So… it wasn't necessarily as crazy as it appeared when he threw it. Is this good news? Maybe. It seems that Denard had one major problem in the Northwestern game, which was throwing off his back foot.
- Inaccurate but complete TD to Watson
- Interception #1
- Interception #2
Robinson had time to step into the some of the above throws throw but did not. Other times he didn't read the play fast enough and got pressure because of indecision. When not throwing off the back foot he was his zippy 2010 self; when he did it was armpunts away.
Sometimes you have to throw it off the back foot. These times are when there is a guy in your face and you have a really wide open receiver. None of the above are events that fit that profile. On the first he does have a guy really wide open but also has time to step into the throw. On the second he also has time to step into the throw. On the third he doesn't, and that's what this post is about.
Interception #2 exposed some of Robinson's flaws as a passer but it still should have been a touchdown. Michigan has a second and six on the Northwestern 16 after Devin Gardner's tricky rollout of the Denard jet action turned into a scramble. They come out in a common set for them, shotgun with twin TEs:
On the snap Denard moves towards the LOS and Schofield pulls. This will turn into QB Oh Noes.
As Denard withdraws into a passing position Koger releases downfield; Smith will head out on a wheel route. Both of NW's linebackers are headed upfield:
At this point you have two guys trying to cover two Michigan players, One of them is Koger, who will run a post. The other is the flat-footed corner on the LOS.
This is the key frame. Smith is gone past the blocker. The safety is similarly flat-footed against Koger, and Schofield has run past the blitzing SLB to double a defensive end:
This is all kinds of touchdown except for Schofield running past the gap in Michigan's line:
Without this linebacker getting in Denard's face the safety faces a choice between leaving either Koger or Smith wide open for six points.
But linebacker is in Denard's face, forcing an early throw off the back foot…
…that does not end well.
I think there was a bust in the Wildcat secondary, possibly by this safety, because Koger is open for an easy TD and the pressure cannot be anticipated. If the safety is going with Koger this is still incomplete. Denard overthrew it by five yards because he chucked it off his back foot.
Items of interest
This is definitely a protection the pulling guard is expected to make. On fourth and one later in this half Schofield will pull and correctly read this gap, then fill it, opening up the first down.
When Denard throws off his back foot, rivers of baby blood flow from my eyes. This was a thing that Michigan evidently got fixed in the second half when Denard was 8/9 for many many yards, but it threatens to pop up whenever the opponent gets a little QB pressure. The Watson one is the worst: no one is even in position to hit you after the throw.
This is not actually an insane read. I think his assumption was that the S, being the only guy on that side of the field near Koger, would go with him and this would leave the wheel open. The key moment:
He's not staring Smith down. He's looking at Koger and naturally assumes the only guy with a shot to cover him will take the hint. This was wrong in the same way it can be difficult to play poker against someone who doesn't really know what they're doing—they do something very very bad that turns out well because you didn't expect them to have a pea-sized brain.
Again, because of the back foot stuff this was five yards long and would have been incomplete in a best-case scenario. Robinson should probably just take off when things like this happen instead of doing this.
Needs moar play action. The super aggressive Northwestern defense was super aggressive, as you can see here. When Michigan went to QB play action it invariably got dudes vastly wide open, and while Michigan didn't have much luck getting these things completed, the passes are easy (seam to Koger is too high) or the problems easy to fix (block that guy, Schofield). A good chunk of the issues running the ball were on these aggressive linebackers—Michigan doesn't seem to make them hesitant. Maybe right after scoring 42 points while turning the ball over three times isn't the best time to bring this complaint up.
Substitution notes: Obviously there was Gardner. Hopkins played quite a bit of fullback and got a couple carries. Shaw got a little run today after missing SDSU entirely. Watson appears to have locked down the second TE spot. Unless he shows up against Purdue, Mike Cox has probably seen his career end without even the random 50-yard run against a terrible opponent.
On the line, Barnum missed the game and was replaced by Schofield. When Michigan put in its second team line it read Schofield-Burzynski-Khoury-Omameh-Mealer from left to right. Burzynski is a redshirt freshman walk-on who the official site notes has been liked four times on Facebook.
Formation notes: Fritz has been discussed plenty already, but here's Fritz anyway:
Denard is the left wingback, Smith the right, Toussaint deep. It seemed like they were flipping Denard when they were on the other hash.
The usual other than that with even less under center. When they went to it they usually passed, which is a really weird thing to realize. "Oh, it's the I. They must be passing." /head explodes
|M20||1||10||Shotgun 3-wide||1||1||3||Base 4-3||Pass||Slant||Gallon||9|
|Easy pitch and catch against soft coverage. (CA, 3, protection 1/1)|
|M29||2||1||Fritz||3||1||1||Base 4-3||Run||Speed option||Toussaint||-4|
|For a formation that's never been run before Minnesota sure is all over this. They shift two DBs to the TE side of the formation and those guys allow the Gophers to maintain the edge pretty easily here. This looks like a blitz specifically designed to contain a speed option handoff from an old school T formation. Go figure. (Gardner is totally uncovered, FWIW... if this was a called waggle he would be on the edge without a guy within 10 yards of him.) Koger really has no chance to seal the DB outside of him and then there's another guy further outside; Smith(-1) runs right by him to block a safety and when Robinson pitches that guy zips out on Toussaint for a TFL. RPS -2. Playside OL had done a pretty good job of dealing with this, FWIW.|
|RUN+: Huyge(0.5)||RUN-: Smith|
|M25||3||5||Shotgun 3-wide||1||1||3||Base 4-3||Run||QB Draw||Robinson||13|
|Safety walks down for an extra guy. It matters not. The key here is Robinson's patience. Live I was watching Gallon(+1), who plants that safety in the box, and then is looking at Robinson thinking “why don't you run?” This delay gets the Gopher OL way upfield and causes the LBs to start pass-dropping just as Denard takes off. Schofield(+1) kicks a DT out to provide a lane; Smith gets out of the backfield and uses his agility to redirect himself into the MLB. Robinson(+1) reads his lanes and jukes past one guy Koger(+0.5) kind of blocked, hitting the secondary.|
|RUN+: Gallon, Robinson, Smith, Koger(+0.5), Schofield||RUN-:|
|M38||1||10||Shotgun 2back TE||2||1||2||4-3 under||Run||Zone read iso||Toussaint||35|
|Hopkins the second TB. This is basically an old-school iso from a shotgun formation with the zone read fake holding a guy outside, which means it plays out like an inside zone with a lead blocker. Molk(+1) and Schofield(+1) crush the NT to his knees, sealing him. Molk pops out to seal someone on the second level, but there's no one to block. Omameh(+1) kicks out the other NT. Hopkins(+2) shoots down into the hole and thumps the MLB out of it, getting another LB caught up in the carnage. Toussaint(+1) hits the hole hard, bursting into the secondary and running through an attempted ankle tackle; he is one step from a touchdown but the tackle attempt made him break stride and that gives the last Gopher defender the foot he needs to drag him down from behind. Picture-paged.|
|RUN+: Molk, Schofield, Toussaint, Omameh, Hopkins(2)||RUN-:|
|O27||1||10||Shotgun 3-wide||2||1||2||Base 4-3||Run||Zone read dive||Smith||6|
|Toussaint motions out to WR. I think Denard should pull this since the end on that side is getting blocked and Gallon can come down to crack the safety; test the edge here. As it is Schofield(+1) sees his man dive playside and pushes him past the play; Lewan(-1) does not seal the DE and loses him to the interior. Smith has a big hole but it's one filled by an unblocked LB. Smith(+1) cuts past him near the LOS and while the guy does grab him he's getting dragged forward. Molk(+1) maintains a second level block a long time, which gives Smith an extra couple yards when he steps through the first LB's tackle.|
|RUN+: Smith, Molk, Schofield||RUN-: Lewan|
|O21||2||4||Shotgun twins twin TE||1||2||2||4-3 under||Run||QB iso||Robinson||18|
|Minnesota shifts late and I imagine Molk(-1) must have busted this because he's got a guy shaded over him and just runs past, leaving Omameh(+1) a super tough job as he tries to do anything with a guy flying upfield a yard inside of him. He manages to shove the dude, who ends up falling. This forces Denard playside, where Schofield(-1) got beat by another shifted DL. Smith(+2) manages to squeeze through the hole, which gets a bump on the guy to prevent him from hitting Denard immediately. Denard(+2) slows up, cuts back upfield of the two guys on the left side of the line, and then pops back outside as Smith earns his second plus by plugging the nearest linebacker. Denard breaks contain and is into the secondary, where he jukes a safety(+1) before getting tripped near the goal line.|
|RUN+: Omameh, Smith(2), Robinson(3)||RUN-: Schofield, Molk|
|O3||1||G||Shotgun 3-wide||1||1||3||Base 4-4||Run||Zone read dive||Smith||3|
|Lewan(+2 blows up the playside DE, who moves inside, as does the LB, giving up the corner. Smith(+1) reads it and takes the easy TD.|
|RUN+: Lewan(2), Smith||RUN-:|
|Drive Notes: Touchdown, 7-0, 11 min 1st Q|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||RB||TE||WR||D Form||Type||Play||Player||Yards|
|M25||1||10||Shotgun 2back TE||2||1||2||Base 4-4||Pass||PA RB Go||Hopkins||28|
|Zone read PA off the iso action sees Hopkins fly at the defense like he did on the 35-yard Toussaint run… only to run right by them. With no deep help Robinson can loft a soft touch pass over the defense right into Hopkins, who makes the catch. Excellent playcall that fits with the earlier one and excellent execution. (DO, 3, protection 2/2, RPS +2). Picture-paged.|
|O47||1||10||Fritz||3||1||1||4-3 under||Run||Counter pitch||Toussaint||15|
|Another interlocking play as the speed option action is met with Toussaint heading the opposite way and the quick pitch. Minnesota suckered. Five different players go with the fake and the only guy anywhere near it is a DT dropping out. Roundtree(-1) whiffs his downfield block, allowing the CB to set up about eight yards deep; Toussaint jukes him and is about to jet past when that guy grabs his jersey and ropes him to the ground. Juke still picked up eight or so. RPS +2. Got a little picture-page attention itself.|
|RUN+: Toussaint||RUN-: Roundtree|
|O32||1||10||Shotgun 3-wide||1||1||3||Base 4-3||Pass||PA Deep Hitch||Hemingway||16|
|PA dive fake with Schofield pulling backside to block EMLOS. Line gives Robinson forever; he pumps once and then hits Hemingway on a deep hitch about 15 yards downfield. Good throw, a tiny bit behind him—high but don't mind that since it's Hemingway. Do think Denard is late here; better Ds might make a play on this ball as they read the routes. (CA, 3, protection 3/3) Also on replay it looks like Robinson missed an easy touchdown to Roundtree.|
|O16||1||10||Shotgun 3-wide||1||1||3||Base 4-3||Run||Sprint counter||Shaw||8|
|Not a draw; Lewan(!) pulls all the way from left tackle to the backside of the play. Huyge is expecting to kick the DE out only to see him dive inside, which cuts off Lewan at the same time it opens the corner up wide. Molk(+1) and Omameh(+1) blew up the nose, sealed him, and created a linebacker wall that they didn't need because of the counter action but it's nice to have anyway. Gallon(+1) blows up a safety coming down on the edge, and Shaw is open on the corner. Blue Seoul knocked him for not reading the crackback and then dancing further on the outside. I bet this is why the coaches are going with Toussaint and Smith, but I won't minus. RPS +1. BWS picture-paged.|
|RUN+: Molk, Omameh, Gallon, Schofield||RUN-:|
|O8||2||2||I-Form Big||2||2||1||Base 4-4||Run||Power off tackle||Shaw||-1|
|Insert liberation society rant. Enjoy continued Bornsteining of I-form power. Etc. Playside LB spills this; getting inside of Watson(-2) blows the play up as one Minnesota defender takes out three blockers. Shaw dances in the backfield a bit but it's understandable since he's got nowhere to go; he's tackled by a cast of thousands in the backfield. RUN-: Watson(2), Shaw, Koger|
|O9||3||3||Shotgun trips||1||0||4||Base 4-3||Run||QB power||Robinson||9|
|Robinson checks to this, a power at the gap in the Minnesota line. Minnesota overloads the outside to the playside and slants the other way, making three DL irrelevant. Smith(+1) kicks out the interior LB playside; the outside guy starts peeling back. Huyge(+0.5) gets an easy downfield block on a free release; Schofield(+0.5) almost but does not quite whiff on the other LB, eventually getting enough of a push to get Denard through the line. Peeling LB peels; Denard runs through his tackle. Since the three WRs to that side are DOMINATING the DBs Denard can walk in.|
|RUN+: Dileo, Hemingway, Roundtree, Huyge(0.5), Schofield(0.5), Smith, Denard||RUN-:|
|Drive Notes: Touchdown, 14-0, 6 min 1st Q|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||RB||TE||WR||D Form||Type||Play||Player||Yards|
|M15||1||10||Ace twin TE||1||2||2||Base 4-3||Pass||Throwback screen||Gallon||11|
|Not tunnel screen; farther outside. Gophers bite hard on the play action, with literally nine guys in the box going after the handoff fake. Gallon wide open, pitch and catch, playside corner does a great job to fend off Lewan so this doesn't turn into a touchdown. Gallon still picks up the first easily. (CA, 3, screen, RPS +1)|
|M26||1||10||Shotgun trips||1||0||4||4-3 under||Pass||Hitch||Gallon||9|
|CB way, way off, easy pitch and catch. (CA, 3, protection 1/1)|
|M35||2||1||Shotgun trips||1||0||4||Nickel under||Run||Zone read dive||Smith||10|
|Molk and Omameh(+1 each) club the NT out of the hole; he slides outside so Molk pops off onto the MLB, or at least he would if the MLB wasn't flowing into a backside hole no one is in. Minnesota is not good. Schofield does well enough with the other DT that the clubbing provides a crease; LB over the slot receiver comes down too fast for Hemingway to block him without drawing a flag—why not have Dileo, lined up inside, plug this guy? Anyway, Smith hits it up fast and almost runs through the tackle attempt but not quite.|
|RUN+: Molk, Omameh, Schofield, Smith||RUN-:|
|M45||1||10||Shotgun trips TE||1||1||3||4-3 under||Run||QB power||Robinson||3|
|Denard checks, flipping Toussaint to the other side; Minnesota checks in response. Michigan is trying to run power to the wide side of the field; Minnesota slants their line away from it and flows LBs over the top. Schofield is pulling; he gets bumped a bit by the dude slanting under Omameh(-1). Koger(+1) blows up the playside DE and Toussaint(+0.5) kicks out the EMLOS; Schofield does get to the hole to block the LB filling it but because of the delay he's closer to the LOS than you'd like. LB sets up to the inside and manages to make a diving ankle tackle before Robinson can burst into the secondary.|
|RUN+: Koger, Toussaint(+0.5)||RUN-: Omameh|
|Speed option action sees Denard pull up and throw it back to Gardner for a double pass; Lewan(-1) is late getting out there and a corner's flowing up to pressure Gardner; he avoids the guy and takes off. (PR, N/A, 0/1, Lewan) Roundtree was bursting past the one guy in deep coverage and got blatantly held. Refs -1.|
|50||3||5||Shotgun 3-wide||1||1||3||Base 4-3||Pass||Hitch||Hemingway||12|
|Easy candy throws as Minnesota sends the world's saddest six-man rush. It gets nowhere near Denard; corner is nowhere near the little hitch that easily picks up the first down. Minnesota is not good. (CA, 3, protection 3/3) Hemingway's inexplicable YAC knack gets a half-dozen more.|
|Speed option action with no handoff and a rollout into an intended throw. Minnesota is throwing some sort of blitz at this; backside DT twists outside, then starts running after the fake; backside DE drops off into a short zone. Gardner sees he has the corner and just takes off. (SCR, N/A, NA)|
|O23||1||10||Shotgun trips TE||1||1||3||Base 4-3||Pass||PA Hitch||Hemingway||6|
|QB iso action sees Dileo get wide open but Denard is looking further outside since DBs are again playing in the parking lot. Simple hitch to Hemingway goes for five yards plus YAC. (CA, 3, protection 1/1)|
|O17||2||4||Ace trips bunch||1||1||3||4-3 over||Pass||RB pass||Dileo||17|
|This is Michigan's pitch formation—at least it was the only time they've done it thus far this year—and they run the pitch. Smith does a great job of selling the run long enough for Minnesota to suck up; Dileo runs right by everyone and is wide open. Smith hits him for six. (CA, 3, protection 2/2, RPS+3)|
|Drive Notes: Touchdown, 21-0, 14 min 2nd Q|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||RB||TE||WR||D Form||Type||Play||Player||Yards|
|M31||1||10||Shotgun 3-wide||1||1||3||4-3 over||Run||Sprint counter||Toussaint||24|
|Minnesota dives under the backside tackle again with their DE, which forces Huyge(+1) to kick that guy out instead of getting downfield as Lewan(-1) blocks no one. Normally this would mean there's no hole but Molk(+3) singlehandedly escorts the NT outside the frickin' tackle box, so there's a gap. There are no linebackers in the gap because they sucked way playside—again there is a very lonely Michigan OL having a tea party for one on the second level. Toussaint hits the gap and runs a long way. Toussaint(+2) jukes a safety along with his nice cut and picks up some bonus yards. RPS +2|
|RUN+: Huyge, Molk(3), Toussaint(2)||RUN-: Lewan|
|O45||1||10||Shotgun 2TE||1||2||2||Base 4-3||Pass||Hitch||Hemingway||8|
|THIS IS SO EASY GUYS (CA, 3, protection 1/1)|
|O37||2||2||Shotgun 2back twins||2||1||2||4-3 under||Run||Triple option dive||Hopkins||2 (Pen +5)|
|Triple option yo, though this could just be a dive with some option action to it that is not a read. Minnesota has loaded the backside. With a guy coming right at Denard he hands it on the dive, but he should pitch. Schofield(+1) escorts the backside DT well down the line; Lewan releases and has three guys to block. He chooses the outside guy. That seems to be a poor choice for the dive but if the option goes outside that might be preferable. One of the two unblocked guys comes up to hit Hopkins near the LOS; he does get the first. No RPS-1 since it got the short yardage it required. Minnesota jumped offsides anyway. Picture-paged by BWS.|
|RUN+: Schofield||RUN-: Robinson|
|O32||1||10||Shotgun 2back TE||2||1||2||Base 4-3||Run||Power off tackle||Toussaint||4|
|Off the left side, going outside of Lewan and Koger as they block down. Koger(+1) clears the corner. Omameh and Hopkins are your lead guys; Hopkins(-1) is bounced off of and falls to the ground and Omameh(-0.5) does get a block but gets stood up by the Gopher MLB. Toussaint doesn't have a crease; he runs up backs.|
|RUN+: Koger||RUN-: Hopkins, Omameh(0.5)|
|O28||2||6||I-Form||2||1||2||4-3 under||Pass||Throwback screen||Smith||28|
|Waggle gets Denard the corner as Hopkins gets a good block on the edge contain guy, putting him on his knees. Not relevant to the play but good job. If this was an actual waggle Denard would have plenty of time and room to make something happen, but it's a throwback screen. Minnesota blitzed and is dead, with eight players at or near the LOS focused on the waggle. One of them manages to peel off and pursue; Huyge(+1) chops him to the ground. Molk and Omameh have to run 20 yards downfield to find anyone to block; Omameh(+1) chops the FS and Molk watches as Gallon(+1) buries the corner. Smith runs straight upfield for six. (CA, 3, screen, RPS +3.)|
|RUN+: Omameh, Gallon, Huyge||RUN-:|
|Drive Notes: Touchdown, 28-0, 9 min 2nd Q|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||RB||TE||WR||D Form||Type||Play||Player||Yards|
|O37||1||10||Shotgun twins twin TE||1||2||2||4-3 under||Run||Inside zone||Toussaint||37 (Pen -10)|
|Molk(-1) releases immediately instead of executing a combo on the NT. He does give a token shove but he needs more there. That NT gets into Omameh(-2) to the playside. Omameh holds him. This gives Toussaint a gap that he hits like whoah, accelerating away from an unblocked linebacker and zipping into the endzone. Excellent work by Schofield to open the gap up; Toussaint might have gone right by the DT if Omameh does not hold.|
|RUN+: Toussaint(2), Schofield||RUN-: Molk, Omameh(3)|
|O47||1||20||Shotgun 3-wide||1||1||3||4-3 over||Pass||PA Deep Out||Hemingway||Inc (Pen +15)|
|PA with a pulling G to provide some pass blocking help on the edge. Omameh(-1) gets out there but instead of blocking the edge guy he sets up to take on the backside DE, who was unblocked and is pursuing the RB. As a result he blocks neither guy. Both start rushing at Denard, who chucks it off his back foot in the general direction of Hemingway. The ball is way uncatchable but the Minnesota DB still picks up a horsecrap PI call. Refs +2. (IN, 0, protection 0/1, Omameh)|
|O32||1||10||Shotgun twins twin TE||1||2||2||4-3 under||Run||Inside zone||Shaw||18|
|Virtually identical to the first play on this drive with a major exception: Molk(+1) gets a good shoulder into the NT and Omameh(+2) uses that extra help to get around him and seal him out of the play. MLB sucks himself out of position on the zone read fake, allowing Huyge to block him easily, and Molk gets downfield to push a linebacker to the outside. Shaw busts upfield, angling away from a safety until another defender comes in and forces him back into the tackle.|
|RUN+: Molk, Omameh(2), Shaw, Schofield||RUN-:|
|O14||1||10||I-form Big||2||2||1||4-3 under||Run||Down G||Shaw||5|
|Not actually G; Lewan pulls around the two TEs. Molk also pulls from the inside. Watson(+1) and Koger(+1) seal their playside guys away. Molk(+1) does the same with the LB flowing from the inside. Lewan's guy has to maintain leverage so he is essentially running himself out of the play. Omameh can't get his LB on the backside but he's always the toughest to block. Hopkins(-1) gets a weak-ish shove on another LB flowing and that guy plus the backside guy combine to tackle.|
|RUN+: Watson, Koger, Molk||RUN-: Hopkins|
|O9||2||5||I-Form||2||1||2||Base 4-3||Pass||Waggle TE flat||Koger||0|
|Minnesota shooting a guy right into the waggle; Robinson has to throw immediately to his guy in the flat; Minnesota has a zone defender there to tackle immediately. (CA, 3, protection N/A, RPS -1)|
|O9||3||5||Shotgun 2TE||1||2||2||Base 4-3||Run||Speed option||Robinson||2|
BOO REF BOO. Molk owns the NT, getting his hand in the middle of his chest and literally throwing him to the ground. This gets a holding call. Boo! Princes Bride dream style boo! Watson(-1) and Huyge(-1) do a very weak job on the playside DE, who just kind of flows down the line without being harassed. Pitch guy is taken. Robinson has a cutback lane thanks to the Molk hold-type-substance but misses it and just runs up the backs of his blockers for not much yardage.
RUN-: Robinson, Watson, Huyge, Molk (boo!)
|Drive Notes: FG(25), 31-0, 5 min 2nd Q|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||RB||TE||WR||D Form||Type||Play||Player||Yards|
|M44||1||10||Shotgun 2back TE||2||1||2||4-3 under||Run||Zone read iso||Toussaint||8|
|Minnesota now scraping this as the DE is hauling after Toussaint. Hopkins(-0.5) runs right through the back of Schofield's block, stumbling. He keeps his feet and does get out to a linebacker but the delay probably allows the LB to get outside instead of being sealed inside. Roundtree(-1) just whiffs on a safety. Meanwhile, I think Robinson tries to pull this, which Toussaint is all like “no” about; he is momentarily off balance. Good work by the interior OL gives him a crease and he bounces outside the charging safety near the LOS, turning it up into a corner for a good chunk.|
|RUN+: Toussaint(2), Schofield, Molk(0.5), Omameh(0.5)||RUN-: Roundtree, Hopkins(0.5)|
|O48||2||2||Shotgun 2back TE||2||1||2||4-3 under||Run||Triple option dive||Hopkins||6|
|Lewan(+1.5) and Schofield(+0.5), but mostly Lewan, donkey the DE to the backside, blowing him downfield. Molk(+1) seals the playside DE; Koger(+0.5) kicks out the LB. Big hole that Hopkins heads straight into, getting tackled by a linebacker after a bit.|
|RUN+: Lewan(1.5), Schofield(0.5), Koger(0.5), Molk||RUN-:|
|O42||1||10||Shotgun 3-wide||1||1||3||Base 4-4||Pass||PA rollout something||Koger?||Inc|
|This time it's Schofield(-1) who's trying to pull to provide pass protection and he, too, slows up to maybe block the playside DE instead of hauling after the edge LB and ends up blocking no one. Robinson has to stop his roll, allowing the DE to get into him. He chucks it off his back foot, apparently to Koger, but misses badly. I'm torn between PR and IN. Let's be mean! (IN, 0, protection 0/1, Schofield)|
|O42||2||10||Shotgun 3-wide||1||1||3||Base 4-3||Run||Sprint counter||Smith||8|
|Um... what? I don't think I've ever seen this before: Huyge makes the now-standard pull to the frontside of the play... and so does Lewan. So you've got two OTs crossing as they pull. Very weird. My assumption is that Lewan(-2) busted the playcall. If this was a crazy key-breaking call it would be a G pulling to simulate the pass blocking. So Lewan leaves this guy unblocked and the natural reaction of this DE is to get straight upfield to contain a zone read even though it's not even close to the play call. This gives Smith a window. He cuts up past the guy, then cuts behind Koger(-1), who totally lost his battle with the backside DE. Schofield(+1) got a good one on one kickout on one DT; Molk(+1) and Omameh(+1) execute a good combo block to seal the other guy away and deal with a linebacker. Yes, this time Molk actually has someone to block. Smith(+2) cuts back outside, accelerating through the hole before getting chopped down by the safety near the sticks.|
|RUN+: Schofield, Molk, Omameh, Smith(2)||RUN-: Koger, Lewan(2)|
|O34||3||2||Goal line||2||3||0||4-3 under||Run||Iso||Toussaint||3|
|Watson motions to an H-back spot, which tips the MLB that this is an iso right over him. He attacks at the snap; Watson(+1) does a good job to kick him out. Lewan(+2) annihilates the playside DE, pancaking him. NT slants himself out of the play. Schofield(+1) and Hopkins(+1) get excellent second level blocks; Toussaint is about to jet for an easy TD when a blitzer comes around from the outside and chops him down.|
|RUN+: Lewan(2), Hopkins, Schofield, Watson||RUN-:|
|O31||1||10||Shotgun 3-wide||1||1||3||Base 4-3||Pass||Drag||Dileo||6|
|Robinson wants a fly route; covered, he checks down. He's a little late on the check down and his throw is a little low, taking Dileo off his feet and removing the possibility of YAC. (MA, 3, protection 2/2)|
|O25||2||4||Shotgun 3-wide||1||1||3||Base 4-3||Run||QB Draw||Robinson||7|
|Molk gives one DT a shove to help Schofield(-2) but Schofield doesn't get anywhere near a proper seal despite the help. This puts that DT right in the running lane. Omameh also lost his but he lost his upfield, which is fine. Robinson has to dance between the two. He does so, then dances past a guy Koger did kind of a bad job on. He gets past another guy thanks to a good sustained block from Smith(+1) and picks up the first.|
|RUN+: Robinson(2), Smith||RUN-: Schofield(2)|
|O18||1||10||Shotgun 3-wide||1||1||3||Base 4-3||Pass||TE Out||Koger||Inc|
|Not a very good read since this is covered. LB makes a play on the ball but does not get a PBU because the pass is perfectly thrown. He does incidentally trip Koger, making this reception even tougher than it already would be. Great accuracy here but still a bad read—the payoff is not worth the risk. (BR, 1, protection 2/2)|
|O18||2||10||Shotgun 2back||2||0||3||Base 4-3||Pass||Quick out||Dileo||Inc|
|Minnesota sends the house, blitzing 8(!). Michigan's got an open quick out that Robinson takes. His throw is tough but catchable; Dileo bobbles it and brings it in but not before he goes OOB. (CA, 2, protection N/A)|
|O18||3||10||Shotgun 3-wide||1||1||3||Okie||Pass||TE Seam||Koger||18|
|Seven rushers this time; Michigan has something on for it. Koger jukes the chuck of the LB on him in man and that's all she wrote as Denard hits him with a nice touch pass for six. (CA+, 3, protection N/A)|
|Drive Notes: Touchdown, 38-0, EOH|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||RB||TE||WR||D Form||Type||Play||Player||Yards|
|M26||1||10||Shotgun 2back TE||2||1||2||4-3 under||Run||Power off tackle||Toussaint||2|
|Blocked well; backside DL is slanting outside and is gone; Koger(+1) and Huyge(+1) kill playside DE; Koger pops out. Hopkins kicks out playside LB. Schofield finds a block, but it's the ninth guy in the box, a safety, who flows down over the top to tackle Toussaint. Would RPS minus this if the game wasn't long over. Think Toussaint has more yards here if he follows Schofield instead of getting outside and exposing himself.|
|RUN+: Koger, Huyge||RUN-: Toussaint|
|M28||2||8||Shotgun 4-wide||2||0||3||Base 4-3||Pass||Screen||Toussaint||-2|
|Smith motions out. Minnesota DL reads this as Molk(-1) just runs by him without selling the pass block, peels off, and tackles. (CA, 3, screen)|
|M26||3||10||Shotgun trips||1||0||4||Nickel under||Pass||Deep out||Hemingway||Inc|
|Another rollout gets multiple linemen blocking no one and exposes Denard to pressure. Smith bumps a blitzer on the rollout side and lets him outside; Denard has to pull up. Unblocked guy from the backside and contain guy converge; Denard throws it off his back foot and sails one in the direction of Hemingway. (IN, 0, protection 0/1, Smith)|
|Drive Notes: Punt, 38-0, 11 min 3rd Q. OUTRAGE|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||RB||TE||WR||D Form||Type||Play||Player||Yards|
|M46||1||10||Shotgun twins twin TE||1||2||2||4-3 under||Run||Zone read dive||Shaw||5|
|Robinson(-1) misses a read as the DE is tearing after the RB. OTOH, four defenders are hanging out backside in case this is a keep so maybe not. Given the way the play develops I stand by the minus. Omameh(+1) kicks out the playside DT; Molk(+1) and Schofield(+1) batter the NT back. A linebacker inexplicably takes off after Robinson and Shaw is about to burst for a ton of yards when the crashing DE grabs him by his jersey. We need some slicker jerseys, man.|
|RUN+: Molk, Schofield, Omameh||RUN-: Robinson|
|O49||2||5||Shotgun trips||1||0||4||Base 4-3||Run||Zone read dive||Shaw||14|
|NT slants way out of the hole, so there's a big gap. Molk is doubling the other DT with Schofield, though, and there are seven defenders in the box against Michigan's five blockers, so that gap is filled with two defenders. Shaw could hammer it up for a few but decides to bounce. He always decides to bounce. This time it works out as Hemingway(+2) comes down to shove a safety past Shaw and picks off a linebacker as he does so. Corner achievement achieved.|
|RUN+: Shaw, Hemingway(2)||RUN-:|
|O35||1||10||I-Form||2||1||2||Base 4-3||Pass||PA TE flat||Koger||18 + 9 pen|
|I-form is our passing formation. Weird. Play action fake, Koger blocks a guy and releases, finding himself open. Denard tosses it to him; Koger is met by a DB who he stiffarms to the ground as he picks up the first. Who is your daddy. (CA, 3, protection 2/2.) Minnesota picks up a roughing the passer afterwards.|
|O9||1||G||Shotgun 3-wide||1||1||3||Base 4-3||Run||Sprint counter||Shaw||8|
|More of this and Minnesota still has no idea what's going on. Molk(+1) and Omameh(+1) double the NT, blowing him a couple yards off the ball; Molk peels off to take an attacking LB. Attacking his way out of the play, sure, but whatever. Huyge(+1) sort of walls off the DE, who's happy to just hug Huyge for support. No effort to get off the block at all. Lewan pulls and that takes a linebacker out with him; Shaw(+1) hits the gap and gets down to the one. RPS+1.|
|RUN+: Shaw, Molk, Omameh, Huyge.||RUN-:|
|O1||2||G||Ace||1||2||2||Goal line||Run||FB dive||Toussaint||1|
|Borges loves this.|
|Drive Notes: Touchdown, 45-0, 8 min 3rd Q. Gardner comes in on the next drive; I'll cover it but we're officially in half-ass mode. Mostly looking for Gardner's performance and offense things, ceasing serious OL grading since we've established they murder this team.|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||RB||TE||WR||D Form||Type||Play||Player||Yards|
|M47||1||10||Shotgun 3-wide||1||1||3||Base 4-3||Pass||Hitch||Gallon||Inc|
|Gardner stares it down and throws a soft toss out to the hitch, allowing the Gopher CB to make a play on the ball. Need to gun this in. (IN, 0, protection 2/2)|
|M47||2||10||Shotgun 3-wide||1||1||3||Base 4-3||Run||Zone read dive||Shaw||3|
|Lewan(-2) loses his guy entirely, allowing him and a blitzer to come up the middle of this play unmolested; Shaw(+2) has to bounce this time and does successfully, getting the corner and turning a loss into a small gain.|
|RUN+: Shaw(2)||RUN-: Lewan(2)|
|50||3||7||Shotgun 3-wide||1||1||3||Nickel under||Pass||Rollout bad idea||Hemingway||14|
|Another rollout that ends up with the QB getting pressure on him thanks to a guy dedicated to getting the edge. Gardner has to pull up and tosses a soft floater across his body that screams INT but somehow finds its way to Hemingway for the first down. Results based charting, but this is asking for it against teams that have players on the field. (CA, 3, protection 1/1)|
|O36||1||10||Shotgun 2back TE||2||1||2||4-3 under||Pass||PA Hitch||Roundtree||Inc|
|Complete at the sticks except not complete because Roundtree drops it. (CA, 3, protection 2/2)|
|O36||2||10||Shotgun 2TE||2||1||2||4-3 over||Run||Iso||Toussaint||16|
|Omameh watches his guy slant out of the play; Molk(+1), Hopkins(+1), and Gallon(+1) all get second level blocks; Toussaint(+1) makes a good cut behind the Hopkins block for a big chunk.|
|RUN+: Molk, Hopkins, Gallon, Toussaint||RUN-:|
|O20||1||10||Shotgun 3-wide||1||1||3||4-3 over||Run||Zone read dive||Toussaint||4|
|Huyge(-1) doesn't provide the requisite push to get the playisde DT sealed and Omameh(-1) loses control of him; Tousssaint(+1) manages to hop outside that guy's tackle attempt. His bounce takes him upfield into the kicked-out DE, who comes back to tackle. Dileo helped out by getting a safety.|
|RUN+: Dileo, Toussaint||RUN-: Omameh, Huyge|
|O16||2||6||I-Form||2||1||2||4-3 over||Pass||Waggle scramble||Gardner||4|
|Insert usual waggle/rollout rant here; there is a dude in Gardner's face immediately, trying to sack; Gardner goes all crazy legs, scrambling all the way back to the other sideline. He looks like he'll get taken down at the line, then powers through a tackle to pick something up. RPS has ceased but I want to minus this so hard. Picture-paged by BWS.|
|O17||3||7||Shotgun 3-wide||1||1||3||Nickel under||Pass||Scramble||Gardner||2|
|Minnesota sends a couple blitzers; Michigan does a good job of picking them up. Gardner, perhaps used to being behind the sacktastic walkons of the second team, bugs out when he's got a pocket and some time to find the open guy, scrambling for minimal yardage. (TA, 0, protection 2/2)|
|Drive Notes: FG(32), 48-0, 2 min 3rd Q. OL backups start coming in on the next drive. I'm not including those numbers in the run table.|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||RB||TE||WR||D Form||Type||Play||Player||Yards|
|M20||1||10||Shotgun twins twin TE||1||2||2||4-3 under||Run||QB power||Gardner||11|
|Molk out for Khoury, Huyge out for Mealer. Playside LB runs himself way out of the play. Moore(+1) rides the playside DE out; big hole. Schofield gets out in the hole but doesn't actually block the guy; Gardner has room because Mealer(+1) and Watson(+1) sealed LBs.|
|RUN+: Moore, Watson, Huyge||RUN-:|
|M31||1||10||Shotgun 3-wide||1||1||3||4-3 over||Run||Sprint counter||Rawls||25|
|Minnesota line basically seals themselves but Mealer(+1) does get a good block on the DE diving inside and this allows Lewan to pull around outside. Roundtree(+1) blows up a safety coming down and Lewan(+1) manages to peel back, shoving the last LB with a shot at Rawls upfield. Rawls(+1) is into the secondary, where he runs through a weak ankle tackle attempt and keeps his balance for a nice chunk.|
|Minnesota slants, which screws up intended lanes here; Hopkins(-1) does not read the play and take a blitzer off the corner. Rawls has to burrow behind him and because of the lack of space ends up tripping over Lewan's feet as the Gophers converge. Usual rant about I-form running.|
|O38||2||9||Shotgun 3-wide||1||1||3||4-3 under||Pass||Hitch||Gallon||12|
|Easy pitch and catch that may be a little late but is accurate; Gallon can turn upfield because the Gopher DB is very bad. (CA, 3, protection 2/2)|
|O26||1||10||Shotgun 3-wide||1||1||3||4-3 under||Run||Inside zone||Rawls||5|
|H-back headed backside. No cutback as Khoury(-1) gets blown back; Rawls does step around the block and get to the LB level; Omameh got a good block on the second level. I'm done with OL +/- at this point, I think, as walk-ons are in.|
|O21||2||5||Shotgun 2-back TE||2||1||2||4-3 under||Run||Power off tackle||Rawls||7|
|Moore(+1) kicks playside DE down the line; Rawls(+1) does a good job of setting up his lead block from the pulling G, who is a walk-on with a complicated last name.|
|O14||1||10||Shotgun 3-wide||1||1||3||4-3 under||Run||Zone read dive||Rawls||0|
|Minnesota scraping the backside DE down the line and having a LB come over the top; no one blocks him as Moore-2) takes an outside contain guy and no gain.|
|O14||2||10||Shotgun twins twin TE||1||2||2||4-3 under||Run||Zone read dive||Smith||0|
|Omameh(-1) and Khoury, but mostly Omameh, get beaten by the Gopher NT, who ends up in the hole outside that Smith wants after the scrape. This is bad; Omameh is playside of the guy on the snap.|
|Mealer(-2) gets Gardner sacked.|
|Drive Notes: FG(38!), 51-0, 9 min 4th Q. Charting ceases.|
SHOULD HAVE SENT A POET
That was fun!
Yes, our quarterback threw it at people!
Except when there was a rollout!
And our linemen often found themselves on the second level wondering if anyone was going to validate their existence!
Except when they went under center!
Which, to be fair, they did about twice!
So… same question that we asked about the D applies here: anything of meaning to be found?
Yes, probably moreso than the defense because certain things on offense are defense-independent, or at least sort of defense independent. The best way to show this is with a—
—chart. One you don't even cower in fear at.
[Hover over column headers for explanation of abbreviation.]
|2009, All Of It||1||7||6(2)||3(1)||4||4||-||-||?||44%|
|Notre Dame '11||6||7(1)||1||6(1)||5||1||1||1||-||50%|
Happy pony forever!
Now the caveats: Minnesota, for one. For two, virtually all of that was short stuff, with the Hopkins go route and another pass to Hemingway the only moderately long passes thrown. It is progress. It may not be meaningful against teams with a secondary.
Now the anti-caveats: The MA was a not-too-difficult completion that gained six and could have been a shaky CA, and I don't really blame Denard for any of those INs.
Who do you blame?
Not to tempt the wrath of Gordon Borges, but Borges. (Michigan was +12 RPS, FWIW, so regard this as the nit it is, Mr. Borges sir.) Rollouts are killing me, man. Maize Pages has been charting the Denard throws in some detail and reports back on the rollout situation from the last game:
There are so few incomplete passes that it's easy laying all 5 of them (4 + 1 PI call) out again:
- 1+20 | shot | PA, rolls left, sets feet, pumps, bad feet, P3, throws up jump ball, PI called (incomplete)
- 1+10 | shot | PA, rolls right, moving feet, P2, overthrows Hemingway (incomplete)
- 1+10 | shot | takes 1 step back, sets feet, P0, throws to a tightly covered Koger out route (incomplete)
- 2+10 | shot | rolls right, doesn't set feet, P1, throws to Dileo who bobbles could have been caught (incomplete)
- 3+10 | shot | rolls right, sets feet, P2, overthrows Hemingway (incomplete)
Notice a trend? 4 of his 5 incomplete passes were on roll-outs. On my count, Denard rolled 6 times all game, giving us a completion rate of 2/6 out of the pocket. While it's become clear that Denard is more comfortable from the gun, rolling the pocket seems to be the bad within the good, unnecessarily complicating his footwork and taking him out of his comfort zone.
Borges referenced some of these incompletions in his presser and blamed footwork and protection, both of which are right. Denard's footwork was poor as he pulled up to throw off his back foot; on two of those the pulling G who's supposed to provide Denard some protection pulled up when two guys burst upfield and he couldn't decide who to block. If the guards shoot into the outside guy without hesitation…
Well, they probably still end up letting him onto the edge because he is coming hard, and then Denard has to deal with the guy on the inside, and you still have issues. You have fewer issues than you did in the last game but it's still not an ideal situation.
I'd rather keep Denard in the pocket, where people rush him gingerly, if at all, and have him zip it into receivers without having to set his feet. That's right: Denard is a pocket guy.
Meanwhile, BWS picture-paged Gardner's crazylegs scramble that started when he turned around on a waggle only to find a Gopher in his face:
The moral of the story is that when you put a Michigan quarterback on the edge you are exposing him to rushers that are unblocked or almost unblocked because the first priority of any opposing defense is to prevent #16 (or #7) from getting the edge. The only time a quarterback could get the edge was when the defense was freaking out about the other quarterback getting the other edge.
Okay, there was also this time:
When they didn't need it, Robinson had the corner wiiiide open.
And the waggle… guh, man, guh. That is the Atari 2600 version of the spread 'n' shred. You are turning your back to the defense and hoping that when you turn around you don't find an angry 250 pound man in your face. Since This Is Michigan (2011 edition) that always happens because power gains two yards and the quarterback leaves neutrinos in the dust. Priorities one through five for the defense are containing the QB.
This is why all that throwback stuff is working so brilliantly. How can we keep that—which everybody likes—and ditch the incompletions? I don't know, but apparently doing max-protect rollouts fools everyone all the time even without an actual threat of gaining yards on the frontside so lets keep doing that.
ANYWAY, you crab.
I'm not a crab. Let me prove this with more charts.
Hey, look: numbers. At this point in the season we can say that the top two receivers seem to be Hemingway and Gallon, with Roundtree evaporating but still third and Dileo seemingly fourth. Odoms and Grady appear to be down the depth chart as seniors, which is surprising. Odoms does have the hand injury.
Offensive line, keeping in mind that only 35-ish carries were charted after around 50 last week.
|Lewan||5.5||6||-0.5||Yeah, surprised me too: had a couple busts and one bad whiff.|
|Molk||14.5||4||10.5||Was always going to happen. Did miss some first level blocks, I thought.|
|Omameh||10.5||4.5||6||Stayed in late.|
|Huyge||5||2||3||Did not have a big role.|
|Schofield||12||4||8||Basically a sixth starter.|
|Mealer||-||-||-||Did pick up minuses but after I said no mas.|
|Koger||5||2||3||Better than last week.|
|TOTAL||54.5||25.5||29||+/- ratio holds steady at 2:1|
|Robinson||7||3||4||Missed a couple reads, still got a lot of positives in six carries.|
|Gardner||2||-||2||Not Denard but effective.|
|Toussaint||10.5||1||9.5||Made many miss.|
|Shaw||5||1||4||bounce bounce bounce bounce|
|Smith||10||1||9||Good bit of this blocking.|
|Rawls||-||-||-||DNP before charting seriously ceased.|
|TOTAL||38.5||8.5||30||Excellent day by all runners.|
|TOTAL||10||2||8||record setting. srsly.|
|Protection||27||4||87%||Lewan 1, Omameh 1, Schofield 1, Smith 1|
|RPS||15||3||12||Borges hates lakes/Prince/etc.|
The offensive line did about as well as it did last week, which may qualify as something of a disappointment or may just reflect how hard it is to get five to seven guys all doing the right thing on every play. The backs and receivers had excellent outings—that's how you get to 7.9 YPC from the 7.3 posted against SDSU.
So this Omameh business?
I can't help but wonder if he is struggling for reasons other than awkward change to a new system. When Michigan threw the second team OL out there they left him on the field. Michigan doesn't have much depth on the OL but they've got someone who can go out there leading Minnesota by 50 in the fourth. The other guard was a walk-on.
The lack of depth on the line is an argument to get Omameh out in my mind, since you really don't want one of your 7-ish plausible OL going down in garbage time. Leaving him on the field makes me think they're not happy with his play and are trying to get him more reps because they don't have other options.
And the shotgun/center run dichotomy?
There's nothing to talk about this week, as the only under center runs I have charted are two short yardage plays (a one yard Fitz TD and a three-yard Fitz iso on third and two) and a single second and two power from the eight that lost a yard. I think there were one or two more after charting stopped that also did poorly.
So we can't do it. Fine. Borges is adapting, which is great, and seems to be getting his MANBALL from other sources, like shotgun isos at spread out teams and a hell of a lot of sprint counter.
Yessssss. It's not quite TGDCD but it is ver' nice, especially when Molk gets his Lewan on. Minnesota was clueless the whole day and since it looks virtually identical to the QB going off tackle it is going to kill guys. They might have to break a key or two to keep it working later in the year since that tackle pull is a dead giveaway, but you know me, I love those interlocking plays.
You are still a crab.
So here's this, bolded alter-ego: I am going to go all sports talk radio on you, in gushing fashion. Maybe it was the proximity of this game to the flaming garbage dump that was MSU-OSU, but these players look exceedingly well coached. There were a couple plays where having that extra beat of patience paid off. One was the first third down of the game:
That extra beat he waits gets Minnesota's linebackers to drop into coverage and gets him the room he needs for the conversion. He moved so late that Gallon (who had a day blocking people, yo) has already buried the rolled-up safety by the time he reveals his intent.
And then there was Vincent Smith thespian school:
You know how you're watching a football game and it's just bleeding obvious that the RB/WR is going to throw? You ever get that feeling? I do all the time. I was shocked when Smith pulled up to throw, and so was Minnesota. I bet 95% of teams would have gotten suckered there.
Weekly tailback opinion?
I'm still in Toussaint's corner but the current breakdown between Smith and Fitz will find no complaints here. I think he's got better burst than Smith:
Smith brings a bunch of other things to the table and deserves about half the carries; I think Toussaint will end up the leading non-Denard rusher.
Pretty much everyone. Special commendation to the tailbacks and Borges.
Lewan did not perform up to his usual standard on the ground.
What does it mean for Northwestern and beyond?
The primary takeaway is that when in the correct situations Denard can be an effective passer. While his limitations are obvious by now, having him throw in better situations and giving him quick rhythm passes results in a 73% DSR. Borges is right that they have to open it up deep. There's a pretty good way to do that without jump-balling it: oh noes.
I hope what we saw against Minnesota is a precursor and Borges is going to continue installing and using innovative packages based on Denard's legs. There is a little bit of lingering fear that this was just a dog and pony show that they'll put away the rest of the year now that they've gotten everyone to prepare for it, a strategy that seems far worse than using those plays against a plausible opponent, but Borges says that's not the case and he seems pretty rad so far so I believe him.
The I-Form seems dead. They're not even bringing it out in garbage time against Minnesota to practice it against real opponents and they're using a two-back TE look from the shotgun that seems like a direct attempt to replace it. I'm okay with that since the shotgun still gives you that advantage by forcing the D to account for Denard's legs.
Other item: Shaw just confirmed the Smith/Toussaint 1-2 punch in the backfield.
Denard Robinson and Vincent Smith
Why was the passing game better today? Denard: “We just clicked. We worked on it in practice, and we just had to put it forward in games, and that’s what we did today.”
When the last time you had a rushing, receiving, and passing TD in the same game. Also, can you talk about the game plan that utilized you in a unique way? Smith: “I was just put in the right place at the right time. The coaches know what I’m capable of. What I have to do for the team to help them out.” Was it fun? “Real fun. And the last time I threw a pass was in high school, but not like three [TD’s] in one game.”
When did the 2-QB thingy arise? Denard: “We’ve been doing that in practice. We’ve been working on it. Coach said he’d throw it at us, and just be ready. And he called it, so we were ready.” Were you expecting it that early? “Oh yeah.”
That was an unorthodox offense today. Is that exciting for you? Denard: “Oh yeah … Just going out and having fun with my teammates.”
Denard, how comfortable did you feel in the passing game? You looked more comfortable. Denard: “Oh yeah. I mean, we’ve been practicing getting it down with the receivers, and we were just on the same page.” How much you looking forward to going on the road? “Both of us are looking forward to that.” Smith: “I mean it’s just another football game, and that’s what we love to do. We just love to come out to compete, and it’s another night game.”
You guys have been putting up a lot of points. How does the team feel about this new offense? Denard: “We’re confident. I mean, we’ve been playing [well], and we trust Coach Al to give us the right play and make things happen, because we have some playmakers.”
Are there other things we haven’t seen that you might show us? Denard: “We can’t tell them that …” Smith: “Not that I know of.”
(more after the jump)
Misdirection plays were a big part of offense. Will we see more? “Maybe. It just is kind of the offensive package. It’s kind of, when you have a quarterback that threatens people because of his ability to run, that’s part of it. That stuff is like the old counter play, which you don’t see a whole lot of people running anymore. It’s a lot of traction one way and then going back the other way.”
Talk about Denard’s passing. Is that more like what you see in practice? “Yeah. The sky’s never going to fall. We’re going to make it through. He throws the ball well, and we like how he throws the ball. [He] set his feet well and we ran good routes and completed some balls.”
Talk about the intensity of tackling and sacks. “I think Jerry Montgomery has done a tremendous job with our front, and the pride that a guy like Van Bergen or Martin have in how they play is a big part of it. I think this whole thing is a process what the kids are going through and how you do things. I think it’s just one of the things that we emphasize and they really did a nice job on some of those things. As far as tackling goes, if you fit the defense right, and wherever the support is or the cutback player -- all those different intangibles you have to have on defense -- I think you tackle better.”
Talk about Denard/Devin formation. What kinds of problems can that create for defense? “They’re both pretty talented. I think who’s back there in the backfield with them have some talents. It’s just something that Al has had for a while and something that we thought would be a good thing to do.”
Talk about Vincent Smith. “He does everything you want him to do, when you look at him as a football player and how he prepares and his toughness. All those things that -- Vince is a guy that you can count on. If he makes a mistake or doesn’t do something as well, it’s not because of lack of effort or lack of toughness. He’s done a good job for us.”
How pleased are you at the 58-0 effort to start your Big Ten career? “It has nothing to do with my career. It really has to do with these kids and that jug, and keeping that jug in Ann Arbor. And us going out to play better football every time we take the field whether it’s tomorrow when we practice or if it’s on game day. Believe me we have a lot of mistakes from a personnel standpoint. We take a daggone penalty, and that’s my fault. We didn’t have a guy out there on the punt team. You can’t do that and win championships, and that’s my fault.”
Why did you choose this game to unleash all this offensive creativity? “You work on it during fall camp, you put it to bed for a little bit, but you work on it so the kids have a knowledge of it so when you bring it back out, it’s just something we thought was a good time to bring out.”
What was your reaction when Borges brought the 2-QB package, and is this the most complete game you have played this season? “Well Al and I have talked about that package in March? April? And believe me, Al Borges is very, very creative. So that’s not just that package. I’m sure his creativity will show up again. We played probably our best game to this point, but the schedule is -- we’re going away. We’re going on the road. We haven’t been on the road. They don’t know how we like to travel. And I say we as a staff. They have an idea, but there’s a lot of unknowns out there, and there’s a lot that we have to get better.”
Did you practice any jug security so you wouldn’t drop it, and does a game where everybody gets to play give you a boost in practice the next week? “I’ll answer the second question first. No question the morale of your football team -- those other guys, and I’ll use an example: Richard Ash, I don’t know how many plays he got, maybe four or five. But he goes down there on that look team and does a tremendous job down there and has the ability to come out there and play some. I would think he would feel pretty good about that. So I think that’s always important. You get guys live reps in games.
“Jug security is always at a premium.”
(more after the jump)
How did the game plan defensively change for you after you learned Marqueis Gray wasn’t going to play? Also, how did your defensive front do against Shortell? “We really didn’t change it at all. We do a lot of things by personnel groups, what personnel groups they have in. So all the calls were based on those groups. So they would have had the same calls if Marqueis would have been in there. So there was no change at all.”
Is the confidence level of players high enough where they expect to win a Big Ten championship? “I hope so.”
Are you eager to get this Michigan team out on the road, and will it give you and your staff a better indication of where they’re at? “We like playing at home. Now if Dave can do a 10-game home schedule, it would be wonderful. It’s pretty convenient. I’m kind of interested in seeing how we react. I really am. To see what we’re made of -- see our mentality, our mental toughness, see if we’re business-like in how we go about the work that we have to do, and the preparation and all those things.”
The defensive line wasn’t where you wanted it to be. Talk about progression? “I think they were disruptive. That’s what I like and that’s what you have to do if you’re a guy who plays up front. As you look at the schedule and you look at teams you’re going to play, I think there’s some offensive lines in this league that are pretty stout. We’ve got to make sure that we’re making our gains and our progression on a daily basis with great urgency and intensity.”
Three things: Troy Woolfolk looked like he was limping. What did Denard have done to his arm? How did Schofield play? “I didn’t notice Troy limping, so that’s new to me. Denard had a boo-boo. Schofield I imagine did okay in there. I can’t tell you for sure because of not [having watched] the film yet.”
Helmet numbers? “That was my decision, and we will have those numbers on there throughout the rest of the season when we get into Big Ten play because we want to honor the guys who wore those numbers before, and the 42 championship teams. And the guys who have represented Michigan. It’s important to us.”
McColgan was out. “He got banged up a little bit.” Is it serious? “Week to week, day to day.”
Did you sense more physicality up front? Also, how did Fitz Toussaint run? “I think, up front, you try and gauge yourself. Molk’s played a lot of football, and I kind of, being a defensive line coach, I like watching other defensive lines and how they play and how we block them. I thought there was football being played at the point of attack. And … why are you laughing at that? It was pretty obvious football was being played. But you could hear it. You could feel it and sense it. When you look at your line and you look at, if the back has to start making his decision and his cuts further back from the line of scrimmage, then you’re not doing a good job. And you could see when Shaw and Fitz and those guys were coming, they got more downhill, pressed the line of scrimmage more, and that tells you those guys were working hard. Fitz, I thought he ran well. He’s a tough little burger who did a nice job.” [ed-M: I doublechecked the video: he definitely said 'burger.']
Re: Two-QB formation. How much does that help that other teams have to prepare for it? Also, what’s that called? “Uh, you know, two quarterbacks, whatever. It doesn’t matter what it’s called. It really is, yeah. People have to prepare.”
Talk about your secondary and how guys like Avery and Countess are playing. “Well, you know. Courtney and Blake, and there’s Raymon Taylor, [who] is going to be a good football player also. Our young guys have done a good job. It starts in my opinion with Jordan Kovacs and his leadership and his directing traffic out there. I think they have a lot of confidence in each other. I think there’s a chemistry. I think J.T. has done a nice job. When he focuses in, he’s pretty doggone good. I think there’s number one, there’s some competition, because there’s a lot of guys in that room that all want to play.”
Talk about Thomas Rawls? “It was good to get Thomas some carries. He’s a freshman that’s learning the game of football at the Division I level. I think he’s got some skill sets that are pretty good. I think you saw some of that today. So it was good to see him out there.”
Gibbons was 3/3. “Someone has said that he’s kicked really good during fall camp. Ahem. Someone did. We’ve got a lot of confidence in him, and hopefully that injects even more confidence into him.”
Denard was 11/11 before his first incompletion. He’s a pretty confident guy, but how important is it to re-establish that confidence that he can be a succesful passer? “Yeah, because all he hears is he’s not. Not from us, but other people. (Ed: Looking at you, buddy.) I think getting off to a good start helps us with the run game so much. People want to put nine guys, and they played a lot of quarters, and they were doing a lot of good stuff with their safeties depending on where the back was. And then they changed during halftime, which is good coaching. Bill Miller’s a good defensive football coach. It was good, and being able to throw the ball was a big part to our offense.
Can you be successful in the Big Ten relying on Denard to get most of your yards? “I don’t think so. You become too one-dimensional. People are creative. We’re going to play a lot of good coaches and some teams with very good personnel. When good coaches give good personnel the game plan and scheme, they can be a problem. The ability for our running backs to do a nice job running with the football and the ability to do a nice job in the passing game is a big part of it.”
As a defensive coach, you must love a shutout. “Right.”What did you like specifically, and what can you improve on? “Yeah. They broke two runs that got outside that shouldn’t have. Then they fumbled. We got fortunate at the end [when] They fumbled the ball -- and the daggone end doesn’t squeeze when the tackle blocked … Just simple. Basic. Football. Stuff. That we didn’t do. As many times as we’ve done drills and as many times -- that’s unacceptable, because that’s a discipline that you have to have.”
Greg Mattison said during the halftime radio show, “An average defense comes out and goes downhill during the second half.” Were you concerned about a letdown during the second half? “I think we communicate with them pretty well. I think Greg and his staff -- I think we challenge them. This was a first step to what the goal of this football program is and has been, and that’s a Big Ten championship. You can’t go out there in the second half and slop around and not tackle well and not have an urgency and not have an intensity. That doesn’t get you any better. You go backwards, and I’m not a believer in going backwards.”
9/24/2011 – Michigan 28, San Diego State 7 – 4-0
A long, long time ago now a Lloyd-Carr coached Michigan team was struggling through the 2005 season when they met Northwestern. A lot of throws to Tacopants (Jason Avant's 11-foot-tall imaginary friend) on both sides later, Michigan emerged with a 33-17 win and I embarked on one of the first of an endless procession of stat-nerd diatribes about the evils of punting.
You've probably heard it already: punting decisions have not kept pace with the increasingly offensive nature of the game, leaving coaches in a perpetual state of risk- and win-avoidance. Romer paper, Pulaski High, Mathlete chart. Etc.
In this particular Northwestern game, though, Carr went for it on fourth and five from the Northwestern 23, a decision I thought was too aggressive(!). When paired with a number of similarly aggressive calls from earlier that season, it seemed like a sea change for the old man:
In multiple cases he's made tough, correct decisions: going on fourth and goal from the one against Wisconsin, pounding it into the line twice against Michigan State, etc. Even when the strategy has backfired, he accepts the downside and persists in a more aggressive posture.
In context, the Penn State gaffe seems more like one last hit of that sweet Bombay Popsicle* snuck in-between rehab sessions than evidence of 1970s thinking taking hold. Lloyd Carr has checked himself in to the Betty Ford Center for Coaches Addicted to Low Variance. I wouldn't expect a flying-colors discharge any time soon, but he's made the first, biggest step.
*[I don't know either.]
That change lasted into the fourth quarter of that year's Ohio State game. Having acquired a two-score lead by converting a fourth and inches around the Michigan 40, Carr reverted to his primitive instincts at the crucial moment. With three minutes left from the Ohio State 40, he called for a wide receiver screen on third and ten. It gained six yards. With a two point lead, three minutes on the clock, no Ohio State timeouts left, and a fourth and four on the Ohio State 34, Carr punted. Ohio State drove for a touchdown; Carr would never again have the opportunity to kill a game against the Buckeyes.
In the moment, Carr choked. Six years on that single decision seems like the best way to explain why a lot Michigan fans found his tenure frustrating despite its high rate of success: the program was perpetually making poor decisions because a combination of fear and arrogance. Something could go wrong if you made a high variance decision, and Michigan could spit on expected value because This Is Michigan. See any game in which Michigan acquired an 18-point lead or the first half of the Orange Bowl for confirmation.
Carr coached like he had a kickass running game and killer defense no matter the facts, which was the difference between being a legend and a being a B+ coach who lost the battle with Tressel authoritatively. Hell, even Tressel blew games when he failed to adjust to the reality that sometimes his defense and special teams were not enough, and he ran roughshod over the Big Ten for nine years.
Part of the reason a segment of the Michigan fanbase (including the author) blew up at Hoke's hire is because it seemed to represent a return to that expectation-spurning 1970s decision-making.
Brady Hoke put a lot of those fears to rest by going for—and getting—the win against Notre Dame with eight seconds left. That decision was a no-brainer. If the field goal team had run out onto the field, I would have been livid. That was a test he passed, but it was one with a low bar.
On Saturday, Hoke sent out the punting team with about two and a half minutes left in the first half. It was fourth and two around midfield, and I was mildly peeved. It was not the percentage play, but I've watched a lot of football and it seemed too much to hope that even the rootin'est, tootin'est, eyepatch-wearingest pirate of a head coach would go for it. Needing more than a sneak and up fourteen in the first half, the world punts. My peevishness was directed at football coaches in general, not Hoke in particular.
And then an angel came down from the sky, and signaled timeout. Great trumpets erupted from the flagpoles, playing a fanfare as a golden staircase descended. Each of the steps was engraved with the names of World Series of Poker winners. Down from the clouds strode Doyle Brunson, clad in a jacket of hundred-dollar bills. And lo, Texas Dolly spaketh unto the people: "check-raise." Brady Hoke sent the offensive line onto the field.
This was a really, really good decision. Even if you don't believe the exact outlines of the Mathlete's calculations, it is not close: average offense versus average defense means the break-even line is around eight yards. This was not an average situation. Michigan had Denard Robinson against a pretty horrible run defense. And that number does not take into account the game situation. If Michigan gets the first down they are almost certainly robbing San Diego State of a possession. Punting gets you thirty, forty yards of field position. Getting the first down puts you in good position to score and is essentially another +1 in turnover margin. You need two yards and you have Denard Robinson.
stealing a joke from the internet: the guy on the right looks like he just looked into the Ark of the Covenant. via the News.
One speed option later Michigan was en route to the endzone and had essentially ended the game. Without that massively +EV decision they go into halftime up maybe 14, maybe 11, maybe 7 points. That ugly third quarter becomes the gut-check time most were predicting before the game. Maybe Michigan comes out on top (24-21, say). Maybe not. That didn't happen because when Michigan had its boot on San Diego State's neck, Hoke called Z 22 stomp right.
The Lloyd Carr example above shows we don't know that Hoke's going to do this consistently, that he'll stick to the non-pejorative MANBALL when the pressure is at its greatest, but so far so good. Even my doubts about Hoke's ability to math up in the waning moments of an Ohio State game are faint. When things go wrong he does not scowl or pout or throw headsets like Rich Rodriguez or Brian Kelly or Bo Pelini. He does not go on tilt. He calmly talks to guys about what in the hell they were thinking.
Hoke continues to leave best-case scenarios in the dust. Saturday night I watched Dennis Erickson punt on fourth and five from the USC 37 and thought "my coach would never do that." Then I watched Erickson chew out the punter who put the ball in the endzone because that's what happens when you punt from the 37 and thought "my coach would never do that."
That felt good. It felt invent-a-time-machine-to-assure-yourself-its-all-going-to-be-okay good. It feels like Michigan has finally learned how to gamble.
Boy do I want to play poker with certain people on the internet. Evaluating the decision has popped up on every Michigan message board. It's mostly been met with praise, but man, there are a lot of people who can't estimate and multiply out there. Maybe it's Carr Stockholm syndrome.
A reminder: anything on the MGoBlog photostream is creative-commons licensed, free to use for non-commercial applications. Attribution to Eric Upchurch, the Observer, and MGoBlog is appreciated.
Mark Huyge is delighted to be here. From the above SDSU photoset.
It's not quite the Molk death glare. It's more like Shifty-Eyed Dog.
Try to look at Mark Huyge ever again without having that play in your head.
That's a great question. Just as our rationality leads us to a belief in an objective reality, Kant believed there is an objective morality we can locate from the same process. The Categorical Imperative is an absolute, fundamental moral law on par with Minnesota losing to teams from the Dakotas. Things are either right or wrong—there are no gray areas, and context does not apply. You could call him the BJ Daniels of philosophy*.
*[Ten-cent summary of Kantian philosophy cribbed from Three Minute Philosophy, which is terrific. Philosophers wishing to quibble with my paraphrase of a comedic summary are invited to consider the moral consequences of their actions and also jump in a lake. USF fans wishing to WOO BJ DANIELS can skip to the latter.]
And the internet eeeed Countess. When Troy Woolfolk headed to the sidelines, all Michigan fans everywhere winced. When Blake Countess replaced JT Floyd in the third quarter, all Michigan fans everywhere prepared for the deluge.
It never came, and as a result everyone from my uncle to the internet to the newspapers are having little freakouts about Michigan's #4 corner. I am with all of you. The only thing stopping Countess from having a few PBUs or interceptions was Ryan Lindley's inability to throw the ball anywhere near the guys Countess had blanketed but Lindley targeted anyway.
For most of the third quarter I stopped watching the offensive backfield and started watching downfield coverage and while I won't be able to confirm this on the tape I think Countess was doing really well even when people weren't going after him. I'm with the rest of the internet when I suggest that Troy Woolfolk should take the Minnesota game off to recover from his multiple nagging injuries so we can see some more of the freshman.
I thought Avery did well, too. He had a third-down slant completed on him and was the DB victimized on the touchdown but in both cases he was right there tackling/raking at the ball. Is he doing something wrong I'm not perceiving yet? Because I think he's playing better than Woolfolk, who gave up some groan-worthy easy completions. (I don't blame him for allowing Hillman to bounce on one third down conversion because he was clearly held.)
Release the Martin. This week in the I-told-you-so files: Mike Martin is just fine. His good day last week was obscured by EMU never throwing and having quite a bit of success attacking away from him. Against SDSU he was nigh unblockable, bowling a veteran offensive line over backwards multiple times and drawing holding calls left and right. Craig Roh had two big plays and will show up doing little things when I do the UFR; Will Campbell had a couple of line-pushing plays. Hillman's YPC was still over five, so there are issues but I think a big chunk of them are localizable to…
Problems. So… everyone's talking up Jake Ryan, too. I'm with everyone in a general, long-term sense but a little less enthused about his performance on Saturday. One of the results of the first few weeks of UFRing/picture paging is that whenever the opponent tries to get outside I immediately focus on Ryan. Result from last week: three "aaargh Ryan" screams that no one in my section comprehended. He's still giving up the corner way too easy.
Also, there are two caveats to an otherwise encouraging performance from the secondary. One: Lindley and his receivers were flat bad as a group. Drops, bad routes, and bad throws artificially boosted Michigan's efficiency against him. Some of that was caused by pressure. Some of it was just a crappy opponent. Two: I wonder if Michigan's familiarity with the SDSU offense allowed them to beat the Aztecs' favorite routes into Michigan DBs heads.
Still, 5.3 YPA and actual depth at corner. +1 Mallory.
Offensive construction bits. Another week, another confirmation that running Denard is the offense. While I still groan whenever they line up under center, snaps from there were limited. I would really prefer it if they never ran I-form power on first and ten again, though. They've mixed in some inexplicably effective short play action so far; if they can't run that will probably dry up.
Things I liked: That screen to Smith. The essence of an RPS+3 is when three offensive linemen have no one to block for 30 yards. And then the much-discussed speed option debuted. I'd gotten a couple insider emails telling me it was part of the offense but thought it would be extremely bad form to publish that, so I'd been waiting. It was quite a debut.
I'm hoping we see Borges add wrinkles at the same rate Rodriguez did. He'll have to to keep the run offense ahead of the wolves. He's off to a good start.
via the Detroit News.
Tailbacks. I'm suddenly happy with Michigan's tailback situation after Vincent Smith made a lot of yards on his own, including the above touchdown where he kept his balance at about the five and managed to drag a safety into the endzone. There was also the zone play where he squeezed through a crack in the line it's possible literally no other D-I back would have fit through.
Toussaint, meanwhile, didn't have the yards Smith did but ran hard on the inside; I still like him best but understand if they're going to split duties between the top two. I feel bad for Shaw—maybe it's time to put him on kickoffs? He's got speed Smith does not.
The Denard question. So they did run a curl-flat. Denard went to the curl way late and threw his first interception. Not sure if that was schemed or just bad execution by the offense. If it's the latter that might be attributable to not running it over the offseason as Borges attempted to install his route packages, route packages that now seem like things Denard just can't do.
A three-point plan in an attempt to get Denard back on track:
- Stop throwing on the run.
- Provide some easy throws early—all hitch, snag—in an effort to get him calmed down.
- Develop some sort of counter-punch to the opponent getting all up in Denard's face on the rollout PA. A shovel pass?
Bending but not breaking. Michigan's giving up a lot of yards but not a lot of points. Frankly, some of this is luck. They are acquiring turnovers at an unsustainable rate. Not unsustainable for a mediocre defense, unsustainable for Michigan 1997. When the well dries up they'll do some more breaking.
The other thing is the secondary. Michigan's newfound ability to make plays on deep balls and Jordan Kovacs being stone-cold reliable (so far /crosses self) have erased cheap touchdowns for the opposition. WMU's touchdown came on a 15-play drive. ND touchdown drives went 7, 10, 7, and 4 plays. San Diego State's took six plays but started from the Michigan 38. The only quick drive Michigan's given up all year was ND's desperation drive, on which Michigan gave up chunks on purpose because of the time situation and then tried an NFL-style defense they weren't ready for and blew it. The longest touchdown other than that was the 16-yard pass Lindley hit in the third quarter.
Opponents have ripped off chunks on occasion, but they have not been handed free touchdowns. Michigan's at least making them earn it. That's a necessary first step on the road away from completely awful.
The next opponent. When Minnesota managed to hang with USC on the first weekend of the season they seemed like they might be more intimidating than your average Minnesota team. Then they lost to Not Even The Good New Mexico and North Dakota State and seemed even less intimidating than your average Minnesota team. Compounding matters: Jerry Kill is again out of commission with his seizure issue.
I did not VOAV this week for reasons of being spooked. Boyz In The Pahokee provided the usual bounty if you are jonesing.
ST3 goes Inside the Box Score:
Matt Wile. Wait, let me try that again. MATT WILE!!! Yeah, I think he was properly pumped up to play his Dad's team. Net yards per kickoff were 50 for SDSU and 49.2 for UofM. To be even on kickoffs is a win for us. Net yards per punt were 34.7 for SDSU and 43.5 for Michigan. To gain almost a full first down per punt is huge. Two punts were inside the 20, and two were 50+ yards. #82, Terrance Robinson had 2 ST tackles and did a great job as the gunner on punts.
Wile's just lost his punting job; if that allows him to improve his kickoffs and compete for the field goal job, Michigan's kicking could be one of those strength things by midseason.
Lordfoul's weekly Hoke for Tomorrow:
Michigan needs Hagerup back.Maybe Hagerup isn't the only answer. Wile's kicks are improving it would seem, both on KOs and punts, possibly because his nerves are settling down. Kickoffs regularly made it to the goal line and only 1 of 4 punts was returned for much while they averaged 49 yards per with a long of only 51(!).
Player participation notes from jtmc33.
You see that conch shell he's got in his hand? At some point in the first half he was talking into it like it was a cell phone. That is all.
Media, as in blog rabble. BWS hops aboard the Countess bandwagon and points out Denard can't throw.
MGoBlog : The Big Lebowski :: The Hoover Street Rag : The Hunt For Red October:
After the Notre Dame game, I tweeted very simply: "And the singing, Captain?" "Let them sing." The moment was too good to start worrying about the future. But at some point, the future arrives and you need to deal with it. How well prepared you are for that future plays a large role in how well you're able to handle it when the moment arrives. The non-conference schedule, particularly one played as four games at the start of the season should, theoretically, be a nice combination of challenges and the working out of kinks. Before the mission starts, you must know the capacity and capabilities of your crew.
Media, as in local newspaper. John Niyo on the defense, which is extant. Chengelis on the fact the team is not vintage. San Diego State had big pictures of their former coaches as signals. The Daily on RVB's Hillman chase:
Fifth-year senior defensive tackle Ryan Van Bergen caught Hillman from behind inside the 10-yard line and knocked the ball loose for the second fumble.
Try reading it this way: a 288-pound defensive tackle caught the nation’s second-leading rusher from behind in the open field — 30 yards away from the line of scrimmage.
Van Bergen got a block from fifth-year senior defensive tackle Mike Martin, but most of his help came from practice.
“But when it comes down to it, we have the most explosive player in the country in our backfield,” Van Bergen said. “We get to play against (junior quarterback) Denard (Robinson), so we’ve learned how to take angles at guys who have speed.
“I took off on my horse just thinking, ‘I’ve almost caught Denard before, maybe I can catch this guy.’ ”
“They were very emotional after the game, depressed, disappointed, upset, however you want to say,” said Long, whose team dropped to 3-1 after Saturday’s 28-7 defeat. “It was a very emotional locker room after the game and not in a good sense.”
They probably would have done a “poor job” of answering questions, Long said, so he kept them behind closed doors. “It’s my job to protect them,” Long said Sunday. “This is not pro football.” …
"The defense got shocked by the speed of especially one guy (Robinson),” Long said. “They got shocked by the strength they had up front and the speed of quarterback early in the game.”
• Offensively, Michigan is 13-for-13 on red-zone opportunities. It is one of 13 teams in the country to have scored on every trip inside the 20-yard line this year.
• Even better? The Wolverines have scored touchdowns on 12 of those 13 trips. That 92-percent touchdown rate trails only Texas Tech nationally.
One of the main arguments made in favor of Shotgun Forever is that red zone efficiency is not a stat that shows much repeatable skill year to year and that the huge chunks of yards Michigan picked up without, you know, scoring in 2010 would turn into points if you just left the damn thing alone (and got a kicker). The early returns are excellent.
National takes. Smart Football:
- Michigan 28, San Diego State 7. Brady Hoke’s new team faced his old team, and I’m still not sure, despite their 4-0 record, that we know anything about this Michigan football team. The defense seems to be improving under DC Greg Mattison, but they’ve been using so much movement and motion to cover up their talent weaknesses it’s unclear how the defense will fare against a polished opponent. And while the offense has found a better rhythm running a Rich Rodriguez-lite Denard Robinson attack — including Denard’s long TD run on the speed option — his passing line was abysmal: 8 of 17 for 93 yards, no TDs and two interceptions. He’s obviously uncomfortable in the new offense. He looked like a more polished and comfortable passer last year. I chalk some of this up to the fact that the very techniques he’s using are new, but he’s going to have to improve for UM to have success. That said, given Michigan’s favorable schedule — no Wisconsin and the easy part of the Big 10 schedule up next — we may not learn anything about Michigan until the last three weeks of the season, when they play Illinois, Nebraska and Ohio State.
No one else bothered. A couple weeks after puntosauring himself into a loss against Iowa State, BHGP documents Kirk Ferentz opening Iowa's game against ULM in a shotgun spread, demonstrating the Carr thing above perfectly.
Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen
Did you feel Mike Martin out there today? Van Bergen: “Oh yeah absolutely. Defensive line-wise, we probably had our highest production day. Obviously you have to watch the film to see how well we really performed. I thought Mike did a good job of getting after the quarterback, and when he wasn’t there, I was there, and then when neither of us was there, Craig was there. We did a really good job up front of getting to the quarterback. We didn’t register big numbers [in terms of] sacks or anything like that, but as far as QB hurries and pressures, I’d be interested to see that stat, because I felt like we were making him move his feet all day, which changed up some of his throws.
Is this the best you’ve played this year, and did you guys change anything in practice this week? Martin: “We didn’t change anything schematically. We had by far the best week of practice as a team collectively this week, and it definitely showed up on the field. I was interviewed earlier this week, and I said that the way we practice directly correlates with the way that we play. We started out fast on Tuesday, had a great day of work Wednesday to Thursday, then we tied it together on Saturday. It all ties together, and I’m glad we put it on the field today.”
A lot of sudden change situations in the fourth quarter. How did you respond to that? Van Bergen: “You know, we’ve been pretty solid on sudden change situations all season defensively. Not allowing a touchdown, holding them to a field goal when they get good enough field position for it. It’s something our defense prides ourselves on. We’re really intent that teams don’t get the best of us when we turn the ball over, because it’s going to happen. You’re going to turn the ball over, and the main thing is don’t let that translate into points, because that’s how you get beat. So our defense, that’s one of the things on our bulletin board. That’s on our wall. One of the things we have to be good at is sudden change situations. We pride ourselves on that.”
We’ve talked a lot about slow starts on defense. What was it about the first quarter that allowed you to get off to a fast start? Was it knowing the opponent better? Martin: “You know, that’s a part of it, but I like to say it was as simple as us coming out with the most intensity we’ve had in the first quarter this season. It’s something we have to remember that we did and build on that. It went right into the second quarter, and when half time came around, we made a few adjustments, but we came to play every single quarter. So we have to start fast and finish strong, which I think we did this week.”
Hoke said on Monday that the biggest aspect the team that he wanted to see improve was the play of the front seven. Did you agree with his assessment? Van Bergen: “Coach Hoke holds us to a very high standard. That’s something I said Monday at the Press conference. He’s going to have the highest standard of any defensive line in the country. We definitely don’t want him to lower the bar for us. I think Mike would agree with the fact that we haven’t played our best game up front. And I would probably go on to say this wasn’t our best game we could have played. We played better, but the standard is so high that any missed assignment, missed tackle, miscue, anything like that, or wrong alignment isn’t going to be tolerated until everything we do on every single snap is perfect.”
How were you able to keep Hillman in check and get two turnovers from him? Also, talk about forcing the fumble from behind? Van Bergen: “There’s a lot of parts to that question. [Hillman’s] a good back. We knew he was an explosive player, but I mean, when it comes down to it, we have the most explosive player in the country in my opinion in our backfield, so we get to play against Denard. So we’ve learned how to take angles to guys with some speed. As far as that call, Mike actually was the one who sprung me on that as far as they were running a toss to the boundary side, and we were running a stunt where Mike was supposed to come up to the field first and I was supposed to loop underneath him. He picked the guy that was supposed to block me, and I just took off on my horse, thinking, ‘I’ve almost caught Denard before. Maybe I can catch this guy.’ Our corner did a good job of turning him back in. We’ve practiced that all the time. Two months ago, spring ball, that might not have happened. I don’t remember who the corner was, but he made him turn back in. We all know in pursuit drill on defensive line -- if you catch a running back, you throw your arms around him as hard as you can and you hope that ball comes out. It was a good break for us because if they score on that possession, game might have gone a little differently. It was fortunate … Mike definitely set me up on that.” [Ed-M: Van Bergen(+1) for UFR-ing]
Did you think Lindley was a different quarterback under pressure? Martin: “Yeah, that’s something that we talked about as a D-line and as a group. We knew that if we got in his face and got pressure to him, press the pocket down on him, he would get happy feet and make missed throws. He’s a good quarterback. He can sling that thing around. If you don’t get in his face, he can throw it as well as anyone. We made sure that was a big thing for us ... to push the pocket and do whatever we can to get into his face.”
Did either one of you sense this was a tough week for Hoke? Van Bergen: “I didn’t think it was a tough week for him personally. I think that there was definitely a media factor as far as it was hyped up to the fact that it was his old program. But I mean, college football is a transitioning world. Everybody moves around, so it just happened to be that they were on the schedule, and he didn’t treat this any differently. He had some inside information as far as how they would play as far as personnel, but nothing to the point to making it any different than any other week. We had to have an intense week of practice, which Mike said we did, and then have a four-quarter game, which, defensively, we came along. I won’t say we had it, but we had a better week than last week.”
Coaches say the goal is to win Big Ten Championship. How much do they talk about that now that non-conference is over? Van Bergen: “I would imagine the intensity is going to pick up. We had some pretty intense practices, but the way Coach Hoke has been talking about even through fall camp and his first four weeks -- it’s always been about the Big Ten. Everything is in comparison to the Big Ten. We have to play better or we won’t compete against the Big Ten. We have to be better up front or we won’t be able to play in the Big Ten. The Big Ten standard is higher than any expectation. In order for us to be competitive in the Big Ten the way coach wants us to be, we’re going to have to step it up. We want to be Big Ten champions. We haven’t had a good record in the Big Ten, anybody on this team, since we’ve been on it. It’s a big thing for us. We’ve started off 4-0 non-conference schedule, but to come out in the Big Ten and have a strong showing, that’s a big deal to us. I can tell you all the guys in the locker room are very excited and hyped up to get started in the Big Ten schedule and see what we’re really about.”
Even though you’ve been downplaying this storyline, is there a sense of pride in helping your coach beat a team he left less than a year ago? Mike Martin: “That’s not something that was on our mind. Our bottom line was to win the game. We have to win the game no matter what so we can go into the Big Ten ready to go. We always want to win for coach. We always want to win for Michigan and this program. It’s what it’s all about. It’s not about coach, and he’ll say that. He’ll say that [about] himself. It’s not about him. It’s not about me. It’s not about Ryan. It’s not about anyone except for Michigan and this program.”
I know you can’t see what other guys are doing on defense, but Blake Countess had a really good game. Talk about him? Van Bergen: “I think Blake is one of those guys that -- as a true freshman you can get some guys that get wide eyes when they come on the field. But there’s also guys -- he kind of reminds me of Donovan Warren when he first came in. He was very focused. He has a swagger about him, and he’s very confident in his abilities. I think the more reps he gets, the more time he’ll see just because he’ll prove that he can play. I think the coaches are slowly getting more comfortable with him and rotating him in. Unfortunately I think Troy went down. I don’t know if JT came back or not, but we had some guys that went down a little bit, and he stepped up. And that’s something we have as a team is the expectation by position. It doesn’t matter who you are. That position is expected to be played a certain way. Blake proved that today. He did really well.”
To what extent are the turnovers a result of playmaking mentality, and how much is it is just constantly running to the ball and hoping for something to happen? Van Bergen: “You know, I think it’s just the emphasis. We have such a strong emphasis from Coach Mattison and Coach Hoke, almost to the point where you don’t want to hear them anymore. Just turn them off in practice because they’re always talking about running to the ball, that the ball’s going to come out. If you count it percentage-wise, you’re probably not going to get a ball out too often, but when it does, man, it feels great. When you buy in like our defense has bought in, all of a sudden the turnovers start piling up for us. I think everybody’s starting to take notice that we’ve gotten way more turnovers this year at this point than we did last year and the last couple years because of how much we emphasize it and how much we practice it and how much we believe that if we get 11 hats on the ball, good things are going to happen.”
Craig Roh and Mark Huyge
How complicated is Rocky Long’s defense? Did it give you guys problems? Huyge: “Well they basically stunted on every play. They were taking the defensive end and putting him inside, wrapping the nose around, bringing linebackers off the edge. They were twisting and stunting. It helps because we ran the zone a lot -- inside zone -- and that’s where everyone pushes to one side. When you can do that, it kind of negates it a little bit, but they got us on a few I know for sure.”
Can you take us through the sack/fumble play? How good did that feel? Roh: “With the sack, they were running hurry-up, so I just subbed in for Jibreel Black and just bullrushed and then ripped outside and got the ball. It was a good feeling. It’s always a good feeling when you get a sack.”
Do you take coach’s criticisms of the defensive line personally? Roh: “We take it personally every week, but we’re improving every week and I think today was a pretty good performance defensively, especially with the run. But we need to keep improving every week, and we’re not where we need to be yet.”
What was the attitude on offense when you turned the ball over, and how do you get past that and not allow it to slow you down? Huyge: “We know that we have to keep pushing past that. It’s been nice not turning the ball over, trying to sustain consistent drives. But when it happens, it’s just an obstacle. It’s football and we know that. Just keep pushing on. That’s what we keep telling ourselves. It’s what we try to do.”
What was the difference between the Ryan Lindley you saw today and the Ryan Lindley you saw on tape after you got inside his head a little? Roh: “We were getting real good pressure up the middle with Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen. I think it just rattled him a little bit and he didn’t perform as well as we had expected. He’s a real good quarterback, and we just got pressure on him and got him rattled a little bit.”
How important was it to establish Denard as a runner early in the game? Huyge: “Like Craig said, the emphasis this week was to start fast. The last couple of games we started slow and eventually picked it up. Getting Denard established early -- I think that gives the defense problems, and they have to adjust and get on their heels, and that’s always a good thing.”
This is the third straight game where you’ve had a turnover in the red-zone. What about inside the 20 makes you guys play up and what’s it like when you can get off the field without giving up any points? Roh: “It’s just, ‘Give us a place to stand and we’ll play.’ Coach Mattison’s always saying that, and I think all of us have taken it to heart.”
Denard Robinson and Vincent Smith
Talk about getting off to a faster start on offense? Denard: “That’s the thing that coach was preaching to us all week. All the seniors were just like, ‘Hey, we have to start taking off fast,’ so Tuesday practice everybody came out amped and ready to go.”
Denard, the option play with Vince was new. Do you like that play, and how long have you guys been working on it? Denard: “We’ve been working on a lot, and I wanted to give the ball to Vince, but I saw the opening and I was like, ‘All right, let’s go.’ ”
Vince, talk about chemistry in running game. Smith: “With two backs, it’s a good relief off Denard, and me and Fitz pride ourselves in taking the load off him and helping this offense move down the field.”
Hoke said one of the things that surprised him was how much you guys like each other. Denard: “We all love each other. We enjoy being with each other. It’s like a family, so that’s what we pride [ourselves] on.” Do you guys talk about that with the new guys? “Oh yeah, that’s my brother, and we’re going to take you in. So when the freshmen came in, they knew that they had a family here.”
Did you guys see the defensive signal cards that SDSU was using? Denard: “We were laughing. Everybody was in that huddle laughing like, ‘Look at those things they got. They’ve got pictures of our coaches. That’s crazy.’ ” Smith: “Yeah, I was laughing as well.”
Do you feel like you need to take it up another level on offense to compete with Big Ten teams? Smith: “We know we just have to sustain drives and keep the ball flowing and get into rhythm.”
Fred Jackson has a reputation for benching running backs who fumble. What did it mean to you for him not to bench you? Smith: “It puts a lot of confidence in me, and I knew that I had to make up for what I did. Obviously I did, and he knows that I’m capable of doing that.”
Talk about run where you broke free. Smith: “The last one I scored on?” No it was in the first half. Denard: “He’s talking about the one you broke -- you kind of looked like you were stopped -- and I was like, ‘What?’ ” Smith: “It was a zone read, and I just pressed my gut, which coach J was stressing to us all through the week. It wasn’t there at first, but I was just patient on the read, and just squirted out -- it was a small, small hole, and I just squirted through it. I just kept my feet going and something good happened.”
What’s your frustration level with yourself in the passing game? Denard: “I mean, I’m not too mad at myself, because my teammates, they keep telling I’m going to be all right. Just keep going and keep fighting. They have my back, and I know they do.”
Did anyone show up to your birthday party after your tweet? [Denard bangs head on table.] Denard: “Oh man. It was a good crowd. We went out [to Colonial Lanes] bowling, having a little bit of fun. It was just … ” How many people do you think showed up? “I don’t know. I don’t know.” What did you bowl? “I bowled a 200 the first try. The second time I only went 160 and the next time I went 170. I did all right.” Why’d you just bang your head on the table there? “Because Twitter -- I don’t know if I want to keep tweeting. I don’t want questions coming up in here about that.”
Speaking of odd questions, did you switch helmet manufacturers this year? Denard: “Big Jon told us we had to wear a different helmet, and I got a different helmet. He just told me. I came in one day and he was like, ‘Yeah, you’ve got to get a different helmet.’ And I was like, ‘Ah, come on.’ ”
Why do you think you couldn’t get into rhythm passing? Denard: “[San Diego State is] a great team. They fly around everywhere. So you could say that, but still we worked on it all week and I just have to execute, that’s all. We have to get better as a team.”
Going for it on fourth and two, how big was it score before halftime? Denard: “Roy and the seniors were just like, ‘Man, look. We have to get this and we can’t slack.’ I was like, ‘All right, let’s go get it then.’ Coach called the time-out and he was like, ‘Let’s go and get the ball. Let’s go and get the first down.’ And that’s what we did. That was a big key to the game.”