The Verdict Is, Unfortunately, In Comment Count

Brian October 26th, 2009 at 11:46 AM

10/24/2009 – Michigan 10, Penn State 35 – 5-3, 1-3 Big Ten


In my memory I have one hazy previous version of that thing from Saturday: I remember James Whitley was returning punts. He'd put a few on the turf here and there already but people were still in the "that's not enough data" phase and willing to give him a chance. On this day, whatever day it was, it was a little wet and Whitley fumbled. And fumbled again. And fumbled again. He finally got yanked and I think his replacement fumbled. I don't remember the opponent or the final score but I do remember that Michigan fumbled 12 times on the day and the stadium had 110,000 people in it who would have set a world record for most eye-rolls at an event if only someone was tracking it.

I don't know if it's a self-preservation technique for my brain, but Saturday's game is almost as hazy as that decade-old debacle. I have to squint to remember anything more specific than a single play on which a tight end drops a pass that Denard Robinson fumbles to a Penn State player who throws to a ridiculously wide open player that a linebacker is attempting, and failing, to cover. On the extra point, David Moosman snaps it through the endzone or something. I think the brain is attempting to prevent itself from getting bashed against the wall. I think the brain is wise to do this.

As the man says, mama said there'd be days like this.


When Michigan had just beaten Notre Dame and it seemed like the Irish were a team destined for an easy BCS bid instead of one that will win or lose on the last play against anyone except Nevada, hopes bloomed across the Wolverine diaspora. Personally, I remember contemplating an Alamo or Outback with Tim on the giggly post-Notre Dame podcast, and that was an explicitly keep-your-pants on sort of prediction.

How are everyone's pants now? Firmly adhered to various bits of your anatomy, I'm guessing. Stayin' there for at least two weeks. Waiting for Michigan to outgain an opponent in a conference featuring letters other than M, A, and C before relaxing to non-tourniquet levels.

So, yeah, Penn State was kind of a comedown. At this point it's undeniable: Michigan isn't good. Though well removed from the nuclear apocalypse they were last year, this is probably the second- or third-worst team at Michigan in 40 years, give or take a 2005 or 1984. That's disappointing after the mirage of the first few games, but it's not surprising. The reasons why have been detailed in this space and many others, before the season and during it: freshman quarterbacks, new defensive coordinator, terrifying defensive depth chart. Preseason predictions of 7-5 factored in the idea that Rodriguez was a good coach in a big hole.

And though Michigan's on pace to meet those expectations, it was the sort of weekend where I studiously avoid the internet for a day afterwards and am then immediately, repeatedly reminded of why when I break the boycott the day after. Many caps, much emotion, etc.  I've got a few emails in the inbox from folks who annoyed the commentariat and got neg-banged under the 20-point threshold at which you can start your own threads, most of which say I can kiss the ass of the user in question*. You've been on the internet. You know. It's always the last thing that happened that will always keep happening forever.

Your personal level of outrage depends on how much blame you apportion to Rodriguez, Carr, Bill Martin (for handing a Carr team to Rodriguez), and/or general bloody-minded fate, and how quickly you think 3-9 turns into a good football team. Ugh. Isn't it tedious to go through this again? Anyone who's read this blog for a while knows it falls—or at least attempts to fall—on the ruthlessly logical side of things, adds this latest game to the pile of data, shifts its opinion a little bit, and continues believing that Rich Rodriguez is a good coach put in a really tough situation.

As Michigan progresses further into the Rodriguez era the amount of blame that can be laid at the feet of people other than the head coach decreases. It's not to the point where much of it is Rodriguez's fault, in my e-pinion. There are many teams that have looked bad with freshman quarterbacks and many more that have looked atrocious starting five underclassmen, one of them a walk-on, on defense. Michigan is in the middle part of the curve here, and if you're pointing to extreme outliers like Paul Johnson and complaining you are purposefully shutting out data that disagrees with your thesis and—well, and here we go again. I argue against the legions of people on the internet who don't like it when Michigan loses and have poor impulse control, the reader agrees for a bit and then gets annoyed that this column is wasting its time on that sort of thing, etc etc etc. We did this last year. A lot.

This is the first time we've done it in 2009, eight games in, and that represents progress of a sort. The progress on the field is equally obvious: hack out the game against Baby Seal U and Michigan is averaging 80 more yards per game than they did last year; they've only gotten throttled once. They haven't lost to a 3-9 MAC team. They beat a team with a winning record. They aren't going to be 3-9 themselves. By the standards of Michigan past this is a disaster of a year, but the only relevant team in relation to this one is 2008. This year is not evidence Rodriguez is a bad coach.

*(Seriously, multiple negbang victims have deployed "kiss my ass" in their emails. Does this signify that most of the victims are of a certain age? I can't imagine anyone under 30 telling someone to do that; the kids these days are more likely to break out the heavy artillery. One very tenuous suggestion that the older you are, the less patience you have. Which, obviously.)


  • Rodriguez bitches, I've got a few:

    I'm fine with deploying Robinson, but Michigan has to be more flexible with him. The difference between second and nine, when a Robinson run is still a plausible threat, and third and nine, when it isn't, is obvious: second down is an open seam that Koger (argh) drops; third down is a horrible interception. Bringing Robinson in is fine—he was effective, the third and long was the result of a penalty and a drop—but once it's a passing down, Forcier's got to come in.

    Aigh spike. I thought the running plays that got Michigan down to first and goal were plausible; I was iffy about the call on first and goal, and disliked the second-down call, but understand that at that point you're really operating at speed and split-second decisions aren't always correct. From the three with the clock running and no timeouts my instinct is to pass because one way or the other the clock stops afterwards. After fumbling, though, a spike with 13 seconds left is pretty maddening. If you're going to run the ball, you have to have a pass play ready to go that you can just call.

    I still think that Rodriguez's game theory stuff is pretty good, far better than Carr's; at least the mistakes he makes are of the quick-decision, (usually) slightly-too-aggressive variety. He didn't punt from the freakin' 33, as JoePa did Saturday and Carr did plenty.

  • Did anyone else have a strangely positive impression of the run game after it was all over? The box score is illuminating: Brown, Minor, and Robinson combine to average 4.3 YPC; Forcier ends up with ten yards on 14 carries because of a lot of sacks. Brown also had a 20 yard run called back for an illegal formation. I'll take that against Penn State; the main problem with the run game this year has been an inability to get Minor and Brown more carries. They should be combining for 35 carries, not 20.
  • Bonus: that was accomplished with Molk missing all but three plays.
  • Meanwhile, Royster had 100 yards but averaged just 3.1 YPC after his 41-yard opener, which I'm pretty sure will be a huge screwup by Jonas Mouton. That's the defense's MO: pretty good physically, doesn't get pushed around consistently, prone to massive breakdowns.
  • I don't think Forcier was nearly as bad as the numbers. He got crushed by drops, which were legion and extremely important. Third and long conversions clattered to the turf after bouncing through people's arms. Those are something close to turnovers in terms of overall negative impact on the game.
  • Also close to turnovers: turnovers. Note that this site's suggested that turnovers are largely random but there are two things that consistently cause them: pressure and inexperienced quarterbacks. Michigan's got plenty of the latter. I expected Michigan to move towards the middle this year but remain somewhat negative. They've not done the former. They're 105th in turnover margin at almost –1 per game.
  • Obi Ezeh's job might be coming under threat. Multiple times in the second half he was pulled for Fitzgerald, first for just one play and then for a few; each time Hopson pulled him aside and explained various things to him. I don't really blame him for the Quarless touchdown; what the hell was Michigan doing send him in man coverage on Quarless without safety help? Was there supposed to be safety help? I don't know.
  • Robinson's tendency to send six or even seven guys on third down is catching up to Michigan. There was the first Moeaki touchdown, on which Iowa had a playcall specifically designed to burn an all-hands blitz, and then there were a couple instances against Penn State where an all-hands blitz was easily anticipated and exploited; Graham Zug was the main beneficiary. That was the main thing that got him open. Careful what you wish for, I guess.
  • What in the hell is with Donovan Warren playing ten yards off the line of scrimmage? Penn State had eight free yards whenever they ran a long. I was iffy on Robinson when he was hired. While I'm willing to give them a chance and it's obvious that there's almost no way this defense could be good, stuff like that and the bubble screen mania against Michigan State are really disturbing. I have no idea what you could be running in which it's a good idea to play your top cornerback so far off the LOS that you're giving Penn State second and two.
  • Not that anyone affiliated with Penn State will notice, but they were the recipient of some questionable calls. Didn't matter, obviously.
  • Cissoko returned and Michigan showed its first semblance of a situational substitution all year: on obvious passing downs he would replace Williams and Woolfolk would drop back to safety.
  • Speaking of Williams: he's basically the only scholarship player left at safety, and I know he was a four-star but you can't just point to one high-rated recruit and claim things should be better; recruits don't always pan out. To really be assured of talent at a position you need two or three high-rated guys, or at least veterans.
  • The play on which Donovan Warren was shoved into Junior Hemingway needs to be a penalty. As we saw, it's dangerous as hell. Kick catch interference should extend to people you're blocking into the returner.



October 26th, 2009 at 12:30 PM ^

That was a scary play.

The announcers showed the replay at the time and discussed it thusly. Since Penn State had kicked the ball, they were no longer the offensive team, so it's not a block.

I guess that makes logical sense, but since when is it legal to push an offensive player in the back like that. Seems inherently dangerous to me, not only as evidenced by Hemingway's injury.

That's got to be a penalty. Right?


October 26th, 2009 at 12:40 PM ^

but blocked in the back into the returner then yes it should be a personal foul the same that trucking the returner would be.

Why not just shove every gunner into the returner then? It's a dangerous play and I really hope that both Warren and Hemingway did not get too seriously injured on that play.

Wolverine In Exile

October 26th, 2009 at 12:04 PM ^

Preseason predictions were 5-8 wins. We're at 5 wins. We win Illinois and Purdue we're at 7 wins. Steal one against an unimpressive Wiscy or OSU, and we hit 8 wins. We've been blow out in one game to a team that was #4 earlier this season, and we almost stole two road games against the #4 (BCS) team in the nation today and pre-seasonn conference contender.

That to me is an unqualified successful season where we have 2 frosh QB's in the two-deep, our starting all-conference center out for the bulk of our season, and a D-Backfield averaging less than 4 recruiting stars per starter-- not to mention our previous season being the worst in school history.

We're going to go back to a bowl game. Our frosh have shown flashes of brilliance. Our senior DL stud has lived up to all expectations. We've had HORRIBLE weather in our 3 losses.

I'm not on the ledge. Not even out the window. In fact I'm looking for another funnel cake since I just puked up my sno-cone and ready to get back on the wildest roller coaster we've had come through these parts in a long time. I may puke again when we go up and around and down a 200-ft drop, but I also think that we're going to be treated to a hell of time in this amusement park called Michigan football. And at the end of the day-- I think I'm going to go home with a smile and say that was a GREAT time.


October 26th, 2009 at 12:05 PM ^

I'd like to see them rotate DRob into the game during possessions already under way. I think that keeps the D a bit more off balanced than just starting possessions with him.

There was a point in the second quarter, after UM gained a couple first downs and faced a second and 5 just shy of midfield. Tate ran two designed QB runs. Both went nowhere. Team had to punt.

When UM got the ball next, Robinson came in and the first three plays were two runs by him and a run by Minor. They got like 25 yards combined. That's good.

But, why not just bring him in on the previous drive and run those designed runs with him instead of Tate? If you can rip of close to 20 yards there (like the shoelace runs did to start the next drive), you are cooking well into PSU territory.

They've rotated them in on the same possession before and have had success. I'd like to see some more of that.


October 26th, 2009 at 12:11 PM ^

It is so good to hear the voice of reason -- disappointment, but not despair and anger. Thanks much for your leadership and your voice. What a pleasure to be at this site.

Regarding the team, what can you do? We have a mediocre team that is clearly a work in progress. Freshman QBs, new DC, lack of defensive depth, particularly in the secondary . . . we have to expect some painful games like this.

The experience of the Iowa and Penn State defense are critical. Actually, in that regard, I'm beginning to get a bad feeling about OSU, because of their defense, not their offense.

One last note: I am wondering if the weather has a greater affect on noobs than experienced teams. Specifically, I wonder if both Forcier's passing and some of the receiving corps (and even Denard, with fumble and interceptions, and the kick/punt returners) were affected greatly by a wet slippery football. I really hope that they are practicing outside in miserable conditions as much as possible.

Penn State Clips

October 26th, 2009 at 3:11 PM ^

"I am wondering if the weather has a greater affect on noobs than experienced teams. Specifically, I wonder if both Forcier's passing and some of the receiving corps (and even Denard, with fumble and interceptions, and the kick/punt returners) were affected greatly by a wet slippery football."

I guess Penn State is getting used to it, as we seem to play in the rain every week. No turnovers against Michigan and Minnesota after a dozen in our first six games.

matty blue

October 26th, 2009 at 12:10 PM ^ "kiss my ass" to blueseoul's post did NOT get negbanged. on the contrary, it currently stands at +1. which i probably shouldn't point out, because, well you know.

and yes, i'm "of a certain age." +40.


October 26th, 2009 at 12:20 PM ^

I mostly avoided this site Sat. & Sun., and will not wade through endless posts of angst. Please put link in.

Also, know the rules: don't talk about points. We will all get neg-banged some for our stupidity, and pos-banged some for the perfect, witty bon mot, but it usually balances out. As time goes on, I become less concerned about my own points, and more sure that it is a reasonable tool to deal with trolls, off-limits comments, and inflammatory stuff. I'm sure the mods have the ability behind the scenes to deal with the true exceptions for neg-banging (i.e., some of the "need-to-get-a-life" idiots spending hours methodically neg-banging a particular poster who has insulted or questioned their masculinity, intelligence, etc.)

matty blue

October 26th, 2009 at 12:28 PM ^

i honestly don't care about points, since i typically don't start topics or really spend any time on the board...i always look at the latest diaries listed to the right side of the main page, and that's about it.

i was more reacting to brian's specific discussion of "kiss my ass" posts than anything, since i did write it, fully expected to get negged, and didn't. i probably should have - i let my frustration go onto someone else, which i usually don't do.



October 26th, 2009 at 12:12 PM ^

My buddy is a big Broncos fan and said that Michigan needs to get used to the soft play of the corners. He stated that is what drove him crazy with the Broncos D when GERG was there.

Otherwise, thanks for the internet slap to the face to stop the hysterics of unqualified people with keyboards and too much time on their hands.

Yinka Double Dare

October 26th, 2009 at 12:12 PM ^

Warren being way off the receiver drove me nuts too. It makes no sense at all.

I'm of the mind that switching Kovacs and Williams was a bad idea. Kovacs is better in run support, and making him play deep basically nullifies some of what he does well while emphasizing his lack of great speed. Williams has been bad as a deep safety, and he's inferior to Kovacs at the other safety spot. Switch them back, and put Emelien in for Williams if need be. If someone's going to get burned, it may as well be the freshman who will be here for several more years -- better to get him the game experience now. Williams just doesn't look like he's ever going to be an asset, he was rife with mental errors playing deep, and he's not as good of a tackler in run support as Kovacs was.


October 26th, 2009 at 12:13 PM ^

It is an illegal play.

At best it is a 10 yard block in the back penalty.

Kick-Catch Interference is a possibility.

A personal foul is also legitimate.

Any one of those three should have been called.


October 26th, 2009 at 12:15 PM ^

The key difference between last year's Northwestern game in the freezing and bitter cold and rain and Saturday's game against Penn State in the cold rain was that I still saw hope. Glimmers, flashes, ideas, and the distinct regret that Brandon Graham has to go out like this. But it is there. It just has to be found again, for a little bit longer next time, then built upon. All you can do.


October 26th, 2009 at 12:16 PM ^

I read after the game that the Quick, believe it was Herron on this play, was supposed to jam the tight end so he did not get free release.

He did not, we gave up a horrible TD that really was not Ezeh's fault.

I dare anyone to watch that game and say Williams will ever be an effective player.

Switch Kovacs back to where he is close to the line, put Woolfolk back at safety, Cissoko at corner.


October 26th, 2009 at 12:36 PM ^

Agree, while Kovacs is physically overmatched in just about every facet of the game, his reads are usually dead on and he has a good head on his shoulders. He is an above average run support safety, which is more than we can say for any facet of Williams' game.

Penn State Clips

October 26th, 2009 at 12:16 PM ^

"I don't think Forcier was nearly as bad as the numbers. He got crushed by drops, which were legion and extremely important."

Agree on Forcier. I was really impressed by his accuracy and his low throws. He puts the ball in places that minimize the chances of a tip drill for the defense. (You really appreciate throws like this when Anthony Morelli was once your two-year starter.)

It looks like Tate will have to learn to love what we call "football weather." I don't think there are many windy, rainy, 40s days in San Diego.

The more I watch Tate the more he reminds me of former PSU quarterback Zach Mills. Small, tough, mobile, crafty QBs with a high football IQ, good leadership skills, and questionable durability.


October 26th, 2009 at 12:17 PM ^

i'm stunned to see i am more OPTIMISTIC than brian on this matter:

i was (fortunately/unfortunately) at the 50 yard line, row 20 or so for the game and my GOD did it appear more to be a perfect storm of bs than a failure for Michigan to be good/demonstration they are a failure. an abandoned run game and a determination by receivers to slip, drop and flat out not look at the ball was what i witnessed through the sleet and cold.

fans cheered and acknowledged amicably failures on the sidelines without screaming RR IS A FRAUD.
old people stood on drives because they were interested.
players went out to play injured for the glory of competition unselfishly.
i was offered an extra coat to reduce my apparel hydration

... in some ways it was glorious.

while i had some optimism this game could be a 35-20 loss, perhaps even an upset, there was little doubt in my mind it would be an uphill battle. there's a LOT of room to improve, and they will, but this game served to remind, again, that 3-9 happened and what better way than fumbledropslipargueconfusion?

we'll get there and the next four games are a great opportunity to show what this team is capable of. one would hope when the rain/sleet turns to snow, the gloves cover more catches and the slips reduce. one would hope this school continues to be ALL IN and that RR not being a good coach is as "ridiculous" as a lack of Carr support.

saturday's loss was not a chance to see UM sucks, it was a chance to remind those with Rose Bowl dreams that we have a couple years before the 2012 apocalypse - we have a decent shot of smelling roses before then.


October 26th, 2009 at 12:21 PM ^

(1) Brian, thanks. Good thoughts, as always
(2) Ezeh v. Quarless. If there was no safety help, that's on the coaches. If there was supposed to be, that's on the safety (Kovacs?). No way should Ezeh have been in man against AQ. Just a back-breaking sequence (snap out of the end zone, AQ TD).
(3) I've said this roughly 15 times on these boards and still believe it - UM doesn't win a conference game without scoring 30 points. The D isn't horrible, but even at its best (and with the help of a 90 year old "let's punt at the 33" opposing coach), it'll make big mistakes. Which leads me to my agreement with Brian - the drops (2nd and long and 3rd down drops) are almost as bad as the TOs at this point. Absolute drive killing, point-stealing drops, no matter where they occur on the field.
(4) Jamie Mac/Brian - agreed re: using Denard inside a series rather than a strict, "each QB gets his own series." I can't think of any reason (short of "we're playing baby seals") that Denard would take a snap on 3rd and long. yeah, yeah, "he needs experience." He's a true frosh. Most true frosh don't see the field at all, he's getting plenty of experience as it is. But Tate needs to take the snap on the crucial 3rd and longs. Denard's ceiling is still plenty high, but right now, his floor appears to be a bit too low to trust in those situations.
(5) Oof - I remain worried about Illinois/Purdue. Let's be honest - bad as those teams are, UM has only one Big 10 win - a squeaker at home against a decent, but hardly good, Indiana team. Just absolutely crucial stretch here.

Go blue.


October 26th, 2009 at 4:05 PM ^

But when talking about "33 yard" punts, are we talking about right before the half? Where they punted rather than kicking into the heavy wind, and the pin-back resulted in 9 points? (Safety and short field TD). If it's some later play when they were up big, it makes sense too, but I'd say with everyone so concerned about odds, you have to like your chances of getting the ball back in good field position, rather than attempting a long one into the wind. (The utter collapse and safety probably couldn't really have been planned for).

If it's some other point in time, the criticism probably holds, but man, it seems like good strategy at that point. And not only did it work big time, I imagine pinning a team back to get the ball back on a short field (when you have a good defense) works more often than not.


October 26th, 2009 at 12:24 PM ^

We've been talking a ton the previous week about the potential to show new things offensively against Penn State. This might not be answered until the UFR, but did you guys see ANYTHING new in this game? Heck, did we even see any adjustments made in game?


October 26th, 2009 at 1:21 PM ^

Our success running the ball on our first offensive possession suggests we may have brought out some new blocking schemes. I'm not good at spotting these live; we'll have to wait for UFR.

Anyone else get the sense our run offense vs PSU's run defense was like a back-and-forth coin flip? Like, we had two blocking schemes, and they had two slanting schemes; if they called the wrong defense, we went for 9 yards, but if they called the right one, it went for zero. Again, I'll be curious to see the UFR.

On which note, hats off to Penn State for an excellent game plan. They clearly knew exactly where we were weak (not that they didn't have several options), and attacked us there. This was like the antithesis of last game: against DSU, not only did we play well, but it was obvious at times that not only were they overmatched, but that they just weren't that good anyway. Against PSU, not only did we play poorly, but there were also times when it seemed even if we did execute, we were overmatched (e.g. our O-line vs their D-line in passing situations). Oh well. This will be a good experience to build on, for the rest of this season and especially for next.


October 26th, 2009 at 12:26 PM ^

He was limping noticeably for most of the game, and especially after he got hurt being thrown into Hemingway. If we had any depth at all, he probably would have been shelved in the 2nd half. So I understand why he was being asked to give a cushion to WR's. GERG has shown that he will play CBs in press on occasion (see ND game, with mixed results), but looks like he just doesn't trust the safeties (can you blame him?).


October 26th, 2009 at 6:18 PM ^

I seem to remember Warren pressing his guy (Floyd, mostly) with safety help and Cissoko giving 10 yard cushions to his guy (Tate) with no safety help. Hence Cissoko giving up nauseating 12-yard gains all day. Warren held up for the most part, but did get beat a couple times by Floyd (safeties nowhere to be found, natch).

Penn State Clips

October 26th, 2009 at 12:27 PM ^

"From the three with the clock running and no timeouts my instinct is to pass because one way or the other the clock stops afterwards. After fumbling, though, a spike with 13 seconds left is pretty maddening. If you're going to run the ball, you have to have a pass play ready to go that you can just call."

I'd still love to know why the official stopped the clock after the first-and-goal play. I also blew out a lung screaming at them to let it run.

"Not that anyone affiliated with Penn State will notice, but they were the recipient of some questionable calls."

I saw bad calls go both ways. The defensive holding on Bowman was absurd (defensive holding on for fighting off a blocker on a running play???), but on the same play they missed Hull's horse-collar tackle. A couple of plays later they missed our 12 men on the field during Bowman's pick.

Penn State Clips

October 26th, 2009 at 12:58 PM ^

"The defensive holding was called on a play that was intended on being a pass. The QB ended up running but that doesn't change the intent of the play."

No, way, no how. I just watched it again. The UM receiver was blocking Bowman, it was a designed run. The UM receiver changed course twice to make the block.

Awful call, but like I said, they missed a horse-collar tackle on Hull on the same play, so it was a wash.


October 26th, 2009 at 12:30 PM ^

question for those who have been to more games:

was the RAWK music subdued, perhaps bc it was alumni week? i started talking aloud to people in my section about it and suddenly, for no reason, eminem blared for the 8 seconds it took for PSU to walk to the line of scrimmage for their huddle. didn't even get a chorus out. it was dumb at that point but, overall, not that horrible and perhaps added just an element of noise that is better than an absence. the students, IMO, were quite loud FWIW through 3 quarters and should be commended for sitting through that bullshit weather with such a horrible lead - certain other school's student fanbases would not be expected to do the same.


October 26th, 2009 at 12:33 PM ^

I think you've got it exactly right. He should not play another 3rd & long this season, unless Michigan is up by 4 TDs (hard to see that happening), and the play can be regarded as a "teaching down".