9/6/2014 – Michigan 0, Notre Dame 31 – 1-1
I set a new record for earliest departure from a Michigan game Saturday: 10 minutes and change, besting the 2007 Oregon game that I left with about six minutes left. And I feel… okay, I guess.
Ace and I did the podcast Sunday and it's actually kind of good. This is a far cry from previous podcasts in the aftermath of doom. The Alabama one was barely worth recording, and we knew it at the time. This one runs down the suck but there's a jaunty air and no one seems like they're taking the bar exam after a 72-hour bender.
We are used to it. And hey, man, Michigan outgained Notre Dame. I know we lost 31-0 but that was nowhere near as emasculating as that aforementioned Oregon game or the 2008 Ohio State game in which Brandon Minor was the only Michigan player who looked like he was in college instead of high school or last year's Michigan State game in which Michigan acquired –48 rushing yards. Or maybe it was but we can't tell because our football testicles have been ground away by the sandpaper of the last seven years and all we feel is increasing smoothness.
Oh man. This feels really smooth.
I can't even remember why I didn't want this bit between my legs to be so flat you could try to set a land speed record over it.
I don't know, man. You only have one thing to base predictions of the future on: the past. And the past suggested that Blake Countess was a pretty good cornerback who couldn't cope with Tyler Lockett. It didn't look like that on Saturday night. It looked like Tony Gibson was in town again.
Notre Dame built its unassailable lead on a series of man press-type coverages on which ND would break to the inside unmolested without a Michigan cornerback even there to tackle on the catch. That is a recipe for disaster. With Raymon Taylor knocked out and Channing Stribling burned just like Countess was on his first play, Michigan had no choice but to throw Countess out there again. He promptly ended up yards away from Will Fuller on the fade all the inside stuff had set Michigan up for.
Countess had six interceptions as part of a pretty good pass defense a year ago and while that was a passive zone thing you kind of figure that guys capable of doing that will be capable at man coverage.
That was emphatically disproven on Saturday, throwing the entire offseason into question. The deck chair shuffling of defensive coaches touted as the path forward now looks ludicrous.
- you're going to give your defense an extreme makeover based on pressure and man-to-man coverage and
- you rearrange your coaching staff so that your new cornerbacks coach is a guy who has never played or coached the position before and
- then your corners are a complete fiasco in their first real test, then
people are going to think that's a bad idea man.
By all accounts Roy Manning is a terrific recruiter and enthusiastic, dedicated coach. He's just not a secondary coach. That kind of random insertion at position X is something lower-level (like, DII) schools do because of limited resources. Michigan found itself in that position because…
I don't actually know. That was not a rhetorical pause.
Best as I can figure, Hoke loathes firing anyone. For most of last year it was expected that Borges would return because those were the vibes the program was emanating, and the about-face there still has conspiracy theorists asserting that Brandon made him make the switch. Approximately 80% of emails to me this offseason were some variant of FIRE DARRELL FUNK FERGODSAKES, and it's hard to imagine many programs sticking with the offensive line coach after that.
Meanwhile Hoke's standoffishness with everyone outside the program is increasing daily. Everyone inside the velvet rope is golden. Everyone on the outside is garbage. The bunker mentality is suddenly warranted, at least.
Getting blown out 31-0 by Notre Dame is a gamechanging event. You can feel it in the nonsense decisions Hoke made in the second half. Michigan played turtle ball that saw Michigan run 35 seconds off the clock between snaps in the middle of the third quarter; they left Funchess and Gardner in the game deep into the fourth quarter. Let's look like we're trying without actually doing so. Make it look good for the boss.
Gardner ended up taking a lethal cheap shot on the final snap, and no one in a winged helmet seemed to notice or care. That was eerily reminiscent of the hockey team a couple years ago when Mac Bennett was the recipient of a dirty hit at the end of a 5-1 blowout at the hands of lowly BGSU. No one responded, and it was obvious they were cooked.
Hoke talks about toughness constantly, but when asked to defend their quarterback they walked away, to a man. Maybe that's Taylor Lewan's fault too.
This program has a real knack for blaming the people who aren't around anymore for its current failings. Let's detail those real quick: Michigan is 3-7 in their last ten games with wins over Indiana, Northwestern in three overtimes, and Appalachian State. Brady Hoke was 16-4 with Denard Robinson as his starting quarterback and is 11-9 since, excluding the Nebraska game he went out of. Michigan has one road win over a team with a winning record, that over 7-6 Illinois in 2011. The trajectory is not good.
This is a breaking point. Either Michigan comes to Jesus, or they break. It was at this moment that Michigan hockey turned to Andrew Copp, a freshman, because it was clear no one else had any of that leadership stuff, and charged towards respectability. They ended up short, but it was better than that BGSU game in which they couldn't muster a third-period shot until 15 minutes in.
There's time yet to salvage something, Lloyd Carr-style, but little reason to believe such a thing is possible. One thing's certain: we are running out of people to blame other than the ones in charge.
From the ND perspective, not that there's any other possible:
Brady Hoke Epic Double Points Of The Week. Devin Funchess (#1) was real good at catching the ball, especially that one time they targeted him downfield at the end of the third quarter.
#2 Willie Henry was a key component of a run defense that held Notre Dame to 72 yards, sacks and whatnot excluded.
#3 Ryan Glasgow was also a key component of that run D.
Epic Double Point Standings.
6: Devin Funchess (#1, APP, #1 ND)
2: Devin Gardner (#2, APP), Willie Henry (#2 ND)
1: Ryan Glasgow (#3, ND)
0.5: Kyle Kalis (T3, APP), Ben Braden (T3, APP)
Brady Hoke Epic Double Fist-Pump Of The Week.
For the single individual best moment.
Honorable mention: Nothing.
Epic Double Fist-Pumps Past.
AppSt: Derrick Green rumbles for 60 yards.
MARCUS HALL EPIC DOUBLE BIRD OF THE WEEK. Other than everything it has to be the fourth-and-three conversion on which Countess was nowhere to be found. That led to an ND touchdown that opened the margin to two touchdowns.
Honorable mention: Matt Wile misses two field goals to end longish drives and put Michigan in a hole. Gardner has Chesson wide open 20 yards downfield in front of his face, holds the ball, and gets annihilated, fumbling. Countess torched on a fade.
AppSt: Devin Gardner dares to throw an incomplete pass.
ND: Countess nowhere to be found on fourth and three.
[After the JUMP: things. probably!]
My perceptions of things are going to be warped. I have old-timey seats for home games and watch a lot of road games on TV, so I'm not used to the all-22-ish view endzone seats high up provide and don't feel particularly confident about evaluating anything line-related.
The thing about sitting there is that the field seems so unbelievably enormous and uncoverable, especially when there are two spreads going at each other.
Yup, spread. Michigan spent probably 80% of its night in a shotgun and with three wide or thereabouts. The personnel was often 3 WR, 1 TE, 1 RB; the tight ends acted as WRs maybe 40% of the time. And that seemed like the best option.
I'm still not sure how Michigan rushed for like two yards a carry; it felt like the line was actually opening up some holes. Speaking of…
Offensive line stuff. It also didn't feel like Gardner was under siege that much. There were a couple of inexplicable events where Sheldon Day (of all people) was left alone, but when they actually blocked guys the kind of pressure they were allowing was gentle pocket pushing that should have given Gardner enough time to get something done. He did not.
From my vantage point he looked confused; even aside from the turnovers—the fumble was truly boggling—he just did not get rid of the ball in a timely fashion. And the fumble was boggling. That pocket was fine; he had to move around a little but then had all day and a wide open Chesson right down the pipe. He ignored him.
TEMPO, TEMPO, TEMPO. I give up. IIRC, Gardner's first interception came on a play where Michigan got to the line late and had to snap or die, giving him little time to look at what the defense was providing and no time for the OL to identify a blitz off the corner that caused him to throw a ball to no one in a winged helmet. Then they were getting the play off with four seconds left on the clock in the third quarter. Michigan managed the clock worse than a team that burned all its first half timeouts in the first 12 minutes of the game.
This is not an offensive coordinator thing. This is a program thing. It is never going to be any better with Hoke in Ann Arbor.
Honeymoon: over. Despite the overall sensible shape of the offense, the swing away from Borges-ball was so severe that Michigan's first downfield shot at a 5'9" corner with Devin Funchess happened 45 minutes in. I'm flabbergasted by that. This wasn't throwing deep balls at Junior Hemingway in a trash tornado with Denard Robinson as your QB. It was an obviously good matchup for you featuring a height difference of at least a half-foot. It should have been tried on just about every drive.
Maybe I'll see a ton more pressure on Gardner that I thought existed watching the game live.
so unbelievably tiny [Fuller]
Norfleet: extant. Dennis Norfleet was an unexpected focus of the offense in the first half; on the play above he caught up to a looping ball from Gardner for the world's shortest over-the-shoulder catch. Aside from one bubble screen he had no shot on, he was effective and productive. He even took a handoff for about ten yards. Hooray.
Speaking of that bubble: that kind of overplay is ripe for a riposte; Michigan never went back to it for the bubble-fake-to-slant-or-post thing.
The recovery. Jourdan Lewis was forced into a lot of playing time and suffered for it early. On ND's first touchdown drive he was the recipient of a couple of pass interference calls. This was one:
That was unnecessary panic. Check the sideline: the wide receiver is leaping into it. Lewis played that route about perfectly and freaked out when he'd already defeated the route.
But the run defense was great! Seriously, it was great. ND rushed for about 75 yards, sacks and whatnot excluded. ND's tailbacks each had a long of six yards and they only got as far as that because it felt like the linebackers were missing tackles on Cam McDaniel. On any other planet on any other day that is a foundation for victory. That is a win against a veteran offensive line and some good backs—Bryant in particular looked hard to bring down in ways that Michigan's backs are not.
No Peppers was bad. Delonte Hollowell got worked over in the slot, incapable of sticking with the slot receivers either inside or out. I wholeheartedly reject any idea that Michigan doesn't have enough talent or that injuries played a major factor when Notre Dame is down four starters, including their top WR; at this spot the dropoff was severe and understandable. Probably anyway, we haven't exactly seen Peppers play much.
Clark did have some impact. He was spinning around the left tackle with regularity, but Golson was mobile enough to get out of the way. Michigan didn't get enough contribution from a second guy to get Golson on the ground, and the guy is great on the move. They had one third and long conversion where he was flushed and put it on a guy's numbers 20 yards downfield and the coverage was actually tight. That one was just a tip of the hat.
Firing guy stuff. For the record, firing someone before the end of the regular season is a pointless exercise in self-immolation. I shouldn't have to say that, you're probably thinking, but I got a lot of emails and tweets about shoving Hoke out of the airplane on the way home. And, hey, Michigan could rip off a bunch of wins in a crappy conference and then this game is just a weird ND stadium juju thing. Information is good and we're about to get a lot more of it.
I do think this game changes the way an 8-4 season might be looked at, especially if it's followed by hamblastings at Michigan State (likely) and Ohio State (maybe not so likely). I don't know about everyone's dimestore psychological readings of Dave Brandon, a man who says "I could care less." Most assert that he won't admit he was wrong and will hold on to Hoke, but soft ticket demand threatens to undermine the only thing Brandon defenders have in their pocket: the annual budget's revenue line. Since Brandon defenders include Brandon, a move might happen as the guy attempts to save himself.
Of course, the prospect of another Brandon-led coaching search terrifies. You can deep-six an athletic director whenever you want. That would be the canary in the coal mine here.
The nicest thing about South Bend: going to a rivalry game without feeling like you may be assaulted at any time for wearing the wrong colors. I have been to Notre Dame five times and literally the worst thing that's happened to me is that a small child said "good game, mister" after Michigan lost 25-23 during the Navarre era. That will be the all-time record. I've gone to games that have nothing to do with Michigan wearing M gear and gotten more guff than I have in South Bend.
Weird that the same fanbase has the worst internet fans in the world, but you have to keep in mind that anyone talking about something on the internet is by definition part of the fringe—IIRC stats say 90% of people just read.
Both teams had 8 TFLs. Notre Dame was able to overcome theirs. That may be because our defense only picked up 31 yards on our 8 TFLs, while they gained 52 yards.
* Only three of our 8 TFLs given up occurred in the first half, so I don't think you can blame them for the 21-0 deficit. That's a positive, right?
* Of the 8, only 2 were accrued by the running backs. For all the complaining about the offensive line, at least we're getting a stalemate or better in the running game. The problem is in the passing game where blockers are inexplicably leaving interior defensive lineman free to get to the QB, and the QB is not utilizing his pressure relief valves, i.e., the running backs. Joe Kerridge had 1 reception for 4 yards, and that's it for the RBs. When a team is blitzing consistently, the screen game or the quick dumpoff must be utilized. Joe Kerridge had 1 reception for 4 yards, and that's it for the RBs. Yes, that merits repeating because I thought we were done with that crap when Borges left.
Honestly, I'm not sure what happened out there in terms of pressure from the defensive line. You look at the box score and see some TFLs, 1 sack and a couple of QB hits and it looks like another disappointing outing for a unit that just can't seem to get to the QB against quality offensive lines. And yet, ND was held to around 2.5 yards a carry on 28 non-QB runs, and Golson was definitely getting the ball out quickly to slow down the rush. It still seems like it's a line of good players without a true playmaker, and in this scheme you need a line that can create havoc so that your corners and LBs are being forced to keep up with receivers for extended periods of time. I know people want to treat this as another sign of hype being exposed, but I'm just not sure yet.
Nussmeier gets the worst nut from the HSR:
Might have to figure out what –1 is for State. Touch The Banner:
This offensive line isn't as bad as last year. Center Jack Miller was repeatedly shoved back into Devin Gardner's grill, and that's a problem. But not every team has a Jarron Jones. Mason Cole and Erik Magnuson had several communication issues on the left side, but that comes with the territory of starting a true freshman left tackle. Regardless of the numbers, I thought the offensive line looked closer to the one that opened up huge holes against Appalachian State than the one that soured the taste in our mouths in 2013. Michigan is not a team that can wear teams down by running the ball, but they should be able to run the ball enough to keep most defenses off balance.