Monday, September 20, 2010

UMass: Where owls

At some point during Michigan's win against UMass on Saturday, I stopped being terrified. I knew how the game was going to end. I watched it for four years while I attended Michigan, the last four of the Lloyd Carr era. Eventually, UMass was going to make it close, Michigan would curl up in the fetal position (read: prevent shell), and Michigan would pull it out in a terrifyingly pedestrian fashion. When Denard Robinson lined up under center in the I-formation on third and one with five minutes left in a two possession game, everyone in the stadium knew what was going to happen, including a UMass linebacker who blew into the backfield untouched and tackled Vincent Smith for a three yard loss. Somewhere, Lloyd Carr was sitting in a plush leather chair and smiling.

But Michigan's offense wasn't the problem. They scored 42 points, racked up 525 yards, only turned the ball over once, and generally looked like the behemouth we've all come to expect despite not debuting any new formations or plays. Michigan--or maybe just Denard Robinson again--did what they were supposed to do despite Rich Rodriguez's recent urge to run half back dives at the end of games. Obviously, the bigger concern of the game was Greg Robinson's refusal to do, well, anything. Among the biggest, obvious complaints:
  • Never blitzing a corner on Totally Surprising Quarterback Rollouts that were gashing the defense
  • Never playing man coverage
  • Never playing a 4-3 defense
  • Think. Adapt. Think
But let's handle these one by one. Never blitzing a corner on Totally Surprising Quarterback Rollouts that were gashing the defense. It took Michigan until UConn's last offensive series to blitz a cornerback on the one play that UMass ran repeatedly to astounding effect. Over and over again, UMass quarterback Kyle Havens rolled out of the pocket and hit any one of various free receivers downfield that were scampering through the Wolverines' porous zones. He completed 22 of 29 passes and produced a better performance on Saturday than he did the previous two weeks against William and Mary and Holy Cross. This defense is just as awful as we thought it was. The only hope (the only hope) is that Robinson was told this week not to show any new formations or fronts. That seems unlikely. Eventually, they blitzed JT Floyd off the edge and it ended in a broken play that went UMass' way, which, fine, that'll happen. But Robinson's complete and utter inability to make adjustments is terrifying. This was the worst called defensive game I've ever watched.

Then again, Michigan's defense might not be so anemic if they could play man coverage. Again, I think it took until UMass' last offensive series for the Michigan defense to show man coverage. UMass receivers were devouring Michigan's zones. I understand that the team has little to no depth in the secondary and putting true freshmen like Cullen Christian out there is a harrowing thought, but was anyone else watching this game?

Of course, the passing game wasn't the only thing that Michigan couldn't defend. They were being shredded on the ground too to the tune of 217 yards and 4.4 YPC. Part of this was because of Robinson's insistence on playing a three-man defensive line that was repeatedly getting pushed back. I understand that the coaches are upset with Will Campbell's conditioning. I get that. But to never show a 4-3 front when it's obvious to everyone watching that the defensive line is a) being put on skates or b) slanting away from the play because they need to get into the backfield somehow, well that's just willful ignorance and stubbornness on behalf of the coaches. Campbell needed to be on the field. He has the size to contend with UMass' offensive line, something that the defensive front desperately needed.

Finally, THINK DUDE. Do something. Please. Robinson seemed much too content sitting back and watching as UMass trounced our piecemeal defense. He didn't show anything new. He didn't seem overly concerned with the beating, either. We all assumed that the defense was going to be bad, and when they seemed to show improvement in the first two games, Michigan fans had every right to be excited. The problem is, we all assumed the problems on defense would stem from personnel, not necessarily awful play calling, an utter lack of adjustments, and frankly, the scheme. It's too early to bury this defense yet, but the grave has been dug.

But a win is a win, and after the last two years, we've all learned to appreciate the good, even when it comes with the most ominous rain clouds. Michigan should have a much easier opponent next week against Bowling Green, but you never know anymore. The team is going to put this game behind them. I suggest you do the same. It'll help you sleep easier. But not much.


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