Best and Worst: Cincinnati

Submitted by bronxblue on September 11th, 2017 at 6:56 AM

Man, I was really looking forward to this game needing a lot less discussion.

Best: It's a win

It was an ugly game after a big win last week. If people want to rend garments after a 22-point win, then by all means do so. That's their choice. But at no point would I classify this as a "game" in the sense Michigan was in danger of losing. This wasn't Akron or UConn circa 2013, two games I've seen people reference because they sorta resemble the outcome here in the broadest of strokes. And I am here to say that is categorically not the case here. Those games were bad teams playing poorly; this was a good team having a bad day. Go back and look at those box scores, look at those drive charts. Those were games where (seemingly) inferior teams were going toe-to-toe with Michgian and winning a number of individual and schematic battles. I almost pulled an Event Horizon watching those two games because of how impotent Michigan looked on both sides of the ball, to the point that Akron put up 418 yards of total offense, their third highest total of the year after ULL(!) and Ball State(!!).

Contrast all that with this game. Cincy got exactly 200 yards of offense; Michigan doubled them up with 414 yards. Cincinnati had a total of 13 first downs; almost as many came on penalties (3) as rushes (4). For the game, they averaged 2.9 yards per play (and if you factor out that yakety sax fumble-turned-safety, it's still just 3.3 ypp); Michigan averaged 6.3. This was closer to games like Ball State 2006, EMU 2007, Northern Illinois in 2005,Miami (NTM) 2001, etc. Hell, the first game I attended at Michigan Stadium was the 1995 game against Miami (NTM) wherein Michigan let the Red Hawks hang around well into the 2nd half before putting them away. My point is they were all games where Michigan was the more talented team but played down to the competition to varying degrees, whether it be by turning the ball over, failing to convert on 3rd downs, taking too many penalties, playing poorly in the secondary or along the defensive line, etc. They were never really in danger of losing these games, but the opposition was allowed to hang around due to a number of self-inflicted wounds by the Wolverines.

Off the bat, I'll say the defense played quite well (again) save for a handful of blown coverages or poor positioning/tackling. So the focus here will be on the offense. Here's the quick recap: the Bearcats were supposed to be an easy win, a chance to "clear the benches" and get some guys a couple of snaps against an overmatched squad that struggled to beat a terrible FCS team last week. Michigan had just come off a big win against Florida, limiting a mediocre offense to 11 yards on the ground and not much more in the air. But it was obviously pretty early on that this wasn't going to be a cakewalk, or at least Cincinatti wasn't a Baby Seal U opponent. The first Michigan drive was masterful, with a nice mix of running by Isaac and passing by Speight leading to a long TD by Crawford. But even then, you saw the Bearcats getting some pressure without dedicating lots of rushers, and that would be an ongoing theme. Their offense was just anemic, and Michigan capitalized with a pick-six. Michigan's next two drives didn't amount to much, with a bad 3-and-out and then an errant punt allowed to bounce off a Michigan player giving Cincy great field position they ultimately capitalized on for a TD. The subsequent drive started well, with a DPJ run flipping the field, but it sputtered out in the red zone after a bad exchange between Speight and Isaac and some missed/tightly covered passes. The next drive featured another fumble on a jet sweep with Crawford. And that was basically the story for the rest of the quarter; nobody but Isaac could really get going on the ground, and Speight was fine but never really pushed the ball downfield. And all the while, Cincinatti couldn't do much offensively while their speedy, undersized front 7 either got into the backfield or snuffed out plays for minimal gain. Oh yeah, and Michigan kept taking dumb penalties like illegal substitutions and holding penalties on kickoffs.

The second half started the same as the first; Cincy scored on a long drive, then Isaac got a couple nice runs, Speight and the receivers couldn't get on the same page, and Michigan kept taking dumb penalties like Ulizio getting a 15-yard unsportsmanlike for (it seemed) some extracurricular activities after getting beat. Cincinatti didn't really do much (though good lord did Brock Huard want any possible reason to claim the Bearcats were definitely, totally in this game), but the score stayed close. Then Speight got a long ball to Gentry, another to Perry for his second TD of the game, and the game was basically over. The only interesting part left was another pick-six and Rashan Gary getting called for a borderline roughing the passer and a totally insane targeting (before they rightfully reversed that) call that led to the utter destruction of Cincy's QB for the remainder of that drive. Oh, and Luke Fickell somehow deciding to huddle before punting down 2 TDs around midfield, then in the mad rush to get set up seeing the punt sail by his unsuspecting punter into the endzone for a safety. Because like former Alabama assistant coaches, OSU assistant coaches are probably poor copies of the original.

I know I'm going to be reiterating this throughout the rest of this diary, so you've been warned, but this was just a messy game by a good team, facing an opponent unusually prepared for them. Remember, Luke Fickell had been a coach at OSU since 2002; he's been preparing to defend every permutation of Michigan football for 15 years. Sure he doesn't have the athletes to fully implement his gameplan, but it's safe to assume that he saw tendencies and deficiencies in Michigan's team that probably would have been missed during your usual prep week, and did his best to exploit them. We make a big deal about Jeff Brohm and what he's done to turn Purdue into a competent club after the tire fire last year, but Fickell is a good defensive coach and this team went to a bowl game 2 years ago and won 10, 10, 9, and 9 games before that. They were bad last year, but the bones of a competent team are still there, and they seem to have an identity on defense and enough speed to give it some teeth. And just like last week, this is still a very young team, especially offensively, and those questions you had about the offensive line, RB, QB, and receiver didn't suddenly fix themselves in 7 days. Ulizio still seems a bit lost out there (though better than last week) and had trouble with outside speed, and there were communication breakdowns as the Bearcats consistently found success with stunts and delayed blitzes, and had success limiting outside runs by outrunning linemen to spots. Isaac continues his renaissance, but both Higdon and Evans averaged 3 yards a carry and still seem to be finding their sea legs a bit behind this rejiggered line. Speight had a couple of bad throws but there were a couple of plays where it was clear either the receiver didn't run the expected route or went to slow/shallow. And later in the game, Michigan seemed to deal with some of Cincy's pressure by leaving more guys into block longer, creating passing downs with maybe 2 receivers and a late-releasing TE or back as the only options.

And yet, Michigan won this game by 22 points. Cincinatti had 3 drives of 9+ plays...and every other drive (save the last meaingless one) was 4 plays or less. I'll get into it a bit farther down when discussing the passing game, but this is still a passing offense with about 50-ish catches to their names combined; they'll improve as guys get in sync with each other. My point isn't to excuse a mediocre performance; I'm not going to be particularly kind to anyone in terms of the overall performance. But good teams can have bad days, and while it doesn't surprise me that this bandwagon-heavy fanbase can overreact to a bad performance, it's still disheartening to see the same comments about "lack of heart" and the rest of that tired dreck. We have two data points thus far in this young season, and they point to an immature offense and a dominant and aggressive defense. You hope and expect the prior to improve and the latter to refine, and during that process games like this will happen. I said this elsewhere, but give me 13 more messy 22-ppint wins and I'll be happy.

Best: The Speight and the Whale

Based on my point total and the fact I've been writing some permutation of this column since 2009, it's safe to say I'm a fan of this site. Obviously I'm a bit of a biased homer, but it's telling that lots of other fan sites out there mirror what MGoBlog does in terms of game recaps, deep-dive playbook analysis, formation discussions, etc. It holds immense influence over Michigan sports, as the narratives you hear about the team throughout the season oftentimes have a genesis in the main-page posts. And that's largely fine; Brian and co. have a great deal of both analytical and "fan" knowledge at their disposal to draw larger inferences from; as Brian mentioned, he's been doing some form of UFRs for about a decade, and this site's seen this team go from late-era Carr to RR, then Hoke, then finally Harbaugh. That's an eclectic collection of coaches and styles, to say nothing of the innumerable analyses on opponents.

And so it's why, when Brian declared he'd be amazed if an Al Borges-recruited QB ever started at Michigan, it'd be a minor miracle, many people (myself included) mentally wrote off Wilton Speight. When Speight came in and relieved an injured Rudock against Minnesota and led them to a victory, we all sorta assumed it was dumb luck, the "QB Whisperer" in Harbaugh dragging the last drop of talent and competence out of a flawed player. And then last offseason all the buzz was about John O'Korn wresting the starting spot from the departing Rudock, the gunslinger coming to bring a new level of excitement to a position that was dynamic in the air but still rather stationary on the ground. And yet, Speight beat out O'Korn rather handily, and then led Michigan to 10 wins and was basically the only semi-consistent part of the offense against OSU and FSU. Speight has proven now for 2 seasons that he's a pretty good QB; he's not Deshaun Watson or Lamar Jackson, but he's big, strong, and elusive enough to effectively move this offense even other parts (i.e. the running game) falter. I know the go-to reference is John Navarre, but he's probably a little bit better than that, as he never had those types of weapons around him (Doak Walker-winner Chris Perry and Belitnikoff-winner Braylon Edwards) and has had to weather the aftershock of a coaching change, even if he had only been on campus a short time. Of recent college Michigan QBs, I think his ceiling is college Tom Brady or Jake Rudock (I was considering Griese, but he was the definition of game manager for much of his time under Carr), guys who were B+ across the board and can win you a bunch of games if you don't expect them to carry you. And yet, I'm already fairly certain there are people who are rushing to the comments below to call me an idiot, that there's no way Wilton Speight should be considered in that same class. His career's tombstone was etched a year ago, and you ain't getting "just a guy" off easy.

Wilton Speight had another fine game. Yes, he had a couple of bad throws; Harbaugh said he overthrew DPJ in the third and Speight mentioned that he thought his mechanics were off on a couple of throws. He also fumbled a handoff to Isaac near the goalline that stymied a TD drive and him and Crawford fumbled a handoff on a jet sweep. There are all human mistakes, mistakes virutally every QB has made both at Michgian and elsewhere, and will the same imperfections you'll see in the guys who ultimately replace him. He also completed around 60% of his throws, for about 7.6 ypa, for 2 TDs and 0 picks. For every bad pass, he had a couple that were dynamite (his second TD to Perry, his long throw to Gentry, his 4th-down completion to keep a FG drive going), and he suffered from a couple of uncalled PIs (there was one on Black where the defender just yanked him forward as he curled back, and other where Crawford was basically carrying the corner) and what seemed like miscommunication with his receivers. People complain about his struggles in the 2nd quarter, but Michigan had 8 yards rushing in the 2nd quarter and 37 in the 3rd; Speight was 10/17 for 123 yards and a TD over that same time frame. He's operating behind an offensive line still breaking in 3 new starters and, as mentioned above, is throwing to Grant Perry or a bunch of guys with under 10 career catches total coming into the year, 2 of whom were suiting up for thier high schools this time last year.

And some credit should go to Cincinatti; they were able to consistently generate some pressure with their front 4 and that let them sit back in coverage on Michigan's WRs, who for the second week in a row seemed to struggle getting separation downfield. Outside of the busted coverage on Crawford's TD, it looked like guys were reasonably well covered downfield; Michigan's best passing typically happened when guys went inside and either got a mismatch on a LB or a safety let a guy slip by. I was really impressed by the speed Cincy showed out there in the front 7, and my guess is that will be a strength for this team going forward.

I'm not absolving Speight of his mistakes or arguing that he's some underappreciated star; he's a solid QB who can have wonky mechanics in spurts, seems to throw "smaller" than he actually is (a trait he does share with Navarre), and is never going to be much of a runner. Like I said, a B+ guy across the board with moments of elite play and moments where he's all over the place. But he moves well under duress, is always looking downfield, and is certainly not the main, or even a key, reason the offense has struggled at times early in the season. And I think if his name didn't have all this baggage attached to it, this memory of a bad Iowa game and Al Borges calling him one of the best QBs in his class, he wouldn't come under such fire. But he's a QB at Michigan, and he's always got the ball in his hand and the camera locked on, so every real flaw is magnified and conflated into both the symptom and the disease for any stagnation or struggles by an offense that is clearly still getting itself right. This will undobutedly fall on deaf ears for some, but give this whole offense Speight's "mediocrity" and we're talking about one of the 3-4 best teams in the country.

Worst: Everything But The Isaac

Speaking of people I think a lot of us wrote off; Ty Isaac had a career high running the ball, averaging nearly 7 ypc and running with a newfound consistency. He's always looked the part of a 5* in the open field, but until this year he couldn't keep ahold of the ball, or break enough tackles, or follow enough blocking schemes, to showcase that. This year, he looks like a new player, busting through arm tackles and making solid cuts through holes that the other backs simply haven't. Like all the runners he's a bit of a non-entity in the passing game, but my hope is that those aspect of his game will be integrated more into the offense as the season proceeds, because without a dynamic pass catcher Isaac (and, one hopes, Evans) in open space are one of the few believable options to generate chunk plays right now.

But for everyone else, this is the second week when it felt like both Evans and Higdon couldn't quite get on track. Neither of them have broken 4 yards per carry in a game this year, and against the Bearcats they averaged 3 yards on 9 carries. I assume they will still be involved in the rotation, but Isaac already doubled his carries from last week, and at some point Harbaugh is going to stick with his workhorse who also gives him decent pass protection and is a solid short-yardage option given his size. Had the game been over sooner, maybe those carries are handed out more equally and we also see guys like Samuels and Walker get some playing time. But this is starting to feel more and more like a feature-back offense.

Worst: Still Figuring it Out

The offensive line was better than last week; wave your tiny white flag like there are no reprecussions. Despite the personal foul penalty, Ulizio held up better at the point of attack; he gave up a sack, though, and continues to be a little slow in reacting to the outside rush, though he was better than against Florida. It did feel like I saw more guys getting even partial pressure from that right side, as there were a couple of instances where defenders weren't handed off properly between Kugler, Ulizio, and Onwenu. That I assume will be less frequent as the line gels. My biggest complaint with Cole and Bredeson was that there were times, especially on stretch plays and screens, where the speed of the Bearcats let them blow up plays for minimal gain because guys couldn't quite get their hands on them. There was one Isaac run in that second half where Michigan had numbers but was stopped for a loss because either a corner or safety just sliced between both of them.

What scares me is that if you ignore Isaac's rushing numbers, this team can't crack 3.5 yards a carry with any other running back. I'll accept that against Florida, but against Cincinatti you'd have expected there to be solid holes and guys getting into the second level and taking out linebackers; even Isaac's longer runs required him to break a tackle or two before getting into the open field. At some point, this offensive line needs to start depositing running backs 4-5 yards downfield before contact. I'm sure the UFR will point out a lot of places where a back took the wrong cut or a shoestring tackle saved a TD, but this is starting to feel a lot like last year, and if that's the case fans will need to downgrade their expectations a bit.

Best: The Defense, Again

I feel like these columns always focus on the offense, and it's not intentional. I really, truly enjoy watching a great defensive effort; few things are more exciting as a fan than a pick-six or a defensive end depositing the soul of a QB about 20 rows into the stands. But while the offense had its ups and downs, its tense moments and discussion points, the defense did basically what its done the past 2 years; strangle an offense and grind it into a fine powder. As I noted above, the Bearcats had 3 legitimate scoring drives (the 2 TDs and the missed FG), and nothing else. And honestly, that first TD was a gift of a short field after a bad punt return. As for the other TD, I don't think it was an illegal offensive PI (as a corner you have to be careful about initiating and maintaining contact with a receiver when they've been using that against you earlier in the game), but the refs definitely allowed more physicality by the Bearcats on offense than you'd expect.

I saw people complain about tunnel screens and a couple of blown coverages that Cincy couldn't capitalize on, and certainly those plays will turn into points against better offenses. But no defense is perfect, and if you can count the number of big plays on one hand your team gives up, I'll take it. In particular with the deep balls, the one to Hudson down the sideline was clearly a bust that should have been caught; the other throw that was about 4-6 yards ahead of the Cincy receiver with a corner (Hill?) in pursuit happens sometimes in games, but banking on college QBs consistently hitting those while under pressure is a fool's bet.

The defensive line was dominant, as usual. Hurst could not be blocked all day, and after that bogus targetting penalty was overturned, it felt like the rest of that drive was a contest between the ends to see who could smoosh the Cincy QB fastest. I saw in AJDrain's that McCray had a bad game, and I have to agree. He seems injured, and teams are going to continue to go at him with RBs until he either shows he can keep up with them in the passing game or he gets replaced. I also couldn't tell who failed to keep contain on the one long Cincy run by the keeper. Air Force will be a different beast and won't tax him in coverage, so I'm guessing we'll see a better version this weekend.

Devin Bush had another disurptive day, picking up 8 tackles, including a sack. Hudson joined in with 2 sacks of his own, and it's clear that Brown is going to send these death missles at teams until they figure out how to block them or they run out of QBs. My only concern remains both of these players in coverage; it felt like Hudson took a couple of bad angles on some of the deeper balls. Again, small sample size and all, but it'll be interesting to see what happens against Purdue and their revitalized passing game.

Finally, both Kinnel and Hill had interceptions they returned for score, and Kinnel added a sack along with a team-leading 9 tackles. There is a totally believable and expected drop-off in the secondary compared to last year's squad, but thus far it seems like a relatively small step back. Hill, in particular, seems to have an aggressiveness with his coverage that this team can use. Again, it's going to be a couple of weeks before we see them really tested.

Overall, it's a great defense not being asked to do all that much. Purdue should be a solid test, and PSU's somewhat-janky offense at night awaits. But after watching OSU play this weekend, I'm not sure Barrett is going to be able to challenge them vertically, and their running game remains a mystery to me. This defense is probably really good; I'm not sure how often they'll have to really show it looking at the schedule.

Quick Hits:

It's getting late and I'm running out of gifs.

  • I miss Peppers on punt returns. DPJ is an athletic marvel, but he's still a freshman and those guys make mistakes. If you aren't going to fair-catch a punt, make it super-obvious you aren't as early as possible and let everyone else on the return team know it. At this point, I'd rather Perry just down them than left two hit the ground and possibly lead to turnovers.
  • The referees were ATROCIOUS in this game. The Gary penalty was pretty bad (I can sorta accept roughing the passer, but how anyone thought that was targetting even for a moment astounds me), and then on the other side they missed at least two horsecollar-type tackles on Isaac. They also missed a DPI on Black that ended a drive, and didn't count a catch by Perry that was pretty clearly a completion. That PI on Lavert Hill was also suspect, but I've sorta given up understanding what constitutes PI when both guys are grabby. Still, not a shining moment for that crew.
  • Brock Huard and whatever rejected sentient Sesame Street puppet they had in the booth next to him were almost unlistenable at times. I get they are about generating drama, but if Cincy got past the line of scrimmage it was met with a "you know, this Bearcat team isn't afraid of the big moments" when they were down double-digits. A white noise machine and a Teddy Ruxpin fished out of the Huron River would have been just as effective a team at calling the action.
  • There's a thread about this where I've made my feelings known, but in general: don't boo college players. You can boo professionals because part of the contract they sign implicitly states people are going to yell at you from the relative anonymity of the stands. That's what's the money is for. But these are college athletes playing a game for your enjoyment, they don't "work for you" as a paying customer, they don't have to "suck it up" because they get a "free education", as if keeping your grades up while also being an elite athlete are just a given, and they don't need a "wake up call" from some jackass 30 rows up who doesn't like that his team isn't winning by enough. If that makes me a White Knight, a patronizing asshole, a snowflake, or whatever, so be it. I'd rather by that than someone who can't find a more constructive handling of their negative emotions than yelling at 20-year-olds playing a game you paid money to watch.
  • I've noticed this for a couple of weeks now, but it seems like the receivers aren't catching the ball with their hands as much as their bodies. In particular, I noticed Crawford bobbling a couple of balls and letting them get into his body a bit too much. It's small sample size and all so I'm not reading too much into it yet, but last week that first pick hit him in the hands and it was bounced, and there was anther ball this game that he had trouble corralling. I think that's as much timing with Speight as a technique issue, but something that popped up twice.

Next week

Bring all your knee braces. Air Force isn't going to stretch the field with its receivers, and my guess is Michigan's defensive line is going to eat them up. But there will be some runs that break into the secondary, and I hope the corners tackle properly and avoid injuries. Beyond that, I'm always happy to see a service academy, and as a PSA - please donate to relief efforts in Houston, Florida, and beyond. There are bigger things in this world than college football, and let's unleash the Michigan money cannon at people and places that could use it. Go Blue!


Other Andrew

September 11th, 2017 at 7:35 AM ^

The guy is getting special critcism because of the severity of the impacts of his mistakes. The question is whether he can either correct them (ideally!) or at least improve his accuracy. People are always going to be too hard on the quarterback, especially in this day and age - even when it's Tom Brady. And really whatever online complaints are made don't really matter. O'Korn is not the answer. Peters apparently is not either. So we ride with Wilt.

Part of the reason for this focus is because as he goes so will go the team. If he can improve that accuracy, the ceiling for the team gets raised significantly. Part of the problem is that the D has surpassed expectations and raised the notion of a B1G championship and playoff appearance. But that's only realistic if he and the o-line improve.

Great summary, as always BronxBlue!


September 11th, 2017 at 8:31 AM ^

Over at Touch-The-Banner I posted the following ... I was trying to get at the "impact" of some of Speight's inaccuracy by looking at 3rd down conversions, and moving the chains in general:
* * *
o Michigan had 33 attempts with 11 first downs, for a 33% conversion rate on 3rd downs. That ranks them 96th in FBS. USC has the highest rate, with 23 attempts and 17 conversions for a 74% rate. (Looking at Air Force … they don’t face many first downs. They have a relatively high percentage of moving the chains on 2nd down.)
o On 1st down, 46 attempts with 6 1st downs achieved (13%)
o On 2nd down, 24 attempts with 4 1st downs achieved (17%)
o On 3rd down, 15 attempts with 8 1st downs achieved (53.3%)
+ 3rd with 1-3 to go: 5 attempts with 3 first downs (60%)
+ 3rd with 4-6 to go: 2 attempts with 2 first downs (100%)
+ 3rd with 7-9 to go: 2 attempts with 1 first down (50%)
+ 3rd with 10+ to go: 6 attempts with 2 first downs (33%)
+ Overall: on 3rd and X, Michigan achieves a 53.3% conversion rate rushing.
o On 1st down, 14 attempts with 4 1st downs achieved (29%)
o On 2nd down, 22 attempts with 7 1st downs achieved (32%)
o On 3rd down, 18 attempts with 3 1st downs achieved (16.7%)
+ 3rd with 1-3 to go: 2 attempts with 0 first downs (0%)
+ 3rd with 4-6 to go: 6 attempts with 1 first down (17%)
+ 3rd with 7-9 to go: 6 attempts with 2 first downs (33%)
+ 3rd with 10+ to go: 4 attempts with 0 first downs (0%)
+ Overall: on 3rd and X, Michigan achieves a 16.7% conversion rate passing
* * *
Rushing 3rd down conversion is decent; passing 3rd down less so.


September 11th, 2017 at 8:55 AM ^

These stats are apparently based on, what, two games? That's a ridiculously small sample size to pull from. It's like people pointing out OSU has the worst pass defense in the country because they played OU and Indiana. Michigan converted on 43% of their third downs last year. With Jake Rudock is was 46%. They are bit below that mark this year, but my guess is they will settle into about that rate again.

I know people keep wanting to find a cause for the stagnant offense, but it's not going to just be one guy. It's a unit with a lot of turnover figuring itself out.


September 11th, 2017 at 9:06 AM ^

Oh sure ... just two games.  That's all we have so far this year.

I wasn't providing this as an indictment ... just some stats around the question of impact of passes that don't connect.  And this offers no proof of anything other than passing 3rd conversion rate is not the best.  

I've always been fascinated with 3rd down conversion rates ... second only to turnovers, it tends to tell the story of a game fairly well.  But it can be a slippery stat, as some teams don't face many 3rd downs because they're moving the chains on 1st and 2nd.  BTW ... after just one game it appears Air Force is that type of team.

A more concerning stat for Michigan at this point in the season is the red zone conversion rate. Michigan has been there 6 times ... scored 5 times, but only 1 TD compared to 4 FGs.  (Penn State has been there 10 times with 9 scores -- 8 TDs and a FG.)

Yes, all this will settle out over the upcoming games.


September 11th, 2017 at 9:44 AM ^

I totally agree - I don't want you to think I was taking issue with the breakdown or the value of the stat itself.  I think 3rd-down efficiency is a great indicator of a team's quality on both sides of the ball.  I just think that at this juncture, it's hard to divine much from the passing numbers with such a limited sample size.  


September 11th, 2017 at 8:58 AM ^


To me, the biggest factor for this team is the continued struggles of the offensive line and the running game outside of Issac. Last year's team lost games because they couldn't run the ball or (at times) protect the QB. In two games thus far, those same issues exist.

Speight needs to play better, but the team overall needs to so that as well, and I'm way more worried about the right side of the line being a turnstile than I am of a guy who completed about 60% of his throws.


September 11th, 2017 at 9:10 AM ^

As the saying goes, "It all starts down in the trenches."  Michigan's offensive line is not horrible, but it's not dominant.  If it was dominant, we'd have a different cast on things.

Still ... over at Maize n Brew they did an analysis of each throw by Speight in the Cincinnati game.  Some of his misses were with a clean pocket.  Bad footwork or whatever, in those cases the spotlight is not on the OL.

Isaac's running is what has me intrigued.  What changed?  He was off-the-radar for the last two years.  Then this year he's running like a demon on fire.  Did he have a "this is my last season so make it count" epiphany? Or did the change from Wheatley to Harbaugh as RB coach make a difference?


September 11th, 2017 at 10:03 AM ^

Speight didn't have a great game by any means, but as Brian and Ace pointed out in the podcast this weekend, people have started to blame every incompletion, every play on Speight when, more times than not, he didn't do anything wrong.  I saw people complain about his incompletion to Black on a comeback route when it was clear the DB just grabbed Black and yanked him back.  Speight threw the ball where it was supposed to be; if the refs call that play the way it should he gets a first.  Like I said, Speight is a B+ QB.  He's not going to be a star.  He makes mistakes.  But (a) people seem to paper over the failings of QBs from before, and (b) they look to him as a scapegoat for other systemic issues.

I'm not sure what is happening with Isaac.  He's just running stronger and with much better vision than in years past.  I'd almost say it was a bit like when Chris Perry turned into a beast his senior year, but he had 1000+ yards the year before.  The only thing I can think of is that the coaches lost faith in his ability to hold onto the ball and Isaac earned back that trust and has been given enough opportunities a game to get into a rhythm and be productive.  It's also two games - he might come back to earth.  But right now, I'll take it considering every other back is scuttling.

An Angelo's Addict

September 11th, 2017 at 7:56 AM ^

Fantastic write up as always Bronx. Does anyone know what ever happened to the weekly write up by ST3? Wasn't that who used to do it or am I remembering incorrectly? That was always so much fun to read in conjunction with your weekly post

Couzen Rick's

September 11th, 2017 at 8:53 AM ^

Great analysis. I think it's fair to say that Fickell and his staff spent a pretty significant portion planning for this game.

I mentioned this in another thread too, but during the game, Brock Huard mentioned that Cincinnati was giving a lot of looks that they didn't vs A Peay, with them calling a much more conservative, vanilla game. I wouldn't be surprised if Cincinnati ends up being a bowl team.

You Only Live Twice

September 11th, 2017 at 9:07 AM ^

Just such an excellent column.  Not much can get me to do this on a Monday morning: .

Cheers! Applause! Whistle, whistle, clap clap!!


I'm still not over the Grant Perry reception that was ruled incomplete. It was a catch. IT WAS A CATCH!



September 11th, 2017 at 9:59 AM ^

I thought they were fine.   I mean they didn't add to the table, but didn't take anything away.

I have a different theory on announcers though.   They are there to get non Michigan and Cincinnati to watch.  

Michigan and Cinci fans will watch if it was just ambiant noise.

Their job is to get people to watch and keep watching a game they don't care about.  Hence, play up the Cincinnati chances, hoping for an upset.  Because that's the way most  non Michigan fans will watch this game, hoping for an upset.


September 11th, 2017 at 10:13 AM ^

I missed the booing thread, but here's the thing that most people missed: there are recruits at the games. Ann Arbor and the Big House are being sold as the Greatest Gameday Experience in America (tm) and then they show up and see home fans being dicks to their own team. It's a terrible look. 

Amaizing Blue

September 11th, 2017 at 10:44 AM ^

So, in theory I agree with the no booing college kids thing.  There have been rare times I have done it, though...and almost always it has been directed at the coaching staff for not putting the kids in position to succeed, having a boring and ineffective game plan, etc.  It's usually when I've reached a level of frustration that leaves me with three options.

1.  Hold it in.  Consequences:  Head explodes, showering those around me with bio-hazard.

2.  Scream the most awful swear words at the top of my lungs until my voice gives out.

3.  Boo.

#3 seems like the best option.


September 11th, 2017 at 11:06 AM ^

I'm not going to flog people for getting emotional; I've yelled things toward what's happening on the field.  I get that.  But as that thread brought forward, there are people who think they have the right to scream at students and boo them because they didn't perform up to their standards, and I think that's the issue that should be addressed.  I think the pro-booing crowd is a minority; it's my general belief that people who disagree are always vocal and people who agree tend to keep quiet.  So that's why you only hear a smattering of boos.  But I just think if you are approaching #3, try to remember this is still just a game and these are student-athletes legitimately trying their best.  They aren't trying to make you mad or play poorly, and it's just as easy to get up and walk away as it is to yell.  


September 11th, 2017 at 12:54 PM ^

It is low class, sorry but it can't be that hard to control your emotions and groaning achieves the same release/result without sending an FU to the players. And before some internet tough guy accuses me of coddling players and worrying about their feelings and mentions my desire to create safe spaces for them:

A. When you boo them...players think FU right back and it makes them perceive fans as spoiled, demanding pricks. Booing is exactly the opposite of the motivator that those who do it believe it to be. Driving division between fans and players is hardly conducive to the desired result. 

B.Any time you are justifying your bad behavior with "I paid my money, I can act however I want!" you are automatically validating your membership in the I Am A Douchebag Club.....because that is what Douchbags do.

You Only Live Twice

September 11th, 2017 at 2:36 PM ^

Find another way to manage your emotions.  Easier said than done, perhaps.  It gets easier.  If there is one upside to getting older.....

Consider, too, that we have recruits and their families visiting.  Don't let us be the fans who are less supportive of their team winning than OSU fans were of their team when they lost this weekend.  

Now the refs, you can boo all you want. :-)


September 11th, 2017 at 11:08 AM ^

Love the Teddy Ruxpin line re: the broadcast crew.

I should probably watch it again, but it really looked like OPI to me on Cincinnati's corner touchdown.  The slot receiver came off the line and ran directly into the defensive back and then just kept pushing him.  The reason I'd want to look again is to see whether the receiver extended his arms, which I think would be the icing on the cake.  


September 11th, 2017 at 11:49 AM ^

It was textbook OPI.  I don't remember if it was that play or the earlier example on the drive, but Brock Huard decided to use it as an example of it being a legal play, blaming Michigan for initiating the contact. They rolled the replay and the Cincinnati player simply went out and blocked.  Crickets...

Note that blocking by an eligible receiver at the line of scrimmage is legal, and so is blocking downfield on a running play or after a catch.  But it's not legal to block downfield while the ball is in the air unless the pass is behind the line of scrimmage.

On the touchdown -- the only one for which I could immediately find video -- the offending player was the end man on the line of scrimmage and was wearing an eligible number; therefore, he's an eligible receiver.  He ran directly into the defensive back and blocked him beyond the neutral zone.  He didn't visibly extend his arms (at least, from the angle I saw), but he also didn't do any of the things that a receiver would do to extricate himself from the situation.  He just pushed until the DB was able to shed the block, at which point it was too late to recover.


September 11th, 2017 at 11:57 AM ^

I rewatched the clip just now and it sure seems like the receiver kept his arms in close.  It just looked like Watson locked on and the receiver drove him back.  To Cincy's credit, they seemed to realize Michigan wanted to be aggressive in coverage and used it against them a couple of times.


September 11th, 2017 at 2:54 PM ^

I always enjoy and appreciate Bronx blue's weekly write ups. And not just because I am also Bronx (10463) blue myself. But I just don't see Speight having the potential to approach Brady. Yes, I remember Brady was a sixth round pick, unimpressive physically, and an afterthought to play on Sunday.

But I also remember his senior year (1999), his strong arm, his accuracy, most of all his leadership in defeating Alabama in the bowl game, Ohio State, and almost rescuing us against MSU after Henson's terrible performance. (I'm still peeved that Henson took some playing time from Brady because Carr promised him he would play a lot his freshman season.). At Brady's expense.

Hope he proves me wrong, I have little faith in Speight winning big games on the road this year. Or home against Ohio State.

His ceiling? Elvis? A number of years starting at QB on Sunday. Not bad. Or more Todd Collins? Career backup. If I had to bet, I'd pick the latter. Hope I'm wrong of course.


September 11th, 2017 at 8:34 PM ^

I honestly think Speight's performance was like Brady's in that it was heady but not overwhelmingly dynamic.  Brady was a 5th-year senior who was solid but, it seems, a bit deified in retrospect.  I liked Brady and thought he should be the starter over Henson, but there were games (I think it was Illinois or maybe Wisconsin) when he looked as lost as anyone.  He was accurate and had a good arm, but he was also throwing the ball to David Terrell and Marquise Walker and handing off to Anthony Thomas behind a line with a couple AAs on it. The talent difference offensively needs to be factored in a bit.  As for Collins or Grbac, we're getting into a differen era of college football by that point.  It's amazing that those guys completed over 60% of this passes, but it was also just a different type of football than now.  In terms of college careers, I'd love Speight to be Todd Collins or Grbac, as both were accurate guys who could stretch the ball downfield (witness Collins completing 65% of his passes for 8.6 ypc).  

Again, Michigan can win a title with a good Wilton Speight, provided his mistakes don't happen at the worst possible times.  I remain optimistic that he can play up to the level they need, and that some of his early struggles are the normal rust from an offseason plus getting acclimated to a largely-different offensive roster compared to last year's team.


September 11th, 2017 at 6:14 PM ^

We can dissect it all we want and use numbers and excuses and historical content. We know what we see. A bad quarterback is like Porn: you know it when u see it. We don't need data to see the lack of talent in his throws. We watch the game . Everyone who watched this game states the one obvious issue. And that's the FACT that Michigan has a bad quarterback in Speight. Why this sight refuses to admit it is beyond me. But the fact that everyone who has written this game up has needed five paragraphs to tell us why Speight doesn't suck, is a sign that maybe we are all seeing the same thing: Speight is simply a bad quarterback. We are witnessing his ceiling, and I'd rather watch a younger QB fumble and mistake his way into experience than watch a supposed game manager turn the ball over and keep bad teams within reach.


September 11th, 2017 at 8:40 PM ^

I guess I should be honored you used your first post on this site to rant against my belief that Wilton Speight is a B+ QB.  

Agian, I keep seeing this argument that he's a bad QB because the person believes he is, and their proof are their eyes.  Because when you don't have the facts and you don't really want to engage in a discussion, I guess slam your fists on the ground and yell until people listen?  

The only reason I pointed out Speight's "struggles" this game was because a bunch of low-information "fans" kept screaming he was the worst ever, and the lawyer/engineer in me has a hard time a good argument go, especially when the other side is intellectually lazy.  So yeah, keep telling everyone how he's a bad QB and you want Peters in.  I am also fairly certain that when he plays really well against, say, MSU and PSU, those same people will come flooding back to claim how much they love their QB.  It's not called a bandwagon for nothing.


September 11th, 2017 at 10:14 PM ^

Speight at 125 lags all other QBs of top 10 teams other than JT who's is tied at 125. Behind dual threats like Bryant and Hurts in the 140 range. Way behind McSorley at 156, Jackson 160 and Mayfield at 229.

I think Speight has the brains and vision to be fantastic, but he is far from excellent when he makes sloppy mistakes and his mechanics get wonky. So far, he has been a weak link on a team with the talent to challenge for the CFP.

Hopefully he puts it together at crunch time.

Maize and Blue in OH

September 12th, 2017 at 8:08 AM ^

Speight is frustrating, but not a bad QB. I believe B+ QB is his ceiling, not where he currently is. He has command of the game and can be really sharp at times. Unfortunately, he can get off kilter and go through prolonged poor stretches. He is by far our best option. Remember when Hoke replaced Gardner with Morris? How'd that turn out?

Plenty of teams have ridden an elite D and a serviceable QB to titles.


September 12th, 2017 at 9:50 PM ^

Those numbers are based on a 2-game sample.  Last year Speight finished at 139.76, which was the same as Hurts and above Barrett, Seifo Luifau, Calyton Thorson, C.J. Beathard (3rd round NFL), and just a little behind Deshone Kizer (1st rounder), Deandre Francois, Josh Allen, and even Lamar Jackson.  

He's not an elite QB, but I am so tired of people saying "when he plays badly, he's bad" as if that's some amazing insight.  Lamar Jackson won the Heisman last year and lost 5 fumbles, including a couple in bad losses to UK and LSU.  Trace McSorley looked like garbage against Michigan, OSU, and threw a bunch of picks against USC.  Deandre Francois had basically two good passes in the bowl game, one a wheel route that Cook did most of the work with, while also throwing a pick-six.  Players can have bad parts of a game and still be really good.

Speight was the only part of the offense that worked against FSU and, to a lesser extent, OSU. He struggled somewhat against Florida, then was perfectly fine against Cincy.  To me, the weak link on this team remains the offensive line and any offensive playmakers other than Perry and Isaac.  Speight has to play better and I think he will, but this offense as a whole has issues that they have to work through, and I am tired of everyone just assuming that buck begins and ends with the guy behind the center.


September 11th, 2017 at 9:22 PM ^

Completely agree with your distillation when you said, "We have two data points thus far in this young season, and they point to an immature offense and a dominant and aggressive defense. You hope and expect the prior to improve and the latter to refine."


September 12th, 2017 at 1:10 AM ^

This Engineer downunder appreciates your sharp analysis.

I find myself agreeing with darn near everything you write.

Speight performing at his best is enough to win a title so long as we have a stellar D.

Coach Harbaugh values QB play as much as any coach and has said the following:  You can win it all with a good QB and a Great D or you can win it all with a GReat QB and a good D.  I'll take a good Wilton Speight coupled with a great Don Brown D and day of the week and twice on Saturday.

G'day, God Bless and Go Blue!


September 12th, 2017 at 3:31 PM ^

ARTICLE 15. Horse Collar Tackle


All players are prohibited from grabbing the inside back collar of the shoulder pads or jersey, or the inside collar of the side of the shoulder pads or jersey, and immediately pulling the ball carrier down. This does not apply to a ball carrier, including a potential forward passer, who is inside the tackle box (Rule 2-34). Note that the tackle box disintegrates when the ball leaves it.


If you hang on a while, then pull the guy down - it isn't a horse collar.

If you grab on, but don't actually pull the guy down - it isn't a horse collar.




September 13th, 2017 at 6:16 AM ^

I pretty much agree with your take on Speight and I'm glad to see your support for him coming from true facts. I think he gets too little credit for his good plays. As just one example, his QB scramble early in the game for a first down. The OL is clearly a WIP. It's a bit ridiculous to expect that our OL's inconsistency in pocket protection would not make any QB a bit skiddish. My take is that Speight is often throwing the ball a beat or two before or after he should. He hasn't quite figured that part out yet, and the OL issues don't make that any easier. Brady's key strength IMO is his pocket presence - and Speight has shown flashes of that. In big games though, he too often drifts into, "Don't throw a pick" mode, which is Speight trying to honor Harbaugh's key expectation for QBs. He also seems to me to often "aim" his throws vs. letting it go. Overall, most of these negatives get fixed only with more confidence and more experience IMO - which is why I think Harbaugh continues to support him. And, count me among the "no booing" side. These are college kids, not pro athletes.