Michigan Football: Michigan at Nebraska — What Happened And What It Means
After the Nebraska game, some irate followers across a broad spectrum are lobbing shots at the coaching staff, a freshman quarterback, wide receivers, the offensive line, recruiting, and the team in general.
It was a combined defensive struggle for the first half, and one that Michigan could have won until Denard sustained a nerve injury. Followers may remember that Chad Henne, against Ohio State, had such an injury and played taking the ball with basically one hand from center and throwing passes with no velocity and with little effect against a good Ohio State defense.
Due to a lack of puzzle parts Michigan made a decision earlier in the year to move Devin Gardner to wide receiver. This was a calculated gamble, a gambit whereby a clear backup with good ability and proven performance in a back-up role was sacrificed in the hope the offense could be expanded. This meant that the offense was running a dangerous gauntlet against good competition, hoping against hope that no serious injury concerning Denard Robinson would occur to throw the offense into an even less productive mode.
Last night the gambit collapsed and the gauntlet was brutal. Common thought would be to have Devin Gardner slip immediately into the foray and provide at least some ability to move the ball. This did not happen because: (1) the coaching staff went with Russell Bellomy, who has worked at the number two slot all season, and (2) the offense simply demonstrated no movement running or passing once Denard left the game. The concept that Michigan’s offense is a one-pony show against a decent, but not overpowering, defense was confirmed.
Agree or disagree with Coach Hoke, this was a coaching decision to play Russell Bellomy, and give no thought to playing a quarterback that cannot grip a ball. There is no way to tell if Devin Gardner would have made enough of a difference to save the day.
Bellomy played and had the clear deer in the headlight syndrome. This happens on the big stage with little preparation or experience and it is not pretty. But placing the baggage solely on young Bellomy would be an injustice. Nebraska went into instant blitz mode and whether Russell was throwing outs, hot reads, or going deep, he started out zero for nine. His throws were erratic and hurried, and receivers were open enough to enable completions, not that the wide outs were running rampant in the secondary. It was a bad scene.
Demonstrated again is the obvious fact that Denard is the best chance for Michigan to win, certainly with his legs, and unfortunately, to some degree, with his arm. So, this brings up a point of great importance that can be borrowed from H. G. Wells, things to come.The defense will be a solid unit next year, but the offense may be scary, especially early. Coach Borges will be retooling the offense with power blockers that are very young. A center needs to emerge that can dominate to the extent David Molk did. The era of two yards on the inside read may be terminated and the big back that can produce three or four yards against a crowed defense is still being sought. Wide receivers that can dominate are still being sought. A quarterback that can get the ball into the hands of wide receivers is still being sought. The coaches have a ton of work to turn the offense into a chain-moving machine.
What happened last night harbors to what this means for the future, simple as that.
Coach Hoke now has a decision to make since Michigan is behind the eight-ball, tied with Nebraska but down on the tie-breaker: continue to develop Bellomy with reps at number two or have Gardner work at the number two for necessary insurance. Nerves take time to heal and it becomes much easier to re-injured if enough time is not provided. In short, Denard could easily see a recurrence with one hit on the wrong spot.
Take a look at the film and an observer will see that the Nebraska defense was running to spots and therefore the ball as if the defenders had the Michigan headsets. Nebraska was well prepared on defense immediately clogging up the running lane, putting the offensive line at a disadvantage. This resulted in the inside read getting blown up once again and Denard working for every yard on the flank. Still, the view here is that the way the Michigan defense was playing, Michigan could have won the game with even the mediocre chain moving demonstrated in the first half.
The old expression it is as far from here to there as from there to here applies to Michigan’s passing attack. It is easy to criticize wide receivers when the ball never gets to them. It is less easy to criticize quarterbacks when the receivers drop the ball. Michigan dropped some easy passes early to set the tone. This does not include Roy Roundtree’s great effort that was somehow overturned. Again, defenders were running to spots and had the basic routes covered. There was no hesitation, Nebraska knew what was coming.
One can bet the Minnesota coaches will look at what Nebraska did and gain from the plan.The defense played very well and discount the final 23 point total that was inflated by constant second half inability to gain any yardage by the offense and the late interception of a Bellomy ball under-thrown by ten yards. Martinez broke one late and hit a few good passes. Floyd once again reverted back to old habits of grabbing after getting beat. JT has given it his all but will not be in a discussion of elite cornerbacks. He has done a nice job of breaking even with the number two options but is getting hurt guarding good receivers when he is isolated. Opposing coaches will continue this trend.
The linebackers were solid, perhaps even better last night and once again the defensive front four continues to show the ability to plug the inside game. The speed of Nebraska’s back-up tailback broke the edge late when the defense started to wear down.
Michigan must pick up the pieces and get ready for the stretch run. There is little room for error and a need of some help if Michigan is to see the title game in Indianapolis. Such a wish is not a worthless dream, it is possible, but certain things will have to happen. Standing in the way is Michigan’s failures and inadequacies on offense and uncertain decisions as to what to do about said problems. The answer is probably little can be done. As we have stated here since the spring, Michigan will have to fight and claw for every victory. Last night was a major disappointment but not a Dunkirk. Do not expect Michigan to ask for sympathy and do not expect players to be thrown under the bus.Preparation for next week will be critical and the Michigan defense must rule the day as Minnesota’s offense is rapidly improving. A talented, mobile quarterback from last year will not have the deer in the headlight syndrome of last year. Things can change in a year. Things in college football can change from week to week. But in Michigan’s case, the change has been the quality of the opponent. Minnesota will be somewhere between the good and the not so good teams Michigan has played this year. But the Gophers can certainly win if the Michigan offense is as bad as last week. Playing without an offense in modern college ball is worse than fighting with one hand tied behind the back, but not as bad as a one-legged man in a butt kicking contest.
Likewise, the reality is that Michigan is also between the good and the not so good. It is time to get off the beach, regroup, and get the focus back. The counterclockwise flush of water down the toilet can be explained by the Coriolus Effect, but most now do not consider this long held view to be true, instead the flow is explained by a combination of many variables. So it is with Michigan’s success, especially on offense. Collectively, preparation and purpose is what can be done, this offense will not undergo a miracle transformation. Let us hope Michigan’s pony stays healthy and plays like a stallion, otherwise the coaching staff has to have a number two ready to play at a collegiate level. And a few more holes across the running lanes would not hurt either.
Bottom line is play hard, play well.
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Written by GBMWolverine Staff
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