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The Good, The Bad, The Ugly – Notre Dame

September 16, 2010

It’s Thursday, and I still can’t get over the win on Saturday, and the manner in which it took place.  Maybe its because I’m not especially looking forward to a clash with UMass, but more likely, I’m just amazed at what Shoelace pulled off on Saturday.  A great day to be a Wolverine, that’s for sure. 

THE GREAT

Denard Robinson – While I’m sure the English language includes superlatives to describe Denard Robinson, I’m positive I don’t know how to properly use them.  But here is just a little of what Denard has accomplished in his first two starts as a Michigan QB:

  • In his first start, he set a Michigan record for rushing yards by a quarterback with 197 yards, on his way to 383 yards total yards.  In his second game, on the road, against Notre Dame, he promptly crushed those records, going for 258 yards on the ground, and a preposterous 502 total yards. 
  • Only 4 players have ever won the Walter Camp National Player of the Week award twice in the same season, and none have ever done it in back to back weeks.  Denard Robinson did it in his first two starts. 
  • Down by 3 with just over 3 minutes to go, Denard led a 12 play, 72 yard drive for a TD.  He was 5/6 on the drive for 55 yards and ran for additional 17 yards, including the winning TD.  He did it in his second start.  On the road.  At Notre Dame. 
  • And finally, he has vaulted himself to the top of every Heisman Award Trophy watch list in the country.  I have a feeling this picture is going to start popping up a lot of places:

 

THE GOOD

  • Jonas Mouton – One of the biggest concerns last year besides the horrendous safety play was our linebacking corps.  The switch to the 3-3-5 already improved things by moving Craig Roh from defensive line to “deathbacker”.  But the other significant improvement so far has been from senior Jonas Mouton.  Like David Harris a few years ago, and Stevie Brown last year, the light went on sometime this summer for Jonas.  Saturday, he was all over the field on his way to 13 tackles and an interception that set up our first touchdown.  He also handed out several solid hits.  It’s only two games, but Jonas is positioning him well for the “where the hell did that season come from” award that we seem to hand out every couple of years to a guy many had written off who suddenly steps it up.  I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Obi Ezeh as well.  Obi had a solid start to the season against UConn, and looked good early yesterday.  He’s played well enough to drop the moniker of Shamwow, but he still isn’t the playmaker you need from your MIKE linebacker.  He’s solid, but not disruptive.  I’m not sure he’s going to take the huge leap forward this year, but he’s no longer a full out liability, so I guess that’s something.   
  • Secondary Surprises – For our secondary to grade out at average instead of absolutely horrific, we were going to have to have some unexpected players step up.  While some guys haven’t handled the spotlight as well as one would have hoped (cough cough Cameron Gordon), I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the play of Jordan Kovacs and James Rogers.  In Kovacs case, we all expected that the former walk-on would be bypassed by a scholarship player by this year.  But as it turns out, Kovacs may be too good to keep off the field.  He’s still limited athletically, and lacks top end speed, but he makes up for it with sure tackling, hard hitting, and having a nose for the ball.  It seemed like he was in on every play on Saturday, and ended up with a nice is interception too.  James Rogers is the perfect example of the forgotten player who is rewarded for sticking it out through his career.  Rogers came in as a wide receiver, switched to defense, switched back to offense, and is now a staring cornerback on defense.  In some ways, he’s the average guy – heck, his name even sounds boring and average.  But through two games, he’s been a very solid replacement at corner – he’s not giving up that many big plays, he’s made some nice hits and tackles, and most importantly, you barely know he’s been on the field because you don’t see the ball thrown his way.  If he can keep this up, we may survive this year after all. 
  • Defense – I know it seems a out of place to label the defense as Good when they gave up over 500 yards of offense, but hear me out.  The key to measuring a defense is not always about yards, or even points.  Its about whether or not the played well enough to win.  And on Saturday, they did.  While there were obviously some moments worth forgetting (like Kyle Rudolph outrunning our safety on his way to a 95 yard touchdown), the defense did an excellent job of keeping us in the game while the offense struggled.  Notre Dame had the ball on four straight possessions trailing by only 4 points, and we forced a punt or turnover on all four.  We also held them scoreless for the balance of the first half after their first drive, and most importantly, never let them truly drive the field on us after that initial drive.  Obviously there are ares of concern and things to work on (I’m looking at you Cam Gordon) – but overall, I’m pretty pleased with a defense that held Notre Dame to 17 points through 57 minutes of football.  Full Disclosure – if we end up losing this game 24-21, I guarantee you this would be under The Ugly, and I’d have a voodoo doll of Cameron Gordon being made as we speak. 
  • Offensive Upside – We put up over 500 yards on Saturday and launched a Heisman campaign for a QB – and we still haven’t come close to maxing out on this offense.  Denard has only started two games and is still developing as a passer.  The offensive line features 3 first time full-time starters, the wide receivers are all sophomores and juniors, and we still haven’t found a running back to compliment Shoelace.  I’d say we are humming along at around 75% of what we’re really capable of.  That brings a huge smile to my face, and should terrify our opponents.  If you’re a sourpuss coach whose last name ends in “antonio”, I’d be especially scared. 
  • Patrick Omameh – In general, the offensive line was pretty good, but I wanted to especially praise Omameh.  Against UConn, he struggled.  Against Notre Dame, he did this:

            

             and this:

            

             Just look for #65 bullying Notre Dame’s star linebacker like he’s his little brother 

THE BAD

  • Cameron Gordon – Considering that  by my calculations Cameron Gordon is directly responsible for about 250 of Notre Dame’s yards, and 2 of the touchdowns, its extremely kind of me to place him under The Bad instead of The Ugly.  Extremely kind.  The only reason I’m giving him a break is because A) we won, and B) last year at this time he was a backup wide receiver.  The truth is, Cameron has actually looked decent for most of the first two games.  He’s handed out some solid hits, and has been in position for the most part.  The problem is, as deep safety, his #1 job is to not guys get behind him.  He is literally the last line of defense.  Considering Notre Dame had several long pass plays, including touchdowns of 52 yards and 95 yards, Cam hasn’t quite gotten the memo about it means to be the last line of defense.  Part of me is outraged, but part of me has come to expect this of Michigan safeties, as it has become par for the course.   Cam hasn’t quite approached Stevie Brown territory, but YAC (Yards after Cam) is a stat we may want to start tracking.  It didn’t cost us the game on Saturday, but if it continues much past Massachusetts or Bowling Green, it will. 
  • Special Teams – Usually when a team puts up 535 yards of offense, is +3 in turnover margin, and controls the time of possession for almost 36 minutes, they’ll win comfortably.  So how was this game still so close?  One major reason is that Michigan got its butt kicked in the Special Teams department.  What was so incredible is that every area let us down at some point on Saturday.  The most obvious place is the placekicking department, where Brendan Gibbons misses on relatively routine 43 and 39 yard field goals could have put the game out of reach.  But Gibbons wasn’t the only special teams player who failed to bring his A game.  Punter Will Hagerup spent most of the first half shanking punts and failing to pin Notre Dame inside their 20 when given multiple opportunities to do so.  He improved slightly in the second half, but despite the interceptions, Notre Dame always seemd to have decent field position, except for their second to last possession.  Meanwhile, we were always pinned deep in the shadow of our own goalposts.  Finally, our return game let us down as well, with no significant punt or kick returns.  If we didn’t have an explosive offense, this would be more of a concern – and for the most part I chalk it up to first road game jitters for Gibbons and Hagerup.  Its something to keep an eye on though.  
  • Penalties – I’m going to blame most of this on the referees in a moment, but going from Game 1, where our only penalty was a late hit on an offensive lineman who was blocking to aggressively, to Game 2 where we amassed 8 penalties for 99 yards is a little concerning.  In addition to the refs, I blame being on the road, a young team, and playing a better team overall.  That being said, the penalties seemed to kill every drive in the second half, as 2nd and short often turned into 1st and long.  Or worse, converted 3rd downs were called back because of penalties.  Again, its mostly the fault of the incompetent refs, but if we had avoided some of these penalties, we’d still be singing the praises of Denard Robinson, but a lack minute comeback may not have been necessary. 

THE UGLY

  • Officiating – As always tends to be the case, the “echoes of Notre Dame”, made an impression on the officials this weekend.  Despite being a Big Ten crew, Notre Dame seemed to be on the beneficial end on several calls on Saturday.  The most egregious error was on Notre Dame’s 52 yard touchdown pass, when receiver TJ Jones, in an effort to look cool, did the “uncool” by dropping the ball at the 2 yard line on his way into the end zone.  This was obvious to me in real time, and painfully obvious on slo-mo replay.   I’m not sure what the ref was looking at – perhaps he was mesmerized by the golden helmets, or the crowd distracted him by chanting Rudy, but how he missed this is perplexing.   It probably wouldn’t have mattered, because under the rules, since no Michigan or Notre Dame player picked up the ball, Notre Dame would have been awarded the ball on the 2 yard line, had the refs caught it.  But they didn’t, because they are blind.  Beyond awarding Notre Dame free touchdowns, the refs also managed to do their best to aide Notre Dame by continually calling penalties on Michigan, while neglecting to do so for Notre Dame.  After awhile, they got tired of the standard holding calls, and even threw in some chop blocks, clipping, and personal fouls too.  While I’m sure some were deserved, I can’t remember the last time I saw a team called for clipping and chop blocks in the same game.  And I watch a LOT of football.   We won, so its a little obnoxious to complain about officiating, but I’m just saying….
  • NBC Coverage  – I touched on this briefly in 10 Things To Hate About Notre Dame, but the fact that NBC is in charge of Notre Dame’s games and has a vested interest in their winning those games is actually competitively unfair.  Sometimes this is just something Notre Dame opponents say, but on Saturday we actually saw this inequality in action.  As you may know, the way instant replay works in college football is that the referee in the booth looks at the replay, and if it looks suspect, the buzzes the field to let them know he wants to look at the play more closely.  The only flaw in this is that the referee relies on the television broadcast to play a replay before he can decide if he wants to buzz the field.  If the television network fails to show replay quickly, or even at all, the referee may not be able to buzz the field before the next play occurs – which then makes it impossible to go back and review  a play.  On Saturday, when TJ Jones of Notre Dame clearly dropped the ball on the 2 yard line before running into the end zone, that’s exactly what happened.  NBC showed one replay, after some delay, and by the time they did so, Notre Dame was already lining up for an extra point.  Basically, by being slow on the replay, NBC guaranteed that the play couldn’t be reviewed.  I hate to drop the word conspiracy – but this situation is just asking for NBC to take advantage.  They want/need Notre Dame to be successful to make money back on their television investment, so anything they can do to help win games is something they have a vested interest in.  I’m not saying it was intentionally  done by NBC, but it makes you wonder.  I guarantee this would be getting more attention if the outcome of the game were different.  Just something to consider the next time you’re waiting a little longer than expected for a replay during a Notre Dame game on NBC. 
  • Rainbows – For those of you watching at home, there was a moment late in the 4th quarter where NBC showed a picture of the sky and a rainbow that had formed over Notre Dame stadium.  It was right as Notre Dame took over deep in their own territory trailing us 21-17.  For those of us that believe in symbolism, it was the ugliest, most terrifying rainbow I’ve ever seen.  My thought process went something like this:  Wow, a rainbow, just like the NBC logo, how nice for them.  What a coincidence that NBC is broadcasting a game and there is a rainbow.  Wait, its not a coincidence, NBC is Notre Dame’s football television partner!  And aren’t leprechauns, the Irish mascot, usually found with a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow?!?!  Crap!  We’re screwed!  I’ve watched enough Notre Dame/UM games to know what was coming next.  95 yards later, I wasn’t cursing Cameron Gordon as much as I was cursing rainbows.  Go figure.   
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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Chris Miller permalink
    September 16, 2010 7:39 PM

    I’m not onboard the Robsinson train just yet. If Rich Rod keeps playing him like this either 1) he’s going to get injured or B) as he is more or less our entire offense, our opponents will find a way to shut him down. There’s going to be a lot of tape on him by the time the Big Ten portion of the season starts.

  2. September 16, 2010 11:02 PM

    If he keeps throwing the ball this well, opponents won’t be able to stop him. Load up on the run, and he’ll kill you with the arm. And if you don’t load up on the run, we’ll, you see what happened.

    He won’t get get 500 yards every game, but he’s a very very special player.

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