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Michigan Showcases Depth in Season Opener against CMU

Both the offense and defense showed how many players were ready to contribute this year as Michigan went to its bench early and often, and those young players came through.

Running back Derrick Green.
Running back Derrick Green.
Gregory Shamus

(Hey! We finally get to have images of Derrick Green! WOO!)

Michigan won their season opener against CMU handily, 59-9, and although some of our voices might have been hoarse during the first half (mine certainly was) after witnessing two Gardner interceptions, I think it's fair to say that we all calmed down quite a bit in the second half.

The reason for this is likely because players down the depth chart contributed to the blowout lead just as well as the starters would have. Players that were barely talked about pre-season, and/or players that really haven't made any kind of impact in their careers thus far, stood out and were surprisingly good. Joe Reynolds, anyone?

Like many fans, I was a little worried (okay, very worried) about the loss of Amara Darboh weeks before the season started. That and the fact that Michigan's wide receiver depth isn't all that proven seemed to mean that we really didn't have many options at the position besides Gallon, Dileo, and maybe Chesson. However, Reynolds made enough of an impact in the game to where I can see him as a solid contributor throughout the year, and those worries should fade away, if they haven't faded already.

Of course, to be fair, remember in 2011 when linebacker Brandon Herron scored that huge defensive touchdown and everyone thought he was the next big thing, and then he practically vanished? Yeah, there's a chance that could happen with Reynolds, too. So let's keep the excitement in check somewhat.

The other two obvious negatives of the game were the penalties and Gardner's interceptions. The first is probably due to the amount of youth on the field. We saw against Alabama in 2012 a bucketload of youth on the field as well, and it showed that they might not be ready yet--they will be by the end of the season. The second, Gardner's INTs, were really just him trying to do too much. I was honestly very surprised that Michigan didn't come out and run the ball fifteen times and pass maybe three times. Nope. Borges and Gardner want to air it out. Gardner was good once he eventually settled down, but dear God I must have screamed "HAND IT OFF TO FITZ" a hundred times in the first quarter before it actually started happening.

Speaking of players getting hand-offs, I was quite surprised to see redshirt freshman Drake Johnson in the mix. You remember Drake Johnson, don't you? He was the state champion track athlete / two-star running back out of Ann Arbor Pioneer who was all set to go help out Ron English at Eastern Michigan* until Fred Jackson thought it would be a good idea to offer him a scholarship to come play for Michigan. Even when he committed, Johnson was projected to be buried on the depth chart. He found some playing time against CMU, which I don't know if that was because Johnson is actually better than Derrick Green and Deveon Smith or if it was an attempt by the staff to placate Johnson and prevent a transfer. Regardless, Johnson got two carries but didn't have much of an impact (2 carries, 9 yards), and he exited the game with an injury. C'est la vie.

On that whimsically cynical note, it was a big, balanced day for Michigan's running backs. Outside of Fitzgerald Toussaint (who finished with 14 carries for 57 yards), guys like Derrick Green, Deveon Smith, Justice Hayes, and even Thomas Rawls all got some touches. The Michigan running backs combined for a total of 38 carries for 155 yards. (I'm actually leaving Norfleet out of that mix since his carry was on an end-around from the slot, which is typically where a receiver lines up. I don't recall seeing Norfleet take any snaps at tailback.)

Although I wish the staff could have kept a redshirt on Deveon Smith, the experience he and Derrick Green collected in this opening game was invaluable. Green has, in particular, seemed to live up to the hype, and with the way Toussaint continues to dance around the backfield at times, I won't be surprised if it's Green who's getting the majority of the carries later in the season.

Meanwhile, on defense, Cam Gordon was pretty wow. Like many in our all-too-often skeptical fan base, I was wary of Cam Gordon, who if you remember didn't really do anything notable in his career other than give up that super long TD in the 2010 Notre Dame game. Well, last Saturday we saw a very different Cam Gordon. A newer, better Cam Gordon. A Cam Gordon unlike any Cam Gordon we have seen before.

Nice to finally meet you, Cam Gordon!

What was perhaps the most encouraging sight overall was how Michigan really looks like it has a great deal of depth, on both sides of the ball. Sure, a lot of that depth might be true freshmen, which can be both a good thing and a bad thing. As BTN commentators Matt Devlin and Glen Mason frequently pointed out, Michigan has 61 players on the roster who are first or second year players, which when you hear that you're like "Huh???" but I guess it's true. So that could be a concern. Michigan typically has relied on senior leadership to carry them through seasons (see 2011), but on the flip side if the young players end up being starters, Michigan is going to be stacked in a couple years.

Highlights courtesy of

By my total, there were upwards of eight players who made an impact who didn't start (or, in many cases, play) a game last season: Channing Stribling, Dymonte Thomas, Derrick Green, Deveon Smith, Joe Reynolds, Brennen Beyer, Mario Ojemudia, Kyle Kalis.

Here are some quick takes on Michigan's victory over CMU from around the internet:

Adam Jacobi, SB Nation:

Devin Gardner and Michigan had little difficulty dispatching the Central Michigan Chippewas in afternoon action, 59-9. A blocked punt by highly touted freshman Dymonte Thomas opened up the game's scoring in the first quarter, and Michigan never looked back on the way to an easy, easy victory.

The key for Michigan this week was to win with such ease that the starters would be able to get off the field early, and that's exactly what happened. Michigan showcased several freshmen in the second half, including quarterback Shane Morris; Morris was 4-for-6 for 59 yards, including an 8-yard connection with fellow freshman Jake Butt.

Nick Baumgardner, MLive:

Michigan's defensive depth appears to be legit. Or, at least Greg Mattison's faith in it does. Mattison rotated 21 different players into his unit in the first half alone.

Both freshmen Channing Stribling and Dymonte Thomas made an impact instantly. Thomas blocked a CMU punt, which was returned for a score by Joe Reynolds, while Stribling was active defensively at corner in the first half.

Angelique Chengelis, Detroit News, on Gardner:

Gardner showed off his athletic prowess, especially running on plays that broke down. He threw for 162 yards and a touchdown but had two interceptions, and he rushed for 52 yards and two touchdowns.

"He’s athletic, (but) sometimes I’m crossing my fingers when I see him out there being athletic," Michigan coach Brady Hoke said. "He had a couple decisions that I think, one for sure, he should have made a better decision on, but at the same time he has a lot of confidence in his abilities. You like that. I’d rather have a quarterback who has that confidence than a guy you have to keep feeding all the time. I thought he had a good game. I wouldn’t say elite or excellent or anything, but I thought he had a good game."

Ace from mgoblog has an excellent overall recap but I disagree with calling Gardner a "superstar" just yet:

Aside from the two picks, Gardner looked like the superstar he's expected to be in his first year as the full-time starter, averaging 10.8 yards per attempt and rushing for 52 yards on seven carries; CMU couldn't keep him in the pocket and couldn't stop him when he escaped, including one play in which Gardner comically olé'd an awaiting defender hoping to hit him on the sideline.

"Aside from the two picks" is probably the key phrase there. Gardner's play at the beginning was flat-out ugly. Once he settled down, he was fine.

Magnus at Touch the Banner has some nice things to say about Cam Gordon:

I thought Gordon was Michigan's best defensive player on Saturday. He had 4 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, and 1 pass breakup, which he deflected in the backfield and almost caught it in the endzone for a defensive touchdown. His added size in the offseason makes him a more imposing figure, and his athleticism for a linebacker is well above average. When Jake Ryan returns from injury, Michigan needs to find a way to get both Ryan and Gordon on the field at the same time.

Here at Maize n' Brew, Zach Travis offers a recap:

Considering that Thomas Gordon sat the game out, the defensive backfield didn't look terrible. Central looked to pass the ball downfield, and had some luck at ttimes, but it wasn't as bad as it could have been. Jarrod Wilson even made a couple good plays, filling for a TFL and almost grabbing an INT. The problems aren't erased, but seeing Michigan hold up without its best safety has to make you feel good, at least for a little while until you realize that Notre Dame comes to town next week.

Anthony Mammel was less impressed:

Jarrod Wilson walked out onto the field as Michigan's second safety, but he still made a few misreads in coverage, as did veteran Josh Furman. Wilson did make two fantastic plays, including what should have been an interception, but the duo still made too many mistakes to clear any questions we had going into the game. It's already very clear that the absence of Jordan Kovacs will have an impact on Michigan's defense.

(Cue GRUMPY CAT meme.)

Space Coyote has some coaching points after the game.

Finally, if Twitter is your thing, Zooby Q. has you covered on what was said before, during, and after the game.

Michigan gears up for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish next week. The match is set for prime time at 8:00 p.m., at the Big House.

[*Because you know English could use the help. Two-star running backs for Eastern are like four-star running backs for Michigan, and I was really rooting for Johnson to go there and become an impact player. At Michigan, it's tough to see a guy with really, really nice speed but poor tackle-shedding ability and mediocre power-running skills stand out against guys with more experience (Fitz) and guys whose strengths are Johnson's weaknesses. His speed could have made a difference in the MAC, perhaps not against non-conference BCS conference opponents, but certainly against fellow MAC'ers like Bowling Green. For what it's worth, Johnson has supporters who believe he can be a standout at Michigan. Many people have called in on the Sam Webb show about it, though the links by now have expired. The most I can provide is this.]