Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.comWhen Michigan's shellacking of Nebraska came to an end, I expected Brady Hoke to walk to midfield to shake hands with Bo Pelini whereupon Pelini would pull off his cheap rubber mask to reveal that Rich Rodriguez had actually been in charge of the Cornhuskers' otherwise valiant attempts at bumbling, fumbling football. The mess of kickoff fumbles, blocked punts, and otherwise undisciplined sloppy play reeked of the last three years in the Big House. Except this time, it was the opponent (a non-Notre Dame opponent to boot) that was staring at the sidelines after the football that was supposed to be tucked high and tight in their armpits was bouncing gleefully into the arms of defenders.
I like Rich Rodriguez, more than I rightfully should after the last three years. But JT Floyd and Jeremy Gallon are making him look like an idiot. Since Gallon showed up on campus, he was a bad decision waiting to happen: not fielding punts that he should have in addition to a complete inability to catch. In the short months that Hoke has been on campus, Gallon has become a reliable punt returner and relatively sure-handed. And don't even get me started on Floyd who built on his Illinois performance with another game of jumping routes and blanketing receivers.
An honest question: What were Rodriguez and his staff coaching for three years? The only answer I can muster is "schemes". Rodriguez assumed that at this level, players should have the fundamentals down and focused on schemes. Hoke, on the other hand, mocks your lack-of-toughness schemes and teaches Will Campbell how to keep his ass low to the ground. Whatever it is, Michigan's back-to-back defensive smotherings of decent-to-good offenses prove that this isn't a fluke. The defense is under the best management that it has been since Greg Mattison was last leading the same unit to a national championship over a decade ago.
The offense appears just as well off. Denard ran the ball 23 times in this game, his highest total since Michigan's dismantling of Northwestern over a month ago (and his third highest rushing attempt total of the season). Borges gets it. Denard isn't Chad Henne or Shane Morris, but Borges understands personnel; the previous coaching staff understood schemes. So the offense will probably be a little wonky and grab bag until 2013 when Borges has his prototypical quarterback under center (and he will be very much Under Center). Michigan will run Totally Surprising Jet Sweeps that invariably lose five yards. But when Borges isn't outsmarting himself, he's putting together an effective offensive package that keeps defenses on their toes and finds ways to utilize all of Michigan's vast skill players.
At this point, it's fair to say that Rodriguez's recruiting hauls were probably not as deficient as previously thought. A lot of the non-contributors over the last three years, especially on defense, are panning out as effective starters and in some cases, possible All Big Ten performers. But that's not such a great thing for Rodriguez's reputation. The better this team gets--and they will continue to get better--the more you have to ask, What the hell was going on the last three years?
- How nice is it that all of the special teams blunders are not being committed by your team? When's the last time Michigan blocked a punt? How enjoyable is it to be relatively certain Gallon is going to catch any punt sent his way but also make a few yards without fumbling?
- Fitz Toussaint looks more and more like an NFL running back the more carries he gets. His lateral movement is incredible. There are only a few running backs in the country with a more effective cut than his. So long as he doesn't fall in love with it and maintains it as a tool to run vertically, Toussaint is going to be the best Michigan running back in a long time.
- Denard, however, had another rough day running. For whatever reason, he's really struggled making decisions in the running game. In the last few games, Denard has shown a tendency to bounce everything to the outside, even when he has a lane up the middle. He may be trying to avoid some hits, but I'd guess he's trying to bust every run long rather than taking the running lanes given to him. The coaches will surely talk to him about this. His new-found ability to scramble is a wonderful addition to the offense, however.
- Jibreel Black is done seeing relevant snaps this year. He refuses to play contain on the quarterback on option plays and was responsible for a significant chunk of Taylor Martinez's rushing yards.
- Michigan ran 80 offensive plays in this game. Nebraska ran 54. Time of possession is a worthless stat, but those numbers are unreal. Michigan's defense booted the Cornhuskers off the field with ease (Nebraska was only 3-13 on third down and I believe they were 0-7 at one point) and the offense maintained long scoring drives.
- Denard's interception was a clone of one that he threw earlier. He struggles mightily throwing those RB screens. Otherwise, he seemed to have a really good day through the air. That touchdown to Odoms was his best throw of the season.