Ohio State 26, Michigan 21

Tag: Denard Robinson


25Nov 2012
Uncategorized 65 comments

Ohio State 26, Michigan 21

Here’s some Kate Upton to make you feel better.

I told you so but I wish I didn’t.  Last week I railed against the usage of Denard Robinson, saying that using Denard so much last week a) set him up to get injured, b) might limit his effectiveness against OSU, and c) took away the element of surprise of using him in the backfield and at receiver.  People responded by saying that they were glad Michigan used him because it would give Urban Meyer trouble preparing for this week’s game.  How did that go for you?  Denard tweaked his elbow injury last week and didn’t throw even once this game.  Michigan also ran very few plays with Robinson and Devin Gardner on the field, running a very vanilla and predictable offense.  I guess all that stuff last week was just for fun.


WTF.  There’s really no excuse for the play calling in the second half, and that falls on both Brady Hoke and Al Borges.  People want to fire Al Borges, but the head coach has to step in and call shenanigans on the crappy play calling.  Now I’m not suggesting that either one get fired, but you can’t separate the two entities. As the head guy, Hoke is responsible for the calls that are made by his coordinators.  Michigan tried running the ball up the middle with Vincent Smith – which has been a terrible idea for years – and generally went into a shell on offense.  There was no element of surprise, and all the plays and counter plays that were opened up last week by Robinson’s utility were apparently erased from this week’s playbook.

Derrick Green, come on down.  Outside of Fitzgerald Toussaint, Michigan’s running backs are terrible.  Thomas Rawls has no vision, lacks speed, and isn’t as powerful as a short yardage back should be.  Vincent Smith is gone anyway, and while I always liked him as a third down-type back, plugging him in for short-yardage plays against OSU was a poor decision.  You simply cannot expect him to gain yardage when Michigan’s interior offensive line is this bad.  He did okay running outside on the inverted veer plays, but good grief, Borges has to put him in a position to be successful.  Even fullback Stephen Hopkins comes in for some criticism here, because he missed two key blocks and generally looked like he didn’t understand his job.  Michigan needs running backs in a bad way, and I don’t see game-breaking ability in either DeVeon Smith or Wyatt Shallman.  The coaches need to bring in a bunch of backs and let them improve through competition.

Play action bulls***. Here’s the part that perhaps irked me most about the play calling in the second half.  Borges kept calling play action passes when there was clearly no threat of running the ball.  That doesn’t work against teams who aren’t stupid, and the Buckeyes are a lot of things – cheaters, ugly, arrogant, etc. – but their defense is always well coached.  When Devin Gardner turns around to give play action fakes, he’s diverting his attention from the coverage and sometimes he’s limiting himself to throwing to half the field.  The linebackers and safeties weren’t biting on play action fakes to Vincent Smith because Smith gets tackled by a stiff breeze, so there’s no tactical advantage.  But again and again, Gardner wasted time by running around with his back to the defense and pretending like the Buckeyes gave a s*** about the 5’7″, 175 lb. running back.  Just drop Gardner straight back or roll him out.

Carlos Hyde played well.  I actually thought Michigan’s interior defense would hold Hyde down pretty well, but Michigan’s defensive ends and play calls seemed so concerned with Braxton Miller that they unclogged the middle a little bit.  Hyde got downhill and broke a few tackles, but there were several occasions where he got to the second and third levels without being touched.  Greg Mattison seemed to call more 4-3 Over defensive fronts than normal.

Freshman frustration.  I do not like seeing guys like James Ross and Joe Bolden out there in games like this.  It was somewhat inevitable, I guess, because of a lack of depth, but today is an example of why you need depth at linebacker.  Bolden in particular got out of position a couple times and allowed some key gains, and Ross got caught inside on a Braxton Miller run.  Both of those guys have high upsides, but freshmen are freshmen.  Next year the Wolverines should be able to go two-deep with experienced guys at every linebacker position, so we should see even more improvement in the linebacker group.

Mike Jones and Brandin Hawthorne exist in bad ways.  I was not a fan when Rich Rodriguez recruited Jones and Hawthorne, and they have worked their ways down the depth chart.  Jones incurred a 15-yard penalty for a late hit in this game, and Hawthorne has made similarly poor plays this season on special teams.  It’s not a coincidence that Ross and Bolden passed those guys for playing time.  Hawthorne will graduate after this season, and I would not be surprised to see redshirt junior Jones depart with a year of eligibility remaining.

This was Gardner’s worst game.  Gardner was visibly frustrated at a couple points, and it showed in his play.  Especially in the second half, it looked like he was trying to throw pinpoint passes instead if letting it fly.  He’s always had a slightly awkward throwing motion, but he just didn’t seem to be following through with his normal verve.  That’s somewhat understandable for a kid playing quarterback in such a big game for the first time, which is why it would have been helpful to have Robinson ready to throw the ball.  Robinson had his best quarterbacking performance against these Buckeyes last season, so limiting him to 10 touches seems like a bad idea.  Gardner finished 11/20 for 171 yards, 1 touchdown, and 1 interception, and he took 4 sacks despite the absence of John Simon, OSU’s best defensive lineman.  There was nobody to take the pressure off of Gardner – Robinson out of the backfield, Toussaint, Borges – and thus it was left on his shoulders to try to make plays when there none to make.

The better team won.  I argued with people all week who said that Michigan was the better team but that the Wolverines played a tougher schedule.  The bottom line is that any of us would rather be 11-0 than 8-3 coming into the game, regardless of who was on the schedule.  The Buckeyes ran the ball well, threw the ball well, and played pretty solid defense except for a couple huge plays (Robinson’s 67-yard touchdown, Roundtree’s 75-yard TD reception).  The bottom line is that Michigan replaced David Molk, Mike Martin, and Ryan Van Bergen with Elliott Mealer, Quinton Washington, and Craig Roh, respectively, all of which are steps backward.  I fully believe that an influx of talent is coming with Hoke’s recruiting classes, but right now Michigan has a deficit that will take some time to fix.

24Nov 2012
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Preview: Michigan at Ohio State

Rush Offense vs. Ohio State Rush Defense
Michigan is the #36 rushing offense in the country with 195 yards/game, but the rushing offense is perhaps in a dire situation.  Starting running back Fitzgerald Toussaint (514 yards, 5 touchdowns) will miss the rest of the season with a lower leg injury, which leaves the running back duties to Thomas Rawls (240 yards, 4 touchdowns, Vincent Smith (27 carries, 76 yards, 2 touchdowns), and Justice Hayes (16 carries, 83 yards, 1 touchdown).  The numbers don’t look too bad, but most of Rawls’s yards have come in garbage time and he has struggled against decent teams.  The wild card is Denard Robinson, who started at running back last week and – mostly from the quarterback position – has rushed for 1,044 yards and 6 touchdowns, good enough for the 15th-most yards in the nation despite missing 2.5 games due to injury.  He’s clearly the best running option, but he may not be able to run Michigan’s full complement of plays.  The Buckeyes have the #17 rush defense and have given up just 117 yards/game.  Defensive tackles Johnathan Hankins and Garrett Goebel don’t get a ton of penetration, but they are space eaters who have combined for 8 tackles for loss.  Defensive end John Simon and linebacker Ryan Shazier have each made 14.5 tackles for loss, and Shazier has improved significantly since last year, when he played as a freshman.  The Buckeyes should be able to handle Michigan’s interior offensive line, so the Wolverines will have to attack the edges and through the air.
Advantage: Ohio State


Pass Offense vs. Ohio State Pass Defense
Michigan has been improving incrementally in the passing game and now sits at #95 with 201 yards/game; quarterback Devin Gardner has been the impetus for that rise, and he threw for 314 yards and 3 touchdowns against Iowa last week.  Wide receivers Jeremy Gallon (34 catches, 617 yards, 2 touchdowns) and Roy Roundtree (25 catches, 461 yards, 2 touchdowns) have stepped up their games recently, and tight end Devin Funchess has been a productive red zone target.  The Buckeyes are #84 in pass defense (250 yards/game), but #28 in pass efficiency defense.  Simon has made 9 sacks and Shazier has made 4.  Meanwhile, cornerback Travis Howard has 4 interceptions on the season, although 3 of them came in the Buckeyes’ first two games.  Michigan will have to pay extra attention to Simon and roll Gardner out to get him on the edge, but Gardner should be able to find some success with crossing routes and play action.
Advantage: Michigan


Rush Defense vs. Ohio State Rush Offense
The Wolverines give up 151 yards/game, good enough for 51st in the country.  However, that stat has been dropping since a couple rough outings early in the year.  The middle of Michigan’s defense has been stout, but starting defensive tackles Quinton Washington and William Campbell have combined for just 3 tackles for loss.  They don’t get consistent penetration, but they do hold their ground pretty well, which allows the inside linebackers to flow to the ball and make tackles.  Teams can gain yards running the ball, but usually in small increments.  Meanwhile, the Buckeyes have the #9 rushing offense and gain 245 yards/game, with quarterback Braxton Miller running for 110 yards/game and running back Carlos Hyde pretty close behind with 91 yards/game.  They like to run the option with Miller, who is very adept at pulling the ball out of Hyde’s belly and making things happen on the edge.  Michigan should keep Hyde pretty well in check early, until/unless Miller starts to gash them.  Miller is also very adept at tucking the ball and scrambling, which hurt Michigan last year; that will continue to be an issue, because the Wolverines don’t really have the athletes at defensive end to keep Miller hemmed in.
Advantage: Ohio State


Pass Defense vs. Ohio State Pass Offense
Michigan is #1 in overall pass defense (152 yards/game), but #30 in pass efficiency defense.  Free safety Thomas Gordon and cornerback Raymon Taylor each have 2 interceptions to tie for the team lead, but nobody in the secondary is known as a true ball hawk or a shutdown player in coverage.  The linebackers are pretty solid in coverage, but Michigan lacks a strong pass rush.  Defensive end Craig Roh has 4 sacks, outside linebacker Jake Ryan has 3.5, and safety Jordan Kovacs is next with 2.  The Buckeyes are the #100 passing offense with 180 yards/game and they’re #57 in passing efficiency, but they still have dangerous players on the outside.  The Buckeyes abused Michigan’s back seven in last season’s matchup, although that was a different offensive system and they had DeVier Posey.  Wideout Corey Brown (52 catches, 574 yards, 2 touchdowns) is more of a possession guy, but Devin Smith (28 catches, 555 yards, 6 touchdowns) has some explosive abilities and might be just as good as Posey was.  Poor quarterback play has prevented Michigan from getting beaten too badly on the outside, but I’ve been dreading the moment when it would hurt Michigan; there’s a very good chance that the Wolverines’ shortcomings on the outside will be exposed on Saturday.  I don’t think Taylor and his counter J.T. Floyd will be able to stick with Smith for the entire game, and Michigan’s safeties are just so-so in coverage.  The Buckeyes will run the ball a lot, so they probably won’t sit back there and throw 50 times to win, but they’ll get some big plays through the air.
Advantage: Ohio State


Roster Notes

  • Michigan recruited OG Darryl Baldwin, RB Warren Ball, DT Michael Bennett, S Devan Bogard, CB Corey Brown, WR Corey Brown, S Christian Bryant, OT Taylor Decker, OT Kyle Dodson, RB Bri’onte Dunn, DT Garrett Goebel, LB Curtis Grant, CB Doran Grant, DT Joel Hale, RB Jordan Hall, OT Marcus Hall, DT Johnathan Hankins, TE Jeff Heuerman, QB Cardale Jones, QB Braxton Miller, DE Steve Miller, OG Joey O’Connor, LB David Perkins, DE Se’Von Pittman, CB Armani Reeves, DT Tommy Schutt, LB Ryan Shazier, WR Devin Smith, RB Rod Smith, DE Noah Spence, TE Jake Stoneburner, S Ron Tanner, TE Nick Vannett, and DT Adolphus Washington
  • Players from Michigan include Grosse Pointe (MI) Grosse Pointe Farms OT Reid Fragel and Detroit (MI) Southeastern DT Johnathan Hankins

Predictions

  • Denard Robinson starts at running back but gets a couple chances to throw
  • Devin Gardner gets flustered by the pass rush and forced into a couple bad throws
  • Ohio State makes some big plays over top of the defense
  • Michigan holds down Carlos Hyde well, but Miller wins the game with his feet
  • Ohio State 24, Michigan 17

A Look Back . . . 

18Nov 2012
Uncategorized 36 comments

Michigan 42, Iowa 17

Devin Gardner was responsible for 6 touchdowns on Saturday (image via AnnArbor.com)

Devin Gardner is awesome.  Prior to the game, I didn’t realize how terrible Iowa’s secondary is.  In the game preview, I predicted that Gardner would play his worst game as a quarterback.  That wasn’t close to being true.  The Hawkeyes blew coverages repeatedly, and Gardner completed 18/23 passes for 314 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 1 interception; he also ran 9 times for 37 yards and 3 touchdowns.  He makes some questionable passes at times, and frankly, he has been lucky several times.  Both Northwestern and Iowa have had defensive backs misjudge passes that have allowed for long completions to receivers Jeremy Gallon and Roy Roundtree; better defensive backs pick off or knock down some of these passes, but I’ll take it.

That Fitzgerald Toussaint injury hurts.  I didn’t see it on the initial play, but the replay was nasty.  Toussaint is obviously done for the year and I would be surprised if he returns in time for spring ball.  There were rumors that he was considering leaving for the NFL after this season, but combined with his mediocre performance thus far, that seems like it won’t be an option.  Hopefully he can return healthy next year, get back to his 2011 form, and raise his draft stock for 2014.  In the meantime, that hurts the Wolverines for the Ohio State game and beyond, because he was improving over the past couple weeks and the backup running backs are just so-so.

I do not like the usage of Denard Robinson.  Michigan could have won this game without playing Denard Robinson.  He’s obviously not fully healthy, and he tweaked his elbow injury in the second quarter.  The coaches obviously don’t trust him to throw the ball, and tweaking the injury probably means he won’t be able to throw against Ohio State, either.  Yes, it was fun to watch and it gives Ohio State some other formations and plays for which to prepare, but it also potentially cost the team Robinson’s throwing ability, however mediocre.  I don’t understand the need to unleash those plays and formations on Iowa if Michigan could have surprised the Buckeyes with those things next week.

James Ross, welcome to the Big Ten.  Ross got his first career start at WILL in place of Desmond Morgan, and he did a pretty good job.  There were a couple issues in pass coverage and he got pushed around when offensive linemen were able to latch onto him, but the kid led the team with 12 tackles  That’s a pretty good beginning, though he has played plenty throughout the year.  My expectation for next year is that Morgan will move to MIKE to make room for Ross to play WILL full-time.

Cover the tight end!  Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg didn’t really try the outside, but he did repeatedly attack the middle of the field by hitting tight ends.  I don’t blame him for attacking the middle of the field due to Ross’s inexperience, but Iowa has decent receivers and Michigan has so-so cornerbacks.  Tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz had 8 catches for 99 yards, and Coble Krieger had 3 catches for 24 yards and 1 touchdown.  It was a good day for those guys, but it’s tough to keep up a good scoring pace by dinking and dunking your way down the field with 5-yard passes to the tight ends.  Kevonte Martin-Manley was the only Iowa wideout to catch a pass, and he finished with 2 receptions for 7 yards.

Josh Furman isn’t a safety.  Let me mention once again how out of place Furman is at safety.  Furman is a good special teams player, but playing safety just isn’t his thing.  He entered the game late and failed to make a couple plays that were right there.  When he’s not attacking downhill, he’s lost.  The kid played rush linebacker in high school, and you just can’t move guys back in a defense and expect them to be successful.  You can move a kid from corner to safety or safety to linebacker or linebacker to defensive end or defensive end to defensive tackle, but you can’t go the other way.  If he can hold some additional weight, the coaches ought to bulk him up to play SAM.

Good for the seniors.  Twenty-three seniors played their final game at Michigan Stadium yesterday, and they were undefeated at home over the past two seasons.  It’s a pretty amazing turnaround, because these fifth-year guys were the first Rich Rodriguez class from 2008 that saw Michigan lose on their home turf to Toledo.  A bunch of guys got in the stat book in their final home game, including Steve Wilson and Floyd Simmons.  Jack Kennedy took the final snap.  And Vincent Smith caught a screen pass for a touchdown for old time’s sake.  Those who stay will be . . . undefeated at home.

11Nov 2012
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Michigan 38, Northwestern 31

Kenny Demens makes the game-clinching tackle (image via AnnArbor.com)

Kenny Demens goes boom.  In Friday’s game preview, I predicted that Demens would have a big game.  It seemed like the coaches were trying to give him a breather by playing Joe Bolden a little bit, but I’m really not sold on Bolden being ready for Big Ten play right now; he’ll be good but he’s not yet.  Back to my point, Demens stepped up in a big way late in the game by making the final two tackles, including a thumping hit on Northwestern superback Tyris Jones to end the game.  Games against a team like Northwestern set up well for someone like Demens, who can take on Northwestern-caliber linemen and still make plays on interior runs.  He did get burned for a touchdown in pass coverage, but he was covering a wide receiver, which was hardly a fair contest.  Demens ended the game with 9 tackles and 2 tackles for loss.

Devin Gardner for Heisman? Okay, not really the Heisman, but Gardner has played really well in Denard Robinson’s stead.  Brady Hoke insists that the offense doesn’t really change when Gardner takes over for Robinson, but nobody who watches these games can actually believe that.  I felt bad for Kain Colter when he got hurt late in the game, but I didn’t feel bad for Northwestern, because Michigan was already down their starting quarterback.  For Gardner to be so inexperienced and still have the ability to come out and beat the #24 team in the country speaks well for him.  And, oh by the way, some guys really stepped up and made plays for Gardner.  The junior QB finished the game 16/29 for 286 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 1 interception, along with 9 rushes for 47 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Roy Roundtree is stepping up. I don’t know why, but Roundtree has stepped up his game now that Gardner is playing quarterback.  Robinson and Roundtree are close friends, so I’m sure it’s not related to a lack of personal chemistry.  It just seems like Roundtree has realized that he needs to step up to help out his inexperienced quarterback.  I wish it had happened earlier, but I’ll take it now.  He had 5 receptions for 139 yards, and his final reception in regulation was a juggling catch he made while the Northwestern defensive back interfered with him. (No interference was called, but it should have been.)

Michigan won the game in the trenches.  Brady Hoke’s philosophy seems to be that he wants to wear teams down, and Michigan will do so more consistently when the offensive line improves.  Right now Michigan’s interior offensive linemen are just average, but by the fourth quarter, they had sufficiently worn down the Wildcats’ interior.  Toussaint started to get some running room . . . which is why I was frustrated with Michigan’s play call on the penultimate regulation drive, after Dennis Norfleet had returned a kickoff to Michigan’s 47-yard line.  Al Borges had overused the play action pass up to that point, because Michigan hadn’t been running the ball.  So when Borges called a post-wheel (for Gallon and Funchess, respectively), Northwestern hadn’t learned to respect the run yet.  He put the game on Gardner’s shoulders, and while Gardner has been playing well, he hadn’t been in a situation this year when Michigan needed  a crunch-time drive from him.  Michigan could have moved the ball by running on the interior with about four minutes left and down by three points.  What happened the next time Michigan had a chance to run it, in overtime?  Fitzgerald Toussaint ran for 5 yards, then 3 yards, and then Gardner ran a bootleg for the game-winning touchdown.

Stop kicking to Venric Mark!  Mark is one of the most explosive players in the Big Ten, but Michigan’s kickers and punters couldn’t seem to help themselves from kicking to him.  He burned Michigan for a 96-yard kickoff return late in the game, but one of the Wildcats held Brandin Hawthorne and got flagged for it.

Northwestern doesn’t throw well except against Michigan. Backup quarterback Trevor Siemian completed 6/7 passes for 87 yards and 2 touchdowns.  Kain Colter was slightly less successful at 8/14 for 96 yards and 1 touchdown.  Michigan struggled with the pace of Northwestern’s offense, and the Wolverines were beaten on the edge several times (partly because of numerous obvious holding calls that weren’t noticed by the referees).  Northwestern could run and pass on Michigan’s defense, and there was no consistent answer until overtime.  That answer was, of course, Kenny Demens.

Jordan Kovacs is now #11.  I don’t really care.  It’s just a number.  Before the game Kovacs was honored by being given the #11 jersey that was previously worn by the three Wistert brothers – Francis, Albert, and Alvin.  I’ve seen the argument that this prevents Kovacs from becoming a legend jersey down the road, but come on, Kovacs isn’t a legend.  He’s a walk-on who turned into a pretty good player, but that doesn’t make him a legend.  I also don’t think Michigan should give Legend jerseys to true freshmen, who still have three years to taint the number with drunk driving arrests, stealing laptops, etc.

Michigan is 7-3.  The team and fans should consider themselves slightly lucky to come out of this weekend with a victory.  Being 7-3 at this juncture isn’t too bad, considering that Michigan has been without its starting quarterback for the last 2.5 games.  Regardless of the opponents, they have scored 35 and 38 points with the backup QB.  The defense has picked up its game at critical junctures, and the offense is doing enough to make games winnable, at least when Russell Bellomy isn’t in the game.  The Wolverines should  beat Iowa, and that would lead up to the ballyhooed game against Ohio State.