Utah Postmortem: The Ugly

More offensive ineptitude was on display Saturday. After going back over the film to dissect the performance in painstaking detail it's clear that the question the Wolverines must answer is will changing the quarterback be enough to cure all that ails them?

The Ugly – More Offensive Inconsistency

Simply put, the only thing Michigan is currently consistent at on offense is being inconsistent.

The Wolverine offense has notched a grand total of ZERO trips to the red zone and three total points versus their two biggest opponents to date.

The Wolverines are tied for dead last in the country in turnover margin at -10 (-2.50 per game).

The Wolverines are tied for 90th with San Diego State in scoring offense, averaging 24.0 points per game.

The common thread in the losses to Notre Dame and Utah was the alarming frequency with which they halted drives with negative plays or penalties.

The debilitating pattern is easy to notice when looking back at the film of both games.

Notre Dame Drive Killers

  • On Michigan’s first drive versus Notre Dame game the Wolverines were driving when a blocking mistake by Jehu Chesson on a bubble screen led to Dennis Norfleet getting hit for a two yard loss.  After failing to convert the third down the next play Michigan wound up settling for a field goal try (which was missed).

  • On the second drive versus ND a snap infraction by Jack Miller on a first down in Notre Dame territory put the Maize & Blue behind the sticks. They wound up settling for a field goal try a  few plays later (which was missed).

  • On the fourth drive a fumble by Gardner after attempting to pull back a throw resulted in a 10 yard loss.  Two plays Michigan punted.

  • The fifth drive (the first after halftime) ended with an interception.

  • On the sixth drive the Wolverines were able to escape the shadow of their own endzone with two third down conversions, but Erik Magnuson’s false start on a 1st & 10 from their own 29 put them behind the sticks again.   Michigan punted a few plays later.

  • The seventh drive ended with a Gardner fumble.

  • The eight drive ended in an interception when Amara Darboh neglected to work back to the football on a comeback route.

Utah Drive Killers

  • On Michigan’s second drive after a big 24 yard pass play to Devin Funchess  got the ball out to the Michigan 43, an Erik Magnuson holding call made it 1st & 20.  The Wolverines were forced to punt a few plays later.

  • Michigan’s third drive began with a three yard loss when the Utes blew through the line to snuff out an end-around, and a sack that occurred when Gardner was flushed and his receivers didn’t work to get open.  Michigan punted two plays later.

  • Michigan’s fifth drive began with a big 12 yard run by Derrick Green to get the Wolverines into Utah territory.  A linebacker beat Graham Glasgow on a blitz the very next play to put Michigan behind the sticks again.  The Wolverines punted a few plays later.

  • On Michigan’s sixth drive the Wolverines did something they rarely do.  After losing two yards on a first down run by Derrick Green and losing five more yards on an A.J. Williams false start the Maize & Blue dug out of a 2nd & 17 hole.  The big play was a 25 yard skinny post to Devin Funchess on 3rd & 8.  The very next play was a slant to Funchess that Gardner threw too far in front.  The ball bounced off of Funchess’ hand and was intercepted.

  • On Michigan’s seventh drive after a few third down conversions moved the ball to midfield, an overloaded blitz on a play-action pass (that included a fake to a back that wasn’t there) resulted in a 12 yard sack.  Michigan punted a few plays later.

  • Michigan ninth drive ended on an interception on a pass for which it was hard to determine who Gardner was even throwing to.

It was after that last turnover that the coaching staff opted to change quarterbacks. The throw was so perplexing that Michigan offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier seemed to sense his fifth year senior needed some time to collect himself.  There’s a significant chance that time will encompass the forseeable future. 

In our recap of the Notre Dame game a few weeks ago I stated that it was important at that point not to mess with the quarterback position too soon… that leadership and morale could be compromised as a result.  But I followed it up by saying there was a point where poor performances could compromise the ability to lead.  At that point a serious thought would need to be given to making a change.  It appears that Michigan has reached that point.

The problem, though, is that will only address one issue for an offense that has so many.  The above detailing of stalled drives should make it clear to those that laid most of the blame for the offensive ineptitude at Gardner’s feet that a quarterback change won’t be a panacea. The mistakes are coming from every position group.  It’s hard to predict all of those issues magically disappearing just because a new signal caller is behind center (a new signal caller that is bound to make his share of mistakes born of inexperience).

Even so, if Shane Morris wins the job in practice this week (a seemingly likely scenario at this point), he presence will offer hope.  Maybe he’ll provide a spark? Maybe his skillset will allow him to capitalize on other aspects of the offense that Gardner didn’t? Maybe his huge arm will allow Michigan to stretch the field more?  There certainly will be a great deal pressure on Morris to perform, but he’ll be free of harsh public criticism for mistakes (at least for a time) since many have been clamoring for him to be inserted since last year.  Maybe that public support will allow him to play looser?  That certainly was a lot of maybes, but that’s where things are at currently.

If the coaching staff can get this group to make a few less mistakes on offense and get special teams to the point where they’re helping more than hurting, Michigan just might rebound enough to not squander what will likely be a pretty good defense.  How to accomplish that is a question that can only be answered by those paid to find it.

What’s abundantly clear is the “improvement can” has been kicked down the path as far as it possibly could.  Now the Wolverines must improve immediately or the last of Michigan’s remaining goals will disappear before the season reaches the midway point.

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