9/13/2015 – Michigan 35, Oregon State 7 – 1-1
AND YOU WILL KNOW HIM BY THE TRAIL OF DEAD [Eric Upchurch]
When Michigan got the ball back up 28-7 in the fourth quarter, the game was already over. Oregon State hadn't budged on offense since their first drive. If they were going to push towards making it a game it would have come after they intercepted Jake Rudock; instead they went nowhere and punted. That punt was waving the white flag, something Michigan fans have gotten used to over the last couple years.
Michigan took that flag and rammed it down Oregon State's throat. At one juncture they hit a bit of a snag and had to employ Ol' Skillet Hands Ian Bunting to get past the obstruction; afterwards it was smooth sailing. The end result was a 14-play touchdown drive featuring 13 runs and no trace of the Beavers' flag of surrender unless you want to count a palpably uncomfortable crimp in the Beavers' gait.
I used to think that was boring.
Back in the long long ago when "This Is Michigan" meant "this is an unstoppable factory of offensive linemen and tailbacks who will go too high in the NFL draft," they'd get the ball back from a reasonable team and proceed to do to the fourth quarter what time-lapse photography does to glaciers. It was a pleasant sort of boring, to be sure, but it was also a signal that the football had concluded. All that was left was to hear the muffled squeaks.
Part of the reason it was boring was that it was unsatisfying. I came of age during the Moeller era, when Michigan dropped four games a year, and except for the occasional deviation when Michigan had a killer defense(1997, 2006) games that featured boa constrictor drives like Saturday's were false positives. The most bonkers stat about the Lloyd Carr era is the one where the team was more likely to win if it entered the fourth quarter with a small deficit than a small lead, but #2 is that during Lloyd Carr's tenure Michigan finished in the top 30 in yards per carry once. You'd think a run game featuring Mo Williams, Steve Hutchinson, Jeff Backus, and Anthony Thomas would be able to crack the top 30 by accident. Not so much.
Carr's teams were consistently good and had an amazing knack for getting off the mat, but there was a persistent frustration in the fanbase. It felt like Michigan was not getting the most out of its talent. When Rich Rodriguez came in, he had three functioning offensive linemen, a freshman and a walk-on at quarterback, and freshmen everywhere else. That his 2008 team's ground game would have been one of Carr's better ones was evidence enough that the frustration was warranted.
So I was encouraged by the general splattening of a bad team; I was more encouraged by the fullback traps that saw Sione Houma thunder through the line trailing a wildfire of hair. Harbaugh's run game is diverse and weird. By the end of that game Oregon State didn't just feel physically beaten but also confused as hell.
You can't just line up and do the one thing you're good at a lot and expect to succeed anymore. Harbaugh doesn't do that. It can look like he's doing that, but his run game is closer to Paul Johnson's than Lloyd Carr's. Johnson is constantly tweaking his blocking schemes. If you stick to one pattern to defuse his flexbone option he will eventually send one of his guys in a different direction and all of a sudden there's a dude ripping down the sideline. Harbaugh uses all those tight ends because they give him the ability to add gaps where defenses don't expect them—and this goes double in an era when teams are increasingly reducing their options on the interior.
Michigan is on a long path to being both good and confusing. If the coach has a nuclear meltdown on the sidelines—because he's right about something—as an amuse bouche, all the better. Of course, it does not do to get ahead of ourselves. They're not going to be able to do this against top-end defenses right away. We saw that against Utah.
Saturday wasn't the opening credits to this year's movie. But as a preview of coming attractions it felt pretty pretty good.
Yet To Be Named Harbaugh-Themed Guys Who Did Good Award.
you're the man now, dog
#1 Chris Wormley deployed beast mode on a sack that was a yard or two away from a safety, had two or three other TFLs depending on what mood you catch the official scorer in, and generally nosed in front of an otherwise killer defensive line.
#2 De'Veon Smith spent most of the game picking members of the Oregon State back seven out of his teeth.
#3 AJ Williams had a 20-yard catch and, more important, was one of the key guys blowing the perimeter of the Oregon State defense off the ball. Really. I am all about how AJ Williams played in this game, pending UFR review.
Honorable mention: Pick just about any defender. The offensive line in general.
5: Chris Wormley(#2 Utah, #1 Oregon State)
3: Jake Butt (#1, Utah)
2: De'Veon Smith(#2 Oregon State)
1: Willie Henry (#3, Utah), AJ Williams (#3 Oregon State)
Who's Got It Better Than Us Of The Week
For the single individual best moment.
Oregon State offers Michigan a free touchdown by sailing a punt snap yards over the punter's head just before halftime. That this was the culmination of a series of mishaps directed by the angry gods of probability only adds to the mirth.
Honorable mention: Michigan's 13-run, 1-pass game-sealing drive. Ol' Skillet Hands trucks a defensive back for an important first down. Rudock finds Smith for a fourth and five conversion. Any of a half-dozen runs on which you will know De'Veon Smith by the trail of dead.
Utah: Crazy #buttdown.
Oregon State: #tacopunts
MARCUS HALL EPIC DOUBLE BIRD OF THE WEEK.
Wait: let's talk about this. Epic Double Bird is pretty epic. But is Harbaugh Meltdown epic? Should we change this? Let me know. Anyway:
This week's worst thing ever.
Michigan, already down 7-0 early, busts a blitz pickup. Jake Rudock has nowhere to go with the ball and gets blown up on the sack. He fumbles, Oregon State recovers, and a certain Brady Hoke feeling descends on events.
Honorable mention: Ridiculous missed Darboh endzone PI, the roughing the punter penalty that caused Harbaugh to go nuclear, most of Oregon State's opening drive.
Utah: circle route pick six.
Oregon State: Rudock fumbles after blitz bust.
[After THE JUMP: TOOT TOOT]
Toot toot, all aboard the USS I Laugh At Your Secondary's Attempt To Tackle And Leave Them Strewn In Heaps Around Me, Drinking Mead From Their Skulls. We'll work on the name. Make no mistake, though: De'Veon Smith is a battleship. In the season preview I said that Smith was the kind of guy who could chew through just about anyone if you delivered him three yards downfield, and this game was ample demonstration of that. By Nick Baumgardner's count, he had 73 yards after contact. That is a LeVeon Bell level of YAC.
Ace asked if I wanted any gifs for this post; I asked for a particularly destructive run of middling length somewhere in the middle of the game. This was what he came up with:
And that was not the run I was thinking of. I was in fact thinking of some other brief interval of hyperviolence Smith inflicted on the Beavers. Before I specified the nature of the run, Seth assumed I was talking about Smith's early hyperviolent touchdown on which he ran through a DB's tackle like it was a child's gentle caress. The safety who impacted Smith in the gif above had to be helped off the field. Dude left wreckage in his wake.
Exemplar. Drake Johnson only got one carry in this game because he's still working his way back. On it he got a few yards on a well-blocked play, got raked at by a flailing arm, and stumbled to the ground. Has that happened to Smith once in his career? I'm guessing yes, but dang if I can think of an instance.
This game was one in which he had a fully operational battle station around him and he looked fantastic. I am still not convinced he's as great an option when you're not paving the opponent.
Thing about that gif. It did come back as Drake Harris's cut block was deemed illegal. That's because Johnson is more than seven yards from the center (the hashes are about 13 yards apart) and it was deemed he impacted the guy he's blocking from the side. You can't cut a guy if you're outside the tackle box unless you get him from the front.
Tight ends doing work. I thought Saturday was probably the best game of AJ Williams's career by some distance. That a guy like De'Veon Smith was consistently bouncing outside the tackles when that was necessary was a tribute to Williams and the rest of the tight ends beating up on the edge guys for Oregon State. And this is an area where "but it was just Oregon State" falls flat. Michigan's tight ends have had trouble blocking most players they've face no matter how unintimidating they are. To get that amount of edge running meant that the tight ends were blowing people up.
Speaking of unexpected tight ends…
"Who the hell is 49?" I said that in the second quarter. It's Tom Strobel, who has bounced back to offense after bouncing to defense from offense etc etc etc. With Michigan's DL two deep, buck excluded, looking terrific against the Utes and Henry Poggi having a rough first outing as a TE Michigan took another look at Strobel and he did pretty well for himself. He's 280, which is huge for a tight end, and he seemed to get his blocks.
Also, it's fun to see him on the field after I thought he might never play. Harbaugh has deployed just about everyone in some capacity early.
ball security [Fuller]
Oh, right: throwing. Rudock had a very Rudock-esque game with 70% completions for about 7 YPA. He doesn't get credit for any of these in the box score but I think Michigan was robbed of two PI calls. There was of course the super-obvious Darboh one in the endzone; I also thought the DB was clearly going after Darboh early on the first play from scrimmage.
Two more turnovers are sour notes. The fumble above was a protection bust on which he ate an unblocked guy; still want him to hold onto the ball. The interception was late and one of those five yard routes at a stopped guy I'm not a big fan of.
But Rudock moved the offense. The checkdowns I thought he was missing in Utah were prominent here; Rudock moved around in the pocket well, avoiding rushers and finding a way to scratch out some yards in adverse situations. After two games it seems like the upper range of his senior year is out the window, but he's still a perfectly competent Big Ten quarterback.
Downfield issues. Rudock hung up a bomb in this game that Jehu Chesson had ample opportunity to adjust to; he didn't see that it was coming down short until way too late. That's a hint as to why he hasn't been a major target so far in his career despite his speed, and something Drake Harris is supposed to be 100 dot emoji at.
on the bright side for the Beavers, by the time they unearthed this RB he had become valuable petroleum products [Upchurch]
Not bad. Let all negatives in this section be interpreted as the nits they are. Michigan held Oregon State to four second half yards and kept them under 200 yards of offense even if you give them back the 40 or so they lost on Tacopunts.
Oregon State did have opportunities to make more plays than they did in the passing game. Several wide receivers were overthrown, and one particular pass that was completed for a moment did not end up completed for very long.
HOOOOOOOO. That would be this one:
Jabrill Peppers had another up and down game. I thought he was fortunate to not eat a couple of additional completions when he missed jams about five yards downfield, and I have a bit of a suspicion he was supposed to be a lot closer to that pass when it was launched—it was only the arm-punt nature of that ball and Peppers being Peppers that gave him time to recover.
On the other hand, Peppers was again a force in the field-side flats that are critical when you go up against any spread offense, let alone one that loves itself some jet screens. He even had a cameo at WLB that ended with him delivering a blow to the Beaver running back at the line of scrimmage. As a cover guy he's still a work in progress. As the world's most evil and explosive Jordan Kovacs he gets top marks.
Formation note. Michigan was running with Hill at safety and Peppers at boundary corner when they went to a 4-3, which was maybe a quarter of the time.
Speaking of Hill. Safeties weren't needed too much in this game but Hill had a most excellent open field tackle on Oregon State's shifty QB on a play that otherwise would likely have been a sizeable gain.
ALSO YOU WILL KNOW HIM BY THE TRAIL OF ALSO DEAD [Bryan Fuller]
Wormley. Beast mode for a second straight game. Three TFLs, that sack on which Oregon State's quarterback correctly decided the move was to drop into the fetal position and hope to survive the next few moments, and a hefty contribution to Michigan's suffocating run defense: dude has leveled up.
As a recruit, Wormley was controversial. In his favor: enormous and fast. Not in his favor: he didn't do much with it and was generally regarded as "soft." Maybe he needs to play angry. And if there's someone who needs to play angry, is there anyone better at making you angry than Jim Harbaugh? Nah.
Lewis exit. There are no external indicators that suggest that Lewis would be held out even one week with the concussion he suffered after this ridiculous PBU:
this dude he's going up against is 6'5" [Upchurch]
He hasn't had one before, he doesn't play a high contact spot, and he didn't get knocked out. They might hold him out against UNLV as a precaution. UNLV's starting QB got knocked out against UCLA and his replacement had four yards passing, so… yeah. If there's any question he'll probably get a rest. I would be surprised if it lasted any longer than that. He tweeted at his old position coach at Cass that he was okay, FWIW.
Also, got dang Jourdan Lewis. That is a 6'5" guy contesting a well-thrown ball that he rakes out. Lewis did get beat on the Oregon State touchdown, but that was much in the fashion of his freshman foibles where he's in great position and the QB makes a perfect throw. The main blemish on his day was a wide receiver screen where he tried to go around a block a la Peppers and let it outside of him for a chunk of yardage.
Hooray for getting it right this time. Michigan announced Lewis had been concussed and put him in street clothes for the second half. They did not announce this approximately 13 hours from now. Progress is real.
Other cornerback. Ask again later, again. Neither Channing Stribling nor Jeremy Clark got beat up too bad, but given the opposing QB that's necessary but not sufficient as we try to proclaim ourselves not panicked. Clark got beat on an early slant, and then got beat on a later slant. On the later one he knocked it away anyway because he's 6'3".
On the zone read bust. Michigan looked like they'd never seen a zone read on one particular second quarter run. On that play, Ojemudia tore after the tailback and nobody filled in behind him on a scrape exchange. Who busted? Circumstantial evidence suggests it was Bolden, as he got replaced by Ross on the next play. FWIW. Bolden copped to a couple errors in the postgame presser. He thought both came on the first drive, which this did not.
On linebacker athleticism. The starters came in for some criticism after Utah when the Utes found some success attacking the edges of the field. I didn't think there was much to that after UFRing and this game should be further evidence these guys can get where they need to go. After the first drive hiccups Michigan crushed all things against a jet-sweep-heavy offense. They're fine.
crafty aussies were the only thing standing between Cole and IMPACT [Upchurch]
Almost Brian Cole, almost. I actually think that amongst Brian Cole's many and diverse almost-blocked punts were one or two he got a fingernail on. I swear I saw a second-half punt spinning sideways, which is almost always the result of a deflection; Oregon State's punter had a second one on which the trajectory looked odd.
That Cole did not return one to sender with an exclamation point feels like an upset in the aftermath. The first almost-block was probably a fluke saving Oregon State, as Cole was directly in the punter's face. The dude mishit his rugby attempt (or brilliantly redirected it to avoid the block) and it managed to get downfield.
Deploying Cole in that fashion is reminiscent of Marquise Walker in his season as Michigan's punt block specialist: Cole is fast, tall, and an excellent leaper. Deploying him as a anti-punt Patriot missile is going to pay off. Hooray Baxter.
HARBAUGH TOTAL MELTDOWN: Justified. The rule as per one of the NCAA rulebook's attached explainers:
Jim Harbaugh was spot-on re. that roughing the punter call. From the NCAA's official rules and interpretations book: pic.twitter.com/JPD4t9Trnz
— Brendan F. Quinn (@BFQuinn) September 13, 2015
Quinn notes in an article that the punter is given some leeway if he has to field a faulty snap, but this was not an instance of the punter leaving the tackle box because of the snap. He was still in it when he recovered the ball and then he took four or five steps before the punt. That punt was almost on the numbers—there's no way that flag should have been thrown.
You could tell he was right because he didn't get hit with an unsportsmanlike conduct flag during the meltdown.
Kicking items. Positive signs there: Kenny Allen hit field goals of 29 and 40 yards without much stress involved. Blake O'Neill hit a 49-yarder with no return and Oregon State had a total of 3 return yards. Return opportunities were limited. Peppers has done a good job of at least fielding every punt, which can save ten or even 20 yards. He did have one unwise decision to bring out a kickoff; I say go ahead and try.
They appear to be trying that thing on kickoffs where the kicker tries to sky it to the goal line, inducing a return. That resulted in one kickoff out of bounds and one yakety sax play wherein the returner dropped it, bobbled it again, grabbed it, and still got out to the 22. I've never felt like the small chance of a positive outcome there is worth the practice time and wear and tear. Just boot 'em away.
This is Michigan, better executed. The tickets are lovely and old-timey this year, and Michigan followed up on that with a gorgeous program cover:
That is amazing, and so much better than the "here are some players in front of a white background" thing they've done forever. I know the Bentley has piles of stuff like this; hopefully they continue with the motif.
Piped in music. I didn't think there was much change in the frequency or volume level of the music. Special K is still jamming in five seconds of something after the band is done during commercial breaks. Was hoping for the intervals to be a little more chill.
The main difference is that Special K has a command from on high to play hilariously high quotients of dadrock.
Pretty sure all of the Big House music is being piped in directly from Harbaugh's first-generation iPod.
— MGoJen (@MGoJen) September 12, 2015
It was about 50/50 between the HarPod and standard gameday stuff. But where was the Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald?
Real actual maize. Not a surprise after seeing the road uniforms, but Michigan's maize is actually maize and it's a beautiful thing. There's an unfortunate contrast with the field now, one that won't get resolved this season, but after years of increasingly vivid yellow it's nice to have the actual color back. Looks fantastic.
Remember how I said it was clear Dave Brandon wasn't actually a Michigan fan after he scheduled Appalachian State? Jim Harbaugh is the kind of Michigan fan that has an OPINION about which block M was the best and which pantone color is appropriate for the uniforms. He's basically Dr. Sap. And that is awesome.
Noon games. It was pretty great to get home and be able to take in all of a packed 3:30 window. Stupid Will Fuller always being open for 50 yard touchdowns.
Pregame hype video(s). I thought the first one was terrific. The James Earl Jones one was a bit too much with the WE ARE THE BEST stuff. Show, don't tell. You have Darth Damn Vader narrating your hype video: show. You have him say WE ARE THE BEST: tell.
Game theory bits. Going for two after going up 26-7 was the obvious call since with that much time left in the game Oregon State is not getting four scores even in a world where they suddenly have Oregon's offense.
Michigan's main decision in this game was going for it on fourth and five on the Oregon State 28. Rudock hit De'Veon Smith on a dumpoff he turned into 20 yards and a few plays later Michigan had its first touchdown. If you're not David Shaw that decision is common sense now, especially if you don't have a top-end kicker. Still good to see Harbaugh follow through on his "I shoulda gone for it" mutter the Fox cameras caught during the Utah game.
And then of course the lead-in to the Tacopunts event. The Beavers had a fourth and three from the Michigan 39 with about 90 seconds left in the half. They chose to take a delay of game and punt. It was 10-7 at the time and neither offense was exactly tearing it up, but even so that's pretty terrible. It feels like that decision was impacted by the impending halftime—but I think it got pushed in the wrong direction. If you get it your possession is more valuable than a hypothetical Michigan one, something that the remaining time on the clock in fact amplifies. Punting to prevent a one-minute drill feels like a decision that people get wrong more often because the carrot for it is so easily achievable.
I know that beating a pretty bad Pac-12 team isn’t going to be substantially change the outlook for the season for any reasonable fan…
I’ll take it. I’ll take it because this was the type of win you always wanted to see out of those old Hoke outfits, not the nail-bitters against UConn(!) and Akron(!!) where the offense looked like it was shot with the Devolution Gun. I’ll take it because it felt like the team embodied its offensive and defensive philosophies, not just pay them lip-service while flailing around for anything that works. I’ll take it because after that first drive, Michigan’s defense stiffened and held OSU to 84 total yards of offense, including 2 drives that went backwards (I don’t count the Tacopants punt and the kneel down to end the first half; it’s 4 if you count those). I’ll take it because Michigan had three more 10+ drives that ended in scores, and probably would have had more such drives in the second half if the field didn’t shift steeply toward the OSU side of the field and UM had great field position.
Tacos and Peppers
* I had Michigan with 6 TFLs to the boxscore's 7. I missed Delano Hill's TFL for a 1 yard loss. I actually credited Wormley with 3.5 TFLs as I shared Royce Jenkins-Stone's TFL between the two of them. I also split Ojemudia's TFL between him and Ryan Glasgow.
* The second "defeats" category is 3rd down conversion stops. I had Michigan getting 7 of those and I had two more defeats for 4th down conversion tackles. Morgan and Hill had two of those each. The other 5 were spread among 7 players. If there's a theme, it's that everyone contributed, you know, that whole, "The Team, The Team, The Team," stuff.
* The third "defeat" is forced turnovers. Taco Charlton got credit for that in the boxscore, but upon a second viewing of the play, I gave credit for the forced fumble to an OSU lineman's fat ass. Fumbles are random.
* I had Wormley with 3 QHs. I gave one to Godin and one to Morgan. My definition of a QH is when then defender hits the QB when he is trying to throw such that he can't throw in his normal motion and with his normal follow through. The boxscore gave 1 to Morgan and 1 to Henry. At least we agreed on one.
And we have an attempt to dissect what happened on the interception:
I haven't looked at in depth yet but my current thinking is that the throw was late.
I don't know if it is true genius to build your football program around the principles of a stout run game, taking care of the football, and getting off the field on third down on defense. Maybe it was genius at one point in time that became the conventional wisdom because it showed the obviousness of the plan demonstrated itself often enough in programs that won that it seems so easy to replicate itself. If the past seven years have taught Michigan fans anything (and believe me, they should have taught us a great deal) it's that saying the words, telling people that is what you want to do, does not automatically you will do it will.
Also, the HSR's quest to get the "Wolverbear" included as part of Michigan's iconography found paydirt on Saturday:
— Joe F. (@tallshmo) September 12, 2015
PFF grades Michigan:
— It’s safe to say that Michigan won’t be counting on Jake Ruddock to win them games any time soon. It was a step up in play from his performance against Utah, but their new starter still finished with a -2.9 overall grade.
— Oregon State’s front seven was absolutely no match for Michigan’s offensive line. The 14-play drive in the fourth quarter to cap off the victory was the same power run play over and over again. Three Michigan offensive linemen graded at +2.0 or higher and the offensive line wasn’t responsible for a single pressure all game.
That QB grade seems a bit harsh to me.
DEFENSIVE CHAMPION – Chris Wormley was all over the field on Saturday. Six tackles, with three of them being TFL, were huge, but his timely sack near the OSU goalline signified a shift in the game, in my opinion. Getting pressure from the DL was key in shutting down the Beavers and #43 was a big factor in that.
Speaking of decals, way more than you'd ever need to know about them at MVictors:
- (1) Teeth – there is less white area in teeth of this year’s decal.
- (2) Nose – there is less white area on the nose, as well.
- (3) Hair – the hair length around the neck and back of head has now been “smoothed.”
- (4) Outline – the blue trim becomes jagged when zooming in on the decal.
@OregonLiveCommenter of the week:
Watched Jim Harbaugh lose his mind on a call. Harbaugh and Mike Tomlin need to grow up. NO ONE cares what a coach thinks or says. All sports would be more enjoyable if the likes of Harbaugh and Tomlin wer relegated to their family rooms screaming at the TV set. Kick their asses out of pro and college ball and return to the sport to the athletes. I am sick and tired of these nancy boy coaches blowing off steam. If they knew how to coach they would not have to play the angry child shtick.
@OregonLiveDrewSharp of the week:
In the moment of truth, Andersen decided to punt. This ignited a sequence of unfortunate events that will torture the players on this team into adulthood. It really shouldn't. Because at this point of the game, Oregon State had out-gained Michigan in yards, earned more first downs, and was raising reasonable belief as to whether Harbaugh was going to throw out his shoulder and start 0-2.
Sure, the team that gained four yards in the second half was right on the verge. BYU will rochambeau you for real. Lloyd Carr provided an inspirational speech pregame. Rutgers advisory system reaches Brandon levels. Michigan is trying to redshirt Morris. This looks delicious.
Daily beat guy Jake Lourim finds a guy after my own heart:
If Goldblatt is a Michigan Stadium rookie, Andrew Kanei is a veteran. Kanei began his fifth year in the student section Saturday. After four years in the undergrad aerospace engineering program, he is now in the graduate program, which means another full slate of games.
He, too, sat down in the third row on the 20-yard line just after 10 a.m. for the home opener.
“I kind of like getting into the stadium when it’s empty and watching it fill up,” Kanei said.