Michigan 31, Eastern Michigan 3

Michigan 31, Eastern Michigan 3

September 18, 2011
Thomas Gordon makes a one-handed interception

A win is a win.  It’s tough to complain about a 28-point victory.  I’ll find a way, though.

Al Borges got Rich Rodriguez Syndrome.  Hopefully it’s not an incurable disease, but there’s no reason for Denard Robinson to be running the ball 26 times (for 198 yards and 1 touchdown) against Eastern Michigan in a 28-point blowout.  The guy who missed parts of ten games last season with various injuries – and who’s reportedly suffering from a sore arm – needs a break once in awhile.  When the Wolverines started their second-to-last drive with approximately ten minutes left in the fourth quarter, I thought backup Devin Gardner should have entered the game.  It was 28-3.  But Michigan was close to its own end zone, and I understand not wanting to put in a young, raw backup in that spot on the field.  So what about when they crossed the 40?  When they crossed the 50?  Robinson was still running the ball up until the point that Brendan Gibbons kicked a short field goal.  The other running backs combined for 23 carries in the game.  We get it – Denard Robinson can run the ball, and that’s okay if the game’s outcome is in question, such as against Notre Dame.  But how about getting someone else in gear?

Denard Robinson has Steve Blass Disease.  For a second week in a row, Robinson’s inaccuracy was on display.  He finished the game 7-for-18 (39%) for 95 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 1 interception after completing 46% of his passes against Notre Dame.  That’s a two-game total of 43% passing and 4 interceptions.  This is not Al Borges’s fault.  It’s not Brady Hoke’s fault.  There are wide open receivers that Robinson is flat-out missing.  Kudos to Rich Rodriguez for figuring out that hitches, bubble screens, and inside slants are the only passes Robinson can complete with any regularity.

The Big Ten Network’s announcers don’t get paid, do they?  I turned the volume down at various points, but those guys were clueless.  Thomas Rawls had a carry in the second quarter (no, he didn’t), we have a starting defensive lineman named “Will Henninner” (no, we don’t), and Eastern Michigan “abandoned the run game” (they threw a total of 6 passes).  Seeing Jon Jansen on the sideline was cool and all, but if the guys in the broadcast booth are going to be dumb, they could at least apologize to viewers by way of Melanie Collins or Ashley Russell (if they still work for the BTN).

Vincent Smith had a good game.  I don’t know if it’s just luck or if the offensive linemen block a little harder when #2 gets the call, but Smith had lots of wide open running lanes.  Despite getting only nine carries, the 5’6″ running back had 118 yards.  Those yards came on runs of 38, 27, 5, 14, 5, 6, 0, 11, and 12.  Fitzgerald Toussaint had a solid day with 11 carries for 46 yards and 1 touchdown, but he and Michael Shaw keep running into traffic whereas Smith had gaping holes several times.  I noticed in the spring that Smith seems to have his quickness back now that he’s nearly two years removed from tearing his ACL, but it still concerns me that he can’t break tackles.

Craig Roh, welcome back!  In the first two games of the season, Roh did his best impression of Keyser Soze.  Zero tackles, zero sacks, zero pass breakups, nothing.  This week he broke out with 5 tackles and 1 sack.  Last week Greg Mattison said that Roh played very well in the Notre Dame game, so it wasn’t too much of a surprise when Roh started once again over Jibreel Black.  Hopefully Roh continues to improve.

Bye bye, redshirts.  Several true freshmen have played so far this year, including a couple guys who played for the first time this week – Thomas Rawls and Raymon Taylor.  Other freshmen to see time this year include Desmond Morgan, Matt Wile, Blake Countess, Brennen Beyer, and Gregg Brown.  No freshmen have really stood out, although Frank Clark had a nice play and Taylor . . . got a 15-yard penalty for a late hit.  Otherwise, we haven’t really seen any game changers from this freshman class, and I don’t suspect we’ll see any this year.

What happened to the jet sweeps?  Eastern Michigan was having oodles of success with the jet sweep in the first half, and then they just stopped.  I’m not sure if Michigan started scheming against it and taking it away, but it seemed to be in the best interest of EMU head coach Ron English to keep them coming.

This is Michigan’s best safety combination since 2007.  Jordan Kovacs (8 tackles) and Thomas Gordon (6 tackles, 1 interception, 1 fumble recovery) are playing better than any safety combo since Brandent Englemon and Jamar Adams.  Kovacs seems to have gained some speed since we first saw him in 2009, and Gordon is a solid tackler with decent ball skills.  Neither one will win many foot races, but so far they’ve helped to limit big plays.  Hopefully that continues into the Big Ten season.

Brendan Gibbons kicked the ball through the uprights.  That might have been the play of the day, if not for Thomas Gordon’s one-handed pick on a double pass.


  1. Comments: 21381
    Sep 18, 2011 at 11:48 AM

    Nicely done.

  2. Comments: 21381
    Sep 18, 2011 at 1:02 PM

    Good write up, hope you're right about the safeties. They looked good, but this was by far the worst passing attack we'll see all year, OSU included.

    Btw, Clark has played on special teams every game.

  3. Comments: 21381
    Sep 18, 2011 at 1:07 PM

    You forgot the two defensive TDs that Cam Gordon had in the first game…according to the BTN announcers.

    And, they must of led you astray about Frank Clark. He has played on special teams in all three games.

  4. Comments: 21381
    Sep 18, 2011 at 2:34 PM

    I don't know if it's just luck or if the offensive linemen block a little harder when #2 gets the call, but Smith had lots of wide open running lanes.

    Or, just maybe, Vincent Smith is a better back than everyone gives him credit for. RR was a lot of things, but when it came running an offense, he wasn't dumb, and the fact that Smith got the bulk of the carries last year speaks volumes about his ability. This year's coaching staff appears to be coming to the same conclusion, and the performance of all of the backs on the field thus far appears to be bearing that out.

    Smith may never be a home run hitter and he won't ever break tackles a la Mike Hart, but he finds his holes and gets through them quickly. More importantly, he doesn't appear to make a ton of mistakes. (he even recovered Denard's fumble!)

  5. Comments: 21381
    Sep 18, 2011 at 3:51 PM

    Good discussion of the game. Are you going to do the "we need to see more of/less of this guy"? I like that format for analysis.

    One the note of playing Denard far into the 4th. I dont think the coaches deserve criticism for that. Every game is an extension of prior games and practices. They know Denard needs more game experience. Hell, I can tell that he has yet to reach a comfort level. He needs more opportunities to make decisions during a game. And he needs more practice passing in games. It seems logical, and even necessary, to leave Denard in. You raise a good point concerning his running so late, but perhaps those were decisions he made. Yes, the backup needs game snaps. But I think, at this time, Denard needs them more.

  6. Comments: 21381
    Sep 18, 2011 at 4:00 PM

    @ Anonymous 9:02 and 9:07 a.m.

    I didn't catch Clark in the first couple games. Thanks.

  7. Comments: 21381
    Sep 18, 2011 at 4:02 PM

    @ Anonymous 10:34 a.m.

    I think the line's blocking had more than anything to do with yesterday's success for Smith. Toussaint was the more impressive runner (to me) because of his ability to break tackles. If he had the giant, gaping holes that Smith did, I'm sure he could have gained just as many yards.

  8. Comments: 21381
    Sep 18, 2011 at 4:04 PM

    @ Anonymous 11:51 a.m.

    I agree that Denard needs more practice throwing the ball, and I would understand if they threw the ball a bunch. But if I remember correctly, at least a couple runs late in the game were designed runs for Robinson.

  9. Comments: 21381
    Sep 18, 2011 at 4:04 PM

    Also, yes, I will be doing that post for this week. It will be posted tomorrow morning.

  10. Comments: 21381
    Sep 18, 2011 at 4:42 PM

    Funny I was wondering the same thing about Smith. It seems like every time Shaw gets the ball, it's on some hopelessly doomed stretch play where nobody gets a block and he has to avoid three guys in the backfield just to get to the line of scrimmage.

  11. Comments: 21381
    Sep 18, 2011 at 4:54 PM

    Robinson running the ball so many times late in the game was indeed frustrating. Can you imagine the criticism the coaches would have taken if Robinson had been injured on one of those designed runs up the middle with only a few minutes remaining in the blowout?

  12. Comments: 21381
    Sep 18, 2011 at 7:14 PM

    Anon 10:34 hit the nail on the head – sounds like something I would have written.

    It seems like there is a double standard when Cox or Shaw run through gaping holes against inferior competition it's "lets see more of this guy" and when Smith does it, its "luck" or even more preposterous: "the OL blocks harder". LOL

    FWIW, I think Smith has separated himself a little from the pack as an overall back, but I think Toussaint looked like an impact player against Western (which, granted, is Western – but he still earned more carries IMO). Shaw – I'm done with. The guy makes big plays on occasion but very infrequently. He runs horizontally and makes poor decisions and rarely breaks tackles. I sound like a broken record probably, but he really should be returning kicks unlike Smith who will probably never return a kick past the 35 yard line. If he was 2 inches taller and putting up identical production I think perceptions would be very different.

    Completely agree that running Denard 25+ times in a one-sided game is silly. And if the shotgun-heavy offense is a sign of things to come – great, but if we start pulling the I-form RB run stuff when competition gets stiff, I'll….well, throw up my hands in frustration and grumble about strategy.

    I don't think you can absolve Hoke/Borges for Denards inaccuracy. Yeah, it's his fault, but it's the coaches job to put a player in position to succeed. Denard isn't accurate, this is painfully obvious. If you, rightfully, give credit to Rodriguez for recognizing how to use him, you can also criticize coaches who aren't doing that.

    All the above said – it's Eastern. Not too many conclusions can be drawn. But the more I watch this team the more I think we're going to be highly volatile – losing some games we shouldn't (SDSU? Northwestern?) and winning others that we shouldn't (Nebraska? MSU?).

    I still think the defense is VASTLY improved, which should carry us to a couple more victories than last year. I think there's a chance, with some luck, for this team to make the conference championship game. Time to root against Nebraska, people.

    Clark looks like a player to me. He's got a good build and those long arms that you love to see from a pass rusher. The one red-shirt that I think we're going to regret is Beyer. I really doubt he helps much this year, but he could be a real asset down the line when he fills out physically.

    Thunder, you covered a lot of good stuff here and a broad range of topics – good read. Thanks.

  13. Comments: 21381
    Sep 18, 2011 at 7:18 PM

    Roh may have started over Black, but he was replaced pretty quickly if I recall correctly. I think Black is 1A to Roh's 1B, starter status or not.

    The only problem I see with the safeties, is that they both seem to be traditional 'strong' safety types. They're good tacklers who are assets against the run but may not have the speed vs elite WR to avoid giving up big plays. But Mattison is a good coach and will scheme to mitigate that IMO.

  14. Comments: 21381
    Sep 18, 2011 at 7:41 PM

    @ Lankownia 3:14 p.m.

    Yeah, well, a lot of people don't want to give credit to Cox, even when he breaks a bunch of tackles. Toussaint broke some tackles, too. I'll give credit to Smith when he deserves it, and like I said, he had a good game. But the offensive line did a vast amount of the work for him. Like I said, you could give Shaw and Toussaint those same holes, and they would gain just as many yards or more.

    I agree on Clark. He looked bigger than I expected him to look, too. I think he's listed at 228, but he looked 240 to me. I haven't been impressed with Beyer yet, but he probably shouldn't be playing, anyway.

  15. Comments: 21381
    Sep 18, 2011 at 7:43 PM

    @ Lankownia 3:18 p.m.

    Roh went out pretty early with an injury, then came back shortly afterward.

    I agree that both Gordon and Kovacs are strong safety types. Neither one is a true center fielder, which is why I'm looking forward to Jarrod Wilson getting here.

  16. Comments: 21381
    Sep 18, 2011 at 9:06 PM

    Yeah, Cox did actually break some tackles (not just run through holes), but they were usually against a weak opponent's 2nd string. Nonetheless, all the comments, even from players, said he had the talent, so I think you were justified to want to see him more than we have. I just think your assessment of actual game performance is a little uneven due to your bias against Smith's size. But Cox should have seen some playing time, at least in low-risk situation like when we had big deficits against some conference teams. At least from what we saw on Saturdays…who knows about the rest?

    I agree that the EMU game don't mean much re:Smith (or anyone else really). The OL was opening some big holes, but at the same time, Toussaint wasn't looking as good as he did against WMU. To me, Smith's looked good in all 3 games, getting yards where there appeared to be none, and now we seem to see 2 coaching staffs concluding that he's the guy who'll get the ball more than anyone. That has to mean something.

    Thanks for the clarification on Roh. I had no idea he was hurt yesterday.

    Agree with you on Wilson – excited to see what he can do, but Safety is a position where I like a guy to have a little time in the system. In my ideal world, he'd be a red-shirt and then turn into a stud 4 year starter after Kovacs graduates next year.

  17. Comments: 21381
    Sep 18, 2011 at 10:03 PM

    Great writeup Magnus, a few things:

    Perhaps a reason the coaches wanted to play our starters (ALL starters, not just Denard) is for conditioning them for the fourth quarter. Keep in mind though we've played three games of football, we had only previously played one fourth quarter before yesterday. Just a thought.

    Yes I agree with Lankownia, I think Clark is going to be a player. I was shocked yesterday to see how big he was. Handled himself well, I thought. Will certainly have a future here.

    Why Vincent Smith continues to return kicks I have no idea. That's a coaching move that absolutely baffles me, as he's not a very explosive player. Especially after being here as a student for Stevie Breaston…

  18. Comments: 21381
    Sep 19, 2011 at 4:06 AM

    I think you mean Denard showed signs of Steve Blass disease, not Bill Blass. Bill Blass was a fashion designer. Steve Blass was an all-star pitcher for the Pirates in the 70s that mysteriously lost his ability to throw strikes.

  19. Comments: 21381
    Rob Pollard
    Sep 19, 2011 at 3:43 PM

    Agree completely with Lank about disagreeing with this statement: "This is not Al Borges's fault. It's not Brady Hoke's fault. Kudos to Rich Rodriguez for figuring out that hitches, bubble screens, and inside slants are the only passes Robinson can complete with any regularity."

    The answer is right there – RR put Denard (and thus the offense, as QB is most important) in a position to succeed in the type of passes which were called (remember, Denard threw for as many yards with as high a completion percentage in 2010 as Chad Henne did in 2006 as a junior). Beyond the type of passes, Denard also has to worry about the quality of his feet/etc on his drop-back passes and all that comes out of our sputtering pro-set, so I assume he has to spend valuable practice time on that. Denard needs the practice – he's a 2nd year starter and unfortunately, instead of getting better this year as a passer (as was necessary, due to his poor decision making/throws at times last year), he's regressed noticeably.

    Denard's not blameless – as you said, he's missed some open guys. He (and the offense overall) also was far from perfect last year. But if we try to run the pro set with Denard against OSU or Nebraska, we better hope Junior Hemingway becomes the jump ball king again.

    I do agree, wholeheartedly, that it was dumb to keep Denard in on that second to last drive – Denard should not have broken 20+ carries against EMU.

    I also think Vincent Smith for his positives/negatives has proven himself not to be a good kick returner. He has far from the breakaway speed required. Let Shaw do that.

  20. Comments: 21381
    Sep 20, 2011 at 3:59 PM

    Do you know if the players and coaches read this blog? I'd be interested to see if they use any of these suggestions–some of which I think are quite good.

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