Saturday, November 5, 2011

Iowa 24, Michigan 16

Stay inbounds!
(image via

Well, that was boring.  I remember when Michigan was completely devoid of big plays.  The year was 2008.  That year sucked.  In two of the last three games, Michigan has been unable to create big plays offensively (MSU being the other).  That bodes unwell.

Have I mentioned that J.T. Floyd isn't very good?  Freshman Blake Countess is the best cornerback on the roster, and it's not even close.  Countess had 6 tackles and was credited with 1 pass breakup, although it seems to me he had at least 2 of them.  Iowa targeted star wide receiver Marvin McNutt frequently, and Countess either had tight enough coverage to prevent a completion or was close enough to tackle immediately. Floyd, not so much.  Hopefully another corner steps up in 2012, because Floyd just isn't getting it done.

Have I mentioned that Denard Robinson isn't very good?  Denard's final passing numbers: 17-for-37, 194 yards, 2 touchdowns, 1 interception, and 1 lost fumble.  He's throwing the ball right now like he's just hoping that his receivers will be spectacular.  In the fourth quarter, he chucked numerous bombs down the field to receivers who were well covered . . . and even if they weren't well covered, the passes fell harmlessly to the turf somewhere around the Nebraska border.  Roy Roundtree knocked Iowa cornerback Shaun Prater on his ass, streaked down the field wide open, and Robinson wasn't even close to completing the pass.  We should all be hoping for a second-year bump in Robinson's performance next year, because counting on him to win the game with his arm is like counting on Mike Sorrentino to win Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?.

On a positive note, the defensive line is coming along.  After last week's solid performance, the defensive line once again had a good game, producing 13 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, and 2 sacks.  Iowa had a good day running the ball with Marcus Coker (29 carries, 132 yards, 2 touchdowns), but the troubles stopping the run seemed to come from the linebackers.  The Hawkeyes seemed to take advantage of freshman Desmond Morgan, who looks good at times, but when it comes down to it, he's just a true freshman.  There's a reason that true freshman linebackers don't often start.

The coaches have turned Denard Robinson into a divining rod for the sideline.  I want to keep Denard Robinson healthy as much as the next guy, but this whole "run out of bounds whenever you're within spittin' distance" thing is getting ridiculous.  Especially when nobody else is capable of making big plays because Michigan a) can't block or b) can't catch Robinson's errant throws, then by golly, get upfield and stop searching for the sideline.  I know he's being coached to do it because the coaches and Robinson have said as much, but it's virtual nonsense.  Robinson's most effective running play this season has been the quarterback sweep, which by definition is run toward the sideline; if he's supposed to get out of bounds whenever he nears the sideline, then the coaches are removing a huge threat.  Robinson's speed makes defensive players take bad angles; in other words, flowing defenders aim too far upfield.  That's how cutback lanes develop.  Let the kid play.  If he gets hurt, Michigan is screwed.  But if he plays like a porcelain doll, Michigan is screwed, too.  At least go down swinging.

Is this a football or a Shake Weight?  I don't understand why Denard Robinson and Devin Gardner both carry the ball away from their bodies with one hand.  Tate Forcier had this problem and Michigan paid dearly for it.  Last year Robinson always carried the ball in his inside hand, which cost Michigan dearly against Ohio State (and other games).  The fact that both Michigan quarterbacks are getting away with this behavior makes me think that it's poor coaching.  Don't get me wrong - this team is much better coached than the past few iterations.  But this is an area that needs to be shored up, and soon.  It's somewhat understandable that Gardner is doing it, since he's raw and only a sophomore/redshirt freshman, but Robinson is a junior and a two-year starter.  There's no excuse for his lack of ball security.
Is the above picture . . . a) an excellent way to get ripped, or
b) the worst way to hold a football?  Trick question: it's both!

Iowa is tough at home.  I predicted at the beginning of the year that Iowa would beat Michigan, and I should have stuck with that prediction yesterday.  Iowa is always a fundamentally sound team (as is Michigan State), and those kinds of teams give Robinson trouble because he's someone who takes advantages of opponents' mistakes.  Iowa stayed gap sound defensively and for the most part (except when Prater fell down) didn't allow Michigan's big-play receivers to get behind them.  Kudos to Iowa for being well coached and disciplined . . . on the field, anyway.


  1. It's pretty easy to look fundamentally sound in coverage when you can get away with pass interference. The hit on Roundtree during the interception play wasn't that early, but early enough to warrant a flag.

    The bear hug on the last play was unacceptable. Not quite 1990-Desmond-MSU terrible, but not cool.

    Of course, it would be nice if we could do anything consistently on offense. Besides problems at one of the corner spots, defense looks much more solid than I expected thus far.

  2. What about the coaches? It seemed like a regression to the days of 'the scoring offense'. The offense was too conservative most of the day. Denard did miss wide open guys, on the last series especially (4 of 13 on that drive) but was fairly productive the rest of the game when asked to pass it - 13 for 24 despite a number of bad drops. Too many drops from the WR and too many conservative play calls. Plenty of blame to spread around - not just the QB.

    Secondly, the decision to kick the extra point when down 9 points was idiotic. You need to know if you converted the 2 points or not and adjust accordingly. Waiting till the end of the game to figure out if you need more time or not is silly.

    Finally, the timeout called on 1st and goal was bad. Because of that, the run play was not a feasible call and we all know that if you take away Denard as a run-threat, he's not nearly as good. The team should be coached well enough to have a go-to play in that situation. Line up and call the pass play for 1st down - score or stop the clock and keep that critical time out.

    As for the defense:

    Morgan had a big giant target over his head as far as Iowa was concerned. It's surprising to me that no one else out of the dozen or so candidates can be a competent WLB.

    I know it's a learning process with him, but I'd rather see Hawthorne out there right now. He's shown some play-making ability and athleticism. The coaches pulled Morgan and I think that should probably be a permanent move.

    I think Michigan is better than Iowa, but the defense, and especially the offense, didn't perform up to their capabilities. This was truly a team loss.

  3. We have now seen two games where 1) we were not mentally prepared to play 2) our offense and defense went plain vanilla for a large part of the game and cost us dearly 3) our inability to throw the long ball has become painfully obvious.

    JT Floyd cannot in any way be one the best 11 on the field. There has to be someone better to play that position. His 10 yard cushion does not allow him to play man coverage and his inability to tackle limits his ability to play zone coverage. HE DOES NOT BELONG ON THE FIELD.

    In my play probably to go unrecognized will be the huge block Vincent Smith threw on the Denard fumble play. Smith went all out and looked like a guy who owned the blitz.

    We also learned that Devin should NOT replace Denard as the starter. His inexperience and judgement were out in plain view tonight. He is still very raw.

    Point for future reference ........the defense is still overachieving from where it should be. Our offense is technically in its first year of the system and no matter how much Borges is made out to be the master of all offenses he is still different from RR. It took Denard 2 years to learn the old offense. This will take time as well.

  4. Yeah, the game was rough. But, how 'bout that picture?

    OT >>>

    Magnus wrote: "Is the above picture . . . a) an excellent way to get ripped, or
    b) the worst way to hold a football? Trick question: it's both!"

    I'd say it's C (generally awesome). Love the fitness babes on this 'blog!

  5. So...

    Countess-Gordon-Kovacs-Avery? Who else have we got? Woolfolk shouldn't see the field unless he is 1000% (Yes, one thousand) healthy, Raymond/Hollowell are too inexperienced and as much as I like Tony Anderson, he's a scout team player. What's Terrance Talbott up to?

  6. A lot has been said about this game. I'll just add this: right here and now, it looks to the naked eye that Michigan just doesn't have a lot of talent. No standouts, I mean to say. (Denard's decisionmaking is so awful I think it nullifies his natural talent.)

  7. I totally disagree about Denard. This was his best passing game of his career and he actually is becoming a better pro-style QB. The WRs dropped between 3-4 balls. He did overthrow some balls, most notably when Roundtree shoved his CB to the ground, but that is expected of all QBs.

  8. @ Lankownia 7:37 p.m.

    How was the playcalling too conservative? Denard threw bombs downfield probably about seven or eight times. All of them fell incomplete. If you want double passes or flea flickers or something, then I guess I understand your comment. But I just didn't see this game as being too conservative.

  9. @ Nick 9:22 p.m.

    I agree that it was a great block by Smith, although he also missed a block on a blitz, too. He's the best blocker of the running backs, but I guess nobody's perfect.

  10. @ Anonymous 12:20 a.m.

    You're either not serious or you're flat-out wrong. Even if his receivers dropped 3-4 passes (I only remember two, both by Hemingway), that still puts him at 21/37 (57%) for a little over 200 yards. And no, Denard's inaccuracy downfield shouldn't be expected of EVERY quarterback. It would be okay if it were once in a while. Denard hasn't hit a receiver in stride ALL YEAR on those deep posts or fly routes. Not one. The only bombs he's hit have been underthrown jump balls to Roundtree/Hemingway and the wheel route to Gallon in the Notre Dame game. If this truly was his best game as a passer (which it wasn't), then that shows how horrible he's been at throwing the ball.

  11. @ Anon 12:20.

    I do believe that Denard is trying to be a better pocket passer as he knows a spread QB his size will never make it in the NFL. With that said he is OK at best in the short passing game, stares down receivers too often, needs to learn to pump fake to keep lineman from knocking his passes down, and really work on the long ball. It is his first year in this system and he is by all accounts a great kid with a will to learn. Borges will either turn him into a pro prospect or save a lot of NFL scouts the trouble of figuring it out.

    Denard still at this point brings more than his backups do to the field. Hopefully this off season we can see an improvement like he had from his freshman to sophomore seasons.

  12. @ Lankownia 7:37

    It was the right call to kick the XP instead of going for two. Never go for two until you have to is the general rule for coaches. I have seen numerous games end on a bad decision by the coaching staff to go for two when they didnt need too.

  13. I was just going to ask when the last time Denard hit a wideout in stride downfield. Whenever you see him launch one, you can automatically assume it's an incompletion and you pray that it's not an interception.

  14. Glad someone else sees what I see...Denard may be a great kid, but he's not a great QB right now.

    I know many in the Michigan blogosphere love to blame everything on playcalling, but even last year after he burst on the scene in the first 5 games, how many big games has he had against quality competition? He undoubedtly is our best chance to win, but he is a mediocre QB - who is also not near the explosive threat he was last year, and who is hurt by his lack of size and touch in the pass game. There's no doubt he suffers from a lack of talent around him but he needs to be better for M to win against decent-good teams, especially on the road.

  15. @Thunder
    Most of those bombs came on the last series. They opened it up in the 4th quarter, but for the first half especially it was too conservative. I don't mean trick plays, I mean being predictable. They were moving the ball with decent success, but there weren't any big plays. Too many 3rd downs. I dunno, maybe that's how you have to beat Iowa (take what they give), but asking this team to be consistent chain-movers is not playing to their strength. I wanted to see more 4-wide/shotgun spread 'em out offense - like the final drive. Especially given Iowa's secondary.

    In general that's true, but in yesterday's scenario dead wrong. You want to know if you're down two scores or one. Michigan had 5 minutes to go when they got the ball back. Strategy there is very different if you need 2 scores or one. Finding out with 2 seconds to go in the game is too late. Even if Iowa scored again afterwards, FG or TD, the decision to go for 2 when down 9 is the right call.

  16. I don't get the Denard complaining. Yes, he isn't a precision passer, we all know that. Yes, he missed some huge opportunities in a close game, most obviously to Roundtree. But yesterday he played pretty well for most of the game. Killed by receiver drops, an unlucky INT, and a dumb careless fumble. As a passer, he had one of his better days in terms of being patient and going through his reads. The drive ending in the TD pass to Fitz was a pro-style-advocates dream. Denard looked like Phil Sims back there.

    Denard did not have a good day as a QB, but he did have a good day as a passer. Usually the opposite is true. What I saw is progress in the passing game and regression in the running game. Denard can still run more and he can still be more accurate, but the decision-making was much MUCH better this game. And anyway, the more I see of Gardner the less impressed I get. He fumbled and the argument that he's a superior passer to Denard has no evidence other than 'he just looks better to me'. People can talk about experience and all that but Denard is only a year older than Devin. There's going to be a dropoff in 2013 and when that happens the heat is really going to be on Hoke.

  17. Denard's downfield passing is terrible. This has been well-established over the better part of a year and a half. Given that, why in the world does the coaching staff continue to call these pass plays that require him to sit back and launch it 40 yards downfield? These plays are wasted downs, and totally insane given that he can be relatively successful making short an dintermediate throws that don't require much touch. I thought all of his downfield throws looked terrible. Everything else looks pretty good.

    The poor throwing has and always will be on Denard. But the atrocious playcalling, which refuses to recognize that poor throwing, is on Borges. That's why saying that "Denard Robinson isn't very good." That oversimplifies the issue. Denard very clearly has a specific and effective skill set. For whatever reason, Borges is struggling to utilize it. I'm happy with Hoke and Mattison, but the jury is still out on Borges.

  18. I would suggest that they take the routes over 25 yards out of the playbook until he proves that he can throw them accurately. You can tell they are 10 yards long right out of his hand. Is the bomb his only read on these plays? Hard to tell not being at the game live.

    Also, I don't think it is a coincidence that the D is giving up more 20+ yard plays since Troy Woolfolk has been starting at FS over Thomas Gordon. I am not seeing the difference in speed, which was the reason that the coaches used for the reason he was starting. He is also not nearly as physical as Thomas, nor does he impact the game as far as causing turnovers like Gordon does.

  19. Denard looks to me like he's thinking through his mechanics on every throw which can't possibly work.

    Among the things Rodriguez got right was creating an attack comprised of mostly pretty simple tosses that Denard could hit regardless of fundamentals.

    Last year Denard hits Roundtree in the numbers and we find some other way to lose this game.

    I agree with Thunder that we need to be sending Denard upfield some more. I'd like to see some real spread option with some passing out of it. Safeties aren't nearly as afraid of a Denard run as they were last year.

    I don't necessarily think we're completely screwed if Denard gets banged up in that while he doesn't have Denard's acceleration, Gardiner's a bunch stronger, he'll break some tackles. You have to worry about him the in much the same way you do Denard although not as much.

    If Denard goes down, I'm running the exact same stuff for Gardiner. Save the West Coast stuff for when Morris gets here.

  20. Agree that Denard isn't terrible so much that the consistent downfield throwing is bad coaching. When Denard ran, he was getting the job done; when he threw short and intermediate he was getting the job done. 3 of the 4 passes on the last series hit a receiver's hands (or would have if not for PI).

    In the big picture, I think people are getting too down on the players and team. It's a transition year and Vegas had us at 7.5 wins. Let's enjoy the year and hope that the ongoing player-coach mind meld can lead to continued improvement for OSU, the bowl game, and next year.

  21. I don't know if it's fans being "hard on the players." My impression is that some fans are trying to dissuade other fans from endlessly complaining about Borges. Denard looks uncomfortable; but he has NEVER looked impressive as a passer. That is not a criticism of Denard, but neither is it a criticism of Borges. In my opinion, at least, people need to lay off Borges when, as on Saturday, there are some important execution mistakes that stalled drives or took points off the board.

  22. Does anyone else wish we still had Tate on the team? He was a much better passer than Denard and we would at least had an option to switch QB's. Now we are stuck with Denard even if he has a terrible game since Gardner looks like a true freshman out there. For a 5 star early enrollee, I thought he would look much better than he has. Even in the spring game he looked terrible.

  23. mr thunder

    it would be interesting to read your assessment comparing the coaching or these players by the current regime vs. the previous regime, since we know these player pretty well by now. perhaps at the end of the season?

  24. For people that want to see more of last year's offense incorporated into the gameplan, you can for get it. It was decided amongst the staff over the bye week that they will move forward with the installation of their offense. We will see more west coast and less spread in our three remaining games. The Power play is not going away, either, no matter how much the guy at Mgoblog complains about it.

  25. You all don't seem to get the reason for calling a downfield bomb with Denard. The coaches have to call something beyond mid-range to keep the CBs and safeties honest. And the coaches know Denard is very inaccurate. The bomb is on the receiver to make the play, not the passer (relatively speaking - the qb has to get it somewhere near the receiver at least, which Denard has a tough time doing). It's really just about the only pass from mid-range and beyond to do with Denard. Any other pass requires moderate accuracy. And we aint got it. Throw it up, let your guy make a play on it. That's all we got. The playmaker is the receiver in those situations, not the QB - Borges knows it, the receivers know it, Denard knows it, you all just need to know it.

  26. And, Gardner is not happy. I'm calling it now that he will either be the starter next year or he will not be a member of Michigan's football team.

  27. If Gardner doesn't improve exponentially from how he looked on Saturday against Iowa, but is pegged as the started next year anyways, we are FUBAR.

  28. Anonymous 10:29pm, I don't know what you're talking about. On all the bombs, except the one to Roundtree, no one was open. I don't care how accurate someone is, those plays do not work in that situation. If you (largely) limit your routes to intermediate and short, you can find plenty of people open if you're diverse in what you call. Since Borges literally refuses to run things like the bubble screen, we're not as diverse as we could/should be in doing what our QB can do well.

    Denard had a 62.5% completion rate last year in his first year as a starter. That's higher than Chad Henne had in any of his four years. That's higher than John Navarre ever had. This year, he's in an offense that's not well-suited to his skills, and his completion % has dropped almost 10 points. As Thunder also pointed out, he is also being coached to take his runs to the sidelines. This further limits his effectiveness. And how does he get hurt yesterday - oh that's right, standing in the pocket.

    The fact is Borges is likely trying the best he can to adjust to his personnel, but he's a long-time coach who has a certain way of doing things, and that way has not worked out that well for either of our QBs. Thus, our offense has regressed a bit and that, while somewhat understandable, is ultimately disappointing.

  29. Gardner - not a pro-style QB either. He is Vince Young or, more negatively, Terrel Pryor. These guys need to have the OC adapt to some degree. I suspect Borges can do that...if he's still around next year. Guy's catching a lot of heat right now, and if we finish the year going 2-5 or even 1-6, someone's head will need to roll and it won't be Hoke or Mattison.

  30. @ 912Jeff 8:09 a.m.

    You're right that the extra point was the right call. If you start going for two too early, you can put yourself in a bind.

  31. @ Anonymous 10:10 a.m.

    The only "big time" team that Denard has played well against has been Notre Dame, and the excellence of Notre Dame is seriously questionable. Denard has been a poor passer against virtually every noteworthy team for his entire college career.

  32. @ Lankownia 11:24 a.m.

    Denard wasn't killed by receiver drops. He was killed by inaccuracy and poor decision-making. He finished the day 17-for-37, and three of those were legitimate drops (Hemingway twice, Smith once). Every quarterback sees his receivers drop a pass or three per game, so let's generously assume that he should have been 20-for-37. That's still only 54%. It's sad when you see a 54% completion percentage and 194 yards as a strong day by your quarterback.

    He's not good. That's putting it bluntly, but it's true.

  33. @ Anonymous 8:15 p.m.

    That might make for an interesting piece, comparing the coaching of the two regimes. It's also a REALLY big "big picture" concept.

    To some degree I think the 2011 season is much like 2008, in that we have square pegs (Denard at QB, for example) trying to fit into round holes. Denard is a better "pro style" QB than Nick Sheridan was a "spread" QB, so there's an obvious upgrade in talent almost across the board. But the utilization of the offensive talents has been better by Borges/Hoke than Magee/Rodriguez.

    Defensively, this coaching staff is obviously doing a much better job.

  34. @ Anonymous 10:29 p.m.

    There are other ways to keep the safeties honest. I'm not suggesting that Borges should run Rodriguez's spread-n-shred, but the Hail Mary that we throw once per series is a little ridiculous.

  35. @ Lankownia 3:34 p.m.

    I don't think Borges is going anywhere. If we lose every game from here on out, then maybe. But I do expect to win at least one of these last three games, if not two (although probably not all three). The "Fire Borges" talk is way, way, way premature.

  36. @Thunder 3:58

    The only way it's a bad decision to go for 2 when down 9 is if: a) you miss AND b)Iowa scores again. The fact that Michigan got the ball back with 5 minutes to go WITHOUT Iowa scoring shows how unlikely it was to haunt them. If Iowa scores again they almost certainly lose the game either way (it would take another ND-miracle.)

    If Iowa kicks a FG, you're down 12 instead of 11. If Iowa score a TD, you're down 16 instead of 15. So yeah, it could hurt, but in that situation you almost certainly lost either way because there's only going to be 4 minutes or less on the clock.

    Besides, if you're down 9, theres a decent chance you're playing for the win instead of going for a tie, which has some benefits too.

  37. I think you're being way harsh on Denard. This team is 7-2. Even if you want to ignore all the weak teams and say they're 1-2 against real competition the blame doesn't fall on the guy who is the best offensive player we have. He bests Toussaint's YPC easily. As every WR has his share of drops, every QB has his share of overthrows.

    If he is bad, what does that say about everyone else?

  38. The hail mary's Denard is asked to throw have something to do with Denard's poor completion percentage no?

    I don't think Borges is going to get canned either, but I think his job is on the line in these next 3 games. Illinois is no cake-walk and Nebraska and Ohio State remain formidable opponents.

    Denard wasn't a bad player last year and he isn't a bad player this year. He's not a good QB when asked to pass on 3rd and long. Keep him out of situations like that - where he struggles and he's a good player. It's true that it's part of the job description but Denard easily does well enough in the other areas to override that.

  39. @ Lankownia 8:31 p.m.

    Yeah, every QB has his share of overthrows...and Denard has an extra share or two.

    Give me a break, Lankownia. Denard is inaccurate and a bad decision maker. Stop making excuses for him. He's completing less than 52% of his passes, which puts him just ahead of Gary Nova (Rutgers), Clayton Moore (Akron), Spencer Keith (Kent State), and believe it or not, Ryan Lindley (SDSU). That's it. He's on par with bad MAC quarterbacks and the Rutgers QB. Meanwhile, he's thrown the fourth-most interceptions in the NCAA.

    He's bad. He's horrible at throwing the ball. He's missing wide open receivers, chucking the ball into coverage, etc. Yeah, he makes an occasional throw that makes you go, "Ooh, if he could only do that more often" but guess what... do I! So does everybody who has ever played quarterback in the history of football. Yeah, he hit a slant against MSU that Roundtree took to the house. Hooray.

    I understand that he's a good runner. That's always the first thing I look for in a quarterback. Not much else is important, like throwing the ball or making good decisions. Nope, he can run, so he's clearly a solid QB.

  40. @Thunder,

    I agree that he is inaccurate. I think the decision-making is improving - to wit, only one INT this game which wasn't even his fault, despite many attempts.

    Denard is 52% this year but was 63% last year. Put him in a position to succeed and he can. Even if you drop screens, he had great success at Mgoblog's downfield success metric.

    If you don't think running is part of the QB position, you are living in the 90s. Before the 80s and since the 00s, running is a significant part of the position.

    Denard is bad if you ask him to be an I-form pro-style QB. With that, I agree. What I don't agree with is asking him to be what he isn't. Expand his capabilities and work on his deficiencies - sure, but also let him do what he's good at. There's a balance to be found and I don't think Borges is doing that.

    I think he will - I think you'll see Denard run for 100 yards and throw for 200 at least twice more this season. But if Borges insists on stubbornly running an offense that doesn't utilize Denard's talent then Michigan is going to lose and he's going to end up looking for a new job.

    It's just amazing to me that most fans now seem to wish Forcier hadn't been the QB that transferred. SMH

  41. @ Lankownia 12:29 p.m.

    The INT Denard threw WAS a bad decision. He threw into traffic on the goal line. You can't count on the refs to bail you out every time there's a hint of pass interference. We could go through every quarterback's entire season and pick out plays where receivers should have made plays or PI should have been called, but it was a pass into traffic that was intercepted. That's the bottom line. Furthermore, Denard threw to covered receivers all day long, especially downfield, and he was unsuccessful on the vast majority of them.

    He made a couple good decisions on checkdowns, but that doesn't make up for the fact that he's weak in lots of areas.

    I understand that running the ball is a part of the game for quarterbacks these days. But so is throwing. Lots of other quarterbacks in the NCAA can run, too, but like I pointed out above, very few of them are completing fewer passes than he is.

    Regardless of the system, wide open receivers MUST be hit, at least the majority of the time. Whether he's going through too many reads, rolling out, standing in the pocket, whatever, there's no excuse for missing the guys who have been running downfield wide open this season. That's not a "scheme" thing. It's a Denard thing.