Ugh. Watching the highlights of this game all day Sunday and on and off this week has killed me inside. The only good thing is that the major difference between the two teams was simple, and can be summed up in one word. Experience. Michigan brought 17 true freshman on the trip with them, and 12 of them played. Think about that for a second, 12 true freshman played their first collegiate football game against the second best, if not the best, team in the country. I’d be shocked if Alabama played more true freshman other than runningback TJ Yeldon; Yeldon will also be a first round pick in three years, the kid is an absolute stud. That experience they have is an extra 2+ years in the weight room, extra time watching film, practicing, playing college football. Michigan was literally pushed around the whole field, and as I said in my season preview, the trenches are where football games are won.
(Every Michigan Defensive Snap)
On top of that, Blake Countess tore his ACL after Michigan’s first offensive series, significantly downgrading the secondary. Michigan had to run more zone defense in the secondary, which allowed for far more open space for receivers, and made it even easier to run the ball. The offensive line for Alabama, the best in the country, pushed around the inexperienced Michigan defensive line, and then made it even worse when they made it to the second level of the defense, and TJ Yeldon had one of the easier debuts you could have against a non 1-AA football team. Not that Yeldon had to do a whole lot. With three All-Americans and an Outland Trophy Winner (Barrett Jones) on the offensive line, going up against one returning starter, running the ball will be easy for pretty much anyone.
(Every Michigan Offensive Snap)
Experience, size, strength, all made Alabama’s job easier. Their size on the defensive line caused Denard to resort back to his sophomore year passing ability. Right Tackle Michael Schofield got beat on the right side of the line like he stole something, and Left Tackle Taylor Lewan resorted back to his Rich Rodriguez form and two major penalties. I mean, woof.
Another, obviously, crippling factor for the offense was the lack of Fitzgerald Toussaint. Al Borges has continued to say that he wouldn’t change their game plan and quite frankly he’s right. They didn’t run Denard more than a few times and I personally believe they didn’t do so because they didn’t want him to get hurt. Keep in mind that they can still win a Big Ten Championship after losing this game, and that keeps one of their goals intact. If Denard had gotten hurt running the ball too many times against the bigger, stronger defense, then you know the season is done. And quite honestly, when he went to tackle Milliner after that interception, I thought the season was over. And when Russell Bellomy got to throw his first career pass, he made sure to reassure the fan base of his skills by throwing an interception. The coaching staff knows what’s best for the team, and that’s protecting Denard, especially when they were out of the game before halftime.
One of the bright spots was Devin Gardner at receiver. Sure he looked completely raw, but the fact that he could get open more than a few times against a superior team, gives me confidence that he can develop even more later this season. It remains to be seen how much more he can develop, but given how thin the receiving corps is, it is reassuring that we don’t have to have true freshman start there; not yet at least.
On that play, it was a classic Denard throw, right off his back foot. It floats high up in the air and after Dee Milliner ran some bump and run coverage on Roy Roundtree and tossed him out-of-bounds, Milliner was golden. It looks like pass interference, but in college you can have contact with the receiver basically as much as you want until the ball is in the air. You can see during the return, just how outmatched the Michigan team was. I swear half the offense got pancaked on the return, and I was convinced that Denard had a separated shoulder, if not a broken collarbone on his throwing arm, both of which would have set this team on a path for a 5-7 season.
My biggest pet peeve with Denard is the throw off his back foot. That throw that causes the ball to float in the air, to fly over a receivers head, or have just zero zip on it and so it just hangs in the air so the defender can catch up and get back into position. Teams will take notice that this happens every time that there is pressure. Many teams are going to take note of this tape and try to utilize it to their advantage. Maybe with the threat of a running game, instead of relying on a true sophomore to carry the load, would have changed the amount of pressure, but playing the “what if” game will drive you insane. That being said, a 50% completion percentage against Alabama isn’t bad, it’s just not going to give you a shot to win, they’re just that good. I would also like to see Denard scramble more when there is pressure and no one is open, use your best asset, man.
(He merely pretends to step into this throw, and IT’S A FLOATER)
On a different note, props to Michigan State Head Coach Mark Dantonio for how he handled what was being said on Twitter. Sure, Michigan was getting hammered, but he said it best, “I didn’t see much difference when we played Alabama a couple of years ago. Our guys need to keep their mouths shut, especially the ones who aren’t playing.” Kudos to him for speaking the truth and thinking exactly what I was going to say. Hate your rival, but State shouldn’t get ahead of themselves or over-confident, Alabama would shred them too. Alabama should shred everyone en route to a matchup with USC for the National Championship.