to play football, not to play trumpet
RPS Part Deux: Comparing MSU to Michigan Defending Spread or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb vs. Man Free
Caveat: Again, I just watched the beginning and end of the game, blah, blah, blah...
Note: I added a basic field background to help communicate vertical spacing.
Last week I wrote about how Michigan defended the spread in the IU game. Today I'll compare that to how MSU defended OSU Saturday.
First, let's revisit how Michigan aligned vs. a 2x2 H-back look:
Notice how we are a man short in the box. If you're also noticing how it appears we have only 10 defenders on the field, it's b/c I tried to show the vertical spacing of the alignment; i.e., you can't see the Free Safety (FS) b/c he's 15-20 yards deep.
Similar to how Michigan aligned, MSU also had man over man on the Wide Receivers (WRs). However, MSU's safeties were no deeper than 8-10 yards, especially 8 on non-passing downs (what Bill Connelly of S&P refers to as "standard downs"). In doing this, MSU essentially has 8 in the box. If the safety over the H-back gets a run read from that H-back, the safety is down hill into his run fit.
In the comments of the previous diary, we discussed how playing no deep safeties is a recipe for spread adjustments like bubble screens and smoke screens; i.e. quick throws to the WRs. These are essentially wide running plays. Michigan has been using this tactic with great success the entire season--I'd guess that the success rate on these throws have been at least 90% for the Wolverines in 2015.
To take these away and remain sound defending the run, the defense needs OLBs and/or safeties aligned in such a way as to have the ability to defend both run and pass. Basically, the defense wants to have a man advantage against the number of eligible receivers on each side of the ball. In other words, if there are two receivers on a side, the defense needs to have three players in a position to defend them.
To have even 7 in the box, Michigan places a defender (in this case, the Will linebacker [WLB or simply W]) in a position to only play run and not be able to help on quick perimeter throws.
As you can see, the Spartans have safeties close enough to not be undermanned against inside running plays, and are also aligned so they have one more pass defender than the offense has eligible receivers to each side.
Again, I hope that Michigan does something different schematically against the Buckeyes than it did against the Hoosiers. If not, Ezekiel Elliot is going to have a Carlos Hyde type performance.
Best: A Picture is Worth a New Coach
I’ve been writing these diaries in one form or another for over 3 years; if you go back for enough, you’d find me making recaps using old Bruce Willis movie titles. Those were heady times, to say the least.
But this “version” of the game recaps has been kicking along for a bit now, spanning a national championship game run by the basketball team, most of the Hoke era, and now the Harbaugh reign. And one of its hallmarks, along with promises to keep things short and then writing 5,000 words, references to professional wrestling, and dumb header titles, are images and gifs. Usually I try to pick out images that embody the point I’m trying to make, such as watching UM play UConn in 2013
and then later obliterating IU.
For a time, sorting through them was easy on my computer, and if I couldn’t find one that fit I’d just Google image search until I did. But like all pack-rats, over time I accumulated (and this is the most internet thing I think I’ve ever written) too many animated gifs and dumb images to sort them quickly. So I built a small utility on one of the sites I maintain to upload and view all the images, scaled and paginated for easy traversal. When I come across an image or gif I think is funny or interesting, I upload it to the site, even if I don’t have an immediate use for it. And before you ask, yes, I’m a software engineer.
So I’ve had this site for over a year now, and by default I sort the images by the day they were uploaded. So I went back and looked at last year around this time, to see if any images might be relevant or particularly humorous given how this weekend played out. And what I realized, beyond the fact that I’m on WAY too many message boards and reddit threads, is that it was f’ing DARK around this time last year. I mean, some of the first images that pops up is a dog literally shitting during a competition
and of a motorcyclist running into a car while an interview is going on.
It wasn’t just that UM was losing; that had unfortunately become a common occurrence years before. The losing, sadly, I could live with as a fan; it ruins your day, but rarely do teams go a whole season without blowing a game or just running into a better opponent. No, what these pictures made so clear was how much melancholy and ennui surrounded the program. It became such a chore to watch these games, to see a team with top-20 talent and bottom-20 coaching sludgefart their way through 12 games a year, that I’m honestly not sure I’d have continued writing these had that malaise carried on to this season (and yeah, I know a couple of you probably wished I had stopped). It just felt like an unnecessary strain, watching this program further devolve and looking for the fool’s gold of “progress” in crude accomplishments such as “they nearly broke 200 yards of offense”, “Devin Gardner walked off the field in one piece”, and “they almost won on the road this time”. And by its very nature, my goal is to keep these articles upbeat and rarely serious, not a dour litany of the failings everyone already watched on Saturday.
Frankly, it’s how I imagine most logical PSU fans must feel like watching the Nittany Lions these past couple of years, knowing that your ceiling is one of those mid-tier Florida bowl games against an 8-win SEC outfit. You hear about the recruiting classes, you see the all-world defensive linemen, you (apparently) believe your QB to be a future NFL signal-caller despite evidence to the contrary, and then you look up and all you have are a bunch of 7-win seasons with few signs of actual growth. That was life watching UM football under Brady Hoke, a guy who checks off a number of the boxes you want in a coach (strong connection to the program, ace recruiter, good human being) except the ones that really matter (beating rivals, winning seasons, demonstrative improvements during the season as well as between them). And once the afterglow of that 2011 season faded and it was just season after season of mediocrity (or worse), well, you welcome in a nice little otter into your heart and he doesn’t seem to be in any hurry to leave.
But right around the time Harbaugh made it clear he’d be coming to UM, I noticed that the tone of the images I uploaded changed rather dramatically. Gone were the depressing images, the painful gifs, and the general resignation that were the hallmarks of lost seasons. It wasn’t that I suddenly started to download rainbows, unicorns, and silly cat pictures, only that I didn’t need to find ever more ludicrous pictures to display my exasperation with the direction of this program. UM did and will continue to lose games and the coaches and players will do “bad” things on and off the field, but these foibles no longer feel embedded in the DNA of the block M, in the same way that “Sparty No!” seems to have left the Spartan hemoglobin (though its devil pact replacement ain’t too fun either).
I’ve said this before, but ever since the Utah game Michigan has seemed competent in everything they do. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t weaknesses and that mistakes aren’t made, only that from the coaches on down, everyone seems, I don’t know, professional about it. They aren’t scrambling to find answers to obvious questions, there aren’t players finger-pointing when games go badly (and to his credit, Hoke never had this issue either), and there hasn’t been a moment that was truly embarrassing to the program or the players. Hell, even after the MSU game, the lowest of low moments of the season, everyone associated with the program maintained a calmness and professionalism that was refreshing given the clusterfuck of recent vintage. The worst of moments was treated like every other; a teachable instance, a chance to reaffirm the mantras of responsibility and camaraderie, of “winning with character and winning with cruelty” and doing the same in a loss, and the choice to move on. While I dislike the lazy “Michigan Man” meme, if THIS is what it means and is what I can come to expect from the program going forward, then I think Bo would find it agreeable.
Now, there will be speedbumps in the coming years; hell, there could very well be a nasty nut-shaped one next week. But this program is on the type of solid ground that lets you weather those slip-ups properly, absorbing the lessons and making sure they don’t repeat themselves. Last year’s contest was an emotional rollercoaster, with Devin Gardner and the defense clawing UM to the victory in a game where Brady Hoke called a timeout to give PSU one last hail-mary throw to end the half.*
This year, PSU threatened briefly but was roughly as inept as last year’s edition. And if you squint and look at just the box score, you could make an argument that UM wasn’t much different either – slightly better offensive numbers than last year, but more turnovers and a boatload (13 for 117) of penalties. But at no point in this game did I expect UM to lose, and from the sideline on down you could tell the team took the terrible penalties, the bad-luck TOs, the offensive miscues in stride. There are at least two more games in this season and UM has a good chance to win them both, but this season has already been a success, and the future looks even brighter. Now, if only I had an image…
* I’ll admit to defending it at the time and still thinking it wasn’t a terrible decision even now, but that’s not relevant anymore.
You hear all the time about how teams need “playmakers” on both sides of the ball. On defense, it’s usually reserved for defensive backs who pick off passes, safeties who lay bone-crunching hits, and defensive ends who obliterate QBs. On offense, playmakers are the running backs who turn 2 yards into 50, WRs who make impossible catches seem routine, and QBs who can make all the throws and pilot an offense in amazing ways. The common thread, though, is that these players are able to improvise, to “make plays” when things break down, to divine success from the chaos surrounding them. UM has had their fair share of playmakers in this mold, including some of the greatest college football players in history.
The emphasis, for lack of a better analogy, is on the “maker” part of playmaker, the sense that greatness comes out when structure breaks down. But you can’t ignore the first part, those players who are able to execute the “play” well enough to win, who can process what’s in front of them and perform their role as perfectly as possible. Tom Brady is on the short list of greatest QBs in NFL history not because of a fantastic arm, blazing speed, or snake-quick release, but because he executes about as well as anyone who has played the position. Sure, he can create magic when forced to, but he’s a “playmaker” because he makes the plays that his team needs him to make, in the offensive system he’s helped perfect. And yet, when you say a player does his job well, it’s almost taken as an insult, as if genius only counts if you are throwing paint at a wall or flicking a ball on a broken play with 300-pound men chasing you.
Jake Rudock looks like your dad’s QB, a smart guy with a clean face and a quiet confidence. He can run a little, he can throw a little more, but he doesn’t do anything that immediately jumps out at you as spectacular. Whereas Johnny Football is a whirling dervish on the field, and Denard a bolt of maize-and-blue lightning streaking down the sideline, Rudock is the steady, competent QB who is always looking downfield for his receivers, who isn’t afraid to take the ball and run but isn’t going to sacrifice the offense for it. And truth be told, he’s always seemed a bit like an anomaly in the current game, a guy who Iowa didn’t want despite putting up basically the same numbers as the guy who replaced him, who plans on being a surgeon and probably will back it up unlike some other collegians.
But over the back half of this season, he’s also become a playmaker on this offense. Whereas against teams like MSU and Maryland he looked timid and lost, he now looks confident and poised, surveying the field, making the right throws, keeping this team moving forward even while the running game evaporates and the defense takes an understandable step back from its dominance. He’s the reason this team beat IU last week and was a main cog in the grinding win this week. He’s thrown for over 1,000 yards in the past 3 games, for 10 TDs vs. 2 INTs, and has done so accurately (70% completion percentage) and aggressively (9.4 ypa). Credit should obviously go to Jim Harbaugh for never wavering in his dedication to Rudock despite early-season struggles, but this is the player UM hoped they were getting when he came on campus, and given the fact that he had only weeks to assimilate a complex playbook and get in sync with his teammates, it probably shouldn’t be a surprise that it took a bit to get there.
Still, Rudock is a big reason most of the team’s goals remain in play, and why they just swept their conference road slate for the first time in decades. He’s never going to go down in Michigan lore or be honored at halftime of a future game, but he’s been the steady force at the helm for this team, and I fully expect him to perform up to this level for as long as UM season keeps going.
Worst: Just Stop Running
Another week, another dispiriting performance on the ground. At least this week it was understandable, what with PSU’s dominant defensive line (even without Carl Nassib for part of the game). Zettel and Johnson can stop a rushing attack by themselves, so I wasn’t surprised that nobody really broke out. And even if there were the occasional openings, well, as Patches O’houlihan would say about the UM rushing attack, “they’re too good and you suck something awful”.
But what was disheartening was how quickly the coaches recognized this futility and really didn’t try to come back to it until the game was salted away. On the one hand, credit to the coaches for calling plays that would have the maximum probability of success, not just fulfill some chest beating about “toughness”. Brian is fond of saying that when a game is like one from the 1950s, you call plays like its the 1950s, and that usually means caveman football with 2 yards and a cloud of dust. But Harbaugh isn’t like most coaches, and so when it was clear PSU wasn’t going to be able to do much offensively and there weren’t many yards on the ground, he aired it out and found ways to move the ball semi-effectively.
For what feels like the umpteenth time since the MSU game, De’Veon Smith recorded about 3 yards a carry with a long in the single digits, while a WR (Chesson), a mini linebacker (Peppers) a fullback (Houma), and a QB (Rudock) were the next four rushers. Heck, the only other back to get a carry was Higdon, who had one carry for 0 yards on the first drive of the game. It is my understanding that Smith is dealing with a foot/ankle injury he suffered against BYU, and if you look at his game log it’s pretty clear that something is wrong.
But this team is supposedly full of other competent performers in the backfield, at least by reputation if not actual performance. I know I harped on the same thing last week, but the fact nobody has seemingly even sniffed carries after Smith, Houma, and Johnson despite their limitations is damning for the rest of the guys on the roster, much in the same way Rudock’s early struggles didn’t even seem to remotely improve the stock of the guys behind him. MSU just beat OSU running the ball for over 200 yards and barely passing, so perhaps there is hope that UM will be able to somewhat replicate that performance. But when your head coach looks at his roster and feels it more prudent to throw against the nation’s leading sack defense than try to establish a rushing attack, that’s pretty damning.
Meh: Blocky-type guys
On the one hand, the pass blocking was pretty solid this game; outside of the strip-sack by Brandon Bell Rudock was mostly kept clean (only 2 sacks and no hits according to the stat sheet), and as noted earlier Rudock was taking shots down the field and had time to do so. On the other hand, this was another week where the running game seemed barely functional for long stretches, and while I just heaped a decent amount of blame on the backs it wasn’t like the line graded out particularly well against IU and, I’m guessing, the same will play out this week. The good news is that they are absolutely making strides and, with the exception of Glasgow’s graduation, should return with everyone next season. But at some point this unit needs to take that step forward and start imposing its will on teams the way Stanford used to, and you’d have expected that to happen as they became more comfortable with the offense. OSU will be another major test, though who the hell knows what team will show up on Saturday. But next year this line must make the next step forward for UM to have a chance at great things, and thus far it seems somewhat incomplete.
Best: The Toast of the Town
Sadly this probably isn’t a cultural milestone for a portion of the readership, but there was a time when a screensaver was one of the “coolest” things about PCs. After Dark, a collection of screensavers for Windows, featured a variety of cool, animated screens to display on your system while you were away. There was animated fish tanks, flocks of birds, and enough geometric explosions to tease out a smile from even the most jaded systems admin. And the most iconic of these screensaver was the famed “flying toasters”, featuring a seemingly random number of slices of toast and winged-toasters floating across your screen. It was mesmerizing, funny, and creative in that un-ironic way that is almost impossible to comprehend in 2015, and even today its legacy lives on.
Well, in this game Amara Darboh was the toast of screen passes. With the running game struggling, these plays were as much long runs as they were passes, and given Darboh’s stiff arm and strong running style, they consistently picked up first downs and helped to keep the offense from getting bogged down. The first TD of the game was a great pitch-and-catch by Darboh, helped by a great block by Grant Perry (he might not have had the freshman year some expected on the stat sheet, but Perry has been one of the best blockers on screens and runs this whole season), and Darboh never failed to turn these passes in nice chunk plays.
It was brilliant playcalling by Harbaugh, as it got the ball in space and let Darboh grind out those couple extra yards his strength and size afford him. It also demonstrably loosened up the PSU front 7, which served them well later on in the game when the offense started to take shots farther downfield. With Butt and Chesson also having solid games, it was another promising performance from a receiving core that should hopefully be back next year. I’m particularly interested in how Butt’s senior year plays out, as the coaching staff is clearly starting to take advantage of his “uncoverability” with more deep routes against coverage. And perhaps unsurprisingly, as Rudock came into his own so has Chesson, who seems to finally be the deep threat/stretch offense that always seemed to be bubbling just beneath the surface of his game.
Best: A Return to Form
I always thought the IU game would be an aberration in terms of the defense’s performance this year, so it was nice to see the team bounce back and hold PSU to about 200 yards of total offense. They gave up that first big run to Barkley but otherwise bottled him up (12 yards on 14 carries after that 56-yard run), and Hackenberg looked absolutely lost out there for most of the contest (41% completion for 4.3 ypa) . PSU wasn’t helped by playcalling that was beyond passive for long stretches The tone was set when, after getting inside the 10 on their opening drive, PSU ran the ball 3 times and then kicked a FG; if a team can throw in the towel on their first offensive series, that red zone series was it.
Charlton was in the backfield seemingly all game, picking up two sacks and helping to compress the pocket whenever the Nittany Lions weren’t grabbing jerseys. I expect both Wormley and Henry to grade out really well in addition, especially on the pressure metrics, as they were consistently getting in Hackenberg’s face even if they didn’t record a sack. There were a couple of times when he just turfed balls because hands were in his face, and that type of disruption won’t show up on the official scorecard but is just as important as a TFL or a sack.
I’m honestly not sure about the LBs anymore. Bolden was absolutely manhandled on that first long run, but otherwise it seemed like him, Morgan, and Ross made the plays they needed to. They were very good at stringing along PSU outside run plays, and rarely did you see gaps open up for Barkley (a really talented guy) to slip through, unlike last week. I think Morgan’s departure will be felt next season, but beyond that it’s hard to tell what the drop-off will be with Gedeon and the collection of young guys beyond them. My guess is that a couple of “athletes” in search of a position will be getting reps there in the offseason, and so it’ll be interesting to say the least.
And the secondary was its typical lockdown self. Lewis was challenged a couple of times but without much success, though his trip in the first half was nearly disastrous except the Wilson or Thomas came over to break up the pass in the endzone. Beyond that, the corners were mostly in the receiver’s pockets all game, and you could see Hackenberg become increasingly despondent as he surveyed the field. Thomas had a solid outing, though he dropped another near-INT on an overthrown ball near the sideline. Wilson had a great open-field tackle on Barkley that kept a second-down run from breaking big, and was his usual steady self.
It was clear that PSU thought they could pick on Peppers, and he responded pretty well. Yes, he did give up the TD pass to Blacknall that briefly gave PSU the lead in the 2nd quarter, but he also had three PBUs and had some nice tackles in space. And on that TD, had he turned his head around quicker he’d have had a good chance at picking the ball off, as it was a bit underthrown and he was between it and the receiver. He remains, as always, a terrifying weapon designed to destroy any offense he sees.
Again, game balls to everyone for keeping PSU bottled up. Even when the Nittany Lions did get close to scoring, the defense typically stiffened and either held them to FG tries or, as in the 2nd quarter, drove PSU out of FG range with timely sacks. I’m fully expecting OSU to pull out every play possible next week, but based on the performance I saw this Saturday by both teams I’m feeling a bit more confident about how this team will cope with the Buckeye attack.
Best: James Franklin is Terrible
Seriously, I don’t even have anything funny or witty to say. I DO wonder if he was replaced on the sideline with Bernie Lomax for stretches of this game, though, as some of these playcalls felt like he just flopped down on the playsheet and didn’t care a lick for down and distance. As I noted above, that first drive featured 3 consecutive runs in the redzone, and for the game PSU kicked FGs of 23, 24, and 18 yards, while also averaging 32 yards a punt, including punting when he was on UM’s side of the field late in the 2nd quarter. Woof.
Hackenberg isn’t close to the QB he flashed during his freshman year, which is probably due to a combination of coaching and the fact he was throwing to Allen Robinson all year, and about midway through the first half he looked like the Undertaker given how far his eyes rolled back into his head as he listened to the coaches on the sideline.
I’m not one to read too much into body language, especially during a game, but Hackenberg looked like a guy who was absolutely sick of this coaching staff and this team, and its hard not to put a lot of that blame on Franklin. Franklin’s rep as an offensive “innovator” always struck me as odd, as PSU has rarely looked overly competent on that side of the ball, and even his Vandy teams, while explosive against the dregs of the schedule, never looked particularly dangerous against the better teams on the schedule. Vanderbilt caveats and all, it seems like Franklin is a good recruiter and a competent offensive thinker, but it still feels like he is playing checkers on the sideline while guys like Harbaugh are playing battle chess.
Meh: Special Teams
On the one hand, UM had a punt partially blocked that set up PSU’s only TD, which continues a disturbing trend of special teams issues. At the same time, O’Neill was able to drop a punt deep deep into PSU territory that UM recovered on the fair-catch fumble in part because the PSU receiver was surrounded by 4 Wolverines. Also, Lewis had a couple nice returns, including a 55-yarder to set up the final points of the game after PSU had pulled within 5 at 21-16. I know the shiny advanced stats are going to go down again, but the performance of this unit remains light-years better than last season’s, and helped keep this game from possibly going in PSU’s favor.
Worst: These F***ing Refs
PSU had a total of 14 first downs in this game, 6(!!!!) of which due to penalty. For long stretches of this game, PSU only moved forward because of penalties. While UM was definitely undisciplined with the offsides and false starts, it just got silly when you looked up at the scoreboard and saw UM had 13 penalties for 117 yards. I get that UM does interfere with passes and holds players like everyone else, but when Peppers is getting dinged with a PI because the PSU receiver punched him in the face, or Henry is being called for defensive holding, it gets hard to keep watching.
And as is usual with B1G refs, we had another semi-clear targeting situation that went against UM. I’m not sure if Anthony Zettel was targeting Rudock with his hit, but I am 100% certain that if we live in a world where James Ross and Joe Bolden can be sent off for their transgressions, old tree-thumper thereshould have been sent off for cracking Rudock on the chin with his helmet.
Toward the end of the game Harbaugh just seemed beyond perplexed, and for good reason. UM needs to fix the procedural penalties that kept PSU drives going or stalled out UM’s, but at some point you have to wonder if they’ll get a better shake when bowl season comes around and another conference’s crew gets ahold of them.
Next Week: The Game
You had one job, OSU, and you couldn’t do it. That was a comically bad game, a war crime to college football fans covered by the Geneva Convention, and beyond the fact it gave MSU an undeserved inside track for the division title, it sucked so much juice out of what was probably one of the more important final games in this rivalry’s recent history. One can always hold out hope PSU plays inspired football to spoil MSU’s bid, but I’m not holding my breath. The Spartans remain perhaps the luckiest team in college football (beyond the fact that they didn’t lead against UM OR OSU until the last second, they still have an absurd turnover margin), but at this point I expect them to win the entire damn conference and then get destroyed by Clemson or Alabama.
I’d like to say that OSU’s hangover will carry over to this game, but I doubt it. Even with all the turmoil, OSU will play inspired against UM, and I expect all of the wrinkles and nuances that come with rivalry game. It felt like OSU just overlooked MSU a bit once it was clear Cook wasn’t playing, and by the time they woke up they were in a rock fight with the rockiest of teams.
Right now, I think UM has the advantage even if the game wasn’t at home. OSU doesn’t have a particularly competent QB on the roster, might still be limited in the running game, and has never been very consistent in the air. As for the defense, it looks good on paper but was also gashed by a mediocre MSU run game, and it sure seems like a couple of those guys are looking toward playing on Sunday. I don’t expect UM to run the ball particularly well, but it’s clear that Harbaugh has a number of tricks up his sleeve, and OSU is in enough disarray that I could see them win going away. Regardless, it’s going to be a fun week and, I hope, and even more fun Thanksgiving weekend.
After nearly every game this season, my son would ask me if I took notes on the game for the diary. It's something I started doing early on when I realized this was going to become part of my weekend ritual. But this season I decided I wanted to just watch the games and experience Harbaugh's first season as a fan. You only get one chance to make a first impression in life, and I didn't want to be busy scribbling notes while Jim Harbaugh was making his first impression as Michigan's head football coach. However, after bemoaning the performance of Brock Huard last week but not being able to provide any specific examples, I decided to get the old pen and paper out this week and take a few notes. Next game, I'll revert back to my now annual tradition of rocking back and forth in the fetal position for three plus hours, but we'll worry about that later. For now, I'll just focus on game 11.
Burst of Impetus
* Impetus, as discussed here many times is just another way of saying momentum. In the normal ebb and flow of a game, the momentum can swing back and forth many times. But that's just another way of characterizing the relative success or lack thereof of a series of offensive playcalls. Your team got RPS'd on back to back plays? Well, you lost the momentum. I use this section to try to pinpoint the one or two major plays in a game that change the narrative. Against Indiana, we were controlling the action until they returned a punt for a TD. In this game, the fumbled punt by PSU was important, but I don't think it changed the eventual outcome of the game. Michigan was the better team. How do I know this? Well, there are at least four major impetus-changing events that can happen during a ballgame. First of all, you've got penalties that can kill or extend a drive. Next would be big plays that can swing field position and energize a team and the crowd. Third, special teams can make a play (for example, Chesson winning the Northwestern game on the opening kickoff.) And finally, turnovers take the momentum from one team and give it to the other. Let's look at how these four impetus-influencing factors played out in the first half.
Penalties: Michigan committed seven for 45 yards to PSU's 1 for five. Edge to PSU. (More on this later.)
Big Plays: Michigan completed a 39 yard pass to Jake-who Chesson. Saquon Barkley had a run of 56 yards. Slight edge to PSU.
Special Teams: Michigan was called for a penalty negating a nice return. PSU blocked a Michigan punt. Big edge to PSU.
Turnovers: Rudock threw an INT (although I'm not real upset about that considering it was 3rd and 17.) PSU did not turn the ball over in the first half. Edge to PSU.
So all four of these favored PSU, and yet, the halftime score was 14-10 in favor of Michigan. Sometimes you can get all the breaks and still lose the game because the other team is better. Michigan is a better team than PSU. Michigan is more talented, more experienced, and better coached. Does that make me arrogant to state that? My Dad often stated, "humility is truth," borrowing from St. Vincent dePaul's quote, "Humility is nothing but truth, and pride is nothing but lying." I've never understand exactly what that meant, but to me, it says that to be humble you have to be truthful with yourself, and that means knowing what you are good at as well as what your problem areas are. Football is a great game because it exposes truths about ourselves and the teams we root for. Michigan has a darn good defense and an awakening passing game, and I'm just humble enough to admit that.
Trash Cans Full of Dirt
* I've got to bring this section heading back out from retirement in honor of the defensive line. Six of Michigan's 10 TFLs were made by defensive linemen, with Taco Charlton recording 3 for 18 yards. The defensive line also tallied 4 sacks. Excising sack yardage, PSU was held under 100 yards rushing on the day, finishing with 96 yards on 18 carries. Remember, 56 of those came on one run. Remove that and it's 40 yards on 17 carries. Not quite 27 for 27, but not bad either.
* A week after the two safeties led Michigan with 10 tackles each, the top 5 tacklers were non-safeties. Hill and Wilson each recorded 3 tackles. That's more like it.
The Three Jakes
* Jake Rudock was extra talented in his efficiency, completing 25 of 38 passes (65.8%) for 256 yards (6.7 YPA) with only 1 INT.
* Jake Buttttt caught five passes for 66 yards and a TD while Jake-who Chesson caught 4 passes for 69 yards.
NFL Route Tree Runners
* Early in the season, a couple B1G Network announcers discussed the complex "root trees" that UofM's receivers would have to learn to operate in Harbaugh's system. This week, just-a-guy Bob Windshield noted how Michigan's receivers were running NFL route trees. I suspect they are very similar to college route trees - a down and out is a down and out - but I never played the position. It is clear that the passing game has continued improving over the course of the season.
* Darboh had the biggest game among the receivers with 7 catches for 68 yards and a TD.
* Do I have to report on this?
* De'Veon Smith carried 13 times for 39 yards. His total was held down by not being able to break a run longer than 8 yards. It should be noted that PSU's formidable front 7 was only able to accumulate TFLs for 5 yards of non-sack plays. This prevented them from putting us in long down-and-distance situations. Of course, we compensated for that by committing numerous penalties, some real and some imaginary.
* Jabril Peppers is now 2nd on the actual depth chart at tailback, carrying 5 times for 19 yards. Are we sure we can't clone him?
* While playing defense, Peppers interfered with a PSU receiver using his facemask. Huard's commentary claimed it was normal hand fighting. That's the first time I've seen hand fighting between a WR's hand and a defender's facemask. Peppers had half of Michigan's 6 BrUps.
* Of Sione Houma's 4 runs and 1 reception, 4 either gave Michigan a first down or TD.
* There were 30 special teams plays out of 152 total, for 19.7%. Both teams punted 6 times. Both teams kicked off 5 times. That's what happens when both teams score 4 times. As Ace pointed out, we scored TDs and they kicked FGs.
* Net yards per punt were fairly even at 31.3 and 32.7 yards, but Michigan picked up an average of a first down on every kickoff. Our net yards per kickoff was 44.2 yards to their 34.2 yard. A big 55 yard return late in the game by Jourdan Lewis helped seal the victory.
* PSU accumulated 6 first downs via penalty. That's one more than OSU gained against MSU's defense all game. As a humble person, I can admit that MSU's defense is playing very well right now. So well that I don't think Saquon Barkley and Christian Hackenberg have a chance to score a single point.
* Michigan scored a touchdown in every quarter.
* Late in the game, Brock Huard admitted to being "hyper-critical" of Christian Hackenberg. He spent the rest of the game discussing Hackenberg's NFL chances. Apparently, his idea of being hyper-critical is pointing out one time that Hackenberg should throw the ball away instead of taking a sack. I just don't understand the love affair with Hackenberg. He looks the part - tall, apple-cheeked, All-American boy - but in my opinion, he's just a below average college quarterback. He does hold the ball too long, he's not "extra talented in his accuracy" (BTW, Brock Huard, what the heck does that even mean?) and he sometimes gives the appearance of a spoiled child who isn't getting his way. That's not exactly a great leadership quality. And to top it off, he pulled off the first, "no mas," moment since Leonard-Duran. I do hope he proves me wrong, starting next week.
* Ron Snodgrass was the referee. I think he's been sniffin' some grass. He correctly identified a targetting hit against Anthony Zettel, only to be overruled by the replay official. Since it's apparent that the officials have no idea what a targetting foul is anymore, I have to conclude it's a 50/50 call. Michigan's coin has come up heads (no pun intended) about 8 times in a row now. The probability of that occurring randomly is 1 in 256. I love a good conspiracy theory as much as the next guy, but I think this targetting thing is just a matter of incompetence.
* Quick aside, I heard a conspiracy theory stating that Ronda Rousey lost on purpose because she is leaving MMA for a while to do a movie or another side project and they don't want to be without their champion for an extended period. The fellow espousing this theory is a pro wrestler and says this happens all the time in WWE. The difference is, WWE is staged entertainment. Besides, if Rousey really wanted to lose on purpose, why did she let herself get smashed in the face 30 some times before getting knocked out?
* Michigan was flagged 13 times for 117 yards to PSU's 3 for 30. Yeah. Sure. Uh-huh. Ezekiel Elliott was asked about PSU's gameplan. He said he couldn't understand why PSU went away from the one play that was working for them in the first half - the-hard-count-to-get-them-to-jump-offsides play.
* I've written numerous times that all I want from the officials is some consistency. So if they are not going to throw a flag when Joe Bolden is flagrantly held and waves his arm around trying to get their attention, they shouldn't throw a flag when PSU's center waves his arm around trying to get a holding penalty on Michigan's nose tackle. The fact that these two plays happened on the same drive is further maddening.
* When Darboh was correctly flagged for stepping out of bounds and coming back in, the side judge didn't throw his hat down to indicate Darboh going out of bounds, nor did he throw a flag. It was clear the other official had to explain the rule to him. It's high time we started paying officials as full time employees and required them to know the rules and interpret them correctly. Snodgrass from accounting and his crew aren't getting the job done. Instead of throwing more and more money at coaches salaries and facilities upgrades, how about the NCAA actually take a concrete step to improve the quality of the game by hiring and training full-time officials?
I know a few people have made this post after the Minnesota and Indiana road games, and I loved reading them despite not going to those games, so I decided to share my experience yesterday at Penn State.
Getting in and out of State College: Central PA truly is an aesthetically beautiful place. The mountains (if you grew up out West you'd probably call them hills because they aren't THAT big) completely surround PSU and there are forests all around. Happy Valley itself is not that wooded (near the stadium feels kind of farmy), but still very pretty. Without a doubt, this is the most scenic locale of any Big Ten school/stadium. Approaching from the northwest, we took a scenic backroad route in through Black Moshannon State Park and it was absolutely stunning. Probably took us 15-20 minutes longer than the highways would've, but the slight detour was well worth it driving through deep woods and up and down switchbacks on the mountains (especially during a sunny morning! Would've been outstanding if the game was in October with fall colors). Yes, getting out is a nightmare. Never seen so many fans post-game tailgate anywhere(especially after a loss). However, once we got to I-99 there was no traffic on the highway. Generally, the drive from Ann Arbor really is not that terrible (around 6 hours) and there are plenty of cheap places to stay "Clearfield, Clarion, DuBois" on the way to PSU that won't make you have to pay for a State College hotel (we stayed in DuBois; lots of Michigan fans at the Best Western there).
The town/campus: I walked through most of the campus and also the college town area where most of the bars and eateries are. I wasn't very impressed with this part, especially the latter. The campus itself is very spread out. A few pretty areas, but everything kind of looks similar (brown brick). I love the diversity of architecture on U of M's campus and PSU definitely does not have that; very similar feel campus wise to Michigan State. The town area was decent, but nothing special; State College definitely doesn't come close to Ann Arbor in terms of a small town cosmopolitan feel.
Tailgating: Penn State is a fantastic place to tailgate if you enjoy the classic "out of the trunk of your car" setup. Lots are plentiful on all sides of the stadium. Even the students tailgate in parking lots, which definitely does not happen at Michigan. Nothing was too rowdy when we were there, but it was a November noon game they were expected to lose, so not exactly indicative of all games.
The stadium: Ugly (from the outside, anyways; and from inside the concourse). Built like an erector set and the stadium concourse is literally just a massive grid of exposed steel beams. Looks like it's under construction even though it's not. However, once in your seats, it is a very impressive venue. Looks great and the White Out really is an amazing college football atmosphere. Definitely can get loud. Louder than the Big House because of the structure, but not by as big of a margin as PSU fans would like to think. The We Are chant is the most impressive of their chants in my opinion. Penn State definitely uses much more piped in music than we do. I thought they used a little bit too much; however, their selection of it was great (they actually played current hits in addition to annoying Dad Rock that Michigan exclusively sticks to). At one point the whole crowd sang along to "Shut Up and Dance". The worst thing is that terrible lion roar they pipe in; it was cool the first few times but very over used. Also, they did have a few instances of blaring sirens when we were on Third Down, which seems a little too artificial to me. They also used fireworks, both before the game and after PSU touchdowns. Finally, I really hated the scoreboards. The layout of information was confusing, they didn't show any game scores from anywhere else on the board, and they are rectangular instead of squares which is weird.
Michigan Fan Attendance: Michigan fan turnout was decent, although not overwhelming. The away section in the north endzone was full and there were some people scattered throughout the lower bowl. I actually sat next to three groups of Michigan people and I was not in the Michigan section (we were on the West Sideline). There were more Michigan fans there than it looked on TV (I have since rewatched the game) because a) a lot were in blue instead of maize and hard to notice on TV and b) the West Sideline (not the one shown on TV) definitely had more Michigan fans than the East Sideline (shown on TV). It seems as if most of the Michigan fans present were East Coast Wolverines from those I talked to. We had an amazing "Beat Ohio" chant going in the final few minutes, which I think they found amusing (Definitely think they hate OSU more than us). The away section also had a few "DE-FENSE" and "Let's Go Blue!" chants.
Treatment of Michigan Fans: This was the biggest surprise. I had heard a lot of things about how PSU fans are very hostile to visitors, but we were treated very well by the Penn State fans. Nearly everyone was pleasant. We chatted a bunch with those seated around us and, even though I was sitting in a non-visitors section, I felt completely comfortable cheering loudly for Michigan. Nobody ever said anything when we yelled. Walking around before the game, we did get a few "Michigan Sucks or Fuck Michigan", but it was few and far between. (They have this thing where they say "It's 10:02 AM (or any random time) and Michigan still sucks" which I found kind of funny. I wonder if this started in the Hoke years after the fake "resurgence" in 2011). Again, this could've been due to the noon game factor, or the fact that they aren't as good as us this year, but Penn State fans were very accomodating and I was impressed with their hospitality.
Random Thoughts: PSU fans are not high on Franklin. There were multiple times that the stadium booed conservative playcalling. Reminded me a lot of last year in the Big House/Brady Hoke in general "he can recruit well but he can't coach!" God am I happy that we are past that.
All in all, a fantastic road trip and victory in Happy Valley! I would recommend the voyage to any Michigan fan; iconic Big Ten stadium and atmosphere in a beautiful location that really isn't too far from Michigan or the big East Coast cities.
GO BLUE, BEAT OHIO!
While a low pressure system from the Central Plains will make the mitten's weather a bit more interesting, high pressure keeps things quiet as far as Beaver Stadium is concerned. Not a bad day at all for November football - just put on some layers and the sunglasses!
If you're in University Park...
Brrr! Make a little extra hot coffe if you're headed out to tailgate early! We start the day in the upper 20s with partly cloudy skies. Winds will be light, so the plus side is we don't begin the day with a wind chill. Towards mid-morning we start to warm up a little - into the upper 30s - and still have some sun. Winds also pick up a bit, out of the SE at about 5mph (just enough to feel it on your skin, see some leaves move). It's not much of a breeze, but it's enough to keep it feeling like the low 30s.
We'll have a lot of sun for this lunchtime game! You'll want the hat or the sunglasses as it stays with us. 42 degrees for the kick-off with winds up to about 10mph out of the SE (just enough for leaves and papers to blow about). That little bit of a breeze will put that wind chill into the upper 30s!
45 degrees for the half as we head into the warmest part of the day. Still plenty of sunshine, but you still may want that hot chocolate before the 3rd quarter! SE winds remain right aroun 10mph, so it'll feel like 40. We also are looking at a few gusts up around 15-20mph to make an appearance in the second half.
Nittany Valley isn't going to be very 'happy' when we leave with a win! Temps are still hanging on in the mid 40s with SE winds at 10mph, maybe a gust or two. As the sun sets, we'll see some changes. There is the slight chance for a late-night shower - and maybe a few flurries in there - and if you didn't have the winter coat for the game, you'll want it even if you're just headed out to dinner. Winds will start to shift straight out of the south through the evening, and then out of the SSW late-night, remaining at 10mph. As temperatures fall to the upper 30s for dinner-time, that wind will have it feeling more like 30 degrees! Staying out late to celebrate? Cloud cover will increase as the sun goes down, which will help act like a blanket and keep us a little warmer throughout the night, and SW winds will compliment that. Temps drop to the mid 30s for last call.
If you're in Ann Arbor...
We have a little more of a mess to deal with here at home. Chilly throughout the entire day - we start the morning off in the low 30s, and highs top out around 35. Expect cloudy conditions, with passing snow showers. The ground is so warm it will take a little while for the snow to really accumulate in the morning, but it will pick up in the afternoon and evening, so be careful on the drive home if you're out to watch the game somewhere. We do have a winter weather advisory in effect throughout Saturday, so use caution as the snow falls and road conditions deteriorate. Ann Arbor is in the 4-5" range for snow totals as of Friday evening. Winds to start the day are out of the ENE around 10mph, picking up to 15mph/gusting to 20mph for the afternoon out of the N, and then coming out of the NW around 20mph gusting to 30 for the evening (this is when you can hear the wind whistle and small trees sway). This will keep wind chills in the mid 20s around gametime, and in the upper teens after sunset. As temperatures themselves fall into the 20s overnight into Sunday, use caution as any wet roads will become icy.
Christina Burkhart is a meteorologist for ABC in Flint, MI. She grew up in Ann Arbor and associates Saturdays with Michigan football. Go Blue!!
Caveat: I haven't studied the entire game, but I did watch the tape of the 1st quarter and two 4th quarter Indiana drives. I would doubt the plan was different in the 2nd/3rd quarters, but you never know, so if this doesn't hold for the entire game, mea culpa.
This defensive game plan harkened me back to days of Michigan yore, and not in a good way. A long, long time ago, Michigan (and most of the elite programs) used to win a ton of games by having better players than you and doing what it did best. It didn't matter if you had a better scheme. Even more recently (but still long ago) Michigan used to get burned by having a ton of NFL coaches on their staff that, when faced with non-NFL offensive schemes, seemed clueless as to how to stop them. They also never seemed to want to lower themselves by consulting HS and/or sub-division coaches who had faced these schemes with regularity. This is how we would get things like giving up 54 points to Northwestern and its spread in 2000 despite having two weeks to prepare.
Why Michigan has been really successful on D this year is b/c it can lock up on receivers, put an excellent, smart safety deep, then play with a man advantage in the box b/c the QB was not a run threat. In some sense, it was throwing rock every single time, believing (like Mickey from Seinfeld) that nothing beats rock. They're not alone.
It is widely known among coaching circles that gurus Bill Belichick and Nick Saban believe that (all else being equal) man-free defense is the best in the game: you're strong up the middle, you're protected deep, and you have an extra defender in the box vs. run.
When you're facing option football (which the NFL never sees), this is a fallacy, and Michigan fell victim on defense last Saturday.
Here's how the Maize and Blue would play what I call Deuce--twin receivers on both sides of the ball:
When the QB is a run threat, there are six defenders in the box to account for seven offensive players. When the deep middle of the field (MOF) safety is aligned so far back so he can play fades on each sideline, there's no way he can be involved in the run game except to save TDs. Most of the game, Indiana incorporated a TE, to which Michigan aligned thus:
The Wolverines were still short a man. And when you think about the fact that Indiana has a great OL and RB, it makes even less sense to play it this way. The funny (not ha-ha funny) thing is that playing a 30 front with hybrid defenders is supposed to allow a D to be able to have defenders who can play "overhang" (defender at LB level split b/w edge of box and inside receiver of twins, or 5x5 off the edge against a single WR). This way, the D gets two defenders in excellent position to support the run and get into zone coverage pretty easily.
As you can see, the Buck and the Nickel players are in excellent position to be primary force players, freeing up the End and Tackle to play normal technique. The Buck and Nickel are also in good position to get into underneath zone coverage and even cover seam routes. Moreover, there are now two safeties over the top instead of just one. The D can also have a lot of fun by bringing safeties down, blitzing from all angles with overhang, inside LBs, and even safeties.
I'm hopeful that our staff knows these things and is saving them for the Buckeyes.