Mailbag: Sadness, anger, run game

October, 16, 2013
10/16/13
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Well, that happened. After what could’ve been really embarrassing losses to Akron or Connecticut, the Wolverines inability to control the ball, make big offensive plays when needed or start fast finally caught up to them. And what did they get? A loss to Penn State.

So, let’s discuss the prospects and pains of Michigan football.

1. Chris, Weathersfield: Should I be really sad or kinda sad about the rest of Michigan's season?

[+] EnlargeJordan Lucas
Matthew O'Haren/USA TODAY SportsMichigan's loss to Penn State, after struggles with Akron and UConn, has generated a lot of questions.
A: It has already been a roller coaster of a season, no? So I think at this point the best thing for your heart (and blood pressure) is not to let your own emotional highs get too high or the emotional lows, too low. If Michigan beats IU handily this weekend, don’t consider everything well with the world. Beating a team you should beat doesn’t mean much. It means you did your job. The Wolverines still have trips to Michigan State, Northwestern and Iowa. If they can go 2-1 in those games. That would be pretty good. But again, that’s still 2-1 on the road against three (currently) unranked teams. Nebraska and Ohio State are coming into the Big House and those will both be tough games. The Cornhuskers will be more manageable than the Buckeyes, especially if Taylor Martinez still isn’t playing. So basically, I see two more times during this regular season that you can really allow yourself to get very excited about this team. If Michigan goes 3-0 on the road and beats Ohio State, feel free to throw a party.

2. Hoover Street Rag via Twitter: More disheartening: the delay of game penalty before the punt, the punt, or the defense on the final drive?

A: Shoot. If this were a college exam the fourth option would be “all of the above” and I’d choose that. Brady Hoke said the delay of game penalty was on him completely, so I’m going to go with that. I didn’t think the defense on the final drive was terrible. Channing Stribling was told to go for the interception, and he did. Allen Robinson made a heck of a play there and Christian Hackenberg placed the ball perfectly on multiple occasions. You can’t be too upset about that. But the penalty showed Michigan cracking under pressure and not being organized/mature. That’s very bad, especially when you’re this far into the season.

And, for good measure, I’d like to add one more option to your three. I found the all of the play-calling at the end of the game to be a bit disappointing. To me, there’s a difference between playing to win and playing not to lose. When I coached basketball, I never went with a four-corners, stall-the-game type deal at the end of close games. My thought was that we would attack offensively and play good defense -- that’s how we’d play games and that’s how we’d win games. If we couldn’t do both of those, did we really deserve to win? Michigan spread the floor as wide as they could Saturday. But, even more confusing than the conservative play-calling was the fact Hoke said he didn’t think it was conservative. That worries me. Don’t call a zebra a horse. Or, maybe an even better comparison for this … don’t call a mouse a lion.

3. Tyler, New York: Is there a consensus on what precisely is going wrong with the run game -- personnel, scheme, execution, all of above?

A: There we go. An “all of above” option. Thanks, Tyler. And I’ll agree with you there. It’s all of that. Rarely can a problem be distilled to one primary issue (unless you’re my car and dust in the filters means everything breaks, but that’s another story for another day). The personnel issues come down to the fact the offensive line isn’t creating enough. And on top of that, teams know that Devin Gardner’s arm hasn’t been the most reliable thing in the world, so they’re not afraid to put eight guys in the box and really bring the pressure. That’s not the best setting for creating holes and getting Fitzgerald Toussaint through those holes. Teams know Michigan doesn’t want to run Gardner too much, so they key Toussaint or Derrick Green. Michigan has been predictable with its run game, and Penn State exposed that. It’s hard to execute when opponents know what’s coming, which is why the read option has been relatively successful for Gardner. He’s able to make things happen. In some schools of thought, they should do that more, but the Wolverines need to weigh the risk/reward of Gardner getting hit hard enough that it requires Shane Morris to enter the game. Where is that line drawn? That's what Michigan is trying to figure out right now.

Chantel Jennings | email

Oregon/Pac-12 reporter

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