So, That Happened Comment Count

Brian October 6th, 2008 at 11:40 AM

9/4/2008 – Michigan 20, Illinois 45 – 2-3, 1-1 Big Ten

(caption) Illinois quarterback Juice Williams (7) takes off for a 50-yard gain to set up his own touchdown late in the fourth quarter. Michigan safety Stevie Brown (3) caught him on the 2-yard line. *** Illinois defeats Michigan 45-20, helped along by Michigan turnovers and penalties. The Wolverines drop to 2-3 on the season. *** The Michigan Wolverines host the Fighting Illini of the University of Illinois at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor. Photos taken on Saturday, October 4, 2008.  ( John T. Greilick / The Detroit News )

Any attempt to list the full dossier of Michigan errors over the past few weeks would provoke a cascade of emotions from the reader starting with rage and ending with full-bore ennui. Along the way we'd touch grim sarcasm, depression, contempt, fatalism, resignation, dread, and a whole host of other things that in no way relate to happiness.

So let's skip it and just say there have been a lot.

It seemed like youthful nerves or inexperience in the first couple games. Against Notre Dame it seemed like the usual screwing over by Angry Michigan Ball-Oiling God. And, hey, we beat Wisconsin and the negative events therein were supplanted in our minds by the Thompson return and the unlikely Threet gallop and so on.

All of it could have been unfortunate randomness. The true abilities of Michigan's team would be unleashed as soon as they stopped turning the ball over every ten seconds or busting coverages that left, say, a guy running wide open downfield on fourth and ten. If they don't put themselves in a 21-0 hole against Notre Dame, if they just complete those bubble screens, if they don't suck on this play or that play &c &c &c.

As more evidence piled up it became harder and harder to justify the vague hope Michigan was a competent team stuck in Charlie Weis's body (it's like Innerspace except there's no machine to shrink you), but we endured. We are fans. Until such time as you declare EVERYTHING TO BE BROKEN because THIS IS THE WORST TEAM EVER and EVERYONE MUST BE FIRED NOW NOW NOW, people strive to find whatever hope they can. And also: how can kick returners just flat dropping the ball be a replicable event? Seriously. I want to know this.

But now it's pretty hard to come to any conclusion other than "they just suck." The last straw on my pet camel's back was Steven Threet dropping back to pass with Michigan down 45-20. Untouched, he cocked his arm to throw and fumbled backwards for the fifth time in approximately four games of play. This, like Ryan Mallett's mystifying inability to receive a snap, is now an event that will happen on a depressingly regular basis. There are similar events scheduled all over the field—especially in the secondary, where someone (Charles Stewart) has miraculously supplanted Stevie Brown as the whipping safety du jour.

We've passed the point where these things could be random chance. It's just a bad team. This revelation will probably be met with "duh" from everyone who's not a Michigan fan, what with skill positions that usually read junior, freshman, freshman, freshman, freshman, freshman and a coaching transition and, oh, I don't know, the nation's 110th best turnover margin. But, hey, we beat Wisconsin and for sports fans even lead balloons float when filled with hope.

My balloon is now filled with a sticky gray-green substance that smells like sewage and glows when the moon is gibbous. Saturday's event was tough to watch. While the long term outlook isn't affected much by the pratfalls to date, it's still no fun to watch 25-point beatings. Sadly, I just want to fast forward to 2010.

Eh, Bullets:

  • I think Juice Williams may have the greatest ball fakes I've ever seen live. You know that thing where the cameraman follows someone who ends up not having the ball and freaks out when this becomes clear? I did that on like half of Illinois' runs. It was really annoying when I'd be watching the running back get tackled for no gain only for Williams to have the ball and run for a first down.
  • Missing Hemingway and Stonum was a big deal, since it's obvious why Savoy can't get off the bench. Apparently the TV guys criticized the coaching on his long-bomb drop; I think the more plausible explanation is that a redshirt junior who hasn't seen any time is probably not very good.
  • Holy Lord did Michigan get jacked on at least three different pass interference calls. Greg Mathews was obviously hit early on an unsuccessful third down conversion. Illinois got bailed out on third down by a PI call on a ball yards behind the receiver. Donovan Warren got shoved not once but twice on a downfield jump ball and drew no flag. The first two either ended Michigan or extended Illinois drives. The latter set up a third and two instead of a second and seventeen; the next play was the dagger Williams scramble.
  • Michigan again used that goofy formation where Greg Mathews is 1) split out and 2) covered up by a receiver outside of him. They ran twice for minimal yardage. WTF?
  • Despite Odoms' fumble he should definitely keep the return job. He consistently broke through the first wave of defenders and acquired Michigan excellent field position. The fumble just appeared to be a guy putting his helmet on the ball, which usually can't be helped.
  • Perhaps the most disturbing event on the day was Illinois dominating the Michigan offensive line. The Illini had been shredded by all previous opponents. The offensive line is going to be an anchor around this team's neck for the remainder of the year.


Desert Blue

October 6th, 2008 at 11:51 AM ^

You know that thing where the cameraman follows someone who ends up not having the ball and freaks out when this becomes clear? I did that on like half of Illinois' runs.

Yeah, so did the cameraman. Wait till you see the tape! 


October 6th, 2008 at 11:55 AM ^

Threet losing the handle on pass plays is truly up there with Mallett's snap handling problems. Wishful thinking but I sitll think we take tOSU though. That is if Michigan finds a way not to let TP run all over the field Juice Williams style. Penn State will give us a very clear, clear picture of the players in Michigan's secondary. Daryll Clark, in my opinion is head and shoulders above Juice. Clark reminds me a lot of David Garrard from the Jacksonville Jaguars. Michigan's defense, at this point, needs to play for pride. They need to regroup mentally, find their center and not let anyone violate them like that. Juice does ball fake with the bestr of them but thats a lot of love in the form of yardage to surrender. Still alot to play for here in this season. Namely next season and showing the coaches you want to start next year.


October 6th, 2008 at 12:02 PM ^


No way we win that one.  Did you watch the tOSU - Wisky game?  OMG whenever TP wants a first down he just takes off and gets it.  There's NO WAY after watching that Illinois debacle that Michigan wins it.  I'd love to say there's a chance, but, no, there's no chance.  


October 6th, 2008 at 12:08 PM ^

This year always has been, and will continue to be, about managing expectations.  With all the n00bs on offense it is unrealistic to expect any more than 3 scores.  Threet has enough talent to march down the field when he is in a rhythm, but not consistent enough to look for it more than a few times each game.  The defense is good enough to get pressure on the QB and make some plays, but it is not dominating enough to overcome poor safety play. 

I think this team sucks 40% of the time and is a good team 60%.  Unfortunately the good 60% is not good enough to overcome the sucky 40% on a consistent basis.  So, for every Wisc, there will be a ND & Ill.  Luckily for them, Minn/Purdue/NW/MSU are not that good and they have a chance in each of those games.  If you chalk them all up as W's, though, you are asking for pain.

MMB 82

October 6th, 2008 at 12:13 PM ^

I would put the PSU and OSU games down as losses- too much firepower to deal with. IL was an example of a team running the spread much better than we do, and until the defense practices against an effective spread they will continue to have trouble with it.

 The main goal of the season at this point is to try to put together wins against Toledo, MSU, Purdue, Minn, and Northwestern and get to a bowl game (and root for PSU all the way to the BCS championship). At the very least, with the Insight Bowl I could drive to the game and purchase tickets right before pregame......

West Texas Blue

October 6th, 2008 at 12:15 PM ^

For as much decimated by injuries Illinois' DL was, they completely
blew up our offense line after the 1st quarter.  Screen passes this
year have been very ugly sans the McGuffie TD in the ND game.  Our run
game is averaging 3.5 Yds per carry.  Yes, they are inexperienced, but
it doesn't seem like they are improving. 

Everyone is saying 2010 will the big year, but rebuilding our OL unit into a consistent,
solid group may take longer than expected, maybe into 2011.  After next
year, most of the current OL group will be gone, and we'll be breaking
in a whole another group. 


October 6th, 2008 at 12:51 PM ^

I agree with you here.  2010 IMO will be just as bad as this year.  We'll be replacing the whole O-line and possibly the QB.  With Forcier coming in early, he'll have a decent shot at taking over Threet's spot.  Oh, and adios defense.  If we thought it was bad now...

McGuffie/Shaw should be better, as well as Stonum but it probably won't translate because of the offensive line.  *sigh* least Michigan hockey is starting :-)


October 6th, 2008 at 1:07 PM ^

Why would we be replacing the QB?  Threet will be a junior in 2010 and Forcier will be a sophomore. 

 We won't be replacing the entire offensive line either.  Maybe two or three guys who aren't very good anyways but that's it.  Meanwhile, we'll have three or four experienced wide receivers and running backs, along with an experienced tight end. 

 2009 is when our defense will be bad. 

West Texas Blue

October 6th, 2008 at 2:08 PM ^

Huyge and Dorrenstein are MAC caliber talent; all part of Andy Moeller's excellent OL evaluation.  Ferrara is a former DT switched over to OL since our OL is pretty bad; I'm hoping that was for temporary reasons and not a permanent solution.  Molk and Schilling will be back in 2010, but that still leaves 3 new starters barring any freshmen OL outright replacing the upperclassmen next year.  I dunno, maybe 2010 will be the big year, but as of now I'm leaning toward 2011 when a dual threat QB will have a great grasp of offense and OL will hopefully developed into a reliable group.

Tim Waymen

October 6th, 2008 at 12:20 PM ^

First, as terrible as this loss was, Juice Williams's performance was brilliant.  He and Dufrene can fake with the best.  (Another honorary mention in the good hand-off faker category is Matt Ryan's replacement at BC, whoever the hell he is.)

What bothers me so much is that this defense is experienced and has good coaching.  They should not be making so many errors.  I guess huge gaps are in the LBs, safeties, and Morgan Trent's tackling.  It really sucks because they're not bailing out the offense as we hoped.  I hate how Saturday's performance only strengthens the trite charge that Michigan can't handle mobile QBs. 

On one hand: Guess what?  A lot of teams struggle with good, fast, mobile QBs.  On the other: yeah but Michigan's struggles are legendary and especially damaging.


October 6th, 2008 at 12:36 PM ^

Definitely the most sustained epic fumbler.  Max Martin, IIRC, couldn't hold onto the ball either, but he's gone.  Didn't one of the Bracken, Rembert, Underwood unholy trinity fumble a lot?  I'm leaning towards no, they just were all slow and not shifty at all.


October 6th, 2008 at 12:59 PM ^

Yes, our team sucks but I don' think calling 1st down runs 17 of 23 times thru the 1st three qtrs helped any.  Our run game cannot get going unless and until the short-to-mid passing game loosens up the opposing defenses.  Our OL sucks and needs that breathing room to operate against anyone, even Todelo.

Now we all know M isn't very good with their deep passing game, but the short-to-mid passing game has been okay and was effective in the 1st qtr. Then M thought they could just run it more? Wrong.

The defense suffers from bad safety play, and Trent just isn't that good, either.  On 3rd and long, the secondary MUST cover those deeper passes! 

Mouton was awful against ILL. Thompson is slow (both ways). 

Two of the pass interference calls were WEAK and really hurt M. 

A major ingredient of Juice Williams' effectiveness is that he is so damn BIG. If that's a shifty little guy like Randle-El, he doesn't make some of those plays. Also, Williams' can ususally be counted on to make 2 or 3 stupid mistakes. He somehow managed not to do that on Saturday. So I guess you tip your cap to him but also give him the finger because you just KNOW that next week that fucker is going to have 2 INTs and a fumble.


October 6th, 2008 at 1:06 PM ^

I'd like to hear some speculation on that weird unbalanced formation. I can think of two reasons for that lineup: one, to try to catch the secondary out of position and spring some blocks downfield; or two, to have Mathews sweep around and get the ball on a reverse. It can't be a tackle-eligible play since the left tackle is ineligible by number. Thoughts?


October 6th, 2008 at 1:38 PM ^

I wonder if it's some type of read-and-audible play.  If the D aligns themselves in such a way as to ignore Mathews, could Threet audible to cue GM to take a step forward and someone else take a step back?

 I was sure it was a tackle eligible play; I didn't know that the number a player wears can make him ineligible... didn't Long almost catch a pass against Fla in the bowl game? 


October 6th, 2008 at 1:28 PM ^

Dont matter at all, if you play your responsiblities and tackle all the elements on a play with a fake, you dont have a problem...   Juice's ball fakes were ineffective when the defense was playing as a unit.  Once they started pressing becasue of offensive woes, they started trying to make every tackle themselves, and started looking like an English defense vs the spread....


October 6th, 2008 at 1:43 PM ^

I was all over Graham, i think it was, on the selfish play he made on an obvious pinch call, to try to shed his block out, when he had already given up his outside shoulder.  The lb,  saw the cloudy read, weather or not it was suppose to be cloudy or not, and scraped over top to the clear read.  The safety was outside as well.  Then Graham decides to try to make the tfl all by himself, and gets sealed out the rb cuts up, and now we have ilb, safety and dt all outside....    that is a great example of how one selfish play, can destroy the entire scheme against a spread....


October 6th, 2008 at 1:41 PM ^

excuse the defense, IMO.  I have the highest respect for gsimmons but I have seen a lot of this rationale the last couple of days, that the offense was the cause (or major contributor to) the defensive breakdowns.  I don't buy it.  the offense couldn't have been worse 1st half Wisc. but the defense was solid and performed.  I think Illinois stepped up their game 2nd half and we couldn't do the same.  Step up and perform.


October 6th, 2008 at 1:55 PM ^

you have respect for me, but well whatever..   i cant tell you how many times an offensive coach says to me,  "sorry coach, we couldnt do anything, and put too much preasure on yoru defense" even though we gave up a bunch of td's....  most of the time if the defense cant stop somebody, the offense begins pressing to try to make every play a td, and if the offense cant score, the defense begins pressing to try to make a big play on every play, instead of playing responsiblites...   of course sometimes they make big plays.  The int for a touchdown,  if the reciever runs the slant and up that was run by ND, its problaby a td, unless warren stays on his hip... We took a chance on a short throw, becasue we needed a big play, and we got it.  Doesnt change the fact that they were pressing against Wisconsin.   Not to mention the fact, since you have great respect for me and all,  that i have mentioned several times that because of the nature of spread teams, defenses have to play perfect responsiblity football.  When you are pressing, people beging trying too much.  Against Wisconsin, there wasnt that presure to play responsbility perfect football... it really isnt too difficult of a concept, and is a fundamental truth in regards to defensive football..


i edited this, becasue i was too harsh in the first post, sorry about that, no need for me to be mean...


October 6th, 2008 at 3:27 PM ^

is not just staying on your assignment but executing the tackle as well. In addition to missing assignments, there are too many missed tackles. The spread isolates skilled players in space often with one guy to beat. If you are that guy, pursuit angles and sure tackling are essential to prevent big plays. In addition to coverage woes, our DBs seem to be poor tacklers as well.


October 6th, 2008 at 1:43 PM ^

The times we played with disciple, we blew up even their most dangerous option plays (that damn triple-option screen bullshit they killed us on a few times).  It's the difference between a 1 yard loss and a 50-yard gain.  As a side note, the same thing happened to Wisconsin against OSU on the last play when TP scored.  They got overly aggressive and lost discipline.


October 6th, 2008 at 1:38 PM ^

On a play-action ball fake the RB KNOWS he's not getting the ball.  But RR's offense has that exchange as an OPEN possibility. So we've now seen at least twice where the RB "thought" he was supposed to take the ball (McGuffie vs. Utah) and once where he didn't "realize" he was getting the ball (Shaw vs. ILL).  Both times led to dumb, debilitating turnovers.

Isn't this an aspect of RR's offense that will continue to be a very risky exchange that we should expect will lead to more fumbles for years to come?


October 6th, 2008 at 7:31 PM ^

if you are familiar with it.  It is the QB's responsibility to either give it or take it depending on the read and the RB gets his arms into postion to take the ball every play.  With time, practice, and getting familiar with each other the hand-off will become a lot easier to handle.  Even to the point were the RB, just by feel, will be able to tell if the QB will keep it or give it.  

......said the high school QB that ran the triple option.  


October 6th, 2008 at 1:56 PM ^

We're just average. The only unit we have that is above average is the D-Line, and when they are not applying pressure then our poor linebacker and safety play is  exposed.

Threet is a below average talent for a Michigan QB. The talent on our OL is average at best for the Big Ten; the marginal guys we hoped would never have to see the field are starting (outside Schilling who is not yet at expectations). Our WR and RBs are above average in talent, but that is moot with a poor OL. With the QB, since it is only one person, you can expect games that fall significantly above (Wiscy 2nd half) or below (ND) the mean in terms of performance. But with the OL it is unlikely that all five will have games above their average at the same time. So we can fare well against poor defensive teams, but will be dominated by average and good teams.

Average teams fight to finish 6-6. With a couple of good bounces maybe even 8-4. Every freakin' bounce has gone against us this year...maybe we're just saving the good karma for next year.


October 6th, 2008 at 2:08 PM ^

"Threet is a below average talent for a Michigan QB."

Except he's not below average.  He's on his 3rd system in 3 years, and has no Oline and a bunch of freshman around him.  What, exactly, would make you think Drew Henson as a freshman would be that much better?  Or, more to the point, if Mallett was QB this year would things be different?


October 6th, 2008 at 4:50 PM ^

you actually think 8-4 is attainable?!  lol!  that's priceless!  6-6, at this point, is rich too!  thank-you michigan fan for making my day! you should be 1-4, and except for an incompetent wisconsin team, you would be.  as a notre dame fan who suffered through last year, let me tell you that i am savoring the train wreck that is the 2008 michigan wolverine football team!

Other Chris

October 6th, 2008 at 1:59 PM ^

Michigan has had 20 fumbles and lost 11 of them. There were no fumbles at all against Miami, FYI.

Threet is the fumbling leader, with eight altogether and four lost.  (Sheridan has one fumble, recovered by M.)  We also have three lost fumbles on returns (Mathews, Shaw, Trent) and two fumbles on returns recovered by M (Cissiko, Warren).

Now to the heart of the matter.  On rushing plays, McGuffie, Grady, and Odoms have lost one fumble each, Minor has had three fumbles, one recovered by M. 

McGuffie: 1 fumble in 84 carries -- 1.2% fumble rate
Minor: 3 fumbles in 13 carries -- 23% fumble rate
Grady: 1 fumble in 12 carries -- 8.3% fumble rate
Odoms: 1 fumble in 3 carries -- 33% fumble rate

This last statistic is deceiving, though, because this does not take into account his 23 receptions and 10 kick returns.  If we recalculate as fumbles per touch, including McGuffie's 12 receptions and Minor's 2, here are the new percentages:

McGuffie: 1 fumble in 96 touches -- 1% fumble rate
Odoms: 1 fumble in 36 touches -- 2.8% fumble rate
Minor: 3 fumbles in 15 touches -- 20% fumble rate
Grady: 1 fumble in 12 touches -- 8.3% fumble rate