Saturday’s Michigan vs. Washington game was one of the best football games I have ever experienced. It ran the gamut of emotions for every fan and every player on both teams and ended in a way so chaotic, it seemed fitting. Both teams at times played well enough to win and poor enough to lose. And as uplifting as the victory was for the Wolverines, it will only be as big as they make it.

Paul Wong
Jeff Phillips

Last season, it was the Huskies that were on the winning end of a spectacular game and brimming with confidence afterwards. Nevertheless, Washington still had a disappointing season after expecting to compete for a BCS berth, ending up 8-4 with losses in the Holiday Bowl to Texas and a blowout loss to eventual national champion Miami (Fla.). I’m not saying that Michigan will have the same season, I’m just pointing out that the college football season is long and this past Saturday is just the beginning.

Michigan showed off its new offense and John Navarre exuded a coolness that he hasn’t shown since early last season. He played well by spreading the ball to several different receivers and knowing when to get rid of it. Without Marquise Walker, Navarre needed to have confidence in his receiving corps and they gave it to him.

Chris Perry stepped up and exceeded his touchdown total from last season with three against Washington. Braylon Edwards and Tyrece Butler both proved that they could be consistent threats in the place of Walker.

Michigan played an extremely clean game, penalty-wise, with no big penalties and no infractions before the snap – a very good sign for the first game.

But there were still many question marks for the Wolverines.

Will they get consistency from the kicking game? I’m sure I wasn’t the only person watching that was surprised when the Wolverines lined up for a field goal on the final play. As incredible and as clutch as Phil Brabbs’ final kick was – it’s one that he will be remembered for even if he does nothing else in his career – he was still just 1-for-3 on the day for field goals and Michigan was 1-for-4 overall. The Wolverines will need a solid kicking game in order to win – just ask Washington, which had miscues all day on special teams and had an extra point blocked by Shantee Orr. Michigan’s three missed field goals should have been made, both misses by Brabbs and the chip-shot by Troy Nienberg. Saturday’s game won’t be the only game that will be close this season.

The Wolverines still had trouble holding on to the ball in their own zone. It was a problem that plagued the team at the end of last season, and it still appears to be a problem. Two times Michigan lost the ball to give Washington great field position (one Perry fumble and one Navarre interception). The turnover problem killed Michigan last season and will need to be fixed in order to compete for the Big Ten title.

Most importantly, where was the vaunted Michigan defense? It shut down the Huskies’ running attack (minus one long Rich Alexis run, which accounted for the deceiving 98 rushing yards), making Washington one-dimensional, an oft-cited goal of the Wolverines’ defense. But that one dimension proved very effective by racking up more than 300 yards in the air – all this with Marlin Jackson limiting one of the game’s best receivers in Reggie Williams to just 45 yards and no touchdowns. Williams’ 20-yard reception came while Jackson was not in the game. The Wolverines’ secondary made a star of Charles Frederick, who up to this point had been an erratic, though talented, player at best. Washington tight end Kevin Ware had four catches and a touchdown.

Washington quarterback Cody Pickett was unfazed by what was supposed to be a potent pass rush. The Wolverines’ line of all returning starters sacked Pickett just twice, both by Dan Rumishek, while being held in check by the Huskies’ offense.

Yesterday, the Wolverines pointed to the three-step drop passing utilized by Washington as the reason for the success of the Huskies’ passing game. Michigan got pressure on Pickett, but he just release too quickly. Carr noted the Wolverines knocked down Pickett eight times as evidence of the pressure.

The Huskies have a very strong trio of receivers with Williams, Frederick and Paul Arnold each capable of a big play. But Pickett and company still exposed the Michigan pass defense as being susceptible to this kind of an attack. There are several talented passing teams on the Wolverines’ schedule this year, including playing against Purdue and Illinois away and Michigan State at home. Wisconsin may also give the Wolverines trouble with the expected return of superstar wideout Lee Evans by Nov. 16.

The moral of the story is that this game was amazing and has the potential to be very inspiring. But Washington is not the best team Michigan will face this season and to earn its first Rose Bowl berth in five years, it needs find an acceptable solution in several key areas.

Jeff Phillips can be reached at jpphilli@umich.edu.

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