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The Good, The Bad, The Ugly – Colorado

September 20, 2016

THE GOOD

  • Punt Return Team – Last year Jim Harbaugh brought in nationally renowned special teams coach John Baxter from USC to coach at Michigan.  While the special teams were good last year, they weren’t spectacular as some had hoped they would be under Baxter.  Baxter returned to USC this offseason, but either Chris Partridge is a better special teams coach or Baxter left some magic juice behind, because for the 2nd time in 3 games, the Michigan punt return team was a game changer.  Against Hawaii it was just a nice way to start the season, but on Saturday they kept Michigan in the game while the defense and offense got going and then provided the exclamation point at the end.  An early block returned for a touchdown helped Michigan cut the lead to 14-7.  Then, down 21-7, Colorado’s punter kicked a punt into his own lineman setting up Michigan’s second touchdown.  You can argue that was an unforced error, but given Michigan’s previous block, its likely part of the mental error was due to the oncoming Michigan rush.  Regardless, Michigan outscored Colorado 38-7 from that point on.  It was clearly the turning point in the game.  Finally, Jabrill Peppers returned a punt for a touchdown and while he did a lot of the work, there was a team effort involved.  So for those keeping track, the punt return team created 14 points on their own and setup the turning point in the game.  Not a bad Saturday.
  • Mr. Everything – When Jabrill Peppers committed to Brady Hoke 3 years ago, there was talk about how he was a game changing player, destined to play on Sundays, and one of the better all around prospects to come out of high school in years.  And sure you wanted to believe it, but you never know with recruiting.  Last year he was arguably the best player on Michigan’s team, and dominant at times. Yesterday he proved why he may be the best college football player in the country.  The stats were eye-popping – 204 All Purpose yards on offense and on kickoff and punt returns, 9 tackles including 3.5 for a loss, and one touchdown.  But to watch it was even more impressive.  When Michigan needed a big play, he delivered, though it seemed like he was in on every single play as it was.  Defensively, I’ve never seen a linebacker who can drop into coverage and cover a slot receiver like a cornerback.  Peppers lined up at kick returner, punt returner, nickelback, safety, linebacker and running back and was the best player on either team at each position.  And those kick and punt returns are going to keep special teams coordinators of our remaining 9 opponents up all night.  Enjoy the next 9-12 games because that will likely be the last we see of Jabrill in a Michigan uniform.
  • The Defense –  I know this will raise a few eyebrows but Michigan gave up only 326 yards and 21 points, the majority of which came on the first 3 drives of the game for Colorado.  And if you look a little closer, its even better.  The first TD was on a short field, the second TD was a defensive touchdown, and the third TD came on a long drive where Michigan committed an offsides penalty negating a third down stop.  Yes the Buffaloes hit an 80 yard TD bomb to start the 3rd quarter, but other than that they spent of the rest of the game on their heels.  They only had two drives longer than 5 plays all game, and only had the ball on the Michigan side of the field once in the last 3 quarters.  Michigan finished with 4 sacks and 10 tackles for loss.  Once Michigan figured out the 2-3 plays Colorado could execute on (mostly the inside slant), they shut them down.
  • The Last Three Quarters – Speaking of shutting them down, while the final score was 45-28, and this game felt like an escape for many Michigan fans because we had to come back from 14 points down, we actually outscored Colorado 38-7 over the final three quarters, and that was with two missed FGs.  If we had started the game 38-7 and finished by being outscored by 14, I’m guessing there would be a lot less angst among Michigan fans.  Pretty much everything got better for Michigan as the game went on.  Wilton Speight, who started 4/13 for 43 yards, finished 12/17 for for 186 yards and a touchdown.  It wasn’t nearly the performance he had last week for 300+ yards and 4 touchdowns, but that won’t happen every week.  He lead the offense to 31 points through three quarters and once he settled down looked like the QB we saw the first two weeks.
  • Coaching Adjustments – One reason the last three quarters were so successful were in game coaching adjustments.  Under previous regimes, we often waited until halftime (or even later) to make adjustments to ways other teams were exploiting our offensive and defensive weaknesses.  Michigan quickly adapted however in two phases that were key to changing the game around.  First, Colorado was hurting us with an underneath slant.  We fixed that in two ways – by bringing more pressure up the middle and forcing the QB to roll out and out of the passing lane, and by taking away the slant with a linebacker and forcing them to look elsewhere.  They couldn’t do it and their offense sputtered.  On offense, like Central Florida took away the run game last week forcing us to throw deep, Colorado took away our strength from the week before, the vertical passing game.  After a few failed attempts at going deep, we settled for short passes and underneath throws to the tight ends and fullbacks, mostly Jake Butt.  These aren’t shocking adjustments, but the ability to implement them starting almost immediately is a key difference between what we’ve seen in previous staffs and in this one.
  • Tom Brady – There isn’t a lot to say here other than the fact that Michigan had arguably the greatest QB of all time as the honorary captain on Saturday.  That was pretty cool.  But really this is just an excuse to make sure you’ve seen this video of Brady playing catch with Jim Harbaugh before the game.  It was the stuff Michigan fans dream’s are made of.  

  • 3-0 (and it was pretty easy) – There were certainly a some Michigan fans who raised an eyebrow after the slow start on Saturday.  But here’s all that really matters – Michigan is 3-0, and did so without having a truly competitive game in the 4th quarter.  Three wins by an average of 53-15 is as good of a start for Michigan since Gary Moeller was coach. And that team went unbeaten (though with 3 ties) and won the Rose Bowl.  There are tougher teams ahead for sure, but Michigan got young guys experience, didn’t sustain any major injuries, was able to rest guys who needed it, and should be ready and healthy to start the Big Ten season.  Other than jumping out to the 38-7 lead over Colorado instead of finishing the game that way, I’m not sure how the first 3 games could’ve gone much better.    

THE BAD

  • The First Quarter – Michigan came out flat on Saturday.  There is no other way to put it.  Colorado looked hungrier and better prepared and it showed.  While many Michigan fans expected a tighter game than the first two contests, this was still expected to be an easy victory.  So when Michigan was down 21-7 at the end of the first quarter, there as some justified concern.  Especially since the only points Michigan had been able to generate was a blocked punt and they had also given up a defensive touchdown.  Other than saying Michigan came out flat, there isn’t really a good explanation for what happened, other than the fact that Colorado was exploiting a few weaknesses they saw on tape on both sides of the ball.  The good news was that not only were they fixable, but Michigan corrected them by the start of the 2nd quarter.  The better news was that, as often is the case, teams like Colorado come out swinging but have trouble maintaining that intensity the whole game – which we saw later on.    
  • Tackling – One of the challenges Michigan faced early was some really poor tackling, usually by the secondary and some of the linebackers.  They weren’t necessarily taking poor angles, just failing to wrap up and properly bring the player down.  In a couple of instances it cost them an additional 10-20 yards, which is inexcusable.  Part of that might have been due to not being used to playing a Power 5 school.  Colorado may not have the depth of talent that Michigan has, but certain players, especially the skill positions, can absolutely make you pay if you don’t give them full respect.  Michigan felt some of that on Saturday.  
  • Safety Play – Not to pick on the safeties too much, because I think they were put into some challenging spots, but they were the weak spot on Saturday, getting beaten over the top for 14 of Colorado’s 28 points.  My hunch is that with Jourdan Lewis injured they were forced into covering receivers they normally wouldn’t have had to, but both Delano Hill and Dymonte Thomas were taken advantage of early on.  

THE UGLY

  • The Kicking Game – As you may have noticed, I didn’t find time to publish a blog last week after the Central Florida game.  The person who suffered the most from that was probably Kenny Allen, who had a really nice game both kicking and punting.  He was 4/4 on field goals, had six touchbacks and averaged 45.7 yards per punt.  A very nice day for a kicker being asked to do a lot.  Unfortunately, his game against Colorado was the exact opposite as he struggled in all phases.  Though he finished with four touchbacks, he had several short kickoffs early on that helped Colorado start with good field position.  His punting was “meh” with just a 39 yard average that included a couple of shanks and a couple of other missed opportunities to pin Colorado deep.  And he was only 1/3 on three makeable field goals.  And the two misses weren’t close.  It’s possible he has too much on his plate as a kicker or could be injured, because Saturday was an out of character day for him.  Hopefully he will bounce back this week against Penn State.  

 

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