For one half of the game, Michigan looked calm, poised and confident. They racked up 24 points on a decent Purdue team. The defense, after letting Purdue on the board early, stiffened up and played relatively well given all their deficiencies.
But again, just like last week at Illinois, a huge momentum shift in the 3rd quarter let a lesser opponent back into the game, and Michigan was stunned just long enough for Purdue to capitalize.
If you want to boil this loss down to a single play, I can do that. It was our missed extra point in the 3rd quarter to make the score 30-17. From then on, if the game was going to be close, we'd have to go for two eventually...and we did...and we didn't get it. Simple as that. If we make that extra point, it changes everything.
What I Liked:
For the first half, like last week, we looked like a team that had come to play.
Tate Forcier looked much more calm and loose on the field. His stats showed that he was much more relaxed for this game than he was in the last 4. He passed 15 for 24 for 212 yards and a TD. He also ran 18 times for 70 yards and another TD. All in all, that's the kind of day we love to see from a true freshman. No major mistakes...just a solid performance under pressure.
Running the ball was obviously the emphasis in this game for the Michigan offense. And it showed with Minor's 19 carries for 160 yards and 3 touchdowns. Carlos Brown added 2 carries for 13 yards and Vincent Smith's 3 runs for 12 yards. All in all, 44 runs total and just 24 passes.
But of those 15 completions, 10 of them were by Roy Roundtree. He had 126 yards receiving with a 43 yard touchdown grab.
Both Minor and Roundtree accumulated over 100 yards rushing and receiving respectively before halftime.
And speaking of yardage, Darryl Stonum broke both of Steve Breaston's 2004 and 2005 kickoff return yardage records on Saturday with 5 returns of 158 yards total. You could argue that he broke those records on volume of kickoff returns alone, but Breaston had 28 returns in 2004 for 689 yards (his highest returns and yardage marks). This year Stonum has 30 returns for 803 yards...so not too bad.
For the most part, the offensive line blocked well enough for Minor to be able to get into the second level with little to no difficulty. The running lanes seemed to be there more often than not. But pass blocking wasn't all that great as Forcier was rushed out of the pocket pretty consistently. That can be attributed to a relatively good pass rush by Purdue.
I really liked that we limited the turnovers. We actually won the turnover battle with our two interceptions. We did had two fumbles, but the only one we lost was on Tate's unfortunate pitch to the Purdue defender's hand when he knocked the ball away and recovered it to give Purdue some great field position.
And...we had zero penalties in this game. I'll have to check my records, but I think that may be the first time all season I've been able to say that.
What I Didn't Like:
Easy. The defense.
36 points really ought to be enough beat a team like Purdue. Of course, 42 points weren't enough to beat them last year...so maybe Purdue just has our number somehow.
I'd like to think that Greg Robinson's schemes are not to blame in this game. I'd like to think it was just any one of totally unqualified defenders just playing way out of position, or just making awful reads.
You know it's bad when your top 3 tacklers from the game are all from the secondary (that's if you include Stevie Brown at the LB/S hybrid position). That's never good. But when your secondary is not very good, that's even worse. They got torched many times in this game, just like they did against Illinois.
I don't think it's the corners either. We were forced to play loose with Warren and Woolfolk because GRob knows those guys don't have much help from our safeties Williams and Kovacs. I'll hand it to Kovacs that he's a great story...and a not a half-bad player. Son of a walk-on who walks on to the same program his Dad did and works his way onto the field as a starter...that's a great story. But it's a bad story when its at Michigan. We should have scholarship players who are way better than him. But the honest truth is, we just don't.
The biggest deficiencies we have on defense are the areas where we have young untested guys playing ahead of more experienced alternatives...and that is at LB and safety. We're getting beat by plays up the middle...both short passes and runs that go for triple the amount of yards they should be getting due to our bad tackling and terrible reads.
And as far as the lateral that was overturned late in the game, I really can't say either way how I feel about it. When it happened, I was up in the pressbox, so from my angle it seemed legit...close, but legit. During the lengthy review, I was able to make my way down to the field. So I never saw a video replay, and I haven't watched the recording still sitting on my DVR at home. MVictors did a nice write-up of an interview someone got with the head official Todd Geerlings about the call:
What was the interpretation on the fourth down review with the forward lateral? What was it that the replay official saw?
TODD GEERLINGS: “The replay official saw that the ball, when it left his hand to the point where it touched the receiver’s hand, was clearly forward from the 13 to the 12 yard line. That’s why we had an illegal forward pass from the spot of that pass.”
Who called for the review?
GEERLINGS: “The booth called for the review and I announced that on the field prior to. The coaches on the field were trying to but Purdue did not have a challenge left so they couldn’t have. They were trying to but just as I got the buzz on the pager, I just turned to Purdue and said ‘We got it’ but I think people thought they had challenged it. They were trying to, but they did not.”
Safe to say they at least got a decent look at it...it took them forever, and they must have had enough angles as to be able to overturn the call on the field. That call was a blow, but not the reason we lost the game.
There are two ways to look back at this game.
1) We played harder and looked much better on offense. Our defensive struggles continue, but those problems will take more time to fix. In the short term, this week...while still a tough loss, was still nice to see the team not give up like we did against Illinois. I think we still have a shot at a bowl if we can make some improvements and move forward.
2) Another week another loss. This time to another crappy team. Even though it was close, I don't care, a loss is a loss. You can take your moral victories and shove it...I need real wins. Wake me up in 2010. I'm done.
For reasons passing understanding, I'm actually closer to camp 1.
I don't know what the secret is going to be to get this defense up to snuff to play Wisconsin and tOSU. I don't think there's a magical solution to our woes. This defense reminds me a lot of our offense from last year. Just young/inexperienced and making stupid mistakes. We're having a tough time just doing the little things right.
But if the offense can continue to improve and we are still as healthy as we were for Purdue, than I still think we have a fighting chance to make a bowl game. But Wisconsin and tOSU are going to be very tough games. Luckily, the Wisconsin game is at 11AM local time, and not at night. Madison is a very tough place to play. And Michigan hasn't fared well there recently.
I won't get started with the tOSU game. No reason to yet. Right now, Wisconsin our best shot at making a bowl. And making a bowl game is vital to this team's future. Having time to prepare for a bowl game gives you something 18 practices...that's just as good as a spring camp. And for how young we are, the more practices the better.