After the very disturbing, not to mention embarrassing and demoralizing performance at Notre Dame the Wolverine Nation was on suicide alert for this season. The questions were abounding.
Could Denard come back? Could the team bounce back from the demoralizing and embarrassing loss? Could I get the shamrocks stains out of my fur? It was a rough two weeks.
There were valid reasons for the rising concern: Purdue lost to Notre Dame by 3 points. We historically have trouble playing outside of the Big House. Purdue has a dynamic offense, averaging around 50 points a game. Not to mention the Purdue locomotive could run over one of my paws and hobble me for life.
However, the Wolverines rolled up on the Boilermakers in West Lafayette and turned the Boilermaker Express into a gravy train with biscuit wheels—sweet—real sweet.
The Wolverine offense held the ball for 36 minute and 11 seconds, which is more than 12 minutes longer than Purdue. I haven’t seen that kind of an advantage in time of possession since last year’s 45-17 win against Nebraska when we held onto the ball for over 41 minutes. It’s not rocket science. No matter how lethal an opponent’s offense is, they can’t score points if they are not on the field.
“Your offense is your best defense,” Jordan Kovacs (senior safety) said. While in my opinion, Jordan Kovacs can do no wrong—this is no news, I was saying that way before Jordan was born, and people were saying that way before I was born. And you know what? They were correct, I was correct, and Jordan is correct. We have the stats to prove it. Possession time has historically been a key to victory. In the past decade, Michigan is 53-9 when it wins the time-of-possession battle. So that was good coaching strategy. Reading between the lines: we have great coaches—good news—but now old news.
“I liked how we played in the first quarter,” Brady Hoke said. “Our offense did a nice job of controlling the ball for 12 minutes and change in the first quarter, and that set the tempo for the football game.” Setting the tempo and establishing dominance is key to winning a football game. Again, this is not news.
One of the reasons Michigan was successful in setting the tempo and establishing dominance is because they showed a renewed dedication to the run, and it paid off. The Blue Machine rushed 14 times on a 17-play opening drive, and finished the game with a 304-56 edge in rushing yards. That’s great. Denard Robinson gained 235 yards on the ground, a career high in Big Ten play! You go dude.
Conversely, once again Toussaint was a major disappointment. True, he scored two touchdowns on a pair of one-yard runs. However, he was only able to muster 19 yards on 17 carries. What is up with that? His numbers for the season aren’t much better. He has rushed for only 169 yards on 53 carries, a 3.2 yard per carry average. Seriously, what is up with that?
In all fairness, was it all Toussaint, or is the offensive line a part of the blame. It is probably all of the above, but divvying up the blame is not what’s useful here. We need to fix this problem. Rawls performance was much better. However, Rawls was only in the game briefly and it was against Purdue’s second-string defense. So we don’t know that Rawls would have done any better, even though his 19-yard run was great. We know we have good coaches and they chose to stick with Toussaint. This is telling in and of itself.
So despite our decisive victory in West Lafayette, there are some serious concerns with our offense, in both the receivers and the running backs. Not to mention there were a few opportunities, such a fumbled kick-off return that they did not capitalize on. It wasn’t a problem in this game, luckily. However, these are problems that need to be fixed or it is going to be a long, ugly season. The Wolverines should get past the hapless Illini Saturday between Denard’s reliable running and mercurial passing. However, Michigan State is not Illinois. The Spartans have successfully controlled Denard for the last two seasons. Not to mention they have had my Paul Bunyon trophy, which should be in my den, for four straight years.
So if I’m going to get my trophy back, someone else must step up to the plate. It doesn’t seem like it is going to be Fitz Toussaint. Question: are there residual effects from his woes over the summer. Is it Gorgeous Borges’s insistence on running the read-option most of the time. Again who knows?
Additionally, on the defensive side of the ball, when Purdue replaced Terrebush, who played like a special needs quarterback, with their normal starting QB, the Boilermakers started to shred our defense and expose some lingering concerns.
So what does all this mean in terms of the “big picture”? It means a few things: we have to take it one game at a time. “We are a work in progress,” Hoke says. Observing this work in progress I have to say, it’s progressing well. The thing that we need to understand first and foremost is that Brady Hoke doesn’t have his horses in the stalls yet. Most of the guys on the field are Rich Rod recruits. They’re great kids. However, Rich Rod and Brady Hoke have different coaching philosophies and strategies. So the bumps we’re experiencing now are the growing pains of the evolution from the Rich Rod era to the Hoke dynasty. All things considered, Michigan is doing great.
No we’re not going to win a national championship this year, but that never was a realistic goal. However, winning the B1G Ten is a very realistic goal. So in terms of that goal, unlike the Purdue locomotive, The Maize and Blue Express is running right on time.
NOTICE: The views expressed by Wilbert the Wolverine are not necessarily those of anyone on the Hokeamaniac.com staff or reasonable facsimile thereof. Please consider the source. He’s a Wolverine for god sakes!