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The Good, The Bad, The Ugly – Purdue

November 2, 2011

 

THE GOOD

  • Fitzgerald Toussaint – Since week 1 of the season we’ve been looking to see who would establish himself as the #1 running back in this offense.  Early this season it didn’t look like one would ever emerge.  Saturday, Fitz planted a flag and made a very strong bid to be the starting running back, picking up 175 yards on 20 carries with 2 touchdowns.  Included in that was a highlight reel 59 yard touchdown run that showed off his vision and breakaway speed.  Not only was this his best performance of the season, but it was the best performance by a Michigan running back since Carlos Brown put up 187 against Eastern Michigan in 2009.  Fitz showed toughness, vision, and some breakaway speed.  But most important was his consistency.  While I still expect to see a healthy dose of Vincent Smith situationally, Toussaint is our running back.
  • Fullbacks – One of the biggest reasons Michigan was able to put up 339 yards rushing was the noticeably improved play at the fullback position.  Heading into the bye week, Michigan had used the fullback less and less, and it seemed like we might not see John McColgan or Stephen Hopkins on the field again.  Both Hopkins and McColgan played significant minutes on Saturday, and both looked much better as a lead blocker.  Though Michigan still stalled in a couple of short yardage situations, McColgan and Hopkins’ blocks on several occasions turned 3 yard gains into 10 yard gains.  It seems as though Hopkins has officially taken over the starting fullback job, but both played on Saturday.  Either way, its nice to have a true fullback back in the mix.
  • Good Use of the Bye Week – It’s clear that the coaches had one focus in mind during the bye week, and that was to establish the power running game.  There was clearly a concerted effort to not only run the ball more, but to involve the running backs as much as possible.  After the running backs only got 9 carries against MSU, Fred Jackson went to bat for his position and encouraged Borges and Hoke to give his guys more chances.  Through one week, its looked like the right move.  Michigan was much better running the ball with running backs than they have been all year.  In addition to Fitz, Michael Shaw and Vincent Smith saw success on the ground, especially out of the I formation.  There were still some kinks in the offense, especially near the goal line, but I imagine this is what Brady Hoke and Al Borges envisioned this offense would look like with the ability to run and pass from the spread, as well as in a power formation with a fullback.
  • Mike Martin – I said last week that we needed to see more from Mike Martin, and he delivered in a big way on Saturday.  His safety in the 2nd quarter changed the tone of the game and allowed Michigan to take control.  He also ended up with another sack on his way to 7 tackles.  Beyond that, this was the most active I’ve seen Martin in a while.  He wreaked havoc with the Purdue offensive line, not only commanding a double team, but routinely beating it.  This is the type of disruptive force we know that Martin is capable of.  Hopefully he can sustain it the rest of the season.
  • Young Linebackers – While Martin and the rest of the defensive line were shutting down the Purdue run game and pressuring their QB’s, the freshmen linebackers, Desmond Morgan and Jake Ryan, both looked impressive.  We all know my feelings on Jake, and continued to look the part of a future star.  But the real breakout game on Saturday was from true freshman Desmond Morgan, who got the start at linebacker and delivered a great game.  Morgan had a career high and game high 9 tackles, and showed great ability to make plays moving downfield instead of laterally.  Brady Hoke admitted in his Monday press conference that Morgan may have played earlier but was hampered by a hamstring injury.  With Ryan and Morgan showing promise, our linebacker corps are looking very solid for the next few years.

THE BAD

  • Quarterback Reads – While the passing game wasn’t atrocious on Saturday (10/17 for 196 yards), there were still some awful throws by both Robinson and Gardner that led to bad interceptions.  What’s worse is that both came at inopportune times with Michigan driving.  Robinson’s interception was another case of him making the wrong read, as he had Junior Hemingway wide open at the top of the field, while Kevin Koger was double (and almost triple teamed) in the middle of the field.  The throw was off to boot, and what was a promising drive evaporated in an instant.  On Gardner’s interception, the razzle dazzle resulted in Jeremy Gallon being flanked by two defenders down field.  Though Gardner’s throw could have been completed had it been on time or long enough, it seemed to be a miscommunication or a terrible underthrow, as the only player in the vicinity was a Boilermaker.  Again, this was with Michigan on the move, though it did pin Purdue deep in their own territory.  Though Gardner didn’t throw that much more, when Robinson did it was inconsistent at best.  The good news is that Denard has been much more consistent about stepping into his throws and throwing a good ball.  The bad news is that he’s still making the wrong read the majority of the time.  Much like playing a video game, it seems like he knows which receiver he wants to throw to before the ball is snapped, and if that guy is covered, he throws it anyways.  What’s worse is that many times there is a wide open receiver that Denard is missing, usually on a checkdown. It happened 3-4 times on Saturday, and until Denard stops locking in, it will continue to happen, along with the interceptions.
  • Offensive Line Injuries – As Brady Hoke said in his press conference on Monday, this is maybe the thinnest offensive line he’s ever seen in terms of depth.  With Ricky Barnum day-to-day with a leg injury, we’re already down one starter.  Taylor Lewan was clearly banged up as well on Saturday, having to leave the game on a couple of occasions with a bad knee/ankle.  This is a HUGE concern going forward, because the offensive line does not have enough bodies to compete if we lose one of the starters.  Michael Schofield has filled in for Barnum and Lewan and will continue to do so.  But if both go down, I’m not sure what the answer will be.  With the bye week behind us, my guess is that both Lewan and Barnum will be playing hurt the rest of the year.  That’s just part of the deal in the Big Ten, but it terrifies me for when we play Nebraska and OSU.

THE UGLY

  • Red Zone Offense – For a Michigan team that had prided itself on converting in the red zone, this was a pretty poor performance.  While Michigan did score points on 4 of 5 trips into the red zone, twice they had the ball inside the Purdue 10 yard line and came away with a total of 3 points.  They also settled for a field goal on another trip.  With Michigan leading 19-7, they were forced to kick a 22 yard field goal after they weren’t able to punch it into the end zone just before the end of the first half.  Michigan then took the 2nd half kickoff and drove 66 yards before they were stopped on 4th and Goal from inside the 1.  In both instances poor execution on the line forced Michigan backwards instead of forwards and resulted in less than optimum results.  Again, this wasn’t a disastrous red zone game, as Michigan still got points 80% of the time.  But their optimum performance would have yielded 35 points (5 trips x 7 points) and instead they only came away with 20.  You can’t leave 15 points on the board against a good team and expect to win.  Maybe it’s a little harsh to put this under ugly, but when you’ve got the ball inside the 5 yard line twice against Purdue with a chance to slam the door shut on the game with a touchdown and instead come out with a total of 3 points, its a problem.  Since this has been a strength of the team all year, I’m guessing this is an aberration, not the start of a trend though. 
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