Monday - September 08, 2008
That Sucked Slightly Less
What Went Right
The running game improved tremendously. Whether the players were more confident in their assignments and more decisive in their action, or whether Miami just isn't nearly as good as Utah we don't yet know, but both the blocking and running looked good. McGuffie got the corner and showed good moves in space. On a few carries, Minor and Shaw showed some burst. And Threet showed at least passable skill as a ball-handler, giving himself gaping holes to run through on the read option (including on the 9 yard TD that opened the scoring). I think it's tempting to understate Threet's contribution there, to look at how open he was on the TD and think Miami was just that bad, but his ball-handling left them chasing McGuffie et al on some of those plays, and he actually showed some decent speed and movement.
The short passing game finally showed some of the juke and run, big play potential that this offense is supposed to have. Martavius Odoms got loose on a 50 yard run to get us out of the gate quickly, and McGuffie had a 25+ yard catch and scamper later. When the offense is struggling, those plays become the key to victory; that is how you score points with a shaky OL, inaccurate QBs and good skill position players. And that is why McGuffie and Shaw are starting, because Minor and Grady may be better between the tackles runners, but I doubt Rodriguez has confidence that we can sustain drives. Minor cannot move around the lineup and give us the 50 yard play potential that Shaw and McGuffie can.
Also, both the long runs and long catch and run passes are an indication of erratically improving blocking from the WR/TE group. They aren't there yet, but they are also (largely) freshman and sophomores. The ability to turn 2 yard passes into 50 yard plays is dependent on the ability to block the secondary pursuit.
The defensive line again controlled the line of scrimmage, continuing the good work from the 2nd half of the Utah game. And behind them, the LB corps was vastly improved all around.
What Went Wrong
The intermediate to long passing game continues to be awful. Steven Threet missed multiple wide open deep plays, missing by so much that WRs did not even have the chance to make plays on them. Seam routes and TE/RB releases downfield are similarly off-target. In fact, not one intermediate or long pass was completed last week.
On defense, the safeties continue to be abused down the field, though Miami failed to complete the passes they were poised to give up. Trent got beaten deep, prompting a quick call from a friend with whom I've debated the merits of Morgan Trent as a player. Morgan: shape up, man ... you're killing my credibility.
Looking Forward in General
QB: I'd like to see Rodriguez pick a QB. I can understand a QB rotation in a situation where the QBs present different looks, but that only works if the different looks are the result of the QBs being able to do different things. The biggest difference between Sheridan and Threet isn't what one can do that the other can't, but what reasons we have for why they both can't do the basics. Sheridan appears to simply lack the arm strength to put balls 20+ yards down field, except on the safest passes, the sideline fly pattern (which turns into a jump ball). Threet has ample arm strength, but absolutely no accuracy. Either way, the passes are incomplete.
I don't want to second guess Rodriguez so early in his tenure, but I do not see the advantage of a rotation. I do see the potential advantage of letting one QB (I would say Threet) take the starters snaps in practice and all the snaps in the game. The game experience could settle down a QB who obviously has it in him to be better than this.
RB: I think we have seen where this is going. McGuffie and Shaw have both shown exactly what they were brought in here to do, and I don't see Grady, Brown and Minor pushing them aside. Sharing some carries, yes, but not replacing them.
WR: It's very hard to asses the WRs when the QBs cannot get them the ball. Stonum, Hemingway, Butler, Mathews and Clemons are not at full production if we have to rely on short passes. The attention turns almost solely to Martavius Odoms and (when he returns) Terrance Robinson. Hopefully, Threet just has the "yips" and can get himself under control. There is talent in this WR corps.
OL: With the loss of one more OL (this time it's Mark Ortmann, starting LT, to a dislocated elbow), Michigan is literally in a position where every single returning, healthy offensive linemen is starting. The 2nd string consists of a fall position switch (Ferrara) and freshman (O'Neill, Barnum, Omameh, Khoury), while two starters (Ortmann and Zirbel) and a prime backup (Huyge) watch from the sidelines.
DL: is dominant, and all players are contributing. Jamison has been special. Graham and Johnson have been very good and Taylor has shown flashes. Van Bergen, Sagesse and Martin have been good in relief. This unit is the strength of the team.
LB: The rotation has tightened, as the RR staff made some of the same kinds of personnel move mistakes in Game 1 this year that LC's staff mad last year. Chambers and Panter did not play much against Miami, giving way to John Thompson and Jonas Mouton. Mouton is excellent off the blitz and has some natural cover skills (having moved over from safety). Thompson is a hit or miss player who is physical and tough in pursuit. It was a much improved game, and I don't expect the rotation to go back.
DB: Discussed above. It has to improve.
Special Teams: Warren has been nothing more than a good ballboy on punt returns, and he may have to cede those duties to someone more fearless back there. The kick return unit looks solid and may bust something soon. Coverage has been very good.