MGoAwComeOn: Would you rather me ask it now or later.
“You’re going to ask it one way or another, so ... shoot the moon.”
MGoQuestion: That play where the tight end blocks down and the two linemen pull and go outside of him. What’s that play called?
“… Oh. It’s just a horn scheme. Down and around type deal.”
MGoFollowup: Is there an advantage to doing that vs. running a zone stretch?
“Um, yeah, it’s just two different looks to give the defense based on how they’re playing, you know. They could be playing one style, and that’s a better way to block it. A lot of it is personnel, too. How well does your tight end handle the down blocks? If they’re playing another scheme you’re better off zoning. You really -- I’ve learned over the years you kind of have to have both. We have both. We have the ability ability to do both. In certain games one’s more prominent than the other.”
MGoThankYouThatWasAGreatAnswerBrianWillBePleasedButHereIsOneMore: Who would you say is your best blocker at tight end?
“I think they’re all pretty good at this point. I think Devin Funchess has improved the most. I don’t have any reservations about doing it with any of them. Now to be honest with you, that was a concern at the beginning, but I don’t know if I’d favor one over the other at this point.”
I don’t wear them every day. Yours look good though.
“You’re losing the effect. I’ve gone to all glasses. People started to think I was dumb. Now they just think I’m dumb with glasses.
"All right, you guys. Let’s have it.”
Were you surprised by how Purdue defended you?
“They played a little more 3-4 than I thought. They had -- it’s not like we didn’t prepare for it, but there was a little more 30 front than we thought, but the back end was kind of as we anticipated. There’s always a little nuance to handle Denard, the kind that guys borrow from other teams they watch on tape they think they might have had some success playing Denard, so they take pieces of that, and if they think it fits their team.”
Did you feel like they were trying to take away Fitz?
“Oh no doubt. If you watch the tape, they were following Fitz all over the field. Fitz had very good running opportunities on 17 carries. I went over the whole tape. It was the good news and the bad news though. We pulled a couple zone reads when they were all over Fitz, and Denard was wide open down field. It wasn’t like it was bad. It just didn’t make Fitz’s numbers look very good, but he helped us win the game, you know, kind of like a guy that has a sacrifice bunt. Helps you win the game. That was kind of the way they decided to defend us.”
“Kindergarten is wonderful. Every day is just a new experience. It’s awesome.”
Think you’re going to pass?
“I already passed.”
Word of the day?
“I don’t know. I didn’t get one. I’ve been kind of -- no I didn’t get one. I’ll get you one next week.”
Not an easy loss to sit on for two weeks. Did you work on rebuilding Denard’s confidence over the bye?
“Yeah. I think to a degree. I don’t think his confidence is waning too much, though. The biggest thing about that situation is getting back to some of the basics of reading the defense and making good decisions and things like that. I think that’s really the biggest factor. A couple footwork issues that hadn’t shown up until that game too much. … The good thing about two weeks is you get a chance to really evaluate everything you’re doing, and that’s what we’ve kind of done is look at how we’ve played, you know, on the road particularly because we haven’t played well on the road, but overall just see what the structure of the offense is and get back to sending a message and knowing that we’ve got to play better in those scenarios.”
Is there a common thread with the road games and offensive inefficiency?
“I don’t know. Not any more than any place else I’ve been, I guess. It’s harder to play on the road. It’s always an issue, but you can’t always use that as an excuse because good teams win on the road. I mean the biggest issue, we had some breakdowns, but we just can’t turn the ball over. That’s the biggest -- you hear it every week and it sounds like coach speak but it’s so true. When you turn the ball over as many times we turned the ball over you have no chance. We were fortunate it was as close as it was.”
“You’re not even going to ask me about my daughter first?”
MGoOfCourse: HOW'S KINDERGARTEN?
“She learned about caterpillars. And you know what the word of the day is? Metamorphosis.”
They haven’t gotten to bubble screens in kindergarten yet? [Ed: This was not me.]
“Psh. Bubble screens. No. They blow bubbles.”
Are you expecting a metamorphosis from last year’s performance against Notre Dame?
“I’m hoping it’s better than that. Holy smokes that was just awful.”
What didn’t go right early last year that all of a sudden clicked in the fourth quarter?
“Well we completed some passes. That’s the thing, when people are crowding the line of scrimmage like that, kind of forcing the issue. They were keenly aware of what Denard had done the year before. They restructured their defense to kind of stop him and force the issue with the passing game. We just weren’t early on completing many. We made a couple adjustments at halftime with the run game, and it helped us a little bit, but they played good, too. They came out ready to play and, you know, we were still so unpolished at that time -- not that we’re real polished now, but we did not play well at all and they played well.”
Your daughter started school last week. How was that?
“It’s awesome. The teacher wants to take her home. [My daughter] is so cool, she’s great. She thinks she’s pretty cool, too. She talks a lot. She talks like four times more than my son. So she’s good at talking because she practices so much more, you know. And then I get home, she’s usually in bed, but if she’s up, she’s got so many things to tell me.”
So she takes after you.
“Yeah. A little bit. I’m going to start giving her like a word a day. ‘Condescending.’ ‘Exasperate.’ Stuff like that, you know. She’ll floor her kindergarten teacher if she throws that one in, if I can get her to say it in context. Pretty cool. What are you guys laughing about? There’s nothing wrong with that. My dad did that. My dad used to all the time give me a word a day.”
You never use those words in your press conferences.
“Oh no. Never. No. Sometimes I do. Okay.”
Did anything exasperate you Saturday?
“Uh, no, not really. Not too much. Not too much. It was -- other than not getting the ball to Fitz. We wanted to get Fitz off a little more. Obviously that didn’t work out real good, but we knew going into the game that they were going to have trouble with Denard because the speed factor in the secondary. We wanted to get our athletes out in space. He’s as athletic as anybody we have. That was an emphasis in this game, and we kind of accomplished that, so the next day what we have to do is we have to get our tailback more involved, working our tails off to devise a plan to do just that.”
MGoQuestion: If you had to play Alabama again, what parts of the game plan would you keep that worked well Saturday? What parts would you want to change?
“Very little would I change. Very little. Almost none. But that’s probably harder to grasp because of the way we executed. The game plan didn’t look very effective, but the whole thing was geared to if they loaded the box up, we were going to throw the ball. If they left the box light, we were going to run it. We ran the ball into a light box 12 times and had plus-four runs three times out of the 12. And we hit two out of 10 shots down the field. So the other alternative is to plus-one run with the quarterback. We did some of that, too, but they weren’t going to let you do that. As much as you wanted to give that a shot, that wasn’t going to happen. No one’s done that to them. Look at the numbers in the past. No one’s done that to them.”
(After the jump, Borges answers questions about Denard, Denard, Devin, Denard, and Air Force but does not answer a question about bubble screens.)
So I've spent a lot of time thinking about this, and have concluded that Michigan's biggest tactical error on Saturday night was not leaving Jerryworld ten minutes into the first quarter and wandering around Dallas until they'd had enough random encounters to go up several levels. Once Michigan had unlocked special abilities like Mystic Separation and acquired the Arm Of Elway, they could have returned to the field and resumed playing on a more even basis.
While this would take about three years and pose several logistical difficulties, there can be no debate this would have been a preferable to the solution Michigan's dunderheaded coaches decided on, viz., not running away at top speed apologizing profusely. By not fleeing to practice their skills on, like, bats and stuff, they ended up losing the game.
Worse, they ended up continuing the game, thus forcing a great many people to watch it. At no point did Al Borges deploy the EMP weapon he must have spent the offseason perfecting in lieu of figuring out what Denard Robinson is good at. So the broadcast continued unabated, except apparently in DC where DirecTV was on the fritz. (Wolverines in our nation's capitol: keep yourselves quarantined. You may be all that's left of us once the PTSD kicks in. You must continue to tell others of our sacrifice.)
As mentioned, a better strategy would have been to exit at top speed while splicing K-Pop videos into the feed.
One of 67,200,113 things that would have been preferable to watching football on Saturday night
But hey, I'm just a guy on the internet. Maybe I haven't thought this through. There are multiple strategies for successfully executing a game like Saturday's.
INVENT A TIME MACHINE. The classic. Go back to the point at which this game was agreed upon and describe to the decision-makers what the consequences will be. Unfortunately, in this case the only part of "nationally televised debacle on par with Chernobyl" that will be heard is "nationally televised," and nothing will change.
DRINK! Not working.
DRINK MORE! Nerft veruking erngerghf.
AFTER IT'S OVER, TELL PEOPLE YOU SUCK AND WILL PUT MORE SUGAR IN YOUR SAUCE. I'm not sure what the analog of putting more sugar in your sauce is but it's probably putting more MAN in your BALL down BY THE RIVER. This move was successfully executed by the guy who replaced the guy who only hears "nationally televised" at his old job and may be replicated here once the guy who only hears "nationally televised" has been safely quarantined in a relatively meaningless BS government job like governor.
Sorry, world, that you think we suck. We're going to try not to suck any more, and look, here's some guy who works for us. Very middle America, this guy. Puts garlic on the uniforms. How cool is that?
GO LIMP. Jesse Williams may believe you are rotten and wander off in search of salmon.
GIVE THE BALL TO A 5'8" SLOW GUY OVER AND OVER. Scratch this one.
The weird thing about doing this and being this age is that you feel stuck. I did not know I was doing this when I started doing it and have felt grateful for my continued obsession it as various other people ranging from 30-50 have reported back on their waning interest in Michigan football, previously their alpha and omega. There's nothing sadder than the thing you used to think is amazing.
What I felt on Saturday was an intense jealousy of Orson/Spencer, who had a child a couple years back and is having another one. We're getting there, but not quite yet due to PhD things. It would have been nice to have a child to look at halfway through the second quarter and know with 100% certainty that what I was looking at was just a game that did not really matter.
I know this, or at least knew it. (I do not know this and never knew it even a tiny bit.) Now that the career is the game it is hard to figure out what's a reasonable response from a human, what's my response, and what's my response augmented by the fact that I've doubled down on fandom. All of it seems out whack, and never more so than on Saturday when a guy I've met a half-dozen times now, mostly at NYC Alumni Club events, was there. He's one of those magical guys who somehow makes a career out of writing stuff for Spin and the NYT Magazine and magazines that start "New York" and may or may not have additional bits in their name. He's been pitching an article about me at these organizations. He was taking notes.
At halftime I bellowed "THAT'S BECAUSE YOU'RE NOT RUNNING DENAAAAARD" at the television. I knew that this was probably not wise with a man taking notes in the room, but only after I did it. There it was anyway. I'd already spent the entire first quarter telling myself not to say anything on twitter until the die had truly been cast.
So, I feel stuck, you know? I'm 33 now, the age when Jim McManus had his Age of Miracles and went to the World Series of Poker to write about it for Harper's, married and not disjointed and blessed by the cosmos. It's a hell of a football game to watch that makes you wish this stuff didn't have such a hold on you, but the first time I looked at the clock and boggled at how much time was left was in the first quarter.
It'll pass, I'm sure. It's just a hell of a football game to do that do you, to leave you blank and unthinking until you laugh in a way that frightens even you.
Bullets we need for this post so you can't use them, find others
The takeaway. DENNIS NORFLEET WOOOOOOOOOOO. He looked fast! And returned some kicks a moderate distance! And got lit up by Dee Hart! And Fred Jackson doesn't think he can play!
Some other stuff that's not about Norfleet for some stupid reason follows.
Obligatory uniform opinion. Highlighter yellow emphatically not getting fixed, so the shoulder things combine with the pants to give off a blinding aura. If that was the goal—maybe Alabama won't even be able to look at us!—okay. I'm guessing it's not. Meanwhile, Alabama just wears their uniforms because they're Alabama. Their brand seems to be surviving.
Blown out. I debated just posting the Hoke presser and saying "Hoke's voice is all you need to know about this game."
Obligatory Borges stuff. Guh. The best thing you can say is that once you're down 31-0 you might as well get out of there without getting anyone hurt. When the opponents are saying stuff like this…
“I thought with the running back being out, I thought (Robinson) would’ve got more touches, because he’s a playmaker, he’s a good athlete, good player,” said Alabama linebacker Nico Johnson. “And I don’t know, it was a shock.”
…you totally outsmarted them. And yourself. Mostly yourself. Any hopes you may be harboring that this will all work itself out and Denard's legs will be the primary engine of the offense are looking pretty sickly at the moment. At least we've been here before, and Borges has retreated to plot anew. Usually he comes back with "hey, this guy can run."
The only rationale I can think of that makes any sense is that Borges believed flat-out that Michigan could not run at all and wanted an offense predicated on that. I don't know how much I buy that given Alabama replacing a number of starters and football coaches' general self-belief, but the numbers are clear. From Bill Connolly:
In 2011, Michigan ran the ball 74 percent of the time on standard downs (national average: 60 percent), 40 percent on passing downs (national average: 33 percent). Despite pro-style intentions, the Wolverines catered to Denard Robinson's strengths for the most part and kept things run-heavy, especially when Toussaint caught fire late in the year.
Against Alabama on Saturday, though, the gameplan was quite different. In the first quarter, Michigan ran just five times on 11 standard downs (45 percent) and just once in six passing downs (17 percent). These are Air Raid percentages.
If Robinson has 30 carries against Air Force I'll again descend into the Walter White laugh. (Spoilers, obviously.)
Would have been nice to see what Robinson could have become in an offense that catered to—or even bothered to use—his primary skill. (Everything else would have been terrible, of course.)
Yeah, yeah, Robinson had reads and could have kept the ball blah blah. Planning to get Robinson carries when Alabama's defense decides not to put a guy on him on the read option is not a winning strategy.
Gardner WR stuff. Gardner probably took more snaps at WR than anyone else and looked like a 6'4" version of Darryl Stonum from 2008. He consistently looked over the wrong shoulder on deep stuff and his routes were crap. But he scored a touchdown and could have had a couple more long gainers if he wasn't going up against yet another Alabama cornerback from hell. Gardner didn't get an opportunity to catch that opening slant thanks to that Milliner kid and had a few more potential long completions broken up by the Alabama secondary. Milliner raked one out; a few others never got there.
Roundtree. The first interception was debatably interference as Milliner shoved Roundtree to the ground on his route. Penalty or not, that sequence should make Roundtree's shortcomings as an outside receiver clear. He is not big enough, strong enough, or athletic enough to compete with standout corners. His assets are about as wasted as Denard's, though at least in Roundtree's case it's clear he's on the outside because of a lack of other options.
The ground game. Hard to get a grasp on anything, obviously. Michigan was overwhelmed; Toussaint would not have done much better. Aside from one Vincent Smith run that Alabama lost contain on, Michigan got jack on the ground. I can ask questions all day: why was Rawls going east-west? Why was misdirection hardly attempted? Did Michigan come into the game with more than one running play?
It doesn't really matter.
Bubble screens. They existed, and they got eight yards each, and they were Michigan's best plays that weren't chucking it deep. Gallon looked very good on both; there's no reason not to keep going to it when the defense is giving it to you.
In case of Lewan emergency. Move Schofield to left tackle (where he was pwned on his first play), Omameh to right tackle, and bring in Burzynski at right guard. In case of Lewan emergency, we are dead dead dead dead dead dead.
Defense. Ask again later. I stopped paying close enough attention to tell you anything interesting after the first quarter.
The Countess injury is of course a major blow; with Talbott out the door earlier their CB depth has gone from excellent to shaky before game two. Webb says($) expect Raymon Taylor to pick up the slack. The line was always going to get pounded. Somewhat disconcerting to see a lot of James Ross out there unless Michigan had also just packed it in and was screwing around with getting some experience.
Freshmen. Maize and Blue News has a comprehensive recap. Other than Ross (and NORFLEET) the most prominent freshman contributor was Jarrod Wilson, who stepped in as the free safety in the nickel package as Michigan moved Thomas Gordon down to nickel. Pipkins looked like he got some push on a few plays, too.
We did not see much from Chesson and Darboh, but if Roundtree keeps playing like he is that won't last.
Your winner for dumbest burned redshirt: Royce Jenkins-Stone.
Well, at least this isn't particularly unusual. Various recent Alabama scores:
2011 Citrus Bowl: Alabama 49, MSU 7
2011 Arkansas: 38-14
2011 Florida: 38-10
2011 Tennessee: 37-6
2011 Auburn: 42-14
National title game: 21-0 over LSU, LSU never crosses midfield.
Other than Georgia Southern, no team has put up more than 14 points on Michigan since Cam Newton's Auburn outfit.
Morgan had 8 tackles, but they were all assisted tackles, which epitomizes the game. In all of the one-on-one matchups, we lost. Bama was just more “-er” than us, bigger, stronger, faster, tougher. I avoided watching Bama last season because I hate that “ESS EEE SEE” crap, but there’s no denying how good they are.
I turned off the TV after Bellamy's first career pass attempt/interception and made my way quietly upstairs to bed. The rest of the family (wife, 5yo son, 1yo daughter) had long since decided that a good night's sleep was a better option than watching Michigan get smeared across the turf in Texas. I didn't feel any bitter emotions really, mostly concern for the collective knees of Taylor Lewan, Blake Countess, and Brandon Moore. I guess the Rich Rod years knocked all of the conceited sense of entitlement out of me for real.
Hinton is gloriously reborn and his article is mostly about Alabama, because obviously. The bit on Denard:
That said, Denard Robinson did not look like a quarterback on the verge of turning the corner as a passer. On one level, it's hard to judge a guy who's being consistently hit and hurried by a defense as relentless as Alabama's, which seems to have an answer for everything on almost every play. But Robinson was well below the Mendoza line tonight in terms of completion percentage (11 of 26), and his two interceptions in the first half were about as ugly – and as costly – as they come.
The first he simply put up for grabs, recklessly lobbing a jump ball in the direction of a receiver who had already been shoved off of his feet and out of bounds by Tide corner Dee Milliner, who found himself all alone to gather in the pick; Eddie Lacy scored three plays, extending 'Bama's lead to 21-0. On the second, Robinson stepped up in the pocket and drilled the ball directly into the chest of linebacker C.J. Mosley, who jogged in for an icing score that pushed the lead to 31-0. In both cases, Robinson had no idea what he was seeing when he put the ball in the air, and seemed more interested in getting rid of it under pressure for the sake of getting rid of, whatever the cost on the other end. Michigan fans have seen that before; all indications tonight are that they'll be seeing it again.
In the second quarter, with Michigan trailing 24-0 and backed up inside their 10-yard line, Kirk Herbstreit was talking about Michigan's non-existant running game. The camera panned up to Al Borges in the coordinator's booth. After relaying the upcoming 3rd down play, Borges shook his head in disbelief and rubbed his face. It was the unmistakeable look of someone who had run out of answers, like working your way through a maze and finding only brick walls.
Al Borges deserves some blame, but not much. Michigan wasn't going to be able to run the ball in this game. I predicted that Michigan would rush for fewer than 100 yards; the final tally was 69, despite having one of the most electrifying players in the country at quarterback. Yes, Denard Robinson probably could have run the ball more, especially before he got dinged up. Would it have made much of a difference? Probably not. Where Robinson really could have made a difference was in the passing game. He had lots of open receivers early in the game, but he's just as erratic as ever in the passing game. He kept throwing deep (inaccurately), and completed just 11/26 passes. The offensive line did a decent job of pass blocking, but if Michigan has to rely on Robinson to win the game with his arm, they're going to struggle.
Erratic, maybe, but I saw a lot of accurate-enough passes that would have been complete if not for Dee Milliner and other members of the Alabama secondary.
The number one question about last year's offense was how much it would play to Denard's strengths and how much it would settle into Borges's comfort zone. The answer was mostly the former. While the first real test against Notre Dame was a rocky one and Michigan's under-center experiment against Iowa—against a Hawkeye defense that had just been plowed for a game-winning touchdown by Minnesota—was an outright disaster, those were outliers in a season that saw Michigan hardly budge from its shotgun-oriented ways under Rodriguez. The Sugar Bowl was a big fat raspberry at the end of things, granted.
What they ran from the shotgun was a lot different, but when it came down to the most important game in Brady Hoke's career to date—Ohio State—Michigan's primary gambit was the single most prominent spread play in the game today: the inverted veer, which marries power blocking to spread principles and gets you a lot of carries where Denard is charging hard upfield. The result was 170 rushing yards, a 167 yard, 14/17, 3 TD, 0 INT day passing, and 40 points against Oho State.
That seemed to work pretty well, right?
This blog tracked Michigan's success in various formations all year, and it wasn't even a debate except when the opposing defense was entirely theoretical (think EMU). Against mediocre defenses, the shotgun was far superior. Against good defenses, the shotgun was far superior. Various examples:
Michigan averaged 10.6 YPC from the gun against WMU, 6.8 from under center. (Note that all these numbers excise goal line and short yardage carries as distorting.)
It was 5.8 gun, 3.9 under center against Illinois, and before two garbage-time runs from Toussaint Michigan had –1 yards on 8 carries from under center. The blocking on those wasn't even good: "On the first he cut to the backside of the play on a power, which rarely goes well; on the second he had to dodge three tacklers on the backfield on an iso and bounce all the way to the sideline before finding open grass."
You get the idea. For the season Michigan averaged 3.9 YPC from the I and 6.7 from the gun. While ace (not that Ace) actually bested the gun's performance at 7.4 YPC, less than ten percent of Michigan's snaps were from that formation and they were heavily biased against good Ds—no ace snaps against ND or MSU, big chunks against Purdue and Iowa. One 59-yard Fitz run against Purdue explains most of that number, and that was some pretty inexcusable D combined with Fitz being awesome.
Three defenders to the left of center vs four blockers plus a FB = 8 yards
…or the tailback making chicken salad out of chicken despair, as in the clips from the Illinois game above.
SHOTGUN SHOTGUN SHOTGUN SHOTGUN SHOTGUNNNNNNNNN. Consider the line: Lewan, Mealer/Kalis, Barnum, Omameh, Schofield—all Rodriguez recruits who can move save the LG. Consider the QB: Denard. Consider the RB: Fitz Toussaint, space jitterbug. Consider the TEs: 404 file not found. Consider the FB: Stephen Hopkins, a guy who can reprise some of the MINOR RAGE if attention is drawn away from him and he's free to run straight at one guy. You've even got leftover RR slots in the WR corps. Just let it ride, man.
Next year is the year you flip over to your multiple pro-style whipsaw offense, next year when Denard is gone and maybe Toussaint heads for the draft and Kalis/Miller/Bryant is your road-grading interior OL and you've got TE depth and a panoply of different rushers for different situations. This year, stick with it and refine what works.
The spring game, which was almost all RR-at-WVU déjà vu 3WR 2RB shotgun set, indicates that's what the coaching staff thinks, too, as does the buzz I've gotten from The Fort. Now about using it a little more smoothly.
[after the JUMP: Borges fusion cuisine, yet more on DG at WR, stupid predictions.]
“That’s injury information that’s not my area. Thomas Rawls is fine. That’s all that matters.”
How much are you emphasizing to the rest of the offense that they need to take the pressure off Denard so that the offense can succeed?
“Well, we don’t really put it that way. But that’s kind of the effect of how we approach it, is that when we came here, it became real apparent that he was the centerpiece of the offense, but we didn’t want 90 percent of the offense based on his production for obvious reasons because if you lose him you lose too much. We’ve been sending out the message since we got here is that we have to have other people involved, with our run game, our pass game, all that. I think we did a pretty good job of doing that. I hope like heck we can do the same thing this year. Yet at the end of the day, we don’t want to lose sight of the fact that he is the centerpiece of the offense. When push comes to shove he’s going to play a big part in whether we win or lose.”
How are you feeling about things now compared to the beginning of camp?
“Better. I think we have a little bit of feel, we’re getting a little bit of rhythm on occasion, but we still need a little more practice. We’re not there, but we feel better. I mean the thing about offense and defense is once you narrow down your field of players and you start working with them rather than work with the whole team, which you’re doing kind of for two weeks, the execution gets better. I mean that’s been the case, and that’s why spring football is hard, because you never really do that, you know. In the fall you narrow down your field of players and they start doing better.”
What exactly is the criteria for being there?
“I’ll tell you after the game whether we were there or not. The reason -- and I’m not being sarcastic -- but sometimes you think you’re there and you find out whether you were or not. You can go through a very good practice where there are very few errors and then all of a sudden the pressure of the game gets to some kids, particularly the ones who have never played before that don’t have a start. You realize that you weren’t quite as prepared as you thought you were. But all you do is the best you can to get those kids in as many scenarios that will make them react well and hope like heck they do. But there is no way to really know.”
[After THE JUMP, offensive line, freshmen freshmen everywhere, and Borges comes perilously close to admitting slot backs exist]