Hungover or Exposed? Michigan Wins But Struggles to Put Away UMass

They say that a win is a win, hard to argue with that really.  Honestly there's no stat more important than the number in the W column at the end of the year.  So, let's all take a deep breath, there are certainly worse things than starting 3-0 (ask anyone over at BHGP) and try to take a look at what caused Michigan to allow a game Massachusetts squad to come out and take control of the football game and then come back into it late to cause terror-induced flashbacks for anyone even remotely familiar with Michigan football.  

Perhaps this was a baby-step towards the team becoming "good enough to play badly and win".  Yes this was an FCS school, but this wasn't Delaware State.  I have difficulty coming up with anything other than alarm regarding the defensive effort yesterday.  The timing of the game certainly lends some weight to the idea that a young squad coming off one of its biggest wins in a while was not fully focused on the task at hand or the minutemen across the field.  Rodriguez echoed the sentiment after the game: 

"We didn't play well at all defensively. Special teams were awful, and on offense we made a few mistakes that killed us."  -  The Detroit News

Ugh.

Now then, on to the hot topic issue:  I-form on 3rd and 1 where a first down effectively puts the game away.  Horrible call, indefensibly horrible call to use overarching hyperbole that seems to be just about right at the moment.  It also was a great play by the UMass LB who was unblocked and just popped Vincent Smith after the handoff.  But, you're telling me that on 3rd and 1 in this area of the field, that doing anything other than running the spread formation is a good idea?  You've got the opportunity for Denard to make multiple reads and force UMass to back off the line just based on your formation and you come in tight I-form on 3rd and 1?  For what reason?  Because that's what football textbooks say to do on 3rd and 1?  WEAK sauce my friends, weak sauce.  I don't see this as a comparable situation to when Will Campbell and Quinton Washington were sent in on the goal line against Notre Dame.  Much more field to work with and the defense would have to at least account for the spread, giving Denard his pick of the hole as the play develops.  It's just baffling to me that in this situation, only up 12 with a chance to put away the game by holding on to the football and putting a final tally on the board we went with a play that just isn't this offense.  I know that there are a ton of elements that came into what can only be described as a mostly uninspired performance by Michigan on Saturday, but I always had the impression that Rodriguez wasn't a guy who would pedal the offense in a game like this.  Well in a situation where we needed not to, we let off the gas big time.  GUH..... 

Hats off to UMass for coming out and literally punching Michigan in the mouth from the outset, they played like this was a football game they deserved to be in and win, Michigan played significant portions of the football game as though they were supposed to win.  

Offense

  • 525 total yards: 284 rushing on 42 attempts, 241 passing on just 14 attempts (!).  The stunner to me was to see that Michigan held the ball for all of 22 minutes and 22 seconds, a complete reversal from the first two weeks where the Michigan offense controlled the football for nearly 66% of the clock.  This speaks both to the number of big plays the offense was able to create and just how awful the defense was at getting off the field.
  • Through three weeks of competition, the Michigan offense currently owns the 6th best rushing attack in the nation with nearly 287 yards per game on the ground, the 55th passing attack at 223 yards/game, the 10th ranked total offense at 510 yards/game, and the 37th ranked scoring O at 33 points per.  Also key, sacks allowed?  2nd in the country with one for the year.
  • It was hilarious to sit down and re-watch the game and listen to the commentators discussing Denard Robinson's performance as "not putting up gaudy numbers today"?  All Denard managed to do was pass for 241 yards and 2 TDs (1 INT) and rush for 104 yards and another TD on 17 carries.  Yeah, yawn indeed... 345 yards of offense,3 TDs, what a pedestrian effort.  
  • Denard made some great throws yesterday, including some nice tough on a couple of deep balls, which was something we really hadn't seen since the Spring game.  My quibble is that he had a couple of instances yesterday where he was letting the ball go off his back foot again.  It was occasional and didn't end up costing us in any way, but just something to keep an eye on as the year moves on.  Also, one of the "focus" areas that cropped up yesterday was the bobbling of snaps, Denard dropped two that I can think of, one of which was the called back TD to Roundtree.  On the other side of the coin I've been absolutely thrilled with his command of the short and intermediate passing game.  He's putting the ball exactly where it needs to be on those routes.  
  • Great to see Stonum come up big again, no doubt his best game since ND last year.  Great catch on the deep ball where the corner had actually pulled his jersey off of his shoulder pad, and an even nicer run on the long screen for the TD in the first half.  Which I would be remiss if I didn't also point out the AWESOME block by Patrick Omameh releasing outside to knock the corner off of Stonum and setting him free.  Heck of a play by the big guy.
  • The Michael Shaw we've been catching occasional glimpses of for the past two seasons was on display today.  Nice patience, great burst, strong running, and much less dancing in the backfield.  Nice to see him crack the century mark and to do so with a variety of speed and power.
  • Taylor Lewan saw significant time in the second half, and again, from my amateur seat here in front of the television, looked solid.  Nice to see him get some valuable experience as it's a long season and you never know when you'll be called upon.
Defense
  • Would you like to see the definition of a dichotomy?  Well then, here's the Michigan defense rankings after three contests, I'll warn you ahead of time, this isn't pretty: Total D?  100th in the nation at 439 yards per game.  Rushing D?  80th allowing 169 yards/game.  Passing defense?  102nd allowing 269 yards per game.  Scoring D comes in at an outstanding (relatively) 69th with just under 24 points allowed per contest.  Sacks per game?  112th in the country at all of 0.67, tackles for loss come in at 100th in the nation.
  • Would you like the saving grace then???  TURNOVER MARGIN +1.33, good for 16th in the nation.    
So now then, instead of going down the littany of issues that plagued the D yesterday, here's some of the stuff I noticed while watching the game again...
  • UMass first TD - Jordan Kovacs loses the outside contain like whoa... he's darting inside so quick that the resulting chasm that the back runs through is unbelievably large.  This play is lost immediately after the snap and it falls right on Kovacs, you absolutely have to be disciplined there.  He did this several times against ND as well and teams are going to continue exploit it if it continues.  One would think/hope/pray/scream that this is a coachable issue. 
  • More Kovacs - He more than made up for it with a gritty gutty hustle move late in the first half by ripping that ball out.  Also the latest review call of all time, apparently you can stop a play 3 seconds after it's snapped?  Later on  he had another tremendous effort to knife through the line and make a tackle in the backfield late in the 3rd quarter. 
  • Remember what I talked about last week with us not chipping/jamming/whatever the TE coming off the line?  Yeah well watch UMass on 4th and 9 on the Michigan 27 at the end of the 3rd quarter...  Jonas Mouton is lined up almost on the line and hits #87 as he releases, Kovacs is just inside of Mouton very close to the line and also makes contact but gets pushed to the inside.  This opens up a huge vacant space toward the sideline by the first down marker.  It's a nice call by UMass with trips to the opposite side, but the coverage to me seems off, why on 4th and 9 is Kovacs one step off of the line of scrimmage?
  • UConn's TD on 3rd and 2 to start the 4th quarter again brings Kovacs in for analysis, unfortunately.  This is a great playaction bootleg call with the bootleg coming back to the short side of the field, where Kovacs has the outside contain.  On the snap, Kovacs knifes into the backfield to find that he is already 10 yards out of position as the QB rolls to where he probably should've been staying home.  The play is a run/pass option, but there's no need to pass here as the QB gets in after lollygagging near the 2 yard line.  Also, Jonas Mouton totally lets up on the play and doesn't knock the dude into next week at the two yardline... why?  Argggggggh.
  • Mike Martin - HOLDING, HE'S BEING HELD, HOLY GOD THROW THE FREAKING FLAG... OK NOW HIS JERSEY IS TORN, IT'S LITERALLY TORN, I'M NOT KIDDING HIS COLLAR IS TORN FROM HOLDING... SERIOUSLY NO FLAGS?  SERIOUSLY?  (sigh).   His sack in the 2nd quarter was through an enormous hold on the center (not called) that he simply had enough of and destroyed.  On the replay it's also obvious that the R guard also held the screaming bejeezus out of him on the play.  Flags?  None.  And lest you think it was only the offensive line doing all the grabbing and tearing of jerseys, I ask you to go ahead and look at the replay again and focus on the UMass receivers.  It's a simple rule, and last I checked you don't get a pass on it just because you're from I-AA.
  • All told the damage was 26 UMass first downs, 217 yards on the ground and 222 through the air, 37 points on the board, and a 3rd down conversion rate of 50%.  
Special Teams
  • Another missed FG... though this one appeared to be a rather poor snap throwing the timing off the timing of the kick.  Also, Seth Broekhuizen cleared the net on an extra point, so at least there's that.
  • You want to see something more depressing than the defensive rankings?  Net punting is currently at 106th nationally and our punt returns are actually averaging a LOSS OF FIVE YARDS PER RETURN, which, unsurprisingly, brings them in at 120th in the nation.
So clearly, work remains to be done here, but at 3-0, we need to take as much as we can from each week and continue to build towards the next game.  Bring on Bowling Green and Go Blue!
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