Wow. That’s the one word that kept coming to mind as I watched the game yesterday. This is such an utterly different team than the 2008 incarnation that it’s difficult to imagine Steve Threet and Nick Sheridan running this type of offense.
It’s clear that Tate Forcier is the driving force behind this offense. Any argument to the contrary would be insanity. He didn’t run the ball particularly well and needs to work on his reads on the zone read option. That being said, except for a couple hitches, Forcier threw the ball very well and directed the offense better than anyone else on the roster can. He looked like a veteran quarterback on the first TD pass when he scrambled and directed Junior Hemingway to head downfield. His second TD pass to Hemingway brought back memories of Henne-to-Manningham. And Forcier’s play action fakes on Rich Rodriguez’s version of the waggle pass were excellent, not to mention his ability to square his shoulders and fling the ball to Koger for a TD and then that one-handed snag seen above.
Denard Robinson was adequate. His 43-yard touchdown run was, quite simply, electric. But keep in mind that it came on a broken play where he mishandled the shotgun snap; he was supposed to run the ball left or perhaps pitch it to Martavious Odoms who was coming behind him for a potential end around. If you take away that 43-yard run, Robinson ran the ball 10 times for 31 yards. He completed two short passes; missed badly on another in which he and the receiver weren’t on the same page; and threw a dangerous deep jump ball to Mathews that ended up incomplete. Robinson’s body language and decision making indicated that the game was moving a little too fast for him. Things will slow down for him and he could be a star down the road, but that time isn’t now.
The running game was a bit of a disappointment for me. Forcier made some poor reads, and Rodriguez seemed more interested in getting the ball on the perimeter than taking advantage of his stable of running backs and WMU’s poor defensive line. Some of this may have been due to the fact that starting fullback Mark Moundros was injured on special teams early in the game; without their best lead blocker, perhaps Rodriguez and Magee preferred to keep the ball on the outside. Regardless, the offensive line was a strength and even though starting running back Carlos Brown finished with 5.4 yards per carry, I feel Michigan could be even better at running the ball in the coming weeks.
Defensively, I was impressed with Greg Robinson’s schemes and Michigan’s tackling. There were several plays on Saturday where I thought WMU’s running backs would have broken tackles if they were facing the 2008 defense. But Michigan’s defenders seemed to stick to ballcarriers like glue. Not only were they tackling better, but the defense was hurrying to the football. If the first guy didn’t make the play, usually a second guy was there ready to clean up the mess.
In the second half, WMU quarterback Tim Hiller started getting rid of the ball quicker. He found a rhythm and started hitting underneath passes to his receivers. Greg Robinson might be served well by disguising coverages on the outside, changing the look from cover 2 man to a cover 2 zone. Suddenly, instead of driving the cornerback off with his initial burst, that cornerback is sitting underneath the quick hitch to the outside. A couple well orchestrated disguised coverages might be just enough to make Hiller think twice, which would give Brandon Graham, Mike Martin, and the rest of the defensive line enough time to get to the quarterback.
Offensive game ball goes to . . . Tate Forcier. He finished 13/20 for 179 yards, 3 TDs, and – most importantly – zero interceptions, fumbles, or sacks in his first game at Michigan.
Defensive game ball goes to . . . I was tempted to say Donovan Warren, but I’ll say Steve Brown. He finished third on the team with six tackles, including five solo. His new position at SAM linebacker appeals to his strengths, which are speed and physicality. Warren made several tackles and played very physical, but he picked up two pass interference penalties and a personal foul.
Let’s see less of this guy on offense . . . Denard Robinson. Until he can run the offense more smoothly and completely, he should be behind center less. I felt like the offense got bogged down when he was in the game. His passing was subpar and jittery, and it seemed like WMU’s defense didn’t respect his ability to do anything but run. (Honorable mention: Nick Sheridan and David Cone.)
Let’s see less of this guy on defense . . . J.T. Floyd. Floyd was in there as a backup to Boubacar Cissoko once Cissoko aggravated his shoulder injury. But especially in next week’s game against Notre Dame, with Jimmy Clausen throwing to Golden Tate and Michael Floyd, Michigan can’t afford to put Floyd in there at cornerback. He got burned a couple times – including the 73-yard TD pass, on which Troy Woolfolk was also at fault – and he’s probably just too slow to be playing corner. If Michigan had any depth at the CB position, Floyd would probably be a safety. Hopefully Cissoko gets healthy and freshman Justin Turner steps up his game in the coming week. Otherwise, I’m afraid we should expect a rain of deep balls from Clausen next week.
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