Kickoff returns. Going into the game, this was the weakest part of the Wolverine's game. The Michigan kickoff team had given up 4 returns of over 30 yards, including 2 over 40. Against Notre Dame, Michigan kicked off a lot, but the Irish's longest return was to their own 30. Notre Dame started out at their own 20 (touchback), 27 (where they fumbled), 17 (penalty took it back to the 7), 29, 28, 30, and 20 (touchback) -- not outstanding, but adequate. Why the sudden improvement? Well, retired Special Teams coach Bobby Morrison, who lives in Canada now, was seen with the team ... Morrison came around last season when the ST's needed shoring up as well, and he succeeded then, and now.
The Deep Passing Game
Often times, perhaps usually, when a team says they have such-and-such aspect of the game in their repertoire but just haven't used it yet ... well, often that isn't really true. Usually the team does not really have the ability to do what they claim they are merely 'holding back'. However, this time, Chad Henne was telling the truth when he told the press the week before the Notre Dame game that, "We do have a long-ball attack." This time Michigan really was actually hiding this aspect of their game by not trotting in out versus Vandy and CMU. And, just as the Wolverine coaches had hoped, Notre Dame cheated their defense into 'the box' -- in fact, this has been the perceived way to defense the Wolverines: pack the box and make Henne beat you through the air. And Chad Henne and Mario Manningham made the Irish pay for this approach. Of course, the Wolverines can only 'pull the rabbit out of the hat' once -- the deep-ball surprise is over now. But for future opponents to have to respect the Wolverine long ball -- this will open up more opportunities for the U-M running game, and create more room for Steve Breaston to catch the shorter ball 'in space'.
Michigan being psyched out playing in South Bend
This problem was one of fan-and-media perception. As Lloyd Carr said in his press conference after the CMU game, each Notre Dame game is prepared for separately since the teams are different from year to year, etc., and he poo-pooed the notion of a South Bend 'jinx'. However, this was the one moment at the presser when he'd flashed a brief instant of irritation when the question was asked, meaning the notion was, well, bugging him perhaps. And this perception has now been shattered, as Michigan hung one of the worst home defeats ever on the Irish.
Michigan being psyched out playing in road openers
The Michigan pass defense
This wasn't really a 'bad', just more an average, component of this year's U-M team. And Brady Quinn did throw for over 200 yards (just barely) against the Wolverines. But, in this game U-M demonstrated how it can effectively defense the passing game. (1) Leon Hall is a lock-down corner on the wide side -- he had an All-American-type game against Notre Dame, effectively shutting down Jeff Samardzja. (2) Pressure the quarterback. Michigan repeatedly pressured and hurried Brady Quinn, tipped several of his balls, intercepted 3 of his passes, and sacked him 3 times. The best sign that Quinn was flustered was in the 4th quarter when he let the ball simply slip from his passing hand, and Lamarr Woodley picked it up and returned it for U-M's final score. And, did you see Shawn Crable chase down and catch Quinn on one of his scrambles?
The Right Side of the Michigan offensive line
The right side of Alex Mitchell at RG and Ruben Riley at RT is improving game-by game for the Wolverines. In fact, one has to give cudos to Mitchell for his play in Saturday's game. When Riley went out for about half of the 3rd quarter, U-M first tried Cory Zirbel at RT -- to not-so-great effect. So Mitchell moved to RT and Jeremy Ciulla came in at RG, and the right side held up until Riley came back in. So, as we say, cudos to Mitchell for playing two positions effectively -- this was a good game for him, and his solid play has to give the U-M offensive coaches a little bit of comfort, since Riley's knees may just bother him some, on and off, all season.
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