Four days, two boxes of Sudafed, 30-plus cough drops, and *1,000 miles later I'm back home from my trip to Ann Arbor to watch the Michigan season opener against the UConn Huskies.
I came down with a pretty nasty cold halfway through last week, and the 60-degree temperature on Saturday, combined with the swirling winds in the Big House didn't help things out too much. It still wasn't enough to keep me from yelling and screaming for four quarters.
The atmosphere in the Big House was absolutely perfect. Despite the fact that the Wolverines are coming off a second straight losing season, the student section practically oozed the good old Ann Arbor Arrogance that we've all come to know and love. At one point during the pre-game show, it was impossible to hear the UConn band over the student section either booing or chanting, "GO BLUE!"
I've read a couple of pieces from UConn fans saying how great the Big House was and how respectful and knowledgeable the fans were there. They must have been sitting at the opposite end of the stadium.
But I digress.
Michigan ended up cleaning (the Big) house against Big East dark horse UConn on Saturday 30-10 in a game that was really much closer than the score leads you to believe. Let's take a look.
*I live in Southwest Illinois near St. Louis, MO, which is about 500 miles one-way from my hometown of Owosso.
Denard Robinson. Oh. My. Goodness. I have three things to say about him:
- 19-of-22 for 186 yards and two TDs.
- 29 rushing attempts for 197 yards.
- Zero turnovers.
Okay, so I lied. I actually have more than three things to say about him, but those are my three favorites.
Take a look at those numbers a second time. Go ahead, do it. There. doesn't that feel better? THAT, my friends, is what a Rich Rodriguez offense is supposed to do. One player gashed the UConn defense for almost 400 yards singlehandedly, but not only that, it was a consistent and wholly team effort that allowed him to do it.
You don't complete 86 percent of your passes without help from your wideouts. You don't average almost seven yards per carry without help from your O-line.
Speaking of which...
The offensive line looked really good. Man, it felt good to say that! Everybody was picking up their assignments in both the rushing offense and the passing offense, and if memory serves, Denard/Michael Shaw/Vincent Smith were only harassed in the backfield a handful of times. Kind of makes me feel like riverdancing.
Many are quick to point out that UConn is a Big East team and, therefore, smaller and easier to push around, but I would like to direct your attention to these numbers:
UCONN STARTING DEFENSIVE LINE
DE: Trevardo Williams (So., 6'1", 225)
DT: Kendall Reyes (RJr., 6'4", 298)
DT: Twyon Martin (RJr., 6'2", 292)
DE: Jesse Joseph (So., 6'3", 255)
With the exception of Trevardo Williams being a bit small for what you would like to see out of a DE, the defensive front isn't that undersized.
What really made me smile was all of the spectacular downfield and outside blocks from the wide receivers. Those will consistently translate into big plays, especially when you get Smith or Robinson to the edge.
Alas, it can't all be good...
With the exception of fleeting moments of greatness from Craig Roh and Jonas Mouton, the defense was a pretty big eyesore. I cringed every time I saw Zach Frazer drop back to pass because I knew, without looking, that there were going to be gaping holes across the middle of the Michigan defense.
Obi Ezeh had a couple of "right place / right time" plays, but was, for the most part, chasing his own tail throughout much of the game.
Craig Roh always seemed to be just a half-step shy of a sack, but other than that there was no pressure in the backfield for a good majority of the game. Can we please go back to a 4-3 base defense?
Even though Jordan Todman only managed to rack up a modest 105 yards on the ground, it felt like he was getting a lot more room to run than he should have.
I'll call this one a coaching mistake, but there is NO WAY UConn should have been able to make that two-yard touchdown to close the first half with 17 seconds on the clock. The defense was obviously unprepared, and coach Greg Robinson or Coach Rodriguez should have realized that UConn was out of timeouts and was going to go with a quick snap. In that situation you call a timeout after the first play to make sure the defense is set.
The thing that set me off the most was Michael Smith's juggling catch for 47 yards; 15 of those yards were from Smith's three-ring-circus act across midfield. It's mind-boggling that, after bobbling the ball the first time, Smith wasn't hit so hard he was looking out of the ear hole in his helmet. I counted two players that, had they been in position, could have made that hit before J.T. Floyd had to save the touchdown 20-something yards downfield after the catch.
This is a young secondary that needs to mature quickly if they don't want to be gashed every time the opposing team wants to throw a simple crossing route or slant.
All I can say is that the defense came up pretty lucky on Saturday. Special teams got a blocked field goal, and UConn fumbled on the four. It could have been 30-20, and that's not accounting for momentum shifts on those turnovers.
Anyone who saw the game Saturday knows what belongs in this category: special teams. Michigan needs to figure out who is going to be fielding punts and get them coached up. Punt one: Jeremy Gallon should have been fielded and wasn't. Punt two: Gallon shouldn't have been fielded and was attempted. I'm betting he doesn't return too many punts in the future. Yes, the wind was a factor, but that's stuff you have to account for when playing outdoors.
I can't really complain much about the Brendan Gibbons missed field goal. I had a better angle than the TV for that one, and as it crossed above the five-yard line, it hit a wall and fell like a stone.
Later in the game Drew Dileo mishandled the snap, and Gibbons missed an extra point. Laces out, Dan. Laces out.
It's these small things that cost big in close games. Michigan lost three games by three points or less last year. It's hard to attribute that to just one thing, but a two-point loss tastes a lot more bitter if there's a missed field goal, or a couple of missed extra points, or a punt return fumble that might have swung the game in a different direction.
Also, just because I have to mention him: Tate Forcier. He's like the Brett Favre of Michigan football. Just when you think he's done, people (including myself) keep mentioning him.
Here's the thing: If you want to win your starting job back (or even just the backup job), moping on the bench with a towel over your head isn't going to help. It makes you look like a whiny, spoiled brat. Try to get involved. Ask the coach if you can help call plays in from the sideline. Talk to the offense when they come off the field. Do something other than feel sorry for yourself.
Offense does not win championships. Defense does not win championships. Special teams does not win championships. A combination of great play on all areas of the field wins championships, and that's what Michigan needs to focus on if winning championships is indeed the team's goal.
It's a good weekend for Michigan, though, if my "Good" section is larger than my "Bad" and "Ugly" sections. Michigan needs to continue to take care of the ball and keep that swagger going into Notre Dame this week. I feel like, if the team believes they are the best, they can truly be the best. It's refreshing to see what a Rich Rodriguez Michigan team looks like when they're not trying to improvise their way down the field.