By Tony Gerdeman
Oh, imagine what Ohio State fans would be saying about the Wolverines 34-26 win over Ball State right now had the Buckeyes not survived 17-10 in Champaign.
I should know, I was one of them
Since I was in Champaign for the Illinois game, I didn't get to watch the Michigan game live. Instead, all I had was a score update of 34-26.
And the score passed through the crowd like mashed potatoes at Sunday dinner.
"Ball State's down 34-26 and they've got it first and goal at the two", I was told.
Needless to say, I was intrigued. Not just about what was going to happen next, but how Michigan even got into that position in the first place.
Then word eventually came that Michigan held and won. We laughed. Of course, the Buckeyes were up 17-0 at the half, so we were feeling pretty good about ourselves.
Then, the second half happened.
And, having now watched the Ball State game, I can say that what happened in Michigan Stadium was nothing more than an unfortunate occurrence. You can't take too much from it.
Just as you can't take too much from the Buckeyes beating Illinois by seven points, especially after having beaten Texas by seventeen earlier in the season when you weren't as good as you are now.
So, let's just agree that very little was learned from this week for both teams. At this point in the season, you can't make judgments based on one game, especially when you've got a body of evidence tenfold of the game you just saw.
You can analyze it all you want, but it would be a lot easier on you if you just dismissed last Saturday's games altogether.
That's what I'm doing.
The Ball State and Illinois games were like running errands on laundry day. Of course you're not usually going to go to the bank in sweats and a mesh half-shirt, but that's all you've got to wear. Should people make judgments about you based on your apparel, especially since they see you in jeans and a polo shirt during the week?
Well, maybe the mesh shirt is a bad example, but you get the idea.
So, since we're in agreement that further analysis is pointless, let's take a closer look at Saturday's game.
When Michigan Had the Ball
They ran, and ran, and ran. Then they ran it again.
For the game, Michigan ran the ball 46 times for 352 yards, good for a 7.7 yard average. Ball State was abused up front nearly every down. Wolverine backs were getting upfield five or six yards before contact was even made.
And they didn't stop after five or six yards. Michael Hart had a 42-yard carry; Brandon Minor had a 40-yard carry; and Jerome Jackson had a 30-yard carry. And each of the three rushed for a touchdown as well.
It was the fastest that I've seen Michael Hart look in a long time. But you wonder if it's because he had guys from Ball State trying to chase him down from behind.
Hart's usually a very patient runner, but on Saturday, there were times where he didn't wait, he just went full steam into the line, because the holes were immense.
Minor and Jackson did the same thing. They didn't have to wait for things to develop, because they were already there.
Hart carried the ball 25 times for 154 yards, but he did finally lose a fumble for the first time since 2004. Hart fumbled the ball out of his own end zone, resulting in a safety for Ball State. It was a fluke fumble in that the defender punched the ball out of Hart's hands when going for the tackle. It was a perfect shot, and I imaging it would be difficult to duplicate..
Minor had twelve rushes for 108 yards and Jackson carried it six times for 68 yards. Even Chad Henne ran twice for eleven yards. Kevin Grady was in street clothes, nursing a bit of a shoulder ding. He's expected to be back this week against Indiana. Though if he isn't, would that really surprise you? Lloyd Carr has a way with non-disclosure.
Overall, it was a dominating effort for the Wolverine offensive line. They paved the way for an offense that tallied 507 yards of total offense. It was the first time the 500-mark had been reached since 2004.
Chad Henne was never sacked, and was actually only pressured a couple of times.
Henne looked good, save for an interception late in the first quarter that Ball State returned for a touchdown.
On the play, Henne was waiting for the slant to open up. The slot man on defense read this and jumped the slant, taking it the other way for 35 yards and the score. It gave the Cardinals a 9-7 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Henne finished up 17-25 for 155 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He didn't go downfield much, but that has become the norm since Manningham has been out.
Speaking of Mario, he's back. Well, he's not all the way back, but he's at least playing again. Lloyd Carr went into the game planning on getting Manningham 8-10 plays, and he accomplished that.
When Manningham was in, they tried to go to him deep. Twice, Henne tried the play action in order to set up the downfield pass, but both times Manningham was covered and Henne took off running. Later on in the game, he threw the ball down the sideline to Manningham, but the coverage was perfect and the pass fell incomplete. Manningham finished without a reception. He's not 100% yet. Some are putting him at around 85% right now. I don't understand the math involved, but that's as good a guess as any.
Steve Breaston led the team with seven receptions on the day. He only finished with 50 yards receiving, though. Adrian Arrington had two receptions for 25 yards as well. Both players dropped footballs that receivers have no business dropping. This, of course, has become the norm.
Tight end Carson Butler had a good game, catching four passes for 49 yards and a touchdown. He still has concentration issues. You can always count on him for a false start or an open drop where he would've picked up twenty yards. Tyler Ecker could be back at any time, which would be a huge plus for Michigan.
When Michigan Was on Defense
Well, when the starters were in, Michigan did just fine. Lloyd Carr and Ron English were substituting liberally in the game, particularly the second half. I've watched and taken notes on every game this year, and there were players getting their names called that hadn't been called before.
It was actually interesting to see what Michigan had on the bench, since they don't substitute as much as the Buckeyes do. And it was made apparent again that if either of Michigan's starting cornerbacks go down, Michigan is in trouble.
During Ball State's second-half comeback, backup corners Charles Stewart and Johnny Sears were both victimized. Sears gave up a 54-yard touchdown pass to Dante Love late in the third quarter. He was one-on-one and got beat deep. It wasn't even very close.
Terry Moss then got deep on Stewart for about a 62-yard gain, which eventually led to the touchdown that brought Ball State within a score.
Of course, the reason I'm only talking about Sears and Stewart is because there's nothing new on Hall and Trent. They're still good. Trent continues to show good coverage skills, and even showed a bit of a mean streak on a roughing the passer call.
Nickel back Brandon Harrison continues to be inconsistent. There are times when he looks lost out there. Then there are times when he's beating a linebacker to a screen play. You never really know what you're going to get with Harrison, but you'll at least get it at 100 mph.
The Wolverines gave up 250 yards passing to freshman quarterback Nate Davis. I don't think you can ever make much of a defense giving up a decent amount of passing yardage, because sometimes it's the only way the offense can move the ball.
He was pressured throughout the game, but showed good presence to get out of the pocket when necessary. However, he couldn't stay alive forever, especially when the Wolverines blitzed their linebackers.
David Harris, Prescott Burgess and Shawn Crable each recorded a sack on the day. Harris was the star of the afternoon, finishing with fourteen tackles, three tackles for loss, and the aforementioned sack. He was everywhere, even making tackles on special teams. He also had some tremendous hits. He's not the same David Harris you remember flailing at Troy Smith last year.
Prescott Burgess finished the game in street clothes, as he tweaked his ankle. Don’t expect much intel from Lloyd as to the prognosis. But also don’t expect it to be too serious.
The defensive line saw a more extensive rotation than it usually does. The first-teamers sat for much of the second-half, until things got dicey.
They were brought back in when Ball State got the ball down eight points with 6:38 to go. If you're desperate to find something negative, you could use this drive to make some semblance of noise. Ball State started the drive at their own thirteen-yard line, and in twelve plays, they moved the ball 80 yards before losing possession on downs. It wasn't just a passing frenzy either, as Ball State ran just as well as they passed on that drive. Still, if all conclusions were drawn from prevent defenses, Brady Quinn would end up winning a Heisman.
The Special Teams
Steve Breaston finally had a decent day returning kickoffs. He had five returns for 133 yards, including a 45-yarder. It was one of the only times he's had open room to run this season. His punt return numbers were okay, returning two for 22 yards, notching eleven yards on each return.
The Wolverines did, however, have some trouble on kick coverage. Garrett Rivas only had one touchback in his seven kicks. Terry Moss had six kick returns for 141 yards for Ball State, with a long of 30 yards.
Rivas had a couple more field goals, and as is usually the case, his field goals came from inside the ten-yard line. I guess if I'm going to praise the offensive line as I did above, I should also mention that Michigan was forced to kick field goals from the five and six-yard line. You would think a team that rushes for over 350 yards wouldn't have trouble inside the ten.
Punter Zoltan Mesko had a less-than-average game, averaging 38.7 yards on his three punts. But as I keep saying, at anytime he is capable of pulling out a 60-yarder.
What Does It All Mean?
I didn't learn anything from this game that I didn't already know.
Lloyd Carr treated much of this game as the Spring Game he didn't get in April.
I guess the key message to pass along would be that if this was the only Michigan game you've seen this season, your impression is skewed.
Don't get me wrong, I've said all season that the secondary is a concern, but it's not as much of a concern as Ball State made it seem.
But, if it makes you feel better, if Michigan is reduced to their third, fourth, or fifth corners, then you may have a point.
However, if you want to focus on something more relevant, watch how Michigan's aggression is attacked by draws and passes to the running back.
But perhaps I've said too much...
The Road To The Big One
Sept. 2 Michigan 27 - Vanderbilt 7
Sept. 9 Michigan 41 - Central Michigan 17
Sept. 16 Michigan 47 - Notre Dame 21
Sept. 23 Michigan 27 - Wisconsin 13
Sept. 30 Michigan 28 - Minnesota 14
Oct. 7 Michigan 31 - Michigan State 13
Oct. 14 Michigan 17 - Penn State 10
Oct. 21 Michigan 20 - Iowa 6
Oct. 28 Michigan 17 - Northwestern 3
Nov. 4 Michigan 34 - Ball State 26
Nov. 11 Michigan at Indiana
Nov. 18 Michigan at Ohio State