For five minutes on Saturday I was in heaven. I know I was. Clear as day, there it was. Michigan’s new offense was humming along like a choir of angels right before they break into song. Playfully kidding around, as if what they were doing was effortless and just for fun.
Photo Courtesy John T. Greilick / The Detroit News, via multimedia.detnews.com
Freshman quarterback Steven Threet ran the spread to perfection during those first five minutes. Ball fakes, deft runs, even they occasional shake and bake for an extra yard. Martavious Odoms frittered down the field like the little water bug we’d heard he was all summer. Sam McGuffie was our main tailback and ran like he was on air. Then finally, a beautiful ball fake and zone read by Threet turned into a 12 yard touchdown prance, as he walked into the endzone untouched for Michigan’s opening score on its opening possession. I cheered, happy, almost giddy that the spread we’d been promised had finally arrived. Even if it was a week late, I didn’t care. It was marvelous. It was also 7-0 Michigan, en route to a 16-6 win over the Miami of Ohio Redhawks.
If only Michigan could live the rest of the season in those opening five minutes.
From that point on it was a frustrating afternoon. Whether it was Threet overthrowing receivers, a confusing game plan from the coaches, or Sheridan doing his best tree imitation, nothing seemed to work. Easy passes were overthrown or under thrown. Michigan running backs alternated 15 yard sprints with getting dropped at the line of scrimmage or 4 yards deep in their backfield. Any forward pass designed to go farther than 5 yards was banished from the playbook after Threet and Sheridan showed no ability to complete them. The offensive line was performing passably, but took a huge hit when starting left tackle Mark Ortmann left the game with an injured right arm and was replaced by a former walkon.
Even on defense things were spotty. This may be a strange thing to say when the defense limits a team to 252 yards and less than 50 rushing yards, but there were holes evident in the linebacking corps and safety positions. On more than one occasion the linebackers were sucked up into the line of scrimmage for no reason, leaving the corners of the line exposed for first down runs. At the safety position, while I thought Brandon Harrison was one of Michigan’s best players on Saturday, Stevie Brown had his second straight shaky game. Brown repeatedly found himself trailing receivers that were his responsibility only to be bailed out only by an overthrow or the receiver bobbling a sure catch.
It was as if those opening five minutes were there just to taunt us. Despite the promise of those fleeting moments nothing went the way it was supposed to afterwards. Threet was supposed to claim the starting quarterback slot as his own. The linebackers were supposed show continued improvement. The Defensive line was supposed to get continuous pressure. The receivers were supposed to actually catch a ball. The play book was supposed include more than four plays. But all those things didn’t happen.
Despite that, Michigan won. And they produced a win that had some benefits. Michigan showed everyone it is capable of running the ball even though it can’t throw it. Sam McGuffie showed he is, in fact, the real deal rushing for 74 yards on 17 carries. Michael Shaw wowed everyone with two electric runs for 45 yards before leaving with a groin injury. Brandon Minor reappeared from his fumble induced seclusion to fight for one of the best 15 yard touchdown runs you’ll ever see. Maybe even more importantly, the guy that made Minor's touchdown dive possible with a crushing block was... Carson Butler!?
Yes, that is Carson Butler crushing some fool.
Photo via Kirthmon F. Dozier cmsimg.freep.com
Further, Steven Threet showed his feet are not made out of cement or tar. Steve Schilling had, at least on my recollection, an excellent day and was the focus of the Michigan running game. Brandon Harrison broke up a sure touchdown and had a number of hard, outstanding tackles. Jonas Mouton looked fairly competent at linebacker, despite making a couple of errors in his reads. Donovan Warren continues to be awesome on defense even if he’s fairly useless as a punt returner. On the other hand, Boubacar Cissoko is electrifying with the ball in his hands. I can’t wait to see more of him. So there are positives to take away from Saturday’s game.
However, even with the positives the same questions that followed the Utah game remain to be answered.
Who’s our quarterback? Dunno. Steven Threet appeared to be the best suited quarterback to run the offense, but Rodriguez pulled him toward the end of the first half after Threet’s arm had proven as accurate as a SCUD missile. Even so, it’s not as though Sheridan did anything with his feet or arm that makes anyone think his future is brighter than Threet’s. Even with Threet’s overthrows he managed to avoid putting the Michigan defense on a short field with interceptions or stupid forced throws. More importantly for Rodriguez’ system, Threet looked substantially more mobile than Sheridan has at any point under center. 5 carries for 26 yards isn’t bad. And when you consider the difference in arm strength and potential in the passing game, 5.2 yards per carry out of a quarterback is more than adequate out of a guy like Threet.
Why are we still playing zone against experienced teams and shouldn’t there be a few more blitzes? Your guess is as good as mine. For some reason Shafer likes his DBs 10 yards off the receivers. Maybe he thinks it takes the pressure off his linebackers to react to things they’re not ready to manage. I don’t know. When Michigan brought its linebackers to the line, it left the corners of the line wide open, so perhaps he wanted to limit the ground game, but that is just a guess. Michigan got pressure simply overloaded the Miami line. But when the D Line went mono-y-mono with Miami’s very large line, Miami’s QB had enough time to make a sandwich, as well as air out a couple of bombs against Stevie Brown or Morgan Trent. When faced with more talented receivers, the pressure and the coverage could be problems.
Are we ever going to try a forward pass again? Maybe. Maybe not. Threet had receivers wide open and flat out missed them. At least two of them (an overthrow of Butler on Michigan’s second possession, and a sideline over throw of Hemmingway later on) would have resulted in touchdowns. After Threet’s second sideline overthrow, it was apparent that McGee did not trust his quarterbacks to throw the ball vertically ever again. However, even prior to the three overthrows that banished Threet to the headset, the majority of Michigan’s passes were glorified running plays with the QB throwing a quick 90 degree pass to Odoms or one of Michigan’s other jitterbugs. Until Threet learns not to let his emotions/adrenaline get the best of him, Michigan’s vertical passing game may remain tucked away in the "break glass in the case of 21 point deficit" box.
No matter what the answers are, we’re not going to know them until after Michigan’s matchup with Notre Dame. We’re not going to know whether those 5 minutes of heaven were merely a tantalizing glimpse into what this offense is capable of, or more a freak occurrence more akin to a lightning strike than competency.
Never the less, for five minutes on Saturday, Michigan was beautiful, competent, effective. And those five minutes will have to carry us until Michigan gets off the bus in South Bend this Saturday.