This was the most pleased I’ve been with a season opener in a while. The play of the young players, particularly the freshmen, was simply outstanding. The game was pure domination from start to finish on both sides of the ball. Not having to punt until the 4th quarter was awesome, though it would have been nice to cut down on some of those turnovers. These are the types of drive charts you want to see after a game:
Devin Gardner didn’t have that great of a game and looked rusty at times, but he was 4/4 for 73 yards on 3rd down, meaning he made all the throws when he had to. Gardner showed off his arm and his athleticism, going 10/15 for 162 yards, 1 TD and 2 INTs with 7 rushes for 52 yards and 2 TDs. He definitely picked up where he left off last year, though the turnovers were not good on his part. The start of the game felt like Al Borges was trolling everyone all summer by saying they would change the offense and then they came out in the exact same thing as last year. Eventually they shifted to the power run game and that’s when they started to control the game more and reduced the mistakes. When Shane Morris came in, I was pleased with what I saw. I didn’t expect much because I figured he would be very nervous, but after he got his first pass out of the way, he calmed down and stood in the pocket very well. He ended up going 4/6 for 59 yards and 1 INT; and the pick wasn’t even his fault. He definitely has a bright future if he continues to make strides in the right direction.
It was tough to see Drake Johnson go down with a torn ACL after winning the backup running back job, but at least the Wolverines have a young stable of backs. Fitzgerald Toussaint looked solid in his first action back healthy, putting up 57 yards and 2 TDs on 14 rushes. I was far more impressed with Derrick Green, who put up 58 yards on 11 rushes and added a touchdown. The only problem Green had was when he tried to bounce the ball outside because he doesn’t have the speed necessary to break open any big runs. When Green ran inside the tackles, he looked very good and was a punishing runner as expected. De’Veon Smith, Thomas Rawls, and Justice Hayes didn’t show much, but Rawls was the best of those three in my opinion. Smith looked indecisive, but that’s not totally surprising considering he is a true freshman and was playing in his first game.
The wide receivers and tight ends looked pretty good considering how few paces they threw throughout the game. Obviously Devin Funchess and Jeremy Gallon were the top two guys and their performance was expected, along with a strong contribution from Drew Dileo. The big surprise for me was the play of Joe Reynolds. Reynolds returned a punt block for a touchdown and he caught a pass for 45 yards that set up the team at the two-yard line for the easy score. Jeehu Chesson did a great job run blocking, but was held without a catch. Hopefully he will be able to contribute against Notre Dame, because the offense is going to need all the weapons it can get.
The offensive line did really well throughout the day, with the exception of Michael Schofield who was a disappointment. He’s a pass blocking tackle and the running game was not good for him. Graham Glasgow held his own at left guard, while Taylor Lewan and Kyle Kalis dominated. The jury is still out on Jack Miller and hopefully there will be more questions answered about it when they play Notre Dame this weekend.
Oh my Kyle Kalis pancake.
The defense was simply outstanding. I loved Greg Mattison’s playcalling, I’m a huge fan of running a base 4-3 and then moving to a 4-2-5 nickel on passing downs. I was very pleased with the performance of the secondary and the defensive line, the dominance by the linebackers was expected.
Because of the spread passing offense that was run, Quinton Washington and Ondre Pipkins had a lot of their playing time cut which didn’t help them add experience unfortunately. That being said, Keith Heitzman, Jibreel Black, Mario Ojemudia, Frank Clark and Chris Wormley all played really well. I was particularly pleased with the play of Ojemudia and Wormley; the playing time was crucial for their development. Both of them looked extremely quick off the ball and Ojemudia looks like a perfect fit to play on the weakside.
Linebacker wise I was extremely pleased with their play as a group. Joe Bolden and Desmond Morgan were great in the middle, and Morgan was an absolute monster. Cam Gordon had the best game of his career in a Michigan uniform and it was great to see. Not only because he was replacing Jake Ryan, but because he’s a 5th year senior that has had a rough go of it throughout his career. Brennan Beyer also tore it up on the outside, and Beyer and Gordon were a deadly rotation. Beyer showed some great experience and he was far more athletic than I ever expected for a guy moving from defensive end to linebacker. James Ross had a quietly solid day and true freshman Ben Gedeon looked like a child prodigy out there. The linebacking core is easily the strongest unit that Michigan has, and this game against Central merely reinforced that.
The secondary was a bit of a concern for me prior to game time once it was announced that Thomas Gordon would be suspended for one game. Josh Furman ended up starting at safety and there is no doubt in my mind that he is meant to purely be a backup. Blake Countess and Raymon Taylor looked like a fantastic starting pair on the outside, but I was most pleased with the play of Channing Stribling. Stribling proved in his first game action in college that this guy is the real deal. His size and athleticism were a perfect fit on the outside and he did a helluva job. Josh Wilson also performed very well, and removed any concerns that Brady Hoke gave me leading up to the game. Once this team gets Courtney Avery and Thomas Gordon back, they will be rock solid on the back end. Dymonte Thomas didn’t play much on defense, but his first career collegiate snap resulted in him blocking a punt that was returned for a touchdown. If that doesn’t get you excited about a kids potential, then I don’t know what will. The other defensive back that gave me cause for concern other than Furman was Delonte Hollowell. He’s a junior and he had some missed tackles and didn’t look good in coverage. The only thing that I would change is for Michigan to run less zone coverage. A lot of times on third downs the safeties played deep zone coverage and Central was able to make plays underneath to get the first down.
There’s not much to talk about special teams wise other than the fact that Dennis Norfleet looked good returning kicks and punts with the exception of the one punt that he fell on and then fumbled. He will get better with time and there is no denying his explosiveness.
I cannot wait for the second Notre Dame game under the lights. Still can’t believe it is the last time for at least 10 years that Notre Dame will be in the Big House. I pray that Michigan gets the job done.
All photos courtesy of MGoBlog