Monday, September 10, 2012

"It's always good to win"

Air Force 25 - #19 Michigan 31
Melanie Maxwell |

Were you to look only at the box score, Michigan's offense against Air Force appeared more like a 2010 Rich Rodriguez-led team: Denard accounted for all but 7 of the team's total yards (208 through the air and 218 on the ground) and chalked up four touchdowns. But this is not the high-powered option offense that turned Denard into a Heisman contender. In fact, there might be serious problems with this edition of the offense.

Denard didn't dominate this game because he was Michigan's best option, as in previous years. Denard dominated this game because he was the only option. Not knowing the intricacies of offensive line play, it seems that the loss of David Molk has had a far more catastrophic effect on the offensive line than anticipated. Though that can't explain Taylor Lewan or Michael Schofield getting outright beaten off the line of scrimmage, it's clear that something is not right. After being unable to run the ball against Alabama, Michigan fans maintained hope: Bama is a defensive force with a stifling run defense. But after looking incapable of moving the ball against Air Force's porous run defense, it's time to start looking a little more closely at what's going on.

Without rewatching the game, the best I can offer is what everyone else can see. The offensive line just can't get any push upfield, which, against Air Force's undersized defensive front is a major red flag. It could be that the line is still trying to gel, but it seemed like Michigan was running power blocking techniques most of the game, which would negate many of the double teams that could cause confusion on the line. Michigan's offensive linemen were going one-on-one with Air Force and losing the battle.

The good news is Denard Robinson specializes in making something out of nothing. He carried the ball 20 times on Saturday, a number he only surpassed five times last season. Denard is always a weapon, but having to use him this extensively against Air Force rehashes concerns about durability. But you do what's necessary to win the game you're currently playing.

Through the air, Denard was slightly improved, bolstered by the emergence of Devin Beanpole Funchess. In Funchess and Devin Gardner, Michigan might actually have a pair of pass-catchers that can threaten teams downfield and in the red zone. We'll see how Funchess fares when teams actually guard him, but this was an impressive coming out party.

A win is a win, but Saturday's game did more to inspire uncertainty than confidence in the offense--at least the defense had an excuse for its mediocre performance. We saw Schofield struggle mightily against Alabama, but no one expected the offensive line to look so shaky against Air Force. Barring better offensive line play going forward, this season will quickly start veering off course.

Melanie Maxwell |

  • So yeah, Funchess. A few of his catches were because Air Force just failed to cover him, but he looks like a serious receiving threat at the tight end position. He'll need to add weight, but that'll come with time. For now, he's the most versatile tight end to the roster.
  • Fitz Toussaint struggled today, but that was the fault of the offensive line. There were no running lanes that weren't created from QB draw plays.
  • I don't think the defense fared quite as poorly as the box score indicates. Early in the game, the fullback dive was making more yards than expected (this is either because the defensive line was getting pushed off the ball or making the wrong decision on the option; my guess is the latter), but after the half, most of Air Force's yards were on the outside. That happens against option teams. At the end of the day, the Falcons only averaged 4.1 YPC (albeit on 71 carries), which is well below their average.
  • The Dennis Norfleet hype train will continue, but mark my words: he is going to make a catastrophic error on a kick return this year.
  • I don't really have much insight on this game yet. I need to rewatch it and see exactly what the struggles were on defense and why the offensive line couldn't get any push.

Next Week
Alright, so let's try this again. Michigan takes on UMass next week and should finally be able to really dominate an opponent. The Wolverines have two weeks to prepare for their next real test in Notre Dame. UMass shouldn't present any problems for the offense or defense, so the game needs to be used to iron out run-fit issues and sort out the problems on the offensive line.


Backusduo said...

Norfleet is going to make an error this year? I could say the same about Denard or or my kid on a spelling test. Is there something he is doing that is "catastrophically" wrong, because I'm more concerned with Gallon allowing punts bounce down the field each week at this point. While he is not the next Steve Breaston yet, he has shown great potential and good decision making skills that our seniors aren't matching.

DrewForBlue said...

I'm a big Michigan fan, but a GT alum as well. I've been watching them for a long time. And one thing about the triple option - if you have a week or so to prepare, you're in trouble. Take Virginia Tech's defense last year...pretty good right? Well only 2 teams scored more points on Virginia Tech that GT but they were nowhere near the third most talented offense they faced. It happens, and UM fans shouldn't worry too much about it. Triple option just makes a lot of defenses look bad, even good ones.

Not that I'm an expert, but I have watched every GT game in the Paul Johnson era. The teams that do best against the triple option (or that kind of look, including the wishbone) tend to have a really talented defensive line. I find that's really the only takeaway from facing a team with such a different kind of offense. Defensive line. Especially tackles. If you can plug up the middle on defense with your front four it's going to be a long night for Air Force/Georgia Tech. The rest of the D can focus on the outside runs, especially the safeties and outside linebackers (depending on your scheme).

Of course, Michigan's D line is not even close to talented enough to fall in that category, and so we have the display on Saturday. Nothing to worry about yet. Especially when considering how many underclassmen had to face this kind of offense.

So that's my 2 cents. By the way, love the site. You have some great insight into the game. Keep up the good work.

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