The nutty Michigan coverage isn't so much about Harbaugh as it is a signal to the Big Ten that Fox wants to party.
Late in the 2013 Copper Bowl there was a two play sequence that epitomized Team 134. First, Shane Morris threw a nice pass to Jeremy Gallon for a 22 yard gain. That catch moved Gallon past Braylon Edwards into first place for most receiving yards in a season for a Michigan receiver. On the very next play, Morris threw an interception that was returned to the Michigan 7 yard line, thereby proving that we cannot have nice things, at least not this year. I guess you could extend that sequence by a couple plays to include the resulting Kansas State touchdown. Too often, especially early in the season, the offense put the defense in difficult situations and the defense was not able to make a stop. We blamed the offense and Al Borges for the early season woes that extended throughout the season. But that just masked the fact that our defense was not up to the standards of the traditional Michigan Defense. The Ohio game and this Copper Bowl finally exposed our defense. Digging through a boxscore to try to explain defensive deficiency is a difficult task. But that's what I'll try to do.
Burst of Impetus
* Michigan won the toss and rightly deferred. The idea is to let the game get started and let our true freshman QB - in his first start - calm down before throwing him to the wolves. On K-State's first drive, they faced four third downs. They converted all four. The first time our defense stopped K-State on 3rd down, we were down 21-6 and there was only ~6 minutes left in the 3rd quarter. In fact, on K-State's 2nd and 3rd drives, they never even got to third down before scoring TDs. In a game where we needed everyone to step up and help out our backup QB in his first start, the only one who stepped up was our backup QB.
Who's on First?
* 24 players recorded a defensive stat for Michigan. K-State had 19 players record a defensive stat. This is something I've harped on all season long. On the first drive of the game, I saw numerous subs get into the game. Are you telling me that our guys are getting tired 10 minutes into the game? I want the best guys out there who give us the best chance to win. I want guys to get into the flow of the game, read the queues and start figuring out the offense. Instead, there is a constant revolving door where guys are being shuttled in and out before they get a chance to get into the flow of the game or break a sweat and they spend more energy sprinting to and fro the sideline than they do playing the game.
* Of the 9 players who recorded 4 or more tackles, 4 were middle linebackers. Have you ever seen another team split playing time between the first and second string MLBs?
* We only recorded 4 TFLs, as K-State's line was continually driving our line off the line of scrimmage. I can understand a beast like Carlos Hyde getting significant YAC, but K-State's starting halfback was doing the same thing, and he's about 5' 7", 160 pounds.
* Spielman said something about how he asked Mattison who his best defender was this year, and the first thing out of Mattison's mouth was "Frank Clark." Against Ohio State, Frank Clark had one tackle. Against Kansas State, Frank Clark had one tackle. When your best defender is averaging 1 tackle per game in his last two, something is wrong.
* Say what you will about our defensive backs, they did have a penchant for getting interceptions and breaking up passes this season. Against Kansas State, we had 0 interceptions, 0 passes broken up, 0 passes blocked, and only 1 QH. The DBs were giving up way too much cushion, and even then, Countess was beat deep on a double move. The turf looked suspect, which may have caused some of the hesitancy, but at some point don't you have to change your cleats or your gameplan to account for that?
* In the previews, we read how K-State's main offensive weapon was WR Tyler Lockett. So naturally, UofM single covered him all game and gave him a huge cushion on critical third and short situations. I asked this of Borges earlier in the year, and it applies equally well to Mattison after this game, did he bother to scout K-State, at all?
* Shane Morris finished 24 of 38 for 196 yards, exceeding all sane expectations for his first start. He did throw a late INT, but that's understandable. The high completion percentage was a result of numerous short throws, but for the most part, he was accurate and on target. The one thing that was missing was a little more accuracy on a couple long balls.
* Morris also showed decent pocket awareness, only getting sacked one time.
20 Pound Cheeseburgers
* As Ace pointed out, our two leading rushers were our QB and Tight End. Our running backs should be made to watch how K-State's little Hubert ran. I get it that the offensive line generated zero push, but eventually someone has to break a tackle or make someone miss. Our 4 RBs combined for 8 carries and 13 yards. Our offense was slightly better in not giving up so many TFLs, but that's because we rarely had the ball. K-State had 5 TFLs for a total of 13 yards lost. Hey, I'm looking for positives, no matter how small.
V. Sinha Legends Jersey
* Jeremy Gallon caught 9 balls for 89 yards with a long of 22. He set two Michigan records in the process, one for consecutive games with a reception at 39, and the other for single-season receiving yards. All season, we were concerned that Gardner was focusing in too much on Gallon. Well, 9 of Morris' 24 completions went to Gallon. Could it be, the guy just gets open and catches the d@mn ball, garnering trust from his QBs? The biggest question mark next year - besides the offensive line, of course - will be who steps up to take Gallon's place? Even if it's by committee, that's a lot of offense that needs to be replaced.
Norf and Souf
* Norfleet had one nice end-around (which technically was a pass reception) for a 9 yard gain, and promptly never saw the ball again. Thanks, Al.
* Yeah, they were bad. We did average a net of 40.6 yards on 5 punts, so at least that unit performed well, but the kick coverage was atrocious. Meanwhile, our punt return team got an incomplete grade, as K-State only punted once.
I'm an international umpire
* Brought this section back just to comment on the Umpire, Matt Jordan, who showed more athletic ability than anyone on our defense when he dove into the pile after K-State's first fumble to see who made the recovery. Dudes got mad skillz.
I was born in 1970. I started going to games in 1976. Michigan always won. I went to the Rose Bowl in '78 and saw Michigan lose for the first time, by 7 points to Warren Moon and the Huskies. That day I learned that Michigan doesn't always win, but for the next two decades, you could be sure of one thing - Michigan would have a shot at winning at the end, even if you extend that definition to include a Hail Mary / on-side kick combo.
To quantify that feeling, I went back through the Bentley records. In the 70's, Michigan lost 2 games by double digits, and the worst loss was by 16 points to Minnesota. In the 80's, Michigan lost 7 games by double digits, and three of those were the year Harbaugh broke his arm. In the 90's, Michigan lost 10 games by double digits, with the two worst losses being by 20 points. In the aughts, we lost 17 games by double digits. The worst was a 35 point loss to Ohio in RichRod's first season, but the game I remember most as being a wake-up call was the 2002 Citrus Bowl loss to Tennessee by 28 points. How could a good Michigan team lose by 4 touchdowns? It just didn't make sense. Lloyd got the program back on the right track until '07, when Oregon embarrassed us by 32. Now we're in whatever this decade is called, and so far, through 4 seasons, we've already had 13 double digit losses. Yes, 6 of those were in Rich Rod's last season, but we had 3 last year and 2 this year. Brady has to turn things around in a hurry if we don't want to experience another decade worse than the last.
Which brings me to my final questions from this season. First, what do I want for Michigan football? I'm a realist, at least sometimes, and understand that we're not going to win every game, but I want us to be competitive in every game. I want to think we have a chance of winning just about every game. How does that happen? In my 43 years of watching Michigan football, the answer is not having a modern offense that can outscore the other guys, it's having a shutdown defense that can keep you in the game when your offense is struggling either due to turnovers or your QB having a bad day accuracy-wise. Can Borges construct an offense to score enough points? Frankly, I don't think that's the right question. Rather, can Mattison build a dominant defense? He has before. I think he will be able to again. It just takes time. We've got to have safeties he can trust, lock down cover corners, the Man in the middle, size up front, and a healthy JMFR wreaking havoc from the wings. Can we get there in 2014? Time will tell...
Warning, I have a feeling this entry is going to be a little longer than my typical diary, bordering on TL:DR length. But that's OK, since this is my "own personal section of MGoBlog, to post in" as I like. If you don't like it, feel free to scroll down to the link.
If you check my avatar, you'll see I joined this Blog in September, 2010, for Rich Rod's last season. I spent that first season making ridiculous comparisons between Cam Gordon and Ronnie Lott. I was a freshman. For as many good posts that I made that first year, I metaphorically jumped offsides numerous times, a la Kyle Kalis. Once I got the hang of things around here, I think I started improving. Heck, Misopogon (as he was known back in the day) even bumped one of my board topics to the diary section at the start of my sophomore season. I've been bringing you the link to the boxscore ever since. Why do I do this? My reason back then was that I thought that something was missing from this Blog. Every sports section I read as a kid had a page of boxscores. How can one truly appreciate what happened in a game if one does not have numbers to back up their feelings? Quantitative analysis uber alles! Besides, I figured that you, the MGoReader, were going to go to MGoBlue.com anyway, so the least I could do for the blog is to provide a link and get a few more page views (read: advertising dollars) for the Blog, since I was too cheap to contribute to the Beveled Guilt.
I don't know who to attribute this quote to, but someone once said of freshmen, the greatest thing about them is they become sophomores. I expect dramatic improvement from Kalis and all the other freshmen who saw the field this season, and from the few who were redshirted. I guess that leaves me cautiously optimistic about Team 135. I won't be predicting a 13-1 season for them like I did for Team 134 (yes, I seriously underestimated the effect that an inexperienced interior offensive line would have on the offense. I should know better.) Getting back to me for a moment. Metaphorically, I'm finishing up my senior season on the Blog. The question for me is, did I redshirt that first year with my ridiculous comments? Or is there some youngster out there with a tribal tattoo on his left biceps and a penchant for writing about boxscores? Should I step aside for him/her, oh who am I kidding, him, and start writing about the Detroit Lions' boxscores? Part of me says it's time to step aside. I feel the same way after a grueling fantasy baseball season, but come March, I'm first in line to sign back up. I'll see how I feel in August.
Since this is my personal section of MGoBlog, I want to take the opportunity to address the 800 pound gorilla, the 500 pound elephant, and the 90 pound mole on Ginny Sacrimoni's butt.* These items are, in order, "fickle fans," "mailing it in," and the decision to go for two. First, the "fickle fans" comment. I took a swipe at the students in my Rush song parody post earlier in the week. I apologize. Even though the now omnipresent empty rows at the top of the student section were once again visible, I saw hardly any red in that sea of yellow pom-poms. However, in the alumni section, while not quite a sea of red, numerous buckeyes were spotted. Maybe that's because it's harder to scalp student tickets. I don't know. I do know that the renovated Big House provides our team with one of the better home field advantages in college football, and it's a shame to give that up due to being 17 point underdogs. During the first half, as Michigan kept taking the lead, I began to sense the makings of the Bill Simmons classic, "No one believed in us game." Now, I don't think Brady Hoke called the fans fickle to build on that, "no one believes in you, let's go prove them wrong" mentality, but it didn't hurt. The players sure came out motivated to win one for THE TEAM, THE TEAM, THE TEAM. But like Brian, I was upset at Brady for calling out the fans, the ones who indirectly pay his salary.
Next up, "Mailing it in." I was recently assigned a mentee from the University of Michigan's College of Engineering. In our initial meeting, one of the things he mentioned that he'd like to get out of our partnership is an understanding of how I balance work and life. I've given this some thought, and I think the advice I'd give him or you or Brian, for whatever it's worth, is when you are starting out in your career, you should choose to put your career first. When I was a grad student at UofM, the first paper I had to give was at a conference that was scheduled the week after Thanksgiving. My experiments were not going as expected and I found myself a few charts short of a full presentation with a few days to go prior to my flight. As Thanksgiving approached, it dawned on me that I was going to have to choose between Thanksgiving dinner with my family, and getting that extra data that would make my talk more meaningful. So I worked till 5pm on Thanksgiving day, grabbed a couple students from Hong Kong who had nowhere else to go for Thanksgiving, and headed to the Grand Buffet. Of course, by 6pm on Thanksgiving, they were completely out of Turkey, and every other meat product, so I think I had soup, spaghetti, and garlic bread for dinner. Twenty years later, I'm established in my career. I'm happy where I'm at workwise, so I took Wednesday off and wrote a silly song parody for MGoBlog. Time and situations matter. Prince looked cool wearing a puffy shirt in the movie Purple Rain. Ten years later, Jerry Seinfeld made a whole episode around the puffy shirt. "But I don't want to look like a pirate!" So if Brian Cook decides to take a week off and not write up UFRs, I think that says more about the success of this blog than anything else. He has built something great here, and if he wants to spend Turkey Day with family, more power to him. But if the same urge hits next year, might I suggest assigning the defensive UFR to Heiko and the offense to Ace. Present it to them as a learning experience and an opportunity to take on a stretch assignment. They are young. They can write up the UFRs and then head to the Grand Buffet for soup and salad and complain about their boss.
Third, the "go for 2" decision. I'm going to focus on this more in the sections after the link. In defense of Brady's decision, I should just point out that Lou Holtz thought he should go to OT and leave it at that. Pardon the war metaphor, but I think it gets my point across. We are in a battle with Ohio State. So far, we are winning the war, 58-45-6, but OSU is catching up quicker than we'd like. There are a couple sports-related things that I'd prefer not to witness in my lifetime. One is having some team catch us in all-time wins, and two is Ohio State taking the edge in the all-time record. While we lost the battle this year, I think Brady's decision to go for two will help us in the future. Recruits like uniformz and coaches with onions. Brady is a players' coach and a guy I'd want to go to war with. That can only help with recruiting. The future is, dare I say it, bright. Highlighter yellow bright.
*I watched the series finale of the Soprano's on Friday. I watched the earlier seasons numerous times. It seems every time I'd introduce the show to someone else, I'd start from the beginning and rewatch the series. So I probably saw season one 7 times, season two 6 times, and so on and so forth. I recently realized that I haven't rewatched the final season since watching the final episode that left me wanting more answers. As I sat watching that final episode again, I felt myself hoping for a different ending, as crazy as that sounds. But then, when Steve Perry sang, "Don't Stop," that final time, the realization sunk in that the ending is set in stone. I may not like it (I don't) but I'm going to have to live with it. What does this have to do with football? I suspect that sometime in the future, say 5 to 10 years from now, ESPN Classic or the B1G Network will reshow this UofM / OSU game and label it as a classic. I'll probably watch a few minutes until remembering how the game ends, and then I will sadly change the channel. For however great this game was (especially for fans of offensive football) the ending will always be the same, and that sucks.
Burst of Impetus
* On our first possession, Gardner threw a screen to Gallon that went for 84 yards. On one play, we accumulated more than half the yardage we put up against Iowa. We effectively said to Ohio State, "If you want to dress like Indiana, we're going to treat you like Indiana." Eventually, the impetus faded and Ohio State was able to build a 14 point lead and seemingly take control of the game. However, Michigan never gave up. A huge forced fumble got us back in the game (hey, Todd Blackledge, STFU, that was not a "gift" turnover. Michigan raked that ball free.) After the Penn State game, and after I calmed down a little, I rescinded my call to fire Borges. Instead, I said he should be evaluated at season's end. Before the game, I thought he was dead man walking (hence, the Ballad of Borges.) Now? I just don't know. The team did not quit on him like they did with Rodriguez. Call me crazy, but if Devin comes back for a 5th season, and I think and hope he will, I think he and Borges deserve an opportunity to finish what they started. Handing Devin another new coordinator in year 5 just continues the chaos.
* I know, no politics or religion, but the pun was unavoidable. Ben Gedeon, Thomas Gordon, and Raymon Taylor led us with 6 tackles each. Joe Bolden was 4th with 5 tackles. The young linebackers played well at times, but they were dealing with OSU linemen seemingly on every play. Perhaps Ross would have more quickness to avoid some blocks, but I think he's a little undersized and would get trucked by Hyde like everyone else.
* We had 18 players in the defensive stats to Ohio's 20. That may be the first time that the opposition has had more players show up in the defensive stats. That's partly due to Michigan running 82 plays to Ohio's 61, and our depth being hurt due to injuries.
* Frank Clark only had one tackle. We needed more production out of him. He did have one QH that wasn't credited to him. OK, I'll admit it, I have no idea what constitutes a QH. I thought it was a QB hurry or QB hit, but Clark deposited Miller on his backside early in the game and doesn't have a QH to show for it.
* QWash didn't register a stat. If he was commanding double teams and freeing up linebackers, that would be acceptable. Instead, Ohio averaged 8.5 YPC.
* I don't know how to defend the spread. The folks that claimed it wouldn't work in the Big Ten are swimming around aimlessly in a fetid soup of cognitive dissonance today. I saw numerous posters after the game complain that Mattison didn't put 8 or 9 in the box to stop Hyde. What, and leave two wide receivers completely uncovered? The best you can do against the spread is put 7 in the box and go man-to-man with the WRs. But then you need your 4th best cover corner to stay with their WR, and if the running back breaks through the box, there is no safety to clean up. No, the best you can hope for is to win one-on-one battles along the line and get to the mesh point before they can option you. We did this once with Jake Ryan. Auburn did this numerous times to Oregon in the championship game a few years ago when Fairly and some other dude shut down Oregon. We don't have the Fairly and other dudes we need on the d-line yet.
* Gardner finished 32 for 45 for 451 yards and 4 TDs. That's good for 71%. So getting back to the end-of-game situation. A successful pass basically wins the game. He's 71% for the day. That beats a 50/50 chance in OT. Additionally, he couldn't walk anymore, so that somewhat limits your attack in OT.
* ABC showed that Gardner had thrown 110 passes without an interception, as if trying to jinx him into a poor throw. DAMN YOU ABC!!! And yet, according to Todd Blackledge, Gardner has turnover problems. I see pro quarterbacks throw INTs all the time. Yes, I watch the Lions, how did you know? I think Gardner is being held up to a ridiculously high standard. Yes, I'd like to see fewer INTs next year, and better ball control, but stuff happens. Even the great and powerful Carlos Hyde fumbles occassionally.
20 Pound Cheeseburgers
* We have a running game to talk about, whoo-hoo! A week after I noticed that De'Veon Smith had exactly one yard lost this season, in the season of TFLs, he led us with 57 yards on 7 carries. That was boosted by a 38 yard run, but again, he had no carries of negative yardage. (I thought I saw Kalis trip him up in the backfield for a yard loss, but the boxscore doesn't lie.) Smith runs north and south and gets to the hole quickly. He may miss some gaping holes as a result, but the negative plays are minimized. I like the way he runs. I wish he had 4 years of eligibility left.
* Derrick Green had 12 carries and no lost yards.
* Fitz Toussaint had 5 carries and no lost yards.
* Imagine what the odds would have been for Michigan running the ball 24 times with RBs and having zero lost yards. All this behind an offensive line starting it's 5th different left guard of the season. Kudos to Kyle Kalis for not giving up, fighting back, and earning his starting spot again.
* I thought Kerridge's blocking was much improved, except for one pass block where he got shoved into Gardner. I'd rather he attack the defender than try to backpedal while staying in front of the defender.
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* What more can be said about Jeremy Gallon? He'll go down as one of the all-time greats.
* What was truly impressive about the receiving stats is that 9 different players caught passes. That kind of diversity prevents the defense from focusing on two receivers, helping everybody get open. Jake Butt caught five balls for 85 yards and a TD, and caused me to exclaim, "WIDE OPEN BUTT," and "GO BUTT!"
* Dileo caught five passes, and a few of them were not 4 yard button hooks that the defense knows is coming. Regarding the 2 point conversion, I watched the first two Michigan drives again this morning. On the second TD, we were lined up just like we were for the 2 point play. Instead of passing to Dileo, Gardner ran the option away from the triple stack and basically waltzed into the endzone untouched. I think that would have worked again, assuming Gardner still had the ability to move his legs. The TD occurred 3 hours earlier, so I think the Ohio defense would have forgotten about it by then. Oh well. I really shouldn't complain about one bad play call out of 82.
Norf and Souf
* Norfleet had the kick return we were all waiting for called back by a bogus holding call. The blocker had his hands inside the defender's jersey, the defender was backpedaling, and a third player bumped into the M blocker and ohio defender. This caused the ohio guy to lose his balance and get pancaked. How was that a holding penalty? If that's holding, you could call Ohio's o-line for holding every play. It seems they are coached up to grab the defender by the name on the back of his jersey and shove him where they want.
Go for the Win
* In overtime, you need 25 yards to score a TD. I checked the drive chart, thinking this would confirm my gut feeling that going for 2 was the right call. Ohio State had 11 real possessions. They gained at least 25 yards on 7 of them. Michigan had 11 real drives (not counting the end of half because Brady didn't try to mount a drive.) We gained at least 25 yards on 8 of them. Hmmm, maybe Lou Holtz was right.
* We had 31 first downs to their 23. So our offense was at least as consistent as their's, if not moreso. Hmmm, I'm really starting to doubt myself.
* Yeah, but Ohio State averaged 8.6 yards per play. That's basically a TD in OT every three plays. Yeah, but we averaged 7.4 yards per play, that's hardly a significant difference.
* But we gained our yards passing while they gained their's running, and more bad things can happen passing than running (sacks, incompletions, interceptions.)
* In addition, our starting FG kicker was in street clothes and our QB was a bag of bones loosely held together by duct-tape and chewing gum.
* OK, I convinced me, go for the win. Everything was perfect, except for the final play when the guy with the members only jacket emerged from the bathroom and put a bullet in our collective temple. We never saw it coming.
With thanks to Morrissey and Marr
Stop me, oh, stop me...
Akron, yes Akron, records 8 TFLs
Stop me if you think that you've heard this one before
UConn, still winless as I write this, records 10 TFLs
Stop me, oh, stop me
Stop me if you think that you've heard this one before
Penn State records 11 TFLs and holds Michigan running backs to 28 yards on 30 carries
I still love you, oh, I still love you
Michigan State records 11 TFLs and holds Michigan to -48 yards rushing
Oh, so I drank one
It became four
And when I fell on the floor
... I drank more
Nebraska records 15 TFLs and holds Michigan to 0 rushing first downs
Stop me, oh stop me
Stop me if you think that you've
Heard this one before
Northwestern records 10 TFLs and Michigan goes 0 for 13 on third down conversions in regulation
Stop me, oh, stop me
Stop me if you think that you've heard this one before
Iowa records 11 TFLs and holds Michigan to 158 total yards
I still love you, oh, I still love you
...Only slightly, only slightly less than I used to, my love
Burst of Impetus
* The burst of impetus occurred in the 2nd quarter when Michigan called two timeouts on the same drive to set up a go-ahead touchdown. I thought this was a key moment in the game because in prior weeks, Michigan had not been able to capitalize on opponents' turnovers. Unfortunately, you can't call a timeout before every offensive play. The game is moving too fast for Borges and the offense. Nine days ago, BiSB reminded us of the legal concept called "itsa gonna speek" (or something like that, I never took Latin.) He wrote, "There are some times when the thing that happens is so obviously wrong that the blame speaks for itself." That's where I'm at today.
I think I'll stop now.
The knowledgeable MGoReader is aware of the Heininger Certainty Principle that states that by the end of the season, Mattison and Hoke will transform a walk-on/2* level talent into a competent B1G-level starting defensive tackle. On the offensive side of the ball, another principle is in effect: the Heisenborges Uncertainty Principle. This theory states that by the simple act of observing the offense, the impetus of the offense changes, preventing one from determining whether the suckitude of the offense is due to Heisenborges playcalling, or the inexperience of the offensive line. We have recently learned that Brady Hoke thinks there is nothing wrong with the playcalling. I can only assume that he is not observing the offense. What is he doing instead? Methinks he is thinking about brunette girls. Hey, it works for Gibbons.
The Heisenborges Uncertainty Principle pits the Newtonian Mechanics school of thought (MOAR MANBALL!) against Quantum Mechanics (QUANTA SCREENS!) and the wave-particle duality of spread and shread concepts. Applied to Heisenborges, the traditionalists see a wave of defenders crashing through the inexperienced line, gathering TFLs by the bushels. The new school sees individual quanta of defenders beating blocks, one block at a time. The probability distribution function of each and every block working is directly related to the number of blocks that must be executed properly.
In the quantum well that is our rushing attack, our electron has been trapped by the impenetrable barrier of the line of scrimmage. However, quantum mechanics provides for quantum-mechanical tunneling through barriers. If the energy of the running back is great enough for the probability of the running back to exist on the other side of the line of scrimmage, the running back can effectively tunnel through the line of scrimmage and end up on the other side of the defense. How does one increase the energy of the running back? Kinetic energy is 1/2 the mass times velocity squared. One glance at Derrick Green will confirm that he has more mass than Fitzgerald Toussaint, about two 20 lb cheeseburgers worth of extra mass. OK, enough football physics, on to the link.
Burst of Impetus
* Heisenborges' playcalling on the opening drive was brilliant, for the first 8 plays. He hit NU with two first down passes to start the drive. This loosened up the NU defense, allowing the running game to get going (pass to set up the run, what a novel concept.) Six straight successful running plays occurred. Had we time-traveled back to the CMU game? This set up first and goal at the Northwestern 7. Northwestern responded to this by putting 9 in the box, leaving Funchess and Gallon singled up on the outside. A modern offense* would provide for a check to take advantage of NU's response. Instead, we ran into the strength of the defense, lost two yards and the impetus. Instead of scoring a TD and crushing NU's spirit (remember, they had spent the last two weeks dealing with a Hail Mary loss) we gave them hope that they could stop us or that we would revert to form and stop ourselves. In regulation, we were 0 for 13 on third down conversions and NU had no turnovers. The choices for Burst of Impetus were pretty slim, unless you think a 7 yard punt qualifies. Considering we gained -1 yard on the drive after that punt, I don't think much impetus was gained. So I'm going for a 2 yard loss early in the game that gave NU the impetus for the next 55 minutes or so.
*Regarding the modern offense comment, you'll read that other co-ordinators are playing chess while Heisenborges is playing checkers. I don't think that's entirely accurate, because at least with checkers you see where your opponent's pieces are and move accordingly. With Heisenborges, I think he's playing Battleship. He's blind to where his opponent's ships are and he's just lobbing bombs, hoping one connects.
Bent a little, didn't break
* Northwestern's first drive went 49 yards on 16 plays. That's almost exactly 3 yards per play. Once Michigan figured out that 3 times 3 equals 9, and not 10, we held NU in check. The defense recorded four three and outs, and NU had three more drives of only 4 plays. That accounts for half of NU's drives.
* 23 Wolverines recorded at least one tackle, led by JR3 with 13 tackles and one sack. Jibreel Black also had 5 tackles and one huge sack.
* Cam Gordon and Thomas Gordon each had drive-killing TFLs.
* Other than that, the defensive stats are stat-free. There were no forced fumbles, no blocked passes, no QHs, and the only interception and pass break up occurred on the last two plays of the game. Meanwhile, NU's defense had 10 TFLs, 10 pass breakups, five sacks and one QH.
* Willie Henry is this year's Heininger Certainty Principle winner. He had 5 tackles on the day.
* Gardner completed 24 of 43 passes for 226 yards and 1 TD. The boxscore shows the weather as "Cloudy" with 15 mph winds. It sure looked worse than that to me, which should be remembered when we consider Gardner's day. I will make one prediction. When Brian does the UFR, he'll find that Gardner had a respectable 65% DSR... to Northwestern defenders! They just had too many drops.
* While Gardner was only 24 of 43 compared to NU's two-headed monster performance of 23-34, both teams averaged 5.3 yards per attempt. This leads to an interesting philosophical discussion. Is it better to throw many short, completed passes, or hit on the occasional longer pass? Since neither team scored a TD in regulation and looked awful on offense, I'm going with, "it just doesn't matter."
20 Pound Cheeseburgers
* A week after NOT getting a single rushing first down, we had 10 against NU. This is primarily attributable to the running of Derrick Green and an adjustment Heisenborges made (the whole, pass to set up the run concept, i.e., DRAW PLAYS!) Green ran 19 times for 79 yards. It's been so long since we've seen positive rushing yards, I was expecting Green to be over 200 yards in the boxscore. If that's what positive 79 yards looks like, I'll take it.
* De'Veon Smith chipped in an additional 41 yards on 8 carries.
* While Kerridge and Hayes did not get carries, they did provide some level of pass protection. Hayes biffed on one block, leading to a sack, but the improvement - while incremental - was there.
* It's worth remembering that we are dealing with real human beings, not video game characters. Considering all that Fitz has gone through for this program, having to tell him that he was being replaced in the lineup must have been a brutal thing for Hoke or Borges to do. But at the end of the day, the TEAM is more important than any one individual, and it is clear that Green is more productive than Fitz.
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* Seven wolverines caught passes, including two out of the backfield. Gallon led the way with 10 catches for 115 yards. He had a couple drops, one potentially game-ending. He did make a block on the two point conversion that would make Martavious Odoms proud.
* I saw some push from our O-line for the first time in weeks. I also saw true Frosh Bosch miss a block (understandable) and 5th year senior Schofield miss a few blocks (not as understandable.) Snaps were improved, at least nothing was airmailed this week.
* We were 3 yards better on average kickoff yards, and 7 yards better on net punt yards. Based on those two metrics, we had the better special teams.
* On the last play of regulation, Michigan ran the offense off the field, got the FG unit on, and made a game-tying kick with all within about 11 seconds. At that moment, I had a revelation. Michigan actually does practice game-ending situations. Based on their lethargic two minute drills I had wondered if this was the case. Epic double finger point to the Special Teams coach?
* Gibbons FGs were 25, 28, 44, and 29 yards. I fully understand Hoke going for it on 4th and 2 from NU's 5 late in the game. It's not just the fact that kicking a bunch of short FGs has to be incredibly frustrating. OT is a 50/50 proposition. We averaged 4.2 yards per play. Getting a first down there and a possible TD wins the game. Obviously, we missed, but we still had time to stop them and get the tying FG.
* How does a team record 27 first downs while going 3 for 17 on third down conversions? I do prefer 27 first downs for 27 points to that other 27 for 27.
* How do the FBS leaders in interceptions get their hands on 10 passes, but get zero interceptions?
* How does an official who is looking right at a punted ball crossing into the endzone get overruled by another official half a field away? There was another play where it sure looked to me like the officials had given NU a first down, only to have the replay official confirm the original call that they didn't. Wait, WUT? Let's just say, if I was an NU fan, I'd be pissed at the officials. Poor damn Northwestern.
* How do two teams score a combined 18 points with 60 minutes of possession in regulation and score 28 points in 0 minutes of overtime possession? (OT TOP is recorded as 0:00)
* And finally, this game did provide the answer to a philosophical question that has plagued mankind for ages.
Q: If you place a piece of toast, buttered side up, on the back of Tacocat, and throw it in the air, how will it land?
A: By being dropped by a Northwestern defender.
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?
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* 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.
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* 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.
This will be the 34th "Inside the Boxscore" Diary I've written. It's easily the one I've least looked forward to writing. I grew up in East Lansing, but always rooted for Michigan due to Dad's influence. It would have been hard to root for State growing up when Dad wouldn't let me own any green clothing. I think Mom bought me a pair of green toughskins from Sears when I was six, but once I wore those out, I became an anti-MSU version of Brady Hoke. He doesn't wear red, I didn't wear green. The pastor at the church and school I went to used to be the chaplain for the MSU football team. Our school colors were green and white, and our nickname was the Tartans, an obvious reference to the Spartans. It was and is truly an awful nickname. Our mascot was a bagpipe, or a Scottish kilt. I can't remember exactly. Whatever it was, it did not inspire anybody. Whenever the big game rolled around (growing up in East Lansing, M-MSU rivaled M-OSU for significance) I had to deal with Sparties sparting. Fortunately, all this occurred during the Schembechler era, and I only had to listen to Sparties before the big game. They were usually quiet afterwards. I can only imagine how difficult it must be for today's Michigan fan living in East Lansing. That "little sister" chant is enough to make my blood boil.
Burst of Impetus
* For Michigan, there was one glimmer of hope. With Michigan trailing by 10 late in the 3rd quarter, Raymon Taylor intercepted a pass and returned it 17 yards to State's 41. The boxscore lists this as the "H41." This could refer to the "Home" team, but I'm going to call it the "hated one's" 41. This was our best starting field position by 24 yards. It's hard to score against the nation's top ranked defense or thereabouts, when you are always facing a long field. Five of our 13 positions started inside our 20, and all but one started from no better than our 35. Why is this important? Well, if you throw a 58 yard bomb to Chesson, you'd like to think that a TD might result, but not if you're starting well inside your own half of the field. After Taylor's INT, the next three plays went for -5, -9, and -7 yards. Impetus bursted.
It's a Punt
* I usually start the stats review with the unit that played the best. Sorry to say, but this week that honor goes to the special teams.
* Michigan's average net yards per punt was 38.2 yards. State's was 39.8. That's basically a punt (pun intended.)
* The average net yards per kickoff was 39.1 for State and 36.3 for Michigan. We gave away 3 yards per exchange of kickoffs, but compared to the rest of the game, that's a good outcome.
* I'm somewhat torn on the kick returns, because with State's defense, I felt we needed a ST TD and Norfleet hints at the ability to break one. However, what we didn't need was him returning kicks to the 17 yard line, further restricting Borges playbook. I'd rather start at the 25 every time, so all you need is a first down to flip the field with a decent punt. In what should have been a field position game, I'd take that. However, our defense was unable to get off the field time and again. I'll cover that later.
* Wile made a long FG and Gibbons made a short one. We got through a game without a FG block. That's progress, I guess.
* Devin was 14 for 27 for 210 yards, but that's where the good news ends. He took 7 sacks and finished the day with -46 yards rushing on 18 attempts. Obviously, the 7 sacks weren't called runs. Of the remaining 11, I suspect most were scrambles. I remember a couple read options where Gardner kept and seemingly froze and was swallowed up by spartan defenders. The shotgun running game that was effective versus PSU and Indiana did not work against State's aggressive, attacking scheme. Perhaps Borges should have seen that on film study of State's defense.
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* Fitz ran eight times for 20 yards. Borges apparently thought it was a better idea to have him pick up blitzers than flare out as a pressure relief valve, or keep State honest with some draw plays.
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* Gallon caught five passes for 67 yards. Three of those came in our first 5 plays. He had 2 catches in the next 54 plays. RPS is an MGoBlog thing. It's part of our lexicon. So let me try to describe what I think happened in RPS terms. On the first drive, Borges was dialing up some good plays, PA passes on 1st down, that caught State off guard. Let's call those paper. Paper was beating Narduzzi's rock. So Narduzzi decided he wasn't going to use rock anymore. Borges then had to figure out how to get Gallon the ball, meanwhile Narduzzi was sending the house, giving Gardner zero time for Gallon to get open. Many sacks resulted. Borges went to scissors at the start of the second half. These were the quick hitters to Funchess. Funchess ended up with 6 catches for 65 yards. Narduzzi adjusted again. But at this point, Borges was out of options. He's got a line that can't run block, no functional tight ends to speak of (I like Jake Butt, but he had zero receptions and I don't recall him figuring in any plays,) a RB that can't pass block, and he was down to 2 WRs with Dileo's injury. What exactly was he supposed to do, when he's playing RPS with Narduzzi, only Borges can only play paper or swiss cheese, while Narduzzi can play scissors, butcher's knife, chainsaw, or flame thrower? Just to beat this analogy to death, against Indiana, the three possible outcomes for Borges paper were 70 yard pass, 25 yard pass, and 10 yard pass. Against State, the three outcomes were incomplete pass, sack, or scramble for 1 yard. For those who thinks this makes me a Borges apologist, let me just say that I'm trying to call it as I see it based on ~35 years of watching Michigan football. The Penn State game was on Borges. This MSU debacle was a talent issue.
Legends Division Championship Caliber Defense
* That would refer to State's defense. Defense wins championships. State's defense is going to win them the Legends Division.
* I understand why Mattison is getting a pass and the focus is squarely on Borges and the offensive side of the ball. But this was a game where the defense needed to step up and win the game for Michigan. Some are saying that State wore down our defense because our offense couldn't keep state's offense off the field. I disagree. State was 0 for 3 on third down conversions in the 1st quarter, but was 4 for 6 in the second quarter. If we're worn down by the second quarter, we're in trouble. Overall, State was 9 for 18 on third down conversions. This coming from an offense that has been mocked, derided, and sits in the negative half of the Fremeau Efficiency chart.
* Michigan State was held to 16 yards rushing on 14 carries in the first half. Meanwhile, we had -20. I was hoping that the team with the most absolute value rushing yards was going to win the game. That is what was necessary to keep us in the game. In the third quarter, State ran 9 times for 28 yards. I don't know if that's due to halftime adjustments or our guys getting tired, but State stuck with the run game and it started to pay off. Then the dam broke in the 4th quarter. RichRod's team gave up on him in the second half of the Gator Bowl. I hope our guys didn't give up on Hoke in the fourth quarter. They have 5 games left to show that fourth quarter was an aberration.
* We had 21 guys show up in the defensive stats. Yes, that includes some ST players, but it's clear that we did much more substituting than State. Why did our guys get tired in the fourth quarter but theirs didn't? Meanwhile, State only had 17 guys show up, and only 15 of those made tackles.
* We had 5 TFLs, 3 passes broken up, 1 sack, and 3 QHs. State's defense, against a supposedly better offense (Fremeau agrees with me FWIW,) tallied 11 TFLs, 3 passes broken up, 7 sacks, and 7 QHs.
This is all leading me up to something that I find rather distasteful. When Dave Brandon fired Rich Rodriguez, he was asked if he would hire a defensive minded coach.“There’s a thought of getting a defensive-minded everything,” he said. “I want the ball boys to be defensive minded.” 44 years ago, Michigan hired a football coach who had apprenticed under our most hated rival. He was a defensive minded coach. Forty-four years later, down the street at another one of our hated rivals, a defensive minded coach may be looking to move up to a head coaching position. We all want to see him leave MSU. What if Dave Brandon were to approach Narduzzi and offer him the job? Pardon me while I go wash my mouth out with soap.