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The Good, The Bad, The Ugly – Nebraska

November 23, 2011

Please excuse the brevity this week.  My wife went into labor Saturday morning, and though my son was nice enough to really decide to come out until after the game was over, I wasn’t 100% focused on the game.  And of course, my usual 2nd viewing of the game went by the wayside this week – so excuse any errors.  I guess my son couldn’t wait another year to see his 1st Michigan vs. Ohio State game!

THE GOOD

  • Denard being Denard – While this wasn’t a Notre Damesque performance by Denard, where he was our entire offensive output, he was still the best player on the field.   Over 260 combined yards and 4 touchdowns are stats I’ll take in any day.  Throw in 11/18 passing, and a great game management, and this is a performance that will win us most games.  Two things that really stood out that made Denard better on Saturday were his willingness to finally run the ball on designed plays when the pass wasn’t there, and his focus on planting his feet before throwing.  I’m most pleased with his willingness to run the ball because it forces the defense to account for Denard even on passing plays, something they had gotten away from.  Denard was just 1 or 2 broken tackles away from a couple of very long runs too.  Only one ill-timed screen pass that was intercepted by Nebraska kept Denard’s day from being perfect. Overall, a very very good day.
  • Fitzgerald Toussaint – I started the season hoping Fitz would contribute, and raised my expectations the last few weeks when he became our feature back.  Now I’m starting to think he has All Conference potential, and his ceiling may be higher than that.   Toussaint picked up 138 yards on 29 carries – his second straight 100+ yard game and 4th of the year.  Fitz continues to show the ability to break tackles and use his speed, and with increased confidence, he’s showcasing his ability to shake and shimmy his way for additional yards.  He’s tough to get a hand on, tough to stay in front of, and tough to take down when you get to him.  As his vision improves, he could easily be a 1500+ yard rusher for Michigan – he’s that talented.
  • Special Teams – While the defensive turnaround will always be the story this year, Michigan has come a long way on special teams as well.  Brady Hoke said Saturday was the first time Michigan played a complete game in all 3 phases of the game, and special teams was a huge part of that.  To begin with,  Brendan Gibbons continued his solid season, making 1/2 FG’s, including a 42 yarder into the wind.  Though he is not automatic, he has convinced me that I no longer need to turn away when he’s kicking – a huge improvement.  Michigan also turned up the heat on the punt coverage with a block (albeit off of a bad snap) and on the kick coverage with a fumble recovery.  Both led to touchdowns – that’s 17 points total that came almost directly from special teams.  Throw in Gibbons additional four extra points, and almost half of our offense came from special teams.  For a unit that was an unmitigated disaster last year, this is a huge improvement.  We still are waiting for the big play on the kickoff or punt return, and our kickoff coverage is still spotty.  But we’re well ahead of last year and are now in a position to use special teams to help us win games.
  • That Old Familiar Feeling – There was something very familiar about Saturday’s win.  It involved solid special teams play, a great running attack, a well managed game by the quarterback, and bone crushing and stifling defense.  It felt like the Michigan football most of us grew up with.   We’ve already talked about the special teams, running attack and QB, but the best of the day had to be the defense.  Though Nebraska was not an offensive juggernaut, they certainly are a talented offensive team.  Yet, Michigan’s defense made them look pedestrian.  It was clear from very early on that much like Illinois, Nebraska was going to need our help through turnovers and blown coverages to score points.  Their only 10 points of the first half came off of a busted coverage 50+ yard touchdown, and a turnover that the defense forced into a very long field goal attempt.  The thing that I really like about this defense is that they don’t need to make a lot of tackles for losses to be effective.  Though they came up with 6 TFL’s on Saturday, they contained Nebraska by stopping them at the line of scrimmage, and forcing a running team into lots of 3rd and long.  Michigan controlled the line of scrimmage through great play by Van Bergen and Martin, and allowed guys like Jordan Kovacs and Kenny Demens clean up the mess.  260 total yards, 3/13 on 3rd down, 3 turnovers, and only 17 points – not exactly what Nebraska had in mind.  And the scary thing for the Big Ten is that it only took Greg Mattison 11 games to get this group to this level.  Imagine what he can do by next year.
  • Jake Ryan For President – Speaking of the future, his name is Jake Ryan.  My mancrush is well documented, but now I’m going to pat my self on the back, because Jake Ryan is turning into a star before our eyes.  Ryan’s hybrid linebacker/defensive end position is an incredibly tough matchup for the offense, because they never know where Ryan is coming from.  Jake finished with 3 tackles, 1/2 a sack, and a forced fumble on Saturday, but he had his nose in almost every big play.  He’s just one of those guys who knows where the action is and finds it.  And he’s only a freshman.  If he stays healthy, he may be one of the best to ever wear the maize and blue.
  • Onward and Upward – Though Michigan’s Big Ten Title hopes officially ended on Saturday, the road to a BCS game opened up a lot more clearly.  If Michigan beats OSU this weekend, we’ll finish with a 10-2 record, and likely be ranked in the Top 14, perhaps higher.  Though Michigan won’t play in the Big Ten title game, most experts are picking Michigan to be selected with one of the at-large selections for the BCS, probably in the Sugar Bowl against Houston – which would be a great opportunity for an 11th win and a BCS game win, something that seemed about as likely as playing a game on Mars at the beginning of this season.  Even with a loss, Michigan is 9-3 and guaranteed a New Year’s Day Bowl game.   But we better not lose!

THE BAD

  • No Big Ten Title – Given the way we throttled Nebraska at home, it absolutely kills me that we lost to Iowa (or MSU for that matter).  We were capable of beating both teams, we just needed to play like it.  That’s part of the maturity process I suppose, but I really wish we had figured it out just a few weeks sooner so we could be playing this weekend for a shot to go to Indianapolis.  That being said, if we beat OSU and head to the Sugar Bowl as outlined above, I really can’t complain.
  • The Fans – Now I wasn’t at the game, so I can only talk about my perceptions from watching on TV.  But from home, the stadium looked like it was far too red, and far too empty for the first Big Ten game ever against Nebraska.  Especially considering that Michigan already had 8 wins and was still in the thick of the Big Ten race.  The student section in particular looked especially empty, but overall it felt like a lethargic crowd.  And given that tickets on Stubhub and outside the stadium before the game were rumored to be as low as $30 apiece, it suggests that the fans just weren’t into the game, or the team.  Maybe it’s because of the noon start, or because it’s the 7th home game of the year, or because of the weather.  But it clearly wasn’t good enough for the Leaders and the Best.  Some people talk about expanding Michigan Stadium to add more seats – but to do that we have to prove there is demand for that.  Not showing up, or showing up casually for a marquee opponent for a team that is over-achieving doesn’t exactly suggest we’re ready for more seating.  It will be interesting to see what happens this weekend against OSU.  Its Thanksgiving, so the students will be out of town (the first time since 2001 that will be the case), and OSU is very average so I don’t expect a lot of Ohioans to travel north.  The game will be a sellout, but don’t expect the atmosphere to be a typical Michigan v. OSU game.  Given the recent history, hopefully the outcome will be better too.

THE UGLY

We won 45-17 against Nebraska and set ourselves up to go to a BCS bowl if we beat OSU.  There is nothing UGLY about it!

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One Comment leave one →
  1. richard permalink
    November 23, 2011 1:03 PM

    First off Andrew, congrats on the birth of your son Max. Talking to your parents yesterday, they can’t wait to get back to New York to see their first grand child.
    Tickets before the game were almost given away. People selling tickets outnumbered people buying tickets by 100 to1, literally. I had 3 additional tickets to sell before the game and could not get ANYTHING for them (and I was not going to sell to anybody in Red).
    Your perceptions of too much red in the crowd and too few students in the stands are right on. This fashionably late thing with the students is very annoying. Also, the crowd was not as fired up as I would have thought. In my opinion Michigan played as good of a game as they have since Lloyd left. If we would not have had the interception and the missplayed punt by Gallon (to turn field position around leading to Nebraska’s first touchdown) it was darn near a perfect game for the boys (men) in blue.

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