Monday, September 5, 2011

Incomplete Thoughts From an Incomplete Game

Good to have you back, TWolf. (Melanie Maxwell I

Had I known the game itself wasn't going to make it to the fourth quarter I might have had a little more of a sense of urgency in the hours before the game.

Instead of tuning in for the beginning of the game I spent most of the first quarter driving to a friends house where I was going to spend the next eight plus hours stuffing my face with junk food followed by cheap domestic beer.  I was running late because this was the first Saturday in months that I decided to actually accomplish something in the morning instead of laying around like a worthless pile of skin, and I was relocating because I was being exiled from my house due to a huge half-marathon that was shutting down all the roads in my neighborhood the next day, thus interfering with my commute to work Sunday morning.

I missed Western Michigan's entire first drive (probably for the best) and walked in just in time to see the Wolverines attempt a fourth and short to keep the long drive alive in the end of the first quarter.  From there the game was all over the place with weather delays, technical difficulties, and eventually, an early and somewhat anticlimactic end.  After re-watching the game this morning     courtesy of the indescribably awesome Boys n da Pahokee on the mgoboard     this is what I saw:

(Melanie Maxwell I
  • The first quarter felt like 2010 all over again.  An accurate quarterback plus soft coverage equaled a fifteen play, seventy-five yard drive that took over seven minutes and ended in a touchdown.  If the uniform on the other side wasn't decidedly Western Michigan's I might have believed I had stumbled through a time warp somewhere on the freeway that had taken me back to GERG hell.  Carder spent the first quarter and a half looking like he was making his case for "best quarterback in the state of Michigan".  Either that or our secondary was making a case for "worst secondary in Michigan" ("over EMU's dead body," says Ron English).  Carder didn't throw an incomplete pass until the second quarter and receiver Jordan White found openings everywhere in the secondary.  Despite all of this, the back four looked better just by virtue of not giving up a crippling big play or back breaking long third down conversion, but it was still far from good.  Standards: we got 'em, and they're lower than ever before.
  • From what I saw, Mike Martin was seeing double teams on every play.  I know this was a quick passing offense, but if three guys have one-on-one match ups, someone had to make Carder sweat.  Thankfully we now have a defensive coordinator that isn't married to three and four man pass rushes.  Still, it is disconcerting that WMU's patchwork interior line had that much early success.  Michigan's defense isn't outstanding, but it shouldn't take an all out blitz/cover zero to get in a MAC QB's face.
  • Credit where credit is due: Brandon Herron played a very good game.  Eight tackles and two defensive touchdowns is very impressive for anyone, much less a player that most figured would be primarily a back up and special teams player this season.  I don't know where this season goes for Herron.  Does he turn in a reliable performance as a starter on the weak side?  Do we never see him play a meaningful snap at Will again?  Does he ride off into the sunset "Shane" style after a game that can never be matched?  It is all in play.  My prediction:  he alternates as a starter with Jones then Morgan, has one or two fluky highlight reel plays, but is just good enough that we mostly don't hear about him     good or bad.  After the erratic linebacking play we have had the last couple years, I would take that in a heartbeat.
  • Without seeing Western's inevitable fourth quarter push to try and make it a game it is hard to get an accurate read on this defense.  Was what we saw for the first quarter and a half going to be the norm?  Are quarterbacks going to move the ball relatively easy against soft zones all season?  Is the only way this team can get any pressure to send the house every time?  Or will the defense play like it did later in the game when the front seven did a better job of containing the run game (and not letting the running backs break outside contain) allowing Mattison to blitz heavy on long passing downs to force mistakes?
  • Jordan Kovacs had a very good game leading the team with ten tackles, two sacks, a forced fumble and a pass break up.  Some fans continue to long for the day a moderately athletic walk-on is finally booted from the starting lineup, while Kovacs continues to play much better than his forty time and vertical leap suggest he should.  If Herron doesn't score two defensive touchdowns, he is easily your defensive player of the game.
  • Also, a quick shout out to Jake Ryan, who tipped the pass that Herron intercepted; Thomas Gordon, who made a couple very nice plays from the safety spot to stop plays in the flat; and Kenny Demens, who is your middle linebacker, and you should thank God for that.
  • Troy Woolfolk, don't you scare me like that.  Seriously.  (Thankfully it sounds like the Woolfolk injury is minor and he will be good to go against the Irish)
  • Player of the game:  Who else could it be?  Brandon Herron
(Melanie Maxwell I

  • First play: shotgun QB keeper for a first down.  I heart Al Borges.  The fact that Borges relied heavily on shotgun sets makes me feel a lot better about this offense going forward.  There is only so much Denard Robinson can do when he is taking snaps under center.
  • The "Power Play" seemed to work fairly well.  Unlike last year I don't remember any I-form plays getting blown up for no gain or a one yard loss.  Most seemed like two or three yard gainers, but if that helps Brady sleep at night, I'm all for it.
  • The offensive line looked like it had a solid outing as well.  It isn't a group that will move the line of scrimmage back three yards on the snap a la Wisconsin's road graders, but Borges and co. did a good job using the lines athleticism to open up holes and get the backs to the second level.  I'm not O-line expert, but rumblings from people I respect make it sound like Michael Schofield is miscast as a guard.  I know enough about offensive line play that this makes sense to me (he is 6'7).
  • I thought the receivers also played well.  No one had a stand out performance, although Hemingway's 37-yarder was nice to see after Robinson air mailed the first deep throw he made to Koger.  Gallon, Roundtree, and Koger all look like solid options, and all made good plays on passes that weren't perfectly thrown.
  • As for Denard, it is hard to judge his performance.  The sample size just isn't big enough.  Nine of thirteen sounds good, but that doesn't take into account his bad over throws to Koger and Dileo     the latter of which could have been a touchdown     as well as the tough catches that some of the receivers had to make on misplaced passes (Koger when he got laid out reaching for a throw to the seam that was too far in front of him, and Roundtree when he had to make a good play to catch a slant that was thrown behind him).  However, Robinson did make some tough throws, and the poor throws he made were all put where nobody would catch it if his receiver didn't.  The decision making looks solid so far, but the accuracy and touch are shaky at best.  Hopefully things improve when he is allowed to develop a bit more rhythm over the course of a game.
  • For the first time since Brandon Minor put on a uniform, I was pleased with the running backs.  Fitz Toussaint had a solid, if somewhat unspectacular game     which I will take any day of the week after last year's series of uninspiring performances.  He seems to have enough speed and agility to be effective, and isn't afraid of contact despite an injury history.  I would have liked to see Shaw get a few more carries, but the long touchdown run should at least keep his name in the discussion for the starting job, and I think with more carries he establishes himself as a possible big play threat in this offense.
  • Having running backs that were productive went a long way toward overshadowing a quietly good day from Robinson running the ball.  Denard had a couple good QB-keepers, as well as an excellent scramble for a first down that no other quarterback in the country is capable of making.  Forty-six yards isn't going to get him on many highlight reels, but he was still enough of a threat to keep the defense honest, and with a full game (and the two more possessions that were taken away by the Herron defensive TDs, not that I'm complaining) Robinson will get more chances to shine in the future.
    • Player(s) of the Game: Fitz Toussaint and Michael Shaw.  After a full year of complaining about the running game, I would be remiss to ignore the first signs of life at that position in over a year.  Hopefully both stay healthy and productive.
Special Teams:
  • Wile isn't going to make anyone forget that Hagerup is suspended, but both his punts were serviceable and his kickoffs were in bounds.  Good enough for me.
  • Speaking of punts, I'm with Brian: bring back the spread punt.
  • For the first time since 2009 the kicking game was only slightly disappointing and not a black pit of despair that I spend a good chunk of Saturday night trying to drink myself out of.  Thank god for small miracles.
  • I don't care how many times Jeremy Gallon returns a punt or kickoff without anything going horribly wrong.  I will never feel comfortable about it.  I've been burned too many times.
Overall I think the offense showed that it will still be effective, if somewhat less explosive than last year, while the defense played well enough to signal a jump in production from apocalyptically bad to average-ish.  So far this is all riding somewhere between "reasonably expected" and "best case scenario".  

The question now is how much can we learn playing a Notre Dame team that put up a stinker in week one against South Florida.  All we know for sure about the Irish right now is that it isn't worthy of being 16th in the polls.  I feel like I am just as bad as Notre Dame nation sometimes.  I expect the inevitable jump back to top-25ish just because.  At least this time it was on the basis of Brian Kelly.

Still, Tommy Rees seems like a better option than Dayne Crist, and Michael Floyd is, as always, terrifying.

At least Stuffing the Passer is going to be good this week.  Speaking of which, did anyone else immediately think of last year's StP where Muppet Kelly started taking medication to combat his anger problems?  One of my favorite StP episodes.  Watch, and you will agree:


I am cautiously optimistic that the offense will be productive, the special teams will be passable, and the defense won't be a flaming bag of dog shit.  I didn't want to predict 8-4 before the season     at least I didn't want to come out and say what I was thinking and thus be held to it after a terrible mid-season collapse     but between the solid play from most positions and the way the defense adjusted to slow down WMU's passing attack, it seems like things might be in place for this team to play solid football and get back to .500-ish in conference.

Even if this is just a pipe dream, it is nice to have football back in my life.

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