Derrick Walton did most of his offensive damage from beyond the arc.
Michigan learned a difficult lesson about the importance of the point guard position in John Beilein's system two years ago. Unfortunately, they learned the same lesson again last year. From the 2015-16 season preview:
As Michigan learned the hard way in 2014-15, it all starts with the point guard in John Beilein's system. Derrick Walton is healthy again after a foot injury derailed and then prematurely ended his sophomore season; now he's poised for the patented LaVall Jordan second-year leap a year later than expected. Spike Albrecht is recovering from surgery on his hips but should be a full go early in the season, giving the Wolverines a starter-quality backup.
Despite returning to full health, Derrick Walton had many of the same issues that were initially blamed on his foot injury—most glaringly, he remained woefully inefficient as a scorer inside the arc. Walton's support vanished when Spike Albrecht, not fully recovered from his hip surgeries, was shut down after nine games. For the second straight year, John Beilein was compelled to pull a redshirt off Andrew Dakich to provide spot minutes.
Walton has one final go-round to break into that elite tier of point guards. While Spike is off to Purdue, there's still good reason to hope point guard depth (finally) won't be an issue this year, as Ohio's Mr. Basketball, Xavier Simpson, joins the squad.
[Hit THE JUMP for in-depth player previews.]
Previously: We drafted teams.
As is tradition, in lieu of a short hot-takey preseason all-conference list, this past offseason the MGoBlog staff drafted entire teams from the pool of Big Ten players. This provided interesting content to those who tend to watch the rest of the league, and generated ire from those who’ve convinced themselves these are fantasy teams.
We check in at the midpoint to see how our expectations have fared.
1. MGoBlog’s Mid-Season All-Big Ten team:
|RB||Barkley (PSU)||Barkley||Samuel (OSU)||Barkley|
|WR||Darboh (M)||Carr (NW)||Godwin (PSU)||Godwin|
|TE||Butt (M)||Butt||Kittle (IA)||Kittle|
|OT||Gates (NE)||Ramcyzk (WI)||Ramcyzk||Ramcyzk|
|OG||Price (OSU)||Price||Feeney (IN)||Price|
|OG||Kalis (M)||Roos (PU)||Price||Kalis|
|DT||Replogle (PU)||McDowell (MSU)||Replogle||GodinHurst (M)|
|RUSH||Watt (WI)||Watt||Watt||Charlton (M)|
|MLB||McMillan (OSU)||Gedeon (M)||McMillan||Gedeon|
|WLB||Cichy (WI)||Cichy||Cichy||McCray (M)|
|SAM||Scales (IN)||Peppers (M)||Peppers||Peppers|
|CB||Conley (OSU)||Lewis (M)||Lewis||Lewis|
|FS||Hooker (OSU)||Hooker||Hooker||Hill (M)|
|Honorably mentioned: Godwin Igwebuike (S-NWern), Josiah Price (TE-MSU), Jerome Baker (LB-OSU)|
Seth: It seems we mostly agree on things. In choosing between Godwin and Darboh I knocked Darboh for some badly timed drops, though his Wisconsin TD is Michigan's most important catch of the season. I wanted to include so many more TEs: Kittle added scary downfield threat to his great blocking, Josiah Price is playing like an All-American, and Troy Fumagalli is Wisconsin's best offensive weapon. McDowell or Replogle was a tough decision for everyone.
Ace I take it you put Peppers at safety to get out of splitting hairs between Igwebuike, Travis, and Delano Hill. But I'm surprised you put Scales above Jerome Baker, who's been a huge part of Ohio State's tough run D.
Ace: I put Peppers at safety more because there are a bunch of linebackers I’ve liked so far. I seriously considered Baker, Ben Gedeon, and Josey Jewell. What I’ve seen from Scales has been really impressive, though. He leads the conference in solo tackles to go with 7.5 TFLs, two sacks, a pick-six, a forced fumble, and a couple pass breakups. The Indiana defense has improved quite a bit, and he’s the player that leaps out to me from that unit.
Brian: I regret nothing.
BiSB: You hired Ace.
Seth: Godin over Hurst?
Ace: I’ll admit I tried not to come off as too homery and the defense made that exceptionally difficult.
Seth: I mean I'd argue but Mathlete just put this in our slack chat:
If you're standing on Michigan and use a telescope you might be able to make out an average Top 10 defense.
Ace: @brian just saying, you’ve got some honorable mention slots for D-linemen 6-9.
Brian: Seriously though
[Hit THE JUMP for more SERIOUS THINGS]
Previously: Offense Part I.
SEASON PREVIEW TAKE: Jehu Chesson was given top billing as the preview went with on-field production and Chesson's trajectory over Amara Darboh's offseason hype, but both guys were declared real real good. Chesson was expected to be a complete WR and off the board in the first couple of rounds of the draft; I was skeptical about Darboh's ability to get deep on folks.
Grant Perry was projected to be a solid third option, and nobody knew anything about who would emerge from the backups. Eddie McDoom was given a shout.
NUMBERS AT THE HALFWAY MARK: A pile of blowouts and profusion of tight ends has made for uninspiring numbers. Seventeen different Wolverines have caught passes, including three different fullbacks and five different TEs. Meanwhile the starters have been on the bench for most of the second half in each outing.
Darboh has indeed emerged as the top wideout with 25 catches for 400 yards; his 9.5 yards per target is an impressive number, and he's on the end of a quarter of Speight's passes. Chesson has 15 catches for 231 yards and has had some iffy plays on balls downfield, though he's been hurt by bad throws. Chesson's also got seven carries for 44 yards.
Here ends significant WR contributions. Perry has six catches, McDoom three, and Kekoa Crawford one. McDoom's been a frequent jet sweep runner.
FEELINGSBALL: This is what happens when you're hammering almost all your opposition and your quarterback is struggling mightily in the two games (Colorado and Wisconsin) in which second-half passing won't be interpreted as a slap in the face. The wide receivers have been hamstrung by the situation.
It has been a mild disappointment that both starters have failed to high-point a number of passes that weren't perfect but were good enough to force a PI or result in a spectacular catch. On the other hand, WR blocking has been excellent on Michigan's many crack sweeps.
UP OR DOWN OR EH: This unit gets an incomplete.
SEASON PREVIEW TAKE: Jake Butt is the best receiving tight end in the country, Ian Bunting is set for a breakout, and look out for the Kaiju brothers, Ty Wheatley Jr and Devin Asiasi... but probably next year. Since we also cover all blocky/catchy types in that post, fullbacks Henry Poggi and Khalid Hill were both mentioned as potential X factors since they obviously had a lot of potential as blockers but had targeting or technique issues.
NUMBERS AT THE HALFWAY MARK: Butt had two inexplicable drops early and has since been Jake Butt. He's since recovered to post a 71% catch rate per S&P+, which is excellent, and 8.3 yards per target, also excellent for a tight end. His blocking was alarming to start but has settled in at "decent," which is a minor upgrade on last year. Bunting was playing a bunch but had not been featured; he's missed the last couple games with an undisclosed injury.
Meanwhile Hill and Poggi have grabbed the rest of the targets here. Hill's caught all eight balls thrown his way and is averaging the same 8.3 yards per target that Butt is. While some of that is scheme, Hill has made a couple of difficult catches.
FEELINGSBALL: Meanwhile in things that don't pick up numbers: blocking. Butt is a bit better than last year, and the fullbacks have improved a great deal. Hill has had a few spectacular blocks where he blows through a linebacker without slowing and then gets to a third level player; these don't show up except in UFR and PFF, where Hill is clearly preferred by both metrics. I've been more enthused about Poggi than PFF; he's cut out most of the targeting issues that plagued him last year.
Meanwhile, Asiasi has emerged over the last few games. Against Rutgers most big runs featured Asiasi moving a DL and then popping out to blast a LB or DB. He's got a combination of power and agility that make him effective against just about anyone a defense fields, and at nearly 290 pounds his upside in this department is considerable.
UP OR DOWN OR EH: Asiasi's emergence over the last few games as a plus blocker—as a blocker who could be a difference-maker—is the main reason this spot feels like an upgrade over expectations. Khalid Hill whacking guys has also been an unexpected positive. Butt's been about what you expect.
SEASON PREVIEW TAKE: Meh. Mason Cole was projected to be a very good player. Grant Newsome was fretted over, largely because Ben Bredeson was pushing him for the job. Ben Braden and Erik Magnuson were declared acceptable offensive linemen with little upside. Kyle Kalis was an infinitely frustrating mauler who blew assignments all the time, but was declared an X factor because if he could just figure things out...
NUMBERS AT THE HALFWAY MARK: OL don't have numbers.
FEELINGSBALL: The line has been acceptable. Newsome, the projected weak link, was exactly that before the knee injury that ended his season. He had some pass protection issues but was not a revolving door; on the ground he was an able puller and decent enough at the point of attack. Magnuson has somewhat exceeded expectations as he's combined with Kalis to be a powerful right side of the line. Pass protection issues have lingered for him, though. He's somewhere between some preseason NFL scouting, which saw him as a potential high pick, and my "eh, undrafted FA" take from the preview.
The interior has been about as good as expected but the star has been Kalis, not Cole. Kalis did indeed cut out the vast majority of the mental errors and round into the mauling five-star guard everyone wanted him to be immediately out of high school. Cole, however, has struggled against zero-tech nose tackles. (Michigan has played an inordinate number of 3-4s early in the year.) While I think Colorado's Josh Tupou is just that good, Cole's impact has been muted at C.
Braden has clearly and vastly outperformed Bredeson at LG to the point where the only explanation for Bredeson's playing time is injury.
UP OR DOWN OR EH: The guys who started the season were actually a slight upgrade on expectations because Newsome was not a problem. However, Juwann Bushell-Beatty has been shaky in relief. He's been beat on edge rushes a ton; he's taken holding calls; he's been iffy on the ground. He looms as a potential issue down the road, so this is a sad injury downgrade.
Kyle Kalis and Mike McCray
Kyle, you guys went back to the knee braces after the Newsome thing. Was that a direct order from the coaches, and would you have done it anyway?
“Me personally, I’ve always worn knee braces but yeah, for everybody else it was kind of a mandatory thing. With Grant’s injury, it’s hard to tell if it would have made a difference, but it can’t hurt you so that’s kind of why we went back to wearing them is for precautionary reasons.”
Mike, you’ve had a pretty successful year kind of quietly. Do you feel like maybe you’re an unsung guy on the team?
“Not really. You know, it’s the whole defense. I feel like we’ve done a great job so far the first six games, and I don’t think about myself getting noticed and things like that because it’s a whole-team thing. So, I really don’t think about it at all.”
Jim had mentioned when he got here you weren’t completely healthy and that he’s seen you come through a lot. Can you walk me through that as far as this time last year and a backup role or maybe not playing to you’re at the forefront now.
“Last year, didn’t play at all. It’s just a lot different now than it was this time last year. I feel a lot better. My spirit, I’m not down about myself of anything like that, so it’s a great time right now.”
MGoQuestion: Kyle, were knee braces optional last year as well or was that something new this year?
“Yeah, they were optional last year as well. Yeah.”
[After THE JUMP: keeping an eye on OSU]
Graham Glasgow started for the Lions. Did you see that, and is there some kind of a similarity between him and Jordan [Glasgow] in terms of temperament; he was just Special Teams Player of the Week.
“Yeah, I mean, they’re brothers. Similar. Very similar, yeah. Similar parents.”
In terms of their temperament and the way they approach the game, is there something there?
“Yeah. All three brothers are really smart guys, good guys, good teammates, good football players. Breed ‘em well in the Glasgow family.”
You guys had the knee braces on the offensive line. Did you guys have a talk about that after Grant [Newsome] got injured or what led to that?
“Yeah, yeah. No longer optional. All linemen are wearing knee braces.”
What is Grant’s status now? Is he out of the hospital and what’s his prognosis at this stage?
“Um…there’s been good progress and he still has more surgeries to go.”
Without specifics, can you talk about your recruiting trips and how you got involved with the chain gain and the homecoming announcement?
“Yeah, I was asked to announce the winner at the homecoming game, and Tatiana Mendez was the winner. It was great to be a part of the activity. Then the chain gang, we needed a guy and was promised a tri-tip steak sandwich at halftime. That was all I needed to hear. That was a lot of fun.”
Can you assess the play of Kalis and the right side of the line?
“He’s really--somebody asked last week how is his intensity and that’s really what he does. That’s his forte. He’s—he brings to the whole offense a great amount of intensity and good physical play. Strength. The lost art of toughness in football. Also, the valuable talent that is toughness and strength. It’s a respected quality.”
[Hit THE JUMP for more]
Exit: Chase Lasater
I'm a little late getting to this after the bye week, but fullback Chase Lasater is no longer a member of the class. Lasatar announced his decommitment on his Twitter account, which is now set to private. He said he and his family "feel it is best" to reopen his recruitment and that Michigan remains one of his top schools; he thanked Jim Harbaugh and Bam Richards for recruiting him.
With Michigan going after LSU fullback commit Tory Carter, who has an official visit scheduled, it would be a surprise if Lasater ended up back in the class.
The coaching staff didn't take it easy during the bye week, instead heading out for a long list of recruiting visits headlined by Jim Harbaugh's stop in Antioch to see the #1 recruit in the country, CA RB Najee Harris. Scout's Josh Henschke has a full, free rundown of who the coaches saw.
Notably, a few new offers went out, including one that spurred a new Crystal Ball prediction. That came after Michigan offered three-star TN DT Rutger Reitmaier, who's committed to Oregon, a program you may recall hiring a defensive coordinator with a very strong track record of unearthing excellent defensive linemen. Reitmaier has some impressive junior film (see above) and Oregon commits are ripe for picking these days. This offer looks like a reflection of both Reitmaier's ability and M's waning hopes of bringing Aubrey Solomon back into the fold; Sam Webb was in Lee County during the bye and came away saying M's chances at Solomon are "essentially nil."
Harbaugh also offered top-100 Las Vegas Bishop Gorman S Bubba Bolden, and Sam Webb says that despite the late timing of the offer, Michigan could have a shot:
Michigan offered four-star safety Bubba Bolden from Bishop Gorman. Despite the relative lateness of that offer, the interest definitely appears to be mutual. Bolden has two open visit dates and has expressed a desire to give Michigan one of them. No firm date has been established but a trip to Ann Arbor now appears to be a distinct possibility.
The coaches also offered four-star AZ S Isaiah Pola-Mao, who currently has Washington on top of his list. The multiple new safety offers could be a result of commit J'Marick Woods, who recently had high praise for his Arkansas official visit, taking a look around; I highly doubt it's a product of losing confidence in their ability to land Jaylen Kelly-Powell.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the roundup.]