|Quarterback Shane Morris got his first career start and did a solid job.|
Shane Morris looked halfway decent. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve always had pretty high hopes for Morris. But I expected him to look a little more high-strung in this game. Offensive coordinator Al Borges did a smart thing by starting Morris off with a bunch of screen passes. Unfortunately, by the time Borges thought about pushing the ball down the field, it was because Michigan was down and Kansas State knew it. One point about screens is that you want to suck the defense up and eventually throw over the top, but Borges wasted the opportunity. Morris finished the game 24/38 for 196 yards, 0 touchdowns, and 1 interception, plus he had 4 carries for 43 yards. You could tell his timing just wasn’t there with the receivers and the offense. Some of his throws were late, some screens were slightly off target, and some of his passes were thrown too hard to give his receivers much of a chance to catch them. All in all, he played well enough that Michigan might have been able to eke out a win if they had semblance of a running game.
No semblance of a running game. Oh, yeah. About that. Well, despite what I think is a mediocre group of interior defenders, Michigan couldn’t get any push up front. The young offensive linemen weren’t whiffing on blocks like they were early in the season, but the Kansas State defensive tackles were controlling the line of scrimmage and letting the linebackers and safeties clean up. Michigan’s coaching staff seemed to realize their struggles up front, and despite having a fair amount of success with the fake bubble screen draw in the previous couple games, the play was basically abandoned for a couple straight-up inside zones and a bunch of reverses, sweeps, touch passes, etc.
Rich Rodriguez stopped by to coach the defense. I like defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, and since I’m not an idiot, I don’t think Mattison should be fired. But I thought this was a pretty dismal effort for what is actually a solid defense. The players just didn’t seem inspired to dominate, and the game plan was poor. The guy you must stop on Kansas State’s offense is Tyler Lockett, and he abused Raymon Taylor time and time again (plus Blake Countess at least once). When he was singled up early in the game, I saw the formation and said “Slant.” And there it was. When he was singled up later on the same drive, I saw the formation with Raymon Taylor lined up inside and said “Slant and out.” Sure enough, Lockett beat Taylor by faking the slant and then beating Taylor with an out route. Lockett needed to be bracketed, and the corners needed safety help over the top. Elsewhere, guys like Cam Gordon were losing contain on the passing quarterback, as if they didn’t know he could run a little bit. When I was watching film leading up to the bowl game, I saw Kansas State as a mediocre power running team with one good receiver, and they were still able to impose their will on Michigan.
Tyler Lockett is good. After seeing Lockett’s highlights from the other twelve games and then watching him in this one, I think Lockett (10 catches, 116 yards, 3 touchdowns; 2 kickoff returns for 74 yards) could play for any team in the country. It was frustrating to watch him beat a fairly good duo of corners in Taylor and Countess, but you have to tip your cap to a player like that. Lockett’s going to get his yards, but you can’t let the other players beat you. Unfortunately, running back John Hubert (15 carries, 80 yards, 1 touchdown), quarterback Jake Waters (21/27 for 271 yards and 3 touchdowns through the air, plus 12 carries for 42 yards), and the defense beat Michigan, too.
Ryan Mueller is just a guy. I mentioned this before the game, but I was not impressed with what I saw from Mueller on film. The Big 12’s Defensive Lineman of the Year had just 1 tackle against Michigan despite playing against the Wolverines’ second-best offensive tackle and chasing a freshman quarterback.
The running back situation. Redshirt sophomore Justice Hayes earned the nod at running back and turned in a nondescript performance. He caught 3 passes for 22 yards and had 1 carry for -1 yard, the latter of which seemed to be him just tripping and falling to the turf of his own volition. I believe Michigan’s game plan involved trying to get the edge against a team that the coaching staff felt was too stout up the middle for the interior offensive line to handle. Unfortunately, Michigan has mainly recruited inside runners during Hoke’s tenure (Derrick Green, De’Veon Smith, Thomas Rawls). Without a good tailback option, Borges tried to hit Gallon on jet sweeps and reverses, Devin Funchess on a double reverse, etc. When your pocket passer of a quarterback leads the team in rushing, and your running backs combine for 8 carries and 13 yards, that’s a terrible recipe for success. It didn’t matter whether it was Hayes, Green, Smith, Rawls, or Toussaint running behind that line, though – there was just nowhere to go.
No hurry-up offense. Michigan didn’t really go to a hurry-up offense until their final drive, which was extremely frustrating. Would it have made a difference in the final outcome? Probably not. But it seemed like Borges and head coach Brady Hoke had basically decided to give up and try to develop the kids for next year. Maybe they just didn’t feel their freshman quarterback could handle running a two-minute drill for such an extended period, but at least give it a shot. Even if you chuck the ball deep and it gets intercepted, at least you tried. The only play where Michigan truly attempted to go over the top was on a pass to Jeremy Gallon where he got interfered with after it seemed like Morris and the receivers thought they had a free play when a Kansas State player jumped (he didn’t cross the line of scrimmage). When your quarterback is known for his cannon arm, you would think at least three attempts downfield would be warranted.
Head(s) should roll. Hoke and athletic director David Brandon need to make some tough decisions this offseason, and at least one staff change needs to take place. Hoke is a loyal guy, but I think Brandon will insist because he’s a business-oriented guy and needs to make donors happy. Running backs coach Fred Jackson isn’t the problem, but he might retire whether he’s asked to or not. Offensive line coach Darrell Funk would seem to be the easiest guy to axe, because his position group was the worst on the team. Offensive coordinator Al Borges does things like score 41 points against Ohio State and call plays that result in record-setting performances (Gallon’s game against Indiana, Gallon’s season receiving record, Gardner’s statistics against Ohio State and Indiana, etc.), so he’s a tougher choice. I also think a guy like wide receivers coach Jeff Hecklinski might be miffed if he gets passed up for a new offensive coordinator. Rumors are that secondary coach Curt Mallory has been looking for a head coaching job at a smaller school, too. There could be a lot of staff upheaval in the coming months.
Congratulations to Jeremy Gallon. Gallon surpassed former Michigan receiver Braylon Edwards for two records in this game. Gallon caught a pass in 39 consecutive games (Edwards was at 38), and he also set the single-season receiving yardage record with 1,373 yards (Edwards had 1,330 in 2004). He had 9 catches for 89 yards in this game, 1 carry for -5 yards, and a pass to Justice Hayes for a two-point conversion, hearkening back to his high school days as a single-wing quarterback at Apopka High School.