Michigan 42, Massachusetts 37

Michigan 42, Massachusetts 37

September 19, 2010

I wasn’t able to watch the game live yesterday.  After getting home at 12:15 a.m. from Friday night’s game, I was back at the football complex by 6:45 a.m.  Then we had a full day of practice, film, and meetings before I left at 3:30 p.m.  That’s pretty standard for Saturdays, so unless Michigan plays a 3:30 game or a night game, I have to watch it later.  The first time I checked the score on my phone, though, it was 17-14 and UMass was leading.  Usually I like to watch games live, but I was probably better off this way.  It would have been extremely frustrating to watch that game live.

So these thoughts are coming from the perspective of a guy who already knew the final score:

Notre Dame is stupid.  I don’t understand what Notre Dame was trying to do last week.  UMass certainly wasn’t able to shut down Denard Robinson (104 yards rushing, 241 yards passing, 3 total touchdowns), but they did a better job than the Fighting Irish.  Notre Dame had much better athletes, and they should have sold out to keep Robinson’s gains to a minimum.  It would have been difficult for Notre Dame to lock up with Michigan’s four- and five-wide looks since Brian Kelly’s squad had limited depth and speed at the safety positions, but it would have been worth a try.  It would have been better to have Zeke Motta covering Roy Roundtree than to let Robinson run for 244 yards.

Vincent Smith can’t get it done.  I know he came in early and worked hard.  I know he’s coming off ACL surgery.  I know he’s a willing blocker.  I know he has good hands.  He just can’t be a feature back in the Big Ten.  Good running backs have to be able to create for themselves in open space, and Smith just hasn’t shown that ability.  When evaluating Smith’s performance last year, I typically excluded his stats against Delaware State because . . . you know . . . that was just an unfair fight.  Sans DSU Smith had 31 carries for 110 yards and 0 touchdowns.  This year including FCS school Umass, Smith has 32 carries for 110 yards (3.4 yards per carry) and 1 touchdown.  Smith isn’t the best back on the team, and honestly, he might even be the fourth-best (behind Michael Shaw, Michael Cox, and Fitzgerald Toussaint).  Michael Shaw averaged over 10 yards a carry, but he got only one more attempt than Smith in yesterday’s game (12 to 11).

Michigan needs to stop scheduling FCS teams.  I said this prior to the 2007 game against Appalachian State, and I’m still saying it.  Playing FCS teams is a no-win situation.  If Michigan wins, they’re supposed to win and they don’t earn any respect.  If Michigan loses, it’s a giant blow to the team’s confidence and reputation.  I’m sure there are plenty of lower-tier FBS schools (from the MAC, the Sun Belt, the WAC, etc.) who would take a big payday and go home with a probable loss.  Michigan’s loss against Toledo in 2008 was the Wolverines’ first against a MAC school ever, but that loss doesn’t resonate nearly as loudly as Michigan’s failure against Appalachian State the year before.  Athletic director doesn’t need to go dumpster diving with these FCS schools.

Denard Robinson showed a little bit of touch.  Robinson showed something against UMass that he hadn’t shown in the first two games of the season, and that was the ability to put touch on a long ball.  The Wolverines rolled the pocket right against a Cover Zero look, and Robinson dropped in a rainbow to Darryl Stonum, who was streaking down the left sideline.  There hasn’t been much to criticize about Robinson’s play over the first few games, but that play answered some questions.  If teams in the future give Michigan a Cover Zero look or a Man Free defense, hopefully Robinson can take advantage.

The lack of defensive depth is apparent.  Massachusetts held the ball for 37:38 compared to 22:22 for Michigan.  But Michigan didn’t make a single substitution in the defensive backfield – TJ Floyd, James Rogers, Jordan Kovacs, and Cameron Gordon were the only DBs to play.  Even if all those guys are in great shape, it’s asking a lot to have them out there for almost two-thirds of the game.  Only 37 scholarships are currently being used by defensive players, and 13 of those are true freshmen.

Michigan’s offensive team speed is ridiculous.  I’d be willing to bet that this is the fastest team Michigan has ever put on the field.  Even Michigan’s “slow” receiver Roy Roundtree was able to run away from the UMass defense for a touchdown (which would be called back).  Denard Robinson, Darryl Stonum, Michael Shaw, and Martavious Odoms are the burners, but all these guys can run.  There are only a couple skill position guys whose speed is mediocre, but those guys haven’t been on the field much.

A win is a win . . . I guess.  I’m mildly upset about the score and yardage totals.  While I’m certain that the actual talent differential between Michigan and UMass is more than five points, the performance on the field leaves some questions.  In the years to come, not many people will remember that Michigan almost lost to UMass.  This is temporarily upsetting, but that will wear off.  I can’t speak for everyone, but I didn’t learn anything new from this game – Michigan’s offense is explosive, the defense is terrible, and the special teams are mediocre at best.


  1. Comments: 21383
    Sep 19, 2010 at 10:54 PM

    I was just wondering if you are overworking yourself? Lately you seem so negative towards everything. Very little joy in your Wolverines. I not trying to throw jabs but usually you have an insightful view of the Wolverines. Lately it just seems short and irritated. We appreciate your work and your opinions. Smile and GO BLUE!

  2. Comments: 21383
    Sep 19, 2010 at 11:04 PM

    @ Anonymous 6:54 p.m.

    I don't think I'm being particularly negative. There have been some frustrating things going on over the past week or two, though (transfers, the game against UMass, etc.).

    I'm definitely working too much, but that comes with the job. I still love what I'm doing. Thanks for the concern and feedback, though.

  3. Comments: 21383
    Sep 19, 2010 at 11:26 PM

    I agree about not scheduling these good FCS teams. They seem to be more dangerous than bottom bunker FBS teams since they have a taste of winning and know how to get the job done.

    That said, and since it's now over, this was a good learning experience for our defense. UMass seemed to know exactly what our weaknesses are. The play calling on their end was great and they really made our LBs look silly out there.

    I'm just hoping this doesn't signify the beginning of the end like the Indiana game did last year. What do you think?

  4. Comments: 21383
    Sep 20, 2010 at 12:41 AM

    @ Alex

    I don't think it's the beginning of the end. Last year Michigan's weaknesses were exposed slowly, once opponents figured out that Michigan's non-Donovan Warren cornerback was bad…and then when Woolfolk moved to CB, opponents knew that Michigan's safeties could be attacked.

    This year all that stuff has been known from Day 1. UConn, Notre Dame, and UMass all knew that Michigan's secondary could be picked on. And they've all taken advantage of it.

    I don't think Michigan will suffer as much down the stretch this year, because the offense should be able to keep up with most opponents. I'm guessing Michigan will lose some shootouts in the next 9 games, and Denard Robinson has to stay healthy. But the dropoff won't be as drastic as it was in 2009.

  5. Comments: 21383
    Sep 20, 2010 at 12:50 AM

    Do you think Michigan would be better off substituting more players? I know at the beginning of the year they were happy that they had more depth, but now some of those guys (Vlad, LaLota) have transferred and a lot of the freshmen are banged up.

    I'm wondering why we haven't seen Kenny Demens and/or JB Fitzgerald if Obi Ezeh plays bad. Kenny had a great spring but apparently gained too much weight? It's weird. That or we need to seriously recruit some linebackers.

  6. Comments: 21383
    Sep 20, 2010 at 12:57 AM

    @ JC

    I don't think Michigan should necessarily make more substitutions. It would be nice to be able, but when you're in a 42-37 game, you have to go with your "playmakers." It would be nice to get a breather for some of those guys, but a tired JT Floyd is probably better than a fresh Terrence Talbott.

    Ezeh is playing fine. He's making some mistakes, but he needs to play through them. This is a new defense this year, and he needs to figure things out before the conference schedule starts. Personally, I've never been high on Demens, and I don't think Fitzgerald is a good fit for the MLB position in this defense. I'd rather see Fitzgerald play one of the OLB spots if necessary.

  7. Comments: 21383
    Sep 20, 2010 at 5:56 AM

    ugh i feel ur pain about the feature back thing as a texas fan…our rush offense is HORRIBLE. this year we're going under center to b more balanced. LAST year we had no running game. last year after 3 games we have about 100 yards more rushing than this year. thats awful. at least u guys have a quarterback who can kill a defense. our offense is anemic. getting a FG after starting out in the TTECH redzone is NOT a texas offense…..

    btw u said TJ instead of JT in the paragraph bout depth. not that it matters, just helpin ya out.


  8. Comments: 21383
    Sep 20, 2010 at 7:55 PM

    Re: V. Smith, I think you're being a bit harsh. He may not have the big-play capability you want but he seems to deflect tackles and get extra yards. While he's tiny, his role is probably closer to a powerback who can turn a 3 yard gain into 5. He also seems to be an excellent receiver. Until someone else establishes themselves as a standout I'm content to see Smith getting playing time, especially on 3rd and 5.

    Re: Robinson's touch. I realize its sacrilege to criticize Denard, but his touch is horrendous more often than its good. Even some of the completions (e.g. Hemingway) were under-thrown or late. The INT to start the game was awful, and Denard's a little lucky thats the only one this year. I suspect teams will keep forcing him to prove his ability to throw deep. Even if he burns you a few times, it beats getting run all over. UMass' approach will be replicated.

    Re: Offensive Speed…the difference in elite BCS talent compared to FCS really shines through in games like this. But, I don't know that it says anything about Michigan relative to other BCS schools. Not that I'm disputing the point with Robinson/Shaw/Stonum.

    Good points overall though. I agree that we learned very little this game. It was a reality check for some over-optimistic fans…hopefully for a few of the players too. That said, I am slightly concerned that some defensive weaknesses were exposed a little bit for opposing coaches to exploit in the future.

  9. Comments: 21383
    Sep 21, 2010 at 1:13 PM

    @ Lankownia 3:55 p.m.

    Re: Smith
    I can't remember a Michigan starting RB who has had such limited ability as Vincent Smith. Not Minor, not Hart, not Perry, not Thomas, not Biakabutuka… Even Clarence Williams and Chris Howard, two mediocre running backs in most Michigan fans' eyes, were statistically superior to Smith.

    Re: Robinson's touch
    He's no Kurt Warner. I just thought it was a positive sign that he was able to drop a couple rainbows in there. Baby steps, man. Here I am trying to be positive about something, and YOU'RE HARSHING MY MELLOW!

    Just kidding.

  10. Comments: 21383
    Sep 21, 2010 at 3:18 PM

    Your criticism of Notre Dame is invalid. Notre Dame gave up 5.3 yards per play. UMass gave up 8.9 yards per play. Holding Denard to 345 yards and then giving up 126 yards to Shaw on 12 carries is pointless, since you're still giving up about the same amount of offense.

  11. Comments: 21383
    Sep 21, 2010 at 3:29 PM

    @ Seth9

    I don't think you understand what I'm saying. Michigan's offense was bound to gain a ton of yards against UMass, because the athletes Michigan has on offense are far superior to the Minutemen. But with their inferior athletes, they were able to limit Denard's production and his longest run was 20 yards (compared to Notre Dame allowing an 87-yarder).

    Notre Dame's athletes aren't as bad as UMass's. Shaw wouldn't have had the same running lanes against Notre Dame, even if the defense did sell out to stop Denard Robinson. Stonum probably wouldn't have been able to turn that screen pass into a 66-yard TD against UMass. Etc.

    I'm not comparing statistics. I'm comparing schemes.

  12. Comments: 21383
    Sep 21, 2010 at 6:05 PM

    Fair enough, but I still think it's notable that Denard averaged 11.1 yards per play against UMass and 7.4 yards per play against ND. This is undoubtedly due to the fact that ND has better athletes, but I still think that it's meaningful when you consider that a) UMass made their game plan after watching the Michigan-ND film, b) Denard didn't have to do so much because Shaw was able to take off the strain, and c) through a combination of focussing on Denard and poor pass coverage, Denard managed 17.2 yards per attempt against UMass, as opposed to 6.1 yards per attempt against Notre Dame.

    I'm not saying that Notre Dame had a good defensive gameplan by any means, but I don't think it was too much worse than UMass's, especially when you consider that Denard demonstrated today that he is capable of throwing relatively deep passes and if ND didn't do things like cover Roundtree adequately, he could just as easily have shredded ND through the air. Which is the awesome thing about having Denard as our QB.

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