Peppers at 10, which seems low.
On Will Campbell and Quinton Washington:
"We made a couple moves with some big guys, some backup linemen. Quinton Washington was a backup lineman; we moved him to nose guard. We kinda traded Will Campbell over to offense, where I think he's going to be a natural offensive guard. After a week and a half I think both of those moves will probably stick for now. I think Will's got a future at guard, I think Quinton Washington's got a future on the D-line."
On the secondary:
"We moved around Cam Gordon. We wanted him to learn—well, he played the deep safety, we wanted him to play the safety up tight. That was a process; he was able to do that. We got Ray Vinopal and Carvin Johnson some more work at the deep safety position to get some flexibility. We have Marvin Robinson, who's been a safety, playing a little bit of linebacker for us. He can help us in nickel packages."
On the D-line:
"We moved the D-line around a little bit as well."
Brandstatter asked "are these kids going to play?" and Rodriguez sayeth:
"Oh, yeah. You'll see Carvin Johnson and Vinopal playing. Ray is at the same position anyway, but it's a new position for Carvin. You'll see Cam Gordon playing more at both safety positions where as before he was just playing one. I don't know if Will is ready yet at offensive line or Quinton at defensive line but we tried to get them as prepared as we could for this ball game. We'll see what happens."
Obviously they saw the issues with Gordon had persisted too long and are trying to get some better play out of the FS position right now. Also, Cam's going to threaten Kovacs's job—could be a run/pass split there—and Robinson will probably displace Demens in nickel and dime packages.
Campbell's not going to play unless a bunch of people go down on the interior line, but Washington might. This would be alarming. It might not be much more alarming than seeing anyone other than Martin at NT.
Grant Wiley, Dee McCann, Quincy Wilson
So MGoUser fab5 found a West Virginia blog called Couch Fire Sports that had an interview with former WVU linebacker Grant Wiley—a totally unvarnished interview. The blog's managed to land almost a dozen of these interviews with former athletes and they're… blunt. A section of cornerback Dee McCann's interview:
CFS: Was WVU your first experiance with mass amounts of “white girls”?
DM: Yes it was, and I had fun.
CFS: Is it true you knocked out a younger star recruit at Hardees and sent him straight to Divison 2 ball over a very cute female athlete?
DM: NO COMMENT, Hahahaha. NO COMMENT !!!
These things have a zero BS rating, and a lot of them talk about Rich Rodriguez. The results follow.
Dee McCann [CB, JUCO, 2004-2005]:
CFS: How were the practices in the NFL compared to thoughs of Rich Fraud? Did he have you practice to many hours also?
DM: The practice hours were about the same but Coach Rods practice was more high tempo but he prepare me for the next level. …
CFS: If you could tell Rich Fraud one thing it would be … Hey Coach …
DM: THANKS FOR EVERYTHING.
Anthony Mims [CB, 2000-2005]:
CFS: How do you feel about the negative light being shed on WVU by Ex Coach Rich Rodriguez?
AM: I think it’s some BS, but not mainly on Rods part, but the NCAA. Those “violations” can be seen at any other school in the country.
CFS: If you talked to Coach Rod on the phone, you would say … Hey Coach ….
AM: I’d wish him luck on the upcoming season and thank him for everything he’s done for me.
Quincy Wilson [RB, 1999-2004]:
CFS: So is Rich Rod a dick? What are your thoughts?
QW: The whole Coach Rod thing was handled wrong on both ends. I never had a problem with Coach Rod. I think if you want to leave then fine will find a coach that bleeds blue and gold like Coach Stew.
CFS: What are your thoughts on the Super Bowl Shuffle?
QW: one of the classiest songs ever.
Vaughn Rivers [CB, 2003-2007]:
CFS: How do you feel about the negative light that is shed upon WVU with all the Rich Rodriguez drama?
VR: Alot of propaganda you know alot of behind the scenes issues the public really never knew about. Some things that never get brought to light but the loyalty of the West Virginia faithful is incomparable and I can also understand their feelings of betrayal.
CFS: If you talked to Coach Rod on the phone, what would you have to say to him? Hey Coach …
VR: I would tell him as I always have and always do, thank you for the opportunity you gave me and the work ethic you installed in us.
John Pennington [walk-on WR, 2000-2003]:
CFS: How do you feel about the negative light Rich Rodriguez has brought upon WVU with the investigations?
JP: I know Bill Stewart will do a great job handling the situation and I hope we can turn it into a positive.
Finally, Grant Wiley [LB, 2000-2003] wrote paragraphs and paragraphs, too many to replicate here. Here's a chunk:
Couch Fire Sports: First impressions of Rich Rod?
Grant Wiley: … Michigan players, fans, and alumni need to stop crying like a bunch of babies and turn on the 2007 Mountaineers so they can see their future.
I remember coming back to school after the Music City Bowl, on crutches, for our first meeting with Rich. I didn’t research him or read any of the papers so I really had no idea what to expect. I wouldn’t have known that I was Big East Rookie of the Year hadn’t it been for the trophy I was presented with. So Rich introduced the staff and very adamantly told us we were going to play like our hair was on fire or not play at all. From the start he was re-instilling the discipline I feel we needed at the time. The meeting ended and typically people were overreacting, trying to find their exit strategy, and a lot of guys were just ready to take that next step to win, coming off of destroying another SEC team.
Rich pulls me into his office and breaks me down like this. “Grant, you had a good year, and I think you are a good player. You didn’t really have to work for your position, it was kind of handed to you.” At the time I wanted to tell him to go fuck himself, but I knew what I went through to start as a freshman and the work I put in to be the best linebacker in the country. So I didn’t over react, I just took it as more motivation to prove this guy I was the best. Maybe that is what his objective was to begin with.
Wiley's "one knock" on RR was his lack of "truly genuine relationships" with the players he didn't recruit. Wiley says he's sure that's changed, but the transition at Michigan suggests it hasn't.
A second question about whether he'd rather play for RR or Bill Stewart has this section:
I loved the fact that Coach Rod’s in your face attitude was being embodied by guys I played with that naturally didn’t have that attitude, so in the end they were better players because of it. I mean the proof is in the pudding. Coach Rod wins games. No matter where he goes, he is going to win games. Coach Stew has been winning games as well. But, I don’t see the same attitude out on the field, offensively, as when Rich was in charge. You can teach technique until your blue in the face but if you don’t have that killer inside come out when you play, you won’t stand a chance.
You should probably read the whole thing; it's more insight into Rich Rodriguez's philosophy and program in a few paragraphs than we've gotten since his hire.
BONUS UNEXPECTED BEILEIN HATE. One basketball player who experienced the John Beilein era was interviewed, Drew Schiflino:
CFS – If you and Coach Beilein had a phone conversation how would it go, Hey Coach ….
DS – Hey coach you’re so fake and the biggest asshole ever, karmas a bitch … CLICK.
That's like… hanging up the phone, right? Not pulling a trigger?
UPDATE: should note that Schiflino was kicked off the team before his senior year. You could probably find some WVU football guys who did not complete their careers with unkind words for RR, too.
|WHAT||Michigan at Penn State|
|WHERE||Beaver Stadium, Happy Valley, PA|
|WHEN||8:00 Eastern, October 30th 2010|
|THE LINE||Michigan -3|
|TELEVISION||National on ESPN|
Run Offense vs Penn State
This is hard to get a read on due to key injuries on both sides. Michigan expects that David Molk, Denard Robinson, and Michael Shaw will be ready to go after the bye week. Any could still be nursing injuries that make them less effective. Penn State's situation is considerably murkier. We know FS Nick Sukay and DE Eric Latimore are out. The following players are all somewhere between questionable and probable:
- LBs Khairi Fortt (stinger, DNP Minnesota), Gerald Hodges (broken leg; played against Minnesota and got two tackles), Bani Gbadyu (played vs Minnesota), LB Michael Mauti (played vs Minnesota)
- DEs Jack Crawford (DNP Minnesota) and Sean Stanley (situational pass rush, not actually injured but in the JoePa doghouse).
All but Crawford (who is very doubtful) are likely to play. At what level is unknown.
The DE issues have been so severe that 310 pound freshman DT Jordan Hill started outside against Minnesota and played most of the game. He was not good, providing zero pass rush and looking like a train trying to double back when the Gophers ran misdirection against him. If he plays much against Michigan he'll be crazy vulnerable on the read option. Penn State is experimenting with freshman Fortt as a standup DE, but he's 230 pounds and should be crazy vulnerable to getting donkeyed by Lewan or Dorrestein. Absent Crawford, Penn State is picking its poison.
The other DE is usually Pete Massaro, a redshirt sophomore who missed last year with an ACL tear. He's a thousand times better than anyone else PSU played against Minnesota, but he's just a guy at the moment.
The interior line is still very good. Ollie Ogbu, who you may remember stuffing DeBord stretches in the 2007 Penn State game, is now a Brooks Bollinger Memorial Eighth Year Senior; Devon Still was a touted recruit and is now entering his upperclass years. They have consistently penetrated opposing offensive lines and are usually the guys responsible for PSU shutting down a run play—Ogbu has 29 tackles and 5.5 TFLs already; Still has 5.5 TFL, three of those sacks. They're thin past the starters, however. Backup DTs have one solo tackle between them.
The linebackers have not lived up to expectations. Don't take my word for it:
Penn State has decided to rent out the "Linebacker U" moniker this season to just about any other team not named Penn State. The group of linebackers are not playing the way we have come to expect our linebackers to play. I'm not sure if it is just this group of guys, or if we were spoiled by having such amazing linebackers (Dan Connor, Sean Lee, Paul Posluszny) with great instincts that we just have come to expect all of our LBs to read and react to plays as quick as that trio did. …We need this group to play better if there is any chance we are going to upset Michigan.
In the Penn State games I've watched Colasanti and Mauti have eaten a lot of blocks. PSU fans like Mauti better than their other guys, so I may just have caught him on an off day or coming off an injury. Colasanti is slow of foot and if a blocker gets out to him he's done. PSU is rotating heavily so Hodges, Gbadyu (right), Nate Stupar, and possibly Fortt are likely to see snaps. Fortt and Hodges are athletic but mistake-prone; Gbadyu and Stupar are veterans no one thinks much of—Gbadyu seems like an Ezeh-level whipping boy for PSU fans.
From this come the numbers:
That's three bad performances and a decent one against Iowa. Minnesota is not good at football. Against beleaguered Purdue the week before they managed 4.3 a carry. It is not good when your run defense is marginally ahead of this year's Boilers.
After a bye week Michigan is seventh nationally in rushing offense, averaging 6.5 YPC. Iowa and Michigan State slowed the Denard Robinson train down, and "slowed" may not be the right word. Robinson still averaged 5.8 YPC against Iowa and the team as a whole put out 196 yards on 41 carries against what was the #2 rushing defense in the country and is currently #8. If Michigan hadn't ended up in a big hole thanks to turnovers and its defense they could have put up truly epic numbers given the competition. At this point questions are dispersed: this is a for real rushing attack with a for real offensive line and the explosive Robinson.
Michigan's wild card here is Michael Shaw. He was splitting carries with Vincent Smith approximately down the middle before an injury sidelined him for Indiana and limited him to just seven carries against Michigan State and Iowa; he's got the breakaway speed Smith lacks and if healthy could provide a secondary run threat with the potential to test Penn State's battered safety corps.
Key Matchup: Denard Robinson against DE Not Named Massaro. With Crawford out and the delicious possibility of lumbering freshman DT in space, Michigan should be able to put its most explosive player in advantageous positions with the zone read. If it's Fortt, Robinson should be running off tackle at him frequently. Either way that's the place to attack.
Pass Offense vs Penn State
nickelback was a receiver last year
Penn State's results to date:
Not so good. You've got the two game manager types that saw their teams run out to insurmountable leads of two touchdowns in the first half and put the passing in the garage, Nathan Scheelhaase, and Adam Weber, and three of the four put up impressive passer efficiency ratings. The Mathlete has them 37th but a lot of that was built in games against Kent State and Temple; Iowa and Alabama offset with Illinois being hugely negative and Minnesota positive but not enough to offset the Illinois game.
Penn State's pass rush is weak. They're 97th in sacks; as discussed in the previous section they are getting very little from the injury-wracked DEs. Whenever Hill or Latham is out there Michigan is going to be able to single block without trouble; Penn State's best bet may be to throw that guy against Lewan in the hopes that Massaro or Stanley can generate something against Dorrestein. In passing situations Stanley or Fortt should come in to replace the guy who's essentially a DT, which will provide more of a challenge.
The PSU secondary is also thin and young after Sukay's injury. They've moved Drew Astorino to the free safety position and he sounds like a faster combination of Kovacs and Cam Gordon—small, iffy tackler, questionable angles. The differences are in speed and experience. He's returning starter who was honorable mention ABT last year and has returned some punts. The second guy may be freshman Malcolm Willis, who was forced into the lineup after third safety Andrew Dailey had some minor injury problems of his own. Willis tackled well and had more of an impact on the game than either of the starters.
The corners aren't much deeper. D'Anton Lynn is a league-average corner who Penn State fans are very much in favor of for the same reason Troy Woolfolk's injury caused the rending of garments in Ann Arbor. The other guy, Stephen Morris, came in for a beating after the Minnesota game for sloppy coverage and horrible tackling. There are rumors that Chaz Powell might leap into the starting lineup or at least see significant time. This would be risky, since Powell has taken the same "you're a corner, I mean WR, I mean corner, I mean WR, I mean corner" career path that James Rogers has.
That lack of depth means it's going to be another boring week on the UFR D formation chart. Expect nothing but 4-3 unless Michigan gets in third and a billion.
This should be a much easier matchup for Michigan than Iowa and (sigh) Michigan State were. PSU is scrambling to get any sort of pass rush and their linebackers drag out of position a ton in zone; all the rotation makes it likely that no one player will have the consistency in drops either the Iowa or MSU linebackers (who never come off the field) did.
Key Matchup: Roundtree and Gallon vs Lynn and Morris (Powell?) on the bubble. Michigan's most effective passing attacks come from threatening the bubble against teams that can't handle it, then exploiting their over-reaction to it after it works the first few times. With dodgy tackling cornerbacks and injury issues at safety, Michigan should be able to give Denard some easy throws and go from there.
Run Defense vs Penn State
This is going to be slightly hard to believe but this should be… advantage… Michigan?
If Mike Martin is 100%, yes, serious. Penn State against BCS opponents and Minnesota:
Okay, so no one's going to mistake Michigan's D with Alabama, Iowa, or (sigh) Illinois any time soon but the throbbing danger sign for the Penn State rushing game isn't so much the YPC numbers but the distribution. On the road against Alabama in Robert Bolden's second start the run/pass breakdown was 50-50. Against Iowa, Penn State called 43 passes and 21 runs. With a freshman quarterback! In Iowa City! Minnesota even did a somewhat respectable job one week after giving up 126 yards on 12 carries to Dan Dierking. Northern Illinois put up 297 rushing yards on them. Penn State couldn't do much of anything before inserting Silas Redd late.
What's wrong with the Penn State rush offense? Pick a problem. The top two tight ends are out for the year, leaving Penn State with a true freshman or WR Brett Brackett—they literally cannot field a reasonable "big" package. Their fullback is a converted linebacker who can lay the wood but is really erratic. And the offensive line is a shambles. They've got one guy—guard Stefen Wisnewski—who's okay to good and four guys who are turrible. The tackles are 6'3" and 6'4" and can't move. When Penn State tries stretch plays they get slanted past like they're not there. The interior line cannot get a push on anyone. Royster apparently showed up to camp overweight and lacks the je ne sais quoi that will see him break PSU's all time rushing record sometime Saturday.
The many limitations of the blockers have seen Penn State totally shelve the stretch, which has been the play most deadly against Michigan's combination of mediocre/freshman defensive ends and overrun-happy linebackers. They're also limited in their ability to pull linemen—about all they can do with consistent(-ish) success is do inside zone stuff and drive block.
The lone bright spot has been freshman Redd, a darting runner with outstanding balance and the quickness to turn a broken play into something positive. Though he occasionally does that freshman thing where you try to bounce everything outside because you think it's still high school, he's PSU's version of Hopkins—fans are clamoring for more of him. Stepfon Green, who you may remember from such plays as "Gratuitous 80 Yard Screen Touchdown," is still around; he's a north-south runner with excellent top end speed but not a lot of wiggle—i.e. just the kind of guy Michigan desperately needs but Penn State can't use much because a busted block is a two yard gain with him.
On the other side of the ball, Michigan may have found a middle linebacker in Kenny Demens. If they have found such a thing and he's actually the guy he seemed like against Iowa, Michigan's run defense could (should?) improve from meh to somewhat respectable. We'll probably see some holes in his game against a team that's had an opportunity to scout him, but those will probably show up in the passing game. Penn State is not at the point where they can do much other than the basics.
Mike Martin has been proclaimed 100% after the bye week; if that's accurate Penn State isn't going to get much in the A gaps this week and will have to head further outside, where Roh can be contained and Banks/Black beat up. The DEs versus the tackles will be a matchup of twin weaknesses and could provide Penn State what running game they're going to have.
A bold prediction: Michigan holds PSU under 4.0 YPC.
Key matchup: Banks/Kovacs/Mouton keeping contain on runs that threaten to go outside the tackle. PSU isn't going to get much up the middle if Martin is healthy and Demens for real, but Iowa made a lot of hay on the outside.
Pass Defense vs Penn State
There are three entirely different balls of wax here depending on who actually plays for Penn State. Kevin Newsome is the easy one. He'll run a wildcat offense that will throw only when absolutely necessary and will be super bad at it. It doesn't sound like Robert Bolden is going to play but if he does he will be able to cut apart Michigan's secondary if given time.
gunslinger w/ gunslinger beard
The most likely opponent tomorrow, though, is walk-on Matt McGloin. McGloin came on in relief of Bolden and went 6 of 13 for 76 yards, two beautiful touchdowns, and one awful interception. Apparently he fancies himself a Favre-ian gunslinger; he reminded me of a walk-on version of Forcier. He's capable of almost anything down to down. The two touchdowns to Derek Moye could not have been better throws, especially the second—a picture-perfect fade against great coverage. His interception was a Sheridan special, a vastly underthrown ball chucked into double coverage. Several other incompletions were no-hopers to Tacopants. And that's all we know. Those thirteen passes are McGloin's career to date.
Penn State's receivers are huge or tiny with little in between. The two outside guys are 6'5" Derek Moye and 6'3" Justin Brown, with 6'5" quasi-TE Brett Bracket playing a lot in the slot and sometimes moving down to be a highly ineffective inline blocker. 5'7" Devon Smith is the slot waterbug du jour; Graham Zug also gets time but has been a drop machine this fall and finds himself marginalized. No one in this unit, even the tiny guy, is likely to shake many tackles. They are not YAC guys.
This will no doubt bring thunder down from the sky and see McGloin put up 500 yards, but the PSU receiving corps might actually be a good matchup for the Michigan secondary. James Rogers may not be able to change directions without going BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP but he is 6'1" with good leaping ability; JT Floyd isn't quite as big but he's a decent-sized corner too. Remember how Michigan neutralized Michael Floyd? Yeah, that could happen.
Michigan could also see a reprise of that weird 2008 game where Sheridan owned the Metrodome. McGloin may be a walk-on but so is the best player in Michigan's secondary. I have no doubt guys will be open and coverages busted as Penn State mounts some number of legitimate scoring drives between 2 and n.
On passing downs Michigan will probably drop eight, count on Martin, Roh, and Van Bergen to slice through PSU's all-guard offensive line, and wait for bad throws and decisions. There should be enough of those for Michigan fans to feel as good about their defense as they did after the first half of the Notre Dame game.
Key matchup: Demens, Mouton, Rotating Spur, and Kovacs against Brackett and Smith underneath. McGloin is going to be throwing a bunch of short routes and Michigan's going to have to cover them so McGloin can go out there and just have some fun in his Wrangler jeans by throwing several horrific interceptions.
Massive Penn State advantage because of one thing: the kicker. Colin Wagner is 14 of 17 on the year. Michigan's rotation is 2 of 8. The punt and punt return units are basically a wash, with Michigan looking a little less awesome in raw yardage but not enough that it seems like it will be a difference.
Kickoffs will be advantage Penn State, as M decommit Anthony Fera is getting them to the endzone and Michigan's kickers are getting them to the eight. Penn State has a big advantage in kick return yardage but since that's mostly from a touchdown against Youngstown State its relevance is questionable.
Key Matchup: STOP KICKING THE DAMN BALL
- The Anointed Kenny Demens reverts to The Enigmatic.
- Denard's throwing is still goofy even after the bye week.
- Martin does not look 100%.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- Penn State actually rolls with Freshman DT as a contain guy on the zone read.
- The Hopkins is unleashed.
- Penn State has to bring a safety into the box.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 4 (Baseline 5; +1 for Road Night Game In Happy Valley, –1 for Against A Walk-On With Inadvisable Beard, –1 for Behind An Offensive Line Equivalent To Michigan's 2008 Edition, –1 for Versus A Defensive Line Choosing Between A DT And A LB At The Contain Denard Position, +1 for General Overconfidence Check, +1 for We Make The Turnovers Real Good, –1 for But Seriously Kenny Demens.)
Desperate need to win level: 10 (Baseline 5; +1 for Penn State Is Not Good, +1 for Bowl Eligibility, +1 for Margin Of Error Is Out The Window, +1 for If You Lose To This Shambles Of A Team And Their Walk-On Quarterback It's Curtains, +1 for And Who Wants To Draw The Curtain Over Denard?)
Loss will cause me to... spend the next four weeks talking about Harbaugh.
Win will cause me to... exhale.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
If Bolden does not play, Penn State will require several acts of God to win. Here is why in a statistic: Michigan's rushing defense is giving up 4.0 YPC. Penn State's rushing defense is giving up 4.0 YPC. They are equivalent. Michigan's rush offense is ripping foes for 6.5 YPC; Penn State is trundling along at… 4.0 YPC. This holds up even when you get all fancy. By the Mathlete's reckoning, the #2 Michigan rush offense is going up against the #53 Penn State rush defense. The inverse matchup is an evenly matched pillow fight that sees #93 take on #96. And most of this went down before Kenny Demens supplanted Ezeh and Penn State started scrambling for real at defensive end and safety.
If Penn State is going to win this game it's going to be by shredding a very shreddable Michigan secondary. If Bolden is slinging it around like he did against Minnesota, Penn State can keep within striking distance and all it will take is an all-too-predictable pile of Michigan mistakes to lose the game. If it's some combination of McGloin and Newsome the punts and picks will be too frequent for Penn State deal with, mistakes or no.
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Hopkins gets more carries than any other back.
- Robinson hits 150 yards rushing and 200 passing.
- Special teams costs Michigan something between 3 and 7 points.
- Michigan, 31-21.
Right: Marvin Robinson moves from safety to
No surprises, and no Denard:
University of Michigan Football Injury Report
Thursday, Oct. 28, vs. Penn State
OUT (0% PLAY)
Jones, Mike Leg
Odoms, Martavious Foot
Toussaint, Fitzgerald Shoulder
Van Slyke, Jared Clavicle
Williams, Mike Head
Woolfolk, Troy Ankle
More interestingly, Rodriguez dropped some science about position switches on his coaches show that is either earth-shaking or wildly misinterpreted by the internet. These are the supposed moves via the somewhat confused twitter feed of Angelique Chengelis:
- Marvin Robinson to linebacker. I have a source who tipped me off about this a few days ago, so that's for real. Robinson's likely to compete at WLB for the job Mouton vacates after the year.
- Will Campbell(OG) and Quinton Washington(DT) are sticking at their new positions. Since these moves had already been confirmed, that's legit, too. I'm not sure how I feel about that, but there's some insider hype about Washington being a "beast" on Rivals. So we've got that going for us. Not likely to impact anything until next year unless Washington is a miraculously fast learner.
- Cam Gordon to "both safety spots" and Ray Vinopal to "deep safety". Since Vinopal is already a free safety this position switch is more a depth chart thing. There have been rumors floating around about Vinopal playing with the ones and either starting (fanciful) or getting real playing time (apparently likely) on Saturday. These are confirmed now; the source also dropped that Vinopal was getting a serious look at deep safety. The Cam Gordon bit there presages a move closer to the LOS, whether it's spur or bandit, eventually. (ATTENTION BYRON MOORE: duuuude. Seriously.)
- They "moved defensive linemen." Vague but the only thing that makes sense here is putting Sagesse back inside at NT and moving Patterson to a backup DE position.
Also, Rodriguez promised more carries for ham fiend Stephen Hopkins and said Teric Jones(!) would see the field. I looked for podcasts on WTKA's site but couldn't find them; maybe MVictors will be able to dig out exactly what was said so we can parse that into molecules. He's clutch like that.
This was the one beacon of hope on the defense, provided mostly 4s. The preview was extremely high on one Mike Martin:
… it's time for Martin to make the same leap Brandon Graham did between his junior and senior years. I can't offer anything more powerful than this wonderfully ungrammatical assessment from Jibreel Black:
You look at the rest of this defensive line and there’s a lot of talent there, but is there anyone in particular that you look at and say, ‘wow man this dude is better than I thought he was? ‘
“Not necessarily better than I thought he was, because I know all of them are good, but when I see some plays that Mike (Martin) makes in practice, I be like dang. His explosiveness, his technique that he uses. You can tell the work that he put in with it.”
I hope to be like dang for large sections of the season. … I'm not sure if Martin will be on All Big Ten teams after the year, especially at a position at which statistics don't always tell the tale, but I'm confident in asserting he should be on them.
The preview misidentified the Banks/Sagesse combination as the other defensive tackle when it's primarily been Banks on the field and he's always a defensive end when Michigan goes to its four man front. The two were regarded as meh interchangeable pieces on par with Rondell Biggs, the Other Guy on Michigan's ridiculous '06 line. In sum:
Michigan's formations will go some way to determining which player gets more time. In three-man lines Sagesse is clearly going to be a pass-rush liability as a defensive end, but when Michigan goes to four (or brings in the "double eagle" package with the DEs lined up over the opposition guards) Sagesse's got more heft. I wouldn't be surprised to see both lifted for Jibreel Black or maybe Craig Roh on passing downs.
Take your pick of adjectives: workmanlike, yeoman, gritty, etc. Expect something okay here; the upside is low, but so is the downside.
Backups were not encouraging: "Everyone is worried" about Will Campbell's ability to stick after getting lit up in limited time as a freshman and falling behind Adam Patterson on the depth chart. Patterson was not projected to be good:
He'll play; I don't think he'll be much good. The dropoff after Martin will be similar to that Michigan experienced when Graham came off the field, though less severe since Martin won't be Graham and the backup is at least a senior.
Ryan Van Bergen and Craig Roh were treated as defensive ends, something that's been true for them about 50% of the time. When Michigan goes to a four-man line Roh is the weakside DE; he's a linebacker otherwise. When they're in a three man line Van Bergen is the strongside DE; he's still a three-tech DT otherwise. RVB in a nutshell:
Van Bergen knows the position [DE], was recruited to play it, and is entering his fourth year on campus with a season as a solid starter under his belt. Least useful phrase ever: he's not going to be Brandon Graham. Mitigating phrase: but he should be solid. At a spot more amenable to pass rush and with more experience, RVB should brush up against double-digit sacks and see his UFRs climb into the consistently good realm inhabited by, say, Tim Jamison as a senior.
Roh was given a 3 as the deathbacker and dubbed "the Denard Robinson of the defense," which was true last year but cannot be true this year since Roh hasn't decapitated three opponents.
The catch in the Craig Roh explosion is this niggling move to the 3-3-5, where he's a strongside linebacker. …No one's sure how much Michigan will be running a three man line this fall but it will be some, which will give Roh the ability to attack from surprising angles and use his vertical speed to get into the backfield. It will also expose him to play action, counters, and other plays he's not used to dealing with much that can take advantage of the inability to change direction that had everyone projecting him as a defensive end despite being linebacker size. Now, you could just say he'll blitz all the time but that would get predictable; it would also impinge on Jonas Mouton's ability to do the same thing, and Mouton's a guy who has the exact same strengths Roh does. They'll have to split the fun bits where they tear into the backfield.
All this makes it difficult to project what Roh will do this season. A guess: doubling his 7.5 TFLs and significantly adding to his two sacks is a good bet. I don't think he'll be a crazy star just yet, but I expect to be saying the same things about him next year that I'm saying about Mike Martin this year.
Fast forward to NOW!
I be like dang about Mike Martin. Fears about turning him into a mediocre nose tackle proved unfounded. The move to the 3-3-5 has actually freed him up to slant past offensive linemen and splatter running plays or unleash thumping pass rush up the middle. Despite essentially missing the Iowa game he's amongst the team leaders in TFLs with 5.5 and has 2.5 sacks. He's got 23 tackles, as well, an impressive 16 of those solos. He went into beast mode against Notre Dame, racking up an 11.5 and proving himself too quick for one guy to do anything with:
He followed that up with an +8.5 in his toughest matchup to date against Michigan State:
At the end of that game he got hit with a cheap block and sprained an ankle that saw him play like a ghost of himself in the Iowa game. He eventually missed the second half.
Van Bergen has also checked in around expectations. He wouldn't look out of place on Michigan defensive lines of yore when the defense was actually good. He's not making a ton of tackles (just twelve) but has two sacks and four of Michigan's eleven QB hurries on the season. He's been hovering around the +4/+5 area that's a decent to good day for a 4-3 DE, and since he's not a 4-3 DE those numbers point towards an above-average player. He was even an impact player against MSU with a drive-killing sack and solid play against the run. He tied Martin's numbers on the day.
The Banks/Sagesse combination has disappointed. Sagesse hardly sees the field. Moving him to the outside when he seemed like a functional DT last year is and was a strange move. It's hard to imagine he'd be less effective than Patterson, and with Michigan moving towards four-man lines against pro style offenses he could have reprised his role from last year as an okay backup to Martin. Though Banks leads the team in sacks that's because Ricky Stanzi inexplicably ran out of bounds, Indiana busted a protection, and one of the nonconference snackycakes was a nonconference snackycakes. He delivers no pass rush and often finds himself single-blocked effectively. Michigan's been trying to get freshman Jibreel Black more playing time in response; they're finding it hard to keep him on the field because right now he's horrendous against the run.
Finally, Craig Roh has not made the hoped for leap in production. This is largely not his fault. He's not a linebacker, he's a weakside defensive end, and when you put him in space he makes a lot of bad zone drops and is often beaten in one-on-one situations by far more agile receivers. He's okay in man coverage against a tight end, but he's hovering around 250 pounds—he is the wrong kind of mismatch against a WR.
Michigan put his hand on the ground against Notre Dame to good effect…
…until Brandon Herron went out with injury and Michigan felt forced to put him at linebacker. Roh had a +11 on the day; Herron hasn't seen the field since and Roh's been stuck at LB in Michigan's 3-3-5. As a result, he ended up solidly negative against Indiana. The pro-style attacks of MSU and Iowa saw him put his hand on the ground 70-80% of the time; Roh ended up in the +4/+5 RVB zone after both games.
Fast forward to LATER!
At this point it's obvious that Will Campbell is not going to have an impact on the defense this year, so things are settled and relatively static at three positions.
Martin's ankle is 90% of the variance in future performances from the Michigan defensive line. Since he was healthy enough to at least try against Iowa and has had a bye week the assumption/hope is that he's shaken it off and can resume his backfield-terrorizing ways. He should continue to perform at an all conference level; his numbers will probably come up short because no one can cover long enough for Michigan to get sacks.
Roh and Van Bergen are a level of play down from Martin; at this point in their careers they're both good Big Ten players but not stars. Roh should be improving more quickly than anyone else on the line because of his relative youth. Hopefully by the end of the year he can make more impact in the pass rush and Michigan can reliably get pressure with four.
The strongside DE spot currently manned by Banks could see a late switch as Michigan coaches keep trying to get Black playing time. Unfortunately, he's an obvious liability in the run game and opponents will have scouted this by now. They've already installed a run/pass platoon there, so all that's left is to throw Black in the game and hope.
Prediction accuracy to date: Complicated by the error when it comes to positions. RVB is about a 4, as is the combination of Martin and Banks. Roh is about a 3. If I'm ranking them by actual position the strongside DE is a weak 2, the DTs a 5, and Roh still a 3.
Level of play relative to prediction: About right; main error was being too optimistic about the Banks/Sagesse combo.
Expected level of play for remainder of season: No change unless Michigan manages to get Herron back and decides to roll with Roh as a 3-3-5 DE, something that will only be relevant against Purdue and maybe Illinois.
Dear people of the internet who without fail suggest that they will contain Michigan's offense by having a linebacker or safety "spy" Denard Robinson,
Please stop saying this.
A player placed in a spying role drops into a short zone on a pass play and is tasked with running down the quarterback if he breaks contain or starts scrambling. Denard Robinson doesn't really scramble. He prefers launching deep balls into whatever coverage you've got handy. You can put a guy in a spying role if you want but it won't do much other than make your defense more predictable on passing downs.
It will not do anything to slow the Michigan run game. When Michigan runs the ball with Denard your spy is just going to be playing run defense. This is hard against Denard, I know. However, telling one of your linebackers that he should watch for potential scrambles on pass plays does not help him on non-pass plays. Michigan runs the ball over 60% of the time. Denard Robinson scrambles maybe 3% of the time.
When you post on a message board or leave a comment on a blog that says "we should spy Robinson" like you're the second friggin' guy to ever think of this—your defensive coordinator is evidently the first—you should know that God throws a six-inch-tall Japanese schoolgirl with enormous glistening innocent eyes and a Hello Kitty lunchbox into a wood chipper.
Thank you for your attention.