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The Good, The Bad, The Ugly- Notre Dame

September 10, 2013

Devin Notre Dame

The Good

  • KOOL-AID!!!!! – With all the pomp and circumstance occurring in the Big House, I’m mildly surprised Dave Brandon didn’t arrange for a giant blue version of the Kool-Aid Man to come running through a wall in the North End zone in honor of Devin Gardner.  Though to be fair, Dave Brandon may not be aware of how much Gardner Kool-Aid I’ve been consuming.  On Saturday between the hours of 8 PM and midnight I consumed more DGKA than most frat boys consumed in beer in the 4 hours leading up to the game.  How good was Devin Gardner on Saturday?  He was Heisman Trophy winning good.  21/33 for 294 yards and 3 touchdowns in the air and 82 yards and one touchdown on the ground are stellar numbers.   Even better, despite one bad throw (more on that later), he was at his best when he had to be.  Four trips to the red zone resulted in four touchdowns, including a 10 play, 75 yard drive that ate up 5 minutes to salt the game away late in the 4th quarter.   Gardner was explosive, commanding, poised (mostly), and decisive.  Yes, I may still be drunk on #DGKA from Saturday night, but considering Devin exchanged tweets with the CEO of Twitter and fellow Michigan alum Dick Costolo (@dickc) after the game, I’m clearly not the only one.  
  • Jeremy Gallon – It would be unfair to talk about Devin without mentioning his #1 receiving option and right now the best receiver in the Big Ten, Jeremy Gallon.  Gallon was downright studly on Saturday, hauling in 8 receptions for a ridiculous 184 yards and 3 touchdowns.  His SportsCenter Top 10 61 yard touchdown to start off the scoring fest was highlighted by Gallon breaking the tackles of no less than 3 Irish defenders on his way to the end zone.  But Gallon didn’t stop there, making timely catches all game long, and proving that the offseason talk about the Gardner and Gallon connection wasn’t just wishful thinking.  Michigan probably has to go back to Chad Henne and Braylon Edwards, and maybe even Elvis Grbac and Desmond Howard to find a duo this much in sync.  I’m not sure Gallon will end up as a Top 5 NFL draft pick like Howard or Edwards, but he’s on his way to an All-Conference selection if this keeps up.  
  • Blake Countess – Though the defense wasn’t as good as some would’ve liked on Saturday, one player did stand out.  For anyone worried whether Blake Countess had fully recovered from his ACL injury last year, I think we can finally put that concern to rest.  Countess’ array of talents were on full display Saturday, finishing with six tackles and two timely interceptions.  The first interception allowed Michigan to build a 14 point halftime lead, and the second sealed the game.  Some guys just have a knack for the ball, and Countess is one of those guys.  Given Greg Mattison’s focus on playing soft man coverage to protect against the big play, there won’t be a lot of pass breakups or big hits coming from guys like Countess, but he was very good on Saturday and clearly stood out as a potentially elite corner.  
  • Fitzgerald Toussaint – On paper, it may appear that Toussaint only had an average game.  22 carries for 71 yards and a single catch for 31 yards aren’t anything to write home about.  But if you watched the game, you know that Toussaint was a key piece to Michigan winning because of how timely his big plays were.  Fitz’s 31 yard catch and a 22 yard scamper both came on the last scoring drive of the game for Michigan, when Notre Dame seemed to have seized some momentum.  He accounted for 53 of Michigan’s 75 yards on the nail in the coffin drive.  Additionally Toussaint had two carries that led the first downs that immediately preceded touchdown throws from Gardner to Gallon.  Though he didn’t reach the end zone, he was the setup man who Michigan relied on to pickup some tough yards and keep the ND defense honest enough to respect the run.  The stats weren’t great, but the contribution was.   
  • PhD in GameDay Experience – In case you haven’t noticed, there is a transformation taking place in Ann Arbor, especially when it comes to Michigan football.  Yes, the product on the field is clearly headed in the right direction, but Michigan is also turning itself into the hottest program in the land, and nights like Saturday night are a big part of why that is so.   I can’t imagine that any program in the country has a better big game experience than Michigan does right now.  It’s clear that Dave Brandon and the athletic department are determined to turn Under the Lights into the premier college football event of the year by pulling out all the stops.  For those not at the game, Saturday’s event included the following: The handing out of 85K LED bracelets to the crowd to be used in a halftime show, a pregame ceremony honoring Michigan legend Tom Harmon that featured Hall of Fame Broadcaster Keith Jackson narrating and the appearance of Tom’s son Mark who is the star of a national tv show; one of the most ridiculous flyovers I’ve ever seen from the Black Diamonds; honoring the volleyball Final Four team; honoring the Basketball Final Four team with appearances by NBA first round draft picks Tim Hardaway and Trey Burke; a halftime show fit for a Super Bowl  complete with expensive light effects and a shoutout from one of the biggest music stars in the world, Beyonce; a cameo appearance on air by Eminem who was in attendance; jumbotron appearances by Desmond Howard, Anthony Carter and Cazzie Russell; sightings of Braylon Edwards, Mike Hart, Chris Perry, Jalen Rose, Dhani Jones, Olympic figure skater Sasha Cohen, and Hall of Fame baseball player Fred McGriff among other athletes and celebs who were in attendance; and to cap it all off there was a perfectly timed playing of the Chicken Dance after the game was over to mock Notre Dame in the Big House one last time.   There may have been some hiccups along the way, but the entire experience, from start to finish, was top notch.  We may never match the instant gratification and euphoria from Under the Lights I due to the way the game ended, but if this is what we can expect from Under the Lights going forward, the tickets will be worth every penny.
  • One More Things About Halftime – I’ve attended approximately 100 college football games in my life, including a Rose Bowl and the Kickoff Classic last year in Dallas.  With the possible exception of the Rose Bowl, none of those games have been in the stratosphere as the halftime show that was put on for Saturday.  There were a lot of cool things to like about Saturday that I’ve outlined above.  But other schools have former players come back to be honored, other schools honor other successful teams, other schools hand out pom poms and have military flyovers.  I know that there is no other school in the country that is getting shoutouts from arguably one of the biggest and most popular recording artists in the world prior to the caliber of halftime laser light show/musical performance that we were treated to.  It was a “wow” moment and one that not only other schools and fans took notice of, but recruits too.   If you missed it, you can catch it here:   

The Bad

  • The Front Four – One thing I noticed while looking through the box score and play by play was the distinct lack of long down and distances the Irish were  forced into.  In fact, only 4 times did the Irish face 3rd and longer than 7 and only twice did they face 2nd and longer than 10.  That the tells me is that the front four, and to a lesser extent the front seven of the defense wasn’t very disruptive.  Now part of that is by design by Greg Mattison, who rarely blitzed or applied pressure, opting instead to force Notre Dame to drive the field.  But it was clear Michigan was missing a disruptive force who could force losses for 2-3 yards on 1st down and put the offense in uncomfortable position.  Frank Clark looked great on the first two plays of the game, but basically disappeared after that Brennen Beyer picked up a late sack.  Otherwise, the front four was relatively quiet.  I’m not just saying this because I’m obligated by my Jake Ryan Fan Club membership, but we need him back or we need another defensive player to step  up.  Good defenses keep other teams from scoring.  Great defenses have the ability to create problems for the offense that effect turnovers and field position.  As of right now, we need Jake Ryan or another disruptor to step up in order to be great.   I hate to call the front four “bad” because they weren’t.  They just haven’t lived up to expectations yet.  
  • Interior Offensive Line – One of the things I was disappointed with again was the interior offensive line.  Some might argue that Tuitt, Day and Nix might be the best defensive line we face all year – and they might be right.  But Michigan struggled to even break even for much of the game, resulting in quarterback hurries and rushing losses for much of the game.  Unlike Notre Dame, Michigan often found itself staring at 2nd and 10 or longer.  That was largely due to losses or no gains on running plays on first down – usually between the tackles.  It’s only been two games, but the biggest concern on offense from the pre-season still is a question mark – will Michigan be able to run between the tackles this year.  So far, they haven’t shown that they can.    
  • Get off the Field! – One of my bigger concerns on Saturday was Michigan’s inability to get off the field on 3rd down.  Officially Notre Dame was 8/15 on 3rd down conversions.  And worse, it felt like everytime they needed to convert they did. After forcing ND to go three and out the first two drives Michigan allowed the Irish to convert on 3rd and 9 and 3rd and Goal from the 4 yard line on the second drive to cut the lead to 10-7.   They also converted a crucial 3rd and 1 on another touchdown drive in the 3rd quarter.  That being said, Michigan didn’t fare too poorly in the 2nd half, and even managed to stop ND on back to back plays on a 3rd and 4th down.   The bottom line is that 8/15 is too high of a number for a supposedly elite defense.  
  • Injuries – While it appears Michigan escaped the game without any major injuries, at one point or another I saw the following players leave the game limping, including Jeremy Gallon, Taylor Lewan, and starting tight ends Devin Funchess and AJ Williams.  All but Williams returned, but sometimes a minor bump on Saturday can be a lingering injury on Monday, or the Monday after that, or the Monday after that.  I’ll be interested to see if Gallon, Lewan or Funchess have any continued issues from Saturday night.  Luckily we shouldn’t need any of them to win for at least another 3 weeks, but its something to keep an eye on.  

The Ugly

  • Penalties and Mental Errors – As it was, this was by Michigan/Notre Dame terms, a relatively comfortable win.  Michigan was up 14 in the 4th quarter before Gardner’s indiscretion.  And it could’ve been even larger than that.  With Michigan up 17-13, a Devin Gardner 35 yard rush landed Michigan with 1st and 10 at the ND 21. But back to back holding penalties  resulted in 1st and 30 from the 41, and Michigan was unable to pick up the first down and settled for a field goal.  What could’ve been a two possession lead was only a touchdown lead.  On the ensuing kickoff, Michigan committed a personal foul giving ND the ball near midfield with plenty of time to score.  Luckily for Michigan Blake Countess baited Tommy Rees into an interception that Michigan turned into a touchdown, but what might have been a 24-13 lead at the half could’ve just as easily been a 20-20 tie or a 20-16 game too.   And just for good measure, I’ll throw one more out there.  With Michigan up 34-27 in the 4th quarter and Notre Dame trying to seize momentum immediately after the interception/touchdown combo, Gardner completed a 7 yard pass to Gallon on 1st down setting up 2nd and 3.  A false start by Michigan turned that into 2nd and 8, and Michigan punted 2 plays later.  The shanked punt gave Notre Dame great field position and they converted that into a FG, drawing within 4 points.  So what’s my point?  My point is that Michigan committed a lot of mental errors and penalties during the game that could’ve cost us dearly.  I think we’re actually two touchdowns better than Notre Dame on most days, but a couple more mental blocks like those and we might’ve lost a close game.  

The What Were You Thinking

  • Really Devin? – Some plays are good.  Some plays are bad.  Some plays are downright ugly.  And some plays leave you shaking your head and almost mesmerized by what has transpired.  With 13:39 to go in the 4th quarter, and Michigan in control 34-20, that’s exactly the type of play Devin Gardner made.  If Devin had tucked the ball and ran into the defender for a loss of 3-4 yards, this might’ve qualified as a bad play for the offensive line.  If he had merely scrambled around and then taken a bigger sack it probably would’ve qualified as a bad play for Devin.  When he scrambled into the end zone trying to make something happen and creating the opportunity for Notre Dame to get a safety, we leapt into Ugly territory.  But when he decided that rather than give up 2 points in a safety that he would try to throw the ball away in a dire situation that resulted in an interception and a touchdown for Notre Dame….well that’s when I have to create a whole new category.  The truth is, we all know what Devin was thinking – he was thinking he would try and make a play.  He did make a play, for ND, and it almost cost us the game.   He should’ve taken the initial sack and let us punt.  Even if he had taken the safety Michigan still would’ve been up 12 and in good shape.  Instead, he gave all momentum to Notre Dame, along with a touchdown.  It worked out in the end, so all is forgiven, and Devin gets a great in game lesson…..but let’s  hope that never happens again.  
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