Denard Robinson remained sidelined thanks to the wrath of the elbow gods and Devin Gardner saw his 2nd start of the season. There were thoughts after last week that Gardner’s performance was simply the result of playing a weak opponent in Minnesota. Those ideas where put to rest on Saturday as Devin led Michigan to a come from behind victory over a ranked Northwestern team. Devin continues to learn facets of the offense and how to deal with different game situations on the fly, but so far he has handled it very well. Devin was poised for the majority of the game on Saturday and his ball placement was excellent throughout the game. There are times when the ball gets away from Devin, particularly when he throws over the middle. Locating backside defenders continues to be an issues for Devin and Michigan was fortunate to only turn the ball over once through the air. Devin is very adept when throwing to the sideline and vertically downfield. Devin dropped the ball into holes in the defense like a seasoned vet and put his receivers into great situations simply because of the ball placement. Devin did potentially cost Michigan the game with a very poor decision to force the ball into Devin Funchess on a wheel route, resulting in a horribly timed interception late in the game.
Devin continues to be decisive in the run game. Escaping pressure and scrambling to daylight is one of Devin’s strengths and Michigan was rewarded with a productive 47 yds on 9 carries, including 2 TDs. The great thing about Devin is not just his ability to throw the ball and add to the Michigan playbook, but he is still a very capable runner and dual-threat that opposing defenses have to account for.
Fitzgerald Toussaint was finally able to break off a big run during a meaningful stretch of the game. Unfortunately the play ended with a fumble but it was still good to see Fitz flash the same level of explosiveness that he showed last season. The 50 yd run skewed the day that Fitz had from a statistical standpoint. Fitz ran hard but if you take out the one big run, the numbers show 42 yds and a 2.5 ypc average. The 50 yd run was big and must be taken into account when evaluating the running game but room to run was still hard to come by which effected the production of the backs. Thomas Rawls had just 3 carries, one helped Michigan convert for a 1st down while another was a goal line TD.
The passing production has spiked since the addition of Devin at QB and the WRs continue to be the primary beneficiaries. Roy Roundtree had his best game in almost three years, catching 5 passes for 139 yds including a critical 53 yd play late in the 4th that setup Michigan game tying FG. Jeremy Gallon had a career high 7 catches and 94 yds on Saturday and seems to have great chemistry with Devin. Last week, most of the plays Gallon made were downfield or in the end zone. This week Gallon was more active underneath in the short-intermediate passing game. Drew Dileo only had one catch but it came on a critical 3rd down that extended a scoring drive for Michigan. The WR core has been asked to do a lot over the years and that continues even with a more competent passer at QB. The WRs bailed out Devin several times on Saturday and kept quite a few passes from having plays made on them by defenders.
Devin Funchess returned to the end zone on key goal line play that gave Michigan back the lead in the 2nd half. Funchess does a great job playing the ball in the air and attacking it at its highest point. Funchess was targeted throughout the game but only managed one catch, that catch was critical in bringing Michigan back however.
Michigan improved from a week ago in pass protection but evaluating the run blocking has become a broken record. The QB didn’t have to run for his life as often on Saturday as the last two games and Michigan suffered just one sack.
There were times on Saturday when the offensive line blocked very well in the run game. It often took several attempts but Michigan was able to convert on the goal line and in short yardage by running the football. Converting short yardage may seem like a given but for this team and this line, that has not always been the case. The interior of the offensive line was marginally better than last week but continues to have issues when pulling or drive blocking. The offensive line was better when zone blocking but not consistently better.
Michigan did a decent job of defending Northwestern’s downhill running game. It was when the Wildcats ran to the outside that Michigan really had trouble. Will Campbell, Quinton Washington, Ondre Pipkins, and at times Jibreel Black and Craig Roh did a good job of not getting push around inside. There were times when the DTs allowed themselves to be sealed or pushed out of plays which cost the defense. The defensive ends did a better job of getting pressure on the QB when there were opportunities to do so. Craig Roh and Jibreel Black both accounted for sacks on Saturday and Frank Clark had a key TFL in the first half after shedding a block. The real issue for the ends were keeping contain on the option and playing their assignments. At times the ends got up field too fast and allow plays to cutback behind their assigned gap which allowed the ball to get outside. Getting penetration and playing sound assignments is critical when playing an option based team and the line had issues in both areas on Saturday. The defensive line made few too few plays behind the line and did not do a great job of disrupting Northwestern on the option.
After Grade: C-
The average day by the defensive was topped only by the play of the LBs who seemed to regress to the level of play at Michigan fans saw the first two weeks of the season. The LBers struggled mightily against Air Force in week 2 and returned to that form on Saturday against the Northwestern option. Desmond Morgan and Jake Ryan both struggled getting off blocks and making plays on the option. There were bad angles, bad tackles, and only a marginal level of success even after adjustments were made. Cam Gordon and James Ross saw more snaps in this game than they have in the past few because of their athleticism and potential against the option. Ross did a better job than Gordon or Morgan against the option, recording 6 tackles on the day.
The inside LBers did a much better job than the outside LBers on Saturday. The inside LBers had very different assignments which allowed them to roam more freely and make plays in space. Kenny Demens was as active as Michigan fans have seen him on Saturday and he finished the game with 9 tackles, including 2 huge TFL.
Michigan’s secondary has been skirting with fire throughout the season. The stats misled many fans into believing that the secondary is better than it is. The production and level of play has been very different. On Saturday, Michigan’s secondary was exposed to a large degree. Northwestern finished the game with just 183 yds but they completed 14-21 passes were able to convert whenever they needed to. J.T. Floyd and Raymon Taylor both found themselves lost in space which resulted in a number of TDs. Via formations and different route combinations Northwestern was able to isolate Michigan defenders 1 on 1 and take advantage of some very poor cover skills. The corners did a very poor job of turning their heads and identifying the football, eliminating the opportunity for them to make a play on the ball.
Thomas Gordon was very active in the run game and was forced to clean up a number of passing plays. Gordon had 11 tackles but he was also taken advantage of when Michigan played zone.
Will Hagerup returned to form on Saturday, booting 3 punts an average of 51 yds. Hagerup struggled the past two games coming into Saturday which really hurt the Wolverines from a field position standpoint. On Saturday, Hagerup went back to being a weapon for the defense and he was able to flip the field or get Michigan out of very poor field position situations.
Brendan Gibbons was called on to make another high pressure kick and he past yet another test with flying colors. Gibbons only had one FG attempt on the day and he made it count, knocking a 26yd boot through the uprights to send the game to overtime.
For the first time this season Michigan entrusted full-time punt return duties to Dennis Norfleet, though Gallon was also sent back at times. Gallon had was turned out to be a huge 23 yd punt return late in the 4th quarter that set Michigan up in great field position for the game tying drive. Norfleet averaged 26 yds per kick return and danced his way to a 37 yd return that probably should have resulted in loss yardage.
The kick coverage units gave up another long run on Saturday, allowing Mark Venric to go 40 yds. Thankfully there wasn’t enough time on the clock for the busted coverage to cost Michigan points but Saturday marked the 2nd game in the row where the return unit has given up a big return.
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.