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The Good, The Bad, The Ugly – Wisconsin

November 24, 2010

Saturday’s defensive performance reminded me of a scene from The Naked Gun, where a man falls off the building,  is steamrolled into the pavement and then marched on by the USC marching band.  I imagine that’s a little bit how our defense felt after the game.  It’s exactly what it looked like from the stands.  The offense didn’t perform at its best, but given the way our defense got steamrolled, I’m not sure it would have mattered. 

THE GOOD

  • No Quit – While it’s certainly Ugly the way Michigan has fallen behind against the tougher opponents this fall, the way they’ve always managed to claw their way back speaks volumes about the toughness of this team, and their willingness to fight.  Saturday was no different as Michigan spotted Wisconsin a 24-0 lead before pulling within 10 points twice in the 2nd half.  While this may only be a moral victory, as I formulate my thoughts about Rich Rodriguez and the future of Michigan football, the fact that no matter what the score, these kids keep responding to the coaches is incredibly important.  Often times a struggling team will quit on their coach, and their season.  There is no evidence of that in this team.  They’ve faced deficits and adversity in 5 of the last 6 games.  And while they’ve come up on the short end in 4 of them, each time they’ve clawed their way back to at least respectability.  That no quit attitude hasn’t won them anything yet, but eventually it will.
  • Second Half Offense – As bad as the offense was in the first half – and I’ll get to that – the offense in the second half again proved why this team, when playing well, should be able to play with anyone.   On the first 5 possessions of the second half, Michigan racked up 327 yards, 28 points, and probably would have scored a 5th time if it weren’t for a tipped ball that turned into an interception.  Robinson found his groove both passing and running the ball, and when he does that, this offense is basically unstoppable. And make no mistake, Michigan didn’t score because Wisconsin was playing a prevent defense – 21 of those points came in the 3rd quarter, and 3 of the 4 scoring drives took less than 3 minutes.   Although it was a case of too little, too late, Michigan once again showed that there isn’t a defense in the Big Ten that is equipped to slow them down when they are firing on all cylinders. 
  • Onside Kicks – Though plenty of fans have been screaming for us to do this every time we score due to the ineptitude of the defense, we finally pulled out an onside kick at an appropriate time.  Trailing by 10 with the defense showing no hope of stopping Wisconsin, I loved the on-side kick attempt.  We had scored on 3 straight possessions, and showed no signs of slowing down.  Had we recovered, I’m confident we would have pulled to within 3 shortly thereafter, and the rest of the game may have gone differently.  The kick was great, and was ripe for recovery, but unfortunately it didn’t happen for us.  It was a calculated risk that didn’t work out.  What I liked best about it was Rich Rod adjusting in-game to what was going on and making a gutsy decision.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but in this case, I don’t fault Rich Rod for that call one bit, and I applaud the aggressiveness. 

THE BAD

  • Injuries – It’s no secret we were already undermanned at several positions, but Saturday left us with even more players in the infirmary.  Vincent Smith and Craig Roh suffered concussions and may be limited this week.  Daryl Stonum was carted off the field in a season-ending injury sort of way that has yet to be disclosed, and Mike Martin and Taylor Lewan were absent for most if not all of the game.  In short, we’re a walking MASH unit.  To beat OSU, we are going to need an all hands on deck approach – and losing Smith with Shaw still banged up, and Stonum with Odoms out for the year is not the way to go about it.  And that’s before we get to the fact that without Mike Martin, our defensive line couldn’t stop most high school teams from picking up 3 yards per carry.  I’m doubtful we will see Stonum again this year, but am hopeful that Martin, Lewan, Shaw, and Roh will be able to go on Saturday.
  • First Half Offense – For the 4th time this year, the vaunted Michigan offense laid an egg in the first half.  MSU, Iowa, Penn State and Wisconsin all jumped out to early leads, largely in part to the early struggles of the Michigan offense.  Not surprisingly, those 4 games represent Michigan’s 4 losses.  And like MSU, Iowa, and Penn State, many of the struggles were self-inflicted.  At this point, most teams have figured out that the only way to slow down the Michigan offense is stack the box to stop the run, and force Denard Robinson to throw.  If he’s accurate, it will cost you, but if he’s not, you’ll likely win that round of chess.  Although Denard was fairly accurate early on Saturday, his receivers did him no favors, repeatedly dropping catchable passes that would have continued drives or picked up large chunks of yards.  Denard was not without fault, as he overthrew an open Daryl Stonum on a likely touchdown and misfired on a pass to Vincent Smith in the flat.  Would it have mattered in the long run?  Maybe not.  But the slow start on offense doomed us as the defense was unable to slow down Wisconsin.  Considering we scored 21 points in the 3rd quarter and were within 10 points twice, even one more score on the board in the first half probably makes this a different ballgame in the 4th quarter. 
  • The Defense – The rush defense gets special mention under Ugly, but I wanted to take time to specially recognize the stink bomb the defense in general gave us on Saturday.  While we all saw the way Wisconsin gashed us for 6 yards per carry, what may have gotten lost in the shuffle is how well Wisconsin passed the ball on Saturday.  Scott Tolzien was 14/15 for 201 yards.  He didn’t throw an incompletion the whole day, as his only errant pass went to James Rogers with 30 seconds to go in the first half.  Tolzien started the day 13/13 for almost 200 yards, and was never sacked.  Couple that with our atrocious run defense, and I think Wisconsin could have scored 83 if they really wanted to.  To be fair, part of this had to do with 18 year olds trying to tackle and fend off blocks from 22 year olds.  And it also had to do with Michigan playing without its best defensive player, Mike Martin.  But it mostly had to do with a ridiculous 3-3-5 scheme that forced 175 lb freshman safety Ray Vinopal was taking on 320 lb pulling guards from Wisconsin.  I’m willing to recognize that there is a time and a place for the 3-3-5, but this wasn’t it.  I’m still baffled as to why we run it in general, but not using a four man front on Saturday was nothing short of inexcusable – especially since we found mild success with it last week against Purdue.  I won’ t belabor the point anymore, as its pretty clear that Greg Robinson will likely be gone by Christmas, but wow.  The only bright spot on defense was the fact that we forced 2 turnovers.  That’s 7 in 2 games.  And 7 more than we forced in the previous 4 games.  Hopefully that trend will continue in Columbus. 
  • 

THE UGLY

  • Last Offensive Series of the First Half – With 30 seconds to go, Michigan took over down 24-0 nothing on their own 15.  Had Rich Rod opted to take a knee, head into halftime and regroup, I would have been fine.  Had he opted to run a play, see what he got, and then either call a timeout or just let the clock run out, that would have worked for me too.  Unfortunately, the approach he took – run a play, gain 9 yards, foregoing a timeout and running one more play as time expired – was inexplicable to me.   In this instance, if Rich wanted to consider trying to get points, he should have run a play with an idea in his head of how many yards we needed for him to keep trying to score, or packing it in for the half.  If we got it, take a timeout and continue on.  If we didn’t, go to the locker room.  Instead, his approach created only two possibilities – a turnover when we weren’t trying to score, or an injury to a valuable player.  If you’re not trying to score, why run Denard Robinson and give Wisconsin two more hits on him?  Just an all – around puzzling way to handle the end of the half.
  • Rush Defense – The bottom line is that we got manhandled on Saturday.  Wisconsin ran the ball 58 times, for 357 yards.  An average of 6.2 yards per carry.  If you take out the rushes by the QB, that yards per carry jumps up to 6.8 yards a rush.  Wisconsin ran the ball on 29 consecutive plays and only threw the ball once in the second half.  As Woody Hayes once said, when you throw the ball, only three things can happen, and two of them are bad.  Since running the ball was always a good proposition, Wisconsin had no reason to do anything but that.  What was frustrating is that Michigan refused to employ more than a 3 man rush for most of the afternoon.  The French put up more of a fight against the Germans in 1940 than our defense did against the Wisconsin offensive line.
  • Field Goal Kicking – For reasons passing explanation, I had actually started to believe in our placekicking.  We’d made  few kicks against PSU, Purdue, and Illinois, and though nothing was automatic, I wasn’t expecting complete disaster every time we attempted a field goal.  It was based on this that I supported the decision to kick a field goal in the first quarter.  Trailing 7-0 and facing 4th and 6 from the Wisconsin 13, we needed to get points.  A 30 yard field goal should have been a gimme.  Should have.  Seth Broekhuizen shanked his attempt, and not only cost us 3 points, but significant momentum.  Wisconsin drove the field to kick a field goal to make it 10-0, and Michigan never got closer than that the rest of the day. While I supported giving the kickers a chance to prove themselves throughout the season, at this point, with all apologies to Dennis Green, “we are who they thought they are”.  And what we thought is that they are high school kickers masquerading as college kickers.  Other than facing a 4th and Goal from the 20 with 3 seconds left in the game or half, we shouldn’t attempt a field goal against OSU.  They just can’t be relied on to come through.  I hope I’m wrong and one of them – either Broekhuizen or Gibbons – makes a big kick on Saturday.  But I’m not holding my breath. 
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