While procrastinating the Michigan-Akron preivew, I started to reflect back at the first two games. The first game, as warmups go, went off fairly smooth. Last weekend's game looked to be a sign of things to come. There are still going to be down spots as the offensive line continues to grow and the defense looks to develop a consistent pass rush, but there are a few things that stand out as very positive. Michigan looks poised to havr a strong reason. Here are five reasons why.
Gardner to Gallon
Michigan fans leaned how deadly a combo these two can be when Jeremy Gallon quickly settled into the role of Gardner's go-to receiver. The two averaged over 100 yards per game, and against a very talented South Carolina defense, they connected nine times for 145 yards and two touchdowns. An off season of insider whispers of these two practicing endlessly over the summer seemed to signal another step in production.
Against Notre Dame, Gardner to Gallon shook off every bit of expectation and calmly delivered a pantheon-level day, connecting eight times for 184 yards and three touchdowns. Gallon spent all day running routes into the soft spots of zones and setting up perfect body position, and Gardner lasered and flipped a handful of perfectly placed passes. That makes 231 yards on 12 catches for four touchdowns. If these two continue to exist on a higher plane of communication, they may help drive each other higher than simply all-Big Ten recognition.
Michigan lost Blake Countess for the season less than a quarter into his first game as a sophomore, but he doesn't look like he missed a step so far. His interception on Tommy Rees in the second quarter was the game's biggest swing and gave Michigan the lead it needed to overcome second half mistakes. Countess looks just as capable in man coverage and that interception showed a promising read in zone coverage.
Meanwhile, on the other side the ball, Fitzgerald Toussaint's two big fourth quarter plays — a 22-yard scamper and a 31-yard gain on a swing route out of the backfield — helped Michigan put up its final score and make it a two score game with four minutes remaining. It wasn't easy sledding for Toussaint against a really talented defensive line, but the senior made a few big plays at opportune times, and he did it by flashing the same strength and cutting ability that made him so dangerous as a sophomore.
The Replacements (SAM)
Losing Jake Ryan in the spring was a big blow to this defense, but so far Cam Gordon and Brennan Beyer have stepped up nicely. They were two of the most productive players on the field in game one against Central, combining for three sacks, 4.5 TFLs, and seven tackles. Last week Beyer was credited with Michigan's one sack, which came at an important time late in the game, and the two combined for six tackles in a game where Rees relied on a lot of quick passing.
Neither will provide Michigan with the devastating weapon that is a healthy Jake Ryan, but they have proven to be difference-makers on a defense that needs them early on.
Gibbons, the Reliable
What a long, strange trip its been. Brendan Gibbons went from the most hated man on campus to a clutch, extra point machine. He has hit 16 field goals in a row and 110 extra points. Last year he flashed his long leg with a 52 yard boot, and while Michigan tends to be more aggressive, Gibbons has shown himself to be as close to a guaranteed three as you could ask for.
Michigan might not need a clutch kick to end the game this year, but having Gibbons back there is more comforting than any kicker I can remember.
I spent all off season wanting to believe. Gardner kept going to camps and talking to people and everyone that passed within ten feet of him came away with some different gushing variation of "this kid is really impressive." He flashed the potential last year, and a full off season in the offense as 'the guy' seemed to portend greater things.
After a rough start and small sample size against Central, Gardner showed that every last person who talked about his potential this offseason was right on target. He made throws down the field into incredibly tight windows.
Handled pressure in ways that shouldn't even be possible.
And flashed the ability to shred defenses with his legs that Robinson had with enough regularity to actually get the announcers to confuse him with the dreadlocked speedster.
And all of it was enough that he not only rendered the WORST PLAY IN THE HISTORY OF ORGANIZED FOOTBALL irrelevant, but now we're all like, "well, whatever."
I feel safe saying that no one has broken down more Michigan game film over the last eight or so years than Brian Cook, and he has hundreds of thousands of words and charts to prove it, and even he can't stop grinning.
That's it, against five touchdowns and almost 400 total yards against a defense that—yes—is still badass. I predicted that Gardner would be first-team All Big Ten in the season preview and that wildly surpassed all my expectations. Holy pants.
I mean, you really have to read the entire thing to understand just how consistently great Gardner was in the Notre Dame game, against the Notre Dame defense that returned most of its starters and features a pair of first round draft picks on the defensive line. Notre Dame brought every bit of pressure it could against Devin Gardner and he just shrugged and put up almost 400 yards and five touchdowns with only one play that you'd really like back.
It is too early to say anything about how good Devin Gardner will be this season. There is a lot of time left and still a few challenging defenses ahead. But I think we can safely sit back and imagine the possibility of how good he can be and know that we may not be far off from what is coming.