Monday Morning Coffee W/ Kyle: Progress

I'm on my second cup of coffee this morning and have a few thoughts and observations on the progress (yes, progress) of the Michigan offensive line, the running game, Devin Funchess' role and what it all could mean moving forward with Penn State up next.

Another fall weekend has passed meaning college football season is now nearly halfway over.

Good morning everyone and good Monday to you!

The good news for Michigan football fans is that the Wolverines remain undefeated at 5-0 after stretching out a 42-13 win over Minnesota to kick off Big Ten play Saturday.

More good news? Potentially, and I’m sure in most fans minds, hopefully, playing and experiencing their worst hiccups of the season to date still resulted in victories (Akron & Connecticut), meaning all the Wolverines goals are in front of them.

Cream is usually my choice to go with my coffee as well but I’m going to go ahead and add some optimism too: Positive steps were taken against Minnesota Saturday, something I needed to see and even the team themselves needed to feel in order to maintain their record in October.

Positives For OL

One word: Effective.

The offensive line was just, flat out and straight up better than it had been the previous four games. This won’t all be put on sophomore center Jack Miller but the insertion of Chris Bryant at left guard and Graham Glasgow over snapping the football paid dividends.

The stat sheet reads: Fitz Toussaint, 17 carries for 78-yards and two touchdowns. Derrick Green, 10 rushes, 26-yards and a touchdown.

No, I’m not stupid; those aren’t earth shattering numbers or the exact goal for the offensive line or offensive coordinator Al Borges at the running back position.

But there was a different feel to the rushing attack.

Michigan lined up, Minnesota seemingly knowing what was coming, and the Wolverines gained yardage. That’s a major difference than what we saw the first four weeks. Specifically, when the Wolverines didn’t have to utilize Gardner’s arm until midway though the second quarter, that’s saying something.

Bryant was physical and athletic with his pulls, effectively targeting and engaging defenders to create holes for the tailbacks. Glasgow looked bigger, quick and tough at center, clearly a much better run blocker than pass protector at this point.

Pass blocking is still a work in progress and will need to be a major focus the rest of the season but there were times when the pocket formed nicely around Gardner and as he gains more comfort he’ll be able to step-up into that space and deliver a nice throw.

Devin Gardner

Two words: Zero turnovers.

(Yeah, that’s all on him).

The Funchess Factor

One word: Finally.

Something that looked like a real possibility in fall camp, at least in my eyes, Michigan got smart during the bye week and looked at the limited productivity Devin Funchess had had through four games and devised a plan that would get him the football and stretch the field for the Wolverines.

The result? Seven catches for 151-yards and a touchdown.

Part of how Funchess was used speaks to his ability and the need for it on the outside for Michigan but the consistent play of sophomore A.J. Williams (and clean bill of health) as well as true freshman tight end Jake Butt makes this move possible.

The lack of a true deep threat didn’t scare safeties from playing up in the box. With Funchess flanked wide that could change and in turn have another positive effect on the running game as well. Oh, Gardner throws a nice deep ball doesn’t he?

Can we expect to see more of this? My answer, simply, is duh and yes.

In the post game press conference, Coach Brady Hoke may have let it slip, talking about the offense and Gardner’s improvement through the bye week and on Saturday, mentioned Funchess saying, “It helps when you have a 6-6, wide receiver.”

My guess is he meant exactly what he said and the move could prove huge for Michigan.

Oh, and by the way, Jehu Chesson really looks to be coming on doesn’t he?

Next up

On to Penn State and Happy Valley.

This is a game that looked much tougher before the season, in my opinion, based on the strong coaching efforts of the Nittany Lion staff and the way his team has bought into what they want to do even though it is clear the sanctions and scholarship losses have had an effect.

After getting pummeled by an improved Indiana team, and a Hoosier team that can score points, the only thing I’d look at and be concerned with is that it’s a road game and everyone is intimately aware of the struggles away from home this team has had in recent years.

With a freshman quarterback under center for Penn State, this could be the game the Michigan defense kind of makes it’s presence known while the offense continues to build the rushing attack and build Gardner’s confidence back up.

Should be a fun one. I see Michigan at 6-0 next Saturday night unless the Wolverines return to the ways of Akron and Connecticut.

Look for Brady Hoke’s press conference coming up at 12:30 p.m. today.

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