I'VE HAD JUST ABOUT ENOUGH OF YOU SONNY
About last week:
I know I don’t normally opine on such things. I know I’m usually the snark guy. I just want to speak my piece, and I’ll return to character.
There is a legal concept called res ipsa loquitur, which is Latin for "the thing itself speaks." The idea is that usually when you sue someone, you have to explain what the person did wrong. But there are some times when the thing that happens is so obviously wrong that the blame speaks for itself. If you take your car in for an oil change, and while it's there the car gets pregnant, you don't have to know WHAT the mechanic did wrong to know that he screwed something up.
I've got a dozen specific complaints about the game plan, personnel use, and play calling from Saturday, but I don't need them. Rushing for negative yardage against this defense speaks for itself. This was probably the worst statistical game from the running back position in the history of Michigan football, and came against a team that EVERY OTHER TEAM has found a way to bludgeon on the ground. Does it matter any more whether the problem is one of scheme, specific playcalling, predictability, player prep, or the general bloodymindedness of the universe? Anyone who takes the players available, along with the information available, and produces *THAT* has failed in some fundamental aspect of his job. The details are of secondary concern. Can ANYONE come up with a theory by which the team that entered fall camp could end up where it is without massive, widespread failures by the individuals responsible for crafting an offense? I’m really asking.
Okay, I’m done. On with the snark.
Line of Scrimmage (3-1259, 2-688 B1G)
Last game: Defeated Michigan by 21 yards.
Recap: Two weeks ago, the Line of Scrimmage put up its first B1G conference win. One week later, it scored its first ever home victory. As a result, this week it is riding its first ever winning streak. It’s a good time to be that thin blue line.
The final margin (48 yards) was larger two weeks ago in East Lansing, but last week’s win was far more unlikely and impressive. Saddled with a Nebraska’s defense that was giving up about 200 yards per game on the ground, most expected the imaginary transverse line separating the offense from the defense to be an afterthought. Instead, it stood tall.
The LOS got the goose-egg off its back in 2003, when Oregon held Michigan to -3 yards rushing at Autzen Stadium in Eugene.
This team is as frightening as: Don’t let that .002% all-time winning percentage fool you. This is a shortest-distance-between-two-points on the rise. Fear level = 8
Michigan should worry about: The LOS’s winning streak has been keyed by sacks. Without them, Forward Motion would have squeaked by with narrow wins the last two weeks.
Michigan can sleep soundly about: The LOS is an imaginary line, and therefore has no physical ability to affect the world around it.
When they play Michigan: Watch for the LOS to implement a new non-Euclidian approach, permitting it to attack the running game in multiple directions.
Next game: vs. Poor Damn FitzDevin Gardnerssaint
[AFTER THE JUMP: Actual opponents]
In an effort to makes these posts easier to digest in one read, FFFFs will be broken into separate offense and defense posts from now on. Once again, I find myself watching Nebraska-Northwestern, which is really the only useful game film I can find of the Wildcats given the considerable number of injuries they've suffered. The short summary: Northwestern ran the ball well, couldn't throw or convert a third down to save their life, failed to fully capitalize on four Nebraska interceptions, and lost on a hail mary.
Spread, Pro-Style, or Hybrid? Spread. Even in goal-line situations, Northwestern is either in the shotgun or the pistol. They didn't take a snap from under center in this game.
Basketball on Grass or MANBALL? Mostly zone blocking concepts, though Northwestern pulled their backside guard—and on a couple occasions, also their backside tackle—on some read option plays that will be covered in more detail later in the post.
Hurry it up or grind it out? No-huddle all the way; Northwestern doesn't play at Indiana's tempo, especially when they're swapping QBs mid-drive, but they keep the pace pretty high.
Quarterback Dilithium Level (Scale: 1 [Navarre] to 10 [Denard]): Once again, Michigan faces a team that will alternate quarterbacks. Kain Colter is the starter and will get the majority of the snaps; he's a very impressive runner:
I be like dang. He gets a strong 8.
Trevor Siemian, meanwhile, is your classic pocket-passing statue; Northwestern did run a read option with him on a third and very long and he shocked the Nebraska defense by keeping it—with lots of space in front of him, he... tripped and fell on his face. He did have one successful—albeit lumbering—scramble in this game, so he merits a 3, I guess.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the breakdown.]
TUBE NOTES: They didn't put the tubes on TV! ABC –1,000,000. WHERE ARE MY TUBES, ABC?
FORMATION NOTES: Nebraska often responded to Michigan going under center with running an under package with a safety walked down, sometimes to the line, like below…
…they blitzed a ton from this.
Michigan is occasionally having Funchess in a three-point stance but split out about a body length from the tackle. I have not given this its own name yet; we'll see if it sticks around.
You can't see the outside receiver here, but this is "shotgun trips inner stack TE". Shotgun = obvious. Trips = three WRs to one side. Inner stack: look, they're stacked. TE: there is a TE.
And there was this.
It has been discussed; Funchess is covered for reasons of sorcery.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: Michigan is settling down for better or worse. Gardner the whole way, Toussaint most of the way and occasionally replaced by Green on plays that were almost all runs because Michigan is more afraid of him as a blitz pickup guy than Toussaint. WRs were Funchess and Gallon primarily with Chesson getting the bulk of the remaining snaps. Dileo had only a few snaps, most obviously the last one.
OL was the usual now: Lewan/Bosch/Glasgow/Magnuson/Schofield. Kalis made a couple of appearances in goal line type sets as a sixth OL.
Michigan's main churn at this point is at tight end. Butt is the main guy now. Paskorz got some snaps, as did Williams, though Williams seems to be getting fewer and fewer as the season goes along. Michigan tried a couple plays with Houma as a wing TE, which didn't work too well.
[After THE JUMP: I regret to inform you that the Heisenberg uncertainty principle does not apply to football games and observing this left it just the same.]
“Fire away. Come on.”
Do you ever get to the point where you start beating your head against a wall?
“Oh yeah. Sometimes I do. I think everybody does with their job at one point in time. I’ve never had two back-to-back games playing so poorly. So yeah, absolutely. The one thing that you always have to do in my position is maintain your perspective and understand what you have to do to get better. This is – if you want to change the situation, change your attitude. Yeah, you might beat your head against the wall a little bit, but you can’t keep beating your head against the wall, because there’s another game to play …
“I don’t remember playing two [bad games] back to back. It’s bound to happen I guess at one point in time. WE have to think about what we’re doing next, not what happened last week. We have to fix what we do next by what happened last week as a reference.”
Every time I post a play analysis these days there are a half-dozen people in the comments who mention that if player X did hard thing Y they are not prepared to do then the play would work. This has gotten to the point where I can explicitly prepare for such criticism and find them ignored, as in the most recent one, and find a diary on this site asserting that if player X did hard thing Y something would have worked.
This is extremely frustrating to me, because these are good-faith attempts to paint broader pictures of what I'm seeing down to down, game after game, year after year, as I try to figure out what Michigan football is doing. Various critics, most prominently Space Coyote, make a few small concessions and then go about explaining why play X was a good call and why it would have worked. They implicitly assert things like "Joe Kerridge in a ton of space should deviate from expecting Nebraska to use their slot LB as a force and ably block that guy when that LB believes the inverted veer is coming, has no need to respect the slot receiver because he is covered, and runs directly into Fitzgerald Toussaint."
I disagree with that. I have watched a lot of people play a lot of football and I think that's hard. I'm trying not to have a stance here; I am evaluating whether I think a thing is easy to do or hard and assigning a number to that feel. Coaches tend to think everything is an execution issue. Players should be able to do arbitrarily hard things. Some arrows on a diagram say this should work. Meanwhile I think there's a 10% chance for Kerridge to abort the plan and do anything with hell-for-leather blitzer and judge accordingly. Various guys dying on Borges Hill disagree.
I don't know what might be sufficient other than 175 yards against Nebraska to convince these guys that a poor offensive game plan can even exist, but here are various things that are normally too dull to post in a Picture Pages in which unblocked guys on blitzes obliterate Michigan runners for no or little gain.
These are representative of a larger slice of the game and a general feel that confirmed the Nebraska players' postgame assertions that they were expecting most of what Michigan threw at them. Tomorrow's Picture Pages will cover every play of the game, because this isn't going to work either.
Here is an iso. The slot LB is an eighth guy in the box and crashes down unblocked to tackle.
As this goes for three yards it qualifies as one of Michigan's best plays on the day on the ground. Three yards is not good on first and ten, and there was nothing Michigan could do about it.
Here is a zone play. Nebraska loads up and sends a blitz through a gap that Michigan doesn't pick up as Bosch ends up doubling with Lewan.
However, because of the blitz the only thing Bosch making a very good play to recognize and pick up the charging LB does is send Green to one of the two unblocked guys, either the backside guy ripping down the LOS without thought of checking the QB or a linebacker sitting two yards deep without anyone trying to get him, because Nebraska's blitz has prevented anyone from moving to the second level.
Here is a power play. Nebraska loads up with eight in the box and one deep safety and blitzes.
A Nebraska linebacker ends up shooting the gap behind the Bosch pull and meets Green in the backfield.
Michigan loses two yards and has third and eleven.
Oh for pants' sake.
The offensive line is not in fact overwhelmed here; they are not actually involved because Nebraska's blitz is perfect to destroy the inverted veer.
Items Of Interest
All of this is an execution issue, sure. For a given definition of execution, this is an execution issue. Michigan's hyper-raw OL should be able to block this. They should be able to deal with Nebraska switching gaps and blazing LBs to the point of attack. They should be able to block Nebraska's maniacal run-oriented loaded box. They would do this, if only they could execute.
Except the last one. And the first one. And probably the second and third.
Either you believe that players can be put in positions they can succeed or players are expected to succeed in the positions they are put in. I am in the former camp. The last few Borges defenders are in the latter camp. This entire season Space Coyote has been gamely explaining what should have happened on failed play after failed play without any thought to how difficult what should have happened is.
Players do not exist in a vacuum. Joe Kerridge is trying to block a guy in acres of space and that guy has the jump on him because he knows Funchess is covered, and he knows what Michigan's running. I look at that and I think "Jesus, I do not want to be Joe Kerridge there."
I am admittedly working from a hand-waving feel on this, but it's no worse a feel than whatever Space Coyote has gotten from doing whatever he does with whatever team at a totally different level of competition. I say Michigan puts their players in a spot to work miracles or die, and that this is on both the overall structure of the offense and the predictability of playcalls based on formations and down and distance. Space Coyote makes certain concessions to not seem totally insane and then goes back to hammering the fact that it's all execution.
Kerridge was put in a spot to fail, and did. I'm looking at the play and saying I believe there is a small chance that Kerridge can make a tough play in space; the guys in the comments think that because Kerridge could hypothetically have made a play none of this goes back to the folks in charge.
These plays. The above plays are no-chancers for the offense, because Michigan is running into the teeth of a defense stacked to stop the run and blitzing. In UFR lingo they acquired sizeable rock-paper-scissors minuses. In compensation Michigan got two screens which both got large RPS plus numbers, but the number of downs thrown away in this game running at a Nebraska defense that seemed to be in Michigan's head was alarming. When I add it up, I am guessing things will come out highly negative, and then people will cluck at me about that.
I won't deny that things are more likely to get put in the negative bin there when you have fewer options because you're not good, but in my opinion running plays you suck at into stacked boxes is a bad idea. So is the continued deployment of Toussaint as a pass blocker on plays that take forever to develop. That, too, is an execution issue, but it is nuts to expect him to block guys now, and the offense would be better served if he was used in a pattern or replaced by a fullback or something. Instead… he is not.
But yeah yeah, the expectation is for the position.
If we taunt them enough we might get a grail. Or a cow thrown at us.
Man we've been a sorry sack of something these past few weeks. All this negativity: negative posts, negative futures, negative rushing totals. Can we be positive? Finish this sentence:
For Michigan to have a shot at beating Ohio State, between now and then the offense needs to...
Coach Brown: ...pool their money together, hire a squad to kidnap the entire coaching staff and every starting player that Ohio State has until at least Sunday.
Seriously I think this game is going to be really, really bad. What Ohio State has done last year and this year is really something. I don't care about their strength of schedule, it is damn impressive to go almost two complete seasons without losing a game in a coach's first two campaigns. Hate Urban for being Urban, but the guy wins on the field.
|This isn't an argument.|
I know the power of a rivalry, especially in The Game, can level the playing field a bit, but I give Michigan close to a 0% chance of winning that game. Ohio State is clicking, Urban smells blood, and Michigan is going in reverse, literally and figuratively. I'm not being negative, I'm not a downer, I'm a realist. Ohio State pounded Penn State 63-14. It took Michigan 25 overtimes to suffer a loss to that same Nittany Lion team. There are so many things fundamentally wrong with what Michigan is trying to do that fixing just one of them isn't going to be enough to appease the fan base or be overly productive on the field.
I could vent forever and it would come off as whiny, pessimistic, and unrealistic because of expectations we all have for Michigan. It's not even the 6-3 record honestly, it's just how everything looks, feels, and seems. Brian and Ace nailed it on the podcast and the recent "I AM OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL" post. I've turned off. I'm just the recruiting guy so this was my one opportunity to put some of these words down. I apologize for where this went.
“Let’s get this thing going and let’s go get us a win. Northwestern’s a very very good offense obviously. They’ve got a lot of weapons, Colter being the number one. He is an outstanding quarterback. We’re going to have to be ready and we’re going to have to come to play.”
Are they a different team without Venric Mark?
“They have a number of running backs. They’ve had four running backs that have played a lot, and their offense, they do such a great job of making you be honest with everything you do. Running back is good in their offense.”
There were some issues with the option against Nebraska. Will Northwestern be similar in terms of offensive style?
“There are some definite similarities. The thing that makes it difficult – a lot of those options in the Nebraska game came on third downs. You people all are saying, ‘Why don’t you pressure more?’ So I’m trying to pressure, thinking we can get home, and they check to option. That’s part of the game. That’s part of it. We had to rally to it, and we had to try to make a play on it. That’s the fine line where you decide if you’re going to be a pressure team in passing situations or are they going to change their game plan and check to a running play. There were a number of times when we came out of it okay, and a couple times we didn’t.”
South Carolina State tried trapping Michigan at halfcourt, packing the paint, and daring Michigan to knock down outside shots.
Challenge accepted. Caris LeVert hit his first five three-point attempts and finished with a career-high 24 points to lead the way for Michigan, while Nik Stauskas, often left all alone in his favorite corner, finished with 23 points and shot 5/6 from beyond the arc. Michigan's 15 made threes (on 28 attempts) came up one short of the school record as the Wolverines cruised from start to finish—they tallied assists on 19 of their 31 made shots, and just four of those came from the team's two point guards.
LeVert's stellar outing wasn't limited to his shooting; he added four rebounds, three assists, a steal, and two blocks while playing totally in control—he didn't record a turnover. Even when accounting for the opponent, he looked like a star in the making, building on his strong play in the two exhibitions and opener against UMass Lowell. While the photo above is representative of SCSU's perimeter, um, defense, LeVert created his shots in a variety of ways, including knocking down a couple threes off the dribble.
While Glenn Robinson III struggled from the field (4/12), he nearly brought down the house on two different dunk attempts that ended in fouls, and a 4/5 night from the charity stripe gave him 13 points to go along with nine rebounds and three steals; even when his shot wasn't falling, he was active on both ends. That said, he looks like the #3 option on this team, and that's without the presence of Mitch McGary; this isn't a bad thing as long as Stauskas and LeVert keep up their current level of play, but if either fall off the questions remain about GRIII's ability to create his own offense.
Jon Horford, meanwhile, has locked down the starting center spot in McGary's absence. In 24 minutes, he finished with nine points (4/8 FG) and 15 rebounds (5 offensive), and his lone block belied his ability to affect shots at the rim—SCSU shot just 15/45 from inside the arc and Horford played a big part in that. Jordan Morgan had four points, six rebounds (one off.), and two blocks of his own in 15 minutes of action; the team functioned much better on both sides of the court with Horford, however, and there's no question which player brings more from an athletic standpoint.
The freshmen had their ups and downs in this game. Derrick Walton had 12 points (5/10 FG) and an assist while creating a couple putback opportunities with aggressive takes to the hoop; he also got caught leaving his feet a couple times on defense and turned the ball over three times. Zak Irvin played solid positional defense but couldn't get his shot to fall, missing a couple open threes from the corner early and finishing with five points on 2/7 shooting. Spike Albrecht added three assists in 14 minutes and didn't record a stat otherwise; Max Bielfeldt contributed a late banked-in three.
Most importantly, the rotation sans-McGary has begun to take shape. Once again, the starters were Walton-LeVert-Stauskas-Robinson-Horford; Irvin was the first man off the bench when Robinson picked up an early foul. Albrecht and Morgan were the next two off the bench, coming in after the first media timeout. Nobody else saw the floor until Bielfeldt came in with just over four minutes remaining, quickly followed by the four walk-ons—if Bielfeldt is holding on to a spot in the rotation, it's by a thread.
It's early and Michigan hasn't played a team capable of posing a real threat; so far, however, it looks like the team's two hyped-up lottery picks may be the #3 and #4 offensive options, and that's quite a remarkable development.
|WHAT||South Carolina State at Michigan|
|WHERE||Crisler Center, Ann Arbor, Michigan|
|WHEN||7 pm Eastern, Tuesday|
|LINE||Michigan –28 (Kenpom)|
|TV||BTDN/MGoBlue (subscription required)|
Right: This "paws-a-tively charming" plush Bulldog mascot is available for the low, low price of $24.00!
South Carolina State went 6-24 (2-14 MEAC) last year with wins over Claflin, Webber*, NJIT**, Jacksonville, North Carolina A&T, and Delaware State. Just one SCSU player finished the season with an offensive rating above 100: 6'11" preseason All-MEAC center Matthew Hezekiah, the one player who can give Michigan anything resembling a matchup problem.
Thus far this year, the Bulldogs lost by 16 on the road to #214 Marshall and required overtime to defeat NAIA St. Andrews Presbyterian by four points. SCSU is currently ranked #340 on KenPom out of 351 teams, 16 spots worse than season-opening (and Division I debuting) opponent UMass Lowell.
THE THINGS I'D LIKE TO SEE
Finish, big man. Jon Horford hauled in five offensive rebounds against UMass Lowell; while that part was good, his finishing was not, as he went 2-8 from the field, most of those simple putbacks. Everyone has their off-nights, and Horford did hit a nice fallaway jumper; it'd be encouraging if he'd connect more often around the basket, though, and Hezekiah will provide a decent test for him.
Start settling on a rotation. Michigan was tied at the half against Lowell in large part due to some lineup experimentation by John Beilein that didn't work out too well. At this point, I think it's safe to phase out the two bigs stuff until Mitch McGary is healthy—even then, I have my questions about its potential efficacy. Normally I'd say it's early in the season to start cutting down on the rotation, but a trip to Iowa State looms on Sunday. Even in the case of a blowout, I'd like to see Michigan start settling into a groove with their substitution patterns.
Establish the pick-and-roll early. The other big factors in Michigan's early struggles during the opener were a lack of proper spacing and poor execution on the pick-and-roll. They got it going in the second half, especially with LeVert and Stauskas handling the ball; I'd still like to see it more—guarding 6'6" guys who can handle the rock, finish at the rim, and shoot from deep is pretty difficult when they're properly utilizing picks.
Keep using GRIII as a post threat. Glenn Robinson III posted up a few times against Lowell, something we didn't see at all from him last year; while he didn't get field goals out of these, he got to the free-throw line multiple times. With his added bulk and athletic mismatch against just about anyone who's going to guard him, it's worth testing out if he's got enough of a back-to-the-basket game to at least take advantage when he's being guarded by smaller players.
THE SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES
Michigan by 28
UMHoops preview with more info on the Bulldogs. Mitch McGary progressing, doing more in practice, "looks very good," and... still no timetable for his return. (Despite that last bit, that's pretty encouraging.)
According to U-M Media Relations, the captains this year are Jon Horford, Jordan Morgan, and Glenn Robinson III. It's just the ninth time in program history that they've had three or more captains, and Robinson is only the fourth sophomore to earn the distinction.
In another release, the department announced that Robinson and McGary are two of the 50 players on the preseason Wooden Award watch list.
*I'm going to assume they played a 40-year-old Chris Webber five-on-one and still gave up 66 points. Please don't correct me on this.
**NJIT avenged this defeat just six days later in a rare non-conference home-and-home and won on aggregate.