A Tale of Two Football Teams

Submitted by jswavel34 on October 19th, 2008 at 4:39 PM

The Michigan team we saw in yesterday’s Penn State game characterizes the entire 2008 Michigan season into 60 minutes. Michigan played like “world-beaters” through the first 17 minutes of the game, sputtered on the ensuing first half drives, and allowed an “oh by-the way” score at the end of the half that lead to the landslide victory for the Nittany Lions by giving up 32 points in the second half and being held scoreless. Even as I sat at half with a 3 point Michigan lead, I was still very anxious and uneasy. I felt that if the slightest thing goes wrong in the second half of the game this could quickly go to H-E-double hockey sticks in a hurry. I didn’t expect that we would win the game. However, with the way that we played in the first half it is just difficult to understand why there is such a disparity between the first quarter’s Michigan offense and that of the rest of the game. This is most definitely due in large part to our inexperienced young players and their inconsistency but it also has to be attributed to teams’ adjusting to our offensive scheme. In the Utah, Illinois, Miami (OH), and Penn State games the offense looked very proficient early and after adjustments were made we were unable to establish anything in the form of offense for the most part. What is the reason for this disparity? Are teams’ adjustments so devastating to whatwe are trying to do that we are completely stifled? In all my years of watching football, I have never seen a team look so efficient like they can beat any team in the country and the next minute look incapable of gaining a yard or tackling anyone.


However, I felt encouraged by the effort that the boys gave in the first half and it seems as though some issues may have been solved this week in practice and progress is being made. In particular, it looks as though Brandon Minor will be seeing more time for the remainder of the season and deservedly so. Sam and Brandon being complements of each other will be a joy to watch in the future.  


Remember. We are still Michigan. These are still Michigan men. There has never been a period in Michigan football history in which the saying “Those who stay will be champions,” applies so well. Go Blue.



October 19th, 2008 at 4:49 PM ^

It's hard for me to draw much from our second-half offensive failures the last two weeks (as well as against Miami-Oh) because both times Sheridan came in at QB. Very few teams can lose their starting QB and continue their usual offensive production. Usually, their offense goes right into the toilet (see: Oregon, WVU and Michigan last year). Making it worse is that Sheridan's skill level is extremely low, and that there are only a handful of plays he can execute with any success, so defenses know exactly what to expect as soon as he's in there. I think that if Threet had remained healthy and had played all four quarters each of the last two weeks, we'd have beaten Toledo and have scored somewhat more against PSU, but it's impossible to know for sure.

BTW, I disagree about our offense looking good against Utah in the early going.  Our first half against them was almost as bad as the Wisconsin first half, only we capitalized on a couple of Utah mistakes.  We gained like 35 yards on our two first-half scoring drives.  Our TD came after they muffed a punt deep in their own territory. 


October 19th, 2008 at 4:57 PM ^

I too am perplexed at our first qtr. phenomenon. After our offense has been able to roll down the field the first couple of drives, It seems as though we are not able to make adjustments to the other team's adjustments. Is it a lack of talent? Is it our coaches' inability to adjust. It is like the door gets slammed shut.

Also, is it me, or was the cupboard left a little bare on the defensive side and we are just now seeing it?

chitownblue (not verified)

October 19th, 2008 at 5:23 PM ^

For Christ sakes, people, it's not "adjustments". Threet, in the first 19 minutes or so, made phenomenal reads and decisions - that moved the offense. You could almost tell, partway through the 2nd, when he hurt himself, because they stopped calling passes, and he stopped keeping the ball. When he left after the first drive in the third, the offense was over.

Note: I don't think we beat PSU yesterday with a healthy Threet, but the reason why the offense went into the toilet is because Threet is the only QB we have who is capable of running the offense with a semblance of competence - when he was injured, and then absent, we lost that.


October 20th, 2008 at 11:14 AM ^

I was a little surprised to see Threet running so much early, considering his well-documented health concerns.  Once those health concerns left him unable to run, I began to understand why they had taken the chance in the first place.  The offense doesn't work without the zone read, and the zone read doesn't work without the keeper.  When Threet was allowed to make reads, he was going for five or six to the backside or letting Minor go for five or six to the playside.  Once he couldn't take the hits anymore, the offense sputtered.

chitownblue (not verified)

October 20th, 2008 at 11:17 AM ^

Yes. Threet carried 10 times for 46 yards in the first half. When the threat (I didn't even have to use quotes!) of that vanished, it clearly made it harder for Minor to find room.


October 21st, 2008 at 1:25 PM ^

There are clear parallels between the two games.  Your assertion that it wasn't the other team adusting to us, but a different QB or a hurt QB, could work for Penn State but not for Illinois.  Illinois is a good counter-example to your theory because it removes the variable.  Threet was fine that whole game.  Same result, early success and then carnage.

Yes, it is possible that the PSU result was all because of Nick Sheridan, but that then opens the door for what the heck happened with the Illini?  Or we go with Occam's Razor, and say that our coaching staff isn't terribly good at adustments this season.  Maybe there isn't anything to adjust too, the team just isn't that good.

Another support for the adjustments theory... we've scored 7 points in the 3rd quarter all season.  7.  I'm not entirely sure what that says, but it certainly doesn't support the argument that our coaching staff is comprised of evil football geniuses.  They are clearly being outmaneuvered, albeit with inferior personnel and not by Bret Bielema.


October 21st, 2008 at 4:09 PM ^

Sheridan is miserable.  But he doesn't play defense.  Nor has he played every 3rd quarter this season in which we only scored 7 points total (which I notice you skipped right over.)  Nor is he on the coaching staff, which ...

 Wait a minute... this is your Baghdad Bob impersonation, isn't it?  Cute.

chitownblue (not verified)

October 21st, 2008 at 4:22 PM ^

When did I say a word about defense?

You want to use Occam's Razor? How about this: All of Michigan's offense came with Threet on the field. Before getting injured, the offense had a single 3 and out. After Threet got injured, every drive resulted in a three-and-out, save the final, irrelevant drive. You want to talk about Occam's Razor?


October 21st, 2008 at 4:55 PM ^

I get it that you don't think Penn State adjusted.  I believe it was a combination of them adjusting and Sheridan not being good.  That's the only place we differ on that game.

If you don't think Illinois made successful adjustments, or think that prior games aren't relevant, that's your business.

M - Flightsci

October 19th, 2008 at 6:25 PM ^

We owned Penn St in the first half because we have their number. Then they realized how much better they are and decided to play in the second. Oh, yeah, and Nick Sheridan entered the game.

Threet was hurt on a passing play, not during one of his fairly-effective runs. I think its time to put the 'running QB's get hurt' meme to bed.


October 19th, 2008 at 6:34 PM ^

I don't know if we can completely put it to rest. I suspect that running QBs probably do get hurt somewhat more, for the simple fact that they aren't protected by the rules in the same way that dropback passers are. Note that we had very few major QB injuries between 1990 and 2007, and that some of the ones we did experience (like Dreisbach's thumb injury in '95 and Henson's stress fracture in '00) weren't suffered during game action. Having said that, it's clear that a running QB adds a whole extra dimension to your offense, and unless the injury rate is drastically higher, it's worth the tradeoff.


October 19th, 2008 at 6:57 PM ^

I seem to remember having a lot of major QB injuries during 2007.  Maybe I'm remembering incorrectly, and the truth is we actually went 12-0 and Mallet redshirted the whole year.  The WLA should check into this.


October 19th, 2008 at 7:06 PM ^

I knew someone would chime in with the obligatory exception to the rule. Most of the years over that stretch did not unfold like 2007.  I don't think Collins, Griese, Brady, or Navarre ever missed time due to injuries, and Henne did not until his fourth full year as a starter.  Driesbach and Henson missed time, but not due to injuries suffered during game action.


October 19th, 2008 at 7:15 PM ^

Well, look at the NFL. How many first string QBs have missed time so far this season? I think it's at least 4. How many have been injured, but played through injuries? I know of at least 2 more. None of these are running quarterbacks.

All you have pointed is that we had a long string of time without injuring any of our quarterbacks. Basically, we got lucky. Then when our luck ran out, Henne missed about 4-5 games worth of playing time. UCLA has injured 4 quarterbacks in the past 3 months and none of them were running QBs. They got unlucky.

Yes, running quarterbacks have the potential to be injured. Dropback passers do as well. Is one injury rate greater than the other? No one has any evidence that there is a difference. All people have are anecdotes: look at Oregon, look at UCLA, look at Griese/Brady, look at Henne.

Anonymous Coward (not verified)

October 19th, 2008 at 9:47 PM ^

I can tell you exactly, in my opinion, why we did so well, and then struggled. It is down to coaching. I think Rich Rod is a great coach. Most team, from what I understand, "script" or run though their first series or two on practice. During this practice, the coaches fine tune things, and tell players what to do and want to look for. This is what led Michigan to look so good. Then, we had to go off script, and the players natural talent and lack of experience shown though. It was not great.

the first few drive of several of the game has been down to great coaching. Now, it is on the players to remember what they were told, and how to continue to be great in the third and fourth quarter. That may come this year. If not, it will get better the longer Rodriguez spend with the guys. Next year. The year after. As soon as we can get a great quarterback. I don't know when, but I watch the game thinking to myself, "Wow, one day we are going to be awesome." Please, Dear God, let it be so.


October 20th, 2008 at 11:50 AM ^

I drove out to the game and scalped tickets, and ended up sitting directly in front of several relatives of the coaching staff, including the QB coaches cousin and Mike Bawis's brother and his family.

From where we were sitting, it was easy to see the commotion on the Michigan sideline as Threet removed his helmet and jogged off the field for a couple minutes, and Sheridan began to warm up. This was, I believe before Penn State kicked the field goal to tie it up. At this point, BEFORE the safety, BEFORE we got the ball, Bawis got his family together and left the game. Rod Smith's cousin stuck it out, but started telling us how good Beaver aparently will be.

Sheridan's entrance into the game, not only had those in the know give up on the game, but it seems to completly deflate the team. As was visible to the field, everyone just seemed to take the pedal off, like they knew things were just going to go downhill from there.

Penn State was obviously a better team, but we were playing well enough to beat them because we believed we could do it. Threet's exit and possibly more to the point Sheridan's entrance took that belief away from everyone. I feel bad for the kid because I am sure he had no belief he would ever be here, but I honestly think that Feagan be given the #2 spot, if only to leave the team the belief or the hope that ANYTHING positive might happen, right now, hell, when the coaching staff family who drove all the way up from WV LEAVE before anything bad has actually happened, that is about as telling as you can get.


October 20th, 2008 at 5:28 PM ^

The NFL is a different animal. NFL defenses are so fast and physical that QBs are going to get mauled no matter what. NFL refs will flag "late hits" a quarter of a second after a throw and that still isn't enough to protect QBs from injury.

From 1993 to 2006 - fourteen seasons - we never had a starting QB miss time due to an injury suffered during a game. (Driesbach got hurt in practice, and Henson got hurt over the summer, possibly while playing baseball). That's more than just a lucky streak, if you ask me.  By contrast, during the 1970s and '80s, when the option was a part of our offense, our QBs got hurt every now and then.  I pretty much expect the same with the RR offense. However, I also expect our offense to be far more productive than the Carr offenses, with their usual scoring averages in the 20's, so the tradeoff may well be worth it.


October 21st, 2008 at 2:43 PM ^

My thought on this was that the reason why the offense works well in the early part of the game is because of excellent game-planning and, thus, the scheme itself. Our offense has an advantage in terms of scheme and that makes it easier to execute. Once the other team makes adjustments, settles down, and starts executing, that is where we run into problems. We lose the "schematic advantage" and it comes down to talent, experience, and execution - factors which are not in our favor this season.

Once we get experienced guys in this system, we will be "ninja football."