[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.]
Maybe it won't be like last time...
(edit: Embed fail http://youtu.be/Qpux-Drk6EY?t=37s)
And even if it is, maybe that's not such a bad thing. Ok? ... Ok.
There was something rather familiar about Saturdays' game against Purdue. For the first time in a long time, that felt like "Michigan fergodsakes!" There was just something about the way we dominated and put the game away. It brought back my idealized memories of how Michigan would roll over the rabble of the big ten in year's past.
I enrolled at Michigan in the fall of 1995, Lloyd Carr's first year. And of the 40 odd games that I've attended in person, all but 2 were under his direction.
This wasn't cupcake nonconference, this wasn't baby seal U, this wasn't even one of the worst Minnesota teams in the last half century. This was a normal, lower tier big ten team that was coming off a victory over a previously ranked team. And they had maybe 4 or 5 good plays against us all game. (the screen TD, Denard's INT, the transcontinental to Siller, and maybe you count the final TD and their QB scramble).
The game wasn't as close as the score. Take away their garbage time TD, and give us another 11 points if we execute a little better on the goal line and we're talking about a 40 point blow out.
But it's not just the score that made me reminisce on the Lloyd days. It was the way we did it; we just had better athletes. And we used that advantage to make the game boring. Even though the lead was only 3 possessions, by the middle of the 3rd quarter there was absolutely no drama left that we might blow the game. And it's been a long time since I've felt that way when we've played a bigten team. I guess the Minnesota game didn't make me feel that because they didn't feel like a bigten team, and we were still scoring points. By the time the 4th quarter started on Saturday, I was thinking we'd only get 2 more possessions since we were grinding the clock out so fast.
I actually fell asleep before the game finished, (granted that was about 4 am local time and my BAC was significant). When I woke up, I had the rest of the day to ponder, 'do I like boring old Michiganfergodsakes?'
Was it really so bad?
Towards the end of the Lloyd years, we had grown accustomed to 9 and 10 win seasons and a bowl loss. And frankly we were bored with them. We had become frustrated with having a roster full of NFL talent that would only call dive plays once we had a double digit lead. And then 7-5 came, and we called it "the year of infinite pain". Oh summer child, what did we know of pain? Little did we know that Richrod was coming.
After the Horror, it was pretty clear that Lloyd's retirement was somewhat of a mutual split between him and the fanbase. I freely admit that I was fed up, and wanted change. You can count me amongst those that wanted RR to succeed.
In a way, I loved Lloyd. I still think he's a great role model. If I ever have a son, I would point at Lloyd as someone he should look up to. But toward's the end, I thought that his risk aversion and gameday decision making was impairing our ability to win big games.
There's been a lot of harsh words directed at Lloyd in light of the revelations in John Bacon's book. I don't believe he acted maliciously. I hope not, anyway. I just think Lloyd was just being Lloyd. He never liked the spotlight, and he resented the media. This was apparent from his first news conference (which, if anyone has video of this, I'd love to see it again) in the wake of Moeller's firing.
I like to believe that he was just trying to be loyal to his players. From a program perspective, that might have been a mistake. Ok, it was definitely bad for the program. And the program needed someone to be like Bo, to be the face of the university, to force people to work things out. But that's not who Lloyd was, it just wasn't in his DNA.
The details seem to get lost in history. People forget that things started kinda shaky in '95 and '96. We lost 4 games both years (just one less than the 'year of infinite pain'). And then came the miracle year of 97, and Lloyd could never live up to that standard again. It's like when poor married couples go on an expensive, once in a lifetime honeymoon, all the sex after that just seems a little bit pale in comparison.
Do we really want to go down that road again?
I admit it, I wanted the hot young model. I think Jim Harbaugh would have been very successful as a head coach here. He would have been fiery, and dramatic, and when we finally score 48 points on OSU, he'd have gone for 2. But Harbaugh probably would have gotten bored with us and ran off to the pro's while he still had his looks. So maybe it's better this way. Maybe someday he'll get tired of that and be ready to settle into a comfy college job.
Until then we've got Hoke. Brady Hoke and his magical golden poop. (From top to bottom, I can't remember the bigten ever being weaker. Bigten teams are going to get smashed come bowl time.) Hoke fits like a comfortable old shoe. But he's not the old shoe. He's not kicking field goals on 4th and inches. He's like that old shoe, but back when it had fresh treads.
And then I realized, it's not about da shoes. The thing that changed was me. I'm ready to go back to 9-3 season's again. I'm willing to tolerate 8-4 years if they're balanced with 10-2. I might even be able to stomach the very infrequent 7-5 year if it's offset with a couple 11-1's and 12-0's. And I don't need last second comeback drives against Indiana to be entertained. Saturday's stomping of Purdue was boring, and entertaining, and filled with more satisfaction than I've felt in years.
Play it again, Sam.
So it's week 9, the 8th game of the year, and we're starting to develop some patterns. If you were to blindfold me and make me predict what's going to happen next week, I could just think about this week and rattle off:
- Mike Martin makes a big play
- Craig Roh makes a mistake, but then makes a big play
Kovacs makes a big play
- Jake Ryan has a mental breakdown and loses contain
- Jake Ryan blows someone up in the backfield
- A CB misses a tackle
- Molk makes a great block
- Denard has a sweet run
- Denard has a horrible interception
- XXXX receiver fights for a jump ball or adjusts to the under thrown bomb
- Vincent is wide open for a throwback screen.
- The defense causes a couple of flukeyish takeaways.
And you could probably run that against most of our games this year and not be very far off. The lack of a Vincent screen and a successful jumpball against MSU could easily be blamed for the score deficit of two weeks ago.
The major differences this week were the reverses and the excellent production from the Tailback position.
Let's see that again.
Bad Roh, Good Roh
I've been bitching about our lack of a bubblescreen, because it's a simple fucking play, that works. Especially if you get a favorable matchup with personnel.
On Purdue's first drive, they've got Craig Roh lined up against the slot man. Even though he's into the boundary, he's not going to win a footrace to the sideline.
They only need 3 yards for the first down, and with the Corner playing 8 yards off, the bubble screen is a nearly automatic 5 yards unless the man in Roh's position has a lot more speed in space than Craig.
He's thinking about his flat responsibility in the zone, but what he should be thinking is that he's got to get out to that 2nd man and ignore the blocker.
JT Floyd, doesn't use his hands well enough and lets the blocker get into his body, Roh is almost in position to make a play, but he's taking a bad angle.
Defensive snapshots where more than one defender is on the ground and the ball carrier is hopping past them, are never good for the defense. Morgan is also taking a bad angle and is barely there in time to escort the WR out of bounds after a huge gain.
But when Purdue tried to come back to it on their next drive, we played it much better.
Here's our first appearance of golden poop. We're futzing around with flip-flopping the D-line and Roh is getting a late start. But because he's still running to get in position when the ball is snapped, he's got momentum built up and quickly gets out on the receivers.
This time Floyd does a better job of taking on the blocker and forcing the play back inside.
With Roh in position and Floyd not getting knocked on his ass, the pursuit closes off any cutbacks and the ballcarrier has no place to go.
Mike Martin : Bruce Banner mode
The difference between a good athlete and a great football player is understanding the game. Mike Martin destroys this outside zone read because he recognizes the blocking assignments.
If you haven't watched the excellent (if somewhat corny) video by fishduck, you should check it out. The RB is next to QB so this should be an outside zone play. The O-line all slant to the wideside of the field. If the RB can get to the corner, he should get about 7-10 yards with good blocking as everyone is accounted for except the deep safety. Martin has seen this in practice about a zillion times from the Richrod days and beats his man to the spot and gets penetration. For Oregon, this is no problem, because the cutback is just as good as the designed play.
But Martin sees the cutback and tosses his man to the side so he can come back underneath and make the tackle. Our LB's are actually a little slow to react and would have been in trouble if the RB had continued to bounce it outside.
If it weren't for Martin, this play has a decent design to pick up lots of yards. The guards are scraping off their initial reach blocks and releasing to the 2nd level. Roh is unblocked because it's expected that the QB fake will hold him in position. If the center and left tackle had gotten better blocks, this play gets an easy first down. But Heimerdinger beats his block too.
So the three of them converge to make the gang tackle.
Mike Martin: Getting Angry...
On the safety, Martin had to fight through a hold to get the sack. (and a bit of facemask)
Mike Martin: Hulk Smash! mode
Before we even get to halftime its apparent that the Boiler's can't block Martin one on one, so they keep in the RB to help out.
Martin uses his hands so well. He does an outside move on the left guard and gets by him easily.
The RB sees him come free and moves to pick him up.
When you're a little guy, trying to block a much bigger man, they teach you to go low.
Because this is what happens if you don't go low.
You get sent airborne.
and knocked back 4 yards, (or more if those other guys hadn't been there)
This other angle shows how badly off balance this guy gets knocked back.
Bad Tackling, Good Tackling
Late in the 4th quarter, both starting cornerbacks were in the game when most other starters had left the field. You gotta think that's partly because of a lack of depth at DB, and partly because they both weren't very great at run support or tackling.
On the long screen for a TD, Countess was the only man with a chance to make the play, and he missed.
But I don't really blame him. We got caught in a blitz. This play was always going to be a touchdown unless one of the blockers completely whiffed.
Which almost happened. Blake does a good job to slip the block.
But the blocker had gotten just enough of him to prevent him from making the shoestring tackle. They say football is a game of inches. There's about 6 inches standing between a 5 yard gain and a 50 yard TD.
There's better examples of DB's (mostly Floyd) not breaking down to make the tackle, or not coming up aggressively enough in run support. By I'd rather show them an example of what you're supposed to do.
On this kickoff, Morgan does a great job of taking on the blocker
And then he disengages to make the tackle.
He hits the ball carrier right in the midsection with perfect form and wraps up and holds on until help arrives.
I'll take "improved running game" for $100, Alex
So, it's just Purdue, but that's what I call manball. And it started with our first play from scrimmage.
Purdue has an alignment problem because they didn't pick up the unbalanced line. This might be the first time we've used it extensively this year.
The end is left unblocked because he has to respect Denard on the bootleg. This is fine as long as the guy isn't fast enough to tackle Denard before he can make the handoff (like what MSU did to TSIO). So we've got two pulling lineman and a fullback giving us a huge numbers advantage on the play side.
We get a good kickout block, and Molk does an excellent job of peeling back to get the linebacker. Hopkins is leading through the hole like any good fullback.
Fullback is a deceptively skilled position. You've got to be able to read the hole like a TB and then be both fast enough to get to the block, and big enough to make the block. Here, Hopkins has to choose which of the free men to block. If he picks the linebacker, that ensures a solid gain and puts Fitz one-on-one with the safety with room to make a move. If he thinks the LB won't make the play then he should block the safety which often leads to long TD runs.
He chooses to go after the safety, which I think is the right choice. But without eyes in the back of his head, he doesn't realize that Fitz is making a beeline towards the sideline.
So he ends up not blocking anybody.
And he knows he's got to hit SOMEBODY. That coulda been a TD.(probably not, as the WR didn't sustain his block).
To the house!
So, did Fitz and Shaw perform a Vulcan mind meld during the bye week? If so, it worked. Fitz was bouncing the play outside all day, and Shaw had what I think is his best run of the year by busting through the line. Someone mentioned that Purdue has a better than average interior D-line (i guess) which would explain some of the bouncing outside. But who told Shaw he could run through tackles?
On this Denard fake jetsweep counter pitch, the boilers are in good position to stop the play for a moderate gain. But they've got two guys who are jogging around waiting for the play to develop instead of attacking the LOS. *cough*JTFloyd*cough*. But look at Molk, He's not really designed to be in this play, he's just hustling to make a block.
Fitz is reading the play and sees the defenders over-run it, so he cuts back. . #3 is in pursuit and should close off the cutback. But Molk and now #75 are following the play.
Fitz sees the two unblocked defenders and breaks down to make a move.
It's just at that moment that Molk catches up and gets a twofer. Schofield is also making himself useful by getting in the way of the pursuit.
#2 is in good position to make the stop, but his momentum is in the wrong direction as Fitz is now running against the grain.
But here's the amazing part. When he sees the lane open up in the middle, he just turns on the jets.
This is the speed we haven't really seen from Fitz on the field. Maybe reports of him being dinged up were true and now he's finally healthy. (He should be after having 3 weeks off).
Shaw's TD came from some improvisation on a simple lead dive.
The boiler DT get's a good push up front to disrupt the play. Hopkins has to help block him instead of getting to the free linebacker. Odoms is coming around for the end around fake that will hold the unblocked end.
Shaw sees that the play side is clogged up, so he cuts back. So now he has to deal with an unblocked safety instead of an unblocked LB => more yards.
The right guard doesn't get the best of blocks and his man starts coming off of him to make the tackle. But Shaw sees just enough daylight to make him decide to accelerate through the hole.
Normally, this is where Shaw falls down for a minimal gain, but on this play he keeps his balance.
And he shows off a little leg strength to fight through the contact.
Then he does what he does best and shows off his top gear outracing the defender to the pylon.
I know I've been critical of him on this blog, but that's because he's very frustrating. Physically he's got all the tools to be a great back, ala Chris Perry. His vision might be half a notch down, and I haven't seen him much in the passing game. But he's got the speed, and if he learned how to harness his talents, he could be making runs like this on a regular basis. Anyway, this was a great run.
- The defense is playing so much better than last year. But the last two games have seen waaaaaay too many arm tackles. I'm not liking that.
- One game is not a season. Playcalling vs. Minnesota, Northwestern, and Purdue was great, creative, and effective. Playcalling vs. MSU, eh ... not so much. I hope this isn't establishing a trend where we have zany fun stuff against Iowa and Illinois and go into a shell against NE and TSIO.
- Rocketman! I didn't notice the helmet on the low quality streams
- The theme for homecoming was something about space, and the wavefield got some love on TV. That wavefield was like a 2nd home for me for 3 years.
“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.”
So here we are again at the beginning of a new era in Michigan Football, not nearly far enough removed from the last “beginning of a new era”, and once again I find myself seated in front of the computer trying to sort out my feelings on the matter. In truth I had planned on not doing these this year. Most of my impetus for spilling my thoughts here for the past three seasons stemmed from the completely foreign sensation a Rich Rodriguez led Michigan team left me with on fall Saturdays – an out-of-sorts feeling of not really knowing what to expect going forward. While Bo/Mo/Carr teams had a character that evolved so slowly that year-to-year change was almost undetectable, Rich Rod’s first tilt against Utah flipped my perceptions of Michigan completely and it seemed each successive game of the past three seasons distorted my outlook further. Michigan football went from being a solid thing I could count on and often take for granted, to a crapshoot of strangeness that forced me to question my unhealthy obsession with Michigan Football each and every week.
I thought Brady Hoke’s hiring would make things easy again and give me that cock-sure attitude back that said “I don’t need to worry about the details; I can just turn on the TV on Saturday and feel assured that Michigan will most probably win.” My cousin who played DE as a walk on under Hoke assured me that there was no better hire to be had, and that the past would become the future. Hell, maybe it will eventually, but for now the trials of the past few seasons compel me to question what the future has in store.
Learn from yesterday…
What did the game against Western Michigan teach us, and what is left unclear?
· Just because your name is Greg doesn’t mean you can’t coordinate a defense. Seriously, raise your hand if the thought of starting out the season against a very-good, veteran QB didn’t worry you a bit. After last year I was braced for the worst and Carder was every bit the accurate and composed passer he was advertised to be. He shredded our secondary at will until Greg Mattison made adjustments and started getting blitzers through. In truth our defense never truly broke; the longest play allowed was a 24 yard run and the longest reception only netted 20 yards for WMU. I waited all game for the play that would torch us, but the defense did a good enough job of keeping the play in front of them and got aggressive when it was well suited. The end result was something bordering on mediocrity, which felt like competency, and is a win for Mattison for sure. Two defensive touchdowns is a nice start to the season as well.
· Will the Al Borges offense work? Not enough data here really, what with Michigan’s offense having only 6 meaningful drives to look at. The data we have is surely encouraging though. Michigan’s first drive showed a degree of composure and demonstrated an ability to take control of the game tempo. The long runs seemed to be set up for success, especially coming practically back-to-back. We probably would have scored on 4 of 6 drives had the game not been halted, though the other two were 3andouts. Will it work for Denard? I am not so sure of this. The first offensive play from scrimmage looked very familiar indeed. In fact most of the first drive looked much like last year, right down to the amount of punishment Denard was being exposed to. If the defense hadn’t spotted Michigan two touchdowns, I wonder if run-hard Denard would have continued to be the go-to play if the score had remained closer. Denard’s comfort level overall was encouraging though, and he looked much better playing under center than last year.
· +3 on turnovers will make a fairly evenly matched game into a lopsided one. This is obviously true and was on full display in this game. Two of WMU’s three were of the most back-breaking variety imaginable, while the third almost assuredly took points off the board for them. Even the most conservative estimate would have a 20 point swing from turnovers alone. We should all keep in mind that this could have easily been a dogfight to the finish.
Live for Today…
Several Michigan players should bask in the glow of their accomplishments:
1. Jordan Kovacs– KOVACS!!! KOVACS SMASH!!! KOVACS, KOVACS, KOVACS!!! (I had my four year old son chanting this with me. Kovacs is now the first Michigan player he knows by name.) Seriously, it is insane that this guy came from open tryouts. He is my favorite player.
2. Brandon Herron – Talk about johnny-on-the-spot! The best part though was that neither of those were gimmee TDs. Herron showed great agility and stamina to stay in bounds and truck 94 yards in that heat and scooping up the fumble instead of falling on it was a heady play as well.
3. Fitzgerald Toussaint and Mike Shaw – Big runs by these two led to the touchdown that finally blew the game wide open. If the damned commentator had been right, and the first of the two runs had indeed been Shaw, there wouldn’t have been need of a second because Shaw == Fast. Fitz still looks somewhat slow, but manballed two TDs in from close which is admirable.
4. Kevin Koger – Koger
only had one grab but it had two receptions and one was a doozy. Stretched out and snagging the ball with his fingertips, he still managed to put a hurting on the safety that hit him with a full head of steam. Gets up like no prob, first down converted. Nails.
5. Denard Robinson – No particular statistics are amazing, but he seems to have handled the transition pretty well and had several encouraging plays. Of note: the pull-down-and-scramble move for 12 yards and a first down just prior to Michigan’s third TD. Also the long pass completed on the money (I think at least, TV commentator be damned) to Hemingway. Denard probably doesn’t need to be listed here as he is always awesome and steadfastly refuses to bask in his own glow (making him even more awesome of course).
Also of note was the play of Jeremy Gallon, Jake Ryan, Mike Martin, Courtney Avery, and Kenny Demens. Oh, and Woolfolk before his injury – here's to a speed recovery.
Hope for Tomorrow
Next week brings a matchup with a Notre Dame team that just choked on its season opener, losing to a South Florida team that it exactly doubled in total yardage in South Bend. The Irish seem to have settled back on the QB that led them to 4 straight victories to end last season, Tommy Rees. They also have Michael Floyd. After watching Carder to White shred us yesterday, it is safe to say that Rees/Floyd is going to be bad news indeed.
Then again, Rees did throw two picks, so maybe karma will continue to be on Michigan’s side and we will score multiple defensive touchdowns, and Denard will gain 500+ yards of offense again, and all will be just swell. In reality though, ND is good and will be playing with a chip on their shoulder after losing and the game is in our house and we may even be favored despite not outplaying a MAC school by all that much. Add it up and history dictates a heart-wrenching loss. I continue to be braced for the worst.
PS - I realize that the quantity and quality of the posting on MGoBlog has increased by leaps and bounds the past three years, and that my posts tend to be more emo/rah-rah than actually, you know, useful. So if the obvious consensus is that my posts are no longer a welcome addition to the blog, then by all means let me know so that I can ride off into the sunset and trouble you all no more.
Per Angelique Chengelis' Twitter:
"RR says Mouton and Martin practiced Tuesday. Doing better. Taylor Lewan & Shaw dealing with concussion-like symptoms."
"UM right tackle Dorrestein is fine. If Lewan can't go, Mark Huyge, who has started for Dorrestein, could start at LT."
I knew about Shaw but this is the first I have heard anything about Lewan. Let's hope they're both alright.
I haven't had a chance to rewatch the game, but my impression from the stands was that Mike Shaw barely saw the field when Denard was in, but was at least 50/50 if not the primary back once Forcier came in. Any coach types have any insight on that? My casual guess would be that it must have something to do with blocking on the designed QB runs. Is Smith that much better as a lead blocker on those plays? Obviously the straight QB runs are going to be much less frequent when Tate is in.
so, a couple of questions for all you guys, and then some ideas/thoughts for next season.
(1) What's the consensus in these parts on Mike Shaw as a go-to guy in the run game? I know he's shown some flashes in his first 2 seasons, but he's also looked a bit fragile and careless at times. With Vince Smith's knee injury and unknown timeline for recovery, it would seem Shaw's the guy for now.
(2) Who else do we expect to vie for playing time next fall? Mike Cox? Fitz Toussaint? Who else? Any of these guys have particular hype or immediate impact-potential?
(3) have we heard any hype/intel on the progress or potential impact of Je'Ron Stokes? Did he work as a slot or outside guy in practice?
(4) I know we've beaten this horse well into the ground, but what the hell do we do w/ denard?
=> I'll address this last question first with an idea... With a lot of unproven guys fighting for playing time in the backfield, I see D-Rob continuing to make a lot of appearances in the running game, whether it be as a 'wildcat' QB or on the field w/ Tate. We KNOW Denard can gain yards on the ground, even when the defense expects it, and he's our top returning rusher. With all the talk about how to handle the QB situation, it's funny to me that, IMO, nothing will change in how these guys are rotated in and out. Unless Denard magically connects his brain to his arm, he's not beating out Tate as the starting QB. On the other hand, unless Shaw has a monster off-season or Vince recovers unusually quickly, Denard will easily be our best returning run threat. In short, I think Rich has eeked out another year of dangling the QB carrot in front of Denard's nose before a real decision has to be made. This isn't to say that i think Denard won't be more effective. I could see him producing 1000 yards between running, throwing and maybe even receiving/returning.
=> IMO, this spring is the time for Rich Rod to get the pass game online. He's got a solid returning thrower in Tate, a 3rd year burner in Stonum who still has a lot of unrealized potential, a dependable minion slot guy in Odoms, a 3rd year receiving tight end in Koger, and the hot handed Roy Roundtree. These guys are going to have to produce early and often next year while we figure out who's going to step up in the running game. It's pretty exciting, actually, and I can only hope Rich really tries to build a scheme around the abilities of all these guys. I'm looking for a 50+ catch season from Roundtree, which you wouldn't think would be a stretch considering that's less than 5 catches a game.
some (potentially wishful) predictions:
*Tate shows some improvement, is handed the keys a little more often (especially early in the season), and throws for around 2500 yards, 21 TDs, 14 ints. he wins us a couple of games, and loses a couple as well.
*Denard, Shaw and Vince rush for nearly identical amounts of yardage (400-500 yards)
*Roundtree grabs 50+ balls for 600-800 yards and 6-8 touchdowns.
*Stonum has a breakthrough of sorts, catching 30-40 balls at over 15 ypc.
I actually think we are on the cusp of an explosive offensive year that should be enough to comfortably get us into the bowl season. Turnovers and the defense will keep us out of BCS contention, however.