solid game, featuring a bone-crushing body-slam on Gardner's first touchdown run, while Glasgow and center Jack Miller had their ups and downs.

Michigan's fans trickled out of the stadium throughout the fourth quarter, content that their team took care of a MAC opponent like Wolverines should: devouring them alive. There was little reason to stay, more competitive football games to watch, and celebratory beers to drink. Cheers to a new season, a 1-0 record, and zero heart attacks.

--------------
*If you've just woken up from a three-year slumber, this is somehow not a joke.

Stalled

Stalled

Submitted by Ace on November 24th, 2012 at 4:14 PM


Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog

21 plays. 60 yards. Zero points.

That was Michigan's second-half offensive output, after Denard Robinson averaged over 20 yards per carry and Devin Gardner a hair under ten yards per pass in the first half. The Wolverine defense held Ohio State to two field goals in that same span despite three drives starting in their own territory, but it was for naught in a 26-21 heartbreaker.

It's too easy to pin a game on a coach, but after this game it's tough to figure out who else is to blame—Al Borges's second-half playcalling is the story today. Michigan's running backs, ineffective the entire year even with a healthy Denard Robinson and Fitzgerald Toussaint, were stymied on three third down attempts in the final 30 minutes. In the end, Vincent Smith mustered just 12 yards on five carries, Thomas Rawls a mere two on his five. That enabled Ohio State to load up against Robinson, still apparently unable to throw the ball, when he entered the game as a quarterback.

There were other problems, of course. Fumbles by Robinson and Gardner prematurely ended drives in the final half; Michigan's last drive finished with a Gardner interception. While the defense put forth a heroic effort late, they were repeatedly burned early by Braxton Miller—who finished with 189 yards on 14-of-18 passing—and had trouble stopping Carlos Hyde (146 yards on 26 carries) up the middle.

This despite prospects looking good early. A 75-yard touchdown pass to Roy Roundtree answered a Hyde score on the opening Buckeye drive. The Wolverines took a 14-10 lead on a goal-line plunge by Gardner. And Michigan's 21-20 halftime edge came courtesy of a spectacular 67-yard scamper by Robinson, who shed simultaneous tackling attempts by Christian Bryant and Travis Howard and broke free from the pack for a vintage Denard touchdown.


Fuller

But the tides turned on Michigan's opening drive of the third quarter, when Brady Hoke took a timeout after initially sending out the punt team following a zero-yard Rawls run on third-and-three. It was Robinson who took the field at quarterback for fourth down; the blocking broke down inside, leaving him no crease to reach the sticks as Ryan Shazier brought him down for a two-yard loss.

From that point forward, turnovers and questionable playcalls doomed the offense. Two Drew Basil field goals represented the entire scoring output of the second half; that was all the Buckeyes needed to secure their sixth straight home victory against Michigan and an undefeated season, one which ended today thanks to a postseason bad.

Michigan will play on, but it won't be in a BCS bowl. The question before this season was whether Al Borges was the right offensive coordinator for Denard Robinson. After this game, the question might expand, to whether or not he's the right offensive coordinator for this program moving forward.

Alternate Ending

Alternate Ending

Submitted by Ace on November 17th, 2012 at 4:07 PM


Upchurch

In a way, it was fitting.

Denard Robinson's Michigan Stadium career did not begin according to script. It started with a fumbled snap, then became something magnificent.

It ended with him unable to throw a football, but still very able to take the Big House's collective breath away.

Robinson trotted out onto the field with the starters not as a quarterback, but as a tailback, taking a handoff from understudy Devin Gardner for three yards. Over the course of the game, he'd accumulate 98 rushing yards on 13 carries and add two receptions—the first of his career—for an additional 24 yards, lining up everywhere from quarterback to wingback to receiver in a 42-17 victory. While it wasn't the ending anyone had hoped for, there was at least still a little of the Denard magic left, especially on a 40-yard run to end the first quarter that featured an ankle-breaking juke of Iowa safety Tanner Miller.

Once again, the star was Gardner, who accounted for six touchdowns—coming on Michigan's first six possessions—with three through the air and three on the ground. Iowa's soft zone defense looked helpless in its attempts to stop the Wolverine passing game; Gardner finished 18-of-23 for 314 yards, three touchdowns, and an interception, with all three scores meeting little Hawkeye resistance. Jeremy Gallon had a career-high 133 receiving yards on five receptions, while Roy Roundtree turned in a second consecutive stellar performance with five catches for 83 yards and a touchdown.

Al Borges used the threat of Gardner and Robinson to give Iowa's defense fits, perhaps giving a glimpse of what's to come in Columbus next week. A triple(!) reverse to Denard unfortunately was called back due to a hold. The threat of a Denard jet sweep opened up a cavernous hole for a Vincent Smith throwback screen, which the senior back took in for a fitting senior day touchdown. The most interesting wrinkle met a most unfortunate end when Fitzgerald Toussaint suffered a gruesome leg injury after taking an option pitch from Robinson.*

The defense gave up a score on Iowa's second drive before stiffening up, allowing just 221 yards in the final three quarters as an endless array of dumpoffs to tight ends and running backs couldn't sustain any real threat. Greg Davis was Greg Davis, Greg Mattison was Greg Mattison, and that went as expected. With Desmond Morgan out with an undisclosed injury, James Ross may have established himself as the weakside linebacker of the future, finishing with 12 tackles (9 solo) while showing advanced instincts and sideline-to-sideline speed.

Aside from the pregame festivities and quarterback-related dramatics, it was a mundane beating of a hapless Iowa squad. That much, at least, went according to plan. And while Denard Robinson's Big House finale may not have had a fairytale ending, there are worse ways to go out than with a few more virtuoso runs and a resounding victory.

Of course, Robinson's story isn't over yet. In Columbus, the stage is set for one final twist.

----------------
*There's no official word on Toussaint's injury except that he's currently undergoing surgery (via Hoke), but the ESPN replays and this photo from Eric—WARNING: GRAPHIC—tell an ugly story. Best wishes for a speedy recovery, Fitz.