11/30/2014 – Michigan 28, OSU 42 – 5-7, 3-5 Big Ten
In one of last year's season preview posts I wondered if Michigan was going to end up on the wrong side of the war after Hoke's hire. I got piles of crap for this take from people waving Stanford anecdotes around. I think a lot of people read "pro style can't work" when what I'm saying is "it's clearly less likely to." I'm not going to turn my nose up at Jim Harbaugh no matter what he wants to run. Wing-T? Yes, sir.
Anyway: the crux of that argument was that if you think running a spread makes your defense soft when you have to play Wisconsin, the corollary to that is that if you're not preparing for spread elements daily you will struggle when you go up against them. For the most part this held true during the Hoke era (if I say "tempo" you will dive under a couch), and never more so than against OSU.
Statistically, Michigan has had a defense somewhere between good and terrific under Greg Mattison. Ohio State looks at that and says naw:
- 2011: 34 points, 376 yards, about two feet from another 70 yards and game-winning points.
- 2012: 26 points, 396 yards. A decent performance, year one of Meyer.
- 2013: 42 points, 526 yards. An obliteration.
- 2014: 42 points, 416 yards. Seven of those points are via a defensive TD.
These were all slow games featuring a lot of running and a lot of Michigan dawdling. This year's version of The Game had just nine OSU possessions, which is the practical minimum. Anything played at a Pac 12 pace would have been ugly.
Michigan had a vaguely acceptable performance once in four years, and two of those games featured freshman OSU quarterbacks who weren't even supposed to be the starter preseason. Hell, this game featured an eighty yard drive led by the third string QB.
The whole "Big Boy Football" thing is all the more galling since OSU has consistently ground Michigan into paste without bothering to throw the ball much. OSU QBs have thrown an average of 20.5 passes against Michigan in the Hoke era, and I'd guess about a half of those were screens and easy stuff in the flat. With most of the rest downfield bombs, OSU's offense avoids turnovers while simultaneously being lethally efficient. If the spread does get your QBs hurt more often—something that's been hard to confirm with numbers—that's not something that has affected Ohio State. Cardale Jones came in and sealed the game.
OSU is running twice as much as they're passing against Michigan and averaging 6.1 yards a carry. These are Rodriguez-at-WVU type stats, the kind that blew me away when I was looking at his track record after his hire.
The funny thing about the Danielsons of the world is that they're old school RUN THE DANG BALL types, but they manage to sidestep the fact that forcing the defense to account for a running quarterback is the best way to run the ball. I can think of no better way to make this point than a chart from back in 2008 that compared Michigan's YPC in year one of Rodriguez to the previous seven years of Lloyd Carr:
Threet and Sheridan and no linemen and they still ended up above average. Michigan would easily top 2006 from 2009 to 2012. Lloyd Carr could talk about running the ball. His teams couldn't do it, at least not well.
I want to run the ball. I want to run an offense that doesn't ask the QB to make complicated reads, but rather asks him to make a decision about one guy. Hoke was a mistake for a thousand reasons, but prime amongst them was his "we're gonna run power" crap after he'd never been able to do that anywhere else.
Michigan spent the 2011 game running the inverted veer wrong and they still put up 40; that this had no impact on his approach speaks volumes about Hoke's lack of quality as a coach. Bo made the shift to a modern passing offense when he had to. Saban is grudgingly moving in that direction: I was watching the Iron Bowl on Saturday and Herbstreit made multiple references to how Alabama was now a no-huddle team. They found themselves down multiple scores in the second half and ripped off five straight TDs in short order.
The game moves; move with it or die. Michigan chose hidebound traditionalism on the field and whiz-bang idiot modernism in the pageantry. The former is a natural reaction after you get burned. The latter is a natural consequence of hiring a pizza marketer.
But can we learn? I would like to learn. Rich Rodriguez blew it here, and he learned. He dumped his defensive staff, got Jeff Casteel back, and is headed to the Pac-12 championship game with a freshman QB after having beaten Oregon in back-to-back years. This is our opportunity to do something right this time.
Unfortunately, Michigan's current coaching staff is going on recruiting visits today when they should be taking a day with a bottle of scotch before polishing up the old resume. I have no idea what they're supposed to say on these visits.
RECRUIT: Aren't you guys getting fired?
COACH: Almost certainly.
RECRUIT: So why are you here?
COACH: I'm like a corpse still twitching. Held in this hellish no-place, I pine for my soul's release and reincarnation as the offensive coordinator at a D-II school.
COACH: You said it.
Florida knows what's going on; Tulsa knows what's going on; Illinois knows what's going on. Michigan doesn't. Comparisons to Nebraska are invalid. Michigan's not 9-3, and no one is going to be blindsided by Hoke getting axed.
Poke the Russia Today outlet in the Michigan e-sphere and you'll hear that it's about Doing Right By The Staff and that it's about Keeping The Pressure Off Harbaugh; neither of these explanations make any sense. That coach doesn't want to be on that visit. He wants to be looking for another job. Harbaugh speculation does not start with, or even focus on, Michigan in NFL circles.
I can't see a reason to drag it out, but here we are, dragging it out. The guy in charge may be competent but he has no track record. We're stuck here hoping this guy is actually qualified and that things turn out for the best. Maybe it will. Forgive me if I have a tendency to look on everything this department does as a mistake.
That's' going to be a tough habit to break, but here's a suggestion: act like a collection of people instead of a committee for once and acknowledge that there's no good way for this to go down. The first major Brandon warning sign was when he infamously took two days of meetings to fire Rich Rodriguez when that was a fait accompli.
[After THE JUMP: offensive line ups and downs, clock lol, etc.]
BEHIND YOU [Upchurch]
The edges cave in. Michigan had not seen an elite edge rusher all year unless Anthony Zettel or Shilique Calhoun counts. They might; even if they are they are not in Joey Bosa's class. I can tell this because Bosa and his compatriots crushed the Michigan pocket with a consistency Michigan had not seen in a long time. Gardner was sacked five times after getting through much of November without taking a hit. He coped surprising well given what we'd seen from him; it was still a major problem.
This wasn't much of a surprise with Michigan fielding a true freshman LT and a shaky sophomore RT. It was more a reminder that Michigan had just about gotten away with it this year. Sacks allowed are not great—26, which is 75th nationally—but they are much much better than last year. With an offseason to improve in they could get to good.
The running game functioned. Without those sacks Michigan averaged 4.8 yards a carry. In a sack-adjusted world that's just okay, but "just" and "okay" should not go next to each other when we are talking about a game against Ohio State in which Michigan's interior offensive line pretty much won the battle against the OSU DL.
Remember that De'Veon Smith carry on which he got lit up in the backfield? That's approximately the only time that happened.
It's kind of hard to take Michigan's rushing stats seriously this year since they feature almost ten yards a carry against Appalachian State and another big hunk at 6.1 against Miami (NTM). That's the kind of thing a lot of teams get, yes, but they don't surround that with four games in which you don't break 3 YPC.
Are we confident then? Maybe not confident confident. Still, the end of the year saw four straight reasonable-to-good performances in the run game and the pass protection was improved. Michigan gets back every OL on the roster, and they've got some experienced depth in Erik Magnuson. If they make equal progress next year they could be good-ish.
Torn ACL, same knee. [Upchurch]
Drake? I'll say this about Drake Johnson: I don't yell "THE HOLE IS OVER THERRRRRRRE" when he's in the game. I didn't think that was going to be a big deal this year; it was. Johnson still has moments where his cuts cause him to come to a dead stop, but he ran through a couple tackles in this game, has good straight-line speed, and seems to understand the blocking in front of him more than his compatriots.
It'll be hard to hold off a returning Derrick Green and the newly-available Ty Isaac, especially since he'll be missing spring practice after tearing his ACL on that touchdown.
It'll be interesting to see who the new staff goes with. He's in the conversation.
Oh come on, part XXXVIII. The clock management at the end of the first half was dubious for everyone. Ohio State let the clock roll as Michigan prepared to punt from their 45 with about three minutes left in the half. Michigan then punted with 15 or 16 seconds left on the playclock. That is idiotic. It's also something Hoke seems to do before the half in every game.
The ensuing drive saw OSU tie the game on a ten-play, 83-yard march, with the last play snapped with 17 seconds left on the clock. OSU had two timeouts, but with a series of incomplete passes and first-down runs the amount of time they would have saved with them was negligible; anyway the point is that it is dumb to give the opposition 15 free seconds for a two minute drill and that this dumbness is endemic to the program now. Remember the free Hail Mary Michigan gave to Penn State? Yeah.
Defense. I don't really have much to say other than it was yet another clobbering—5 TDs on 9 drives is a clobbering—in which Michigan just could not cope with the multiple exposures to one-on-one tackling that Meyer's offense exposes you to. Not many have. The key to stopping offenses like this is having a defensive line that kicks the opposing OL's ass, as Penn State did and Stanford occasionally has against Oregon. That wasn't happening without Frank Clark, and probably wasn't happening even with him.
It was disappointing that Raymon Taylor got beat on two big plays, one the 52 yard bomb to Devin Smith, the other an opportunity to boot OSU off the field on their end-of-half drive.
Best: Why Can't They Make the Whole Season Out of OSU's Defense?
To paraphrase Jerry Seinfeld, if Michigan is only capable of playing this way offensively when they line up against OSU, they might as well just schedule the Buckeyes 12 times. Devin Gardner did throw the interception, and it was his fumble on a sack that OSU returned for a defensive TD following Elliott's TD run, but he also threw the ball as well as he has in weeks, completing over 2/3's of his passes for 233 yards and 2 TDs, and spread out the receptions to 9 different players, 10 if you include the throwback pass he caught from Drake Johnson on a pretty brilliant playcall that helped Michigan tie the game at 21 in the 3rd. It wasn't anywhere close to his record-breaking performance from last year, but Gardner acquitted himself well enough in his final game as a Wolverine, and it was a bit poetic that his last completion of his career was a great little throw and catch to Canteen for Michigan's last TD. Of course, the fact it was in a game Michigan wound up losing by 14 takes a bit of luster off the rose, but this is the "happy thoughts" part of this diary.
When I was a kid, I heard that Bo and Woody preferred to run the ball because when you pass the ball, three things can happen and two of them are bad. The Michigan offense of the past two years has redefined that calculus. I now believe that when you pass the ball, six things can happen and five of them are bad. Of course, you have the original two bad items, the incompletion and the interception. I've seen enough of Michigan's offense to realize that we have to add these additional bad outcomes: 1) throwing screen passes for negative yardage, 2) getting sacked, and 3) getting strip-sacked.
In case there was any doubt, Michigan drove the point home to start the game. On our first play, Drake Johnson ran for 7 yards. On the next play, Devin Gardner threw an interception. On the next drive, Michigan threw a screen pass for -5 yards, ran the ball for 15 yards, took a sack, ran for 4, and took another sack. Three good running plays and four bad passing plays. The second drive ended with yet another poor special teams play, as Jalin Marshall returned a punt 23 yards.
HSR on where they are:
I almost have begun to wonder in the past decade whether Michigan's interest in the rivalry is, in knowing how much it means to them, being able to beat them and ruin that for them, is what Michigan fans truly get out of this. Michigan fans don't care less about the rivalry than Ohio State fans do, they just care about it differently. Michigan fans like winning, period. Michigan fans want to beat everybody and dread that there will be somewhere along the way in a season where Michigan doesn't win. Michigan's season is not going to be made by beating Ohio in a way that Ohio's might be. But it makes me sad to know that there has not been one game since 1999 where Michigan went in to The Game and thought "we should win this." * Ohio State fans have thought this all too often since the Tressel era began. If I have a sadness about this rivalry, it is that.
(*-If you want to argue 2011 with me, I'll listen, but even then, the best chance Michigan had to get a win since 2003 (when it was #4 vs #5, which is not a "should"), did not feel like a "should win", but like a "please dear God, let us win." It's not the same. And 2004, #7 in the country vs. a 6-5 Buckeye team, still had to go to Columbus.)
The Devin Gardner era ended yesterday not with a whimper, but not with a bang. It ended with more conclusive proof about the kind of person that Devin Gardner is (see photo above), but also the maddening flaws about what kind of quarterback Devin Gardner, turnover prone, but flashing brilliance here there and everywhere. There seems to be a desire to make a metaphor of this game as a microcosm of the Hoke era, and perhaps it is. Unfortunately, like so many times in the Hoke era, we're left with more questions than answers. If Hoke's era is coming to a close, then the book will be left to be written, but we've written so much of it. In so many ways, we've known for months what is going to happen, but we're waiting for the actual moment, so we can move on and move forward.
HELMET COLOR – After dealing with all the crap this season, I finally had enough of seeing the wrong shade of yellow on the M helmets! It was painfully obvious to me that it was not right the correct color and it’s time we got it right!
Maybe it was the culmination of everything that we had to deal with this year, including the all blue unis, but for some reason the color of the yellow on the Michigan helmets was painfully out of synch with the rest of the uniform. The shade of yellow/maize didn’t match the pants. It didn’t match the yellow trim on the jersey. Heck, it didn’t even match the yellow shoes worn by some of the Wolverines. Time for Riddell to get it right! If they can’t get it right, then they need someone to help get it right. Consider myself volunteered!
Daily on Gardner.