In a game that could have put Michigan Wolverine football fans on cloud nine and on track for a truly magical season, the Wolverines, instead, find themselves searching for an explanation as to how they could have lost 4 straight games to “little brother.” The theories range from Denard Robinson to Al Borges to Rich Rodriguez to Brady Hoke. So which one is it?
So far, it has been hard to judge who the top culprit is based on fan outrage. It seems to me that most of the attention has been paid to Denard Robinson and Al Borges this past weekend, so I’ll start there.
This seems to me to be the least fair of all of the blame (except maybe those blaming Lloyd Carr). We all know what Denard is by now. We all know how he is dangerous and how he is not. He has been the focus of intense scrutiny over the first six wins, and it is no surprise that it continues in defeat.
However, it was the turnovers that brought the bulk of the complaints in the game leading up to this past Saturday. In all honesty, he did a pretty good job taking care of the ball. Sure, he threw the pick 6 at the end of the game, but with the pressure Michigan State got on that play (and all game), one interception isn’t all that bad. The wind wasn’t doing him any favors, either.
My only real concern about Denard is his height. I am just not sure that he can see back there sometimes. His diminutive stature makes a lot of his passes look a lot more like educated guesses than anything else. He’s not—nor will he ever be—a great pocket passer. We all know that, don’t we? So the question really is this: why in the hell, on a 40 mph, swirling wind of a day is he dropping back and attempting to throw slow-developing deep passes from the pocket all day?
I haven’t asked that type of question since I asked, why in the hell is Steven Threet running the read option all day?
This leads me to the next culprit, offensive coordinator Al Borges. Honestly, I thought Borges had been doing a wonderful job working with what he had until this week. He got them to 6-0 while trying to work on the things he wanted to work on with an eye towards the future of this offense. I really thought that he had used the first six games to get a sense of what his team was most capable of doing for this game. Instead, it looked like Tony Gibson had returned for a game, this time to coach the offense.
My faith in the team this year has been largely based on the fact that I just thought we had a better coaching staff than everyone on the schedule this year. Halftime adjustments have been a staple of this team all year. Offensive adjustments, however, were nowhere to be seen. Instead, we watched an odd rotation of Devin Gardner and Denard Robinson stall out time after time.
The plan resulted in third and long after third and long and Denard Robinson running for his life as the Michigan State defense timed the snap and blitzed the A-gap play after play. No draw plays, no screen plays and certainly no changing of the snap count. No adjustments to pick up the blitz, a complete abandonment of the running game and the play calls seemed late. I could go on, but I am getting upset just thinking about it.
More than anything, we saw a fourth-and-one play that could have easily be converted with a QB sneak turn into some kind of trickery that resulted in an easy sack for the Spartan defense. I’ve heard a few people say that had the play worked “Borges would be considered a genius.” A couple of things on that line of thought:
- It did not work. Not even a little bit. If it would have worked it would have been lucky, not genius.
- This team is supposed to be tough. Tough enough to pick up a yard when it has to win a game. Instead that play seemed a lot more like “This is Michigan?,” than “This is Michigan! For god’s sake.”
Maybe it is Rodriguez’s fault that the Wolverines are smaller than they have been in a long time, but he did not make that fourth and one call, and he definitely didn’t have Denard in that many drop-back situations. He may have started the snap-count problem, but it is the new staff's job to fix that and they didn’t.
Rich Rodriguez had plenty of short-comings, but they mostly related to the defensive side of the ball and the defense has been much better. His recruiting could have been better. A larger offensive line and a runningback would have been nice, but that is not why this team failed Saturday.
Also, Michigan isn’t that small. In fact, their offensive line unit is bigger than Michigan State’s. What they aren’t is physical. What they aren’t is intense enough to beat a Michigan State team that will do anything to win.
Because Brady Hoke let’s his coordinators call the game (in general), a lot of the focus is put on Al Borges and rightfully so. The fact remains, this is Coach Hoke’s team and he should carry the bulk of the blame. He would be the first to tell you that.
Who called the plays aside, this team was still not prepared to match the intensity of Michigan State and that was probably the biggest disappointment. Even with multiple chances to seize control of the game, the players and coaches were unable to come up with anything.
Hoke is recruiting the type of players that he needs to succeed in the future, but there is no "rebuilding" at Michigan. He needs to find a way to get a couple wins over quality teams in the Big Ten this year.
Notes and Thoughts
This was Brady’s first hiccup as Michigan’s head coach, and while it was a big one. it is far from devastating. This team still has a very real chance to get to the Big Ten Championship game, and that is the standard that this team is measured by as stated by Hoke himself.
The schedule sets up very well for Michigan, and that grants Michigan a chance to make this a very special season. Michigan State has the lead now, but it faces a brutal schedule over the next couple of weeks that could have Michigan back in the driver’s seat. I’m not saying that Michigan is likely to win the division, but it certainly is far from a long shot.
Hoke and Borges need to establish an identity for this team during the bye week. The helter-skelter act is not going to work in the Big Ten. This team must establish a running game or they have very little chance of beating solid defenses in the Big Ten.
Ohio State, Nebraska and Illinois have the ability to follow the blueprint laid out by Michigan State, and the result will be similar if Denard continues to be put into third-and-long situations. Devin Gardner is not the answer for the woeful play-calling and terrible blocking from the offensive line. Running the ball get lineman fired up and in a physical mindset.
Early game short passes and a heavy dose of running the football is the key to success in my opinion. Take your few shot down the field to open things up, but they have got to do better than third and eight over and over again. Even 2-3 yards a carry in first and second down situations gives you a better chance to be successful.
They have to figure out a way to get that done to separate themselves from the miserable performances we have seen down the stretch over the past 3 years.
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