I am sitting at my computer posting on the Internet about the Michigan vs Minnesota game, and it is not even over. Well, technically the game is not over, but with Michigan having a commanding 51-0 lead, the game is over in any way that matters. All that is left is the wrap up by the second team players and the coaches screaming in the Minnesota locker room. Yes, you heard that right! Michigan has finally found the moxie to blow out a Big Ten opponent!
In all of the previous games this season, Brady Hoke was able to find plenty of mistakes and issues to work on. For the first time in several seasons, the Wolverines played well enough on both sides of the ball to present the coaches with a very different situation. Now they have to make sure the players do not feel like they have arrived and have no more reason to keep working. Knowing the kind of coach that Brady Hoke is, that will not be a problem.
The Michigan offense was masterful against Minnesota. A number of long drives were engineered through perfect execution and a dazzling variety of play calls that will leave the defensive coordinators in the rest of the Big Ten with many sleepless nights. Whatever the Michigan offense did, it worked, and worked well.
Denard Robinson looked comfortable in the passing game because offensive coordinator Al Borges gave him a variety of simple passing plays to execute and build from. Robinson made them count and presented the Minnesota defense with enough of a passing threat to keep them from selling out to stop the run. So the running game flourished as a result. This emphasizes the point that Robinson does not have to be a stellar passer to be effective. He just has to keep the defense honest.
The defense was stout. They repeatedly forced the Golden Gophers to punt the ball without a first down. As I am writing this, the defense recovered a fumble and returned it for a touchdown. Greg Mattison has done a superb job in making the Michigan defense perform how we expect. Michigan has always been a strong defensive team and it has returned to those roots.
The Wolverine defense has become very aggressive in the front seven and the secondary is making plays as well. Dropping a shutout on Minnesota is a signal that the defense will no longer be the weak link. We can expect that the Wolverines will continue to be opportunistic on defense and make plays that help the offense win games.
Blake Countess looks like he may become the next great Michigan cornerback. I was very impressed with how well he played when forced into the lineup by injuries to Woolfolk and Floyd in the San Diego State game. He played well enough to earn a spot in the defensive rotation and he is making the most of it. He has not shown any signs that the Big House stage is too big for him. His great poise and nose for the ball have made him a reliable player very quickly and the future looks very bright.
I have great hopes for the Michigan defense going forward. Greg Mattison has taught them only a fraction of the playbook. As they get more of the playbook installed, the Michigan defense will eventually reach near an NFL level in complexity. When that happens, the opposing offenses will be hard pressed to get proper reads from all the disguises that Mattison will put on blitzes and coverages. We have seen signs of this already with the movement across the defensive line that Michigan had shown against San Diego State.
One of the things that is very impressive to me is how the Michigan game plan is very different from week to week. The offense unveiled a bucket of very nice plays against Minnesota, that featured Devin Gardner as the quarterback, and lined up Denard Robinson as a running back. There were several different plays run out of this formation. The defense did not show the same amount of movement along the defensive line that they did against San Diego State, but they disguised their defenses more subtly, making the film from the SDSU game cause the Minnesota coaches to waste time preparing for things they didn't see in the game.
The one thing we do have to keep in mind about this game is that Minnesota is not a very good team. I am not sure they could win half their games in a good FCS conference. Nevertheless, these are the type of games where Michigan would play down to their competition in the past, and find a way to make the game needlessly close. In this case Michigan did exactly what they should have done. They blasted Minnesota from the opening drive to the ending whistle.
We want to be careful not to read too much into the Minnesota blowout. On the other hand, we should also smile a little that Michigan is once again starting to look like the Michigan that we remember during the great years. Brady Hoke seems to be making good on his promise to make Michigan a contender in his first year. He plays to win and nothing else is acceptable. He will tell you so himself if you ask, and I am loving it.