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Tuesday Game Notes From Michigan's 35-31 Win Over Notre Dame

Man is that pretty....  (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
Man is that pretty.... (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
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We're three days removed from the euphoria of Saturday night's Sunday Morning's win over Notre Dame, so it's time to sit back and take a hard look at what we saw. What say you internets?

Man, Was That Awesome - Agreed.

No Really, That Was So Awesome - We're on the same page here.

SO AWESOME!!!1!! - /slap/

Thanks, I Needed That - You're welcome.

I've Never Seen Anything Like That After a Game - It was truly amazing. It's not quite at the level of the 1997 win over Ohio University of Ohio, as A) It was THE GAME, B) it was for a trip to the Rose Bowl, and C) Michigan was playing for a National Championship. After that game the students actually rushed the field. It was slow at first, but I still remember being out on that frozen ground screaming with my arms in the air hugging random people and jumping around like an idiot. That said, I can't remember any other game at Michigan Stadium where the ENTIRE stadium refused to leave after the game. People were singing and cheering with what little voices they had left for no other reason than it seemed like a waste to leave with any voice at all. The lights, the sea of maize, it was truly something special. This may not have been 1997, but damn was it as close as it could possibly be given the circumstances.

What About the Jerseys? - They actually started to grow on me. But I'm old and senile.

So, About the Game - Yes, let's discuss.

Vincent Smith is Michigan's Running Back? - I think so. Smith gave Michigan's offense the versatility it desperately needed on Saturday and seems to be one of the few running backs who actually understands the blitz and protection schemes. I love Michael Shaw for his speed and his amazing similarities to former Michigan tailback Carlos Brown. I was thrilled when I saw Fitzgerald Toussaint break out for a pair of touchdowns against Western Michigan. But the back that gives Michigan the most in the passing game and on the ground seems to be Vincent Smith. Smith seems to be completely back from the ACL injury that ended his freshman year and ruined his sophomore campaign. He just has that popto his running that seems to be missing from the other backs. On his touchdown run Smith split two defenders, broke a tackle and accelerated like we haven't seen him accelerate in two years toward the endzone. Watching him, I just got that feelingthat he was the guy. I didn't get that feeling out of Shaw or Toussaintlast week. We'll see what happens next week, but I was really impressed withwhat Smith delivered on Saturday.

Stephen Hopkins Is Going to be Glued to the Bench Isn't He? - This was not his best game as a Wolverine. He couldn't pick up any yardage, tripped over his blockers and fumbled on the goal line. These are not good things. He's a great kid, but he's got a lot of work to do.

So, On Desmond's Day, Number 21 Stepped Up - Man. If it wasn't for Denard Robinson's fourth quarter heroics, your hero of the day would've been Junior Hemingway. Hemingway was absolutely incredible Saturday. Despite an early drop, Hemingway caught everything else he had a prayer of getting to. It wasn't the number of catches (three) that was impressive, it was how he got them. Hemingway either out-battled Notre Dame'scorners on jump balls or he simply out-ran them. Hemingway had 165 yards on just three catches to go along with a touchdown. In case you missed it, that was 6 more yards than Michael Floyd on 10 fewer catches. Junior was amazing on Saturday.

Do I Hear The Strains of Bob Marley's "Redemption Songs" Playing For Jeremy Gallon - Oh man, what an about face this kid has done. A jump ball TD. The most important catch of his career. What a game he had. AND HE DIDN'T FUMBLE A KICK!!!! Wow. Gallon was left for dead by everyone, yours included, after his struggles last year holding onto the ball. For him to shrug it all off and be THAT  awesome is incredible. One thing though, Denard, please remember that he is 5'8". No more jump balls to Gallon. They're never going to be his strong suit.

Notre Dame's Offensive Line Was Really Good- I've seen a lot of complaining about the lack of pressure from Michigan's defensive line on the boards, and frankly I'm a little puzzled by it. Sure I would've liked a sack or two, but the Irish returned four starters on their line and sport three upperclassmen in that mix. And in case you're following it at home, all of them were highly recruited out of high school. This line wasn't good by accident, it's veteran and it's big, tipping the scales at over 300 lbs a man. Notre Dame game planned well for the offense and after watching Rees' audible it looked like they had their protection schemes down pat. If their backs and QB can hold on to the ball, this should still be a top 15 team by the end of the season.

Speaking of Tipping Things, Were We Tipping Our Defensive Hand?- After watching the game two more times I'm starting to wonder if the linebackers or blitzers were betraying their intentions. But that's not all, I'm even more concerned that our defensive line was too. Notre Dame seemed to check into the right rush plays every time Mike Martin dropped into coverage, so that leads me to believe they keyed on something Martin was doing or a particular alignment. Notre Dame also seemed to have the answers for all our blitz packages, as Tommy Rees didn't dirty his pants once on the evening. The obvious answer is that the 'backers and safeties were coming to the line too early. I don't think that's the case, as they can always check out of those packages. I think Notre Dame saw something in the Western game that tipped them off and Michigan's going to have to work on disguising things a lot better against better offenses.

So What'd You Think Of The Secondary? - Actually, and I know this sounds stupid, I'm not thrilled but I'm not suicidal either. They're definitely improving and I think improved linebacker play has a lot to do with that. Brandin Hawthorne had a hell of a game and Michigan's short pass coverage converged quickly on every completion. Short passes didn't get turned into long ones, which is a welcome change from last year. I thought Marvin Robinson and Jordan Kovacs were good at Safety, and let's face it, no one can cover Michael Floyd. J.T. Floyd did his best, Thomas Gordon did his best. But they are neither fast enough, nor big enough to deal with the future first rounder. Courtney Avery tried too, and... well... yeah. Notre Dame'sreceiving Corps is arguably the best we'll see this season (with MSU giving them a good run for their money). I'm hopeful that this was a good learning experience for them.


That's Better - It was cathartic, actually.

Let's Get This Out of the Way, Denard Was Awful For Two and a Half Quarters- I don't think anyone's going to debate this. Maybe, as the players and coaches have intimated, Denard was just too jacked up for the game. He seem at times to be a tad bit excitable, so maybe he had one too many Mountain Dews. Maybe he actually did have jitters. Maybe dinner didn't sit right. Who knows? But for the first 40 minutes of the game... sheesh. That was the worst I've see him play since last season's Michigan State game. I mean take a look at these passes in the First Half:

1.  3rd down - Short arms a throw to his left to Grady, bouncing it in the dirt nowhere near the first down marker. (no pressure "NP").
2.  Pass to his left deflected lineman's hand.
3.  3rd down - Dump off to Smith who was four yards short of the first down marker (NP).
3(a).  Charted because it was a bootleg where we held the ball too long and got caught on the roll out.
4.  The air mailed screen pass interception. Easily his worst throw of the night.
5.  1st and 10 rolling pocket right. Denard launches a deep pass to Hemingway toward the left side of the field that was off. It looked pretty but Hemingway wasn't close to it. There's been some talk about timing getting messed up due to bumping another receiver, so I'll give this a push.
6.  Deep ball to Roundtree overthrown (though Tree had his hands on it - NP).
6(a).  Pressure and scramble and nothing, no throw.
7.  Deep ball completion to Hemingway that turns into a TD. (NP) Underthrown. Don't know if it was intentional or not.
8.  2&12 - Well over Roundtree's head deep on the left side (NP).
9.  3&12 - Misses an open Hemingway on a rolling pocket to his right. (NP)
And that's the half.

(Let me know if I missed one, I think I got them all, but it's possible I missed one)

Denard had his problems despite having plenty of time to throw the ball on Saturday. I'm hoping it was just jitters, and that seems to have been borne out by his 3rd and 4th quarter performances, so we'll see.

Let's Also Get This Out of the Way, Scheme Had Nothing To Do With His Struggles -Amen. I've seen people suggest that if Denard was in the spread on Saturday he wouldn't have struggled so much. I seen them suggest that Borges needs to "mold" the offense around Denard rather than force a square peg into a round hole. I've seen it on the boards, on other sites, and (shocking) on MGo. Bluntly, it's stupid wherever it's posted.

/begin rant/

Denard Robinson is a quarterback, not a running back. And as a quarterback he has to throw the ball for the team to be successful. It doesn't matter if you're in the spread or a pro-style offense, if you can't pass the ball you lose half your offense. So let's be honest, Denard couldn't hit the broad side of a barn irrespective of scheme in the first half on Saturday. I mean look at the chart above. It's awful. Robinson was 4-for-14 through the first three quarters and had amassed a grand total of 136 yards, 1 TD, and 2 INTs (and that's with Michigan knocking on the goal line door going into the fourth).

There is nothing there that even remotely suggests scheme would've affected his efficacy. Borges even called the designed run plays for Denard (lots of zone read and Denard right and Denard left [just like Rodriguez]) when we couldn't run the ball with our tailbacks. The bottom line is Robinson was just off, no matter what scheme he was in. The funny thing is, the scheme didn't change in the fourth quarter despite claims to the contrary. Denard simply started hitting his passes, making better reads, and (yes) getting lucky from time to time. All four of his TD passes, including Denard's game winning pass, were from under center. The scheme works when Denard plays well. And I'm not the only one who thinks this:

The offense is still explosive.  I hate hate hate it when people like Mark May question Al Borges' ability to use Denard Robinson effectively.  Michigan's offense is just fine when Robinson makes accurate throws.  When Robinson is inaccurate, the offense suffers.  But insert any quarterback's name in that previous sentence and the comment holds true.  Robinsonmade a few bad decisions in the first half (throwing an ill advised screen pass to Vincent Smith that was picked, throwing into double coverage, tossing jump balls to the 5'8" Jeremy Gallon, etc.), but there were wide open receivers that Robinson repeatedly missed.  He doesn't throw an accurate deep ball, and that was apparent last year under "genius" Rich Rodriguez, too.  Robinsongot a lot of yardage from bubble screens and short throws last year, but with teams stacking the line of scrimmage and daring Michigan to "pass to win," those hitches and bubble screens just aren't going to be there.  The bubble screen worked well for Notre Dame because Michigan was backed off in fear of Michael Floyd.

Michigan sucked last year when Denard couldn't throw the ball accurately. Think of the Michigan State game. The passes Denard was being asked to throw against Michigan State weren't that different from Saturday's game, and Saturday Denard put them behind his receivers, over their heads, or into the dirt. The exact thing that happened against State. This isn't a new phenomenon, and something he's been working on for almost three years. As a result, it shocks me that everyone remembers his accuracy in the Illinois game (Roundtree and yards of grass) rather than the Ohio State, Michigan State, Iowa, or Mississippi State games where he was downright awful in the spread passing attack. When Defenses played defense (re: not Illinois) Denard wasn't very accurate on anything other than a horizontal pass.

Further, it's not a new phenomenon for the coaching staff to use their running backs futilely. Rodriguez tried over and over again to get production out of the tailback slot and never got it. For people to criticize Borges for trying to do the same thing is simply staggering. Any offense, spread or not, must have a decent running game not based on its quarterback to be successful (remember Steve Slaton and Pat White at WVU?). You have to keep going to that well, like it or not, to try to get production and to keep the defense from completely keying on your QB's legs. Stop using the backs and you become predictable on the ground, and that's going to get Robinson killed.

Borges did everything he could to play to Denard's strengths. 15 carries for over 100 yards. He moved the pocket repeatedly. Zone read. He used Denard's arm strength to stretch the field (something we bitched about Rodriguez not doing last season). The only thing that was different on Saturday was that Michigan's horizontal passing game was buried at the bottom of the ocean (where it should be) and had to pass vertically. The result was that Denard accounted for 98% of Michigan's offense. How much more can you plan an offense around one guy!? At a certain point, your quarterback has to execute and that took Denard 2 plus quarters to get to.

In the first half Notre Dame stacked the line and dared Denardto beat them with his arm, which he didn't do. Regardless of scheme, your options were to run into a brick wall over and over again and hope it gave before Denard broke, or have him throw over the top. Michigan chose the latter and it finally paid off in the third and fourth when Denard settled down. It's hypocritical to look at the second half of last year's games and claim the spread works, and then look at the second half of this year'sgames and say scheme had nothing to do with it. I think everyone complaining about Borges play calling, and whining about the spread needs to afford Borges and Hoke the same patience they afforded Rodriguez for three years. Especially since Hoke and Borges have only been here two games.

/end rant/

You Done? - Yeah. I'm done.... for now.

So That's Where William Campbell's Been Hiding- It was great to see Big Will have an impact on Saturday. The big fella was directly responsible for short circuiting that final 3rd and short by Notre Dame that led to Michigan's first lead of the game. Campbell not only ate a double team, but he pushed it backwards, eliminating the hole and allowing Kenny Demens and Jake Ryan to make the tackle. God, I hope this is the start of something big from him.

Someone Put an APB Out For Craig Roh- Agreed. I really think whatever illness that hit Roh over the summer set him waaaaaayback. He doesn't have the explosiveness or the strength of last year, and this is when he's actually playing in his normal position (DE) rather than at LB. I think it's too early to tell whether this is a permanent issue, but it's definitely something to think about.

By That Same Token Jibreel Black Wasn't Too Shabby- The sophomore looked okay. It'shard to dole out too much credit to the defensive line when they barely got any pressure on Rees the whole game, but Black has improved considerably against the run and is no longer a liability there. Like with Roh, it's still too early to tell.

Jordan Kovacs is The MAN- I expect there to be a Kovacs patch in 20 years. He is awesome. The Blonde Bomber had another solid game. If he plays at this level the rest of the year he should merit All-Conference status. This, from a former walk-on. He is now officially my favorite defensive player on this team, and arguably has played the best of any member of the defense so far this year.

That's enough for now.... more later.