Grading The Performance: Purdue

Quarterback

This was by the most efficient day for the quarterbacks that we’ve seen all season. It wasn’t a huge day statistically through the air or the ground but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The offense has been dependent on the play of the QB for the entire year. Saturday was the first game where the QBs have taken a back seat. Denard played the role of distributor more than that of creator or facilitator as he’s done in the past. That isn’t to say that Denard didn’t make some key plays on his own. Denard was in his comfort zone as a passer and it showed. He did get into trouble locking onto Kevin Koger, which cost him a pick, and he once again threw off his back foot into coverage when pressured. Those plays were the exception in the game however. Since arriving at Michigan, Denard’s best throws have come on the intermediate dig route, and Saturday was no exception, as he rifled a perfect strike to Jeremy Gallon in stride, and was on the money on the rest of his short passes.

Devin Gardner continues to receive snaps; which will only help his development. Devin handled managing the offense well enough, but did throw a key interception. He likely kicked himself after watching the film, as there were two wide open receivers; his pass was nowhere near either of them. He is likely still a year or 2 away from being ready.

Grade: C+

Running Back

What a day for Fitz Toussaint, who likely locked himself into the #1 RB role. Fitz showed a burst that we haven’t  seen from him since he arrived at Michigan, but one he flashed in HS. Earlier in the year, Fitz was run down in the open field on several occasions, nothing like that happened on Saturday however. Outside of the speed, Fitz also displayed great vision and cutting ability, which we have really lacked at the RB position since Mike Hart. Even though he didn’t get in the game until late, Mike Shaw continued to show strong running ability. It continues to baffle me why he doesn’t receive more carries, he’s been effective every time he’s touched the ball.

Stephen Hopkins seems to have really taken to the FB position. Hopkins put down some key blocks for the backs, and while he has had trouble holding onto the ball, he’s earned the opportunity for significant playing time at FB

Grade: A+

Wide Receivers

I won’t go as far as calling this a bounce back game for the receivers after their performance against Michigan State, but they did make some very nice plays and bailed out their QB out on occasion. Jeremy Gallon is beginning to live up to the hype he had coming out of HS as an All-American. When he gets the opportunity to make a play in space he’s a real weapon. Roy Roundtree always manages to get himself wide open whenever we play Purdue. I don’t think he has ever let the controversy surrounding his recruitment go. He seems to play with an especially large chip on his shoulder against Purdue.

The long runs we got in the run game were only possible as a result of good blocking downfield. Junior Hemingway only had 2 catches in the game but he was a monster in the run game. At 6’1 225lbs he is an imposing blocker that sets up defenders for blocks very well.

Grade: B

Offensive Line

Before the game Center David Molk commented that the linemen took the result of the Michigan State game personal and it showed. You could tell that the line had been challenged in the 2 weeks leading up to the game as they came out very aggressive. For the old school Michigan football fan this game had to be like Christmas morning. The line was finally able to execute the power play effectively, including the pulling guards. Ricky Barnum returned and was having his best game in weeks before going down with another injury. The passing game included a lot of short-intermediate passes which made pass blocking much easier for the O-line. There was plenty of time for the QB on most plays even if Michigan had decided to use plays that took longer to develop. Taylor Lewan continues to add to his tough guy lore. Lewan is having the best season out of any of the linemen and has been injured through most of it. It’s amazing to think what he would be playing like if he were 100%. He’s the one guy on the offensive line we cannot afford to lose but probably will at some point in the future. The human body can only take so much before breaking down and Lewan’s body has to be reaching its limit.

Grade: B+

Defensive Line

Another unit that needed to bounce back strongly after the Michigan State game was the defensive line and they really responded. Purdue made the ridiculous choice to single block Mike Martin early in the game on Saturday and they paid the price for it. Martin was all over the place, running down backs, sacking the QB, and even collected a safety (though he should have been flagged for a facemask). Martin wasn’t the only linemen to play well however. Van Bergen, true freshman Frank Clark, Craig Roh, and Big Will Campbell all had very positive days in run support and rushing the QB. Purdue which came into the game with a pretty respectable run game only managed 117yds, 41 of which can on a single run by wildcat QB Caleb TerBush.

The defensive line flat out dominated Purdue up front.

 Grade: A

Linebackers

Jake Ryan had a very active day after being totally quiet against the Spartans. Ryan was constantly in the backfield disrupting plays and putting pressure on the QB. He still has issues keeping contain on outside runs, mostly because he’s so aggressive at the snap that he ignores his assignment. True freshman Desmond Morgan received his first start of the season and had an up and down day. He led the team in tackles, but had issues tackling in space and taking the correct angle. Purdue rarely attempted runs up the middle so Kenny Demens day was mostly spent pursuing plays.

Grade: C+

Secondary

Short of the rained out game last year Michigan has really struggled at defending Purdue’s passing game the last few years. Especially at keeping the Boilermakers from completing short passes and turning them into big plays. On the first drive, the secondary looked like it has in the past. Purdue walked down the field on their first drive, mostly through the air, on their way to an easy TD. Once the secondary switched to man to man coverage, and cut down their cushion, they locked Purdue’s receivers down. J.T. Floyd was especially good breaking up the pass in man coverage. He wasn’t always in front of the receiver, but he did a great job of knocking the ball out of receivers’ hands when they tried to catch it. Courtney Avery ha d a great diving interception and Blake Countess continued his strong play. Jordan Kovacs didn’t play yet there was no drop off in play with Troy Woolfolk in the game. Woolfolk has played safety before so Saturday wasn’t a huge change for him but it will be an adjustment nonetheless.

Once the game was decided the second group of DBs did not fare as well.

Grade: B+

Special Teams

This marks the second game in a row that the special teams have had a positive impact on the game. Will Hagerup averaged 40 yds per punt while Matt Wile did a great job getting his kickoffs deep. Brendan Gibbons finally nailed a semi-pressurized kick, then added a 2nd FG for good measure. The coverage units, which have been the strength of the special teams, continued their strong play. We continue to get nothing out of our return units though. A return ace has to be at the top of the wish list for the special teams coach.

Grade: B

Coaching

Defensively this was another game of adjustments. I am continually amazed at how well and quickly the defensive coaches and the players are able to adjust on the fly. Some of the in game improvement is simply motivation, getting guys to play better. Some of it is actually adjusting to what the opposing team is doing. It took all of one series for Mattison and Mallory to adjust to the quick passing game of Purdue. Michigan was burned on the first drive of the game with the slip screen that went for a TD. The next time Purdue ran the play Michigan was ready for it and got an interception. I don’t remember anything in detail from Mattison’s first stint as Michigan’s defensive coordinator in the 90s but I know that Michigan has not had this level of schematic advantage defensively in all the years I’v e been watching Michigan football closely (that includes 1997 and 2006).

It is hard to complain when your offense puts up 36 points, gains 25 first downs, and racks up 535 yds of total offense, including 300+ on the ground. With that said, the play calling on the offensive side was mix of very good and very bad. It has taken months, but Al Borges may have finally settled on what Denard does well in the passing game. This is the passing game we should have been using all season and what should be the focus going forward. Borges dialed up a nice cocktail of short-intermediate passes with an occasional deep pass when the situation dictated it. Denard was really in his comfort zone and looked every bit the part of a D1 QB. The run to pass ratio was great and from the middle of the 2nd quarter on and Borges seem to push all the right buttons between the 20s. Borges getting Jeremy Gallon and the other slot receivers involved will be pay dividends of Borges keeps calling their number.

There are two main areas of complaint I had with the play calling on Saturday. The first is one most will recognize from past articles. The lack of play progression and overall flow continued in this game. Nowhere was that more evident than Michigan’s last offensive drive of the first quarter. On first down, Michigan came out in a power run look, under center with 2 backs and a TE. Coming into the game Michigan was averaging a little over 3 yds per carry from under center. Now running from under center is not my major complaint. Michigan ended up having the most amount of success running the ball from under center after all. It is what came after that I take issue with. On first, Michigan proceeded to hand off from the power look and promptly lost 2 yds (not unexpected). On second down though, Michigan came out in the exact same power look only they ran a play action fake. Denard was promptly sacked for a loss of 8 yds by an OLB who never even bothered to glance at the RB. The odds of the initial run play working were very low to begin with and as they have for most of the season. Michigan losing yards in that situation is nothing new. The odds of a play action pass working off a play that had gained -2 yds the play before however were close to zero. Unless the initial run is successful, the chances of play action fakes being successful off those plays are extremely low. Michigan has continued to run counters off plays that either don’t work or aren’t called during the game and just like Saturday, they seldom work as they are doomed from the start. If teams don’t respect your base run plays, they’ll never fall for the play fakes that your run off of them.

Short yardage also continues to be an issue. Michigan had 4 cracks from the 1 yd line and couldn’t punch it in, much to Brady Hoke’s displeasure. Michigan’s ability to blow people off the ball, including teams like Purdue remains limited. The offense has to do a better job of both play calling and execution on short yardage. This gets back to knowing and understanding the personnel on hand. The more options you give yourself to score the better. Denard in a run-pass option is never a bad play call, including on short yardage.

Grade: B

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.

Past Grading The Performances: