Ben Braden is quite large, especially in comparison to his rather diminutive teammate
This week the van traveled to the west side of the state to see offensive tackle Ben Braden and Rockford take on East Kentwood in an OK Red division battle. Rockford got off to a slow start, allowing a fumble return for a touchdown on their first offensive snap of the game, but the Rams proceeded to reel off 41 straight points to close the game, winning 41-6. Braden—playing mostly at left tackle and exclusively taking snaps on offense—helped pave the way as Rockford tallied over 200 rushing yards before pulling their starters early in the fourth quarter. Highlights go here:
The first thing that stands out about Braden is, of course, his size—he's listed on the Rockford roster at 6'7", 319 pounds, and he looked every bit that big, standing out among a very large Ram offensive line. He doesn't appear to be carrying any bad weight, as evidenced by his surprising quickness for a player his size, and as they say, you can't teach size—Braden certainly passes the eyeball test when you're looking for a BCS-level offensive tackle prospect.
Along with Braden's size, his quick feet appear to be his best asset. Rockford pulled Braden on many of their running plays, and he's very fast in getting off the ball, through the hole, and into the second level, where he can ideally crush the poor linebacker standing in his way. While the latter part happened a couple times, there were several instances in which Braden simply did not find a man to block—I am by no means an expert on offensive line play, but it was disconcerting how many plays ended with him running five or ten yards downfield looking for someone to hit.
This brings me to my biggest point of concern about Braden—one that has been voiced elsewhere—and that's the lack of the proverbial 'mean streak'. In a game in which Braden regularly was called upon to pull and block linebackers, all of whom he outweighed by at least 100 pounds, I counted exactly two plays in which he put a defender on his backside. Against an overmatched team like East Kentwood, either Braden was taking it easy—which I don't think was the case—or he needs to work on developing a bit more aggressiveness in his play.
In the run game, I thought he was solid, but not as good as I expected. He was able to get playside of smaller defenders and seal them off a few times in impressive fashion, but he also didn't push the pile and knock guys around as much as one would expect from such a large, talented lineman.
Rockford only attempted nine passes in the game, and I'm pretty sure Braden was out of the game for a few of those, but in limited chances he had some ups and downs. On a couple passes, he was barely tested and able to shove aside any defensive lineman who dared get within his reach, and he did a nice job of getting off the line and staying relatively low in his stance—he appears to have the groundwork for some solid technique. Unfortunately, there were two plays in which he missed his assignment—one is included in the above video, in which he just let a rusher run free around the end and looks confused as to who he should block—and both ended with his quarterback under heavy pressure. This is his first year at left tackle and it appears he's still getting used to the new position.
Overall, I thought Braden showed why he's a Michigan recruit—his combination of size and quickness is really tough to match—but he's definitely a work-in-progress. While I haven't had the chance to see any of the other 2012 OL commits personally, I'd expect there are at least a couple who will be more ready to see the field if called upon next season or even in 2013. If Braden develops more of an edge and continues to work on technique, however, he could end up being an extremely good lineman at the next level—he's got the size to push guys around in a MANBALL scheme, the quickness and reach to develop into a very good pass-blocker, and he's already looking good on zone running plays.
Apologies for the lack of action shots, but by the time I realized I should be heading down to the field Braden's night was already over.
ACE: First of all, that was an impressive performance by the team today. How would you assess the team's performance and your individual performance?
BEN: I think as a team, I definitely have to commend the guys, we're always working as a team together and always trying to figure things out. Just like me and everybody else, we've always got to work on stuff individually, but team-wise we did pretty good.
ACE: Can you elaborate on your own performance?
BEN: It was alright. Like everybody else, you work as a team, and you've always got things you've got to work on for next week.
ACE: You were the first commit to Michigan this year. What's it been like seeing the recruiting class come together?
BEN: It's been very exciting. I'm definitely getting to know the rest of the teammates and everything and it's fun—it's great to get to know the guys and everything, and I'm looking forward to [playing with them].
ACE: Which recruits have you been in contact with?
BEN: Caleb Stacey, a little bit, but kind of just everybody. Juwan Lewis, a little bit, from Muskegon, and then just when I go to the games, when I see people—whether they're committed or just recruits—just talking with them.
ACE: Do you have any visits planned for the rest of the season?
BEN: Nothing official just yet. I'll probably go to the Purdue game or a couple more games.
ACE: There's a lot of offensive linemen committed, and possibly at least one more on the way. Michigan is a little thin on the offensive line next year. Are you ready to come in and play next year and where do you think you'd fit in on that line?
BEN: I'm just going to go in, work my hardest, and try to learn everything as best I can—just work with the guys and try to get in and gel with them.
ACE: If you were to assess your own game, what would you say are your strengths and what are your working on to get ready for the next level?
BEN: Strengths, you know everybody's got their strengths and weaknesses. I'm a little quicker than people [expect], but everybody's got their differences. [I'm working on] getting low, just the real basic stuff, keep working on my footwork, that kind of stuff.
There are two games this week in which Michigan recruits face off against each other, one being Sycamore (A.J. Williams) vs. Oak Hills (Caleb Stacey) in Cincinnati, the other Warren De La Salle (Shane Morris) vs. Orchard Lake St. Mary's (James Ross). Considering Williams and Stacey both play on the offensive line, I haven't yet seen Sugar Shane in person, and OLSM is much closer than Cincinnati, I'm strongly leaning towards attending the latter game.
10/1/2011 – Michigan 58, Minnesota 0 – 5-0, 1-0 Big Ten
In the depths of Michigan's worst season ever (if you can't divide) or in a damn long time (if you can) they travelled to the Metrodome to take on the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Michigan was 2-7 and without the services of their starting quarterback. Minnesota was 7-2 and in possession of a functional offense. I was posting pictures of Death because Nick Sheridan was going to play the entire game. We were going to hit rock bottom when the Gophers picked up the jug they see once a decade, if that. "Henry Kissinger" was amongst the things projected to be more fun than the Jug game.
Because football is strange, Michigan waltzed into Minneapolis and annihilated the Gophers. The final score was 29-6; total yardage was 435-188. Nick Sheridan completed 60% of his passes and almost eclipsed 7 YPA. Justin Feagin averaged 7 yards a carry.
It was a crazy exception to the nigh-unrelenting misery of 2008. Yeah, they fluked their way into a win over Wisconsin despite getting outgained by 100 yards. Minnesota was different. If you had no knowledge of the context you would have thought it was a year like any other, a Michigan team like any other. Michigan did what they do to Minnesota: beat them without a second thought.
This week multiple newspaper folk took the time to tell people the Jug doesn't matter, but when that awful Michigan team locked arms and walked over to Jon Falk to lift up the only thing they'd held onto, it mattered. Paul Bunyan, the bowl streak, most people's sanity, all of the street cred, and huge chunks of the dignity were gone. The Jug remained.
Martin, Koger, Molk, and Van Bergen were freshmen on that team. Molk started. Koger, Van Bergen, and Martin played but didn't acquire stats. Recruited by Carr, they stuck it out under Rodriguez. Many of their teammates didn't.
As a reward the four above started down a path towards the least rewarding Michigan careers in decades, through little or no fault of their own. You can win Big Ten championships with those four guys as prominent starters. You have to have other people to play football around them, though, and maybe a coach or two who can tell the difference between a stuffed beaver and a 4-3 under. Michigan didn't.
In 2008 they had little on the field and even less off it. According to John Bacon's Three and Out, Lloyd Carr signed off on Justin Boren's transfer to Ohio State and upstanding citizen Jim Tressel. Morgan Trent half-assed his way through the season and tossed bombs at Rodriguez afterwards. Toney Clemons and Greg Mathews would act as sources for the Free Press jihad shortly after the season. Given the result of that investigation it's clear they did so entirely out of spite. Brandon Minor would rail on about how leadership was going to happen in 2009 as people whispered that he was a major source of its lack in 2008. There's probably never been a more dysfunctional Michigan team, and it started from the top.
Freshmen learn from seniors. This is the way of the world. Usually they learn how to be, how to maintain the standards of the program they walked into. The four guys above did it a different way: they learned what not to do. When it came time to meet for the first time in the Hoke era, they decided not to repeat the recent past. Mike Martin:
"‘What are we going to do as a team? Where are we now? We can either not be all in and do what we need to do, or we can work hard together and make sure we’re successful.’ ”
Hoke was also in the room. He remembered Robinson being upset at the media speculating his departure. He remembered fifth-year senior center David Molk getting up in that same meeting and telling everybody the team was going to stick together. …
“When (Robinson) came to us, he was addressing that we as a group — including him — need to make sure that none of the younger guys have doubtful thoughts or might want to stray away,” Martin said. “We didn't want there to be a repeat of last time there was a transfer of a coach.”
Meanwhile, Van Bergen called out the program alums who'd drifted away when times got tough. The message was clear: this is our program. We've been here for four years and gotten nothing but crap. We've paid more dues than anyone in the last 40 years of Michigan football, and now we'd like some payoff.
That payoff was going to be an Alamo Bowl at best. But the seniors' effort, Greg Mattison's expertise, Denard Robinson's existence, the Big Ten's complete horribleness, and Brady Hoke's rectal horseshoe now tempt hope.
Michigan State can't run or stay within three scores of Notre Dame. Nebraska can't throw or keep a good running offense under 30 points. Iowa can't beat Iowa State. It may be a division race on par with one of those years Wake Forest won the ACC, but by God there is a tinny flimsy division championship there to be acquired. Even if it wouldn't be much—in all likelihood it would be a historical footnote after a curbstomping at the hands of Wisconsin—it would at least somewhat fulfill a promise Bo made when he arrived in 1969.
No one's deserved it more than the four guys above. It's relatively easy to be a "Michigan Man" when it's handed down to you. Koger, Martin, Molk, and Van Bergen had to figure it out on their own. They stayed, and figured it out when available evidence suggested being a Michigan Man was endorsing transfers to Free Tattoo University, telling recruits to go to Michigan State, and selling out your own program to a couple of hacks.
A few years ago on the eve of the Ohio State game that ended to that miserable 2008 season I wrote a thing about being an anchorless mid-20s person who is uncertain of where to go or who to be and is sad as a result. In that piece I envisioned Michigan's coaches telling their charges how to get out of this hole:
Some of you will stay. And you will go insane. You will work, and you will work, and we will build something here from nothing. Because, make no mistake, this is nothing. You will build something out of this. If you're a senior next year and you teach some freshman something, you will build something. If you're a freshman and you refuse to quit on your stupid decision, you will build something.
What you build will be yours. Few in the great history of his university have had that opportunity. Everything came based on what came before. They were part of a great chain, now broken.
Those of you who stay will forge a new one, starting today. When we are done we will fix the last link to the broken chain, and break the first link, and tell those who come after us to live up to it.
Whether or not Michigan manages a championship, flimsy or real, Michigan's seniors have done this. This Is Michigan again because they stayed.
Non-Bullets Of Domination
Photogallery. Via the Ann Arbor Observer and Eric Upchurch:
The two QB formation thing. So that was something. That and the double pass touchdown reminded me of that Indiana game prior to Football Armageddon (IIRC) when Michigan dumped out a zillion trick plays to force the opponent to prepare for extra stuff. I didn't like it then and hope that's not the case now, not least because after the first play the thing seemed pretty effective. Gardner implied that was not the case:
“It’s really, really dangerous. We’ve also got Fitzgerald Toussaint back there and Vincent Smith," he said. "You’re going to have to wait and see. It’s going to be pretty dangerous.”
What to call it? Hoke refused to answer a direct question about what we should call it, so it's up to us. Vincent Smith suggests "two," which is a little bland. Ace got a "diamond of doom" suggestion on Twitter; while that's catchy it's also long and jinxtastic. Naturally, Ace wants to extend it to "Denard and Devin's Diamond of Doom" because it abbreviates to DDDD and if there's one thing Ace likes it's repetitive hexadecimal numbers.
But that's long and a bit awkward. Since it's a goofy, misdirection-heavy everyone's-a-QB thing that reminds people of the Mad Magicians I propose calling it "Fritz." It's not exactly what Crisler used to do…
…but what "Fritz" lacks in outright accuracy it makes up for in Getting-Itness.
[BONUS extreme history nerd BONUS: This has set frequent correspondent John Kryk alight with references to not Crisler but Notre Dame's Frank Leahy, who deployed a T formation with a close resemblance to Fritz.
Michigan sort of ran the above. Kryk actually has a diagram in which the T looks identical to Fritz:
I'm pretty sure we'll all way too abuzz about a formation we'll see maybe a half-dozen times the rest of the season, but old-timey football is always cool to see in the flesh. It's why Georgia Tech games remain an abiding fascination.]
Why does the outside pitch not bother me so much in that formation? When we run the I-form fake-dive-to-pitch it's just asking the opposition to key on the running back flying out to the corner because Michigan never runs the dive, and even if they did defenses are like "BFD." When we ran it from Fritz it played off the earlier speed option.
Is it a tenable package against real opposition? If the wildcat can work I don't see why this can't.
Triple option? May be on the way.
Records. Some happened. Smith's touchdown cycle had not been accomplished in the modern era:
It was the first time a player has ran, thrown and passed for a score in modern Michigan football history (post-World War II).
That seemed like a given. I'm waiting for MVictors to dig up the dude who managed it in 1923, because I know it's happened and I know he will.
via Eric Upchurch and the Ann Arbor Observer.
Our helmets have wings… and numbers! Let's avoid the inevitable Rodriguez tradition rehash. It's already been done. Personal opinion of them: whateva. On a scale from 10 to –10 where 10 is Denard, –10 is Pop Evil, and 0 is total indifference I'm a –0.1. I'd rather not have the uniforms futzed with but the numbers have some history to them, don't look terrible, and are a minor adjustment.
I think Hoke should say he'll yank 'em if they lose, though.
On-field takeaways. Minnesota is very not good—we were playing a pretend game where the Gophers got a touchdown every time they crossed midfield and a point every time they succesfully fielded a kickoff and they still lost by 30. So disclaimers apply.
That said: Denard throwing to his receivers—and getting the opportunity to hit some short, confidence-building throws—was encouraging, as was the almost total lack of I-form even deep into the third quarter. That seems like an abandonment. If they were still working on it they would have pulled it out just to practice it, no?
Short stuff. AnnArbor.com's Kyle Mienke notes that of Michigan's first 11 passes, eight were five yards or less. He categorizes that crazy seam to Hopkins as "another was over the top to a leaking fullback," which is a goofy thing to try to lump into easy passes for Denard confidence. That was pure DO.
Patrick Omameh. Some evidence he might be struggling in the new offense: he was left on the field much longer than any of the other starters save Schofield, who was forced into the starting lineup by the Barnum injury and was granted time at tackle late.
Possible liberation society addendum. I'm so over the rollouts. It seems like the only way to get Denard Robinson pressured is to roll him out into unblocked contain defenders, which Michigan does plenty. If you leave him in the pocket people are terrified to get out of their lanes and he usually has a lot of time. If you put him on the edge against defenses keying on him he doesn't get outside and he has to make rushed throws on the move that seem to be more inaccurate than his usual ones.
I guess the rollouts do open up the throwback stuff, which has been very successful. And they did insert a heavy dose of sprint draw (AKA That Goddamned Counter Draw), something I've been pleading for since Rodriguez's arrival. So they might be developing a package there. They've got to figure out how to block it.
FWIW, I wasn't a fan of showing the sprint draw against an incompetent opponent. I'd rather Michigan's future opponents not prepare for a potentially game-breaking play. But I've got no evidence behind that.
Field goals. We haz them?
Hoke for tomorrow is getting a little ahead of itself:
It is not hard to see the qualities of Bo in Brady Hoke. At first I cringed at his seeming overconfidence, at his seeming overuse of Bo-isms, and wondered if he was trying too hard to win Michigan fans' hearts with his bravado. I don't doubt the man any longer. Brady Hoke has a Bo-like level of expectations for those he leads. He has expectations of effort, execution, and yes "toughness" that no coach since Bo has required from both his players and his staff. Hoke isn't making Michigan great again by being an innovator on either side of the ball; he is acquiring the best available parts, constructing a beast-machine, and driving the thing to eventual domination.
These feelings must be fought until the Michigan State game. ST3 goes inside the box score:
This is the section where I discuss turnovers and other momentum changing plays. There was one burst of impetus in this game. Minnesota kicked off to start the game. That's it. They were never in it. I bet that "adjusted winning percentage" diary shows us pegged at 100% for the duration.
Lloyd Brady is unstoppable.
Media as in files. Melanie Maxwell's Ann Arbor.com gallery.
WHY DID YOU GIVE ME CANCER GOLDY
i… I was just trying to field a kickoff
I think he may have altered that shot but will check. Greg also has a bunch of jug pictures. Troy Woolfolk posted this on his twitter:
The explanation: "My girl is always experimenting on me." I have no idea? I have no idea.
And finally, eagle-eyed mgouser M Fanfare caught an epic double point from Hoke:
In other Brady Hoke Points At Stuff news, Brady Hoke points at stuff.
Media, as in unwashed internet rabble. I have no idea what "Everybody pants now" means, but if you watch Parks and Rec you probably do. Amongst Adam Jacobi's things he learned in the conference this week:
So while it's easy to just say "But 2010" whenever someone mentions the fact that Michigan is still undefeated, there's one difference that's crucial to point out: the defense is showing up too. Last season, Michigan gave up over 25 points per game in its first five games. This year? 10.2. Yes, it's relevant that 31 points came against Notre Dame in a game the Wolverines had zero business winning and 20 came against tomato cans like Eastern Michigan and Minnesota, but consider that Michigan also spanked Western Michigan 34-10, and that's a Broncos team that came up just shy in a 23-20 loss at Illinois and just took a 38-31 win at Connecticut. So yes, given the context we've got, Michigan is not just pulling a 2010.
Jacobi's still not banking on Michigan "surviving" our "brutal November," but if not surviving means not winning the division instead of collapsing to 7-5 I don't think Michigan fans are going to be too peeved.
Blake Countess is the next Leon Hall. Yep, I said it. Minnesota doesn't have the greatest talent in the world, but Countess has looked pretty darn good for two weeks in a row. Courtney Avery had a nice 83-yard fumble return for a touchdown, but Avery has been getting beaten more regularly than any of Michigan's other corners this year. He's still not bad, but it looks like Countess will grab a starting spot sooner rather than later.
The Hoover Street Rag notes it was appropriate that Michigan tried a transcontinental-type play on the same day they honored John Navarre, though in that case they were attempting a double pass, not a run. Was anyone else OUTRAGED that the Navarre highlight package didn't include the Buffalo Stampede? That's like having an Alan Branch highlight package without the Morelli elimination.
That was an old school Michigan blowout, like the ones you'd watch on ESPN Plus (memory lane, you are there now) back in the day, where nothing was ever in doubt and The Law was that Michigan would average a billion yards a carry under a grumpy Michigan sky. It's always the ideal of overindulgence, and if anything it's a reminder of how far we've come since 2008 when beating Minnesota on the road was considered an upset.
Media as in newspaper type things. Brian Bennett's take from the ESPN Big Ten blog:
f and when Minnesota can get back to being competitive in the Big Ten, the Gophers can use Saturday's game as a motivational tool.
Hopefully for them, they'll remember this as rock bottom. Because Michigan blew the doors off Jerry Kill's team in a 58-0 humiliation at the Big House. The Wolverines have dominated this Little Brown Jug series for the last 40 years, but Saturday's margin of victory was the largest in the long-running semi-rivalry. It was the fifth-largest win in Michigan history, and that's a lot of history there.
Are we seriously declaring a knee to end the game as a failed redzone opportunity, News?
For Michigan, this game was a chance to flex its muscles offensively and defensively, add a few wrinkles and give as many players as possible — in this case, 71 — an opportunity to play. Michigan was 8-of-9 in the red zone against the Gophers and is now 21-of-22 for the season (17 touchdowns and four field goals).
No, we are not.
Via the Daily, some facts that sum up last year's field goal kicking:
The three field goals were each career longs [for Gibbons] at the time, starting from 25 yards and going to 32 yards and to 38 yards. In five games this season he’s missed just one field goal — a 40-yard try against San Diego State.
right via Indy Star
In the last 24 hours the belief that Mitch McGary will end up at Michigan has spread from local guru Sam Webb to large hunks of the basketball recruiting world. McGary just announced he wouldn't be visiting Kentucky or anywhere else and plans to come to a decision in a month.
While his blog post on ESPN mentions a desire to run and (fairly) leaves Michigan out when discussing the teams that do run, that hasn't stopped the train of positive mojo Webb kicked off on a WTKA recruiting roundup a couple days ago. Dave Telep:
If I set the odds, I'd install Michigan as favorite w/McGary at this juncture. College recruiters concerned about UM the most.
Scout's Brian Snow:
Word on the street is that Michigan has emerged as a leader for 2012 big man Mitch McGary, who was supposed to make an official visit to Kentucky for Big Blue Madness. Scout.com national analyst Evan Daniels reported on Sunday night that he was hearing Michigan was a "major favorite." There is also some speculation now that McGary, a native of Indiana, won’t make any more visits.
The twitter feed of one Bacari Alexander:
Boy, I hope that's about recruiting and not baseball.
This week's shot in the somewhat-less-dark:
This was a week of extreme carnage in the middle of the poll. South Carolina, Florida, Nebraska, VT, South Florida, Baylor, A&M, and FSU all lost. What to do?
Most extreme punishment. I've been waiting for an excuse to pummel South Carolina and their completely dysfunctional QB situation. Virginia Tech was impotent against Clemson and was vulnerable to a big drop since haven't beaten anyone and weren't competitive with the one team they did play. Baylor's marquee win took a big hit with TCU's loss to SMU and they lost themselves. A&M and FSU both take second losses and don't have any quality victories.
I forgive somewhat. Nebraska's win over Washington helps prop them up. Florida beat Tennessee pretty badly. South Florida has a buoying win over Notre Dame. There's a Pitt > USF > ND > Pitt circle here that USF wins by virtue of not having a second loss.
Wild swings. Auburn returns to the poll at #11 after not being ranked last week. They pick up a quality road win and that Clemson loss looks increasingly understandable. Even the Utah State near escape looks better now that the Aggies are outgaining everyone and losing painfully.
Michigan State and Arkansas also enter high up because who else am I going to put there?
I love you, Paul Johnson. I am probably too enthusiastic about Georgia Tech, but they're undefeated, have wins against three BCS opponents, and are tearing people up on the ground. They're three terrible BCS opponents, granted, but at this point in the season Michigan is on the edge of the top ten in the major polls… warts are everywhere. Quality wins are thin on the ground.
West Virginia drop. Competition based; they're running in place as others pick up quality-ish wins. Maryland no longer counts for them.
Side note. People were right when I didn't ding Wisconsin for playing no one last week. Will try to be better about things in the future.
Michigan. I'm still hesitant about them; Illinois has a better win with Arizona State, Auburn with @ South Carolina, and Texas is debatable since Iowa State did beat Iowa and the Longhorns crushed them—Michigan scraped by ND. Nebraska is debatable, too, but let's chalk it up to the last two years. Still a little bit of projection in these rankings.
Denard Robinson and Vincent Smith
Why was the passing game better today? Denard: “We just clicked. We worked on it in practice, and we just had to put it forward in games, and that’s what we did today.”
When the last time you had a rushing, receiving, and passing TD in the same game. Also, can you talk about the game plan that utilized you in a unique way? Smith: “I was just put in the right place at the right time. The coaches know what I’m capable of. What I have to do for the team to help them out.” Was it fun? “Real fun. And the last time I threw a pass was in high school, but not like three [TD’s] in one game.”
When did the 2-QB thingy arise? Denard: “We’ve been doing that in practice. We’ve been working on it. Coach said he’d throw it at us, and just be ready. And he called it, so we were ready.” Were you expecting it that early? “Oh yeah.”
That was an unorthodox offense today. Is that exciting for you? Denard: “Oh yeah … Just going out and having fun with my teammates.”
Denard, how comfortable did you feel in the passing game? You looked more comfortable. Denard: “Oh yeah. I mean, we’ve been practicing getting it down with the receivers, and we were just on the same page.” How much you looking forward to going on the road? “Both of us are looking forward to that.” Smith: “I mean it’s just another football game, and that’s what we love to do. We just love to come out to compete, and it’s another night game.”
You guys have been putting up a lot of points. How does the team feel about this new offense? Denard: “We’re confident. I mean, we’ve been playing [well], and we trust Coach Al to give us the right play and make things happen, because we have some playmakers.”
Are there other things we haven’t seen that you might show us? Denard: “We can’t tell them that …” Smith: “Not that I know of.”
(more after the jump)