Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Sugar Bowl: Michigan 23, Virginia Tech 20

Troy Woolfolk's helmet is thrust in the air under a downpour of confetti
(image via BTN)

Wow, that was an exciting game.  And not in a good way . . . except for the fact that Michigan won.  That was Michigan's ugliest win of the season and it took some lucky calls to go the Wolverines' way.

The offense disappeared. Yikes. Denard Robinson had 13 carries for 13 yards.  Fitzgerald Toussaint had 13 carries for 30 yards.  Altogether, Michigan ran the ball 30 times for 56 yards, or 1.9 yards per attempt.  Robinson completed 9/21 passes for 117 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 1 pick.  It was a bad night.  As I was laying out the Virginia Tech position previews over the past couple weeks, people kept commenting on how I was overrating the Hokies.  They are pretty good.  Maybe Michigan fans will understand that now.

Michigan got lucky.  The guys in the winged helmets played hard-nosed football at times last night, but ultimately, they got very  lucky on numerous occasions.  Two Jayron Hosley interceptions were negated, one because the ball hit the ground and one because he yanked on Jeremy Gallon's jersey and got called for pass interference; he almost had another pick when he jumped a Junior Hemingway hitch route.  Free safety Eddie Whitley let two interceptions go right through his hands, including Hemingway's 45-yard touchdown catch.  On top of Robinson's one interception, he almost threw four  more . . . and on only 21 attempts.  Aside from the near-interceptions, Hokies wide receiver Danny Coales caught what might have been the game-winning touchdown pass, only to have it overturned because the nose of the ball hit the ground; it was probably the right call, but it could have very easily remained a touchdown after the replay booth took a look at it.

We're going to miss Junior Hemingway.  That guy doesn't get the ball very often, but he makes huge plays. He only had 2 catches on the night, but they went for 63 total yards . . . and 2 touchdowns.  Nobody else even sniffed the endzone.  Roy Roundtree makes some big catches once in awhile, but he hasn't been nearly the receiver that he was in 2010.  Michigan needs a youngster to step up next year, whether it will be a redshirt sophomore Jerald Robinson or a freshman Jehu Chesson.  Hemingway was the obvious pick for Sugar Bowl MVP, at least on Michigan's side.

We missed are going to miss David Molk.  I started off the game being extremely frustrated.  Starting center David Molk, who happened to win the Rimington Trophy this season for being the nation's best player at his position, sat out the beginning of the game after injuring his lower leg during pregame.  Backup Rocko Khoury combined with Robinson to have two bad snaps on Michigan's first three plays.  Both snaps were catchable but slightly off target, and the second one was a bullet to boot.  I can't put all the blame on either player, but when you have one starter for the entire season and even up to pregame of the bowl game, it's somewhat understandable that there will be some snap issues when the backup has to start the bowl game.  Molk returned after the first offensive series and the snap issues disappeared, although he looked gimpy for the entire game.  Michigan's lack of a running game may have been partly due to Molk's injury, but I'll have to watch the game again to see what the real issues were.

That's what true athletes look like in the secondary.  Michigan lined up in Cover 0 and got torched.  Virginia lined up in Cover 0 and got sacks.  The Wolverines' cornerbacks and safeties just aren't fast enough and athletic enough to lock up with decent receivers on a regular basis.  It's frustrating to watch, but J.T. Floyd, Blake Countess, Troy Woolfolk, Jordan Kovacs, Courtney Avery, and Thomas Gordon aren't the same caliber of athletes that the Hokies put out there.  Countess is going to be good, I believe, but he's hit a rough patch here at the end of the season.  Watching Hosley, Whitley, Antoine Exum, and Kyle Fuller fly around the field was a bit of a wake-up call and shows how far Michigan has to go.  Hosley alone had 4 pass breakups.

Everyone's expectations for Frank Clark just doubled.  The freshman defensive end made a highlight-reel interception when he leaped to knock down a Logan Thomas pass and came down with the pick.  I mentioned in the preview that I thought he would play quite a bit with defensive tackle Will Heininger out, and that came to fruition.  He seemed like a man without a position when he came out of high school, but it looks like he'll be a good one for the next few years.

Tackling was an issue.  Michigan's tackling has been so good this year that I'm going to assume this game was a bit of a fluke, but Michigan missed numerous tackles.  And some of the guys who were whiffing are normally very good tacklers, like Jordan Kovacs and Kenny Demens.  It's understandable to whiff on David Wilson or get run over by the 6'5", 254 lb. Logan Thomas, but Michigan was missing tackles on Danny Coales, Josh Oglesby, etc.  It was a bad time to have a poor night of tackling, but luckily it didn't hurt the Wolverines in the win column.

Red zone defense was huge.  For whatever reason, Michigan really buckles down in the red zone.  As the announcers mentioned last night, Michigan was #2 in the Big Ten and #4 in the country at stopping opponents in the red zone.  Virginia Tech had long drive after long drive and ended the game with 377 yards (Michigan had 184), 22 first downs (Michigan had 12), and 76 offensive snaps (Michigan had 52) . . . but it doesn't matter so much when you have to settle for field goals instead of touchdowns.

Brendan Gibbons to the rescue.  I don't think anyone - including me - expected Gibbons to be so reliable this year.  But in the Sugar Bowl he went 3/3 on field goals (from 24, 37, and 39 yards out), including the game-winning 37-yarder, and 2/2 on extra points.  And for the entire year, he went 13/17 on field goal attempts and 54/55 on extra points.  Bravo to him.


  1. Nebraska?

    Virginia Tech!

  2. @ Anonymous 12:45 p.m.

    LOL. I started writing that post at about 4:30 in the morning, so I apologize. I'm dumb in the morning. And the afternoon. And at night. But I'm really smart right after dinner.

  3. Nice post.

    Regarding missing Hemingway...I disagree we necessarily need a younger player to step up at WR. Stonum, Roundtree, Gallon will almost certainly be the primary receivers. I don't think anyone, including underclassmen, is going to replace Hemingway's jump ball ability, so I agree he will be sorely missed. Roundtree and Gallon may be decent at it, but Hemingway has no only great instincts, but also excellent strength.

    Stonum's speed isn't as useful because Denard isn't very accurate, so getting a step or two on your CB gets negated. For this reason, too, I think VaTech's secondary, while good and fast, probably looked better than they are yesterday.

    In 2013 we need the young guys to step up, but the road to WR playing time remains blocked by quality upperclassmen in 2012.

  4. @ Thunder

    Nice wrap up and I agree with what you have written here. I do believe that Frank Clark has a tremendous upside, but his limited action still has me wondering whether he can be a big playmaker, or just a solid backup. I don't think we have seen enough of him to make that judgement.

    Do you think that a good offseason and Spring ball will allow Khoury and Robinson to get close to the same level as he and Molk have? Or do you see one of the true freshmen stepping in and making the line?

    As for Hemingway I completely agree. There are only two scenarios where we will not miss him. 1) If Denard learns to throw an accurate ball from the pocket
    2) If we switch to using the slot receiver or Tight End for almost all passing plays.
    We will definitely lose that guy who will make a play on the ball when it is just a toss up.

  5. Does anyone see Borges working Gardner into the offense some more next year?

  6. We can expect freshman like Countess, Morgan, Clark to be significantly better next year. People like Taylor and Rock may also move up the depth chart. The back 7 will need to do a lot of improving to make up for RVB & Martin being gone, but it's not impossible for the defensive performance to hold steady at around 30-40th in the nation (based on opponent yards per play ranking). Prob not enough to beat 'Bama without a healthy dose of luck, but hopefully enough to contend for a conference championship.

  7. @ Lankownia 1:13 p.m.

    If Denard Robinson keeps relying on throwing jump balls into double coverage and winging it around off his back foot, we're most certainly going to need somebody else to step up. Gallon and Stonum aren't leapers, and Roundtree pulls one down on occasion...but a lot of those prayers to Hemingway are going to turn into incompletions or interceptions.

  8. @ Nick 1:45 p.m.

    I think Khoury and Robinson will be able to get on the same page if they get enough reps together. But there's always a chance that somebody else takes the center job from Khoury, whether it's Ricky Barnum or Jack Miller. I don't think a true freshman is going to play center, though. It will Khoury, Barnum, Miller, or possibly Mealer in a pinch. Freshmen just aren't ready to play center; there's too much going on.

  9. @Thunder,

    Gallon and Roundtree may not be 'leapers' but comments from the team and coaches (and evidence from ND game at least) indicate they're the best jump ball guys around. Being tall helps of course, but timing and instincts matter as well. None of them are Hemingway. In all liklihood - neither are the incoming freshman, even if they're physically more similar, they're going to be behind in every other aspect that gets WR playing time (blocking, knowing routes, speed, etc.) Which brings me to my point:

    Denard's going to have to stop doing that. And Borges needs to put him in a position where he stops being tempted to do it. Hemingway won't be around to bail him out, so the success rate is bound to decrease.

    That said, in most cases where he does the jump ball thing, the cost of the INT, relative to punting, has been small.

  10. After our cornerback play the past couple of games, I would have been really nervous if we had played Houston in a bowl game.