Grading The Performance: Minnesota

Photo Gallery from Michigan’s 58-0 Thumping of Minnesota

Quarterback

What a bounce back game for Denard Robinson. Amid all the criticism, scrutiny, and even calls for a QB change, Denard came out and produced his best game of the season from a passing perspective. Denard was accurate, efficient, and looked completely comfortable in the pocket, something we haven’t seen from him  since last season. Despite what some may consider a paltry amount of yards this is just the kind of performance Michigan needs the rest of the way through. 15-19, 169yds, 2 TD, 0 INT is the stat line, though I am just as excited about the decision making and the ease at which Denard made completion after completion. When he is in his comfort zone Denard IS a good passer, he showed that on Saturday and hopefully keeps it up the rest of the season. Maybe Denard should have his elbow drained before every game considering the results.

Devin Gardner certainly showed flashes of the ability that made him such a highly rated QB coming out of HS. His passing was a bit hit or miss but there were limited opportunities. Devin is certainly not afraid to thread passes into tight windows as he did on the run to Hemingway.

Grade: B+

Running Back

If Michigan gave out helmet stickers, Vincent Smith would have trouble finding room after Saturday. On Saturday, Smith became the first player in Michigan history to record a passing, rushing, and receiving TD in the same game. Not bad for a prospect out of “The Muck” of Pahokee who was deemed too short and too small by most of the “experts” and coaches in the country. Fitz Toussaint continues to impress with his combination of speed and power. Fitz averaged a Denard Robinson like 9.8 yard per carry on Saturday. He did get caught from behind again, which has happened quite a few times this season. True freshman Thomas Rawls was impressive in his first clip getting extended carries. I`m still not crazy about burning his redshirt, but he definitely had his moments on Saturday. Even Mike Shaw finally got back into the act and had a lot of success on limited carries, especially on the cutback plays.

Grade: A

Wide Receivers

While Michigan fans were certainly happy with the improvement in the passing game, no one was happier than the WR core. Junior Hemingway had several very nice catches as did Jeremy Gallon.  Drew Dileo had 2 catches, none bigger than his TD catch on the RB pass from Vincent Smith. While not all of the receivers caught passes, they all did a very good job of blocking for the backs. One thing that has never changed despite the coaching changes over the last 15-20 years is how well Michigan WRs block. Roy Roundtree and Junior Hemingway were especially good blockers on Saturday. Kevin Koger had his best game of the season after suffering from a case of the drops the past few weeks.

Grade: B

Offensive Line

Michigan ran a lot of different schemes up front and the line transitioned seamlessly from one to the next. While the weak Minnesota front 7 helped, the play of line can’t be undervalued in this game. It takes a lot of time and great blocking to pull off some of the plays Michigan ran on Saturday. The counters, and traps were fairly complicated, especially for an O-line that is not use to doing those things. The guards still struggle with some of the pulling but they were better they have been. There are still times when the pulling linemen fail to get in front of a defender, much less block them.

Grade: B+

Defensive Line

The fact that we played Minnesota has to be factored in, but the defensive line was flat out dominant on Saturday. The line produced 3 sacks, 3 TFLs, plus put constant pressure on the QB. Big Will Campbell continues to flash instances of brilliance, he buried 2 separate players on one play, including the QB, leading to a poorly thrown ball that was nearly intercepted. Jibreel Black  had a good day off the edge and recorded his first sack of the season. Meanwhile Minnesota got absolutely no push inside and couldn’t run the ball as a result.

Grade: A

Linebackers

Jake Ryan seems to be in on every big defensive play near the line of scrimmage, even when he doesn’t make the play himself. Ryan is the kind of player that coaches love. A guy who is always around the football and always seems to be in the right place at the time when a big play happens. Maybe my expectations are too high, but I continue to wait for Kenny Demens to make a big play during a game. The kid has too much ability not to turn average plays into big ones.

Grade: B-

Secondary

Once again Blake Countess is the talk of the secondary. At some point we are going to have to stop using the line “for a freshman…………” Blake is making plays well beyond his years, freshman CBs don’t usually rake the hands of the ball carrier while tackling. Most are just worried about making the tackle. We’ll have to see if Blake continues this level of play against the better WRs and QBs in the Big 10. With the exception of Countess the rest of the secondary had an uneventful day

 Grade: C+

Special Teams

What a difference a year makes for Brendan Gibbons. Gibbons has already surpassed his FG total from the last year. Gibbons has passed his first test in making reasonably long FGs, now he has to prove he can make FGs when Michigan has less than a 28 pt lead. Will Hagerup returned to the lineup from suspension and had an average day, for him, with a 37 yard per punt average. It should be noted that Michigan only punted twice, thanks to an outstanding offensive day, so Hagerup didn’t get many opportunities to punt. The return and kick units were average, Matt Wile did a decent job getting the ball deep on what proved to be a windy day.

Grade: B-

Coaching

For much of the season Greg Mattison has been the person keeping the grade given to the coaches from being abysmal. That is not the case this week. The play of the defense on Saturday cannot be overstated, though. Michigan hasn’t pitched many shutouts over the last decade. While the defense played great, helped by a bad Minnesota squad starting a true freshman, credit must be given for actually holding any D1 team to zero points. Michigan has played a lot of bad offenses, yet this is the first shutout since September 2007.

The play of the defense was overshadowed by what happened on offense though. Simply put, Al Borges called a flawless game. This was the most creative Michigan has been offensively since the 2008 Capital One Bowl against Florida. Borges displayed several new plays and formations that Michigan fans haven’t seen, much less the opposition. The counters that Michigan ran out of the shotgun were plays I have been waiting to see for 3 years. On top of that Borges brought out a number of plays with Devin and Denard Robinson in the game together than Minnesota was completely unprepared for. The best part of the day was the aggressiveness that Michigan showed. This was no vanilla gameplan, there were no hiding of plays to keep other teams from seeing them. Michigan ran a halfback pass while up 14-0 and driving, that’s certainly out of the ordinary for us Michigan fans. If I had to guess I would imagine that there is even more in the Al Borges treasure chest that we have yet to see. For the first time this season I am excited to see what Al Borges has in store for the next game.

Grade: A+

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.