|Jordan Kovacs, form tackler extraordinaire, gives Western Michigan quarterback Alex Carder a tour of his facemask
Well, that was weird. I’ve never seen a Michigan game called due to weather. Maybe that’s because it’s never happened before this weekend. Like every other Michigan fan, I wanted to see the game continue. These games against MAC teams are typically when you see awesome plays and great statistics – witness the 94-yard interception return by Brandon Herron, the 44-yard touchdown run by Michael Shaw, etc. By the time the game was canceled with 1:16 remaining in the third quarter, Michigan had taken control and was likely bound for a couple more touchdowns and some more big plays on defense. Safety is the most important thing, and I don’t question the decision to cancel the game . . . but if someone ends up just short of 1,000 yards rushing or 1,000 yards receiving or some other significant statistical benchmark, we might look back at September 3 and wonder what could have been.
Al Borges isn’t dumb. People everywhere were concerned that offensive coordinator Al Borges would try to turn Denard Robinson into a quarterback who takes every snap from under center, but that simply wasn’t the case. It looked as though roughly 75% of the offensive formations were shotgun. It looks as though Michigan was more likely to pass from the shotgun and run from the “I” but that could change as the season progresses. Additionally, the offense isn’t as high speed as it has been for the past few seasons under Rich Rodriguez, but it was still effective. Michigan huddles now, which took some time to adjust to since I got used to watching Rodriguez’s teams. But the Wolverines averaged 7.5 yards per play against WMU, whereas they had only 5.7 against UConn in last season’s opener.
Hello, Brandon Herron. I don’t know where the hell you came from, but I’m glad you’re here. I really thought Herron would be a backup and special teamer based on his play in the past and his multiple position switches over the past couple seasons, but he was in the right place at the right time and made some plays. Despite being listed second on the depth chart at weakside linebacker, he started the game at WILL, made 8 tackles, returned a batted pass 94 yards for a touchdown, and picked up an Alex Carder fumble for a 29-yard touchdown. It was the longest interception return in Michigan program history and the first time any defensive player scored twice in the same game. All that came from a fifth year senior who previously had 34 career tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 1 pass breakup, and 1 fumble recovery. Herron has always been considered a bit of a physical freak who lacks great instincts, but his instincts looked pretty good on Saturday . . . and nobody really came close to catching the 221 lb. linebacker from behind, either.
Special teams still suck. Apparently it doesn’t matter who coaches the special teams, whether it’s an offensive or defensive guy, etc. Some Michigan fans hated that defensive backs coach Tony Gibson was in charge of special teams because he was one of only four defensive coaches under Rodriguez. Now an offensive guy (tight ends coach Dan Ferrigno) is coaching special teams, and they’re still bad. Kick returner Kelvin Grady doesn’t look like anything special and made a bad decision to leave the endzone. Brendan Gibbons had a low extra point attempt blocked. Western Michigan averaged 31 yards per kickoff return and consistently had excellent field position. Of course, special teams would have looked better if the suspended Will Hagerup were punting. Freshman Matt Wile averaged 41.0 yards per punt but didn’t have great hang time, and he averaged over 65 yards per kickoff, which is better than anyone – Hagerup, Seth Broekhuizen, or Gibbons – did last season. There’s potential there for Wile, but overall the special teams were disappointing.
Greg Mattison is awesome. Does anyone have any doubt that former defensive coordinator Greg Robinson would have allowed Carder to throw for 350 yards and 4 touchdowns? Anyone? It looked like it might be a long day when WMU opened the game with a long drive on which Carder didn’t throw a single incompletion on the way to a touchdown. Michigan’s players were confused, and at one point near the goal line, safety Carvin Johnson lined up on the wrong side of the field against a five-wide set, leaving cornerback Courtney Avery alone covering two wideouts. Avery did an excellent job of splitting the two receivers and blasting the guy who caught the ball at the 1-yard line, but it led to a 1-yard touchdown run a couple plays later. After that initial drive, though, Michigan’s defense settled down. It’s clear that the Wolverines don’t have a lot of horses on defense, because they weren’t beating MAC players in one-on-one matchups often enough. But they did come up with timely big plays (Jordan Kovacs’ two sacks and a forced fumble, Jake Ryan’s batted pass, Herron’s two TD returns). This is what a “bend but don’t break” defense looks like.
Oh no, Troy Woolfolk. Fifth year senior Troy Woolfolk, playing in his first game since November 2009 against Ohio State, went down with another injury. After sitting out last season with a dislocated ankle, he was carted off the field in the first quarter with another ankle injury. Luckily, it sounds like it’s only a sprain this time and Brady Hoke said that he could have returned if Michigan needed him, but it looked ominous. Early in the game, he looked like the aggressive, speedy corner that Michigan lacked all of last season. His replacement, J.T. Floyd, hasn’t changed one bit – he’s still too slow to be good.
Wheeee, Michigan running backs! Neither of Michigan’s primary running backs looked fantastic, but it looks like the right guys are playing. Fitzgerald Toussaint had 11 carries for 80 yards and 2 touchdowns, both of which required a little bit of oomph that not all Michigan backs have had; included in those 11 carries was a 43-yarder. Meanwhile, Shaw had 4 carries for 54 yards, including a 44-yard touchdown run. He also looked good on a toss play on which he ran through a tackle. Vincent Smith (2 carries, 11 yards) looked like a solid change-of-pace back, and Denard Robinson (8 carries, 46 yards) had a decent but unspectacular day running the ball.
It was a win. Despite the mistakes and the scares, it looks like Michigan got out of the game relatively healthy, they allowed only 10 points, the defense probably gained a little bit of confidence, and the offense looked consistent at the least. After the 2007 Appalachian State game and the 2008 Toledo loss, I appreciate these wins a little more.
Congratulations, Brady Hoke! Congratulations to Coach Hoke, who got his first win at Michigan. Hopefully many more will follow. Go Blue!
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