Another identity. [Upchurch]
We predicted at the start of the season that Michigan is talented enough to finish with 9 or 10 wins given normal progression and competent coaching—more if they get the breaks to go their way. After flirting with several disasters before finally succumbing to one, it is clear that the progression is way behind schedule and the offensive play-calling in a severe detriment.
The coaching staff:
Brian completely insane.
Seth finally past my patience point.
Ace and 12; let's line up in an unbalanced formation and run into a 9-man front.
Mathe definition of insanity is actually the definition of science, and Michigan's offense is scientific proof that bashing one's head into a wall repeatedly is not a successful strategy, which most people knew without the study.
Coach broken; it's dead Jim.
Heiko you know the bubble screen is open.
Blue in so long dreams of beating Ohio State.
Time to reassess the season. Can Michigan defeat anyone left on their schedule and make a bowl this year? Will the coaches be able to find offensive competence? What's the expected fallout of a bad November? Is this a massive overreaction?
|Would we be this upset if Gibbons made one more FG like he does always? Honestly yes but we'd feel less inclined to feel like it's the right time to criticize. [Upchurch]|
- We are a Gibbon's chip shot from being 6-0 right now.
- Devin Gardner leading this offense can be very dangerous.
- This defense has been solid and just got's its biggest playmaker back.
- Michigan should be at least a toss up if not favored against the remaining schedule before The Game, which is at home this year.
- We're rightfully furious at last weekend's game plan in a game in which we scored 34 points in regulation.
- That game plan was dreadful and it was far from the first.
- The defense is far from dominant.
- At this point, there are no gimmes left on the schedule.
Where does that leave us, I have no clue. This is both a seriously flawed team and a team that has played far below its potential and is nearly undefeated. I could see this team going 5-1 and playing for a Big Ten title. They could also go 2-4 and limp to the finish. Will the coaches find offensive competence? If they don't have it now, no reason to indicate its going to change. There will be some lip service and probably some window dressing but I'm not expecting any fundamental changes.
Chances are this is the low point but there will certainly be more pain ahead. I have no clue what Hoke is thinking now. He came in talking MANBALL at first it seemed more lip service to the faithful than true philosophy. Over the last two seasons or so things have been creeping back to a results/personnel/performance independent MANBALL philosophy. Realistically, things will look slightly better over the course of the year but the fundamental problems will hold. My guess is that in a world where things don't really change, there is enough success that Hoke gives Borges another year with some of the new toys a year older before seriously considering a change.
A tire fire conclusion to the season would obviously change that timeline, but I don't see that happening. There are enough pieces in place for this team to finish out with at least eight wins and nine is certainly still on the table. The sky isn't falling as fast as it seems this week but at this point I feel comfortable putting a solid ceiling on the offense. The talent will be there to dominate 8-9 games every year but the remaining games will be end up being various levels of excruciating.
BiSB: When I was dropping my son off at day care the other day, there was a teacher from another classroom in the hallway trying to convince a toddler that he needed to wear pants. After all, they were going outside to play, and it was cold outside. The teacher explained to him his options, saying, "would you like to stay inside, or would you like to put on your pants?" The boy thought about it, and answered, "I want it to not be cold."
|This is probably a hammer.|
This team cannot run the ball downhill. Stretch, power, iso, it doesn't seem to matter. They just aren't very good at it. Now, for most teams, that would be a problem because it would eliminate that as a primary offensive option, forcing them to rely on other things. For Michigan, it's a problem because f*** it we're doing it anyway, and in a way that is so obvious that it's actually going to make it HARDER to run the ball.
If the debate going forward was "how do we balance our desire to be a smashmouth team with our need to move the football against anyone with a pulse," I'd be concerned. But the debate seems to be "how can we be a smashmouth team and use that smashmouth-ness to move the ball," which scares the bejeezus out of me. They say when all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. In this case, all we have is a hammer, and Al Borges is trying to use it as a salad spinner, even when the problem is a nail.
I actually have a rosier outlook on the rest of the season than do most people. I think they'll probably beat Indiana and Iowa, and nab one or two from Northwestern/MSU/ Nebraska/OSU. My concerns are more about the long-term. In today's game, I don't know what the ceiling is for an offense that refuses to take yards because those yards don't come THE WAY THEY WANT THEM TO COME, but it's not very high. I don't care how good your offensive line is, if you don't make defenses pay for lining up eight defenders over your seven blockers, you will never find long-term success.
I'm not concerned about Michigan finding offensive competence. I'm concerned that they FOUND offensive competence, but discarded it because they'd rather be something else. And that is a much, much bigger problem. Lots of coaches struggle to balance what they want to do with what they need to do to win games. But some refuse to acknowledge the tension at all, instead rationalizing that all they have to do is change some underlying axiomatic truths and things will start clicking. When the only thing that keeps you from having everything you want is one immutable fact, it's tempting, and fatal, to try to ignore that fact.
Put your goddamn pants on, Al. It's cold outside.
Brian: I want to not be cold, too. I want so badly to have a nice fire to curl up in front of, but instead there's just this dude trying to light some rocks with his shoe.
I don't know, man. Everyone saw one of Michigan's primary issues after a couple games: they didn't have a tight end who could block. My solution to this problem was stop playing the tight ends. Borges's was make the tight end the left tackle. Minnesota is stupid and thin and untalented and had no tape of this, so it sort of worked. But it really felt like a gimmick, as formations where you run 90% of the time tend to be, and Penn State ruthlessly exposed it for that. They loaded the box, they threw their entire DT two-deep out there at the same time, they... uh... waited for Michigan to take delay of game penalties.
I'd like to think this is a come-to-Jesus moment, but Michigan has had, what, eight of them in the last three years? They've never been inclined to look at either stats or, you know, their team and decide that we have to wait on the manball stuff. Offensive competence this year looks like Texas Tech: sling it around and deal with the interception fallout.
This is probably an overreaction, though. Once Michigan ditches the tackle over crap and resigns itself to the things it can actually do they will look vaguely better. And the Big Ten is still horrible. It looks bad now, but when Iowa or MSU rolls in they're not exactly Alabama. You are not as bad as you think after these sorts of things; years and years of curating the blogpoll taught me that.
Ace: I'm going to answer Seth's last question first, since BiSB nailed the rest of it: I'm pretty sure this is an overreaction, and it's deeply concerning that I'm not 100% sure about this.
Michigan is going to make a bowl, at least. They need one win among the six games left on the schedule; that should come against either Indiana or Iowa (or both, preferably), and even the four difficult games contain teams with some major flaws (MSU's offense, though that's disturbingly coming around, and Nebraska's defense, to name a couple). The defense, especially as Jake Ryan rounds into form, should be able to keep this team in most of those games. I could see Michigan turning it around and going 4-2 the rest of the way, which considering the schedule up to this point would be an improvement; I could also see them, in a worst-case scenario—I can't emphasize "worst-case" enough—going 1-5, but even that gets them to a bowl.
Brian and BiSB have covered the issues with the offense extensively: they are flawed, and instead of adjusting in any way that makes sense to those flaws Al Borges is doing anything he can to prove that his hatred of the spread is well-founded, despite mountains of evidence that he's on the wrong side of history—especially when it comes to coaching this particular team, with a supremely talented runner at quarterback, a very solid top-four group of receivers (Funchess included), and a line and tight ends that seem averse to blocking POWER or zone stretch or anything that puts the ball in the hands of the running back.
I'm fully expecting a bad November—if I had to make a bet, I'd put it on them going 2-3 in that month, which won't go over well—and, even worse, I don't think much is going to be done about it. Hoke seems as dedicated to the antiquated MANBALL principles as Borges, and while that may just be him standing behind his guy, he's doing so forcefully—I'd be very surprised if Borges was fired after this season unless the team completely bottoms out in a way that can be pinned almost exclusively on him. (This isn't out of the realm of possibility, unfortunately.)
Seth: Yes, the offensive line has problems. Bryant gets shoved backwards a lot: dude has two starts and is basically a freshman given he's been unable to practice almost since he arrived here. Kalis has trouble identifying who to block when he pulls: that's better than not arriving, and again: freshman. The tight ends can't block at all; there's only one who wasn't a glorified receiver (or a linebacker) in high school. Personnel complaints ring hollow when it's still possible to cover over the interior of the line with the threat of Devin's legs, and keep linebackers from stacking the box by running Gallon-Dileo-Funchess-Chesson out at the same time. Cry for want of a fullback and 117 coaches would happily trade you theirs for any of 9 players on this offense. Shelving things like Dileo, Gallon, or Gardner's legs to fit an identity that they're not makes as much sense as shoving a stuffed animal in Kenny Demens's face because the beaver is the hardest-working creature in the animal kingdom.
|As Urban Meyer can attest, winning football games by throwing bubble screens absolutely makes you less of a man.|
During the Ohio State-Northwestern game this year, 11W's Ramzy Nasrallah tweeted that he wished Urban would sometimes be more willing to grab what he wanted rather than always taking whatever the defense gave him; in this case he meant NW'ern couldn't keep Hyde from getting 4 YPC against 8-man fronts so why keep throwing to Philly Brown in the space that provided? I nearly died right there.Obviously if you play as bad as your worst day you'll be horrible. But what was Michigan's worst day?
- When they mailed it in against Akron?
- When they went to East Hartford and Gardner was throwing to Storrs?
- When they needed a gimmick offense to pull away in the 2nd half from the Gophers at home?
- When their opponents left 200 chances for victory wide, wide open, and the coordinator instead decided to bash his head against a brick wall for four quarters and four overtimes?
The Penn State game wasn't out of the ordinary. It was the ordinary: obviously superior to their opponent in talent, obviously stupider. In the car ride from the game to the bar we agreed if Bill O'Brien was coaching Michigan on Saturday the Wolverines win by 30. Forget for a moment what happens when Michigan State's 60 minutes of defensive holding takes away the thing that actually works in this offense (the mid-range passing game; for his faults Borges still knows how to get guys open) and think what happens when we give Nebraska and Indiana's defenses such a break? Lose those three atop the two legitimately good teams on the schedule and the trip to Iowa—when they've still yet to play a good road game in the Hoke era—is the difference between bowl eligible and not.
I find 6-6 far more likely right now than 8-4, and 5-7 is 6-6 plus any bit of bad luck. If they miss a bowl, the offense becomes a laughingstock, and Hoke declares his staff is Borges or bust, the recruiting classes could disintegrate. That is the threat.
Can they find offensive competence? Borges coached some brilliant games at home: ND this year, Ohio State and Nebraska in 2011. The further Michigan sinks to the pack, the more likely they'll be to stop pretending they can Hyde, and start coming up with an identity that has at least something to do with who they actually are. They wouldn't be the first UM team to do so. The 2001 squad wasn't diminished for being "chuck it to Marquise." The 2004 team was pretty good once it committed to freshmen at QB and RB and "let Braylon get it." Next year Gallon is going to find a home in an NFL that increasingly cares less about size. Putting him on the same side of the field as Funchess is a workable base offense; Gardner power and option plays that make life easier on the interior OL (e.g. inverted veer, belly) would be a nice complement to that.