TO THE HOT TAKE CANNON
2012 air force
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
In a game that felt like something out of the Rodriguez era, Michigan showed that while there's great promise for the future, the flaws exposed by Alabama are very real.
The Wolverines edged Air Force, 31-25, and the outcome wasn't decided until Jake Ryan batted down Air Force quarterback Connor Dietz's fourth-down throw with 1:28 remaining. Denard Robinson accounted for all but seven yards of the team's total offense. The defense ceded 417 total yards—290 on the ground—and failed to keep contain all afternoon.
It wasn't all bad, however. Robinson was masterful, completing 14-of-25 passes for 218 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception—one that deflected off the hands of Vincent Smith—while rushing for 218 yards and another pair of touchdowns on 20 carries. True freshman Devin Funchess emerged as a viable threat at tight end, becoming the first Michigan TE to eclipse 100 receiving yards in a game since Jerame Tuman. Devin Gardner looked like a wide receiver, hauling in five passes for 63 yards and a touchdown while running crisper routes.
The offense lived and died with Denard, as Fitzgerald Toussaint found little room to run—seven yards on eight carries, to be exact. The offensive line failed to get a push against Air Force's undersized D-line, doing little to ease concerns from last week's debacle. By the second half, Al Borges had essentially given up on generating yards the traditional way, and he was justified in doing so.
Defensively, Michigan looked ill-equipped to stop the Falcon triple-option attack. The defensive line spent much of the day on their stomachs, unable to evade chop blocks or get any sort of push. Kenny Demens looked positively Ezeh-esque, letting blockers get into him again and again before being pulled in favor of true freshman Joe Bolden. Jake Ryan was all over the field, recording a career-high 12 tackles, but sometimes "all over" can be a bad thing—keeping contain was an issue. The final Air Force touchdown came when Desmond Morgan overpursued. The defensive backs struggled against the run as well, failing to shed blocks and come up to take the pitch.
When the defense needed a big play, odds are it came from an underclassman. Ryan continually redeemed his poorer efforts with critical stops, including two pass breakups on the final Air Force drive. Bolden replaced Demens and displayed the aggressive, instinctual play that made him a high school All-American. Fellow freshman linebacker James Ross spelled Morgan late and acquitted himself well after struggling in his debut against Alabama. Several other freshmen made appearances during the game's biggest moments, including Ondre Pipkins and Mario Ojemudia.
Last season's 11-2 record belied the myriad issues Brady Hoke faced upon taking over in Ann Arbor. After two games in 2012, those issues are at the forefront for the Wolverines. The lack of depth on the offensive line means Michigan must move ahead with the current unit—despite its ineffectiveness in the run game—unless they want to insert a true freshman. The defensive tackles will be a sore spot all year; the players expected to relieve that problem are freshmen or not even on campus yet. The offense still leans heavily on Denard, whose style doesn't always mesh well with the offensive philosophy of Borges.
The Wolverines came away with a victory, a fact that cannot be overlooked, especially against a team with a difficult style to prepare for in a week's time. Denard will still make magic with his feet—his touchdown runs were both exhilarating—and perhaps his arm as well—he looks much-improved from last year even if the numbers don't necessarily bear that out. The future looks bright, too, thanks to the major contributions from a number of young players already gaining crucial experience.
The overwhelming feeling in the aftermath, however, is that this team is still two years away from competing on a national level, the only level of success that matters at Michigan. Today's game had Rich Rodriguez's fingerprints all over it; as we know, that's a smudge that isn't easily wiped away.
Make friends with the Liveblog Chaos Mitigation Post.
[EDIT: Let's try again, not tiny this time.]
Something's been missing from Michigan gamedays since the free programs ceased being economically viable: scientific gameday predictions that are not at all preordained by the strictures of a column in which one writer takes a positive tack and the other a negative one. Something like… Punt-Counterpunt.
By Ken “Sky” Walker
By Labor Day, I had pretty much put last Saturday’s debacle behind me. There was a time when I would obsess over a Michigan loss all week long. I’ve learned over the years to kick all that angst to the curb. I’m way beyond having my mood be affected by a Wolverine win or loss. After all, this is just a game played by kids, right?
I’d taken Tuesday off to extend the weekend. The extra day off didn’t help. It having been a holiday on Monday, every sports news outlet had the Alabama game as its lead story Tuesday. College Football Live, PTI, Around the Horn, and Jim Rome Is Burning—I’ll admit to watching them all—rehashed that nightmare over and over. I finally decided to go outdoors to take a walk, which is somewhat of a novelty for me on a non-football Saturday, in an effort to get away from the talking heads. By the end of the day, I was looking forward to returning to work.
It’s Wednesday and I’m back at the office. I venture down the hall and I’m greeted by a coworker—"Hey Ken! What happened to your boys?!" I find myself sucked into a lengthy conversation revolving around what Denard did, didn’t, or was allowed to do; Borges’s game plan or lack thereof. Is Gardner going to stay at wide out? Would having Fitz in the backfield made a difference? What happened to the defense? I ended up having similar conversations during the course of the day. By now I’m totally immersed in dissecting this game and what it means for the rest of the season.
On Thursday a young woman who just occupied the office down the hall pokes her head in. She spies my Go Blue mug and exclaims "A Michigan fan! Wouldn’t it be great if all the offices in this hall were tricked out in Michigan gear?" I point out that all the pins in my press board are maize or blue. She laughs and continues on her way. I’m struck by the fact that I pointed out to an attractive young woman that I’ve deliberately disposed of all the green and red pins and use only the maize - ah, yellow - and blue ones. OMG! I’ve become one of those Old Michigan Geezers!
I am neither obsessed nor depressed. I am aware that Air Force cannot win this game today. No amount of poor tackling, stagnant offense, or turnovers could possibly cause the Wolverines to lose to an academy team. But I can’t pick Michigan to blow them out either.
MICHIGAN 27, Air Force 24
By Nick RouMel
I am so glad Punt and I didn’t go down to the Cowboy Classic. I was looking forward to that party all year, but it ended a bit like “Project X.” It was not only like having the host steal your girlfriend, but then having her post on Facebook that you were nothing but a “Minute Man” anyway.
Oh, wait, that’s next week’s opponent (UMass). This Saturday we face Air Force. The mighty Falcons averaged 35 points a game last year, and opened this season by laying waste to Matt Gutierrez’ alma mater, Idaho State. Yes, like last week’s rude party host, they can score. But unlike Alabama, they do not have professional athletes on their squad, merely crackerjack trained U.S. military personnel. Thus they are vulnerable to a Michigan squad with something to prove.
Was last week’s debacle a product of bad coaching or execution? I learned from MGoBlog’s play-by-play analysis that the problem was not so much poor play, as simply being manhandled by a superior team. Air Force is a welcome respite from that mugging. Compared to ‘Bama, the Falcons are tiny. Their largest offensive lineman is a gaunt 260 lbs., and their defense is prone to being porous.
Expect Michigan to have a field day in the Big House. Denard will be on target, Devin will run better routes, and Fitz is back from the Dog House. The party that didn’t happen last week will rock Ann Arbor. The Wolverines are favored by 21.5 points for a reason. That reason is that the oddsmakers are smoking crack. Oh wait, I mean it’s because we’re going to win by at least three touchdowns! Up and down the field we will run. Touchdowns we will score. And this week, no one steals our girl.
MICHIGAN 45, AIR FORCE 21
|WHAT||Michigan vs Air Force|
|WHERE||Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, MI|
|WHEN||3:30 pm Eastern, September 8st 2012|
|THE LINE||Michigan –21.5|
|TELEVISION||ESPN2/ABC reverse mirror (coverage map)|
|WEATHER||windy, mid-60s, slight chance of rain|
[HEY BOO-URNSERS: I know ain't no one gonna tell you what to do, but booing a service academy when they are introduced is a terrible idea. Let's not do that! None of you are reading this blog, probably.]
Run Offense vs Air Force
what up mr kotter, what up
After a comprehensively abysmal outing against Alabama, Michigan gets a slightly better matchup against the Falcons. Subtract 70 pounds from everyone on the Alabama defense and add serious engineering degrees for most: that's Air Force. Thank gawd.
Last week Air Force beat up on I-AA Idaho State. The Fighting Gutierrezeses were 2-9 last year, losing to the various Montana, Utah, and Washington I-AA teams by scores like 54-13. They averaged—wait for it—27 yards rushing doing so. This is not data.
We don't have much in the way of data we can take forward from last year's Falcon outfit since they turned over seven starters, but if we assume they'll be a lot like last year's outfit, Michigan should go buck-wild on what was the #109 rushing defense. The Notre Dame game featured in Ace's FFFF saw the Irish go for 266 yards on 29 carries, including a 78-yard run by Andrew Hendrix(!). Brady Hoke's old outfit and 2011 common opponent San Diego State put up 201 on 35 carries, with Ronnie Hillman going for 172. Undersized and heavily reliant on confusing the opponent with blitzes, Air Force stands little chance of holding up against any reasonably good BCS-level rushing attack.
Michigan should have one of those again. They've got Fitzgerald Toussaint back, and since this is an overmatched opponent Michigan will probably run Denard 30 times. I'm not sure we learned anything about Michigan in the first game for the exact opposite reason we didn't learn anything about Air Force in the first game; extrapolating from past seasons suggests Michigan will run riot.
Key Matchup: Offensive line vs getting push. This should not be a problem, but we're all spooked after last week's total inability to block any-damn-body.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the news. Which is less bad!]
(Fear scale: 1 = UMass. 10 = Alabama)
About Last Saturday:
14 - I’m totally over it!, 41 - Haha over *twitch* what?
I do not remember this happening.
The road ahead:
Air Force (1-0)
Michael Ciaglo, Colarado Springs Gazette
Last game: Idaho State 21, Air Force 49 (W)
Recap: Let’s be honest: I didn’t watch this game. Nobody did. Not even Ace. Poor guy, though. Had to go down to Dallas and sit through the worst three hours of Michigan football since the Gator Bowl, and then had to break down film from a Notre Dame game. You know, my heart really goes out to him. He has a Facebook page. 1,000 likes and I’ll donate him half of my liver; 10,000 and I’ll throw in a kidney, too.
So word on the street is that Air Force bulldozed Idaho State for half a kilometer on the ground. This is completely unsurprising. Triple option teams are designed to put up 300 yards rushing on opponents like Alabama despite having far less talent in the traditional sense. 49-21 is therefore what happens when such a team plays someone that has even less talent than they do -- Idaho State is FCS.
News item: Air Force’s center Michael Husar, Jr. (Dad was a tackle for Michigan from ‘85-‘88) went down with an ACL/MCL tear. He was reputedly their best lineman, so look for their offense to be somewhat less impressive against Michigan. Get well soon, Michael.
This team is as frightening as: A fleet of MiG-15’s; Michigan is a squadron of B-52’s. Michigan will be fine as long as they get to their base before the other guys ever get off the ground. I realize that sounds a little strange, and I’m trying really hard not to say “bomb,” but the analogy works because the MiGs are smaller and have less firepower than the B-52’s, and during the Korean War … you know what screw it. Go read a book. Maybe you’ll learn something. Fear level = 3.
Michigan should worry about: Defense vs. triple option stuff. Close your eyes, cross your arms, and yell “LALALALALALA” if Kenny Demens never takes a step toward the line of scrimmage and as a result gets plowed by their backup center every other play.
Michigan can sleep soundly about: All their linemen are undersized because they’re the Air Force and the Air Force doesn’t make cockpits for fatties.
When they play Michigan: I will be sober. I promise.
Next game: In the Big House.
Michigan faces one of football's most distinctive offenses, the Air Force triple option, this weekend at the Big House. To get an idea of how the Falcons operate on both sides of the ball, I went back and watched their matchup with Notre Dame from last season, a 59-33 victory for the Irish. How can Michigan slow down the powerful Air Force rushing attack and take advantage of their 3-4 defense? Read on for the breakdown.
Spread, Pro-Style, or Hybrid? None of the above. The option offense deserves its own category. Air Force operates primarily out of the flexbone and I-formation, and the design of their offense revolves almost entirely around the threat of the triple option.
Basketball on Grass or MANBALL? Both, actually. The option requires linemen, backs, and receivers to carry out a very specific set of blocking assignments, and those change depending on the defensive alignment: Tremendous has a great breakdown of when Air Force goes zone and when they utilize "veer" blocking—the rule of thumb is they go zone against 7-man fronts and veer against 8-man fronts. Air Force—whose starting linemen weigh an average of just 255 pounds—also requires their players to cut block like they're the '98 Denver Broncos. Mind the knees, boys.
Hurry it up or grind it out? A new category this week, as it was an oversight to not include a section on the pace of each team's offense. Air Force rarely huddles, utilizing a fast tempo (61.4% adj. pace in 2011) and a variety of formations that they run with the same personnel to catch defenses off guard and keep them from making substitutions. Here's an example from the Notre Dame game; Air Force runs a fullback dive from the flexbone, then quickly transitions to their triple-stack I-form and gets a big gain from another fullback run:
Just 22 seconds elapse from the time of the first snap to the second snap, yet Air Force is able to run from two entirely different formations while utilizing the same personnel group. It's paramount that the defense get their plays in quickly and communicate between snaps or the Falcons will eventually break one big.
Quarterback Dilithium Level (Scale: 1 [Navarre] to 10 [Denard]): Falcon senior QB Connor Dietz started three games as a redshirt freshman in 2009 and has otherwise served as a backup until this season. He did see the field some last year, averaging 6.6 yards on 38 carries, and rushed for 74 yards and a touchdown on seven carries in Air Force's season-opening win over Idaho State. The Falcons produce system quarterbacks and Dietz fits that mold; he isn't an elite athlete, and in an offense that relies on ruthless execution that doesn't prevent him from amassing some pretty impressive stats. I'll give him a 6, which turns into a functional 7-8 when the offense gets rolling.
Dangerman: The beauty of this offense is it doesn't rely on any one player to bear the load—14 Falcons tallied at least one carry against Notre Dame, 11 against Idaho State. If I must choose a focal point, however, it's running back Cody Getz. The flexbone formation features a fullback—or "B" back—lined up behind the quarterback, with two wing-backs—"A" backs—on the end of the line, a step back from the line of scrimmage:
Getz is one of those "A" backs (SB in the graphic above)—he's usually the pitch option and often motions into the backfield before the snap. While he rushed for just 102 yards in 2011, he's already surpassed that total in 2012 after picking up 218 yards and three touchdowns on 17 carries in the opener. At 5'7", 175 pounds, Getz is by no means big, but he's a senior well-versed in the system and has the speed to make teams pay for giving him the edge.
Zook Factor: Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun—a former Falcon quarterback under the tutelage of Fisher DeBerry—knows his team must play aggressive to overcome size and talent deficiencies, and therefore will never be confused with Ron Zook. In just the first half, the Falcons go for 4th-and-2 the ND 32, attempt a surprise onside kick, go for 4th-and-2 from their own 42, and successfully fake a punt on 4th-and-6 from their own 35.
After one half of football, I'm already a huge fan of Troy Calhoun.
It's no secret that Air Force will run, run, and then run some more. Last year, they ran 81.9% of the time on standard downs (national average: 60.0%) and 61.1% on passing downs (33.3%). The offense is designed to get positive plays on every down and stay "ahead of the sticks"—maintaining reasonable down-and-distance situations so the run is still the primary threat. Air Force finished in the top 37 nationally in all three advanced rushing stat categories (S&P+, Success Rate, PPP+) and were a top-60 offense, but on passing downs their efficiency plummets near the bottom of the national rankings. The key to stopping the Falcons is forcing them into obvious passing situations; this is, of course, much more difficult than it sounds.
The basic play of the Air Force offense is the veer option. Fisher DeBerry's entire 1998 Air Force playbook is available online; this diagram comes straight from its pages:
Before the snap, one of the "A" backs (in this case, the one on the left) motions into the backfield, arcing behind the fullback and into a pitch relationship with the quarterback. The first read is the dive to the fullback, and if option coaches had their druthers this is where the play would go every time. If there isn't a crease for the fullback to run through the A gap, the quarterback pulls and heads for the edge, where he'll read an unblocked defender—in this case, the right defensive end. The quarterback can keep or pitch it outside to the "A" back.
[For the rest of the breakdown, hit THE JUMP]