Analyzing Michigan's offensive performance in a 35-13 win over Minnesota ...
Critical Drive: Drive Four
Michigan's offense looked entirely listless in its first three possessions, and junior quarterback Devin Gardner looked exceedingly rusty, completing only one-of-three passes (33.3 percent) for seven yards, one interception and was sacked once.
Already down 7-0 to a below-average Minnesota squad, Gardner instantly pulled momentum back into the Wolverines' favor with one breathtaking play to cap a 12 play, 91-yard drive.
But let's start from the top, where U-M got the ball rolling on the first play of the drive. Freshman tight end Devin Funchess lined up as a strong wing, and motioned into the backfield to form a strong-I formation. Sophomore running back Thomas Rawls got a weakside hand-off and burst up the middle, aided by a key pull block from redshirt junior right tackle Michael Schofield that negated the strongside linebacker, allowing Rawls to bull rush upfield for a five yard gain. Redshirt junior left tackle Taylor Lewan also had a nice kick-out block on the strongside defensive end that helped create the slim crease.
Rawls would carry the ball six times for 23 yards (3.8 yards per carry) on the drive, including a hard-earned two yard run on the third-and-one to keep the march alive and a 12-yard gain on a fake-fullback pitch play, in which he displayed deceptive speed, to help stretch out the defensive front seven.
This helped open things up for Gardner, and he utilized the extra breathing room, particularly on yet another third-and-one, in which offensive coordinator Al Borges dialed up a play-action bootleg out of a two-tight end I-formation. The Gophers brought nine in the box, and a majority of those defenders bit on the fake to Rawls, opening up the outside for Gardner to easily scamper for a first down. He would have another five-yard run on the drive but later took what looked to be a crippling sack on second-and-ten to set up an unlikely third-and-17 conversion.
But sometimes the most unlikely of situations produce the most spectacular results.
Lined up in a split back shotgun formation with stacked twins to the left side, Gardner took the snap and couldn't locate anything downfield against a max zone coverage. With nowhere to go, he avoided what looked like another certain coverage sack by stepping up in the collapsing pocket before using his elite athleticism to make magic happen.
He broke containment and scrambled toward the boundary before pivoting and completely reversing field to buy time. On the run, and 12 yards behind the line of scrimmage, he launched a pass across his body to a wide-open Drew Dileo in the back of the endzone for a 45-yard touchdown. It was truly an amazing display of savvy, instinct and arm strength for a quarterback that had playing wide receiver for the majority of the season.
The final play was the highlight of the drive, but Michigan displayed the ability to both grind out tough yards and break big gains on the ground without star quarterback Denard Robinson under center for the first time since his injury.
Best Drive: Drive Five
While Gardner's spectacular 45-yard touchdown pass stole the show, it was the drive that followed that demoralized Jerry Kill's defense. For the second-consecutive possession, the Wolverines scored despite being trapped deep in their own territory; this time on a methodical 13-play 90-yard march.
Gardner again displayed why he was the top-rated dual threat quarterback in his recruiting class. On the first snap of drive, he fired a perfect pass off of his back foot with a defender in his face to fifth-year senior Roy Roundtree on a 17-yard comeback route to pick up a first down. As an encore, he hit redshirt junior Jerald Robinson up the seem against soft zone coverage for 22 yards on the next play.
Borges dialed up play-action roll outs out of heavy sets to open up space for Gardner, and mask pass protection deficiencies, on both of these plays, and would continue to do so for the rest of the drive.
Gardner completed two more passes, finishing four-of-six (66.7 percent) for 74 yards on the drive. He also added a 19-yard scramble on a designed pass play when protection broke down, where he sprinted past a group of Minnesota defenders and then sidestepped another down field to gain an extra eight yards.
One third-and-goal from the four yard line, Gardner tossed a corner fade to Funchess, and because of the freshman's size and leaping ability, the only course of action for the helpless Gopher cornerback was to commit pass interference. The penalty was called, and U-M got a fresh set of downs at the two-yard line.
Michigan lined up in a heavy I-set with Roundtree lined up on the wing, and handed the ball off to Rawls off-tackle for a two-yard touchdown blast. A critical block from pulling fifth-year senior guard Patrick Omameh accompanied by effective down-blocking by his linemates provided Rawls just enough space to lunge into the endzone and give the Maize and Blue a lead they would not relinquish.
Worst Drive: Drive Two
Without a doubt, Gardner was the standout performer in this game, but his day got off to a precarious start. Michigan went three-and-out on its first possession of the game, but quickly returned to the field after an opportunistic Wolverine defense stuffed the Gophers on fourth-and-one near midfield.
U-M started the drive on its own 41, but squandered the tremendous field position.
On first down, Rawls got the call on a weakside iso, but Minnesota's defensive tackles created a huge push up the middle, stuffing the B and C gaps and preventing the interior of the offensive line to reach the next level. This allowed an unaccounted for weakside linebacker to flow to the ball and stop the ball carrier for a short two-yard gain.
Facing second and long, Michigan lined up in an Ace formation, and Borges conjured up a play-action roll-out that the defense did not bite on. Fifth-year senior tight Mike Kwiatkowski whiffed on a chip block on redshirt junior defensive end Ra'Shede Hagemen before proceeding into his route, and a slanting Hageman generated immediate pressure on Gardner to force an off-balance throw into double coverage that was picked off by sophomore safety Cedric Thompson.
With a chance to assert its dominance early in the game, it was a very disappointing effort by the Wolverines, and illustrated many of the concerns about an offensive line that has been inconsistent this season.
Offensive MVP: Devin Gardner
After a tough opening quarter, Gardner was absolutely electric - and a huge boost for an uncertain U-M team without the services of Denard Robinson. He made plays with both his arms, legs and brains, and his efficiency in the passing game and ability to scramble out of the pocket kept the defense guessing.
He finished with 234 passing yards and two touchdowns on 12-of-18 attempts (66.7 percent), and also made several key runs to keep drives alive, including a two-yard touchdown scamper in the fourth quarter.
More importantly, he provided real hope that this offense can be effective despite Robinson's continued struggles with an elbow injury.
Plays, Yards, Time of Possession: 3 plays, 2 yards, 1:40
Starting Position: Michigan 8
Plays, Yards, Time of Possession: 2 plays, 2 yards, 0:39
Starting Position: Michigan 41
Plays, Yards, Time of Possession: 3 plays, 5 yards, 1:27
Starting Position: Michigan 16
Plays, Yards, Time of Possession: 12 plays, 91 yards, 7:05
Starting Position: Michigan 9
Plays, Yards, Time of Possession: 13 plays, 90 yards, 5:52
Starting Position: Michigan 10
Plays, Yards, Time of Possession: 3 plays, -9 yards, 1:20
Starting Position: Michigan 25
Plays, Yards, Time of Possession: 7 plays, 86 yards, 3:13
Starting Position: Michigan 14
Plays, Yards, Time of Possession: 8 plays, 79 yards, 4:19
Starting Position: Michigan 21
Plays, Yards, Time of Possession: 4 plays, 50 yards, 2:12
Starting Position: Minnesota 50
Plays, Yards, Time of Possession: 4 plays, 6 yards, 2:08
Starting Position: Minnesota 27
Result: Turnover on downs
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