11/18/2017 – Michigan 10, Wisconsin 24 – 8-3, 5-3 Big Ten
In the aftermath of a good thing that turned bad, or vice-versa, there's always the attempt to say This Was The Moment. Most of the time this is just ad-hoc narrative placement; obligatory XKCD link goes here. Not so Saturday. Anyone attempting to slap a big ol' narrative on Michigan-Wisconsin couldn't help but land on Brandon Peters lying on the turf, and the team-wide deflation that took place immediately afterwards. And... yessir. You are correct.
Wisconsin's offense had just emerged from a deep and restful slumber to go up 14-10 thanks to consecutive third and long conversions, one a 51-yard slot fade at a guy who was Not Lavert Hill, the other a slick double post route that Alex Hornibrook executed on. Before that the Wisconsin offense looked like any other Big Ten outfit beset with a quarterback trying to find out how many limbs he had. The Badgers had eight drives; they had four first downs*.
Maybe if Michigan was still up because the replay official was any average person on the internet capable of deciphering a still frame...
...or a two-hand shove in the back to Ambry Thomas was called on a freak punt return TD, the defense would have held together better. As it was, being down four points with the dead certainty in your heart that you will not score is an invitation to crack. We saw that many times under Brady Hoke, the valiant three quarters undone by an exhausted and spiritless fourth. That and a quarterback assaulted to the point where he could not continue.
Michigan's not real good this year for a variety of reasons. Foremost amongst them is pass protection even Devin Gardner thinks is bad. Michigan is down two quarterbacks headed into the Ohio State game, which is bad even for a program that can't get their QB to the final week without some Spinal Tap drummer business befalling him. This is the original sin of the Michigan offense.
Some of the things that happen are relatively explicable: freshman Cesar Ruiz screws up in his first start; Mason Cole occasionally proves he's not an NFL left tackle; a running back gets run over. What takes Michigan from mediocre to awful is the inexplicable stuff.
Michigan's pass protection has often been absurd this year, what with gentlemen going entirely unblocked on any sort of stunt, or not-stunt. This reached its apex on third and six in the first half when Garrett Dooley, an outside linebacker who entered the game with a team-leading 6.5 sacks, lined up clearly intending to rush and ran directly at Brandon Peters for a thunder-sack. Juwann Bushell-Beatty was the nearest OL; he was blocking another dude. Cesar Ruiz, a gap further inside, also had a rusher. Chris Evans went in a route immediately. Patrick Kugler ended up blocking nobody.
There were two other instances of horrendous pass protection that saw Michigan fail to handle a stunt. On one Karan Higdon chopped a guy ably; Kugler left his man to also block that guy. That resulted in a chop-block call. Meanwhile, Kugler's guy ran up the middle and sacked Peters. The Peters injury was another stunt on which Kugler was the most obvious culprit.
Kugler might be a major issue. That's certainly the nicest way to interpret Michigan's pass protection issues since he's gone next year, and anything that's the nicest way to think about a problem should be interrogated thoroughly. But I don't remember things like this happening last year, when Mason Cole was at center. Kugler hasn't been physically overmatched—he generally grades out okay to well in UFR—so the most obvious reason he hasn't been able to get on the field until year five is an inability hack it mentally. I wonder if Michigan would stick with Cole at center and whatever may come at tackle if they had a do-over.
Probably not if the second best tackle on the roster is then Nolan Ulizio.
There are two ways to proceed from here. One is to point out the colossal failure of Brady Hoke's offensive line recruiting and the Grant Newsome injury, which is currently in its second year. Michigan had barely enough dudes to field a good OL and a cliff after, and then the least replaceable guy went out, etc.
The other is to point at a fifth-year senior at center who's organizing one of America's very worst pass protection units and wonder why Tim Drevno and company couldn't field, like, the #80 pass pro unit with a bunch of highly touted four stars. This line of questioning will pause briefly to note the total lack of tackles in the 2015 class after Swenson was booted and Hamilton flipped to Stanford. It will also cherry-pick random freshmen or backups from the history of college football who weren't total disasters.
The latter take is way more likely to @ you, or call a radio station to declare something UNACCEPTABLE, but it's correct. (Ish.) So is the calmer take. Both are correct except insofar as they ignore the correctness of the other half of the equation. Michigan was unprepared to block this season, and that's because they aren't the kind of program that just reloads everywhere. Part of that is having your six-man class of would-be redshirt seniors whittled down to one guy who might not be very good, and part of that is that Michigan's reloading with Rashan Gary on defense and Nolan Ulizio on offense.
We'll see what happens next year. I don't have enough information to start yelling about it. I do have enough to approach the game this weekend with zero expectations other than pain. That's all too familiar, but whatever.
*[I am counting the drive right before the half since it started with 2:20 on the clock.]
Known Friends And Trusted Agents Of The Week
you're the man now, dog
#1 Mo Hurst. I am pretty sure that the long run was on the other DT, not Hurst, which means that Hurst was a major force in the middle without much to blame as Michigan throttled the Wisconsin offense almost wholly until a late fade.
#2(T) Chase Winovich and Rashan Gary. See above: Gary was regularly tackled by his opponent but still got drive and sent backs elsewhere; Winovich had two TFLs against a Wisconsin O that rarely gives them up. This is a point split here because I want it to be. The points are made up and don't matter.
#3 Donovan Peoples-Jones. Four catches for 64 yards and one should-have-been touchdown on which he did (barely) get his left foot down first. Translating from Michigan offense to normal offense, that's approximately 300 yards and six touchdowns.
Honorable mention: Devin Bush had a Default Hornibrook Interception; though Aubrey Solomon had a solid day early but may have faded late. Long and Watson were all over the UW receivers; Metellus and Kinnel both got called for some garbage PI calls but were in excellent coverage otherwise.
8: Devin Bush (#1 Florida, T2 Cincinnati, T2 Air Force, #1 Purdue), Mo Hurst (#1 MSU, #2(T), Indiana, #1 Wisconsin).
7: Karan Higdon (#1 Indiana, #2 PSU, T2 Minnesota).
6: Mason Cole (#1 Cincinnati, T2 Rutgers, T3 Minnesota), Chase Winovich(#1 Air Force, #2a Purdue, T2 Wisconsin), Rashan Gary(T2 Indiana, #1 Rutgers, T2 Wisconsin).
5: Khaleke Hudson (T2 Cincinnati, #3 PSU, #1 Minnesota), David Long (T3 Indiana, #1 PSU, #3 Maryland)
4: Chris Evans(T2 Minnesota, #2 Maryland).
3: Ty Isaac (#2, Florida, #3 Cincinnati), Lavert Hill(#2 MSU, T3 Indiana)), Josh Metellus (#1 Maryland).
2: Quinn Nordin (#3 Florida, #3 Air Force), John O'Korn (#2 Purdue), Sean McKeon(T3 Purdue, #3 Rutgers), Mike Onwenu(T2 Rutgers),
1: Tyree Kinnel (T2 Cincinnati), Mike McCray(T2 Air Force), Zach Gentry (T3 Purdue), Brad Robbins(#3 MSU), Brandon Watson (T3 Indiana), Ben Bredeson(T3 Minnesota), Donovan Peoples-Jones (#3 Wisconsin).
Who's Got It Better Than Us Of The Week
Quinn Nordin hits a field goal to put Michigan up 10-7, which momentarily feels like enough.
Honorable mention: Michigan scores a touchdown!
MARCUS HALL EPIC DOUBLE BIRD OF THE WEEK.
10-7 turns to not be enough as Jaylen Kelly-Powell is torched on a slot fade that Hornibrook slots in there. Major question why JKP was deployed there since that coverage instance was far worse than any slot fade the safeties had dealt with this year.
Honorable mention: Brandon Peters is blasted out of the game. Brandon Peters is blasted earlier.
[After THE JUMP: eat at Arby's]