Best and Worst: Indiana

Submitted by bronxblue on October 20th, 2013 at 9:35 PM

Unlike last week, this is pretty positive.  It was actually quite a bit harder to write, though, which makes me think that I’m more engaged when I’m in a bad mood.  Let’s hope I’m not handed another opportunity to test that theory this season.

Best:  Heroes

I like it when a flower or a little tuft of grass grows through a crack in the concrete. It's so fuckin' heroic. – George Carlin

Last week against PSU, the UM defense put forth an “heroic” effort to hold the Nittany Lions to 43 points over 4 OTs.  It was the type of game where the obvious structural fissures and blatant player deficiencies you usually expect after giving up 43 points simply did not exist; you could pick at the seams but the whole tapestry did not unravel spectacularly.

Against Indiana, UM gave up 47 points in regulation, allowing 572 yards in total offense and 8 scoring drives that averaged 53 yards on only 5 plays per.  On paper, it looked like most of the nightmare games UM had defensively under RR or any time they played a spread team like Oregon or Jarious Jackson-led Notre Dame under Carr.  Just one of those games where the defense couldn’t get off the field to save its life, and the opposition was, at best, slightly inconvenienced on its way to the endzone.

But a funny thing happened on the way to eradication: the defense played well enough to win.  In no way should that be construed as “great” or even “good” because, well, this is still a results-based sport and for all of the advanced metrics and acronyms, 7.5 yard per play (and closer to 8 if you factor out that last desperation drive) allowed isn’t going to cut it. 

That said, this wasn’t a game where UM was outclassed or, really, even out-schemed.  True, there were a couple of busted plays caused by the Hoosiers’ maddening tempo, including a 59-yarder to Latimer for the game’s first score as well as as couple of long completions in the 3rd quarter when Roberson found Stoner for a 42-yarder and Wynn Worst Waldo’ing for a TD.  But in addition to the two interceptions recorded by the defense, there were probably 3-4 others that were close to being turnovers, including the 67 yarder by Hughes and a sequence in the 2nd quarter where Taylor (?) had a near-pick on Roberson that was followed by a crazy 33-yard TD to Wynn to pull IU within 7.  As with last week’s post-Crisis final drive, those plays sometimes happen against you without rhyme or reason. 

And after surrendering 23 points to IU in the 3rd quarter, the defense clamped down in the 4th, allowing only 7 points and forcing two turnovers (including a quick one after the Gardner fumble) as well as a game-ending sack by Frank Clark.  For 3/4 of the game, the defense held IU to about a TD a quarter; a couple of breakdowns and luck made a 16-point win look closer than it was.  And yes, saying a “couple of breakdowns” is like saying The Room had a “couple of issues” with editing and plot.  Given all that, while I wouldn’t frame this game as a particularly heroic one by Mattison’s crew, it was at least “recklessly effective".

Best:  The Only Defense is a Good Offense

I’ll get into my feelings about the offense later on (spoiler alert: MSU scored 42 points against IU in a single game!) but it must be said that the offense performed exactly the role it needed to in this game.  IU’s offense is incredibly fast-paced and up-tempo; to steal a line from official MSU sponsor TapOut, IU tries to overwhelm the opposition with punches in bunches.  Kevin Wilson, in-between absolutely eradicating Big Red gum and fuming during tense interviews with former UM offensive linemen, predicates a fast-strike offense that never wins the TOP battle because it doesn’t need to

Early on, though, it seemed like the defense had IU basically figured out; UM forced a punt on 4 of the first 5 drives, including a couple of 3-and-outs.  Of course, they did get tempo’d on a 4 play, 72 yard TD drive, but overall it seemed like IU’s offense was getting stymied by UM’s tight coverage and solid line play.  At the same time, UM’s offense kept chugging along, scoring 4 TDs on their first 6 possessions and having a FG blocked because science.

But starting midway through the 2nd quarter all the way to the start of the 4th, IU started rolling with Tre Roberson and the defense had no real answer.  All of a sudden, the defense couldn’t get off the field without giving up points, it seemed like IU had a 14 guys on every play, and my leftover Pad Thai tasted not like a bastardized version of a Bangkok dish but merely despair.  UM’s only hope was to weather the storm by matching IU’s scoring barrage, one nutso drive at a time.

Animated_moving_cats_playing-ping_pong

And that’s exactly what they did, with a couple of bumps along the way.  Both fumbles were quickly rectified by Thomas Gordon INTs that UM was able to capitalize on, and the only other non-score on those 9 second-half possessions was a quick 3-and-out.  There was no “field position battle” or alternative strategy by either offense; the goal was to score a touchdown on every drive, and while IU certainly was the faster squad out there, UM just kept plugging along at an efficient pace until IU’s mistakes caught up with them.  The announcers characterized it as two boxers throwing haymakers; I thought it more like one of those 40-yard dash videos where a couple of players were superimposed on top of each other to distinguish individual progress during the sprint. 

simul

Both offenses were tenuously in competition with each other, but it felt more like a race to 60 points than anything resembling a pitched back-and-forth confrontation.  It was admittedly somewhat surreal to watch, though in the joyous sense of seeing your team decimate an overmatched opponent and in the sense of, you know, the rest of the season.

Worst:  The Shuffle

A football team is an ever-changing and evolving creature; due to injuries, performance, or purely feel, changes need to be made throughout the year to get as close to perfection as possible.  With UM, the most significant and consistent changes have been made to the offensive line, which if last week’s special 27 for 27 didn’t drive the point home, is a bit in shambles.  While the tackles are both experienced and will be playing in the NFL next year, the rest of the line is ludicrously young and/or inexperienced while also experiencing nearly week-by-week upheaval between the guards and center.  Both Joe Burzynski and Erik Magnuson received their first starts of the year, replacing recent first-time starters Chris Bryant and Kyle Kallis, and once Burzynski went out due to injury Kyle Bosch stepped in as a true freshman.

While I do not doubt for a moment that these changes are due to both real and perceived lack of performance, one has to wonder if all of these changes are at least partially responsible for those deficiencies.  The one thing you hear most often about an offensive line is that it benefits immensely from familiarity and maturation as a unit, that the more often these same 5 guys line up the better they’ll be as they learn the line calls, identify blocking assignments, and generally get a feel for how each other plays.  But when you are replacing 3/5 of your line every couple of weeks with progressively less experienced players, while also installing a bunch of wonky-ish formations, you really shouldn’t be surprised if the same problems and holes keep reappearing.  For example, on Fitz’s first TD on 4th and 1, the inside of the line was absolutely crushed; only be bouncing outside did Fitz find the endzone.  Now, if that sounds familiar to you, welcome to the 2013-2014 Michigan Wolverines.  Your pitchfork and Thundershirt is in the mail.

I know the stats say the line did a decent job (4.6 ypc on 54 carries) run-blocking and only gave up 2 sacks, but it again looked like a line in transition, which is not a positive sign 2/3 of the way into the season.

Best:  Secret Santa

I’m not sure what the Secret Santa policy is on the team, but if I’m Jeremy Gallon I would give Devin Funchess all of the gift baskets given how his move to WR has opened up the field for Rocket Boots.  While Funchess pulled in the lion’s share of the catches against Minny, Gallon has 21 catches for 464 yards and 3 TDs in the past two games and looks to be back to his All B1G-caliber mark most expected after the ND game. 

Similarly, Devin Gardner has transformed from a terrifying pick-six machine into what most people expected when the year began: a dynamic playmaker who will make some bad throws but who can also pick you apart on the ground or in the air when the weapons around him are thoroughly deployed.  Obviously the ultimate goal would be for Funchess to follow the Tyler Eifert model of terrifying TE/WR who can actually block on running plays, but so far his move to WR has not only led to great numbers for him (23.1 ypc and 3 TDs in the past 3 games, which would rank him #5 nationally if he kept it up for the year) but also a demonstrative improvement for the other players in the passing game.

Worst:  Knowing is Half the Battle, Unless Said Battle is Against Indiana’s Defense

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Jeremy Gallon started off UM’s second drive with a simple WR screen that he turned into a 70 yard completion.  It was a great playcall at the time because the Indiana DBs had shifted their coverage distance from “city-sized” cushion to a “state-sized” one, and Gallon is hard enough to tackle when you are on top of him that giving him any space to move was an invitation for awesomeness.  So a little later on, Devin Gardner took the snap, faked what I presume was a bubble screen, and handed off to Green for a nice gain.  One can only presume at that moment, Heiko did something like this:

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Certainly the liveblog exploded with a mixture of jubilation and confusion; happy that the playbook was opening up a bit but also wondering if either Al Borges was purposely trolling the fanbase or if he was seriously considering using gimmicky ideas like “misdirection” and “adapting to the defense.”

Unfortunately, I’ve seen this Al Borges before; it isn’t Good Borges or Bad Borges, but instead Irrelevant Borges because his playcalling was never tested by a competent defensive unit.  Call me a Borges Denier, but I don’t even know if he was calling plays this week; a 14-year-old fan could have snuck into the booth and nobody thought to check.

IU couldn’t really stop the run, even when the offensive line brought out five Vuvuzelas and announced where they were going.  Penetration and swarming sometimes led to stops, but even this offensive line was able to impose its will.  Heck, the one TO by Fitz was due to Gardner trying a toss play that probably would have worked HAD THEY EVER PRACTICED IT.  Even with this mishap, Fitz had his beast game of the year by a country mile, scoring 4 times while averaging 4.7 yards on 32 carries and a long of 27.  And when a wide receiver sets a conference record while a QB sets both passing and total yardage records at the same school where Denard Robinson played Notre Dame and Illinois numerous times, you know the secondary was just escorting the ball to the receivers.

A win is a win, though, and 751 yards in total offense (on only 83 plays!) is 128 more yards given up against than any other competitor this season (Mizzou put up 623).  Al Borges called a fine game and the offense executed immensely well.  But the free-wheeling, spread-ish offense we saw by Borges isn’t going to stick around against the rest the conference slate, just like it didn’t against OSU last year, Iowa in 2011, or PSU this year.  If anything, this game will simply be viewed as reinforcing the tendencies we’ve seen already, except that instead of averaging under a yard per carry IU’s derpitude resulted in a record-setting game.  It remains an offense that screams ‘zig’ (Devin-centric attack with some up-tempo thrown in) while Borges remains determined to zag.  It worked this week, but that’s the thing about Indiana: you only get to play them once.

Worst:  Poor Secondary or

Best:  Limited YACs?

If you haven’t gathered yet, I’m relatively positive about the defense this week, at least compared to my very lukewarm feelings about the offense.  That doesn’t mean it was a great day by the unit, especially the secondary.  As noted earlier, a couple of those long completions were due to dumb luck or great throws (Jourdan Lewis in particular was victimized by a great throw along the sideline), but IU clearly identified Raymon Taylor as a weak spot and attacked him mercilessly early on.  He led the team with 4 pass breakups but also was in on 9 tackles, including 7 solo.  By comparison, Countess was only responsible for 1 PBU and 3 tackles, and outside of a couple of plays seemed to keep pace.  When one of your corners is seeing that much action, its usually not because he’s just flying all over the field, or at least not purposely doing so within the flow of the defense.

A number of IU’s long gains were because the secondary couldn’t get into position properly, either failing to align in the right coverage or simply trailing plays that started up before they were set.  Outside of more preparation against this type of offense or “being better” I’m not sure how the unit can really improve on its performance, at least as currently constructed.  Thomas Gordon’s two INTs definitely alleviate the sting a bit, though I’m guessing at least a couple of the long TDs were because either Gordon or Wilson failed to shift over to help out the DBs.

That said, there were relatively few blown plays resulting from missed tackles.  The 67-yarder was somewhat due to a failure to tackle after the contested reception, and I’m sure I’m missing another couple plays, but usually a defender was there when the pass was completed to limit the damage.  The longest run by a back all day (and apparently all year) was 20 yards, which is totally acceptable given the circumstances.

 

Best:  I Must Be Drunk

This is apparently where I absolutely lose my mind and talk up the defense some more.  Sure it was a cheap one at the end of the game, but Frank Clark had another sack and has 4.5 in 4 games.  Given the speed by which IU gets the ball out, the two sacks recorded by the team are understandable.  The line’s continued improvement along with Ryan’s return gives me hope that there might be some disruption forthcoming.  And the linebackers, in particular Bolden, played reasonably well, though I’d trust Brian’s detailed analysis far more than my naked-eye observations.  IU had some success running the ball, especially once Roberson took over, but it always felt limited, as if the defense was giving up 4-5 yards on the ground to protect against the pass.  Probably something related to bending vs. breaking.

Best:  Never Go Full Gladwell-ian

I’ve been reading Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, and if you haven’t read it yet I won’t spoil it except to say it is absolutely like every other book he’s ever written.  It’s the type of book wherein you’ll be annoyed that he is playing a little fast and loose with statistics, the underlying results of papers, and how a quasi-fictional narrative can be spun in a pop-sci book, but also glean enough interesting anecdotes and believable results that you’ll feel slightly smarter at your next soiree .

Personally, I enjoy the books but take them with a hefty grain of salt; I definitely wouldn’t use them as citations but I have looked into some of the topics more deeply after reading his takes.  And one of the stronger takeaways from this book is that strengths and weaknesses are often subjective, based purely on the perceptions and biases of each party involved. 

The titular tale of David and Goliath is turned on its head, as Gladwell discusses the fact that powerful but immobile Goliath (who likely was suffering from the same condition that afflicted people like Gheorghe Muresan and Andre the Giant) was no match for the fleet-footed David because the battlefield favored the swift artillery, only nobody had considered disrupting the paradigm until the stone fell the giant.  He then pointed to numerous other examples in which the “underdog” military held its ground against a superior force by fighting in an atypical style, and only when these smaller forces adopted more “classical” styles that favored numerical advantage over other factors did they start to lose.  In effect, he argues, the status quo works best when everyone agrees to abide by its terms; deviate even a bit and the inefficiencies are there for the taking.

Watching IU on offense, I saw how their up-tempo offense could flummox defenses for games; when the offense is already lined up mere seconds after the ball is placed, the defense has a very small window in which to react and respond.  On offense, you only need that one point of failure, that one missed assignment or sloppy tackle, to score.  Your line doesn’t have to be big and powerful, and your skill players can be pretty average, because you are maximizing the issues created by slow-reacting defenders getting into position.

But on defense, everyone really does need to be on the same page, or at least a reasonable facsimile.  That’s why you typically see the most successful defenses against spread attacks be veteran-laden; you need kids who can react to the formations with minimal communication from the coaches.  RR’s offenses ran into problems when the PSU’s, MSU’s, and OSU’s of the world could keep pace.  And that points to the reality that defenses are far more reliant on overall talent than offense; you can disguise coverages and blitz from as many angles as you want, but you need guys who JUST MAKE PLAYS to keep you in the game.  IU doesn’t have that, and that’s how a pretty average offense was able to drop 63 points on them.  I shudder to think how IU would handle a team like themselves, but more talented; OkSt. or TT would run them off the field by halftime, and I don’t even think the NCAA would let them match up against Oregon.  It’s why when the clearly-aroused Glen Mason spoke of IU’s youth on defense and the expected improvement it would see as it matured, I had to scoff a bit.  For all of Indiana’s polish on offense, that defense hasn’t been “good” in decades, and no amount of “coaching them up” and father time will matter if the players just aren’t that talented.

I guess my point is that while I’m never going to be a big fan of Al Borges or the offensive philosophy of this team, I care far more about how this team’s defense evolves and grows over the next couple of years.  It is undoubtedly cliche, but you have to be able to stop the other guy at least a couple of times in order to win, and a dominant defense with a competent-if-infuriating offense feels like a more efficient outfit than a hack-and-slash offense with a sieve in the front 7.  Obviously one can dream of both, but the fact we have yet to really see a team pull it off makes me think it is harder than one thinks.  Given the coaching staff and the philosophy they have installed, I’m bracing myself to see the status quo shaken up once or twice a season but only as a tease.

Bestest:  Bouncing Baby Programming Note

This is probably more personal than many of you care to know, but BronxBlueWife and I are expecting our first mini Wolverine in the next week or so.  Because I am a shot-caller, I’m hoping the baby arrives during the bye week and I’m at least semi-capable of scribbling down thoughts thru the end of the season.  But if not, this  might become a less-frequent weekly, at least until the sleep deprivation shifts from a sharp pain to a dull, perpetual one.

Comments

GotBlueOnMyMind

October 20th, 2013 at 9:52 PM ^

Although I understand that it is "just Indiana," I am going to go out on a limb and say that Indiana's defense is just as good as, if not better than, Akron's. And yet, our offensive line and offense as a whole looked far better in this game. Additionally, Michigan has played many utterly terrible teams over the years and has never put up numbers like this before, so you have to give some credit where credit is due. Am I convinced that Borges will continue calling games as well as he did here? No, but to simply brush aside this performance as being against "just Indiana" does a disservice to what the offense did today. The reality is that record setting performances don't happen against the MSU's of the world, they happen against teams like Indiana or UMass, and for that reason, to say this performance was anything less than encouraging is ridiculous.

One Inch Woody…

October 20th, 2013 at 10:26 PM ^

THIS!

Indiana's defense is bad.

But not as bad as UCONN or Akron. 

We've shown improvement. Now MSU has to respect the spread as well as some power elements (Why not PSU... sigh) so the offense should be a little bit smoother against them. Unless, of course, this bye week is spent reverting back to ZONE STRETCH 100 TIMES IN A ROW.

Still, I don't think it's reasonable to expect 700+ yards against MSU, but maybe 300+ is a good possibility, and one I'd be pleased with.

bronxblue

October 20th, 2013 at 11:10 PM ^

300 yards against MSU might be a bit of a stretch, but I guess if that is the goal I'll be fine. 

UConn has a decent defense; it was a top-10 unit statistically last year and while it lost quite a bit of talent from that squad, it still seems capable at times of slowing down another team's offense.  Same with Akron.

I think people are really hoping IU's defense is better than it looked; I've yet to see any evidence to that point against FBS squads.  Part of those struggles are probably due to the offense scoring so quickly, but UM probably left another 7-10 points on that field and still won by 16.  IU has one of the worst defenses in the country even before UM played them.

bronxblue

October 20th, 2013 at 10:42 PM ^

I totally agree that the offense put up some fantastic numbers, and I said he called a good game and the offense performed remarkably well.  But Akron's defense isn't worse than IU's, at least statistically, and doesn't suffer from the deluge of plays/possessions that the Hoosiers have to deal with.  Indiana hasn't held an FBS offense under 400 yards all season, and even factoring out UM gives up an average of 5.5 yard per play.  Akron gives up about the same number of yards per play, though they are more consistent than IU, which has given up over 6.0 ypp  to every FBS opponent save Bowling Green and PSU.  Akron has only given up over 6 to UM and UCF. 

I'm sure that, talent-wise, IU has a better unit.  But UM's offense was pretty spectacular against Akron when it wasn't turning the ball over.  Against IU, though, there wasn't even a hint of defensive reaction or change for large swaths of that game.  I'm not going to completely discredit the offense's performance, but you're going to waiting a long time if you expect me to say that crushing IU shows concrete evidence of this team improving on offense in a fundamental way.

charblue.

October 21st, 2013 at 2:10 PM ^

in those games against those defenses were night and day because of the coaching and the players on defense. Akron has a veteran team and so does UConn, regardless of what you think of them. And the fact is, they didn't play uptempo. In fact, they kept the game at a pace designed not quite Minnesota, to reduce the number of possessions Michigan got. 

But the fact is, turnovers changed both the complexion of those games, forced the defense as it has virtually every game, to defend short fields and more possessions. You don't have to play keep away if the other side keeps giving you the ball back. TOP is mostly irrelevant except when it isn't, and is conceived as a primary strategy by one side or the other in order to win.

Using it as a weekly guage to measure offensive adequacy or defensive deficiency makes little sense when you face up-tempo offenses that care more about total possessions, not actual possession time as a matter of scoring efficiency. 

MSU is a team that thrives on TOP because of its dominating defense and its desire to grind out offense in order to keep the defense fresh and give the offense as much time as possible to do something offensive or take the ball away and just keep it away from their opponent. 

Michigan on Saturday played mostly dime packages because of IU's multiple receiver sets and spread formation. When it got beat deep it was mostly on sideline go routes where defenders were nearly able to make plays but didn't. Taylor wasn't lined up right, was seeking communication from Gordon, and got beat deep on a beautiful toss by Sudfield. He then got picked on routinely until the freshmen dbs got victimized. 

Whatever happened on the bust near the goal line, Michigan had opportunities to squelch IU's drive and motivation, and just kept falling a bit short or arriving a step late. That is what happens to guys on maturing defenses. And so you know the difference in outcome of being a bit late on those plays as a result. It's not that they're not there or missed the assignment (except that one bust) but that they just aren't poised and confident enough to make these plays. 

I think you have to fully appreciate the learning process of this team even as we celebrate its wonderful achievements, and accept them on their own merit, instead of qualifying the, based on issues not at play. 

 

squashman

October 21st, 2013 at 10:03 PM ^

Really thought our offensive success had more to do with Indiana just being that bad . I mean really bad. Our offensive line is not very good. Even last Saturday, we had too many tackles for loss, two sacks and how many times did Gardner get flushed and hurried . Other teams will put up 40 or more points on them. Ohio May score 80points on them. Our defense looks average. Missed tackles, missed assignments. We are not getting better. Other coaches are getting more with less talent. We are really going to struggle against Sparty because our line can't block and everyone will quickly forget this offensive anomaly. Feels like the RichRod days when we unravel in November. Hope I am wrong, but there is no evidence that we are improving.

ca_prophet

October 20th, 2013 at 10:31 PM ^

Their other opponents aren't rolling up conference, team and personal records the way we did. Nor did we play down to their level on offense. Those are good signs.

Until we can stabilize the O line we'll be inconsistent. Until then Gardner is our Savior and Destroyer, and is likely to be more effective throwing 30+ than running 20+, so we need to put the ball in his hands more often and run the backs less; our line pass blocks better than run blocks, and our receivers are looking good. To that end, this game was also a good sign.

snarling wolverine

October 20th, 2013 at 10:33 PM ^

I guess my point is that while I’m never going to be a big fan of Al Borges or the offensive philosophy of this team, I care far more about how this team’s defense evolves and grows over the next couple of years.

Dude - we're averaging 42 points per game right now despite serious talent/experience issues on the OL. (It was 39 ppg entering the game too; it's not just inflated by the IU game.) Some of you guys are such spread zealots it's insane. When your O scores 40+ in five of seven games, that's very good, no matter what it looks like.

bronxblue

October 20th, 2013 at 11:20 PM ^

To be fair, UM has played maybe 2 above-average defenses this season (ND is currently 39th and PSU is #17 in total defense, though the latter benefitted immensely from beating up EMU and Kent St.).  This is still a unit that failed to break 30 against UConn or Akron, and couldn't break a ypc by its running backs against a middling PSU outfit. 

Iowa, MSU, and OSU are still on the docket, and each offer varying levels of defensive ability that could very well derail the good feelings train so far.  It remains a unit that puts up some glossy numbers when Borges doesn't fight what works best, but his stubborness scares me against teams with even competent defensive units.  Beating the crap out of CMU and IU and needing a bunch of new formations to scrape a bit over 3 ypc against Minny doesn't instill much confidence in a systemic shift.

wolverine1987

October 21st, 2013 at 1:32 PM ^

IMO. And we scored against bad defenses by and large, The point people make about the offense is how it will do against actual good teams, and the infuriating thing is not about being a "spread zealot" at all. It is because we have demonstrated, over and over again for two years--and again Saturday in fact--that we cannot run from power, cannot at all, and are terrible at it against decent defenses and against bad defenses alike. We had at least 6-7 runs from the I under center Saturday, and against Indiana's awful defense averaged approx zero yards per carry from them (I don't know the actual number, but I was at the game and would be shocked if any of them went for more than 3 yards). It's not spread zealot, it's "what works zealot," and what works for us is speading the field. That's just a fact.

bronxblue

October 21st, 2013 at 8:35 AM ^

Thanks.

I think people are misreading my take a bit; I'm not discrediting the offensive output completely, but I don't think Borges will ever consider running this type of pass-first offense with Devin against the tougher teams on the schedule.  And when you set offensive records like this, you need a bit of luck and/or ineptitude.  I would love it if this became the base offense, but I'm just worried that the Lizard Brain will emerge against tougher competition.

charblue.

October 21st, 2013 at 2:35 PM ^

of mismatches. However, the guy who covered Gallon wasn't a young freshman. He's a veteran and according to the guys on the broadcast on Saturday, someone who could get a shot in the NFL. 

I think we have to understand how one threat impacts another and how exploiting the IU secondary on Saturday means more for Michigan going forward than simply a ho-hum win, as it were. Even though, it wasn't even that. 

But the point is, Michigan now has has two major deep threats on film.

I've always thought, and I've said it here, that the first seven games of this season gave the staff a complete opportunity to review the roster and the best and worst of its performance, and how it could translate that into a working winning formula for the championship month ahead. 

Now, maybe I'm all wrong and that's not the case, that this all a weekly color by numbers pictorial we are witnessing, and there is no grand plan. But I am with those who think you take what you do best and make it work going forward. Sometimes you have to use power to get necessary yardage. But if not's working effectively, why force the issue even if you are worried about injury? 

I think Michigan lost at Penn State because it played not to lose instead of to win when it was winning time. 

I don't know if this team has really established an identity. But it has established that when it functions properly it can score a lot of points and make enough plays to win. It is resilient. And now comes the period that will make or breaks this season. 

squashman

October 21st, 2013 at 10:10 PM ^

That Gardner will have enough time in the pocket against Sparty to even think about getting the ball to Gallon or Funchess. Our offensive line is not very good. So while it is nice to have those dual threats, the foundation, the o line, is broken and good defensive teams will exploit it. People will blame Borges, but we can't block.

bml

October 21st, 2013 at 1:00 AM ^

What about Florida under Meyer and Bama in the last few seasons? Trent Richardson, Julio Jones and all those linemen are certainly capable of slashing and burning their way down the field.

bronxblue

October 21st, 2013 at 8:41 AM ^

Those were the two that popped in my head somewhat, but with Alabama is never feels like the offense is let loose like you see by the Baylors and Oregons of the world.  It scores a bunch of points because of superior skill and talent, but their philosophy is still more controlled.

As for Florida, I'll admit that was about as close as you can expect.  That said, the year in-between championships they were profoundly average (41st in total defense), and their offense has suffered immensely since Meyer left. 

The issue is that it takes a special type of coach to create a team that excels on both ends to that degree, and for all the love I have for Hoke as a coach, he seems too detached from the offense to insist on that type of innovation.  I wouldn't say he doesn't care, but if he wanted to see a dynamic offense he wouldn't have hired Al Borges, or would at least have insisted on some changes that, at least to my eye, haven't emerged.

Eye of the Tiger

October 21st, 2013 at 1:06 AM ^

...would be upset with the offensive performance after it scored 63 and set an all-time record for the school with 751 yards of total offense.

For the record, that would be 10 more than offensive genius Rich Rodriguez' team recorded in its thrilling 2010 victory over football powerhouse Bowling Green--as well as much more than any other Michigan team has ever recorded against anyone in any game played in any year.

I mean--I generally love this diary series, but all I can think of right now is: "huh?"

Of course, just like the 2010 team, we may not be able to do the same thing against stiffer opposition. But I guess that's the worst part of the FIRE BORGES meme to me--there's this whiff of revisionist nostalgia for the Rich Rod days, as if our 2010 offense didn't stall repeatedly against quality opponents.

Keep in mind I was also angry last week (see: my diary). But except for a few more ill-advised zone-stretch plays, I can find nothing to fault about Borges or the offense in this game. We wanted more spread and shotgun running? We got it. Wanted more inside zone? Got that too. Wanted to see the OL get at least minimal push against someone--anyone? Same.

We have literally never played better--and that includes against IU teams significantly worse than this one.

 

bronxblue

October 21st, 2013 at 10:17 AM ^

I've always felt the RR years were talked up a bit too much, at least offensively.  He did struggle to score against better defenses, though they did usually find ways to compensate against superior outfits and at least amass some yards.

I'm not complaining about scoring 63 points; far from it.  All I am saying is that if anyone wants to read anything deeper into this game than UM really destroyed IU, I'm not on that bandwagon.  This offense would work great against every team on the schedule, but to run it would seemingly go against Borges's known tendencies.  I want to be wrong, but I've already seen people say "watch out MSU", as if this is even remotely reproducable.  All of those running plays worked because IU is really bad at stopping the run.  I mean, UM is on its 4th LG, a true freshman who is undersized.  Their 5* guard (Kallis) didn't play nearly as much, and the line is still in flux.  Unless UM totally bucked the trend of starting a bunch of undersized, inexperienced players that turn into superstars, I'm not sold the running game will hold up.  And when those guys get crushed inside by blitizing LBs and better DTs, you'll see Gardner under additional pressure and, I fear, a return to some of the poor passing performances we've seen so far.

I will always be happy about record-setting performances, but last week they set a rushing record in the wrong direction.  I'm guessing that this offense's true potential is somewhere in the middle, but based on the season so far I'm not optimistic that this style is sticking around.

Eye of the Tiger

October 21st, 2013 at 3:37 PM ^

I agree and disagree with your assessment. Agree in the sense that this means little for MSU. Frankly, any OL combination we throw out there is going to look terrible. They are going to shoot gaps and jump snaps with the usual level of aggression, meaning that any and all attempts to run "zone stretch left" will result in a predictable loss of 2-3 yards. But we'll probably run poorly out of the shotgun too--I mean, three years of watching Denard not gain yards against their front 7 strongly suggests that will be the case. Still, I agree that this is the best way to go--if for no other reason than it helps Gardner see both the field and the pass rush a crucial second before it's in his face. 

That said, I'd argue that--looking farther down the line--we can potentially extrapolate from the IU experience to at least 3 of our remaining 5 opponents. Nebraska, Northwestern and Ohio, after all, have defenses that are more IU than MSU. If (and of course, this is a big "if"), Borges does what he did last Saturday, we're going to pile up points against all three of them. In all 3 cases, we'll need our defense to perform better than it did against IU to win. 

Iowa is a wildcard. I have no idea what to expect, from them or from our coaches when we travel there. 

bronxblue

October 21st, 2013 at 10:13 PM ^

I agree with this assessment; playing MSU's defense is the same as playing IU's, but in reverse.  You can't extrapolate much except that really good units or really bad ones skew the results.  I do hope that Borges calls a game like this against everyone else on the schedule, since it will unboubtedly be the best option.  I think NW is cratering a bit but that offense can definitely still blow people away if left unchecked, and who knows how OSU will look at the end of the year.  Nebraska feels like a more solid win than at the beginning of the season, as that defense is pretty terrible and I'm not buying that offense if Martinez is limited; their RBs are scary, but if they keep getting mediocre performance from the QB position then I see Mattison working them over pretty easily.

aiglick

October 21st, 2013 at 1:40 AM ^

If Borges calls a game similar to this last one where he emphasizes our strengths (pass blocking kind of, passing the ball to our talented receiving corps, using the pass to set up the run, etc.) then we will not go down easily against any of these teams including MSU. This same Indiana team was able to score on MSU and this game proves that our offense at least has the potential to be explosive and efficient at moving and scoring. If Borges calls the game similar to PSU and other debacles then yeah we are probably in trouble. Our O Line run blocking is just not there yet and probably will not be there this year for whatever reason. He just needs to stick with this type of play calling and see what happens the rest of the season.

bronxblue

October 21st, 2013 at 10:21 AM ^

I guess that's my point.  Borges should run an offense like the one against IU, but in his tenure so far he seems afraid to do so except in extreme circumstances.  This offense should be the base one, but it took close calls against Akron and UConn for him to trot it out, and only when the team was down to PSU did you see him let Gardner really start to run and pass the ball effectively.  I hope he keeps some of what worked this week going forward, but I'm afraid that he's going to try to establish the run, fail to do so, and revert to the low-upside offense we've seen this year.

GunnersApe

October 21st, 2013 at 9:34 AM ^

Home Offense vs Road Offense.

I woun't be suprised to see UM go into a shell vs MSU on the road. On top of that UM needs to think about a "silent snap count" or a delay so MSU cannot for the 5 time jump the count.

I hope I'm wrong but I foresee another FG battle in EL.

bronxblue

October 21st, 2013 at 10:24 AM ^

The problem with the snap count issues so far have been the fact the team gets to the line with 3-4 seconds on the clock.  At that point, you can't benefit from secret snap counts because the line knows you have to spike it soon.  I agree that they need to disguise the playcalling somewhat, but getting to the line quickly and audibling with time to spare should definitely help somewhat.

As for home vs road offense, I think they benefit heavily from paying creampuffs at home versus on the road as much as anything.  They do seem more conservative on the road, but that might also be a bit of small sample size given competition and the like.

Blue Durham

October 21st, 2013 at 12:27 PM ^

Made in Durham. One of my dogs has one. Bad thunderstorms have literally scared the piss out of him.

Since getting a Thundershirt and using it with rescue remedy has really helped to prevent me from experiencing the golden showers.