Special Thanks to Mark Kolanowski
This contest was truly a game of two narratives: on one hand Michigan beat the #8 team in the nation, notching a Top 10 win for the first time in eight years and coming through in the clutch to do so, but on the other hand remains the nagging thought that this game shouldn’t have been close. Football teams encounter this exact game nearly every season: you know the one, the your-team-continually-stubs-its-collective-toe-on-the-threshold-of-breaking-the-game-open… game. A dark and pressured mood somewhere between frustration, anger, and bargaining settles in during these games. It’s easy to think back to one of those awful losses to Notre Dame where every conceivable break went the other way, and mutter quietly “not again”. Your attempt to assuage these fears is rudely interrupted by another field goal sailing wide. This is beyond galling because out on the field is a Michigan defense that simply will not relinquish a two score lead to Wisconsin. So that field goal is worth more than just three points on the scoreboard; it is the season at that moment. A 10 point lead in this game was certain victory. The bargaining sets in next, “just one of these has to go through”. The football gods do not comply with the increased urgency of your pleas. Multiply by 111,846 and you have a general sense of the nervous energy that filled Michigan Stadium for huge chunks of the game. The eyeball test indicated that Michigan dominated Wisconsin. The stats indicate that Michigan dominated Wisconsin. The scoreboard somehow lagged behind.
A quick gripe that I fully realize didn’t end up impacting the game, but let’s just place it under the category of GET IT RIGHT: Wisconsin’s fumble in the first quarter was overturned by replay. Exactly why it was overturned remains a mystery. Brian Griese quickly proclaimed that the runner’s knee and an elbow were down; the problem was that the replays showed no such thing at any angle. Since the play was called a fumble on the field, I’m not sure what could’ve supported overturning the call.
Let’s look at two plays that jumped out on re-watching the game. The first is more a question only my behalf because I’m not entirely sure what happened below, the line appears to be pulling to block for a screen at the snap, though Jocz is running to the opposite flat. In any case we end up with the entire O-line blocking two Wisconsin defenders and Newsome ignoring 55 as he comes right up the middle clean. Without chipping that defender Smith is left in an impossible position. He picks the outside guy and Speight somehow manages to escape for minimal yardage. My guess is this designed to go to Jocz with the motion drawing the defense to the short side?
The second play occurred right before the first missed field goal, and was key because if Michigan had dealt with the pressure this was a touchdown to either Grant Perry or Jake Butt. Pre-snap you can see the CB coming off of Perry and moving towards the line, Darboh has motioned to the slot and is lined up across from the soon-to-be-blitzer:
At the snap the CB comes clean and Darboh runs his route, you can see Butt just above the down and distance graphic, Perry is to the top of the screen and will find himself open after his cut. Isaac picks the other blitz up cleanly and all of this is for naught as the aforementioned CB is about two steps from Speight’s blind-side already.
Here’s the play from behind, note Butt coming open on the corner route to the top right and Perry to the top left as Speight is already having to run for his life. Also you can see here that Wisconsin has dropped #94 into coverage from his defensive tackle spot.:
Caveats of my lack of football coaching experience apply, but I think Perry needs to communicate to Darboh that the corner is coming on a blitz and Darboh needs to get a piece of that guy to let this play develop. If Speight has time either Perry or Butt have perfect position on their defenders for a TD that likely puts this game out of Wisconsin’s reach early on. These types of issues with overload pressure are something to keep an eye on as the season rolls on.
This should be a penalty against the defense, if an offensive player did this as a block it’d be flag every time, this play most likely ended Newsome’s year, and all the Badger defender is doing is cutting/chopping the OL so he can’t get to the edge to make the block, he’s making no effort to get to the ball, it should be illegal:
Above was pure joy in football form, Go Blue!