9/3/2015 – Michigan 17, Utah 24 – 0-1
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.
MARCUS HALL EPIC DOUBLE BIRD OF THE WEEK.
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.