Anyone else feel kind of cheated out of a quarter of football? After a day that was mostly hot and wet, I sat back and tried to ask what I learned from this team and coaching staff. I'm not sure I have an answer on this. Michigan drove the field at times, and at times looked really out of sync. The defense caused me to text "2010 called and wants its defense back" to SCM at one point, but also gave us this:
I'm not sure there's been a better picture of the Michigan Defense since an unconcerned Alan Branch stomped away from Zac Morelli (I think...do I have my PSU QB's right?). The defense scored two touchdowns, which seems unsustainable. The offense sputtered, scored, and seemed about ready to start really imposing their will when the game was called. I'd be a lot more comfortable if I had seen a 21 point 4th quarter explosion. This seemed ready to happen. It didn't, so I remain unconvinced. The rushing stats are OK, but are primarily comprised of two long runs. Do these long runs happen against Notre Dame? Michigan State?
The defense looked about how I expected them to look. On the first drive, the fundamentals looked improved, even if the alignments and coverages didn't. Check out this Mgodiary for a frame-by-frame of some of the missed alignments. The Western offense came out with some no-huddle, which took Michigan by surprise, and Carder was accurate-as-advertised. WMU moved the ball with ease. What happened next did not happen last year. Mattison, sensing that pressure was going to be the only way to knock Carder off his rhythm, brought the house. At his own 35 yard line (ish) he brought cover 0 3 times straight, sending Mouton [Demens. Mouton is graduated. See comments for shaming purposes] up the middle only to massively whiff on the sacks. It didn't matter as Carder chucked up deep prayers off his back foot that each fell harmlessly to the turf.
Did this happen last year? The last 3 years? That was a mid-quarter adjustment that took a WMU offense surprise (no huddle, quick drop) and neutralized it. Later in the game, Mattison would start mixing his pressures, getting Kovacs free numerous times, and causing Alex Carder to start yelling at his sideline that he needs more time. This is encouraging.
Less encouraging was the pressure exerted just by the front-4. This needs to get better. Against Big 10 teams, and indeed against Notre Dame, there is no way that we're going to be able to go cover-0 3 times in a row and get away with it. We need to be able to generate some happy-feet in the pocket using just a 4 man front from time to time, and I didn't see that on Saturday.
Obviously, the defensive scores were nice. Jake Ryan's play to force that first INT was a special play. It's hard, obviously, to analyze these plays as much more than flukes, however. The team will likely not score 14 defensive points per game from here on out. Herron did well to be in the right place. What was nice, and possibly sustainable, was the 2-0 turnover margin. If we're able to sustain a +2 on turnover margin, that's worth a game or two.
The offense is harder to judge. First of all, Denard was indeed in the shot-gun the majority of plays. He made some nice throws, Koger had a nice catch, and he threw one hilariously behind Drew Dileo that possibly would have gone for 6 had he hit him in stride. There were a couple long throws that I thought he could have scrambled for the first down, but he looked pretty calm and comfortable out there. What I liked to see was the lack of panic on 3rd down. 3rd and 5 was death to this team over the past 3 years. This offense, while obviously wanted to pick up as many 1st as possible, seems designed to pick that up.
Toussaint looked good when he was in, Shaw looked like the same Shaw that he's always been - deadly fast in the open field, but a little to dancy at times. Both had pretty good games, and were on the doorstep of having really good games before the Lightning Gods saw fit to cancel the 4th quarter. If there was ever a time to say "sample size too little" before making a judgement, this is it.
This was a weird game. While I feel comfortable that Michigan would have won in many different ways, the exact way it went down was weird. There were 14 points that the defense scored, the offense never had the ball, we missed an extra point, and only the first TD drive appeared to be a sustainable look at the offense - the other was two homerun runs that probably wouldn't happen against, say, Nebraska.
The bottom line is that our sample size of evidence is small, and made even smaller by the unlikely way in which this game went down. There are things that happened positively. The defensive adjustments were great, the fundamentals were there, and Denard looked fairly comfortable. There were also bad things, like the 3-out, the WMU opening march down the field, general confusion on the defense, and kick coverage. It was an incomplete game in more ways than just the minutes. I feel that it was incomplete as a means to judge this team or reset expectations as well. Next week we go back into the breach against Notre Dame. We'll have a much better picture after that one. Final grade: incomplete.