Set phasers to destroy. Michigan obviously didn’t put any stock in the idea that it was going to be a low-scoring, defensive affair. From the opening kickoff – literally – this was Michigan’s game. For the second year in a row, this was most obvious when Northwestern had the ball and Michigan’s defensive line was just crushing the offensive line backward into the quarterback’s face. I agreed with announcer Matt Millen that Northwestern needed to get quarterbacks Clayton Thorson and Matt Alviti out of the pocket more. It wouldn’t have changed the overall outcome, but it might have generated a few more completions and yards. The Wildcats just don’t have the beef and athleticism up front to deal with Michigan’s explosive front.
Hit the jump for the rest of the game review.
De’Veon Smith looked the best I’ve seen him. Until he left the game gimpy and did not return, I thought Smith (8 carries, 59 yards) looked like the best form of himself I’ve seen. Of course, he has had some nice runs over the past couple years, and he really wore down Oregon State a few weeks ago to the point where he was trucking defenders left and right toward the end of the game. But from the opening snap, I thought Smith was in rare form. He made some nice cuts – which is sometimes an area of weakness – and he was bowling over some supposedly fresh defenders on a good defensive unit.
Three straight shutouts. Michigan hasn’t had three consecutive shutouts since 1980. The same year Ronald Reagan was elected President, John Lennon was assassinated, the “Miracle on Ice” happened, and The Empire Strikes Back was released, the Wolverines held three straight opponents (Indiana, Purdue, Wisconsin) to zero points. (By the way, Michigan followed that streak with a 9-3 win over Ohio State and then a 23-6 win over Washington in the Rose Bowl.) Michigan also had a three-shutout streak in 1932, 1933, 1940, 1948, 1971, 1973. The last time Michigan recorded four consecutive shutouts, it was 1931 and Harry Kipke was the coach; it was actually a six-game stretch where Michigan held Illinois, Princeton, Indiana, Michigan State, Minnesota, and Wisconsin to zero points, including a 0-0 tie with the Spartans.
Jake Rudock looked average and that’s okay. Rudock (17/23, 179 yards, 0 touchdowns, 0 interceptions) looked okay, and I’m fine with that. He mostly made good decisions with the football. I thought he should have checked the ball down to the running back a couple more times, but the only pass he forced was a deliberate throw to the flat where it could have been picked off and returned by Matt Harris. Otherwise, he took what the defense gave him. He had a pass batted down by Ifeadi Odenigbo where I thought Rudock should have stepped up in the pocket, and he got sacked three times, but Michigan’s line generally gave him good time to throw. Those sacks and pressures are mostly because Michigan’s receivers don’t get great separation, and Northwestern is very disciplined in their pass coverage. He ended the day with 6 carries for 11 yards, including a 2-yard touchdown on a zone read, but those stats were helped by the fact that when he felt the pocket collapsing, he burrowed forward to minimize the damage of taking a sack. Some guys will sit back there and accept a 6- or 8- or 10-yard loss on a sack, but just losing a yard or two like Rudock did makes the next play(s) manageable.
Targeting issue #1. Northwestern cornerback Matt Harris was temporarily ejected for targeting Jake Rudock when the quarterback slid to the ground. Upon review, it was determined that he did not target Rudock, despite the fact that he hit Rudock with the forward part of his helmet as Rudock came to a sliding stop on the turf. I was okay without the targeting call, because it did look like he tried to pull back and just got caught in an awkward spot when Rudock slid. I still thought it might have been a 15-yard penalty for a late hit. What was even worse, though, was the defensive lineman who arrived a split second later and nailed Rudock in the head/neck area with his upper body. As the officials reviewed the play, I thought, “Well, at the very least, the flag(s) will stand for a personal foul. Hell, two people hit him late, so it might even be two 15-yarders against Northwestern.” The ball was on the 42-yard line, and that would have put the ball on the 13-yard line or so if both penalties were assessed. Nope. The targeting call was reversed upon review, there was no late hit called against Harris, and most inexplicably, there was still no mention of a late hit for the lineman who jumped on Rudock. I understand that personal fouls cannot be flagged on a review, but they should have been assessed in real time.
Targeting issue #2. Later in the game, Northwestern superback Dan Vitale was “targeted” by Michigan linebacker James Ross III after a pass bounced off Vitale’s hands. Ross did not lower his helmet to lead with the crown, either, but the officials – including the replay official – immediately chucked Ross out of the game. Since it was the second half, he will now have to miss the first half of the Michigan State game. I don’t have a huge problem with Ross being tossed, because while he did not appear to be acting maliciously, he did deliver a hard blow above the shoulders on a defenseless receiver after the ball already went through his hands. It makes sense, because the NCAA is trying to protect players, and those are the rules of the game. But it did seem inconsistent. If you can’t judge intent, then hitting someone in the head is bad, whether it’s a quarterback sliding to the ground or a superback dropping a pass.
Leading with the head. I do not want this to sound like “Karma’s a female dog,” but it might come across that way, anyway. Oh well. Later in the game, the same Matt Harris who hit Jake Rudock in the head tried to go low on a much bigger and stronger Derrick Green. Things did not end so innocently on that play. The knee of the 234 lb. Green drove into the side of the 180 lb. Harris’s head, which looked to knock Harris unconscious and resulted in him getting carted off. It was great to see him moving around on his own, and hopefully there are no long-lasting issues, although this was not Harris’s first concussion. However, two incidents in the same game where Harris went low and led with his head suggests he might have a fundamental tackling issue. Furthermore, the way he hit Rudock in targeting issue #1 is potentially damaging for both players. Small cornerbacks often tackle low because otherwise, they might get trucked, but there are risks you take by diving at the knees of 234 lb. gentlemen running at full speed. Stop lowering your damn head.
Jehu Chesson is Darryl Stonum minus the off-field issues. Yesterday, when I watched the blocking on the opening kickoff return open up, I thought to myself, “This is going to be like Darryl Stonum all over again.” Sure enough, Chesson took it to the house like Stonum did in 2009 against Notre Dame. We all hoped for big things from Stonum, such as being the next Mario Manningham or David Terrell. He fell far short of those standards, but worse than that, he had drinking issues off the field. He never had great quarterback play, but he also turned out not to be a naturally talented wide receiver, either. I have come to similar conclusions about Chesson. He will never be the smoothest route runner or pass catcher, but by golly, he sure does have some good straight-line speed. Michigan has figured out some ways to get the ball in his hands (kickoff returns, end arounds, a couple receptions a game) and attempted to throw the ball deep to him, and Chesson has a decided advantage over Stonum in his willingness to block. It’s nice to have a guy like that around, even if he will never look as smooth catching passes as Manningham.
I kinda like Pat Fitzgerald. I’m not in the camp of people who wanted Fitzgerald to be hired by Michigan after Brady Hoke was let go, but I do like Fitzgerald. He does some cheesy things sometimes, but he seems like a decent guy who’s competitive and treats people with respect. Not to take anything away from his football knowledge, but I think he would be a great high school football coach because of his behavior, leadership, and attitude. Unfortunately for him, it’s a tough job at Northwestern to try to bring in big-time recruits. He has to deal with it being a tough school, in a not-entirely-desirable location, without much tradition. It’s a given that I hate Michigan State and Ohio State, but I generally root for Northwestern whenever they’re not playing Michigan.
…but Northwestern was probably overrated. I don’t think Northwestern was the #13 team in the country going into the game, and I obviously don’t think that’s the case now, either. The truth is that they have some good defensive players and a cohesive unit, but they are severely lacking in offensive skill talent. Even workhorse running back Justin Jackson, who has received a lot of hype, is a guy who doesn’t make any wow plays. After his 12-carry, 25-yard performance on Saturday, he now has 29 carries for 60 yards in the past two seasons against the Wolverines. Add in a redshirt freshman quarterback who has a good arm, decent legs, and no standout receivers, and you have a solid unit but not the 13th-best team in the nation.
Freshman redshirt burning watch. Last week it was safety Tyree Kinnel burning his redshirt to play on special teams, and this week it was running back Karan Higdon (8 carries, 16 yards) burning his redshirt to send a message to Ty Isaac (2 carries, 13 yards). That brings the total number of true freshmen to play this season to 4: Kinnel, Higdon, Brian Cole, and Grant Perry.
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