That was a great game for Minnesota. If the Gophers were facing almost anyone else, I would have been rooting for them to win. With the recent retirement of Jerry Kill, the frenzied crowd, the excited players, that was a fun game to watch. As a Michigan fan, player, or coach, you had to be wary of the emotions of the game. Some teams totally cave in that situation, and some play out of their minds. Minnesota did the latter. Unfortunately for them – but not for Michigan – I think head coach Tracy Claeys and his staff let the moment get a little too big for them at the end with some questionable game management.
I was closer to being right than I wanted to be. In my game preview (LINK), I predicted “Jake Rudock gets knocked out of the game, Wilton Speight can’t find his helmet, and Shane Morris burns his redshirt to come in and win the game.” Well, hot damn. Rudock did get knocked out of the game, and Shane Morris was warming up on the sideline, but it was Speight – helmet and all – who came in to throw the game-winning touchdown pass. Michigan seemed snake-bitten all game, and at one point late in the game, Michigan was without its starting QB, its starting RB, and its starting TE. I had started to think that it just wasn’t meant to be for the Wolverines on Saturday night.
Hit the jump for the remainder of the recap.
How much is Michigan’s defense pretending? The three straight shutouts this year set up some unreasonable expectations for Michigan’s defense, and I think Michigan fans need to pull back on those before they suffer a full-on bout of depression. Michigan’s defense is good, but the shutouts and the lights-out defense are/were unsustainable for this unit. The unfortunate truth is that Michigan lacks a natural pass rusher (especially without Mario Ojemudia), dynamite linebackers, great safety play, and a quality second corner. They have a very strong defensive line, a great corner in Jourdan Lewis, and solid players elsewhere, but weakside end is a glaring hole and two consecutive opponents have taken advantage of Michigan’s linebackers and second corner in coverage.
Wilton Speight was shaky but got it done. For good reason, I think, I got very nervous when Wilton Speight entered the game. He has not looked great in mop-up duty earlier this year, and he looked nervous to begin this night. It looked like he may have turned the wrong way on his first play after replacing Jake Rudock, and he almost lost the handle on a routine shotgun snap. He finished the game 3/6 for 29 yards and 1 touchdown. But in just one meaningful game, he has done more than recent backups Russell Bellomy and Shane Morris ever have – namely, throw a touchdown pass and win a game. I don’t know if Speight is the next Michigan QB or not, but this represented a significant step forward for Michigan quarterback depth.
Was Jake Rudock targeted? I don’t think anyone has any idea what “targeting” is at this point, just like no one in the NFL knows what a “catch” is. When I was growing up and watching the NFL, I don’t remember so many controversies about what constituted a catch or not. Now I watch the NFL, and people talk for weeks (and years) about Calvin Johnson, Dez Bryant, Golden Tate, etc. Now I watch college football, and targeting seems to be the controversial call du jour. We saw Northwestern cornerback Matthew Harris get his targeting ejection overturned after he hit Rudock, James Ross III get kicked out of the Northwestern game for targeting Dan Vitale (justifed, in my opinion), Joe Bolden got booted for “targeting” Michigan State QB Connor Cook (totally unjustified), and then Minnesota twice did things just as violent – or worse – to Rudock, and not a single play was called. The first was when Rudock was nailed in the chin after he threw a pass near the sideline, and the second was when he was knocked out of the game with a violent hit from behind. So far this season, Rudock has taken at least three violent hits to the head/neck area, and Michigan has not benefited even once. I don’t know what constitutes targeting anymore, but I am fairly certain that at least one of those three hits to Rudock should have resulted in an opponent being ejected.
Jabrill Peppers filled up the stat book. Peppers played 92 total plays, which is a little concerning. That seems like a ton of plays, and since he’s touching the ball so often on special teams and offense, I’m afraid that might not be sustainable. Michigan will probably peel back his number of offensive plays if they’re winning games comfortably, but his playmaking is necessary in tight games. He had 3 tacles and 2 pass breakups; 4 carries for 16 yards and 1 touchdown; 1 kickoff return for 43 yards; and 1 punt return for 41 yards. He lined up at Wildcat quarterback for several plays and ran a play action pass, but he was forced out of bounds for a sack. I didn’t mind the play call so much, although he was rolling to the short side, which prevented him from having much of a chance to use his legs. Overall, I thought he was used rather judiciously in this game, but I hope he doesn’t get worn out.
Drake Johnson has to be the answer right now. Ever since De’Veon Smith initially injured his ankle, he has left each game for at least a stretch of time. He was not fast to begin with, and he looked particularly slow against Minnesota (9 carries, 15 yards). I did not see Ty Isaac make an appearance in this game, and Derrick Green (3 carries, 4 yards) is just a guy, really. The only one who brought any kind of life to the running game is Drake Johnson (10 carries, 55 yards). It’s frustrating to watch Michigan run the ball, because almost every yard has to be manufactured by scheme and coaching, not talented skill players.
Minnesota’s Mitch Leidner played with fire and never got burned. He threw a ton of 50/50 balls, and Michigan was never able to reel in one of them. Jabrill Peppers, Dymonte Thomas, Jeremy Clark, and Jarrod Wilson all had great shots to snag turnovers, but each one was dropped or misplayed. The Clark misplay turned into a Minnesota touchdown. It would have been nice to make Leidner pay for being just a so-so quarterback, but I guess he was on his game tonight. He seemed extremely focused and locked in, and I appreciated his spirited run around the stadium with the “Jerrysota” flag before the game.
Burned redshirt update. With freshman offensive tackle Grant Newsome burning his redshirt in this game for some reason, the freshmen who have participated this year are now: WR Brian Cole, RB Karan Higdon, S Tyree Kinnel, Newsome, and WR Grant Perry.
The goal line stand. Very late in the game, Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner and wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky took advantage of Channing Stribling on a double move, much like Michigan State torched Jeremy Clark two weeks ago. It initially looked like a touchdown, but the ball was placed on the half-yard line after a review. As mentioned above, this is where Minnesota interim coach Tracy Claeys was in over his head. With 19 seconds on the clock after the review, he (or his staff, whatever) called for a play that included an offensive shift. Unfortunately for them, the game clock started rolling when the ball was put in play, so several seconds were lost by the time they snapped the ball. After Leidner rolled right, got pressured, and threw an incomplete pass, there were just 2 seconds remaining. Those nineteen seconds would have given them time for at least three plays if they were the right ones, but instead they had to go for either a field goal or a touchdown with those 2 seconds remaining. The prevailing logic is to go for the tie when you’re at home, but instead of sending out the field goal unit, Minnesota called for an old-fashioned quarterback sneak behind their true freshman center.
Michigan nose tackle Ryan Glasgow thought that was a bad idea.
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