Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson ran for a billion yards on Saturday.
Yesterday was such a roller coaster of emotions throughout the game.- Low: Michigan’s defense sucks as Notre Dame QB Dayne Crist marches down the field for an opening-drive TD.
– High: This Denard kid is pretty good.
– Higher: Crist is hurt. Maybe Michigan has a chance!
– Highest: Denard Robinson runs 87 yards for a touchdown.
– Low: Why are all three guys with a deep third gathered in the middle of the field at the end of the half?
– High: Michigan is up by two touchdowns at halftime.
– Low: Dayne Crist is back.
– Lower: Crist throws a 53-yard touchdown pass to T.J. Jones.
– Lowestest: Crist throws a 95-yard touchdown pass to TE Kyle Rudolph over the head of FS Cam Gordon.
– High: This Denard kid is really good.
– Low: Cullen Christian’s hero must be Shawn Crable.
– Coasting into the station: Dayne Crist throws an airball with :00 on the clock.It was such a relief when the game was over. I was expecting a loss, but the thing about predicting a loss is that I’m either justified in my prediction . . . or I’m ecstatic that Michigan won. And I’d much rather see the Wolverines win than be right.
There were so many things that Michigan fans learned yesterday about their team, and I’ll try to touch on a few of them here:Denard Robinson is really, really good. Notre Dame’s defense made a distinct attempt to stop him. He still ran for 258 yards (a Big Ten record for a QB) on 28 attempts (9.2 yards per carry), including an 87-yard touchdown and the 2-yard game-winner. The Fighting Irish have an experienced defense and run a 3-4 scheme that isn’t seen much in college, but Robinson was also able to throw for 244 yards on 24/44 passing (55%) (EDIT: Reader MH20 pointed out that Denard was 24/40 for a 60% completion rate) against three seniors and a sophomore in the defensive backfield.
Michigan’s running backs are not. Notre Dame keyed on Robinson and geared themselves to stop him in the run game. Still, running backs Vincent Smith (7 carries, 17 yards, 2.4 average) and Michael Shaw (5 carries, 12 yards, 2.4 average) were ineffective. These kids will take what’s given to them, but they don’t create yards for themselves. This seems to be an ongoing position battle, and hopefully running back recruits like Demetrius Hart recognize that the presence of a quarterback like Robinson should give them plenty of opportunities to get in space. After two weeks, Robinson is averaging 28.5 carries per game. That’s too much for a sturdy running back, let alone a 194 lb. quarterback.
Michigan’s receivers have stepped up. The only true drop I remember came from tight end Kevin Koger on a rollout pass early in the game. Otherwise, players like Darryl Stonum (4 for 33), Roy Roundtree (8 for 82 and 1 touchdown), and Martavious Odoms (7 for 91) made some highly contested catches throughout the game. If Robinson throws the ball within reasonable reach of Michigan’s wideouts, they’re going to catch it.
Cameron Gordon has a target on his back. Most or all of Notre Dame’s big plays were the result of Cameron Gordon’s inexperience and/or lack of natural talent. Luckily for Michigan, this Notre Dame team represented perhaps the most dangerous passing team on the Wolverines’ 2010 schedule. But other teams will be forced to take note of Gordon’s mistakes. There were numerous times where receivers ran past him or he lost track of them (the TD pass to Jones, the long pass to Riddick at the end of the first half, the 95-yard TD to Rudolph). I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Brian Kelly gameplanned to attack the redshirt freshman wide receiver-turned-safety. This is the reason that I lobbied for Troy Woolfolk to remain at deep safety back in the spring. Obviously, a broken ankle would have sidelined Woolfolk no matter what position he was playing, but you can’t convince me that a Big Ten sprinter of Woolfolk’s caliber would have been outrun by a 265 lb. tight end to the end zone. I would not be entirely surprised to see a player with more speed (perhaps Carvin Johnson or Marvin Robinson) take over the FS position in the coming years. I don’t want to see him benched, but I think Gordon would fit better at Bandit or Spur.
Jonas Mouton is blossoming in this defense. He led the team with 13 tackles and also picked off a flea-flicker pass. He did miss some tackles on the elusive and speedy Armando Allen, but I can’t say that I blame him – Allen could be a special college running back if used correctly. Overall, Mouton showed the play recognition and discipline to be a force for the remainder of the season.
The pass rush needs to improve. Through two games, Michigan’s only sack has come from backup Spur Thomas Gordon, who started in place of the injured Carvin Johnson. Michigan frequently used a three-man rush in an attempt to get to the quarterback, and it repeatedly failed. That three-man rush often consisted of nose tackle Mike Martin, defensive end Ryan Van Bergen, and linebacker Craig Roh playing in a three-point stance. At 251 lbs. Craig Roh can’t stand up to being double-teamed in the pass rush. Against a single offensive lineman, I’ll take Roh to win that matchup a majority of the time. If a second lineman comes to help, Roh will get planted on his butt, which happened several times on Saturday. Ultimately, you play to win the game (thanks, Herm Edwards!), and Michigan did that. But the Wolverines also gave up 381 yards passing.
Tate Forcier is being a good teammate. There were questions last week about his behavior on the sideline after freshman Devin Gardner was inserted instead of Forcier. Forcier was shown giving Coach Rodriguez a hug prior to kickoff, he warmed up congenially when Gardner was inserted for one play, and he was shown cheering on his team over and over again. At least publicly, Forcier looks as though he learned a bit of a lesson from the media blowback last weekend.
You might hate me for saying this, but Notre Dame would have won the game if not for Dayne Crist’s injury. Crist is only a sophomore, but he performed much better than his two replacements (Tommy Rees, Nate Montana) who had never played an FBS snap before. When Crist was available, Notre Dame outscored Michigan 24-7. Rees and Montana went 8/19 for 104 yards and 2 interceptions in Crist’s stead. Crist was 13/25 for 277 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 1 interception, in addition to a rushing touchdown. Crist missed about 26 minutes of the game. If the Irish kept up that same rate of scoring (24 points per 34 minutes of Crist’s availability), they would have scored about 42 points in the game. Despite Denard Robinson’s heroics and record-setting performance, all may have been for naught if Crist remained healthy. Injuries are a part of the game, but I think Michigan fans should recognize that the Wolverines got a bit lucky yesterday.
Denard Robinson is the clear-cut Heisman leader right now. Robinson has 885 total yards (455 rushing, 430 passing) and 5 touchdowns through two games. He also hasn’t turned over the ball once, and his team is 2-0. In addition, while several other Heisman candidates have played patsies at least once in the first two games, both of Michigan’s opponents were bowl-eligible last season. Now that Robinson has performed well against solid teams – and rushed the ball 57 times – I’m guessing he’ll get quite a bit of rest against UMass next Saturday. I doubt he’ll remain the leader throughout the season because Michigan’s defense will lose a few games this year, but he’s been the best individual performer so far.