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The Good, The Bad, The Ugly – Florida

September 3, 2017

 

THE GOOD 

  • Youth Shall Be Served – The big storyline coming into Saturday regarding Michigan was how would all the young players, especially on defense, deal with stepping into the limelight.  The answer is very well.  While the defense is still anchored by a couple of seniors in Mo Hurts and Mike McCray, the majority is young players seeing their first significant action.  What we learned is that athleticism is probably more valuable than experience. I haven’t seen a defense that fast or athletic at Michigan in probably 30 years.  The 1997, 2006 and 2016 defenses were all great defenses, but none had the speed and quickness that I saw yesterday.   While admittedly the Florida offense didn’t pose that great of a threat compared to a typical SEC offense, the Michigan defense didn’t give an inch.  On the offensive side of the ball, the wide receivers, especially Tarik Black, looked like the real deal.  There will be some ups and downs with the young guys, but they are ready for primetime.  And if we’re being honest, they probably won’t be really tested again for at least another month.  
  • Three Headed Running Back – Perhaps the biggest surprise yesterday was Michigan’s ability to run the football.  While Florida’s offense was more like a middle of the road Big Ten offense, their defense was one of the better units Michigan will face this year.  215 yards was an excellent effort, especially since it didn’t require any gimmicks or trickeration.  We lined up and ran the ball right at them.  The defense is the story of the day, but to me the most impressive thing we did all day was run the ball.  While Chris Evans got the start, the most effective back was Ty Isaac, who finally seems to be living up to his high school hype.  Isaac picked up 114 yards on just 11 carries, and including several long third down conversions.  Karan Higdon also did some nice things, scoring Michigan’s lone running touchdown.  While nobody will confuse these backs of the Michigan running attack of the early 90s, they look to be a strong improvement over last year.  
  • Offensive Line – One reason for the improved rushing attack was the improved play of the offensive line.  Sure there were some missed assignments and whiffed blocks, but I can’t argue with the numbers.  215 rushing yards against a legit SEC defense is impressive.  And while Speight and O’Korn did get hit a few times, for the most part the pass protection was solid.  There is no question that the left side of the line where Bredeson and Cole play is ahead of the right side, but I was pleased by how Kugler looked at center, and Michael Onwenu  looked great on a couple of pulls.  The one thing I was hoping to see was for the offensive line to put the game away by picking up a couple of first downs late in the game, which didn’t happen. This will be continue to be a work in progress in certain areas, but a very good start to the season.  
  • Devin Bush – There were a ton of Wolverines flying around the field yesterday on defense, but none made a bigger impact that sophomore Devin Bush Jr.  Bush almost spent the entire game in the locker room after the refs looked to see if he had committed targeting on the first play of the game.  Luckily for Michigan he was allowed to stay and contributed 7 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, and a sack.  Bush is probably the fastest linebacker Michigan has had since Ian Gold or Dhani Jones, but he’s more athletic than either Dhani or Ian was.  He’s going to frustrate fans at some point this year with either a couple of late hits or a targeting ejection, but he’s also going to be a fan favorite and maybe our best linebacker since David Harris.  
  • Sleepovers! – The national and local media had plenty of jokes when Jim Harbaugh had a sleepover at Quinn Nordin’s house during his recruitment.  But after Nordin’s debut performance as our field goal kicker, Harbaugh is the only one laughing.  Nordin wasn’t perfect, missing a 32 yarder late that would’ve helped put the game away, but his two 50+ yard field goals made him the first kicker in Michigan history to accomplish that feat in one game.  I had concerns about replacing Kenny Allen, but Nordin seems to be more than up to the task.  Consistency is more important than a big leg, but he may very well have both. 

THE BAD 

  • First Game Mistakes – The first game of every season is bound to have some mistakes.  When you are playing a bunch of players who don’t have a ton of experience and you’re doing it in a neutral site game against a marquee opponent, its only going to compound the problem.  We actually acquitted ourselves pretty well in terms of number of mistakes, but the ones we made were costly.  In particular the false start that turned a 47 yard FG into a 52 yard FG late in the game was a big one, because Nordin makes it if it is from 47 yards, which would’ve stretched the lead to 12.  Luckily, it didn’t matter.  Likewise, neither did Nordin shanking the 32 yard attempt to push the lead to 12.   On the other hand, Grant Perry’s 15 yard unsportsmanlike penalty that directly preceded the first pick-six certainly had an impact as it stalled our momentum on a drive and made the interception return much easier.  We saw a little bit of this last year, where the mistakes seemed to come when we could least afford to have them.  We’ll chalk these up to first game jitters, but they can’t continue if we are going to try to win road games in Happy Valley or Madison.  
  • Right Tackle – Admittedly I felt bad putting Nolan Ulizio’s name in the headline here, but he’s the right tackle, and he’s the one who wasn’t very good at times yesterday.  While Michigan ran the ball to the left side very well, because of Ulizio they had less success on the right side.  Where Ulizio struggled more was in pass protection.  He got better as the game went on, but early on he did not fare well, giving up a sack and several times forcing Speight to move or throw earlier than he wanted to.  Ulizio beat out favorites Jon Runyan Jr. and Juwann Bushell-Beatty for the spot, but he’s going to have to be better if he’s going to keep it.  

THE UGLY

  • The Second Quarter – After a very comfortable first quarter where Michigan dominated, the wheels came off in the second quarter.  The three possession stretch of pick-six, pick-six, punt block had many Michigan fans looking at the calendar to see what they could do with the free Saturday’s they thought they’d have the rest of the fall.  Luckily, the defense stood tall after the punt block and forced a missed FG, and Michigan closed the half with some momentum after their own made FG.  It was an incredibly ugly stretch of football for Michigan, but really only spanned about seven plays.  
  • Wilton Speight – One concern coming into this game was how Wilton Speight would fare on the road in a big game.  The early returns were mixed.  While Speight did look good at times, the two interceptions returned for a touchdown were brutal. The first wasn’t completely his fault.  Kekoa Crawford needs to bring in that pass and can’t let it go off his hands like it did.  That being said, the throw was not perfect and Speight needs to realize that with young receivers, he needs to be more accurate.   I’ll also add that if Tarik Black didn’t loaf it on the play, he probably could’ve tackled the Florida defender around the 30 yard line, giving the Michigan defense a chance to hold them to a field goal or maybe not points at all.  The second interception was completely on Speight.  The ball just sailed on him, and though there was some pressure, it wasn’t enough to force a throw that bad.   Speight did throw some good balls, especially when looking down the middle of the field.  On the other hand, he missed several passes towards the sideline, including one to a wide open Crawford that would’ve iced the game with a walk-in touchdown late in the game.  Speight did a great job changing the play at the line of scrimmage to get Crawford wide open, but he missed the throw badly.   In short, we won’t win the Big Ten title if he can’t avoid big mistakes and make big the plays when the defense gives them to him.  He’s still our best option at quarterback in my opinion, but he needs to be better. 
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