Sunday, October 12, 2014

Michigan 18, Penn State 13

Devin Funchess scored Michigan's lone touchdown (image via CBS Detroit)
So this is what a victory feels like. It seems like it has been a long time since Michigan won a game, and I guess that's pretty accurate. Michigan went almost a full month, from September 13th to October 11th, between victories. For the previous couple weeks, I had some optimism. This week I was steeling myself for another disappointment. But this makes my weekend a little bit happier, and now we have two weeks to revel in the glory of beating a mediocre Penn State team before facing Michigan State.

Devin Gardner needs bubble wrap. I just received a couple orders from Amazon, so I would be glad to donate some bubble wrap to protect Michigan's only competent quarterback. He did not have a great game (16/24 for 192 yards, 1 touchdowns, 1 interception), but the other quarterbacks on the roster look downright terrible this year. I think Michigan needs to seriously look at any grad-year transfers this off-season and see what they can find. Brady Hoke said after the game that second-stringer Shane Morris - who was concussed two weeks ago - could have played, but it was Russell Bellomy who entered the game when Gardner injured an ankle. Bellomy - whose career numbers were 4/21, 0 touchdowns, 4 interceptions prior to the game - promptly handed off several times and then nearly threw two interceptions, including a certain pick-six to middle linebacker Mike Hull if only Hull could have held onto the ball.

The whole team needs bubble wrap. The list of injuries keeps growing, and it seems every game involves a series of scares. Let's run through the injuries that have occurred over the past week or so:
  • Starting quarterback Devin Gardner (probable sprained ankle)
  • Starting running back Derrick Green (broken collarbone)
  • Starting wide receiver Devin Funchess (aggravated sprained ankle)
  • Starting wide receiver Jehu Chesson (undisclosed lower leg injury)
  • Starting kickoff/punt returner Dennis Norfleet (undisclosed injury, but returned to game)
  • Starting defensive tackle Willie Henry (probable broken hand)
  • Backup tight end Khalid Hill (torn ACL)
Gardner, Funchess, and Norfleet all returned to the game, but the former two seemed hobbled. That list doesn't include virtual starting linebacker Desmond Morgan, starting left guard Erik Magnuson, and virtual starting nickel corner Jabrill Peppers, all of whom have been injured for several weeks and whose returns from injury are in question. I also did not see backup nose tackle Ondre Pipkins on the field last night. Football is a tough sport, and injuries happen to every team. But Michigan was down six starters for the entire evening (Green, Chesson, Henry, Morgan, Magnuson, Peppers) and three more for stretches of time (Gardner, Funchess, Norfleet). Michigan has enough troubles when healthy, but it's tougher to stay competitive when so many people are missing.

Penn State's offensive line is approximately as bad as Michigan's. The Wolverines held the Nittany Lions to 54 rushing yards on 35 carries (1.5 yards/carry), including 6 sacks of quarterback Christian Hackenberg. This is either the best Michigan's defensive front has looked in a long time, or PSU is just bad up front. Unfortunately, it's probably the latter. Regardless, the Wolverines made 11 tackles for loss and those 6 sacks in the game, both of which are reminiscent of opponents' statistics against the Maize and Blue. I have to give credit to the likes of Brennen Beyer (4 tackles, 2 sacks), who doesn't do anything flashy but has held his ground enough to lead the team in sacks so far this season. Penn State was running the ball decently at the beginning of the game when Michigan was missing Ryan Glasgow (who appeared to miss the first quarter, perhaps because of some undisclosed disciplinary issue) and Henry, their two starting defensive tackles. After that the line really seemed to shut them down.

Christian Hackenberg did not impress me. Maybe I'm looking for reasons not to be impressed by Hackenberg, but he has never looked good to me. He does a decent job of checking down to open receivers, and he has a strong arm. I will admit that his touchdown pass to DaeShawn Hamilton was very well done, and there was not much Blake Countess could have done on that play. Otherwise, I would say his best quality is fending off would-be tacklers to create extra time, kind of like a slower Ben Roethlisberger. I would take him at Michigan right now, but I just don't see the reason for the hype. I didn't see it last year, either, because I thought he was a guy getting bailed out by his receivers. Time will tell, I guess.

Michigan's rushing struggles continue. Penn State has one of the best run defenses in the country, so maybe this was bound to happen. But Michigan just couldn't run the ball with any consistency last night. Other than a 25-yard zone read keeper by Gardner, Michigan had 20 carries for 47 yards from their backs (and slot receiver Dennis Norfleet). With Green out, the new starter is De'Veon Smith (12 carries for 24 yards), who is too slow to do anything outside the tackles. The next guy is Justice Hayes (7 for 20), who has speed but doesn't break tackles. Drake Johnson did not touch the ball. Furthermore, they barely attempted any runs to the right, presumably to avoid running behind right tackle Ben Braden.

Hooray for Matt Wile. A week after getting a potential game-tying field goal blocked, Wile looked pretty darn solid as the placekicker. He went 3/3 on field goals from 45, 42, and 37 yards. The first two were right down the middle, and the go-ahead, 37-yarder was squeezed tightly inside the right upright.

The uniforms weren't bad. I'm a traditionalist, and I really like Michigan's regular uniforms. But I have to say that I thought the one-off uniforms looked pretty good. The navy blue jersey-and-pants combination looked slick, and I liked the maize shoes. I wouldn't mind seeing something like them again, but I have not been impressed with most of Michigan's alternate uniforms. My one problem with these was that some of the 6's looked like 8's, so I thought Jourdan Lewis was #28, Jack Miller was #80, Ryan Glasgow was #98, etc.

Thank goodness for a bye week. These guys need a week off, and hopefully Brady Hoke will give them a chance to rest and recuperate. Several of the guys listed above should be better by the October 25th game against Michigan State. Add to that the fact that it's a tough opponent, and the Wolverines really need this preparation time. I do think Hoke can work his way out of the hot seat with a strong finish to the season, but that probably has to include a victory against the rival Spartans.

Go Blue! Yeah.

22 comments:

  1. I thought the uniforms were outstanding. I'd have lost the horizontal lines across the numbers.

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    1. If UM keeps doing these alr uni's then they need to get rid of addidas and bring in Nike or armour

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    2. Same here. I just wish they could have kept their normal Jersey and added the navy pants. I love the navy/navy look.

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  2. I liked the uniforms, I didn't notice the 6's looking like 8's. I thought the 9's looked like 8's. Gardner was 88 etc.

    Keep up the good work, love reading TTB

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  3. Thunder,
    You really think Hoke can salvage his job? I posed this question at another sight and seemed consensus was he would have to win out in order to save it. Does 6-6 with win over MSU or OSU save his job in your opinion?

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    1. To win out it would take three things: 1) the D to take a step up and become a big play machine 2) the O to show significant improvement over the bye week and each week beyond that 3) an incredible amount of fight and toughness from this group of players. If all that happens you have to keep Hoke, because the team would be showing the development that we have been looking for all along.

      Do I think they are likely to win out? Probably not, but if they do that is an amazing turnaround, and you have to reward Hoke for fighting through the criticism and getting his team to fight through all the outside noise.

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    2. I hope Hoke becomes the next Tom Coughlin. Tom was under a lot of fire in New York, but would seemingly always rally the troops at the end of the year, so he could keep the job. The team stayed with his plan and developed into a Super Bowl champ.

      I know it is a stretch, but I would love to see the same thing happen for Hoke. I'd love to see him grow as a coach and help this team fulfill their potential.

      Know I am dreaming, but it would be cool to look back at UTL III as the turning point for this team, this coach, and this program.

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    3. Interesting question but almost certainly irrelevant. Michigan has proved they are at the PSU/Rutgers level (i.e., the bottom half of the Big Ten). The best case scenario is pulling off a spirited upset against either OSU or MSU. Even with that, Michigan looks like it will be underdogs against everybody else. The probability of winning out at this point is less than 1%.

      The probability of only 1 more loss is a lot higher, obviously, but even then I don't if Hoke keeps his job. It probably depends on HOW it all goes down and what kind of energy is around that program. In that circumstance the protesting-boycotting-mgohate faction may actually have a legitimate view.

      Even if it happens - who cares? Hoke's a good guy but the upside of this program is not championship caliber with him as our head coach.

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    4. Anon !0:31. I agree completely. 78 of our 105 players are Freshman or Sophomores.

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    5. If you take the same people in every class, 60% of your guys will be freshman or sophomores. If you take into account normal attrition 70-75% will be normal. I would guess that the average across the country is right around there. This is not an especially young team at anywhere other than OL. The defense is very experienced. Everywhere outside of DT and S has multi-year starters.

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  4. It seems like too many of these injuries are coming from practice.

    The uniforms were OK. Not good, but better than some of the other Alts. My favorite is still the first UTL game look.

    I'm glad we won but we got pretty lucky in this one. For how awful PSU's OL is, Michigan should be beating a team like this very easily.

    This is one of those games where the narratives completely shift because of the outcome. Wile misses a FG and this discussion goes very differently.

    But whatever - it was an entertaining game and fun to watch.

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  5. I've said it all season long, even amid all the controversy and protesting, Oct 25th decides Hokes' future at Michigan. I don't know how they pull it off, but if they do I think Hoke will be spared.

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    1. 4-8 will not save Hoke's job

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  6. Despite Morris-gate and some seemingly under-prepared under coached performances, I still want to believe in Hoke. He pretty much needs to win-out to keep his job. It'd be a great story if things started clicking and that happened.

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    1. I want to believe in Hoke too. The only reason I do, however, is because he coaches UM (and he is a genuinely nice guy as well). Personally I couldn't care less who coaches UM as long as they are successful. Plus there really don't seem like a lot of candidates who would be home runs who would actually take the job right now. This is why I want Hoke to be successful but it seems like apipe dream at this point.

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  7. After all the great games on Saturday, this seemed like watching 2 old fat ladies fighting... MI. Wins because of PSU's lack of any off and their punter could only kick it 25 yards

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  8. What's happening in our practices if Bellomy goes into the game and honestly thinks it's okay to throw the two passes that he threw? Are we running full-speed simulations in practice? Or going 75 percent? On the Hull drop, Bellomy took the snap, did his drop, and thew in rhythm. Right into the linebacker's chest. I mean, he was obviously rehearsing what he's learned in practice and thought that throw was the correct move.

    This leads to larger issue for me. Defenses knife though our line on the regular and absolutely smother anything that goes up the middle. They sack or hurry Gardner on any pass that takes more than about three seconds to develop. This is so obvious to fans watching on Saturdays that it makes me crazy that we don't adjust our offense accordingly (like Purdue did against State this weekend).

    So, wtf is happening in practice? Is our practice defense just so terrible that they're unable to simulate the pressure that hits our OL every single game? I mean, if the practice defense were even remotely competent, how could you come out of week of practice, as Nussmeier, and honestly think that a gameplan that involves runs up the middle and long-developing pass plays is a good idea?

    Last year against Ohio State, our first three first-down plays were: (1) fake handoff, quick slant for 12 yards; (2) fake handoff, screen to Gallon for about 80 yards; (3) jet sweep reverse to Funchess for about 7 yards. Why the hell have we gotten away from this type of strategy?

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    1. I'm sure Bellomy is a nice kid but I can't believe, in Hoke 4th year, that's the current backup QB. He looked like a scared high schooler out there (and played like it too). The guy got recruited by decent programs, is now a junior, and has decent size. Has he developed at all in 3 years?

      My goodness, if Gardner really went down, I literally can't see us scoring a point with Bellomy in there. Frightening.

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    2. I think it's time to stop assuming that Hoke and company are doing basic things correctly. The RBs are slow, the WRs are slow, the TEs can't block, the QBs look awful.

      We've leaned on Rodriguez's guys (Gardner, Gallon, Robinson) all along. The only skill position guys to have stepped forward thusfar is a failed TE. The fact that they saw Bellomy and thought he was good enough to allow not taking a QB in '12 is a huge indictment. The fact that they thought they could move Gardner to WR and let Bellomy be the backup in '12 is a joke. Why do none of our '12 and '13 OL look any better than a true freshman?

      This offense is incoherent and inept and 4 years in that is not acceptable. I don't care if Hoke wins out in the terrible Big10 or not. We are not going to compete for championships if we don't make a major change in the offensive coaching staff and modernize the philosophy.

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  9. So true and unfortunately sad.. Good points magnum PI .. The team does have levels of complete incompetence when it comes to handling pressure ....

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    1. It's so frustrating because stuffing the box and blitzing are not new things. And the reason that defenses don't do those things all the time is because there are counters to those things that will burn your ass like all the first-down plays we ran in the OSU game last year. Since every team we play loads the box and blitzes like hell, we need to adjust by flipping the script and countering evey play until they back off. It's not rocket science. For some reason, it took Borges all freaking season to figure it out last year, and then we had a historic offensive performance against OSU.

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  10. Its readily apparent that Gallon meant more to the offense than people realize. He was the only receiver who gave you yac. Funchess, as big a target as he is, usually gets tackled soon after the catch and no one else can run away from defenders; though Darboh came on in this game. Pass pro seems adequate this season without Taylor/Schofield, so Gallon must be the missing variable.

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