Sunday, October 9, 2011

Michigan 42, Northwestern 24

Is it just me or does Michael Shaw look like a prototypical football player?  Here he scores
on a 2-yard touchdown run.  (Image via

This first bullet almost called for the backup QB.  Not permanently, of course.  But if Denard Robinson continued in the second half the way he played in the first half, I would have been asking for Devin Gardner to get a shot.  Gardner has played well in his increasing role, and Robinson threw three horrible interceptions in the first half.  Robinson's first half looked like this: 10/18 passing, 178 yards, 2 touchdowns, 3 interceptions, and several of those completions were bad throws where his receivers saved him (the bomb to Junior Hemingway, the TD to Steve Watson, etc.).  In the second half, Robinson redeemed himself on 7/8 passing for 159 yards with zero touchdowns and, most importantly, zero picks.

Mike Shaw provided a little bit of a spark.  Neither of Michigan's first two running backs had much of a day.   Fitzgerald Toussaint had 14 carries for 25 yards and couldn't punch the ball in on two goal line opportunities.  Vincent Smith had 3 carries for 8 yards.  It looked to me like Shaw's speed was too much for the Northwestern defense.  He beat the Wildcats to the edge a couple times, rushing 6 times for 25 yards and 1 touchdown, plus making 1 reception for 12 yards.  I was impressed with the Wildcats' rush defense and tackling.

That's not the Dan Persa I remember.  I think Michigan got a little lucky that Persa still has his Achilles on his mind.  It seemed like there were a few opportunities for Persa to run where he decided to throw the ball instead.  He completed 32/44 passes, but a lot of those were bubble screens that were essentially sweep plays and easy completions.  Other than one 39-yard bomb over Blake Countess, the Wolverines kept everything in front of them.

Kenny Demens had his best game of the year.  Demens hasn't been as productive this year as I expected, but he's still been a solid player.  This game was his best, though.  He had 10 tackles, including a sack, and did a good job of chasing down wide receivers and crossing routes in space.  A lot of middle linebackers (Obi Ezeh, for example) would have been left in the dust or would have missed the tackle on those smaller players, but Demens is so strong that if he gets his hands on someone, that person is going to the ground.

Michigan needs to review the option.  I was somewhat surprised that Northwestern didn't run more option.  They had quite a bit of success with it in the first half, and I thought Michigan did a poor job of defending it.  They didn't have guys in position to make plays, they were tentative when they got there (Jake Ryan), or they just failed to square their shoulders and make the tackle (Carvin Johnson).  The bubble screen was effective and it's a safer play, so maybe that's why the Wildcats didn't run the option as much.

Congrats to Steve Watson.  Watson stuck around for five years, played tight end, outside linebacker, defensive end, and now tight end again . . . and finally caught his first collegiate pass on a 9-yard scoring play where he adjusted well and got his hands underneath the ball on a poor throw from Robinson.  That had to be exciting for him.

The defensive line is improving.  I wish William Campbell weren't already a junior, because that kid is close to turning into a player.  He's going to have only one year as a starter at Michigan, despite the fact that he was totally unneeded in 2009 and Rich Rodriguez wasted him in 2010, too, by burning his eligibility at defensive tackle and then flipping him to guard halfway through the year.  Overall, the defensive line had 14 tackles and 2 sacks.

It's horn-tootin' time.  Okay, not really.  My predictions from Friday weren't close to being 100% accurate, but I did say that Persa would have 325 total yards (he had 326) and that the final score would be 38-24 (it was 42-24).  I keep forgetting to review my predictions in these wrap-up posts, so here's where I do that.  On the other hand, Denard didn't carry the ball 12 times (more like 25), Jeremy Gallon didn't score on special teams (but he did on offense!), and Northwestern's running backs didn't average 2.5 yards a carry (more like 5.5).  Also, there's a picture of Denise Milani wearing a tight dress, so I think that was a good move on my part, too.

I typically like Pat Fitzgerald, but . . . he seemed like a bit of a weirdo during his halftime interview with Jeannine Edwards.  He was all rubbing his head and using strange vocal inflections.  I guess that's what adrenaline does to some people, but he seemed a little high strung.

Taylor Lewan false started but nobody called it.  Lewan has been penalty-free so far this year, I believe, but he should have been flagged for jumping the snap.  He probably won't be so lucky next time, and I'm guessing Michigan State's coaches will alert the refs to look for that next week; Lewan did it a bunch last year, too.

Speaking of the referees . . . Michigan got lucky a few times on Saturday night.  Brandin Hawthorne's interception looked like an incomplete pass to me (his hands were under it, but I thought the ball clearly moved when the nose hit the ground), Jeremy Ebert's fumble was about as close as it gets (I think it was a fumble but probably wouldn't have been overturned if he had been called down in the first place), and Jordan Kovacs probably should have been called for a facemask (his right hand was okay, but it looked like his left hand pulled on the bottom bar).  Of course, Northwestern was holding the s*** out of Michigan's cornerbacks and safeties on those bubble screens, so maybe the penalties evened out.


  1. Magnus,

    If you watch the Kovacs sack, think about if he did get a hand on the facemask. Persa's head would have moved in some direction. It's hard to pull a helmet off by a facemask while keeping the head perfectly still.

    The interception and fumble you mentioned were both confirmed. The plays didn't stand, they were confirmed. If the plays stood, if they called it either way it would have been upheld that way. But confirmed means there was enough evidence to say, "we made the right call."

    I too typically like Pat Fitzgerald. But, when there was the Kovacs Persa run in, I thought he handled the situation like a little kid. He kept his players on the field, and wouldn't stop yelling at a ref. It reminded me when I was 10 years old and would play a game of basketball vs my next door neighbor. And when one of us thought a foul had occured, we would yell at each other and then go home without finishing the game. That is Pat Fitzgerald.

  2. @ Anonymous 10:31

    Great analogy for Fitzgerald's behavior. He was clearly super amped about being ahead and smelling victory in the first half. He acquitted himself incredibly poorly when it started to come undone. You have to be more mature as a head coach in the Big Ten. His comportment after Persa lost his helmet was ridiculous and he should have been removed from the field by the refs.

  3. The Kovacs thing was a little weird. I'm willing to bet Persa's helmet wasn't properly secured, leading to a wonky play.

    The officials were godawful both ways. The FG at the end of the first half was inexcusable. I count it as a wash, but I'd rather not deal with such horrible officiating in the future.

  4. I agree with pretty much everything you said, including the reffing.

    I think it is becoming pretty clear that the coaches want to use Fitz between the tackles and Shaw outside of them. I still think Michigan is struggling to block the edge (leading to Shaw's lower YPC in many instances) but Shaw has the speed to be the best option out there. Fitz has more power and less dance and is thus better between the tackles.

  5. I think that a lot of the non-calls for Michigan were make-ups for those non-called holds you mentioned. All in all this game was terribly officiated.

    As for Denard, he needs to plant his feet before he throws and step into them. It looks as though he tries to put every ounce he has into every throw he makes. Why do you think this is?

  6. The other thing about the Kovacs/Persa hit is that Kovacs was going for his midsection and Persa ducked underneath Kovacs. There really was no way Kovacs could have pulled his arms out of the way of Persa's head in time.

  7. I thought Kovacs facemask was pretty clear on the replay.

    I thought Shaw sucked - still running horizontally and being indecisive. Northwestern bottle upped the run inside pretty well, so the play calls did make some sense. And if you're going to use Shaw, you might as well DESIGN slow developing runs to the outside since he'll just turn it that way anyway.

    I thought the RBs where disappointing as a group. It's tough with Denard sucking in the safeties, but they need to get more yardage.

    I thought the coaches once again put together a pretty decent gameplan. Denard was inaccurate early but they never gave up on him and then let Gardner get some plays too. Good thing since Denard once again got 25 carries, about a dozen too many.

    I thought Fitzgerald embarrassed himself with his antics.

    I thought the defensive coaches once again made some spectacular second-half adjustments. This isn't a defense that is going to shut quality teams down on talent alone - but these coaches know what buttons to push.

    I thought the WLB position showed again to be a magnet for lucky turnovers that it didn't force.

    I think MSU's going to be a real challenge, but if we can stop that run like ND did...that Illinois game may be a showdown of top 10 undefeated teams.

    I thought our safeties played well - again. Johnson made some mistakes but Kovacs and Gordon are real solid.

  8. Any ideas as to why D Morgan seemed to play for Hawthorne most of the 1st half? He wasn't effective, and Hawthorne made plays when he returned to the game.

  9. Lank,

    I don't think anything was clear about the Kovacs hit besides Persa's helmet detaching. Those cameras aren't NFL quality.

    I think you put way too much blame for the mediocre run game on the backs. Run game is much, much more about O-line and blocking.

    How many consecutive games are you going to call our turnovers "lucky?" At what point does it stop becoming lucky? Hawthorne certainly didn't force the deflection, but he made a really athletic play to (mostly) bring it in.

  10. Disagree that the bomb to Hemingway was a bad throw, I'll take him one-on-one in a jump ball situation any time, he's proved that he's exceptional at high pointing the ball. Completing that bomb may have been a bad thing in the larger scheme of things, as it encouraged Denard to throw deep the rest of the half, but those times into deep zones.

    Also thought that it was pretty clear that Kovacs grabbed the facemask after somersaulting over Persa (ie he grabbed it on the back side of the sack).

  11. I'm definitely coming around on these turnovers being more than just lucky. Both SDSU and NW aren't turnover prone teams, and Michigan has managed to get a couple turn overs from each, a couple as forced fumbles. Seems the defensive staff has really focused on it, and it's paying off. The players have done well at pouncing on the ball when it comes out too, on both sides of the ball.

  12. As Anon @ 2:25 said, the non-call on Kovacs was the right "call." He clearly went for somewhere beneath Persa's head, and Persa ducked into a helmet grab. Kovacs might have got a hand on the facemask, but the helmet came off because it got caught between Kovac's arm and his body. It wasn't due to pulling the facemask. And yeah, Pat F. acted like a child. RR used to act like a frustrated teenager being made to watch his little brothers who, to him, were always acting foolish. Makes me so happy for Hoke, who clearly acts like a mature adult.

    My god Lank - I stopped at the 3rd "I thought." I know you are just commenting on a blog post, but c'mon man, you usually have decent comments - make them readable at least!

  13. Facemasks don't stretch... the replay showed he had his fingers through what to me looked like a black bar until it started stretching... It looked to me like Kovacs either got his chinstrap, or Persa wheres a mouth guard with a helmet connector and that's what Kovacs pulled on.

    Lewan clearly false started.

    The interception was upheld because he maintained possession of the ball through the catch, regardless of whether the ball touched the ground.

    The fumble was called correctly.

    NW was not only holding on the screens as many a LB and lineman were being held on outside runs and pocket rolls.

    I don't think either turnover was "luck". The receiver probably heard footsteps and started looking up field before he had the ball, which is a common thing among even the best receivers. The fumble only happened because the 2nd tackler was actively trying to hold the receiver off the ground so that the ball could be stripped.

    There were obvious 2nd half adjustments and it's been a real pleasure to see them for the first time since years started with a 19.

  14. Keep in mind that Persa's helmet also had come off earlier in the game as well, jus sayin..

    I agree that Shaw has been largely disappointing (despite Magnus's love affair with him), and that he is certainly the least favorite of mine between Fitz and V Smith. All that lateral running he does...

    I also think Denard is a gamer. He came right out in the second half and just continued to throw the ball deep with confidence. And guess what: zero picks. Impressive performance I thought, and not the first we've seen Denard's grit and leadership. Love that kid.

    I call this little phenomena: Live By The Denard, Die By The Denard

  15. @ Anonymous 10:31 a.m.

    If you watch the replay of the Kovacs sack in slo-mo, his left hand is around the bar of the facemask (at least that's the way it looks to me). Helmets are so loose these days that I wouldn't be surprised if a helmet pulled right off. It doesn't have to twist anymore to get pulled off.

  16. When Northwestern did the same thing, but worse to Iowa's quarterback Rick Stanzi (blow to head or facemask or close line)the Iowa coach did not jump up and down like the Northwestern coach and the Northwestern coach did nothing otherthan jump up and down for the mometum of Northwestern, well what goes around comes around, how does it feel Northwestern now that the shoe is on the otherfoot.

  17. @ Paul 2:05 p.m.

    I think Denard is a very immature passer - both in reads and mechanics - and he throws sometimes like the 2004 version of Chad Henne. You know, the version with zero touch whatsoever who just threw the ball 100 mph every time. His mechanics are horrible, especially when he's feeling rushed. I think his coaches (Rod Smith, especially) concentrated on running and the option reads so much that they probably didn't stress mechanics a great deal. And I like Al Borges, but I don't know how much he can teach Robinson about mechanics. I've always thought the best quarterback coaches would be guys who can demonstrate throwing mechanics, footwork, etc., and Borges can't do that at his size/age.

  18. @ Lankownia 5:29 p.m.

    Considering all/most of Shaw's runs were designed to go outside, I don't have a problem with him taking them outside. And he certainly did better (numbers-wise) than the other running backs.

    One of the things about the WILL in this defense is that he's an athletic guy who's often free to roam. You can call it luck, I guess, but Herron was in the right place at the right time and Hawthorne made a GREAT effort to dive and pick off that pass. Maybe it's just good scheme and good effort and good athleticism on their parts. Give credit where it's due.

  19. @ DNak 5:53 p.m.

    I did notice that Morgan was playing WILL, but I'm not sure why. He's not bad for a freshman, but I prefer Hawthorne, obviously.

  20. @ Anonymous 7:20 p.m.

    Just because a pass is completed doesn't mean it was a good throw. Denard gets lucky on a lot of passes because Hemingway is good at going up to get them, but he throws a lot of jump balls on a wing and a prayer. Check out the INT thrown at Gallon in the Notre Dame game as well as the jump ball that was picked off against Northwestern. It bites him in the butt about 25% of the time.

  21. @ GregGoBlue 1:29 a.m.

    I don't have a love affair with Shaw. I think he's better than some people think, and I also think he looks sweet in a Michigan uniform (not that it matters when it comes to playing time). But I still think Toussaint is a better overall runner, despite Toussaint's lackluster game on Saturday.

  22. Since Hemingway's so good at high pointing the ball, a jump ball to him, when he's one on one is a calculated risk with a high chance of success. The throw to Gallon was a bad choice both because Gallon's not Hemingway and because there was a safety over the top. I think Denard's being taught to throw the jump ball anytime he sees a single covered receiver and the numbers on the back of a DB, and given our receivers, that's a strategy that makes sense, especially with Hemingway .

    And what jump ball was picked off in this game? My memory is that all the ints were just bad overthrows into zone coverage?

  23. @Anonymous 12:19

    "High chance of success" or not, throwing jump balls like that will bite us in the ass at some point or another.

    This is a case where it's not "big catch or incompletion." It's "big catch or interception."

  24. @ Anonymous 12:19 p.m.

    The overthrow/jump ball to Hemingway that was picked off sure looked like it was intended to be a jump ball.

  25. @ Thunder 12:57

    To me, that looked like an overthrown ball that sailed on Denard because he was running forward in the pocket. I remember Hemingway settling into a spot in between levels of the zone. But I may be wrong.

    @David 12:51

    I think those balls are a case of big catch or incomplete when they're thrown into man coverage. When they're thrown into zone, then they go wrong because there is a safety over the top (that's what happened with the INT against ND to Gallon). The main issue is that Denard isn't very good at recognizing coverages, so some times he throws them into zones. But he's getting so much man coverage deep because the safeties are all sucked up, and the jump balls against man are high reward/low risk way to take advantage.

  26. And by "running forward in the pocket" I meant "throwing off his back foot." Argh.

  27. I think these are largely good points, but I agree with the point another poster made that the bomb to Hemingway was a "bad throw."

    If I'm Borges and I see one-on-one coverage for Hemingway with a step on a RS Freshman DB who is at least 2" shorter and 20 lbs lighter, I want Denard to throw it to him pretty much every time and I'd be happy if he made that quality of throw. Denard's throw wasn't perfect (it could have been a ~ yard deeper), but he led Hemingway enough where Hemingway only had to slow down a bit and could keep his body position and go up strong with two hands. The DB from NW would have had to make a spectacular play to stop that throw - jumping high in the air, find the ball, on a virtual dead run - the worst that could have happened was an incompletion, as the DB could only (almost) get one hand on it, not two.

    This wasn't like those ND game throws where two (or three) guys came close to a dead stop and Denard threw it up essentially for grabs, with both teams having a chance to go up for it with two hands.

    BTW, rewatching that video reminded me that it was just one of many examples of the BTN's horrible game coverage - that ball wasn't "taken away" by Hemingway; the DB from NU never had it. At least they didn't experience "technical difficulties" in the middle of that play.

    Other than that quibble, I thought this was good analysis.

  28. @David,

    I'm not an AV-Technician or anything, but I don't think the equipment used by BTN is any worse than FOX/NBC/CBS. Kovacs clearly got his hand in the helmet. It didn't affect the play or significantly shift Persa's head position, but it was in there clearly and should probably have been called a penalty, by rule. Not egregious, but we got a little lucky there.

    Agree that the RBs aren't entirely to blame. Agree that blocking matters more and so does the defense not being worried about Denard's deep passing. I just meant I want more production out of the RBs, so I was disappointed.

    I wasn't calling the turnovers lucky, I was calling the guy who gets the stat (the WLB) lucky. Not like Hawthorne did anything wrong, just that his season stats (eye-popping when combined with Herron) look better than how he's played (pretty well, but...)

    @Anon 7:43

    I thought I had a rhythm going. I thought I'd keep it up.


    Sample sizes and statistics, man...

    Yeah, I actually have no problem with the 2nd half play-calling or the way that they decided to use Shaw - though I'd still prefer someone else get the ball in general. Since Shaw runs a certain way, it's good to call plays to use him that way. I'm not really complaining.

    RE: WLB -- I'm not going to credit a player with benefiting from scheme. The fact that Herron and Hawthorne both made similar plays from the position indicate that it's not anything they're doing that's necessarily great. I also don't think Wisconsin RBs or Texas Tech QBs are that great.

    I like what Hawthorne's doing, I just don't think those plays indicate substantial greatness. I may have to watch some replays of the last INT though...

    Regarding Hemingway/Denard. As you say, Hemingway is good at this. So Denard recognizing that and throwing him the ball isn't a bad play nor is it lucky. On 3rd down, I have no problem with these plays because even if they're intercepted they're usually no worse than a punt would be. On 2nd down - another story.

    The jump ball INT occurred because of pressure - Denard threw off his back foot and overcompensated as a result - creating an overthrow. His other 2 INTs were just bad though...

  29. @ Lankownia 3:29 p.m.

    I think it's a little contradictory to say that you won't really give credit to Herron/Hawthorne for getting turnovers because they're just kind of lucky...

    ...but then you say that Denard's tossing the ball up to Hemingway "isn't a bad play nor is it lucky."

    So Herron can grab a pass and spring 94 yards for a touchdown, or Hawthorne can make a diving interception...and somehow those are more lucky than Denard chucking a ball 50 yards in the general vicinity of a 6'1", 225 lb. receiver and completing the pass?

  30. Let me clarify: Denard is lucky to have Hemingway on his team, but he didn't 'get lucky' on the plays where he throws the ball to Hemingway anymore than Matt Stafford gets lucky when he throws a bomb or fade to Megatron. It's like saying Al Borges 'got lucky' that his QB managed to run for over 100 yards. Some people have abilities, and exploiting those abilities for gain isn't luck.

    Footballs falling from the sky into your arms off a batted pass is luck.

    Borges can repeat the hail mary bomb call next week but Mattison can't call 'the play where the ball gets tipped and the WLB catches it" again. One is due to randomness (i.e. how the ball bounces). The other is just like any other play - it has a relatively stable rate of success, given personnel.

    No Denard isn't going to complete that pass 70% of the time - it's not a screen pass - but it might be 40% and that means a pretty good risk/reward evaluation.

  31. @ Lankownia 8:49 a.m.

    Let's be clear here - Matt Stafford and Calvin Johnson are oodles more talented than Denard Robinson and Junior Hemingway, at least with regard to passing/catching the ball. Stafford's "jump balls" to Johnson are well placed and often purposefully thrown back shoulder throws or fades.

    Robinson's passes aren't particularly well placed, and they're not put in a spot where Hemingway has a better chance of coming down with the ball. That's the difference. The jump balls to Hemingway are put in spots that are 50/50, but Hemingway's size and leaping ability give him an edge. Stafford's throws to Johnson are often in a place where if Johnson doesn't catch it, nobody else will, either.

    I agree that footballs falling from the sky into your arms off a batted pass is luck. Diving to make such a catch is not luck. Grabbing that ball and outrunning everyone for 94 yards is not luck.

    There's something to be said for players who are in the right place at the right time. It happened twice for Herron against WMU and once for Hawthorne against Northwestern. Perhaps they're just good players or perhaps the scheme/coaching are putting them in the right place to make those plays.

    Either way, no other position on the field has been that "lucky" to have batted passes, fumbles, etc. come to them. And I seem to remember that guys like Ian Gold and Larry Foote made some plays in their time at Michigan, too, playing in a similar defense. Those two guys had good college careers and played for awhile in the NFL, and while I'm not saying that Herron/Hawthorne are NFL-bound, perhaps the WILL linebacker position is one that's inhabited by players who are athletic and skilled enough to take advantage of those opportunities.

  32. Thunder,

    I agree with you - obviously NFL guys (especially elite ones) are on another level of skill. Denard has NFL speed but not NFL accuracy...and I don't think Hemingway will have any more than a cup of tea in the NFL.

    I also agree it's not Denard that makes the jump balls to Hemingway the smart plays that they are (in certain situations). That's a significant distinction between him and Stafford. That said, Megatron's going to come down with more than his share even if its a Henne/Orton/Painter type passer. Hemingway's not Megatron, but he's a poor man's version (as others have pointed out)

    "Grabbing that ball and outrunning everyone for 94 yards is not luck." I've seen plenty of fat DT's run back fumbles or INTs for 50+ yard gains. It's not because they're track stars - it's because circumstances outside of their control lead to a free path -- if that's not luck I don't know what luck is. If Herron does it a couple more times, I might begin to agree with you.

    Sure, speed (to outrun people) and athleticism (to make a diving catch) are valuable traits. Sometimes they make a difference, other times they don't. Mark Moundros might not have made the same plays as our WLB made exactly, but he probably would have had an INT and a fumble recovery if he was playing WLB against Western.

    Ian Gold had 2 INTs during the 2 full seasons that he played (nearly every down IIRC). Larry Foote had 3 INTs and zero fumble recoveries in his 2 seasons starts. (Stats from sports Herron and Hawthorne are vastly exceeding those statistics. Is it because they're better players? Of course not.

    Measuring football players by outlier events is not meaningful. CBs aren't evaluated by how many TDs they score. DTs aren't evaluated by how many fumbles they recover. QBs aren't evaluated by number of 90+ yard passes.

    It's more important to evaluate people who get the job done from down-to-down - people that don't mess up - than it is to have a marginal increase in expectations for infrequent occurrences.

    Until these outliers become reoccurring events (e.g., Charles Woodson on defense, Devin Hester on special teams) logic says they're probably random events.