Sunday, October 25, 2009

Does Michigan have a quarterback?


As I was watching the game yesterday, this thought wandered into my head for the first time. Does Michigan have a starting quarterback for the future? After the first series against Penn State, on which Tate Forcier looked pretty good, everything went downhill.

Tate Forcier
Tate Forcier seems to be the quarterback of the future. He has started every game this year and leads the team in passing. So far he has thrown for 1,167 yards, 9 TDs, and 5 INTs while completing 55.3% of his passes. And in Rich Rodriguez's read option offense, Forcier has 75 carries for 190 yards.

Forcier seems to have regressed this year. Either that or teams have figured out his weaknesses and are exploiting them. Early in the year, Forcier was picking apart man coverages, and it seems more teams are running confusing zone defenses to slow down Forcier's read progression. On designed rollouts, opposing defensive ends and linebackers are taking better angles and hemming Forcier inside the pocket; while Michigan's running backs are doing a good job as personal protectors, Forcier can't get outside and run or find good throwing lanes like he did early in the year.

Forcier's game management has also been somewhat lacking. He's fumbled several snaps, albeit mostly ones from backup center David Moosman. Yesterday he clocked the ball on third down at the end of the first half when he had time to run a quick play and take a shot at the end zone. And before that play, he fell on a fumble and was very slow getting up off the ground. And in a hurry-up offense like Michigan's, there's no reason to take a delay of game penalty like Michigan did near its own goal line.

Denard Robinson
Denard Robinson is most Michigan fans' second option. I have maintained since they were recruited that Forcier was the better of the two, but many fans claimed that Robinson would be a Pat White clone. And while that may end up being true, I guess - although I don't think it will - Pat White redshirted as a freshman, so judging Robinson right now might be jumping the gun.

That being said, Denard Robinson sucks at playing quarterback right now. He's not ready and I've said that all along. Subtracting the game against Delaware State from his stats (because, honestly, they shouldn't count), Robinson's passer efficiency rating is 37.11. Overall, he's 10/21 for 172 yards, 2 TDs, and 4 INTs. He's carried the ball 51 times for 293 yards.

Robinson doesn't make good reads in the passing game. He doesn't make good reads on the read option. He fumbles the ball too frequently as a runner. He's inaccurate on deep balls. He throws the ball too hard on short throws. And other defenses know it, which means they load up against the run whenever he enters the game. So what would be 20- or 30-yard runs for a guy who's also a passing threat have turned into 4- or 5-yard gains for Robinson.

Nick Sheridan
Sheridan is the dark horse in all this. He's not fast and he doesn't have a strong arm. He's a former walk-on. He's a redshirt junior and he might not be around next year.

However, Sheridan does know the offense. He's not fast enough to be a real threat as a runner, but he's fast enough to gain three or four yards if a defensive end crashes on the read option. His accuracy on short throws seems to have improved. We haven't really seen him throw deep this year, but reports suggest that his arm is a bit stronger than it was.

His performance this year has been limited to a couple snaps against Western Michigan and nine passes against Delaware State, so that's inconclusive. But for a team that's struggling, Sheridan is an option to be considered.

Tate Forcier should continue to start. His skills are better suited for this offense than anyone else's. He has the most talent and the best arm. Right now, though, he's not being used effectively. Rodriguez needs to lean on the running game, run some play action out of the I-formation, get the ball to Martavious Odoms on short throws, and keep Forcier out of harm's way a little more. The strength of this team is its running backs; throwing the ball 32 times and running Forcier 14 times is putting too much pressure on Forcier.

Denard Robinson should get fewer snaps at quarterback. He should get occasional plays behind center and Rodriguez needs to find more creative ways to get him the ball. The coaches should start putting in packages where Robinson runs plays out of the slot or at running back; he may be a future quarterback, but that time isn't now. You either have to remove him completely or put him in a position to succeed. You can't keep throwing him out there in situations where he has proven he will fail (i.e. passing the ball on obvious throwing downs).

If Rodriguez decides to rest Forcier's shoulder or if Forcier gets hurt more seriously, Sheridan should get the majority of the snaps. I know this probably isn't a popular statement, but he's a better quarterback right now than Robinson. He's not going to win games by himself, but he can check into the right plays, handle the ball properly, and make the necessary reads. This team doesn't need to throw the ball down the field to be successful, and that's probably Sheridan's biggest weakness.

Meanwhile, class of 2010 commitment Devin Gardner should be licking his chops. There have been rumors that he's considering other schools (Florida, for example), but from everything I've heard, those rumors are untrue. On top of that, Forcier hasn't fully convinced me that he's ready to be the future quarterback, and Robinson hasn't convinced me that he should even be playing quarterback. Unless Forcier's consistency improves over the next five weeks or so, I'd expect Gardner to come in with a decent shot at earning some playing time next year.

Penn State 35, Michigan 10

Alex Smith expresses the sentiment of the day.

My thoughts on this game are incomplete. When Carlos Brown fumbled with about five minutes left in the third quarter, I headed out. Brandon Graham had just blocked a punt in Penn State's territory, and even though I knew Michigan probably wouldn't win (it was already 32-10), I thought Michigan might at least make it respectable.

Instead, I went to a charity cash party and gambled away money. Unfortunately, I was surrounded by Penn State fans.

Yesterday was an offensive abomination. I had issues with the playcalling and substitutions. Previously dependable players weren't dependable. Starting center David Molk returned only to get injured and force somewhat incompetent backup center David Moosman into action as the snapper. Penalties. Poor quarterback reads. Fumbles. Interceptions. It seems like every team has an absolutely horrible game once per year, and hopefully this is Michigan's final one this year.

Everyone and his mother knew the game was over when Michigan produced perhaps the worst offensive series of the year. Starting deep in Michigan's own territory, the Wolverines ran the ball on first down and Mark Ortmann got called for holding. The ball was on Michigan's 4-yard-line. Then Ortmann false started on (er, prior to) the next snap. Prior threw an incomplete pass on second down. Then Tate Forcier took a delay of game penalty, putting the ball on the 1. On third down, while Forcier was calling an audible and stepped to the side, David Moosman inexplicably snapped the ball out of the back of the end zone. Safety. The end.

Even though Michigan gave up 396 yards to Penn State, I really didn't think Michigan played horribly on that side of the ball. For the most part, I thought the players did pretty well. Just like on offense, Michigan was outsmarted.

PSU was able to isolate subpar defensive players in pass coverage. Starting middle linebacker Obi Ezeh was twice exposed, once against running back Evan Royster and once against tight end Andrew Quarless. But he had no business being one-on-one with Royster, who was lined up all the way on the sideline. And in a Tampa Two scheme (in which the two safeties play halves while the MIKE covers the deep middle), both Jordan Kovacs and Mike Williams failed to react to Quarless running straight up the middle of the field; meanwhile, backup Quick Brandon Herron failed to chuck Quarless coming off the line of scrimmage.

Michigan's cornerbacks also did a poor job of covering the wide receivers early in the game. They seemed to be trying to protect Michigan's young, inexperienced safeties and bailing out a little too quickly. This left PSU's receivers wide open on outs and hitches.

I'm depressing myself, so let's finish up.

Offensive game ball goes to...uhhh...Brandon Minor? I don't know. He led the team in rushing, scored a TD, and didn't fumble. Sure. Let's give it to him.

Defensive game ball goes to...Brandon Graham. He had 7 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, and half a sack. I wouldn't even want to shake hands with that guy, as I would probably incur the most pain I've ever felt. Remember in the movie Speed how there were those big barrels of water on the highway to prevent stray cars from running into concrete barriers? Opposing quarterbacks would be wise to make their pads out of big barrels of water.

Let's see less of this guy on offense...Denard Robinson. He's not being used effectively, and that's on Rodriguez. I hate to say it, but I really haven't seen a single reason to believe that this guy should remain at quarterback for the remainder of his Michigan career. He's a turnover waiting to happen, especially on passing downs. Disregarding the Delaware State game, six of Robinson's 13 drives this year have ended in a turnover. Yesterday he was 0-for-2 with an interception and a fumble. He doesn't make good reads in the passing or running game. And absent the threat of the pass, Robinson's running abilities are becoming less and less effective. Rodriguez should use Robinson on occasional plays in the middle of drives or on two-QB plays at random times, but what's happening right now isn't working. So it needs to be changed.

Let's see less of this guy on defense...Obi Ezeh. I'm not saying he should lose his job, but he's not a three-down linebacker. I'd like to see defensive coordinator Greg Robinson start to mix in some 4-2-5 nickel packages. I like Michigan's four-man front with Roh in there. On obvious passing downs, Coach Robinson should remove Ezeh in favor of a third cornerback. I think Boubacar Cissoko would be a good slot corner, so the back seven would consist of linebackers Mouton and Steve Brown; corners Donovan Warren, Troy Woolfolk, and Cissoko; and safeties Kovacs and Williams.

Picture via

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Elliott Mealer is better than me...

...and not just at football.

This is an "E:60" report from ESPN. It outlines the sad story of the deaths of Elliott Mealer's father and girlfriend two years ago.

If I were Mealer, I would have stood up and walked away from Lisa Salters when she asked me what I whispered to my girlfriend as I held her dying body in my arms. Some things should be left between a person and his maker.

I'm guessing Elliott Mealer doesn't want to be remembered for this car accident. Hopefully Michigan fans will someday know Mealer for his success on the field in Michigan Stadium. On a lot of teams, the fans' favorite player is the backup quarterback. I don't know that I've ever seen the favorite be a backup guard, but there's a first time for everything.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Former Michigan Athlete of the Week: Tom Brady

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady had a record-setting day on Sunday. Brady threw for 380 yards on 29/34 passing (85.2%) and 6 total touchdowns in a 59-0 win over the Tennessee Titans on Sunday. Despite playing in the snow, Brady set a record by throwing 5 touchdowns in the second quarter.

Honorable mention: Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Leon Hall had 10 solo tackles, 2 assists, 1 pass breakup, and 1 forced fumble, but the Bengals lost to the Houston Texans, 28-17.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Highlights: Michigan vs. Delaware State 2009

Michigan 63, Delaware State 6

5th string QB Jack Kennedy

Don't get me wrong - I thoroughly enjoyed Saturday's victory. I don't have the Big Ten Network, so by the time I got out of Saturday morning football practice and got to the sports bar where I watch BTN games, it was about 12:15 p.m. and I had already missed two touchdowns.

But I don't think I learned much about this team. Every Michigan player who looked good was doing so against a walk-on-type player. If you had any doubts about Delaware State's lack of talent, consider fourth-string QB David Cone's final stat line of 3/3 for 54 yards.

Michigan set records with 727 total yards and 461 rushing yards. True freshman running back Vincent Smith had 17 carries for 166 yards and 1 touchdown. Redshirt freshman scout team running back Michael Cox had 82 yards on 11 carries, including a 57-yard TD. Even failed tailback-turned-fullback had 73 yards and a touchdown on a 9.1 yard average per carry.

In short, yesterday was ridiculous.

However, I have to admit I was a bit disappointed in Michigan's defense. This is surely nit-picking, but Michigan only recorded 2 sacks (both via Brandon Graham) on 36 dropbacks. The Wolverines didn't force a single turnover. They held Delaware State to 2.5 yards per carry and only gave up two field goals, so I'm not alarmed. However, for a team that's good enough to score 63 points, it sure would be nice to see the defense perform just as dominantly.

Offensive game ball goes to...
Michael Cox. Vincent Smith had better statistics, but I wasn't that impressed with Smith. He has adequate speed, elusiveness, and strength, but nothing I saw really wowed me. Cox, on the other hand, looks like the second coming of Brandon Minor. He runs hard and the first tackler almost never brings him down. And while he didn't exactly look fast on that 57-yarder, he's fast enough to get the job done.

Defensive game ball goes to...
Brandon Graham, I guess. Nobody on defense looked that impressive. Graham had 2 sacks and 3 tackles total. For such a dominating performance, it was kind of a yawner on this side of the ball.

Let's see less of this guy on offense...
backup running backs. It would be great to have both Carlos Brown and Brandon Minor healthy. For once. They've been together for four years, and I don't know if they've been 100% healthy at the same time for even one game in that span.

Let's see less of this guy on defense...
Teric Jones. This was Teric Jones's first extended playing time at cornerback, and it's pretty clear why the coaches moved Troy Woolfolk back to CB instead of perhaps giving more playing time to Jones. He's only a true freshman and he didn't play CB in high school, so he's only been playing cornerback for about two months. But Delaware State was able to pick on him a little bit, and he didn't really seem up to the challenge yet. Hopefully the defensive backfield can stay healthy enough for the rest of this year to keep Jones from having to play critical minutes.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Iowa 30, Michigan 28

Single wing QB Denard Robinson

Well, last night was frustrating. Not only because we lost, but because the loss was self-inflicted. Five turnovers, blown coverages, bad coaching decisions. Michigan clearly seemed to be the more talented team, but luckily for Iowa, talent doesn't always win.

I would be remiss if I started this post with anything but a discussion of Rich Rodriguez's decision to go with freshman Denard Robinson on the last drive in the fourth quarter. That was the biggest decision of the night - and the worst, in my opinion - and it might have cost Michigan the game.

Assuming Rodriguez benched starter Tate Forcier because of Forcier's performance (8/19 for 94 yards and an INT, 8 carries for 26 yards), it was an indefensible decision. Two of Michigan's victories this season (Notre Dame and Indiana) are the direct result of Forcier's late-game heroics. Last week's near-victory against Michigan State came after Michigan was down 20-6 halfway through the fourth quarter and Forcier directed two touchdown drives. Meanwhile, backup Denard Robinson has had a couple electrifying TD runs while failing to pass the ball efficiently in spot duty this season. Prior to last night, Robinson was 4/11 for 57 yards, zero touchdowns, and 2 interceptions.

When Robinson entered the game in the second-to-last series last night, Forcier wasn't performing well. Michigan needed a spark. I understand that. Robinson completed two short passes on that drive and ended the series with a short TD run. The offense needed a spark? Mission accomplished.

But with 1:30 left and Michigan needing to go 80 yards with no timeouts, Rodriguez shouldn't have played the running quarterback, no matter how poorly Forcier had played to that point. Robinson is clearly a subpar passer and showed it when he badly overthrew a bracketed Junior Hemingway that resulted in the game-ending interception. Robinson finished the game 3/4 for 30 yards and 1 interception, which raised his passer efficiency rating to 55.39 on the season. By comparison, Forcier's PER is 133.11. Furthermore, Nick Sheridan's PER in 2008 was 81.08. That's right - Robinson is a significantly worse passer than Nick Sheridan. So not only should Forcier have been in the game at the end, but one could make the argument that Sheridan should have been in there instead of Robinson, too.

Now, some theories suggest that Forcier got benched because he and Rodriguez had words on the sideline. I didn't see evidence of that during the telecast, but it's possible. If that's true and Rodriguez was using the benching to teach Forcier a lesson, that might be a good reason. But if it was just based on their play, Forcier should have been on the field.

Otherwise, Michigan turned the ball over too much. The Wolverines fumbled, threw interceptions, muffed punts, etc. They achieved just about every method of turning the ball over. In between playing solid run defense (Iowa averaged 2.4 yards per rush), running the ball well (4.3 yards per carry), and playing decent pass coverage most of the time, Michigan gave the ball away too many times. You will rarely see a team win the game when they've turned the ball over four or five times.

Defensively, former starting cornerback Boubacar Cissoko was suspended for the game due to a violation of team rules. In his place, starting strong safety Troy Woolfolk moved over to cornerback. The starting safeties were walk-on Jordan Kovacs and redshirt sophomore Mike Williams. Woolfolk played better than either Cissoko or J.T. Floyd had earlier in the year, but Williams especially blew some coverages at key times. I can't blame him too much, as he's been playing close to the line for the past two years as almost a glorified outside linebacker. Michigan fans shouldn't expect that he'll be a great center fielder in his first extended playing time at the position, but he does have good speed and he's a solid tackler. If Woolfolk can solidify the cornerback position, I think Williams and Kovacs might be sufficient at the safety spots.

Offensive game ball goes to...
the offensive line. The offensive line got destroyed last week against Michigan State, but center David Moosman (replacing the injured David Molk) made good snaps for the entire game and Michigan got a solid push from their undersized line against a strong Iowa front seven.

Defensive game ball goes to...
Donovan Warren. He opened the game with a pick six and played pretty well for the rest of the game. He did get beat on a 47-yard pass on a 3rd-and-24, but that was at least partly because Mike Williams was slow to help from his safety position.

Let's see less of this guy on offense...
Denard Robinson. Please, God, do not allow Rodriguez to put him on the field to pass the ball in key situations. He has a lower PER than Nick Sheridan and he can't run the full offense. Not only is he unable to pass the ball or even run the famed read option, but he also hasn't taken a single snap from under center (if I recall correctly) in the I-formation, which is the best way to run Brandon Minor. A large portion of the playbook goes out the window with Robinson in the game, and it's just QB draw, QB sweep right, QB draw, QB sweep left, QB draw, QB sweep right, onward to infinity.

Let's see less of this guy on defense...
Boubacar Cissoko and J.T. Floyd. The rest of the defense played well except for the safeties, but there's no help coming for them. Kovacs and Williams need to improve with more experience and more reps. Meanwhile, while Cissoko didn't play at all and Floyd played sparingly, Woolfolk held his own at the cornerback position. Hopefully Greg Robinson keeps Woolfolk at corner and is able to coaches up those other safeties.