lets see if getting this up a bit earlier gets a few more reads this week. either way, its been an honor playing with you this evening...
Ifs, Buts, and Meh: For the third game this year, Michigan has figured out how to dramatically win the TO battle and lose the game. Penn State was +6.9 EP for turnovers, Nebraska was +6.8 EP for turnovers, and Iowa was +10.3 EP for turnovers. That TO margin should have resulted in 2-3 more wins – If the offense hadn't imploded (but it did). Michigan's offense has averaged just 10.5 points in regulation for the past 4 games and that would be ranked #123 nationally. Meh
Synopsis: Michigan's TOM for the game was +3.0 and for the year is now +4.0 (+ 0.36 per game) which improved dramatically to #35. Turnovers were not a primary factor in determining which team won the game.
Countess picked up his fifth interception and this ranks him #8 nationally. Blake is also ranked #4 nationally with 162 interception return yards. Taylor is ranked #25 nationally after his fourth interception for the year and Beyer racked up his first interception. The game ended with Gardner's 10th fumble and fifth lost fumble of the year.
Michigan is now +9.0 in TOM for B1G conference games which is second only to MSU at +11.0. And yet, M is a mediocre 3-4 in conference play.
Versus ohio: I figure it will take a TOM of +6 for M to win this one. Ohio does not commit giveaways with just 1.2 per game ranked #19. For takeaways they average 1.8 per game ranked #39 nationally. For B1G conference games, ohio's TOM is +4.0 and is ranked #4. May god have mercy on our souls.
National Rankings: All rankings include games between two FBS teams ONLY and are from TeamRankings except for forced fumbles which is from CFBStats. The four columns with *** show the best correlation to offense and defense (per Advanced NFL stats).
This chart shows Expected Points for various yard lines.
This chart shows the basis of EP calculations for each turnover.
THE BIG TEN WILL NOT BEST BOILERQUEST
Fortunately for all of us perhaps, there is only one more of these to do before the year-end review of trends, which will be Michigan-focused but will show comparisons to how other teams progressed throughout the year.
I usually try not to be judgmental, but it does appear to be bad when you can count the number of offensive yards your team gained in the second half of a game without utilizing all of your fingers. Well, that was true for much of that half anyway. As you’ll note in the new averages, there are still some bright spots, but the not so bright ones for us are not bright in the least, I would think.
At this point, much of the Big Ten has sorted itself out, so the numbers are not changing too much save for anything which includes a recent catastrophic performance or whatnot, so if the charts look eerily similar to last week, it is because they are. Indeed, they are so similar that I initially forgot to change the chart headers to reflect that it is Week 13 now and delayed this upload by a good 20 minutes.
SCORING OFFENSE AND DEFENSE:
As was the case last week, it doesn’t seem like anyone could catch Ohio State at this point when it comes to prolific scoring, but Michigan is a respectable fifth in the conference, sandwiched in a group of teams that include Michigan State, Nebraska, and Indiana. We’re also around the middle for scoring defense, allowing an average of 25.1 points per game, sitting comfortably between Nebraska and Penn State. The company isn’t too bad from a performance standpoint. The differential – eight points for Michigan – is also not terrible, but it is towards the middle of the conference as well.
TOTAL OFFENSE AND DEFENSE:
Like last week, we’ll just go with the tempo-free. We’re sliding into being essentially at zero here, meaning we give up as much as we get. If it looks like our offense has been standing still lately, that might be because the numbers say that it sort of has been.
RUSHING OFFENSE AND DEFENSE:
Like last week, there has been very little movement here. There is some minor stratification of rushing offenses at this point with OSU and Wisconsin clearly leading the way, then Nebraska and several teams reasonably close to one another. Of course, that leaves Michigan and Purdue. Well, we stop the run well enough anyway, right?
PASSING OFFENSE AND DEFENSE:
Good news here. Ohio State is ever so slightly worse than us on pass defense, so beating them through the air is a possibility. We even have an ever so slightly better passing offense than they do, so if we have anything, we have these things. Of course, Massey would also give us a 1 in 5 shot at winning this game, so there is that too. I remain cautiously optimistic as I do with most games.
We are in negative territory on third-down differentials, mainly due to our lack of success in getting them on offense. The tempo-free chart shows you that, of the five teams with negative differentials, ours is closest to zero, so there is that. First downs aren’t too much better sadly – we average less than one first down more than our opponents now, which can also be attributed to problems on offense.
Or the Third Era of the Big Ten Hockey Title
As we all know by now, the debut season of the Big Ten Hockey Conference is just days away much to the excitement of some and chagrin of many others. Many people raving on message boards have asserted that the whole thing is just a money grab and that the Big Ten teams are abandoning the traditions of their former conferences: the WCHA for Minnesota & Wisconsin, and the CCHA for Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State. The way I got started on this quest for information was because I was getting tired of hearing the complaints of all these jilted fans of WCHA teams. I had hoped to just prove to myself that the Big Ten teams have a justified cause for splitting because they’ve been in a conference together for well over 100 years and they’ve been playing each other regularly for all of their respective existences. What I found that I really wasn’t expecting was a history of Big Ten games, tournaments, and league championships that I never knew existed, all reaching as far back as 1922. This historical knowledge seems to be mostly unknown to the modern college hockey fan and writer and perhaps most surprisingly (to me at least), is seldom mentioned in Blue Ice despite that book being the definitive guide to Michigan hockey’s history. I tried to Google all sorts of variations of “Big Ten Hockey history” to try to see if anyone else had compiled all of this info but I found zip, so I think what I am writing here may actually be the most complete e-guide to the history of Big Ten hockey (you can determine if that’s a good or bad thing that I’ve been bestowed this honor) [ed: and now this diary is the #2 google result for 'Big Ten Hockey history' so there you go]. So as we get ready to drop the puck for the first official season of the Big Ten Hockey Conference, prepare to become learned in the ways of Big Ten Hockey, just as the founding fathers would have wanted.
I tried to include a lot of pictures because we all know the only thing that made history books of any value were the cool pictures. I hope to maintain your attention with these.
Your Big Ten hockey membership timeline
(Penn State & MSU were not Big Ten members in their first stints as D1 programs; click to embiggen)
Not everyone may have known that Illinois had a varsity team from 1937-1943 which I think is partially why so many people jumped at this rumor so fast. Illinois is the team all us college hockey nerds are really hoping will return to Division I though that’s based more on internet hopefulness than any sort of evidence at this point. (I also didn’t realize that Penn State had a D1 team in the 40’s until I nearly finished. Strange that you never ever hear about that. Their 1940 team: Lightbox)
1921-1943 The First Era of Big Ten Hockey
The “mythical” titles
I won’t get into the details of how each program got started as there’s already plenty of information out there on that for each of the respective programs. In short, in 1921, Minnesota and Wisconsin both began their varsity programs with Michigan joining the next year. These three teams formed the first edition of the Western Intercollegiate Hockey League (WIHL). Why they didn’t just call it the Big Ten is not apparent to me, but the league would soon add teams like Marquette and Michigan Tech and make it a moot point. These were the days well prior to any NCAA tournament so the only thing these teams appeared to play for was a conference title or mythical national titles (i.e. AAU). Surprisingly enough, you will rarely find reference to WIHL titles for these teams; instead, there are numerous claims of Big Ten titles based off of the Big Ten record. Below is your 1928 Wisconsin team:
The Wisconsin Waldos
Admittedly, these titles and every other title up until 2013 are going to be “mythical” to one degree or another but from very, very early we see that there are claimed Big Ten titles even in the absence of an official conference.
In order to determine who won the league in each season, I went through each team’s media guide and tabulated up the Big Ten standings and then tried to verify my findings with news articles from that time. Fortunately for me, the Minnesota Daily, the Michigan Daily, the Daily Illini (Illinois) and the Lantern (OSU) all have online archives of some sort and were a huge help.
The first official news I could find of a Big Ten title was from a 1925 article in the Daily Illini hidden down at the bottom. The Big Ten titles between Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin for 1922-1935 were as follows:
Links go to articles if I could find one. I also tabulated all the seasons so ones without article links were based off standings (and I checked to make sure tabulations matched what I found in newspapers in other years. Yes, it took a little while. “Tab” means I had to add it all up)
|Year||Big Ten Champion||Conference||Link?|
*In 1936 and 1937, it was down to just Michigan and Minnesota after Wisconsin dropped its program so these are as imaginary as it gets. Also, in Wisconsin’s first fourteen years as a varsity program, they failed to win any Big Ten titles as their program disbanded until returning to varsity status in 1963.
A primitive cave painting of a Minnesota hockey player. Dated to 5000 BC
Illinois adds varsity hockey
In 1937, Illinois added varsity hockey and Big Ten competition resumed as a part of the Big Ten teams regular schedules. After a so-so start, Illinois hired a young man by the name of Vic Heyliger in 1939. Heyliger had been an All-American at Michigan prior to joining the Chicago Blackhawks and then the Illini as its head coach. Despite being in the state of Illinois (not exactly a hockey state), Vic quickly turned around the Illini hockey program, winning three straight Big Ten titles from 1941-1943 (see below).
I wanted to include a whole section to Illinois because it’s fascinating to think about the what-ifs surrounding Vic Heyliger. Due to World War II, Illinois dropped hockey following their three Big Ten titles. As Vic had Illinois peaking, Michigan had bottomed out with the Big Ten standings going as follows:
Illinois had won three straight conference titles (‘41-‘43); Michigan had won precisely one Big Ten game in those three years, going 1-20-1 in Big Ten play overall (ouch). However, with the abrupt ending of Illinois’ program, Michigan was able to hire Heyliger who would rebuild Michigan, go on to lead the establishment of the NCAA tournament, and lead Michigan to all ten of the first ten frozen fours, winning six national titles in the process.
Had Illinois not folded, it’s fairly safe to say that Heyliger would’ve been leading Illinois to many of those initial frozen fours. At the same time, Michigan was actually considering dropping hockey because it had gotten so bad under head coach Guy Lowery:
“By the time Lowery stepped down, the program itself was in peril. In the spring of 1944, a local headline warned, ‘Michigan May Remove Hockey from Athletic Program’” Blue Ice, p98
“Of course, it didn’t take a genius to figure out that a man who could transform Champaign’s perennial chumps into perennial champs in just four years could do wonders at an established program like Michigan’s. If Crisler was going to spend the time, effort, and money to resuscitate the hockey program, he wanted Heyliger on board, and wouldn’t take no for an answer. Crisler got his man” Blue Ice p105
No team that’s been in a frozen four has ever folded. I think it’s safe to think that if Illinois hadn’t dropped their program, Michigan may have folded (even if temporarily) and Illinois would be playing varsity hockey today in Heyliger Ice Arena. Instead, Illinois folded and Michigan became (and remains) one of the most prestigious programs in the country.
Big Ten titles in the Illinois years:
|Year||Big Ten Champion||Link?|
*For that 1943 article, it seemed like Illinois was unable to make some games in Minneapolis. Counting them as forfeits would’ve given Minnesota the conference title, cancelling the games would’ve given Illinois the title. Eventually Minnesota conceded the games, giving Illinois the title though I can’t find the article where I read that anymore.
1944-1958 BIG TEN CHAMPIONSHIP CLAIMS STOP. (MCHL / WIHL)
After Illinois dropped hockey, the Big Ten was back down to just Michigan and Minnesota until Michigan State joined the league and added varsity hockey in 1950. The three teams played two home and two away games with each other each year but no one claimed Big Ten titles as a result. Maybe the introduction of the NCAA tournament in 1947-48 quenched the desire to have a conference title to claim but I’ve found no evidence either way.
Michigan, Minnesota and Michigan State all competed in the MCHL from 1951-1953 and then the WIHL (a 2nd iteration) from 1954-1958 before a new league named the WCHA would form for the 1959-60 season.
1959-1981 The WCHA And The Big Ten
In 1959, the WCHA began league play and all three Big Ten teams joined the league. This is the same league that exists today, even if the whole league has had huge membership turnover since then. The Big Ten began formally tracking Big Ten standings and a Big Ten champion within WCHA play. No formal conference existed, but it was as close as you could get to it without getting there. Some of you might be thinking that all these titles are very imaginary and not official in any capacity. That was very true for the first era of the Big Ten title, however, when the Big Ten title resurfaced in 1959 it very much became an official thing.
Per Wisconsin’s media guide:
From 1959-81, Big Ten standings were determined by regular season WCHA games between Michigan, Michigan State and Minnesota [ed: and Wisconsin obviously]. Ohio State, a non-WCHA member, played two games against Wisconsin in 1968, two against Michigan State in 1971 and two against Minnesota in 1981.
Ohio State actually played numerous games against Big Ten opponents in this timeframe. Why only six counted as Big Ten games is not clear at all.
So what’s so special here?
“Enhance that image”
Minnesota’s Big 10 Championships Banner
So clearly someone in Minnesota’s athletic department also thought that the “mythical” Big Ten titles counted for something as Minnesota has a banner hanging in Mariucci taking credit for their ten unofficial titles during the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s. For whatever reason this hasn’t been publicized at all, but each Big Ten team from that era claims Big Ten titles and recognizes league standings from that era.
As we can see, Penn State will not be alone this fall. Both they and OSU will enter with zero (official) Big Ten wins all-time. Insert snickering here.
I don’t know why there’s been so much coverage of Big Ten hockey with little to no mention of this previous history, but behold, it exists. These standings are only semi-official because they occurred within the regular season play of the WCHA mostly but it was a Real Thing for a whole 23 seasons. Compare that to Michigan’s time in the CCHA - which was 31 seasons - and you get a better sense of how long-standing the Big Ten championship – no matter how mythical – was recognized amongst the participating teams. Minnesota has a banner and each of Michigan, Michigan State, and Wisconsin still have the standings in their most recent media guides. (Here’s an article from the Daily even showing the ‘69 Big Ten standings after Michigan clinched the title; An accompanying image too.) Clearly this was much more than bored journalists tabulating league standings over the years.
BIG TEN TOURNAMENT (1968-1970)
For the ’68, ’69, and ’70 seasons, there was even a Big Ten tournament with all five Big Ten teams participating. Each tournament was hosted at a campus site but didn’t determine a conference champ, it was just a typical winter break tournament (similar to the Great Lakes Invitational).
|1969||Ann Arbor, MI||Wisconsin||Link|
Ohio State went 0-6 in this tournament so if you’ll recall from above OSU was 0-6 in ‘official’ league play and 0-6 in the tournament. Aside from getting some yucks in, it’s a big reminder of why OSU is so far behind the other established Big Ten teams; It isn’t a recent development. While Michigan, Minnesota, Michigan State, and Wisconsin were competing in the WCHA against the North Dakotas, Denvers and Michigan Techs of the world, Ohio State was playing teams like Buffalo, Toledo, and Dayton. Their program hasn’t ever been at the same national level as their brethren, and I’m not sure if that’s going to change anytime soon. Ohio State will likely be a Big Ten cellar-dweller in most years.
It’s unclear why the tournament stopped while the Big Ten standings continued to be tallied for another 11 seasons. I searched high and low for any photos from any of the tournament games but came up with zilch so if anyone can dig one up, you will be my new favorite MGoUser (the photo in this article on the ‘68 tournament is close but appears to be from a game against Minnesota-Duluth shortly after the tournament; you can see a UMD on their jersey).
All-in-all, the era of Big Ten hockey within the WCHA was as close as the league had gotten to being a league of their own up until Penn State joined the fray last year. The recognized championships are below:
From Wisconsin’s 1981-1982 media guide
Like the links above mention, your Big Ten titles for this era are as follows:
|Team||Big Ten titles|
This soiree into Big Ten hockey came to an abrupt halt when Michigan and Michigan State made the jump to the CCHA in 1981 – partially due to Michigan’s struggles in WCHA play. Gone were the regular home and away series against Minnesota and Wisconsin that allowed the feaux-Big Ten league to exist. The split left Michigan, MSU, and OSU in the CCHA and Minnesota and Wisconsin in the WCHA, and that’s where they all remained until a big ol’ dump truck of money arrived in State College a few years ago.
2013-Present The Big Ten Hockey Conference
In 2010, Penn State received their $88 million gift (now $102 million) from Terry Pegula and announced that they would field men’s and women’s varsity teams starting in 2012-2013. Those following college hockey basically knew that it would lead to the Big Ten forming their own league as it had been rumored for years before Penn State was ever cut that check. Sure enough, the Big Ten took only a few months to announce that they would sponsor their own league starting in 2013-2014, thus completing what had been more than 90 years in the making.
My point in writing this diary was not to try to suggest that these previous instances of Big Ten hockey are necessarily equivalent to what will be starting this weekend, but to relay the long history of Big Ten hockey that hardly anyone seems to know about anymore. Some schools and fan bases have tried to argue that this split-off of the Big Ten was just a cash grab or it was a break from tradition but knowing what I know now, I think it’s easy to argue that Michigan to the CCHA was a bigger break from tradition than moving into the Big Ten is now (certainly money and TV sets are involved though – as everything in the Big Ten is nowadays).
The Big Ten is the completion of what was inevitable ever since Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin started WIHL play in 1922, it just took them 90 years to finally get that 6th team.
Big Ten Titles
Big Ten titles
Big Ten tournament
The next question for many is ‘Who’s next?’ It’s pretty obvious that many within the college hockey world are looking forward to the day that happens based on how rapidly the rumor of Illinois impending move to varsity spread this summer. So, will it be just the six of us for another 50 years? Much has been written on this so I’ll keep it short. My e-pinion:
Most Likely: An associate member with an existing hockey program. I don’t think any other Big Ten school is close to adding hockey (barring significant donations) and I’m still of the opinion that most Big Ten schools will be adding men’s lacrosse before men’s hockey – unless the $2MM per year thing is real. As for an associate member, I am unsure of who brings the academic reputation, hockey reputation, and TV audience that the Big Ten would be looking for. Johns Hopkins was a slam dunk for lacrosse as they easily met all three of those. For hockey, I don’t know who would be a great hockey program that also gains anything for the Big Ten. North Dakota is big time and would add a huge fan base, but doesn’t add much from an academic perspective (#173 to USN&WR). Miami is a great program with good academics (#75) but adds almost nothing as far as markets or fan bases are concerned. A CIS school (like U of Toronto) is an interesting idea but likely a pipe dream.
If further realignment comes our way (like is rumored here), I think North Dakota is most likely.
Next In Line: Nebraska, then Illinois or Rutgers.
Nebraska is in a great place for this but has denied any serious interest. They have great fan support in general, a new arena that can be used for hockey, and a state with three USHL teams. Plus they have a natural rival in UNO. More detail here.
Illinois obviously had a varsity program and remains a strong ACHA team with good fan support. Every year people float the idea of Illinois returning (supporting evidence not required).
Rutgers actually attempted to move to Division I back in 1961 but failed to for some unknown reason. The program has a rich tradition dating all the way back to 1892. They currently sport ACHA DI and DII teams. I have no further evidence to support this.
Unlikely: Everyone else.
With hockey being so expensive to start and Title IX being a barrier as well, I’d say the next Big Ten school to join Big Ten Hockey is the first one to get a nice $100 million check from their favorite donor. E-pinion complete.
So I hope that was interesting for the rest of you. I probably lost all the non-college hockey junkies 2000 words ago but personally, I found it totally fascinating. Here’s to year one of real Big Ten Hockey, 92 years in the making.
Etc.: All your suspicions about the Cube are confirmed. Al Renfrew…voice of dissent. Gonzaga, Washington, USC, UCLA, and Western Washington(!) also had D1 teams prior to World War II (see 2nd and 5th columns). Cal had a D1 team as well, playing Illinois in 1940.
This diary is a fuller exposition of a quick chart that I threw together and posted in Ace's recap of the Iowa game. I've expanded the analysis somewhat and corrected at least one mistake.
In essence, I wanted to chart the offensive regression that we've all witnessed over the course of the season, especially post-Minnesota.
First, let's just chart yards per play (maize dots indicate losses):
The overall regression is clear, with a big spike against Indiana. That was a great offensive performance, but Indiana. Overall there's a clear regression, especially in Big Ten play.
The problem is that not all defenses are created equal. To try to correct for that, I've divided Michigan's yards per play by the average yards per play allowed by each team:
Here you can see that the Indiana performance is still quite good -- we did better against them than the average team. But you can also see the below-average performances (anything below 100%): UConn, Penn State, Michigan State, Nebraska, Northwestern, and Iowa.
Notice how poor our performance against Nebraska was: our yards per play (2.778) was only 53% of the average offensive performance allowed by Nebraska (5.27).
I also charted yards per carry by the running backs:
This is a little bit harder to correct for, since defensive rushing stats include sacks, etc. Nevertheless there's a clear negative trend, and in no case have we averaged more than 5 YPC by running backs in any game.
Finally, yards per pass:
The slope here is a bit flatter, but it is still negative. Perhaps the fall-off over the past several weeks can be attributed to injury? DG's also not getting yards rushing the way he did earlier in the season. DG rushed for 82 yards in the Notre Dame game, for example, and for 121 yards against Penn State.
In conclusion: this is grim. Very grim indeed.
Worst: Even Our Leader Has Fallen
I'm going to mail it in this week, guys. Just know that ahead of time.
— mgoblog (@mgoblog) November 23, 2013
Look what you’ve done to him, Michigan Football! His e-blood is on your hands!
Worst: Pretty Meta
I’m warning you all in advance that this post is going to be less about the game and more holistic. Here’s why UM lost this game: Iowa scored 17 points in the 2nd half while UM’s offense recorded 6 fricking yards before their last drive of the game. That ended in a fumble from Devin Gardner (who is probably injured). Because of course that’s how a game against Iowa should end.
If you want more detailed analysis of the actual reasons behind UM losing to Iowa, stick around for the UFR and the other diaries and you’ll get more than enough information. That ain’t me, and while I’ll provide some numbers and stats I’m not going to drop into the muck too heavily this post.
Best: It’s Still Real To Me!
Basically since the debacle against MSU, the sentiment around this team is that the fans are checking out because, well, this isn’t a particularly good team and watching them lose isn’t any normal person’s idea of a good time. The offense remains historically awful against competent opponents (and Minnesota, apparently), playing Devin Gardner behind this offensive line could very well violate multiple parts of the Geneva Convention protocols, and the defense continues to solider on despite talent and support issues. It is an unwatchable team not in the sense that it is a bunch of thugs or jerks, but in the way a snuff film wouldn’t wind up on my Netflix queue. It’s hard to watch something you care about, played by people who seem genial and passionate, get destroyed week in, week out. No one could be blamed for spending these last weekends of the fall enjoying time with family, drinking your artisanal beers, and basically doing ANYTHING that doesn’t turn otters into Brooks from Shawshank Redemption.
And yet, I still can’t find it in myself to turn off these games. I know why, of course: there are only 13-14 games a year, and when times are good or at least exciting there is nothing better to watch. And when the team isn’t that good (which, let’s be honest, started well before RR’s tenure made it official), the calcified memories of former greatness and the diminishing hope of a return keep me coming back. And despite the losses and the continuing sense that UM is still on the wrong side of history, I’ll keep watching and coming back to watch, even games like this when you could feel the loss coming after Iowa’s first drive of the 2nd half. And in all likelihood, my kids will love watching UM football as much as me, even when they realize that patch of missing hair isn’t because Dad was pranked. But this simply cannot end soon enough for me, and next week’s OSU game will likely get the background treatment as I shop online, listen to music, and otherwise tool around the apartment.
Best: Next Year’s Defense
I usually start these posts focusing on the offense, since it tends to be have the easier-to-identify storylines and players and, well, your offense usually has to score points to win games. But that short-changes the defense, muting their performance because of narrative difficulties. So in order to rectify this slight once, I’m going to start by praising this defense, which put forth an inspiring performance that was one of its best of the year.
The stats weren’t great (24 points from 407 total yards at 5.4 ypp), but this defense did more than enough to secure a victory. It forced 4 TOs, including 3 INTs, one which was returned for a TD, and added a turnover on downs despite consistently being put in sub-optimal positions thanks to some early punting issues as well as the continued ineptitude of the offense to even gain a first down. In fact, the defense only really started to struggle when both Morgan and Ross were lost to injuries and the cumulative play count (76 plays versus 57 run by UM) simply caught up to them. Perhaps a truly elite defense could have found some way to score another TD or not allowed the tying and go-ahead scores late in the 4th quarter, but you look at the players on the field and their experience and it is difficult not to see how good this unit will be going forward.
So Jake Ryan seems to be rounding into form nicely. His pressure of Rudock led to Beyer’s pick-six, and for much of the first half he was all over the field. He seemed less involved as the game dragged on, but given his expected recovery time anything he’s been able to provide this season is encouraging. Of course, given how the season has progressed it might have been nice had he been able to obtain an injury redshirt (?) instead of wasting it on a lost year, but nobody could have expected quite such an implosion.
Clark recorded 2.5 more TFLs and was generally a terror out there; presuming he continues to mature at this pace he could finally live up to some of the hype next year. Henry and Wormley looked strong as well, including a bullrush by Wormley that I will call a MANSACK because I am an 11-year-old hopped up on Pixie Sticks. And both Taylor and Countess had interceptions while largely keeping Iowa’s passing attack in check (the long completion to Smith was mostly on Avery, who let Smith get by him and then compounded that mistake by getting tangled up with another tackler). It isn’t a great unit, and I remain confused as to why guys like Wilson and the freshmen DBs get inconsistent minutes, but the defense will be the bedrock of next year’s team and should be a strength for years to come.
Worst: Next Year’s Offense
Do I think an offense that couldn’t get a first down in the 2nd half until the final drive and had 6 total yards until that point is going to be better next year without its two NFL tackles, record-setting WR, and competent-ish RB?
There’s nobody to really blame anymore. There is an alternate universe in which Al Borges’s gameplan scores points (and in at least one of those universes he is a clown made of candy), and Devin Gardner has not so much regressed as devolved into a QB who is so afraid/warned against making bad decisions in the flow of the game that he makes bad decisions haltingly throughout the game instead. The funny thing is, of course, is that it really isn’t his fault, since his ribs and spleen are still looking around for Frank his gallbladder, which is probably still in East Lansing.
The offensive line is sometimes able to block on running or passing downs, but never consistently and sometimes spectacularly badly. In order to at least sometimes keep the opposition from destroying the offensive play at the snap, so many players are dedicated to blocking that 1 or 2 receivers are available on passing plays, resulting in Gardner surveying the blanketed field in a panic before taking off on a (usually) ill-advised scramble. In this game Iowa only recorded a single sack, which has to be some type of record*, but added 10 more TFLs to add to UM’s nation-leading total. Gardner wasn’t helped by a couple of key drops by Funchess and Gallon, including a couple in the second half that would have extended drives. And a week after a semi-competent rushing attack, Derrick Green and Fitz Toussaint recorded 35 yards on 17 carries, with a long of 9. Execution or gameplan, at least this clownshow is coming to an end.
*At some point this year, UM was one of the national leaders in sacks allowed, with only 12 total before playing MSU. Now? One of the worst.
Worst: It’s a Noah’s Ark of Beaten Animals
Ace and others noted a continuation of a disturbing trend for the offense: over-reliance on a play that worked despite the fact that the other team was clearly adapting to it. Last week it was the bootleg/designed QB run in short yardage; this game, it felt like every run in the first half was initiated with a fake bubble screen pass, and on two consecutive plays in the 2nd half Al Borges called for a reverse to Funchess (which got 10 yards) followed by a functional reverse to Gallon which, unsurprisingly resulted in a 4 yard loss. People joke about a lizard brain with Al Borges, but at this point it isn’t so much a lizard response as it is a record skipping in the most Milli Vanilli way possible. He seemingly remains trapped in the same playcall until the drive ends, forgetting that his opponents are watching the same game and aren’t suffering from brain damage.
My issue with the playcalling isn’t that the plays are objectively bad; many of them should work. But after 11 games, the team still lacks an offensive identity that is reproducible game-to-game, and saying “we didn’t execute” whitewashes over this incoherence. There are plays in every game where a player makes the wrong decision or misses the right hole and the play dies; that happens to everyone. But this team and this offensive philosophy is so flawed and inconsistent that they can’t “luck” into positive plays that should occur even when breakdowns occur.
That there is no coherence, no consistency down-to-down, is hard to describe, but I’ll try. When Iowa started to assert itself at the end of the game, they did so by stringing together plays that consistently netted them positive yards. They handed off to the RB and he gained 3-4 yards, so they did it again and 3-4 more yards were ceded by the defense. Each play drew upon the previous and something called “momentum” took hold, and the Hawkeye offense was consistently able to move the ball. Well, that virtually never happens with UM. If one play gets them 4 yards, the next play can just as easily explode into a 10-yard loss. A pass to Gallon gets you to 2nd-and-1? Well, let’s call a couple of failed runs and punt. That happened in this game, it happened against PSU, it led to a 4th-and-forever punt against MSU, and it keeps happening. The offense has gone from idiosyncratic drive-to-drive to unpredictable play-to-play.
I know the UFR showed “growth” running the ball, but let’s remember that was against a NW team that hasn’t won a game since before Halloween. The passing game has devolved from a unit of strength to a bunch of 2-route formations that competent defense can stop with little effort, and for the third time this year UM didn’t crack 200 yards in total offense. In all likelihood Al Borges is going to be back next year, and I pray for the residents of the Detroit Zoo that he doesn’t take a shining to one of the giraffes.
Worst: The Replacements
So I saw quite a few people calling for Morris to get some meaningful snaps as the game spiraled out of control with UM leading by 14 points. This only intensified as Iowa poured it on by tying the score and taking the lead, culminating in the humiliation of having to watch Devin Gardner try to mount a meaingless comeback down 3 insurmountable points late in the game.
Oh, I’m sorry. How terribly embarrassing. I forgot to include the <sarcasm> font before posting. Maybe this helps.
I understand everyone’s disappointment with how the season has turned out, and burning Shane Morris’s red shirt on a couple of meaningless snaps against CMU and falling on his face against MSU is an indictment of early-Hoke recruiting (though it is pretty weak). But if anyone thinks putting him out there would be even remotely productive for anyone involved is simply foolish or overly reactionary. People have seen how bad Gardner has been playing behind this rickety line and with whatever tutelage his OC/QB coach has provided. Now imagine a smaller kid with less mobility trying to stay alive back there, and one who probably hasn’t even received 1/12th of Borges’s focus as a mentor. Hell, the only reason TO play Morris at this point is the indefinable hope that Borges hasn’t ruined him yet. I suspect he’ll see some time against OSU because there is little chance Gardner will be upright after that defensive line tees off on him, but it will not be pretty and nothing good will come of it.
Worst: Who Let Mr. Freeze Out of Arkham?
At some point during the game it was mentioned that Saturday’s weather was the coldest for a gameday at Kinnick, with 17 degrees mixed with 20+ mph winds resulting in near-zero windchill. Though I’m from Michigan and am still somewhat accustomed to the freezing temperatures that are common at this time, my years in New York, with its somewhat-ocean-moderated temperatures, copious coffee shops, and hellish subways, has largely shielded me from these bone-chilling temperatures.
From the initial kickoff, though, you could tell the weather would play a significant role in this game. Iowa’s first FG was quite high and wide, which tends to happen when you are kicking frozen pigs. And Wile’s first couple of punts into the wind averaged out to about 25 yards, giving Iowa great field position (though Wile was able to boom a couple of nice punts later on to flip the field). Going into the 4th quarter BTN showed that the average play into the wind was around 3 ypp and nearly doubled when the wind was to the offense’s back, and while Iowa’s late-game runs evened out those numbers a bit both teams were clearly affected by the cold temperatures. Of course, you’d figure that would have helped the team with the 14-point lead…
Worst: Hey Florida, is that supposed to make me feel better?
So Florida nearly pulled the upset against Georgia Southern this weekend. I saw some people on Twitter and other places say that at least Gator fans will understand how Michigan feels. First, nothing will ever replace the Horror, as that loss has basically hung over this team for 6 years. Secondly, at least UF will likely fire the guy who is running that flaming barge and find someone, anyone who is an improvement. I still believe in Hoke, but there feels like a very small chance that there will be a noticeable shakeup on this staff, and I’m not sure what the endgame will be without it. So while it is humorous that Florida couldn’t keep pace with a SoCon school, it doesn’t really take the sting out of the past 2 months.
Worst: That Final Offensive Drive
Pretty nonsensical, right? Well, this makes about as much sense as UM’s dogged insistence on running the ball on their last offensive drive despite ample proof it wasn’t going to work and would instead basically burn downs and clock. Outside of Green’s 4-yard run on the first play, UM ran the ball four more times for 4 yards (8 of which on that final run that Gardner fumbled) while throwing for 31 on two passes. I get wanting to keep the defense “honest” by not purely passing and exposing your poor pass protection to blitzing LBs, but you’ve had 20-some-odd minutes of offense to establish the run and it’s netted you 2ypc; maybe it’s just not your day. But wasting time and downs on these plays made no sense, put the offense in worse positions, and drove me insane. Last week UM got lucky that they somehow were able to get that kick off despite horrible clock management; this week their playcalling put them in tough positions all day despite having the lead for most of the game, and helped to doom their last gasp at escaping Iowa with the win.
Best: It’s Almost Over
So next week is OSU and then, I don’t know, Texas for some crappy bowl game. I don’t expect the OSU game to be particularly competitive, which is pretty tragic since this Buckeye outfit isn’t a juggernaut; they’re probably a 10-win team that got some scheduling luck and may very well lose to Alabama or FSU in the MNC game. But this week is shaping up to be the least exciting one I can remember leading up to the game, and that includes those RR years. At least then you had a sense that maybe the offense could surprise OSU for a bit; right now UM cracking 200 yards of total offense would be their Rose Bowl. I expect UM to keep it close early on because of the home field and emotions, but it’s going to get ugly, and probably sooner than you think.