Saturday, October 9, 2010

Disillusionment


Michigan State 34, Michigan 17; 5-1, 1-1

I said yesterday we'd find out a lot about this Michigan team based on the actions and events that took place during this football game.

Well, as it turns out, we did. As it also turns out, a football team takes on the personality of its head coach; and that matters. If you had to treat a football team like some sort of dish with a bunch of ingredients, the personality would be something that has to be thrown into the mix. Other things matter, like how you recruit, how fast your players are, how big and strong they are, etc. It's a very complicated process that is even harder for outsiders like us to decipher.

Today, it was simple: Michigan State takes on the personality of its head coach. Dantonio is a lot of things. He's a hypocrite, a trash talker, and way too dramatic. But he's also tough, hard-nosed, determined, and he has successfully instilled that mindset in his football team.

On the other side, Michigan's defense plays like it's an afterthought - just like their head coach treats them.

I don't pretend to have all the answers, or even any of the answers, really. If you come here looking for seer-like wisdom about what has to happen for things to be fixed, you're probably better off going elsewhere. All I can offer here is my opinion about the state of affairs and why things are the way they are. I don't pretend to have all the facts. I base what I believe off the information that becomes available to me. So if what I have to say here upsets you and you accuse me of being a "fairweather" or "fake" fan, I respectfully tell you to kiss my ass. I've been keeping this inside since the UMass game because I didn't want to be one of "those guys" that feels the need to harp on negativity when the overall outcome is still positive. Well, after today, I no longer have that obstacle, and I'm about to bust out the flamethrower. So here it is.

Rich Rodriguez is an offensive genius. It's not his fault that Denard Robinson missed Stonum in the endzone, and misjudged a pair of crossing patterns that resulted in redzone interceptions. Certain people in certain circles will use this game as more "proof" that the spread doesn't work in the Big 10. I don't buy that even a little bit. Before the game got out of hand, Michigan went up and down the field against MSU, and their sophomore QB in his 6th career game finally cracked under the weight of having the carry an entire program on his shoulders. What Rich and the offensive coaches have done is very, very impressive.

On the other hand: Rich Rodriguez is guilty of borderline criminal negligence in regard to this so-called defense. Did Lloyd Carr leave a stocked cupboard? No. But this is Year 3, and we have no direction, no goal, no ANYTHING on defense. Why? Because our head coach is a glorified offensive coordinator who pays no attention to the other side of the ball. Because Rich Rodriguez hired Scott Shafer in 2008, and then stood by as his buddies cut Shafer's balls off and ousted him as defensive coordinator. Shafer was fired after the season, rendering the entire 2008 season moot. The stench of 3-9 sticks, but any miniscule lessons any of the players learned along the way went swirling the drain when the coordinator and scheme changed.

And then, as if trying to one-up his own stubbornness, after another catatstrophic meltdown in 2009, Rich Rodriguez "recommends" the 3-3-5 defense to his second year coordinator, Greg Robinson. It's bad enough that in Year 3, we were once again headed down a new path, defensively. It's even worse that we decided to go to a scheme that takes a defensive lineman off the field and puts an extra defensive back on. I don't have an issue with the 3-3-5 in principle. With the proper personnel and proper coaching, just about any scheme can succeed. But we decide to install a scheme (with a coordinator who has never run it before) that marginalizes our defensive line, puts more strain on our worst unit, and calls on our linebackers to react quickly and fill gaps, something they have almost no capability of doing. It's asinine, it defies logic, and it'd be laughable if it wasn't so ridiculous.

So who's to blame? Obi Ezeh was a Lloyd recruit...and in year 3 Rodriguez has failed to find anybody to get Obi off the field. Rodriguez has failed to dedicate himself to a scheme on defense like he did on offense. Rodriguez has failed to hire the proper coaches to coach the defensive side of the ball. There are massive, massive personnel deficiencies in the defensive backfield, I understand. Rodriguez didn't tell Boubacar Cissoko to lose his mind and become a thug. He didn't tell JT Turner to be lazy and not put in any effort. He didn't break Troy Woolfolk's ankle. He didn't tell Donovan Warren to leave early and go undrafted.

But he did take a gamble on Vlad Emilien after an ACL tear; didn't work out. He chose to pursue Demar Dorsey and Adrian Witty instead of trying for other recruits with better academic prospects. He has chosen to leave Tony Gibson in charge back there, when Gibson is universally mocked as nothing more than Rodriguez's drinking buddy. This kind of nepotism had Michigan fans breathing fire at Lloyd Carr for employing Mike Debord as offensive coordinator. Rodriguez isn't exempt.

So what's the solution? I ask, because I don't know. There is not a single redeeming quality about this defense. It does nothing well. I thought they'd be able to hold their own against MSU's running game. That thought was comically extinguished when Edwin Baker was GONE the second he got past the line of scrimmage, because I knew our linebackers had blown it and our DBs weren't going to be able to stop him. In a sense, this game was lost in the first quarter just like last year, because our own ineptitude allowed MSU to dictate control of the game. Last year, it was the defense being unable to get off the field despite three (!!!) MSU personal fouls, giving up a 12-minute drive culminating in MSU's touchdown to make it 7-3. This year, in a situation where we know the defense sucks and we know the offense had to be balls to the wall...we get 3 points in two drives in the redzone. Should've been 14-0 Michigan and an entirely different complexion to the game. Instead, it was only 3-0, and MSU was allowed to get into a rhythm with their offense, and of course, our defense was entirely incapable of doing anything correctly.

This is a radical thought considering what we've seen the last two and a half years, but it really DOESN'T take an act of God to install a sense of toughness and basic fundamentals in a defense. All you need are competent coaches and the proper attention to detail. Michigan has neither. Rodriguez pays no attention to the defense and leaves them to their own devices, running a scheme they (and their coordinator) are new to. The results are predictable. Apocalyptic, but predictable.

And with that, my patience runs thin with this whole experiment. Having a glitzy, rock and roll offense only goes so far. Try to remove the maize and blue glasses and look at today's game from an objective point of view. One team was physical on both sides of the ball, more or less fundamentally sound, tackled well, played solid assignment football and executed their gameplan brilliantly. The other team failed to execute in the redzone and lacked any kind of competence, execution, or toughness on the other side of the ball. Which program looks to be in better shape going forward?

Again, this isn't a blind "Fire RR" post. I'm asking. What's the solution? If you think Greg Robinson is the problem, what coordinator is out there that can stabilize things? Who can step in and install some form of toughness? Look at how the tables have turned. In a matter of what, four years, Michigan and Michigan State have become complete opposites. Michigan has gone from the old-school "boring" offense and more or less smashmouth defense to the explosive spread offense with nothing even close to a mediocre defense, while MSU has gone from the John L spread and no D to the old Michigan look of run, run, playaction, play D. Curious how this reversal of attitudes has accompanied a reversal of game results...

I'm out of answers. Disillusionment has set in, and I now look at every game left on the schedule as one we could very well lose. What's different about Iowa that will make it a different result from today? Wisconsin and Ohio State will do the same. Penn State? On the road? At night? Even with their issues, do you expect this defense to shut them down? Illinois and Purdue? Even with their personnel losses, after all the points they've put up on us the last two years, how can they be viewed as slam dunks?

With this defense, nothing is a slam dunk. And against the first truly sturdy, competent defense they've seen, this offense stalled. How many times this scenario repeats itself will determine the future. But even then, if he survives, has Rich Rodriguez done anything to cause any sort of optimism about the defense after this year?

Sure hasn't for me. In fact just the opposite. Frankly, I'll believe a Rodriguez-coached Michigan team will field a competent defense when I see it. And the way I see it, we're light years away.

19 comments:

EchoWhiskey said...

Somebody listened to to Matt Millen too much today. We'll be fine.

Grumpy52 said...

Sadly I agree. It's time for the Rich Rod experiment to end. I look at next year, and see no reason that the defense will be better. They will be in the same boat as this year. Having to rely on incoming freshmen to fill the voids.

What was really disappointing was the offensive line. This is supposed to be the best and deepest unit on the team... and they were horrible.

Michigan isn't going to beat Iowa, especially if their O-Line plays as poorly as it did today... and there is no reason to think that they won't. The best unit on the team was exposed, and I have lost all hope now.

Dave Brandon will not allow this to continue. It's a shame, I was rooting for Rich Rod. However, I can't condone what I have seen.

The fact that Coach Rod, has not recruited any viable Linebackers since he has been here... is an indictment. He is responsible for the lack of defensive recruits, and for the bad coaches on his staff. The defensive scheme is a joke. Players look unprepared and uninspired.

Coach Rod appears to be stubborn. Insisting on this stupid scheme, that doesn't get any results. There has been no improvement with the defense. They are as inept as the first day that he took over.

I could still deal with everything... but I come back to the offensive line. The best part of the team... getting punked. You can't make excuses for them either. They have size and are experienced. So it begs the question... now what?

I believe that this loss is the end of Coach Rod. I wish that it had worked. He is a good man, and is a smart football coach. Unfortunately his stubbornness, bad recruiting, and the bad staff choices... are going to doom him.

James said...

I'm basically on board with you on this, except that I watched RR's defenses at WVU and they were good - fundamentally sound and aggressive. I don't understand why we can't replicate that here. I don't have a problem with an offensive-minded coach as long as he hires the right guy to run the D. Jeff Casteel was the right guy at WVU. Greg Robinson very clearly appears not to be that guy here.

Assuming the defense continues to struggle, RR needs to sack it up, let Robinson go, and hire a new guy and give him free reign to do whatever he wants. He needs to pull a page from Steve Spurrier's playbook, circa 1995.

James said...

Just an addendum: Oregon should our model here. They have an explosive, fast-paced offense AND a hard-hitting ball-hawking defense. Their raw defensive numbers aren't great because of the fast pace of their games, but they bring it on that side of the ball.

Brad said...

Well OK I am new to your blog and I just read your latest post. Good job. You make many good points and I don't think you swore at all........LOL.

I hope you are the kind of person to reply back to me on here and let me know what you think of my comments. I would like that.

My feelings going into this game was MSU is going to come out and do what they do showing consistency. It will all come down to what UM does on offense and D. I thought MSU would win this game but, not by much. MSU did their thing on both sides of the ball and I give credit to them for doing so. I would say they produced a full team effort. Player of the game for MSU I give to their safety.

So what did UM do in this game? To me the D came out and played BAD AS USUAL. But, they did get some stops. And they did blitz a bit which was good right I mean what do they have to loose? They did what I expected them to do and that's all. I am not saying that is acceptable by any means.

So many people are focused on UM's D and rightfully so. But, to me it was the offense that lost the game. DR could not hook up on the long throws. And several receivers dropped the ball. I just think that DR and some of these receivers did not get a good nights sleep and were not at their best for this game. The "too excited" claim by DR only works for the first quarter sorry. Coach RR could have played Tate for the second half - that would have been alright with me. I bet Tate slept better before the game. And although Tate throws lots of short passes I bet he could not have done worse on the long ball then DR did.

Your comments about how the team takes on a personality of their coach is interesting and I'm starting to buy into that.

So your post is about - what is the solution?
We have to get a Defense again somehow. So many people have been pointing the finger at GR. I was giving him the benefit of a doubt until the IU game. Did you see him after the game when he smiled at RR as if to say "Thank you for winning this game". I'm sorry but he now seems to me like he really is not all there at all and needs to go. Yeah it's more than just a TV shot though isn't it? The D lacks the basic fundamentals like how to tackle ect......You mentioned Tony Gibson and Superfan mentioned him before a couple of weeks ago too on his blog. That opened my eyes to Tony Gibson. Tony Gibson definitely has to go !!!!!!!!

So what is the solution? I would say if you fire GR then you also fire all the D assistant coaches underneath him. And if only one person gets fired at the end of this season it better be Tony Gibson and not GR.

"Tony Gibson in charge back there, when Gibson is universally mocked as nothing more than Rodriguez's drinking buddy." Yeah I hear their wives are very close also. I wonder what they drink together?

tecknogyk said...

Christ, it was one game, get some perspective.

Igor said...

The thing that pisses me off the most is, why can't we recruit top notch linebackers. Lawrence Thomas is one of the best in the country and in our own backyard (grew up a Michigan fan) and yet he goes to State. I know we had no shot with Gholston but losing Thomas to an instate rival at a position of big time need is just unacceptable. On top of that, our senior lb's in year three of this regime are still terrible.

cfaller96 said...

I think you need to calm down.

If you're truly asking "what's the solution?," well the answer is "be patient." The only way this defense is going to improve is by upgrading the experience and the talent of the players. Guess what that requires? Time.

So, we must be patient. Next year's D will be adequate-ish, and the year after that it will be fine.

Ty said...

Brian--

You know which side of the Mitten State College Football toast I butter my bread on--but I'm going to jump in and agree with your commenters, to an extent. The glitzy, rock and roll offense is going to win a lot of football games this year, and with Gardner and Robinson and Dee Hart, it's only going to get better. In short order, Michigan will be a program able to flat-out outscore eight or nine opponents a year, and edge out one or two more shootouts a year. Bingo: consistent nine-to-eleven win seasons.

The problem is, that's not what you want, is it? Spartans such as myself grumbled all throughout the JLS era, because even when we were winning, we weren't winning *right*. We'd almost rather play 60 minutes of Good Honest Caveman Big Ten Football and lose, than play that flipsy-dipsy crap and win . . . note that I said "almost." The problem is, of course, that JLS didn't do a whole lot of winning, and that made the flipsy-dipsy crap anathema.

The cultural memory of great MSU football is of stifling defense; of 1966 and 1988. Of course, Michigan's is the same--you want to see 1997 Michigan's impenetrable sledehammer out there, not 2006's West Virgina's track meet. Unfortunately, Rich Rodriguez is never going to build a great defense. He never has before, and he's not interested in it now. Can you live with that, if it means consistent overall success?

Peace
Ty

Orfeo_Kyle said...

You said it yourself when you said we lost the game in the first quarter. If you truly believe that RR is an offensive genius, and it is clear that the offense lost the game by failing to build momentum in the first quarter, then who else could allow for a better outcome in the immediate future (i.e. this season) than Rich Rodriguez? Hopefully Denard learned a lot and will mature after this game and we can keep from repeating similar mistakes for the rest of the season. (Although this is the second game in a row where offensive miscues killed chances to put a game out of hand early.)

Rich Rodriguez might not have been a good choice in 2007, but he is our coach now and certainly has the best chance to bring immediate success to this team. Installing another coach with a different system would entail another learning curve.

Grumpy52 said...

If the vocal minority I heard on 97.1 is any indication... then time, is something Coach Rod does not have.

You can bet Brandon is getting an earful. This team has to put together a good run. If not then he will not get next year, let alone 2.

Iowa is now a must win. He has got to change perception.

Brad Potts said...

Really?

You don't see a defensive backfield consisting of

Troy Woolfolk
JT Floyd
Courtney Avery
Cullen Christian
Carvin Johnson
Cam Gordon
Terry Talbott

would not be significantly better than this unit?

Woolfolk and Floyd will be a talented and experience cornerback combo.

Talbott, Gordon, Avery, Cullen, and Johnson are all talented but very raw. With a year's worth of experience, I see no reason why they shouldn't be B10 quality starters.

I think we can count on the line (barring a Mike Martin defection) being well above average, the linebackers being poor, and the defensive backfield being average (maybe above) relative to our B10 opponents.

That is far better than our average, terrible, terrible levels of this year.

John Luger said...

The defense is not going to learn to hit like MSU or Iowa because they do not practice against an offense that is a power offense. Bo said that the reason that he did not have a pass oriented offense is that a passing offensive line is soft and the defensive line becomes soft practicing against them. Get used to it, this is a RR defense and always will be. RR's offense is just fine as long as he has a Heisman candidate at quarterback, otherwise it doesn't work.

Adam said...

Agree X100. I honestly think that after this season, if RR stitches together 7 or more wins and keeps his job, the entire defensive staff should get blown up. That should be the ultimatum that Brandon gives Coach Rod: you did enough to stay, but everyone on defense goes, whether they're your buddies or not. Then he needs to hire a great DC who brings in HIS position coaches with him--a DC with enough character, experience, autonomy, and cohesion among his staff that the kids on the defensive side of the ball know that they're getting the full treatment, that they're not second-class citizens to the offense. Do it, and you shall live. Do it not, and every one of you will die here today.

Kent said...

Letting RR go right now would be the fastest way for us to end up like Notre Dame has been for the past decade. Of COURSE we need some changes on Defense; but getting rid of the entire coaching staff and bringing in a whole new crew will not change this overnight.

Even your "Michigan man" you would rather have there will not be able to fix things in a hurry. Let alone the fact that it would absolutely kill the momentum our offense has been building for the past 3 years. Now that they are finally starting to click with a bunch of young guys and our team is creating some national buzz again (which is helping on the recruiting trail) you morons want to totally start fresh with a Michigan man.

The great thing about how explosive this offense can be is that we don't have to rely on a powerful defense like we've had to in the past because our offense was so predictable. Even your "Michigan man" Jim Harbaugh could not keep up as Oregon pounded him into submission.

All we need with this offense is a slightly more than mediocre defense to go 10-2. Are you willing to throw out the whole thing now when we are so close??

Silver Surfer said...

Hi.

"Rich Rodriguez is guilty of borderline criminal negligence in regard to this so-called defense."

Prove this please? You can't. No amount of angst ridden blogging will convince me that, somewhere between WV (where he produced a top 20 defense iirc) and Michigan, he stopped giving a shit about defense.

"Michigan's defense plays like it's an afterthought - just like their head coach treats them."

Where's your proof, aside from sketchy circumstantial evidence? He pulled a lineman from the field because of a lack of depth iirc - not because he arbitrarily placed trust in an old tried and true defense he ran at WV. Conveniently forgot that last year, for example, Woolfolk admitted that they were drilled in the film room on proper assignments but when some of them got out on the field (probably the lesser experienced ones?) that they blanked?.

The 2008 season was moot because of the defense? Forgot about the offense that he inherited with a walkon, some lazy linemen, and a pocket passing QB?

No direction? Bullshit. Really? No direction early last year when they were allowing a shade over 20 points a game until Woolfolk had to get pulled from deep safety to corner - and then the pyrotechnics began?

"He chose to pursue Demar Dorsey and Adrian Witty instead of trying for other recruits with better academic prospects."

Really? Casually forgot about Sean Parker? Lo Wood? Tony Grimes? Johnavon Fulton? Spencer Boyd? Rashad Knight? Dre Kirpatrick who said he'd have listened to Michigan if their record was better the previous year? Darius Winston who had briefly put Michigan up near the top of his list when he eased off of his commitment to Arkansas? Corey Brown?

If him being criminally negligent is your charge, then pursuant to your "proof," he definitely is not guilty. Better you said he hasn't gotten it together yet for a variety of reasons.

Poole1Dan said...

Wow. That was by far and away the best post on Michigan football I've seen since the 2008 season began. Fantastic stuff. It echoes almost everything I've been saying and have believed for over 2 years now, only I'll go a step further: Rodriguez should be fired and hopefully will be fired if and when Michigan loses out and goes 5-7. You said it yourself: "What's different about Iowa that will make it a different result from today? Wisconsin and Ohio State will do the same. Penn State? On the road? At night? Even with their issues, do you expect this defense to shut them down? Illinois and Purdue? Even with their personnel losses, after all the points they've put up on us the last two years, how can they be viewed as slam dunks?"

Purdue and Illinois are really the only games Michigan has a good chance of winning, and the Fighting Illini have rediscovered their amazing running game that got them to the Rose bowl in 07 while Purdue just beat an undefeated and talented Northwestern team. I'm not rooting for 5-7, but I share your disillusionment.

Hopefully richrod can right the ship

Orfeo_Kyle said...

imagine if Casteel would have stayed...

For those that say an RR-coached team could never put together a good defense, WVU was in the top 15 in yardage and scoring defense in 05, bottom of the FCS in 06, and top ten in yardage and scoring in 07. He had a competent coordinator, though.

jsquigg said...

Brian,

I have enjoyed your blog for quite awhile now, despite your negative skepticism. You're too arrogant to post this, but this was your worst take yet. You should be featured in TWIS, especially if you think our defense was "smashmouth" under Carr. Just look at your own words and answer a question: Do you really think this defense would be as bad with Woolfolk, Warren and Cissoko on the back end?
Your constant bitching and moaning is just adding to the factioning you've railed against. Do everyone a favor and take a break for awhile.