Well, at least we finally got to see what Jason Eldridge can do.
Eldridge is a senior from Oxford, Mich., who saw his first game action during Saturday’s 55-0 slaughter of Eastern Michigan. Eldridge was an excellent high school athlete, but, like most great high school athletes, he was too small (5-foot-8, 184 pounds) or not talented enough to play at Michigan. Against Eastern, he carried the ball one time for three yards.
Alijah Bradley, the 5-foot-6, 176-pound senior running back from Hercules, Calif., has seen plenty of action over the last three years, 18 games to be exact. But this week Bradley made it into the end zone for the first time in his career. Bradley was spinning and falling as he crossed the goal line, but he popped right up and into the arms of a teammate – clearly excited about his new accomplishment.
“I just want to thank God for the opportunity, and my coaches,” Bradley said after the game. “I just ran hard, man. When the opportunity came, I just took advantage of it.”
Bradley and Eldridge wouldn’t have played if the Wolverines were playing Tennessee in a nonconference game. Senior quarterbacks Jeff Kastl and Matt Wilde – both local guys whose job on the Michigan football team pretty much consists of relaying the play to their teammates on the field – would not have made it into the game if the score wasn’t 41-0 when the fourth quarter started. Landon Smith, Brad Cischke and Tyrone Jordan all made it into the game to get some reps at wide receiver, and you can’t tell me that they would have gotten that PT if it hadn’t been for this game. For the seniors, it might be one of their last opportunities because, unless we’re crushing Indiana, I don’t think they’re going to get into a Big Ten game.
In my mind, getting these guys some playing time is really the only reason to play a game like this. It didn’t really help the offense get back on track, and I think it might have hurt the defense.
On the first play from scrimmage, Eagles quarterback Matt Bohnet found a hole in the cover 2, torching the Michigan secondary for 18 yards. The wide receiver on that play, senior A.J. Bennett, was just sitting in the hole of the zone. It didn’t matter because after three more passing attempts, Eastern Michigan was forced to punt. And it didn’t matter that the Eagles had made it practically to midfield, because Steve Breaston returned the ball to the 10-yard line.
Cornerbacks Leon Hall and Grant Mason were regularly giving seven- and eight-yard cushions off the line of scrimmage, which would be fine if the receivers didn’t get the ball. But when the receiver is open, it means the cornerback was doing something wrong – even if Bohnet threw the ball into the ground, and even if the receiver dropped the pass. I’m worried that the fact the defense gave up just 134 yards and kept the Eagles to a goose egg on the scoreboard has everyone thinking that they are back to where they should be.
The defense kept Eastern Michigan to just 15 yards on the ground, but next week they have to go up against senior transfer Brian Calhoun, not Eastern’s Dwayne Harrison. Harrison, the team’s starting running back, wasn’t the leading rusher. Instead it was backup quarterback Tyler Jones, who carried the ball seven times for 24 yards.
And it’s the same for the offense. It’s great that Michigan rolled for nearly 500 yards, but they didn’t prove anything to me. After the first two drives, Michigan was up 14-0 but with just 30 yards of total offense. They didn’t need to do much. Chad Henne did a great job putting the ball in the end zone. Sophomore running back Max Martin looked great, running for 128 yards and two scores. But Bradley scored, Jerome Jackson scored and freshman Antonio Bass ran for 20 yards in three plays at quarterback.
All this is wonderful, and 55-0 is a nice way to bounce back from 17-10. But it doesn’t say all that much about the teams – except that Alijah Bradley and Jason Eldridge can play. And I think everyone is happy we have figured that much out.
– Herbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.