obvious thing preceded and followed by eons of nothing [Eric Upchurch]
9/15/2018 – Michigan 45, SMU 20 – 2-1
The sequence that really, truly broke me was in the middle of the second quarter. For some reason, Sonny Dykes thought that if his team was prepared it could stop a Michigan fullback dive. So he called timeout. Then he saw Michigan had cannily lined up in the exact same way they had before the timeout. Sensing a trap, he called timeout again. This became the dreaded Full Media Timeout.
In the stands, I baked. Because Michigan has made no attempt to improve connectivity in the stadium I held up my phone as it told me it could not retrieve tweets. The clock ticked down.
Michigan took the field again and lined up in the exact same way, but Dykes could not respond—he'd used all his timeouts. Ben Mason scored from the one-inch line, extra point... Full Media Timeout.
I baked further. It sucked. It was hot and boring and also hot and also boring.
Because I was so bored I started counting commercial breaks, finally giving up when the number hit a staggering eight in the first 22 minutes of game clock. There are eight commercial breaks in the entirety of a 40-minute basketball game, plus some timeout-induced ones. And that frequently feels excessive; a couple of years ago the problem seemed so severe the NCAA even stripped coaches of one of their precious timeouts. Football is now throwing up timeouts at almost twice the rate of basketball, a sport where the clock only runs if something is actually happening.
This is close to intolerable when it's nice outside. When it is not, and when there is a steady stream of baffling penalties from the part-time refs from a podunk league, and replays to fix some of the baffling issues the part-time refs are creating, and many more stoppages for injuries—one of which takes a long time and then gets a Full Media Timeout appended to the end of it—you wonder why you're doing this instead of sitting at home with air conditioning and connectivity. Several years ago I probably would have yammered about the students leaving early. Now I just envy anyone with the common sense to bail when they are so clearly being told to bail.
Falling attendance is a nationwide problem often blamed on The Youngs for being addicted to their phones, but the folks behind us show up maybe twice a year and sell their other tickets for whatever they can get. There's a noticeable variance in section density between the many garbage games (hi, division-mates Rutgers and Maryland) on the schedule and the actually worthwhile ones, and there are no students where I'm at. When the Wall Street Journal FOIAed actual ticket scans they found that 21%(!) of Michigan's announced attendance was fictional, tickets that sold but did not scan. This is actually pretty good in the wider context of college football, which says somethin' about somethin'.
It says that college football used to be a great bargain. Tickets were relatively inexpensive, games were fun and not largely spent watching people have conferences. Great fanbases sprung up around the teams starting in the 1960s, when Don Canham was packing bands into the stadium so it would be sort of full, and lasted more or less through 2000 without being seriously impinged upon. Ticket prices were absurdly stable. Television was more of a boon than a hindrance because its proliferation allowed you to watch more road games; breaks were relatively rare and tolerable.
Then things got monetized. Ticket prices approximately tripled in 13 years and have kept going up since. The commercial breaks have proliferated madly. Unsatisfied with their massive uplift in revenue, the athletic department has continued to nickel and dime the fanbase even after the departure of Dave Brandon. And for what? For who? For the benefit of ever more absurdly over-compensated coaches, staffers, and especially executives. Every commercial break is Jim Delany—the man who ruined the conference—giving me the middle finger while he dumps another gold brick on the Big Ten's grave.
Delany and his fellow parasites have latched onto the great oilbeds men like Canham laid down and are sucking them dry without regard to what happens after they're done. They don't care. They'll be dead. Michigan will still be playing Rutgers.
I dunno man. This would certainly be more tolerable if Michigan had won some more games over the past ten years. But probably not that much more. There's nothing I can do, really, but I'll tell you one thing: I'm never buying any fucking Rotel again. Until there's a cap on the number of ad breaks, every single college football TV advertiser can die in a fire for all I care. I've had it.
Known Friends And Trusted Agents Of The Week
you're the man now, dog
#1(t) Donovan Peoples-Jones and Zach Gentry. Gentry had a drop but also rescued a ball that would have been an IN if thrown at anyone else. Four catches for 95 yards from a nominal tight end is a thing and if anything Patterson didn't take full advantage of his height to make his other catches indefensible. DPJ scored three touchdowns, completely imploding that stat. Two were relatively simple, sure. The fade was not. DPJ and Gentry get two points each because they're made up and don't matter.
#2 Josh Metellus. INT and weaving TD return were the difference between a relatively comfortable second half and a full on terror-dome. PI on him was iffy; he had another PBU and seven tackles; did get hit a bit on those slants but Kinnel was SMU's preferred target.
#3 Chase Winovich. Ten tackles, three for loss. Had a really impressive track-back on a third and long screen that looked set up for the first down. Also knocked down another screen on third down earlier in the game. Now the subject of a hilarious meme.
Honorable mention: Will Hart added two more 50-yard punts to his collection. Bryan Mone and Carlo Kemp made SMU runs up the middle, which were oddly frequent, entirely futile. Devin Bush exists and is still Devin Bush. Tru Wilson had some more lethal blitz pickups.
4: Chase Winovich (#1 ND, #3 SMU)
3: Karan Higdon (#1 WMU)
2: Ambry Thomas (#2 ND), Rashan Gary(#2 WMU), Donovan Peoples-Jones(T1 SMU), Zach Genty(T1 SMU), Josh Metellus(#2 SMU).
1: Devin Bush(#3 ND), Shea Patterson(#3 WMU)
Who's Got It Better Than Us(?) Of The Week
Metellus's TD return.
Honorable mention: Shea Patterson hits DPJ for TD, Shea Patterson hits DPJ for TD, Shea Patterson hits DPJ for TD.
MARCUS HALL EPIC DOUBLE BIRD OF THE WEEK.
Patterson is intercepted near the goal line to keep the score at 0-0 and seriously threaten One Of Those Games again.
Honorable mention: Almost everything Patterson did prior to that (and nothing afterwards). Coverage mixup gives James Proche an opportunity to score, which he takes.
[After THE JUMP: Tru Wilson has blocked you from seeing this content]
Down and then up. Patterson's final numbers—14/18, 13 YPA, 3 TD-1 INT—look a lot like his other outings but getting there was a rollercoaster. One that starts at the bottom and then goes up, so... not a rollercoaster. A set of stairs.
Anyway, Patterson's start was downright awful. He turfed a deep crossing route to Perry from a clean pocket on his first attempt; an improv throw to Martin was a BRX that should have been intercepted; a number of early dropbacks saw him sit in the pocket forever without finding anyone downfield, and the interception was the capper. I was mentally composing the "WHY DOESN'T ANYTHING THAT HAPPENED BEFORE MATTER AT ALL" spittle-flecked rant at that juncture.
Patterson was close to flawless the rest of the way, because people are weird and football is weirder. I dunno. Maybe it's because he started to...
git on up [Upchurch]
THROW IT TO THE ENT. Patterson's first big downfield completion looked like it was about to be a foot over his target's head, and then the target turned out to be Gentry and it was not. One Tacopants reception(!) later it felt like Gentry had truly opened his 2018 account. He finished with 95 yards on four catches, two of them seam routes down the middle of the field on which Patterson didn't take full advantage of his height (to be fair he was getting obliterated on one of them). It didn't matter because in addition to being 6'8" he is able to run away from people.
Gentry did drop a slightly low throw in the second half, continuing a slight trend. He will dorf the occasional pass. That doesn't offset his crazy catching radius and ability to move that radius at speed across the landscape.
Or throw it to DPJ, that also seems to work. Donovan Peoples-Jones had three touchdowns, one on a crossing route that Michigan RPSed well, one on a beauty back-shoulder throw, and one on an... uh... dead-simple 40-yard TD. His body control on the back shoulder was impressive, as was Patterson's placement. There's nothing any DB can do if those guys are going to execute that so well.
Both the other TDs were open due to SMU guys being out of position. DPJ finished both off, which isn't nothing. Also folks tend to get out of position against DPJ because his position changes so rapidly. Because of his incredible athleticism the most important thing for him might actually be proving that he doesn't have Braylon Disease, with the ability to smoothly bring in a back-shoulder throw and make other difficult catches a few steps behind. Because there are going to be a lot of people a few steps behind DPJ.
Also note that Patterson's 40-yard strike was bang on and this adds to our growing pile of evidence that if he finds someone downfield and doesn't get disrupted on the throw he's going to hit him.
The unfortunate bit. Michigan eventually got up to 197 rushing yards but took 41 carries to get there and only suffered three yards worth of sacks. A 5.0 sack-adjusted YPC is a hair below the national average. That's not what you want when you're taking on an AAC tomato can. Compounding the bad feeling was the distribution of those yards. Evans, Wilson and O'Maury Samuels turned in big chunk runs in the fourth quarter; performance before that was in the sub-3.0-YPC range.
Part of this was tactical. Michigan largely failed to exploit SMU's very blitzball LBs and ran a lot of basic spread stuff on which Patterson was not a threat to run. I don't think any of Patterson's 5 carries were intentional. When you're running spread stuff without the threat of a QB run it's a lot harder to run away from the guy on the backside, and Michigan suffered the consequences.
The one thing I'd say in the run game's defense is that SMU was playing a high risk system and when Michigan did get through it for what should have been a back-breaker Chris Evans had the misfortune to come up lame. Tack on another 50 yards and the stats here look a lot more encouraging.
Shea Patterson makes this long throw look effortless. Play is made possible by a strong blitz pickup from the running back: pic.twitter.com/TkQvJSypo5
— Alejandro Zúñiga (@ByAZuniga) September 16, 2018
Evans vs Wilson pass pro. Tru Wilson laid out the case for his playing time as neatly as possible by obliterating an unblocked linebacker up the gut. From the stands I was ready to see that guy pop back up and pressure but he just never did. A few plays earlier Chris Evans had drawn the same assignment and almost whiffed entirely, allowing a pressure. I'm also suspicious that a couple other pressures up the gut might have been Evans's deal—on one he went after a linebacker who showed pressure pre-snap and then did not come as the MLB flew up the middle. That could have been Ruiz's deal; I'll have to check in more detail.
Wilson tracking towards Kovacs Memorial status [Barron]
Meanwhile while carrying the ball. Evans got shoehorned into roles he's never going to be good at—third and one, a lot of power—as it seemed like Higdon's absence was not gameplanned around. If he hadn't pulled up lame on what had a good chance to be an 85-yard touchdown he would have redeemed many of those missed tackles he didn't force because he's not that kind of back; unfortunately he did.
Evans did have a couple of nice runs even in the manball context he was frequently deployed in. Once he slashed to the backside of a power play; another time Michigan blocked power well enough to deliver him downfield in a phonebooth's worth of space and he deployed his usual set of ankle-breaking jukes before the third guy got him down. He does need that sliver, though, and Michigan wasn't able to give it to him enough.
Wilson meanwhile, did break tackles. His ability to grind out three or four Hart-like yards on one first down run could have been a fluke but since that (and another play where he ran over a safety) had already happened his late touchdown—which saw him run through a safety tackle while someone else was already hanging off him—was an eye-opener. Maybe he is the same size as Higdon but is made of Onwenu material and is therefore just denser? I dunno.
Right now he has the feel of early Glasgow/Kovacs, when concern that the walk-on is that high up the depth chart gives way to the realization that the walk-on in question is legit good. The knock on him as a recruit was his size. But if he's breaking tackles and obliterating guys on blitz pickups, that size issue doesn't matter and you're left with a guy who everyone said would be a big time recruit if he was two inches taller.
O'Maury Samuels did look good and SPARQ-champion-esque on his late opportunity.
Tackle situation. Patterson had great gobs of time for big chunks of the afternoon and most of the pressure he got seemed to come from the linebacker level. That's good—I guess—but everyone's waiting for the other shoe to drop when Michigan sees various intimidating DEs of the Big Ten. (The Gaz looms.) The nature of the game made it hard to rotate in the backups, if that was even on the docket to start. It seems like it wasn't.
11 catches for 166 yards [Barron]
Proche'd. In the preview I said that if SMU was going to get yards it was probably going to be James Proche getting them. Check. A true downfield threat out of the slot put Michigan's safeties under the microscope and they did not do so hot. Proche's touchdown appeared to be a miscommunication between Long and Hawkins; that's one thing. A young safety still acclimating to live-fire snaps busting isn't a huge worry. He'll get better. He's not even a starter.
The repeated, easy slants are more of a concern. Seemingly half of SMU's yards outside of the big play were slot receivers—usually but not always Proche—catching slants in front of Michigan safeties who could do nothing but tackle on the catch. One incident where they tried it against Brandon Watson stood out because Watson harassed his man into an incompletion. Metellus and Kinnel could not manage that, especially Kinnel.
It was tough for Michigan to match up a corner against Proche because they've moved to a system where motion across the formation brings the free safety down to cover the guy in motion. They did this to limit their exposure to jet sweeps and other plays that take advantage of the positional deficit you naturally get when your cover guy is a lateral yard or two behind the motion man. The downside was just made clear: the defense can get a really good slot receiver matched up on a safety just by motioning him.
Opponents will continue attempting to exploit this. Michigan will need to come up with a response. A zone changeup out of their single high look seems most feasible.
one out of 650 ain't bad [Barron]
The other part of SMU's offense. That would be dubious-to-insane PI calls, JANE. I don't know if these Sun Belt guys have never seen someone jam someone else but they repeatedly made pass interference calls so boggling that when my cousin pointed the one on Hill out I thought he was joking. He was not. The refs repeatedly called Michigan players for successfully jamming WRs and winning over the top, calls that I have never seen any remotely competent crew make. The crowning glory was the call on Kinnel, who won over the top on ball that landed five yards out of bounds.
The Metellus call right before the INT might have been defensible as Metellus was grabbing at the guy before the ball got there but that was extremely weak at best; given the context that also looks terrible. Ross's was probably legit though, so they've got that going for them.
As a bonus this was the second time in three weeks that Michigan suffered a spot so bad that it was not only reviewed but overturned. Any ref who misses a spot so badly that it actually gets overturned should evaporate in shame.
A hold! After this parade of dubious flags the stadium was incensed when Rashan Gary was edged. He was equally incensed, theatrically stopping his attempt to get off the block, and that finally induced a very late flag from the referee. So it can happen. If that's what it takes to get a call on the edge when the opposition OL has his arms outside your shoulder pads that might be the play: if you can't get to the guy on the edge because of a hold playing it up to get a long yardage down seems like a better decision than trying to fight through on a sideline run that your hampered pursuit isn't likely to make much of a difference on.
Mone was active [Barron]
DT encouragement again. This was Bryan Mone's best game of the season. He repeatedly shed guys to make plays. Carlo Kemp seemed to follow up on his performance from last week at more or less the same level. Necessary but not sufficient as the DL approaches more intimidating outfits; still nice to see.
Mike Dwumfour seemed to settle into a pass-rush only role until late. He did chuck a guy past him to bottle up a run as well. If and when Solomon and Marshall get back this could develop into the strength it looked like going into the season.
Where can you hit a QB then? Aidan Hutchinson's roughing call was the college version of this:
This is why @notthefakeSVP is the best. Drops this right in the middle of doing GB vs MIN. Crushes this sidebar on overprotecting the QB (in 30 seconds! and with clips in background) and seamlessly jumps right back into game highlights. https://t.co/gUHmH1tBXG
— Ben Koo (@bkoo) September 17, 2018
"Driving into the ground" penalties are always garbage. But they're garbage in the rulebook.
Good from 75. Quinn Nordin hit a 45 yarder that went over the goalposts. It went over the net. It is probably the only 45-yard field goal in the history of Michigan Stadium that an endzone got to hurl over the edge. Just kick 'em straight and Nordin's an all-timer. (Please kick 'em straight.)
Kickoffs: now more boring but that's fine. The kickoff fair catch rule hasn't been used much so far, in Michigan games or otherwise, but it does seem to have gotten M to abandon their pop-it-up-to-the-1 strategy in favor of just blasting touchbacks. Jake Moody's been capable of that, with 13 in 19 opportunities. Meanwhile those few returns are going nowhere: opponents are averaging just 14 yards on the few KOs they do return.
Slightly more data. Will Hart hit two more punts exactly 50 yards each, maintaining his season average of... uh... 50 yards. The opposition got to return both, gaining back a total of 16 yards, but a 42-yard net will do.
Slight hint of Peppers. DPJ didn't have many opportunities to actually return a punt but did have a couple of incidents where he was able to catch a ball that landed a long way from his starting position to save Michigan some roll yards.
Squib. Squibbing the ball in the current kickoff environment is insane, Sonny Dykes.
This is quite a playcard. Let's make everybody mad!
Sonny Dykes, WYD. Sonny triggered some of the bad old Hokefeelings in this game by admitting defeat and then pretending he had not done so. With eight minutes left, SMU gets the ball down 18. Victory is a distant possibility indeed at that moment, but it's happened before. SMU doesn't go up-tempo, runs twice, fails on third down, and then punts. That's waving the white flag. I might be a bit annoyed with that if I'm an SMU fan, but it almost certainly didn't matter.
Dykes then got the ball back with under 2 minutes left down 25 and ran a two-minute drill that exposed his quarterbacks to a series of brutal hits... why? For the practice? If you wanted to practice being down a bunch and trying to score late you could have done that with eight minutes left. For the dignity? Nah. In a futile attempt to make the final score look a little better? Maybe. To get over 300 yards of offense for the first time all year? Ah. Yes. That.
Michigan got some massive help with Dykes blowing all of his timeouts for no reason, and randomly sacrificing field position with a squib kick, and picking up a 15-yard penalty for protesting a call he probably could’ve gotten reviewed had he not blown all his timeouts minutes earlier, and forgetting how onside kicks work, and — sorry, that was supposed to be a different column.
Shea Patterson is pretty good at football, apparently. Even having played the #5 defense nationally per S&P+ (Notre Dame), he currently sports a 6:2 TD:INT ratio, 9.1 ypa, 71% completion, and has started to unleash Michigan's downfield passing game for what feels like a half-decade of slumber. Of note, Michigan has 3 completions this year of over 40 yards; last year they had 5 total, and they haven't gotten to play defenses like Nebraska (351 yards passing to Colorado), Rutgers (354 yards to OSU), and MSU (319 yards to Utah St., 380 yards to an Arizona State that couldn't 130 against San Diego St.). He has re-introduced Michigan's vertical threats, and because of that he's helped taken some pressure off a Michigan offense that last year had to just grind for touchdowns. Last year Michigan's average play was 5.18 yards; this year, it's up to 6.58, and so Michigan is able to strike faster and more efficiently, which lessens the exposure Patterson has behind this still-developing offensive line while also letting more guys get comfortable in the expanding playbook.
I agree with TTB's take on the targeting call:
[rulebook stuff] What matters is that defender B79 hit him with the crown of his helmet, which has been redefined from the past as being the part of the helmet above the facemask and encircling 360 degrees of the helmet.
In Michigan’s game against SMU, Brown was not defenseless. He was not in the grasp of defenders. His forward progress had not been stopped. Hudson was guilty of targeting Brown because – and only because – he made forcible contact with the crown of his helmet. Football used to call this “spearing” but spearing is no longer in the rulebook. Spearing doesn’t exist anymore, as it has been replaced under the umbrella of “targeting.” If Hudson had lowered his head to initiate contact with the crown of his helmet to Brown’s chest or midsection, it could still be targeting because of the orientation of Hudson’s helmet.
Hudson is using his helmet as a weapon and does make first contact with his helmet and his head down:
Targeting. Khaleke Hudson is ejected pic.twitter.com/XUn77nXJSf
— Dustin Schutte (@SchutteCFB) September 15, 2018
That kind of tackle is being removed from the game.
Like pretty much every team besides Alabama, Michigan still has plenty of question marks as it heads into conference play next week. But one thing that isn’t a question mark is the quarterback position. The Wolverines have lacked a true playmaker at the position since Denard Robinson and Shea Patterson looks like he could be just that.
OFFENSIVE CHAMPION – I thought TE Zach Gentry had a very good game, and he did have a career best performance, but when Donovan Peoples-Jones scores three TD’s, you gotta give the WR some love – and a helmet sticker! After going almost an entire calendar year without a touchdown by a wide receiver, it looks like number 9 is getting more comfortable with his QB & improving each week – that bodes well for the Michigan offense.
It feels wrong to complain about a win on a day when so many Big Ten teams fell, including Wisconsin and Nebraska. There are no style points. Many of the voters in the polls are going to see 45-20 and not big any deeper. Michigan won by 25 at home against a G5 opponent. But I will say, this game was one of the least, if not the least, enjoyable Michigan Stadium experiences I have had where the end result was a victory. (Advisory note: I was not at Cincinnati or Air Force last year, because I can already hear you "ahem"-ing me.) It was just a joyless, superheated slog that would not seem to end.
M wasn't gameplanning for Proche:
"We knew he was a big-play guy for them," Metellus said. "We knew he was the No. 1 guy, and we didn't do a great job of playing to that. Didn't do a great job knowing he was going to get the ball, like putting double coverage on him or make sure we watch him. I just think we have to go into next week against Nebraska knowing who is the big-play guy."