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The Good, The Bad, The Ugly – Western Michigan

September 7, 2011

THE GOOD

Offense – When an offense only scores 20 points, it wouldn’t be described as “good” under most circumstances, and certainly not from this blog.  But given the limited opportunities the offense had with the ball, the 2011 offense actually got off to a pretty solid start.  And its pretty clear that any concerns about Al Borges trying to mold Denard Robinson into his visions of what an offense should be are ludicrous.  Denard had plenty of chances to run the ball and outside of when we lined up under center, the majority of the offense looked very similar to last year’s record-setting offense.  Unfortunately, thanks to two defensive touchdowns and a shortened game, the Michigan offense only had 7 possessions during the game to show its stuff.  One of those drives was a 3 play drive in what appeared to be sideways rain, and the other was a kneeldown before the half.  In reality, that left Michigan with 5 possessions during the game.  But the good news is that Michigan took 3 of those drives for touchdowns, showing both the ability to grind out a long drive (16 plays, 76 yards) and score quickly (4 plays, 87 yards).  And the final drive before the game was stopped for weather also seemed to be heading towards the end zone.  The vaunted rushing attack from last year kept right on track to the tune of 190 yards, highlighted by two long runs by Fitzgerald Toussaint and Michael Shaw, as well as a couple of ooh and ahh scampers from Denard Robinson.  Robinson didn’t have the opportunity or need to throw the ball that often, but when he did he was effective, connecting on 9 of 13 passes for 98 yards.  Perhaps the most impressive stat was that Michigan averaged 8.5 yards on 1st down, which led to several 2nd and 3rd and shorts that they easily converted.  Although the performance felt incomplete due to the limited opportunities, it was a very solid debut for the new offense.

Greg Mattison – While the offense got off to an excellent start, the defense got off to a predictably shaky start.  But unlike the last three years, there was significant evidence of improvement, coaching, and scheming as the game went on.  While there were some great individual plays that helped out the defense, there is no question that Greg Mattison’s gameplan and adjustments played a huge role as the game went on.  While Michigan failed to generate much of a pass rush early on, Mattison made several adjustments to his blitz packages as the game went on that ended up with Broncos quarterback Alex Carder on his back for much of the 2nd half.  What I enjoyed most were certain instances where it appeared that Mattison and the defense baited Carder into thinking the defense was coming from one direction based on previous plays, and brought the blitz from a different direction.  While that might have occurred in years past, it certainly wasn’t successful as it was on Saturday. There were still plenty of mistakes and improvements to be made, but for the first time in a long time, it was great to see a Michigan defense that got stronger as the game went on.

Brandon Herron – The truth is, Brandon Herron didn’t have a spectacular game from play to play.  But when you set records for longest interception return in Michigan history (94 yards) and most defensive touchdown returns in a game (2), you get a well deserved shoutout under The Good.  And for once the speed and athleticism that Rich Rod cultivated was on display as Herron showed impressive speed on both returns.

Jordan Kovacs – But if you’re looking for the defensive player of the game, he was lined up at strong safety and was wearing #32.  If you’ve bothered to spend time on any of the Michigan message boards in the last 12 months, one of the chief complaints has been how a school like Michigan could have a sophomore walk-on with average athleticism starting at strong safety.  Even after Jordan Kovacs led the team in tackles last year, most expected a more athletic underclassmen to surpass him on the depth chart.  When none did, it caused much consternation among Michigan fans on the internet.  After Saturday’s performance, hopefully some of those skeptics will go back into hiding, because its clear that all Jordan Kovacs does is MAKE PLAYS.   While Brandon Herron may have been the star of the game by scoring two defensive touchdowns, neither would have probably occurred without Kovacs. On Western’s 2nd drive of the game, right before Herron brought back the interception for a touchdown, Kovacs had two tackles that saved likely touchdowns.  Later, in the span of 5 plays in the 2nd half, Kovacs recorded a sack with a forced fumble which Herron again scooped up for a touchdown return, a tackle, another sack, and a pass breakup.  People better get used to me saying it, because you’re going to hear it a lot this year.  ALL JORDAN KOVACS DOES IS MAKE PLAYS!

Jake Ryan – For what seems like the last decade, Ohio State always seemed to end up with at least one young linebacker/defensive end phenom who wreaks havoc wherever he lined up.  AJ Hawk, James Laurinitis, Bobby Carpenter and Marcus Freeman all seemed to start from day one, and were a nuisance for what seemed like eternity.  And for years I always wondered why Michigan couldn’t find a young impact linebacker/defensive end like that.  I know its only been one game, but Jake Ryan may be that guy.  Ryan made the play of the game by forcing the tipped pass that Brandon Herron brought back for a touchdown, but he didn’t stop there.  Though he only registered one tackle, the redshirt freshman was a big part of Michgian’s ability to get pressure on the QB throughout the game.   The native of Westlake, Ohio played like a guy I’d expect to see in Scarlet and Gray – I’m going to enjoy seeing him in Maize and Blue for the next 4 years and I hope that OSU hates playing against him just as much.

Red Zone Defense – One of the weakest aspects of our comically inept defense in 2010 was our inability to tighten up in the red zone and keep opponents from the end zone.  When teams penetrated beyond the 20 yard line, we often seemed to roll over and just give up the end zone.  Saturday is just a small sample size, but hopefully its a harbinger of things to come.  Western Michigan took 4 drives inside our 20 yard line, and only came away with 10 points.  Twice the defense tightened and forced a field goal attempt, and once they created a turnover.  Good defenses keep the other team from scoring, no matter what it takes.  We’re a long way from being a good defense, but keeping teams from touchdowns in the red zone is a step in the right direction.

THE BAD

Between the 20’s Defense – While the red zone defense was a good surprise, the defense between the 20’s struggled mightily.  On 4 of WMU’s first 5 drives, they drove the ball 30+ yards before the defense tightened.  I’ll still argue our adjustments and skill kept those strong starts from turning into points, but there is an argument that we were a little lucky to force one turnover and have WMU miss a field goal.  The ability to force 3 and Outs is the second component of a championship defense; and we only forced 2 of those on Saturday.  The defense was starting to find its groove before the cancellation, so there may have been more as the game wore on.  Ideally though, you’d like to see some dominance early and often in order to set the tone for the game.  The good news is that it wasn’t the epic disaster from last year.  The bad news is that we’re still a ways from a championship defense.

Limited Reps – There’s a lot to like about the abbreviated game.  We got a win without showing Notre Dame too much.  We didn’t suffer any injuries.  And our young guys got a taste of what its like to play in the Big House.  The downside to losing the 4th quarter of play is that teams often depend on blowouts like these to get repetitions for young players.  And in the early part of the season, there is plenty of things to work on for the starters, especially with a new offensive and defensive scheme. I’m sure that both Greg Mattison and Al Borges had things they wanted to try with their starters to use as teaching moments and wish they had gotten to play that 4th quarter. 

THE UGLY

Weather – To be fair, I watched this game from the friendly confines of a bar in New York City.  When there was a weather delay, the only repercussion I felt was tracking down the waitress to order more beer.  But for those in attendance, the weather appeared to be both awful and dangerous.  Sideways rain, wind, and lightning are not my idea of a fun football game.  It was pretty ugly, and I’m glad that the referees and Dave Brandon had the sense to send everyone home before someone got hurt.

Special Teams – There were no disasters on special teams on Saturday, but many of my preseason fears regarding our deficiencies were confirmed.  Our kickoff unit was abysmal, with Western averaging over 31 yards per kickoff return.  Our punting was better, as Matt Wile averaged 41 yards per punt while stepping in for suspended Will Hagerup.  His punts were adequate, but there was still a dropoff from what Hagerup is capable of.  We didn’t get the chance to attempt a field goal, but we still managed to botch an extra point attempt – and several of Brendan Gibbons other kicks looked blockable.  And finally, our own kickoff returns were pedestrian, only averaging 19 yards – and that included a mental error just before the half when Kelvin Grady brought out a kickoff from 7 yards deep in the end zone.  With so many games in the history of Michigan and Notre Dame coming down to special teams, I’m terrified by the prospect of the same thing occuring on Saturday.  This is still a unit in dire need of some improvement. 

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Kref permalink
    September 8, 2011 12:38 AM

    Well done. U pretty much hit the nail on the head w this one.

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