Continuing Brian and my previous diaries themes of _____ for _____ , I decided to earn my fandom badge 2014 edition by rewatching the game and trying to figure out how you gain 289 yards, 9 more than your opponent, but still get blown out 31 to 0.
Even before knowing the offensive stats, this game just felt... weird. I definitely had the feeling that there was a strange disconnect between the scoreboard and what was going on on the field, at least prior to the turn-over fest. We'd be moving the ball and then, BAM, drive over. This diary attempts to see just what that "BAM" was in each drive that killed it dead.
Here's are Michigan's drives charted:
The good part.
This diary comes up with a conclusion that is absurd considering the shutout, so we might as well get that out of the way first:
The offense looked ok, even good at times.
I can't help but think of Nussmeier's presser a few weeks ago, where he said this team does good things in spurts but then regresses to mistakes. That may be the most depressingly accurate forboding statement ever, because that's exactly what happened.
We'll get to the bad stuff in detail later, which is the meat of this diary, but I think it's worth saying a few things about the good parts first. When the offense was working, it was working well. We got yards in a sustainable fashion, without resorting to gimmicks that the opposing DC eventually adjusted to and killed dead. Nor did we rely on feast and famine big plays to move the ball.
The backs averaged 4 YPC, with no big runs to skew the average much (long of 15). We definitely ran for little gain at times, but TFLs were also minimized. It felt like a normal rushing attack. Definitely not elite, but enough to chip in and keep us from being one dimensional.
The passing game at times looked decent as well. Initially, I was down on our receivers, but after a second viewing, I'm more positive. Funchess was, in fact, who we thought he was. Darboh and Chesson both chipped in, and we had a couple nice passes to the backs for good gain. There were times I thought we could have had better safety valves for blitzes, but for the most part the routes were well designed and made sense in the context of the game situations.
Now, the not so good part.
Alright, so that's out of the way.... let's look at how all that could still manage to score zero points. What we're examining here is the set of downs directly before the drive ended. I attempt to assign blame on why each series ultimately failed:
Drive 1 - 47 yards, Missed FG
Michigan drives 47 yards from their 24 to the ND 37 yard line off of nice plays from Funchess and Norfleet.
1st and 10
Wheel route to Norfleet for 7. Good play
2nd and 3
Bubble screen Norfleet loss of 2. Give ND credit for a nice play here and some RPS points as well.
3rd and 5 (out of a time out)
Gardner scrambles for 3. Gardner bails too early here. Protection looks good but he sees a seam and goes. Guys are breaking open for an easy pitch and catch, but he's not looking. ND has a LB spy and stops him short of the sticks.
4th and 2
Matt Wile misses a 48 yard field goal wide right.
What went wrong: 50% Gardner (bad decision on 3rd down), 25% ND makes play (2nd down), 25% RPS (2nd down)
Drive 2 - 45 yards, Missed FG
Michigan drives from their own 25 off of a big 27 yard Devin Funchess catch and run to the ND 34 yard line.
1st and 10
Snap infraction. Foot meet pistol. Can't be beating yourself like this.
1st and 15
Inside zone smith for 6. Nice play
Inside zone smith for 2. Not really sure what the problem is here. No one gets beat cleanly, but no push or room.
3rd and 7
Pass to Funchess INC. Looked like ND got there early, but only just. Would have been hard to see the pass interference live. Great play by ND
What went wrong: 50% Penalty (1st down), 25% OL (2nd down), 20% ND nice play (3rd down), 5% Refs (3rd down)
Drive 3 - 29 yards, Punt
After getting pinned inside their 10, Michigan manages to move the ball to their own 39 off of 2 consecutive passes to Jehu Chesson.
1st and 10
Bubble screen to Chesson, blown up zero gain. Again nice play by ND and RPS minus for UM.
2nd and 10
Drag route to Funchess. INC guy draped all over him. Should be PI
3rd and 10
QB scramble. Sheldon day passed off from Magnuson and beats Cole clean (hardly gets a shove on him). Devin running for life, ND gain tackles for loss of 3
4th and 13
Punt. Opportunity to recover punt muff, but Chesson doesn’t see the loose ball until it’s too late.
What went wrong: 40% OL (can't let best DLmen by on 3rd), 25% RPS (1st down), 20% Refs (Missed PI on 2nd), 15% ND makes play (1st down)
Drive 4 - 0 yards, Punt
Michigan starts on their 25 after a touchback.
1st and 10 M 25
Norfleet, outside zone for 7. Nice play.
2nd and 3
Miller gets put on skates. Live, I thought this was a illegal hands to the face by the DL, that's how bad he got owned. Gardner pumps but brings it down so it doesn't get batted, fumbles, loses 17 yards recovering it. Could have saved yardage just falling on it. I'm not going to ding Gardner too much because when your center is in your lap, bad things happen.
3rd and 20
Draw to Hayes for 10.
A bit of a head scratcher here on play call. I'm guessing the coaches didn't like having the OL protect for routes of 20+ yards to develop. With 1:35, they want to get some yards and a good punt to make ND drive it with no time outs. Didn't work out that way as ND scores on ensuing drive. 3rd and 20 is low percentage either way.
4th and 10
Short punt and good return sets up ND with great field position to drive for TD before end of half.
What went wrong: 60% OL (Miller gets destroyed on 2nd), 20% Gardner (Could have taken care of ball better on 2nd), 20% RPS (3rd down, but not much you can do)
Drive 5 – End of half meaningless drive, just a couple of hail marys as time is running out. I won’t chart this.
Drive 6 - Start of 2nd half, 14 yards, INT
Michigan moves the ball from their own 25 to their own 36 to start the half off of a designed Gardner run and Derrick Green run up the gut.
1st and 10
Gardner flushed from pocket, manages 6 yards somehow with guys grabbing him from all over. Heroball mode intensifying.
2nd and 4
Jaylon Smith reads this from the snap and run blitzs to TFL. Braden's assignment, but really no chance here. Loss of 3
3rd and 7
Pocket collapsing but Gardner can get it off clean. Nice blitz pickup by Hayes actually. Safety steps up and reads it all the way and ball hits him square in chest.
What went wrong: 50% Gardner (3rd down), 45% ND makes plays (2nd and 3rd downs), 5% OL (2nd down, not much chance for Braden)
Drive 7 - 30 yards, Punt
Michigan is pinned deep at their 2 yard line but moves it out to the 29 off of some runs from Green and Gardner.
1st and 10
False start. Again, can't be beating yourself on the road when the other guys are doing a plenty good job of it already.
1st and 15
Smith run for 1, should have been TFL as 3 domers rip through line. He does well to get back to the LOS and fall forward. OL starting to look tired, their performance seems to drop off quickly after this.
2nd and 14
Funchess motions and runs a out route. Gardner hits him for 6
3rd and 8
Sheldon day rips through untouched as Magnuson goes to help Miller. Comn man, that can NOT happen.
FWIW. ND sends 7, 1 more than M can block, but at least get a chip on him. Gardner forced to chuck it out of bounds, but it actually lands dangerously in bounds.
What went wrong: 70% OL (A bit on 1st but mostly 3rd down), 30% Penalties (1st down)
Drive 8 - 49 yards, Fumble
Dennis Norfleet makes an ill advised return from the end zone and does well to get to the 16. Michigan drives to ND 40 off of a couple of Funchess receptions.
1st and 10
Green run for 1. Not sure if this is a read option or designed handoff, I'm assuming read with unblocked end. Gardner should be keeping, instead he gives and the unblocked end crashes down and tackles for 1. OL got no push either.
2nd and 9
Gardner has a nice pocket initially but doesn't see anyone open. He dances around, looks down field again, then decides to run it. He fumbles as he's tackled. Credit ND for good coverage initially everyone is step for step with their guys. Chesson does seem to work free at the end, but it's probably too late.
What went wrong: 60% Gardner (1st bad read and 2nd down fumble), 25% OL (1st and 2nd down), 15% ND makes play (2nd down coverage).
Drive 9 - 0 yards, INT
1st and 10
Not much to say, Gardner gets baited into a throw he shouldn't make and ND corner jumps it.
What went wrong: 75% Gardner, 25% ND makes play.
Drive 10 - 20 yards, Punt
Michigan receives the kickoff for touch back and drives from their own 25 to their own 40.
1st and 10
Gardner scrambles for 2. Looked like blitz is picked up initially, but Miller and Glasgow are both getting driven back. Gardner bails but is arm tackled. Looks like he had more room to step around the guy, but can't blame him too much.
2nd and 8
Funchess in slot, chances screen and turns it up for 3. He's hurt (are you fucking kidding me?)
3rd and 5
Pretty much entire offensive line just bull rushed straight into Gardner's lap. OL is getting tired and technique is really slipping at this point. Gardner scrambles and lays up a lob pass that's just a little too high for Hayes.
4th and 5
Not crazy with decision to punt here. Game is out of hand, but then starters stay in and next drive they try for TD instead of FG for moral victory. Just seems like if you're not gaining much by punting it away here.
What went wrong: 70% OL (1st and 3rd down) , 20% Gardner (had a guy on 3rd down but missed with lazy mechanics), 10% ND makes plays (solid play to limit YAC on 2nd),
Drive 11 - 24 yards (36 yards, sack removed), Turnover on Downs
Michigan receives a punt a their 42 and drives to the ND 23 off of a long Deveon Smith run and Amara Darboh reception.
1st and 10
Read option. End contains, handoff to Smith for 1. Glasgow gets crushed so nowhere to go.
2nd and 9
Fade to Darboh, INC. Pocket and protection was good FWIW
3rd and 9
Draw for loss of 1. Not crazy with the call, but if you know you're going for it on 4th down, I guess I can see trying to get part of it back by catching ND off guard. ND was not caught off guard. Miller and Glasgow both driven back 2 yards and there's no cutback due to unblocked end.
4th and 10
ND sends the house, Gardner sacked, and that's all she wrote.
What went wrong: 50% OL (1st and 3rd), 20% Gardner (inaccurate pass on 2nd), 20% RPS (ND not fooled on 3rd), 10% ND makes play (good coverage on 2nd)
Drive 12. Meaningless drive at end of half, INT. Not going to chart this one.
Out of our 10 meaningful drives, only half of them died of "natural causes," and 2 of those 5 should have gone for points (missed FG, and in FG position but decision to try for TD instead). The other 5 died as direct result of self inflicted errorsL: 3 were turn overs and 2 more were killed by pre-snap penalties. That is a recipe for disaster and the scoreboard accurately reflected this, not the good things happening in between.
As expected Gardner came in for the biggest chunk (30%) of blame. When you have 2 INTs (3 if you count the last one) and 1 fumble, that's not surprising. We definitely got bad Devin Gardner this game. Being down early was not a good recipe for this team in general, but Gardner in particular. You can almost see the moment he goes into Hero Ball mode in the 2nd half in the first scramble. A very similar scramble later resulted in a fumble. I'm not really sure what he saw on the INTs... don't know if it was just a bad read or he was trying to fit the ball in where it shouldn't be. Aside from the obvious bad plays, he also had some issues with taking off too early, not finding the open man, one bad read on a zone read play.
OL was next up at 28%. Really they could come out worse considering both the penalties were OL related (snap infraction and false start). They'd be up to a whopping 42% in that case. I thought there was a really stark drop off in OL play about midway through the 3rd quarter. Miller in particular, but also Glasgow were just not playing with any leverage at all. Magnuson and Cole had some ugly communication issues as well.
The rest is really ND making plays and noise. I didn't really feel play calling was that bad with maybe a couple examples. I know people had a big issue with the draw plays on 3rd down, but I understand them in the context of the game.
So what's it all mean?
Michigan obviously needs to play much much better. Gardner is still making mistakes that he should have cleaned up by now, this game was very reminiscent of his start last year. Nussmeier has a tough challenge to coach him out what are now deeply ingrained habits without pushing him into the shell that plagued him down through the middle of the season last year (holding on to ball too long, not taking yards that are there, etc).
The OL needs more work, which I'm sure is a shock to no one. They did show well for long stretches in the first half and beginning of the second, but fatigue caught up with them and they reverted back to bad technique. Unlike Gardner and Nuss, I'm not sure if there's much cause for optimism here as Funk and these guys have been together for a while now. Even so, if they can stretch out the good parts for even another quarter and cut out the communication errors, they can be serviceable against much of our schedule.
Despite the soul crushing result of this game, if the team can put the loss behind them, I do believe there are positives to build off of. I'm not sure, fundamentally, we're that far off from where expectations were for this unit. We expected an offense that would struggle early... maybe not this badly, but they were never going to make the transition from last year to good without some lumps. They now need to make good on the second part of the expectation, which is to show improvement through the season. That, once again, is the giant question mark hanging over this football team.