Yesterday was most certainly not a pretty effort by the Michigan defense. Quite honestly, I thought it was my freshman year of college and I had been sucked into some kind of sick and twisted time warp world, where our defense is still blatantly horrendous. The triple option gives many teams fits, always has, always will. That’s why teams that have trouble recruiting, such as the service academies, choose to use it. That being said, under no circumstances should our defense ever give up 417 yards of offense to Air Force, along with 25 points. I was also concerned with the amount of true freshmen that were on the field; again. Especially when Joe Bolden replaced Kenny Demens at middle linebacker. I said earlier that it would be tough to keep Bolden off the field because he was such a great playmaker. The issue is, I don’t know if I’m comfortable with a true freshmen replacing a redshirt senior. If the coaches think that it’s what’s best, than great, but Demens was Michigan’s leading tackler last year, he’s no slouch. It’s just going to be tough for an 18-year-old when the Big Ten schedule comes around.
That being said, I was very impressed with Bolden’s play; he finished with 10 tackles. He moved well, wrapped up well and was decisive with his decisions. Jake Ryan and Frank Clark also had big games yesterday. They had big motors and were all over the field, particularly Ryan, who had 12 tackles and a huge pass break-up at the end. Ryan really looked like he deserved Bennie Oosterbaan’s legacy jersey; a number he was officially awarded yesterday. The defensive line looked extremely shaky again, and had a tough time getting a push against a much smaller Falcon’s offensive line. Can’t say much about the secondary one way or the other, since Air Force’s passing game was non-existent; but there were a few times where a guy got wide open behind the safeties, which was very unsettling. Blake Countess is going to be greatly missed down the road, and I hope that Raymon Taylor playing over Courtney Avery means that he will be the guy going forward. Taylor is far better in man coverage, even though he is smaller in stature.
The lack of a run defense just means that going forward, team’s will continue to be run heavy against us. Which especially favors teams like Michigan State, who have a shaky, unproven quarterback; but a workhorse runningback. It wouldn’t surprise me even a little bit if MSU gave Le’Veon Bell the ball 50 times against Michigan, and Bell ripped off 200 yards. They’re gonna have to figure something out and fast, or it will be problematic. Either way, the defense will continue to be a work in progress and the only certainty going forward is the fact that the best players will play, even if it’s a true freshmen; there will be few redshirts given out this year.
Now, onto the offense. Obviously they were going to look better; they have superior talent and speed. Having Denard run the ball 21 times, just proves to me that my theory was right, they didn’t run him against Alabama more because they didn’t want him to get hurt. You can still win the Big Ten with the loss to Alabama, but you aren’t winning jack squat if Denard had gotten broken in half during that game. The offensive line still looked shaky and Fitzgerald Toussaint looked rusty to say the least. The Big House Stadium PA announcer Carl Grapentine left his mic on after one play accidentally and said it best, “man he can’t do anything today.” A shaky offensive and defensive line will continue to spell trouble for this team, and worries me. Fitz is going to need to get his act together because Denard can’t account for over 100% of our yards every game; he’s going to get worn out or worse.
The one major bright spot was Devin Funchess. I saw on Twitter that people have declared his nickname to be “The Funchise,” which is a badass nickname. After seeing him in the game against Alabama, I was wondering if he would get some more looks, but he didn’t get anything his way until the Air Force game. He finished with 4 receptions for 106 yards and a TD, but he had a huge impact on one drive in the second quarter, where he had 3 receptions for 80 yards and a TD. It was certainly his coming out party, and he is the first tight end, since Jerame Tuman in 1997, to go over 100 yards receiving. This is huge. He can be a major mismatch against linebackers, and he gives a boost to the receiving corps that Michigan has. Needless to say, I was a fan when I saw him wearing #19, but he won me over with his look back catch that he bobbled and then reeled it in with one hand; I am a huge Funchess fan. Since Roy Roundtree and Jeremy Gallon were nonexistent on Saturday (2 catches for 12 yard between them), it was great to see Funchess step up and Gardner continue his production.
(Oh wow, he’s fast)
Another fun fact of the day, Denard accounted for 426 total yards of offense, and because taking a knee is credited as a minus rush for the team, the team only accounted for 422 yards of offense; meaning Denard actually accounted for 101% of the total offense. This is cool, but completely unsettling. Our offense has gotten more one-dimensional this year, and as big of a playmaker Denard is (I mean he had a 59 yard TD run with one shoe), he needs support. Fitz needs to run better and the receivers need to step up. Denard also needs to improve his accuracy, because 14/25 against Air Force is not exactly something to write home about. I’m not going to blame him for the interception because that went off Vincent Smith’s hands and should have been caught, but things need to start clicking. This team is a work in progress and is going to need to use Massachusetts as one last tune up before playing another big game against Notre Dame.
As I said before the Alabama game, this is going to be a backtracking year for this team. They will not go 11-1, and next year without Denard will probably be even worse. Rich Rod left the cupboard pretty bare talent wise, and so the Michigan fan base needs to be patient with Brady Hoke and his staff, because a Big Ten Championship will be tough to get these next two years. Granted the Big Ten looked like complete crap this weekend (half of the teams lost), I still would not get my hopes up. Expect 8 wins this year and next year, and if they get it, great, and if they do better it’s a pleasant surprise. We just need patience this time around; Hoke and his staff are the right men for the job.
In other news, the bad poll of the week goes to Cleveland Plain Dealer writer Doug Lesmerises, congrats buddy.