Derrick Ryan: Earlier in the week, Trevor and I had planned to do a back and forth piece, giving our takes on the game once the Michigan State vs. Michigan game ended. We had hoped for a different outcome and hoped that this post would have a bit more of a happier theme to it. Nonetheless, let’s breakdown what we saw and give our impressions of the game.
Trevor, you start, what are your initial reactions to the game Saturday against MSU?
Trevor McCue: My first reaction, is to not overreact. Let’s just say it though, that was embarrassing. It’s been a frustrating decade for Michigan fans, but that was one of the more frustrating games I’ve watched in a while. Just have to remember, as frustrating as it may have been for fans, the coaches and players are feeling it much worse today. There was a lot of raw emotion on the sideline at the end of the game, and I have no doubt Michigan will find a way to utilize it, improve, and play inspired football against Indiana.
Derrick Ryan: I tend to agree with you Trev, all you have to do is read Twitter or any Social Media and you will see plenty of overreaction. The fact is, many people saw this as a 2-4 loss team before the season and early on in the season. Somehow after opening with 4 wins, that went out the window and people expected Michigan to go straight to National Champ contender with this young team, even while critiquing and complaining about everything from O-Line to QB play to play calling. We knew defense would keep us in games this year while the offense tried to improve, but if that offense cannot improve, 2-4 losses is probably still the outlook. I suggest fans just relax, enjoy watching Michigan play football, and expect mistakes to continue. Hopefully they can start to minimize those but this is a new team, with scheme changes on offense, a new QB and many moving parts.
It wasn’t all bad on Saturday though. The defense seemed to keep us in the game once again and again gave up no points in the second half, this is kind of good right?
Trevor McCue: Don Brown is a genius, but possibly his best strength as a coach is his ability to adjust at halftime. For the third time in 5 games, Michigan did not allow any points in the second half. They’ve given up only 14 points all season, and none in the 4th quarter. Michigan State did some very smart things early on pre-snap that impacted Michigan’s ability to defend the run. On multiple plays, they would motion in the backfield to find the player Devin Bush was assigned to. Then, that player would motion to an outside receiver position taking Bush out of the box, and allowing the Spartans to not only get good runs from the backfield, but it gave Lewerke some room to improvise.
Derrick Ryan: Again, agree. It’s a shame the offense isn’t more efficient. This team would then be in much better shape, obviously. State got their 14 points on a few big plays that moved the ball down field and got them in scoring position. One of these was assisted by a turnover on their side of the field, a very big turnover, that shifted momentum and MSU capitalized. That is a tough spot to put the defense in, but after the two TDs they responded and gave up no more points. The second half was all Michigan D with a sputtering Michigan Offense.
Were there things you thought went not so OK on Defense? I saw a few things that could have gone better.
Trevor McCue: It was really a tale of two halves for Captain Mike McCray. With Bush responsible now, as mentioned above, on a man running a route, McCray found himself out of position or with his back turned on multiple plays, especially the Spartans first touchdown drive. In the second half, Michigan went with a 4-man front including Bryan Mone more often. Michigan was daring the Spartans to throw the ball, and the Wolverine secondary once again played a great game. Coach Zordich and Smith deserve a lot of credit for what they’ve done with this group this season. With Mone on the field, Maurice Hurst had himself a ball game, and the two eliminated any run opportunities up the middle. The extra lineman, and a blitzing LB, also gave Rashan Gary a lot more 1 on 1 matchups, and he played possibly his best game as a Wolverine. The Spartans didn’t score again, and wouldn’t see a first down until late in the 4th quarter. In a lot of ways this game mirrored the Purdue game, but unfortunately the offense was unable to take advantage of the strong defensive performance, and there was no comeback like in West Lafayette.
Derrick Ryan: I saw similar things as your first point. At one point, I saw confusion up front with the defense and McCray ended up 1 on 1 outside against a WR split wide. This is a mismatch and MSU completed that pass I believe. I also saw CB Brandon Watson blow coverage on a couple of occassions but overall the secondary played well. Very well I might add. Vert Hill will be a star. I recall a few pass breakups by Hill and one where he came off his own assignment while reading the pass, jumped the route and almost took the ball away from a WR he wasn’t even covering. It did seem that the DLine struggled to get through the line consistently and some of that was due to uncalled holding penalties that I saw, as MSU linemen had arms wrapped on dudes and arms extended clutching jerseys at times as the D-Lineman tried to get away. Lewerke had some success making plays with his legs as a result.
How about on offense, what are your thoughts on the QB play?
Trevor McCue: We wondered which John O’Korn we would see against the Spartans, and with the rain falling it started to feel a lot like last year’s game against Indiana. His legs give Michigan the chance to extend plays, or create plays out of nothing, but too often O’Korn leaves the pocket early, or doesn’t make the next read. He also tends to become a runner, not looking downfield, and not holding the ball ready to pass. One of his three interceptions was a forced throw while outside the pocket. He tried moving the ball to his throwing hand, never got his hands on the laces, and by the time he threw the ball, it was a duck into triple coverage. Once again, throws down the sideline were an issue for the Wolverines. Peoples-Jones had his man beat at one point, and O’Korn’s throw took him out-of-bounds. This has been an issue all season, and has to be addressed. Every sideline throw seems to be thrown too far outside, or with too much loft allowing the defender to catch up and make a play.
Derrick Ryan: I thought O’Korn did a nice job in some areas but also struggled in others. He seemed to get happy feet in the pocket and would dance around trying to do something. Sometimes this worked and he found a gap to run through for decent gains in critical situations. Sometimes this ended badly in a sack. Secondly, he tried to force the ball several times, trying to make plays that were either very difficult or they were not there at all. These unfortunately became picks, 3 times. JOK also had some nice throws, and some nice throws that were dropped, one of these was HUGE as McDoom dropped one on the final drive that would have given them likely two more plays to get into the endzone from very close to, if not inside the redzone. O’Korn had a TD pass called back on a bonehead holding call on the RB as well. I would like to see him get at least one more shot without the monsoon conditions to see how he fairs. We will revisit after Indiana but there are bigger issues on offense than the QB.
The running game was up and down, but we seemed to be able to move the ball most consistently on the ground. What gives here?
Trevor McCue: I thought Karan Higdon had himself a ball game, and has separated himself from the rest of the running back group. On only 12 carries, he was able to get a game high 65 yards. A 5.4 average in that weather is a pretty good performance. I’d like to see him get a chance to be the man in the backfield. This offense is having such a hard time clicking, and finding a flow, because there seems to be 3-5 players rotating out on every play. We see the same rotations happening at receiver, and I think the same could be said for Grant Perry, Donovan Peoples-Jones, and Kekoa Crawford. Let your best receivers play for extended periods of time. This a clear difference between the defense and the offense right now.
Derrick Ryan: Karan for sure was the hot hand and I couldn’t figure out, and still can’t figure out why they didn’t stick with him more. I can see getting Evans in there, but not to try to pound it up the middle. His skill set is best used catching passes and or getting to the edges where he can use his speed. He is not a power back, so running him up the gut where a team is loading the box, seems counter-intuitive. Isaac’s fumble was such a game changer, it’s no surprise that he was utilized much less after that, plus the fact that he was not so effective against Purdue either. Going forward, I’d like to see each back get this rotation for a series or two, or maybe each get a full series. Based on those performances, go with who did best until they aren’t effective anymore, or need a breather. Let them establish a rhythm! I see why they need to do it at WR more, with personnel needs. Crawford is one of the better blocking WRs on the team so he’s needed out there for that at times and if he’s only used for that, teams will know a run is coming when he’s on the field. Aside from that, TEs are being rotated in either for pass option or to help block, so I get that too. But it’s gotta be time to get Collins and Martin some looks. Especially on clear cut passing downs. There have been way too many big drops, and we need to see what the young guys can do.
What is the biggest issue on offense in your opinion?
Trevor McCue: The offensive line is still the story. I can harp on the throws, or receivers not getting open, running back rotations, etc., but until the offensive line can block consistently none of that matters. The line once again had its struggles, and after seeing some improvement in recent weeks, Ulizio did not start this game well. It was clear, a switch needed to be made.
Ulizio has to come out of this game.
Ulizio was indeed pulled from the game, and five minutes later on the first snap with Juwann Bushell-Beatty in the game, he gave up a sack.
JBB comes in, gives up the sack. RT is a turnstile for Michigan right now. https://t.co/Q28JqDATAw
Michigan hasn’t seemed to find their best five on the line. Jon Runyan saw 30 snaps in the previous game against Purdue, but was not called upon when Ulizio was benched. It’s fair to assume there will be some competition in practice this week, and don’t be surprised to see a new formation against Indiana. That could mean moving Ben Bredeson to right tackle, and playing Runyan or even Cesar Ruiz at LG. Either way, I expect some changes.
Derrick Ryan: I’m torn between play calling and offensive line play. I’d lean towards O-Line play, gun to my head, have to chose one, because no matter what play is called, if we don’t protect, it’s hard to find success. I like your suggestion to get Ruiz to LG and move Bredeson to RT. Bredeson was challenging for the starting LT spot last year, with Newsome before Newsome got hurt and I believe he ended up at LG instead, which is where he is today. He was recruited as a Tackle and has the length and size to play there. Maybe by getting him to the RT spot, it wold balance the line a bit, while letting Ruiz show what he can do at LG as he gets acclimated to the college game. Maybe Bredeson at RT would also give Onwenu some help inside, since that side of the line would not be collapsing as hard as it is thus far. There are several other young players who seem to have the body types to be able to step in and hold their own (James Hudson, Steve Spanellis, Chuck Filiaga, etc.), but perhaps they aren’t ready technique wise. Hard to imagine they’d be much worse than what’s been out there at RT so far. We have to find the best 5 and let them build from there.
Any last minute comments you’d like to add?
Trevor McCue: This is not a program ending loss, and those calling for Harbaugh to fired need to step back. As a fan base, we can’t fall into the trap being set by the Pete Finebaum’s of the college football world. Jim Harbaugh is the best coach for Michigan, that’s it. As I said in the beginning, no fan is taking this loss harder than him, his staff, or his players. Harbaugh cares about winning, and it motivates every decision he makes. There are no good losses in college football, but a loss like this will force everyone at Michigan to reevaluate. They are going to do everything they can to fix this. The good news is, all goals are still in tact. They need to find their groove next week against Indiana, but you can’t avoid the fact that a win against Penn State in two weeks puts them right back on track. I still have faith in this team, and this program. Always, Go Blue!
Derrick Ryan: Thanks Trevor. This is not a season ending loss, let alone a program ending loss. What we have here is a young team with an outstanding defense and defensive staff, and an offense that is struggling to find an identity, among other things. Defense can carry a team a long way. It’s had us in every game so far, and that part will not change. We will be in every single game for the rest of the year and all we need is for the offense to find any sort of rhythm and we should win. I like Michigan’s chances in any game they score 21-28 or more points in, as I don’t think many teams will put up more than that against the Wolverine defense. Most times, just 17 or so will do. The future is bright, some people can’t see it because they get caught up being near-sighted. In the bigger picture, this is a young team with one of the best Head Coaches in the game. This may not be the season they win it all, but they are still building something special.
So I’m going to kick back, relax and enjoy the season while supporting the team, win, lose or tie. Go Blue!