I am by no means an expert on football, so take this for what it's worth. But here's how I would break down the Michigan team, after seeing them perform Saturday against Notre Dame.
- DENARD ROBINSON. Of course. Everything to say about his performance the last two weeks has already been said. One thing I'd like to emphasize though: Out of all those plays, not a single one has gone for negative yardage. Outstanding.
- TURNOVERS. In 2 games, Michigan has had ZERO turnovers. Meanwhile, they forced 3 yesterday from Notre Dame, and 1 from UConn. If they can continue to be this careful about keeping the ball, it will go a long way towards winning extra games down the road.
With no negative yardage, no turnovers, and a superstar talent like Robinson, how could we lose? Here's how....
- PENALTIES. Yes, Michigan kept them to a minimum last week. But this week, they got flagged 8 times, losing 99 yards because of it. That's 70 yards more than Notre Dame lost. It's also nearly 20% of their total offense. Maybe it's because Notre Dame's guys are harder to push around than UConn's. The rest of the Big Ten will be too. Say what you will about the refs, but Michigan needs to clean this up.
- SPECIAL TEAMS. Everyone is harping on the two missed field goals. And rightfully so: those were really painful to miss in a big game like this. But it's only a part of the whole special teams disaster that was yesterday. At one point in the endgame, with 2:00 left, Michigan had 500 yards of offense, but only 3 scores to show for it. Even subtracting the penalty yardage, they still should have had 6 or 7 scores by then. The field goals only account for 2 of those missing scores. The rest were from doing terribly in the battle for field position. Especially in the first half, where given the yards that Denard was stacking up on offense, Michigan should have had a much better average starting position than Notre Dame. Instead, they averaged 4 yards behind them.
- RUNNING BY ANYONE NOT NAMED DENARD. Between them, Shaw and Smith had 12 carries for 29 yards. 2.4 yds/carry. And we can't put this on the O-line either, if DRob is praising the O-Line as the reason for his success. Can't have it both ways. Michigan is not a 1-man team; but it's sure going to seem like one until they can find someone to step up and run the ball besides Robinson.
- THE DEFENSIVE SECONDARY. This was probably the single biggest concern going into the season, and they seem to be holding up pretty well (knock on wood). Kovacs in particular looked solid. He grabbed an interception, almost had a second one, and never got beaten too badly. Thomas Gordon looked promising as well, with a few solid hits and even a crucial sack. There were a couple of huge mistakes, but given their inexperience, most of these guys did what was needed.
- THE PASS RUSH. Although it was rare that they actually got to the quarterback, the front 3 either came close or laid hands on him enough to keep him scrambling for much of the game. Roh was on fire, Martin continually busted though his double-team, and Van Bergen batted down the pass again and again. It seemed that whenever Michigan focused on rushing the pass / getting into the backfield, Notre Dame's offense sputtered.
Of course, there were two glaring exceptions to the above (and we're lucky there weren't three...), where despite a pass rush and the best efforts of the secondary, Crist still made huge gains for a touchdown. Which brings us to....
- THE DEFENSIVE SECONDARY. Despite playing smart, sound football, the inexperience here is still bound to have some effect. Cameron Gordon, for example, didn't have nearly as good of a day as the other Gordon playing at freshman safety from Detroit. He let guys get behind him, and made a few costly mistakes that led directly to ND points. This is nothing against Gordon. I debated whether to even name him, since those are youthful indiscretions from a freshman who wasn't even supposed to play. He seems like a good guy, and I have no doubt that, given time, he can become a really good football player. Unfortunately, time is what we don't have at that position. We just have to hope they can keep the mistakes to a minimum.
This game answered a lot of questions. Here's two big ones that are still lingering for me:
- BLOCKING / O-LINE. On the one hand, you have Robinson's performance. On the other, you have the performance of the running backs, Shaw and Smith. So is Michigan blocking well enough to run the ball or not? My gut says that Shaw and Smith are both great blockers, and the O-line does a much better job when they're helping out than when they're pretending to run instead. Molk also seems to be pretty solid (we sure knows what happens when he's missing). But I think Omameh been really struggling. Overall, Notre Dame was stacking the box, and Michigan seems able to keeps gaps open just large enough and long enough for Denard to get through but nobody else. Maybe I could say more if I watched the game again.
- TACKLING / LINEBACKERS. We saw a lot of missed tackles in this game. There were quite a few against UConn too for that matter. Many of those runs by Armando Allen in the 2nd and 3rd quarters should not have happened. On the other hand, they didn't let many deep plays through. They helped blitz the quarterback pretty well at times. Mouton seemed to be playing hard, making big hits, and made an even bigger interception. I'm not sure just what kind of grade to give here yet.
Overall, I'd say that if Michigan can keep the turnovers and the penalties low, they should be able to at least compete with most of the Big Ten. Like last year, some luck will be needed, and hopefully, more will go our way this time. On the other hand, if they can do something about the running back situation (better blocking?), or if the defense continues to improve (better tackling and secondary?), then they should be able to hang with the best and challenge the rest.
Let's Go Blue!