10/7/2017 – Michigan 10, Michigan State 14 – 4-1, 1-1 Big Ten
a metaphor for somethin' [Bryan Fuller]
Don Brown is in one of those Progressive commercials where everything gradually turns white, except in his case everything is gradually turning back into Boston College. Someone walks by with a bunch of hockey sticks. Bill Simmons is on the television again. He swears he overhears a conversation about pahking the cah. Maroon filters into his peripheral vision.
On Wednesday at three fifteen PM there is going to be a knock on the door. Steve Addazio is going to walk in and sit down. Brown will summon all his willpower not to jam the nearest pen through his own eyesocket, to claw the power of sight from his face and evaporate from the world of men.
Jay Harbaugh, seated, will wonder if the slight twitch under Brown's eye means anything or if it's just something that happens to men of a certain age. He will not say something about "guys being dudes," and will never know how close he—how close all of us—came to Total Mustache Annihilation. He will tell Brown about Terrace House, a Japanese version of the Real World where everyone is very nice and considerate of each other's feelings.
Thus disabused of the Addazio specter, Brown will resume destroying all that opposes him until the inevitable knife in the back. He tries not to think of Sisyphus, and fails.
Michigan's main problem on offense is that they are bad at it. This is not a good problem. "Our right tackle sucks" is something you might be able to address. "Almost everyone is not good at football right now" leads to situations like Saturday. I brought up the Law Of Large Percentages Multiplied A Lot, which is something I just made up right now, in a brief twitter conversation with a reporter who wanted people to know one weird thing about Oklahoma football:
This is the 7th straight season Oklahoma has lost a game in which it was a double-digit favorite. Seventh.
— Matt Fortuna (@Matt_Fortuna) October 7, 2017
That is a weird thing, but it's not as weird as it sounds. If OU was a 10 point favorite in eight games they'd get through unscathed just 12% of the time*. If they were a 14 point favorite they get up to 27%. You have to get up to 17.5—a 93.7% shot at victory!—before Hypothetical OU even hits 50%. The Law Of Large Percentages Multiplied A Lot is that even big ones fall off faster than you'd think.
Michigan's offense has 6-7-8 guys who have to execute on any particular play for it to be a success, and... let's just say many of them are not three-score favorites to do so on any particular play. They are an example of The Law Of Large Percentages And Some Quite Small Ones Multiplied A Lot. The results can be seen in the box score, or the haunted look on the face of a man who replaced ten starters and still has the #3 defense in the country.
And so today the Must brigade is out. "Must" is the worst word in sportswriting for a lot of reasons. Foremost among them is that whatever follows "must" is something so blindingly obvious Marcelo Balboa is probably talking about a replay of it as we speak. He must catch that ball. He must YES WE KNOW I HAVE EYES, AT LEAST FOR NOW, I'M CONSIDERING A CHANGE IN THAT DEPARTMENT, THANK YOU.
I spent most of the weekend trying and failing to get this column done because I couldn't wade into any commentary on the game that wasn't furious and over the top, and immediately made me want to go do something else. Weird shit happens in college football, especially when you're playing your backup QB, and there's a brief second-half monsoon, and on top of that you turn the ball over five times. Various dirt stupid people are now flogging a "Harbaugh is 1-4 versus rivals" thing as if that encapsulates the whole of his tenure, or even his career. Yeah, Michigan had the dumb thing happen on the punt and lost by a literal inch in Columbus last year. If you're ascribing that to something other than chance I cannot help you.
Whatever Harbaugh MUST do he's probably already doing. He has a track record, and he'll either follow that up with more of the same or not. We're oddly locked in: few coaches trying to establish themselves at a new school come with the pedigree that Harbaugh does, so he'll get a ton of time and a bunch of rope and we'll see where it goes. It'll probably go really well once they aren't carrying the baggage of someone else's screwups on top of their base rate.
But I mean, go ahead and yell about how unacceptable everything is, I guess. We are dying to hear about your feelings.
*[This is based on this site's conversion of point spreads to winners.]
Known Friends And Trusted Agents Of The Week
you're the man now, dog
#1 Mo Hurst. Hurst got to play a lot of three tech this week and went from making good plays that someone else scoops up the glory on to wrecking the interior of the opposition offense himself. The fourth down stop stands out, because Hurst may have induced the fumble from a nervous center; Hurst whooped him anyway and the play was doomed either way.
#2 Lavert Hill. Hill's three PBUs were all excellent plays, and he was in the hip pocket of whoever his assignment was for the duration. MSU had... one open receiver? Maybe two? Lewerke averaged 4.3 YPA. Hill played the largest part in that.
#3 Brad Robbins. Averaged 43 yards a punt in often-difficult conditions and mindblasted the MSU returner on the muff; gave up just ten total return yards on seven attempts.
Honorable mention: Most of the rest of the defense. And... Grant Perry, I guess?
8: Devin Bush (#1 Florida, T2 Cincinnati, T2 Air Force, #1 Purdue)
5: Chase Winovich(#1 Air Force, #2a Purdue)
3: Mason Cole (#1, Cincinnati), Ty Isaac (#2, Florida, #3 Cincinnati), Mo Hurst (#1 MSU)
2: Quinn Nordin (#3 Florida, #3 Air Force), John O'Korn (#2 Purdue), Lavert Hill (#2 MSU)
1: Khaleke Hudson (T2 Cincinnati), Tyree Kinnel (T2 Cincinnati), Mike McCray(T2 Air Force), Sean McKeon(T3 Purdue), Zach Gentry (T3 Purdue), Brad Robbins(#3 MSU).
Who's Got It Better Than Us Of The Week
MSU's punt returner dorfs on a bomb by Robbins, muffing it back to the two and setting up a short field that Michigan would use to get their touchdown.
Honorable mention: The first drive was pretty all right until the back-to-back fades.
MARCUS HALL EPIC DOUBLE BIRD OF THE WEEK.
Eddie McDoom drops a pass that would have taken Michigan down to the 25 with 13 seconds left.
Honorable mention: Pick a turnover but especially the first two, as they were key in Michigan's deficit by the time the rain arrived. Lewerke scrapes out a late first down because he lands on Michigan players. Michigan gets a touchdown wiped off the board on a Higdon holding call. Most offensive plays.
[After THE JUMP: what would you say you do here]
Under pressure. I am down with Tim Drevno glaring at this juncture. He got dealt a tough hand. So far he's blown it. He comes in late and takes a flier on Ulizio; Ulizio just got yanked for Bushell-Beatty. More egregious was Michigan's OL recruiting the year after. Despite an obvious, crying need for tackles Michigan took zero—zero zero zero.
They inherited Erik Swenson and dicked around with him until January despite the fact they knew they had no desire to take him. Then they got blindsided by Devery Hamilton's Stanford flip. Replacing those guys was... nobody. Michigan added Stephen Spanellis, who's 100% a guard, and has since played Ben Bredeson exclusively at guard despite the fact that he was supposedly neck and neck with Newsome for the LT job last year. So instead of two redshirt freshman tackle bullets Michigan has nothing but Ulizio and Brady Hoke's leftovers.
Michigan has one highly touted tackle in Drevno's tenure, freshman Chuck Filiaga. Michigan had to know about the looming hole there and they've utterly failed to address it. That goes back to Drevno. Add in the disjointed OL in year three and it might be FCS head coaching time.
Settle in. Bizarrely, in the midst of the game Chris Fowler told the world that Wilton Speight had cracked vertebrae and was out for the season. Tom Van Haaren followed this up with an article:
Wilton Speight has three broken vertebrae in his back, a source confirmed to ESPN.
ESPN's Chris Fowler first reported Speight's injury at the top of ABC's Saturday night broadcast of the Michigan State-Michigan game saying: "Wilton Speight ... he is out, probably for the season. He has three broken vertebrae, he told us." ...
While it's likely that Speight will be out for the remainder of the season, he will be reevaluated six to eight weeks after the injury occurred.
For unnecessary confirmation, a reader forwarded this David Turnley photo along from instasnapbook:
I got a report that Speight told someone not affiliated with ESPN he could be back in four weeks. I'd assume that the longer projection is more likely to be correct. It boggles the mind that fractured freakin' vertebrae aren't obviously season-ending. Anyway, don't expect Speight back any time soon.
O'Korn couldn't see anything. I don't know how much of O'Korn's tendency to stand in the pocket for four or five seconds before attempting to scramble out was on him and how much was on the wide receivers not getting open. That was the main theme in the passing offense, though: reasonable protection that eventually breaks down on the right side; O'Korn hangs onto the ball way too long. A couple of sacks were four or five seconds in the pocket, and O'Korn has to know that he's not likely to get that much time.
Break glass in case of—*BREAKS GLASS*. If Speight's out for the year and O'Korn continues to struggle the calls for Brandon Peters will be incessant, and I'll be amongst them. Without a radically improved offense this team is topping out as a Citrus Bowl outfit. Time to see what Peters brings to the table.
THIS IS THE WRONG PERSON TO FADE AT [Upchurch]
I have several problems with you people. Michigan's first drive was going swimmingly until two routes in the corner of the endzone yielded zilch. One was a wheel route to McKeon that was well covered, and I guess that's understandable. The second was a fade to McDoom. Michigan's policy of exclusively throwing fades at people a foot shorter than Zach Gentry is driving me crazy. Fades aren't great in general. Fades at a 5'11" guy who isn't Jeremy Gallon make me want to fade into Bolivia.
At least the Hail Mary went at the right guy:
So we've got that going for us.
Zero QB run game. Other game calling complaints: Michigan had zero QB run game for O'Korn. I'm not asking Michigan to go Denard with him, but at no point did Michigan make MSU even think about O'Korn as a runner. Very frustrating when MSU gets half their rushing yards from Lewerke, and even more so when the second half cried out for various ways to make yards without throwing the ball.
These guys are too close together [Upchurch]
Next to zero deep shots. I saved the worst for last, but I'm not sure exactly who this is on: Michigan basically did not test the Michigan State safeties in pass coverage. One attempted corner route to Gentry was broken up after it looked like DPJ ran the wrong route, drawing additional defenders—or at least not delaying them. Michigan didn't go after them again, basically for the whole game. What deep shots did exist were on the sideline against the corners; M utterly failed to heed the lessons of the Big 12.
Crawford. He had a play on a deep ball and did not make it, adding to his litany of missed opportunities. Have to wonder if Black could have made a difference here. The continued absence of Oliver Marin and Nico Collins means they're all but certain to redshirt; I guess I can't complain about that because Freshman Wide Receivers Suck, but I am a little disappointed one of them hasn't broken through a battered screen door.
Yes, Brady Hoke is still partially responsible for this. The only Hoke players who are playing more than a very minor role are the two fullbacks, Ty Isaac, Mason Cole, and Patrick Kugler. The quarterback depth chart reads...
Generic Three Star
- Houston Transfer
- Redshirt Freshman
...because of Hoke.
Michigan's unusual wait to pick up Harbaugh is another contributing factor. Harbaugh brought in a bunch of dudes from the NFL who were picking up college recruiting cold and had to scramble to add a number of guys in three weeks. They added more contributors in that time than Hoke did for the entire cycle. (Wheatley, Gentry, Higdon, and Perry vs Kinnel, Newsome, and I guess Ulizio.) It was still not enough to rescue a tiny class.
So that's how you stay in contact with five turnovers. The preview projected ten MSU points plus whatever the offense handed them, and this turned out to be pessimistic. MSU had 8 three-and-outs, one of them a four-and-out turnover on downs. They gave up a short-field TD drive based mostly on QB scrambles; they gave up an actual long TD drive that was about half a contested downfield deep ball that was a PBU... and also a catch. A selection of we-saved-this plays got them the rest of the way. One 50 yard run was about the only other thing Michigan gave up until the four-minute drill that got a couple first downs, the second incredibly fortunate.
The second-half D was helped out by the weather and MSU's (very, very correct) conservative approach, but you really can't ask for more. Michigan should have ground MSU down in a field position game for the entirety of the second half and won, but O'Korn's interceptions prevented that.
More Mone. Bryan Mone got his most extensive playing time of the year. He—or another DT—was almost always in there on any manball-ish snap. Mone did well, plowing various dudes back, and that's reassuring for future manball outings and Mone's future in general.
Bush relatively quiet. Devin Bush made a number of tackles at or near the line of scrimmage but didn't have any dramatic backfield plunderings. For the first time this year he was held off the stat sheet aside from tackles. It'll be interesting to see whether that was tactical from either team, a manball effect, or just one of those things.
FWIW, the PF he got was total crap; even if he deserved it he'd just been punched in the face and at worst it should have been offsetting. The offsides at the end was painful. I mean, sort of. It would have been more painful if it seemed like the offense could score in the next sixty years.
no sir [Fuller]
Lavert Hill headed towards excellent. Hill had three PBUs, each of them excellent. The most excellent may have been a zone snap where he was in cover two and fell off the short route, breaking up a 15-ish yard throw that otherwise would have been a first down chunk. He had another on a deep corner route on which he was in the WR's hip pocket and provided zero window.
There were a few open MSU receivers short in zone stuff and one a bit deeper—he dropped it. Other than that, nothing was open. Brandon Watson kinda sorta got beat on a ball he got his hand on; that's the second time in two weeks that's happened to a Michigan CB. Makes you wonder why Michigan isn't trying to get similar chunks when nothing else is working.
No sacks, barely. Lewerke was dragged down fractionally behind the line of scrimmage a couple times but the official box score had those as zero yard runs, so Rashan Gary did not get credit for a sack when he flung down Lewerke with one hand.
Got one? Probably. Given the trajectory of one MSU punt and Jared Wangler going nuts afterwards I think Michigan got their first punt block of the year. Unfortunately it was one of those that goes 22 yards instead of –22 yards, but that's life, especially in this game.
Hartbarger was seemingly uncomfortable on a couple more, with some uncharacteristically short punts.
Never return kickoffs. That is all.
The ministry of silly runs. Chris Evans had occasion to do this in a football game:
Football is weird.
But this game felt like 2001, or 1990, or even 2015, games where Michigan State was more lucky than good. That doesn't mean MSU didn't play well enough to win, only that these weren't dominant wins by superior teams like (sadly) they were against Hoke's and RR's teams. MSU needed 5 turnovers (and none of their own), a backup QB, a torrential downpour, and a QB being stopped short after a fumbled snap yet sliding on his falling center's leg to barely hold on against Michigan, and while that's usually how underdogs win games, it doesn't point toward sustained dominance in this series by the Spartans.
Bill Connelly pointed this out in his Five Factors post this weekend: MSU had a turnover margin of +4.8 above their national average, which works out to about 24 points of "bad luck" by Michigan. Michigan lost such a game by 4 points, and had a chance on the last play to still pull it out. It always sucks to be the team that has the luck go against it, but this loss still feels different. MSU tried to give this game away, and they nearly did with poor clock management and even poorer self control. This loss, as bad as it is in the moment, feels like 2015, a stumble but not a fall. I don't put too much stock into tides or narratives, but this rivalry is starting to feel like it did during most of my youth, where MSU wins were notable because of their weirdness and not their dominance. And I think the other half of that equation, the scarcity of Spartan victories, will follow soon as well.
You can also keep up with Michigan alums playing in Japan:
Devin Gardner led the Nojima Rise to another high scoring victory, this time besting the Lixil Deers 38-35 at Amino Vital Field.
Mario Ojemudia recorded a sack on the opening series of the game for Nojuma. Starting from their own 42 after the subsequent punt, Gardner drove the Rise down to the Deer 11 yard line, and a field goal made it 3-0.