Michigan Football: Coach’s Corner — Michigan vs. Alabama — Wrap Up — Part II
Finding Corners on a Round Table
Question four: What about the offensive game plan, was it sound or was it an aberration, and what about the passing? Coach Borges can probably best explain this multi-part question.
Michigan is a team that has not yet transformed to a power running game. The line still functions better at zone and read, but is running power blocking schemes. This offense was missing its best running back, the second head of the two-headed running monster of last year. Would Fitz have made any difference? Again, moot and a question that can only be dealt with by conjecture. But having him out limited what the running game could hope to accomplish.Sitting Fitz was Coach Hoke’s choice and easy to defend for a university that values integrity.
Not getting Denard clobbered had to be a concern, as one game does not make a season. Then, Denard clobbered himself making a tackle. His action, though maybe ill advised, showed a willingness to put himself second and give the defense a chance to stop the Tide. It showed an attempt at leadership and toughness. Maybe the attempt was symbolic, and of little consequence, but an Alabama defender did not reach the end zone. Even with his limitations, this was another example of why Denard is a true Michigan Man worthy of his earned status.
The passing game effort can be “explained” with some theory. First, the only way to run on Alabama is to break a big play with speed or just overpower the front seven. The second option was not going to happen. Denard kept the ball less than a dozen times and Borges went to the passing game early, with no success. There is the possibility that Borges wanted to get the passing game off ground zero and throwing the ball served to reinforce the work the team has put in on Denard staying in the pocket and getting the receivers to progress. Borges perhaps is convinced the passing game must improve significantly for Michigan to win many tough games this year, and throwing it in the closet is not how to advance this offensive element.
Offensive coordinators always get second-guessed when a team does not move the ball. Teams have run dozens of play variations against the Alabama defense the last few years and few have yielded big plays.
Simply put, for the passing game to work the ball must hit the receiver’s hands, close does not work.
There were some minor positives from the passing effort. Two big plays were hit on long patterns, Denard stood in and managed his movement in the pocket better, albeit with help from an Alabama defense more willing to contain his running and let him throw. And maybe most significantly the receivers, with the exception of Roundtree getting dumped out of bounds, got to spots that could have yielded yards.The bet here is that Devin Gardner will make some big plays once he settles down and gets his receiver feet, so to speak, under him. This so called experiment appears to have (and has for some time) upside that could pay big dividends. It was rewarding to see Devon beat a big-time defense to score. He deserved at least a small measure of success that has been hard earned.
Question five: Was this a good game to schedule for Michigan and how does a team react to what happened on the field?
The scheduling question will be debated but is moot: the game is history. The biggest concern was injuries and that happened. How the team reacts will be up to the coaches. This staff will not mope and the players will be talked to in accurate, perhaps blunt terms.
The Head Coach will absorb any necessary blame, responsibility, etc., and selected players will comment in a fashion favorable to the program. This is the nature of sports and the item of final discussion is an honest evaluation of the team. The ugly truth taken from Saturday may be better than a disguised smoke screen of beating up a team with far less talent than Michigan.
Adversity works uphill and downhill. Sometimes a staff redefines what it wants, that is throw out the dishwater, and get new soap: change, change, change. The perspective here is Michigan’s staff will not (and cannot) take this path. The view will be to take what is present and continue to go after the team’s primary goals and strategies. Alabama may be a good measuring stick for a national title team, but is not a good measuring stick for the collective world of college football. The Tide separates the ordinary by being extraordinary, and that is what happened Saturday.
The coaches and players could finger point and turn to the path of chaos. Again, this path will not be taken and any players that stray down this lane and outside the team support mechanism will likely be chastised.
A common tactic is to flush the game down the toilet and undertake the ostrich effect, and then inform the troops to forget about it. While this strategy is calming emotionally it does not address the reality of what happened and why it happened. This response strategy misses a chance to assess, react, build, and go forward.
The coaches could merge reality with optimism. You are Michigan and there are miles to go before we sleep. There will not be any one person singled out publicly or privately, unless attitude and effort are the concerns. One coach or player had little to nothing to do with the outcome.A team can learn from a butt whipping, but the skin must be thick and the resolve great. There will be talk of being more physical and executing, and staying positive, and refocusing, and going forward. Again, the talk will come from the coaches and key players. Such talk will entail that Michigan did not do its job and talk of getting clobbered because of what the other team did may not appear, and if so with little length or volume.
This is about the only thing that can be done, since mailing in the bag is a zero option. Feeling sorry is the worst strategy. Feeling hopeless falls into that category. A game was lost in August but late November is a long way off.
Life has ugly lessons that have some pain. The coaches and players will shortly move on to Air Force and UMass. Improvement must be made because Air Force will test the run defense and Notre Dame has decided to go with power football. Notre Dame was in a position to chew on and spit out Michigan with a ground game that was eating up Michigan’s front four before getting cute and making turnovers allowed Michigan a chance. Notre Dame is going with the strategy of don’t beat yourself, substance over fluff. The Irish offensive line is very formidable, but not Alabama-ish.
Adversity tells more about a team than false success. Michigan took a calculated gamble scheduling this game. A probable loss, injuries, and a poor national perception were risks. Informed observers saw a team that was over-matched, a leader that would not fold, and kids that looked like they loved having a second chance to play in the second half, even taking into consideration Alabama pulled the dogs back a little toward the end.
If Michigan wishes to reach its stated goal of winning the Big Ten, big improvements are in order. The coaches must make decisions about starters after the Notre Dame game. This will be calculated, as coaches hate burning red-shirts for talented guys on the not quite ready for prime time list. The injury list may force some unwanted decisions.
Well anyway, Michigan took on the challenge and as many have said may be in a better position as the future unfolds. But this fall down the mountain produced more than a few scrapes and bruises.
Things can change, and must because this 2012 schedule is a real challenge.
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Written by GBMWolverine Staff
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