Monday, October 18, 2010

Iowa: Where there's no quarterback controversy

Despite what are sure to be countless columns that will be written this week about a quarterback controversy, Denard Robinson is firmly your starter. Tate Forcier entered the game after the Denard injury and did an admiral job bringing Michigan back. But it wasn't so much Forcier's doing as a schematic change that jump started the Wolverine offense.

I've given Rich Rodriguez a lot of praise around these parts for the way he's manipulated defenses this year. But Saturday's game was the second in a row in which Rodriguez looked far too stubborn concerning his play calling and schemes. Michigan saw a lot of success early in the year with Denard running roughshod over defenses, finding holes where there weren't holes. But against MSU and Iowa, Rodriguez has insisted on the same plays over and over again despite them being only moderately effective. It may be a difficult suggestion to make--Denard still averaged 5.8 YPC and completed 13 of 18 passes--but after two straight games of nothing even resembling the big-play ability that made the offense so effective early in the year, Rodriguez needs to come in for some heavy criticism.

Forcier, however, was effective largely because Rodriguez calls a different game with him on the field. Iowa was clearly selling out on the run against Denard and looked ill-prepared for for the five-wide passing schemes that Forcier was so successful with. Denard has proven through the last two games that he may not be able to handle a complex passing game, but without implementing the full playbook against opposing defenses, especially ones that are more sophisticated and talented than the Indianas of the world, Denard turns into Denard2009 with a bit more passing skills.

One of the things that should make Denard more effective is moving the pocket more often and giving him the run-pass option. Denard's I-formation passing downs and on plays with only two receivers looked disjointed. Denard needs options and an open field to really be successful in the passing game. When he's forced to make sit-in-the-pocket, Hennebot throws, he's rarely effective. Opening up the field for him the way Rodriguez does for Forcier is going to be one of the ways to make Denard's running attack more potent again.

  • Despite Forcier looking good for most of the game, his two interceptions looked distinctly like 2009 problems. He still looks indecisive a lot of the time and doesn't know when to throw the ball away (e.g., the sack he took in the fourth quarter in which he scrambled for a few seconds and decided to keep the play alive rather than throw it away).
  • Speaking of 2009 problems: The Denard interception looked like the exact same play that ended 2009's game in Iowa. I'll very likely compare the two sometime this week.
  • Stephen Hopkins is the real deal. He doesn't have the breakaway speed or shiftiness of the other backs on the depth chart, but Hopkins is going to be a major part of this offense going forward. I expect to see him get at least 10 rushes a game, including all short yardage carries. He's clearly being molded into the Brandon Minor role of the last two years. If he can improve his speed, Hopkins might eventually find himself in a starting role.
  • Turnovers and penalties killed Michigan in this game. The Vincent Smith fumble was a serious blow to Michigan's momentum and was the point of no return for the game. Michigan doesn't have the defense to play from behind, so losing the ball on a drive in which they should have scored was a major shift in the game. Michigan was bound to fumble the ball a bit this year, but that was an especially damning turnover.
  • Mark my words: Michigan will not try another field goal this year unless they have to.
  • I'll have to rewatch the game to see if Kenny Demens was any more effective than Obi Ezeh, but even if he was only slightly worse, Demens needs to be on the field to get in-time experience and possibly improve. Ezeh is likely a lost cause. Regardless, there didn't seem to be too much of a fall off except a few times that Demens got beat badly in pass coverage, resulting in a few 1st downs that should've been stops.
  • Michigan needs to find a solution at free safety. Cam Gordon is no longer cutting it and is a huge liability. Other defensive problems: JT Floyd was embarrassed on man coverage in this game. Twice he was absolutely torched on slants. Getting to the line and jamming receivers is one way to mitigate that issue, but Floyd's technique was beyond bad. Despite that, I'm still bothered back the lack of man coverage shown by this defense. The zones are clearly not working and I'm still not convinced it's all a personnel problem.


Anonymous said...

Yes, Denard is your man. I'm really happy with "But it wasn't so much Forcier's doing as a schematic change that jump started the Wolverine offense." When Forcier started marching down the field like that, I started wondering "WTF, where did this offense come from? Why couldn't Denard have these play calls?"

And, I'm in Michigan trying out for free safety.

- Dave

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