Sunday, November 20, 2011

Michigan 45, Nebraska 17

"Your chances of tackling me are slim." - Fitzgerald Toussaint
(image via

Thank goodness for Fitzgerald Toussaint.  Michigan's offensive line didn't really run block worth a damn, but Toussaint consistently created a few yards - or more - out of absolutely nothing.  Chris Spielman said the words "Barry Sanders" in reference to Toussaint.  Don't get me wrong - Chris Spielman is kind of a moron - but he might know a thing or two about Barry Sanders.  Sanders was the best running back in the history of football, in my opinion, and Toussaint does have a similar ability to stop and start suddenly.  Channeling my inner Fred Jackson, Toussaint has the cutting ability and mindset of Mike Hart . . . but he's faster.  I love the way he's running the ball.

Nebraska looked awful.  Part of the reason the Cornhuskers looked awful on offense and special teams was due to Michigan's improved defense, but for the most part, they just didn't play very well.  Taylor Martinez throws like a girl and is careless with the football.  Their kick returners couldn't hold onto the football.  Seriously, two fumbled kickoff returns in the same game?  It looked like Nebraska had their returners study film of Boubacar Cissoko and Martavious Odoms circa 2008.  And it might have been an entirely different game if anyone but Nebraska's defensive tackles could catch the ball, because the receivers dropped several passes and so did their defensive backs.

Obligatory discussion of Denard Robinson.  This might have been Denard Robinson's most complete game of the year, and yet . . . it still left me wanting.  Robinson is more effective running the offense out of a spread look, and it's about time Al Borges relies mostly on the spread and only a little on his pro-style offense.  Robinson ran the ball a little better and seemed to be more  decisive, but he's still not hitting the holes as quickly as he should.  Altogether, Robinson probably left 30 or 40 yards on the field because he was trying to get out of bounds, he was tentative, etc.  As far as passing the ball goes, it was all or nothing once again.  He threw some nice passes (an out route to Hemingway, a post to Odoms for a TD, a crossing route to Gallon for a TD) and he threw a bunch of questionable ones, too (the interception to defensive tackle Terrence Moore, a post to Roy Roundtree into double coverage that was dropped by Stafford, a bomb to Roundtree that was played horribly by Dennard and should have been picked, a crossing route to Kelvin Grady that should have been picked, etc.).  He finished with 23 carries for 83 yards and 1 touchdown, which is too many carries for such little return; he also finished 11-for-18 for 180 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 1 interception.  Also, I really wish Robinson would learn how to pitch  the ball on the option.  Seriously, dude.  Pitch it.  I don't think you've pitched it once all year.

Obligatory discussion of J.T. Floyd.  Nebraska's one huge play was a 54-yard touchdown bomb to Brandon Kinnie, who torched Floyd so badly that all Floyd could do was grab onto Kinnie and hope for a pass interference flag.  Prior to that play, Kinnie had 19 catches for 192 yards and 0 touchdowns on the season.

William Campbell wheeeeeeeee!  It was pretty awesome to see him hustle downfield on a Taylor Martinez run and then turn Martinez into roadkill.  Campbell had a sack on Martinez, too.  Mike Martin is certainly a more disruptive force on the interior and will be missed next year, but Campbell has things going in the right direction with this coaching staff.

The commentators sucked.  I really, really hate when Chris Spielman does Michigan games.  Any commentator who openly talks trash about one of the teams on the field should be banned from commenting on the game.  I tuned in to the game to enjoy Michigan football, not hear a former Buckeye repeatedly mention how long it's been since the Wolverines beat his alma mater.  I actually like Urban Meyer's offensive philosophy and coaching decisions; he's oodles smarter than Spielman.  However, I thought he showed some ignorance when discussing Denard Robinson's strengths and weaknesses.  Especially early in the game, Meyer was touting Robinson as being excellent at the zone read play.  Robinson makes more bad reads in the option game than good ones.  Last season it looked like Robinson didn't even have the option most of the time - it seemed as if there were predetermined playcalls for whether he would hand off or keep the ball.  This year it looks like Al Borges has given Robinson more freedom to pull or keep the ball, but Robinson frequently makes the wrong choice.  I agree with Meyer that the quarterback power run bogs down the offense at times, but that's mainly because Borges and Robinson do a poor job of disguising the play.

I did not expect a 45-17 victory.  That was kind of embarrassing for Nebraska and a pleasant surprise for Michigan fans.  If Michigan's offense were clicking on all cylinders (i.e. if the offensive line could get a push), it could have easily been 59-17.  And Nebraska got a little bit lucky that Jeremy Gallon didn't field that long punt at the end of the third quarter.  Gallon could have grabbed it on the bounce but chose to let it die at the 4-yard line.  That somewhat limited Borges's playcalling and Michigan went three-and-out, giving Nebraska a chance to punch it in for their 17th point.  I'm not even being a homer when I say that blowout score of 45-17 was closer than the game actually was.  Michigan held onto the ball for over 41 minutes, while Nebraska had the ball for just over 18 minutes.  The Cornhuskers were just 3-for-13 on third down conversions and 0-for-2 on fourth down attempts.


  1. 1) favorite play of the day was the Hopkins Td that got called back. Nice to see another weapon out there.
    2) announcers would not drop the Gardner sub package that was last used a month ago for 3 plays vs purdue

  2. "he's oodles smarter than Spielman"

    Oodles? Oodles and manball cannot exist in the same space. It's like matter and antimatter. The universe would explode.

  3. On Denard - I actually don't blame him for the interception, as it was kind of a freak play on the screen. He still had some bad throws, but I'll take his ration of good/bad today every game (especially this season).

    On JT - He did get majorly burned on that play, but it didn't really matter that the receiver wasn't very good, JT bit on the play action and was toast from there, no matter who the receiver was. He was also part of a pass defense that basically gave up nothing else, although a huge part of that is because of Nebraska's passing game.

  4. Michigan played well, but Nebraska did indeed look "awful". The only explanation is that the players were terrified and intimidated by the spender and awe of the Big House during Big Ten play.

  5. @ Tony Clifton 2:48 p.m.

    I refuse to use the word m**b*** on Touch the Banner, so it's okay. The MGoBlog universe is where matter exists; over here it's just antimatter.

  6. Retiring from sports and getting a broadcaster job is a really cozy gig. During one particularly poorly-called game, I looked up how much these guys make. They get a million a year or so to sit in a booth, say whatever the heck they want, and let their past achievements carry them.

  7. The upside of Denard having run out of bounds and avoid contact is that he's going into the Ohio game at 100% effectiveness. Now they can take the leash off and let the hellhound loose with reckless abandon. This was the plan all along.

  8. Touss was awesome. A spectacularly encouraging performance from him. I dunno about mindset, but he does dodge tacklers like Hart and he definitely has far more speed. If you could somehow get him to break tackles the same way you'd be talking about a Heisman contender.(Not that Touss is bad at breaking tackles, but Hart's one of the greatest if not the greatest tackle-breaker I've ever seen)...

    Agree with the comment about Nebraska playing poorly. Their special teams did turn out to be the difference, as some people predicted, but not in the way that was expected. Without those gaffs this was probably a competitive game, though Michigan still clearly looked better.

    As for Denard...sigh...I'm too happy about yesterday to argue. If every player had to live up to what is expected from him... Denard kept the mistakes in check and was a true dual-threat against a legitimate Big Ten defense. I'm pretty happy about it, even if he 'left yards on the field', he had a pretty damn good game.

    The discussion of Floyd is far from obligatory - he's just a guy. A guy who seems have improved from enormous liability to serviceable player. He had a career day against Illinois but no one thinks he's an all-conference performer, lock-down corner, or 1st round draftpick. He's no more worth weekly discussion than Craig Roh or Will Heininger.

    Agree on Campbell. I admit I gave up on him, but I'm happy to be looking wrong. It can't be overstated how important his development is to the team's success next season.

    I usually avoid commenting on announcing, but I agree with the criticism. I'm tired of announcers from rival schools (e.g., Millen and Spielman) announcing UofM games and being overly negative. Spielman was really belaboring the point on Denard scrambling.

    Great win. Go Blue. Beat Ohio!

  9. Man you will go out of your way to criticize Floyd. He was awful on that TD, but he otherwise played his second straight great game, and given how impotent Nebraska was through the air the rest of the game, I think it's fair to call that long pass play a bit fluky. I'm sure you will disagree, because it hurts your "Floyd sucks" narrative.

    As for Denard, he was great yesterday. If he can maintain yesterday's level of play, Michigan is going to be tough to beat for the remainder of his career.

  10. Denard played better this week. He still makes some questionable decisions with regards to choosing his receivers and knowing when to just pull the ball down and bolt. One thing he does appear to be doing better, which should help next year, is checking down his receivers. You can watch him look down his options instead of just forcing it into his first receiver.

    Didn't see a ton of pass rush this week. Maybe I just missed it. Seems as though the defensive line and linebackers were given the task of stopping the run. Thought they did good.

    As for the announcers.........I found it disrespectful to discuss the Meyer to Ohio rumor during the game. This game should have been all about Michigan and Nebraska. No need to discuss Ohio at all, and it was no more than a cheap jab to keep Ohio relevant for next week. Spielman is horrible and Meyer sounded like an asshat not knowing jack about Denard or what he has been asked to do. The replay where they kept saying Martinez took the wrong run lane or he would have been in the end zone was complete B.S. The defense tunnelled him into that lane, he had no choice. Hence the loss on the play.

  11. @ Paul 3:42 p.m.

    True...although the Denard-running-out-of-bounds thing may have cost Michigan a shot at winning the Big Ten.

  12. @ Lankownia 4:04 p.m.

    There was talk from some Michigan fans that Floyd was bordering on an all-conference-level performance.

  13. @ Anonymous 5:00 p.m.

    I would criticize anyone who looked that inept. For example, here's a link to the MSU recap from last season when Cullen Christian got burned:

    And here's a link to the ND recap from last season when Cam Gordon got burned:

    Bad play means criticism. That's the way it goes around here.

  14. Thunder, I think it's too much of a stretch to say that Denard running out of bounds cost them the B1G. I think it cost them the Iowa game possibly but against Michigan State I just don't think it would've mattered much with their team speed on defense. So the way I see it, basically trading the Iowa game for a better chance against Ohio = A deal I'll take.

  15. @ Thunder

    I'd really like to see some examples. Almost every Michigan fan I've seen discuss Floyd has said he is no longer a liability and is up there with Kovacs as the most improved player on this defense. Have heard nowt about 'All-Conference'.

  16. @ Nick 5:19 p.m.

    The defensive line seemed to be a little more fundamental on their pass rushes this week. I think they were trying to close down around Martinez rather than just trying to get a rush any way they could. It cut down on the running lanes that Martinez had, and he rarely got into the open field because of it.

  17. @ Paul 5:44 p.m.

    That's why I said it "might" have cost them a chance at the Big Ten title. If Michigan had beaten Iowa (and had a 10-1 record instead), then a loss from MSU next week would put Michigan in the conference championship game.

    I'm not saying I'm disappointed in how this season has gone. I mean, obviously I would love to be undefeated, but 9 wins is better than many people (including me) expected. It's been a good year, but it might have been even better.

  18. @ Chris 5:46 p.m.

    I might actually have time to grade the film this week. We'll see.

  19. @Thunder

    I think you'll acknowledge that's a minority opinion on Floyd. Somebody's going to say something crazy about anything related to Michigan football. I think it's called trolling. And then there's always the irrational optimists who will spin everything into M-glory...but those are, again, the minority. And a small one at that, I'd say.

    If this was a court, you'd be badgering the witness. Do you think Floyd played poorly yesterday besides that Kinnie pass?

    RE: Denard. I lied, I will argue. Saying the pass to Roundtree 'should have been intercepted' is BS. It was a little underthrown (which, if you're expecting pinpoint accuracy on a 50 yard throw...) or thrown a split second late. But, Dennard didn't play it badly, he just got shoved aside by Roundtree - that's what a good WR does on a ball that's falling a little short. Our Denard didn't make a perfect pass but he threw a long, catchable ball, and Roundtree made a play on it. At worst, it's a 50-50 jump ball. In reality, the offense has an advantage on those and Roundtree's proven he can make that kind of play. Could it have been intercepted - yes. Should it have been - no.

    Finally, it was 3rd and 9 at mid-field. Like the hail-mary play vs Illinois, getting intercepted there doesn't hurt you. Throwing the ball up in that situation is a good idea. Want to make it catch-able and Denard did. No one used to criticize Henne for lobbing it up in the air and watching Braylon work his magic.

  20. @ Lankownia 4:04 p.m.

    One more thing - I know a lot is expected from Denard, but I don't think it's too much to expect your starting quarterback to complete more than 52% of his passes. There are clearly issues going on when he throws the ball. And it would be one thing if those errant passes were falling harmlessly to the turf, but 14 of them have ended up in the hands of defenders.

    He had a pretty good game, and the results (4 touchdowns, just 1 turnover, a 45-17 victory) are what matter most. But his interception percentage (6.8%) is a little outrageous, and I don't think that's an unfair criticism.

  21. @ 6:54 p.m.

    I'm going to have to watch the film again to see how Floyd played. They didn't test the cornerbacks much since they're a run-heavy offense - plus Taylor Martinez kinda sucks - so it was hard to say having only seen the game once. Regardless, one play for a cornerback can be (and was) huge. If every defensive back is allowed one huge gaffe every game, then...well...that's 28 points given up right there. I think if you asked Floyd himself, he would probably admit to having a disappointing game.

    Chad Henne never threw 14 interceptions in a season. The most he ever threw in a season was 12, and he made 399 pass attempts that year (Denard has thrown 14 in only 207 attempts). And Braylon Edwards was a lot better of a receiver than Roundtree/Hemingway, so I think your comparison falls a little short.

  22. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate your sometimes-negative takes in the spirit of tell-it-like is but... this was a very good game by Denard. Mike Rothstein called it his "best game of the season -- and possibly his career" (Was Rothstein out sick in September of 2010???). Not that I think much of Rothstein's opinion or that I agree, but there's a time to criticize and a time to let the campaign go against the four people who think Denard is an NFL QB-in-waiting (if it's even that many).

    When you're knocking the same guys every week, even when they play well, it feels like you're pushing a narrative at the expense of objectivity, which undermines the credibility you've earned as a pundit. I don't think you're afraid to take unpopular positions or to admit if you're wrong, but it seems you're willing to stretch, over-emphasize, and conveniently set aside some evidence when you want to prove a point.

    Like last week when Floyd had a nice game, this week the commentary on Denard amounts to "He played a good game buuuut....[long list of mostly negatives observations]".

    I agree criticizing Denard for the interception percentage is fair. I also agree criticizing his pitching game is fair (frankly, I don't trust him to pitch it at all - if the coaches use the pitchman as pure decoy, I wouldn't fault them one bit). - the guy had 4 TDs and ran the offense very very well. 1 turnover when you carry it 23 times and throw 18 is pretty good. No, he wasn't perfect, but he did a lot of good things despite being the focus of the defense. Good game from our QB.

    ...I wasn't saying Henne was Robinson or Roundtree was Braylon, sheesh. I was saying that there's an appropriate time to throw jump-balls that might be interceptions. That kind of play is not one that Robinson should be criticized for IMO. Some of Henne's passes were far more underthrown and "should have been an INT" than Denard's but no one said so and why would they.

    Anyway...looking forward to seeing your 'let's see less of..' tomorrow. Not an easy task this week but I know you're the man for the job.

  23. Magnus,

    I think the Roundtree pass was in the right spot...just a bit late. I don't know if that's technically an underthrow, but it wasn't really that bad.

    Also, if Denard doesn't throw a pick for the next two games, by how much would his interception percentage decrease? And would your opinion remain static?

  24. Magnus will want to see less of Floyd. Because he decided a year ago that Floyd sucked, and there is nothing Floyd could possibly do on the field to change that opinion.

  25. @ Anonymous 12:28 a.m.

    Your clairvoyance could use some work.

  26. @ Lankownia 7:53 p.m.

    Well, I certainly don't think it was Denard's best game of his career (that would be Notre Dame 2010), but it was probably his best game of 2011. He played well against Minnesota...but Minnesota sucked. Otherwise, he's been erratic. And I'm sorry, but I'm not going to drool over him when he throws a pick, throws a couple shoulda-been interceptions, and averages 3.6 yards a carry. Maybe it's the coach in me that makes the negatives stick out, but it was not a stellar game.

    I discuss the key players each week, bad or good. Toussaint has come in for quite a bit of praise, because he's consistently been good. Denard and Floyd have been criticized because they haven't been that great. I can't avoid discussing the quarterback and the guy who got burned for a 54-yard touchdown; those are two pretty important players.

  27. @ David 9:56 p.m.

    If Denard matched his average of almost 19 attempts per game and didn't throw a pick for the next two games, his interception percentage would drop to 5.7%. Which is still too high, but it would obviously be a step in the right direction.

    Would my position remain static that he shouldn't turn the ball over? Yes. He turns the ball over too much; if he turns over the ball less, that would be good. Would my position remain static that he's not a good passer? If he's still completing 53% of his passes, then probably not.

  28. I think J.T. is a DECENT CB, but not one I would call really good. He makes some solid plays (int last week) but I have also seen receivers leave him in the dust. He also has a tendency to run with the receiver without glancing back to see where the ball is. He is not slow, he does not lack instincts. The problem with him is that he does not always play to the max, with that intensity. Countess, IMO, is better, and he is a frosh.

  29. Point of fact: if you take out Denard's sack he had 22 runs for 96 yards for 4.36 ypc. Not that different from 23 for 83 but worth pointing out. Not sure how many of those were scrambles, to take those out too and do called runs only I'd have to rewatch the game. My guess is his ypc on called runs would be close to four flat.

    I do think he had a pretty bad game running by his standards. I was at the game and he was giving people headaches in the stands with some of those cuts.

    Calling the Roundtree throw a should've-been interception seems a bit contrary to the results-based spirit of this blog. When a guy catches a 40-yard ball ten feet ahead of an NFL prospect cornerback there's a lot of extrapolation needed to make that claim.

  30. @ BML 3:29 p.m.

    I will admit that when I re-watched the tape, the Dennard/Roundtree play was not as close as I thought. I do think Roundtree probably should have been called for offensive pass interference, but it's questionable whether Dennard could have made the pick.

    Regardless, results are the thing that matters most, but just because a poorly thrown ball into double coverage is, say, dropped by the defender doesn't mean it was an okay decision to throw the ball. You have to admit he makes questionable decisions with the ball.

  31. Yeah, for sure. I think you're taking the stuff he does VERY well too much for granted - look at that first run he had where David caught him by the ankle for example - but I can't deny he's made some bad decisions this year. I think he's improving but the sample size is admittedly still very small. Hopefully he'll go ham on Ohio and there will be nothing for anyone to argue about.