Sunday, September 08, 2013

Michigan-Notre Dame: a Gallon full of promises

If ever there was a game where a team made a bold statement about itself as a cohesive team (and football program), and a player stepping out of the shadows and into the white hot spotlight, it was the exciting, exceptional show produced Saturday night before a record NCAA single-game attendance.
Spectacular was the Wolverines’ performance; with the exception of a few plays, the game plan devised by the coaching staff was done to near perfection.
Just as spectacular were the images sent to a national ESPN audience, displaying Michigan at its best and shining like a diamond under the lights. If you want to see some startling images, go to the team’s official website and click on the photos link for some breathless images from high, high in the sky (at sunset, no less). I’m posting some of them on my blog because it looked so spectacular.
In last year’s game, people were introduced, on a national stage, to UM’s wide receivers Roy Roundtree and Junior Hemingway, and when football fans thought of Michigan, they mentioned Denard Robinson, and his two high-flying pass catchers. After Saturday, people said hello to Michigan’s Mighty Mite – 5-8 senior Jeremy Gallon.
Gallon, jumping, sliding and flying through the Notre Dame secondary, caught 8 passes for 184 yards and a career-best three touchdowns. He simply was unstoppable, as he was the week before.
In addition, Gallon sprinted for 14 yards on a double reverse, helping Michigan garner an early 3-0 advantage.
Other than Alabama’s receivers and Texas A&M’s wideouts, no one has made a bigger splash in the early going than Jeremy (By The) Gallon. He is helping establish Devin Gardner as one of the nation’s premier quarterbacks, aided by Gardner’s willingness to keep the ball in his hands a tick or two longer than Denard Robinson (who was ready to run to daylight at a split second’s notice).
Gallon is retaining a three-decade long tradition of outstanding UM receivers – from Anthony Carter to Braylon Edwards to Derrick Alexander to Desmond Howard. Howard was completely correct in his personal choice of Gallon to wear the Legacy 21 jersey; he is earning his place in Michigan history with each game … and each down.
Welcome back, Blake Countess – Having witnessed Blake Countess’ injury (on the first punt play of the 2012 season against Alabama) and seeing how it deflated the tires off the Michigan football bus for that campaign, it brought a smile to my face (and to Wolverine fans everywhere) to see this talented player return to action and his immediate impact on the game.
His two interceptions proved to be invaluable (stopping one ND drive and setting up the final Michigan touchdown in the first half). More important was his superb pass coverage; combining with the other cornerback junior Raymon Taylor, it won’t be so easy in the future to stretch the field through the air – one of Michigan’s most visible vulnerabilities last season.
The Most Valuable Wolverines – If I had the choice of who would have received the game ball for the Irish win, I might have selected someone other than the obvious (Gallon). My pick would have been Michigan’s two coordinators (Al Borges on offense, Greg Mattison on defense).
With each man in complete control of his game plan, they called the perfect plays at the right moment and possessed enough confidence with the on-field personnel to execute the counter moves that Notre Dame was presenting. Michigan was almost always in the proper defensive coverage and called the proper play against the Irish vaunted defensive line (where ND’s presumed Heisman/Outland candidate Louis Nix III, 6-2, 352, was less of a factor than anticipated with just four tackles).
The sweetest testament to how confused Notre Dame’s defense appeared to be was Gardner’s 2-yard second-quarter touchdown run (off a change of plays called at the line of scrimmage).
When Michigan changed formations, Notre Dame failed to react for a couple of second and when the ball was snapped, most of the Irish players were out of position and Gardner waltzed into the end zone as if he were sneaking into line at drop/add day.
Remember when? – Remember when, just four years ago, the U-M kicking game was the butt of jokes and ridicule by every national reporter and talk show host? Remember when Michigan went for fourth-down conversion attempts because no one in the stands knew which direction an attempted field goal would fly?
Those dark, dready days are OH-VAH (to quote Hawk Harrelson on White Sox broadcasts). At this moment, it is a potent weapons, thanks to Brendan Gibbons, the fifth-year senior, who booted his 15th and 16th consecutive field goals against the Irish, providing that special margin that kept Notre Dame at arms’ length for most of the game.
To put into football terms, he has meant that 16 Michigan offensive possessions resulted in important points on the scoreboard. That makes decision-making easier when a coach can count of a successful results regardless of field possession.
If you want to know its value, let’s go back to the fourth quarter with Notre Dame in possession at the UM 17, trailing 34-20. Had Brian Kelly thought a bit longer about it, with most of the final period left to play, he might have done the intelligent thing and, on fourth-and-4, sent his kicker Kyle Brindza to attempt a 32-yard field goal.
Based on his success rate in the game, it would have trimmed the deficit to just 11 points, and who knows what would have happened? The Irish could have easily scored its touchdown in the same “brain fart” fashion (by Gardner) with an identical defensive stand.
So when Michigan was forced to return the ball on downs, Matt Wile’s shanked 21-yard punt, Notre Dame would have had possession at its 48 with almost 11 minutes to play, but down 34-30 instead of the seven-point challenge. As it was, Brindza kicked another field goal (40 yards) and instead of being four points down, the Irish would have trailed by 1 measly “rogue” (based on having watched Saskatchewan play Edmonton in CFL action on NFL Network earlier).
Plays would have been called differently and there would have been less sense of panic in the Irish passing game (Notre Dame had abandoned its rushing attack in the final 15 minutes to just two attempts for 7 yards).
It’s the headset’s fault – This game could have produced a more stark contrast in coaching styles, and apparently in team results.
One sideline showed Michigan’s Brady Hoke, absent any outerwear and shunning the traditional headset to fellow assistants and the coaches in the press box. His demeanor is calm, collected and supportive.
Before Gardner’s 2-yard touchdown, Hoke tried to call timeout as the play clock was almost expiring … but no one heard or saw him (except ESPN’s cameras). So when his team scored, he just turned away and shrugged his shoulders nonchalantly as if to say, “That was a good timeout I didn’t call.” It seemed very natural.
On the other sidelines was a constantly frantic, frenzied Brian Kelly, who looked as if he consumed one too many Starbucks caffeinated products before kickoff. Every time the cameras focused on him, Kelly was always yelling – at the officials, at players and especially at his quarterback Tommy Rees (who was NOT playing poorly despite an apparent knee injury sustained midway through the second half).
That is how Kelly has appeared on ANY Notre Dame telecast and it is annoying as hell for someone leading such a prestigious program. Didn’t have all that pressure at Central Michigan, I guess.
I think it comes down to the headsets. Hoke trusts his staff and when he wants to make a point, he does it in his own fashion (quietly and positively). Kelly, hearing all these different voices in his head(set), looks like he needs some Xanax during the game.
Oh yeah, it’s now Hoke 2, Kelly 1, in their matchups at their current schools.
Gentlemen, PLEASE do your homework – It’s kind sad to know that the telecast team of Brent (I Know Rick Rubin and You’re No Rick Rubin) Musberger and Kirk (Bucked-Up) Herbstreit is ABC/ESPN’s number-one broadcasting partnership yet both men failed miserably to get their facts correct a bunch of times while on the air.
Several times during the broadcast, Musberger AND Herbstreit continually referred to Devin Gardner as Denard Robinson and, in the most egregious of faux paus, Herbstreit spoke about the 2011 comeback by … Notre Dame before Michigan won that contest. HUH?
As everyone was reminded numerous times watching ESPN Classic or the Big Ten Network ALL week prior to Saturday’s game, it was Michigan who was down 24-7 early in the fourth quarter before its remarkable rally to take the lead – TWICE (including the game-winning score with two seconds left to play).
And the interview with Eminen (when you’re 40, you get called Marshall by your elders) was as un-spontaneous as anything ever witnessed on television. If a cowboy like Musberger has EVER listened to a Slim Shady album, I’ll EAT that album in its vinyl version.
A friend simply, but accurately, labeled the entire segment as “lame.” Truer words have never been written.
Thank you for finally listening – After five years of the same dull campus promotion for the University of Michigan, there debuted a brand-spanking new 30-second public service announcement … and it rocked! It displayed the diversity of studies and kept the Maize and Blue spirit that had faded from over-usage over the last half-decade. Thank you, someone in the university’s administration/public relations department for finally noticing and doing something about it.
Wait until next week – Under most circumstances, a statement victory, as posted by Michigan in defeating America’s Cinderella team (Notre Dame), would have propelled a 2-0 squad into the Top 10 in the AP and USA Today polls.
The Wolverines are 11th in the AP standing and 12th in the USA Today Coaches Poll (the coaches had UM six points behind Oklahoma State).
Michigan hosts the Zips of Akron on Saturday (has anyone seen Gerry Faust lately?) and after a romp in The Big House (52-10 is my early line), Michigan should crack the Top 10 in each listing because there will be other teams listed ahead that will fall by the wayside (can you say A&M and Johnny Butthead?).
It is interesting to see the Big Ten have five schools in the Top 20 – the same number as the vaunted SEC (with three teams already sporting a loss).
This WILL be a rebound season for the Big Ten in terms of national stature – led by the Wolverines, who could, and should, be undefeated headed to that gauntlet known as November.

No comments: