Monday, September 6, 2010

UConn: Where hope lives

My younger cousin was a freshman at Michigan last year. I bought season tickets that were somewhere in the vicinity of where freshmen sit, and we ended up standing with one another for most of the home games. At one time in the first four games--during Michigan's improbable 4-0 start--I turned to her and said, "You should be excited. Sometime when you're here, Michigan is going to contend for a national title." Maybe it was the exuberance from the a 4-0 start after the 3-9 disaster the last year. Or maybe it was my undying belief that Rodriquez would get the program turned around sooner rather than later. Regardless, when Michigan fumbled their way to a loss against Ohio State in the reddest Big House I had ever seen, I couldn't have been less confident in that prediction. Yesterday was the first time since that first day that it seemed an attainable dream rather than fanboy posturing.

Yesterday was Denard's coming out party. There's no other way to look at it. For much of the last year, I had been fending off questions and accusations that Denard couldn't ever be a real quarterback. "Look at what he did last year! 14/31 with four interceptions", they said, to which my only response was that Denard wasn't a quarterback last year. Maybe he wasn't talented enough and didn't understand the offense--that's been his explanation--or maybe the coaches just didn't have any faith in him. But last year, Denard was a glorified running back and produced the kind of numbers you'd expect in the passing game. Now that he has full operation of the offense, we see what a talent he really is. This is my "I told you so" moment.

Offensive linin'
So that's what Totally Surprising Quarterback Draws are supposed to look like (I'll hopefully find some tape from last year and compare the difference between Saturday and last year). If anyone looked as impressive as Denard did this week, it was the offensive line. They were sealing, getting to the second level, and generally creating black hole sized gaps for Denard and various other tiny football players to go warp speed through.

So Michigan's defense might be functional this year. Despite being stopped continually on the ground, UConn failed to go to the air and test the young secondary. No doubt that Notre Dame will present a whole host of problems the defense didn't see against UConn, but it's tough not to be encouraged by Saturday's performance. The linebackers looked competent, the corners tackled and covered (sort of), and Mike Martin was blowing through the offensive line like it was Swiss cheese (albeit with very little in the way of stats to show for it).

As far as schemes go, Michigan is playing a 3-3-5. There's not really any doubt about it. Craig Roh was pretty frequently deployed as a linebacker and did well. It was a blitz-heavy scheme that saw the team getting pressure, at least when they brought heat; three-man rushes rarely got any kind of serious push. Next week will be the real test. If the defense can hold Notre Dame in check, this team could be not terrible.


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