Air Force Recap: Remnants Of RichRod

Submitted by Ace on September 8th, 2012 at 7:36 PM

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

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.

Sound familiar?

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.



September 8th, 2012 at 8:17 PM ^

Very fair assessment.  However, I don't think the interior DL was quite as terrible.  We weren't getting gashed up the middle all game.  The perimeter D remains the problem.  Taylor was getting owned all game, except for one play.  I think we were counting on out CBs to get off their blocks for pitch man support.


September 8th, 2012 at 8:19 PM ^

If we don't blow out UMass I will bunker up. The DL could not bring pressure to bear on the backfield, Toussaint and the other non-Denard backs are useless, and the OL is thin.


September 8th, 2012 at 8:21 PM ^

As I kept spamming on twitter and posting about in the liveblog -- Air Force looked like they were illegally blocking our downfield defenders on most all plays -- as of this year, receivers are no longer allowed to block below the waist, and Air Force did that extensively.

no joke its hoke

September 8th, 2012 at 8:28 PM ^

i get some of the doom and gloom around here but look at the rest of the Big Ten. Its not any better then us. Ohio looks average on their oline and tailback. lets hold off and see where this team is in 5 weeks.


September 8th, 2012 at 8:59 PM ^

The Big Ten is weak.

We looked terrible at the beginning of last season.

Denard is Denard.

Lets not get our panties all in a bunch quite yet



Also, the HAIL program is not going to work for football. I got to the game 20 minutes early and tried to check in. The app was "trying to find my location" for 20 minutes before I said screw it since the app would now report me as arriving late.

snarling wolverine

September 8th, 2012 at 8:48 PM ^

What happened to Demens?  Was he injured or just benched?  

I'm not sure what to make of the defense - it was an extremely young lineup today and AFA is a weird team to defend.  But the OL was worrisome.


September 8th, 2012 at 8:50 PM ^

I'm nort a big x's and o's guy... But what is wrong with Kovacs??? He looks super slow, super weak in getting off blocks, and not the flat out awesome tackler thatnhe's been in the past. Am i wrong? Offenses don't do special things to mitigate an especially good safety do they?


September 8th, 2012 at 8:52 PM ^

Denard did have a great game against Air Force, when compared to the Alabama blowout......but the major thing that baffels me is "why is Denard throwing the ball when we could easily get a ten yard run." I understand that they want him to use his arm, but why???? If being one-demensional works why not continue to attack that way??? ( I am probably completly wrong, but the amount of running room that was available for him should have made the score at least 45-25.) .....just venting. My love for Michigan exceeds my football intellegence. It surprised me how difficult if was for our defense to handle the triple-option. With technique being the main focus all year, they sure lacked in that department especially when it came to positioning and tackling. Hip control and angles seem to be the the overall biggest struggle. I sure hope there is a brighter side to this season......Its hard for me not to glance into the future....... Shane Morris.... Love you Denard.


September 8th, 2012 at 8:58 PM ^

RE: Denard not running more.

You said one of them. They want him to get reps throwing the ball. The run-first attack will not necessarily work against better teams. Also, the more you run Denard, the greater the chance of injury. He's just not built like an RB, and if he goes down, Michigan is looking down the barrel of a .500 season.


September 8th, 2012 at 11:59 PM ^

I'll add one more -- "You run for yards, you throw for miles."

That's what Al Borges says.  He wants Michigan to be a potent passing offense. 

Frankly, I was surprised he had Robinson come out in designed run so much so early ... it was almost as if Borges was trying to quiet the critics.  Or he realized that he has to restore a bit of Robinson's confidence, and letting him gallop is the way to do it.

Then back to the passing.


September 8th, 2012 at 9:30 PM ^

Um, no. I'd put Woodson over Denard easily. Denard is fast and a great runner, but Woodson was a player with no flaws.  Athletically he was superior to Denard due to leaping ability and physical strength. Woodson's impact was immense on both sides of the ball


Then we have Tyrone Wheatley who was just as fast as Denard, but bigger and stronger.

Then we have AC, who was amazing in his own right.


Denard is up there, but most spectacular ever? I can't say that.


September 9th, 2012 at 12:35 AM ^

... it's Anthony Carter, no question.  Desmond Howard and Butch Woolfolk are honorable mention with Woodson, Wheatley and Denard.

Non-personal observation ... we had this guy playing for us a while back - you might remember his name?  Tom Harmon?  Only wearer of the winged helmet to get a standing ovation in our arch-rival's stadium?

We are fortunate to have Denard - few others have anything remotely like him, but let's not go overboard.



One Inch Woody…

September 8th, 2012 at 8:57 PM ^

"as Fitzgerald Toussaint found little room to run—seven yards on eight carries, to be exact."

keyword: EIGHT carries.

A running back takes some time to find the holes and burst through them. It's not a matter of getting a push. Denard's running should give more than enough evidence about getting a push. The problem is with vision. Fitz will get his vision with more practice. But if you give Denard 25 carries and Fitz 8, there is no question that Denard will be the one with better vision than Fitz at the end of the day.

Something to be really happy about is the fact that Denard took the time to go through 2 or 3 reads before passing the ball a lot of the time. His passes were more or less on target. I don't know why they seemed late to some people - watching from the stadium he went through his progressions at an adequate pace.

Blue Durham

September 8th, 2012 at 9:50 PM ^

explain why Denard, after only 2 carries (and not 25 carries), already outgained Fitz (8 carries) for the entire game.  And teams are keying on Denard, not Fitz.

The OL run blocking is pretty poor.  Denard is still able to get his yards (usually from breaking through to the second level and beyond), something virtually no one else would be able to do.


September 8th, 2012 at 9:13 PM ^


Key this game was our linemen and those jihadi gents are still recuperating, physically and mentally, from having been hammered by MubarakAlabamaNFL secret police torture sessions with video dropped off at their family doorsteps.  
At least give our kids' bodies a real chance to heal before drawing conclusions.  
Also, hat tip to Air Force given what they achieved today; in a few years those tiny white bodies may be called upon to perform "tarakan" again without much notice:…

coastal blue

September 8th, 2012 at 9:16 PM ^

A few things:

1. We've had three coaches in six years. Rodriguez probably had 1.5 years of recruiting where he wasn't recruiting with the threat of losing his job over his head. Hoke took over the 2011 recruiting without much fanfare as a big name and in a toxic environment. I'm not surprised by our lack of depth. 

2. I love Michigan fans. After Denard threw that incompletion third down to Devin Gardner (which should have been caught) there was talk on the liveblog along the lines of "can't wait for Morris". First of all, that was a completely catchable ball. Second, shit like that happens. Look at Brady in the Super Bowl last year on that pass to a wide open Welker. Third, the guy just put up 400 yards of total offense and you're calling for his replacement? Idiots. 

3. Going back to #1, this season actually provides us with a huge opportunity going forward. So many of our young guys are going to improve much more than they would have had we HAD the depth we need that it can only be a good thing looking towards next season. Guys like Ross, Bolden, Funchess, etc. will look shaky this year, but should stymie the demise a lot of people have been predicting for next year. 

4. Despite our flawed team, we are still totally capable of winning the Big Ten and going to the Rose Bowl this year. We haven't looked good, but really, who has? Wisconsin just lost to Oregon State and put up 7 points. Michigan State looked wildly mediocre against a completely rebuilt Boise team. Nebraska is in a dogfight right now with an average UCLA team. Ohio couldn't even breathe easy against UCF. Assuming we beat the teams we should, I think if we can go 2-1 against Ohio, Nebraska and MSU, we should be fine. 

5. I would really like to see more of Norfleet. If our lack of RB production continues, I hope Borges gives him a few carries. 

We got a win today against a unique opponent. It wasn't pretty, but this is a team that has scared a lot of good teams over the years. And its always better than the Appy State/Toledo alternative. 


September 8th, 2012 at 9:26 PM ^

C'mon, Ace.  It sounds like you are saying that whenever Michigan does bad, it's RR's fault, 20 months after he was fired.  Conversely, whenever Michigan does well, it's because of Hoke.  

The quality of your work here has been far too good for you to stoop to such a level of incompetence.  Besides, if you bitch about RR, you will cause a group of lemmings to do the same, and this board might as well be RCMB.

You're better than that, Ace.  You work for the blog and you are in a position of influence.  I really wish you wouldn't use it to encourage those who have nothing better to do than to beat a dead horse.

Space Coyote

September 8th, 2012 at 10:11 PM ^

It felt like a game during the RR era. Out scoring teams. Not really stomping the other teams or dominating in any real way. Never feeling comfortable. A game where everytime it seems like the game can be put away, it isn't, and afterwards your heart feels like it was just sat on by an elephant for three and a half hours. At least that's how I felt during this game. Always very much on edge, very frustrated with the defense, alright with the offense with the knowledge "relying this much on one guy isn't good for the duration of the season". Mostly the defense thing though.


September 9th, 2012 at 11:54 PM ^

and we are still seeing similar results on the field. 

The basic fact of the matter is that no matter who the coach is, it will take time to establish and mature any system or scheme so that it is being tweaked each year for personnel and is not driven by what players are on hand. This is especially true when the scheme being implemented is vastly different than the one it replaces. It was true for R.R. when he came in and is true for Hoke now. He does not have a set of players that can support his scheme effectively. Right now, the scheme is really just trying to make the best out of the current players, their lack of experience, and what are still massive holes in the lineup on both sides of the ball. This isn't anyone's fault, it is just a fact of life transitioning coaches/schemes.

This is a young will be a young team for at least the next three years. 

I hope the more volatile fans out there realize this and don't start jumping all over the coaches again because there is no quick fix. It was a mistake to do it the first time and would be a bigger one to do it again. What the program needs more than anything right now is consistency and stability over the next 5-7 years. 

Having 1-2 great recuiting classes come in will be awesome, but you will still be dealing with a lack of playing experience and a size/strength disparity that no amount of coaching could overcome. Freshman/sophomores vs. Juniors/Seniors is always going to be tough sledding. 

Having 2 more great recruiting classes to follow will back up the initial ones as they go on to be juniors and seniors, providing depth where required and giving playing time only to freshman that really warrant it based on ability, not out of necessity. 

Go ahead 1-2 more recruting classes where a set of players have been playing in the same system for their entire career, with seniors that possesses on-field experience in applying it that they can pass down to the younger players.....then you have a system in place. Don't underestimate the value of a senior leader that has run in a particular scheme for 2-3 years and their ability to convey to younger players the nuances of working within the system as a team, nor the opportunity for a younger player to actually see and learn that for 2 years before stepping on the field.

Hoke/Mattison/Borges should have at least 5 years to get their thing going before anyone begins to even think of judging them.

coastal blue

September 8th, 2012 at 9:43 PM ^

The truth is, some of it is his fault for not winning enough to create an environment that was alluring to recruits or not recruiting with an eye towards the future (Though its gotta be tough to have an eye towards the future when you're not sure if you're gonna be around at the end of each season). 

Some of it is still Carr's fault for the situation his recruiting put Rodriguez in. 

Some of it is the media/fans fault for helping create such a toxic atmosphere.

There's plenty of blame to go around as to why our team is a bit shaky right now. 

The good thing is, we at least seem to be on the right track. 

coastal blue

September 9th, 2012 at 2:34 AM ^

Actually, you monumental idiot, its you who might need to brush up on your reading comprehension. I didn't say you were blaming him for anything now or nor was I referencing Ace's comments, I was referring to your endless bitching and complaining about every little problem with the Michigan program while RR was coach, which you always blamed on him, even if there were plenty of people at fault. Which, because you are a monumental idiot, you didn't seem to understand. 

So I'll explain and hopefully your pathetic, small brain can figure it out this time: 

Tater's blame of Lloyd for every problem is incredibly wrong and in this case makes him seem hypocritical. However, coming from a mentally deficient (which might explain it) Lloyd groupie such as yourself who held an equally absurd opinion about how much at fault RR was, you weren't the one to be calling him out. Thus, you are a massive hypocrite for calling someone out for their illogical opinion due to past action because of the illogical opinions you've held in the past.

By the way, why are you still here? Denard hasn't graduated yet. 

You are the turd in the punch bowl of the Michigan fanbase. 


September 9th, 2012 at 9:10 AM ^

"Actually, my friend, it's you who might need to look again at my informational post. I didn't say you were blaming him for anything now, nor was I referencing Ace's comments, I was referring to your many comments about legitimate problems with the Michigan program while RR was coach, which you attributed to him, even if there were plenty of people at fault. Which, because you are an insightful friend, I was surprised you interpreted as such. 
So I'll explain and hopefully your esteemed discernment will agree: 
Tater's blame of Lloyd for every problem is misguided and in this case appears hypocritical. However, coming from a respected (hi mom!) Lloyd groupie such as yourself who held an unchanging opinion about how much at fault RR was, you weren't the one to be calling him out. Thus, it appears hypocritical for calling someone out for their illogical opinion due to past action because of the reasonable, but in my opinion, flawed opinions you've held in the past.
By the way, I'm glad you're still here! Incidentally, Denard hasn't graduated yet.
You are the vodka in my punch bowl and in that of the greater Michigan fanbase. 
Coastal Blue"

[M-Wolverine is a highly respected poster here, so I thought I'd clean up your post a little. I think it sparkles!]

coastal blue

September 9th, 2012 at 10:24 AM ^

Actually, I'm sure if we'd went straight from Carr to Hoke, I probably wouldn't have a problem with M-Wolverine, because that transition would have fit nicely into his narrow little view of the world.

I'm glad we hired Rodriguez though. We got to see who the real fans are. 

M-Wolverine is a fairweather, hypocritical fan. In his own small way, he was part of the reason 2008-10 was such a miserable experience for the Michigan team and the Michigan fans through his illogical negativity and inability to comprehend the basics of coaching transitions. 

Of course, once Hoke was hired, he took the exact opposite approach, appearing as the fraud that he is. 


coastal blue

September 9th, 2012 at 10:23 AM ^

The illiterate homophobe rises!

Did you change your picture to try and blend in after I shamed you with such ease all those months ago? 

Love you man. I enjoy someone who doesn't give up, even if comes from trying to  succeed at the most basic of tasks (in your case, breathing and typing at the same time).