Three and out: Michigan offers proof of progress in win over Oregon State
1. Michigan shows progress
There is joy in the Big House again. While it’s doubtful anyone in Ann Arbor believes Saturday’s win portends a Big Ten title or even the Wolverines being competitive in the Big Ten this year, tangible proof of Harbaugh’s progress was a welcome sight for the maize-and-blue faithful.
Michigan played hard but wasn’t good enough in its season opener at Utah. The Wolverines had better players than Oregon State, and they played like it. Outplaying a physically overmatched opponent wasn’t always a given in the waning days of the Brady Hoke era.
Michigan’s offensive line looked tentative in the first half against Utah before settling and playing much better, and the Wolverines carried that confidence into Saturday. Michigan’s line generated a push on between-the-tackles runs all afternoon, and that led to a game-high 126 rushing yards for De’Veon Smith and a much easier time for Michigan’s passing game. The success running the ball opened up an array of play-action throws, and an efficient Jake Rudock made the Beavers pay. Meanwhile, Michigan’s defense played lights-out after allowing a touchdown on Oregon State’s first possession. After allowing 79 yards on the Beavers’ first seven plays, the Wolverines allowed an average of 1.5 yards on Oregon State’s next 37 plays.
2. Wolverines QB Jake Rudock looked much better
Rudock might have been Michigan’s most improved player between weeks one and two. After throwing three interceptions against the Utes, the graduate transfer from Iowa settled and played much more efficiently against the Beavers. Rudock missed on four of his first nine passes Saturday, but he completed 11 of his next 14 as Michigan built a 21-point fourth-quarter lead.
The day didn’t start so auspiciously for Rudock. On Michigan’s first possession, Wolverines blockers failed to pick up Oregon State’s Rommel Mageo, who got a free run at Rudock and crushed the quarterback. Rudock fumbled, allowing Oregon State to recover on the Michigan 24. But Michigan got the ball back two plays later when Taco Charlton forced a Victor Bolden fumble. Rudock made prudent choices with the ball for the most part. He had multiple chances to force throws into coverage, but he usually tucked the ball or dumped it off to a closer, more open target. In the fourth quarter, Rudock tried to crowbar a pass in to tight end Jake Butt only to have it intercepted by Mageo. The Wolverines had a huge lead at the time, but Rudock will have to be careful when the schedule ramps up again in two weeks with a visit from BYU.
3. Gary Andersen should not have punted in this situation
Oregon State coach Gary Andersen clearly didn’t read this week’s story about Kevin Kelley, the Arkansas high school coach who doesn’t punt unless he absolutely must. Late in the second quarter, the Beavers were down three when they faced fourth-and-3 from the Michigan 39 with 1:29 remaining. The fourth down calculator on the advancedfootballanalytics.com site uses NFL data, but we don’t need a completely apples-to-apples comparison to know that punting the ball was a horrible idea in this situation.
Using the NFL numbers, which likely would be more conservative than college data, the expected points had Oregon State opted to go for it were 1.06. Oregon State’s expected points if it punted were .04. So it was a bad idea made even worse when the Beavers took a delay of game penalty and backed themselves up five yards.
Of course, Andersen looked like a genius at first when Beavers punter Nick Porebski used the old right foot pitching wedge to get some backspin and roll the ball out at the Michigan two-yard line. Unfortunately for Oregon State, that play was nullified by an illegal formation penalty. At that point, the Football Gods intervened and punished Andersen for choosing the conventional—though not the safest, as demonstrated above—route. The next snap sailed over Porebski’s head, and Michigan took over on the Oregon State three yard line. Three plays later, Michigan’s DeVeon Smith punched in a touchdown.