You ever hear the term, “revenge is sweet?” Well who ever said that must have had the Michigan Wolverines in mind because on Saturday afternoon the Wolverines got their sweet revenge on Appalachian State as they demolished them with a final score of 52-14.
Although I’m sure many fans walked out of the game happy with what they saw from Michigan, head coach Brady Hoke says that while it was great to start the season with a great win, he knows this team is nowhere near where they need to be.
“It’s obviously great to win football games to start the season.” Hoke said. “I had mentioned to you many times before that this team has worked really hard and they’ve done a nice job. I think the leadership throughout has been good and I thought we played hard…but there is a lot of things that this football team has to do better.”
I must admit that I agree with coach Hoke, while Michigan did walk away with a nice victory, I am still not ready to put away my concerns about this team yet. I know they beat Appalachian State to a pulp, but to be honest, the score should have been higher and there is no reason that Appalachian State should have scored two touchdowns and left this game having scored 14 points. Now I know what your thinking, “a win is a win” and your right “a win is a win” but I’m not taking anything away from the win, I’m simply saying that Michigan should be beating Appalachian State to a pulp, and just like Hoke said, beating Appalachian State isn’t the big picture here, winning and continuously getting better is the team’s big picture.
“We weren’t competing with the scoreboard, we were competing with our abilities.” Hoke replied. “That’s what we talked about going into the game and how we wanted to play and how we wanted to go about every down. Statistics are statistics and you can look at them and believe them or look at them and know that is not the true answer because there is a lot of things that this football team has to do better.”
Apparently one of the areas that coach Hoke feels the team could be better is defense.
“I was a little concerned in the second half, when [Appalachian State] had the opportunity to run the ball. [When it comes to] the middle of our defense, we have to do a better job there. I thought the kids played hard [but it was] disappointing, that we had no turnovers defensively, and we only had one sack. We know that [Appalachian State] gets the ball out of their hands pretty quick and that is just part of what they do but we should have been a little better than that, we had some opportunities [to make plays] and we have to make them when we are there.”
Now I know some of you may be surprised that coach Hoke wasn’t as impressed with the defense as some other critics tended to be. While I admit I like certain thing from the defense in particular the way they were able to cause eight Appalachian State punts, I similar to Hoke also thought that the defense could have performed better or they could have at least performed better in certain areas.
Don’t get me wrong, I thought the defense definitely had a good game, especially in coverage seeing that they did a great job of keeping the Appalachian State offense at bay through the air. However, I do feel the Wolverines could have done a better job of containing the run, considering Appalachian State rushed for 127 yards in this game. Plus it was because of Appalachian State’s three big running plays that they were even in a position to score 14 points.
The same thing holds true for Michigan’s defensive pass rush. Although, they did do a good job of pressuring quarterback Kameron Bryant and controlling the line of scrimmage, a few times I felt like they let the quarterback slip way or they allowed him to much time to throw, which resulted in a big play being made or near big play almost being made.
Which is why I once again must give credit to the secondary. Although they had a few botched plays, I honestly thought the secondary played pretty well. When it came to pass coverage, I thought the cornerbacks did a great job of staying tight and making every catch hard for the receivers if it all possible to catch. While the safeties did a good job of not letting anybody get behind them and forcing the Appalachian State offense to beat them with the short game. Then if that’s enough, I also thought that the secondary did a great job of coming up and making open field tackles, which is something that they lacked last season.
If you think I am exaggerating, just know that Brady Hoke also thought the secondary played well.
“I thought they were pretty tight on coverage.” Hoke speaking on the secondary’s play. “I think that part of it was [key for me]. We have worked real hard on being tighter on coverage…and you felt those guys [all game], you felt them on [when they were] breaking on balls and you felt them [when they were] cleaning hits up.”
Again I know it may seem like I am not giving the whole Michigan defense credit and trust me when I say I don’t want this to seem like it is “bash Michigan defense day”, especially after they played a pretty good game overall. I am just merely stating that the defense can better. However, while I feel the defense could have performed better in certain parts of the game, let me say that I did like the fact that the defense as a whole brought plenty of physicality.
Unlike last year’s Michigan defense, this defense brought pure hard-hitting football to Michigan stadium on Saturday and I don’t know about you but that was truly a great sight because if you go back to some of the older and successful Michigan teams, you will see that while Michigan defenses have always had talented players on their defense, their defense has always had even more players who brought the brutal physicality to their defense, which is why the older Michigan defenses were lethal. Although, Saturday’s defense had its bad moments, I have to say that one of the best moments of the game, was the hard-hitting and good overall physical tackling that the Wolverines brought and I definitely hope to see it continue as the season goes.
Now I know your probably thinking, move on from the defense and get to the offense. I must admit that Michigan offense really surprised me in this game in, in fact they surprised me almost every way possible, except for the wide receiver position which I already knew waa legit. Nonetheleas, while I was happy to see Michigan’s offense succeed, I have to say I am not ready to toss my concerns away because I honestly still think they can be so much better. However, before I get into how much they can be better, let me highlight a few things about Michigan’s offense, starting with the play of the offensive line.
I don’t know about you but I must admit that the offensive line did better than expected. They only allowed quarterback Devin Gardner to be sacked once in this game, which is a plus, considering they allowed him to be sack multiple times per game last season. Although the running game had a slow start, I thought the offensive line did a solid job of opening up some holes for the running backs to make some big plays.
“We wanted that offensive line to play together and we talked about taking them out a series before the last touchdown but since they really hadn’t played really much together. You know [Kyle] Kalis miss some of camp and getting him back in and playing with him and then the combination of him and Joe [Burzynski] [was key]. Getting Mason [Cole] as many snaps [was also key] especially with a quality guard next to him was important. I thought Jack Miller did a really nice job with our offensive line. Between the communication, I was impressed with Jack and I have been all camp. So they did a good job.
“There was a sequence in two of the series, in the second quarter where we lost some yardage on a couple runs or we [only] got two yards [on a couple plays] and you know that bothers me. I think we want perfection and that’s good, because high standards should be high. So that bothered us….but [as a whole], I thought they came out aggressive. Just being on the sideline and watching the body angles and the leverage they were playing [and] the way they were finishing blocks [stood out.]…I think we’re a long way from how good we can be and we just got to keep working.”
I have to once again agree with coach Hoke on this one (and trust me, I don’t do that often). Despite some positive moments from the offensive line, I honestly think they should have play well, especially against a team like Appalachian State. Now don’t misunderstand me, because I sincerely mean no disrespect to Appalachian State or their program but that doesn’t change the fact that they didn’t play well on either side of the ball and while it is nice to see the Michigan offensive line perform well, as I said earlier, they should perform well, there was no excuse for them not to perform in this game.
However, the offensive line’s solid play doesn’t mean, I am ready to let go of my concerns yet concerning this offensive line’s consistency. Again, I am not taking anything away from the offensive line and what they did on Saturday, I am simply saying that every team won’t play like Appalachian State. You have to remember that Michigan will be going up against far tougher defenses this season and the offensive line has to be able to protect Gardner and provide running lanes for the backs, just like they did in Saturday’s win against Appalachian State.
Nevertheless, let’s move on to the next highlight of the day, that being running game. Now coming into the game, I was worried about the running game, not because of the backs, but because of the offensive line. However, since the offensive line stepped up in this game, it opened up a nice amount of opportunities for the backs and boy ole boy did they take advantage of those various opportunities.
Not only did running backs De’Veon Smith and Derrick Green combine for a total of 289 rushing yards together but the offense as a whole combined for a total of 364 rushing yards.
I don’t know about you but I found those numbers to be impressive, mainly because that is what the Wolverines running game should be able to provide this season, especially when you consider the fact that they have two one-hundred yard rushers on their team, like Smith and Green. Not to mention two underrated running backs behind them in Justice Hayes and Drake Johnson.
Now when it comes Smith and Green, I have said it before and I will say again, there is no reason that they shouldn’t be able to provided a nice one-two punch combo in the running game all season long, for the main fact that they both provide a unique and great skill set and they showed everyone those skills in their win against Appalachian State.
“I think it’s huge for our football team and its huge for [Smith and Green].” Hoke replied. “Their both big backs but their [also very] different. As you noticed, De’Veon would rather run you over and play tag or try to make you miss. [While] Derrick has a little combination of both. In the end, it was good to have those guys have success and I think it again, speaks again to what the offensive line did and what the receivers did [in terms of blocking].”
When it comes to Smith, I felt like he did a better job of creating something out of nothing. He came in and took what little holes the offensive line gave him. Then on the flip side when he was given big holes, he took advantage of them, a perfect example of that would be his 61-yard gain, which was followed by a 12-yard touchdown along with another touchdown later in the game, allowing him to finish the game with 115 yards and two touchdowns. If you ask me, Smith, also showed us that he has plenty of versatility to offer this offense. Not only did he show us that he has the burst and speed to get up the field but he also showed us that he has the physicality to break tackles and run over anybody who gets in his way.
That being said, I am not taking anything away from Green, although he did struggle early on in the game, he did get going as the game went on, seeing that he finished with 174 yards and one touchdown. Looking back at it Green is another versatile back who brings a lot to the offense. He already brings a nice amount of power and strength to the run game due to his strength and overall size but he also brings a nice amount of explosiveness and speed to the game with his good footwork and undervalued speed which allows him to get loose down the field.
Which leads me to back to my earlier statement that this Michigan running back core can do plenty of great things if they first, stay healthy and if they are provided with good blocking on a consistent basis. If they receive those two things, sky is the limit for them.
I must say that same phrase holds true for the rest of Michigan’s offense that includes, quarterback Devin Gardner and some of the many receivers on the team including rising star and wide receiver Devin Funchess.
Now, when it comes to Gardner, I think it is safe to say coming into this game, there were a lot of eyes on Gardner. Although, there were some concerns about Gardner’s ability to lead this team and perform, I honestly think Gardner did a good job of silencing some of his critics with his play against Appalachian State.
Although, I am not ready to say that Gardner is the next great quarterback of Michigan, I must admit that I like what I saw from Gardner.
From beginning to finish, Gardner did a great job of getting the ball out quickly but what I like most is the fact that Gardner allowed his teammates to make plays after the catch. Don’t get me wrong, because Gardner certainly had a few long yardage throws but most of his passes, were about getting the ball out quickly and allowing his receivers like Funchess, Dennis Norfleet and Jehu Chesson to make plays after the catch, which was important.
Then on top of that, I also love the fact that Gardner played smart and accurate football, as he wenr completed 13 of his 14 passes, giving him an imptessive 92 percent completion rate for the game. Now, in the past, Gardner would have tried to force things and or try to make a big play, when in the end, all he had to do was throw the ball or trust his teammate to make play. Although, this was only the first game of the season, I must admit that Gardner played smart. For one, he didn’t turn the ball over but I also like the fact that he looked comfortable both in and out of the pocket. If you look back at this game, you will see that he showed a good quick and accurate release in the pocket but you will also see Gardner show that same accuracy and overall good play out of the pocket. At times, he faced pressure, but instead of automatically running for his life, he stayed calm, moved around in the pocket, kept his eyes down the field and found the open receiver. Then on those times, where waa no one open, he would once again make the smart decision to either throw the ball away or make something happen with his legs.
“We really wanted [Gardner] to manage the game and take care of the football and I think he made some really good decisions. Hoke said. “He changed a play or two at the line of scrimmage and I thought he played locked into what was going on.”
If that’s not enough, I also really like the chemistry between Gardner and Funchess in this game. I mean it’s not really a shock considering they slowly but surely began forming chemistry last season but it doesn’t change the fact that those two connected on a whole new level in this game. To be honest. I can only recall one bad play between the two and considering Gardner threw to Funchess for three touchdowns, that’s not bad at all.
Although I am currently talking about Gardner, I have to show some love to Funchess who had an amazing performance in Michigan’s win against Appalachian State. Not only did Funchess account for three touchdowns, making him the first Michigan receiver in Michigan history to score three touchdowns in the season opener. He also showed his amazing versatility and soft hands.
“[Funchess] provided a presence out there.” Hoke said. “He is definitely someone you need to pay attention to and I think as the year goes on and he keeps working, learning and developing, more people will bracket him more…but then that [will also] help [Michigan’s other receivers] Chesson, Darboh and Norfleet and [along with] those other guys at receiver.”
Just like coach Hoke said, keep in mind, that it was only Funchess, who performed well in this game. I know he was the star of this game, seeing that he accounted for three touchdowns. However you have to remember that receivers Norfleet, Chesson and Amara Darboh, also performed well. I know they may have not scored any touchdowns in this game, but they did constantly provide plenty of great plays in particular at blocking which helped to put Gardner in multiple positions to score, with Funchess or Smith and Green. Then if that’s not enough, they also provided plenty of yards after the catch, allowing the Wolverines to move the chains consistently. Overall, I was impressed with receiving core and the play of Gardner
Nonetheless, let me say that while I was happy with Gardner’s play, I’m not so overly excited that I am ready to call him a Heisman candidate. To be honest, I’m not even ready to say that he is the guy to lead this team to a Big Ten Championship. Yes, Gardner played well but at this point, that’s what I expect him to do, especially against Appalachian State. Again, I’m not taking anything away from Appalachian State or even Gardner’s good play, I am simply saying that Gardner did his job, which was to lead this offense and beat Appalachian State. Now I look to see what he will do next week against Notre Dame, who I considered to be a good team and formidable opponent.
To be honest, I hold that same type of feeling about the Wolverines entire offense. I’m not attempting to downplay their great play on Saturday but just like I said earlier, this offense should have demolish Appalachian State’s defense and to be honest the score should have been higher. However, thanks to a few bad plays and some costly penalties Michigan’s offense saw a few of missed opportunities. While there are some people who may say that it isn’t a big deal, keep in mind that every team won’t be like the Appalachian State.
A perfect example is the fact that Michigan led Appalachian 14-0 for over 15 minutes of the game without scoring and increasing their lead until the end of the second quarter. While some of you may look at that and say “so what?” Keep in mind that if Michigan was to do that against Michigan State or Ohio State, it could come back to hurt them. Again, I am not asking Michigan to be perfect, I am saying every opportunity is a scoring opportunity and while I can take Michigan not scoring because of good defense by their opponent, it’s hard to stomach them not scoring because of small mistakes that can be avoided like penalties or mental errors.
At the end of the day, I was impressed with Michigan and what I saw in their win against Appalachian State. They showed good balance offensively and I was really happy to see the offense line play well. Although the defense didn’t keep the shutout going by allowing Appalachian State to score, I still think they provided a good effort along with good overall play in this game.
That being said, coach Hoke and I agree that this Michigan team still has so much more to improve on both sides of the ball. Although it will take time, there is no doubt that this team is capable of being great for the main fact that they work hard and want to be great.
“Our football team was ready, you could tell how they prepared the whole week.” Coach Hoke said. “The offense [and the defense] fed off each other a little bit and it was good to get on the board [first] and [respond well defensively]. [Nevertheless] I still think we need to do a better job of coming out [and competing] like we did in the first quarter [of the Appalachian State game].
Nevertheless, with the Appalachian State game behind them, fans can now look forward to Michigan’s next game, which will take place against Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, which is sure to be a great one considering this is the last game between the two for a while, since this historic rivalry will be put to rest for a while after this season.
“Well it’s always been a great a football game…Bo would say that it is the kind of that lets you know where [and who] your team is early in the season because of the similarities and the athletes who are on the field. So from that standpoint, I just think for college football, it’s a great rivalry and the significance of it being the last one down there [makes it even more significant].
Freshman cornerback Jabril Peppers made his debut on Saturday against Appalachian State and while there were some concerns that Peppers might be seriously hurt after sustaining an ankle injury. Coach Hoke confirmed that Peppers is alright and will play next week against Notre Dame.
“Yeah he’ll be alright, to be honest with you at halftime, I just decided not to bring him out in the second half. Hoke speaking on Peppers ankle injury and current status. “I mean it’s nothing [serious] like a life injury, [so] he’ll be ready next week.”
Written by LBeasley (Lauren Beasley), Sports Contributor for Radio One Detroit
For more of L-Beasley’s (Lauren Beasley) sports news and in-depth sports content, click here.