Monday, September 18, 2017

Michigan 29, Air Force 13: September daze

From Section 37

In a vacuum, this game went about exactly as expected. 

I saw the spread heading into Saturday and thought "Michigan won't cover that." Given the Michigan fanbase's ability to furrow away bad memories only to be pulled out and revisited like a manila folder from a storage cabinet, it's no surprise that the 2012 game bubbled near the top of a lot of fans' consciousness. 

Michigan didn't cover, which in and of itself doesn't really matter — but the route to that outcome included some bumpy roads. 

Like the Cincinnati game, the outcome was never truly in doubt. This wasn't the 2012 Air Force game, when the outcome hung in the balance until the very end. 

Still, Michigan will face much better teams than Air Force, teams more equipped to make it pay for the type of sloppiness it has showed so far. 

Even so, things often don't seem so bad after you've thought on them for a while. 

As I sat through an oppressively hot — for Michigan in mid-September, that is — game on Saturday in Michigan Stadium, it was hard not to feel antsy. I tried to find seats as close to the student section as possible, but even enthusiasm by proximity didn't work — a listless non-student section for a frustrating nonconference game will be what it alway is. 

Add heat and you've got a crowd of grumblers, murmuring about missed cuts or an inability to move the Air Force defensive front. 

To an extent, I can't blame people for feeling the way that they did (whether or not watching a game with such a crowd is a fun experience is another issue entirely). 

When all was said and done, Michigan notched another close-but-not-really-but-still-frustrating win, its second in a row, and ran the ball for north of 5 yards per carry (removing Speight's sack yardage). 

I was in the stadium, and thus missed Matt Millen's commentary live. Upon rewatching, he prefaced Michigan's opening drive by saying this about Speight: "He just needs to calm down." 

As easy as it is to poke fun at Millen, maybe there's something to that. Yes, Speight was prone to mistakes last year, particularly later in the season, but you could attribute those to injuries or simply being a first-year starter. Frustrating, yes, but understandable. 

This year? Speight's numbers still seem okay, in a vacuum and in the context of each game, but as I wrote last week, the eye test reveals isolated bouts of questionable moments. For example, the strange play on which Speight scrambled and attempted to gently loft a touch pass, like a tear drop in the lane, over a defender in his face to Kekoa Crawford. 



It didn't work out — fortunately for Speight, it didn't result in a turnover. (Naturally, if it had worked out it would have been a moment of genius and creative flair from Speight.) It marked another one of those in-between moments for the second-year starter, moments in which he seems caught between two options, A and B, and somehow melds the two in favor of a 27th letter of the alphabet that does not exist except in his perspective at the moment of decision. 

In short, uncertainty has crept into his play. Whether that's a product of the offensive line, the play calling, or Speight simply backsliding to a baseline much lower than the one we saw for much of last year remains to be seen. 

So far, early returns haven't been particularly encouraging. He currently ranks 105th in Total QBR, has just three touchdowns to two interceptions and has struggled to move the offense once in the red zone. In 10 trips to the red zone this season, Michigan has just one touchdown — thanks to Quinn Nordin, Michigan has come away with points on eight of those 10 trips, with the one field goal miss against Florida making the lone points-less (pointless?) red zone foray. 

Could this just be a September daze? A confluence of an offensive line still trying to come together, a receiving corps made up of players born within a year of Michael Jordan's second retirement, a running game that has missed opportunities while facing aggressive, boom-or-bust defenses? 

It could be all of those things. But it could also be much simpler: Speight maxed out last year and is coming back down to a much humbler, terrestrial plane of performance. 

Speight found a nice groove early in the second quarter, hitting Donovan Peoples-Jones on a screen, Tarik Black for 8 and Zach Gentry for 30 on the type of play he's made numerous times — standing in and delivering: 


He's shown flashes of the guy he was last year, but hasn't put it back together just yet. 

I'm not going to say what we've seen so far is how it's going to be. I will say, though, if things don't change, win projections will have to be recalibrated. General youth and inexperience at a number of positions have prevented yours truly from recalibrating just yet. Even at current levels, Michigan could roll to 6-0 with a combination of strong defense and special teams before the trip to Penn State. 

But from that point forward, Michigan needs Speight — and, really, the rest of the offense — to find itself, or this September haze could yield fall frustrations that exceed those of the past two weeks by several orders of magnitude. 

---
Otherwise? Things are pretty good. 

The defense faced the frustrating option attack and, for the most part, crushed it, giving up 13 points, seven on a secondary coverage error that was going to happen eventually. Given Air Force's offensive style, it's not surprising that they hit the Michigan defense for one of those. 

Michigan gave up just 232 total yards and Air Force went 3-for-13 on third down. In addition, the visitors managed just 3.4 yards per carry on the afternoon. 

For as much attention as Speight and the offense is getting, I'm not sure enough attention is being given to the wholesale reload of the defense. Sure, the competition hasn't been top-notch — Florida's offensive issues exceed even Michigan's, Cincinnati didn't have the talent and Air Force is tricky but limited. 

Still, you defend what is put in front of you, and Michigan has done a great job of that thus far. 

According to NCAA.com statistics, Michigan is ranked 11th in third-down conversion defense, 7th in pass efficiency defense, and is tied for 6th in tackles for loss with 27 (behind four teams with 28). At this point in the season, level of competition obviously renders much of this meaningless, but comparing similar data is still worth mentioning. 

So far so good, basically. Several players have exceeded expectations, including guys who already had lofty expectations. The secondary has had a few wobbles, but nothing to be concerned about — nobody has gotten massively beaten — minus the Air Force touchdown — or looked physically overmatched. Lavert Hill and David Long, in addition to generally looking like they belong in pass coverage, have stuck their nose in well in the run game, too. Long had a nice play on Air Force's first drive, getting to Arion Worthman first on a third-down stop, and Hill added a nice stick on the pitch man on an Air Force first and goal (the drive after the Chris Evans fumble). 

Watching the defenders fly around while sitting in the stadium was a treat, as well. Devin Bush on this play, for example: 


The way he subtly stutter steps there for a second around the 13-yard line then explodes to close in on Worthman is truly remarkable. I speculated about Michigan player comparables after the Florida game, and the closest I could come up with for Bush was Ian Gold — but even that isn't accurate. Gold was a great player, a guy who went on to play in the NFL for seven years, but Bush is in a different class in terms of speed and general burst. 

A lot is made of team speed, but it isn't a panacea. Speed means nothing when players are flying around to the wrong spots on the field, not breaking down to tackle or generally move about with a giant neon question mark floating above their helmets. 

Speed does, however, make up for a lot of deficiencies. While I don't think it's fair to say this defense has real deficiencies beyond youth — if that can be called a "deficiency" — it's obvious that this defense is fast. Florida, after all the trash talk, found that out, as did Cincinnati, as did Air Force, leading head coach Troy Calhoun to praise the Michigan defense in the aftermath. 

Those who are hoping for a course correction from the offense can reasonably expect similar improvement from the defense. Michigan fans are already taking guys like Rashan Gary, Chase Winovich and Devi Bush for granted, and rightfully so, it seems. But think about their run as full-time guys, and remember that improvement for them is not an unreasonable proposition. Add in the young guys in the secondary and the cumulative improvement grows. 

Ask the average fan whether they'd rather have a dominant defense or a dominant offense, and their heart would likely say offense — but the head will say otherwise. 

Simply put, there are much worse situations in which to be. 

Michigan is 3-0 and life is imperfection. Check back when the opponents are more skilled and Michigan takes its show to a true road environment. 

The spread for this Saturday's trip to West Lafayette is a product of Purdue's surprising competence and Michigan's offensive issues to date. Jim Harbaugh and Co. will have to prove that the Wolverines have only shown a sliver of what they can do so far. 

Miscellaneous Minutiae
  • At this point, I can basically only swing one, maybe two games a year. Unfortunately, if I'm not sitting in the student section, it's becoming more and more difficult for me to justify going to these September nonconference tilts, when the atmosphere is akin to that of a particularly rowdy night in the basement of the Ugli. I've mostly tried to move on from criticizing atmosphere, particularly for games against lesser foes — but Saturday's game was mostly close throughout. I don't even mind if people want to sit all game (minus the big plays where everyone stands). Whatever, fine. But games frankly aren't very fun when you look around and nobody around you participates in anything — cheers, chants, even just making a little noise on third down. I know I'm just shouting into the ether about a thing that will likely never change, but there you go. 
  • The idea of a player so good he appears not to be trying relative to his peers is not a new one, but for Donovan Peoples-Jones, it's true. I'm not saying he's Jabrill Peppers, but he has the same quality of simply operating in a different plane of being from everyone else when he has the ball in his hands. Peppers eluded poor punt defenders with ease, deploying an arsenal of spins, stutters and stiffarms. On DPJ's punt return score, he exuded a similar quality — at no point during that return did he look like he was in top gear. With Tarik Black's unfortunate injury, Michigan can only hope that increased wide receiver snaps for DPJ will accelerate his development in that department. His two receptions for 52 yards (including a screen pass he turned into a 37-yard gain) against Air Force were a nice start. 
  • Speaking of wide receivers, Eddie McDoom seemed to get a little more run in this one. In addition to his usual jet sweep action (2 carries, 6 yards), he was targeted in the passing game (2 receptions, 14 yards), making things happen on a couple of screens for some easy perimeter yardage. He was even targeted in the end zone early in the fourth quarter, but Speight's pass after the play action was off the mark. Either way, it would be a great thing for the Michigan offense if McDoom can begin assimilation into the general offense, as opposed to just being a jet sweep/screen specialist. This team is full of athletic wideouts, including the aforementioned DPJ, but McDoom is right up there with the rest of them. (Also, more "DOOOOOM" chants would be a good thing.)

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Michigan 36, Cincinnati 14: What you see and what you know

Wilton Speight is cognitive dissonance. He's a walking fist fight between the eye test and cold, hard numbers — the two modes of thought rage against one another around his 6-foot-6 frame every week, every series, every play.

On Saturday, the box score sang a cheery tune. Speight went 17 for 29 for 212 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions. He only took one sack.

But, like Week 1, there were Speight Moments.

In these moments, a battle wages in the brain between the side that wears glasses and pores through advanced stats and the part that grunts "THAT GUY IS A FACTORBACK" unironically. Speight tests both sides — not equally, necessarily, but test them he does.

Like last year, Speight's intent and desire can't be questioned. He's clearly a smart quarterback, capable of doing all the things a quarterback has to do in order to put his offense in a winning situation, pre-execution.

As easy as that might be to discount, it's important. Some quarterbacks never even get that far.

Sure, you might want to fill your quarterback grocery shopping cart with meats and fancy cheeses, but you also need the mundane — the broccoli, the celery, the Brussels sprouts.

Of course, intention and desire only go so far, and celery's virtues can only be extolled for so long before one wonders if the whole thing is not a cover for something else.

Spright's hiccups are concerning. He has a year-plus in starts under his belt, but there are times when he still seems to get rattled, in a way that reminds me of that version of NCAA in which crowd noise would make your controller rattle. At times, Speight's controller seems to rattle him into a funk, dissolve his ability to do simple things like hit a wide open Kekoa Crawford for an easy touchdown against Florida or execute a handoff. Things happen, yeah, but Speight's things seem to gain steam in isolated spurts throughout a game.

Sometimes, Michigan has overcome those spurts, like in last week's Florida game. Other times, it hasn't (2016 Ohio State).

Overall, though, the standard being built is high. Speight is making mistakes that merit criticism (and not the always unrealistic desire for 100 percent deep ball accuracy). If he's still making those mistakes in October and November, no amount of defensive destruction will power Michigan to a shot at a title.

With each additional set of data, Speight is looking more and more like the John Navarre of this decade — at times prolific, at times frustrating. The funny thing is, that comparison means different things to different people.

Navarre had a Big Ten championship under his belt by the time he left Ann Arbor. Will Speight? I don't think we're any closer to feeling more comfortable about that possibility after two weeks.

That's not to say that Michigan can't go on to win something with him. With Speight last season, Michigan bested Penn State (albeit not necessarily because of his play) and was right there against Ohio State, in spite of his mistakes. (Iowa? We don't talk about Iowa.)

There's no reason to think Michigan cannot reach the precipice of something meaningful — a Big Ten title, even a division title — with Speight.

But there are times when, armed with a quarterback like Speight, that gap between almost and there can seem impossibly vast, like the last half-mile in a marathon. A quarterback like Speight can make that leap a paradoxical oddity — at once tantalizingly close yet unbearably far away.

---

Michigan didn't play particularly well, a week after playing Florida in a stadium underneath a jumbotron so jumbo it would probably be called a megatron if not for the existence of the "Transformers" franchise.

This is not surprising.

Michigan is bursting at the seams with youth. Much more seasoned teams have suffered the head-scratching hiccup (it's almost involuntary invocation at this point, but 2006 Ball State, for example).

This team is, and will continue to be, subject to wild swings in the on-field product by virtue of said youth. But through raw talent and coaching, Michigan will overcome that en route to eight, nine ... 10 wins? More?

Maybe.

For now, it's important to simply acknowledge that while Michigan did not cover the spread or play a great game, it still won by 22 points on Saturday. Perhaps it's no real consolation, but there was a time when Michigan would look far worse — or even lose — that kind of game.

The hope is the wide receivers continue to learn the intricacies of the game. For all of their collective talent, there are too many plays when Speight is staring down the field at receivers with an upright phonebook's worth of separation between them and a defensive back.

The hope is Speight nixes the occasional yips — if not 100 percent, then to some degree.

The hope is the right side of the line can continue to improve, becoming less of a liability as the season progresses.

The hope is that the young corners continue to learn with each deep shot attempted against them — there have been close calls, but so far, so good.

The hope is Michigan can avoid injuries to any of its marquee defensive starters — check that, any of them at all, really.

The hope is that special teams can start to gravitate back toward reliable competence – crawl, walk, run — particularly at punter and punt returner.

These are all hopes. Unfortunately, with a game against an outlier of a team like Air Force, Michigan won't learn anything real about itself this coming Saturday, except for its ability to deal with something that is schematically (and, sometimes, physically) uncomfortable.

As strange as it is to say, the trip to West Lafayette in less than two weeks will say a lot about this team and where it will go this season. Purdue isn't the tomato can it has been in recent years — that offense will test Michigan's defense and its depth, of which there notably isn't a ton.

But that's getting ahead of things a bit.

Air Force, as Michigan fans know, will be annoying. Michigan fans should not be surprised if the game produces another ugly, unsatisfying result (I hope not, because I'll be in the stadium for it).

But a win makes Michigan 3-0 heading into conference play. That's when the fun begins.

Miscellaneous Minutiae
  • Ty Isaac eclipsed the 100-yard mark for the second straight game. It's taken some time, but if the light has officially gone on for him, Michigan will have a really nice, versatile 1a/b running back. Carries will continue to be split, of course, but it would be nice to see somebody notch 1,000-plus yards. 
  • Special teams are back to not being so fun. Getting ready to watch Jabrill Peppers return a punt was like being enveloped in an aura of warmth and ultimate safety. Nothing bad could ever happen, and it never did. While Donovan Peoples-Jones flashed some ability to make some things happen against Florida, fielding much less booming Cincinnati punts proved to be a more harrowing affair. Switching him out for Grant Perry was the correct (and obvious) move. It sounds like DPJ will be back out there returning punts, though, per Harbaugh
  • Say what you will about Speight's accuracy, but he's been dealing about as well as you could ask for on the deep shots. That touchdown pass to Crawford on the first drive was a parabolic beauty. 
  • If you looked closely, you could see cartoon smoke rushing from Rashan Gary's helmet earholes after that roughing the passer penalty against him. He was, indeed, mad. 
  • Tyree Kinnel has exceeded expectations thus far. I think a lot of people sort of automatically assumed he'd be competent, as a factor of his relative experience and general offseason chatter. But he's been more than competent — so far, he's been a legitimate playmaker. Guys like Josh Metellus and Khaleke Hudson get all the hype when it comes to athleticism and ability to close and bring the noise, but Kinnel is right there with them in those departments. Kinnel's Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week nod was well-earned. 

Monday, September 4, 2017

Michigan 33, Florida 17: Sticking to the plan

Courtesy of my parents
There is something transcendent in a plan stuck to over time, a plan executed with precision and capable of weathering the vagaries of real-time action.

No, not the NFL's run-of-the-mill, hamfisted plan, where offenses are all the same as a matter of course. In the NFL, you're a pocket passer, whether you like it or not, and 3-4 defenses are exotic.

For Michigan, Saturday was not just a win — it was an assertion of its plan, its very way of doing things.

By the end of the offseason, national media folks' invocation of Michigan's personnel losses became somewhat of a tired joke. Sure, Maurice Hurst and Rashan Gary and Chase Winovich were not starters last year; Michigan fans suspected that that fact would prove to be a semantic point.

After four quarters of football, Michigan fans appear to be right.

The Michigan defense gave up just three points en route to a 33-17 drubbing, a game that was not as close as it looked in the box score.

At halftime, Michigan trailed 17-13, despite a 203-91 advantage in total yards and holding the Gators to 1.2 yards per carry on 13 attempts. The offense moved, but early struggles by the young wide receivers — including the first interception — and Wilton Speight's miscue on the second pick 6  found Michigan in the lone scenario in which they could lose that game.

Save for a 34-yard completion from Feleipe Franks to Josh Hammond on a perfect ball to beat Lavert Hill — 37 percent of UF's first-half offense — the Michigan defense contained the UF attack like lightning bugs in a bottle.

Even so, Michigan entered the danger zone after handing the Gators touchdowns on consecutive possessions, then had a punt blocked on the next.

Then, Michigan did this:


Florida might not have known it at the time, but its chances at victory evaporated in the Dallas air, obliterated like a power play by precisely timed blitz.

There's still a long season to go, and Michigan is not without problem spots. The offensive line, which most agreed, like the team in general, wouldn't be appreciably affected by personnel losses, gave up five sacks and a total of 11 tackles for loss. Of course, Florida's offensive problems notwithstanding, the Gators still have serious talent in the front seven — the Wolverines won't see that kind of talent again for a while.

As for Speight? Well, there's no doubt people will (and have) hit the internet to proclaim how they're DONE with him as the starter. But in the light of day, Speight was fine until the interceptions, and was just fine after. He wasn't excellent, and had some downfield misses ranging from "didn't give his guy a shot" to surrender-cobra-inducing (completely overshooting a wide open Kekoa Crawford for a sure touchdown). Unfortunately, that's a familiar song, but on the whole Speight did more than enough to win (the deep shot to Nick Eubanks, who is allegedly a tight end, was a nice one).

The first interception wasn't his fault, really, and the angst the second interception yielded was simply compounded by the first one — which, again, wasn't his fault.

With an offensive line still finding its way and a running game that did its job but wasn't exactly consistent (until the Gators wore down late), Speight finished 11 for 25 for 181 yards, two interceptions and a beautiful 46-yard score to freshman Tarik Black.

Perfect? Far from it. But consider the circumstances.

Speight started every game but one last year, only to get the John Beilein two-foul hook from Harbaugh. (John O'Korn would have played regardless, supposedly, but still.)

He could have wilted — no pun intended — but instead found his groove, hitting Sean McKeon and Grant Perry on key completions to open the second half.

I know it's a cliche, but if anything can't be questioned, it's Speight's toughness.

This is the same guy who threw an interception on his first pass in last year's season opener against Hawaii and went on to finish 10 for 13 for 145 yards and three touchdowns. He bounced back after getting clobbered early in the Colorado game. He played hurt late in the season.

Bouncing back from getting pulled by Harbaugh stands out as the biggest display of resilience in his career to date. Players of lesser stuff might have caved, checked out, sulked.

While he had help from his friends, Speight didn't do any of those things. That's a good sign for a Michigan team that will continue to go through growing pains this year.

As Florida's two-headed quarterback attack struggled in the face of the Michigan defense, I thought to myself: I'm glad Michigan isn't dealing with a freshman quarterback this year.

That counts for something. It will count for something, once the air chills and the leaves change color.

---

Michigan marched 75 yards in 10 plays to open the second half, a drive capped by a pair of runs from Karan Higdon, who had carried it just once in the first half (on a third and long, the play before the blocked punt).

When Chris Evans (22 carries, 78 yards) wasn't working, Michigan went to Ty Isaac (11 carries, 114 yards). Then, they went to Higdon.

Say what you will about the offensive line and Nolan Ulizio's struggles at right tackle, but Michigan appears to have a group of skill position players that by the end of the year will rank among the program's best in recent memory.

If I'm left with anything from this game, it's how remarkably accurate the hype and general perception of the team throughout the offseason showed through in this game.

Michigan has a diverse group of pass catchers and ball carriers? Check.

The future is here. (Source: Parents!)
The defense will once again be a TFL machine, hounding quarterbacks and offensive linemen into considering retiring into the woods and living out a Walden-esque existences for the rest of their days? Check.

The young secondary will now and then give up a big play or two? Check.

The right side of the offensive line will struggle? Unfortunately, check, although Michigan eventually found ways to lessen that deficiency's impact, either by running left or giving Ulizio help.

The game, surprisingly, offered no real surprises. The only way Florida could win was via Michigan mistakes. Those happened, but it didn't even matter.

---
Let us take a moment to acknowledge the defense. Did it look any worse than last year's?

The scary thing is, the answer might be "not really."

Yes, things will get hairy if injuries happen. And if we're nitpicking, the secondary could be an issue...but against whom?

I never thought I'd say this, but Purdue's passing attack looked surprisingly competent (albeit against Louisville's less-than-enthusiastic defense, but still). Michigan gets them in West Lafayette to open the conference slate. Indiana's passing attack features some fearsome targets, but will it matter if Richard Lagow is continually snacking on the Memorial Stadium field turf?

Penn State? Well, I suppose Michigan can worry about that when it gets there.

But as we saw all of last season and against Florida on Saturday, a voracious front seven cures a lot of ills.

Linebackers who see in heat maps and defensive linemen who sustain themselves on tackles for loss like they're plates of chicken broccoli bake are a young defensive back's best friend. The thread below is a nice summary of the afternoon's defensive destruction.
When it became evident that Florida's running game posed no threat, the scent of blood lingered in the water. Michigan's defense transformed into 11 sharks, looking for revenge.

Most expect Michigan's defensive stats to drop this year. They probably will.

The plan, however, remains in place. All the usual buzzwords, which sound ugly in regular conversation but make for great defense — violence, aggression, etc. — apply here.



You can solve a lot with that.

Forget about the breathlessly uttered words of praise, the encomiums following this defense like Link's Navi saying "Listen! This defense is still elite despite significant losses to the NFL!"

Look at the cold, hard numbers.

Michigan tallied 11 tackles for loss and six sacks, forced four fumbles (recovering three, including one by Noah Furbush for a touchdown) and held Florida to 0.4 yards per carry.

Zero point four. Based on that average, Florida would have needed to run the ball 25 times to gain the yardage needed for a first down.

A plane ride back to Gainesville doesn't seem so long when the first-down markers look like they're a mile away.

Miscellaneous Minutiae 
  • Notwithstanding the brief targeting scare on the first play, Devin Bush looked exactly as advertised. Michigan has had shifty, undersized linebackers of varying quality before (Ian Gold, for example). But I don't know that Michigan has ever had a laser-guided missile of a linebacker like Bush. The targeting thing will continue to be an issue — more because of the ongoing confusion about what targeting actually is than it is about Bush's playing style in and of itself. The hope is that Michigan doesn't lose him in a game that matters because of it. Setting that aside, Bush had himself a day, tallying three tackles for loss, including two sacks. 
  • Running back roulette. Chris Evans is slippery, but Michigan fans knew that. He also goes down a little too easily at times, but that's a tradeoff you take. With that said, Evans did show a little bit of seemingly newfound power on a few runs, including a relatively nondescript 4-yard carry early in the third quarter on which he drove for an extra yard or so after contact. Throw in Ty Isaac, who flashed the total package of speed, power and vision, and Karan Higdon's all-around toolkit, and it's safe to say the days of giving Chris Perry 51 carries in a game are in the rear view mirror. Sometimes, the committee approach is by virtue of a lack of skill — this is not an instance of that. 
  • Wild Thing for Heisman. For years, Ohio State has seemingly trotted out kickers ranging from competent to excellent, while Michigan has, at best, topped out at decent. There's no need to revisit Michigan's dark kicking history, but it's safe to say Michigan finally has a legitimate weapon in Quinn Nordin. The leg is real. Yes, the two late misses were a bit of a bummer, but they only took a A+ performance down to an A-. It should also be noted that a college kicker missing a 52-yarder and having that classified as a "bummer" is something in and of itself. 
  • As for the rest of the special teams, check back later on punter Will Hart, who punted twice and got one blocked. At punt returner, one still remembers Jabrill Peppers, expecting to see him out there but finding nothing, like a phantom limb. Donovan Peoples-Jones looks like he could be an asset there, however. He had a nice 18-yarder, displayed some quicks and agility, and didn't cough it up. In short: success. Also, Ambry Thomas forced a fumble on a UF kickoff return early after Michigan's touchdown opening the second half. 
  • Although DPJ didn't get on the receiving stat sheet, the wideouts were about as expected, flashing tantalizing skill. There were a couple drops, but young guys plus a hypercharged environment against an SEC foe and the dropsies are easy to forgive. Tarik Black did his best Jehu Chesson impression on that deep ball. With Black taking the top off of defenses, Grant Perry picking up where he left off in his role, guys like McKeon and Nick Eubanks giving Speight big targets...covering this group is going to be a problem. As for Kekoa Crawford, you'd like to see him come down with that ball that became the first interception, but there's no real reason to think he won't be a plus contributor. He did draw a pass interference penalty on that deep ball during the first drive. The competition for catches will be fierce this season. 
  • As mentioned above, the inexperienced secondary will have some issues. Fortunately for Michigan, Franks and Malik Zaire didn't exactly have much time to find receivers downfield. Hill looked the part, athletically, and that first big play completed on him was simply a perfectly thrown ball by Franks. Unsurprisingly, turning to look for the ball was a problem on one occasion (e.g. the 31-yard completion to Tyrie Cleveland in the second quarter). That can be corrected, and, in fact, was corrected, as Hill made a nice play later on a downfield shot. Aside from coverage, Hill had a fairly authoritative fill on the edge to bring down Lamical Perine to close the first quarter — a nice thing to see given Channing Stribling's issues in run support. It was just one play, but still nice to see. 
  • Injuries, stay away. Mike McCray not getting the start was a bit of a surprise, but he seemed fine once he got in. David Long went down with a leg injury late in the first quarter, but did come back in shortly thereafter, contributing solid coverage on a deepish shot by Franks to start the second quarter. I'm not entirely sure if he played much after that — I don't remember seeing him on the field again after that aforementioned pass defense. Brandon Watson, meanwhile, did a good job of mostly not getting noticed. When he did get noticed, he made a textbook pass breakup on a throw downfield. There was the one shot completed over him late in the third, but that was a tremendous catch by Cleveland (and scramble by Zaire to find him downfield). All in all, the secondary didn't give up any huge plays. Tyree Kinnel and Josh Metellus, as far as I could tell, were excellent, both in run support and in coverage. 
  • Young guys and old. While briefly filling in for McCray, Devin Gil assisted for a nice tackle early on. Carlo Kemp also had a nice shed and tackle near the sidelines late in the first quarter. Meanwhile, a substantially larger Lawrence Marshall recovered a Florida fumble — a nice thing to see for a guy who was highly touted but hasn't made much of an impact to date. Cincinnati will hopefully provide an opportunity for these guys to get some extended action. 
  • When Maurice Hurst is busting up your tunnel screens, you're going to have a bad time. In a big game against a big-name foe, Hurst only further cemented his first-round draft status.