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Getting Offensive: Breaking Down Michigan's Offensive Performance Against Notre Dame From the Wolverines' 28-24 Win

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Below is MGoVideo's usual outstanding video compilation from Saturday. Couldn't break down the game this week without it. Watch it, review it, think about it. Every play from Saturday's win over Notre Dame:

Initial Thoughts

First, the bad. As impressive as Robinson's performance was, the offense really bogged down in the third and fourth quarters. There was also a stretch during the second quarter where Michigan was shooting blanks despite the lead on the score board. While Michigan certainly controlled the ground game with Robinson's electric running, I really have to scratch my head as to why our other running backs aren't getting the same type of push from the line when they run the ball. Another issue that concerns me are the drops by the receivers. Roundtree dropped a touchdown and there were at least three other drops on the day. Combine this with Robinson under throwing or over throwing open receivers (usually from the pocket), and you're going to get a somewhat uneven offensive performance. Maybe the analysis is different if Gibbons makes that pair of field goals, but there were far too many short drives when Michigan needed to eat some clock and pick up first downs. 10 punts in a game is a real problem.

Now the Good. A lot of the reasons for the "bad" above is that Notre Dame was pretty good on defense. Robinson running wild aside, because he's going to do that to everyone (ask Iowa), I think Notre Dame's defense has a chance to be pretty good this season. In particular because Notre Dame's secondary is laced with veterans and capable players. And let's be honest, the Notre Dame defensive backfield was a far sitffer challenge than UConn was. Credit must also go to Notre Dame's linebackers, especially MLB Manti Te'o, who closed on Robinson as quickly as we'll see from just about any defense this season. So yes, Michigan faced a good defense and still came out with a win.

Obviously, Robinson's performance was sublime. Getting past that, and looking at the above, the Michigan passing attack the difference maker on Saturday. Michigan kept Notre Dame's safeties off the line and kept them in coverage becasue of  Robinson's ability to get the ball downfield accurately. While the Wolverines only collected one passing TD, they easily could've had two more on the ledger if Roy Roundtree doesn't drop a tough catch,  Tae Odoms is led a little further down field, or robinson finds Jeremy Jackson (on two occassions). The point is, Michigan was able to run the ball behind Denard because they were able to keep the Irish Safeties far enough off the line to give Michigan the numerical advantage at the point of attack. As a result, Denard ran wild. Again.

Further, everyone blocked exceedingly well. That allowed Robinson to have the record setting day you saw. this offense finally seems to be natural to these kids and Michigan fans are finally going to be able to enjoy a football season this year. Not because of a mirage, but because Michigan finally has depth, finally has competition, and is finally competent in the offense their coach wants to run. Notre Dame simply re-affirmed what we learned against UConn.

Position Reviews

The Offensive Line: For the most part, another good day out of the line. The offensive numbers would point me toward giving this group an "A" on the day, but after looking at the film, there's work to be done. On the positive side, I thought Michigan's pass protection was outstanding. When Denard wanted to throw the ball he had all day to do so. If no one was open, the line had scattered the pass rush so far from the point of attack that Robinson could waltz through one of three or four different gaps for 5 to 12 yards. The only time the Irish got pass pressure on Robinson was on massive blitzes or on bootleg rollouts where the backer or safety wasn't covered by design. Honestly, it's tough to criticize the pass protection at all. The line was stellar in pass protection.

Blocking on the run was a little more of a mixed bag. Everyone on the line had a couple of plays where they didn't get low enough or got run into the backfield. Strangely, there seemed to be a stark difference between the carries that Robinson had versus the carries that Vincent Smith and Michael Shaw had in terms of blocking. Maybe it was the fact that Robinson had another blocker to clear the way (most likely), but Notre Dame was excellent at sniffing out the running backs when Michigan tried to let them loose. Michigan has to find ways to get the space for their back. There were some whiffs on second level blocks that allowed the linebackers to make plays on the running backs, but for the most part the line paved the way for Robinson. I'm kind of at a loss on this one. When your QB is running for 250 and your backs can't get 50, it's starting to feel like a change might be coming at tailback. Overall, Ithink the line is deserving of a B, trending to a B+, for their performance. There were too many blow backs, and missed assignments on some of the rush plays to warrant an "A" but, again, a solid performance from the line against a good opponent.

The Running Backs: Continuing from above, I'm not so sure that changing backs would be a good idea. Shaw and Smith were both excellent blockers on the day and outstanding pass catchers out of the backfield. Michael Shaw was stellar in the passing game, picking up extra yards on swing passes and refusing to go down. He got popped as a result, but without Shaw Michigan doesn't score on that final drive. Similarly Vincent Smith was a critical part of the blocking game. I only saw one or two missed blocking assignments out of #2, and he had some very tough runs. As you can tell, I'm still a little lost as to why Michigan's tailbacks haven't picked up more yards. Part of it is the zone read. At this point the backers and the linemen are still keying on the running back rather than Robinson. This will change very soon. As the linemen adjust and start game planning to stop Robinson at all costs, the run game will open up for Michigan's tailbacks.

A special shout out to Stephen Hopkins on his first carry and first career touchdown. Scoring on the road at Notre Dame Stadium isn't a bad way to start your career. In fact. It's pretty sweet. Props to big William Campbell and Quinton Washington for their blocking on Hopkins' TD.

For their blocking, receiving and touchdown, the Running Backs get a flat "B."

The Receivers: Yeah there were some drops, but I thought the receivers were a solid "B+" trending toward an "A". I've got to ding the receivers for the easy drops and Roundtree's drop on that touchdown pass, but the blocking and clutch receiving on Michigan's final drive make up for that. Roundtree and Stonum were amazing on Saturday. Stonum in particular found gaps in the zone, made sure catches, and always turned upfield. Tae Odoms continues to prove that you don't have to be 6'6" to have an impact at outside receiver, as he had two critical receptions and almost notched a TD. Roundtree had a touchdown and the catch on 3rd and 5 on Michigan's final drive. Just awesome.

Equally impressive were the downfield blocks from the receivers. Odoms and Roundtree crushed their men on Denard's 87 yard TD run. As for the "crackback" call on Kelvin Grady, I'm calling bull. I've watched that play six times and it's a legal block. He cut him. He did not chop or crack him. Lousy friggin call. The wideouts did their job on Saturday. The drops need to be limited, but I thought they were pretty good. Another mention should go to Jeremy Jackson who was overthrown and underthrown on two potential TDs in the second half. Jackson got open, and I mean wide open, on two pass plays that Robinson just miss threw (albeit in the face of some pressure on blitzes). I get the feeling Jackson could be pretty damn good this season and for his career. A good start for the frosh.

The Quarterback: So 502 yards. Yeah. I know it's hard to nit pick an amazing performance like that, but believe it or not, Robinson left even more yards and points on the board. While Denard was generally pretty good in the short passing game he threw into the linebackers' hands at least three times on roll outs. Not good. He also forced a throw to Koger that probably should've been intercepted, that is if it had been thrown well. It wasn't. Then there were two downfield throws to Jackson he missed that were six guaranteed. So, yes. 502 yards or not, there is plenty of room to improve.

That said, Robinson had a pretty good day passing. Excellence as a passer is a difficult thing to achieve, and it's fair to say that Robinson is light years ahead of where guys like Tim Tebow or Colt McCoy were at this stage in their career in the spread offense's passing game. Robinson is making his reads, he's using the check down receivers/backs, and he's starting to be able to thread the needle on some of his passes. His progression as a passer is going to be a lot of fun to watch.

In the run game Denard was his usual spectacular self. He found creases that no one can find and used his amazing speed to bust open the Notre Dame Stadium record books. Again, though, Robinson left some yards on the table. Robinson appears fairly proficient at following his receivers blocks, but strangely he seems a little lost following his linemen at the second level. There were a couple of blocks that Schilling and Molk tried to throw that went to air because Robinson cut away from his block and into traffic. He needs a little more patience in those situations, but hey, I'm sitting here looking for flaws in the Sistine Chapel. Robinson was amazing on Saturday. "A"


I thought the offense performed fairly well on Saturday, but they stumbled with penalties and and blown opportunities. I can't fault the offense for missing two field goals, but you have to ding them for failing to stick the stake in Notre Dame's heart in the second and third quarters. I'm still concerned that we can't get more going on the ground for our running backs. I'm also a little concerned about the load that Denard is currently carrying, but with two games of less than top notch competition ahead of Michigan, I suspect Rodriguez will let Denard rest a little and get Tate and Gardner some reps.

What it comes down to is that the offense operated when it had to. Everyone stepped up, critical passes were caught, and the offensive line absolutely demolished Notre Dames' defense on Denard's final touchdown dive. The game had moments of brilliance and moments of trepidation. But overall, it was a second straight outstanding performance from the Michigan Offense.