Sunday, September 01, 2013

UM-CMU: as sloppy as a blowout can be

One of the biggest difference between the collegiate and professional versions of football (and, no, the pay seems to be about the same, right Mr. Manzell?) is the preparation time before the season officially begins.
The NFL (No Fun League) allows teams to charge regular season prices for practice games that counts, and amount, for nothing (other to evaluate personnel). In the NCAA, no such luxury exists; when the first whistle is heard, it’s for keeps. Just ask the folks at Kansas State if the Wildcats could have obtained a “do-over” after seeing their championship hopes vanish in the heat of Manhattan.
Thank God for Michigan, North Dakota State didn’t come to Ann Arbor; it was just those Central Michigan Chippewas from Mount Pleasant. Otherwise, the outcome might not have been the 59-9 blowout that had most fans gazing seven days forward to a visit from Notre Dame.
If truth be spoken (or written), it was a tremendously sloppy game played by Michigan – too many turnovers, too many dumb penalties (illegal substitution, too many men in the huddle, ineligible receiver downfield on a touchdown, false starts). It simply became a case of superior talent overwhelming CMU, which had ample opportunities to narrow the deficit, especially in the early going.
Coached by former MSU quarterback Dan Enos, the Chips could have used a replication of Enos (even at his current age and shape). With a few exceptions, Central tried and went nowhere on offense and fell apart in the third quarter when Michigan decided to stash the pass and just steamroll the CMU defense.
If All-American OT Taylor Lewan didn’t eat in the morning, he certainly enjoyed breakfast all game long … all fans saw was Lewan getting pancake after pancake.
As a long-time observer of Wolverine football (albeit from afar for most of the last 28 years), I was looking at three areas of Michigan’s game as key factors for the remainder of the season – the strength and depth of the running game, who would become the player to stretch the field within Michigan’s passing attack, and which one of the score of new players would shine above the others.
For the 2013 season, those three concerns must be answered affirmatively; Michigan MUST establish a ground attack, newcomers must fill vacancies left by graduation and someone must become the deep threat to be respected by opposing offenses.
On the first topic (rushing attack), it wasn’t until the third quarter began to see the depth unveiled by the Wolverines. They played the kind of ball-control offense that most of us from decades gone by recognize. By simply stuffing the ball down CMU’s throat using five different runners, Michigan held opposition for some 12 minutes to just three for Central and outscoring them 21-0.
And when Michigan DID throw the ball in the third period (only six times but completing five for 109 yards), it led to two of the three scoring drives. Still, it was the drive featuring just the two true freshmen running backs – Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith – that should have brought the brightest smiles to the faces of Michigan’s coaching staff.

Green ended with the most rushing yards in the game (58 on 11 carries with no carries for a loss). The muscular, powerful-looking young man from Richmond, Va. appears to be just the kind of short yardage halfback sorely needed over the past two seasons.
I had to chuckle to see Smith wearing the same uniform number and name as last season’s number 4 (Vincent Smith). Here’s hoping for a much better career for De’Veon and no collisions with Jadeveon Clowney.
For point number two, Michigan’s top three receivers fit nicely into a West Coast offense where passes go from 10-18 yards and possession receivers are invaluable. The Wolverines have two of its best – Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo, along with tight end Devon Funchess.
But there MUST be a deep threat on the roster, and on the field – someone who simply can streak past a defender (or two) based on sheer foot speed. It would also help if he could catch the ball, too.
For the most part, that remains a mystery; the two prime candidates are sophomore Dennis Norfleet and fifth-year senior Joe Reynolds. Norfleet’s fleet feet were on display on kickoff returns and a well-executed reverse of 38 yards; Reynolds scored the initial touchdown of the game on a 30-yard blocked punt return.
Norfleet had a few fleeting moment in 2012 but Reynolds is new to the UM landscape. He could satisfy point number three – which new faces will come to the forefront in 2013.
With that regard, four other names stood above the others (and there were more than 20 first-time players seeing game action in a Wolverine uniform). On offense, sophomore Graham Glasgow (6-6, 305) made a nice linemate for Lewan on the Michigan left side of the offensive line (serving a few pancakes of his own).
The defense was led, as expected, by senior tackle Jibreel Black, linebackers Cam Gordon and Desmond Morgan and the return of sophomore Blake Countess (after a year’s absence due to a knee injury suffered on the fourth play last season against Alabama).
But new names stood out – nickel back Dymonte Thomas, who was the one who actually blocked the CMU punt, freshman cornerback Channing Stribling, who was second in tackles and sophomore free safety Jarrod Wilson, who seemed to be in the right places on key stops.
So comes the most hyped non-conference game this season – Saturday Night Lights at home against the Irish, winners over Temple in a fairly unimpressive fashion. The time is ripe for Michigan to produce a “statement” game – telling the national ESPN audience that the Wolverines will be a factor in the 2014 BCS picture.
If UM plays a power game, as it did in the third quarter, Notre Dame is in trouble. If the Wolverines play as they did in the first half, where there was very little difference in the offensive execution from the year before under Denard Robinson, it will be a long evening of Pepto-Bismol cocktails.
It was tough to denote any changes in Gardner’s performance from his predecessor, other than Devin has shorter hair and runs from the pocket and not in the spread. In fact, one could say things were just a tad too much Devin-centric; the future cannot rely on Gardner for all the yards and touchdowns.
But Head Coach Brady Hoke was sufficiently critical at game’s end to ensure that the giant hand of hard practice will help iron out those problems.
And here’s an early prediction: Michigan 31, Notre Dame 20.
Because Michigan is REALLY worried about UConn … down the road … J.
Go Blue!

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