It’s difficult to say how much the weather affected the offenses in yesterday’s MSU-OSU showdown in Columbus. There were several fumbles early on, including on snaps that went between Cousins’ legs and through the hands of MSU’s punter. But the offenses continued to struggle even though the weather seemed to improve by the mid-to-late second quarter. With that qualifier, here is what I took from MSU’s performance:
Offensively, their line was underwhelming, but not as bad as I expected. The Spartans were able to consistently gain yards on the ground, and while Cousins was pressured often, the line did a reasonable job of giving him time. Bell and Baker did not have huge games, but like always they ran hard and consistently fell forward, picking up what yards were available. In the receiving corps., BJ Cunningham dominated—and it was a good thing for Sparty that he did, because all of their other receivers were practically non-existent. Cousins managed the game well but the OSU pressure did force him into some bad throws and even some uncharacteristically poor decisions (He was intercepted once in the end zone and I recall OSU defenders dropping two other INTs). In typical Spartan fashion, penalties and turnovers killed multiple Spartan drives or they would have easily scored 20+ points.
The OSU offense was so incompetent it was difficult to tell how much was the product of good Spartan defense and how much was just the Suckeyes sucking. William Gholston (Grr.) destroyed OSU with multiple sacks; Bullough and Worthy also played well. However, they really didn’t need to worry about the pass all game.
Based on this game alone, it looks like the keys to beating MSU are (i) get pressure on Cousins, (ii) contain Cunningham, and (iii) use draws & screens to slow down the Spartan pass rush. Oh yeah, and (iv) run the ball, like the winner of that game always does.
If you were at or watching the Michigan game yesterday, you probably missed this. I just watched the first half and I'm impressed with Northwestern's defense. Illinois obviously saw what Army did to them with the option decided to attack with that but NU has shut it down. Their secondary looks vulnerable to the deep ball but that's clearly not a strength of our passing game. It will be interesting to see what kind of a game Borges calls.
Even before re-injuring himself, Persa doesn't look like he's full speed. He's able to manage the game, hand off, and his arm is fine but he doesn't have the mobility he had before his achilles exploded. He looks gimpy and rusty.
EDIT: Persa looks much better in the 2nd half before the injury.
This is a day to rejoice. Obviously michigan isn't the 4th best defense in the country, but when I see that stat, it makes my nether regions tingle.
“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.”
Learn from yesterday...
After a beat-down like what we witnessed yesterday there is much to say, but perhaps not so many new things to learn. It was a statement game, a confirmation by Brady Hoke, Al Borges, and Greg Mattison that leaves no questions as to their intent nor their identity. No one questioned the talent differential between Michigan and Minnesota as the 20 point line neatly points out. But the difference between being a 20 point home favorite and the utter deconstruction that was yesterday's contest is vast and there is nothing that I saw that would make the final 58-0 score in any way a fluke. Brady and Co. have this team pointed in a direction more right than we fans could have dared hope. The old ways and the new are coming together in what looks to be a very promising new era for Michigan Football.
Live for Today…
Several Michigan players should bask in the glow of their accomplishments:
1. Fitzgerald Touissaint – I don't recall seeing running like that since the A-Train rolled out of town. Great cuts, jab steps, and acceleration showed on the stat sheet with over 100 yards on only 11 carries. The future for Fitz is bright indeed.
2. Vincent Smith – Scoring a TD rushing, receiving, and passing the ball is remarkable. Coupled with Touissaint, Smith gives Michigan a potent 1-2 punch out of the backfield that was desperately needed.
3. Denard Robinson – His feet are a given, but it was nice to see him connecting on the short hitches and seams taylor-made to bring back his confidence. Borges is molding the offense around him and playing more and more to his strengths. 8.9 YPA is quality.
4. Blake Countess – Countess looks like the best Michigan defensive back on the field. He was blanketing receivers all day, breaking up passes, stripping the ball, making sure tackles. Hard to believe he is a true frosh.
5. Michigan's Defense – Pitching a shutout against any opponent is impressive, as is forcing another 2 fumbles. Minnesota barely sniffed Michigan's side of the field, and when they did threaten Michigan came up with the timely turnovers. This unit is gaining swagger and could be pretty good by November.
Also of note: Jeremy Gallon, Mike Shaw, RVB, Junior Hemingway, Kevin Koger, BWC (showing that fire in the belly), Thomas Rawls (nice debut, young man), Devin Gardner (haz moves too), Gibbons (3/3 is 3/3, no matter how long) and basically everyone on the team. Great job guys.
Hope for Tomorrow
My trust and confidence in this coaching staff was already pretty solid going into this game. I actually DVR'd it, a Michigan Big 10 opener, which is not something I would have felt comfortable with at any point in the past that I can remember. Yes, the opponent was obviously overmatched but it was still a Big 10 game, against Big 10 athletes that had a lot to prove to the world. I am a big believer in luck and karma, and a firm believer that watching a game live contributes to both, so this wasn't a decision I made lightly. In the end my trust in Brady and Co., coupled with the lure of great deals on Amish made furniture* at a local auction, made it OK. I still squirmed with discomfort when I ignored my phone going off several times during and after the game. Family and friends were trying to reach me to discuss the game and my first instinct was apprehension bordering on conviction that it was all going horribly wrong.
After watching the game later I can honestly say that such feelings will not again occur while this coaching triumvirate remains intact. I checked the score when I got home, not wanting to make my family deal with my uncertainty, and was of course more than relieved at seeing 58-0. I then watched what I assumed would be a series of ridiculously fortunate events leading to such a ridiculous score. There was none of that though, only near-perfect execution by a team that looked so well coached that my pride as a fan went through the roof. That was a domination that harkened back to watching Bo's teams crush the "little-8" back in the day. This is no coincidence either. The parallels between then and now is a head coach with strength of will and vision for what Michigan Football should be, coupled with the quality of coordinators needed to make that vision a reality.
It is not hard to see the qualities of Bo in Brady Hoke. At first I cringed at his seeming overconfidence, at his seeming overuse of Bo-isms, and wondered if he was trying too hard to win Michigan fans' hearts with his bravado. I don't doubt the man any longer. Brady Hoke has a Bo-like level of expectations for those he leads. He has expectations of effort, execution, and yes "toughness" that no coach since Bo has required from both his players and his staff. Hoke isn't making Michigan great again by being an innovator on either side of the ball; he is acquiring the best available parts, constructing a beast-machine, and driving the thing to eventual domination.
Greg Mattison is Greg Mattison. He is everything he was advertised to be and is turning this defense into a capable unit quicker than anyone could have hoped or expected. His experience since his last stint at Michigan, especially in the NFL, have given Michigan an advantage over the competition. Give the man a few years and he will have Michigan's defense back amongst the best in the country. Mattison will prove to be to Hoke what Gary Moeller was to Bo, only better.
The man that has the potential to put Michigan in National Championship contention as soon as next season is Al Borges however. All reports on the man were positive when he came in with Hoke, but all reports also sold Borges far short of reality. If we can take anything from the first 5 games of 2011, it is that Al Borges is in no way married to any system. Instead Borges is both humble and extremely intelligent. He has taken this offensive personnel, with all of their considerable talents, and used the soft part of the schedule to tinker and learn. He looked at what worked last year and used it to beat a good Notre Dame team. He used his knowledge of SDSU and Rocky Long to make that contest look easy. He played with the parts he has and got to know their strengths and weaknesses and displayed much of what he has learned against Minnisota. My first reaction to seeing such elaborate trickeration was he should be "keeping it in the bag" to be used when needed. As the game evolved, and the offense rolled out new wrinkles seemingly every drive (for the first half at least), my thoughts changed to how on Earth was the next opponent supposed to game-plan for this? Al Borges may make this offense look like a modern version of the Mad Magicians by year's end, and it will be in a genuinely humble effort to do what it takes to win each game.
I realize this is a lot to take from a single game against an overmatched opponent, and that these words could look ridiculous in a month's time. I don't care. I'm calling it now: Michigan is back and better than ever. They may not (probably don't) have the pieces to run the table this season, but if this staff stays together it won't be long before Michigan rises to the top.
*Seriously the only uniquely nice part about having to live in south-central PA.
Go Blue and stay safe.
If I met Mark Dantonio, I could not shake his hand.
While running to the store yesterday, I was listening to the MSU broadcast post-game interviews, and in passing, Dantonio said that the team had watched The Waterboy for its Friday team movie. Is there any chance they have already run through all of the truly inspirational football movies and this was the last one left -- a remarkable coincidence? Or were Dantonio and his coaches and players all giggling and elbowing each other over the uncanny resemblance of Adam Sandler and Luke Fickell? If he chooses The Flinstones Movie right before the Michigan game, my suspicions will be confirmed.
Dantonio blah-blah-blahed about respect and whatnot when Fickell got the job, but I think his choice of Friday team movie says more about his respect for Luke Fickell and the sort of juvenile person Dantonio is at heart.
Or it is all simply a coincidence. Or I'm the only person who looks at Fickell and thinks Waterboy.