Michigan Football survived another scare, this time in a narrow victory at UConn. Let’s take look at the position groups and grade them out. Which units played well and which ones struggled?
Devin Gardner continued to struggle this past Saturday, especially in the turnover department. He often missed easy throws and held on to the ball far too long. Gardner was able to make plays with his feet however, scoring on a 17-yard run late in the first quarter. The bottom line is that a 52% completion percentage, 3 turnovers, a quarterback rating of 38.7 and poor pocket awareness won’t cut it as we get into the Big Ten season.
Running Backs: B
Fitzgerald Toussaint ran well Saturday night despite getting little to no help from his offensive line. He ran for 120 yards on 24 carries: a respectable 5 yards per carry. He also scored twice. While Toussaint does have the tendency to dance in the backfield at times, it is hard to blame him when the interior line gets almost no push on most plays, as was the case again against UConn.
Receivers/Tight Ends: B
While the receiving corps only had 11 receptions total, their poor production does not rest solely on their shoulders. A struggling quarterback is any receiver’s worst nightmare, and we saw this on the field Saturday. I often saw receivers gain separation on pass plays. They can’t pass it to themselves.
Offensive Line: D
The problems up front are here to stay it would seem. Against a UConn team that had failed to record a single sack all season, the offensive line gave up 3. Granted, at times Gardner held the ball too long, but there is no excuse for some of the pressure that occurred on several plays. As bad as the pass protection was, the run blocking may have been worse. UConn had ten tackles for a loss. Ten! Inexcusable.
The one encouraging sign this unit showed was that as the game went on, they seemed to find a groove and opened up some nice holes especially in the fourth quarter. There isn’t a better example than Toussaint’s last touchdown. On that stretch play to the left, Taylor Lewan chipped the defensive lineman and went and completely consumed the linebacker. Glasgow got such a great push on his man that he was able to cut off the back side linebacker from pursuing the play. That’s how a Michigan line is supposed to block!
Defensive Line: A-
The defensive front for Michigan had a solid outing Saturday. Allowing only 47 rushing yards, the line clogged most holes before they had a chance to be opened. Frank Clark finally showed us what we all knew he could do, recording 2 sacks.
The linebacker corps performed well over the course of 60 minutes Saturday night. They played a big part in limiting the Huskies’ run game. Perhaps the biggest play of the game came from Desmond Morgan when he made an incredible interception that set up Michigan for the tying score in the fourth quarter. While this unit does struggle in pass coverage at times (Brennen Beyer I’m looking at you), I don’t have any major gripes with how this unit played on Saturday.
The secondary, like the rest of the defense, played a pretty sound game for most of the night against the Huskies. They were fortunate to have a long touchdown pass overturned on replay, but other than that they did not give up any big plays. The longest pass play for Connecticut was a 26-yard pass on 4th and forever with less than 2 minutes left in the game. The receiver was smashed by Jarrod Wilson short of the sticks.
While the scheme of the defense (Coach Mattison has said that soft coverage is part of their “bend but don’t break” strategy) makes the secondary susceptible to dink and dunk passes, they generally kept plays in front of them and made sound tackles once the receiver got the ball. UConn finished with 159 yards passing when they were averaging 277 yards passing coming into the game.
Special Teams: B+
This was a hard grade to give. On one hand, we saw Matt Wile’s kickoffs all sail into the endzone for touchbacks, and his 5 punts average over 42 yards. The punt coverage unit only gave up an average of 4 yards a return. Brendan Gibbons nailed his only field goal attempt of the night, a 21 yarder with 4:36 remaining in the fourth quarter which turned out to be the game-winner.
On the other hand, however, a complete faux pas on the part of Damario Jones when the ball hit his leg on a punt which UConn recovered on Michigan’s 9 allowed them to score a touchdown a few plays later. This single play was the one blemish on an overall great night for the special teams.
Overall Grade: C-
The defense gave up 14 points on the night, and 7 of those came when UConn set up shop on Michigan’s 9 yard line after a special teams debacle. For all intents and purposes the defensive unit did its job. As good as the defense was, however, the offense was just as bad. While they scored 24 points, the turnovers (one of which resulted in an interception returned for a touchdown) kept UConn in the game, much like they kept Akron in the game last week. The quarterback and offensive line play must improve if Michigan wants to contend for a Big Ten championship this season.