|Devin Gardner wears cliched quarterback #98 (image via Times Union)|
Ugliest interception ever? I don't think I've ever seen a Michigan quarterback throw a more ill advised, damaging interception than the one Gardner threw. Late in the game he retreated into his own endzone, got wrapped up by blitzing safety Austin Collinsworth, twisted around uncomfortably, and tried to heave the ball (to no one in particular?) as he was being flung to the ground. Mammoth defensive end Stephon Tuitt made a diving interception as the duck floated to the ground in the endzone, and suddenly Notre Dame was within four points.
Jeremy Gallon for the #1. The #21 jersey is nice and everything, but Gallon is everything you would want in a #1 receiver - speed, good hands, leaping ability, game-changing plays, blocking, toughness, etc. He won't be a first round pick, but 8 catches for 184 yards and 3 touchdowns against Notre Dame - on top of what he has already achieved - is worthy of that jersey. The problem with the #1, apparently, is that players have to prove their worth at least one season before their final year in Ann Arbor, and it's greatly dependent on the quarterback throwing him the ball. If Gardner had been the quarterback for the entirety of 2012, Gallon might be wearing the hallowed jersey of Anthony Carter, David Terrell, and Braylon Edwards instead of Desmond Howard's.
Here comes Blake Countess. Countess finished the game with 6 tackles and 2 interceptions. The second interception, which bounced off Raymon Taylor's knee and popped up into the air, was a right-place-right-time kind of play that sealed the game for Michigan. The first one involved Countess coming off his flat receiver to jump into the throwing lane of Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees; he followed that up with a 30-yard return that showed good speed, vision, and cutback ability. The last Michigan player to make 2 picks in one game was cornerback James Rogers against Purdue in 2010.
The offensive line struggled as expected. Notre Dame blitzed often, and they put pressure and hits on Gardner repeatedly; Michigan also struggled to run the ball. The running backs combined for just 24 carries and 71 yards, which is almost 3.0 yards/carry. I thought the guards were the weakest links. Both had problems with picking up linebackers in Notre Dame's 3-4 defense. Fighting Irish nose tackle Louis Nix was his dominant self (4 tackles, 1 tackle for loss) and got penetration consistently, and left tackle Taylor Lewan had his hands full with Tuitt, although Tuitt's only entry into the box score was that interception for a touchdown. I would say Notre Dame won the battle up front, but Gardner scrambled and ran the option well enough to get the edge frequently (13 carries, 82 yards, 1 touchdown). Michigan has to improve along the front five, but that's probably the best defensive front they'll face all season.
Gardner and the #98. Before the game, Gardner was announced as the recipient of the #98 Legends jersey, previously worn by Heisman winner Tom Harmon. It bugs me a little bit that Gardner's #12 jersey won't have a chance of joining Michigan's pantheon of Legends jersey numbers, but there's no better representative on the current team than Gardner. He was 21/33 for 294 yards, 4 touchdowns, and 1 interception, to go along with those rushing yards above. Aside from two balls thrown into the dirt and that terrible interception, Gardner was on point throughout.
Michigan needs to blitz. Rees mostly did a good job of seeing the blitz, audibling appropriately, and getting rid of the ball. Michigan notched just 1 sack (by Brennen Beyer) and got little pressure on him throughout the night. Through two games, I just don't think Michigan's defensive linemen can get to the quarterback consistently enough without sending at least one additional blitzer. Zone blitzes are probably the way to go, because while Michigan's corners can cover well enough, the safeties and linebackers leave a little to be desired in man coverage. The pass defense, which allowed 314 yards, was not stellar. And while Rees's 29/51 effort wasn't great, running back George Atkinson dropped about three balls, and wide receiver T.J. Jones missed another one or two, perhaps because he appeared to injure both shoulders in the span of about three plays.
The weapon that is Devin Gardner. Good ol' sandbaggin' Al Borges rolled out the pistol formation, which had been rumored to be Michigan's new wrinkle this year with
Eminem's halftime interview. I like some of Eminem's music, but I'm halfway embarrassed that the two biggest modern "pop culture" representatives of the state of Michigan, Detroit, etc. are Eminem and Kid Rock. Marshall Mathers's interview with Brent Musburger and Kirk Herbstreit was one of the more awkward television interviews you'll see, because . . . well . . . that's Eminem. He likes the attention.
What does this mean for the season? Michigan just beat a national championship game participant from last season, so that's cool. I thought Notre Dame sort of lucked into that game, but that's neither here nor there. Michigan has shown they can play with just about anyone on their schedule. They should be favored in every contest except perhaps Ohio State.