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Spring Practice Recap
Obviously another disappointing loss. This is a game we should have won, pretty much dominating from start to finish. Unfortunately, the offense couldn't score, despite accumulating over 400 yards.
While everyone continues to jump on the bandwagon and criticize Fred Jackson, I thought that the offense generally looked much better than it had in recent games. There was a clear attempt to account for the attacking style defense of Alabama - keeping the TE's in to block (which explains why they were absent in pass catching but the WR's had better stats), the middle screen, etc. In many situations, Jackson did all he could - he got a back or receiver running free in the secondary, but the players could not finish the plays and score (Clarence Williams missed at least two opportunities in a wide open field). In many ways, this shows that our offensive talent/experience is not as good as it needs to be to win consistently. The OL is not as good as it needs to be, especially at tackle. We desperately need a RB that can make someone miss and then run away from defenders. That said, the offensive execution in the red-zone needs to make tremendous improvements, and that does reflect on the coaching staff. On the other hand, to the fans that are complaining that we got too conservative inside the red-zone, remember that the interception returned for a TD occurred on second down passing play from the 12 yard line. If the play calling had remained conservative, even if we had only kicked a FG, we probably would have won the game...
The defense looked great (though Alabama is pretty sad offensively). They gave up the one big play at the end of the game, but that was a desperation situation; they were forced to gamble and put 8 or 9 men at the line, which does result in occasional big plays. If the interception for a TD hadn't occurred and we had continued our "standard" defensive scheme, I don't think Alabama would have scored at all on offense (remember the FG was due to the -2 yard punt).
Were we outcoached in the Alabama game? I don't think so, though I know many will disagree. Michigan executed, in nearly every phase of the game (OK, not the kicking game), better than Alabama. Would anyone take Alabama's offensive coaches over ours? I definitely wouldn't. In general I feel that Michigan's coaches put the players where they needed to be in order to win the game. Alabama's players made two big plays to put the ball in the end-zone. Michigan made only one, in a meaningless situation, despite 6 or 7 opportunities. That was the difference in the game.
I have received at least 20 e-mails suggesting that our coaching staff is terrible because they are wasting all of this talent we have accumulated with our great recruiting classes. I have said this about 20 times in the last year, but it is worth repeating. We clearly do not have the offensive talent necessary to win consistently. We do on defense, but because of great performances, few notice how young our defense really is. This is a reflection of two things.
1. Recruiting class rankings are grossly inaccurate.
2. The majority of the highly rated players from those "great" classes a few years ago are no longer with the team. What good does it do to recruit great talent if the players never contribute? The coaching staff has revamped its recruiting strategy to try and get solid citizens (clearly not easy to judge, since we had offered Ray Jackson a scholarship).
One of the reasons, therefore, that we don't dominate, is that we don't have all the great players from those classes. The only "blue-chippers" (i.e., top 10 at their position in high school) who have contributed are Will Carr (#1 rated DT in high-school) and Damon Denson (#6 DL, 2nd team USA Today OL). That is a telling fact.
Because of departures and/or players who are not as good as everyone thought, we have a serious lack of impact players on offense. The coaching staff knows this as well as anyone. All we can hope for at this point is that experience will lead to an improvement (it usually does - senior dominated teams are the ones that win), and that the coaches will recruit players that will have the talent to really make a difference.
If you look at it, the only team we lost to that has significantly less talent is Purdue (that was inexcusable, in my mind). PSU and Alabama were fairly even matchups. NW may not have more overall talent, but they have great players at the skill positions (Autry and Bates) and a senior QB. Colorado and OSU probably have more overall talent, but somehow we managed to beat those teams (could we have outcoached them? Hmmm...).
So what does this all mean? I'll summarize it as follows:
1. We should have beat Purdue.
2. We could have beat PSU, NW, and Alabama.
3. We should have lost to OSU and Colorado.
Inconsistent, isn't it? Perhaps the sign of a young team...or one with not quite enough talent but good coaches...or one with great talent and bad coaches. I'll leave it to you to make up your mind.
Does this mean I'm satsified with an 8-4 season? Definitely not. I want to win every game, but perhaps we should take a step back and realize that we all had our expectations raised (too high) because we won at Colorado. The offensive talent is just not there right now. The coaches must address this, but we will have no way to judge their success in the short-term.
By the way, please don't e-mail me to complain about the above...I know many will disagree, but I don't have the time right now to argue about it (as some of you may have noticed, I'm getting behind in answering e-mail), unless you don't want any recruiting updates for the next two months. I'll be focusing on recruiting and being made manic/depressive by our basketball team's performance.
Michigan has added three players to its roster of All-Americans. The AP team was named today, and Jarrett Irons and Charles Woodson were named to the first team, while William Carr was named to the second team.
The Detroit News is reporting that Scott Dreisbach will start in the Outback Bowl vs. Alabama. The team is beginning its bowl preparations. Tickets are available - more info can be obtained at The University of Michigan Athletics Site.
Michigan has been invited to play in the Outback Bowl vs. Alabama on New Year's Day. The game will be televised at 11 am on ESPN (gonna have to shake off the after-effects of New Year's Eve a little early to watch this one.) Michigan and Alabama had a great game a few years ago in the same game (then called the Hall of Fame Bowl), when John Kolesar made a great TD catch to win the game. Could be a low scoring affair as both teams have dominating defenses and rely on the running game to move the ball.
Local papers are reporting that Vanderbilt defensive coordinator Woody Widenhofer is a prime candidate for the defensive coordinator position. Widenhofer previously coached with the Detroit Lions and apparently has a long-standing friendship with Lloyd Carr. Vanderbilt has had an outstanding defense the last couple of years, holding highly ranked teams such as Tennessee, Florida, and ND to low point totals.
Greg Mattison has left Michigan to take the defensive coordinator job at Notre Dame. Mattison is good friends with new ND coach Bob Davie, which probably played a key role in his decision. Nevertheless, this is a surprising move for a coach that is likely to be a prime candidate for a head coaching position within a year or two (hope he doesn't buy a house in South Bend). Mattison did an excellent job at Michigan, but his departure for an equivalent position at a competing school seems disloyal and comes at the worst possible time - during peak recruiting season and bowl preparation.
Michigan's football bust was last night. The awards:
- Best linebacker: Jarrett Irons
- Spirit award: Damon Denson
- Senior scholar: Brian Griese
In addition to the Big Ten honors below, Michigan has placed two players on All-American teams. Jarrett Irons was named to the Walter Camp All-American first team at linebacker, and Charles Woodson was named to the sportswriters first team at defensive back.
Michigan has placed six players on the All-Big ten first team. On offense, Rod Payne and Jerame Tuman were named to both the coaches and media first team, while Damon Denson made the coaches first team and the media second team. Defensively, Charles Woodson, Will Carr, and Jarrett Irons all made both first teams. David Bowens made the media second team.
It's looking like Michigan has a good shot at playing in the Outback Bowl on New Years' Day. Iowa is lobbying hard, however, on the merits of a better conference record; the overall records, however, are the same, and Michigan may win out due to more national appeal and big wins over Colorado and OSU. It probably won't be decided until after the SEC and Big 12 play their conference championship games.
An admittedly unexpected win over the Buckeyes has made my week. All of us fans had questions about this team's ability to win against OSU, but Michigan clearly wanted this game more than the Buckeyes. It certainly salvages the season - the difference between 8-3 and 7-4 seems huge, as does a 5-3 vs. 4-4 record in the Big 10. Not that anybody is satisfied with an 8-3 record, but it's better than what I expected after the horrible performances of the prior 2 weeks.
Obviously, this game has been analyzed to death. A few things that I haven't heard mentioned elsewhere:
The Buckeyes constantly blitz their safeties, as happened on the TD pass to Streets. What happened to that 3-step drop and throw to one of the two tight ends streaking down the middle of the field (like the first TD to Tuman vs. MSU)? It seems like that play would be enormously successful against those plays where the defense blitzes one or both safeties. That play has created huge TD's for Michigan against attacking defenses in the past; I would love to see it used more, at least until someone actually stops it.
OSU seemed to blitz mainly from the outside. I love the trap plays up the middle against these blitzes - there were huge holes, especially in the second half. However, I kept wishing we had a big, fast back (for example, Tyrone Wheatley) on those plays - several could have gone for TD's once the back got past the line of scrimmage. Chris Howard is an outstanding runner between the tackles, but needs to be a step faster to hit those holes clean so that the DL can't slow him down; Clarence Williams hit the holes, but was brought down several times on ankle tackles that may have prevented a long TD run.
Orlando Pace is an impressive player, but did not play a major role in this game. He did not dominate Glen Steele like he has other DE's in the Big 10. While Steele didn't sack the QB (he almost did on one play, but James Hall got there first), he did an admirable job of holding his own against Pace for the most part. Also, the OSU staff seemed to use Pace more as a decoy than as the focus of the offense; I think this loss pretty much ended whatever hopes he may have had for the Heisman Trophy.
All year long, everybody raved about how well OSU's offense had played despite the loss of their skill players. However, for the last several weeks, OSU has struggled offensively, but managed enough to win their games. Against an excellent defense, the losses finally caught up with the Buckeyes. The Michigan DL was too good to be completely dominated by the oustanding OSU OL, and they couldn't hide the lack of skill position experience/talent behind Orlando Pace and company.
Despite the great win, we all know there are still issues to be addressed. I personally am not convinced that they are any different than they were after PSU and Purdue. The offense needs to be brought into the 1990's. A few years ago, under Gary Moeller, it looked as if we had made strides in that direction (though the defense was lacking), but we have regressed. The offense is too predictable. I agree that it is important to be able to run the ball, but when you don't have the horses, the passing game must be used to open up the running game. Insisting on running against 8 and 9 man fronts will spell 3 or 4 losses a season for the forseeable future.
The special teams obviously played much better, but how long has it been since we've actually made a play to win a game on special teams (besides FG kicking)? The kick coverage has improved over the last couple of years, and there were no major gaffes this week, but I'd love to see us make a critical play once or twice a season...it's an area of the game that frequently makes a huge difference, especially against teams with equal or better talent.
Lloyd Carr obviously has what it takes to win the big games. Maybe we should go independent and schedule the top 10 teams in the country every year :) Seriously, however, I think that despite the youth at the skill positions and the lack of a consistently productive offense, in retrospect, we could have been 10-1 or even 11-0 this year. While I've always hated saying "wait 'til next year", this team should only get better. We need to make a big step in the bowl game, probably against a nationally recognized team - perhaps Tennessee or Alabama. Hopefully, the extra month of practice will allow our offense to make some strides.
Anyone else wondering if we now have a QB controversy? Brian Griese looked much more confident than Dreisbach, although the success running the ball and the halftime adjustments certainly contributed. It will be interesting to see how it plays out, though my guess is that Dreisbach will remain the starter.
Chuck Winters is out for the OSU game after he allegedly beat his ex-stepfather into a coma last week. Winters' brother apparently told him that their ex-stepfather had hit their mother, leading to the assault. The victim is in critical but stable condition after surgery to drain intracranial bleeding. He has not regained consciousness. Charges have not yet been filed (apparently the victim's testimony will be crucial), and thus the coaching staff was not made aware of the situation until Sunday afternoon. As there has been no official word from the police, the athletic department has not made any final decisions pending the police and their own investigation. Winters apparently has not been formally suspended, but will not play until the situation has been clarified.
Well, another disappointing performance on Saturday. It seems as if the team, particularly the offense and special teams, has regressed after taking some strides forward earlier in the season. The complete collapse of the special teams is beyond my comprehension, but at least this part of the game reflects very poorly on the coaching staff (more on this below).
The offense, after a brief surge against Minnesota and MSU, has completely disappeared, making numerous mistakes. Scott Dreisbach took the blame for the loss, and certainly he contributed, but I'd like to throw a couple of things out there. First, the offensive line play has been less than stellar. Dreisbach has been under frequent pressure the last two weeks. As a fairly inexperienced QB, he tends to make bad decisions when under pressure, but plays well if given time to throw. Second, the play calling has not helped Dreisbach in the least. I noted that Penn State, who has had a struggling QB (a senior, though), changed their game plan to give him confidence - short throws to the running backs on FIRST DOWN to loosen up the defense a bit, and in general not making the QB throw difficult deep patterns which take a long time to develop. I firmly believe that we have more talent on offense than PSU (except for Curtis Enis), but their game plan was superior, even though their offense was not overly productive. There are only two routes that the WR's run - deep or curls. I recall one slant the whole game, a beautiful throw to Streets for a first down. Why not use those routes more if Dreisbach can throw them (as he has shown he can)? Also, the one receiver routes are a waste of time. It seems like over 90% of the time, these routes result in Dreisbach throwing the ball away or getting sacked - he has no options or outlets whatsoever. Anyways, it's time to change the game plan. Establishing the run at all costs is obviously a failed strategy - even with 3 TE's, we just don't have the personnel to pull it off. It falls upon the coaching staff to change the game plan to utilize the team's strengths, which right now is the receiving of the TE's and the RB's.
The defense played valiantly, but were put in bad situation after bad situation by the ineptitude of the offense and special teams. No complaints except for the lack of a consistent pass rush. Seems like we've gone away from mixing our blitzes; I can't recall many safety or short-side CB blitzes in the last few games. The LB blitzes are picked up routinely, at least they were until the second half when Jarrett Irons picked up the cadence and shot through untouched on about half of the plays.
The special teams...well, what can I say? Let me say that I think the LB play has been generally outstanding, and Jim Hermann should be commended on this. However, it is clear that he is not the answer on special teams. The PSU coaches picked up on a weakness in the blocking scheme and exploited it again...and again...and again. After the first time when they nearly blocked a punt, and at least after the second time when they deflected a punt, an adjustment should have been made.
While I have been a staunch defender of the coaching staff, now I'm really starting to wonder. Offensively, they are clearly too set in their ways. I was encouraged a few weeks ago, but now I'm convinced that the staff does not have the capability of adjusting their system to fit the personnel. While it is possible that they can recruit to their strengths, this will take at least 2-3 years to fully implement, and I don't think anyone is willing to wait through 3 more seasons with 4 or 5 losses. Time to make a change on offense - they have two games (OSU and yet another second-tier bowl game) to either prove that they have the vision to change the offense, or they must get a new coordinator who does. Also, there needs to be some reassignment of at least some of the coaching duties: a new special teams coach would be a great start. The OL may be another position where a change would be helpful, although this is a difficult position for laymen such as myself to assess; thus, I'm not sure if the lack of consistently good play has been due to lack of talent, intensity, coaching, or some combination of the three.
There are a couple of things that give me hope for the future. It is clear that Lloyd Carr will remain as head coach, and while he may not be hailed as a coaching "genius" like Neuheisel at Colorado, he does have attributes which make a good head coach. Think about this: who do you think has a better football mind, and who has more respect from the players: John Cooper or Lloyd Carr? Before this year, I guarantee that most people would say Carr. OSU fans have wanted Cooper out for years, but now he's suddenly being deified. In fact, what Cooper can do is hire good assistants and recruit. Now that he's finally got a great offensive mind in the fold, they have become an outstanding team (they may lose several coaches this year - it will be interesting to see what happens). As for Carr, the recruiting analysts I've read have said that he is, with Barry Alvarez, the best recruiting "closer" among head coaches in the Big 10 (assistants really do the job of getting the prospects into the fold, but the head coach makes the difference among those who are unsure). What Carr needs to do is sit down and honestly evaluate the performance of his assistants. Remember that he has shown that he is willing to make a change, as he did with the QB coach last year; let's hope he continues to make the right choices (and despite what I and every other fan say or believe, he knows better than we do). If he does, we'll head back in the right direction. By the way, I don't think Cam Cameron will be back at Michigan as offensive coordinator; I suspect he won't come back to the college ranks unless it's as a head coach. I'm not sure that he's the answer, but then again, I really don't know who is.
Kind of a strange game on Saturday. Both teams made some mistakes - Michigan was penalized for about 100 yards, but managed to avoid turning the ball over; MSU didn't, which was probably the difference in the game. This is the first time in quite a while that Michigan really went for the kill - it was great to see them throw the ball into the endzone after both turnovers at the end of the half, rather than sitting on the ball and settling for the field goal.
The offense continues to make tremendous strides forward. They were able to be balanced and productive, passing and running for over 200 yards. Scott Dreisbach is gaining in confidence every week. Give credit to Fred Jackson, who was much maligned early in the year; the young players have developed very well and the offense is now diverse and difficult to predict. The formation changes and varying play calls kept the MSU defense off-balance. The ball is being spread around beautifully - the tight ends are almost impossible to defense. While it would be nice to see a bit more from the WR's, it hasn't really been an issue since other receivers have been so open.
The defense played fairly well, making the big plays (4 interceptions - they finally managed to catch the ball), although they did give up a fair amount of yardage through the air. The vaunted MSU running attack was pretty much shut down, though they were forced to throw when they got behind. The defensive line has not managed to consistently pressure the QB for the last few games, although when they did get to Schultz, they forced the bad throw, leading directly to two interceptions.
I'm not sure if this is was part of the game plan, but the defense forced Schultz to throw deep frequently. They generally took away the underneath routes and made him make difficult downfield throws. Last week, I heard from the MSU side that Schultz is very accurate on short and intermediate routes, but doesn't throw deep nearly as well. On the other hand, defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said that they play as if every QB throws deep well, since they don't want to give up the big play.
Is it just me, or is David Bowens getting held on about half the plays where he rushes the QB? This has been going on for weeks; he is out and out tackled several times each game, but it is almost never called.
Michigan looks to be in good health for the game vs. the Spartans. OG Zach Adami, who was injured against Minnesota, should play. Thus far, there are no significant defensive injuries.
The Minnesota game was quite a turnaround. Granted, it was against Minnesota, but the struggles previously were against another weak team in Indiana, so it's a step forward. A few notes:
- The offense broke out with the big play, largely due to the accuracy of Dreisbach throwing the ball downfield. Nice to see him back on target.
- The offense was still not very diverse against Minnesota, but it didn't need to be. Once again, I got the sense that the offensive staff held back some plays. The majority of the passing plays, for example, were play-action bootlegs to the right, with different receiver options at different times (two WR's deep, one TE underneath and one deep, and various other combinations). These routes are difficult to defend, especially if the offense is running the ball well. However, there was not much in the way of pocket passing, though I think that Dreisbach can throw well from the pocket; it will be interesting to see if there is more variety in the play calling against MSU.
- The running game was better - obviously, any time you can get some big plays, you're happy. I wouldn't mind seeing how Chris Howard does with about 20 carries a game, but he didn't need that many against Minnesota.
- The long TD pass at the end of the game was definitely out of character for Carr. In the past, he's had his QB take a knee deep in enemy territory at the end of the game, but those games were generally closer and the starters were still playing. I think it would have been better to throw an intermediate route, but it is hard to tell the backups not to try and get the most out of their time, especially since they have not had many opportunities to play this year. I'm pretty sure that Brian Griese and Marcus Knight (the true freshman WR who caught the TD) are happy and will practice very well this week.
- Although the defense only gave up 10 points, I was a bit surprised at the way they let Minnesota march up and down the field (Lloyd Carr didn't look happy about it at halftime either). Although our propensity for the big play limited our time of possession somewhat, Minnesota was able to throw effectively and kept the ball for 5 or 6 minutes more than Michigan.
- I think that Minnesota had some of their success because Michigan didn't seem to blitz much; I can't remember Jarrett Irons blitzing at all. This frequently gave their QB enough time to throw the shorter routes. Of course, the defense did get burned by blitzing on the play that set up Minnesota's TD; perhaps the "D" backed off after that because they knew that they could get to the QB on occasion (enough to halt several drives) without blitzing. A lack of pressure from the DL could be a disaster against a good team like MSU - their QB is very accurate when given time and will pick us apart if we don't pressure him, and it's hard to blitz against a balanced offense that can make the big play.
- I continue to be amazed by the athleticism and speed of David Bowens. He has already tied the single-season sack record for a Michigan player (11) and is constantly chasing (and catching) plays, even when they run away from him. On several occasions this year, he has run down a play from behind and forced a fumble from a surprised opposing ball carrier - he did it again versus Minnesota, though we didn't manage to recover the ball.
- The defensive players still can't catch. If they could, we would have had 5 interceptions against the Gophers, and the game would have been REALLY ugly. Dropped interceptions could be crucial turning points in games against tougher opponents.
After a sluggish performance against Indiana (luckily I wasn't around to see it live), Michigan looks to be in much better health for the Minnesota game. Jarrett Irons is reportedly back at full strength, and the entire starting defensive unit should play. However, backup SS and special teams stalwart Steve King will miss Saturday's game, and backup OG John Partchenko is questionable.
The one comment I will make about the game Saturday is that the play calling was much less conservative. Unfortunately, Scott Dreisbach didn't play well, perhaps due to his shoulder injury; he could have set records for passing yardage if he had been at all accurate. He seems to have recovered, but we'll have to see how he throws against Minnesota. Then again, inconsistency is one of the perils of having a young QB - he's still got less than a full season under his belt. It seems to be two steps forward, one back.
Michigan's defense has been depleted by injury, especially the linebacking corps. Several players did not practice last week, including Jarrett Irons, who has turf toe and ankle problems; Sam Sword, who has a foot injury which was casted; Rob Swett, who continues to have a nagging ankle injury; Will Carr, who hurt his ankle in practice; and Glen Steele, whose foot is also in a cast (not to mention his bad back). All are considered questionable or doubtful for the Indiana game, although it won't be clear who can play until later this week.
Lloyd Carr mentioned that a couple of true freshman are stepping it up in practice and will get significant playing time this week. John Anes, who looked good against UCLA (albeit in the 4th quarter of a blowout), will get some carries against Indiana to see if a big back can improve the running game (and hold on to the ball - both Michigan TB's have had fumble problems this year). Tommy Hendricks has recovered from a thigh bruise and is expected to be Michigan's nickel back against Indiana. He has looked very impressive in practice (Will Carr called him a "phenom"), and should continue to push the starting safeties for playing time.
Alright, Michigan fans, calm down a bit. It's ridiculous that so many people are calling for Carr's head after one loss, no matter how disappointing it was to blow a 4th quarter lead. Last week, and after Colorado, the coaching was awesome. Now, it's horrible. Judge the performance at the end of the season, not after one loss, and remember what you were expecting at the start of the year (most people were predicting between 7-4 and 9-2, if you'll recall). Anyways, I'm not going to rehash the comments that have been made elsewhere, but I will make a couple of observations.
First of all, for those who are questioning the 4th quarter play-calling, I agree that it was very conservative - and should have been changed when they realized that Northwestern was stacking the line. However, imagine this scenario. Dreisbach drops back to throw on first down, and throws an incompletion. They then run once, are in third and long, pass the ball, and fail to get the first down. How many fans would complain about not running the ball to run out the clock? Knowing Michigan fans, everyone would say "How could you not run the ball when you know you've got a great defense"?
While the play-calling wasn't ideal, the blame for this loss cannot be placed entirely on the coaches. The players had at least 10 chances to put the game away; if they had made ONE of these plays, the game was over. A few examples: not downing the punt at the one yard line; not holding on the long kickoff return by Shaw; not giving up the 4th and 9; not making the sack on Schnur on the play prior to the 4th and 9 (they let him get away) to set up a 4th and 14 or 15; not fumbling; and many more. Northwestern got a couple of breaks (like the blocked FG somehow going through the uprights), and made the plays they needed to win. We didn't. It's that simple.
The other thing to note, for those of you calling for Fred Jackson to be fired, is that the offense has made tremendous strides, especially in the passing game. Yes, Stan Parrish has helped, but since none of us sit in on practice, it's ridiculous to say that he's the only reason this has happened. Wait and see - we all knew there would be offensive struggles, especially during the first 6 or 7 games. If Michigan goes 10-1 or 9-2 in the regular season, will we all still want the coaches fired?
Lastly, stop whining...you all sound like Notre Dame fans. Support the team that is out there - it's young, and will get better. I've heard several comments that "Michigan gets whatever players they want, and has a top recruiting class every year, and should never lose more than one game". That's absolutely not true. Note that it's only been two years since Michigan has revamped it's recruiting strategy. There are only a few contributors from the recruiting classes of 4 and 5 years ago - which were highly rated, but had many defections. Those are the classes that dictate how a team does. The best players on this team, outside of Payne, Irons, and Carr, are all true or redshirt sophomores (Woodson, Bowens, Taylor, Williams, Dreisbach, Streets, Tuman, etc.). Most of these players will be around for two more years, and that's when this team should be at it's best.