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The Good, The Bad, The Ugly – UMass

September 19, 2012

 

THE GOOD

  • Denard – I know that Denard Robinson will never be labeled a great throwing quarterback, but I’ll keep harping on it all season until he proves me wrong – he’s better than he gets credit for.  Saturday Denard was 16-24 for 291 yards and three TDs in just over 3 quarters of work.  He did everything a QB is expected too – he went through his projections, checked down, led his receivers, and moved the chains.  Yes, there were a couple of bad throws, but those are fewer and farther between then they have been in the past, and more importantly his good throws are no longer just serviceable, but they are a weapon.  And that’s before we’ve even talked about his running.  It was only UMass, but once again Denard broke 100 yards, once again he did it with an average of over 10 yards per carry and once again he made it look effortless.   The best thing I saw out of Denard was my biggest complaint last week – he finally is starting to learn to tuck it and run if he doesn’t see anything open after his initial progressions.  If I’m a defensive coordinator, the fact that we have an offensive line that can pass block and receivers who can get open, I’m having sleep issues.  If the offensive line can continue to give Denard patience, and he continues to be patient himself and not throw bad passes, he actually cannot be stopped.  
  • The Receivers – As solid as Denard was, his receivers helped make him look even better, with significant yardage gains made after the catch.  What looked to be a potential weakness heading into this year may so far be the best unit on the team this year.  Devin Gardner has made the transition to receiver exceptionally well and continues to improve each week.  Devin Funchess is a matchup nightmare for any team without a 6-3 linebacker who can run like a running back, and Drew Dileo, Jeremy Gallon and Roy Roundtree all command respect.  Throw in some additional production from Jerald Robinson and Vincent Smith, and Denard Robinson has plenty of weapons at his disposal.  What I like best about the receivers is that they all bring something different.  Gardner and Funchess are matchup nightmares, Dileo is the perfect slot receiver, and Gallon can get deep or nail a screen pass.  And that’s not even counting Roundtree, who won’t come close to his sophomore year output of 70, but is still a dangerous threat and sure handed receiver.  
  • 30/30/30 Club – When I played high school football, we had something called the 30/30/30 Club.  To be a member of the club, you had to be a player who only got to play when the team was up by 30, down by 30 or there were 30 seconds or less left in the game.  Saturday must’ve felt like the Super Bowl for our 30/30/30 Club, as 69 players saw the field.  It was a great opportunity for some young guys like Safety Jarrod Wilson and Running Back Justice Hayes to get some on-field experience, but it’s also a great chance for the scout team guys to get rewarded for their hard work with some game action.  Nobody completely stood out in their mop-up time, though I will say that defensive tackle Ondre Pipkins is coming along.  Overall though, no injuries and plenty of playing experience for young guys equals a successful cupcake game. 
  • Michigan Running Backs – There was plenty of concern after Michigan’s first two games that the running game wasn’t coming together the way it needed to.  And while it wasn’t stellar, we were able to get some things going on Saturday.  Anytime you put up 300+ yards on the ground, you can consider it a success.  Fitzgerald Toussaint hasn’t quite regained his late season form from a year ago, but 5.7 yards per carry on 15 carries isn’t bad.  As soon as he quits dancing in the backfield and just hits the hole, the closer he’ll be to the 1,000 yard rusher we remember from last year.
  • Vincent Smith – I know that Smith is too small to be our everydown back, and that Toussaint was better last year.  But we need to find other ways to get Vincent involved like we did on Saturday.  He found the end zone on two of his three carries, picked up a screen pass for another 19 yards with a nifty spin move, and overall played with the toughness and heart that we need all Michigan players to play with.  With Toussaint, Norfleet, and Rawls in the mix, Smith’s carries might be limited, but he continues to show why he deserves more of them. 

THE BAD

  • Questions on Defense – After 12 quarters of watching this defense play, I think I’ve finally figured out the issue.  It isn’t lack of talent or poor technique (though improvements in both of those areas might mask this).  The issue is that this defense doesn’t play nasty or tough enough.  They play hard and they don’t give up, but they don’t play with an edge that makes people afraid to play them.  I’m not advocating dirty play, but they need to do a better job of making their hits count.  The best example I saw of how I want the Michigan defense to play was when Thomas Rawls finished off a 3rd quarter run by seeking out the contact and bowling over the UMass linebacker.  That’s what Michigan’s defense needs to do to take it to the next level.  The good news is that last year’s defense had a similar style of play early on before turning into the Top 20 defense they ended up at by the end of the season.    
  • Offensive Line – As good as the offensive line has been at pass blocking, the run blocking still leaves a lot to be desired.  I’m actually pretty comfortable with Taylor Lewan and Elliott Mealer, but the guards Omameh and Barnum and the right tackle Michael Schofield just aren’t getting the job done.  Omameh and Barnum don’t seem to have the ability to pull, and Schofield is a decent tackle, but is probably better suited to guard.  With what is veteran offensive line with only one new full time starter in Mealer, I expected more from this unit.  As they get better, so will our ability to run the ball, control the clock and win ball games.  It has to start this weekend against Notre Dame.  
  • Lack of Turnovers – One ongoing issue for Michigan through 3 games is the lack of forced turnovers.  Last year’s defense forced 29 turnovers, an average of almost 2.5 per game, including 20 fumble recoveries.  This year’s defense has forced a meaningless fumble as time expired in the first half against Alabama and a somewhat meaningless muffed punt recovery in the 4th quarter against UMass.  The ability to force turnovers is something all great defenses do at an above average clip and its something even good defenses do consistently.  The 2011 defense had holes and gave up yards in chunks, but they always found a way to get off the field.  The 2012 defense will probably not be a proficient as last year’s team in turnovers, but they do need to start popping the ball loose and getting their hands on some passes.  

THE UGLY

  • The Pick 6 – I’ve already spent a paragraph or two explaining why I think Denard’s passing is a far cry from what it was the last two years.  So why harp on the interception brought back for a touchdown?  Because it’s the 3-4 throws a game like this that Denard makes that give him a reputation as a bad passer.  When Denard takes his time, sets his feet and follows through, he’s an accurate passer with more than capable arm strength.  On this pass however, he got lazy.  He didn’t put enough zip on it, he underestimated the speed of the UMass safety, and he didn’t properly set his feet.  The result was a somewhat accurate pass that go there too late.  These are the types of passes he MUST eliminate if Michigan is going to win the Big Ten. The pass itself was ugly, because we’ve seen Denard do better.  People compare Denard to Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez, but that’s not fair.  Martinez couldn’t throw it from his front door to the sidewalk on most plays.  Denard can, he just has to be more consistent and eliminate these lazy throws.
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