Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Herbie Doesn't get Michigan Football

Apparently Kirk Herbstreit doesn’t understand Michigan football as well as I thought he did. While I generally respect Herbstreit’s unbiased analysis, I think his standing as an Ohio State alumna got in the way of sound reasoning on his Columbus-based radio show this week. Herbstreit said of Michigan’s current chances of beating Ohio State, “If those two teams were to play right now, just the way they're playing, I don't even think it would be close. Ohio State not only wins that game the way they're playing right now, maybe by a few scores.”

Herbstreit has apparently missed out on one of the primary characteristics of highly talented, highly ranked, Lloyd Carr-coached Michigan teams. Whereas Ohio State goes for the jugular against any and all competition regardless of whether they’re already up by four touchdowns or not, Michigan just wants to win the game. Sure, Mario Manningham’s absence has affected Michigan’s offense but not nearly as much as it appears. Carr knew that he could beat Penn State, Iowa, and Northwestern by simply playing smash-mouth football. To take anything away from those games, other than frustration as fans for not going full throttle, would not only be misguided but a huge mistake. If Northwestern scored 30 points against Michigan last Saturday, the Michigan offense would’ve scored 50. Michigan didn’t need to throw, they didn’t want to throw, and they didn’t throw. Why they do this is beyond me. Ohio State doesn’t do it. USC doesn’t do it. Notre Dame doesn’t do it. Nobody (except Michigan) does it.

Against “weaker” competition, Michigan almost never attacks weaknesses unless those weaknesses just happen to be what Michigan’s game-plan already entails. Against highly rated teams (like Notre Dame earlier this year), Michigan almost always (not USC ’04 or Tennessee ’02) comes out on all cylinders. I don’t know why the Michigan offensive coaches feel the need to do this. It causes losses to weaker teams. It’s frustrating and the tradeoff of not running up the score compared to the amount of unnecessary losses to weaker teams is not even close to being worth it. One thing it isn’t, though, is an indicator of how Michigan will fare against a really good team. That’s where Herbstreit is mistaken. Michigan doesn’t respect Northwestern or Iowa or Penn State. That’s why Michigan doesn’t adjust its game-plan for those teams. As much lip service as Carr and Co. gives to the media about the greatness of Ball St’s punter, the reality is that if Michigan isn’t playing Ohio State or Notre Dame, or any other highly rated team, the coaches don’t even need to know who the opponent is. On the other hand, Carr “fears” Ohio State and Notre Dame because of how many losses he has suffered to them. That’s why they came out smokin’ against Notre Dame and that’s why they’ll show up with their “A” game for Ohio State.

I know a lot of Michigan fans are concerned because of how Michigan has played over the last month or so. It “looks” like they’re struggling in many areas. The truth is that they’re just waiting it out until the Ohio State game. They want everyone healthy for The Game. Lloyd Carr is the most conservative football coach I have ever seen. He is doing nothing right now to change my mind on that. His goal is to win, regardless of score, by expending as little effort as possible. Right or wrong, this is what we have to live with. Just don’t think that has any bearing on the outcome of The Game. I’m surprised Herbstreit missed the boat on this one.


Anonymous said...

Dude, I live in Columbus, OH and have listened to Herbie on and off for a while now. At first when he came out, he was extra careful to be unbiased, but I think the local criticism has affected his "journalistic integrity." I have to agree with some of his comments though. I do think that OSU will spread the UM Defense out and that they will run based on that. I look for them to pass to set up the run. As you may or may not know, once the Defense gives up some yards in the air, those safeties get back and the running gets a bit easier. This ain't your Dad's Big Ten squad. I think the only way UM wins is if they dominate the line of scrimmage (which likely will be a standoff) and Troy Smith throws a few INT's. I hate to say it as a UM fan, but OSU has had their way with everyone this year and their offense is just too good. Let's hope UM can consume a lot of clock and run Hart 50 times to keep that offense off the field. My greatest fear is losing it at the end on a field goal. If they are up at the end, I don't want to see a prevent. I can live with the loss if they keep attacking. Thanks to Herbie for providing bulletin board material......

Jake said...

I agree with your thoughts about The Game. That actually goes to what I was trying to get at. Herbie and some Michigan fans are concerned about the "M" offense because of the last three games. Like you, I am most concerned about the "M" defense. The offense will be fine. OSU will spread out the field and neutralize our D-line. It'll be up to our weakest spot on defense (the DB's) to stop OSU's strongest spot on offense (their passing game). I do not like that match-up.

Whoever Leon Hall doesn't cover is going to have a huge day. By the way, if it's close at the end and OSU is driving late, you WILL say the prevent. It's the Michigan way.

You are correct about the bulletin board material. There is no doubt those quotes will make its way into the Michigan locker room. Although, I doubt the team needs anymore motivation after being smoked the last few years. Michigan will be fired up. Hopefully OSU can't match "M"'s intensity.

Anonymous said...

35-17 Ohio State. Whoever Morgan Trent covers has 3 TD's, Ginn PR TD and Pittman runs for another score, although he'll probably only have 30 yards rushing all day.

The front 7 for Michigan is very good, but they've obscured the fact that any cornerback they have not named Leon Hall are dismal at best.

Anonymous said...

Your analysis about Lloyd's conservative nature is spot on... the key to OSU will be turnovers. If M's defense can force some, the offense is probably good enough to win the game even with the current cast of characters. With the addition of Mario back, the equation turns more in Michigan's favor.

At any rate, the scores of U-M and MSU games against other Big 10 teams has never been a good indicator of how "The Game" will turn out.

Anonymous said...

This year's scUM team is a lot like OSU's 2003 team ... I don't think Lloyd is being as conservative than Tressel was in 2003.

It boils down to the great offense vs the great defense. Personally, I think the great defense wins those battles often. (2004 OSU vs Miami in the NC)

How does the OSU defense match up against the scUM offense? Favorably for OSU I think .....

Jake said...

Hwood, agreed on whoever Trent is covering. Michigan has been soft in coverage this year when the opposition decides to go through the air exclusively. Some of it is because Michigan is allowing teams to throw when they have big leads. But, a lot of it is shaky coverage.

VA Genius, if Manningham is healthy, Michigan will not lose this game because of the offense. I definitely agree.

Yike, I don’t think OSU’s defense beats UM’s offense. I think you will be surprised. Remember what the UM offense was doing when they were going full throttle? Notre Dame remembers. Don’t let the fact that Lloyd is ridiculously conservative against weak competition and Manningham’s absence fool you. The dangerous thing for UM is matching up against OSU’s offense. Smith could have another huge day if UM hasn’t learned anything from the last few years. That is something I fear a heck of a lot more than Michigan’s offense having problems against OSU’s defense.

Anonymous said...

Waitaminute ... Jake did you really just use Notre Dame's defense as a yardstick to measure UM's offensive prowess? Talk about comparing apple and oranges. That is more like comparing an apple to an orange orchard. :)

Smith is different than last year's Smith. He will not run all over the place like he did last year, but he will do serious damage throwing the ball. It sticks in our minds how he runs against UM, but the passing this year is what is dominating. Even when he runs this year, he is not the same runner IMHO. or maybe he will run wild, and he spent all year making UM think he will stay mostly behind the line of scrimmage.

Jake said...

Yike, I was certainly not fluffing up Notre Dame's defense. But do you really think Notre Dame has a worse defense than Northwestern? My point is that Michigan came out swinging against Notre Dame because it was Notre Dame. Michigan came out with the "run the ball into the ground" mentality against Northwestern because it was Northwestern. When Michigan knows (or thinks it knows) that it can win by simply showing up, all creativity and adjustments to suit the oppositions weaknesses get thrown out the window. So taking anything away from Michigan's last three or four games (like Herbie has) is to not know Michigan football.

One thing about Lloyd being less conservative than Tressel in '03, Tressel didn't have near the talent on "O" that Lloyd has this year. Tressel was playing to his strengths in '03. Ball control, let the defense win.

Michigan's "O" this year has ridiculous talent yet Lloyd has played the conservative card ever since the Notre Dame game. It's weird and it's why Michigan has lost so many games it should have won in the past. It's also why Herbie thinks Michigan isn't playing well.

As for Smith, I believe that he "has" been different than last year but I don't believe he "is" different. What I mean is that given the chance to do what he did last year, he'll do it in a second. He is a better pro-style QB when he stays in the pocket but if winning requires him to run, he'll do it as good as ever. I have no doubts about that.

The 18th is going to be sweet. My only regret is that I won't get to be there. Enjoy!


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