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In a game that felt like something out of the Rodriguez era, Michigan showed that while there's great promise for the future, the flaws exposed by Alabama are very real.
The Wolverines edged Air Force, 31-25, and the outcome wasn't decided until Jake Ryan batted down Air Force quarterback Connor Dietz's fourth-down throw with 1:28 remaining. Denard Robinson accounted for all but seven yards of the team's total offense. The defense ceded 417 total yards—290 on the ground—and failed to keep contain all afternoon.
It wasn't all bad, however. Robinson was masterful, completing 14-of-25 passes for 218 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception—one that deflected off the hands of Vincent Smith—while rushing for 218 yards and another pair of touchdowns on 20 carries. True freshman Devin Funchess emerged as a viable threat at tight end, becoming the first Michigan TE to eclipse 100 receiving yards in a game since Jerame Tuman. Devin Gardner looked like a wide receiver, hauling in five passes for 63 yards and a touchdown while running crisper routes.
The offense lived and died with Denard, as Fitzgerald Toussaint found little room to run—seven yards on eight carries, to be exact. The offensive line failed to get a push against Air Force's undersized D-line, doing little to ease concerns from last week's debacle. By the second half, Al Borges had essentially given up on generating yards the traditional way, and he was justified in doing so.
Defensively, Michigan looked ill-equipped to stop the Falcon triple-option attack. The defensive line spent much of the day on their stomachs, unable to evade chop blocks or get any sort of push. Kenny Demens looked positively Ezeh-esque, letting blockers get into him again and again before being pulled in favor of true freshman Joe Bolden. Jake Ryan was all over the field, recording a career-high 12 tackles, but sometimes "all over" can be a bad thing—keeping contain was an issue. The final Air Force touchdown came when Desmond Morgan overpursued. The defensive backs struggled against the run as well, failing to shed blocks and come up to take the pitch.
When the defense needed a big play, odds are it came from an underclassman. Ryan continually redeemed his poorer efforts with critical stops, including two pass breakups on the final Air Force drive. Bolden replaced Demens and displayed the aggressive, instinctual play that made him a high school All-American. Fellow freshman linebacker James Ross spelled Morgan late and acquitted himself well after struggling in his debut against Alabama. Several other freshmen made appearances during the game's biggest moments, including Ondre Pipkins and Mario Ojemudia.
Last season's 11-2 record belied the myriad issues Brady Hoke faced upon taking over in Ann Arbor. After two games in 2012, those issues are at the forefront for the Wolverines. The lack of depth on the offensive line means Michigan must move ahead with the current unit—despite its ineffectiveness in the run game—unless they want to insert a true freshman. The defensive tackles will be a sore spot all year; the players expected to relieve that problem are freshmen or not even on campus yet. The offense still leans heavily on Denard, whose style doesn't always mesh well with the offensive philosophy of Borges.
The Wolverines came away with a victory, a fact that cannot be overlooked, especially against a team with a difficult style to prepare for in a week's time. Denard will still make magic with his feet—his touchdown runs were both exhilarating—and perhaps his arm as well—he looks much-improved from last year even if the numbers don't necessarily bear that out. The future looks bright, too, thanks to the major contributions from a number of young players already gaining crucial experience.
The overwhelming feeling in the aftermath, however, is that this team is still two years away from competing on a national level, the only level of success that matters at Michigan. Today's game had Rich Rodriguez's fingerprints all over it; as we know, that's a smudge that isn't easily wiped away.
Make friends with the Liveblog Chaos Mitigation Post.
[EDIT: Let's try again, not tiny this time.]
Something's been missing from Michigan gamedays since the free programs ceased being economically viable: scientific gameday predictions that are not at all preordained by the strictures of a column in which one writer takes a positive tack and the other a negative one. Something like… Punt-Counterpunt.
By Ken “Sky” Walker
By Labor Day, I had pretty much put last Saturday’s debacle behind me. There was a time when I would obsess over a Michigan loss all week long. I’ve learned over the years to kick all that angst to the curb. I’m way beyond having my mood be affected by a Wolverine win or loss. After all, this is just a game played by kids, right?
I’d taken Tuesday off to extend the weekend. The extra day off didn’t help. It having been a holiday on Monday, every sports news outlet had the Alabama game as its lead story Tuesday. College Football Live, PTI, Around the Horn, and Jim Rome Is Burning—I’ll admit to watching them all—rehashed that nightmare over and over. I finally decided to go outdoors to take a walk, which is somewhat of a novelty for me on a non-football Saturday, in an effort to get away from the talking heads. By the end of the day, I was looking forward to returning to work.
It’s Wednesday and I’m back at the office. I venture down the hall and I’m greeted by a coworker—"Hey Ken! What happened to your boys?!" I find myself sucked into a lengthy conversation revolving around what Denard did, didn’t, or was allowed to do; Borges’s game plan or lack thereof. Is Gardner going to stay at wide out? Would having Fitz in the backfield made a difference? What happened to the defense? I ended up having similar conversations during the course of the day. By now I’m totally immersed in dissecting this game and what it means for the rest of the season.
On Thursday a young woman who just occupied the office down the hall pokes her head in. She spies my Go Blue mug and exclaims "A Michigan fan! Wouldn’t it be great if all the offices in this hall were tricked out in Michigan gear?" I point out that all the pins in my press board are maize or blue. She laughs and continues on her way. I’m struck by the fact that I pointed out to an attractive young woman that I’ve deliberately disposed of all the green and red pins and use only the maize - ah, yellow - and blue ones. OMG! I’ve become one of those Old Michigan Geezers!
I am neither obsessed nor depressed. I am aware that Air Force cannot win this game today. No amount of poor tackling, stagnant offense, or turnovers could possibly cause the Wolverines to lose to an academy team. But I can’t pick Michigan to blow them out either.
MICHIGAN 27, Air Force 24
By Nick RouMel
I am so glad Punt and I didn’t go down to the Cowboy Classic. I was looking forward to that party all year, but it ended a bit like “Project X.” It was not only like having the host steal your girlfriend, but then having her post on Facebook that you were nothing but a “Minute Man” anyway.
Oh, wait, that’s next week’s opponent (UMass). This Saturday we face Air Force. The mighty Falcons averaged 35 points a game last year, and opened this season by laying waste to Matt Gutierrez’ alma mater, Idaho State. Yes, like last week’s rude party host, they can score. But unlike Alabama, they do not have professional athletes on their squad, merely crackerjack trained U.S. military personnel. Thus they are vulnerable to a Michigan squad with something to prove.
Was last week’s debacle a product of bad coaching or execution? I learned from MGoBlog’s play-by-play analysis that the problem was not so much poor play, as simply being manhandled by a superior team. Air Force is a welcome respite from that mugging. Compared to ‘Bama, the Falcons are tiny. Their largest offensive lineman is a gaunt 260 lbs., and their defense is prone to being porous.
Expect Michigan to have a field day in the Big House. Denard will be on target, Devin will run better routes, and Fitz is back from the Dog House. The party that didn’t happen last week will rock Ann Arbor. The Wolverines are favored by 21.5 points for a reason. That reason is that the oddsmakers are smoking crack. Oh wait, I mean it’s because we’re going to win by at least three touchdowns! Up and down the field we will run. Touchdowns we will score. And this week, no one steals our girl.
MICHIGAN 45, AIR FORCE 21
|WHAT||Michigan vs Air Force|
|WHERE||Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, MI|
|WHEN||3:30 pm Eastern, September 8st 2012|
|THE LINE||Michigan –21.5|
|TELEVISION||ESPN2/ABC reverse mirror (coverage map)|
|WEATHER||windy, mid-60s, slight chance of rain|
[HEY BOO-URNSERS: I know ain't no one gonna tell you what to do, but booing a service academy when they are introduced is a terrible idea. Let's not do that! None of you are reading this blog, probably.]
Run Offense vs Air Force
what up mr kotter, what up
After a comprehensively abysmal outing against Alabama, Michigan gets a slightly better matchup against the Falcons. Subtract 70 pounds from everyone on the Alabama defense and add serious engineering degrees for most: that's Air Force. Thank gawd.
Last week Air Force beat up on I-AA Idaho State. The Fighting Gutierrezeses were 2-9 last year, losing to the various Montana, Utah, and Washington I-AA teams by scores like 54-13. They averaged—wait for it—27 yards rushing doing so. This is not data.
We don't have much in the way of data we can take forward from last year's Falcon outfit since they turned over seven starters, but if we assume they'll be a lot like last year's outfit, Michigan should go buck-wild on what was the #109 rushing defense. The Notre Dame game featured in Ace's FFFF saw the Irish go for 266 yards on 29 carries, including a 78-yard run by Andrew Hendrix(!). Brady Hoke's old outfit and 2011 common opponent San Diego State put up 201 on 35 carries, with Ronnie Hillman going for 172. Undersized and heavily reliant on confusing the opponent with blitzes, Air Force stands little chance of holding up against any reasonably good BCS-level rushing attack.
Michigan should have one of those again. They've got Fitzgerald Toussaint back, and since this is an overmatched opponent Michigan will probably run Denard 30 times. I'm not sure we learned anything about Michigan in the first game for the exact opposite reason we didn't learn anything about Air Force in the first game; extrapolating from past seasons suggests Michigan will run riot.
Key Matchup: Offensive line vs getting push. This should not be a problem, but we're all spooked after last week's total inability to block any-damn-body.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the news. Which is less bad!]
In re: "who are you optioning?"
This is a weird formation, right? Lewan is eligible receiver, Kwiatkowski is not?
It's a little weird. Neither Lewan or Kwiatkowski are eligible in that formation. Lewan wears an ineligible number; Kwiatkowski is covered up by a receiver outside of him. I call these formations "unbalanced" when I talk about them.
They're not that weird, though. Teams do it to screw with the defense's alignment, test various things, etc. If the play ends up being a pass you've declared that you've only got four receivers, but since the tight end can pass block you're still playing 11 on 11.
Occasionally you'll see Michigan line up with two receivers on the line of scrimmage to the same side. This drives me nuts since the slot guy may as well not exist. This was more common under Rodriguez but IIRC Borges did do it a couple times last year. These are always runs, and usually short ones if the defense notices the alignment, which it seems like they always do.
Why do coaches do this? They're trying to mess up a defense's alignment keys and get easy yards. It's the same principle at work whenever a wide receiver lines up at fullback and motions out to the flank, or when a running back ends up lined up way on the outside.
Join our flaming crater!
What effect do you think the 'Bama game will have on recruiting? Much to my surprise many fans think neutral or positive.
I don't think it will have much, if any. Michigan's down to a couple of scholarships in the next class. By the time the 2014 kids start committing in numbers, Michigan will have played 12-13 additional games and the Alabama debacle will be a lot less relevant than it seems right now.
If it's going to hurt, it'll be with Derrick Green and LaQuon Treadwell. I don't think anyone was optimistic about Green after Auburn popped up even before Saturday; Treadwell is more of a mystery. We'll see.
In general, short-term results are not the be all and end-all in recruiting. See Charlie Weis, Ron Zook, etc. You either have it until such point as your job is under threat or you're at Kansas, or you don't.
An update on the Stubhub thing.
Just a quick heads up that UM still appears to have their relationship in place with StubHub. I received an email on Friday from the Michigan Ticket Office proclaiming, “Don't forget to use our online Marketplace (in its second successful year in service) to easily resell your tickets electronically.” I know you mused about whether this relationship was still in place after StubHub referred to UM as a former partner, so I wanted to pass along.
False alarm. Still amazed at that MBA who managed to make counterfeit tickets incredibly easy to manufacture unless you were selling through Stubhub. Probably laughing moooooohahahahaha right now in a lair somewhere.
Inversion. Also, this section sponsored by Slanty the Gecko, inexplicably the first hit in Google Images for "line slant football," or at least it was a year ago.
Steve Sharik, a former high school who you may remember posting some great diaries a couple years back, sent me an email about what happened to the defense; I responded with a question, and he answered. So let's put me in a yellow box:
It looks like Michigan is slanting the DL a lot to get their guys in gaps between the massive OL and set up an obvious cutback lane in which the LBs are supposed to be 2v1, but rarely do both of them get there. It's so consistent that it almost seems like I have to be wrong. I want the LBs to absolutely tear ass for the gap behind the slanting DT (usually they leave the DE to contain the backside). Instead they check up for cutbacks constantly that seem like the DL's job. Am I crazy?
Slanting does two things to zone blocking:
- If I'm an OL zone blocking to the right, and the guy on my outside who I'm supposed to block goes left, there is a natural tendency to go after my guy.
- More importantly, slanting the DL gets penetration, which wreaks havoc on zone blocking.
Recall how effectively OSU slanted against us in 2007 (yes, that screen shot).
the most infamous
What would continually happen was the ball would show in a hole a LB was supposed to fill, which was done fine, but the hole was created so well that there essentially are two gaps where there was once one: there is space on both sides of the lead blocker, so the filling LB has to pick one, meaning the extra LB/S/C has to fill the other one. Consistently this second, unblocked defender was late and too far away, creating a seam in the run defense.
[ED: This came up last year too. I complained about Brandin Hawthorne not getting past a blocker against EMU. Michigan has been short on free hitters.]
BONUS: we also had a discussion on that seam route Alabama hit early and Floyd tackled immediately on. I am still in a yellow box.
Sharik: Even the normally reliable Kovacs was bad. Demens was in the wrong gap a few times, Morgan doesn't have a great feel for when to attack now or where to fit, and Kovacs and JT Floyd were very tentative. In other words, our extra run defender (when the QB is turning around and handing it off, they're playing 10 v. 11, so we should have an extra, unblocked defender vs. the run) was late to the party or in the wrong gap, creating the huge seams you saw. Even vs. the pass, on their conversion on a 3rd and long, Kovacs went to wide and too aggressively to re-route a seam, and ended up being outside the numbers and too close to the LOS, thereby giving up the seam right behind him.
I caught that Kovacs thing, but thought the problem there was a crappy chuck on the guy. If he really jams him there the blitz should have time to get there or Floyd has time to get over. yes/no?
Against the pass, the defender responsible for the seam must stay on that seam--reroute the receiver off the seam. You do this with both your horizontal and vertical position. When Kovacs was so aggressive he took himself outside of the seam and stayed too close to the LOS, creating an open window for the seam. The technique is to not gear up to hit the guy, but to shock, catch, and run. If a guy is running in the seam, it almost looks like man coverage if the defender is playing his technique correctly. (Actually it does look like man, the way to tell man or zone is by what other defenders are doing.) Also, Floyd can't come over b/c he has deep 1/3 and the outside receiver was running a go route.
If Kovacs stays in the seam window, he doesn't have to take his eyes off the QB and he can eliminate the possibility of a throw without touching the WR. And if their QB holds the ball b/c the seam isn't open, the blitz gets home (or at least has a better chance).
Actually, I think the designed route was an inside skinny; designed to be behind the Mike and in front of the Free. The WRs job is to clear the seam defender, then post to the middle at about 10-15. (Different coaches teach different depths, and different defenses command slightly different depths, as well as the drop of the QB--3, 5, 7 step.)
I am now out of a yellow box. When Steve mentioned that the slot defender on the seam often looks like man coverage, it made me think back to Courtney Avery consistently carrying receivers deep on similar routes, and wondering if that was what the intent was. We eventually figured it was—this was a BWS debate—and then last year Mattison flat out said so after Avery carried a seam route deep and Iowa got a 44-yard gain out of a simple crossing route; we asked what happened there and he said Countess got out of position.
Thanks to Steve for the input. Long way to go.