The Tape, The Tape, The Tape – Michigan loses at Iowa, 10 yards from 10-0

img_5890The mood amongst the large gathering of Michigan fans who made the trip to Iowa City was one of concern and annoyance.  I spent a large portion of the night looking at others in Maize and Blue shaking my head in disbelief.  Iowa’s only viable path for winning a game against a vastly superior Wolverine squad was unfolding in front of our eyes.  The evening turned on a punt, which had to be Kirk Ferentz’s dream scenario.  Late in the first half Ron Coluzzi pinned Michigan at their 1 yard line.  Two plays later a ridiculous safety turned an annoying 10-0 lead into a contest.  Iowa then scored again to make the score 10-8 at halftime.  Ferentz and his Hawkeyes had the exact game they needed: a slop fest.

The Iowa offense put up 9 points through 58 minutes of play.  Michigan’s lead was just two at that juncture thanks to the offense’s worst outing of the year.  Speight had uncharacteristically misfired on one open deep shot after another, any of which would’ve sealed the game.  Chris Evans averaged 6.5 yards per carry on 8 touches, but was noticeably absent in the final drives of the game.  In spite of the offensive struggles, Michigan’s defense made the play that should have closed out the game.  Taco Charlton hit CJ Beathard as he released a deep pass and Channing Stribling intercepted the under thrown ball on Michigan’s 16 yard line.  With 1:54 left in the game, Michigan’s offense trotted on to the field 10 yards away from pulling out a win on the road and headed to 10-0.  They were just 10 yards away.

This team had been in this position before.  Against Michigan State in 2015, the Michigan defense came up with a huge stop and the offense took over with 1:47 on the clock.  Again, 10 yards away from sealing a win.  Twice in the last two seasons the team has failed to pick up 10 yards when it truly mattered to seal a football game.  Understand that many many factors contributed to this loss and this is not to short change any of them.  BUT, despite the poor offensive play and the truly appalling officiating the Wolverines had the ball and the lead with under two minutes to go. Victory was in their grasp and it slipped away.

The Final Offensive Series

Let’s take a look at that final offensive series starting with 1st and 10 on the Michigan 16 yard line.

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Eddie McDoom is circled and DeVeon Smith is the RB.  Desmond King (#14) and Bo Bower (#41) call out the formation and the defensive backfield adjusts for the sweep.  Based on how this play unfolded it wouldn’t have mattered which running back (Smith, Higdon, Evans, or Isaac) was receiving the carry.  Here’s why:

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McDoom motions across the formation like a jet sweep.  Iowa’s defense responds to this by doing the exact opposite of what we’ve seen in previous weeks.  The corner responsible for McDoom does not go flying across the formation in pursuit and the linebackers do not shift at all.  Instead, the safety comes up to take McDoom and everyone else stays home.

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If McDoom gets the ball I think there is a decent chance he gets the corner.  Instead Smith is plowing into two unblocked linebackers and King.  Any yardage gained here is a miracle as four offensive players are blocking against seven defenders.

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The Tape, The Tape, The Tape– Michigan 78 Rutgers 0

I’ll freely admit my first attempt at this week’s post just came out as one long string of gibberish with runs of “LOL” interspersed between.  To be fair that probably would’ve conveyed the overall point just fine.  What do you say after that performance?  During the week, Rutgers fans proclaimed this to be their National Championship Game.  By the end of the night Saturday every single one of the 70 Michigan players that traveled to Piscataway saw the field.  Every. Single. One.

Do you remember those matching tests right before a holiday break in elementary school where the answers would inevitably spell out “Happy Thanksgiving”?  You no doubt recall the sense of relief you got once you realized it wasn’t a real test.  That would be the exact same feeling that sprouted up midway through the first quarter of Michigan’s first road test Saturday.  The dismantling took place in front of an announced 53,292 at High Point Solutions Stadium (the birthplace of college football indeed), although if there really were that many people in the stands ESPN didn’t feel the need to show it on TV.

The lead-up to this game was relatively quiet.  Every meaningful metric pointed to a comfortable victory over the Scarlet Knights; this lessened but did not completely quell concerns about the first away game.  Competent road performances in 2015 had helped heal emotional wounds from the previous decade, but even so, I had some slight trepidation right before kickoff.  Certainly this was not what one would call arational concern, but the loss to Gary Nova and Kyle Flood in 2014 briefly re-appeared on the radar well before ESPN mentioned it 29 times.  No doubt an intern brought this up in the ESPN production meeting to raucous cheers.  The broadcast crew didn’t make it past the opening kickoff before belting out “Rutgers trying to do in Michigan for the second time in a row here”.  I quickly found the mute button.  So too did the Wolverines.  What may be lost in the statistical smorgasbord of domination is that Michigan started this game offensively with two three-and-outs and a two play drive that ended with a fumble.  The next 13 possessions would feature 11 touchdowns and two punts.  Huzzah!

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This was the most singularly dominating performance I have ever witnessed on a football field.  I say that without an ounce of hyperbole.  Pick a line from the box score.  Seriously, any line.  Now think “when is the last time I saw that in a Big Ten Conference football game?”.  You haven’t.  Michigan scored 78 points with eight completions for the game.  Eight.  The QBs combined for 119 yards through the air and 75 of those yards came on just two completions.  Jabrill Peppers carried the ball three times: two were for touchdowns, and the third? A 63 yard run that preposterously ended up as not-a-touchdown on a busted play.  Even the stuttering offensive start had a near miss:

On 3rd and 5 from the Michigan 24, Wilton Speight got solid protection and delivered a strike to Amara Darboh through the rain and unfortunately Darboh’s hands:

 

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From behind the line of scrimmage you can see the chasm that he is running into on this route, the safety is nearly 15 yards back and the corner well behind, he’s about to catch that ball dead in the middle of the field.  The sideline view below drives the point home that had this been completed it was at the very least a big gain.  Darboh was able to quickly separate from the corner and the timing and placement of the ball were on the money.  All in all a great slant opportunity that was probably complicated by the rain and velocity of the throw.  I also point this play out in particular because on a night where Speight didn’t look sharp early he once again demonstrated an ability to put the ball on the money with these intermediate slant routes.

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The staff rotated through several different OL combinations during the period where Juwann Bushell Beatty was on the sideline.

screen-shot-2016-10-11-at-12-43-23-amOn the play that De’veon Smith fumbled there was immediate pressure from the middle of the line, this was the result of Patrick Kugler missing a block on #51 who broke through and eventually forced the fumble.  The following drive saw Mason Cole back at the center spot.  This was one of the few major mishaps on the OL at least on first viewing.  There was plenty to be encouraged about however, in particular was even more evidence of the maturation and “it clicking” for Kyle Kalis.  Below is a dive to Karan Higdon with Rutgers stacking the the box and the safety only six yards deep:

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As the play begins, Kalis pulls and seals off the LB coming into the lane:screen-shot-2016-10-11-at-12-54-52-am

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screen-shot-2016-10-11-at-12-55-51-amHigdon hits the lane quickly and bursts up field for an eight yard gain and a first down.

Another well executed set of blocks came on one of Ty Isaac’s first touches of the game.  Isaac demonstrated great patience in letting the blocks develop in front of him, Jake Butt seals his man while Kalis and Magnusson gwt outside.  Kalis engages the filling LB and Magnuson releases downfield to spring Isaac for a first down on a beautifully executed toss.

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Despite the level of the competition, I think we can safely say we are seeing meaningful progress in the rushing attack, both in terms of execution and in terms of the variety of guys carrying the football.

Once again, the completeness of this performance is still perhaps best shown in the box score.  Hats off to Coach Harbaugh, the staff, and the team for delivering a game that will go down in the history books as one of the most dominant in the modern era.  With a bye week approaching we’ll save the discussion of the defense for next week and take that opportunity to also look ahead to Illinois.  As always, Go Blue!

Previewing 6 Biggest Position Battles Heading into Fall Camp

Brady Hoke enters his fourth season with a roster finally stocked with his own recruits. Looking to erase last season’s 7-6 finish, Hoke can eagerly expect a defense that is deep, talented and about to get better with the addition of top recruit Jabrill Peppers.

The offense is another story—graduation has taken a heavy toll, and key players need to be replaced as Doug Nussmeier looks to install his new system.

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