Dalvin Cook lived up to his billing. [Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog]
Sometimes you make it a game despite yourself and the human lightning bolt that is Dalvin Cook and then a freshman receiver who looks like a tight end turns a dumb play into a game-swinging kickoff return and a 5'11" guy beats Jourdan Lewis for a touchdown because sure why not and a series of improbable events occur and a laugher turns into a heartbreaker.
For most of the game, Florida State showed why Michigan is on the wrong side of the playoff bubble. Michigan's offense couldn't overcome a shaky offensive line to put any sort of consistent attack together, mustering only 83 first-half yards. Florida State's couldn't either but for the notable exception of Cook. The future Pro Bowl running back had 141 yards and a score on 16 touches. Nyqwan Murray exploited a busted coverage for a 92-yard touchdown. The rest of the FSU offense had 22 yards on 17 plays. The Seminoles held a 20-6 lead at halftime.
Neither team did much of anything in the third quarter until Kenny Allen, for seemingly the umpteenth time, backed up FSU deep in their own territory with 1:12 left in the quarter. Facing second-and-ten from his own eight-yard line, quarterback Deondre Francois rolled right to escape pressure and threw a pass directly to Mike McCray, who ended his short trip down the sideline with a dive into the end zone to make it 20-15. Michigan had pulled within a score for the first time since the opening quarter, setting up one of the wildest finishes of this college football season.
Chris Evans, flying. [Fuller]
Cook once again pulled the game almost out of reach, breaking a 71-yard run on third-and-22 to set up a three-yard touchdown run by his backup, Jacques Patrick. After the teams traded punts, Wilton Speight capitalized on great field position with a third-and-goal touchdown pass to Khalid Hill. The Wolverines returned to the end zone less than four minutes later, forcing a three-and-out before Chris Evans juke-posterized an FSU safety on a 30-yard touchdown scamper. Before you could say "Captain America," Michigan had taken a 30-27 lead.
The ensuing kickoff looked as innocuous as could be. FSU freshman Keith Gavin fielded Allen's boot a couple yards deep in the end zone, surveyed the field, and paused. In football, when you pause on a kickoff return, you kneel for a touchback. That is the only play. Except for this play. This play, Gavin belatedly took off despite the protestations of fellow return man Kermit Whitfield, burst through a tackle, and was finally dragged down 66 yards later by Jourdan Lewis.
The winning touchdown. [Fuller]
Cook got the Seminoles to the 12-yard line on a screen pass. Two plays later, Murray rose over Lewis to haul in the go-ahead touchdown. As if this game wasn't frantic enough, Michigan blocked the extra point and Josh Metullus, filling in for an injured Jabrill Peppers, brought it all the way back for two points. With 36 seconds left, down a point, Michigan had the opportunity to give this meandering game one final twist.
Instead, the Seminoles held strong, intercepting a desperation fourth-and-ten heave by Speight forced by instant—perhaps too instant—pressure by DeMarcus Walker.
It may be coachspeak cliché, but it's true: Florida State made more plays. The better team, at least tonight, won the game. Cook showed Michigan what they lack: an offensive playmaker that makes opponents sigh with relief every time the ball goes elsewhere. That, or an elite quarterback, can overcome a porous offensive line. The Wolverines had neither.
Maybe next year.
This is how it ends.
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What's German for "you should play me more"? [Marc-Gregor Campredon]
Michigan begins Big Ten play on Sunday at Iowa. As the team's long holiday break comes to a close, it's a good time to take some mailbag questions. I got enough good questions this time around that I'll probably do another one of these next week; a couple of these required deeper dives than I expected.
— Crisler Spider-Man (@CrislerSpidey) December 28, 2016
I'll begin with this: I'm less concerned about the team making the tournament than most Michigan fans, or at least that's the sense I get. They're 10-3 with no resume-crushing losses and a couple neutral-site blowout wins over top-40 teams. While it's early yet to keep tabs on this, the Wolverines are a nine-seed in the Bracket Matrix with eight at-large teams below them. A handful of the teams ahead of them have the look of paper tigers. I'm not ready to believe Minnesota and Northwestern are tournament squads; both are currently ahead of Michigan in the matrix. This team is in better shape both statistically and resume-wise after the nonconference schedule than last year's team, which had Caris LeVert through the Big Ten opener. Unless there's an injury to a major contributor, which we obviously can't rule out, then this will be a tournament team.
With that out of the way, the key to season is Moe Wagner earning John Beilein's trust enough to become the focal point of this team. This is both on Wagner and Beilein. Wagner, for his part, needs to cut down on the oft-inexplicable mental errors that he makes on defense; those have been Beilein's focus when he explains why Wagner got pulled from a particular game or doesn't have a bigger role in general. Beilein, for his part, needs to realize that Michigan is usually better off with Wagner in the game even when he's made a couple mistakes. While I understand the need for teaching moments, they don't always need to come during games, especially when they may be at the expense of the team's chances to win.
There are already encouraging signs on this front. Wagner has played 25+ minutes in three of the last six games; the exceptions were UCLA, when he got in foul trouble, and the blowouts over Central Arkansas and Maryland Eastern Shore, when Beilein had a chance to give Jon Teske some extended playing time.
Meanwhile, Wagner's relatively low minute total—he's still playing a shade less than half of the available minutes—partially obscures the reality: when Wagner is on the floor, he's the lead offensive player. His 24.0% usage rate is the highest on the team, as is his 26.2% share of shot attempts when he's on the floor. His seven assists already outnumber last season's total by three. He's cut his turnover rate nearly in half, an especially difficult feat given the major uptick in usage. He's drawing more fouls. Most importantly, he's obscenely efficient as a scorer, shooting 71% on twos and 50% on threes. While those numbers will fall back to earth as Wagner can no longer feast on the Kennesaw States of the basketball world, it's clear that Wagner has the highest ceiling as a scorer of any of Michigan's rotation players, and it may not be close.
Wagner has done an excellent job of cutting down his foul rate, which has dropped from 7.3 fouls per 40 minutes last season to 3.9 this season. As long as that continues, it's time for Wagner to play closer to 30 minutes per game than his current mark of 19.2.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the mailbag.]
Wanting it more [Patrick Barron]
By Bryan MacKenzie
"Who wants it more."
You hear that from broadcasters and talking heads all the time. And it's usually a dumb trope to try to explain an outcome that was either unexpected or random. Who came out of the pile with the fumble? Obviously, it was the team that wanted it more. Who made the clutch free throws at the end of the game? It was the team that was hungry enough for victory to suddenly become more skilled at a particular task. That's dumb and oversimplified, right? Yep. Very dumb.
Except in bowl games.
Bowl games are the one place where you can confidently say that, yeah, motivation is probably a huge factor. Bowl games are the only place in competitive sports where teams play an entire season, take more than a month off, and then play what amounts to a glorified exhibition game. Players finally get to dip their toes into a quasi-normal student life, then they've got final exams*, and then they're asked to jump right back into the maw to play one more game.
For obvious reasons, some teams come out, shall we say, less than fire emoji fire emoji fire emoji 100 emoji. Different people treat exhibitions differently, and you never know until kickoff whether your guys are Sean Taylor, or whether they are the poor damn punter who thought this was a game.
We saw this last year. Michigan probably wasn't 34 points better than Florida, but it was pretty clear midway through the Citrus Bowl that the two teams weren't playing the same game. Maybe it was the "Christmas Camp" that was reportedly unusually intense as bowl practices go. Maybe it was the knowledge that the competition for spots in Michigan's 2016 lineup had already begun. Or maybe Harbaugh just scared the living hell out of guys. Who knows. But Michigan showed up for blood. And with Jim Harbaugh being as Jim Harbaugh as any coach in America, I'd bet good money that Michigan does so again today.
And what do we know of Florida State's bowl show-up-ishness? The Seminoles got walloped by Houston last year in the Peach Bowl 38-24 despite being a touchdown favorite. The year before that, they lost the college football playoff semi-final to Oregon 59-20. Of course, the year before that, they won the national championship. So who knows what kinds of conclusions we can draw.
If both teams arrive in force, this should be a really good game, though I'd still favor Michigan. There is no realistic scenario in which Florida State's offensive line holds up against Michigan's defensive line. Deondre Francois has already had a Hackenberg-esque season of picking defenders out of his ribs (FSU has allowed as many sacks this year as Rutgers), and the odds of him being able to stand in against this pass rush are slim. FSU's back seven has been iffy, and will be without one of the best players in the country in Derwin James. And sure. Dalvin Cook is a scary, scary dude, especially if he's healthy, but the kind of effort he would have to put forth to beat this Michigan defense single-handedly would be superhuman.
That's if both teams show up. If only Michigan shows up, this could look a lot like last year's Citrus Bowl.
* [Note: yes, I know that at some schools, this means "it's final exams for the players' tutors and/or trainers." But the good news is that some of those schools don't have to worry about bowl prep. Because they are not bowl-eligible. Because they finished 4-8.]
Michigan 30, FSU 17
By Nick RoUMel
It was the best of times, until the second play.
Michigan’s 1991 squad was #3 in the nation and featured Desmond Howard and Elvis Grbac, with Greg Skrepenak anchoring a monstrous O-Line that averaged 294 lbs.
Bobby Bowden’s Florida State squad was #1, and might have been defending national champions if not for a little “wide right” issue the year before against Miami. On this perfect September afternoon, Michigan was favored, and the home crowd was raucous.
It was the worst of times. On the second play, Terrell Buckley stepped in front of Desmond to pick off Elvis’ floater to the south end zone, and the Seminoles never looked back in thrashing the Wolverines, 51-31. At that time (nearly two decades before “The Missing Years” of R-R and B-Ho), it had been the most points ever laid on the home team in Michigan Stadium. It would have been even worse, but Florida State missed five points after touchdowns and lost a fumble at Michigan’s one yard line. (Michigan only gave up 118 points in its other 10 regular season games in’91, combined.)
It was the best of times. 1991 was the first year I had my season tickets. Before the FSU game, my Dad and I watched Michigan beat Notre Dame, with Desmond kickstarting his brilliant Heisman season with a diving TD catch on a fourth-and-one-foot play in the fourth quarter, in the corner in front of me and Dad.
It was the worst of times, the beginning of the Curse of Dino. My then brother-in-law suffered through the Florida State debacle with me, the first of a five-game winless streak for games he attended, broken only when Punt Classic and I performed a full-on exorcism before allowing him to enter the hallowed grounds of the Big House for the 1997 Ohio State game.
It was the best of times. It was the midst of Coach Gary Moeller’s successful five-year stint as Michigan coach, featuring three Big Ten titles, three top ten finishes, and four bowl wins. This run was cut short when Mo was unceremoniously fired for having an argument with his wife in a restaurant. (Just ponder that, Penn State fans.)
It was the worst of times. The Florida State “War Chant”, credited to Rob “Sweat” Hill of FSU’s Theta Chi fraternity in 1983, evolved into the Tomahawk Chop of today that was heard in Ann Arbor, for the first and only time, on that sunny fall day in 1991. (Unfortunately, Michigan fans cannot claim the moral high ground, with their own version of the chop ending in the stunningly crass “you suck!” shout, after the band plays “Temptation” - it’s almost enough to yearn for the halcyon days of marshmallow tossing.)
Twenty five years later, it is the best of times. Michigan is once again a top ten team, two cruel plays away from undefeated, and only kept from the College Football Playoff by a KGB-led conspiracy.
As for prognostications, Punt’s theory is correct. The edge cannot be determined by the players on the field, who are matched evenly enough. Instead it will be won by the team that wants it more, that has something to prove. Will Michigan flip the script from 25 years ago, and prevail in front of what amounts to a boisterous Seminole home crowd? Or will the ironically named JimBo MoLlo Fisher cunningly hand the Wolverines another stunning last-minute defeat?
Florida State is exciting, but flawed, and the metrics favor Michigan. But that hasn’t stopped the 2016 Wolverines from showing its dispirited side, even when it’s mattered most. This game gives me the same heebie-jeebies as when I first heard that war chant in 1991. I fear we cap 2016 with the worst of times.
Whoa, oh, whoa. Whoa, oh, whoa.
FLORIDA STATE 30, MICHIGAN 28
|WHERE||The Orange Bowl,
December 30th, 2016
|THE LINE||M -7|
Michigan and FSU are both vying to prove to the world that they are the top five team they were purported to be before the season, so the Orange Bowl has some stakes. You know the picture above, and you know that it came after Michigan beat a very good Alabama team in this game. Playoff or not, there will be a flaming spear in the field tomorrow and that means quite a bit.
Not that I have to tell anyone who's playing under Jim Harbaugh that.
Run Offense vs FSU
FSU has a good-but-not great defense prone to breakdowns. S&P+ has them 18th in the country overall; they're 31st against the run. FSU is relatively good at preventing "successful" plays and bad at preventing big ones. They rank 103rd in S&P+'s explosiveness metric, though the raw numbers are more positive. They're middle of the pack in the ACC at 20+ yard runs ceded.
A whole season picture may be excessively harsh, however. FSU was bombed in back to back games by Louisville and South Florida early in the season; since they've crushed various bad ground games and suffered the likes of North Carolina and NC State to squeeze out four yards a pop. Michigan's rush offense is 42nd in S&P+, not in the same class as UL (1st nationally) or USF (8th), and they can expect a struggle.
DT Derrick Nnadi drives the bus for FSU; his PFF +24 as a rush defender came in just 480 snaps. That's about 50% better than any of Michigan's diverse and sundry interior DL on a per-snap basis. FSU's production falls off after that, with a couple of guys around +10 and then some other folks who have scraped above zero. Brian Burns, a five-star recruit rushed to the starting lineup, is the weak point. This is because he is a 220 pound WDE.
The rest of the defense has been decidedly meh, especially with starting safeties Derwin James and Ermon Lane ruled out. LB Josh Sweat has been up and down, offsetting a solid run grade with dismal pass rush; fellow starting LBs Matthew Thomas and Ro'Derrick Hoskins are almost perfectly average. The secondary is poor in rush D, and with some young or inexperienced players trying to fill Lane's shoes there's a decent chance a run that reaches the third level finds air.
Getting there is rather the trick for a Michigan rushing offense that's scuffled late in the year. Michigan has two good OL in Mason Cole and Erik Magnuson; the remainder of the line has been sketchy at best. While FSU presents a couple weaknesses OSU didn't have, Nnadi is about as good as Iowa's Jaleel Johnson, and Johnson dominated his matchup on the interior.
Michigan will move the ball in fits and starts; expect some big plays and some second and thirteens.
KEY MATCHUP: BEN BREDESON versus A MONTH OF PRACTICE TIME. Best bet for Michigan is for Bredeson to get radically better a la a few players from last year's bowl game. Nobody else has the kind of upward mobility he does, and if Michigan doesn't get a better performance out of their OL than they did against OSU it's going to be a lot of grunting for little product.
[Hit THE JUMP for oh man this OL versus Michigan's DL]
On September 7, 2013, Ryan Glasgow stepped onto the turf at Michigan Stadium in front of 115,109 fans (and another 8.65 million watching at home) for what was undoubtedly the biggest game of his life. Six minutes and 30 seconds of game-time later, Glasgow stepped into the turf at Michigan Stadium; just a redshirt freshman playing in his second game, he was double-teamed by future first-round NFL Draft pick Zack Martin and future third-round pick Chris Watt on the second play of Notre Dame’s second drive with such brutal swiftness that one of his shoes got stuck in the turf and failed to make the six-yard journey downfield with the rest of Glasgow.
The Notre Dame game was the first in-season wake-up call for a player whose time at Michigan has been shaped by a series of well-timed conversations and self-aware redirection. “We’re watching film that Sunday, getting coached hard—I mean, just got absolutely destroyed, but I think that served a purpose,” Glasgow says. “It kind of made me realize this is college football. People will just destroy you on the other team if you’re not ready to play.”
That there have been plays for a coaching staff to critique involving Glasgow in a Michigan uniform is amazing considering the mind-bending alternative, and that has nothing to do with his status as a former walk-on or any depth issues present in the early Hoke years. That Glasgow played football at all is shocking considering his parents’ stance on the sport.
Glasgow’s parents, Drs. Steven and Michele Glasgow, decided when their children were young that they didn’t want them to play football. Hoping to steer their kids toward something less violent and aggressive, they first presented them with the opportunity to play other sports as an outlet for their energy. In second grade, though, Ryan turned the pressure up on his father.
He approached his father one day and told him that he wanted to play football. The local youth league didn’t start until kids were in fifth grade, so it came as something of a surprise that Ryan was pitching his case so early. Ryan’s father told Ryan to talk to his mother, and Ryan informed him that she said Ryan needed to talk to him. He told Ryan they stood together on the issue and would prefer he not play, and Ryan went for the ace up his sleeve. “I said, ‘Why do you want to play football?’ And this floored me, actually, and this was a manipulative thing that he said,” Ryan’s father says. “He said, ‘Dad, I want to play football because you played football.’ I said, ‘Well, that’s not going to work, Ryan.’” (Dr. Glasgow played football at Penn.) His father told Ryan that he and his brother Graham were physically gifted enough to play many other sports.
Ryan dropped his head and started walking away when his father asked if there was another reason he wanted to play. He turned, his eyes lit up, and he said, ‘Dad, I want to run into people!’ His father then asked if there were any other reasons Ryan wanted to play. He had one more reason at the ready: ‘I want to knock ‘em down, dad,’ His father burst into laughter and told him that he could play. Ryan couldn’t believe what he just heard. “I said, ‘Look, if you think the greatest thing in the world is going out there and running into people and knocking people down then yeah,’” Dr. Glasgow recalls. “‘I mean, if we’re not letting you play football then you’re just going to be doing that some other way, so at least you should be out there with coaches in an organized sport and learn how to channel it and sort of go from there,’ and that was it. That was how they got permission to play. We had really planned on not letting them play; it was a very important thing to him.”
[After THE JUMP: “They can test how fast, how high, how much you lift, but some kids, they’re just football players.”]