Best and Worst: PSU

Submitted by bronxblue on October 23rd, 2017 at 12:07 AM

This is going to be a relatively short post. I'm a father of two small children with a reasonably demanding job; games that finish after 11 pm aren't giving me a lot of time. Plus, y'all saw the game.

Best: Sometimes You Run Into a Bigger Fish

There's no reason to sugar-coat this, so I won't; Michigan got beaten handily by a much better team. It was methodical, it was unrelenting, it was the type of performance that rightfully would be the headline in the Ass Whooping Gazette if USC-ND hadn't happened. I said last week

[b]ut I also don't see PSU as a particularly good team. They are #2 because a bunch of teams ahead of them lost, not because they've looked particularly dominant. They're better than Michigan, but the difference isn't nearly as pronounced as you'd expect for a #2/#16 matchup would suggest, and their issues along the offensive line aren't likely to go away. It's going to be an uglier game than people think, and probably lower scoring than PSU would want. This feels like a game where if Michigan can keep PSU within reach, they can pull off the upset. But they'll have to survive PSU's initial assault. The hope I have is just like Michigan looked rusty after the 2-week layoff before MSU, PSU will have some issues getting going and, perhaps, Michigan can capitalize.

I still don't know if they’ll be the #2 team in the country at the end of the year, but at least yesterday they played like a dominant team, and Michigan was the unfortunate victim in front of that steamroller. You see those scenes in movies where a guy walks into a bar and then is immediately thrown out by the hero? Well, sometimes you're Steven Seagal, and sometimes you're the guys who know Richie.

The only way Michigan was going to win this game was if it got into a rock fight, a boring-ass game from a bygone era where the space between the 30s was a muddy battleground and every run or pass looked like an NFL Blitz tackle.

But PSU was too good, too prepared to let Michigan ugly it up, and then it became an exercise in PSU's talented, experienced playmakers on offense matching up against Michigan's talented but inexperienced/ill-positioned defenders, and we all saw how that played out.

Michigan had it's moments, especially after picking off McSorley, driving down the field to score a TD. They nearly got another on the ensuing PSU possession, and McSorley again threw a bad pass, this time a screen directly into the arms of Hudson in the end zone, but who dropped it. And Michigan's second scoring drive was much like their first; a grinding affair featuring a nice mix of straight-ahead runs, a little O'Korn scrambling, and some nice pitch-and-catches. There were some subtle shifts on the line, a nice mix of zone and power, and basically the type of offense you hoped to see.

But as Ace noted in his recap, it did feel a bit smoke-and-mirrors. Michigan still hadn't figured out how to exploit the mismatches they had (mostly along the defensive line) or compensate for PSU's, chief amongst them Saquon Barkley on the move. I'll get into it later, but this was Dalvin Cook and FSU all over again, with McCray consistently losing in foot races with Barkley he could never expect to win, and PSU rightly using McSorley as a counter to Michigan's slanting by having him run through some gaping holes left by the flowing front 7. Sometimes you just get got, and when you have upperclassmen across your offense and probably the most complete back in the country (it's either Barkley or Bryce Love), it can get ugly.

And so PSU marched down the field after Michigan cut it to one, aided by a couple of nice moonballs by McSorley against overmatched safeties. Michigan went into halftime down 8 and while I didn't expect Michigan to win the game, it felt manageable. And really, that first drive out of the half set the tone for the half. While I don't put much blame on Hill for his drop to start the drive (O'Korn was under pressure and the ball was high), Michigan's ongoing issue catching the ball reared its fetid, pus-filled head, with both Grant Perry and DPJ dropping balls that either would have been first downs or been big gainers, in particular the DPJ tunnel screen that was set up pretty well. Michigan punted the ball, PSU marched down the field against limited resistance, and the rout was on. Michigan wasn't going to score 28 points in this game, and a defense that was already having a rough night wasn't positioned to turn it over with a couple turnovers or stops. The only question was if Franklin would call off the dogs a bit in the 4th, which was the most obvious question in the world that night.

Penn State scored a couple more times, punctuating the night-long mismatch with Barkley juggle-catching a wheel route that McCray was barely on the screen to see. Michigan left O'Korn out there and he did what he could with the offense, but when you can't run block all that well and the couple of receivers you do send out on drawn-out routes can't get open, comebacks aren't usually in the cards. On PSU's final drive, the announcers (who were your usual mixture of insight and chuckle-yucks I've come to expect from Herbstreit and Fowler) wondered if Franklin would try to score 49 with his backup QB, and for a while it looked like he would. Not that it would have mattered either way, but I've always subscribed to the notion that if you want the other team to stop scoring, you better do something about it. But still, Michigan ended the game with a whimper.

So where does that leave the season? Honestly, about where I thought. I figured Michigan would be 5-2 after 7 games; at best 6-1. It's a very young team that was hit by injuries at places they couldn't really afford (LT coming into the year, QB during) and continue to struggle with multi-season issues like sub-standard offensive line play, few dynamic playmakers on the offensive side of the ball, and depth issues that resulted from recent program instability and questionable recruiting practices from previous regimes. The play calling on offense still befuddles me at times; there were a couple of pass plays in that second half where the protection was reasonable but everyone was running these long, slow-developing routes that to call them "coverage sacks" would be misleading; "running out of range sacks" would be more appropriate. O'Korn seems to continuously fight this internal battle between a miniature Rex Grossman on one shoulder and whatever is the opposite of Rex Grossman (Sam Bradford?) extolling the virtues of not endangering anyone by hurling the oblong ball. On defense, those lingering questions people had about the secondary and the LB’ers were put under a spotlight, and while getting beat up by an elite offense isn't the death knell to possible upsets against Wisconsin or OSU, it's a unit that (rightfully) isn't as good as last year's, and can be exploited with the right plan and execution.

But I can also see pockets of improvement. The run blocking was solid if stunted, due in no small part to the fact that PSU didn't have to worry much about legitimate play-action passes going over their heads too often. Pass blocking wasn't great but not necessarily a tire fire; Michigan gave up 7 sacks, but a number of them came in the second half when PSU could pin their ears back without repercussions. The line should find much more success against Rutgers, Minnesota, and Maryland. O'Korn played within himself and, in a vacuum, would deserve another start; he won't likely get it against Rutgers, or at least he'll split time with Peters. At the very least, the play calling shouldn't change all that much, especially if Peters can pose a credible threat as a scrambler. If the official participation sheet is to be believed, Nico Collins saw some action, and at this point they might as well break some of these guys in, even if it's unlikely to mean much on the field. Young offensive playmakers like DPJ and Gentry are having their moments, as well as their struggles, in meaningful games, and you can see natural improvements in the coming years leading to a more dynamic offense. And this game notwithstanding, it's still a defense starting a hell of a lot of first- and second-year players playing at a high level, which portends only good things going forward.

I'll dig into some parts of the game in more detail below, but this was less demoralizing a loss in retrospect than it felt in the immediate aftermath. I know people want to fire everyone and blow it all up again, and the 6-5, 1-4, record-like-Hoke memes are a-comin', but I'm patient enough that if this is "rebuilding" from the RR/Hoke era, I'll enjoy the rest of the year and look for the seeds of future successes in the next couple of games.

Best: An Underdog Offensive Play calling

Now, I'm sure people will disagree with this, but I thought the play calling early on was about as good as could be expected given the talent available and the game situation. Michigan wasn't going to survive a fire fight with PSU, so they tried to run the ball with Higdon and co. and leave simple, easy throws for O'Korn. And I'm not sure if this was a decision by O'Korn or was a deliberate playmaking decision, but he also did two things that were atypical compared to previous weeks. First, on a number of dropbacks, he either almost immediately took off when it was clear PSU was dropping it's linebackers back, or quickly avoided the rush and then picked up a couple of yards versus trying to force the ball downfield. They even trotted out some occasional read option/RPO-style plays, though as far as I can tell they always handed it off. O'Korn is not a run threat like even McSorley, but when PSU sold out against the pass they opened up yardage in the middle of the field, and he took it. In a game where Michigan wasn't going to get a lot going with the conventional offense, at least early on, it "took what the defense gave them" and kept the game closer than it probably should have.

The other "wrinkle" I noticed at QB was O'Korn took some Diplo-level deep drops on his passes, and while it did lead to some hilarious "he threw 30 yards to get the ball 4 yards past the LOS" takes, it also seemed to help him see the field and, had his receivers been open and/or consistently able to hold onto the ball, get some momentum going with the passing game. I may be reading too much into those plays, but it felt deliberate, or least a response to what I can only assume was a feeling of the world crashing in on him.

Weirdly, I wasn't all that bothered by the PA on Michigan's last 4th-down attempt, which seems to be a minority opinion. It was 4th-and-11 in a blowout; it wouldn't have been beyond the pale for Michigan to fake the pass and do a delayed handoff to Higdon or Isaac and try to "trick" their way to a first. Hell, they did it a couple of times against Florida on long 3rd downs to good success. The obvious negative was O'Korn got destroyed, but in all honesty I'm not sure that half-second wasted on the fake would have meant all that much.

Now, it wasn't all Princess UniKitty. I still don't understand the passing game's completely false assumptions that (a) these receivers can consistently get separation against good corners, (b) that the offensive line can hold up on long-developing, limited-misdirection passing routes, and (c) that anyone we've seen under center can consistently deliver the ball into those tight windows in the rare circumstance a player is actually open. It's been a couple of weeks since the Purdue game, where I thought the play calling was solid specifically because it relied on short mesh and slant routes to get the ball out quickly. In that time, the passing game has regressed substantially, and a big part is that the easy throws and release valves aren't there and, when they are, aren't always being completed. There were two plays in the 4th where O'Korn dropped back and you didn't see a Michigan player anywhere near the line of scrimmage even with the rush coming, leaving him to either hurl it up or eat a sack (he chose the latter both times). Zach Gentry, Grant Perry, Sean McKeon, etc. aren't going to beat guys downfield in a straight line more times than not, and asking them to do it more because you've taken the 10,000 hours rule to the extreme is just setting downs on fire.

Worst: I Don't Understand College Rules, Part Deux

As a precursor, I am not going to equate missed calls to a missed opportunity for Michigan to win this game. Just like how some missing PSU linebackers weren't worth 39 points in 2016, a couple missed calls, no matter how egregious, weren't worth 29 points in 2017. PSU is the better team this year, and the better teams tend to not shoot themselves in the feet, knees, groin, whatever with bad penalties and poor decisions.

Nor am I a football referee, as I only have a cursory knowledge of the rulebook, and I have been called a "homer" by enough people to believe that I am not always 100% objective in viewing football plays. And I'm sure if any rival fans read this, they'd dismiss it as salty or whatever the going term for it is. I will cop to all that. But for the life of me, I don't understand what intentional grounding or offensive holding is in football anymore. Like last week when IU's Ramsey threw the ball in the general “vicinity” of a player because they were both on a football field, McSorley had at least one throw-away where a receiver wasn’t remotely capable of catching the ball as he was in the clutches of a defender. The purpose of the rule is to reward defenders for hemming in a QB and not letting him escape lost yardage by just flicking the ball into the dirt. And yes, Michigan probably got away with one or two of those throws this year, and I'd be fine if they were called for it as well. I'm fine if actual penalties are called, even if they hurt the team I'm rooting for.

Similarly, PSU wasn't called for a single hold in this game (their only penalty was an illegal block on a return in the first quarter) despite multiple times seeing guys like Gary, Winovich, and Hurst either get sat on or head locked as they beat the protection. This has been an ongoing issue for Michigan these past couple of weeks, so it's getting to the part where either referees are incompetent and/or Michigan is being legitimately blocked most of the time and my ignorance is showing. Though if it's the latter, then I'd advise Tim Drevno, for however longer he's at Michigan, to employ the "sit on guys constantly" style of blocking. It's pretty effective.

That said, Michigan earned a number of their penalties with the same inconsistent execution and recklessness (witness Winovich with a totally unnecessary roughing the passer call after crunching McSorley on PSU's second drive) we've seen all year. Even ignoring the insanity of the IU game, Michigan is one of the most penalized teams in the country, which in one way would be sort of cool/interesting if it meant they were some swaggering, intimidating defensive unit. But sadly, the bulk of these transgressions are not in the Rasheed Wallace he stared daggers through me" vein, but more of the procedural Sideshow Bob type. And you sort of expect that with the youth on both sides of the ball and systemic issues such as pass protection and changes at QB. But it is still jarring to see Michigan have some of the fewest penalties called on their opponents as well.

Worst: McCray...IN...SPACE!

If people want to see the difference between having a playmaker like Peppers out there last year versus this one, this game and the FSU bowl game are all you need. Mike McCray is a good linebacker, but he's not a sideline-to-sideline athlete the likes of Devin Bush or Peppers before him. Against guys like Barkley, he's always at a mismatch, and perhaps in another game where Michigan could confidentially pull a defender over to help out, this wouldn't have been such a bloodbath. But if you watch Barkley's highlights from this game, his biggest plays typically featured McCray desperately trying to cut down an angle or catch him in the open field. That's not his game, and PSU knew this and put him in situations like it whenever possible.

By comparison, the couple of times you saw Bush match up, it went better. Barkley had that stutter-step first down run, but Bush also caught him trying to reserve field a bit out of the backfield for a short gain. He's a Heisman front-runner for a reason, but credit to Moorhead for calling plays that forced Michigan to commit to these matchups. I know there was some commentary about this being a sign of Michigan's arrogance, but Don Brown doesn't strike me as a guy who'd put McCray on Barkley repeatedly out of obstinance. Instead, I think PSU used their extra week to design plays that got Barkley moving before the snap, preyed on misdirection, and found the holes in the defense and ruthlessly exploited them. Again, there isn't another offense quite like this Nittany Lion unit until (again) OSU, so it probably won't be a weekly occurrence, but this was a matchup Michigan had no real answer to.

Worst: Catch the Damn Ball. Seriously.

In my second EDM-based, dad-tinged pun of the weekend, I haven't seen this many drops since the last Movement Festival.

But seriously, it was atrocious again. John O'Korn finished the day completing 57% of his passes for under 6 ypa; he legitimately could have had 4-5 more completions for another 50-60 yards. Does that change the outcome of the game? Probably not. But when people say "put in O'Korn, Speight can't throw the ball", and then they say "put in Peters, O'Korn can throw the ball", at some point you have to focus on the other half of those attempted exchanges. It remains a unit that struggles to consistently get the basic stuff right, which is why you have a passing chart 6 games into the season that looked like this:

Player 0 1 2 3   0 1 2 3
Crawford       2/2     1/4   0/2  9/11 
Black           1     0/1 10/11 
Perry 1   0/1     8 1/3 4/5   12/12
DPJ 1   1/1 3/3    4 0/1 2/4 6/6 
Schoenle               1/1 1/1 
McDoom 1         4     3/4
Ways           2      2/2
Wheatley       1/1             2/2 
McKeon         1/2           15/16  
Gentry 1     2/2   1    0/1   1/1 7/8 
Eubanks               1/1 1/1 
Bunting         1/1           1/1
Hill   0/1 1/1 0/1     0/2   1/1 0/1   
Poggi       0/1               1/2
Evans       1/1    1           2/2  
Isaac                  2/2
Higdon   0/1       2        0/1 3/3

McSorley isn't an arm-punter as much this year, but to watch some of his throws you are left to wonder how they'd look going to Michigan's receiving corps and not PSU's. They are accurate moonshots; they are still moonshots. Michigan has shown virtually no ability to reel those in save for Crawford's impressive reception in this game; the fact Ace tweeted about a receiver doing so 7 games into the season is telling.

I don't see it getting much better with Peters at QB; this doesn't feel like a familiarity or timing issue. At the same time, it's probably not a talent issue, as you don't usually make it this far in your career if you consistently drop passes that hit your hands. So I don't know, honestly, what the next couple of weeks mean for the receivers. They should be able to get open against the next 3 opponents, to varying degrees; hopefully their hands follow suit.

Meh: A Change at QB

It's going to happen; apparently Peters was ready to go on that final drive before the coaches put in O'Korn. I am not a believer in the notion that a player or team learns much about itself from "game reps" versus practice ones, at least to the degree fans hope they would. Peters has been watched in practice for 2 years now, and coming into the year he had sufficient hype but also the usual "he doesn't quite know the offense" and "he's a RS freshman who is as likely to explode in his own face as the opponent's". I doubt playing Rutgers will change that calculus, much like "Wilton Speight is the best QB on the roster" was borne out despite John O'Korn's game against Purdue. Peters might as well play at this point, and I assume Michigan will win these games if he plays basic, predictable football. He will make mistakes, he'll make some nice throws. He'll probably look like virtually every freshman QB you've seen over the years. But at least a couple million more people will be able to see it.

But if this was the final stand for O'Korn, he acquitted himself better than I expected. And he came in during a rough stretch, played to his abilities (warts and all), and won a couple of games. That should be commended, and I'm happy he got a couple nice moments in his senior year.

Worst: Defensive Expectations

McCray's problems with Barkley were the highlight, but the defense struggled all game to deal with PSU's offense, in all it's phases. McSorley exploited coverage downfield against everyone, in particular the safeties. The fact the top three tacklers for this game were a safety (Kinnel), a corner (Hill), and Hudson isn't how I imagine Brown drew it up. Michigan had one downfield breakup (Hill on 4th down) after picking up multiple in seemingly every game this year, and could only collect 2 sacks while repeatedly letting McSorley break contain for big gains (76 yards and 3 TDs on the ground). For the game, they gave up over 7 yards per game on the ground (excluding sacks) and 10.8 per attempt in the air. The direct snap plays to Barkley presented a diminishing return, but it only needed to work once and boy did it.

My guess is the unit bounces back against the more manageable offenses coming up, but this was probably a unit playing a bit above its head thus far. PSU clearly had scouted them out and took advantage of mismatches, and they have a particularly skilled collection of players to do so, but I fully expect teams like Maryland and Minnesota to try similar gameplans with their available talent, and it'll be interesting to see how Brown takes what he can from this game and integrate it before the last two weeks of the season, where Michigan will play the Alpha and Omega of Big 10 offenses.

Worst: The Fans

I was thinking about skipping this part, but I'll keep it brief. I saw a number of people get upset about this tweet recounting something Jim Harbaugh said after the game.

In the most predictable response imaginable, some people believed this was "calling out the fans" and was disrespectful to...someone. The fact it is 100% true and should be the message every coach communicates to his charges is irrelevant to some, but if this place is a likely microcosm of the larger Michigan fanbase, damn right they shouldn't give a shit caring out the whims and emotional maturity of the fanbase. I've said this before, but watching football is very one-sided in terms of risk-reward. I sit on my couch hundreds of miles away from virtually every game these students play each year. If they win, good. If they lose, that is annoying but I'm not going to suffer any long-term negative effects. But John O'Korn felt every one of those 7 sacks. Mo Hurst slammed into a bunch of 300 pound human beings 50+ times this weekend. They are ultimately playing for themselves and whatever motivates them to bust their asses each week, and before this veers even more into sermonizing, that team cohesion, that inter-dependence on your teammates, is what is going to get them through the last couple of months of the season, not the fickle whims of men and women checking in for 3-4 hours a weekend. Michigan is always going to have an outsized number of bandwagoners, and trying to draw much motivation or inspiration from them after a loss is a waste of energy. So good on Harbaugh for rallying his guys while reminding them of the reality of this sport, and I hope they find a way to stay this motivated and passionate going forward as they have thus far.

Quick Hits

  • PSU has an elite offense, but this was a perfect storm for them coming into this game (bye week, at home for biggest game of the season, revenge-minded, limited Michigan offense). What I suspect will happen is they'll struggle much more against OSU and, to a lesser extent, MSU in the coming weeks, just because teams will have more tape on them against "better" defenses and limit the mismatches they first for. I'm actually interested to see how they play on the road; Iowa was a near-upset, and even NW was a game going into the 3rd quarter.
  • I assume this week will feature your usual grab-bag of carries for the running backs. Higdon looked good, as did Isaac, but my hope is Walker sees the ball as well. Evans continues to be an enigma; I know he's a bit snakebitten on these runs, and the play calling remains unable/unwilling to get him the ball in space on the corners, but it's more than halfway through the season and he's probably my biggest disappointment simply based on expectations.
  • I understand the calls for Tim Drevno's head even if I don't necessarily agree with them, but I'm not remotely sure how people can start calling for guys like Hamilton to be fired, what, 7 games into their tenures? I get it's a vocal minority saying it, but the sample size for "acceptable viewing" is seemingly shrinking to unsustainable bounds. I am interested to see what his offense looks like with some experienced players; I have to imagine Speight getting hurt threw a wrench into his plans for the offense as much as anyone's.
  • I don’t like James Franklin for a number of reasons that you I can dive into later, but credit to him for turning PSU around.  I fully expect Michigan to get revenge next year when he brings a younger, less experienced team to Ann Arbor, but him desperately wanting to go for a TD to end the game is one of the more genuine things I’ve seen out of him.

Next: The Founders of Football

Rutgers is next on the schedule, featuring the same conference record as Michigan (!) and riding a two-game win streak (!!), their first as a member of the conference, apparently. It's been against Illinois, the Rutgers of 2016 for 2017, and Purdue, but wins are wins. They will be frisky, they will not necessarily be pushovers, but this still feels like a game Michigan wins pretty handily. As I've mentioned before, my guess is Peters sees at least a couple of series, and there should be more rotation at RB, WR, etc. as the team gets a little breathing room on the schedule before the final push. I'm along for the ride, at the very least.



October 23rd, 2017 at 12:37 AM ^

this squad defeats Wisconsin or OSU.  

In fact, should be on upset watch against Rutgers, Minni and the Terps.

7 wins looks like ceiling this year...major, major disappointment that the coaching staff must take partial responsibility for,... just the facts folks.


October 23rd, 2017 at 1:57 AM ^

We have 5 wins already. Saying 7 is the ceiling is ridiculous. That means you're saying that we are 100% going to lose to at least one of Rutgers, Maryland or Minnesota, with no chance to go 3-0. 

Rutgers is Rutgers. They lost to Eastern Michigan. And Nebraska. They lost 56-0 to Ohio State and we beat them 78-0 last year. 

Maryland is 3-4, on their third string quarterback and all of their losses were by double digits, 3 of which were by 25+ points. 

Minnesota lost to Maryland and lost to Purdue (a team we beat by 18) by double digits. Their only P5 wins are against the worst team by far in the PAC 12 (Oregon State) and the worst team by far in the Big Ten (Illinois). 

Indiana and Florida are both significantly better than all three of these teams, and we get two of them at home and Maryland will feature a stadium that will be 50% Maryland fans, 30% UM fans and 20% empty.

Michigan is at least as likely to beat one of Wisconsin/OSU than lose to one of Rutgers/Minnesota/Maryland. 


October 23rd, 2017 at 8:16 AM ^

I think Indiana is certainly a better team than both Minnesota and Maryland. Minnesota at home and Maryland on the road agiainst their mediocre 3rd string QB should both be "comfortable" victories for Michigan. I'm not sure anybody can adequatley describe "comfortable" anymore, though... maybe more than 7 points?

Goggles Paisano

October 23rd, 2017 at 6:20 AM ^

The Wisc and OSU games will both be easier than this PSU game.  This game was the perfect storm for many reasons as Bronx listed in his write-up.  Wisc is not as good or as dynamic as Penn St and we really don't know how good they are as they haven't played anyone yet.  We get OSU at home.  Both big challenges for sure, but I think we have a better shot at winning one of those than Penn St.  


October 23rd, 2017 at 1:24 AM ^

Michigan has now been twice trounced during the Harbaugh regime. In both of those blowouts, the team was in the game at half, and then failed to keep pace in the second half. In both losses, the other team had better talent in the backfield that mitigated Michigan's always solid defense during Harbaugh's tenure.

I mean last year was a three-loss season as it was in Harbaugh's first, but other than Ohio State and last night, Michigan has competed to the last play.

The biggest play of the game not made by Michigan was Hudson's near interception in the end zone. That would have been a game changer with McSorley having thrown two mistake balls in virtual succession. It would have certainly altered momentum and taken the crowd out, and it might have made Fowler and Herbstreit somewhat tolerable. It was miserable listening to Fowler fluff Franklin the whole night and then rave about PSU backups and recruits who haven't even played, now being advanced as the future wave of greatnerss at Happy Valley.

To me, that merely iced the cake as the worst part of losing last night.

Gucci Mane

October 23rd, 2017 at 2:15 AM ^

How did you post this only an hourish after the game ended ? I wish I had your skills for all my stupid essays (including short essays I have 15 this semster). 


Great piece though ! We must beat Rutgers by 17+. If we fail to do that I will officially become worried....and if we lose I might need to be on 24/7 safety watch.

Other Andrew

October 23rd, 2017 at 8:29 AM ^

Hard to come to this site right now without people jumping up and down to express their anger at Jim Harbaugh, or jumping up and down to tell everyone else to stop jumping up and down. Thanks for your measured summary.

It's football. It's not going to be our year. If the team ends up 7-5 and goes to a crappy bowl, they will be better next year. If they end up 8-4 and go to a crappy bowl, they will be better next year. If they nab an upset and end up 9-3 and go to a decent bowl, they will be better next year. I'm at the point where we save the jumping up and down for next year, too.

Michigan Arrogance

October 23rd, 2017 at 7:15 AM ^

I really think BOB aught to get some credit too. PSU has SRs and RS SRs on this team that 4-5 years ago were convinced to come to PSU. Franklin doesn't have the hole in recruiting that Hoke somehow left M in. 


October 23rd, 2017 at 9:56 AM ^

Michigan's recruiting class rank vs. PSU's recruiting class rank:

2011- 30 vs. 31 (Hoke/Paterno)
2012- 6 vs. 47 (Hoke/O'Brien)
2013- 4 vs. 33 (Hoke/O'Brien)
2014- 20 vs. 24 (Hoke/Franklin)
2015- 37 vs 14 (Harbaugh/Franklin)
2016- 8 vs. 20 (Harbaugh/Franklin)
2017- 5 vs. 16 (Harbaugh/Franklin)
2018- 13 vs. 4 (Harbaugh/Franklin)

Franklin absolutely had to deal with a hole in recruiting (in part due to sanctions but also in part due to O'Brien's recruiting) and the results during his first two years largely supported that with back to back 7-6 seasons. You could also argue that the hole Franklin faced was larger than the hole Harbaugh is facing. Franklin is now past that hole and like it or not it will take one more year for Harbaugh to move past his.

I also think it's time for people to give Franklin credit for being a top coach. He won more at Vanderbilt than anyone has ever won at Vanderbilt and he has PSU at a level not seen since 2008. Even more impressive is that if you look at the above numbers, his recruiting has only taken off this year. The average class rank of PSU's current roster is #21, yet PSU is a top 3 team by virtually every advanced stat ranking out there.


October 23rd, 2017 at 11:41 AM ^

Franklin has done a really solid job with the talent on hand, but I remember just how putrid his offenses were before Moorhead came around that I'm still on the fence about his long-term ability to keep this team on top of a really tough division if/when he leaves.  And while he does deserve credit for Vandy to a great extent, those last couple of years he had a lot of older players, and the year he left they went from one of the oldest teams nationally to one of the youngest.  So I want to see how he handles next year, likely having a major overhaul of his offensive skill players as well as perhaps his staff, before crowning him a top-3 coach.


October 23rd, 2017 at 4:41 PM ^

Tip o' the cap to Franklin, for sure, but it helps when you happen to have a Barkley on the team.  He's Penn State's generational player.  Yes, Franklin recruited him, but there's a degree of luck to have him pan out THIS spectacularly.  Let's see if the offense can hum as well next year with just a very, very good back.


October 23rd, 2017 at 7:40 AM ^

is he's a see it thrower. He has to throw the receiver open, not wait until they're open. That's the biggest difference between Speight and JOK aside from the fact that Speight has better pocket presence and keeps his eyes downfield.

There were a couple times where JOK held the ball too long and took a sack where he shouldn't take a sack. Yes, the WRs were covered but he has to throw it open if WR has the advantage even if it appeared to be covered.


October 23rd, 2017 at 8:08 AM ^

Jake Rudock became a "throw them open" passer as his season here progressed.  Speight was that kind of passer most of last season, but a flurry of picks made him go into a shell.  Maybe that was the instructions given to him - don't throw picks, period, end of story.  He seemed more than willing to take a sack than give up a pick.  O'Korn is following the same pattern.  We need to throw some underneath, quick hitting stuff to open the longer passes.  That is where Pep needs to help out.


October 23rd, 2017 at 9:00 AM ^

He definitely has that tendency, though he also had a nice throw to Perry toward the sideline that he let go while Perry was still in his route, and that throw to Crawford is the type he needs to throw when teams creep up. He showed he could throw to get guys open against Purdue, but against good defenses (and with suspect receivers), he does seem to wait too long to pull the trigger, and sometimes compensates by trying to rifle it in there.

You Only Live Twice

October 23rd, 2017 at 9:48 AM ^

For what he did on Saturday.

His game is starting to jell, for what little my opinion is worth I think the in-game experience is making the difference and I hate to see us start over with another new QB with no chemistry developed with the receivers.

O'Korn still waited - what a second or two - too long a couple of times to where the receiver was no longer open?  Overall, though, his decision making and footwork appeared to take a leap forward.  

and I wish I knew what the answer was to this one-sided officiating nonsense.  If Gary and Hurst are impeded in their defensive performance by the refs, is this something that can be taught or overcome? 

Everyone Murders

October 23rd, 2017 at 8:04 AM ^

As usual, a nice tonic after making the mistake of checking into the board this weekend after PSU dominated us.  A few more observations:

Worst - The Unsilent Minority:  I usually don't look in on the board after bad losses on the weekends, but made that mistake yesterday.  Man, there are some shrill sumbitches in our fanbase who go all Henny Penny after a loss to the No. 2 ranked team in the country.  They're hard to tolerate, but at least they're coming from a place of id-based outrage.  Far worse are those who determine that it is their calling to write some snowflakey desideratum lecturing the fan base on topics like defending Jim Harbaugh.  The observations are simultaneously mostly valid and glaringly obvious.  Jebus, it just isn't that hard:  we all understand that Harbaugh is a great coach and will do well by Michigan (and has already), and we all understand that some of our struggles on offense are the fruit of a few years spent in the desert of RR and Hoke.  Deigning to explain it to the board for the umpteenth time is either blindingly patronizing or concern trolling.

Best - You Never Got Me Down, Ray!  You hear me?:  Penn State runs a brilliant second play (set up well by the opening play) - a direct snap to Saquon Barkley.  He streaks past McCray and the rest of the band for a touchdown that ignites an already lit crowd.  Penn State puts up another TD in short order, and it looks like it's going to be a humiliating defeat.  Michigan, however, was not conceding, and brought it to within a point (with a weird missed PAT being the difference).  And even in the second half, while Michigan was being held scoreless by an older and more talented team, they never quit.  I was awfully proud of our team Saturday night, even knowing a certain (small but douchey) proportion of our fanbase would act the fool on message boards, Twitter, etc., after a decisive loss.

Meh - White Out:  On one hand, the white-out looked pretty damned impressive Saturday night.  I've seen it before, but that crowd was electric, and it was quite a spectacle.  It was also oh-so appropriate - if anyone knows about "whiting things out" it's the Penn State fanbase.  While a few of us have been fairly relentless in underscoring the Sandusky scandal this past week, most of it has been in response to Penn State demanding its seat back at the table of legitimacy.  Well, when you have Jay Paterno on your board, 2016 tribute films to Joe Paterno, and scads of JoePalogists (TM) denying manifest and awful truths, that seat's not available to you.  So the "White Out" was a perfect symbol for Penn State.


October 23rd, 2017 at 11:00 AM ^

I like everything about your post except for your denigration of people posting what you call snowflakey desideratum type comments.  The fact is that the players read these columns, and it seems (from what has come out of press conferences) that at least some of the coaches read them.  Comments that chastise the unrealistic portion of the fanbase (your "shrill sumbitches" descriptor is pretty accurate) may make the players feel better and may make potential recruits (another part of the MGoBlog readership) feel better.  The people who make disparaging personal attacks are the ones who bug me, not the ones who call them out.  I also made the mistake of reading comments on Sunday (primarily because I was at a play with my wife and daughter on Saturday night and (mercifully as it turns out) missed the game).  Those sorts of comments make my hair start on fire.  I can only imagine what they do to the players and the potential future players.  If only those so-called "fans" would STFU, it would be better for everyone.

Everyone Murders

October 23rd, 2017 at 11:52 AM ^

I see right through this - it's pretty plain that you just wanted to type "snowflakey desideratum" too.  I get that.  It's fun!

To your real point, though, I'm unmoved.  Currently we have on the first page a: 

  • "Hail to the Victors" thread - which is a pure rah-rah thread seemingly intended to lift our spirits, which ... not wrong, but the height of snowflakery;
  • "Silver Lining" thread - dedicated to the notion that having our asses handed to us at PSU was a good thing, which ... no;
  • "In Defense of Jim Harbaugh" post - dedicated to the notion that Jim Harbaugh is a good coach, which ... like, no shit.

And before the game we had a preachy "A request for perspective and reason" thread, which reminded us in advance that the team is young and we lost a lot of players, and a few other things which I don't recall because I was pounding my head against my desk reading it.  Those are only the threads that leap to mind - there are plenty more.

Look, it's just my opinion.  But after a while "IT'S ALL GOING TO BE OK!!!!" threads start to grate.  At some point they go from being helpful reminders to preachy pablum.  We've crossed that bridge long ago.

tl;dr? Is it good to remind the fans of that stuff once in a while?  I suppose so.  Is it necessary to go on-and-on about it in multiple threads so that recruits know we're rational fans, and what great perspective the OP in those threads has?  I suppose not.

And it is all going to be OK.  We're in good hands, and the future is bright.  And to your other point, it would be swell if all the fair-weather types would refrain from personal attacks on the team, its players, and its coaches.  (And it would also be swell if legitimate criticisms of play on the field were not taken as personal attacks of the players.)


October 23rd, 2017 at 4:52 PM ^

I get your point about the no shit/homerism stuff, but I'd rather read 50 of them than a thread full of people highly, I say, highly OH-ffended that a bunch of 20 year-olds didn't live up to their expectations from the couch.  And I'd rather read a thousand reasonable analyses like Bronx.


October 23rd, 2017 at 8:13 AM ^

Only areas I'll disagree are the bits about O'korns drop-backs, and the PA on 4th & 11. I'm a little surprised so much of their offense begins with O'korn under center. I felt on numerous occassions that he was dropping back two or three steps too far, and too quickly. It made even a solid OT like Mason Cole struggle to maintain his edge protection. The play action on 4th down is just silly, and I think you're reaching a bit when defending that call. Anyhow, thanks for your dedication to this weekly diary. If we could vote on annual Mgoawards, you'd certainly be deserving.


October 23rd, 2017 at 8:13 AM ^

While McCray gets (deservedly) plenty of blame for the defensive faults, his problem is that he is incapable physically of staying with Barkley.  My goat of the game is Tyree Kinnel.  If you look at virtually every long run or short pass that turned into a long gain, Kinnel is there for a missed tackle.  This has been an issue all season.  Maybe he is just so good that he is getting close to runners he has no reason for catching up to.  More likely is that he isn't a great tackler and is just flat out missing them.  Regardless, if Kinnel brings down a few more runners the game looks a bit different.


October 23rd, 2017 at 8:18 AM ^

I think the safety inexperience is definitely starting to show. That being said, I have a ton of confidence in this entire defense for 2018. McCray has been embarrased by Dalvin Cook and Saquan Barkley. How many of those guys are on the schedule in a given year? He's fine.


October 23rd, 2017 at 9:03 AM ^

I agree too with Kinnel. Him being a leading tackler probably hides a number of missed tackles, but at the same time it's hard to expect a guy to tackle Barkley in space when he's good some momentum. It's why I don't blame McCray all that much either. This was a great game plan executed well but elite players. Kinnel will get better.


October 23rd, 2017 at 9:30 AM ^

I dont understand Hamilton defenders as much as I do not understand the fans that want pep fired. Fine line somewhere in there.

The offensive playcalling has been bad. I want Drevno fired because he has the OC title and with the title comes the blame. I am also aware that the structure of the offense may not be like a typical offensive unit.

Pep is the passing game coordinator... what does that mean? Does Drevno ask for a passing play and Pep delivers. Does Pep look at film over game week and pick and choose the best passing plays that should work? And then what is Harbaugh's role? Because he has the headset and ultimately the final decision.

If I have missed where the structure of offensive playcalling has been layed out im sorry. Without knowing the structure it is difficult to know where to place blame.


October 23rd, 2017 at 10:58 AM ^

I'm starting to get my mind around this season as a transitional 'rebuilding' year based on youth (including on defense) and coaching/scheme changes on offense. Great recruiting and faith in Harbaugh and Don Brown papered over the reality that we weren't going to be a 10+ win team in 2017. Time to take our lumps, grow up a bit and learn what we need to know for 2018 and beyond. Go Blue!


October 23rd, 2017 at 11:46 AM ^

I expected 9 wins, with a base of 8 if things broke against them like, say, injuries at QB and some bad luck (MSU).  That looks about right as we stand today.  

What I think messed up people's expectations is OSU winning a title with a really young team.  But that was a weird year all around for OSU, and (sadly) OSU never really had to suffer much attrition or down period between Tressel and Meyer.  Had they suffered through a couple years of Fickell, then I don't think they are as quickly.  But UM is basically pulling out of a near-decade-long run of mediocrity, and when you don't have a lot of depth on the offensive line, that'll bite you.  Throw in Speight's injury and this was never going to be a year where they could run with the big teams consistently.  Doesn't mean they can't play the underdog role, though.


October 23rd, 2017 at 11:05 AM ^

Thanks for your posts.  They actually offer useful information from someone who seems to be a true "fan" that truly loves Michigan, appreciates what makes Michigan great and understands how much effort the team and coaches put into securing a win as well as what sometimes interferes with their plans and efforts.

Go Blue!

Icehole Woody

October 23rd, 2017 at 1:01 PM ^

I thought O'Korn had his best game despite the loss.  Despite crappy blocking from the whole OL, not just the RT.  Despite shitty blocking from RBs and WRs.  Despite all the dropped passes. 

The defense was the worst.  They gave up too many big plays and passes for Michigan's feable offense to have a chance to win.  Why can't the safeties pass protect?    Why is a LB covering Hamilton or Barkely for that matter? 


October 23rd, 2017 at 2:07 PM ^

The issue with the defense is you only have so many players who can even hope to keep up with Barkley and then PSU throws a bunch of senior skill position players who can 100% wreck your world (Hamilton, Gesicki, Johnson) if you let them.  So at some point, you have to pick your poison, and Michigan made a bunch of bad choices.  That's what elite offenses do.  It's similar to Michigan's defense against non-PSU teams; they force you to run plays you don't want because they've shut down your preferred ones, so you get situations where a running back is trying to block Gary or a RT is trying to catch Bush coming around the corner and it doesn't go well.


October 24th, 2017 at 11:08 AM ^

I respect your posts and value your thoughts.  UofM's passing game has been disappointing, as you point out, and it seemed to me like its freshmen WRs had been pretty much invisible, for the most part, so I was going to ask you why. 

I recognized the injury to Tarik Black, but UofM was supposed to have the top-rated group of Freshmen WRs in the entire country with Black, Nico Collins, Brad Hawkins, Oliver Martin, and Dononvan People-Jones.

What made this especially disconcerting was that two of MSU's Freshmen WRs (Hunter Rison and Cody White) seemed to have been effectively incorporated into their passing attack. 

But then I did a little investigating and found that:

  • The two MSU receivers each have 11 catches for about 150 years.
  • Peoples-Jones has 11 catches for 137  yeards, Kekoa Crawford has 10 catches for 125 yards, and Tarik Black had 11 catches for 149 yards.

So, considering the above, UofM's Freshmen WRs seem to be doing OK, relatively speaking. 

And, again comparing UofM with MSU, they're not that different except that the MSU QBs have 10 TDs and 3 INTs vs. UofM's 4 TDs and 6 INTs and a better QB rating as well (126.4 vs. 113.3). 

So, I was surprised to see that UofM's Freshmen WRs and overall passing game aren't quite as bad as I had expected, at least compared to UofM.

On the other hand, you don't really want to see a comparison of UofM vs. PSU.