9/13/2014 – Michigan 34, Miami (Not That Miami) 10 – 2-1
Jake Ryan did a good job of not blowing up Hendrix for penalties [Eric Upchurch]
Michigan Stadium was a roomy place on Saturday, somewhat full of cranky people waiting for an opportunity to vent their ire. They held their fire after a Gardner interception; they held their fire when Michigan was tied 10-10 with a team that hadn't won a game since 2012 midway through the second quarter.
This was a bit of a surprise. Hell, the 1997 team(!) got booed at halftime of their game against Iowa when they went into the locker room down 21-7. (This was definitely performance-related, exacerbated by a late Tim Dwight punt return touchdown. The tenor of the boo was WE KNOW YOU ARE BETTER THAN THIS LET'S GOOOO and when they came out of the locker room the corresponding cheer was much louder than it usually is. But damn we used to have some expectations.)
In 2014, after seven years of mostly unrelenting failure, on the heels of a humiliating shutout in the Last Notre Dame Game, I was expecting more audible grumbles. Michigan fans held off, possibly too stunned by last week to do anything but meekly absorb events in front of them.
Then Michigan took a delay of game penalty (after a timeout!) and decided to punt from the Miami 37 with a minute left in the half. This was pure coaching malpractice that reminded a grumbly Michigan Stadium of last year's Penn State game. The boos rained down. It was loud. It was grumbly. It was statistically accurate.
As the game rolled along and Michigan proved themselves about as superior as you'd think they should be, this game receded from the hateful constellation of lower-level matchups that turned into stomach-churning wins or even losses.
When you end up giving up fewer than 200 yards to an opposing offense you've established that they are very bad and you are not. Eventually Michigan's ground game kicked in and put up similar YOU ARE BAD numbers. Erase some pretty random turnovers (deflected pass at the line, redshirt freshman pop-up kickoff fumble) and this is 45-0 or thereabouts.
I know you don't believe turnovers are random, person on the internet who I am anticipating a "LOL" comment from, but even you have to admit that when a throw goes from probably on target to directly in the chest of an opposing player because it glances off a fingertip that's just life giving you the middle finger, and not—oh you just said MAKE PLAYS in seriousness on the radio nevermind this sentence. Players make plays. Etc.
Anyway: in retrospect I am not stressing about this game.
I was in the second quarter, like everyone else, and while I didn't actually boo—I am in the too-shocked-to-do-anything club—I agreed with it. What's more, I deeply appreciated that the people still mad enough to let someone know about it waited for the perfect moment.
When Pat Fitzgerald was asked about Northwestern fans being upset in the aftermath of the Wildcats' 0-2 start, he responded thusly.
This is a press conference answer to get behind. It is brief, quotable, and addresses the situation. Fitzgerald is not surprised that fans are upset; he is upset (he called the team "an embarrassment to anyone that ever put on the purple and white"); fans should be too.
When Brady Hoke was asked an open-ended question about his message to the fans, he said this:
As far as the fans that watch from the outside and see some of the similar issues that they saw last season, what would you say to them and how concerning is it as a coaching staff?
"If they’re truly fans they'll believe in these kids and what they've done and the hard work that they've put in. If they’re not, they won't."
To the great misfortune of someone whose words are repeated verbatim on the internet, he would later claim to be misquoted. At least he has been told that knocking the fans who pay his salary and are currently leaning towards "tar and feather" over "put FOR SALE signs on front lawn" is not great, Bob.
But he has succumbed to the post-9/11 Godwin's Law: eventually someone in charge of the troops is going to tell you to support the troops, because he thinks that's the best argument he's got left. You think knocking over tinpot dictators halfway across the world with no real hope of installing anything that won't collapse the minute you leave is a bad idea? Support the troops, buddy. Why don't you support the troops?
So kudos to Michigan Stadium for holding its fire until the guy on the sideline with the timeout blundered his way into a fourth and eleven punt that went into the endzone on the fly. It was 1000% clear who was and was not supported at that moment.
Michigan is at least tolerant of the troops even when they're struggling against Not That Miami. Michigan is pissed off at the guys in charge. No amount of deflection will hide that fact.
Brady Hoke Epic Double Points Of The Week. #1 is Derrick Green, who was often the recipient of gaping holes but hit them and even made some yards himself.
#2 is Jourdan Lewis, who turned in excellent coverage all day and came up with an excellent interception.
#3 is Brennen Beyer, because it is impossible to really distinguish between the various guys whipping up on Miami's OL but Beyer got a sack.
Epic Double Point Standings.
6: Devin Funchess (#1, APP, #1 ND)
3: Derrick Green(#1 MIA)
2: Devin Gardner (#2, APP), Willie Henry (#2 ND), Jourdan Lewis (#2 MIA)
1: Ryan Glasgow (#3, ND), Brennen Beyer(#3 MIA)
0.5: Kyle Kalis (T3, APP), Ben Braden (T3, APP)
Brady Hoke Epic Double Fist-Pump Of The Week.
For the single individual best moment.
This was a one yard run but let us sit and savor the fact that even against a terrible defense Michigan had a touchdown that looked like this.
Honorable mention: Jake Butt shakes free for a fake screen(!) touchdown, something we haven't seen since Hoke's arrival. Jourdan Lewis runs a guy's fade for him, picks off a ball thrown too far inside. Dennis Norfleet and the KO unit execute a right-sided return on a kick to the left out to the 50. Derrick Green breaks backside and breaks a tackle for a 20-yard gain.
Epic Double Fist-Pumps Past.
AppSt: Derrick Green rumbles for 60 yards.
MIA: Derrick Green scores a goal line touchdown without being so much as touched.
MARCUS HALL EPIC DOUBLE BIRD OF THE WEEK.
Worst. Event. Ever. This Week.
Devin Funchess standing on the sideline because Michigan threw him a bubble screen halfway through the fourth quarter of a 31-0 game.
Honorable mention: Delay of game ack ack ack, Gardner interception (deflected, FWIW), kickoff mishap, Darboh fumble, various early runs that didn't go anywhere.
AppSt: Devin Gardner dares to throw an incomplete pass.
ND: Countess nowhere to be found on fourth and three.
Miami: You did what to Funchess now when?
[After the JUMP: getting it together, strangling the opposing offense, and goodbye gun.]
It says somethin' about somethin' that Michigan had even the barest semblance of a Quarterback Controversy this offseason. It's not so much that Brady Hoke was going around saying it to people—football coaches' public statement are 95% motivational lies. It's more that a lot of people wanted it to be true.
By the midst of spring practice it seemed like half of the Michigan fanbase had an I WANT TO BELIEVE poster they'd adorned with Shane Morris's head in their room. Beat writers sent out a never-ending stream of WHAT ABOUT THE QUARTERBACK CONTROVERSY articles that message boards passed around, nodding sagely about, until yrs truly was twitching every time I checked twitter. Finally, the dam broke:
WHEN IS THE LAST TIME MICHIGAN REPLACED A FIFTH YEAR SENIOR QUARTERBACK WITH AN UNDERCLASSMAN VOLUNTARILY
DON'T LOOK IT UP I'LL TELL YOU NEVER
WHAT WAS IT ABOUT SHANE MORRIS'S PERFORMANCE IN THE BOWL GAME THAT CONVINCES YOU HE'S THE GUY, EXACTLY
THAT ONE SCREEN PASS HE THREW THAT WENT A LONG WAY
OR THAT OTHER SCREEN PASS HE THREW THAT WENT A LONG WAY
OR THAT END AROUND THAT TECHNICALLY COUNTS AS A PASS
THE DUDE AVERAGED 5.2 YPA, WHICH IS THREET/SHERIDAN PRODUCTION
HE THREW AN INTERCEPTION THE INSTANT MICHIGAN LET HIM THROW DOWNFIELD
MICHIGAN SCORED SIX MEANINGFUL POINTS
DEVIN GARDNER WAS 80% DEAD MOST OF THIS YEAR AND STILL HAD 8.6 YPA
That about sums it up. The moment passed, people were yelled at to take their posters down, and Hoke named Gardner the starter in the middle of fall camp. But the discontent still lingers.
[After THE JUMP: SURROUNDED BY THE ENEMY STOP OUR LINES ARE BROKEN STOP SEND LOVE TO MY WIFE STOP]
Not to compare it to last year, but what is a Doug Nussmeier offense? What is this offense going to look like?
“We want to play physical. We want to establish an identity as a physical and explosive offense.”
How have the guys embraced that?
“I feel really good about the way that our guys have worked. The players have worked extremely hard, had a good summer with Coach Wellman and come to camp, like I said, really focused. They’ve had a good first week.”
How important is it to figure out who you are on the offensive line and let them gel? [Note: that’s my best guess as to the question. The audio was garbled.]
“Obviously the sooner you can answer that question the better off you’re going to be. It’s not just the verbal communication but it’s also the nonverbal communication that goes on there. It’s something that we’re working on. We’re looking at a couple different scenarios and combinations right now and we’ll settle on that soon.”
Is there pressure or excitement or both?
“You know, it’s all how you look at it. There’s always excitement and pressure’s what you put on yourself. For me, the expectation at Michigan is extremely high and that’s the way we want it. That’s why you coach at Michigan, that’s why you play at Michigan. You embrace it. There’s a lot of guys that have played in this program and coached in this program before that have set a standard and you want to be part of that and that’s why it’s a special place.”
The offensive line had its struggles last year and yet lost two NFL Draft picks. How can this line be better even without that group?
“Well, we’re really excited about the group we have—young players and they’re growing everyday with different things. They’re trying to focus in on certain things that we do every week so that they can really get good and, as you say, get better with repetition and so hopefully each week we’ll get better and better.”
Are you starting to see guys blossom because of the opportunity?
“I think Coach [Hoke] has said it many times, we’ve created some really good competition on our team. We’re getting better and deeper as far as creating competition at different position and we’re moving guys around to create competition, so you’d think that competition brings out the best in every player.”
Coach Hoke said today that Drake Johnson and De’Veon [Smith] are kind of a cut above the other running backs. What set them apart, those two in particular?
“Well, first thing when you talk about De’Veon is you talk about how physical of a player he is. He’s a tough, tough guy and really day in and day out he’s a guy that puts on his hard hat and brings his lunch pail. To me that’s the thing that’s stood out the most about him. Drake looks really explosive coming off the injury from last year, did a great job with rehab. Schmidty [Paul Schimdt, Head Trainer] and his staff and Aaron [Wellman] this summer, they’ve done a great job of getting him ready to go. And Derrick Green’s done some really good things. Justice does some good things also. There’s a group of guys there and we’re really looking for somebody to separate themselves from the group.”
Brady [Hoke] said he wants toughness to be the identity of this team. For an offense what does that mean?
“Talk about being physical, being physical at the line of scrimmage. That’s across the board. Our wideouts are going to be be physical players. We’re going to demand that from everybody on the offense.”
[After THE JUMP: offensive installation, Devin Gardner, and Jabrill Peppers?]
News bullets and other important items:
- Delonte Hollowell has a cast on his hand and Ondre Pipkins was held out of two-a-days as a precaution.
- Shane Morris is the backup QB. They like the progress he’s made, but he’s the backup.
- Wilton Speight is competing with Russell Bellomy for the third-string QB job. Decision on whether Speight should redshirt will be made in a couple of weeks.
- The first team offensive line should be determined over the next week.
- May use by-committee approach to running backs, but they would like to have a featured back.
- Drake Johnson and De’Veon Smith are 1 and 1a on the RB depth chart, with Derrick Green at 2.
- Team is still searching for an identity, though Hoke wants it to be one that can run the ball and have toughness on both sides of the ball. Toughness was mentioned a lot today.
- Brian is probably going to have to eat a lemon.
“Good morning. I’m glad you’re here. Overall, we’re really happy with the progress we’ve made from spring. I think in the practices that we’ve had, we went two yesterday-- really good effort and good competition, which is what we’re striving for at every position but also offense versus defense, the kicking game versus the kicking game, all those things, we’ve come out and competed hard. Now we are not, as far as being a good football team yet. But the way they’ve come to work every day and what they’ve done, I think the identity of this team is still one that we’re developing and trying to develop. I think the team has invested themselves in a lot of ways in each other and in what we’re trying to get done. This next week is a grind and should be because you’ve got some double-day practices in there. We’ll scrimmage sometime during that time, during that week, trying to get reps and see what matchups we like as an offense and defense. Really looking into the situational football standpoint of it, how we match up and how we will match up during the course of the year. Excited about where we’re at knowing that we’ve got a lot of hard work that we’ve got to put into it. Staff-wise, player-wise, trainer-wise, manager-wise, everybody that’s involved. So from that standpoint there’s a lot of positives. From the standpoint of where we want to be, we’re not near that yet.
Can you say anything particular about any injuries that have occurred?
“You know,there are some guys who are banged up. Delonte Hollowell, he’s got a cast on his hand. As far as anything real major besides a couple guys we held out, Ondre Pipkins in two-a-day days, trying not to overwork him. We’re doing a lot with some of the GPS tracking that we’re into. I think the first time around doing all that stuff you’re trying to get some baselines and some data and all that and I think that’s helping us when we go out to practice.”
What can you tell me about your thought process through the kicking game this year? Special teams particularly, because you’re going to be seeing a lot of new faces. So what can you tell me, from long snapper to holder to PK…
“Yeah. Matt Wile has done a nice job in his career so far in the kicking part of it. Will Hagerup, it’s great to have Will back. He’s had a good camp so far. Kenny Allen is a young man who’s walked on here who’s worked really hard and is developing a little bit on kickoffs. He’s a very good punter. Snapper, Scott Sypniewski and Danny Liesman are two guys that are really competing there. Scott we brought in a year ago and were able to redshirt him, but losing Jareth Glanda, that’s a big loss but Scott’s done a nice job in that part of it. When you look at the return game there’s a lot of different guys. Norfleet’s really taken most of them but a guy like Freddy Canteen, a guy like Jabrill Peppers, some of those guys have a skillset that we think is pretty good. And the other part of that is having Drake Johnson back is a real plus.”
I’m curious to know how is the development of your wide receiver group going and the transition to a new offensive system?
“The wide receivers, I think, are learning every day. I think the pressure and the stress that we put on them and how we practice as a whole team but for those guys when you’re talking about formationally getting lined up and the different personnel groups and depending on what the quarterback sees and what he’s pointing and all that, I think they’re learning a lot there. I think with Devin [Funchess] and Jehu [Chesson], Amara [Darboh] coming back is a real plus for us. He’s had a real good camp so far. Again, it’s not like we’re in three weeks of it but he’s done a nice job. Freddy Canteen, I think all those guys, Bo Dever, Da’Mario Jones, all of them have improved. They fit what we’re doing. We’ve recruited them to fit what we’re doing offensively.”
[After THE JUMP: Jake Ryan, leadership, Gardner, and more.]
How much can Devin Gardner benefit from the change in OCs? Quite a bit, it appears.
Before new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier entered the coaching ranks, he was a Walter Payton Award winner (best I-AA player) as a quarterback for Idaho under the tutelage of John L. Smith and Scott Linehan before playing five seasons in the NFL and one in the CFL. After retiring as a player following the 2000 season, he spent two years as a quarterbacks coach in the CFL before taking the same position at Michigan State for his old coach, Smith.
Ever since, Nussmeier's coaching responsibilities have included working with quarterbacks, and like Al Borges he'll serve as his own QB coach at Michigan. While that arrangement didn't work out so well for Borges—who, notably, didn't have the playing pedigree of Nussmeier—there's a lot of evidence to suggest it'll go a lot better this time around. Here's a look at each of Nussmeier's coaching stops, starting with MSU, and how his quarterbacks fared under his tutelage.
Michigan State (QB Coach, 2003-2005)
John L. Smith hired Nussmeier in 2003, Jeff Smoker's senior year following a junior campaign in which he was suspended the final five games for substance abuse-related issues.
Below are the numbers for Nussmeier's starting QBs at MSU, including the years immediately prior to and following his time there. What we see from his time at East Lansing will come up again at future stops:
|2002 (Smoker, Jr.)||114||203||56.2||1593||7.8||13||10||133.4|
|2003 (Smoker, Sr.)||302||488||61.9||3395||7.0||21||14||128.8|
|2004 (Stanton, So.)||141||220||64.1||1601||7.3||8||6||131.8|
|2005 (Stanton, Jr.)||236||354||66.7||3077||8.7||22||12||153.4|
|2006 (Stanton, Sr.)||164||269||61.0||1807||6.7||12||10||124.7|
Smoker's senior-year numbers don't leap off the page, but they do exhibit one trend in Nussmeier's quarterback coaching: when he takes charge, interception rates fall. While Smoker threw 14 picks in 2003, he did so on 226 more attempts than he had in any other season, and his 2.9% interception rate was a career best.
Drew Stanton's numbers are muddled by injuries in each of his three seasons as the starter; even so, the huge strides he made under Nussmeier from his sophomore to junior seasons are apparent—his completion percentage, yards per attempt, touchdown rate, and overall efficiency all improved even with a significant uptick in attempts. Perhaps even more indicative of Nussmeier's skill with QBs is Stanton's huge dropoff when his coach moved on—not the last time this would happen after Nussmeier left a job. Stanton's quote to Angelique Chengelis after Michigan hired Nussmeier really stands out after looking at the numbers:
“Doug Nussmeier is everything as advertised and more,” Stanton told The News Wednesday night. “He has an unbelievable approach to the game that demands a lot out of his players but also has a way of making every day fun. He represents what college football should be all about. He’s going to make a great head coach some day, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without him. I was literally in tears when he left my junior year at Michigan State.”
Are there mitigating factors here? Absolutely. Smoker's lost 2002 season makes it difficult to parse out how much of his senior-year resurgence was due to coaching, while Stanton's injuries in his sophomore and senior seasons (remember LaMarr Woodley?) impacted his performance in those years. Stanton's outstanding junior year is still hard to ignore, however, especially once it's put in the context of Nussmeier's other coaching stops.
[Hit THE JUMP for Nussmeier's other stops, including Marc Bulger's Last Stand and the transformations of Keith Price and AJ McCarron.]
12/28/2013 – Michigan 14, Kansas State 31 – 7-6, 3-5 Big Ten, season mercifully over
we are desperate lonely and underpaid [Adam Glanzman]
If you were disinterested in a December bowl game that kicked off at 10:15 PM, don't feel bad about it. You are far from alone. Frank Clark:
"I think a lot of guys lost the will to play as a family. That's one thing you can't do in football. In football, you've got to stick in there and stay together as a family.
"It was our mindset from the jump, we weren't totally into it I would say. We didn't come out with a lot of energy."
For their part, the coaches didn't bother to go into the hurry-up down 18 points with 8 minutes left. As far as unconvincing attempts to look interested go, the fan is on level footing with the rest of the program.
The coaches did go up-tempo once it was 31-6, mysteriously. You've already given up. No one is going to feel better about losing by three scores to a 7-5 Big 12 team instead of four. I guess you have to send the message that You Never Give Up despite having already given up. That's the kind of program this is. We Never Give Up (we gave up).
That's as indicative of the current state of the Michigan football program as anything. Fail to live up to expectations, try to make it look good with meaningless hand-waving after things are decided. Michigan is just six… eight… sixteen… okay, thirty-five plays away from a really good season, you know, and Lloyd Carr's seniors are about to ride to the rescue.
I guess it's good that Michigan conceded from the drop that they could not run the ball whatsoever, because they were right about that. Eight tailback carries on the night, and three of those were option pitches. Michigan did not repeat their mistakes from the Penn State game.
Unfortunately, while they've learned what they cannot do they have not learned to do anything. Kansas State gave up 301 rushing yards to Oklahoma on the second to last weekend of the regular season; Michigan stared that front seven down and said "no thanks, we like end-arounds."
The most frustrating thing about this season is that any hint of progress is quickly stomped out. Michigan has a human run game against Northwestern, then gets obliterated by Iowa; they are once again human against Ohio State, then correctly assume they are helpless against Kansas State.
Meanwhile, the defense is so incompetent against a modern packaged offense that Kansas State essentially ends the game by the second quarter. Michigan had zero answers for a play that Rich Rodriguez pioneered at this very university. Here we are, talking a big game about how This Is Michigan and playing football like it's 1989, the last time This Is Michigan actually meant This Is A Consistently Elite Football Program.
Bo hovers over the program with speeches about the team the team the team, but his penchant for running quarterbacks and option football and running the damn ball has been discarded in favor of notions about a "pro style" offense that reflects the modern-day NFL in no way whatsoever. Chip Kelly's taking a team that was 4-12 last year to the playoffs with Nick Foles as his quarterback. QED.
At the beginning of the year I wondered aloud if Michigan was going to end up on the wrong side of history here, what with their failed attempt to move to the spread traumatizing them so much that they'd mutter something about Denard Robinson holding the offense back from its true form, which is apparently lots and lots of end arounds with two tackles next to each other. And sacks. Michigan's base play this year was a tackle for loss. This was our innovation.
I like the thing where the quarterback pulls up to throw late better.
It'll get better. I mean, you'd think so. I know that's what everyone said about the offensive line this year. But we've detailed the various ways in which the previous coaching staff decimated this roster on both lines and the fact that Hoke has collected and retained a lot of guys who will be maturing over the next couple years. Michigan won't be ripping the redshirt off an offensive lineman midseason again.
But at some point I realized that the only thing that resembled what football used to be—fun—came when Dennis Norfleet grabbed the ball on kick returns and once when he took an end-around. He juked a guy and got nine yards and I felt a little flutter. Then the grim trudge resumed.
Maybe the reason I hold onto Denard so hard is because he's about 90% of the fun that Michigan football has provided since Bo died. As this season descended into a lifeless backwards march, I kept thinking about my uncle's exclamation during the 2008 Fandom Endurance III Northwestern game: "We do this for fun!" We did even then. There was a perverse joy in our abject stupidity. Five years on, all the diamonds have been sifted from that ash. We do this out of momentum now.
Brady Hoke Epic Double Point Of The Week. Obviously no one on the defense can acquire this, as the defense was completely disassembled. The offense… barely scraped over 200 yards thanks to a Shane Morris QB draw that went for 40. Jesus. Uh.
Well, Jeremy Gallon did break the single-season receiving record and is a cool dude, so Jeremy Gallon.
Honorable mention: Shane Morris?
Epic Double Point Standings.
3.0: Jeremy Gallon (ND, Indiana, K-State)
2.0: Devin Gardner(ND, OSU)
1.0: Desmond Morgan(UConn), Devin Funchess(Minnesota), Frank Clark(PSU), Matt Wile (Nebraska), James Ross (Northwestern)
0.5: Cam Gordon (CMU), Brennen Beyer (CMU)
Brady Hoke Epic Double Fist-Pump Of The Week. Nope.
Epic Double Fist-Pumps Past.
8/31/2013: Dymonte Thomas introduces himself by blocking a punt.
9/7/2013: Jeremy Gallon spins through four Notre Dame defenders for a 61-yard touchdown.
9/14/2013: Michigan does not lose to Akron. Thanks, Thomas Gordon.
9/21/2013: Desmond Morgan's leaping one-handed spear INT saves Michigan's bacon against UConn.
10/5/2013: Fitzgerald Toussaint runs for ten yards, gets touchdown rather easily.
10/12/2013: Devin Funchess shoots up the middle of the field to catch a 40 yard touchdown, staking Michigan to a ten-point lead they wouldn't relinquish. (Right?)
10/19/2013: Thomas Gordon picks off an Indiana pass to end the Hoosiers' last drive that could have taken the lead.
11/2/2013: Clock expires.
11/9/2013: Nebraska muffs a punt through no action of Michigan's.
11/16/2013: Michigan executes a clock-running last-second field goal to get the game to OT.
11/23/2013: 404 file not found
11/30/2013: Michigan forces a Hyde fumble to get back in the game.
MARCUS HALL EPIC DOUBLE BIRD OF THE WEEK. Michigan, down 31-12 with two minutes or so left, runs a two-point conversion that features Jeremy Gallon taking an end around and throwing the ball to a wide open dude for the score.
First of all, you gave up already. Screw you and your two point conversion. Second, every Ohio State fan on twitter instantly said something along the lines of "oh wow that totally would have worked against us." I don't think it's possible to be more disgusted with a successful two point conversion.
[AFTER THE JUMP: stuff.]
Welp. There's not much you can do when your QB is a freshman who is liable to put the ball in a defender's chest twice consecutively when you finally do have to open things up far, far too late and your tailbacks rush eight times for 16 yards. Borges did the things he could do, implementing a screen and edge-rush attack that saw Michigan mount actual drives on their first two possessions.
Unfortunately, you can only run constraints for so long before they start getting obliterated, and once the scripted fancy new stuff was over so was the offense. The game was over once Michigan could not punch the ball in on either of their first two possessions and then punted once; down 21-6 without a prayer of a non-gimmicky offense, it was over. Gameplan took Michigan their first 120 yards, and then they had no more. On an individual game level, you can't expect much more from your offensive coordinator.
That Michigan went into this bowl game utterly convinced they could not run the ball conventionally against a not particularly good run defense is a huge failing that you can spread out to at least three different people: Rodriguez, Funk, and Borges. Rodriguez for the roster, Funk for being the position coach, and Borges for treating this rag-tag assemblage of walk-ons and freshmen like they're the Denver Broncos and expecting they could handle every run concept ever expressed by man as they were being bounced around like gas molecules.
Statistical complaint #341. It's inane that those touch passes forward that are essentially handoffs get filed as passes. Jeremy Gallon's probably happy that is the case since without those he probably does not pass Braylon Edwards for the single-season receiving record; everybody else should be shaking their fist at the NCAA scorer in the sky in a futile attempt to get stats that make sense. Scorers should be able to judge whether a play is a run or pass and credit accordingly.
One step forward, one step back. Michigan's approach to this game was mentioned above, but to reiterate: despite being forced to start a freshman quarterback Michigan assumed they were totally incapable of moving the ball on the ground. And they were.
I have no idea how this line improves enough next year for Michigan to be able to do anything after losing both tackles, who are going to be on NFL rosters next year. They can be better, but like the radioactive situation Rodriguez walked into the reclamation project here is a two-year job. (Yes, thanks in large part to Rodriguez.) Next year's line has no seniors and one junior.
God willing, Michigan goes into spring practice focused on getting this unit competent at one base running play instead of three and does not try a blizzard of different combinations during the season. That might be enough to make their running game bad. Anything more is in the realm of the fantastical.
Morris eval. Could have been worse. Hosing hoser hoses, which mitigates some freshman issues since he can rifle the ball late and not get punished because the thing gets there so fast. Has accuracy issues caused by firing every ball a hundred miles an hour and predictably put two balls in K-State defenders' chests late when Michigan was forced to try to go downfield; overall an encouraging debut. Morris's wheels are a surprising asset, as well. He is not Gardner; neither is he Navarre. He could be a Connor Shaw type QB who takes the occasional carry to mess with defenses. (Hypothetically.)
QB controversy? No. The training wheels were obvious and once taken off the punishment was immediate. Given what we've heard about practice he has Gardner's INT issues except worse, and as long as both guys improve at the same rate Gardner will still be well ahead.
That was a total disaster. The season as a whole was a macrocosm of the defense in each game: pretty good for most of it, gives up one WTF touchdown midway through (Indiana), and then collapses in a heap at the end. Kansas State has an underrated offense but even so, this drive chart…
- 75 yard TD
- 60 yard TD
- 59 yard TD
- 59 yard FG miss
- 33 yard drive ending in fumble one play after Tyler Lockett dropped a touchdown
- 60 yard FG drive
- 39 yards, punt
- 7 yard TD drive
…is a total and comprehensive failure. Michigan did not force a punt until there were 7 minutes left in the game and things were over. This follows a game in which Michigan gave up 393 rushing yards to OSU.
Now instead of having one solid unit that can expect to take another step forward as they age, Michigan has question marks everywhere. Mattison's reputation as salvager and hero took enormous hits over these last two games. Hooray.
Exposed. Tyler Lockett is an incredible player who was checked by essentially nobody this year; it seems like KSU decided they were going with Waters late mostly because he takes best advantage of a guy who is probably the best WR in the country. Any ideas that Blake Countess is in that league as a defensive back are now bleeding out in the gutter after Lockett ghosted in and out of Michigan's defensive backfield all night, knives at the ready.
While Raymon Taylor struggled equally, Taylor had been targeted all year and we had some grasp of how good he was already: decent, but not Lockett good. Countess had largely been avoided and made a lot of interceptions when not avoided; this was a comedown in hype and expectation level on par with that Mattison suffered.
Spread and shred. The most brutal event of the night was K-State busting a fullback up the seam for 40 yards on a version of QB Oh Noes that put Desmond Morgan in a bind: defend the QB draw or cover the fullback. With Waters not a huge threat on the ground, the answer was "cover the fullback fergodsakes"; either way the Wildcats were about to get a good chunk of yards. Morgan acted like it was a run and Kansas State was on their way to their third touchdown.
In the aftermath…
Snyder hit them with that QB run/pass option sweep. That play is no joke. Irony is first team I saw do it was Michigan with Denard under RR
— Smart Football (@smartfootball) December 29, 2013
…that was my exact thought, too. K-State just looked hard to defend in ways that Michigan is not. A lot of people were griping about Michigan's decision not to double Lockett, but when you're going up against a defense that uses the QB's legs in a way that demands attention you find yourself with limited options unless you can win certain one on one battles. Michigan could not, and as in the Ohio State game once that was the case it was over. There is no hiding weak spots against these spread to run attacks, and against Tyler Lockett every member of the secondary is a weak spot.
About that line. Dominated again. Zero pass rush and after some nice stops on the first drive, K-State had a quality day on the ground. Michigan spent much of the day stunting defensive ends into double teams, and those ended up with Clark and Ojemudia and Beyer on their back as dudes darted by.
I will never understand the insane deployment of Quinton Washington this year; we're now deep into Announce Everyone Was Injured All Year time and there hasn't been a peep about Washington, who was a quality starter all last year and spent most of this one on the bench. Without him and Pipkins, this outfit was just too light to hope to hold up. Other than Willie Henry, who is a freshman who needs some technique work badly, the rest of the line is Black, Beyer, and Clark: defensive ends all.
Things should get better next year, at least, with great piles of returning players and Pipkins hopefully coming back from his ACL tear. Much rests on him. I mean, much rests on him for a team that projects to finish third in their division.
* Spielman said something about how he asked Mattison who his best defender was this year, and the first thing out of Mattison's mouth was "Frank Clark." Against Ohio State, Frank Clark had one tackle. Against Kansas State, Frank Clark had one tackle. When your best defender is averaging 1 tackle per game in his last two, something is wrong.
* As Ace pointed out, our two leading rushers were our QB and Tight End. Our running backs should be made to watch how K-State's little Hubert ran. I get it that the offensive line generated zero push, but eventually someone has to break a tackle or make someone miss. Our 4 RBs combined for 8 carries and 13 yards. Our offense was slightly better in not giving up so many TFLs, but that's because we rarely had the ball. K-State had 5 TFLs for a total of 13 yards lost. Hey, I'm looking for positives, no matter how small.
Worst: The Coordinators
I’ll admit to being a bigger fan of Greg Mattison than Al Borges, so up front I want to make it clear that Al Borges called a pretty good first half of football and Mattison seemed absolutely lost in stopping a team whose passing offense was “throw to #16” and “throw to guy wide open in the middle of the field.” Borges has no functional running game, in part, because nobody seems able to block defenders, and so he went about trying ever-ludicrous methods to move the ball on the ground and the air without putting too much pressure on Shane Morris. These were all plays fans have seen before, but he wove in screens, end-arounds, sweeps, and easy middle-distance throws into a coherent gameplan that let UM move the ball pretty effectively on their first couple of drives. At the very least, he came out punching despite having one hand behind his back, and for that he deserves kudos. And in particular during that first foray into the redzone, a PI on either of Morris’s two passes to Gallon and Funchess probably would have allowed UM to score a TD and kept the game closer. The fact the offense sputtered in the 2nd half isn’t that surprising, as WR runs and delayed screens only work so often when your base offense is churning up less than a yard a carry and your WRs are being blanketed when they aren’t dropping passes from your amped-up QB. Borges has shown an ability to adapt somewhat these past couple of games, and next year it is going to need to be flexible because I have a hard time believing it will suddenly start running the ball under center for 4 ypc while airing the ball out with aplomb.
On the other side of the ball, this “bending” defense clearly broke in the first half, as KSU had no trouble moving up and down the field despite holding penalties putting them in some poor down-and-distances. Taylor and Countess couldn’t keep Lockett even remotely contained, and it seemed virtually impossible for the team to bring pressure while also maintain their assignments, leading to long conversions after acres of open field just appeared. The defense tightened up somewhat in the 2nd half, but this defense needs to make a massive step forward next year for this team to improve on their record, and it’s now been two games in a row where the defense seems flat-footed and ill-prepared against good offenses. That needs to change, and given the youth out there (Gedeon, Thomas, and Henry seemed to get significant run) along with some improving older players like Clark and a healthy Ryan, I expect that to happen.
bronxblue brings up the 2013 == death meme, and takes issue with it since the basketball team did make the NCAA final. I would like to point out that my particular version of 2013 == death is based on the Old Yeller premise, in which our once-loved dog contracts rabies, and is therefore 100% accurate except in this version of Old Yeller the dog is a cyborg with shotgun arms and continues blasting us long after our corpse has cooled.