Monday, November 16, 2009
GBMW: Doc's Thoughts -- What happened and what it means -- The Wisconsin Game
GBMW: Doc's Thoughts -- What happened and what it means -- The Wisconsin Game
Several times this year writing such a summary commentary has been relatively easy. This discussion of the Wisconsin game fits into the easy category as well.
As stated last week, Wisconsin is not complex, the Wisconsin game plan was predictable, and the Michigan preparation had no need for spending tons of time covering all the possible options and schemes a multiple look team can offer. Stopping Wisconsin was another matter.
A suitable starting spot for this discussion is what was stated last week on GBMW.
First off, please drop a message off to CoachBt for some great football 101. The Blue did indeed play a 4-4 defense and the writer strongly agrees with that choice against the Badgers. The look switched to a blitzing 6-2 on many occasions. Second, the GBMW staff mentioned the vulnerabilities of a 4-4, the biggest being the holes between the linebackers and deep 3 in the zone. Just like in basketball, every zone in football has holes and spots to attack. This 101 fact came into play yesterday, as will be pointed out below. Third, the match-ups did indeed make the Badgers’ job easier.
Before going forward some commentary will be put forth that may or may not be found by readers to be of importance. The author sees no quit in the players, but does see a multitude of important factors that continues to hold back the team. First off, this team continues to get clobbered in the second half. This has been a trend for two years and begs the question, why is this so? The answer as seen from this vantage point is a combination of simplicity and adaptation. In football terms this means the other team gets on the field in the first half, Michigan gives its best shot, the other team sees what the Wolverines have going, adapts to what the Wolverines are doing and hence take over the game. The Michigan offensive game is based on simplicity and execution. There are only about three or four true base running plays and a common set of outside quick passing plays that are nested within the philosophy of putting a quick guy in space and winning the flank battle by good blocking or a great move in space. The downfield part of the passing attack is pretty much standard stuff. There really is no Plan B, whereas in the old days (not so long ago) a big pocket passer could just start zinging it if the running game became stuffed. Currently Michigan has no real Plan B, and so it becomes very problematical for the team to run away with games in the third and fourth quarter. It also becomes problematical for this offense to recover from 14-point deficits (yes, this did happen twice this year). The simplicity leads to the realization that first down must be successful. When Michigan gets in one of its offensive funks, just look at the play sequence. Second and 10 or third and nine are very common scenarios. Long distance third down conversions have happened this year at a greater rate compared to last year (which was essentially almost zero), but still the UM offense is against it a good gain on first down is not achieved. The ability to run one third and one, or even second and one greatly hinders this team’s chances for success.
Second, other teams have caught on to how to defend the base plays of this run-oriented version of the spread, assuming sufficient talent is available to execute a defensive plan. Football is a game that demands constant adaptation, it is by nature very Darwinian, where the strongest survive, the weak perish, and the value of adaptation is at a maximum premium. It will take a brilliant argument with a multitude of supporting material to convince me that the Michigan program has any evolutionary adaptability.
Third, possibilities that seem obvious for helping the offense have evaporated. Foremost in any such discussion is the evaporation of two talented tight ends and the sparing use of the much-ballyhooed Trojan package that UM worked on in the spring. The intent was to make the tight end a major weapon and spur on tight end recruiting. The offense has been set back by injuries there can be no denying this unfortunate reality. Football 101, use the tight end in the redzone and a team increases the chances for scoring.
The prediction for a 14 -point Badger win was about on target, the other GBMW guys were a little closer in predictive ability. Michigan came out in the first half and did indeed, as coach mentioned, attempt to control the ball and the clock to keep the Badger offense from chewing up the Michigan defense. The strategy worked reasonably well. On offense, the Badgers started out with the basic running game, excepting the big pass play, and were successfully limited until the middle of the second quarter. At that time, Wisconsin turned to the second option discussed in the pre-game articles, the passing game. Wisconsin caught the outside linebackers up close and did indeed do damage in the flats, something a 4-4 is supposed to be strong at preventing. The Badgers also hit the seams of the zone, over the linebackers and in front of the deep three, frequently and it can be added very well indeed. Wisconsin hit what the author terms triangles, spaces between two linebackers and one of the back three. Again, it must be stated that Wisconsin did very well in executing this part of the passing game. Receivers either get a pass on a quick move as they enter a triangle or sit in the dead spot, both methods worked. When playing in a zone, defenders need a pass rush and errant passes from a quarterback. Defenders must also break smartly and quickly to the ball and drill a receiver.
In the third quarter the Badgers continued to make the passing game work and mixed in big doses of John Clay to gain a safe lead going into the fourth quarter. Clay, highly sought by Michigan, is the type of back this author believes every team should possess.
And so by the fourth quarter, Wisconsin could dial up anything and the entire arsenal worked. When Michigan did press, Toon made a great catch in the endzone. Toon is why coaches love big, very athletic receivers. When controlling the clock, Wisconsin doubled the interior guys and broke ridiculously easy big quick hitters up the middle. At the end of the day Wisconsin was clearly the better team and most of the damage was done in the second half.
Michigan, as discussed ad nauseum, has little margin of error. The team let 10 points get away on Saturday. The first three involved a blocked chip-shot field goal where the kick was a little low but the line got pushed inward about two or three yards. The second giveaway was worth at least 7 points. This was the roughing the kicker penalty that involved two Michigan players, not one. Football 101 brands this as a bad fundamental mistake. A ball control team has just been stopped near midfield, the game is within reach and so the textbook play is just to have the rushers insure that the ball is kicked and a fake is not in the works. Brandon Smith almost blocked the punt, but a team cannot take that chance in that situation. Situational items like this need to be addressed every day in special team practice. This gave the Badgers the ball, Wisconsin scored and the game was permanently changed. A bad, bad mistake, and the coaches either have a different philosophy or the guys are not well enough informed, period. Yes, guys are trying hard to make something happen and to make a statement about the future, but the game is still somewhat cerebral in nature.
And so what does all of the above mean for the future? The paradox of little or plenty applies. The Wolverines have about a 10% chance at best of beating Ohio State. Yes, such occurrences are difficult or impossible to quantify, but here is a little story. The author was a friend, colleague, and competitor of a high school Hall of Fame coach and he preached to me on numerous occasions the following anecdote: out of every ten games a well prepared coach competes against relatively equal opposition, one will be won by pure chance and luck, one will be lost because everything went wrong, and eight will be played for real, with the outcome defining the true victor. And so, the Wolverines are given a one in ten shot.
There will be a plethora of recruits eager to watch the Michigan-Ohio State game next week in attendance. The author suspects this is more important to Coach Rodriguez than the fact Ohio State is on the opposing sideline. Ohio State will not hold that same sentiment.
Michigan continues to demonstrate internal issues, regardless of what a reader may hear, this is never a good situation.
Readers likely will see accounts of the fortieth anniversary of Bo’s great upset of Woody, but there really are no parallels to hold forth to substantiate this warm but pointless discussion. The situation forty years ago was night and day different than will occur next Saturday.
The Michigan administration has a big decision concerning the state and future of the football program; one that it is believed here will be put off until no other choice emerges, sans NCAA influence.
The closing is as follows: who in their lifetime (I am speaking to those who have seen sufficient winters in their lifetimes young ones) would ever have thought they would hear “I am glad football is over and it is basketball season?”
There likely is no need to dig up the quatrains of Nostradamus for next week’s final result, the team should play with intensity, but must be well prepared and tackle some running backs, because that will be the first test Ohio State will present: then Pryor scrambling, then Pryor passing, then the front four going after Tate, and so on.
It could snow, it could rain 10 inches, some Buckeye players may get held up at the gate by bomb-sniffing dogs and be late for the game, or Tressel may be in a giving mood. Well, three out of four have a million to one chance at least.
Thanks for stopping by Go Blue Michigan Wolverine
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Written by GBMW -- Doc4blu