I did not make this headline up
9/17/2011 – Michigan 31, Eastern Michigan 3 – 3-0
The first quarter is a stupid quarter. It eats American cheese still in the wrapper and sits down for reality TV marathons. I suggest that in the future all first quarters will be abolished in favor of other, better quarters, like the second, third, and fourth.
That is the future, though, when Michigan's depth on both lines isn't horrifying and the quarterbacks have returned to their baseline state—enormous, ponderous, NFLerous. Right now we have to endure first quarters and run Denard Robinson 26 times for 198 yards against Eastern Michigan because first quarters are stupid.
They leave us so spooked that Borges sends Denard out to add three carries to his total in a 28-3 game with ten minutes left, and in doing so explodes the idea that this offense is not Denard, Denard, Denard. Next Saturday the real lyrics to Varsity* will be
"Robinson… Robinson. Robinson, oh Robinson /
Robinson Robinson oh Robinson!"
The Saturday after that he will take all 110,000 tickets. By October he will have evolved an organic superstructure that slowly replaces the metal and concrete of Michigan Stadium with rainbow rows and gently whinnying unicorn hand-warmers.
Is this sustainable? Almost certainly not. Will an exhausted Denard evaporate mid-season as the demands on his existence become too much to even contemplate, let alone bear? Almost definitely.
Does Michigan have a choice? No.
We may be reading way too much into these two drives:
- (1st and 10) Toussaint, F. rush for 1 yard to the MICH2 (CUDWORTH, J.;MULUMBA, Andy).
- (2nd and 9) Robinson, D. pass incomplete to Roundtree, Roy.
- (3rd and 9) Robinson, D. rush for no gain to the MICH2 (WESTERMAN, J.;KASHAMA, K.).
- (1st and 10) Toussaint, F. rush for loss of 1 yard to the MICH20 (CUDWORTH, J.).
- (2nd and 11) Robinson, D. pass incomplete to Koger, Kevin.
- (3rd and 11) Robinson, D. pass incomplete to Roundtree, Roy.
One of those started at the Michigan one and the other was a victim of Denard's early-season inability to throw. But they did not move the ball against Eastern. This blog's prediction that Michigan would manage to exceed Eastern's terrible YPC yielded from under center was nowhere close to true. Combined with a bunch of two-yard runs against Notre Dame the overall effect is to look at a run out of the I-form as a wasted down.
Michigan ditched any semblance of a pro-style offense at that point, whereupon the drives ended like so: TD, three and out, TD, TD, TD, 21-yard field goal. That is what life is supposed to look like against Eastern Michigan, and if we have to wear Denard Robinson into a beaming nub by God that's what we'll do.
Maybe those two drives are flukes. That would be odd since it seems pretty hard to go from five years of primarily zone blocking to primarily power, from an offense that is based on being faster and smarter than an opponent to one based on being bigger and stronger. Remember the theory that stated Michigan's linemen not adding any weight over the offseason was clever gamesmanship? Yeah, not so much: that's just how big they are. That's big for humans, but not beef machines.
Once you add the above into the two-yards-and-cloud-of-despair ND under center runs you've found a dataset nearing significance. It says Shotgun Forever, for the next two years.
Borges flipped his script immediately after, and that's great. Long term projections that these coordinators are the best in a long time remain on track. Getting Denard on a similar track is a lot more pressing, unfortunately.
I keep bringing this up in the UFRs but it's worth repeating: this is a regression. Why it's a regression is unknown, but the legions of people declaring Denard a "terrible" passer are reacting to the most recent data only. Before that he was not Chad Henne but he was not awful, either. I mean, sweet hotpants in a pickle bun, I have him for 15 good throws downfield, 2 meh ones, and 2 poor ones against Wisconsin(!) last year. These are throws past the LOS, not screens. Wisconsin! I take these numbers specifically to reduce the noise you get from drops and completion percentage and the numbers say he's not Chad Henne but when you put him in last year's offense he's not that far off.
So… last year's offense. Borges's next step is trying out the snag, all-hitch, and curl/flat routes that Denard had gotten comfortable with last year to see if his persistent inaccuracy is purely mechanical or an artifact of nerves that come with unfamiliarity with the offense. (Also, can we get bubble screen action up in here?)
If he's not the relentlessly accurate guy it seemed in the first half of last year, neither is he the guy who can't seem to complete anything this year. There is a ridiculously good offense lurking somewhere in Michigan's personnel. It's up to Borges to find it. Declaring the offensive line average and blaming Denard Robinson is faintly ridiculous. They managed to muddle through with those anchors last year.
Michigan wins games down the road by making Denard the focus and exploiting how opponents react to that.
If it doesn't work, okay. It's all you've got, for a given, incredibly sexy version of "all you've got."
*[Do not be fooled by the words on the video board. The only words in "Varsity" are "oh" and "Varsity." Try it.]
Non-Bullets of First Quarter Hatred
Edge issues. I'm not enormously concerned about the defense because most of the issues seemed to have one very obvious cause: freshman DE/SLB types losing the edge on jet sweeps. Jake Ryan in particular was exploited to the point where they threw Brennen Beyer on the field, who we've seen have major edge issues. I'd rather have one obvious coaching point to work on than a wholesale breakdown. Michigan seemed to adjust in-game and showed better edge contain before the day was over.
BONUS: Frank Clark had one of the day's most impressive plays on a late jet sweep where he set up in a good spot, baited the WR inside, popped outside his blocker, and forced the guy back into pursuit. Mental +2 there.
Changes. Thomas Gordon got an entire game as a deep safety and made a spectacular interception; in his stead the nickelback was Raymon Taylor. Taylor's main contribution was picking up a personal foul on EMU's long drive that got stuffed at the one; after that Michigan realized EMU was about as likely to throw as they were and took him off the field. The non Black/Roh DE spot was a jumble of Clark, Beyer, and Ryan.
Q: was the Gordon move a permanent thing or a reflection of EMU's non-spread offense? I'm hoping it's the former. I've been high on him since early last year and the coverage on his INT was another tick in a positive direction.
Annual exposure to Vincent Smith zealots. Man, I'm all like… yeah. No offense to Vincent Smith's quality day against the Eagles, but it's still Toussaint. There is a common theme in the long Smith runs against Eastern: the ability for grandma shotgunning a beer to run about that far.
He's a great guy to have on your team and he's going to be a major part of the offense because he's a B+ in many aspects and an A+ at blitz pickups, but Toussaint is faster, more agile, and has at least equal vision.
Meanwhile, Rawls looked exactly like Kevin Grady on two short runs. First impressions there are meh. This is surprising to people named Fred Jackson but not many others.
Redshirt status. A game against Eastern that manages to get a couple of garbage time drives in gives us some hints as to who's getting a redshirt and who isn't:
- BURNED: Wile, Taylor, Countess, Morgan, Beyer, Clark, Rawls
- STILL REDSHIRTED: Carter, Hollowell, Brown, Heitzman, Miller, Rock, Poole, Bryant, Bellomy, Hayes
Pick a random day three weeks into any football season and you'll probably find me railing against inexplicably burned redshirts, but I don't have an issues with the guys above getting in the game. All the guys on defense save Countess could develop into starters as early as this year, and Rawls is another option at a tailback spot that needs them.
Recruiting numbers. It's three weeks into the season and we haven't seen Mike Cox even get his ceremonial long run against crappy competition. Terrance Robinson made a brief cameo at the end of the EMU game. Neither should be expecting fifth years at this point; if they don't receive them Michigan will be at the 26 number they've been projecting for a while. That's if they don't lose anyone between now and Signing Day, which is possible but unlikely. With four stars knocking down the door I can see this class getting to 28.
The main issue getting there won't be the scholarship limit but the cap on enrolled signees. That's 25, but you can dodge it by enrolling kids early. Michigan has just one EE committed right now. That's not something they can change since early enrollees acquire the status by taking a lot of summer school. I haven't heard that anyone Michigan is pursuing is planning on an early enrollment, so they might end up with a couple empty slots on Signing Day.
The early enrollee exception is OSU commit-type substance Bri'onte Dunn. The rumblings on him have oscillated between 100% OSU and 100% undecided, and of late it's pushed more towards the latter. He took a visit to Penn State last weekend and declared himself "confused," and after that Miami game it looks like he'll have a very brief window to get acquainted with whoever OSU's new coach is before he's on campus somewhere. Dunn is a touted player at a major position of need who Michigan would yank away from OSU; he would also allow them to take a 27th player. He's kind of important.
StephenRKass asks if defense and special teams are "becoming a positive." D is wait until later. Special teams do seem better but they aren't championship level yet. Kickoffs both ways are terrible, punt coverage has been weak, and I'd like to see the kickers hit an actual field goal instead of a glorified extra point before I stop panicking about them. Once Hagerup gets back the punting and Jeremy Gallon's sudden ability to field and return punts probably make it average.
Media: I should have been linking these all along, but Mike DeSimone's database is always key. Mikoyan shot from the sidelines. He's got pregame, in-game and postgame posts plus a bonus shot of an MGoBlue barn.
There is also a torrent of saner size up.
The Wolverines' special teams, at times, looked ugly in the 31-3 rout. Michigan's squib kick with 39 seconds left in the first half is a perfect example. The stratagem can work sometimes, but this was not one of them.
The call was especially egregious against a team such as the Eagles, who passed just six times the whole game. Could they have traversed a long field in such a short time?
But the squib gave the Eagles the ball at their own 47-yard line, and they needed just four plays — all runs — to get into position for a 50-yard field goal. That's just too easy.
Squibs are way over-used. Unless there are fewer than 20 seconds left in a half they're a bad idea, but coaches tend to prioritize risk aversion over expected value.
Meinke also suggests Vincent Smith is not the right guy for kick returns due to his lack of speed. I agree with that, too. If Shaw is third-string-ish on the tailback depth chart wouldn't this be a spot for him?
Blog stuff: BWS has his frown on:
After a 7/18, 95 yard (5.3 YPA) day against a MAC bottom dweller, it's difficult to see Denard Robinson as a sustainable option at quarterback in Borges' offense. It may sound reactionary, but after another game riddled with poor decisions (chucking the ball into double coverage) and spotty accuracy, and against competition that shouldn't be able to compete with Michigan's athletes, it's clear that Denard's struggles in the passing game last year, his uninspiring spring game, and his poor passing performances against Notre Dame and Western Michigan are no flukes. He locks onto receivers, struggles with his accuracy, and frequently makes near backbreaking decisions.
This is true so far and made up for by Denard's other talents. We are almost an old-school option offense that needs to stay in front of the chains. He's real mad about burning Rawls's redshirt, though. I'm all like whatever: Rawls may be needed this year since Hopkins is full of doghouse and the starters are fragile. And I'm betting that by the time Rawls would have been a fifth year senior there's someone better on the roster anyway.
Is it just me or does our offense look like the one that that one friend--the friend that everybody has--always runs against you in Madden/NCAA...you know the friend. He's usually the guy who says things like "watch these 4 verts bro" before throwing a bomb on first, second, and third down (he also goes for it on fourth down regardless of field position). Another hallmark of this friend's offensive strategy is a running game that involves picking a team with a fast quarterback and running outside every time that he doesn't throw deep (which is every pass).
UPDATE: So I wondered which 80s-era estrogen rock band was responsible for the title reference and googled it. The result: REO Speedwagon. REO Speedwagon's mindblowing video for the thing, which has almost as many ridiculous haircuts as profiles of me do and obviates the need to actually do LSD:
Good Lord. I'm just going to float off into the sky now.