i refuse to even consider this a possibility
“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.”
Learn from yesterday...
Michigan is undefeated again in September and yet I am nervous for the future. Perhaps because similar starts to the last two seasons filled me with unbridled optimism for Michigan's return to the nations' elite. Mayhap the reason is that for a second week in a row I felt like the final score did not accurately reflect the play on the field. Michigan won by a lot but didn't get much play for their reserves, Devin Gardner most notably. I am made nervous by Denard's heavy load running the ball and seeming inability to hit the broad side of a barn down field, to the sideline, or even on screen passes. Looking closer at each aspect of Michigan's play:
- Michigan's defense is the most awesome "bend-but-don't-break" defense I have ever seen so far. Seriously, allowing 11 trips by SDSU's offense into Michigan territory and yielding only 7 points is both extremely lucky (no doubt at least partly true) and also a part of a trend at this point. Turnovers are the key of course, coupled with keeping the play in front of them/not giving up the big play. SDSU was the first team to win the TO battle against Michigan this season, but only because the stat doesn't include TOs on downs. Michigan forced three of those by jumping out to a big lead and by getting big stops at points on the field where SDSU was almost compelled to go for it on 4th down. The reason for this success is owed in large part to the longest plays given up Saturday being 30 yards, both on the ground and through the air. This defense makes big plays, but more importantly they give themselves enough chances to make them.
- Michigan's offense continued to slide towards one-dimensional with each poorly throw ball by Denard Robinson. Luckily Michigan didn't need to throw much with SDSU's defense yielding over 7 yards per carry, having no answer for Denard's legs. It was also good to see the OLine open up some running lanes for Smith and Fitz en route to 320 yards on the ground. I fear that the level of competition and lack of SDSU size up front made the running game look better than it should have been.
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(!). Now if we can get him a chance at the FG duties, maybe he can be an upgrade over Gibbons (doesn't seem possible to be much worse).
- The coaching staff continues to impress in all phases of the game, save possibly being willing to give Gardner a shot at a real drive. Borges again went with what is known to work until Michigan had a couple of scores lead before inevitably trying to force Denard under center. Mattison had a great game plan dialed up, containing Ronnie Hillman and rattling Lindley with constant pressure. For the first time this year it seemed like our D-Backs were the most suspect part of Michigan's defense, as they should be, and even there we have a few rays of hope.
Live for Today…
Several Michigan players should bask in the glow of their accomplishments:
1. Denard Robinson – With a stat line so much like last game it is spooky, Denard again dazzled with his untied shoes en route to 200 yards on the ground. Again he couldn't seem to get in rhythm with his receivers, looking like shadow of 2010 Denard at least in terms of efficiency. Over 20 carries/game is going to get him killed, but maybe not as much a last year. He seems to have a better idea of how not to get lit up, getting out of bounds or to the ground before contact much more often than last year.
2. Vincent Smith and Fitzgerald Toussaint – If these two continue to rotate in that would seem fine the way they both are playing. Both looked tough to bring down Saturday, breaking tackles and picking through traffic for YAC. Smith in particular looks to have that shiftiness back that excited the senses so much in 2009. Fitz should also be the #1 choice at FB, with his tough running style, decent size, and good ball security.
3. Michigan Defensive Line – These guys looked great finally, creating constant pressure in the SDSU backfield and forcing Lindley into less than 50% completions. Roh came alive, sacking and forcing a fumble. RVB was in there making big plays, and Mike Martin was held 100 bazillion times or else he would have sent Lindley to the hospital I have no doubt. This performance was extra encouraging since the SDSU OLine is supposedly pretty good.
4. Blake Countess – In his first really extended appearance, this kid showed why his hype is justified. I'm sure some completions were on his head for being out of position, but I saw him blanketing a receiver on a slant (that was completed despite great coverage) and making a great play on a fade to keep SDSU at 7 points to finish. I look forward to what UFR has to say about Countess's play as a whole.
5. Matt Wile – As noted above, Wile's play is improving steadily. I wouldn't be surprised to see him keep punting again next week and hopefully get a shot at the next FG try.
Hope for Tomorrow
Last week I said:
Bask in 3-0 for now, because this team is looking to be on much the same course as last season so far. I think that our reliance on Denard Robinson will actually help us next week against SDSU, because our offense will not look like what Rocky Long remembers a Borges offense looking like. Then again, our run defense might get gutted by Ronnie Hillman. SDSU will put a scare into us at least.
I think I was right on the first part (at least theoretically, does anyone really have an answer for Shoelace?) while being thankfully wrong on the second (though Hillman did rack up pretty good numbers, he didn't kill us), and now we can bask in 4-0 and another undefeated September. So what can we hang our hopes on that this season is not doomed to end up like the last two?
I'll just stick with what I thought a week ago:
Our biggest hope for the whole season may actually be Borges's willingness to adapt to Denard's strengths as well as Mattison's willingness to use naked aggression to mask our defense's glaring flaws.
The only caveat to this reason to hope is that we are going to need a QB that can hit is receivers in BIG 10 play. The athletic abilities of BIG 10 defenders are going to both bottle up and punish Denard if he can't keep them honest through the air. With Denard's struggles throwing so far, I am both surprised and made nervous by Devin Gardner's lack of playing time. Is Gardner just not impressing enough in practice that Hoke/Borges feel it important to get him some meaningful snaps? Is the success of the team so far goading the coaches into keeping all of the eggs in the Denard GO! GO! GO! basket?
Though it would be a knock against the coaches in my mind, I hope it is the latter. I mean, maybe Denard lights it up in practice, completing ropes 30 yards to the sideline and hitting his TEs in stride. At some point this is going to have to become reality in games or else the one-dimensional nature of our offense will get Denard hurt, and leave us wondering yet again what could have been.
Go Blue and stay safe.
We cracked the top 20! Go Blue! Discuss.
The box score from the Hoke Bowl can be seen here:
This was the first game where I knew while watching that I was going to post this diary, so I took a few notes during the game. Unfortunately, my notes are full of really strange things the B1G Network announcers said. In a post this week, Brian lamented the dearth of good names for our weekly features. I'm going to offer up a couple, and use them for sub-titles. First, after SDSU recovered UofM's first fumble, B1G announcer Eric Collins suggested this could be the "burst of impetus" for SDSU to get back in the game. (Trust me on this, I took notes during the game.) I can only guess that Eric got tired of the "change in momentum" cliche, went to the thesaurus, and treated us all to Burst of Impetus. So when I talk about the turnover margin, that section will be sub-titled, "Burst of Impetus." I think this one works for the weekly turnover feature.
The second thing I wrote down was, "trash can full of dirt," when commentator Chris Martin was straining for words to describe Mike Martin. I don't think trash cans full of dirt are particularly mobile, so this doesn't really describe Martin, who last I checked, was bursting past SDSU linemen with tremendous impetus. I think the trash can full of dirt more aptly describes the 330 pound nose tackle a la BWC. Regardless, the defensive stats section will now be sub-titled: "Trash cans full of dirt." OK? OK. On to the commentary, bullet-style with awesome B1G Network style sub-titles:
Burst of Impetus
* SDSU won the turnover margin, 4-3. However, if you look deeper into the box score, you'll see the stat of the game, 4th Down Conversions. SDSU was 0 for 3, UofM was 1 for 1. Getting stopped on 4th down is effectively a turnover, since you don't get the punt yardage, so really, we won the extended turnover margin 6-4. I'd like to know what went on during the timeout before our decision to go for it on 4th down. I'd like to think that Brady Hoke said, what the heck are we doing punting here, WE'RE MICHIGAN FERGODSAKES!
* SDSU went 3 and out after our first turnover. The defense stepped up all day long and limited the damage from our turnovers.
Trash Cans Full of Dirt
* 20 players showed up in the defensive stats. I like this stat as a measure of our depth and gang tackling. Getting more helmets to the football is a UofM defensive tradition, and that created the first Hillman fumble yesterday.
* Three players tied for the lead in tackles, Gordon, Countess, and Demens. It's clear SDSU went after Countess when he entered the game, but I thought he held up well. AMDBHG stay away from Woolfolk. Just stay away. I hired you to work in East Lansing this season. At this point, Woolfolk is basically taunting AMDBHG. He's hobbling around on two bad ankles, has his hand in a cast, gets a bloody nose against EMU, and still manages to get 5 tackles.
* For only getting 2 tackles, Craig Roh had another good day. Both tackles were for losses, one was a sack that forced a fumble. All I can say is Roh Yeah!
* Ronnie Hillman was shut down (<100 yards) in three of SDSU's losses last season. I didn't think we could hold him under 100, but if we could keep him under 150, I was confident we'd get the win. He ended up with 109 yards and a 5.2 YPC average. That, combined with Lindley's 23 for 48 passing day were the stats of the game for the defense.
* Hawthorne shows up as number "7A" in the box score. Could hexadecimal numbers be the answer to our "retired numbers" problem?
San Diego 49ers
* I learned during the game that Braylon Edwards now plays for the San Diego 49ers. If I had any WR stats to comment on, they would go in this section. Consider it a place-holder. (In defense of the B1G announcing crew, this seems like a reasonable mistake to make.)
Random, As of Yet, Un-Named Bullets
* 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.
* Jeremy Gallon didn't get a FR in the boxscore (but J.T. Floyd did get credit for a fumble, was that for the time the ball glanced off his leg on the punt return?) but his head's up play to cover the punt was big at the time. That could have given SDSU a huge burst of impetus.
* Kickoff time: 12:00. Yes, it's in the box score. It's hard to quantify what impact it had on SDSU, but it's well known that you never bet on the west coast NFL team traveling east to play the 1:00 pm game. I don't think it's worth 21 points, though.
* Total yards: SDSU 376, UofM 413. We gave up around 450 yards per game last year. My hope for this year is to stay under 400 yards given up through a combination of better defense and slower offensive tempo (fewer plays.) Against a good offense, we only gave up 376 yards. I'll take it.
Big John R. Studd Referee section
* This was our first Witvoet game this year that I recall. I got negged for complaining about Witvoet last season, so just in case the Witvoet family reads this blog, I will say the refs did a great job. Penalty yards: SDSU 55, UofM 25. The refs rightly called several holding penalties where SDSU tried to undress Mike Martin. That hurt them and was one of the reasons they only scored once, even though they were in UofM territory 11 times. Sacks, turnovers, and holding penalties. Those are all the result of putting pressure on the offense. Thank you, Greg Mattison, thank you.
I also wrote a note that simply says, "UCONN," but I refuse to believe that this is 2010. This is 2011, Brady Hoke poops gold nuggets, and Borges and Mattison are the two greatest coordinators ever. So there.
It seems like we are putting in the I later in the games and having Denard work on his game. Obviously, the results are less than stellar. It seems like the idea is to try and get Denard as much game time as possible in the new offense, regardless of whether it works or not (we are up, so why not?).
The question for the board is, do you believe, like I do, that if things aren't working come sparty that the O coordinators will abandon the experiment to win games? I sure hope so.
Are you worried that Denard has struggled throwing the ball?
How do YOU get Denard's passing game going?
What is your favorite asset about yourself?
It is early and there isn't enough data for Sagarin to even put a lot of stock in his own rankings, but....Michigan is currently ranked 15th (and 18th in the Predictor, which is suppose to be more accurate).
We are ranked 3rd in the conference. MSU seems extremely underrated at 41 (but they are 28th in the predictor).