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The Good, The Bad, The Ugly – Minnesota

November 7, 2012

 

THE GOOD

  • Devin Gardner – Shortly after the Nebraska game after Russell Bellomy’s less than stellar outing, Michigan fans were up in arms, freaking about the future of Michigan football without Denard Robinson (whether that meant this week or next year).  Now some of those same fans are advocating that Devin Gardner should be the starting QB the rest of the year.  I won’t go that far, but on Saturday Gardner proved why he was considered an elite recruit coming out of high school in 2010.  And with apologies to Russell Bellomy, he also took what appeared to be a very shaky post-Denard quarterback situation for Michigan and created a clear path of succession. The stats were promising, especially for a guy who had been playing wide receiver all year.  12-18 for 234 yards and 2 touchdowns, plus an additional 44 yards on the ground and another touchdown.   He wasn’t perfect, throwing an ill-advised interception and taking a couple of bad sacks – but anyone watching this game knows that while Gardner may be an asset at receiver, he was meant to play quarterback.  Yes, it was just Minnesota, but Gardner showed poise, patience, awareness and more importantly, passing skills that you want to see in your quarterback.  And it’s true that his receivers bailed him out on some tough throws – but at the end of the day he got the ball where he needed to.  Denard Robinson is the quarterback this year, and if healthy should continue to be.  But Devin Gardner is the QB of the future.
  • Jake Ryan – You didn’t think that just because I took a couple of weeks off you’d escape me gushing about Jake Ryan, did you?  Listen…it’s not my fault.  He’s the one who went out and had 3 tackles for a loss and 9 tackles total.  He’s the one who seems to be around the ball every play.  He’s the one who has become the face of this defense.  He actually forces me to write about him.  Let’s just leave it at this – Jake Ryan continues to be awesome.
  • Red Zone – If I had been blogging the last couple of weeks, the one point I would’ve been harping on is Michigan’s failures in the Red Zone, but on offense and defense.  Against MSU and Nebraska Michigan’s offense made it to the Red Zone 4 times but came with only field goals in each instance, leaving a total of 16 points on the board in each game.  Saturday, Michigan had 3 Red Zone trips and scored touchdowns on all three – a huge reason they were able to pull away from Minnesota.  On the other side of the ball vs. MSU and Nebraska, the Michigan defense faced 5 Red Zone situations and gave up touchdowns twice and field goals the other times.  Not a bad ratio, but given the offensive struggles, the team needed better from the defense in those instances.   On Saturday, Minnesota made it to the Red Zone four times, but only managed one touchdown and two field goals.  Out of a potential 28 points, Michigan only surrendered 13 – though to be fair Minnesota basically gave away a field goal on a ridiculously stupid fake FG attempt on 4th and 17.  In any case, the Red Zone improvement on both sides of the ball is why this game wasn’t close and is a trend we need to continue.
  • A Running Game – Sometimes it takes desperation in order for teams to deliver.  The sputtering Michigan running game finally got on track on Saturday with 182 total yards with Gardner, Fitz Toussaint, Thomas Rawls and even Jeremy Gallon all contributing.  This wasn’t a world beating performance, but it was a step in the right direction.  A 41 yard run by Toussaint on 4th and 1 may have inflated the stats a bit, but Michigan was able to pick up yards in chunks, especially in the Red Zone thanks to Thomas Rawls.  They won’t have the same success against elite defenses, but as of right now there aren’t any elite defenses left on the schedule.

THE BAD

  • A QB Controversy – No, I’m not advocating in any way that Devin Gardner become our permanent starting QB this year if Denard is healthy.  But I’d be remiss if I didn’t discuss the fiasco in Nebraska.  Now that we’ve seen what Gardner can do with one week of practice I’m pretty confident in saying that Hoke and Borges committed a travesty by not giving him at least one series last week against Nebraska.  After the game, I bought the line that Gardner wasn’t ready because he hadn’t been taking snaps.  Now, I’m not sure how that is possible.  Especially after seeing what Bellomy had that night – how could Gardner have been worse?  I’m willing to give the coaches a pass on making Bellomy the first guy in after Denard went down.  By all accounts Bellomy was great in practice (even out performing Gardner in the spring) and had the skills to give us a chance.  Besides, all things being relatively equal, the idea of Bellomy throwing to Gardner seemed to give us a better chance than Gardner throwing to Bellomy.  The problem is, not all things were equal.  Bellomy may be a practice warrior, and with time, he may even be a “gamer”.  But right now he isn’t.  And more importantly – Devin Gardner is.  Some guys just have that “it” factor, and Gardner has it.  Once it was clear the stage was too big for Bellomy, the coaches should’ve given Gardner a series.  I don’t care if he hadn’t been playing QB all year – he was the #1 backup in 2011.  He couldn’t have forgotten the entire playbook.  With his athleticism, even if they had given him 5-10 plays at the half he could’ve run, it would probably have been an improvement over Bellomy.  I don’t mean to trash Bellomy because I think he was just a victim of a poor coaching decision and put into a very tough situation.  It’s not his fault.  It’s Hoke’s.  And if we end up spending the first weekend in December in Ann Arbor instead of Indianapolis – and worse January 1 in central Florida instead of Pasadena – I hope he apologizes to the team, because I think the Gardner/Bellomy fiasco will end up costing us the Big Ten title.
  • Offensive Line – Part of the success of an offensive line is the ability for the line to come together as a unit throughout the season.  The best lines occur when the sum is greater than the parts.  On paper, this offensive line seems to have a lot of talent Taylor Lewan might be a Top 15 pick in the NFL draft, Ricky Barnum and Patrick Omameh both have several years of experience, and Michael Schofield was a starter at guard last year after switching to tackle.  Unfortunately, something is amiss.  We’re now 9 games into the season, and it’s clear that this year’s offensive line just hasn’t come together the way we had hoped.  From a run blocking standpoint, they just haven’t found a way to consistently open big holes for the backs.  And even when they do, getting to the 2nd and 3rd level to block linebackers and safeties hasn’t occurred with enough frequency.  That’s how you turn 3 yard runs into 15 yard runs.  On the pass protection side, it doesn’t seem like our QBs are under that much duress, but we thankfully have mobile QBs that may mask a deficiency there.  The offensive line did allow for a good offensive performance on Saturday, but watching it play to play you never felt like they were a dominant, or even above average group. 

THE UGLY 

  • Special Teams (sort of) – When you win by 22 on the road with your backup QB, you tend to have to nitpick to label anything as “ugly”.  But there were a couple of issues on special teams worth noting.  The first was a bit of anamoly from this year as punter Will Hagerup, who had been averaging over 46 yards per punt coming into the came only managed 88 yards on 3 punts including two outright shanks.  Hopefully this is just a hiccup in his form that can be fixed before it becomes a long term trend.  The other issue is one that has been troubling for a few weeks – kick returns.  On Saturday Minnesota averaged 25 yards on 5 returns, including a 45 yarder.  Michigan isn’t bad in kick coverage, but it’s not a strength.  And worse, it seems like we’re heading towards a tipping point of an opponent breaking a big return, as Minnesota almost did on Saturday.  
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