Saturday, November 5, 2016

COLUMN- Michigan's thorough dominance of both sides of the ball on full display

                               Photo Credit: The Blueprint Michigan

By: Jeremy Rosenberg

On an improbably beautiful November day in Ann Arbor, the game between No. 3 Michigan and Maryland ended with the most probable outcome– a convincing victory for the Wolverines. By the time the final seconds expired, Michigan laid a 59-3 beat down on the Terrapins. The game itself was just as close as the score leads one to believe.

Michigan’s opening drive warned of a long afternoon for the Terrapins. Wilton Speight surgically sliced through the Maryland defense, finding Jehu Chesson open on a crossing pattern for a crucial third down pickup. Speight also got it done on the ground, with an elusive, Andrew Luck-esque run for a seven-yard gain. The drive ended with Speight finding a wide open Amara Darboh for a 34-yard touchdown pass.

Maryland tried its only potential plan of success­– running the football.  The Terps managed to work their way to midfield, but the drive stalled after a false start penalty moved Maryland back. When the strategy is to run the ball and use clock in order shorten the game, any penalties are killers as they put the offense in third-and-long situations. The opening drive for the Maryland offense was a perfect example of the thin line the Terps had to tread to make this game competitive.

Michigan’s second drive was marked by more precision passing by Wilton Speight. A little trickery on a side-to-side flea flicker saw the ball go from Speight to Jabrill Peppers, back to Speight to Chesson to put Michigan in the red zone. Speight continued his Andrew Luck impersonation with a 10-yard touchdown run to put Michigan up 14-0 with 2:56 left in the first quarter.

The Terps responded with a continuation of their running game, utilizing some very inventive play calling to keep the Michigan defense off balance. What kept Michigan more off balance was the multitude of missed tackles – Maryland was able to extend three and four-yard runs to larger gains due to poor tackling by the Wolverines. Penalties doomed Maryland for a second time, as its drive stalled out in the red zone. A 29-yard field goal attempt clanged off the upright, and a nice drive by the Terps ended with a demoralizing zero points.

The rest of the first half was marked by more magic from Speight, who finished the half with 13-of-16 completions, 292 yards, 2 passing TDs and 1 rushing TD. Speight’s 292 yards broke the Michigan record for most passing yards in a half, previously set by Denard Robinson (262) in 2011. De’Veon Smith contributed with characteristically tough running, including pounding in for a three-yard touchdown run.

For Maryland, an injury to starting quarterback Perry Hills, who was effective within the confines of the offense, stymied Maryland at midfield. Inexplicably, Maryland coach D.J. Durkin elected to go for it on fourth-and-three from the 50 yard line. The pass from backup QB Caleb Rowe never had a chance.

At halftime, thanks to additional touchdowns by Khalid Hill and Chesson, Michigan held a commanding 35-0 lead. And there was much rejoicing in Vegas. The remaining question was whether or not Harbaugh would let up on the gas pedal, especially considering his former defensive coordinator was on the opposing sideline.

Without Hills, Maryland backup quarterback Caleb Rowe had the dirty job of stepping in against the Michigan defense. The third quarter was marred by one pick, and two drives that were forced to turn the ball over on downs. Harbaugh went somewhat conservative on the play calling, easy to do when you can hand the ball off to De’Veon Smith. By the end of the third quarter, Smith had 103 yards total rushing to go with his two touchdowns. He finished the game with 19 carries for 114 yards and three touchdowns.

With 10:34 left in the game, Maryland kicker Adam Greene connected on a 37-yard field goal to put the Terps on the scoreboard. Clearly, D.J. Durkin has a long way to go to field a team with enough talent to force a competitive game with Michigan, let alone have illusions of victory. This leads to a larger question, with Maryland in the formidable Big Ten East, can it truly be expected to ever compete for a division title? Is there a scenario where Maryland beats Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, and Michigan State all in the same year? Or is Maryland destined to Indiana’s fate – a scrappy program that manages to be bowl eligible every several years?

For Michigan, there is no question that this is as complete of a team fielded since 1997. Most impressively, Harbaugh has this group improving and playing better week after week. Next week’s game against the Iowa Hawkeyes will provide a greater challenge, but the real test is the obvious one – November 26th at Columbus against Urban Meyer’s Ohio State Buckeyes. Few people doubt Michigan’s talent, the only doubt is shaking off the Buckeye bugaboo.

Today, Michigan feasted on a heaping bowl of turtle stew. An impressive win, but seemingly empty calories. There are more substantial feasts to be had, and college football fans have much to look forward to.