IT JUST SO HAPPENS THAT YOUR QUARTERBACK HERE IS ONLY MOSTLY DEAD
The Law of Harbaugh: it doesn't matter who your QB is [Bryan Fuller]
Midway through last season this space was openly wondering if Jake Rudock had some sort of disease that prevented him from doing quarterback good. Many theories were theorized. Eastern Shriveled Limb. Leaf's Palsy. The Harrington Syndrome. Akili's Aphid Aphasia. Whatever it was, it warn't good. Headstones were prepared. Ornamental flowers were arranged. Tuxes were rented. Boyz II Men was booked to sing "End Of The Road."
Then Jake Rudock erupted flaming from his own corpse. Pro Football Focus's #150 quarterback out of 159 qualifiers through week nine put the sword to a series of pass defenses ranging from comical (Indiana) to Nazgul in helmets (OSU, Florida), pulled his team's ass out of the fire repeatedly, finished as the second most efficient quarterback in the Big Ten, and got drafted. By the time the smoke cleared last year's Rudock MGo-prediction had gone from a millstone I'd wear around my neck until the end of time to dead on, as it were:
Rudock starts the whole year and turns in a season like last year at Iowa except more efficient: 60% completions, 8 YPA, excellent TD/INT.
64%, 7.8 YPA, 20-9 TD/INT. Rack it? Is that what we say? Someone with a moist goatee tell me the etiquette here.
Anyway. Rudock's surge from Iowa leftovers to sixth-round pick now goes on the Harbaugh quarterback tote board:
- helped Rich Gannon(!) win the 2002 NFL MVP award,
- developed non-scholarship San Diego's Josh Johnson into a third-place finisher for the Walter Payton, the I-AA Heisman, and the first draft pick in school history,
- recruited and developed Andrew Luck,
- salvaged Alex Smith's NFL career and got him a huge contract despite the fact that he simultaneously...
- advocated for, drafted, and developed Colin Kaepernick into a legit starting NFL QB when few thought he could make the transition from the Nevada pistol, and
- molded would-be Iowa backup Jake Rudock into a sixth-round draft pick.
The only point in Harbaugh's coaching career that he didn't have a quarterback somewhere between good and great was his first two years at a 1-11 Stanford program that had been driven off several increasingly tall cliffs before his arrival. And one of those guys beat USC at the height of its Pete Carroll power.
On one level, "who is the starting quarterback?" is the single most critical question about the 2016 Michigan Wolverines. On another level, eh, it'll be fine.
[After THE JUMP: people on this year's roster!]
DARK HELMET: What the hell am I looking at? When does this happen in the movie?
SANDURZ: Now. You're looking at now, sir. Everything that happens now is happening, now.
DH: What happened to then?
S: We passed it.
S: Just now. We're at now, now.
Here is a reasonable person, who says "but what about all these problems?" Here is combinatorial mathematics, which in combination with advanced stats says exactly zero college football teams have a better than even chance of winning 11 regular season games this year. Here is Ohio State, nemesis. Here is Gawker, which has nothing do with any of this but thinks it does. Here is a slightly off ham sandwich that we'll call Penn State. Here is everything that doesn't fit and says "no" and says "but what about before" and says "let's not let ourselves get too disappointed."
Fuck 'em. All of 'em. Year two is the year.
Year two is the year when the elite coach can build on what he did in year one. The first year isn't great because there's a reason the previous guy got fired, but if he could recruit—as Mike Shula and John Blake and Jim Tressel and Brady Hoke could—then the second year, when a lot of talent can build upon a foundation of elite coaching, results in fireworks. Year two is when the anchor that is learning a new system loosens its hold on your forward progress. If you have the dudes, year two is when you strap Denard Robinson in rocket boots to your Ford Pinto and see what happens.
In year one, Nick Saban lost to Louisiana-Monroe and went 7-6. The next year they were 12-2; the year after they were national champs. In year one, Bob Stoops was 7-5. In year two they were national champs. Pete Carroll was 6-6 in year one; the next year they were 11-2 Pac-12 champs and won the Orange Bowl. Urban Meyer… eh, nevermind. Same thing, except unimpressive and immoral. I draw dildoes on it! Something something murder tight end!
Now is now.
"We've always thought Detroit—Hockeytown, USA—was sort of Canadian"
Because I am from metro Detroit I am 100% American and 30% Canadian. I know that CBC coverage of the Olympics kicks ass. I vowed I would not get a cell phone until I could get the Hockey Night In Canada theme on it—the right HNIC theme—and kept that vow. One time I counted the number of Tim Hortons between the border and the Windsor airport less than 10km from said border; it was 9, 10 if you count the one in the airport itself. I know a truth about the countries' national anthems that I can only repeat in polite company within about 50 miles of the border, which is that O Canada is far superior. (Don't @ me.) Hell, the 2014 Story is based on hilariously-named Canadian margarine.
And because when I was in high school the most alternative station in Detroit was actually in Windsor, I got a steady dose of the coolest things in Canada. I will admit to you now that I own an Our Lady Peace album. Many times the coolest things in Canada are Nickelback. (I do not have a Nickelback album.) It happens. It's not that big a country.
The Tragically Hip were not Nickelback. They don't actually resemble anything but themselves. If you caught the recent spate of Tragically Hip explainers you probably saw a forced comparison along the lines of
imagine New Jersey is a country
yes, its own country
no we can't declare war on it
BECAUSE THIS IS A THOUGHT EXERCISE THAT'S WHY
Fine. Fine? Fine.
Okay. New Jersey, the country.
New Jersey : Bruce Springsteen :: Canada : The Tragically Hip
And that's kind of right but also completely wrong for a thousand reasons. The Tragically Hip once wrote a song about emperor penguins. I mean.
I digress. I liked the Tragically Hip, a lot. When Napster was a thing I spent most of my time on it downloading various Hip concert bootlegs during which Gordon Downie, the lead singer, went on tangential rants about having your arm eaten by an orca and the like. There were too many to actually listen to.
I still have them
I went to a number of their shows. At one the female friend who went with me said "I forgot how sexy Gordon Downie is" midway through the show, and I looked upon a spear-bald pug-faced mid-30s Canadian dude kicking the living shit out of the Cobo Center.
This was an ugly sexy man. I can do this, I thought. I can be competent enough to attract a live human female. Several years later I successfully engaged in voluntary sexual congress with a live human female. Thanks, Gord!
And then you drift away. Like Nickelback, it happens. I barely listened to the last Hip album I bought, in 2006, and hadn't given them much thought in the intervening decade until I stumbled across a Slate article explaining that Downie had incurable brain cancer and that their current tour would be their last. There was a concert. The last one.
DARK HELMET: Go back to then!
S: I can't.
S: We missed it.
S: Just now.
DH: When will then be now?
I was old before I was old and am now superold, so let's talk about "now." Now is really important. I ain't got time for a lot of things any more. My wife and I fail to remember this periodically and end up at a show, like a show-for-young-persons show, and grumble about how old we are and how stupid is that there are no chairs and that this band isn't going to go on for probably hours, hours that now cost us fifteen dollars a pop.
So when the thing happens, hoo boy is it chugging uphill. And that thinking infects many things. I'm about to die! Interest me. SOON.
Sometimes it does, and the things that manage it come to take on an outsized import. While this Last Concert didn't come with a commute and people bumping into you constantly and eight dollar beers, it did come with my wife in the room. You see: 1) we were watching CBC's Olympic coverage for previously explained reasons, 2) they kept talking about this upcoming Hip concert by cutting to Ron MacLean in a Hip t-shirt that he looked utterly ridiculous in, and 3) when I told her that I both knew about this concert and would cut her if anything happened to prevent me from watching it, she giggled and pointedly did not judge me.
Nonetheless, I felt judged.
The concert comes on, and for a while it's awkward. Gord has suffered. It's clear that there are monitors across the stage scrolling lyrics, and from time to time the damage done is apparent. Death stalks the room. Wife is still not judging me. I tell her I can see and feel the damage and it is infinitely depressing.
At some point I realize it is forty-five minutes later and I have just exhaled. The only thing I've done in the meantime is click on the relevant twitter hashtag and watch Canada rock/weep itself to sleep. Every time there's a mortality-relevant lyric, and there are many, the "new tweets" counter rockets upward. Downie at some point the cancer stops being relevant, and then at the end of one song he starts screaming. It is arresting. It is cancer-death screaming. It causes twitter to explode. He stops, winks… goddammit. Gordon Downie, you are a scoundrel, a dying asshole scoundrel. There is a reason he is a rockstar.
The concert was stunning because that was it. It was there and then it was over and gone. The Tragically Hip are no more. This band will self-destruct in ten seconds.
Usually I only get that feeling in fall. Every opportunity to win or lose is here and gone. Ask any Indiana fan about last year. Kyle Robbins of The Crimson Quarry probably did not think that college football could break him—what's the worst thing that can happen to an IU fan?—but it did. There is no more NOW sport than college football, in which redemption is impossible. Once each year is locked in amber we amputate most of the people who actually played. Jerome Jackson had an entire career one Saturday against Iowa.
I know. I know you want to be like this thing and that thing and obviously it will collapse in on itself and we will hold ourselves aloof and wait to invest ourselves, or at least try to. Don't. Then is over. That is over. The period where Michigan is digging out from the crypt it built itself has passed. We're at now, now.
Here is the situation. Michigan has a metric ton of NFL talent. They have one of the greatest football coaches of his generation. They have a mortal enemy at a historical peak, coached by one of the greatest football coaches of his generation. They will either set fire to the world and rewrite the landscape of college football, or blow a golden opportunity and let the jackals feast again. This is the last rodeo for Butt and Lewis and Wormley and etc., etc. They are set for amputation. Talk about Michigan being a "year away" is only issued by people who haven't looked at a roster or, like, history.
You have to let it happen to your body. I'm an engineer, man. I believe those bastard numbers that say there is a 36% chance Michigan wins 11+ games this year. I mean, 36% isn't the chance but it's not 80% like we want it to be. There's going to be a moment. Possibly six moments. It is going to be towering and terrifying thing and all I can tell you is to say yes, this is happening.
Now. No dress rehearsal. No "they're a year away." Now. This year is the year, and yeah, to some extent every year is the year. But this year is the year. Death and graduation are coming anyway, might as well get some glory in the interim.
What have the countdown weeks, countdown days been like over the past few years, and how does this one compare?
“They’re all kind of similar and different in their own ways. They’re unique in their own ways. The first week of camp you’re just going against your defense. You’re not really preparing against your opponent’s defense yet. But now, leading into that last week and a half [or] two weeks, you start locking in and studying film on your opponent and that’s what we’re doing right now.”
How, in your mind, is the offense shaping up? What are the things you think you’ll really do well?
“It’s coming together real nice right now. We’ve got a lot of guys who’ve been making plays all camp. The line’s been coming on strong; that’s an experienced group. We’ve had some young guys stepping up. Grant Perry’s been having an amazing camp. Chris Evans has been making plays left and right. It’s unbelievable to see these guys. So, it’s coming together real nice.”
Speaking of the young guys, as far as your room’s concerned, how have Tyrone Wheatley Jr. and Zach Gentry been doing?
“They’ve both been doing pretty good. They’ve both been having a really good camp. They’re both specializing in different things. Obviously Zach’s more of a receiving tight end, Wheatley’s more of a blocking tight end, and they’ve taken on that role. From the beginning of camp to where they are now, they’ve made some big strides.”
The fact that you’ve had an entire year and spring ball, do you feel way more comfortable now than you did a year ago?
“I don’t know that I feel necesarily more comfortable but I think for some of the younger guys or guys that didn’t get a lot of the reps last year, they’re starting to feel a little bit more comfortable because they’re getting a better understanding of the offense and the way the coaches work where if you play a little bit more that comes a little bit sooner.”
You said one of the reasons you came back for your senior year was that you still had a lot of improvements to make. What have been those improvements you’ve made in the last six months?
“Yeah, cleaning up some things with my route running. I want to win every single route and that’s my goal, and that’s my job is to take some guys with me. I want to win and I think I’ve been doing a good job. It helps when you have Delano Hill and Jabrill Peppers manned up on you right on the line every single play this whole entire camp. I don’t really see it getting any harder than that this season. But blocking has been the biggest area of improvement for me. Just technically, pad level, I’ve added some strength this offseason, made some changes with my body, so that’s been the biggest area of improvement.”
When your assignment’s to go out there and block Jabrill, how is it different from blocking a normal Sam linebacker?
“He’s just as strong as probably any Sam linebacker. I mean, he’s really, really strong and explosive but he adds just such quickness and speed element to it that you’ve got to take into account.”
Handicap the quarterback race for us.
“Uh, yeah, everybody’s doing really good but there’s a dark horse in the battle. Erik Magnuson’s really been coming on strong toward the end of camp. He’s hitting the deep balls really well. Coaches have been really impressed with him.”
[After THE JUMP: which receivers are rotating at which spot, which NFL players Butt watches film of, and which receivers will redshirt]
Jake Butt and Chris Wormley are Michigan's co-captains this year, according to Chris Wormley:
— Chris Wormley (@Chris_Wormley43) August 27, 2016
There were many suitable candidates—Jehu Chesson and Jourdan Lewis come to mind—but it's hard to argue with those choices.
— jake butt (@JBooty_88) August 27, 2016
REMINDER A THING IS HAPPENING. I totally biffed this the first time by linking to last year's event. There is a Football Eve from Homesure this year:
First beer is on Matt, there will be a Q&A and… trivia? I think? We're asking people to RSVP because space is limited. Hit the link to do so.
Oh yes, this is going to get a lot of use. Via EDSBS:
The gif you now need in your life:
— Ace Anbender (@AceAnbender) August 25, 2016
For life. Harbaugh on his future plans:
Speaking in a taped interview with SiriusXM Radio on Wednesday, Harbaugh was asked by a host if he can "legitimately" see himself coaching at Michigan "forever" -- meaning does he think he'll be at Michigan 20-25 years down the road.
Harbaugh's answer came quickly.
"Yeah I think that way," Harbaugh said. "I think, God willing and the creek don't rise, that'll happen. I love coaching, I love football and I love the University of Michigan."
Never say never and all that.
Yes, lots and lots of talent. CBS's Dane Brugler provides an extensive breakdown of Michigan's NFL draft prospects, of which there are many. Unlike ESPN he picks up on Ryan Glasgow as a thing:
Glasgow bursts off the snap and finishes each rep with the same fire. He has the grip strength to stack and dispose of single blockers, using push-pull technique to regain his momentum and penetrate the pocket. Glasgow lowers his head and attacks like a battering ram, but often loses sight of the ball and takes himself out of plays. Although his motor is always running, he is more of a one-speed athlete and lacks the closing burst to finish some plays in the backfield. Glasgow would benefit from improved discipline, but his hustle, mentality and strength are why he is a valuable member of Michigan's defensive line rotation. And also why several scouts grade him as a top-10 senior at his position.
The tenth DT in the 2016 draft was off the board at the beginning of the third round, albeit with a bunch of juniors in those spots. That feels about right. Mike Martin was a third round pick as well.
The rest of that article is a preview of what I'm going to say about a bunch of Michigan players in the season preview, down to a Manningham-Chesson comparison and questions about De'Veon Smith's ability to see things:
Smith makes it a chore on defenders to finish him off as linebackers have to him cleanly and finish or he refuses to go down. His vision and run instincts tend to run hot/cold, leading to questionable decisions, and with his lack of explosive traits, Smith needs to be more decisive and trust what he sees. He tends to leave you wanting more due to his marginal burst and instincts, but there is a place at the next level for Smith due to his power, ball skills and upside as a blocker.
Brugler's higher on Erik Magnuson than I am and doesn't mention Darboh or anyone in the secondary other than Lewis—though the latter might be because there were so many people to get to ahead of those gents—in a report that is otherwise extensive and right on point with both strengths and weaknesses. Read the whole thing.
This Peppers thing isn't even slightly weird. Peppers as SAM is part of a trend that is sweeping football at all levels, including the NFL. The Ringer has a piece on the continued evolution of NFL linebackers into 220 pound safety types:
NFL coaches say the change in thinking about linebackers started five or six years ago. Spread offenses were dominating college football, and the task for defensive coaches at that level was to find linebackers who could cover and tackle in the space created by this new, wide-open approach. “We started looking for guys who played skill positions or safety, and those were guys we actually looked to see if we could turn into linebackers,” says Cardinals defensive coordinator James Bettcher, who served as a graduate assistant at North Carolina from 2007 to 2009.
Michigan was not doing this; they were running Jake Ryan out as a SAM. They continued to suffer against spread teams; Don Brown is really the first guy in the history of Michigan football with any positive track record against spread rushing offenses.
The article above focuses on Deone Bucannon of the Cardinals, who's actually a more extreme manifestation of the tiny linebacker trend than Peppers since he plays on a team with Tyrann Mathieu—he's not a "star" or walkout linebacker or nickelback, Bucannon is actually a 210 pound inside linebacker. This is actually a situation where the NFL is more spread than college. Michigan is unlikely to follow suit with safety-sized ILBs because of the nature of their opposition. The NFL is a passing league; Ohio State is a running team.
PFF ABT. Pro Football Focus's All Big Ten team has a number of Michigan guys on it, as you might imagine:
- First team: Jehu Chesson, Maurice Hurst, Jabrill Peppers, Jourdan Lewis
- Second team: Jake Butt, Mason Cole, Erik Magnuson, Taco Charlton, Chris Wormley, Delano Hill
That's a lot of guys. PFF projects almost half of Michigan's starters as ABT players. We already knew that Hurst was a fave-rave of PFFs and that they like George Kittle of Iowa better than Butt because of his blocking ability. The most interesting item there is the inclusion of Delano Hill as a second team safety. That would be very nice if it came to pass.
PFF on JT Barrett. Barrett is the single-most important opposition player on Michigan's schedule, the last tentpole from the last couple years of Ohio State teams. He had a weird 2015, seeing his passing production dip radically. Which guy is it? PFF:
Intermediate and deep accuracy have been consistent issues for Barrett both seasons. On throws longer than 10 yards in the air in 2014, Barrett completed just 44 of 111 attempts, and in 2015, he was 20 of 45.
Barrett’s passes traveling 10+ yards in the air during 2014 season
Barrett’s passes traveling 10+ yards in the air during 2015 season
Keeping in mind the fact that he was throwing to the likes of Michael Thomas, Jalin Marshall, Devin Smith, Braxton Miller, Jeff Heuerman, and Nick Vannett, all of them currently playing in the NFL, it’s difficult to expect his consistency to improve on deeper passes with newer, less experienced receivers and tight ends.
Barrett's not great against pressure, either, but OSU's system sometimes makes that hard to apply. He's an outstanding runner and there's always the chance of a leap forward, but he's a guy who has some limitations that Don Brown might be able to exploit.
Good luck with that. Per Pat Forde, the NCAA is expanding its Ole Miss probe:
NCAA Enforcement representatives have visited Auburn and Mississippi State, and perhaps at least one more SEC Western Division school, this summer to speak with players who were recruited by Ole Miss. The players were granted immunity from potential NCAA sanctions in exchange for truthful accounts of their recruitment, sources said.
If these guys are all telling the same story about 500 dollar handshakes on visits that could get really ugly for Ole Miss. They're already facing down a suite of Level 1 violations. I'm beginning to believe this could be an actual hammering, the first since USC that didn't involve… you know what at Penn State.
Hinton rates everything. Matt Hinton has done his usual preseason data-jam, evaluating every D-I school on their recent performance, crootin, experience, and projected competency. 17 categories go in the blender, and this is what comes out for the top 40:
Nebraska is relatively high; MSU relatively low. PSU, Iowa, and Wisconsin are all in the 8-4, 7-5 range. This will no doubt enrage highly enrageable Iowa fans.
Etc.: NLRB reverses an earlier decision that was relevant to the Northwestern unionization push. A reason to hate every Big Ten school. Just because someone else is getting paid to abuse our national namespace doesn't mean you have to participate. Herky The Hawkeye is too angry for one Iowa professor. Hank Aaron will honorarily captainize a game this fall.
[Ed-Seth: You guys remember Joe Pichey, author of the barbecuing blog GloBlueBBQ, right? He's back this year with more recipes. This year he will also be doing recipes for Eat Well Embrace Life. Have you seen this at Busch's or Kroger or Meijer or the Kroger that was Hiller's yet (map)? Try the carrot one first. Or maybe the edamame. My wife is all about the lentils one. Also you can cook with them. Also also they are the Official Hummus of your favorite sports blog. And they're paying Joe to write recipes.]
[I am not kidding: the carrot one first.]
The season is finally upon us and the “Bo-B-Que” grills are fired up. We’ve had a great off-season and got a chance to try a ton of new recipes. We also picked up a new co-sponsor for the weekly recipes in Eat Well Embrace Life Hummus. Matt, the CEO, is a Michigan Alum and a huge fan of MGOBLOG, so its a great fit. Plus, we needed some healthy options to keep the cardiologists off our back. Hopefully, this will make the doc happy! Were also going to have some giveaways in the upcoming weeks, so stay tuned. This is going to be a great season both on the field and around the pits with Stubbs and Eat well Embrace Life Hummus.
- Chicken Breasts
- Red Onions (You can choose any veggie you like)
- Grilling Cheese (Brun-Uusto is my favorite)
- Pita Bread
- Eat Well Embrace Life Hummus - Red Lentil Chipotle
- Creamy Italian Dressing (Optional)
[After the JUMP: more YUM]