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Stadium and Main: 2005: Random Highlights and Lowlights

Friday, April 07, 2006

2005: Random Highlights and Lowlights

Some random thoughts about last year...

What went wrong (in no particular order):

1 – The “bend but don’t break” Defense seemed to “bend” a bit too far at all the wrong times. In some cases, it flat-out broke. For instance:

- Notre Dame’s game-opening drive for a TD – putting Michigan down 7-0 and taking the crowd out of the game for a significant stretch.

- Ohio State’s last 2 TD drives. Sitting on a 9-point lead with less than 8 minutes left in the game, Michigan’s Defense promptly surrendered a TD to OSU in just 1 minute, 9 seconds to give OSU new life. On OSU’s last drive, Michigan seemed content to let OSU “dink and dunk” all the way to a game-winning TD, which they did. That drive took 3:54, and left Michigan with only 24 seconds on the game clock.

- The 61 yard run on 3rd-and-long by Minnesota’s Gary Russell, putting the Gophers on Michigan’s 13-yard line and setting up the game-winning FG with just one second left.

2 – Chad Henne’s Sophomore slump. Henne’s struggles are probably very closely related to points 3, 4, and 5 below, but it was clear that Henne bears some of the responsibility. His mechanics regressed to an even lower release point, coupled with “over-striding,” leading to more batted balls and passes that floated on him. These types of problems are common in QBs with strong arms (throwing harder is not always better), but that is no excuse.

3 – Injuries on the OL. With potential All-American Jake Long sidelined for more then half of the season, the OL struggled to find cohesion. At one point or another, every key player on the OL had some sort of injury, although some were able to play through it. No Whammies!

4 – Mike Hart’s nagging injury. While many were worried that this was an Achille’s injury, it became apparent that it was only (only?!) a high ankle sprain. Hart showed flashes of his Freshman-year dominance against MSU and PSU, but was very ineffective in most other games, and was forced to sit out a few games throughout the year.

5 – Lack of a true deep threat WR. We clearly missed Braylon more than many were anticipating. Two things became apparent: (1) Steve Breaston is not a true WR. He is a special talent, but he isn’t going to catch many “jump balls” 40 yards downfield. (2) Mario Manningham will be very good, but he wasn’t ready to fill anybody’s shoes yet. Manningham’s flashes of brilliance (discussed below) were coupled with his struggles to beat zone coverages deep.

What went right (in no particular order):

1 – The “bend but don’t break” Defense didn’t break, but as noted above, it “bent” far too often in late game situations. Considering that our schedule turned out to be more difficult than expected (we faced some pretty good Offenses), the Defense wasn't as bad as it might have seemed. In hindsight, our Defense really kept us in many games, but our lack of production on Offense and late-game defensive collapses resulted in 5 losses.

2 – The Secondary was a pleasant surprise. Coming into the year, many people were worried about losing Marlin Jackson and Ernest Shazor in the defensive backfield. While it would have been nice to have had them, various players filled various roles admirably. Yes, there were still bad angles and poor tackling at times, but it could have been a lot worse, in my opinion.

3 – We were 7th nationally in punt return yardage defense and 1st in the Big Ten in kickoff return yardage.

4 – A few newcomers showed flashes of brilliance:

- LB John Thompson vs. Iowa – Made a few hard hits / good tackles against the run, leading many to question why he didn’t play more. The conventional wisdom was that he is good against the run, but is still learning to defend the pass.

- Safety Brandon Harrison vs. Northwestern – Unless I missed something, Harrison didn’t make any big mistakes against a spread offense that can be confusing for a True Freshman to defend against. Actually, I take that back… after making a nice interception, he fumbled the ball on the return. Still, he showed some good speed and (more importantly?) good smarts in this game.Down Goes PSU

- WR Mario Manningham – Caught 2 TD passes, including the game-winner as time expired against PSU. Also had nice TDs against MSU and Nebraska (Alamo Bowl). Could be in line for the #1 jersey if he breaks out this year, and (corrected from earlier) has said that he does want it. [ free link, $ link]

- Kicker/Punter Ross Ryan – Not really a newcomer, as a Redshirt Junior, but a new face on the field. Ryan was a weapon, driving a high percentage of his kickoffs into (or through) the endzone. He should also get some credit for our good "punt return yardage" statistic from above, because although he didn't punt very long, he was good at punting high (insert stoner joke here). Having him return for a 5th and final year is big, in my opinion.


Anonymous Ben said...

Has Mario really said he doesn't want #1? Where? When?

Most importantly... WHY?

4:45 PM  
Blogger Nick said...

Ben - I am 99.9% sure that Mario said he didn't want the #1 in an interview with before last season started. If I get a chance this weekend, I'll try to track it down.

7:43 PM  
Blogger Nick said...

Ben - My bad. I found 2 links that quote Mario as saying he does want the #1 jersey. I added these to the original post. Sorry for the mistake - don't know what I was thinking there... I was 100.0% wrong.

12:51 PM  

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