Battle for the Jug Prediction

As Michigan and Minnesota prepare to meet for the 100th time Saturday in Ann Arbor, questions still surround the Michigan program and the direction Team 134 is heading. After two less than stellar performances against a couple of the more putrid teams in college football, a bye week couldn’t have come at a better time.

The same Devin Gardner who showed absolute brilliance Under the lights against Notre Dame, sans an ill advised pick 6 while being pressured, has turned the ball over 7 times total the past two weeks. Part can be attributed to inexperience, part due to sub par performance in the interior of the offensive line, but most importantly, Devin has played like a player that feels like he has to do it all. There were times scattered throughout the game at UCONN, where Devin just looked scared. He was aiming the ball, instead of throwing it. He looked quite simply like a quarterback who felt like he had to make the perfect pass.

Up front it appears that there will be a shakeup , with Graham Glasgow sliding over from guard to center, and RS Sophomore Chris Bryant entering the lineup at guard. Many reports coming in fall camp had Bryant starting before an injury slowed him. Michigan will likely give up some of the stretch runs, and try to pound between the tackles a bit more. There is no doubt that it may take some time to get acclimated but it gives Michigan a much better chance to keep Devin out of the 3rd and long situations which have resulted many of his turnovers. There is non doubt that this offense has potential to be explosive, if it can gain positive yards on first and second down and reduce their turnovers significantly.

On the defensive side of the ball, there have been some bright spots, even with the offense putting them in sudden change situations time and time again. It’s a fast and aggressive team, and while they seem to play more of a bend but don’t break style, they tighten up when the field is tilted to their side. It’s got playmakers, albeit inexperienced ones, and needs reps. It will also greatly benefit when Jake Ryan returns at some point this month. I think at some point Mattison will take them back to basics, and try more to keep it simple. Some of the inexperience in the secondary have limited his ability to dial up blitzes from all over, and when teams play max protect and have 6-7 guys staying in to block, generating pass rush has been difficult when they rush 4. Some of that will change when Ryan returns.

At the end of the day, Michigan should do a better job of running the football this week after the change in the OL, and much of the pressure should be off the shoulders of Devin Gardner.

A long ways to go, but Michigan gets it done this week. Michigan 34, Minnesota, 20.

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Game Prediction: Connecticut

Embarrassing. It’s really the only way to describe last week’s game against Akron. Call it a letdown after UTL2, call it taking Akron lightly as they brought a 27 game road losing steak to town, call it whatever you want. But be thrilled you won the game and can use an ugly loss as a teaching moment for the two deep roster littered with youth. At the end of the day, crisis ( and arguably the worst loss in Michigan history) was averted and hopefully experieUConn Nightnce was gained. Because a game like UConn should play out the same way Akron should have.

When Randy Edsall left and Paul Pasqualoni took, the cupboard was bare, and back to back 5-7 seasons ensued after Edsall took UConn to the Fiesta Bowl.

After back to back home losses by double digits to open the season to FCS Towson State and future B1G member Maryland, the Huskies will try to flip the script and improve upon their rushing game which stands at next to last in all of college football so far this season. Whether UConn being behind in games has forced them to abandon the run early is the issue or not, Michigan should load the box and pressure the Huskies. Greg Mattison has played very differently than his usual self in the first 3 games, and while some of it has been dictated by the offenses they have gone against, Michigan needs to bring more heat when the opponent attempts to max protect. Even if you have 6-7 back, given enough time, receivers will get open.

Will there be a shakeup on the interior of the offensive line? It remains to be seen, but more productivity is needed out of them. Granted it’s a young interior, but there is talent that needs to perform. Something that wasn’t lost on many last week.

Devin Gardner needs to limit his mistakes and be more of a game manager. Yes he can thread a needle much better than his predecessor but he also needs more experience reading the opposing defenses.

Michigan said all the right things after the Akron game, and we have been hearing all week the focus that wasn’t there in preparation last week is now there.

Proof will be in the pudding, but Michigan gets back on track, and is ready.

Michigan 42  UConn 17

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Grading The Performance: Notre Dame

The Good

Devin Gardner to Jeremy Gallon- Michigan fans have seen dynamic QB-WR duos in the past. Grbac to Howard, Brady to Terrell, and Henne to Edwards/Manningham come immediately to mind. While duos of the past have often produced stunning numbers, few have displayed the kind of relationship that the nation was treated to on Saturday night. Gardner and Gallon acted in unison for most of the night and seemed to be connected almost telepathically. The back shoulder fades that Notre Dame found so difficult to defend takes an enormous amount of practice and trust between QB and WR and Michigan’s 2013 duo made it look easy. Devin and Jeremy put on a beautiful display of teamwork and execution on Saturday that is likely the envy of many in both college and the NFL.

The Bad

Nonexistent pass rush- Getting pressure on the QB with a 4 man rush has been the major point of emphasis for the Michigan defense since the end of last season. Despite multiple opportunities for Michigan defenders to go one on one, the Wolverines failed to consistently beat blocks and pressure the QB. Notre Dame used a variety of maximum protections to keep Tommy Rees upright. Michigan struggled to beat blocks and get pressure with a 4 man rush even on the occasions when Notre Dame did not leave backs and TEs in to block however.

The Ugly

4th Quarter Interception- There were a number of instances that could have gone in this space. Notre Dame’s horrific secondary, Eminem’s bizarre halftime interview, Louis Nix’s nonexistent vertical jump. In the end, Devin Gardner’s interception in the endzone was too ugly to ignore. In reality the entire drive could have been include but Devin’s decision to throw the ball while being tackled in the endzone takes the cake. While ultimately not costing Michigan the game, the play marred was was otherwise a flawless performance for Mr. Gardner.

Grades

QB: A-

A single offensive series keeps the grade from reaching A+ level. Devin was the maestro for a Michigan offense that seemed unstoppable.

RB: B

Two of the biggest plays, a run and a reception, occurred on a single drive in the 4th quarter when it mattered most. With limited running room, Fitz Toussaint was able to eek out a number of big plays purely on effort.

WR/TE: A+

The difference in the game was the Michigan passing game, highlight by the playmakers outside. Gallon, Jake Butt, Dileo, Jeremy Jackson, and Devin Funchess all contributed big plays to a stellar day through the air.

O-line: C+

Notre Dame’s defensive line and constant blitzing did a number on the Michigan offensive line. The holes were few and far between and Devin was running for his life on too many occasions. Jack Miller put forth a Heraclea effort inside against Louis Nix, though the interior had issues overall identifying and picking up blitzers.

D-line: C

The lack of pass rush was alarming for the 2nd game in a row, registering zero sacks and only 2 TFL. Michigan is badly in need of high impact, game changing defensive linemen.

LBers: B-

Michigan’s LBers did an adequate job of filling run lanes and making tackles but there were issues with drops into coverage and proper pursuit. James Ross put in a Dr. Jerkel-Mr. Hyde performance, looking like an All-American one series then following it up by looking like a true freshman the next. Both Brennen Beyer and Cam Gordon did a great job making plays from the SAM position.

Secondary: B

Thanks to the defensive gameplan, the primary job of the secondary on Saturday was coming up and making tackles. The Wolverines did a masterful job of limiting the yards after catch for the Irish and also managed to produce two huge turnovers. Blake Countess is well on his way to becoming a bonafied playmaker.

Special teams: D

A dropped punt, a shanked kick, and poor kick coverage all played into a special teams unit that struggled to contribute in a positive way for the team.

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.

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Notre Dame Game Prediction

Electricity will fill the air Saturday in Ann Arbor, perhaps for the last time in the storied rivalry that is Michigan Vs ND. Some hundred plus years ago, Michigan taught the little leprechauns the brutal game of intercollegiate football, and hope to do so again Under the Lights in only the second night game in the 86 year history of the Big House. If the first time was any indication, we’re in for a treat at Stadium and Main. It’s the kind of setting that would just seem perfect for Keith Jackson.

With Michigan’s main three rivals all struggling to a certain extent with MAC schools in week one, The Wolverines handled CMU by half a hundred. While we shouldn’t read too much into that, it’s hard to ignore the success Michigan had, in spite of the numerous teaching moments. The secondary without its starting safeties ( one to injury, one to suspension) was human for much of the game in spite of the front seven generating a good amount of pressure. Some of that should be cleaned up this week, and both safeties return at least in part, assuming Courtney Avery hasn’t suffered any setbacks in his recovery from minor knee surgery.

The linebacking corp showed signs of excellence, even without potential all American Jake Ryan, and for the most part tackled very well.

By and large, the front 4 played well, generating pressure, albeit against a young, less talented offensive line, and a team which lost a starting QB and 1500 yard rusher in the first quarter to significant injuries.

On the offensive side of the ball, the line played very well. Holes were enormous on several occasions, and Devin Gardner had little pressure. Even the second team OL played very well, showing how the past couple of years in recruiting that group is paying great dividends.

Devin Gardner had success, in spite of a couple of ill advised throws, and continued to show how dangerous he is running the football when the play breaks down or simply isn’t there.

Brian Kelly brings his Fighting Irish in after a 28-6 victory over Temple. While the score is much closer than one might have thought, ND did put up over 500 yards of offense. They have explosive offensive weapons, as only one of their 4 scoring drives was over 3 plays. That being said, Michigan will be able to put more pressure on Tommy Rees, who has shown the propensity to turn the ball over under pressure (see 2011 UTL1).

On defense, you can definitely see that the Irish miss Manti Te’o in the middle, and from the film I watched of the second half of the Temple game Louis Nix was gassed. He looked physically exhausted. Carrying 357 pounds will do that to you. Expect Michigan to pound the leather on the ground. Even if they aren’t as successful as they would like early. If you wear out Nix in the second half, by constant double teams, he will be sucking on an oxygen mask. Temple showed that ND is susceptible on the edges and I expect to see the stretch running plays as well. Even if it’s not a normal thing for Al Borges to show, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some hurry up offense.  In the passing game, ND has a couple of good corners, but has inexperience up the middle, both in LB and Safety spots. I expect the TE’s to play a huge role in this game, especially Devin Funchess. He’s a mismatch that they can exploit.

If one thing Tommy Rees is good at, it’s pre-snap reads. He’s very good at getting the Irish into the right play. DC Greg Mattison will do his best to disguise what he’s doing, and he’s got the team speed to do it. If I were Brian Kelly, I’d try to run some hurry up offense as well. Michigan has so much depth on the defensive line, that he could neutralize that by running some no huddle.

At the end of the day, similar to last year, turnovers will reign supreme. If Devin Gardner can protect the football, Michigan should score a decent amount of points. I also don’t think Notre Dame will be able to sustain long drives on Michigan, and if the safeties keep the ball in front of them, ND more often than not will stall. 

Michigan 27, Notre Dame 17.

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Grading The Performance: Central Michigan

The GoodJibreel Black 3

Defensive Front Seven– Losing Jake Ryan was a definite blow to the defense but front 7 looked no worse for wear without the presence of #47. The front seven was as fast as the unit has been since 2006. Good pursuit is always preached by defensive coaches but the group of Saturday went above and beyond, often getting to their spots well ahead of their offensive counterparts. The LBers flowed to the ball with exceptional speed and quickness and were solid in their open field tackling. The line didn’t get quick as consistent a push or rush early as Greg Mattison probably would have liked, but they rebounded nicely in the second half and were active throughout. Jibreel Black and Mario Ojemudia flashed the ability to beat one on one blocks that the coaches have been pushing for since in the end of last season.

The Bad

Turnovers – Cutting down the number of turnovers has been a major point of emphasis that has been preached by both Brady Hoke and Al Borges. The first game often has its share of hiccups but the Wolverines did an average job of taking care of the football. The two interceptions have been a major point of discussion since Saturday, but there was also a muffed punt by Dennis Norfleet early in the 1st half.

The Ugly

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