Last time we saw Michael Schofield run by a blitzer coming up an interior gap. That combined with a panicked back-foot throw from Denard to result in an interception on a play that had otherwise opened one of two receivers up for an easy touchdown.
This time we're going to get an almost identical play from the offense, except instead of play action is it QB power. This is the fourth and one Michigan converted en route to the endzone.
The setup is the same: shotgun with twin TEs and twin WRs. Northwestern lines up in an even 4-3 with one of the linebackers over the slot and a safety rolled into the box. For fourth and one this is fairly conservative:
With Denard running the ball Michigan has a blocker for every opponent.
On the snap, Schofield pulls…
…and the SLB blitzes, hell-bent for the gap between the playside DE and DT, both of whom are doubled:
Faced with a similar situation on the last play, Schofield ran by the linebacker:
This time not so much.
With both linebackers gone—the other one ran into the line on the backside—and a double on the playside DE, once Smith kicks out the corner it's an easy conversion.
Items of Interest
Being the pulling guard seems a lot more complicated than you'd think. A lot of power blocking is derp simple: block down on this guy. By contrast, everyone who runs a zone system talks up the need for their linemen to be intelligent because to run the zone you have to make a lot of split second decisions about who to block and when to release.
On these two plays we've seen what happens when a pulling guard gets challenged from a gap he doesn't expect to be threatened. He can miss it, at which point rivers of baby blood, or he can adjust, at which point your unsound defense has put the QB one on one with a safety for bonus bucks. He's got to have the vision and agility to pull that off. That's tough.
This seems like one of the major problems with the pulling scheme: the guards are crappier at it than the defenses are at defending it. Last year when they pulled out power blocking, defenses were trying to defend the zone and often got caught off guard. This year Michigan does not have that luxury. As a result we've seen a lot of plays on which the pulling guard gets caught up in some wash or just takes a bad angle to the hole.
"Adjustments." Is this an adjustment, or is it just telling the guard what he did wrong and not to do it again? In my view, an adjustment is changing your scheme to combat something the other team is doing—like throwing Ryan out on the slot to prevent argh bubble death. Telling your players how to stop screwing up is coaching, but it's not adjusting. What I was trying to say in the game column was that because of the nature of the offense they didn't have to do much adjusting, they just had to stop screwing up, at which point points fall from the sky.
This is not black and white. Borges did bring out some actual adjustments, like using Shaw to get the edge on theses aggressive linebackers, but I think the second-half turnaround was less figuring out what Northwestern was doing and stopping it than having a few specific players fix things the scheme is already telling them to do.
Short yardage numerical advantage. Not running Denard on short yardage is a goofy idea. Here you'd have to be nuts to not run the guy. He gives you the ability to double the playside DE and still block everyone except a safety rolled up. He has to be cautious because if he misses it's six points.
Handing it off, even on a zone read that should occupy some defenders, runs the risk of the defense selling out and Denard missing a read. Going under center takes away one of those doubles and turns the read into a call-and-hope situation.
I can see running conventional stuff in a low-leverage situation like first and goal from the one, sure. Keep the wear and tear down. When it really matters, this is the way to go.
Perfect mirror. This is a perfect mirror of the play that Denard got intercepted on, which is why the latter suckered Northwestern so badly and would have likely resulted in an easy TD if Denard can buy some time or Schofield makes the adjustment.
So… it wasn't necessarily as crazy as it appeared when he threw it. Is this good news? Maybe. It seems that Denard had one major problem in the Northwestern game, which was throwing off his back foot.
- Inaccurate but complete TD to Watson
- Interception #1
- Interception #2
Robinson had time to step into the some of the above throws throw but did not. Other times he didn't read the play fast enough and got pressure because of indecision. When not throwing off the back foot he was his zippy 2010 self; when he did it was armpunts away.
Sometimes you have to throw it off the back foot. These times are when there is a guy in your face and you have a really wide open receiver. None of the above are events that fit that profile. On the first he does have a guy really wide open but also has time to step into the throw. On the second he also has time to step into the throw. On the third he doesn't, and that's what this post is about.
Interception #2 exposed some of Robinson's flaws as a passer but it still should have been a touchdown. Michigan has a second and six on the Northwestern 16 after Devin Gardner's tricky rollout of the Denard jet action turned into a scramble. They come out in a common set for them, shotgun with twin TEs:
On the snap Denard moves towards the LOS and Schofield pulls. This will turn into QB Oh Noes.
As Denard withdraws into a passing position Koger releases downfield; Smith will head out on a wheel route. Both of NW's linebackers are headed upfield:
At this point you have two guys trying to cover two Michigan players, One of them is Koger, who will run a post. The other is the flat-footed corner on the LOS.
This is the key frame. Smith is gone past the blocker. The safety is similarly flat-footed against Koger, and Schofield has run past the blitzing SLB to double a defensive end:
This is all kinds of touchdown except for Schofield running past the gap in Michigan's line:
Without this linebacker getting in Denard's face the safety faces a choice between leaving either Koger or Smith wide open for six points.
But linebacker is in Denard's face, forcing an early throw off the back foot…
…that does not end well.
I think there was a bust in the Wildcat secondary, possibly by this safety, because Koger is open for an easy TD and the pressure cannot be anticipated. If the safety is going with Koger this is still incomplete. Denard overthrew it by five yards because he chucked it off his back foot.
Items of interest
This is definitely a protection the pulling guard is expected to make. On fourth and one later in this half Schofield will pull and correctly read this gap, then fill it, opening up the first down.
When Denard throws off his back foot, rivers of baby blood flow from my eyes. This was a thing that Michigan evidently got fixed in the second half when Denard was 8/9 for many many yards, but it threatens to pop up whenever the opponent gets a little QB pressure. The Watson one is the worst: no one is even in position to hit you after the throw.
This is not actually an insane read. I think his assumption was that the S, being the only guy on that side of the field near Koger, would go with him and this would leave the wheel open. The key moment:
He's not staring Smith down. He's looking at Koger and naturally assumes the only guy with a shot to cover him will take the hint. This was wrong in the same way it can be difficult to play poker against someone who doesn't really know what they're doing—they do something very very bad that turns out well because you didn't expect them to have a pea-sized brain.
Again, because of the back foot stuff this was five yards long and would have been incomplete in a best-case scenario. Robinson should probably just take off when things like this happen instead of doing this.
Needs moar play action. The super aggressive Northwestern defense was super aggressive, as you can see here. When Michigan went to QB play action it invariably got dudes vastly wide open, and while Michigan didn't have much luck getting these things completed, the passes are easy (seam to Koger is too high) or the problems easy to fix (block that guy, Schofield). A good chunk of the issues running the ball were on these aggressive linebackers—Michigan doesn't seem to make them hesitant. Maybe right after scoring 42 points while turning the ball over three times isn't the best time to bring this complaint up.
Mario Ojemudia blocked a punt and recorded a sack to help keep Harrison undefeated this season.
This week on Weekday Warriors, Pharaoh Brown dominates at wide receiver, Matt Godin comes up with a game-sealing sack, Kyle Kalis's squad falls in a matchup of national powerhouses, and Tom Strobel has a huge week.
TN OL Blake Bars
Montgomery Bell dropped to 3-5 with a 52-10 loss to Ensworth.
This week: The Big Red have a bye.
OH LB Joe Bolden
Bolden helped Colerain's defense hold off Lakota West late and seal a 24-19 win after a late fumble recovery with under a minute left to play.
This week: The Cardinals (6-1) host Lakota East on Friday at 7:30.
MI OL Ben Braden
Rockford once again dominated on the ground en route to a 49-0 defeat of Grandville. My former fellow TWB writer Alex Cook was at the game, and relayed this report from an opposing player:
Braden is obviously huge and fast, but he wasn't very good at finishing the play, and apparently his technique was terrible and he held a lot. Don't know if this is "heat of the battle stuff" but he's not ready to play at a BCS level. Fortunately he has potential enough to do it, but he needs a ton of work.
Alex did have this to say about the technique bit: "I didn't think his technique was that bad; he just bullied weaker players without the need for good technique." This falls mostly in line with what I observed from Braden—big, quick, and talented, but still needs to put it all together, and it's tough to get a gauge on his technical skills when he's pushing around guys 150 pounds smaller than him.
This week: Rockford (6-1) hosts Hudsonville on Friday at 7.
OH DE Pharaoh Brown
This week: The Arcs play at Lakewood on Friday at 7.
MI TE Devin Funchess
Funchess had a productive game on both sides of the ball, hauling in two catches while tallying two sacks, a forced fumble, and "several" tipped passes as Harrison rolled to a 48-21 win over Rochester Adams.
This week: The Hawks have a bye this week.
OH S Allen Gant
No stats are available for Gant from Southview's 49-17 win over Bowling Green (NTBG), which improved their record to 6-1 this season.
This week: The Cougars host Anthony Wayne on Friday at 7.
MI DT Matt Godin
Godin texted me that he finished with six tackles and two sacks as Catholic Central held off Brother Rice, 21-19, to remain undefeated at 7-0 and earn a berth in the Prep Bowl. Godin's second sack came on Brother Rice's final drive, and helped seal the game for DCC:
Brother Rice would take over from the Catholic Central 44-yard line. With the clock ticking away, Brother Rice quarterback Nick Rao dropped back to pass on a third and long and Catholic Central senior defensive tackle Matthew Godin came in for the sack for a 7-yard loss.
“They doubled me and I made a quick move to the inside and slammed the center and I just flew through,” Godin said.
On a fourth down and eight yards to go situation, Rao’s pass was broken up by the Catholic Central secondary that sealed the victory to keep the Shamrocks undefeated on the season.
This week: The Shamrocks hope to wrap up the Catholic League title at home against James Ross and Orchard Lake St. Mary's on Saturday at 7.
UT FB Sione Houma
No stats are available for Houma from Highland's 55-10 victory over Cyprus.
This week: The Rams (6-2) take on Salt Lake City East at home on Friday at 7.
MI LB Royce Jenkins-Stone
No stats are available for Jenkins-Stone as Cass Tech defeated Mumford, 49-13, to finish the regular season 5-2 (5-1 PSL).
This week: The Technicians now await their playoff draw.
OH OL Kyle Kalis
St. Edward played the nation's top team, Don Bosco Prep (home of Yuri Wright), but managed just 186 yards of total offense in a 38-7 loss. I wish a picture of this moment existed so we could have the Kalis version of the Carvin Johnson hatred-of-losing photo:
His team battered, bruised and overwhelmed with emotion, St. Edward offensive lineman Kyle Kalis stood at midfield, his hands attached to his hips.
"We didn't come out fast and physical the way we wanted to at the gate," Kalis said. "It just didn't happen for us, and it just adds fuel to the fire for the season going forward. We can't let this define our season, or next week, or the week after that."
This week: The Eagles return to Ohio to host St. Xavier on Saturday at 2.
CA OL Erik Magnuson
La Costa Canyon had a bye this week.
This week: The Mavericks play at Carlsbad on Friday at 7.
MI DE Mario Ojemudia
Ojemudia had a sack and blocked a punt to help Harrison stay undefeated in a 48-21 win over Rochester Adams. Steve Wiltfong on Ojemudia:
The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Ojemudia blocked a punt and had a second-half sack to help Harrison seal the ball game late. The future Wolverine is quick off the snap with a variety of pass-rushing moves. One of the most dominant players in the state, the only question mark is where exactly does the tweener fit in on the next level?
Rush end? Rush end.
This week: The Hawks have a bye this week.
MO DT Ondre Pipkins
No stats for Pipkins (perhaps thankfully) from Park Hill's 49-0 loss at the hands of Lee's Summit West.
This week: The Trojans (4-3) go to Staley on Friday at 7.
MI CB Terry Richardson
No stats were available for Richardson from Cass Tech's 49-13 victory over Mumford.
This week: The Technicians's regular season is over.
OH LB Kaleb Ringer
Ringer sat out most of the second half with a knee problem—one that isn't expected to hold him out of future games—as Northmont fell to Centerville, 34-7.
This week: The Thunderbolts (2-5) host Fairmont on Friday at 7:30.
MI LB James Ross
Ross finished with seven tackles and three TFLs as St. Mary's dropped Shane Morris and Warren De La Salle, 35-10, in this week's CVO game. Highlights:
This week: OLSM (6-1) has a Saturday night showdown at Detroit Catholic Central.
OH OL Caleb Stacey
Stacey and Oak Hills fell in a shootout for the second straight week, this time dropping a 46-41 contest to Sycamore and fellow Michigan commit A.J. Williams.
This week: The Highlanders host Mason on Friday at 7:30.
IL CB Anthony Standifer
Via Son of MGoBlog Tim Sullivan, Standifer had six solo tackles, seven assists, and a 75-yard interception return for a touchdown as Crete-Monee defeated Rich Central 34-20. Standifer's teammate, 2013 prospect Laquon Treadwell, caught nine passes for 81 yards and a touchdown.
This week: The Warriors hosts Rich South on Friday at 6.
OH DE Tom Strobel
Strobel was dominant in Mentor's 44-20 victory over Solon, recording three sacks, a fumble recovery, and a blocked extra point, though he deflected the attention from himself after the game:
"No, not at all," said the 6-6, 265-pound Strobel, when asked if his defensive mates are underappreciated. "We love being under the radar. We know [Mentor quarterback] Mitch [Trubisky] is going to score.
"We told ourselves that if [Solon] scores, just come back. There are no heroes. We just played as one."
The Cardinals were stung for two touchdowns in the first half, one on a 38-yard pass play in the first quarter and on a short pass late in the first half.
"Things like that are going to happen," said Strobel. "They have a great team. It's all about coming back at them and finishing it. We wanted to make a statement tonight."
This week: The Cardinals host Medina on Friday at 7. I should be in attendance and filming the game.
OH TE A.J. Williams
Williams and his Sycamore squad came up with just enough offense to outpace Caleb Stacey and Oak Hills, 46-41, to improve to 7-0 on the season.
This week: The Aviators play at Middletown on Friday night at 7:30.
OH S Jarrod Wilson
No stats are available for Wilson from Buchtel's 26-14 win over Akron North.
This week: The Griffins (4-3) host Kenmore on Friday at 7..
OH DE Chris Wormley:
Thanks to in-game Twitter updates from reader @RBones40, we know that Wormley had a tackle, a QB hurry, and a pass breakup and also forced an interception with a big hit in the first half as Whitmer took down Findlay, 49-23.
[UPDATE: Now with the weekly report from Mason Lowry:
The most interesting development to me was that Chris saw significant minutes as the secondary tight end. He isn't a guy that's going to be catching passes over the middle, but a holding penalty aside, he blocked pretty well. We haven't seen many two tight end looks this season, but I think Chris proved that he can handle going both ways if necessary.
Defensively, the front seven got great penetration all game long. Findlay's offense is mostly predicated on bubble screens to their crew of speedy, Wes Welker-esque receivers. With Chris being 6'7, Findlay's QB's had to throw over the top of him and into the flat, which gave the secondary time to adjust. I would say that if Chris were on most teams, opposing offensive lines could key on him, and force the rest of the team to beat them. But this defensive front in particular is good enough that you can't really do that.
Thanks, as always, to Mason, who you can hear calling every Whitmer home game on WRSCSports.com.]
This week: The Panthers (7-0) have a home contest against Fremont Ross, alma mater of one Charles Woodson, on Friday at 7.
KY S Jeremy Clark
No stats available for Clark from a 61-0 North Hopkins victory over Hopkins County Central, which improved the Maroons to 6-1 in 2011.
This week: The Maroons host Calloway County on Friday at 7.
MI QB Shane Morris
Morris, the other subject of this week's CVO (highlights above), completed 5-of-11 passes for around 100 yards and had a 20-yard rushing touchdown, but De La Salle fell to OLSM 35-10 as Morris faced a heavy pass rush all night.
This week: The Pilots (5-2) play U-D Jesuit at Lake Short High School on Saturday at 7 in their regular-season finale.
OH RB/S Dymonte Thomas
Thomas had a nine-yard touchdown run, but Marlington (5-2) fell to Minerva by a score of 21-13.
This week: The Dukes host Canton South on Friday at 7.
Close-up of the stuff on Cartman's helmet.
Every year Michigan and Michigan State play each other for a piece of schlock the governor bought at Forwards in West Branch, and every year I discover I know a lot of annoying people who went to Michigan State.* Also: a lot of fellow Michigan fans who don't get why this is a big deal. This is why it's a big deal.
Out-of-staters are bewildered that so much attention is paid to a mid-season, in-state rivalry that stands at 67-31-5. Really it's not even a full-state rivalry, as the west is pretty much blue or Notre Dame. Those who grew up in Ann Arbor don't see what the big deal is either. It's mostly about Detroit, where Michigan fans are seldom more than 10 feet from a Spartan, where classes of 10-year-olds are 70% Michigan fans and only 10% of those will get in.
Columnists searching for an overarching reason to root for the Tigers and Lions last night invariably arrived at some version of "good for the City of Detroit." If the success of the Tigers and Lions and Red Wings bind the City of Detroit in brotherhood, Michigan-Michigan State is about putting those brothers in the back seat of an un-air conditioned Taurus wagon for a five-hour drive to Mackinac.
This week in 2000 my brother (the littler one at right) announced to a bar full of Michigan fans that Michigan State was now our biggest rival because MSU beat us in '99. This got him laughed out of the Brown Jug. Yesterday Pat Caputo made the same mind exploding-ly stupid assertion. He's probably repeating it on the radio right now but you wouldn't know because nobody with 10 contiguous, functional neurons can listen to Detroit sports radio this week.
Before the '09 game I covered the metaphor evoked by Michigan/Michigan State:
But you can handle the bully [Ohio State]-- what's really irritating is when Little Brother starts picking up on something the class bully says and repeats it again and again.
And you hear it, because Little Brother is always there -- going to the YMCA, camp, the bus to school, soccer practice, a friend's house -- you can't get away from Little Bro.
Are you getting it yet? Michigan-Michigan State is a big rivalry because Michigan State fans desperately want it to be, and are willing to go to any lengths of annoyance (not universally) to make it so.
The Only Colors, which is the rational MSU fan site, just front-paged a diary-equivalent that defines the rivalry through moments of "Michigan was mean to me from 1850 to 1950." Things we must answer for:
- In 1850 Michigan wanted to form an Ag school instead of a separate university.
- Michigan proposed a system merger at the time of the Morrill Act land grant.
- Yale said Michigan should be the site of a merged forestry program. (wait what?)
- One of their professors suggested his botany program be rolled into Michigan's.
- Michigan offered to house MSC's engineering department after a fire destroyed theirs.
- Michigan didn't want MSC in the Big Ten.
- Michigan regents opposed MSC's name change to MSU.
They in turn must answer for stupid billboards, letting themselves be Nike's ken doll on Saturday, thinking that "we have hot chicks" is about the only thing worth making fun of them for, using relevant Wikipedia articles to troll us, "The Situation," having a blog called "The Enlightened Spartan" which is actually their version of Damefan1, and the last three years of this:
That was Saturday: financial mathematicians screaming at Juggalos, and the Juggalos winning. The State meathead directly behind me literally said "bitch! fuck you!" whenever MSU tackled Denard Robinson for less than five yards. On Friday, Tim came back to his apartment to find a trail of blood leading to a passed-out State meathead who'd broken in. The same guys who clumsily spray-painted a bedsheet in 2008 to declare their glorious victory over the worst Michigan team in 50 years reprised their genius. As I walked home every glassy-eyed Stiffler that passed me upped the amplitude of my anger/depression cocktail. Jesus, they were everywhere. They came to Ann Arbor cocky and stupid and left cocky and stupid. Enduring it was brutal. In their eyes, that was probably the point.
Also for giving their Tressel acolyte, ski mask posse leading coach an extension for beating the three worst Michigan teams of my lifetime.
I find rating rivalries by level of hatred or categorizing them does a disservice to the rivalries. They're each specific to their respective fan bases and regions. Put two fandom-as-loyalty programs in the same state and you get the Iron Bowl; keep the ag school out of the conference and you get Cy-Hawk. This one is what you get when the model Morrill Act university shares a state with a (recovering) apex program. Outside of the state they're the reason non-sports fans often wonder why Michigan shirts are sometimes green.** But here in metro-Detroit we daily have to hear them say things like "I can't stand people who root for Michigan who never even went there," as if they've never heard of a Midwest Ivy whose only fans are alumni. I wonder if they'll same the same for Nebraska.
After last year one of the pantheon of Spartan nitwits on Detroit's airwaves suggested Michigan had become Northwestern. I heard this in literally the only five minutes of sports talk radio I listened to for the rest of 2010. Thus is the watch word of the Spartan faith: all history beyond last season is irrelevant except the Battle of Thermopylae as imagined by Zack Snyder (2011 addendum: and in basketball).
Hoke et al. immediately and dramatically ended the recent Sparty in-state recruiting party, so much so that Michigan fans are back to ingenuously praising a pair of Spartan commits in Ohio. The only reminder of that brief run should an annoyingly good spate of tailbacks and defensive ends for the next three years. At this point Brady Hoke can probably weather a loss to Michigan State without losing all the goodwill he's earned here so far. Beating them, however, would go a long way toward making Detroit a better place to live.
* Not you Stunt.
** Waitaminute…is there like a second Notre Dame in Indiana by any chance? Notre Dame A&M or something? Which one's the one with gold helmets?
News bullets and other important things:
- Woolfolk is "banged up."
- Barnum's status is up in the air, but last night he "ran around."
- Shaw played because of situational stuff against Northwestern, but is also working his way back into the rotation.
Opening remarks: “Saturday, I think, we learned a little bit about ourselves as a football team in good ways and bad ways. We learned that you can’t turn the ball over. That’s an important aspect that we have to do a better job [with] decision making at times, fundamentals at times, technique at times. The other thing I think we learned is that from a defensive standpoint, you need to get off blocks. That enhances your ability to make tackles. I think we learned that if we hang together, good things can happen. If we play with an aggressiveness and an aggression, then we play a little better football.”
Can you talk about how good your team has been in the second half and what you attribute that to? “From an offensive standpoint, I think we see something different pretty much all the time in how people defend us offensively and really defend Denard. I think Al does a tremendous job. And his staff -- Darrell Funk and [Jeff] Heck[linski] and Fred [Jackson] and Dan [Ferrigno] -- I think they all do a tremendous job of getting together and talking during the course of the game or the first half, putting their ideas down, and making the appropriate adjustments and changes. I think the same thing defensively. I think Greg [Mattison] and Curt [Mallory] and Mark [Smith] and Jerry [Montgomery] do a tremendous job defensively. The kids have been willing, and they’re listening. I think they’re learning.”
What stands out about Michigan State’s defense, particularly their defensive line? “Well I think you answered that question. I mean, they are extremely talented, aggressive, well coached. Coach [Ted] Gill was one of my coaches in college -- their defensive line coach. He’s a tremendous motivator. He knows the game, does a great job coaching them. Those kids play with a fire to them. You look at their defense as a whole, and I think the whole team is very well coached. I have a lot of respect for Mark Dantonio. He’s a defensive coach in his mindset and vision of how they’re going to play defense, and I think they’re athletic. I think they play with good team speed, and they’re going to be a physical presence out on the field.”
(more after the jump)
Worst mascot ever for worst team ever
In the aftermath of a 45-17 stomping that wasn't even that close at the hands of Purdue, which lost to Rice, the question must be asked: is Minnesota the worst Big Ten team of all time? There are still six games left in conference for the Gophers, so we're a long way off from a conclusion. All they have to do is win one game and they'll escape the basement.
But they totally aren't going to, so let's look at the most awful Big Ten teams chronologically.
The worst team in Big Ten history has no wins and no ties; nonconference doesn't matter; 1930 is the cutoff since before that teams played highly variable schedules. Teams from WWII are included. We are going on a straight ranking by scoring ratio, which is:
point scored / (points scored + opponent points scored)
This should help normalize for the fact that football has gotten progressively higher scoring as the years have progressed.
Minnesota will be the worst Big Ten team since X if they do Y…
2005: Lose all their games
The last winless Big Ten team was 2005 Illinois.
1981: Lose and finish with scoring ratio below 21%
2005 Illinois managed 21% and their 1997 team matched that. The 1981 Northwestern Wildcats scored 75 points in nine league games but gave up 425 for a scoring ratio of 15%.
1961: Lose and finish with scoring ratio below 15%
1961 Illlinois never reached double digits or came within two touchdowns of an opponent (23-9 versus Purdue was their closest game) and had a scoring ratio of 12.3%.
1960: Lose, scoring ratio below 12.3%
1960 Indiana managed just 11.8.
1957: Lose, scoring ratio below 11.5%
1944: Lose, scoring ratio below 8.9%
Iowa 1944 set a low bar, and then they lost to Iowa Pre-Flight, though Iowa Pre-Flight was 10-1 that year.
Pretty Much Ever: Lose, scoring ratio below 8.7%
Harry Kipke's 1934 Wolverines managed this.
Minnesota is currently on pace to be the worst Big Ten team since…
Minnesota's scoring percentage stands at 14.1% thanks to a kick return touchdown and a garbage-time drive.
NEXT WEEK: Minnesota takes on 5-1 Nebraska.
In this week's CVO, I finally got the chance to see Shane Morris play in person as his Warren De La Salle squad hit the road to play Orchard Lake St. Mary's, who happen to feature fellow Michigan commit James Ross at linebacker. The game was close in the first half, with Morris scampering 20 yards for a rushing touchdown to cut De La Salle's deficit to just 14-10 at halftime, but OLSM pulled away in the second stanza with three unanswered touchdowns to cap off a 35-10 victory.
The stat line for Morris differs depending on where you look, but I had him down as completing 5-of-11 passes for right around 100 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions, plus the one rushing touchdown and a couple short scrambles. Morris also punted for De La Salle, showing off a decent leg and delivering a huge (but late) hit after a return that drew a flag but also looked fairly awesome, especially coming from a quarterback. Ross, meanwhile, had a dominant effort across from Morris, finishing with seven tackles and three tackles for loss while regularly wreaking havoc in the Pilot backfield. Hello, highlights:
Shane Morris: I had several people ask me via Twitter whether or not Morris was really as good a prospect as advertised, given his rather pedestrian stat line, which wasn't the first of its kind this season. To answer that question, look at the first highlight in Morris's segment (0:45 mark)—in which he buys time, gets his body turned, and delivers a strike that should have gone for a touchdown if his receiver could just hold on—and the throw at the 1:00 mark in which he chucks an absolute laser on a 30-yard post route. There are absolutely no questions about his arm, and though he had a little bit of difficulty with the accuracy on his deep ball, for the most part he was right on target.
Unfortunately, Morris didn't have a lot of help—his offensive line allowed pressure all night, sacking Morris three times and forcing the junior into awkward dumpoff throws or desperation scrambles on several other plays, and there were a couple drops by his receivers, including an on-target pass that comically doinked right off a player's helmet in the flat. If I were to say one negative about Morris's play, it's that he held onto the ball too long at times, and on one occasion stepped up to avoid pressure, but moved up the pocked too far and shuffled right into a sack.
For the most part, however, Morris did everything you could reasonably ask of him in a game in which OLSM was just the better team. He's obviously got great size, and his ability to change speeds with his throws is already at a very advanced level—he knows when to bring the heat and when he needs to put some touch on the ball, which you can see in some of his shorter throws. He did seem to get a little overzealous when throwing the bomb, but he also didn't really have any open receivers when he threw far downfield, to the point where it was difficult to tell if he was inaccurate or just executing a functional throwaway.
As you can see on the touchdown run, Morris is decently mobile. Nobody is going to confuse him with Denard Robinson, but he can buy time in the pocket and burn defenses with his legs if given the space to do so. He's also clearly a tough guy who knows he's the emotional leader of his team—he was not going to be denied the end zone on his touchdown scramble, and his (yes, late, but still) hit on the sideline after a punt was the hardest blow any Pilot player laid on an Eaglet all night. He also delivered on a third-and-13 late after taking a hard hit on a sack the previous play, which I liked to see in a game that was clearly getting away from his team. I came away from this game just as impressed with Morris and I was by his highlights and accolades—give him talent on the line and at the skill positions, and I have little doubt he'll excel at the college level.
For the scouting report on Ross, photos from the game, and bonus highlights of Jordan Payton, hit the jump.
10/8/2011 – Michigan 42, Northwestern 24 – 6-0, 2-0 Big Ten
Last week's picture pages focused on a two-play sequence in which Stephen Hopkins bulldozed a Minnesota linebacker on an iso, then pretended he was going to do the same on the next drive before running right past him for a long completion up the seam. If Michigan wasn't playing Minnesota the iso would have gone for a few yards and that sequence would have been the Northwestern game exactly: two halves, pretty much the same same thing, radically different results.
Half the first: this old bad thing again
It is not fun to be a Michigan fan seeing your past flash before your eyes when your team is going up against the spread offense. Three hundred yards and twenty-four points in the first half? I have seen this before. It ends with me in the fetal position muttering something about Armanti Edwards or Donovan McNabb or this exact Northwestern team blowing up the recordbook in 2000 in this exact stadium at this exact time. The only intelligible things in the moaning will be a bleated "Herrrrrrmaannnn" or strangled "Englissssssh."
I uncurled long enough at halftime to get a tweet out about how we were essentially getting Rich-Rodded to death. We'd heard about but rarely seen this kind of thing the last three years: Northwestern killed Michigan with bubbles they weren't aligned to defend and expertly used varying tempos to catch Michigan off guard much of the first half. This was the spread 'n' shred at full absorption, the kind of thing you can do when you are totally committed to one style of offense you know well.
That was influenced by these super-interesting Calvin Magee videos* in which he's describing the philosophy of the offense that just led a redshirt freshman everyone recruited as a receiver and his sidekicks to a BCS win over Georgia. I'm an hour and a half in and and it's mostly been Magee describing the various tempos WVU uses and breaking down various bubble screens.
This fresh in my mind, my experience of the first half was thus accompanied by a strong sense of déjà vu as the Wildcats bubbled and tempo-ed and aargh-safetied their way down the field. It was simultaneously the thing we'd always seen and the thing we never got to see. It was yet another reason to shake your fist at the Great Rodriguez Defensive Coaching Malpractice. It was unpleasant.
I envisioned Rodriguez sitting in the same room with Ralph Friedgen. Rodriguez watches the Michigan game; Friedgen watches Maryland. Mike Leach pops his head in from time to time. They are sipping cognac, smoking cigars, and laughing maniacally.
Half the second: this old bad thing again, happening to them
It is more fun to be a Michigan fan seeing your past flash before your eyes when the Rodriguez spread is the other team's and they are suddenly incapable of moving the ball while their defense is incapable of anything at all. Insert any of a dozen games over the last three years for comparisons. 2008 Penn State may be the canonical example.
The collapse of the Northwestern offense shouldn't be overstated. They only had four second-half drives that meant anything thanks to the offense executing this second half:
- 8 play, 80 yard TD
- 12 play, 80 yard TD
- 6 play, 47 yard TD
- 7 play, 28 yard FGA
- 9 play, 53 yard TD
This was a masterpiece for the time of possession fetishists. Northwestern opportunities were limited. (As an incidental bonus, Michigan also got 28 points while "keeping the Wildcats off the field." Funny how that works.)
In the aftermath you can't poke a newspaper-type person (and even the occasional blogger) not talking up adjustments. I'm not so sure the adjustment were brilliant. They consisted of telling Denard to stop throwing terrible interceptions and throwing Jake Ryan into the slot—hello heebie jeebies—so the Wildcats couldn't bubble Michigan to death. That accomplished, they waited for the turnover flood.
One sack, two of those turnovers, and a quarter-and-a-half later Michigan was already in rush-the-passer, kill-the-clock mode up 11 with nine minutes left. The first turnover should have been a first down conversion that pushed the Wildcats into Michigan territory; the second was an excellent strip by Thomas Gordon on a drive that had moved from around the Northwestern 20 to midfield.
The adjustment was not giving up the thing they shouldn't have been giving up in the first place and not arm punting directly at opponent safeties. Michigan was just better, no brilliance required. The second half bore that out.
The end result: 42 points despite three turnovers, 541 yards, 360 ceded, and a margin of victory over the Wildcats larger than any since 2004. The 2004 team was the last one Michigan team to smoke-and-mirror its way to a Rose Bowl—if that's really what a team one inch away from beating Vince Young really did.
As the weeks pass the questions fade. Michigan seems flatly better than everyone they play, no qualifiers necessary. This week the Spartans will test that theory. They are the mirror; this weekend blows away the smoke.
*[It's mostly football stuff but a couple of personality items:
1. Magee's showing a clip of a bubble they ran against Cincinnati and apropos of nothing says "the coach, I can't remember his name, is a really nice guy." Someone in the room says "Dantonio?" and he replies "Yeah, Dantonio. Nice guy." Wonder how Magee feels about him now—easy to think someone's a nice guy when you beat him 38-0.
2. Magee's describing a bubble against Georgia in their Sugar Bowl win as a pre-snap read he let White have because he "wants to let the kid grow." WVU ran two different bubbles, a pre-snap read based on alignment and a post-snap read with a full mesh point and an option afterwards if the QB keeps. By allowing White to make the read before the snap he's giving him more flexibility in the offense.
Rodriguez, in contrast, "isn't going to put his fate in the hands of a 19-year-old kid" and wants his QBs to "read it out" post snap all the time.
This particular bubble looked there pre-snap but wasn't actually because a desperate Georgia defense was plunging the safety down at it; WVU didn't have any PA off the bubble—hard to believe—at the time, something Magee said he regrets and they obviously fixed.]
Non-Bullets Of Inverseness
Yes we have no photos. Road game means we don't have a gallery, at least not yet. Mike DeSimone collects everyone's pictures weekly at his page.
Game theory bits. You will not be surprised that I was very much in favor of the fourth and one in the first half, especially given the state of Michigan's defense at that point and what we'd seen Northwestern do on D in their first few games. The result of that play and their ability to convert on the ensuing drive was the difference between going in down 24-14 and 24-7.
While the dominant second half made that touchdown irrelevant in the long run, the people who doubt the wisdom of that call are the same who ascribe a mystical power to momentum. If you're worried about giving momentum up by not converting you have consider the possibility of acquiring it by getting a touchdown, which in addition to being momentum-tastic is also worth seven points. For me, simple calculation: fourth and one near midfield against a team with an iffy defense and in possession of Denard Robinson. Go.
Also not a surprise: thumbs down to the field-goal attempt. I'd actually started arguing with my friend about it on second down. I was in favor of going on fourth and reasonable; he and others around me were in favor of kicking. My main rationale was that there's a huge difference between 18 and 11 (game over, especially with more time off the clock) and only a meh difference between 11 and 14.
We were having this as a hypothetically kicker-independent argument, but there seemed to be agreement that with Michigan's situation at that spot you go. If you had Nate Kaeding I could see kicking, but Gibbons has never made a field goal of 40 yards, let alone 48, and 4th and 5 is very makeable.
Even with the FG attempt I disagreed with, my "Brady Hoke is awesome on gameday" meter incremented a notch. On twitter someone said he tried to sneak Denard and a WR out with the punt team before the timeout, which if true is awesome. It means the TO was not hesitation but rather a trick being snuffed out and that even when the trick was foiled Hoke still went for it.
EPIC DOUBLE POINT STANDINGS, RETROACTIVELY APPLIED:
2: Denard Robinson (Notre Dame, Eastern Michigan), Brady Hoke (San Diego State, Northwestern)
1: Jordan Kovacs (Western Michigan), David Molk (Minnesota)
Almost went with Hemingway for the ND game since Hemingway didn't throw a bunch of interceptions but "WHAT?!" and "the game is ova" were tiebreakers.
Something I've never screamed before. "NICE BLOCK," I yelped a moment after Michael Shaw blew up Bryce McNaul with a cut block:
Thanks to terrible play by the NW MLB and what looks like a slant by the playside DT all Shaw had to do was meekly shove McNaul for Denard to burst into the secondary, but yelp == shoutout.
Hello Mr. Gardner. Gardner had another package in this game. I didn't like this one as much. It seemed too on-the-nose to run that jet sweep to Denard, then come back with a naked boot off it the next time you ran it. Michigan just executed a similar pattern against Minnesota, so NW was prepared. Above is the linebacker Gardner dodged en route to three yards.
And then there was that bit late in the game where Gardner came in. At first he was just handing off/getting the corner from the one, which is not that thrilling, but before that they brought him in to hit Jeremy Jackson on second and ten.
If Gardner can handle it future plays with both guys on the field should be less focused on Denard—maybe make that jet sweep fake and then drop back as per normal. Robinson is an option but not the only one.
Obvious waggle is inverted. On the Watson touchdown, the universe thought "waggle" when Michigan brought in an I-form big on second and goal from the nine. Michigan ran it to the short side of the field, breaking a tendency, and got rewarded for it with an wide open Steve Watson (who Denard nearly missed).
Bipolar OL. Maybe. Michigan couldn't run the ball but it occurred to me there was a strong possibility they got RPSed trying to run the spread against a team that knows it backwards and forwards. There seemed to be a lot of blitzing into places Michigan was trying to run.
So run problems exist. On the other hand, Denard had eons to find people to throw the ball to. Vincent Smith epic blitz pickups had something to do with that, as did Wildcat-fan-infuriating three-man-rushes, but so did the offensive line. So much so that this was a Freudian slip in a thread about the refereeing:
There was .. (Score:1)
also a rushing the passer on Drob that was never called. He was takled for a loss, in the third I believe, and while on the ground was hit by a second defender and then a third. That third defender had enough time to pull up but didn't. No call.
Borges seemed to agree with this blog's petulant complaining about rollouts, which were reduced. Northwestern got negative pressure on pocket passes and the rollouts that were called saw better protection as those edge blockers went hell-bent for the outside instead of hesitating. Michigan's currently first in sacks allowed [tiresome avalanche of caveats]; so it seems that Michigan's best option when it's going to pass is letting Denard sit back and survey. No one is getting near him.
The arm punting bit. Denard did throw three interceptions. This is less than ideal. One of those was a badly inaccurate deep ball into single-ish coverage; the others were WTFs. But the opponent line that Denard is basically a tailback at quarterback…
The long passes were underthrown jump balls that NU didn’t win. I am disappointed (but not surprised) that the secondary was not told to look for the ball once the receiver was 25 yards down the field. Throughout the year, most of Denard Robinson’s long passes have been underthrows that would be INTs if the defender looked for the ball. … At least 100 of those passing yards were 50/50 jump balls. the pass defense wasn’t great, but the defensive scheme in general limited most of Robinson’s runs and made him throw. … Denard has receivers that are willing to go up for the jump ball and bring it down (e.g., the Notre Dame win), and until teams can stop that, all Denard has to do is limit his wild throws to the opposition and get the ball into the general area of his receivers.
…has started to grate. Even with the turrible interceptions Denard still completed 65% of his passes for nearly 13 YPA. That is enough for him to far exceed Dan Persa's QB rating last game (177 to 131) when Persa completed 73% of his passes like he always does. And, like, 13 YPA. 48 and 57 yard bombs to Hemingway and Roundtree help, but Robinson being Robinson put those guys in single coverage.
And here's the thing. While the jump ball thing is a fair assessment of some of the deep stuff, remove his two longest completions and Denard still averaged 9.7 YPA. Chop out the two successful bombs—but not the INT or the Gallon overthrow—and Denard averaged almost a first down per passing attempt. Northwestern fans cannot talk crap about him in any fashion. Do terribly unfair things to his passing stats and he still pwns you. Teams with secondaries are another matter, but we are seeing Denard get back to being the fairly accurate guy he was last year.
When allowed to set and step into throws Denard can toss all kinds of stuff. As Borges gets his head around the things he can and cannot do his efficiency should improve, because he's got enough in his legs to compensate for the fact he's not Andrew Luck. Now, about those throws that make all of us want to die…
[Disclaimer: There's a difference between not thinking you can sustain an offense on downfield chucks into double coverage and back-shoulder fades to Jeremy Gallon and thinking a QB averaging 10 YPA even when you mutilate his stats unfairly is not a QB. Thank you for not needing this disclaimer.]
WTFs. I don't know, man. I think one of them was an attempted wheel route that was either badly disrupted or saw the guy fall down; in any case there was a safety right there so that was a very bad read. The other I have no idea. Hypothetically that could have been a massive WR bust, but I doubt it. I will look at these in UFR but I doubt I'll be able to tell much.
Shaw. If Tommy Rees's brain goes "FLOYDFLOYDFLOYDFLOYD" then Michael Shaw's goes "BOUNCEBOUNCEBOUNCEBOUNCE." It worked against a slow-ish Northwestern team cramming the box; kudos to Borges for making that switch.
Roundtree. Welcome back to the offense, kid. Totally thought you were Junior Hemingway on the long one.
Woolfolk. Again pulled for Countess. Obviously injured.
Johnson. Hoo boy, going to come in for some finger-wagging in UFR. His whiff on the Kain Colter TD was spectacular.
The West: open. It was going to be wide open when Nebraska was losing 27-6 to Ohio State, but even with that comeback there the Michigan-Michigan State game has the shape of a division championship game, doesn't it? Whoever wins it will be two clear of their instate rival with the most threatening other teams in the division already carrying losses. The winner of that game could lose once and probably be fine since Iowa is unlikely to sweep M/MSU/Nebraska and Nebraska similarly unlikely to do so against M/MSU/Iowa/PSU/Northwestern.
Michigan State would have a smaller margin of error since their remaining games against the East include an almost certain loss versus Wisconsin; Michigan wins this weekend and they become solid favorites.
As per usual, when I attend road games I usually can't get around to VOAV. Penance:
Postgame interview with the person of particular note:
ST3 goes inside the box score:
After starting slowly in the sack department, we picked up 3 last week and 4 this week, including a decapitation by Kovacs and a Wile E. Coyote style steamrolling by Will Campbell.
After giving up 297 yards in the first half, the defense settled down (and the offense controlled the clock for major stretches) limiting NU to 438 yards total for the game. A tad higher than my goal of 400 per game, but NU does have a good offense, I think everyone would agree. And they would have been held under 400 if the refs called holding penalties. More on that in the ref section, don’t neg me yet.
That 438 includes a 79 yard drive at the end of the game when Michigan was up three scores and just bleeding clock. If anything ever convinces you that advance stats are more real than the regular ones, that should be it. On 11 real drives—about an average game's worth—the Wildcats had 359 yards, which is about average. On the meaningless last one the Wildcats piled it on. Advanced stats will dump that last drive.
6-0 starts for Michigan are rare.
Most of my life (33 years) has been spent rooting for a Michigan team that would win most Saturdays, live in the national rankings, and stub their toe early in the season. 4-0 or better starts have only occurred 11 times in those 33 seasons:
4-0: '78 '96 '09
5-0: '85 '95 '99 '10
6-0: '86 '97 '06 '11
The starts to the last three seasons have been a stretch that Michigan fans have not witnessed since the dawn of the Carr era.
Media, as in files. Melanie Maxwell's gallery for AnnArbor.com. This thing was epic:
We should get a giant inflatable Wolverine head for the players to run out from under, except it should probably be, like, the comic book version, and then to make it even more rad we could shoot off some fireworks during the national anthem and this would make things electric.
Media, as in unwashed blog masses. If you are a true schadenfreude connoisseur, there is a Sippin' on Purple game thread that descends into self-loathing misery. I didn't enjoy it much except for the one post where the person said every time Denard takes off it terrifies them.
TWB on the good and bad. The Hoover Street Rag gets a head start on the MICHIGAN STATE IS THE BEGINNING OR END OF THE WORLD hype, which is deserved. Big House Blog provides cheers and jeers. TTB has bullets. One of them:
Kenny Demens had his best game of the year. Demens hasn't been as productive this year as I expected, but he's still been a solid player. This game was his best, though. He had 10 tackles, including a sack, and did a good job of chasing down wide receivers and crossing routes in space. A lot of middle linebackers (Obi Ezeh, for example) would have been left in the dust or would have missed the tackle on those smaller players, but Demens is so strong that if he gets his hands on someone, that person is going to the ground.
In five of Michigan's nine losses during the 2008 season, the Wolverines were either ahead or tied at the half. But during the subsequent two quarters, Michigan's offense crumbled and the defense wasn't good enough to prop the team up. Throughout the Rodriguez years, exponential in-game decline became a staple of the team's performance
Don’t you feel like, for the first time in a long while, that Michigan clearly has the advantage in coordinators? While there is room for improvement, it’s a blast to see Borges tinker around with Denard and Gardner, and the defense has rattled several quarterbacks this season and has clearly improved. The team seems to get better as the game goes on.
This Week in Unexpected Sentences from Lake The Posts:
the 'Cats two second half TOs and Denard Robinson’s unstoppable passing prove too much in blowout win.
Nationally, Holly Anderson on the second-half D:
The story of Northwestern being shut out entirely in the second half is one of repeated, eerily consistent, enormous drive-ending plays by the Michigan defense. A sack and an interception killed the Wildcats’ third-quarter drives; a fumble and a sack put paid to their first two fourth-quarter efforts, and the final Northwestern drive barely reached Michigan’s red zone before the clock ran out.
Iowan Adam Jacobi has quick hits on the game at CBS.
Media, as in badge-wearers. Fox Sports's resident officiating expert on the Kovacs/Persa decapitating:
Some face mask penalties an official should never miss. This is not one of them. When I watched this play in real time and even after the first replay, I did not think the face mask was grabbed. So many helmets come off, and often it has nothing to do with the face mask being pulled. In this case, however, the last replay indicated that Kovacs did grab the mask with his left hand. The referee, who is behind the quarterback, would never see this, and he is the only official who is watching the quarterback. It was a foul, but not all fouls can be seen. Coach Fitzgerald was penalized for running out on the field to argue, which is absolutely the correct call. You cannot let a coach come as far onto the field as Fitzgerald did to scream at the officials. It makes no difference whether there is a missed call. That cannot be allowed.
That's on point. It's clear on the replay that Kovacs did grab the facemask but you can't expect the official to see that. (Side note: Adding Pereira to their coverage of NFL and college sports was a brilliant move by FOX. He's great at giving an unvarnished take from the referee's perspective. In that same article he bags on the live-ball unsportsmanlike penalty the NCAA just instituted, but he also gives it to you straight when you are being a stupid fanboy.)
Pete Thamel has yet another Denard piece, but okay:
Koger’s favorite Robinson story is from when he was a freshman, and he bounded up and down outside a team huddle.
“Put me in coach, I run fast,” Robinson said repeatedly.
When Robinson overheard Koger relaying that story Monday, he blushed with embarrassment and tried to plead down some details. But early on, Robinson’s need to slow down was obvious.
“I was just thinking about it the other day — man, it’s going by too fast for me,” he said with a smile. “I don’t want to leave.”
eeeeeee /passes out
Junior Hemingway had a lime:
"It feels real good," receiver Junior Hemingway said of the six victories.
Let's have a real wool lime.
AnnArbor.com's Kyle Meinke says Michigan answered a lot of questions. True, but I don't think "can Michigan win without Denard Robinson?" was one of them. Tim Rohan on the dichotomy of Denard. Raftery on the receivers. Chengelis on going to EL.
There is a top ten and then a cliff. As always, some amount of jitter is because I don't look at previous ballots. I don't have a strong opinion about whether Stanford or Wisconsin has a better resume.
Arkansas, Kansas State bounces. Hammering a team that I can't axe out of the top 25 gets you a big bump, especially when your only loss is to one of the invulnerables at the top of the poll. Kansas State finally gets the benefit of being undefeated after they beat Missouri and victim Baylor leaps back into the poll.
Texas, Auburn, Florida plunges. Florida is obvious. I had a vision last night in which Charlie Weis sarcastically sung "I've got Jacoby Brissett."
No sarcastic-offensive-coordinator-vision-inducing teams make my top 25. Auburn got beaten raw by Arkansas to pick up a second loss; they hang on thanks the South Carolina win, which is an anchor on the Gamecocks. Texas has a flimsy resume: wins over Rice, BYU, UCLA, and Iowa State and a hammering at the hands of Oklahoma. Iowa State has the best resume of any of those teams.
Nebraska down five after winning. Did I really have Nebraska 12th last week? Yeesh. They fell down the one-loss-team shuffle after failing to defend Ohio State until Joe Bauserman got on the field; Fresno State got clubbed by Boise after remaining competitive with Nebraska. At this point their defense seems like no fluke: it's bad.
Michigan. Jumps Illinois on the strength of a couple common opponents. The Illini beat Northwestern and Western Michigan by 3; Michigan won by 18 and 25 (in three quarters), respectively.