Sunday, September 12, 2010

Michigan 28, Notre Dame 24

Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson ran for a billion yards on Saturday.

Yesterday was such a roller coaster of emotions throughout the game.

- Low: Michigan's defense sucks as Notre Dame QB Dayne Crist marches down the field for an opening-drive TD.
- High: This Denard kid is pretty good.
- Higher: Crist is hurt. Maybe Michigan has a chance!
- Highest: Denard Robinson runs 87 yards for a touchdown.
- Low: Why are all three guys with a deep third gathered in the middle of the field at the end of the half?
- High: Michigan is up by two touchdowns at halftime.
- Low: Dayne Crist is back.
- Lower: Crist throws a 53-yard touchdown pass to T.J. Jones.
- Lowestest: Crist throws a 95-yard touchdown pass to TE Kyle Rudolph over the head of FS Cam Gordon.
- High: This Denard kid is really good.
- Low: Cullen Christian's hero must be Shawn Crable.
- Coasting into the station: Dayne Crist throws an airball with :00 on the clock.

It was such a relief when the game was over. I was expecting a loss, but the thing about predicting a loss is that I'm either justified in my prediction . . . or I'm ecstatic that Michigan won. And I'd much rather see the Wolverines win than be right.

There were so many things that Michigan fans learned yesterday about their team, and I'll try to touch on a few of them here:

Denard Robinson is really, really good. Notre Dame's defense made a distinct attempt to stop him. He still ran for 258 yards (a Big Ten record for a QB) on 28 attempts (9.2 yards per carry), including an 87-yard touchdown and the 2-yard game-winner. The Fighting Irish have an experienced defense and run a 3-4 scheme that isn't seen much in college, but Robinson was also able to throw for 244 yards on 24/44 passing (55%) (EDIT: Reader MH20 pointed out that Denard was 24/40 for a 60% completion rate) against three seniors and a sophomore in the defensive backfield.

Michigan's running backs are not. Notre Dame keyed on Robinson and geared themselves to stop him in the run game. Still, running backs Vincent Smith (7 carries, 17 yards, 2.4 average) and Michael Shaw (5 carries, 12 yards, 2.4 average) were ineffective. These kids will take what's given to them, but they don't create yards for themselves. This seems to be an ongoing position battle, and hopefully running back recruits like Demetrius Hart recognize that the presence of a quarterback like Robinson should give them plenty of opportunities to get in space. After two weeks, Robinson is averaging 28.5 carries per game. That's too much for a sturdy running back, let alone a 194 lb. quarterback.

Michigan's receivers have stepped up. The only true drop I remember came from tight end Kevin Koger on a rollout pass early in the game. Otherwise, players like Darryl Stonum (4 for 33), Roy Roundtree (8 for 82 and 1 touchdown), and Martavious Odoms (7 for 91) made some highly contested catches throughout the game. If Robinson throws the ball within reasonable reach of Michigan's wideouts, they're going to catch it.

Cameron Gordon has a target on his back. Most or all of Notre Dame's big plays were the result of Cameron Gordon's inexperience and/or lack of natural talent. Luckily for Michigan, this Notre Dame team represented perhaps the most dangerous passing team on the Wolverines' 2010 schedule. But other teams will be forced to take note of Gordon's mistakes. There were numerous times where receivers ran past him or he lost track of them (the TD pass to Jones, the long pass to Riddick at the end of the first half, the 95-yard TD to Rudolph). I don't think it's a coincidence that Brian Kelly gameplanned to attack the redshirt freshman wide receiver-turned-safety. This is the reason that I lobbied for Troy Woolfolk to remain at deep safety back in the spring. Obviously, a broken ankle would have sidelined Woolfolk no matter what position he was playing, but you can't convince me that a Big Ten sprinter of Woolfolk's caliber would have been outrun by a 265 lb. tight end to the end zone. I would not be entirely surprised to see a player with more speed (perhaps Carvin Johnson or Marvin Robinson) take over the FS position in the coming years. I don't want to see him benched, but I think Gordon would fit better at Bandit or Spur.

Jonas Mouton is blossoming in this defense. He led the team with 13 tackles and also picked off a flea-flicker pass. He did miss some tackles on the elusive and speedy Armando Allen, but I can't say that I blame him - Allen could be a special college running back if used correctly. Overall, Mouton showed the play recognition and discipline to be a force for the remainder of the season.

The pass rush needs to improve. Through two games, Michigan's only sack has come from backup Spur Thomas Gordon, who started in place of the injured Carvin Johnson. Michigan frequently used a three-man rush in an attempt to get to the quarterback, and it repeatedly failed. That three-man rush often consisted of nose tackle Mike Martin, defensive end Ryan Van Bergen, and linebacker Craig Roh playing in a three-point stance. At 251 lbs. Craig Roh can't stand up to being double-teamed in the pass rush. Against a single offensive lineman, I'll take Roh to win that matchup a majority of the time. If a second lineman comes to help, Roh will get planted on his butt, which happened several times on Saturday. Ultimately, you play to win the game (thanks, Herm Edwards!), and Michigan did that. But the Wolverines also gave up 381 yards passing.

Tate Forcier is being a good teammate. There were questions last week about his behavior on the sideline after freshman Devin Gardner was inserted instead of Forcier. Forcier was shown giving Coach Rodriguez a hug prior to kickoff, he warmed up congenially when Gardner was inserted for one play, and he was shown cheering on his team over and over again. At least publicly, Forcier looks as though he learned a bit of a lesson from the media blowback last weekend.

You might hate me for saying this, but Notre Dame would have won the game if not for Dayne Crist's injury. Crist is only a sophomore, but he performed much better than his two replacements (Tommy Rees, Nate Montana) who had never played an FBS snap before. When Crist was available, Notre Dame outscored Michigan 24-7. Rees and Montana went 8/19 for 104 yards and 2 interceptions in Crist's stead. Crist was 13/25 for 277 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 1 interception, in addition to a rushing touchdown. Crist missed about 26 minutes of the game. If the Irish kept up that same rate of scoring (24 points per 34 minutes of Crist's availability), they would have scored about 42 points in the game. Despite Denard Robinson's heroics and record-setting performance, all may have been for naught if Crist remained healthy. Injuries are a part of the game, but I think Michigan fans should recognize that the Wolverines got a bit lucky yesterday.

Denard Robinson is the clear-cut Heisman leader right now. Robinson has 885 total yards (455 rushing, 430 passing) and 5 touchdowns through two games. He also hasn't turned over the ball once, and his team is 2-0. In addition, while several other Heisman candidates have played patsies at least once in the first two games, both of Michigan's opponents were bowl-eligible last season. Now that Robinson has performed well against solid teams - and rushed the ball 57 times - I'm guessing he'll get quite a bit of rest against UMass next Saturday. I doubt he'll remain the leader throughout the season because Michigan's defense will lose a few games this year, but he's been the best individual performer so far.


  1. You might hate me for saying this, but Notre Dame would have won the game if not for Dayne Crist's injury.

    The game would have looked different if Crist played the first half, but you can't definitely say that Notre Dame would have won. Remember Michigan missed two 40-yard FGs and Roundtree dropped a ball in the endzone that hit him in the hands. Michigan may have gotten lucky, but so did Notre Dame. Besides, Crist had those two long TD passes in the second half that were a direct result of Cam Gordon's mistakes, but it's not like they were marching up and down the field at will after he came back from his injury.

    On a related note, Magnus, what do you think the ceiling for our defense is if it plays as well as it possibly can? I don't expect that we could ever be Ohio State this season, but do you think this could be a defense that holds teams to, say, 350 yards total offense at 20 points? Or is that unrealistic to ask for given the youth and lack of depth and talent in the secondary? Is it too much to hope that, at the very least, we stop giving up 50+ yard TDs?

  2. Not to nitpick, Magnus, but Denard was actually 24/40, which is 60%.

  3. RE: Mouton. While I hesitate to allocate Mouton's improvement on someone other than Mouton himself and while my opinion is still undcecide on "GERG is a great DC", GERG's work on turning around Steve Brown and now Mouton seem to point to GERG as a great LB coach.

    RE: "ND would have won if not for Crist's injury." While I agree with the sentiment [that Crist's injury seem to have a high impact on UM's victory], the statement itself is a logical fallacy called "post hoc ergo proctor hoc".

    RE: 3-man rush. Clearly, your right. I just don't know if the alternative (rushing more and leaving fewer in coverage) is more appealing. Comments? So, unless the alternative is better, then let's just hope that the players improve their ability to rush or coaches can think of a different group (maybe, more J. Black) than can achieve more pressure on QB.

  4. @ Anonymous 3:17 p.m.

    No offense, but Roundtree's drop and Gibbons's two missed field goals have nothing to do with Crist. I'm not saying Notre Dame didn't get lucky in some ways, but Gibbons's misses weren't luck (he's not very good, at least not yet) and Roundtree's drop would have been a very difficult catch. Notre Dame would probably rather have their starting QB and take their chances with bad luck.

    I think expecting this defense to give up only 20 ppg down the stretch is mighty optimistic. A total of 535 yards might be the most Michigan will give up this year (last year's high was 500 against Illinois), but 350 yards was essentially a given in 2009. I think closer to 400 yards and 25 ppg might be the ceiling this season. Keep in mind that UConn had a lot of missed opportunities last week, so Michigan's defensive stats through two games should probably be worse.

  5. @ MH20

    You're right. Notre Dame threw the ball 44 times, I believe. I guess that's where I screwed up. Thanks.

  6. @ Anonymous 3:36 p.m.

    I realize the statement about Crist is a logical fallacy. However, I still think Michigan loses in an alternate universe where Crist stays healthy.

    I don't think there's necessarily a different group of three defensive linemen that can get the job done. Black is going to be good, but he's not the answer right now. I just prefer the idea of rushing four regularly, and I think Roh as a DE in a 3-front is a recipe for trouble. I'd either like to see a 4-man front (Roh, Van Bergen, Banks, Martin) or a 3-man front with an edge rusher.

    I think Michigan realized that Craig Roh in open space against the likes of Cierre Wood and Armando Allen would be troublesome, so they went with the lesser of two evils and played him at DE.

  7. Thunkder said, "... I still think Michigan loses in an alternate universe where Crist stays healthy."
    Argh, please don't go all Stephen Hawking on us. :) As I said, I actually agree with your sentiment.

    I guess I considered Roh an edge rusher. ???

  8. @ TriFloyd

    When I say "edge rusher" I'm talking about a player rushing from outside the tackle. When he's rushing from a 4-tech (head up on the tackle) or a 4i (inside shoulder of the OT), I don't really consider him an edge rusher anymore. He's basically a DT at that point.

  9. Regarding Gordon and natural talent...I don't get the impression talent or speed are the issue with him. He just made some dumb decisions, which duh...position switch red-shirt freshman at a tough position.

    As for speed relative to teammates... Are Johnson or Robinson really faster? Typically WR are pretty fast, and Robinson (M) was dinged in recruiting for his less than top-end speed.

    Regarding 3 man rush -- its not surprising they don't get many sacks or have much success when at least 2 of the 3 guys are getting double-teamed. Something has to make up for the lack of experience in the secondary. It appears that it'll be the secondary. While they gave up a lot of yards in the air, they also picked off 3 passes, some of which don't happen if you don't have extra players dropping into coverage. Did anyone notice how many people were rushing on the 3 plays that resulted in INTs.

    Did Will Campbell play offense this game? Did we burn his redshirt for a one yard run? Can Tate redshirt this year? Will Magnus be outraged when Tate burns it to play UMass? (not being serious here)

    I agree that M got lucky yesterday, but will happily take it. Denard is extremely lucky to have not turned the ball over this season, after yesterday's fumble and (twice)dropped near-INT.
    M's bad fortune was replicable (bad field goal kicking and bad calls on the road), M's good luck (fumble recovery, drive's stalling at the end of halves, injuries to opposing QB) are not.

  10. Above, I meant to say it appears the rush will be sacrificed to make up for the secondaries lack of experience and/or ability.

  11. @ Lankownia On the flea-flicker we had 4 rushing by the time the QB threw the ball. Mouton and someone else (Thomas Gordon?) were coming in on the run but recognized it was a fake and got back as fast as possible, resulting in the pick.

    On the Kovacs one it was just a 3 man rush if memory serves me correctly. Montana had all the time in the world and just stared down his WR letting Kovacs back up and close down the opening in the zone.

    Both times if we had sent more people (or if the throws were decent) I think we wouldn't have had the extra man there for the pick. No way would we have an extra guy to sit in front of the WRs both times if we sent 4 or 5. I actually think our front 3 did okay knowing they were all alone all game.

  12. Everyone is entitled to their opinion of course, but there is no proof that Crist would have been more effective had he stayed in the game. Crist is a red shirt junior with very limited experience and although he was effective at times, he was also susceptible to making bad calls and mistakes. Michigan also made a number of bad calls and poor plays on both sides of the ball. The team that made the less mistakes won the game. Woulda...coulda...shouldas are for those with a loser mentality.

  13. @ Lankownia

    Yes, Gordon made bad decisions. But he also lacks speed. That was apparent on the Rudolph touchdown. And wide receivers are indeed usually fast, but that's not the case with Gordon - that's why many people (including me) thought he would be a linebacker at the next level.

  14. @ Watcher

    Of course there's proof that Crist would have been more effective than Rees/Montana. Notre Dame scored on 4/9 (44%) of the drives led by Crist. On the 8 drives led by the backups, Notre Dame completed less than half their passes, threw 2 interceptions, and scored ZERO times.

    Woulda-coulda-shouldas are standard fare in sports. If roles were reversed, Denard Robinson missed 26 minutes, and Michigan sputtered without him in there, Michigan fans would be saying the same thing.

    If I said that Michigan would have been better in 2008 if Pat White had played for Michigan, is that a "loser mentality"? Or is that simply the truth?

  15. So you pick Michigan to lose so you can be justifed if that happens? That's the most pathetic thing I've ever read. I mean honestly, if your going to pick them to lose shouldn't it be because you know, YOU ACTUALLY THINK THEY ARE GOING TO LOSE. Nope not you, just so your justifed.

  16. @ Anonymous 10:09 p.m.

    No, I didn't pick Michigan to lose just so I can be justified. I said that's the tricky thing about predicting a loss. It doesn't mean I WANT them to lose. Do you realize that I write a Michigan football blog and, therefore, I'm probably a pretty big Michigan fan?

    I did think Michigan would lose. And you'll notice that the score was very close to what I predicted. If Michigan doesn't score at the end, it would have been 24-21 Notre Dame (I predicted 27-24 Notre Dame).'s not like I was way off.

  17. RE: Gordon. Watching the Rudolph TD again, it is disappointing that CG can't catch a TE, even after he was beat. I'm not sure how fast Rudolph is, but you still want your DBs to be able to catch a TE with 40 yards to go, even with a full-head of steam ahead and a couple yard advantage. I agree that he looked slow on the play.

    I'm still not sure that MRob or Johnson are any faster. Hopefully, it was just a bad play and not indicative of any talent deficiency. The hope for the D over the next few years is that CG can use this experience to develop into a high-end Big10 safety. My hope is that we have a 4-year starter in CG.

  18. If I said that Michigan would have been better in 2008 if Pat White had played for Michigan, is that a "loser mentality"? Or is that simply the truth?

    It's irrelevant.

  19. Apparently the "truth" is relivant. You are projecting success throughout the entire game when the game ebbs and flows as it did for Michigan with the same QB. That was because ND made adjustments and so did Michigan. All teams do this, therefore, to say that Crist would have without a doubt had success and therefore won the game for them is foolishness and you know that. And yes woulda, coulda, shoulda are for losers because winners do not think that way.

  20. You seem to have an agenda and do not process your position objectively, especially for a coach. I wish you will, and yes I will stay away from your site.

  21. What's up with the 3-man rush? I've never seen a 3-man rush get any pressure on the QB ever. And when I say ever, I mean ever in my life. It didn't work against Notre Dame, it sure as hell didn't work against Kordell Stewart in 1994, and honestly it just gives the QB more time to complete a pass. No corner can cover a guy for 8 seconds. The 3-man rush doesn't work. I hate that it is used by UM. If the opposing team wants to line up with a 3-man rush--great--but it should be dropped as a scheme at UM IMO.

  22. @ Watcher

    But the game did not "ebb and flow" with Crist in there. He scored on almost half of his possessions. His backups scored on ZERO of their possessions, and they had almost as many as he did (Crist had 9, they had 8).

    If you really think that Crist wouldn't have scored on at least one of those other 8 possessions, then you didn't watch the game and see that Notre Dame racked up 535 total yards against UM. He played only slightly more than half the game, but he threw for 277 yards and the other two combined for 104 yards passing.

  23. @ Anonymous 9:15 a.m.

    I really have no idea what you were trying to say.

  24. @ Mike

    I agree. I'm not a big fan of only rushing three guys. The quarterbacks had too much time to throw, and the only QB sack so far this year came on a blitz from the Spur position.

  25. Of're right! I am wrong! Notre Dame should have, and could have and would have won the game. Sheesh!

  26. @ Watcher

    I'm glad you finally came to your senses.

  27. But the game did not "ebb and flow" with Crist in there. He scored on almost half of his possessions. His backups scored on ZERO of their possessions, and they had almost as many as he did (Crist had 9, they had 8).

    Crist led ND to two TDs and a FG on 8 second-half possessions. Both of those second-half TDs were essentially one-play drives resulting from the horrific play of a single player: our redshirt frosh safety starting his second game ever at the position. Don't get me wrong - those TDs were huge plays, and they certainly don't count any less than any other TDs scored. My point is that it's not as if Crist was marching ND up and down the field on sustained, unstoppable drives. Prior to the Rudolph bomb, I think ND went 5 straight drives without putting up a point.

    I don't disagree that ND was a much better team with him in the game, but the notion that ND definitely wins the game if Crist plays the entire first half is silly.

  28. My reaction in hind sight is not that Notre Dame and Crist is soo good, but that Michigan's defense played soo poorly, e.g., no pass rush, poor tackling, safeties out of position, MLB not protecting his gaps at times, etc.

    I may have given the coordinator more credit than I should have for being able to make adjustments during that game, but I am not impressed with Crist's abilities, I am sorry Thunder. I have a tendency to give coaches especially at that level the benefit of the doubt to see and make adjustments while in flight.

  29. @ Anonymous 1:51 p.m.

    So was Cam Gordon somehow less likely to blow a coverage in the first half than he was in the second?

    It's not a silly notion at all to think that Notre Dame would have won the game. There's statistical evidence to support that theory. Michigan's starting QB missed only one play and led the team to 28 points. Notre Dame was on pace to score 42 points if he had played the entire game.

  30. @ Watcher 1:53 p.m.

    I'm not asking you to be impressed with Crist. Nowhere did I suggest that he's a great quarterback. But the dropoff in Notre Dame's offense had NOTHING to do with Greg Robinson/Rich Rodriguez making defensive adjustments. Crist lit up Michigan's offense to start the game, and he lit them up for much of the second half.

    There is STATISTICAL evidence to back up my theory.

    Your theory consists of "Yeah, well...I don't think so."

    Which is fine. You can have your own opinions. But it's not much of a basis for telling me I'm wrong.

  31. Crist lit up Michigan's offense to start the game, and he lit them up for much of the second half.

    Good lord Magnus...Crist completed two long passes in the second half. I'm not sure that constitutes "lighting them up" for "much of the second half," especially when for "much of the second half," (more than half of the drives that Crist orchestrated) ND's offense didn't do a thing. It's strange how you're willing to focus solely on Crist's successful drives and ignore those ones that didn't go so well.

  32. @ Anonymous 2:35 p.m.

    He scored on 3/9 possessions in the second half, and the team gained 535 yards overall.

    And I'm not sure why throwing for a 95-yard TD pass and a 53-yard TD pass actually PREVENTS you from thinking he lit up the defense. I mean, usually throwing long TD passes is the definition of lighting up a team.

    Sorry, Anonymous. You're going to have to come up with a better argument to convince me that Crist didn't torch Michigan's secondary. 277 yards passing in slightly more than 2 quarters equals "lighting up" a defense, no matter how you try to break it down.

  33. There's statistical evidence to support that theory. Michigan's starting QB missed only one play and led the team to 28 points. Notre Dame was on pace to score 42 points if he had played the entire game.

    Statistics can say whatever you want them to. Crist led them to a TD on his first drive of the game. If that's the only stat you used, then ND would have scored on every possession! Notre Dame was on pace to score 112 more points (16 more possessions)! Thank goodness that Crist got hurt in the first half! And actually played in the second!

  34. And I'm not sure why throwing for a 95-yard TD pass and a 53-yard TD pass actually PREVENTS you from thinking he lit up the defense. I mean, usually throwing long TD passes is the definition of lighting up a team.

    Well then word your posts better. "Two plays" is certainly not synonymous with "much of the second half."

  35. Well Thunder...your STATISTICAL evidence is based upon a logic that is from the same school of though that says, "if a running back carries 10 times for 50 yards in the first half, then he will automatically gain 50 yards in the second half if he carries 10 times again. That is not so, and that is why I say that good coaches can make adjustments that sometimes work and sometimes will not.

    However, with your being a coach, I can't understand your saying that coaches can't make adjustments especially on that level that can and does make a difference in how the opposing QB performs. Look at what ND did against DR. They modified their scheme and from time to time brought up a safety with maybe eight to nine guys in the box. They rotated their coverage and tried to slow down Dr. It worked for a while.

    I know it's the talent on the field that has to execute, however, I believe that the coaches can (especially with Crist being such a young QB) make some adjustments to slow him down or to confuse him periodically.

    Yes, we can disagree...but I have tried to show respect for you and your opinion, but I don't get that same feel from you. And as far as ND actually potentially winning that game, "truth" is...that we will never know will we?

  36. @ Anonymous 2:44 p.m.

    Look, saying that "Notre Dame would have scored more than 24 points with Dayne Crist healthy the entire game"... not the same thing... saying "Notre Dame would have scored 116 points."

    My argument uses statistical backing to suggest that Notre Dame would have scored AT LEAST ONCE in those 8 possessions if they were led by Dayne Crist, since they scored FOUR times in his nine possessions. I'm sorry you can't accept that, but you're ignoring a pretty big trend in that game.

    When a QB throws for 277 yards in slightly more than a half, it's illogical to think that he would have been shut down in those other 26 minutes. know...your argument of "Nuh-uh" is pretty convincing.

  37. @ Watcher

    Where have I suggested that coaches are unable to make adjustments? I haven't. But it's EXTREMELY unlikely that the coaches were somehow able to make an adjustment ONLY when Crist missed 8 series. I mean...can you honestly ignore the fact that ND was missing its starting quarterback for nearly half the game, and also expect that the home team would have performed just as poorly with him in there for the entire game? That beyond ridiculous.

    And you haven't tried to respect my opinion. Your first comment on the topic said something like "Woulda coulda shoulda is a loser mentality." However, that was a nice attempt to try to make yourself look better.

    This will be my last response to you on the topic. We're obviously not going to convince each other, and you have no evidence for your side of the argument. It's pointless to continue the discussion.