By Contributing Writer Clint Derringer:
I understand that it’s tough to gauge a coaching staff’s impact, or level of success, in such a short time span. However, 3 games (or 2.75 games) do provide enough data to begin to look for patterns, both positive and negative. Here is what I have come up with (grades in the parentheses reflect my thoughts on the COACHING, regardless of what I view as talent issues):
Offensive Staff (C)
A huge plus for Al Borges has been his willingness to put Denard Robinson into shotgun/spread situations, where he is more comfortable. Being inflexible in this regard would have spelled a disastrous start for Michigan. Additionally, adequate protection from the O-Line, and Denard’s quick feet, have combined to allow only one sack. Another noticeable factor is Michigan’s improved ball security. Although Michigan has committed 4 turnovers, they have won the turnover battle in each game. That, in my opinion, is the most critical reason that the Wolverines are 3-0.
Borges definitely needs to continue to integrate his pro-style offense more as we progress through the season. However, expecting Robinson (5′ 10") to be able to stand tall in the pocket and throw intermediate routes is a recipe for trouble. Once the Michigan running backs are producing more from the "I" formation, the play-action passing game will allow Denard to bootleg and be out of the pocket, where he will have improved vision and (theoretically) better accuracy. This facet of the playbook will also make defenses commit a player to be responsible for Denard just taking off once he is out of the tackle box.
Defensive Staff (C+)
The other half of winning the turnover battle is creating them on this side of the ball. Michigan has been spectacular in creating turnovers, and even converted two for touchdowns. One measure of the staff’s affect that I have not heard mentioned is the Wolverines’ discipline in avoiding big penalties. They have accumulated 104 yards of penalties (total, not just D) in 3 games vs. 170 for the opponents. Another stark difference this year is the tackling. The staff isn’t satisfied I’m sure, but in the recent past it seems as if every play held 2-3 missed tackles. I see many more sure tackles this season, and I expect continued improvement in the future.
I truly believe that many defensive issues stem from a lack of size and speed in the front seven. Analyzing what the coaches have done, the defense mirrors what I’ve said about the offense. Greg Mattison has continued to allow the players to play his base system versus all three opponents, and when faced with limited success, he has really brought out the smoke and mirrors. Neither coach Hoke, nor myself, has been able to "feel" the D-Line or the Linebackers. In fact, the EMU game was the first time I saw anybody but a DB at the top of the Michigan defensive statistics (Brandin Hawthorne w/ 10 tackles). Also in that game, Craig Roh had 5 tackles to be the only D-Lineman among the top 5 tacklers for any game. If Michigan will have to continue gambling upfront, we certainly need to shore up some of the coverage shortcomings that have crept out (Notre Dame).
Special Teams (B-)
What I said above about winning the turnover battle and ball security definitely applies here as well. Also, Brendan Gibbons looks to be much more confident when kicking PAT’s. Hopefully that will translate to success when he is faced with more FGA (only 1 thus far). In the battle of field position, Jeremy Gallon has done a fine job returning. He has shown some breakaway ability at WR, so I would expect a few big plays from him on both return units coming this season.
Statistically, it is very easy to see a problem with our coverage teams. Having a backup punter obviously doesn’t help the punt unit. Matt Wile has filled in admirably, but the low, line-drive kicks have not given the tacklers much time to get downfield and into position. The same could be said for the kickoff unit. I believe a high, arching kick to the 10-15 yd line would yield better field position stats than the low liners to the 5-10 yd line have so far.
It’s nice to have games to reflect on and really evaluate how we feel about Brady Hoke and his staff. While the unit grades I’ve given wouldn’t satisfy even the most laissez faire Wolverine fan, some of the intangible differences certainly help. First and foremost, Michigan is 3-0. The program garnered significant positive attention around College Gameday, the UTL game vs. Notre Dame, and Denard Robinson’s total offensive output. And, early reports are very positive about the talent and fit of the recruits heading to Ann Arbor. All in all, Hoke and his staff have maintained high standards and expectations while doing nothing to hinder the energy level since they arrived in January.