Evaluating Jake Rudock’s Performance Versus Indiana

Jan 1, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Michigan Wolverines quarterback Jake Rudock (15) throws during the fourth quarter against the Florida Gators in the 2016 Citrus Bowl at Orlando Citrus Bowl Stadium. Michigan Wolverines defeated Florida Gators 41-7. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 1, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Michigan Wolverines quarterback Jake Rudock (15) throws during the fourth quarter against the Florida Gators in the 2016 Citrus Bowl at Orlando Citrus Bowl Stadium. Michigan Wolverines defeated Florida Gators 41-7. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports /

It is safe to say that Jake Rudock was a polarizing pick when he was selected by the Detroit Lions in the 6th round of the 2016 NFL Draft.  Most University of Michigan fans and alumni that follow the Lions were excited to see their quarterback stay in state.  Others had nothing but disdain for the selection.

Having no ties to the University of Michigan myself, I decided to see how Jake Rudock fared in what was labeled by many as his best game of the year, versus Indiana University in November of 2015.  To put a number with the overall play of Jake Rudock, I will be assigning a grade from -3 to +3 on each notable play outlined below, based on my own observations.

General Observations:

Michigan’s running game was abysmal for the most part.  While they relied on De’Veon Smith for the majority of the year, he was bottled up entirely outside of one bruising 20 yard run.  Jake Rudock, in fact, was the team’s leading rusher in the game, with seven carries for 64 yards.  Beyond those runs, Michigan had 57 yards on 21 carries, a 2.7 yards per carry clip (via espn).  In general, Rudock took the easy throws when they were given to him, and had little in the way of bad decisions.  The negative plays were mainly down to a lack of touch or accuracy issues, and he had a bit of trouble with his footwork on those throws.  He was often put into bad situations by his teammates as well, whether it was false starts or bad run blocking, resulting in 13 total penalties.

1st Quarter:

– After a few easy completions on the first drive of the game, Rudock made his first positive play of the day.  With 10:57 left to go in the 1st quarter and the ball on the opposition’s 34, Rudock draws the defense into the neutral zone for a free play.  He makes full use of the good cadence and lobs a good pass to Wide Receiver Jehu Chesson down the right sideline for an easy touchdown.

+1: Good use of the hard count and excellent awareness of the free play.

2nd Quarter: 7-6 Michigan

– The next notable play comes with 14:01 left in the 2nd quarter on Michigan’s own six yard line.  It is 2nd and 29 after a brutal penalty and a tackle for loss, and Rudock makes a play.  Tight End Jake Butt runs a crisp post route in between three Indiana defenders, and Rudock fits his throw in between all of them.  However, had Indiana’s free safety not slipped while trying to break up the pass, it may have fallen incomplete or worse.

+.5: Good throw into a tight space, but stared down Butt and could have had negative consequences.

– After a few quarterback scrambles on the same drive for 44 total yards, Rudock again makes a smart pass.  With 8:59 left in the 2nd quarter on the opposition’s 15 yard line, wide receiver Jehu Chesson lines up in the slot and runs a post towards the corner of the endzone.  After the play action, Indiana’s secondary blows the coverage and Rudock makes an even easier throw for a touchdown than his first.

+.5: Smart throw, however, it would be one of the easiest throws he will ever make.

– Rudock’s next noticeable pass happens with 5:31 left in the 2nd quarter on Michigan’s own 36.  Rudock opens with play action again (this will be a theme) and hits wide receiver Chesson on a deep in route.  This is one of the best throws Rudock will make all game.  In between three defenders, Rudock throws his receiver open and Chesson catches it perfectly in stride for 23 yards in the air.  Look at when he throws the ball in relation to where the receiver is.

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Screen Shot 2016-05-10 at 8.11.42 PM /

The throw is so on point and on time (with a little help from the Indiana safety taking a terrible angle) that Chesson is able to gain 41 yards after the catch and score a touchdown.

+3: Rudock’s best throw of the game and it results in a touchdown.

– Rudock follows his best throw of the game by making a head-scratching decision on the next drive.  The Wolverines are five yards away from the goal line with nine seconds left in the half.  They line up with four wide receivers in formation, and the slot receiver runs a very crisp, polished route that freezes Indiana’s corner (pictured on the bottom right nearly out of screen).

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Screen Shot 2016-05-11 at 5.26.39 PM /

However, Rudock holds onto the ball for too long and misses his window of opportunity.  Under pressure from Indiana’s pass rush, he throws an ill-advised pass towards his receiver while getting hit, nearly resulting in an atrocious interception at the goal line.

-2: The pass was low and difficult to intercept, but he should have hit his receiver sooner for an easy seven points.

3rd Quarter: 24-16 Michigan

– The first action of the 2nd half was a play design that I noticed Michigan likes to run with Rudock.  The offense is in 22 personnel (1 wide receiver, 2 tight ends, 2 running backs) which typically means run.  Head coach Jim Harbaugh tends to use play action in this package, which opens up the middle of the field often, especially when Indiana has nine men in the box (which they do).  The lone wide receiver, Amara Darboh, runs a comeback in that space, while the only other player running a route is a backup tight end, who is simply dragging a defender out of the center of the field.  There is only one read and one option on the play, and it relies on the wide receiving getting open.  To be fair to the corner, he is the lone and last line of defense, and therefore must protect the field behind him.  This makes for one of the easiest pitch and catch plays you’ll see.

– Four minutes into the second half, Rudock makes another poor decision that, luckily, does not end up worse than an incompletion.  It’s 2nd and 10 from the opposing 24 yard line, and Michigan line up in 11 personnel (1 running back, 1 tight end, 3 wide receivers).  Another play action pass, Rudock stares down his only read on the play, Darboh, and throws his way even though he is completely blanketed by the corner.  Rudock not only threw a risky pass for little potential reward, (a 3-4 yard slant) but had an easy checkdown right in front of him to his running back that he didn’t see.  The very next play Rudock has a man open for a touchdown but underthrows him.

-1: A bad decision and then a bad pass, but nothing that alters the game too much.

– With 4:29 left in the 3rd quarter, Rudock and the offense are near midfield.  A play action pass (drink!) is called with wide receiver Darboh lined up far right running a go route.  Rudock places a beautiful pass into his receiver’s hands but it is dropped.

+1: Solid pass, tough luck on the drop.

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– In the same drive we find both good and bad Jake.  After a smart play going through all of his reads quickly, he finds his fullback rolling to the flat for a gain of 16.  Promptly after, now on the opposition’s 25 yard line, the offense runs a play action pass intended for the tight end in 22 personnel again.  He runs a 10 yard out route to the left side, while Rudock stares him down the entire play and floats a duck in his area, getting intercepted.  The safety (#9) read him all the way.  -2.5: While the tight end on the play runs the laziest, rounded out route I’ve seen, Rudock still should have known better than to throw that pass. /

4th Quarter: 24-26 Indiana

– With the game starting to trend Indiana’s way, Jake Rudock had to take over the game.  He started off a bit shaky.  After showing off his arm strength earlier in the drive into a tight window, with 8:25 left in the 4th on the opposition’s 22, Rudock drops back after play action.  Wide receiver Darboh slips open on a go route to his left, Rudock looks off the safety, and underthrows his target again.  Luckily for him, the underthrow caught the defender off guard and gets called for pass interference.

-1: Had the pass been accurate, the play likely results in a touchdown, and could have been picked off had the corner turned his head on time.

– Down by seven with just over two minutes to go in the game, Rudock starts to drive the field attempting to tie the game up.  On the most critical play of regulation, Michigan line up with two tight ends and two wide receivers on 3rd down and 3 yards to go.  Receiver Chesson blazes past his corner and Rudock launches a pass his way, but underthrows him by a solid five yards.  Luckily for him and the state of Michigan, Chesson sees the underthrow and comes back to it to make the catch down to the two yard line.

-1: Again, had the corner turned his head, at best the pass falls incomplete.  At worst, the pass is intercepted and the game is over.

– After the two mediocre plays before, and four straight failed runs to score, Rudock zeroes in.  With only six seconds left in the game on 4th and goal from the five yard line, Rudock drops back and places a well-timed, splendidly placed touchdown pass to Chesson.  The receiver was covered well, but the pass is placed where only he could catch it.

+2.5: In a critical moment of the game, Rudock comes through with a calm and collected play to tie the game.

Overtime 2: 41-41

After an easy touchdown throw in the overtime before to match Indiana’s, Rudock again comes through in the clutch.  On the first play, wide receiver Darboh runs a stop-and-go route wide right; Rudock pumps as the corner bites hard, allowing a simple, but well-placed pass over the top to take the lead.  Indiana would not recover on the next possession, giving Michigan the win in double overtime.

+2: A horrible mistake from the cornerback but a good pump fake and pass for the win.

Overall Performance: +3

Contrary to popular opinion, Rudock had a decidedly up and down game.  As noted in the general observations, Rudock’s bad plays were mainly of the underthrown or inaccurate variety.  Most of the time on such throws, the quarterback was either throwing off of his back foot or not stepping into throws, causing those issues.  However, he made more positive plays than not, and was routinely smart in his decision-making with a few minor mistakes.  The Detroit Lions’ offense under Jim Bob Cooter is predicated on timing and intelligent throws, both of which were on display in this game.  While it is naive to suggest that one game can illustrate every trait a quarterback possesses, it can paint a clear picture of strengths and weaknesses, and this game did just that.

Next: A History of Drafted Long Snappers