In one of the most electrifying and improbable debuts in the storied history of the University of Michigan football program, Denard “Shoelace” Robinson finally gave some legitimacy to a coaching staff under siege. For two years many Wolverines fans wondered when they would see signs of what they thought they were getting when head coach Rich Rodriguez came to Ann Arbor from West Virginia. With a much improved offensive line and some solid play on defense, the Wolverines outplayed a UConn football team coming off of a successful season and bowl win. Here are my takeaways from my Saturday in Ann Arbor.
What I liked:
1. Robinson: My sense has always been that Tate Forcier would be the better choice as the starter at quarterback, primarily because of his experience from last year. However, I felt comfortable with the idea of Robinson as the starter. Considering how high the stakes are for Rich Rod this season, the starter he chose would clearly be the person he felt best gave the team the chance to win. Thankfully Robinson did not disapprove. His 383 yards of total offense and 197 yards rushing were single-game records.
2. The offensive line: Rodriguez finally has some experience upfront and it showed. As a team, Michigan averaged 4.7 yards per carry and protected Robinson quite well in the passing game.
3. Key plays on defense: J.T. Floyd’s forced fumble on the goal line was the play of the game. With Michigan driving the ball 95 yards down the field on the ensuing drive, the fumble created a 13 point (missed the extra point) swing.
What I didn’t like:
1. Devin Gardner as the backup. To me this makes little sense. There are only two plausible explanations for Forcier being relegated to the #3 spot.
a. Gardner is better
b. Forcier done screwed up again
To me neither explanation is grounds for burning a redshirt. Even a basic understanding of football would tell you that freshmen quarterbacks rarely play well. We would be lucky to get a performance out of Gardner this season, that would be as good, if not better than Forcier’s last year. Indeed, Forcier’s performance last year as a starter was strong for a freshman (see Brian Cook of Mgoblog’s graph on this very subject). Since quarterbacks generally get better with their second year, AND he was considered to be neck and neck with Robinson for the starting job, it just doesn’t add up that he’s the third best qb on the roster. If Gardner isn’t the second best quarterback on the roster, why play him? Thus, reason (a) doesn’t make any sense. As far as reason (b), disciplinary action hardly seems like a good reason to play with redshirts. Look, I get it; Forcier has some serious maturity issues (tweeting, emailing the media, skipping class and workouts). But we were all led to believe that he had cleaned up the act, so what happened to warrant Forcier playing second fiddle to Gardner? Of course we’ll never know, since Rich Rod’s been pretty mum about this. Regardless, I just can’t see how this move makes sense.
2. Defensive pressure. In order to win going forward, the defense is going to have to put some pressure on opposing offenses. Last Saturday the Wolverines failed to sack Huskie qb Zach Fraser even once. Considering the Huskies brought back 4 offensive lineman from last year, we should fare a little better with future opponents. Still, our glaring weaknesses in the secondary will require that we put at least some heat on opposing offenses up front in order to compensate.
3. The running backs. While Robinson was amazing on his feet, the guys that actually earn their keep running the ball were less impressive. In fact, Robinson was the only guy that averaged over 4 yards a carry. I had hoped that someone would emerge as the leader among the group but that simply did not happen. Perhaps when redshirt freshman Fitzgerald Toussaint comes back from injury he can fill that void as “the guy” in the backfield.