After the Big Ten scrapped the ridiculous “Leaders” and “Legends” division upon adding Maryland and Rutgers, Michigan found itself in the same division as its two primary conference rivals. Urban Meyer and Mark Dantonio have each won the East once en route to a playoff bid; Ohio State beat Alabama and Oregon to win a national title, while Michigan State was destroyed by the Tide. Michigan managed to hire Jim Harbaugh away from the NFL, and the division added a third elite coach, who turned things around at Michigan immediately.
The Buckeyes went on a crazy postseason run with third-stringer Cardale Jones to win it all in 2014, and their team was loaded with top-tier talent last season. They were the consensus pick to win the conference, but Michigan State went into Columbus without Connor Cook and managed to lock OSU down in a slugfest that left the Buckeye fans apoplectic with the playcalling. Since State came away with a win in Ann Arbor (the forces of the devil were working that night and I refuse to admit otherwise), the Spartans were the surprise winner of the East. Ohio State figured things out and took out their frustrations on Michigan and then Notre Dame in the bowl game. MSU / OSU / UM finished with a combined 31-3 record against other teams.
Meyer, Harbaugh, and Dantonio make the Big Ten East as competitive at the top as any other division in college football. This year, State gets both OSU and UM at home, while Michigan gets both rivals on the road. In terms of the general wax and wane of team quality from year-to-year, Ohio State and Michigan State are on the downswing from last year: OSU loses a ridiculous draft class (there were too many good players to list here, honestly), while MSU loses its star quarterback, best receiver by a mile, two All-American offensive linemen, and three of four defensive linemen (including an All-American). Michigan, by contrast, gets many of its best players back – the Wolverines have several elite position groups (receivers/tight ends, defensive line, and defensive backs).
None of those three teams lost to any of the other four teams in the B1G East (Penn State, Indiana, Rutgers, Maryland). James Franklin is 14-12 so far at PSU, Indiana is a chaotic gadfly but not much more, Rutgers became OSU Jr. and Maryland became UM Jr. after hiring those respective schools’ defensive coordinators. It’s a safe bet that it will come down to Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State – and the winner of the B1G East is the heavy favorite to win the entire conference. There’s a decent chance the division goes three-for-three in playoff appearances.
[team previews after the JUMP]
bad at timeouts, still good at crootin [Fuller]
When this not-quite-monthly feature last ran at the end of June, Ohio State and Michigan occupied the top two spots, as expected, but Penn State languished in the bottom half of the conference rankings.
1. Ohio State
7. Michigan State
10. Penn State
Outside of the locked-in top two, the rankings saw considerable movement as many prospects looked to end their recruitment before the beginning of fall camp. No Big Ten program made more progress than PSU, which picked up seven commits since the last update. The current standings:
The conference is also settling into more clear-cut tiers, which I'll cover after the...
This was cool:
It didn't really work; Ohio State's NFL-bound defenders reacted quickly and beat their blocks, but I'm still drawing it up because it was a cool way to mess with the Quarters defense that our two biggest rivals, Ohio State and Rutgers (and Michigan State) run as a base.
Step 1: Play-Action Power
The first thing here is the power pull by the left guard, Braden (#71). That little bit of play-action is meant to get the linebackers reacting to pull, particularly the Sam, or "Star" in OSU's terminology (#43 Darron Lee), and the Mike (#5 Raekwan McMillan). These were two of the quickest linebackers (or in Lee's case hybrids) in the country last year, and the play's success depends foremost on flanking those two with offensive linemen, so getting them to take a false step to the their left is a big deal.
Peppers is set up a bit closer to the line of scrimmage than the QB, which is a key for the defense that Peppers will be coming across (not down), and threatening an outside run (or pass blocking but I think they knew he doesn't do that). His first step indeed is down and in, like he might do that. Then he holds up, at the same moment that Speight pulls the ball back to pass.
Step 2: Show a Tunnel Screen
Let's take a snapshot and see what the power did:
Not much. As soon as they read the pass the linebackers and DBs are all right back where they aligned. However the DL are aggressively getting upfield so they're playing along at least. Braden is set up to take the backside DT to wall off pursuit. The playside DE is allowed to come in free, another signal that the offense will try to run outside, and that holds that DE inside long enough that Peppers can outrun him to the slot.
As the ball goes to Darboh there, Ohio State's defenders start to react to what they're now reading as a screen that attacks the crease. This is a thing a lot of teams run against Quarters defenses because of how it messes with the 1-2 reads.
Remember how Quarters works:
One of the little confusing things you can do against quarters defenders is to stack your receivers or have them cross each other. The DBs have to read #2 to see if he's going vertical (play Cov 4) or horizontal (play Cov 2). Crossing receivers makes that read a little more difficult. Eventually the WRs separate and that's when the read determination is made, but it's still one more bit of analysis to cause paralysis.
The motion-to-stack-to-delay in the slot is messing with the quarters read, and true to form the CB and S stay back and read instead of attacking upfield.
Step 3: Swing out the Peppers
Meanwhile the linebackers are responsible for the RB—Peppers' outside release means the Star, Darron Lee ought to cover him. Michigan would like Darron Lee (the LB at the bottom of the screen) to try to make the play all by himself, meaning he's out of position and about to get walloped by Mason Cole, who's usually a really good downfield blocker. But Lee doesn't get fooled here either. When Darboh gets the ball, Lee races outside into the alley to be the force player.
But this is still fine—if Lee fights inside of Cole, the LB is dead. If Lee keeps leverage, Cole can still blast the much smaller player out of the lane. Glasgow meanwhile whooped past the nose tackle and may yet wall off McMillan.
The hope here is that in all the confusion, you'll catch the Buckeye defenders staying inside to squeeze down Darboh's running room. But they don't.
At the bottom-left you see Apple has defeated Grant's cut block. Lee is set up perfectly to force the run inside and not let Cole push him too far down to create space. Glasgow may be agile but McMillan is already past the hash and too quick to lose that matchup. However Glasgow did a good enough job to get out there that McMillan can't forget about him, which means there's still a lane to be had. And the playside DE, Lewis, has some agility—he checked Darboh then left him to keep pursuit hot—but he's not running down Peppers.
So Harbaugh's little tricky play has Peppers in space and able to pick the side of a Mason Cole vs. hybrid spacebacker block, with the MLB's pursuit too late squeeze down a hole. It's 6 yards before Apple's dodge of Perry fills. Had that block gone right, it'd be Peppers vs a safety who's coming down from the 50 yard line for a lot more.
It would have been fun to see this against a defense not of 2016 Ohio State's caliber. Anyway it's a good example of how Michigan's coaches were emptying the hat of ideas to find a few good matchups against a team they couldn't really play 11 on 11 with.
How’s the competition going?
“It’s going well. Typical camp stuff, so we’re supposed to keep it in house but everyone’s doing a good job. Everyone’s competing the way they should be. No one’s trying to back off. No one’s trying to give anyone any leeway. It’s just good, healthy competition.”
What’s the second camp [like] under Jim Harbaugh compared to the first one?
“Hmm. That’s a good question. Hold up with this. What he’s been stressing a lot is the toughness of it. The first camp, I think a lot of us were getting acclimated to his coaching style but the second one, now that we’ve been under his belt for a year-- even the young guys, they’re having to get this crash course in Harbaughism. I personally enjoy it. I’ve got no problem with it, but it’s definitely been an increase in I’d say intensity, maybe, is the best way to put it.”
Is it fun to watch the kids go through it the first time?
“Yeah! It’s always fun. Chris Evans is my roommate. I talked to him the first day of camp and I was like, ‘Hey, Chris. Ready for camp?’ He was like, ‘Yeah, dog. I’m so ready.’ I was like, ‘No, you’re not. You think you’re ready but you’re not. Just give it a couple days.’ But he’s doing well.
“I think all the freshmen are taking well, but there’s definitely those first few days where they’re like ‘What did I just get myself into?’ They’re adjusting well now. Everyone’s doing well.”
Is Chris working at running back and receiver or is he mostly at just running back?
“He’s been doing both. I kind of pay attention to him when he’s with us because we’re doing running back stuff. We get off from our play and we kind of huddle and talk about the play that just happened. I haven’t really seen him leave the running back huddle but if he has I’m typically not in the area where he would be there.I wouldn’t be surprised if he has.”
Jim said good things about him.
”Yeah, he’s a good guy.”
Jim said that about him as a player.
“Yeah, he’s athletic. Very athletic.”
You’ve been full go?
“Yeah, I’ve been through all the practices.”
Any discomfort with anything?
Have we talked to you since the forklift incident?
For those of us who weren’t there, talk a little bit about—I mean, how did that happen? Give us the rundown on that.
“You know, I was stretching at the track and there was a [claps] incident. But I’m not supposed to talk about it. Coach said chill on it so I’m gonna chill on it, but it was just an unfortunate incident. It happened. I’m glad I’m on the other side of it.”
[After THE JUMP: A rejected Charizard tattoo; fat man 7-on-7]
Greetings friends! We have been apart too long. Sorry, I meant to stop by for the thing, but I got busy and couldn't make it. Hope it went well. So, whatcha been up to?
As you may remember, every week we take a spirited jaunt through the Michigan schedule in an attempt to forage for useful information and hate-berries. The latter are plentiful. We just hope to scoop up a bit of the former in the process.
There has been no football yet, so for the next couple of weeks we're just going to take a quick overview of 2015 with a dash of a preview of the coming season. I also threw in some crootin' info, because what the hell. The bad news is that the first half of this preview is gonna be bleak. Not for Michigan, mind you. It's going to be a Bonus Area for Michigan, in which they will likely get to E. Honda hundred-hand slap the hell out of this lineup of old hatchbacks. But in terms of interest... yeah. Notsomuch.
About Last Year:
"Fans have a constitutional right to expect success and have high expectations" ~ James Joseph Harbaugh
"The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step" ~Lao Tzu
"That step better not be to the inside, son." ~Jehu Chesson, I'm assuming
The Road Ahead:
Last year: 3-10 (0-8 MWC)
Recap: As usual, Hawaii was outstanding. Temperatures remained almost exclusively in the 80- to 90-degree range. Diverse inhabitants, flora, and fauna. The Hawaiian culture is distinctive, yet each island has its own particular character. Really a must-see.
Oh, the football team? No. No no no. My bad. The football team was an abomination. 120th in the country in F+ rating. Purdue-esque offensive yards-per-play numbers (rushing, passing, and total) despite being in the Mountain West. Their only wins were against UC Davis, UL Monroe, and Colorado. They were outscored 463 to 229. It is no wonder Hawaii decided to pull the plug on the Norm Chow experience after three and a half seasons yielded an 11-39 record (with a 4-28 record in the MWC). Their new coach is some guy. His team will be bad for at least as two weeks, which is as long as it will matter for Michigan fans.
The good news for Hawaii is… uh… **shuffles papers**… ah, yes, here it is. They have a good punter. Rigoberto Sanchez averaged over 45 yards per punt last year. And… well… did I mention the weather?
When last we saw them: Michigan is 2-0 against Hawaii all-time, with a 17-point win in 1986 and a 31-point win in 1998.
Crootin’: Keep scrolling, champ. 2016 rank: #104; 5-year ranking: #100
This team is as frightening as: A gentle ocean breeze. Fear Level = 2
Michigan should worry about: Hawaii will have a game under its belt before they play Michigan. Only one team will be working through the first-game kinks and jitters, and it won’t be the Rainbow Warriors.
Michigan can sleep soundly about: Sleep. Literally. Hawaii has to fly to actual damn dingo-ate-my-linebacker Australia (a 10+ hour flight) to open their season against Cal. Then they fly back to Hawaii (another 10+ hour flight). Then they fly to Michigan a couple of days later (another 9+ hours in the air), then they play Michigan at noon Eastern, which is 6:00 a.m. Hawaii time. So, you’ve got a group of gigantic humans who don’t fit in airplane seats to begin with, you’re asking them to spend three half-days in the air through eleventy six time zones in the week and a half before the game, and then asking them to play a Harbaugh team before their bodies think it is time for breakfast.
When they play Michigan: Hawaii’s quarterback might ‘accidentally’ Moxon their Athletic Director six or seven times during the game.
[AFTER THE JUMP: It doesn’t get much better]
[I sat down shortly after the start of Mattison's roundtable.]
"Watching them this summer, you know, we're not allowed to be around them but I'm hearing what they've done and they've really taken care of business. They've worked really hard this summer, which shows that they have the same goals for their group as we do."
How many different places are you going to use Taco, or are you going to center in on one spot for him? And talk about what he brings to the table.
"The entire group of guys by their positions, tackle and nose, end is called 'end' or 'anchor', those are the two outside guys, they know that they have to know both positions. The reason for that is teams that trade the tight end, when you're an end you become an anchor, anchor becomes an end, that kind of thing, nose and tackle—and it helps us with our rotation. We've found this out over the years and it's happened more and more—teams that run spread offense, really one of the reasons they do that is if you have a really good defensive line or experienced defensive line, they try to wear them out, they try to get that defensive line to not have the impact that it would have in a game by taking a little bit of their gas away. So we want to have the ability to plug a lot of guys into different positions.
"Also I think whenever you are at a position and you know the other positions, you know better how to play it. I think the days are over where 'I am a this position and that's all I do,' and you're going to get in trouble doing that because all of a sudden somebody goes down or gets nicked up and you need to take the next-best guy and put him in somewhere. Experience helps you with that. These kids have heard the same techniques, the same expectations for three and four years, it's easy for them to slip into another position."
And then Taco, talk about...
"Taco will start out—he played both the anchor and the end, but we'll play him more as the open-side end this year. With him playing that position will be Chase Winovich. Chase has showed some great things this spring, having never played the position, but he's a young man that we're looking for—he's got a lot of things going for him. He's very aggressive, very fast for his size, he's gotten bigger, and that gives us the two that you're looking for, at least, at that position."
And Taco, talk about his contributions, speed and size, what he brings...
"Taco's got great leverage. He's a six-foot-five guy, so he's got long leverage, which allows you to keep separation. He plays very physical. He can run. He's an athlete, he was an outstanding basketball player. And he's got great experience now. He's played a lot of football since he's been here and now I think he really feels about about—you know, he's ready to really go."
[Hit THE JUMP for Mattison answering many questions that aren't Taco talk-abouts.]