Sunday, October 10, 2010

Michigan State 34, Michigan 17

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 defense isn't good enough to give up penalty yards, too.  The team only had three penalties for 35 yards on Saturday, but all three were against the defense.  Obi Ezeh and James Rogers each had a 15-yard facemask penalty, and Tony Anderson's running into the kicker penalty at the end of the game sealed the Wolverines' fate.

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.


  1. i watched a bit of the game. freshman black(freshman?) looked pretty good making some penetration from what i saw. ur linebackers lack recognition abilities. on the 40 yard TD run(forgot by who) ezeh ran way outside and basically took himself out of the play which led to the huge hole.

    i know it wont make u feel any better but this loss for michigan isnt gonna be half as bad as wat nebraska is gonna do to texas on saturday =(


  2. Magnus, this is the week you won me over with your Smith argument. My thoughts on the game are pretty much in line with yours. It just bothers me that Michigan lost this way. All the mistakes would have ended up in a Michigan loss, no matter the year.

  3. Why did Hopkins only get 2 carries? He looked good running the ball. Smith in on 3rd and short situations makes me want to break things.

  4. @ horn

    Yeah, Jibreel Black is pretty good, at least against the pass. I think he's going to be great before he leaves.

  5. @ Anonymous 11:52 a.m.

    I'm glad I've got at least one convert. lol

  6. @ Anonymous 12:27 p.m.

    I honestly don't know. It doesn't make a lick of sense to me. The only reason I can think of that puts Smith in the game on 3rd-and-1 instead of Hopkins is that Smith is more experienced and less prone to fumbled exchanges. But if Rodriguez doesn't trust Hopkins to hold onto the ball on 3rd-and-1, then why does he trust him on 1st-and-10 or any other down in a big game? A fumble is a fumble, whether it's in short yardage or long.

  7. In defense of Denard on the INTs, the first two were really hard throws to make. Both of them were very good coverage, and Denard knows that his team needs six. With crappy field goal kicking those two INTs probably just cost us 3 points total. And Denard also knows that the defense sucks horribly and that field goals won't hold up. He has to force things to win. Unfortunately, I think that MSU showed the game plan on how to beat Denard. Crowd the line of scrimmage, take away the Denard run, and put DBs on an island. He can't consistently beat you that way.

  8. I have two questions.
    On the three penalties against Michigan, what were they for? And did they keep the drive alive for MSU?
    One chop block,one face mask and One interfeering with the punter.


  9. This biggest problem I had with the game was the lack of involvement of the rb's. The first drive shaw had a 20 yard gain and hopkins had both of his carries. After that they moved away from both of those players and let smith and denard run most of the game, which was substantially less effective. 3rd and short was why hopkins was recruited and he's been effective in the first few games of the season.

    I agree on most of the other points too, when state picked up their 31st point, it seemed like forcier would have been a nice change. A spark was needed and it was obvious that wasn't going to be denard.

    Also, the defense is terrible, but I haven't figured out who to blame for that.

  10. Um, we didn't make the field goal at the end of the half.

  11. [quote]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.[/quote]

    Just for the record, the field goal was missed (blocked) before half-time.

  12. TTB, do you think Vincent Smith is to RichRod as Pat Massey (the infamous 6'7" defensive tackle) was to Lloyd Carr? Specifically, is he just a favorite of the coach who gets an unreasonable amount of playing time?

    I'm reaching, obviously, but I can't fully explain all of Smith's carries.

  13. Good catch. I got the made/missed field goals mixed up. The poor clock management cost us a potential 7 points, not just 4.

  14. Is Cullen Christian not ready for the college game and needed to redshirt or should we start worrying about him not being good enough aka Turner/Emilien.

  15. Magnus,

    The lack of speed/talent on defense (and especially in the secondary) is well-documented, and some of that is beyond coaching, but what about tackling? I don't know how many times I counted Cam Gordon flying into a ball carrier, trying to make a big hit, but just bouncing off of the guy without even making an effort at wrapping up. Isn't that coaching? It's just hard for me to believe that the defensive coaching staff can't at the very least coach up what appear to be horrific fundamentals.

  16. Do you think the sophomore first year starter finally emerged out of Denard? I mean he was bound to have a bad game at some point right?

    Some have noted that the INTs were tough passes to make. Although they looked like decent coverage, on both plays the receiver had a step on the defender and with the right amount of touch they seem like easy TDs near the back of the endzone. Particularly the first, the ball was even pretty behind the defender who made a great catch and Roundtree was breaking away from him towards the corner.

    Do you think the nerves got to Denard? Overthrows, lack of patience on both the red-zone INTs, and the desire to go for big plays when often the short routes were wide open (guy was wide open on the left sideline on the 3rd INT, nobody around him for 20 yards). Also didn't this happen to Forcier last year? Isn't it pretty reasonable to expect these types of games to happen in the normal progression of even the most talented QBs?

    Unfortunately this game also showed that for this team to win against more experienced and consistent foes, Denard and the offense needs to play near if not perfect.

    Re coaching: On Smith I've been with you since week 2. That 3rd and 1 we didn't get was huge. The clock management leaves something to be desired but it can get a lot worse (see Les). RR said that it was a mistake to punt in the 4th and he took the blame so at least he knows. My question about coaching is that I felt that we were a bit predictable offensively, what do you think? It looked like State gambled on defense way too effectively. Also do we have an answer for the counter? UMass killed us and State used it very effectively. I see every team from here on out killing us with that play.

  17. @ Anonymous 3:42 p.m.

    I can't tell you whether Smith is this regime's version of Pat Massey or not. The thing is, Pat Massey wasn't very good at all... At least Smith makes the plays that are there; he's just not good enough to create for himself very much.

  18. @ Anonymous 5:09 p.m.

    I'm not worried about Cullen Christian's talent at this point. In an ideal world, he would be redshirting right now. I don't think he's ever going to be a shutdown corner (I've never thought that), but he could still turn out to be a solid player. He shouldn't have even been out there yesterday, let alone in what looked to be man coverage.

  19. @ Anonymous 5:20 p.m.

    I agree on Cam Gordon's tackling. It has to be fixed. The thing is, announcers keep saying "He hit that receiver hard enough to jar the ball loose, and I don't know how the receiver held on to it"...but the receivers never drop it. Gordon hits hard but the offense still makes the play. Two things:

    1) In the immediate future, Gordon needs to wrap up better, even if he odesn't hit as hard.

    2) As Gordon gets more experience and starts to react quicker, perhaps those players turn into incompletions or maybe even interceptions. I'm attributing some of his issues to being a redshirt freshman and a position changer.

  20. @ Alex

    Denard was indeed bound to have a bad game at some point. It happens to every player. I wasn't that surprised that it happened this week. MSU has had five weeks to sit back and watch how NOT to defend him.

    I don't think it was nerves so much as immaturity and trying to make a play. He seemed pretty calm out there. I just think he was pressing a little bit, trying to make plays that weren't really there.

    I don't think we were that predictable offensively. Even if we were, the plays were still there. We just didn't execute. There were holes that Denard didn't see. There were dropped passes. We just have to execute better.

    The counter play has been a problem for Michigan for a long time. And frankly, the counter is a problem for most teams - that's why it's used. Yesterday it could have been stopped by a) linebackers who didn't overscrape and b) a safety who read the play quicker and was faster. Unfortunately, teams have been taking advantage of Cam Gordon's lack of speed on both passing and running plays. He's playing hard and I think he has a chance to be a good player, but he's not a free safety.

  21. Magnus,

    Do you have any concerns about the effectiveness of RR's offense against better Big Ten defenses in general? I'm willing to chalk up yesterday to Denard just having a very bad game (and hoping it's an anomoly), but that doesn't change the fact that RR still hasn't beaten a non-Indiana Big Ten defense (yes, Wisconsin in 2008, but I consider that an anomoly as well). Do you think that's a result of inexperience/injury/lack of players/bad luck, or is it possible that there is a larger, programmatic concern?

    (Please say it's the former.)

  22. What position do you think Cam switches to once we get the FS situation worked out?

    I know it's really early to speculate but do you see any of the juniors (RS and true) heading to the draft this season?

  23. Thanks Magnus, your response to my questions actually makes me feel a bit better. It's good to know that many of the mistakes come down to execution...things that you have to imagine can get better in a short amount of time.

    Do you see us bouncing back and executing better against Iowa? Or is this gonna be a gut shot that will put us down for a couple weeks?

  24. @ Anonymous 6:26 p.m.

    I'm not concerned about the offense being ineffective against good teams. I am concerned that the players (right now) might be ineffective, since Robinson still needs work on reading defenses and throwing accurate deep balls. But the plays were there on Saturday; we just didn't execute.

  25. @ Antoo

    I'd like to see Cam Gordon switch to Bandit if he gets the chance. Unfortunately, I think our lack of depth means that he'll have to stay at FS at least through 2011, unless they put Woolfolk back at deep safety when he returns next season.

  26. Also, I don't foresee any juniors leaving early for the NFL. Koger, Shaw, Odoms, Van Bergen, etc. aren't good enough. Mike Martin is the most likely, but I don't think he'd be a high enough pick to make leaving early worthwhile.

  27. @ Alex 6:32 p.m.

    I'm not sure how I feel about the Iowa game yet. Iowa has a great defense, but their offense leaves something to be desired. The tight ends really hurt us last year, but I think we're better equipped to cover the middle of the field than we were with Mike Williams at deep safety.

    I don't expect Denard to return to 200/200 form, though. Our defense is going to have to step it up a notch and hold them to a point total in the lower 20s.

  28. I agree that Vincent Smith is over utilized on short yardage situations but you have to love the way this gutty kid sacrifices his body blocking much bigger defenders.

  29. I wanted to ask your opinion of Cam. I was a moderater on Mgoblog and everyone quickly blamed Cam's speed and lack of recognition on the big MSU runs. Yes, he needs to wrap up better but the long runs are on the front 10 guys right? He doesn't have the speed to chase down a RB but is that really his job if he starts 15 yards deep? What chance does he have? I think Cam will be special but he will always have a speed problem. How can he play FS then? The kid has talent, can lay the BOOM, and when he knows the position will be there fast enough to kill the completion/ knock the ball out but he isn't a Big 10 FS. I just wish they put him at the right spot to start with (SS).

    Really disappointed in the drops. These WRs were amazing to start the year and have 1(?) drop all year and then 3 HUGE drops against MSU! Can't happen.

    What about the coaching call on GERG to not give him safety help when Rogers comes out? Everyone, EVERYONE, knew MSU would play-action and go deep at Cullen. EVERYONE. And they put a young raw CB all alone on a corner. That has to be on the D Coordinator right? Yes pressuring people is good. But that doesn't mean you can't ever help your CBs. I always defended him because of the talent he has but this screwup really made me question him as a coordinator. Anytime any team losses a secondary guy the other team goes at him. Especially when the replacement is a freshman. Ah!

    Finally... I wanted your opinion on the Michigan Daily article about Michigan walk-on kickers. They mentioned that Michigan doesn't have a kicking specialist so the kids have to learn on their own. Do you think that's normal or acceptable at a school that generates what $20 M a game? If our kicking game could be a lock by hiring one trainer at $45k a year why not? It's not like 1 box seat won't pay for it.

  30. I've been vocal about defending Smith, but I agree about Hopkins replacing him for short yardage. If you trust him in the game, put him in on short yardage runs. The only thing I can think of is that RR prefers to have the option of an audible to a pass including a RB option.

    Its not about size. Barry Sanders was a good short-yardage NFL back, despite his rep, but Smith is no Sanders.

    Denard was a little lucky to only have 1 interception in the first 5 weeks. His accuracy on intermediate and long passes has been inconsistent all year. We should expect one bad turnover each game. I was actually encourage by the third INT because Denard put some air under that ball and gave the WR a chance to make a play. Robinson didn't have a good day, but I think what we saw was closer to normal than some of the nearly flawless performances we've seen against weak competition.

    I agree that they should have stuck with the run game that was working so well early in the game. It was especially frustrating to see the team drive down the field mostly with the run and then turn the ball over while passing in the red zone.

  31. @ KB

    Yes, it's partly Cam Gordon's fault on those long runs, ESPECIALLY because he's 15 yards deep. Now, can we really blame him since Baker is so much faster? Ehhhh...probably not. But it's his responsibility to make that tackle.

    It was a bad idea for Greg Robinson to leave Cullen Christian on an island. MSU has good wide receivers, and Christian can't handle Dell on his own. There should have been someone over the top.

    I haven't read the Michigan Daily article about walk-on kickers. From what I understand, the school can't hire a kicking trainer/coach without eliminating a coach position. But I could be wrong.

  32. Magnus,

    From watching Carvin Johnson's high school game tape, I figured him to play deep safety in the UM defense. Am I totally in the wrong here in his evaluation? Plus, Thomas Gordon seems to be playing decent at bandit safety. It just seems to me that the coaching staff wants Carvin in the starting lineup, but to me his ball skills better suit him to play deep safety. Also, I've noticed that the times Carvin has gotten beat on a route were when he was peering into the backfield. But at deep safety, everything you're looking at is in front of you and eyeing the QB is less likely to get you beat at deep safety.

  33. @ Mike 8:59 a.m.

    I did not expect Carvin Johnson to play essentially an OLB position. I thought he'd be a safety of some sort (free or strong).

    By the way, Thomas Gordon plays Spur, which is the same position as Carvin Johnson. Jordan Kovacs plays Bandit.