Monday - September 01, 2008
What Went Right
In the second half, the defense was utterly dominant. Facing three straight possessions starting in Michigan territory, they surrendered a combined three points, keeping Michigan in the game. Then in the fourth quarter, they forced a succession of short possessions, giving the ball to Michigan's offense deep in Utah territory twice (on the blocked punt and the fumble).
More specifically, the defensive line was every bit as good as we were hoping it would be. Johnson is a mobile and evasive QB, but was regularly run down by defensive linemen, who were still chasing hard in the 4th quarter of a game where the defense had been on the field for more than their share of snaps. The corners also were solid, leaving Utah only the middle of the field to work with in the passing game.
Lopata only had one opportunity, but if that is indicative of a greatly improved range, it could be a major assett for Michigan. In fact, the special teams as a whole were very good, covering punts and kickoffs well, making no major blunders and coming up with two big plays leading to 14 of Michigan's 23 points (the blocked punt and the first quarter fumble).
What Went Wrong
The defense in the first half was lousy, surrendering approximately 300 yards to go with the 22 points. The single biggest problem was the pass coverage down the middle of the field, which is where Utah converted several 3rd down plays, including one killer 3rd and 19. The touchdown before the half was also on bad coverage down the middle. More on this later.
On offense, what didn't go wrong? First, and not surprisingly, the quarterbacks were awful. Threet had one beautiful throw to Hemingway, but also was lucky (with incompletions and pass interference) on some badly thrown sideline passes, threw an impossible pass on the two point conversion and missed a wide open Daryl Stonum on what could have been a game saving 4th down play. Sheridan, sadly, had no bright moments at all (save for a pass interference call that saved him on a badly thrown pass that was intercepted). His interception at the end of the first half was as bad a pass as you will see in college football, and was really evidence of his lack of arm strength. He has to throw his whole body into the throw, as if, like John McEnroe serving in the early 1980s, he can make up in torque what he lacks in conventional arm speed.
With that in mind, it's understandable that Utah sat on the short routes and made it impossible for the supposedly shifty Martavius Odoms, Michael Shaw and Sam McGuffie to get loose in the open field. However, the receivers had trouble getting any separation down the field, save for J. R. Hemingway on a couple of shots. It has been said numerous times that the QBs will have to prove they can hit something down the field to loosen up the coverage, but if the WRs cannot get separation, that will eat a hole in our offensive gameplan.
Also, you could see at times some of the cracks in the pavement that accompany using so many young players. A sweep to McGuffie undone by Michael Shaw as a lead blocker not picking up a block. The soph QB throwing to a covered frosh RB to set up a pitch play, and the frosh RB going down to end the game.
On special teams, there were three concerns. There is no excuse for multiple delay of game penalties when bringing on the punt team. The kickoffs were going nowhere near the endzone, and that's a field position hit this team can't afford. And our punt returns were nothing better than fair catches.
The Five Killers
1. The 3rd and 19 Utah converted to help cut it to 7-6 (see below).
2. The interception thrown by Nick Sheridan near the end of the first half (see below)
3. The ensuing touchdown throw by Utah (see below)
4. The fumble by Michael Shaw when it looked like we actually had some offense going.
5. The missed 2 pt conversion.
Three clips to illustrate some things.
One, to show the problem with such an extreme lack of arm strength. It's not that Sheridan can't throw the ball far enough, it's that in order to put the extra zip on the ball he is using a motion that is not reproducible. The less reproducible your mechanics are, the more erratic you are going to be with your accuracy. Tennis fans see the same thing, that (with the exception of the kinetic Andy Roddick) the big servers are usually the guys with the most fluid motions, not the ones with the biggest muscles.
The second and third to show off what went wrong with first half coverage, and hopefully it is being corrected (though I have no idea how one corrects these things). The first clip is of the 55 yard pass on 3rd and 19 that led to Utah's first touchdown. It looks at first blush like Donovan Warren has been beaten on this play, but I don't believe that's what happened. First the clip, then the talk.
It looks like the WR took an inside move on Warren and was gone. But when you look at the route combination at the top of the screen, you can see that the WRs covered by the OLB (Chambers) and by Warren cross. Chambers is chasing and is beaten down the sideline. Warren is forced to pick between the slot receiver going up the sideline or the outside receiver cutting in. It happens off screen, but based on Johnson's read (throwing to the inside) it would appear Warren was leaning to the slot receiver. And that is probably the right thing to do, as the inside throw could have been taken away by Steve Brown. The responsibility there would appear to be Brown's, but he has lost the inside position can neither discourge that throw nor make the tackle to limit the damage. I suspect that in the film room, Brown will be the guy catching flak for this one.
The touchdown pass at the end of the first half also, to my amateur eyes, appears to be on the safety. It's a really nice throw by Johnson, between the two men dropping and the safety in the endzone, but the gap between the dropping OLB (Chambers) and the deep safety (Stewart) is simply far too large. In a contain and prevent situation, Stewart sitting that far back in the endzone isn't preventing anything except a touchdown celebration. And it's hard to imagine how or why Chambers, really a safety playing LB for passing downs, could be beaten that quickly and by that much.
What does this mean
Some things presumably can be fixed. I expect to see a lot more Steven Threet against Miami. Sheridan was the more consistent and reliable QB, the one who was supposed to play point guard and let the others make something happen. Based on one game's results, Michigan may need to take a higher risk, higher reward approach, and that could mean Threet. I also expect to see more 1st down runs to try to keep down and distance manageable. This offense is not designed to pick up 3rd and 10, but to stay out of 3rd and 10. 1 yard completions on 1st down don't help. I expect the problems on offense will prove very difficult to fix quickly, and the offense will have more games like this.
On defense, it's hard not to be optimistic based on the 2nd half performance. One sometimes sees a defense look good with a big defecit, due to an opponent that is running out the clock, but this does not appear to have been the case Saturday. The defense was relentless and dominant, and that at least bodes well.