THE BIG TEN IS UNKIND TO US SOMETIMES: WEEKLY SUMMARY
So…well….how is everyone?
One thing I have changed at the request of a few people is that Michigan’s averages are now highlighted in yellow. Hopefully, this will make it easier for anyone who reads this simply to get a gauge on Michigan, but also for those who want the immediate picture of where Michigan football within the Big Ten on these metrics.
SCORING OFFENSE AND DEFENSE:
There isn’t a lot of movement here even despite our own Saturday – we still sit in a group of teams that can definitely score a fair amount, so there is that at least. Ohio State, Indiana, Wisconsin and Nebraska round out that group, or more precisely, we round out the group they are in. Michigan sits comfortably behind Northwestern when it comes to scoring defense, a little south of the conference mean.
TOTAL OFFENSE AND DEFENSE:
The Michigan State game was definitely not our best moment, but hey, look at the numbers, right? Actually, we’re doing OK here as a team. We gain yards at about the average pace of the conference and we are above average on defense. The deeper dive, however, is in the tempo-free area and you can see there that while we’re in positive territory, it isn’t by a lot.
RUSHING OFFENSE AND DEFENSE:
For Michigan specifically, it is the same story that it has been all year and you can see it below – we have trouble running the ball consistently and now wished that sacks did not count against rushing yardage in the NCAA. However, we’re still pretty good at stopping the run. We played a team on Saturday, however, that gives up less than half of what we do on the ground, and that’s saying a lot.
PASSING OFFENSE AND DEFENSE:
As we figured would occur with Gardner at the helm, we’re pretty decent through the air and have the 4th most prolific passing attack in the Big Ten. On the other hand, those of us who have chewed our cuticles to the knuckle over the pass rush will not want to look at the passing defense average below. We are sitting right between Northwestern and Indiana right now.
THIRD DOWN DIFFERENTIAL:
Michigan took a tumble in this metric after Saturday, so this will not look very pretty either for some. We were near the top in converting third downs for most of the season actually, and we fell all the way to 8th place in the conference. The differential will show that we’re starting to fight this battle to a near-draw, which is a little worrisome.
We still average more first downs than we allow, but the gap here has also narrowed after this past Saturday.
I have been trying to put my finger on the pulse of this team for the past few days, ever since I realized that, after the Indiana game, that this season was something of a not-entierly-lost-but-still-kinda-lost cause. In a year or two, these games will either be described as the building blocks of a top ten team— or as the first bricks in Hoke's mausoleum.
My frame of reference is the situation here in Knoxville, where I currently reside. I see so many similarities between Butch Jones and Brady Hoke's first year (except the record). I can sense a very similar positive attitude shift, where "how can we mess up this time" is replaced with "we have a fighting chance." This is, of course the honeymoon period for most Tennessee fans, with the Georgia game promising what the South Carolina game delivered. Most fans (well, at least the rational ones) are even willing to accept 7-5 or even 6/6 next year as something of an inevitability, since their quality O-line will be lost to graduation, their QB situation will either be "mediocrity" or "young prospect x," and even some of the senior leadership will be lost from the defense.
I recognize the hopeful feeling since we all here just experienced it. I can see the calm rationality which they have now, feeling that they somehow found a real coach, a sense that a blunder has been replaced with a process, that Real Coaching ™ is here, that it will only get better. This fan base is the honeymooner's of college football. We, however, are the "In-Betweener's" (and no, not that over-rated British television show... well, kind of, actually).
Michigan fans, fresh off this feeling, see a promise that has not been realized— a team which 2012 would beat by 10 and 2011 would beat by 21. The play calling appears at times to be an exercise in ideological fatalism, like trying to turn Texas into a socialist commune. Even the defensive coaching is being called into question.
At the other end of the spectrum— well, we all know what a program clearly spiraling out of control looks like. This is what bothers me about the team recently. I don't know if I am just out of touch, but it seems to me like what ever is going on, it isn't a program spinning out of control— just one that has made a decision which, in hindsight, feels sacrificial and a bit fatalistic (though I suppose that, if this is the end, I would say that it would be more slow and subtle rather than some dramatic death spiral). It feels like a team which is dedicated to a certain identity, one they have been wanting to convert to for the past few years and, with Robinson gone, they felt they could wholly commit to. Once it became apparent that that wasn't viable, they seem to have chosen to stick with it, believing not only will this be better for the future but also, I'd like to think, believing that a consistent dedication makes more sense— i.e., that changing the game plan will be detrimental. The reason I think this is the case is for a few particulars: mainly, that coaching staff might see a turnstile starting at all three positions between the tackles PLUS a QB which doesn't seem to respond well to confusion on the O-line, and conclude that changing the game plan significantly would be exacerbating and not fixing these problems.
The hope is, of course, that this faith will be rewarded (though, clearly, the odds of that happening this season are diminishing by the week), that someday we will read a puff piece by Tom Rinaldi talking about "keeping the faith", "weathering the storm",and the like. Perhaps someone will write a book and tell the story about how this was the beginning of the end for an overmatched coaching staff which eventually ran out of steam. For the record, I don't see the latter being the case. I think next year will be better than this and the year afterwards will be even better.
This perspective gives me hope and grave concern: one the one hand, this belief might turn out to be justified, and we might enter an Carr-like, NFL-factory age where top recruiting classes and top-level bowl games are the norm-but with a coach willing to roll the dice when it counts. The fear which is driving trolls to troll, the faithful to have a Kiergegaardian struggle, and many reasoned people to "leave" the board by posting about doing so regularly is painfully obvious: in maintaining the premise that the system will work, the coaching staff just might sacrifice too much to ever realize the fruits of their labor.
This will be the 34th "Inside the Boxscore" Diary I've written. It's easily the one I've least looked forward to writing. I grew up in East Lansing, but always rooted for Michigan due to Dad's influence. It would have been hard to root for State growing up when Dad wouldn't let me own any green clothing. I think Mom bought me a pair of green toughskins from Sears when I was six, but once I wore those out, I became an anti-MSU version of Brady Hoke. He doesn't wear red, I didn't wear green. The pastor at the church and school I went to used to be the chaplain for the MSU football team. Our school colors were green and white, and our nickname was the Tartans, an obvious reference to the Spartans. It was and is truly an awful nickname. Our mascot was a bagpipe, or a Scottish kilt. I can't remember exactly. Whatever it was, it did not inspire anybody. Whenever the big game rolled around (growing up in East Lansing, M-MSU rivaled M-OSU for significance) I had to deal with Sparties sparting. Fortunately, all this occurred during the Schembechler era, and I only had to listen to Sparties before the big game. They were usually quiet afterwards. I can only imagine how difficult it must be for today's Michigan fan living in East Lansing. That "little sister" chant is enough to make my blood boil.
Burst of Impetus
* For Michigan, there was one glimmer of hope. With Michigan trailing by 10 late in the 3rd quarter, Raymon Taylor intercepted a pass and returned it 17 yards to State's 41. The boxscore lists this as the "H41." This could refer to the "Home" team, but I'm going to call it the "hated one's" 41. This was our best starting field position by 24 yards. It's hard to score against the nation's top ranked defense or thereabouts, when you are always facing a long field. Five of our 13 positions started inside our 20, and all but one started from no better than our 35. Why is this important? Well, if you throw a 58 yard bomb to Chesson, you'd like to think that a TD might result, but not if you're starting well inside your own half of the field. After Taylor's INT, the next three plays went for -5, -9, and -7 yards. Impetus bursted.
It's a Punt
* I usually start the stats review with the unit that played the best. Sorry to say, but this week that honor goes to the special teams.
* Michigan's average net yards per punt was 38.2 yards. State's was 39.8. That's basically a punt (pun intended.)
* The average net yards per kickoff was 39.1 for State and 36.3 for Michigan. We gave away 3 yards per exchange of kickoffs, but compared to the rest of the game, that's a good outcome.
* I'm somewhat torn on the kick returns, because with State's defense, I felt we needed a ST TD and Norfleet hints at the ability to break one. However, what we didn't need was him returning kicks to the 17 yard line, further restricting Borges playbook. I'd rather start at the 25 every time, so all you need is a first down to flip the field with a decent punt. In what should have been a field position game, I'd take that. However, our defense was unable to get off the field time and again. I'll cover that later.
* Wile made a long FG and Gibbons made a short one. We got through a game without a FG block. That's progress, I guess.
* Devin was 14 for 27 for 210 yards, but that's where the good news ends. He took 7 sacks and finished the day with -46 yards rushing on 18 attempts. Obviously, the 7 sacks weren't called runs. Of the remaining 11, I suspect most were scrambles. I remember a couple read options where Gardner kept and seemingly froze and was swallowed up by spartan defenders. The shotgun running game that was effective versus PSU and Indiana did not work against State's aggressive, attacking scheme. Perhaps Borges should have seen that on film study of State's defense.
20 Pound Cheeseburgers
* Fitz ran eight times for 20 yards. Borges apparently thought it was a better idea to have him pick up blitzers than flare out as a pressure relief valve, or keep State honest with some draw plays.
V. Sinha Legends Jersey
* Gallon caught five passes for 67 yards. Three of those came in our first 5 plays. He had 2 catches in the next 54 plays. RPS is an MGoBlog thing. It's part of our lexicon. So let me try to describe what I think happened in RPS terms. On the first drive, Borges was dialing up some good plays, PA passes on 1st down, that caught State off guard. Let's call those paper. Paper was beating Narduzzi's rock. So Narduzzi decided he wasn't going to use rock anymore. Borges then had to figure out how to get Gallon the ball, meanwhile Narduzzi was sending the house, giving Gardner zero time for Gallon to get open. Many sacks resulted. Borges went to scissors at the start of the second half. These were the quick hitters to Funchess. Funchess ended up with 6 catches for 65 yards. Narduzzi adjusted again. But at this point, Borges was out of options. He's got a line that can't run block, no functional tight ends to speak of (I like Jake Butt, but he had zero receptions and I don't recall him figuring in any plays,) a RB that can't pass block, and he was down to 2 WRs with Dileo's injury. What exactly was he supposed to do, when he's playing RPS with Narduzzi, only Borges can only play paper or swiss cheese, while Narduzzi can play scissors, butcher's knife, chainsaw, or flame thrower? Just to beat this analogy to death, against Indiana, the three possible outcomes for Borges paper were 70 yard pass, 25 yard pass, and 10 yard pass. Against State, the three outcomes were incomplete pass, sack, or scramble for 1 yard. For those who thinks this makes me a Borges apologist, let me just say that I'm trying to call it as I see it based on ~35 years of watching Michigan football. The Penn State game was on Borges. This MSU debacle was a talent issue.
Legends Division Championship Caliber Defense
* That would refer to State's defense. Defense wins championships. State's defense is going to win them the Legends Division.
* I understand why Mattison is getting a pass and the focus is squarely on Borges and the offensive side of the ball. But this was a game where the defense needed to step up and win the game for Michigan. Some are saying that State wore down our defense because our offense couldn't keep state's offense off the field. I disagree. State was 0 for 3 on third down conversions in the 1st quarter, but was 4 for 6 in the second quarter. If we're worn down by the second quarter, we're in trouble. Overall, State was 9 for 18 on third down conversions. This coming from an offense that has been mocked, derided, and sits in the negative half of the Fremeau Efficiency chart.
* Michigan State was held to 16 yards rushing on 14 carries in the first half. Meanwhile, we had -20. I was hoping that the team with the most absolute value rushing yards was going to win the game. That is what was necessary to keep us in the game. In the third quarter, State ran 9 times for 28 yards. I don't know if that's due to halftime adjustments or our guys getting tired, but State stuck with the run game and it started to pay off. Then the dam broke in the 4th quarter. RichRod's team gave up on him in the second half of the Gator Bowl. I hope our guys didn't give up on Hoke in the fourth quarter. They have 5 games left to show that fourth quarter was an aberration.
* We had 21 guys show up in the defensive stats. Yes, that includes some ST players, but it's clear that we did much more substituting than State. Why did our guys get tired in the fourth quarter but theirs didn't? Meanwhile, State only had 17 guys show up, and only 15 of those made tackles.
* We had 5 TFLs, 3 passes broken up, 1 sack, and 3 QHs. State's defense, against a supposedly better offense (Fremeau agrees with me FWIW,) tallied 11 TFLs, 3 passes broken up, 7 sacks, and 7 QHs.
This is all leading me up to something that I find rather distasteful. When Dave Brandon fired Rich Rodriguez, he was asked if he would hire a defensive minded coach.“There’s a thought of getting a defensive-minded everything,” he said. “I want the ball boys to be defensive minded.” 44 years ago, Michigan hired a football coach who had apprenticed under our most hated rival. He was a defensive minded coach. Forty-four years later, down the street at another one of our hated rivals, a defensive minded coach may be looking to move up to a head coaching position. We all want to see him leave MSU. What if Dave Brandon were to approach Narduzzi and offer him the job? Pardon me while I go wash my mouth out with soap.
This isn’t for you, it’s for me.
The maxim you always hear surrounding hate is that it stems from broken love, that the same fire necessary to burn with unbridled animosity emanates from the same spot in one’s heart that you once left open and accepting. Great novels and a whole bunch of songs have been written about the debilitating power of love and respect as it turns to anger and betrayal, grinding salt and bile into the fresh fissures of the aorta. It is poetic and divine, blind to race or creed, man or woman; the “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” of being.
And it’s all crap, at least when you apply it to sport.*
The reason most fans “hate” other teams is because they “hate” losing to people they know, whether personally or as archetypes. I have never loved or particularly cared for most of UM’s rivals despite the fact I actually attended MSU for law school. When some school like Wisconsin or Illinois talks up a budding rivalry and bad blood with the Wolverines, I could not care less because it’s all relative and irrelevant at the same time. People don’t like losing, and if you keep losing to a team a bunch of times you come to hate that feeling. Replace that team with another and the hatred remains the same even though the target has changed.
UM fans hate to lose to Notre Dame because they represent the same blue-blooded traditions and faded glory, the same time-honored notions of scholar-athletes battling it out for school and pride and definitely not for financial gain. Perhaps on some level, it is also because the academic standings of those schools attract individuals cognizant of somewhat-arbitrary scholastic rankings and the “prestige” that can be derived from them. And, well, they’ve been around so long that at some point, you just get sick of seeing them year after year.
With Ohio State and Michigan State, the distaste comes from all of the regional, historical, and national implications found to varying degrees with the Fighting Irish, but also in part because of the cultural differences found at those schools. Whole stadiums could be filled every Saturday by the strawmen we create about our opponents; as fans it is the most natural way to look at the opposition, incredibly shallow in depth but immensely wide in breadth. With UM, the arrogance is the calling card; Buckeyes and Spartans call out UM fans for their “wine and cheese”, their haughty sense of superiority derived from endowments and famous alumni and the “Michigan Man” ideology that supposedly runs through the blood of every Wolverine. They point out the sanctimony in questioning the intelligence and morality of players on the other teams despite the fact that UM was likely recruiting them at some point, and wonder how it is possible to whitewash away all those sins as soon as a player steps foot in Schembechler Hall. And they point out that for all the stirs and echoes of past wins, it hasn’t been pretty recently.
OSU feels like the jock who broke the rules and got away with it largely unscathed, the guy who sweeps the leg even though he probably doesn’t need to. Ohio State has the tradition and resources to stand amongst the giants in the sport, and yet they keep bringing in liars, cheaters, and hypocrites who tweak the rules just enough while winning in every way possible. And perhaps most aggravating for UM, OSU appears to just be “better” than the Wolverines right now, and probably have been for nearly a decade. As UM has undergone a series of painful, largely self-inflicted transitions, OSU just continues on with few hiccups despite far more serious upheaval.
But at least with OSU, it feels like they’ve “earned” that right to be better than UM, given their prior accomplishments and their consistency. In this tortured analogy, they are the dickish prep kid with the nice car who gets the girl; MSU was Ducky. It’s a program with a losing bowl record, virtually no national profile, and a fanbase characterized as a mix of Juggalos and Ax body spray aficionados. It is the very model of a mediocre program, with the status quo being that MSU cared way more about beating UM because they almost never did, and that all of the “little brother” comments were appropriate-if-sophomoric shots at a program and school that was always tugging on the coattails of UM, never able to keep pace. It almost didn’t matter if you hailed from Novi or New York City, Charlevoix or Chicago; if you were a UM student you saw MSU as the collection of brosephs and meatheads (and whatever the female equivalents are) that you tried to escape while in high school. You beat them in the classroom, in the boardroom, and on the football field, and with such regularity it was hard to drum up anything stronger than a slight snicker and faux outrage whenever asked about them.
But that’s changed recently, at least on the football field. While I foresee this being a bit of an apogee for MSU given its so-so recruiting and significant turnover after this season, the fact remains that MSU has dominated this series the past 6 games (going 5-1 and losing that one game on a last-second FG). It is MSU with the consistent identity, the staunch defense and opportunistic offense, the team that gets most of the breaks and tends to win going away. It is the UM fans that yearn for those victories, who treat a game that used to be a semi-emotional speedbump into a major touchstone and measuring stick for the program. And perhaps most surprisingly, the hatred that was once seemingly directed unilaterally now flows both ways, more full with vinegar and vitriol than most can remember. It’s a bit sad in a way that the gap has closed this much between the two schools on the field, but at least now the animosity feels earned.
* I’m sure there are soccer fans who’d argue about national and club rivalries that are born from turncoats, geographic proximity, and broken dreams, and hell Pakistan and India play cricket with missiles pointed at each other. But I’d argue that animosity exists outside of sport; the field or pitch merely provides a sanctioned analog.
Worst: You know, they cancelled the O.C. late as well
This point isn’t going to be sugar-coated: I’m done with this offensive staff. I’m sure the UFR will point out areas where the right playcalls were made but failed because of execution issues (I remember at least two passes in the 3rd quarter where Gardner missed Funchess wide-open, even though at least once it was because he was under heavy pressure). But at some time, the writing is on the wall even if it isn’t totally that Borges’s fault. It has been nearly three years and the team is as schizophrenic and discordinate as ever on the offensive end, and I’m tired of the “wait until next year” refrains that grew stale under Rodriguez. And at least with Rodriguez, you had a high-octane offense with a clear identity that has worked at every other stop.
True, Borges got a bad hand when he showed up at UM, inheriting a playmaker and not a QB with Denard, a guy who couldn’t run his offense and who had few targets to throw at period. He rode it out as best as possible, but it was a bad fit masked by the early success the team had in spite of it; that 11-2 season with memorable wins over ND and OSU gave people the false hope that the talent and coaches could make it work despite the mismatch. Last year happened and everyone realized Borges and Robinson weren’t a good fit, but the expectation was that Gardner would be a better match at least in the short-term. The offensive line, though, has betrayed them the past two years, and the progression and maturation people expected has been, at best, minimal across the board.
Given the right talent, I’m sure Borges could field a productive offense, but that looks to be 2-3 years in the future. In the meantime, this team loses its best WR as well as its best slot threat, its two best linemen, and its only seemingly competent RB. There are some bright spots, but there doesn’t seem to be anything approximating a rainbow on the horizon. What killed RR was his historically poor defenses; outside of the IU and ND games, this offense has been historically bad, and something needs to be done beyond max protect and stacked lines against Minnesota. This is a bit morbid, but at some point you need to Marissa the situation before everyone gets hurt.
Al Borges isn’t a visionary, and there a dozens of coordinators out there who could score 60+ points against IU and, I hope, more than 28 against Akron and 24 against UConn with far less hassle and a bit more coherence. With weeks to prepare, he called a listless game that featured slow-developing running plays, long passes despite heavy pressure, and a continued belief that he’ll make this work if he just keeps slamming his head against the wall. Well, that wall isn’t going anywhere, and all we have is a headache.
I understand that loyalty in a program is hard to break, but this is also a competitive system in which under-performance can’t be allowed to remain unaddressed. Players have been moved in and out of the starting lineup because they haven’t performed “up to the position” while in uniform; it’s time for the guys making those decisions to be held to the same standard.
Worst: Downs and Distances
Here are some downs and distances from this game:
|3rd and 20|
|4th and 21|
|3rd and 18|
|4th and 24|
|2nd and 30|
|3rd and 29|
|4th and 48|
|3rd and 24|
They had three drives of more than 50 yards, two of which ended in FGs and the third in Gardner’s interception. For every other drive combined, UM ended with –7(!!!) yards of total offense. That’s right; with two weeks of preparation and countless promises to adapt, UM produced the worst offensive performance any of us will probably ever see out of the Wolverines. They punted or turned the ball over on downs with 4 or fewer plays 8 times this game. After Raymon Taylor’s interception of Cook late in the 3rd quarter, UM’s subsequent drive resulted in –21 yards of offense and, according to ESPN’s official boxscore, was the end of the game despite there being a whole quarter to go. And honestly, I don’t think that was a misprint.
That isn't an implosion; that's f'ing Katamari on a football field. And we've seen enough of that particular output the past couple of years for a lifetime.
Best: I still have no idea about this defense
I know the numbers weren’t pretty in the end, but MSU gained 153 of their 394 total yards of offense on those two final drives when the game was effectively over. They forced a punt or turnover on 6 other drives, and were victimized a bit by some fluky plays that could have ended drives. It was a competent defensive performance and, if the offense had been able to do virtually anything, probably would have been enough to win the game.
Mattison remains an enigma, and like Al Borges is working with a sub-optimal collection of players. Still, his insistence on 3-man rushes was alternately appropriate and maddening; there were a half-dozen instances where MSU WRs were wide open despite dedicating 8 players to defend against the pass. At the same time, it’s a unit that recorded 1 sack all game, and it came from a corner blitz where Ross and Avery met at the QB. Frank Clark played pretty well in run defense, recording 2.5 TFLs among his 9 tackles, but only hit the QB once and was generally unable to generate much in the way of sustained pressure. Black and Washington were quiet, and given Black’s abilities rushing the passer I would have liked to see him get a chance despite his obvious limitations against the run. Jake Ryan is working his way back in, but this remains a unit of B+ players, and that doesn’t hold up throughout the game.
Langford ended the day with 120 yards but 62 of those came on the last drive. I thought the linebackers played reasonably well, though again it was an ugly game where guys were getting open but Cook just missed them sometimes, while at other times he was able to loft a ball over 4 guys into the only open spot on the field.
Taylor had the lone interception on a nice read but was also the leading tackler with 12, which is okay if you are playing Indiana but not so good when Connor Cook is barely completing 50% of his passes. The rest of the secondary was alternately in great coverage and allowing Bennie Fowler to beat them down the field only to be overthrown because, again, Connor Cook. While some people will cry out for his removal as well, I’m willing to give him a bit more rope simply because I’ve seen strides made from this unit and, outside of IU, they have been above-average all year. Furthermore, Mattison has a track record far more accomplished than others on this staff, and given the recruits coming in it is hard to argue that the defense will not improve as the younger players mature.
I hated it when Mike Hart brought up familiar relations between the two schools, and since then it has only gotten more juvenile and asinine. I get poking fun at a rival, but one would hope that these two fanbases could have created something more creative, more thoughtful and meaningful than insults based on who got out of their metaphorical mother’s uterus first. It all came to a crescendo toward the end of Saturday’s game, when the Spartan faithful began chanting “little sister” in a tone that can best be described a mix between Nelson Muntz and Law & Order: SVU. In one sense it’s dumb to argue that fans have gone too far because of some chanting considering you could go about a billion times farther, but this also feels like a cycle that needs to be broken and not perpetuated by guys who weren’t even in HS when it started. People complain about the ND rivalry taking a hiatus and how that might diminish hostilities needlessly; I’d be fine if UM and MSU skipped a year or two so that both fandoms could look in the mirror and figure out something, anything better than these infantile sayings.
Best: MSU’s Defense is REALLY Good
I was a non-believer of sorts because I thought MSU hadn’t really played a good offense save ND and IU, but this is a terrifyingly-good defense that should pose major issues for OSU in the conference title game. Though it lacks elite athleticism, it plays with the type of precision and consistency you expect from a well-coached squad, and outside of a couple of plays UM could do absolutely nothing against it. It will look demonstrably different next year when many of its best players graduate and (I suspect) Narduzzi moves on, but it should remain a solid unit going forward as long as Dantonio is at the helm. That said…
Worst: Penalties were turned off, apparently
My gawd are those corners reliant on the referees not throwing flags. I get there is some physicality expected on passing routes, but there was not a single pass interference call (sorry Brian, you were off by 1) made despite Funchess and Gallon carrying corners down the field like they were f’ing Ents. I’m not saying the game would have been totally different with a couple of flags, but ND’s 4 PIs against MSU were a major reason they were able to move the ball semi-successfully down the field. Even my wife, who is 19-and-a-half months pregnant (perhaps slight exaggeration) thought it was pretty egregious, and she has a parasite inside her trying to steal all of her iron.
Worst: Poor Damn Devin and Fitz – The Duet
Gardner had a decent enough game when he wasn’t getting murdered by MSU’s pass rush, which recorded 7 sacks and 7 more hits. He completed about 52% of his passes for 210 yards, averaging about 7.8 ypa and having a couple of drops by his receivers halting drives. His rushing total was marred by losing 46 yards on sacks and that horrible snap, and the hits ultimately led to his removal with (one hopes) a relatively minor injury. Seeing him be lifted off the field, mud caked on his jersey while clearly wincing in pain, and then running another play was a bit heartbreaking, even though he nearly blew a third-down conversion by pulling up early. It wasn’t heroic, but anyone who questions whether or not this kid is trying his best out there needs to step away from the keyboard.
As for Fitz, what can you say? MSU has the best rushing defense in the country by a mile, and they showed it again this game. He only ran the ball 8 times, but limited the TFLs to one and generally took what the defense gave him. In a different game perhaps he could have produced better results, but I kind of doubt it. His senior year will likely be remembered for returning from a gruesome injury to play behind a young, under-performing line and getting beaten up in the process. As noted, I could have done without the public comments, but he’s clearly soldiering on and at this point, I don’t think you can expect much else from him.
Worst: What about Hoke?
I’ll keep this brief because this is totally speculative: he’s earned himself some leeway with the recruiting and the early wins, but there needs to be some changes made to this program going into next year. As noted earlier, I think the offensive system needs to be overhauled with a new coordinator, and that includes hiring a dedicated QB coach and not being so tied to a single vision despite mounting evidence it isn’t going to happen with the players available. The defense is a work in progress but one that feels like it has potential given continued recruiting and player maturation. Mattison is not above reproach, but enough smart people swear by him that there has to be something there. And outside of Ohio, this team still feels like the favorite against Iowa, NW, and Nebraska, and that’s 9 wins with a possible bowl win. Let’s not throw a parade or anything, but given how this season has unfolded it isn’t horrible. Plus, given what happened with RR, this program needs some stability even if it is somewhat mediocre.
Best: The Next Two Weeks
Looking at the schedule, what once looked like a hellish November now seems positively bearable. Nebraska can’t stop anyone, and NW can’t stop the saddest song from playing in an infinite loop. Neither is a gimme win, but I’d be a bit disappointed with even a split. Much will rely on Gardner being healthy and the offense continuing its Jekyll and Hyde home/road split, but luckily UM won’t have to play a team like MSU again this year, and just typing that makes me a little sadder. Ah well, I’ve gone this far.
Cloudy skies all morning, with scattered showers across the area, lake effect areas in particular. The best chance of rain for the day, and weekend, is this morning. Winds will pick up from about 8mph to 10-13mph throughout the first part of the day. It doesn't sound like a whole lot (winds this speed put leaves and small twigs in constant motion) but it's enough to make for a wind chill! Although temperatures will be in the low 40s, it will feel much more like the mid 30s in the morning, upper 30s for lunch. Fire up the crockpot and keep that chili hot for this tailgate!
It might be a 3:30 start, but don't wait around for any warm temps and sunshine! Still cloudy skies - and although the chance has gone down, there is a slight one for the chance of rain. 45 degrees for kickoff. Winds are out of the NNW at 13-15mph (papers blow about, small branches move). It's enough to give us a wind chill in the upper 30s.
Dropping just a degree or two for halftime, still a chilly 44 degrees, with wind chills of about 39 degrees. Winds remain out of the NNW, but drop a bit to 12mph. Still pretty overcast, but our rain chances decrease even more and you'll start to see the sun trying to peek it's way through during the second half of the game.
High pressure makes its way into the Great Lakes region - calming our winds and clearing out our skies, and letting that temp drop. Get ready for a much cooler evening than Friday night! Low 40s leaving the game for dinner, with N winds at 10mph making it feel like the mid 30s. More and more of the clouds have started to break up, and that will be the case heading into the late night. Temps fall to 35 by 11 and into the low 30s by the time you're walking home (yes-this is that night where it's closing time and then you get another hour to celebrate a win!) Wind chills will have it feeling like the upper 20s (so really take advantage of that last hour or walk quickly) Partly cloudy skies will end your night and be ready for you Sunday morning, along with light NE winds - decent driving weather if you've traveled.
If you're staying home... Overcast for the day, with scattered showers lingering into the morning, but drying out for the afternoon. Winds are out of the NW at 5-10mph throughout the day (just a light breeze, a few leaves blow about). Looking at near 50 for the start of the game - many won't get quite there - and cooling to the mid 40s by dinner. Planning on hitting the town for a celebration? 40 by late night and into the low 30s for close with mostly cloudy conditions, light N winds. Go Blue and have safe travels, or have fun watching here at home! BEAT STATE!!
Christina Burkhart is a meteorologist for NBC/ABC in Traverse City, MI. She grew up in Ann Arbor and associates Saturdays with Michigan football. Go Blue!!
We have of course been talking about the state of the football program lately. Some posters are apparently disappointed at the different tracks that OSU and Michigan have taken since 2011, when Michigan went 11-2 and OSU faltered at 6-7. Some also seem frustrated because of their shared perception that Urban Meyer has out-coached Brady Hoke since they took over their respective programs. The extent of this frustration has surprised me, though it occurred to me that I may be more familiar with OSU’s program than the average Michigan fan. I decided to take a look at where the programs stood when the two coaches took over, and what I came up with is below.
First, let’s take a look at the recent records of the two programs prior to Hoke’s and Meyer’s arrivals. We’ll specifically start with 2007 for Coach Hoke, the first year that a redshirt senior in Hoke’s first year of coaching would have been on campus. Well take 2008 for Meyer, because he took over one year after Hoke.
The 2007 Wolverines went 9-4, beat Notre Dame and MSU, lost to Ohio State, beat Florida in the Citrus Bowl, and may have played an FCS team of some sort. It’s tough to say on that last point. What isn’t tough to say is that this was the best year that any of the players inherited by Coach Hoke would enjoy prior to his arrival.
The 2008-2010 Wolverines went 3-9, 5-7, and 7-6 while never beating MSU or OSU. They did manage to beat Notre Dame two times. They made it to one bowl – my memory is hazy, but I believe Mississippi State won by a point or two, possibly on a controversial call by a ref.
Coach Hoke accordingly inherited a group of players who had been members of a team that had enjoyed consistent success against Notre Dame and no other rival. They were 1-3 against MSU at best, and none of them had ever defeated OSU. Worse – at least according to the internet (again, I don’t recall) – they had has many losses to FCS teams as they did bowl victories.
The 2008 Buckeyes went 10-3, beat Michigan, won the Big Ten, and lost in the Fiesta Bowl to Texas. The 2009 Buckeyes improved to 11-2, beat Michigan, won the Big Ten, and beat Oregon in the Rose Bowl. The 2010 Buckeyes improved yet again to 12-1, beat Michigan, won the Big Ten, and won the Sugar Bowl. The 2011 Buckeyes, in the chaos surrounding the loss of Jim Tressel, fell (as noted) to 6-7, lost to Michigan for the first time since 2003, failed to win at least a share of the Big Ten title for the first time since 2004, and lost the Gator Bowl.
EDIT: The (Tattoo) Needle and the Damage Done (a further thought on the 2011 OSU squad):
I couldn't resist that title. Someone probably used it back in 2011, but anyway...As I discuss more below, the most signifigant damage from the OSU tattoo scandal was always likely likely to be most profoundly felt in 2011. OSU lost its best coach since Woody Hayes, its offensive coordinator, and its quarterback coach - Tressel was all three. (Compare the putrid design of OSU's 2011 offense under formerly-nominal OC Jim Bollman to the offenses when Tressel was present.) OSU also lost 60% of its yards from scrimmage in Pryor, whom the Buckeyes had not expected to replace that year, meaning they only had Joe Bauserman and true freshman Braxton Miller to take over. Finally, OSU lost its leading rusher in Boom Herron and its leading receiver in Devier Posey - the team improved noticeably when Herron returned in the sixth game and again when Posey returned in the eleventh.
The above were all problems that OSU was - in my view - always highly likely to rebound from. OSU didn't have time to replace Tressel using a full hiring search in 2011 (he resigned in May - not coach-hiring season) leaving them with the untested Luke Fickel. They did have time for a full coaching search in 2012. Further, talented and now-experienced players recruited by Tressel - Miller, Carlos Hyde, Devin Smith, etc. - were positioned to replace Pryor, Herron, and Posey by 2012. Accordingly, any good coach would have righted the ship relative to the Buckeye's 2011 season.
An opinion: I believe that programs have cultures, and I believe that those cultures promote winning and losing to varying degrees. Most may find that obvious, but a few might disagree. I further believe that the above shows it to be very likely that OSU had a very strong, winning culture by the time Urban Meyer arrived in Columbus. Only his first and second year players had ever not defeated Michigan, won the Big Ten, and won a BCS game. The rest of his players were used to being at the top of the college football world.
Coach Hoke, on the other hand, inherited a program that had – for whatever reasons (I’m not wading into the RR debate) – been losing regularly in big (and not so big) games. It accordingly seems safe to say that there was not a strong culture of winning at Michigan when Coach Hoke arrived in Ann Arbor. It’s worth repeating that no one on the 2011 roster had ever enjoyed a better season than 2007, when the 2011 players who were on that team watched from the sidelines as Michigan lost in disastrous fashion twice to start out and finally rebounded to beat Florida in the Citrus Bowl (since renamed as the Bank of Capital One FedEx Visa Goldman Sachs Bowl).
I looked at the 2011 Michigan and 2012 OSU rosters by noting the rosters’ cumulative experience and recruiting rankings (stars). I used Scout for the recruiting rankings. They tend to have rank Midwestern players higher than to other services, but that should not favor OSU or Michigan, because both tend to recruit Midwestern and non-Midwestern players in about equal fashion.
I credited player experience as follows: A redshirt freshman was given credit for 0.5 years of experience, because he was on campus but didn’t play. A true sophomore was given credit for one year of experience, because he had played for one year. A redshirt sophomore was given credit for 1.5 years, etc.
The players I counted: I wanted to capture the teams as Coach Hoke and Coach Meyer inherited them. I did this by only giving the teams credit for the years of experience and recruiting stars of players who joined the programs prior to the arrival of the given coach. Accordingly, though both Michigan and OSU had verbal commitments from recruits prior to the arrival of the two coaches, I did not count those players. Hoke and Meyer at least had to close the deal on those recruitments – meaning that they were not completely inherited – and I frankly didn’t have a good way of distinguishing between whom it was that was in the bag for the relevant coach and who wasn’t.
A quick note: Any player who started out as a walk-on is not counted as a scholarship player below. Jordan Kovas is therefore counted as a walk-on even though he earned a scholarship after arriving in AA. I simply didn’t have a good way of tracking down all of the players who followed the Kovacs route for both teams.
What I found is this:
OSU – Urban Meyer inherited a team with 55 scholarship players, and their average Scout ranking was 3.69 stars. Those 55 players had an average of 1.91 years of experience (again, note that I only gave credit for 0.5 years for a redshirt season). Meyer also inherited 43 walk-ons, and they had an average of .8 years of experience. The experience of the scholarship and walk-on players combined was an average of 1.42 years.
Michigan – Coach Hoke inherited a team with 56 scholarship players, and their average Scout ranking was 3.38 stars. Those 56 players had an average of 1.96 years of experience. He inherited 46 walk-ons who had an average of 1.26 years of experience. The experience of the scholarship and walk-on players combined was an average of 1.65 years.
What we can take from this: Coach Hoke inherited a slightly more experienced roster (at least when we only compare the scholarship players), but Urban Meyer inherited a solidly more talented one. Another way of looking at the above numbers is this: roughly one out of every four of Meyer's players had one more star than did their Michigan counterpart (Meyer's 55 players had 14 more total stars than Hoke's 56, and 14/55 is .254). In addition to what’s above, it’s worth remembering that not all four stars are alike, and I frequently noticed while compiling the rankings that OSU was much more likely to have high-four star guys (as an example – the same seemed true for 3 star guys) than was Michigan.
It’s also worth noting – and I suppose you’ll just have to trust me on this – that the players Meyer inherited fit his schemes much better than did the players whom Coach Hoke inherited. We can argue all day about how flexible a coach should be, but I don’t think there’s any question that it is at least easier to work with players who fit your preferred scheme. Examples: We all love Denard (Scout's 16th-ranked cornerback in 2009) and Drew Dileo, but they do not fit what Coach Hoke wants to do in the way Braxton Miller and Jordan Hall fit what Meyer wants to do.
Edit: The Needle and the Damage Done II (further thoughts on OSU's 2011 turmoil):
Meyer deserves credit for the recruiting and coaching that he did in the shadow of NCAA sanctions. However, it is of course true that not all NCAA trouble is created the same. First, as poster Dr. Steve reminds us below, Meyer was allowed by the NCAA to recruit fafter being hired in November of 2011 despite the fact that OSU still had a full staff coaching the team. Meyer had no responsibilities but to recruit. Further, OSU knew within roughly three weeks of Meyer's hire that they would only be hit with a one-year postseason ban and a three-year cap of 82 total scholarships. This was not an ideal situation, but it was hardly the harsh blow to the OSU program that some had predicted. As I said above, the more severe penalty was the damage done to OSU's 2011 season, when they hoped to win an NCAA championship. Take this for what it's worth, but OSU fans regret the loss of that season far more than they do last season's postseason ban or the loss of the scholarships.
Meyer may well have out-schemed and/or out-recruited Coach Hoke at times since the two took over at OSU and Michigan. I am not arguing one way or the other as to who is the best coach. However, we must when comparing the two realize that they did not take over equivalent programs (as much as this might pain us). Coach Hoke took over a less talented team and a team that was not accustomed anything close to the success Meyer’s players had enjoyed. Further, Meyer admittedly had to overcome what turned out to be notable but not-severe NCAA trouble, but this trouble was minor compared to what OSU suffered prior to his arrival, and that trouble (the loss of Tressel et al.) was always most likely to affect the 2011 more than any other. In my opinion, this created the perception that Meyer rescued OSU from a far worse situation than he did. Meyer had to recruit and coach against a one-year bowl ban, while Hoke had to recruit and coach against four years of failure. I would take the former any day.