Saturday, September 10, 2005

Frustrating Day for Michigan

Is this the same Hawaii that defeated Michigan State 41-38 last year? Right now, it's 28-0 Michigan State, and it doesn't really like Hawaii deserves to even be on the same field. Mind you, this football game is rather entertaining - Michigan State's offense looks very impressive, with quite a few long plays already in the first half. Hawaii's offense is doing their part to keep the game entertaining, rotating two quarterbacks and running a stranger combination of plays than even John L. Smith would dream of. This is really starting to look like playground football.

So, Michigan lost against Notre Dame 17-10. So, what happened? The combination of strong play calling by Charlie Weiss, the absence of Michael Hart, and the missing players on Michigan's offensive line were just too much to overcome. Weiss made the right call by putting together an impressive array of no-huddle offensive sets to start the game, and quickly jumped to an early lead, which effectively took the crowd out of the game.

The absence of Michael Hart allowed Notre Dame to focus on Henne, and with several starters missing from the offensive line, the Irish defensive line were able to penetrate way too often, and the result was 2 sacks, 5 blocked passes, and a generally distracted Chad Henne.

I thought Michigan's defense actually played quite a strong game today. They had a difficult time on Notre Dame's first two offensive sets, where they couldn't even manage to force a third down. But once Weiss' first few planned sets, the Michigan defense held the line quite well. If you look at the numbers, Michigan dominated in the second half.

The difference really came down to a few key plays. Michigan was in the red zone three times, and came away scoreless, with a fumble, an interception, and a turnover on downs. Henne was unable to turn to Michael Hart, and the weak offensive line proved to be the difference.

Overall, I was somewhat disappointed with Henne's performance today. Henne was a combined 19-44, which just isn't good enough. With strong coverage on Avant and Breaston all day long, and Massaquoi out of the game Henne was consistently looking for secondary targets, like Tyler Ecker, Dutch, and Massey. With the game on the line, Henne failed to give the ball to his primary receivers, and often overthrew his receivers, threw the ball out of play, or feebly attempted to rush a few yards up field. Henne isn't a very mobile quarterback, so there isn't much point in even attempting to rush up the field with the ball. Overall, it just looked like the Fighting Irish defensive line got into Henne's head, and as a result he demonstrated some poor decision making.

I was also somewhat unimpressed with Steve Breaston's performance again today. He just didn't appear to be his explosive, game-breaking self. The end-around near the close of the first half was an impressive looking play, and if Breaston had been able to get around that last defender, he would have gone all the way. I was impressed with Breaston's apparent desire to make a big play, refusing to call for a fair catch, when it was obvious that there was a very good chance he would get hit immediately. In the first two games, Henne's has attempted to go deep with Breaston five times, and each time the ball has ended up just out of the reach of the receiver's hands. The one big catch that Breaston did make was just out of bounds on the sideline in the end zone. I really don't know what the explanation is for succession of missed passes. Has Breaston lost a step this season, is he injured, or is Henne simply overthrowing his target? The passes generally appear to be just a bit overthrown - several of them were thrown out of bounds in the end zone, and today's open field pass was just a bit too long for Breaston to catch up with. I really hope they can work out the timing issues this week, as Michigan's offense appeared quite ordinary this week.

So - did we learn anything this week? Last week, Michigan's offense did the job, but the defense looked suspect. This week, Michigan's defense did their job, but the offense failed. Today, we learned just how important Michael Hart is to the Michigan offense. No offense to Kevin Grady - I actually think Grady filled in admirably today, but he still has a few things to learn. I believe Grady has fumbled the ball three times in the first two games of the year. As Michigan fans, I guess we've just become a little spoiled with Hart, who fumbled the ball only once last season, and has carried the ball I think 283 times in a row without a fumble.

Does Michigan have what it takes to win the Big Ten this year? Do they still have an outside shot at a national title game? Last season, after the Notre Dame loss, Michigan reeled off eight straight wins, before consecutive losses to Ohio State and Texas. The good news is that the ball is still basically in Michigan's court in regards to the Big Ten title. If they run the table from here on in, Michigan can still take the Big Ten title, but without a matchup against Purdue, there is a chance that a 9-1 record might not be enough. Michigan does have what it takes, but it looks like Henne is human, and he does have a few things to learn. The man is only a sophomore, so I guess that is to be expected.