This will be a super-abbreviated version of Best and Worst. The game didn’t end until well into Sunday, which for a father of a not-quite 2-month old is akin to suicide by sleep deprivation, so I caught it on DVR. Rest assured, it was a quick watch. Plus, the game was the perfect microcosm of this past year, so there really isn’t anything “new” to add except at the fringes. So if you want me to rail against the coaching staff, the playcalling, the lack of coherent run-blocking, etc., feel free to re-read literally any of my diaries after Notre Dame.
Now, on with the Best and Worst of UM’s fall from grace into the BWW/Insight.com/Copper Bowl.
Best: Mama Said Knock You Out
One meme proliferating across this site in recent weeks is “death to 2013” and how this year of UM sports is the worst in memory. While I contend any year when one of your major programs plays in the national championship game and has a player win all of the national POY awards can’t be that bad, the struggles by football and hockey were unexpectedly traumatic. And so, in the same week we learn that Mitch McGary will miss the rest of the year with back surgery and the hockey team was swept out of the GLI, it is fitting that the final blow to 2013 be delivered by the Fightin’ Bill Snyder’s JuCo State Wildcats in a pretty complete victory against Brady Hoke’s Whatever Man Wolverines.
At least 2014 couldn’t be much worse, provided you don’t look at the 2014 football schedule, realize the basketball team is giving significant minutes to limited offensive players at center instead of a possible first-round draft pick, or the hockey team failing to beat a bunch of teams that aren’t going to sniff the NCAA tourney.
Best: That Could Have Gone WAY Worse…
What if I told you that Michigan would be giving their true freshman QB his first start in an organized football game since midway through his senior year of HS, with no discernible running game, a faltering defense, and facing a Kansas State team that was 11-2 last year and probably was a couple games better than its record and had gone 5-1 in its last 6 games? You would have expected the team the game to be a blowout of epic proportions, and you would have been right with that expectation.
Don’t get me wrong, this was a complete victory by KSU. They scored TDs on all three meaningful drives of the 1st half, and missed a chip-shot FG to start the 2nd half. Tyler Lockett abused Taylor and Countess repeatedly, a member of the Wayans-sized brood of Gronkowskis was blitheringly wide open, and the Wildcats started near midfield numerous times because of abysmal kick coverage. KSU completed 75% of its passes for 271 yards, averaged 4.1 ypc on 36 carries, and held UM’s non-Morris and non-Funchess runners to 8 yards on 9 carries, which is probably the 3rd-worst rushing performance of the year.*
And yet, this wasn’t MSU or Iowa, games where the offense looked anemic throughout and hope was eradicated swiftly and without mercy. Morris was solid in the first half, going 15 for 19 and playing within the confines of the limited offense, and even though he struggled a bit in the second half he showed poise and confidence you want to see in a young QB. The arm was as powerful as advertised, and the accuracy issues seemed within an acceptable range, not Worms Armageddon that had been heard about in practice. We saw a fair number of screens, WR runs, and other low-risk plays that helped UM move down the field on their first two drives. He was only sacked once, which is pretty amazing considering Gardner is walking around in a boot and still picking rib out of his teeth, and he did rush for 43 yards on 4 carries and showed a bit more athleticism than I think some expected.
While Lockett abused the secondary to the tune of 3 TDs, I thought the defensive line did a decent job getting pressure considering how much KSU was holding (2 were called plus a hands to the face of Clark), and the blitzes were getting through if a fraction late. It’s as young a defense as the offense, and it did feel like Mattison made some adjustments in the 2nd half that helped to slow down KSU. I’m not giving him a pass by any means (I’ll touch on the two coordinators later), but this is probably the second best offensive unit faced this year and holding them to 31 points (24 if you throw out Morris’s interception putting them on the 7 yard line) is below their season average and in line with what teams like Oklahoma and Ok St. gave up.
It was a loss, but not nearly as debilitating to me as those to Iowa and MSU because you can see the kernels of growth, of possibility, amongst the dreck.
* If you were expecting more exclamation points or emotion recounting those rushing numbers, I don’t know what to say. It’s been that type of year.
Worst: The Myth of the Bowl Practices
Every year, you hear fans talk about the benefits of bowl practices, of how it allows teams to shore up weak areas and promote maturation and growth of younger players through additional, structured activities. I’m sure there is some efficacy to those claims, especially for younger players who are able to become more comfortable with the schemes to run and coaches are able to roll out more of the playbook for those players returning the following season. Undoubtedly, there is value in letting football players play football for 3+ more weeks.
That said, I’m not sure why anyone expected things like “running the ball” and “LBers being good in coverage” to improve because the players had a couple more weeks to prepare. At best, bowl practices allow you to accentuate the things you do well and maybe add a wrinkle or two, but if you can’t do “X” for 12 games over 3 months it would be both amazing and sad if it finally “clicked” because you didn’t want to embarrass yourself at a bowl sponsored by a place where brosephs and middle-aged fathers hang out to choke down drenched chicken wings and overpriced alcohol and said bowl game isn’t even broadcasted.
Al Borges seemingly spent his time looking at his playbook and saying “welp, let’s see how many ways I can run the ball without relying on my offensive line to block effectively” while Mattison visited the Materials Science department to see if he could wring out any more flexure from his defensive schemes. The playcalls and the performances should feel, at best, like remixes of earlier games, maybe with a slightly different beat and a bit less ennui. But about the time Lockett was burning single-coverage for the 2nd TD in the first half and Shane Morris was trying to Tebow a ball on a delayed option-ish play, it was pretty clear that there was a pig beneath that nice shade of lipstick.
Worst: Just Go For It!
Watching UM kick short FGs on their first two drives deep into the red zone made me feel, well…
Again, you playing in the F’ING BW3 Bowl in Tempe, Arizona at 10:15 EST on December 28th. You had all year to play “conservative” and “for the win.” That got you to 7-5 with close wins against Akron and a neutered UConn. You wasted every gimmicky play in your playbook to matriculate down the field, have a true freshman at QB, no running game, and a defense that has struggled to stop dynamic offenses all year. I know that the advanced stats can’t take in all forms of context, but playing in a bowl previously named after an IT company pretty much gives you carte blanche to hang your balls all the way out and call whatever plays you want. It wasn’t a full surrender or anything, but I definitely heard this in the back of my mind.
8-5 and 7-6 are functionally the same even though, I guess, 8 wins looks better given recent UM history and the plateau it has been mired in, but how you get there says quite a bit. Brady Hoke has shown a willingness to take risks, so I’m not reading too much into these decisions, but man it would have been nice to at least see them go for it when the game was still in doubt. Plus, considering KSU had great field position after every kick-off, the points-versus-field position argument was even more skewed toward going for it.
Worst: The Coordinators
I’ll admit to being a bigger fan of Greg Mattison than Al Borges, so up front I want to make it clear that Al Borges called a pretty good first half of football and Mattison seemed absolutely lost in stopping a team whose passing offense was “throw to #16” and “throw to guy wide open in the middle of the field.” Borges has no functional running game, in part, because nobody seems able to block defenders, and so he went about trying ever-ludicrous methods to move the ball on the ground and the air without putting too much pressure on Shane Morris. These were all plays fans have seen before, but he wove in screens, end-arounds, sweeps, and easy middle-distance throws into a coherent gameplan that let UM move the ball pretty effectively on their first couple of drives. At the very least, he came out punching despite having one hand behind his back, and for that he deserves kudos. And in particular during that first foray into the redzone, a PI on either of Morris’s two passes to Gallon and Funchess probably would have allowed UM to score a TD and kept the game closer. The fact the offense sputtered in the 2nd half isn’t that surprising, as WR runs and delayed screens only work so often when your base offense is churning up less than a yard a carry and your WRs are being blanketed when they aren’t dropping passes from your amped-up QB. Borges has shown an ability to adapt somewhat these past couple of games, and next year it is going to need to be flexible because I have a hard time believing it will suddenly start running the ball under center for 4 ypc while airing the ball out with aplomb.
On the other side of the ball, this “bending” defense clearly broke in the first half, as KSU had no trouble moving up and down the field despite holding penalties putting them in some poor down-and-distances. Taylor and Countess couldn’t keep Lockett even remotely contained, and it seemed virtually impossible for the team to bring pressure while also maintain their assignments, leading to long conversions after acres of open field just appeared. The defense tightened up somewhat in the 2nd half, but this defense needs to make a massive step forward next year for this team to improve on their record, and it’s now been two games in a row where the defense seems flat-footed and ill-prepared against good offenses. That needs to change, and given the youth out there (Gedeon, Thomas, and Henry seemed to get significant run) along with some improving older players like Clark and a healthy Ryan, I expect that to happen.
Worst: Quarterback Controversy
Going into the game, you heard fans suggesting that if Morris played well you might see him getting the nod to start next year. I thought it was insane at the time, and while Morris played well in a limited offensive system, a healthy Devin Gardner gives this team the best chance to win next year by a healthy margin. Again, barring incredible improvements along the line, including replacing an All American and another pretty solid tackle, pass-blocking will probably take a step back while maybe run-blocking will take a tiny step forward. Gardner has shown all year that he can make plays when that happens, and while it isn’t always pretty it still feels like the best option given Morris’s limited experience and size. Sure, people will say that learning to play with “adversity” is necessary in a player’s development, but learning these lessons while possibly suffering through a litany of injuries won’t help anyone. It is a bit of cold calculus, but if next year is going to even rougher offensively I’d rather have the senior who has dealt with it before back there versus the “future” QB who hasn’t and doesn’t need to break a couple of ribs in the process.
Best: Smooth Operator
Jeremy Gallon, my spirit animal/forever Pomeroy Award winner, set the numerous records as a WR and reminded everyone that the cliche about judging books by covers applies doubly for angry mountain goats from Florida with rocketboots. I fully expect him to tear it up in the NFL as one of those terrifying slot WRs that Peyton Manning or Tom Brady use to demolish teams all year. I’m sure Brian and co. will provide a more fitting send-off, but it’s hard not to watch him play and appreciate just how special a player he has been these past 5 years.
Meh: On To Next Year
I’m sure I’ll be excited after NSD, when emotion and hope replace ennui and pessimism. This team has the talent to be better, and it should be next year. There probably should be some shakeups in the staff that won’t happen, but this isn’t a “tire fire” or a “lost lockerroom”. It was a team with gaping talent holes that the coaches couldn’t fill, probably due to a combination of stubbornness, youth, and bad luck. The team that nearly lost to Akron but also took OSU to the limit ended its season on a disappointing note, but given an offseason and some fresh blood I suspect they’ll be better. Everyone needs to get better and I doubt anyone in Schembechler Hall would argue with that assessment. But as a guy who only gets to watch 12-13 football games a year out of these Wolverines, I’ll take what I can get.
This preview is a short-ish diary because the bowl game takes front page precedence and, well, it's Holy Cross, not Arizona. I'll be taking this one in tomorrow as a fan—for the first time in three years—and will post a recap either Sunday or Monday.
|WHAT||Michigan vs. Holy Cross|
|WHERE||Crisler Center, Ann Arbor, Michigan|
|WHEN||6:30 pm Eastern, Saturday|
|LINE||Michigan –14 (KenPom)|
Right: Center Dave Dudzinski, the Crusaders' leading scorer, can operate from the post or step out and knock down threes.
Michigan must find a way to slow down 6'9" center Dave Dudzinski, the team's leading scorer (17.1 ppg) and rebounder (7.6). While he spends most of his time working inside the arc, where he hits 51% of his shots, he's also knocked down 11 of 24 three-point attempts this year. He also draws a good deal of fouls and hits 80% of his free throws.
Flanking Dudzinski are 6'6" forward Malcolm Miller, a solid defensive rebounder and the team's most efficient scorer—albeit in low usage—and 6'8" forward Taylor Abt, who's started every game this year but averages just 16 minutes; he's active on the glass and otherwise doesn't add much to the box score. In addition to his excellent shooting (57% 2-pt, 44% 3-pt), Miller is far and away the team's most disruptive defender with 19 blocks and 12 steals in 11 games.
5'9" point guard Justin Burrell and 6'4" two-guard Eric Green round out the starting lineup. Green will start his seventh game of the season; he leads the team with 22 steals—his rate is 75th nationally—and he's a very good finisher around the basket, though he's struggled with his jumper. Burrell's turnover rate (23.5) is higher than his assist rate (22.8) and he's been a woeful finisher inside the arc, hitting just 11 of 37 twos—to his credit, he's knocked down 7 of 17 threes.
6'7" freshman Malachi Alexander is the team's third-leading scorer despite being their sixth man. While he's not a great shooter (49% 2-pt, 19% 3-pt), he draws six fouls per 40 minutes and capitalizes with a 75% rate from the line; he's also a solid defensive rebounder. The other key backup is 5'10" freshman Anthony Thompson, a marginally better shooter than Burrell who draws a lot more fouls (6.6/40) and doesn't turn the ball over as much; so far this season Thompson and Burrell have essentially split the point guard minutes right down the middle.
With their best win coming by five points at home against KenPom #185 Albany, Holy Cross lacks a quality victory this season; their other five wins came against Sacred Heart, Fairfield, Hartford, New Hampshire, and NJIT. They have a couple respectable losses: a ten-point defeat at #30 Harvard and an eight-point loss at #19 North Carolina. Then there's the bad: a 12-point loss in their road rematch with #233 Hartford and a ten-point fall against #144 Canisius, John Beilein's former school. They also needed double overtime to finish off #280 Sacred Heart at home.
This team beats the teams they're supposed to beat—though sometimes by uncomfortably thin margins—and loses to the teams that should beat them. They haven't really given a favorite a serious scare, either; though they led the Tar Heels by three points early in the second half, UNC pulled away and held a 13-point lead with six minutes to go.
Four factors (national ranks in parentheses):
|eFG%||Turnover %||Off. Reb. %||FTA/FGA|
|Offense||50.6 (121)||19.6 (224)||28.5 (260)||49.8 (45)|
|Defense||49.7 (178)||19.8 (90)||27.6 (41)||40.4 (163)|
This looks to be a good matchup for Michigan, as Holy Cross relies on three-pointers, which the Wolverines have defended quite well this year, and free throws—which Michigan rarely allows—to generate more than half of their points. They're not a great shooting squad inside the arc and aren't very good at getting putbacks or taking care of the ball.
Defensively, the Crusaders are very average across the board with the exception of forcing turnovers and preventing offensive rebounds.
Bigs, stay out of foul trouble. Jon Horford and Jordan Morgan should be able to limit Dudzinski's offense—that is, as long as they're not putting on a repeat performance of the Stanford foul parade. Max Bielfeldt is a much better matchup for Dudzinski; also, any shooting foul is compounded by the fact that Dudzinski shoots 80% from the line. Horford and Morgan must show a better awareness for when to contest a shot, when to plant and hope for a charge, and when to pack it in and live for another possession.
Play your game. Michigan should be able to run their normal lineups/sets without much adjustment. Holy Cross doesn't provide any major size mismatches and their style of play—slow-paced, foul-reliant, not crashing the class, and turnover-prone—should work in Michigan's favor.
DIE, 2013. Self-explanatory.
THE SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES
Michigan by 14
(6-5, 0-0 Patriot)
|Wins (RPI 150+)|
|337||Nov. 13||Sacred Heart||122-118|
|308||Nov. 20||@ Fairfield||63-49|
|330||Nov. 30||@ New Hampshire||63-52|
|328||Dec. 21||@ N.J.I.T.||74-55|
|Losses (RPI 1-50)|
|21||Nov. 15||@ North Carolina||54-62|
|Losses (RPI 51-100)|
|Losses (RPI 101-150)|
|Losses (RPI 150+)|
|295||Dec. 7||@ Hartford||78-90|
Starting Five Stats
Key Bench Players
I assume we will see little to no McGary on the floor, but I don't think will be a problem. Holy Cross doesn't really jump out to me as any threat to upset Michigan.
Michigan 84 - Holy Cross 56
THE GIFT OF MGOBLOG
Now that we have perhaps received the best gift of 2013 – the return of the voting system – and in the spirit of the holiday season, I wanted to share some thoughts on what I like to think of as “The Gift Of MGoBlog”.
In a way, the space in which many of us share our daily musings about the state of Michigan’s varsity sports is a gift, one provided free of charge and one provided so that a diverse group of people with one unifying interest can come and discuss their Wolverines. We may not always have our best face on while doing so, as this past football season indicated, but at no point did we really check out even if some threatened to do so. For those of us whose spouses look strangely at us when we jump out of our seats during significant plays, we get from MGoBlog the gift of people who totally understand that behavior and connect with people who share in the emotion of those moments.
Like many gifts, it is an incredibly practical one with multiple uses. Looking at it this way, I don’t know if anyone could ask for a better gift. Many of us have more than just one purpose for this blog. We get information, we get entertained and we get to know other Michigan fans and we begin to appreciate just how wide the reach of the fanbase really is. These three things combine, in my opinion, to provide what might be the best gift that MGoBlog can give to us – it makes us better Michigan fans for the knowledge, the entertainment and the sense of community. I have always believed that if we walk away from here at the end of the day having learned something about our favorite team and school, or we walk away having gotten the chance to understand a fellow fan and their insights, then the gift has been imparted.
At least in my case, I know that my three years here have made me a better, more informed fan and a more connected one. I have learned so much that I didn’t know about my alma mater, learned things about football and other sports that I didn’t know and learned that there are fans out there as obsessed as I am about Michigan and Michigan things. The chance to become a moderator in March gave me the opportunity to give back for all the site has provided me as well, and I like to think that the greatest gift we can give to the site would be positive contributions and being a responsible member of the community here.
As we trudge on through the holiday season, sliding into the final hours before Christmas, remember that here, we’ve been given a gift and one that expands and becomes more significant each day as we add our insights and personality to it. For those of us who are more than a casual fan, it is one of the most thoughtful gifts we could get as well, a place where we can have the discussions that we might not be able to have with many of those around us on a daily basis.
With that in mind, I would like to thank Brian and the MGoBlog staff for another year of great insights, informed content and allowing us to be part of this community. This fall may have been trying for many of us, but the gift of MGoBlog remains as vibrant and popular as ever (especially since voting has returned).
Have a safe and excellent holiday season!
After watching a December basketball game paint Brooklyn Maize, I was inspired to pass along a thank you.
It’s well known that Michigan has the largest living alumni base of any university. There are many of us who are proud alums and who never have to “justify” our fanhood. Being a Michigan fan came easy to me. The son of two alums (and native Michiganders) I was almost pre-destined to head to Ann Arbor after I graduated high school, despite having grown up outside Chicago. I was lucky and worked hard and managed to go to Michigan and graduate in 2009. There are many who aren’t as lucky as I was. To those of you who are fans of Michigan despite not having a degree: Thank you. You may have been questioned, demeaned even for supporting College Football’s most winning program.
Some may call you “Walmart Wolverine” in a derogatory manner because you choose to support Michigan. But guess what – Michigan doesn’t succeed without the support of everyone: Students, Alumni, Faculty, and (as Fielding Yost called them) “Friends of the University”. It’s true. Michigan Stadium doesn’t get built without non-alumni fans.
From page 190 of Soderstrom’s The Big House* “No one: no student, no alumnus, and no friend of the university would be “giving" anything to the athletic department. Rather, the athletic department would sell a bond at a given amount of interest and pay back all the money over time… it had always been a Michigan athletic tradition that no attempt would be made to secure funds from the state, like the school in East Lansing had done for its new stadium.” Yost needed investors to build the Big House, and it turns out that the first bond letter had provided a “disappointing alumni response” (Page 318)
After bonds were extended to anyone who wished to buy them, not just alumni, “by early 1927, the whole initial issue, 2000 bonds, was sold.” Yost actually angered some alumni (and students, who felt that their seats were terrible even then) by making sure that there were new seating blocks in Michigan Stadium that were specifically NOT for alumni. Yost’s appeal was as such: “’This is a State University – not a privately endowed institution. Ownership of this institution is vested not in our students, faculty, and alumni – but in the people whose taxes make it possible’ Yost would never tire of making this point” (Page 194). I’ll take Yost's point one step further – It’s not just the taxes or the tuition, but ANY support of Michigan makes you a “real” fan. Maybe you can’t afford tuition and thus aren’t an alum. Maybe you don’t live in Michigan and don’t pay Michigan state taxes. Maybe you can’t afford season tickets (which are no longer $2.50 per game like they were in the 1920s), maybe all you do is own some apparel and visit MGoBlog – both of which provide support to Michigan no matter how small. The next time someone asks you if you went to Michigan, just remember that it was fans like you (not just alums!) who gave us the greatest football stadium in the world. And remember that there can be a little inferiority complex around East Lansing, after all they needed money from the state to build their stadium.
*As an aside if you need a stocking stuffer or just a great read on Michigan’s history, I couldn’t recommend Soderstrom’s book more. Click through the MGoLink to Amazon and order it!
(8-2, 0-0 Pac-12)
Key Bench Players
Basically none, very starter oriented. BUT:
When I first saw Stanford on the schedule, I assumed this was going to be an easy win and look decent as far as quality wins go because they are in a power conference. Well, I was only half right. These teams numbers are very similar and Stanford has that quality win that Michigan is lacking. One thing that will really pop out to you is that their starting five is all upperclassmen. There is no doubt we are the more talented team, but they have the experience on their side.
Michigan had a much needed week off to prepare for this game and get healthy. Stanford is coming off a huge road win for them, but won't have as many days to prepare for Michigan.
Michigan 72 - Stanford 64