Observations on falling back to earth

Submitted by shackney on October 24th, 2009 at 9:53 PM
I predicted that we would defeat Penn State.  After a dominant opening drive, I looked at myself in the mental mirror and said "God damn are you smart."  And then a bomb hit the Big House, a bunch of people with pitchforks started chasing me down the street, and my Mom called to tell me that I am not actually her biological child.  It was a rough 57 minutes.
The fact of the matter is that, by the end of the game, I wasn't angry, outraged, or embarrassed.  I was philosophical.  This team opened this season by stealing games from ND and Indiana.  On the basis of those thefts, we as a nation began to believe that we were actually good.  We aren't.  We are much, much better than last year.  But we are not actually very good yet.  And that's OK.

The objective part of me thought about opening this diary by saying "Hey, we lost to a Top 15 program.  No surprise.  In line with expectations.  Don't freak out and let's get ready for Illinois."  And there is some truth to that.  But what it misses is the utter disarray of today's game.  We were outclassed today.  And do I dare say that this team quit a little bit in the second half?  I was watching closely.  But what I saw in Donovan Warren today in the second half may have been a dinged up knee -- or it may have been some disgust and disillusionment.  As I offer my observations, I remind the Michigan faithful that we remain one game ahead of plan, with every intention of defeating Illinois and Purdue, and with our first RichRod bowl game a high likelihood.  So let's begin:

1.    I remain of the view that RichRod's two QB system is a mistake.  In my last diary, I argued that RichRod needed to make Tate his formal starter, with perhaps one "change of pace" possession a game for DRob.  I reiterate this view.  I was perplexed by a lot of the negative Tate commentary on the liveblog today.  I thought he had a middling game.  He wasn't great.  He certainly wasn't bad.  What stuck out for me was the appalling number of drops in this game.  Koger was off his game today.  I've officially had it with Kelvin Grady -- he annoyed me (and Beilein) on the hoops team, he now officially annoys me on the field.  I don't want to see Kelvin Grady anymore, especially since he is often taking snaps away from Marvelous Martavious.  (Is anyone on this team more improved than Martavious Odoms?  I absolutely love that kid.)  Tate had pretty mediocre pass protection today.  And his receiving corps disappoints.  I really feel like Mathews and Hemingway have not stepped up and demonstrated that they deserve to be the number one receiver at Michigan.  All in all, I thought Tate was ok today.  I could not believe when, with the score 25-10, Michigan tenuously in the game, but only one score from making it a one score game, out comes DRob to promptly fumble.  I like DRob.  He's a great kid.  But he plays quarterback like I play pinball -- he has a "I wonder what will happen if I do this" approach.  His pick today was a disaster pick -- total failure to see the play.  His fumble was part of a disturbing tendency towards fragility.  I see a future with DRob.  I do.  And I know that I have been a dismalist on his playing time the last few weeks.  But come on -- turnovers are death.  And DRob turns the ball over at a higher rate than anybody I've seen.

2.    "Other than that, how did you enjoy the play Mrs. Lincoln?"  My feelings about GERG remain a puzzle.  This will engender catcalls, but I actually thought the defense played pretty well today after the first drive, with one obvious exception: the secondary is the worst secondary I have ever seen.  And let's call it like it is -- Kovacs isn't even the worst player in our secondary.  The whole thing just doesn't work.  I don't understand our use of man coverage in the red zone.  Isn't man coverage for athletic secondaries that can handle it?  I am not sure if I can continue to say "Other than the holocaust that was our secondary, I thought we played pretty well."  But I guess I will.  I have never seen less talent in the secondary.  It's about speed, brains, and geometry.  Our guys don't do any of it very well.  And for the first time, I have to say, that includes Donovan Warren.  Wow did he appear out of sorts today.  I find it difficult to blame our secondary play on GERG.  From where I sit, this was another game where the defense played ok, but then got run out onto the field repeatedly after turnovers and three and outs, often in terrible field position.  

One additional note: many on the liveblog commented about concerns going forward.  I share them.  Is it not clear that this defense will be worse next year than it is this year?  It's fine to say that we should remain positive and loyal to the Blue.  But I am seriously concerned about this defense going forward.  I am reading Brian's recruiting updates increasingly with an eye tuned solely to the defensive recruits.  It is not a good sign that I am looking for true freshman to contribute next year.

3.    Let's not forget how solidly Penn State played.  Before I get ahead of myself, hats of to Penn State for a terrific game plan.  It went something like this.  

Galen Hall:  Michigan's secondary has one guy with a fake leg and another guy that's blind.

Joe Pa:  Do you think we should throw a lot of passes?

Galen Hall:  Yes I do.

Penn State came in and absolutely shredded our secondary.  Daryll Clark is a solid, senior leader who looked poised.  Penn State knew what it wanted to do today and did it at will.  I think even if we play well, we still lose this game.  I got the distinct sense that they were letting off the gas.

4.    We need to consider mixing up our sets.  I really felt like we were on the cusp of a great running game from Brandon Minor today, only to see it dissipate.  Obviously, as we fell behind, we needed to pass more.  But I think we need to recognize that against teams with good linebacking, the stretch runs toward the sidelines are going to be less effective.  They seemed to take forever to develop, and even when they did, there wasn't much there.  Conversely, I thought our interior lineman were doing a nice job opening holes in the middle.  I think RichRod needs to have the flexibility to consider putting Tate under center when Brandon Minor looks like he has it in him.  It's especially true once Molk goes down -- it reduces snap complexity which, once again, was an issue.  And it has worked to great effect, as in the power drive we had against Iowa.  I offer for consideration -- does RichRod need to consider mixing up his sets a bit more than we currently do?  I am leaning towards yes.

5.    We need to be candid about where RichRod is at.  RichRod has not yet demonstrated the capacity to defeat a solid Big 10 program.  Given the sorry state of the Big 10, this is an issue.  If you want to claim Wisco from last year (or Minnesota), go ahead.  I think Wisco is actually in a bad place under Bielema, and Minnesota is a collection of talented players coached by morons.  I am concerned that in RichRod's second season, we are tied for second to last in the Big 10, and have no reasonable view to defeating a winning program.  I'm not calling for him to be fired.  I'm not bashing him.  I'm making a simple statement: when you make $2.5 million a year, you need to be able to compete in your conference.  We can do the "Lloyd left the cupboard bare" meme and the "It's a new system" meme as much as we want (and I do it a lot).  But I think it's fair to say that I am officially calling for success in Big 10 competition next year.  Not a championship per se.  But Top 3 in the conference.  This is the last "rebuilding" year.  It is time to serve notice on RichRod that next year needs to be 9-3 or better with quality wins over quality opponents.

Comments

hypomodern

October 24th, 2009 at 10:32 PM ^

save the first: Even giving him the drops back, Tate still had a pretty terrible day. Several of the drops were on marginal throws, and especially in the second half he was trying to force balls into double and triple coverage.

The "Two QB" system is not a mistake; the mistake, such as it is, is that our two choices are true freshmen who have been A) a bad decision factory since the trip to Iowa, and B) a turnover machine (but an exciting one!). I'm not sure what has happened to the decision making and crisp throws that Tate had earlier in the year; maybe it is the lingering shoulder problem. If so: hoo-boy.

I'm thrilled by the way the defense plays. I mean, it's pretty clear that we have huge talent vulnerabilities at LB and Safety; there isn't anything GERG can do but try to mitigate via scheme. Outside of big plays given up by LB and Safety debacles, the defense is solid. They never seem to get down on themselves, unlike the offense.

There are a couple of things that *are* disheartening to me:
1) Offensive line play; I expected more out of these guys, Molk or no Molk. There's never much time to stand in the pocket, and the running game gets blown up constantly against decent opposition.
2) Wide Receivers can't seem to get open, and they don't seem to ever come back to the QB when he is scrambling. I don't understand why we never seem to have anyone other than TEs open.
3) I'm beginning to get a little concerned about the offensive coaching decisions in these tough games. I'm usually able to figure out what the plan is, but I have no clue what we were trying to do against Iowa and PSU -- and all the procedural penalties! Argh.

All in all, I guess this team's ceiling is closer to where we thought it was before the season. I thought we would be done getting blown out at home, though.

Lordfoul

October 25th, 2009 at 8:56 AM ^

Forcier seems to be losing some of his "swagger" (for lack of a better term) and is looking somewhat lost out there. The cold, wet conditions surely didn't help. I don't know what could helped us turn this game around but looking back at it now I have a couple of thoughts on the future:

1. I am definitely leaning towards a single QB system at this point. I don't think that this was the problem in this game though. 30 pass attempts seems like enough (and probably too many) tries to work out the kinks. Forcier played like a freshman. Forcier is a freshman. No real surprise there.

2. Denard remains not ready to take the reigns. No shame in that, Tate is only marginally ready after all.

3. With the freshmen struggling, if Illinois starts owning us maybe it is time to let Sheridan have another try. No, that's just crazy talk. ;~)

bluebyyou

October 25th, 2009 at 3:48 PM ^

I agree on the one quarterback system also, particularly what we get in the way of mistakes when Denard is in there. His passing is so poor that it allows the opposing D to play run. You also have a couple of good running backs in Minor and Brown who aren't carrying the ball when Denard is doing the rushing.

Robinson cannot pass at this point in his career, which is not surprising since he was not terribly accurate a passer in HS and the level of competition took a big step up. I also remember reading earlier this year that they tried to get him to field punts but he had lots of drops. I don't see his future as a QB.

I haven't seen the game on TV yet, but is seemed to me from what I saw I saw at the stadikm was Tate had a pocket he could have stepped into, but always runs which got him into trouble yesterday.

Hate to say it, but eight games into the season, yesterday was a major disappointment with the exception of Mesko.

JT4104

October 24th, 2009 at 10:38 PM ^

My only gripe with what the D is doing and how it affects RR....

I know everyone hates the word "bare"....however just go no further back than 2007...Chris Richards and Sears were both starters in the secondary.....

What that says is that they were gonna limit Warrens PT for some strange reason and after that we had ZERO depth.

Fast forward 2 yrs later, BooBoo while it is obvious his head isn't on straight right now, he was still playing with a bum shoulder at the start of the year and that hurt his growth. The safety play has been pathetic since Tommy Hendricks left some 9 yrs ago...We haven't had a safety in years that could play good coverage and come up in run support.

The last thing I think some need to realize is that we are simply not very athletic on D right now. Just remember speed kills and it can make up for perhaps not being the smartest player on the field. Our problem is low football IQ combined with lack of being a pure athlete at certain positions.

As far as recruiting goes I actually like what we have brought it on defense last year and so far what is coming in next year..I may be the only one but what I see is a lot of speed at the LB position which I think is our biggest problem right now.

Tater

October 24th, 2009 at 10:42 PM ^

Hardly. One loss to what has been a top ten team isn't enough to get me down for more than a few minutes. I still think the program is headed in the right direction and that more depth and experience will serve UM and RR extremely well the next few years. As for Tate Forcier, his arm motion is looking dangerously like that of Steve Smith after his shoulder injury. I wish DRob was ready to play more.

I am thoroughly convinced that when all of the story eventually comes out, those who are bitching about Forcier will realize that he is playing through injuries that would make most of them take two months off of work. He is probably trying to read elite defenses and make split-second decisions with post-concussion syndrome, and trying to throw against them with an AC sprain.

Forcier is bravely playing through these injuries because both he and RR realize that a seventy percent Forcier is still better than any other option the team has. And he is way too much of a warrior to tell RR or anyone on the staff how much he really hurts.

This kid deserves appreciation, not pissing and moaning.

BlueGoM

October 25th, 2009 at 2:48 AM ^

Well, if he is not healthy then OK, I agree with you, but he is supposedly fine:

http://detroitnews.com/article/20091020/SPORTS0201/910200395/U-M-s-Forc…-

I'm sure everyone here does appreciate the fact that he brought us comeback wins against ND, Indiana , and (almost) MSU. He's clearly the best and future QB for this team.

If he isn't recovered from a concussion then he has no business playing at all, IMO.

BlockM

October 24th, 2009 at 10:43 PM ^

RR will need to be held accountable for losing to top tier Big 10 teams either next year or the year after, depending on the state of the defense. (Getting blown out next year shouldn't happen, but losing to a top team isn't going to concern me too much.)

Until then, I don't think this reflects poorly on his ability to coach yet. I do agree though on most of your other points.

NJWolverine

October 24th, 2009 at 10:59 PM ^

We are all disappointed by today's performance. It was a huge setback. But let's not jump the gun yet. We all know the defense played very poorly today. Almost all of those players except Roh were Lloyd Carr recruits. Remember, most of the attrition occurred on offense. The defensive players we have would have started had Carr stayed on as coach. These were the allegedly solid recruits that we all thought would result in a respectable defense. But aside from Graham and Warren, these players have been a disaster. What's ever scarier is that both those players may well be gone next year (Warren might leave early). That would leave the team with nothing. You would then be asking Patterson to resurrect his collegiate career and Roh to take a huge step as a dominant hybrid, as well as contributions from Campbell, Washington, Lalota, B. Smith, Fitzgerald, Emilein and Turner. Good defenses just aren't built that way.

That's where my "just yet" line comes from. There is a chance the defense may be even worse next year. Like I said, that's not necessarily RR's fault. But the poor defense will place an enormous amount of pressure on RR's offense, which is 100% his responsibility. Now, we all know such pressure is somewhat unfair because defense and offense go together, with one affecting the other. But it won't matter. A losing season, or even a mediocre 7-5 will place RR in the Charlie Weis hotseat.

The current season can still be salvaged. Illinois and OSU cannot exploit the gaping holes over the middle because their QBs are not good enough. That presents opportunity, though I don't think the offense will have a chance against OSU's defense. I'm worried even about Purdue. Bolden and Valentine are going to run circles over the middle and they have a QB who can get them the ball in space. Wisconsin will surely exploit their TEs with our "LBs." Three more losses will mean a paltry 2-6 conference record, which is unacceptable. So RR had better prepare the next four games and secure at least a 2-2 finish. Otherwise, we're in for a circus.

On a final note, I would be remiss not to note the well documented internal divisions in the AD's department. Today's result can only result in continued division. Like I said, the circus is not here yet but it's close.

mbee1

October 24th, 2009 at 11:06 PM ^

I think that's what everyone wants to see. The running game has had its ups and downs, but what has happened to the passing game? It does seem like last year, where the only semblance of a passing game we have is hitting the TE on a seam route (which has been normally dropped) or a quick hitch/slant. Where's the crossing routes or vertical passing game? Is it because the line can't be trusted? WR's can't get opened?Freshmen QB's? I hope it's not because of the scheme and/or coaching.

Side question...if the Big Ten held a draft with all its current players eligible, who would be drafted first? BG kept us in the game today, him? Pryor? Clark?

ND Sux

October 25th, 2009 at 4:49 PM ^

That one call didn't make us drop passes, fumble, miss tackles, miss QB reads, throw int's, take silly penalties, and on and on. What game were you watching that was close enough to blame on one bad call (or even twelve)?

Slinginsam

October 25th, 2009 at 12:09 AM ^

Great analysis in detail here by many posters. I watched parts of the 'Bama/Tennessee, Miss State/Florida and BC/ND games. The common theme was that the losers all played a very close, competitive contest, right down to the end. This, IMO, is what is missing with our team. We are being dominated early in the game, and that causes our team to try to not make mistakes, rather than make plays.

Since the IU game, we have seen "the tail wagging the dog" effect, so to speak. Our opponents have been controlling every facet of each game: playing at their pace, their tempo, running their trick plays, their smashmouth football etc. It seems that we are barely keeping our heads above water every time we are on the field. This is happening on both sides of the ball.

The excuses of injuries and youth are way old. Except for the high school squad we played last week, U of M has failed to dominate one opponent since EMU. This is very disturbing.

And don't think for a second that our four remaining opponents haven't taken notice of this. Each one has Michigan circled as a winnable game.

tomhagan

October 25th, 2009 at 12:34 AM ^

I agree that it is time for D Rob to sit for the rest of the year...and ONLY come in on special packages to utilize his speed.

Maybe he could return punts too...he is lightening fast.

But as a QB (right now) he is a Turnover waiting to happen every few plays. Not good.

The Overall SLOPPY play was alarming. Very alarming. RR has been in place for almost 2 years now.

Frankly speaking, it is time for that Shit to Quit.

MGrad

October 25th, 2009 at 1:20 AM ^

Michigan's defense did not play well today (again). They got abused in almost every way, except for Graham (as always). I don't blame GERG for this. I blame the linebackers and secondary (rinse, repeat). The LB play just seemed very passive (deja vu). The secondary seems to love the 10+ yard cushion before the snap that gets an automatic 7 or more yards on the quick throw (sound familiar?).

Unfortunately, this defense is going to try hard, but nonetheless drive fans crazy throughout the season. It's not "bend but don't break", it seems more like "break but don't shatter". I know they are trying out there, but it is brutal to see Michigan's D in this state. Were it not for a few cream puff non-conference opponents, just imagine what the stats might be.

los barcos

October 25th, 2009 at 1:46 AM ^

I agree with all these points. very good...

my big issue is why the regression with tate? yes he is a fresh but that doesn't explain why he's gotten worse. just look at matt barkley at usc...everyone could agree that tate vs nd outplayed barkley vs ohio state but now barkley is getting better & better while tate is getting worse and worse. a young player should show improvment and not regression...

BlueGoM

October 25th, 2009 at 2:40 AM ^

"the injuries have hurt his progress as well."

Yes, but he's been healthy the last couple weeks, or so we've been told. Having your QB's hurt also hurts the ability to put new plays in, which slows the progress of the whole offense.

He's still a freshman, so he'll get better. Most of the offense will return next year too.

sammy

October 25th, 2009 at 3:11 AM ^

I think that we never really tried to establish the running game, and that this was a bad mistake. At the start of the game it looked like Minor and Brown would be able to contribute a fair amount to our offense--maybe an average of 3.X YPC with a few big gainers--not great, but respectable. Then we started to focus more on throwing it. Both our QBs were inaccurate from the start, and our receivers were dropping balls all over the place. At this point I think we should have gone back to the run, but it seemed like we were too focused on establishing the passing game itself, rather than as an extension of a solid running game (through play action). By the time the coaches finally realized this we were already down by more than two touchdowns... Of course even if our offense did play well, we still would have lost because of how horrible our defense is.

Defense is about instinct and intelligence. Our D plays with neither. It takes real brains to play good defense, and that is why I think the quality of a team's defense is a more accurate reflection of its coaching than its offense is. That said, it's easy to make the conclusion that RR can't build a solid defense, but I think he deserves at least 2, if not 3 more years to prove himself. Shafer was bad, and RR did the right thing in getting rid of him. It's hard for me to pass judgement on GERG yet because I feel that it's practically impossible to have a good defense with a group of upperclassmen that have never been able to settle in to a system. This forces us to lean too heavily on our underclassmen, which consequently destroys their confidence/development and perpetuates the cycle of futility. I guess, what I'm trying to say is that it takes time to fix a really bad defense. And that is what we have. I'll give RR more time. But if we aren't back to M standards by the time Gardner is a junior, then I'll start talking about a coaching change.

Elno Lewis

October 25th, 2009 at 8:29 AM ^

equals

Hold my beer.

Seriously.

Two freshman qb's from warm climates having trouble in cold, wet Big Ten Games against two of the best d's in the Big Ten. (And MSU's d isn't exactly DSU.)

So, ipso facto, prima facial, e pluribus unumb, we are what we thought we are. I know everyone got themselves all worked up over that silly 10-2 stuff. Just like the day my mama looked down at me and said, Son, some day you will be the manager of that Kwikee Mart--I just don't believe that stuff any more.

So, let's go blue...please win one more game. go to bowl. practice more. recruit like sociopaths. and don't really expect nothing until 2011. You heard it here first. Film at never.

shackney

October 25th, 2009 at 8:48 AM ^

I was posing is "Can we now set a formal bar for RichRod, what is it, and what year is it set in?" I am a believer in him. He is doing better this year than I thought. I predicted 5-7, so 7-5 and a bowl is terrific. Huge improvement from 3-9. What is concerning me is the fact that we seem to be getting worse against Big 10 competition in years where the Big 10 is not good. But at the same time, I am having a hard time looking ahead to next year and thinking there are potentially six losses on that schedule as well. I'm not sure how kosher it's going to be to go 6-6 or 7-5 in RichRod's third year.

The MSU/Iowa game was terrific yesterday. But does anyone on this board view Iowa as a legitimate Top 10 team? I know I don't. I don't think they'd beat a single other team in the Top 10, and I think they lose to Ohio State. The best team in this league is not a Top 10 team in the country. These are the types of years that Michigan used to clean up in the Big 10, and instead we are struggling and regressing.

M-Dog

October 25th, 2009 at 9:49 AM ^

and you're ahead of schedule on the second day, you get a little excited.

But you're not in California yet, and shouldn't act like you're already supposed to be there.

If it's day 4 and we're still stuck in the middle of nowhere, then yes we should complain. But not yet.

Stymie2000

October 25th, 2009 at 12:07 PM ^

What I want to know is WHY Rich Rod left Forcier in the game with 2 minutes left! Talk about stupid. Put your starting, banged up QB, in at the end of a game there is no chance of winning. Does he want him to get knocked out for the season. What the heck was he thinking?

jarjar

October 25th, 2009 at 12:08 PM ^

I'm not sure what statistic I need to calculate to support this claim, but I feel like our defense plays well in the red zone. The secondary is weak so the short field gives them a huge boost. Maybe we should stick to a strategy of conceding the first 60 or so yards of a drive, not worry about it, then force them to kick for 3.

umeuph97

October 25th, 2009 at 3:46 PM ^

Does anyone else think this game swung on the injury to Molk? The offensive line looked completely out of sorts, and I have to think that has something to do with having practiced all week with Molk in. Molk inury = preparation out the window = offense can't move = ugly loss. Thoughts?

shackney

October 25th, 2009 at 3:53 PM ^

principally because the only drive Molk was in for was the first one, which was an absolute lawn mower. But given the total calamity that was yesterday, I think you gotta look askance at the "it all depends on this one injury" argument.

shackney

October 25th, 2009 at 4:53 PM ^

I agree with you on is that it felt like, at the outset, the two teams were evenly matched. And as the game went on, you had this feel that we were falling apart in a way that we might not if Koger catches DRob's first throw, or if Grady doesn't drop Tate's strike. That is kind of why I was so pissed when DRob came out in the 3rd quarter with the score 25-10 -- I really felt like one good drive and score might right the ship. But not falling apart is a pretty key component of the game, so it all kind of falls apart.