somehow we're only 124th
11/19/2011 – Michigan 45, Nebraska 17 – 9-2, 5-2 Big Ten
In the aftermath of Saturday's flamethrower job, everyone from the coaches down to emailers is saying that felt like Michigan, usually with emphasis. Picking one at random:
Great game Saturday - I think it was at least partially Nebraska-fueled, but man that FELT like Michigan.
Quick, it's any game from 1998 to 2007 against a spread offense or mobile quarterback. How do you feel? Good? Bad? Have you stopped reading this column to shiver in a corner at the idea of Carlyle Holiday? Troy Smith? Donovan McNabb? Armanti Horror Edwards?
Yes, you have. For the Ohio State fans who persist in reading this column because it's willing to send Michigan fans into catatonic seizures, Michigan fans felt pretty damn bad about going up against mobile quarterbacks during the Carr era. They also felt this during the Rodriguez era but it was a lot harder to parse out a specific mobile-quarterback-related fear when Indiana's putting up more than 30 every year.
Quick! It's any game in which Michigan has an 18 point lead against a mid-level Big Ten team from 1998 to 2007. Nevermind. You're still having a seizure.
Quick! It's a team with Tom Brady, David Terrell, Anthony Thomas, Steve Hutchinson, Mo Williams, and Jeff Backus. How many yards per carry do they average?
No, seriously. I'm asking this one. How many yards per carry did the Orange-Bowl-winning, Tom-Brady-featuring, three-NFL-OL-including-a-hall-of-fame-guard-deploying 1999 Michigan Wolverines average?
Seriously. Michigan finished 79th in rushing offense, 24th in passing offense, and ran more than they passed. Tom Brady—Tom Brady!—averaged 7.2 YPA. In the Orange Bowl they fell behind 14-0 because they kept running their awful run offense at Alabama's #2 run defense. They'd finish with 23 carries for 27 yards.
Quick! Fourth and four from the Ohio State 34 up two with three minutes left. What does Brady Hoke do?
I was wrong. I was mad when Michigan hired Brady Hoke because I though it was a capitulation, that it was Michigan returning to the things that made it such a frustrating team to root for once Lloyd Carr stopped having the best defense in the universe.
Carr coached his team like they had an awesome run offense and an awesome defense no matter the facts on the ground, which led to the most frustrating stat anyone's ever compiled. From Vijay Ramanujan's article in your copy of HTTV 2007:
Michigan's fourth quarter woes from 2000 to 2005 … have been the thing holding it back from truly elite status the last several years. Alarmingly, Michigan entered 18 games over that period of time with a lead smaller than 10 points and went 8-10 in those games. They were under .500 when entering the fourth with a small lead! When tied or facing a similarly small deficit, Michigan was 6-1. In all games in which Michigan trailed by any margin they were 8-8.
That is the kind of thing that gets you pawing at the air in your sleep, moaning "no… not again." It's incontrovertible evidence of terrible game management. Hiring Hoke felt like returning to that, like returning to debates about "scoring offenses" and looking at every mobile quarterback on the schedule like it was a loss waiting to happen.
This is not the case. It turns out as I was sitting in the stands burning up inside as Rocky Harvey scatbacked Illinois to victory or Michigan punted itself into oblivion against OSU, Brady Hoke was standing on a sideline burning up inside, whether it was at Michigan Stadium or somewhere in the MAC. Hoke does not want to lead by 17. He wants to lead by 21, dammit. If anything, the playcalling this year has been too aggressive what with the constant unleashing of the dragon.
Al Borges wears a t-shirt with this on it every Casual Friday
That made me mad in the immediate aftermath, but what happens when you put a Michigan program together and… like… use it? What happens when you're Lloyd Carr without the crippling fear of something going wrong? What happens when you go from weak-tight to loose-aggressive?
For one, you leave the desiccated corpses of Nebraska strewn around you as you leave the field. Afterwards, Bo Pelini sits in his locker room shaking like Don Cheadle in "Hotel Rwanda." When you win games, you win games comfortably. No one gets nervous in the fourth quarter of San Diego State. The offense is pretty much the offense; when its horns get pulled in it's because you're on your own four up 21 and that's the move. Sometimes you do the audacious thing in the important game, not the tomato can before the important game. Mobile quarterbacks don't automatically rack up a billion yards. And when the right move doesn't work out and someone asks you about it, you say "that's how it's going to be."
So when people say this "feels like Michigan," I agree and disagree. In the immediate post-hire column featuring Will Smith robots I said "to me, getting back to being Michigan means going 9-3 and losing to Jim Tressel." Since 1993, Michigan has lost at least three games every year save '97, '99 and '06; since Jim Tressel's arrival Michigan has beaten Ohio State once.
If this feels like getting back to Michigan, it's the Michigan of your dreams, the Michigan you left back in Peoria when you shipped to Saigon. You've got one good picture of her and she's that pretty every day in an ugly place.
"This Is Michigan" is about the idea, not the reality—at least not a reality from the last 20 years. So far. Days like Saturday inch us closer to the picture in our heads.
There were enough videos to warrant a VOAV, which was posted yesterday. This from Boyz in the Pahokee is worth a repost, though:
Via Eric Upchurch and the Ann Arbor Observer, our Nebraska photoset:
As always, the above photos are Creative Commons licensed.
I'm just sayin'.
via Eric Upchurch and the Ann Arbor Observer
BRADY HOKE EPIC DOUBLE POINT OF THE WEEK. I'm tempted to hand this to Lavonte David for 17 tackles, 14 of them solo, 2 of them Y U SO FAST ankle-grabs on a Denard Robinson one step from engaging turbo. But he plays for Nebraska and we only talk about players who play for Michigan.
If we can't give it to David, it's again Fitzgerald Toussaint's to have and hold. He's got his own bullet below explaining why. Runners up: Mike Martin, Denard Robinson, and Jordan Kovacs.
EPIC DOUBLE POINT STANDINGS.
2: Denard Robinson (Notre Dame, Eastern Michigan), Brady Hoke (San Diego State, Northwestern), Fitzgerald Toussaint (Purdue, Nebraska)
1: Jordan Kovacs (Western Michigan), David Molk (Minnesota), Ryan Van Bergen (MSU), Mike Martin (Iowa), JT Floyd(Illinois).
Fitzkreig continues. 138 yards on 29 carries and three monster games in the last four. The exception was a 16-carry, 58-yard performance against Iowa when many of his attempts were run from under center.
As a result, I saw Toussaint compared to the following tailbacks over the weekend: Mike Hart (this was me but not just me), Tim Biakabutuka, and Chris Perry. Except fast! I went with Hart because the way Toussaint dodges guys in a phonebooth is reminiscent of #20 and his cuts in narrow areas are what makes the zone game work. Toussaint doesn't have Hart's pile-pushing power but he compensates with Except Fast! He's also been very secure with the ball. (Knock on wood.) I don't recall any fumbles from him this year; that's pretty good for 143 carries.
It took longer than everyone wanted, but I declare him broken out. He needs 191 yards against OSU and in the bowl to crack 1000 for the season; I bet he gets that and enters next year in the conversation for best back in the league. I'll have to go back and check how Northwestern held him to 25 yards on 14 carries. That's nuts.
Weekly Borgeswatch. It's to the point where the scattered –1 yard power plays from the I don't even bother me anymore. They're like old friends reminding me of the spread's superiority for this personnel and how our offensive coordinator has also come to this conclusion, albeit grudgingly.
I thought this was another strong game from Borges. He debuted a pro set that saw Michigan bust a couple of big gains; the flare screen got blown up the second time he went to it but it was effective overall. Outside of that he largely let the offense do what it was recruited to do: run zone from the gun. It worked to the tune of 238 yards.
While the averages for Denard (4.4 YPC) and Fitz(4.8) aren't electric a lot of that is due to Michigan's struggles near the goal line. Those two had eight carries from within the Nebraska seven on which they gained 7 yards total; carries outside of goal-to-go situations averaged 5.3 between the two main weapons. Without Lavonte David who knows what they would have been.
Unfortunately, goal to go is kind of important. Those struggles combine with last week's goal line stand by Illinois* to create the closest thing to a worry possible coming off a 45-17 win. Michigan got lucky on a dubious pass interference call and had to resort to a fake field goal to punch in short touchdowns; on both short yardage TDs Michigan had to bounce to the sideline. Going up the middle was futile.
I wonder why Michigan has never tried to replicate** the virtually unstoppable Gator Heavy package that was Florida's go-to short yardage package during the Tebow era. This was a complaint I had during the RR years, too. I like the idea of giving the D seven gaps to defend and providing Denard two lead blockers that can attack any of them, plus a tailback.
*[I guess you could toss in Iowa's successful goal line stand but that was executed in adverse conditions.]
**[Michigan did briefly feature a double H-back set in 2009 that was kind of like Gator Heavy but they never used the full-on heavy. They always had two WRs.]
Weekly Denardwatch. There were a couple of scary throws I'll have to see on replay to determine whether they were bad ideas or fit in narrow windows—guessing the former—but 61% completions and 10 YPA are pretty good. Yeah, a big chunk of those was a chuck-and-pray to Roundtree but at least that wasn't into double coverage. The safety couldn't get over in time. Roundtree also had a step on Dennard… it wasn't in the same class some of the ND armpunts were. Meanwhile, the Odoms touchdown gets an "I be like dang."
I thought the INT was fluky; some people on the twitters disagreed. I'm not saying the batted ball was fluky, but the dude knocking it to himself and catching it… eh… doesn't happen so often. That's more on the playcall than Denard. Asking a short guy to float it over a tall guy has resulted in two interceptions this year that I'm not sure Denard can do much about other than be six inches taller or eat the ball on a screen that seems open.
There was progress.
The above was part of that. When Denard pulled up to throw to a short dude streaking across the endzone my Michigan rolodex flipped to the first interception he threw against MSU last year, where he had the exact same route open and chucked it well behind his guy.
I'm guessing Denard's DSR is in the mid-60s range he seems to have established as his Big Ten baseline. That's a step up from the days when he was struggling to complete anything against the Eastern Michigans of the world. Transition costs here seem mostly paid. Now it's about getting him that extra increment.
The rumors are not true. Do not listen to Heiko: I had nothing to do with the lack of power in Michigan Stadium. I did not make a commando raid Friday night after seeing the image of Pop Evil in the stadium and Do What Had To Be Done. I have an alibi—I was at the hockey game—and if I had done it I would have taken out the north scoreboard, where Special K's speakers are.
Way to go, whoever you are. Excellent work by random student who I assume is an engineer to start counting down the playclock after M took a false start penalty near the goal line in the first. Note that Hoke stepped forth to take blame for the penalty:
"That's on me," he said. "I should have called timeout. For me to not do that, that's bad coaching."
Second Zookian clock management incident. Coaches are always too conservative with their last timeout and this tendency bit Michigan after they ran a couple times at the end of the first half. After Robinson biffed by trying to get to the sideline instead of reading the block Toussaint had made on the closest defender, the clock burned 30 seconds before the third down snap.
I know you want to have that timeout for a field goal attempt but in a situation like this you know the clock is going to run and you're not sure that will be the case down the road. A spike is a quality option with five seconds left; not so much with 48.
This is a nit. I'm going to name my firstborn "Hoke Gametheory."
Helmet to ball. Yes, people who keep telling me about fumbles, the last few have been Michigan's doing. Not so much the ones where people just drop the ball. Terrence Robinson may have just earned a fifth year—it looks like Michigan will have room for him even if they take 28.
Fluck. Michigan's still recovering an inordinate number of the fumbles caused. No, this is not coachable.
I don't always talk about game theory*, but when I do I prefer it to be about going up 17 or 21. Last week I was totally cool with Michigan running a QB draw with Gardner on third and goal from the ten to go up 17; I was similarly cool with the field goal team running out for a chip shot on the fourth and one.
It's a similar situation: up 14 about halfway through the third quarter against a team that's struggling to move the ball. Getting that third score is all but game over. That said, Hoke made it clear in the postgame presser that they had scouted that particular situation and got the look they wanted:
Can you talk about picking the spot to fake the field goal? “We had put it in. It’s the one Penn State used against us in ’95? I think it was ’95 up there. [We] wanted it on the right hash, [and] they gave us the look that we wanted. Even if we had kicked the field goal, Drew Dileo -- having him as a holder, he’s such a smart football kid. He did a tremendous job with it. You got it, you might as well use it.”
Until he runs a fake field goal against the same team he ran a famous fake field goal the year previous—and takes a timeout before doing so—it's all good.
Less than a season into the Hoke regime it's clear his natural inclination is to be aggressive in close situations. That should pay off down the road—it hasn't so much this year because when Michigan wins they win by a lot.
BCS watch. Saturday night's events all but guarantee Michigan a spot if they take care of business on Saturday. They're now ahead of the Big 12 runner-up, which will either be a three-loss Oklahoma or an Oklahoma State team coming off back-to-back losses, one of them to Iowa State. Pecking order:
- Houston (auto)
- Big 12 runner up
- ACC runner up
You can flip Stanford and Michigan if you like. There are no scenarios that see a 10-2 Michigan left out; even if the SEC can put a third team in because of an all SEC West title game, Michigan is an easy pick over a 10-2 Arkansas. To be safe you're rooting for Okie State in Bedlam.
Now, about getting to 10-2…
[UPDATE: a reader informs me that this is misunderstanding of the way three teams get into the BCS from a single conference. #1 and #2 have to not win the conference, so LSU would have to lose to Georgia and Alabama and LSU would still have to be 1-2. That is… not impossible, actually.]
Inside the Box Score has cat photos and commentary:
In the first half, with us up 10-7, Denard threw an INT on a screen pass. I’m starting to think he’s too short to throw middle screens. Anyway, the defense responded with a Kovacs TFL, a Van Bergen pass deflection, and Demens and Martin tackling a WR on a screen for minimal yardage. It wasn’t quite the three-play sequence that bursted impetus against Illinois, but it reminded me of that. Neb had to settle for a 51 yard FG. Our defense basically said, we’ve got our O’s back.
The announcers thought Kovacs was acting a little when injured to slow down Neb’s hurry up offense. For the record, he stayed out for the duration of that series, so I don’t think he was faking. Screw you Urban Paschman for suggesting such a thing.
Are we really at the point where a team that has two injuries in a game gets accused of slowing the game down on purpose? This wasn't the Michigan State defense's fainting couch act against Iowa.
When I think of NU, I think of Northwestern. Since they have B1G seniority over Nebraska, they should get the NU acronym. That leaves either UNL or Neb for Nebraska.
Blog policy is to bestow "NU" on the winner of the NU-NU game. When not in possession of "NU," Northwestern shall be "NW" and Nebraska "UNL." It is my hope this eventually spawns a rivalry trophy: large block N and U letters that the winning team paints their colors after a victory.
Hoke For Tomorrow on various people who had good days:
Denard Robinson - The best game in a long time for our leader and best. Denard looked completely in control of the offense. He was patient, waiting for plays to develop before zinging a TD pass to Gallon or cutting behind his blockers for a TD on the ground. Best of all, Denard finally hit a receiver perfectly on an endzone bomb. He made some more questionable reads on the read option, but overall it was a great performance.
If you hit up Blue Seoul's OSU/Nebraska scouting report the Cornhuskers' long touchdown probably looked familiar:
So there you go: the coaches don't read the blog.
Unwashed blog masses. Maize and Go Blue has a newspapery recap. Schadenfreude can be had at Corn Nation's game thread and post-game thread. TTB runs down the recruiting visitors. MNBN has a wrap up. BWS talks about Rich Rodriguez. I only talk about coaches who coach for Michigan. M&GB gives thanks. So does the HSR. MGoFootball bullets.
Want a little more perspective? In its 13 games last year, Michigan gave up 458 points. Through 11 this season, they've surrendered 172. In other words, to equal the punchline that was 2010, Michigan would have to give up 144 points -- in EACH of its remaining two games (OSU and the bowl).
I am annoyed that this is followed by a reference to the scoring offense as if the defense doesn't have anything to do with putting said offense in a position to succeed. The offense has dropped off a bit, and criticisms leveled at Borges after MSU and Iowa are still valid.
Meanwhile, Touch The Banner officially enters haterz territory:
Obligatory discussion of J.T. Floyd. Nebraska's one huge play was a 54-yard touchdown bomb to Brandon Kinnie, who torched Floyd so badly that all Floyd could do was grab onto Kinnie and hope for a pass interference flag. Prior to that play, Kinnie had 19 catches for 192 yards and 0 touchdowns on the season.
This is true. Also true: that was the first 50 yard play Michigan has given up all season and the first time Floyd has been burned deep on a pass, complete or not, all year. Even Woodson got burned by Boston that one time. JT Floyd is a good corner.
WHAT MICHIGAN WON: Michigan's bid for an at-large BCS bid is still alive as the Wolverines begin preparation for Ohio State. We're told that's a rivalry. What Michigan proved beyond a shadow of a doubt is that the defense is legit. Nebraska managed just 11 first downs and 254 total yards on the day, and while that's partly a function of the turnovers, it's also a function of Michigan's performance; the Wolverines forced 10 4th downs on 13 opportunities.
And it was, if not exactly the kind of vintage "This is Michigan" mashing Brady Hoke invoked throughout the offseason, at least as close as this particular team has come to its own platonic ideal. Denard Robinson took every significant snap at quarterback, carried 23 times, looked sharp as a passer and accounted for four touchdowns. Tailback Fitzgerald Toussaint went over 100 yards on the ground for the third time in the last four games, adding a pair of scores of his own. The offense as a whole held the ball for almost 42 minutes. The defense held Nebraska to a season-low in total yards and matched a season low in points. The 'Huskers didn't convert a third down until the end of the third quarter.
In a matchup of apparent equals, the only aspect of the game Nebraska "won" — or came close to winning — was average yards per punt. And that doesn't include the punt Michigan blocked.
Media, conventional. My man Nick Baumgardner on the lopsided time of possession:
One of the residual effects of Michigan's stellar defensive day was a lopsided time of possession battle.
The Wolverines held the ball for 41:13 while Nebraska had possession for just 18:47.
"Residual effects." My man.
Jerry Palm has placed us back in his BCS predictions in an odd place:
New Orleans, La.
SEC vs. at-large
8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
|Comment: With both SEC teams in the championship game, the Sugar Bowl will need a replacement and Michigan will be very attractive. It ends up taking an undefeated Houston over the Big East champion.|
Palm has the LSU-Bama rematch as the title game, which opens up a weird slot for M. I'd rather play a running team than Case Keenum. BONUS WEIRDNESS: Palm puts Penn State in the Hawaii Bowl in place of someone else who can't fill a commitment. No idea why he thinks the #3-5 Big Ten team isn't locked into an actual Big Ten bowl. SIDE NOTE: Adding Nebraska makes the Big Ten's bowl matchups far more palatable.
This wasn't the final piece of evidence, but it certainly was the most compelling. What happened Saturday in Michigan Stadium is what used to happen. A big, physical foe rolled into town and ran smack into a wall of pads. The Wolverines' 45-17 rout of the Cornhuskers was their best game of the year, by far, and the loudest statement of the Brady Hoke era, by far.
As the final minutes ticked away, the crowd began an old-new chant. "Beat Ohio!" cascaded from the student section, in homage to Hoke, whose personal homage to the rivalry is to refer to the Buckeyes simply as "Ohio."
Beat Ohio? Uh, that's a good idea. After seven straight losses in the rivalry, Michigan (9-2) has a great chance to do it, with Ohio State (6-5) in complete disarray.
I quote him because he's the only columnist in a 500 mile radius who doesn't compulsively hit enter after each mark of punctuation. Also he had cake.
The defensive improvement is perhaps the most shocking element of Michigan's renaissance. The Wolverines did not sign a bunch of five-star freshmen who raised the talent level. They have succeeded largely with the same players who finished 2010 ranked 110th in the nation in total defense (450.8 yards per game) and 108th in the nation in scoring defense (35.2 points per game). We knew coordinator Greg Mattison could coach, but we didn't know he could work miracles. Through 11 games, the 2011 Wolverines have allowed 312.6 yards per game and 15.6 points per game. "Fundamentally and technically, they're playing what they're coached to do, and they're playing together," Hoke said of his defense. "It's been fun to watch."
The MGoBlue highlights use that frustratingly close camera angle but here they are:
Wolverine Historian has a longer reel if that's your jam. It's not as high quality as the others.
This really should have been the entire halftime show. 20 minutes of Nyancat. I also think they should replace Seven Nation Army with Nyancat. It would have the same effect on the offense that Iowa's pink locker room does.
Mattison's… interesting gesture:
If you want to know what the hell I was talking about on the twitters, the entire MMB halftime show was captured. It has not gotten good reviews, but at least they're trying to entertain. Also their pregame routine was captured.
More after the jump.
Martavious Odoms and Denard Robinson
Denard, did you have any idea that this kind of performance was in you guys today?
Denard: “Oh yeah. We play as a team and came out like we did. Of course, oh yeah.”
Martavious, can you talk about battling back from the slow start due to injury and the feeling of catching that touchdown?
Odoms: “It felt great. I got my chance. Coach called a good play. Denard threw the ball and I caught it.”
Denard, how important was field position for you guys?
Denard: “That’s the thing. We played as a team, and that’s what we needed. We got everybody executing. Those three teams [were] executing.” Were you just more comfortable today? That was probably your best game in a while. “Oh yeah. Everybody felt good today. The offensive line gave us time to do what we had to do and [gave] the running backs holes to run [through].”
Denard, can you talk about what you saw on the Odoms TD?
Denard: “Me and Martavious had a race, what, two years ago? So I saw that he can run, and he went right past the defenders and I put it in the air.”
What happened in that race?
Odoms, to Denard: “… What happened?”
Denard: “You have to tell them. You have to tell them.”
Odoms: “No, you should tell them.”
Denard: “Ah … he beat me. He got a win there. He got a win.”
Martavious, Denard gets a lot of scrutiny about his arm, but can you talk about his perfect throw from the 50 to the back of the endzone?
Odoms: “Yeah a lot of people doubt his throwing because he can run so well, but when he needs to throw and make a play, he gets the job done.”
Your reaction to the “Beat Ohio” chant in the fourth quarter?
Odoms: “I knew it was coming. I was prepared for it.”
Denard: “We have to celebrate this one first. Tomorrow we’ll be on Ohio.”
Denard, you had the chance to talk to Lavonte David. What did you guys have to say?
Denard:“I told him to keep going and have a great rest of the season.”
Fitz had another great game. Can you talk about how he’s grown in the past four weeks?
Denard: “I mean, I knew he was a physical running back, and once he gets into an open field he can make guys miss and run the ball. I think he’s been ready. He just had a couple injuries.”
Was any part of Nebraska’s defensive play a surprise to you?
Denard: “I mean, it’s always a little surprise, but we kind of adjusted -- coach adjusted well and called some great plays, and we executed.”
Denard, today you matched Tom Brady’s 35 career touchdown passes. Thoughts?
Denard: “Oh I didn’t know that. I’m not a big stats guy, so I’m going out there having fun with my team, so that’s the biggest thing.”
Looking at where the season started to where you guys are now, especially given the expectations externally, how does it feel to be 9-2 heading into the Ohio State game?
Denard: “I can’t tell you how it is outside, because inside I know everybody in here knew we could have a great season this year, that we would go and do some special things this year. That’s the biggest thing everybody knew. We worked hard all offseason and that’s it.”
How big was the roughing the kicker penalty in terms of momentum?
Denard: “Oh that was big. The offense we knew we had to take care of the ball and do what we had to do.”
Martavious, did you feel like you were close to breaking a long run?
Odoms: “Yeah, I think I was really close to breaking through. There’s always the guy that I don’t see that so happens to trip my leg or hit me.”
Was this the best special teams performance you’ve had in a long time?
Odoms: “I wouldn’t say that.”
Is there another game that stands out more?
Odoms: “Um … not really. I mean, I feel like on special teams we really take pride and Coach Hoke takes pride in special teams. People just go hard on special teams and [in] regular play. I think special teams is a really big part of the game. It’s most of the game, really.”
Denard, did you appreciate the crowd counting down the play clock when the scoreboards weren’t working in the first quarter?
Denard: “Yeah, that was the biggest thing. I was supposed to send someone as soon as I walked in about it (Ed: I think that’s what he said. Denard was speaking Florida here.) I mean, I appreciate the fans helping us out because we really needed it. Shout out to the fans and I hope they’ll be ready next week.”
Denard, you can win 10 games, beat Notre Dame, Nebraska, and maybe Ohio State next week, but you can’t play for the Big Ten title. Can you talk about the good vs. bad of that?
Denard: “We can only control what we can control, so that’s the only thing we worry about. We worry about playing Ohio next week.”
Martavious, have you ever seen Terrence Robinson make a hit like that in practice? Can you talk about the emphasis on special teams?
Odoms: “We have some pretty fast people on our team, and Terrence Robinson is one of them. He does a great job on special teams getting down there. We knew if he gets down there he can make a hit, and that’s what he did.”
Denard, can you talk about cashing in our your opportunities today compared with last week when you were unable a couple times?
Denard: “We still think we had missed opportunities today, too. We have to still grow and start putting the ball in the endzone when we need to.”
Can you talk about the momentum going into the Ohio State game that may not have been there the past couple years?
Odoms: “Like Denard said, everybody knows what next week is. We’re just going to enjoy this one and prepare for next week when the time comes.”
Denard: “I feel the same way. We have to enjoy this win and tomorrow we’ll be preparing for Ohio.”
Do you feel this is the highest level you’ve played at in years?
Denard: “Not that Michigan has played at.”
Since you guys have been here.
Odoms: “I mean, games are up and down so you really can’t tell if you played at your highest level. When you feel like you played at your highest level, you go watch film and you didn’t do so well. Can’t really say.”
Is the team playing as well as it has since you’ve been here?
Denard: “You could say that because all three of the teams are playing well.”
Mark Huyge and Fitzgerald Toussaint
You guys held the ball for 40 minutes. How important was that?
Huyge: “Yeah I know for a fact that our defense plays better when they have a limited amount of time on the field. I didn’t know we held the ball for 40 minutes. It’s a good deal. Uh, yeah. It’s great when special teams can contribute like they did. I swear every time we’d come off the field and sure enough we’d be right back on with a quick turnover or a three-and-out. It’s a good deal.”
Both of you guys heard about the “Blackshirts” defense and watched them on film. Were they as advertised?
Toussaint: “I would say it was a very physical game, but we prepared all week for this game and we knew what was coming and we expected everything we were given.”
Huyge: “It was very physical up front. The main thing was that we knew we had to be physical throughout and just try to wear them down. With the time of possession, I think that helped.”
Can you talk about how the running game has evolved from the start of the season?
Toussaint: “I would say a little bit more execution. Up front the guys handled their business. We prepared for these moments, and that’s what happened.”
How much did the turnovers help your psyche today?
Huyge: “It’s great. I mean, we can get turnovers and even though you’re on the bench and you don’t expect it, I’ll take it any day of the week. Just to be able to run out there with great field position as an offense, we know we have to get it done once we get down in there.”
Hoke has said this is the most well-rounded game you’ve played. What’s the cause of that?
Toussaint: “I would have to say it’s more teamwork. Organize the team and focusing mainly on unity.”
Huyge: “Yeah, execution. Just executing on every play and in all three phases.”
Why is that better now than earlier in the year?
Huyge: “Maybe just time. More games, get more experience.”
Thoughts on “Beat Ohio” chant? Also, the fact that fans are calling them Ohio rather than Ohio State?
Huyge: “It’s going to be a big one next week. We’ll enjoy this one for a little bit, but the whole emphasis starting back in January when these guys got here was this game coming up. We’ll be really looking forward to them, and we’ll be ready.”
Re: Denard, there’s a lot of criticism about his quarterbacking. Can you talk about his game today as a runner and a passer?
Huyge: “Well Denard … I love playing for Denard. I really do, because I know in the run game he makes stuff happen all the time. In the pass game, he can pull the ball down and run, too. When he threw that ball to Martavious Odoms in the endzone there, that was a great throw and a great catch. That was something that we need.”
Mark, how much confidence does this win give you going into next week?
Huyge: “Well, it does give us a lot of confidence. In the past -- and I don’t want to bring up the past -- but past seasons we haven’t been playing well in November. It’s very important to be playing well at the end of the year. It’s a definite boost for sure.”
In the last couple weeks, you’ve really gotten the ground game going. How does that change the offensive scheme?
Toussaint: “I wouldn’t think it changes any schemes. It’s just the way we prepare and the guys up front execute.”
After you lost to Michigan State, guys like Mike Martin and Jordan Kovacs said this year was different and there would be no second-half collapse. Why was it different?
Huyge: “I think it’s just an emphasis of getting better every week, where improvement was the key. You had to put the one behind that you lost and the fact that that was our main goal was to get better. We knew if we got better in November we’d be playing better football, and that’s obviously what’s shown.”
Molk said Monday that last year the philosophy on offense was “score score score” because the defense couldn’t stop anyone. How does the success of defense change how this offense operates?
Huyge: “It gives us more confidence, that’s for sure, that we know that if we do mess up or have a three-and-out, we can rely on our defense to make plays. Obviously they’ve been doing that all season, and special teams, too. That was huge.”
Senior legacies and rivalry games -- what does Saturday mean for that legacy?
Huyge: “It’s a big one. It’s a big one for all of us seniors, and I’m really looking forward to it.”
Either of you guys catch yourself peeking at that countdown clock?
Toussaint: “Everyday. Everyday.”
Huyge: “You walk in that building it’s right there.”
Toussaint: “It’s right in your face. Can’t miss it.”
Do you guys do anything related to beating Ohio State throughout the year?
Huyge: “Yeah the emphasis is definitely on Ohio. When we bring it up in meetings, we talk about it everyday.”
You might not have been aware, but the power was out in Michigan Stadium. (surprised laughs) Could you hear the crowd chanting the play clock? Did it affect you guys not being able to see the play clock on that side of the field?
Huyge: “Well after the first little mishap, I think Denard didn’t know which ref had the signal that was making the calls, but yeah, you could hear it, 'Five, four, three, two,' and I’m like, 'Snap the ball … snap the ball …' ”
Mike Martin and Jordan Kovacs
Mike, can you talk about Ryan Van Bergen’s impact the last few weeks?
Martin: “Yeah, he’s stepping up. The whole line up front is doing a great job of communicating and executing. Ryan does a great job on the vocal side of things. Helps us execute, and we all do a great job echoing the call so we can all play tough.”
How much did you focus on stopping the option?
Martin: “Yeah that was one of the main focuses we had during the week. Preparation was key and talk about that everyday on our team. Beginning Sunday to Monday watching film and getting looks from our scout team -- they did a great job. So I feel like we prepared well and it showed on the field.”
Anything you saw on film that made you think you could do certain things?
Martin: “You know, a few things -- coach does a great job of tweaking things week to week and giving them a different look on our side of it. For us to be able to execute and attack them differently with keeping in mind how dangerous they are on the perimeter with the option and everything, that was big for us.”
You’ve played in the first night game, now first game against Nebraska. In games like this, is it important to make a statement, or is it more like “another game, another win?”
Kovacs: “I mean, coming into the game we knew it was going to be a big game, both [teams] coming into the game 8-2. We want to make a statement every time we take the field. We knew it was going to be a big game, and we played pretty well in all three facets of the game, and we earned this one, so we’re excited about it.”
Hoke says this is first time you’ve played in all three phases. Why are you peaking now this late in the season?
Kovacs: “I just think we’re all starting to click. Defensively, we’re gaining some confidence every game. We’re improving every game. The offense did a nice job of complementing us. They did a good job of holding onto the ball and making some big plays when they had to. They moved the chains on third down, which always helps. And you can’t say enough about the special teams. Any time you cause two turnovers, it’s kind of tough to lose a game like that. I think you have to take your hat off to those guys. Offense, special teams, and defense played well. There’s a few plays we’d like to take back, but we’re always looking to impove, but we’re excited about next week.”
You’re allowing three touchdowns fewer per game this year compared with last year. You’re basically the same players. How does that happen so quickly?
Martin: “It’s always going to be in the back of your mind, but this is a new year. Really our mindset has just completely changed 360. This senior group, and this team, they learned when coach Hoke and the staff came that we were going to have to buy in. It really started from our winter conditioning, summer conditioning, fall camp, all those different phases leading up to the season, and now it’s showing with our focus and our dedication to this team and this coaching staff. We know we’re getting better, but the season is far from being over. We still have a lot of work to put in, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Kovacs: “Just to piggyback off that question, it’s guys like Mike and Van Bergen stepping up and being great leaders for our defense and for our team as a whole. But the same time I think our offense helps us out a lot. Anytime you’re not on the field as a defense, they can’t score too many points on you, so I think they do a great job holding the ball and moving the chains. They aren’t doing that hurry-up tempo anymore, so I think that’s really helped us out.”
After the Michigan State game, you talked about being out-physicaled and out-toughed. Is that what you did to Nebraska’s offense today?
Kovacs: “We knew that they were going to be a physical team, and that the tougher team, the more physical team, was going to win this game. To a certain extent, I think we played pretty physical, but like I said, there’s always some lapses and always some plays that you’d like to have back. I think that’s still an area that we need to improve on everyday.”
Jordan, can you talk about how huge this win is for this program, and where does it rank in your career?
Kovacs: “This was a big win. Huge. I can’t stress that enough. Like I said, we knew it was going to be a big game coming in. I think that this is the best win that we’ve had since I’ve been on the team just because it’s so late in the year. I don’t think that we’ve ever had a game this late in November that really meant as much as this one. I think it was a big for us. We played well in all facets of the game, and it was a fun win. I guess we’re looking forward to next week.”
Mike, how different will this week feel knowing that you’re on par/favored going against Ohio State for the first time since forever?
Martin: “Yeah, well, like I’ve said before, the mindset of this defense and this team is on a whole n'other level this year. We’ve had young guys step up. We’ve had great leadership with the seniors. A lot of juniors and the underclassment have gotten a lot of time. It’s really just putting all those pieces together knowing that we can play Michigan defense and Michigan football for a full 60 minutes. That’s what you need to win football games, because you can’t start a game out strong and not finish it. We’ve done those things before, and it’s never worked out. I feel like we’ve improved as a team each week, and we have to make sure we take a positive step for this week coming up.”
Can you talk about the pride that special teams players take in their job since most of them are backups? Also, their impact on this game?
Kovacs: “I think all special teams players take a lot of pride in that facet of the game because a lot of those guys don’t play on offense or defense so that’s their contribution to the game. I think a handful of them are walk-ons as well, so they’re excited to get out there and play in the Big House and wear that winged helmet. I think they played great today. They made a huge impact and caused some turnovers, and I think they won us the game.”
“Beat Ohio” chant ftw. Thoughts?
Martin: “We all know what next week has in store for us and this program. That’s the end of November, that’s the deal. This stadium, this team, and all of us, we’re just going to enjoy the win tonight, but tomorrow get focusing on Ohio, and that’s something that we’ve done each week for every single team. This is a huge game for our legacy as a team, for this senior group, for team 132. We just have to make sure we finish the season out the way we want to, the way we’ve envisioned the whole season.”
Jordan, you’re an Ohio guy. What does this game mean to you?
Kovacs: “I think that as the game winded down the last minute and a half, and we were kneeing the ball, I think that everyone was thinking that in the back of their heads, like, ‘All right. This was a big win, but it’s on to the next one.’ We’re excited about it. Like Mike said, this was a huge win today. We’re going to enjoy it for the next few hours, and then we’re going to come in tomorrow focused and ready to improve and ready to get after Ohio.”
Is it different going into the Ohio State game this season than in years past?
Martin: “I believe, especially as we progress through this season, this team has taken major positive steps. It’s showed every single week we’ve made an improvement. We know what our capabilities are as a team. We know [that if] we play together, play as a team, that good things are going to happen. We have to complement each other.”
Is there any extra punishment this week if you slip up and say “Ohio State” instead of “Ohio”?
Kovacs: “Not that I know.”
Martin: “I don’t know. This week’s going to be an intense week. I don’t know if any of you media want to come to practice. I don’t think you guys will be able to make it. This will be a good one.”
Mike, can you talk more about shutting Nebraska down on the perimeter?
Martin: “We knew how dangerous they were, the weapons that they had, Martinez and Burkhead. We knew we had to attack them a certain way. We took advantage of the strengths that we have on our side of it. I believe we did a great job with executing. We had a few plays here and there that we wish we could have had back. That’s something that we have to improve on and we will do that, but overall I feel like we did a great job executing.”
Did you feel like you were successful in accomplishing what you set out to do when the first half ended and Burkhead didn’t have very many yards?
Martin: “I have no clue what he had at hafltime, but I knew that we were playing together and we were playing hard. We were having fun playing defense and playing Michigan defense. We knew we had another half at that point to play. You clock in for 60 minutes, you have to make sure you finish them all out.”
What does it mean that this week will be intense? How much more intense than normal?
Martin: “Everyone knows how big this game is. From our side of it, from the other side of it -- that’s what makes it such a great game, because of how much time’s put in, how much it means to each program, and really playing this great game of football in the month of November. Can’t get better than that. This week has to be one of our best weeks of preparation, period. That’s what it needs to be.”
Can you talk about last night’s team meeting? You were tweeting photos.
Martin: “Today we honored the armed services for everything they do. We’ve embodied and embraced some of their principles and things that they believe in on their team. You can never compare it -- what those guys do is something that is just amazing, but accountability and the different essences of teamwork are something that we adopted, so they visited us, talked to our team, really gave us a few words of wisdom, and it meant a lot. They gave us a couple of their tridents that represent the U.S. Navy Seals. That’s something that represents what they embody. That meant a lot to us as a team.”
Just to follow up, from “Beat Ohio State” to “Beat Ohio” -- is that something you immediate adopted because of your head coach? Is “Ohio State” forbidden?
Kovacs: “That’s what he calls them, so that’s what we call them.”
Can you talk about the uniqueness of Greg Mattison’s defensive scheme?
Kovacs: “He brings an unbelievable scheme. Obviously he was coaching with the Ravens before and he’s established an NFL defense here. I think that we do a pretty good job disguising and giving them a bunch of different looks and giving the quarterback something to think about. But at the same time I think our D-line has really been playing great so far. They really help us out on the back end. You can’t tip your hat off enough to those guys up front.”
Mike, has it hit you that this is your last time preparing to play at the Big House?
Martin: “That’s something that I’ve been thinking about for the past few weeks here. That’s why you have to take each day for what it is. It means a lot. You always tell those younger guys it’s going to fly by. You never listen, though. I didn’t listen. But this is huge for our program, for our seniors. Really I thought about my last time having clam chowder at the Campus Inn, because that’s the D-line’s favorite thing to eat on Friday. This is going to be huge, and we have to work hard this week.”
Can you talk about the importance of special teams today? “Well that was a big part of -- it always is a big part of every game, but to be able to knock some balls loose and start with great field position is a good thing for us. Obviously offensively having a short field, I thought that was a big part of what our kids were doing and what helped us today.”
How happy are you with all three phases of today’s game? “Well it’s probably as well as we’ve played with all three phases. We still had some opportunities from an offensive standpoint that we didn’t take advantage. Then we don’t field a punt and [it] backs us up, then we’re kicking with a short field … there’s always something. I can sit up here and go on a long time about that, but as a group, they played with a great toughness and complemented each other well. I thought the guys up front offensively were really working hard to make things happen. Fitz did a nice job. Denard did a nice job. Defensively, our front seven played well.”
With everything that was going on today, did you feel an additional pressure to win? “No. No. We’re going to win the game. We’re going to fight and compete and coach and motivate and do all those things.”
What did you do differently in kickoff coverage this week? “We really didn’t do anything differently. We challenged our guys, which you always do. For them to outcompete the guy they’re playing against. T-Rob hit him and the ball came out, and Cam hit him and the ball came out -- it was really just playing and competing as best we could, every guy who was in that locker room.” Were they going harder? “You know, I don’t know if they were going harder. It looked like about the same speed we do going down.”
How big was the blocked punt and converting it into a touchdown in terms of momentum? “That was huge. When he kind of dropped it there and ran -- yeah. Field position again is a huge part of it. We capitalized on a mistake in there that happened. The hustle that the guys showed, I thought, was great.”
Talk about Denard’s poise in the pocket and the challenge of having to run plays without a play clock in the beginning? “Well, you know, a couple things. Number one, I think the one thing we could do as a coaching staff and as an offense is make sure that we’re getting the plays in as quickly as we could. We had to make sure the huddle was set as quickly as we could get it set. If you’re a receiver or one of those guys coming in and out, you’re hustling on the field or off the field -- those personnel groups. The first one, the penalty we had, that’s on me. I should have called a timeout. For me not to do that, that’s bad coaching. I thought he did a tremendous job.”
How much has this defense grown since January? “The seniors on that defense have done a tremendous job. They’re prideful kids, the Mike Martins, Van Bergens, Woolfolks. We from day one have said that we are going to play and coach for our seniors. I think the young guys understand that and I just think fundamentally and technically they’re playing what they’re coached to do, and they’re playing together. That’s been fun to watch.”
How were you able to limit Burkhead? Was there anything you saw on film? “No. You’re just doing your job. If you’re a nose tackle you’re getting a double or a base reach. You have to play the base reach and get off and make plays. We talked about because of the physicalness that he likes to run the football with, that we wanted to try and get 11 guys to the ball all the time.”
Is that the best you’ve seen Denard play since you got here? “I don’t know. I’d have to rewatch it probably. I thought he did a nice job managing our offense. I think he took advantage of some creases that he found in there and accelerated through them pretty well.”
Could you have dreamt of a better way to welcome Nebraska to the Big House and the B1G? “Well I don’t know. They want to win, we want to win. It doesn’t matter if it’s Nebraska or Slippery Rock. We want to win the football game. I’m just being honest about it. We have a lot of respect for Nebraska. The pride and the tradition that they have. Bo Pelini is an excellent football coach. They’re a good football team.”
Can you comment on the time of possession disparity (42 min to 18 min)? “You play really good defense when you get to watch your offense. Believe me, and that’s part of it. Our offense, not every game, but having a little bit of an advantage in time of possession. One of our best defensive calls is them on the field. And then you look at the defense, I think we were 3 of 13 defending them in third down conversions -- you’re helping yourself defensively and getting off the field.”
With six minutes to go, the crowd was chanting “Beat Ohio, Beat Ohio.” Thoughts? “Well, we’re going to really go to work on that tomorrow. But that’s our next opponent.”
Can you talk about the momentum you have going into the Ohio State game? “You know, we won two in a row, right? There’s another to go win.”
Is this as close you’ve come to play the kind of football you envisioned when you started? “You know, we definitely want to run the football. We want to control it. We want to take care of the football from that standpoint. And we want to play defense as 11. We want to play defense where we’re stopping the run and then putting people in situations where they feel they have to throw the football. That’s where some of the uniqueness of what Greg does has been good for us.”
Can you talk about picking the spot to fake the field goal? “We had put it in. It’s the one Penn State used against us in ’95? I think it was ’95 up there. [We] wanted it on the right hash, [and] they gave us the look that we wanted. Even if we had kicked the field goal, Drew Dileo -- having him as a holder, he’s such a smart football kid. He did a tremendous job with it. You got it, you might as well use it.”
Thoughts on how Denard played on third down? “Well I thought he did a nice job. Believe me, because we were making low yardage on first down and on second down we went backwards a couple times. When you get into a situation [with] those longer third downs, I thought he was very accurate with the ball when he was throwing it. I think the throw that he made for the touchdown to Martavious Odoms was as good as a throw I’ve seen him make, especially on a long ball. It was a great catch by Martavious, but that’s where he had to put the ball.”
You’ve emphasized Ohio State since the first press conference. Why is this going to be different, and how does it feel to go into it with nine wins? “Well I think any time that rivalry is played, and believe me, we appreciate it always at the end of November. We have tremendous respect for that football team and that program and that school. It’s exciting."
"It's exciting! You get excited! Look!”
When you hear the fans chanting it, does it get you a little charged up? “Well it’s eight days, less than eight days.”
Defending the option, whose responsibility was it mostly? “Well it was more the ends. Our ends did a nice job on the quarterback. We tried to keep the backers inside because of what they were doing with the zone part of it and put it on the two ends. The one he got out earlier in the game, our end didn’t do the job he should have.”
Did you change some things on offense? Seems like Denard was making more checks at the line. “No. Not really. It was about normal.”
Don’t hate me, but as much as you guys dominated today, there’s a certain team down the road that won, so does that taint this victory at all? “Not at all. Not at all. We had our opportunities. Part of competitive sport and competitive life is you have to take advantage of the opportunities. So no. I really don’t hate anybody.”
Denard looked really patient in the pocket and made some good decisions. Is that the Denard you usually see in practice? “You know, I think he was a little bit beat up in the mid-year with some ailments, but I think he’s healthy now. I think he’s more confident. One thing I can tell is he’s taken ownership as a leader. That’s neat to see.”
Opening remarks: “This is a little nicer press room than I remember.”
What’s it like being at a postgame press conference? “It’s exciting. It’s exciting to be down on the field at the end of the game. I told Dave Brandon before the game, before the ceremony -- you look around that stadium, and there’s no place in the world like it. To see such a great effort, a total team effort today, a great victory over an outstanding football team was a great day.
Can you comment on the play today? “Well I agree with whatever coach Hoke says. But that was fun. I was hoping on fourth down down there that we would go for it. He sent the field goal team in and ran that fake. I thought that was a big, big play in the game. It was well executed. And there were lots of good plays -- kicking game, defense -- outstanding game. Scored a lot of points.”
Talk about the job Brady Hoke has done to get this team to a 9-2 record. “Well I think it’s remarkable. Any transition is about finding out a lot of things that you don’t know about your players, and the players finding out about the coaches. But I think, when I look at that team today, they’ve consistently played very good defense, and I think the transition offensively has been good. When you realize we’re two losses, both of which we had chances to win -- I don’t think you could ask the coaching staff and a team to do a better job than this team has done. This is just wonderful to see. I mean, you talk about every phase of the game … what I look at is the intensity with which they play. They’ve given up very few big plays this year, and here we go into the last game of the season with a lot to play for and great momentum. This team has started to believe in itself. Coming back here today, that crowd was outstanding, and they’ll be outstanding again next week.”
The fifth year seniors were players you recruited and were on the team during your last year. Did you get a chance to talk to them after the game? “Well I have run into a few of them during this season. I’ve just tried to tell them how proud of them I am, what they’ve done. They persevered. On any team your senior leadership is a critical issue, so I think it speaks to what those kids have done this year. It’s been exciting to watch them.”
Do you miss being on the sideline? “Yeah. Yeah. When you’re part of a great victory, there’s nothing like it. But I’m so happy for Brady and the staff and the players, because Michigan football is -- we’re where we want to be.”
Did you get any jabs from the Nebraska fans about the ’97 championship during your tribute? “The tribute -- and I’ve said this and it’s true, if you coach at a place like Michigan with great tradition -- and the players that played for me were outstanding players but great people and people who were unselfish who put the team first. That’s how a coach gets selected for the hall of fame. That’s certainly my case. I had great, great players and great, great people.”
(Ed: If you were wondering, the answer is no, Lloyd did not answer the question)
A lot has been said of “Michigan football.” Did today feel like Michigan football is back? “Yeah I think it was a loud statement. Great defense. I’ll tell you, that’s what I expected from a Nebraska team. They’ve always been a very very physical team, played great defense, run the football. But as I looked at this game, that’s a hard-hitting football team … it was what you want to see in a football team from the standpoint of our performance.”
Prediction for next week? “Whatever Brady says.”
[Hoke will be up shortly. Players tomorrow morning.]
Nine wins? Annihilating a ranked team? Going into an Ohio State game favored? Muppets.
And you can't have one without the other…
GERG MINUS ALL OF THE POINTS