|Upon Further Review: UMass|
Written by Ben Szilagy
Let's be honest for a minute. Michigan wasn't going to lose this game. We all know that. Michigan has greatly superior talent, and UMass has struggled against even weak competition. This game was an opportunity for Michigan to get better in key areas. This wasn't a game against a defending National Champion like Appalachian State was in 2007, and far from Alabama. UMass is a far-cry from that and it showed.
Unfortunately for the Maize and Blue that does not mean Michigan played a perfect game.
Most people like to criticize Denard Robinson. The popular opinion is that he is not a passer and can only run the football. He did do both successfully on Saturday thanks to the offensive line's pass blocking which has been a bright spot early on this season and he decided to tuck and run when there wasn't a receiver open. But some of the same annoying miscues reared their ugly heads throughout the game.
Throwing is a process every time Robinson drops back – there's no question about it. As he goes through his reads, he doesn't always reset his feet to complete his pass. This was the case when he threw behind Jeremy Jackson, a pass that was intercepted by Christian Birt for a pick-six. Robinson's lead foot wasn't pointed to his receiver. Instead, it was pointed towards the middle of the field, which led to the big mistake. Robinson also over threw a wide open Roy Roundtree and Jeremy Gallon on plays that would have been for big gains. The footwork is something that has gotten better from last year to this year, but the sloppy mechanics will hurt even more later on in the season against Big Ten opponents, which was something Brady Hoke alluded to in his post-game comments.
The Wolverines also need to start seeing the old Fitzgerald Toussaint. We saw glimpses on Saturday but he needs to start planting his foot in the ground and hit the hole more consistently. There were a couple of instances when Toussaint left some yards on the field when he tried to dance around defenders instead of using his speed. While the run blocking has not been stellar, it was more serviceable on Saturday. It's something that's going to need to improve quickly with Notre Dame due next week.
The defense also leaves much to be desired. The front four needs to get off its blocks and apply pressure on the quarterback. Michigan did, finally, utilized a blitz package that appeared to give UMass fits. The freshmen defenders are the silver lining here. Linebacker Joe Bolden continues to play very well, as does defensive tackle Ondre Pipkins. Bolden’s motor is impressive, and his instincts are usually correct. There is a reason why he is replacing Kenny Demens, who seems to disappear during the game.
Speaking of defense, Frank Clark was among the best players on the field on Saturday. Off the field issues aside, he continues to impress on with his play. As Hoke genuinely said on Monday, “it's good to have him back.” The way he swats passes on the defensive line is impressive. It makes you wonder why you don't see that from anyone else on the line. Last week, he made key stops doing just that against Air Force, and knocked down more passes this week. His play is inspiring, and it needs to be contagious. If it is, you'll get better play out of the linebackers and the backfield. The trickle down effect pays dividends and will help create turnovers, which would be a welcome sight to the Maize and Blue as well.