B It seems the grade should be higher in a 242-yard rushing effort - until you realize 110 of those yards came on four carries, including a 38-yard reverse with sophomore slot receiver Dennis Norfleet and a 22-yard scramble by redshirt junior quarterback Devin Gardner. The Wolverines managed 3.07 yards per carry on their other 43 carries, including six more runs from Gardner (and four of those were scrambles, not designed runs. Besides Norfleet's one run, Gardner led U-M with 7.4 yards per carry).
Central Michigan's defensive line was the weak spot of its defense, but on first glace, Michigan didn't push the Chippewas around like one might have expected. However, it was the first start for the three men on the interior line.
B Gardner got off to a shaky start, throwing two interceptions in the first 17 minutes. His first one, in the shadow of his own goal line on the Wolverines' first offensive possession, might have been devastating against a better opponent. U-M had all momentum when he telegraphed the throw into the flat, and he gave it back. He also overthrew fifth-year senior Jeremy Gallon on a first down bomb in the second quarter when it clearly wasn't there.
Still, Gardner was able to rebound and put up solid numbers, including a 45-yard completion on the money to former walk-on Joe Reynolds. He kept plays alive with his scrambling ability and showed his innate sense of being able to avoid pressure while keeping his eyes downfield. He accounted for 214 yards and three scores in less than three quarters' work before giving way to freshman Shane Morris, who was solid in completing four of six passes for 59 yards (with one interception on an overthrow).
A- This grade seems low given the run stoppers limited the Chips to 2.3 yards per carry, but the standard is championship defense. The Wolverines held explosive back Zurlon Tipton (four carries, 10 yards) in check until he went out with a broken ankle, but backup Saylor Lavallii rushed for 52 yards, averaging 5.2 per rush. Thirty of them came on his first three rushes early in the second quarter - the defensive line also allowed back-up quarterback Alex Niznak to escape for a 14-yard scramble on third and 10 during the same series. Tipton, a 1,500-yard rusher a year ago, would have been a better pre-Notre Dame test, but we didn't get to see it. The Michigan front was very solid, though - as advertised.
A- The Chips managed only 71 first half passing yards, with 23 coming on a third and 20 completion to receiver Andrew Flory (four catches, 79 yards). They averaged only 3.9 yards per attempt in the stanza and their quarterbacks were under consistent pressure. CMU didn't complete a pass in the third quarter - by the time Niznak finally did in the second half, finding Flory for 43 yards on a third and 17 play, he'd been sacked three more times and the Wolverines were up 56-6. Of the Chippewas' 144 yards receiving, 87 came on three big plays - and keep in mind starter and fifth-year senior safety Thomas Gordon didn't play, suspended for one game. Junior corner Raymon Taylor added a 54-yard interception return to set up a score.
A Special teams coach Dan Ferrigno set the tone for the game when he saw something on film in the CMU punt game and turned freshman Dymonte Thomas loose to try to block the first one - which he did. Receiver Joe Reynolds scooped it up for a 30-yard return for touchdown, and the Wolverines were off and running. Kicker Matt Wile was deep on all of his kicks, putting five of them through the end zone for touchbacks. Brendan Gibbons was solid, making all of his extra points and his only field goal (30 yards) and sophomore Dennis Norfleet notched a 39-yard kick return among his four attempts. He also had a long punt return called back due to penalty.
Michigan's coverage teams were solid (five kick returns, 108 yards).
A This was exactly as you'd expect an opener against an overmatched opponent to go. Offensive coordinator Al Borges played to his strengths early (Gardner) and showed imagination in turning his quarterback loose in the shotgun. He sprinkled in a reverse and enough running game to keep the Chippewas honest on defense, but it was Gardner's show, and he ran play action to near perfection. Gardner is the difference maker, capable of masking some deficiencies (inconsistent running game) with his innate sense of feeling the pressure and scrambling ability. As long as he stays healthy, the Michigan offense should thrive. The run blocking should improve during the season, and the coaches tried to work out the kinks there in the third quarter by calling 10 straight running plays on a 55-yard touchdown drive.
Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison's adjustments were again on display in the third quarter, when CMU was limited to -8 yards. The defensive was fast and furious, managed four sacks and consistent pressure and played at a championship level. That's the goal, and while the tests will get tougher, starting next week against Notre Dame, this team seems up to it.