At the beginning of the game, the announcers informed us that Nebraska had the worst defense in the FBS at allowing 1st down conversions. Their opponents get a first down on first down 30% of the time. So I decided to go through the play-by-play to see how we did on first down. We weren't as awful as I would have thought, going 5 for 26 on first down conversions. That comes to 19%. Considering Nebraska hasn't really played anybody besides UCLA though, that's terrible. Had we been average, we would have had 8 first down conversions.
I also broke down our first down plays into four groups: negative yardage, zero yards, 1-9 yards, and 10 or more yards. We did have 6 negative plays on first down. There were two sacks and the poor snap in addition to 3 negative rushing plays. There were 3 plays of zero yards, but only one of those was an incomplete pass. 12 times we gained positive yards, but not enough to get a first down. As I was going through the plays, something stuck out to me. Devin Gardner was pretty good on first down. Yes, he was sacked twice (7.7% of plays), but he was sacked 5 more times on other downs (13.5%.) He was 7 for 8 (87.5%) for 62 yards and a TD on first down. He slipped to 11 for 19 (58%) for 134 yards on other downs.
Why does any of this matter? A) we should have done better on first down if we had just been an average offense that Nebraska has faced. B) Understanding why we were not gets to the root of the problem with this offense. The new meme is that Borges is an awful playcaller that is setting us up in 2nd and long far too often. On ~1/3 of our first down possessions, we either lost yardarge or gained nothing, leaving us with 2nd and 10 or worse. You might think that 2nd and 10s come from incomplete passes, so we would be better off running on first down to gain something. However, in our case, we had 3 bad passing plays on 1st down and 6 bad rushing plays. It would seem that we should be doing more passing on 1st down, when the defense is playing a little more honestly and not selling out with blitzes. Gardner has more time to find the open receiver and get positive yardage. But according to Borges, game planning is easy and we all have to hope like heck that the players execute. Right, Al.
Burst of Impetus
* Either of the two turnovers Nebraska committed could have swung the impetus our way. Here are our next six plays after the Nebraska TOs:
- Incomplete pass (went deep, I'm OK with this, but I think DG had a back wide open short. A game manager would take the free yards.)
- Gardner loss of 2 yards rushing
- Incomplete pass, leading to missed 52 yard FG attempt
- Green rush for 1 yard
- Green rush for -2 yards
- Gardner rush for 4 yards, leading to a 40 yard FG.
So it appears the Lizard Brain "play for a FG" returned after that first deep ball fell incomplete. The offensive ineptitude we displayed after Nebraska's two TOs actually gave the impetus back to Nebraska as their defense "rallied" to stop us. Although it may be more accurate to say that our offense stopped ourselves.
I'd love to give the Burst of Impetus to Matt Wile's 69 yard punt into/with the wind that was downed at the Nebraska 3 yard line. The defense made a stand and forced a punt from Nebraska's 3. Impetus to M? Sadly, no, as our next four plays went pass for 7, run for -1, incomplete pass, sack, Nebraska ball.
Bending and Breaking
* This is probably too tough on the defense, but when they had to make a stop at the end of the game, they let Nebraska go on a 14 play, 75 yard drive for the go-ahead TD.
* Nebraska ran 66 plays and took 27:16 off the clock. Of their 13 drives, only one lasted more than 9 plays, and only 3 lasted more than seven plays. So why can't our best 11 guys line up and play defense for a few minutes at a time? I understand substituting based on down and distance, but I saw JR3 make two nice plays on the same drive to force a three and out, and on the next drive he was on the sidelines. That makes no sense.
* The five leading tacklers were all linebackers. Cam Gordon stepped up and played like a captain, with 8 tackles, a sack and a forced fumble.
* All three of Jibreel Black's tackles were TFLs. Michigan tallied 7 TFLs total.
* Gardner went 18 for 27 for 196 yards and had no turnovers. He threw one TD pass to Funchess.
* Once again, he was sacked 7 times, leading to an ugly rushing line: 16 carries, -32 yards. Even subtracting the sacks, he only gained 17 yards on 9 carries. He's not running like he did earlier in the year. Is that because of injuries, or a focus on not turning the ball over, or both?
20 Pound Cheeseburgers
* Green was actually our leading rusher with 11 yards on 8 carries. I thought he looked a little better than Fitz, gaining a yard or two after the initial contact, whereas Fitz just goes down on contact.
* For the record, we had zero rushing first downs. Michigan. Zero rushing first downs. Nebraska had 15 TFLs. That's more than MSU got if I recall correctly. We made Nebraska's defense look like State's by not adjusting our game plan at all. State gave Nebraska the blueprint to beat us, and they obliged.
V. Sinha Legends Jersey
* A week after only 4 receivers caught passes, Gardner spread the ball out a little more this week. Funchess led the team with 6 catches for 66 yards and a TD.
* Michigan's best drive of the game, and only TD drive in the past two weeks, was at the start of the 3rd quarter. Toussaint had two catches, Butt had two catches, Chesson caught one, and Funchess caught the TD. Did Borges go back to that strategy later in the game? No, no he didn't.
* It's fitting that Fitz' only two catches in the past two weeks came on the only TD drive. He is getting absolutely destroyed trying to block blitzing linebackers and defensive ends. So instead of putting him in a position to succeed - flaring out of the backfield as a pressure relief option - Borges has him in a position to fail. Is it stubbornness on Borges part? I don't know. Pass receiving RBs have always been a part of the West Coast offense, but Borges is not including the RBs in the passing game, even when it is shown to work.
* Taylor Lewan played a few snaps at TE. Since he is an ineligible receiver, he didn't catch any passes. And his presence at TE is a signal to Nebraska's safeties and linebackers that it's fine to attack downhill since he's not a threat in the passing game. I think we also ran a play with an ineligible slot receiver. It's idiotic.
* On our last 4th and 5 when we needed a completion to keep the game alive, Borges dialed up a play to get the ball to Dileo. He's sure-handed and a big favorite of MGoBlog, but he also hasn't caught a pass in a game since four weeks ago at Penn State. Include him in the offense earlier in the game if you are going to use him like that, otherwise, it's just unfair to the kid.
Random Number Generator
* At some point during the game, I thought that a random number generator could do a better job calling plays than Borges. He is so predictable. However, after the game we read that Nebraska's defenders knew what the plays were going to be based on formation. I think even an RNG would fail calling these particular plays because there is no variation, no counters, and nothing new. This morning, I read about Baylor's #1 offense in Sports Illustrated. They split their wide receivers way outside to open up the middle of the field for the running game. We, on the other hand, bring our WRs in near the line, so that the defense can put almost 11 players in the box, allowing blitzes to come from anywhere. And this is how Borges is helping his inexperienced line. It's pathetic.