Monday, November 1, 2010

On the Michigan-Penn St. Game

Before I leave for Florida for a few days, I want to touch on the state of the Michigan football.  Many people, including myself, felt very confident going into the Penn St. game in Happy Valley.  Michigan was coming off a bye week, so any lingering injuries should be healed up.  The Lions were, and are still are, having a down year.  There offensive line was being compared to Michigan's 2008 line, which many Wolverine fans will remember as one of the worst in school history.  The offense was being led by a walk-on quarterback, and the backups were freshmen.  The usually vaunted defense at Linebacker U was down and riddle with injuries.  Even star player Evan Royster was having a poor year.  With the year Denard Robinson was having, I figured that no matter how badly the D played against a weakened PSU team, the offense would be able to make up the points an then some, giving the Blue a fairly easy win.  As we know, I was pretty wrong about that and like all UM fans, I have some fairly major concerns with the state of this team.

I have stood by Rich Rodriguez since he got here, which admittedly was easier since I have really only been a Michigan fan since I came here as a student in 2006.  While I am a fan of pro-style, smashmouth Big Ten football, I knew that the spread offense that RichRod would bring would be very exciting.  Being told and understanding that we need the right players and that those right players were definitely not in the system.  I sat through my junior and senior year, waiting patiently for the promised offense to scored at will.  It was disappointing to miss out on 2 years of bowl games, but the hope for future teams seemed to make up for that.

After starting off the 2010 year well against subpar talent and seeing the emergence of a future Big Ten star, the losses to MSU and Iowa were frustrating, but both teams were better and older than us.  Even coming into the season, we knew the defense would be bad, really bad.  I knew very little about Greg Robinson except for his bad head coaching stint at Syracuse, but I figured he was just in that category of good coordinator and bad head coach.  So now here is where I state my issues with this team.

The single most troubling thing for me is the lack of preparation for this game coming off of a bye week. I had stated earlier this season that it had looked that we didn't seem to prepare for an opponent, especially for MSU.  Maybe I don't know enough about the spread offense, but I know that the heart of football, any football, is the execution of a set gameplan, then adjusting at halftime depending on what the opponent is showing.  The play I love to see them run is when DRob tucks it for a second, takes 2 hard steps to the line of scrimmage, and then hits a slanting wideout for a 15+ yard gain.  Setting this up is key, of course, which requires a few carries from Robinson and maybe a quick slant to Roundtree.  However, their tendency to run Vincent Smith up the gut, especially on short yardage situations, has quickly grown frustrating, especially with Stephan Hopkins proving himself worthy and the pure talent of Robinson.  I do not expect the offense to score on every play, that would be completely ridiculous.  But Michigan is a team that needs to score first and put pressure on the other team's offense.  UM's defense, which I will get to later, simply does not allow them to be able to get back into games when they are down by more than 2 scores.  This has been the case for the last 2, now 3 games.  Something needs to change on their first drive.

So now the defense.  I actually found myself not getting frustrated with them against PSU, or at least not as frustrated as I probably should have been. Frustration for me comes when a team plays below it's level of talent.  While coaching is mostly to blame, there is no doubt that the talent on this defense, outside of Mike Martin, is MAC level.  However, those responsible for that talent are the ones we really have to blame as I said.  Defense, in my opinion, relies on positioning and energy.  Coaching is directly responsible for the first and partially responsible for the second, more than you would think.  College players are different that NFL players in the sense that there is need for energy to come from coaches.  Many of the best college defenses today, such as Alabama, have a youngish DC that can fire their defense up before each series.  That excitement that a DC can give his D is a major piece in recruiting defensive talent.  Greg Robinson provides neither expertise (or competency) in running a defense during a game, nor the energy his team needs to come out with that killer attitude.  Did anyone catch RichRod going berserk in the defensive huddle right before they made 1 of their 2 defensive stops?  That was needs to happen throughout the game.  The talent is an issue, a big one at that.  But what makes a good coach? Doing the most with the least.  Robinson basically admitted after the game that Cullen Christian, a true freshman, was in the game just to see what worked.  A bye week and a poor first half, along with the poor performance this whole season, needs to lead to some change in the defense. They are being continuously shredded by the same play.  I can understand getting beat downfield.  The secondary is pretty slow.  But the TE/large WR drag across the field that goes for 10 yards is unacceptable.  I lost count how many times PSU ran this against us and got a first down.

As for what happens next, wow, I don't know.  I was so sure of a victory against the Nitany Lions that it's hard to make rational decisions, but here it goes.  Even though there are a few D recruits for him, Robinson needs to be let go. His methods are useless and he shown no means of improvement.  UM needs to clean house on the defensive staff side and to go to Alabama or the equivalent and grab a defensive assistant, preferably a linebackers coach. But that really can't happen until the season ends.  With one win needed for bowl eligibility and their head coach's job at stake, Blue needs to come out with the killer attitude that has been missing since the Notre Dame game.  Illinois is a winnable game considering the Denard factor and Purdue is downright awful this year.  The parallels between the 2009 and 2010 are haunting, but can be fixed if Michigan can find that will to dominate.  Stephen Hopkins needs to start or at least see the majority of the snaps.  Smith is not the team's best back and it's obvious Shaw isn't healthy, even though we have been told otherwise.

I will be at the Big House on Saturday hoping for change, but cheering on the Maize and Blue none the less.  For now, it's off to see the launch of Space Shuttle Discovery.


  1. Do you think we'd be better if we adopted the style of the no kicking high school I heard about a year or so ago? By that I mean never punting on 4th down, never kicking a field goal (until we get a kicker who can deliver in-game), and never doing a deep kick off. Obviously field position doesn't make much difference for our defense. Whether the opposing team gets the ball on their 5 or ours, they'll likely score. We have a decent 4th down conversion rate and honestly, I trust our offense to get one big play much more than I trust our defense to get 3 stops in a row. If our defense can't stop anyone, we should do everything we can to keep them off the field. Go for every 4th down, onside kick every time ftw.

  2. I like that point alot. I said something to that effect, like going for it for 4th and 10 on our own 45. I got tsked by everyone else in the room, but I still thought it was a fair point. Also, with shorter field position for the opponent, that means our offense gets more time on the field. Unfortunately, football has become too formualic, which is why teams like Boise St., who don't follow it, succeed.


    Don't Stop! There's so much to be found!!

  4. i love that DRob tuck/hits slanting wide out play as well... imagine how well we would be doing with a defense in the top half of the league (as opposed to near dead last...