10/27/2012 – Michigan 9, Nebraska 23 – 5-3, 3-1 Big Ten
Well, it finally happened.
Pundits and opponent fans have been predicting the demise of Denard Robinson ever since he picked up that snap against Western Michigan, but the series of bumps and bruises that frightened Michigan fans every third game had never really cost Michigan anything. In 2010, Tate Forcier came off the bench to lead Michigan to a frenetic victory over Illinois and nearly did the same against Iowa. Last year, Devin Gardner shepherded Michigan through the second half of the Illinois game. When Denard's boo-boos knocked him out for halves instead of plays, Michigan got through just fine.
They were always tempting fate, though, and upped their bet that the football gods' vast malevolence was laser-focused on the Iowa running back situation by moving Devin Gardner to wide receiver in the fall. That seemed like a risk worth taking.
Unfortunately, the containment field is down.
yes, it's true. this man has no elbow.
First it leaked from the Iowa running backs to their offensive line, which suffered two season-ending injuries minutes apart last week. This week, the Big Ten set to murdering football in the morning and afternoon, then this happened to Marcus Lattimore's knee:
By the time Friday night rolled around the ambient malevolence levels in college football were so high that Notre Dame won a marquee matchup to enter the national championship shortlist.
So of course Denard would be knocked out of a potentially fun, definitely important game by falling harmlessly to the turf, thus turning the rest of it into a death-march trudge. AIRBHG is no longer contained. The forces of wheeeee that (mostly) preserved Denard through three years of running at top speed into Manti Te'o have been overrun by the forces of grinding doom football. Now we're all boned. Hail Saban.
And so it came to pass that words never before spoken—words so impossible CFL teams who don't even think it's weird they're all named "Roughriders" cock an eyebrow at their assemblage—came to pass.
I don't know, man. I felt ill for most of the second half but it's not like anyone is at fault other than everyone. I mean, if RR doesn't implode or Forcier is a normal person who goes to classes or Michigan doesn't hire Hoke three weeks before signing day, maybe the guy backing up Robinson has a prayer of moving the ball forward. Maybe the wide receiving corps is not so awful that it must include Devin Gardner.
In the aftermath you've got the columns declaring Gardner's move to WR a stupid idea, but I haven't seen anyone reference the column questioning it they wrote before last weekend. It's easy to be a backseat driver after whatever that was. Meanwhile, Gardner is this crappy receiving corps' #2 WR, #1 if you discount Jeremy Gallon's 150-some yards on screens.
Gardner's not good. The alternative is throwing more than four balls in the first half to Jeremy Jackson. They've needed their crappy, crappy receiver who is also a quarterback even if he is dropping a 50-yard pass in most games. Whether Gardner is worth an extra three scores against Nebraska is… debatable. His performances to date suggest he is not.
Michigan was always rolling the dice on Denard's health, and that was the move to make. Didn't work. That's life as a rickety program that's endured two coaching transitions in three years—when you have to go to the bench you get tumbleweeds.
We're now entering the period of time when most program shortcomings can be blamed on Rich Rodriguez's recruiting, which is only a slight transition from the period of time when most program shortcomings could be blamed on Lloyd Carr's recruiting fade and represents very little improvement when the one completely awesome guy at the most important position is removed from the equation. It turns out that Michigan 2012 minus Denard Robinson is pretty much Michigan 2008, and that the only thing saving us from the abyss was Denard staring down a decision to stay or go and not pulling the Mallett.
He stayed, but in the game that probably decided if he would be a champion or not he watched from the sideline because his elbow hit the turf the wrong way. Malevolence is out of control these days.
"He's got that nerve (injury), he hits it the wrong way (or) gets hit (and it's hard)," Hoke said. "The difference (today) was he didn't come back in. But, he gets better as the game goes on." …
Asked whether or not he was concerned Robinson wouldn't be available next week, Hoke replied "No." He also said the normal rehabilitation process for this type of injury is mainly rest and time.
He'll probably be fine by Tuesday and start against Gophers. Every time his elbow brushes up against the softest kitten in Minnesota the collective intake of breath will be audible. Sounds fun, and by "fun" I mean "paralyzing."
That said, there is a clear narrative of decline in the defensive performance. Nebraska's first eight drives gained a total of 148 yards. Their last four gained 178. It's not easy going out there after a blizzard of three-and-outs. This would be better measured by plays instead of TOP.
BLAME BLAME BLAME BLAME. Why are we here at QB? LET'S BLAME PEOPLE WOO
Rodriguez's horrible recruiting at the skill positions: 40%. If Michigan has a decent deep threat at WR, Gardner is playing QB and Michigan may salvage that game. Instead, RR recruited receivers are… 2011: nobody. 2010: Jeremy Jackson, Ricardo Miller, Jerald Robinson, DJ Williamson. 2009: Je'Ron Stokes. The only one of those guys to see the field is Jackson, and he's essentially a skinny tight end. That 2011 class may not be RR's fault, because there were…
Unavoidable transition costs: 10%. RR's WR recruiting would look slightly better if Sammy Watkins was included in that group, but once he got fired Watkins was gone.
Darryl Stonum's inability to just do what the court tells him to: 10%. Relevant to previous two bullets: we're desperate for a guy who has three catches for Baylor. Baylor's offense is pretty good, but he can't even get on the field.
The Process: 20%. Maybe Michigan gets a guy more ready to play if they're not scrambling with three weeks left. Maybe Michigan recruits one dang WR in 2011.
Hoke not taking a quarterback last year: 10%. Always take one every year. If Michigan has another freshman around maybe he's better than Bellomy.
Hoke inexplicably passing on Devin Lucien: 10%. Lucien has 10 catches as a sophomore for 6-2 UCLA and their #12 offense. He still wanted to commit to Michigan after the transition, and Michigan said no by saying they wanted him to play DB.
There. It has been blamed. Seriously, though, the Lucien thing drives me nuts.
I'm not there. As soon as Denard went out and it became clear that Bellomy was light years away from readiness I was pretty much like whatever. There's not much you can do when you already can't run without your QB and the guy you put in is overwhelmed and throwing moonballs.
Before that happened, Michigan was moving the ball decently and poised to score to go up 10-7. That's okay I guess—but we're also talking about a team that is 90th in the country in run defense, so…
I saw this: after Nebraska got torn up by Hundley and Miller it seemed clear they went back to the drawing board and were going to play it safe. When Michigan put 4 WRs on the field, Nebraska responded with two high safeties and 5.5 guys in the box. Michigan ran the ball and got five, six, seven yards virtually every time. That's stealing.
I mean, when I was learning about the spread some years back I watched the videos Rodriguez put out about his offense. When he talked about making a run/pass decision based on the safeties, his general rule was one deep safety was a run, cover zero was pass. The idea that someone would maintain two high safeties against his offense never even crossed his mind. Nebraska was doing it, and Michigan didn't force Nebraska out of it. I don't get it, man.
The truly crappy thing is it's going to be four or five years before we have any real read on whether Borges is any good. At this point, year three is going to be Michigan rolling with a true freshman QB—probably, anyway—and four new OL starters—probably, anyway—with what's likely to be a horrible WR corps. Anything other than an awful offense next year is a point in Borges's favor. Hurrah transition.
But Auburn? No. 2004 Auburn had the following guys on that team: QB Jason Campbell (first round pick), RB Ronnie Brown (first round pick), RB Cadillac Williams (first round pick), OL Ben Grubbs (first round pick), OL Marcus McNeill (second round pick), Ben Obomanu (seventh round pick, still in league, had 37 catches in 2011), Devin Aromashodu (seventh round pick, still in league, had 26 catches in 2011), and Courtney Taylor (sixth round pick, now in CFL after 2008 multiple sclerosis(!) diagnosis). When you can call anything and have future NFL players on both ends of the exchange that doesn't say much either.
First Nebraska touchdown: where is that? Nebraska's first touchdown was a route that exploited Michigan's man coverage. An inside receiver ran a little hitch designed to pick the outside guy, the outside guy ran a post to eliminate the safety over the top, and the inside-inside guy used the pick to get open by yards. It didn't really matter if the receiver who ended up targeted was able to get separation naturally; the play got it for him.
Where is that from Michigan? I can't recall a wide open downfield guy that got open strictly by the play design. Gardner's been open some when DBs fall over or suck up on a double move or something; not so much the play bits.
This wasn't actually a problem last year, when Michigan quarterbacks made sport of ignoring the the wide open guys Borges was machining downfield. Is it just Junior Hemingway's absence?
I think they watched film. Congratulations, Nebraska: you are apparently the only Big Ten team to ever watch tape of the Michigan offense and leap on the throwback screen. It's not exactly hard to find, since the first time Michigan goes under center in any game is virtually guaranteed to be the throwback. It's pretty bad when everyone in the room I was watching said "throwback screen" as soon as Michigan lined up in ace.
Q: why is that play consistently run from under center? There doesn't seem to be anything about it that would require it to be.
Bellomy. Well… that wasn't very good. The most disturbing thing was probably one of Bellomy's few completions—a ten yard wheel-ish route run by Kerridge that picked up a first down and took just decades to get where it was going. Accuracy issues and a tendency to scream in horror during plays themselves (@ right by Upchurch) can be fixed with time. The arm strength deficiency probably can't.
That particular throw made me wonder why Michigan recruited the guy at all since it seems like the #1 thing on Borges's radar screen is the ability to laser it in just inside the sideline. Hurrah Process/unavoidable transition costs. Boy, is next year's offense going to be a wow experience or what I tell ya.
Offensive line. I'm not entirely sure how they did since once Bellomy came in it was open season and Michigan settled into a routine that exposed them to the same "eight of them, five of us" problems that Michigan experienced against MSU. Hoke was not impressed.
Ryan got edged. When Michigan gave up some yards it was often on the edge when various Nebraska players broke contain. The most spectacular incident was when Abdullah broke Cam Gordon's ankles…
…but it happened to Ryan a few times. When Nebraska was not bouncing it outside they were getting very little; excellent day from the interior DL and the LBs.
Roh beastmode. Also Roh, who took the opportunity presented by Abudullah being assigned to block him to destroy Martinez in a hilarious beastmode sack. If you've ever wondered why tailbacks always cut block guys on pass protection, that's why.
Where is Rawls? I don't know what happened to Toussaint but at this point I'm not even irritated at Vincent Smith carries because it's not like Toussaint is consistently making yards past what the blocking gets him. Meanwhile, Rawls ends up watching, even when Michigan deep into Bellomy panic time and trying to run from under center.
I'm sure there's a reason they don't trust him yet; whatever it is it must be pretty bad. If you're down to running power from the I-form—and Michigan was—you might as well find out if your backup guy can break some tackles.
Defense: stepping towards elite. Nebraska entered the game averaging 512 yards and 42 points a game, leading the league in rushing yardage, pass efficiency, total yardage, and points per game. Michigan held the Cornhuskers to 326 yards and 23 points. Six of those points were field goal drives of two and five yards in length. Without turnovers, that's 17 points.
Relative to the quality of opponent, that's their best performance of the year by far and a major step away from criticisms that Michigan's defense hasn't actually stopped anyone. If the offense doesn't implode with Denard out those numbers are undoubtedly better, probably under 300 yards for the game for the Huskers.
Not relevant but worth it. This happened after Northwestern's win over Iowa:
It speaks for itself except for the fact that guy's wearing #1.
Michigan + Nebraska == refereeing atrocity. The Roundtree catch that was overturned was one of those plays where it's not clear either way because of the goofy fuzzy catch rule and should be left to stand, and then you've got that terrible terrible late hit call and some terrible terrible pass interference calls both ways. This combination of teams is not good for ref sanity.
Cats! So hey like if you follow me on twitter I'm sort of sorry for retweeting like 30 cats into your timeline except not really. People started sending them to me, so clearly there was a need. Here is another cat if you are not satiated.
* As bad as we played, the first downs were close, 20-18 in favor of Nebraska. Of course, 6 of our first downs came from Nebraska penalties.
* Nebraska's 20 1st downs translated to 326 total yards, we managed 188 total yards. At least we were efficient with our first downs. Why get 20 or 30 yards when you only need 10?
* We won the TOP, 31:36 to 28:24. Yippee. We did control the clock early, and I was expecting that to pay off in the fourth quarter when we should have been able to grind down their defense, but then, you know, Denard got hurt.
Edit: I forgot the main silver lining, BELLOMY CAN AUDIBLE!
Duct tape. It's was held together with duct tape, hope, and rolling dice. And now the questions will come for the coaching staff, although any questions to Greg Mattison will likely consist of "Why can't you guys score too?" But we caught a glimpse of a future we will need to face all too soon, a future without Denard Robinson. That future consisted of three field goals total output on offense.
You watched the second half perhaps with some hope that Spring Game Bellomy would emerge but save for a few late first downs it wasn’t really even close. I swear I caught Jeremy Gallon staring off into space after the RS freshman was calling a pass play early in the second half and remember thinking, “Gallon knows this ain’t happening…”
That play was the horribly underthrown toss (yes, headed for Gallon!) which was easily picked off by Nebraska.
Also, Denard's jacket was old school split M style now verboten.
Three Bellomy interceptions rushed the defense back onto the field and into quick-change situations. Nebraska started drives in Michigan territory, including one on the four-yard line. There’s a good excuse.
“No,” Kovacs said. “We take pride in that. Our motto is: ‘Spot the ball.’ It doesn’t matter where the ball’s at, just put the ball on the field and we’re going to go play defense and not let them get any yards.”
That's a Rodriguez-era phrase that remains as mysterious today as it was when it was introduced and probably should have gone in the bonfire with GERG's playbooks and stuffed beavers and hair. I guess that's appropriate for the reappearance of the 2008 offense. If someone says "hold the rope" any time soon I'm going to hide under the bed.
The red balloons floated upward, little harbingers of doom dotting the night sky. I didn't know what to make of it, but it could not have been anything else but that. Or, maybe they were just balloons.
Mostly because everyone else was doing it too, since from 1952-1964 the rules required it. You were only allowed one subsitution after each play, including after a change of possession.
Of course it's possible to play both ways, it just reduces your effectiveness. A lot. I went to a D3 school that was, at the time, struggling to field a team. I saw a lot of games where a one-platoon team was playing against two platoons plus situational substitutions. It wasn't pretty, mostly because of the fatigue but also in some part because trying to learn a lot of positions (and when you're only dressing 12-16 players for a game, like happened a few years after I left, you'd damn well better be able to play pretty much anywhere) you don't really learn technique at any of them.
I agree with all of that except for not blaming Hoke. He took a chance on what he thought was a good idea. If it worked (i.e. Bellomny doesn't throw multiple picks, has more velocity than a toddler throwing a nerf ball, etc.), then he could receive praise. But, we saw how much the plan failed. Gotta take the good with the bad...and hope for more good in the future.
Love the restraint Brian. I like you and many others were aware of the dire straits once Denard went down. At that point you just have to take your whoopin'.
Here is where I will be ostracized: I thought Bellomy did some nice things on his last drive and showed promise. Hell Bellomy was the best runner we had in the second half and some of his passes were spot on. Bellomy performed poorly but the OL, RB's and WR's didn't do a whole lot better.
I would be confident M can beat Minny with Bellomy at the helm, Iowa too, but not so confident against NW and OSU.
What gets lost in all this: How well Denard was throwing the ball Saturday. Denard was on point.
We finally ran play-action from a play we run! And it worked. Can't rememer them all but the should-have-been-ruled-a-catch to Roundtree and his big grab both came off inverted veer action that held the linebackers and opened up a big window. That also got us at least one (maybe two?) pass inteference call as well.
Another wrinkle or two like that with Denard in the game will make things a lot easier for the offense.
The problem with dismissing Auburn's 2004 performance under Borges by pointing out the number of first round draft picks on that team is that it assumes that Borges and his offense played no role in their development. Jason Campbell has hardly played like a first rounder in his NFL career so far, and he's hanging by a thread as a backup to Jay Cutler. I would say that it was Borges who turned him into a first round pick. Also, Borges was OC at UCLA in '97 and '98 when they averaged 40 points a game. Cade McNown became UCLA's all-time leading passer and a first round draft pick in Borges' offense, and now he's out selling insurance somewhere. If you're going to explain away Auburn, then you have to explain away UCLA too.
Even if you assume that the talent on that Auburn offense was elite, you still have to give Borges credit for putting it to proper use. Defenses with elite talent are much less susceptible to being rendered ineffective with poor coaching or a bad scheme, but it's much easier to let elite offensive talent go to waste with poor playcalling. If Borges were calling plays for us when we had Henne, Manningham, Arrington, Hart, and Long, I'm 100% sure that we would have gotten better production and won more games than we did under Terry Malone and Mike DeBord.
I was probably the biggest fan of the Borges hire for a lot of the reasons you mention. Don't forget that Auburn put up the top offense in the SEC again in 2005 with Kenny Irons at RB and Brandon Cox at QB en route to a 7-1 season in the conference.
The guy gets it done and we've seen plenty of plays here that would have been successful if not for some slightly better execution. The problem is that he should know by now that the execution of some of his passing game stuff is never going to be as crisp as he wants with Denard. And that it doesn't have to be. There are easier options that for whatever reason are being completely ignored while teams are allowed to defend us without respecting our alignment. Teams are keeping their safeties back to avoid big plays and still being able to sell out on the run since we have fewer blockers when we line up in a spread formation. Instead of making them pay to the tune of watching a corner try to tackle Gardner or Gallon in space on a regular basis, Borges seems to just say, "This shouldn't be a problem if we do everything right" and calls a play where predictably we don't do everything right, or at least not often enough, and the offense sputters.
I certainly don't think that we can judge Russ on this game alone and decide whether he'll be any good. Remember the last time he came in, it was raining and he was zinging passes right through receivers' hands.
The problem right now is the Denard problem. UM has an offense designed around Denard Robinson, and for good reason: he's worth designing an offense around and he's far and away the most highly skilled player on the offensive side of the ball. Russ Bellomy is not Denard Robinson. I'm sure he gets plenty of practice snaps, but probably not as many as if he was behind a polished, senior QB. Denard is still working on his technique and footwork.
My guess is that Russ has less than a cannon but decent arm strength, something that's hard to show off when you're getting blitzed on nearly every play. My guess is that he'd also perform much better in an offense not designed for Denard Robinson. It's likely that he's the kind of QB that isn't going to run all over you, but will punish you for a rush, keep on some spread type plays for making the defense honest, and suprise everyone with a QB draw now and again.
It's a shame, i suppose, but student atheletes aren't allowed to be coached all the time and their practice time is limited. So it's unlikely that a coaching staff can install two offenses in case your senior QB goes down. And sometimes, in a hostile environment at night in a big game, your second string, RS freshman QB is going to perform below his ability. It's also a shame that grown men on the internet then immediately start talking about how worthless a 19-20 year old kid is after a situation like that.
He did not improve the poor receiving core. I'd rather have Gardner in there throwing to Drew, Rondtree and Funchess. I would change the plans now and make Gardner our number 2 since we will probably need him at times the remainder of this season and he probably has the best shot at starting next season.
The only thing that is preventing me from going into pure hibernation mode for the next couple years is our defense. Beside getting tired against NE...the D is improving every week and by the end of this season into next season the D will be the real deal!
Now all we have to do is recruits or develop some of our skilled players and our offense should improve by 2014!
In the red zone, on one of those first three plays I saw a camera angle from behind the offense that showed Roundtree being hugged with both arms by a defender. I will be curious if Brian spots interference in the UFR, or if this is something allowed within 5 yards of the LOS. Or maybe this becomes another non-UFR game? It won't be fun, I'm sure.
"I don't know, man. I felt ill for most of the second half but it's not like anyone is at fault other than everyone. I mean, if RR doesn't implode or Forcier is a normal person who goes to classes or Michigan doesn't hire Hoke three weeks before signing day, maybe the guy backing up Robinson has a prayer of moving the ball forward. Maybe the wide receiving corps is not so awful that it must include Devin Gardner."
That has to be the best paragraph I'v ever read that summarizes my feelings over the past two years. So damned many "What-ifs" and close-calls.