October 5, 2013
Borton's Blog: Checks and balances
Brady Hoke strode into Michigan's Big Ten opener with a sizable checklist tucked under his arm. His team didn't exactly rumble into its weekend off with all questions answered. Offensive Line - The Wolverines went for more brawn up front, using the bye to shift 303-pounder Graham Glasgow to center and insert 316-pounder Chris Bryant at left guard. While the Wolverines didn't run wild, rushing for 113 yards in a game featuring just 52 offensive snaps, they ran effectively at times.
Hoke and his team invested heavily in the fortnight that bridged that games nearly pulling out the rug (Akron and UConn) and the one that retained Michigan's Jug. On Homecoming, one by one, the Wolverines began cashing those checks.
Winning heads the checklist every week, without fail. No worries there, since the Wolverines shook off some early adversity and eventually left the Gophers colder than a February streaker in St. Cloud.
But there's winning, and there's winning. The Wolverines beat the Huskies and Zips, yet wound up dogged with zero credit. They were inundated with doubts about their offensive line, wide receiver playmakers, and apparent inability to treat the football with more respect than Mozart would garner at the M-TV Video Music Awards.
Serious issues bubbled up, and pulling away from one of the poorer teams in the Big Ten doesn't mean they've bubbled away. But any fair look at Michigan's Homecoming 2013 certainly has to take note of some progress.
As for that list
Meanwhile, quarterback Devin Gardner absorbed only one sack, a development he attributed to the edge his reshuffled big uglies carried into the game.
"Overall, we came to fight as an offensive line," Gardner assured. "They kind of had a chip on their shoulder, that they weren't going to let me get hit, like I was before. I felt like no matter who was in there, it was going to be like that."
Wideout Playmakers - The Wolverines knew they had Jeremy Gallon, and others who are developing and can perhaps become big-time pass-catchers. But they can't wait long, and the lack of respect for other targets puts a target right on Gallon's back.
Michigan's move of tight end Devin Funchess into splits away from the offensive line looked like genius against the Gophers.
Funchess went wild, making seven grabs for 151 yards and a touchdown. His length and hands make him a major headache for any secondary, and that could make a huge overall difference in Michigan's offense.
"It's going to help a lot," Gardner said. "Jeremy Gallon, Drew Dileo
it will help our running game, and help our team overall, as a balanced and effective offense."
"He is incredible," running back Fitzgerald Toussaint offered of Funchess. "He can do good things with his hands and his feet. Him being out there on the perimeter opens up a lot of things."
Turnovers - Blessed silence on that front. Michigan hadn't gone a game without a giveaway for 25 straight, and the charity floodgates flew open wide against Akron and UConn. The Wolverines went back to basics in the bye week, retooled away from risk, and came up with a result Hoke termed "huge."
"I felt we operated really, really well," Gardner said. "We didn't turn the ball over. When you don't turn the ball over, that's always a good day."
Fifth-year senior captain Taylor Lewan sounded defiant in his defense of Michigan's signal-caller. Lewan heard all the talk about Gardner's gaffes, and felt like the Gophers caught the real U-M quarterback.
"Devin is a great quarterback," Lewan said. "He proved that today. I'm going to call those last two games for him a fluke. You can quote me on that. Devin is a hell of a player, and when he is put in the right positions, he does good things, and I think we did that today."
Michigan did a lot of good things, period. The Wolverines haven't arrived, by any measure. They allowed close to a 10-minute touchdown drive, managed just one sack, and still need to mesh up front.
But they began answering some heavy-duty questions, all while making certain equipment manager Jon Falk got to pack away the Little Brown Jug one more time. And all this before All-Big Ten linebacker Jake Ryan makes his return to the lineup.
"There is still so much room for improvement," Lewan said. "That's the thing about football: you can be happy, but you can never be satisfied. If you don't get better every single week, you're not going to win a Big Ten Championship."
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