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September 9, 2012

Michigan report card: Air Force

Gameday Grades 2012

Rushing offense

B-It was all or nothing in the running game, for the most part, and that doesn't bode well for the future, or speak well for an offensive line that outmanned the smaller Falcons by an average of 40 to 50 pounds per man up front. Senior quarterback Denard Robinson averaged 10.9 yards per carry, but 137 of his 218 yards rushing came on two long touchdown runs. He otherwise averaged 4.5 yards per carry (18 rushes, 81 yards). The running backs, meanwhile, were a non-factor for the second straight week, even with redshirt junior starter Fitzgerald Toussaint back in the lineup. Toussaint managed only seven net yards on eight carries, and head coach Brady Hoke fingered the line play above all else in noting Toussaint didn't have much room to run. Nobody else notched a single yard rushing. At first glance, U-M's guards seemed to struggle for the second straight week. They'll need to improve dramatically before Big Ten play.

Passing offense

BRobinson was on the mark with most of his throws, including a number of impressive touch passes to freshman tight end Devin Funchess (four catches, 106 yards, one touchdown). His only pick went off senior running back Vincent Smith's hands, and he had a couple more passes dropped. Robinson is seeing the field better than he has in his career, and on Saturday he made quick decisions in the face of blitzes and put most of his throws where only his receivers could get them. While veterans Roy Roundtree and Jeremy Gallon were non-factors, Funchess and even junior Jeremy Jackson helped pick up the slack, the latter with a couple of key, third down catches in the slot. Junior Devin Gardner caught a touchdown pass for the second straight game.

Rushing defense


Air Force's triple option was a nightmare for the Wolverines in the first half, amassing many of its 155 yards rushing on the edges. Michigan's defensive linemen and outside linebackers had trouble staying on their feet against cut blocks, the safeties and linebackers overran plays - it wasn't until the end that they were able to make a handful of plays that saved the game, the only thing keeping them from a failing grade. Running back Cody Getz and quarterback Connor Dietz both averaged over four yards per carry, part of the Falcons' 290-yard effort. Michigan won't face an offense like the Falcons' again this year - as fifth-year senior safety Jordan Kovacs said, it was like playing a different position. But teams will undoubtedly test the edges until the Wolverines prove they can contain. There's plenty of room for improvement.

Passing defense

BWith the exception of one blown assignment, on which running back Ty Macarthur bobbled a 32-yard reception or would have had a certain touchdown, running alone in the Michigan secondary, the U-M defense avoided giving up the big play in the passing game. Air Force didn't have the weapons to make a difference through the air, but still connected on two of three third down passes of seven yards or more to move the chains. Air Force receivers caught only 71 yards in passes on seven receptions - the bigger challenge for the U-M cornerbacks and safeties Saturday was getting off blocks on the edge and supporting against the run. Fifth-year senior J.T. Floyd notched seven tackles, but U-M's other corners managed only four stops (two solo) between them.

Special teams

B+Junior punter Will Hagerup averaged 45 yards per punt with a long of 53, but the Wolverines could have used a better effort from him than a 37-yarder from his own end zone (in his defense, he had one step with which to work). Redshirt junior punt returner Jeremy Gallon let one bounce in front of him for the second consecutive week, sacrificing 25 yards of field position, and U-M's kick return coverage wasn't good. The Falcons managed 64 yards on two returns. Freshman kick returner Dennis Norfleet continues to impress, this time averaging 26 yards per return with a long of 34. It's only a matter of time before he breaks a big one - he's got the speed, acceleration and fearlessness to excel. Kicker Matt Wile notched three touchbacks on six kickoffs, and Brendan Gibbons made his first and only field goal attempt, from 31 yards out.


C Game planning for Air Force in a week after preparing all summer for Alabama is an almost impossible task. The Falcons' offense is a different animal, one the Wolverines won't see again this year. That said, the 290 yards rushing was way too many, and the defense was burned repeatedly on the same option plays on the edge. They did make the adjustments down the stretch that helped save the game, limiting the Falcons to 39 total yards on their final two drives. The offense, meanwhile, showed signs of life - as it should have against an overmatched opponent - despite the absence of a running game outside of Robinson. It didn't protect the defense with a lot of sustained drives - then again, the defense didn't help itself.

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