|(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)|
Defense: Mostly Cover 1, mixed in some zones. Base 4-3 Over on normal down and distance.
That was Gardner's worst game as a QB for Michigan of his career. I know he's put up worse numbers before, I know he's been hit more, but his performance Saturday was broken. His mechanics were as all over as they've ever been, relating back to the 2011 MSU game. I think Nuss worked so hard with him on learning the offense and when to get the ball out that his mechanics have slipped ina very bad way now, and he still isn't comfortable with the offense. He stared down receivers, he made some poor decisions, and worse yet, and made the correct decisions way too late.
This is a QB that is completely uncomfortable with the offense. He's uncomfortable with the reads, the progressions, and the timing. He's battle scarred from last year, his eyes come down onto defenders, and now he isn't even really sure when to bail. There are small parts of his game that have improved, such as stepping up and through the pocket, but even that is more an artifact of his interior OL looking better and teams now attacking the edge with their blitz package.
I think Gardner is playing, or at least starting, because the coaches believe he gives them the best chance to win. I've really seen nothing to suggest otherwise from game tape. But I don't see a QB comfortable or confident enough to lead this team to victory consistently right now. I think you continue doing what you're doing in practice in terms of QB competition, but I think you have to have some sort of early game rotation and see who has the hot hand.
I know some are advocating for a move to WR for DG. I think if Borges was still around that would be an option, as he's practiced WR in that system. But he has taken zero reps at WR in this current system. I don't think it's a viable thing to do at this point, though it'd be nice to have another receiver to take some attention off of Funch.
Speaking of which, Gardner got Funchess killed with late decisions throwing him into traffic all day. Funchess dropped what could have potentially been a TD on what was probably Gardner's best throw of the day. But when you lead a WR into traffic multiple times, a WR that is injured coming in, they do tend to start short arming the ball. That play was completely on Funchess at that instance, but Funchess's reaction was a reaction to what he had already gone through in that game.
Hayes was excellent at pass protection all day, he seriously was. That is a RB that is willing to go nose-to-nose with anyone on the defense to pick up a pass rush. The left side, with the exception of a few issues from a true freshman playing LT, was solid, particularly Mags and Miller. But Braden and Glasgow got abused on twists all day. This isn't a new thing this season either, it's just something Utah saw on tape and then decided to exploit regularly. I don't know if Michigan is maintaining Big-On-Big and then having the lesser engaged OL find the twist regardless (rather than passing off), but either Braden is not passing off assignments, or Glasgow isn't understanding how to slide across to pick up twisting LBs. He tried several times to go above Braden, which means he also has to go above the guy Braden's blocking. How often will an OL be able to reach a twisting LB in that scenario? Rarely if ever. Sliding behind constricts the pocket, but at least it gets the guy picked up. The right edge is going to be an issue this year.
I still think the run offense is about as good as it could have been expected to be at this point, minus some DG runs that seem completely absent. The OL is mostly getting into assignments and then not doing much after that. Mags is showing to be a good player in space (makes sense, he's a LT playing LG) but has some mistakes inside still.
Or lack there of. There is no explosiveness to this offense. The "explosive" plays Nussmeier is claiming are ones that go for chunks but never threaten TDs. It's not for a lack of athletes either. This was an issue I had with Nuss's offense coming in. His route structure and play calling require receivers to either win one-on-one battles consistently with limited schematic help, or they work because the defense has to overplay something else, such as the run game. Without a great rushing attack, the route structures are very simplified, the defense can stay in their base without having to bring anyone down, and Michigan receivers are forced to simply out-run 4 or 5 DBs. That's hard at this level, it really is, regardless. If you aren't putting in something schematic to help them out, any athlete will struggle to get open. I had a feeling last year that Borges was all-or-nothing so many times because he believed his offense couldn't work its way down the field. That looks absolutely the case this year. They shoot themselves in the foot repeatedly once they cross midfield, and they just aren't a threat to win over the top. This isn't completely absolving Borges, whose approach is likely part of the DG issues above, but this offense needs some explosiveness, it needs to threaten over the top, it needs to force the defenses to do anything other than just keep things in front and go to work.
This was the best performance by Michigan DTs since Martin left. They had, for the most part, an absolutely terrific game. They got penetration but didn't over penetrate. They fought with their hands and blockers couldn't take them on one-on-one. They kept LBs clean when they were doubled. They got push. They got pass rush on T/T stunts. That was an absolutely stellar performance by them.
The DEs came to play as well, the whole DL was really good in this game, and may have given the best DL performance of Hoke's tenure, regardless of stats (I don't think it was, the Sugar Bowl and the '11 Illinois game come to mind immediately, but it was a very good performance).
All this lead to a huge day by Ryan, who was mostly clean, but was also attacking the correct gaps and making plays. Bolden was aggressive as well, and while he missed some plays, he at least forced action and made work for the other defenders easier. But all this stems from the play of the DTs, who had a great day.
Michigan went back to mostly Cover 1. Lewis looked fantastic. He was consistently in great position and forced every throw to be the best throw. The one time he was out of position (he got boxed out), he fought through the receiver and broke the play up. The other CBs played well also, just not to Lewis level.
But boy did Michigan struggle between the LBs and mostly Thomas at SS. It's hard to say on some of the mesh concepts, because teams will pass it off sometimes, but I have to think the issues were mostly on Thomas, who took poor angles, didn't really get in position well, and just flat out struggled to make the plays he needed. This was a known weakness of his game coming in, and Utah took really big advantage of it.
FWIW, the biggest Michigan bust on the long screen pass off of Michigan's blitz was a bust by Heitzman. That's a Cover 0 blitz, the DE needs to peel off if any back leaks out his direction. He didn't identify the RB quickly enough and attacked the QB, thus leading to him being wide open with a lot of space and blockers.
Said during the game that it looked like Kerridge got out of his lane in punt coverage. He may have, but he may have because Michigan only had 10 guys in coverage. That's inexcusable. You have that mat on the sideline with 10 numbers listed for a reason. Part of the issue is so many starters playing on ST. But you have a ST coordinator and GAs that are in charge of that sort of thing. The punter before every punt should count the numbers he has on the field, because it is a unit change. This is the 2nd time in as many weeks where something broke down despite having multiple means of preventing such an issue. That means it's broken on multiple levels, which is a really bad sign.
Mattison vs Hoke: FIGHT!
The spat between Mattison and Hoke isn't an issue. It's nothing. Mattison cost Michigan five yards, Mattison was celebrating the defensive performance. Mattison's job is to get the defense to play, Hoke's job is to get the team to play. Both are competitors, both are trying to do their jobs. Competitors trying to do their job go off on each other sometimes. That happens on every football team across the country. That isn't a sign of things falling apart on the staff in any way. That's two grown competitive men doing what they do.
Where the Program is with Coaching
Here's the thing that spoke most to me: Michigan came out in the 2nd half of a 13-10 game and looked completely flat. That had no spark, no energy, and seemed to be going through the motions. It looked to me like they didn't believe any more. To me, that speaks to where this team is at with respects to this coaching staff. Even in the ND game, to me, it looked like they just got beat, but not that they gave in. This was a different scenario.
Fans and the outside circus don't help. Players hear this stuff. But if you're a fan and the performance is as you see it, you're going to be disappointed and start questioning things. I think booing your own team is stupid, even if it's just booing your coaches because of your displeasure (and not all fans were only booing the coaches). I think not supporting your coaching staff, regardless of situation, is stupid, because supporting the staff is supporting the players, even if you think eventually the staff isn't right for the program.
And for the people that call themselves fans that say things like "I knew this staff was dumb two years ago" or whatever, don't bring that here. That's garbage. Bragging that you gave up on your program before others, that's not a good fan. That's being bitter, that's trying to find worth in yourself because you can't find your self-worth in a football program that is losing.
I don't want to hear about this staff being "incompetent", or stupid, or any of the like. People that sit in the bleachers or at home on a couch and make those claims look foolish. It's not lack of effort, it's not lack of pure football knowledge, but it does seem that there is an issue with teaching right now on this team. Things are not coming together, and it looks like it's starting to snowball, players are losing confidence and effort seems to be starting to wane, at least effort in the right direction as a complete team.
Hoke, in my mind, still has an opportunity to prove he should stay. He doesn't need to win every game from here on out. He doesn't need to beat OSU and MSU. But he must get this team back on track. The effort and fight has to be there from here on out. He must be competitive and find a way to win some road games and we must see tangible improvement. But it has gone from Hoke is safe unless the team collapses to Hoke must prove he deserves the job. I like Hoke. I like people that work their ass off and get to live out their dream job. I like them to succeed when they do it, because frankly, very, very few people live that sort of dream. I think he cares, I think he has the ability to be a good coach, I don't think it's scheme or being a "dinosaur" or anything like that, but something with him and the staff and how it's translating to players isn't working right now. That needs to change soon.
Lastly, I'm not going to talk about potential coaching changes until there is a coaching change. At this point, Hoke is the coach of Michigan and this is his staff, I will only discuss that. Until then, as a fan, I will support this staff and this team.
- This was probably DG's worst performance as a Michigan starting QB. It is a one game thing, but signs that he'll make drastic improvement are limited
- Pass protection issues are now on the outside rather than the inside. RG/RT issues will be attacked going forward until cleaned up
- Run game is about as good as it could have been expected to be, FWIW.
- Best performance by the DTs since 2011. The DL as a whole played very well, lead by great DT play
- Coverage issues appeared to come mostly from the safety position
- Punt coverage was bad and inexcuseable, Hoke vs Mattison spat basically means nothing.
- Hoke now needs to prove he deserves to be the Michigan coach by the time the season ends; still has that chance but things need to improve quickly. Until then, this is the Michigan staff and they are the only staff I'll talk about with regards to Michigan.