chance of bowl: 13.6%
I think that best practice in educational theory may offer some insight as to why we suck on the road.This will not be an exhaustive discussion on why we suck on the road, to be sure, but I hope to offer some insight.
I will preface the conversation with two points:
- Hoke talks about mental toughness and physical toughness a lot. My intention here is to call into question what our team's "mental toughness" looks like. Many have already done it; I attempt to offer some level of explanation based on how much I'm aware of Hoke's teaching/coaching styles and philosophies.
- Leadership, under Hoke, seems to be defined using an "active constructive," "positive psychology" method of team- and relationship-building. Hoke's players will run through a wall for him; it seems that they are not, however, able to play effectively in hostile environments (specifically the offense). I intend to draw comparisons between coaching styles/philosophies under Bo and under Hoke.
And a couple definitions, in case you are unfamiliar:
Positive Psychology: a movement of psychology, largely led by psych researchers at U-M and UPenn, which attempts to be constructive in developing students' awareness of their abilities and their willingness to persevere
Active Constructive response: A way of responding to a student that suggests either implicitly or explicitly that they can do something that they are trying to do
Active Destructive response: A way of responding to a student that suggests either implicitly or explicitly that they cannot do something that they are trying to do
My conclusion is drawn from having built an awareness of what practice looks like under Hoke. I have attended one or two practices, and I have read press conferences from players + coaches, and I have seen the released practice videos by MGoVideo. I have observed the following:
- The coaches have historically been very high energy, doing a lot of encouragement and pushing via yelling. Yelling is not, in itself, active destructive.
- The coaches have always seemed highly positive toward the players for doing a good job, and their responses to players who screw up has always seemed encouraging, constructive, etc. I recall one specific example where Hoke said to a player, "You came up like a big pincher bug. You don't wanna do that. Come on. You're better than that."
- Devin Gardner has spoken of fans that are difficult to tolerate when on the road, especially when he is on the sideline.
- The primary tactic for coaching to hostile environments has, it seems, been limited making the environment noisy and creating other neutral environmental factors.
These different points suggest two things:
- That positive psychology is the primary tactic used in coaching under Hoke.
- That our quarterback (a lynchpin to our offense, which is cited specifically to suck on the road) has made special note of the hostility of opposing fans.
Positive psych encourages relationship building between coaches and players, and ultimately is considered a more effective educational strategy. This makes sense considering the commitment that Hoke's players have to him, and the level of recruitment Hoke has been able to achieve.
Based off of reading some of Bo's work, my understanding is that the way that he coached was different. Bo tells stories of using active destructive responses routinely. Rather famously, he routinely called Jim Brandstatter "the worst tackle in intercollegiate football." Woody Hayes is described as coaching in a similar (albeit more physically abusive) way. Active destructive is in many ways the opposite of active constructive: It is designed, essentially, to make you feel that you can never accomplish what you are trying to accomplish. This differs sharply from the techniques that it seems Hoke and co. are using to teach, and I wonder if, specifically, it affects road performance. Bo, in contrast to Hoke, went 14-5 on the road in his first four years as coach. Compare this to Hoke's existing 7-13.
My hypothesis is this: Because our coaches spend their energy primarily building a psychologically positive environment, they have lost a valuable aspect of the otherwise ugly response form known as active destructive: put differently, they have lost the "mental toughness" built by working and growing through hostility. Away stadiums are entirely hostile environments; if the hostility is not noticeable from the crowd because of distance from the sideline, it will be noticeable from the opposing team. If a practice environment fails to produce hostility, it seems unlikely that its players will be able to keep their heads when they face real hostility.
Just to be clear: I fully embrace positive psych and believe strongly in its efficacy, educational and otherwise. But I suggest that simulating hostility--not just simulating a hostile environment--may be useful to develop what Hoke calls "mental toughness." Furthermore, I do not suggest that the verbally and physically aggressive tactics of Bo and Woody must necessarily remain relevant today in order to produce great football teams.
I doubt data exists on how many teams have incorporated positive psychology into their practices, and I doubt data exists on how many teams have incorporated active destructive responses into their practices. Therefore, my thoughts will remain a hypothesis. But I think it is worth considering whether one of the reasons we fail to compete on the road is because our coaches have failed to produce hostility in practice, thereby failing to prepare our players to encounter that hostility.
Obviously, there are many limitations on my hypothesis and the "data" (anecdotal information, really) supporting. This is likely not the only reason for our failures on the road, but may help to explain a part of why we fail when put in these situations. In fact, active destructive responses do not need to be the default as they were in Bo's practices. Simply, it is possible to create a hostile environment where coaches are emulating active destructive comments to players in order to adjust them to the reality of hostility.
Furthermore, I accept and acknowledge that this is not a comprehensive look at coaching tactics given that I am missing a lot of information. Much further investigation into the tactics used to build "mental toughness." Bo also pronounced that one should never yell at a player in a game, which seems to reflect more of a positive psychology.
I would be interested to see what research might yield about the numbers of our OL and QB would look like on the road.
An alternative (or supplementary) hypothesis might note that our record on the road against ranked teams features a greater disparity than against unranked teams. "Mental toughness" may go out the window when players feel unprepared or discouraged by being overpowered, overrun, and outperformed, which may be more resultant of poor development.
It is worth noting that Bo had many players quit when he became coach. This could be because of the seemingly "inhumane" treatment of the active destructive response. In addition, it is worth noting that Bo often failed in high profile away games (namely bowl games), and that Bo and Hoke are limited samples. There are also numerous confounding variables, such as scheme, development of talent, et al.
One thing remains certain: Many changes must happen if we hope to compete, and especially if we hope to compete on the road.
tl;dr I hypothesize that one reason for our road gaffs may be the apparent absence of simulated hostility in practice. I find this argument compelling, but acknowledge that defaulting to active destructive responses as in the days of yore are not necessary to make a good football team.
Hoke on the Road: The Depressing Numbers
So Michigan decided to one up ND by quitting the series 1 game earlier than ND. How did that work out for them, Cotton? The first shutout in 30 years, and an innovative new defensive scheme “And-run Coverage” [It’s like bump-and-run coverage, except you don’t bump them and you run after them after they catch the ball.]
Sadly, this is nothing new for Hoke on the road. He carries a shiny 20-2 record at home, and even excluding the baby and adolescent seals he still has a respectable 12-2 record. Once he gets away from the friendly confines of Michigan Stadium and its raucous library atmosphere, his record is not so pretty. 6-9 in True Road games and 1-3 in Neutral site games, a not so respectable 7-12.
What has been the problem? Simply, the offense. Below is a chart [and the crowd rejoices] that shows the depressing numbers [the crowd stops rejoicing]:
There isn’t a single statistic up there that isn’t significantly worse. 30-40% worse. Home field advantage is generally considered to be about 3 points. That should result in about 6 points (if it were solely focused on offense). There is a difference of 17 points between true road games and home. If home field only explains 6 points where are the 11 points going?
It is difficult to play on the road. Maybe our defense hasn’t played well either? Here is the same chart [the crowd resumes rejoicing] for the defense:
Home vs Power
Yards Per Game
Points Per Game
Yards Per Play
Yards Per Carry*
Yards Per Attempt*
Turnovers Per Game
If anything it looks like the defense plays slightly better, but only gives up a few more points because of the turnovers from the offense.
More troubling, this problem seems to be getting worse. Below is a
graph table of the Yards per play for Road and Neutral site games. I have thrown in a trendline to emphasize the point. Things aren’t getting better they are getting worse.
That is a negative slope of -.07
Is the offense deterioration solely on the road? Maybe. The first
graph table shows Yards per Play for Home games vs the Power Conferences (essentially just the B1G and Notre Dame).
That is a negative slope of -.11
That’s alarming, the slope is steeper (i.e. worse). That Nebraska game sure is an extreme outlier. If we exclude it (and I’m not so sure that we should), then the
graph table looks pretty flat:
The slope is still negative but barely so (less than .00)
What does it all mean? It means Hoke needs to figure out his road woes soon or we are looking at seasons capped at 8-5 and 7-6. Based on this:
This is I believe 0-4 against the big three rivals on the road over the last four years. What is this team missing? What does this team need to get over the hump?
“Winning. You win the game. You play. You don’t turn over the ball. You don’t give up big plays.”
That doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence that he knows how to fix it. I like Hoke, I think he recruits well, he makes the correct 4th down decisions, he does what I want a head coach to do. Except win games on the road. Right now, he isn’t. I think a coaching change would be disastrous for the program. 1) Who is out there that we could get that would immediately improve the team? 2) Another coaching transition would set us back another 3 years. I think we need to ride it out and hope that the results start catching up with the recruiting.
PS I can't get my pretty graphs to show up. So you are stuck with tables on the YPP and trendlines.
Well, Michigan lost in spectacular fashion propelling Notre Dame from 16th to 11th in the too early to really tell AP top 25. In a well predicted loss to Oregon, MSU dropped from 7th to 13th making them the highest ranked 1 loss team. Ohio in turn dropped from 8th to 22nd in a satisfying defeat by Virginia Tech who is now ranked 17th. The lesson we can take from this is beating Michigan isn’t nearly as profitable as losing to Virginia Tech is bad. I suppose that is good.
For those of you who can’t wait till Saturday, here is Thursday’s most interesting matchup:
HOU @ BYU:
Line: +18.5 O/U: 57
Power Rankings: BYU 34 HOU 112
BYU is coming off a huge win against Texas, 41-7, and have cracked the top 25. The last meeting against Houston, BYU left with a win 47-46. Houston’s power ranking dropped 60 points from the first week. Last year Houston only lost 4 games, this is not the same team as last year. BYU lost 4 games as well but they also return Taysom Hill. Hill has 489 passing yards and 196 rushing yard on the season. Oh, and he spreads the ball around. Houston defense is in for a surprise. If you can’t see where I’m going with this, let me help.
BYU to cover
A look around the Big Ten
IND @ BGSU:
Line: -6 O/U: 69.5
Power Rankings: IND 77 BGSU 116
Miami (Ohio) @ Michigan
Line: +29.5 O/U: 53.5
Power Rankings: MI 36 Miami 110
This line opened at -31.5. I expect it to move a little further down. So, if you like to bet on Michigan, I would wait to see where the line moves. Also, week three power rankings haven’t come in yet. When they do, expect to see some movement. Miami lost their first 2 games of the season against Eastern Kentucky (10-17) and Marshall (27-42). Remember how good you all felt after Michigan beat the pants of App State? You won’t feel that way after Michigan destroys Miami, well because… Still it looks like an easy win, especially coming off an embarrassing loss. I expect Michigan to take some of last week’s anger out on Miami. Disclaimer: I don’t bet on Michigan sports. I refuse to bet against them for one, and I am way too biased. Since I follow them so religiously, I can always find an insider reason to hype them up. So, take it for what it’s worth…
Michigan to Cover
Iowa state @ Iowa
Line: +12.5 O/U: 49
Power Rankings: Iowa 64 Iowa State 78
Iowa is 2-0 so far this year and 0-2 ATS. ISU is 0-2 and 1-1 ATS. ISU lost to K-State last week in a near comeback win. If the same team shows up against Iowa, I see ISU covering, if not winning outright. ISU lost in every offensive category against K-State, but managed to gain only 25 less yards through the air. Iowa has given up 509 passing yards this season.
Iowa State to Win
Minnesota @ TCU
Line: +10 O/U: 47.5
Power Rankings: MINN 41 TCU 31
Purdue Vs. Notre Dame (Neutral Site)
Line: +28 O/U: 55.5
Power Rankings: PUR 56 ND 17
Penn State @ Rutgers
Line: -3.5 O/U: 53
Power Rankings: PSU 22 Rutgers 62
This should be an interesting matchup. PSU is 2-0 ATS and Rutgers is 1-1 ATS. The last time these two teams met was in 1995 and PSU won 59-34. PSU is coming off a coin flip win against UCF. RUTG hasn’t played anyone significant this year and blew a -38 spread against HOW winning 38-25. I’m not sure Vegas has figured out what to do with this team yet. Last week they covered +10.5 beating Washington State 41-38. The line seamed to over react last week; this week Vegas is playing it safe. I like Rutgers for the outright win.
Rutgers to Win
Nebraska @ Fresno State
Line: -10 O/U: 62.5
Power Rankings: NEB 12 Fresno State 124
I’m not sure why this line is so close. Does the Big Ten really have that low of a perception? I’ll take Nebraska to cover!
Nebraska to Cover
WVU @ Maryland
Line: +3 O/U: 57.5
Power Rankings: MD 81 WVU 108
Kent @ Ohio
Line: +32 O/U: 50.5
Power Rankings: OSU 20 Kent 101
Last time these teams met was in 2007 and Ohio destroyed them 48-3. Unfortunately for Kent, It looks like this might happen again. Kent is 0-2 and 0-2 ATS. Their losses include South Alabama and Ohio (not State). Also they have been under the last 2 games on the O/U putting up only 13 and 14 points respectively. Defensively they are ranked 75th and 94th in total yards and rushing yards respectively. Ohio doesn’t even need to do anything in the passing game, but it will open up after the first drive as a result of huge rushing gains. I would avoid any O/U bets on this one and just take Ohio as a shutout seems likely. I hate to bet on Ohio, but there is a 72% consensus on this game. The line is steadily rising as a result, so I wouldn’t wait on this one.
Ohio to Cover
Illinois @ Washington
Line: +13.5 O/U: 64.5
Power Rankings: ILL 76 WASH 42
This week’s top ranked matchup:
Georgia(6) @ South Carolina(23)
Line: -5.5 O/U: 60
Power Rankings: Georgia 5(damn) South Carolina 24
To put this into perspective, MSU had a power ranking of 4 last week. Georgia has played a grand total of 1 game this year, but they’re Georgia so… Georgia is 1-0 and 1-0 ATS. South Carolina is 1-1 and 0-2 ATS. Georgia has won 6 of 10 of the last meetings, winning last year 41-30. Georgia put up 536 TOT yards to the Game Cocks’ 454. Here is a look at South Carolina’s offense and Defense. It’s not pretty. http://www.covers.com/pageLoader/pageLoader.aspx?page=/data/ncf/teams/team161.html
As you can see, this explains why the line has already moved a whole point from yesterday. Since this is the best matchup of the week, there should be a lot of betting on this one. The line will probably settle around -6.5. so get in on this early if you plan on taking Georgia.
Georgia to Cover
Now, your surefire win of the week, guaranteed to make you look stupid and lose you 50 dollars in the office pool:
UL Lafayette @ Mississippi
Line: +27 O/U: 55.5
Power Ranikings: MISS 11 ULL 43
Coming in today with a 78% consensus, Ole Miss is a 27 point favorite. MISS is 2-0 and 2-0 ATS. They destroyed Vanderbilt 41-3 at -17.5 and beat Boise 35-13 at -9.5. MISS is ranked 27th def and 33rd offensively. The only place they have struggled is on the ground, being ranked 101st. ULLis 1-1 and 1-1 ATS. They are ranked 83rd defensively and 51 offensively. ULL only makes 50% of their field goals. So, if this were to be a close game (it won’t be) I would pay attention to this.
Under is 4-0 in Ragin' Cajuns last 4 road games.
Over is 6-0 in Ragin' Cajuns last 6 games in September.
Over is 5-0 in Ragin' Cajuns last 5 games after allowing more than 40 points in their previous game. Under is 5-0 in Rebels last 5 games overall.
Rebels are 6-1 ATS in their last 7 games after allowing less than 20 points in their previous game.
Rebels are 6-1 ATS in their last 7 games after allowing less than 170 yards passing in their previous game.
This line is on the move. For some reason Vegas wants people to bet on both sides. Get in at -27 if you want the action.
Ole Miss to cover
My favorite tidbit about OLE MISS…Sammie Epps was suspended indefinitely because he likes to smoke pot and drive without a license. He had Funchess potential, but prefered the thug life.
So, what are your picks?
Ill update the weekend games o/u as they come out.
· This was my first go at this. So any input would be appreciated. Also, next week will include a recap and appropriate shout outs and mockery for those who choose to pick games with me. I would like to do this as a weekly if I get enough responses.
Continuing Brian and my previous diaries themes of _____ for _____ , I decided to earn my fandom badge 2014 edition by rewatching the game and trying to figure out how you gain 289 yards, 9 more than your opponent, but still get blown out 31 to 0.
Even before knowing the offensive stats, this game just felt... weird. I definitely had the feeling that there was a strange disconnect between the scoreboard and what was going on on the field, at least prior to the turn-over fest. We'd be moving the ball and then, BAM, drive over. This diary attempts to see just what that "BAM" was in each drive that killed it dead.
Here's are Michigan's drives charted:
The good part.
This diary comes up with a conclusion that is absurd considering the shutout, so we might as well get that out of the way first:
The offense looked ok, even good at times.
I can't help but think of Nussmeier's presser a few weeks ago, where he said this team does good things in spurts but then regresses to mistakes. That may be the most depressingly accurate forboding statement ever, because that's exactly what happened.
We'll get to the bad stuff in detail later, which is the meat of this diary, but I think it's worth saying a few things about the good parts first. When the offense was working, it was working well. We got yards in a sustainable fashion, without resorting to gimmicks that the opposing DC eventually adjusted to and killed dead. Nor did we rely on feast and famine big plays to move the ball.
The backs averaged 4 YPC, with no big runs to skew the average much (long of 15). We definitely ran for little gain at times, but TFLs were also minimized. It felt like a normal rushing attack. Definitely not elite, but enough to chip in and keep us from being one dimensional.
The passing game at times looked decent as well. Initially, I was down on our receivers, but after a second viewing, I'm more positive. Funchess was, in fact, who we thought he was. Darboh and Chesson both chipped in, and we had a couple nice passes to the backs for good gain. There were times I thought we could have had better safety valves for blitzes, but for the most part the routes were well designed and made sense in the context of the game situations.
Now, the not so good part.
Alright, so that's out of the way.... let's look at how all that could still manage to score zero points. What we're examining here is the set of downs directly before the drive ended. I attempt to assign blame on why each series ultimately failed:
Drive 1 - 47 yards, Missed FG
Michigan drives 47 yards from their 24 to the ND 37 yard line off of nice plays from Funchess and Norfleet.
1st and 10
Wheel route to Norfleet for 7. Good play
2nd and 3
Bubble screen Norfleet loss of 2. Give ND credit for a nice play here and some RPS points as well.
3rd and 5 (out of a time out)
Gardner scrambles for 3. Gardner bails too early here. Protection looks good but he sees a seam and goes. Guys are breaking open for an easy pitch and catch, but he's not looking. ND has a LB spy and stops him short of the sticks.
4th and 2
Matt Wile misses a 48 yard field goal wide right.
What went wrong: 50% Gardner (bad decision on 3rd down), 25% ND makes play (2nd down), 25% RPS (2nd down)
Drive 2 - 45 yards, Missed FG
Michigan drives from their own 25 off of a big 27 yard Devin Funchess catch and run to the ND 34 yard line.
1st and 10
Snap infraction. Foot meet pistol. Can't be beating yourself like this.
1st and 15
Inside zone smith for 6. Nice play
Inside zone smith for 2. Not really sure what the problem is here. No one gets beat cleanly, but no push or room.
3rd and 7
Pass to Funchess INC. Looked like ND got there early, but only just. Would have been hard to see the pass interference live. Great play by ND
What went wrong: 50% Penalty (1st down), 25% OL (2nd down), 20% ND nice play (3rd down), 5% Refs (3rd down)
Drive 3 - 29 yards, Punt
After getting pinned inside their 10, Michigan manages to move the ball to their own 39 off of 2 consecutive passes to Jehu Chesson.
1st and 10
Bubble screen to Chesson, blown up zero gain. Again nice play by ND and RPS minus for UM.
2nd and 10
Drag route to Funchess. INC guy draped all over him. Should be PI
3rd and 10
QB scramble. Sheldon day passed off from Magnuson and beats Cole clean (hardly gets a shove on him). Devin running for life, ND gain tackles for loss of 3
4th and 13
Punt. Opportunity to recover punt muff, but Chesson doesn’t see the loose ball until it’s too late.
What went wrong: 40% OL (can't let best DLmen by on 3rd), 25% RPS (1st down), 20% Refs (Missed PI on 2nd), 15% ND makes play (1st down)
Drive 4 - 0 yards, Punt
Michigan starts on their 25 after a touchback.
1st and 10 M 25
Norfleet, outside zone for 7. Nice play.
2nd and 3
Miller gets put on skates. Live, I thought this was a illegal hands to the face by the DL, that's how bad he got owned. Gardner pumps but brings it down so it doesn't get batted, fumbles, loses 17 yards recovering it. Could have saved yardage just falling on it. I'm not going to ding Gardner too much because when your center is in your lap, bad things happen.
3rd and 20
Draw to Hayes for 10.
A bit of a head scratcher here on play call. I'm guessing the coaches didn't like having the OL protect for routes of 20+ yards to develop. With 1:35, they want to get some yards and a good punt to make ND drive it with no time outs. Didn't work out that way as ND scores on ensuing drive. 3rd and 20 is low percentage either way.
4th and 10
Short punt and good return sets up ND with great field position to drive for TD before end of half.
What went wrong: 60% OL (Miller gets destroyed on 2nd), 20% Gardner (Could have taken care of ball better on 2nd), 20% RPS (3rd down, but not much you can do)
Drive 5 – End of half meaningless drive, just a couple of hail marys as time is running out. I won’t chart this.
Drive 6 - Start of 2nd half, 14 yards, INT
Michigan moves the ball from their own 25 to their own 36 to start the half off of a designed Gardner run and Derrick Green run up the gut.
1st and 10
Gardner flushed from pocket, manages 6 yards somehow with guys grabbing him from all over. Heroball mode intensifying.
2nd and 4
Jaylon Smith reads this from the snap and run blitzs to TFL. Braden's assignment, but really no chance here. Loss of 3
3rd and 7
Pocket collapsing but Gardner can get it off clean. Nice blitz pickup by Hayes actually. Safety steps up and reads it all the way and ball hits him square in chest.
What went wrong: 50% Gardner (3rd down), 45% ND makes plays (2nd and 3rd downs), 5% OL (2nd down, not much chance for Braden)
Drive 7 - 30 yards, Punt
Michigan is pinned deep at their 2 yard line but moves it out to the 29 off of some runs from Green and Gardner.
1st and 10
False start. Again, can't be beating yourself on the road when the other guys are doing a plenty good job of it already.
1st and 15
Smith run for 1, should have been TFL as 3 domers rip through line. He does well to get back to the LOS and fall forward. OL starting to look tired, their performance seems to drop off quickly after this.
2nd and 14
Funchess motions and runs a out route. Gardner hits him for 6
3rd and 8
Sheldon day rips through untouched as Magnuson goes to help Miller. Comn man, that can NOT happen.
FWIW. ND sends 7, 1 more than M can block, but at least get a chip on him. Gardner forced to chuck it out of bounds, but it actually lands dangerously in bounds.
What went wrong: 70% OL (A bit on 1st but mostly 3rd down), 30% Penalties (1st down)
Drive 8 - 49 yards, Fumble
Dennis Norfleet makes an ill advised return from the end zone and does well to get to the 16. Michigan drives to ND 40 off of a couple of Funchess receptions.
1st and 10
Green run for 1. Not sure if this is a read option or designed handoff, I'm assuming read with unblocked end. Gardner should be keeping, instead he gives and the unblocked end crashes down and tackles for 1. OL got no push either.
2nd and 9
Gardner has a nice pocket initially but doesn't see anyone open. He dances around, looks down field again, then decides to run it. He fumbles as he's tackled. Credit ND for good coverage initially everyone is step for step with their guys. Chesson does seem to work free at the end, but it's probably too late.
What went wrong: 60% Gardner (1st bad read and 2nd down fumble), 25% OL (1st and 2nd down), 15% ND makes play (2nd down coverage).
Drive 9 - 0 yards, INT
1st and 10
Not much to say, Gardner gets baited into a throw he shouldn't make and ND corner jumps it.
What went wrong: 75% Gardner, 25% ND makes play.
Drive 10 - 20 yards, Punt
Michigan receives the kickoff for touch back and drives from their own 25 to their own 40.
1st and 10
Gardner scrambles for 2. Looked like blitz is picked up initially, but Miller and Glasgow are both getting driven back. Gardner bails but is arm tackled. Looks like he had more room to step around the guy, but can't blame him too much.
2nd and 8
Funchess in slot, chances screen and turns it up for 3. He's hurt (are you fucking kidding me?)
3rd and 5
Pretty much entire offensive line just bull rushed straight into Gardner's lap. OL is getting tired and technique is really slipping at this point. Gardner scrambles and lays up a lob pass that's just a little too high for Hayes.
4th and 5
Not crazy with decision to punt here. Game is out of hand, but then starters stay in and next drive they try for TD instead of FG for moral victory. Just seems like if you're not gaining much by punting it away here.
What went wrong: 70% OL (1st and 3rd down) , 20% Gardner (had a guy on 3rd down but missed with lazy mechanics), 10% ND makes plays (solid play to limit YAC on 2nd),
Drive 11 - 24 yards (36 yards, sack removed), Turnover on Downs
Michigan receives a punt a their 42 and drives to the ND 23 off of a long Deveon Smith run and Amara Darboh reception.
1st and 10
Read option. End contains, handoff to Smith for 1. Glasgow gets crushed so nowhere to go.
2nd and 9
Fade to Darboh, INC. Pocket and protection was good FWIW
3rd and 9
Draw for loss of 1. Not crazy with the call, but if you know you're going for it on 4th down, I guess I can see trying to get part of it back by catching ND off guard. ND was not caught off guard. Miller and Glasgow both driven back 2 yards and there's no cutback due to unblocked end.
4th and 10
ND sends the house, Gardner sacked, and that's all she wrote.
What went wrong: 50% OL (1st and 3rd), 20% Gardner (inaccurate pass on 2nd), 20% RPS (ND not fooled on 3rd), 10% ND makes play (good coverage on 2nd)
Drive 12. Meaningless drive at end of half, INT. Not going to chart this one.
Out of our 10 meaningful drives, only half of them died of "natural causes," and 2 of those 5 should have gone for points (missed FG, and in FG position but decision to try for TD instead). The other 5 died as direct result of self inflicted errorsL: 3 were turn overs and 2 more were killed by pre-snap penalties. That is a recipe for disaster and the scoreboard accurately reflected this, not the good things happening in between.
As expected Gardner came in for the biggest chunk (30%) of blame. When you have 2 INTs (3 if you count the last one) and 1 fumble, that's not surprising. We definitely got bad Devin Gardner this game. Being down early was not a good recipe for this team in general, but Gardner in particular. You can almost see the moment he goes into Hero Ball mode in the 2nd half in the first scramble. A very similar scramble later resulted in a fumble. I'm not really sure what he saw on the INTs... don't know if it was just a bad read or he was trying to fit the ball in where it shouldn't be. Aside from the obvious bad plays, he also had some issues with taking off too early, not finding the open man, one bad read on a zone read play.
OL was next up at 28%. Really they could come out worse considering both the penalties were OL related (snap infraction and false start). They'd be up to a whopping 42% in that case. I thought there was a really stark drop off in OL play about midway through the 3rd quarter. Miller in particular, but also Glasgow were just not playing with any leverage at all. Magnuson and Cole had some ugly communication issues as well.
The rest is really ND making plays and noise. I didn't really feel play calling was that bad with maybe a couple examples. I know people had a big issue with the draw plays on 3rd down, but I understand them in the context of the game.
So what's it all mean?
Michigan obviously needs to play much much better. Gardner is still making mistakes that he should have cleaned up by now, this game was very reminiscent of his start last year. Nussmeier has a tough challenge to coach him out what are now deeply ingrained habits without pushing him into the shell that plagued him down through the middle of the season last year (holding on to ball too long, not taking yards that are there, etc).
The OL needs more work, which I'm sure is a shock to no one. They did show well for long stretches in the first half and beginning of the second, but fatigue caught up with them and they reverted back to bad technique. Unlike Gardner and Nuss, I'm not sure if there's much cause for optimism here as Funk and these guys have been together for a while now. Even so, if they can stretch out the good parts for even another quarter and cut out the communication errors, they can be serviceable against much of our schedule.
Despite the soul crushing result of this game, if the team can put the loss behind them, I do believe there are positives to build off of. I'm not sure, fundamentally, we're that far off from where expectations were for this unit. We expected an offense that would struggle early... maybe not this badly, but they were never going to make the transition from last year to good without some lumps. They now need to make good on the second part of the expectation, which is to show improvement through the season. That, once again, is the giant question mark hanging over this football team.
Hold your heads high - Yes Michigan got embarrassed on national television but remember this, Notre Dame IS chickening out and EVERYONE who follows this rivalry knows it. NBC put up a graphic during the game showing how Michigan was Notre Dame’s eighth most frequently played opponent suggesting it is NOT that big a deal that the series is ending but if you dig into the statistics more closely you discover the following: of the teams that Notre Dame has “rivalries” with they have winning records against ALL of them, except Michigan (see below).
Notre Dame vs. USC 45-34-5 (edge ND)
Notre Dame vs. Navy 71-12-1 (edge ND)
Notre Dame vs. Purdue 56-26-2 (edge ND)
Notre Dame vs. MSU 46-32-1 (edge ND)
Notre Dame vs. Pittsburgh 47-21-1 (edge ND)
Notre Dame vs. Army 38-8-4 (edge ND)
Notre Dame vs. Northwestern 37-8-2 (edge ND)
Notre Dame vs. Michigan24-16-1 (edge Michigan)
Notre Dame vs. Stanford 18-9 (edge ND)
Notre Dame vs. Boston College 13-9 (edge ND)
Notre Dame is accepting defeat in cancelling the series. They lose far too often (3 of the last 5, 5 of the last 8) to Michigan for it to suit their liking and they have had enough. I think it is pragmatic of them to accept that they can’t catch up and have no issue with it, one less team to hate with all my being. The real question is why are we as a collective upset about this? Playing at Notre Dame has led to more than enough inexplicable/frustrating/murderous rage inducing calls/moments/results for my lifetime and I was born in the 80s. There is no other stadium that has this affect on our team/season. Younger fans may think playing at MSU, OSU, or PSU is relatively the same but historically it is not. Getting future visits to Notre Dame Stadium off the schedule is a blessing.
Everett Golson’s performance was spectacular. He was making throws that only pros make and often on the run or while pressured. Even his incompletions looked to be his receivers fault rather than his own. Sometimes your team comes up against a guy like that, a guy totally in the zone, and you lose. I’m not sure we could have done much more than what we did considering our roster options. Tip your hat to the kid; he looks like he could have a very bright future. Yes, yes, our most experienced cornerback went out early and Peppers was unavailable (apparently), and Hollowell is not the answer, but I’m not sure it would have mattered all that much. Brian Kelly is a QB guru and he has a really, really, good college (maybe more) QB in Golson; I do not think we see another QB as good as him the rest of the year (Connor Cook is the only guy who comes close in my mind and he is a step down from what I have seen).
Michigan is not as bad as it looked on Saturday. Sure the scoreline reflects something else but I think most of us, now that we have calmed down/sobered up can realize what we saw versus what we are capable of was not displayed on Saturday. Our offensive line, while still a weak point, is not as bad as it has been made out to be. Gardner was mostly sharp in the first half and despite his tendency to revert to the Joel Stave “yips” he still gives us our best chance to win (those who think it is Shane have not been watching enough football). One game does not make a season (see: Michigan State 2013 edition). Yes we got “blown out” but aside from Golson (see comments above) and the solid offensive line play in front of him, we were fairly evenly matched. Much (some?) has been made of us outgaining Notre Dame and that should be considered, even if only lightly. I still think, based on Golson alone, that we would have lost this game had it been played at home but I think we would have lost close and therefore in heartbreaking fashion. Maybe for some that is better, I am not so sure.
The Big Ten is down. This is bad for public image sure, but at the end of the season if we are Big Ten champs, have played in the Big Ten Championship game, or have won 10 games I don’t think anyone is going to be too upset with the season as a whole. All of those goals are still within reach. Yes, we are not ready for the Florida States, Alabamas, or Oregons of the world, but apparently no one else in our conference is either (in other words we are not as far behind as we think we are). Our biggest rivals also took a tumble and in the case of OSU, it could be argued that their performance was worse (we don’t actually need to argue but their offensive line looked worse than ours, they were playing at home, and they got a gift fumble recovery touchdown to make the game appear closer than it was) than our own.
We don’t need to debate if Hoke is the right man for the job because doing so does not change what is happening this season. Hoke is not going anywhere. Anyone who thinks otherwise does not follow Michigan athletics closely at all. Calls for his head are premature as this season could turn out to be a very good one, or at least a solid piece of the foundation for seasons to come.
To be clear, I am not happy with what we all witnessed on Saturday but after the dust settles, this is still our team. We can not get divided on this and fracture our support because that is how seasons, and even legacies, are destroyed. Notre Dame has come and gone but I for one will not miss them. To hell with Notre Dame. We beat them 38-0 a few years back and it does not define them. We will not let this loss define us.
This is going to be short and a bit low on jokes and links. I was at a wedding this weekend so had to watch the game on DVR late Sunday, but "this sucked to watch and I have better things to do than feel like crap for free" is also high on the list of reasons.
Oh, you want more? Fine.
Worst: Everything, but in a video
Best (Kinda): The First Half
I know you're sitting there saying, "BronxBlue, you picked a bad week to start crystal meth" if you think being down 21-0 constitutes a "good" half. But honestly, UM didn't play THAT badly, at least offensively. It became apparent pretty quickly that the offensive line's (relative) domination displayed against App. St. wasn't going to be reproduced against a more stout defense, but Gardner and co. seemed to compensate reasonably well. They only had one 3-and-out among 4 meaningful first-half drives, and two of those drives ended in long-but-makable FGs (it looked like the second miss was due in large part to Wile's plant foot sliding out on the turf). The other drive stalled when Gardner tried to pull back his throw as Miller was being driven back into him by Sheldon Day, resulting in a 17-yard "fumble" recovery that pinned UM deep in their own territory. UM led ND at the half in rushing, and while the pocket wasn't great, it held up enough that Gardner wasn't running for his life and was accurate and on-point with his throws and decision-making. It wasn't pretty, but it felt like an offense that was making some progress despite glaring issues up front.
As for the defense, feelingsball kicked in for me that first half. Objectively, giving up 21 points without a truly short field is pretty bad, and at times it felt like there were breakdowns at every level. At the same time, they were down Morgan before the game started, Taylor and Peppers after the opening drive, and still had question marks like Ryan out there. On ND's first TD drive, Lewis was called for two PIs that kept the drive alive, and while there was clearly contact and he could have turned his head a bit quicker, it's also the type of aggressive behavior that teams tend to get away with when not in South Bend. I mean, MSU was PI'ed to death last year when they played the Irish, and Notre Dame was equally as handsy on defense without incurring the wrath of the referees. Later on, ND nearly bumbled away a punt return deep in their own territory when the ND returner tried to, I don't know, catch the ball between his legs, only to be saved by Michigan trotting out the "old school" punt formation that leads to 1 gunner trying to beat two blockers AND tackle a returner who probably has 5 yards to get going. The last TD drive of the half had a questionable (at least in my eyes) catch for a first, and Golson made a couple of nice throws under pressure (including escaping the grasp of Clark).
My point isn't to paper over a issues in that first half, but if you had told me one team would have burned thru 2 timeouts on their opening drive, rushed for under 50 yards, and generally looked out-of-sorts to start the game, I wouldn't have expected that team to be ahead by three scores.
Worst: Stop Burning Downs
I picked up Madden 2015 for the Xbox One when it came out, and one of the elements that has been talked about is the "balance" you should expect to see running and passing the ball. In theory, that means EA has continued its improvements on run blocking, always the Achilles heel of the football world. Far too often in previous editions you would try to run inside only to have guards completely flub a block, or rush outside and find 2-3 players ready to swarm at the line of scrimmage. It's early, but it does feel like the offensive line is more cohesive, and backs are able to shed tackles and work through holes the way you'd expect them to in real life. It isn't perfect, but at a moderate difficult I've been able to reproduce believable stats for guys like Reggie Bush and Marshawn Lynch against competent defenses.
But the other part of the offensive balance has turned out to be a regression for the passing attack, or at least a dulling of the differences between offensive and defensive players in that part of the game. Whereas before elite receivers could catch most balls thrown their way, now I see far to many "50/50" balls between Calvin Johnson and assorted DBs going the defense's way, and beaten corners somehow discovering the rare 86th gear to catch up to my sprinting WR before he breaks free. For the sake of appearances, it feels like the game has tried to turn the clock back to the 1980s and make the running game as essential to success as the passing attack, which flies in the fact of today's modern game. Yes, a team needs to be able to move the ball on the ground at times, but most elite teams succeed by either throwing the ball efficiently (see the Broncos) or severely mucking up the aerial assault (see the Seahawks).
So why bring this up in the context of Michigan? Well, in the second half I counted 15 first down plays before the final drive; UM ran 10 of those times, and it was 8 of 10 at one point. On those runs, UM averaged a shade over a 1 yard per carry. Mind you, at all points UM was down AT LEAST 21 points, and even when they were down 28 they just kept burning downs with meaningless runs because they didn't want to become one-dimensional or had to give sacrifice to the great football gods in the sky that feast upon inefficient offensive philosophies.
People have joked about 14-year-olds who play Madden all day being as viable offensive coordinators as the guys currently on teams, but at some point teams need to stop trying to "keep the defense honest" with plays and start keeping them honest by moving the ball successfully. I get you want to keep Gardner healthy and not open him up to hits, but that offensive line wasn't holding up very well as the game progressed, and 2nd-and-9 or 3rd-and-7 isn't helping the offense either. I had much preferred UM just air it out that second half, perhaps getting back on the scoreboard and forcing the defense to hold back a bit because otherwise they'd had Norfleet or Funchess running free for a touchdown.
We are now entering the rapid-fire portion of the post
Worst: Just Pick Somebody
I know last week I trumpeted the two-headed monster at RB, but that was contingent on, you know, both of them being good at the position. After this game where neither Smith nor Green provided much on the ground, I think Hoke and co. should pick a back and give him the bulk of the carries to see how that shakes out. As it is, pulling them on and off the field every series (or even between downs) doesn't do much to forge cohesion or a rhythm for the offense. Plus, both players are similar enough to each other that you aren't getting the "lightning and thunder" element you'd see with, say, Ron Dayne and Tiki Barber back in the day for the Giants. It's just two rumbling clouds out there, and I'd rather see one of them get a shot to run the ball 15-20 times than split carries like they have been. Personally I think Smith is the better back right now because he seems able to consistently fall forward and get a couple of yards every down, but that's more based on a preference for shifty guys than some tangible performance. And if one can't perform, at least you've seen a whole game of it and can either go with the other option or return to the split carries. I'd hope with Miami coming to town and there being issues with Gardner and Funchess you'd see them try with a single-back attack, but I'm guessing we're going to see both guys splitting carries with meh results again.
Best: Keep Throwing to Norfleet
Yes, Notre Dame starting sniffing out those WR screens and keeping an eye on Norfleet in the slot, but he brings an elusiveness to this offense that UM needs to keep teams from absolutely loading up on Funchess. Chesson and Darboh are fine receivers, but Norfleet can pull LBs and safeties from the middle of the field when he gets the ball in space, and until Butt comes back I'd prefer him out there than an ineffective blocking TE. He has a ceiling that will probably preclude him from being a top option in the passing game this year, but he's a true junior so you might as well roll with him while you still can.
Honestly, I'm not sure what happened out there in terms of pressure from the defensive line. You look at the box score and see some TFLs, 1 sack and a couple of QB hits and it looks like another disappointing outing for a unit that just can't seem to get to the QB against quality offensive lines. And yet, ND was held to around 2.5 yards a carry on 28 non-QB runs, and Golson was definitely getting the ball out quickly to slow down the rush. It still seems like it's a line of good players without a true playmaker, and in this scheme you need a line that can create havoc so that your corners and LBs are being forced to keep up with receivers for extended periods of time. I know people want to treat this as another sign of hype being exposed, but I'm just not sure yet.
Worst: Quarterback Controversy
Argh. I get that people are troubled by Gardner's second-half struggles, especially two bad INTs, but this was a holistic struggle by the offense, and there is nobody on the roster at the QB position who could do any better. Morris has an arm but he wouldn't have had time to unleash it with ND's pressure and a lacking running game. Now, depending on Gardner's status following that late hit to end the game (why him and Funchess were still in the game is beyond me), I presume Morris will see some time, and he'll probably play fine against a bad MAC outfit. But Gardner should be starter as long as he is able to play, not only because he's the best option today but also because it might save the next QB from getting hurt.
Worst: Hurry Up
For weeks the word coming out from the coaches was that the offense was calling plays faster and experimenting with the crazy art of "tempo" offensively. Well, apparently that word means something else in Indiana because far too often UM was snapping with mere seconds left on the clock. I get that the offense is young and they are probably working from a limited playbook, but this team isn't good enough to outplay a defense that has time to react and line up based on the formation in front of them. Even if Gardner ran up to the line and said "run that last play again" a couple of times it would at least change the pace. This molasses-like must be coming from somewhere, but whether it's Hoke, Nussmeier, or Funk being worried about the line, it needs to stop.
Best (I guess): This Offensive Line will get better
I know it doesn't seem like it, but the offensive line is slowly getting better. It wasn't a great performance by any stretch, but for such a young unit the line held up decently in the first half, and even with struggles in the second half never seemed overwhelmed. It must be remembered that they are learning a new offense without anyone really "versed" on it to guide the way, and they are doing much of this education in games. There were some big screw-ups that I'm sure Brian will highlight in the UFR (I saw a coupe of runs where at least 1 lineman either got beat almost immediately or released way too early, messing up plays before Gardner had taken more than a step back), but this remains a unit chasing the faint light of mediocrity in the distance. Being surprised about the pain of the journey every week is already getting old, so I'm moving past bargaining and settling into acceptance of the crap and looking for whatever sliver of silver lining might exist.
Best: In the Land of the Blind the One-eyed man gets a good laugh
The one "positive" from the weekend as it relates to the rest of the conference season is that most of the contenders looked turrible as well. Nebraska needed a miracle catch-and-run by Abdullah to beat Steve McNair U at home, and they might as well hand out some super-rad Hypercolor shirts for the defense because those black ones are going to stay in the closet for another year. Ohio State and (in particular) J.T. Barrett looked hapless at times against Virginia Tech, especially a Hokie defense that, while less-than-terrifying current state compared to years past, is not the type of unit a young QB with accuracy issues wants to face. And while MSU had the most "understandable" loss going down to Oregon out in Eugene, the fact that they crumbled in the second half and the vaunted defense yielded 28 straight points without much resistance should be troubling to Spartan fans, as well as the team's continued inability to run the ball consistently with Langford.
Further down the standings, Iowa was thisclose to losing to Brady Hoke's old team, needing to score 2 TDs in the last 3 minutes to pull it out. Illinois struggled to put away the Hilltoppers of Western Kentucky, Purdue split its epic Mitten State Directional School battle with a thumping at the hands of CMU, Maryland needed to rally to defeat USF, and poor, poor Northwestern. And only last week Wisconsin blew the game against LSU in the conference's other marquee OOC matchup. Even 2-0 PSU looks vulnerable, needing a last-second FG to beat UCF in Ireland last week before struggling to put away the Yodeling Bowden's of Akron.
So while Michigan looked absolutely outclassed by Notre Dame, sadly I'm not sure they are in any worse position with respect to this conference than they were before the game. MSU remains the class along with Wisconsin, and then there's a pretty big gap until you run into teams like OSU, Nebraska, PSU, and sorta, kinda UM. I still expect UM to finish behind a couple of teams in the conference, but nobody looks to be a high-level team save maybe MSU in the right circumstances. Michigan still has a long way to go before they'll be considered a good program nationally, but within this crappy league they could still stand as one of the taller midgets.
It doesn't matter.
Worst: I'm Irish; Where's my Luck?
Now, like a lot of Michiganders I have a fair bit of Irish heritage, in my case a couple grandparents who came to America directly from Éire. I was raised an Irish Catholic, celebrated St. Patrick's Day with corn beef and cabbage, loved both Roy and Robbie Keane, and was constantly reminded how lucky I was to not be a fine gentleman's pair of boots or a nourishing meal. And so in addition to being the butt of jokes about crippling alcoholism and an inability to tan, I've heard about the apparent "luck" of my people and the power of a clover. And yet, as long as I've been a Michigan fan this good luck never seems to apply when my team plays Notre Dame. In one of those apparent contradictions, like when both teams pray to the same higher power to bring them a victory, the fact that Notre Dame decided to call themselves the somewhat-derogatory "Fighting Irish" instead of the "Slamming Shamrocks" or "Proto Bonos" apparently trumps all other talismans or heritage.
I understand that homefield advantage is a real thing, especially in college football, and teams do tend to play better at home than away. And that advantage can sometimes manifest itself in atypical ways, such as being a fraction of a second closer in coverage, downing a punt at the 1 yard line, or a rabid crowd subconsciously influencing the referees. I don't even know where I'm going with this except to say that I'm worried the Denard used up all of our luck a couple of years ago.
Worst: There Ain't Nobody Better
I'll be frank: I don't think Brady Hoke should be let go after this season unless it becomes clear that the team is just spiraling out of control (and looking at the schedule, that seems unlikely). This sentiment isn't because I have some long-standing love for the guy or his performance so far at UM (I was down on his initial hire, and while he seems like a good guy and a competent coach he's not going to set the world on fire), but because I don't see anyone out there who is going to improve Michigan's situation appreciably. UM isn't a "destination" anymore when it comes to college football, at least not in the way that elite programs are. It has so much baggage and so many masters to please that unless you are an alum or a masochist (or in the case of Jim Harbaugh, both), it doesn't seem worth it to suffer through a bunch of 3-4 loss seasons and get pilloried by a dysfunctional media and an absent-minded athletic department. It's a once-proud program that isn't a destination anymore, one that is going to bristle when a veteran coach tries to impose his will on the institution and severely retard the rocket attached to the back of an up-and-coming coach.
When you are the coach of the Wolverines, you have to keep the old generation happy AND compete in a college football landscape that has moved well beyond Bo's glory years and the 1997 championship team. There is a vocal minority of this fanbase looking at this team from deep within their own colons, expecting it to be elite because of the block M and the ghosts of Yost without acknowledging that what used to work simply doesn't anymore. They look at RR and his "gimmick" offense as a fad, not a lottery ticket that didn't hit the jackpot but should have encouraged UM to buy another ticket for the next drawing.
Brady Hoke is trying his best; he hired a good defensive coordinator, made a switch from an unpopular offensive coordinator sooner than most expected, and continues to recruit well given the team he inherited and the recent struggles. But he's not going to drag UM back to the pinnacle of the sport, and that's okay for now. UM isn't anywhere close to competing with the elite teams in this country consistently; they just need to start winning games and keeping pace with the other squads in the conference. Hoke has a ceiling, and that is a team that wins 9-10 games a year and can hang with anyone in the B1G and most other non-elite teams OOC. Once he hits that ceiling, though, it is probably time to replace him with a coach who can take that good squad and make it great.*
So replacing him now simply weakens a team with real holes, creates another coaching search that will inevitably end badly, and probably impede the one thing Hoke has consistently done, which is recruit good players to the school. In a cold, transactional nature of internet coaching, Hoke is the guy who gets you back to the level at which you can get The Next Guy, and that's why trying to start over AGAIN with a new coach doesn't make sense.
*A good analogy is Doug Collins in basketball; he coached the Bulls when Michael Jordan was just starting to come into his own in the league, then was replaced by Phil Jackson when the Bulls were prepared to make the leap to elite
Meh: What's Next?
Got me. They'll probably win against Miami and Utah, and then the conference season kicks off. OSU is a trainwreck but it's still so far in the future that they're bound to be competent by the time UM visits Columbus. MSU looks vulnerable but not to this offense, and with injuries mounting the defense probably won't be disruptive enough to slow down MSU's attack. PSU still has holes that good teams can exploit, and while UM still can't seem to handle tempo all that well IU's defense isn't going to be able to bottle up Funchess and co. if everyone is healthy. It still feels like there are 2-3 losses waiting for this team, but Notre Dame is probably a bit better than everyone expected with Golson at the helm, and while it wouldn't have mattered overall UM probably left 7-10 points on the field. I'm sticking to my 8-4 prediction, but it's not going to be a fun ride.