"He makes it really easy on you as a coach because he has tremendous football instincts," Michigan tight ends coach Jay Harbaugh said. "Things come really naturally to him. He doesn't have to see things too many times. He has a good sense for how things should look and feel, and he's a tough, physical guy."
There’s been a lot of talk about who or what to blame for the Great Akron Tire Fire of 2013. Is Akron actually good or are we actually not that good? Were we “outcoached?” Did Hoke, Borges and Mattison spend the week watching reruns of A-Team instead of film? Did Devin Gardner just have an off day? Why was this almost The Horror: Part Deux instead of the blowout every single one of us expected?
I don’t see a single culprit, but rather, a coincidence of factors—each of which had a negative effect on the outcome. No single one can, in my estimation, account for a 28-24 near loss to Akron, but each contributed in the way that rubber, oxygen and sparks contribute to a real tire fire.
The point of this diary is to try to determine the importance of the various factors involved, relative to one another. This is a qualitative analysis, but I’ve jazzed it up with some numbers to make things more fun. First I looked at the final score, 28-24, and the fact that there were a total of 52 points scored. I then decided (for the sake of pseudoscientific modeling, of course) that in a perfect game, we score all the points. Against Akron, that would be 52-0 us. Working from this assumption, every element of our near-loss should contribute some discrete number of points away from 52-0 and towards 28-24. I then looked at the one factor that can be quantified—points off of Gardner’s turnovers—and determined the points and approximate percentages attributable to other factors relative to that.
Without further ado, then, here’s what I blame, along with the percentage of blame I think they are accountable for, and why. I’ve also included an “adjusted score” to show what the final might have been like had this one factor not been a factor (and everything else held constant).
1. Akron – 15% [7 points.]
Adjusted Score: 31-20
Clearly Akron played better than we thought they were capable of—their 2 stars, walk-ons and JUCO transfers did nearly as well against us as Notre Dame’s parade of heralded 4 and 5 stars. It’s the coaching: Terry Bowden and Chuck Amato are unusually experienced for the MAC, and have enjoyed success at the highest level.** They weren’t intimidated, and clearly did their homework. As bad as they have been in the past, on this specific day they played better than anyone expected—appreciably better than, say, Central Michigan did a couple weeks ago. And it doesn’t hurt that they figured out our snap count. Of course, that probably would not have mattered had it not been for our…
2. Complacency – 40% [21 points]
Adjusted Score: 42–17 or 35-10
As much as Akron’s gameplan execution exceeded expectations, ours failed to live up to even the minimal standard. In some ways, the game resembled a bastard hybrid of Carr-era and Rodriguez-era demons—ultra-soft defense, conservative play-calling and a languid approach to an early-season opponent tied to soul-crushing turnovers, missed field goals and inexplicably stalled drives. Though I don’t know what went on during the week, it sure seemed like everyone, from the staff on down, figured this one would wrap up by the end of first quarter. We were content to line up with our most vanilla defense, expecting to get pressure from our front four against a max protect blocking scheme. Instead, Pohl had a lot of time to find the gaps in our soft zone. The offense was better, but there were too many DeBord-esque obvious runs on obvious running downs right into 9 dudes for -2 to 2 yards. That might have worked when we had Mike Hart or Chris Perry running behind a more experienced O-line, but we don’t, and so it did not. We could have gone more to the zone-read—when we did, it worked like a charm. But we didn’t.* The players don’t get a pass here either. A lot of guys just looked lazy and/or disoriented out there—guys who are pretty decent, like Michael Schofield, Joe Bolden, Brendan Gibbons and Matt Wile. Maybe it was a “hangover” effect from last week, or simple overconfidence. I lean towards the latter—this was a team that wasn’t prepared for adversity, and consequently, wasn’t putting in much of an effort. Even when it was clear that more effort was needed, we were sloppy.
3. Devin Gardner’s Gameday Psychology – 25% [14 points]
Adjusted Score: 35-17
It’s apparently feast or famine with Rich Rodriguez-recruited quarterbacks, and in this sense Devin Garner appears no different than Denard Robinson or Tate Forcier before him. All have the ability to dazzle you with their improvisational skills on one play, only to crush your hopes and dreams will their gun-slingin’ ways on the next. In this game, Devin made four crucial, head-scratching errors. The fumble came because he couldn’t decide whether to keep or pitch on a speed option. The pitch was open for a TD, but instead he just sort of didn’t protect the ball and—whoops—there it went. And the INTs…oh dear—one returned for a touchdown and the other two almost converted into field goals. His turnovers accounted for 14 points, and nearly for another 6. And that’s not even taking into account the drive-killing throws to Tacopants. Despite what I said earlier, this is Akron. A MAC team. Put in the same position, Michigan State, Northwestern and Ohio all make more than 14 points out of 4 turnovers.
4. Lack of Skill and/or Experience at Key Positions - 20% [10 points]
Adjusted Score: 31-17
We all worried about this in the offseason, but then against Notre Dame, it suddenly didn’t seem to matter. Well, it does. We missed an interior O-line that can get a push against an undersized and less-talented defensive front. We missed being able to get a pass rush with the front four. We missed Jordan Kovacs. We missed Jake Ryan. We missed having a reliable run game from the running backs. Still, we have enough talent and skill, distributed evenly enough and bolstered by good coaching, that this should not have greatly affected the outcome against Akron. Northwestern, Sparty or even Iowa, maybe, but not Akron. Never Akron.
What This Means Going Forward
Sometimes a bad game against an inferior opponent exposes certain flaws that will become unavoidable as you move to league play. Other times, it’s just one bad game—embarrassing, certainly, but not necessarily indicative of season-long trends. The two low points of the past 20 years of Michigan football are undoubtedly the 2007 “Horror” against Appalachian State and the 2008 “Nameless Embarrassment” against Toledo. The Horror was emblematic of the latter—sure we stank the following week against a very good Oregon team, but we did recover. We won 8 of our last 10 and then beat Urban Meyer’s Florida in the Capital One Bowl. By contrast, the loss against Toledo was pretty emblematic of who we were that year, i.e. the worst Michigan team since the 1960s, if not longer.
The good news is that, since we won this one, we will eventually forget it ever happened. I mean, how many of us remember that we had to come from behind to beat San Diego State in 2004? I didn't until I looked it up. By contrast, I will never forget losing to App State and Toledo. So there’s that. What really worries me, though, is that this one is more like the 2010 near-disaster against UMASS, or Ben Chappell’s one game Heisman performance of 2009—wins that expose fundamental flaws that will haunt us down the line.
I believe the evidence is unclear on this—certainly, the game did expose our weakness on the interior offensive line, as well as our inability to get pressure without blitzing. It also reminded us that creative, improvisational quarterbacks almost inevitably have off days, when the split-second, seat-of-your-pants decisions just don’t go your way. I imagine that we will have more days where our O-line can’t get a push and our D-line gets pushed. I also imagine that there is at least one more game left where Gardner’s penchant for turning the ball over puts the outcome in jeopardy.
The good news is that these are areas where we can improve over the course of the season. Kalis is a guy I expect to be a lot better by the end of the season than he is now—the talent is there; it’s just that the experience is not. Young, talented guys can learn from this embarrassment—Ojemudia, Clark, Bolden, Ross, Thomas, Hollowell. And Jake Ryan's return should help considerably.
The bad news is that improvement over the course of a season is often negated by injuries and often lost in the transition to better and more consistent competition. The young starters will almost certainly have another bad game before the season is done. Probably on the road, though as this game proves, it can happen at home too.
Gardner’s game-time psychology is an equal, if not bigger factor, for the simple reason that we ask him to do so much, and to paper over so many structural weaknesses in our roster. Of the three Rodriguez-era quarterbacks I mentioned above, Devin, I think, has the highest ceiling. He showed us that against Notre Dame, as well as last year when he filled in for Denard. In his weekly diary, Bronxblue pointed out that Devin is more than a bit like Vince Young—a supreme athlete who eventually turned into the most dominant individual player I’ve ever seen, but who first struggled with consistency in the passing game. Devin’s passing is actually better than Young’s was at this stage in his career, but he does have that problem with turnovers, and it’s a big one. As much as I love this coaching staff, it’s unclear whether they will be able to work the turnovers out of his system—Denard, as we all know, regressed in the INT department in the shift from 2010 to 2011. Since Devin better fits the Borges mold, I think they'll have better success with him on this front, but it’s still too much of an open question for my liking.
All that said, complacency was the biggest single ingredient of this tire fire, and I do not think this will be a problem again. Hoke and company dodged a bullet on Saturday, and do not think anyone will be looked past or given short shrift going forward. Take that out of the equation, and the next tire fire looks to max out at 60% of this one.
The bottom line is, we are unlikely to play this poorly against anyone else left on our schedule. Unfortunately, the rest of the teams on our schedule are all better than Akron. Still, if we can fix the complacency and preparation issue and halve the turnovers, that should be enough to win more games than we lose from this point forward. Unfortunately, this game also shows us that we're not quite ready for the big time yet. The saving grace is that we play in the Big 10, where arguably no one else is either.
*We did have some success under center, but my impression is that shotgun formations were more consistently successful. I’m looking forward to the UFR to see if that’s correct or not.
**EDIT: And let's not forget Jim Tressel, who unfortunately knows a thing or two about winning at Michigan Stadium.
The Big Ten had a bit of a rough weekend overall, as you undoubtedly know.
That being said, when the conference was winning, it was winning rather handily as the average margin of victory was almost 18 points. When it was losing, it was losing by a reasonably competitive 8 points on average. The best and worst performances when it comes to margin of victory – quality of opponent notwithstanding – belong to Michigan State and Nebraska respectively.
SCORING OFFENSE AND DEFENSE:
Three games into the regular season, there are six Big Ten teams still averaging over 40 points per game on offense, including Michigan (sixth in the Big Ten at 42.7 points per game). Bolstered by its initial outing, Indiana still leads the way at 50 points per game on average. The worst performer here, again “bolstered” by its first performance, is Purdue.
When it comes to points against, Nebraska and Purdue are having strangely similar luck in not stopping anyone from scoring as they essentially share the worst track record after three games. Wisconsin, whose average includes two shutouts, has the best statistics here.
Here is the average point differential. Purdue currently is the only team that runs at a deficit.
TOTAL OFFENSE AND DEFENSE:
Over three games, Indiana, Wisconsin, Northwestern and Ohio State have all managed to average over 500 yards of offense, with Michigan coming in a respectable sixth here at 449.3 yards per game. Only three teams are below 400 yards of offense per game at this point (small sample, opponent strength, disclaimer…).
On the other side of the ball, there is a clear leader here – Michigan State. Michigan sits in the middle of the conference here and Illinois owns the worst statistics here at nearly 500 yards per game given up. Indiana and Northwestern are right up there as well.
YARDS PER PLAY DIFFERENTIAL:
Three teams in the Big Ten actually have negative YPP differentials right now:
RUSHING OFFENSE & DEFENSE:
So, as you might expect, the team still getting the most out of its ground game is Wisconsin, and you have to go all the way down to the ninth spot in the conference to find Michigan’s average rushing yardage on offense.
That being said, we do a decent job of stopping the run typically, so at least this is not Indiana.
PASSING OFFENSE & DEFENSE:
Indiana and Illinois are the most prolific teams when it comes to attacking defenses through the air right now, both averaging over 300 yards of passing per game. Michigan sits at fifth in the conference.
As for defending against the pass, this is where we didn’t do ourselves a lot of favors this past Saturday. We are seventh in the conference in passing defense, tied with Purdue of all teams.
THIRD DOWN CONVERSIONS:
I’ll let the conference stats speak for themselves here, but with regards to Michigan, we are very good at getting them so far, but as you’ll note, we’ve given quite a few up. The average differential for Michigan, in fact, is 6.7%.
Here is kickoff return and punt return information for the conference:
Warning - long post but I think it's important to lay out the facts of our DL, so have tried to place a thought process that can do so below. If this is the wrong place to post a long piece, mods please move to "diary".
First let me say I am a Michigan fan and alum so while you may feel free to downvote at will, most of what I present below will be facts, even if they are taken as negatives. Second, this is only partially driven by the Akron game so it's not a knee jerk response as much as a view of what has transpired these first 3 games; notably the 1st and 3rd but after watching Purdue's DL do quite well with Notre Dame until it wore down in the 2nd half, it also is driven in part by the Notre Dame game.
The knee jerk reaction is its on the players here. Obviously both our lines are substandard versus what a championship quality team has. I am not speaking "champions of the midwest" which nowadays is like crowning a junior varsity beauty queen, but something similar to what would give UM a fighting chance first a top 2-3 type SEC team (or Oregon or whomever is a great team that year). I am hearing the "fire Funk" chants by some on these boards but the talent of UM's offensive line is in the 2012-2013 class outside our 2 elder tackles. Funk may be great, poor, or a very average coach. I don't know. He will have a ton of raw clay to work with and his work will become clear in 2014-2015 when these kids hit the field en masse. The pedigree of the OL kids of 2012-2013 classes is very high, so we will see what the staff creates out of them ... but not this year as only the first wave (Kalis) has hit the field. Miller is a 2011 kid, and Glasgow fergodsakes is a walkon. But if you are the one(s) denouncing Funk's coaching for the OL, you should be equally denouncing 2 of the 3 biggest names on the staff for the DL - that is Mattison and Hoke. Arguing for one to be dismissed for the lack of production without equally arguing for the other 2 is a bit silly when both units are a fail versus championship quality. My larger point is it is WAY TOO SOON to judge either.
Now on to the talent portion. After these tough outings by our 2 respective lines, I am looking to the future and wondering what we have. And how it compares to our 2 Midwest football power peers (insert Midwest football power joke here) - ND and Ohio. Again, the OL classes of 2012-2013 look to have a lot of talent and while surely some will not pan out, there is a lot of raw clay to work with. But on DL? We have issues. These are young players. When young players are very good they flash. I am not looking for Mike Martin or Brandon Graham as juniors. I am looking for a "hey player ABC looked a lot like Brandhon Graham on that play... oh snap player ABC just screwed up on the next!! oh well he is a RS freshman". We can see that sort of thing happening with Kalis because... he is Kalis. We see that sort of thing happening with J Ross because... he is good. I have seen no one do this of the younger players on the DL. And that makes me worried.
Stars matter to a degree. More important to me really is offer sheets. When other powers come for a kid, that means that kid is really showing. This is where you insert the JMFR meme - yes we all know every so often you hit on a 3 star (or 2) and he blows up. We wave our muppets and every time another 3 star arrives we say MIKE HART! JAKE RYAN or heck Kovacks of walk on fame. But let's be real, if hoarding 3 stars with the hope 70% because JMFR was the way to go, this would be Alabama's way. You need to hoard 4 stars and try to get a 5 star every few classes to build a championship (even Big 10 championship team) contender that has staying power*. *=Wisconsin. With that said the long a$$ preface of this post is over and I offer you a comparison of what OSU is recruiting and has in house on the DL versus our DL. And yes I know DL has been their strength in recruiting but aside from a few kids like Strobel, Pipkins, Wormley - we are nowhere near their level. (Mario and Taco are good midwest recruits but still below what OSU is recruiting). Some of our kids have what I'd call "MAC+" offer sheets: MAC teams + Illinois or Purdue or Indiana etc. Maybe one will turn into Jake Ryan, but asking a bunch to do that is silly. So before we get on Hoke and Mattison's case - consider the clay they have to work with. Compare it to OSU's clay... or what Funk has with the OL. It's a major issues. p.s. I did not do as extensive of a look at Notre Dame but did look at 4-5 of their players inclusive of Nix and Tuitt and the offer sheets mirror OSU.
This is where you give me the meme about how OSU's defense is not impressive and giving up tons of points to Buffalo and Cal. To which I say, OSU's defense is as young as ours. The entire DL is brand new. They have some experience in the LB (less than ours) and DB (about same as ours) They will only get better. And scary better if recruiting (stars!) matter in the coming months and next year (at the DL).
Below is a side by side comparison with major offers from each player - I won't list all, but you should get the idea of caliber of teams recruiting each kid:
OSU just lost 3 DL players, 2 real studs + Garret Goebel
- Simon - ND, Nebraska
- Hankins - Bama, Florida, UM, Oklahoma, Wiscy
- Goebel - UM, ND, Tenn, Wiscy
Huge losses - this would be like losing Martin + Graham off the same line plus say a 3rd very good college level player. How do they replace it? Folks it's sick - this is essentially the 2 deep for the current OSU squad. And these are all Pipkins age - or younger other than Bennett.
- A. Washington - Bama, FSU, Miami, UM, ND, USC
- Noeh Spence - Bama, Florida, Georgia, LSU, UM - yada yada (think "Hand")
- Tommy Schutt - Florida, Miami, UM, ND, Penn State
- Jamal Marcus - Clemson, Florida, ND, South Carolina, Vandy
- Joel Hale - Florida, UM, Penn State (this is 1 of their 2 WORST recruits by offer sheet)
- Michael Bennett - UM, ND, Penn State, USC, Stanford
- Steve Miller - Florida, UM, UCLA, Nebraska (this is 1 of their 2 WORST recruits by offer sheet)
- Michael Hill - Bama, Auburn, Clemson, Florida, LSU, UM, S. Carolina, Vanderbilt
- Joey Bosa - Bama, Auburn, Florida, FSU, UM
I call these all national offers - these would be MIDWEST powers (ND, UM, OSU + SEC offers. There are 2 - Miller and Hale who you could argue only have a SEC offer due to Urban and Florida... but that is it. The rest are not Midwest recruits but national top end recruits. If 3 fail to develop they still have an entiring starting DL + 1 extra that do.
Again please do not take this as a criticism but real recognize real. Here are our kids. Pipkins is a national recruit, and Stroblel is a bit behind. Wormley has a OSU offer but there is no SEC type offer.... then it drops to Taco + Mario... then it drops off the map. So if like OSU 3 of our players below don't develop... and it's the wrong 3, we essentially have a MAC+ type DL. One that can be neutralized by MAC OLs. Which frankly is what is happening. I did not include Ash, Q. Wash, Black or Frank Clark for obvious reasons as they are upperclassmen... or in Clark's case, recruited for a diff position. I also did not include Glasgow for obvious reasons but the mere fact he (bless him) is pushing for playing time is saying something. I know i know - insert Kovacks meme here.
- Pipkins - Bama, Florida, OSU, Oklahoma, Tenn
- Wormley - OSU, MSU, Illinois, Indiana (without the OSU offer for an in state kid, it is not as impressive looking)
- Strobel - OSU, Nebraska, Wiscy, Stanford, MSU, Vandy (a nice top end Midwest recruit...but lacking SEC interest outside Vandy)
- Ojemudia - Stanford, MSU, Illinois, Iowa
- Charlton - ND, Nebraska, UCLA, Tenn, Iowa, Illinois
- Heitzman - Vandy, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana + a lot of MAC schools
- Godin - Wiscy, MSU, Vandy, Missouri, Illinois
- Henry - Illinois, Louisville, Pittsburgh + a lot of MAC schools
Takeaways: Pipkins must hit. Realistically OSU has 6 Pipkins right now across their DL at ends and tackles. They have the luxury of 1-2 not hitting. We do not. Strobel must hit. He is the 2nd best recruit by offer sheet, but it lags behind all but maybe 1 OSU recruit. From there when you lay the offer sheets side by side UM lags, and not by a small amount. This is the current reality. Obviously coaches are addressing this in the current class - Mone and Marshall are nice starts but they are similar to a Strobel or Wormley offer sheet. We need to start hitting on the elite - the McDowell and Hand and down the road the Cornell and other similar.
Sorry for the length of the post but as I bang my head against the wall wondering why I am not seeing the flashes out of the young DL like I am seeing out of a James Ross or when I watch OSU give up tons of scores to Cal... but still see those flashes from their DL players, I resort to reality. The above is reality. We are way behind OSU's level of DL recruits. I can only imagine what Hoke and Mattison could do with the clay Urban has on the DL. We need MOAR high level clay. Otherwise I am worried our 2014 complaints won't be too different than our 2013 complaints.
Unlike Bronxblue, I didn't take any notes during the game. My thinking was, hey, we're playing Akron, how much effort do I really need to put into this? Unfortunately, it appears the entire operation - offense, defense, special teams, scout teams, coaching, the students, and the band* - felt the same way. The boxscore will tell you that this game was played Sept. 14, but it sure felt like it was still Friday the 13th.
Before we wring our hands, gnash our teeth, rend our garments and run around screaming in panic-mode, let's remember what this game was: the classic letdown game. I don't understand the psychology of "playing to the level of your opposition," but I've seen it enough times to know it's real. Michigan played down to Akron's level, and the Zips did their best to seize the opportunity. We were just one play and one yard better than them on this day.
*Before BandoCalrissian gets up in my grill, where was Beyonce?
Burst of Impetus
* There were surprisingly many plays where the momentum changed hands. The 2nd quarter turnover-fest was wrought with impetus changing plays. The key moment in the game to me was late in the 2nd quarter, with Akron driving. Pohl lofted a beautiful pass headed right into the hands of his receiver, only to have a beaten Jourdan Lewis swipe at the receiver's arms moments before the ball arrived. The flags remained in the officials pockets. Akron ended up missing a 45 yard field goal and we went to half up 7-3. Those three points would end up being huge as Akron got down to our 1 on the last play of the game, but needed 4 to tie instead of 3 to win. I think the other big thing about that play is it let Akron know that their WRs could beat our non-Countessian corners 1 on 1, and they would go back to that twice in the 2nd half for huge gains. Akron drives in the first half went for 12, 26, 4, -2, 33, 47, and 0 yards. In the 2nd half, they had drives go for 75, 59, 67, and 71 yards. Pohl was only 5 of 14 for 60 yards at half, but was 20 for 35 for 251 yards in the second half. Clearly, they made adjustments on offense, and I think the biggest were challenging Lewis and Taylor, and getting O'Dorizzi matched up against our linebackers.
Unit Desperately in Need of an Identity
* 23 players showed up in the defensive stats section, but not for the reasons I would have guessed before the game. Five of those were offensive players, due to the turnovers and possible special teams play.
* I get it that the D-Line doesn't normally get involved in a lot of tackles, and Akron was throwing the ball quite a bit, but they still ran the ball 30 times. Our D-Line was led by a reserve, Ojemudia, with 4 tackles. The starters ended up like this: Clark 2 assists, QWash 0, Heitzman 0, Black 0. Did they even play?
* For the folks bemoaning our lack of a pass rush, we did end up with 8 QHs. For as long as I've tracked that, which is not long, that strikes me as a big number. We didn't get any sacks, but what is the right number of sacks to get per game? Is it 2 or 3? So if they get the 2 or 3 sacks, is their job done? Of course not. I'm more worried about the other ~70 plays during the game. I contend that QHs and QB completion percentage are also valuable metrics to look at. 8 QHs and ~50% completion percentage suggest that the line's performance wasn't all bad.
* JR3 was the defensive leader for the game with 10 tackles, 1 TFL and 1 pass broken up.
* Countess and Wilson each had an INT, making a profit out of Magnus. I bet Stribling would have gotten the third INT if he had been in there instead of Lewis.
* Gardner was responsible for all four turnovers. Yes, the INT to Funchess deflected off of his hands, but that throw was into traffic and shouldn't have been made. I was hoping the turnover problem was going to go away with Denard and his inability to see over the line. It's still happening. So at this point, we have to say it's systemic, which gets to coaching. Are the coaches asking Devin to do too much? For example, on the option play, he should have pitched to Toussaint. But how often does Devin practice that play, considering all the under center, shotgun, pistol, read-options, power, zone-blocking, and inverted and extroverted veers he's asked to run? He certainly didn't look comfortable on that play, even though it was the perfect audible and play to run against that defensive formation.
* Gardner was 16 for 30 for 248 yards and 2 TDs passing. His long was 48 yards to Funchess, but that was the result of YAC. As numerous posters have pointed out, we didn't test Akron deep all day. My self-annointed deep threat from game 1, Joe Reynolds, caught one pass for 1 yard.
20 Pound Cheeseburgers
* We ran for 177 yards on 32 attempts, better raw numbers than the ND game, but I thought the performance against ND was better. Why? I'm sure we all remember Barry Sanders. He could make an amazing run, but then be stopped for a 5 yard loss on the next play, trying to make something happen. So, would you rather have a back who goes for 20, 3, and -5 yards (total = 18), or a back who goes for a dependable 4, 4, and 4 yards (total = 12). I'll take the fours, because it keeps drives alive. We only had 10 third downs in this game, and went 3 of 10 on them. Had the line held up better and eliminated all of the negative carries for Toussaint, we could have MANBALLED Akron. Instead, they ran 79 plays to our 62, and never let us get in a rhythm offensively.
* Fitz had 19 carries for 71 yards, and Gardner had 10 for 103. Green, Chesson and TEAM had 1 carry each. I thought we had 5 or 6 RBs on the depth chart.
V. Sinha Legends Jersey
* Gallon was one of the few bright spots, catching 6 balls for 66 yards.
* Funchess and Butt each caught two passes, but I suspect their UFR blocking numbers aren't going to be great. Folks think that our edge blocking is good because of Lewan and Schofield, but Akron attacked the edge with their defense because without Williams, we are left with two-undersized TEs who haven't mastered the finer points of blocking just yet.
* Dileo was held without a catch. WHY, BORGES, WHY?!?
* Graham Glasgow got a tackle, by falling on a guy who recovered Gardner's fumble. It's usually not a good sign to see O-linemen getting in the boxscore.
My boxscore has a Butt Cheek in it
* In addition to Jake Butt's two catches, Akron's Bryce Cheek had two tackles. Did anyone get a photo of the two of them standing side-by-side?
Norf and Souf
* Norfleet caught two passes for 20 yards. He only had one kick return for 15 yards and no punt returns. It's almost like Akron scouted us, or something. Imagine that. Meanwhile we had no clue what to do with D'Orazio and kept treating him like a tight end instead of a slot receiver. But why bother scouting Akron, AMIRITE? So you don't almost end up one play away from the Horror II. Like I said, I think it was a total team letdown, including the coaches, scouts, and scout team. If I can suggest an MGoQuestion for this week's press conferences, it would be, did they bother to scout Akron? and is that what Brady meant by the coaches not doing enough last week?
* Our special teams have not been special so far. We gave up more than a first down on every exchange of punts. That's bad.
* Gibbons missed his only attempted FG, but he was due to miss one. I just wish I didn't have that gut feeling that he was going to miss. It's just how the day went.
* The silver lining to the special teams cloud was that the kickoff teams were ~6 yards per kick better than Akrons.
I'm an international umpire
* They saved our bacon, as I pointed out in the impetus section. The pass interference they called on Butt's defender at the end of the game wasn't nearly as bad as Lewis' hacking across the arms of the Akron receiver.
* Akron's fans should be furious at the refs, but that raises an interesting question. Does Akron have any fans? And if so, why? Whenever the conversation starts about the smaller schools trying to compete with the football factories, Akron is brought up as an example of a school that should de-emphasize football. And yet, they almost beat us.
* Penalties were even at 5 apiece. The penalties on us seemed to wipe out bigger gains and were more consequential, but we deserved them.
* The attendance was 107,120. That's not a sell-out, but to be fair, when I was a student, that would have set the record for the largest crowd in Michigan history. The stadium has grown, meanwhile, the population of the state has decreased. We may have reached the limit on what the market will accept.
* Michigan came into the game with three impressive streaks going - Hoke's home winning streak, Gibbons FG accuracy streak, and the Team's redzone efficiency streak. We left the game with only one streak, but it's the most important one.
* Since our staff apparently didn't bother to scout Akron, I did a little research on them. They play in InfoCision stadium, which sounds like a novel surgery technique.
* In their last game, James Madison tallied 12 more first downs than Akron. They also sacked Akron 4 times, but had 0 QBH's.
* The attendance at their last home game was 19,653. So apparently, they do have fans, but I have to ask again, why?
* Akron's helmets have images of zippers running along the top. I thought "Zipperhead" was this guy:
but apparently, he's Eraserhead, and there is no "Zipperhead," except that's a slang term our GI's called Koreans during the Korean war, so let's just forget I brought this up. I've always been terrorified of Eraserhead, but I've never seen the movie. A question for the MGoCommunity, is that worth watching?
I had a great anecdote planned for this diary, comparing Dad to Forest Gump, but I'll save that for when we are in a better mood. Instead, I'll just leave you with one his sayings, "On any given Saturday, any given team can beat any other team." And that's why we play the games...
This piece was going to start with something about how fall is here and evoke images of pumpkin pie or pumpkin spice lattes but there’s a thread on the board about hockey practice jerseys that has double-digit comments so let’s get to the point; it’s almost hockey season. Also, you’re probably envisioning pumpkin pie or a pumpkin spice latte now anyway so mission: accomplished.
Twenty two days remain before the puck drops on the 2013-14 season, and even though it might seem like a good time to do a season preview* I’m not done writing about last year. There are two things that I could write about ad infinitum; applying advanced stats to college hockey and what went wrong during the 2012-13 season.This might as well be a Sports Illustrated expose because there just isn’t going to be a smoking gun that alerts us to the singular reason behind the 2012-13 collapse, but with advanced stats in the fold there are new ways to look at what happened.
I recently read about applying baseball’s quality start statistic to goaltenders (you can read more here and here). A lot of blame was heaped on Michigan’s trio of netminders last season, and while some of it may have been understandably levied I still believe that an unwarranted amount of criticism was given to the guys between the pipes and not enough was placed on those standing in front of them.
Quality starts are worth looking at because they are highly correlated with winning. At the NHL level, a team wins 77.5% of the games in which their goaltender recorded a quality start. There are, of course, some flaws to the statistics. First and foremost, there’s still not a good way to control for a poor defensive team. If a team gives up lots of breakaways and odd-man rushes then the goaltender’s save percentage is still likely to suffer. At the same time, quality starts are useful from a consistency standpoint. If a goalie fluctuates between shutting out teams and blowing up and allowing five goals then they typically won’t record as many quality starts as a goalie who consistently goes out and allows two or three goals per game.
A goaltender is awarded a quality start if they 1.) start a game and 2.) have a save percentage that is above the league average (or, in this case, above the DI average). In the context of a portion of a season we aren’t going to escape the problem of small sample size, but there are some nuances to what happened last year that we can glean from the stats available. As you can imagine save percentage and quality starts are closely linked. Steven Racine’s 89.9% save percent wasn’t exactly a revelation, but at the same time his improvement over the season did get Michigan within one game of another NCAA Tournament berth. This is where not just quality saves but the associated statistics become worth investigating and discussing.
A cheap win occurs when a goaltender records a save percent below the DI average but his team wins anyway. Conversely, a tough loss (or wasted quality start) is granted if a goaltender has a save percentage at or above the DI average but his team loses.
[QS= Quality Start, NQS= Non-Quality Start, CW= Cheap Win, WQS= Wasted Quality Start]
Steven Racine’s 2012-13 stats are featured in the table above. We’re going to look at his starts because he’s the only goalie on Michigan’s roster that started more than 15 games, and 15 starts was the cutoff for having one’s save percentage counted towards the DI national average. The DI national average turned out to be 90.2%, with 76 goaltenders being included in the calculation. As a quick aside, three of Adam Janecyk’s nine starts were quality starts and three of Jared Rutledge’s nine starts were quality starts. Having only 33.3% of your starts qualify as quality starts is just bad; the NHL standards at Hockey Prospectus state that a quality start percentage of 40% or below is considered very poor.
Racine fared better than his counterparts, with 12 QS out of his 22 starts. That means that 54.5% of Racine’s starts were quality starts, putting him relatively close to the 60% QS that Hockey Prospectus considers elite. While Racine’s QS numbers weren’t all obtained during the team’s nine game win streak that put them in the CCHA Championship game he definitely had a statistically better latter half of the season. Racine recorded five QS in his first twelve starts and seven QS is his last ten. Again, it’s hard to tell whether the shift from 41.6% of starts being QS to 70% of starts being QS is due to Racine settling in and adapting to the speed and angles of the college game or whether it’s because the team defense buckled down and started, like, defending but there’s no question that the increase in QS% was huge.
Five cheap wins in 22 starts means that 22.7% of the time Racine started in net he didn’t have a SV% that was at or above the DI average, with three of those cheap wins coming after the team’s nine game win streak started on February 22nd. That doesn’t surprise me that much, as you’d expect that a Michigan goalie is going to get some cheap wins when the offense is ranked seventh in the nation in goals per game.
Only two of Racine’s 22 starts were wasted quality starts, which is also indicative of having a good offense; in only 9% of his starts did Racine or the team perform well defensively only to watch the game slip away because they couldn’t put the puck in the net.
Tl;dr. What’s your point?
Michigan’s goaltending wasn’t as bad as it may have seemed, with 54.5% of Steven Racine’s starts being quality starts. The percent may seem low until you find out that having a 60% QS% is considered elite in the NHL. If Michigan can get their forwards to backcheck and forecheck and if the defense corps isn’t a punch of pylons or rovers then the 2013-14 season should go better than 2012-13.
While there are some obvious flaws to the QS stat, it should be interesting to track over multiple seasons. There will always be the huge caveat of shot quality being untrackable, but it’s definitely a better (and both more nuanced and interesting) stat than *shudder* wins.
*If you are looking for a season preview then perhaps ordering Hail to Hoops and Hockey would be a good idea. You get an actual preview from Brian, as well as an article by me about what went wrong last season. Wait, what do you mean there’s a theme to what I write?
I know you feel, John…
Worst: Totally Meta
To let you in a bit on how the sausage is made with one of these posts, I usually sit down with my laptop during the game and play around in the liveblog while taking some really cursory notes. While I’m sure I could figure out how to watch lineplay and defensive adjustments intricately in order to make really astute observations about particular players, there are lots of people here at MGoBlog who do a great job with that level of detail and, frankly, I doubt I’d be able to add much. No, the Best and Worst is all about a layman’s observations of a game, with (I hope) a bit of humor, some fun long-form ideas, and insufferable references to wrestlers and 90’s television shows.
Well, usually my notes take on a bit of a narrative as a game progresses; I inevitably start ordering comments into Offense, Defense, Special Teams, Coaching, etc. buckets, so by the end I’ve got my talking points, as they are, laid out. Given the opponent, I figured they’d be succinct and pretty general; it’s hard to derive too much from a blowout.
Well, by the last 4 minutes of the game, my notes spanned 2 pages typed and, if my keyboard was both sentient and possessed the necessary funds to file documents with a court, would be Exhibit A of a battery suit brought against me. People joke about how typing “OMFG” or “ROFL” negates the emotion you are attempting to convey, like telling someone how funny something is instead of actually laughing. But part of the reason you use these shorthands, though, is because “nfsakjf528095353u55b25jewrnijrggrehjigh3u04u-421” followed by your dog fleeing the room is hard to convey in words. So yeah, based on my notes…
Worst: Goliath has Fans Too
I’m usually not one to complain too much about announcers except if they go full Spielman and openly root for one team over the other, but the announcers were extremely excited about the possibility of Akron beating UM. And that got me thinking; seemingly everyone loves the David vs. Goliath matchups that end with David victorious. At first blush, it totally makes sense; David represents the everyman, overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds with character, ingenuity, and guile. To root for David is to root for the human spirit and the impossible dream. Rooting for Goliath is like rooting for the house in blackjack.
But here’s the thing; being “Goliath” is not free of context, nor is it purely a “you vs. them” dynamic wherein everyone agrees how the story should end. In other words, Goliath has fans too, and in most cases they don’t view themselves as the bully, the victor, the unstoppable force OR the immovable object. Goliath is just a guy who is blessed with some physical advantages that he honed with rigorous training and passionate loyalty to a cause. In the eyes of Goliath, he’s entering into fair combat against another warrior who just happens to be smaller than him and who wields a slingshot. He’s not Razor Ramon or Vince McMahon, “heels” personified who want nothing more than to ruin the face’s day. No, He’s not the “bad guy”, unless “being tall and strong” and winning most of the time are dastardly traits. He is the Big Bad because the only lens used to view him is as the seemingly unattainable or antithesis model, the personification of David’s shortcomings.
So saying you love David vs. Goliath games is really saying you like to see the big guy lose not necessarily because you have a rooting interest in David or against Goliath, but because you don’t want to be reminded that not everyone has David’s problems. On some level, you hold Goliath’s strengths and accomplishments against him, believing something must be cosmically wrong to explain his winning ways, and that a loss will somehow right this off-kilter universe.
But that really isn’t fair to either party; Akron is just a bad FBS program trying to find its footing and UM is the winningest program in college football history. UM has all of those wins because, for most of its existence, it has fielded talented, well-coached teams that beat other ones on the football field. Akron, not so much, but that isn’t because of something UM did. And, humorously, the tables are turned in the other “football”: Akron has been one of the best college soccer teams for years now while UM is the “upstart” that scored a major 1-0 upset over the Zips a couple of years ago during an otherwise poor season.
I’d say millions of people partook in today’s game in some way (live, TV, radio, internet, etc.), and a significant number of them are probably fans of UM football. They wanted to see UM win for any number of reasons, and few if any thought Akron winning would be a “good thing”. Russians certainly didn’t think losing to the US at the Olympics was a good idea, nor are Phi Slamma Jamma fans clamoring for Lorenzo Charles (RIP) memorial jerseys, and I’m guessing Lloyd Carr isn’t sending Armanti Edwards holiday cards. Had Akron pulled off the win, it would have been heralded as a huge upset both for the year as well as historically, and people who “like” upsets would have another moment to cheer about. But for the fans of Goliath, David is just the guy who got lucky, and no amount of culturally-endorsed schadenfreude will change that.
Today’s game ended with Goliath winning, though it was obviously closer than expected. The narrative is that Akron gave UM all they could handle, and that in a game of inches UM got lucky that Akron came up a bit short. But it was a game that both teams had a chance to win, and this time Goliath benefitted from a missed opportunity; history hasn’t always been so kind. I’m certainly not going to complain.
Worst: It’s a Win? (as said in the voice of Ron Burgundy)
Yeah, I’m not going to be one of those people who says it would have been a better “learning experience” if they had lost; I’m a results-based grader so a win is always better than a loss. That said, this is up there with narrowly beating Indiana and Illinois under RR and a turrible 10-7 win against 5-6 Utah in 2002 (a game I attended and apparently blocked from my memory until now). And unlike those games where you could at least point to one element of the performance being a positive, it isn’t really hypoerbole or “ESPN talking head”-ole to say UM was beat in all three phases of the game.
Best: It’s a Win
But it’s a victory for UM, and 3-0 is 3-0. Just ask MSU, whose offense finally eclipsed the defense is scoring 3 games into the season. Teams have bad games, and for all of the hell the players are likely to have rain down on them by the coaching staff this week, it would be immensely worse if Saturday’s game had ended with an “L” on the schedule. This game probably ratchets down the expectations a notch if you saw UM as a top-5 outfit, but otherwise it was a close shave for a team with top-15 talent. Given the number of massive upsets this year, it could have been far worse.
I know the Internet is the ultimate echo chamber for cynicism, and this blog’s particular composition only accentuates that property, but just like was a need to pump the brakes a bit after the ND game, this game doesn’t not necessarily mean you need to stock your panic room quite yet.
Best: I don’t want…your life!
One of the more underrated moments in Varsity Blues is the “hungover” game played by the West Canaan Coyotes after Mox, Tweeder, Billy Bob, Wendell, and Lance spent a night at the Landing Strip Gentleman’s Club*. Hungover and clearly off their game, they lose in embarrassing fashion and Bud Kilmer turns to threatening Mox about his scholarship to Brown if he doesn’t shape up and fall in line.
In no way am I insinuating that UM’s play against Akron was caused by every starter heading off to Deja Vu in Ypsi Thursday night, but it clearly looked like a team that was out of sorts from the outset. UM did force a 3-and-out on Akron’s first drive and followed it up with the long TD by Funchess, but for most of that first half the offense looked lost and the defense held tough but couldn’t generate much of a pass rush. And once the 2nd half began and Akron made some adjustments offensively, the defense struggled to keep them off the field. Plus, Gibbons missed his first kick since Purdue and Matt Wile shanked a couple of punts, resulting in an average of 33 yards per kick despite “booming” one 54 yards. As a couple of people noted (including Ace), if it was against any other team but Akron, UM probably would have been run off the field. But still, just a disorienting performance.
Of course, Notre Dame also had a pretty off performance against Purdue, so who knows where everyone was last night.
* I know this is saying a great deal in a movie where James Van Der Beek is a Texas QB, literally every play is either a bone-shattering tackle or a 50-yard TD (seriously, watch the clip and you’ll see 4-5 NFL Blitz-style flying tackles), and a HS team is allowed to basically coach itself once Jon Voight leaves at halftime – you’ll notice no assistant coaches take over or are even on the screen, but the most unbelievable part of that movie is a HS health teacher moonlighting as a stripper in a city of, oh, 10,000 people in Texas and NOBODY notices until some HS kids see her act. I mean, that club looked packed on (I’m guessing) a weekday night, and early on the movie establishes that Miss Davis must be making decent money from her dancing in order to afford a Mustang convertible, so it is clearly a popular place. Yet her double life remains a mystery both before and after this night. Simply unbelievable.
UM averaged 5.5 ypc* and 8.3 ypa** while holding the Zips to 3.6 ypc*** and 6.3 ypa**** which look good on paper, but as the astute reader might have picked up, those little *’s aren’t just looking for a party to crash; they are massive caveats. First the rushing: Gardner averaged 10.3 ypc on his 103 yards, showcasing the game-breaking speed that can turn a collapsing pocket into a 36 yard TD. Fitz recorded 71 more yards on 19 carries, but didn’t crack 4 ypc against the #80 rushing defense in the country. And while I initially thought he was the recipient of some bad luck out there due to penalties on runs, the only one apparently was a holding penalty by Gallon on a 3-yarder. Of his 19 carries, 7 were for losses and 8 were for minimal gain (though one was the TD). He recorded 65 yards on 4 other carries, and added a nice 27 yard reception to goose the numbers up a bit. On most runs he was engulfed in the backfield or had trouble locating holes either because they weren’t there or a momentary hesitation closed them too quickly. I’ll get into my feelings about the line play later, but this was not a banner day for a guy who has played reasonably well this year given the obvious issues in front of him.
As for that 8.3 ypa, that is .7 ypa below Akron’s 114th-ranked pass defense, and came with a 53% completion perctange and 3 INTs, including a horrible screen-ish pass that was returned for a TD. Nobody other than Gallon caught more than 2 passes, and while Funchess had a nice day on paper with a TD and 65 yards on his two catches, one was a 48-yard TD run that was aided by some poor angles and tackling by Akron, a theme they continued on Chesson’s only catch (and first of his career) on the day, a 33-yard TD where he was pinballed toward the endzone by an Akron defender. Criminally underused Drew Dileo was held without a catch, so hopefully this week Brian will be able to release that particular Kraken.
The defense did marginally better, holding Akron to about their season average rushing and about a yard less passing, but those numbers were put up against UCF and the zombified remains of the 4th President of the United States, er, eponymously-named FCS James Madison University. And Akron had 4 drives longer than 45 yards, including two 11-play drives that ended with a TD and the final drive, as well as a 5-play drive that ended with Wilson’s INT in the endzone. UM could not get Akron off the field in the 4th, including giving up a number of long completions and “they only need 5 yards for the first down, let’s give the slot receiver a 10-yard cushion” plays.
So yeah, statistics should be trusted only as far as they can be thrown, which against UM’s defense today is apparently both quite far and with minimal coverage.
Okay, okay, that’s a little mean. But it was pretty bad out there.
Worst: Push it!
So you know how earlier I mentioned that statistics sometimes lie? Well, a big reason why UM’s running game struggled was the continued inability of the offensive line to consistently block for anyone. Against Akron, Fitz had 15 carries that resulted in either lost yardage or minimal gains, and a significant number of them were because one or more Akron defenders were in the backfield rather quickly. It remains a team that is strong on the edges (though both Lewan and Schofield missed a couple of blocks) and “maturing” or “weak” (depending on your viewpoint) in the middle. Akron didn’t seem like it was doing anything special defensively, yet they always seemed to have the number’s advantage at the point of attack. And while they only recorded a single sack, Gardner was harassed most of the day by the line without excessive use of blitzes or disguised coverages. I’m not expecting major changes on the line next week, but this is a team that can’t consistently get 4-5 yards a pop on the ground without the QB getting involved, and that is not a sustainable situation during the conference season unless Devin remains healthy throughout, which would be a minor miracle.
As for the defensive line, to say the “Right to Rush 4” mantra needs to be redefined would be an understatement. A unit with a decent amount of hype heading into the season failed to register a sack on 49 attempts, though the defense was credited with 8 QB hits. Still, it took an all-out blitz to get pressure on the QB to end the game (reminiscent of the Points-a-Palooza some years back), and when your undersized tackle (Black) is your most consistent pass rusher against a MAC team, that isn’t good news. I guess the jury is still out on Frank Clark, but at this point the judge expects to hear a verdict by the end of lunch. It certainly didn’t help that Mattison seemed reticent about using more than 4 linemen to get pressure, and as a couple of people noted in the Liveblog the stunting was glaringly obvious, but again you shouldn’t have to overly gameplan for a team coming off a 1-11 season.
Best: Times are Changing
Now, I know I just spent a couple of sections dumping on Akron and minimizing their influence on today, but they deserve quite a bit of credit for playing UM to a standstill. Maybe 25-30 years teams like Akron are just happy to be playing in the Big House and are overwhelmed by the moment, but in today’s college football ecosystem everybody believes his team can beat anyone else. For even with Akron’s fallow history, it is still an FBS team with D1 players on it, and given the exposure and resources available to virtually all such programs nobody should be surprised they didn’t just wilt as soon as The Victors played. Terry Bowden may have looked like he ate his daddy Bobby before the game, but he’s still got a career record of 142-75-2 (including 47-17-1 while at Auburn), and certainly knows how to beat teams like UM. They played solid, largely mistake-free football and took advantage of UM’s miscues. They played like a major college football team, and this game should be yet another reminder that “MACrifices” isn’t a reality in today’s football landscape.
Best: Tackling, and the Lack Thereof (part deux)
Last week I mentioned how refreshing it was seeing the other team (in that case, ND) miss some crucial tackles while UM largely wrapped up quickly. Well, count both Funchess’s and Chesson’s TDs as beneficiaries of some dodgy tackling by the Zips. By comparison, UM typically tackled guys at contact, though Jourdan Lewis had a pretty bad “tackle” of Pohl as he rushed for a first down late in the game. There were also the coverage issues with the corners and linebackers, especially in the middle of the field where D’Orazio was seemingly open all day. This definitely felt like a gameplan limitation, at least initially, but it was troubling that late in the game receivers were able to get open in the secondary with players trailing them by 2-3 yards.
Worst: Hitting Reset
Last week I waxed poetically about Gardner being a modern-day unstoppable video game QB, UM’s answer to Michael Vick circa Madden 2004. He was like UTG Trevor Siemian crossed with a mongoose, and it was glorious. Like Vick in the game, it just felt unfair to have him on your team, and to talk about him in front of your vanquished opponent is to welcome scorn and possibly some shoving.
Well, against Akron people saw the other side of the videogame analogy: when the computer “cheats” and everything that could possibly go wrong does. Suddenly, your all-world QB can’t complete a pass except to the other team, your RB can’t get a yard beyond the line of scrimmage, you are getting called for penalties on any positive play, and even digital Texas’s GERG thinks you are playing too soft defensively. By the time a defensive end houses an interception off a screen pass, you’re diving for the reset button while cursing Alan Turing and his stupid face.
Of course, in real life that’s just the third quarter of the game, and you still have to watch and hope that somehow, someway your team figures it all out enough to pull out a victory. Against Akron, Gardner and the offense did just enough in the end for the win, and on a seemingly snakebitten game they can lick their wounds and give it another shot.
Best: Even YMRMFSPA had Bad Games
So the Vince Young analogies have been trotted out for Devin since his game against Northwestern, and with his improvisational skills, strong arm, and galloping strides it is hard not to see a bit of the college star in him. Unfortunately, Gardner also showed the same characteristics that drove Texas fans crazy early on in Young’s career, with 4 turnovers, including a TaINT, and some happy feet that resulted in missed receptions and poor throws. If you check out Young’s gamelog from his first full season, you’ll see the same tantalizing mix of promise and growing pains: 5 TDs against no turnovers against Texas Tech following 8/23 for 86 yards against Oklahoma and 3/9 with 2INTs against Missouri. After those games, people we calling for Chance Mock to play at QB, and if that name doesn’t ring a bell it’s because he didn’t do anything to make people forget about Young. People in A2 forget this because of the game Young had against the Wolverines in the Rose Bowl, but Young finished with a 12:11 ratio on the season and had some tough performances even in wins. The next year he emerged as a breakthrough player and led Texas to the title.
I’m not saying Gardner is going to do that, but this game was a reminder of how fickle and infuriating the maturation process can be at times, and that the same player can have a stinker like today AND a performance against ND without there being anything wrong with him. I suspect he’ll play better next week, but regardless of his performance it won’t change this past game or how the future plays out. Every game is another data point, and sometimes you don’t realize there are outliers until time and distance it provides have given you some perception. Gardner wasn’t a Heisman winner after last week and he’s not a bum after this one, but instead a work in progress like the rest of the team.
I’m wheeling out my extra-tall soapbox now, so if you don’t want to hear my complain about fandom in general and UM followers in particular, feel free to skip to the next section.
What has always driven me crazy about the fandom in sports is the moralizing and dime-store psychoanalysis people place on players’ motivations. A team plays well and people lionize the “heart” shown by the winners while questioning that of the loser. Every down and distance becomes a Greek tragedy played out with a pigskin, and we want to equate higher meaning with 3rd-down conversions and missed blocks. But that’s the thing – it’s just a game, and teams win and lose, players play well or poorly, for reasons that have nothing to do with their moral fiber or ability to “lead” men.
Both during and after the game, there was a contingent of fans who tried to make the game a referendum on these players. They questioned the leadership displayed by Taylor Lewan apparently not getting the line “up” to block, as if Kalis, Miller, and Glasgow would have held their blocks if only they had cared more. Gardner threw INTs not because he made a bad read or had a bit of bad luck, but because he wasn’t a leader out there and his receivers didn’t have confidence in him. And in the postgame, when both Lewan and Gardner said they promised a better effort next week, people on the blog questioned their motives and suggested they had “heard this before” and UM still lost, proving that fans shouldn’t operate heavy machinery following a game because their blindness will undoubtedly cause accidents.
Sports were oftentimes used as stand-ins for battle both in real life as well as in narrative devices; we speak of “warriors of the gridiron” and its bond with iconography of good vs. evil and right vs. wrong is hard to ignore. But in the end, sport is just a game, with winners and losers according to the rules of the contest. To try to derive some greater meaning from it, to look deep into a man’s soul on a 3-yard run at the end of the game and hope to identify his humanity, is a foolish exercise. I know people will continue to act this way long after I’m cold and in the ground, but I still hope that one day sports will be treated as the athletic contests they are, not the day of reckoning some yearn for them to embody.
Best: Quick Hits
A couple of points that aren’t really worth their own sections:
- I thought the secondary played okay, though the middle of the field was open seemingly for days at a time. They also seemed to line up yards off receivers that didn’t seem able to really beat them in a race. And to Akron’s credit, a couple of long receptions were the result of good throws; the one where I believe Taylor was beaten down the sideline in the 4th quarter by Smith was a great throw as much as any failure by the coverage. That said, surprised Lewis got the nod over Stribling out there, especially given the size differences.
- Al Borges called a decent enough game in my opinion, though he seemed afraid of running the veer too much early on even though Akron had no answer. The inability of the line to run block certainly didn’t help; when UM needed yards late in the game they ran directly behind Lewan, which was obviously a positive but not great news for your inside running game.
- I remain puzzled that Hoke did not go for it at 4-and-1 on UM’s 45 early on in the 4th quarter. The numbers say putning is the right call, but one yard with Gardner in the gun seems quite doable. I’m not a big fan of “momentum”, but getting a yard there gives UM a fresh set of downs and doesn’t put the ball on the foot of your admittedly-skittish punter who proceeded to shank the ball anyway. Plus, I believe this was right after Akron nearly blocked the last punt.
- Norfleet appears to have lost return privileges at least on punts, with Dileo back there in the second half. That feels about right; I know Norfleet has shown great potential, but he continues to make the routine catches scary and still doesn’t seem to have a great sense of how to handle returns. And with Dileo back there, it allowed the BTN announcers to talk about how he can run in space. Because if there is one element of Dileo’s game we can ALL agree on, it is his blazing speed in space.
Best: Release the Hounds
The good news is that the UConn Huskies are an absolute tire-fire and UM should be rather motivated heading into the Cabella’s parking lot er Husky Stadium next week. I hope for everyone’s sake it is a short game and next week’s recap is “Best: Everything.”