Michigan vs. Michigan State Awards

Michigan vs. Michigan State Awards


October 10, 2017

Let’s see more of this guy on offense . . . Maurice Ways. Michigan tried a couple fade routes on Saturday, though they were ill fated. One was to Sean McKeon – which isn’t a terrible idea – and another was to Eddie McDoom, which is a little more suspect. Ways was a high school basketball player who didn’t concentrate on football until he realized that it’s pretty tough to succeed in basketball if you’re “only” a 6’3″ wing. He might be a better fade option than McDoom or McKeon, who have not shown an ability yet to go up and get the ball.

Hit the jump for the rest of the awards.

Let’s see less of this guy on offense . . . ball carriers carrying the ball in the wrong hand. There are two schools of thought when it comes to which hand to carry the ball. The first is to carry the ball in the dominant hand, since that hand is the strongest and most coordinated. The second is to carry the ball in the outside hand. I’m a proponent of the second. If you practice carrying the ball high and tight, you can do it with either hand. It seems that Jay Harbaugh likes the first kind, but it’s cost Michigan a couple times this season. Along with Ty Isaac’s momentum-changing fumble, the other two primary tailbacks have also put the ball on the ground this season. If the ball had been in his outside hand, Joe Bachie would not have been able to reach it.

Let’s see more of this guy on defense . . . Bryan Mone. Mone might not be the best choice against some teams, but against Michigan State, he had one of his best games at Michigan. Along with last year’s Ohio State game, Mone can be a force inside against the right teams. He had 2 tackles and 0.5 tackles for loss in this one, but he was eating up blockers to free up other guys, too.

Let’s see less of this guy on defense . . . nobody. This is an excellent unit.

Let’s see more of this guy on special teams . . . Ambry Thomas. Kekoa Crawford returned 1 kickoff for his customary 14-yard gain, promptly getting tackled by the first guy who bothered to get downfield. Meanwhile, Thomas entered the game and immediately got a 30-yard return. That’s a difference of about 1.5 first downs you don’t have to get in order to score points.

Let’s see less of this guy on special teams . . . Kekoa Crawford. Crawford has yet to average more than 19 yards per return in any of the first five games, and a few of those games were contests where Michigan had a decided athletic advantage overall. Going back to when Michigan had just an average kickoff returner – Dennis Norfleet in 2014 – he had a 36-yarder against Appalachian State, a 42-yarder against Miami-OH, a 22-yarder against Utah, etc.

Play of the game . . . Lavert Hill’s pass breakups. Hill had 3 pass breakups overall, and they were all quality plays. Perhaps the biggest was when he was playing the flat in Cover 2 and recovered on an intermediate pass to make up for the safety, who was in the process of busting a coverage. A stronger throw might have whistled the ball in there, but it was still a very good play by a young corner.

Player of the game . . . Maurice Hurst, Jr. Hurst seemed to personally take over the game in the fourth quarter. He ended the contest with 8 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss, and he was constantly beating Michigan State’s line off the ball and getting penetration. His production had been limited earlier in the season in Michigan’d 3-3-5 look, but as a 3-technique, he’s one of the best in the country.

32 comments

  1. Comments: 920
    Joined: 8/13/2015
    Roanman
    Oct 10, 2017 at 7:00 AM

    High and tight is ok, if indeed it is tight, Ty Isaac’s huge fumble was being held high and loose.

    It’ll be interesting to see if we’ll be seeing less Ty Isaac for the rest of the season. From Isaac’s point of view, good thing Wheatley moved on. What hurts on that play was some vision, a nice little cut and turn upfield, then F%#$!!!

    I saw a video once about holding the ball where some NFL back who had a rep for not fumbling demonstrated the exact situation Isaac was in, cutting away from your carrying hand with the idea that from an ergonomic standpoint, pressing the ball to the chest when cutting away helps the entire move. So, do that. I dunno. I’m looking for it.

    Back to a previous comment, outhit = lose. After a real nice start, we got outhit for a long stretch following Isaac’s fumble. Hurst, a senior, seemingly decided that he had had enough of that crap and started hitting back, his young teammates on the D took note and pounded Sparty pretty good, really for the entirety of the second half. but with O’Korn throwing pick after pick, the damage had already been done.

    Agreed on Ambry Thomas.

    I’m standing by my prediction that it’s Peters against the Buckeyes.

    • Comments: 2172
      Joined: 7/13/2015
      Oct 10, 2017 at 7:51 AM

      Isaac’s fumble wasn’t being held particularly high, either. I agree that it will be interesting, but all three guys have fumbled at least once, so I don’t know why it would affect him more than Evans or Higdon.

      • Comments: 920
        Joined: 8/13/2015
        Roanman
        Oct 10, 2017 at 10:36 AM

        Last fumbler goes to the top of the list?

  2. JC
    Comments: 131
    Joined: 8/17/2015
    JC
    Oct 10, 2017 at 7:48 AM

    I know people say running backs coach is often a glorified recruiter, but I don’t know if Jay Harbaugh is cutting it.

    In terms of being ball carriers, our RBs fumble a bit. Vision might not be a teachable thing, but learning how to properly carry the ball absolutely is.

    Elite athleticism might not be a teachable thing but blocking absolutely is. In terms of being pass protectors, they completely ole a few blocks, OR, Higdon gets a holding call that negates our only first half touchdown.

    I’ve felt this way for a few games now, but this last one might’ve sealed the deal, I don’t believe Jay Harbaugh is even an average coach at this point in his career.

    Even last year, one of our most promising TEs was Asiasi.. who had the least Jay Harbaugh coaching. Butt was already a stud.

    Some of this may be reactionary, but the miscues in the RB blocking have been atrocious all season.

    • Lanknows
      Comments: 3460
      Joined: 8/11/2015
      Lanknows
      Oct 10, 2017 at 11:02 AM

      Miss me yet? – Fred Jackson

  3. GKblue
    Comments: 198
    Joined: 8/11/2015
    GKblue
    Oct 10, 2017 at 8:10 AM

    “ball carriers carrying the ball in the wrong hand.” Can you really say there is a pattern here attributable to coaching them not to use their outside hand? Great observation Thunder! Personally I think building a coaching resume via nepotism ain’t what we need.

    Probably going to the fade at all early was to protect against turnovers. So hey, why didn’t anybody say what do we do if it rains? (sarcasm)

    I had temporarily forgotten Lavert Hill’s great pass breakups. Great job!

    If it is even remotely possible to humble Harbaugh, the offensive coaching against MSU should do it..

    • Comments: 920
      Joined: 8/13/2015
      Roanman
      Oct 10, 2017 at 9:06 AM

      Have we had a lot of fumbles?

      i don’t know for sure, don’t think so but am in a thing and don’t have much time for fooling with it at the moment.

      I would say however that we’ve had more than our share of picks.

      • Comments: 2172
        Joined: 7/13/2015
        Oct 10, 2017 at 9:14 AM

        Off the top of my head, there’s been one fumble each from Higdon, Evans, Isaac, and McKeon, and then two from Speight. So I think we’ve fumbled 6 times in five games.

        • Lanknows
          Comments: 3460
          Joined: 8/11/2015
          Lanknows
          Oct 10, 2017 at 11:10 AM

          I think there have a been a few more that we’ve recovered.

          • Comments: 2172
            Joined: 7/13/2015
            Oct 10, 2017 at 11:22 AM

            It’s possible, but I can’t think of any. Of Speight’s two fumbles that I mentioned, we recovered 1 and lost 1.

  4. Comments: 1
    Joined: 10/10/2017
    IowaBlue
    Oct 10, 2017 at 9:41 AM

    How about wrapping the ball up with both arms when going through the middle, or when making contact with multiple players? I’ve seen many opportunities for balls to be knocked out when our backs go up the middle and turn or twist and the you could put a softball between the football and their body… just begging to get swatted/punched out.

    I believe the results (multiple backs with fumbles), and the backs habits show that this isn’t a point of emphasis in practice or it wouldn’t be so obvious in the game. And that has to fall on both Harbaugh’s, the younger because it’s his position group. And the older, because he isn’t telling his RB coach to get that crap corrected.

    • Lanknows
      Comments: 3460
      Joined: 8/11/2015
      Lanknows
      Oct 10, 2017 at 11:09 AM

      This is why Fred Jackson was a great coach who was retained through 3 very different coaching staffs. By the time a MIchigan RB was a senior you knew the guy was going to be able to block and reliably not fumble. As a runner, you are what you are, but Jackson was going to teach you how to block and protect the football, or your ass was going to be on the bench.

      Jackson got criticized for the RBs having poor vision, but it’s interesting that the talk about poor vision has pretty much gone hand in hand with woeful OLs (as reflected by your eyes and OL stats.) It never made any sense that Jackson would suddenly forget to teach whatever vision-teaching drills he taught to the many highly successful RBs he coached in the past.

      I suspect that more of an issue was recruiting. Jackson was an ace in the past, but these skills may have eroded. That’s probably the most important thing a RB coach does.

    • Blue in NC
      Comments: 25
      Joined: 8/11/2015
      Blue in NC
      Oct 10, 2017 at 11:16 AM

      I don’t disagree with any of this but we should also then point out that LJ Scott has fumble issues so this problem is not limited to Michigan’s coaching staff.

  5. Lanknows
    Comments: 3460
    Joined: 8/11/2015
    Lanknows
    Oct 10, 2017 at 10:53 AM

    I guessed that Isaac would get a pass this week and he did.

    Isaac’s the obvious LSLOTGOO. It’s one thing to fumble – each of our backs have done it – it’s another when you’re a 5th year senior, playing against a scrappy, dirty, opportunistic rival, AND you have a track record of problems with mental toughness in general and fumbling specifically.

    Isaac’s YPC has plummeted every week since the Florida game. Not that it’s a suprise, but we all hoped that was a sign that the senior has turned it all around. Does not appear to be the case.

    There are no easy answers for personnel, but Evans and Higdon are more consistent and reliable backs. Isaac and Evans are both all-or-nothing type backs – one of them is a true sophomore we can develop, the other is senior who is done in a few games.

    You still need Isaac, one of the few sources of playmaking we’ve seen on this offense – but you need him on 3rd and long or when you have to come back from a deficit. Situations where the YPC opportunities are high. I would not trust Isaac to tote the rock anytime you are trying to protect a lead and he’s never looked good between the tackles.

    • Comments: 2172
      Joined: 7/13/2015
      Oct 10, 2017 at 11:02 AM

      Ummm…well, I didn’t call for less Evans when he fumbled, and I didn’t call for less Higdon when he fumbled. Nor did I call for less McKeon, even though he’s only touched the ball 14 times. Isaac leads the team in touches (61 carries + 2 receptions), and he was the last to fumble of all the running backs. Was it a bad fumble? Yes. I guess it’s more beneficial to fumble against crappy teams.

      • Lanknows
        Comments: 3460
        Joined: 8/11/2015
        Lanknows
        Oct 10, 2017 at 11:12 AM

        Evans isn’t a 5th year senior with a track record of fumbling that has caused him to be benched in the past.

  6. Lanknows
    Comments: 3460
    Joined: 8/11/2015
    Lanknows
    Oct 10, 2017 at 10:56 AM

    I agree on not throwing fades to Crawford, McDoom, or Perry. These are your top receivers I guess but none of them have shown any acumen in the skills required to grab the ball. Height can be overrated for jump balls (it’s timing and strength and awareness and concentration and just…toughness that count ) but Ways is probably worth a shot. I’d like to see if DPJ can do it to and of course Gentry too. Maybe McDoom is good at this….but we haven’t seen it.

    Crawford is definitely NOT good at fighting for contested balls. So at least they moved on from him perhaps…

  7. Lanknows
    Comments: 3460
    Joined: 8/11/2015
    Lanknows
    Oct 10, 2017 at 10:58 AM

    I was too harsh on Isaac above. I should have saved some ranting for Crawford. He is just flat-out not playing like a #1 receiver, or even a starting one. I gave him the benefit of the doubt for getting open, but he’s not even doing that anymore against MSU. He seems to be losing snaps to Perry, Ways and other…he should probably lose more. What a massive disappointment he’s been.

  8. Lanknows
    Comments: 3460
    Joined: 8/11/2015
    Lanknows
    Oct 10, 2017 at 11:01 AM

    Hurst — dude is just flat out amazing. The consistency with which he jumps (almost literally) off the LOS…never seen somebody with this sort of consistent burst ahead of the rest of the OL. It’s almost surprising when he’s a step “slow” – getting off the same time as everyone else. Makes you wonder if it’s a designed call.

    Anyway, hell of a player. They’ll be no replacing his loss next year and our DL will feel it. Bush has gotten all the attention, but I think Hurst has been the best player on the roster this year.

  9. Lanknows
    Comments: 3460
    Joined: 8/11/2015
    Lanknows
    Oct 10, 2017 at 12:00 PM

    I don’t put much weight in the opinions of the authors of the O-Zone’s Michigan Monday feature, they are generally surface level setups for bad one-liners… but in this case I have to agree:


    The Buckeyes have been held to under three yards per carry just twice under Meyer — both ended up as losses. In that same span, Michigan has been held under three yards per carry 20 times.

    Karan Higdon got the start at running back for the Wolverines and right now he is by far their best runner. He rushed for 65 yards on 12 carries and is the only guy who can successfully drive his legs through a tackler.

    If you took the numbers off of the Michigan running back jerseys and just watched them run, you’d still have no problem knowing who had the ball. Higdon is the guy who keeps fighting for yards. Ty Isaac is the guy who just leans forward and doesn’t bother driving his legs. Chris Evans is the guy who would love to keep running, but a random arm grabbed him and now he has been tackled.

    Isaac looked so good early in the season, but he needed room to do it. In Big Ten play (two games), he now has 14 carries for 29 yards. He also had a bad fumble against Michigan State as a Spartan just took a basic rip at the ball and came away with it.

    Running backs are sometimes described as “determined”, but Isaac is more of a polite runner right now. He doesn’t want to make waves. He just wants to go with the flow, which is not going to work when the offensive line can’t actually provide any of the necessary flow.

    When an offensive line is struggling, they need a runner who is willing to fight for every yard, because that’s the only way you’re going to get the yards you need. Right now they only have one guy who can do that, and I’m not sure if he can handle the kind of a workload that this offense might need.

    This was my argument for why Deveon Smith deserved to play over the various speedier backs behind him. It is my suspicion that Karan Higdon is the closest thing Michigan has right now…though I do think none of the backs have done enough to take the majority of carries and they should keep looking for the hot hand. If I had a guess though, it will Evans or Higdon who end up with the most carries against Wisconsin and OSU, unless the offense line makes great strides forward.

    The bigger issue here is that, regardless of RB, we are seeing the same issues and that tells you all you need to know about Michigan OLs in the Meyer era. It’s tough not to think a guy like Evans could be doing so much more damage in a different offense, let alone Peppers last year…

    • Comments: 2172
      Joined: 7/13/2015
      Oct 10, 2017 at 1:20 PM

      I would have been fine with Higdon playing more last year – because he performed better when he was in there. Smith was #12 in the Big Ten in rushing average (of players with 100+ carries) and #23 in the conference overall (of all players with at least 4 carries per game). Higdon was #9 overall, though he didn’t have 100 carries.

      Regarding fighting for extra yards:
      This is superficial. Yards are yards, whether you’re fighting for them or whether they come easy. Give me a finesse guy who averages 6.0 yards/carry over a guy who has to fight for 4.0 yards/carry. Higdon was the hot hand and had the best game on Saturday, so that’s fine. Stick with him. But if Evans or Isaac is doing well, then go with that guy.

      • Lanknows
        Comments: 3460
        Joined: 8/11/2015
        Lanknows
        Oct 10, 2017 at 6:00 PM

        All yards are not equal. 1 yard on 4th and goal from the 1 is lot more important than 1 yard on 1st and 20 in your own territory. Context matters.

        YPC is a solid indicator of RB ability over a large sample, but it’s not the end all be all. If you’re trying to use it within a game to make playing time decisions based on a handful of carries, you’re asking for it. The outcome of a play or two isn’t a very good predictor of future results. I would argue you’re better off looking at history. Especially early in the year.

        It’s a challenge to identify who is “playing well” when you are talking about a handful of plays. In Michigan’s case, with 3 backs who all have mixed history and no clearly superior player has emerged, this is a meaningful challenge. This could balloon into a much larger debate, but we’ve mostly had it before.

        • Comments: 2172
          Joined: 7/13/2015
          Oct 10, 2017 at 9:27 PM

          Wait a minute…1 yard on 4th and goal is more important than 1 yard on 1st and 20?

          This. Changes. Everything.

          • Lanknows
            Comments: 3460
            Joined: 8/11/2015
            Lanknows
            Oct 10, 2017 at 11:07 PM

            My fault, I thought you said “yards are yards” .

      • Comments: 434
        Joined: 9/13/2015
        michymich
        Oct 10, 2017 at 7:19 PM

        Agree. It looks like Higdon is the guy who needs to play when the opposing defense is more stout in the running game. Evans and Isaac get more touches against lesser defenses where they have more openings.

        I really think all of these problems on offense have to primarily be left at the doorstep of the head coach. He can’t control the injury to Newsome. It’s not all of his fault but the fact remains is UM dropped the recruiting ball in his 2nd year. Hoke was Hoke. He gave Harbaugh a great canvas to paint on for defense and not so good for offense. A better OL would make a lot of these problems slightly go away. Higdon and the running backs aren’t great but they are good enough. Got the TE’s. Losing Tarik hurts but UM got rid of Swenson and lost Hamilton and had no real plan for another tackle and now the program has no other option than to develop Steuber, Filiaga and Honigford. I give coach Harbaugh some slack on the qb issue. His new guys aren’t ready for the TACKLE spot and it is killing UM football. ONE legit left tackle and then Cole goes back to RT and things aren’t as bad.

        • Lanknows
          Comments: 3460
          Joined: 8/11/2015
          Lanknows
          Oct 10, 2017 at 8:29 PM

          ” It looks like Higdon is the guy who needs to play when the opposing defense is more stout in the running game. Evans and Isaac get more touches against lesser defenses where they have more openings.”

          The result of this is a lower YPC for Higdon, whereupon Thunder will argue Higdon needs to play less. See the problem?

          I think you can make a pretty strong case that Khalid HIll’s been one of the most successful running backs we’ve had in years even though his YPC was 1.6. He’s a specialist, but he’d done a damn good job and been highly successful given his opportunities.

          ————

          While I agree that Harbaugh isn’t to blame for injuries, this is why you build depth. You can’t be totally reliant on one sophomore OT, a true freshman WR, etc. There is no doubt that the OL situation has been mishandled. You can excuse one decision or another but the totality of it is a collective failure. They haven’t recruited and/or developed enough players on OL. I don’t know that flipping Cole to RT is any part of the solution. A serviceable OL – at any position – is what Michigan needs.

          Perhaps the flip of Bredeson to RT with Runyan at RG could mitigate some problems, though the concern there is that you are compromising Bredeson in the long run. You better be sure that’s your best 5 and we haven’t seen definitive proof that Runyan > JBB or Ulizio.

          On the brightside – Onwenu seems to be coming into his own. If they can get Newsome back up to speed by Fall and Onwenu and Bredeson still tracking strong we could be in decent shape.

          • Comments: 2172
            Joined: 7/13/2015
            Oct 10, 2017 at 9:19 PM

            That is an inaccurate representation of my thoughts, and you know it. Don’t be a troll.

  10. Comments: 434
    Joined: 9/13/2015
    michymich
    Oct 10, 2017 at 7:11 PM

    I wanted to post this here but I was guilty of this as are most UM fans. The fact of the matter is that UM was thoroughly outplayed in the 1st half. Take the turnovers away which caused a momentum switch and you still get some indisputable information.

    MSU outcoached UM. MSU fooled UM on the touchdowns. MSU left even more points on the field. McKeon turning over the ball? MSU dropped the pass toward the end of the half. Anyway you want to look at it, MSU beat UM straight up in the 1st half and beat UM and their heralded defense.

    MSU had the fades covered. UM called those plays. As LK would say, it’s a team game. MSU is the better team if you watch the game. It’s the MSU offense vs. the UM defense. It’s the UM offense vs. MSU defense. MSU wins the overall matchup. Proof is in the pudding.

    Lastly, UM is supposedly good then why the struggle against 4 mediocre teams. I bet the spread would be very small if they played again next week even in Ann Arbor.

    Being in every game is not the same as winning every game.

    • Comments: 2172
      Joined: 7/13/2015
      Oct 10, 2017 at 9:22 PM

      No offense, but I think this point has been beaten to death. Jim Harbaugh and Co. did not do a good job of preparing for MSU, and the players did not do a great job of playing against MSU. That is pretty much undeniable.

      The real question going forward is whether the coaching staff (and players) can get it together for the remainder of the season and/or to beat MSU next year.

    • Lanknows
      Comments: 3460
      Joined: 8/11/2015
      Lanknows
      Oct 10, 2017 at 11:06 PM

      Jeez man. 1 score game. 5 TOs to none. Pretending this was some kind of whoopin is ridiculous.

  11. Comments: 434
    Joined: 9/13/2015
    michymich
    Oct 11, 2017 at 7:52 PM

    Nope. That is completely untrue. Let’s go over this again.

    Turning the ball over is a reflection of a poor team. Am I supposed to ignore turnovers? Do I just subtract the turnovers from Gardner and say he was a good qb?

    MSU left at least 3 pts off the board in the 1st half. What makes you think UM was going to get any more than 3 pts from any of those turnovers?

    MSU was up 14-3 and all they did was run the clock out because of the weather and knew UM didn’t have the horses on the offense to score against them and they were proven correct.

    Look at the 1st half, MSU moved the ball. I should go get the stats for the first half. People are in denial if they think MSU didn’t dominate that 1st half. They did and it could have been worse. UM was putting up numbers because they were way behind especially if you factor in the weather.

    If the weather was better, MSU would have moved the ball just like they did in the 1st half. The one score game existed because MSU knew that’s all they needed to win. MSU played Lloyd ball in the 2nd half and won going away.

    • Lanknows
      Comments: 3460
      Joined: 8/11/2015
      Lanknows
      Oct 12, 2017 at 12:02 AM

      We had the ball with a chance to win at the end of the game… McDoom’s drop. Down to a hail mary. Bounce of the ball….1st half McKeon fumbles inside the MSU 30.

      Chances missed on both sides of course, but Michigan outgains MSU on the night and that was true before the rain. This was not Tressel sitting on a 14 point lead he could easily turn into 21. MSU wasn’t controlling this game – they were trying to survive it. Wisely so.

      They went toe-to-toe and came out ahead. MSU deserved to win but this was far from the route you’re describing. It was a close, hard fought game that came down to a few big plays. You don’t have to acknowledge the elements of fate, randomness, or luck that can play into football if you don’t want to. You are allowed to think the better team won and that is that. But it’s revisionist history to say MSU dominated the first half when Michigan fumbles twice and settles for a 30 FG on the first drive.

      MSU won the first half 14-3. They won the second half 0-7. They won the game. But don’t pretend it wasn’t close.

      —————–

      Now tell me who you think the better team is. Both are 4-1: who finishes with a better record? Schedules almost identical (though UM gets Wisc while MSU gets NW). I say UM will have the better record, better rankings, etc. What say you?

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