Papercuts And Paddles Comment Count

Brian October 4th, 2010 at 1:08 PM

10/2/2010 – Michigan 42, Indiana 35 – 5-0, 1-0

 roy-roundtree-indiana-2010 image terrence-talbott-indiana-2010

AP, Lon Horwedel/AnnArbor.com (slideshow), MGoBlue.com

When you want to watch ESPNU in Sedona, Arizona, you go to this place called "Sticks and Steaks." To get there you drive past a massive tourist art complex with a faux-native name, a sign exhorting you take advantage of Angel Lightfoot's magic healing crystal expertise, and an enormous, profligate fountain in the middle of the damn desert. Whatever Sedona's purpose was when someone said "screw it" and set up camp in 1902 is gone, replaced by a talent for taking money that was jammed into old ladies' bank accounts and circulating it through the economy again.

Inside this place you'll find TVs, horse betting, and a motley collection of people who would rather be home for three and a half hours on Saturday. In front of me there were a couple peeved Texas fans watching their team get punked by Oklahoma. Behind me there was a Wisconsin guy who asked if I was wearing my lucky Michigan tie. (I wasn't: I'd neglected to bring one and had to drive back to the next town over and stop at their outlet strip mall to get one.) A couple of old women who didn't care about football ate there; as they left one of them said they'd gone to Indiana and was surprised the game was even that close.

I think it was an attempt to comfort me, as I'd spent the hour they were there pulling my hair back over my skull and swearing under my breath. Sometimes not so under my breath, too. I said something about how IU's quarterback was outlandishly good and hoped it was true.

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I do not have to tell you this but I will anyway: that game was bizarre.

In the aftermath it stands as a tribute to how useless time of possession is. Michigan's put-upon defense actually got better in the second half of their 98-play version of Ishtar, and it turns out that a touchdown scored in three plays is worth just as much as a touchdown scored in 14. We have sufficient evidence now to declare this finding statistically significant. So that's nice.

In progress it felt like dying from a thousand paper cuts only to be brought back with the crashing thunder of paddles, conscious and fully aware you were about to do it all over again. The opponent holding the ball for 42 minutes might not mean much statistically, but it does make most of the game an agonizing slog.

As a result, records were set across the Michigan fanbase for "most muted response to a 70-yard touchdown." Such a thing wouldn't have been possible even four years ago. I remember thinking to myself "that's 25% of the points we need to win" after the first drive of the '06 Ohio State game, and I was delighted through a whole commercial break. I grew up with angry cold Midwestern football where touchdowns were hard-earned things only somewhat less rare than goals in soccer. Each one was a major step towards your goal, and punting a guy down inside their ten was tantamount to getting the ball back on the fifty.

Now a touchdown is just holding serve. When Denard fumbled the snap on the one I thought "this is going to be a 99-yard touchdown drive," and then it was a 99-yard touchdown drive. It's disorienting, and as Indiana is driving down the field again you can't even figure out who to scream at because no one's in the same zip code as the receiver, and you hate everything about everything because this is MICHIGAN we don't do things like this.

On the other hand, "this is MICHIGAN" also applies to an offense that could end up loaded with NFL talent and still come nowhere near this one. Michigan still has Denard and its blitzkrieg of an offensive line and a bunch of wide-receivers who draw straws to determine who gets this week's monster day. One day when the defense is capable of covering guys here and there, Michigan will club people. At the moment it's about having the ball last.

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I got somewhat demonstrative during all of this, which is why the Wisconsin guy asked me about my tie and the Indiana woman offered a ham-fisted attempt at comfort. People found me entertaining as I alternated between brief flashes of happiness and long stretches of sports Tourette's, I guess. I probably would have too.

As I was leaving this other guy who I hadn't even noticed added his bit, jovially saying "Hey, you survived." I had. They had, unlike Texas or Wisconsin or Indiana. The Texas folk hadn't even made it past halftime. The fiancée, still able to engage in small talk beyond grunts and squeaks, asked who he was rooting for. He said "USC, but they don't play yet." When they did, they lost to Washington for the second straight year. There are worse things than getting bombed for 480 yards by Ben Chappell even if it doesn't feel like it at the time.

NON-BULLETS. CLEAR!

Stop it. I've defended the three man rush but good lord you have got to be kidding me. I defended the 3-3-5 but that's when I thought it would be used to create a wide variety of four-and-five man fronts with unpredictable blitzing. Michigan probably rushed more than three guys 10% of the time in the second half, and when they did that it was four. I can't support having Craig Roh and using him in zone coverage on every snap.

What's worse was the inane substitution pattern. Every Indiana run in the second half was a wasted down, and probably would have been a wasted down even if you replaced Banks with Roh and brought in a cornerback. One of this defense's few assets is the pass rushing ability of the outside linebackers, but Michigan is going out of its way to avoid using it.

Stop it, but the clock. I would have thrown a shoe at the TV if Michigan had botched time management at the end of the half like Indiana did. How do you get inside the 20 on that drive with a minute or so on the clock and end up with four seconds on third and goal? Indiana let the clock run from 13 seconds to 9 after a first and goal play before calling timeout, which meant they'd just blown an opportunity to run a fourth down. They got the TD anyway, but that was a sequence worthy of Les Miles.

Speaking of decisions like going for it on third there…

How Denard Robinson is like multi-way callers in a limit hold-em game. There is a phenomenon in limit hold-em called "schooling" where a bunch of weak players who call a lot of hands they should ditch accidentally make their play close to right, frustrating more experienced players with a strong hand they'd like to get heads up with.

I think about this every time an opposing coach defies his inner Lovie Smith and goes for it on a fourth-and-Romer down against Michigan or eschews a half-ending field goal attempt in an effort to score the seven it's obvious they'll need to keep up with Denard. Michigan has now faced 15 fourth down attempts on the season, which is double the next-highest total in the Big Ten and triple the average*. They've converted nine of these, turning a bunch of drives that would have been punts or field goal attempts against a less terrifying offense into touchdowns.

The difference is that the coaches' decisions are statistically correct, not just less wrong. Which is not so good for Michigan. Bill Lynch did manage to punt from the Michigan 42 on fourth and short, which just goes to show that it is the nature of all coaches to play it safe. I'm hoping as we get into the stodgy section of the schedule we'll see more insane decisions to punt when Michigan scrapes together a stop. Someone can tell Mark Dantonio and Kirk Ferentz and Joe Paterno that they should go for it, but what are the chances they listen? Maybe 40%?

*(FWIW, I disagree with the author's assertion that the reason Michigan's opponents are exceeding their yardage season averages when they play M is because Michigan is the "red-letter" game on the schedule. It's just because Michigan's defense sucks.)

Same thing on our side of the ball. Michigan should have gone for it on fourth and one in the second half; instead they sent Forcier out to pooch it. I'm fine with the pooch punting in general, as it's impossible to return or even catch one. Michigan netted 39 yards on Forcier's attempt, which would be good for 23rd nationally as a season-long average.

But punting in that situation? No thanks. When your offense is tearing through the opposition like M's offense was that Mathlete chart about correct decisions swings way towards going for it there.

Part of the problem may be the apparent lack of faith in Michigan's bigger backs. Cox didn't appear at all and Hopkins was just used as a blocker; when Vincent Smith is your best TB option (blocking or running) short yardage is less of a certainty. I'm still not a fan of Smith this year despite the long run against IU. He didn't have to do anything except run through a gaping void and run through an attempt to tackle him from behind. He's reliable, but having him at tailback is like having Greg Mathews on punt returns.

False. I knew this would happen in the aftermath; I could even feel Pam Ward complain about it despite not having any sound for the game: time of possession is a Problem That Must Be Solved:

It could not be clearer that Michigan doesn't need much time to score.

But what the Wolverines do need is the ability to keep their defense off the field. This defense is young, and it's still learning, and without the Michigan offense, its flaws would be that much more evident.

The Daily's Joe Stapleton also offered something along those lines.

Anyone who's read this blog for longer than a couple weeks knows the general outline of what's to come but whatever here goes: a touchdown is worth seven points no matter how long it takes to score, and having an offense that rips down the field in three or four plays against Indiana is not a bad thing. Against better defenses those opportunities will be much rarer. And what is Denard supposed to do, anyway? Kneel down at the 20?

It's the defense's job to get off the field. The offense is a thing to score points with. Was it good that Roy Roundtree got caught at the three? Not so much. If Michigan wants to bring TOP closer to even they'll have to get much better or blitz like madmen, but since that's a stupid goal to have they should only do the latter if it also makes it more likely they'll get stops.

Slight mitigation. One effect of Michigan's rapid-fire touchdown drives was to inflate Indiana's opportunities. Both teams had twelve bonafide drives in the game. That's 50% more than the opener against UConn; Michigan would have expected to give up 23 points if they'd faced eight IU drives. Which is still terrible, but maybe slightly less so than it seemed.

ELSEWHERE

I was in transit yesterday so no VOAV; apologies. Here's the Michigan defense highlight reel:

Something slightly longer from WH:

There are also BTN and MGoBlue highlight packages.

In non-video items: a serendipitous sideline photo gallery. Michigan's ridiculous "on pace for" numbers. Mike DeSimone has resumed his incredibly useful photo collecting. Wow, Les Miles. Wow Denard from the Indy Star:

There are certain moments that reveal a potential Heisman Trophy winner's essence, and that came on that final five-play, 73-yard game-winning drive that sealed the 42-35 victory.

"Shoelace'' has got my Heisman vote, and it would take an act of God to make me change my mind.

ESPN's Heisman watch says it's "Robinson and everyone else":

Now it's just getting ridiculous. I mean, at some point shouldn't we stop being amazed? We've seen it for five weeks now. Shouldn't we be used to it? I'm talking, of course, about Michigan QB Denard Robinson, and the answer is no. We haven't seen this type of college football playmaker since … Barry Sanders?

Postgame GERG-RR stills from MVictors are… not so happy. Ace asks if we're jaded already. I'll talk about this more in a bit but despite the stuff about the three-man rush above, complaints like those of BWS

The real story is that Greg Robinson's defensive schemes do not work. No longer is this a question of defensive talent or improper personnel. No, sadly, this is far more systematic: Greg Robinson's schemes Do Not Work.

I've been advocating a man coverage package for the last three weeks. Robinson has shown it sparingly. Not that I'm more qualified to run this defense, but Robinson's inability--or maybe stubbornness--to show new looks is far and away the most disappointing aspect of this season. Play after play (and now game after game), teams are running quick slants and seven-yard hitch routes and absolutely shredding Michigan's defense. And it's not that the defense looks athletically overmatched. They look unprepared and poorly coached.

…are kind of ridiculous. James Rogers cannot change direction. Jordan Kovacs cannot cover people man to man. There are massive personnel deficiencies that need covering up.

Comments

UMQuadz05

October 4th, 2010 at 1:36 PM ^

I've never been to a place that had such cheesy man-made creations so close to so much natural beauty.  Go, but bring enough provisions so that you won't have to go into any stores.

uferfan1

October 4th, 2010 at 1:23 PM ^

Time after time IU loaded trips on one side single opposite and every single time they went to the single side, I understand the formation was set up to get us in single coverage to that side but it was so predictable by the tenth time couldnt we close on the snap hold him up at the line, jump the route, do anything to stop the maddness. It was awful as I am bald I had to pull out my wifes hair.

MI Expat NY

October 4th, 2010 at 3:23 PM ^

I believe Gordon's pick came to the side with the trips.  May be wrong, but I distinctly remember thinking that they were setting something up with the trips and then seeing that as not a good result when they finally did go away fromt he one-on-one matchup.

antonio_sass

October 4th, 2010 at 1:24 PM ^

Interested to see what you think after watching the tape. Like you, I was initially RAGE about the constant three man rush -- however, i'm pretty confident that in the 2nd half it was the main reason for our few stops. It's ugly, but it caused several throw aways, and when we blitzed Chappell was experienced and savvy enough to pick us apart.

As for punting -- ehhh...on our own 30, up seven, tate 2 plays in, no proven power RB, at a time in the game where our O was doing absolutely nothing, and our D has just a sliver of mo'....gotta disagree with you.

StephenRKass

October 4th, 2010 at 2:14 PM ^

But I am completely a fan of the 3-3-5, given our current personnel. I truly believe that between Chappell and the IU receivers, we absolutely needed 8 in coverage, and that 3 DL were enough to get to Chappell. I also think that very few remaining quarterbacks on the schedule, except maybe Stanzi, will be able to pick us apart the way Chappell did. Having 8 back helps to mask the deficiencies of Cam Gordon, Rogers, Kovacs, and Floyd.

Blue in Yarmouth

October 5th, 2010 at 9:18 AM ^

During the game I was quite frustrated but after the dust settled and I had time to think about it I think the oly thing saving us is Gerg and his schemes.

We just went against a proven 5th year senior QB who has two of the best WR's in the conference and a third who is damn good as well. I don't know that we will face many offenses this year that are a whole lot more efficient than IU and I am sure we won't face any better in the passing game.

This D had to stop a high powered offense that went for it on fourth down a number of times and managed to do so pretty effectively in the second half at least. After time to think I have to say my opinion of the game after a day or two to consider things changed dramatically and I actually have as much if not more hope now than I did prior to the game.

My final thought was that Gerg is doing well with what he has. We have potentially three players who would start on most other big ten defenses (that is my opinion anyway). The lack of numbers and proven talent on D is remarkable and \i don't thnk many fans really appreciate how poor the situation is right now. I just can't imagine what exactly people think a D coor. can do with a roster like this.

zlionsfan

October 5th, 2010 at 12:05 AM ^

  • The lack of a power RB is not a problem. There's no need to use a power formation with this offense, no matter who is running the show: spread the D wide and make them guess right. This isn't a situation where there's no depth to defend, but rather the opposite, and with a spread formation to defend, they can't even load the box.
  • I think you're being too specific. On the previous two plays, the offense got 1 yard and no yards, yes ... but on the two plays before that, the offense got a 70-yard TD and an 8-yard gain. Without/with Robinson, yes, but certainly that didn't affect the offense the previous game; there was very limited evidence in this game to suggest anything different, and really, even a one-yard gain would be close to making the gamble worthwhile.

What's the best way to help out the defense right now? Put points on the board. That's not going to happen with the punting team on the field.

ish

October 4th, 2010 at 1:25 PM ^

better to be burnt for 7 yards than 70.  james rogers got beat deep plenty.  i'd rather watch him push someone out of bounds after a 7 yard game 5 times than watch him chase someone towards the endzone en route to a 70 yard td.

Cosmic Blue

October 4th, 2010 at 2:58 PM ^

what about 10 times? its 70 yards either way.

i'd rather us man up on 3rd downs and try to get the stop if we can. if we give up a couple big plays, i can shrug and off and convince myself they would have gotten the yards anyway, just maybe in a few more plays

zlionsfan

October 5th, 2010 at 12:08 AM ^

is that on a 70-yard score, the offense has only one play to make a mistake. On a 10-play, 70-yard drive, the offense has 10 plays to make a mistake. (In that specific context, of course, the mistake has to be a turnover. On a longer drive with fewer yards per play, the "mistake" can be an offensive penalty or even no gain or a short loss.)

It's more frustrating as the long drive is progressing, but the only play that counts is the final one. Anything can happen before that ball breaks the plane. If they have a one-play scoring drive, that was the one chance to stop them.

Naturally I'd prefer a don't-bend defense, but that doesn't seem to be an option this season.

evenyoubrutus

October 4th, 2010 at 1:28 PM ^

The biggest problem I have with the press-coverage complaint is that Robinson is working with what he's got, and they haven't lost yet.  He is perfecting the bend-but-don't-break defense; considering ND put up that many yards and only 24 points, and Indiana put up only 14 in the second half.

The point is, they are not giving up (very many) big plays, which gives the defense a better chance to stop their opponents.  If they play close coverage, they will likely get burned several times a game.  You have much more opportunities to make a stop on a clock-devouring 14-play drive than you would on a one-play drive for 80 yards.  And so far it has worked.

ijohnb

October 4th, 2010 at 1:35 PM ^

and our defense is like a boxer keeps getting hit but won't go down.  There are a lot or deficiencies on this defense, and they just get abused, but they will fight, scratch, claw, facemask, rough the passer and late-hit-out-of-bounce you until you are actually worn down.  They are the little engine that can - every once in a while, when we need it more than any other time, they will get you some stops.  They are bad - but they are growing on me.

Kolesar40

October 4th, 2010 at 1:49 PM ^

are as follows:

1) Roh is obvious. I kept saying it over and over on Saturday. He has to be rushing the QB, not dropping into coverage.

2) on 3rd and 16 our dbs take 25 yard drops and our lbs drop 8 yards. Any D-1 QB can convert that.

3) If we cant cover dropping 8, then screw it, and rush 5-6. QBs might turn it over more often, and we might get more sacks.

4) As bad as the defense was, our offense had 5 chances to go up 2 scores in the game and failed each time. For a team that is relying on them to win games, they have to deliver.

5) We should go for it on 4th and less than 2. DRob can pick up 2 yards on QB iso anytime.

6) Stay away from taking snaps under center. It is costing us possesions/points. Even on the goal line, spread teams out and see if they can stop us.

ESNY

October 4th, 2010 at 2:37 PM ^

Right on with point 2 - Seems like this team, or this coach, can't figure out where the markers are and adjust the cushion accordingly.   According to some basic stats I've read, our opponents are converting an average of 40% of third downs against us (and indiana converted 58% of third downs).  For comparisons, Penn State is at 22% and Alabama is 26% and Ohio State is 28%.   I can only imagine how many of these were 3rd and 8s that were converted with a 12 yard pass play.  

cargo

October 4th, 2010 at 4:03 PM ^

Holy Shit are defense is Rocky.  Block punches with his head(give up yardage), ocassionally get knocked down (give up a td), but ends up winning the fight cause he outlasts/out punches(out offenses) the opponent.

M-Wolverine

October 4th, 2010 at 1:39 PM ^

But our best chance for a stop seems to be a turnover. And we have many more chances for that on a play with a lot of drives rather than one with a few or one. I hate bend but don't break, but think it's called for this year.

However, I think, and think maybe Brian's point is, that mixing it up a LITTLE, so the other team can't get a feel for it and a rhythm, might be in order (and might best utilize certain personnel), without changing the primary defense.

I mean, it hasn't really worked, so how much worse can changing it be? Giving up a TD on EVERY possession?

evenyoubrutus

October 4th, 2010 at 1:45 PM ^

I suppose perfection was too strong a word, but still, IU had six drives in the second half and only scored on two (and no turnovers).  While I agree that it may be time to start pulling the trigger a little more on blitzes, I think we should wait and see what they have in-store.  Perhaps they mix it up depending on the opponent (or maybe I'm way too hopeful).

M-Wolverine

October 4th, 2010 at 1:50 PM ^

I get what you mean. That it's really a situation where the bending without breaking is the best case scenarios, and not really a situation of just being conservative. And it's worked enough to keep the record perfect. 

I just agree that you should use your best players in the best ways, even if that might expose some of the lesser.  Because playing to your strengths rather than their weaknesses makes sense to me. That means rushing Roh. Or throwing things from unexpected positions, playing to the strength of the scheme.  

Really, as was suggested below, I would consider more 4-2-5. Because that still allows you the 5 DBs for coverage, and you take a LB who hasn't been that great in coverage or vs. the run, and the few times we had a 4 man line Saturday, we got a bit of pressure without a blitz.  Not necessarily as a staple at this point (because you're not changing our whole defense halfway through), but as a change-up. I mean, it only could get a little worse...and it could get a whole lot better. Low risk, high reward.

StephenRKass

October 4th, 2010 at 2:20 PM ^

We gave up very few big plays against Chappell and Indiana. Actually, I believe that we can expect many more mistakes from most of the QB's in the Big Ten, with the exception of Stanzi. I actually now am starting to believe that our defense will be fine versus Penn State and Wisconsin, let alone Purdue and Illinois. The only offenses I still have concerns about are MSU, Iowa, and OSU.

Twisted Martini

October 4th, 2010 at 1:30 PM ^

Juggernaut offense, shaky defense.  Last year the Dolphins controlled the ball for a ridiculous amount of time, and Peyton Manning still won the game.  The defense could not get off the field, and ultimately it didn't matter. 

I'm thinking that we will be better at stopping some of the running teams coming up, and Chappel/Doss is a pretty good combination. 

Like the old lady said in Parenthood, the roller coaster is much more fun than the merry go round.

CRex

October 4th, 2010 at 1:31 PM ^

I got somewhat demonstrative during all of this, which is why the Wisconsin guy asked me about my tie and the Indiana woman offered a ham-fisted attempt at comfort.

At one point we were sitting there watching the game and our waitress came over. She stopped in front of our table, glanced over at the TV and said "Oh I'll come back when Michigan is on defense." This was midway through the 3rd and apparently she'd figured out we were calling up a round of shots every time Michigan went on D so she was scheduling her table checks accordingly.

According to the bill I managed to drop 20 shots with my fiancee coming in at 17. My liver does not approve of bend but don't break.

CRex

October 4th, 2010 at 1:45 PM ^

A large number of those weird shots the girls order.  Like 1/3 soco, 1/3 lime juice and 1/3 whipped cream (I swear they ordered something like that at one point).  I was basically drinking whatever was put in front of me.  At one point I remember chugging my beer, grabbing my fiancee's and killing it as well.  

I lost shot calling perks when I drunkenly looked at the waitress, pointed at my fiancee and said "She wants a Blowjob and I'll have a Four Horseman."  

CRex

October 4th, 2010 at 2:08 PM ^

Nope, no Asian Flush.  While attempting to avoid racial stereotypes, I see that gene crop up more in my friends with Chinese genetics.  Even the two halfies I know (white/Chinese) turn bright red a few drinks in.  My fiancee's Korean drinking team is more prone to get drunk and angrily demand we go to karaoke than anything else.  Any answer beyond "Sure, let's go" results in physical violence.  They pretty much all drink like fishes and take it as a point of pride that they can drink big white dudes under the table.  

StephenRKass

October 4th, 2010 at 2:28 PM ^

I can remember, from my time in Korea, drinking soju with ROK vets, and those guys were something else. Made the roasted dog go down easier, I guess.

I was actually in another social situation south of Seoul where I didn't really want to drink because I had to finish papers and exams at Yonsei University. However, it was explained to me that I kind of had to drink and stay at the party, if I didn't want to insult their generosity (I had been a guest lecturer/teacher with ESL & American slang at a Korean language school, and it would have been a loss of face to the owner if I had just skipped out.)

Have you had any Makali? (spelling?) When it's made right, that stuff goes down too easy and packs a punch.

CRex

October 4th, 2010 at 3:08 PM ^

Do you mean 막걸리?  Often comes in a box and is a 'rice wine' for lack of a better term?  

I was just at Yonsei, it's my fiancee's alma mater and I did a drinking tour of the place.  All her old friends had to have a drink with me to welcome me or whatever.  I kept excusing myself to the bathroom to grab a drink of water from the sink to avoid getting too messed up.  If you're ever chilling with Koreans and they pull out a bottle of liquor and start smiling just accept that you'll be killing the entire bottle (and possibly a second and third bottle).  A Korean liquor cabinet is a empty shelf with a note to buy more liquor...

StephenRKass

October 4th, 2010 at 4:46 PM ^

I just can't find Korean food in the States like Korea. Seoul Garden in AA isn't bad. I even miss the Boori cha (barley water.) Also loved the cumcumber kimchi (ooh ee kimchi?) And fondly remember the Naeng Mun (spicy cold buckwheat noodle soup.) And many Americans don't go much farther than kalbi. I even like the Mael chi and all the stuff you would have as snacks whenever you drank. The little stands on the street in Seoul were awesome, but you could get trashed fast.

If you ever get a chance, see Yonsei in the early Spring (March?) when all the trees are blooming. just gorgeous. Also, sometime you should try to hike up to the top of Sorak San, a popular mountain in South Korea. It was great heading up there with a backpack, and staying in a big old communal hut with a bunch of other Koreans. Being a tall "ginger," I definitely was a freak over there, but it was a ton of fun. And someone will undoubtedly have a bottle to share up at the top.