10/5/2013 – Michigan 42, Minnesota 13 – 5-0, 1-0 Big Ten
Jon Falk has a compatriot at Minnesota. He's probably had a dozen over his 40 years as Michigan's equipment manager. Some guy who comes in with the latest Gopher coaching staff, wonders what it's like to hold the jug in his meaty palm, and maybe once gets to shepherd it for a year. Since Falk arrived at Michigan a fresh-faced young thing four years into Bo's career, his opposite number has had this experience three times.
In proof lingo, this means that beating Minnesota—beating up on Minnesota, usually—is a necessary but not sufficient property of Michigan teams that want to do anything with their seasons. Sometimes you can retain the Jug despite not being very good; sometimes you can retain the jug despite being headed for 3-9 because Nick Sheridan has an out-of-body experience. When you're headed for 3-9 you get a little misty about the Jug coming out. When you're not the worst team in Ann Arbor since the 1930s it's a checkbox to fill out.
Michigan did so in perfunctory style, grinding out a second half in which they went from vaguely threatened to bored. Since this came on the heels of narrow escapes against teams that lost 43-3 to Ohio on Saturday and 41-12 to Buffalo last week, it's progress. How much is unknown.
This game settled into a grim fugue state almost from the drop, as Michigan manballed its way into the endzone on a Statement Drive to start the game. Unfortunately, that Statement was "by putting Taylor Lewan next to Michael Schofield we can bull our way down the field against Minnesota." That statement is unlikely to apply to many teams on the schedule. But, hey, progress.
Then Minnesota donned turbans and embarked on the Ishtar Drive. An epic production galaxy-spanning in its dullness that arrived at its destination two hours too late and failed to have the desired impact, it ate up the rest of the quarter. Michigan left it without having attempted a pass.
This was a little dull.
It was the kind of dull that had Space Coyote, the Michigan's blogosphere's resident instant analysis savant, pleading with the masses that the intricacies of a well-blocked power play were just as appealing as, say, watching 175-pound Venric Mark activate his truck stick on an Ohio State safety. I can't imagine there's another Michigan fan in the world more receptive to that argument than yours truly and even I wasn't buying that as the secondary effect of all that manball kicked in: punt, commercial, play, end of quarter, commercial, play play, punt, commercial. Touchdown, commercial, kickoff, commercial—the NFL special. As the teams' attempt to blow through this game in record time was thwarted by the networks, being in Michigan Stadium became the worst concert of all time interrupted by bouts of football-related activity.
It was the kind of thing that made you consider what the purpose of your fandom was. Am I only here to see Michigan end a game with a larger number on the scoreboard than Opponent? Is there any valid goal outside of this? Am I a bad fan for wishing something interesting would happen? Do the people on twitter who scorn you for having feelings other than Go Team have a point? What is the point of any of this, and why can't they make the wifi work?
At halftime, the guys in front of me discussed whether they would bolt for Frazer's, and two did. I'm usually a guy who thinks leaving an athletic event before it's decided is a mortal sin, but I kind of envied the guy in the home-made muscle shirt screwing off to a place where he could get a beer and not hear "Build Me Up, Buttercup." At any other time, I would have thought this man's attendance at Michigan Stadium was a necessary property of a fan that he had just shown was not sufficient by leaving a touchdown game at halftime like he was a sorority girl about to blow a .341. On Saturday, I was with him in spirit.
This is a fearful development. I don't want to think like that. I want to be forever ten years old, excited by everything. On Saturday I had a long look down the elevator shaft.
It'll pass like the moment above did. Someone will do something interesting, and there will be something at stake other than a piece of crockery that just means you're not horrible, and sometimes not even that. I had a bad day, I was pissed at Dave Brandon when I discovered I was thirsty but knew I couldn't do anything about it without missing a large chunk of the game I was there to see even if it was narcoleptic, I was emo after the last few weeks of expectation-depressing terror. It'll pass, and the doors will close on the moment where I reached out and felt the slight outlines of a limit to my fandom.
Michigan won by a lot, eventually.
Completely one-sided highlights:
Brady Hoke Epic Double Point Of The Week. Has to be Michigan's new favorite worst nightmare at wide receiver: Devin Funchess. Relieved of many blocking duties and deployed on the outside, Funchess displayed fantastic hands on a couple of catches outside of his body, ran routes that got him tons of separation, and went right by a Minnesota cornerback(!) on a straight-up fly route(!) to prove himself Michigan's best deep threat(?). By the end of the game he had newspaper types plumbing the statistical depths for completely invalid comparisons to Jim Mandich, who was a tight end, which Devin Funchess is not.
Honorable mention: No Turnovers, which may be Devin Gardner's temporary name until such point as he turns it over. Schofield and Lewan were mashing as tackle brothers. Blake Countess did have a pick six, albeit one of no importance. James Ross and Desmond Morgan had lots of tackles, usually at the LOS when not facing spread formations.
Epic Double Point Standings.
1.0: Devin Gardner (ND), Jeremy Gallon (ND), Desmond Morgan(UConn), Devin Funchess(Minnesota)
0.5: Cam Gordon (CMU), Brennen Beyer (CMU)
I guess? [Upchurch]
Brady Hoke Epic Double Fist-Pump Of The Week. Wow. Are we at a loss here? We might be at a loss here. Countess's interception was after the game was decided, as was the long Funchess fly route thing. Michigan's longest run went for not many yards. I guess we're going with Fitzgerald Toussaint scoring an easy ten-yard touchdown, as it hinted that Michigan may be able to run the ball forward? Yeah, okay.
Honorable mention: Funchess reception, pick one. Countess pick. Black FF.
Epic Double Fist-Pumps Past.
8/31/2013: Dymonte Thomas introduces himself by blocking a punt.
9/7/2013: Jeremy Gallon spins through four Notre Dame defenders for a 61-yard touchdown.
9/14/2013: Michigan does not lose to Akron. Thanks, Thomas Gordon.
9/21/2013: Desmond Morgan's leaping one-handed spear INT saves Michigan's bacon against UConn.
10/5/2013: Fitzgerald Toussaint runs for ten yards, gets touchdown rather easily.
[After THE JUMP: actual game analysis instead of pathetic emo self-pity mooning!]
Judging things: hard. For one, Minnesota. Minnesota just got worked by Iowa. Iowa followed that up by getting outrushed by Michigan State's punter. For two, Minnesota embarked on a ten-minute drive in the second quarter that restricted both teams to four drives in the first half and set Michigan up with a couple of short fields. Michigan had only eight drives all game, which were:
- 35-yard MANBALL touchdown drive
- 42 yard drive starting from their own 1.
- 38-yard touchdown drive
- 75-yard touchdown drive
- 75-yard touchdown drive
- 69-yard touchdown drive
That's five touchdowns on eight drives and a third productive drive to flip field position. That's massively different picture than 348 yards against Minnesota. The offense was efficient.
It's just about how they were efficient. Michigan did seriously de-emphasize their tight ends… but not how I thought they might. I thought they might use Drew Dileo and Dennis Norfleet more, run some more shotgun/pistol stuff, table the full-on manball for a little later, when they had a TE who could shove a child into a ball pit in three tries or less.
Instead Michigan ran a lot of the same stuff they had been running before except they ran out a ton of unbalanced lines with Schofield and Lewan to the same side of the field, flanking the backside guard with AJ Williams. I may have missed a few of these, but IIRC this was 90% run and about 80% run to the Lewan/Schofield side. This worked, insofar as running for 3.2 YPC against a stacked front is working. This virtually eliminated the tight end from relevant blocks, with results like Michigan's grinding drives to open both halves. Hooray.
Is that going to work against anyone other than Minnesota? I have my doubts. Even Minnesota decided that they were going to fling bodies at the Lewan/Schofield side willy-nilly late and started stuffing things up in ugly fashion. Now that it's on film, what's your upside there once teams overplay it? More waggles. Or drop-back passes with AJ Williams pretending he's a tackle.
Call me Mr. Downerpants, but rolling out the unbalanced line offense against any vaguely competent defense is going to be an exercise in getting your face punched in. Short yardage, sure. Anything else, bler.
ALL HAIL OUR NEW RECEIVING GOD. Elsewhere in minimizing TE blocking, Devin Funchess got a lot of snaps split wide. How did that go? Just fine, thank you.
Funchess's 46 yarder was a plain old fly route on which he just ran by a guy in press coverage; he had two other receptions on which he turned the corner around and got excellent separation. Minnesota's CBs are not good, granted, but he looked like Junior Hemingway plus a half-foot. Let's leave him out there, plz. A rotation between Gallon, Chesson, and Funchess is threatening, and as a bonus it doesn't tip run hrrrrrd like, say, putting Jeremy Jackson in the slot does.
Even corners that can keep up with Funchess—evidently not all of them—are giving up a half-foot, probably eight or nine inches once Funchess's crazy long arms are factored in. If the guy's over the top, just leave it short. If he's behind, throw it a little short. Enormous WR is what he is. Forever and ever amen.
Funchess remains crazy photgenic, BTW:
All hail our new adequate or better guard. Chris Bryant got smoked for a sack. That was bad, but in the UConn game the guy he replaced got beat on three separate pass protections against UConn. That's an upgrade.
In the run game he seemed better, as well, pulling on the first two plays and getting to the appropriate place and not getting dumped in the backfield even once. Hageman had little impact on the game save for a TFL with four minutes left when Michigan was in full run-run-pass mode as they strove to kill the clock.
@gglasgow61 is your heart lighter than a feather
— mgoblog (@mgoblog) October 7, 2013
so… this happened
Meanwhile, Graham Glasgow hardly seemed to miss a beat as the center. Michigan had one procedure penalty, that a false start on Lewan; Michigan fumbled one exchange. No one tore through Glasgow to eat someone despite the extra complication of snapping, and he's just as responsible as the other two interior OL for neutralizing Hageman. So far so good, and unlike large chunks of the results from this game you can maybe take that seriously since Hageman is a guy projected to go in the first couple rounds of the next NFL draft.
Tentative thumbs up to nouveau offensive line. Penn State
should be may be a stiffer test.
Chesson comin'. Jehu Chesson was announced on the video boards as the third WR starter (along with Gallon and Dileo) and his targets reflect that. After only a couple looks his way in the first two games, Chesson probably has ten targets in the last three. He had a couple issues against UConn, but he also had a nice catch and run against Akron and adjusted well to an underthrown ball in this game. This is the kind of progression you hope to see: steady progress leading towards a large role by the end of the year.
Gallon overtargeting complaints goin'. Chesson and Funchess emerging should stop teams from sliding coverage over Jeremy Gallon, which Ace spotted in the press box, and allow Gallon to re-emerge as a frequent, productive Gardner target.
Same drive look as provided for the offense. Because it was weird:
- Three and out finished by a fumble.
- Epic 16 play, 75-yard touchdown march.
- 23 yards, punt.
- Three and out.
- 9 play, 55 yard FG drive.
- 11 play, 51 yard FG drive.
- 19 yards, punt.
- 29 yards, pick six
That's… fine. The norse saga that was the second drive was very, very frustrating and equally perception-distorting; I still get the vibe that this defense is a lot like Mattison's previous two outfits: good and only good, because they have no real stars. The good news is that Michigan gets Jake Ryan back soon, and he should provide a jolt.
this is a sack yo [Bryan Fuller]
Pass rush check in. It wasn't great but again I think Michigan got shorted in the stats. Jibreel Black clearly forced a fumble behind the LOS to end Minnesota's first drive but did not get credit for a sack in the stats. Brennen Beyer was similarly shorted in the opener on a sack/strip. I just looked this up: unless things have changed since 2011 (page 4), a FF on the QB in the backfield is a sack. Is Michigan's official scorer screwing this up? This is twice now.
Anyway: mediocre at best, again. Two sacks on 21 attempts, both of them flush-and-chases after a moderate amount of time in the pocket. It's okay, I guess? Michigan again laid back and blitzed sparingly, contributing to that. It is what it is at this point. At least Jake Ryan is returning soon.
Man, that looked bad. No official word yet but with Ondre Pipkins coming off the field without putting any weight on his left leg and the general reaction, I'd be surprised if he wasn't done for the year with an ACL tear or something similar. It looked bad.
That's the worst possible timing, as if this had happened in the last game Pipkins would be eligible for a medical redshirt; now he's (seemingly) just lost a season of eligibility and has to rehab his knee while attempting to maintain, if not up, his level of fitness. That's tough if you're Blake Countess, tougher still if you're a 320 pound nose tackle.
Nose tackle is a bad spot to take a hit because of the one-and-a-half starter thing. Michigan may be able to get away with Washington for the majority of the time since they'll lift him in the nickel; Richard Ash and maybe Willie Henry will absorb what snaps Washington can't handle.
[UPDATE: Hoke confirms that Pipkins tore his ACL and is done for the year.]
Very conservative. The above is photographic proof that Minnesota did indeed throw it at a wide receiver on a pass that was not the slightly terrifying time Countess got beat over the top and Leidner left it way short. Jibreel Black looks like he's about to help tackle, so that's probably four yards downfield. Minnesota played offense a lot like Michigan: terrified of shooting itself in the face.
Minnesota came in trying to shorten the game, and did so. Michigan conspired to help them by playing soft. It ended up fine, but there were a lot of nervous moments until Michigan pulled away in the second half. It was frustrating to watch, as it didn't seem like Minnesota had any prayer of exploiting hypothetical Michigan blitzes on the regular.
Game theory thing: you're playing into the underdog's hands by playing bend but don't break, as they can shorten the game in a manner similar to Minnesota's. Then if you make a mistake you're in a dogfight instead of slightly annoyed. Unlike UConn, Minnesota was configured to do this sort of thing. If blitzing is EV neutral you should do it, and in this one it seemed unlikely that it could be anything but EV+ going up against a freshman who's not much of a thrower.
Wile seems fixed. Three punts for an average of 52 yards each following five for 42 yards each against UConn. Hopefully the shanks are behind him.
Gibbons irrelevancy parade ho. He's had two attempts the last three weeks: a missed 45-yarder against Akron and the chip shot to take the lead against UConn. 4/5 on the season, and while he'll get some extra opportunities against better defenses it is a tribute to Gardner's red zone skills that he's a bit player at best.
Dileo: what took so long? Drew Dileo may not be the fastest guy in the world but he came in as a guy who was supposedly a punt return specialist, watched Jeremy Gallon make a lot of bad decisions and not return the ball very far very much, and then had a similar experience with Dennis Norfleet. (Norfleet at least looked like a real threat when he got his hands on a returnable punt.)
Dileo has moonlighted as the returner throughout his career but it seems like it took errors from other guys over three years to take and give him the full-time punt return job. He's made two tough catches on line drives that he's returned and has not fumbled or made a bad decision yet. Punt it to Dileo.
Picture Special K trolling. I'm still not sure what it is about "Blurred Lines" that makes it more of a target of feminist ire than every other song in its genre, but if it gets people noticing that a decent chunk of Special K's playlist is about bonin', okay. Daily:
The song was played three times Saturday during Michigan’s 42-13 win over Minnesota. Twice, the song cut out after the lyrics “Everybody get up,” but the third time the song played over the speakers at the Big House, it reached the chorus. This is a chorus that repeats the words, “I know you want it,” over and over again by an artist who clearly knows exactly what all women want by saying, “Nothing like your last guy, he too square for you/ He don’t smack that ass and pull your hair like that.”
Last year, Special K played "Whistle," which in addition to being stupid is obviously about blowjobs in a way that causes 13-year-olds to titter. I'm personally more offended by "Build Me Up, Buttercup" but I've given up on the idea Michigan Stadium will be anything other than a place I grit my teeth and tolerate so I can watch Michigan play football; that's not going away. Can we at least agree that songs with overt sexual content are not appropriate for a football game?
Well, listening to this game on ESPN2 was about as much fun as listening to Michael Cole do anything during a match. By my rough calculations, the announcers droned on about Devin Gardner’s “poor” accuracy for 8.5 quarters of the game, and complained about a 30-yard completion to Gallon because it was behind him. Of course, later in the day the ESPN ticker pointed out that Gardner has the second-best QBR line of the day (94.2), and that included QBs who played against Temple, Georgia State, and Colorado. I know announcers want to add drama to events that organically lack it, and Gardner clearly had some issue throwing the ball at times. But you could have left the door and some commentors from RCMB and Bucknuts could have taken a turn on the mic without people noticing a difference in quality. I suspect ESPN doesn’t care one bit, but when UM fans are clamoring for Spielman (who is fantastic) and Mason or Herbstreit (less so), you know you’re having troubles in the booth.
Four Fried Chickens and a Coke
* The four returning linemen joined with newcomer, Chris Bryant, to provide an effective rushing attack. Michigan only fumbled one snap, something that we were all worried about, and gave up only one sack. It was really nice not watching our center get pushed back five yards on nearly every play.
* Besides the 9 yard sack, our o-line only gave up 4 yards worth of TFL's to Minnesota.
And some dry white toast please
* Wile was back to normal, providing all the excitement of dry white toast. He averaged 51.7 yards on three punts, that netted an average of 45.7 yards.
I hate Illinois Nazis
* If you're going to make a Blues Brothers-inspired T-Shirt about one of our longstanding rivals, how is this NOT the shirt?
This is a fair point.
More photos from Maize and Blue Nation.
Devin Funchess is the next Braylon Edwards. Sophomore tight end Devin Funchess exploded for 7 catches, 151 yards, and 1 touchdown on Saturday. The coaching staff made the decision to split Funchess out wide for most of the game, rather than using him as a true tight end - which makes some sense because Funchess is a poor blocker.
That's the most enthusiastic Magnus has ever been about anything.
POINT AFTER: The interference non-call
Late in the second quarter, Michigan had a 3rd and 8 where Gardner threw one over the middle for Funchess and he was clearly interfered with and no call was made. That was complete horse radish.
I'm not sure if this is why, but I'm pretty sure that ball took a slight deflection as it passed a linebacker further upfield.
MATT WILE (PUNTER) – I’m giving this to Wile (as a punter and not as a kickoff artist) based on the fact he not only boomed one punt 55 yards, but it ended up being downed at the 1-foot line:
By flipping the field on the Gophers, UM benefitted from the field position and ended up scoring on the ensuing possession. He also had another punt that was fair caught just inside the Gopher 20-yard line.
this week I am embarrassed
but last week I was humiliated, so I guess it is an improvement.
Northwestern won Gameday.
News folks. Player interviews from Maize and Blue News. Lewan:
Lewan on the run game:
“I feel like we found a groove today,” Lewan said. “Every first down we were gaining yards except for one or two. That’s the goal — keep moving the line of scrimmage, keep getting those yards and eventually one of those will pop. Fitz is a great running back. He’s got to get an opportunity to show it. Fitz needs to have at least 100 yards every game in my opinion, he deserves this. He works so hard.”
He does have a point that the consistency has something to say for itself, in the same way that it's worth running instead of passing even though YPA is generally a lot higher than YPC.
As Gardner tells it, during the week, the line “told me they weren’t going to let me get hit. So I like that.”
Fifth-year senior left tackle Taylor Lewan disputed that, saying he would never pledge something he couldn’t deliver. (“If they bring too many guys, if they bring 11 guys and we have six protecting, I’m not going to be like, ‘OK Devin, good luck!’ ” Lewan said.)
"Can't block" is kind of a big criticism for a TE. Not so much a WR.
Fundamentally, Minnesota isn’t a dramatic step up in terms of competition. But that hardly mattered Saturday, because this was about building confidence as much as it was building an identity,
“We want to run the ball,” coach Brady Hoke said. “And we wanted to send that message.”
And inasmuch as the two go hand-in-hand, Saturday’s message should be well-received.