9/3/2015 – Michigan 17, Utah 24 – 0-1
I feel like I wrote this column already. In 2008, Michigan played a Utah team people expected would be pretty good. (They ended up very good, going undefeated, beating 'Bama in a bowl game, and finishing #2.) Michigan lost a somewhat close game. After, I used the then-skeletal luxury boxes as a metaphor for the team: under construction.
Michigan is still under construction. It has been under construction for going on eight years now. We brought in one company that insisted on turning half the building into pudding storage, and then it was a snake museum, and then a sand silo. Eventually the thing looked like the world's most totally rad Porsche hooked up to a pile of pudding, snakes, and quicksand. The next company fixed that at the same time they turned the rad Porsche into a Yugo full of clowns and if NEITHER OF THESE THINGS SOUNDS AT ALL LIKE A BUILDING YOU MAY BE ON TO SOMETHING THERE.
I also feel like I wrote this column already. Last year Michigan played Utah relatively even down to down, in fact outgaining the Utes, and lost because they were minus three in turnovers. This year they played Utah relatively even, outgained the Utes, and lost because they were (functionally) minus three in turnovers. Oh look, it's the game we play against Utah.
That there is a game we play against Utah that is a loss in which Michigan's offense spends much of its time armpit farting says a lot about the state of the program now, but you can go two paragraphs up if you'd like to relive that some more. You might. You're a Michigan fan. By now you must be into some pretty weird stuff.
The game wasn't quite the same as those other two. This one was less depressing. The first featured a walk-on at quarterback; afterwards it was clear that Michigan was going to struggle to maintain their bowl streak.
Last year was this game:
You know, the one with the downpour that everyone left during that was the end of Brady Hoke before THE END OF BRADY HOKE against Minnesota. The one with the ten-man punt return. The one with the column titled "By This Grainy Screenshot We Will Curse Thy Name."
So it wasn't that. Neither was it the grand debut of a Stanfordized Michigan. Despite the occasional media doofus retcon about Michigan fans being brought back to reality, nobody actually expected that in year one, and especially not game one.
I will admit was hoping they'd have a run longer than seven yards.
Not so much. Utah's burly front straight up whipped the Michigan offensive line. One replay of a failed third-and-short sneak featured Ben Braden getting moonwalked back into the quarterback. Mason Cole specialized in second-level whiffs. Kyle Kalis got dumped on his ass in the first half. Large creases were virtually nonexistent. Other than De'Veon Smith missing a cutback lane on second and three in the second half, lanes eschewed weren't obvious enough to induce groans.
They just could not cope with the defensive line, and that sounds like the most familiar thing of all. So we reset expectations again. Once more they have an offensive line working towards competency in a new system, and this will hold them back until such time as it doesn't anymore.
I wish I knew when that was going to be. It should be coming, as it always seems to for Harbaugh. It's hard not to be impatient when you've seen this all before. I have, and it's fine, I guess. I have faith that Jim Harbaugh is going to get there and everything will be wonderful and full of sprinkles topped with sprinkles. Yes, the struggle to the top is critical to the reward at the end. I would still like to fast forward to that bit.
Yet To Be Named Harbaugh-Themed Guys Who Did Good Award. #1 Jake Butt quickly established himself one of those WR/TEs that is basically Ertz/Fleener Voltron.
#2 Chris Wormley tore through the Utah line like it was made of tissue paper several times in the first half; by the second Utah had just about given up on trying to run Booker inside.
#3 Willie Henry also thundered his way through the line with frequency, pressuring Wilson and dissuading
Honorable mention: Amara Darboh had a bunch of catches and one unfortunately critical drop; De'Veon Smith looked like a guy who will be a nightmare if he gets gaps consistently; Jourdan Lewis shut his guy off; Jabrill Peppers erased screens.
3: Jake Butt (#1, Utah)
2: Chris Wormley (#2, Utah)
1: Willie Henry (#3, Utah)
Who's Got It Better Than Us Of The Week
For the single individual best moment.
Jake Butt skies over two defensive backs to bring in a spectacular #buttdown.
Honorable mention: Blake O'Neill drops a delayed punt at the two yard line. Wormley storms through the center of the line for a TFL.
Utah: Crazy #buttdown.
MARCUS HALL EPIC DOUBLE BIRD OF THE WEEK.
This week's worst thing ever.
Rudock throws a pick six in the general direction of Grant Perry, who was in the general direction of Rudock's two other picks.
Honorable mention: The two other picks. That 74 yard Utah punt. That Utah fumble that bounced directly to the only other Ute in a six-block radius.
Utah: circle route pick six.
[After THE JUMP: a much shorter bullets section than normal because usually I have an extra day to pull this all together, Thursday games are stupid]
So I put this all together before the game.
Go O's! Beat the X's. EGD's four plays articles are a treat whenever they appear. He'll take two of our base offensive plays and two of the opponents, then show how what people have to do matches up against what the defensive players have to do. A sample:
26 Counter F:
LT Mason Cole: Down block WDE Jason Fanaika
LG Ben Braden: Execute long trap block to kick-out “Stud” LB Uaea Masina
C Graham Glasgow: Down block DT Filipo Mokofisi
RG Kyle Kalis: Down block NT Lowell Lotulelei
RT Erik Magnuson: Block SDE Hunter Dimmck (away from 6-hole)
TE Jake Butt: With RT Erick Magnuson, double-team SDE Hunter Dimick; move to second level and block WLB Jared Norris
FB Joe Kerridge: Lead tailback through 6-hole, block first red jersey (presumably MLB Jason Whittingham)
RB – Deveon Smith: Take counter-step toward backside (to influence linebackers), then take handoff on playside; run through 6-hole, read and cut off of FB Joe Kerridge’s block
[Jump for a lot more content to get you through the next few hours]
A coaching change can only do so much.
Michigan flashed their potential to turn the corner. De'Veon Smith had some punishing runs. Jake Butt couldn't be covered. Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson consistently got open. The alignment of Chris Wormley and Willie Henry looked like a stroke of genius at times. Jourdan Lewis locked down one side of the field. After an up-and-down first half, Jabrill Peppers looked like a five-star talent in the second. Blake O'Neill had that punt.
But the mistakes were numerous. Jake Rudock's first interception looked to be the fault of freshman slot receiver Grant Perry, who hitched when Rudock expected him to cut outside. The next two Rudock picks, both thrown in Perry's direction, looked to be the fault of the quarterback; the third proved especially costly when Utah's Justin Thomas jumped a throw to the flat and took it back 55 yards for a score, giving the Utes a late 24-10 lead. Rudock also missed a few open deep throws that could've changed the outcome of the game; he finished with an underwhelming 279 yards on 43 attempts and didn't tally his second touchdown until desperation time.
The errors weren't limited to Rudock. Michigan's second cornerback spot is far from settled; neither Channing Stribling nor Jeremy Clark stood out there. Joe Bolden missed a handful of tackles on slippery Utah running back Devontae Booker. The offensive line got manhandled in the run game, losing leverage and missing assignments. Smith offset many of his broken tackles by failing to hit the correct hole. Kenny Allen pushed a 44-yard field goal wide right, after which Jim Harbaugh could clearly be seen muttering "I should've gone for that."
There were flashes, chief among them Peppers' second-half TFLs and Jake Butt's spectacular third-quarter touchdown catch to briefly pull Michigan within seven.
But on the road against a decent team, Michigan simply made too many mistakes, big and small, to expect to come away with a victory. They'll be better than they looked tonight, there's little doubt of that. There'll also be rough patches. Home games against lesser teams lie ahead until BYU comes to the Big House, by which time the Wolverines should look more impressive.
At least there was Harbaugh, a sensible gameplan, and a solid outing from the defense. That's something to build on. If this turns out to be an anomalous performance from Rudock, this squad still could be very good. After all the offseason excitement, it's painful to wait through the development process, but even tonight it wasn't hard to see that the process is underway. It just might take a little longer than we had hoped.
|WHAT||Michigan at Utah|
Salt Lake City, UT
8:30 pm Eastern
September 3rd, 2015
|THE LINE||Utah –4.5|
|TELEVISION||Fox Sports 1/Fox Sports Go|
|WEATHER||mid 80s, partly cloudy, 10-20 mph wind|
It's here. It's finally here.
It's safe to say things are little different this year. Yes, Utah beat Michigan in 2014, but even by that early juncture in the season M fans certainly weren't saying "IT'S HERE" in tones normally reserved for Christmas Day or a particularly indulgent Amazon Prime order.
The Utes enter the game as the favorite, though the line has creeped down a point after holding at -5.5 for much of the offseason. Both teams should look substantially different than they did last fall. That bodes well for Michigan; we'll see how it goes for Utah.
Since we don't run a FFFF in the first week, Seth threw together a diagram of the Utah starters (click for big):
Booker, Norris, Dimick, and Hackett (seriously) qualify as dangermen.
Run Offense vs Utah
holes like this one would be quite nice [Fuller]
If the biggest loss for the Utes wasn't DE Nate Orchard, the nation's leader in sacks a year ago, it was up-and-coming defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake, who left for the same job at Oregon State during a tumuluous offseason. In Sitake's place steps John Pease, whom Kyle Whittingham coaxed out of retirement; Peace last served as Whittingham's defensive line coach from 2009-10. Whittingham is a defensive specialist, so the impact of the coaching shakeup may be minimal, but it's worth keeping in mind. They're also switching to a 4-3, though like Michigan's "3-4" the difference may be more semantic than anything else.
Peace inherits a strong front seven even without Orchard. While the Utes only finished 50th in rushing S&P+ last year, their worst performances came against spread teams, and Michigan is very much not one of those. They're anchored on the interior by sophomore DT Lowell Lotulelei, younger brother of Star Lotulelei, who's coming off an impressive freshman campaign. The other tackle spot could be a weak point; Filipo Mokofisi is a 285-pound sophomore with two starts to his name. Utah boasts a pair of playmakers at defensive end; Hunter Dimick (4.5 run TFLs) and Jason Fanaika (4.5 run TFLs as a backup) were overshadowed by Orchard last year, but both are good players in their own right.
The linebackers are both experienced and productive; all three starters are seniors. MIKE Jared Norris led the team with 116 tackles in 2014, with 13 of those coming behind the line (nine against the run). "Rover" Gionni Paul is something of a poor man's Darron Lee, a 225-pound linebacker who's comfortable making plays in space. "Stud" Jason Whittingham, nephew of the head coach, missed most of last season but played well in ten starts as a sophomore.
The departure of strong safety Brian Blechen, a longtime standout who tallied 45 solo tackles last year, could hurt the run defense, but the Utes appear to have a ready-made replacement. Tevin Carter was one of Utah's best defenders in the four games he was healthy last year and he'll step into his more natural spot at strong safety this season.
There aren't many obvious holes in Utah's run defense, but their mediocre performance last year suggests they can be worn down; as Bill Connelly noted, they got worse as games went on last year, and depth could be even more of an issue up front this season. If Michigan's offense can control the ball for long enough stretches to force the Utes to rotate, De'Veon Smith and the rest of the committee could be in for a solid night of work.
Key Matchup: Ben Braden vs. Utah's interior line. Braden had some trouble keeping leverage in the run game last year and the Utes have guys who can get under your pads and make you go places you don't intend. I'm expecting M's line to hold up pretty well, but if Braden has a rough outing it could submarine the run game.
[Hit THE JUMP for CAN I MAKE IT THROUGH THIS PREVIEW WHILE BREATHING THROUGH A PAPER BAG LET'S FIND OUT.]
By Heiko Yang, unplugged
Now that I’m more than a year out from my full-ish part time mgoblog duties, I think I can finally admit this: I suck at watching football.
Don’t get me wrong. I love physically watching football. I love watching it on TV, in the stadium, from the press box, and especially from the sideline, which I was lucky enough to do many times over the past few years. But that’s not the issue.
It's just that on any given play I like to pay attention only to whatever is most interesting, and usually that is the ball. This is precisely what you’re not supposed to do if you want to watch the game with any sort of sophistication, and realizing this tendency (and not really being able to help it) has been somewhat embarrassing. When Ace and I started covering Michigan games together, it didn’t take more than a few quarters to figure out who should handle the analysis.
From the Ohio State game in 2011, via the Live Blog:
That run went nowhere, but Lewan planted Shazier on the ground ten yards downfield.
— Ace Anbender (@AceAnbender) November 26, 2011
Damn, Ace. That was a great observation. You appreciated a relevant aspect of the play that was independent of where the ball ended up.
There's a guy wearing a Ghillie suit in the student section
— Heiko Yang (@Heiko25) November 26, 2011
Over the past year I’ve been learning how to be a doctor. One of the most difficult skills to acquire early on is the ability to assess a patient’s problems. There's a lot of data to consider, both relevant and distracting, when you want to fully understand the situation. You have to force yourself to stop watching the quarterback and the ball to instead systematically look at field position, down-and-distance, personnel, offensive formation, and defensive alignment, and once the ball is snapped you have to watch the how the offensive line blocks, how the defense blitzes or executes their run fits, how the receivers run their routes, how the coverage responds …
This analogy sounds ridiculous now, so I’ll stop. The point is that being an active observer, a description that I’ve found to describe good doctors as well as people who watch football at a high level, is hard work. In medicine, I have to get better at this because I have a responsibility to fulfill. In football … for me, not so much. I never wanted it to feel like a responsibility, so I guess that’s why I never bothered to get better at it.
In a lot of ways I'm happy about this. After a work day that started at 4:30 this morning, I’m looking forward putting my brain on passive mode to enjoy the game for a few hours. No cortical function is required to cheer when the ball moves forward and boo when it does not. Plus there are so many things – Harbaugh! Peppers! Offense! Night game! Thursday?? Uniformz????? – to keep me tickled. I almost don’t care if Michigan wins or loses.
But you know what? Prognosticating based on little to no evidence is just another small liberty I can enjoy only in football, so what the hell:
Michigan 28, Utah 17.
by Nick RoUMel
Dave Brandon Answers Questions About the Upcoming Season.
I am very excited about Michigan's prospects. The oppressive feeling of embarrassment and hopelessness is gone, as surely as the Munchkins danced after Dorothy killed the Wicked Witch of the West. What do you think?
- Art S.
You simpleton. Just as those Munchkins remained short, your team will remain bad. Find another one to root for.
I'm a little nervous about the quarterback situation. Why won't Coach Harbaugh name a starter? Do you think it has anything to do with Shane Morris' concussion?
- Matt G.
What have you been drinking? Shane Morris did NOT have a concussion. Did you not read the press release that our marketing team issued in the middle of the night, after 48 hours of consulting medical manuals? It was a "probable sinus headache."
What do you think of Coach Harbaugh's pre-season antics? There's been a lot of great buzz created about this Michigan team. I'm excited.
Some coaches create more embarrassment than buzz. For instance, you don't see me running around shirtless at Toys "R" Us grand openings. I remain as dignified on the first day on the job, as I will when I eventually drive the stock price into the ground.
I don't know who to pick in this one. I truly believe we are much improved, but playing a tough Utah team on the road might be too much to overcome.
When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. You need to grow up. Michigan is going to get its ass kicked. I say, Utah 24-UM 20.
Now let me go back to running my toy company, please.