|This picture could have been taken about 18 times on Saturday night (image via MLive)|
The offensive line is terrible. In my opinion, this is the position coach on the hot seat this year. Youth or not, I have not seen improvement from Michael Schofield or the current interior guys, and last year's senior guard-center-guard combo also seemed to regress. Darrrell Funk seems to be the current staff's Jay Hopson. I've heard people talk about how much Funk knows about the offensive line, but what offensive line coach at this level doesn't? Production has been lacking, and that's what really matters. Michigan allowed 7 sacks for -49 yards, and the team had just 44 positive yards on the ground.
Devin Gardner was battered and bruised. Gardner wasn't really on his game the whole night. Michigan State's blitzes and Michigan's porous offensive line had something to do with it, but before the hits even had a chance to take a toll, Gardner was already off. I felt like Gardner wasn't loose and relaxed for this game, because he was hesitating on some of his throws and running tentatively, even at the beginning. He looked like a quarterback who let the other team's reputation get into his head, not to mention the 7 times he was sacked for -49 yards.
The offensive play calling. I've seen a lot of negative comments about Al Borges, which always happens after a loss or a close game. I'm not a Borges apologist, but I don't want to sell him down the river, either. I have yet to see any realistic suggestions for ways to improve the offensive philosophy at this point. The center can't snap, whether it's under center or from shotgun; there's been at least one botched snap every game, and this week's was an airmailed shotgun snap that cost Michigan 20 yards. The offensive line can't blow people off the ball, and they also can't pass protect. Borges called rollout passes and screens, which didn't work. The throwback screen to Jeremy Gallon got them a decent gain, and a bubble screen to Devin Funchess gained 5 yards, but throwing more bubble screens wouldn't make up the difference in a 23-point loss. Borges has tried power, iso, zone, long-developing pass routes, short routes, screens, quarterback draws, read options, etc. I will agree that a bubble screen here or there would help Michigan a little bit, but the bottom line is that bad offensive line play will submarine just about any offense.
What is it about Michigan State's defensive coaching that makes them so good? I really have half a mind to go to an MSU coaching clinic this offseason. That is, if Pat Narduzzi hasn't accepted a head coaching job by then. I see a lot of these MSU-bound kids coming out of high school with unimpressive physiques, skills, measurables, etc., yet they tackle like crazy, don't get themselves out of position, and blitz like madmen. I wonder how their practices, game planning, lifting, etc. differ from Michigan's. You can't tell me that their kids are just flat-out better athletes at every position. It's obviously a different mentality (attacking vs. conservative), but the Spartans manage to stay fundamentally sound, too. I've seen too much poor tackling by Raymon Taylor, too much poor coverage by Channing Stribling/Jourdan Lewis/Jarrod Wilson, too much lost leverage by Michigan's edge guys, etc. It's not that Michigan has a bad defense, but it's obviously lacking that little extra something that gives MSU its nasty edge.
Michigan choked. I think the Wolverines are typically a pretty resilient team. They always seemed to be a "second half team" under Gary Moeller and Lloyd Carr, and they've held tough under Brady Hoke in most games. However, there's a long list of players who did not play well in this game and made unforced errors - Devin Gardner, Graham Glasgow, Taylor Lewan, Michael Schofield, Fitzgerald Toussaint, Derrick Green, Jake Ryan, Desmond Morgan, Jourdan Lewis, Cam Gordon, Raymon Taylor, Matt Wile. Hell, true freshman quarterback Shane Morris even got into the act by getting tripped up by the turf monster on Michigan's final drive.
What does this mean for the rest of this year? Well, this is the best defense Michigan will play all year, so at least that's out of the way. No other team is going to hold Michigan to single digits unless Gardner gets injured. Each of the next three games is winnable - though challenging - but I'm chalking up Ohio State as a loss already unless something happens to Braxton Miller and Kenny Guyton in the meantime. It appears 9-3 is a best case scenario at this point.