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.


Silly Goose

September 8th, 2012 at 7:45 PM ^

I'm still not too worried. So far we've faced the best OL in the country who just manhandled us, and then an OL that attacked your ankles. The rest of the year we won't face anything like these two teams and I think our performance will pick way up. It won't be pretty, but I like our DL against the OL in the Big 10, which look strikingly mediocre. 


September 8th, 2012 at 7:59 PM ^

How can you be optimistic about the DLine heading into Big Ten play?  If they can't get it done vs an oversized Alabama line, or against an undersized Air Force line, who are you expecting them to excel against?  Any team that can run is going to have a huge advantage against Michigan.  In two games there have been zero positive things that've happened on the line.  Expecting them to suddenly become average is a big, big stretch.

I have more questions after this game than I did after Alabama.  The offense is wildly one-dimensional.  The fact the defense is relying on true freshman and our OLine can't generate room for anyone other than Denard (who makes his own room) leaves me very pessimistic heading into ND and beyond.


September 8th, 2012 at 8:17 PM ^

I don't know if you can really call that a positive when we've given up 522 yards on the ground in the last two games.  Hanging your hat on three sacks when you've gotten gashed on the ground might be the definition of blind optimism.  The DLine is clearly a huge problem.  And like I said above, any team that can rush the ball is going to give us big, big problems.

Brown Bear

September 8th, 2012 at 9:20 PM ^

Alabama gashes everybody and air force does too. I'm not saying our d line is going to be stellar but we still have to wait and see. The D line isn't even fully to blame today as a lot of the yardage on runs came on the edge today, a common problem throughout last season.

Blue in Seattle

September 8th, 2012 at 8:16 PM ^

It is One-Denardinal, but Denard was showing at least two dimensions to his game.  Yes his feet out paced his arm, but both were substancial.

What worries me more than the DL is the OL.  The reason people say, "you must be disciplined against the triple option" is because only one mistake out of 11 can look really bad.  10-20 yards bad.  One the failed option runs, it was not the DL, but the LB's and Safeties getting blocked far too often.  I think UFR and Coaches comments are needed to fully explore the defensive deficiencies.

But that offensive line performance was pathetic.  Michigan had the size advantage, but barely held on with pass blocking, and run blocking was pathetic.  Running the slow start Denard Iso was the only successful play, and my first viewing seemed to show the use of two additional blockers just to get that success, some combination of H-Back and Runnign Back just to punch Denard into the second level.  And still he only broke two runs!  My once view memory remembers at least two times Denard was stuffed for less than three, and then there was the lump of adequate 5-10 yard reliable gains.  Gains that no other running back demonstrated.  Offensive Line was horrible against an inferior opponent!

I of course have no quantifications, mostly because I haven't watched anything but two games, but considering Alabama didn't have to sell out to the run to the same degree as Air Force, I think I understand why Borges called pass first on Alabama instead of just pound Denard into the Alabama DL.

I mean, cripes!



September 8th, 2012 at 8:49 PM ^

because the kneels in the victory formation count as "team rushes", so they count against the total yardage figure but not Denard's rushing stats. Denard/the team took three knees for -11 yards. And then Toussaint had 8 rushes for 7 yards. So that accounts for the bizarre 101% figure. Still, it shows how much we rely on him for offensive production.


September 8th, 2012 at 8:23 PM ^

One-Denardinal.  I like it.  And yes, Denard is fantastic at what he does, and looks better in the passing game than last year.  But its really dicey to have your entire offense so reliant on just one player.  God forbid he goes out for any period of time, because this offense -- from what we've seen so far -- is really going to struggle.  The fact Fitz had 7 yards on 8 carries is easily the most troubling stat in this game.


September 9th, 2012 at 12:19 AM ^

The problems with the d-line has lasted for two weeks against to vastly different fronts. Alabama is some what understandable but AirForce???  The simple fact is that we get absolutly no push. That is a a very destressing problem.

The one positive factor is that our freshman tightend stepped up and played some ball! It is also exciting to see Garder get some touches!

We will only get better or worse... Cannot stay the same.



September 8th, 2012 at 8:36 PM ^

I doubt Alabama planned for WKU as much as they did Michigan and I'm willing to bet that they called the dogs off much sooner as well. They weren't playing WKU in prime time and trying to make as big of a statement as possible to the voters.


September 8th, 2012 at 8:40 PM ^

The biggest problem with the defense is up front. And seeing as 3 of 4 starters were replaced since last year, I would consider them to be lacking in experience, not talent. Also, you must not know much about our coaching staff to even suggest that the the defensive linemen are being poorly coached.


September 8th, 2012 at 7:45 PM ^

I'm just glad that game is over.  The defense had no idea how to handle that option attack.  The plays that they did stop seemed to be more about poor offensive execution than defense playmaking.


September 8th, 2012 at 10:29 PM ^

Two of the early drives, maybe even the first two (?) were only stopped because they had penalties they couldn't get past in three downs (1st and 15's), otherwise they probably would've been touchdowns. It's possible to say they very well may have won if it weren't for those penalties.


September 8th, 2012 at 7:48 PM ^

we had questions about the dline. my issue is with the oline. one play, we ran a trap with fitz getting the ball. omameh pulled and blocked air. fitz was swallowed for no gain. it is not good when they can't get a push on a dline that small. denards runs were more him making 60 yards out of a play that should have been 4.

great job by the freshman. i wish pipkins played more because will did nothing.


Brown Bear

September 8th, 2012 at 7:58 PM ^

That sentence made me really happy. We can has pass catching tight end threat! Funchess looked great and the freshman LB's show promise and since they've already burned their redshirts what the hell lets get them more game reps. Will only help us down the line and next year.
With the struggles on the offensive line I wonder if we will see Kalis sooner than later, Hoke has said the best players are going to play and the current starters need to step up. It was an ugly win but it's a win and two or three years ago we lose this game.