Wednesday, January 2, 2013

South Carolina 33, Michigan 28

Denard Robinson had a solid final game as a Wolverine (image via
Thanks to the seniors.  For the most part, this group of seniors is made up of stellar kids.  I really like Denard Robinson, Jordan Kovacs, Craig Roh, Vincent Smith, Patrick Omameh, Roy Roundtree, etc.  That group of kids entered school around the time that I started this blog and really started concentrating on evaluating players and such, so it's odd to see them graduating.  They accomplished some great things, and I'm looking forward to watching some of them on the next level.

J.T. Floyd really hurt his team.  I never really cared about the suspension of Hagerup.  It was a dumb move on his part, but I really think that Matt Wile is just as talented, if not more so.  But Floyd, a fifth year senior, hurt the team in more ways than one.  I've said all along that Floyd was susceptible to the deep ball because of his lack of speed, so I don't know that he would have been able to curtail the deep throws that beat Raymon Taylor, Courtney Avery, and Jarrod Wilson.  What I do know is that the re-shuffling of the defensive backfield due to Floyd's absence hurt the defense numerous times.  Avery is a pretty good slot corner, but he struggles every time the team puts him on the outside.  With Floyd out, Avery moved to the outside, safety Thomas Gordon moved down to the slot, and freshman Jarrod Wilson came in to play safety.  Floyd's suspension not only hurt the team at his cornerback spot, but it diminished the quality of play at slot corner and safety, too.

Hooray for Al Borges.  I didn't agree with every play call or personnel decision by Borges, but he came out with a quality game plan and plenty of wrinkles.  Unfortunately, Michigan lacked the horses and the execution to get the job done.  There was a Statue of Liberty hand-off to Denard Robinson and a fake jet sweep screen to Devin Funchess; Borges moved Denard Robinson around to QB, RB, FB, and WR; and there were some funky special teams plays concocted by the coaching staff to get first downs.  Overall, the players just didn't execute.  South Carolina got steady pressure on Devin Gardner, Jadeveon Clowney made a couple key plays, and Gardner missed some open receivers.  You can blame some of that stuff on the coordinator, I guess, but a lot of it is on the players.

Holy hell attrition. Out of 24 starters to begin the season, Michigan was missing 5 for the Outback Bowl.  Cornerback Blake Countess, Floyd, middle linebacker Kenny Demens, running back Fitzgerald Toussaint, and Hagerup were all out for this game, along with a solid special teamer in Brandin Hawthorne and part-time fullback Stephen Hopkins.  Running back Thomas Rawls also missed the game, and quarterback Denard Robinson could muster only one measly pass attempt because of his elbow injury.  I know excuses are lame, but the Outback Bowl squad was really just a shell of what it was on September 1.  South Carolina was banged up some (their starting running back and right tackle), but their losses were fewer.  In a game decided with 11 seconds left, it's quite possible the outcome would have been different if a couple of those guys were still available.

Denard needed new cleats. Robinson has always tested the laws of gravity with the way he leans to cut back, but I didn't see anyone else having a problem with the footing yesterday.  I'm not sure why he struggled so much, but there were some plays available that he just didn't make because he slipped and fell.  I thought they had the issue fixed after a couple carries in the second half, but then he want back to looking like he was playing football on ice.

Penalties were a problem.  Michigan only had four penalties, but they netted South Carolina an additional 55 yards.  These weren't 5-yard offsides or illegal procedure calls.  Taylor Lewan took two big penalties, Joe Bolden made a silly late hit on Connor Shaw, and Ricky Barnum grabbed a defensive lineman's facemask and held on for the duration of the play.  Lewan was a penalty machine in 2010, got rid of those tendencies in 2011, and seems to have regressed now in 2012.  I like Lewan a lot and I know he's probably gone for the NFL, but I think he had a better season last year.

Running back is a gaping void.  There has been some recent buzz about Drake Johnson, who redshirted this season, but otherwise, the running back position is wide open for 2013.  Running backs Vincent Smith and Justice Hayes combined for just 8 carries and 6 yards; Rawls didn't play at all; Toussaint will be coming off a nasty broken leg..  Johnson is a bit of a wild card, but none of these guys look like starter material except a healthy Toussaint.  Wyatt Shallman isn't the answer, either, so I'm hoping DeVeon Smith is better than I expect or that Derrick Green commits in the next month.

Greg Mattison has had better days.  He was sort of hamstrung by a lack of personnel, but I wasn't a fan of Mattison's strategy late in the game.  He was sending blitzes because he realized that his defensive backs aren't very good, but Michigan appeared to be doing better when they rushed two or three guys and put eight or nine back in coverage.  It was a mistake to count on his young cornerbacks and athletically limited safeties to hold up when they've been burned again and again.  If it's me in that situation, I put four guys deep, rush three, and hope that South Carolina can only complete a short pass.  They were 0/2 on field goals up to that point, and that kicker's confidence had to be waning.  Make them complete something short, and then force them to chuck something into the end zone or try a pressure-packed field goal.

Overall, a slightly disappointing season.  The schedule was tough.  Michigan's four regular season losses came against teams that were 46-4 prior to yesterday; two of those teams are playing for the national championship, and another went 12-0 but was banned from the postseason.  But Michigan had very real chances to beat Notre Dame, Nebraska, and Ohio State, and couldn't pull out any of those close games.  The season ended with another close loss to a solid but flawed South Carolina team.  I predicted a 9-3 year, and I predicted the loss to South Carolina, so my projection would have been 9-4.  Not a huge difference from 8-5, but five losses is too many.  Next year should be better, though.


  1. Questions and comments:

    * I think Hagerup's longest punts are longer than Wile could ever hope to kick. In terms of overall talent, though, I think you have a good case.
    * Is Avery issue simply top-end speed? Is he playing more to his strength (quickness, as opposed to speed) at the slot corner position?
    * I thought Jarrod Wilson was a pretty good overall athlete. Is a lack of experience his more important issue at this point?
    * Where was "good Borges" during the second half of the OSU game?
    * Wouldn't Hayes be better off at slot receiver? IIRC you may have argued for this in the past.

    1. I think Hagerup has a bigger leg, but Wile is just as consistent or more so. He averaged 48 yards per punt yesterday, and both ended up inside the 20.

      Avery doesn't have great top-end speed, but not many Michigan corners have in recent years. He just doesn't have the ability to flip his hips and run very well, in my opinion. His feet get tangled up because he's not that fluid. He could play corner in a Cover 2 scheme, but playing man coverage or in a deep third is problematic.

      I don't like the idea of playing freshmen at safety. I really wanted Wilson to redshirt. He has the physical ability, but he's just raw right now. Stevie Brown turned out to be a pretty good player, but he was terrible his first couple seasons.

      I have no idea.

      I don't know if Hayes really fits at the slot for Hoke/Borges. I think he's more of a third down back for them, and he probably would have been better off in Rich Rodriguez's offense.

    2. Seems like the 3rd down/ passing down back will be whoever can block reliably. My guess would be Toussaint. He might be able to figure things out and play every down, not unlike what Chris Perry did his final year. Hopefully D.Smith (or Green) can provide an alternative to keep Toussaint from getting overworked, but that would probably come on running downs. I don't think a freshman is going to be trusted to protect the QB.

      Hayes is physically similar to V.Smith but I think he might be a better runner, though he hasn't shown much of that yet. Haven't seen any sign of his ability to block or catch yet.

      I doubt Rawls has the ability and don't think D.Johnson would be much better given his RS in a year where our RBs looked inept.

      Toussaint has to stay healthy and bounceback from a down year.

  2. It's hard not to see the season as a disappointment. Yes, the schedule was difficult, but Michigan failed to ever rise above it and lost winnable road games against Notre Dame, Nebraska, and Ohio State. No shame in losing to Alabama, but that game wasn't even competitive. The two biggest wins of the year (MSU and Northwestern) were very close to being losses as well.

    The defense was better than anyone expected without Countess, but the inability to establish a running game with Denard Robinson, Fitz Toussaint, and a veteran OL was continually frustrating, as was the handling of injuries.

    RE: Borges - he called a good game and showed good creativity. It was a redeeming game for him. That said, the misuse/underutilization of Denard was still kind of ridiculous. For example, no reason to not have him in on the last kickoff and hail mary - and why begin the game with a drive he sits out. Just throwing away opportunities...Maybe he can't pass block, but there's obviously things you can do to mitigate that. Denard should have been in on nearly every play. As it was, it seemed like 80% of Denard plays were runs and 80% of non-Denard plays were passes.

    The Floyd critique is a little strange coming from a guy who spent a lot of the season criticizing his play. I don't think Gordon to slot is a real drop-off and I thought Avery did about as well as Floyd would have - he made a few nice tackles in space I noticed and the short passing game wasn't productive all day. I'm not sure how Wilson did, but I think he ended up getting pulled due to injury. I thought Mattison did OK - if Clark holds on for that sack, we win the game. If Ace Sanders doesn't return that punt, we win the game. Spurrier made a great play call to win in the end. A few big plays and penalties can make a big difference.

    Denard showed that he can be a good running back as long as he learns to block. Looking forward to see him do that in the NFL. He ran tough, ran through tackles, and continued to show good vision. Gardner should have stayed at QB instead of WR and Denard should have been moved to fulltime RB immediately after he hurt his arm, instead of the Rawls/Smith stuff.

    Hear, hear to the seniors. A very likeable and memorable bunch. They had a different career than they expected but a lot of good moments.

    1. The Floyd criticism isn't strange at all. You'll notice that I never called for him to be benched this year, despite my criticisms of him. Why? Because we didn't have anyone better to put in. So he hurt his own position and caused some re-shuffling that hurt Michigan elsewhere. If Avery were a better cornerback, the coaches probably would have made Floyd a backup earlier in the year. And I do think that Gordon is a weakness in the slot. He's not very fast and can't stick with receivers very well; that's pretty obvious.

    2. The coaches seemed pretty complimentary of Floyd's play and to trust him more than Taylor. I don't think he started just because no one else was available.

      I wasn't saying Avery was better than Floyd, I was saying it wasn't an enormous loss to lose a weak player. But I guess if you think Avery is really really bad at outside corner...

      Gordon was used as a slot/nickel role before he moved back to Safety, and the coaches used him there when Taylor got hurt against MSU (or was it Illinois). If Michigan had a better Safety option Gordon might even be "starting" at nickel over Avery.

      I think Michigan's secondary was beatable all year, but few teams they faced had the ability (i.e., QB) to exploit it. Kovacs cheated toward the box a lot and he was usually proven right. I feel like Michigan was a little lucky they didn't get bombed more often during the year. It felt like a lot of teams just-missed on long pass plays. SC had Sanders and a QB who got him the ball and they simply made the big plays that other teams did not.

      Things should be a lot better next year, IMO. Wilson will have spent a year and a half on campus and will have a season of experience behind him. He won't be Kovacs, but every other spot should be better: Gordon will move to his more natural SS position. Countess, Taylor, and Avery will give us a better group of CBs and the depth should be better too.

    3. I don't like playing Freshman Safeties either, but Wilson had to play this year because they need him to start next year and he probably learned some valuable lessons in the game action he did see.

      MGoblog views Wilson playing as an indictment of Hollowell and Richardson, but I think Furman and Robinson are the biggest losers here. Those guys are nominally Safeties, but obviously the coaches are willing to shuffle things around - like OL, the next best guy comes in, regardless of position. The fact that the coaches would rather play a freshman at FS than either of them at nickelback is a bad sign.

    4. I think the coaches trusted Floyd more than Taylor, too, which is why Floyd started at the beginning of the season and Taylor was on the bench.

      The coaches have complimented lots of players, including Russell Bellomy. I don't think I need to say much more than that.

      As for Wilson at safety, a big thing there might be the speed issue. Wilson puts speed on the field, which is something Wilson lacks. And Furman is supposedly fast, but it doesn't show up on the football field. If they put Robinson on the field with Kovacs and Gordon, you've practically got three guys with linebacker speed playing safety. All three of those guys are ideally strong safeties.

    5. You could be right - it could be an interesting battle at SS with Kovacs gone. Robinson's been waiting a long time and maybe Kovacs was all that kept him from seeing the field. But that's not how I see it. I think they'll put the best 4 (or 5) DBs on the field in most cases and I believe they see Wilson as superior to Robinson.

      Typically, if a true freshman can hang in at a tough position without being a total disaster, that bodes well for their future.

      I think Wilson and Gordon will start at Safety and if Wilson gets hurt, they'll slide Gordon back to his 'old' FS position and put Robinson in at SS. Or, if another CB emerges and they really don't trust Robinson, they might even move Taylor back to FS.

      Lot of time till 2013 tho.

    6. By the way, up above, I meant to say that "Wilson puts speed on the field, which is something ROBINSON lacks."

  3. What about the 4th and 3 play? IIRC, we sent one blitzer and had man coverage for the rest, and SC completed a fairly simple ~7 yard inside slant to get the gain. It was a nice throw and catch, but it seemed quite easy. Why would you blitz on a play where you know they only want to get ~5 yards? Isn't some type of zone best for that, or perhaps I missed what we were doing. In any case, I realize Mattison's hands were a bit tied, but I didn't get Mattison's blitz heaviness on that last drive at all.

    That said, as you mentioned, the person who I am most annoyed with is Floyd. It blows my mind that a senior could throw away a chance to play in his last game. He wasn't a world-beater, but with depth so thin, he was definitely a viable CB, and viable would have been a large upgrade from the "bombs-away" game SC was able to pretty easily get away with yesterday. When I think of him, it won't be fondly - he's not an 18 or 19 year old -- he's a 23-year old man who should know better. He really cost the team yesterday. (And Hagerup - he should be already off the team; he's had his chances; we're just lucky Wile was there so there wasn't much of a drop-off)

    1. I don't remember the 4th-and-3 play's specifics off the top of my head, but I do remember thinking on multiple plays that Mattison was really taking a huge chance by blitzing so much. I think the play you're talking about might be one of the plays that made me wish Courtney Avery was playing the slot instead of Thomas Gordon, because Gordon's not good in man coverage from that spot.

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  5. Magnus, thank you for your insight, and I enjoy reading your blog and comments posted in Mgoblog on a daily basis. I am curious as to what your opinion is on the overall coaching job that Brady Hoke has done so far besides recruiting. I am also curious if you agree with presumptions that Brady will bring us big ten championship on a consistent basis like Tressel used to for Ohio and win (not compete)on a regular basis against Urban Meyer and top coaches in SEC or Big 12 in bowl games. I understand that we haave close losses and do not have comparable talent in the team compared to Ohio or other top teams in the SEC but I thought if Brady was good of a coach, I figutured he would have pulled one of those close losses and actually won some games against top competitions like Harbough had done at Stanford. That said, I thought it was very premature for some of the readers of Mgoblog predicting us winning MNC in 2014 or 2015. Thanks in advance and happy new year!!!

    1. At this time, I don't think Hoke will bring Michigan consistent Big Ten championships. Not on a yearly basis. The presence of Urban Meyer makes that a very difficult task; Bo Pelini, perhaps Wisconsin, and perhaps Penn State should all be consistent threats, and then Northwestern and Michigan State might push for an occasional Big Ten championship, too. But Wisconsin's going through some change, and we'll see if Bill O'Brien leaves Penn State.

      That being said, I think Hoke has done a pretty good job so far. I'd probably give him a B+ for his on-field performance. The talent just isn't there, and the personnel doesn't fit what Hoke and Borges want to do. It's tough to win a ton of games with what he had at his disposal, which is why I think 2011 was quite a masterpiece. I agree that he should have won a couple of these close games this year, but anytime you lose your best player (Denard Robinson) for an extended period of time, your chances get slimmer. You mention Harbaugh as an overachiever at Stanford, but he rode Andrew Luck for a couple years, who was available for those upset wins the past couple seasons.

      It is premature to predict a national championship for 2014 or 2015, but I think 2014 is kind of a target year for when we should expect him to start to peak. It remains to be seen just how high that peak will be.

    2. Regarding Tressel's Big Ten title total, remember that some of them were shared titles, which is no longer possible with the Big Ten Championship Game. It's a new ballgame now. Whereas you could generally expect Michigan to grab a share of the title every couple of years, now we're going to have to win a winner-take-all game in December (against a team that we may have already played). I expect us to win them now and then but it'll be tougher now.

    3. Good sober take on Hoke, Thunder.

      I think flat-out luck had much to do with 2011, so I wouldn't call it a masterpiece, but you have to credit Hoke with putting the team in position to win those close games. The defensive coaching has been spectacular. A+ on that side of the ball. Offense has been a mixed bag, but it was a stiff challenge to be sure. My big concern is the lack of speed and talent at WR and RB. So far it's all about getting tall guys which seems extremely questionable.

    4. 2014 will be tough to win a national title in, because of the road games in Columbus and Lincoln.

      I think 2015 is more likely - when the '12 and '13 OL classes will be experienced and proven, Morris could be in his 3rd year, and the defensive recruiting of '11 and '12 should be paying maximum dividends.