While North Carolina isn't quite the Goliath they have been in the past, Michigan did have to go into Chapel Hill and face the #12 team in the nation with what's been a suspect offense at best. It didn't turn out all that well. Michigan was swept on the weekend, losing two extremely close games on Friday and Saturday, and was blown out on Sunday to fall to 4-7 on the season.
Starting pitching on Saturday and Sunday just wasn't good enough to compete with the Tarheels, but there was some life shown by the offense.
Full Recaps and Series Thoughts after the jump
(photo to right from minervacat's photo stream)
About halfway through the St. John's game, I had come to the conclusion that Michigan 2010 (minus Ryan LaMarre) is Michigan State of 2009. Last year, the Spartans were a dark horse contender in the Big Ten with a couple good batters but were unable to score runs. They relied on their pitching to an extreme, winning several games of the 2-0 variety but also losing games 4-1. Each game was a test of patience for Spartan fans as they hoped and prayed that their offense might give their pitchers just enough support. They finished the Big Ten season at 13-11, good for fifth in the conference.
So now we look at Michigan. A team that, since the LaMarre injury, is averaging 4 hits per nine innings and 1.88 runs per nine innings. That's not going to have us competing in the Big Ten, at least from a championship perspective.
Let's take a broad perspective of the weekend in an attempt to stay positive. It's still early in the season. We're still tinkering with the lineup. Our pitching has been spectacular. Our offense showed signs of life by Sunday. We were never completely out of any game; everything was a pitchers' duel. Despite the struggles, it isn't all doom and gloom for Michigan right now. As a matter of fact, Baseball America's Aaron Fitt has some good things to say after catching parts of each of our games this weekend:
the Wolverines have enough pitching to keep them afloat. Michigan went just 1-2 this weekend, but it allowed just two runs in each of its three games. Righties Alan Oaks, Matt Miller and Tyler Burgoon all turned in strong starts this weekend and showed good stuff. Oaks sat at 90-92 and showed a good 80 mph slider and a 78 changeup […] A scout I talked to said Miller was up to 92 and showing a good four-pitch mix Saturday, and Burgoon racked up seven strikeouts over six innings Sunday thanks to an 87-91 mph fastball, a big-breaking slurve and a decent changeup. And sophomore righty Brandon Sinnery will be a rock in the bullpen thanks to a nasty 74-76 breaking ball.
So with that, a recap of the weekend's games, the left field situation, and the pitching staff: [Ed: after the jump.]
I think gsimmons has covered many of the problems of the defense in the comments section, so I'm just going to write about a few things I saw out of the offense.
- I saw more man blocking on the O-line this game that what I noticed the last few weeks. The counters with Moundrous coming across the line of scrimmage produced a couple big gains. The line looked much better in the man scheme than the zone. They were getting a decent push and getting to the second level. The timing on the zone scheme just doesn't look quite right yet. We may see more man blocking as the year progresses if the zone scheme continues to struggle.
- Although they struggled more in the zone scheme, it was not always to the play side. There were a few plays where I thought Threet should have kept the ball. The DE had his shoulders completely turned, and Threet still handed the ball off. The DE was then able to run down the play from the back side for minimal gain. The corners were also pretty agressive on the running plays. I thought the zone read where Threet has the wideout as a third option may have worked well in the game.
- One of the ways Illinois was defending the zone read was to immediately bring the backside linebacker to tackle the QB. So you have an unblocked DE to take the RB, and an unblocked linebacker to take the QB. In this case, the QB should immediately throw the bubble screen. Against Illinois, Michigan already had an advantage by alignment with a safety 10 - 15 yards off the ball. With a linebacker going after the QB, there is no inside out flow to the play. If its a good throw, its probably a 6-7 yard gain every time.
- I thought we would see more bubble screens, but its probably better we did not. The blocking by our wide recievers was probably the worst I've seen all year. The basic idea behind stalk blocking as a wideout is to sell vertical until the DB stops his back pedal. If if he starts to come up under control, you stay in front of him, hit him, get your hands on the breast plate of his shoulder pads, keep your feet moving and drive him back. If he comes up hard, cut him and keep him on the ground. The wideouts looked very tentative in their blocks, and you have to be aggressive but under control when blocking as a wideout. If Matthews gets a block on the play that Minor fumbled, it probably goes for a big gain.
- The play in the first half where Threet threw it to the middle of the field was probably a mistake by Odoms. Miller was running with him down the middle on his release, and thats a good mismatch for us. Threet thought he was going to keep running, but he broke off over the middle. Either he just ran the wrong play, or he thought Miller was going to stay over top of him. Either way, I think Odoms was wrong on that play.
- I think we will see more shake up on the left side of the line. Ortmann is a step slow at guard, and I thought Dorrestein was consistently standing up off the snap instead of driving out of his stance low. He was blown backwards several times as a result. This is a fundamental thing that should be fixed this week in practice.
Overall, the offense did some good things, but they also did a lot of bad things. If we hit on the long passes to Savoy and Odoms at the end of the first half, maybe that changes the game. I don't want to beat a dead horse with things that have already been discussed, but I thought I'd point out a few things that I haven't seen in the comments section.
- The defense was outstanding on Saturday. For most of the game, the Wisconsin O-Line could not block any Michigan D-lineman one on one. Even when Mike Martin was in the game, he was getting by people.
- I think Mouton played his best game. He was the only linebacker that was consistently blowing up the lead blocker. He was giving up about 45 pounds to the guy, so he had trouble driving him back very far, but he was meeting him in the backfield and holding outside leverage. On the touchdown run, he crushed the fullback behind the line of scrimmage and Brown had a chance to make the play in the back field. Obviously, he failed to do this. Mouton is getting better quickly, and could be a star by the end of the year.
- Thompson and Ezeh looked ok. I thought Thompson made some improvement. He made one outstanding play in the third quarter where he took on a double team and held outside leverage allowing the other guys to get there and stop the play for a one yard gain. Ezeh still has some bad habits. He drops his head sometimes on tackles, stops moving his feet, and seems to wait for lineman or lead blockers to come to him. He is still playing ok, but these types of things cost you an extra yard or two per carry. That adds up after a while.
- Beckum and Graham not playing hurt Wisconsin. It took them out of their two tight end sets, and put the full back in the game a lot more. They ran a lot of the same running plays I described in the scouting report, but they were forced to throw more to their wide receivers. It turns out their receivers are not good at catching the ball.
- They had a lot of success with their bootlegs. Most of the time they pulled the eventual playside guard or tackle to really sell the run. We bit on this hard a couple times, and were bailed out by dropped balls. They did run that zone stretch play action as well, but they never handed that ball off.
- Despite a couple of those play actions, the coverage was pretty good. On Wisoncsin's final TD drive, Everidge had to make a perfect throw twice. Harrison shold have picked the one to Beckum. Have to give credit to Everidge on these plays though. He made some tough throws.
- We really were not that far away from moving the ball in the first half. We actually did ok against Chapman and Shaugnessy. We are still having some problems with backside cut blocks. I think a worse problem is on the left side of the line. We have problems when there is a DT line up in the A gap. One of three things seems to happen: the left guard releases to second level without chipping the guy and helping Molk get across his face, the left guard and Molk both get on him, but then they both release to the second level leaving the free to make a play, or the left guard does get enough of him to allow Molk to get a block and stay on. Obviously the last one is what needs to happen. From what Rich Rod has said in his press conferences, he is going to shuffle the line up until he finds people to figure this out. There were also a couple running plays that were blocked well. McGuffie didn't seem to be as patient as he did against ND. A couple times he cut up the field too soon or looked for the cut back lane immediately when running to the play side looked better. Maybe this was by design, but it didn't appear this way.
- I don't really like Threet's throwing mechanics. He kind of has a 3/4 delivery and sometimes looks like he his trying to pitch off a mound when he is throwing. Rodriguez mentioned something about getting his shoulder in the right spot in the second half. I think when you have this type of delivery, it is very easy to let your elbow drop a little bit. This puts the nose of the ball up upon release and causes the ball to sail. He also appeard to take a larger step towards the target in the first half which may have opened his body up too soon. This could also cause the ball to sail. I tried to compare the game Saturday to the spring game, but the youtube footage was fuzzy. If anybody was a qb or qb coach, feel free to correct me.
- I think Massey missed every block he tried to make. If its not going to be Butler, Koger has to be the guy here. I'm sure Massey is playing hard, but he just didn't get it done. Koger was not asked to block as much, but looks more athletic. These tight end blocks are crucial especially on those bubble screens. One missed block on those plays and it gets blown up.
- Some of the ABC replays showed a wide view of the field and you could see some of Michigan's routes. Most of their passing game is based on selling four vertical threats. They like to run a couple plays off of this. One is where Odoms runs down the seam. Griese mentioned this on the ABC broadcast but didn't really explain it. Odoms is reading the safety. If the safety bits on the play action, Odoms is going to run by him. If the safety is bailing he runs the dig route. Odoms was open on the dig three times and Threet missed him all three times. If we hit this play a couple times, all of a sudden we catch the safety sitting on the dig and run by him for a big play.
- They also like to run a curl route which I think has been open every time they have run it. The outside receiver comes inside and runs hard vertical to about 14 yards, stops and comes back to about 12. We hit Matthews on this a couple times in the second half. They also like to run a deep hitch route, and then run the hitch and go off of it. We had Matthews twice for big plays in the second half, and he dropped it both times. We also actually run the four vert, and we can do it with different personel. Koger's touchdown was the seam route on four vert, and it was beautiful execution on that play. Threet made a perfect throw with the safeties playing over top.
- There were two plays in the beginning at the beginning of the third quarter that didn't work for us, but provide some good coaching points for receivers. The first was the out to McGuffie that almost got picked. I think Wisconsin was in its soft 2 coverage here and Michigan runs a pretty common out/fade three step combo. On this play the outside receiver takes an inside release on the corner. This allows a cover two corner to see the out the whole way. Against a cover two corner, the outside reciever has got to figt to get outside on this play no matter what. This will cause the corner to turn his head, and he won't see the out develop. The other play was the slant to Matthews that almost got picked. On this play the corner is playing an inside shade, and I think he was in man coverage. On this play Matthews has to stem his route so that he is head up on the corner before he makes a cut. He tries to do this, but the corner is able to maintain his inside leverage and make a play on the ball. It was actually a good throw, but a better defensive play.
- Michigan ran a couple sprint out passes. This is supposed to be a quick throw to an out or short hitch route, but I think it backfired a little this game. This brought the linebackers in underneath zone coverage to the play side. A couple specific examples were Threet's rush that led to 4th and one and the two point conversion play. On Threet's scramble, they had a smash route called. In a cover two, this creates a two on one on the corner. The #2 receiver runs a corner route while the #1 runs a hitch. If the corner jumps the hitch, you throw the corner and vice versa. However, on the sprint out, the hook/curl linebacker gets out and underneath the hitch route. Threet makes the right decision here, tucks the ball and gets what he can get. The two point conversion was supposed to be a crossing route with Odoms and Koger. We ran a similar play when I was in college, and it worked almost every time. However, in this case, Odoms and Koger ran into each other and the linbacker was able to get out in front of the guy running to the flat. This is supposed to be a quick developing play, but the collision allows flowing linebackers to break it up.
- It also looked like we ran a couple routes similar to what Utah did to us where a receiver, either wide out or tight end, is simply going across the middle and sitting in a hole in the zone. Hitting these routes comes with experience. The key is both the qb and receiver knowing when the receiver is going to sit. Its got to be a quick release when the reciever sits in the zone. Threet still looks unsure on these plays, and holds the ball too long. As he holds the ball, the route gets covered. I think he had the curls open a few times and held the ball before trying to scramble. He has got to trust the route a little more, but that will come with mroe experience against good teams.
- In the second half, Michigan was able to get Casillas matched up one on one with Odoms in the slot. I think they did this by keeping Koger on the line, but running a trips set forcing the OLB out onto the slot. I'd have to watch the film again to make sure. Unfortunately, we didn't take advantage of this. One time he ran right by him on a wheel route and Threet threw the slant. The other time, was a sprint out and Threet didn't throw the out right away so Odoms turned up field. Odoms had Casillas beat, but Threet missed him.
- On Threet's long run, I don't think he could have held the ball at the mesh point any longer. It was near perfect execution.
Overall, This was a great effort to come back in the second half. It was the most exciting Michigan game I have ever attended, and hopefully the second half gives the offense some confidence. Threet was accurate and made better decisions in the second half, and if he can speed up his reads and pull the trigger a little quicker, this offense could become very good before the end of the year. The D was outstanding, and if they wouldn't have been put in so many bad situations with turnovers and poor special teams would have been dominant.
Well that was rather uninspiring. All I can say is that it was a much needed win and not much else. It was also a welcome change in terms of stomach acid production over last week. That may also have something to do with my staying dead sober for the entire game. Our level of play did produce some new thoughts on the team though.
Looking Back - Some thoughts looking back on the game after sleeping on it:
Did our offense turn a corner? Bullets:
- Sam McGuffie sure did. Getting him outside during the last scoring drive really showed the extra gear he has to gain the corner. I am really getting excited about this kid. He was tough after contact and protected the ball as if Mike Hart was coaching him how.
- Sheridan seemed to "get it" on that last scoring drive as well. He was decisive and getting the ball to the target much quicker, which gave the defense less time to react. He needs to try falling forward on scrambles/keepers and use his 6' frame to gain that extra yard or two instead of trying to juke linebackers.
- Threet is still a big step up above Sheridan at QB. His running was more productive IMO because he took what was available without trying fancy moves to get more. Much better arm than Sheridan (Mr. Noodle) as well.
- We need Mathews back badly. Odoms was good, but seems to be little more than a checkdown option/screen guy. That is important in its own right but a sure handed receiver with some savvy in getting open downfield would really help Threet shine I think.
- This was a better game plan I think. RR obviously is a great coach, but this gameplan demonstrated to me that he is up to the challenges this young team will present. Great first drive with plays designed to score first and take that edge. Much more conservative to help ensure the win (needed so badly as it was). That last scoring drive was genius I thought, sweeping McGuffie outside after pounding inside most of the game really worked.
- I think it was a good idea to switch in Sheridan as much as possible. RR might reap the rewards from this if Threet goes down to injury (or meltdown).
I wasn't very impressed by the defense this week. Giving up only 6 points was great, but they seemed always on the edge of breaking. Bullets:
- Our coverage is not nearly as good as advertised. I seemed obvious to me that a Brian Johnson level QB would have caused a lot of damage in this game as he did in the last. Stevie Brown...
- ...is bad. He seems to just make poor decisions in coverage. I have no specific examples but his name came up on a lot of plays that made our defense look bad I thought.
- Trent and Warren are not the lockdown corners I was really expecting to carry this defense. This may change and honestly really needs to.
- Gut runs are killing us. With all the emphasis Shafer seems to put on sacks and pass rush, I wonder if it is affecting our ability to effectively stuff the run.
- Mouton looked really good to me. He really stuck a few guys and seemed generally in good position. Dunno if he was in for Evans or Panter?
- D-line was solid again IMO.
Hats Off Awards:
- McGuffie! - Dude finally got to show off his jets and looked strong as well. Really bulled through some would-be tacklers for extra yardage several times. Can't say enough about how impressed I was both in his progression from the first game and RR's ability to create plays getting the McGuffinator in the open. Hats Off!!!
- RR - I can't really say what exactly felt different, but this team was more sure of itself. I think he has big things up his sleeve for ND. Hats Off!!! on your first win Coach.
- MiaOH QB - Can't remember his name, but then he might not either. Still, he tried to get up which is more than we can say for Morelli. Hats Off!!! brother, cause the doctor needs to take a look.
- MiaOH coach - I really respect how well this guy prepared his team to play this game. I thought their offense made our D look silly and just bad at times. MiaOH will win several MAC games to be sure. Hats Off!!! for staying with us.
- UMTailgate - I made these: http://umtailgate.com/2008/09/04/make-your-own-damn-ribs, and they were delicioius. Hats Off!!!
With everyone seemingly calling a ND win next Saturday I have to say NSFMF. ND looked certainly less than intimidating in their narrow win over SDSU. I would say that their offense is better than ours at this point, but their defense is much worse. This should lead to a fairly even contest I think as far as players are concerned. I really expect RR to coach circles around Fatty Weis though. I think Threet will play much more of the game unless we jump out to a huge lead. I further predict that huge leads won't happen for either team as the offenses struggle to score points.
I was pleased with how close the MiaOH game turned out to what I was predicting http://mgoblog.com/content/preview-miami-not-miami#comments (comment #7) and would like to make another stab at it for this week. I am seeing a win where Michigan special teams will make the difference and KC Lopata provides the winning margin. Very close score... I'd say Michigan 20, ND and the Fat Man - 17.