This Week's Obsession: A Turkey, Huh? Comment Count

Seth September 10th, 2014 at 10:40 AM


How last week shoud have ended.

So: do we panic? Where is the 2014 season now on a scale of imminent raptor* attack?

  1. "What species is this?" "It's a velocirapator." "You bred raptors?"
  2. "They were testing the fences for weaknesses, systematically. They remember."
  3. This jello is shaking. Hey is that a shadow?
  4. Oh it's just Samuel L. Jackson's arm. Wait, why isn't it attached...
  5. "Clever girl"


I really don't want to overreact to one game, especially a Michigan-Notre Dame game, as I think we've all learned that series is about as predictive as a dart-throwing monkey. Plus, this game had an especially bizarre box score—Michigan outgained Notre Dame! In a 31-0 loss! The run defense kicked ass! So I'm defaulting to a three because, yes, there are serious concerns—not finding a way to score on a defense that had multiple coverage busts against Rice, for instance—but the schedule remains manageable and it's not like the Big Ten as a whole impressed last weekend.

The big concern, to me, is that this team couldn't do two of the things they spent much of the offseason talking about: breaking the huddle on offense with enough time to properly survey the defense and successfully playing press man in the secondary. The good news: these are things than can improve, especially for a still-young team that's learning new schemes on both sides of the ball. The bad news: man, did I expect both areas to look a lot better than that.

Plus, there were those positive signs. The offensive line looks... not terrible? Let's go with not terrible. The defensive front seven appears to be quite good. If Matt Wile can keep his plant foot planted and Michigan jumps on that muffed punt—HEY A SPREAD PUNT WOULD BE NICE I'M SURE YOU HAVEN'T READ THIS HERE BEFORE—that game could play out very differently. We're not staring a velociraptor in the eyes. Not yet, at least.

This could be a one-game anomaly, because Michigan/ND, above all else, is freakin' weird. This could be a sign of very bad things to come if the secondary doesn't shore the man coverage and Gardner continues to look that skittish. This is me throwing up my hands and saying I don't know why the jello is shaking so much.

[after the jump, must go faster]



Who's hungry?

As Ace said, I'm reluctant to overreact to one game. Anyone who remembers 2009 remembers how little the Notre Dame game can mean in terms of predictive validity. I mean, there were Muppets on the front page after that game. Muppets! Everything was awesome! Unfortunately, the Muppets returned to Jim Henson's creature shop after that brief appearance and were not seen again until 2010.

I'm concerned that the luster of the shiny new offseason tweak hasn't worn off and yet Greg Mattison's already talking about how he's going to need to mix in more zone. At the same time, I don't think that's entirely a bad thing. One need look only as far as last Saturday to see what happens when you put personnel on the field that don't fit a certain scheme.

Offensively, it's easy to watch Devin Gardner seemingly fail to go through a progression and take off running for his life and feel that we're starting to fall back into that void previously occupied by the 2013 season, the one where happiness and blocking cease to exist. Am I concerned? Sure. Do I see some signs of progress? Yes. The line looked serviceable, the run game extant, and I still think this receiving corps is going to be better than average. That was the second game with a new coordinator. There are going to be some problems.

If Ray Taylor and Jabrill Peppers recover quickly then I have very little concern about the defense. As for the offense, I feel that it's just too early to make an intelligent call. If things don't progress, however, that void may just reopen after all.


Seth: I'm at Adam's level. This team is a lot like Jurassic Park: when things are working it could be the most magnificent show in the world, but if the dinosaurs get loose... Just as last year, the young offensive line CANNOT stand up against a defense that can pin its ears back. As soon as Gardner was taking hits, just as the chart predicted, he got skittish, and started staring down Funchess, and forgot simple things like taking care of the ball.

Whereas Appalachian State's coach apparently thought he was playing last year's team, Notre Dame was all too happy to attack both the newly aggressive man defense, and the recently installed counters to Michigan's new base thing on offense.

Sorry about your team greeting card small
A postcard from Pete Sickman-Garner of hey, mister comics

Surprisingly, the things I thought would stand up—the deep cornerback roster, Nussmeier offense not working against itself—were the things that fell apart, while the most suspect part of this team—the running game against a defense playing it straight—looked…okay. There were still some awful missed cuts, but the run blocking actually looked somewhat viable until it had to be shelved because they were down three scores at the half.

Because the yardage was nearly even, parsing the situational stuff can really shine a light on problem areas. It was too much work to complete but I was trying to do a Mathlete-like study, using Advanced Football Analytics' win probability calculator, to determine the swing of various plays. For example, Funchess "dropping" a 3rd down pass in the 2nd quarter was worth 2.88 points (that's  lot for one play) versus if he'd caught it or they'd called the PI. Eyeballing, it seems 7 points were on the starting CBs, 10 were on Hollowell just getting Cissoko-level owned, and the remainder were Gardner and the OL in shellshock mode plus some ill-timed crappy calls. Whatever you think can be fixed from that is what you have with this team.

Obviously the opponents have been testing the weak points. I'm most concerned about the team losing heart and focus because of such a lopsided score and the overreaction of fans, so I'd prefer to put a happy face on things rather than acknowledge what became painfully obvious in this scene: this park is fundamentally flawed.


Brian: I have no idea what any of this means. I assume it is a reference to Wiz Khalifa. Unless he's old news by now, out in the trash bin with the buggy whips and whipped buggies. I am informed that "buggies" are attractive women in today's lingo-parlance. HEY RANDY GO GET ME A BUGGY AND SOME SIXERS OF BEER, WOULDYA RANDY. That's something Wiz Khalifa might say to his cousin Randy. For example. 



Well, it wasn't that bad! I can definitely say that as far as 31-point blowouts go, this was the most competitive-looking one I can remember. The line blocked pretty well, the Michigan line was actually very effective, and in the trenches, as they say, blah blah blah. Michigan had a lot of big terrible plays and overall derpitude that ended their drives, but at least they didn't seem completely overmatched. When something went wrong, it was one thing going wrong, not eight. It is much more feasible to get those fixed than last year's issues. I would suggest the running backs run AWAY from the people and TOWARDS the occasional gaping hole, and for Devin Gardner to not be bad again. Oh and for the cornerbacks in man coverage to actually touch the WR before he releases.

I think that as 31-point blowouts go this was the best kind. As 31-point blowouts go. And have I mentioned how vastly assy the Big Ten is? Just piles of ass, stacked from the East Coast to Nebraska. Ass ass ass. The Assy and Scratchy show.

I'm going 2! I BELIEVE! (that we will not go 6-6).


* [Seth again: I just wanted to state for the record and because I am a dinosaur nerd that yes, Jurassic Park got Velociraptors (turkey-sized, flat-nosed dromaesaurinae-offshoots from Eastern Asia) utterly confused with Deinonychus (a dromaeosaur who definitely could have been found in Montana, and whose claw Dr. Grant was carrying, and who definitely had feathers, yes, but was at least relatively the same size of the animals from the movie, and the filmmakers wouldn't have known about the feathers when they made the book or the first two films).

The film also made the head shaped more like a juvenile Tyrannosaurus instead of the flat head of the dromaeosaurs because the movie wanted them to look 1) more intelligent, and 2) likely to eat something man-sized; among their kin, only the much larger Utahraptor would have been likely to attack humans since they use their bodyweight to bring prey down. This is all very tangential to how the ND game made us feel like we're being stalked by Earth history's fiercest predators].



September 10th, 2014 at 11:02 AM ^

Honestly, just rewatching the game, as I'm sure all these guys do, made a huge difference in my feelings about the game and outlook for the season. In the moment, it was doom doom doom, and why wouldn't it be. We were rolled in every way. Going through it again, as unappetizing as it sounds, with the knowledge and acceptance of the result already, you start seeing a lot of the positives that were mentioned.

There's a decent team in there, it just got buried by mistakes at crucial points. Very few pivotal plays went our way, and almost all of them went ND's way. I'm not sure if it's a win either way, but the score was not reflective of the ability of this team if they can just clean things up just a little. With Nuss and Mattison at the helm and just 2 weeks into brand new schemes, there's still hope of that happening.


September 10th, 2014 at 11:20 AM ^

But Notre Dame also instituted a new defensive scheme (4-3 now instead of a 3-4 like last year) with a new coach and 4 players missing from the defense for the Michigan game including a starting corner back and a defensive end who iirc was expected to play significant minutes. They relied upon 2 freshman defensive backs to play significant minutes.

Michigan's defense while new, is still utilizing the same DC, with presumably similar language, etc.

Sorry as noted below.. Clever Girl....


September 10th, 2014 at 12:41 PM ^

we ran for less than 100 yards (we are 0-7 the last three years when we do this). Smith had 7 carries for 30 yards (avg 4.7) and Green had 13 for 25 (avg 1.9). That's 55 yards from our backs.

Everyone is saying the oline looked better, but. . . did it? Or is the fact that we moved at all--a relative absence of obvious confusion by the linemen--being taken for a more hopeful sign than the stats really suggest? 



September 10th, 2014 at 12:54 PM ^

Having gone through the last...many...years of not having ANY running game whatsoever from the RBs (having to rely on QB runs too much), you couldn't tell a difference? Yes, it wasn't 100 yards from the RBs, but last year there was 27 for 27...there was lol @MSU (negative whatever)...we couldn't run the damn ball against one of the worst run defenses in the country (Nebraska at home)....etc.

So yes, it wasn't stellar, you're absoluetly right. But there was a tangible difference. An upgrade to barely passable, I would say. Which, honestly, is a major upgrade. Now we just have to wait and see if those results are replicable. I'm hopeful.


September 10th, 2014 at 12:55 PM ^

It was actually 116 once you excise sacks, and 95 yards from the backs (3.96YPC). Some of those were on sweeps and draw plays, but you still need to block. That's not bad considering we were air raid for much of the game trying to close a big deficit, certainly an improvement.

Rushing              No Gain Loss  Net TD Lg  Avg
Smith, De'Veon        7   31    1   30  0 15  4.3
Green, Derrick       13   28    3   25  0  7  1.9
Hayes, Justice        2   20    0   20  0 10 10.0
Norfleet, Dennis      2   20    0   20  0 13 10.0
Gardner, Devin       11   39   34    5  0  9  0.5
Totals...            35  138   38  100  0 15  2.9

Maybe the most encouraging data point was only 2 TFL on the backs. I said it as far back as the Spring game, these guys are working on getting the line blocked first and foremost before worrying about the LBs. That means fewer TFL but lower YPC as free hitters fill holes to tackle for little gain. That seems to be accurate so far.


September 10th, 2014 at 11:55 AM ^

but even though it is OTC now, there is not enough Nexium in the world to allow me to go through that again. Especially the 2nd half.

I do remember in the game thinking, hey - the line is holding up OK-ish. Hey, our runners are getting some yards - Smith more than Green. Devin looked good for the first third before PTSD set in. We were stuffing ND at the line, and Frank was oh so close several times, but Gohlson was a slippery bugger with a quick release (fortunately not Denard slippery). The line backer less Morgan even seem to have improved from App State.

I am going to assume with a new long snapper, holder and newish kicker it takes a while (and patience) to settle in.

For some reason this feels like year one of real quarterback coaching since Rod Smith was let go - and even then Rodriguez was calling in the adjustments from the sidelines - so I'll assume Devin settles his nerves and improves the post snap progressions part of his job.

Yeah - the egg laying of the vaunted deep seasoned aggressive secondary was the root of the Nexium popping for me ... that and having to listen to the Irish announcers and their fans - ugh. (I wonder if they have done a Benny Hill video montage yet.)

Anyway, I have recovered from the emo weekend, and now am in a place where I am hoping for pleasant surprises moving forward.


September 10th, 2014 at 1:17 PM ^

I was saying this during the game. Everyone I knew was burning the team down in their minds, and I kept saying "We don't look bad, we just don't look as good as them." 


Which, ND is a Top 15 team right now, and has a decent chance to be so at the end of the season. Is there anyone here who thought we'd be a top 15 team this season? Their dreams just got blown up. Everyone else should just feel like this was part of what we expected.


September 10th, 2014 at 1:31 PM ^

Agree, but it's all really tough to say after Week 2.  At this point last year, I thought MSU was going to be terrible, and look what happened.  It's a long season and a lot can change.


The good news, our Pass D was weak, and fortunately for us, the Big Ten isn't slated to be a very pass happy conference.  So we'll see.

Ron Utah

September 10th, 2014 at 11:44 AM ^

While it's unpopular in today's society (and certainly in the blog world) to do anything other than overreact, I think Brian's guarded optimism is probably the closest thing to true here.

Last year's ND game proved a couple of things:

  1. Devin Gardner is a world-class talent that can do things very few humans (or gods) can do.  He is also sometimes inept.
  2. Our offensive line could not block even a little bit.

Retrospectively, DG's performance might have been the game of his life (Ohio being the only competitor for that title) and he could not replicate it with opponents having recognized that #2 was indeed very true and DG can't repeat his superhuman feats if he's on his butt.

Of course, we all believed #2 would improve, and that the rest of the team could carry the water until that happened.  We were wrong.

This year's game revealed, I thought, some very different (and some not so different) things:

  1. The offensive line IS improving, though it's a long way from being a dominant group.
  2. The defensive scheme change is significant, and it will take some time for our players to fully adjust.  Top-quality opponents will exploit our growing pains.
  3. Devin Gardner is a world-class talent that can do things very few humans (or gods) can do.  He is also sometimes inept.

The good news about this year is that the O-line alread looks better than the '13 iteration, and that #2 and #3 are very fixable.  Why is #3 more fixable than last year?  Because Doug Nussmeier is a QB whisperer and has worked wonders with every player he has coaced at that position.  As for #2, game situations are the best teachers, and playing press man against a live opponent will help us learn.

Last year's coverage was hung out to dry by a pretty pathetic pass rush; this year's pass rush needs a little help from the coverage to defeat the three-step drop (or one step drop from shotgun) plays that make a sack darn near impossible.

What I'm saying is that I still see a team with the potential to be very good, though not great.  9-3 remains very achievable, and 10-2 is not out of the question, nor is an appearance in Indy.

All that said, if MSU and OSU smoke us like ND did, I will be looking for some significant off-season change.


September 10th, 2014 at 12:06 PM ^

DG's issues were by far the biggest shock, and most worrying development from this year's game.  The O-line exceeded my expectations.  Granted those expectations were down around my shoelaces, but I'll take it.  The D was far shakier than I thought but settled down within the game and showed what they can do.  We got whipped but we do got something here.

But DG is a senior QB working with a QB's coach.  At the very least you'd think the one thing Nuss could do is cut down on Gardner's turnovers.  He had four!  Holy raptors.  We can't have that happen again, but I really wonder what Nuss is gonna do.  I won't say "welp that's it" because this is Nuss' forte so if anyone in the league is well-equipped to address this issue it's Nuss, but what can he do in a week that a full offseason couldn't fix?  I don't think cutting down on turnovers is a matter of a few inspirational phrases.  I just don't know.


September 10th, 2014 at 12:47 PM ^

He had them all in the second half, down 21 points or more.  Once the ND defense could relax with that type of lead, everything changed: DG thowing into a defense waiting for it, allowing robber-type aggression; blitzing with much less risk of runs around them and if they miss, who cares you're only up two touchdowns.

DG's PTSD is the biggest concern, didn't see that in the first game, wasn't counting on it this year.  I'm OK with the defensive transition if long-term it means a more aggressive D against a (likely) perpetually terrible and playmaker-less B1G.

Ron Utah

September 10th, 2014 at 2:37 PM ^

It's not phrases that will help him, it's game experience in the system and Nuss' coaching afterward.

Until players see their mistakes on film and recognize what they missed, they often repeat mistakes.  If DG is capable of improving, I'm confident Nuss will find a way to make it happen.

Utah will be a good test for us before the B1G season starts.


September 10th, 2014 at 12:48 PM ^

Agree with this post.  I think it should also be pointed out that Devin was calm and collected until we got down 21-0 and had to press.  That is when he reverted to the Devin of last year.  The one that had to do everything because he had no help.  I don't think the offense we have is designed to come back from a 21-0 deficit.  The game was truly a perfect storm.

Sauce Castillo

September 10th, 2014 at 10:50 AM ^

I've been frantic since the ND game and in full panic mode but I'll return to glass half full by this wknd.  Unfortunately this wknd won't tell us anything so probably once we play Utah and Minnesota I'll have an idea of how much alcohol to buy before MSU.


September 10th, 2014 at 10:54 AM ^

is a direct result of their expectations of this team. Four terrific years of recruiting along with experience, we expected much bettter on the field.

Crowing about it being the most competitive 31-0 loss is as the say putting lipstick on a pig. Good football teams lose. Good football teams blow games. But good football teams do not lose 31-0 or 38-0. 

Finally, a good football team with passion would not react as Michigan did when their quarterback is given a cheap shot at the end of the game. Bad enough you get your ass handed to you but to be bullied on the last play and do nothing is disgraceful.


September 10th, 2014 at 1:05 PM ^

Uh, no, it's not. Classiness is important in winning and losing. I don't want my team taking potshots and being sore losers...and I don't want them rubbing it in their opponent's face when they win. I don't want my team taking an unnecessary cheap shot on the opposing QB even though the scoreboard reads 31-0 and the game is ending. I don't want my team dunking at the basket when they've already won and the other team has conceded defeat. I definitely don't want them to flip off the road crowd when they've been kicked out of the game. It's not might not think it's important, but I think there are many here that would disagree.



September 10th, 2014 at 10:56 AM ^

My bitching is finished now.  I am going to start being optimistic again: at least until the Utah game.  If this team can out-talent Utah and Minny, it would go a long way toward the season still being reasonably "successful."  OTOH, if it can't, of if they manage to lose to NTM, I might have to recalibrate my expectations.

9 wins is still reasonable, at least at this point.  If they fix things, it could still be a very nice season with ND being the "flaw in the diamond."


September 10th, 2014 at 11:51 AM ^

I don't even think everyone's suggesting optimism, just reason.  The first front page entry following the game was literally an image of a tire fire.  The closer people looked at the numbers, though, the calmer everyone got.  People are still plenty disappointed and trying to make the coaches nervous and I'm all for that, but what changed everyone's mindset wasn't blind faith; it was analysis.  A team that gets almost 300 yards while holding a home team with a mobile QB to 54 yards rushing isn't a tire fire so much as a solid building where someone inexplicably flushed a grenade into the septic tank.  The diarrhea makeover stinks enough to knock you over but there's no lasting damage if you quickly hose it down instead of just giving up.


September 10th, 2014 at 11:00 AM ^

Turkeys are really ugly birds.  I always thought a six-foot turkey would actually be pretty frightening, albeit more in the nightmarish medical experiment sense than an imminent-disembowelment sense.

Indiana Blue

September 10th, 2014 at 11:00 AM ^



Michigan uses the the "spread" punt formation.  99% of the rest of college football has changed to using the "shield" punt formation.  This may be nitpicky to some, but lets educate everyone once and for all (ok - that's impossible, perhaps the majority of MGo'ers) what the absolute correct term is.  After all ... this is Michigan.

Go Blue!


September 10th, 2014 at 11:07 AM ^

I remember walking home from the 2007 Oregon game (a 32-point blowout at home) and having a friend rant about how Lloyd Carr (Lloyd Carr!) should be fired on the spot.  

We then proceeded to rattle off 8 consecutive wins.  

This game reminded me of that game a bit.  We got beat.  Badly.  And not even by an elite team (Oregon ended that year 9-4, as did Michigan).  These things happen.  Fans take it hard.  Then more games are played and things get better.   

The Notre Dame game certainly reduces the likelihood that this team will be particularly successful this season (predictions of 11-2 seem pretty off-the-mark at the moment).  But, given the schedule, it is still entirely possible that this will be Michigan's best year since 2011.  And that would be something worth cheering for. 


September 10th, 2014 at 11:10 AM ^

Sorry, but I'm all in to that level of "panic" about this season. I think it was the lack of fight from the team that really got it for me. They just didn't seem to care. Or maybe it's me.

"Panic" is in quotes because of that last sentence. I question whether I care. As I noted in another post I've reached the point where I was with basketball circa Amaker. I'd go to a game or two.. shake my head at the complete lack of a cogent strategy. Laughingly shout out in the rather empty Crisler arena that Horton was open (while he was sitting on the bench) And then walk out and do something else... I don't think the program can be a success as currently ran, and I'm worried that the team will crater in a Big 10 that has 1 high quality team, 1 team that should be high quality but has some significant weakness now, and 12 teams all of middling to low quality.

So from an intellectual perspective it's Clever Girl, from my attitude it's "All major theme parks have delays. When they opened Disneyland in 1956, nothing worked!


September 10th, 2014 at 11:12 AM ^

Like some of you guys said, there are some glimmers of hope, but to me the disheartening item is the pass defense.  Last year, a number of QB's seemed to have career days passing against UM's defense and then the first decent QB UM faces this year pretty much looks like the second coming of Joe Montana.