And the game ball goes to...Mario Manningham!
Today's victory over Penn State was a big win for Michigan, but lets not forget that many hailed the win over Michigan State as season saving and we all saw how far that went. I can't say as I'm really surprised that Michigan won today (even though I predicted a loss) but I was very surprised with the way that they won. When Leon Hall intercepted Michael Robinson late in the game, I'll admit, I thought that it was over. Of course Michigan gave the ball right back and allowed Penn State to march right down the field and take the lead on another(!) QB draw. At this point I knew that the game was over because Michigan has never been a team to move the ball quickly down the field for a game winning score. Perhaps it was the sheer futility of the situation that got Chad Henne straightened out, but either way it was the finest drive that Michigan has executed in the last five years. Mario Manningham added another impressive performance to his growing list, but lets not forget that he was so invisible in the first three quarters that I actually found myself watching for him to enter the game, just to make sure that he wasn't injured or something. LaMarr Woodley was also a first half no-show, but everyone on the defense seemed to do their job for a change and as a unit they put the offense in position to win the game, something that they have done every week (although I'll grant that this week was a much tighter position than we have seen thus far).
I was amazed with the ignorance of the announcers with regards to Prescott Burgess who was absolutely retched in the first quarter, made some alright plays in the second and third and was almost solely responsible for allowing Robinson to score the go-ahead TD with less than a minute left. Somehow this added up to a "Chevy Player of the Game Award" despite outstanding efforts from David Harris and Mike Hart. Speaking of the QB draws, Michigan really, really, really needs to get that squared away in practice this week. They should have known that when John Stocco (a running QB to end all running QB's) exposed the weakness of the goalline defense, any team with a decently mobile QB would try to exploit that. The oversight almost cost Michigan the game today, and certainly won't get any better against Troy Smith and company. Iowa is on the schedule this coming week and that was the game that I circled as being Michigan's most sure loss. Can this team show some consistency and whip the resurgent Hawkeyes in Iowa City? Well, that is a question for next week, so for the time being, on to the game thoughts:
-How invisible was Manningham early today? Other than touchdown catches of 33 and 10 yards, he had one catch for 6 yards. Good thing Avant was his usual solid self (8 catches for 75 yards) and Tyler Ecker seems to have remembered how to catch the ball (3 catches for 29 yards).
-Rueben Riley was infinitely better this week at RT. I don't know if it was all him or if Terry Malone finally found him some help, but he was much better and it showed all throughout the second half.
-A big part of the defense shutting out Penn State in the first half was their ability to get pressure on Robinson. I don't recall a single sack, but he was knocked down almost every time he threw it. A lot of this pressure came from Alan Branch.
-Kevin Grady did well as a change of pace back (5 for 25 yards). Now Michigan needs to get Max Martin involved as well.
-There was a long Penn State run featuring missed tackles by David Harris, Alan Branch and Brandon Harrison. Michigan still needs serious work in the tackling department, as on several occasions Penn State was able to make nice plays out of runs that should have been bottled up near the line.
-The Penn State 61 yard run was a direct result of a loss of gap responsibility (although I don't know who). I was sort of happy to see Burgess keep outside contain on this play, but somebody has to fill the gap. Chalk this one down to faulty technique as well.
-Finally, as I mentioned above, Michigan desperately needs to figure out how to stop a QB draw inside the 10 yard line. If nothing else, throw Antonio Bass in as the scout team QB and run it at full speed until they prove that they can make the tackle consistently. Everybody in the stadium knows that the draw is coming, and there is no excuse for being unable to stop a play when you know the call.
Overall I'm ecstatic about the win. I've decided to head down to Chicago to see the Northwestern game in person. If anybody is interested in riding along, let me know. Go Blue.