How bad is it?

Submitted by Ron Utah on September 25th, 2013 at 3:21 PM

Running for our lives...against UConn

2013.  The season of Manball.  The season of Devin Gardner.  The thumping of CMU.  The return of Ol' 98.  The full bucket of KFC after Notre Dame.  The...WTF just happened?

Brady Hoke appeared poised to repeat the third-year success of past Michigan coaches with more of his recruits taking the field and the full installation of his offensive philosophy of MANBALL.  An easier schedule meant 9 wins was almost a worst-case-scenario.  Ohio at home was going to be the most significant edition of "The Game" since 2006.

Is it time to throw all of that away?

Michigan is 4-0 heading into its first bye week, but never has undefeated felt so much like a funeral.  CMU went as expected, Notre Dame was pure joy; now there is an anxious certainty that armageddon is just around the corner.

You know it's bad when the gif is from The Shining

But I thought, "Maybe it's not as bad as it looks.  Maybe there is some semblance of hope in the numbers that I'm just not able to see now."  So I set out to find solace in statistics, in search of some great white buffalo to sooth my soul.  

Let's start with Akron.  We're talking about a team that has picked-up only 17 recruits ranked above two stars on rivals in the last five years.  To put that in perspective, Michigan had 17 players with FOUR stars or better in the 2013 class alone.  Saying there is a "talent gap" is like calling the Grand Canyon a pothole.

Maybe a chart will make me feel better:

Date Opponent Surface Result Rush Yards Pass Yards Plays Total Yards Yards/Play
08/29/13 @ UCF Grass L 7-38 134 116 60 250 4.17
09/07/13 James Madison Turf W 35-33 69 287 57 356 6.25
09/14/13 @ 18 Michigan Turf L 24-28 107 311 79 418 5.29
09/21/13 La.-Lafayette Turf L 30-35 134 321 70 455 6.50
  Totals     444 1035 266 1479 5.56

This is Akron's offensive output through their first four games.  UCF held Akron to 168 fewer yards and 1.12 fewer yards/play.  How bad is 5.29 yards/play?  Last season, only Alabama, Northwestern, Ohio State, and South Carolina averaged more yards/play against us.  All of those teams finished the season ranked #17 or higher.  UMass averaged 3.92 yards/play; Purdue 3.49; Illinois 2.53.  Even Nebraska only posted 5.02, while Air Force managed 4.63.  

Not since GERG has a cupcake been able to move the ball so effectively against Michigan, and even the 2008 defense had a better average yards/play than 5.29.  So yeah, that's really bad.  I'm not feeling any better yet.  Maybe another chart?

Date Opponent Surface Result Rush Yards Pass Yards Plays Total Yards Yards/Play
08/31/13 Central Mich. Turf W 59-9 242 221 68 463 6.81
09/07/13 22 Notre Dame Turf W 41-30 166 294 72 460 6.39
09/14/13 Akron Turf W 28-24 177 248 62 425 6.85
09/21/13 @ Connecticut Grass W 24-21 192 97 72 289 4.01
  Totals     777 860 274 1637 5.97

That's better.  Our offense cranked out 6.85 yards/play vs. Akron--even better than we did against CMU.  Sure, there were some negative plays and the MANBALL didn't really get going until late, but you can't argue the offense wasn't productive when it piled-up 425 yards on just 62 plays.  The real problem was the 62 plays--a number indicative of bad defense and turnovers.  If we get to 70 plays--roughly our average in the three other games--we're looking at about 480 yards of offense.

But there was something in that chart that bothered me...

HOLY $#!%!!!  We only managed 4.01 yards/play agasint UConn?  The only game we did worse than that in 2012 was Nebraska.  We put up 4.80 yards/play agasint 'Bama, 5.26 against MSU, and even managed 4.53 against ND.  Only MSU and VaTech held us under 4.01 yards/play in 2011 (3.73 and 3.54, respectively) and NO ONE kept us that low in 2010.  In 2009, Penn State held us to 3.42.  Three teams did in 2008--but those three teams had a combined seven losses.  In 2007, Penn State allowed just 3.91, while Ohio didn't let us move: we averaged just 1.49 yards/play.

What do you notice about all those teams?  They're good.  Most of them were really good.  I am not willing to go back further than 2007, but I seriously doubt Michigan has ever had such a poor offensive performance against a cupcake.  We averaged 6.22 in The Horror.

I need more chart.

Date Opponent Surface Result Rush Yards Pass Yards Plays Total Yards Yards/Play
08/29/13 Towson Grass L 18-33 81 206 55 287 5.22
09/14/13 Maryland Grass L 21-32 25 349 79 374 4.73
09/21/13 18 Michigan Grass L 21-24 47 159 57 206 3.61
  Totals     153 714 191 867 4.54

UConn managed just 3.61 yards/play against us.  That's basically what MSU and VaTech did to us in 2011, and it's far better than Towson or Maryland fared against the Huskies.  It's even better than the 3.68 yards/play we allowed to CMU.  Only Purdue and Illinois were held to lower yards/play in 2012, and only Illinois in 2011.  Miami (NTM) and Delaware State were the only teams held under that average in the RR era, and in 2007 we held Minnesota to 3.50 and Notre Dame to...1.44. bad?

In the Akron game, the defense was really, really bad.  Against an opponent whose players barely make the Rivals rankings.  In the UConn game, the offense was even worse.  While UConn's 40 three-star recruits (and one four-star!) in the last five classes make Akron jealous, they're hardly a football powerhouse.

The good news is that only one side of the ball sucked in both games (although special teams certainly haven't helped much).  That kept us from a second-coming of The Horror.  The bad news is that we are capable of playing at historically bad levels on both sides of the ball.  Elite teams don't do that.

Based on the last two weeks, it's hard to look at any of our remaining games and feel totally secure.  We're not playing anyone as bad as Akron or UConn the rest of the way.  If our offense plays like they just did, Minnesota could beat us.  If our defense plays like they did against Akron, Indiana could beat us.  I just threw-up in my mouth thinking about that.

If we can get the team to play to its potential on both sides of the ball, we could definitely still get to double-digits in the win column.  That's a big "if".  For now, I'm revising my 10-2 prediction to 8-4.   We could easily lose four-out-of-five in November, or Penn State could trip us in October.

It's frustrating that I am this nervous/anxious for the Minnesota game as a measuring stick.



September 26th, 2013 at 5:14 AM ^

I, for one, would rather hemhorrage points off of turnovers and have drives fail due to TOs and penalties than see a stagnant offense or an overpowered defense.  Take away penalties and TOs and we win both of the last two games comfortably.  This football team has potential that it has not lived up to, which is better than the alternative.

The Reeve

September 26th, 2013 at 8:43 AM ^

New here, so be gentle.

Why is the past prologue? Ohio State limps by Purdue last year - in a pathetic performance - and rounds nicely into shape by season's end. MSU limps past cupcakes early this year and plays good football the next two games. Hoke and Borges have had success in the past, and I am sure they've had rough stretches. Hoke absolutely destroyed weak Big 10 competition in his first two years -  a real focus on Big 10 games - and I don't think what we see against Minn, PSU and Indiana will remotely resemble the last two weeks. Call me optimistic, but what worked in weeks 1 and 2 is not gone forever.


September 26th, 2013 at 7:55 PM ^

This is an excellent point, Reeve, and well-stated.  Somebody (wish I could remember who) dug up a number of scores on close games with weak opponents when Bo was coach in the 70s.  He wasn't all bad...yet there were times when we were holding our breaths thinking "INDIANA is gonna beat us??" or somesuch.  As to your point about improvement, please reference my beloved 1980 Michigan squad which I STILL think would've beat any damn team in a playoff at the end of the year.

So, for now, we need to just take it easy and say "4 and 0" and see what comes.  And welcome!


September 25th, 2013 at 4:22 PM ^

If our defense/offense plays at historic lows, we are certainly capabale of losing the rest of the games this year.  Then again, if our offense looks as good as it did against Notre Dame we could win every game.

I'm quite confused about Michigan this year.


September 25th, 2013 at 4:21 PM ^

I dunno, 8-4 means losing half the remaining games. I'm just not there yet, not with who we have left on the schedule. I mean, if we play the way we did against Akron every remaining game it's possible, but I think if you take the average of all our performances 8-4 would be a very pessimistic view.

There's reason to hope we get better than that too. People tend to forget neither of the last years started off with a bang either. We had our butts kicked most of UTL 1 and had really no business winning that game. We got smoked by AL and then lost in South Bend in a turnover fest that was worse than either the last two weeks. We struggled with Air Force. The big difference is we came in this year with big expectations, carried them through UTL II, then had a massive two letdowns. 

Devin will probably be good for a stupid TO every game, but the last two games were probably outliers, as is his current mental state. Heck, the two INTs against UConn weren't really even bad decisions, just inaccurate passes plus a hefty dose of bad luck that tends to regress to the mean. Barring injury, he'll be good for a long run or two and a rushing TD too.

The defense played lights out in all but 1 game. Encouraging, considering the positions the offense has been putting them in.

The O Line seems to be the only real spot where I fear a persistent issue. It's a big one obviously, but ND shows that with good execution and game planning, and Devin being good Devin, we can paper over the deficiencies to an extent.



September 25th, 2013 at 6:40 PM ^

with all this. Michigan won't lose 4 games this season. No way in hell. People honestly see us losing to Nebraska at home? Really? Hah. I understand the cynicism regarding NW and Ohio, certainly, but not Nebraska, who have no D, Staee who have no O or PSU who don't have much of anything. 10-2 is the floor for this team.


September 25th, 2013 at 4:21 PM ^

that commits as many turnovers as Michigan has in the last two weeks, ruins good field position with timely penalties and still manages to win. Michigan has given their opponent touchdowns each of the last three weeks. Notre Dame, Akron and UConn all scored on Michigan's offense. That can't happen if you want to win the conference. That trend must end.

It's one thing to defend the other team after it moves into your territory and defeats your plan of attack, it's another to hand those teams 18 points and give them an advantage in both turnover margin and field position and then worry that you aren't dominant. 

This team isn't crushing the opposition because it's making too many mistakes with the ball, period. I don't care what your charts and historical records claim. You just don't win when you give up the ball like Michigan has, and it's last in the conference in turnover margin. 

The sky is falling because of this. Michigan isn't bad on offense or defense collectively based on its peer rankings in the conference. It's bad by comparison because giving up the ball makes you likely to lose or work that much harder to both get and stay ahead. And this wroks on your pysche after awhile. 

At one point early in the first quarter last  Saturday, Ohio had scored three touchdowns against Florida A&M on less than 40 yards of total offense including an apparent drive-killing endzone interception.  Is that dominant play or something else? May be its both. But do you see my point. The numbers don't mean crap if you execute. 

I look at Akron and see a team that had the ball four times inside the Michigan five and barely managed to score one TD. It took them like 10 or 11 plays to get one score. When Michigan needed TDs against both Akron and UConn, they got them pretty quickly.

What does that tell you? It tells me this: Michigan is a young team trying to find itself with guys who are in their first years of leadership and haven't gotten it figured out yet. The coaches haven't and the players haven't. But we know they are capable. 

And this is a process. Every week is a test. When they stop spotting their opponents' points and field position with dumb-ass mistakes, may be they'll start playing better. We can only hope. But up to now, the reasons behind their alleged misery are pretty self evident, and you don't need charts to see what ails them. 



oriental andrew

September 25th, 2013 at 5:12 PM ^

and I'm sure that's the refrain going through Hoke's and Borges' and Gardner's heads the next 2 weeks leading up to Minnesota.  Because, frankly, DG has been primarily responsible for practically all the turnovers the last 3 weeks, between his fumbles and picks.  More than anything, he needs to be able to bounce back mentally.  

Sac Fly

September 25th, 2013 at 4:53 PM ^

Ricky Stanzi and an Iowa roster loaded with NFL talent would play 3 quarters of garbage almost every game; they would receive a small miracle or an impossible turnover just to beat teams like UNI and Indiana. Their luck never ran out, they continued to come from behind against inferior competition and they won the Orange Bowl.

Ron Utah

September 25th, 2013 at 5:23 PM ^

The turnovers are certainly a huge part of the problem, but I'm afraid there's more to it.

Akron was able to move the ball against us very effectively.  It's true that we stiffened in the red zone, but it's pretty concerning that we let Akron move the ball against us.  Every offense we face will be better than they were, and a few are really good (Northwestern, Nebraska, Ohio, even Indiana is pretty good).

Against UConn, we couldn't move the ball in the first half.  That wasn't a problem against Akron.  Towson and Marylad both moved the ball against UConn the whole game.  That concerns me.

Yes, the turnovers are a big problem.  But watching our team play, I see many, many other problems that need fixing for us to be a championship team.

If we play like we can against Minnesota, I will happily revise my outlook.  But the past two weeks revealed many deficiencies beyond DG's dumb plays.


September 25th, 2013 at 6:30 PM ^

I think the reason we struggled so much to move the ball against UConn was that Gardner became tentative and fearful after the first INT.  So while I agree that there was more to the offense's struggles than just the turnovers, I think the turnovers had a larger effect than just killing a couple drives.  I actually find this a bit comforting because I am confident that Gardner will respond better to mistakes in the future.

I do think though that the defense is the greater overall concern.  Akron indeed marched up and down the field on us--including late in the second half when the game was truly on the line.  The reason they did that was because of terrible defensive line play and poor defense on short and intermediate routes.  We looked much better in both respects against UConn--the line got consistent pressure, and Morgan made the critical interception.  But just because our defense can play that well against UConn doesn't necessarily mean they can play that well against a team like Northwestern, Nebraska, or Ohio State.

Nice work on the OP, by the way.

Ron Utah

September 26th, 2013 at 1:00 AM ^

I agree with most everything here.  When DG is on target, our offense will be hard to stop.  But he's shown some pretty wild inconsistency so far this year.  I hope you're right and that he'll be better moving forward.  We still have to find a way to block in the run game, though.

I agree with everything you said about the defense.  The line looked good against a bad UConn O-Line, but we'll need better to handle some of the offenses we have to face in November.

Ron Utah

September 26th, 2013 at 5:54 PM ^

I'm not sure if you're putting me in that category.  I think our team has exposed some major flaws so far, and should be the dog against NW, MSU, and Ohio.  We'd only have to lose one other game to end-up 8-4.  I hope I change my mind after the Minny game, but I'm sure we don't look like a conference champ at this point.

As for the youtube, I would submit that coaching SDSU against Navy is not that relevant to Michigan vs. Ohio.  I believe in our staff, but I don't think we're out-coaching our opponents on any sort of consistent basis.  Certainly not in the last two games.

The Reeve

September 26th, 2013 at 6:37 PM ^

The "ledge" comment wasn't aimed at your post. You may be looking out the window, but you haven't opened it.

I think it is entirely relevant to see a staff that gave a dumpster fire team a very efficient offense, hung with powerhouse teams like TCU and had the kind of identity we are longing for.

And I don't think Michigan wants to play Navy right now.


September 25th, 2013 at 4:50 PM ^

This team is 4-0, but not ranked very high.  At this time in the season, that is perfect.  Let other teams wither under hype and expectations while Michigan plods along and tries to "improve every week."  

Sounds like a plan to me.


September 25th, 2013 at 5:44 PM ^

This is a team that may be losing confidence. If it does, we could see disintegration once the B1G season starts.

I see us having a chance against Indiana and Minnesota. So unless things turn around in the next couple of weeks, 6-6 at best.

The potential is there to beat everyone we play, but if the talent isn't developed, it's all a gigantic mess.


September 25th, 2013 at 6:00 PM ^

They've scored half that amount the last two games. Which problem stands out more, dead last in conference turnover margin, or any other issue you wish to claim is greater? 

Michigan played on the road for the first time last week and still has problems with its interior Oline, deciding what works best and what doesn't. These aren't insurmountable problems, these are problems of self-discovery. 

Should Michigan be better at this point? Yes. We all agree they have under-performed, and you can argue where the least amount of progress has occurred, and therefore the greatest problem lies. But the fact is, they are young, they have fresh leadership finding its way, and they are inconsistent which is what young teams are. That is why they have the preseason  scheduled the way it is. 

If you believe all the hype about this team, that every star-raring means Michigan is vastly superior to other teams it plays just because of its roster and the jersey it wears, you are missing the point of competition. Quit pretending that this team is better than it is. It is what it is until it proves otherwise. 

Gardner is scary good, or just plain scary. He is a dual threat quarterback with a dual personality this season, making him Michigan's greatest threat and biggest liability. There is no sugar-coacting it, he is what he is. He must learn to play within himself and the confines of the play. Trying to extend every play only gets you in trouble over time. He hasn't started a single game in which he hasn't committed at least one turnover. 

He is what he is until he isn't: a turnover machine. 


September 25th, 2013 at 6:15 PM ^

Until we see a repeat of the Illinois game from 2009, I'll stay out of panic mode.  THat was the sign of a team that had no belief in itself.  So far it looks like the team is fighting and pushing through some mental lapses, if we get to a full-on ridiculous meltdown like in that game, the I will worry.


One Inch Woody…

September 25th, 2013 at 7:44 PM ^

Rampant denial going on in this thread. Part of the reason why our defense looked serviceable against UConn was the fact that Uconn allowed FIVE sacks to Maryland. Uconn's offensive line is terrible!

Minnesota is the 2nd best team we'll have played all season and unless everything gets fixed in one week, which is highly unlikely, we're looking at a big fat L in this game also.

I just don't see how our offensive line will be able to handle Minnesota's pass rush with Hageman and Minnesota's offensive line is big, disciplined, and experienced. Better than Akron's offensive line, too. 

With Minnesota as a loss, we can probably expect to lose to Penn State, Michigan State, Northwestern, Nebraska, and Ohio State. I have a feeling that a 6-6 season is the most likely outcome, with the only possible win against Penn State, and in a best case scenario, against Minnesota too.

Inertia Policeman

September 26th, 2013 at 10:12 AM ^

Have you watched Minnesota, Michigan State, Penn State, and Nebraska play? They all have significant flaws at least equal to if not greater than our own. Northwestern and Ohio will be tough. I think 6-6 is a pretty ridiculous prediction. If you don't think we can win 3 more games the entire remainder of the year, I'd like to make a few wagers with you.


September 25th, 2013 at 8:15 PM ^

We'll be all right. Our conference sucks so we'll be playing teams better than Akron and UCONN, but no one elite. At most, we'll play a team about even in talent. The only game that should be a worry is the last scheduled one.


September 25th, 2013 at 8:30 PM ^

about this staff's pure coaching prowess in the next few weeks. Can they get this group to execute at or above its potential? Will confidence & discipline reflect CMU/ND or Akr/UC? Can game prep and play calling mitigate OL and DB talent gaps?
I expect them to rise to the occasion and win 6 of 8.


September 25th, 2013 at 8:44 PM ^

The way the team played in the second half of the UConn game is very encouraging to me.  After UConn went up 21-7, it could have collapsed.  Instead, it came back strong.  Throughout the second half, the defense was dominant and the offense at least good.  I agree with the posters who saw more than just a turnover when that first interception happened against UConn.  Whereas Gardner had been sharp to that point, from that point on his passes were rarely near his target until much later in the game.  But, he ultimately shook it off and so did the rest of the offense.  As I already said, from that point on, the defense was totally dominant.  We'll work hard this week and next week and be fine.


September 25th, 2013 at 9:32 PM ^

But honestly, the season is still young and the team is 4-0.  I know we like to freak out because the team has played poorly the past couple of weeks, but give me two close wins over two tough losses any day.


September 25th, 2013 at 11:34 PM ^

I'm not that concerrned about the defense.  There are areas to be concerned about but in Mattison's first 2 years, the defense has gotten better as the season went along.  I'd like to think that will be the trend again this year.  The other factor is the return of Jake Ryan.  Even if he isn't the absolute beast this year like he was last year, if he's 75% of the beast he was, that will be a big boost for the defense.  The offense is a little more interesting.  While there are areas of concern, the trend in the first 4 games was that when Gardner has a good game the offense is pretty good.  When Gardner is off and has a bad game, the offense struggles.  Unless the oline gets a lot better they aren't going to have the luxury of just pounding the ball on the ground and being successful if Garnder isn't playing well. I don't think Garnder needs to be ND good in every game, but he definitely can't be turning the ball over 3-4 times a game.                                                                        


September 26th, 2013 at 3:16 AM ^

Great post.  One question - when you looked at Akron's talent level did you go back and check the star ratings of the 22 transfers on their roster?   I would guess that most of them were at least 3 star recruits as they came from good to decent D1 programs, so "only 17 recruits above 3 stars in the last five years" may not be accurate.  

That said we still have a huge talent advantage... but not so much in upper classmen.

FWIW I am optimistic that we turn things around and finish 11 - 1.


September 26th, 2013 at 7:23 AM ^

Unfortunately, the inconsistency we're seeing on the field right now is pretty reminiscent of the 2009 / 2010 teams that had a lot of underclassmen playing on it, just like this one.  Underclassmen are inconsistent, which is why redshirts exist and why starting line-ups of elite teams do not typically consist of sophmores and RS freshmen.

When the team is clicking, they're going to be very tough to beat.  When they're not, it's going to be brutal.  Probably unreasonable to expect them to come out clicking for the next 8 games, and the losses could come from anyone.

The 2 keys I see to Michigan having a great season.  The first, of course is Gardner getting more consistent with his play.  When he's on, he's easily one of the best players in college football today and he can cover up a lot of our other flaws on offense.  Unfortunately, I think the past few weeks have given us a glimpse into why, despite probably being a better fit skill-wise for a Borges offense, Devin wasn't able to push Denard out of the starters role the past 2 seasons. 

The second is Jake Ryan's return giving the defense a shot in the arm that's been missing the first 4 games.  If Ryan can come back and be JMFR, the defense should be fine.

Der Alte

September 26th, 2013 at 9:18 AM ^

  If we can get the team to play to its potential on both sides of the ball, we could definitely still get to double-digits in the win column. That's a big "if". "" "If we can get the team to play to its potential on both sides of the ball, we could definitely still get to double-digits in the win column. That's a big 'if'."

That observation's undoubtedly true, but note a couple things that *should* help the team  play to its potential.

The defense is well on its way to playing to its potential. The player participation list for UConn shows the number of players rotating into the game on defense has significantly reduced from previous games. Greg seems pretty well set on a D-line of Clark/Ojemudia, Washington/Pipkins, Black/Henry, and Heitzman, with both Wormley and Godin behind him. Beyer played the whole UConn game at SLB, but when Ryan returns that will change. As Brian pointed out, what's happened to C. Gordon is anyone's guess. Morgan played the whole game, with Ross and Bolden rotating in the WLB spot. Countess and Taylor rotated when Countess went to Nickel, while Avery played the entire game at the other corner. T. Gordon and Wilson played the whole game at the safety positions.

The point here is that these players seem to have emerged as the best available. With continued game experience and coaching they will only improve. Barring any injuries, the defense should hold up well for the remainder of the season. Remember, for example, that UConn was only 1 for 11 on third down conversions and only rushed for a net 47 yards.

As far as the offense is concerned, playing to its potential in large part just means holding onto the damn ball. Nine INTs (Devin has had eight and Morris has had one) and eight fumbles (3 lost) in four games is an obvious recipe for disaster. Anyone --- be it Akron, UConn, or maybe even Delaware State --- has a chance to win if the ball's turned over at that rate. Eliminating the turnovers alone will help the offense play to its potential. Personally I don't look for much in the way of change on the offensive line. If Jake Butt can actually block he could see more PT. And Green should carry the ball a few more times. Fitz has had about 20 carries per game, which should be about his max, and Green needs more PT. M will need both backs, especially when they travel to East Lansing and confront Narduzzi's blitzing, run-stuffing LBs.

So the team has some distance to go, but a solidified defense and a ball-secure offense should put them on the road to maximizing their potential. Go Blue.