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Getting Offensive: Breaking Down Michigan's Offensive Performance Against Michigan State in the Wolverines' 17-34 Loss

ANN ARBOR, MI - OCTOBER 09: Jerel Worthy #99 of the Michigan State Spartans hits Denard Robinson #16 of the Michigan Wolverines during the game on October 9, 2010 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
ANN ARBOR, MI - OCTOBER 09: Jerel Worthy #99 of the Michigan State Spartans hits Denard Robinson #16 of the Michigan Wolverines during the game on October 9, 2010 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
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Below is MGoVideo'soutstanding video compilation from Saturday. I couldn't break down last week's game without it so, as usual, my unending thanks for his seemingly tireless work. Watch it, review it, think about it. Every play from Saturday's loss to Michigan State:

Initial Thoughts

First, the Bad. Interceptions. Drops. Missed blocks. Inability to convert a third and one. No real running game behind Robinson. You name it, it probably went wrong. Michigan's offense had been operating at an efficiency rate that German industry would admire, and in reality, it was a little too good to be true. The law of averages catches up with everyone eventually, and when you've only turned the ball over once through five games... well... you're due. But it's not just as though Denard Robinson's interceptions were completely to blame. This was an offensive collapse on a team level. The line simply wasn't very good. The receivers were dropping balls like they were made out of magma (at least four critical drops). The running backs missed blocks and despite looking okay carrying the ball only got 13 carries.

And WTFis up with Michigan consistently getting called for chop blocks? Molk's chop block was so damn obvious it had to be called (bottom left at 5:55). Why does this keep happening? On the other hand, speaking of the refs, also don't know how to call the obvious personal foul calls. Watch the first series and marvel at the late hits out of bounds. It just wasn't a good performance. Let's hope they were simly getting it out of their system.

Now, the Good. Despite having it's worst offensive performance of the season, Michigan's offense still managed 63 plays and 377 yards. For the first time this season, the Michigan running backs (despite looking kinda slow) managed a realypc against a realdefense. The running backs combined to gather 5.9 ypc on the day. Martell Webb caught a well deserved touchdown and seemed to block fairly well. Another thing to consider is that even with all of the above, Michigan did put itself in position to put at least another 14 points on the board. I'm not counting the missed field goal because I'm not confident he was going to make that distance, but if Robinson is a little more patient on the two goal line interceptions this game has a much different feel. There were positives to take away, unfortunately they're going to get buried under some big mistakes.

Positional Reviews after the jump

Positional Reviews

The Offensive Line: Sadly, for the most part the line looked okay. Watching the film there's good push, Robinson has plenty of time to throw, and there were lanes available for the running backs. However, at toward the end of the second quarter Michigan State brought the house and the line simply couldn't hold up. The result, Michigan ends up going down 17-10 going into the half. The biggest issue I saw was linemen whiffing on second level blocks. Linemen seemed to be running at people rather than planting a helmet on them. I think a good deal of the credit for that has to go to State's linebackers and DE's who shed their blocks and made plays, but a veteran line like Michigan's still needs to be able to overcome that. I saw whiffs by Stephen Schilling, Perry Dorrestein, and Patrick Omameh . For the first time in a long while, I also saw David Molk getting overpowered at the LOS. That really surprised me. State saw something and went right at him, forcing him into the backfield on a number of occasions and that's probably the reason for the chop block Molk threw in the third quarter.

For the most part, Robinson had all the time in the world to throw the ball. I can only count two instances before the half, and two before the Spartans hit 31 points, where he was legitimately pressured. So the line did their job. But when State brought a lot of pressure, there seemed to be problems. Another thing the Spartans did that Michigan wasn't prepared for was that State seemed to overload the tackles on obvious run plays. You can see this on a lot of Denard's running plays. State split their linebackers wide, almost over their DEs, and required them to fill a lot of space over the middle in exchange for quickness to the edges. It worked. It often ended up one of the tackles and a running back on the OLB, DE, and MLB. Those aren't great odds, and it didn't work very often. Michigan needed to adjust, and didn't.

The line was okay on the day. But the chop block was really dumb. They didn't handle some of the blitz packages well, and their second level blocking wasn't very good. Overall it's a C+ day for the line.

The Receivers: Drops all over the place and some really poor blocking. Roy Roundtree easily had one of his worst days as a starter. Martavious Odoms is out for the season with a broken foot. Michigan really didn't have one big down field play in the air. So there was that. But this isn't all on them. While Robinson did throw three picks, it probably should've been five. Michigan's receivers were open and Robinson couldn't find them. And a number of time when he did, he threw behind them. The four drops I counted were of the really bad variety. But for the most part the receivers were doing their jobs getting open. The real issue was blocking. Michigan State prepared very well for Michigan's blocking and I think the receivers were a little surprised at the resistance they got back. As a result, I think on a couple of the screens Roundtree or Odoms or whomever didn't set their blocks up well and ran away from angle of the block and into the tackler. And please, someone tell Roundtree when he'sin tight man coverage just to go forward with the catch. He killed his momentum on two separate occasions trying to shake a defender that was on him like a glove. if he just keeps moving froward it's two extra yards. Maybe three. Instead he got stood up and limited his gain tremendously.

Getting to the interceptions, the only one you could conceivably chalk up to one of the receivers was the bomb attempt to Kelvin Grady (who had an okay game), but I don't. That pass missed Grady so bad he didn't have a prayer. He was running free and clear to the inside of the field, away from the safety (who was behind him and to his left) and Robinson threw the ball behind him and to his left. Grady certainly could've adjusted better to the ball, but it was so poorly thrown he never had a chance to bat it down or make a play on it. If Robinson puts the ball in front of Grady it's six. He didn't and it ended up being a fairly easy interception.

With the drops and the whiffs, this was easily the receivers worst performance of the year. The only saving grace was Martell Webb's touchdown. This was a C- performance. They've got to play a lot better for Michigan to have a chance against Iowa, especially in the blocking game.

The Running Backs: I'll say this upfront. I'm giving them a B. Their blocking wasn't great, in fact, they whiffed on a couple of blocks and didn't really open a lot of holes, but when they were given the ball they got positive yardage. The only thing I was really cheesed about was watching Vincent Smith run into a wall of defenders he had no chance of moving. For pete's sake Rodriguez, put in the human wrecking ball Stephen Hopkins and let him hammer fools. I know Hopkins fumbled against BGSU, but right now he'sour best power back. He smokes people in the blocking game. He ALWAYS picks up positive yards. He must be in the game. Always. Set him up with Smith or Michael Shaw. But keep him in the game as a lead blocker and gainer of critical yards.

Outside of Hopkins, Shaw and Smith picked up yards when they were actually handed the ball. I think Robinson kept the ball a little too much. 21 carries for the quarterback seemed a bit much. The running backs were moving well and probably could've had more impact on the game had they been used a little more effectively. I liked what I saw from them on the ground and out fothe backfield as pass catchers. Smith and Shaw picked up first downs on catches and ran fairly well after the catch. They weren't great, they were good, and they were under utilized. Hence, the B.

The Quarterback: No matter who your quarterback is, if he's a first time starter he's going to have a game that reminds you that he's a first time starter. It turns out that game was against Michigan State. What was most frustrating for Michigan fans was just how good Denard looked out of the gate, and just how poorly he looked after that first pick. It was pretty clear that Robinson was seeing things he'd never seen before and was having trouble reacting. On his first pick, he had all day to throw the ball and tried to force the ball into a window. It was a big enough window to pick up the TD, but Robinson threw behind Roundtree (I mean WAY behind Roundtree) and gotit picked off. It was the same thing on his second INT in the third, a throw behind an open receiver where there was no margin for error. Robinson was also throwing the ball high on his roll outs. He "Tacopantsed" a sure touchdown to Stonum and almost got picked on an ill-advised improvisation after that. The thing that surprised me is that Robinson's throwing motion seemed off. on his picks it looks like he's side arming the ball. His bomb interception is a pretty clear example of this. His elbow is way down and the release point is off to the side and low. I don't know if he was trying to be too perfect and aiming the ball, but something just didn't look right. I don't think it's a physical issue. I think this was a kid in his first really big game where something's on the line, and he pushed a little too hard. the end result was three killer picks and a couple of really bad throws outside of those.

In the run game Robinson looked equally confused. I don't think he recognized immediately what MSU was doing on the overloads. As a result, he ran into a lot of Spartan defenders on the edges. I know it's never a fun idea send your running quarterback up the gut, but the Spartans were sitting on the edges and Michigan may have to send Denard up the middle from time to time to keep them honest. Denard was okay on the ground, but he also seemed to be cutting away from block and sometimes not allowing the blocks to set up.

Looking at the game as a whole, this was easily his worst game in a Michigan uniform. Three picks, two of them critical, and some really poor decisions in the run game stood out ot me. He gets a D on the day, and I doubt he'd disagree.


This just wasn't a good day. Nothing really seemed to click after the first series. Michigan seemed to be fighting itself. Somehow it makes sense that they'd have a tough game against a ranked opponent at home. This is the first time the Wolverines have had something on the line this season, and as a young team, predictably, they had some issues. Another aspect of the game was the fact that they were playing a very good Spartan defense. Michigan State's linebacking corps is arguably the best set of linebackers in the Big Ten, and they performed extremely well, effectively shutting down Robinson's ground game.

It was clear that Michigan State said to their defense, don't let Robinson beat you on the ground. They clearly wanted to make Robinson beat them in the air or make Michigan's dinged up or slow running backs beat them. They didn't. As catalogued above, the passing game was there, Michigan simply didn't capitalize on it. The running backs were pretty good, but Michigan only used them sparingly and in my mind inappropriately. I like Vincent Smith as a two down back right now, but on third and short he should never be in the game. He's simply not fast enough or big enough to get those extra yards.

Another thing that bugged me a bit were the coaching adjustments, or lack thereof. The way the Spartans were over pursuing on the edges a little misdirection would've been a good idea. But we didn't use it. How bout a reverse to Grady? Keep the Spartans honest. The one time we reversed field, Webb's touchdown, it worked like a charm. The fact that we didn't go back to it bothered me.

This just wasn't a good game out of the offense, but it's not like Michigan was definitively shut down. There were opportunities galore, Michigan just failed to capitalize on them. Realistically, Michigan will struggle against Iowa's outstanding defense, but I do think they'll play a lotbetter than they did last Saturday. All we can do is hope they learn from their mistakes this week and come out with a new game plan on the 16th.