Sunday, September 03, 2006

Offensive showing

The Wolverines scored 27 points and amassed 381 yards of total offense (246 rushing; 135 passing) on Saturday versus Vanderbilt. As expected, Michigan did not "show" much as it worked out of basic offensive sets and stuck largely to the ground game. With Mike DeBord back in the booth calling the plays as offensive coordinator, the Wolverines were able to establish a running game against the Commodores largely on the strength of Mike Hart and the left side of the offensive line (Jake Long and Adam Kraus). A healthy Hart was a wonder to watch as he rolled to 146 yards on 31 carries (4.7 yard/per carry avg.).

QB Chad Henne only threw 22 passes on Saturday. DeBord's play calling was reminiscent of Bo's Jim Harbaugh-era offense where Michigan would pass the ball 20-25 times per game. Normally, DeBord and Carr try to shoot for an even balance between the running and passing game in terms of yardage but the game plan for the Vanderbilt game was to establish the run. Coming off the 2005 season in which Michigan finished 9th in the Big 10 in rushing, the coaches wanted to establish the running game right out of the gate this season. Employing a restricted passing attack in game one, the Wolverines merely passed the ball enough to keep the defense honest. Henne only completed 10 passes although two of them went for touchdowns.

Michigan's new zone blocking scheme on offense seemed to work well as Hart was able to hit the holes created by the O-Line. Hart displayed an uncanny ability to change direction and find the seam. He handled the bulk of the workload as he had 31 rushes. I thought that Michigan ran the risk of overusing Hart in a game they had well in hand. As Michigan is very deep at running back and they do not want to run to risk of Hart suffering another injury, I thought they should have limited him to 25 carries against Vanderbilt. With freshmen Carlos Brown and Brandon Minor needing experience I thought they could have and should have taken some of the workload off of Hart. The three back-ups who saw action (Kevin Grady, Brown and Minor) only handled 9 carries to Hart's thirty-one. Obviously, Hart was running strong but he ran strong in last season's opener before suffering an injury in game 2 that plagued him for the remainder of the season. The season is going to be a long haul and the Wolverines are deep at the running back position so they do not need "to ride" Hart so hard in this type of game. I think Hart should be limited to 20-25 carries next week vs. Central Michigan University.

Down and Distance

One of the most impressive things about the performance of Michigan's offense was its' performance on First Down. It seemed as if Michigan was in Second & Five time and again on Saturday afternoon. Michigan ran 21 times on first down (out of 30 first down plays) and averaged 4.5 yards per carry. For the entire game Michigan averaged 4.8 yards per rush which is a marked improvement over last season. In 2005, Michigan only averaged 3.9 yards per rush. With favorable down & distance, the Wolverines had a lot more options on offense. One of Coach Carr's biggest complaints about 2005 was that the Wolverines got themselves into too many unfavorable down and distance situations because of the poor rushing game and the Wolverines consequently repeatedly found themselves in obvious passing situations against defenses who were "bringing the house" on the obvious passing downs. If Michigan can keep up the solid gains on First Down this season as it did vs. Vanderbilt the offense will encounter much more success than it did a season ago.

Penalties, Sacks and Turnovers

After the game Coach Carr was quoted as saying, "Penalties, sacks and turnovers really ruined what could have been an outstanding offensive effort." Actually, I thought that was a rather tough assessment by Coach Carr. In my (uninformed) estimation what hampered the offensive effort was dropped passes by the receivers but Coach Carr did not mention that here but I'm sure he and Coach Campbell (Wide Receivers) will have something to say about it this week when they review film with the players.

As for sacks, Chad Henne was only dropped once by Vanderbilt (for a nine yard loss). Henne did a fine job of avoiding the rush and buying himself some time. I've never seen that out of him before and I was impressed. On the turnover front, Grady's fumble on the Vanderbilt 19 just before halftime was Michigan's lone turnover of the game although that was somewhat of an untimely one. It was interesting to note that Grady only had one more carry the rest of the game. If there is one thing that Coach Carr will not abide it is turnovers. I felt badly for Grady especially because he looked so impressive on his 19-yard TD run on the first drive of the game. Nevertheless, the amount of carries he will see this season will be limited if Coach Carr does not trust that he will hang onto the ball. On the penalty front, the Wolverines were flagged six times for a total of 54 yards. Most of the penalties seemed to be on the right side of the offensive line. Right Tackle Rueben Riley, Jr. was sent to the bench in the 4th quarter after picking up his second flag of the day. Right Guard Alex Mitchell (who experienced some problems of his own during the game) slid over to Right Tackle and Justin Schifano came in at Right Guard. Not all the penalties were incurred by the offensive line however. Wide Receiver Carl Tabb incurred a flag for lining up offsides and then he incurred the wrath of the coaches. Although he started, Tabb did not see much playing time during the game and he will not see the field much in future games as a wide receiver if he makes mistakes like that. The coaches have zero tolerance for such errors especially from a 5th-year senior. I expect that true freshman Greg Mathews who saw some action in the 4th quarter will quickly supplant Tabb on the depth chart.

Red Zone Offense

Officially, the box score lists Michigan as a perfect 3-3 on Red Zone Offense from the Vanderbilt game. A team cannot do better than 100 percent so I should not complain but I will point out that statistic is slightly misleading. Grady's fumble on the Vanderbilt 19 with under 3:30 to go in the half was not technically a red zone play because the snap occurred at the Vanderbilt 22 although the fumble occurred within the red zone (inside the opponent's 20-yard line). Thus, Michigan was a perfect 3-3 in the red zone. Nevertheless, technicalties aside, I do not like turnovers that deep in the opponent's territory whether or not it is a yard or two inside or outside the mythical red zone.

Back-Up Quarterback

Back-up QB Jason Forcier got into the Vanderbilt game and took his first ever snap under center in a game as a Wolverine. The problem was that it was the very last play of the game. At least it was a hand-off and the coaches did not make him take a knee on his first and only play as a Wolverine. Now that I've seen Forcier "in action" I feel better about the Wolverines' situation if Henne were to go down with an injury.

Go Blue!

*Note: Both photos contained in this post were taken by Julian H. Gonzalez/Detroit Free Press

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