Sunday, October 16, 2011

Michigan State 28, Michigan 14

Here's a picture of Marisa Miller to ease the pain.

I have no problem with the way Michigan used the Denard/Devin duo.  Against teams with winning records this season, Denard Robinson has gone 44-for-96 (45.8%) with 7 touchdowns and 7 interceptions.  There's really no doubt in my mind that Devin Gardner will be a better passer than Robinson whenever Gardner becomes the starting quarterback.  As Urban Meyer said on the broadcast, it's about getting your best eleven players on the field.  The issue with Gardner right now is that he's lacking game experience and he's not getting starter's reps in practice.  Chris Spielman (more on him later) showed his lack of Michigan knowledge when he griped that Denard Robinson would have seen Stephen Hopkins running open down the middle of the field on the Fullback Pop Pass but that Gardner threw an incomplete pass to Junior Hemingway instead.  Even if Robinson would have seen it - and I'm not convinced he would - his arm is so erratic that there's less than a 50/50 chance he would have hit Hopkins.

Al Borges blergh.  I think Borges has done a good job of playcalling for the most part this year, but that 4th-and-inches play action pass that got Denard sacked in the fourth quarter was an atrocious call.  Tell your offensive line to man up, run a dive play or a QB sneak, and see what happens.  Taking the ball away from the line of scrimmage and expecting your inaccurate quarterback to gain six inches through the air is near lunacy.

Michigan's front seven got manhandled by a patchwork offensive line.  That was perhaps the most demoralizing part of the game.  Michigan State running back Edwin Baker had previously been averaging 4.1 yards per carry.  He finished the game with 26 carries for 167 yards (6.4 yards per attempt).  It reminded me of the 2010 Penn State game, when Michigan took a struggling Evan Royster and turned him into a star again.

Surprise, surprise, that was a refereeing failure in East Lansing.  The referees for this game were atrocious.  Let me count the ways:
  • The lateral to Keshawn Martin was indeed a backwards pass and when it was picked up by Brandin Hawthorne, it should have been Michigan's ball.
  • Edwin Baker stepped out of bounds at the 22-yard line.  Viewers could plainly see his cleat hit the sideline.  Somehow he was allowed to get the ball all the way down to the 7-yard line.
  • William Gholston flat-out punched Taylor Lewan in the face and should have been ejected.
  • On his way to the endzone, Isaiah Lewis clearly taunted Denard Robinson at about the 1- or 2-yard line; under college rules, the touchdown should have been disallowed.
Surprise, surprise, that was a broadcasting failure . . .  From the very beginning, it was apparent that Michigan was going to get no love from the broadcasting crew, especially Chris Spielman.  Spielman had nothing positive to say about Michigan at all.  Why would he?  Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio was a graduate assistant at Ohio State when Spielman played there in the mid-1980s, and Dantonio was also the defensive coordinator for the Buckeyes in the early 2000s.  I guffawed when Spielman said about Dantonio, "That man right there stands for hard nosed, clean football" or something to that effect.  Right, Spielman.  

. . . because Mark Dantonio is a despicably coach.  That's why he allowed Glen Winston to rejoin the Spartans on the day Winston was released from jail.  That's why he clearly allowed his team members to repeatedly hit Michigan players out of bounds (once), punch Taylor Lewan (once), jump on Denard Robinson after he was down and then grab his facemask and twist (once), and repeatedly throw Robinson to the ground after he threw the ball (three times).  The dirty play reminded me of the time when Wisconsin quarterback Jim Sorgi was choked by Ohio State linebacker Robert Reynolds.  Who was Reynolds' defensive coordinator that year?  That's right . . . Mark Dantonio.  Eff that guy.

What happened to Michigan's offensive line?  I thought one of Rich Rodriguez's best coaches was offensive line coach Greg Frey, who turned a redshirt freshman Taylor Lewan, lightly recruited Patrick Omameh, lightly recruited Mark Huyge, and a couple upperclassmen into a very solid offensive line.  It's clear that Lewan was hobbled somewhat by an injury or two yesterday, and I doubt the spin move by Marcus Rush would have turned into a sack if Lewan were healthy (when has Lewan ever looked that inept?), but Michigan allowed seven sacks overall and couldn't get the running game going.  Obviously, the offensive line's regression didn't truly hurt the team until yesterday, but the only change from last year is the Ricky Barnum/Michael Schofield combo at left guard . . . and the hiring of Darrell Funk to replace Frey.

Can we please change up the snap count?  I have grown tired of Denard Robinson punching toward the ground, David Molk looking up, and the ball being snapped on rhythm.  The coaches need to find a way to change up the snap count, put on a dummy count, etc.  There's a reason Michigan State has been jumping the snap and timing blitzes perfectly for the past couple years - it's because Michigan's coaches have been painfully vanilla with snap counts.

Prediction recap: I said in Friday's preview that MSU would have the advantage in all categories except Michigan Rush Offense vs. MSU Rush Defense.  I was wrong.  The Spartans had the advantage in all phases except sportsmanship and class.  Michigan couldn't run (2.3 yards per carry), Michigan couldn't pass (12/31 for 161 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception), Michigan couldn't stop the run (5.5 yards per attempt), and Michigan didn't do great against the pass (Kirk Cousins was 13/24 for 120 yards and 2 touchdowns).  I did guess correctly that MSU would score 28 points, although I thought Michigan would score a little more.

Ultimately, this has been better than expected.  I don't think many people expected that Michigan would be 6-0 heading to East Lansing, and I don't think anyone expected the Wolverines to climb all the way to #11 in the polls.  Michigan is 6-1 heading into a bye week, and while I don't plan for Michigan to go undefeated the rest of the way, the remaining schedule shows five winnable games.  In the first year of the Brady Hoke era, I'm pretty satisfied with how things have gone.


  1. I could not agree more with your analysis. The play call on 4th down was horrible. The Spartans are a dirty ass team. Defensive containment on the edge is terrible (More Cam Gordon please). Also, is it possible Michigan is practicing too hard? The team as a whole looked slow and lethargic, or was that just me?

  2. Pretty similar to my thoughts. I guess things won't change too much until we get a couple classes of recruits on the lines and a quarterback who can pass. What do you think about getting Gardner more playing time?

  3. I think you have a mental block about Devin Gardner that is clouding your usually excellent judgment. I agree that, with time, he will be a better passer than Robinson. But it is also clear that he is well behind Robinson in game experience, and this leads to missed opportunities. Of course, Robinson misses opportunities too, but he also provides a spark that Gardner does not yet possess. If you want to throw away the season, you could use the remaining games as the Devin Gardner Football School. That’s what Rich Rodriguez did in 2008, when he ran a spread offense with Lloyd Carr leftovers. But right now, Robinson gives Michigan a better chance to win. I thought the announcers were entirely correct, when they observed that Michigan was throwing away a down almost every time they put Gardner in. We now have 3 games’ experience using Gardner fairly regularly. Most of the time, the plays involving him are not better result than just running the base offense with Denard; on average, I would say they are slightly worse.

  4. Good analysis, great visual intro. As for the D-line, I am really starting to think that Martin is overrated. Yes, he gets double-teamed, but to let MSU's O-line push them around like that was embarrassing. It just looked to me like UM was, once again, scared of MSU. Hoke was perhaps very astute to identify toughness as the primary thing to work on from the start - fundamentals and toughness will raise inferior talent over superior talent. This team just embarrassingly got their asses kicked by tougher kids.

    And what about Denard? How much longer do you think he should start? I think Devin should get a shot at starting. Like now. Everyone says he's not ready for prime time. Well, that's an inane argument. How is he going to get ready for prime time if he is not given more playing time (and by more I mean more continual snaps)? Denard has always been high reward/high cost. It's clear his costs are greater than the rewards, especially when he could be on the field at slot and/or spell someone who is, you know, an actual QB (Denard as back-up QB). I am just no longer buying the Devin is not ready to compete argument. To me, Denard is not ready to compete at the QB position. QBs who dont grow, progress, get left behind. He has not progressed at the rate he should at the D1 level, and I think he is holding the whole team back with him. I mean, I feel bad for our receivers - not only does he seem to throw to everyone but them, but when he does accidentally get a ball around them he gets them nearly killed - did you see what Roundtree had to endure to catch a pass yesterday? And we have seen it multiple times with Hemingway. Ok, I'll stop. But I'll be chanting Devin Devin Devin from here on out.

  5. Magnus, I have been sickened by what I see over at Rivals and mgoblog. Being a fan has degenerated into a simple equation: if one loses, then coaches who previously were good coaches failed and don't know how to coach. Yes, the playcall was marginal on 4th and 1, but it was bold. If that had resulted in a stunning fake and TD, the same people descrying Al Borges would be praising him a la Desmond Howard's 4th and 1 TD against Notre Dame where he laid out to reel in an overthrow. I know, that combo is not Denard/Tree or Denard/Junior, but the point is that call was not the game.

    Another thing that was not the game? The lack of QB runs or RB runs or throwbacks or bubbles. Football is not complicated. Every defensive call is vulnerable. A prevent is vulnerable to the short pass, strong against giving up long gainers; press coverage is strong against screens and the short stuff, vulnerable against getting burnt (as Hemningway did down the sideline) on a double or strong move, etc.

    MSU played the book against Michigan - EVERYBODY UP, EVERYONE INTO THE BACKFIELD. If they did this against Russell Wilson, game over. Notice when Devin came in they went conservative cover 2. The point is that Borges had to take what their D was giving. Let's face it, Denard can't punish a good D who forces him to pass. Even his TD to Tree was a bang-bang play with coverage.

    For people to blame a seasoned OC who was taking what the D was giving is infantile.

    Yes, players have good games, as do coaches. We had a chance to tie on the road against a great D (if dirty) and came up short. Live and learn.

    I think we get to an exposed Illinois team with a chance to 9-1 coming home for the last two. Let's all back off the ledge and realize, as you said in your closing, that Hoke et al has done a helluva job with limited talent.

    I don't think Funk is a problem. He is working with a paper thin line that cannot power block at the guards.

    Finally, MSU is an execrable team. This was a mistake. I firmly believe they will not see a win for years after this.

  6. I agree with all the above but one thing. Before saying what -- yeah, MSU was shockingly dirty yesterday. I think that was the dirtiest Big 10 game I recall watching. And to praise Dantonio as a "disciplinarian" who likes clean football -- it's utterly shocking, almost surreal. I too am amazed at how Michigan's O-line got owned.

    I disagree with the 4th and 1 call. I seem to be the only one who disagrees, though. My thought is this: Michigan's O-line isn't powerful and aggressive. Last week on the goal line, they had difficulty pushing Northwestern off the ball. I haven't seen them really DOMINATE a team all year (except maybe Minny). It would've been crushing if they'd tried a power run, only to have MSU crush the play at the LOS. If the TE even chips the blitzer, or if Denard, y'know, scans the defense to maybe get a feel for where the pressure might come from, I think they have a shot at a TD. Let's remember, getting yards yesterday wasn't easy or assured.

  7. The better team won, but this was one of the more infuriating losses I can remember. Not the most important, costly, embarrassing or disappointing - but for MSU to get away with all their crap and win the game...

    MSU (with Dantonio) has successfully raised their profile in our list of hated rivals. IMO They've passed ND and are knocking on the door of OSU's unassailable position at #1. I'm sure they're happy about that. He can coach defense, that's to be sure, but what a despicable guy.

    The OL regression is difficult to figure out. It seems that OL is more about consistency than any other position and I think this is where the coaching change and Borges' ever-evolving philosophy seems to have cost the team the most. The talent is there, they proved they can perform individually and a unit, so it's troublesome that a veteran unit hasn't had much success.

    Borges inability to adjust to the edge blitzing was disappointing, and 4th down call inexplicable. I also thought the spot there kind of stunk as Gallon seemed to me to get across. They shouldn't have needed that play. I understand wanting to avoid trying to run into the teeth of the defense's strength, but you can't call a slow-developing play like that against a team that's been blitzing people off the edge all game.

  8. It's time to put Gardner in for a full drive or two a game as QB, and have Robinson stay at tailback or wideout for those drives. Defenses clearly knew when Gardner was in and Robinson was out, it was going to be a pass play, and when both were in, it was going to end up in Robinson's hands at some point. The only way you keep the D on it's heels is to keep both in for an extended period. The threat of a screen pass would make Denard a legitimate blocking threat, even if he never touches a guy.

    Gardner may not have seen every open guy, but he also never showed any difficulty with his throwing mechanics 7 games into the season. Next year, I pray we get Gardner at QB and Robinson at tailback/wideout/punt returner. It's best for Blue and best for Denard. Let's be real, he's never going to be a Micheal Vick type in the NFL, but he might be a Reggie Bush/Devin Hester type. Having him switch next year gives Michigan the best 11 on the field, probably puts Denard at the top of the Heisman list, and gives Borges a QB/RB pair that can overcome when one of them is having a bad day.

  9. Regarding the fourth down call: If MSU owned our OL, as most agree, then why would would we try to run up the middle on short yardage?

    MSU played the run all day; on short yardage they would likely be even more focused on it -- that's a good opportunity for a play action.

    I thought the problem was that the TE didn't slow the blitzer, on the QBs blind side, on a play action.

  10. @ guanxi 4:37 p.m.

    It would be easier to gain 1 foot by sneaking the ball/handing it off than passing for it. Sure, the MSU defense had been stopping the run...but they had been stopping the pass, too. The entire offense sucked, but at least running the ball wouldn't have asked our subpar throwing QB to make a play through the air.

  11. Dirty team? I don't think so. Michigan state has been known for their sportsmanship and class. It is a rivalry game and that's what teams do. Get in their faces and late hit. As for the gholston punch you could blatantly see Lewan grab his facemask and pull him to the ground beforehand. All of you Michigan fans have terrible sportsmanship and could blame the loss on anything. GO GREEN!!!

  12. @ Anonymous 5:30 PM...

    Can you read? I suppose, seeing as you go to MSU, that's a lot to ask for, so I'll spell out the obvious for you.

    (1) No one is claiming Michigan lost because MSU's team played dirty. We lost because we played worse than your team.
    (2) Trying to break someones neck and punching someone in the face are not exactly acceptable. What if 320 pound Will Campbell jumped onto a pile with Kirk Cousins on it and twisted his helmet that way? Would you be celebrating it then since it's a "rivalry game"? Do you generally find attempts to severely injure other people acceptable?

    But anyway, that's enough arguing with idiots for one day. Your team won a contest on the field, fair and square. It happens.

  13. @anonymous

    That must be the sort of intellect that got you into such a prestigious school!

    No one blamed the loss on anything other than MSU being the better team. But as the better team, and the team that constantly reminds us how many times in a row they have beaten us, you would think that it would become old hat for them and they wouldn't have to resort to thug like actions that cheapen the otherwise great defensive display they put on.

  14. Magnus,

    I love your analysis more and more, I'm beginning to come here for my game previews and recaps rather than mgo. honestly brian's love affair with denard and the inability he has to recognize his short comings just irks me with each passing game. He will use any means necessary, whether its blaming the coaches or the oline or the receivers, whoever it is, to explain away denards horrific record as a passer. After a while, you just have to call a spade a spade and move on.

    The excuse that I hate the most though is that we need to run short slants and curl flat routes just like we did last year "because that is playing to denards strenghts and gives us the best chance to win". I call BS on that. We played to his strengths the entirety of last year and we didnt win. Those curl flat's and quick slants do nothing to open running game up. If anything, it allows for more guys in the box because they don't have to worry about the vertical attack (except for our vaunted "oh noes" which wont work either if your qb cant hit the broad side of a barn).

    There is one major reason our offense has stalled against good defenses the last 2 years and that reason is denard's inability to complete passes down the field. Teams like msu osu etc. are content to play man to man coverage and sell out to stop the run because they know that we can't make them pay. And until we can start completing passes beyond 10 yards, we will always get manhandled by teams with competent defenses.

    /end rant

    Love the blog, keep it up. Its great to get away from the slappyness sometimes and get an honest breakdown of the game.

  15. @Thunder 4:42pm:

    I guess that was our delimma all game: Use our sub-par running or sub-par passing. With MSU playing short-yardage D, I'd see the pass as the lesser of two evils.

    Was it really 1 foot? I don't remember others saying that, but I don't remember what it looked like at the time.

    In any case, it wasn't Denard's throwing that ruined the play, and certainly no guarantee that a run would have succeeded any better.

    Go Blue!

  16. Congrats on the troll, Magnus. You've really made it big-time now.

  17. @ anon

    If you're reading these comments, I believe the general consensus is MSU played better, and won because of it. They're not blaming the loss on the dirty play of MSU, they're just pointing it out. If you actually stand up for how green played today, you're character is less than what I would've thought a spartan's should be. Maybe I'm wrong, but Gholston cranking Denard's helmet while he was on the ground is not only unacceptable, but he should have been kicked out and suspended for at least the next game. But, I don't think that'll happen knowing how much of a "class act" Dantonio is.

    I wish you the best, and congratulations on your win.


  18. @ Anonymous 5:30 p.m.

    Teams with "sportsmanship" and "class" don't rack up six personal fouls in one game. At least try to make an effort to create a believable story if you're going to troll here.

  19. @ Anonymous 7:18 p.m.

    Thanks for the compliments.

  20. @ guanxi 8:33 p.m.

    I don't know if it was a foot, but it was certainly less than one yard. Two feet, maybe.

  21. @ bada bing 10:25 p.m.

    Thanks. TTB is moving up in the world. I wonder what's next in the blog's evolution. Maybe I'll buy some ad space on the Jumbotron at Michigan Stadium.

  22. I don't think there's any question that Devin's a better passer.
    But here's the thing: He was missing reads all day, and it was not because he is incapable of making them. It's because he was not in any kind of rhythm. He's being thrown in for a snap here and a snap there. Of course he's going to miss reads because he's not up to speed with the game. Denard would have seen those guys (though he may not have made the most accurate pass).

    Which brings me to this: either start Devin full-time of stick with Denard, but none of those consistent switching. Neither qb will be able to get in a rhythm.

    I'd start Denard for the rest of the season. See if he can improve. My guess is he does reasonably well until Ohio State, and then falters there.

    Unless there is DRAMATIC improvement, Borges needs to sit him down and recommend a change of position. Bottom line, Borges is preparing Robinson for his career. If there is a student who is very good at biology but is awful at math/physics, a good professor will sit them down and recommend healthcare over engineering. That's Borges/Hoke's role with Denard. He's not going to be a pro qb.
    He will hurt his draft stock by continuing to play there, because he's too slight to be a first round pick at RB. But if he takes the opportunity to play a Reggie Bush-type role, he can be deadly. Given his ability to cut, I do think a full offseason can turn him into a serviceable route-runner, which with his speed is all he needs to be. He could be a first round pick.

    And Gardner is ready. He will make bad decisions, but the guy is accurate, strong, big, and fast. When he throws the ball I don't hold my breath and expect the worst. I can't say the same about Denard.

  23. 1 different play and we win, and the conversation completely changes. Our negatives are all pretty obvious negatives, though. If 4th down is successful then we'd be tied and the final drive would have been a winning drive instead of a desperate gamble of pass attempts. As far as the horrendous sportsmanship is concerned, yes the taunting play should have disallowed the pick 6, it's pretty obvious actually, but Hoke is man enough to take it instead of filing a complaint. I was pissed off at half time when we were all tied up because of the disgusting behavior by the thug spartans. There's nothing else I can think to call behavior like that but thug. They reminded me why I am a Michigan fan very strongly.

  24. " Wisconsin quarterback Jim Sorgi was choked by Ohio State linebacker Robert Reynolds. Who was Reynolds' defensive coordinator that year? That's right . . . Mark Dantonio."

    Thank you for pointing this out. Just further proves to me Thugtonio is teaching his players to be mean, not men.

  25. Here are Devin Garnder's stats from MSU:
    3-7 for 45 Yards, with 6 rushes for -15 (he got sacked three times). Why do we want this guy as a starter? Because he throws a nice spiral while missing every other receiver?

    I need evidence that Gardner is better than Denard. Going 3-7 while also committing weird mistakes (going three yards over the line before finally finding a wide-open Hemingway, the last play where he ran around like a chicken w/ his head cut-off to no effect) and getting sacked a lot doesn't cut it.

    Michigan would not be 6-1 if Gardner was the starter. We would have lost to ND and who knows against WMU or NU.

    Gardner has the skills to turn into a very good QB but he's not there yet, not by a long shot.

  26. @ Rob Pollard 11:40 a.m.

    I'm not sure if you're talking to me or not. I don't want Gardner as the starter. Robinson should still be the starter, but I think Gardner needs to be sprinkled in there. He needs to be ready to play in case Robinson gets hurt (which has happened for the past two weeks, and it looks like Robinson got a concussion at the end of the game, which could affect the Purdue game). The illegal forward pass is the type of play that won't happen when he gets more experience. That's a freshman (sophomore?) mistake.

    I agree that Michigan wouldn't be 6-1 with Gardner as the starter...but they might be 5-2 or maybe 4-3.

    As bad as 3-for-7 sounds, that's actually a better completion percentage than Denard's (43% compared to 38%).

  27. Agree with the last 2 comments. The Sorgi/Reynolds comment was a good one that I didn't know about.

    Also agree with Rob Pollard - Devin still hasn't shown he's the better guy and Michigan would have a worse record. The call for him are the result of Denard's limitations and the grass-is-always-greener fan mentality where "the backup QB is the most popular player".

  28. id agree that we loooked slower than fuck out there.. even on the first drive, even V smith looked soo damn slow running the ball..

    Denards TD run he looked incredibly slow as well.. not sure what it was all about

  29. Thunder, I'm responding to a few of your commenters above (e.g., "I'll be chanting Devin Devin Devin from here on out").

    Beyond starting, I also don't really agree with Devin getting more than 3-5 plays a game (the Northwestern game was about right - I think he got 5 or so plays then), and he had more than that against MSU even before Denard was injured. Devin should be getting ready by playing against EMU, Minnesota, Purdue, etc. As you pointed out, he needs much more experience - he definitely looked like a 2nd-year player on his long throw that didn't count to Hemingway as a) didn't know where was on the field and b) found Hemingway way late.

    That's what's make him playing little/throwing zero passes against EMU so inexplicable. These coaches trust him to take 10 or so (before Denard was injured) snaps against MSU, but up 3 TDs against EMU, it's too precarious a situation? I know players change, but that was only 4 weeks ago; they should have inserted Devin in games like that whenever they had the chance.

    Overall, a game in which neither Denard or Devin played particularly well, but they were far from the only ones to blames (e.g., Borges, the OL).

  30. @ Rob Pollard 1:14 p.m.

    Gotcha. I agree that Devin should have seen some playing time against the weak teams at the beginning of the year. It does seem strange that he wouldn't play then but now plays significant plays in more important Big Ten games.

    I still think Devin should get a series or two a game (or play situationally) with Denard splitting out wide, but I don't think that's 100% necessary, just a personal preference.