Agony of Defeat: There Will Certainly Be Better Days

First and foremost, hats off to Penn State.  They came out and executed, played mistake-free football, took advantage of Michigan's numerous errors and put this game away when they got the opportunity to.  Again, when someone comes in and does that, you have to acknowledge that.  That said, it's still difficult to couch a game like this... yes we were throughly outplayed and yes I was exactly right when I said this: 

Looking at our defense, I'm concerned about the secondary, you're concerned about the secondary, hell all of us are downright worried about the secondary (I mean, 3rd and @#$%@# 24!!!!!).

The question was whether JoePa and company would throw rock.  They didn't for the most part.  They came up with a gameplan that basically put Michigan's linebackers in positions where they were in single coverage mismatches and gave Clark easy throws which to his credit he made look even easier.  They saw that our secondary was the straggling wildebeest of the heard and they did what you're supposed to do to straggling wildebeests.  Perfect gameplan.  Stevie Brown and Obi Ezeh were victimized repeatedly without a single iota of safety help.  It got to the point where I and several others near me in the stands were pointing it out a solid 5 seconds before the snap, and yet no adjustments were made.  Elsewhere, Donovan Warren was giving approximately a 30 yard cushion when a screen was blatantly obvious.  Penn State basically ran three plays yesterday: a counter, a WR screen where God's Gift would split wide and block a corner who was usually giving a 10 yard cushion anyway, and up-the-seem routes against linebackers.  They converted on all accounts and that was all she wrote.  Was Penn State a vastly better and talented team?  Well in terms of their offense vs our back seven, yes.  Everywhere else?  Eh, not really.  

The weather wasn't really cold and bad until we came out after halftime and apparently had learned nothing about what PSU planned to do and they quickly extended the lead to put pressure on the Michigan offense.  Suddenly I started to notice the rain a little more at that point... go figure.  Quick aside, honestly who designs ponchos with short sleeves?  I'm content to be dry everywhere except from the elbow down?  Really?  Secondly, I would give anything for us to have punched that blocked punt into the endzone, there was still eons of time in the game and the crowd (well, allow me to rephrase, the actual fans that still remained with most of the second half to go) was dying for anything to set them on fire again.  Unfortunately it was just not meant to be.

Miscellaneous

- If I was a Penn State fan, I'm certain I would've been saying angry things when my coach decided to punt from the opposing team's 33 YARDLINE, holy bejeezus.  It was almost as if JoePa was saying, "Oh yeah?  Top that Kirk Ferentz!"

- Boy does Daryll Clark lock on to receivers.  When they're wide open against our secondary it works just fine, but the few times we did manage to actually, you know, cover he looked downright mediocre trying to go through a progression.  I mean, he's clearly not Anthony Morelli, but if Ohio State manages to lock down in coverage I think it'll be a long day for Mr. Clark.

- So when is it legal to have 76 men on the field on defense?  No seriously, how could any official have missed that call?  That it happened on Denard's mind-blowingly-bad interception made it even worse.  I have no idea where he was throwing that ball and likely neither does he, but uh, Penn State had half their team on the field still when the ball was snapped and somehow did not get flagged for it.  This was the only other point in the game where I felt we were running the offense at the pace we needed to by the way.

- Oh and yes, ANOTHER "five men in the backfield" penalty on Michigan.  This is insanity.  Notre Dame does that on every snap, I'm not joking.

- Alabama needed two blocked FGs to get by Tennessee?  Can't wait for Iowa and Alabama to lock horns in what promises to be a 2-0 game with 14 blocked kicks.  You know, when everyone gets all over Boise State's case because they "didn't look impressive enough in a win" then you have to do likewise when a BCS school does the same thing.  #1 team in the blogpoll?  Uh, no.

- Way to go State... you were going to end the Big Ten's nightmare of having an undefeated Iowa and then you go and do that, no really, well done.

- Junior Hemingway's injury was downright ugly, right in front of our seats and though I haven't seen a replay yet, it looked horrible.  He has been star-crossed since stepping on campus.  Also, was Warren blocked into him or did he trip?  Martavious Odoms also looked dinged and wasn't much of a factor after that opening drive.  Losing Molk again really killed momentum (and yes, safety snap blur blur blur).  Donovan Warren clearly tweaked something though he stayed on the field, and Tate Forcier was holding that right arm pretty gingerly several times walking off the field.  Sigh.........

Offense

- So uh, what happened after that first drive fellas?  Anyone?  Anyone care to explain to me why we pretty much abandoned what we were doing there?  I mean, that was machine-like, the pace was perfect, and Penn State was hopeless to stop it.  Then we start going 5-wide and trying to keep our QBs in the pocket to make throws?  This made sense in what way?  I loved the two back set and quick throws, but apparently the coaching staff didn't.  This team is so much better when they go into "jet mode" or whatever you want to call it where they push the pace and make short high percentage passes and zone-read runs.

- End of the first half... You simply cannot spike that ball, you cannot.  Tremendous error in coaching.  There was more than enough time to get set and run a play, a TD would've really been a boost heading into the locker room.  Arg I was furious.  The clock stopped for some reason down there several plays before, naturally we were given no explanation, but there should've been about 6 less seconds methinks.  I'm sure it had the PSU faithful howling.  Even if they had gotten the clock right, we would've had time to run a play into the endzone and still kick a FG if it didn't connect.

- Penn State had 18 first downs... Michigan?  17.  I wouldn't have believed that at first either.

- 3rd down conversions?  3 of 15.  Definitely believed that one.

- Lots of people like to say TOP doesn't matter... bull@#%, this offense needs as many attempts as possible, and when it holds the ball for all of 10 minutes in the second half, that's not enough.

- I'm going to just estimate that there were six drops that probably would've accounted for at least 80 yards out there...  Usually sure handed Kevin Koger really had an off day as did Kelvin Grady.  Tate (and actually Denard as well) made some great throws that the receivers just have to bring in, regardless of the rain.

- Between the drops, four* turnovers, and a vintage Jermaine Gonzalez safety we made enough self-inflicted mistakes to overcome.  That asterisk is for Denard's interception which should've been a nice automatic first down for the Maize n' Blue by the by.  Tate had time in the pocket, though their linebackers made a number of very solid plays on his roll-outs and improvised-hop-around-the-backfield plays.  The Penn State D was solid, but they weren't wreacking havoc and disrupting what we were trying to do.  Of course, you certainly can't fault a defense for doing what they were supposed to do.  They made solid tackles and avoided making mistakes that let Michigan hit a home-run to get back into the game.

- It annoys me how easily we seem to lose track of the running game, Minor and Brown combing for 20 carries just is not enough.  Tate having 14 rushes is just way too many.  Carlos Brown's fumble was in front of the opposite endzone so I didn't see much of it, but I'm sure it was horrifyingly bad.  Regardless, we abandoned the running game FAR too early in this football game... again.

- Backed up on our own goal-line we did the same thing we did at Iowa, which was a non-sensical run wide and two pocket pass attempts... that series of play calls made exactly ZERO sense.

- I'm ok with Denard Robinson getting a designated series, but this is how it should go:  "Denard, we have two pass plays for you to run along with the usual compliment of running plays.  Both pass plays feature one read, if that guy is not open you take off.  Got it?  Good, go get em."  Seriously,  eliminate a side of the field for him, roll him out and have him make short simple throws.  That's it, period, done.  Don't ask the kid to do more right now.

Defense

Lion_facepalm_medium

via www.morasclass.com

- Our secondary is in shambles.  It's not a simple question of trying to cover up one weak position, and we cannot overcome it right now.  I don't know what else to say.

- How did we not adjust to that screen against the soft coverage and the seem routes against linebackers??  They didn't exactly disguise either of those plays.

- Boubacar Cissoko saw the field again, and apparently thought it was a good idea to taunt the Penn State bench prior to a big 3rd down... it worked out wonderfully as they connected (AGAIN.... /Valenti) for a TD.  Sigh.  Not at all what we need right now.

- I continue to be awfully impressed with how well our D-line has played, Van Bergen and Roh in particular have really been tremendous surprises this season.  Van Bergen made one of the better plays of the year on a Penn State third down screen that would've gone for acres of yardage if he didn't fight through three blocks to get to the ball carrier.  It was a great call by Penn State and just a better play by Van Bergen.  Unfortunately there weren't too many other instances of that combination.

- When Penn State's defensive players tackle someone, they don't eventually do it 4 yards after contact...  Our tackling has regressed as the year has gone on.  We make contact and then get dragged for extra yardage far too often.  

Special Teams

- Pretty terrible kick coverage to open the second half...

- We blocked another punt, yay.

Overall

So 5-3 when many predicted a 7-5ish year (or 8-4 if you're yours truly), it's do-able, but considerably more difficult sitting here right now than it was three weeks ago.  This team is undoubtedly better than last year in many ways, but they are not immune to the type of mistakes that were commonplace last season.  I am concerned though that we've struggled so much in conference play so far.  If Tate goes down, we're in enormous trouble.

While the Iowa game in particular was one we let slip away and the Michigan State game was a hard fought loss, this was neither.  We got thumped yesterday.  This is particularly concerning considering that we're now 1-3 in our last four and that "one" was, well we all know what it was.  This team is in a tailspin right now.  Yes we're still ridiculously young, we're still so terribly thin on defense, etc, but uh, suddenly that "house money" everyone talked about is gone.  There needs to be some coaching done now to get this team where it needs to be.  Where is that, you ask?  It's 7-3 heading to Wisconsin.  There is no excuse to drop a game to Illinois, a win there places us in a bowl and that monkey is thrown off the back.  It, quite simply, is a must win.  Zook is an appallingly bad coach, there's no excuse there.  The Purdue game is looking tougher now than it did at any point in the last several weeks and given our inability to stop a pass, I'm more concerned about it.  Frankly though, we need to start beating some teams that are above the level of MAC squads.  The ND win was huge, but we haven't replicated that level of play since.

I really, really, really want to see us pound the football.  We have far too much talent at running back to let them only see the football 20 times a game.  Minor and Brown need to be the plow-horses for this offense right now, and there's nothing wrong with that.  Tate is trying to do too much out there on the field as well.  I can understand why, he started off on fire, but I think we might be trying to do too much with him.  Go back and look at the gameplans from the Western and ND games, I'd simplify the offense back to those core plays and just run with it.  Let Tate make the short throws and easy reads rolling out of the pocket that he's so good at and call it a day.  Work in the occasional deep shot and that's your passing game.  Again, Minor and Brown need to touch the ball about twice as often as they are currently.  

Unfortunately I have absolutely no solutions for our defense at this time, how we ever let ourselves get into this position from a recruiting standpoint is a travesty of great magnitude.  

This disappointing performance needs to be put in the rearview mirror and this team needs to get ready for the finishing stretch that starts with Illinois next Saturday.  I know that there will be better days ahead, but we have some serious work to do right now to get there, and the Illinois game is a no-questions-asked must win.

GO BLUE! 

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