It didn't come as much of a surprise to most that Michigan lost the season opener against the No. 2 ranked Alabama Crimson Tide. What came as a shock was how badly they lost and how little progression this team has made as a whole during the offseason.
I called my buddy from back home in Michigan (I now live in Southwest Illinois) and we talked at length about the game, doing our traditional post-game analysis that has been a staple of our lives since high school. We broke down a few plays and complained about things that only truly die-hard, biased fans are allowed to complain about (kick-catch-interference).
Analysis completely aside, I told him I've only been this embarrassed to be a Michigan fan twice before: "The Horror" (App. State '07) and Toledo ('08).
It's fairly easy to go on if you live in the state of Michigan since everyone was expecting a loss anyway. And Michigan State almost lost to a Boise State team that had no business being up in that game. They're not allowed to talk trash.
On the flip side of the coin, I work with people from all over the country so when I return to work Tuesday I'll get to sit through all of the the "Roll Tide" and "S-E-C" chants while really having no legitimate comeback. It's not going to be fun.
But enough feeling sorry for myself for the time being. Let's get to some of the takeaways from the game.
- Denard Robinson still cannot (and probably will never be able to) hit the vertical route. It just takes a level of touch that I don't think he has in his repertoire.
- Michigan needs to abandon the I formation if it hasn't established a ground game. We saw this last year against Michigan State. I would need to review some game film in depth but I would venture a guess to say that Michigan averaged about two yards per play out of the I formation.
- More screens and slants please. These seem to be the only passes that Denard can throw consistently and are definitely the only passes he throws upon which I don't cover my eyes.
- Vincent Smith is 5'6" and weighs 180 lbs. soaking wet. One does not simply walk into Mordor and one certainly does not run Vincent Smith between the tackles.
- No fault of his own, Devin Gardner's route running is just awful. On top of that, someone needs to tell him that he's bigger than every corner/safety on the field because he just looked afraid of contact in contested balls.
- Can we get at least a little read option? Give Denard a chance to make someone miss. QB draws up the middle will produce the same results as running Smith up the middle. Force the defensive ends to make a choice and maybe they will make a mistake.
- I was halfway done with this article when I remembered to type this: Come on Taylor Lewan! You're supposed to be an All-American offensive lineman. Knock it off with those drive-killing penalties. If you're not doing a couple sets of stadium stairs on Monday I'll be upset.
The big story here before the game was the suspension of Fitzgerald Toussaint, which ended up being a non-factor anyway. Fitz has no more power than Thomas Rawls and no more wiggle than Vincent Smith. Not too many running backs in the country are going to average more than two yards per carry and Fitz Toussaint is not one of those guys.
The other big story (that ESPN decided to ignore until game time) was moving Devin Gardner to wideout.
The general school of thought is that he's still the backup QB. Robinson suffered a stinger on a fourth down run while stretching for the first down. An then...Russel Bellomy took the field? This either says a lot about the confidence Hoke has in Bellomy at QB or a lot about the lack of confidence they have in Gardner at QB.
Either way you slice the Gardner situation, the wide receiver position is dire. Roy Roundtree was invisible enough for Kirk Herbstreit to say "Oh yeah, they have that guy on the team" and he's wearing Desmond Howard's number.
The only inspiring plays from the receiving corps came from Jeremy Gallon who is going to be the new Martavious Odoms (underrated smurf-type receiver who is quietly clutch). Somebody in this group has to figure out how to get separation and not drop the ball on the few occasions that Robinson hits them in the hands.
- Tackling. Wow, this is bad. I watched the Michigan State game on Friday and this defense will not be able to arm tackle Le'Veon Bell any easier than the army of quality running backs Alabama has.
- Tackling was so bad it gets two bullets. I cannot stress this enough.
- Kenny Demens was absolutely terrible in coverage AND run support. I feel sorry for him when somebody does a UFR on this game because he is going to get blown up.
- Big Will Campbell actually looked good on a few plays. Could this be the year he finally lives up to his recruiting hype?
- Courtney Avery got blown up on a couple of big plays. I don't remember the dropoff from Blake Countess being that big last year but Countess did get knocked off early so who knows how well he would have played?
- As I feared, the gaping holes on the line got heavily exposed. Alabama is big and physical but it's not like MSU, Nebraska and Ohio State are going to get pushed around in the trenches.
- Ondre Pipkins needs to lean up and work on getting his pad level lower. In high school he was able to get away with just being a big meat shield because he was 200 lbs. heavier than most high school O-linemen and could just fall into the backfield. This is no longer the case. He has a lot of technique to work on and could stand to lose a few pounds to help with his speed and agility. I'd like to see him closer to 300-310 lbs. (he's 325 right now).
This is where Rich Rodriguez's terrible recruiting stands out the most. The linebackers are pretty bad outside of Ryan (who is debatable). Behind Avery there is nothing but air on the secondary depth chart.
Jordan Kovacs (bless him) seems to be in the right place at the right time on most running plays but is terrible in coverage and too small to lay the lumber on a decent-sized running back. It's hard to see this defensive unit maintaining its production from last year, especially with the lack of a solid playmaker.
I'm not sure there is much more schematically Greg Mattison could have done against the Alabama offense. I'm not sure why Avery lines up nine yards off the WR but that could be to ensure he doesn't get beat deep (which totally didn't work by the way).
You have to hand it to Saban and co. They established the run game and then torched Michigan with the play action; textbook football. Jake Ryan had no idea what hit him on that goal-line play until the ball was already in the air.
If I remember correctly, 'Bama ran six consecutive running plays prior to that touchdown pass. When your running game is so successful, the passing game just gets that much easier.
- This is the part where I complain about that kick-catch-interference call as if that actually mattered in the grand scheme of things.
- Hagerup's first punt was massive. Happy thoughts of Zoltan Mesko entered my mind on that 62-yard punt.
There is really nothing else of note here. Dennis Norfleet did a good job getting yards and a better job at not muffing kicks. This is a good thing.
I almost feel really bad for being this down on a team that played their hearts out against the defending national champions. My first feeling was that it's unfair to use this game as a measuring stick for the season.
What are your expectations for Michigan this season? Can they win Big Ten Championship and earn a trip to the Rose Bowl? If Michigan gets there, do you think USC or Oregon is going to be easier to get by than Alabama?
If Michigan and the Big Ten want respect on the national scene again, these are the teams that they will have to measure up against. Today, they came up short.