"He makes it really easy on you as a coach because he has tremendous football instincts," Michigan tight ends coach Jay Harbaugh said. "Things come really naturally to him. He doesn't have to see things too many times. He has a good sense for how things should look and feel, and he's a tough, physical guy."
The MGoCreeperVan was out again this weekend, and Paul and I headed to Highland Park to see them take on Devin Gardner's Inkster team. After that, we stopped by Livonia Stevenson to check out Austin White in action against Northville.
Inkster @ Highland Park
I've seen Devin Gardner in action 3 times now, and every time I walk away more impressed than the last. While he's shown flashes of brilliance in the past, against Highland Park he showed true game-breaking ability despite not having his best statistical performance. He finished 9/16 passing for 129 yards, with 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. He also tacked on 74 rushing yards on 11 carries, including 2 exciting touchdowns, as he led the Vikings to a 27-22 victory.
Michigan fans are familiar with the Devin Gardner scouting report by now: he's improving as a passer and has athleticism that high school defenders are unable to stop. That was on display against Highland Park, but I also thought he showed a "wow" factor running the ball that I hadn't seen out of him before. He no longer looked like somebody toying with lesser competition, but rather a guy who will be able to bring that dominance to the next level. Don't take my word for it, check out the video evidence:
Okay, he threw two interceptions, but one was an very athletic play by the defender. Both are things that should happen less once he gets college-level coaching (and his future QB coach Rod Smith was in the house, though he wasn't allowed to talk to Devin). The two touchdown runs showed why he's an elite prospect (and possibly still underrated by the scouting services), and gave Michigan fans something to be excited about for the future.
Livonia Stevenson v. Northville
The Inkster game ended a little later than expected and I have top-end ability to get lost in Detroit, so we were a little late to Austin White's game. [EdThe video we have isn't comprehensive, and White scored a 58-yard touchdown as we were walking in at the end of the first quarter. Still, I've seen him in action two times before, so we still have a robust library of Austin White footage with the newest addition:
Against Northville, White didn't do anything to surprise. I've come to expect at least one big touchdown run from and a couple other long runs that don't find the endzone each game. As per usual, he sat the entire fourth quarter. Stevenson's blown out their last three oppoents.
White is an upright runner, sort of like Brandon Minor. He doesn't have the size or power that Minor does, which may lead to getting killed by a headhunting safety at some point. However, that's where the Minor comparisons end. Austin has excellent change of direction, quick in and out of his cuts, and shows good balance. He can find his way through traffic. If he gets into the open field, he's likely to score, but might not have the raw Carlos Brown speed to continue that at the next level. He didn't show this against Northville, but he's also a productive receiver both out of the backfield and as a split end.
Austin looks like he'll be a productive player at the next level. With all the young backs Michigan has, he'll probably get the luxury of a redshirt year, then be able to contribute as a redshirt freshman.
For more in the world of Michigan commits, check back later this afternoon for Friday Night Lights.
Notes from today's morning press conference. To get live updates from these events, you can follow me on Twitter @varsityblue.
- Tate Forcier's shoulder is bruised, but he will play this weekend. Denard Robinson might play a slightly larger role as his comfort with the offense improves. The quarterbacks need to be smart about taking unnecessary hits. They're running a little more than Rodriguez might like, and he'd prefer to see 5-6 rushes a game.
- Moosman's snapping issues cost the team about 70 offensive yards, but Moosman is a smart, hard worker, so he'll work with Coach Frey to correct the issues. The quick snap to catch guys offsides resulted in fumbles a lot because Tate (and Denard) and Moosman don't have the comfort level with each other yet.
- The first road game being a rivalry makes it a little tougher, especially for the young guys who have never played on the road yet.
- Though the depth chart lists Cissoko ahead of Floyd and Turner, the competition at the second corner spot will be more open this week. Hopefully, someone will seize that opportunity and step up to win the starting role.
- The media will not be able to watch practice this week. Part of that is just paranoia from the coaches, and the rest of it is to make sure the players can maintain their focus in preparation.
- The Michigan/Michigan State game is a big rivalry, so fans get whipped up into a frenzy. Sometimes they get ahold of the opposing quarterback's phone number and bother him all week, etc. Rodriguez has a good relationship with Mark Dantonio: "I'm friendly with everybody. I'm a nice guy." The two have known each other from Dantonio's days at Cincinnati, and they've come across each other a few times a year since then.
- Kevin's favorite Michigan/MSU moment was watching Chris Perry run the ball 51 times against the Spartans (for 219 yards in 2003).
- Grady knows State fans at home, and even says "I have family members who are unfortunately state fans," including his grandmother. She doesn't talk a lot of trash, but both Kevin and Kelvin know where her loyalties lie.
- The team has to run the ball well in order to beat MSU (the team that rushed for more yardage has won 37 of the last 41 games between the teams). This, like every game, is just another opportunity to prove themselves.
- Kevin doesn't think Tate will falter on the road. If he's able to play in front of 100,000 at home, playing in Spartan Stadium shouldn't be a problem.
- Carlos, echoing his coach, doesn't think that spread teams are necessarily any less physical than I-formation teams: "We can line up and do exactly what they do."
- Coming from Georgia, the Michigan/Michigan State rivalry reminds him of the UGa/Georgia Tech battles. Whichever team wins is the state champion for a year.
- Tate should play well against State. He's a great quarterback, and the supporting cast is going to do what they can to get the win.
- The in-state guys really value the rivalry with Michigan State. Its a chance to win a trophy game, and get back the in-state bragging rights. The Ohio State rivalry might be bigger in the grand scheme of things, but this one means something special, particularly for the guys from Michigan. The team wants to show that last year's loss was more of a fluke than anything.
- Obi is from an area of Grand Rapids that is a little more Spartan-centric than where Kevin Grady comes from. He has 5 or 6 neighbors that fly Spartan flags, and he joked that he's going to sneak out in the night and take them down.
- He definitely avoids wearing Green and White this week - but that wasn't the case when he went to Michigan's summer camp as a high schooler. He was wearing an MSU Engineering shirt, and Lloyd Carr gave him the evil eye. Without Carr saying a word, Obi knew it was probably better off if he didn't wear the shirt.
- Coming from out of state, Donovan wasn't aware of Michigan's rivalry with the Spartans (all he really knew about Michigan was that he could watch them when he woke up at 9am on Saturdays). In his freshman year, seniors like Shawn Crable, Jamar Adams, and Brandent Englemon taught him about the rivalry.
- State might come out desperate to avoid a 1-4 start to their season, but the Wolverines will be able to match their intensity: "It's not a 1-3 team, it's Michigan State."
- MSU has 3 great receivers in White, Dell, and Cunningham, and they can all be big-play guys. The defense will need to communicate better to avoid giving up big plays.
- If the defense plays well enough to win, it doesn't matter if the game is something of a shootout. It's the final result that counts.
Michigan Stadium circa 1955, or thereabouts.
Shirt notes! 1) We printed up a limited-edition run of Notre Dame date/score t-shirts for your delectation. Get them before they are gone forever. Also, for Ann Arbor folk who want shirts but would like to avoid shipping charges, MGoShirts are now available at Underground's Ann Arbor store on South U.
For a good cause. Note: the Pat Maloy Charity Auction, which seeks to establish (now, continue) an endowed kinesiology scholarship in the name of the late Professor Maloy, a guy who had a far-reaching effect on everyone who experienced his teaching. They've got a ton of Michigan memorabilia up for purchase; I suggest you check it out. Goes to a good cause. Robert Haddad has some personal thoughts for you if you're not quite moved yet.
It was dumb for exactly the wrong reason. Much controversy in the aftermath of the Purdue-Notre Dame game concerning Danny Hope's timeout before third and goal. Here's a typical Boiler response:
Why the $%*&@!!!!!!!!!!!! did we call a timeout?
And here's Charlie Weis:
"That kind of helped us out a little bit right there," Weis said. "We were going to clock it, so we made sure we had one play left....It didn't end up paying any dividends for us, because we didn't score on that third down call. But we had an opportunity to gather our thoughts and get the right call for fourth down."
What? Is Charlie Weis actually suggesting that Notre Dame was going to spike the ball on third down? That's the interpretation of Brian Hamilton:
The Irish were set to spike the ball to kill the clock and leave themselves just one play to score.
Notre Dame had 37 seconds when Hope took his timeout. If Weis is actually claiming ND would have spiked it instead, he's either a liar or an idiot. I'm going with the former since there is no college coach in the country that would blow a down on third and goal with 37 seconds left. Even if you're an idiot, you have 20 seconds to think to yourself "maybe we should throw a fade to one of our 6'4" wide receivers, that would probably be better than chucking a ball straight into the ground."
Anyway, the larger issue: Purdue's error here was not in calling the timeout. You can't bank on the opposing coach making the dumbest coaching move since Marty Mornhinweg took the wind. Notre Dame was going to get all four shots at the endzone either way. The error was in not blowing the remainder of their timeouts in an effort to keep a reasonable amount of time on the clock for a potential response. Purdue should have called timeout after Notre Dame got first and goal; doing so would have saved another 20 seconds or so and given Purdue 40 seconds instead of 20 on their final drive. When you only need a field goal that's a big deal.
Hey, man, Smart Football agrees with me. QED.
Adios, Keith*. A reader recently asked about Keith Jackson's 1998 retirement tour stop at Michigan Stadium, which I remember fondly. He asked for what video existed of the game and I asked Wolverine Historian if he had it. He did, of course, because he is ninja like that:
Really wish they had provided the whole thing, but that's life. Jackson's evident emotion at his last game at Michigan Stadium is something I've treasured as a Michigan fan. I generally adhere to the belief that people who go around talking about their program as if it is the be-all and end-all are unpleasant, but the idea that Keith Jackson thought Michigan was a special place defies that cynicism.
*(Sort of, anyway. Jackson decided to un-retire and did a selection of Pac-10 games for a few more years. He stuck to the West Coast, though, and this was his last appearance at Michigan Stadium. [UPDATE: Wrong. Jackson did the 2003 M-OSU game.)
Van Bergen's error. Clarification on what Van Bergen did wrong on Indiana's 85-yarder from the man himself:
"I made the wrong check," Van Bergen said. "It doesn't happen very often, but it was independently on me. It almost cost the team a big loss, and I would have blamed that completely on myself." …
"We were supposed to be running blitz to the boundary and I checked to field," he said. "It's something very basic, and I shouldn't have made that mistake."
So it wasn't anything after the snap but what led up to it that was the error. I do remember that run looking almost indefensible given Michigan's alignment.
Yes, as GSimmons reminds, this sort of thing makes it difficult to hand out pluses and minuses as individually as I do in UFR. For the record: I do try to take the difficulty of making a particular play into account and often let players off when it seems clear that the defense was just not right for that particular situation. Also, UFR attempts to be useful, not gospel.
Other game stuff: Brown was absent for much of the middle of the game with a minor injury, Moosman put the onus on himself on the snap fiascoes (but he was not the guy who was called for lining up off the LOS, that was Ortmann), Donovan Warren insist he's the guy who caught the ball. (Full transcript of Moosman's postgame interview.)
Advertisin' note. The M-Den is running a special that's about to run out: $5 shipping on any order. Orders of more than $200 have been and will be free. As always, if you don't shop at the M-Den, you hate America.
Etc.: Have had a couple requests for a high-res downloadable version of the preseason hype video. You can download it here; right click and "save as". Week 4 hype video. GS has last week's run chart up; never linked to it.
Editor's note: sorry this is late. I thought I'd published this around 11 AM, but evidently I didn't hit the button.
9/26/2009 – Michigan 36, Indiana 33 – 4-0, 1-0 Big Ten
Tate Forcier dropped back to throw and Martavious Odoms broke open and Forcier lofted it. I swear to you that on an overcast, steel-gray day a sliver of light slipped through the clouds to linger on the object's parabolic, causing its rain-slicked surface to glitter as it reached its apex. It started to come back down, and Odoms slowed fractionally, allowing the Indiana safety—
Aw, hell. Indiana? No offense to a program the evidently warranted more respect than Vegas or this here blog offered in the run-up to the game, but passages of soaring majesty get ruined when a Hoosier is mentioned. Since Wangler-to-Carter, when Indiana was 8-4, moments of glory against Indiana only come in one form: oh thank God we didn't lose to Indiana.*
So, yeah: thank God we didn't lose to Indiana.
Since we didn't, we should all just breathe a sigh of relief, recalibrate expectations back down a little bit, and move on. Michigan's not at a point where any win against any Big Ten team is one to freak out about. The freshmen quarterbacks remain freshmen and it's becoming clear that the defense has about the same raw talent level that last year's offense had. The only thing keeping them from plunging off a deep, dark cliff is the fact that no position on defense is as singularly important as quarterback is on offense.
A couple may be as undermanned, though. Indiana's potentially-crushing, one-play, 85-yard riposte to Tate Forcier's first attempt at fourth quarter heroics exposed the secondary's talent deficiency in a way even starker than Michigan fans were treated to against Notre Dame. At least when Michael Floyd and Golden Tate and Jimmy Clausen were running wild you could point to torched opponents past and recruiting rankings and drooling NFL scouts. Seeing an Indiana freshman zip past not only the walk-on safety gamely pretending he doesn't run a 4.8 but the scholarship, potentially-starting cornerback not named Donovan Warren was alarming. If JT Floyd is going to play corner in the Big Ten he's going to do it ten yards off the line of scrimmage.
This is how bad it is: I'm not even mad at Floyd when a player gets vastly open or he commits a silly, unnecessary pass interference penalty. I'm mad at Tyrone Willingham, metaphorically. It's inconceivable that Michigan would find itself in this situation. There is exactly one junior and no seniors at both safety and cornerback. The 2007 class provides three of the four starters and has lost Artis Chambers. 2006 saw the only two defensive back commitments (Brown and Mouton) move to linebacker. The 2005 class was Brandon Harrison (decent but did not redshirt), Johnny Sears, and Chris Richards. The recruiting malpractice everyone saw on the offensive line last year returned with a vengeance. Hell, even the 2008 class is looking like a disappointment: Brandon Smith is a linebacker; Cissoko and Floyd have been the weak link on a defense that's played three walk-ons extensively. Very little of that is Rodriguez's doing.**
The parallels between this year's secondary and last year's offensive line, on and off the field, are striking, and it's not like linebackers not named Stevie Brown are helping out much. Michigan's recruiting was wildly deficient in more than one area and will be an anchor going forward, basically until such time as the roster is full and the creaky last few Carr classes are no longer weighing down the top of the roster.
We should forestall complaining about Robinson and Tony Gibson and even Jay Hopson, who I've complained about personally, if somewhat obliquely, because there are excellent reasons why their units are performing poorly that have nothing to do with whether or not they can coach. Gibson was the guy who turned Ryan Mundy from a guy with an uncomplimentary stat (Yards After Mundy) named after him into an NFL draft pick. West Virginia's pass efficiency defense in the final few years of Rodriguez's time there: 28th, 63rd, 30th, 20th. There's plenty of evidence that Rodriguez isn't dealing with morons here, and plenty that suggests late-era Carr recruiting was. I'm stashing the torches and pitchforks away, hoping that the rest of the season follows a trajectory similar to that of the offense last year: baby steps towards respectability in the midst of crippling talent deficiency, followed by a second year of growth.
As always, this should be okay. It takes time to dig out from all the reasons 3-9 occurs.
*(The Hoosiers have had a few respectable teams in the intervening years, but Michigan either blew them out, lost to them (once), or missed them. Closest thing to a close win against a respectable team was '91, when Indiana was 7-4-1 and M won 24-16.)
**(Smith and Floyd did commit to Michigan after Rodriguez was named head coach but those players were widely considered locks for months before the coaching transition took place. And please note the criticism here is not necessarily of Smith (or Mouton or Brown) but the recruiting practices that failed to take their likely moves to linebacker into account. Floyd, for his part, might be a functional safety if he wasn't needed at corner.)
- You know, I was sort of coming around to the piped in music but no more. I should never have said anything negative about the band, I take it all back, I believe the piped-in music to be an abomination, and curse anyone who voted in favor of said abomination during this site's earlier poll. The end of the first half was close to my idea of hell, with the evil homunculus responsible for the ear-piercing noise pollution blasting something stupid in-between every play. During the video review, I found myself so enraged at the piped in music that I fruitlessly gave the bird to the idiot playing Bob Seger at painful volume. I went to a concert later that night and the volume level there was considerably less ear-damaging.
It's just unpleasant to hear a probably-terrible song at volume levels 130% of what the speaker system can actually handle. Turn it down. Turn it off. Stop alienating the people who really care about Michigan's traditions and stop catering to the folk who can't distinguish Michigan Stadium from an ECHL arena. It does not help anything.
In fact, it actively stops cheers. The students were chanting "Go Blue" at each other during one point and the evil homunculus played over it. The evil homunculus plays AC/DC over what used to be a bass drum pounding out a beat to which the stadium chanted "Let's Go Blue." It has gone from somewhat tolerable to Michigan State in four weeks, and must be destroyed. I'm disappointed but not entirely surprised that the marketing wing of the Michigan athletic department would be so deaf to tradition. Mostly, I'm appalled. Piped-in music is a disaster and should be stopped immediately. (Note: MVictors mentioned it too, though Greg's not as ready to draw and quarter people. That is because he is soft. I am the Dwead Piwate Woberts, I have come for your souls.)
- Didn't expect the official site to out a guy on the 85-yard Indiana touchdown but here you go:
On Indiana's 85-yard touchdown run to take the lead in the fourth quarter, defensive tackle Ryan Van Bergen came off the field distraught after a blown assignment. He was taken aside by defensive coordinator Greg Robinson and then sat on the team bench with his head sagging. "You flush it and you come back and play," Robinson yelled down the line. "You don't need to be a hero."
As I recall it I watched a 215 pound Indiana tailback outrun not only a walk-on safety (depressing that guy has to play but understandable) but a scholarship cornerback; if Van Bergen had problems he wasn't the only one. Also, Van Bergen was the backside defensive tackle… it's hard to imagine what his assignment was that could have prevented Indiana from running outside the other OT.
- Interception or not, why the hell did Indiana throw at Donovan Warren? Why the hell would anyone throw at Donovan Warren the rest of the year? Opponents have now lost two close games because they threw at Donovan Warren. Sooner or later they will stop doing this, I think.
After the game, Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Robinson confirmed that Cissoko’s absence was a coach’s decision. “Yeah, it was,” Robinson said. “I thought, J.T., at first, was a little nervous but as the game wore on he grew more and more comfortable and did a good job, really held his own.”
I thought that Cissoko had gotten pulled because he had picked up an injury. He did come out for a play or two earlier, and when an Indiana receiver ran straight past him without so much as a head fake I figured it was a hamstring pull or something. Apparently not. Er. That's not good. I'd rather there was some explanation for Cissoko getting smoked other than… well… you know. Not being good at football.
- Attn: Tate. Plz stop doing this plz:
It reminds me of Ryan Mallett and makes me want to die a little. Please continue all of your other activities except running around in the pocket too much.
Maize 'n' Brew has some Zapruder-quality "I took pictures of my TV" stills of the aforementioned Warren interception. They make a decent case the call was correct, if spectacularly close and improbable. I'm waiting for the HD video before I make any proclamation either way.
Doctor Saturday notes that Michigan and Notre Dame aren't exactly establishing themselves dominant powers in the wake of their entertaining week two matchup:
the question after Indiana's 467-yard, 33-point barrage Saturday is "Who isn't going to put up huge yards on the Wolverines?" The Hoosiers -- dead last in the Big Ten in every significant offensive aspect last year -- went on long marches and hit big plays alike (an 85-yard touchdown run and a 56-yard completion to set up another score) and might have been on their way to more points if the officials had seen Donovan Warren's clinching interception differently on IU's final drive. The Wolverines are 89th nationally in total defense and 92nd against the pass, slightly worse than last year's numbers for the year and significantly worse than their 2-2 start in September. There is no comparison between the offenses, but the progress of the Michigan D (or lack thereof) puts a real crimp in the prospective rise in the Big Ten. The fact is, resetting expectations after the first month, neither of these teams has put much separation between preseason expectations and their prospects for the season.
It's hard to dispute; even if Michigan's offense is ahead of preseason projections I don't think anyone had them giving up almost 500 yards to Indiana on defense. Michigan may be slightly ahead of what seemed like a universal 7-5 preseason consensus, but it's mostly because they've turned one coin-flip game in their favor and the Big Ten has looked slightly more moribund than even their recent standards.
Mike DiSimone has his weekly comprehensive picture roundup.
|Last week's ballot|
This week, I totally scrapped what I had before, and went by a strict-ish resume ranking. The table I used can be seen after the jump. There are some big movers.
- Virginia Tech: They have two of the best wins in the country, plus their only loss was at a neutral site to my #1 team.
- Houston: Knocking off a second BCS opponent (one expected to be pretty good, if not contend for a conference title) sees them jump up a bit.
- Iowa: The win over Penn State finally gives them a victory big enough to warrant a top spot on the blogpoll. They're also one of the few teams in the country with wins over 3 BCS conference teams.
- LSU: They also have 3 wins over BCS foes, though none as impressive as Iowa's.
- Oklahoma State: I'm not sure how I feel about them rising. I guess the loss to Houston is a little more excusable since the Cougars are looking like legit competition so far. Oklahoma State still just has one big win over a "meh" Georgia team and then a couple cupcakes.
- Cal: They were rocked by Oregon. Given the circumstances, I may even drop them a little closer to Oregon in the poll. However, they have two wins over BCS-level competition (as much as Maryland and Minnesota can be described as such), including one away at a sucky time for a West Coast team.
Anything else need to be explained or changed? Let me know.