Saturday, September 18, 2010

U-M/UMass Reaction: All About Defense

Why has it been that the last two Michigan wins have felt like losses?

Last week against Notre Dame I was so wiped out from that last ten minutes of the game that I could barely celebrate. This week was a little different.

I was listening to podcasts this week, reading articles, and got myself ready for the fact that the University of Massachusetts - a Football Championship Subdivision (Division I-A is a Football Bowl School, or FBS) - is actually a pretty good team. They are part of the Colonial Athletic Association - just like James Madison, who upset Virginia Tech AT Virginia Tech last week. Four years ago they played Appalachian State in the national championship game - right before the winner of that championship played in Ann Arbor and football was never the same. UMass was 2-0 this season, even beating the former #4 team in the FCS: William and Mary.

I was ready for a good Minutemen team to come into Michigan Stadium. Was Michigan's defense?

The Wolverine defense gave up 439 yards of offense to UMass, most of which came from running backs Jonathan Hernandez and John Griffin. Even quarterback Kyle Havens had a stellar game, picking apart the Wolverine secondary and showing they were a freshman and sophomore secondary. He went 22-for-29 with 222 yards and 2 touchdowns.

I was thrilled initially to find out that UMass is a primary rushing team, with Hernandez and Griffin. But I was quickly dismayed when both of them were finding all the holes in the world to rush through. Both of them combined had over 200 yards rushing.

If the Michigan defense is having this much trouble on all parts of the defense, then how is it going to fare when a team like Michigan State comes to town, with their very potent offense? The defense made good steps last week, but this week it seemed to take a step back.

Fortunately, the Michigan running backs had great games and helped make the offense a layered threat, instead of just the wonder and majesty of Denard Robinson leading that side of the team. Michael Shaw especially made his mark, with 126 yards of offense and (finally!) a few breaks through the line. It seemed like whenever Shaw rushed, he always got stopped at the line. Today he was finally getting some yards after that. I'm unsure if it was getting ripped by RichRod before the game, or that the linesmen had a great game. Maybe it was both.

Do you say that Denard Robinson had an average game? He only had 361 yards of total offense this game. But I saw him stay in the pocket a lot more and complete some very nice passes. After the first 28 minutes of the game, where the Michigan offense looked like it hadn't woken up yet, the offense looked fine.

But alas, another problem arises. The kicking team. I never thought I'd be as distraught with our kicking/punting unit than I did when Hayden Epstein left Michigan. But it's getting really close, especially since every kicker we've put out there hasn't been the reliable kicker we'd hope to have. Will Hagerup, our punter, still seems very scared when punting - going for only 33 yards in one punt and getting blocked, too. When are we going to see those two positions get off the ground? Will we have to go to the Michigan soccer team and recruit from there?

I checked out our opponent for next week - Bowling Green - and they are currently 0-2. Hopefully that will be a good warm-up for our team next week. What we need to happen is for everything to go right: the defense allows fewer than 200 yards and accomplish tons of sacks, fumbles, and interceptions. The kicking unit gets all the time in the world to set up and kick beautiful PATs and field goals. The punter doesn't freak out. And Denard gets to play five series and then sit and relax for the rest of the game. We really need for a few of those dreams to happen next week - because if we have another nailbiter, we'll be down to our knuckles once the Big Ten season begins in October.

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