We can bitch about the offensive ineptitude all season - but most of us have prepared ourselves for that. We're also prepared to lose some football games. Heck, we're even coming to realize and prepare for freshman mistakes like bad routes, lack of blocking by skill players, and fumbles. But what I am NOT prepared for is a veteran defense giving up 500 yards and 45 points. They can't blame that on the offense this week. Only the late Odoms fumble was an example of the D being put in a bad spot. Otherwise the offense got them a lead and Zoltan pinned Illinois deep on most occassions. This loss was ALL on the defense.
Let me preface this entry by saying that I don't have a lot of football knowledge when it comes to specific formations, plays, or strategies. There are no doubt plenty of readers who can comment on those details and we'll get some more insight in the UFR. I was at the game and sitting in the fourth row, so my perspective may also be skewed with regard to what was actually happening.
That being said, I was frustrated by what I perceived to be a "prevent" defense being implemented consistently against Illinois in obvious passing downs. My definition of "prevent" is when you rush only three guys and drop 8 into a soft zone. I don't care if those three guys are Lawrence Taylor, Reggie White, and Derrick Thomas - when you have 5 offensive lineman blocking three rushers you're going to fail more often than you succeed. Against Illinois there were too many replays where I saw one of their offensive lineman looking around for someone to block and not finding anyone.
The fact is, Juice Williams is not a great passing QB. I'm sure ILL fans will point to his stats against Michigan to argue that point. But the guy completed only 50% of his passes. The fact that 13 completions went for 300+ yards is on the defense. Whenever he was pressured, he fired as inaccurately as Threet does on most occassions. But when he had all day to sit around looking for a receiver, he picked us apart. Like the DL analogy above, I'm convinced that a good pass rush will create an All-Pro corner out of a mediocre one. I don't care if you have Woodson, Law, and Jackson as your DBs - if they have to cover for a long time and the QB has a chance to read the defense, they'll lose most of the time. And that's what you saw on Saturday (in my opinion).
The 3-man rush, which I associate with "prevent" looked to be a failure on Saturday. I was told that Shafer loves to blitz.....but where was it? I know you take a risk when you blitz against a 5-wide formation with a running QB. But was that risk greater than letting Juice F-ing Williams pick you apart from an easy chair inside the pocket? I think we all realize that the defense has to create a turnover or two to compete against tough teams. How do you expect to get a turnover if you're rushing three and sitting in a soft zone?
That's my gripe - the defense blew the game and I thought they failed both in strategy and execution. Even a Henne-Hart-Manningham offense is going to struggle to overcome 45 points and 500 yards of offense. I thought Michigan should/could have scored 31 points - counting the 4 points that Lopata missed and the wide open miss of Odoms running down the middle of the field. Scoring 31 points with this young offense is pretty good....and we would have still lost by two touchdowns thanks to the defense.
This year, like every other year (except for the 2005 season – USC/Texas NC game), there is going to be some BCS craziness happening at the end of the year. There is actually the potential for 3, yes 3, non-BCS schools with a shot at BCS bowl games. The winner of the Utah/BYU is one, Boise State is the second and Tulsa/loser of the Utah/BYU game could be the third dark horse. With the BCS committee only required to take one non-BCS school in a BCS bowl game, there is the potential for 2 very good undefeated schools not getting picked over a 2 loss SEC or Big 12 team or a 1 loss Big Ten team. As a BCS committee member, what would you do? I am going to pose a scenario for you and would like some discussion.
Big 12 Champion – Oklahoma (13-0)
Big 12 Runner-up – Missouri (12-1)
There is potential for those to be switched.
SEC Champion – Alabama (12-1)
SEC Runner-up – Florida (11-2)
Big 10 Champion – Ohio State (11-1)
Big 10 Runner-up – Penn State (11-1)
Big East Champion – Pittsburgh (10-2)
ACC Champion – Virginia Tech (11-2)
Pac 10 Champion – USC (11-1)
Mountain West Champion – BYU (12-0)
Mountain West Runner-up – Utah (11-1)
WAC Champion – Boise State (12-0)
Conference USA Champion – Tulsa (13-0)
MAC Champion - Ball State (13-0)
Going by what I just laid out, here are the BCS Bowls
National Championship – #1/#2
Rose Bowl – Big Ten Champion/Pac 10 Champion
Fiesta Bowl – Big 12 Champion vs. At Large
Orange Bowl – ACC Champion vs. At Large
Sugar Bowl – SEC Champion vs. At Large
(Pittsburgh automatically gets one of the at large bids)
There are only 10 slots for the BCS bowl games and 6 are guaranteed to BCS conference champions, who will fill the other 4 slots? Here are the candidates: Missouri, Florida, Penn State, BYU, Utah, Boise State, Ball State and Tulsa. Here are some questions to ask yourself: Does an undefeated BYU team deserve to play in the National Championship Game? Does a 1 loss Utah team deserve to be in a BCS Bowl, how about a 13-0 Tulsa or Ball State team, or a 2 loss Florida team? Will Missouri be penalized again for losing to Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship Game?
This is complete insanity and the BCS needs to take note and make some significant changes to its current system. With the current scenario posed, most likely all of these teams will be ranked in the top 14, but 4 are going to get the shaft and my fear is that all 4 of those teams will be non-BCS teams. I think the worst case scenario for the BCS committee would be for Oklahoma, Penn State and BYU to go undefeated with Alabama going 12-1. At that point who do you choose? With the word parity being used almost every week, the BCS needs to get with the times and see that a 2 team championship game just isn’t going to cut it anymore. I know that I am beating a dead horse with this issue, but I think now, more than ever, the shit is going to hit the fan.
On a side note, I would like to see some comments about who you would put in the BCS bowls based on the posed scenario. This is what I got:
National Championship – Oklahoma/BYU
Rose Bowl – Ohio State/USC
Fiesta Bowl – Missouri vs. Boise State
Orange Bowl – Virginia Tech vs. Pittsburgh
Sugar Bowl – Alabama vs. Penn State
My apologies to Ball State, Tulsa, Utah and Florida although I think that any of these teams deserves a bid over Pittsburgh and Ball State, Tulsa and Utah deserve one over Virginia Tech. More reasons why the BCS Sucks!
I was going to post this as a comment on another thread, but it got long enough that I decide to separate it into its own entry.
I've heard quite a bit of criticism about our playcalling against Illinois, and I think some of it is warranted - on the surface. But I think there's something that most people aren't thinking about.
As Michigan fans, we are used to competing for Big 10 titles on an annual basis. It has been a long, long time since our team was in analysis mode. What I mean by that is that this year, it's not about competing for the conference. That's a nice goal, sure, but the true aim of the coaching staff should be implementing the system that they believe will make us the most successful, and with as many freshmen as we have, that's going to take A LOT of teaching.
But back to the playcalling topic ...
Are the coaches being stubborn and running a lot of plays that probably aren't going to be successful? Sure, I don't think most of us will argue that.
But I think RR has made it more than clear that no matter how ugly it is, he's throwing us full-bore into the spread offense. He's not going to half-ass it this year and run a tiny section of the playbook, or a simplified version, in an attempt to go 8-4 instead of 6-6. We're going balls to the wall - he's finding out who can do what, what works and what doesn't, and he's not going to ignore the possibility of doing something just because it doesn't seem to fit our personnel.
I think RR knows that realistically, Threet isn't going to be successful as an option QB. So why are we seeing option pitches from him to McGuffie (two of which have resulted in fumbles)? Simple: He's finding out if Threet can prove him wrong. You might as well see if a player can do something before you dismiss it out of hand. He's already proven more effective as a runner than any of would have expected, and if RR believes that those plays are going to help the offense reach its maximum effectiveness (and obviously he does), he MUST find out if Threet can run it. Why is Shaw in as a lead blocker? Why is Moundros flaring out into the flat as a receiver? These are things that these guys have never been asked to do, at least not at the college level. Putting them in that situation isn't likely to result in anything positive - not right now, anyway. But what's the worst that can happen on that option play? We fumble, the other team recovers, and maybe it costs us a touchdown. The flipside? What if Threet shocks us all and runs the option beautifully? We've suddenly added an entirely new dimension to the offense, not just for the rest of this season, but possibly for the next four years. Again, as a coach, you find out if those guys can make those plays, because if they CAN ... well, then you're starting to figure out how to make your offense the best it can be.
If there's one thing that RR's track record demonstrates, it's that his transitions are ugly but ultimately successful. Go back and look at his first year at each school. Then look at the years right after.
Glenville College: 1-7-1 the first year, 5-5 the next, national title the fourth year. As OC at Tulane: 7-4 the first year, 12-0 the second. As OC at Clemson: 6-6 the first year, 9-3 the second. At West Virginia: 3-8 the first year, 9-4 the second, Sugar Bowl in his fourth year. There will be adjustments, but the coaches have to figure out what they have - and what those guy can do - and that takes TIME.
I'm not saying that I won't question anything we're doing strategy-wise. Like I said, there are clearly some things that have raised eyebrows, mine included. But you have to realize that each playcall, each substitution, etc., is not done in a vacuum where the only thing that matters is end result of that play, or winning that game - which is what most of us have become accustomed to. RR is thinking long-term, and there are going to be some very ugly situations and questionable (on the surface) decisions that are done with a lot more in mind than the average fan realizes.
Ok then. If that is the way this season is going to be about things, fine. I'll just keep stabbing myself in the eye with this fork and I won't have to see any more of that.
In all seriousness though, that game was a real gut punch for our team. A one way ticket back to reality. I thought going in that we had every chance of getting a W here but didn't see it as a gimmee. It was a solid toss-up on paper. But great athletes often make all the difference, and this was a prime example.
- For the first time this season, I had to question RR's game stratagies. I admit my lack of coaching experience makes my opinions on this preetty much moot, but still... to me it seemed that we moved away from what was working in the first quarter.
- Threet = no more keepers after the first 2 touchdowns (and he was good those first couple of drives).
- Quick hitting run plays abandoned it seemed, in favor of too-long-to-develop zone stretches (our linemen blow at blocking these).
- Threet started so well and then, all of the sudden, can't hit the broad side of a barn for the next 2 quarters.
- We were lucky to have recovered our first two fumbles or this could have had turnovers to match the previous two games.
- Can we teach Threet to pitch the ball already? I would have thought by this level it would be second nature.
- Aggressive pass rushes may have been the wrong look for such a speedy Illinois team. I love balls to the walls, bring the house blitzes and there weren't really too many of these. I'm more refering to getting sucked in to the screens that killed us over and over.
- Don't we have the personel to put a spy on as mobile a QB as Juice? His ball fakes faked me out most of the time, but to combat this I really expected a dedicated defenseman to contain him. I was really hoping for Mouton in this role and think that what he showed yesterday might make him an excellent cadidate for spying Pryor in The Game.
- Benn really burned us crispy. Our corners may be good, but they aren't quite shut-down status yet.
- What is it with refs throwing horrendous and extremely late flags against Michigan for PI this year? I would think that if the ref has to think about what just happened in front of him for more than 1 second, he shouldn't throw a flag.
- And just to belabor the point, how can we continue, throughout the game, to let Juice beat us to death with his feet and not put a shadow on him?
Hats Off!!! Awards:
- Mark Moundros - Nice to see the big fullback get a TD catch.
- Odoms - Dude was lightning in a bottle. He is always open. Finally Threet hit him a few times. Odoms will be a bonafide star by the end of this year.
- Zoltan! - Crushed the ball all day long. An average of 47 yards per over 8 punts is just, well, inconceivable.
- Juice and Benn - These two really killed us yesterday. They are very gifted athletes. And Michigan's D is seriously un-good against gifted athletes.
- Michigan Kick Returners - We got to see plenty of KOs ;~( and our returns were like night and day from the season so far. It looked like there was actual great blocking going on.
What is there to say, really? Next week is a must win. Michigan doesn't lose to the MAC and just has to have this one. I don't think it will be a tune up by any means. Toledo may have enough offense to give us fits. This will be a pride game for our defense. Giving up more than 20 points would be a crap-tastic performance for them IMO (unless they face turnovers in our redzone all day), and I think they will keep Toledo closer to 10. Our offense shouldn't have probems with the Toledo D but they have plenty of ways to make probems for themselves. If we win this next one I think we will probably be 6-6 with wins over little brother, Purdon't, and Minny. Northwestern should also be winnable, but they are somewhat impressive this season and I forsee us losing that one. If we want 7-5, I think it will have to come vs Penn St, whom we continue to pwn until they prove otherwise. Oh yeah, and I don't really see us beating the Bucks this year but a lot can change obviously. GO BLUE!!!
For the Rich Rodriguez era at Michigan it was a signature four quarters of football. Six different Wolverines found paydirt. The offense, after some initial stuttering, exploded to score touchdowns on five of six drives. Michigan was +2 in the turnover battle and did not have a single giveaway. The defense harassed the quarterback and had a pick-6 of their own that electrified the crowd. The visitors tacked on a pair of touchdowns late to make the game appear closer, but in the end it was a 41-23 rout and a Homecoming celebration promptly ensued.
Sounds good, right? Of course, the above portrait does not capture the start to finish of a single game. Instead, its the final two quarters of the Wisconsin game followed by the first two quarters of the Illinois game. Michigan needed the Wisconsin finale to overcome a terribly historic first half en route to a comeback win. The Illinois first half set them up with their largest lead of the season, which the team gave up because the offense struggled to maintain their new found efficiency and untimely defensive breakdowns.
Putting those halves together does look pretty sweet and offers a ray of hope that this team is closer to gelling than Saturday's final score would indicate. Sprinkle in a few unicorns streaking down the sideline along with a dash of capitalist disdain and the opening paragraph of this diary reads like a dispatch from the WLA propaganda machine. But, seriously, this team is not miles away from being good and if they can come out even in the turnover game from here on out, they will snare enough wins to make for an interesting November. Here are some other quick thoughts on the game:
- A lot of type was banged out last week regarding which running back should get touches and what the hierarchy of the depth chart ought to read. One name never got mentioned. Mark Moundros. I am convinced that he needs to play a lot. The sputtering running game had consistent life--and more importantly positive yards --just about every time he was in the formation. He was the lead blocker on 8 runs for 33 yards. The only two runs in these cases that did not go for more than 4 yards were because McGuffie tripped over his own feet on the way to a clear and free corner and then another time did not run hard to the corner on a third and goal run. They ran some pretty cool counter plays with him lining up just behind the tackle and pulling on the snap. He was also used as as basic straight up lead blocker out of that formation and the traditional power I look. He also caught a TD pass and served as a nice decoy in the passing game that helped open Odoms up on a couple of corner routes.
- Piggy backing on the Moundros theme, its pretty clear what makes this running game work and what does not. It needs a lead blocker from the backfield. The OL is terrible and overmatched. But, with an extra blocker paving the way, Michigan has found running plays that regularly move the line of scrimmage forward. With a lead blocker, I counted 13 runs for 63 yards. Conversely, when it was just McGuffie in the backfield, we saw 5 carries for 1 yard. A lead blocker is needed or the running game goes nowhere but backwards. Minor had an excellent lead block off the above counter look to spring a big run, so it was not always Moundros doing the dirty work. Carlos Brown and Kevin Grady did not see the field and Shaw first played late in the third quarter and was complicit in a killer turnover. Pretty much right now, I am fine with the backfield as long its a combination of two of the following, McGuffie, Minor and Moundros. Dare I dream of a runaway beer truck moment out of Moundros?
- I am not sure we need to pass the ball more, but I do know that the coaching staff has to get creative and make it a goal throughout the game to keep the passing game in rythmn. Threet can move this team down the field, but since he is a red shirt freshmen he is prone to in game slumps that remind me of 2001 John Navarre. He was on fire to start the game, but then went through a 3-for-13 stretch, many of which came in difficult down and distances to work with.
- How does this game change if Threet and Odoms connect on that play down the middle just before half time. It was open and should have been a touchdown. Talk about a frustrating play. A week after Odoms and Threet weren't in the same zip code, these two were a top flight combination Saturday. Except for one play. And, it cost Michigan six points and an immeasurable amount of halftime momentum.
- Of course, its hard to get into a passing game groove when every week you are seemingly breaking in new receivers. A few times on Saturday, Threet needed Savoy and Clemons to come up with a big route and catch and the timing just was not there. Savoy should have been able to haul in a long catch to set up a first and goal, but he just lacked the on field saviness to do so. It will come from him, but its just too bad that in the fifth game, the new QB still needs to break in new guys, but thats what a series of injuries and unofficial suspensions will do. Mathews will be there, Odoms is getting better, but third and fourth options are not developing yet. The last time Michigan had a QB this inexperienced at this level, the targets were an all-american senior/future NFL first rounder and two others who had at least one year off all-big ten caliber production. Threet has to develop an in game rythmn with new targets every game.
- The coaches need to lose a few pages of the playbook. Specifcally the one with the option pitch. Not only are these plays going nowhere, but they're being executed carelessly and are a bad turnover waiting to happen. Other plays that need a temporary hiatus include anything thats run horizontal and takes time to develop. The blocking is not there to sustain reverses, runs wide in a single back set without a lead blockers and passes parallel or behind the line of scrimmage to targets not on the move. These plays were much less a staple of the play calling on Saturday and we actually saw arguably the offense's best game of the season. But, they were called, these plays still went nowhere and were wasted downs.
- Fourth and four at Illinois' 42-yard line with 50 seconds to go in the first half. Michigan punts the ball. Discuss.
We all knew this year would be tough. We knew the team would lose one game because it would have no idea how to execute the new offense. We knew one game would be lost because all these freshmen and first time players would crap down their leg in a turnover fest. And, because it is a Michigan tradition, we knew one game would be lost because of mind blowing defensive breakdowns. Well in the Utah, Notre Dame and Illinois games, we've seen all of those. Are those out of their system?
I am still hopeful for the rest of the season. If they come out even in the turnover department, they'll win games. I feel this offense can hum against Toledo, Purdue, Minnesota and Northestern. Only brutal turnover outcomes will get us in trouble in those games. We're in trouble against PSU and OSU (understatement of the year...well, its in the team photo) and will probably have similar defensive breakdowns in those games making it hard for the offense to go point for point anyway. That leaves Michigan State. I like the matchup and Threet can outperform Hoyer. Its clearly a must win for bowl hopes and to avoid being shutout in the rivalry games this season.
Well that sucked. I feel like a kid who just found out that Santa Claus isn't real....
I was opening up my gifts last weekend and I wasn't very excited. The first gift I opened was fruity
Christmas sweater and some of those slipper socks with the tread on the
bottom. The next gift, an ant farm. The next gift, a pet rock. I check
my stocking, a lump of coal. The next gift, a Detroit Lions sweatshirt
that is 3 sizes too small. Detroit Lions? Really Santa? And just as I
was about to point my middle finger towards the north pole, I see three
more presents behind the tree. The first one, my first 10-speed
Mongoose bike. SWEET. The second one, Tecmo Super Bowl. YES. The last
one, a brand new Red Rider BB gun. YOU FUCKING ROCK SANTA!
I ride around my neighborhood all week on my jazzy new Mongoose while
picking off any squirell that dare cross a power line under my watch.
Needless to say, I am jacked up from all of the Maize and Blue kool-aid
I had been drinking all week. So this weekend I wake up early and hurry
downstairs to see what kind of presents await me. What the hell is
this. All I see is a card. Alright, maybe it is a hundred dollar bill
or a gift card to Toys R US. I open it up, "Merry Christmas Sweetie!
Love, Mom and Dad." I run upstairs, "Mom, what the hell is going on." I
receive the earth shattering news that Santa is an imaginary character.
I also receive the news that the Tooth Ferry, Easter Bunny, and Jesus
are cut from the same cloth...but who cares, these assholes haven't
ever done shit for me. But Santa? I had become a strong believer
through just 3 gifts, but these gifts were the bomb, so I had to
believe, right? Now this week it has all come crashing down, now I
don't know what to believe. Flying Spaghetti Monster?
spectacular 2nd half come back against Wiscy left me with all the
confidence in the world that we could compete this year. And then we
come out blazing at the Big House against the Illini and my confidence
is confirmed, we really can compete for the Big Ten. Don't get me
wrong, I never thought we would win the Big Ten, but I did think that
we had a chance, a small chance, but a chance.... Not so much. Steven
Threet made me cringe and pray that John Navarre was coming out of the
locker room. The defense was Swiss cheese, allowing Illinois to score
at will... Paris Hilton thought we were easy. And then Minor, a guy I
have been lobbying for to get more carries, gets in the game and
fumbles on his first touch...Tiki Barber holds onto the ball better
than you. And now we are back to square one. We might not win one more
game in conference and the consecutive bowl streak is at serious risk.
Damn you Reality!