There’s no doubt that Denard Robinson improved this off season, in both the run and passing game. Denard’s footwork, mechanics, and decision making have all improved and are as good as they’ve been since he arrived at Michigan. With all that said, there are still moments when Denard reverts back to old habits. Like most QBs, he struggles with pressure in his face. Denard’s “oh no” moments have happened most often when he’s felt pressure. Saturday was no exception as Denard’s decision making, footwork, and accuracy went out the window, resulting in a horrendous pick 6 in the second quarter. Unfortunately the focus for many will be the pick 6, a play that shouldn’t overshadow what was an otherwise great performance.
Denard has made so many spectacular plays over the years that Michigan fans now take it for granted. Denard has turned the spectacular into the ordinary, it has now become something that we expect to see. Denard’s 36 yd TD run (@the 4:45 mark) in the 2nd quarter in a prime example.
For most of the QBs that Michigan has had over the last 20 or so years, the play above would have resulted in a throw away, a minimal gain, or a sack. For Denard, the play results in a TD. Poor competition or not, that was an unbelievable play and the kind of play that is sure to become extinct after #16 is gone. Yes Denard’s play at times can force you to hurl things across the room and scare family pets. Denard’s bad can be REALLY bad. At the same time, Denard’s good is unlike anything most have ever seen in college football. Denard has made plays in the maize and blue that couldn’t be replicated in a video game. Denard takes a lot of flak and while some of the criticism is warranted, it must be juxtaposed with the fact that Michigan fans are blessed to be in the presence of greatness on a weekly basis.
Backup QB Russell Bellomy finally saw extended playing time on Saturday and was able to flash the athletic ability he has been touted for. There weren’t many opportunities for Bellomy to throw the ball but he made some very good plays with his legs. Whether he is anything more than a back-up QB remains to be seen.
The Michigan coaches wanted to get Fitz Toussaint 20-25 carries but fell short. Even with relatively few carries, Fitz was able to show the kind of burst and quickness that earned him so many accolades toward the end of last season. Fitz always runs hard and Brady Hoke and Co. love this but his single best quality remains the lateral quickness. Fitz has rare naturally running ability that you just can’t coach. Vincent Smith finished the game with 3 carries, two of which were TDs. Smith also added a 19 gain on a screen pass early in the game that setup another score.
It took 3 games but Thomas Rawls finally showed something in the run game. Rawls flashed decent initial burst and showed the kind of physicality that Fred Jackson and others have raved about. Justice Hayes was the most impressive of the young backs. Hayes didn’t hesitate or tip-toe between the tackles, scored a TD, and clearly has speed to burn. Dennis Norfleet received his first offensive snaps and didn’t disappoint, gaining 14 yds on his one and only carry. The coaches are clearly trying to setup plays for later on down the road using Norfleet. Norfleet’s ability to get to the corner and make plays in the open field is something the Michigan offense is lacking outside of Denard Robinson. It will be interesting to see what Al Borges has planned for Norfleet in the future.
Joe Kerridge filled in for the injured Stephen Hopkins and did a good job of blocking when Michigan went to more “traditional” formations. Kerridge may not blow up a lot of guys in the hole but he does a great job of moving bodies and angling his blocks.
Devin Gardner’s move to WR was permanent and for good reason. The more reps he gets at WR the better he will be. Devin is still learning and growing as a WR but has shown a lot of ability already. Devin hadn’t down a lot after the catch coming into the game but showed that he post major YAC production if given the opportunity. It was good to see Roy Roundtree finally break through with a major positive play. The move from the slot to the outside has clearly effected Roy’s production but he has found ways to contribute in other area. The reward in this game was a sorely needed TD for #21. Drew Dileo and Jeremy Gallon both had major contribution in the passing game as well. Dileo found himself wide open in the open field and was incredibly caught from behind. It’s a good thing that the opponent was UMass, opportunities to score like the one Dileo had don’t come along often against a better opponent. It is important to take advantage of the opportunities that arise because there is no guarantee that they will present themselves again. Gallon did most of his damage on screen passes but also made a nice catch on a more tradition route.
Devin Funchess made his first start at TE and was able to find the end zone once again. Funchess was the beneficiary of the opposing defense’s obsession with Denard which left him wide open with nothing but the end zone in front. Funchess gives a great effort as a blocker but he just isn’t there from a technique or strength standpoint. Funchess knows who to block on most plays but has issues with execution and impact blocking. M. Kwiatkowski did a much better job of blocking than Funchess and also added a 16yd reception to boot. Kwiatkowski won’t scare opposing teams in the passing game like Funchess but the Wolverines need him to be a factor in the running game until Brandon Moore returns.
There normally isn’t a lot to pick on when a team runs for 300 yds. The offensive line did a better job of run blocking in this game than they have in the past but they still weren’t good enough. The line continues to struggle moving bodies back. Creating a new line of scrimmage is still a major sticking point for the coaches and an area where the offensive continues to struggle. Elliott Mealer and Taylor Lewan remain the only linemen who consistent push opposing players back in the run game. UMass eventually wore down but there weren’t the kind of holes to run through that you would expect against an inferior opponent. The offensive line remains a work in progress from a rushing standpoint.
Pass protection remains a major strength for the Wolverines. There were multiple plays where Denard Robinson had 7-8 seconds of time in the pocket, sometimes longer. How the line holds up against a team with a heavy blitz package remains to be seen.
After 2 games where the Wolverines received little in the way of positive play from the DE position, the edge play against UMass was overwhelming. Frank Clark was an animal on the field against the pass and he made plays all over the field. Clark didn’t record a sack but he constantly flushed out and hurried the opposing QB and batted down balls at the line of scrimmage. Jibreel Black also had a very nice day, especially against the run, recording 2 tackles behind the line. UMass didn’t attempt many runs up the middle so the DTs weren’t challenged as they had been in the previous two games. The Wolverines continue to lack an inside pass rush from its DTs no matter who is in the game. Most of the plays made by the DT unit occur in pursuit, very rarely by an active penetration.
The LBers improved in the tackling department this week but still has issues taking good angles, especially outside. The tackling wasn’t great but it was definitely a step forward from the performance against Alabama and Air Force. Jake Ryan continues to just make plays at SAM, whether with a hand in the dirt or standing up. The insertion of James Ross and Joe Bolden has significantly upgraded the overall speed and athleticism of the front 7 and it is apparent on a play by play basis. As expected, the young LBers struggle with consistency and the final execution. It is obvious that both will be very good LBers in time.
It was a quiet day for the secondary. The front 7 constantly harassed the QB limiting the UMass passing threat. J.T Floyd had a good day in coverage but missed on several throws that should have been interceptions. The same issue with Dileo applies for Floyd, opportunities to make big plays and punish the opponent are rare and must be taken advantage of. The safeties did a decent job in run support but overall there was nothing spectacular in their play. The safety play so far this season has average at best and this game was no different. The safeties will rarely cost Michigan a game but they`ll also rarely be responsible for Michigan winning a game.
Will Hagerup showed off the strength of his leg once again, launching a 62 yd punt and averaging 46 (EDIT) yds per punt in the game. Hagerup has bounced back nicely from the struggles of last year and is currently the nation’s leader in yards per punt.
Matt Wile had been doing a great job on kicks offs coming into the game but he sailed one kick out of bounds and failed to put several others outside the field of play. Wile did come on late to kick XPs. Brendan Gibbons had an uneventful day kicking nothing but XPs.
The return units had an average day after posting very good days in the last two games. Dennis Norfleet averaged 22 yd per kick return and was never able to find much in the way of running room on returns.
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.