Hockey pet peeve: "when a teammate tips a puck in on you, which is exactly how my first collegiate goal against happened. Thanks, Copper."
About three weeks ago I posted an article about which 2015 signal callers could be next in line for an offer. With no game to prepare for this week the coaching staff decided to travel the country checking in on recruits and I decided to do the same thing (from the comfort of my couch) with a focus on the quarterbacks.
I originally created a list of seven prospects consisting of Kevin Dillman, Nick Johns, Sheriron Jones, Kyle Kearns, Alex Malzone, Riley Neal, and Brady White. After a visit to the Indiana game I think Tyree Jackson could also be thrown into the mix at this point.
I was able to talk to each young man this weekend and see how often the coaches have been in contact with them, and try to gauge the interest level from the coaches, as well as from the recruits. In doing so I think I’ve identified a top tier of four targets on the quarterback big board.
Kevin Dillman – La Mirada High School – La Mirada, CA: The coaches have not been in contact with Dillman at all recently which is a bit surprising during a bye week that included traveling across the country as well as social media communication. He appears to be down the list as a secondary target.
Tyree Jackson – Mona Shores High School – Muskegon, MI: Jackson visited Ann Arbor for his first game experience against Indiana and had a great time which I reported here, but since his visit he has had zero contact with the coaching staff. He will continue to be a name to watch, but he also appears to be down the list a bit.
Nick Johns – Gonzaga High School – Washington D.C.: Johns told me that he speaks with Coach Mallory almost every day on Facebook. With so much contact I was curious as to what was discussed when they chat. “He just asks me what kind of team we are playing that week and what kind of defense they run. He tells me to try and identify our strengths and weaknesses against that team. He just tries to assess my football IQ.” Johns told me that Coach Mallory hasn’t exactly mentioned an offer yet, but Nick seems to feel pretty wanted based on how often they communicate. He did say that he would love to have an offer from such a great school like Michigan. I believe Johns is one of the top tier targets at this point.
Sheriron Jones – Rancho Verde High School – Moreno Valley, CA: Jones has not had any recent contact with the coaching staff at all and he even said that when he tries to call them, they never answer. That tells me that he is not a top priority at this time.
Kyle Kearns – Foothill High School – Pleasanton, CA: Kearns had a legitimate talk with Coach Borges on Wednesday evening that tentatively set up a “Wilton-Speight-like” visit in the Spring. “Coach Borges said that he plans to make it out this Spring to check me out. He talked about how they’ve only offered one guy and I’m a guy that he really likes. I see myself fitting in really well in his offensive scheme from what he told me.” I asked Kearns how he’d feel if an offer did eventually come and he simply said, “It would be huge!” He even flirted with the idea of committing on the spot if that did happen. “I can’t say I’d commit on the spot just yet. There are some other schools that I’ve built a strong relationship with and I don’t want to put the cart in front of the horse.” (He actually used that phrase. I like this kid.) Kearns talked about how attractive Michigan is with George Campbell and Damien Harris already in the fold for the 2015 class. “With Michigan getting a top running back and wide receiver for 2015 it makes the decision that much easier. Couple that with world class academics and the biggest stadium in football…man.” After talking with Kearns and hearing his very obvious interest and discussing his regular talks with Coach Borges I now believe he may be the front-runner for the next quarterback offer.
Alex Malzone – Brother Rice High School – Bloomfield Hills, MI: Malzone has set up a regular communication schedule with Coach Borges that involves him calling the offensive coordinator every Thursday night between 9 and 9:30 pm. Borges also made it very clear to Alex that he is in the top tier of quarterbacks being evaluated. With Malzone being right in Michigan’s backyard and understanding what it means to be the quarterback at Michigan, he is a very real possibility to receive an offer. I believe Malzone will continue to be evaluated and being a Michigander is an advantage that has helped him land in the top tier.
Riley Neal – Yorktown High School – Yorktown, IN: Neal has already been talking to Coach Borges quite regularly, also on Thursdays, for a few weeks now. They usually talk about his film, each other’s seasons, and just the general recruiting process. Neal and I talked about some other quarterbacks getting attention from Michigan and he was very informed about the entire situation. He knew of Dillman, Malzone, and Kearns and also that the coaching staff was evaluating his position right now, which tells me he is interested and intuitive when it comes to the process. He is in the top tier.
Brady White – Hart High School – Newhall, CA: From what most here have expressed about Brady White this will be an unfortunate update, but he has not been hearing from the coaching staff at all lately and didn’t once during the bye week. His interest in Michigan seems legitimate but he may be tough to lure from the west coast.
In conclusion I feel like the top tier of four targets consists of Nick Johns, Kyle Kearns, Alex Malzone, and Riley Neal. These four quarterbacks are in regular contact with the coaching staff and all express sincere interest in being recruited by Michigan. At first glance I thought Dillman, Jones, and White all hadn’t heard from the coaches simply due to the fact that they are all California kids, which can be problematic due to the time difference and the fact that those kids just don’t leave their geographic area too often. That notion is of course debunked by the fact that fellow California native Kyle Kearns may be atop the big board right now. After this week my list does, in fact, put Kearns at the top and looks like this (last time's ranking in parentheses):
- Kyle Kearns (2)
- Riley Neal (3)
- Alex Malzone (7)
- Nick Johns (6)
Others: Dillman (1), White (5), Jones (4), Jackson (NR)
This is not necessarily my wish list, this is just how I feel the big board may look somewhere in Schembechler Hall, based on frequency of contact, expressed interest from both sides, and skill-set for Borges’ system. It will be interesting to see how it all shakes out over the next couple of months.
“You know, it’s always an exciting week. Believe me. I think from campuses, both schools, both programs, the opportunity to play in a rivalry game that has a lot at stake obviously with us both in the same division, they’re an awfully good football team. I think they’ve come a long way from early in the same season as far as from an offensive perspective. I think Connor Cook has done a nice job. I think their whole offense has really taken off, and you can really see it. We pay attention throughout the year, but really their football team. Their defense is as good as any. That’s going to be a big challenge for us. Playing up in East Lansing is always a bit of a challenge. Any time you play away from home, that’s just part of it. Making sure as a team that our focus and discipline and all those things have to be spot on for us to go out and compete at our highest level. That’s what we need to do. We’re excited. It’s going to be a fun week.”
With how aggressive Michigan State plays, how do you get your team to embrace that level of physicality?
“Well you hope your team does the same thing. We’ve been inconsistent in that department, so they all know, the guys who’ve been here. I think there’s 27 of them who were there in East Lansing two years ago. It’s not a whole lot, but they understand that it’s a physical next five weeks, and it starts with the physicalness that Michigan State will play with.”
Can you talk about this game in the context of the Legends division title?
“Well number one it’s the passion for this football game by Spartans and Wolverines, something that as a coach or a competitor you understand that and you look forward to it. The other part of it, the piece of the puzzle, it is important football game when you look at where you want to be and where they want to be at the end of November.”
What are the areas you need to improve the most for this game?
“I think our special teams need to get better. I don’t think we’ve punted the ball as well as we need to. I don’t think we’ve covered at times the way we need to. Big plays defensively. Can’t give up those big plays, and you can’t have those lapses. From an offensive standpoint, you always want to be able to have a running game and count on the guys up front being physical at the line of scrimmage, and getting Fitz or whoever it might be in the backfield started.”
Michigan State likes to attack the middle of your offense and blitz their linebackers. Will you get a good test for how good your new guards are going to be?
“I don’t think there’s any doubt. I think those two guys – and the good thing is there’s nine other guys out there with them. Believe me, there’s other guys who will be there for the first time with more significant roles than maybe they were before. I think how we handle their defense, their front seven, how we get off bump coverage and all those things as tight as they play. Those are all things we’re going to learn. I’d like to know a little bit more before, but that’s not going to be the case.”
Will you know the identity of your team after this Saturday?
“I think it gives you a little bit of an idea. Will you know it for sure? I’m not sure. I think there’s no doubt that every part of this game from the offense and defense, every fabric, whatever it is, you’re going to find something out about your team.”
How do you get Devin Gardner not to try to do too much?
“Yeah. You can’t give the ball away. I think they lead the conference in turnover margin and those things. We’ve got to do a great job of taking care of the football. Great job in decision-making. I think a lot of it, and you asked specifically about Devin. A lot of it for a lot of guys is the fundamentals that you play with and the techniques, and not getting yourself off kilter with how you’re going to play.”
Can you talk about the run game and how important it is to run against them? They haven’t given up 100 yards to an opponent yet.
“Yeah. And if you watch them enough you know why. I think running the football opens up so much of your play-action game. I think that’s where offensively they’ve done a nice job. They’ve done a great job with pounding it in there with the power plays, the stretch plays, those kinds of things, and the play-action game has really helped from an offensive standpoint. I think it’s important for both of us to establish a running game of some sort.”
MGoQuestion: What have been the keys to Michigan State’s improvement on offense over the course of the season?
“I think their offensive line is better. I think they’re playing better together as a group. I think Langford is a back who’s very patient. I think he’s come on. I think the quarterback situation’s settled now, and there’s not who’s going to play, who’s not going to play?”
MGoQuestion: Given the propensity of their offensive coordinator to break tendency in rivalry games (e.g. Ohio State 2011), how do you prepare for that?
“Well you have to prepare for what they do, and most teams are going to have four base running plays, four base pass concepts. You’ve got to be a little bit different in some ways in how you call a game. But at the same time it’s the same plays, and getting all the looks you can at those plays is going to help you.”
Michigan State doesn’t like you very much. How do you feel about them?
“Well we don’t necessarily like them either. This isn’t an admiration society. It’s a great rivalry with two teams that are 45 miles apart? That might not be enough, but it’s what it is.”
It sounds like you’re hoping your players are physical rather than knowing that they’re going to be.
“Yeah, I would say this in answering that: I think there’s a lot of guys who have played a lot of snaps. They understand it. There’s some new guys, a couple true freshmen, that haven’t played in this magnitude of a game. But you look at the back half of our schedule, it’s all physical. Every game’s got to be a physical game. I think from that standpoint, yeah, there’s some guys who don’t know it yet. I think they’re learning. I think they’ve learned in the last couple practices.”
How uneasy does that make you feel, that you have to hope -- ?
“I’m not hoping. It’s not hope. I don’t know if hope’s the right word. I think it’s more of us educating guys who haven’t played in that environment.”
How would you compare and contrast this rivalry with the Ohio State rivalry?
“I think they’re both important.”
[Sorry everyone, my recorder crapped out on me while this was taping, so I’ll just write up a summary of important things that were said. As always, most of it was people trying to get Hoke to say something provocative or edgy, like “how tough is your team?” and “is this an important rivalry game?”]
- Team is better equipped to handle the tough road environment. Learned a lot from 2011.
- Gardner’s fundamentals have improved. Getting a couple snaps in East Lansing in 2011 was a valuable experience.
- Michigan has not changed game prep to simulate Michigan State’s “physicality.” Will continue to do prepare the same way.
- Jake Ryan could play more continuous snaps. Previously he was rotating in for three snaps and coming out.
- Memory from playing Michigan State in 1997? "Charles Woodson's interception."
- Drew Dileo’s status is questionable. Coaches will see if he can practice on Wednesday before making a decision on whether they will unleash The Threat.
ball so hard (Dustin Johnston/UMHoops)
With a conveniently-located bye week we took the opportunity to preview the basketball team.
POINT GUARD. Derrick Walton doesn't have to be Trey Burke to replicate his freshman year stats. Spike throwing it in; Caris being huge?
NOT JUST A SHOOTING GUARD. Drink. Stauskas is jacked. Stauskas is good at the pick and roll. Stauskas needs to shoot well from more places than the corner. Caris also here.
SMALL FORWARD. I believe by midseason Zak Irvin will demand 30 minutes a game, which will come here. Glenn Robinson III will get the rest of the minutes and hopefully be an aggressive monster.
SOMEWHAT LARGER FORWARD. GRIII, McGary, Morgan (who'll play the 4 defensively if he's out there with another big.)
CENTER. Oh man please don't let the back issue be a thing.
Michigan State is CLEARLY the favorite, says Ace. This leads to a conversation about the nature of clarity and almost gets Ace to throw his shoe at me. I say two-seed in the tourney.
TALKING BIG TEN WITH JOHN GASAWAY
Always a privilege to talk with Big Ten Wonk. This is Iowa's year to break through! No, seriously. This time. Indiana fall off, Michigan State CLEARLY the favorite.
The usual links:
Bye Week Visits: A Trip To Colorado (No, Not For That)
Well played, Maison Bleue.
Last weekend's bye afforded the coaches an opportunity to hit the recruiting trail, and Michigan coaches checked in on the likes of top 2015 MN DE Jashon Cornell, 2015 four-star NC OL Mason Veal, 2015 four-star RB Nasir Bonner, 2015 NJ WR Irvin Charles, and several others.
The most interesting prospect to receive a visit, however, is 2014 ATH Kalen Ballage, as Coach Funk stopped by his school last week, per Sam Webb ($). Michigan originally recruited Ballage as a running back, and it's been long thought that the Wolverines had cooled on him—that obviously isn't the case, even if Ballage is simply a backup option, and the fact that he can also play linebacker or safety is likely fueling at least some of Michigan's renewed interest. With a few spots left in the class and only a handful of prospects under consideration, his versatility could be the key should he want to end up in Ann Arbor.
[EDIT: Per Brandon, Michigan may not have talked to Ballage at all:
Just talked with 2014 ATH/RB Kalen Ballage and he tells me that the #Michigan coaches did NOT visit him.
— Brandon Brown (@CoachBrown3) October 28, 2013
Webb is pretty plugged in and I can't find any sort of retraction from him; since there are rules about contact with recruits, it's possible Funk stopped by Ballage's school but never actually was in contact with him. I'll try to clarify the situation when more information is available.
UPDATE TO THE EDIT: Per 247($), school was not in session when Michigan dropped by; the Wolverines are still recruiting Ballage but obviously didn't talk to him first-hand when they were out there.]
Another visit recipient that caught my eye: 2015 NC jumbo athlete Anthony Rush, who told 247's Steve Lorenz that Michigan is "leaning towards" extending an offer ($). Rush is listed at 6'4", 280 pounds as a junior, and the Wolverines are recruiting him as a tight end. Clearly, the coaches would like more blocking and size up front—most schools are looking at Rush as a defensive tackle.
Prepare For PANIC
(Aw, crap, it's already started.)
As you're probably well aware, Da'Shawn Hand took his official visit to Alabama over the weekend, and reports from the trip have been quite positive. Here's Hand himself:
This visit couldn't of been any better. Had a great time in T-Town
— Da'shawn Hand (@TheHand54) October 27, 2013
Despite the good visit experience for Hand, Alabama insiders around the internets seem to think the Tide still have ground to make up if they're going to catch Michigan; if that's the case, the Wolverines just have to survive Hand's official to Florida—just five days before his Nov. 14th announcement—and they should be in the clear. Still, Alabama is a serious contender, and that's always a frightening opponent to face on the recruiting trail.
To keep the good times rollin', Malik McDowell took a surprise visit to Ohio State for their evisceration of Penn State; he was his usual verbose self in the aftermath:
On my way home from Ohio State. Good game.
— BIG LEEK SOSA (@D1_LEEK) October 27, 2013
At this point, I might be more confident in Hand ending up at Michigan than McDowell, for the sole reason that we have some idea about what Hand thinks about Michigan, while getting information out of McDowell is like breaking into Fort Knox. If I had to bet, I'd wager both land at Michigan, but there's plenty of uncertainty.
[Hit THE JUMP for commit stat updates, the newest 2015 offer recipient, and more.]
10/25/2013 – Michigan 2, Boston University 1, 4-0-1
10/26/2013 – Michigan 1, UMass-Lowell 2, 4-1-1
There was a moment Friday night when BU had scratched out a goal and managed to hold out 30 or so Michigan shots when I looked up at the scoreboard and it felt like that Ryan Miller game oh so long ago, when Michigan bombed a passive Michigan State outfit, outshot them 31-13, and managed to lose 1-0, because that's what happens when you put Ryan Friggin' Miller in Ron Mason anti-hockey. MSU won a game they didn't score in that year. Whenever Michigan doesn't score with a lot of shots I think of that game. If you need to keep me out of your house for whatever reason (mom), just put a picture of Ryan Miller on your doors and windows; I will react to it like a vampire reacts to a cross.
Even so, watching the scoreboard grimly read "0" as the number below it skyrocketed was kind of great at the same time is was monstrously frustrating. Those Michigan teams were killers when not arrayed against Ryan Friggin' Miller. BU was coming off a 7-3 thrashing of presumed Big Ten favorite Wisconsin and for most of the game they could barely conspire to exit their own zone. Michigan was killing those guys everywhere except the scoreboard.
A goal was clearly coming, because BU's guy was only okay, and it did, and was waved off, and came again, and then Alex Guptill got a questionable penalty shot in his favor, and that went in, and clearly everything about those 30-some shots that went wrong was just a fluke and Michigan was going to ride roughshod over college hockey, screaming incoherent things about getting yours for last year.
Fast forward 24 hours and Michigan's coming off a loss in which they put up one goal on 39 shots, that a fluke where the puck popped out in front of the net for Evan Allen to shovel in unassisted. Since no one saw the seven goal explosion against an RIT team, I've watched an awful lot of Michigan hockey this year without seeing many, you know, goals. I have seen a lot of shots that would be goals if goalies were donut-shaped. This may be helpful against Wisconsin, but not at the moment.
At some point the massive pile of shots without corresponding goals is just who you are. That point is… probably after the season. Hockey is random as hell. But we're in the business of extrapolating from small samples here, and this team seems like some of the Hagelin teams where they'd dominate possession, outshoot the opponent on the regular, and sometimes lose because they didn't have an every-night offensive standout.
After last year, the reaction to this is HELL YES, but there was moment on Friday when it seemed like they might take the expectations for them and crush them into a thousand pieces. Michigan scratched out the third period against BU to go 4-0-1 against a brutal schedule, and delusions of grandeur flitted up from below.
The Lowell game was a reality check. They are not mid-90s Berenson vintage. They are a convincing imitation at times, threadbare at others. They seem like a team of Milan Gajics, perpetually on the verge of scoring but somehow never doing so. There's been a lot of that particular hockey-crowd anguish where each subsequent puck that does not go in the net amps up the howling.
I mean, yeah, okay. This team is still a breath of fresh air compared to last year. It's fun watching them lift everyone's stick, fun watching Compher and Motte play the Gardner and Gallon telepathy game, fun watching a harmless shot go at the net and not fearing it will go in. That last one may not actually be fun. It may be more realizing that the possum that had been gnawing your arm for the last decade finally died and fell off. But that's enough to flip a quarter and whistle about.
Sun's out. Time for a stroll. Now someone just put the black disk in the red thing.
[After the JUMP: penalty shots, ref shots, all sorts of shots, shots on shots on shots]
Position: Wide Receiver
Ht/Wt: 6'4"/207 lbs.
Location: Paul VI High School – Haddonfield, NJ
Offers: UMass, Old Dominion, Rutgers, Temple
With the Michigan coaches being free of game-prep duties this week they have taken the recruiting trail by storm visiting states across the nation and checking in on recruits from dozens of high schools. Tuesday afternoon Coach Ferrigno dropped in on Irvin Charles while making a sweep through New Jersey. Charles was a very cool kid to talk to and seemed very flattered to be contacted by the Wolverine staff. I asked him how long the visit had been set up and he surprised me with his answer.
Man, I had no idea they were in Jersey. He ended up telling me they were on a bye week so. I had no clue they were coming, I just got called down to the office and he was there. It was cool. It was my first interaction with Michigan so I was definitely surprised.
Charles told me that the visit wasn’t very long but that he and Coach Ferrigno talked about as much as they could in the short time they were together.
We talked about my recruitment, my training, my football season this year and just some personal life questions. He asked me how my dad is, asked about my sisters, where I live and who I live with.
This is another common thread I hear from recruits, that the coaches take a genuine interest in the life of the young man outside of football. That sentiment always seems to go a long way and I believe it did with Charles as well, as he said Michigan is now very intriguing to him and he rates his interest level, “From a 1-10, a 9 for sure.”
Charles is built in the exact mold that the coaches seem to love in receivers. At 6’4” and 200+ his body type is a lot like Moe Ways and he plays strong on film. He’s not a burner but he runs well (4.73 Nike SPARQ) for his age and size.
You can check out the first four games of Charles’ season here.