I predicted that we would defeat Penn State. After a dominant opening drive, I looked at myself in the mental mirror and said "God damn are you smart." And then a bomb hit the Big House, a bunch of people with pitchforks started chasing me down the street, and my Mom called to tell me that I am not actually her biological child. It was a rough 57 minutes.
The fact of the matter is that, by the end of the game, I wasn't angry, outraged, or embarrassed. I was philosophical. This team opened this season by stealing games from ND and Indiana. On the basis of those thefts, we as a nation began to believe that we were actually good. We aren't. We are much, much better than last year. But we are not actually very good yet. And that's OK.
The objective part of me thought about opening this diary by saying "Hey, we lost to a Top 15 program. No surprise. In line with expectations. Don't freak out and let's get ready for Illinois." And there is some truth to that. But what it misses is the utter disarray of today's game. We were outclassed today. And do I dare say that this team quit a little bit in the second half? I was watching closely. But what I saw in Donovan Warren today in the second half may have been a dinged up knee -- or it may have been some disgust and disillusionment. As I offer my observations, I remind the Michigan faithful that we remain one game ahead of plan, with every intention of defeating Illinois and Purdue, and with our first RichRod bowl game a high likelihood. So let's begin:1. I remain of the view that RichRod's two QB system is a mistake. In my last diary, I argued that RichRod needed to make Tate his formal starter, with perhaps one "change of pace" possession a game for DRob. I reiterate this view. I was perplexed by a lot of the negative Tate commentary on the liveblog today. I thought he had a middling game. He wasn't great. He certainly wasn't bad. What stuck out for me was the appalling number of drops in this game. Koger was off his game today. I've officially had it with Kelvin Grady -- he annoyed me (and Beilein) on the hoops team, he now officially annoys me on the field. I don't want to see Kelvin Grady anymore, especially since he is often taking snaps away from Marvelous Martavious. (Is anyone on this team more improved than Martavious Odoms? I absolutely love that kid.) Tate had pretty mediocre pass protection today. And his receiving corps disappoints. I really feel like Mathews and Hemingway have not stepped up and demonstrated that they deserve to be the number one receiver at Michigan. All in all, I thought Tate was ok today. I could not believe when, with the score 25-10, Michigan tenuously in the game, but only one score from making it a one score game, out comes DRob to promptly fumble. I like DRob. He's a great kid. But he plays quarterback like I play pinball -- he has a "I wonder what will happen if I do this" approach. His pick today was a disaster pick -- total failure to see the play. His fumble was part of a disturbing tendency towards fragility. I see a future with DRob. I do. And I know that I have been a dismalist on his playing time the last few weeks. But come on -- turnovers are death. And DRob turns the ball over at a higher rate than anybody I've seen.2. "Other than that, how did you enjoy the play Mrs. Lincoln?" My feelings about GERG remain a puzzle. This will engender catcalls, but I actually thought the defense played pretty well today after the first drive, with one obvious exception: the secondary is the worst secondary I have ever seen. And let's call it like it is -- Kovacs isn't even the worst player in our secondary. The whole thing just doesn't work. I don't understand our use of man coverage in the red zone. Isn't man coverage for athletic secondaries that can handle it? I am not sure if I can continue to say "Other than the holocaust that was our secondary, I thought we played pretty well." But I guess I will. I have never seen less talent in the secondary. It's about speed, brains, and geometry. Our guys don't do any of it very well. And for the first time, I have to say, that includes Donovan Warren. Wow did he appear out of sorts today. I find it difficult to blame our secondary play on GERG. From where I sit, this was another game where the defense played ok, but then got run out onto the field repeatedly after turnovers and three and outs, often in terrible field position.
One additional note: many on the liveblog commented about concerns going forward. I share them. Is it not clear that this defense will be worse next year than it is this year? It's fine to say that we should remain positive and loyal to the Blue. But I am seriously concerned about this defense going forward. I am reading Brian's recruiting updates increasingly with an eye tuned solely to the defensive recruits. It is not a good sign that I am looking for true freshman to contribute next year.3. Let's not forget how solidly Penn State played. Before I get ahead of myself, hats of to Penn State for a terrific game plan. It went something like this.
Galen Hall: Michigan's secondary has one guy with a fake leg and another guy that's blind.
Joe Pa: Do you think we should throw a lot of passes?
Galen Hall: Yes I do.
Penn State came in and absolutely shredded our secondary. Daryll Clark is a solid, senior leader who looked poised. Penn State knew what it wanted to do today and did it at will. I think even if we play well, we still lose this game. I got the distinct sense that they were letting off the gas.4. We need to consider mixing up our sets. I really felt like we were on the cusp of a great running game from Brandon Minor today, only to see it dissipate. Obviously, as we fell behind, we needed to pass more. But I think we need to recognize that against teams with good linebacking, the stretch runs toward the sidelines are going to be less effective. They seemed to take forever to develop, and even when they did, there wasn't much there. Conversely, I thought our interior lineman were doing a nice job opening holes in the middle. I think RichRod needs to have the flexibility to consider putting Tate under center when Brandon Minor looks like he has it in him. It's especially true once Molk goes down -- it reduces snap complexity which, once again, was an issue. And it has worked to great effect, as in the power drive we had against Iowa. I offer for consideration -- does RichRod need to consider mixing up his sets a bit more than we currently do? I am leaning towards yes.5. We need to be candid about where RichRod is at. RichRod has not yet demonstrated the capacity to defeat a solid Big 10 program. Given the sorry state of the Big 10, this is an issue. If you want to claim Wisco from last year (or Minnesota), go ahead. I think Wisco is actually in a bad place under Bielema, and Minnesota is a collection of talented players coached by morons. I am concerned that in RichRod's second season, we are tied for second to last in the Big 10, and have no reasonable view to defeating a winning program. I'm not calling for him to be fired. I'm not bashing him. I'm making a simple statement: when you make $2.5 million a year, you need to be able to compete in your conference. We can do the "Lloyd left the cupboard bare" meme and the "It's a new system" meme as much as we want (and I do it a lot). But I think it's fair to say that I am officially calling for success in Big 10 competition next year. Not a championship per se. But Top 3 in the conference. This is the last "rebuilding" year. It is time to serve notice on RichRod that next year needs to be 9-3 or better with quality wins over quality opponents.