There aren't a lot of things on this earth that make a late September afternoon spent in Michigan Stadium more enjoyable than a victory. Two things, however, do greatly enhance that gameday experience. The first is the Sun. The second is Carlos Brown. On a gorgeous, sunny Saturday afternoon in Ann Arbor, the Michigan Wolverines led by 187 yards from the aforementioned Brown, throttled the Eastern Michigan Eagles in route to a 45-17 win. The win over the Eagles, sent Michigan to 3-0 on the young season as they prepare to start conference play against Indiana this Saturday.
Over the past three games we've seen a lot of different things from this 2009 squad. Mostly, we've seen them dominate their opponents in the air, assisted by the running game. On Saturday, Rich Rodriguez' offense displayed its potency in the running game. Michigan amassed 380 yards on the ground, a number that would've exceeded 400 rushing yards had Tate Forcier not been sacked on two (three really) occasions. You're going to have to go back to 2006, when Michigan's rushing game was last at full potency, to see numbers like that.
Most impressively, Michigan ground Eastern into the dirt using five different tailbacks. Carlos Brown only got 13 carries but put up 187 yards (14.4 YPC) and two touchdowns. Michael Shaw only saw the ball 9 times and piled up 57 yards (5.9 YPC) and a touchdown. Michael Cox ran twice for 31 yards (15.5 YPC). Shifty freshman Vincent Smith got two carries for ten yards (5.0 YPC). Brandon Minor carried the ball three times for 21 yards (7.0 YPC) before sitting the remainder of the game to rest a battered body. So, the running backs accounted for Three Touchdowns and 302 yards. Not so bad. But that's only part of the story.
(the rest of the story after the jump....)
The quarterbacks and slot ninjas also got in on the ground game. Denard Robinson carried the ball three times. He had 60 yards and two touchdowns. Read that again. If you're wondering why Rodriguez keeps bringing up Robinson at his press conferences, you now know why. With just 18 carries, Robinson has 155 yards, an 8.8 YPC, and leads the team with 3 TDs. Folks, that's in maybe, maybe, 40 plays. It's fair to say that he's putting these numbers up against that are a combined 1-5 (Eastern and Western), but he's still learning the offense and getting used to being on campus. It's hard not to be excited about his future, even if I am more comfortable with Tate Forcier under center. Robinson's electric on the ground.
Then there's Martavious Odoms. The diminutive slot receiver took the reverse from Forcier for a walk in touchdown after some outstanding blocking from Darryl Stonum. He basically walked into the endzone the play was so well executed.
But, even with all of the above to consider, it all comes back to Carlos Brown. Brown dominated the Eastern Michigan game. A ninety yard touchdown blast, shaking off an arm tackle that would've brought him down a year ago. He was shifty and powerful all at once. For the first time in as long as I can remember Brown in a Michigan uniform, Brown hit his cutbacks authoritatively and without hesitation. He ran with a confidence and energy that has been missing from his game in his previous incarnations. Whether it was his workman like crushing of Illinois in 2007, his workmanlike performance against Northwestern last year, Carlos had never shown us the "angry" side of his rushing ability. Once in 2007 against Minnesota, Brown got loose for an 85 yard touchdown scamper. But even then it appeared to be more of an "OMG I can't believe I'm free" type run.
Saturday was the complete package. There was no tentativeness and no concern in his running. Where Brown would usually run crouched over, protecting the football at all costs, he instead ran low and fast. Brown seemed to know the ball wouldn't come loose, almost as if he'd glued the damn thing to his arm. And he played like it. Brown punished tacklers. He made the cut when he was supposed to rather than when he felt the slightest pressure. He followed his blockers, all while running at speed with quick short steps, then bursting into the second and third levels with the explosiveness we've all longed to see from him. With the aide of a crystal clear September afternoon and a warming sun, everyone saw with their own eyes why Lloyd Carr fought so hard to keep Brown in Ann Arbor and why Rodriguez has embraced him as a starting tailback.
Certainly there were things to be concerned about on Saturday. David Molk's injury. Dropped balls. Boubacar Cissoko getting pass interference penalties seemingly on reputation, despite excellent coverage for most of the day. then there was Michigan's first half defense, which seemed more concerned with over pursuit and stat padding than playing their positions. And Robinson's interceptions, lord were those bad. Anyone concerned about Robinson replacing Tate under center permanently need not look any further than the two horrid ducks he threw to Eastern's safety and cornerback. He's not there yet.
But today, we'll focus on the positives. In three games Michigan has equaled its win total from 2008. All the drama of the off season seems to be a distant memory despite the fact we're only a month removed from it. Michigan has fielded a good team for 2009. One that has shown it can play from behind, in a tight game, or well in the lead. While it has dynamic players and personalities, it acts and talks as a unit.
On a sunny day in Ann Arbor that was plain for everyone to see.