Michigan 31, BYU 0

Michigan 31, BYU 0

September 27, 2015

De’Veon Smith

Maybe BYU is overrated. They were #22 coming into the game after a 2-1 start, including a squeaker of a loss to #9 UCLA, which trounced #16 Arizona yesterday. I predicted a 28-24 win by BYU, largely because I thought Michigan would struggle to run the ball with the return of BYU nose tackle Travis Tuiloma. I also thought the Cougars could take advantage of some holes in Michigan’s interior pass coverage, but Michigan’s defensive line and blitz packages prevented freshman quarterback Tanner Mangum from getting comfortable in the pocket. It helped Michigan that BYU was missing a few key parts, including running back Adam Hine (8 carries, 33 yards before exiting with an injury), but Michigan had an excellent game plan and played confidently.

Hit the jump for the rest of the recap.

De’Veon Smith runs angry. We knew that already, of course, but yesterday’s 60-yard touchdown run was the best run of his career. He slammed into a stacked line, disappeared beneath the pile, held himself up off the ground with his right hand, burst out the other side, then fought off and spun out of a tackle before crossing the goal line. He finished with 16 carries for 125 yards (7.8 yards/carry) and 1 touchdown. He still lacks the burst to be a truly elite running back, but that run exemplified why he’s the starting running back for a Jim Harbaugh football team. Hopefully his right foot injury does not hold him out for long, because while I don’t think he’s the most talented back on the roster, he is a large part of Michigan’s running back-by-committee approach.

I like this Jake Rudock. Rudock didn’t have a great game, but he shouldn’t have to have great games. He generally made smart decisions, took what the defense gave him, and didn’t turn over the ball. This is what I expected from him when he came to Michigan from Iowa. He was 14/25 for 194 yards, 1 touchdown, and 0 interceptions; he also ran the ball 10 times for 33 yards and 2 touchdowns, including a 15-yarder. He still missed a few throws, but we saw against Utah that he has some ability to throw the ball around the field if needed. If he has to be that guy, though, it means Michigan isn’t doing what they want to do offensively or defensively.

Michigan’s offense does not lack creativity. Last week there were some complaints that Michigan lacked imagination after they just ran over UNLV on the way to a 28-7 win. My argument at the time was that Michigan didn’t need to be creative to beat UNLV. This week I thought Michigan opened up the playbook early, because obviously BYU is a more dangerous team than UNLV. Those plays – and some vanilla plays – helped Michigan jump out to a 31-0 lead by halftime. After that things got boring again. Why? Because it would have taken a Herculean effort for BYU to come back. They didn’t have a consistent running game, Tanner Mangum was running for his life, and Michigan was able to move the ball on the ground. I think Jim Harbaugh will call the plays it takes to win, and then he will grind it out until the clock ticks down to zero.

Michigan’s tackling numbers are going to be low this year. It’s tough to rack up many tackles if you’re forcing a bunch of three-and-outs and short drives. The leading tackler this week was Channing Stribling with 4. A lot of backups got some time to play, but there just weren’t a ton of opportunities to make plays. Despite getting blown out, Mangum attempted just 28 passes, and BYU ran the ball just 22 times.

The defense is borderline awesome. For a team that lacks a significant edge rusher, Michigan got a pretty good pass rush with 3 sacks. The Cougars don’t have a lot of speed at the receiver positions, but they were unable to create much separation either with speed, play design, or physicality. The tackling was better than it was last week. I go back to point #1 that BYU might just have been overrated coming into this week after some lucky plays early in the year, but Michigan looked like a swarming defense that will be tough to reckon with as the season goes along. I should also mention that nose tackle Ryan Glasgow is playing some great football right now; where he used to just hold up at the line of scrimmage, he’s getting penetration this season and making plays in the backfield. He’s just one of many players that have taken a step forward this year. This was the first Michigan shutout since the Wolverines beat Illinois 45-0 in 2012. Mangum completed just 12 passes all day for 55 yards, and the top receiving total went to Devon Blackmon, who had 1 catch for 14 yards. Yikes.

Maybe Michigan is underrated. BYU was #22 coming into the week, and Michigan was unranked. I think the Wolverines might slip into the top 25 after this performance. Their one loss came against a team that beat Oregon 62-20 last night, and the rest of Michigan’s games have been won by a combined score of 94-14. Tough games are still to come, but the Wolverines should win their fair share of them. Next week they play Maryland, who lost to BGSU a couple weeks ago and got trounced by West Virginia this weekend, 45-6.

The recruits got to see a dominant performance. I know it wasn’t a premier matchup between two currently elite programs, but it would be hard for 2016 recruits Rashan Gary and Carlo Kemp – both defensive linemen – not to get excited about potentially playing in a defense like what we saw on Saturday. Those and other visitors can be found on this weekend’s visitor list (LINK).


  1. Comments: 522
    Joined: 8/12/2015
    Sep 27, 2015 at 1:24 PM

    A very satisfying game to watch as a long-suffering Wolverine fan.

    I’m not sure I fully agree with your assessment of the second half. I understand not opening the playbook and doing crazy stuff to run up the score. But by my count Michigan had the following split:

    1st Half — Rush=196; Pass=128; Total=324
    2nd Half — Rush=58; Pass=66; Total=124 (22 runs, 8 passes)

    The third possession in the 2nd half was the most “grind it out” of the bunch — 11 plays, 46 yards, but that ended in a punch on 4th and 9 as two consecutive incomplete passes couldn’t make up for only 1 yard on the 1st and 10 play. Two possessions were 3-and-outs.

    Maybe — as some argue — the objective of the second half was to give Rudock an opportunity to get safe reps and not turn the ball over. Okay, that’s fine *if* that’s what Harbaugh planned.

    Still, I had my eyebrow crooked up during the second half as I watched the offense look merely pedestrian after a very good first half. I would have expected at least one TD in the second from a classic, 10-play, 80-yard, 7 minutes on the clock type possession. But no such drive materialized.

    • Comments: 3844
      Joined: 7/13/2015
      Sep 27, 2015 at 1:48 PM

      Passing vs. running does not have much to do with creativity, in my opinion. There are passing offenses that lack creativity, and there are running offenses that are creative. Michigan ran the ball straight-up and called some vanilla passing plays in the second half.

      Of course, you and I will never truly know what Harbaugh was doing with those snaps in the second half. But it sure seemed to me that he was just trying to get his guys to refine their play and move the ball down the field consistently. I think the ultimate goal is to get good enough at your base stuff that you don’t need to resort to a lot of smoke and mirrors to win.

      • Comments: 522
        Joined: 8/12/2015
        Sep 27, 2015 at 2:04 PM

        Thunder: “But it sure seemed to me that he was just trying to get his guys to refine their play and move the ball down the field consistently.”

        I tend to agree with you. But if so, then they have more work to do. Their second and third possessions were decent enough (12 and 10 plays, respectively), they had two three-and-outs and a 7 play drive killed because of poor production on first down and a sack.

        Don’t get me wrong … loved the fact Michigan dominated the first half, built up a seemingly insurmountable lead and did some real-game practice reps in the second half. Love it. I guess my reaction is one of caution. This team is still a work in progress with a lot of pieces only starting to form. I suspect you’re more in agreement with me on that than in disagreement.

        • Comments: 6285
          Joined: 8/11/2015
          Sep 27, 2015 at 3:25 PM

          I’m with Thunder here. Complaints about a boring second half seems like a nitpick.

          Yes, Michigan can’t just go out and hammer a good team by running a vanilla scheme (out-execute them) like maybe a vintage Bo team could. Did anyone really expect that to happen in year 1? BYU is not UNLV. Michigan is not Alabama, or even Stanford. We know this.

          Michigan has work to do to get there, and that’s the work that they were putting in in the 2nd half. Did you want them to dip into the bag of tricks for the sake of running up the score? Isn’t it better to refine your core package of plays and get reps?

          I’m satisfied with the second half completely. They killed clock, ran their offense, and didn’t let the other team score.

          • Comments: 522
            Joined: 8/12/2015
            Sep 27, 2015 at 6:47 PM

            My point was that if Michigan did in fact go out in the second half to execute (and practice) their vanilla scheme, then they were not effective. That’s demonstrably true. The yards gained show that, the lack of scoring shows that.

            Yes, they have work to do. Obviously.

            Am I crushed at the second half production? No.

            But am I buoyed with optimism that Michigan has reached some “really good” level and can impose their will, like some (not you, not Thunder, but others) have suggested? No.

            To the degree I have any uneasiness about the BYU game, that is it — Michigan, when they went back to their base offensive scheme, struggled to achieve production against a tired and beaten BYU team.

            So yes, use the second half to work on getting better in that game. No argument there. No tricks, just base-plays to get first downs. They did that to a degree. But only to a degree.

          • Comments: 6285
            Joined: 8/11/2015
            Sep 27, 2015 at 10:06 PM

            OK – I guess I don’t see that as a concern because it’s sort of the expectation. BYU is a good team – Michigan can’t just sleepwalk through them on their way to a bunch of TDs. I don’t see any reason for “unease” when you completely dominate a ranked team (justly or not, BYU has proven they are a pretty quality opponent that Michigan flat-out dominated.)

            I didn’t get that you were responding to some “other” view.

            I would say that pass protection has been “really good”. Utah is a very good DL and BYU is not bad. I would say that Smith has been “really good” at breaking tackles. I would say Butt was “really good” against Utah. And I think it’s fair to add that Harbaugh has had “really good” creative playcalls in the meaningful situations (against Utah and 1st half of BYU).

            Otherwise, yeah. The run blocking needs to keep getting better. Rudock needs to play better. The offense as a whole can kick it up a notch.

  2. Comments: 1356
    Joined: 8/13/2015
    Sep 27, 2015 at 2:38 PM

    I don’t think that BYU was overrated, I’m agreeing with Chris Spielman that BYU looked tired. That’s a heckuva schedule BYU just completed and among the things that might have been different is some likelihood that Smith goes down rather than for 60 yards and a TD with Tuiloma at Middle Guard.

    Smith’s run was interesting. It took me lots of scrolls through the vid to see what happened. Glasgow drove his guy back and away quite nicely. Braden and Cole got a real nice double team on their guy, who gets turned and crumbles under Braden. If that kid just goes down, he makes a pile that Smith probably moves for 4 or so yards and we walk back to the huddle happy. Instead, he makes a real athletic little spin move outside of Braden and in so doing vacates the exact point in the LOS that Smith was hitting at that perfect instant. He’s gonna really hate that bit of film. There’s probably some defensive line moral to this story somewhere, I’m just not well enough versed in D line play to comprehend it fully.

    I might have to repent of my desire to be starting Isaac over Smith. Green still doesn’t see it very well.

    Neither Bolden nor Ross scored a tackle in the official box score. Dwell on that one for just a second.

    The way this coaching staff has been using Williams is a credit to their abilities as coaches and damnation to that of Hoke and Borges. He blocks and blocks and blocks pretty good, then every once in a while he kind of ambles over to some spot on the field, posts up, gets real big and catches a ball. Simple. You use what your kid’s got. That’s good coaching.

    • Comments: 6285
      Joined: 8/11/2015
      Sep 27, 2015 at 4:09 PM

      If BYU is not overrated, and they’re really a top 25 team, then Michigan looks like it’s headed for a top 10 finish. That may be true, but I think it’s more likely that BYU is NOT a top 25 team and Michigan is not a top 10 team either.

      BYU did put up a dud in part because of travel, time change, and relative disadvantage to Michigan in prep, but I don’t think you can use their injury as too much of an excuse. Their NT is out for an extended period Michigan lost their NT too.

      Nice run down of the various positional debates that have been going on on TTB. Isaac’s now clearly the 3rd string guy — that should tell you something. I don’t think Ross and Bolden’s tackle totals tell you anything about how Ross and Bolden played and everything about how the DL and secondary dominated. Williams hasn’t really gained or lost much to his role over the last 4 seasons. I agree he looks better, but a)he should and b)he hasn’t gained much playing time from it. If anything, Poggi (as an H-back) is stealing some of his snaps.

      • Comments: 3844
        Joined: 7/13/2015
        Sep 27, 2015 at 4:23 PM

        Isaac’s not “clearly” the third string guy. I don’t think anyone really has a clue on the RB depth chart except Smith seems to be #1 and Taylor-Douglas is #5. Green got the second-most carries, and he responded with a measly 2.8 yards/carry. I think you’re just trying to stir the pot.

        • Comments: 6285
          Joined: 8/11/2015
          Sep 27, 2015 at 4:47 PM

          Really? Green’s only gotten a handful of token individual carries in meaningful situations. Isaac and Johnson seem clearly ahead of him.

          Isaac got meaningful downs against Utah, but Johnson was hurt. I suppose you can have a debate about Isaac vs Johnson, but you have to ignore Johnson’s injury to make that argument.

          Isaac’s still had very few carries when his team isn’t up by 3 TDs or more. Yesterday Johnson got in on the second drive while Isaac I don’t think had a carry till the second half.

          The coaches have said the situation is solidfying, so I wouldn’t expect anything different going forward.

          Again, context matters. It seems pretty clear to me based on how these guys got used what the pecking order is.

          • Comments: 3844
            Joined: 7/13/2015
            Sep 27, 2015 at 6:09 PM

            If you “can have an argument about Johnson vs. Isaac,” then Isaac’s not “clearly” the third-string guy. Thanks for making my point for me.

            Regardless, for someone who talks about the “flow of the game,” you also tend to ignore some context. On Michigan’s second drive (first scoring drive), Isaac was in the game when Rudock ran it in from 3 yards. In fact, the play looked like it was designed to be thrown to Isaac in the end zone, but when the defender jumped out to Isaac, Rudock headed for the pylon. He might not have received a carry until later, but I would say that was a meaningful snap.

            You seem to say that Green is fourth on the depth chart, but he got the most carries of anyone besides De’Veon Smith. So I don’t know why you’re looking strongly at the number of carries right now when things haven’t really shaken out. If you’re going by carries, Green is #2, Isaac is #3, and Johnson is #4. You never know if Isaac was a bit dinged up this week or what was going on. Right now I’d say we don’t have a good grasp on the depth chart except, as I mentioned, Smith as #1 and Taylor-Douglas as #5.

          • Comments: 6285
            Joined: 8/11/2015
            Sep 27, 2015 at 10:24 PM

            I said you can have an argument IF YOU IGNORE THE INJURY.

            You make a good point about Isaac getting in earlier than the carries would indicate. I certainly am on the record as recognizing that RB is about more than carrying the ball.

            There are meaningful situations and not meaningful situations. It really doesn’t matter who gets the snaps in the low leverage downs. The guys after Smith has all gotten a small amount of carries (and snaps) in meaningful situations. However, since Johnson returned to health he has gotten most of those available snaps after Smith.

            Green has TWO meaningful carries on the season – both against Utah when Johnson was hurt. The rest was after the outcomes had been decided.

            Isaac has gotten somewhat regular work behind Smith, but his role has significantly reduced from Utah to BYU, which coincides with Johnson’s return to health.

            Furthermore, the coaching staff has made comments that indicated they were looking forward to getting Johnson back and healthy and now that he is they have said the situation is solidfying. You can read between the lines.

            Anyway, it’s not worth arguing about. Smith is THE MAN, and whoever gets to be his backup is sort of beside the point. I think it’s clearly Johnson, but we have the rest of the season to sort that out. Even if Isaac gets the job back somehow, I think he’s proven he is a capable option.

  3. Comments: 6285
    Joined: 8/11/2015
    Sep 27, 2015 at 3:11 PM

    Good points all around.

    I’m trying hard not overreact to yesterday, but between the D, OL improvement, and how well Utah played it’s hard not to completely recalibrate expectations for this football team. I came into the year thinking 10-2 and while I’m not all the way back to that…I’m not far off either. Nobody between now and OSU scares me. I think we’ll beat MSU…

    The D is indeed awesome. The DL pressure and the DB coverage made the LBs barely relevant yesterday. The point about low tackle numbers is true – and a good thing to consider about the limitations of using counting stats to evaluate players

    Agree with Rudock playing it smart, but the OL deserves some credit for keeping him clean and giving him those opportunities to scramble. He’s being patient, but even when he reads through his receivers and they are all covered, he is still finding lanes to gain yards with his legs. Some of that is credit to him for being smart, but some of it goes to the OL too.

    Mea culpa on Darboh: I’ve been doubting his hype because it was so damn similar to Jerald Robinson’s, but he’s legit. Maybe he isn’t a 1st round NFL pick and maybe he’s going to get locked down by better CBs, but he’s been productive every week and that one-hand grab was spectacular. He looks real good with the ball in his hands and he’s a reliable target. Our WR position is far from a liability, even if the 2nd WR spot is a position with plenty of competition.

    How about Harbaugh eh? Some of those playcalls were simply awesome. Even that funky screen that got blown up had 4 OL on the the line and an OT out on the perimeter.

    Meant to say this before the game, but part of my confidence in our D beating BYU was that I didn’t expect the tall WRs to be a big factor. Height is overrated for WR. I’ll take a 6’2 kid with skills over a 6’5 jump-ball specialist anyday. I’ll take Desmond Howard or Jeremy Gallon over Devin Funchess too.

    My one major quibble — I don’t think Michigan has a running back by committee. Their primary back has more carries than all the other guys combined despite Michigan handily winning in 3 of 4 games (i.e., plenty of opportunity to spread carries around).

    Smith has 56% of RB carries (between he, Johnson, Isacc, and Green). For context, Michigan’s top back the last two years has had only 36% and 40% of RB carries (top 4 backs). That’s what a committee looks like.

    In ’06 and ’07 – the last time when Michigan quite clearly did NOT have committee approach – Hart had 62% and 72% of RB carries. That’s an extreme example though.

    Maybe you want to set the bar for a primary-back-approach to 60%. Even so, Michigan/Smith should hit that over the next few weeks as the outlier UNLV cupcake game becomes less relevant.

    Smith has even won the one spot where you’d think a sub would make sense – 3rd down back. Maybe by default, but he won it.

    Michigan’s primary back is Smith. <—Period. Their second stringer is a change-of-pace back that brings a different running style (Johnson), fan favorite and third string back (Isaac) is around too, and fourth string back (Green) seems to be getting nurtured along due to his talent but for now his role is mostly there for garbage time carries. The hierarchy seems pretty clear – though it could get reshuffled if there is an injury (i.e., it wouldn't surprise me if Isaac got the start instead of Johnson if Green is to miss time.)

  4. Comments: 1364
    Joined: 8/11/2015
    Sep 28, 2015 at 6:38 AM

    I still thought their play calling was a bit too vanilla in the second half, especially when you’re giving it to Green on the ground, but I also thought that Rudock was a little too worried about making mistakes. He hesitated a few times in throwing to open receivers and just ran the ball out of bounds instead. That’s not a terrible thing, necessarily. I would rather have had him finish his game with confidence than have some holes punched in it by a late INT or two, even if it meant that our offense wasn’t as effective as it could have been. He will need that confidence going forward, and hopefully it will build. Our running game is not going to be dominant against good teams, and Rudock will have to be effective for us to move the ball against teams like MSU and OSU.

    Our CB play was the best I can remember seeing in a very long time, and our tackling was excellent. Yards after contact and yards after catch were virtually non-existent for BYU. I didn’t really realize until after the game that our LBs had hardly had their numbers called at all, with our Dline clogging things up so well.

    And not only is our close loss to Utah looking better, but I note that UNLV put up 80(!) points Saturday. Ok, it was against pretty darn bad Idaho State, but they’re still D I. A lot of top 20 teams don’t put that much up even on 1-AA opponents. You don’t put up 80 on anybody without something going for you on offense.

    All in all, it was the kind of game we needed, and the kind we haven’t played in a long time.

    • Comments: 6285
      Joined: 8/11/2015
      Sep 28, 2015 at 12:12 PM

      Yeah, UNLV isn’t GOOD, but they are better than most of us M fans gave them credit for I think. They hung with NIU who is a legit P5-caliber team.

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