“On the offense last year, they had great spacing. That’s what I remember. Great spacing, great shooters, like Nik Stauskas, who’s not there right now. But they always have someone to fill the roles. They have a cutting offense, kind of hard to guard.”
FORMATION NOTES: This is nothing out of the ordinary for Michigan, but who's up for a perfect overhead view of Michigan aligning in a 4-3 under?
There are your 6, 3, 1, and five techniques left to right across the front with Gordon hanging out in what I guess is an 8 or 9.
Michigan also showed over fronts, which they have to from time to time because Minnesota loves to flip its strength.
This did not result in a discernible uptick in effectiveness.
This is the Maryland I:
This is Michgian in old friend Okie Zero.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: A lot more nose tackle in this one; Washington got more time than he did in any game to date this year with Pipkins rotating in regularly; once Pipkins went down Ash did get a few snaps late. Rest of the DL was generally Clark/Heitzman/Black with Ojemudia/Wormley/Henry backing up. Glasgow got a couple snaps before the end as well.
Usual rotation at LB was halted after Bolden made some errors, and then it was just the starters. Secondary was the usual except that Avery was the starter at CB and Taylor only came in for nickel packages.
[After THE JUMP: this is the drive that never ends.]
Taylor on an island [Upchurch]
Brian forwarded me a mailbag question regarding where Michigan's defense is getting attacked through the air, i.e. are there certain coverage areas that have been particularly weak? It took me most of a day to chart every passing play; the resulting post is rather straightforward. Consider this your bye week from my logorrhea.
Data are here.
What I tracked:
1) Where the ball starts (hash or center). If the tackles lined up inside the hash it was "center"
2) Which zone it was thrown to, on a telephone keypad grid. 1, 4, and 7 are around the numbers to the sideline; 2, 5, and 8 are the area around the opposite hash to the wide side only, and 3, 6, and 9 are down the middle.
If a ball was on the line I always erred to the zone closest to the quarterback. This makes sense if you imagine a player covering Zone 6 will be responsible for carrying a player through that zone, and would be in better position to defend that pass than a guy over him.
3) Which side (strong or weak) of the defense. I noted "Strong" as wherever the SAM lined up in 4-3 sets and where Countess lined up in nickel sets. Once or twice this conflicted with the offense but it's better this way for identifying which players are being targeted.
Weakside/boundary players, usually: R.Taylor, Wilson, Ross/Bolden, Beyer (as WDE) on nickel, Clark on 4-3.
Strongside/field players, usually: Countess, C.Gordon, Beyer (as SAM) on 4-3, Clark on nickel, T.Gordon, Morgan/Bolden, Stribling/Hollowell/Lewis/Avery.
Sacks, throwaways, scrambles, and other such events that took the emphasis on coverage were excised. I couldn't reward those things which occurred because coverage was good enough to make them happen so keep that in mind as you read.
"I just dropped back and did what I was coached to do, kind of read off his eyes and lo and behold he threw it that way so I was just trying to jump up and make the play on it." — Desmond Morgan
He made a play on it, to say the least.
[Hit THE JUMP for the best GIFs (from a very Michigan-biased perspective) from the UConn game, and make sure to vote for your favorite.]
9/22/2013 – Michigan 24, UConn 21 – 4-0
I watched the UConn game with two diehards who happen to be in town from out of state. I'd spent large chunks of the past decade trying to get one of these guys to come over to watch Michigan games for the same reason he refused to do so: he experienced games on television as an emotional trial to be bested. I'm the same way, but talk only goes so far.
So there's four of us in the room when Devin Gardner takes off up the middle for a sixteen-yard touchdown on third and eleven. Michigan's up seven midway through the first quarter. No one does anything. There's no whooping or even a slight fist pump or a clap. We just stare at the television, internally relieved but marshaling our strength for the road ahead like international meth kingpins on the lamb.
It takes a special kind of paranoia to be petrified about a game like that against a team like that, but it was redeemed in full. The recent history of Michigan football* lends itself towards nuanced discussion of this particular vintage of terror, and this one was spicy and piquant with notes of Denard Robinson's role in 2009 Iowa and 2002 Utah, which ended 10-7 despite the Utah offense scraping together only 200 yards of total offense. The nose was full-bodied, redolent of 2010 Iowa, and 2010 Michigan State, and the first three quarters of 2011 Notre Dame.
The aftertaste was like filling your mouth with iron shavings and walking into a strong magnetic field.
One of the worst things from the worst things column last week was the familiarity of all this: struggles against mediocre competition that throw a wet blanket on your season after Michigan beats Notre Dame and gets all hyped up about it. To that you can add an even darker familiarity now, one that you may have been reminded of when ABC flipped to the end of the Texas-Kansas State game just in time to see Greg Robinson do a little dance of joy.
What is Michigan doing on offense? I don't know. They come in saying they're going to manball it up; they are largely prevented from doing so by Denard Robinson. They do dump the stretch play that had been Michigan's primary way of gaining yards on the ground for five years, when they have David Molk and Patrick Omameh and Michael Schofield on the interior of the line.
Denard's gone, as are Molk and Omameh; Schofield's at right tackle, a spot that's generally less important than those guard spots on stretch plays. So of course now is the moment when Michigan turns to the stretch as their base. They suck at that, unsurprisingly. They haven't run more than five stretch plays per year since Rodriguez left.
You could see the confusion last week, when guys were leaving first level defenders with easy paths to the backfield. Those plays against Akron were shockingly bad. You have a guy between yourself and the center, you deal with him before moving to the second level. Otherwise you die. Whether the issue there was the call or the execution, the underlying symptom is the same one that plagued Michigan's defense during the Rodriguez era: never settling on who you are and being terrible at everything as a natural consequence.
I mean, how insane is it that after two years with an offensive line entirely recruited to run the stretch they install it once Kyle Kalis is the right guard?
This is the second straight year Michigan has one of the worst running games in the country papered over by the fact that its quarterback can scoot for 40 yards without breaking a sweat. Toussaint can't see what's in front of his face sometimes. Neither can the line. While Toussaint showed his ability in open space on his touchdown, Michigan found itself behind the chains far too often against a defense that had just been ripped apart by Maryland. Michigan is looking up at North Texas, Tulane, and Florida Atlantic in TFLs allowed after four games. Michigan is 118th(!!!) of 123 qualifying teams in tackles for loss allowed.
Michigan lacks an identity, and once in a while they come out doing something completely different and disastrous (3-3-5 against Purdue; under center against Iowa). In this one, Gardner's inability to throw straight makes it impossible to judge the playcalling, but more ominous than the already-plenty-ominous dropoff of Michigan's quarterback is the persistent clown show on the offensive line. Any idea that the problems may have been fluky is now gone. This is Michigan, still: looking at the quarterback as the cause of and solution to all problems.
*[For a handy one-sentence review, let's go to the Hoover Street Rag:
Michigan is ALWAYS going to get an opponent's best shot, because if you beat Michigan, your name gets etched in history, next to the Appalachian States, next to the Toledos.
I am not sure if that is meant with ironic lilt or not. This is Michigan, fergodsakes?]
Also here is the bizarre Eminem-flavored opener.
Brady Hoke Epic Double Point Of The Week. The only truly good things that happened in this game happened on defense and there was one incredibly critical play that turned the game around. You know what it is already; you know it's about to be featured in the double fist pump, you know that Desmond Morgan is the man who made the play.
Honorable mention: Frank Clark, for sacking people frequently. Blake Countess, for seeming to be good at coverage. Fitzgerald Toussaint, for busting a much needed 35-yard touchdown en route to a 100 yard game that means I no longer have to predict 100 yard games for Fitzgerald Toussaint every week in the game preview.
Epic Double Point Standings.
1.0: Devin Gardner (ND), Jeremy Gallon (ND), Desmond Morgan(UConn)
0.5: Cam Gordon (CMU), Brennen Beyer (CMU)
Brady Hoke Epic Double Fist-Pump Of The Week. Michigan had just failed to convert a fourth and two, looked virtually incapable of driving the field against UConn, and trailed by seven points in the fourth quarter. UConn dropped to pass; Desmond Morgan dropped into a seam route, leap, speared the ball, and returned it to the UConn eleven yard line. One play later it was tied. Huzzah, Desmond Morgan.
Honorable mention: Frank Clark crushes UConn's inept right tackle for a critical sack on UConn's final drive. Gardner actually pitches on a speed option this time.
Epic Double Fist-Pumps Past.
8/31/2013: Dymonte Thomas introduces himself by blocking a punt.
9/7/2013: Jeremy Gallon spins through four Notre Dame defenders for a 61-yard touchdown.
9/14/2013: Michigan does not lose to Akron. Thanks, Thomas Gordon.
9/21/2013: Desmond Morgan's leaping one-handed spear INT saves Michigan's bacon against UConn.
[After the JUMP: PANIC and RUN AROUND SCREAMING.]
I'd planned on posting another Picture Pages this week from the Notre Dame game on the assumption that there wouldn't be much from the Akron game to discuss. Surprise! The good news—ish—is that this continues our discussion of where Michigan's line is.
This is another Toussaint lost yardage play that marks the last time Michigan's run their as-yet-unsuccessful counter to their zone game. ABC provided a slick closeup of events (the difference between doing this for an ABC broadcast and BTN one is enormous—viva ABC), so we'll get a zoomed-in look at goings-on.
ND's in an even front; Michigan has two tight ends. They'll pull Schofield as the rest of the line tries to sell another zone.
Michigan immediately runs into the problems that is Louis Nix, who either isn't buying or is just assigned to slant outside of Glasgow.
That's bad, that'll happen sometimes when you play Nix. As Nix surges upfield of Glasgow, Schofield sees him and knows he's got to deal with that lest Toussaint get swallowed in the backfield.
Glasgow violates the fake rule I made up by turning upfield. Schofield's coming, but he doesn't comprehend that he isn't totally screwed until…
Both guys go to Nix, leaving one of ND's ILBs unblocked. Toussaint makes things worse by trying to bounce around a rampant Nix, and gets chopped down.
That's a two yard loss.
Slow unnecessary for this one.
[After THE JUMP: Notre Dame faces the same problem, finds different results.]
This guy lost a bet. Don't gamble, kids.
Also a lost bet. A love poem to Tommy Rees from a Notre Dame fan.
The girls of St. Mary’s pray at your knees
Because you are not just Tommy Rees
You are QB1
Equal to the likes of Montana and Theismann and Stuhldreher
A symbol, a winner, an icon
Your droopy eyes, not of a stoner, but a leader
One who studies play books until 4 a.m.
A senior who now neglects parties and cops’ groins
You will now prevail
Don't gamble, kids.
The Harmon thing. Do be awesome, though.
Blowing the coverage open. One Foot Down talks about what went wrong for Notre Dame on the long Gallon touchdown.
Long story short, when Michigan motioned Funchess across the formation ND changed their coverage and freshman Jaylon Smith didn't change his despite changing his alignment in a way that suggested he got the call. He followed Funchess into the flat, opening up Gallon for a catch and run.
Not sure if that was specifically designed to test Smith's understanding of his checks, but that's what it did. It is a great example of the kind of things motion can do to a defense: you're testing their ability to adjust at little cost to yourself.
In other film business, Space Coyote takes a look at how Michigan got beat up on the DL when the Irish ran. I mostly agree, but he's a little harsh to Morgan in one instance. I thought the DL play in front of him opened up a cutback lane he had to fill.
Beyer ends up way upfield and Black tries to rip inside of the right guard, so there's a massive backside lane. Once it's clear the back isn't taking it he can't scrape because Wormley got blown up. Thus the crease. Morgan's in a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't situation.
None of this is particularly surprising with six in the box and no nose tackles on the field. I do wonder why Pipkins didn't get more playing time, as he seemed to do well with the snaps he got and there's no way he'd get as blown up as Wormley did on a couple of those plays.
Space Coyote also has a post at his own site on the passing combos that got Fitzgerald Toussaint open for that critical swing route and saw Dileo shake himself open for the final touchdown.
Stick a fork in an outlet. MSU running back Nick Hill:
“I think we’re very close to just being the electric offense we were in 2010, 2011,” Hill told the Spartan Sports Network. “Obviously, we struggled a little bit last year, but we’re right there. And I noticed it when we went through summer conditioning going into fall camp that the pieces are there, the players are there.”
Michigan State starts walk-ons at tight end and right tackle, has the worst receiving corps in the league, and is currently starting Connor Cook because pretending he's Denard Robinson is their best option. Nick Hill may have depth perception issues.
Injuries. AJ Williams is "questionable" and Courtney Avery still limited. I bet we don't see much of either this weekend—why risk it—but it sounds like Williams will be ready to go by the time Big Ten play rolls around. Gallon says he's fine.
In future opponent injury news, Minnesota loses spectacularly-named starting corner Briean Boddy-Calhoun for the year with an ACL tear. Kill said he was their best cornerback, so that's a blow. Jeremy Gallon cackles madly.
More Legends Jersey proposals. From HSR:
4). Jareth Glanda | #54 | Michigan LS 2010-2013
Move anonymously through two whole seasons of football without having your name mentioned, then catch a pass for a first down on a broken play during a bowl game.
Anyone who fumbles ten snaps should be given a red 15 patch reading Mallett.
Etc.: The House Rock Built's UFR of the fourth quarter is slightly different from mine, but spiritually the same. The Daily profiles Taylor Lewan.
FL C commit Ricky Doyle picks up a fourth star from ESPN, is now just outside their top 100. Practice video is a lot more exciting before the season. Fixing the NCAA rule book. New throwy-sticky ball turf. Michigan offers combo guard Donte Grantham. Adidas alternates worn by Arkansas State draw 15-yard penalties at the beginning of each half. A final look at ND.