Reviewing Utah

The 2008 football season opener against the Utah Utes was basically a letdown and there was a clear indication that the Wolverines have a lot of work to do. The offense had several issues as the OL couldn't make the proper blocks to allow the running game to excel and there was also too much inconsistency at QB. The defense was solid for the most part, but they gave up too many big plays in the first half and the Wolverines had to crawl out of a hole in order to make things interesting.

I cannot be too upset with Rodriguez and his staff because it appeared that they made adjustments at the half, but it is crucial that this football team learn from its mistakes and not be down on themselves. Yes, Miami (OH) is not Oregon, but… they cannot afford to have another game full of miscommunication, poor execution, and hesitancy. As coach Rodriguez said in his press conference, this team is in no shape to play poorly and still expect to win games.

The Offense:

I was not surprised by Rodriguez starting QB Nick Sheridan over Steven Threet, however, I was curious as to why he didn't make a switch much earlier in the game. Sheridan started off ok, but as the first half developed… he looked like a deer in headlights out there as the running game was unable to help him. Threet was eventually put in and looked much more confident controlling the offense and he also showed more ability to throw the deep ball. He managed to connect on a TD pass to Junior Hemingway when the Wolverines tried to come back in the fourth quarter.

Threet was far from perfect, though. There were two critical moments when the Wolverines failed to convert on big plays. The first one was the 2 pt. conversion and the second one was when he tried to hit a wide open Darryl Stonum on a decisive fourth down play with under two minutes remaining in the game. Both throws were a little too wild and high for the receivers to really have a chance to make the reception. Hopefully, this was only a case of the first game jitters and Threet has more accuracy on his passes as the season progresses. Rodriguez said that the QB competition is still open, but Threet definitely has the upper hand after his performance on Saturday.

The running game was nearly non-existent. I guess we now know that when Rodriguez emphasizes "or" on the depth chart, he means it. Freshmen RB's Sam McGuffie and Michael Shaw had a significant amount of carries throughout the game as veterans Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown spent most of their time on the bench waiting. Rodriguez tried to establish the run in the first half, but the OL had so many breakdowns that all of the RB's were pretty much swarmed by the time they tried to make a cut or avoid a tackle. I would say that the failure of the running game primarily rests on the OL issues, but I also think that Rodriguez should've used Lloyd's guys a bit more often and try to run them up the middle. It certainly wouldn't have hurt.

The receivers were good whenever a decent pass was thrown their way. You could tell that Sheridan was not fond of the deep ball as most of his passes consisted of bubble screens and short routes. When Threet entered the game, we could finally see what the receivers were capable of, especially Junior Hemingway and Greg Matthews. Matthews is the player with the most experience, but Hemingway showed great ability as a potential threat down the road… if he remains healthy. Fellow young receivers like Darryl Stonum and Tony Clemons will get better as the QB position becomes more solidified.

The offense will eventually come along, but the main problem that needs to be addressed is the OL. Besides that… the QB must make better decisions and not be so confused. There was a great deal of miscommunication out there and that has to be fixed quickly. Rodriguez needs to mix it up a bit more when it comes to running the ball and I think he will do that this week. He said that he used a small and limited amount of running plays versus Utah because he didn't want to confuse his players. I'm sure the coach will make the proper adjustments this week and try to utilize the talent and open up the playbook.

Overall Grade: C-

The Defense:

In order to properly summarize the defense, one must look at both halves. The first half consisted of a great run defense, but the linebackers and secondary were quite weak against the pass. There was also a lack of pressure on QB Brian Johnson, which allowed him to look like a Heisman contender against a defense that was supposedly stronger and more dominant against the spread offense. Big plays were given up as safety Stevie Brown was burned on a 55 yd pass and freshman LB Marell Evans proved that he wasn’t ready after being victimized repeatedly. However, those two should not be singled out because the whole unit was mediocre during the first half. The only credit that I can give the defense during the first half was that they kept the Wolverines in the game. Most of the scores consisted of FG's.

The second half brought hope as the coaching staff and players clearly made adjustments. The front line dominated and chased Johnson around the backfield and accumulated five sacks. The Brandon Graham that I expected this season finally showed up. Also, the LB play improved as sophomore Jonas Mouton gave them a much needed boost. Obi Ezeh let his game speak as he collected 14 tackles and an interception. If Ezeh continues to put up those types of stats, he will undoubtedly earn a great amount of Big Ten honors throughout the season. The secondary also improved as Morgan Trent and Donovan Warren were able to defend with more consistency. I think a lot of it boiled down to applying more pressure on the QB and limiting his time to make decisions. Once the line was able to break through the blockers… it was obviously open season on Johnson.

Most of the mistakes that the defense made were largely associated with Shafer's decision to work with the all too familiar 4-3 defense that was used during the Hermann years. Once that Shafer made the adjustment at halftime and changed things at LB, the nickel packages were much more effective as the results were significantly different. Shafer deserves a lot of credit for his halftime adjustments and there is no doubt in my mind that IF the defense plays like that all season… and continues to fly to the ball… the Wolverines will win more games. As everyone is fully aware, the leadership is on the defensive side of the ball.

Overall Grade: B+

Special Teams:

If there was a bright spot in the game, it was definitely with the special teams unit. Despite Rodriguez' attempt to bring back the rugby experiment from a few years back (Iowa game 2003), the special teams looked impressive. Kicker K.C. Lopata hit a 50 yd FG, so there shouldn't be any controversy at that position. The unit also blocked a FG and… a punt. These are all great signs and it is a sigh of relief knowing that the Wolverines appear to be solid in this department. Just as long as Zoltan Mesko returns to his standard form in the punting game, there shouldn’t be any problems.

Overall Grade: B+

Go Blue!


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