College Football Week 2: 5 Things the Wolverines Must Improve
Michigan's first ever night game in the Big House did not disappoint. The Maize and Blue reeled off 28 fourth-quarter points to defeat the Fighting Irish for the third straight year, a feat that hasn't been accomplished since 1908.
It looked like all hope was lost for the Wolverines going into the fourth quarter, with the score 24-7 Notre Dame. But when you have a quarterback like Denard Robinson, never count yourself out of the game until the clock hits 0:00.
As exciting and unbelievably fantastic as this game was for Michigan fans, there are countless facets of their game that the Wolverines must fix in order to have a successful season under first year head coach Brady Hoke.
Since I would prefer not to spend the next eight hours on Bleacher Report listing all of Michigan's woes, I am just going to list the five key components of the game that Denard Robinson, and the entire Michigan Wolverines Football team, need to work on.
Who Is the Defensive Coordinator, Greg Mattison or Greg Robinson?
I'm not going to lie, I was drinking the Maize and Blue kool-aide when Greg Mattison became the new defensive coordinator at Michigan. Like any other Michigan fan, I thought our defense was going to be significantly improved from last season when we gave up 35.2 points a game to go along with 263 passing yards.
Mattison had just come from coaching one of the best defenses in the NFL in the Baltimore Ravens, so why not be excited?
I'll tell you why. Not for one second did I stop to think about how Michigan has basically the same personnel they did last season, and that the defense wasn't going to improve dramatically just because a new defensive coordinator comes in.
While watching Saturday night's instant classic, I thought I was watching a Greg Robinson coached defense. The Wolverines looked lost on defense. Irish receiver Michael Floyd didn't show any mercy, catching 13 passes for 159 yards. Not only that, but the Michigan defense allowed Tommy Rees to throw for 315 yards.
I understand that a new, and quite experienced, defensive coordinator is in Ann Arbor now, but Michigan just lacks talent on defense with the exception of Safety Jordan Kovacs and Nose Tackle Mike Martin.
It appears that whenever Michigan blitzed, they were getting torched, not only through the air, but on the ground as well. Irish running back Cierre Wood found huge lanes to run through all night, accumulating a total of 134 yards and a rushing touchdown.
As exciting as this game was, it looked reminiscent of last year, where our defense didn't stand a chance but our offense was just good enough to keep us in the game and, ultimately, win it for us. The Maize and Blue have a lot of work to do defensively, and that starts with Greg Mattison. Good thing we have lowly Eastern Michigan this Saturday.
Denard Robinson Has a Lot of Progress to Make as a Passer
Denard Robinson is without a doubt the most electrifying athlete in college football. However, he still has miles to go as a passer to succeed in offensive coordinator Al Borges' system.
For a better part of Saturday night against Notre Dame, Robinson had a severe case of happy feet in the pocket and was consistently over-shooting his receivers. He started the game 2-10 passing. It's easy to tell that Robinson doesn't feel comfortable sitting in the pocket, and this resulted in a lot of over thrown passes against the Fighting Irish.
Obviously, Denard Robinson is a spread quarterback. He is most successful when operating out of the shotgun, allowing him to run the football, or use his deception as a runner to open up the pass. The new system, however, requires him to throw the football from the pocket, and that is something he really needs to work on.
I don't know if it's Robinson's lack of comfort in the pocket, or if his trust in his receivers is that high, but he has a bad tendency to throw the ball up for grabs which led to three interceptions. Don't get me wrong, receivers like Junior Hemingway have the ability to make spectacular catches in the air, but there is no need for Robinson to constantly throw the ball deep.
Additionally, Robinson must learn to trust his offensive line, go through his progressions and make correct reads. That means occasionally hitting check downs or crossing routes. There is nothing wrong with taking a shot here and there, but every passing play isn't designed to be a touchdown, so he must learn to use the short passing game and take what the defense gives him.
Denard Robinson is a special athlete that always gives his team a chance to win, he just needs to settle into his role and make smarter decisions.
Where Are the Running Backs?
I thought this was the season where Denard Robinson didn't have to play quarterback and tailback? Michigan had 114 yards rushing Saturday night versus the Irish and 108 of those yards came from, you guessed it, Denard Robinson.
What kind of pro-style offense is this? The best performance Michigan had from an actual running back came from Stephen Hopkins, who carried the ball five times for a resounding 10 yards. Michael Shaw, who in my opinion is the best tailback on the team, carried twice for -3 yards, and Vincent Smith carried the ball one time for three yards.
If Michigan didn't have Robinson at quarterback, the running game would've been non-existent Saturday night against Notre Dame.
This is the Big Ten for crying out loud, a conference that prides itself on being able to run the football and dominate in the trenches. If Notre Dame was so successful in stopping the running game, it's going to be tough going against Michigan State, Nebraska, and Ohio State.
This is, without a doubt, a top priority fix. With Denard Robinson still in the process of kindling his passing game, the offense must rely more on the feet of Michael Shaw, Stephen Hopkins, and Vincent Smith.
Running Robinson too often brings up two big problems. When all else fails Michigan relies on Denard Robinson to run the football, and that is something good Big Ten defenses recognize and shut down, just like Michigan State did last year. The second problem is the injury factor. The whole idea was to run Robinson less this year in order to keep him healthy, so they can't afford to give up on the running backs and must emphasize the idea of having a good running game.
Special Teams Isn't a Third of the Game for Nothing
I wouldn't say that this is the biggest priority on Michigan's list of quick fixes, but it's definitely up there. We really didn't see a whole lot of Michigan's kick coverage until the fourth quarter, because up until then they had only scored once the entire game.
When it mattered most, after taking a 28-24 lead with just over a minute left in the game, Michigan kicked it off and Notre Dame returned it to their own 40 yard line. This is something that must stop.
Although it was only three quarters long, the Western Michigan game really unveiled just how much work this kick coverage team of Michigan has to do.
As much as I hate to say it, I can see Michigan having many more close games this season just because the defense finds it hard to stop anything that moves. With that said, when they score late in the game and need to defend our endzone, it's the job of the special teams to make it easier on the defense.
Special teams is an under-estimated facet of the game, and when the special teams isn't playing well, it's difficult winning games. The field position battle is crucial and Michigan is a prime example of how important special teams is. The defense is horrible, so when the special teams can't cover a kick-off, it puts the defense in an even worse situation by having to defend a short field.
Like I said, not the number one priority for the Maize and Blue, but something that needs to be fixed fast.
Michigan's Offense Needs to Play Like Michigan's Offense
We've reviewed how Denard Robinson needs to get better as a passer and how Michigan needs to resurrect the running game. Now, we need to discuss how to combine these offensive skills in order to play like Michigan.
Last year, Michigan was the one of the highest scoring offenses in the Big Ten. Denard Robinson passed for over 2,500 yards and ran for over 1,700 as he went on to be the Big Ten offensive player of the year. Vincent Smith rushed for over 600 yards. Roy Roundtree caught over 70 passes. Where was all this talent Saturday night?
Denard was only 11 of 24 passing and threw three interceptions. Vincent Smith rushed one time the entire game for only three yards and Roy Roundtree had only one reception. Granted, it was the most important touchdown of the game for the Maize and Blue. Roundtree is a playmaker and a very talented wideout who Robinson must find a lot more.
Al Borges needs to open this offense up. I feel like he is suffocating the talent. If the offense executes better out of the shotgun, then they should run out of the shotgun. I'm sorry, but this offense doesn't have the personnel to run a pro-style offense. Denard Robinson is the type of player that likes to leave defenses guessing if he's going to pass or run. He likes to spread the field with receivers and run screens and zone reads. The Wolverines do not have the size up front to run the I-formation. So Al, open up your offense and let your talented players utilize their skills.