Saturday, August 30, 2008


Again. Utah 25, Michigan 23. For the second year in a row, Michigan lost its home opener. For the second year in a row, Michigan played awful for a majority of the game, made it tantalizingly close at the end, and then blew it. For the second year in a row, I'm left with an incredibly sour feeling in my stomach after waiting all summer for the college football season. There is a difference between this year and last year, though. Last year, the opening loss was rock bottom. They could not play any worse or lose in more embarrassing fashion. This year, the opening loss might be a sign of things to come. It might be one of many losses this season. It might mean, god forbid, that Michigan is this year's Notre Dame nightmare from last year (the Fighting Irish went 3-9). Now, I don't think the situation is that bad, but without any veteran leadership on the offense, I don't know if Michigan will continue to improve or if they'll play poorly throughout a tough rebuilding year. Regardless, here is a summary of the game, quarter-by-quarter:
  • The first quarter was acceptable. The offense didn't do much, but took advantage of a Utah turnover and punched it in the endzone for a 7-0 lead. The defense let the Utes come right back and score but they did block the extra point so Michigan led 7-6. After a field goal, Michigan was up 10-6 and the quarter came to an end with Utah driving down the field.
  • The second quarter was an absolute disaster. I can honestly only think of a few plays in the entire quarter where Utah wasn't gaining positive yardage. Every drive ended in a field goal or touchdown and almost every offensive possession by Michigan resulted in a 3-and-out. Starting quarterback Nick Sheridan was rendered useless by unimaginative play calling and good down field coverage by the Utah secondary. The half ended with Utah leading 23-10.
  • The third quarter showed promise on the defensive side of the ball, as Utah was completely unable to do anything on offense and Michigan began to gain some momentum. Unfortunately, a bad punt off the side of Zoltan Mesko's foot gave Utah some good field position and they kicked a field goal for what ended up being the winning points in the game. Even after Rich Rodriguez substituted Steven Threet for Nick Sheridan at quarterback, the Michigan offense sputtered and never gained more than 10-15 yards. The defense stayed tough however, and things moved to the fourth quarter with Utah leading 25-10.
  • The fourth quarter was the only promising part of this game. Combined with a blocked punt and a Utah fumble, Michigan was able to come from behind and score two touchdowns in a matter of minutes. Threet threw the ball much too high and too far behind his receiver on the two-point conversion attempt though, and the Wolverines were still behind 25-23 with 5 minutes to play. They got the ball back twice after keeping the Utah offense at bay, but didn't manage to do anything to move the ball downfield. Utah ran the clock down to nine seconds and Michigan didn't even try a hail mary from their side of the field and instead opted for a poorly executed lateral trick play. Final score: Utah 25, Michigan 23.
So, that's what happened. Now, here are the positive and negative aspects, in my opinion, from Michigan's first game of the 2008 season.

  • The second-half defense. They got after the talented Utah quarterback in the third and fourth quarters and really limited Utah from gaining any positive yardage. The speed of the front line was very evident in the fourth quarter and since it was in the fourth quarter where they picked up the tempo, endurance could be a strong point as the season moves along.
  • Steven Threet and Nick Sheridan, kind of. They both showed some flashes of being able to run the spread offense, avoid the rush and throw accurate passes. Some flashes (see Sheridan's nice pass to Michael Shaw for a TD in the 1st quarter or Threet's beautiful TD throw to Junior Hemingway in the 4th quarter).
  • The true freshman skill players (Sam McGuffie, Michael Shaw, Martavious Odoms, Darryl Stonum). They all played relatively well for the majority of the game and showed that they will be tough to handle when they get some more experience.
  • Junior Hemingway. He looked like a very good option at receiver and as he is one of very few returning wideouts, he could help the freshmen receivers (Odoms and Stonum) improve their skills.
  • Defensive Special Teams. They blocked an extra point in the first quarter, a punt in the fourth quarter, and came very close on many others. I don't think I've ever seen a Michigan team block a kick or punt in my lifetime and if they did, it was an absolute rarity. The team today seemed like they could block, or at least threaten to block, any kick or punt that was made over the entire game.
  • The first-half defense. They gave up 300+ yards, 22 points, and only forced Utah to punt once. Utah had six possessions in the first half and got two touchdowns and three field goals out of them. That is completely unacceptable for a defense that has seven veterans and plenty of experience. They were supposed to be the anchor that the offense could lean on but instead, they let Brian Johnson, the Utah QB, pick apart the seconday and move the ball down the field with ease.
  • Steven Threet and Nick Sheridan, kind of. Discounting their respective touchdown passes, they looked completely inept at running the spread offense. Sheridan made some poor decisions that created two different turnovers (he threw an interception that led to a Utah TD and he tried to keep the ball when McGuffie was supposed to run with it and caused a fumble). Threet, on the other hand, struggled under pressure and was extremely inaccurate at times, most notably during the two point conversion attempt that would have tied the game and during the 4th down play that could have extended Michigan's final drive in the closing minutes.
  • The offensive line. I knew they would be bad but I didn't realize how bad. Their pass protection was average but their run blocking was horrendous. They were able to thwart the Utah defensive line from getting too much pressure on Threet or Sheridan but when they did let the lineman through, it looked like they gave up and the quarterbacks were left on their own to try and avoid multiple attackers. The run blocking was so bad that at one point near the end of the third quarter, Threet (the Michigan quarterback) scrambled for a six yard gain and became the team's leading rusher on the day with six yards. Wow.
  • Offensive play-calling. Disregarding the middle of the fourth quarter when Michigan was given the ball twice at Utah's 30 and scored a touchdown on both drives, the play calling was awful. In many instances, the execution by inexperienced players could be to blame but there were many third down situations where Michigan didn't even threaten the first down marker. 3rd and 10, completed 4 yard pass. 3rd and 11, run up the middle. Just awful. It also worries me that all three of Michigan's touchdown drives started deep in Utah territory (Utah 26 yard line, Utah 33 yard line, Utah 31 yard line). Don't get me wrong, I'm glad they were able to capitalize on turnovers and get those red zone drives in for touchdowns, but outside of those three possessions, Michigan punted the ball eight times and turned it over four times (two fumbles, an interception, and a turnover on downs). A list of Michigan's drive lengths in yards over the entire game: 2, 26, 17, 9, 19, 30, -4, -11, -2, 0, -16, 45, 27, 33, 31, -1, 3, 2. That's not Michigan football, that's Duke football. Yup, just vomited a little bit in my mouth. Ooh boy. Definitely some work to do on offense.
So, I really don't want to think about this anymore. I did like the fact that not a single highlight was shown of last year's debacle against the team that shall not be named on the date that no longer exists in my memory. It was nice that they kept that out of ESPN2's broadcast. I appreciate it. Other than that, the game was awful to watch. Depressing throughout the middle and even more depressing after the excitement at the end. But, despite the team's struggles and despite another torturous, devastating loss, I can take solace in the fact that I was able to watch another game of Michigan football today. I was able to watch the group of winged helmets fly out of the tunnel and jump up to hit the banner in the Big House. And, even after a loss, that image of those players in Maize and Blue will always cheer me up, at least a little bit.

Next week: Miami (OH) at Michigan. I'll be back with a preview of this game sometime this week, depending on how much work I have during the first week of college classes. Take care everyone, I hope you have a good weekend.

1 comment:

Penny Kittle said...

loved the 'oh boy.' That tone you get when you start writing about Michigan football is seamless... like you were born to do it. Great post--awful game. Even worse in HD! What were we thinking?

Love ya,