Tuesday, September 21, 2010

My Favorite Things: UMass

While there wasn't much to celebrate between the special teams gaffes and the defensive struggles on Saturday, this weeks edition of My Favorite Things still has plenty to choose from on the offensive side of the ball.

1. Denard Robinson
Get used to this.  This blog is quickly turning from a place for me to share my thoughts on Michigan football to a place for me to fawn over Denard Robinson.  Whle the numbers from Saturday aren't as eye popping as they were when Robinson decided to single-handedly dismantle the ND defense, they are still a sight to behold.  Of the 14 passes Robinson threw, 10 were completed for a total of 241 yards.  He thew two touchdowns as well as his first interception of the season.  Not only are these numbers impressive on their own, they have shown us a few things about Robinson that we did not see the first two weeks.

The first pass Robinson threw looked like it was taken straight from the 2009 season.  With Roy Roundtree beating his defender deep, Robinson threw a bullet that was tipped by a (edit: safety) underneath and then caught by the corner back.  Robinson tried too hard to force the ball in with a Navarre like bullet pass, and probably misread the safety as well.

How did Denard respond to his first bit of adversity?  He completed over 75% of his passes from then on out and ended the day with 17.2 ypa.  More importantly he didn't shy away from the deep ball.

In the first game against UConn most of Robinson's passes were underneath throws designed to pick apart soft zone coverages.  He only forced a couple of these and made very good reads on most.  By the Notre Dame game he had improved his decision making on a couple of plays (namely the one from the week before that almost got Roy Roundtree killed) and attacked down the field more with the aide of play fakes, but most of his work was done on short and intermediate routes.

UMass gave us the first real indication that not only will the staff call for a deep pass in the face of tight man coverage, but that Denard can absolutely make that throw:

The first play that comes at the nine second mark is the great pass and catch between Denard and Kelvin Grady.  UMass sends six guys, two of which get in Robinson's face as he releases, but he still manages to hit Grady in stride for a beautiful over the shoulder catch.  Moving on to the 1:30 mark Robinson hits a now healthy Junior Hemingway in a soft spot in the zone defense for a big gain that will help set up the second Stonum touchdown.  Finally, at the 2:36 mark Robinson rolls slightly to the right and then hits Darryl Stonum with a great throw on the fly pattern.

This offense had shown over the course of the first two games that it could be productive against zone pass defenses.  Robinson has been making all the right reads and delivering balls where only his receiver can get them.  Saturday, faced with man coverage Robinson showed a knack for deep throws that few dreamed was there.  He stood tall in the pocket and delivered strikes.  One of the advantages to such a dangerous ground game will be the opportunities it opens up deep.  With a talented group of receivers, and the delivery that Robinson showed Saturday, this offense has now found yet another way to torture defenses.

Lost in all this was Robinson's 104 yards rushing on 17 carries that led to a touchdown.  A more preferable rushing load than he has carried the last two weeks.

2. Michael Shaw
Let him loose in space and you better watch out.
One of the big reasons that Robinson was able to cut his carries down by around 10 was that Shaw found a way to be productive on the ground.  He went off for a career high three touchdowns on 12 rushes for 126 yards.

Shaw has always had the speed to be a dangerous running back, but his vision and balance always held him back.  Through his career at Michigan there have been a number of take downs consisting of slight contact or a gust of wind.  On top of this Shaw has shown poor decision making once he gets the ball (beautifully broken down by BWS).

Saturday Shaw made a number of good reads in the run game (see video above at: 2:10 and 3:14) as well as scoring on two goal line runs (see video: :21 and 3:31.  While one game does not a productive running back make, if Shaw can continue to produce at a high level this offense will be ready to take the next step.

3. Darryl Stonum
The second of two TD's
I have been excited about Stonum's potential at outside receiver since he arrived on campus, so you can imagine my disappointment after two seasons of 13ish catches and less than 200 yards for one touchdown.  Everyone knew Darryl had big play ability.  His kick return skills were very valuable last year and provided a highlight reel return TD against Notre Dame.

After becoming Michigan's second incarnation of Rick Vaughn it seems Stonum might be poised for the breakout season that has had most Michigan fans salivating for the last two years.  He has already matched his stats from the last two years, thanks in part to his newfound ability to "see in HD".

If this is the season he blows up, Saturday was his coming out party.  What is a more appropriate stat line for a home run threat receiver than three catches for 121 yards and two touchdowns?

His first catch came on a slip screen against a UMass blitz.  Stonum caught the ball   not always a certainty in years past   hit a seam in the defense, and was off to the races for a 66 yard touchdown that pulled the Wolverines within three (:58 in the video).  Thanks to a Kovac's strip and Hemingway catch, Stonum was able to tack on one more receiving touchdown before halftime after he shook loose on a quick out route and made it into the end zone (1:45 on the video).  After halftime Stonum showed an ability to catch the deep ball that has not been there the last two years.  Robinson's great throw was hauled in by Stonum with a defender nipping at his heels for a 46 yard catch.


The emergence of Stonum and Shaw as legitimate home run threats, coupled with the continued brilliance and evolution of Denard Robinson at quarterback bodes well for this offense.  The last two years the big play was an afterthought for defenses, and the offense struggled.  If these three players can continue to produce there will be a lot of unhappy defensive coordinators around the Big Ten this fall.

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