"...don't believe something because an "expert" is saying it. Believe it because of the evidence."
10/12/2013 – Michigan 40, Penn State 43 (4OT) – 5-1, 1-1 Big Ten
Mace triptych, by Eric Upchurch
Devin Gardner dropped back to pass. He had two guys in the route, both of them headed to the endzone from the 40 yard line. Two seconds later he ate a blindside sack, because Taylor Lewan was pretending he was a tight end and AJ Williams was pretending he was a left tackle.
Last year in Notre Dame Stadium, Denard Robinson faked a handoff and turned around to find Stephon Tuitt in his face. He reacted badly, because he always reacted badly in that situation.
This fall, Michigan told the offensive line they should do that stretch blocking thing the coaches had run maybe six times the previous two years.
Drew Dileo watched most of these things from the bench and Dennis Norfleet all of them because Michigan would rather play underclass tight ends who couldn't shove a toddler into a ball pit in three tries.
Any individual play can be blamed on a player. Any structural issue in the first couple years can be attached to the previous coach. But there's a breaking point at which it becomes clear that something is deeply wrong with the guys in charge, and this Penn State game was the offensive equivalent of watching Matt McGloin shred a clueless JT Floyd and company in 2010.
I went back into Michigan's statistics archive, which goes back to 1949, and pulled out the top 200 running back games in that database in terms of carries (the max allowed). The sample ranges from 51 to 23, and here's the bottom of it in YPC:
|Don Moorhead||25||57||2.3||0||1969||Michigan State|
|Anthony Thomas||29||60||2.1||0||8||2000||Ohio State|
|Fitzgerald Toussaint||27||27||1||0||12||2013||Penn State|
We're talking about the worst game from a tailback in the history of the program here, and nothing about it was actually Toussaint's fault. This is Greg Robinson level output. The only faith you can have in the offensive coaching is that two to four times a year they will come out with a gameplan so clueless that you spend four quarters telling yourself that you won't send that BORGERG tweet out. It's time to break the seal.
There are ways to work around the personnel limitations Michigan has, but they are not the ones Michigan wants to run. They want to be a rough and tumble Stanford offense; they spend large chunks of games with one wide receiver and three guys vaguely inclined towards blocking, and they've spent almost a month of precious practice time installing an unbalanced formation that resulted in the above table as soon as an opponent saw it on tape. This has been a miscalculation as bad as believing Russell Bellomy was ready to back up the oft-injured Denard Robinson, with results exactly like the second half of last year's Nebraska game.
This is nothing like what Rodriguez did on offense because there was no offense in which Stephen Threet, Nick Sheridan, seven scholarship OL, and a parade of freshmen at wide receiver would be effective. It is instead exactly like what he did on defense: faithlessly pretend to fit personnel to scheme early, ditch that at the first sign of trouble, shoehorn players into roles they are not fit for, make alarmingly large mid-season changes, and get the minimum possible out of available talent. Michigan is 117th in tackles for loss allowed, giving up eight per game.
No offensive line is bad enough to pave the way for 27 yards on 27 carries, because teams running for one god damn yard an attempt stop doing it.
There are problems up and down the team that I can list if you like. Devin Gardner has Miley Cyrus-level ball security. Taylor Lewan went out. Rich Rodriguez didn't recruit any offensive linemen. Brendan Gibbons should be able to make a 33-yard field goal in the dead center of the field. Yes, all of these things. Granted. At some point, though, you zoom out from the micro issues that can be explained away and you get this:
Michigan 14, MSU 28: 250 yards of offense
Michigan 16, Iowa 24: 323 yards of offense, 166 50 minutes into the game when M went into hurry-up shotgun throwing
Michigan 23, Virginia Tech 20 (OT): 184 yards of offense
Michigan 6, ND 13: 299 yards of offense and 5 INTs
Michigan 9, Nebraska 23: 188 yards of offense and 3 INTs
Michigan 21, Ohio State 26: 279 yards of offense and 4 TOs
Michigan 28, UConn 24: 284 yards of offense and 3 TOs
Penn State 43, Michigan 40 (4OT): 389 yards of offense in 19 opportunities, zero OT TDs, 3 TO, worst rushing performance ever by a Michigan tailback
If you are so inclined you can add games against Alabama and MSU last year plus the 2011 Notre Dame game to the pile; I certainly don't think anything about UTL was to Borges's credit.
There have been some brilliant games over the last three years, but we're one upcoming debacle away from having a third straight year in which a quarter of Michigan's games feature offensive performances that are (almost) impossible to win with. Some of those could be explained away by injury or bad luck or a flood of turnovers from the quarterback, except that the offensive coordinator is also the quarterbacks coach.
After his year three at Michigan found high expectations dashed, John Beilein overhauled his program. Now he's coming off a national title game appearance, on the verge of making Michigan into a top-ten program. Unless there's a major turnaround, Brady Hoke's going to have some hard decisions this offseason.
Unless they're easy ones.
Brady Hoke Epic Double Point Of The Week. Frank Clark was in the right place at the right time to scoop a ball off the turf and score when Michigan opened the second half down eleven and added two sacks besides as part of the best damn 43-point performance college football's ever seen, so let's give it to him.
Honorable mention: Raymon Taylor had a pick and was generally avoided otherwise; Devin Funchess had another 100 yard game as a "tight end"; Jeremy Gallon remains an excellent safety blanket and all-around player.
Epic Double Point Standings.
1.0: Devin Gardner (ND), Jeremy Gallon (ND), Desmond Morgan(UConn), Devin Funchess(Minnesota), Frank Clark(PSU)
0.5: Cam Gordon (CMU), Brennen Beyer (CMU)
Brady Hoke Epic Double Fist-Pump Of The Week. Should I even do this after that? I probably shouldn't. I will anyway: Funchess's second touchdown displayed his incredible potential, as he shot through the center of the defense to get over the top. This one wins because Penn State was actually trying to cover him this time.
Honorable mention: Gallon's shake gets him wide open for a touchdown; Chris Wormley rips through to sack Hack, as does Jibreel Black, as does Frank Clark a couple times; Fitzgerald Toussaint gets past the line of scrimmage that one 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.
10/5/2013: Fitzgerald Toussaint runs for ten yards, gets touchdown rather easily.
10/12/2013: Devin Funchess shoots up the middle of the field to catch a 40 yard touchdown, staking Michigan to a ten-point lead they wouldn't relinquish. (Right?)
[After the JUMP: decisions, and the rest of things.]
FORMATION NOTES: Hello "tackle over":
Since these were standard formations that happened to have Lewan and Schofield next to each other I just named them as standard formations and noted them as "tackle over" before hand. I've also started noting the TO goal line formations.
As a reminder, TEs flitting in from the side to show up behind a guard are now designated with an H. This is "tackle over Ace Big H." I still consider these guys TEs.
Also Michigan's been using this enough (and Seth asked me about it) that I dubbed the shotgun formation where there are three WR to one side of the field with two guys tight to the line stacked "shotgun trips inner stack."
Chesson is motioning to line up outside of Funchess and Dileo.
Not to be confused with "shotgun trips stack," where all three WR are lined up over each other on the hash. Or "shotgun double stack," where there are, uh, double stacks.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: Offensive line was as before save for the tackle over stuff, on which AJ Williams was always the tight-end type substance on the other end of the line. When Kalis got dinged, Joey Burzynski got three or four snaps.
Butt played a ton as the H-back TE. Funchess was mostly a wide receiver; when he did line up at tight end it wasn't a run. Paskorz got some playing time in the second half as another inline TE when Michigan went to three TE sets.
With Funchess consuming more WR snaps and a ton of looks with just one WR on the field, Reynolds and Jackson saw their playing time decrease substantially. Green got in frequently, picking up ten carries, and Justice Hayes got one snap in a two-back shotgun set on third and long.
[After THE JUMP: manball.]
Got any big birthday plans?
“Oh come on. Daggone it. I thought that was a secret.”
Word of the day?
“Uh. Word of the day? ‘Improvement.’ How’s that?”
MGoQuestion: What kind of improvement did you see from the offensive line?
“No turnovers, number one. That’s the offense, not the offensive line. I’ve said it before, when the turnovers go away, a lot of the problems go away. They don’t all go away, but a lot of it, because you get possessions. That’s the key. You get to keep your possessions. You get to take advantage of them, because they’re precious. That’s really as much from an offensive perspective the reason we won the game as any.”
For the final time, Jon Falk hands off the Jug. These little moments are what make college football so special—name another sport in which the fans know the name of a beloved equipment manager and care deeply about a century-old water jug that doubles as a trophy in a severely one-sided rivalry.
Many more GIFs of the Jug, as well as a whole lot of Funchess, alumni cheerleaders, and more after the jump.
A few weeks ago, Devin Gardner was the king of turnovers, baseball existed, and no one other than Jeremy Gallon was the target of passes. None of these things are true anymore—NONE—thanks in large part to Michigan exploring the idea of using Devin Funchess as a large and generally in charge wide receiver. Michigan's second touchdown was an excellent example of what happens when you focus too much one one guy and how Funchess can be effective even if he's not as fast as a really fast guy.
It's third and fourteen after Chris Bryant got smoked for a sack on second and five; Michigan comes out with a trips formation with Gallon the lone receiver to the bottom of the screen. Jake Butt, Drew Dileo, and Devin Funchess are bunched to the top of the screen. Minnesota responds with a 3-3-5 stack look and one deep safety:
Minnesota's coverage is going to end up super inane. They'll rush three, leave all three linebackers in no-mans land neither pressuring Gardner or covering anyone, and bracket Jeremy Gallon, leaving one on one coverage on all three guys to the trips side.
Below here is an approximation of what they do. Linebackers have been designated "blorp" in an attempt to get the reader thinking about the walrus defensive coordinator accidentally blowing bubbles with his own spit instead of whether he should have called this defense on third and fourteen.
Now, two of these guys seem to have obvious tasks. One is in man coverage on Toussaint. The other is spying Gardner. The third, the top-most blorp, seems to be in a robber zone type thing to the trips side of the field.
A moment after the snap, Michigan's plan is revealed:
Butt runs an out at the LOS; Dileo tries to get up the seam. He'll be held and thrown to the ground, drawing a flag. Funchess releases upfield, well past the blorp zone, and is one on one with Martez Shabazz, a senior JUCO transfer who hasn't started for Minnesota in his career.
Shabazz has already turned to run with Funchess at this point, when Funchess is five yards off of him:
That's because Funchess is angling for the corner of the endzone, selling fade.
This evaporates from the screen shortly after, but on replay you can see Funchess flip the defensive back entirely around as he breaks to the post.
You may remember "defensive back turns 360 degrees" from such things as the 2010 defense. More likely you made sure you do not remember that by liberal application of whiskey. Either way, your result is separation.
Gardner's throw is high and a little behind, but Funchess don't care, and the defensive back is trying to get a PBU on a guy who's 1) a half foot taller than him, 2) leaping, and 3) made of solid material.
GET ORF ME
It is now 14-7.
Slow not really necessary here. Here's a couple of replay angles, the first of which does a good job of showing Funchess selling fade and his quick transition to the post. That's a quality route even with the stumble.
Items Of Interest
This defensive call is ridiculous. It's third and fourteen and you don't give your crappy backup corner any help against Devin Funchess. I get bracketing Gallon, sure. But going straight man against three WRs without any help at all is asking for a facepunching. Here is a facepunching.
I also get spying Gardner, and covering Toussaint out of the backfield once you've scouted Michigan's wheel route predilection. It's that third linebacker hanging out nine yards downfield that really gets me.
Devin Funchess can turn around Minnesota defensive backs. This was far from an isolated occurrence. Here it seems like the CB is thinking "oh crap oh crap oh crap this giant robot thing is going to put a fade on my face," bails super early to the corner, and then gets turned around easy on the post. At that point it's all over even if Gardner's throw is less than perfect, as it is, because anything up high requires the DB to go through Funchess's butt (not that Butt) to even get a finger on his arms.
Can Funchess do this to better opposition? That's the question. It was interesting to watch Michigan State go up against 6'5" Admiral-spawn Corey Robinson in the Notre Dame game, as he presented a lot of the same issues. State had those safety things in the middle of the field, though, which limited Robinson to sideline routes on which he was fairly successful, catching 3 balls for 54 yards and drawing a couple of pass interference calls. Funchess is pretty much the same guy.
He'll have to prove it down the stretch here. I think his route running skills are quality enough to make him an option, and even when guys get over the top, the Hemingway Option always remains on the table.
Better behind and high than on target. What is the nature of "on target"? This not-perfect throw works out perfectly because of the nature of Devin Funchess. If it hits him in the hands in stride there are defensive backs other than this one who will be there to break it up. If you lay it up and let the guy get the rebound, nobody's defending this.
The nature of on target varies with the target. Gardner seemed a bit off with his timing in this one, resulting in a number of balls that forced receivers to reach behind them. Funchess has proven very good at this in his career, and his general enormousness moves throws that are definite incompletions to Gallon into big chunks of yards:
That's why Michigan's receiving corps is about to be land of the giants.
With Funchess threatening, it will be a struggle for defenses to cover everything. Minnesota tries to play it safe by rushing three, which gives Gardner time. Despite the fact that they have eight guys in coverage their fear of Gardner's scrambling ability pulls guys out of relevant coverage, and while they could still put one of those safety guys back there, Dileo's route up the seam will give hypothetical safety a choice between those two folks and Gardner should have an option either way.
That is 2,728 pounds—1.24 metric tons—in the box for those weighing at home.
On 1st and 10. MANBRAAAHHHLLL!!!
Before the Minnesota game I tweeted that I'd be perfectly content if Borges debuted a completely new package and used it to beat up on the Gophers at home a la 2011. So here I am, being content.
The unbalanced stuff I'm sure Brian will picture page and Space Coyote and Burgeoning Wolverine Star will peel it apart as well; since they know more about that stuff I'll leave it to them. What I would like to do is look at the heavy formations in the macro: how Big did Michigan actually go, how effective it was on a yards-per-play basis, and whether it matches the personnel.
By "big" I mean fewer receivers in the formation. The lower that number, the more backs and TEs, and thus the "heavier" the formation. How big?
Average Receivers in Formation:
|2013 games 1-4||2.30||2.29|
|2013 Minnesota||1.83 (!)||1.79 (!)|
That is big—like we should all have pronounced brow ridges and live in caves and the equipment sponsor is Mousterian big. I counted Funchess as a WR when he was in a 2-point stance; if you file him as a half tight end (you shouldn't) it gets even heavier. A lot of the three-wide was on the time-sensitive last drive of the 1st half—that you should count.
Did it work? Did it work better than the stuff Michigan has been doing until now? Did they always run to the side they unbalanced? We see after the jump.