10/4/2014 – Michigan 24, Rutgers 26 – 2-4, 0-2 Big Ten
Growing up, you latch on to whatever hipster sketch comedy troupe is of the moment and think they just understand everything. If this is no longer true, I submit that this is why The Youth are going to be The Downfall Of Our Society.
Anyway, as I was pupating there were two: The State, which you may have heard about around here because of the tacos sketch, and Kids In The Hall. The Kids In The Hall defined my main problem in two minutes amongst other terribly funny things, but the thing about them is that their sketches frequently came with this air of unquenchable sadness. Like this thing I retweeted last week that I'd never actually seen before:
Half their sketches were just absurdity; the other half were the kind of thing popular amongst the adolescent-cry-for-help-amongst-the-clutches-of-suburbia crowd I was a part of.
I still think more highly of them than I do things like American Beauty. That's why I went back and edited the previous sentence to make the crowd the active thing instead of them. A large part of why is "Having An Average Weekend."
"Having An Average Weekend" was the theme song of the Kids In The Hall. They'd use it whenever a commercial break was incoming or outgoing paired with black and white shots of the hoi polloi of Toronto, and every time I watched a KITH episode I just wanted those interstitials to last forever.
I struggle to explain why. I actually bought a Shadowy Men On Shadowy Planet album because of this feeling the combination of the instrumental and those cinema vérité shots had on me, in between sketches about crushing your head. All those songs were boring. I even find the full version of Having An Average Weekend a little bit boring. In the context I found it was arresting. And I didn't even know the name of the song at the time.
When I found out… hoo boy.
Football happened, in the usual way.
The Kids In The Hall were awkward. SNL had Eddie Murphy, even The State had Michael Ian Black and actual girl Kerri Kenney. The Kids In The Hall were painfully awkward Canadians, girls not allowed. Not because of the usual reasons, because all of them were terrified of girls. So they were sad funny bastard teenagers who got on TV, being absurd about life.
This is a good answer!
I submit to you that when things look pretty bleak that the thing to do is laugh. This goes double for things you have no control over. I spent Saturday yelling at my friend to not pull a Dave Brandon by going to get a Little Caesar's "pretzel crust pizza," which he did anyway to the regret of all.
Instead of sauce this thing has nacho cheese. With cheese on top. I know that sounds like it could be magnificent, but once you add in the Little Caesars you may as well be eating an oil spill. I was impersonating that one guy in the athletic department who must have pled with Brandon "don't do this, please don't do this!" He did it. It was terrible, but it was funny.
We watched the rest of college football burn until 7:20, then dully took in the game. Each day we shovel fuel. We work in silence, etc.
I've gotten a lot of emails about how to stay positive in the midst of the towering blackness. One: I do not understand why you would ask me this question. I do not seem like a good person to answer. Phil Brabbs would be a good person. Two: life has been given to you in a context where you are evolutionarily programmed to both die and really really not want to die. The only thing to do at a funeral is laugh.
Really. I mean, not the funeral-funeral—have some decorum!—but the bits before and after that are the real thing. I was just in high school when my grandfather died but after he was in the ground his wife and children and those of us old enough to also be there sat around, talking about all the dumb and funny stuff he used to do in the present tense. And laughing.
Saturday we bought Combos and actual non-Little Caesars' food and watched college football burn down. Despite the funeral in the middle of it, we managed to have a pretty average weekend.
[After THE JUMP: if you're going to call me out just do it.]
But hey it actually looked good there for a minute. There was a bit in that second half when Michigan was grinding Rutgers down with repeated runs that broke just outside the tackle. It was probably the best sustained burst of rushing efficiency since 2012, and the numbers show it. Without sacks Michigan averaged 5.5 yards a carry. Rutgers is small, but so was Utah and that went poorly. The crumb of improvement has been found.
He just doesn't know what to do. Gardner's issue in a sentence. The interception was a bunch of bad stuff but the worst part was the pump fake before the actual throw. We've seen Gardner have these "oh shiiiii—" pumps in just about every game, and they've led to bad things. Jack Miller got driven back into him in the Notre Dame game for a fumble; in this one he threw an all-arm pass that went directly to a defender.
There's no way to fix it, and no alternative to turn to. It's just the way it is.
Darboh route issues seem severe. Michigan got extremely fortunate to get a pass interference call on another route from Amara Darboh that all but invited the cornerback to jump it. He did; Darboh tackled him to prevent an interception; the defensive back got flagged anyway.
He didn't seem so slow you could jump his routes with impunity preseason, but given the issues the defensive backs are having it's possible we just overrated everyone 1000%.
Introducing Khalid Hill. Michigan tried to convert a third and medium by throwing to AJ Williams. Williams let a pass go through his hands, punt. Michigan then seemed to turn its lonely tight end eyes to Hill, who leveled a dude as part of Michigan's grinding sequence and then caught a ball for a nice gain.
/waves tiny flag
Nobody is good or consistent. Norfleet makes a catch; Norfleet drops a ball. The OL blocks; the OL gets crushed. A tailback makes a nice play; a tailback takes a wrong turn at the line of scrimmage. The whole team seems out of sorts.
I guess I'll just never understand. I had my first opportunity to watch a pile of college football this year over the weekend, and I was struck by the opening plays for both Ole Miss and Alabama: QB runs, one a power play for Bo Wallace, the other a designed rollout run for Blake Sims. Throughout college football the threat of a QB's legs has worked itself into just about every offense in the country. And Michigan is all but ignoring Devin Gardner's.
Gardner had two called runs in this game, both of them inside the Rutgers 5. Gardner also rolled out and did a lot of fancy things on a waggle that turned into a 20-some yard touchdown. The end.
This would be a bit strange if Michigan was like Alabama and had a legion of five stars everywhere to do things with in addition to a guy who can run; in this situation it's just like… yeesh. We're not even worried about the long term ability to keep the QB on the field here. We're just trying to win a game, any game.
Related: people of MGoBlog. I got called out by Magnus about this oft-repeated opinion:
Don't let other "analysts" fool you about Gardner's abilities from under center. I have read numerous times that Gardner should not be taking snaps from under center, that Michigan's waggle is a disaster waiting to happen, that playing from under center takes away his running ability, etc. All of that is bull. First of all, this is Doug Nussmeier's offense. Just like Rich Rodriguez could not be expected to run a pro-style offense, we shouldn't expect Nussmeier to run a shotgun-only offense with all kinds of power reads, inside zone reads, midline reads, etc. Second, Gardner on a waggle or bootleg generally puts him in space with a player who is physically overmatched. I don't see how people watch things like Gardner's two touchdown runs in this game, and then walk away concluding that Gardner can't use his legs in this offense. People who say stuff like that are enamored with shotgun spread offenses, and in my opinion, their comments are being colored by an agenda rather than football knowledge.
1) If you are going to call me out, just do so instead of waving your hands at People and Things you've Read that happen to be the exact thing I espouse at the blog you've left thousands of comments on. It's not hard to figure out which particular person on the internet has put the burr up your tailpipe, and hand-waving at it is a weak attempt to avoid a rejoinder. Space Coyote does this too, refuting things that are close to but not quite what I said on a weekly basis while referring to "people". (Thinking here about the ND game, where I tweeted that Michigan allowing uncontested inside releases was getting their man coverage eaten up and that maybe having Manning at CB coach was a bad idea; SC to refuted the misconception of "fans" about these things.) It's okay to disagree with me, just be honest about it.
2) Nonsense to assert that a Doug Nussmeier offense can't handle the quarterback matriculating downfield when he ran offenses featuring Jake Locker. Locker averaged just under 10 attempts a game with Nussmeier as OC. Even if Sarkisian is calling the plays, Nussmeier is there, participating in gameplans and the like.
Suggesting that I want Michigan to go to a spread 'n' shred is strawman. I'm not suggesting that Michigan become Nebraska overnight. There is a ton of room between that and what we've got now, which is an offense that virtually ignores a major asset because dot dot dot.
3) The waggle sucks. The waggle hasn't threatened anyone downfield since 1997, usually has 10 yards as its maximum upside, and just as frequently results in the QB turning around into a very bad situation as it offers the quarterback the corner and a throw to make on the run for eh yardage. The waggle is the 8-bit Nintendo version of spread plays that let the QB look at the defense before he decides what to do, and even if the call is just a call and not a read he at least knows what he's getting into.
4) Gardner's two touchdown runs in this offense came in this context: two called runs for Gardner. One touchdown scramble on which the play set him up for ten yards and he got a touchdown. Seems like you'd want to try that more often, not less, especially when your season is trying to win any game at all instead of thinking long term.
5) Deploying "agenda" is not an argument. I have an opinion about the spread offense that an ever-increasing number of high school, college, and even pro coaches seem to agree with. If you want to argue about that, fine, but you're going to have to bring something better than unsupported assertions. The fact that I can't find any plausible pro-style coaching candidates in college other than David Shaw sums up where we're at right now.
If you want to stand in front of the tidal wave and go "nuh-uh" okay I guess.
RIP Kovacs era. When's the last time a safety busted that hard on a deep centerfield assignment? IIRC Nebraska had a long touchdown a few years back that looked like one but on review I thought that was more on JT Floyd. Air Force almost got one but that was Michigan putting way too much responsibility on a single high safety against a flexbone, not a guy just biffing.
I think it's been a long time, is what I'm saying. BTW, Montae Nicholson started Saturday for Michigan State.
The middle the middle the middle. Boggling to watch Gary Nova, he of the five interceptions against Penn State, tear up Michigan's pass defense between the hashes all night. Some of this was the usual man coverage on which the cornerbacks end up yards off their marks. I'm not sure yet about the rest yet but I'd bet a dollar Jake Ryan was repeatedly and successfully targeted in zones given the tendency he has to go for a jam and get out of position.
Clark untouched up the middle. Here's the bright side: unlike Pat Massey almost sacking Vince Young, that only cost Michigan a game against Rutgers no one outside of Piscataway will remember instead of a Rose Bowl.
Is that a bright side? I can't tell anymore.
Oops, I did it again. You've no doubt rent your garments about this already but, yes, Michigan put ten guys on the field on a punt return:
And that was after a timeout. And Norfleet fielded the punt at the four yard line.
That's the definitive shot, and about a dozen more can be found in that link above. Yes, we have to prove this beyond the shadow of a doubt because it is difficult to believe even when you've got the thing staring you in the face.]
What are you doing? I mentioned this live because it was utterly baffling as it happened: Michigan went high tempo near the end of the first half with the clock rolling in a goal-to-go situation. BTN didn't show the playclock, but as near as I can figure De'Veon Smith gets tackled and the whistle comes at 2:36. Michigan snaps the ball with 2:24 left, leaving 28 seconds on the playclock. Michigan snaps the ball on the subsequent play with 8 on the playclock, and scores. Rutgers starts their next drive with 1:43; they should have at most 1:13.
At that point Rutgers might either kneel out the clock or call one of those run-in-case-we-get-a-chunk plays. They definitely would not have had time for third and goal, which happened with—drumroll—28 seconds on the clock. Michigan's nonsense clock management directly cost them this game.
[Note that Michigan could have done better here by bleeding the clock down to one and taking timeouts, except they had burned all three of them earlier in the game. One of those was because they were baffled by Rutgers sending out their punt team. So Michigan took a timeout… and sent ten guys on to the field anyway.]
What are you doing, non-italics edition. Trying a 56-yard field goal (that was actually 55, FWIW) was so bizarre the BTN chryon guy—who was not having a stellar outing—initially listed it as a 46-yard attempt. Michigan got it blocked because of course.
When you punch the relevant data into the Advanced NFL Stats decision calculator you get a kind-of-close decision that says go for it if you think you have a 25% shot at picking up the first down.
That comes with NFL assumptions, though, and NFL kickers are insanely good. Apparently hit 55-yarders at a 40% clip(!). So… yeah. A shaky Matt Wile going up against a team that blocks a ton of kicks is probably way short of that, so that tilts the decision from close-but-wrong to just plain goofy.
What are you doing, officials edition. One of the color guys was on point when he said that Darboh's catch would have been almost certainly ruled a catch on the field if it was in bounds instead of out of bound, where refs lose their damn minds about things. Darboh secured the ball, took two steps, tried to reach for the first down, and then had the ground cause a fumble. Not ruling it a catch was awful enough; not overturning it was a boggling call on par with the Antonio Bass "fumble" against Iowa way back when.
I'm a lot more concerned that about all this other stuff, but yeah, we got hosed.
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.
Worst: Fungible Funchess
No to be the bearer of bad news to the coaching staff, but (a) they aren't going to be around next year, and (b) even if they are, Devin Funchess probably isn't. So I see no reason why they continue to "save" him during long stretches of this game. Funchess had 3 catches in the first quarter and then had 2 catches in the 4th quarter, with the only substantial one being a 17-yarder on the last drive for Michigan hat got them deep-ish into Rutgers territory. Funchess is probably a bit hurt and teams are obviously shifting their coverage to him, but no corner on the Rutgers sideline is taller than 6 feet, or 1/2 a foot shorter than Devin. What's the worst that is going to happen if you just throw it up to him - you already had micro-Megatron with Hemingway in 2011 and that worked out swimmingly.
Only MSU and maybe ND and Minnesota have secondaries that should be able to keep up with Funchess, and yet every non-Appalachian State team has been able to bottle him up reasonably well. I'm sure Funchess will explode for 200 yards against OSU when the team is 4-7, but it feels like a waste of a supremely talented player.
Alejandro Zuniga on Devin Gardner:
“Devin, is this rock bottom?” a reporter asked.
“No,” he replied. “We continue to build.”
“Where do you think Coach Hoke’s future is with the team?” another asked.
“What does that have to do with anything?” he retorted.
Alexa Dettelbach has some serious knife-twisting skills.
Brady Hoke is getting fired because Michigan cannot afford to keep losing like this in football. He'll get fired, they'll find some way to screw up the coaching search, they'll find someone that they'll try to sell to us as the man to turn it around, he'll look good for a while, and we'll regress to something worse in about four years and start this process all over again. Whether or not this happens during the season or not, once thought impossible, is now looking like it could happen. Were it not for whom Michigan faces after the bye week, I would say that he probably gets served his walking papers after Penn State next week, because losing another humiliating game on national television should do the trick.
But we'll keep watching, not because we're stupid, but because we're loyal. Because we're not loyal to a specific coach (well, maybe one), or an athletic director (OK, maybe one, but that's a very few of us), but to an ideal and because of that ideal, we're also loyal to the other people like us who share this belief, no matter how far away it feels from us right now and no matter how well or how vaguely we know them. It is built on something akin to faith, and during the darkest times, you hold fast to faith and to the faithful because when the world keeps crumbling down, it may feel like all that you have left.
DEVIN GARDNER – I thought New 98 did his best to win this game for his team. He is a leader because he has been through the most of anybody on this team. How many coaches/coordinators has he been through? To be sat down for the conference opener last week in this his 5th year had to have been a tremendous disappointment.
But true to his character, he let that slide right off his back and focused on the game at hand. DG made some sweet throws (Butt’s grab in the first half comes to mind) and his 4th quarter TD run set Michigan up for the game winning field goal. Too bad it was blocked. Wonder if New 98 can kick like Old 98??