to play football, not to play trumpet
9/17/2010 – Michigan 42, UMass 37 – 3-0
Well… at least it wasn't as grim as it looked a with about a minute before halftime, when my head was in my hands and I could feel the cave feces covering my body as I wished for a merciful death. Maybe an albino salamander would crawl down my throat or something. Then the offense did a large number of very fast things and the defense managed to stop the UMass offense like once or twice and then they managed to not quite blow it at the end.
And so here we are. If you ever wanted to know what it would have been like if Michigan had made that field goal at the end of The Horror you have your answer: not at all good but approximately a trillion times better than the alternative. The stanktastic defensive performance was exactly what Michigan fans feared was going to happen after every defensive back within hailing distance of the two deep exploded, except worse. I kind of expected Wisconsin might put up 37 points on a series of long, grinding drives. Not so much a team that launched a stirring comeback to nip William & Mary.
That combined with the pratfall by UConn against Temple and Notre Dame's admittedly delicious overtime punking leaves an uncomfortable taste in the mouth. Last year around this time I was surveying the outlook after Michigan got significantly outgained by Indiana but escaped by the skin of their teeth. The game column was sarcastically titled "The Soaring Majesty!":
Since we didn't [lose], we should all just breathe a sigh of relief, recalibrate expectations back down a little bit, and move on. Michigan's not at a point where any win against any Big Ten team is one to freak out about. The freshmen quarterbacks remain freshmen and it's becoming clear that the defense has about the same raw talent level that last year's offense had. The only thing keeping them from plunging off a deep, dark cliff is the fact that no position on defense is as singularly important as quarterback is on offense.
Michigan didn't win a game against a non-seal opponent the rest of the year. It was this much fun: no fun.
This is the point where I take a finger, insert it into the collar of my shirt, and make an uncomfortable facial expression David Letterman has mastered and is impossible to Google. (What do you type, "Letterman shirt uncomfortable"? "Letterman neck trick"?)Just imagine you're wearing a tie and your boss has called you into his office during a period of right-sizing and you're a big vaudeville buff. It's like that.
It's like that because of the following facts:
- Jonathan Hernandez had 114 yards on 26 carries with a long of 15.
- John Griffin had 96 yards on 17 carries with a long of 19.
- Kyle Havens went 22 of 29 for 222 yards with a long of 19.
That is a complete demolition at the hands of a I-AA team without even blowing it big. UMass got two short fields when Michigan had a punt blocked and Cam Gordon fumbled an interception, but even dropping those out of the equation UMass drives went FG, punt, TD, punt, TD, fumble, punt, TD, INT; both of the short field drives started around the 25 and ended in Michigan's endzone. And at no point did they get a cheap touchdown due to a secondary implosion. They just ground down the field as if Michigan was the I-AA team. Given the level of competition, it's probably the worst defensive performance of the Rodriguez era, and that's saying something. If not for the Post-Apocalyptic Oregon Game we'd be reaching back to Bump's days to find something worse. The parallels to last year are scary.
I can tell you to look at the yardage and feel better, which still works for me to some extent. Michigan still didn't outgain a BCS opponent until the Purdue game in 2009 and they have a demolition of UConn to their name. I can tell you to look at what Purdue and Indiana and Illinois are doing and count to seven that way and then rely on someone else (MSU? Iowa? Penn State?) getting Denarded for the eighth win that would officially exceed expectations, and that helps too. I can point to Iowa's 2009 season, which started out with a one-point win over Northern Iowa in which the Hawkeyes were outgained and had to block two(!) field goals on consecutive plays to avoid the killer upset. Four games later Iowa survived 24-21 against Arkansas State; they ended the year by whipping Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl.
All of these things say football is weird and last weekend was probably an aberration and Michigan's defense will be bad but probably not that bad. But it's hard to shake the feeling of deja vu. We jumped out of a plane and went WOOOOOO because everything is fast and fun and now we're trying to ignore the feeling that the parachute might have transferred to West Virginia. Again.
But at least there's Denard, right? Right. The silver lining to all of this is that he's going to have insane stats because Michigan's got no choice. That's the ticket.
Pulaski time. This has been kicking around message boards and my head since I was annoyed that Michigan threw the ball on third and six early in the game and then whiffed another field goal: given the situation, should Michigan emulate that Arkansas high school team that never, ever punts? Consider:
- The offense is pretty awesome, making a successful fourth-down conversion worth more points than it would be if it was still 2008.
- The defense is pretty terrible, making the loss of field position from an unsuccessful conversion less of an issue than it would be with a defense more likely to stop the opponent. A good defense is more likely to get you the ball back approximately where you booted it from; Michigan's is likely to get you the ball back via kickoff.
- Will Hagerup spent the ND game shanking balls into the stands and dropped a snap against UMass, getting his punt blocked.
- The field goal kickers are 1 of 4 and Rodriguez is openly pleading for any student, clueless or not, to try out.
So… yeah. When the Mathlete did a study with his enormous database of plays he concluded that 1) your defense has no impact on the decision (something I disagree with) and 2) that if your offense is good the light is almost always green:
Maybe some of the Mathlete's assumptions are wrong there (he gives an across-the-board 10% increase in conversion percentage) but even an average offense should be going on fourth and medium anywhere near midfield; Michigan is looking considerably better than average.
I'm hoping Rodriguez starts playing with going on fourth down in mind. If anyone was ever going to test the limits of Romer-ian game theory it would be this Michigan team. It's NCAA '11 time.
Probably no need to get alarmed for next week at least. Bowling Green is 1-2 with losses to Tulsa and Troy with a win coming last week over Marshall. In that game, Marshall's QB chucked four interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns. MGoUser BGwolverine13 has some information on their season to date. It sounds like the starting quarterback will sit out this week after suffering a concussion, which is doubly bad for BG since their rushing offense is currently 111th nationally at 2.7 YPC.
Is it sad that we're talking about this? Yes.
Yeah, pretty much.
What happened? Michigan's first two opponents went down to defeat over the weekend, too, seriously damaging their value when it comes to projecting the future. You probably know what went down in the MSU-ND game, but UConn losing to Temple 30-16 hurts.
How did that happen? Well, the Huskies did outgain Temple by 34 yards. (WOO!) They went from 16-14 up to 27-16 down via a fumble return touchdown and a four-yard touchdown drive after a big punt return. Zach Frazer appears to be pure awful (4.8 YPA) and their defense grim in all phases. Temple RB Bernard Pierce had 169 yards on 26 carries and his long was just 38; UConn is not good.
Meanwhile, the ND-MSU game was as dead even as you would expect an overtime game to be. Michigan State ended up outgaining ND 477-461, with the final 29 yards for MSU coming on the trick play that's going to make TWIS so fun this afternoon. Notre Dame's defense was thoroughly gashed by land and sea, giving up 203 yards on 43 carries and allowing Kirk Cousins to complete 23 of 33 passes. ND ran Armando Allen just 13 times despite the fact he is very good and was picking up 5.5 yards a crack; Dayne Crist was 32 of 55 for a bunch of yards, one INT, and 4 TDs. The teams had 13 possessions each.
Conclusion? Michigan State is about Michigan's equal and the game will be a shootout nailbiter.
Goals met? On defense obviously none. On special teams obviously none. Jeremy Gallon is on a streak of five straight terrible decisions on difficult punts to field and should either be replaced or given a return buddy who hangs out ten yards in front of him and fields the crappy ones.
On offense, we did see the healthy and productive return of Junior Hemingway. Taylor Lewan got in and was reportedly mauling people, which okay I-AA team but still that's an encouraging sign when your freshman tackle gets in to replace a guy who's played well so far. And Michael Shaw put up some of those yard things that Denard always gets. We did not get to see Cox, Toussaint, or Hopkins, unfortunately. (Toussaint may still be injured. He dressed but was only participating in some drills before the game.)
The one important thing that Michigan seemed to establish is the existence of a Denard deep ball. UMass was playing tight man coverage most of the day and Denard went deep twice to beat it, hitting Kelvin Grady on a deep seam and Stonum on a fly route. Both balls were well thrown. If you add that to the rest of the stuff Denard can do, hoo boy.
A note on the interception: he had Roundtree open for a touchdown but did the same thing he did against ND where he threw the ball on a line, allowing a safety to come underneath it and deflect it to the guy running a step or two behind Roundtree.
Lloyd-ballin' it note. Hated the third and one iso to Vincent Smith, though not getting it wasn't Smith's fault since there was an unblocked guy tearing in from the edge. But the whole advantage of having a running quarterback is that you get that extra blocker, which seems most useful on third and one. Michigan should have a version of Gator Heavy where Koger, Webb, and whichever RB they think is the best blocker line up to the same side of the formation and they just Tebow their way forward.
The Hoover Street Rag tries to maintain calm:
Now, all of the said, consider, if you will, where a Michigan fan might be standing right now. Since September 1, 2007, you have seen your team play 40 games. In that time span as of this weekend, you have seen your team win as many games as they have lost. Twenty Saturdays up, twenty Saturdays down. Twenty times happy, twenty times sad. You have seen hope crushed in the waking moments of a new rising sun. You have seen hope's corpse taken out back and burned repeatedly. You've seen redemption come from unlikely sources. You've seen a cold night in Champaign. You've seen a darn near miracle in Orlando. You've seen a comeback like nothing you've seen before in Ann Arbor. You've seen another quarterback in orange and blue leave flame trails behind him like a time-traveling DeLorean. You've seen a walk-on save the Jug. You've seen a freshman led an unlikely comeback in a shootout. You've seen all hope die on four chances from the one. You've seen an invasion of red into the Big House. You've seen a sophomore do things we only thought that other teams did to Michigan. You've seen 20 wins and 20 losses.So maybe this is why Saturday's performance doesn't bother me. It was a win. The gap between "survives upset bid" or "gets a scare from an FCS school" and losing is a chasm visible from space. We've been on the other side of that chasm, or perhaps more accurately at the bottom of it.
"We were terrible on defense," Roh said. "We just didn't look like we were prepared to play and we didn't make adjustments during the game.
"I promise you'll not see another game like that from us again."
From Roh's lips to Tebow's ears.
A few notes: Ohio State and Alabama are still the top two, and without too much useful information to separate them, I left them in their previous order, although there's a legit argument for Alabama being #1 now. On that note, Oregon is far and away #3, and if they can continue their hot streak when they run into legit competition, they could make a run for the top of the table.
Nebraska is also rocketing toward the top behind Taylor Martinez. However, they don't play any truly legit competition (depending on how you classify Washington) for y a month, when they'll take on Texas.
Arkansas moves up for beating Georgia on the road. I may be a little irrationally exuberant on them, since their other two wins are bottom-feeders, and Georgia currently sits at 1-2. Please advice.
LSU moves up for no real reason, as the only legit team they've played all year (North Carolina) sits 0-2 on the year, and the Tigers should be expected to take care of Mississippi State on the road. They'll probably move down in the final ballot.
West Virginia moves down despite a convincing win because they Marshall team that took them to overtime just got pasted by... Bowling Green. Maybe the Maryland win should be considered impressive enough to keep them were they were.
Michigan moves down for Saturday's debacle, although I'm still holding out hope that the poor defensive play was something of an anomaly. Michigan State sticks where they were for an overtime win against a decent opponent.
Uh, well… hmmmm. You probably won't want to watch a ton of them, but yeah. Here's Denard's Gameday feature:
And the Big Ten Icons item on Charles Woodson, featuring Keith Jackson:
Somehow Woodson finished 20th, which like lol ok.
Press conferences and some other bits after the jump.
Not pleased with the way they played, but happy with the win. All three phases of the game had letdowns. "As quiet a winning locker room as you'll ever see."
"I can promise our guys will look at the film, coaches will look at the film, I'll watch everything on all three phases." "Defensively we thought they would pressure us a little bit" so Denard couldn't run. Has to talk to D coaches to see if UMass did surprising stuff. "They're pretty good up front."
Nobody was injured outside of Banks, and his injury isn't serious.
Take what they give us. Stonum made plays, Shaw stepped up. Not worried about starters being tired because they only played 56 snaps.
3-4, 4-3 shift "We saw the same thing last week." Switch just about every other snap. "That's kinda part for the course. Our guys have seen that." UMass adjusted at the second half. UMass played a lot of cover-0, gave up lots of 1-on-1 opportunities. Maybe Michigan should have taken even more deep shots. Wanted to run to give the D a break.
"[Denard] was pretty sharp with his eyes and his decisions." Ball-handling was the problem. Denard not as sharp as he was first couple weeks. "Amost like a first-game feel." Execution wasn't clean. Denard made some great throws, a few good runs. "We didn't run him as much. We didn't want to." Shaw stepped up.
Offense is QB-centered, he has to run sometimes. More designed RB runs today to give him some relief. Shaw - "runs hard, got great speed, used his vision well today." Team's biggest homerun threat.
Lewan - "we should have played Ricky Barnum too some." They'll decide if a few more guys should have gotten onto the field. "If we'd have payed better, we could have played more guys. Didn't happen, so we've gotta play we've we've got to to win the game."
"We have some warts, that's still out there. Let's not pretend that we're the 1985 Chicago Bears." Have to play with passion, intensity, and intelligence in all 3 phases, but especially on D. Didn't get better today, but the guys know without being told that they need to work hard this week.
Some of D struggles lack of execution - missed tackles, losing contain, "there's a lot of things that we've gotta clean up, and everybody knows that." Going against a different scheme this week, made some mistakes. Has to watch film to compare where the breakdowns were. Losing contain to our left was bad, because they knew it would happen coming in. Lost contain 5-6 times at least.
Kovacs strip - scored quickly, then got the turnover for 2 quick scores. Momentum with the ball in third quarter. Didn't happen to shut them down and put the game out of reach. "They played well." Went into the UMass locker room to tell them that.
Special teams - The return game was OK, a couple times Darryl almost broke one. Missed only field goal, kick coverage needs to improve. Kickers make them in practice. Will just dropped the snap on the block.
Thought Seth Broekhuizen kicked better for kickoffs. Placekicking - "We had a student body tryout. Any student out there... we'll have another tryout for you.
"You never know" how many points you'll need to win. UMass is a good team. "They gave us a run for our money." The D carried the offense last week, so in the team concept, it's time to pay it back a bit. "They'll make some corrections, and so will we."
Came out slow, but for the most part did a good job executing. Offense knew they were shooting themselves in the foot early, just started executing better.
"On that play, I'm usually a backside outlet" on the long TD reception. Omameh and Grady did a good job blocking to open the hole.
Last time he scored 2 TDs back-to-back like in the second quarter was in high school. Personal breakthrough game? "With all the talent we have at receiver, you never know who's gonna be the hot hand for the week." Just his job to show the coaches he's capable of making plays. He and Roy joking about who would be the guy this week.
On his long (non-TD) reception "Denard fakes the sprintout, and we knew that the whole defense is gona key to his running." Just had to run past the cornerback.
Denard throwing: "His accuracy and his... total quartebrack, just being a pocket passer." His accuracy has improved. Puts the ball where the receivers can run away from the defender after the catch.
"[Denard] told me on the sideline, mid second quarter, that he was gonna start giving up the ball a lot more." Denard's been getting yards because Ds are keying Shaw instead of Denard. Today was different. Other guys need to step up so the offense can click without Denard having to do it all. "We have playmakers, but now we're coming into our own as an offense."
There's no way to tell from film who the end is keying on. Had an idea they'd try to contain Denard (like ND, which didn't work out for them).
He was trying to hit the hole fast early in the game, but the DL was 2-gapping the OL, so he tried to hesitate on his long TD run to make sure he had the right read.
Offensive pressure opposite that D? "We added pressure to ourselves." Held each other up each of the past two weeks. Denard kept the team poised when they were down 17-7.
Special team struggles? "I don't really expect our kicking game to miss kicks. We all have faith in all of our teammates." Offense's job is to score TDs and not have to rely on those guys as much. "Those 40-yard kicks can turn into 2-yard extra points."
UMass held onto the ball well. Defense didn't do their job to get them off the field. "You've gotta give them a lot of credit they're a very good team. Maybe they caught us off guard." "They've got some big offensive linemen, I know it's nothing like we'll see in the Big Ten."
"We're happy that we didn't lose, but we're not satisfied with the way that we played defensively." Defensive play overall: "Clearly it's disappointing." Better to have that happen in a game that they still win, instead of have them cause a loss.
On his strip and recovery: "At that point in the game, they had a lot of momentum." Knew his team needed a big play, noticed the guy was carrying the ball low.
Losing contain - "Tough to see defensively. I'll admit that it happened to me a couple times." Need to get back to fundamentals and responsibilities. Would have been a different story if everyone executed well.
"We never underestimate a team. We're not good enough to just walk in and get a victory." The team just has to play hard. "I think a focus that we needed" was lacking. Had a good week of practice. Need to get back to fundamentals this week in practice. "Michigan came out with a victory, and that's all we can ask for."
UMass offensive line - "They had a good line. They were smart and they did a good job with positioning their bodies a certain way." Called some plays to keep UMass unbalanced, disguise some things. They did a god job reacting.
Fighting through doubles. "It feels good as a nose guard because you don't get a lot of chances to be free." If you hit a rock over and over and it breaks after 100th hit, it's not the 100th hit that breaks the rock, it was the 99 before that.
Fewer sacks - "We've just gotta keep playing hard." Last year, it took BG 4 games to get a sack, there's still a lot of football to play.
Cam Gordon int/fumble "That's tough. I think it's just one of those freak things." The way it happened, they didn't complain and just went to go play the next play.
The team has done a good job not getting worried, pointing finger. "That's what we did in the past and we've done a better job this year in that aspect." Just do your job to win.
Coach went over a few things on the drawing board, and the halftime message was to go out and play as hard as they can for the final 30 minutes.
Make sure guys buckle down and get ready for Bowling Green.
UMass is a good team on both sides of the ball. "We watched film and knew they was pretty good." The team just came out sluggish. Can't come out sluggish and expect to win. That was the lesson they learned today. Have to re-focus to make sure this doesn't happen next week.
"We just had to focus and everybody had to play as one, play as a team, play smart" when they were down 10. Team started slow, and everyone needed to whole team to play.
"They really didn't contain me, I guess. That's why Shaw had a great game." UMass made that decision, not Denard. "It was great to have [Shaw] running the ball like that." All the running backs are threats, they just needed a D to give them a chance to break out.
"I'm all in for Michigan. Whatever it takes to win. We winning for Michigam, we're not just winning for me." Doesn't care about his stats if they win. "If we get a W, that's good." Nobody's perfect. He knew he wasn't going to go a whole season without throwing a pick. "We're gonna face adversity the whole season."
He thought he would play the whole game, until the coaches tell him otherwise.
On the long Stonum touchdown, "It was designed, he read the blocks perfectly, he made one guy miss, and got going." It was a big shift in momentum before the half. The offense just had to make the plays happen. Everybody knew they had to step it up.
"We've moved from that Notre Dame game, that was last week. And will move on from UMass after we watch film tomorrow to Bowling Green."
Didn't get any awesome emails this week but there are a few bits from the comments and other blogs. Anyway:
GS's run chart comes to a lot of reassuringly similar conclusions as the UFR did: the left side of Michigan's line struggled against Kapron Lewis-Moore but the right side and Molk got their pwn on; he was way more impressed with the tight ends (8-0=8 combined!) than I was and similarly down on Shaw. More Omameh hype:
Much better from Omameh. The 2* who was a 250 pound DE in high school crushed the 5* all-world linebacker multiple times, with brutal efficiency.
I meant to mention this in the UFR, but BWS also picture-paged some running back inefficiency. This is a key point:
As you can see here, the defensive end is staying high, forcing Denard to hand the ball off. But the Notre Dame linebackers have engaged with the offensive line before they were able to get upfield. If Michigan's linemen were given a free release to the second level, they're fast and smart enough to make the block. But instead, Notre Dame's linebackers were told to plug the holes at the point of attack and make Shaw slow down at the line and pick a hole. In doing so, it gives the weakside defensive end enough time to crash down for the tackle.
Last week against UConn we saw a lot of holes open up; this week ND linebackers were clogging the LOS. I made my position on this clear: Michigan really needed to exploit this tendency more. The other play he cites is the frustrating Shaw dance where this…
…turned into no yards because Shaw cut behind Schilling and then tried to spin to the backside of the play.
Magnus also criticizes the play design of the Te'o sideline to sideline play. Might and Main points out that Stonum got chewed out after the Vincent Smith swing pass that Calabrese killed for a minimal gain on third and seven. This is what I said:
Last week this was paired with a slant and I'm confused why it's not this week. ND is in man-to-man for once and the deeper hitch is covered by the CB, leaving the flare open; accurate, but Calabrese is all over it for minimal gain. (CA, 2, protection 1/1)
Given the reaction of RR, it's likely this was supposed to be a slant after all.
Didn't get much feedback this week, but here's Magnus making a valid criticism of the 53-yard touchdown breakdown:
Rogers shouldn't get a -1 for the 53-yard TD pass to TJ Jones. Here's why:
In a Cover 2 defense, the flat defender (Rogers) is supposed to play any receiver in his zone. If no receiver enters his area, he's supposed to gain depth. On that play, an underneath receiver entered the flat zone; furthermore, the QB was rolling to his side. When a QB rolls to the flat defender's side, there will always be a receiver in the flat - that's just how plays are drawn up. So when that receiver enters his zone, Rogers had to suck up closer to the line of scrimmage.
Meanwhile, Cam Gordon's job is to play the deepest man on his half of the field. Whether one, two, or three receivers enter his zone, he has to play the one who runs farthest down the field. It was a well designed play to pick on an inexperienced safety. Gordon got caught looking in the backfield and didn't see TJ Jones streaking up the sideline. By the time Jones came open, he was no longer the responsibility of James Rogers - that was all Cam Gordon.
This is the exact reason that Michigan wants to run a lot of Cover 3. Gordon doesn't have the speed/experience to cover a deep half, and Kovacs doesn't have the athleticism to make a play on the ball, either.
On the other hand, this seems reasonable to me too:
Magnus, I think you should look at the video again......Rogers doesn't even react to the fact that both receivers are going vertical. He almost immediately looks up #3 and starts to jump the route (completely disregarding his coverage duties).
Rogers was the one caught looking in the backfield. He should be reading 2 to 1. When 2 gets vertical, he should immediately get into phase on #1. He jumped the flat route and disregarded the fact that 2 receivers had gone vert, putting Cam on an island.
Who is right? Video:
I can see it either way. It's tough to zone up when you've only got six guys in the coverage, and Rogers was faced with a choice of sinking back on the vertical routes, leaving Rudolph wide open, or leaving Gordon one-on-one with two guys. From his play it looks like he's not even considering dropping back into coverage, which is either a major bust on his part or just the way the D is drawn up. Either way I should have RPS –2ed the play.
Magnus also disagrees with my minusing the linebackers on Armando Allen's nine-yard run off tackle late (the play before the epic Mouton hold:
By alignment, it looks like Kovacs has outside contain to the bottom of the screen. He steps down to get a jam on the TE and replace his feet, but he then gets caught inside. If Kovacs can keep contain here (like he did earlier in the game when he fought off a block from the pulling OT), he's funneling the running back to the inside.
If Kovacs holds the edge, Mouton is stepping up to take on the pulling OL. Ideally, Mouton would stuff up the OL, cut his legs, or take him on with the inside shoulder and force the RB further inside. But Mouton gets caught up in the wash of Kovacs getting blown down the line.
Meanwhile, Ezeh is scraping unblocked and would presumably make the tackle after a minimal gain.
This is plausible, but it's hard to see how Kovacs can possibly maintain contain when he's one guy lined up opposite two ND tight ends and the fullback. This is bad defense design and should have been RPS-1ed.