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Brian September 4th, 2015 at 1:45 PM

9/3/2015 – Michigan 17, Utah 24 – 0-1


[Bryan Fuller]

I feel like I wrote this column already. In 2008, Michigan played a Utah team people expected would be pretty good. (They ended up very good, going undefeated, beating 'Bama in a bowl game, and finishing #2.) Michigan lost a somewhat close game. After, I used the then-skeletal luxury boxes as a metaphor for the team: under construction.

Michigan is still under construction. It has been under construction for going on eight years now. We brought in one company that insisted on turning half the building into pudding storage, and then it was a snake museum, and then a sand silo. Eventually the thing looked like the world's most totally rad Porsche hooked up to a pile of pudding, snakes, and quicksand. The next company fixed that at the same time they turned the rad Porsche into a Yugo full of clowns and if NEITHER OF THESE THINGS SOUNDS AT ALL LIKE A BUILDING YOU MAY BE ON TO SOMETHING THERE.

I also feel like I wrote this column already. Last year Michigan played Utah relatively even down to down, in fact outgaining the Utes, and lost because they were minus three in turnovers. This year they played Utah relatively even, outgained the Utes, and lost because they were (functionally) minus three in turnovers. Oh look, it's the game we play against Utah.

That there is a game we play against Utah that is a loss in which Michigan's offense spends much of its time armpit farting says a lot about the state of the program now, but you can go two paragraphs up if you'd like to relive that some more. You might. You're a Michigan fan. By now you must be into some pretty weird stuff.

The game wasn't quite the same as those other two. This one was less depressing. The first featured a walk-on at quarterback; afterwards it was clear that Michigan was going to struggle to maintain their bowl streak.

Last year was this game:

You know, the one with the downpour that everyone left during that was the end of Brady Hoke before THE END OF BRADY HOKE against Minnesota. The one with the ten-man punt return. The one with the column titled "By This Grainy Screenshot We Will Curse Thy Name."

So it wasn't that. Neither was it the grand debut of a Stanfordized Michigan. Despite the occasional media doofus retcon about Michigan fans being brought back to reality, nobody actually expected that in year one, and especially not game one.

I will admit was hoping they'd have a run longer than seven yards.

Not so much. Utah's burly front straight up whipped the Michigan offensive line. One replay of a failed third-and-short sneak featured Ben Braden getting moonwalked back into the quarterback. Mason Cole specialized in second-level whiffs. Kyle Kalis got dumped on his ass in the first half. Large creases were virtually nonexistent. Other than De'Veon Smith missing a cutback lane on second and three in the second half, lanes eschewed weren't obvious enough to induce groans.

They just could not cope with the defensive line, and that sounds like the most familiar thing of all. So we reset expectations again. Once more they have an offensive line working towards competency in a new system, and this will hold them back until such time as it doesn't anymore.

I wish I knew when that was going to be. It should be coming, as it always seems to for Harbaugh. It's hard not to be impatient when you've seen this all before. I have, and it's fine, I guess. I have faith that Jim Harbaugh is going to get there and everything will be wonderful and full of sprinkles topped with sprinkles. Yes, the struggle to the top is critical to the reward at the end. I would still like to fast forward to that bit.


Yet To Be Named Harbaugh-Themed Guys Who Did Good Award. #1 Jake Butt quickly established himself one of those WR/TEs that is basically Ertz/Fleener Voltron.

#2 Chris Wormley tore through the Utah line like it was made of tissue paper several times in the first half; by the second Utah had just about given up on trying to run Booker inside.

#3 Willie Henry also thundered his way through the line with frequency, pressuring Wilson and dissuading

Honorable mention: Amara Darboh had a bunch of catches and one unfortunately critical drop; De'Veon Smith looked like a guy who will be a nightmare if he gets gaps consistently; Jourdan Lewis shut his guy off; Jabrill Peppers erased screens.


3: Jake Butt (#1, Utah)
2: Chris Wormley (#2, Utah)
1: Willie Henry (#3, Utah)

Who's Got It Better Than Us Of The Week

For the single individual best moment.

Jake Butt skies over two defensive backs to bring in a spectacular #buttdown.

Honorable mention: Blake O'Neill drops a delayed punt at the two yard line. Wormley storms through the center of the line for a TFL.


Utah: Crazy #buttdown.


This week's worst thing ever.

Rudock throws a pick six in the general direction of Grant Perry, who was in the general direction of Rudock's two other picks.

Honorable mention: The two other picks. That 74 yard Utah punt. That Utah fumble that bounced directly to the only other Ute in a six-block radius.


Utah: circle route pick six.

[After THE JUMP: a much shorter bullets section than normal because usually I have an extra day to pull this all together, Thursday games are stupid]


Rudock. I dunno, man. He's up to 60% of his interception total from last year after one game. Football! It is stupid and weird sometimes. On those interception:

  • I am about 90% sure that the first one was entirely Grant Perry's fault for running a hitch when he was supposed to run an out.
  • The second was entirely on Rudock throwing a medium-distance ball to Tacopants—something I saw more or less once in the six games of his I reviewed last year. (He threw a pick against Iowa State on it.)
  • The third was a combination of Rudock, Perry, and a route the Utah nickel was sitting on. Rudock should never throw that; Perry didn't sell his route well; the nickel made a great play.

People are bitching way too much about the long passes that fell incomplete. The reaction to them is as if they've never seen a 50 yard pass that's off by a couple yards; that happens all the time in every game, especially when there is a significant amount of wind. I do think those were a good example of Rudock's tendency to try to make perfect throws instead of hanging balls up for his receivers; Chesson was so open on the first one that an underthrown ball may still be an unchallenged touchdown.

Rudock part two. Can someone explain to me why "Ruddock" is now an incredibly common misspelling of his name? I don't get it.



Butt. Couldn't ask for a better start from him, with one spectacular touchdown and an assortment of chain-moving plays. He's the #1 WR.

Other wide receivers. If the OL was an unpleasant surprise they were its opposite. They looked very strong. Darboh had one somewhat difficult ball that he dropped—unfortunately, that led to the missed 44-yard field goal. Perry had the early screwup.  Other than that they caught everything that came their way and got reasonable separation. Chesson in particular found himself open on those deep balls.

Drake Harris played but was not targeted. It'll take some time even if he's fully healthy—he's barely played in three years.

Offensive line. Mostly addressed above. Transition to power-oriented blocking really hurt. By the end of 2014 Michigan was pretty decent at the brief doubles that inside zone depends on; they are not at all proficient at power.

The failed fourth and one conversion was egregious. Kyle Kalis headed outside on a play that De'Veon Smith took into the B gap, where two unblocked guys waited for him. Michigan was okay at power stuff last year, too, but running something as an occasional changeup is entirely different than running something as your base. You get way more margin for error.

I don't know that there's anything to do about this except live with it. Harbaugh has a proven offense that should be very good once it's fully installed, and Denard Robinson is not his quarterback.




Salty. Michigan did the same thing to Devontae Booker that they did last year, except this is a fully weaponized version of Booker. He split time in last year's game; shortly after the grabbed the reins fulltime and developed into a first team All Pac 12 tailback. Michigan just about shut him down, holding him to 3.1 yards a carry. Most of his damage came either outside the tackles or as a receiver. Michigan's run defense should be at least as stiff as it was a year ago; against a lot of teams that's going to mean disaster for them.

Spread sigh. I am going to be patient as Michigan installs Harbaugh's offense. I am going to be patient as Michigan installs Harbaugh's offense. I am going to be…

[several thousand mantra repeats]

…patient as Michigan installs Harbaugh's offense.

But man, it hurts to watch a QB rip up the middle of Michigan's defense for a rushing TD right now. If Wilson hadn't picked up 6.7 yards a pop on ten carries Michigan might win this game even with the turnover differential. It's hard to stop. I know Harbaugh wants to have some of it eventually.

It's just tough to watch old-style-lookin' Michigan go up against a spread team and lose. That's been going on for 15 years now. I know this is irrational when Michigan held an opponent to 337 yards.

Peppers. Peppers had a rough night in coverage, getting beat twice on Utah's first-half touchdown drive. He was also a one-man screen-wrecking machine and helped Michigan get a couple of their sacks with blitzes. While they got picked up they also paved the way for a couple of major pressures.

Negatives. Some minor downers on a promising debut:

  • Channing Stribling got worked on a couple of early screens and was replaced by Jeremy Clark for much of the day. Neither was heavily targeted, so maybe that's actually not the worst thing for that second corner spot.
  • Joe Bolden missed a bunch of tackles on Booker. Booker's tough to bring down; I don't know if that had too much to do with it. Bolden's never been great bringing guys down in space. They replaced him with Ross late; I was surprised it took that long.
  • Ojemudia got most of the WDE snaps and did okay but looked very awkward in space.

Utah's offense didn't do much on the day, though.



Special teams. Turns out Blake O'Neill can do that thing where he just waits until his gunners can fair catch one of his punts. Kenny Allen hit a 30 yarder and missed a 44 yarder; Jabrill Peppers had one enticing kick return; nobody else got to do much. Kickoffs from the 35 at altitude are almost guaranteed touchbacks.

Spread punting, though. Remember that punt on which the Utah returner dodged two guys and things looked worrying for a second and then another guy hit him? The tackler would have been twenty yards further away last year.

They tried. Michigan executed an 80-yard touchdown drive in 1:52 late in the fourth quarter and got a shot at an onside kick as a result. A two minute drill that successfully concluded in two minutes!

But they missed the game theory thing no one will ever do. Michigan had an opportunity to go for two after scoring to draw within a touchdown. They didn't because the only person in the world who would actually do that is that dude down at Pulaski.

Fox stuff. Fox's game commercials are fine if they happen between plays when we're just looking at the coach or the guy who caught the ball or whatever… if there was the slightest evidence they were replacing traditional commercials. Nope: this game felt like an NBC Notre Dame game. I'd like to think there is a point past which TV networks will not push. I don't.

On the other hand, the Gus Johnson/Joel Klatt announce team was terrific. Johnson is Gus Johnson; QED. Klatt was a revelation as a color guy, consistently on point with useful, enlightening commentary. I am not just saying that because I tweeted that the first interception was probably on Perry and Klatt came back from commercial saying the same thing.

I could tell they were excellent because Michigan was losing a football game and I had not even a slight impulse to mute it.

Thursday stuff. Playing on Thursday is stupid. Let's put that in the Big Box o' Brandon and never ever do that again.



September 4th, 2015 at 1:55 PM ^

O'neill's wait-wait-wait Punt was awesome. I fully expect an LSU-style, wait-wait-wait nobody rushed me so I'm going to run this Punt in the future.

DL will be a strength, OL will improve. I think that Utah is pretty good and if Michigan improves week-to-week they will win a whole lot of games.

The fact that despite being -3 on turnovers this game was win-able says a lot.


September 4th, 2015 at 2:30 PM ^

I have seen other teams do this but the advantage of it never fully hit me until our team did it last night. I too look forward to the wait, wait, wait, all clear, let's run. Why would anyone not punt like this? It seems like it would be the standard for teaching American punters too.


September 4th, 2015 at 5:20 PM ^

For the same reason the first century of American place kickers kicked the ball with their toe: there weren't players with the necessary skill set to do it the better way, and nobody ever had the insight to make the connection and go out to find them.

I think the Australians are going to revolutionize punting just as soccer players revolutionized place kicking. You've got a national sport where the primary skill involves punting a ball accurately on the run under pressure, and it opens up a lot of possibilities. When you know your guy needs to step straight into the kick in rhythm, maybe discretion's the better part of valor and you don't take the risk of asking him to wait. But it's different when you know he's comfortable eluding a rusher and getting the kick off even if he waits a beat too long.

Now that we know how useful these skills are, we'll probably start teaching them ourselves instead of recruiting them from Aussie-rules teams.


September 5th, 2015 at 1:12 AM ^

I wonder what else is out there that is like this . . . an "obvious" innovation just waiting to happen.

They played soccer for 100 years before American football picked up on it as a better way to kick field goals in the '70's.  Aus rules football is by no means new, yet we are only starting to latch on it now in the 2010's as a better way to punt.

I wonder what else is right in front of our noses that we've been ignoring but that can be used as an innovation?


September 5th, 2015 at 11:11 PM ^


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Yostbound and Down

September 4th, 2015 at 1:57 PM ^

Was there anything Baxter did that caused the Ute's kicker to miss the field goals? Or just an off night?

Aside from the running game and a few bad throws, and getting a little bit gashed by the spread... A pretty good first performance. Just annoying to drop the first one.

Sent from MGoBlog HD for iPhone & iPad


September 4th, 2015 at 2:31 PM ^

That said, I enjoy watching Wilson play.  Makes me all the more excited for M to start plugging in Gentry, who seems to have a similar frame and skill set.  


I understand that Shane and Malzone are probably ahead of him on the depth chart, but I'd love to see Gentry be the 1st guy off the bench if Rudock continues to throw picks.  Many think he should get a red shirt, but if he turns out being as good as we all hope, is there really much of a chance he's not drafted before the end of his 5th year with his size and athleticism?


September 4th, 2015 at 4:09 PM ^

Yes I was saying in live chat that Wilson I hope is a poor man's Gentry.

He had more mobility then he showed last year.  Maybe it was the head injury.  His stats showed he was mobile but I didnt believe it based on eye test but he showed it yest.  And Utah is smart and went with him running rather than rb early.

The play that scared me was when  he evaded 3 guys in the backfield and tossed a pass out to the flat.  That had shades of Taysom Hill. Except Hill is much faster, and much more elusive.  With how slow our LBs look in space I really fear that game.  I see a few 40-50 yd scampers out of Hill unfort.


September 4th, 2015 at 2:01 PM ^

Klatt was ok I thought. He said some dumb things like constantly repeating the buttdown was in triple coverage when it was only double. He also (i think) said Chesson was a 10.3 100 m guy which is ridiculous.


September 4th, 2015 at 2:14 PM ^

He also said literally hundreds of inane things like, "The key to stopping a screen is recognition." Which, duh. AND, that is the key to stopping literally every football play ever.

And he said, after the first quarter ended 0-3, that, "That was about the best Michigan could have hoped for." Which is ridiculous. If you want to say Michigan will he relatively happy with it, or it could have been worse, or whatever, say that.

He has a tendency to try to make every statement sound more authoritative or epic or something. Just say the thing you want to say. This isn't a particularly Klatt-focused complaint -- all football broadcasters tend to do this. Maybe I just hate announcers. Bring back FJM!


September 4th, 2015 at 2:26 PM ^

At one point (end of the first half?) he said Michigan should "just let Utah get the first down", as if it wouldn't matter that we would let them into field goal position with a new set of downs at the end of the half. He definitely said some stupid stuff mixed in with the insight.


September 4th, 2015 at 9:56 PM ^

That was on point actually. Giving up 2 yards for the first down doesn't change the FG equation that much. And it would be much better than giving up a touchdown to a TE or something running down the field and past everybody. There were only like 20 seconds left.

I thought the dumbest thing Klatt said was he seemed to think Michigan thoroughly outplayed Utah for some reason all throughout the first half.


September 4th, 2015 at 2:38 PM ^

Agreed with general hatred of TV commentators. They seem so lazy. Even the PBP guys - I watched a lot of Wolverine Historian's stuff over the last couple weeks, and the difference between Ufer/Jackson and anybody from the last decade is huge. The old guys really told the story of the game as it unfolded. Guys like Musberger (my personal favorite to hate) just leave seconds of silence so they can make an understated dramatic quip.

I did think the U-M DL stop of that screen was notable because they (as coaches say) "stayed home," didn't bite on the unprotected QB drop, etc., and recognizing that it's suspicious that everyone has a free run to the QB is indeed difficult. I was glad he mentioned it even if the comment wasn't particularly descriptive or eloquent.

But yeah, overall I agree and find modern commentators excessively platitudinous.


September 4th, 2015 at 4:30 PM ^

That's how Michigan lists them on the rosters and depth charts they release.

They used to list both school year and eligibility: Sr./Jr. for example, but this year it's school year only.

Stanford does this too, for what it's worth. They also used to give eligility info in their rosters, but they stopped in 2005, two years before Harbaugh arrived.


September 4th, 2015 at 11:32 PM ^

because they technically are seniors.  If they are back next year, they are 5th yr seniors.  I definitely prefer listing players by eligibility (ie, 3rd year soph instead of junior) just to get an idea of how many guys could come back - especially for teams that I'm not familiar with.


September 5th, 2015 at 2:55 PM ^

There are a ton of guys on this board who are just super critical of game announcers, which I just don't get. Outside of Pam Ward and a couple of other annoyances, almost every announcer/analyst to me is either "fine" (most) or good (2-4 guys). I guess I must not be paying enough attention, the strong critique that many have here just perplexes me. 


September 4th, 2015 at 2:04 PM ^

if people can't see the beginnings of Harbaugh's imprint on this team they are blind. I have the feeling the team is going to improve gradually over the course of the season.


September 4th, 2015 at 2:51 PM ^

They've improved already.  This team already showed a fight I thought was completely absent last season.  The 2014 squad would've deflated after any one of their numerous miscues and the final score would've been 38-3.  Instead they tried an onside kick to go for the win.

That last TD was not garbage time.  There was a minute left, and Michigan was going for the win.

They could've given up SO many times.  There were so many soul-crushing moments, and you can laugh at the odds they'd recover and score a TD in 50 seconds with no timeouts, but I guarantee you there's no such thing as a one-score game you're completely out of.  They were in it.  They played like shit, but they stayed in it.  They're limited in every way I thought they'd be, but it's already Harbaugh's team.  This team is mentally tough.  The whiners in the game thread, not so much.


September 4th, 2015 at 8:34 PM ^

Hell yes, I'm glad you said this. DeVeon Smith EARNED all 47 yards last night, that line performance was mostly pathetic, especially when called upon in big situations already mentioned (QB sneak/4th Kalis pull). Rudock came back firing after every interception. Jabrill is going to make some BIG plays, he made a couple already. Very possible we're still a one-loss team heading into Michigan State weekend.


September 6th, 2015 at 11:38 AM ^

The Offensive Line performed poorly in run blocking.


However, do not trash them as a whole. They performed amazingly in pass protect. Rudock was never rushed against one of the best pass rushing defenses in the country. Zero sacks and three tackles for a loss against a team where its biggest strength is the DLine, is very solid. 


September 4th, 2015 at 2:05 PM ^

This is such a minor quibble in the grand scheme, but it was MADDENING to me that they were trying to act like there was drama about who was starting at QB in the pregame. Maybe I'm jaded by this site, but was ANYONE outside of the Fox studios not sure who was starting in that spot last night?


September 4th, 2015 at 3:31 PM ^

You're spoiled by this blog. Those guys are national analysts who have to be at least semi up to date on about 65 power 5 conference teams plus a few others like BYU. They are not local beat writers or fans who can get down into the minutiae of every single position battle of every single team or even every QB battle across the country. Of the AP top 25, 13 teams will have a new starting QB and Michigan is not even in that group. So no I don't blame Matt Leinhart for not being as informed about Michigan practice rumors as I am.