In a season where even the most mundane tasks, such as kicking an extra point or tackling, require Michigan's collective fan base to hold its breath and pray, Saturday's close but not unpleasantly close victory over MAC bottom feeder Eastern Michigan gave Michigan fans a few precious moments to breath easily before what is left of the season shifts into high gear.
It's hard to suggest that there were season altering positives in a game where a top tier school pummels is neighboring sacrificial lamb, but there were some nice things to take away from the game.
1. Adrian Arrington is turning into one of the best receivers we've seen in a while. I'm close to lumping him in with Jason Avant, despite Arrington really only shining to two seasons. Arrington seems to get it, whatever it is. He consistently finds holes in zone coverage and somehow finds ways to get open in man or double coverage. He is our most reliable third down receiver and always seems to find himself north of the sticks when the ball reaches his hands. With Manningham's season quickly becoming a side story soap opera in and of itself, it's nice to consistently have Arrington's steady, consistent, and sometimes spectacular performances.
2. Donovan Warren on punt returns was a lot of fun to watch. He's a jittery-legged guy on returns. Once he stops thinking too much and starts running his returns could be a huge boost to the offense.
3. KC Lopata. Thank you for not sucking. First round's on me.
4. Not that his badassery needed confirmation, but congratulations to Mike Hart for becoming Michigan's all time rushing leader. It's a well earned, well deserved record and honor. Hart has proven himself to be the heart and soul of this team since his first carry. Thanks for that, Mike.
5. For all the fretting this summer over Morgan Trent as a No. 1 DB, he's been excellent.
6. Pressure on the quarterback. Who'da thunk it? Brandon Graham and Tim Jamison look a lot less confused and a lot hungrier than early in the season. Huzzah!
7. Reduced cursing. My f-bombs and other derogatory cursing was limited to two plays, Henne's first INT and the blocked extra point. I think that's a record for non-beatdown-of-Notre Dame games.
8. The playcalling was a lot better this game. Maybe it has something to do with Henne being back full time. Maybe it has something to do with the fact we were only up two bleeping points in the second half. Maybe there is no explanation, but it was nice to see some play calling that actually played to the other team's weaknesses.
9. Junior Hemmingway looked pretty damn good for a freshman, but also looked a lot shorter than I thought he'd be.
Unfortunately, there were several things during the game that continue to irritate and confuse me:
1. Why/How are defensive players, especially EMU's nose tackles/defensive tackles still finding their way into the backfield? While Long has been good this year and Kraus is recovering from a rough start, the rest of the line has not provided a lot of nice things to write about. I know I'm criticizing a line that helped Mike Hart rush form 3 touchdowns and over 200 yards, but Hart had to dodge his share of defenders in his own backfield to get the numbers he got.
2. We are not putting our other running backs in a position to succeed. The problems with the line I voiced above are directly affecting their production. I don't think it's a coincidence that our talented back ups Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown, who aren't Mike Hart, aren't putting up big numbers while these line problems continue.
Minor and Brown, aside from their inability to hold onto the ball, are talented running backs. Carlos Brown received high marks last spring for some electrifying runs in practice. Brandon Minor busted out some big runs last year in game situations. If the coaching staff expects them to be Mike Hart and consistently break off 15 yard runs with three defenders on them, they're doomed. These kids didn't go from highly touted recruits to whydidwerecruityous overnight. They're being asked to things that only Hart can do and they're not being used to the best of their abilities. The coaching staffs' inability to recognize this is maddening.
A coach has to recognize what his players do well and use those attributes to the team's advantage. They are not doing that with these backs and if they expect to get anything out of them now or in the future, the offense will have to change to suit their skills. You can't ask anyone but Mike Hart to be Mike Hart. The coaching staff's continual disregard of this basic principle with Minor and Brown is becoming increasingly frustrating.
3. Special teams. Some one please spend more than 10 minutes on this. Please. Just a little extra practice time is all I'm asking. In case you missed it, this is kind of a problem this year. I don't want it costing us a ga... never mind.
4. Why can't we put these teams away early? Someone explain this. One thing I remember last year about the Ball State game, other than the fact Ball State came back, was the fact we pounded the hell out of them early before our scrubs almost lost us the game. The first team offense against Ball State demolished them. Perhaps it's the play calling, perhaps it's the line, perhaps it's a number of things, but 16 points at the half should've been 30+ a lot sooner.
All in all, a win, and a win that didn't give me a coronary. During the Season of Infinite Confusion, it'll take it.