Down By The Old Mill Stream Comment Count

Brian November 14th, 2011 at 12:00 PM

11/12/2011 – Michigan 31, Illinois 14 – 8-2, 4-2 Big Ten


In a distant place a long time ago they played a football game in a dark and remote land. The opposing team's coach was a confused person who thought he had a pretty good team. Michigan scored a couple touchdowns but couldn't put the game away; at some point during the second half the confused coach's confused offense finally put together a touchdown drive to narrow the game, and I felt… irritated. Annoyed. Peeved.

This was a strange feeling to have about a suddenly close football game Michigan should have put away already, because every damn game Michigan lost against teams not named Ohio State could be described as "a suddenly close football game Michigan should have put away already." Despite this I was not casting about for pearls to clutch or pre-perforating my garments for easy rending when the time came. I was worried about the stats. This was odd.

What followed:

Then: near interception, four-yard out, incomplete, incomplete, ballgame. Instead of a roar there was but a flat, damp squeak as Michigan landed the final clubbing blows and emerged from the lion's den with a rug in tow. There are no arguments about this game. No two seconds, no questionable heels or holding calls or other fantasies about if this or that. There is no "if". Michigan has still not been threatened this year. No opponent has moved the ball except when fortunate or permitted to. Its dominance is unquestioned by the foes it leaves battered in its wake. Sometimes -- and I know this is hard to believe -- seven points is a very large lead indeed.

Yeah, that game.


Of all the magical things that Greg Mattison has done since arriving in Ann Arbor for a second tour of duty, making me think about the 2006 Michigan defense a year after… that is hard to top.

2006 happened a century ago. I looked it up. The top songs were "I Want A Girl (Just Like The Girl Who Married Dear Old Dad)" and "Down By The Old Mill Stream." Long-distance communication was conducted by banging rocks together and hoping to startle a pigeon in a way that communicated "happy birthday" instead of "everyone is dead of typhoid again lol." Football games were played between competing sawmills and textile factories; a strict limit of two cattle per offensive line was still controversial. People in Alabama were accused of over-bovining. Craggy men who remembered the invention of writing like Joe Paterno, Jim Tressel, and Lloyd Carr roamed the sidelines. People did not reflexively talk about real good times.

2006 was a long time ago. The ten-volume history of the intervening century is a narrative of relentless, soul-crushing decline on defense.


This summer the UM Club of Greater Detroit invited me to their kickoff dinner. There I sat on a roundtable with Greg Dooley of MVictors and Angelique Chengelis of the Detroit News as various guys with nametags peppered us with questions.

These things always have a pattern: I start out nervous because I'm just this guy, really, and there's a chance someone asks "why should we listen to you?" Since my response is necessarily "I have this blog… it's on the internet!" it's not a question I look forward to. These concerns are a little more pressing when the room is full of people who look like they still get newspapers home-delivered.

But the questions remain hypothetical because I start talking about these things and it turns out that doing what I do on a weekly basis fills your head with esoteric knowledge about all things. Denard Robinson was 84th of 100 qualifying quarterbacks last year in interception percentage. That sort of thing is just in my head, ready to  be dispensed. After my head pops open and I start depositing THE KNOWLEDGE like the world's least appetizing Pez dispenser, there is a groove of confidence.

I mention it because there was one question from an elderly gentleman with a pleading edge I still remember. It was about the defense and why anyone would think it would get better. I was already on the record that this was an eight or nine win team; Dooley and Chengelis were pessimists. They cocked their heads and passed the mic.

I said that if you had only watched every play from the last three years over and over you would know. You would not know but feel the mass incoherence, the week-to-week changes, the insane personnel decisions (Demens, Roh as a LB, moving Woolfolk to corner in 2009, Cam Gordon as FS). That if you felt this thing having a guy the Ravens had coordinating their defense could only result in instant, massive improvement. At the very least they would have a plan*.

Though I believed it, as I was saying it it seemed like a reckless thing to tell people. If…that, or anything like it, happens again people will remember someone told them it was going to be all right, and then it wasn't. I hoped I wasn't telling them about the rabbits.


This was the point last year where everyone wrote off JT Floyd. It was the logical thing to do.


Twelve months later Floyd is holding AJ Jenkins to five yards a target and jumping a short route for a shoulda-been pick six for the first time since… God. A century ago. Time is working funny again. Greg Mattison has a phonebooth time machine he sent the secondary back to Charles Woodson's childhood in; they have emerged with ZZ Top beards, children, and skills.

This is a foundation for the future. Wrapping this motley crew of walk-ons, freshmen, people who were totally incompetent last year, Mike Martin, and Ryan Van Bergen into a top 20 defense is a QED achievement no matter the quality of the opposition. The level of coaching required to go from that to this is a constant Michigan can build its program on.

Last year the quality of the opposition didn't matter. Matt McGloin had the above to throw at, and he did. This year Michigan has been average at worst after Mattison figured out he didn't have Ed Reed. Some days they stroll off the field and if you squint you can just convince yourself the last century never happened. You can envision a future where Michigan isn't wondering about its place in the world.


*[Then I told everybody that Denard Robinson's turnover rate would drop like a stone. One out of two isn't bad. ]


There's also the Illinois POV. In their world Illinois wins 14-0 in a thrilling game lasting exactly 1:30. Parkinggod highlights miss the first drive thanks to ESPN sticking with the PSU press conference, but prove that Michigan's everything-is-wonderful POV still goes ten minutes.

Meanwhile, Desmond Morgan is fabulous.


via the Daily's Marissa McClain and a mysterious man named Adam Glanzman

Melanie Maxwell has the usual photogallery at as well. DetNews gallery.


Borgeswatch. 95% thumbs up. As it transpired I was frustrated with the lack of play-action after Illinois started selling out on the run game, but I forgot about the wind. I much prefer that to being reminded about it every 40 seconds like we were against Michigan State. I wonder if Scheehaase's propensity to wing it wide on Jenkins out cuts was due to the wind. While he's not the most accurate guy in the world he seemed particularly off Saturday.

It may have taken two harsh wakeup calls but at least Borges got the message. Run/pass breakdowns in the three windtastic road games against teams with secondaries:

  • MSU: 39 passes, 28 runs
  • Iowa: 21 passes, 28 runs*
  • Illinois: 16 passes, 47 runs

The Gardner package also went away after its momentum-killing outing last week.

A large chunk of getting that play distribution was getting the running game to work. I don't know all of how or why that happened yet, but giving Toussaint the ball 27 times instead of two is part of it; using enough outside runs to get creases on the inside zone is part of it; making Denard a threat is part of it.

While Denard only managed 3.5 YPC on his 11 attempts it's hard to imagine what turned the #15 rush defense** into Swiss cheese if it wasn't Illinois paying too much attention to 16. This was clear on the first drive of the game. Watch the free safety who would be tackling Toussaint after ten yards but for one Denard Robinson:

By the time that dude realizes Denard does not have the ball Toussaint is gone. A similar screwup does not happen if Michigan is operating from under center.

Since I'm usually at games I'm not often able to participate in the internet zeitgeist to the extent I was the past couple weeks. Last week I was in line with everyone being real mad. This week I was surprised by the amount of heat Borges was taking for stuff that wasn't his fault at all. When Denard fumbles and Michigan misses a field goal or Huyge gets destroyed by Mercilus and Denard doesn't see the guy coming right at him, that's not on the OC. The reasons Michigan didn't score touchdowns in this game seemed to be out of Borges's hands.

*[Not counting the final three drives. I did move the two sacks, the fumble, and one Gardner scramble. I made similar adjustment to the other two games; they may be off by one or two but you get the idea.]

**[15-ish. Illinois's sacks distort that. Still a very good unit.]

Fourth and one. The 5% thumbs down, very down, was the fourth and one from the Illinois one yard line. If you're not willing to throw it when you spread them out and they don't spread out…


…I don't think you can do the wacky thing. Those guys to the top of the screen are late arriving and have no idea what they're doing. If you're going to swinging-gate them like this you've got to be able to take advantage of what they give you.

That fourth and one continues a couple trends: speed option and Borges getting cute. I wouldn't have minded it if they had lined up in one of those massive Tebow sets and tried something like this, but going without so much as a tight end in this spot is asking for trouble. The snap didn't help but I don't think it mattered much.

The immediate aftermath. Hoke calmly pointed his defense onto the field:


"Meat. Thataway."

You are experiencing an unusually calm sensation. Which reminds me:

brady-hoke-epic-double-pointEPIC HOKE DOUBLE POINT OF THE WEEK. I'm terribly sorry that I inaugurated this thing and then immediately forgot about it. It returns this week because of one man being so ridiculous I thought I should have some sort of special award… oh wait I do.

Your Illinois winner: JT Floyd. AJ Jenkins may have gotten his requisite eight catches for 100 yards but Scheelhaase had to work for it. At one point they showed some Jenkins stats and noted that he had five catches… and fourteen targets. According to Adam Jacobi he ended with eight on 20. That's 5 YPA throwing to a guy who may be the best WR in the Big Ten.

Even that undersells Floyd's day. The deep ball that took Jenkins's stats from mediocre to decent was zone coverage in the middle of the field Floyd was not directly responsible for (and it came after Scheelhaase was given all day). When involved Floyd was all over double moves and jumped a third and short pass for the interception that sealed the game with a little help from Gardner and Odoms.

Even Magnus thought he was "okay for once." WHAT MORE CAN ONE MAN DO?

Honorable mentions go to Al Borges (for his gameplan and getting in on the pointing his ownself), David Molk, and Fitzgerald Toussaint.


  • Michigan State: Ryan Van Bergen, for being the only person to have a good day. HM: None.
  • Purdue: Fitzgerald Toussaint, for making the tailback spot a plus for the first time in forever. HM: Mike Martin.
  • Iowa: Mike Martin, for being GET IN THE CAR Mike Martin. HM: David Molk.


2: Denard Robinson (Notre Dame, Eastern Michigan), Brady Hoke (San Diego State, Northwestern)
1: Jordan Kovacs (Western Michigan), David Molk (Minnesota), Ryan Van Bergen (MSU), Fitzgerald Toussaint (Purdue), Mike Martin (Iowa), JT Floyd(Illinois).

Weekly bubble bitchin'. Only Ron Zook could send his team out with two deep safeties and three guys tight over WRs against a team that hasn't run a bubble all year:

That's nuts. That's one reason you have that play in the playbook. If they take it away by alignment they've opened something else up. Usually not by putting five guys in the box—that's a Zook special.

What I really meant by posting "We Are ND" after Hoke hiring. I meant that we'd ride a soft schedule to an iffy BCS berth and get our faces crushed. If Michigan wins out—obviously a big if—that could happen. A 10-2 Michigan team will be second in the Big Ten pecking order since everyone other than the champ will have three losses.

Michigan will then be in competition with…

  1. Boise/Houston. Houston's 11th in the BCS standings and will get an autobid if they remain in the top 12.  Boise's actually a spot in front of the Cougars still. One or the other will get a bid. All they have to do is finish in the top 16 since the Big East winner is going to be below them.
  2. Alabama/LSU/Arkansas. The SEC will get a second bid.
  3. Stanford/Oregon. If those two win out Stanford will probably get a bid.
  4. ACC runner-up: a two-loss Clemson or Virginia Tech.
  5. Oklahoma or Oklahoma State.

Michigan's a lock to beat out a team coming off an ACC championship loss, but one-loss versions of Stanford or Oklahoma State would be tough—Jerry Palm has an all-at-large matchup of those two teams right now. If OU loses Bedlam that would also be tight.

Not making it would be just as well. I'd be happy playing Georgia in one of the infinite Big Ten/SEC matchups. I like nine wins and I cannot lie.

Special teams: actually a positive. FEI's not the only advanced stat rankings system purveyed by Football Outsiders; there's also one called F+. Last week F+ integrated special teams data for the first time; Michigan dropped from 17th to 25th. The special teams… eh… not so good.

This week they were. Matt Wile put five kickoffs in the endzone, Jeremy Gallon averaged 15 yards on four actual punt returns, and the missed field goal was off by about a foot. The only downer is Will Hagerup's persistent mediocrity. He averaged under 35 yards a kick and Michigan is now 112th in net punting. Even if you exclude all the coffin corner stuff from the MSU game he's averaging just 37.7 yards a kick. Wile was doing significantly better during Hagerup's suspension.

Unfortunately, it's likely Gallon's momentary renaissance and the Wile bombing are effects of the opponent and the wind. Illinois's punting is also in the triple digits. 

Derp du jour. Seeing some revival of the "we can't run Denard because he won't last through the season" meme, which… like… guh. He's missed a series last week and the last quarter and a half this week because he banged his hand on a pass-rusher's helmet. Twice. The first time he was back in after a series. The second time he could have come back in if necessary. Cancel the spread offense.

Denard's lasted through the bulk of the Big Ten season and with Nebraska and Ohio State left on the schedule, restricting his carries in case he gets hurt is nuts. What are you saving him for?

BONUS: Devin Gardner did two things and Michigan's offense went from racking up yards (and shooting itself in the foot) to not doing the former (and getting short fields). There is no QB controversy. If Michigan makes a 39 yard field goal and Borges doesn't get too cute on the goal line it's 24-0 at halftime and we aren't having this conversation.

Ace got so incensed at various people proclaiming a Gardner revival he broke down the YPP for each quarterback. Denard: 6.2. Devin: 5.4. Devin without the two garbage time Toussaint runs: 3.6.

Let's stop talking about this.

A permanent feature. Hoke on his decision to go from the one:

Michigan reached the Illinois 1-yard line in the second quarter and went for it on fourth down. Robinson lost 4 yards on the play.

Hoke was asked if going for it in that situation will be the norm. "Pretty much," he said. "And the defense bailed me out."


Desmond Morgan decleater. Don't hate me but I thought that was a missed cut by the RB, who had a lane outside the block. /ducks


dnak puts the defensive performance in a graph (graph):


Left axis is as a percentage of historical worst—ie, last year. That's right: Michigan's scoring defense is brushing up against '06.

Inside the Box Score on Martin going uber:

Mike Martin lead us with 9 tackles. That’s right, an interior defensive lineman lead us with NINE tackles. I’m going to miss that guy. He also got half a sack and 2 QHs. Roh also had 2 QHs. We were QH’ing Scheelhaase all game long.

That's three straight games he's crushed the opponent. Moving towards what we all thought he'd be this year. Too bad it will be tough to crack the All Big Ten team with Short, Still, and Worthy also tearing up offensive lines.

Hoke for Tomorrow brings yet another reason to laugh at Ron Zook:

Ron Zook is a bad coach, this is known.  It is remarkable how bad he is though, when looking at his record after bye weeks.  Over the past 4 seasons (2008-2011) Illinois has had 6(!) bye weeks, with two in both 2009 and 2010.  Their record following these bye weeks?  0-6:

2008: Lost to Penn St 38-24

2009: Lost to OSU 30-0, Lost to Cincinnati 49-36

2010: Lost to OSU 24-13, Lost to Fresno St 25-23

2011: Lost to Michigan (woot!)  31-14

That is epic fail.  Ron Zook should be fired.

Bye weeks aren't actually helpful, but come on.

CollegeFootball13 throws together some stats; he's too generous to the special teams (C+) but just look at that shiny justified A- next to the defense. Commenter Vasav brings up the year-to-year FEI:

2010:: Total: 8, Scoring: 25, FEI: 2

2011:: Total: 40, Scoring: 37, FEI: 17

Our youthful inexperience has been replaced by transitional inexperience - so we still are inconsistent and turnover-ridden.

The FEI is most indicative I think - we went from an O with the potential to be great (if we had any kind of ST and D) to one that is just very good. I think after Borges was hired, this is sort of where we expected to be offensively - a step back, but not disastrously.


2010:: Total: 110, Scoring: 107, FEI: 108

2011:: Total: 16, Scoring: 5, FEI: 17

Mattison == Awesome. Last year, I said that I thought our D played worse than the personnel. Nevertheless, even if they were being outcoached by say, twenty teams in FEI, and the extra year of experience is good for another twenty teams - Mattison still improved the baseline by about 50 ranks. The defense is now as good as the offense.

Keep in mind that FEI adjusts for schedule strength so a realistic benchmark for an average BCS offense is not 60th. I just chopped out all the non-BCS teams and an average offense is 48th. That's actually lower than I would have guessed. Unfortunately for Michigan, their lack of success has been highly concentrated.


Unwashed blog masses. Via Adam Jacobi, Junior Hemingway scored an imaginary touchdown:


Ron Zook can probably make this happen.

Illini blog A Lion Eye has a habit of taping himself when things are actually going on. This seems like a bad idea in general and for an Illinois fan in particular, but it is entertaining. A partial transcript:

So there's two twenty-four left. We just got the ball back down… what is it… 31-14? And I… I really have… I'm like "oh, what's my emotion? What am I going to record?"

Uhhhhm… dead inside? That doesn't sound right. But it's kind of a… I don't know. I guess the only way to describe it is—oh, and a sack.

I recommend the whole thing not necessarily for the schadenfreude (of which there is plenty) but because it's reassuring that we're not jaded. You may think you're jaded after the last century, but you have no idea. I mean: "I'm just normal right now."

The HSR decides to quote F. Scott Fitzgerald a lot:

"Life is essentially a cheat and its conditions are those of defeat; the redeeming things are not happiness and pleasure but the deeper satisfactions that come out of struggle."

I think we can all agree that yesterday's game was a classic example of "left wanting".  Though Michigan had a two score lead, on the road, against a team that considers Michigan its arch-rival*, it still felt like all of the missed red zone opportunities were going to come back to haunt Michigan, because we're taught that when you don't put the boot on the throat, it will cost you.  Except, it didn't.


Refs.  They obviously made a decision to only call holding if the offensive lineman actually removed the jersey of rusher.  And on the play where Avery picked up the ball and scored the touchdown, they made three bad mistakes on a single play.  The unholy trinity:  1.  It wasn’t a fumble in the first place, that’s somewhat forgivable.  2.  If it was a fumble, Avery was clearly on the ground (and thus down) when he picked it up, but they gave him a touchdown.  3. They didn’t adjust the clock after the play was reversed, should have been 19 or 20 seconds left instead of 14.

Hoke even complained about #3 and got nowhere. That is almost inevitably a call the refs give coaches.

Holdin' the Rope:

My first impression was one of doom and gloom, but, the more I think about it, maybe it's not so bad. Michigan put up 31 against a formidable defense, more than any other Illinois opponent save Northwestern (qualifier: yeah, those are some bad offenses on their schedule, but it's all relative at this point). This is of course not even mentioning the inopportune turnovers and the Illini's general inability to move the ball, additional reasons to not feel so bad about things. Obviously you can't just take turnovers out, but Michigan could have very easily scored in the 40s, on the road, against a pretty good defense.

There was a lot of the doom and gloom on the internets, which I don't get. Michigan failed to put up 24 in the first half on the #6 defense in the country by shooting itself in the foot. While that's frustrating, it is so much worse to have a performance like Iowa where the offense is neither scoring nor moving the ball. Sometimes bad things happen. Michigan outperformed Illinois's yardage average by 80 despite playing in adverse conditions.

BWS is eeee Mattison:

Mattison is installing this defense a lot like Rodriguez or Borges installed their offense. Week by week, Mattison introduces a new formation or coverage scheme to the defense--usually only one. Early in the season, it was a basic stunt move intended to overwhelm one side of the offensive line. Against MSU, he debuted an A-gap zone blitz. Purdue: nickel blitz. Iowa: crowding the line of scrimmage. Michigan's base defense is a 4-3 under, man-coverage look that Mattison can slowly and effectively build upon. While he doesn't go back to the cookie jar in later weeks, the hope (and my expectation) is that when Michigan plays Ohio State, they'll have an arsenal of blitzing plays that can be deployed in unison, creating a defense that is as unpredictable and consistently effective as the constantly tweaked offense under Rodriguez.

Cheers and jeers from Big House Blog. MBNB bullets. Illinois perspective from Hail to the Orange. Sap's decals are too stingy to Floyd, Martin. /shakes fist

Mainstream media type persons. The Daily's Stephen Nesbitt gets a a slice of life from the field:

As Floyd started crossing the turf toward the tunnel to the visitor’s locker room, he saw Illinois wide receiver A.J. Jenkins approaching him. The receiver-cornerback duo had battled all game long.

Floyd pulled up at the goal line.

“Heck of a game, man,” Floyd told the All-American wideout. “I think you’re a heck of a talent.”

Jenkins, in his orange No. 8 jersey, gave a big smile and tossed the same compliment back at Floyd — Michigan’s No. 8.

“Make sure you go get the rest of the (defensive backs) and give them some trouble the rest of the season,” Floyd said as he stepped away.

Chengelis on the diverse and sundry contributions:

Senior defensive lineman Mike Martin led the team with nine tackles. Linebackers Desmond Morgan and Kenny Demens had eight and seven tackles, respectively, and senior Ryan Van Bergen had 2.5 sacks.

Safety Jordan Kovacs forced a fumble, and Thomas Gordon made the recovery, his fourth of the season, and cornerback J.T. Floyd made a pivotal interception in the fourth quarter on a third-down play at the Michigan 40-yard line. He returned it 43 yards and Michigan converted into a touchdown to make it, 24-7.

That is many contributions. Kovacs's in particular was a MAKE PLAYS moment, putting his head on the ball after Michigan had found its line creased and forcing a turnover. That fumble was forced in a way that some of the previous ones haven't been.

Daily on Mattison's reaction:

“That was a Michigan defense,” Mattison said like a proud father figure, admitting it for the first time all season. “They played as hard as they could, they did whatever they had to do. Without a doubt, that was a Michigan defense.”

The Michigan football team had just won the game on defense, holding Illinois to 30 yards, including minus-14 first-half rushing yards, before ultimately allowing 14 points and just 214 yards of offense en route to a 31-14 victory on the road.

“They’re Michigan Men,” said an emotional Mattison. “We talk about it all the time, that there’s a standard at Michigan and you’ve got to live up to that, and you're judged by it. We haven’t come to that final point where you win the game on defense, and we said, ‘This is your last away trip to do it.’ I couldn’t be more proud of this group of guys.”


MI Expat NY

November 14th, 2011 at 12:12 PM ^

Brian, Boise State is unlikely to get an automatic bid.  That bid goes to the highest rated champion of a non-AQ conference who meets certain criteria.  Boise St. has almost no chance of winning the Mountain West.


November 14th, 2011 at 12:21 PM ^

As Brian notes, Denard does a lot for the team even when he doesn't put up big stats himself.  His running ability changes an opponent's game plan.  He's like a dominant big man in basketball who gets your shooters open...I'm bothering to mention this because of the criticism that Denard got on Sam Webb's show this morning. 


November 14th, 2011 at 12:29 PM ^

I'm sure I'm in the minority, but I would have had no problem with kicking on 4th and 1 the first time. You put yourself up three scores, and take the momentum of the goal line stand out of the crowd. Now it turned out to not matter, but I kept looking at the scoreboard into the 3rd quarter and thinking "17-0 would be much more comfortable."

Anybody know offhand the odds of getting a safety when the opponent has 1st and 10 from their own 1? I'd imagine that it's pretty low, even factoring in chances of scoring from the short field after a punt. If you ask me, I'd put 3 on the board every time. If you need 7, go for 7. If you can get points, get points.


November 14th, 2011 at 12:39 PM ^

I guarantee first down % starting at the 1 yard line is way lower than normal because of restricted play calling. So even if there's not a safety, good chance the punter is crowded up against the back of the endzone, so getting the ball back on your opponents side of the field is pretty likely. 

Drew Sharp

November 14th, 2011 at 1:32 PM ^

is not because of the fact that michigan didn't put it in the endzone or didn't get a safety, but because they were able to get the ball back.  Most fans want their coach to show confidence in the team.  It shows confidence in the offense because he's saying he believes they can finish the drive.  It shows confidence in the defense because he's saying he believes that the defense can get the ball back with good field position, or maybe a turnover.

In general, the fan base doesn't want ultra-conservative calls akin to "punt-a-saurus" which is what kicking the field goal would be.  The only time we want to see a field goal kicked from there is if we need it to tie, win, or take the lead at that moment.  It could be a killer blow.  Michigan may not have made it and the momentum swung the other way, but it's the confidence in your team to be able to get it back.  

BTW, Illinois had negative rushing yards at that point.  The risk was low.


November 14th, 2011 at 4:52 PM ^

caveat applies here because Illinois offense is not very good, but if you go for it from the 1 on 4th and goal and don't convert, the chance of the opponent scoring at all is slim to none with 99 yards of field in front of them. If you take the 3 and kickoff, the chances of the opponent getting more than 3 when they get the ball back is pretty decent. Obviously time restrictions factor in as well, but I'd almost always say going for it is the better choice as far as expected point differential.

El Jeffe

November 14th, 2011 at 1:41 PM ^

I'm in the minority, too, even with the benefit of hindsight. The first and second down plays went nowhere (well, actually they went somewhere--backward), and we only got to 4th and 1 because of some crazy magic scrambling by Denard. I'm a big fan of going up 3 scores on the road and then getting tricky later.

Speaking of tricky, I still think Borges outsmarts himself on occasion. That 4th and 1 play seemed kind of silly when about 1% of the world thought Denard would actually throw it, after what happened at Iowa. In Borges's defense, Ron Zook was probably in that 1%, but Vic Koenning wasn't.

From the jump that play screamed "look at us, we're TOTALLY gonna throw it wide!!! That's how come we spread all our players out wide!!! Here we go, about to throw it!!!"



November 14th, 2011 at 4:16 PM ^

They also ran a fake reverse down inside the ten and by the time Shaw finally got the ball he was totally swarmed in the backfield.  Would like to see those kinds of tricks saved for the middle of the field where some big payoff is possible and the defense has to defend more territory.  The shift on the 4th and 1 play in particular could have been really nice if used on a short yardage situation in the middle of the field where the receivers could threaten the defense deep and either force them to back off against the run or risk a long TD pass.


November 14th, 2011 at 12:36 PM ^

After watching this game, I felt pretty happy. I mean, I wasn't extatic, just happy because I could see where this team was going. The defense will most likely be well above average, and you could also see Borges and the offense really just jell this game... if Denard can improve through the air even to just average, this team could be really solid AT LEAST for the next two seasons, with the upisde of dominance. And I am happy becasue I just haven't been able to think that way for a while. 


November 14th, 2011 at 12:39 PM ^

The weird hatred Illinois has with Zook is interesting.  The announcers mentioned something about this being the first time since the 1970s/1980s that Illinois has back to back bowl eligbilty.  It seems weird to fire Zook given that schools like tOSU, PSU, Ole Miss, and maybe Georgia will be hiring this offseason.  The top talent is going there and Illinois would likely end up with their version of Brewster.  Zook has at least ensured teams don't let their 5th string QB rack up Heisman worthy numbers in the second half against Illinois.  


November 14th, 2011 at 2:16 PM ^

Every fan base has a segment that thinks their school has unique advantages and should be expected to win far more than they actually do. When a coach does reasonably well over a sustained period, they want him out because he can't take them to the "next level" when realistically the next level is more likely to be the hellhole they started from. As you said, we saw that at Minnesota with Mason and more recently at Arizona with Mike Stoops. There are even a fair number of Cal fans who want to fire Jeff Tedford.


November 14th, 2011 at 4:10 PM ^

Zook is no Glen Mason.  Mason took a Minnesota team that had had something like 12 consecutive losing seasons and turned them into a regular bowl participant.  When Zook came to Illinois, they were only four years removed from an outright Big Ten title (2001).  He hasn't done anything beyond their historical norm.  Illinois, for whatever reason, is a really up-and-down program.  They've won Big Ten titles in 1983, 1990 and 2001, with a bunch of last-place finishes in between.  It's hard to figure out.


November 14th, 2011 at 12:44 PM ^

I thought Michigan's missed redzone opportunities would do them harm later in the game.  But things are different now on defense. Even when all hell breaks lose, Hoke is making decisions that reflect a high level of trust in the defense, which after the last 4 years sounds like something a certifiably insane person would do.

31-14 was a decisive November road win, which Michigan has not had since Nov 8 in the anti-septic Metrodome vs. Minnesota, 29-6.

The clouds appear to have really broken this time, and 9-3 or 10-2 are true, sunny possibilities.

Hats off to Borges for making good adjustments in his plan of attack.


November 14th, 2011 at 12:48 PM ^

Going for the touchdown on 4th and one had me thinking, "Hoke has not read 3 and out."  It was a similar goal line stand at Illinois that was one of the turning points for RR according to the book.  Go the conservative route. Take the points.  It is the least controversial decision.

We fail to score, but the defense recovers a fumble within a couple of plays.  Another Hoke golden poop moment.  Unbelievable.  It is so great to be on the good side of Fortune.


November 14th, 2011 at 1:19 PM ^

one yard with our offense has already been discussed - I believe Brian covered it in a front-pager some weeks ago.  The thought is that the expected value of going for it there is higher than the expected value of kicking a field goal (although that discussion may have used last year's stats for Gibbons, and he seems to be much better this year.)


November 14th, 2011 at 3:57 PM ^

I get the expected value analysis as a long-term thing, but an individual football game isn't really a long term activity in the way a baseball season is or even a basketball game with all the back and forth possessions.  Illinois only got the ball 14 times on the day.  At that point the difference between a two possession game and a three possession game is fairly large.  To me a sure 17-0 is more valuable than an expected 19 to nothing if there's even a slight chance of things remaining a two score game.  The payoff of those extra two or three points just doesn't seem the same as the payoff for the initial three that get you over that hump.

In the same spirit, I think if the score is 3-0, 10-0, or 17-0 when we get into that situation, going for it seems like the smart move every time because a TD adds an extra possession to the equation whereas a field goal doesn't.


November 14th, 2011 at 5:17 PM ^

Going for the touchdown on 4th and one had me thinking, "Hoke has not read 3 and out." It was a similar goal line stand at Illinois that was one of the turning points for RR according to the book.

OK, so because a different coach once went for it on 4th and goal from the one and failed, Hoke should never go for it?  Or is it OK elsewhere, but not at Illinois?  I'm trying to find the logic, if any, behind this reasoning.




November 14th, 2011 at 12:52 PM ^

Is it intended that every video is the 5 minute highlights, rather than the usual ~15 second clip of the play you are describing?

Edit: I know sometimes you have it start at the spot of the play, but for me it starts at the beginning each time.

True Blue in CO

November 14th, 2011 at 12:53 PM ^

gone from from worrying about needing to score on every single posession to failing to score two times in a row with an opponent fumble in between. Thanks for catching the positives of a team victory where new found strength (Defense) compensates for a small, but still outstanding QB that has the heart of a winner (Denard). Guess we should be happy if the masses are complaining about a strong road win with a few inconsequential imperfections.

J. Lichty

November 14th, 2011 at 12:59 PM ^

than any other RB I have ever seen.  He runs very upright so that is probably part of it, but would think reducing the amount of material is something that should be addressed with addidas.  At least make it a little more difficult to get handful.

Drew Sharp

November 14th, 2011 at 1:19 PM ^

Aren't there regulations on what a jersey can be made of and whatnot?  I know they outlawed tear-aways back the 80s or whatever, so I have to imagine that this is at least somewhat regulated.  I don't think you can just change your jersey.  It at least has to go through NCAA approval I would think.  Nothing too huge, but a step nonetheless.


November 14th, 2011 at 1:04 PM ^

Boise St is probably not going to a BCS bowl even if Houston loses.

Copied from the bcs wegpage:

. The champion of Conference USA, the Mid-American Conference, the Mountain West Conference, the Sun Belt Conference, or the Western Athletic Conference will earn an automatic berth in a BCS bowl game if either:


  A. Such team is ranked in the top 12 of the final BCS Standings, or,
  B. Such team is ranked in the top 16 of the final BCS Standings and its ranking in the final BCS Standings is higher than that of a champion of a conference that has an annual automatic berth in one of the BCS bowls.

No more than one such team from Conference USA, the Mid-American Conference, the Mountain West Conference, the Sun Belt Conference, and the Western Athletic Conference shall earn an automatic berth in any year. (Note: a second team may be eligible for at-large eligibility as noted below.) If two or more teams from those conferences satisfy the provisions for an automatic berth, then the team with the highest finish in the final BCS Standings will receive the automatic berth, and the remaining team or teams will be considered for at-large selection if it meets the criteria.

The only way Boise can go is if Houston loses and TCU loses two conference games.  TCU has a better chance right now of getting a BCS bid than Boise.


November 14th, 2011 at 1:10 PM ^

you guys keep mentioning that there are folks complaining about the win Saturday.  i'm not local so i am not in the crossfire like most of you, but what is wrong with Sam Webb and some of these other complainers?   i was ELATED by the win on Saturday, and the afterglow extended clear through Sunday night when Brady & Co de-pantsed the Jets.  the win got Muppets here fergodsakes.  thanks for a great post Brian and GO BLUE!

The FannMan

November 14th, 2011 at 1:10 PM ^

JT's game was they key to the defense.   His ability to shut down Jenkins allowed Michigan to bring Kovacs into the box (and blitz LBs and drop Martin into coverage) while leaving one safety over the top.  Illinois needed to make us pay for that stuff by burning us with Jenkins.  They couldn't because of Floyd.  Game over.  (That 4 and 26 play is like blaming a catcher for not trying to throw out a guy when up by 5 with one out in the ninth - indifference, man, indifference.)

BTW - watch Molk in the highlight about how Zook was defending a bubble that wasn't coming aka "weekly bubble bitching."  He destroys the LB and takes that donkey for a long ride.  The dude starts in the middle of the field ready to fill the hole, and ends up outside of the DE.  Molk actually turns him around and pushes over the line scrimmage backwards!



November 14th, 2011 at 1:55 PM ^

a lot of that from the entire O line a few weeks ago (your Molk comment).  Even though we're a little inconsistent at times, I'm really liking what the big uglies (thank you, Keith Jackson) are doing up front on offense.  They're finishing the play, going and finding someone else to block downfield past the point of attack.  Me likey.


November 14th, 2011 at 1:20 PM ^

Great Post, Brian

I chuckled at your story about the UM Dinner Club. How you felt then is how I feel whenever er tape to MGoPodcast. Do I belong, I am just a guy,  what's my credibility, do I even sound smart. Then, y'all call, press record and it comes oozing out one way or another. Anyway, it made me chuckle


Also: Greg Mattison For President