Michigan Monday – Big Brother's Last Stand?
By Tony Gerdeman
Nobody expected Michigan to go into East Lansing and look dynamic, and few expected them to go in and actually win, but that doesn't mean we expected them to get beaten into submission like they did on Saturday.
Michigan State came away with the 29-6 win and kept the Wolverines out of the endzone for a second-straight year. It was as dominating a performance as the Spartans have had all season, and they've already had Western Michigan, South Florida and Illinois on the schedule. I'd say it's unnecessary to get into all of the “big brother”, “little brother” stuff, but the Spartans would probably disagree.
You can't even say this was a little brother who finally rose up after years of being bullied, because Michigan State has been the team doing the bullying lately. Michigan rushed for -48 yards in this game and by the middle of the third quarter, there was nobody left on the Wolverine offense that wanted to be on the field. Nobody.
I'm not sure if the defense was much better.
With 6:23 left in the game, Michigan State started a drive from their own three-yard line. Eight running plays and 97 yards later, and they were in the endzone putting some unneeded nails in a very secure coffin.
Michigan had held the Spartans to just 45 yards rushing before that final drive, so they had done a solid job of containing the attack. But at the end, when they knew Michigan State was going to run it, they had no answers.
Nothing good came from this game for Michigan, and because of the Big Ten schedule, they'll have to be back in East Lansing next year to try it again. Brady Hoke might not have a more important game in his coaching career than that one.
When Michigan Was On Offense
I'm not going to spend a great deal of time on Michigan's offense and defense, because if the UM coaches aren't going to bother, then why should I?
The most interesting aspect of Michigan's offense for me was that the Wolverines only went with the I-formation four times in the entire game. The only time they ran the ball out of the I-formation was the only time Fitzgerald Toussaint was stopped for a loss. He finished with eight carries for 20 yards.
Al Borges knew they weren't going to be able to run the ball against the Spartans, but that's really nothing new. Last year against MSU, Toussaint carried the ball just 10 times. In fact, the last time a Michigan running back carried the ball more than 10 times against the Spartans was 2008.
There is no power football here, and it's been gone for a very long time. That hasn't stopped them from fruitlessly trying for most of the season, however.
As a team, Michigan ran the ball 29 times for -48 yards. They did much better over the final three quarters, however, only losing 27 yards after a rough first quarter when they lost 21 yards.
When Michigan had the ball, the line of scrimmage looked like the world's most lopsided game of Red Rover. Everybody that got sent over ended up tackling Devin Gardner for a seven-yard loss.
True freshman Kyle Bosch got the start at left guard, and he watched more people go by than a cat in a living room window. It wasn't as bad as center Graham Glasgow, however, as Glasgow had Spartans running through him like saloon doors.
Michigan State had no fear or respect for Michigan's offense. Al Borges was really put in an unwinnable situation because there was no running game that could possibly work, and without the threat of the run, the Spartans were free to blitz on all downs, which is exactly what they did. But how much of that unwinnable situation is his fault to begin with?
There were some baffling snaps by the Wolverines in this game, and the running backs were routinely forced to pass block defenders who were running free. On numerous occasions, offensive linemen vacated an area to catch a double team block, and that very area was the one that Michigan State was blitzing through. I'm not saying that the Spartans knew what was coming, but they sure weren't surprised by much.
Late in the third quarter on a third and seven, Taylor Lewan had Shilique Calhoun opposite him. Lewan pointed him out, and then when the ball was snapped, he went inside to seal on a double team. That left Toussaint to block Calhoun one-on-one. It didn't work.
Later, Lewan goes inside again, and tight end Jake Butt runs out for a pass, vacating the area where Devin Gardner was attempting to run to, and defensive end Marcus Rush was waiting for him. Fortunately for Gardner, Max Bullough tackled him well before he ever had to deal with Rush.
How are these thought to be plays that would bring success?
There was also the third and six where Gardner stopped running a yard short of the first-down marker to soften the blow that he was about to take. He was obviously no longer interested in getting pounded, and probably for pretty good reason. So what does Borges do next? He runs Gardner on two consecutive plays.
The drive ended soon after when Gardner threw an interception in the Michigan State redzone after fumbling on the previous snap. The interception was his last play of the game. He had to be helped off the field because he was so beaten up.
Michigan started out well enough, but after the first drive, they really had no answers. Al Borges had two weeks to draw something up, and he was spent after the first drive.
Michigan State was prepared for everything – not that they had that much to prepare for.
When Michigan Was On Defense
Purdue held Michigan State to one offensive touchdown when the two teams played earlier in the year. Michigan held the Spartans to three, and three field goals. While many are pointing blame at the Michigan offensive line, let's not also forget that the Wolverines fielded a defense that wasn't very successful.
Purdue held the Spartans to 294 yards of total offense, which was 100 fewer than Michigan was able to do. It wasn't that the Wolverines were bad on defense, because they weren't, they just didn't make as many plays as an offense like Michigan State generally allows.
Tailback Jeremy Langford rushed for 120 yards on 26 carries, and capped the game with a 40-yard touchdown run that was Michigan's emphatic white flag.
The Wolverines brought a fairly aggressive attack, but quarterback Connor Cook exploited those blitzes by hitting crossing route after crossing route over the vacated middle of the field. Michigan State was 9-18 on third down, and several of those were examples of Cook's ability to pick apart the blitz.
Interestingly, Joe Bolden started at middle linebacker for Desmond Morgan, and Morgan slid over to the will linebacker. James Ross came off the bench. Jake Ryan was back at his usual sam linebacker spot, and he was in the backfield quite a bit in this game. He showed flashes of the old Jake Ryan, that's for sure.
Courtney Avery started in front of Jarrod Wilson at free safety and wasn't any more or less noticeable. Cornerback Raymon Taylor led the team with 12 tackles, and also had an interception. The Spartans clearly went into this game planning to attack him, and sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't.
Defensive tackle Chris Wormley played quite a bit of defensive end in the first half, but really never did anything. Frank Clark, on the other hand, had some very nice moments at his defensive end spot, finishing with nine tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss.
On the whole, however, I think the lack of production on the defensive line might be getting overshadowed by how poorly the Michigan offensive line is playing. Football is won up front, and right now there are issues on both sides of the ball.
That being said, they held up well against Michigan State's mediocre running game until the end, but when they folded, they folded hard. Heck, according to the official box score, Jeremy Gallon had more solo tackles than starting defensive linemen Brennen Beyer and Jibreel Black, and as many as Desmond Morgan.
There are some issues up front that I think I'm going to explore further at a later time, but for now I sort of feel like I'm just piling on.
The Special Teams
Punter Matt Wile hit a 49-yard field goal in a drizzle to get Michigan's scoring going, so that's certainly a positive. He only put two of his eight punts inside the 20-yard line, however. But considering he was punting from inside his own 20 all game long, this isn't a surprise.
Dennis Norfleet had a nice 35-yard kickoff return, but that was the extent of Michigan's positives in the kicking game. Michigan State's R.J. Shelton averaged 29 yards on his two kickoff returns.
What Does It All Mean?
It means that for the seventh year in a row, it's looking like all Michigan has to salvage their regular season is a possible win over the Ohio State Buckeyes.
But then this is what happens when you let Les Miles and Jim Harbaugh tell you no. It's too early to start talking about Brady Hoke's future, but only by about a month. Yes, he's a very good recruiter, but recruiting is pretty easy when you're at Michigan. Rich Rodriguez's problem was that he never stopped recruiting like he was at West Virginia. Hoke walked in on day one knowing the cache that he held, and he's put it to good use.
But what good is recruiting when you're not getting the return? As Michigan State has shown everyone, player development is more important than recruiting when those highly-rated recruits never develop.
A football program peaks when the recruiting and the development are married and fruitful. A program stays stagnant, however, when that talent never evolves like it should.
You know how some animals will only grow as large as their cage allows them? I see the same thing at Michigan right now. They are not being given the opportunity to grow. Yes, the offensive line is young, but where is the promising potential? What freshman or sophomore offensive lineman has shown anything? What exactly is all of this clay being molded into?
For that matter, where is the improvement anywhere on this team?
Is it at quarterback? (That one's rhetorical.)
Jeremy Gallon and Devin Funchess have improved, but Funchess had to move positions to become a better player, and Gallon has been a threat for years now.
Is there a single position on this team that is ahead of schedule? Or are they all “running late”? I think Blake Countess and Raymon Taylor are one of the better cornerback combinations in the Big Ten, but they're both third-year players and progressing essentially how they should be right now.
Michigan can continue to wait for their offensive line to develop, but next year they lose their two best linemen in senior tackles Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield. Those two will be replaced by two players who have either not yet played, or not looked great doing it.
Yes, Rich Rodriguez absolutely put the offensive line situation in dire straits, but Michigan's two best offensive linemen are Rodriguez recruits, and he's been gone since January of 2011. Brady Hoke has worked hard on the recruiting trail to get their numbers up, and he's certainly succeeded, but that's all his offensive line recruits are right now – numbers.
Even when that offensive line matures – whenever that may actually be – I don't see that being some magical fix. Michigan has landed some stellar skill position commits in the 2014 and 2015 classes, but when's the soonest that they can be expected to contribute? And will Brady Hoke even be around to see it happen?
And it's not like young offensive linemen simply can't succeed. Ohio State is starting a true sophomore at right tackle, and they can't stop talking about how well he's played this season. Indiana had two freshman offensive linemen named Honorable Mention All-Big Ten last year. These things do actually happen.
The flaws in this football program go beyond a young offensive line (which is book-ended by two seniors who have a combined 74 starts between them), and they can only be ignored for a little while longer.
At this point, it's almost reaching “Just wait until RichRod gets his players here” levels.
When Brady Hoke was hired, I wrote that he would get the program back to where Lloyd Carr had it, and he's done that. That was never a question for me, because I believe that you actively have to work against achieving those levels in order to not achieve them at Michigan, which is pretty much what Rodriguez did.
Michigan is getting the minimum out of their latest coaching investment, and that has to change. Either Hoke has to fix it, or Hoke has to be fixed.
The Michigan coaches went into this game knowing that they were outmatched. In year three of their tenure, they knew they were outmatched against an in-state opponent. They were pushed around, beaten up, tossed aside and laughed at.
In my opinion, if a head coach isn't enthused about his offense or defense, then he needs to find a coordinator that will bring the excitement he's looking for. Does anything about Hoke's demeanor regarding the offensive woes say “enthused” to you?
Bad offense is a choice just as much as good offense is.
But don't worry, Brady Hoke and his staff will keep grinding, because that wall that they are constantly banging their heads into will eventually fall over.
The Road to the Big One
August 31 Michigan 59 – Central Michigan 9 (1-0)
September 7 Michigan 41 – Notre Dame 30 (2-0)
September 14 Michigan 28 – Akron 24 (3-0)
September 21 Michigan 24 – Connecticut 21 (4-0)
October 5 Michigan 42 – Minnesota 13 (5-0, 1-0)
October 12 Penn State 43 – Michigan 40 (5-1, 1-1)
October 19 Michigan 63 – Indiana 47 (6-1, 2-1)
November 2 Michigan State 29 – Michigan 6 (6-2, 2-2)
November 9 vs Nebraska
November 16 at Northwestern
November 23 at Iowa
November 30 vs Ohio State
December 7 Big Ten Championship Game
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