Saturday, September 24, 2011

Michigan-San Diego State: The good, the bad, (the sad) and the ugly

Non-conference play has ended for the first year of the Brady Hoke era, winning against his former employer (San Diego State) to post a 4-0 mark headed into next week’s resumption of playing for the Little Brown Jug against Minnesota. With the undefeated record comes a likely Top 20 ranking and a legitimate shot at being 6-0 (bowl-eligible) prior to Michigan State week (the first road test for U-M).
In what some dubbed The Hoke Bowl, Michigan defeated San Diego State 28-7 for one overbearing reason – it had MORE talent – up front – than the Aztecs. No one in white could bottle Denard Robinson on the ground as the junior sprinted passed the SDSU defense for 200 yards rushing on 21 carries, looking like he possessed Carl Lewis-type speed compared to his defensive counterparts.
A few carries looked like he was auditioning for a future season on “Dancing With The Stars” … his footwork was that fancy and that intricate. He might not be the BEST college football player in the land, but he IS the most entertaining with the ball.
Michigan’s first quarter inability to score was destroyed like a drone attack hit it, scoring smartly on the first two drives of the game – a pair of Robinson runs, including a 53-yarder.
But turnovers and a misfiring passing game kept the score much closer than it should have been. All of it is subject to that old Eastwood spaghetti western movie title…
The good
The defense finally looked like it knew, on every play, what it wanted to do and where it was going. Even when SDSU formations demanded wholesale front line movement by the Wolverines, it never appeared to have been out of position or fooled on any call.
Pass coverage effectively saw more Aztec receivers double covered and while QB Ryan Lindley completed 23 of 48 attempts, for 253 yards, if I were him, I wouldn’t send this DVD to any NFL scout. He did not react well to the Michigan pressure from the front four and missed several open receivers because of that rush.
Another surprising development was the punting and kickoff play on special teams. Whether it was eventual maturity, or perhaps having his father at the game (as SDSU’s team physician), freshman Matt Wile (a native of San Diego) was outstanding. His kickoffs were long, allowing SDSU less than 20 yards in returns on the average. He punted a season-best 49-yard average, kicking inside the SDSU 20 twice.
And after Brandon Gibbons missed a 40-yard field goal try, it could be time to let someone give it a whirl … all the “wile?”
Kudos to Ryan Van Bergen, Jake Ryan and Thomas Gordon for overall top-notch defensive games. We ARE looking light years better on defense than … say … a YEAR ago.
The bad
The Michigan passing game has YET to come together; too many passes seem to be too long (in execution and attempt) and the West Coast-type possession attack doesn’t seem to exist. Against SDSU, the longest pass completion was a screen pass to Vincent Smith for 32 yards, but nothing else went for more than 17 yards in the entire game.
This MUST be fixed prior to the heavy competition of the Big 10 Conference; as opponents stack defenses to stop Robinson, he must have the reliability to hit open receivers about move the ball in that fashion. So far, it hasn’t happened on a consistent basis.
And with field goals an iffy proposition, Michigan might be taking more fourth-down chances than ever before. That is NOT the best option for the future and either Gibbons steps forward immediately, or someone else will have to do the job.
(The sad)
Poor Troy Woolfolk! The fifth-year senior from Sugar Land, Texas (from Stafford Dulles High School, one of the legendary powerhouses in Texas high school football) simply cannot escape the injury bug in any game in which he participates.
Already playing with a cast on his arm, immobilizing his hand, he hobbled off the field in the second quarter. Woolfolk was already having problems grabbing ball carriers with that “club;” trying to play after missing all of 2010, he simply appears to be snake-bitten. And it’s sad because he IS a very talented young man and no one has quite seen but a sliver of his potential.
One thing needs to be said – his replacement, freshman Blake Countess, acquitted himself very nicely on the field. He made some key plays, breaking up a few pass attempts and didn’t look lost at all in Greg Mattison’s schemes.
The ugly
The third quarter was as brutal an exhibition of football – on any level, including Pop Warner and Pee Wee, as anyone has seen in that stadium in quite awhile.
The two teams combined for four turnovers (two interceptions by Robinson on successive possessions), Michigan missed a 40-yard field goal on its only sustained drive while SDSU closed the 21-point gap with a short march after recovering a Stephen Hopkins fumble inside the UM 40.
The Wolverine offense looked putrid, to put it mildly; SDSU might have made adjustments at halftime but Robinson continued the unwelcomed practice of overthrowing ALL his receivers. Fans have yet to see the real pro style offense promised as no one has taken the role of possession receiver, no one has claimed the banner as speed burner to the flag/post and the tight end needs better hands to become an offensive threat (Kevin Koger had one of Robinson’s interception fly right through his hands).
It was a period where Hoke was trying to get a few different bodies into action on offense, especially in the backfield, but it merely solidified Michigan’s running back as being three sets of legs – Robinson, Smith and Fitzgerald Toussaint (others need not apply, thank you). If nothing else has been decided this fall, that IS the ground game for the Wolverines and only garbage time (unseen as of yet) will find a different lineup.
The Jug
For the first time in three seasons (Big Ten’s fault, not any school’s schedule), Minnesota and Michigan will vie for the oldest intra-school trophy in college football – the Little Brown Jug. I will review the Jug’s history later this week, but it will be nice to see the old bottle dusted off and see some sunshine.
It represents something lacking lately in much of sports – real tradition – since this game dates back to the days of Fielding H. Yost. It should NOT have been subject to the whims of the Big 10’s unbalanced scheduling.
Check your Big Ten Network listings for some U-M heavy programming; on Thursday at 10 p.m. (eastern), there will be a conversation with Coach Hoke and BTN has advertised a new “Legends” series, about coaches, beginning with Bo, on Saturday. Not sure on times but check them out, DVR them and enjoy!

1 comment:

scott feiler said...

Can mr. Bloom remember the address of the Den of the Mellow Men on Geddes?