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The Good, The Bad, The Ugly – Minnesota

October 4, 2011






  • Everything – When you win 58-0, even against a team like Minnesota, you have to do a lot of things right.  You have to move the ball well on offense.  Check.  You have to play stifling defense. Check.  You can’t give up any big plays on special teams.  Check.  You have to force turnovers.  Check.  And you can’t turn the ball over yourself.  Check.  This was easily the most complete Michigan football performance I’ve witnessed in the last 5 years, and probably the most impressive performance in a Big Ten game since we stomped Indiana by the same score in 2000.  With the exception of settling for a couple of field goals when we could have had touchdowns, this was as close to perfect as it gets.
  • Wishbone Package – It seems like every week “Gorgeous” Al Borges opens up the playbook a little bit more.  Last week it was the option look out of the shotgun with Denard.  This week Borges must have wanted to really give Big Ten defensive coordinators ulcers, as he broke out a modified wishbone look with Devin Gardner under center and Denard Robinson lined up in a split pro-set with another  back 6 yards behind Gardner. They ran a handful of plays out of this formation, including a throwback to Gardner, a naked bootleg, and an option look with Denard and running back.  And something tells me that is just the tip of the iceberg.  Trying to defend Denard Robinson as a QB is tough enough, but letting him play running back with another good running QB like Gardner taking the snaps just seems unfair.  Some might wonder why we wouldn’t save this for bigger games, but the goal here was to give our guys the chance to practice the plays in a live game situation and to show a new formation to keep opposing DC’s up a night.  It was a mission accomplished on both fronts. We may not break it out again until a bigger game like MSU, but other teams now have to prepare for it. 
  • Triple Threat – For the first time all year, the story of the game was someone other than Denard Robinson.  Sure Denard accounted for 220 yards and 3 touchdowns, but the player of the game on the offensive side of the ball had to be Vincent Smith.  Smith became the first college football player to run, pass and throw for a touchdown since Clemson’s CJ Spiller did it in 2009.  And he did it in style, with a great screen pass and a halfback pass that was a pretty solid throw.  Smith is just one of those guys who always seems to make the right play.  Whether its blocking, running, catching or now passing, he’s exactly what you want in a football player.
  • Shutout – For most college teams, a shutout is pretty rare.  One fluke touchdown or a late field goal against the 2nd string can ruin it.  For Michigan, the last shutout came against Notre Dame in 2007, and the last Big Ten shutout came in 2001 against Penn State.  And considering where we’ve been in the last 3 years defensively, a shutout was about as likely as a solar eclipse.  Let’s be clear, this Minnesota team is not good.  And that was before they lost their starting QB and had to play a true freshman on the road in Ann Arbor.  But Michigan has played plenty of bad teams in the last 4 years without a shutout.  The Big Ten has had teams as bad as this Minnesota since 2001, and Michigan still gave up points to them.  It takes a special day for the defense, special teams, and offense to pitch a shutout, and Michigan deserves credit for that.
  • Magic of Mattison – Of course the other person who deserves a ton of credit is defensive coordinator Greg Mattison.  What he has done since the spring with this defense is nothing short of miraculous.  Consider this – Michigan has given up 10 total points in the last 3 games.  I think they gave up that many points to Illinois in 30 seconds last year.  And for those that want to argue that the opponents just aren’t that good – chew on this:  In games not against Michigan, WMU, ND, EMU, SDSU and Minnesota averaged a combined total of 144.75 points.  Against Michigan, they scored a combined 51 points.  That’s an average of 18.75 points each below their season average.  What that means is that Michigan is giving up 19 points per game less to their opponents than their opponents defenses have.  Last year we gave up 37 points to FCS UMASS for crying out loud.  And even worse, UMASS  opponents   gave up an average of 24.5 points per game to UMASS.  I’m so thankful I just learned of that stat today, because it would have given me an aneurysm had I known about it last year.  It’s still a long season, but through 5 games, Greg Mattison has turned one of the worst defenses in the country last year into one of the best.  If it keeps up through the rest of the year, he shouldn’t just win the Broyles Award for best assistant coach, we should just elect him President. 
  • Rushing Game  – Last year Michigan had one of the most impressive rushing attacks in the country.  With Denard leading the way, we were able to run on pretty much anyone.  But despite the solid rushing attack, much of it still fell on the shoulders of Denard Robinson.  While Denard has been as good as ever with his feet this year, the rest of the rushing attack has really stepped up.  Saturday it seemed as though Michigan could pick up 5-7 yards whenever it wanted.  In total, Michigan ran for a staggering 363 yards with 6 different players getting 5 or more carries.  The star was Fitzgerald Toussaint, who finally looks healthy and like the back we’ve heard about in practice.  Fitz picked up 112 yards on 11 carries, and almost broke several big runs.  He’s done a great job of running between the tackles and picking up extra yards after first contact.  In addition to Fitz, Michael Shaw and Vincent Smith both were able to move the chains, with Shaw regaining some of that spark we’ve seen from him in years past.  Devin Gardner also had a chance to run with the ball a bit, on both a naked bootleg and a zone read.  Devin isn’t as fast as Denard, but his size and long strides make him almost as effective.  Sometimes it looks like he can pick up a first down in just 3 big steps.  Finally, heralded freshman Thomas Rawls showed why there was talk he was going to be the starter before an early season injury.  Rawls ran hard, fast, and balanced, ping ponging his way to 74 yards in his first real action of the season.  It’s a great luxury to have 5 running options when we need them, each of whom brings something different to the table.
  • Denard the Passer – For the last two weeks, the passing game has fallen under Bad or Ugly, and some were openly questioning whether or not Hoke should consider playing Devin Gardner.  To begin with, that is the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard.  But there were legitimate worries about Denard’s throwing ability in this offense. It’s only one game, but it’s definitely a huge step in the right direction.  In total, Denard finished 15/19 for 169 yards and two touchdowns, including a perfect 11/11 for start.  More importantly, Denard looked comfortable, hitting passes in the short passing game to a variety of targets.   Was it an All-Big Ten performance?  Absolutely not.  But it was good enough to remind opposing defenses that Denard can throw the ball downfield, and if you load up the box to stop him running, you do so at your own peril.


  • Nitpicking –  It’s really hard to find criticism for the performance of the team on Saturday.  As I outlined above, it was an almost flawless game.  Not only did the team play well, but they got the chance to practice some new looks, get Devin Gardner some game experience, and they escaped with what appears to be no injuries.  If I had to nitpick, the kickoff coverage still needs some work, as Minnesota averaged almost 23 yards per kickoff return.  The long return of the day was 34 yards, but if it wasn’t for a holding call, Minnesota would have also had an 80+ yard return for a touchdown, ruining the shutout.  Against a team like Minnesota, the kickoff coverage didn’t matter at all.   If we want to contend for the Big Ten Title – and we can – this is an area that still needs fixing.


  • Chaos in Columbus –  With Michigan throwing the equivalent of a no-hitter on Saturday, there wasn’t anything Ugly to comment about.  So instead we turn our eyes south to Columbus, where things are not looking good.  First, Ohio State’s offense looked awful in a 10-7 loss to MSU on Saturday to drop them to 3-2 on the year.  It prompted defensive back Christian Bryant to tell reporters after the game that ““Defense fought all game. We can’t do anything else. Offense is on scholarship too. Make a couple plays.”  Then, running back Carlos Hyde posted to his Facebook later that night “Not gonna lie, sure do miss Coach Tress”.   Uh oh. When players start making those comments, there is clearly dissention in the ranks.  I’m not sure if OSU Coach Luke Fickell ever “had” this team, but it is clear he is losing them.  But the good news for Fickell is that Monday’s news of additional NCAA violations and suspensions for star players Devier Posey and Boom Herron gave local and national writers much more to write about than Saturday’s performance or Sunday’s comments.  Losing Posey and Herron for more games (however many that is) is a huge blow to the Buckeyes.  They are the best players OSU has on offense, and those that watched Saturday’s game know how desperate OSU is for some playmakers on offense.  In the long run, this is even worse news for OSU, as it is another chink in the ‘this is not a program wide problem’ argument that Athletic Director Gene Smith has been propagating.  OSU has six suspended players, a fired head coach, and a disassociated booster.   Even the Iraqi Defense Minister would have relented and agreed this is a lack of institutional control.  I enjoy Schadenfreude as much as the next guy, but OSU is on its way to no better than 7-5 this year (and probably 6-6), and who knows what kind of off-season chaos.  With Michigan on the upswing, I’d much prefer a strong Ohio State for us to go out and beat, rather than a crippled program.  That being said, they’ve gotten away with their “minor” violations for far too long.  They are in for at least one season of karma taking revenge, and from the looks of it, this may last a little longer than that.
3 Comments leave one →
  1. Kref permalink
    October 5, 2011 12:12 AM

    Ohio sucking is not ugly. It’s a beautiful thing. Go blue!

  2. Brooks Corl permalink
    October 5, 2011 6:27 PM

    How many OSU players come back this week from 5 game suspensions?

    • October 5, 2011 6:39 PM

      OSU will get back offensive lineman Mike Adams and defensive lineman Solomon Thomas this week. Thomas is a backup, Adams will probably start. Its certainly not the boost they were expecting by getting Herron and Posey back.

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