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Saturday, September 02, 2006

It is 2006, right?

Let me start by saying the analysis you're about to read regarding Michigan's opening 27-7 victory over Vandy has caused much internal strife here at the MZone. It's the closest Benny and I have ever come to an argument (not including those, "Hey, can you Photoshop one more thing" conversations we seem to have at 1 a.m. when trying to post for the next day).

To put it bluntly, I was thoroughly unimpressed with Michigan in its first game. At times, with the game still not put away deep in the 4th quarter, I felt like I was watching some sick flashback from last season.

Look, I'm not complaining just to complain (as Benny seems to think). Rather, playing a weak Vandy team at home after all the talk about fire in the belly and improving on last year's 7-5 mark (as well as a seeming lack of passion), I was expecting much, much more.

This should not have been a game where our back-up QB doesn't take the field until under a minute left. Period.

I know, I know, it wasn't all bad. But I thought the negatives outweighed the positives (or were even at best). And after the off-season Michigan just went through, that is unacceptable.

On the plus side, Mike Hart (and the running game in general) looked great. Everybody seems to forget just how injured he was last year. He never really was 100% all season. Now that he is, look out.

And the defense, except for the one flea flicker, also looked good. Although, whenever their QB scrambled, I held my breath. After recent woes against mobile QBs, I can't help it. It's ingrained now. Thank goodness he carried the ball like it was radioactive waste.

But it's hard to argue with a defense that had 6 sacks and gave up only 9 first downs and 144 total yards (although I still can't shake the feeling that mobile QBs are going to give us problems again this season).

Finally, on the plus side, with under three minutes left and Michigan clinging (yes, clinging) to a 13 point lead, instead of running the ball safely on 3rd and 10 at the Vandy 27 to set up a field goal attempt to put the game in the hands of the defense, offensive coordinator Mike DeBord went for the jugular, allowing Henne to connect with Manningham for a 27 yard TD pass to seal the deal.

Game over. Finally. With 2:16 left.

Which leads to the negatives.


The special teams play was abysmal: A blocked FG attempt (and a PAT that tried to miss), allowing defenders to be on top of Breaston before he could even field punts, kickoffs and punting that didn't get the job done.


Manningham, Breaston and Massey all dropped passes that could have and probably would have led to scores. These were not difficult passes but passes that hit both hands and should be made. No excuses.

In addition (and partly as a result of the above), Henne was only 11 of 23 for 136 yards on the day. Ouch. Early on, he looked off. Then to spite him, the receivers decided to start dropping his passes when he did find his target. All in all, not a good day for the passing side of things.


Just one, but it was crucial. With Michigan up just six and under three minutes to go in the first half, Michigan was driving for a score that would give them a boost and some breathing room going into the locker. Instead, Grady fumbles at the Vandy 19 and Michigan goes into the break only leading 13-7.


This is so big, it trumps all other problems. Last year was a painful collection of blown leads and not keeping opponents down when they were on the mat. Saturday's game was almost a repeat of the same. Yes, we had many more yards, chances and opportunities, but until 2:38 left in the 3rd, Michigan only had a six point lead over a mediocre team (and I don't want to hear about Vandy's win over Tennessee and close loss to Florida last season. That was a Vandy team that had a first round NFL draft pick at QB. And that team still had a losing record). So until Michigan's final score, while not likely, the outcome was wasn't yet a certainty.

As I said before, Michigan's back-up QB should have been playing most of the 4th quarter, not for only a snap or two at the end. This should have been a game where Michigan blew out a less talented opponent and got experience for back-ups. Instead, U-M had to have starters in until the end because they let the other team hang around. Scarier still, the offense, which was supposed to be the strength of the team, at least initially, had to be carried by the defense.

And while it didn't burn the team today, it will against more formidable foes in the future. Because any way you slice it, this performance was not what most Michigan fans were expecting.

Nor should they.

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MGOBLUE94 said...

YOST YOST YOST, less we forget the 1997 season where Michigan practically every game won only by 7 points or less and it was OUR DEFENSE that kicked @SS!

While I agree with the lack luster performance of the O! If they are to have an OFF day sometime this season ... I am glad it is today and not 2 weeks from today.


Beban said...

Let's be honest, it was a 20-7 game when you guys tacked on a cheapy touchdown. Vandy played an absolue horshit game, and you guys won. I like Michigan, but I wouldn't be too happy if I were an alum. Not a well played game.

Allaha said...

"Thank goodness he carried the ball like it was radioactive waste." Brilliant, and very funny.

Quick question: does a lackluster victory over a clearly inferior opponent (if you believe UM was unimpressive, think of ND) justify a fall in the polls, particularly early in the season where all teams have yet to prove themselves?

Anonymous said...

I agree with you on all points excpet for 1...I thought Henne looked good early on while you thought he didn't. I thought he was making good decisions & putting the ball in places his receivers could make plays. Once the drops happened he then looked a little flustered IMO. It was like the trust in his WRs was gone & so was his confidence.

Everything else you commented on I agree with. Finally someone who sees UM football like I do.

Not time to panic yet but plenty to learn from after this game.

UpTheHawks said...

I was at the Hawks game so I didnt get to see you guys play, but do you think it was the play calling? Our offense looked pedestrian today as well, but it was because we didnt get beyond page 1 of the playbook! It kind of sounds like you guys had the same deal. You did enough to win and got the W. I think you guys will build from here and bring your A game when it matters.

IC said...


I agree with many of your points and I'm concerned--but not really bothered or worried (yet)--about how we looked today for the following reasons:

1) we won
2) we didn't seem to suffer any injuries
3) just because we were unimpressive doesn't mean we will remain that way, in the same way that winning 48-0 wouldn't mean that we will be a great team.

It became clear to me months ago that the 2005 season really did a number on the collective psyche on Michigan fans. M fans have been so anxious to get that horrible taste out of their mouths that they are guzzling that first glass of water. For the most part their reactions seem to be; "It's not as cold as I thought it would be!", "I'm still thirsty!", "I think I can still taste that awful taste!"

But there's another glass of water being served next week. And then another much bigger glass the week after that.

Blu4eva said...

I agree it was a less than stellar opening. I thought the "D" looked good. The "O" left my mouth dry. I thought a few play conversions would have meant alot more points. Hopefully this was a wakeup call...Vandy played a tough game. Outmatched it every category, they stayed in it for much of the game. I am concerned about a mobile QB and the seemingly wide open middle...

Barringer19 said...

I agree, this game should have been put away in the 2nd quarter, Forcier should have played the entire 3rd and Cone in the 4th....but with that said, i can only remain optimistic.

~Go Blue

Anonymous said...

I agree with the post. It doesn't look like anything has changed despite all the talk about improvement. While the defensive stats appear impressive, they come against a weak opponent in a tune-up game at home. Watching the defense on individual plays, I have to think that a serious opponent would have shredded us just like last year. If the Vandy receivers hadn't dropped so many spot-on passes we would really have been in trouble.

I would have preferred that we start the season unranked and potentially earn our way into the rankings if we can prove we deserve to be ranked.

Hopefully we will see massive improvement over the next 2 weeks. Otherwise...

BarringerHitsHard said...

Defense had one bad play....Offense took the day off....

Anonymous said...

Well Benny and IC, I have to go with Yost on this one. It was not a performance that ones expects from Michigan after the season that we had.

Look at the Vols, they destroyed Cal, now ppl will say it was Vandy and that if we had played ND in our first game we would have done well. Do you guys think that would have been the case? Me think not!!

The main point is the offense, had we scored 27 point in first half and end up with the same scoreline, ppl would have been happy. Henne was not good, we expect a lot more from a 3rd year starter. Look at Ainge, he was ridiculous, Booty was alright.

We better show up at ND and open up this playbook. You know what LLoyd might just play it close to the vest in a road game and we will never get to see it at ND.

Sick and tired of this Vanilla crap on offense, yes we need to have statement wins and it has to be on a big stage.

Matt said...

One of the only two games I can make it to this year and that was the offensive crap I got to see. The only positive is that I'm pretty sure I entertained everyone around me. I was constantly yelling at Carr, which obviously wasn't enough to remind him that the forward pass was invented over 80 years ago.

My only consolation is the idea that he simply wanted to limit the offense so ND wouldn't get a chance to see the passing game. By the way, was it just me, or did it look like we were using a variation of the "stretch run" that the Colts have been using since Edgerrin James got drafted?

Woodley and Hall looked great individually on defense. I was not impressed with the left side of the O-line. It seemed like that is where most of the pressure on Henne came from. I did like seeing him run downfield, although at one point he threw the ball into coverage when he had a 5-6 yard bubble in front of him.

And then I got to freeze my ass off at the Tigers game, just to see them lose.

surrounded in columbus said...

A little post script from the game- I wasn’t jubilant, but I think you are over reacting on one essential point- this team looked (and felt) very different from anything last year. Yeah, we should have scored more. The special teams were oddly bad- especially punt/kick coverage (w/ the exception of #9). Lots of room for improvement.

However, a lot of things were different- and after 4 or 5 seasons of the same, different is good. that may have been lost on tv by the miscues and poor execution at times, but there in the stadium, it had a different feel.

First, the defense, both from a “player” level and “coaching” level was out standing. They were aggressive all game long. They chased after the QB/RB in the backfield. They TACKLED! Very few yards after contact. They actually TACKLED people.

Two most important plays on D- after they got burned for the TD on the trick play, they DID NOT stop playing aggressively. The next D play after that was a blitz. One of the biggest adjustments for Lloyd is to accept w/ this up tempo D is going to be the possibility/likelihood of getting burned for being too aggressive every once in awhile. You have to shake those mistakes off and go stick w/ it anyway. We did that Saturday. That’s a HUGE change.

Second important play- on Vandy’s last drive, did anyone else notice Hall’s tremendous play on the corner blitz, where he was chopped at the line, came off the block, got up and made the tackle for loss? More importantly, did anyone else notice that there was less than a minute to play, we had a 3 score lead and we still sent a corner blitz instead of a soft zone to “protect” the lead? When did we EVER see that before?

This was a very different D- regardless of opponent.

For offense, it was frustrating/disappointing in the execution, but there were bright spots. We ran the ball great. The zone blocking was impressive at times. The line was so- so pass blocking, but we ran the ball.

The play calling was diverse, not brilliant, but different. We threw on first down- w/ a lead. Maybe we threw too much? But we didn’t get overly predictable. We didn’t run off tackle twice, throw a 5 yd pass when we needed 6, and punt. It was different.

Henne looked lackluster at times; others, pretty good. Maybe he’s just a little streaky. However, Huckleby pointed out on his post game show that if the receivers had caught half the drops, Henne would have had 4 td passes, better than 50% completions, and nobody would be expressing concerns.

Probably the key positive to me- Henne showed some poise, followed his check downs, played heady even if he threw short. Several times he stepped up in the pocket, even tried running (snagged a first down or two). He’s never gonna be V. Young, but he showed a willingness to step out of his shell and move the ball up field on his own. This was one of the “things” they had talked about working on in the off season and he showed improvement.

BTW- Vandy fans are very classy. Their female fans are fabulous. And their pom squad could give UT’s a run for their money.

I guess overall, what I liked most was that this year, things that they had talked about doing in the off season- committing to the run, aggressive defense, getting Henne to step out of his shell/ comfort zone- they actually looked like they were doing that. Doing it well? Not always. But they did make changes and it’s been a long time since we started the season doing ANYTHING different than last year.

CaliGirl said...

Although I agree with most of your post, I personally think they did look better than last year. Henne couldn't catch a break with key passes were being dropped! Had those not hit the ground, DIFFERENT game I think. Defense looked strong at times, but I agree...with a scrambling QB I too was nervous. However, they looked a hell of a lot better than last year.

I am hoping in my heart that this was a glorified scrimmage for the Blue and they needed to 'put it all together'. Now that the jitters are gone and the fear of having the same record as last year is on its way to being diminished...I will wait another Saturday to prove this theory and hope my heart is right :o)


Ungar Kelt said...

Henne is only going to look as good as his receivers & tight ends allow him to look. If he is putting the ball on the players' #s (or outstretched hands), he has done his job. If his WR / TEs make the easy catches, we are talking about a 34-7 or 41-7 Michigan win and how brilliant the offense will be this year.

js said...

I can't believe what is being said around here. That was a good game by Henne. Breaston and Massey should have caught the balls thrown at them. The RB looks good with no injury-related issues. Big thumbs up for Mike Hart, Brandon Minor and Kevin Grady (despite the fumble). Manningham does not play up to expectations, but then again those expectations are of the extreme categories. Most of the protection problems are caused by the tight ends not executing the blocking scheme. (If anything looks horrendous, the tight ends look like the culprits. What are they doing? Not blocking well yet not catching the balls thrown at them?) The punting looks okay (Zoltan IS the space emperor), and the defense looks good if overly aggressive (which is better than sitting back and praying that the opponents make a mistake). Biggs are playing close to justifying his name (".. and Biggs comes through for Michigan!") and Crable looks fast.

My main concerns are again those tight ends and those "lateral" plays when the WRs are not the most disciplined blockers (hello, Adrian Arrington!). I would be cautiously optimistic about any NC or Big Ten hopes, but looks like a 10-2 or 9-3 season is what beckons (and I am actually happy about it.)

Go Blue!

JonSobel said...

I guess the ultimate question is "Did you ever REALLY feel Vandy had a shot to win the game, yesterday?" If the answer is yes, then by all means, worry away.

For me, the answer was no for three reasons.

1. We wanted to establish the run and were able to put up almost 250 using only 4 different running plays all day.

2. We wanted a quicker more aggressive defense and did we EVER get that.

3. We wanted to win the game with no injuries while at the same time showing absolutely nothing to future opponents.

Accomplished all three, and I never felt Vandy had a shot.

robert paulson said...

Let's be honest here, how can a Michigan fan not get excited to see a straight up *ss kicking by the defense and a dominating ground game? When Lloyd Carr has that combination at his disposable, he is nearly unbeatable. Unfortunately, it's been years since we had either.

That D was just nasty yesterday and whipped Vanderbilt's O-Line into submission. And keep in mind, that is supposed to be one of the better OLs in the SEC this year. They just got abused by our front 4. English hardly ever had to rush more than 4 or 5 to get consistent pressure.

As for mobile quarterbacks, that kid looked like a pretty good runner (aside from the fumbles). But did he ever get more than 10 yards? For all the juking and jiving he did, he never busted a big play because the defense came at him in waves.

Anonymous said...

Man, youse guys is in for a long season (sic0). I thought you still played football in Michigan, but there was little proof of that.

Brad said...

Guys, those of you complaining about the offense (particularly the passing game) need to realize 2 things:

1. We were quite obviously determined to win this game using as little of the playbook as possible so Weis can't see it. Our routes were short and Vandy had a decent secondary that impressed me with their ability to cover them. If we had chosen to stetch the field more it would have been different, but we didn't and you'll see more of the same next week.

2. The D is greatly improved. surrounded in coulumbus covered it, so the only thing I'll say is it was nice to see the return of good TACKLING. That alone will make a huge difference.

Anonymous said...

yes, the passing and kicking game looked out of sync. but i thought Michigan looked much hungrier than they have in a while- the running game, and of course, the defense.

esepcially the DL- so nice to see pressure on the QB that is not dependant on blitzing- they were getting a fercocious rush with the front four.

Anonymous said...

...thought Henne was decisive in whatever he was doing (where too throw, when to take off and run), even though he did misfire several times, and of course the many dropped balls.

With a good week concentrating on improving the passing game, Michigan should give ND plenty to worry about and be in good shape for the game at South bend.

mg said...

I'm not buying all the posts about the "limited playbook". Okay, so we kept it basic so Weis wouldn't get any ideas.

We kept it basic, and Henne and his receivers still can't connect? How is that a good thing? If the WR's can't catch the ball on the basic routes, why are we expecting the passing game to be in synch when they open up the playbook? That'll only make things worse!

Seriously, I'd really like to see Henne complete 65-70% of his passes this next weekend. Ok, keep it simple still, but at least let's see some indication that the passing game can move the chains.

surrounded in columbus said...

amen to improvement. both Henne & the wideouts need to improve-i'm an equal opportunity blamer- he needs to be more accurate, they need to catch 'em when he is.

also, i've had enough of the wr screen. let's hope we something/anything else by ND.

Matthew Starr said...

I don't know why we don't try to block punts when the gunners are on Breaston like white on rice. What's the diff?

Anonymous said...

Some comments...

The defense was aggressive, but undisciplined. It only cost 7 points against Vandy. How many will it cost against a good - or merely hot - team?

Henne is a junior with 24 starts. Great QBs should be looking at 65% completion rate, not 50%. Every QB has drops - live with it. I've always thought that Henne was not an accurate passer. I saw nothing on Saturday to convince me otherwise. If Loeffler is such a "great" QB coach (the myth lives on!) - why isn't Henne getting better?

Stop with the "closed play book" crap. Our "closed play book" has NEVER given us an advantage over ND - and it won't do so this year. Unless, of course, your point is that ND would have beaten us like a red-headed step child save for the closed play books which have kept us in the games.

For their opening game, USC visits an SEC team to play a night game with a new offensive backfield and lays 50 on 'em. Michigan hosts an SEC team with a veteran backfield and an offense that is the supposed strength of the team and gets their 27th point - "salting the game away" - with 2 minutes to go. By the way, Arkansas is much better than Vanderbilt.

Why? Is the coaching that much better at USC? Is USC's first time starting QB that much better than our 25 start QB? Are SC's RBs that much better than Hart? Does anyone think that Michigan could play an opening game, night game, AT Arkansas, and actually win it - much less put up 50 points?

Can't spell Lloyd without 2 "L's" said...

1) Offense sucked. Far too many dropped passes. I'm looking at you, Steve Breaston.

2) Special teams blew. Nothing new here.

3) Defense looked great all day, except 1 play. Thank you Ron English.

4) Why have Hart carry 31 times? I know Vandy was still in it, and Grady also occasionally handles the football like Tom Cruise would handle a tit, but why not more carries for him and Minor?

5) Thought there was a chance for more breathing room before settling for 1st field goal. (Not blamings refs, but) I thought Manningham made that catch. Had possession, 1 foot down. Changed Mo' a little. No excuse to not have done better.

Ben said...

Yost & Co., I love the site but you're starting to sound dangerously like the Wal-Mart fans who spout uneducated, anti-coach rhetoric for everything that could possibly be interpreted as a less-than-perfect play.

Don't do that.

Ungar Kelt said...

According to a Free Press article today, Saturday was basically a zone blocking clinic for the offense. That was why Hart carried the ball an excessive 31 times. That was why the game was almost totally run oriented. I'm guessing that Saturday the passing game will be more prominent.

BaggyPantsDevil said...

Nope, not quite 2005 all over again. If I remember correctly, every team Michigan played last year scored on their first possession. That definitely didn’t happen Saturday.

I’m not going to deny I was disappointed watching the first half (unfortunately the only part of the game I saw). I do, however, think this is a purely emotional reaction brought on by some sort of 2005 Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and a kid-on-Christmas Eve level of anticipation for this season to finally begin.

Sure this was Vanderbilt and they should have been crushed and demoralized by the end of the first quarter, sure the passing game looked bad due to dropped balls and poor blocking, sure Michigan was racking up the yards only to piss away the scoring opportunities. I even felt a terrible jolt of fear deep in my chest when I realized—and then the announcers confirmed—that Mike Hart was sitting on the sidelines instead of being on the field. Fortunately, it had nothing to do with a high ankle sprain. Michigan didn’t come out and make the earth shattering statement I was hoping they’d made.

Still, Michigan won 27-7.

Vanderbilt needed a trick play to score its lone touchdown. Vanderbilt routinely went three and out and was routinely driven backwards. Mike Hart is back and ran all over the Commodores.

And when has a Michigan team ever run up the score on an opponent? Regardless of how undersized, undertalented, and otherwise pathetic an opponent might be, 27-7 is pretty much par for the course. Sure, Fielding Yost annihilated opponents back at the turn of the last century but Lloyd Carr just doesn’t do it and he should be commended for that.

When viewed without emotion and without envious glances at the scores of other games, Michigan is pretty much what we’ve all expected. Or at least it’s what I expected:

Better defense. I don’t think anyone can argue that the defense doesn’t look better at just about everything. They got burned badly on one play but otherwise dominated and smacked Vanderbilt around. I’m something of a contrarian so while others gush about high scoring offenses, I tend to prefer mean and violent defenses. I liked what I saw.

Better rushing. With a healthy Mike Hart and an offensive line not decimated with injuries, the running game had to improve. It did and also has a lot of depth.

No great playmakers in passing. Everyone had to expect this. Steve Breaston is more of a kick returner than pass catcher and Mario Manningham is still inexperienced. Either of these two—or someone else—could still step up, but going into these season no one has seriously established themselves as a clutch receiver. The dropped balls really should have been expected.

Iffy offensive line. Although anything had to be better than last year’s injury riddled line, this was a big question mark. What we got is some good run blocking and some poor pass protection. We already know Chad Henne tends to make poor throws when under pressure so some errant balls shouldn’t be much of a surprise either.

What we do have is a team that plays physical, aggressive defense that will beat up on opposing offenses. That’s a very good thing to have. We also have a deep rushing attack on offense. That’s also a very good thing to have. That means using up a lot of clock time and again, pushing the other team around. They may not light up the scoreboard or set NCAA passing records but that is classic Michigan football that likely has Bo Schembechler sexually aroused.