10/3/2009 – Michigan 20, Michigan State 26 (OT) - 4-1, 1-1 Big Ten
Tate Forcier had gotten away with three or four balls just like the one he chucked in the direction of a very, very covered Martavious Odoms on Michigan's final offensive play. In the first half, Koger bailed him out on a prayer of a deep ball that became Michigan's initial first down and led to a field goal. And Forcier had caused heart attacks twice on Michigan final drive. On the first play he "found" Hemingway conveniently located a foot behind a Spartan safety for a nine yard gain. On the play before the epic coverage bust that got Roy Roundtree open for the tying touchdown, he tossed a flapping duck into a cast of thousands. In retrospect—but only in retrospect—it was obvious that Michigan would die by the sword that brung them.
A third consecutive Forcier miracle would have been too much too compute. And this one would have offended the football gods for more reasons than "third consecutive game-ending drive to win or tie by freshman quarterback." In Michigan's comebacks against Notre Dame and Indiana you could point to factors hidden from the generic yardage statistics most people use to measure a team's worth: special teams and red-zone defense converted Michigan's yardage deficits into wins. This was not so much the case on Saturday.
Looking at the box score reveals an afternoon of vast offensive ineptitude. The only reason Michigan fans faced the prospect of a ninety-one-yard march in a driving rainstorm with three minutes and no timeouts with anything other that resignation is a testament to how quickly Forcier has grabbed hold of hearts and minds in Ann Arbor. I mean, look at this thing (Michigan is the first, ugly column):
TOTAL NET YARDS 251 417
Total Plays 60 78
Average Gain Per Play 4.2 5.3
NET YARDS RUSHING 28 197
Rushes 28 49
Average Per Rush 1.0 4.0
NET YARDS PASSING 223 220
Completions-Attempts 17-32 20-29
Yards Per Pass Play 7.0 7.6
Times Sacked 3 2
Yards Lost to Sacks 33 12
Had Intercepted 1 2
Before Forcier's last-drive wizardry, Michigan had one excellent catch and run from Stonum, the aforementioned prayer to Koger, and 47 other yards total. (Michigan picked up 12 in overtime.) There was no indication anywhere that Michigan should be in the game, and they wouldn't have been but for the brilliant swashbuckling we've come to expect in five short games with Tate Forcier. Michigan's sword is a scimitar held between the teeth as it swings on an unexplained rope into a ballroom. Sometimes they biff the landing and end up with a faceful of scimitar and cheeks in need of serious stitches.
This is the kind of thing that sees the inbox fill up with questions about whether Michigan should have gone for two. More on that later (quick answer: yes but not when you think). The important bit for this section is: that's Boise State thinking, and this was a game in which it was appropriate. Michigan richly deserved a loss to the point where fans were proposing taking a less than 50-50 shot at winning there and then, hoping to get one play right to steal a win and get out of town.
Michigan got outplayed. They showed how far they've got to go before they are back to being block-M Michigan, and yes it sucks that it happened at all and a bit worse that it happened against the yappiest team in No Accomplishments Land. It was going to happen at some point, and will probably happen again. The yardage margins are compelling at this point: Michigan's gotten by on smoke and swashbuckling so far, a team born to play a recurring role in Life on the Margins as long as they continue digging out from the talent and preparation crater that led to 3-9 and have a guy at quarterback that refuses to go down easy.
- Pregame predictions here mostly bore fruit: Michigan State had a surprisingly tough day on the ground and an obviously easy one in the air when Michigan wasn't getting lots amounts of pressure (all three MSU turnovers were a direct result of that). Michigan's passing game was also good when people weren't dropping balls. But there were two huge exceptions: I didn't mention "oh by the way Kirk Cousins will run for 10 YPC"—in fact, I dissed his ability to make thing happen when he moved out of the pocket—and I didn't see State crushing Michigan's ground game for the second straight year. The first one can be explained by flukes and poor linebackers… the second… uh? That's one of the things you just don't know about until you go over the tape in minute detail, but I don't get it.
- One possible explanation: Steve Sharik thinks Dantonio "gets the rivalry" to the point of manic obsession: "After watching MSU's D for their first 4 games and then today, it seems obvious that they spent almost all off-season and much of fall camp working on defending Michigan. I don't know how else to explain how a so-so run defense, horrendous secondary and meh pass rush turned into the Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens that suddenly." Michigan might be wise to have a package of stuff designed to combat this in the future; it was equally obvious last year that disproportionate amounts of effort had gone into preparing for Michigan. Congratulations, Spartans: you're 2-3.
- It'll be interesting to see what happens against Iowa. Michigan gashes them, or even gets a decent day, and it's clear that State's mania is at another level and that Michigan's run game is okay for the rest of the year. Michigan gets shut down and it looks like Molk's injury is more devastating than anyone projected, the offensive line was getting by against teams short of talent, and things will rest more heavily on Forcier.
- Defense was very strange. Outside of what might be the longest drive in the history of both programs (in terms of total yardage covered) it held Michigan State to 10 points in regulation and something like 250 yards. But, right: ceded 130 yard touchdown drive on which they had a 2nd and 25 and other instances of huge long yardage situations. That touchdown drive also made for a crazy first half in which Michigan got three drives. Still, the defensive line crushed State's conventional running game. State running backs averaged well under three yards a carry. That seems like progress even against a run game as weak as State's.
- Not progress: linebackers. Jonas Mouton was almost wholly responsible for letting Kirk Cousins (who is KIRK COUSINS) outside of him for a 41(!) yard gain, and Ezeh and Mouton were the guys who let Cousins get from the eight to the one on third and goal, allowing State to punch it in on fourth down. We have to live with this all year.
- Rodriguez said he didn't call for a fake on the ill-fated fake, and I assumed at the time that Zoltan was given the rollout punt/go for it option he picked up a couple first downs with last year. It was really, really not there, though, and he should have immediately punted it.
- I hated the run-up to that. Would rather see Brandon Minor on some sort of power set than Forcier doing that off tackle thing, and it was fourth and an inch, and I would probably go for it there. QB sneak it, man.
- Robinson's madden inability to adjust to the bubble screens was, uh, maddening. I'm at a loss to see how Michigan can't even throw it anymore but Michigan State can just line up in a twins set and have it open time after time. What happened to the defense we saw against Minnesota last year when Morgan Trent actually arrived before the ball on one?
GOING FOR TWO
Special mini-mailbag on this piece of PhD level game theory coaching moves:
Obviously we shouldn't have dropped back 12 yards to gain six inches or punted it away on successive 4ths and 1s, but the Romer go-for-it on fourth down angle has been pretty well covered. So my game theory comment is this: when you are down 14 and score a TD, you should go for two! 44% of 2pt conversions in last year's Big Ten were successful
44%: Make 2pt conv (44%), you win
25%: Miss 2pt conv (56%), then make 2 pt conv (44%), overtime
31%: Miss 2pt conv twice, you lose
So you can see you come out ahead, and you come out ahead with any conversion rate of at least 37%. (Not to mention the intangibles of tiring the defense for another snap or two, plus the fact that going for the throat would have to fire up the team.)
Might have made the difference Saturday. Thoughts?
This didn't occur to me at the time, but: yes, Michigan should have gone for two after the Stonum touchdown. The scenario laid out above has occurred to a number other folk. They have proceeded to go into unnecessarily vast detail about it in various quasi-academic publications dedicated to the proposition that no decision in football should go unquestioned. Daniel above has it in its simplest form: when you're down two touchdowns late and you get one of them you should go for two and take a shot at winning in regulation early when you have another touchdown to make up for potential failures.
Should Michigan have gone for two on their final drive after having kicked on the Stonum TD? I don't think so. The rain was pounding at that point and Forcier was as gassed as I've ever seen a Michigan quarterback. The chances of success there are poorer than usual, I think. I mean, this happened two plays before:
I'm not super confident in the offense getting one play right at this juncture.