How last week shoud have ended.
So: do we panic? Where is the 2014 season now on a scale of imminent raptor* attack?
- "What species is this?" "It's a velocirapator." "You bred raptors?"
- "They were testing the fences for weaknesses, systematically. They remember."
- This jello is shaking. Hey is that a shadow?
- Oh it's just Samuel L. Jackson's arm. Wait, why isn't it attached...
- "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]
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.
|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].