WITH AUTHORITY [Eric Upchurch/MGoBlog]
The gulf between box score and eye test is vast this evening.
The box score says Michigan gave hapless Miami their 19th straight loss with authority, outgaining the RedHawks 460-198, moving the ball well on the ground (6.1 YPC) and through the air (8.4 YPA), and ultimately cruising to a 24-point victory.
My eyes saw Michigan cough up three turnovers in the second quarter, allowing Hapless Miami to tie the game at ten apiece and hang around for a while.
The box score shows that Miami scored ten points against the Wolverine defense, but the eyes know those should be charged against Michigan's offense, as those scoring drives covered all of 26 and 21 yards following U-M turnovers.
The box score doesn't contain a giant red "WTF" flag. My eyes saw this at the end of the first half:
You can click to enlarge that picture, or I can just tell you that Michigan ran a four-minute drill with zero urgency or effectiveness. After Michigan tried to run a quick play on fourth-and-1, only for Miami to call a timeout before the snap, Brady Hoke decided to punt on 4th-and-6 from the Miami 37 when the Wolverines took a delay of game penalty coming out of that timeout. The decison to punt was so surprising Miami didn't put out a returner, then called a timeout of the "you can't be serious" variety. Finally, U-M took another delay of game to give Will Hagerup more room to boom a punt that hit the end zone on the fly.* Insert giant red "WTF" flag here.
The box score shows Devin Gardner had an efficient 184 yards and two TDs on 20 attempts, with one lone interception blemishing his stat line. The eyes saw his mechanics, which are all over the place, and at least two should-be interceptions hit the turf or, in the case of Jake Butt's first catch, get rescued by a great effort on the receiver's part. In fairness to Gardner, the box score also doesn't show that his interception was tipped at the line.
A crease, that. [Upchurch]
The box score and eye test agree on a couple things, at least. The offensive line did a fine job opening up holes after Miami stopped packing the box with eight defenders; when the RedHawks had to adjust to account for Michigan's wide-open receivers, Derrick Green went off, finishing the game with 137 yards and a pair of scoring runs on 22 carries. Green showed off patience, vision, and the decisive cuts necessary for success in a zone running scheme, and the numbers say as much.
Amara Darboh also looked good as he stepped into a starting role with Devin Funchess in street clothes; the redshirt sophomore caught six passes for 88 yards and Michigan's first touchdown—when he caught a quick slant and powered through a tackle to poke the ball across the plane—though he did lose a fumble during that stressful second quarter. Jake Butt looked healthy after playing sparingly against Notre Dame, finishing with three catches for 59 yards and a score on a clever fake screen called by Doug Nussmeier.
The defense thoroughly dominated Miami. RedHawks QB Andrew Hendrix could only muster 165 yards with one TD and one INT on 26 passes. The Miami passing game fared a whole lot better than their running game, which managed a paltry 33 yards on 24 attempts. The defensive front looked great, and even without starters Ray Taylor and Jarrod Wilson, the secondary held strong. Jourdan Lewis recorded his first career interception with a leaping grab on the sideline, while Jabrill Peppers impressed with his physical man coverage, forcing throw after throw to sail into the sideline.
The box score, which must be taken into account—our lyin' eyes being what they are—says Michigan turned in a dominant performance, with the final score a bit deceiving thanks to those turnovers. While it took longer than anyone hoped or expected, the Wolverines ultimately dispatched a bad team with relative ease.
On my drive home, however, I'll remember the groans that accompanied Hagerup's ill-fated punt, and the boos that followed the team into the tunnel, and I'll wonder what that kind of first-half performance would result in next week, when a plucky Utah squad coming off a bye week visits the Big House. The mental image isn't a pleasant one.
*Apologies for initially screwing up this sequence of events; now edited for accuracy, though the general "WTF" feeling stands, of course. This was horrible clock management and an infuriatingly conservative call in a one-score game against an overmatched opponent.
Notre Dame 31, Michigan 0
Michigan had never been shut out in the history of the Michigan/Notre Dame rivalry. Michigan hadn’t been shut out in any game since Ronald Reagan’s first term. Neither of those things is true right now. In fact, nothing is true but the alcohol.
Football is strange sometimes. Michigan outgained Notre Dame 289-282. If you find comfort in this fact, I applaud your zen-like quality, or the quality of your alcohol. Devin Gardner turned the ball over four times. Matt Wile missed two field goals badly. Devin Funchess may be hurt. Raymon Taylor may be hurt. Jabrill Peppers was too hurt to play. On a day in which the Big Ten looked terrible, Michigan’s performance stands atop the flaming heap as the worst of the day.
This game will cause many questions to be asked. For now, I can provide you with only one answer.
Coverage is irrelevant. [Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog]
There was Devin Funchess, galloping through and leaping over the Appalachian State secondary. There were Derrick Green and De'Veon Smith, bursting through holes opened up by Ben Braden and Kyle Kalis. There was Devin Gardner, completing all but one pass. There was Dennis Norfleet, catching bubble screens and darting past defenders.
There was offense, making sense at last.
Sure, Michigan's 560 yards on 55 plays came against an Appalachian State team that went 4-8 as an FCS program in 2013, but the coherence and explosiveness of Doug Nussmeier's offense proved undeniable. Funchess more than earned his new #1 jersey, scoring on three of his seven receptions, including a spectacular leaping grab over two defenders in the back of the end zone. Gardner had no difficulty finding open receivers, connecting on 12/13 passes for 173 yards and those three TDs to Funchess before giving way to Shane Morris in the third quarter as the blowout continued unabated.
Green (15 carries, 170 yards, 1 TD) and Smith (8, 115, 2) became the first pair of Michigan running backs to crack the century mark in the same game since Carlos Brown and Brandon Minor accomplished the feat against a hapless Minnesota team in 2007. They found running room. This was to be expected against an undersized, overmatched ASU squad, but this was not to be expected because last year happened. The offensive line held their ground and then some, giving up just one sack and paving the way for 350 yards on 36 carries.
The production excited, but more than that it was the fashion in which Michigan got that production. Screens to Funchess and Norfleet* opened up both the running game and downfield passing. The emphasis on inside zone allowed the line to find their rhythm; after some early stuffed runs, they started opening up big creases, especially when Kalis entered the game at right guard in place of starter Joey Burzynski. Michigan got explosive plays—ten of their first 30 went for ten yards or more—and also showed that they could move the ball methodically; the first scoring drive, capped by a nine-yard touchdown to Funchess, covered 63 yards in nine plays.
De'Veon Smith displayed power and balance on his way to 115 rushing yards. [Fuller]
On the other side of the ball, the defense played up to their lofty expectations, forcing punts on each of ASU's first seven drives, including five three-and-outs. 171 of the Mountaineers' 280 total yards came on two second-half drives with the game well out of reach, as Greg Mattison liberally rotated through defenders. They came through on their promise to be more aggressive, playing lots of tight man coverage and putting ASU QB Kam Bryant under consistent pressure—Michigan's two sacks and four QB hurries don't tell the whole story.
The special teams even managed to chip in a scoring play, as Ben Gedeon caught a punt blocked by Mike McCray and managed to extend the ball just past the pylon to put U-M up 35-0 just prior to halftime.
Only two things came up as real concerns during the game. Jabrill Peppers missed the second half with an ankle injury; Brady Hoke confirmed after the game that his absence was precautionary, and he'll be back on the field next week for Notre Dame. Meanwhile, Jake Ryan looked uncomfortable at times at middle linebacker, getting overaggressive on run defense and allowing a big gain through the air when he didn't get enough depth on a zone drop. If your biggest defensive concern is Jake Ryan, however, your defense is in a very good place.
"We weren't competing against the score, we were competing against our abilities," Hoke said. At the very least, Michigan showed their ability to dominate inferior competition. They certainly drew up the blueprint for how they'd like this team to operate the rest of the year, too. Next week, we'll learn a lot more about just how far they've come.
For now, it's nice to sit back and enjoy a stress-free Saturday.
*Or "Little Fleetwood" as Hoke (accidentally?) called him in the postgame presser.
Drive Recap: Michigan 13 - Nebraska 10 // 4Q: 8:08 pic.twitter.com/o4rwtV0sjL
— Michigan Football (@umichfootball) November 9, 2013
This was the high point, both from a football and comedic standpoint.
If this isn't rock bottom, it's damn close. Michigan faced a Nebraska rush defense that's done this...
|South Dakota State||33||271||2||8.2|
...and, with sacks removed, rushed for 22 yards on 29 attempts. Oh, and a combination of poor play-calling, poor line play, poor blitz pickup, and one understandably skittish quarterback allowed seven sacks that knocked the offense back 49 yards.
Brady Hoke's home winning streak is dead; that's not really the story. It wasn't hard to see this coming, not after the narrow escape against Akron, and certainly not after last week's debacle. When Drew Dileo dropped a fourth-down pass on Michigan's last-gasp drive, it felt depressingly fitting—of course the sure-handed receiver would let one slip through his grasp at precisely the wrong time, because that's just how this season has gone.
When Michigan attained a first down for the first time in the game, only three plays before the end of the first quarter, the Big House crowd erupted with the loudest Bronx cheer I've ever heard in this building. The sarcastic cheers turned to boos by the end of the first half, at which time the Wolverines, down 10-3, had 60 yards of offense on 29 plays.
Those boos only grew louder by the end of the game. Al Borges orchestrated a great drive to open the second half, featuring a big play for Fitz Toussaint on a slip screen, a slick pop-pass to Jake Butt against a heavy blitz, and a touchdown to a wide-open Devin Funchess on a post-curl-corner route combination.
Thus ended the offensive renaissance. That ten-play, 75-yard drive represented 43% of Michigan's total output on the afternoon, and Michigan resumed slamming their heads against stacked fronts and allowing wave after wave of pressure to hit home.
The defense did what they could, holding the Huskers to 273 yards—75 of which came on their game-winning drive—on just 4.1 yards per play despite two new starters at safety: Courtney Avery and Josh Furman, who replaced Jarrod Wilson and Thomas Gordon.* When Frank Clark lost contain and James Ross was late getting out on an option pitch (of sorts, since it went forwards) to Ameer Abdullah, who waltzed five yards into the end zone, there wasn't anger in Michigan Stadium—instead, apathy reigned, and a healthy number of fans streamed for the exits despite the Wolverines being down four with two minutes left and all their timeouts. Five plays later, those fans were proven—at least for today—to be justified in their actions.
"Well, we just didn't execute," said Brady Hoke after the game. That is 2013 Michigan Football's epitaph, and at some point it isn't going to be enough to save everyone's job.
*According to Hoke in the post-game presser, Gordon had an unspecified ankle injury, while Wilson's absense from the lineup was an attempt to shake things up.
Michigan had two weeks to prepare for Michigan State. This resulted in a record-setting day.
Michigan's -48 yards rushing is school's all-time low in a game (surpassing -46 vs Minnesota in 1962). #MSU
— Chris Mackinder (@Chris_Mackinder) November 2, 2013
Sorry, that should've said that the first half yardage is an FBS worst since Notre Dame rushed -45 yards in a first half in 2007.
— Chantel Jennings (@ChantelJennings) November 2, 2013
It takes a special kind of failure to achieve such lows: complete, utter failure from top to bottom. The gameplan from Al Borges lacked coherence, an issue that's plagued him during his entire tenure at Michigan. The play-action from under center isn't fooling anyone and still gets brought out several times a game, yet the shotgun runs somehow lack any sort of constraint or misdirection. A piecemeal offense isn't going to beat MSU's defense.
The offensive line couldn't open up holes for the running game, nor could they keep Devin Gardner upright. MSU registered nine sacks, and even with that yardage removed along with kneeldowns and a negative-20-yard bad snap, the Wolverines mustered 1.3 yards per carry.
Gardner often held the ball too long, for his part, and missed some open receivers, then capped the performance with an ugly interception when he hucked a designed back-shoulder fade three yards in front of Jeremy Gallon. By that point, however, he'd earned considerable respect simply for standing up and facing the inevitable beating.
Michigan mustered 168 yards on a meager 2.8 yards per play despite Gardner averaging nearly eight yards per pass when he could actually get one off. The defense fought valiantly, holding the Spartans to just 237 yards and 16 points through three quarters and setting up the offense with a chance to make it a game when Raymon Taylor picked off Connor Cook and returned it to the MSU 41. The Wolverines subsequently took a five-yard loss on an blown-up option followed by consecutive sacks—burning a timeout before the second one—to lose 21 yards in three plays; a Matt Wile punt, his eighth of the afternoon, opened the fourth quarter.
By the time Jeremy Langford capped the scoring with a 40-yard touchdown run, Devin Gardner's day was done—it would've been unconscionable to put him out there for another possession—and fans from both sides steadily streamed out of Spartan Stadium.
On Michigan's final offensive play of the game, Shane Morris tried to scramble on fourth-and-four, only to faceplant at the line of scrimmage. It was a fitting coda to a miserable day.