There were some jokes at the start of the season that Michigan/Al Borges was only kidding about moving to “Man Ball,” especially after seeing Devin Gardner lined up in the shotgun so often. After the bye week, a new offensive scheme came out featuring a TON of unbalanced offensive line runs. Taylor Lewan lined up at tight end with Michael Schofield alternating between left and right tackle, with A.J. Williams taking Schofield’s spot. Sometimes they even brought in Jake Butt to be an h-back and Sione Houma/Joe Kerridge came in as fullback. It was a lot of big bodies on the field and it was tough for Minnesota to get off blocks to say the least.
Gee, I wonder which way they are going to run.
Devin Gardner had an extremely efficient day, completing 13 of 17 passes for 235 yards and one touchdown and adding 17 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Michigan made sure to take the ball out of his hand and to take the pressure off of him. With only 52 offensive plays, there wasn’t much time to gain yards, but having Gardner throw fewer passes seemed to work very well. I’m not sure it is a permanent solution, but it will definitely help him get his confidence back.
Fitzgerald Toussaint had another efficient day on the ground, adding 17 rushes for 78 yards and two touchdowns. He did a very good job following his blocks and had a ton of room on the field with the unbalanced line. Derrick Green had the most touches he’s had since Central Michigan and looked average at best. He went down awfully easy for a big running back and only gained 23 yards and one touchdown on the ground. If Green continues to get 10 or so touches a game, he will get better, I would think. It’s tough to develop as a player when he hasn’t had hardly any touches in the three games prior to this.
As I said last week, I wondered when Michigan would put Devin Funchess at wide receiver because he is such a mismatch for opposing secondaries. Sure enough, they put him out at wide receiver against Minnesota and he absolutely shredded them. He had 7 catches for 151 yards and a touchdown and was uncoverable. He’s a physical freak and injected some serious life into the passing game. Jeremy Gallon and Jeehu Chesson contributed, 2 receptions for 39 yards and 3 receptions for 33 yards respectively, and the offense looked as good as it had in a few weeks. It certainly wasn’t sexy and it was boring at times, but I’ll take a boring offense that produces points/wins over what has been happening the past few weeks.
The new offensive line certainly looked a lot better than it had previously. Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield were their dominant selves while Kyle Kalis had himself a solid performance. Graham Glasgow wasn’t spectacular, but it was his first start at center of the year and he was considerably better than Jack Miller. Chris Bryant did a good job of pull blocking, but he still looks like he has some work to do. Bryant hasn’t seen much game action in his career at Michigan, so I was encouraged by his performance, but he still has some work to do. A.J. Williams and Jake Butt did a good job blocking, which is a huge improvement from the tight ends blocking performance against UConn. Bottom line, the offensive line helped the offense move the ball and Michigan has zero turnovers in a game for the first time since 2011.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the defense was fantastic again. Sure they may have given up 281 yards, but they only gave up 13 points and managed to get a pick six. Overall the defensive line had a decent day, but only because of the play from the defensive tackles. Jibreel Black and Quinton Washington were productive, while Chris Wormley, Frank Clark and Mario Ojemudia disappeared. The defensive ends weren’t bad, they were merely average, not producing much of anything. The only sack of the day was attributed to Cam Gordon, who lined up at defensive end and linebacker. Ondre Pipkins was having a decent day until he went down with a torn ACL, which is a major blow to the defensive line that is already struggling with depth issues.
Again, the linebacking core was led by Desmond Morgan and James Ross. Both of them absolutely terrorized the Minnesota offense and they combined for 19 tackles and a fumble recovery. Insane. Brennan Beyer had himself a nice game after a horrible outing at UConn and Joe Bolden was once again sub par. You can see that there is a theme growing here. Morgan and Ross are bonafide studs, Beyer is grossly inconsistent and is better suited at defensive end, and Joe Bolden has regressed big time in his second year on the team. Hopefully since Jake Ryan has been cleared to play by doctors that he will be back in the lineup soon.
The secondary was just okay, Blake Countess had an average day with a great pick six and Raymon Taylor and Thomas Gordon were their usual selves. Courtney Avery had another sub par game and I really wonder why Channing Stribling, Jourdan Lewis and Delonte Hollowell aren’t getting any looks with Avery struggling. Jarrod Wilson had his first bad game of the year, but none of it cost Michigan the game. A better pass rush will take more pressure off of the secondary, I feel like a broken record for saying this all the time, but the fact of the matter is this team needs Jake Ryan back.
This next game against Penn State is going to be a big road test. A night game in Happy Valley is going to be extremely loud and the offense is going to need to be firing on all cylinders in order to move the ball. I’m guessing that Michigan will use a similar game plan as they did against Minnesota and that they will try to control the ball a lot. Hopefully Michigan can get to Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg, because if they give him too much time, he will tear the secondary a part.
[Photos via: ESPN]