289 yards for 0 points - ND vs UM 2014 Offense Analysis

Submitted by reshp1 on September 8th, 2014 at 2:02 PM

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:

Here's the box score for supplemental information.

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

2nd 9

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.


So, Chart?

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.




September 8th, 2014 at 2:27 PM ^

Everyone seems to be confirming the same thing: The offensive line was adequate in the first half and then fell a part in the second. I feel like that's promising going forward. 

Good diary. 


September 8th, 2014 at 2:44 PM ^

with a below average oline, you need to be able to rip off big chunks of yardage now and again.  Whether that's on some sort of trickeration, a play that breaks for a big gain or a longer throw down field who knows.  However, especially against better opponents, it's probably going to be hard to sustain 10-12 play drives with this oline.


September 8th, 2014 at 10:40 PM ^

This is absolutely true.  If our entire offense is going to be based on incremental plays where we have to string together 10-12 plays without a mistake from the OL (or QB) in order to score then we're going to be in big trouble.  

You can get away with being predictable if you are Alabama or Wisconsin and can simply line up and run over people, but we're not going to do that this year.  I understand - and agree with - the idea of shrinking the playbook and giving the OL a chance to learn a few things well, but you also have to have enough dangerous plays in there otherwise you create a low-risk, high reward situation for the defense to bring more pressure.  

There needs to be enought big play wrinkles that threaten the defense or else opposing teams are simply going to come downhill at our OL all day long. I'm not saying that the play calling was "bad", but there has to be enough unpredictability to keep the defense guessing and worried about what we might do next.  ND was clearly on the lookout for the bubble screen and smoked it out nearly every time we threw it. If there was anything else that we did that was intended to keep the defense off balance, I dion't remember it.

I may be reading what I want into Nussmeier's presser, but he seemed to directly address the need for more big plays, so hopefully he is thinking along the same lines and not thinking that he is going to be able to simply call the same plays he did at Alabama.  


September 8th, 2014 at 11:48 PM ^

I agree to some extent but at the same time, there isn't necessarily a solution to certain problems. Sometimes the other guy is just better or sometimes you dont have the tools to do what you need to do. Right now Michigan's line can't protect long enough for deep threats.  Everyone is bitching about not throwing the deep jump ball to Funchess but when you look at the play where we did do it, Gardner had a  guy in his face and threw off his back foot. Funchess is going to catch a lot of poorly thrown balls but you're still playing with fire and it's a matter of time before you give up a drive killing sack or worse, a turn over. Our  offense definitely isn't good enough to be behind the sticks so you live and die by the dink and dunk and hope you can execute enough plays in a roll to score. 


September 8th, 2014 at 4:24 PM ^

Great analysis. Thanks for being willing to watch that a second time. Gels very well with my reaction from watching it-that the score was horrific, but on offense I kept getting excited of all the things they were doing right and then something would just kill it.

Cranky Dave

September 8th, 2014 at 5:19 PM ^

take on the game, especially since i wasn't paying much attention after the first INT.  This helped explain why I was infuriated at the halftime score but didn't think UM played awful. 

Hokes comment that Miller played well still baffles me.  I kept seeing him 2-3yds in the backfield.  If the OLreally was just getting tired and sloppy in the second half what does that say about our S&C program? especially since it's only the second game of the season. 


September 8th, 2014 at 8:16 PM ^

I don't know if I'd go that far. I think they were fatigued, but the problem was mental. The fatigue was just the catalyst that made the technique fade a bit. In other words, they were thinking about their technique when fresh, but with a little fatigue they reverted to muscle memory, which was waist bending and poor leverage.


September 8th, 2014 at 5:27 PM ^

The coaches weren't wrong when they always said the problems were " (the players) didn't execute" ???

Another game like this and we'll have to apologize to Borges.

Blue in Time

September 12th, 2014 at 11:12 PM ^

Excellent analysis, and one that needed to be done. Now that the whiskey and adreneline have been metabolized, I think this game was an anomaly, though a not unexpected one in retrospect (disclaimer: I picked it 35-17 Michigan).

The defense would likely have held better if the offense had scored some points, even the two early field goal attempts. It's hard for a D to play with the necessary fire and drive when every score it gives up is on the other side of zero. Plus, this is the second outing of Nussmeier's offense, on the road in South Bend (adjust statistically, here), and against a team whose quarterback played out of time and mind (31 points on 280 yards of total offense). 

I think we'll be fine, and that the team would be better off with a little more support, and a whole lot less panic, from its fan base.

Blue X2

September 8th, 2014 at 6:30 PM ^

Thank you for doing this. It was super helpful and insightful for me. I have probably read 25 articles about the disaster in South Bend and this is the first one that really quantifies what the problems were and whether the outcome was an anomaly or something we can expect to repeat.

Your assessment makes sense to me. It seemed the OL was adequate. Not great but serviceable outside of the few obvious failures and penalties. It also confirmed my suspicion that Gardner resorts to either heroball or panic which rarely works out well. I also question whether this can be fixed now. When things are going well he can manage. However, iwhen the going gets tough he freaks out and makes very and decisions. Most of the tough going is on the road against good teams - hence the recent history.

I am sure this was a lot of work, but for me it was great. I would encourage this analysis every time we suck. Great job!!


September 8th, 2014 at 7:51 PM ^

Pure air raid offense and forget about the running backs? put out 5 wide every time and tell them all to start looking for the ball after their first step?

I haven't watched the game yet. May not at this point now that I'm finally seeing some analysis being done as to why the Horror II happened.


September 8th, 2014 at 8:14 PM ^

People aren't going to like to hear this, but I think we just keep rolling with it. This was a good ND team and we won't see a team of this caliber for a few weeks at least. We need to keep repping and getting better at what we're doing, because there's enough good stuff there to win games if we can just keep the worst case from happening simultaneously on both offense and defense again. I mean, we probably weren't going to win this game, but this was really a bit of a perfect storm. Clean it up just a little bit and have your bad plays in less pivotal times and the outcome could have been very different.



September 9th, 2014 at 11:17 AM ^

It appears the hardest thing to ask our fanbase for at this point is patience, but honestly that is what is needed.  Having a tough road game the 2nd game into a new offensive system with your Senior QB reverting to his old headcase ways is a recipe for disaster.  Our best hope is that the next 3 weeks allow the team to iron out some of these issues before the start of Big 10 play.


September 9th, 2014 at 11:06 AM ^

I had the same impression after watching the game. It looked like it should have been a close game which ended up 31-0 due to a fluky confluence of factors.

To simplify the analysis a little, Michigan was only really stopped by ND on 3 of 10 meaningful possessions/drives. Michigan stopped itself on 4 drives with 3 unforced turnovers (Gardner errors) and the helmet fumble (again a Gardner error although the line could be faulted). 3 other drives should have netted 3 FG's. Moreover, Michigan actually moved the ball decently on one of the 3 drives where ND stopped them but started in too much of a hole at their own two yard line.

So I think the o-line played reasonably well and we moved the ball well. Problems with FG kicking and QB decision making kept us from scoring and killed about 7/10 scoring opportunities.

On defense, we weren't that bad either. We kept ND to only 280 yards of offense. Admittedly, the secondary was weak but should be better if healthier. The biggest problem was ND's remarkable efficiency capitalizing on scoring opportunities aided by a few key penalties (2 PI's which literally gave them a TD and a highly questionable roughing the passer which greatly aided another). Every single time they crossed the 50 they got 7 points and added another 3 courtesy of a Michigan turnover. That's a combination of good play and a good portion of luck.

So we shouldn't lose hope. If the team doesn't get demoralized by such a bizarre loss, it can still have a good season.


September 9th, 2014 at 3:29 PM ^

After rewatching and rehashing some of the game, I've definitely abandoned my knee-jerk reaction of ohmygodfireeveryoneinthefootballprogram.  This was a good read.


September 10th, 2014 at 1:00 PM ^

I'm not saying that the loss wasn't a debacle, or that we had any legit chance to win.  However, with all those caveats, I think that this analysis reflects what I thought watching.  We were mediocre -- not terrible -- on offense.  In a normal game when we're playing like (moving the ball 30 to 40 yards on drives) we get one of the field goals, and some how punch in another score or two to end up with 10-14 points with a loss that ressembles ours to Notre Dame last year more than this one did.

One Inch Woody…

September 11th, 2014 at 12:52 PM ^

I felt exactly the same thing...

But ND is/was honestly better than anyone is giving them credit for.. The one outside zone play where Green was waiting for his blocks was one example. There was a hole available and he was waiting to get a bigger hole for a big play. Meanwhile, Jaylon Smith who is playing the play completely incorrectly by going away from play side manages to read the play and burst to the opposite side of the field and get Green before he even gets going. 

WTF man.

Plays like those you just have to applaud. 

It felt like we were a team who gets every 7 out of 10 plays right playing a team that gets 9.5 out of every 10 plays right. I mean.. they only had one penalty too.. and they were RPSing us with the one-on-one against Countess and screens when we called blitzes.

The first step to getting back to being Michigan is just acknowledging when the opponent is better and working to exceed their level.