Michigan 28, San Diego State 7

Michigan 28, San Diego State 7


September 25, 2011
Denard Robinson had 200 yards rushing in Saturday’s 28-21 victory (image via LA Times)



What is this “defense” thing everyone keeps talking about?  Aside from the Notre Dame game, Michigan has allowed only 6.7 points per game.  Admittedly, those other three opponents have been mediocre – two MAC teams and a decent squad from the MWC – but this is still a somewhat impressive turnaround from last year.  The Wolverines held San Diego State’s rushing attack to only 4.2 yards per carry and forced quarterback Ryan Lindley into completing fewer than 50% of his passes.

Weekly Denard Robinson blurb.  I’m not sure how I feel about Denard Robinson’s play right now.  I love the kid for his heart and attitude – and considerable running skills – but something just isn’t clicking.  He finished the game 8-for-17 passing with 93 yards, 0 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions.  Those numbers are horrible, and that’s the third week in a row that his completion percentage has been lower than 50%.  And while it would have been great for Kevin Koger to grab that pass that hit him right in the stomach, the bottom line is that Robinson is extremely inaccurate and making bad decisions.  He threw one pass into double coverage that had no business being thrown, and the other he threw the other pick to a blanketed receiver.  If Michigan keeps winning, then it doesn’t really matter what his completion percentage is.  But if his inaccuracy bites the Wolverines in the butt at any point – and it probably will – then you can bet that some members of the Michigan fan base and the media will start wondering if Devin Gardner should get a shot at quarterback and if Robinson should move to running back.  On top of the scattershot arm, it seems to me that Robinson looks a bit slower this year than he did last season.  Perhaps he’s worn down or defenses are faster this year; I know he had a 53-yard touchdown run and 200 yards rushing overall, but something seems different.

Craig Roh reads Touch the Banner.  Having been spurred on by my call for him to be relegated to a backup role a couple weeks ago, Roh has since responded with two solid games.  This week he had 2 tackles; one was a short yardage stuff of running back Ronnie Hillman, and the other was a sack of Lindley on which Roh forced a fumble.  It’s slightly disappointing that Michigan could only manage one sack on 48 attempts, but it seemed like San Diego State started taking shorter drops and getting the ball out quicker as the game wore on.

Running back argh.  First, I would like to say that I thought Vincent Smith (9 carries, 49 yards, 1 TD) had his best day running the ball at Michigan – except for the fumble.  I know he’s had better games statistically (118 yards vs. Eastern Michigan last week, 166 yards against Delaware State in 2009), but those were into gaping holes.  Smith actually took short gains and turned them into long gains or a touchdown this week.  Hooray for him.  Fitzgerald Toussaint had a solid day, too (13 carries, 67 yards).  But dammit, I’m going to start beating the Michael Cox drum again.  Stephen Hopkins is my new whipping boy.  Hopkins needs to sit his butt on the bench and not see the light of day unless he’s a lead blocker or running down the field on special teams or something.  Not only is he slow, but he fumbles.  In six carries this season, he has fumbled twice; in 43 career carries, he has fumbled three times.  If you’re going to be a fumbler, you should at least offer a little bit of reward for the risk; he’s averaging 3.9 yards a carry in his career.  Fine, Toussaint and Smith are the top two backs, whatever.  But if you’re going to give a third guy a carry, for God’s sake let it be Cox (8.9 yards a carry) or Michael Shaw (5.2).

Jake Ryan is a dreamboat.  That dude is just a playmaker.  He’s always around the ball and always making things happen.  Going back to the spring when he had a sack and an interception returned for a touchdown, Ryan has been a stud.  In four games this season, he has 13 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 2 fumble recoveries, and forced the interception that Brandon Herron returned 94 yards for a touchdown against Western Michigan; he almost had a third fumble recovery on Saturday, but Thomas Gordon beat him to it by a fraction of a second.  Ryan still does some fundamental things wrong, but this kid looks like a future star.  Also, he has pretty hair that the ladies surely love.

Speaking of future stars.  Blake Countess got a lot of run on Saturday, and he looked more than capable.  San Diego State started picking on him, and Countess responded with 7 tackles and a pass breakup.  The true freshman cornerback was in good position most of the time, and when he was beaten, it was on pinpoint throws by a fifth year senior quarterback.  While I hope that starter Troy Woolfolk can return soon after aggravating his sprained ankle, it looks like Michigan has a capable backup if Woolfolk needs to sit out next week.

On SDSU’s list of things to review this week: option responsibilities.  Seriously, three dudes jump the pitch man, and nobody accounts for the quarterback?

Congratulations to Brady Hoke.  I know it must be tough to coach against the kids he coached last year and the coaches he worked with last season, but it was classy all around – except for the words of former SDSU lineman Kyle Turley, who is a certified douche.  San Diego State’s head coach Rocky Long had nothing but good things to say about Hoke.  I don’t have any statistics to back this up, but I imagine it’s pretty rare for a college head coach to take another head coaching job . . . and then play his old team the following year.

When I get old, I want to look like Greg Mattison.  He’s still all barrel chested and stuff.  He must eat his spinach.  That dude still looks like he could wrestle a bear.  And my money’s not on the bear.

47 comments

  1. Comments: 21633
    Anonymous
    Sep 25, 2011 at 1:29 PM

    " then you can bet that some members of the Michigan fan base and the media will start wondering if Devin Gardner should get a shot at quarterback and if Robinson should move to running back. "

    More like now. I know you're on mgoblog, people there are already beating the "move Denard to RB" drum; as if Gardener is any better throwing… has he thrown a pass in a game since maybe the first 2-3 games of last year?

    Agreed on Hopkins. IIRC he claimed he only fumbled twice in high school, but he's put the ball on the ground too much to have him play right now. Cox is a mystery, supposedly incredibly athletic yet he never plays….

    "Jake Ryan is a dreamboat"

    You're supposed to say "no homo" after that 😉

  2. Comments: 21633
    MattisonMan
    Sep 25, 2011 at 1:37 PM

    I feel like last season, Denard was making most of his throws in the quick/intermediate range of the field. He was quick and decisive – not sure if it was reads or not but it sure looked like it.

    I thought/hoped that Gorgeous Al Borges would have Denard in a west coast style with these kinds of throws as its bread-n-butter. So why is he having to make so many throws into the safety level?

    Could we at least get that Roundtree quick slant back in the playbook? That was the most efficiently successful play I've even seen outside of Madden.

  3. Comments: 21633
    AMH
    Sep 25, 2011 at 1:37 PM

    What did you think of JT Floyd's play? He showed some nice speed breaking up that one pass.

  4. Comments: 21633
    Anonymous
    Sep 25, 2011 at 2:15 PM

    I agree with the position move rumblings for Robinson. He is not our future at qb, and does not look like our present. Big Ten teams will relegate our game to one dimension, then pound that dimension. And that sounds very familiar. I know Robinson is a great guy, but let's not let that cloud our judgment of his skill set, impeding our ability to win games. If he is such a team player, he wont mind so much being moved. It would be a good move for his career and for UM. We will likely make it through Minny with Robinson at Qb, maybe skid past Northwestern, but MSU will kill us.

    As for the defense, the future is bright indeed. And what a relief it is to be able to say that.

  5. Comments: 21633
    Sep 25, 2011 at 2:20 PM

    @ Anonymous 9:29 a.m.

    I'm not beating the drum for Robinson to move to RB yet (and I haven't seen it on MGoBlog but I haven't checked in the last several hours), but Gardner can't be much worse at throwing the ball.

  6. Comments: 21633
    Sep 25, 2011 at 2:20 PM

    @ MattisonMan 9:37 a.m.

    That play is still in the book…it's just a slant to Drew Dileo instead of Roundtree.

  7. Comments: 21633
    Sep 25, 2011 at 2:21 PM

    @ AMH 9:37 a.m.

    I'm not that impressed with Floyd. I still think he's somewhat slow. Keep in mind that SDSU's talent at WR is depleted this year. I think Floyd is more fundamentally sound this year than last, but his physical limitations are still there.

  8. Comments: 21633
    Marc Shepherd
    Sep 25, 2011 at 2:33 PM

    The Denard-to-RB meme is already prevalent on various Michigan boards. It rests on dubious assumptions and is practically impossible.

    Let me get to the "impossible" part first: Any football team needs at least two guys ready at every position. So even if Denard wasn't your starter, he'd need to be practicing QB most of the time anyway, unless you want true freshman Russell Bellomy as your backup.

    As great as Denard is, he is not going to be a great RB without practice. And getting any significant amount of practice at RB is not possible, unless you want Devin starting without a prepared backup. If Tate Forcier had stayed, it would be a more interesting conversation, but obviously that ship has sailed.

    In any case, the Denard-to-RB argument rests on two dubious assumptions. The first is that Devin is actually a better QB than Denard. Devin's only meaningful snaps at Michigan were in garbage time vs. Bowling Green last year, not much of a gauge of his ability. Long-term, Devin is probably a better passer, but he is likely to have growing pains the first year he starts, as new QBs practically always do. It's quite likely that Devin would have his share of "Oh No!" moments, without making up for them with the highlight-reel plays that Denard gives you.

    Denard's production would go down, because instead of handling the ball on every offensive snap, he'd be handling it only intermittently. It is not at all clear that Devin would be effective enough as a passer to make up for the yards Denard would no longer pick up as an improvising read-option QB.

    The second dubious assumption is that Denard would be a great RB, despite never having played the position. In Michigan's current offense, RBs are expected to block downfield, pick up blitzes, catch short passes, and run power inside. Denard has done none of these things, and there is no evidence he is any good at them. Some of those skills could be developed, but it's not as if they would appear magically overnight.

    Most likely, Borges would need to design new plays that make use of Denard's skills while avoiding his weaknesses. Those plays don't exist right now. They'd need to be practiced extensively, before you could expect to design a game plan around them.

    Like it or not, Denard is your QB for the rest of the year, barring injury. I agree with everyone who points out that Michigan can't expect to beat better opponents without a passing game. We have to hope that Denard will keep getting better. He DID show signs in some of last year's games and in the fourth quarter vs. Notre Dame. Numerous reports suggest he can complete those passes in practice. I still think Denard can get his passing game from where it is to "good enough". But if he can't, I don't see any realistic alternative with Gardner.

  9. Comments: 21633
    Anonymous
    Sep 25, 2011 at 2:41 PM

    @AMH,

    Floyd's PBU had nothing to do with foot speed and everything to do with reaction speed.

  10. Comments: 21633
    Anonymous
    Sep 25, 2011 at 2:55 PM

    +1 to Marc, I say. Also, if Denard is going to move anywhere, it should be to slot receiver. I just can't see him poundin' repeatedly; he's just not very thick.

  11. Comments: 21633
    Sep 25, 2011 at 3:02 PM

    @ Anonymous 10:55 a.m.

    Denard has run the ball 47 times in the past two weeks. It doesn't matter whether he's running from the QB position or the RB position – he's taking a pounding, regardless.

  12. Comments: 21633
    Sep 25, 2011 at 3:11 PM

    Having watched some of the video of Mattison at practice, it occurs to me that he sure nuff better be able to whip that bear because he for sure ain't gonna outrun it.

    Mind your knees Thunder.

  13. Comments: 21633
    Lankownia
    Sep 25, 2011 at 4:30 PM

    @Marc Shepard

    You are spot on. This is a really silly idea that I can't believe is being floated AGAIN, particularly when the RB position seems to be finally solidifying with 2 quality productive backs and there is no depth at QB.

    Besides, Thunder says Denard is slower, so moving him to RB would be dumb.

    Would a Gardner/Robinson combo (an inexperienced RB and an inexperienced QB) be better than a Robinson/Toussaint combo? It's extremely doubtful. The only reason to make such a move would be for future development. Since the Wolverines are 4-0 without a single game that they'll be heavy underdogs in until Nebraska, you have to go with the best chance to win.

  14. Comments: 21633
    Lankownia
    Sep 25, 2011 at 4:35 PM

    Good post Thunder.

    I'm with you on the positive reaction to the defense. The DL finally looked like an asset. Ryan and Countess look like they'll be quality players for the next 4 years. I do wonder about the defensive success being overly dependant on turnovers. I think you can make your own destiny to some extent with INTs, but fumble are very random and we've been extremely fortunate this year – Herron's TD, Rees drop, etc.

    RE: RB

    For once I agree with you! Smith did have his most impressive day as a wolverine. He broke a ton of tackles. Can never read too much into YPC over small sample sizes. Both he and Fitz looked elusive and tough IMO. I think we've got some good RBs right now and that could be huge. As for the guy getting carries behind them – how about: nobody. These are your two best backs, screw everyone else unless it's a blowout. I'd be surprised to see Cox get another carry at Michigan. Even though Hopkins has been a train-wreck this year, he's still on the team for a couple more years and you want him to develop and not get his head down.

  15. Comments: 21633
    Lankownia
    Sep 25, 2011 at 4:38 PM

    For the record, I think Denard is headed for RB in the NFL. To me, he's similar in skill set and build to Chris Johnson.

    The thing is, it's going to take a couple years for him to learn the position. That shouldn't be happening at Michigan, where he's the only real impact player on offense (and entirely responsible for what looks like a pretty decent offense.) He'll need a time to learn blocking, get comfortable taking hand-offs, running routes, catching, etc.

  16. Comments: 21633
    Sep 25, 2011 at 4:46 PM

    Just to make it clear, I'm not suggesting that Denard should move to running back…right now. But if the running game bogs down AND the passing game continues to struggle, I could see an Antwaan Randle-el situation in which he changes positions as a senior to get him ready for the NFL. Of course, that all depends on how well Devin Gardner develops and whether we take a quarterback in the class of 2012.

    As things stand right now, I think Denard will be a QB for the remainder of his Michigan career.

  17. Comments: 21633
    Sep 25, 2011 at 4:58 PM

    Yesterday during the tird quarter as I watched Denard throw his second INT I thought about all the points that Michigan left on the field because of Denard's inaccuracy. Then I thought about all the points Michigan scores because the ball is in his hands on every play. I think it's a wash. He can get his mechanics figured out, let's not relegate him to RB just yet. Come on now, everyone.

  18. Comments: 21633
    Sep 25, 2011 at 5:07 PM

    Let's also remember the drumbeat to move Denard to RB after his freshman year- and he responded with a decent passing season last year. We have seen that he is CAPABLE of throwing a pretty accurate ball. I would give him more time to learn the playbook and work with the coaches before Michigan relegates him to touching the ball a few times a game and puts in a second year player with next to no experience under center. We have no way of knowing whether Devin Gardner is worth his recruiting ratings or not.

    There is always a knee-jerk reaction to bench someone or get rid of so-and-so when the team struggles, but this team is a more solid 4-0 than it was the last two seasons.

    However, I agree that he looks a little slower this year- I hadn't wanted to say anything yet but he definitely see people catching up to him when they weren't before. Perhaps this is the return of the old Lloyd-era strength & conditioning regimen, where players got slower the longer they were in the system?

  19. Comments: 21633
    Anonymous
    Sep 25, 2011 at 7:23 PM

    Agree with denard's passing struggles, but strongly disagree that he looks any slower this year. His 200 yards from yesterday seem to agree.

    As for Cox, are you really still beating that drum? Two coaching staffs now have made the decision that he's not good enough to see the field, regardless of our struggles at the tailback position. It's clearly Smith and Fitz at this point, with hopefully Rawls or Shaw being able to contribute a bit. But there is absolutely nothing to indicate that Cox – his 8.9 ypc built up against various sisters of the poor notwithstanding – is any good at carrying the ball when it matters.

    As for everyone talking about Denard switching positions, good grief.

  20. Comments: 21633
    Lankownia
    Sep 25, 2011 at 9:07 PM

    More importantly. Let's see for a fact that we have a better option before benching a guy who is, overall, very successful (and undefeated on the season). I don't think you can be upset about Cam Gordon being moved or benched in favor of Jake Ryan – we've see that he can be productive. Gardner hasn't shown that. His production being superior to Denard is a hypothetical, a theory. At least Mike Cox looked good in some game action, meaningless as it was.

    Anyway…at some point Denard is going to get hurt and then we'll see what Gardner has to offer. I think a lot of people are going to be disappointed. There's a lot of grass-is-greener mentality in the fanbase (like any other).

    Two coaching staffs decided Denard was the best QB on the roster. Two coaching staffs decided no one was better than Vincent Smith. Fans are often wrong.

  21. Comments: 21633
    Sep 25, 2011 at 9:11 PM

    We may need to see Denard at RB and Devin at QB vs. Alabama!

  22. Comments: 21633
    Sep 26, 2011 at 1:04 AM

    @ Anonymous 3:23 p.m.

    Denard's 200 yards don't say anything about how fast Denard is. His long run could have been turned into a touchdown by anyone with decent speed; it was poor fundamentals by SDSU and nobody got close to him. There were numerous times yesterday when he was tripped up from behind by a linebacker or safety. I just don't think that type of stuff would have happened so easily yesterday. He's still fast, but I don't think he's quite as explosive.

  23. Comments: 21633
    Sep 26, 2011 at 1:06 AM

    Also, I'm not saying Cox should necessarily be playing. Smith and Toussaint are both doing a decent job. What I *am* saying is that Hopkins can't get the job done, either. So if Hopkins is going to suck whenever he plays, then somebody else ought to get a shot as the #3 back, whether it's Shaw or Cox.

  24. Comments: 21633
    Sep 26, 2011 at 1:09 AM

    @ Lankownia 5:07 p.m.

    Correction: Two staffs have NOT decided that "no one was better than Vincent Smith." In case you didn't realize this, Fitzgerald Toussaint leads the running backs in carries (35 to 21) over Smith, and Toussaint even missed a game. That's about 12 carries a game for Toussaint and 5 for Smith.

  25. Comments: 21633
    Anonymous
    Sep 26, 2011 at 2:17 AM

    I agree with thunder that Denard looks slower this year. That is just the eyeball test obviously. But, my guess is that perhaps he gets less practice running, as they concentrate in practice on non-running, more pro-type plays. Just a theory.

  26. Comments: 21633
    Sep 26, 2011 at 9:36 AM

    It's nice seeing real help coming from Countess this week and Taylor last week. With (hopefully) two big ten cornerbacks showing up next year, that's (hopefully) 5 maybe 6 corners that can play over three classes. It's been a while since we've had that.

    C'mon young safeties !!!

  27. Comments: 21633
    Lankownia
    Sep 26, 2011 at 1:22 PM

    Thunder,

    RB is a position on the field, not just a guy who takes handoffs. The bulk of your analysis for the position (TD runs, YPC, and carries) seems restricted to that. Yet, in an offense where the QB runs 20+ times/game and the OC is a pass-oriented guy, isn't it time you looked beyond?

    Smith was named the starter by the coaching staff and they said he earned it. Fitz may have more carries, but has no receptions. I'm willing to bet Smith has significantly more snaps. He's the #1 back. AGAIN.

  28. Comments: 21633
    Sep 26, 2011 at 1:49 PM

    @ Lankownia 9:22 a.m.

    Not only does Fitzgerald Toussaint have 14 more carries than Smith in one less game, but Toussaint is listed as the STARTER in all three games for which he has been available…including Saturday's game. I would suggest paying attention to what happens on the field rather than what the coaches say in press conferences. Hopkins was "the #1 back" at one point, Cam Gordon was supposed to be ready to go against SDSU, Nathan Brink was good enough to be "on the two deep at any school" Mattison has coached, etc.

    Toussaint is the starter, both by definition and the number of carries. You can spin it how you want, but you're wrong.

  29. Comments: 21633
    Anonymous
    Sep 26, 2011 at 2:32 PM

    Thunder – you've beaten the Fitz/Smith strawman to death. Lak's larger point (I think), is that notwithstanding the constant bitching of the fanbase (nicluding you) about Smith being too slow and unable to break tackles, two coaching staffs have determined that he is, at worst, the second-best RB on the team, and a signficant part of the offese. Hopefully now everyone will stop bitching about it.

    Moreover, what more do you want from the RB postion at this point (see: "Running back argh")? Fitz and Smith have combined to rush for nearly 400 years on 6.6 ypc. That's not bad when you're sharing the ball with Denard, who's rushed for 550 on his own. If Mike Cox had been the one to put up those numbers, you'd be singing it from the hilltops.

  30. Comments: 21633
    Sep 26, 2011 at 2:50 PM

    @ Anonymous 10:32 a.m.

    How is the Fitz/Smith argument a "strawman"? It's completely, 100% factual. Toussaint is the starter.

    I agree that Smith is a significant part of the offense. He's been great at being a change-of-pace back and catching screen passes, which is what I wanted from him all along. And I've said several times that Toussaint/Smith are doing a fine job. My point is that Hopkins (the apparently #3 back) has fumbled twice and doesn't run the ball well in the first place, meaning that I think somebody should pass him, whether it's Cox or Shaw.

    Speaking of fallacies, you should probably read what I write rather than making up my arguments for me and then arguing against them.

  31. Comments: 21633
    Sep 26, 2011 at 3:27 PM

    Thunder,

    Last year Smith had the most carries and but you vehemently argued that Shaw was the better because he had a better ypc (even though that was based primarily on production against weak competition.) This year, Smith has the best YPC but Fitz is you the man. Shaw, who you thought would excel with this staff, has been relegated to the bench by this staff. While you demonstrate an impressive knowledge and logic to football in general, it's clear you're not very in tune with what Michigan coaching staffs think about RBs. So if you think I'm wrong in interpreting the RB situation there, well… I'm probably right.

    The guy who PLAYS the most is the main back, not the guy who gets the most carries. My original statement was that 2 coaching staffs have decided that no one is better than Smith at RB. If the coaches thought Fitz was better, they'd play him more than Smith. They don't.

    Fitz may start games, but Smith finishes them. Rodriguez had McColgan start some games for crying out loud. It doesn't mean much.

    I'm not saying Smith is a better runner than Fitz or even that he's a better running back than Fitz, but the coaches have said he's earned the starting back role, and they play him just as much as Fitz, if not more. Just like they did with Shaw. I agree that Fitz is the better runner but, again, there's more to the position. That's not 'spin' that's just a fact. Most plays don't involve the RB carrying the ball.

    Another fact: like last year we have 2 RBs and no one has beaten out Smith for playing time. My statement is correct.

  32. Comments: 21633
    Sep 26, 2011 at 3:30 PM

    Is Cox even the 4th string RB right now? What about Rawls? Do you think Hayes would 'burn' his red-shirt if they actually faced putting Cox on the field. I dunno man, coaches just don't like the guy. At some point you gotta believe them. Maybe he has to transfer and ride the pine at a MAC school before people stop talking about the Legend of Mike Cox. Long live the Delaware State game!

  33. Comments: 21633
    Rob Pollard
    Sep 26, 2011 at 3:30 PM

    Just want to throw my comment into the pile that a discussion this year of changing Denard to RB, WR or anything else is just asinine. We don't have the QB depth to essentially go to a "Devin and let's hope he doesn't get hurt" offense. Plus, while Denard is a great runner, who knows if he can be a great (or even good) RB – meaning taking handoffs cleanly, blocking, catching passes, etc. It's doubtful he can pick it up mid-season.

    The most likely reason for Denard's passing struggles is the change in offense. That's to be expected – it happens all the time. He's being asked to throw different routes from different formations on different timing (drop-back passing is much different rhythm than shotgun passing) than he was his first two years. His head is probably swimming.

    We just have to hope Borges eventually sees the light and figures out how to put passes in that Denard can more typically make. As an earlier commenter noted, why the Roundtree slant has essentially disappeared (amongst other quick hitters), I have no idea. Luckily, Michigan has one of its easiest schedules in the post-Bo era this year, so we still should likely get 8 or more wins. However, they better figure out for 2012, b/c that schedule is a bear.

  34. Comments: 21633
    Sep 26, 2011 at 3:43 PM

    @ Lankownia 11:27 a.m.

    "Fitz may start games, but Smith finishes them."

    I have no idea what to do with this. We're in agreement that Smith/Toussaint are equals and doing pretty well. I have no problem with that. I said last week that Smith seems to have returned to form after his ACL tear. He's solid. I don't have a problem with Smith at this point.

    But the #1 responsibility of a running back is to run. The #1 runner on the team is Toussaint (well, it's Denard, but we're talking about running backs). You think Smith is a better blocker, receiver, etc., that's fine. Whatever. (BTW, since you trust Brian's UFR so much, you should note that last week Smith had a -3 in pass protection.) But saying Smith is the #1 back when he's got 2/3 of the carries of Toussaint is just kind of silly. My problem with Smith was always that he ran the ball too much and in the wrong situations; now he's not running the ball so much and he's not being used in short yardage, so that's exactly what I wanted. Telling me that I was wrong when the coaches are using him exactly as I suggested he SHOULD be used is just kind of silly. But I won't address it with you further. You've got your standpoint, and as much as I think it's out of line, you're obviously not going to change your mind.

    I do still think Shaw is a better runner. The blocking when Shaw has gotten the ball has been atrocious. Seriously, it's been horrible…except for his long TD run against WMU. Whenever else he gets the ball, he's got 2 or 3 defenders in his face. I guess he's just got bad luck that way. Oh well.

  35. Comments: 21633
    Sep 26, 2011 at 3:44 PM

    @ Lankownia 11:30 a.m.

    Rawls, Hayes, and Hopkins haven't done anything at all, either. I don't know where Cox falls on the depth chart, but he hasn't shown to be any worse than Hopkins/Rawls. The jury's still out on Hayes, obviously, since he hasn't seen the field.

  36. Comments: 21633
    Sep 26, 2011 at 3:47 PM

    @ Rob Pollard 11:30 a.m.

    The play action slant to Roundtree is STILL in the playbook. No offense, but I'm getting really tired of reiterating this point to so many people. We've run that play LITERALLY every game so far this year. It's just that Roundtree is no longer in the slot, so Drew Dileo and Kevin Koger have been the targets. If you think Roundtree should move to the slot to run that play, then that's one thing…but I wish people would stop suggesting that it's been absent.

    Drew Dileo caught that pass for a touchdown for God's sake.

  37. Comments: 21633
    Anonymous
    Sep 26, 2011 at 3:58 PM

    "I do still think Shaw is a better runner."

    Good grief. Your constant pining for Shaw and or Cox is comical. As for Shaw, he's certainly the FASTER runner, but I think it's clear that neither this coaching staff nor the last thought he was the BETTER runner than Smith.

    As for Mike Cox, I think the both staffs have reached the same conclusion: he's not particularly good at football.

  38. Comments: 21633
    Sep 26, 2011 at 4:45 PM

    Last year at this point Smith handled 22% of team carries (24% on the season) – this year he's down to 14%. So, you have a point in that they're using him less somewhat differently.

    However, I think you're missing the bigger point here. Is the #1 job of the RB in this offense running? In a 'normal' offense (roughly a 50/50 run/pass split with RBs getting the bulk of the carries) that's true. When your QB is your main rushing threat and the base play is a designed QB run – the main job is probably blocking.

    Pointing to carries (and ignoring everything else) is silly in an offense that doesn't give many to RBs.

    I do think Fitz/Smith are equals overall, but I think they bring different skill sets. I think Smith's are better fit for this offense, which, again, hands off to the RB relatively infrequently. I'd rather see Fitz get hand offs in I-form than Smith, but I don't think he's clearly separated himself, even there. I know that's how the staff wants to start games, but when push comes to shove, they're doing something else (usually with Smith).

    Every RB sometimes has defenders in his face. The problem with Shaw is his response to that is running horizontally, while Smith and Fitz seem to dodge a couple and get what they can.

    At least we agree that Hopkins should be demoted.

  39. Comments: 21633
    KB
    Sep 26, 2011 at 4:50 PM

    Thunder,

    I'm right there with you on the running back situation as well as the fake run and throw to the slot pass. Don't worry, it may seem like you're fighting against everyone in the world but you do have some people who agree with you on these arguments, even if we aren't as vocal.

    Denard is clearly slower this year but I think he's also not as willing to run straight up the field as last year. This year he runs in a more serpentine manner but that may be a good thing because last year many of his injuries came after long runs when he was running full speed ahead and didn't see the LB or S come out of nowhere and smash him. This year he's more cautious upfield.

    Anybody who expects Denard's accuracy to greatly improve at this point is crazy. Denard was successful as a QB last year because of the system. I can throw bubble screens and the like successful and I have little talent as a QB. We all knew this system wouldn't fit and it's clearly showing. Michigan has a couple of options from here on out. 1) Continue as is and hope Denard's legs will get the job done, 2) Adjust the play calling/system and give Denard more WR options inside 20 yards, 3) or realize Denard isn't a QB and move on to Devin. Now I love Denard and think he is probably one of my all time favorites but option #1 isn't a good option and option #2 is unlikely to happen. Before we move on to the third option (which maybe should wait until after the season so Denard and Devin get a summer together) I'd like to see Borges give Denard a better chance. Once we threaten teams with short passes especially attacking horizontally we should reduce safety help. This would not only give Denard confidence in his arm (from successful short throws) but also give our WR the advantage on jump balls (no longer 2 or more vs. 1). How many times did SDSU have their CB 7+ yards off the LOS. Why doesn't Denard have a checkdown where he just turns and hits the WR at the LOS then? Not only would that force our opponents into taking the pass seriously but it'd also give Denard some confidence and room to run.

    Also, please Borges include Bubble screens. With the CB and safety both 7+ yards away from the LOS a receiver like Roundtree, Dileo or Grady is looking at a 6-7 yard gain no matter what. How nice would it be on 2nd and 4 to just throw this and move the chains. Denard isn't our only offensive player that can make people miss.

  40. Comments: 21633
    Sep 26, 2011 at 5:18 PM

    @ Lankownia 12:45 p.m.

    I think you overestimate the blocking Shaw has been given. I kid you not – it's been nearly nonexistent.

  41. Comments: 21633
    KB
    Sep 26, 2011 at 5:43 PM

    @Lankownia

    In the ND game Shaw consistently had a ND opponent in the backfield before he was handed the ball. I don't know why but Shaw has zero blocking when he's in the game.

  42. Comments: 21633
    Sep 26, 2011 at 6:21 PM

    Yeah, I agree that Shaw's had no holes this year other than the massive one vs WMU. He's had very few carries this season period – I'm basing my statement on the past three seasons. (I said the same thing about running horizontally in the epic Smith v. Shaw debate.) I know people disagree with me, I just think the guy doesn't break many tackles or avoid them – more importantly, he's hesitant and lacks vision. Given a big hole, he's the team's best back because he's fast. But this isn't the 2000 OL. Shaw's a senior now. He's not going to suddenly develop vision and toughness.

    @KB

    I don't think it's crazy to expect improvement out of a 3rd year quarterback. If Denard had been red-shirted (like he should have), he'd be a RS Sophomore. Would you not expect improvement between a RS Senior and a RS Sophomore? Brady, Navarre, and many more made dramatic leaps in ability to read defenses and make consistent plays. Many RS Sophs are still tethered to the bench at this point, so you don't even see their growth.

    With Denard, he's dealing with a new offense on top of it. Comfort and familiarity play a part in this. Not saying he's going to Brady, but it's ridiculous to say he can't improve. He's got the arm strength, he's shown major ability to improve his game in general, and he's got a great attitude. Why doubt the guy?

    I know you can say 'he is what he is' but this isn't a physical limitation we're talking about. He's still a raw passer physically and mentally. He can definitely improve.

    I think it's going to be both scheme and execution. Borges has to figure out what makes Denard's comfortable and also what will keep defenses guessing. But he has to balance that with keeping things simple enough that the offense doesn't get overwhelmed. I'm convinced part of the problem for the OL is the degree of change in what they're asked to do. Even Molk, I've seen a few times where he seems unsure who to block.

  43. Comments: 21633
    Rob Pollard
    Sep 27, 2011 at 4:54 PM

    Just to be clear – I wasn't suggesting we never ran the slant – it's that Roundtree, who caught 72 balls last year is on pace to catch 12 this year. That's fine if we had someone replacing it (e.g., Dileo or Koger), but Dileo has caught 3 balls (though I know Denard has missed him at least a couple of times) and Koger five. That's not enough for the "Roundtree" slant guys (even if it's not Roundtree in the slot).

    Wherever we put Roundtree, I know he had way too many drops last year, so he's not irreplaceable, but he does (did?) have any amazing knack for getting open, particularly on 15 yards and under throws – we should be utilizing his skills more.

    Coincidentally, I read something in today's NY Times that I think applies to Denard. Mary Levy was asked why it's taken so long for others teams to adopt the no-huddle, something his 90s Bills teams did with such great success.

    "Levy said the no-huddle allowed teams to trim their playbooks so the quarterback could master the plays he had. That meant more repetition in practices and, theoretically, a marked improvement in game-day execution.

    That may not be an issue for experienced quarterbacks like Manning or Tom Brady, but for younger ones like Sam Bradford and Stafford, it is a plus."

    I think the basic reason for Denard's huge dip in accuracy (from 62% to 49%) is that we now have this hybrid offense that is just too much. As Levy points out, for young QBs (which Denard still is) need tons of repetitions, and people can't tell me going from pro-set to shotgun to anything else is giving him the reps he needs.

    Borges needs to figure out what works (beyond Denard left, Denard right, and Denard up the middle) and run the hell out of those plays. I know it's hard, b/c these aren't his players for his system, but he's got a lot of talent to work with. What we're doing now won't cut it once we get into the MSU and on part of the schedule.

    I don't care whether it's

  44. Comments: 21633
    Sep 27, 2011 at 11:59 PM

    I think Rob Pollard is right. Again and again we hear smart and successful coaches preach simplicity. From Bo and Woody to Meyer and Leach…

    Borges deserves some slack here because he's trying to mesh Denard's skills and his background — he's figuring it out as he goes. But against good teams it will be about execution. Michigan needs to have established and mastered a set of plays by the tough November stretch that closes the season.

  45. Comments: 21633
    Sep 28, 2011 at 12:41 AM

    Did we break the record for number of comments on this site yet?

  46. Comments: 21633
    Sep 28, 2011 at 1:06 AM

    @ Lankownia 8:41 p.m.

    I think it's a record, but I'm not 100% certain.

    We also set a record for the number of page views yesterday.

  47. Comments: 21633
    Sep 28, 2011 at 8:06 PM

    Congrats. Keep up the good work.

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