defense wins championships
Late in the 2013 Copper Bowl there was a two play sequence that epitomized Team 134. First, Shane Morris threw a nice pass to Jeremy Gallon for a 22 yard gain. That catch moved Gallon past Braylon Edwards into first place for most receiving yards in a season for a Michigan receiver. On the very next play, Morris threw an interception that was returned to the Michigan 7 yard line, thereby proving that we cannot have nice things, at least not this year. I guess you could extend that sequence by a couple plays to include the resulting Kansas State touchdown. Too often, especially early in the season, the offense put the defense in difficult situations and the defense was not able to make a stop. We blamed the offense and Al Borges for the early season woes that extended throughout the season. But that just masked the fact that our defense was not up to the standards of the traditional Michigan Defense. The Ohio game and this Copper Bowl finally exposed our defense. Digging through a boxscore to try to explain defensive deficiency is a difficult task. But that's what I'll try to do.
Burst of Impetus
* Michigan won the toss and rightly deferred. The idea is to let the game get started and let our true freshman QB - in his first start - calm down before throwing him to the wolves. On K-State's first drive, they faced four third downs. They converted all four. The first time our defense stopped K-State on 3rd down, we were down 21-6 and there was only ~6 minutes left in the 3rd quarter. In fact, on K-State's 2nd and 3rd drives, they never even got to third down before scoring TDs. In a game where we needed everyone to step up and help out our backup QB in his first start, the only one who stepped up was our backup QB.
Who's on First?
* 24 players recorded a defensive stat for Michigan. K-State had 19 players record a defensive stat. This is something I've harped on all season long. On the first drive of the game, I saw numerous subs get into the game. Are you telling me that our guys are getting tired 10 minutes into the game? I want the best guys out there who give us the best chance to win. I want guys to get into the flow of the game, read the queues and start figuring out the offense. Instead, there is a constant revolving door where guys are being shuttled in and out before they get a chance to get into the flow of the game or break a sweat and they spend more energy sprinting to and fro the sideline than they do playing the game.
* Of the 9 players who recorded 4 or more tackles, 4 were middle linebackers. Have you ever seen another team split playing time between the first and second string MLBs?
* We only recorded 4 TFLs, as K-State's line was continually driving our line off the line of scrimmage. I can understand a beast like Carlos Hyde getting significant YAC, but K-State's starting halfback was doing the same thing, and he's about 5' 7", 160 pounds.
* 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.
* Say what you will about our defensive backs, they did have a penchant for getting interceptions and breaking up passes this season. Against Kansas State, we had 0 interceptions, 0 passes broken up, 0 passes blocked, and only 1 QH. The DBs were giving up way too much cushion, and even then, Countess was beat deep on a double move. The turf looked suspect, which may have caused some of the hesitancy, but at some point don't you have to change your cleats or your gameplan to account for that?
* In the previews, we read how K-State's main offensive weapon was WR Tyler Lockett. So naturally, UofM single covered him all game and gave him a huge cushion on critical third and short situations. I asked this of Borges earlier in the year, and it applies equally well to Mattison after this game, did he bother to scout K-State, at all?
* Shane Morris finished 24 of 38 for 196 yards, exceeding all sane expectations for his first start. He did throw a late INT, but that's understandable. The high completion percentage was a result of numerous short throws, but for the most part, he was accurate and on target. The one thing that was missing was a little more accuracy on a couple long balls.
* Morris also showed decent pocket awareness, only getting sacked one time.
20 Pound Cheeseburgers
* 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.
V. Sinha Legends Jersey
* Jeremy Gallon caught 9 balls for 89 yards with a long of 22. He set two Michigan records in the process, one for consecutive games with a reception at 39, and the other for single-season receiving yards. All season, we were concerned that Gardner was focusing in too much on Gallon. Well, 9 of Morris' 24 completions went to Gallon. Could it be, the guy just gets open and catches the d@mn ball, garnering trust from his QBs? The biggest question mark next year - besides the offensive line, of course - will be who steps up to take Gallon's place? Even if it's by committee, that's a lot of offense that needs to be replaced.
Norf and Souf
* Norfleet had one nice end-around (which technically was a pass reception) for a 9 yard gain, and promptly never saw the ball again. Thanks, Al.
* Yeah, they were bad. We did average a net of 40.6 yards on 5 punts, so at least that unit performed well, but the kick coverage was atrocious. Meanwhile, our punt return team got an incomplete grade, as K-State only punted once.
I'm an international umpire
* Brought this section back just to comment on the Umpire, Matt Jordan, who showed more athletic ability than anyone on our defense when he dove into the pile after K-State's first fumble to see who made the recovery. Dudes got mad skillz.
I was born in 1970. I started going to games in 1976. Michigan always won. I went to the Rose Bowl in '78 and saw Michigan lose for the first time, by 7 points to Warren Moon and the Huskies. That day I learned that Michigan doesn't always win, but for the next two decades, you could be sure of one thing - Michigan would have a shot at winning at the end, even if you extend that definition to include a Hail Mary / on-side kick combo.
To quantify that feeling, I went back through the Bentley records. In the 70's, Michigan lost 2 games by double digits, and the worst loss was by 16 points to Minnesota. In the 80's, Michigan lost 7 games by double digits, and three of those were the year Harbaugh broke his arm. In the 90's, Michigan lost 10 games by double digits, with the two worst losses being by 20 points. In the aughts, we lost 17 games by double digits. The worst was a 35 point loss to Ohio in RichRod's first season, but the game I remember most as being a wake-up call was the 2002 Citrus Bowl loss to Tennessee by 28 points. How could a good Michigan team lose by 4 touchdowns? It just didn't make sense. Lloyd got the program back on the right track until '07, when Oregon embarrassed us by 32. Now we're in whatever this decade is called, and so far, through 4 seasons, we've already had 13 double digit losses. Yes, 6 of those were in Rich Rod's last season, but we had 3 last year and 2 this year. Brady has to turn things around in a hurry if we don't want to experience another decade worse than the last.
Which brings me to my final questions from this season. First, what do I want for Michigan football? I'm a realist, at least sometimes, and understand that we're not going to win every game, but I want us to be competitive in every game. I want to think we have a chance of winning just about every game. How does that happen? In my 43 years of watching Michigan football, the answer is not having a modern offense that can outscore the other guys, it's having a shutdown defense that can keep you in the game when your offense is struggling either due to turnovers or your QB having a bad day accuracy-wise. Can Borges construct an offense to score enough points? Frankly, I don't think that's the right question. Rather, can Mattison build a dominant defense? He has before. I think he will be able to again. It just takes time. We've got to have safeties he can trust, lock down cover corners, the Man in the middle, size up front, and a healthy JMFR wreaking havoc from the wings. Can we get there in 2014? Time will tell...
[Ed: argh, having some editing issues. Bump.]
"Play hard and play with great effort"
Immediately after the game, I was struggling to come up with a thru-line for what had just happened. But then Brian posted "Defensive Annhilation Muppets" and then the video of Mattison getting emotional surfaced. And for a moment I thought, 'you guys are over-reacting. Illinois does not have a good offense'. I like when coaches just give coachspeak. But then I thought about the last three years and yeah, it makes sense. The difference in emotion between Chip Kelly's comments and Mattison's are where you're starting from.
A couple of years from now, a win like this will only be notable for constructive criticism. There were a lot of bad plays that need to be corrected. But given the circumstances of where we were last year and what we were expected to be this year and the fact that we're 8-2 with a decent chance of picking up at least one more win and a very small chance of getting to 11 wins, emotional celebration is more than appropriate.
What a difference a week makes!
Al Borges didn't have a great game against Iowa, and I pointed that out. He had a much better gameplan this week. I don't know if he or anyone close to him reads blogs or not, but he responded to several very specific criticisms leveled here last week.
Holding the backside DE
I mentioned something about a lack of reverses.
Thanks Al! Odoms is coming from his slot position to take an end around fake. Not only did it hold the backside OLB and prevent the DE from crashing down on Denard, it also froze the MLB just enough for Fitz to run right by him.
But that wasn't the only trick up Al's sleeve. He pulled out another wrinkle from the Richrod days.
One of the problems with protecting Denard and limiting his carries is that the DE that you're optioning on the zone read doesn't have to respect the keep and is free to chase the TB. But here we see Koger coming from his H-back wing to block #9.
The O-line is getting good lateral movement and both Denard and Koger are eliminating defenders from the pursuit.
One caveat is that their safeties were pretty bad (someone mentioned they had backups in the game). #5 has badly misread this play, and he's too slow to catch Fitz anyway. Meanwhile, if you wonder how a guy can get over 100 yards in the first quarter, you can bet he's breaking tackles. This arm tackle didn't even slow him down.
This arm tackle slowed him down,
but it didn't stop him.
So Fitz had about 45 yards of YAC from the first arm tackle and then about another 15 yards of super YAC downfield.
The offense as a whole had a much better day (despite some derpiness in the 2nd and 3rd quarters). The O-line was doing a great job with the zone blocking in the first quarter and opened up some nice running lanes.
Here we've got Hopkins blocking the DE from his FB position instead of Koger, but the result is about the same. Gallon cracks down on his man and Omameh does a good job scraping off the double team and getting to the linebacker.
Huyge takes his man where he wants to go and it opens up a nice line.
On this next play, there's only 5 in the box because the OLB's are out on the slot receivers.
Molk does an excellent job of tracking down his man and we've got a hat on a hat.
The Zen of zone blocking is you just get on your man and take him away from the play using his own impetus. Of course you need a guy like Fitz back there who is patient enough and has good vision to see the hole developing.
Even though the OLB crashes down for contain, he's nowhere near Fitz and Denard has read him properly. If this were the pros Fitz would be owing five really large guys a nice dinner for this play.
The Numbers Game
We had some issues in the red zone last week. Part of that is due to Iowa's talent on the D-line and part of it is having Denard sitting in the pocket or handing off or otherwise not putting pressure on the defense to account for him.
If this were a normal pitch play or off-tackle dive, it would've been completely stuffed because they've got more defenders than we've got blockers on the playside. But when Denard keeps it, we've got an even matchup and Denard just has to pick his way through and find a hole.
But what really makes this play work is that Omameh gets a great cut block, upending his man. Now we've got 6 blockers against their 5 defenders and Denard with no one to track him down.
Omameh's block freed up Molk to get on the pursuing linebacker and the result is an easy touchdown for shoelace.
So what happened in the 2nd Quarter? Well let's compare to a play where we don't have a numbers advantage.
They've got 9 defenders in the box with both safeties playing up. If Denard has the freedom to audible (or we had gotten to the line with more than 8 seconds so that the coaches could call a check play #misshightempo), then he should be throwing a fade or "z out" to Roundtree at the bottom of the screen. We've got 9 in the box, but because we're in I form, the defense doesn't have to account for the QB (as his first 5 steps are backwards).
The play is a lead draw. The line shows pass blocking and then the center or whoever is free is supposed to head upfield after a couple beats. But this call means that Illinois has a lot of unblocked defenders. It doesn't help that Molk misreads the defense and doesn't scrape off to one of the linebackers. This means that Hopkins has three unblocked people he has to choose from. If Denard had been running, then both Hopkins and Fitz would have hit the MLBs so Denard would just have to juke the safety to get in the endzone.
Instead, Hopkins gets one LB and the other stuffs Fitz for a loss with both safeties racing up to make sure he doesn't fall forward.
[ed: follow the jump.]