|Michael Shaw carried 4 times for 29 yards in Saturday's loss.|
Well, that was ugly. I guess this is what it looks like when Michigan's offense gets shut down (or, in this case, shuts itself down). I predicted an MSU victory in Friday's game preview, but I didn't think it would be a blowout. Unfortunately, Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson reverted back to 2009 form at times on Saturday, throwing 3 interceptions and making poor reads in the running and passing games. Here are some thoughts on yesterday's performance.
Denard Robinson was exposed . . . a little bit. This has been kind of a problem for Robinson all year long, but yesterday Michigan State's defense took advantage of it: Denard doesn't have great ball placement. When defenses play zone coverage, his receivers do a good job of sitting down in a hole and waiting for the ball. In turn, Denard does a good job of throwing to those holes in the zone, too. However, when teams play man coverage, Denard's accuracy on slants and crossing patterns is erratic. Rather than throwing low and inside, he tends to throw the ball a) high or b) behind the receiver. That trait was exposed on Saturday when two throws behind receivers were intercepted by trailing defenders. In addition, another quarterback rule is "Don't throw late over the middle of the field." Late in the game, Denard threw deep down the middle into double coverage after delaying a bit; the ball was intercepted and ended most of my hope that Michigan could pull one out.
Vincent Smith is not a short yardage running back. He's not. Coach Rodriguez, put someone else - anyone - in at running back on 3rd-and-1. This is just getting ridiculous. How many times must you fail at gaining a yard with a 5'6", 180 lb. running back before you put in somebody capable of breaking a tackle or pushing the pile? Not only has it happened a few times this year, but Rodriguez also failed to put in a bigger, more powerful back in the 2009 Illinois game after Roy Roundtree was caught at the 1-yard line; Rodriguez left in a notoriously soft runner (Carlos Brown) instead of running Kevin Grady or Brandon Minor. This is becoming a weekly, yearly problem. Rodriguez obviously trusts freshman Stephen Hopkins enough to play him in a big rivalry game like this (Hopkins's two carries went for 7 and 6 yards). He's 6'0" and 227 lbs. Give him the ball.
Run the ball. Michigan averaged 4.8 yards a carry, and the running backs carried 13 times for 76 yards (5.8 yards per carry). Late in the game, I understand going away from the pass. Until then, Michigan should run run run when it's working.
Maybe Tate Forcier should have played. Forcier, 2009's season-long starter, was sitting on the bench. Robinson, a potential Heisman contender, was having a bad day. Once the game reached a point where passing the ball every play was a given, I wouldn't have minded if Forcier was inserted. He's a more accomplished passer and has better recognition skills. He's also 13-for-13 on the season and has some experience - and success - with late-game heroics (see: Indiana 2009, Notre Dame 2009, Michigan State 2009). Robinson has improved greatly as a passer, but many of his passing stats can be attributed to the threat of the run. Once defenses can sit back and play the pass almost exclusively, he's going to be behind the eight ball. I don't think Forcier could have necessarily won the game for Michigan at that point, but he would have given the Wolverines a better chance, in my opinion.
Mike Martin is a beast. Martin left the game late due to an illegal chop block that caused a lower leg injury. However, before that he was making Michigan State center John Stipek look like a statue. Martin repeatedly beat Stipek off the snap and into the A-gap of Martin's choice. Hopefully his injury isn't too serious, because backup nose tackle Adam Patterson isn't very good at all.
Rich Rodriguez's clock management needs work.
- At the end of the first half, Rodriguez made bad decisions. After a run play on which the clock was left to run, Rodriguez had two timeouts but ran the ball on first down. Instead of calling one of those timeouts immediately, he wasted precious seconds before calling the first. Then Robinson completed a long pass down the right sideline to Martavious Odoms, leaving :03 seconds on the clock. Really the only choice at that point was to send out Seth Broekhuizen for a field goal, which Broekhuizen made. However, if the first timeout had been called quicker, Michigan would have had approximately :07 seconds on the clock; they could have taken a shot at the end zone and still had time to kick the field goal if that attempt failed.
- At the end of the game, Rodriguez made another mistake. With about 6 minutes left (if I remember correctly), Michigan was down by three scores and had a 3rd-and-19. He called for an immediately checkdown to Michael Shaw, which gained 10 yards. Okay, that's fine. I understand the theory. Get half the yards on 3rd down, and then gain the other 9 yards on 4th down, right? Nope, after the "give up" pass to Shaw, Rodriguez sent out his punting unit. Down three scores with six minutes left . . . and you're going to punt? Go for the win! What difference does it make if you fail to get a first down and MSU wins by a score of 41-17? I'd rather have a chance to win the game than save face.
Michigan's secondary is S-L-O-W. Especially once James Rogers exited the game due to cramps, holy cow . . . I've never seen a slower secondary at Michigan. Cam Gordon had no chance to catch Edwin Baker on Baker's 61-yard touchdown run. Rogers's replacement at cornerback, Cullen Christian, has been noted by this blog (and many others' observations) for his lack of speed; he was almost immediately beaten deep by Spartan receiver Mark Dell. Cornerback J.T. Floyd and safety Jordan Kovacs both lack speed, too, although neither one was really exposed on Saturday.
Denard Robinson was off. I don't know what exactly was wrong. He seemed to be moving fine. He just wasn't making the right reads in the passing or the running game. It didn't seem like he was seeing holes as quickly as in previous weeks. Some credit goes to the Spartans for getting penetration with their defensive front four, but I don't think Robinson was on top of his game. And after throwing only one interception in the previous five weeks, he threw three today to an average MSU secondary. It didn't help that his receivers had subpar days, either. I thought Roy Roundtree would have a big day - and he had opportunities - but Roundtree dropped two passes, and Robinson missed him a couple times, too. He also overthrew a wide open Darryl Stonum in the endzone in the first quarter. The deep ball needs work.
The defense continues to be crappy. Michigan State's quarterbacks completed 73% of their passes for 287 yards, 1 touchdown, and 0 interceptions. The Spartans averaged 5.9 yards per carry, and running backs Edwin Baker (6.7 yards per carry) and Le'Veon Bell (11.1) were outstanding. The good news is that since MSU likes to run the ball, Michigan has now moved up to #119 in the country against the pass (ahead of only Tulsa). The bad news is that Michigan has dropped ten spots to #112 in overall defense (New Mexico is better) since last week, on the strength of MSU's 536 total yards.
I realize this post is quite negative, but on the heels of a blowout and three straight losses to Michigan State, I have a hard time finding positives.