the season has truly begun now
As is MGoTradition, I'm writing the preview for the opener instead of Brian, who's probably
cackling with glee that he won't be blamed for any potential jinx in recovery from crippling carpal tunnel after typing up tens of thousands of words previewing this season. We'll be on our normal schedule, with Brian taking care of the preview, next week.
|WHAT||Michigan vs Appalachian State|
Ann Arbor, MI
August 30th, 2014
|THE LINE||M –34.5|
PBP: Beth Mowins
Analyst: Joey Galloway
|TICKETS||Still available for the low, low price of $27|
|WEATHER||mid to high 80s, windy, possible T-storms, 80% chance of rain|
Right: Appalachian State's new alternate logo is very, uh, Appalachian? Also very MS Paint. Also named Victory Yosef, which is just wonderful.
This is not a vintage Jerry Moore, FCS-title-contending Appalachian State squad, for a couple reasons. The legendary Moore is no longer ASU's coach—he retired after the 2012 season and was replaced by former Mountaineer quarterback Scott Satterfield. More importantly, ASU just wasn't very good in 2013, going 4-8 (4-4 Southern Conference) as a member of the FCS and losing 45-6 to a Georgia squad that had lost much of their offensive weaponry.
Now they've joined the Sun Belt, moving up to FBS play, and their radio announcer is looking for them to be competitive... in 2015:
App State announcer David Jackson on U-M radio show said 2015 is the year the Mountaineers should compete in all weeks in FBS level.
— Mark Snyder (@Mark__Snyder) August 27, 2014
Cripes, I'm deathly afraid to say anything here. You sure you don't want to take this one, Brian? No? Well, here goes nothing...
Run Offense vs ASU
Starting at nose tackle, a small bear.
ASU transitioned to a 3-4 defense last season, and the results weren't pretty up front. The Mountaineers ceded over 220 rushing yards per game at an even 5.0 YPC—and they actually fared marginally better against Georgia (127 yards on 4.2 YPC) than they did against their FCS brethren. Heading into this season they have to replace their most disruptive run defender, DE Adam Scott (NTAS), who led the team with 8.5 TFLs in 2013.
Only two players among the starting front seven on this year's depth chart finished the 2013 season as a starter—DE Deuce Robinson and ILB John Law—and ASU's two leading tacklers are gone. After injuries forced their hand, 330-pound behemoth Tyson Fernandez (pictured above) made a late-season switch from guard to nose tackle, started two of the final four games there, and now sits atop the two-deep (apologies, two-deep).
In addition to lacking experience and production, the front seven is quite undersized for a team running a 3-4 defense. Here are their listed starters up front:
- DE Deuce Robinson: 6'5", 260 lbs.
- NT Tyson Fernandez: 6'2", 330 (the obvious exception here)
- DE Ronald Blair: 6'4", 275
- OLB Kennan Gilchrist: 6'2", 210
- ILB John Law: 6'2", 235
- ILB Brandon McGowan: 6'2", 235
- OLB Kevin Walton: 6'0" 185 OR OLB Rashaad Townes (6'2", 205)
That is not a large group, especially on the edges—Walton is actually a converted safety. Simply put, if Michigan has trouble establishing the run against these guys, it will be a long season.
Key Matchup: Center Jack Miller vs. Fernandez. While Miller's had his issues executing his assignment, what's held him back most in his college career has been his size/strength. If he can hold up against a 330-pounder, that would ease some concerns about his ability to hold that job once Graham Glasgow returns to action.
[Hit THE JUMP for a totally reasonable prediction accompanied by totally reasonable, paralyzing fear.]
|Free Safety||Yr.||Strong Safety||Yr.||Nickelback||Yr.|
|Jarrod Wilson||Jr.||Delano Hill||So.*||Jabrill Peppers||So.*|
|Jeremy Clark||So.*||Dymonte Thomas||So.||Blake Countess||Jr.*|
|Reon Dawson||Fr.*||Brandon Watson||Fr.||Dymonte Thomas||So.|
[* = player has taken redshirt. # = walk-on]
So, JARROD WILSON…
Okay, okay, Jarrod Wilson after the jump. Now…
ok, you're out of shoes, right
I've been talking about hybrid space players for years now, projecting that Michigan would acquire one of these important gentlemen since about a year after that, and resigning myself to yet another repurposed 5'9" corner four games into every season since. Two years ago:
The thing that kept me from playing nickel a lot last year – the nickel has to be able to blitz. He has to be able to change the math … some guys can blitz and some can’t.
Michigan didn't have that guy, and their defense was solid, but conservative.
Now… now Michigan has a hybrid space player. Sound the trumpets. Unfurl the banners. Roll the carpet forth unto the unworthy ground so that our prince can walk upon maize and blue! Fetch… fetch the Woodson comparison. Yes, from the vaults.
ATTACK OF THE CLONES [Fuller]
And so forth and so on. As to why Michigan is deploying its most hyped recruit ever at a spot historically reserved for a not-quite-starting cornerback on passing downs, let's revisit last year's preview:
The ideal nickelback is a corner/safety/linebacker hybrid who can cover slot receivers, blitz like a mofo, and fend off blockers to make tackles in space, and in the increasingly spread-oriented world of football they are essentially starters. This does not just apply to college football:
NFL offenses are identifying the nickel corner as a key part of any defense. “This varies from defense to defense, but the amount of your sub package that you play nowadays — because we’re seeing more three wide receivers on the field — your inside player is going to play as many, if not more plays,” Capers says. “You could be in some form of your sub defense two-thirds [of the time].” The number Hayward throws out is 75 percent; Whitt says 80. No matter the math, the point is that the nickel cornerback is as much a “starter” as any other spot in the defensive backfield.
The QED here: that's an article on second-year player Casey Hayward, who replaced Charles friggin' Woodson as the Packers' nickel. In his time at that spot, Woodson picked up a Defensive Player of the Year award. The best nickels double as outside corners when teams are in a base package; others are just really important fifth defensive backs.
SI followed that Grantland article up with one this year asserting that the nickelback has risen in prominence as the NFL's "key battles move to the slot":
Teams ran base (with four defensive backs) 48 percent of the time in 2011, 45 percent in '12 and 40 percent in '13. Nickel sets increased from 40 to 44 to 49 percent over that same three-year span.
College is gradually following a similar pattern. One of the main reasons Michigan is moving to the over defense is that they were in it like half the time last year anyway, because that's how you have to respond to spread offenses. However, the motivations are somewhat different. In college if you get spread out there's a better than even chance they are spreading to run, an innovation still mostly on the sidelines in a league where you can pick the 30 most accurate passers in the world and whoever the Browns have this year.
But the idea remains the same: triple threat.
"To play nickel now? I think it's really hard. You have to play the two-way go [option routes in which the receiver can turn inside or outside based on coverage] inside the numbers, you have to be able to tackle, and you have to be able to blitz. And blitz is a technique, just like playing man-to-man or running routes. You need practice at that. You can't run in there straight up and down like a pencil, or you'll get decapitated. Because as the nickel, sometimes you blitz, and the tackle is set up on you. How do you beat him? You've got to get him back on his heels -- you set him up, almost like a basketball player driving to the hole.
You have to cover, you have to play the run, and you have to murder the quarterback. Come on down, JABRILL PEPPERS [recruiting profile].
Since Peppers is a true freshman, and since he is Jabrill Peppers, I can't tell you anything you don't already know if you've read that profile. Selected, mouth-watering highlights:
"Peppers is a rare athlete with potential to be great at the next level. He is one of the most talented players I have ever seen at the high school level. At 6-foot-1, and 205-pounds, Peppers has college ready size to go with un-matched speed and explosiveness."
This one is particularly apt given Peppers's spot in the defense:
"…could play four to five different positions and excel at them. He is a strong running back. He is as fluid as a good corner. He hits like a linebacker. He could play safety. You could honestly take him and put him in an outside linebacker position and he would flourish.
USC coach: "Holy s---, that's him? I've only seen two players in high school with a body like that and both of them are named Peterson [Adrian and Patrick]."
Scout's Scott Kennedy gets a gold star for his player comparison:
"I think his impact on the game [would be maximized by] letting him roam around a little bit and freelance and let him play – an Eric Berry style of safety where they would walk him up. I mean, Eric Berry had 15 tackles for loss. He is that kind of a player. Eric Berry, I thought, was maybe the best player in college football a couple of years ago.”
Eric Berry was a nickel in college. People didn't quite know it at the time because everyone was just inventing the idea of putting your most badass guy there, but he was a nickel. He's a nickel in the NFL, acquiring 3.5 sacks in 2013 and going to the Pro Bowl every time he's been healthy.
That is the mission. Be Eric Berry. Or All Pro Charles Woodson, of course.
Can Peppers do it right away? I'm supposed to equivocate about freshmen here. I won't. He's got the size, he's got the speed, and he's blazed his way to the starting lineup essentially on day one. Sam Webb:
I know the Jabrill Peppers is hyped enough already but the word he is the real deal. You saw the pictures so you know where he is physically. But it’s the non-stop motor and tenacity that just put him on another level from most freshmen. … It’s often hard to keep expectations of freshmen subdued, but it’s especially hard when they’ve been as good as advertised in practice. They all say he is young and has a lot to learn, but also say he is as good as advertised.
I'm sure there will be some busts as he gets situated in the defense. That should be the primary issues. Go time: now.
[After the JUMP: the actual safeties, you shoe-throwing maniac.]
|Boundary Corner||Yr.||Field Corner||Yr.||Nickelback||Yr.|
|Blake Countess||Jr.*||Raymon Taylor||Sr.||Jabrill Peppers||Fr.|
|Jabrill Peppers||Fr.||Jourdan Lewis||So.||Blake Countess||Jr.*|
|Delonte Hollowell||Sr.||Channing Stribling||So.||Dymonte Thomas||So.|
Michigan returns their entire cornerback corps and adds Jabrill Peppers, which is kind of amazing. The top guy on the depth chart is… uh… well, it is one of four guys. Which is amazing.
This happened a lot. [Bryan Fuller]
I guess we'll start with BLAKE COUNTESS, because he's first alphabetically. Countess was on the Michigan Star Corner track after emerging as a freshman starter, and then he blew his knee up in the 2012 opener against Alabama. One medical redshirt later, Countess returned with a bucket of hype (Jabrill Peppers has a firetruck) and just about made good on it.
Countess's six interceptions were the most by a Michigan corner since Todd Howard in 2000 and are in a multi-way tie for third all time (Tom Curtis had 10 in 1968; Charles Woodson had 8 in 1997), and he led the way for a good pass defense that got little help from its pass rush and was so dissatisfied with its safety play that it started swapping them around midseason.
So why does it feel like he's been kind of a disappointment? One Tyler Lockett facecrushing will do that to you.
Countess was also just about run off the field by Devier Posey as a freshman and one of the reasons people are so hype about Freddy Canteen is that he pulled the same on Countess. He seems more vulnerable than a star should be.
But this feeling is probably not an accurate feeling. I mean, six interceptions, and again these were earned. He is a crafty gentleman well versed in baiting a quarterback to throw the deeper route in cover two only to pop up, twirl his dastardly mustache, and make off with the
dame ball. His pick at the end of the first half of the Notre Dame game was the thing preventing the later Gardner pick six from being a face-melting event:
"I thought Blake Countess was tough to play against. He's not real physical but he's one of those guys that knows what he does well and what he doesn't. And he sort of lulled us to sleep. We kept thinking that we could go at him and I think that's what he wanted because he stepped in front of two balls, picked one, and we didn't throw at him very much after that."
Opponents hate quarterbacks who feel dangerous to throw against. Countess was definitely that. If he feels like a disappointment that's because our expectations were way too high. I admit some guilt in this department. Post-Indiana:
Other than that he was probably the best guy out there. I said he'd gotten burned in the game column, but the longer Wynn touchdown was not on him. It was more on Wilson and a defense that was vulnerable to that particular play given how they aligned. He got a PBU on a corner route that was straight out of pressing Michael Floyd and living; he was close enough to bother IU receivers; he is pretty good. He's not the crazy star we thought he'd be, at least not yet.
Pretty good is pretty good for a redshirt sophomore. Countess still has considerable upside. He's got two more years in the program—prepare for him to be the Big Ten's Brooks Bollinger Memorial 8th Year Senior next year—and had his quality 2013 despite an injury that required offseason surgery:
"It was lower abdominal pain," Countess said. "(I was somewhat limited), but I played through it. Just movement. Speed. Things like that. Not anything that you guys could probably recognize, but I didn't feel like myself completely on gamedays or throughout the week.
"I had a decent season last year, but it was definitely something I voiced to my coaches and trainers."
Countess probably won't be as prolific in the interception department; he should continue getting incrementally better; if the injury issue was a real problem he could even get to that Leon Hall level. It says here that he remains a bit short of that, and plays at a second-team All Big Ten level.
[AFTER the JUMP: no Peppers, he's in the safeties. BUT LOTS OF GUYS EVEN SO!]
Roseboro Announcement: Tomorrow At 2:30
Four-star NC DL Darian Roseboro will announce his college choice tomorrow at 2:30pm ET on ESPN.com—our old friend TomVH will host the proceedings. While NC State has received some buzz, mostly from Rivals' Mike Farrell, in the last week or so, Michigan recruiting insiders are still confident Roseboro will pick U-M; Sam Webb's usually prescient gut favors the Wolverines, and I've heard from multiple sources familiar with Roseboro's recruitment that Michigan is the choice unless something changes at the last minute.
While it's not out of the question that something does in fact change—there are rumblings that Roseboro's had second thoughts about attending school that far from his Carolina home—the fear that he'd pick NC State, the almost-certain choice should it not be U-M, has decreased since Roseboro didn't make a planned visit to them last weekend.
As for what Michigan would get if Roseboro commits tomorrow, I've compiled the single-game cut-ups from his Hudl page into full junior season highlights in the video above. Apologies for some of the editing; the clips on his page weren't in high quality and had different aspect ratios depending on the game, so I did the best I could. He's #45 on the team wearing either black and yellow, all yellow, or LSU-esque white and yellow uniforms; he's also the huge guy hitting people with authority.
[Hit THE JUMP for a preview of next week's Future Blue Originals, unfortunate injury news regarding Garrett Taylor, updates on a few Michigan targets, and more.]
|STRONGSIDE LB||Yr.||MIDDLE LB||Yr.||WEAKSIDE LB||Yr.|
|James Ross||Jr.||Jake Ryan||Sr.*||Joe Bolden||Jr.|
|Royce Jenkins-Stone||Jr.||Desmond Morgan||Sr.||Desmond Morgan||Sr.|
|Allen Gant||So.*||Mike McCray||Fr.*||Ben Gedeon||So.|
Despite the move to a 4-3 over we're going to keep the convention we've had in previous years where two of the linebackers are designated "inside" and addressed together while the third gets separate mention. In both cases the WLB and the MLB are designated "inside" and the strongside backer is addressed separately. In the under it's because the SAM is half DE; in the over it's because he's half DB.
Michigan returns their entire linebacking corps save backup-ish SAM Cam Gordon, and they now have a healthy Jake Ryan instead of one fresh off an ACL tear midseason. This is good. Better still is their depth: no freshmen on this three-deep and one guy getting praised to the moon when a very solid returning starter is available. If the DL improves these guys are going to seem shockingly better.
There's just that thing about moving that guy to a place…
INSIDE LINEBACKER: CONAN IN A STRANGE LAND
please be this guy again somehow [Eric Upchurch]
Man, I do now know what to expect from JAKE RYAN this year. He was every bit the flaming meteorite your memory suggests he was in 2012. We've been talking up Willie Henry and Frank Clark based on UFR scores that were consistently positive and encouraging. Make no mistake, though: those are not star-level performances. Jake Ryan's 2012 is the last time a member of the Michigan front seven turned one of those in:
|Alabama||4.5||3.5||1||I may have not picked up some things he was doing that were bad.|
|Air Force||13||2.5||10.5||Ran up the score with +4 on final three plays. Option blame fell elsewhere.|
|UMass||8.5||-||8.5||Essentially a DE in this game.|
|Notre Dame||8.5||3||5.5||Great tackle on screen.|
|Purdue||10||-||10||I call him mini Clay Matthews.|
|Illinois||14||3||11||I call Clay Matthews mini Jake Ryan.|
|MSU||17.5||3||14.5||I AM THE ONE WHO KNOCKS|
|Nebraska||10||7.5||2.5||Got edged a lot; Nebraska used his aggression against him successfully.|
|Minnesota||14||6||8||JMFR; did get edged a couple times.|
|Northwestern||8.5||4||4.5||A bit of a quiet day, only 4 tackles, no TFLs.|
|Iowa||5.5||-||5.5||Nearly had an explosive sack.|
That is a star, and that is a guy on the verge of writing his name in sloppy red ink across college football. That's the kind of season before the season that Brandon Graham had as a senior, that Mike Martin had as a senior. Screw you, ACLs. Because that Ryan was not this Ryan:
|6||Penn State||3.5||2||1.5||…this gentleman.|
|7||Indiana||5||2||3||Coming on a bit.|
|8||MSU||6||3||3||Good until ARGH RYAN on final play, still doesn't seem all the way back.|
|9||Nebraska||4||1||3||One RYAN BACK play, but not every-down impactful yet.|
|10||Northwestern||6||3||3||Showing that crazy redirect a little more often.|
|11||Iowa||6.5||-||6.5||Created free touchdown.|
And while that's still a respectable player, I'm not into Jake Ryan because he's really respectful and mom likes him, you know? I would prefer Jake Ryan to mount his Harley and run roughshod across the league wearing a thirty-inch skull on his back. And maybe his forehead. As many skulls as possible, really. I mean, I didn't feel this quote from a 2012 Big Ten OL in 2013:
"We were watching film and our coach stopped it and said, 'Where's he at?' And it took you a second to realize he was lined up at defensive end. Then he hits the play button, and it's like the guy gets shot out of a cannon. He has speed, and he just has this ability to know where the football is and he attacks it. "
So there's that. And now he's a middle linebacker. Hooray?
Look… I can't tell you this is a great idea. The way Ryan plays is 80% chaos, 20% hair metal, and he's kind of tall and weird-shaped for middle linebacker. It's easy to envision a guard getting under his pads and taking him for a ride. And it's easy to envision him failing to funnel to his help, because at SAM your help is always very easy to figure out: inside. Chaos!
Chaos is probably not great for a MLB.
But it might not be a bad one. Ryan has taken on a lot of blocks in his time and even if he has to invent and patent ways to get rid of them, he generally does. The guy does not stay blocked.
When Michigan had problems with wide receiver screens a couple years ago they slid Ryan over the slot; problem solved. That combination of tackling and the ability to get to the productive side of a block is encouraging. It's going to be a bigger project against OL instead of TEs, but he's been a defensive end an awful lot—he's not going to be surprised.
The concern at MLB is that his tendency to shed at all costs will put him on the wrong side of a blocker. That concern is considerably less urgent than the prospect of lining up a 256-pound strongside end, but your evaluation should be in that context: this is a move about what is best for the defense as a whole, not necessarily Jake Ryan's individual fit.
That said… healthy Jake Ryan.
Healthy Jake Ryan is a menace shot out of a cannon who impacts you fiercely and rocks you back and then runs really fast at the guy with the ball. While middle linebacker may be an awkward fit, there are not many Jake Ryans out there, and when the guy is sent on a blitz, opponents are going to feel it.
It is not going to feel good.
[After THE JUMP: the Bolden Question, the Morgan Binkie, the Ross Explanation]
Hello! We haven’t spoken for a while. How are you? I am fine.
Once again this year, we will take a weekly guided journey through the inner workings of Michigan's schedule. It's like "It's a Small World," but where making fun of the various characters doesn't seem quite as ethnocentric or jingoist.
About Last Year:
The Road Ahead:
Appalachian State (0-0, 0-0 Sun Belt)
Last year: 4-8 (4-4 Southern), no bowl game because FCS. And because record.
Recap: App State is far removed from the team that won several FCS championships and did… that. They lost their only FBS matchup to Georgia 45-6, and that was in November after Georgia’s entire roster tore, sprained, and/or broke its everything. Jerry Moore is gone, as is Armanti Edwards. I think. This is not the ideal time to try to move up to whatever we’re calling the FBS now. Can we call it Division 1A again? Please?
Anywho, App State doesn’t figure to be much better this year.
This team is as frightening as: The glass floor of the Sears Tower Skydeck. Sure, there’s almost no chance you’ll fall through. We live in a society based around certain principles that make it almost impossible to find yourself in a position where you could fall through. Objectively, you know this. But what if. Fear Level = 1. But also 11.
Michigan should worry about: What if.
Michigan can sleep soundly about: Oh my god, what if. Shut up shut up shut up. Everyone SHUT UP. I’m trying to think here. I just need to get closer to the ground. I’m way too high. This isn’t safe. I need to lie down. Shut up. Shut up.
When they play Michigan: WHY IS IT SO LOUD IN HERE.
First game: At Michigan. Because that was an idea someone had. And someone else said “that idea is a good idea.” And they got a group of people together, and that group concluded that it was a good idea. And they made it happen. On purpose.
[AFTER THE JUMP: The opponents get better and less memory-stabby]