Probably Not What You Want to Hear (Michigan 29, Indiana 7)

Extra Point Jake Moody > Redzone FG Jake Moody

Photo: Zoey Holmstrom

This team. Aaaarrgg!

I love 'em, I really do. I love our running backs and defensive line. Cade can be so good. Dax Hill, Josh Ross and Aidan Hutchinson are NFL-level talent right now. Even JJ, with all of his freshman-ness, is so fun to watch. But sometimes, despite how good these guys are, the coaches can find more ways to screw things up. Take for instance their first drive of the second half up 17-7. Indiana is just awful, right? They kept it close in the first it an MSU hangover, whatever...either way, this is the drive where Michigan starts to put them away.

Instead, we got...

1-10: Hand off Haskins off the right side. Falls forward in a scrum. Gain of 5.

2-5: Bubble screen to the left to Cornelius Johnson. Gets driven out of bounds. Gain of 4.

3-1: Shotgun. Zone read handoff to Haskins that gets blown up by the blitzing linebacker up the middle. Strong side DE and safety crash down at the LOS...because they know it's not really a zone read. Any functioning QB keeps the ball here, Roman Wilson has the corner blocked should Cade decide to go that way (but of course he has to try and pickup the crashing safety b/c he knows the ball is going to Haskins no matter what). No gain. Injured Indiana player.


4-1: Michigan lines up to run a play, tries the hard count (for 35 seconds!!) to draw IU offsides. They are unsuccessful. With a second left on the play clock, the RG Zinter jumps offsides, the ball gets snapped, handoff to the left side to Haskins. The play actually gets blocked quite well, Haskins easily gets the first down, but the play is blown dead by a timeout called by Michigan before the snap.


4-1 (again): Michigan decides to punt. Brad Robbins' punt goes for 33 yards...probably as punishment from the football gods for failing them in such an embarrassing way.

I don't know man. Stop trying to do stupid stuff and just line up under center on 3rd and 1, stack 3 tight ends on the line, use a (gasp) fullback, or let Cade sneak it behind that OL. Be what you are. You want to be a physical running team? Be that. I'd rather Michigan line up and run two proper short-yardage run plays and not get it then attempt whatever this mess of confusion was. If you want to point to one specific moment in this game that fully encapsulates the frustration one feels when watching a entire season of Michigan football, here it is. 

All you can really say about this game is that thank goodness Indiana is pretty awful at football. 

I'm starting to think the best option at this point would be to take all of the offensive coaches, lock them in a barn and not let them out until they concocted a gameplan that actually plays to Michigan's strengths rather than what they think the opponent's weaknesses might be. If they can't do that, then just light the barn on fire.

I mean seriously, what is happening in the redzone? 

Over the last 2 games, of Michigan's 6 touchdown drives, they went...

3 plays / 98yards
8 plays / 78 yards
5 plays / 54 yards
4 plays / 24 yards
4 plays / 75 yards
3 plays / 60 yards

Of Michigan's 7 drives that ended in field goals, they went...

6 plays / 22 yards
10 plays / 55 yards
9 plays / 54 yards
9 plays / 57 yards
15 plays / 63 yards
11 plays / 62 yards
8 plays / 33 yards

Clearly, moving the ball isn't a problem...552 yards of total offense against Michigan State and 411 yards against Indiana. Scoring touchdowns also isn't really as much of a problem either, as long as it's generally from outside the redzone and in the first 3-5 plays of the drive. After that, Michigan seems to only take what the defense gives them. Once the field gets shorter and defenses generally get more of an advantage, Michigan has real trouble punching it in.

And just to prove that we're not all doom and gloom here...the fake handoff bootleg touchdown to Schoonmaker midway through the 2nd quarter (shades of Griese to Tuman in '97!)...was set up perfectly by calling the exact same play two plays earlier as a run, which resulted in a 62-yard gain by Haskins. Those types of play-calling sequences says to me that, yes, there is a plan at work here. Albeit a seemingly inconsistent one.

But what is it about the redzone that paralyzes this offense? On the surface, Michigan seems to fair well, converting points on 42 of 45 redzone attempts (93.33%)...which is 8th overall in the country. But when filtering out touchdowns, that number drops to 25 of 42 (55.56%), which is 88th overall nationally.

For an offense that's predicates itself on being tough and physical, that redzone touchdown conversion rate is far below where it should be. Again, if you're just playing the Indianas of the world, sure, it'll get the job done, but when you're playing Michigan State or Penn State or Ohio State, redzone trips that end in field goals more often than touchdowns is not going to result in W's.

Michigan dominated the 3rd quarter, moved the ball well...20 plays for 109 yards compared to 9 plays and 19 yards for Indiana. Held the ball for 11:34. But only scored 6 points on two field goals. So the score at the start of the 4th was just 23-7 instead of 31-7 had they been able to punch those drives in for touchdowns. Same thing could be said for the first half versus Michigan State when Michigan had the momentum in that game. Three big drives stalled in the redzone. Convert those field goals into touchdowns, and you're up 35-14 at the half instead of 23-14. Three-score game instead of a one-score game.

That's the difference between being a slightly above average team, and being a championship team. To put it bluntly...the difference between being Michigan and being Ohio State.

Now, yes, this is still a young team that, by all accounts, is overachieving based on all preseason prognostications. There is room for this team to grow, and it would also be nice to see some evolution in the redzone play-calling that better suits what Michigan is actually good at. You have a superior running game. You have a more than capable quarterback who can make smart throws. You have playmaking receivers and tight ends. What's the x-factor here?

It's starting to feel more and more like Michigan is on one of two paths.

Either they're just a young team that's still figuring things out and they'll get there eventually. Or they're just an inconsistent, slightly above average team that generally plays better at home. The latter would fit the mold of Harbaugh's Michigan teams of the past...which probably isn't what anyone wants to hear. Or maybe this really is the new and improved Harbaugh identity and it's still just a work in progress?

Obviously, time will tell, but it just feels to me like starting out the season strong against obviously inferior opponents and getting exposed as the season goes on is the script for Michigan teams under Jim Harbaugh. Records against ranked teams or rivals aside, even 29-7 wins against bad teams like Indiana fit with the overall trend we've all seen from Michigan before. We see flashes of brilliance here and there, but overall, most of time, they just can't seem to get out of their own way to take that next step to becoming a dominant offense.

I hope I'm proven wrong. But for now, I'm going to have to see it to believe it.

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