Welcome back. After spending most of last week riding the struggle bus through blunder country, we return this week to examine the meat of Michigan’s schedule. The opponents in the back half of the season are of a much higher quality and level of consistency. Let’s take a look.
Wait… but you JUST said…
Hey, I know how this looks but IT WILL GET BETTER.
Yeah that’s what you said last week and now you’re leading with Illinois and we’re supposed to OOOH and AHHH like you just made the six of spades jump out of a rabbit’s ass and juggle flaming chainsaws
Look, I don’t make the schedule. Now do you want to hear about Illinois or not.
Does anyone ever want to hear about Illinois?
What if we throw in some suddenly-relevant Tim Beckman memories?
As you were.
Last year: 5-7 (2-6 B1G)
Recap: We won’t talk much about the football, because I promised Bolded Alter-Ego above that we wouldn’t dwell on this stuff. Sufficed to say that it was bad.
The Illini managed to make a competent-adjacent hire when by bringing in Lovie Smith. Smith isn’t quite the exciting new name, but he is an alum [EDIT - apprently he is not an alum. I just made that up] who might ignite a sense of “care somewhat” among the Illini fanbase. I have doubts about his ability to translate his game to the college level, but he’s a solid, reliable coach, and honestly, how much worse can it get?
When last we saw them: Michigan beat Illinois 45-0 in 2012, which still didn’t fully wash the taste of RichRod’s defenses surrendering 45, 38, and 65 points to the Illini in three consecutive years. Still, even with that, Michigan has won 41 of 47 against Illinois dating back to the beginning of the Bump Era.
Crootin’: Somewhat unsurprisingly, the situation recounted above was not conducive to an elite recruiting class. Illinois landed 25 commits, but only two were composite top-1000 (yes, that is the correct number of zeros), and none were in the top 700. Arguably their best recruit was Dele Harding, who you may remember as the guy who committed to Michigan because Dave Brandon got fired. 2016 rank: #71; 5-year ranking: #60
This team is as frightening as: A guy named “Lovie.” Fear Level = 3.5
Michigan should worry about: Dawuane Smoot continues the Illinois tradition of the Outstanding Defensive Players On Bad Illini Defenses, picking up the torch from the likes of Whitney Mercilus and Corey Liuget. Smoot is a natural pass-rusher, and possibly the best defensive end in the conference. Michigan’s left tackle situation is in flux. This could be problematic.
Michigan can sleep soundly about: Poor Damn Mikey Dudek tore another ACL. Keep that man away from fork lifts. Also the defense loses everyone and probably will be bad. And Michigan gets a bye week leading into this game.
When they play Michigan: Illinois has a defensive tackle named “Chunky Clements.” I just thought you should know that.
Promised Beckman Memories:
First game: vs. Murray State, 3:30 p.m., BTN.
[AFTER THE JUMP. No I’m cereal this time, we’re getting to the good teams]
[aaron_bills20021, who should have way more than 17 followers on Flickr.]
The starters are back. Things discussed this week:
- Chris Evans as offensive Peppers
- Ben Bredenson at left tackle: Sam's camp circuit scouting suggests it could go okay.
- Will intangible Peppers intangibles be felt on defense?
- Brian Cook wages his battle to destroy the evil forces of the Decepticons
- Herbie's wrong: 2016 is the year, 2017 is...
- Brian loves Mason Cole at center, Sam pumps the brakes
- Breakout players: Jabrill TFLs, De'Veon Smith, Darboh, Dymonte.
You can catch the entire episode on Michigan Insider's podcast stream on Audioboom.
Segment 2 is here.
THE USUAL LINKS
Once upon a time, there was a little girl with hair wings the color of goldish yellow, kind of like corn, or maize, or maybe the 14th most populous city in Texas if that makes sense. (She also had a phase where she dyed it neon. A lot of people bitched about what color this was, actually).
Anyway, one day she went for a walk in the forest. Pretty soon, she came upon the house where lived three bears. She knocked and, when no one answered, she walked right in.
Earlier this week I went over what a reach block is. There's actually a play where they're trying to reach block all three relevant linemen. It's called a zone stretch, also known as outside zone. And no, it doesn't actually rely on everyone getting reached; in fact all sorts of things are expected to go wrong, with guys getting help and offensive players coached to react to defensive reactions.
Those links cover what the offense does, but how should the defense play it? Indiana ran a lot of zone stretch against Michigan in 2015 and on one in particular I thought we got a nice example of the actions and reactions that go into these plays.
Zone blocking asks the OL to get the best block they can based on what the defense does, and as you might have guessed a reach block is the best block you can pull off. On a stretch play the OL will ID the defender they need to get playside of by how the D aligns, and the way they play the block is determined by how the guy getting block reacts. The RB then picks whatever hole materializes.
There are three different reach attempts going on here:
- The LT (Jason Spriggs) will reach/cut Godin (top)
- The LG (Jacob Bailey) will try to reach Willie Henry (middle) with a minor assist from the C (Jake Reed) as he releases.
- The RG (Dan Feeney) and RT will try to scoop Chris Wormley.
A scoop is a combination block where the OL lined up outside blocks the defensive player until the guy doing the reaching can get in position. Once they've got another guy around, the outside man releases to block someone else. Teams that run a lot of zone will get good at combo-ing with each other, and it's rare that any reach block is purely the work of one man. Even in our last example Braden lent Mason Cole an arm.
[After THE JUMP, too soft, too hard, and just right]
Is he [Rashan Gary] working on the same side as you?
“He mostly works with Worm at the Anchor side. I usually keep it to the End unless I go—I switch back and forth sometimes. Right now he’s working hard. He’s getting into film with us. He’s never scared of putting in extra work, also. He has that mindset where he wants to be good and he’s frustrated when he’s not dominating. I love seeing that out of the kid because it shows me that he wants to be great, just like I want to be great.”
What about you? How are you doing? Don Brown singled you out as one of the guys that was doing well.
“You know, it’s my senior year so—my goal is always to be the best of where I’m at, and my father always taught me never be second best to anybody. My goal’s always to be the best defensive end in the country right now, so that’s why I go out every practice and try to prove it. So far Coach Brown’s been loving it and hopefully every coach will. Like I said, I just go out there every day and practice with that mindset and hope it carries over to everybody else.”
How different is this defense with Don Brown as the coordinator, especially for the defensive line.
“We love him. We play hard for him. I think the whole defense does. He gets four of us on the field at the same time with the 4-3 defense and lets us attack, lets us play hard, lets us play aggressive and as a D-line that’s one thing you want to be able to do is play aggressive. Don’t have to worry about anything else, just out there and play and play hard, attack and make plays, and he allows us to do that.”
What’s the biggest difference for you? Is it just more knowledge and experience or are you stronger, faster, quicker?
“A little bit of all—I lost a little bit of weight, got my speed back. Got stronger in the offseason. Watched a lot of film of NFL guys. Got smarter. Met with a lot of coaches over the offseason. It’s just been a season I know I had to step up and I’ve done a pretty good job in practice doing that and being a leader on the defensive side of the ball, especially defensive line.”
Did you drop weight because you knew you were going to be on that edge and rushing again?
“Yeah, it was one of those things I got to talk to our coaches about and it’s something I really didn’t do myself. Met with Coach Mattison and Coach Brown, then I met with Coach Tolbert. Then we figured out what was that weight that was kind of in the middle—not too light, not too heavy, and it was perfect.”
What are you running now? What are your speed times?
“That I don’t know. I never was really—I was always one of the fast guys. Got a little faster.”
[More after THE JUMP]
Previously: Big Ten West
Good riddance. [Bryan Fuller]
We're still taking a look at the strongest and weakest units of each Big Ten squad, this time focusing on the East division. These are still in order of Bill Connelly's power rankings. You'll like this order.
Good News: [looks at defensive line depth chart] [cackles for several minutes]
Bad News: I know we all believe Ben Bredeson is going to be quite good, but I'd be lying if I said the news that a true freshman might start at left tackle doesn't give me the willies.
Good News: Linebacker, as usual, should be a strength, even if Ed Davis's dubious claim for a sixth year—we'll know for sure soon—doesn't go through. Riley Bullough isn't quite in that top tier of Big Ten MLBs, but he's close, and I think Jon Reschke is a quality player on the strong side. Sophomore Andrew Dowell is a player I really liked coming out of high school; he's stepping into the "STAR" spacebacker role after flashing promise as a freshman. Pulling some NCAA voodoo to get Davis another year could take this group from good to great.
Bad News: There are some major question marks (and ORs) on the depth chart on both lines, but for me the main area of concern is still the passing game. Tyler O'Connor has won the starting QB job; unless he improves dramatically from his (admittely limited) time of the field last year, there will be a noteworthy dropoff from Connor Cook. The bigger issue, though, might be the receiving corps. Cook's binky, Aaron Burbridge, is also off to the NFL, as is MacGarrett Kings Jr., leaving slot RJ Shelton as the only returning wideout with more than two catches last year. Experience is very important at both receiver and quarterback; State doesn't have much at either.
[Hit THE JUMP]
Many people are saying things about Michigan's fall camp. Some are coaches, some are insiders, some are men wearing shoes as hats. Some of the things are true, some are maybe a bit misleading, some verge on balderdash. Let's evaluate things that people are saying for truthiness.
The quarterback battle is still up in the air
Thing: Nobody has ventured a strong opinion on Michigan's starter. You occasionally get a weak assertion that someone feels like a leader that's immediately followed with caveats. Tellingly, those assertions are split close to down the middle between the two main contenders.
Thing react: The coaches almost certainly have a good idea who it's going to be, but I believe that the race is tight enough that it might get overturned late and that there's genuine uncertainty amongst insiders. I'd strongly prefer an answer by now. I mean, it'll be fine since Harbaugh, but it's more likely that Michigan has one good QB than two.
Thing: Can't throw a rock on a message board without hitting an insider swearing up and down that Chris Evans is the truth. This has bled through to honest to God press conferences as well.
Thing react: It's tough to find snaps for Evans in an offense that's going to run a metric ton of tight ends onto the field along with Grant Perry and Jabrill Peppers. One thing Evans has going for him is Peppers's tendency to be the best at everything all the time: they'll want to keep his snaps down until they really need him. Evans is another spread H-back type. He'll slot into the Peppers role against the pushovers.
Still feeling like Evans hype is real but a year too early.
Thing: Ben Bredeson has been promoted into a bonafide 50/50 competition for the left tackle spot. Also impossible to throw rock on message board without hitting man enthused about Bredeson. He was the BTN's primary takeaway from their visit to practice, which says something about something.
Thing react: If you made me guess this instant I'd say he's the starting LT. I'm not entirely enthused about this either, but Bredeson is closer to the instant-start five star zone than Mason Cole was. Cole was the #127 recruit on the composite. Bredeson was #39. Bredeson's also 20 pounds heavier than Cole was as a freshman. He was the only OL at the loaded UA game who could annoy Rashan Gary, so maybe he is ready to take on mortals.
Cole managed to survive as a freshman. Bredeson can probably do better. The ceiling is probably something like Erik Magnuson's completely average 2015.
The freshman receivers are good
Thing: Michigan has already lost two of their five WR recruits, but initial reports on the three guys still on campus have been universally positive. All three are reputed to be explosive and dedicated.
None of these guys are going to play much this year, but if one or two emerges even a little bit that will ease everyone's mind about the 2017 receiving corps. I'm not worried. They can find three guys out of Ways, Harris, Perry, and the freshmen.
This defensive line is just… I mean…
Thing: All the usual suspects have come in for praise; the guys who have not been mentioned are guys who are taken for granted as really good players like Ryan Glasgow and Chris Wormley. Rashan Gary is mostly described with a blank look, a shake of the head, and a laugh because he is everything he's supposed to be. Chase Winovich and even Matt Godin are getting talked up as contributors.
Thing react: Yes to all of it. Godin suffered late last year because he played next to the third string NT and teams could double him with impunity; before that there was a period where he was keeping guys like Wormley and Henry on the bench to an extent. He's a good player and will see snaps. Charlton should blow up with increased playing time and his still-excellent upside.
Nobody says anything about the linebackers
Thing: Aside from the occasional direct response when a coach gets asked about them at a press conference, there is total radio silence about the inside linebackers. Brown keeps talking about redshirt junior walk-on Mike Wroblewski.
Thing react: I wouldn't take that as a sign either way. Linebacker play is difficult to get a read on. The last four years of Joe Bolden spring hype that petered out in to just okay play have made me suspicious of anything people say in this department.
One glance at the depth chart is enough to see that Wroblewski is going to play some. After the starters there is very little aside from freshmen. Devin Bush will play; Elysee Mbem-Bosse and Devin Gil are both very raw. Linebacker has more depth concerns than any position on the roster other than maybe safety.
Thing: David Long is very fast and takes notes and is Jehu Chesson, cornerback edition.
Thing react: If Long remains healthy he is a lock. He's going to play this year and start in 2017 and that's going to be very little dropoff from Jourdan Lewis. Maybe not immediately, but by the time he's a junior definitely.
Backup safeties can play
Thing: Praise all available deities. Angry Michigan Safety Hating God seems to be focusing on receivers who might get moved to safety these days—in the last year he's hewed down Brian Cole, Brad Hawkins, and Ahmir Mitchell—and spared the actual DBs. As long as we're keeping Chris Evans on offense that trend can continue.
Tyree Kinnel and Khaleke Hudson are both getting plugged as definite contributors this year and solid replacements down the line. Neither is much of a surprise—Kinnel had a strong spring and Hudson is our favorite non-Gary recruit in this class—but not having either guy derailed is important for 2016 and critical for beyond. Josh Metellus has even come in for the occasional mention; hitting on him would be very nice.
Thing react: I expected to hear these things, but actually hearing them is a step on the road to having a functioning secondary this year.
Most of these things are about 2017 more than 2016
Thing: The camp chatter glosses over big swathes of the team because you don't need to be told about them.
Thing react: Gonna be a good year.