Michigan Daily Sports Editor Kyle O’Neill is not a collegiate athlete, nor is he a collegiate coach. But he was a starting wide receiver for his winless team at Garber High School, was third in Bay County in receptions his senior year and claims to know something about the game of football. So each game, we’ll let him and his 5-foot-10, 158-pound frame break down why Michigan either succeeded or failed.
Key play: Second quarter, 13:07; 2nd-and-7
1. You can’t feel nothing but sorry for fullback Brian Thompson. Despite not seeing much game time, Thompson had a game that he’s not going to want to watch on game film. After being one of a few Wolverines that missed Oregon’s Steven Moore on his punt return, Thompson had a big special teams mishap when he was knocked back by the Ducks’ J.D. Nelson a good two yards on Nelson’s punt block to win the game. Thompson, serving as Finley’s personal protector, nearly redeemed himself by getting Nelson to fumble the ball into the endzone. It’s just a shame that someone who gets beat up all game blocking for others in a reduced role should have have one or two mistakes be so costly.
2. The defense should be quite ticked off with the way this game played out. It held Oregon to two offensive touchdowns and a field goal – something to brag about, given that the Ducks had been averaging more than 40 points a game. The fact that the offense could not eat up any of the clock in the first quarter (Oregon held the ball for all but 56 seconds of the first quarter), is something that should not be sitting well with Carl Diggs and the rest of the defense that had eight tackles for loss during practice this week.
3. Yes, Braylon Edwards dropped a few balls that he shouldn’t have on Saturday. But guess what? The kid also made some catches that he had no business making, including ripping the ball from Oregon defensive back Steven Moore’s hands to give Michigan one first down on its final drive. Also, Edwards may not have any ribs by the end of this season if John Navarre keeps throwing him high balls the way he does. Edwards does make those catches consistently, so it’s easier to throw it high.
Explanation: Say what you want about Michigan’s inept special teams, but it was the Wolverines’ inability to control the clock through the running game that cost them the game. It didn’t help that Michigan got into a big hole in a hurry – forcing more passing downs than usual – but it did abandon the run quite early and down just 15. Eleven rushing attempts is hardly Michigan football, and neither was what the guards and tackles did against Oregon’s front seven. Michigan’s pulling linemen were barely able to get to their holes in time, let alone make a hole for running back Chris Perry. This comes as a surprise for an offensive line that was as just as fast as it had been physical.
On this particular play, Michigan ran with a pulling guard – a simple play, but one that Michigan has run well all season. As left guard David Baas pulled through the hole between right tackle Tony Pape and right tight end Andy Mignery, he hit Oregon defensive end Igor Olshansky out of the play. Mignery blocked out outside linebacker David Martin and fullback Kevin Dudley took middle linebacker Jerry Matson head on, setting up what seemed like another successful run. But the play was broken up by defensive tackle Junior Siavii who fought through a Pape and Matt Lentz double team to drop Chris Perry for a one-yard gain. Was it the most impressive play of the day? No. But it did set a tone for the game, convincing Michigan it could not run the ball.
Second down: The other key to Oregon’s successes was its ability to switch its fullback with tight end right before the snap. Whether Michigan was caught off guard or just in the wrong defense, Oregon let its fullback go on the line for strictly blocking purposes as the tight end would come from the other side of the line – switching the line strength. The tight end, now in the fullback position, became not only a blocking threat, but also a key receiver out of the backfield. Running just simple dump passes into the flats, Oregon was able to take advantage of Michigan’s lack of coverage in that area and turn three-yard passes into 20-yard gains. Tight ends Nate LiaBraaten and Tim Day combined for five catches for 89 yards – three for first downs and 20-or-more yard gains.