Devin Gardner continues to improve at an amazing rate. The better Devin plays, the more Al Borges has opened up the playbook and there has been little drop off in play. Devin made several NFL caliber throws on Saturday that Michigan fans haven’t seen since 2007. Throwing the deep 15-20 yard out route between the corner and safety is one of the hardest throws in football and Devin passed the test with flying colors. Devin also threw 2 flag routes to Roy Roundtree that were as impressive and difficult a throw as you are going to see in this offense. Devin continues to showcase that he is at his best when throwing to the sideline and vertically down the field. Al Borges has wisely steered away from throws to the middle of the field which can be hit or miss for Devin. Devin still has moments when he throws into double coverage or doesn’t identify hanging defenders which gets him into trouble. Devin’s interception to Micah Hyde occurred on a play where he failed to identify the hanging defender and threw the ball into what appeared to be an open spot.
If they’re smart, Michigan will continue to recruit mobile and dual-threat QBs in the same mold as Devin Gardner. The ability of mobile and duel-threat QBs to make plays with their legs in addition to throwing the ball is too advantageous to pass up in this era of college football. Devin Gardner’s arm has opened up facets of the playbook that Michigan hasn’t been able to successfully access prior to now. Gardner’s legs will allow them to continue to use parts of the playbook that would otherwise disappear once Denard Robinson is gone. Devin “only” carried the ball 9 times but he was extremely efficient and successful on those runs, accounting for 3 TDs and 37 yds. Devin’s legs not only force defenses to play honest, but give Michigan the ability to continue to actively attack opposing defenses on designed runs.
So long as Denard Robinson takes more snaps at RB than QB, he will be evaluated with the RBs. Despite taking more snaps at RB than QB, Denard’s biggest play came on a play when he lined up at the QB position. There is no doubt that Denard Robinson presents a threat to opposing defenses no matter where he lines up, lining up at QB is still where he presents the most danger to opposing teams however. Denard was clearly still shaking off the rust of not seeing meaningful snaps for 3 weeks, he wasn’t as fast or explosive as Michigan fans have come accustomed to seeing him and he tired out at the end of run. Denard’s impact on both Michigan and the opposition was still evident however. Where Denard goes, 8-9 pair of eyes and usually bodies goes with him.
The injury to Fitzgerald Toussaint was unfortunate. Despite struggles from a production standpoint, Fitz has been the most consistent back on the roster when it comes to level of play. Fitz was averaging 10 yds per attempt on the ground at the moment he went out of the game and was well on his way to his first 100 yd game of the season. Vincent Smith got into the game for his customary screen pass that he promptly took to the house. Thomas Rawls stepped into Fitz’s shoes at RB but only received 8 carries as Michigan featured Denard as the primary running threat. How much that will be the case going forward has yet to be seen. It is very likely that Michigan will need its backs down the stretch to perform at a high level.
Stephen Hopkins and Joe Kerridge both did a great job of lead blocking on Saturday. Michigan has chosen to make Kerridge the primary blocker when Michigan lines up under center while Hopkins takes most of the shotgun snaps. The division of labor worked out well for Michigan on Saturday and as both players where in their comfort zone.
Michigan’s pass catchers need to seen a bouquet of roses to the Iowa secondary. Michigan’s WRs and TEs ran free through the Iowa secondary all game long and collectively had their best day in the last 2 years. A hobbled Jeremy Gallon led the way with 133 yds on 5 catches. Roy Roundtree has experienced a resurgence in the last 3 weeks and continues to make critical plays down field. Joe Reynolds found himself wide open several times on Saturday which was great to see since Reynolds has had to fight his way onto the field as a walk-on. Devin Funchess caught the easiest TD of his Michigan career in the 3rd quarter after Iowa lost him in coverage.
As a unit, the WRs and TEs also blocked very well. Some of the most successful plays for Michigan took a long time to develop which required the WRs to block their man for longer periods than normal. Mike Kwiatkowski is often the forgotten man since he isn’t a huge factor in the passing game but he was critical in spring several of Michigan big runs, often going 1 on 1 with an OLB.
It wasn’t always pretty but it is safe to say that the offensive line saw improvement from the last 3 weeks. There weren’t a ton of pancakes or offensive linemen driving defenders back 10-12 yds downfield but the line did well enough I the run game to allow Denard Robinson and others to hit open field. It is truly amazing how much better the offensive line looks when Denard Robinson has the ball in his hands and is decisive with his cuts. It is a luxury for the offensive line to have a guy who doesn’t require them to hold their blocks for long stretches of time. The guards continue to struggle mightily when asked the pull. The backs beat the pulling guards to the hole at times on Saturday.
The pass protection was very good on Saturday which helped Gardner to his big day. It certainly helped that Iowa isn’t a big blitz team, meaning Michigan’s offensive line only had to work about blocking 4-5 guys on most plays.
Thing started off shaky for the defensive line. Like last week, Michigan began the game getting gashed in the run game. Both the DTs and ends were easily pushed or sealed from play leaving it up to the LBers to make plays. Michigan eventually course corrected and the score forced Iowa to move away from the run which also helped.
Michigan continues to struggle to get pressure on the QB from the front 4. Greg Mattison has preached about the need to generate a rush and controlling the run using only the 4-5 guys, Michigan is a pretty good distance away from being able to do that. Even during the times when the line did generate pressure, they struggled coming to balance and actually tackling the QB behind the line. Frank Clark did finally break through and recorded his first sack of the season.
The LBers continue to lead the way defensively. Michigan’s 4 leading tacklers on Saturday were all LBers, one of whom didn’t start. James Ross received his first start of the game and while there were moments when he looked like a freshmen, he was very productive. Ross is often in the right spot but there have been issues with him being step too slow. The game is still coming at Ross at warp speed and he has been forced to adjust on the fly. Once things slow down for him, Ross has the chance to be a special player at Michigan. Ross racked up 12 tackles on Saturday to lead the team and had he been a step or two faster on several plays his stat line would be been even more ridiculous. Ross wasn’t the only true freshmen LB to have a productive day. Joe Bolden finished 2nd on the team in tackles and add 2 TFLs. Kenny Demens and Jake Ryan both made their share of plays as well. Demens was especially active around at the line of scrimmage and is getting better and better at shedding blocks which he struggled with early in the year.
The LBers did not play very well in coverage however. Iowa’s TEs were an issue for Michigan all game long and often times it was a LB that was matched up and a step slow. An argument could be made that the LBers were placed into bad spots being match up 1 on 1. There were opportunities for the LBers to make plays on the ball that they failed to do though which is their responsibility.
The secondary was rarely challenged during the game as Iowa choose to attack the Wolverines with the TEs rather than the WRs. Iowa’s WRs only recorded 2 catches during the game leaving the corners with very little to do. Michigan chose not to double the TEs with safety help meaning Thomas Gordon also had very little to do other than clean up the occasional tackle. Jordan Kovacs saw more action on the day since Michigan uses him around the line of scrimmage more than any other member of the secondary. Kovacs recorded both a sack and a TFL on the day and finished with 5 tackles.
Overall it was a very quiet day for a secondary that had struggled coming into the game.
The special teams units had limited opportunities to make an impact on the game. Michigan punted just once, a 43 yd effort from Will Hagerup. Matt Wile kicked off 7 times but recorded just 2 touchbacks. Dennis Norfleet fielded just 2 kick-offs, the longest return going to 19 yards. Jeremy Gallon field just one punt which he fair caught and Michigan did not attempt a FG.
The kick coverage units did a better job in this game than they had in the previous few games. The kick coverage unit gave up one significant run on the day, a 36 yd return by Jordan Cotton.
A: Unit played as close to flawless as possible. Unit played well enough to win the game on their own.
B: Unit had a major positive impact on the game but also had several assignment/execution miscues.
C: Unit did not negatively or positively affect the game. Unit made key positive plays along with several errors.
D: Unit made multiple critical errors that could potentially cost the team a win. Unit blew assignments and had poor execution across the board.
F: Play of the unit was bad enough that it could directly cost the team a victory.
Note: Plus and minuses denote degrees of the grade.