at least it's not just us?
lloyd carr's terrible record with a lead
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."