Welcome to the third installment of "Yet Another CC Roundup!" (Part 1 and part 2.) In this edition, I examine several fringe candidates--a fuzzy category including low probability hires and those who should be low probability hires. As usual, there are 4 serious and 1 not-so-serious profiles included.
1. Bob Stitt
POTENTIAL UPSIDE: Everyone’s favorite fringe candidate is a bona fide offensive innovator--arguably this decade's Rich Rodriguez (at WVU). So at the least we’d probably run some cool plays that aren’t read pre-snap by literally everyone watching the game. In a best case scenario we could see an offense literally no one is prepared to defend (yet).
POTENTIAL DOWNSIDE: The Rich Rodriguez experience didn't travel well to Ann Arbor. And he, at least, came in with a record of success at a Big East school.
TRANSITION COSTS: High. We don’t run anything remotely resembling that offense, recruiting would almost certainly nosedive and attrition would be significant.
OVERALL DESIRABILITY: As an HC? Let’s be honest here—it’s low. Running a "blue blood" program clearly takes a lot more than schematic innovation; some of those things are invariably annoying and frustrating to us as fans, but it would be naive to pretend they aren't real. At the least Stitt would need several years to acclimate, and we’re just not that patient anymore.
CHANCES OF HIM COMING: Close to non-existent, unless we’re talking about a potentially open offensive coordinator position. Would he take that? I don’t know, but it’s the only thing we’d plausibly offer.
2. Greg Schiano
POTENTIAL UPSIDE: A more irritating, less sympathetic version of Iowa under Kirk Ferentz.
POTENTIAL DOWNSIDE: A more irritating, less sympathetic version of Michigan since 2013.
TRANSITION COSTS: Low. That’s something I guess.
OVERALL DESIRABILITY: Extremely low. Schiano only surpassed 10 wins once in eleven tries at Rutgers. Meanwhile, his two-year stint with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was an unmitigated disaster--marked by palace intrigue, backstabbing and frequent losses. As far as I'm concerned, Schiano may be the worst possible hire of all the discussed candidates.
CHANCES OF HIM COMING: If offered? A near certainty. But let’s just hope that never comes to pass.
3. Paul Chryst
POTENTIAL UPSIDE: Wisconsin! I mean, who does more with less in the Big 10? Plus now that he’s gotten some HC experience at Pitt, Chryst might be able to pull a Dantonio and implement something comprehensive, sustainable and well-suited to talent pool in the upper Midwest.
POTENTIAL DOWNSIDE: For the record, Pitt is not very good.
TRANSITION COSTS: Low. He runs an inside-zone based scheme on offense, would probably hire to fit personnel on defense.
OVERALL DESIRABILITY: Moderate. He’s a good fit in most ways, but again—Pitt. Granted, Pitt is a terrible job—even Todd Graham did poorly there. But Chryst hasn’t really shown any signs of genius once separated from Alvarez and Bielema either. Always possible he just called the plays at Wisconsin and so wouldn’t deserve much credit for the recruitment-and-development program that has driven their recent successes. He may be a great coach in the long-term scheme of things, but purely as a candidate for HC at this exact moment in time, Chryst feels like a poor man's McElwain to me.
CHANCES OF HIM COMING: If offered? High. But the chances we offer it to him are low to moderate. Chryst is either a backup plan or a backup to the backup plan. Or not on any sort of plan.
4. Bret Bielema
POTENTIAL UPSIDE: Wisconsin with a richer talent base: tough defenses paired with high scoring, inside zone-based offenses, producing lots of wins in the crappy Big 10. Wears headset while pointing.
POTENTIAL DOWNSIDE: Similar caveats about the Wisconsin experience being portable. They’ve built that machine over decades. Plus if you look at his record, the first three years look eerily like Hoke’s—do we have that kind of patience?
TRANSITION COSTS: As low as you can go. He runs an inside-zone based scheme on offense and knows how to get the most out of his defensive roster.
OVERALL DESIRABILITY: High for a fringe candidate. Regardless of how you feel about him personally, Bielema is a perfect fit for our personnel, and is another one of those “should be able to do what Hoke was supposed to do” type candidates (especially since, after declines in years 1-3 at Wisconsin, he then rattled off four straight quality seasons). In total, he coached 7 seasons at Wisconsin, and did this: 3/7 Big Ten Championships, 4/7 10+ wins and 6/7 ranked at the end of the year with a total winning pct of .739. His 1-5 record vs. OSU does give pause, but would we not kill for the rest right now? Plus he recruits and develops players very well, and now Arkansas has even won a couple big games in the SEC West--that makes him orders of magnitude more desirable than, say, Schiano. At the same time, it's hard to see us make a move for him if any of the marquee candidates are still in the mix.
CHANCES OF HIM COMING: Moderate. Tony Gerdeman argues that Bielema might plausibly look for a return to the Big 10, since paying him Hoke’s salary would constitute a big raise and the SEC West is impossible. Gerdeman also contends that Bielema would relish the opportunity to “stick it to Barry Alvarez” (for reasons that are unclear to me, but maybe it's true). On the other hand, this is just idle speculation on Gerdeman's part and there’s apparently the trifling matter of a $12.8 million buyout as well. So if we were interested, it would all come down to whether Arkansas wanted to fight to keep him (I think—help me out here if you know more about how these buyout things work).
POTENTIAL UPSIDE: He can run an offense, that’s for sure. Already has experience at two historical programs that feel the weight of history as well. Maybe third time’s the charm?
POTENTIAL DOWNSIDE: Those experiences were primarily negative.
TRANSITION COSTS: Short-term costs would be pretty low. Long-term? Don’t even ask.
OVERALL DESIRABILITY: Extremely low, due to T.O. effect, in which an undeniably talented and capable figure produces right off the bat but then begins to corrode the program from within. Added benefit of more time at Alabama potentially having that effect on Saban's program.
CHANCES OF HIM COMING: Low but not impossible. No one has ever mentioned Kiffin as a serious candidate at Michigan, but you just know he’s angling for another HC job, and there are only two good ones on the market this year (so far). This guy must interview well, because he’s got bad idea jeans written all over him. Thankfully Floridian weather is more visor-friendly.
Im going to be gone for the Thanksgiving holiday and won't get more than this done. I like how it turned out, but I always love feedback/suggestions. My heart's just barely in it this season, so I apologize for the drop off in wallpapers (Basketball WILL have a few ready before B1G Season). Even so, I HAD to make one for "The Game." Because OH HOW I HATE OHIO STATE...
GO BLUE. BEAT OHIO STATE.
16:9 Desktop (1920x1080):
Enjoy and GO BLUE.
As we gear up to face Ohio State in a few short days and as many of us gear up to face our families tomorrow and over this long Thanksgiving weekend, I felt this might be a good time to give a little thanks for having this space called MGoBlog.
Particularly in a fall like this one, when the football season has been disappointing to say the least, it has been even more important for myself and hopefully others to have a place where we can express that frustration and talk about the direction we would like our football program to take moving forward after a season which, on paper, will likely not end in a bowl of any kind.
Personally, this site has provided catharsis as well as some therapy with a dash of perspective over the course of this fall, and I would like to thank everyone here for that. It has been a rough stretch, but we are probably the top end of engagement as Michigan fans go and we do seem to keep ourselves involved regardless, and we should be thankful that this community has that sort of glue, if you will. I am sure that, as football faces a future with some likely changes in its leadership, not to mention the changes which have already occurred in the athletic department, we all essentially want the same thing – the success of the department and football, but really all of our varsity sports as well. Leaders and best throughout.
I know that many of us have expressed a bit of hope as well, now that basketball is getting off the ground for what looks to be another competitive and exciting season, that we will be able to balance our feelings about football with the promise of basketball. Hopefully, we can indeed do that and through the trials and tribulations of that season, we’ll be here just the same – rejoicing in one thread, commiserating in another, but a community through all of it. That’s the idea anyway. Sometimes, the basketball threads get a little testy, particularly when there is a frustrating stretch of play or a close loss, but I think the value in having this space to express thoughts remains even in those cases.
We’ve seen many analyses, many threads about coaching candidates and the like in the last couple months, all of it an attempt to understand Michigan’s position in the world, but all of it also being an expression of how much passion there is around Michigan athletics here. Good or bad, insightful or not so much, it comes back to the collective desire to see Michigan succeed. I am definitely thankful to be part of a group which cares as deeply as I do about this very thing. It is one of the things which makes MGoBlog something special and – as we have seen, powerful – in the Michigan blogosphere.
I would also like to thank the University itself for the education and opportunities it has afforded me in my life, but also the many people that I knew growing up – from my mother and so on down the line – who took the time to impress upon me the culture of Michigan and to show me just how special and institution it is. This blog also recognizes that, which is why it is so easy for me to hang around here even if, in the role of moderator, I sometimes seem as if I am about to tear my hair out or indeed someone else’s hair. It is because I know that we want the same thing at the end of the day.
Many of us here will sit down with our families this weekend and give thanks for this, that and the other thing, hopefully this space is somewhere on that list of “other things”. It will be for me as a place which has made a painful fall much less painful on many levels. Even if we don’t like our chances on paper on Saturday, I am sure we’ll cheer on our Wolverines all the same and, win or lose, we’ll congregate her after the game to discuss and dissect, but also to be around – even if virtually – folks much like ourselves.
Have an excellent Thanksgiving holiday, MGoBlog.
College basketball starts in earnest this week with a series of early-season holiday tournaments, where some Big Ten teams will face their staunchest tests so far this season. The destinations – Maui, NYC, Cancun, the Bahamas, Vegas – add an element of quirkiness that is singular to college basketball; fanbases from various corners of the country get to watch their teams play a few games in a unique environment over the span of a few days. It serves multiple purposes: teams get to go on vacation, often add quality opponents to their non-conference schedule, and practice quick turnarounds that they’ll later see in conference tournaments (and possibly the NCAA Tournament).
This week’s ten:
- First-round opponents
- Projecting second- and third-round opponents
- Five possible games I’d love to see
- James Blackmon, Jr. to the rescue
- Indiana wins a battle of extremes against SMU
- Tough opponents and expected losses
- Somebody rushes the court against Nebraska
- Penn State (barely) goes 2-1 in Charleston
- Chucker Watch
- Saluting Shannon Scott
* * *
1. First-round opponents
In an (admittedly arbitrary) order from most- to least-intriguing games. Rankings are via kenpom.com from late Sunday night.
- 17. Michigan vs. 30. Oregon (11-24, 9:30, ESPN3)
- 26. Maryland vs. 68. Arizona St. (11-24, 7:00, ESPNU)
- 38. Purdue vs. 55. Kansas St. (11-24, 2:30, ESPN2)
- 34. Minnesota vs. 47. St. John’s (11-26, 7:00, ESPNU)
- 40. Illinois vs. 144. Indiana St. (11-28, 5:00, FS1)
- 128. Rutgers vs. 86 Vanderbilt (11-28, 7:00, NBCSN)
- 101. Northwestern vs. 248 Miami (OH) (11-25, 9:30, CBSSN)
- 4. Wisconsin vs. 203. UAB (11-26, 7:00, AXS.tv)
- 14. Michigan St. vs. 198. Rider (11-28, 6:30, ESPN2)
Monday features some of the best early matchups, as Michigan, Maryland, and Purdue each face their first real tests of the season. The Boilermakers face former Illinois coach, Bruce Weber, and Kansas State to kick off the Maui invitational: the Wildcats are coming off of an upset loss at Long Beach State. Maryland draws Arizona St.; neither team has been seriously tested by weak schedules thus far and both teams are featuring plenty of new faces all over the court. Michigan plays the late game against Oregon – a team that’s replacing nearly everyone from last season.
2. Projecting second- and third-round opponents
By using Ken Pomeroy’s Pythagorean value for each of the teams in a log5 simulation, I found the probability that a given team would face a certain opponent in the second and third rounds of their tournaments.
3. Five possible games I’d love to see
- Michigan St. vs. Kansas – Even though this matchup would likely require both teams to win their first two games, there’s still a very good chance due to the overall weakness of the rest of the field (outside of perhaps Tennessee). Both teams lost in the Champions Classic this past week – MSU fell to Duke and Kansas was obliterated by Kentucky – and could use an early-season win over a blue-blood as a morale boost.
- Wisconsin vs. Florida – Wisconsin will almost certainly beat UAB, so a favored Florida team needs to beat Georgetown. This would be the third meeting in the past three years between the Badgers and the Gators: in the 2012 season, Florida ran Wisconsin out of the gym in Gainesville and Wisconsin replied with the boa-constrictor treatment on the return trip. This would be Wisconsin’s first big challenge of the young season.
- Michigan vs. Villanova – Regardless of the first-round outcomes in the Legends Classic, Michigan will find itself facing a formidable opponent the night after a contest with Oregon. Villanova gets the slight nod as a preferable opponent here because Michigan recently faced VCU (and the superb 2012 team dominated) and because Villanova lost just four games last year – two of which came in the form of blowouts at the hands of Creighton, a three-point happy team like Michigan.
- Illinois vs. Baylor – I’m high on the Illini and a matchup between backcourt transfers Ahmad Starks and Aaron Cosby against Baylor’s diminutive guard tandem would be fun. Illinois would need to prove that its presumably resurgent three-point shooting can hold up against Baylor’s bizarre sort of matchup zone that only makes sense to Scott Drew. Illinois would get open looks, and we’d see if they can hit them. Plus we get a rematch of this game.
- Purdue vs. Arizona – If nothing else, this would be an excellent measuring stick for A.J. Hammons and Isaac Haas; Purdue’s big men – particularly the frustrating and inconsistent Hammons – could have a great chance to prove themselves against one of the nastiest frontcourts in college basketball. A loss here would be expected (and not at all harmful), while a win would be the type of resume-builder that could propel the Boilermakers into the tournament come March.
[AFTER THE JUMP: running down the week that was in the Big Ten]
At the start of the game, BTN reminded us that Brady Hoke's career record at the University of Michigan as head coach was 31-18. That means that Saturday's game against Maryland was his fiftieth game as coach. 50 is a nice round number. It makes it easy for us to compute winning percentages. 32 wins puts you at 64%. 31 wins puts you at 62%. Both are above average. Neither is very impressive, especially considering the advantages that come from coaching at the University of Michigan - budget, staffing, scheduling, facilities, recruiting, tradition, one of the better home field advantages, and an ability to attract competent assistant coaches. Considering all those advantages, 62% is failing. A monotonically downward trajectory is failing, but you all know that.
No, I mention the 50 games because on a selfish, personal note (and yeah, I know that's redundant) I have to mention that this is my fiftieth Inside the Boxscore Diary. I haven't counted them all, or done a very good job archiving them on the Blog, but I don't remember missing one - unlike a certain proprietor who sometimes feels that UFRs are optional. Believe me, they are not optional to the faithful west coast reader, who refreshes MGoBlog every few minutes on Wednesday and Thursday mornings, counting on that informative, insightful content to get him through the lunch hour. I do understand skipping the occasional UFR, because as I have learned over the past four years, and this year moreso than the rest, this team can be very hard to write about. I only write one diary a week during football season. I can't imagine having to write about this team, or better put, this coaching staff, on a daily basis. But take heart, dear readers, for we have surely witnessed the penultimate game in Brady Hoke's Michigan coaching career. Normally, the word "penultimate" sounds way cooler than it's actual meaning - the second to last - but in this case, the meaning matches the feeling.
Apparently, I've watched a lot of television, so much so, that I picked up the nickname, "TV Child" somewhere along the way. There's a hallowed tradition among television programs that when a series reaches a milestone event - the 100th episode or the 200th episode - the writers are allowed to take a break and instead of putting out new content, they assemble a "best of" or a highlights episode. Welcome to my personal "best of" edition of Inside the Boxscore.
Boxscore Link: http://www.mgoblue.com/sports/m-footbl/stats/112214aaa.html
Play-by-Play Link: http://grfx.cstv.com/photos/schools/mich/sports/m-footbl/auto_pdf/2014-1...
Burst of Impetus
* Bursted impetus is more like it. There can only be one play here, the punt return for a touchdown that wasn't. I'm conditioned by years of watching football to check the screen for that little yellow "FLAG" indicator they place under the score when there is a penalty. So when Norfleet broke through the initial line of defenders, and then burst past the last man making it to the endzone, I didn't celebrate. I paused a second. I watched him get mobbed by his teammates. I exhaled, and then I celebrated. I paused the screen, rewound it, and called my wife downstairs because even though she doesn't care much for football, she likes seeing those types of plays. And then we watched it again and still there was no penalty. And then it appeared. My heart sunk, but I told myself that maybe it was just an excess celebration penalty. I think we'd all understand that. But no, they called a Michigan player for a block in the back penalty that surely looked much more like a touch in the back that didn't change the defender's impetus in the slightest. In a game where the refs seemingly let a lot slide (like Maryland lining up offsides and holding and hitting Funchess' elbow moments before the football arrived on fourth down) in an attempt to limit the eye carnage and shorten the game, they threw a flag and wiped out the one brief moment of joy we had all day. I'm tempted to say all season, but I don't want to be accused of hyperbole.
* It was senior day. Speaking of my wife, I had to explain to her that it was the senior's last home football game, and not just another futile attempt to fill the stadium. Everyone over 65 gets in free! Thankfully, we're not there yet. Hats off to the seniors, who did get to experience the Sugar Bowl victory. Things better turn around or this year's juniors will have a lousy senior day next season.
* Thank you to BTN's Eric Collins who got into the spirit of my clips show (how'd he know I was going to do this?) by recycling his "Malachi Crunch" comment.
* Joe Bolden and Jake Ryan led Michigan in tackles with 14 apiece. Ryan contributed 1 QH. While it's nice seeing your starting linebackers lead the team in tackles instead of your safeties, 14 is a lot of tackles and speaks to Michigan's inability to get Maryland off the field, particularly in the 4th quarter.
Trash Cans Full of Dirt
* This section was a season 1 staple featuring Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen. Matt Godin and Taco Charlton each had one of Michigan's two sacks on the day.
* Michigan's rush defense had been playing better of late, but reverted to mid-season, David Cobb runs right over you for 182 yards, level of performance, only this time, we got gashed by C. J. Brown, a fellow who was leading Maryland with something just over 300 yards on the season coming into game 11. I just don't know anymore.
* Devin Gardner was our 2nd leading rusher on the day with 82 yards on 14 carries. He also ran for Michigan's only TD on the day. His running will be needed next week if we hope to score and avoid being totally embarrassed. Ohio State is not going to be happy after the egg they laid against Indiana. Perhaps they were looking ahead to next week's game. Perhaps Michigan is looking ahead to the end of the season after next week's game. How else to explain our fourth quarter?
* Gardner was 13 for 24 passing with numerous drops and poorly thrown balls, and the requisite interception.
* Michigan averaged 6.5 yards per rushing attempt and 4.4 yards per passing attempt. I understand that passing is supposed to be more of a boom-or-bust type situation. You either get a big play down the field, or the ball falls incomplete. The reason why one passes the ball and deals with the drive-hindering incomplete passes, is that usually, on average, you gain more passing than you do rushing. When I was a kid, I learned that a 0.300 batting average, 30 home runs, and 100 RBIs are marks to strive for. I'm still new to the advanced stats in football, but 7 yards per attempt seems like a number you should shoot for when passing. 4.4 yards per attempt, from a fifth year senior quarterback? That brings us back to the, "is Gardner broken" discussion. He certainly ran the ball better, but he still didn't throw the ball downfield. The coaching staff will allow him to throw the long out to the sideline for a few yards, but they won't call plays to throw the ball down the center of the field. One poster has posited a belief that Gardner was hurt during the Notre Dame game. I tend to believe this because I watched him play QB last year and the year before. I don't remember his flutter balls from this season showing up last season. I don't remember him being wildly inaccurate and having major timing issues last season. The YPA stat backs this up. So he is either hurt or the coaching staff is so afraid of him throwing interceptions down the middle of the field where there are more defenders and this is more likely to occur, that they have abandoned a major feature of their beloved MANBALL philosophy. MANBALL works best when you are averaging 6.5 yards per rushing attempt like we were yesterday, so you suck in the safeties and then play action pass over their heads. That's what made Anthony Carter famous. That's what earned Braylon Edwards the #1 jersey. Michigan has thrown one deep ball all year (hyperbole alert, but not by much) - the TD to Funchess against Penn State, and even that fell in front of the safety. Have we thrown a ball over a safeties head all season? I can't remember one. And that's how you get held to 16 points against a middling Maryland team while averaging 6.5 yards per attempt rushing.
* There was a time when Michigan could run the ball effectively. In Fitzgerald Toussaint's sophomore year, he ran for more than 1000 yards. Then he got hurt, and then last year happened. This season started off slow, but the running game appears to be effective, if not exactly filthy.
* In the game of musical chairs that is our backfield, it was Drake Johnson's turn again, as he ran for 94 yards on 14 carries. Justice Hayes was also quite effective gaining 6 yards per carry. Last week's star runner, De'Veon Smith, was the only one held under 5.9 yards per carry.
San Diego 49ers
* I noted very early in the third quarter when BTN showed Funchess had 30 yards receiving on 5 catches. He finished the game with 30 yards receiving on 5 catches.
* Funchess looks as out of place on the field as would a San Diego 49er. Is he a small tight end or a large wide receiver? I don't know. I do know that dominant, #1 wearing wide receivers should be averaging over 6 yards per completion. He sits in short underneath zones and catches passes you would throw to a tight end, but too often lets a smaller DB knock the ball away. He doesn't box out the defender like a big tight end would and he doesn't stretch the field like a fast wide receiver would.
* Jake Butt caught four passes for 28 yards. He had a long of 17, meaning his other three catches went for 11 yards. Running the ball at 6.5 yards an attempt makes more sense than that.
Norf and Souf
* Norfleet is listed once under the "All Returns" section of the boxscore. They did not get him involved in the running or passing game. I suppose that's because he's just getting back from injury, but it would have been nice to have another play maker available on offense.
* Norfleet returned two punts for 17 yards, three kickoffs for 74 yards, and basically won the game for us until a ref decided that that was the one play all game that needed to be called by the book.
* How do you lose when you outgain your opponent 398 yards to 312 yards? The answer is simple. Not-so-special teams (and turnovers, and failing on fourth down twice.)
* Maryland's fourth FG attempt is not in the boxscore because Jourdan Lewis roughed the kicker. On the very next play, Jourdan Lewis failed to keep contain and Maryland scooted in for a touchdown.
* Michigan's high point on the day, a 52 yard fake punt, was more than offset by a touch in the back penalty that resulted in Michigan losing 70 yards of field position, oh, and a game-deciding touchdown.
I'm an International Umpire / Big John R. Studd Referee Section
* Yeah, I never did find a good section heading for this, but I've covered these guys enough for one game.
* No hexadecimal uniforms in the boxscore, yet again. Brady Hoke gets criticized for lacking organizational skills, but I tell you this, he figured out how to give out numbers so that the boxscore didn't need to revert to hexadecimal numbers. So there's that.
* Actually, I didn't get into the M00N meme, and I'm glad that Michigan scored early to save us from the M00M meme, but Maryland countered with a FG, setting up a potential M3M3 meme, or would that be a M33M meme? See, when writers try to add things to the clips show they usually fail in spectacular fashion. Like on Seinfeld, for 99 episodes it's a TV show about four people living in New York, but for some reason during the highlights show, Jerry's allowed to break the fourth wall and talk directly to the viewer. Let's just move on.
* Maryland's second leading tacklers were Nixon and Goree.
Hey, you know the rule, no politics.
It's Brian's bolded alter-ego. Thanks for stopping by our special highlights diary. Yes, I know the rules, but it's Maryland, and that's practically the nation's capitol. Can't we make an exception this one time?
OK, I'll just post this snarky photo instead:
I hope you had as much fun traveling down memory lane as I have. But you know what the problem with the TV highlights show is? There's nothing new. That feeling that we've been here, done that, leaves us feeling disappointed that we wasted our time watching something we've already seen. After this, the penultimate game of the Brady Hoke era, I can't think of a more fitting epitaph.
I contemplated not even writing this edition of the diary. Next week’s game is going to have way more meaning in terms of the end of a season, of a coaching staff, maybe of an era in Michigan football. This was just one of many infuriating games played by Michigan in recent years, and distinguishing it from, say, Iowa or Nebraska last year is mostly in the eye of beholder.
Worst: Of Pigs and Lipstick
Ever since Michigan beat PSU and then started winning consecutive games for the first time this season (sigh), there was a growing contingent of Michigan fans who started to argue that if Brady Hoke finished the season “strong” (typically with a win at OSU, though a close loss in the same vein as last year might suffice), culminating in a bowl win on or before Christmas, his services should be retained as head coach for next year.
The reasoning seemed to be three-fold: (1) there was no promise that Michigan would snag a top-flight replacement for Hoke (especially if a Harbaugh wasn’t in play), so why perform a lateral move (2) knowing very little about Hackett and Schlissel except that the former is a “Brandon guy” and the latter isn’t much for sports, did it make sense to entrust them with such a major decision on a compressed timeframe, and (3) 7/8 wins (including an upset of a major rival) were seen as some progress by the team and the staff, especially given the dearth of seniors on the team, and recruiting might pick up again with some certainty about the staff returning. I might be missing some other tertiary arguments, but the gist seemed to be that unless Michigan could get a slam-dunk replacement, it didn’t make sense to go through another rebuilding with an imperfect selection.
But the core of this argument was premised on the idea that Michigan would be showing meaningful improvement, and that’s the rub with this recent upswing: the team has played, and the staff has coached, just as shoddily as it had during the losses, only that the opposition somehow found ways to play even worse. Earlier this year, Devin Funchess said that wins and losses are just a “statistic”, in a way restating the maxim that if you perform consistently and steadily improve, the wins will follow in the long term, even if in the short term you might lose a game or two due to the vagaries of life and the sport. Well, the thing is that telling the difference between “bad luck” and “poor coaching” may be somewhat subjective, but if you keep having to divine the difference that is probably telling you something about the team.
Yes, there have been meager signs (mostly on defense, but also with the offensive line) that this program was playing better, especially given the fact that Indiana has since nearly upset PSU and held tough against OSU on the road, while Northwestern upset Notre Dame and then demolished Purdue to, improbably, set up for next week’s intra-state battle with the Illini as a battle of two teams playing for their bowl-game lives. They weren’t dominating wins, but if you squinted you could see something faintly resembling progress and improvement, and maybe with a new QB and some healthy running backs next year Michigan might be on its way “back”.
But all along, this team kept displaying the same numerous flaws that absolutely, positively shouldn’t be happening 50 games into a coach’s tenure. The offense remains painfully predictable, to the point that pointing this out is equally reflexive. The defense, while certainly the stronger unit during Hoke’s tenure, continues to play at a B+ level, seemingly never figuring out how to handle anything approaching tempo or a mobile QB. Barring a Biakabutuka-esque performance against OSU, Michigan won’t have a running back break 600 yards total on the season, and for the second year in a row won’t have one even sniff 1,000 yards total. Hell, Melvin Gordon and Tevin Coleman are going to significantly outrush this team as a whole, and that’s after dropping 292 yards rushing on Maryland in this game. Devin Gardner went from pre-season All Big-10-ish player to a guy who’ll probably not throw for 10 TDs on the season, and one of the best runs of the year was a 52-yard run by a FB on a fake punt. Timeouts continue to be called or saved without any regard for reality, and the team long ago ran out of feet to shoot with dumb penalties, incorrect number of players on the field, and turnovers. Oh my gawd the turnovers, King.
This game had all of those failings on display live and in technicolor, so even if Michigan had somehow pulled off the win and gotten bowl eligible, there’s nothing resembling real, sustainable progress by this staff and how that has translated to the team. A couple of ugly wins and the renewed potential for the team to scratch out bowl eligibility might have spackled over these cracks slightly, but this program remains a fundamentally flawed organization with a staff that seems unable to implement an holistic philosophy, or really any set of standards, necessary to win consistently. That 11-2 season always felt like an aberration, but even moreso after watching this program devolve for the past 3 seasons. It’s been an ugly downfall, and with this loss I have to think the end is near.
Best: Keeping ‘Em Clean
Another week, another strong performance by the offensive line. As noted above, Michigan put up 292 yards against Maryland on only 45 caries, which works out to a nice 6.5 ypc. Of course, 52 of those yards came on Kerridge’s run in the first quarter, but even excising that you are still looking at 5.5 ypc. Furthermore, TFLs were held to a minimum (6 total), with only 2 sacks allowed and Gardner seemingly being given ample running lanes to escape the pocket if necessary. Gardner had his best game this season by far running the ball, averaging nearly 6 yards a carry and breaking out a couple of nice stutter-steps on Michigan’s lone TD drive. Pass blocking held up, and though Gardner’s numbers were, again, pretty abysmal, they were not due to excessive pressure or a shrinking pocket. So that’s nice, I guess.
The line is far from perfect, but it has displayed the type of gradual improvement you expect from young players getting accustomed to each other. It lacks the certifiable NFL-quality stars we saw last year with Lewan and Schofield, but everyone should be back next year and there is solid depth behind them, so the next coaching staff will have more pieces to work with than Hoke had when he took over.
What is a bit sad is that had Gardner had this level of protection last year, I’m not sure the broken shell of a man we’ve seen this year exists. He’d still make some bad decisions, but you can see him flinch and lose focus when the pocket even gets compressed slightly, and that seemingly is due in part to being under constant duress last year behind whatever that was in front of him in 2013. Al Borges seemingly did him few favors these past couple of years in terms of coaching and development, but as we’ve seen this year at Penn State, any QB working under the constant threat of helmetical annihilation is going to play poorly. It also gives me small hope that next year, Morris and the cadre of running backs will perform reasonably well when not matched up against the MSU’s of the world.
Best: Going Out With a Bang
If this was Brady Hoke’s last home game as a Michigan head coach, he at least pulled out all the stops in trying to win it. The fake punt was a great call, particularly given the fact Michigan was going for it on the previous 4th-and-1 before Smith’s false-start penalty drove them back 5 yards. This being 2014 and Michigan being what they are, they settled for a FG attempt that was then blocked but ricocheted in, but at least it was an early attempt to “manufacture” points in a game that turned out to be a slog.
I also thought Michigan’s decision to go for it on the two other 4th-down plays were the right calls, particularly the 4th-and-6 in the third quarter that might have warranted a penalty call. And I suspect that had Michigan not given up an 11-yard sack on 3rd down from Maryland’s 5 yard line, they probably would have gone for the TD at that juncture as well. At his best, Brady Hoke has always been a bit of a gambler, though he’s seemingly been less so this season. Though it didn’t turn out to matter, it was at least refreshing to see him go back to those ways in this game.
Worst: Not Every Atomic Dog Has His Day
All season it felt like Dennis Norfleet was one block, one crease away from taking a punt back for a score. So there Michigan was, having recently taken the lead on Gardner’s nifty rushing TD and forced Maryland to punt. The ball seemingly bounced harmlessly in front of Norfleet, and he seemed content to let the Terrapins down it. Then, with a little shimmy, he picked the ball up on the bounce, jetted past a couple of flat-footed defenders, and shot past the punter for a TD and some much-needed breathing room. It would be the play that broke Maryland’s back and help secure Michigan’s win.
But of course, that isn’t the fairy-tale ending to this game because this is 2014 and Michigan football has apparently done a Freaky Friday-style switch with mid-2000 MSU. No, instead Michigan gets called for a dubious block-in-the-back penalty (seriously, it was basically a one-handed semi-shove on a guy barely on the screen), and gets booted off the field on 4th down. Maryland then ties the game on the next drive and goes on to win.
Norfleet will be a senior next year and (hopefully) will have a moment to shine, but this reversal was backbreaking in more ways than one.
Worst: When There Isn’t Anything Else to Say
Man, I want to have a fresh take on Devin Gardner, but I’m not sure there is one anymore. He barely threw for 100 yards, completed a shade over 50% of his throws, threw a tipped INT, and either threw just ahead/behind his receivers a half-dozen times or hit them right in the numbers just to see the ball get dropped. It was a sad Senior Day but also a bit fitting given the year he’s had thus far. It just stuns me that this Devin Gardner’s first home game as a starter was highlighted by this sequence:
And his final game in Ann Arbor didn't feature a completion longer than 23 yards, which practically qualifies as airing it out in this offense. Let’s just move on.
Worst: Catch the Damn Ball
What started off as basically Iowa last year has become a bit of an epidemic, especially recently with Devin Funchess. There were absolutely a couple of balls that were too far ahead/behind him to be considered catchable, but for the umpteenth game this year Funchess dropped a couple of very catchable balls that could have extended drives or bailed out his QB. I won’t recount every instance because, well, I still have a shred of humanity I’m trying to hold onto and I’m not inclined to rag on college kids too much, but suffice it to say that there were balls a purported first-rounder should have caught, and coupled with the anemic play-calling (we need to stop expecting the coaches to try to exploit any size advantages they may have with Funchess because if they aren’t going to throw a f*cking jump ball over a 5’ 7” guy, it ain’t going to happen ever), it’s been the opposite of the breakout year people expected.
The rest of the WRs continue to be uninspiring, with Canteen dropping a TD and nobody getting separation against one of the many “meh” secondaries in the conference. I’m sure there will be improvement next year, but you got me stumped from where given what we’ve seen this year.
I wish I could divine something greater here, but it was another okay performance that started off great but then faltered as the game progressed. Michigan largely held Maryland in check in the first half, with a trio of FGs to show for their efforts, including one a short field following Gardner’s INT. But in the second half, C. J. Brown just kept running the ball and Michigan consistently gave up the edge, and when Michigan tried to compensate he found receivers wide open for first downs. Michigan seemed to have no counter to the most predictable playcalls in the world, and yet they were a questionable spot on a 3rd down and a busted coverage by Raymon Taylor away from keeping the game tied at the end.
Bolden and Ryan were everywhere, and even without Clark in the lineup Michigan was able to get some pressure on Brown and slow down the running game for long stretches of the first half. Maryland didn’t try to throw the ball much until late in the game, but Lewis seemed to be in decent coverage most of the night and Taylor had that one bust on a fake WR screen but nothing else that felt egregious. Lewis’s big snafu was the running-into-the-kicker penalty that led to Maryland’s game-tying TD. Now, I’m not sure if the coaches told Lewis to go for the block or he called that on his own, but the risk-reward for blocking a chip-shot FG attempt by one of the best kickers in the country seemed pretty high against, and it turned as 4-point Michigan lead into a tied game. But given all of the bad decisions this year, it’s hard for me to drag up much more bile.
It’s a solid unit with inconsistent performances, coached by knowledgeable guys who seem unable to deal with a mobile QB or anyone who doesn’t respect the sanctity of the play clock. Again, the next staff will find a lot of talent in the cupboard; hopefully they’ll get more out of it.
Worst: Rivalry Week
Being a Michigan fan means I’ll be rooting for them to beat OSU, but as a human being who watches football, I don’t really see a way this isn’t doesn’t get ugly. OSU isn’t a great team, and I think they’re much closer to the squad that struggled against PSU, Minny, and IU in recent weeks than the one that obliterated MSU a couple of weeks ago. But they absolutely have the type of offense that can carve up Michigan, and no performance this year gives me any hope that Gardner and co. will be able to recreate last year’s fireworks. It’ll be close for a bit because it’s a rivalry game, but it will be a miracle if Michigan can escape Columbus with a win.
I will say, and not that the team should or would care, but I kinda hope the seemingly-annual pre-game fight at midfield doesn’t happen this year. The last team this 5-6 squad needs is a meaningless “tough guy” stomping on the midfield logo or whatever usually sets this stuff off. I’m sure it will happen, but when you’ve only beaten OSU 3 times since Y2K, it might be time to try something new.