Monday, September 2, 2013

No Surprises

Central Michigan 9 - Michigan 59
Courtney Sacco |

Michigan had an uneventful offseason, at least with regards to recent history. There were no questions about the starting quarterback, no concerns over walk-ons, and the incoming recruiting class was viewed as depth chart fodder rather than necessary reinforcements. Such is the arrival of Brady Hoke. So Michigan trounces Central Michigan in the season opener without any notable injuries or hiccups, and we all shrug. Well, most people shrug and I get panicky about the offensive line.

The box score says domination: 242 rushing yards on 47 carries (5.1 YPC), 221 passing yards on 21 attempts (10.5 YPA), 10 of 15 on third down conversions, and CMU averaged only 3.7 yards per play. But, like Holly Anderson's piece on Jadaveon Clowney's uninspiring 2013 debut says, "You already know that Week 1 college football games aren't all that useful in the discerning sports fan's quest to consume actual, compelling football … It's fun to be able to take one data point and draw a line to anywhere."

Per usual, my data points tends toward fear. My confidence in Greg Mattison, Brady Hoke, and the defensive unit could not be higher. Two seasons of transforming the scraps Rich Rodriguez left on the defensive side of the ball belies any doubt in this coaching staff defensively. Saturday served as confirmation of this belief: short the team's most impactful starter (Jake Ryan), the defense smothered CMU on short fields surrendered because of turnovers and never allowed a drive to exceed 59 yards (that one ending in a 33-yard field goal).

The concern comes from the other side of the ball, in spite of the team posting 59 points on 12 possessions; one punt and three interceptions were the only drives that Michigan came up empty. The game started inauspiciously as Devin Gardner threw a Denardian interception: he determined where to throw the ball before the play had started. His second giveaway was similar: he saw single coverage on the outside with Jeremy Gallon and decided to throw it regardless that Gallon was blanketed. While on the subject, that Gallon couldn't get on top of a CMU cornerback on a fly route does not bode well for his presence as the team's primary deep threat.

Those turnovers were disappointing but not the primary cause for concern: the offensive line's continued inability to get push on under-center runs. Michigan's running game remains either inconsistent or ineffectual. After one game with a new crop of interior lineman, speculating either with certainty is fruitless, but following last year's debacle, optimism (at least around these parts; shock!) is slim. There are caveats for the stumbling running game. Some of it appears schematic: Michigan ran into an overloaded defense several times when Gardner should have checked into a weakside run at the line of scrimmage. That could change as the season progresses. But other issues, such as Gallon's inability to get over the top of CMU's defense, allowing the opposing safeties to creep into the box, may be longer lasting. Or, this could have been the first game-time action from a new crop of interior line starters that just hasn't gelled together yet. But where's the fun in that? Largely irrelevant data point --> Doom.

There were clear positives--pass blocking, Derrick Green, the return of Toussaint, CMU's 2.3 YPA rushing on 29 carries, and Devin Funchess to name a few--but those were expected (perhaps known) before the season. The real insights from this game come from the mistakes, which I'm confident did not escape Hoke, Borges, and Mattison, and should be rectified, or at least patched up, in short order.

  • My friend and I had a bet on what pass Shane Morris would throw his first interception. He said the third pass, I said the fifth. I won. A relatively uneventful debut from Morris, but it's obvious both where his upside stands and what his current flaws are.
  • Toussaint turned in a decent game but was still not the dominating back that we saw in 2011. He had few holes to work with, but made the most of what he was given. If the interior line can't get itself together, Toussaint's season will look more like 2012 than 2011. Also of note, his pass blocking was atrocious in this game.
  • Michigan's defense acquitted itself well as a whole, but the zone passing defense proved problematic (perhaps expected because both starting safeties were out). CMU's greatest offensive success came by throwing intermediate routes that the underneath defenders didn't sink on and the safeties weren't reading quickly enough. Northwestern looms large.
  • Frank Clark. Man. Lane integrity. Please. Otherwise, keep being fast.
  • Jibreel Black was a non-factor in the running game and made a few penetrating moves in the pass game. I don't know how his skillset will matchup against teams with heftier front lines, but for now, concerns about his size as the starting 3-tech are squashed.
  • It may be prudent for Michigan not to put a punt returner on the field. Just rush 11 guys at the punter and don't worry about getting any return yards. The returner isn't getting anything meaningful on rugby punts anyway and the team avoids Dennis Norfleet fumbling the ball on the 10 yard line.
  • I believe (perhaps hope) that Borges kept most of his tricks in the bag in week one. With Notre Dame coming to town next week, having a whole package of plays they haven't seen yet could pay dividends.

Next Week
Michigan gets Notre Dame under the lights. You know what happened last year, but against Temple, the Irish did not overwhelm. Temple > CMU, but Michigan's Week 1 > ND's Week 1. With Tommy Rees back under center for the Irish, and the loss of Notre Dame's top-two rushers from last year, Michigan's defense should smother Notre Dame, enabling the offense to slog through the game picking up points when they can.


Miles Putnam said...

"Jibreel Black was a non-factor in the run game"...I assume you mean he held serve in the run game (despite being undersized for the inside) so his pass rush contribution makes him look like a plus DT overall?

Chris Gaerig said...

Yeah, that's the idea. Black was an upgrade over Will Campbell last year. he didn't stick out as a liability in the run game, nor did he do much of note. Got decent penetration in the pass rush. Will be interesting to see how he holds up against ND's offensive line. I was high on him prior to the season and was encouraged by his performance.

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