M FOOTBALL 2014: OFFENSIVE INERTIA AND A SPECIAL TEAMS LULLABY DOOM WOLVERINE HOPES, AND HELPS TO MAKE THE UTAH UTES WINNERS IN MICHIGAN STADIUM, 10 TO 26.

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The rapid fire Utah Utes traveled to Michigan Stadium to encourage extinction of Team 135’s hopes of taking another step up this season’s ladder of football respectability.  The Utes had demolished Idaho State 56-14, and Fresno State 59-27 already this season, and they had a bye week to chart their course.  They were replete in their new white helmets Saturday.    Saturday they taught a lesson to the struggling Wolverines and dug deeper the hole that now summons the Wolverine’s aspirations for this season.  They were the better team and the better coached team.

M’s offense was held to a field goal. One! No offensive TDs! Inconceivable! The only Michigan TD was a fabulous interception by big Defensive Tackle Willie Henry, who scored from seven-yards out.

Special teams contributed to the loss, via a coverage failure which enabled a 66-yard jaunt for a Ute TD.  Pretty run.  Jordan Lewis finally intercepted the returner after having crossed the field from the other side of the field. Coach Hoke indicated before the game that special teams might tip the scales this time.  Unfortunately he read the tea leaves right on that one.

While a significant rain delay at 7:51 on the fourth quarter gave the Wolverines some added time to lick their wounds and scheme, the game was already over.  An unbelievable scene of water surrounded the playing surface.  That they restored the surface to playability through pumping is an achievement

This defeat will linger awhile.  It was a milestone failure, the second loss against another of the better of its preseason opponents. It doesn’t appear this team is prepared for Big Ten success for the season.

This was supposed to be the game in which we could finally prognosticate future success. Its outcome was supposed to provide data so we would know what the future might hold for these Wolverines.

Would it be 10-2 or 3, or something like 7-5, or 6-6?  It seems to me the data is pretty clear now.  This is a team on the mat.  Down but not out?  It sure seems unlikely.

The hurry up Utes had the firepower to seriously challenge Michigan’s aerial defenses, and more than a few thought that they would successfully better them.  Some wondered why the Wolverines were favored.  After seeing this game I am still among them.

A champion skier turned field goal kicker was an un-erring marksman and contributed 4 field goals.  The Utes abandoned their careless play for the most part.

A killer Ute TD was from a crossing pattern thrown over the middle. The receiver was totally open. I thought Michigan’s safety play was not up to par.  Someone was caught day dreaming on that critical play.

That both Coach Hoke and Coach Nussmeier were familiar with Utah’s Coach Kyle Wittingham did not seem to help much offensively.

Coach Mattison said last Monday that they had assembled two defensive units to hurry into the practice scrimmages, to help them maintain communication and organization in face of the hurry up threat.  The defense coped well most of the time.  Not always, just most of the time.  They yielded one passing TD, and 4 field goals to a prolific scoring team, and scored a TD.  The Utes only rushed for 81 net yards.

Thus, the defense had some success although they could not tackle well in the open field.

Wittingham had again manufactured an effective aerial assault. The Utes also have a solid defense, and their special teams were again special.

Utah Receiver Dre Anderson was pushing 2,000-yards for his career before the game. Receivers Scott and Tonga were added threats.  They showed bubble screens, wide receiver screens and some dink and dunk.  They totaled 205-yards passing, and 1 TD. The Utes lost one fumble.

Michigan won many of the statistical categories, but were not the best team in this game.

As if an on target passing attack was not enough, the Utes brought along two great runners, D. Booker and Bubba Poole to provide a balanced attack. They made timely contributions to sustain drives, even though the M defense mostly held them in check.

In case anybody wondered if Utah would also bring their WWI cannon along, their MUSS (Mighty Utah Student Section) and their “Crazy Lady”.  Of course they didn’t bring the cannon (fired with a ten gauge shot gun shell), or the MUSS. Turned out they did not need them.

At home, at Rice Eccles Stadium, the MUSS chants for the Crazy Lady to do her dance. She dances while the band plays Otis Redding’s I Can’t Turn You Loose.  They weren’t in Ann Arbor Saturday, but will be when M makes its contracted trip to Idaho next year. It will be a crazy challenge. Oh, yes, more on Saturday’s game….

PREGAME AND POSTGAME THOUGHTS, AND RESULTS:
The same pregame concerns that have existed all season still existed and are now even more painfully obvious. The Wolverines had to prove that they could effectively run the football against a decent front, with the OL providing holes and backs making the correct cuts and finding them.

While Derrick Green made some great runs, and made some nice cuts, the Wolverines often were held to a couple of yards on first down runs, and they have a perplexing knack of gathering dumb penalties at the worst of times. Almost seems they have copyrighted false start.  They could not complete a TD drive.

Green had a decent day with 14 carries for 65-yards.  But the Wolverines own offensive penalties, and offensive inconsistency killed drives.  They did not see the red zone.  Often they gained little of nothing on the same 1st down runs.  As Hoke says, they sometimes were “behind the sticks again.” Too often.

The OL had to prevent the pass rush from getting home, provide Gardner with time.  On too many occasions they did not.

Coach Hoke on the second half turn overs and the need to be able to finish:… “Yeah, and there is no question that that’s one thing. We start a drive, we have some success with it, we get a sack, so you’re behind the sticks again. You don’t like to play offense that way. We had a penalty that put us back. So we’ve just got to finish those drives. First drive of the game really, the execution and what was going on was good, but we settled for three points. It was a great kick by Matt (Wile). It was good to see it from him, obviously, but we want seven points, not three points.”  Offensive inertia.

Devin Gardner had to play error free football, make his reads, know when to scramble and when to get rid of the ball in a lost cause, protect the ball, and prevent negative yardage plays.  He did manage some of that, and he converted two QB sneaks on 4th and one, and had a few good runs, but the good was overbalanced by the two interceptions that he threw.

The first caromed off of Devin Funchess’ hand and into the arm of a defender.  Funchess often gets a ball that exposes him to serious punishment, and perhaps he had this in mind when he failed to extend enough to make the catch.  I wondered if the pass was thrown too hard also.  Funchess had 4 receptions for 82-yards.

The second interception in the third quarter, helped seal the Wolverines fate.

Hoke on  the plan for moving forward… “I think number one it’s way too early for me to assess that until Doug (Nussmeier) and myself look at the tape. One thing I can tell you is sometimes it’s good for the guy to come out and just watch and see what he can see from the sidelines. So there are not going to be any answers to that tonight. We’ll compete and challenge like we have every day, and then we’ll have a starting quarterback against Minnesota.”

Coach Hoke on any particular (problem) area that stands out … “I think the ball security issues are probably our biggest issue when you look at it overall. The defense had to get to the QB with an effective pass rush.  They had  to protect the edges, turn plays in,  as well as stop an effective running game. I think in the secondary, Jourdan Lewis played his tail off today. He may have played his best game. If you don’t write about the play he made to keep them out of the end zone, then you don’t know anything about the game, because that effort that he made from all the way across the field, I can remember Woody Hankins did that down in Ohio in 1996. Kept them to a field goal, and that was a 13-9 game. We show that clip every year of a backside corner doing that, and that’s what he did.”

Michigan stalled on the opening drive, as Green got two yards on the 1st and 10 play.  They were behind the sticks.  A third down pass to Chesson was incomplete and it was a field goal, for an early three point lead.  On their next drive they had a holding call they could not overcome.  A Ute FG tied it up and it was 3 up at the end of the 1st quarter.

The Utes broke the tie in the second quarter with their nifty 66-yard punt return for six at the 14.39 mark. A back breaker.  It was 3-10 Utes.  Michigan “offensive player of the day”, Defensive Tackle Willy Henry captured the ball and ran the interception back 7 yards for six.  It was knotted at 10-10.  Michigan did not score again.

The Utes hit another FG, and it was 10-13 at the half.

The Utes had had enough of a close game as they marched downfield with the second half KO.  Running and passing effectively, a 28-yard TD pass to Dres Anderson sealed the Wolverines’ fate.  A 20 to 10 lead was more than the Wolverines could overcome as they frittered away opportunities.

In the 4th quarter all semblance of a Michigan threat evaporated as Devin Gardner threw a pass to a group of Ute defenders.  This ended the day for Devin.  With this performance it appears his job may be up for grabs.  The errors are a gift that does not quit giving.

His understudy, Shane Morris did not do much better.  In a heavy rain he overthrew a receiver which was intercepted.  The Utes added two more FGs.

At 7:51 of the 4th  quarter, the game was extensively delayed.  Although the downpour was spectacular under the lights, it is lightening that is a game killer.When resumed, there was no scoring.  Final: 10-26.

More than the spectators were drenched in the game.  The Wolverines are not showing improvement.  It does not look like the coaching staff knows  how to cure the problems.

The stuff like all our goals are still ahead of us rings hollower now.  The goals seem a lot further ahead of us now.  The statement that they had a great week of practice after every loss is in the same category.  Really?  When will they play like they practice?

Enough of the bad stuff.  At least the multi-plane fly over was exciting.

A fifteen aircraft air show before the game was in honor of the University of Michigan Department of Aerospace Engineering. It is the oldest Aeronautical Engineering Education Program in the United States.  Included were a WWII P-51D Mustang, a thirties Stearman PT 17A (WWII trainer), a B-25 Mitchell medium bomber (Jimmy Doolittle and his Mitchel’s departed from a US aircraft to make the first US raid of WWII on the Japanese home islands), a Boeing B-17 (The US Eighth Air Force heavy bomber workhorse that decimated Germany in daylight during WW II, an F-86 F Sabre jet ( The Sabre had heavy usage in the Korean War as a fighter in air to air combat.  A friend of mine that flew them there said that,  “ It (the airframe) did not want to go as fast as it could go”. An interceptor, the 100F Super Sabre (the one flying Saturday is the last in existence.  This air frame wanted to go as fast as it could go, and when the pilot hit the after burners the boom was impressive), a Lockheed Electra similar to the one flown by Amelia Earhart, five Beechcraft T-34s in formation, plus two helicopters and EC-155 Survival Flight chopper, and an Enstrom 4088.

While this massive fly over was enjoyed by most, it might get some negative comment from those that are not aviation buffs, but I found it to be AOK.

Are we ready for the battle for the Jug, and those pesky Gophers?  Ready or not, we will know next Saturday if we can possess the jug for another year.

Go Blue!

About Andy Andersen

Andy Andersen, Senior Football Writer andyandersen@wowway.com Andy is a Michigan graduate and long time Michigan Football fan, having attended games during the tenures of Fritz Crisler, Bennie Oosterbaan, Bump Elliot, Bo Schembechler, Gary Moeller, Lloyd Carr, Rich Rodriguez, and Brady Hoke. He attempts to present articles consistent with the concerns and interests of Michigan Fans.