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The Good, The Bad, The…… – Central Michigan

September 4, 2013

 

The Good

  • MAC Blowouts Can Be Meaningful – Some people will look at this score and say “this is what a Michigan team is supposed to do to a middling team from the Mac”.  And they’d be right.  If you look at Michigan the way you should look at Michigan (as an elite program), then Michigan should win comfortably.  But in recent years, we haven’t.  There have been losses (thanks RichRod), close games (thanks Lloyd), and ugliness in recent years versus the MAC.  Some of that is because the MAC has been better, but most of that is because Michigan hasn’t been the “Michigan” we’ve always known.  So it felt good to prey on a weaker program and do what we’re supposed to – blow them out.  There are several reasons to play a school like CMU including easing your team into the season and building confidence with a win, getting extensive playing time for your reserves, and working out the kinks before you play a big time opponent.  Check, check, and check.  Had we not done those things, it would’ve raised some red flags about our long term success this year.  You don’t find out how good you are when you play these games, but sometimes you find out that you aren’t very good.  We know we’re good, we just don’t know how good yet. 
  • Making Bo Proud  – All throughout the offseason we were told by Al Borges that we’d see a return to power football, and so we all expected Michigan to line up in the Power I formation and run off tackle 5 straight times.  Instead, Devin Gardner started in the shotgun and the pistol, leaving us all to wonder if Al Borges had been trolling us the whole spring and summer.  But eventually we found our “Michigan” roots, lining up under center and pounding the ball.  We didn’t do it as convincingly as we needed at some points, but we still managed to rush for 242 yards on 47 carries.  More importantly, we had 8 different players carry the ball, which means there is some depth at the position.  Yes some people are going to lament the fact that we didn’t get a good enough push in the middle and nobody ran for over 100 yards, but with the big lead, this game played out in an odd way from a participation standpoint.  For now, we can be happy that we lined up with two tight ends, a running back and a fullback and tried to move the chains 3 yards at a time. 
  • Chess > Rock, Paper Scissors – When RichRod and his rotating American Idol defensive coordinators were in Ann Arbor, several writers in the blogosphere equated the defensive playcalling to a glorified game of Rock Paper Scissors, where we were blindly throwing something and hoping it worked.  Thankfully, those days are gone.  With Greg Mattison at the helm, we’ve moved on to chess, and Greg Mattison is more Kasparov than he even he lets on.  This was on display on Saturday on the play that resulted in Raymon Taylor’s interception in what became the proverbial nail in the coffin for CMU (though you could argue that happened right after the blocked punt).  As Glen Mason eloquently explained, all game Michigan had been playing man to man coverage while the blitzed, allowing the CMU QB to read the coverage and throw to the open receiver.  On this play, we still blitzed, but Taylor dropped into a zone, and was in perfect position for the interception.  Is this something all coordinators do?  Of course.  Does Greg Mattison doe it better than others?  Of course.  
  • Extra Special Teams? – As most coaches will remind you, there are three units on a college football team – defense, offense and special teams.  But nobody usually notices special teams unless they do something great or something bad.  Yet a consistent effort on special teams is usually a hallmark of championship teams.  This Michigan team looks to be headed in that direction.  A blocked punt, a made field goal, a booming punt, and several kickoffs out of the end zone all point to a well rounded special teams effort.   Matt Wile, Kenny Allen and to a lesser extent Brendan Gibbons and Dennis Northfleet may not get a ton of publicity this year, but make no mistake that their efforts along with the other players on special teams will be instrumental if Michigan is going to end up in Pasadena.    
  • Dennis Northfleet – Speaking of Northfleet, last week I compared him a little bit to Steve Breaston.  While he may fill some of those same roles, Northfleet actually reminds me more of former running back Clarence Williams.  Williams was small, compact, fast and had a flair for making plays on returns and coming out of the backfield.  That’s what Northfleet is starting to show.  Al Borges is slowly finding ways to work him into the offense in the slot and on reverses, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him on screen plays soon too.  Some kids just have that ability to make big plays, and Northfleet seems like that guy.    
  • Devin Gardner Kool-Aid – Looking at the box score, Gardner’s line wasn’t all that impressive.  10/15 for 162 yards, 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions plus 52 yards on the ground and 2 touchdowns.  Solid, but not spectacular.  But if you watched the game, you saw a QB who has something special.  Yes the two interceptions were bad and can’t happen, but we’re going to chalk that up to first game jitters/kinks.  Otherwise, Gardner looked to be in control.  He made good decisions on when to throw and when to run, looked fantastic on his two rushing touchdowns, and threw several great balls downfield to Gallon and Reynolds in particular.  On the rushing – Gardner will never be as exciting as Denard in that regard.  However, he may actually be more dangerous.  On both of his touchdowns he looked a lot like Vince Young, who seemed to glide down the field rather than run.  Throw in the fact that Devin has a much better arm than VY ever did, and we might have something special.  It’s only one game, and like I said, the stats weren’t all that impressive, but Devin has that “it” factor.  As long as he can improve his decision making, it’s going to be a lot of fun to watch.  And yes, I drank a big serving of Gardner Kool-Aid on Sunday morning. #DGKA
  • Gardner and Gallon Symbiotics – Speaking of Gardner, we heard all fall that he and Gallon had a special connection.  That was clearly on display on Saturday. Gallon only caught 4 balls for 47 yards and 1 TD, but he also had one catch and a TD called back.  Regardless, he was the guy Gardner will be going to as often as possible.  With the exception of the long interception, Gardner put it right where he and Gallon needed the ball to be whenever he targeted him.  I’m not sure we’ll throw enough for them to set any records, but expect several spectacular plays and games from that combo this year.  
  • Sudden Change – If you’ve been following this blog for the last several years, you know that one of my favorite metrics is sudden change.  How does the defense handle itself when the offense puts them in a bad spot.  It’s an important piece in college football because it often dictates momentum for a quarter, a half or even a whole game.  In recent years Michigan has struggled with sudden change, though to be fair the defense always struggled, so maybe it was the sudden change that was the problem.  In any case, on Saturday Michigan faced two sudden change instances.  The first was after the 3rd play from scrimmage with Michigan up 7-0.  Devin Gardner threw an ill-advised pass that resulted in an interception deep in Michigan territory.  The defense came up big, stopping CMU on 3 straight plays and keeping them out of the end zone.  CMU kicked a field goal and any momentum gained was lost.  The second interception thrown by Gardner wasn’t quite as dangerous, but CMU still ended up with the ball at the Michigan 29 yard line.  The defense actually pushed CMU back 10 yards before letting them covert on 3rd and 20.  They still held for a field goal, but it could’ve been zero points.  In both cases, the defense responded well – hopefully something that will continue.  

The Bad

  • Missed Tackles – I can’t tell you how many tackles we missed on Saturday, and since we only gave up 210 yards, it may not feel like a lot.  But they were there and they could be a problem.  It wasn’t like CMU was running all over us, but there were several instances we got to the right position, had CMU wrapped up for a loss or no gain and let them off the hook with poor tackling.  This wasn’t a case of bad tackling leading to scores or first downs, but rather bad tackling turning what might have been 2nd and 12 into 2nd and 6.  That’s a huge difference for the offense and something a better and more experience offense will make you pay for.  A lot of this probably has to do with first game jitters, but its worth keeping an eye on.  
  • Turnovers – Like missed tackles, turnovers are somewhat expected in the first game.  That being said, the first interception Gardner threw cannot happen.  Deep in your own territory with a lead is when you absolutely have to protect the football.  The 2nd interception wasn’t as bad, but still was a risky throw.  These are the types of decisions that Hoke has mentioned that Gardner has to get better at if he wants to be an elite QB.  
  • Injuries – So the only real downer to Saturday was the injury to backup running back Drake Johnson.  Johnson tore his ACL and is out for the year.  In terms of what it means for Michigan may not be much.  Drake was 2nd on the depth chart at running back, but with Toussaint running strong and the freshman Green and Smith behind him, he’s by no means irreplaceable.  That being said, you have to feel for a kid who literally grew up across the street from Michigan Stadium (he went Ann Arbor Pioneer High School) and tears his ACL in his first game after redshirting as a freshman.  Here’s hoping he comes back stronger than ever next year and gets another shot.  

The Ugly

Seriously?  We won 59-9 and had 56 of those three points through 3 quarters and you want me to find something ugly to complain about?  I struggled to find the “bad”.  It was a very good start to the season, no need to rain on the parade as I’m sure there will be time for that.

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