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‘Unbelievably high’ number of missed assignments plague ‘M’

Erin Kirkland/Daily
Fifth-year senior wide receiver Roy Roundtree and the Michigan football team’s offense had 23 missed assignments in a 13-6 loss to Notre Dame. Buy this photo

By Zach Helfand, Daily Sports Editor
Published October 2, 2012

The worst part of film study, Jordan Kovacs said, is when you know you messed up. Those glaring missed assignments, when you should’ve done one thing but did the other, and all you can manage now is to pray the coaches stop the film.

“It’s not fun,” the fifth-year senior safety said with a laugh. “Sometimes you get in those meetings and you know the play is coming, and you’re thinking ‘Oh God, here it comes. Please don’t show it, please don’t show it. What is Coach going to say?’ ”

Against Notre Dame, the Michigan offense had 23 of those missed assignments, according to redshirt junior tackle Taylor Lewan, a number he called “unbelievably high.” The mistakes could range from missed blocks to improper reads to poor communication.

“You should have one or two maybe in a game,” Lewan said. “I’ve never seen (23 missed assignments) happen before, personally.”

Senior quarterback Denard Robinson and his five turnovers have received most of the blame from Saturday’s loss, but the rest of the offense struggled with even the smallest of details. Wide receivers ran past unblocked linebackers or didn’t block at all. Linemen got beat. Runners made the wrong reads. Minus the Hail Mary at the end of the first half, Robinson was pressured or hit on all of his interceptions.

Lewan said the offense even failed to communicate the proper play call. Offensive coordinator Al Borges called plays on several occasions that never made it onto the field.

“It’s not just Denard,” Lewan said. “There’s plenty of guys who messed up.”

Michigan coach Brady Hoke calls those missed assignments “game spasms,” his word for mistakes that never happen in practice but can derail an offense during a game. A few happen in every game, but Michigan tends to suffer more on the road. Think Michgian State or Iowa or even Virginia Tech last year, or Alabama or Notre Dame this year.

When not in Michigan Stadium, the number of missed assignments rises and the Wolverines’ total yardage falls. This year, Michigan has averaged 504 yards of total offense per game at home but just 284 yards away from Ann Arbor. Granted, the level of competition — Alabama and Notre Dame — was much higher on road games this year, but last year’s trend was similar. At home in 2011, Michigan averaged 450 yards. On the road, the Wolverines averaged 332 yards.

Borges said he used the bye week to review his own performance on the road. He looked at his play calls from the past two seasons on the road, every single call, and evaluated his decisions. He codified each play into three categories. One, where the call gave an advantage to the offense, the type of play that should be successful; two, where the call could be successful but required more execution; and a third where a call gave the defense the advantage.

Borges declined to say specifically what he learned form his analysis, but the fact that he reviewed his road play-calling at all is revealing.

“As a play-caller, believe me, as hard as the fans are on me, I’m about eight times harder on myself,” Borges said.

Robinson didn’t have an answer for Michigan’s road struggles, and jokingly noted, “I don’t think I had a bad game when I was at Notre Dame my sophomore year,” as an understatement. Lewan said it wouldn’t happen again. Kovacs blamed a lack of cohesion.

“It comes down to communication and just feeling comfortable with the guys that you’re out there with,” Kovacs said.