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The Good, The Bad, The Ugly – Penn State

October 15, 2013

MIchigan Penn State

The Good

  • 2nd Half Devin Gardner – Once again someone decided to spike my Devin Gardner Kool-Aid in the first half as Devin lead Michigan to 10 points, but also committed 3 turnovers and kept Penn State in the game.  In the 2nd Half, he was a different player who made more than enough plays to walk away as the winning quarterback.  Devin put up over 200 yards of offense and led Michigan on 3 straight scoring drives in the 3rd and 4th quarter to turn a 4 point deficit into a 10 point lead.  Had the Michigan coaches not decided to neuter him on the final series, he probably would’ve helped us close out the game with another scoring drive or game ending drive.  Gardner’s talent’s were on full display as he was elusive, a great running threat and an above average passer in the second half.  It’s too bad the story we aren’t reading this week is about how he rebounded from a brutal start.
  • Frank Clark – I’m not sure if it was the return of Jake Ryan or just one of the games where Frank Clark decided to show up, but Clark was a monster on Saturday.  Constantly drawing double teams and being held, but still ending up with 2 sacks and a fumble recovery for a touchdown that changed the momentum of the game early in the 2nd half.  This version of Frank Clark is an NFL player and we need to see more of him.
  • The Return of Jake Ryan – Speaking of Jake Ryan – he’s back!  Ryan played a significant amount on Saturday and instantly made a difference, tallying three tackles, including a stop on 4th and short to stifle a Penn State drive early in the game.  On the whole the defense just looked more aggressive with Ryan on the field.  Despite a box score that shows a Michigan defense that gave up 43 points, I thought the defense played very well for most of the game – and I think the return of Jake Ryan had a lot to do with that.
  • Resilient Team – Listen, trailing 21-10 on the road at a place like Happy Valley is a daunting task.  I was very impressed by the way Michigan dominated most of the 2nd half and turned the game around.  Even after the shocking comeback by the Nittany Lions to tie it, Michigan continued to make plays in overtime that should’ve ended up in victories had we just been able to make a field goal. And had the coaching staff not played not to lose instead of to win at the end of regulation, I think we’re talking about a memorable comeback and a gutsy road win this week.
  • Only 1 Loss – If you’re going to lose a Big Ten game, it’s better to lose one outside of the division.  Despite how bad they’ve played as of late, Michigan still controls its own destiny.  Road games at MSU and Northwestern will be very tough, among others – but Michigan can win those games.  As bad as Michigan has played this year at times, its only lost once, and still has a chance to do some things if they can fix some of these issues.   In fact, the schedule sets up very nicely for that.  A home game against Indiana that we should win (though you never know) followed by a bye week and a trip to East Lansing to play MSU.  Given the way we’ve played as of late, I’m not inclined to predict that we beat MSU, but it’s certainly possible, especially after a bye week.  If I’m Hoke, I figure out a way to get through this week and then regroup before the trip to East Lansing.

The Bad

  • Field Goals – So apparently Brendan Gibbons’ mind was somewhere other than brunette girls on Saturday.  Clearly not his best effort, with a missed 52 yarder at the end of regulation (excusable) and a blocked 40 yarder and missed 33 yarder in overtime (both shocking and inexcusable).  If he makes any of those three, we’re complaining about a game that was too close for comfort, but a win.  Instead, Gibbons magic leg lost its mojo late and it cost Michigan the game.  It’s unfair to heap too much blame on him given that the game should’ve been salted away long before he was asked to kick again.  But I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that Gibbons has to make those kicks in OT.
  • Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory – A couple of times in the last year Michigan has snatched victory from the jaws of defeat (see Northwestern in 2012 and Akron and UConn this year). Saturday was Michigan’s turn to do the opposite. This one was a shocking meltdown on many levels.  Based on advanced metrics, Michigan had a 97 percent chance of winning once they got a first down with 3 minutes to go at the Penn State 27 yard line.  But the offense sputtered, the coach made a mistake, and then the defense failed them.  What makes it even worse is that Michigan had not one, but two more chances to win the game in overtime, and again managed to not finish the job.  It’s tough to even point the finger in one direction as the playcalling, decision making, offensive struggles, defensive struggles and missed field goals all helped cost us the game at one point or another.  That was a humbling sentence to write.  In any case, given the way we’ve won some games over the last few years, this probably all evens out, but its beyond frustrating to have at least 3, maybe 4 chances to win and never put the game away. 
  • Definition of Insanity – Michigan ran the ball 30 times between Fitz Toussaint and Derrick Green.  And gained a mind boggling 28 yards.  If the definition of insanity is doing something over and over again and expecting different results….well…you get the point.  I don’t know why Al Borges kept calling those running plays.  Initially I thought it was to setup a playaction rollout for Devin Gardner, but since that never occurred, the only explanation is that eventually he though Toussaint or Green would break a bigger run.  He would be wrong about that.  I thought Borges made some very nice playcalls and adjustments in the 2nd half, but I still can’t justify giving the 22nd – 30th carries to the backs when it’s clear what the previous 21 carries have produced.
  • The First “Bad” Loss – While there have been some ups and downs in the first 2.5 years of the Hoke regime, for the most part Michigan has met or exceeded expectations.  An inaugural season with only two losses – both on the road to above average teams (MSU and Iowa) was understandable.  Last year showcased  5 losses, but they were to teams with a combined record of 58-6 (!).  For the most part, Michigan hadn’t really bombed out against a bad opponent.  And even this year’s struggles were still overshadowed by ugly wins.  On Saturday that all changed.  Michigan lost to a Penn State team that was 3-2 coming into the game and had just lost to Indiana by 20 points.  The bloom is officially off the rose with this loss.  Even a banged up and young Michigan team should’ve handled this PSU team with ease.  This one can absolutely be filed under “games Michigan should win but didn’t”.

The Ugly

  • Poor Discipline – Last week Michigan put forth its cleanest game maybe of the Hoke era.  2 penalties and no turnovers.  On Saturday they reverted to their old form, with 3 turnovers and 7 penalties for 62 yards.   Two of the turnovers lead directly to PSU touchdowns and the penalties were just as damaging.   The two that jump out the most is a 15 yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty by Kyle Kalis that turned a 3rd and 1 at the Michigan 48 into 3rd and 16 at their own 33 (Michigan wouldn’t convert and had to punt) and the inexcusable 5 yard delay of game penalty late int he 4th quarter that forced Michigan out of field goal range and gave PSU a chance to tie the game (which they did).  Michigan also committed another false start that pushed a 42 yard field goal to a 47 yarder (they still made it) and turned a 3rd and 10 into 3rd and 15 in the 4th overtime (they only gained 7 yards and settled for a FG).  In short, it felt like the players and the coaches had a lack of composure in key situations – not a good look when you’re trying to win on the road. But once again, it really all does come down to turnovers.  Two interceptions deep in our own territory gave PSU 14 points, which turns this from a comfortable victory into an overtime loss.  Not the first time we’ve seen this story this year, even though it was our first loss.
  • Clock Management – If you’ve read this blog before you know that clock management is not Brady Hoke’s strong suit.  On Saturday, it reared its ugly head again.  With Michigan holding a 7 point lead and the ball at the PSU 30 yard line, Michigan failed to get a play in on time for 3rd Down and instead of using a timeout, they took the five yard delay of game penalty which pushed them out of field goal range.  They were forced to punt, and Penn State was able to score a tying touchdown.  But it gets worse.  After Penn State got the ball down to the Michigan 1 yard line with about 30 seconds remaining, Michigan chose to use its final timeout.  Instead of saving it for a last ditch effort to score after Penn State scored, we gave it away.  That timeout would’ve come in very handy when Michigan moved the ball to the PSU 40 yard line with 13 seconds left.  Especially considering that we moved it up another 5 yards on the next play but then were forced to kick the field goal from 52 yards because we couldn’t guarantee we’d stop the clock again.  On Monday Hoke admitted the botched timeout prior to the delay of game penalty was his fault – hopefully it was a wakeup call for him that he needs to manage this part of the game better.
  • Game Philosophy – Perhaps the most confusing and maddening part of Saturday’s loss for me was the playcalling and in game strategy, both on offense and defense.  It starts with the decision not to throw the ball at all or run any type of complicated play once we picked up the first down with 3 minutes to go.  We were perfectly content to bleed the clock and either kick a field goal or more likely, play for the punt – which we did.  We were playing the percentages that Penn State couldn’t drive 80 yards in under a minute (we were wrong).  What I don’t understand is how after they scored and we got the ball at our own 34 yard line with no timeout and 21 seconds remaining we came out throwing to try and score points.  The percentages there say that you down the ball and play for overtime.  How can Borges and Hoke trust Gardner and the offense in that situation, but are unwilling to let them go for the dagger with 3 minutes to go and only a single first down separating Michigan from a victory?  But they didn’t stop there!  In overtime, we went back to playing the percentages after the PSU missed field goal and turnover.  Our plan was to not do anything that could cause a turnover and set Gibbons up for a field goal.  Again, this is not a bad strategy per se, but not one that jives with trying to score with 21 seconds left.  I also question if playing in this manner adequately reinforces the “toughness” mantra that Hoke preaches.  Punching it in for a touchdown and leaving no doubt is tough football.  This was not.  Defensively, I was also confused by our strategy, as we seemed to be happy to play aggressive and attack a freshman QB while we were trailing, but the moment we got the lead we retreated into a conservative bend but don’t break defense.  I understand that’s the safe move, but when one philosophy has proven to work for 4 or 5 straight possessions, why revert back to the strategy that has produced worse results just because it is safer?  In short, I’d ask for a little more consistency from our coordinators and our head coach.  Either we’re a tough team that goes for the jugular, or we’re a team that plays the percentages.  But we need to choose an identity.
  • The Offensive Line – So here we are six games through the season, and we still have no idea what to make of this offensive line except that are probably the worst line I’ve ever seen as a Michigan fan.  To be fair, there are several contributing factors to this including youth, injury, inexperience, and coaching/scheme. What’s apparent to all is that something has to change.  I actually don’t think its a lack of talent that is hindering this unit, but rather a lack of certainty and chemistry.  It’s clear by now that we aren’t capable of playing the manball that Hoke wants us to be able to and that’s mostly because of the offensive line problems.  From what I can tell on the tape, most times we just aren’t blocking the right guy.  I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that week to week, Al Borges is focusing on finding the weakness in the opposing teams defense and scheming towards that.  This affects the receivers and QBs as well, but they seem to be able to adapt better.  Instead of imposing our will on the defense, we’re targeting their deficiencies and exposing them.  That’s fine week to week, but it hasn’t allowed the offense, especially the offensive line, develop any cohesion. It looks like everyone (for the most part) is starting fresh each week – and that’s not a good thing.  Moving back to the individual players themselves, the two problems I see are that we still haven’t found a left guard, and our right guard (Kyle Kalis), while promising, still isn’t there yet.  I think if you’re Brady Hoke, you have to get through Indiana any way you can, and then try and regroup again during the bye week.  Maybe by then someone will emerge or we’ll find enough improvement in the offensive line to see some improvement.
One Comment leave one →
  1. Peter T permalink
    October 16, 2013 12:28 AM

    good blog

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