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(17) Michigan 59, Central Michigan 9: Old Time Religion

Michigan cruises, 59-9, with some Devin Gardner, bruising defense, and, oh yes, a little old time power football.

So it begins.
So it begins.
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Central Michigan's Cody Kater completed a 17-yard pass on the first play of the game; from that point forward, it was all Michigan, minus an ultimately inconsequential blip or two here and there.

On the second play of the game, Desmond Morgan met CMU tailback Zurlon Tipton in the hole, stopping him dead in his tracks two yards behind the line of scrimmage. Kater zinged a pass incomplete on second down, then coughed it up after receiving some pressure on third down. CMU recovered the fumble, but, like, Jadeveon Clowney's hit in the bowl game, Dymonte Thomas couldn't let the series end just like that.

The Chippewas set up to punt. The freshman Thomas zoomed around the left side of the line and cleanly blocked the punt. Senior receiver Joe Reynolds scooped it up and took it to the end zone like an Amazon next-day order. The offense would have to wait a little while longer before taking the field.

After a CMU three and out, Devin Gardner and Co. got their chance. Gardner started things off with an incompletion on a pass intended for Devin Funchess. On second down, Gardner made one of Michigan's few big mistakes of the day. With Drew Dileo running a short out to the right side, Gardner received the shotgun snap, waited a split second and zipped a pass in his direction. Unfortunately, CMU's Jarret Chapman was already at the spot, reeling in an easy interception.

The Chips had tremendous field position (largely due to Dennis Norfleet's botched attempt to field a bouncing punt before), and moved the ball to the Michigan 1 before a delay of game penalty on 4th and goal forced them to kick the field goal.

On the next drive, Michigan kept going to the air, but even those first two plays resulted in Devin Gardner scrambles for good yardage. On 3rd and 4 from Michigan's own 42, Gardner hit Dileo for 36 yards, then scampered for 22 yards and a touchdown on the next play. If you needed any reminding that that is a new era, watch Gardner's touchdown runs, the ultimate foil to Denard Robinson's pyrotechnics. Gardner doesn't seem to run so much as glide like a nimble apparition. Denard was the flash, a speeding blur only recognizable by his flopping shoelaces.

Michigan forced another three and out, then spent the rest of the first quarter steadily driving down the field, going the speed limit and using its turn signal courteously. To open the second quarter, Fitzgerald Toussaint plunged into the end zone from a yard out; his Wolverine-esque comeback will never stop being anything short of mind-boggling when you remember that his injury occurred just last November.

Gardner threw another pick in the second, although this one wasn't quite of the same degree of unfortunate; sometimes you go deep and bad things happen. When you let 'er rip like Al Borges intends to do, you have to take the good with the bad.

Michigan added two more touchdowns before the half--a 16-yard strike to Jeremy Gallon and a four-yard glide from Gardner--to take a 35-6 lead. It's funny how not playing Alabama to start your season makes things look all right.

In any case, it was a classic Michigan blowout, the sort of game that makes for excellent Wolverine Historian viewing when you have 10 minutes to spare. A cupcake is a cupcake, to be sure, but given how some other teams in the conference fared on Saturday, an unapologetic thumping is just what needed to happen.

Michigan will head into Saturday night for yet another potentially season-defining game against the 1-0 Fighting Irish (who beat Temple 28-6 on Saturday). As we all know, predicting what might happen in that game is often a futile exercise.

Michigan has a long way to go and many more big tests along the way. But, if Saturday is any indication, Michigan has taken another big step toward the platonic ideal of the Michigan of old.

The Offense

First, the numbers:

  • Devin Gardner: 10/15, 162 yards, 10.8 YPA, 1 TD, 2 INTs (7 carries, 58 yards, 2 TDs)
  • Shane Morris: 4/6, 59 yards, 1 INT
  • Fitzgerald Toussaint: 14 carries, 57 yards, 2 TDs (long of 22)
  • Derrick Green: 11 carries, 58 yards, 1 TD (long of 30)
  • De'Veon Smith: 7 carries, 12 yards
The game went exactly as planned: six non-QB/non-Norfleet Wolverines carried the ball, and Michigan managed 5.1 YPC on 47 carries. Shane Morris took over in the 3rd quarter, completing the first pass of his career to Jake Butt for eight yards, a connection that should hopefully be a productive one in the future. In the third quarter, Michigan drove 55 yards in 10 plays, all Green and Smith runs, en route to a touchdown plunge from Green, the first of his career. Say what you will about Green's conditioning, weight, whatever, to me he appeared exactly as advertised. As the season moves forward, he should see an increased share of the non-Fitz carry load, to the chagrin of linebackers and defensive backs everywhere.

Other than an end around to Dennis Norfleet, a play that was a flailing CMU tackler's last swipe at Norfleet's feet from being a touchdown, Michigan didn't seem to show too much. Gardner did his Gardner thing (INTs notwithstanding), and the non-Gardner ground game was ultimately solid if not somewhat inconsistent.

With that said, think back to last year, when Michigan could hardly run the ball against anyone on the schedule (not including Denard's run-game-salvaging heroics); "inconsistent" is an improvement over "downright bad." On the bright side, the line is sure to get better as the year moves along, but I think we can say with cautious optimism that the interior of Glasgow-Miller-Kalis already looks better than the senior trio of Barnum-Mealer-Omameh (no disrespect to those guys, who did what they could).

As is usually the case with these sorts of games, there's not a whole lot of meaningful stuff to glean as far as the rest of the season is concerned. Minus a regrettable interception at the beginning of the game (and another later that was just an overthrown deep ball, basically a punt), Gardner looked the part without having to do a whole lot. Fifteen passes from your starter in Week 1 is ideal.

Shane Morris was sacked once in the fourth quarter, but the Chips never got to Gardner, which might become a theme this year. Gardner's ability to teleport from spot to spot could get him into some trouble against more capable opponents, but it will also do the opposite, yielding big plays on the ground and through the air.

As far as the wide receivers go, Gallon and Dileo are still the dependable guys we've come to know; the Gardner-Gallon connection is going to be something to write home about. Also, an aside, but I'm sad Gallon is not wearing No. 10 anymore, as I can no longer mentally refer to him as "Ten Gallon." So it goes.

Elsewhere, Joe Reynolds showed well it seemed, reeling in a 45-yard near touchdown from Gardner on the first drive of the second half. Reynolds's injury status (and backup running back Drake Johnson's, as well) was unclear after the game, but hopefully he'll be on the field this Saturday. Michigan has good talent at the top with Gallon and solid depth overall (Dileo, Funchess, and, hopefully, Jehu Chesson, who was catch-less in this one), but after losing Amara Darboh for the season, another injury here would be unfortunate (not that it wouldn't be anyway).

Anyway, 59 points against last season's 89th-ranked total defense was fun to watch like a friend following through on his promise to help you move is fun. It was exactly as it should have been. Michigan got some reserves snaps, we caught our first glimpses of young talents like Green, Smith and Morris, and catastrophic injuries were avoided. We should not play Alabama to start the season every season, eh?

The Defense

Similarly, the defense showed well, just as you'd expect against a MAC team breaking in a new quarterback. The game was a nostalgic reminder of Carr-era blowouts of old, when overmatched opponents were quickly informed of the degree of their inferiority. In this game, Desmond Morgan was the one who knocks, on the game's second play, when Zurlon Tipton was ZurlOFF'd (did you see what I did there).

I didn't even noticed that Thomas Gordon (suspended for the game), wasn't playing until much later in the game, which I suppose is a good thing. Without Michigan's two starters at safety in Gordon and Courtney Avery, the Wolverines didn't give up the big play all game long, unless you want to count a 43-yard CMU completion in the 4th quarter, with the Wolverines then up 56-6. CMU's longest run of the day was a mere 15 yards.

Pressure-wise, Michigan recorded four sacks on the day; Michigan tallied just three in the entire month of September 2012. Keep in mind that this was possible without the services of Jake Ryan and with Frank Clark not getting on the board himself. Clark did notch one 2012 OSU game-esque QB hurry, but was otherwise quiet on the day, which is fine. That said, a sack of Tommy Rees by Clark would be a good first step to showing everyone why Clark has been this offseason's talk of the defense.

Despite having a thumping power back sort in Tipton, the Chips couldn't get in the end zone after the first Gardner pick. Shortly thereafter, CMU couldn't even look to its top player for hope, as the Wolverines were quickly building up a big lead.

CMU was forced to go to backup QB Alex Niznak from the second quarter on, as Kater was knocked out with a broken collarbone and Tipton with a broken ankle. Injuries are never something you want to see for any player, and we can all hope for a speedy recovery for those two.

The interior of the line was strong, the linebackers played a swift, thumping game and the secondary gave very little. James Ross had a quiet Saturday afternoon (three tackles, 0.5 TFL), which, like Clark's line, elicits nothing more from me than an apathetic shrug. On the other hand, Jarrod Wilson, who has caught some flak in recent weeks based on practice rumblings, showed well on Saturday, albeit against a team with no hope of challenging him in center field (as South Carolina did, for example). Whether that continues to hold up against stronger competition will obviously be something for which to watch.

In addition to all of the sound tackling and general stinginess, the Wolverines forced two turnovers (and forced another fumble, only to have CMU recover, right before the Thomas blocked punt). Raymon Taylor redeemed himself after a rough Outback Bowl, picking off Niznak in the second quarter and romping 54 yards to the CMU 12.

Michigan notched a hilarious 9.0 TFL on Saturday. Once again, for comparison, the Wolverines managed 21.0 in all of last September.

Michigan will eventually feel the departure of Jordan Kovacs at the exact moment when a Michigan safety gives up a crippling big play; until then, early returns suggest this might be Brady Hoke's best defense to date, assuming Notre Dame doesn't put up numbers this Saturday approaching what they did in UTL1.

Special Teams

Once again, it's nice to not have to worry much about this section after all the teeth-gnashing it inspired during previous years.

Brendan Gibbons went 1/1 on the day, a simple 30-yarder.

Matt Wile booted five touchbacks on 10 attempts.

Kenny Allen had Michigan's lone punt of the day, not Wile. We've all heard good things about Allen, and his 51-yard punt on Saturday lends some credence to those rumblings.

In the return game, CMU's longest kickoff return was 27 yards (and they didn't have the chance to test Michigan's punt coverage). On Michigan's end, Norfleet popped a nice 39-yard KO return early in the fourth quarter, but woefully misplayed a bouncing punt in the first quarter, almost leading to a turnover. As with all other mistakes in this one, it's better to get these sorts of things out against Central Michigan than another team against whom a mistake like that could swing the outcome.

No longer is the discussion of Michigan special teams the domain of Internet versions of Waldorf and Statler. I award the Michigan special teams two thumbs up.

Miscellaneous Minutiae

  • Channing Stribling. The wiry freshman somewhat surprisingly showed up big on Saturday, pitching in five tackles (four solo) and a forced fumble in the 4th quarter (right after the Morris interception). Stribling is listed at 6'2'', 171 pounds, but he didn't seem afraid to mix it up. As Brian mentioned in his preview of the corners, Stribling does in fact seem to be a find.
  • The Green and Smith Experience. Smith's line didn't end up being too impressive, but if he doesn't look like a Big Ten back already I don't know who does. Obviously, the same goes for Derrick Green, who, in an alternate universe, is running behind Wisconsin's offensive line for approximately infinity yards. Luckily, he plays for the Wolverines. The all-Smith-Green drive was a thing of beauty, even if CMU was beaten down and defeated at that point. Smith's first carry, a pounding four-yard run, is probably playing on a loop on Bo's TV set in heaven.
  • Speaking of Green...that 30-yard run. Oh man. Sure, the blocking on that play was about as perfect as could be. Taylor Lewan and A.J. Williams sealed their men inside, Joe Kerridge cuts his man, and Jehu Chesson sealed his man to the inside perfectly. The result was a hole big enough to allow a Mongol horde to pass through, which is probably what a DB feels like is coming when Green is out in the open field. Obviously, Green is not going to be speeding past anyone, but it doesn't really matter. It was a nice debut for the freshmen powerbacks, and Michigan will need them to continue to show well in relief of Toussaint as the season goes on.
  • One more Green point. The BTN graphic listing Green at 220 pounds? Yeahhh no. Anyway, despite the seemingly breathless praise above, take away Green's 30-yarder and he went for 28 yards on 10 carries. So, there's still much work to do for the young backs (and the interior OL) before Michigan can crown itself the Legends division version of the Wisconsin offense.
  • Shane Morris. There's not much to say about such a brief appearance, but, as with Green/Smith, Morris certainly "looks the part," which I'll admit is a fairly meaningless thing to say, but whatever. The interception, on a rollout and plant to his right, floated on him, just over the fingertips of Dennis Norfleet. However, Morris's release is effortless; his flick to Jake Butt while rolling to his left was as pretty as an eight yard completion could be.
  • As is tradition...the MGoBlue "Notes" can be found here. Of note: Michigan's 59 points on Saturday was the largest output in a season opener since 1905's opener against Ohio Wesleyan (65). Poor Ohio Wesleyan.
  • Highlights. They are here. Michigan is 1-0, but the season begins in earnest this Saturday under the lights.