Monday, September 27, 2010

My Favorite Things: Bowling Green

Some weeks this postgame recap almost writes itself.  In fact, the Wolverines pitched such a perfect game on Saturday that I am having a hard time limiting myself to just three favorite things.

Mike Hart/Chris Perry but fast, is that what you said Fred?  I'm not buying it.
The offense was on another plain of existence Saturday, only failing to score on two drives.  One of those drives ended with an unfortunate fumble by Stephen Hopkins.  The other drive was a turnover on downs that was preceded by not one but two beautiful touchdown passes   the "I can't believe I'm this open" drop by Junior Hemingway, and the great catch and run by Kelvin Grady on the seam route that was called back after a personal foul.  The defense also had a largely productive day, only allowing two sustained touchdown drives and a total of 283 yards while stifling the Falcon's rushing offense to a measly 1.2 ypc.  The 251 yards passing is a bit of a red flag, but take away the long tunnel screen touchdown (77 yards) that was aided by a hold on James Rogers, and the numbers are even more impressive, especially for a team that makes its living passing the ball.

This was the kind of game that most felt should have happened the previous week against UMass, and while that game still leaves a bad taste in everyone's mouth, it is great to see the Wolverines play vintage dominating football.  This Bowling Green team might not be great, but they are not the level of the baby seal that was clubbed last year for nearly the same ridiculous stats.  If there is anything to be concerned about from Saturday, it is that Denard Robinson doesn't need to take bone crushing hits to risk injury, but we all knew that already, even if we didn't want to admit it.  So lets jump right in to my favorite things.

1. Quarterback Depth
Before we go too far, think back to 2008.  Remember the feeling of unease that surrounded our quarterback situation?  It was a mess, which relied on two quarterbacks who weren't good fits for the system and unable to run the offense successfully.  Honestly, 2009 wasn't a whole lot better.  Forcier played well most of the year, but he was a freshman and spent all of Big Ten play banged up.  Robinson was electric but was unable to be an every down quarterback because of accuracy issues and an inability to play with the entire playbook.

From the beginning of Rodriguez's time in Ann Arbor the common refrain has been, "he can't win without his kind of quarterback".  Now he has three of them, and we see just what the offense is capable of.

Three Headed Monster.
Robinson continues to be absolutely brilliant.  In the first half of the first quarter Saturday Robinson unleashed three rushes of 20+ yards out of five total runs.  He had two rushing touchdowns and was a prefect four of four passing for 60 yards.  He nearly accounted for 200 yards of offense in around eight minutes.  Imagine what he could have done with another quarter and a half.  Scary, right?

The only scary thing, however, was seeing him writhe in pain on his own sideline after falling awkwardly on his knee.  It was the moment we had all feared since his first scare in the UConn game.  While the injury turned out to be nothing serious, it did allow Devin Gardner and Tate Forcier to play more than they probably would have.

Gardner came in and started off slow.  His first couple runs were bottled up for no gain and his long pass to Roundtree was under thrown.  But this was a true freshman getting his first significant time in a game, and as he was given more time to settle in his play improved. He became more effective in the zone read and eventually tacked on a nine yard touchdown of his own at the end of the game.  His deep passing also looked better as he threw both the good down field passes to Hemingway (drop) and Grady (penalty) that led to the turnover on downs.  For a true freshman in his first prolonged game experience, Gardner did about all we could ask of him.  The future is bright for number seven.

While no one knew what to expect from Gardner, everyone knew exactly what Forcier was capable of bringing to the table as the head of this offense, and he did not disappoint.  Forcier was a deadly accurate passer, completing all twelve of his passes for 110 yards and a touchdown.  He did it on his normal routine of bubble screens, and scrambles where he waits until the last second to make something happen   including the great throw to Roundtree that drew a pass interference.  However, he did show the ability to sit in the pocket and throw down field, something that was largely absent last year (no doubt because reliable pass protection was hard to come by).  Tate even added on a couple nice little runs that aren't the stuff of highlight reels like Robinson, but are effective at keeping the defense off balance none the less.

If this offense is the key to winning games this year, it is good to see that the offense is in good hands no matter who is under center.  Gardner might still be young and Forcier might not be the electrifying force that Robinson is, but it is comforting to know that depth exists at the position, something that we haven't seen around Ann Arbor in quite some time.

2. The Offensive Machine

Welcome to the machine.  This was the kind of offense we have been waiting for ever since Rodriguez came in to town.  It has looked effective the past few weeks, but nothing quite like this:

Courtesy of ESPN
Eleven drives.  Nine touchdowns.  A six minute advantage in time of possession.  Six scoring drives of eight plays or more.  Four scoring drives that went longer than 80 yards.  Thirty-one first downs and 10 for 12 conversion rate on third down.

You only get one miss on Denard.
Why was this offense able to be effective?  Because the players executed their assignments expertly.  The quarterbacks combined to throw 26 passes, only three of those being incomplete and no interceptions.  This was good for 255 yards and 9.8 ypa.  The running backs added to this by carrying for a combined 8.3 ypc, 466 total yards, and seven touchdowns.  Of course, credit for this kind of production ultimately goes back to the men up front, and the offensive line played absolutely out of their minds Saturday, pounding Bowling Green's defense and giving running backs huge holes to work with while neutralizing the pass rush.

Odds are we won't see this kind of utter domination from the offense the rest of the year.  The road gets tougher from here on out, but the offense seems to have finally hit that next level of production.  The sky is certainly the limit from here on out.

3. Defensive....Competence?
It wouldn't be a Michigan game circa 2010 without a little bit of an emotional roller coaster, right?  The defense certainly provided a bit of a scare in the second quarter when it ceded two touchdowns in five minutes to pull the Falcons within seven.  Add to that the Denard Robinson injury and the air of uncertainty that still surrounded it at that point in the game and I was justifiably worried that this game could turn into another UMass nail biter.

What it turned in to is a solid game from our young defense:

Courtesy of ESPN
Outside of the second quarter that started with one long sustained touchdown drive followed by a fluke 77 yard touchdown on a slip screen, the defense played a solid game.  They forced two interceptions (and gave one back on a fumble) and did a good job of stopping the Bowling Green offense quickly to get the ball back to the offense.  The defense forced four three-and-outs, and only gave up more that 30 yards on the three scoring drives.

This is how Bowling Green's day was when
they put the ball on the ground.
Also encouraging was that the defense was able to be effective while still working in younger players and backups for experience.  I noticed Courtney Avery, Kenny Demens, JB, Fitzgerald, Ray Vinopal, and William Campbell on my own, and I am sure when Brian completes his UFR we will see a great deal of playing time for bench guys.

This defense is not going to be a shut down unit this year, but if they can force turnovers and a fair amount of three-and-outs it will give the offense plenty of the room it needs to put the game out of reach.  That is just what happened on Saturday, and it is an encouraging sign moving forward into Big Ten play.

1 comment:

  1. just so you know, fitz toussaint's knee is not 100%. that's why he got caught from behind