News bullets and other important items:
- Cam Gordon's status (back) is "up in the air," probably leaning towards sitting out for Notre Dame.
- Stonum and Jerald Robinson are stunt-doubling for Michael Floyd in practice.
- Woolfolk OK, will likely stay on special teams (confirmed from yesterday).
- Hopkins will contribute, could win starting job, or even play fullback.
- Hoke will continue to wear pants on the sideline, even though he prefers shorts.
From file (Yes, my file)
Opening remarks: “Ahem. Everybody ready?
“Thanks for coming out. We had a pretty good practice yesterday. We had the first day of school. You worry about how that affects guys, especially your freshmen -- getting them to class, making sure they know where they’re going -- but overall putting a plan in. Tuesdays are usually a day that there’s a lot of planning. There’s a lot of tweaks to the game plan, and sometimes they’re not as good as you’d like them to be, but I thought overall -- as a team and in the kicking game and the offense and defense side of it -- I think we had a pretty good day. We needed a better day today, obviously, because that improvement daily is very improtant to us.
“We run it pretty live. We get after it pretty well. I think our guys understand that. I think we looked at some personnel things that we’ll continue to look at throughout the rest of the week, building up to Saturday. We'll go pretty full-go.”
Will Woolfolk remain on special teams? “I would expect Troy will be healthy. He did more yesterday, really, than I thought he would. And the thing I liked about it was Troy wanted to do more, and there’s been situations we’ve all been in as coaches where some guys who’ve played football and are older, they may be a little delicate about when they get back in there, but he jumped right back in, and I was real pleased with the way he approached yesterday.”
So is he going to stay on special teams? “Oh, sure.”
Did you see improvements in kickoff coverage? “We work our coverage teams two days a week, and then our return teams two days a week. I think for the first day, it was good. I think the guys know that we didn’t perform like we should. We’ll look at some other guys in there a little bit, but I think it was pretty decent yesterday.
Did you see what the problem was on film? “We had one situation where two guys ran into each other. There’s a way you want to avoid blocks, and placement of the ball is important when you want to kick into the boundary a little bit more -- you need the ball a little more into the boundary. We were folding the guy early in the game, and we quit doing that because of where they wanted to take the football. So I was more pleased yesterday than I was on Saturday.”
What about Cam Gordon’s status? “He’s still up in the air. I don’t talk much about injuries, but he’s still up in the air. He did a couple things yesterday, but not near as much as we like.”
What do you need to see to feel good about him playing? “I need to see him go out there and run around and play football today. Because if not -- you pretty much have to do some things on Wednesday on a full tilt level, or Saturday you’re not going to be effective anyway.”
Borges always says make plays, not miracles when talking about Denard. What’s your take on that? “That’s always a good point. When you have a guy who has a skill set that’s pretty special, and Denard is, as he’s progressed in the offense and learning it, I think he sees that he doesn’t have to be everything. And that’s an important part. There’s a poise and composure that you want to play with, that you don’t want to force things whether from running or throwing it. I think just staying within the framework of what we need our quarterback to do, because I think he’ll make enough stuff happen during the course of the game that will just happen because of that skill set. But he just needs to play in the framework of what we’re doing offensively.”
With the way your running backs played last Saturday, was that reinforced for Denard? “If our offensive line -- and it starts there -- can get movement on the line of scrimmage, if our lead blockers, whether it be with an H-back or a U-back or a full back, can get on guys, and we do a great job down the field with the receivers, then good things will happen.”
Is Stonum giving you a good look in practice for Michael Floyd? “Well I don’t know. He’s pretty daggone good. I would say that the thing about Darryl is that he is a team guy. He has jumped in with both feet, and really done a great job the week before, and right now him and Jerald Robinson are both wearing number three out there, so it gives our guys a good look.”
What more do you want see from your linebackers? “The linebackers and the defensive front -- we need to see more disruption up there. I don’t think it’s been a secret that I wasn’t real happy with how we played there. There’s a higher expectation, and obviously your second level guys, the linebackers, they’ve got to do a great job with their run fits and the different defenses we have. Jordan does a nice job of deducing [plays]. He’s a smart football player. You gotta give him some credit for some of his reactions as a football player.”
What did you lose by not having a fourth quarter? “Well depending on how the game goes, there may be some guys you would have loved to get in the football game for experience. I know offensively, just talking to Al a little bit, there’s some things that he wanted to look at in a game environment that we didn’t get to.”
Would you have liked to try for a FG? “I like touchdowns. PATs are fine.”
How do you feel about Rees as Notre Dame’s QB? “You look at the last four games of last year and you look at what he did -- he played with a great deal of composure. He has a very good arm. I think his release is good. I think he understands conceptually Brian’s offense. Both of them I think are very talented guys. Obviously Brian’s going to make decisions that are best for his team, but we have to prepare the same way for both of them.”
Could Hopkins win starting job? “Oh he could. We’ll let the week play out. I think he’s done a nice job. He did a nice job in fall camp.” Could he play fullback? “He can play some fullback. Can … has.”
Did Toussaint solidify his spot at all with his performance Saturday? “No, well -- I think right now he’d be the guy to start the game.”
Did you run more single-back than you planned? “I think number one we’re trying to get Denard comfortable. I think that always is part of it. Your quarterback -- doesn’t matter if it’s Tom Brady or Denard Robinson -- you want guys to be comfortable because that position specifically is so important to your football team. We may have gotten a little more into the two-back stuff as the game progressed.”
You’re a shorts guy. How come you wore pants on Saturday? “I think I probably have to. Believe me, I’d wear shorts in a heartbeat.” Did Dave Brandon make you? “No, I think it probably just comes with the territory.”
How do you feel about Brian Kelly’s in-game meltdown? “I don’t know… you don’t think of that. Every guy’s different. That’s what makes -- you’re all different. You all have different questions, and you all have different slants in what you look at, and so I mean, everybody does some stuff differently. I know I look real big on HD. But my whole point is: you’re coaching kids. You’re trying to help them so that they’re going to make the improvements and fundamentals, techniques, recognition, sometimes it maybe a mentality you’re expecting them to play with.”
Have you interacted much with Brian Kelly? “He was in the MAC Central. He beat us three times.” You talk to him at all? “League meetings, those kind of things. I’ve got a lot of respect for Brian. He’s a good coach. He was at Grand Valley and did a great job there … [and then at] Cincinanti and Central [Michigan].”
Last time on Picture Pages we saw how hopeless n00b Brennen Beyer made life very difficult for Michigan on a 25-yard counter play Western ran in the second quarter. Poor linebacker play from Kenny Demens and Carvin Johnson contributed.
A bit later in the half, Western would go back to the well. How would Beyer react?
It's first and ten at the Michigan 17 on Western's third drive. They've taken the ball from the Michigan 47 to get here. Western comes out in the same look-ma-spread-in-shred formation and will run the same counter play they ran before. Michigan is again in an aggressive one-high press look:
A lot of backups are in. The DL is Beyer/Heininger/Brink/Black. LBs are Herron, Fitzgerald, and Johnson walking down into the box.
On the snap it's the same business, with the backside G and H-back pulling around. This time Beyer's got it figure out, though. You can just see his head popping out from behind the tackle who is releasing downfield:
All right, now we are in the business. Or not. You can read the title.
Beyer disappears in the above frame because he is making contact with the G at about the LOS. Also look at the linebackers. Fitzgerald has not moved; Herron is starting to run at the play.
Beyer has run inside and gotten sealed at the LOS approximately where the center started the play. The fullback sails outside no problem. Instead of making a pile he's just created a huge hole by removing any leverage available.
Meanwhile Fitzgerald is getting cut to the ground. He's hardly moved despite a guard pulling in front of his face, and thanks to that Johnson can't flow. Neither can Brink, who is giving ground to pursue but just gets cut.
Herron, for his part, is going to blow the leverage again…
…but it wouldn't have mattered much because there's hardly anyone behind him.
Kovacs cleans up again.
Video with dramatic pause:
Someone took Beyer aside and told him how he'd screwed up on the first power and what to do. If you look at the comments on the last one there is some debate about whether or not Beyer was absolved because of a blitz. I don't think that's entirely possible; if you're blitzing and no one's blocking you off the edge while the QB executes a mesh point you need to slow your roll and adjust. Beyer didn't; someone told him he should do that.
Beyer took that advice and overcompensated a la Cam Gordon playing safety last year. I'm still not sure if they were playing to squeeze or spill. I'm guessing squeeze. This is the cost of playing freshmen. This kind of thing will get better.
I do wonder why he's even on the field. If they're going to run a four-man line I'd rather have Brink and Heininger out there than Beyer, since at least they've played football in college before. I guess you have to chalk that up to the heat and the necessity to play the walk-ons on the interior, which means just terrible things about Ash/Campbell/Washington. If Cam Gordon returns next week it wouldn't surprise me to see Ryan in Beyer's role.
Yet more indecisive linebackers. A guard pulling is a dead giveaway as to the direction of the play and twice we see Michigan players not reacting to it at all. If they're not reading the G whatever they are reading is not giving them a heads-up quickly enough.
This may be four defensive systems in four years with three coordinators; it may be a talent issue. Demens suggests it's at least some of the latter. Either way, Fitzgerald sits entirely still until he's chopped to the ground by a Western OL, which eliminates not only him but Johnson and Brink thanks to the location of the block. Meanwhile, Herron has a tough job that he does poorly with, losing leverage on the play.
I assume days that aren't blistering hot will see Demens on the field for every snap, but if he's hurt we're screwed and WLB is a real problem. Herron had two touchdowns and is going to end up significantly negative on the day.
Heininger does not accomplish what RVB does. He gets sealed away and is trying to spin free when the LB-FB contact occurs; he's in no position to help if Herron turns it inside, which he doesn't because no one turns it inside ever. This may be a slight exaggeration born of frustration.
People are worried about the defense, and with good reason. The worrying bit isn't so much the best quarterback in the state averaging 5.9 YPA and being forced into two turnovers by getting clobbered, but rather Western Michigan running for almost 5 YPC with guards they picked up at a yard sale in Jackson.
I have good news and bad news about this. The good news: a major reason for these issues was a true freshman in his first game who made obvious errors. He fixed some of those errors. The bad news: he fixed those errors so hard he made the opposite error. More bad news: he wasn't the only culprit.
We're looking at two successful first-half counters run by the Broncos. Here's the first. It's second and two on the Michigan 47 on Western's second drive of the day. Western's all like "look, ma, I'm the 2010 Michigan offense" and Michigan brings out its aggressive one-high press man for the first time:
You see the 3-4 front with three tight corners. Kovacs is out of the picture deep. The slot "corner" is Thomas Gordon. The LBs from top to bottom are
Herron Jones, Johnson, Demens, and Beyer, with Roh/Martin/Van Bergen the DL. Your key players are the bottom three guys in the front seven: Beyer, RVB, and Demens.
A moment after the snap:
The tackle blocks down on RVB, leaving Beyer free to fly into the backfield. This is an Admiral Ackbar situation that Beyer is too pumped up on adrenaline and youthful stupidity to recognize. He's all like "gonna get me some QB."
Meanwhile, the RB is moving right, but check out that OL directly in front of the QB: he's pulling left. This is a counter.
A moment later Beyer is recognizing his DERP far too late. He's already three yards into the backfield and his momentum is stopped as he tries to change direction now that the QB doesn't have the ball. the pulling G is going to hammer him.
Not all is lost, though: Demens has read it and is moving into the hole. And you see a lot more of Van Bergen's jersey, don't you?
RVB has given about a yard but now has his helmet across his blocker. Beyer defeats the OG's block and would have a shot at a tackle if he hadn't flown upfield so fast. There's that lead blocker and a lot of room for Demens to close down but he could…
…just about turn it back inside to RVB, who has now totally defeated his block, or he could…
…turn into Jonas Mouton and lose leverage.
That's 25 yards before Kovacs can come up and save the bacon.
Video, with annotation!
I learned this from Spielman. There are two main ways to defend the power play: "squeeze" and "spill." Squeezing is getting into the guard upfield a bit so that the RB has to take it inside into a more restricted hole. Beyer would have to be a yard or two closer to the LOS and to the inside to be squeezing. From that spot he can make a play, or at least make it harder to burst outside that LB.
Spilling is kind of a scrape exchange type deal where the playside DE roars down the line at the pulling G and cuts his ass to the ground. This is intended to create a pile that takes out the other lead blocker and forces the running back to bounce outside, where a linebacker scraping over the top should clean stuff up. Beyer would have had to shoot directly at the G as soon as he reads the pull.
Obviously, he does neither and gets kicked out of a very large hole. If he's in the right position he's dealt with the block well enough to make a tackle. He's not.
Demens did Mouton it. He's got a tough job here with the fullback and a big hole, but letting the guy outside of you is a cardinal sin—unfortunately, one we're all too familiar with. If Demens gets outside that fullback WMU might get a big run anyway but "losing leverage" (the jargon) guarantees it.
Another quiet Van Bergen plus. This is the kind of thing I am talking about when I say RVB is good but the things he does often go for naught. Here he beats a downblock, which is tough, to show up in the hole and potentially rescue Johnson, who you may note ran ridiculously playside and ends up farther away from the play than double-teamed NT Martin. Demens loses the plot and Van Bergen's reward is just a UFR plus and a chase downfield.
Ugh Johnson. To reiterate: the guard directly in front of Johnson's face pulls and he ends up yards away from relevance.
Kovacs. He tackles. He does not not tackle. Here he sort of misses, but this was very rare. This may not hold up against Big Ten teams but there were plenty of opportunities for the Broncos to pick up a touchdown that they could not because Kovacs tackled them.
A potential future TE and one of many, many places it would be cool to go
Let's have a TE rummage sale.
Just listened to the podcast of your WTKA Thursday gig and you echoed my own concerns about TE depth. Yesterday I started a thread on the board about converting Heitzman to TE but it was partially highjacked by the Snarkosphere.
Keith was a TE in high school and played a bit of fullback in the Big 33 game (scored the last TD). At 6'3" 250 he is already big enough to contribute and would be ready to step into the looming void of 2012. WolvinLA had one of the few constructive comments to my post saying that he thought Heitzman had the frame to become a 285 lb. SDE..... but I would rather have a 260 lb. TE next year, and taking a third TE in this class does not really address the immediate depth problem.
I think you're onto something. Michigan is going to bring in a couple SDEs next year that are probably going to pass Heitzman on the depth chart as soon as they hit campus. On the other hand, they have zero(!) scholarship SDEs on the current depth chart. Unless Brink is a diamond in the rough, they'll need the competition there.
There's another guy on the roster who seems even riper for a move: Jordan Paskorz. Paskorz played TE in high school—he actually made the local newspaper's All-Region team at the spot. He's listed as a 6'3" 246 linebacker but didn't make the depth chart; I actually thought he was competing at WDE. Either way, SLB and WDE are both three-deep for the next couple years.
He's got a much clearer path to playing time at TE. By next year he could be 260 or 270 pounds. I'm a little surprised they haven't moved him already.
WHY OL NO ENORBOUS
One of the consistent comments since Brady Hoke was hired has been the weight of our offensive linemen. I feel like this is something you bring up quite regularly, either talking about how the starters haven't put on as much weight as you expected or about how some of the incoming recruits fit more in line with the "man ball" theme based on their size. Here's my question - what weight do you think Hoke wants for the OL?
I did a little research on this and what I found was that Michigan isn't as light as I would expect as compared to everyone else. Most teams, both NCAA and NFL, seem to average about 305-315 across their line while Michigan is just under 300. More interesting is that our current OL out-weighs the National Champion 1997 line that produced a bunch of quality NFL players. (Caveat about old school rosters matching reality goes here.)
The only team I found that has any significant size difference with respect to Michigan is Wisconsin. So do you really think Hoke wants that type of OL or is a modest increase into the 310 area that most NFL Teams seem to favor?
Yeah, in 1997 Michigan was still in the mode where any lineman over 300 pounds was listed at "299." Whether this was an homage to the old Schembechler story about the scales in the football building only going that high (and having to weigh some kid on a freight elevator as a result) or a hint to anyone over that number to get under it is unknown. Those guys were probably just as big as these guys.
I have no idea what to make of Hoke's intentions since he seems to say one thing and then let Borges do what he wants. I wouldn't read much into the lack of weight added to Michigan's current line in that regard since it's possible they're just not guys who can be much bigger than they already are. Molk and Huyge are probably topped out and putting more weight on Omameh would be easy if you just wanted it to be fat. Maybe not so much the muscle. Barnum and Lewan are exceptions; not sure what to make of that.
Down the road we will see bigger linemen. No one in this class is ever going to be described as "undersized," as Molk and possibly Omameh are. I'm guessing they won't be as huge as Wisconsin, but who knows?
Reasons not to schedule anyone that kind of assume I am not aware of the structure of college fooball.
I hear what you're saying on the scheduling but it's never going to change with the current incentive structure. As long as a school from a BCS conference can destroy three cupcakes, run the table in their conference and go to the national title game (or lose 1 conference game and still get a huge BCS payout) what is the incentive for Michigan to ever schedule anyone but 2 directional schools and Baby Seal U of its choice?
At the end of the day, the fans care about wins and in January there will be much less bitching if Michigan is 10-2 with losses to Wisco and Iowa (and having clubbed 3 terrible teams) and playing on New Years Day than if they went 9-3 with an additional loss to Oklahoma.
Since up to five Big Ten teams now play on New Year's Day, your hypothetical 9-3 team would easily cross that threshold. Hurray for grade inflation. That's beside the point.
I see what the emailer is saying, and sort of agree, and think that's another aspect of modern college football that sucks out loud. HOWEVA, I don't think that the only thing CFB fans care about is wins at The End Of The Day. This whole topic of conversation arose because I went to the UM Club of Detroit's kickoff luncheon and some guy launched into a rant about Michigan's scheduling that got applause from the entire room. At the end of the day I think fans want to see Michigan win more than its fair share against quality competition and feel like they're getting value for money.
I believe that even if the fans sigh and pay for Michigan scheduling real opponents by yourself, value for money is on the side of real opponents. And $2.59 per ticket means you don't have to schedule Georgia or Oklahoma to make the home and home worthwhile. YMMV, but here's a list of teams Michigan could play. You can yes or no the hypothetical surcharge in your brain for each:
- Georgia Tech
- Oregon State
- Oklahoma State
- North Carolina
- Ole Miss
Those are all "yes" to me and none are signing up to play Oklahoma. It's true that signing up for a second real game reduces your chances of running the table and getting into the worst playoff ever. That's another crappy effect of the current system that would be far less powerful if we had a properly-sized playoff (six teams, IME). That's a downside… but I don't really care. I just want to play some real teams.
This guy's mileage varies from the previous guy
I know and understand your post is all about the financial ramifications and feasibility of a home and home with a real opponent, but you failed to mention one common sense tidbit that Dave Brandon doesn't seem to get: PEOPLE LIKE TRAVELING TO NEW PLACES, which is why Michigan is almost always a lock to bring a big crowd to a bowl game.
People want to explore the country. I've always wanted to visit the south and all I need is a game scheduled between Michigan and any SEC team below the Mason Dixon line to get me to finally take that trip. Road games are FUN, especially when they are in a city/region you don't get to visit much.
Amen. I'm still undecided about whether I'll shell out to go see Michigan play Alabama in Jerryworld. It's just a bowl game in a meh city. I can do that every year. (Right, Brady?) If the game was in Tuscaloosa I'd be hitting refresh on Kayak every twelve seconds until I'd gotten solid plans. That is a once in a lifetime opportunity to check out a college football mecca. Hell, I went to a game at Auburn Michigan wasn't even involved in and came back raving about how awesome college football was.
Jerryworld is not college football, but it pays the bills. If paying those is what it takes for Michigan to schedule nonconference games not against Notre Dame, I'm willing to do that. Give us the option. Put a millage on the season ticket applications that will add a surcharge for two years for a specific matchup and only do it if you get 60% of the vote. The worst thing that happens is nothing.
A Third and long Denard followup from the Mathlete.
I have Denard at 1140th out of 1235 players in my database on 3rd and 8+
Tate Forcier from 2009 was literally one spot ahead at 1139
Pat White in his three years under RR:
West Virginia wasn't great under RR but they were always in the top quarter and nowhere near as low as Michigan was the last two year.
Yeesh. That will be a stat to track this year, more to see how Denard develops than any particular differences between RR and Borges. That assertion about Michigan 2011 being an offense that had to stay ahead of the chains as much as generic triple options teams turns out to be no exaggeration.
Yet another reason to shoot yourself (DON'T SHOOT YOURSELF)
I have an alternative theory on Michigan football, we are all in a dream.
Hear me out.
You know how most dreams will contain basic familiar elements (Denard, uniforms, etc), but often will have people in places you don't expect but might hope for (Tressel resigning in disgrace, getting great recruits), some simply weird stuff (Brady Hoke as coach, huge scoreboard out of nowhere), and then all of a sudden the narrative gets really weird with some natural phenomenon (like onrushing water) that signals the dream state and the fact we might be ready to get up?
Is Dave Brandon trying to perform Inception on us?
accurate representation of how Michigan fans feel after last four years
Hmmm… If I shoot myself in the head, the possibilities:
- wake up on December 1st, 2007 thinking "Dave Brandon should coach Michigan football"
I think I'll pass.
I hope nobody ever refers to Kovacs as a "walkon" ever again. Dude is a great football player!
"He's a guy that can get things lined up for you, and he's a tough guy, and he will go attack the football," Hoke said of the former walk-on. "He has a great deal of pride in his performance on a daily basis. He's one of those guys who has an urgency about getting to the football. I'm pleased with what he's done to this point. I would guess that he won't take a step backward."
Brandon Herron (on the fumble-TD):
"First of all, I want to thank Kovacs, but it was a call where we saw -- I can’t put it out there – but we made a check, and I ended up coming off the edge, and Kovacs got free. I don’t think the ball rolled my way. I think I went to go get the ball, and then just ran it into the endzone."
Made a check, huh? Okay, let's go to 16:15 and see who was doing the pointing…
… or don't and guess.
Kovacs entered the Michigan canon two years ago this week, when Michael Williams cramped up versus Notre Dame's two towers of evil, Michael Floyd and Golden Tate. His former coach:
"Here it is in crunch time, the second half of the game, they've got some of their four- and five-stars -- and they're really good players," said Rodriguez in his postgame press conference. "And then we got Jordan Kovacs, who was a school-start walk-on, second time. First time he didn't make it because he was injured, and he went and got his knee fixed. We told him to come back again to try out with the general student body, and not only does he try out and make the team, now he's in there playing at safety, in the middle of crunch time, national TV, against Notre Dame. To me, that's pretty special. I'm awfully proud of him."
Kovacs had his number called for three reasons. One, the position was under-recruited for several years prior, leaving only the starters, Steve Brown and Williams, as the only upperclassman safeties. Second, despite not having even played football since high school, his ball skills and tackling were such that he was clearly a better option than the freshman DBs. The third reason they called his number is GERG didn't know his name.
Since Kovacs took the job from Williams for good after the incident with the trolls in East Lansing, only 18 guys on BCS teams recorded more tackles. He's tied for 19th* according to NCAA stats (counting assists as 0.5) with the guy in this photo…
… whom Michigan fans, Notre Dame fans, and anyone who will listen to Notre Dame fans will tell you made this tackle.
|1||LUKE KUECHLY||Boston College||269||25||2.5|
|4||GREG JONES||Michigan St.||188||24||10|
|19||MANTI TE'O||Notre Dame||145.5||16||2|
How Kovacs and Te'o got to 145.5 tackles and fairly equivalent backfield stats are two very different stories. Te'o was a 5-star LB in the 2009 class. When Patrick Omameh isn't plowing him into safeties 15 yards downfield … (Compliance:
… he has been one of the best linebackers in the nation, using his uncanny combination of football sense, size, speed, athleticism, and power to shed blocks, pick through traffic, and run down plays. Kovacs meanwhile has used his stunning combination of just the first one to blow up screens and swings, and otherwise prevent 9 yard gains from turning into 40. Notre Dame's defense is designed to funnel every play into Moria, where the Balrog can clean up. Michigan's in '09-'10 was about a bunch of dwarves waiting around outside while the hobbit goes and burgles something.
This was true when they were freshmen in '09 and it's true now: the physical factors that made Te'o a star are the same that give Kovacs a ceiling not far from where he seems to be right now. He is still slower than an Indiana running back on a dead run (so it's a good thing his angles have markedly improved since freshman year). He's still too small to beat a block from a fullback or guard (so it's a good thing he can diagnose a play and get there before they do). And he's just not athletic enough to close off holes in the zone, so despite his reflexes there will always be a hole in a Cover 2 which accurate QBs can exploit. What you should appreciate about Kovacs is that almost nobody makes it as close to their ceiling as he has.
Kovac had a hell of a game against Western. Early on he ran down a few plays that might have gone for TDs on drives that ended in the Herron interception and the missed field goal. He was excellent in run support, made several key PBUs, brought pressure when called upon to blitz, and had that fumble/TD-causing hit heard even in the deep nether regions of the press box where Michigan banishes authors of unflattering books, and disturbed asshats.
Herron gets to do the talk show circuit this week as the blankety-blank defensive player of the blank and I don't want to take away from that, while Kovacs gets named to the watch list for this year's Scrappy White Guy Trophy they created for Harrison Smith. Here his adventure has come full circle, facing Notre Dame at Michigan Stadium, two years removed from having to remember his number is 32 not 22 because his coach can't remember his name is Kovacs not Cavanaugh. In a race to the open receiver or the hole where this year's feel-good walk-on stories have been crushed out of, Marvin Robinson might be better than Kovacs. But in the time before the snap, which may count more than we ever realized, I'd rather have Kovacs than Te'o.
Even Herron says the real defensive MVP of the Western game and maybe this season is the guy who's telling everyone where to be, the guy calling audibles that result in 14-point swings: the walk-on, making the most out of the skills and talents that only he possesses.
News (and other important items) bullets:
- Hopkins will be major contributor, can compete for starting position at RB
- Borges wants to use less shotgun -- Saturday wasn't representative
- Mattison does not plan to put any one cornerback on Michael Floyd all game
- Woolfolk is healthy and practicing at full speed
- Woolfolk will remain on special teams
- Barnum will be back this week
- <3 Kovacs
Coach, you look great. “Well, thank you.”
How would you assess Denard’s performance? “He managed the offense very well first time out. He had very few errors. A couple of deals, but nothing catastrophic, which is really all you ask for the first time out. He didn’t create the big plays that he’s used to, but our tailbacks did. So as long as somebody does, we’ll be fine. Eventually that part of his game will surface.”
Did you get use enough plays on offense you wanted to? “Oh, it wasn’t even close. We ran 39 plays. I mean, we didn’t even scratch the surface. There was so much left in the bag, just the way the game went, which is kind of good. Didn’t even begin to approach our menu.”
The one play where Denard scrambled and almost threw a pick, did you use that as a teaching moment? “Of all the plays he had, that was the only play that was a little higher risk. After the fact, he realized he should have probably checked the ball down to the tight end in the flat, but he got a little greedy on that one. But for the most part his decision-making was fairly accurate, other than a play or two.”
Is it hard to get a gauge of your offense with only 39 plays? “Yeah, a little bit. But you have 39 to judge, [so] judge and go from there. It was incomplete in so many ways. But it was a win, and we’ll take it, and we’ll go from there. We got another week to practice.”
This horse isn’t dead yet. Let’s beat it some more. Fitz vs. Shaw? “Both of them showed up. We ended up playing them both, probably Fitz a little more than Shaw, but Shaw did some nice things.”
Can you comment on Notre Dame’s defense? “They’re legitimate. Their third-down percentage -- [USF] got two or three third down conversions on them. If you look at their numbers, South Florida didn’t move the ball very well on them. And just because of the circumstances of the game, they lost, but the defense, I thought, was outstanding. Te’o the linebacker was as active and as physical a player I’ve seen in a while, and that’s quite a statement. He is a good football player. They get pass rush with only four guys. They don’t have to blitz, which is disconcerting. They’re good on the back end -- Harrison’s around the ball all the time. Ball hawk, physical, well-coached. They use their hands real well up front on the line. They’re good.”
What do you see in Harrison Smith? “I think he puts himself in position real well. He doesn’t get out of position a lot. He’s got a feel for where the ball’s going. It looks like he plays smart. He’s physical. He’s just one of those guys I’m sure they count on.”
Passes were distributed pretty evenly between receivers against Western. Is that going to be how you do it for the rest of the season? “Not necessarily, no. I think there’s going to be games where you’ll see one guy catch a bunch of balls, and the other guy won’t catch as many, and vice versa. Once you get into the battle, you don’t know how it’s going to go, so you’re never sure exactly who’s going to get it. Now you design certain plays to go to certain guys, but because of the nature of the defense you’re not going to get it to those guys. You always want a degree of distribution, but I’m not obsessed with [the idea that] everybody needs to catch x amount of balls. I could care less about that. What I care about is taking what the defense gives you, and if that means one guy catches ten passes, then so be it.”
How did Denard do under center going through his reads? “I thought he did a pretty darn good job. For his first time, his under center play was really good. His shotgun play was -- that’s kind of his power zone, and that’s why we’re going to use that and do that stuff. His under center play was solid. His mechanics in terms of exchange, tracks and things -- had a couple of errors on some tracks, but for the most part was pretty reliable.”
Only two of Denard’s runs were scrambles. Were you pleased with patience in pocket? “He did a nice job on one scramble particularly. I think he got a first down. He came off one of his receivers a little quick -- but for the most part, what you have to understand is you want him to give the pass a chance, but you don’t want to be so obsessed with him always wanting to check the ball down, because he is the best checkdown you could have. So what could be perceived as impatience is sometimes a little more designed than you might think.”
Talk about that NFL pass to Grady? “That was the second option. That was a good play. They jumped the slide play, and he threw the ball. That was a nice play by him. He reset his feet, got his hips set, and he hit [Grady] right in stride. That was totally designed. And no scramble there.”
How would you assess O-line play re: Schofield vs. Barnum? “Mike had a good game. Mike did a good job. He was very solid in there. And now this week, we’ll see how the thing goes [between Schofield and Barnum]. It’s nice to know [Schofield] can, if that makes any sense.”
Is Barnum back in the lineup for Notre Dame? “Oh yeah. Absolutely.”
Talk about going for it on fourth and one. Whose call is it? “It’s my playcall, but it’s [Hoke’s] decision.”
Do you coach Denard on his scrambling or do you allow him to improvise? “When the protection breaks down or the pocket gets pushed or for some reason he can’t see, he has to go to an improv mode. All our improv has structure, but Denard does a lot in there that I don’t draw on the board. The one thing you don’t want to do is inhibit a playmaker. A guy that can do some things, you don’t want to make him so that he’s so robotic he’s not doing what he’s capable of doing. Yeah, there’s structure within our improvisation, but his ability to create -- I always talk about create without doing something stupid. He’s living by the law pretty good, knock on wood.”
Would you have gone completely vanilla if there had been a fourth quarter? “Had we scored on the last drive, we probably would have gotten a little more physical. It’s hard to say, but when we get ahead, we like to run the football if we can without being too conservative.”
Is the ratio of shotgun vs. under center what you’ll stick to the rest of the season? “No, no … no. The game had no balance to it with regard to that. If we had played a fourth quarter, we would have been right about where we wanted it.”
Would Devin Gardner have gotten some snaps? “I don’t know. We’ll see. I couldn’t tell you. That’s up to Brady.”
Is Hopkins going to have a role this week? “Oh, absolutely. You bet. He was in the fold big time. Before he couldn’t play, but now that he’s back, he’s going to be a factor. He’s a good player. He brings something to the table. He’s a big back that you like to have.”
Is he competing for the starting job? “They’re all competing still. I’m not counting him out of the mix.”
(more after the jump)
A photo of the elusive Greg Mattison in his natural habitat.
Can you share what it’s like to have coached on both sides of rivalry? “It’s a great rivalry. I mean, you’re talking about two of the greatest schools in college football in athletics. I don’t think there are any better when you look at the whole package of it. I know it’s a huge rivalry for everybody involved in it. It’s Michigan. It’s Notre Dame. That’s what it is.”
Was it weird when you went from Michigan to Notre Dame? “Yeah, it was hard. I can tell you that was hard because it was Michigan … you know, I can’t honestly say if I even really knew what a big rivalry that was. I never grew up being a Notre Dame fan. I’m a Lutheran, not a Catholic. When you do that decision based on family, once you’ve made that decision, you kind of go, ‘Whoa.’ But I had a great eight years there. Got to see my family through school and my daughter in collge there, so that made it a really, really good deal.”
Assess defensive performance early in the game and how you adjusted later? “The thing that happened is what you kind of worry about happening when you have so many guys that haven’t played a lot of football. You probably got the toughest scenario you could get because it was a very fast paced -- they were switching personnel groups in and out without us really being able to see what they were, and you got defenses that you’re playing for certain personnel groups that you hadn’t against a different group. This young group needs to see everything.
“Then it goes down to when a team hurries like that and speeds up the pace, communication is everything, and that’s something we’ve been harping on. With a young group of guys and young linebackers that haven’t played a lot, the communication is the first thing -- when it all happens -- it goes. [During] that [first] drive, there was a number things that we weren’t aligned correctly on. And we’re not good enough to do that. We’re not good enough to not be perfect at what we’re doing. Once they came off the side and we settled them down, and we just said, ‘Hey listen. There’s a whole ball game ahead of us. If we get these things corrected we’ll be fine.’ And then we get the interception, and [we] let them pick back up again.”
Hoke wasn’t happy with D-line play. “Neither was I.” What stuck out to you? “I wouldn’t just single out the defensive line. When we looked at that tape, I knew what I would see. That is not how we want to play defense. Our whole thing is stopping the run. Some of those runs were me -- I’m calling pressures to try to get after the quarterback and he runs a draw, and we didn’t fit our gaps right. That kind of thing happens. Others they weren’t. We have to be able to stop the run. Anytime a team runs the football on your defense, you can’t have a great day. I think a lot of our fits, our backers fitting, our defensive line knocking them back, playing real physical every snap, all those things have to improve.
“The one positive thing in the entire game, though, was we kept the ball inside and in front for the most part. We can’t allow a big play [to become] a homerun play, and that quarterback is a big time quarterback, and that wide receiver is a great wide receiver. So our guys did keep the ball inside and in front, so we could get more guys on the tackles.”
Rees vs. Crist? “Well, I think that they’re both very good quarterbacks. The one thing that you have to understand with Rees is he was the starting quarterback the last four games [of 2010] and they won all four. And then he goes in this game in a half and throws for 300-some yards or whatever. So obviously he’s a guy that when he goes in ball games, he does a great job. I think both of them are very talented. You wouldn’t be at a school like Notre dame or Michigan if you didn’t have talent. I think they both have good arms, and they both appear to be very intelligent, and they both have a great wide receiver."
How do you get D-line up to where you want it to be? Will you keep blitzing as much? “It depends if a team is going to throw as much as [Western Michigan] threw. It all depends on what the team does. We won’t sit back and play zone coverage until we have the ability to get a rush with a four-man front. And that comes from technique -- that comes from a lot of things. It’s not fair to that secondary and it’s not fair to that underneath coverage to let a quarterback like that hold it. I’m not going to say I’m a guy that’s going to blitz every down, but when it dictates it, then I think you have to.”
Do you need to get more production out of Craig Roh? “Definitely. He has to play better. One of the things we addressed is that we had too many players in that defense that did not get production. We have a big chart up in our hallway [where] you get points for tackles, for assists, for caused fumbles, all those kind of things, and then you also get minus points for missed assignments, missed tackles, that kind of thing. [Ed-M: Mattison keeps a UFR!!!] On our defense we had too many guys that didn’t have a lot of points. You had one guy that had 47 points: Jordan Kovacs. So we gotta get more guys get production. And Craig’s one of those guys. We’ve gotta get more out of him. I think he knows that, and he understands. He saw the film himself. He understands he’s a better football player than that.”
What makes Kovacs so special? “He’s a football player. He’s a Michigan football player. If you had a team of eight of those. I’m not going to say 11. Eight of those. You might sit on a lawn chair and watch the game. That hit that he came on one of the pressures -- you all saw the picture. It was what you tell and what you coach. Put your face right through his chest. Wrap him up. Eyes up. And he put his helmet right through the football. The thing that people didn’t see on that was he was in the endzone almost the same time as Herron after he had caused a fumble and made the hit. That’s what Michigan defense is about. The same thing happened that was a positive -- Jake Ryan on his tipped [pass]. He hit the gournd after he tipped it, [and] he was the first guy down there next to Herron. And that’s what we’ve been talking about. That’s a great sign. Now we gotta keep doing that all the way through a ball game.”
Did Herron just happen to be in right place at right time or was he actively doing things right? “He was where he was supposed to be. He executed the defense and good things happen. Thank goodness he’s fast. He never looks like he’s running that fast, but not many people catch him.”
Kovacs said he expected to have fewer tackles in this new scheme. But he led the team in tackles on Saturday. At what point is that going to change? “I hope soon. You hit it right on the head. When your safety is making a lot of tackles, that’s not a good thing. It’s a good thing we have Jordan Kovacs, but that’s not a good thing [for him to be making all the tackles]. That happened a number of times -- if a linebacker were where he was supposed to be, he would have made that tackle. The great news though is Jordan was where he was supposed to be, and I think at times when I’ve watched, he’s been up in there too far, because he’s been trying to make [the tackle], and all of a sudden if he misses the tackle, [the other player] is gone.”
Does having a guy like Kovacs allow you to do more with the defense? “Well it allows you to call it without wincing. No no … I have confidence in the entire defense. I wasn’t pleased with our performance. I was pleased with the win. I was pleased with the turnover margin, but as a defense I can’t say I was pleased because I really, really believe in my heart we can be much, much better than this. And we have to be. We have to play better defense than what we did. “
How do you defend Michael Floyd? “You better make sure, number one, that you’re playing with great technique on him. If you don’t -- in the back end -- if you don’t play with perfect technique, you’re going to get exposed. I think the second thing is you can’t allow the quarterback all day to throw to him, and I think you have to give him a number of different coverages so he doesn’t know all the time what you’re getting.”
Are you going to play one cornerback on him the entire game? “No.”
Was Woolfolk on pace for Kovacs’ level of production before he left the game? “He made some very physical hits on those bubble screens, which was great to see. I would love to see him play that game. He needed that. I would have loved to have that thing go four quarters. We needed it. We need every second of playing under pressure that we can get. But I’m glad that we got out of there like we did, and we got a victory, and now we just got to improve more.”
Was Woolfolk going full speed in practice today? “Uh huh.”
Will you lobby to keep him off special teams? “No. No I won’t. honestly, I will not … special teams play is a huge, huge part in our defense -- if you saw where we started on defense after a number of those kickoffs. There’s three equal parts to the game, and I’ve seen too many coaches that will say, ‘I gotta have that guy.’ Okay then put another guy [on special teams] that doesn’t do as well and you’ll see how fast that ball comes back. We really believe in that here.”
What do you and Hoke talk about on headset? “He doesn’t have it on, does he?” But he said he did! “Oh I don’t even know. I tell you what, to be honest, he probably can hear everything I’m saying without the headset on, so I don’t know. Brady is -- he is tremendous on the sideline. After that first drive -- because he’s a great defensive coach -- He was over there saying the same things I was saying to those guys. A lot of head coaches might not have reacted like he did. And that pays dividends, because we trust these guys. We believe that they’re going to try as hard as they can. Now we gotta get their tehcnique better, we gotta get a lot of thigns better as coaches, but they’re going to try it, and they’re going to do it. Just like today’s practice. There was a whole bunch of mistakes … but you know what? They went hard. And we’ll get those corrected. We just gotta keep on eliminating those mistakes.”