10/12/2013 – Michigan 40, Penn State 43 (4OT) – 5-1, 1-1 Big Ten
Mace triptych, by Eric Upchurch
Devin Gardner dropped back to pass. He had two guys in the route, both of them headed to the endzone from the 40 yard line. Two seconds later he ate a blindside sack, because Taylor Lewan was pretending he was a tight end and AJ Williams was pretending he was a left tackle.
Last year in Notre Dame Stadium, Denard Robinson faked a handoff and turned around to find Stephon Tuitt in his face. He reacted badly, because he always reacted badly in that situation.
This fall, Michigan told the offensive line they should do that stretch blocking thing the coaches had run maybe six times the previous two years.
Drew Dileo watched most of these things from the bench and Dennis Norfleet all of them because Michigan would rather play underclass tight ends who couldn't shove a toddler into a ball pit in three tries.
Any individual play can be blamed on a player. Any structural issue in the first couple years can be attached to the previous coach. But there's a breaking point at which it becomes clear that something is deeply wrong with the guys in charge, and this Penn State game was the offensive equivalent of watching Matt McGloin shred a clueless JT Floyd and company in 2010.
I went back into Michigan's statistics archive, which goes back to 1949, and pulled out the top 200 running back games in that database in terms of carries (the max allowed). The sample ranges from 51 to 23, and here's the bottom of it in YPC:
|Don Moorhead||25||57||2.3||0||1969||Michigan State|
|Anthony Thomas||29||60||2.1||0||8||2000||Ohio State|
|Fitzgerald Toussaint||27||27||1||0||12||2013||Penn State|
We're talking about the worst game from a tailback in the history of the program here, and nothing about it was actually Toussaint's fault. This is Greg Robinson level output. The only faith you can have in the offensive coaching is that two to four times a year they will come out with a gameplan so clueless that you spend four quarters telling yourself that you won't send that BORGERG tweet out. It's time to break the seal.
There are ways to work around the personnel limitations Michigan has, but they are not the ones Michigan wants to run. They want to be a rough and tumble Stanford offense; they spend large chunks of games with one wide receiver and three guys vaguely inclined towards blocking, and they've spent almost a month of precious practice time installing an unbalanced formation that resulted in the above table as soon as an opponent saw it on tape. This has been a miscalculation as bad as believing Russell Bellomy was ready to back up the oft-injured Denard Robinson, with results exactly like the second half of last year's Nebraska game.
This is nothing like what Rodriguez did on offense because there was no offense in which Stephen Threet, Nick Sheridan, seven scholarship OL, and a parade of freshmen at wide receiver would be effective. It is instead exactly like what he did on defense: faithlessly pretend to fit personnel to scheme early, ditch that at the first sign of trouble, shoehorn players into roles they are not fit for, make alarmingly large mid-season changes, and get the minimum possible out of available talent. Michigan is 117th in tackles for loss allowed, giving up eight per game.
No offensive line is bad enough to pave the way for 27 yards on 27 carries, because teams running for one god damn yard an attempt stop doing it.
There are problems up and down the team that I can list if you like. Devin Gardner has Miley Cyrus-level ball security. Taylor Lewan went out. Rich Rodriguez didn't recruit any offensive linemen. Brendan Gibbons should be able to make a 33-yard field goal in the dead center of the field. Yes, all of these things. Granted. At some point, though, you zoom out from the micro issues that can be explained away and you get this:
Michigan 14, MSU 28: 250 yards of offense
Michigan 16, Iowa 24: 323 yards of offense, 166 50 minutes into the game when M went into hurry-up shotgun throwing
Michigan 23, Virginia Tech 20 (OT): 184 yards of offense
Michigan 6, ND 13: 299 yards of offense and 5 INTs
Michigan 9, Nebraska 23: 188 yards of offense and 3 INTs
Michigan 21, Ohio State 26: 279 yards of offense and 4 TOs
Michigan 28, UConn 24: 284 yards of offense and 3 TOs
Penn State 43, Michigan 40 (4OT): 389 yards of offense in 19 opportunities, zero OT TDs, 3 TO, worst rushing performance ever by a Michigan tailback
If you are so inclined you can add games against Alabama and MSU last year plus the 2011 Notre Dame game to the pile; I certainly don't think anything about UTL was to Borges's credit.
There have been some brilliant games over the last three years, but we're one upcoming debacle away from having a third straight year in which a quarter of Michigan's games feature offensive performances that are (almost) impossible to win with. Some of those could be explained away by injury or bad luck or a flood of turnovers from the quarterback, except that the offensive coordinator is also the quarterbacks coach.
After his year three at Michigan found high expectations dashed, John Beilein overhauled his program. Now he's coming off a national title game appearance, on the verge of making Michigan into a top-ten program. Unless there's a major turnaround, Brady Hoke's going to have some hard decisions this offseason.
Unless they're easy ones.
Brady Hoke Epic Double Point Of The Week. Frank Clark was in the right place at the right time to scoop a ball off the turf and score when Michigan opened the second half down eleven and added two sacks besides as part of the best damn 43-point performance college football's ever seen, so let's give it to him.
Honorable mention: Raymon Taylor had a pick and was generally avoided otherwise; Devin Funchess had another 100 yard game as a "tight end"; Jeremy Gallon remains an excellent safety blanket and all-around player.
Epic Double Point Standings.
1.0: Devin Gardner (ND), Jeremy Gallon (ND), Desmond Morgan(UConn), Devin Funchess(Minnesota), Frank Clark(PSU)
0.5: Cam Gordon (CMU), Brennen Beyer (CMU)
Brady Hoke Epic Double Fist-Pump Of The Week. Should I even do this after that? I probably shouldn't. I will anyway: Funchess's second touchdown displayed his incredible potential, as he shot through the center of the defense to get over the top. This one wins because Penn State was actually trying to cover him this time.
Honorable mention: Gallon's shake gets him wide open for a touchdown; Chris Wormley rips through to sack Hack, as does Jibreel Black, as does Frank Clark a couple times; Fitzgerald Toussaint gets past the line of scrimmage that one time.
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.
10/12/2013: Devin Funchess shoots up the middle of the field to catch a 40 yard touchdown, staking Michigan to a ten-point lead they wouldn't relinquish. (Right?)
[After the JUMP: decisions, and the rest of things.]
Complete dossier of late game faildowns. I didn't think the strategy completely went to hell until overtime, much to the dissatisfaction of some people on twitter. Clock management is another matter entirely—taking three delay of game penalties is ludicrous. But that's another spittle-flecked bullet point.
Sticking to the high-level decision-making, after the delay of game penalty it's third and fourteen from the 32. PSU is out of timeouts and there's about 1:40 on the clock when you snap. You're up a touchdown. You can either
- try to end the game by getting a first down
- try to pick up 5-10 yards for a long FG attempt
- guarantee Penn State has to drive 80+ yards with under a minute on the clock and no timeouts
In that situation I'm running and taking those 40 seconds instead of taking a 50/50 chance that I will gain any yards for a 50/50-ish chance at a long field goal. Those 40 seconds are huge. Once you run the ball for –3 yards, which is yet another spittle-flecked bullet point, the punt is obvious. The 15+ yards is more valuable than the vague shot you have at a 52-yard field goal.
That was a totally different situation than the one you might be thinking of in the 2005 OSU game. OSU had three minutes, was down two points, and Michigan had fourth and four. That was absolutely indefensible. Here the punt was the move.
The strategy in overtime was purest sphincterball, enraging and depressing in equal parts. Michigan settles for a 40-yard field goal in their first shot at three-points-to-win, going so far as to set a down on fire by "centering" the ball almost on the opposite hash on third down. Blocked. On their next possession the scoring offense re-emerges, drives Michigan down to chip shot territory, and gets a field goal. They did so by isolating Gallon on one of PSU's crappy corners and giving Gardner an easy read. The second free shot to win is less of a decision issue since they had third and one. That's on Michigan's inability to get one god damn yard; more of an offense ineptitude and structure thing. Once it's fourth and one you kick for the win. 33 yards out is a chip shot.
The worst part is the pucker pucker is out of character for Hoke, who has consistently been able to put aside fears of something going wrong and make the right tactical move by being aggressive. Here Michigan lost because his opposite number did so (and could run for one goddamn yard, unlike Michigan… sorry, different spittle-flecked bullet point.)
BONUS dispiriting thing. Michigan threw away a possession that started with 90 seconds left in the first half. Turnover concerns are the excuse, but down eleven halfway through the game with zero run game outside of Gardner you're going to have to ride or die with the guy whether it's before halftime or after. You cannot allow that opportunity to slip through your hands.
Problem with the punt. Take a delay of game—also saving you a timeout—and give Wile more room. You want that extra buffer; in that situation every yard is precious and anything inside the 20 is a bonus. I mean: take Robinson's catch and move it back ten yards. You've still got a great chance to win.
Clock management debacle #854. Michigan's dedication to the slowest possible pace is enraging. It enrages to see opponents get to the line, see what Michigan is doing, and check to a play that uses that information. It is enraging to see Michigan get to the line of scrimmage with six seconds on the clock, unable to react to the defense, unable to even to have a snap count that might allow the offensive line to react to a tipped blitz. It is the most enraging to have Michigan eat critical delay of game penalties because the offensive coordinator is consistently having all these things happen and putting his players in a position to fail.
Gardner and Hoke share responsibility there, as well—Hoke moreso than Gardner, who's trying to get to the line, read the defense, and check with six seconds while Hoke should be on top of the playclock—but at root the issue is Michigan's dedication to the archaic art of huddling.
Bonus inanity: Michigan spiked the ball with the clock stopped on their final drive of regulation. That cost them a critical second that probably would have allowed them to take a shot at a closer field goal, if they'd saved the timeout they burned when Penn State had first and goal on the one.
Give us your poor, huddled Toussaints yearning to be TFLed [Upchurch]
The thing. Fitzgerald Toussaint had 27 yards on 27 carries and I thought he got everything he could. UFR review, of course, but high up in the endzone is a pretty good vantage point to see a game and it looked like he was looking at a wall of dudes on every play and his cuts away from the playside were necessary if he was going to avoid a TFL/pick up one goddamn yard.
What can you say? There is no possible excuse there. The tackle over stuff was met with an array of blitzes that saw Penn State crush Michigan in the backfield, because Penn State had no respect for the idea Michigan would pass and Michigan still has no counters in their game. The plan was everyone's worst fears brought to life: Michigan lined up and said "we're running over here, try and stop it" and Penn State said "okay."
This was against a defense that just faced 27 carries from Indiana's tailbacks. They gave up 153 yards on those carries. It is literally impossible to overstate the fail here. They spent three weeks practicing this! They KEPT RUNNING TACKLE OVER WITH TAYLOR LEWAN ON THE SIDELINE.
This was the only long pass to Funchess that wasn't a touchdown, and it was close to one. [Fuller]
Throw it to f***ing Funchess. At least take a shot. Even if you're seeing interceptions around every lamppost in overtime, how risky is just throwing up a punt to Devin Funchess? Or throwing a slant to Jeremy Gallon matched up against a defensive back who's gotten shook by yards in the second half?
It was quickly obvious that every first down run was a down set on fire, and that Devin Funchess was insane. 30 attempts from the running backs to 11 Funchess/Gallon catches should have been at least even.
Yes, Devin Gardner throws too many interceptions. I'm not inclined to cut the coaches any slack about that since they looked at Gardner and Bellomy last offseason and thought Bellomy could be viable. But even if Gardner throws too many interceptions, you can give him some easy throws to the field. When Denard was a sophomore, Rodriguez patched together some nascent passing offense by running a bunch of high/low stuff on the corner on which Denard's read was quick and easy. It didn't really work against high quality defenses, but Penn State's not one of those, what with their true sophomore converted WR at CB and such. There's a baby-steps passing offense that you can run out there.
FWIW, the fumble was not on him. It was the sack/strip on which Penn State ended up rushing their four defensive linemen; Michigan slid the line over and no one even blocked the DE. Gardner pumped because the wheel/hitch was covered and then he got nailed from the blindside.
Tackle over WTF. A gimmick. A gimmick that Michigan has practiced for almost a month now and leads to blindside sacks and less than a yard per attempt for Michigan's running backs. Ironic that the kind of person who comes up with this as a solution to Michigan's running issues harrumphs at the spread as a gimmick.
It was ominous that everything on the internet about unbalanced lines like the ones Michigan ran out the last two weeks described it as a way to mess with keys. What happens when the opponent's entire week is spent fixing those keys? That. Michigan dressed it up with a bunch of motion that attempted to get PSU misaligned; they did not misalign; game over.
Norfleet. Has disappeared because Michigan would rather hope nine guys execute nine blocks instead of one guy executing one.
Most valiant 43-point defensive effort ever. Penn State had one drive of more than 24 yards halfway into the third quarter, and by the end of the game they'd had a whopping 19(!) possessions, six of them starting at or around the Michigan 25 yard line. They acquired four turnovers and a four-and-out turnover on downs and scored a touchdown. Any criticisms of individual defensive plays should be taken in that context.
The Stribling-ing. The defense had one WTF coaches thing: Channing Stribling getting in on the final drive, covering Allen Robinson of all people on that fateful bomb. Your guess is as good as mine there. Mine is that they'd seen Courtney Avery get beat on a back-shoulder-throw-it-up thing in the second quarter, and that the significantly taller Stribling would be a better bet to defend heaved prayers.
They got those prayers at Stribling, the first of which he should have intercepted but somehow let go over his hands… or something? I'm still unclear even after watching it. The second was just a miracle ball that I don't think you can really blame him on. Yeah, he could have chosen to shove Robinson OOB instead of leaping for the ball but he doesn't know how everything's going to work out and he has time to look for, undercut, and leap for the ball. On anything except that exact throw and leap combination by Penn State, he wins. Sometimes you just get beat.
Outside of the Stribling-ing. Michigan gave up 79 yards on three passes on the desperate final drive and 5.5 YPA the rest of the day. Michigan did not match up Countess—or anyone—against Allen Robinson, playing it straight the whole way. The starting secondary did a pretty damn good job.
Meanwhile on the ground. PSU tailbacks ground out three yards a carry with a long of 13. While Zwinak isn't much of a big play threat, he was relegated to the backup in this one and Bill Belton, who is much more explosive, got 27 carries on which he gained more than one goddamn yard each. He got 3.1. It was irritating late when Penn State seemed to get five or six on the first play of every overtime drive.
Fourth down and game. Power at Black, stacked up pretty well, Morgan does not get outside of a tackle releasing and that's the crack. If Michigan had rolled down Wilson he's likely in position to stop it.
Right to rush four? Hey, four sacks and all from the defensive line. That's actual progress. Michigan did a much better job of constricting the pocket, giving Hackenberg few opportunities to break contain and find a throw. When pressured he had no obviously good option as to where to move. The results were encouraging. They've been too stop-and-start to get that excited about what next week might bring, unfortunately. Have to see them string together some performances before the progress there seems real.
Wilson. I'm not going to get too bent out of shape about the pass interference in the endzone. It was, it wasn't a great play, he got beat, it happens. His interception was very nice, and I don't think either of the touchdowns after the Gardner INTs were on him. PSU's TE cleared the LBs before he could get over on the James one and the second he had nothing to do with.
Chaos! Anarchy! Lots of people talking about running the ball! Here's Magnum PI:
Who are we as an offense? This is a tough question to answer. Let's start with who we are not. Yesterday, we ran 34 plays on first down. Here are the results:
Play call No. Yards per play <2 yard plays Running back run 17 1.8 11 Quarterback run 8 8.4 1 Pass 12 13.8 5
In a power running offense, you rely on three to five yard runs on first and second down to gain short-yardage situations on third down. Yesterday we averaged 1.8 yards per play on first down runs, including 11 of 17 plays that went for one yard or less. When Devin Gardner ran on first down, he gained 8.4 yards per play with only one run for less than two yards. On the 12 occasions that passed on first down, we averaged 13.8 yards, including incomplete passes that gain zero yards.
We are not a power running team.
dragonchild presents Borges vs. Field Marshal Haig:
Melchett: Field Marshal Haig has formulated a brilliant new tactical plan to ensure final victory in the field.
(lemme guess. . .)
2nd and 1 at MICH 29 Fitzgerald Toussaint rush for no gain to the Mich 29
3rd and 1 at MICH 29 Fitzgerald Toussaint rush for no gain to the Mich 29
2nd and 1 at MICH 48 Fitzgerald Toussaint rush for no gain to the Mich 33
Blackadder: Now, would this brilliant plan involve us climbing out of our trenches and walking slowly towards the enemy sir?
Darling: How can you possibly know that Blackadder? It's classified information.
Inside The Box Score brings back the Lizard Brain theory, noting that Michigan's reversion to what they are comfortable with—losing yards under center—was apparent in the results:
Final 7 minutes of regulation
10 plays run from under center gain 9 yards total, with 5 producing zero or negative yards.
4 plays were run from the shotgun. They gained 55 yards and there were no turnovers.
So on the first drive, three plays are run from under center that gain 2 yards. The 40 yard FG attempt is blocked. On the first drive, we just needed a FG to win, so Al went super conservative. He didn't want to risk the turnover by going to the shotgun, even though the turnovers were not related to the formation.
On the second drive, we needed a score, so Al went exclusively shotgun. We gained 18 yards on five plays, but are forced to kick a FG when the officials missed a blatant facemask on PSU. (Ripping a guy's helmet off has to be illegal, right? Refs -1.)
On the third drive, it's back to under center, as all we need is a FG to win. Two plays gain -1 yard, and one gains 10. On second viewing today, it's clear Gallon crossed the 15 yard line, so another -1 to the refs. Bill O'Brien goes for it in a similar situation. We kick the FG.
On the fourth drive, we start under center. PSU gets away with lining up offsides (-1 for the refs) on an incomplete pass, and it's back to shotgun (anyone getting dizzy yet?) An incomplete to Dileo and a delay of game penalty (-1 coaching staff) follow. Gardner gets 6 yards on a shotgun scramble, but we have to settle for a FG. PSU gets a TD and that's the ballgame.
Best And Worst managed to find some bests and sticks David Foster Wallace and pro wrestling into the same column. This is about people calling for players to be replaced but it's also indirectly about how that game played out:
I know this all stems from the potential of the unknown, the unreasonable belief that you’ll get the card you need on the river for the flush, that the prize behind door #3 is better than cash in hand, or that someone will catch that lob with no time left because, well, it’s happened before. Just like Devin and Fitz weren’t ready for primetime when they stepped onto campus years ago, expecting either Morris or Green to perform adequately, let alone markedly better, than the current starters is reactionary and nearsighted. In particular with Green, if the guy can’t earn more than a couple of snaps from the coaches against teams like Akron, UConn, and Minny, he’s just not where the coaches need him to be.
Al Borges's vindication for this game does exist (I have seen two of them, which refer to games in the future, perhaps games not imaginary), but those who went in quest of Al Borges's Vindication failed to recall that the chance of a man finding his Vindication, or some perfidious version of his, can be calculated to be zero.
The coaches can argue they put the team in position plenty of times to win the game and players need to make plays. That’s fair to a certain extent, but if you’re on the sideline and you can see clearly that the coaching staff has no balls, doesn’t that affect you at some point?
YOU – If you watched the entire game and maintained your dignity for the duration– congrats, you get a decal.
I don't get a decal.
Let's see more of this guy on offense . . . Dennis Norfleet. If Norfleet's going to be a slot receiver, he needs to be on the field. And not just in special packages where it's a near certainty that he'll get the ball. I somewhat understand not putting him out there a ton if he's your full-time returner, but now that Drew Dileo has taken over the punt return duties, Norfleet's duties have essentially been cut in half. Michigan needs to spend more time in the spread and less time with two or three tight ends and a fullback. And if that happens, Michigan will have to spell some guys with the likes of Norfleet.
Here's why: imagine yourself as anything other than Michigan fan, and picture yourself watching this team. What do you see? If you're being honest, you'll see a average squad with exceptional talent and ability in spots, but not enough to produce a consistent effort on either side of the ball. Michigan turns it over a lot (i.e. like a bad team). Almost entirely irrespective of its opponent, Michigan runs the ball like an FCS team trying to run into the teeth of Alabama's defense.
In football, this stuff always catches up with you.
Three turnovers. Countless missed blocks. Questionable play calls. Questionable game management. Missed field goals.
Please, allow me a second to catch my breath.
Penalties. Blown coverages. Dropped passes. Lack of toughness. Lack of grit. Overall carelessness.
Need I go on?
Deadspin has video of the macing and a report from the stands.