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The Good, The Bad, The Ugly – Hawaii

September 6, 2016

 

THE GOOD

  • Everything Went According To Plan – There was a lot of hype heading into Jim Harbaugh’s second season after an impressive 10-3 campaign a year ago.  A top ten ranked Michigan team at home against a below average Hawaii team that had spent the previous weekend in Sydney should’ve been an easy victory for Michigan.  That being said, a 63-3 thumping was an exceptional result, no matter who the opponent was.  For comparison, the last time Michigan beat a team by 60 points was a 69-0 thumping of Northwestern in 1979.  In fact, in the modern era of college football (after 1945), this was the 3rd largest margin of victory for Michigan.  The only other 60 point wins were the aforementioned Northwestern game and a similar 69-0 destruction of Pittsburgh in 1947.  Yes it was a bad Hawaii team.  Yes they were playing at 6 AM their time.  Yes they were coming off of a game in Australia the week prior.  But there have been plenty of other games in which the odds were stacked against the opponents and Michigan was less dominant.  This is what elite teams do on a regular basis.  Hopefully its a sign that Michigan is back among the elite.  
  • The Running Game – One thing that has to happen for Michigan to be elite is the establishment of a consistent running game.  Despite improvement last year, Michigan still struggled to run the ball at times.  Saturday’s test was not against a very good defense, but it was still only the second time Michigan has rushed for more than 300 yards in the last 5 seasons.  As a caveat I’ll add that the previous time was in 2014 during a 52-14 victory over Appalachian State and that Michigan lost to Notre Dame 31-0 the following week.  That being said, this felt like a different effort due to the depth at running back and the offensive line.  Starting with the line, I was impressed with the ability of this line to not just open holes but to get a consistent push on almost every play.  They didn’t miss a beat playing without senior left guard Ben Braden, and several players who hadn’t played a ton previously, including Patrick Kugler, Grant Newsome, and freshman Ben Bredeson all looked more than capable.  We’ll have to see how they look against a more physical defense, but for a first game the line showed a lot of promise.  As for the running backs, Michigan had five backs carry the ball, the most impressive of which was true freshman Chris Evans who had 112 yards and two touchdowns.  Evans showed the vision and patience we haven’t seen from a Michigan back in several years.  De’Veon Smith, the starter, left after the first couple of series, but Michigan didn’t miss a beat.  In particular Ty Isaac looked to have improved significantly from last year.  The combination of an improved line and a deep stable of running backs (senior Drake Johnson didn’t even play due to injury) suggests this could be Michigan’s most consistent rushing attack in years.  
  • Quarterbacks – Wilton Speight snagged the starting job, but it was pretty clear that all the quarterbacks can play.  While Speight went 10-13 and threw 3 touchdown passes, John O’Korn and Shane Morris combined for a perfect 7-7, including several really nice looking throws from both.  None of the quarterbacks were asked to do anything too sophisticated, but they proved more than capable.  As for Speight specifically, his first pass notwithstanding, he showed very good command of the offense and wasn’t overwhelmed by the moment at all.  If I’m being honest, it took Jake Rudock 4-5 games to look as comfortable as Speight did last year.  And not surprisingly, O’Korn and Morris looked just as comfortable when they entered the game too (though that might have been due to the score).  
  • Defense, Defense, Defense – One reason the offense felt so comfortable was probably because of the help they got from the Michigan defense.  For the 25 minutes of gameplay, Hawaii had negative yardage.  They didn’t pick up a first down until the 5:00 minute mark of the 2nd quarter.  Though they eventually were able to put together a couple of drives that added to their yardage, they struggled to move the ball most of the afternoon.  Only a 55 yard field goal kept this from being a shutout.  In fact, thanks to two interceptions returned for touchdowns, Michigan’s defense actually outscored Hawaii 14-3.  They also did this while playing without starting defensive tackle Maurice Hurst, starting All-American cornerback Jourdan Lewis, and for most of the game without starting defensive linemen Bryan Mone and Taco Charlton.  Again, the caveat of it was just Hawaii, but the defense looked as dominant as expected, forcing 10 tackles for losses including 4 sacks.  Perhaps the biggest improvement over last year were the linebackers.  Senior Mike McCray finished with 9 tackles and 2 sacks,  while linebackers Ben Gedeon and Mr. Everything Jabrill Peppers accounted for the other two sacks.  It was clear that they were a huge upgrade in athletic talent over last year’s linebackers, and Defensive Coordinator Don Brown is taking advantage of it.  
  • Freshman Class – While on the subject of upgrades in talent, its time to discuss the 2016 recruiting class.  Many fans are familiar with the addition of the top recruit in the country Rashan Gary – who played and played well.  But Michigan fans are going to have to start looking at their game programs a lot more if this freshman class keeps it up.  Michigan played a record 17 true freshman in this game, with several of them shining in their debut.  We’ve already discussed running back Chris Evans, but he wasn’t the only guy to make a mark on offense as the incredibly named Eddie McDoom had two rushes for 34 yards and caught two passes as well.  Other freshmen who made their way into the box score were running back Kingston Davis, tight end Sean McKeon, wide receiver Kekoa Crawford, defensive tackle Michael Dwumfour, Rashan Gary, linebackers Devin Bush and Josh Uche, and defensive backs Lavert Hill and Khaleke Hudson.  Cornerback David Long also saw significant playing time.  Even in a blowout, that is a LOT of players to contribute as true freshmen.  And they wouldn’t be playing if Coach Harbaugh didn’t think they could help out this year.  Most will still struggle to see significant playing time because of depth, but Gary, Evans, and McDoom are names to keep an eye for sure.  
  • Star Power – It takes a special type of celebrity power to make Heisman Trophy winner and future NFL Hall of Famer Charles Woodson the third fiddle at his own alma mater, but that’s exactly what happened on Saturday.  The presence of His Airness, Michael Jordan, was as big as they get, especially considering that MJ doesn’t show up for sporting events that don’t involve his Charlotte Bobcats or North Carolina Tar Heels.  But Jordan showed up this weekend to help launch the Jordan Brand football jerseys and gear at Michigan, the first college football school to wear them.  It was a big deal for the fans, the team, and of course the future football and basketball recruits who are considering Michigan.  Jordan was such a big deal that even Mr. November, Derek Jeter, took a backseat to him too.  Poor Lamarr Woodley, who did receive a standing ovation from the crowd, was relegated to the 4th most popular former athlete on the sideline.   With Rich Eisen coming to town next week and Tom Brady as an honorary captain in a few weeks, its clear that Jim Harbaugh is pulling out all the stops to make Michigan the “it” school.  Don’t be shocked to see other celebrities on the sidelines in the near future.  There are 5 more games still in need of honorary captains.  

THE BAD

  • Injuries – The one thing you ideally want to avoid in a game like this is injuries.  Unfortunately, it seems like that may be the only thing that went wrong for Michigan on Saturday.  To begin with, Jourdan Lewis and Maurice Hurst were both held out, but according to reports probably could’ve played if necessary.  Shortly thereafter, Michigan lost running back De’Veon Smith to an apparent rib injury.  That also seems like something he could’ve played through if necessary.  It wouldn’t shock me to see him sit this week against Central Florida, though I wouldn’t be surprised if he toughs it out given the competition at running back.  The good news regarding the other injuries is that they are at a position of depth – defensive line.  The bad news is that they appear to be a bit more serious.  Taco Charlton seems to have a high ankle sprain that will likely keep him out a few weeks.  His expected return is probably Wisconsin, but maybe Penn State.  Bryan Money, who lost all of last year to an ACL tear is rumored to have a sprained MCL that will also keep him out of action 3-4 weeks.  It’s possible both will return earlier, but its also possible that those injuries linger a little longer.  The good news I suppose is that neither seems to be season ending.  

THE UGLY

  • Speight’s First Pass –  All through spring, summer and fall camp the word on the street was that John O’Korn was the more physically gifted of the quarterbacks, Wilton Speight knew the offense better and was less prone to making mistakes.  So of course Speight comes out on the first play of the season and throws a horrible interception on a bootleg play.where Jake Butt ran the route too long, but Speight underthrew the receiver.  Luckily for Speight and Michigan, he was nearly perfect the rest of the game, going 10/12 and throwing 3 touchdown passes in just over a half of play.  Had it been any other opponent, this might have been more upsetting.  But given that Michigan was a 42 point favorite, most of us in the stands just laughed – though I’m sure there were a few choice words as well.  Hopefully that’s his worst throw of the season.    
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