I learned some things yesterday... Michigan St (and Indy)

Submitted by Lordfoul on October 10th, 2010 at 11:00 AM

There will be no belittling of the Spartans in this post.  No silly twists of their name or bringing up academics.  Yesterday Michigan St handed us a beating that they should be proud of.  It wasn't handed to them by the refs or by luck.  They were simply well coached and their game plan was well executed.  The Spartans didn't make mistakes and were solid in all phases of the game, and that is why they won.

Michigan was, in most part, what we have been seeing so far this season.  That wasn't their worst performance so far (I would still give the UMass game the edge there), and it was far from the best they can play, but nothing really stood out to me as unexpected. Well, perhaps the lack of running room for Denard Robinson could be described as surprising.  State had a great game plan for stopping (or slowing at least) our offense, and more importantly they had the personnel to execute it.

This is scary if you, as a fan, had pinned your hopes on what the numbers have been telling us.  The problem with much of the statistical analysis you see is that it shows everything in a linear fashion.  X team's offense meets Y team's defense at this point on the chart and there you have your expected outcome.  College football has too many teams with to large a range of player talent for anything linear to come out of it. Extrapolating the results of this season based on our first 5 opponents is asking for disappointment.

Michigan St's defense is an order of magnitude better than any Michigan has faced this year.  They have DBs that can run with our receivers and a front seven that can stand up to our OLine.  Their coaches also made great decisions for stopping slowing Denard Robinson by keeping the ball out of his hands past the line of scrimmage.  Michigan ran quite a bit of read option yesterday, and I don't recall a single read leading to Denard Robinson keeping the ball.  That is good execution of a solid game plan: Make the other Michigan backs hurt you.  Shaw, Smith, and Co. didn't do horribly at all, but the lack of Denard Robinson in space was obvious.  When Michigan ran the lead QB draw Michigan St showed that they had practiced well for defending it.

The rest of the game was pretty much what we have seen so far, but that doesn't mean I didn't learn anything from it (especially coupled with the Indiana game):

  1. Denard Robinson is not an Ice-in-his-veins gunslinger.  His throws have great zip and are largely accurate, especially so when the throw is shortish or his target is stationary.  Against Indiana (and the rest of the schedule so far) his receivers have been so open that a slightly inaccurate ball wasn't noticeable.  Against Michigan St the receivers were covered much better, and the picks in the end zone were the result.  Both balls were thrown to where the receiver was, not leading the receiver to where only he would have a chance at the ball.  With lesser coverage both are touchdowns.  We must remember that Denard Robinson is still a true soph and this game another set of lessons to learn from for him.
  2. Obi Ezeh is the biggest reason Michigan's defense sucks balls.  Watching him jump out of the hole on Michigan St's second long running TD felt like Deja Vu after all of the UFR videos of the last two years.  This is not going to change, not that anyone reading here expects it to.  Ezeh can make thumping tackles, but is rarely lined up squarely to do so.
  3. Kovacs is the opposite of Ezeh for this defense, never the reason they suck balls. When Kovacs took down the State tight end in space to sew up a 3-and-out in the 4th Qtr, all I could think was "He could have made that play from MLB."  I would love to see him get a shot at playing in the middle.  The dude is second on the team in tackles for a reason, he makes the right decisions and that keeps him in the play.
  4. Talbot (CB) seems to be a positive addition to the defense when he sees the field. Cullen Christian does not, at least at CB.  The touchdown on which CC was burned crispy displayed his lack of CB rated hips and recovery speed.  I would think that CC has a move to safety (or OLB?) in his future [edit: As many have pointed out in the comments, this is probably premature.  With the other freshmen looking decent though, and CC not getting much PT, I still see this move happening eventually.]
  5. No amount of tweeking this defense is going to make it good, or even average. More time and experience will bring up the level of play for the younger players, and in that the defense will improve.  Several of the younger players are actually showing quite a bit of promise.  The Gordons, Jabreel Black, and Talbot and Avery at CB have all shown signs that they will be solid contributors with more experience.  With some good recruiting to give depth, I think Michigan's defense will rise from the ashes in 2011 and 2012.  Mike Martin (plz be OK) coming back next year would help immensely of course.

Looking Ahead:

Iowa is going to be tough, and probably another loss.  Their defense is top 5 with the personnel to mimic the game plan Michigan St was very effective with.  Their offense is also pretty good, coming in 33rd in total with fairly even passing and running ratings. Michigan can win this game in the same way it could have beaten State, with an offensive performance bordering on perfection.  Think yesterday with two TDs in place of end zone Ints and Roundtree hauling in that TD as well, then add another TD drive as well and I think Michigan beats Iowa.  This is not very likely.

The rest of the season I am still optimistic about.  Penn St shouldn't be able to torch us with their issues on offense, and I think we can score on anyone.  Illinois looks to be improving, but I can see our offense winning that one ala the Indiana game. Purdue is simply a must win, and assuming Michigan does not suffer a rash of injuries, I could see our young defensive players improving enough to make the Wisky game a toss-up late in the season.  OSU is always a throw stats out the window type game where emotion can win the day.

I realistically see this team winning 7-8 games, with a possibly 9th win in a hypothetical bowl match-up.  Despite how I view the rest of the season's games individually, none of the wins is assured, and I wouldn't give any but Purdue more than a 75% chance of winning.  Winning the first 5 games will probably end up saving RR's job (and thank god for that), but we should all look at our pre-season expectations and realize that this team is right about where we thought, obviously better than last year but still climbing the mountain.

Of course Denard Robinson can change this outcome by himself.  If he can learn quickly from his mistakes in this game, and RR and Co. and come up with some killer counters for him in the run game, Denard Robinson can lead this team to a New Year's Day bowl. The man is special and a true "X-Factor" the likes of which we seldom get to see.  So enjoy the ride my fellow Wolverines.



October 10th, 2010 at 11:12 AM ^

I wasn't actually overly impressed with MSU on defense.  They were definitely the best D we have seen, but M was able to move the ball pretty easily and even our RBs were able to get good yardage.  I really felt that our problems yesterday were all execution issues: two red zone INTs and an overthrow that led to 3 instead of 7.  If we come away with 10 points instead of those picks and the seven instead of three, this is a completely different game.

This game actually seemed like the Indiana game, just with some poorer execution on the M side (and a different type of O for the opponent).  The defense played about as well as I expected and MSU played pretty much right to what all the numbers said they would.  Too many big plays given up and M just blew too many possessions in the red zone.

MSU is definitely the best defense we have faced, and I think they are clearly the second best team in the B10.  Given that, I think we did a great job and I am actually encouraged going forward.  I am on board thinking 8-4 is the worst we could do.



October 10th, 2010 at 1:47 PM ^

I see Denard making progress in terms of him in the red zone. I think he has shown her learns quickly enough that we see more instances of fg's vs. int's by him, if he can't get the ball into the end zone going forward. I was very concerned about sparty. This loss didn't surprise me, not did the lack of perfect execution.
This year we lose 1ol and 1te? Next year we lose? Acouple wr and a couple rb,a te and another ol? We're still very young and inexperienced. Just think of denard as a senior with better decision making. I would see another 21 p points easily.

Mr. Robot

October 10th, 2010 at 8:27 PM ^

I was thinking pretty much the same thing. After I got over the initial pain of what I had just seen and thought about it, I couldn't help but think "They went exactly like it was suppose to except we had 3 INTs and a should-have-been-touchdown field goal". I'm not saying we should have won if those didn't happen, but we would certainly have been in the game. I believe MSU cashed in all 3 turnovers directly, so those turnovers were huge.

I expect the Iowa game to go the same way fundamentally, but I think we stand a better chance against them. They don't have the running game MSU does, and really, I don't think Stanzi is as good as Cousins, either. Their defense is better, but I think if we execute correctly that won't matter. Part of the point of our offense is that its hard to stop, and both games we've been held under 30 this year we stopped ourselves way more than our opponent's defense did (Turnovers and drops with MSU, penalties against ND).

Also deifnitely think we'll reach 8-4. Purdue is a trainwreck this year and PSU has the perfect O for our D, and not the kind of D to be stopping our O. After that we only need one of Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin to get to 8-4. We reach OSU 8-3 and I'll be content, but I'll be heading down to Columbus hoping for happiness. Never forget the chance for Tresselball or Pryor flopping to give us the game.

Go Blue from OH

October 10th, 2010 at 11:20 AM ^

As sobering as this loss is I keep reminding myself that I would have given anything for an 8-4 season at the beginning of the year. Patience is a virtue...tough to achieve with Dilithium at the helm though.


October 10th, 2010 at 11:21 AM ^

(IMO), the defense is not going to get better over the 2nd half of the season.  GERG did show some signs of intelligence by bringing 4-5 players instead of the usual 3.  However, the abysmal tackling requires fundamentals that can't be taught overnight.  Ezeh will not suddenly be able to read holes and I assume there's no decent replacement for him.

On offense, we can get better.

  • Shaw and Fitz are banged up.  If they are healthy, teams will have to respect the RB-handoff on the zone read.
  • Denard only has 6 games of starting experience.  As with all QBs, he'll rapidly improve with more reps.  Those balls that were 6" behind the WR will turn into 6" in front of the WR.
  • Based on this season's UFRs, this was not a typical day for our WRs.  I think they had a total of 2-3 flat-out drops on the season before yesterday and equaled that number against MSU.

So, I think we should expect more shoot-outs...except unlike yesterday, we'll actually score consistently.


October 10th, 2010 at 5:22 PM ^

There were at least 4 flat out drops. There was the Roundtree one in the first half that would have been a TD. Then in the second half there was a drive where Roundtree, Stonum, and Hemingway all dropped passes, only to have Grady make a big catch for first down.


October 10th, 2010 at 11:22 AM ^

Purdue showing once again yesterday that anything is possible in the Big Ten.  I love this team and their effort.  Better execution in finishing plays and we'll be fine. 

The offense can do way better than yesterday, MSU's overall soundness aside.


The Impaler

October 10th, 2010 at 11:24 AM ^

Cullen Christian was burned on a double move by a senior receiver in man coverage (w/o safety help) in his first targeted pass of his career.  I don't think the jury is out on him quite yet.


October 10th, 2010 at 11:38 AM ^

I thought Brian singled CC out at some point earlier in the season, though I could be wrong. 

It is true that he could still stick at CB, and that I am too hasty with judgement on that play. But since Talbot and Avery seem to be getting more playing time, I have to believe that they are ahead of CC at this point.  He (hopefully at least) is too much talent to leave in reserve, so perhaps he can contribute more quickly elsewhere.


October 10th, 2010 at 12:39 PM ^

That double move is a difficult route for veteran CBs to stick with let alone a kid as green as CC.  Plus that guy the route is a speedster and I don't know of many CBs that could close on him when he is sprinting.  A bit premature of a post IMO but I agree that CC didn't help him self out at all.


October 11th, 2010 at 9:19 AM ^

more on the coaches and Cam at safety.  Coaches cannot leave a Fr CB out on an island like that in a critical game/play.  Hell, the way the formation was set up (strong right) I was yelling at the TV as they were getting ready to snap the ball to watch out for the 1x1 with MSU Wr vs. Fr CB (weak left), and sure enough 10 seconds later, TD MSU.  Didn't the coaches hear me?  lol...

The coaches should have had safety help over the top on that play.  Cam needs to move his head around scanning the field as plays are developing, instead of fixating his eyes on the QB the whole time.  You have to "see the whole field" playing deep safety and you "cannot let any receiver get deeper then you" on a pass play.  These are the things safeties are taught in HS and unfortunately these are the "instincts" and mentality we do not have at this point with a 1st year converted WR ---> Safety.  These are easily coachable issues that can be addressed and fixed going forward.  If Cam continues to make these same fundamental mistakes going forward, that is entirely a coaching issue, imho.


October 10th, 2010 at 1:49 PM ^

Rewatch that play; I don't think it was "stiff hips" or really a lack of top-end speed that killed him on the play. He bit on the first move (short corner route) by stopping and taking a step or two in the wrong direction. That's enough for any corner to get burnt. He'll learn, he's young.


October 10th, 2010 at 11:44 AM ^

I wouldn't bury CC yet - it was a good move by a good WR, but that happens.  Young guys can learn.

As for the MSU defense, I really didn't see them do anything that UM wasn't prepared for, only that UM failed to take advantage of the obvious MSU mistakes.  There were 4-5 plays early on that were mere shoestring tackles away from big games, and while part of the credit should go to MSU, some of those were just mistakes by UM.  MSU was selling out on the run, and if a couple of those passes had been caught they would have gone for huge gains.  For all of the mistakes, the team was still in the game into the 4th quarter.  MSU's defense definitely deserves some credit, but UM's offense did itself no favors either.

I agree with Kovacs moving to LB.  Sure he's small, but he seemingly can tackle on running plays, and I rather have a big RB drag him a couple of yards than just run by Obi for another TD.  Sure, it would be great for David Harris to rejoin the team this year, but barring that flaunting of the NCAA rules, I rather have playmakers at MLB than a guy who clearly just cannot be better.  Nothing against Obi, but there was a reason he was rated as a RB and not a LB.

Webber's Pimp

October 10th, 2010 at 11:45 AM ^

On the Cullen play he was actually at least 10 yards off the line of scrimmage. As someone has already noted he had no Safety help either. Imho, this type of setup prior to the snap is asking for trouble. This has been a consistent approach with our DB's this year. 

Question: Can we not bump the receiver at the line of scrimmage? Why give the receiver a running start and a 10 yard cushion? 


October 10th, 2010 at 11:47 AM ^

I'm very disappointed because we were moving the ball and in big games you simply cannot lose the turnover battle by 3.  I still feel like we moved the ball well, but Denard showed some inexperience by forcing some balls and didn't look completely confident yet.  That one he threw up in the 4th quarter that was just a prayer was really bad.  You cannot be that irresponsible with the football, even though that one didn't turn out to get intercepted.

I think defenses will continue to make Denard beat them with the pass and never give him the option to run on the read option.  He has the talent to do it, but just has to play better period.  We could have made this a good game.  With 10 minutes to go we had the ball.  That was a huge INT there.  

So Sparty beat us and that's all you can say.  I'm sick thinking about that, but it is what it is.  I'm already looking forward to Iowa to see how we bounce back.  That will say a lot.  We left a lot of points out there agian, so I'm hopeful we can get to 9 wins which I Never thought before the season.  I expected 6 and hoped for 7...so keep you heads up boys and let's get through this week and see what happens.  Go Blue.


October 10th, 2010 at 11:58 AM ^

Yesterday's game was not close, although getting those 3 INTs back would have helped, of course. Frankly, MSU stopped scoring after their last FG, though they clearly could have scored more.

I think RR's decision to punt, which he said in the presser was a mistake, was - I believe - the single biggest factor's in Dantonio's decision not to run up the score. He probably believed (as most of us did) that RR was throwing in the towel. Dantonio must understand that, some day, Michigan will be more competitive, and will be in a position to do the same to him. It's the first time I've ever seen him thinking beyond just this game.


October 10th, 2010 at 1:53 PM ^

given that our defense allowed MSU to run out the clock, it would have taken three scoring drives and two onsides kick recoveries to comeback from that point.  Our comeback in 2004 from a similar time/deficit included only one lucky onsides kick recovery.  The other was a defensive stop.


October 10th, 2010 at 1:59 PM ^

So if M would have scored on those plays to make it an even or very close game we wouldn't have been able to score with them in the end?  If we hit those big passing plays doesn't that force MSU to back of their db's and make more room for the running game?  We moved the ball the problem was the turnovers and if we don't make them we win.


October 10th, 2010 at 3:56 PM ^

but I would have loved to see us score on those 2 early mistakes - the interception in the end zone and the overthrow in the end zone - not just for the points, but to change the complexion of the game.

It would have put a lot of pressure on the MSU O and perhaps forced them to get out of their run-heavy game plan.  It would have also put a lot of pressure on the MSU D to not run blitz Denard on every play.  After he started missing throws, they got confidence that they could take the risk and force Denard to beat them throwing or handing off to the other backs.  It turns out that that was the correct risk to take, but it would not have been so obvious down 14 points early in the game.

The story of the game is that both teams felt they had to take some risks.  MSU's risks paid off, while we got burned by ours.


October 10th, 2010 at 11:54 AM ^

I like your points, but I disagree with you about this not being their worst performance. I think this is by far the worst performance that the offense has had so far. Not only with Denard making poor throws and bad decisions in the run game, but with receivers dropping passes and missing blocks. This was a very frustrating game to watch because you could see that they had so many opportunities to score and dominate, but just couldnt take advantage of them. The good thing is that these are all correctible mistakes and this will be a great learning experience for this week against Iowa.


October 10th, 2010 at 3:43 PM ^

Defense, not having the easy success we were used to, and overreaching in frustration to try to make up for it.  Add to that the pressure on the O in knowing that they have to score because of our D, and you have the results you saw yesterday.

There are 3.5 more teams on our schedule that this scenario will play out again - iowa, Wisconsin, OSU, Penn State (PSU is the .5, their O may not be able to fully capitalize on our D).

Our problems are not going away soon.  It is clear that our O is not omnipotent.  We can't just count on outscoring our opponents while they run wild on our D. 

Our success will have to come incrementally - some patience on O when the game is not just falling in their laps, some small improvements on assignments on D, playing for some old-school field goals and field position from time-to-time.

We're not going to compete for the B10 championship this year.  We're just not.  Yes, the level of our excitement was premature.  Just like last year. (*Gasp!*  I've gone and said it.)  But we can still get to 8 maybe 9 wins and a decent, possibly even New Year's Day, Bowl game. 

This was on the high side of our reasonable goals at the beginning of the year and we can still attain them, as a way-station toward a competitive champion-level team.  Add in a visit by our QB to New York in December for the Heisman ceremony (not necessarily as the winner) and some good new recruits now that it looks like RR may actually stick around, and we are making progress, incrementally. 




October 10th, 2010 at 11:56 AM ^

many of the teams we face can be winable games.  I really believe the Def. can improve overall but not as it is presently constituted.  We will need to be minus one particular indiviual who shall remain nameless.  Anyway Offensive Coordinators are licking their chops and texting their OG to be ready when we play Michigans LB. I do disagree that a certain LB " can make thumping tackles" He can't make thumping tackles with his back to the play or when he runs four yards from the play.

Kovacks continues to amaze physically overmatched he's a coaches dream dissects the play and shows up but again physically overmatched. 

Overall the Def. showed some improvment, but were not aggressive enough.  But as I stated in another thread.  This def. still lacks a certain aggression too tentative too soft as a unit.  There are players that will hit you, Mouton, Cam Gordon. Martin.  Then there are those that catch you when they tackle if they tackle.  By comparison I do watch a lot of SEC Football college in general.  Those guys play fast with real aggression and they come with bad intentions.  Fly to the ball carrier and play through the man.

Going forward the real saving grace is that these guys are young and seem really coachable with a few exceptions.  what's with the 5 star D-lineman and the other LBs that can't seem to get off the bench until junk time or spot play?  I hope it's youth and maturity not ability.  The Def back field will get better.  The Offense is okay the Xs and Os are okay c;iche time youth will be served.   no rant the ramble is over and out


October 10th, 2010 at 1:18 PM ^

Has anyone here ever seen us win a game where we gave up three interceptions/turnovers and the other team had none?  I have been wathching UM football for about 50 years and cannot recall a sinlge one.  We are allowing teams to score on about half their posessions so we cannot afford to give three away any where on the field especially when it cost us points in the red zone.  The two interceptions in the end zone were clearly the difference in this game. 

Denard has learned to be patient on runs and he will learn to be patient when passing and occasionally throw the ball away rather than to try force passes into double coverage.  This team is as exciting as any I have ever seen at UM in 50 yearas and I cannot wait to see the next couple years unfold with this offense and an improved defense.  Go Blue!


October 10th, 2010 at 3:21 PM ^

rather than letting themselves get run over while trying to tackle high big running backs that are already in motion. 

It's the difference between 2 yards of the running back falling forward from the spot of the leg tackle and 7 yards of getting trucked backwards.

Also, while it's nice to be aggressive and try to strip the ball, we were doing it too much and with no success.  Just get a 2-yard stop with a solid fundamentally sound tackle. 


October 10th, 2010 at 1:53 PM ^

1. Cam Gordon would be downright funny to watch, if I weren't emotionally invested in his performance. Continuously putting himself out of play; it's like watching a kid playing soccer on the playground, just rushing straight toward the ball. Hopefully he learns quickly but I think this might be a maturity issue and won't be resolved this season.

2. We got a preview of what OSU's passing efficiency will be like against us via their drubbing of Indiana. Offense will really have to put up some numbers to keep us in that one.

3. Red zone efficiency -- it seems like Dantonio's plan was to let us get into the red zone and then come up with fairly easy stops. Their defense was good enough to knock Denard out of his comfort zone anywhere on the field, and with a shrunk field to cover they rendered our offense ineffective.

Problem is, the mistakes aren't necessarily flukes. Hopefully our skill players learn quickly, but I see us losing a lot of battles in the trenches from here on out so mistakes will continue to come up. I'm thinking 8 wins is still likely (just gotta beat Illinois, Purdue, and Penn State) but none of those wins mean would mean much. Beating good teams is what matters.


October 10th, 2010 at 3:09 PM ^

I'm thinking 8 wins is still likely (just gotta beat Illinois, Purdue, and Penn State) but none of those wins mean would mean much.

They would mean at least 8 wins, which I believe would mean RR keeps his job.  That means a whole helluva lot.


October 10th, 2010 at 7:43 PM ^

The offense had an off game but still generated 377 yards.

At times, I liked what I saw in the ridiculously inexperienced defense.  And, of course, at many times, I didn't.  But I like the idea of a bunch of 1st year players learning on-the-job.  Let's hope they take a leap next week.


October 10th, 2010 at 2:24 PM ^

I think these six plays made the difference in the game. Two throws behind a receiver that was open. Two plays where the gap wasn't filled allowing 102 yards on the ground. One awful field goal attempt. One bad decision to punt late. Denard had the open man, for him not a difficult throw and just missed it, that will happen and he will just get better. I still would rather have our QB crew than anyone in the Big 10 and so would they. Two missed reads by a young defense that otherwise held a good running team in check. Take those two away and we held them under 4 ypc, if you told me before the game we would do that I don't think I would have believed you. We are improving and will be decent by the OSU game. With all the young players getting time we will see a big jump next year, similar to the offense this year. Coach made a bad call with the punt, he admitted that which I think is something most coaches would not do. He is a young man and I only hope he is still learning every year. A man who knows it all is a man who has only one direction to go ,down,. We still have not seen his best because he has not seen his best, onward and upward. Finally to our kicking game, I just don't know, why don't we have kickers year after year we have seemed to consider this aspect of the game as an afterthought. I know we have had some good kickers but it was never a priority, I always felt like we just got lucky once in awhile and got a good one. All in all for a loss I feel better about our defense coming out of this game than going in.


October 10th, 2010 at 7:39 PM ^

stop MSU on the subsequent drive, which means we would have had to recover TWO onsides kicks, in addition to converting on fourth down, and scoring at least two TDs & a FG.

I would have gone for it, but IMO, it was meaningless after-the-fact.


October 10th, 2010 at 3:15 PM ^


  "They have DBs that can run with our receivers "


Really?  I guess if they have developed cloaking technology then maybe that's why the receivers couldn't catch the ball yesterday.  They weren't drops they were just well defended by cloaked db's otherwise our receivers ran open all day... or did they?


October 10th, 2010 at 3:44 PM ^

Sparty certainly played a great game. They always prepare for Michigan during the off-season and spend a bit of time each week getting ready for the ONE BIG GAME on their schedule. I hate to tip my hat to them, but tip my hat I will. Sparty has had a history of over-looking the team AFTER the Michigan week. Illinois has a better stable of running backs and a solid defense, which pressures the QB. They played well and lost to Missouri and OSU. As much as MSU says they won't overlook the Illini, I see a letdown next week.

In Ann Arbor, I don't know if this team REALLY IS not a repeat of the 2009 team. Sure, the players say this is a different season. I can only hope that the leaders can learn from the loss, watch film today, then flush it down and go into the Iowa game as if we are still unbeaten. I do have faith in Calvin McGee that he will fix what broke last week and have Denard and team ready for Iowa to try the same kind of gameplan. As for GERG, well???