I, for the most part, kept my comments to meaningless snark this past week, as I don't think I'm close enough to the situation to weigh in on Brandon, his handling of the athletic department, or concussion-gate. I do know enough about football; however, to blame the coaching staff for costing Team 135 three victories so far this season.
#1 - A stubborn refusal to embrace modern punting strategy and failure to count players on the punt team leads to a Utah punt return touchdown. Emboldened, Utah rose to the occasion and played significantly better in the second half. It's worth remembering that Michigan outgained Utah 308 yards to 286 yards. That was a winnable game.
#2 - Brady Hoke makes the decision to start Shane Morris over Devin Gardner, and stays with him long after it is obvious that playing Gardner gives the team the best chance to win. After leading Michigan on their lone first half scoring drive, De'Veon Smith gets one carry in the 2nd half.
#3 - Michigan calls for a hurry-up quarterback sneak with 2 minutes and 24 seconds left in the first half. At the time, Rutgers only had one timeout left. Michigan fails to score on the play, but does so on the next play. The additional 20 seconds Michigan could have run off the clock provides Rutgers enough time to score a touchdown instead of a field goal on their next possession. Michigan loses by 2 points.
So that's three very different aspects of the game - special teams strategy, personnel decisions, and clock management. This coaching staff made egregious errors in all three.
Boxscore link: http://www.mgoblue.com/sports/m-footbl/stats/100414aaa.html
Burst of Impetus
* I don't know. It was back and forth and for awhile it seemed like neither team wanted to win. The only time we stopped Rutgers on defense was when their receiver would drop a pass. They even failed to block Frank Clark on a blitz up the middle, but he failed to wrap up the QB, allowing the TD at the end of the half. Rutgers called a ridiculous fake punt on 4th and 10 and gave us the ball back in great field position. Michigan went in to score a TD, but called an equally ridiculous hurry up QB sneak to leave Rutgers with enough time to score at the end of the half.
"What kind of throw was that?"
* I think if Gardner had started against Minnesota and played to this level, we would have won. He was 13 for 22 for 178 yards. He distributed the ball to 7 different receivers. The one critical error he made is one he has made throughout his career. Rutgers blitzed, leaving Gardner little time to find an open receiver. He avoided the rush, but instead of tossing the ball forward to Hayes, who could have easily scampered for a first down, Gardner lofted the ball downfield. The Rutgers defender could have called for a fair catch as he waited for it to gently flutter down into his open arms. Funchess was a good 5-10 yards away from the play.
"That doesn't help at all."
* Calling for a hurry-up, when that is exactly what Rutgers wants you to do. When the other team is happy you did something, that's usually a bad sign.
1A and 1B
* Derrick Green re-stated his case for being the feature back, as he carried 12 times for 74 yards. Your lead back averaged 6.2 yards per carry and he got 12 carries. The running game looked better, especially in the fourth quarter. We have got to figure out some way to get our lead running back more carries. Part of that is figuring out how to get the defense off the field. Rutgers was 8 for 16 on third down.
* Michigan rushed for 158 yards to Rutgers' 74. I don't want to hear anymore criticisms of the offensive line, unless they deserve it. They played well enough to win the game. The defensive backs played poorly enough to lose three games. Yes, Rutgers sacked Gardner three times, but we sacked Nova twice. Sacks happen. That's football.
* We only gave up 5 TFLs, while TFL'ing Rutgers 8 times. The story of the game is not our offensive line troubles. It is our defense giving up passing plays of 26, 53, 26, 14, 12, 80, 33, and 16 yards. Those are just the long receptions for eight different Rutgers receivers. It would be one thing to be beaten by Leonte Carroo. I've heard he's pretty good. But Janarion Grant, Tyler Kroft, Desmon Peoples, and Andrew Turzilli? That's just zilli, peoples.
"Another huddle? Really?"
* Well, we scrapped the huddle during portions of the game. The pace was still lacking as we spent long periods looking to the sideline to get the play. The point of skipping the huddle is to prevent the defense from substituting when you have a personnel advantage. Gashing them for 8 yards on a run when their nickel defense is in, and then passing on the next play doesn't accomplish anything. The key to the no-huddle is to get the opponents in a mismatch and then exploit the mismatch.
* We scored 24 points. According to Bo, that should be good enough to win. Rutgers only had 74 yards rushing. That should be good enough to win. It's those 402 passing yards that Rutgers gained...
* The announcers were going on and on (well, except for Shaun O'Hara, who never spoke. Do they have someone in the booth checking every 5 minutes or so to see if he's still alive?) about how Friedgen likes to go deep. If the announcers can figure that out in the couple hours they put in preparing for the game, why is it that our defense seemed completely surprised and unprepared for their deep passes? On one long pass, I saw three M defenders covering Carroo (meaning Nova missed someone else glaringly wide open.) On the 80 yard TD, Countess was obviously expecting safety help that wasn't there. (Which is also a symptom of poor coaching.)
Facilitating the Comfort Level
* I used to cover the officials in this diary. I stopped doing that because they have a tough job to do and don't need some crazy internet conspiracist to cast aspersions on their character. That said, I was a little curious to see who worked this game. Unfortunately, Dave Brandon placed a Geico ad over the officials' names. They were a little difficult to resolve, but I think this is what it says:
Referee: Tony Soprano
Umpire: Chris Moltisanti
Linesman: Silvio Dante
Line Judge: Paulie Gualtieri
Back Judge: Bobby Baccalieri
Side Judge: Vito Spatafore
Field Judge: Phil Leotardo
Alternate: Vince McMahon*
I don't want to suggest that the umpires were paid off by the mob, but during the Rutgers University commercial, they highlighted their efforts in plastics recycling, AKA, waste management.
*I threw that last one in there for BronxBlue. I gotta say, I'm a little surprised he didn't have a "Worst: the Piscataway Screwjob" section.