Devin Gardner Still Growing
Michigan fans came into the Central Michigan contest expecting to see a much-improved Devin Gardner, but that didn't seem to be the case–at least at first. Gardner threw an incomplete pass toward Devin Funchess, then misread a simple coverage and threw directly into the hands of a Chippewa corner.
He made up for the interception with a touchdown run not long after, but came right back and threw another interception, this time on a wildly missed throw intended for Jeremy Gallon.
It was clear that Gardner was inside of his own head from there on out, tucking the ball after going through his progressions on a handful of drop-backs. He ended the game 10-of-15 for 162 yards and one touchdown, which doesn't reflect the improvements he supposedly made over the offseason.
Receivers not Overly Impressive
Zach made a great point on Twitter about this, pointing out that Devin Gardner only threw the ball some fifteen times before sitting down. While this is true, I still wasn't extremely impressed by the likes of Jehu Chesson, Joe Reynolds and Jeremy Jackson. No one expected the latter two players to be great, but Chesson's no-show against a bad Central Michigan secondary is a bit concerning, especially considering how much the staff praised him for his ability to stretch the field. Time will tell if the injury to Amara Darboh will cripple this receiving core's ability to make big plays against elite secondaries.
I'm also beginning to wonder about Al Borges' integration of the tight end in his offense. Borges has had great tight ends at both SDSU and Michigan, yet none of them ever seem to put up great numbers. It's still very early in the season, and Funchess would certainly benefit from better inside run blocking on play action, but questions about Borges' incorporation of the tight end are already popping up into my head. I would like to see Michigan use Funchess in the slot and flexed wide much more often, as this would allow him to simply out-leverage opponents, which is something he hasn't been able to do much under Al Borges.
Safety Issues Remain
Jarrod Wilson walked out onto the field as Michigan's second safety, but he still made a few misreads in coverage, as did veteran Josh Furman. Wilson did make two fantastic plays, including what should have been an interception, but the duo still made too many mistakes to clear any questions we had going into the game. It's already very clear that the absence of Jordan Kovacs will have an impact on Michigan's defense.
Michigan Implements Zone, RB Very Deep
Brady Hoke had us all believing that Michigan would walk into Michigan Stadium and run power time and time again. That wasn't exactly the case, as the Wolverines came out ready to run the zone stretch with a multitude of backs.
Is this an attempt to simplify the running game and give the running backs more holes to choose from? Maybe. Whether or not the offensive line can run the ball against legitimate fronts will be tested next week when Notre Dame and its powerful front visit Ann Arbor.
Thankfully, Michigan is loaded at running back. Fitzgerald Toussaint erased any doubts one might have about his health and explosion, Drake Johnson looked serviceable, and the freshman duo of Derrick Green and DeVeon Smith looked as good as advertised. Green still needs to drop fifteen pounds, but he was impressive nonetheless.
Pass Rush Definitely Improved
Jibreel Black still knows how to get between gaps. Frank Clark bull rushed his way into the quarterback's lap. Brennan Beyer even speed rushed around a Chippewa tackle, knocking his hands down at the perfect time to win the edge and get to the passer. Michigan ended the day with four sacks and plenty of pressure, giving us hope that the team can generate more pressure than it could this time last year.
Freshman cornerback Channing Stribling became my new favorite Wolverine to watch for during Saturday's game. The young defender made a few mistakes, but ultimately showed off fluid hips, closing speed and his great size; I was way off when I predicted Stribling to struggle at corner. He caused a fumble and was one of Michigan's leading tacklers on the day. The bold part of me thinks Stribling is going to be star in the near future.
It's hard to make predictions based off of one game against a team that simply wasn't talented enough to keep up. I do know that receiving core isn't going to be good enough to do work against talented veteran secondaries. Luckily Michigan won't play many of them in the Big Ten.
Gardner's progression, the running game, and the hole at safety are all still up in the air. I think Gardner's early interception got in his head, holding him back from playing as well as he's capable of playing. Great quarterbacks make mistakes, and I expect him to bounce back against Notre Dame.
The only thing I'm not optimistic about is the receiving core. I absolutely love Jeremy Gallon, and it's a shame that he doesn't have an elite receiver next to him to spread the coverage out. Both Joe Reynolds and Jeremy Jackson aren't good enough athletes to do major damage against solid competition. Jehu Chesson didn't do anything against Central Michigan, which is worrisome. Let's just hope that he turns in the occasional deep ball, giving defenses something to think about other than stopping Gallon and Funchess.
What does it all mean for the Notre Dame game? I don't know. The Irish don't have an amazing secondary by any means; most of their elite talent is in the front seven. This bodes well for Devin Gardner and the receivers, who should be able to find enough room on the field to stay in the game. I don't think Tommy Reese is good enough to really pick on Jarrod Wilson, and the rest of the defense is good enough to make this a war. The game is a complete tossup in my mind.