Denard Robinson has traditionally played well in bounce back games. Robinson has gone through his share of poor performances but has usually returned the next time out with a great effort. Saturday was no exception as Denard turned in another great performance. The offense continues to lean on Denard as the sole bread winner. 200 yd. days on the ground from Denard have become surprisingly routine though no less spectacular. 235 yds. on 24 carries would be considered extraordinary for a RB but has become expected for Denard. Denard was efficient with his runs, he picked his spots and exploded when creases became available. Denard’s vision and natural running ability are some of his most underrated qualities. Everyone notices the speed and acceleration but the vision is really what really allows Denard to make much of the plays he does in the running game. After 3 years in the system Denard still has issues reading when to give and when to keep the ball on the zone read.
After an abysmal passing performance against Notre Dame, Robinson was protective of the football and Michigan limited the number of passing attempts in the game. Denard threw a picture perfect TD pass to Devin Gardner late in the 2nd quarter and actually threw the ball away when he found himself in trouble. Robinson still showed some accuracy issues, he overthrew a wide open Fitz Toussaint on what should have been a routine play.
For weeks Michigan fans have wondered whether the lack of production from the running game outside of Denard Robinson was a product of the backs or the offensive line/Denard. While there wasn’t always perfect blocking or reads from the QB, clearly there are issues with the backs. Fitzgerald Toussaint was a shell of his former self, hesitant, slow, and not assertive. I continue to wonder whether Fitz is nursing an injury that hasn’t be disclosed to the media because he looks nothing like the back that gained close to 1,000 yards in just the last 5 games of last season. Vincent Smith performed barely better than Fitz on the few opportunities he was given. The most impressive back of the game was Thomas Rawls who gained 33yds and scored a TD in garbage time. It has become repetitive but Michigan must continue trying to get more production out of the “non-Denard running game.”
Michigan only threw the ball 16 times so the pass catches did not get many opportunities to make players. As a unit the receivers had a good day with what they had to work with. Jeremy Gallon continues to prove to be a nightmare for opposing teams to handle in space. On screens, jet sweeps, and just standard passing plays Gallon is tough for any defense to handle. Devin Gardner continues to improve but also continues to demonstrate that there is still work for him to do to truly excel at the WR position. Devin’s route running and physicality has improved throughout the season. Devin still exhibits issues catching the ball on the routine plays but he continues to have a flair for the spectacular.
Devin Funchess continues to impress in the passing game. The lone catch credited to Funchess took an amazing effort. Funchess record a 2nd impressive catch his feet were out of bounds preventing the play from showing up in the box score. Funchess still has a ways to go as blocker though he continues to give great effort.
The Michigan offensive line had a tough task heading into the game trying to control future first draft pick Kawann Short. The interior of the offensive line had the toughest task and they played very well in both the run and passing game. It often took a double team or combo block but the interior of the line largely controlled Short limiting him to 1 TFL and zero sacks. Ricky Barnum had one of the better games of his Michigan career. Michigan continues to lean on Patrick Omameh has the main pulling guard and he continues to struggle with it. Omameh does a much better job of actually getting out of the shute this year than last but he continues to have issues engaging defenders and moving bodies.
The offensive line continues to go a great job in pass protection and Denard rarely had to rush his throws or move off of his spot. Taylor Lewan was his usual stellar self on the left side of the line. The ability to stand defenders up and/or slide them off of the line to the QB is becoming Lewan’s best quality as a blocker. It is easy to see why Lewan has crept into the first round of many NFL mock drafts.
The interior of the defensive has improved to the point where the players manning the position look like completely different people. Quinton Washington has improved by leaps and bounds and has actually become disruptive to opposing offenses. While the two DTs may not make a lot of plays that show up in the stats, their ability to tie up defenders or knock opposing guards into the backfield has opened up opportunities for the LBers and safeties to make plays behind them. It is no accident why the LBers have looked better over the last two weeks. Opposing teams are no longer able to immediate climb to the second level because of the play of the guys inside.
The DEs continue to have issue generating a pass rush but they are doing a much better job of containing runs and at least shrinking the pocket. Craig Roh forced several QB hurries and was good in pursuit. The end continue to lack the ability to win 1 on 1 blocks on a consistent basis and terrorize opposing QBs on/
The LBers have received a ton of help from the defensive line in recent weeks which has made their jobs much easier. It is amazing how much better guys like Desmond Morgan and Kenny Demens look when they don’t have to fight off blocks before knifing down ball carriers. The LBers had free reign at times on Saturday to the point where the only contact was with the baller carrier or QB. The tackling from the LB core has also improved by leaps and bounds. Jake Ryan continues to make plays behind the line of scrimmage and is starting to force teams to account for him and run to the other side of the field. Greg Mattision has repeatedly commented on his desire to get a rotation of players in the front 7 and Michigan has reached the point where they are able to do that. Cam Gordon was extremely active against Purdue and is proving himself to be a valuable asset against spread teams. Purdue has lived on the short passing game for years and Gordon is largely responsible for disrupting Purdue gameplan. Gordon knocked down passes but most important he beat blocks against the bubble screens and disrupted the timing of WRs off the line.
When it rains, it pours for the secondary. 2 weeks after recorded the first two takeaways of the season against Notre Dame, the secondary came up with 2 more and should have been given credit for a 3rd. Raymon Taylor record the first pick 6 of the season for Michigan after having a tipped pass fall into his lap. Taylor continues to find himself around the football which will likely increase as future opportunity will likely target him over J.T Floyd. Thomas Gordon record the over takeaway of the game after intercepting Robert Marve. Gordon also stripped the football from a Purdue receiver but the officials ruled the runner down and there was no replay. Jordon Kovacs was hobbled by injury but played through it. Michigan cannot afford to be without Kovacs on the field as he is the primarily communicator for the defense.
The Purdue passing game entered the contest ranked 3rd in the Big 10 in passing. The Wolverines held Purdue to a pedestrian 157yds passing in the game including 1-11 on 3rd down.
Brendan Gibbons knocked home 3 FGs after failing to connect on his first attempt. Gibbons 45 yd attempt in the first half clanked off the crossbar which is surprising considering the range that Gibbons has shown in the past.
Will Hagerup continues to boom punt after punt, connecting on a 57yd punt that never touched the ground. Hagerup continues to lead the nation in punting average with 49.7yds per punt. Matt Wile continued his role as kickoff man and short distance punter, recording both a punt within the 20 and a touchback.
Michigan fans continue to wait with baited breath for Dennis Norfleet to break a big return. Norfleet averaged 25.3yds per return including a long of 38 but has found and truly big returns elusive.
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.