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Unit by Unit: Breaking Down Michigan Football's Offense Following Its Win Over Western Michigan

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A new weekly post game feature here at Maize n Brew will be what we like to Unit by Unit. We'll take a hard look at the players and the coaches for each particular unit on the team, and bring them in for a pat on the back or a wag of the finger. After we've looked at each position, we'll give you a final wrap on the team's play on Offense and Defense (Special Teams too!). If you're looking for more detail, game bullets are here, the wrap up is here, the boxscore is here, and the general AP recap is here. There are the links, so now let's get to the nitty gritty.

The Offensive Line

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The Offensive Play in a Photo, Tate untouched. Awesome Photo via John T. Greilick

The Offensive Line always goes first, good or bad, because they're going to determine how this season pans out. Frankly, the line was excellent. In particular I thought Mark Ortmann played outstanding football. Say what you will about it being "just Western Michigan," but Michigan lost at home to 3-9 Toledo last year and the line got pushed around by a bad Toledo defense. This year it was an entirely different story. I thought the ends actually outplayed the middle of the line. David Molk had a good, but not great game and missed a few blocks. On the other hand, David Moosman and Steve Schilling played fairly well. On the right side, Mark Huyge was excellent. IIRC, he simply dominated the Western DEs on Saturday, much like Ortmann. They didn't give up a sack. Michigan averaged 4.8 yards a carry. The boys on the line deserve a game ball a piece.

Overall, Michigan was outstanding up front. They controlled the line of scrimmage, buying time for Tate Forcier, Denard Robinson, and Nick Sheridan to throw without pressure and lanes for the quarterbacks and running backs to run through. Protection outside the pocket was excellent too, as the lineman set up their blocks very well. Carlos Brown averaged 5.4 yards a carry for 54 yards and Michael Shaw racked up 37 yards for a 4.9 a carry average. Not bad for a run offense that couldn't get past two yards a carry for its first four games. What was also impressive was the fact that Michigan was able to play it's second string in the second half. Elliot Mealer, Perrry Dorrestein, Rocko Khoury, Patrick Omameh, and Justin Ferrara all saw playing time. That's going to pay dividends down the line should anyone get injured.

(More awesomeness after the jump....)

 

The Running Backs

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Awesome Photo via John T. Greilick

Judging the Running Backs on a day like Saturday is a little difficult. While they played a crucial role in balancing the offense, there was nothing spectacular to hang your hat on. Carlos Brown was good on the ground. 5.4 a carry is nothing to sneeze at. Brown also deserves a little praise for his pass catching out of the backfield, which I thought was a great addition to his overall game. He does deserve a little fisking, however, for meekly putting the ball on the turf at the start of the second half. That was not a play where the ball should've come out. But Carlos gets some serious props for his pass blocking. Watching him flip a DE was one of the highlights of my day.

I would've liked to have seen a little more of Michael Shaw. Shaw did get seven carries and looked fairly good, but I don't think he or Brown really ever got in a rhythm. I'd say it may have been better to go a little more two back on Saturday, but I think Rodriguez started hiding cards after he saw the game was in the bag. It was nice to see Kevin Grady and Vincent Smith get some carries. Grady, hopefully, will be a good backup this season and I'm really pulling for him personally. Smith had some happy feet, but he's a freshman in his first game, in mop up time. 6 carries and 23 yards isn't too bad. Overall a good, workman like day for Michigan's ball carriers.

The Receivers

Junior Hemingway, Kevin Koger, Kelvin Grady, Marativous Odoms, and Greg Mathews were absolutely outstanding. Route running. Improvisation. Blocking. Everything. Hemingway just stole the show. It's been more than a year since a receiver caught more than one touchdown pass in a game (Adrian Arrington - Citrus Bowl). I think it's fair to say the Hemingway came close to matching Arrington's performance on New Year's day 2008. Reeling in five catches for 103 yards and two TDs, Hemingway was solid in every aspect of the game. He ran the short routes. Caught in traffic. Worked with his quarterback. And he just flew past the WMU secondary for his second score. Hemingway gave us a glimpse of his talent on Saturday, so all we can hope is that he stays healthy and keeps reminding us of another #21.

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Awesome Photo via John T. Greilick

From New Math to Old School. That's how we're rolling. And that's how the new 86 rolls. Kevin Koger also flashed a large amount of his considerable talent on Saturday notching a TD, three catches and a highlight reel one hander he'll be talking about for the next month. If there was one pass that Forcier threw to Tacopants, it was Koger's one-handed catch. Making his cross, Koger leaped and stretched out his right hand for a catch he had no business making. Yet, he did, cradled it into his body as he hit the turf, and popped out of his barrel roll like nothing special had happened. Anyone still have questions about how Rodriguez uses his tight ends?

Then there were the slot receivers. Though Odoms got the start, Grady got his number called the most. In his first football game in three years, Kelvin pulled in two catches for 13 yards and took an end around for 11. While the numbers aren't crazy, he looked natural out there. Frankly, I was in shock that he was able to haul in Denard Robinson’s first throw, which appeared to be going close to the speed of sound. Grady’s got great hands, and combined with what appeared to be some tremendous wheels, it was like the passage of time meant nothing. Kelvin's really going to help us this year. Odoms didn't see a lot of balls thrown his way, but made his presence felt in other ways. On Denard Robinson's TD scamper, the tiny slot receiver was slated to take an end around, but once he realized the play was broken immediately found someone to block. Watch Odoms come from nowhere and block the closest man to Robinson after the first guy misses. I may not have been sold on Odoms before Saturday, but that play sold me. He never took his foot off the gas when the play went haywire and made the crucial block to spring his quarterback (@ 0:37 below). Maratavious, when you're old enough and the NCAA allows it, the first beverage is on me


Also making appearances were Greg Mathews and LaTerral Savoy. Mathews was fairly quiet, notching only two catches, but was extremely effective after the catch. If Hemingway can become the deep threat, I think Mathews is going to have an outstanding season as our possession receiver. Savoy tallied a catch early, but was a not so innocent bystander to Nick Sheridan's interception.

Overall, this was the best regular season game out of Michigan's receiving corps since the 2006 Ohio State game.

The Quarterback(s)

Tate Forcier is your starter from here out. No question about this. While Robinson’s run was amazing, it was off of a broken play. He just improvised that whole thing with the aid of some great blocking. Tate looks light years more polished and in control. His pass to Hemingway for the opening score was something you don’t see out of freshmen. Frankly it’s something you don’t see out of a lot of seniors. When he rolled left, he clearly knew where the LOS was, got the corner to bite on the scramble, and lofted a damn near perfect pass the Hemingway who read his quarterback like a book. That was as good as it gets.

You really couldn’t ask for a better start to a college career. Forcier went 13-20 for 177 yards, 3 TDs and no picks. Notsobad, eh? Tate’s arm was excellent in all aspects of the passing game. The deep ball to Hemingway was Henne-esque. But what what most impressive was his ability to throw on the run, with accuracy and steam. Michigan moved Forcier out of the pocket numerous times, and 95% of those instances resulted in positive throws. If there’s room for improvement, I will say that there were a few moments where his ball protection was less than ideal and he danced around too much. He’s not going to have the same type of time against Notre Dame, and he’s certainly not going to be able to evade the Irish the way he did the Broncos. Just ask Colin Kaepernick. Forcier gunned a few passes in the second half and got a little outside of the offense, but I’m willing to be forgiving because most of that happened when Michigan was up 31 points. All things considered, that game was as good as I’ve ever seen out of a freshman, especially when you considered the youth around him.

Denard Robinson’s feet were just as good as advertised. His arm was as "live" as advertised. However, he’s not the level of passer that we were hoping to see. Robinson attempted only four passes on the day compared to 11 rushing attempts. The reason for this is obvious. He’s a much better runner at this stage than he is a passer. While Denard showed a live arm and can throw decently on the run, he doesn’t look as comfortable pulling the ball back to look downfield. You could tell he’s still a scramble first player who takes off when his first or second read isn’t there. Frankly, with only a month under his belt, I’d be surprised if he’s getting past his second read. The long and short of it is that Robinson doesn't know the system or himself well enough to hang in there and let the play develop. But that will come and it really doesn’t matter right now, does it? The kid is blazingly fast. He’s going to be an excellent change of pace in the Notre Dame game, but he’s no where near being a starting quarterback based on what we saw from his arm and reads. The keys for him moving forward will be playing a bit more under control, and rolling him out of the pocket to allow him to use his legs and allow him to throw or tuck it under without large men in his face. All in all, a great and electric start for Robinson.

Nick Sheridan looked like a new person and the same guy all at once. Sheridan is noticeably bigger and stronger. He moves better than last year. He’s definitely got a great grasp of the system. But he’s still not a D1 quarterback. Sure a penalty wiped out a near TD, but a veteran doesn’t force a throw into tight coverage. Especially a throw that far inside. Nick’s a nice insurance policy to have, but he and Robinson appear to be about equal in the passing game (Nick more experienced/Denard much better arm) so I’ve gotta go with Robinson’s legs. As I said in my QB preview, if Sheridan’s on the field for any extended period of time, we’re in trouble.

The Offense Overall

Sure you can nitpick and find things to complain about, but the bottom line is at no point last year did our offense look this good. Penn State? Nope. One trick pony. Purdue? Not so much. Bad tackling let that happen. No. This was a complete offense on the field. If you can't be excited about this then I've got nothing for you.

On a micro level, the Offense performed much, much better with Forcier under center than either Robinson or Sheridan. He's just a better passer right now and frankly he's got pretty good wheels. I don't think he'll have nearly as much time against Notre Dame's defense as he did against Western, but his ability to scramble will force the Linebackers to play a little further off the LOS.

Macro, the play of Michigan's wideouts was incredibly encouraging. If Junior Hemingway can stay healthy, Michigan has a legitimate No. 1 receiver. The emergence of Kelvin Grady as a threat will also start to take some of the pressure off of Mathews and Odoms, both of whom had good games.

It was clear that Michigan had a game plan for Western and they executed it to a tee. I'm looking forward to seeing more of that as the Wolverines take on an excellent Notre Dame squad.