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Established in 1909, the Little Brown Jug has an enduring and proud appeal to Michigan Fans. The Wolverines lead the series 73-24-3. Possessing the jug is an obsession with the Wolverines. It is the oldest Bowl Subdivision Trophy. But Saturday there was more at stake than just a coveted trophy. In this important game, it was hoped Team 135 would finally establish the offensive identity it needed. It did not.
The University of Michigan’s Wolverine Football team began the Big Ten season against the tough and physical Minnesota Gophers Saturday with unpleasant results. The Wolverines were outplayed and out coached in all three phases of the game. Offense, Defense, and Special Teams.
Offensively, Shane Morris started the game at QB, and led Michigan to its first TD in its last four quarters in the second quarter. Good field position was established, courtesy of a good Will Hagerup punt. That enabled a short drive from the Gopher 47-yard line to pay dirt.
Shane earned an A for effort and determination but a D for contribution and execution. By the fourth quarter he was the victim of many hits and a cheap shot. He was battered and wobbly but Coach Hoke did not see this, and he played some after. He also had a limp,. Shane was 7/19 for 49-yards passing on the day, threw an interception (a tipped ball), and fumbled twice with one recovered. He netted eight negative yards rushing.
Finally, during mop up time. in the middle of the fourth quarter, Devin Gardner replaced him , and brought a spark as he engineered a drive and scored, running for Michigan’s second and last TD. Devin was three for six for 39-net yards with a long of 18-yards. He rushed 5 times for 23 net yards and a TD, with a long of 18, and no interceptions.
M Running Back De’Veon Smith toted four in a row, running impressively tough. On one run he kept it going with tacklers on his back, moving the pile. That was around the 11 minute mark of the first half. After that, it was a Gopher day as they loaded the scoreboard with 10 points before the half. Smith ended the game as M’s best running back. His nine attempts for sixty-yards and a TD were impressive. He broke tackles and dragged piles of would be tackles. Smith reminded of the tough running style of Michigan’s late Carvie Craw who played in the sixties. Craw once took detour to run through MSU’s entire bench. He was tough, very tough. So is Smith. He keeps those feet churning. In an after interview, LB Joe Bolden remarked about Smith keeping those feet digging.
At 2:17 of the half, Will Hagerup hit another nice punt. It was a 53-yarder that was collared by the Wolverines at the Minnesota one. The Gophers promptly executed a nice drive passing and running. The drive stalled at the M 24, where they hit a field goal.
Letting the Gophers turn this disadvantage into an advantage was bad omen. It was Wolverines 7 to the Gophers 10 at the half, but the momentum was all Minnesota’s. The handwriting on the wall was apparent then, as the Gophers led in about every statistical category except punting average. Michigan had 65 net rushing yards. They were two of six in third down conversions. The defense allowed the Gophers 229-yards to M’s measly 106.
Michigan received to start the second half, but went three and out. I saw little if any innovative play calling. When I can sit there and call the first down plays there is a problem. There is so little innovation and it is ever so conservative.
A first down rush for no gain, an incomplete pass, and a completion short of the first down marker, left the Wolverines out of possession and playing from the Minnesota 38. The M defense held, and the offense squandered another opportunity. Shane lost five yards on first down and M was again behind the sticks. Morris fumbled, recovered by M at the M two yard line. Smith and Hayes ran for 5-yards and it was Hagerup again. The Gophers hit a 48-yard field goal to make it 7-13 and I had the notion that the Wolverines were finished.
That impression seemed verified when Shane threw an interception at about the 6:00 minute mark of the third quarter. That was run back from the M 30 for six. Now it was 7-20 and it was all but over.
Shane’s and the Wolverine’s woes continued. Shane lost five yards and the football. Minnesota recovered at the M 30 and passed for a one year score. M 7-Gophers 27.
Devin Gardner got a consolation TD in the fourth quarter after the gimpy and groggy Morris was replaced at quarterback. At that moment he seemed to rejuvenate the Wolverines offense as he engineered the Wolverines last score.
Again Michigan errors, including a tipped intercepted pass, squelched the Wolverine’s ability to score. Constantly they were “behind the sticks”, had third and longs, and disadvantageous field position. Michigan’s stodgy offense could not maintain field position enough to help the cause or the defense.
The Gophers had previously shunned the benefits of a robust passing game prior to Saturday, largely because their passing QB, Mitch Leidner had been gimpy. It was rumored that he had difficulty with his right leg and foot as in strained ligaments and turf toe. He got well against the Wolverines.
The Gophers other QB, Chris Streveler, was thought the better runner, but a pedestrian passer. Leidner did not play last week but was more than ready for the Wolverines, as he was10 of 15 for 115-yards with a long of 33. He was sacked just once.
As every M fan already knows, the Wolverines came into the game with a struggling offense against the two better defenses they had faced so far this season. Now make that two three.
Also present was heavy, general fan dissatisfaction with a perceived lack of progress in this Hoke’s fourth year at the helm in general and, now added dissatisfaction with this game in particular. There were boos, and while there was much media speculation that Coach Hoke was on a hot seat before Saturday, there will be an added intensity now. The body of evidence keeps growing.
The Wolverines offensive malaise continues. Instances of what is perceived to be poor game management continue to happen. Why was Shane Morse’s wobbling not noticed by Coach Hoke?
There was lively public discussion between Coaches Mattison and Hoke in the Utah game, with each blaming the passion of the game, and singing the praises of the other afterward. This gave evidence of some football seams unraveling for the Wolverines. I did not object to that. It indicated involvement, some fire. Where was the fire Saturday?
The Wolverines offense has been as barren as the Artic Circle’s tundra in winter in three of their five games this season. Before the game the Wolverines were a nasty 125th in offensive TOs nationally, and can’t be much better today, if not sinking.
The Wolverines defense still can’t tackle, has a leaky pass defense, and sometimes doesn’t turn play in, letting the opposition turn the corner outside and go. While it is obvious that the defense is light years ahead of the struggling offense, the defense affords many big pass plays and runs. They sometimes will make a stop of the first down play, stuff the second down play and get burned by a run or pass on third and long. Today there were 5 or 6 such instances.
Some speculate that Devin could not utilize his true skills in the present play action offensive scheme, and that Shane Morris more closely mirrored the offensive image that the coaches have been wanting. Saturday did not prove that Shane could do better.
Is this Michigan team raveling at the seams? Or has it already? What this most important Gopher game in decades has told us is that Michigan Football is on the ropes. It screams that the Coaches do not know how to fix the problems to make the Wolverines competitive in the Big Ten.
Saturday they were not competitive! Are the Wolverines headed to the bottom of the Big Ten barrel? What’s your level of confidence?
Every week Coach Hoke states that the team has had a good week of practice, and that it is a great cohesive team, but the results don’t translate to winning on the field. They have to find the path to address the whys and why nots soon, or Rutgers, a newcomer to the Big Ten, is going to embarrass them, in prime time, on a national stage.
Team 135 has yet to prove that it is a good football team, and the Coaches have yet to prove they can make it a good team. Expectations are dropping faster than the stock market in 1929.
All this speculation surrounding Hoke’s coaching ability and tenure is obviously not a good thing for Hoke or his Wolverines, unless it is thought that any publicity, including derogatory publicity is worthwhile. Not likely.
Hoke had a message for Michigan fans: “I would tell them that, number one, we know their frustration, because we share their frustration. I would also tell them that as a team, we all take accountability for it, and we also all are going to work together to rectify it.” The sooner the better, Coach!
Some are clamoring that Head Coach Brady Hoke should be fired instantly. I don’t buy that. A mid-season firing further destroys football programs, and are an emotional response which do not harm the coaches as they take a wagon load of money away with them, but do hammer the student athletes pledged to the program.
In any case, let’s take the bad Michigan times with the good and hang in there. The Wolverines have always come roaring back. The only question is when.
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The rapid fire Utah Utes traveled to Michigan Stadium to encourage extinction of Team 135’s hopes of taking another step up this season’s ladder of football respectability. The Utes had demolished Idaho State 56-14, and Fresno State 59-27 already this season, and they had a bye week to chart their course. They were replete in their new white helmets Saturday. Saturday they taught a lesson to the struggling Wolverines and dug deeper the hole that now summons the Wolverine’s aspirations for this season. They were the better team and the better coached team.
M’s offense was held to a field goal. One! No offensive TDs! Inconceivable! The only Michigan TD was a fabulous interception by big Defensive Tackle Willie Henry, who scored from seven-yards out.
Special teams contributed to the loss, via a coverage failure which enabled a 66-yard jaunt for a Ute TD. Pretty run. Jordan Lewis finally intercepted the returner after having crossed the field from the other side of the field. Coach Hoke indicated before the game that special teams might tip the scales this time. Unfortunately he read the tea leaves right on that one.
While a significant rain delay at 7:51 on the fourth quarter gave the Wolverines some added time to lick their wounds and scheme, the game was already over. An unbelievable scene of water surrounded the playing surface. That they restored the surface to playability through pumping is an achievement
This defeat will linger awhile. It was a milestone failure, the second loss against another of the better of its preseason opponents. It doesn’t appear this team is prepared for Big Ten success for the season.
This was supposed to be the game in which we could finally prognosticate future success. Its outcome was supposed to provide data so we would know what the future might hold for these Wolverines.
Would it be 10-2 or 3, or something like 7-5, or 6-6? It seems to me the data is pretty clear now. This is a team on the mat. Down but not out? It sure seems unlikely.
The hurry up Utes had the firepower to seriously challenge Michigan’s aerial defenses, and more than a few thought that they would successfully better them. Some wondered why the Wolverines were favored. After seeing this game I am still among them.
A champion skier turned field goal kicker was an un-erring marksman and contributed 4 field goals. The Utes abandoned their careless play for the most part.
A killer Ute TD was from a crossing pattern thrown over the middle. The receiver was totally open. I thought Michigan’s safety play was not up to par. Someone was caught day dreaming on that critical play.
That both Coach Hoke and Coach Nussmeier were familiar with Utah’s Coach Kyle Wittingham did not seem to help much offensively.
Coach Mattison said last Monday that they had assembled two defensive units to hurry into the practice scrimmages, to help them maintain communication and organization in face of the hurry up threat. The defense coped well most of the time. Not always, just most of the time. They yielded one passing TD, and 4 field goals to a prolific scoring team, and scored a TD. The Utes only rushed for 81 net yards.
Thus, the defense had some success although they could not tackle well in the open field.
Wittingham had again manufactured an effective aerial assault. The Utes also have a solid defense, and their special teams were again special.
Utah Receiver Dre Anderson was pushing 2,000-yards for his career before the game. Receivers Scott and Tonga were added threats. They showed bubble screens, wide receiver screens and some dink and dunk. They totaled 205-yards passing, and 1 TD. The Utes lost one fumble.
Michigan won many of the statistical categories, but were not the best team in this game.
As if an on target passing attack was not enough, the Utes brought along two great runners, D. Booker and Bubba Poole to provide a balanced attack. They made timely contributions to sustain drives, even though the M defense mostly held them in check.
In case anybody wondered if Utah would also bring their WWI cannon along, their MUSS (Mighty Utah Student Section) and their “Crazy Lady”. Of course they didn’t bring the cannon (fired with a ten gauge shot gun shell), or the MUSS. Turned out they did not need them.
At home, at Rice Eccles Stadium, the MUSS chants for the Crazy Lady to do her dance. She dances while the band plays Otis Redding’s I Can’t Turn You Loose. They weren’t in Ann Arbor Saturday, but will be when M makes its contracted trip to Idaho next year. It will be a crazy challenge. Oh, yes, more on Saturday’s game….
PREGAME AND POSTGAME THOUGHTS, AND RESULTS:
The same pregame concerns that have existed all season still existed and are now even more painfully obvious. The Wolverines had to prove that they could effectively run the football against a decent front, with the OL providing holes and backs making the correct cuts and finding them.
While Derrick Green made some great runs, and made some nice cuts, the Wolverines often were held to a couple of yards on first down runs, and they have a perplexing knack of gathering dumb penalties at the worst of times. Almost seems they have copyrighted false start. They could not complete a TD drive.
Green had a decent day with 14 carries for 65-yards. But the Wolverines own offensive penalties, and offensive inconsistency killed drives. They did not see the red zone. Often they gained little of nothing on the same 1st down runs. As Hoke says, they sometimes were “behind the sticks again.” Too often.
The OL had to prevent the pass rush from getting home, provide Gardner with time. On too many occasions they did not.
Coach Hoke on the second half turn overs and the need to be able to finish:… “Yeah, and there is no question that that’s one thing. We start a drive, we have some success with it, we get a sack, so you’re behind the sticks again. You don’t like to play offense that way. We had a penalty that put us back. So we’ve just got to finish those drives. First drive of the game really, the execution and what was going on was good, but we settled for three points. It was a great kick by Matt (Wile). It was good to see it from him, obviously, but we want seven points, not three points.” Offensive inertia.
Devin Gardner had to play error free football, make his reads, know when to scramble and when to get rid of the ball in a lost cause, protect the ball, and prevent negative yardage plays. He did manage some of that, and he converted two QB sneaks on 4th and one, and had a few good runs, but the good was overbalanced by the two interceptions that he threw.
The first caromed off of Devin Funchess’ hand and into the arm of a defender. Funchess often gets a ball that exposes him to serious punishment, and perhaps he had this in mind when he failed to extend enough to make the catch. I wondered if the pass was thrown too hard also. Funchess had 4 receptions for 82-yards.
The second interception in the third quarter, helped seal the Wolverines fate.
Hoke on the plan for moving forward… “I think number one it’s way too early for me to assess that until Doug (Nussmeier) and myself look at the tape. One thing I can tell you is sometimes it’s good for the guy to come out and just watch and see what he can see from the sidelines. So there are not going to be any answers to that tonight. We’ll compete and challenge like we have every day, and then we’ll have a starting quarterback against Minnesota.”
Coach Hoke on any particular (problem) area that stands out … “I think the ball security issues are probably our biggest issue when you look at it overall. The defense had to get to the QB with an effective pass rush. They had to protect the edges, turn plays in, as well as stop an effective running game. I think in the secondary, Jourdan Lewis played his tail off today. He may have played his best game. If you don’t write about the play he made to keep them out of the end zone, then you don’t know anything about the game, because that effort that he made from all the way across the field, I can remember Woody Hankins did that down in Ohio in 1996. Kept them to a field goal, and that was a 13-9 game. We show that clip every year of a backside corner doing that, and that’s what he did.”
Michigan stalled on the opening drive, as Green got two yards on the 1st and 10 play. They were behind the sticks. A third down pass to Chesson was incomplete and it was a field goal, for an early three point lead. On their next drive they had a holding call they could not overcome. A Ute FG tied it up and it was 3 up at the end of the 1st quarter.
The Utes broke the tie in the second quarter with their nifty 66-yard punt return for six at the 14.39 mark. A back breaker. It was 3-10 Utes. Michigan “offensive player of the day”, Defensive Tackle Willy Henry captured the ball and ran the interception back 7 yards for six. It was knotted at 10-10. Michigan did not score again.
The Utes hit another FG, and it was 10-13 at the half.
The Utes had had enough of a close game as they marched downfield with the second half KO. Running and passing effectively, a 28-yard TD pass to Dres Anderson sealed the Wolverines’ fate. A 20 to 10 lead was more than the Wolverines could overcome as they frittered away opportunities.
In the 4th quarter all semblance of a Michigan threat evaporated as Devin Gardner threw a pass to a group of Ute defenders. This ended the day for Devin. With this performance it appears his job may be up for grabs. The errors are a gift that does not quit giving.
His understudy, Shane Morris did not do much better. In a heavy rain he overthrew a receiver which was intercepted. The Utes added two more FGs.
At 7:51 of the 4th quarter, the game was extensively delayed. Although the downpour was spectacular under the lights, it is lightening that is a game killer.When resumed, there was no scoring. Final: 10-26.
More than the spectators were drenched in the game. The Wolverines are not showing improvement. It does not look like the coaching staff knows how to cure the problems.
The stuff like all our goals are still ahead of us rings hollower now. The goals seem a lot further ahead of us now. The statement that they had a great week of practice after every loss is in the same category. Really? When will they play like they practice?
Enough of the bad stuff. At least the multi-plane fly over was exciting.
A fifteen aircraft air show before the game was in honor of the University of Michigan Department of Aerospace Engineering. It is the oldest Aeronautical Engineering Education Program in the United States. Included were a WWII P-51D Mustang, a thirties Stearman PT 17A (WWII trainer), a B-25 Mitchell medium bomber (Jimmy Doolittle and his Mitchel’s departed from a US aircraft to make the first US raid of WWII on the Japanese home islands), a Boeing B-17 (The US Eighth Air Force heavy bomber workhorse that decimated Germany in daylight during WW II, an F-86 F Sabre jet ( The Sabre had heavy usage in the Korean War as a fighter in air to air combat. A friend of mine that flew them there said that, “ It (the airframe) did not want to go as fast as it could go”. An interceptor, the 100F Super Sabre (the one flying Saturday is the last in existence. This air frame wanted to go as fast as it could go, and when the pilot hit the after burners the boom was impressive), a Lockheed Electra similar to the one flown by Amelia Earhart, five Beechcraft T-34s in formation, plus two helicopters and EC-155 Survival Flight chopper, and an Enstrom 4088.
While this massive fly over was enjoyed by most, it might get some negative comment from those that are not aviation buffs, but I found it to be AOK.
Are we ready for the battle for the Jug, and those pesky Gophers? Ready or not, we will know next Saturday if we can possess the jug for another year.
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