ANN ARBOR — It would do no good to examine Michigan's unimpressive 42-37 win over Massachusetts and contemplate what the fallout might have been had the outcome been different.
A more useful discussion would focus on the Wolverines' flaws from Saturday, and whether they can be remedied in time for some of the more difficult opponents on their schedule.
If not, perhaps a 2009 redux is coming, because many of the same issues that derailed last year's once promising season resurfaced against a Division I-AA opponent.
“Defense did not play well, special teams were awful, and the offense did some good things but we weren't as crisp and sharp as we needed to be at times,” UM coach Rich Rodriguez said.
That pretty much sums up the sometimes gut wrenching win that probably removes some of the shine that was applied to the 20th-ranked Wolverines the last two weeks in wins over Connecticut and Notre Dame.
“They came out and smacked us in the mouth today,” safety Jordan Kovacs said of a UMass offense that generated 439 yards. “We're going to correct that.”
Along the way, UM made enough plays offensively to avoid a meltdown along the lines of James Madison's win over Virginia Tech last week. The two most pivotal plays arrived in the final minute or so in the first half, and both involved a touchdown pass from Denard Robinson to Darryl Stonum. The first, which came on UM's first offensive play after UMass went ahead 17-7 on a touchdown, saw Stonum catch a pass in the flat, follow some blocks, and race 66 yards with 1:01 to go.
“I saw [Robinson] turn his head so I knew I was getting the outlet pass,” Stonum said. “The linemen did a great job of kick out blocks.”
UMass would have gladly gone to halftime with a 17-14 lead. But soon thereafter running back John Griffin lost the ball when Kovacs came in for the strip, and UM took over at its own 45. A 36-yard pass from Robinson to Junior Hemingway ultimately led to a 9-yard TD pass from Robinson to Stonum with six seconds to go.
“At that point in the game, they had a lot of momentum and they were rolling,” Kovacs said. “I knew that we had to make a big play. I realized he was carrying the ball pretty low.”
The Wolverines carried over that momentum after the break, scoring touchdowns on their first three possessions of the second half — including two of Michael Shaw's career high three rushing scores — to go ahead 42-24. It should have been over at that point, but UMass didn't go away, and neither did the ghastliness of the Wolverine defense.
A positive moment of Cam Gordon intercepting a Kyle Havens pass was quickly reversed when Gordon lost possession on his return, essentially amounting to a nine-yard gain for UMass. Havens later hooked up with Julian Talley for a five-yard TD strike on a bootleg play that gave the Wolverines fits all afternoon. At that point the score was 42-30 with 5:15 left. Still not safe.
A three-and-out on UM's ensuing possession ended when punter Will Hagerup bobbled the exchange, resulting in a block that placed the Minutemen (2-1) at the Wolverines' 25. Havens, who completed 22 of 29 passes, found tight end Andrew Krevis for seven yards to cut the lead to five with 1:28. The ensuing onside kick failed, though, when the ball bounced out of bounds, prompting an illegal procedure penalty.
“We have some warts still out there [defensively],” Rodriguez said. “Let's not pretend we're the 1985 Chicago Bears. Three games in we should get a little bit better and the disappointing part is we didn't get better today.”
Contact Ryan Autullo at:firstname.lastname@example.org 419-724-6160.