Wrinkles against Michigan State and the (really) frustrating part for me

Submitted by shorts on October 11th, 2010 at 8:29 PM

I noticed a few things during the game that Brian will probably expand on in UFR, but seeing as how it's Monday and I'm stuck at work for a while longer, I thought I'd mention them and get some feedback:


This is partially in reference to the previous thread about RichRod getting "outcoached" and not having anything new or any adjustments for the MSU game.

1. On our opening drive of the game, the interception by Denard included one slight twist -- a half-roll and pump-fake to the left followed by a rollout to the right, which got Roundtree about two steps ahead of his defender in the endzone. Unfortunately, Denard threw it about five feet behind Roundtree and directly to the trailing cornerback.

2. I believe there were two occasions when Denard pump-faked and a receiver ran a slant-and-go sort of thing: the first was the play near the end of the second drive when Denard had Stonum wide open in the endzone and threw it to Tacopants, and the other was the play when Kelvin Grady got open deep and flat-out dropped a perfect throw. This seemed to be a theme: The passing game should have produced big plays, because receivers were open deep on several occasions, but the throws were too often either uncatchable or simply not caught.

3. The touchdown to Webb was a perfect playcall to take advantage of Michigan State's linebackers trying to contain Denard. The "roll to the right, throw the wheel route back to the left" is something I don't think we've seen from this offense before, but I can definitely see it being an effective weapon in the red zone.

4. We came out and played a lot of straight-up man coverage early in the game, which seemed to confuse Cousins at times and led to an increase in pressure, forcing two straight poor series from the MSU offense. Combined with our two good drives to start the game, we should have had at least a 14-0 lead before they even sniffed the end zone.


What really stuck with me and made me fume for a while after the game was that I couldn't sit back and say, "Well, we just got beat by a far better team," like I said last year when we lost to Penn State.

To me, MSU was about what I expected (now I sound like Dennis Green) and our defense was about as irritating as usual. We gave up 34 points; this was right in line with projections. But I can point directly to three terrible throws by Denard -- the devastating interceptions on the first drive of each half and the overthrow to Stonum on the second drive of the game -- that took 18 points off the board (three touchdowns minus the one field goal we did get) in a game we lost by 17 points.

As a whole, Denard's passing looked about like it did last year: pretty bad. That's obviously a concern going forward, because if he's gonna turn it over a couple times a game against solid or good defenses, we're in trouble (no duh).

Then again, there's nothing to blame other than our own screw-ups -- no amazing schemes or increase in physicality -- for scoring 17 points. It should have been 35, maybe more when you consider that we'd have been running a way different offense in a close game.

I'm not sure if this makes me feel better or not. Maybe a little.


EDIT BASED ON COMMENTS: Just to clarify, I'm not saying Michigan was the better team. I got the sense that the two teams were about equal -- the obvious difference was that we made several killer errors and they didn't.


His Dudeness

October 11th, 2010 at 8:35 PM ^

Completely agree. They weren't better than us. We beat ourselves. I give them credit because they are a very good team this year, but I think we are the better team No offense, but as it should be. I really really wanted to start the "back to normal clap clap clapclapclap" chant and now I will never get to : (


October 11th, 2010 at 8:55 PM ^

"They weren't better than us. We beat ourselves."

Really?  Isn't that the standard line of a poor sport?  The better team doesn't often lose at home by 17 points.  I realize that Michigan left some points on the field, but isn't that part of being the better team?  Don't forget that they left another 14 to 21 easy points on the field at Indiana, too.  Improvement will come. 

For me, the fact that MSU is still better than Michigan in Year 3 is the hardest thing to accept.  My opinion may change over the balance of the season but I don't know how you could deny that MSU has the better (more consistent) team at this point.


October 11th, 2010 at 9:56 PM ^

I agree. I'm one of the most arrogant Michigan fans around, but it's hard to look at the 'what ifs' and say we're the better team when we lost by 17. Yeah, the INT's killed us. But we played bad in pretty much every facet of the game.

I'm not saying that our team is terrible, because I know it is not, I'm just saying that sometimes we just have to give the other team credit for winning the game instead of trying to prove that our team is better. Let's stay positive, move on to Iowa and hope that Sparty chokes their season away against Illinois or Purdue.

yossarians tree

October 11th, 2010 at 11:17 PM ^

I agree. The better team won the game, clearly. Let me put it more simply: the team with the better linebackers won the game. State's linebackers contained D-Rob better than anyone has so far. That, coupled with the D-Rob turnovers that left points on the field, was the difference in the game. Couple that with the fact that there wasn't a Michigan linebacker on the TV screen on the two long runs State had for touchdowns--and you see how the pill, however distasteful, must be swallowed.

On the bright side, I truly believe that when Michigan is again clicking on all cylinders as a program, they will routinely be better than a State team that is clicking on all cylinders (as they are now).

The Michigan Wolverines brand of football just has more upside than Michigan State, and I cannot see that really changing outside of a number of crucially bad decisions on the scale of Notre Dame.  Michigan right now is dysfunctional but on the road to healing. State this season is self-actualized--they are good but the ceiling is pretty apparent. The worm will eventually turn.


October 11th, 2010 at 8:43 PM ^

I thought about not doing it, but I had too.

And, yeah, I was way too buzzed at the Stadium to remember all the missed chances. Score should have been reversed at half, or the 7-point margin at least should have been the other way around

But, hey our QB is in his sixth start....the first one when there were weighty expectations on him

I LOVE his chances to rebound.


October 11th, 2010 at 8:54 PM ^

We had so many chances to take control early and we just couldn't do it. Instead, momentum swung the other way and we were fighting from behind, and Denard just wasn't sharp in the passing game.


October 11th, 2010 at 8:38 PM ^

Denard had an off game. We're boned. Can't come back. Throw in the towel. 


We lost, focus on Iowa. You didn't express any new revelations. 


Sorry to be a jerk, but we really don't need anymore threads on this. 


October 11th, 2010 at 8:47 PM ^

I hadn't seen anything about those variations/wrinkles in the offense posted anywhere -- those were the primary purpose of the thread.

And maybe you misinterpreted my intentions, but it wasn't at all "Denard had a off game. We're boned."  His regression in the passing game was a bit of a concern, but we've seen him make those throws a lot more often than not this season. As long as that was an aberration, there was nothing I saw defensively that makes me think a team like Iowa or Penn State will be able to shut us down. We should have had way more points than we actually put on the board.


October 11th, 2010 at 8:56 PM ^

I just feel like you stated the obvious. I'd prefer to focus on Iowa. I feel like Denard will be more motivated to play a better game like he was at the start of the season. Yeah, he messed up, yes our defense sucks, but we can't change that (well maybe the defense can improve). 


This is Iowa week. I'm not letting MSU make me hit the dooms day button and I don't think this game really showed anything new. Denard has had some questionable throws in the past that he got away with or were so overthrown nobody could catch them. We knew it was there, and Saturday it caught up with us. But would we even have put up 17 points without him on the field? He led some long, sustained drives that kept our defense off the field also. We've known our defense is very suspect and that hasn't changed. I didn't expect a perfect season, and yes it stings to lose (again) to MSU, but this team is far from complete. Denard doesn't even have a full season under his belt as a starter. He was bound to slow down at some point. 


October 11th, 2010 at 8:38 PM ^

denard had to play bad at some point. now he knows not to throw into the endzone late if he is not open. playcalling was attrocious..run down the field to then pass three times in a row? really? defense held up ok minus big plays(kind of important lol). but denard still had a good game minus the picks. if we get tds there like we have all year, its tied with 10 minutes left in the fourth.


October 11th, 2010 at 11:43 PM ^

I don't know if I can fault the playcalling too much, since the problems were bad throws, not bad plays.  The first pick was thrown on a play that got a receiver open in the end zone.  A good throw is an easy TD.  The play with the overthrow to Stonum also got the receiver wide open.  Especially with Shaw at less than 100%, Smith still not back to 100% and Fitz out, our running game was less threatening, forcing more throwing.  I do wish we had run our core offense more, but then again, I wish out core offense had been working more.  We really do need an explosive RB to keep defenses more honest.

On a related note, with his crazy athleticism, how has Cox not seen more carries?  I know he makes some mistakes, but he also might break some big plays.  Smith's carries may have less variance, but I wouldn't mind taking a few risks to put defenses on their heels.  Hopkins should see some more carries as well.


October 11th, 2010 at 8:46 PM ^

I thought I saw a lot of new route combinations this game.

we ran post-wheel combos that we hadn't deployed yet

I think Roundtree faked a bubble and turned it into a go route on his dropped TD pass.

We ran the 4-veticals play-action off a zone-read fake instead of a qb iso fake which we hadnt done yet.

We high-lowed their corners in cover 2 a lot.

I liked a lot of what I saw in that game, a decent amount of new passing concepts were deployed.

Denard, as awesome as he has been, just effed it up a few times w/ picks or overthrows.

I don't think it can be understated how much the 14-0 lead we could have had early in the game would have helped us.  I think we would've won if Drob hits Tree and Stonum for the early TD's.


October 11th, 2010 at 8:49 PM ^

Ya i re watched some of it, and some highlights where denard got tackled or was under pressure.. 


He missed quite a few reads where he took off in the wrong direction where if he would of hit the other hole he had the whole field wide open..  It is unfortunate, but msu put good pressure on him and blew right through our O-Line at times..


I just really hope we can go forward and win some games, and not have a total meltdown like last year..

Go for 2

October 11th, 2010 at 8:54 PM ^

Good post - I think sky is falling is a little early for all of us (I think pattern recognition and the fiasco of last year is freaking us out but it shouldn't).


One:  Michigan State brought a lot of bodies to the line to stop Denard and went press coverage on our receivers.  Denard was not able to make the throws to beat the coverage.  He will be able to do that someday.  Today was not that day.  I wish therefore we had just run more and really softened them up.  It appeared to me MSU was REALLY keying in on DR.  Hopkins and Shaw should have gotten the ball a lot more often.   Rodriguez obviously saw that they were playing man on our receivers and started licking his chops but we should have just kept running the ball till they could effectively stop us.   In this case it meant handing off to the running backs more often out of the spread than we did especially on the first drive where I thought we would just keep running until they could stop us.   When the game became two scores, we just went five wide to get back in it.  By then, reestablishing the run is a lost cause.


Two:  I think that Michigan State is a very good team and they are better than us this year.  Their defense is better than ours, their offense is comparable if you balance out all factors and their special teams are better.  They are not three scores better, but they are better.  I don't think we should take anything away from that team.  Homerism aside, they will be one of the best teams we face this year.  They have a confluence of talent, confidence and extenuating circumstances (Dantonio's health) that is going to make them very tough to beat.  


October 11th, 2010 at 9:24 PM ^

thanks for restoring a little of my own and this board's sanity.

FWIW, I don't see any strong reason to believe that Denard just falls apart now, do you? 


October 11th, 2010 at 9:38 PM ^

see the same thing as me. On the first INT I thought it was the right play call, the right read, and just a bad throw by a young QB.  I was predicting MSU to get 31-34 points, but with turnovers.  The fact that we held them to the score without that was encouraging. For a 17 pt loss, it definately wasn't as discouraging as others (besides hearing from every single one of my state friends by text and at work). I think the mistakes are fixable, and we still have a good chance to get to 9 wins (barring the injuries to Molk and Martin aren't bad).


I have been staying away from the MSM and BTN for the week to keep me grounded. I'm expecting a much happier weekend next week. Go Blue!


October 11th, 2010 at 9:40 PM ^

Good post.  I disagree that Denard looked like last year throwing the ball - he made some really nice throws (those 3 straight drops plus the actual first down on 4th jump to mind), but the receivers dropped them.  Sure, the first two INTs were troubling, but those sometimes happen, and will likely improve as the season progresses.  The biggest difference between this week and those prior was that Denard hesitated running the ball.  There were a couple of times, including that first drive, when he could have scampered for a first down or at least more yardage, but tried to throw the ball.  I'm not sure if that was a point of emphasis by the coaches or in response to what MSU threw at him defensively (I'm guessing a combination of both), but I expect him to return to form this week after he gets a chance to realize how many yards and points were left on the field.


October 11th, 2010 at 10:08 PM ^

What we really needed was the "Ole Buck Lateral".  (See the '54 M-OSU youtube game under mgo.licio.us.  45 second mark.)

How cool would it be if we ran it against OSU again 56 years later, and scored with it again.


October 11th, 2010 at 10:45 PM ^

And am not adding anything new so neg away but it really kills me when the losing team in any game says the winning team was not better. If that is the case they would not have won. Sure MSU didnt stuff our offense like dopey sparty fans want to believe, but you have to execute to win and we did not execute. Also they stopped trying to score in the 4th when they knew as long as they didn't turn the ball over we couldn't come back so even giving us 18 points we didn't earn still only has us up 1 needing stops the entire 4th quarter which we know our D is not ready for yet.


October 11th, 2010 at 11:09 PM ^

The better team doesn't always win -- and I didn't say (or think) Michigan was the better team. I thought the two teams were about equal overall, but we made the killer mistakes and they didn't. There were about half a dozen things that could have gone differently in the first quarter that would have given us a 14-0 lead -- I highly doubt that the rest of the game would have gone exactly the same under those circumstances.

But your point is an accurate one: We didn't execute. That was exactly what I was trying to say. If we play going forward like we did in the first five games on offense, I still haven't seen any reason to believe any defense (except maybe Ohio State) will be able to stop us from scoring consistently.


October 11th, 2010 at 11:55 PM ^

First of all, we got outplayed. But the game was a perfect storm of MSU good fortune and lack of for Michigan. I can't remember a single good break we got the whole game. That's football tho and those things even out over the course of a season assuming we give the effort, which I believe the team will. With all that went wrong, we were still in the game til middle of 4th qtr.  Sucks this all went down vs. Sparty but thats the way it is.


October 12th, 2010 at 12:37 AM ^

Its frustrating to me for many reasons. I don't like to put blame on offense or defense, because its a team as a whole, but i was very disappointed with our offense (for the first time this year). Our defense didn't play great, but was better than Indiana. Minus those 2 long runs they did a "decent" job. It was up to the offense and they just couldn't get it done. 


As you said above, games are aggravating when you beat yourself, which we very much did. 


October 12th, 2010 at 3:56 AM ^

Let's not forget that there are people predicting msu to go undefeated the rest of the way. Which I really hope they don't. But it would mean that our possible only loss of the season came against a possible undefeated team.


October 12th, 2010 at 8:53 AM ^

I think that Denard wasn't super effective, especially in the 2nd half.  And he wasn't on target enough with the pass.  At least 2 of his interceptions were thrown behind his receiver who had steps on the defender (as the OP states regarding the 1st INT).  Obviously drops aren't his fault, but it really seemed like he was trying to do too much and forcing things.  The running game was working ok (better with Hopkins and Shaw than with Smith and Robinson) but wasn't good enough to break down the MSU defense.  I think that Tate could have come in there and hit some passes that Denard was missing, exploiting the MSU defense in their weakest phase.  AT WORST, Tate doesn't do so well and Denard gets a chance to settle down and get coached up, then he can come back in more relaxed and ready to make plays.