Bowl eligibility, a 2-1 record in Big Ten play, and now with five games remaining on Michigan’s schedule, as well as a bye week prior to Nov. 2’s matchup at Michigan State, the Wolverines, despite everything, are still in full control of their own destiny as they hope to secure a spot in the conference championship game in Indianapolis.
Breathe it in and enjoy for the moment.
Is there a different feel to the season and the overall outlook of the program after reading all of that information and following Michigan’s 63-47 win over Indiana?
From an offensive standpoint encouragement should come out of the Wolverines wide-open attack Saturday lead by the record setting days of Devin Gardner (21-for-29, 503-yards, five total touchdowns) and Jeremy Gallon (14 catches for 369-yards and two touchdowns) but not because of the sheer jaw dropping numbers, more based on the approach.
We all know Indiana’s defense won’t exactly be responsible for shutting down offenses, ever, but Gardner was unleashed and allowed to do what he does best Saturday.
What do I mean?
Gardner was as comfortable offensively Saturday as we’ve seen him this season, aside from Notre Dame. Running the offense primarily out of the shotgun with spread looks and the read option, the ball was constantly in his hands and his decision-making was nearly flawless. The only two blemishes, in my mind, came in the first half as he scrambled and tried to throw the football away late (one resulting in an intentional grounding penalty).
Either way, discussed on the GoBlueWolverine Radio Hour with former Michigan football players Jim Betts and Greg “Skrep-daddy” Skrepenak, Gardner appears to scan the field better and read the defense quicker out of the gun as opposed to three, five or seven step drops from under center, forced to read and react with his back turned to the left side of the field.
This was a tremendous adjustment by Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges to allow Gardner to do what his skill set allows.
I feel like I’ve said this since the end of last season but it hasn’t changed and won’t in the final five games of the year; this Michigan team moves as Gardner does.
I know, I know, again, it’s Indiana. But it doesn’t alter the point.
With that being said, what Michigan offense and what Gardner show up at Michigan State? This is a giant test not only from a philosophical standpoint but also a step-up in competition against one of the best defenses nationally in recent years, including 2013.
The Wolverines will head back to the drawing board with the offensive line but I would imagine by the time next Tuesday’s practice rolls around they’ll have a starting five nailed down and ready to push forward with. No matter who gets the start at the guard spots, envisioning a game in which Michigan lines up under center, double tight end sets, and runs Fitzgerald Toussaint up the middle in hopes of being more physical than the Spartans, is hard to imagine.
If Michigan is to have any hope of not only winning in East Lansing but also remaining a top contender in the Legends division in November, the various looks and play calling tossed out against the Hoosiers must continue. Is it the identity Coach Brady Hoke and his staff wants to have? No. Is it what they are right now as an offensive football team with a young, talented offensive line still developing? Yup.
The Defense (don’t cringe too much)
Big plays were a killer against Indiana and that, in my mind, falls squarely on the shoulders of the secondary.
Football is as much of a team game as any sport and I’m sure several will question a lack of pressure and pass rush against Indiana but with the type of defense being called and tempo the Hoosiers play at, zipping the ball around in a matter of seconds, the defensive backs needed to be ready to make plays on the ball.
Everyone saw what happened in the Penn State game. The opportunity to tip a ball away or even come up with an interception late lay right in front of several Wolverine defensive backs, it just didn’t happen, and some of the same happened against Indiana.
Those questioning the scheme and strategy against Indiana should look a little closer at the explosion plays given up. Aside from Raymon Taylor getting beat on a go route, for the most part the secondary was in position to make a play.
Is it hard to stomach for Michigan fans out there? Sure. But being in the right position is a major part of the battle, and give Indiana’s receivers credit. Now, as defensive coordinator Greg Mattison would say, it becomes ‘see football, catch football.’
Friday Night HS Action
Had the chance to make my way down to Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio on Friday night (and had a fantastic foot long Coney dog for dinner I must say) to check out Walsh Jesuit vs. Cleveland Benedictine to see 2015 RB/LB Jerome Baker.
Some quick thoughts on Baker:
Big, physical kid for just a junior and might even be a bit taller than listed. Baker went out in the first half with an injury but came back to fuel the Benedictine attack offensively. Defensively, Baker plays on the edge and hits players in the mouth at the line of scrimmage. More times than not, when Baker gets his hands on a ball carrier he takes him down. Impressed with his closing speed in tight spaces. Benedictine ultimately lost, 27-7.
I’ll have more on Baker this week.
If you missed the Friday night high school football recap, including highlights of Baker, press play below.