Surprise Teams; Michigan’s Game Plan; Poll Analysis


Oct 12, 2013; University Park, PA, USA; Michigan Wolverines running back Derrick Green (27) runs the ball during the second quarter against the Penn State Nittany Lions at Beaver Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew O

Denard Robinson was a great college player. He was not, however, to put it kindly, the best passer. When he graduated, Michigan fans thought the offense would become more balanced and consistent: better passing, fewer turnovers, and less reliance on the quarterback to carry the workload. Halfway through the 2013 season, that hasn’t been the case.

In Michigan’s 43-40 four-overtime loss to Penn State on Saturday, the Wolverines’ non-quarterbacks rushed 30 times for 28 yards. Of those 30 carries:

  • 6 went for negative yards
  • 17 went for no gain (including the negative rushes)
  • 22 went for 1 yard or less

The other eight carries went for 12, 2, 5, 8, 4, 3, 3, and 3 yards. In other words, it was the Devin Gardner show, again. He ran 24 times for 121 yards, accounting for 361 of Michigan’s 389 total yards. On the season Michigan ranks 80th in the country with 4.06 yards per carry. Remove Gardner’s runs and that number drops to 3.41 YPC, which would rank 106th.

And yet on Saturday, Michigan’s coaches were more than willing to keep giving the running backs the ball as part of their ultra-conservative game plan. Perhaps fearful after Gardner’s three first half turnovers, they were content to try field goals throughout the overtime periods. This is not the NFL; kickers are not reliable. After Penn State missed a field goal, Michigan ran twice for one yard each before having Gardner take a knee to center the ball for Brendan Gibbons, who had his 40-yard attempt blocked. One would expect Gibbons to make the 33-yarder he’d miss later, but even that came after Michigan ran Toussaint twice for no yards and failed to get a first down.*

Brady Hoke lost the aggressiveness he’s shown previously (as well as a willingness to call timeout to avoid costly delay of game penalties). Michigan did not PLAY TO WIN THE GAME, as Herm Edwards famously said, and therefore did not win the game.

*ESPN didn’t help Gibbons. Play-by-play man Joe Tessitore called him Brandon throughout the game and the network repeatedly flashed a graphic that claimed he entered the game having made 16 field goals in a row when in fact his streak was at one.

Look at me now

Michigan is no longer undefeated in conference, but look who is: South Florida (2-0), Oregon State (3-0), and Texas (3-0).

South Florida entered play in the American Athletic Conference failing to be remotely competitive in any of their first four games. Wins over Cincinnati and Connecticut won’t impress many people, but USF had been drubbed by McNeese State and Florida Atlantic, so this is a major improvement.

Oregon State opened the season with a 49-46 loss to FCS member Eastern Washington. There are still concerns about the defense, but the Beavers are now 5-1 after Saturday’s 52-24 win at Washington State. They haven’t played the best Pac-12 teams yet, but their win at Utah looks better after Stanford lost there.

You probably heard something about Texas’ early-season struggles. The Longhorns were 1-2 a month ago, getting blown out by BYU and Ole Miss. Sneaking by Iowa State didn’t convince many they had improved much, but those folks have to reconsider after Texas’ 36-20 win over Oklahoma on Saturday (or, more likely, they’ll use it as proof that the Big 12 is weak).

Not the Big 12: The SEC, which placed a record eight teams in this week’s AP top 25 poll. There’s no denying the SEC is still king of the college football world and will get the benefit of the doubt when it comes to votes. That’s why 4-2 teams like Florida and Georgia remain ranked (Georgia is 15!) and Auburn sneaks into the poll.

More pollin’: The Harris Poll came out for the first time this week, one week ahead of the debut of the BCS rankings. Haven’t seen it? Well, it looks mostly the same as the other polls, because voters are sheep. No team in the Harris Poll is more than two spots off from its ranking in the Coaches Poll.

“I said, Georgia, oh Georgia, no peace I find”: It was a rough sports week for the state of Georgia. It started on Monday, when the Atlanta Falcons were stunned by the New York Jets to fall to 1-4 and the Atlanta Braves were eliminated from the playoffs by the Dodgers. It continued on Saturday, when the Georgia Bulldogs dropped their second game of the season, 41-26 at home to Missouri. Georgia Tech got smacked by BYU for its third straight loss. And Georgia State, in the Sun Belt, fell to 0-6. Georgia could definitely use some of the sports mojo that Massachusetts had in abundance in Sunday.