[ED: Parts one and two here. Book on sale Tuesday. Bacon will be giving his first local book talk and signing at Nicola’s Books in the Westgate Shopping Center on Friday night, October 28, 7 p.m.; other events can be found on his website’s appropriately-named Event page.
Cave people: Three and Out is a book about the Rodriguez era from John Bacon, who was given unprecedented access to the program by Rich Rodriguez because Rich Rodriguez does these sorts of things.]
6. WHAT'S NEXT?
“What books are you going to write about now that Michigan won't let you within a mile of any of their programs anymore? I mean, it's not easy to piss off everybody.”
Well, first: Despite the sacrifices I mentioned in the first installment – time, money, and possibly professional opportunities -- writing it was my decision, naturally, and I don’t regret it. Given my choices, trying to write an honest book is certainly more appealing to me than trying to keep everyone happy and produce a book I could never respect.
Plus, I had the chance to see a big-time program form the inside that no fan, and no reporter, has ever had—and probably never will again. If there was one great privilege that I hope every reader can share, it was getting to know these young man not as gladiators but as human beings, some of the best I’ve met. If you were proud of Michigan football before, I can tell you this: getting to know these guys can erase much of the cynicism we all feel for college football these days. They were, quite simply, the real thing.
None of that, unfortunately, solves the problem in the question. Mr. Brandon and Mr. Carr, through various means and channels, have made their contempt for the book (and its author) plain enough. I have no idea what’s going to happen with my various ties to Michigan, including my teaching arrangement, but I’d probably be foolish to count on anything.
It’s almost impossible to write anything interesting without at least some cooperation and access, and I might find those in short supply under the Brandon regime. I will likely have to go “off the reservation,” if you will, to pursue future projects. And perhaps it’s time.
But I also believe this book would cost me a lot more if I were writing about Kentucky basketball under Eddie Sutton or, say, Ohio State football (as a convenient example). Those schools and fans generally don’t want the truth, and will attack anyone who attempts to deliver it (witness Mr. Herbstreit’s forced move to Tennessee). Michigan football fans are very demanding—they expect a first-class program on and off the field—but they also want the truth, and they can handle it.
I feel the same way. After all, I learned how to do all the things I needed to write this book – researching, writing and thinking critically – from world-class professors at the University of Michigan. But the most important principle Michigan taught me was the central importance of pursuing the truth without fear, wherever it leads.
For those who say this book will hurt Michigan, I can only respond: not the Michigan I know.
7. Does the idea of being a "Michigan man" emerge as tortured shibboleth in need of burial or does Bacon make the case that there is something valuable in it, something RR just really didn't get?
This is why you have to love Michigan fans. What other school’s backers would inquire if their culture’s central concept emerges as a “tortured shibboleth in need of burial”? It was such fans, by the way, that made it easy for me to persuade our highbrow publisher Farrar, Straus & Giroux, that our readers would have no trouble getting through a 438-page book with no photos, nor digesting the word “crucible” in the subtitle. (Arthur Miller, after all, went to Michigan.)
The term “Michigan Man” probably goes back to the day men arrived at Michigan. But it’s taken more than a few twists and turns since.
Fielding Yost gave the term “Michigan Man” a boost when he started using it in his speeches. But the phrase really took off in 1989, of course, when Schembechler announced he was firing basketball coach Bill Frieder on the eve of the NCAA basketball tournament because Frieder had signed a secret deal to coach Arizona State the next season. This prompted Schembechler to bark: “A Michigan Man will coach Michigan!”
Pundits have wondered exactly what Bo meant, but I think it’s pretty simple: anybody coaching at Michigan better be completely committed to Michigan.
The phrase took on more weight four years ago, when a reporter asked brand-new head coach Rich Rodriguez if the Michigan coach had to be a Michigan Man. He joked, “Gosh, I hope not! They hired me!”
He was criticized for that—and not without some justification. The question was inevitable, and it exposed Rodriguez’s superficial knowledge of the program upon his arrival, and the athletic department’s failure to prepare its new coach for his mission.
From that point on, the phrase was used more often to beat somebody over the head—usually Rodriguez—than to underscore the values it’s supposed to represent, much the way extremists use “patriot” to castigate someone as un-American.
At the “Victors’ Rally” held in February 2010, Rodriguez wanted to show that he’d gotten the message. So, he closed his speech by saying, “I’m Rich Rodriguez, and I am a Michigan Man.” This time, he was criticized for being presumptuous.
Finally, with great humility, he told the crowd at his final speech at the Bust in December 2011, “I hope you realize, I truly want to be a Michigan Man.” But this time his critics said a true Michigan Man wouldn’t have to ask.
And thus, the silliness of the entire exercise had come full circle. The phrase had become so distorted, Michigan’s critics started using it as a mocking insult. Much like the word “classy,” it seemed, whoever uses it, probably isn’t.
Despite my temptation to chuck this overused and little understood phrase forever, I still think there’s something to it. Everyone knows the values it’s supposed to stand for: honor, sacrifice, pride in your team, and humility in yourself, all in one. But ultimately, to define it, I have to resort to Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s description of pornography: “I know it when I see it.”
Pardon the comparison, but when it comes to the phrase, “Michigan Man,” I know it when I see it, too. They might be Big Men on Campus, but they don’t act like it, in college or afterward. The men I’ve been lucky enough to get to know—many as good friends—really do put their team and their school before themselves, and become the kind of adults you want to be your employee, your colleague, your boss, your neighbor, your brother-in-law. Not because they played football for Michigan, but because they represent its values. And they really are different than the players I’ve met from other schools.
I can cite too many men who fit this description, and too many examples of their conduct, simply to dismiss it.
Here’s a small one: a few years ago the football alums of Ohio State and Michigan were invited to an event in Columbus. The Buckeyes showed up wearing everything from sport coats to sweatshirts and jeans. But the Michigan alums arrived wearing coats and ties. No one told them what to wear. Bo had already passed away. But they simply knew, reflexively, if you represent Michigan, this is how you do it.
A bigger example: a few years after graduating, Scott Smykowski, a former backup under Schembechler, discovered he needed a bone marrow transplant, but his health care wasn’t going to cover all his expenses. That’s all Schembechler needed to hear to rally Michigan Men from coast to coast. And that’s all they needed to hear to raise $150,000 in just a few weeks – even though most of them never played with Smykowski or even met him. That’s what being a Michigan Man meant to them.
When I speak at Michigan events, I often end with a quote from arguably the first important Michigan Man, Fielding Yost. Near the end of his life, they held a big banquet for him called, “A Toast to Yost from Coast to Coast,” which was broadcast nationwide by NBC. After all the speakers had paid tribute, he got up in his eponymous Fieldhouse and said, “My heart is so full at this moment, I fear I could say little else. But do let me reiterate the Spirit of Michigan. It is based on a deathless loyalty to Michigan and all her ways. An enthusiasm that makes it second nature for Michigan Men to spread the gospel of their university to the world’s distant outposts. And a conviction that nowhere, is there a better university, in any way, than this Michigan of ours.”
It gets me every time. But what really gets me is the response from the people in the audience. None of them ever met Fielding Yost. Most of them weren’t born when he passed away in 1946. Most of their parents weren’t, either. And yet, when they hear these words, they nod involuntarily, the words resonating with something deep inside them, and they are often glassy-eyed when I finish the quote.
If you could stand on that podium and look out on those faces, you would not have to wonder if the idea of the Michigan Man is for real.
Despite the best efforts to kill it, it is still very much alive.
A little more on what looks to me like one of the major issues with the run defense: the two MLBs not reading plays quickly enough. This was one of the videos featured in the UFR, FWIW.
Michigan State has first and ten at the beginning of the third quarter and will run an inside zone from an ace formation; Michigan is in their standard 4-3 under with Kovacs rolled down:
On the snap State starts to develop the run action and the linebackers start creeping forward:
A moment later the handoff point is almost reached and the two LBs are still three and four yards off the LOS.
Contrast this with the MSU defense on Michigan's first and five on their first drive:
Both are two yards closer to the LOS and rapidly approaching. This was a consistent theme: MSU linebackers, even when not blitzing, were screaming at the LOS.
At the handoff there is one blocker for two guys because Heininger was doubled on the backside. Martin is driving his single block into the backfield and Van Bergen is cutting off the outside. Kovacs is still hanging around for backside bounceouts.
The above is not a good setup for an offense.
But Demens does not get outside his block.. and Hawthorne starts moving up into a hypothetical gap that the RB is not headed to. Even if he wants to cut backside the Martin penetration means it will take absolutely forever. Still, he starts moving straight upfield instead of flowing to the hole:
By the time Baker manages to squeeze through the gap left by the DL, Hawthorne is hardly closer to him than when he was three yards behind the LOS and Demens is still two yards downfield, not funneling the play back to help.
Baker pops outside. Countess fills quickly, but can't make the tackle…
…and neither can Ryan.
Items of Interest
The DL cannot do much more than this. They got a two-for-one on the double that leaves a free hitter. On the frontside they drive into the backfield such that the tailback has one realistic option. Short of throwing offensive linemen into the RB, they have done all they can.
The linebackers are uncertain of what they are doing. This has been a theme all year: me complaining about guys pulling in front of the LB's face only for that LB move directly upfield instead of scraping over to the POA. Sometimes poor DL play has washed them out, but often it's just derp.
Both linebackers screw it up here. Demens has to get into his blocker further upfield; failing that he needs to pop outside of him to funnel back to help. He does neither. Hawthorne can't see that his assigned gap is not an option because of the penetration and slows up for what turns out to be no reason. Either could have made this play themselves; it takes both of them screwing up to send it to the second level.
I'm sure they're more concerned about play action than Michigan State was because of the quarterbacks in question, but they get blocked way too often for my tastes. Hawthorne had already given way to Morgan for a series or two in the first half; IIRC this would be one of his last drives before Morgan re-entered for the remainder.
Ed Baker is hard to tackle and fast. I wish he was on the football team I liked instead of one I do not.
Countess does a great job here. I know he misses the tackle but a cornerback impacting a tailback just outside the hash four yards downfield is quality run support. If the linebackers hadn't compounded their Keystone Kops impression by banging into each other and falling over Baker is gang tackled after a moderate gain; as it is only Ryan is there to tackle and he is run through.
VIDEO OF THE WEEK: Thanks to the internet, I figured out what Michigan's uniforms were modeled after.
Formation notes: Michigan spent most of the day in the 4-3 under. They did not flip the line much—just a couple times. Michigan State had a few plays where they'd move their strength three(!) times that seemed designed to work this tendency, but M didn't bite.
When they went to nickel it was Avery, not Johnson, as M went for more of a pass-cover look. They also brought out the 46 bear D from time to time, mostly as a second-half adjustment.
Substitution notes: Nothing too unusual at this point. Woolfolk got his customary first series and then sat after letting Martin behind him and giving up the edge on an outside run; Countess replaced him.
The line rotation was a bit tighter in this game, probably because there weren't a lot of plays in the second half. Campbell, Black, and Brink rotated in.
Kovacs, Gordon, Ryan, and Demens were constants. I'm not sure but I think RVB was also on the field for every snap.
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Rush||Play||Player||Yards|
|O37||1||10||Ace twins||4-3 under||Pass||N/A||Bubble screen||--||Inc|
|Winged high. Looked like Woolfolk(+0.5) had this handled to the point where Kovacs could come in and make a tackle after a minimal gain.|
|O37||2||10||I-Form||4-3 under||Run||N/A||Inside zone||Ryan||21|
|Just a simple inside zone on which there is no edge because Ryan(-2) got cut to the ground massively; RVB(-1) gave too much ground on the outside and Demens(-1) also got cut; into the secondary. Gordon(-1, tackling -1) misses a tackle, giving up another five or so before Kovacs and Woolfolk can get there.|
|Blitz gets Demens(+0.5, pressure +1) in unblocked but not quick enough to prevent a throw; Martin just outruns Woolfolk(-2, cover -2)—live it looked like he was in molasses—to the point where he's multiple yards behind when the ball gets there. Martin drops it.|
|M42||2||10||Ace trips||Nickel press||Run||N/A||Inside zone||Van Bergen||3|
|Again trying the edge... at least I think. The cutback that develops here is pretty dangerous in its own right. Ryan(+1) keeps contain and forces the play away from the overloaded WR side; Martin(+0.5) is flowing down behind the play, forcing it yet further behind, and then there's just Van Bergen(+1), who beat a cut and is also coming down the line... and air. Hawthorne(-0.5) and Demens(-0.5) are getting blocked out of either side of the play here, so without RVB this is a big gainer.|
|M39||3||7||Shotgun 3-wide||Nickel press||Pass||5||Out||Avery||8|
|Avery(-1, cover -1) beat on the out after Michigan showed man on the motion. No time for any pressure to get there.|
|M31||1||10||Diamond screen||Nickel press||Pass||N/A||WR screen||Avery||6|
|Michigan still pointing to each other as the ball is snapped; not ready. Avery(-1) is picked up by Cunningham and basically chucked inside the hashes. A similarly slow-reacting Floyd(-1) is kicked inside and this nothing play gets a chunk.|
|M25||2||4||Ace||4-3 under||Run||N/A||Inside zone||Woolfolk||12|
|I was mad at Roh live but I don't think this is really his fault since they have Kovacs overhanging and the DL going under. He's doubled the whole play and eventually blown off the line, but he took two people. Cunningham cracks down on Kovacs, sealing the edge guy... except Woolfolk(-2, tackling -1) should be watching this develop, which he is. He does a terrible job of recognition, lets Baker outside of him, and gives up the first down. Marlin Jackson makes this a TFL. As soon as that WR motions inside he's giving it away, man, and if he's going on a pass route it's a drag away from you on a waggle. You have to be hard on the corner here. Also Hawthorne(-1) got absorbed and erased. They do not make plays like we see the MSU LBs making.|
|M13||1||10||I-Form Big||4-3 under||Run||N/A||Pitch sweep||Roh||12|
|Again telegraphed with motion, an offset FB, and Cunningham tight to the line—Michigan does not respond. Roh(-2) instantly sealed by the motioning TE, so there's no delay for the pullers. Hawthorne(-1) runs right into Cunningham; done. Demens(-1) trips over a prone guy who was trying to block Hawthorne; Kovacs(-1) runs out to the edge and gets chopped to the ground. Gordon comes over to tackle at the one.|
|M1||1||G||Goal line||Goal line||Run||N/A||Iso||--||1|
|They get it. Terrible camera angle and no replay so I can't really tell why this is so easy; I usually don't minus unsuccessful goal line plays anyway because the odds are so stacked against you.|
|Drive Notes: Touchdown, 7-7, 5 min 1st Q|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Rush||Play||Player||Yards|
|O32||1||10||Shotgun trips bunch||4-3 under||Pass||N/A||Flare screen||Van Bergen||4|
|Morgan in for Hawthorne, Countess for Woolfolk. Basically a replay of the diamond screen w/ the receiver arriving after the snap. RVB(+1) is playside; he reads the flare and the attempted cut block by the tackle and shoots out on the edge. Ryan(+1) gets the edge on Martin and drive him back a ways, forcing the cutback into Van Bergen. Martin can spin past the tackle because Demens(-0.5) went into a pass drop and got there late.|
|O36||2||6||Ace||4-3 under||Run||N/A||Inside zone||Morgan||9|
|Roh gets outside for force it back. Martin(-1) is single blocked effectively, getting shoved downfield by one guy... who is holding him pretty blatantly, but no call. Results based charting. Morgan(-1) runs up and gets cut to the ground by the TE; Martin falls over it. Demens can't get to the play because Martin was single blocked and gave ground. He manages to ankle tackle as Baker leaps Morgan.|
|O45||1||10||I-Form twins||4-3 under||Pass||5||PA Hitch||Countess||Inc|
|No pressure(-1) as Cousins can sit and survey; Cunningham open(cover -1) in front of Countess; dropped.|
|O45||2||10||I-form||4-3 under||Run||N/A||End around||Black||6|
|Cool play with the WR coming in motion, then orbiting back on the snap to take an end around snap after the RB runs a dive fake. Looks a lot like power as the backside G pulls but then he heads outside. This basically works; Black(-2) sucks inside, going after Cousins, and is out of the play. Kovacs(+1) avoids a cut and stays outside. Morgan(+1) reads the play and gets out to take on the pulling G's block; those two combine to force a cutback that should be for nothing but isn't because Black's not there. Morgan comes off to tackle; Black arrives later to help.|
|M49||3||4||Shotgun trips bunch||Nickel press||Pass||N/A||Drag||Floyd||3|
|Michigan reveals both man and a blitz as Ryan goes in motion with the TE. Really wish they had checks for this—RR never ran motion because teams would screw with your head by having a check to another defense if you went in motion. Michigan just appears to run it. MSU runs mesh at man, and the two mesh WRs pick each other off. This bumps Cunningham off his route; still complete but Floyd(+1, tackling +1) takes advantage, tackling on the catch and only giving ground when an OL impacts him from behind.|
|Drive Notes: Punt, 7-7, 1 min 1st Q|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Rush||Play||Player||Yards|
|O10||1||10||I-Form Big||4-3 under||Run||N/A||Power off tackle||Martin||4|
|Again offset, again motioning the TE outside of Roh. This time MSU fans the TE; Roh(-0.5), conscious of the previous play on which he got killed, aggressively tries to get outside. The FB redirects outside to block him. Heininger(-1) is handled by a momentary double and Demens is again given no shot. Martin(+1) fights through his block to flow down the line and tackle, preventing this from breaking bigger. Hawthorne(+0.5) did a good job to hold up to his block and force the play back inside where Martin could tackle.|
|O14||2||6||I-Form||46 bear||Run||N/A||Inside zone||Heininger||-1|
|Before MSU sets a TE lines up to one side, then shoots to the other side of the line. He sets; other TE goes in motion. The TE who originally moved now comes off the line and motions back to where he started. In short: MSU went from balanced to two TEs left to two TEs right, with the last motion into an offset FB. Michigan is trying to use that bear front and moves around a ton to get it set up. After all that, a TFL. Heininger(+2) and Roh(+2) get off the ball quickly, driving their blockers into the backfield. Heininger gets so deep Baker trips over his blocker; Roh is there to clean up in the backfield after the bounce necessitated by the penetration.|
|O13||3||7||Shotgun empty||Nickel even||Pass||4||Slant||Hawthorne||16|
|Hawthorne(-1, cover -1) goes for a Cunningham head fake and hops outside, opening up the slant. Pressure was getting there, so if this is not there strong chance of issues in the backfield for State.|
|O29||1||10||I-Form||4-3 under||Run||N/A||Power off tackle||Demens||4|
|Brink in at SDE; MSU runs at him. He gives ground(-1) badly, ending up pancaked away from the POA. This erases Hawthorne. Martin(+2) runs through the center like he is not there, getting into the hole despite being down-blocked. This is not supposed to happen. If Demens(-0.5) can stand up the guard Baker has nowhere to go; he comes up hard to the outside and ends up getting pushed past the play. G falls forward and Baker goes with him as Martin tackles.|
|O33||2||6||I-Form||4-3 over||Run||N/A||Power off tackle||Hawthorne||3|
|Over because they shift the strength and Michigan doesn't flip all over the place. They run power again, this time at the weakside. Hawthorne does a better job with this than he has in the past—instead of moving directly at the LOS he appears to read the G pull and shuffles playside. Ryan is blitzing on the snap and pulls the FB block; Demens(+0.5) either reads it quickly or is also blitzing and peels off the pulling G; he maintains leverage. Hawthorne(+0.5) is in the right spot to tackle; he does so. Baker falls forward. RVB(+0.5) took a double without allowing someone to pop out on Hawthorne, thus providing the free hitter.|
|O36||3||3||Shotgun 3-wide||Nickel press||Pass||6||Dumpoff||Kovacs||Inc|
|Michigan sends a couple delayed blitzers, one Kovacs from the S spot, one Demens. Demens is not relevant. Blitz gets Kovacs(+1, pressure/RPS +1) in alone, forcing Cousins to adjust because Floyd(+1, cover +1) is in Cunningham's pocket on the hitch he wants at the sticks. Plan B is a dumpoff to a releasing RB that would go a long way if complete but is high. I don't think it can be complete since Ryan(+1) is in the lane after chucking the guy and almost gets a hand on it despite it being way overthrown. Batted if accurate.|
|Drive Notes: Punt, 7-7, 9 min 2nd Q|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Rush||Play||Player||Yards|
|O5||1||10||I-Form||4-3 under||Penalty||N/A||False start||--||-2|
|O3||1||12||I-Form||4-3 under||Run||N/A||Power off tackle||Morgan||4|
|Ryan(+1) does a good job of constricting the hole here; RVB(+0.5) is doubled and gives a little ground but not much. Demens(+0.5) hits the narrow hole, getting kicked outside by the pulling G; free hitter is Morgan(-1), who is late. His tackle is more of a catch, allowing Baker to fall forward when the rest of the line had set this up for no gain.|
|O7||2||8||Ace||4-3 under||Run||N/A||Zone stretch||Roh||5|
|Cunningham motions in to set the edge. Roh(+1) beats the TE outside, forcing Bell to cut up. Morgan(-1) runs down the line and gets cut to the ground. That mess causes Campbell to fall over the bodies; an overhanging Kovacs(+1) banged Cunningham in an attempt to get outside, read the cutback, and disconnects to tackle(+1). He gets run over but hangs on.|
|O12||3||3||Shotgun empty||Nickel press||Penalty||N/A||Delay||--||-5|
|This was about to be nerve-wracking as M again put everyone within five yards of the LOS. Instead it's a friendly yellow flag.|
|O7||3||8||Shotgun trips bunch||Nickel even||Pass||4||Flare screen||Avery||3|
|Yeah... screen. Avery(+2, cover +1, tackling +1) reads the flare and bugs out for the sideline, beating Cunningham to the spot and shooting past him. He's off balance from a bump but keeps his feet and tackles by himself; Countess comes up to help.|
|Drive Notes: Punt, 7-7, 4 min 2nd Q. Next drive starts with 2:23 in half, so keep that in mind.|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Rush||Play||Player||Yards|
|O5||1||10||I-form Big||4-3 under||Run||N/A||Power off tackle||Demens||3|
|Trying to pop it outside again; Ryan(+1) gets upfield and outside of the block from the TE—who may have set up too far inside—to force it back; with the puller headed way outside this is two for one. Demens(+1) is out on this play at the LOS well before the ball gets there; he takes on the FB block and makes an ankle tackle as Baker moves past the LOS; Gordon(+0.5) filled quickly to help. Hawthorne is back in; he was all backside despite the pulling G.|
|O8||2||7||I-Form Big||4-3 under||Run||N/A||Inside zone||Martin||9|
|Wow. Martin(-1) caved in by a double team. Heininger(-1) easily controlled by a single block; Hawthorne is the guy in the gap that forms but it's a real big gap and he's got a blocker coming into him; would be tough for him to do much here. Kovacs comes down to fill.|
|O17||1||10||Shotgun empty||Nickel even||Pass||4||Out||Demens||7|
|Michigan playing soft as they try to bleed the clock down with a lot of yards to go. Demens lets this completion happen; he does tackle basically on the catch. Basically fine given the situation.|
|O24||2||3||Shotgun 3-wide||Nickel even||Pass||6||Drag||--||11|
|Demens over the center and Avery coming down to blitz. So here's a difference: two minute drill for MSU. Cousins signals for snap. Center head down, head up, Avery comes down... beat... snap. Hawthorne bugs out for the hash as Michigan sends six, MSU runs a little drag, wide open, first down. (Cover -1, RPS -1)|
|O35||1||10||Shotgun 3-wide||Nickel even||Pass||4||Hitch||Countess||9|
|Countess(-0.5, cover -1) beaten too easily here, giving up nine yards and OOB, only able to shove the guy after the catch.|
|O44||2||1||Shotgun 3-wide||Nickel even||Pass||6||Throaway||Avery||Inc|
|Bizarre: same exact play by M, same huge hole in the middle of the D. No one there to catch the drag so Cousins, spooked, chucks it OOB. Avery(+0.5) timed it a bit better and is flying across the LOS at the snap. (pressure +1) The stunting DE was getting in as Cousins threw; he didn't have time to let these routes develop. RPS +1.|
|O44||3||1||Ace trips||Nickel even||Run||N/A||Broken play||--||0|
|RB does not go the right way. Cousins tries to scramble for it and is hacked down.|
|Drive Notes: Half, 7-7, EOH|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Rush||Play||Player||Yards|
|O46||1||10||Ace||4-3 under||Run||N/A||Inside zone||Demens||16|
|Odd backside double of Heininger gets him off the ball but does not get anyone onto Hawthorne. Assuming this is meant to cut back; it does not because Martin(+1) blows up his block into the backfield; RVB(+0.5) also got his guy well back; Baker forced into a narrow gap between the two. Martin can't quite disconnect to tackle. And then... nothing. Demens(-2) sits and takes a block two yards downfield, failing to get outside and losing leverage. Hawthorne(-1) inexplicably slows up as he scrapes. Despite having a free hitter with no one on him Michigan gives up a gain because of very bad LB play. Countess(+0.5) comes up very well, making a tackle attempt four yards downfield; Baker runs through it. Ryan(-1, tackling -1) now has a shot to end the play but can't; Baker runs through that tackle as he gets shoved by an OL.|
|M38||1||10||I-Form Big||4-3 under||Run||N/A||Iso||Hawthorne||4|
|Again offset FB/narrow WR implying an outside run. M gets outside and MSU goes up the middle. Backside DL are going away from the playside; Martin(-1) gets sealed out of the hole and lets a guy out on Demens; Heininger(-1) gets single blocked. Big gap. LBs do well considering; Demens(+1) gets inside of his blocker, convincing Baker to cut to the backside of the Hawthorne(+1) block; Hawthorne disconnects to tackle(+1). Think Baker cost himself yards. RPS -1.|
|M34||2||6||I-Form twins||4-3 under||Run||N/A||Power off tackle||Heininger||4|
|Jet sweep end around threat. Heininger(+1) blasts past a downblock attempt and gets upfield into the pulling G. Forced cutback. Baker makes it smoothly. Martin(-0.5) got shoved by the C and then hit by a G, he is off balance as Baker hits it up and can't tackle. Hawthorne is free now because of the cutback and comes down to fill. He does a mediocre job. RVB(+0.5) is slanting down from the backside and still helps tackle. Actually, he initiates the tackle. RVB's best trait is it's impossible to get him on the ground. He does not fall over, ever.|
|M30||3||2||Ace 3-wide||Nickel press||Run||N/A||End around||Gordon||3|
|This is just tough to defend in man; Floyd is hauling after Martin in motion but has no shot at getting there with all the traffic he has to deal with. So it's Cunningham and Nichol, seniors, blocking Countess(-0.5) and Avery(-0.5), and that works out about how you'd expect. Gordon(+1, tackling +1) fills really well but there's no way to hold this down. RPS -1.|
|M27||1||10||Ace||4-3 under||Pass||4||PA deep hitch||Countess||Inc|
|Ludicrously tight camera angle means we know none of the things. Four man rush gets nowhere near Cousins(pressure -2); I sympathize after all the running. On replay, Countess(+1, cover +1) does get a hand in and seems to help this incompletion. Wind probably gave him the time but he got there.|
|M27||2||10||I-Form||4-3 under||Run||N/A||Counter pitch||Countess||20|
|Power action with a counter toss gets Baker the edge. Black(-0.5) holds up and runs at it but runs too far upfield and doesn't string this as far as he could. Countess(-2) gets way too far inside and gives up the edge; he actually runs into Hawthorne, who's doing a decent job to set up and maybe be in position for a tackle at the numbers. Instead Countess is chucked into his legs. Gordon(-2, tackling -1) then misses at the sticks. Baker steps out at the 22; this is not called; it is reviewed and still left to stand. WTF? Refs -2.|
|M7||1||G||I-Form||46 bear||Run||N/A||Power off tackle||Roh||-3|
|Hawthorne comes down to be the extra lineman in the 46. He takes on a TE block, but the key to the play is Roh(+2) shooting into the backfield, standing up the FB in the backfield, causing Bell to stop, and allowing Ryan(+0.5) to rumble in from behind to tackle. RPS +1.|
|M10||2||G||I-Form Big||4-3 under||Pass||4||PA throwaway||Roh||Inc|
|Play action on second and goal from the ten, okay. Michigan covers(+2) everyone and Roh(+1, pressure +1) releases as the TE releases him, getting in on Cousins after leaping to dissuade an early throw. Cousins sails one out of the endzone.|
|M10||3||G||Shotgun 4-wide||3-3-5 nickel||Pass||3||Hitch||Floyd||10|
|Michigan sets up a picket fence with just three rushers. Floyd(-2, tackling -2) manages to miss a tackle in this situation; Martin is about six inches inside the line as he turns upfield and barely manages to get the ball across the line as Hawthorne bangs him to the ground. Guh.|
|Drive Notes: Touchdown, 7-14, 11 min 3rd Q. MSU gets the next drive at their 20 because this is the punt that's dying at the three when Furman takes it into the endzone.|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Rush||Play||Player||Yards|
|O20||1||10||I-Form Big||4-3 under||Run||N/A||Pitch sweep||Roh||15|
|BWS picture paged this; it is all alignment. They run outside; down blocks on Roh and Morgan are hugely advantageous. Morgan(-1) is looking in the backfield instead of his blocker and gets blown up; Kovacs(-1) is cut to the ground too easily. Roh(-1) also sealed. Baker into the secondary, where Gordon(-1, tackling -1) basically whiffs but miraculously punches the football loose as Baker heads for paydirt. Turnover.|
|Drive Notes: Fumble, 7-14, 6 min 3rd Q|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Rush||Play||Player||Yards|
|O39||1||10||I-Form Big||4-3 under||Run||N/A||Pitch sweep||Roh||2|
|Same exact play. Roh(+1) strings it to the edge this time, eventually getting the second puller to the ground, two for one. Morgan finally getting out rapidly(+0.5). He ends up taking another two for one as one of the pullers cuts him as Cunningham cracks back on him after shoving Kovacs. This plus the Roh play means Kovacs(+0.5) is alone on the edge. He makes the tackle.|
|O41||2||8||Diamond screen||Okie press?||Pass||N/A||Ref debacle||--||Inc|
|Wow. This is OBVIOUSLY a backwards pass. It's not even close. Martin drops it and instead of calling the "free touchdown" the refs blow it dead. This is inexcusable. It is not close at all. I deleted fourteen swear words in this box.|
|O41||3||8||Shotgun 3-wide||Nickel even||Pass||N/A||Drag||Ryan||14|
|All Ryan. Mattison has a great call on for what MSU is running: a triple blitz up the middle with both DEs falling back to ride the obvious mesh response to this play. Roh stares straight at the TE and rides him on his mesh; Ryan(-2, cover -2) looks in the backfield, lets Cunningham through free, and gives up the conversion because Cousins can hit his WR without the jam. Everyone else is in man; Ryan is in zone. The guy is a missed assignment factory. RPS +2; this was a fantastic call that would have gotten MSU off the field if executed. BWS picture pages.|
|M46||1||10||Ace||4-3 under||Pass||4||PA Fly||Gordon||Inc|
|All day on the PA (pressure -2); Coverage is spectacular (cover +3) and Cousins has no choice but to chuck it vaguely in the direction of a double-covered Cunningham. Gordon(+1) in better position that Cunningham if the ball is accurate; it's not. I assume this is a throwaway.|
|M46||2||10||I-Form Big||4-3 under||Run||N/A||Iso||Martin||5|
|Martin(-2) destroyed by a double, blown off the ball; he spins outside. Gross. RVB(+1) chucks his blocker to the ground; Morgan(+1) takes the MSU fullback and plants him backwards, forcing Baker back into the attacking RVB. Delayed, Baker is gang-tackled by Floyd and Demens. Wow... Martin not having a good game at all.|
|M41||3||5||Shotgun 3-wide||Nickel even||Pass||5||Hitch||Floyd||6|
|Zone blitz sends five w/ Avery getting in clean (+0.5, pressure +1); Floyd(-0.5, cover -1) is too far off to prevent this completion. Maybe that's harsh; this is probably a route you can just complete all the time if you are good enough.|
|M35||1||10||I-Form Big||4-3 under||Run||N/A||Power off tackle||Demens||5|
|Same thing as the previous pitch sweep from a formation perspective; this shoots Roh way outside. Morgan(+0.5) reads the path of the RB and halts his outside move, picking off a blocker and constricting the hole; Heininger(+0.5) is blown back by a double but splits it when the other guy pops off on Demens. Demens pops the guy about two yards downfield; Bell falls forward for three more. Sort of got half-RPSed here; tough to blame the players on this.|
|M30||2||5||Ace||4-3 over||Pass||5||TE screen||--||15|
|Michigan now flipping on MSU strength changes. This ends up with M in an over front with Kovacs coming down. MSU goes TE screen; live this looked like a block in the back on Kovacs but on replay this is legit. No angle shown gives an idea who might be responsible, but this was a big gain without an obvious way to prevent it: RPS -1.|
|M15||1||10||I-Form||46 bear||Run||N/A||Inside zone||Black||2|
|Because of the bear Black(+2) can flare out; he does. He gets outside of the TE, chucking him inside, and absorbs the FB block for a 2-for-1. This means no one is on Kovacs(-0.5); he attacks only to see his tackle(-1) run through; three yards later the cavalry arrives. RPS +1.|
|M13||2||8||Shotgun trips TE||Nickel even||Pass||4||Flat||Floyd||13|
|Floyd in motion, revealing man; when Martin comes back the other way he reacts late and slows for no reason, making this ridiculously open. -2, cover -2, RPS -2, good lord. Even if he had played this well M was dead because they showed man. Floyd barely getting outside the tackle box by the time the ball was thrown was just the cherry on top.|
|Drive Notes: Touchdown, 7-21, EO3Q. Awful call, bad play by Ryan, seeya.|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Rush||Play||Player||Yards|
|O15||1||10||I-Form||46 bear||Run||N/A||Power off tackle||Demens||6 (Pen -8)|
|Late move from Morgan to the bear spot. MSU runs power away from it. Heininger(-1) blown up by a double. Roh taken by pulling G; he restricts the hole but Heininger is gone. Since they're running weak and M has an extra guy in the box there is no one to block one LB. Demens(-1) is unblocked and flows but late; he contacts Baker three yards downfield and gives up a lot more as his tackle is run through. MSU G picks up a holding call for stupidly reaching his arms around Martin when he was not relevant to the play.|
|O8||1||17||I-Form||4-3 under||Run||N/A||Inside zone||Gordon||-1|
|Michigan blitzes from the slot, getting Gordon(+0.5, RPS +1) in past the attempted block by Nichol; this cuts off the outside thanks to RVB(+1) thumping a double team backwards, pancaking the TE. Ryan runs up and gets cut to the ground again, but RB has to cut back because of the blitz. Heininger(+1) runs down the line and avoids a cut to tackle.|
|O7||2||18||I-Form||4-3 under||Pass||4||PA throwaway||--||Inc|
|An extremely unconvincing fake to the FB leaves an unblocked Roh on the edge; Heininger also starts running up at Cousins. With coverage(+1) good after the weird fake, Cousins chucks it away. Stupid playcall. (RPS +1)|
|Heavy rush from Martin(+1) pushes a G back and forces Cousins to step up quickly; RVB spins away to pursue and Cousins falls. (Pressure +1)|
|Drive Notes: Punt, 7-21, 10 min 4th Q|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Rush||Play||Player||Yards|
|O21||1||10||I-Form||4-3 under||Run||N/A||End around||Floyd||8|
|Morgan(-1) sucks in on the dive fake; Gordon is blocked out of the play by Cunningham; Floyd(0) does not come up on the edge until Martin is already well downfield. He punches the ball out as he tackles so he gets his minus back.|
|Drive Notes: Fumble, 14-21, 9 min 4th Q|
|O19||1||10||I-Form||4-3 under||Run||N/A||Power off tackle||Demens||3|
|End around fake to the other side of the line. RVB(+1) holds up okay against a double; Ryan(+1) constricts the hole and Demens(+1) hits the lead blocker at the LOS; there is no gap for Baker and Demens can tackle; Morgan(-1) sat and ate a block so if this is a bigger hole Michigan has problems.|
|O22||2||7||I-Form||46 bear||Run||N/A||Counter pitch||Roh||3|
|Roh(+1) reads the FB coming his way and manages to string the play out all the way to the sideline.|
|O25||3||4||Shotgun empty||Nickel press||Pass||4||TE out||Van Bergen||Inc|
|Hey! We time the snap! RVB(+2, pressure +2) is moving as the ball goes as MSU's line just busts spectacularly, letting three guys in; RVB is the fastest and hits Cousins, forcing an inaccurate pass to an open TE out.|
|Drive Notes: Punt, 14-21, 4 min 4th Q. Next MSU drive is running the clock out, EOChart.|
Well, at least the touchdowns weren't free.
Yeah. Woolfolk almost gave up a free one on the first drive and as BWS explained, the fumble that opened one of MSU's second-half drives was almost a free touchdown until Baker got the ball stripped on a tenuous, crappy tackle attempt by Gordon. But there's no comparison between this year and last. Wind had something to do with it; so did Greg Mattison.
How were they able to run outside so effectively?
For context we should look at the—
|Van Bergen||9||1||8||Does not fall over. Needs to teach Ryan about cut blocks.|
|Martin||5.5||6.5||-1||Blown off the ball by doubles multiple times. Sad face.|
|Roh||8||3.5||4.5||Adjusted well after initial problems getting outside.|
|Heininger||4.5||4||0.5||Did okay; still single blocked effectively too many times.|
|Black||2||2.5||-0.5||Didn't play much this week.|
|Campbell||-||-||-||Did not register.|
|TOTAL||33||18.5||14.5||Just an okay day.|
|Demens||4.5||6.5||-2||Michigan's linebackers are not nearly as reactive as MSU/ND, even Northwestern, and it costs them.|
|Ryan||7.5||5||2.5||Actually was not much of a problem after the first argh cut block.|
|Hawthorne||2||4.5||-2.5||Unable to use his speed effectively, pulled.|
|Morgan||4||5||-1||Confused but more effective getting to the ball.|
|TOTAL||18||21||-3||WLB an issue; Demens not doing as well as expected.|
|Floyd||2||6||-4||Missed tackle on third and goal a killer.|
|Woolfolk||0.5||4||-3.5||Two very bad plays on first drive and then bench.|
|Kovacs||3.5||2.5||1||Tough for him to tackle Baker; not pressed in coverage.|
|T. Gordon||3||4||-1||No fumble plus this time because he whiffed a tackle and got lucky instead of taking a guy to the ground in such away the ball comes out.|
|Countess||1.5||3||-1.5||Not Woodson yet.|
|TOTAL||13.5||22||-8.5||Chunks of running yards due to poor corner support.|
|Pressure||8||5||3||Not a lot of deep passes this week because of wind.|
|Coverage||9||12||-3||That's not too bad against a senior QB.|
|Tackling||5||8||38%||Baker Baker Baker (also Martin)|
|RPS||8||6||2||While MSU took advantage of M weakness I didn't think that was a structural issue.|
Our sanity check: MSU had just 333 yards but had a somewhat limited number of snaps (63), averaging 5.2 a shot. MSU averaged 5.5 YPC and their turnovers were only vaguely forced, so… yeah. The above seems about right. Michigan was a little disappointing on the line, a little disappointing at LB, and had major issues with members of the secondary tackling.
One surprise: neither Roh nor Ryan took the brunt. Both had decent days; the problems outside were often on corners, safeties, or linebackers. Roh got sealed a couple times but also did things like this:
I feel bad for taking a couple clips designed to show problems with Ryan when he was the only linebacker to finish positive.
…but you did take a couple clips.
Yeah. So caveats apply here. Problem one is the thing that makes me literally scream "AAARGH RYAN" during games when I see it happen. The guy takes cut blocks like Glass Joe takes a punch:
There are other problems on this play, most prominently Demens getting slashed to the ground just like Ryan does; RVB and Martin then tumble over the fallen OL. Gordon also does not make a swift fill. But if Ryan is on the edge here he can make a tackle attempt or force Baker further outside and give his D a chance to recover—Gordon is probably five yards closer to the LOS and in less space if the edge is held.
That's happened a half-dozen times or so and Michigan has gotten gashed outside because of it. He suffered this fate a couple more times but got away with it.
Problem two is just regular freshman stuff like running zone when everyone else is running man. BWS picture-paged this play for a fuller explanation*; here's the video:
That is a great playcall. Michigan blitzes up the middle, gets a free runner, and has two guys dropping off into mesh-annihilating inside man coverage; MSU runs mesh. This play perfectly beats MSU's; it's the definition of RPS+2. This should be an incompletion or a sack and a punt but Ryan runs zone coverage and Cunningham gets open.
I have a dream that someday Michigan will not have freshmen on the field. That day is 2013 at the earliest.
All that said, Ryan came out positive for constricting a bunch of power plays and not being exploitable on the edge after the first drive. That spot has come a long way from early in the season when Ryan and Beyer were taking turns being in the wrong place on power.
*[I strongly disagree with the conclusion there. The play is more about the dangers of freshmen than zone blitzing—it is clear that Roh and Ryan are supposed to get inside of presumed drag routes by the TE and Cunningham. Roh does this beautifully and if Ryan had done the same not-very-difficult thing Cousins has nowhere to go before Morgan annihilates him. The play is specifically designed to get Cousins looking at mesh—blitz up the middle—without opening it up.]
The outside running, then?
I don't think the guys on the line played egregiously.
Michigan got formation'd quite a bit. This was the setup on that Baker run that was a long gainer until he fumbled:
This screams outside run to the right: offset FB, TE lined up a couple yards outside the tackle, WR tight to the LOS. This makes it easy for the offense to seal Roh and Morgan by blocking down. It's up to the linebackers to recognize this and haul ass or slip blocks and then it's up to the secondary to come down hard on that; they didn't. On this play Morgan is looking at the backfield and gets blindsided by a WR; by the time Baker bursts up the line most of the DL is closer to the sideline than he is. This is a pitch, too, so Gordon needs to be reading this faster.
It's a combination of things but the primary thing is the linebackers are hesitant and that makes them late when plays go outside.
What's wrong with Martin?
I don't know. I saw him blown off the ball in this game several times, something that does not happen. That could be your toughness issue.
Why can't we jump snaps like MSU did?
There were a couple instances on which Michigan did but I think that's part of football. The frequency with which MSU got M is unusual. One difference I did notice is that Michigan's standard count was much quicker than MSU's. Here's a shotgun play on MSU's ultimately unsuccessful first-half two minute drill:
Head down, head up, pause, see LB lined up over your face, snap. Michigan tips the blitz and MSU hits them with an easy drag.
What is the deal with the linebackers?
They seem uncertain of themselves. While I keep moaning about over-aggressive opponent LBs that are exploitable if we hit them with play action—big if—that may be a perception magnified by Michigan's slow-ass LBs. I mean, what is this?
Demens lets the guy outside and an unblocked Hawthorne slows up as if a cutback is coming when a cutback is definitely not coming. We saw them similarly unable to read outside plays against Northwestern. WLB was always going to be a sore spot but I thought Demens would be more of a playmaker than he is. Maybe that's yet more hesitancy born of constantly changing systems.
Was that a lateral?
Holy hell, yes. It was a full yard backwards and there's a ref right there who blows it dead. That is a free touchdown on a drive that would end up in Michigan's endzone. That is the biggest, easiest, most awful call that's gone against Michigan in a long time.
It's hard to find anyone who played really well but Van Bergen was the best player on the day, consistently making good reads and staying on his feet.
No one was awful, either, but Hawthorne played badly enough to get yanked for a similarly mediocre Morgan; Martin had his worst day that can't be blamed on an injury in a long, long time.
What does it mean for Purdue and beyond?
I don't think we learned a whole lot on a day when the wind and Michigan's offense made the opponent even more conservative than they usually are. There are obvious edge issues, but we knew that. Ryan is an erratic freshman slowly improving. Knew that. WLB weak spot, secondary vastly improved but still just okay, etc.
Two things on the line: Roh appears to have solidly reclaimed his starting spot from Black and Martin's play was a little disturbing considering the Iowa/Nebraska/OSU B1G MANBALL lineup coming later in the season.
This week's Thursday Recruitin' discusses Jordan Payton's upcoming decision, the recruitment of Zach Banner, T-Rich and "Little Shane," and Tom Lemming's high praise of Ty Isaac. Usual request: Please let me know if you have any comments, criticism, suggestions, etc.—as always, I'll be reading the comments, and you can also reach me on Twitter or via email, where I'll also encourage you to send any recruiting articles of interest that you think I should include for the next week's edition.
Payton Sets a Date Plus a Look at the O-Line
Oaks Christian (CA) four-star wide receiver Jordan Payton (right) will announce his college decision next Tuesday ($, info in header), after he returns from a visit to Notre Dame for the USC game. Payton has narrowed his list to Michigan, Notre Dame, and Cal, but has maintained for several weeks that Michigan is his leader and that stance has not changed. Unless he has a major change of heart while visiting South Bend, Payton will likely end up wearing Maize and Blue.
Another recruit of interest visiting Notre Dame this weekend is Lakewood (WA) Lakes OL Zach Banner, who has set a top five of Michigan, Oklahoma, Notre Dame, USC, and Washington. The blue-chip tackle prospect has already visited Michigan and Oklahoma and will make his way to USC and Washington later this season. Sam Webb profiled Banner this week in the Detroit News, and the atmosphere when Banner visited Ann Arbor (for the Notre Dame game) could give the Wolverines a leg up to land his commitment:
Huffman added: "The best thing (the Wolverines) had going for them is he saw the game of the century. He got to fully got to experience the game atmosphere the energy of 115,000 people. He got to meet with Beilein, but more importantly he got to experience a pretty special and electric feeling that he is not going to be able to duplicate anywhere else. Oklahoma topped out at about 80,000 people against Missouri and the kid has been going to Washington games (with fewer fans) his whole life."
Apparently, Michigan has also told Banner they could see him making an impact as soon as next season, potentially at right tackle. Banner says he plans to make his college choice on January 14, but adds that "a change of schedule could happen at any time."
Tim Sullivan (YTTS) takes a look at potential 2012 offensive line commits for the Free Press, discussing Banner, fellow Washingtonian Josh Garnett, recent offeree Alex Kozan, and very recent USC decommit Arik Armstead. Since Michigan's chances at landing Armstead are thin at best, let's look at what Tim has to say about Kozan:
He has a top eight list that includes U-M, Iowa and LSU, and he plans to visit as many of those schools as possible before making a decision in late December. The 6-4, 295-pound Kozan is a powerful drive blocker that needs more polish in pass protection. He said U-M is recruiting him to play guard.
Several recruits trimmed their lists this week. Lakewood (CA) receiver Darius Powe maintains a top five of Michigan, Oregon State, UCLA, Utah, and Arizona State, but says that the Beavers and Bruins currently stand out as his favorites ($). Cincinnati Moeller receiver Monty Madaris hasn't narrowed his focus too much yet, but says that he only has two definite visits lined up, to Michigan State and Florida State. Cincinnati Taft teammates Adolphus Washington and Dwayne Stanford have eached named a top three ($) and will announce their decision on November 9—Washington is down to Ohio State, Alabama, and Michigan State, while Stanford will choose between Ohio State, Oregon, and Cincinnati.
Quickly: Oregon has taken the lead for five-star safety Shaq Thompson ($, info in header), and Cal and Washington round out his top three, but he still plans on taking visits to Notre Dame, Michigan, and Arizona State and maintains that he is still quite open. Alex Kozan's interest in Michigan has picked up since receiving his offer ($, info in header). Tom interviews Jordan Diamond for ESPN.com—please tell me Dave Brandon does not watch this video and get any more brilliant ideas about the uniforms.
Hit the jump for much more on current 2012 commits and 2013 recruits.
[Ed: commenter wile_e8 makes a great suggestion: check out the earlier ND Check Yo' Self Picture Page for everything Michigan wasn't doing against MSU.]
One of the main issues with Michigan's offense was an inability to adjust to Michigan State's constant double-A-gap blitzing. BWS has an example where it ate up a Smith run; this post has two more focused on the precise timing MSU used to shoot into the backfield untouched on multiple plays.
Two plays in this one. The first is actually a 25-yard run on Michigan's first drive on which Vincent Smith breaks a tackle when the WLB gets too far upfield. It would be a disturbing omen.
It's second and one; Michigan is in a three-wide shotgun set and MSU in the 4-3 they'd run all day. Don't bother screaming that the bubble is open.
All right, so Molk starts to put his head down; when it comes back up he snaps immediately.
Molk's head starts down…
And by the time it's completely down Allen is nearing the LOS.
Bullough is next; the blitz seems like it is designed to have Allen pick off Molk while Bullough gets a free run:
But Molk snaps the thing so quickly that he doesn't even get his head up before the play. Instead of blocking Allen he goes to double the playside DT. He does not see the blitz at all:
Allen is through untouched.
Schofield actually does a nice job to adjust and kick out Bullough, giving Smith a crease when he breaks the tackle.
So that's a problem. Michigan endures another half-dozen of these throughout the game, gets the ball back down seven with under five minutes left, and comes out empty.
Molk head down, Molk head up…
…instant snap with two LBs running straight up the middle of the field. This time Molk does block Allen; Schofield does not slide over to get Bullough, which would put someone else through but someone else not running up the middle at the snap.
Denard throws a slant; Smith runs a hitch. Ballgame.
Video of that:
The timing of the snap is the same, the result different.
So what's going on here?
While some of the timing issues may have been playclock related, neither of these are. Michigan snaps the ball with around ten seconds left on the first play and while there is no playclock listed on the second it was the first play of a drive and I don't remember being upset about getting the play in. This is just… like… voluntary.
Once or twice Michigan did go to longer counts and got the opponent to jump, but one of those was a hard count from under center. The fact that they could get the jumps meant MSU was timing the snap; the fact they could continue into the fourth quarter meant Michigan was using the long counts too infrequently. Michigan
- consistently tipped their snap count
- never motioned for the snap to reveal what the defense planned
- didn't even bother to pause after Molk got his head up so he could evaluate the guys coming hell-bent up the middle of the field
- did not check out of plays
- did not execute what looks like a hot read here
This is not a toughness issue. Air cannot block people even if you're the Clint Eastwood State Fightin' John Waynes. It's an inability for Michigan to deal with a simple, grandiosely unsound defense that leaves simple throws in the middle of the field wide open*.
All of this is coaching at some level, but we can separate out getting execution out of your players from strategy. On the interception Michigan had an answer that they did not execute, which can reasonably be chalked up to transition/mindflub/one of those things. Michigan QBs passing up wide open guys on that second quarter drive is execution, not strategy. Those are costs of installing a new system, especially one with a lot of post-snap reads for the WRs, something I don't think Rodriguez ever did. On some level that's understandable.
However, they failed to adjust their strategy to help the offensive line out. MSU is running full speed at the line on the snap; varying the count would make those well-timed blitzes poorly timed, allowing Michigan to slide the protection and letting Denard know what he's in for pre-snap… or forcing MSU out of the play. Michigan State timing these snaps so precisely puts immediate pressure on Robinson, robbing him of a half-second he needs to maybe see Koger on the other side of the field or the actual route Smith is running. It gives Smith more time to read the play and understand his hot route. Even if you want the double LB blitz on the INT because you think you have it beat, waiting that beat lets everyone on the offense know it's there without letting MSU check. At the very least make your standard count long enough for Molk to look at the situation in front of him before he doubles on a guy who's going outside because of a blitz.
I find this incredibly frustrating. This was an inexplicable Rodriguez-era problem canning him was supposed to solve. Instead it got worse. Hoke tried to explain away the snap issues…
Did you notice that they were jumping your snap count? “I think everyone has an idea of snap counts from guns, because there’s a mechanic that every team has. We have a silent count, and we have a double silent count. I don’t think that’s all the way correct.”
…but clearly there is something there that is bloody obvious to the opposition that has destroyed Michigan's offense against MSU on their last two trips to East Lansing. (Michigan moved the ball fairly well in last year's matchup only to be undone by turnovers.) The next time Michigan visits they'll presumably be in more of a MANBALL offense with Gardner better equipped to go under center and a line that probably reads Lewan-Bryant-Miller-Kalis-Magnuson, so we may have seen the last of this.
*[I was just reading that Smart Football post he linked about matching short passes with runs, which would have been perfect here. A-gap blitz? Immediate toss to slot/TE. Still need to block up the middle to get the QB some time.]
Our first chart to end at the bottom
Best Three Plays:
Play 162: Keshawn Martin fumbles to give Michigan great field position, +13%.
Play 166: Robinson to Koger on 3rd and 13 sets up 4th and 1, +12%.
Play 117: Thomas Gordon strips Edwin Baker in the open field, +10%.
Worst Three Plays:
Play 172: Denard sacked on 4th and 1, –21%.
Play 178: Denard throws a pick 6, –15%.
Play 101: Cousins to Martin to give MSU it's first lead of the day, –11%.
Saturday was a day of missed opportunities. After fighting uphill all season on field position, Michigan’s offense finally had a chance to start from a strong point, and did nothing with the opportunity. Michigan’s field position for the game was worth 28 points (average offense vs average defense). Obviously they did not score 28 points. Michigan St’s field position was worth 18 points and they got 21 plus another 7 from the defense. When MSU had the ball the teams ended about equal, with MSU getting 3 more points than expected but also fumbling twice. The game was lost with Michigan’s offense, which should have gotten 28 points if they performed equally to the Spartan defense, but only netted 7. In terms of Win Percent Added, the defense was +4% and the offense was –54%.
Rush offense: +6
Pass offense: –5
Rush defense: –5
Pass defense: –2
Special Teams: -1
The grades look a bit different than the text above because the grades are opponent adjusted. It’s clear what worked and what didn’t on offense, but the play calling did not reflect the strength.
A look at how the major candidates are faring through the first seven weeks through the eyes of Win Percentage Added. Denard takes a big hit as Michigan suffers its first loss, but still holds the overall lead with over 2 full games won by himself.
Denard Robinson +2.11
Russell Wilson +1.73
Kellen Moore +1.62
Andrew Luck +1.26
Sammy Watkins +1.26
Landry Jones +1.01
Ryan Broyles +.66
Trent Richardson +.36
After a leap, Brian's favorite part, and yours.