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GBMWolverine: Coach’s Corner — Michigan Footall — Eastern Michigan at Michigan — What Happened and What it Means


Posted at 6:00am — 9/19/2011

GBMWolverine: Coach’s Corner — Michigan Footall — Eastern Michigan at Michigan — What Happened and What it Means

Predictions were generally in the high 30’s, low 40’s for Michigan’s point production on Saturday. The predictions were close, but little was easy and previous questions remain questions: unless one wants to take some of the said questions and place them in the problem category.

Let us embark on the mission at hand.

First off, here is a quick discussion of the opponent, Eastern Michigan. Eastern has clearly improved over the last two years. The players have improved, the quality of player has stepped up some, and it is close to a certainty that the recent coaching changes are upgrades. Eastern is not horrible, as some maintain, and yes clearly the Eagles will not win the MAC, almost certainly not go to a bowl, but may have worked themselves out of the bottom twenty-five of Division 1 football.

Eastern did a really nice job of bringing a well-designed offensive package into the Big House. UM’s defense was switching and changing like a fire drill at times. The trick plays, change up on the jet sweep, and hitting the edge met with mixed success. But, like every other team, Eastern started by attacking the front four of Michigan very successfully. The Eagles soon had well over 100 yards early on in the game. Eastern had a chance to put 21 quick points on the board. The Michigan defense gave up a field goal and greatly benefitted from a fumble and interception when Eastern was driving. Eastern again showed that a good but not great running back could make hay against the UM defense.

By the way, we saw Eastern stop Michigan in a standard 4-3 alignment many times and do not agree that the box was always loaded. Now when UM was in the Power I, everyone understood this was Borges intending to view progress with the power running game. So linebackers read and filled, and safeties stepped up. The cure of course is play action passing and the cure bottle was empty on Saturday.

One thing that saved Michigan was the failure of Eastern to establish a true passing attack. Gillett is a good all-around athlete, but when Michigan broke through, even though the sack was avoided, he either abandoned the pass to run or did not make a pass to receivers that had some space. This remains a frustration with Eastern.

Eastern’s linebackers were active and the defensive backfield did a decent job of supporting the run. Michigan did not move the ball well until the spread reappeared. Coach English’s players have great respect for their head coach and play hard. In return English is in the players’ corner.

Theme #1 – Slow starts.

Again Michigan came out and did not score, while the opponent did. Let us hope this trend does not become chronic as spotting a good team 7-14 points will eventually be fatal.

Theme #2 – The defensive front- in fact- the front seven

Early on Michigan was again gouged by an opponent’s running attack between the tackles. Then add in the added pressure of losing contain several times from anything from jet sweeps to quarterback scrambles. Sweat was increasing. The sweat decreased when UM held EMU to a field goal, but increased as again for most of the first half the Eagles could routinely get four or more yards on base plays. The linebacker play, which seemed to take a small step forward against Notre Dame, played very pedestrian on Saturday (some may say a kind assessment).

Theme #3 – Improvement

Again Michigan played its best ball in the second half and this weekly pattern appears to support the hypothesis that the coaches are doing a nice job of making adjustments and teaching on the fly. Eastern had offensive designs that UM was not prepared for, but adjustments were successful as the game went onward. It is only three games, but let us hope the trend remains.

Theme #4 – Bending versus viscosity

The defense bends to the point where it almost melts. But viscosity is defined as resistance to flow. Michigan’s defense, aided by coaching, has enjoyed enough resistance to avoid becoming liquid. It really is amazing how few points Eastern put up with the offensive success enjoyed Saturday. But as Mattison and other smart people say, the only real stat is on the scoreboard. Last year Massachusetts, in a similar situation, put up over thirty on Michigan. The answer is obvious, experience in the same system and talented reinforcements.

Theme #5 – The running game and the running backs

Fitz is still hurt and cannot take a pounding. Mike Shaw has never obtained or mastered skills needed to gain tough yards. His vision is suspect and he has a tough time gaining yards unless there is the dream hole or he gains the edge. Both backs struggle to stay healthy enough to play more than a week or two consecutively. Do not construe this as personal criticism of the individuals, but instead an unfortunate reality.

Again, like past years, in steps Vinnie Smith to the forefront. In year one, he was a red-shirt candidate. In year two, he was to be a part time back or take a red-shirt year after serious injury. And now, in year three, Vinnie was to be buried in the depth chart as not worthy of the power running game. The more things change the more they stay the same. Mr. Smith simply blocks, reads the hole, reads his blocks, and has better feet than any other back on the team. Vinnie is not the solution but he is not the problem. Look for him to contribute 10-15 carries per game going forward.

Theme #6 – The power running game

This is not a failed experiment, but simply the necessary chemicals are not present for the intended reaction. Chemist Borges may put the experimental isotopes back on the shelf and bring out some tested ingredients that at least produce a synthesis. As mentioned in the preview, it was probable that Eastern would provide Coach Borges an opportunity to work on and evaluate the status of the power running game that the coaches have envisioned as being the staple of the UM offense. The result was very disappointing and Coach Borges went back to the shotgun spread and featured Vinnie Smith in the backfield with Rawls getting a cameo. Frequently such square peg problems have obvious answers, not so this year. As mentioned the view here is that Coach Borges waves the white flag.

Theme #7 – The passing game

The ball needs to go down-field and Michigan cannot afford to retreat fully to the smurf offense whereby the slot gets a high percentage pass and fights for two or three yards. Such a move will guarantee 8 and 9 man boxes with tight coverage. As brutally ugly as the down-field game is, do not throw out the bathwater. It would be very difficult to make a quarterback change for numerous obvious reasons, so forget that discussion. We hear feet, confidence, staying in the pocket, etc. But the truth is eventually the ball must get to the receiver.

What this game means to the future:

Michigan plays a very good SDSU team this week, one that can run and pass with efficiency. Coach Mattison will have his work cut out and the entire defense will be tested. Next Saturday’s game will be a tough victory to secure.

The problems remain and will remain throughout the year. The hope is that the problems can be minimalized weekly, but that will be a tough assignment.

For all the problems, the team is 3-0 and that is better than a team with problems that is 0-3. But the ugly truth is that there will be no more easy wins, every week will be a challenge. This team will have to hang tough and stay tough. The fan base will need a reality course and throw into the metamorphosis that is ongoing

As the philosopher Stan Laurel stated so eloquently: a horse can get to water but a pencil must be lead.

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Written by GBMWolverine Staff

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