Michigan Football is 2-2 at the bye week. They labored through the non conference portion of their schedule, losing big to Alabama and losing a frustrating game at Notre Dame. They will be back in action on October 6th when they play at Purdue (4pm kick).
What went wrong
Opening the season against Alabama was a tough test and the game snowballed out of control on Michigan in the first quarter. The Wolverines were out-gained 152 yards to 34 and outscored 21-0 in that opening stanza. Michigan was able to right the ship and went toe-to-toe with the Tide for the final 3 quarters, as they were outscored 21-14 and out-gained 279 yards to 235. One of Alabama’s touchdowns in those final 3 quarters was a pick six.
In the loss at Notre Dame, U-M was undone by 6 turnovers, including a stretch of 4 straight pass attempts that were intercepted by the Irish. At the bye week, Michigan ranks 114th nationally in turnover margin. “We don’t want to turn the ball over,” Brady Hoke said on Tuesday. “I think that’s pretty obvious.”
Brady Hoke has also pointed out that the Wolverines need to execute better. He likes the effort his players are giving. “There’s all kinds of guys playing hard,” Hoke said. “We’ve got to play better, but I think they’re playing hard.”
Denard Robinson has completed 54.5% of his passes for 837 yards and 6 TDs with 8 interceptions. Robinson took the Notre Dame loss hard. ”I want to say sorry to everybody who watches football, who watches Michigan football and whoever follows Michigan football,” he said after the game. “I want to say sorry and it won’t happen no more. I’m going to be accountable for the rest of the season, I’ll tell you that much.”
Through 4 games, Michigan’s running backs have combined for 276 yards rushing. The Wolverines were at their best last year when Fitz Toussaint was racking up 100 yard games and complimenting Denard Robinson. In order for Michigan to make a run at the Big Ten title, they will need more production from their running backs.
Michigan’s defense has only registered 3 sacks, and 4 turnovers. “Defensively we want to keep generating opportunities for our offense to get the ball back,” Hoke emphasized on Tuesday.
Reason for hope
Despite the 6 turnovers last week, Michigan was never out of the Notre Dame game. The reason – a strong defensive performance. The Wolverines have a pair of sophomore stars in linebacker Jake Ryan and defensive end Frank Clark. Ryan ranks third on the team in tackles (25) has 2 TFLs and 3 pass break ups. Clark missed the season opener, but has already tallied 3 TFLs and 3 PBUs.
Michigan’s linebacking corps is a position of strength with Ryan, Joe Bolden, Desmond Morgan, James Ross III and Kenny Demens. The defensive line remains a work in progress, but they are showing signs of hope. There are other players who have emerged as well. “Quinton Washington is a guy whose really improved, really helping our defense,” Brady Hoke said.
Devin Gardner has looked good in his transition to wide receiver. He leads the team with 11 receptions for 195 yards and 3 TDs. Freshman tight end Devin Funchess is an emerging playmaker. He has hauled in 8 passes for 151 yards and 2 TDs.
Denard Robinson isn’t going to have another 5 turnover game and the team rallied around him after he assumed the blame for the Notre Dame loss. “You make sure he understands that we took 69 guys to the game and we’ve got 115 on this football team,” Brady Hoke said Tuesday after practice. “We’re all responsible — coaches, players, everybody.” Fitz Toussaint said, “We all make mistakes, not just Denard. We apologized to him, too.”
Dennis Norfleet has been impressive returning kicks and it seems like it’s only a matter of time before he takes one the distance. “I think Dennis is doing a nice job in the return game,” said Hoke. “He’s not afraid, he’s got pretty good vision and got a good burst.”
Into the great wide open
The Big Ten is wide open and offers the Wolverines a chance at a fresh start. “I’m very optimistic going into the Big Ten season,” safety Thomas Gordon said. “It’s kind of like a fresh start.”
There isn’t a team in the conference that went through a more difficult non-conference schedule than Michigan. They didn’t come out of it with the record they were hoping for, but they are battle-tested. They won’t face a defense better than Alabama’s in the Big Ten and it’s arguable if they will face one that is better than Notre Dame’s.
Brady Hoke likes the growth his team has experienced and the players know that their goal, a Big Ten Championship, is there for the taking. ”We can still smell roses at the end of the season,” Thomas Gordon said. “That’s our focus and what we’re trying to get to.”