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The Good, The Bad, The Ugly – Connecticut

September 23, 2013

 

Michigan UConn

 

THE GOOD

  • Four Quarters of Defense – By just looking at the score, you might come to the conclusion that Michigan’s defense again put forth a subpar effort by giving up 21 points to UConn.  But let me throw some other numbers at you.  206 total yards, 47 yards rushing, 68 yards in the 2nd half (26 of which came on the final play), 7 Three and Outs,  1/11 on 3rd Down conversions for UConn, 8 tackles for a loss, 4 sacks, and no points allowed in the 2nd half.  With the exception of one drive in the 2nd quarter where UConn drove the field easily for a touchdown, the defense surrendered virtually nothing and kept Michigan in the game until the offense got on track enough to put the game away.  Throw in Desmond Morgan’s exceptional interception, and this was the type of defense we’ve expected to field but hadn’t quite seen yet.  Sure it was against a below average UConn team, but all you can ask is for your team to deliver in the manner you’d expect – which they did.
  • Frank Clark  – Speaking of delivering, I was a little hard on Frank Clark earlier this year, and part of that is because I believed he was capable of a game like this.  5 tackles, two sacks, and most importantly, constant pressure in the UConn backfield.  Even if Clark wasn’t making a play, he was forcing the action so a teammate could make a play.  There are plenty of pats on the back to go around for the defense, but for me it starts with Frank Clark.
  • Fitzgerald Toussaint – Fitz Toussaint has been somewhat maligned this year, with fans asking for super freshman Derrick Green and wondering why the running attack has sputtered.  The answer to that probably has less to do with Toussaint and more with other factors, but on Saturday night Fitz didn’t let any of that get in his way.  24 carries for 120 yards and 2 touchdowns looks good on paper, but those that watched the game know that Fitz carried us when we needed a spark.  Two 4th quarter touchdowns were absolutely necessary for Michigan to pull this comeback off, and Fitz did it with blocking that was questionable at best.
  • Winners just Win With all the talk about how Michigan shouldn’t be playing close games against the likes of Akron and UConn (and that’s 100% true), one thing getting over looked is that for the 3rd straight week, when Michigan had to have stops they got them, and when they had to score they scored.  Against Notre Dame, a two touchdown lead had been cut to 34-30 before Michigan drove the field to score a touchdown to put the game away.  Against Akron Michigan score the go ahead touchdown late in the 4th quarter and then the defense held on (barely) to ice the game.  This week, trailing 21-7, Michigan outscored UConn 17-0 the rest of the way, including 10-0 in the fourth quarter.  And again, the defense showed up when they had to, stopping the Huskies when they needed to.  Yes its inexcusable that it should come to this against Akron and UConn, but Michigan does deserve credit for “finishing” the game and getting the win.  We may not be in a position to take over games late if we keep spotting teams large leads, but I do have confidence in this team to close the opponent out when given the chance.  That’s something championship teams have to do if they want to win titles.

THE BAD

  • The Bench Stayed on the Bench – I touched on this briefly last week, but one of the biggest problems with failing to blow out teams you are supposed to is that you don’t get your backups the opportunity to get game experience.  It obviously didn’t happen last week, and most were hopeful that the starters would at least get to rest the latter part of the 4th quarter this week, giving some young guys the opportunity to play.  Instead, the starters played the whole game.  Normally, this would be an even bigger problem because of the additional hits and potential injuries the starters might’ve suffered (like Lewan last week).  Luckily it looks like we escaped with no further injuries that we know of.  And with the bye week coming up, our guys should be plenty rested and mostly recovered by the time Minnesota comes to town.  Though I still expect at least one more blowout for the good guys at some point this season, we squandered two games for what we in high school called the Orange Army Super Bowl, where the backups played more than the starters.
  • Downfield Passing – We’ll get to some of the problems with Gardner and his passing in a moment, but one issue that we’re clearly struggling with, and probably would struggle with no matter whom the QB, is our downfield passing.  Our longest completion on Saturday was for 17 yards.  Last week there were several longer completions, but most of them were due to yards after the catch.  Other than Jeremy Gallon, who is now facing constant double teams, we just don’t have any receivers who can stretch the field.  That means that defenses can stack the box near the line of scrimmage and dare us to throw deep, knowing we can’t.  This just isn’t the fault of the receivers.  The offensive line struggles in pass protection and Gardner is struggling to throw the ball any distance.  The result is a team that is easy to defend.   The ability to throw downfield will both alleviate the struggles of the rushing attack as well as some of the pressure that Gardner is continually facing due to blitzes and lack of respect of our passing attack.
  • Playcalling – Al Borges may be one of the best in-game play callers in college football.  When his players execute, they make him look like a genius.  The problem is that Borges success too often relies on perfect execution at the right time.  That’s great for senior laden teams with talent across the board.  Its less so for teams like Michigan, with several holes that need filling and are currently occupied by young guys learning on the fly.  In some ways, the talent that Borges has with Gardner is actually hindering the offense, because he can’t help but take his high performance sports car out of the garage, even if it’s just to go to the grocery store.  (Translation – why do we need to run a jet sweep or option when an off tackle play should get us a couple of yards).  When Borges makes the calls and the players execute, it ends up looking like Notre Dame. But when they don’t…well we’ve seen that result and none of us like it.  Here’s hoping that Borges works on simplifying things a bit during the bye week so that we can just nail down the basics.  

THE UGLY

  • Offensive Line – We all knew that the offensive line had the potential to be a weakness on this season.  Starting 3 guys in their first year of significant action, let alone starting, was a daunting proposition.  I just don’t know that anyone thought it would be this bad.  It’s one thing to struggle against Notre Dame or even in your first start.  But when UConn, who hadn’t had a tackle for a loss all season gets ten tackles for a loss against you, alarm bells should be going off.   The worst part is there doesn’t appear to be any easy fix.  Some are clamoring for Jack Miller to be benched, moving Glasgow to center and inserting Bryant at guard.  That might be what ends up happening, but only because we have a bye week.  From some accounts Miller does something more effectively than anyone else on the team – snap the ball.  So until someone else steps up in that regard, he has to start.  Bryant has been hurt, but hopefully the bye week will give him a chance to get healthy so we can see what he can do – though Glasgow has looked pretty good at times.  The biggest problem right now is missed assignments and continuity.  When the line blocks the right guy, we get positive results – see both of Toussaint’s touchdown runs for examples.  The problem is that more often than not the result is a blitz up the middle where at least 1/3 and sometimes all three of the interior lineman fail to block a single player.  Beyond that, little things like not getting off the ball at the same time which opens creases in the line are hurting us as well.   Overall, I think a lot of problems can be fixed by just  getting the offensive line working together better.  Much of this appears to be a mental problem rather than physically being overmatched.  Either way, it has to get better.
  • Devin Gardner Eeeeesh.  Last week I suggested someone peed in my Devin Gardner Kool-Aid.  I feel like someone laced it with hemlock this week.  This was about as ugly of a stat line as you can have.  11/23 for 97 yards and two interceptions.  He also took 3 sacks.  His only saving grace was 64 yards of rushing and a nice touchdown run.  Though that would’ve been higher without the 42 yards in negative rushing, many of which he made worse by running backwards.   It’s not full on panic time, but there is clearly an issue that needs fixing.  After the first interception, Devin was tentative and looked to be aiming the ball rather than throwing it, which as expected resulted in him going the entire 2nd quarter and early into the 3rd without completing a pass.
  • Ball Security – If you’ve haven’t noticed, Michigan has a small problem holding on to the football.  And let’s be honest, the only way you haven’t noticed this is because you can only watch the games by peeking through your fingers.  8 turnovers in 2 games is a recipe for disaster.  For the season, Michigan is 120th out of 120 teams in turnovers with 12, an average of 3 per game.  Saturday we really showcased our struggles with 2 interceptions, a fumble on a QB sneak and a turnover on punt coverage when one of our freshman didn’t get out of the way of a bouncing ball.  I’m also going to add in one more turnover on the 4th and 2 play where Gardner probably would’ve been able to reach the first down marker had he not fumbled the ball.  He recovered, but behind the first down line.  I’m not really sure what the problem is, because I’m positive Hoke and the coaches are harping on ball security.  For some reason it just isn’t getting through.  Part of the problem is due to the playcalling as its forcing Gardner to do too much, which means he’s getting hit more and is getting tired, which makes him more susceptible to turnovers.  Until Gardner starts respecting the football better, we’re going to have these same problems.
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One Comment leave one →
  1. Paul Lieberman permalink
    September 24, 2013 1:43 PM

    if they don’t use Gardner, who can they use???

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