Michigan's win against Notre Dame was nice. Night game, throwbacks, big crowd, primetime ESPN...all that stuff. But Rich Rod was 2 for 3 against the Irish, so most Michigan fans only want to know what have you done for me lately?
How about welcoming the Nebraska Cornhuskers to the B1G in true Michigan style? Old-school Michigan style?
This win over the Huskers is undoubtably the signature win that the Hoke administration was looking for...and needed. Not just a win, but a thorough domination. Nebraska was never really in this game. And with the win, a clear message has been sent to the the rest of the league – Michigan is back.
Back in August, everyone, myself included marked this game as a loss. We all heralded Nebraska as maybe the top team in the league, and a shoe-in for making it to Indy from the Legends division. But as is the case so many times, I was wrong.
As with any game, there was good and bad. Let's start with the good.
• Defense, man. Wow. If you would have told me a couple months ago that we'd hold Nebraska to 17 points (while putting up 45), no way I would have believed you. The true mark of a great defense is how they improve week to week. And that's what Michigan has been doing. We're not letting teams beat us by making the same mistakes we've made the last 3 years. We're tackling better, making better reads, being in better position. But maybe the biggest thing is we're simply just believing in ourselves and playing better as a unit.
You simply cannot overstate the value of Greg Mattison to this defense. What he's been able to do with basically the same personnel as last year is truly remarkable.
• Special teams. I've never seen a game with so many special teams errors by the opposing team that went in our favor. A blocked punt, two fumbles on kickoffs, a successful fake FG, and a roughing the punter that extended a drive that led to a touchdown. I mean every break went our way. Chalk it up to just good fortune, but a huge part of it, the fumbles on kickoff returns especially, are the product of making a huge play and being in the right position.
• Denard and Fitz. The two of them combined for 6 touchdowns on Saturday. Denard played maybe his best overall game of the year, showing that extra gear that has been missing lately. And Fitz showed why he has emerged as the marquee back that he's been advertised as over the last few weeks. And it's not like we played Minnesota this week – Nebraska's defense is certainly no slouch.
• Redzone percentage has been slipping the last few weeks after a stellar start to the season. But we went 5-5 this week with 4 touchdowns. Nice to see that area improve.
• Odoms had only his 4th catch of the year, and his second touchdown in as many weeks, but it was a beautiful play.
• I've been trying to find a standout defensive player to talk about, but there's really isn't just one. Mike Martin played as well as you'd expect. Jordan Kovacs, Jake Ryan, Kenny Demens, Ryan Van Bergen, JT Floyd, Blake Countess and Troy Woolfolk all had good games. When that many players play well, we're in good shape.
• Of course we need to address the fake field goal. That was an amazing call. Up 24-10 at the time, a field goal makes it a 3 score game...and the way the defense was playing, probably puts it out of reach. But kudos to Hoke and Borges for drawing up a fake at just the right time. At first I though it was a botched snap, but once we saw the blockers line up for Dileo, it was obvious what was going on.
Of the things that need improvement or areas of concern...
• Denard's INT was really just the result of a DL making a great play. You can argue that Denard needs to not make the throw, and I agree he doesn't. But either way, you know Denard's going to have at least one pass end up in the hands of the other team every week. Props to the D for only allowing 3 points from it.
• Speaking of Denard, he did play well, but at times he looked a little hesitant to take off running when a guys were covered and a running lane was there. Nebraska was clearly leaving the middle of the field open for him a few times, but Denard chose to throw into coverage anyway.
• Need to protect the edges better on defense. A few times Martinez or Burkhead got around the edge for a modest gain. Braxton Miller or Boom Herron can also hurt us there.
Overall, not too much to complain about after a thorough thrashing of Nebraska. But a much larger game looms this week as Ohio comes to town. It's Ohio week, and thus we turn our attention southward (where the smell is coming from).