in town for free camps
11/19/2011 – Michigan 45, Nebraska 17 – 9-2, 5-2 Big Ten
In the aftermath of Saturday's flamethrower job, everyone from the coaches down to emailers is saying that felt like Michigan, usually with emphasis. Picking one at random:
Great game Saturday - I think it was at least partially Nebraska-fueled, but man that FELT like Michigan.
Quick, it's any game from 1998 to 2007 against a spread offense or mobile quarterback. How do you feel? Good? Bad? Have you stopped reading this column to shiver in a corner at the idea of Carlyle Holiday? Troy Smith? Donovan McNabb? Armanti Horror Edwards?
Yes, you have. For the Ohio State fans who persist in reading this column because it's willing to send Michigan fans into catatonic seizures, Michigan fans felt pretty damn bad about going up against mobile quarterbacks during the Carr era. They also felt this during the Rodriguez era but it was a lot harder to parse out a specific mobile-quarterback-related fear when Indiana's putting up more than 30 every year.
Quick! It's any game in which Michigan has an 18 point lead against a mid-level Big Ten team from 1998 to 2007. Nevermind. You're still having a seizure.
Quick! It's a team with Tom Brady, David Terrell, Anthony Thomas, Steve Hutchinson, Mo Williams, and Jeff Backus. How many yards per carry do they average?
No, seriously. I'm asking this one. How many yards per carry did the Orange-Bowl-winning, Tom-Brady-featuring, three-NFL-OL-including-a-hall-of-fame-guard-deploying 1999 Michigan Wolverines average?
Seriously. Michigan finished 79th in rushing offense, 24th in passing offense, and ran more than they passed. Tom Brady—Tom Brady!—averaged 7.2 YPA. In the Orange Bowl they fell behind 14-0 because they kept running their awful run offense at Alabama's #2 run defense. They'd finish with 23 carries for 27 yards.
Quick! Fourth and four from the Ohio State 34 up two with three minutes left. What does Brady Hoke do?
I was wrong. I was mad when Michigan hired Brady Hoke because I though it was a capitulation, that it was Michigan returning to the things that made it such a frustrating team to root for once Lloyd Carr stopped having the best defense in the universe.
Carr coached his team like they had an awesome run offense and an awesome defense no matter the facts on the ground, which led to the most frustrating stat anyone's ever compiled. From Vijay Ramanujan's article in your copy of HTTV 2007:
Michigan's fourth quarter woes from 2000 to 2005 … have been the thing holding it back from truly elite status the last several years. Alarmingly, Michigan entered 18 games over that period of time with a lead smaller than 10 points and went 8-10 in those games. They were under .500 when entering the fourth with a small lead! When tied or facing a similarly small deficit, Michigan was 6-1. In all games in which Michigan trailed by any margin they were 8-8.
That is the kind of thing that gets you pawing at the air in your sleep, moaning "no… not again." It's incontrovertible evidence of terrible game management. Hiring Hoke felt like returning to that, like returning to debates about "scoring offenses" and looking at every mobile quarterback on the schedule like it was a loss waiting to happen.
This is not the case. It turns out as I was sitting in the stands burning up inside as Rocky Harvey scatbacked Illinois to victory or Michigan punted itself into oblivion against OSU, Brady Hoke was standing on a sideline burning up inside, whether it was at Michigan Stadium or somewhere in the MAC. Hoke does not want to lead by 17. He wants to lead by 21, dammit. If anything, the playcalling this year has been too aggressive what with the constant unleashing of the dragon.
Al Borges wears a t-shirt with this on it every Casual Friday
That made me mad in the immediate aftermath, but what happens when you put a Michigan program together and… like… use it? What happens when you're Lloyd Carr without the crippling fear of something going wrong? What happens when you go from weak-tight to loose-aggressive?
For one, you leave the desiccated corpses of Nebraska strewn around you as you leave the field. Afterwards, Bo Pelini sits in his locker room shaking like Don Cheadle in "Hotel Rwanda." When you win games, you win games comfortably. No one gets nervous in the fourth quarter of San Diego State. The offense is pretty much the offense; when its horns get pulled in it's because you're on your own four up 21 and that's the move. Sometimes you do the audacious thing in the important game, not the tomato can before the important game. Mobile quarterbacks don't automatically rack up a billion yards. And when the right move doesn't work out and someone asks you about it, you say "that's how it's going to be."
So when people say this "feels like Michigan," I agree and disagree. In the immediate post-hire column featuring Will Smith robots I said "to me, getting back to being Michigan means going 9-3 and losing to Jim Tressel." Since 1993, Michigan has lost at least three games every year save '97, '99 and '06; since Jim Tressel's arrival Michigan has beaten Ohio State once.
If this feels like getting back to Michigan, it's the Michigan of your dreams, the Michigan you left back in Peoria when you shipped to Saigon. You've got one good picture of her and she's that pretty every day in an ugly place.
"This Is Michigan" is about the idea, not the reality—at least not a reality from the last 20 years. So far. Days like Saturday inch us closer to the picture in our heads.
There were enough videos to warrant a VOAV, which was posted yesterday. This from Boyz in the Pahokee is worth a repost, though:
Via Eric Upchurch and the Ann Arbor Observer, our Nebraska photoset:
As always, the above photos are Creative Commons licensed.
I'm just sayin'.
via Eric Upchurch and the Ann Arbor Observer
BRADY HOKE EPIC DOUBLE POINT OF THE WEEK. I'm tempted to hand this to Lavonte David for 17 tackles, 14 of them solo, 2 of them Y U SO FAST ankle-grabs on a Denard Robinson one step from engaging turbo. But he plays for Nebraska and we only talk about players who play for Michigan.
If we can't give it to David, it's again Fitzgerald Toussaint's to have and hold. He's got his own bullet below explaining why. Runners up: Mike Martin, Denard Robinson, and Jordan Kovacs.
EPIC DOUBLE POINT STANDINGS.
2: Denard Robinson (Notre Dame, Eastern Michigan), Brady Hoke (San Diego State, Northwestern), Fitzgerald Toussaint (Purdue, Nebraska)
1: Jordan Kovacs (Western Michigan), David Molk (Minnesota), Ryan Van Bergen (MSU), Mike Martin (Iowa), JT Floyd(Illinois).
Fitzkreig continues. 138 yards on 29 carries and three monster games in the last four. The exception was a 16-carry, 58-yard performance against Iowa when many of his attempts were run from under center.
As a result, I saw Toussaint compared to the following tailbacks over the weekend: Mike Hart (this was me but not just me), Tim Biakabutuka, and Chris Perry. Except fast! I went with Hart because the way Toussaint dodges guys in a phonebooth is reminiscent of #20 and his cuts in narrow areas are what makes the zone game work. Toussaint doesn't have Hart's pile-pushing power but he compensates with Except Fast! He's also been very secure with the ball. (Knock on wood.) I don't recall any fumbles from him this year; that's pretty good for 143 carries.
It took longer than everyone wanted, but I declare him broken out. He needs 191 yards against OSU and in the bowl to crack 1000 for the season; I bet he gets that and enters next year in the conversation for best back in the league. I'll have to go back and check how Northwestern held him to 25 yards on 14 carries. That's nuts.
Weekly Borgeswatch. It's to the point where the scattered –1 yard power plays from the I don't even bother me anymore. They're like old friends reminding me of the spread's superiority for this personnel and how our offensive coordinator has also come to this conclusion, albeit grudgingly.
I thought this was another strong game from Borges. He debuted a pro set that saw Michigan bust a couple of big gains; the flare screen got blown up the second time he went to it but it was effective overall. Outside of that he largely let the offense do what it was recruited to do: run zone from the gun. It worked to the tune of 238 yards.
While the averages for Denard (4.4 YPC) and Fitz(4.8) aren't electric a lot of that is due to Michigan's struggles near the goal line. Those two had eight carries from within the Nebraska seven on which they gained 7 yards total; carries outside of goal-to-go situations averaged 5.3 between the two main weapons. Without Lavonte David who knows what they would have been.
Unfortunately, goal to go is kind of important. Those struggles combine with last week's goal line stand by Illinois* to create the closest thing to a worry possible coming off a 45-17 win. Michigan got lucky on a dubious pass interference call and had to resort to a fake field goal to punch in short touchdowns; on both short yardage TDs Michigan had to bounce to the sideline. Going up the middle was futile.
I wonder why Michigan has never tried to replicate** the virtually unstoppable Gator Heavy package that was Florida's go-to short yardage package during the Tebow era. This was a complaint I had during the RR years, too. I like the idea of giving the D seven gaps to defend and providing Denard two lead blockers that can attack any of them, plus a tailback.
*[I guess you could toss in Iowa's successful goal line stand but that was executed in adverse conditions.]
**[Michigan did briefly feature a double H-back set in 2009 that was kind of like Gator Heavy but they never used the full-on heavy. They always had two WRs.]
Weekly Denardwatch. There were a couple of scary throws I'll have to see on replay to determine whether they were bad ideas or fit in narrow windows—guessing the former—but 61% completions and 10 YPA are pretty good. Yeah, a big chunk of those was a chuck-and-pray to Roundtree but at least that wasn't into double coverage. The safety couldn't get over in time. Roundtree also had a step on Dennard… it wasn't in the same class some of the ND armpunts were. Meanwhile, the Odoms touchdown gets an "I be like dang."
I thought the INT was fluky; some people on the twitters disagreed. I'm not saying the batted ball was fluky, but the dude knocking it to himself and catching it… eh… doesn't happen so often. That's more on the playcall than Denard. Asking a short guy to float it over a tall guy has resulted in two interceptions this year that I'm not sure Denard can do much about other than be six inches taller or eat the ball on a screen that seems open.
There was progress.
The above was part of that. When Denard pulled up to throw to a short dude streaking across the endzone my Michigan rolodex flipped to the first interception he threw against MSU last year, where he had the exact same route open and chucked it well behind his guy.
I'm guessing Denard's DSR is in the mid-60s range he seems to have established as his Big Ten baseline. That's a step up from the days when he was struggling to complete anything against the Eastern Michigans of the world. Transition costs here seem mostly paid. Now it's about getting him that extra increment.
The rumors are not true. Do not listen to Heiko: I had nothing to do with the lack of power in Michigan Stadium. I did not make a commando raid Friday night after seeing the image of Pop Evil in the stadium and Do What Had To Be Done. I have an alibi—I was at the hockey game—and if I had done it I would have taken out the north scoreboard, where Special K's speakers are.
Way to go, whoever you are. Excellent work by random student who I assume is an engineer to start counting down the playclock after M took a false start penalty near the goal line in the first. Note that Hoke stepped forth to take blame for the penalty:
"That's on me," he said. "I should have called timeout. For me to not do that, that's bad coaching."
Second Zookian clock management incident. Coaches are always too conservative with their last timeout and this tendency bit Michigan after they ran a couple times at the end of the first half. After Robinson biffed by trying to get to the sideline instead of reading the block Toussaint had made on the closest defender, the clock burned 30 seconds before the third down snap.
I know you want to have that timeout for a field goal attempt but in a situation like this you know the clock is going to run and you're not sure that will be the case down the road. A spike is a quality option with five seconds left; not so much with 48.
This is a nit. I'm going to name my firstborn "Hoke Gametheory."
Helmet to ball. Yes, people who keep telling me about fumbles, the last few have been Michigan's doing. Not so much the ones where people just drop the ball. Terrence Robinson may have just earned a fifth year—it looks like Michigan will have room for him even if they take 28.
Fluck. Michigan's still recovering an inordinate number of the fumbles caused. No, this is not coachable.
I don't always talk about game theory*, but when I do I prefer it to be about going up 17 or 21. Last week I was totally cool with Michigan running a QB draw with Gardner on third and goal from the ten to go up 17; I was similarly cool with the field goal team running out for a chip shot on the fourth and one.
It's a similar situation: up 14 about halfway through the third quarter against a team that's struggling to move the ball. Getting that third score is all but game over. That said, Hoke made it clear in the postgame presser that they had scouted that particular situation and got the look they wanted:
Can you talk about picking the spot to fake the field goal? “We had put it in. It’s the one Penn State used against us in ’95? I think it was ’95 up there. [We] wanted it on the right hash, [and] they gave us the look that we wanted. Even if we had kicked the field goal, Drew Dileo -- having him as a holder, he’s such a smart football kid. He did a tremendous job with it. You got it, you might as well use it.”
Until he runs a fake field goal against the same team he ran a famous fake field goal the year previous—and takes a timeout before doing so—it's all good.
Less than a season into the Hoke regime it's clear his natural inclination is to be aggressive in close situations. That should pay off down the road—it hasn't so much this year because when Michigan wins they win by a lot.
BCS watch. Saturday night's events all but guarantee Michigan a spot if they take care of business on Saturday. They're now ahead of the Big 12 runner-up, which will either be a three-loss Oklahoma or an Oklahoma State team coming off back-to-back losses, one of them to Iowa State. Pecking order:
- Houston (auto)
- Big 12 runner up
- ACC runner up
You can flip Stanford and Michigan if you like. There are no scenarios that see a 10-2 Michigan left out; even if the SEC can put a third team in because of an all SEC West title game, Michigan is an easy pick over a 10-2 Arkansas. To be safe you're rooting for Okie State in Bedlam.
Now, about getting to 10-2…
[UPDATE: a reader informs me that this is misunderstanding of the way three teams get into the BCS from a single conference. #1 and #2 have to not win the conference, so LSU would have to lose to Georgia and Alabama and LSU would still have to be 1-2. That is… not impossible, actually.]
Inside the Box Score has cat photos and commentary:
In the first half, with us up 10-7, Denard threw an INT on a screen pass. I’m starting to think he’s too short to throw middle screens. Anyway, the defense responded with a Kovacs TFL, a Van Bergen pass deflection, and Demens and Martin tackling a WR on a screen for minimal yardage. It wasn’t quite the three-play sequence that bursted impetus against Illinois, but it reminded me of that. Neb had to settle for a 51 yard FG. Our defense basically said, we’ve got our O’s back.
The announcers thought Kovacs was acting a little when injured to slow down Neb’s hurry up offense. For the record, he stayed out for the duration of that series, so I don’t think he was faking. Screw you Urban Paschman for suggesting such a thing.
Are we really at the point where a team that has two injuries in a game gets accused of slowing the game down on purpose? This wasn't the Michigan State defense's fainting couch act against Iowa.
When I think of NU, I think of Northwestern. Since they have B1G seniority over Nebraska, they should get the NU acronym. That leaves either UNL or Neb for Nebraska.
Blog policy is to bestow "NU" on the winner of the NU-NU game. When not in possession of "NU," Northwestern shall be "NW" and Nebraska "UNL." It is my hope this eventually spawns a rivalry trophy: large block N and U letters that the winning team paints their colors after a victory.
Hoke For Tomorrow on various people who had good days:
Denard Robinson - The best game in a long time for our leader and best. Denard looked completely in control of the offense. He was patient, waiting for plays to develop before zinging a TD pass to Gallon or cutting behind his blockers for a TD on the ground. Best of all, Denard finally hit a receiver perfectly on an endzone bomb. He made some more questionable reads on the read option, but overall it was a great performance.
If you hit up Blue Seoul's OSU/Nebraska scouting report the Cornhuskers' long touchdown probably looked familiar:
So there you go: the coaches don't read the blog.
Unwashed blog masses. Maize and Go Blue has a newspapery recap. Schadenfreude can be had at Corn Nation's game thread and post-game thread. TTB runs down the recruiting visitors. MNBN has a wrap up. BWS talks about Rich Rodriguez. I only talk about coaches who coach for Michigan. M&GB gives thanks. So does the HSR. MGoFootball bullets.
Want a little more perspective? In its 13 games last year, Michigan gave up 458 points. Through 11 this season, they've surrendered 172. In other words, to equal the punchline that was 2010, Michigan would have to give up 144 points -- in EACH of its remaining two games (OSU and the bowl).
I am annoyed that this is followed by a reference to the scoring offense as if the defense doesn't have anything to do with putting said offense in a position to succeed. The offense has dropped off a bit, and criticisms leveled at Borges after MSU and Iowa are still valid.
Meanwhile, Touch The Banner officially enters haterz territory:
Obligatory discussion of J.T. Floyd. Nebraska's one huge play was a 54-yard touchdown bomb to Brandon Kinnie, who torched Floyd so badly that all Floyd could do was grab onto Kinnie and hope for a pass interference flag. Prior to that play, Kinnie had 19 catches for 192 yards and 0 touchdowns on the season.
This is true. Also true: that was the first 50 yard play Michigan has given up all season and the first time Floyd has been burned deep on a pass, complete or not, all year. Even Woodson got burned by Boston that one time. JT Floyd is a good corner.
WHAT MICHIGAN WON: Michigan's bid for an at-large BCS bid is still alive as the Wolverines begin preparation for Ohio State. We're told that's a rivalry. What Michigan proved beyond a shadow of a doubt is that the defense is legit. Nebraska managed just 11 first downs and 254 total yards on the day, and while that's partly a function of the turnovers, it's also a function of Michigan's performance; the Wolverines forced 10 4th downs on 13 opportunities.
And it was, if not exactly the kind of vintage "This is Michigan" mashing Brady Hoke invoked throughout the offseason, at least as close as this particular team has come to its own platonic ideal. Denard Robinson took every significant snap at quarterback, carried 23 times, looked sharp as a passer and accounted for four touchdowns. Tailback Fitzgerald Toussaint went over 100 yards on the ground for the third time in the last four games, adding a pair of scores of his own. The offense as a whole held the ball for almost 42 minutes. The defense held Nebraska to a season-low in total yards and matched a season low in points. The 'Huskers didn't convert a third down until the end of the third quarter.
In a matchup of apparent equals, the only aspect of the game Nebraska "won" — or came close to winning — was average yards per punt. And that doesn't include the punt Michigan blocked.
Media, conventional. My man Nick Baumgardner on the lopsided time of possession:
One of the residual effects of Michigan's stellar defensive day was a lopsided time of possession battle.
The Wolverines held the ball for 41:13 while Nebraska had possession for just 18:47.
"Residual effects." My man.
Jerry Palm has placed us back in his BCS predictions in an odd place:
New Orleans, La.
SEC vs. at-large
8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
|Comment: With both SEC teams in the championship game, the Sugar Bowl will need a replacement and Michigan will be very attractive. It ends up taking an undefeated Houston over the Big East champion.|
Palm has the LSU-Bama rematch as the title game, which opens up a weird slot for M. I'd rather play a running team than Case Keenum. BONUS WEIRDNESS: Palm puts Penn State in the Hawaii Bowl in place of someone else who can't fill a commitment. No idea why he thinks the #3-5 Big Ten team isn't locked into an actual Big Ten bowl. SIDE NOTE: Adding Nebraska makes the Big Ten's bowl matchups far more palatable.
This wasn't the final piece of evidence, but it certainly was the most compelling. What happened Saturday in Michigan Stadium is what used to happen. A big, physical foe rolled into town and ran smack into a wall of pads. The Wolverines' 45-17 rout of the Cornhuskers was their best game of the year, by far, and the loudest statement of the Brady Hoke era, by far.
As the final minutes ticked away, the crowd began an old-new chant. "Beat Ohio!" cascaded from the student section, in homage to Hoke, whose personal homage to the rivalry is to refer to the Buckeyes simply as "Ohio."
Beat Ohio? Uh, that's a good idea. After seven straight losses in the rivalry, Michigan (9-2) has a great chance to do it, with Ohio State (6-5) in complete disarray.
I quote him because he's the only columnist in a 500 mile radius who doesn't compulsively hit enter after each mark of punctuation. Also he had cake.
The defensive improvement is perhaps the most shocking element of Michigan's renaissance. The Wolverines did not sign a bunch of five-star freshmen who raised the talent level. They have succeeded largely with the same players who finished 2010 ranked 110th in the nation in total defense (450.8 yards per game) and 108th in the nation in scoring defense (35.2 points per game). We knew coordinator Greg Mattison could coach, but we didn't know he could work miracles. Through 11 games, the 2011 Wolverines have allowed 312.6 yards per game and 15.6 points per game. "Fundamentally and technically, they're playing what they're coached to do, and they're playing together," Hoke said of his defense. "It's been fun to watch."
11/12/2011 – Michigan 31, Illinois 14 – 8-2, 4-2 Big Ten
In a distant place a long time ago they played a football game in a dark and remote land. The opposing team's coach was a confused person who thought he had a pretty good team. Michigan scored a couple touchdowns but couldn't put the game away; at some point during the second half the confused coach's confused offense finally put together a touchdown drive to narrow the game, and I felt… irritated. Annoyed. Peeved.
This was a strange feeling to have about a suddenly close football game Michigan should have put away already, because every damn game Michigan lost against teams not named Ohio State could be described as "a suddenly close football game Michigan should have put away already." Despite this I was not casting about for pearls to clutch or pre-perforating my garments for easy rending when the time came. I was worried about the stats. This was odd.
Then: near interception, four-yard out, incomplete, incomplete, ballgame. Instead of a roar there was but a flat, damp squeak as Michigan landed the final clubbing blows and emerged from the lion's den with a rug in tow. There are no arguments about this game. No two seconds, no questionable heels or holding calls or other fantasies about if this or that. There is no "if". Michigan has still not been threatened this year. No opponent has moved the ball except when fortunate or permitted to. Its dominance is unquestioned by the foes it leaves battered in its wake. Sometimes -- and I know this is hard to believe -- seven points is a very large lead indeed.
Yeah, that game.
Of all the magical things that Greg Mattison has done since arriving in Ann Arbor for a second tour of duty, making me think about the 2006 Michigan defense a year after… that is hard to top.
2006 happened a century ago. I looked it up. The top songs were "I Want A Girl (Just Like The Girl Who Married Dear Old Dad)" and "Down By The Old Mill Stream." Long-distance communication was conducted by banging rocks together and hoping to startle a pigeon in a way that communicated "happy birthday" instead of "everyone is dead of typhoid again lol." Football games were played between competing sawmills and textile factories; a strict limit of two cattle per offensive line was still controversial. People in Alabama were accused of over-bovining. Craggy men who remembered the invention of writing like Joe Paterno, Jim Tressel, and Lloyd Carr roamed the sidelines. People did not reflexively talk about real good times.
2006 was a long time ago. The ten-volume history of the intervening century is a narrative of relentless, soul-crushing decline on defense.
This summer the UM Club of Greater Detroit invited me to their kickoff dinner. There I sat on a roundtable with Greg Dooley of MVictors and Angelique Chengelis of the Detroit News as various guys with nametags peppered us with questions.
These things always have a pattern: I start out nervous because I'm just this guy, really, and there's a chance someone asks "why should we listen to you?" Since my response is necessarily "I have this blog… it's on the internet!" it's not a question I look forward to. These concerns are a little more pressing when the room is full of people who look like they still get newspapers home-delivered.
But the questions remain hypothetical because I start talking about these things and it turns out that doing what I do on a weekly basis fills your head with esoteric knowledge about all things. Denard Robinson was 84th of 100 qualifying quarterbacks last year in interception percentage. That sort of thing is just in my head, ready to be dispensed. After my head pops open and I start depositing THE KNOWLEDGE like the world's least appetizing Pez dispenser, there is a groove of confidence.
I mention it because there was one question from an elderly gentleman with a pleading edge I still remember. It was about the defense and why anyone would think it would get better. I was already on the record that this was an eight or nine win team; Dooley and Chengelis were pessimists. They cocked their heads and passed the mic.
I said that if you had only watched every play from the last three years over and over you would know. You would not know but feel the mass incoherence, the week-to-week changes, the insane personnel decisions (Demens, Roh as a LB, moving Woolfolk to corner in 2009, Cam Gordon as FS). That if you felt this thing having a guy the Ravens had coordinating their defense could only result in instant, massive improvement. At the very least they would have a plan*.
Though I believed it, as I was saying it it seemed like a reckless thing to tell people. If…that, or anything like it, happens again people will remember someone told them it was going to be all right, and then it wasn't. I hoped I wasn't telling them about the rabbits.
This was the point last year where everyone wrote off JT Floyd. It was the logical thing to do.
Twelve months later Floyd is holding AJ Jenkins to five yards a target and jumping a short route for a shoulda-been pick six for the first time since… God. A century ago. Time is working funny again. Greg Mattison has a phonebooth time machine he sent the secondary back to Charles Woodson's childhood in; they have emerged with ZZ Top beards, children, and skills.
This is a foundation for the future. Wrapping this motley crew of walk-ons, freshmen, people who were totally incompetent last year, Mike Martin, and Ryan Van Bergen into a top 20 defense is a QED achievement no matter the quality of the opposition. The level of coaching required to go from that to this is a constant Michigan can build its program on.
Last year the quality of the opposition didn't matter. Matt McGloin had the above to throw at, and he did. This year Michigan has been average at worst after Mattison figured out he didn't have Ed Reed. Some days they stroll off the field and if you squint you can just convince yourself the last century never happened. You can envision a future where Michigan isn't wondering about its place in the world.
*[Then I told everybody that Denard Robinson's turnover rate would drop like a stone. One out of two isn't bad. ]
There's also the Illinois POV. In their world Illinois wins 14-0 in a thrilling game lasting exactly 1:30. Parkinggod highlights miss the first drive thanks to ESPN sticking with the PSU press conference, but prove that Michigan's everything-is-wonderful POV still goes ten minutes.
Meanwhile, Desmond Morgan is fabulous.
Borgeswatch. 95% thumbs up. As it transpired I was frustrated with the lack of play-action after Illinois started selling out on the run game, but I forgot about the wind. I much prefer that to being reminded about it every 40 seconds like we were against Michigan State. I wonder if Scheehaase's propensity to wing it wide on Jenkins out cuts was due to the wind. While he's not the most accurate guy in the world he seemed particularly off Saturday.
It may have taken two harsh wakeup calls but at least Borges got the message. Run/pass breakdowns in the three windtastic road games against teams with secondaries:
- MSU: 39 passes, 28 runs
- Iowa: 21 passes, 28 runs*
- Illinois: 16 passes, 47 runs
The Gardner package also went away after its momentum-killing outing last week.
A large chunk of getting that play distribution was getting the running game to work. I don't know all of how or why that happened yet, but giving Toussaint the ball 27 times instead of two is part of it; using enough outside runs to get creases on the inside zone is part of it; making Denard a threat is part of it.
While Denard only managed 3.5 YPC on his 11 attempts it's hard to imagine what turned the #15 rush defense** into Swiss cheese if it wasn't Illinois paying too much attention to 16. This was clear on the first drive of the game. Watch the free safety who would be tackling Toussaint after ten yards but for one Denard Robinson:
By the time that dude realizes Denard does not have the ball Toussaint is gone. A similar screwup does not happen if Michigan is operating from under center.
Since I'm usually at games I'm not often able to participate in the internet zeitgeist to the extent I was the past couple weeks. Last week I was in line with everyone being real mad. This week I was surprised by the amount of heat Borges was taking for stuff that wasn't his fault at all. When Denard fumbles and Michigan misses a field goal or Huyge gets destroyed by Mercilus and Denard doesn't see the guy coming right at him, that's not on the OC. The reasons Michigan didn't score touchdowns in this game seemed to be out of Borges's hands.
*[Not counting the final three drives. I did move the two sacks, the fumble, and one Gardner scramble. I made similar adjustment to the other two games; they may be off by one or two but you get the idea.]
**[15-ish. Illinois's sacks distort that. Still a very good unit.]
Fourth and one. The 5% thumbs down, very down, was the fourth and one from the Illinois one yard line. If you're not willing to throw it when you spread them out and they don't spread out…
…I don't think you can do the wacky thing. Those guys to the top of the screen are late arriving and have no idea what they're doing. If you're going to swinging-gate them like this you've got to be able to take advantage of what they give you.
That fourth and one continues a couple trends: speed option and Borges getting cute. I wouldn't have minded it if they had lined up in one of those massive Tebow sets and tried something like this, but going without so much as a tight end in this spot is asking for trouble. The snap didn't help but I don't think it mattered much.
The immediate aftermath. Hoke calmly pointed his defense onto the field:
You are experiencing an unusually calm sensation. Which reminds me:
EPIC HOKE DOUBLE POINT OF THE WEEK. I'm terribly sorry that I inaugurated this thing and then immediately forgot about it. It returns this week because of one man being so ridiculous I thought I should have some sort of special award… oh wait I do.
Your Illinois winner: JT Floyd. AJ Jenkins may have gotten his requisite eight catches for 100 yards but Scheelhaase had to work for it. At one point they showed some Jenkins stats and noted that he had five catches… and fourteen targets. According to Adam Jacobi he ended with eight on 20. That's 5 YPA throwing to a guy who may be the best WR in the Big Ten.
Even that undersells Floyd's day. The deep ball that took Jenkins's stats from mediocre to decent was zone coverage in the middle of the field Floyd was not directly responsible for (and it came after Scheelhaase was given all day). When involved Floyd was all over double moves and jumped a third and short pass for the interception that sealed the game with a little help from Gardner and Odoms.
Even Magnus thought he was "okay for once." WHAT MORE CAN ONE MAN DO?
Honorable mentions go to Al Borges (for his gameplan and getting in on the pointing his ownself), David Molk, and Fitzgerald Toussaint.
RETROACTIVE EPIC HOKE DOUBLE POINTS.
- Michigan State: Ryan Van Bergen, for being the only person to have a good day. HM: None.
- Purdue: Fitzgerald Toussaint, for making the tailback spot a plus for the first time in forever. HM: Mike Martin.
- Iowa: Mike Martin, for being GET IN THE CAR Mike Martin. HM: David Molk.
EPIC DOUBLE POINT STANDINGS.
2: Denard Robinson (Notre Dame, Eastern Michigan), Brady Hoke (San Diego State, Northwestern)
1: Jordan Kovacs (Western Michigan), David Molk (Minnesota), Ryan Van Bergen (MSU), Fitzgerald Toussaint (Purdue), Mike Martin (Iowa), JT Floyd(Illinois).
Weekly bubble bitchin'. Only Ron Zook could send his team out with two deep safeties and three guys tight over WRs against a team that hasn't run a bubble all year:
That's nuts. That's one reason you have that play in the playbook. If they take it away by alignment they've opened something else up. Usually not by putting five guys in the box—that's a Zook special.
What I really meant by posting "We Are ND" after Hoke hiring. I meant that we'd ride a soft schedule to an iffy BCS berth and get our faces crushed. If Michigan wins out—obviously a big if—that could happen. A 10-2 Michigan team will be second in the Big Ten pecking order since everyone other than the champ will have three losses.
Michigan will then be in competition with…
- Boise/Houston. Houston's 11th in the BCS standings and will get an autobid if they remain in the top 12. Boise's actually a spot in front of the Cougars still. One or the other will get a bid. All they have to do is finish in the top 16 since the Big East winner is going to be below them.
- Alabama/LSU/Arkansas. The SEC will get a second bid.
- Stanford/Oregon. If those two win out Stanford will probably get a bid.
- ACC runner-up: a two-loss Clemson or Virginia Tech.
- Oklahoma or Oklahoma State.
Michigan's a lock to beat out a team coming off an ACC championship loss, but one-loss versions of Stanford or Oklahoma State would be tough—Jerry Palm has an all-at-large matchup of those two teams right now. If OU loses Bedlam that would also be tight.
Not making it would be just as well. I'd be happy playing Georgia in one of the infinite Big Ten/SEC matchups. I like nine wins and I cannot lie.
Special teams: actually a positive. FEI's not the only advanced stat rankings system purveyed by Football Outsiders; there's also one called F+. Last week F+ integrated special teams data for the first time; Michigan dropped from 17th to 25th. The special teams… eh… not so good.
This week they were. Matt Wile put five kickoffs in the endzone, Jeremy Gallon averaged 15 yards on four actual punt returns, and the missed field goal was off by about a foot. The only downer is Will Hagerup's persistent mediocrity. He averaged under 35 yards a kick and Michigan is now 112th in net punting. Even if you exclude all the coffin corner stuff from the MSU game he's averaging just 37.7 yards a kick. Wile was doing significantly better during Hagerup's suspension.
Unfortunately, it's likely Gallon's momentary renaissance and the Wile bombing are effects of the opponent and the wind. Illinois's punting is also in the triple digits.
Derp du jour. Seeing some revival of the "we can't run Denard because he won't last through the season" meme, which… like… guh. He's missed a series last week and the last quarter and a half this week because he banged his hand on a pass-rusher's helmet. Twice. The first time he was back in after a series. The second time he could have come back in if necessary. Cancel the spread offense.
Denard's lasted through the bulk of the Big Ten season and with Nebraska and Ohio State left on the schedule, restricting his carries in case he gets hurt is nuts. What are you saving him for?
BONUS: Devin Gardner did two things and Michigan's offense went from racking up yards (and shooting itself in the foot) to not doing the former (and getting short fields). There is no QB controversy. If Michigan makes a 39 yard field goal and Borges doesn't get too cute on the goal line it's 24-0 at halftime and we aren't having this conversation.
Let's stop talking about this.
A permanent feature. Hoke on his decision to go from the one:
Michigan reached the Illinois 1-yard line in the second quarter and went for it on fourth down. Robinson lost 4 yards on the play.
Hoke was asked if going for it in that situation will be the norm. "Pretty much," he said. "And the defense bailed me out."
Desmond Morgan decleater. Don't hate me but I thought that was a missed cut by the RB, who had a lane outside the block. /ducks
dnak puts the defensive performance in a graph (graph):
Left axis is as a percentage of historical worst—ie, last year. That's right: Michigan's scoring defense is brushing up against '06.
Inside the Box Score on Martin going uber:
Mike Martin lead us with 9 tackles. That’s right, an interior defensive lineman lead us with NINE tackles. I’m going to miss that guy. He also got half a sack and 2 QHs. Roh also had 2 QHs. We were QH’ing Scheelhaase all game long.
That's three straight games he's crushed the opponent. Moving towards what we all thought he'd be this year. Too bad it will be tough to crack the All Big Ten team with Short, Still, and Worthy also tearing up offensive lines.
Hoke for Tomorrow brings yet another reason to laugh at Ron Zook:
Ron Zook is a bad coach, this is known. It is remarkable how bad he is though, when looking at his record after bye weeks. Over the past 4 seasons (2008-2011) Illinois has had 6(!) bye weeks, with two in both 2009 and 2010. Their record following these bye weeks? 0-6:
2008: Lost to Penn St 38-24
2009: Lost to OSU 30-0, Lost to Cincinnati 49-36
2010: Lost to OSU 24-13, Lost to Fresno St 25-23
2011: Lost to Michigan (woot!) 31-14
That is epic fail. Ron Zook should be fired.
Bye weeks aren't actually helpful, but come on.
2010:: Total: 8, Scoring: 25, FEI: 2
2011:: Total: 40, Scoring: 37, FEI: 17
Our youthful inexperience has been replaced by transitional inexperience - so we still are inconsistent and turnover-ridden.
The FEI is most indicative I think - we went from an O with the potential to be great (if we had any kind of ST and D) to one that is just very good. I think after Borges was hired, this is sort of where we expected to be offensively - a step back, but not disastrously.
2010:: Total: 110, Scoring: 107, FEI: 108
2011:: Total: 16, Scoring: 5, FEI: 17
Mattison == Awesome. Last year, I said that I thought our D played worse than the personnel. Nevertheless, even if they were being outcoached by say, twenty teams in FEI, and the extra year of experience is good for another twenty teams - Mattison still improved the baseline by about 50 ranks. The defense is now as good as the offense.
Keep in mind that FEI adjusts for schedule strength so a realistic benchmark for an average BCS offense is not 60th. I just chopped out all the non-BCS teams and an average offense is 48th. That's actually lower than I would have guessed. Unfortunately for Michigan, their lack of success has been highly concentrated.
Unwashed blog masses. Via Adam Jacobi, Junior Hemingway scored an imaginary touchdown:
Ron Zook can probably make this happen.
Illini blog A Lion Eye has a habit of taping himself when things are actually going on. This seems like a bad idea in general and for an Illinois fan in particular, but it is entertaining. A partial transcript:
So there's two twenty-four left. We just got the ball back down… what is it… 31-14? And I… I really have… I'm like "oh, what's my emotion? What am I going to record?"
Uhhhhm… dead inside? That doesn't sound right. But it's kind of a… I don't know. I guess the only way to describe it is—oh, and a sack.
I recommend the whole thing not necessarily for the schadenfreude (of which there is plenty) but because it's reassuring that we're not jaded. You may think you're jaded after the last century, but you have no idea. I mean: "I'm just normal right now."
The HSR decides to quote F. Scott Fitzgerald a lot:
"Life is essentially a cheat and its conditions are those of defeat; the redeeming things are not happiness and pleasure but the deeper satisfactions that come out of struggle."
I think we can all agree that yesterday's game was a classic example of "left wanting". Though Michigan had a two score lead, on the road, against a team that considers Michigan its arch-rival*, it still felt like all of the missed red zone opportunities were going to come back to haunt Michigan, because we're taught that when you don't put the boot on the throat, it will cost you. Except, it didn't.
Refs. They obviously made a decision to only call holding if the offensive lineman actually removed the jersey of rusher. And on the play where Avery picked up the ball and scored the touchdown, they made three bad mistakes on a single play. The unholy trinity: 1. It wasn’t a fumble in the first place, that’s somewhat forgivable. 2. If it was a fumble, Avery was clearly on the ground (and thus down) when he picked it up, but they gave him a touchdown. 3. They didn’t adjust the clock after the play was reversed, should have been 19 or 20 seconds left instead of 14.
Hoke even complained about #3 and got nowhere. That is almost inevitably a call the refs give coaches.
My first impression was one of doom and gloom, but, the more I think about it, maybe it's not so bad. Michigan put up 31 against a formidable defense, more than any other Illinois opponent save Northwestern (qualifier: yeah, those are some bad offenses on their schedule, but it's all relative at this point). This is of course not even mentioning the inopportune turnovers and the Illini's general inability to move the ball, additional reasons to not feel so bad about things. Obviously you can't just take turnovers out, but Michigan could have very easily scored in the 40s, on the road, against a pretty good defense.
There was a lot of the doom and gloom on the internets, which I don't get. Michigan failed to put up 24 in the first half on the #6 defense in the country by shooting itself in the foot. While that's frustrating, it is so much worse to have a performance like Iowa where the offense is neither scoring nor moving the ball. Sometimes bad things happen. Michigan outperformed Illinois's yardage average by 80 despite playing in adverse conditions.
BWS is eeee Mattison:
Mattison is installing this defense a lot like Rodriguez or Borges installed their offense. Week by week, Mattison introduces a new formation or coverage scheme to the defense--usually only one. Early in the season, it was a basic stunt move intended to overwhelm one side of the offensive line. Against MSU, he debuted an A-gap zone blitz. Purdue: nickel blitz. Iowa: crowding the line of scrimmage. Michigan's base defense is a 4-3 under, man-coverage look that Mattison can slowly and effectively build upon. While he doesn't go back to the cookie jar in later weeks, the hope (and my expectation) is that when Michigan plays Ohio
State, they'll have an arsenal of blitzing plays that can be deployed in unison, creating a defense that is as unpredictable and consistently effective as the constantly tweaked offense under Rodriguez.
Mainstream media type persons. The Daily's Stephen Nesbitt gets a a slice of life from the field:
As Floyd started crossing the turf toward the tunnel to the visitor’s locker room, he saw Illinois wide receiver A.J. Jenkins approaching him. The receiver-cornerback duo had battled all game long.
Floyd pulled up at the goal line.
“Heck of a game, man,” Floyd told the All-American wideout. “I think you’re a heck of a talent.”
Jenkins, in his orange No. 8 jersey, gave a big smile and tossed the same compliment back at Floyd — Michigan’s No. 8.
“Make sure you go get the rest of the (defensive backs) and give them some trouble the rest of the season,” Floyd said as he stepped away.
Chengelis on the diverse and sundry contributions:
Senior defensive lineman Mike Martin led the team with nine tackles. Linebackers Desmond Morgan and Kenny Demens had eight and seven tackles, respectively, and senior Ryan Van Bergen had 2.5 sacks.
Safety Jordan Kovacs forced a fumble, and Thomas Gordon made the recovery, his fourth of the season, and cornerback J.T. Floyd made a pivotal interception in the fourth quarter on a third-down play at the Michigan 40-yard line. He returned it 43 yards and Michigan converted into a touchdown to make it, 24-7.
That is many contributions. Kovacs's in particular was a MAKE PLAYS moment, putting his head on the ball after Michigan had found its line creased and forcing a turnover. That fumble was forced in a way that some of the previous ones haven't been.
Daily on Mattison's reaction:
“That was a Michigan defense,” Mattison said like a proud father figure, admitting it for the first time all season. “They played as hard as they could, they did whatever they had to do. Without a doubt, that was a Michigan defense.”
The Michigan football team had just won the game on defense, holding Illinois to 30 yards, including minus-14 first-half rushing yards, before ultimately allowing 14 points and just 214 yards of offense en route to a 31-14 victory on the road.
“They’re Michigan Men,” said an emotional Mattison. “We talk about it all the time, that there’s a standard at Michigan and you’ve got to live up to that, and you're judged by it. We haven’t come to that final point where you win the game on defense, and we said, ‘This is your last away trip to do it.’ I couldn’t be more proud of this group of guys.”
11/5/2011 – Michigan 16, Iowa 24 – 7-2, 3-2 Big Ten
When Iowa punched in their final touchdown on Saturday the clock read 10:42 and Michigan had acquired 166 yards of offense. Forced into a hurry-up shotgun on their final three drives, Michigan matched their production from the first 50 minutes in the last ten. Denard Robinson ran 4 times for 23 yards; Vincent Smith had an 11 yard carry. Robinson was 10 of 18 for 126 yards* as Michigan scored, punted, and then wound their way down to the Iowa three.
You know what happens from there: with space compressed, no time to run, and Iowa blitzing up the middle on every play Robinson chucks one out of the endzone on first down, gets 49% of a touchdown on second, sees Smith drop 100% of a touchdown on third, and watches Roy Roundtree get interfered with on fourth. Ballgame.
Shifting circumstances make drawing judgments difficult… or at least they would if the late surge hadn't brought Michigan up to 323 yards, seventy-five less than Penn State, twenty-five less than Louisiana-Monroe, and better than only Tennessee Tech amongst Iowa opponents.
This now a trend. Michigan's played three games against BCS teams with winning records. In each they've fallen behind by multiple scores. Yardage in those games before entering desperation chuck mode: 130 (Notre Dame), 226 (MSU), and 166 (Iowa). Whatever the plan is, it doesn't seem to be working against teams better than Minnesota.
Better than Minnesota most weekends, anyway.
In retrospect, the red carpet laid out by the Purdue defensive ends was MANBAIT with Iowa City the trap. Running against Purdue was easy from any formation, in any direction. This naturally got Michigan's coaches thinking they had ironed out the issues from earlier in the year, so they did more of it. It even worked for a bit. When Michigan came out with a bunch of I-Form in the first half they got yardage on a series of pounding iso plays.
The outside stuff went nowhere, though, and eventually Iowa adjusted to the iso thumping. When the dust cleared Smith and Toussaint averaged 3.6 yards a carry between them. Sacks excluded, Robinson nearly doubled that at 6.6. He got 11 carries, just like he did against Michigan State.
I just don't get it, man. The next person to draw a contrast between how Rodriguez adapted his offense to Threet/Sheridan and Borges did to Robinson gets the mother of all eyebrows cocked at them. On a team with one reasonable tight end, half a fullback, and Denard Robinson, Michigan goes play action from the I-form… a lot. They run Robinson about as often as their third down back. Game over.
This was the fear throughout many (many) offseason columns full of fretting and spread zealotry. It was the fear after the delirious Notre Dame game:
The thing I really really hated about the first three quarters (other than everything) was the way the offense made Denard mortal. This extended beyond the usual reasons 90 yards of offense in a half make you homicidal. Not only were we lost and hopeless in our first serious game after returning nine starters from one of the nation's most explosive offenses, but the guy who didn't transfer when his offense got fired out from under him was busy playing out everyone's worst-case scenarios.
I don't think I can take football games in which I'd rather have Alex Carder than Denard Robinson. A return of freshman Denard looking like a sad panda is too depressing for a multitude of reasons but mostly because just look at him:
Shoehorning him into an offense that doesn't fit him is a crime against man and panda and manpanda. He had to be dying in the first half as he flung balls to Tacopants and ran waggles the entire stadium could predict. People twittered me about moving him to RB so Gardner can get on the field.
Iowa 2011 is to "Denard Robinson can't play QB for Brady Hoke" as Ohio State 2006 is to "Jim Tressel owns Michigan." It's the moment the premise goes from fear to fact.
There's still time to change this, like there was still time for someone, anyone, to beat Ohio State after Football Armageddon went the wrong way. But… man, it doesn't look good. Michigan has three games left plus a bowl of some variety. If they're going to avoid tailspin part three they'll have to figure out a way to pick up more than 200 yards in the first three quarters against the #6, #41, and #14 total defenses. The only way they've managed to crack 20 points against anyone of similar caliber is by closing their eyes and playing 500.
We've gone from a world in which Robinson is a genre-redefining All-American "back" to one in which the only reason there isn't a full-fledged quarterback controversy is because we've seen the backup go full Mallett whenever inserted into the game—this weekend it was usually after the actual offense picked up 20 yards. Robinson's legs have been relegated to sideshow, and the main event isn't pretty.
*[This does count the eight-yard completion that was wiped away by a defensive holding call. While you're down here in this aside I should explain that I picked the points at which to determine "chuck it" time like so:
ND: Michigan goes down 24-7 and gets the ball back at the tail end of the third. If you want to move that out a possession Michigan squeaks over 200 thanks to the 77-yard Hemingway catch and run and subsequent TD.
MSU: Pick six. Not that it mattered; M had 250 for the game.
Iowa: The hurry-up touchdown drive.]
Good thing we avoided that second-half collapse thanks to the toughy tough toughness instilled by Brady Hoke. Like the second-half adjustments, that meme isn't looking so hot. At least the second-half thing had something more than a win over Purdue arguing for it.
On playing 500. I took a lot of crap the week of the Notre Dame game for having reservations about the offense. Crap-throwers are wrong: a more experienced Robinson surrounded by returning starters has doubled his INT rate. He's dropped to 54th in passer efficiency, shed 0.3 YPC, and still has three of the five toughest defenses on the schedule to play.
Denard has limitations. They are severe. He has assets that offset those. They are not being used effectively. He was an All-American last year and is being derided as plain "not very good" on blogs; he won't sniff a Heisman vote. He's gone backwards. The question is why. Candidate answers:
- Losing Martell Webb, Darryl Stonum, and Steve Schilling.
- Losing Rich Rodriguez.
- Aging backwards like Benjamin Button.
I'll take door B. [usual tedious disclaimers for people who aren't arguing with things I actually write anyway]
On whatever that was. BWS brings some ugly numbers on a day with plenty to choose from:
In the first three quarters against Iowa, Michigan had 20 first downs. They ran the ball on 14 of them and gained only 50 yards for 3.57 YPC, mostly because Iowa broke tendency and played a single-high safety defensive front, stacked against the run.
I don't know everything that's ailing the rushing offense but you can't live with that paltry return if you've got Denard at QB.
I'll have to hit the tape for a full breakdown but Rothstein($) says Michigan ran their three-wide shotgun set 31 times, which is not many when you consider the final three drives had 24 shotgun snaps on them. He doesn't appear to be counting four wide shotgun stuff in that number, because Michigan ran plays from the spread on more than seven of their other 51 snaps. Right? I don't even know anymore.
The bipolar defense. Usually a 300 yard day will not see the opponent put up 24 points unless there's a ton of turnovers or a non-offensive touchdown or two. Michigan managed to cough up that many points despite the yardage because all other drives went nowhere. Drives in rough categories:
- Long touchdown marches of 76, 78, and 62 yards.
- 17 and 28 yard four-and-outs (ie: first down on a chunk play on first play of drive, then bupkis).
- Five drives of nothing. One ends in a FG after the fumble.
Not a whole lot of in-between. This has no significance, it's just weird. If Michigan had been able to move the ball at all the defense's ability to boot Iowa right off the field would have set them up with some short stuff eventually. We've come full circle when the offense's ineptness is making the defense's performance look worse than it actually was.
I guess no turnovers is a bummer.
The first thing I loathe about the Hoke era. Second-and-long I-form big play action. So unbelievably predictable it hurts. Last week it ended up in a sack that put Michigan in third and twenty; this week no one was open and there was an end in Robinson's face because everyone in the state knew it was coming.
Devin package. If Michigan can't run a straight dropback pass with Devin Gardner in the game because they don't trust him to throw and don't trust Robinson to be a real receiving threat, the Gardner package—which has devolved from a potentially confusing Mad Magicians reincarnate to "watch us run or not run this jet sweep"—is no longer viable, if it was ever viable at anything other than throwback screens.
Since when do you know how to gamble? I do not like the version of Kirk Ferentz that realizes it is not 1960. I was counting on Ferentz spurning expectation three or four times in this game; instead he goes on fourth and one from the Michigan 39 (the unsuccessful sneak), goes on fourth and seven(!) from the Michigan 34, and is about to go for it on fourth and one on the Michigan 43 when his kid picks up a false start. His profit from the two decisions to go: the game-winning points. Boo.
If Zook goes on fourth and three from the Michigan 40 I'm going to have a fit.
Wither Jake Ryan? I don't know what to make of Jake Ryan's absence. Michigan went with Beyer (SLB) and Clark (nickel DE) instead early, then worked Ryan in a little bit as the game got late. He didn't seem injured—he made the play on the late third-and-one that set up Michigan's unsuccessful last-ditch drive. Suspension? There has to be some external factor.
Second alarming thing: even with Ryan limited, Cam Gordon did not appear. That's a precipitous drop. He is moving towards Bolivian.
Des Moines Register
Martin. Balling. Pretty much the only thing Iowa fans were mad about was the play of a particular guard of theirs; this was because Martin was lighting him up all day. If the linebackers had played well Coker would have had a 3 YPC day because so many plays hardly got to them.
Linebackers did not have a good day. There is a downside of having Chris Spielman doing color for your game when you are a person who purveys football analysis for a living: he steals your thunder. About two seconds after I declared that Desmond Morgan was "killing" Michigan, Spielman was pointing it out in telestrated glory. A big chunk of Iowa's second touchdown drive was on Morgan. He was pulled shortly after for Hawthorne and returned later, presumably chided.
That's life with freshmen. Good thing we won't be starting any next—aw, hamburgers. /shakes fist at Rodriguez
Scrambling. The universe believes Denard Robinson should be very good at scrambling and thus asserts he is. Unfortunately, repeating this enough does not make it true. However, in this game it seemed like there was nowhere to go. With certain limited exceptions Iowa was barely pretending to rush Robinson, instead sitting their defensive linemen around the LOS in a picket fence. In that situation Denard should have surveyed and hit his checkdowns, which he did on Michigan's first-half touchdown drive and would have a few more times if the Iowa DEs weren't so intent on this contain business that they can leap up and bat down floaters to Smith.
Going for two. A not-very-important game theory note: Michigan should have gone for two when they scored to cut the lead to nine. You have to go for two sooner or later; going earlier allows you to adjust your strategy based on the result. There were a couple people arguing that you need to "keep it a one score game" by kicking the extra point, but it's not a one-score game if you're down eight. It's a one-score game 40% of the time and a two-score game 60% of the time. Knowing which one helps you play correctly when you get the ball with five minutes left, for example.
Second game theory note. Ace and I had an argument on the podcast about the playcalling on the last series, with Ace taking the same position MGoFootball does:
What you do with :16 to go after getting a first down at the 3 yard line…
Hindsight, just sayin’, etc., but I don’t think the timeout should have been used before you give Denard a shot to either run a power play or rollout and find a running lane on 1st down. Ideally, Michigan hurries to the line of scrimmage, gets set faster than the defense, and off Denard goes. TD’s may have ensued. So, as the day would have it, Michigan calls their final timeout with 16 seconds left on the clock.
I side with the coaches here. The fourth down play came with two seconds left. Unless you are snapping the ball on the ready for play—not feasible—you are giving away your fourth down. I'd rather keep it than have the ability to run once in three downs instead of four. YMMV.
The thing that rankled was watching Michigan run 10 to 15 seconds off the clock on a play earlier in that drive. If they get that play off quickly Michigan can save their timeout and threaten Iowa with a run.
Obligatory ref section. It's never good when you lose and Mike Pereira is featuring your game above the fold. Pereira says "punt" on the Hemingway catch:
I love it when replay stays with the call on the field when there is judgment involved, along with facts. In my mind, whatever ended being called on the field — incomplete or a touchdown — would have stood in replay. That’s how close this play was. …
The call in Michigan-Iowa game Saturday involved more than just facts. It involved the issue of control, before and after the ball hit the ground. Adding that element makes this ruling far more difficult than just a ball just breaking a plane. It’s questionable whether Hemingway had total control of the ball when his arm hit the ground. And it’s also questionable if he maintained control after the ball contacted the ground. If 50 people were in a bar watching this play, half of them would rule it an incomplete pass and the other half would rule it a touchdown. That’s reason alone to leave the call the way it was called on the field, and I agree with that decision 100 percent.
You can replay that until the sun expands and it's still going to be too close to call. It was going to stand whichever way it was called on the field. That's life.
But I totally disagree with Pereira about the fourth down play…
And, by the way, forget the notion of pass interference on this play — either defensive or offensive. There was not enough to make either call. Same thing on the final play of the game on the slant pattern. The contact by the Iowa defender was not enough for pass interference, no matter what time of the game it was — the first quarter or the fourth quarter.
Bull. I mean:
Wrapping that hand around the back of the player is a call all day, every day.
So that sucks. As ref screwage goes it's only a 3 out of 10 since it probably wouldn't have mattered. Even if the call is made, Michigan still has to score, get a two-point conversion, and win in overtime to make it matter. That's a 10-20% shot.
I'll have to look at the interception more closely but I didn't think that was egregious. Guy did get there early but that's the kind of play that often gets let go.
Iowa wide receivers are in a fertile period, aren't they? Someone should just follow Eric Campbell around offering whoever Iowa does. Sign me up for Amara Darboh.
BONUS Iowa skill player coveting! I remember Marcus Coker as a recruit who was vaguely on Michigan's radar in 2010 but things never got serious. Michigan grabbed Stephen Hopkins; Coker floated out there hoping for a single decent offer before committing to Iowa in August. Other suitors: Wake Forest, Minnesota, Kansas State, and Maryland.
I don't get that. Coker's the sort of physical package that should be drawing offers from most of the Big Ten and he played at Maryland power DeMatha. It's not like RR was the only coach to whiff on the guy, I guess.
I thought this was the most interesting bit about the press conference:
What went wrong on Coker’s last TD run when nobody even touched him? “Well they got to the edge and we were really trying to stack up the middle. It was a bear defense. Without seeing it, I have a feeling that the six probably got scooped out of his gap and then [Coker] got downhill pretty fast.”
Six == just outside the tackle and presumably the "bear" LB.
Inside the Box Score is oddly formatted but on point about a weird personnel decision:
Thomas Gordon had zero tackles. There was a board post on this topic yesterday. I don’t understand how you take your 2nd leading tackler out of the lineup. I get that his getting a lot of tackles is part of the position he plays, but he sure looks like one of our best 11 defenders to me. Additionally, Gordon is listed at 208 pounds on the roster, and Woolfolk is 191. When you are playing against Coker and those corn-fed hawkeyes, I want MOAR BEEF on defense. I’m not going to complain about Woolfolk. I understand wanting to get an experienced, 5th year senior, and team leader on the field, but if I was Gordon and lost my job due to intangibles I’d be “upset”. (The actual word is “pissed,” but I recently learned Mom is reading my diaries. If you notice a change in tone, that’s the reason.)
Gordon was upset, and posted something about "P O L I T I C S" on twitter/facebook/whatever his social network poison is.
I must disagree with Hoke for Tomorrow:
So that happened. I had promised myself before the game that I wasn't going to get all emotionally invested in the outcome. I could feel the disappointment coming all week. Iowa was coming off of a loss that made them look much worse than they really are and Michigan was traveling to their house. Michigan was coming off of a "validating" win over an overmatched Purdue squad, were already assured of a bowl invite, and had equaled last year's win total already. There was no question which team had the most to play for and the game was sure to reflect that. No surprise: it did.
Michigan had a good shot at a division title before the weekend. I award them 16 Wanting It points to Iowa's 13 in a totally made up exercise I just executed.
And the Denard slide started a long time ago.
Unwashed blog masses. MVictors:
My line lately to people who ask before the game is this—Denard’s going to get six to eight opportunities to really hurt the opponent with his arm. He’s got to cash in on two, maybe three. He didn’t Saturday and I’m getting more and more frustrated. Despite Brian’s speculation, I’m sure they travelled to Iowa City and East Lansing with Borges’ head completely in tact but I don’t get the insistence to put Denard behind center.
Speaking of Denard, something not there with his wheels. Michael Spath tweeted that’s he’s become a “cutter”, as opposed to just beating people to the edge. I’ve noticed this too and since Michigan State I just haven’t seen that extra burst.
The Iowa perspective is rapturous about their defense since we managed to score less than Indiana and Minnesota. The commenters deploy the usual defensiveness about the refereeing. This list of grievances is something:
but them complaining is just not right when you look at the whole picture. we got one slight favor at the end of the game. there were a slew of terrible calls throughout the game that went in Michigan’s favor.
the refs lost track of what down it was while michigan was driving in the first quarter, effectively giving them a free timeout, the official threw a pi flag on the wrong receiver, which was thankfully called back, we got nailed on a questionable offsides that kept a Michigan drive alive in the third, and they got away with a pretty blatant chest bump on a fair catch that should have been interference. I can remember very few calls during the game that went our way unti lthe very end.
When your most outrageous outrages include a flag that was picked up and the refs resetting the clock you might be protesting too much.
There's a lot to question about this offense, specifically: Denard Robinson's run:pass ratio; the persistent presence of backup QB Devin Gardner, to no apparent effect; the persistent absence of an every-down tailback. But it all seems to stem from the basic uncertainty that follows a coaching change: How does a coaching staff with a specific, ingrained philosophy integrate a lineup built for a completely divergent philosophy? Before the season, coach Brady Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges promised they weren't stupid enough to ask the reigning Big Ten Player of the Year — as a sophomore, no less — to be something he's not. For the most part, that's been true — especially when the offense has sputtered early against the likes of Eastern Michigan, San Diego State and Northwestern.
Against the best teams on the schedule, though, manageable second half deficits have been cause for a makeshift air show. Against Notre Dame, incredibly, heaving the ball almost indiscriminately after three stagnant quarters actually worked in the fourth. Against Michigan State, it didn't even come close. Today, at least, it came close before coming up short.
It's hard to be mad when you've seen this story over and over again; if you're surprised by the ending then you should probably pay a little closer attention. This is what Michigan has done for years. In the interest of putting a name to it, we'll simply call this the Ben Chappell Theorem; that is, that if Michigan plays a team with multiple glaring weaknesses/an air of general incompetency that has already failed in the face of the opposition of other inferior teams, then, it must necessarily follow, that not only will Michigan not exploit those weaknesses (or what are ostensibly weaknesses, i.e. Michigan State's offensive line) effectively (usually not for lack of some trying, though), they will make certain players look like All-Americans in the process. An enormous shadow of a mouse becomes something much worse in the shifting tectonic plates of light and dark. Just as Michigan made former Indiana QB Ben Chappell look like the greatest thing ever on one afternoon, Michigan continues to make the mediocre look exceptional.
10/29/2011 – Michigan 36, Purdue 14 – 7-1, 3-1 Big Ten
At some point, Michigan will find out what it is this year. I have no idea when that point will come.
We know they're better than they were last year. How much better remains frustratingly murky. You think you have the answer when Michigan is punked in East Lansing, but then the Spartans get throttled and Michigan beats Purdue and there they are again in the national rankings…
10. South Carolina
11. Virginia Tech
15. Penn State
…and you wonder what happened to the rest of college football. This team is transparently flawed, incapable of going ten pass attempts without throwing the ball to the other team, and one year removed from having a defense that couldn't slow down a band of coked-out lemurs. So of course they are on the cusp of the top ten, hanging out with Houston, South Carolina's dumpster-fire offense, and Penn State's bold experiment into quarterback-free football. College football 2011: contagious and 100% fatal.
With one loss and seven wins everything is on the table as long as Sparty manages to biff it once down the stretch (don't get your hopes up)… and no one knows if they're any good.
This must be what it felt like to be a Minnesota fan in the middle of the Glen Mason era. Consider: you were a national power, and then you were wretched forever. One 3-9 year counts as "forever" to Michigan fans. We are sheltered, sheltered people.
You start showing signs of life. One season you get off to a great start, and collapse. Okay. We got off to a great start! It's better than being wretched!
The next season you get off to a great start, and collapse slightly less. Okay. We are building something here.
The next-next season you get off to a great start, are ranked in the top 15, have an unstoppable ground game, and… well… is there going to be anyone on the schedule? No? No teams at all?
Ah, Michigan. Here we go. /dies
It wasn't like this before. Michigan was Michigan, fergodsakes. All victories were expected and all teams were inferior and all losses were inexplicable or unjust and there wasn't a question about any of this. Michigan was just better.
Evidence to the contrary was suspect and invariably proven—or at least argued to be—false. There was this call or this mistake or this thing, and if the game had continued until a victory was well and truly certain, the opponent would have left shattered into a thousand mournful pieces*. This mentality was so pervasive that Michigan fans still have a reputation for the above thought process even after the last five years.
I don't think like that anymore. At first I was like the materialized whale from The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy.
"Big Ten? What's that? I wonder if it will be friendly."
Now I'm trying to figure out whether I am the bowl of petunias…
The only thing that went through the bowl of petunia's mind as it fell was Oh No, not again.
…or if something novel is happening, something like not plummeting to my doom after materializing in an area where gravity is not my friend.
The Big Ten is not helping out here. At all. Michigan's conference wins are over Minnesota, Northwestern, and Purdue, teams which have lost to North Dakota State, Army, and Rice, respectively. Meanwhile, where is the proverbial other shoe? The nearest proximate shoe just lost to the Gopher team so bad they inspired GopherQuest. Gopher blog Fire Jerry Kill shows how this is possible by splitting out various quarterbacks' stats when they are playing Iowa vs Not Iowa. Here's MarQuies Gray:
OPPONENT CMP/ATT YDS CMP% Y/A TD INT RATING
Not Iowa* 9/19 125 47.3 6.6 .5 .7 104.3
Iowa 11/17 193 64.7 11.3 1 0 179.5
And here's Steele Janz:
This is not much of a shoe.
The next potential shoe lost to the Purdue team Michigan just outgained two to one. They didn't score against the Boilers until there were ten minutes left. And they're coached by Ron Zook. Comparative scores are a dumb way to do anything because football is weird, but it kind of seems like football will have to be weird for those shoes to drop. There is a strong possibility that Michigan reaches ten games this season without playing a decent team other than 1) the one they beat thanks to a fluketasm and 2) the one they lost to in a trash tornado.
Then it's just Nebraska and Ohio State. Just.
The stakes here are simple and vast as the ground that may or may not be rushing up to meet us: a satisfying season. That's something Michigan hasn't had in almost a decade. 2006 left a nasty taste because of the way it finished. Michigan hasn't beaten Ohio State since 2003, hasn't done that and won a bowl since 2000. Expectations keep deflating but we still haven't hit the point where they cross the actual accomplishments of the football team.
I want to believe. I miss the days when accusations of Michigan arrogance were accurate. I just don't know, man. I don't feel the air rushing past my face, but it turns out I'm not very good at identifying certain doom rushing up from below.
*[Unless it was from the Pac-10 or Florida, in which case please take your 30-point victory and GTFO before we have to alter our mentality.]
Via Eric Upchurch and the Ann Arbor Observer:
Bullets That Hope To Be In Orbit Or Something
Kovacs. I sort of had the Kovacs information but it was only one unconfirmed source so I held it and hoped it was not true. Now that it is obviously true I can tell you a couple things about it:
- It is supposed to be an MCL sprain, which means he can barely move his leg at the moment and will be out a few weeks. When the coaches say he's "questionable" for Iowa they're in all likelihood…
- …lying their boo-boos off. Kovacs did not practice Tuesday but no one noticed this because they threw Matt Cavanaugh out there in #32.
The Cavanaugh thing is the clincher after a season of mysterious fake-seeming injuries that conveniently explain things like why the national defensive player of the week immediately ate bench. Hoke will bend the truth for better PR or gamesmanship purposes. It's back to the Fort. This is a 180 from the injury-report-issuing Rodriguez, though IIRC Rodriguez would occasionally surprise by leaving off a guy who was not already known to be dinged up.
Anyway, the plan going forward is to take any Hoke statement about the injury status of a player with a grain of salt. So no, I don't believe Woolfolk was moving to safety before this happened.
We have to talk, scoreboard person. An artist's impression of the replays on the brand new scoreboards at Michigan Stadium:
The scoreboards are very big. The replays are even bigger, to the point where they are useless unless you're a helmet fetishist. Widen your shot, good sir, and the blessings of Bo will be upon you.
The next defense. After years of being an untenably young defense, Michigan has reached average-ish. Despite that they're slated to lose only four players next year, one of them a walk-on. With the swap at WLB and the seemingly permanent insertion of Blake Countess into the starting lineup the breakdown is like so:
- Three freshmen (Ryan, Morgan, Countess)
- A sophomore (Gordon)
- Four juniors (Roh, Floyd, Demens, Kovacs)
- Three seniors (Martin, RVB, Heininger)
And then there's Woolfolk, who is a starter as long as Kovacs is out. If only Rodriguez had recruited some dudes in the middle of the line you could project the returners to be non smoke-and-mirrors good. Even as it stands you've got a senior Campbell and hope for decent play from Washington, Rock, and a bunch of freshmen. They should be able to maintain their play next year.
The one true tiebreaker. Everyone's talking tiebreakers in the West division because it was looking like a bunch of cats in a sack at the end of the year before Iowa went out and ended GopherQuest. The Big Ten's are typically goofy, prioritizing head to head over a better measure of superiority: the record of your conference opponents.
The first tiebreaker should be the conference record of your opponents in the other division, which works for two- and three-way ties. Right now that looks like this:
- Nebraska: 9-4 (Wisconsin (2-2), PSU(5-0), OSU (2-2))
- Michigan: 6-7 (Purdue (2-2), Illinois (2-3), OSU (2-2))
- MSU: 4-9 (IU (0-5), Wisconsin (2-2), OSU (2-2))
If the season does end in a three-way tie here* any system that would give the nod to the team that played Illinois and Purdue or IU and Wisconsin instead of Wisconsin and Penn State is a broken system. Instead the tiebreakers are all head to head and divisional record, which makes no sense. You've all played eight conference games and proven yourself equal—it's time to figure out who played the tougher schedule.
*[Say M beats Nebraska, loses one other, MSU loses to… uh… Iowa, Nebraska wins out with exception of M loss.]
Jake Ryan edge update. I have negative complaints this week. This is also known as praise. There were no sections confused by my "AAAARGH JAKE RYAN" outbursts because the most notable thing that happened in This Week In Jake Ryan's Edge Play was Ryan annihilating a sweep in the backfield by submarining a blocker on a blitz and tackling. +3, Mr. Ryan.
Quite a find there, especially considering that Michigan picked him up because he was an effective blitzing OLB in a 3-3-5 in high school. He could be a fish out of water in this scheme.
Michigan under-center running update. It… worked? Somewhat. I have no idea how to classify things like Fitzgerald Toussaint taking a toss play opposite that Denard jet action and motoring 59 yards. That's not really manball. It's not spread 'n' shred. It's gimmickball.
It worked, though. It looked like Michigan finally got that pin and pull zone operational, possibly because they identified an issue with Purdue's DEs. If they're easy to seal the pin and pull gets you the advantages of an outside sweep in a faster-developing play. The pulling linemen have less distance to cover.
The I-Form stuff did work to some extent. As we'll see below, the extent was such that every newspaper in the state is running a piece on how
1: Lo, Bo looked down from Football Valhalla and said "I am pleased, my son." 2: "It is the will of Old that the quarterback shall taketh the ball from the center by hand and turn his back to the line of scrimmage." 3: "Motion of the ball through the air, whether forwards or backwards, is an abomination to Old." 4: "Pitches are excepted."
Judging the effectiveness of the base offense will have to wait for the UFR to break down the yardage. I'll probably have to categorize the gimmickball separately.
Inverted veer. Rodriguez played with it some but never really put it in the offense for realz; Borges whipped it out against the Boilers to good effect.
That's a play that gets Robinson going north-south with a pulling lineman if the defense doesn't force a handoff, which Purdue didn't. That was to their detriment.
I probably won't complain about showing it against a weak opponent if/when it doesn't work down the road. Purdue was nowhere near the baby seal that Minnesota was. The game remained in contact until the third quarter. This is a different thing than knowing you can name your score after the first drive.
Taylor Lewan. @mgovideo tweeted "Taylor Lewan is undead" and I have nothing that can top that. Shoot him in the head, Gholston, or he's coming for you next year. Make sure to double tap.
Students who are not reading this: you suck. Weekly complaint about student section is lodged. No one reading this is included. It is your slothful classmates who must feel the lash.
Now, there are some extreme bottlenecks upon section entry that mean a lot of student who show up on time spend 15 minutes waiting in line before actually getting into the stadium. Vitriol towards the student section up to halfway through the first quarter should properly be directed at the athletic department's crappy logistics.
HOWEVA, when half of the upper reaches remain empty throughout a Big Ten game that's on various students who don't know what MGoBlog is. There's no reason to sell those people tickets at discounted rates if they're not even going to show up and be loud. The carrot and stick:
- Assign points to students based on ticket scans. 5 for 20 minutes before the game, 2 for before kickoff, 1 for showing up at all. Validated tickets do not score.
- Reduce the size of the student section by 10%.
- Prioritize renewals based on points, not seniority. Also prioritize bowl lotteries based on this. Top 10% get half off. Anyone below some crappy cutoff gets no tickets.
I'd love to see a similar policy enacted for regular season ticket holders but that's infeasible since they're already pressing them for maximum cash and cannot easily replace people pissed off by something like that with other super rich dudes.
This is the cost of luxury seating: seeing the most expensive seats in the building half-full at best. This is most obvious at Yost, where the club seats are literally 40% full for every game.
Special K: die in a fire. I've linked to various Penn State blogs complaining about the environment at Beaver Stadium to provide ominous warnings about what our future is like, but I thought that would be in five years… not five games. Volume: ear-splitting. Choices: inane. Seven Nation Army: played one dozen times, including before opening kickoff. It's bad when I am tired of 7NA. I once listened to 7NA for a half-hour straight until someone yelled at me to stop.
HSR suggests another White Stripes song:
That works. He probably would have gotten one that does if he had chosen at random. There are more Stripes songs that are plausible than ones that aren't. Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground. You Don't Know What Love Is (You Just Do As You're Told). Fell In Love With A Girl. Icky Thump. Conquest. Blue Orchid. Never has a local band had a better collection of killer opening riffs plausible for pump-up purposes. If the athletic department prioritized having their own thing instead of having the same thing everyone else does they might look into this.
Meanwhile, we're treated to "GET LOUD" and an animated train exploding on the videoboards. (Instead of replays, of course, because who wants to watch a football game anymore?) We are Michigan State. It took less than a season. I was all like "you go girl" to this Bando Calrissian comment:
Yesterday was the closest to a minor league baseball game experience I've ever had at Michigan Stadium. The RAWK was out of control(and more often than not earsplittingly loud), the Rocket Man deal struck me as an unnecessary gimmick (play the Space, Bitches PSA and call it a day), that train graphic on the scoreboards, everything felt extraordinarily cheap and generic. Very un-Big House-esque.
And, here' s a fun fact: One of the highlights of Homecoming has always been the alumni cheerleaders doing gymnastic tricks in the end zones during stoppages in play. It's fun, and always gets the fans really into things during lulls in the action. They were told this year they were not allowed to do flips and such on the field, or so one of them told a few of us in Alumni Band. And it was true, they basically just sat and did nothing for the entire game.
A little bit at a time, the uniqueness of Michigan is being chipped away in favor of a generic, corporate, sterile experience. Seems to me "revenue streams" and marketing gurus rule the day in DB's Athletic Department, and it really doesn't need to be that way.
Corporate ass-covering and focus-group research, all of it. What's happening to Michigan Stadium is reason #1 this site will always remain independent. This is what you get for hiring someone who made his living sending people things they didn't want in the mail.
Yeah, guy who doesn't care about any of this and complains about people who do, you're cooler than those who do. Pop that collar.
THE ONE GOOD THING: No dog groomers except once before the band came out.
ST3 goes inside the box score:
With apologies to Denard, this section belongs to Fitzgerald Toussaint this week. In fact, I will refer to him as Filthgerald. Filthgerald gained 170 yards on 20 carries, scored 2 TDs, had a long of 59 yards, and averaged 8.5 YPC. Can someone explain to me again why he only got two carries against staee? Forget that last comment, I’ve moved on.
There is also a way-too-early BCS standings look. No Hoke for Tomorrow, unfortunately.
Yes, I'm so damn scarred by the previous three seasons that, after Purdue's initial drive, I felt a flash of deju vu all over again. But Michigan stayed the course and eventually put Purdue away, pretty much by halftime and certainly before the 3rd quarter was over.
TTB on Toussaint:
Fitzgerald Toussaint is hitting his stride. Finally healthy after two years of long-term injury issues, Toussaint is showing what he can do. He had 20 carries for 170 yards, including a spectacular 59-yard touchdown run (Michigan's longest run of the year). He's averaging 6.1 yards per carry on the season. Perhaps the best part of Toussaint's game is the way he finishes runs. Despite not being particularly big, he always seems to churn his legs for an extra couple yards after contact. His yardage total was the best by a Michigan running back since Michael Hart had 215 against Eastern Michigan back in 2007.
At this point, Michigan is grabbing wins like items at an Old Country Buffet; these things might not be of high quality, but this is America and MORE is better than anything else. Yes, I am comparing the quality of Big Ten competition to the lukewarm comestibles of a buffet chain.
The Purdue point of view is unenthused or bizarrely optimistic. The former:
Purdue's execution, especially when it was really needed was atrocious. Conversely, UM shored-up the issues that had been exposed v. MSU following their bye week...and played soundly all game.
Michigan seemed to want to test Purdue physically in the trenches and Purdue failed as they looked pensive, slow and soft when popped in the mouth. The end result was a sound defeat for Hope's squad, 36-14...but it felt much worse than that score.
Yes, the final margin was 22 points, but we were close through three quarters and the difference of a few plays swung the scoreboard wildly in their direction. Things got wildly out of control after a few key mistakes, as often happens in college football.
I'm just all like… it was 36-7 at the start of the 4th and Purdue had 200 yards of offense to Michigan's 510. That's not a game that swung on a few plays. Elsewhere in his post Hammer and Rails's T-Mill gives Michigan plenty of credit, so this isn't a lol delusional homer thing. I'm just surprised anyone could do the point-at-critical-plays thing after that.
Media, as in dying legacy organizations (and ESPN). Before we get into the scoffing, the Daily covers the jetpack flight in column-length detail.
The scoffing! Man, does everyone want to seize upon this as proof Brady Hoke Gets It, This Is Michigan, and This Is Not Last Year:
Just like that, Fitzgerald Toussaint proves the Michigan football team can resemble its old self
Sometimes I wonder if my brain has mutated to the point where I'm not even watching the same game as some of these people. This is about the MSU game:
With the backs providing little to no punch offensively, Robinson was forced to become Michigan's exclusive run threat. Partly because of that, he was also subject to immense pressure in the passing game, as he was sacked four times and eventually forced to leave the contest early due to injury.
My version of this paragraph is "With Al Borges inexplicably enthralled with the passing game, Robinson only got twelve carries to go with Toussaint's two. Because of something entirely unrelated that also impacted the ground game, he was also subject to immense pressure in the pocket. Later he left with an injury caused by a late hit."
Yes, this is the usual mumbling about media narratives that have no relation to reality. You're like 3000 words into this post and are clearly addicted. Suck it up. This is the point in Requiem for a Dream where your arm is a mass of black veins and you're still shooting up.
Martin leads resurgence of traditional Michigan defense against Purdue
…against… yeah, them.
This is a different Michigan team
…than the one that beat Purdue last year.
Wolverines' 'old-school' whipping of Purdue would've made Bo Schembechler proud
This one is a wow experience. I mean:
[Toussaint] transforms into a sledgehammer when he runs between the hash marks.
He's not Carlos Brown but come on, dude. And I challenge you to distinguish this from a seventh-grader's B- paper:
Even against a powder-puff Big Ten team such as Purdue, the Wolverines regrouped after surrendering a 48-yard pass on a simple slant-screen that shredded the defense for a touchdown in the opening minutes of the game. No one panicked on the sideline. Instead, the much-maligned unit discussed it and agreed the appropriate response called for equal parts inspiration and perspiration, but no more excuses.
Holy pants. Someone agreed this paragraph should be set down in print and copied thousands of times so its wisdom could spread throughout the land, no more excuses.
Even Wojo fell prey to some extent:
In finding running game, Michigan re-joins Big Ten title race
Ann Arbor— As the day's events unfolded, one thing became clearer and clearer. Michigan is back in the running, and it got there by getting back to the running.
The Wolverines pounded a weaker foe Saturday, which isn't a big deal unless you acknowledge how it happened, and what happened elsewhere in the Big Ten. Michigan bashed Purdue, 36-14, and did the job without everyone waiting around for Denard Robinson to do the job.
Michigan's rushing offense before playing Purdue: 12th nationally. Rich Rodriguez: not involved with the decision to throw two-thirds of the time against Michigan State.
Strategy matters, simple things unrelated to hearty grit toughness can provide huge swings, coaches make mistakes frequently, and no one at a newspaper ever watches a game a second time. Facts.
10/8/2011 – Michigan 42, Northwestern 24 – 6-0, 2-0 Big Ten
Last week's picture pages focused on a two-play sequence in which Stephen Hopkins bulldozed a Minnesota linebacker on an iso, then pretended he was going to do the same on the next drive before running right past him for a long completion up the seam. If Michigan wasn't playing Minnesota the iso would have gone for a few yards and that sequence would have been the Northwestern game exactly: two halves, pretty much the same same thing, radically different results.
Half the first: this old bad thing again
It is not fun to be a Michigan fan seeing your past flash before your eyes when your team is going up against the spread offense. Three hundred yards and twenty-four points in the first half? I have seen this before. It ends with me in the fetal position muttering something about Armanti Edwards or Donovan McNabb or this exact Northwestern team blowing up the recordbook in 2000 in this exact stadium at this exact time. The only intelligible things in the moaning will be a bleated "Herrrrrrmaannnn" or strangled "Englissssssh."
I uncurled long enough at halftime to get a tweet out about how we were essentially getting Rich-Rodded to death. We'd heard about but rarely seen this kind of thing the last three years: Northwestern killed Michigan with bubbles they weren't aligned to defend and expertly used varying tempos to catch Michigan off guard much of the first half. This was the spread 'n' shred at full absorption, the kind of thing you can do when you are totally committed to one style of offense you know well.
That was influenced by these super-interesting Calvin Magee videos* in which he's describing the philosophy of the offense that just led a redshirt freshman everyone recruited as a receiver and his sidekicks to a BCS win over Georgia. I'm an hour and a half in and and it's mostly been Magee describing the various tempos WVU uses and breaking down various bubble screens.
This fresh in my mind, my experience of the first half was thus accompanied by a strong sense of déjà vu as the Wildcats bubbled and tempo-ed and aargh-safetied their way down the field. It was simultaneously the thing we'd always seen and the thing we never got to see. It was yet another reason to shake your fist at the Great Rodriguez Defensive Coaching Malpractice. It was unpleasant.
I envisioned Rodriguez sitting in the same room with Ralph Friedgen. Rodriguez watches the Michigan game; Friedgen watches Maryland. Mike Leach pops his head in from time to time. They are sipping cognac, smoking cigars, and laughing maniacally.
Half the second: this old bad thing again, happening to them
It is more fun to be a Michigan fan seeing your past flash before your eyes when the Rodriguez spread is the other team's and they are suddenly incapable of moving the ball while their defense is incapable of anything at all. Insert any of a dozen games over the last three years for comparisons. 2008 Penn State may be the canonical example.
The collapse of the Northwestern offense shouldn't be overstated. They only had four second-half drives that meant anything thanks to the offense executing this second half:
- 8 play, 80 yard TD
- 12 play, 80 yard TD
- 6 play, 47 yard TD
- 7 play, 28 yard FGA
- 9 play, 53 yard TD
This was a masterpiece for the time of possession fetishists. Northwestern opportunities were limited. (As an incidental bonus, Michigan also got 28 points while "keeping the Wildcats off the field." Funny how that works.)
In the aftermath you can't poke a newspaper-type person (and even the occasional blogger) not talking up adjustments. I'm not so sure the adjustment were brilliant. They consisted of telling Denard to stop throwing terrible interceptions and throwing Jake Ryan into the slot—hello heebie jeebies—so the Wildcats couldn't bubble Michigan to death. That accomplished, they waited for the turnover flood.
One sack, two of those turnovers, and a quarter-and-a-half later Michigan was already in rush-the-passer, kill-the-clock mode up 11 with nine minutes left. The first turnover should have been a first down conversion that pushed the Wildcats into Michigan territory; the second was an excellent strip by Thomas Gordon on a drive that had moved from around the Northwestern 20 to midfield.
The adjustment was not giving up the thing they shouldn't have been giving up in the first place and not arm punting directly at opponent safeties. Michigan was just better, no brilliance required. The second half bore that out.
The end result: 42 points despite three turnovers, 541 yards, 360 ceded, and a margin of victory over the Wildcats larger than any since 2004. The 2004 team was the last one Michigan team to smoke-and-mirror its way to a Rose Bowl—if that's really what a team one inch away from beating Vince Young really did.
As the weeks pass the questions fade. Michigan seems flatly better than everyone they play, no qualifiers necessary. This week the Spartans will test that theory. They are the mirror; this weekend blows away the smoke.
*[It's mostly football stuff but a couple of personality items:
1. Magee's showing a clip of a bubble they ran against Cincinnati and apropos of nothing says "the coach, I can't remember his name, is a really nice guy." Someone in the room says "Dantonio?" and he replies "Yeah, Dantonio. Nice guy." Wonder how Magee feels about him now—easy to think someone's a nice guy when you beat him 38-0.
2. Magee's describing a bubble against Georgia in their Sugar Bowl win as a pre-snap read he let White have because he "wants to let the kid grow." WVU ran two different bubbles, a pre-snap read based on alignment and a post-snap read with a full mesh point and an option afterwards if the QB keeps. By allowing White to make the read before the snap he's giving him more flexibility in the offense.
Rodriguez, in contrast, "isn't going to put his fate in the hands of a 19-year-old kid" and wants his QBs to "read it out" post snap all the time.
This particular bubble looked there pre-snap but wasn't actually because a desperate Georgia defense was plunging the safety down at it; WVU didn't have any PA off the bubble—hard to believe—at the time, something Magee said he regrets and they obviously fixed.]
Non-Bullets Of Inverseness
Yes we have no photos. Road game means we don't have a gallery, at least not yet. Mike DeSimone collects everyone's pictures weekly at his page.
Game theory bits. You will not be surprised that I was very much in favor of the fourth and one in the first half, especially given the state of Michigan's defense at that point and what we'd seen Northwestern do on D in their first few games. The result of that play and their ability to convert on the ensuing drive was the difference between going in down 24-14 and 24-7.
While the dominant second half made that touchdown irrelevant in the long run, the people who doubt the wisdom of that call are the same who ascribe a mystical power to momentum. If you're worried about giving momentum up by not converting you have consider the possibility of acquiring it by getting a touchdown, which in addition to being momentum-tastic is also worth seven points. For me, simple calculation: fourth and one near midfield against a team with an iffy defense and in possession of Denard Robinson. Go.
Also not a surprise: thumbs down to the field-goal attempt. I'd actually started arguing with my friend about it on second down. I was in favor of going on fourth and reasonable; he and others around me were in favor of kicking. My main rationale was that there's a huge difference between 18 and 11 (game over, especially with more time off the clock) and only a meh difference between 11 and 14.
We were having this as a hypothetically kicker-independent argument, but there seemed to be agreement that with Michigan's situation at that spot you go. If you had Nate Kaeding I could see kicking, but Gibbons has never made a field goal of 40 yards, let alone 48, and 4th and 5 is very makeable.
Even with the FG attempt I disagreed with, my "Brady Hoke is awesome on gameday" meter incremented a notch. On twitter someone said he tried to sneak Denard and a WR out with the punt team before the timeout, which if true is awesome. It means the TO was not hesitation but rather a trick being snuffed out and that even when the trick was foiled Hoke still went for it.
EPIC DOUBLE POINT STANDINGS, RETROACTIVELY APPLIED:
2: Denard Robinson (Notre Dame, Eastern Michigan), Brady Hoke (San Diego State, Northwestern)
1: Jordan Kovacs (Western Michigan), David Molk (Minnesota)
Almost went with Hemingway for the ND game since Hemingway didn't throw a bunch of interceptions but "WHAT?!" and "the game is ova" were tiebreakers.
Something I've never screamed before. "NICE BLOCK," I yelped a moment after Michael Shaw blew up Bryce McNaul with a cut block:
Thanks to terrible play by the NW MLB and what looks like a slant by the playside DT all Shaw had to do was meekly shove McNaul for Denard to burst into the secondary, but yelp == shoutout.
Hello Mr. Gardner. Gardner had another package in this game. I didn't like this one as much. It seemed too on-the-nose to run that jet sweep to Denard, then come back with a naked boot off it the next time you ran it. Michigan just executed a similar pattern against Minnesota, so NW was prepared. Above is the linebacker Gardner dodged en route to three yards.
And then there was that bit late in the game where Gardner came in. At first he was just handing off/getting the corner from the one, which is not that thrilling, but before that they brought him in to hit Jeremy Jackson on second and ten.
If Gardner can handle it future plays with both guys on the field should be less focused on Denard—maybe make that jet sweep fake and then drop back as per normal. Robinson is an option but not the only one.
Obvious waggle is inverted. On the Watson touchdown, the universe thought "waggle" when Michigan brought in an I-form big on second and goal from the nine. Michigan ran it to the short side of the field, breaking a tendency, and got rewarded for it with an wide open Steve Watson (who Denard nearly missed).
Bipolar OL. Maybe. Michigan couldn't run the ball but it occurred to me there was a strong possibility they got RPSed trying to run the spread against a team that knows it backwards and forwards. There seemed to be a lot of blitzing into places Michigan was trying to run.
So run problems exist. On the other hand, Denard had eons to find people to throw the ball to. Vincent Smith epic blitz pickups had something to do with that, as did Wildcat-fan-infuriating three-man-rushes, but so did the offensive line. So much so that this was a Freudian slip in a thread about the refereeing:
There was .. (Score:1)
also a rushing the passer on Drob that was never called. He was takled for a loss, in the third I believe, and while on the ground was hit by a second defender and then a third. That third defender had enough time to pull up but didn't. No call.
Borges seemed to agree with this blog's petulant complaining about rollouts, which were reduced. Northwestern got negative pressure on pocket passes and the rollouts that were called saw better protection as those edge blockers went hell-bent for the outside instead of hesitating. Michigan's currently first in sacks allowed [tiresome avalanche of caveats]; so it seems that Michigan's best option when it's going to pass is letting Denard sit back and survey. No one is getting near him.
The arm punting bit. Denard did throw three interceptions. This is less than ideal. One of those was a badly inaccurate deep ball into single-ish coverage; the others were WTFs. But the opponent line that Denard is basically a tailback at quarterback…
The long passes were underthrown jump balls that NU didn’t win. I am disappointed (but not surprised) that the secondary was not told to look for the ball once the receiver was 25 yards down the field. Throughout the year, most of Denard Robinson’s long passes have been underthrows that would be INTs if the defender looked for the ball. … At least 100 of those passing yards were 50/50 jump balls. the pass defense wasn’t great, but the defensive scheme in general limited most of Robinson’s runs and made him throw. … Denard has receivers that are willing to go up for the jump ball and bring it down (e.g., the Notre Dame win), and until teams can stop that, all Denard has to do is limit his wild throws to the opposition and get the ball into the general area of his receivers.
…has started to grate. Even with the turrible interceptions Denard still completed 65% of his passes for nearly 13 YPA. That is enough for him to far exceed Dan Persa's QB rating last game (177 to 131) when Persa completed 73% of his passes like he always does. And, like, 13 YPA. 48 and 57 yard bombs to Hemingway and Roundtree help, but Robinson being Robinson put those guys in single coverage.
And here's the thing. While the jump ball thing is a fair assessment of some of the deep stuff, remove his two longest completions and Denard still averaged 9.7 YPA. Chop out the two successful bombs—but not the INT or the Gallon overthrow—and Denard averaged almost a first down per passing attempt. Northwestern fans cannot talk crap about him in any fashion. Do terribly unfair things to his passing stats and he still pwns you. Teams with secondaries are another matter, but we are seeing Denard get back to being the fairly accurate guy he was last year.
When allowed to set and step into throws Denard can toss all kinds of stuff. As Borges gets his head around the things he can and cannot do his efficiency should improve, because he's got enough in his legs to compensate for the fact he's not Andrew Luck. Now, about those throws that make all of us want to die…
[Disclaimer: There's a difference between not thinking you can sustain an offense on downfield chucks into double coverage and back-shoulder fades to Jeremy Gallon and thinking a QB averaging 10 YPA even when you mutilate his stats unfairly is not a QB. Thank you for not needing this disclaimer.]
WTFs. I don't know, man. I think one of them was an attempted wheel route that was either badly disrupted or saw the guy fall down; in any case there was a safety right there so that was a very bad read. The other I have no idea. Hypothetically that could have been a massive WR bust, but I doubt it. I will look at these in UFR but I doubt I'll be able to tell much.
Shaw. If Tommy Rees's brain goes "FLOYDFLOYDFLOYDFLOYD" then Michael Shaw's goes "BOUNCEBOUNCEBOUNCEBOUNCE." It worked against a slow-ish Northwestern team cramming the box; kudos to Borges for making that switch.
Roundtree. Welcome back to the offense, kid. Totally thought you were Junior Hemingway on the long one.
Woolfolk. Again pulled for Countess. Obviously injured.
Johnson. Hoo boy, going to come in for some finger-wagging in UFR. His whiff on the Kain Colter TD was spectacular.
The West: open. It was going to be wide open when Nebraska was losing 27-6 to Ohio State, but even with that comeback there the Michigan-Michigan State game has the shape of a division championship game, doesn't it? Whoever wins it will be two clear of their instate rival with the most threatening other teams in the division already carrying losses. The winner of that game could lose once and probably be fine since Iowa is unlikely to sweep M/MSU/Nebraska and Nebraska similarly unlikely to do so against M/MSU/Iowa/PSU/Northwestern.
Michigan State would have a smaller margin of error since their remaining games against the East include an almost certain loss versus Wisconsin; Michigan wins this weekend and they become solid favorites.
As per usual, when I attend road games I usually can't get around to VOAV. Penance:
Postgame interview with the person of particular note:
ST3 goes inside the box score:
After starting slowly in the sack department, we picked up 3 last week and 4 this week, including a decapitation by Kovacs and a Wile E. Coyote style steamrolling by Will Campbell.
After giving up 297 yards in the first half, the defense settled down (and the offense controlled the clock for major stretches) limiting NU to 438 yards total for the game. A tad higher than my goal of 400 per game, but NU does have a good offense, I think everyone would agree. And they would have been held under 400 if the refs called holding penalties. More on that in the ref section, don’t neg me yet.
That 438 includes a 79 yard drive at the end of the game when Michigan was up three scores and just bleeding clock. If anything ever convinces you that advance stats are more real than the regular ones, that should be it. On 11 real drives—about an average game's worth—the Wildcats had 359 yards, which is about average. On the meaningless last one the Wildcats piled it on. Advanced stats will dump that last drive.
6-0 starts for Michigan are rare.
Most of my life (33 years) has been spent rooting for a Michigan team that would win most Saturdays, live in the national rankings, and stub their toe early in the season. 4-0 or better starts have only occurred 11 times in those 33 seasons:
4-0: '78 '96 '09
5-0: '85 '95 '99 '10
6-0: '86 '97 '06 '11
The starts to the last three seasons have been a stretch that Michigan fans have not witnessed since the dawn of the Carr era.
Media, as in files. Melanie Maxwell's gallery for AnnArbor.com. This thing was epic:
We should get a giant inflatable Wolverine head for the players to run out from under, except it should probably be, like, the comic book version, and then to make it even more rad we could shoot off some fireworks during the national anthem and this would make things electric.
Media, as in unwashed blog masses. If you are a true schadenfreude connoisseur, there is a Sippin' on Purple game thread that descends into self-loathing misery. I didn't enjoy it much except for the one post where the person said every time Denard takes off it terrifies them.
TWB on the good and bad. The Hoover Street Rag gets a head start on the MICHIGAN STATE IS THE BEGINNING OR END OF THE WORLD hype, which is deserved. Big House Blog provides cheers and jeers. TTB has bullets. One of them:
Kenny Demens had his best game of the year. Demens hasn't been as productive this year as I expected, but he's still been a solid player. This game was his best, though. He had 10 tackles, including a sack, and did a good job of chasing down wide receivers and crossing routes in space. A lot of middle linebackers (Obi Ezeh, for example) would have been left in the dust or would have missed the tackle on those smaller players, but Demens is so strong that if he gets his hands on someone, that person is going to the ground.
In five of Michigan's nine losses during the 2008 season, the Wolverines were either ahead or tied at the half. But during the subsequent two quarters, Michigan's offense crumbled and the defense wasn't good enough to prop the team up. Throughout the Rodriguez years, exponential in-game decline became a staple of the team's performance
Don’t you feel like, for the first time in a long while, that Michigan clearly has the advantage in coordinators? While there is room for improvement, it’s a blast to see Borges tinker around with Denard and Gardner, and the defense has rattled several quarterbacks this season and has clearly improved. The team seems to get better as the game goes on.
This Week in Unexpected Sentences from Lake The Posts:
the 'Cats two second half TOs and Denard Robinson’s unstoppable passing prove too much in blowout win.
Nationally, Holly Anderson on the second-half D:
The story of Northwestern being shut out entirely in the second half is one of repeated, eerily consistent, enormous drive-ending plays by the Michigan defense. A sack and an interception killed the Wildcats’ third-quarter drives; a fumble and a sack put paid to their first two fourth-quarter efforts, and the final Northwestern drive barely reached Michigan’s red zone before the clock ran out.
Iowan Adam Jacobi has quick hits on the game at CBS.
Media, as in badge-wearers. Fox Sports's resident officiating expert on the Kovacs/Persa decapitating:
Some face mask penalties an official should never miss. This is not one of them. When I watched this play in real time and even after the first replay, I did not think the face mask was grabbed. So many helmets come off, and often it has nothing to do with the face mask being pulled. In this case, however, the last replay indicated that Kovacs did grab the mask with his left hand. The referee, who is behind the quarterback, would never see this, and he is the only official who is watching the quarterback. It was a foul, but not all fouls can be seen. Coach Fitzgerald was penalized for running out on the field to argue, which is absolutely the correct call. You cannot let a coach come as far onto the field as Fitzgerald did to scream at the officials. It makes no difference whether there is a missed call. That cannot be allowed.
That's on point. It's clear on the replay that Kovacs did grab the facemask but you can't expect the official to see that. (Side note: Adding Pereira to their coverage of NFL and college sports was a brilliant move by FOX. He's great at giving an unvarnished take from the referee's perspective. In that same article he bags on the live-ball unsportsmanlike penalty the NCAA just instituted, but he also gives it to you straight when you are being a stupid fanboy.)
Pete Thamel has yet another Denard piece, but okay:
Koger’s favorite Robinson story is from when he was a freshman, and he bounded up and down outside a team huddle.
“Put me in coach, I run fast,” Robinson said repeatedly.
When Robinson overheard Koger relaying that story Monday, he blushed with embarrassment and tried to plead down some details. But early on, Robinson’s need to slow down was obvious.
“I was just thinking about it the other day — man, it’s going by too fast for me,” he said with a smile. “I don’t want to leave.”
eeeeeee /passes out
Junior Hemingway had a lime:
"It feels real good," receiver Junior Hemingway said of the six victories.
Let's have a real wool lime.
AnnArbor.com's Kyle Meinke says Michigan answered a lot of questions. True, but I don't think "can Michigan win without Denard Robinson?" was one of them. Tim Rohan on the dichotomy of Denard. Raftery on the receivers. Chengelis on going to EL.
9/24/2011 – Michigan 28, San Diego State 7 – 4-0
A long, long time ago now a Lloyd-Carr coached Michigan team was struggling through the 2005 season when they met Northwestern. A lot of throws to Tacopants (Jason Avant's 11-foot-tall imaginary friend) on both sides later, Michigan emerged with a 33-17 win and I embarked on one of the first of an endless procession of stat-nerd diatribes about the evils of punting.
You've probably heard it already: punting decisions have not kept pace with the increasingly offensive nature of the game, leaving coaches in a perpetual state of risk- and win-avoidance. Romer paper, Pulaski High, Mathlete chart. Etc.
In this particular Northwestern game, though, Carr went for it on fourth and five from the Northwestern 23, a decision I thought was too aggressive(!). When paired with a number of similarly aggressive calls from earlier that season, it seemed like a sea change for the old man:
In multiple cases he's made tough, correct decisions: going on fourth and goal from the one against Wisconsin, pounding it into the line twice against Michigan State, etc. Even when the strategy has backfired, he accepts the downside and persists in a more aggressive posture.
In context, the Penn State gaffe seems more like one last hit of that sweet Bombay Popsicle* snuck in-between rehab sessions than evidence of 1970s thinking taking hold. Lloyd Carr has checked himself in to the Betty Ford Center for Coaches Addicted to Low Variance. I wouldn't expect a flying-colors discharge any time soon, but he's made the first, biggest step.
*[I don't know either.]
That change lasted into the fourth quarter of that year's Ohio State game. Having acquired a two-score lead by converting a fourth and inches around the Michigan 40, Carr reverted to his primitive instincts at the crucial moment. With three minutes left from the Ohio State 40, he called for a wide receiver screen on third and ten. It gained six yards. With a two point lead, three minutes on the clock, no Ohio State timeouts left, and a fourth and four on the Ohio State 34, Carr punted. Ohio State drove for a touchdown; Carr would never again have the opportunity to kill a game against the Buckeyes.
In the moment, Carr choked. Six years on that single decision seems like the best way to explain why a lot Michigan fans found his tenure frustrating despite its high rate of success: the program was perpetually making poor decisions because a combination of fear and arrogance. Something could go wrong if you made a high variance decision, and Michigan could spit on expected value because This Is Michigan. See any game in which Michigan acquired an 18-point lead or the first half of the Orange Bowl for confirmation.
Carr coached like he had a kickass running game and killer defense no matter the facts, which was the difference between being a legend and a being a B+ coach who lost the battle with Tressel authoritatively. Hell, even Tressel blew games when he failed to adjust to the reality that sometimes his defense and special teams were not enough, and he ran roughshod over the Big Ten for nine years.
Part of the reason a segment of the Michigan fanbase (including the author) blew up at Hoke's hire is because it seemed to represent a return to that expectation-spurning 1970s decision-making.
Brady Hoke put a lot of those fears to rest by going for—and getting—the win against Notre Dame with eight seconds left. That decision was a no-brainer. If the field goal team had run out onto the field, I would have been livid. That was a test he passed, but it was one with a low bar.
On Saturday, Hoke sent out the punting team with about two and a half minutes left in the first half. It was fourth and two around midfield, and I was mildly peeved. It was not the percentage play, but I've watched a lot of football and it seemed too much to hope that even the rootin'est, tootin'est, eyepatch-wearingest pirate of a head coach would go for it. Needing more than a sneak and up fourteen in the first half, the world punts. My peevishness was directed at football coaches in general, not Hoke in particular.
And then an angel came down from the sky, and signaled timeout. Great trumpets erupted from the flagpoles, playing a fanfare as a golden staircase descended. Each of the steps was engraved with the names of World Series of Poker winners. Down from the clouds strode Doyle Brunson, clad in a jacket of hundred-dollar bills. And lo, Texas Dolly spaketh unto the people: "check-raise." Brady Hoke sent the offensive line onto the field.
This was a really, really good decision. Even if you don't believe the exact outlines of the Mathlete's calculations, it is not close: average offense versus average defense means the break-even line is around eight yards. This was not an average situation. Michigan had Denard Robinson against a pretty horrible run defense. And that number does not take into account the game situation. If Michigan gets the first down they are almost certainly robbing San Diego State of a possession. Punting gets you thirty, forty yards of field position. Getting the first down puts you in good position to score and is essentially another +1 in turnover margin. You need two yards and you have Denard Robinson.
stealing a joke from the internet: the guy on the right looks like he just looked into the Ark of the Covenant. via the News.
One speed option later Michigan was en route to the endzone and had essentially ended the game. Without that massively +EV decision they go into halftime up maybe 14, maybe 11, maybe 7 points. That ugly third quarter becomes the gut-check time most were predicting before the game. Maybe Michigan comes out on top (24-21, say). Maybe not. That didn't happen because when Michigan had its boot on San Diego State's neck, Hoke called Z 22 stomp right.
The Lloyd Carr example above shows we don't know that Hoke's going to do this consistently, that he'll stick to the non-pejorative MANBALL when the pressure is at its greatest, but so far so good. Even my doubts about Hoke's ability to math up in the waning moments of an Ohio State game are faint. When things go wrong he does not scowl or pout or throw headsets like Rich Rodriguez or Brian Kelly or Bo Pelini. He does not go on tilt. He calmly talks to guys about what in the hell they were thinking.
Hoke continues to leave best-case scenarios in the dust. Saturday night I watched Dennis Erickson punt on fourth and five from the USC 37 and thought "my coach would never do that." Then I watched Erickson chew out the punter who put the ball in the endzone because that's what happens when you punt from the 37 and thought "my coach would never do that."
That felt good. It felt invent-a-time-machine-to-assure-yourself-its-all-going-to-be-okay good. It feels like Michigan has finally learned how to gamble.
Boy do I want to play poker with certain people on the internet. Evaluating the decision has popped up on every Michigan message board. It's mostly been met with praise, but man, there are a lot of people who can't estimate and multiply out there. Maybe it's Carr Stockholm syndrome.
A reminder: anything on the MGoBlog photostream is creative-commons licensed, free to use for non-commercial applications. Attribution to Eric Upchurch, the Observer, and MGoBlog is appreciated.
Mark Huyge is delighted to be here. From the above SDSU photoset.
It's not quite the Molk death glare. It's more like Shifty-Eyed Dog.
Try to look at Mark Huyge ever again without having that play in your head.
That's a great question. Just as our rationality leads us to a belief in an objective reality, Kant believed there is an objective morality we can locate from the same process. The Categorical Imperative is an absolute, fundamental moral law on par with Minnesota losing to teams from the Dakotas. Things are either right or wrong—there are no gray areas, and context does not apply. You could call him the BJ Daniels of philosophy*.
*[Ten-cent summary of Kantian philosophy cribbed from Three Minute Philosophy, which is terrific. Philosophers wishing to quibble with my paraphrase of a comedic summary are invited to consider the moral consequences of their actions and also jump in a lake. USF fans wishing to WOO BJ DANIELS can skip to the latter.]
And the internet eeeed Countess. When Troy Woolfolk headed to the sidelines, all Michigan fans everywhere winced. When Blake Countess replaced JT Floyd in the third quarter, all Michigan fans everywhere prepared for the deluge.
It never came, and as a result everyone from my uncle to the internet to the newspapers are having little freakouts about Michigan's #4 corner. I am with all of you. The only thing stopping Countess from having a few PBUs or interceptions was Ryan Lindley's inability to throw the ball anywhere near the guys Countess had blanketed but Lindley targeted anyway.
For most of the third quarter I stopped watching the offensive backfield and started watching downfield coverage and while I won't be able to confirm this on the tape I think Countess was doing really well even when people weren't going after him. I'm with the rest of the internet when I suggest that Troy Woolfolk should take the Minnesota game off to recover from his multiple nagging injuries so we can see some more of the freshman.
I thought Avery did well, too. He had a third-down slant completed on him and was the DB victimized on the touchdown but in both cases he was right there tackling/raking at the ball. Is he doing something wrong I'm not perceiving yet? Because I think he's playing better than Woolfolk, who gave up some groan-worthy easy completions. (I don't blame him for allowing Hillman to bounce on one third down conversion because he was clearly held.)
Release the Martin. This week in the I-told-you-so files: Mike Martin is just fine. His good day last week was obscured by EMU never throwing and having quite a bit of success attacking away from him. Against SDSU he was nigh unblockable, bowling a veteran offensive line over backwards multiple times and drawing holding calls left and right. Craig Roh had two big plays and will show up doing little things when I do the UFR; Will Campbell had a couple of line-pushing plays. Hillman's YPC was still over five, so there are issues but I think a big chunk of them are localizable to…
Problems. So… everyone's talking up Jake Ryan, too. I'm with everyone in a general, long-term sense but a little less enthused about his performance on Saturday. One of the results of the first few weeks of UFRing/picture paging is that whenever the opponent tries to get outside I immediately focus on Ryan. Result from last week: three "aaargh Ryan" screams that no one in my section comprehended. He's still giving up the corner way too easy.
Also, there are two caveats to an otherwise encouraging performance from the secondary. One: Lindley and his receivers were flat bad as a group. Drops, bad routes, and bad throws artificially boosted Michigan's efficiency against him. Some of that was caused by pressure. Some of it was just a crappy opponent. Two: I wonder if Michigan's familiarity with the SDSU offense allowed them to beat the Aztecs' favorite routes into Michigan DBs heads.
Still, 5.3 YPA and actual depth at corner. +1 Mallory.
Offensive construction bits. Another week, another confirmation that running Denard is the offense. While I still groan whenever they line up under center, snaps from there were limited. I would really prefer it if they never ran I-form power on first and ten again, though. They've mixed in some inexplicably effective short play action so far; if they can't run that will probably dry up.
Things I liked: That screen to Smith. The essence of an RPS+3 is when three offensive linemen have no one to block for 30 yards. And then the much-discussed speed option debuted. I'd gotten a couple insider emails telling me it was part of the offense but thought it would be extremely bad form to publish that, so I'd been waiting. It was quite a debut.
I'm hoping we see Borges add wrinkles at the same rate Rodriguez did. He'll have to to keep the run offense ahead of the wolves. He's off to a good start.
via the Detroit News.
Tailbacks. I'm suddenly happy with Michigan's tailback situation after Vincent Smith made a lot of yards on his own, including the above touchdown where he kept his balance at about the five and managed to drag a safety into the endzone. There was also the zone play where he squeezed through a crack in the line it's possible literally no other D-I back would have fit through.
Toussaint, meanwhile, didn't have the yards Smith did but ran hard on the inside; I still like him best but understand if they're going to split duties between the top two. I feel bad for Shaw—maybe it's time to put him on kickoffs? He's got speed Smith does not.
The Denard question. So they did run a curl-flat. Denard went to the curl way late and threw his first interception. Not sure if that was schemed or just bad execution by the offense. If it's the latter that might be attributable to not running it over the offseason as Borges attempted to install his route packages, route packages that now seem like things Denard just can't do.
A three-point plan in an attempt to get Denard back on track:
- Stop throwing on the run.
- Provide some easy throws early—all hitch, snag—in an effort to get him calmed down.
- Develop some sort of counter-punch to the opponent getting all up in Denard's face on the rollout PA. A shovel pass?
Bending but not breaking. Michigan's giving up a lot of yards but not a lot of points. Frankly, some of this is luck. They are acquiring turnovers at an unsustainable rate. Not unsustainable for a mediocre defense, unsustainable for Michigan 1997. When the well dries up they'll do some more breaking.
The other thing is the secondary. Michigan's newfound ability to make plays on deep balls and Jordan Kovacs being stone-cold reliable (so far /crosses self) have erased cheap touchdowns for the opposition. WMU's touchdown came on a 15-play drive. ND touchdown drives went 7, 10, 7, and 4 plays. San Diego State's took six plays but started from the Michigan 38. The only quick drive Michigan's given up all year was ND's desperation drive, on which Michigan gave up chunks on purpose because of the time situation and then tried an NFL-style defense they weren't ready for and blew it. The longest touchdown other than that was the 16-yard pass Lindley hit in the third quarter.
Opponents have ripped off chunks on occasion, but they have not been handed free touchdowns. Michigan's at least making them earn it. That's a necessary first step on the road away from completely awful.
The next opponent. When Minnesota managed to hang with USC on the first weekend of the season they seemed like they might be more intimidating than your average Minnesota team. Then they lost to Not Even The Good New Mexico and North Dakota State and seemed even less intimidating than your average Minnesota team. Compounding matters: Jerry Kill is again out of commission with his seizure issue.
I did not VOAV this week for reasons of being spooked. Boyz In The Pahokee provided the usual bounty if you are jonesing.
ST3 goes Inside the Box Score:
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.
Wile's just lost his punting job; if that allows him to improve his kickoffs and compete for the field goal job, Michigan's kicking could be one of those strength things by midseason.
Lordfoul's weekly Hoke for Tomorrow:
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(!).
Player participation notes from jtmc33.
You see that conch shell he's got in his hand? At some point in the first half he was talking into it like it was a cell phone. That is all.
Media, as in blog rabble. BWS hops aboard the Countess bandwagon and points out Denard can't throw.
MGoBlog : The Big Lebowski :: The Hoover Street Rag : The Hunt For Red October:
After the Notre Dame game, I tweeted very simply: "And the singing, Captain?" "Let them sing." The moment was too good to start worrying about the future. But at some point, the future arrives and you need to deal with it. How well prepared you are for that future plays a large role in how well you're able to handle it when the moment arrives. The non-conference schedule, particularly one played as four games at the start of the season should, theoretically, be a nice combination of challenges and the working out of kinks. Before the mission starts, you must know the capacity and capabilities of your crew.
Media, as in local newspaper. John Niyo on the defense, which is extant. Chengelis on the fact the team is not vintage. San Diego State had big pictures of their former coaches as signals. The Daily on RVB's Hillman chase:
Fifth-year senior defensive tackle Ryan Van Bergen caught Hillman from behind inside the 10-yard line and knocked the ball loose for the second fumble.
Try reading it this way: a 288-pound defensive tackle caught the nation’s second-leading rusher from behind in the open field — 30 yards away from the line of scrimmage.
Van Bergen got a block from fifth-year senior defensive tackle Mike Martin, but most of his help came from practice.
“But when it comes down to it, we have the most explosive player in the country in our backfield,” Van Bergen said. “We get to play against (junior quarterback) Denard (Robinson), so we’ve learned how to take angles at guys who have speed.
“I took off on my horse just thinking, ‘I’ve almost caught Denard before, maybe I can catch this guy.’ ”
“They were very emotional after the game, depressed, disappointed, upset, however you want to say,” said Long, whose team dropped to 3-1 after Saturday’s 28-7 defeat. “It was a very emotional locker room after the game and not in a good sense.”
They probably would have done a “poor job” of answering questions, Long said, so he kept them behind closed doors. “It’s my job to protect them,” Long said Sunday. “This is not pro football.” …
"The defense got shocked by the speed of especially one guy (Robinson),” Long said. “They got shocked by the strength they had up front and the speed of quarterback early in the game.”
• Offensively, Michigan is 13-for-13 on red-zone opportunities. It is one of 13 teams in the country to have scored on every trip inside the 20-yard line this year.
• Even better? The Wolverines have scored touchdowns on 12 of those 13 trips. That 92-percent touchdown rate trails only Texas Tech nationally.
One of the main arguments made in favor of Shotgun Forever is that red zone efficiency is not a stat that shows much repeatable skill year to year and that the huge chunks of yards Michigan picked up without, you know, scoring in 2010 would turn into points if you just left the damn thing alone (and got a kicker). The early returns are excellent.
National takes. Smart Football:
- Michigan 28, San Diego State 7. Brady Hoke’s new team faced his old team, and I’m still not sure, despite their 4-0 record, that we know anything about this Michigan football team. The defense seems to be improving under DC Greg Mattison, but they’ve been using so much movement and motion to cover up their talent weaknesses it’s unclear how the defense will fare against a polished opponent. And while the offense has found a better rhythm running a Rich Rodriguez-lite Denard Robinson attack — including Denard’s long TD run on the speed option — his passing line was abysmal: 8 of 17 for 93 yards, no TDs and two interceptions. He’s obviously uncomfortable in the new offense. He looked like a more polished and comfortable passer last year. I chalk some of this up to the fact that the very techniques he’s using are new, but he’s going to have to improve for UM to have success. That said, given Michigan’s favorable schedule — no Wisconsin and the easy part of the Big 10 schedule up next — we may not learn anything about Michigan until the last three weeks of the season, when they play Illinois, Nebraska and Ohio State.
No one else bothered. A couple weeks after puntosauring himself into a loss against Iowa State, BHGP documents Kirk Ferentz opening Iowa's game against ULM in a shotgun spread, demonstrating the Carr thing above perfectly.