By Tony Gerdeman
With the Wolverines' 63-13 win over Massachusetts on Saturday, Michigan's exhibition schedule has now come to an end and we can finally begin to find out just how good this team is.
Sure, we have a sense of what they are capable of, but now we will learn whether or not they are good enough to beat a good team, or solid enough to keep from losing to an average team.
Can this team beat a good team without playing at its best? Can they lose to an average team while playing close to its worst? We have an idea as to those answers, but nothing is definite yet because we haven't learned anything that is applicable to the rest of Michigan's schedule.
What is definite, however, is that Michigan is good enough to win the Legends Division, just like everybody else in the Legends Division is, except for Michigan State apparently.
The entire conference is up for grabs right now, and a team probably won't have to really want it in order to win it. The Big Ten is a "White Elephant" this year, and teams will continue to try and pass it off to eachother week after week.
When Michigan Was On Offense
The Wolverines finished with 585 yards of total offense, passing for 291 and rushing for 295. Denard Robinson was 16-24 for 291 yards and three touchdowns. He also threw a bad pick six. He rushed ten times for 106 yards and a touchdown. He also fumbled on the goal line, which was recovered by left tackle Taylor Lewan for a touchdown.
Robinson played three quarters before finally giving way to Russell Bellomy, and he looked like he always does. The fact that nearly 400 yards of total offense for one player has become normal is really a shame.
In a sense, Robinson's ability has overshadowed his ability. Basically, when the outstanding becomes the norm, it stops being outstanding. Like if you stare at the sun for too long, you can't see it anymore.
So when we look at Robinson and see all of the great things that he does, it's all stuff that he's done for a while now. It's old hat. Similarly, the mistakes that he continues to make are the same ones he's made for years as well. Ball security will always be an issue for him.
I was very down on this passing game to start the season, but it is starting to intrigue me. I liked that they were looking to get receiver Jeremy Gallon involved early after basically ignoring him last week. He had three catches in the first half and it's clear that he is going to be an integral part of this offense moving forward.
I also like the continued growth of freshman tight end Devin Funchess. He had another touchdown catch this week. It was a run and catch, and he looked like an elite athlete with the ball in his hands.
I want to see how he handles the physicality of the Big Ten this year, assuming there is some.
Devin Gardner had two catches for 48 yards, which included a 42-yard catch and run where he beat a linebacker and safety to the corner of the endzone. It was the first chance that we've gotten to see him use every bit of his speed, and he certainly didn't look like a backup quarterback racing into the endzone.
Robinson targeted him four times and completed passes to him twice. By my math, he has caught eight passes and been targeted twenty times. That number needs to get much better.
Five different tailbacks combined for 180 yards on 28 carries, but that's all meaningless moving forward. At least we finally got to see Justice Hayes and Dennis Norfleet get some snaps.
Perhaps the most interesting development for me was seeing the invention of the quasi-quadruple option. Basically, the play starts like a jet sweep, Dennis Norfleet comes through the backfield as the ball is being snapped, and as he is running to the quarterback, the tailback in the shotgun then follows right behind Norfleet like a pair of runners crossing home plate at the same time.
Robinson can give the ball to either player, but the defense has to respect both of them. I don't think this is a read play yet, and I don't know that it ever will be, but the defense still has to assume either player is live.
Michigan ran this play three times. Norfleet and the tailback carried the ball the first two times. The third time it was treated as a play-action pass and Robinson threw out of it. The quadruple part comes in when you consider the fact that Robinson could also take off with the ball if he wanted to.
It was so unorthodox that the Big Ten Network's color commentator thought it was a miscommunication.
Two areas of concern for me are the deep passing game and the goal line play. Robinson throws a high number of deep passes, and I just don't think they can assume they will be as successful with them this year as they were last year. To me, a passing game should have a better Plan A, because "All or nothing" eventually loses you everything.
Also, on the play where Robinson fumbled on the goal line, it was the second play in a row where the Wolverines were stuffed at the two-yard line. We still need to know how well these running backs can run inside the tackles.
When Michigan Was On Defense
I'm not sure what needs to be said about a game against UMass. The defense held the Minutemen to just 259 yards of total offense on 66 plays.
About the only negative you could say is that Massachusetts had three scoring opportunities, which ended up being two made field goals and one missed field goal. But is that even actually much of a negative?
Weakside linebacker Desmond Morgan was out this week with a head injury, so freshman James Ross started in his place and finished with three tackles, including a tackle for loss.
We saw a lot of Joe Bolden in the middle last week, but Kenny Demens went most of the way while this game was still in doubt.
A certain area of concern is the fact that Michigan only had one sack, and that came via an intentional grounding call when Joe Bolden blitzed on a blown up screen.
There needs to be more pressure on the quarterback, though against UMass there wouldn't be much call to get very intricate.
I do, at times, like defensive end Frank Clark. I don't think he's the player that Michigan fans think he is, but he is constant motion. That motion isn't always good, but he's sort of like a Roomba – if you let him go long enough, eventually he'll get to where he needs to be.
I still don't think the Michigan defensive ends are set. Strongside linebacker Jake Ryan played more end than linebacker, which makes me think that that might be the norm from here on out. I'm still not sure how I would feel about that. I tend to think that he's too much of a playmaker to keep in the front four.
I really think that there could be a couple of games this year where the lack of pass rush could expose the secondary, especially now with cornerback Blake Countess gone. Perhaps that's why having Ryan as a rush end is so important.
Sophomore cornerback Raymon Taylor got the start this week, and Courtney Avery stayed in the nickel. Both of them have to make their coaches nervous, and playing together only adds to that drama.
Also, the interior of the defensive line will continue to be a question mark until they show that they shouldn't be.
These are all questions that I had back in July. They are still questions now. Some of those questions will finally get answered on Saturday in South Bend.
The Special Teams
It was an up and down day for the special teams, as Matt Wile sent a kickoff out of bounds, and Dennis Norfleet didn't show much electricity in the return game. Still, they did recover a muffed punt which led to a Michigan touchdown drive.
On the very positive side, the Wolverines held UMass to -14 yards on three punt returns, including the muff, and only allowed a long kickoff return of 28 yards on six attempts.
What Does It All Mean
Michigan absolutely destroyed a team that they were supposed to destroy, so at least they followed the script.
Now, however, their season begins.
They head to Notre Dame with some places calling them a seven-point underdog. The last time they overcame odds like that and won was against Minnesota in 2008. They've lost their last six games as a touchdown underdog.
I'm interested in seeing what Michigan's offensive and defensive ideals are. What is it that they feel identifies Michigan football this year?
Is the offense still just going to be Robinson and Toussaint on the ground, and then eventually fall back to the Hail Mary through the air? There is too much development going on to not involve Gallon, Funchess and Gardner as much as possible.
Defensively, it sounds basic and elementary, but I need to see if this team can rush the passer, stop the inside run, and contain the passing game. We know they can't stop Alabama, but that's not a relevant example for what they face in the future. Notre Dame is a much more relevant example, and we will know a good deal more about this team on Sunday morning than we do right now.
The Road to the Big One
Sept 1 Alabama 41 - Michigan 14 (0-1)
Sept 8 Michigan 31 - Air Force 26 (1-1)
Sept 15 Michigan 63 - Massachusetts 13 (2-1)
Sept 22 at Notre Dame
Sept 29 Bye
Oct 6 at Purdue
Oct 13 Illinois
Oct 20 Michigan State
Oct 27 at Nebraska
Nov 3 at Minnesota
Nov 10 Northwestern
Nov 17 Iowa
Nov 24 at Ohio State
Donate by Check :
1380 King Avenue
Columbus, Ohio 43212
Help us bring you more Buckeye coverage. Donate to the-Ozone.
Click here to email this the-Ozone feature to a friend...or even a foe.
(c) 2010 The O-Zone, O-Zone Communications, Inc. All rights reserved.
This material may not be published, rebroadcast,rewritten, or redistributed.