further adventures in Jed York being unsuited for his position
11/1/2008 – Michigan 42, Purdue 48 – 2-7, 1-4 Big Ten
As you might have noticed from such posts as "Brian goes to Auburn-LSU," I have an Auburn friend in town. You also might have noticed that Auburn sucks exactly as much as Michigan does this season. In general, this is some small comfort to both of us.
However, this friendship has caused me to pay more attention to Auburn's fortunes, such as they are, and write things about Auburn's botched hiring of spread guru Tony Franklin, and this is where the uncomfortable comparisons start.
If you missed the story, a précis: Auburn fires offensive coordinator Al Borges in December last year, replacing him with Troy State OC Tony Franklin. Franklin's newly implemented "Spread Eagle" racks up 423 yards against Clemson in a Peach Bowl victory. Auburn had eight days to practice it. Clemson was the #6 defense in the country. Woo!
Expectations are high coming in to 2008, whereupon Auburn implodes spectacularly, has an internal hissy fit, and fires Franklin midseason. A couple weeks before the firing Tommy Tuberville starts saying things that make it clear he's not really on board with this spread noise; Smart Football notes that whatever Franklin is running at Auburn isn't the Tony Franklin System(tm).
Underperforming unit, head coach focused on the other side of the ball but with a tendency towards one particular system the coordinator does not run, midseason philosophy shift… it's hard to avoid the parallels between Auburn adopting a shotgun formation and then running tank-sized power back Ben Tate on ill-fated zone stretches and Michigan's bizarre decision to adopt a 3-3-5 stack that, as far as I know, Shafer has never run before. Michigan proceeded to give up 48 points and 559 yards to a 2-6 team starting its third-string quarterback. Said quarterback was a running back three weeks ago.
This is where fail picture goes.
We have two unpleasant choices here: Shafer elects to pull Will Johnson, one of his better starters, for a freshman Boubacar Cissoko and having the move backfire spectacularly, or Rich Rodriguez dictates that change from above. I prefer Door #1 because then the 3-3-5 against Purdue is just an idea that really didn't work, not a sign of internal strife. Internal strife is bad.
So now everyone's guns are trained on Scott Shafer, coordinator of the Worst Defense In Michigan History and designated scapegoat for all (well, half) of Michigan's ills. Arguments will rage between the Fire Him Now and the Probably Fire Him Next Year camps, and interwebs blood will be spilled and people will be virtually roasted alive and it's going to be very dramatic on the message boards and so forth and so on.
Already the inbox is filled with emails asking whether Shafer needs to go. My answer is "probably not," but just like the guy who was asking whether Stevie Brown is shaving points I can no longer say so for certain.
- Hey, at least MINOR RAGE was back in good effect; on one of his touchdowns he ran through a couple tacklers like a giant parade balloon version of Mike Hart. I don't think anyone was surprised when he left the game injured; the only surprise is he didn't have to have a limb amputated and actually returned.
- The other standout was Martavious Odoms, obviously, who was the king of variance on special teams: touchdown, ridiculous punt muff providing someone else a touchdown, etc. I'm pretty sure Purdue's kick coverage team was horrible, but any progress from the return units is welcome, and several times Michigan was one guy away from busting a touchdown.
- As the year progresses I am increasingly skeptical Threet is a long term solution. I don't know if the elbow injuries had anything to do with it, but he refused to keep the ball on the zone read despite Purdue selling out to stop the running back. (If you go back to the liveblog you will see several "keep the #*$@ing ball, Threet!" requests from yrs truly.)
His accuracy was also spotty, especially on screens and the like, and if that doesn't improve I don't see how he can maintain a long-term grip on the starting job. For his sake I hope the elbow injuries are a major drag on his performance; otherwise it's Forcier/Beaver time in 2009.
- They futzed around with the offensive line some but eventually went back to their normal starting configuration, I think. Molk definitely got back in there, and I believe Ferrara got booted. I'll check the film on UFR.
- Did Michigan really burn Justin Feagin's redshirt on some kick coverage? WTF?
10/25/2008 – Michigan 21, Michigan State 35 – 2-6, 1-3 Big Ten
Here's a tip for Windows users who suddenly find their computer freezes on bootup: instead of booting into safe mode and wasting a day running disk checks and searching Google for advice, just select "last known good configuration" and save yourself the trouble.
If only that worked for football teams.
It does not, so we're back with the same story again: mostly outplayed and totally outgained. The only reason it was even somewhat competitive was Michigan State's determination to waste their massive advantage in yardage, but even their essential Sparty-ness couldn't blow this one.
I was completely wrong in the preview, wherein I suggested Michigan would prove itself slightly better on a down-to-down basis and be done in by more critical errors, and I've now given up any semblance of hope the team is going to turn a corner this year. I figure they might beat Purdue since the Boilers look pretty awful; everything else looks like a stretch.
So, like, what should I do with the rest of this season? I don't have anything interesting to write about on Mondays, as you can tell, just another rehash of "Michigan is epically bad and they have just lost by many points." Game previews seem as pointless the last four games. UFRs… well, I guess I have to do those. But expending a ton of energy covering the last few games of a season that might end up 4-8 at best seems unproductive.
In fact, it's time to bring back Henri, the otter of ennui.
Henri's crushing existential dread pins him to ground. Mine makes me go play videogames. I put it to you: what should I do over the course of the next month?
- What does it take to get fired around these parts? This has been all over the place by now so you already know this, but the NCAA rulebook has a specific provision indicating that an airborne player who touches the pylon is out of bounds.
I was in the stadium so missed the analysis that followed the touchdown, but everyone was pretty sure that call was bogus from the get-go, and I privately wondered if this could possibly be the work of the infamous Jim Augustyne and, yes, it was.
Augustyne was the guy responsible for what's now the second-worst call in Big Ten history when he ruled that Chad Henne's incomplete forward pass was indeed a fumble and awarded Domata Peko a long touchdown on the return. (That call is second-worst because it was a missed opportunity to overturn the play; on this one Augustyne actually screwed up something called correctly on the field.) Both calls required a total ignorance of the rulebook anyone who's watched football for ten or so years would know.
Augustyne should be given a gold watch and told to stay away from replay booths. Can someone dig up gambling debts and maybe an arrest or two for domestic violence?
- Michigan's inability to run against State is the last straw as far as hope for the offensive line goes. They couldn't block the Big Ten's iffiest defensive line; there's no hope until next year.
- I really don't get Michigan's decision to keep Cissoko on the bench in favor of a third (bad) safety in the nickel package. Late in the game white receiver named White (we're from White!) lined up with Charles Stewart in man coverage; his out route was open by yards and yards. As I've mentioned before, I'm willing to accept the idea Scott Shafer is working with a really shaky back seven; I'm less willing to accept the wacky tactical decisions that clearly aren't working.
- Speaking of, the one time we go to a three man line on something approximating a running down was Ringer's 60 yard touchdown.
10/18/2008 – Michigan 17, Penn State 46 – 2-5, 1-2 Big Ten
The reader may have noted a certain fevered quality to Friday's posting, and for good reason: I was sort of fevered. Bestruck by a head cold that wanted to kill my brain, I was in something of a fever dream until Zoltan punted it away with about two minutes left in the first half and Andre Criswell decided that it would be a good idea to pop Derrick Williams.
From there, reality reasserted itself with a thud.
This is not a "well coached team," I guess. It's hard to pick through all the detritus associated with that term—usually it means "loses too much for the accuser's taste"—and pick out a real definition, but suffice it to say well coached teams can return kickoffs past the twenty and don't pick up stupid personal fouls on downed punts. They don't they lead the country in fumbles. By a lot of metrics this not only a talent-deficient team but a discipline-deficient team as well.
And, okay, if you are concerned about that I get it. I think the longer view suggests Rodriguez can assemble a successful football team that does indeed seem "well coached," and by "suggests" I mean "makes it obvious".
There's not a whole lot more to say about unsurprising 30-point losses. We're going to see what the future holds one way or the other. I advocate patience, etc., you know the drill.
- No offense to a fine young man, but NICK SHERIDAN=DEATH. The decision to start him over Threet, or play him ever while Threet is physically capable of throwing the ball, will go down as the most inexplicable one of the Rodriguez era.
- Both of Threet's elbows are torn up? WTF? This is like a single player version of the broken thumb plague of 2005.
- Obviously Brandon Minor was the major buzz coming out of the game, as he ran with power two Sam McGuffie's couldn't muster. And he didn't fumble the ball. The fumbling and the offensive line and the Notre Dame game and Minor's run of just-nagging-enough injuries makes McGuffie's insertion understandable; I think he lost his job, though.
- When Threet was on the field he was impressive, and you could see that QB off-tackle/sweep thing was something they'd worked on significantly in practice but couldn't use the week before because Threet was busted up.
- In the first half when Minor was gashing them up the middle I thought to myself "we need to have something that plays off this or they're going to adapt and shut it down"; this happened. I think the difference in future years will be the ability to go to something else when (or, preferably, just before) the opposing defense catches on to the stuff you're running. You can see there's a certain monotony in the offense.
- Commenter ShockFX is going to find his annoyance at the "Minor should play more" threads be replaced by an an entirely different one genre: "why didn't Minor play more?" Projected rage level: steady.
UFR coming tomorrow; I tried downloading a big file that didn't get down in timely fashion.
It's grim. You know it's grim. The "Michigan 2008 = Notre Dame 2007" equation that Michigan fans—and this blog—scoffed at in the offseason appears to be nearing QED MFer status. A smart person just emailed me something that suggests death would be a more pleasurable alternative than the six games that loom over the next month and a half. The sky hangs low and ominous, all slate-gray clouds and distant rumbles and the sweaty prickle of unnatural humidity.
So, obviously, blame must be assigned! Assign blame, media! ASSIGN BLAME
Think West Virginia would return the buyout and take back Rich Rodriguez?
No. Of course, this guy's big idea…
Clearly, before this debacle reached a 2-4 boiling point, with the rugged part of the schedule yet unplayed, Rodriguez and his staff should have installed a second offense.
…worked out great last year when Charlie Weis installed the spread option for a single game against Georgia Tech instead of indicating that his offensive linemen might want to block someone. He says "Saturday's game almost isn't worth reviewing," and it's clear he didn't: Michigan did sort of install a second offense, deploying a Moundros-fronted I on several occasions and running isos up the gut. Unless he thinks a new offense is magically going to make Steven Threet a junior or Nick Sheridan physically capable of running a Division I offense, this is complaining just to complain.
Meanwhile, Mike Rosenberg continues proving that he's lost his mind over Rich Rodriguez. After doing the usual disclaimer bit ("Rich Rodriguez may yet restore Michigan to Big Ten supremacy") in an attempt to ward off the obvious riposte—SIX GAMES—he goes into the usual array of misrepresentations designed to cast Rodriguez in as unflattering a light as possible.
Here's one of many:
“We’ll adapt. I like winning too much not to adapt a little bit to our personnel.”
Has there been any sign that he will adapt?
Rodriguez says that every spread offense is different, but his scheme looks exactly like the one he ran at West Virginia, even though his players don’t fit the scheme.
Yes, exactly like the West Virginia spread:
- WVU, 2007: 26% pass, 74% run.
- Michigan, 2008: 46% pass, 54% run.
This only looks "exactly like the West Virginia" spread if you have literally no memory for play proportions and sequencing.
I won't belabor you further with the column; it's a pastiche of the usual unrealistic complaints like "Rodriguez ran off Mallett!" that remain as wrong as they were when Rosenberg brought them up earlier this year and I fisked it. I only bring it up to highlight the weirdest criticism leveled at Rodriguez this season: leaving a semblance of Lloyd Carr and Mike Debord's pro-style offense would have been an improvement.
This is preposterous in the following ways:
Last year the Michigan offense was bad. Injuries had something to do with it, sure, but Mallett played less than half the year, and the other half of the year they had a senior Chad Henne. Mike Hart played about nine games. The #1 pick in the NFL draft was the left tackle, and Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington were standout wide receivers.
With all these advantages, Michigan finished 68th in total offense, 10th in the Big Ten. Can you imagine what the offense would look like with freshmen everywhere and nothing resembling a competent quarterback? Yes, you can, it looks like last year's Wisconsin game minus the 97-yard Manningham touchdown. Or last year's Ohio State game. This isn't exactly the Greatest Show On Turf we're ditching.
You cannot make a good offense out of these parts. The best quarterback was a freshman so shaky in camp that a guy who would look out of place on most I-AA teams got the starting nod; he has been wildly inaccurate downfield and is charting horribly in UFR. This would not improve in a different offense. Different offenses do not make it easier to throw accurate passes, especially when the screens have been problematic.
There is one returning OL starter and six plausible starters, one of whom (Schilling) seemed destined for a career as anything other than a backup before massive attrition forced them into the starting lineup. The tailbacks are freshmen, injured, or fumblers. The wideouts are probably the worst crop since… uh… Michigan started throwing?
Meanwhile, Cory Zirbel, Carlos Brown, Mark Huyge, Mark Ortmann, Carson Butler, Martavious Odoms, Junior Hemingway, Steven Threet and Greg Mathews have all missed time with injury or stupidity (Butler's punch; whoever decided Sheridan was a plausible starter). A walk-on saw time at left tackle.
Nobody on the team even knows the Carr offense. Your skill position starters are five freshmen (Odoms, McGuffie, Threet, Koger, Stonum) and a junior.
…except the linemen, who are pretty much doing the same thing anyway. There are slight differences between Michigan's zone stretch this year and its zone stretch a year ago; their main problem is not being unable to understand the scheme but being unable to execute it because they are bad at football.
To be fair, you wouldn't know this if you watched the game on Saturday and then spat out a 600-word column about it without putting in the time review the tape or learn about football.
Rodriguez hasn't run a pro-style offense in two decades. How is he supposed to teach something he doesn't know very well? How is he supposed to run an offense completely divorced from his own? What is the point of hiring Rich Rodriguez?
So you've got one of two options here:
- Decide to run an offense you have zero experience with that finished just above 70th with an enormous slate of NFL talent in the vague hope you make a crappy December bowl game if it's even an improvement, which it probably won't be, or…
- Get on with the process of building your program.
Here's door #1: Auburn decided to bring in a spread guru, implement half his offense, and force him to call a lot of dumb plays he didn't want to. The result? Fired offensive coordinator with sad box and sad beard:
Meanwhile, Auburn blogs are considering whether or not Tuberville should get a sad box, too. This is the Great Solution proposed by Michigan newspaper columnists.
I pick door #2, as should everyone except evangelicals who think the world is ending before next fall.
With Vandy no longer undefeated, that seems a small risk.
(HT to Ron Cook at the PPG)
10/11/2008 – Michigan 10, Toledo 13 – 2-4, 1-1 Big Ten
Not to turn this column into a running diary about Douchebags of Michigan Stadium, but after Kicking Competency Lopata went a long way towards being just KC again I attempted to bolt from the stadium as fast as possible. I got caught in the inevitable traffic jam a dozen or so rows up from my seats. A couple rows above me, a middle-aged man stood on a bench and booed and booed.
He was angry. I was angry.
I stooped to pick up whatever flingable bit of detritus I could find, seized upon an empty water bottle, and chucked it at the booer. I missed,* lightly damaging an older man a row behind him. But I did get his attention. And the old guy looked like he was on The Other Side, so eff him.
At this point a shouting match ensued. Shouting matches are never like they are on TV—laced with penetrating logical deductions that leave the yelled-at victim incapable of response—so I mostly just told him to shut up like 10 times consecutively.
At some point he actually said "if this bothers you that much there must be something wrong with you," at which point my irony sensors exploded. It was sort of like this minus the laughter:
He did shut up, though, or at least direct his anger somewhere other than the field.
Anywhere large groups of Michigan fans interact has fallen into civil war, with people like this on one side…
Listen, I just wanted to vent. I have supported this team this year.
I supported them when Utah won, I supported them when Illinois blew us out of the frickin stadium.
This, I cannot support. I am absolutely disgusted with this.
In my opinion, Calvin Mcgee, Rich Rodriguez, and even Mike Barwis, yup, that's right, Mike Barwis, can go back to West Virginia where they came from.
…and bottle-chucking hippies on the other. That email hit my inbox yesterday around noon; I got a few others like that. You can check the increasingly annoying comments here, where virtually every thread descends into a flamewar within five posts.
And I don't get it. If you read this blog and think I will be at all sympathetic to the idea we should get rid of our extremely successful coach after one year (and hire who? and recruit who?) you have reading comprehension issues. If you use the words "unacceptable"—not actually in this email but man have I see that particular word everywhere in the past few days—and "disgusted" because Michigan's confused, young, and physically inadequate offense can't cobble together drives no matter who they go up against, do you realize that the core community of this blog, including the author, kind of loathes you? I am not on your side.
Sports suck sometimes, especially when you care so much about something you control not at all. I assure you that every Michigan fan was angry on Saturday, and every one had second thoughts about this New Era thing. Some of them chose to swallow that anger, and some chose to give it to someone else. What's the adult thing to do? What would those people in hats have done in 1935?
They would have sucked it up. So suck it up, you pansies. It hurts. Act like a man about it.**
Go do something else. This makes you mad. People say Hinterland is pretty good and it's only twenty bucks. Go play that. Go ride a bike. Or hike into the woods and look at the chipmunk-bears. Build 60-foot sculptures out of balsa wood and your shattered hopes. Just get off the goddamn internet.
Come back in fits and spurts and keep whatever connection you want to have with the program but don't hit that post button when the vein on your forehead is sticking out. It's not that important.
And what does "unacceptable" even mean, anyway? Okay, you do not accept the Toledo loss. And now…? You will inform the internet of this? I see. Congratulations. Go away.
*(Yes, I threw the bottle at Tacopants. If I was one of those guys calling for Threet's execution this would be the height of irony.)
**(Women, in my experience, do not have these issues.)
- There are also two camps about the defense: 1) they only gave up 6 points (really nine if you count the chip-shot FG Toledo missed) and that should obviously be good enough to beat Toledo. 2) That one guy caught 20 balls and they had something like 350 yards of offense. I lean towards two; the only reason Toledo didn't score more was Zoltan's munificence and some of their own incompetence. Though they figured out how to defend some of the play action rollout stuff late, it shouldn't take 5.5 games to come up with a response to the quarterback exiting the pocket. Too many opposing teams have been able to remove Michigan's defensive line from the game by leaving in blockers or hitting short passes or rolling the pocket, and Michigan's insistence on leaving in a thousand crappy linebackers against spread formations is maddening.
Scott Shafer was supposed to be an aggressive man-to-man guy, but Michigan this year has seen a ton of zone and a ton of three-man rushes. WTF?
- Also, on a late third and one Michigan had a three-man line in the game. Toledo ran and made it easily. WTF?
- The playcalling made a lot more sense once Threet's injury was revealed. Also Threet's horrible first few passes, though the endzone pick six wasn't inaccurate. If Nick Sheridan was in for reasons other than "starter incapacitated" even my enforced patience was going to be tried.
- No, this offense would not be any better if it was lining up under center every play and running isos. Banish this from your mind. When you have freshmen at quarterback and most of the skill positions and a line with something like 6 even quasi-reasonable options and the lone senior on the two-deep is the third-string tight end, you are going to be awful no matter what offensive philosophy you adopt. There are like two and a half good players on offense.
And what would that buy Michigan? A Motor City Bowl invite? I'd like to keep the bowl streak—not going to happen—but if the choice is between a crappy December bowl and some increased chance Michigan is great in 2010, I'll take the latter.
- I think that "pre-hab" stuff is well debunked.
- Cissoko seemed to do well, though it was tough to tell with all the zone.
9/4/2008 – Michigan 20, Illinois 45 – 2-3, 1-1 Big Ten
Any attempt to list the full dossier of Michigan errors over the past few weeks would provoke a cascade of emotions from the reader starting with rage and ending with full-bore ennui. Along the way we'd touch grim sarcasm, depression, contempt, fatalism, resignation, dread, and a whole host of other things that in no way relate to happiness.
So let's skip it and just say there have been a lot.
It seemed like youthful nerves or inexperience in the first couple games. Against Notre Dame it seemed like the usual screwing over by Angry Michigan Ball-Oiling God. And, hey, we beat Wisconsin and the negative events therein were supplanted in our minds by the Thompson return and the unlikely Threet gallop and so on.
All of it could have been unfortunate randomness. The true abilities of Michigan's team would be unleashed as soon as they stopped turning the ball over every ten seconds or busting coverages that left, say, a guy running wide open downfield on fourth and ten. If they don't put themselves in a 21-0 hole against Notre Dame, if they just complete those bubble screens, if they don't suck on this play or that play &c &c &c.
As more evidence piled up it became harder and harder to justify the vague hope Michigan was a competent team stuck in Charlie Weis's body (it's like Innerspace except there's no machine to shrink you), but we endured. We are fans. Until such time as you declare EVERYTHING TO BE BROKEN because THIS IS THE WORST TEAM EVER and EVERYONE MUST BE FIRED NOW NOW NOW, people strive to find whatever hope they can. And also: how can kick returners just flat dropping the ball be a replicable event? Seriously. I want to know this.
But now it's pretty hard to come to any conclusion other than "they just suck." The last straw on my pet camel's back was Steven Threet dropping back to pass with Michigan down 45-20. Untouched, he cocked his arm to throw and fumbled backwards for the fifth time in approximately four games of play. This, like Ryan Mallett's mystifying inability to receive a snap, is now an event that will happen on a depressingly regular basis. There are similar events scheduled all over the field—especially in the secondary, where someone (Charles Stewart) has miraculously supplanted Stevie Brown as the whipping safety du jour.
We've passed the point where these things could be random chance. It's just a bad team. This revelation will probably be met with "duh" from everyone who's not a Michigan fan, what with skill positions that usually read junior, freshman, freshman, freshman, freshman, freshman and a coaching transition and, oh, I don't know, the nation's 110th best turnover margin. But, hey, we beat Wisconsin and for sports fans even lead balloons float when filled with hope.
My balloon is now filled with a sticky gray-green substance that smells like sewage and glows when the moon is gibbous. Saturday's event was tough to watch. While the long term outlook isn't affected much by the pratfalls to date, it's still no fun to watch 25-point beatings. Sadly, I just want to fast forward to 2010.
- I think Juice Williams may have the greatest ball fakes I've ever seen live. You know that thing where the cameraman follows someone who ends up not having the ball and freaks out when this becomes clear? I did that on like half of Illinois' runs. It was really annoying when I'd be watching the running back get tackled for no gain only for Williams to have the ball and run for a first down.
- Missing Hemingway and Stonum was a big deal, since it's obvious why Savoy can't get off the bench. Apparently the TV guys criticized the coaching on his long-bomb drop; I think the more plausible explanation is that a redshirt junior who hasn't seen any time is probably not very good.
- Holy Lord did Michigan get jacked on at least three different pass interference calls. Greg Mathews was obviously hit early on an unsuccessful third down conversion. Illinois got bailed out on third down by a PI call on a ball yards behind the receiver. Donovan Warren got shoved not once but twice on a downfield jump ball and drew no flag. The first two either ended Michigan or extended Illinois drives. The latter set up a third and two instead of a second and seventeen; the next play was the dagger Williams scramble.
- Michigan again used that goofy formation where Greg Mathews is 1) split out and 2) covered up by a receiver outside of him. They ran twice for minimal yardage. WTF?
- Despite Odoms' fumble he should definitely keep the return job. He consistently broke through the first wave of defenders and acquired Michigan excellent field position. The fumble just appeared to be a guy putting his helmet on the ball, which usually can't be helped.
- Perhaps the most disturbing event on the day was Illinois dominating the Michigan offensive line. The Illini had been shredded by all previous opponents. The offensive line is going to be an anchor around this team's neck for the remainder of the year.