Academic carnage has been wrought at MSU. Freshman CB Kendall Davis is a non-qualifier (NO PUEDO LEER, MADRE) and will have to sit this year out. JUCO DT David Stanton is similarly out of commission--wags took the opportunity to report that "Stanton" was out for the year. Both losses are significant. State's DL is very thin and Stanton was definitely the third DT. And, of course, anything resembling a cornerback is being desperately hoarded by JLS so he doesn't have to suit up and get out there himself. Don't believe me? Listen to the always-quotable JLS:
"I don't really want to get into it because then I'll really start to cry or will swear, one or the other."
If MSU wins this year it'll be a shootout.
In unacademic carnage news, Antwan Allen got a one-game suspension for a previously-mentioned assault charge. Iowa should still be able to manage Ball State.
If I could pick one preseason hype article that would turn out to be absolutely true, this one on Henne is the winner. No, wait, that NYT article predicting a national championship is the winner. Other than that one. Because if something like this is true...
"He's not in the same world that he was a year ago," coach Lloyd Carr said Monday. "Just getting the signals ... we had some issues in early games, particularly where we didn't get into the right play, the right formation, the right check, all because of his youth.
...you can chalk up something close to the NYT prediction. Other Michigan news from yesterday's press conference (transcript here):
- (from the News:) There is no time-frame for Long's return, although Carr remains positive. "I think he'll be back," he said, "but I'm not going to go any further."
- The depth chart at OL is surprising. Ruben Riley is not listed as a starter inside. He's the primary LT backup and listed at RT with Mike Kolodziej and the "OR" designation. Henige is listed as the starter at LG and it's Bihl OR Kraus at center. I don't buy that whole mess for a second. Looks like pure motivational tactics to me.
- Starting safeties are listed as Engelmon and Barringer. Mundy got bumped down because he's missed some practice with a shoulder issue. That's probably temporary. I adore what I hear re: Engelmon--it's all "he's smart and heady and reads his keys and is in the right place in the right time"--but still can't shake the impression that moving Brandon Harrison to safety bodes ominously.
More Michigan preview action can be found various places. The Washington Post pegs Michigan #2 and rehashes the freshmen and the defense and the tackling of the quarterback or lack thereof and there you go put a button on that and spin it for the cow-raising. The OZone's Tom Orr checks in with separate previews for offense and defense. And accuses Hart of "disappearing" against OSU and Texas to end the season:
Hart's yardage by game grew pretty consistently throughout the year (20 yards, 17, 121, 99, 79, 160, 234, 206, 224, 151) before he vanished against Ohio State and Texas (61 and 83 yards, respectively).
and then levels an accusation of incompetence against the offensive line that's nonsensical:
There are certain things that Michigan's offensive line does very well. They pull, they trap and they screen with the best in the nation. But when this team needed to line up and just ram the ball at people last year, they couldn't do it. Third-and-2 turned into 4th-and-2 with disturbing regularity last fall. When they played a team with a good front seven on defense (like, say, Ohio State) they got their butts kicked.
You can talk all you want about security dogs, home field advantage and freshmen playing on the road, but Michigan lost in Columbus last fall because they got destroyed in the trenches. Michael Hart had nowhere to run, Chad Henne got knocked down time after time and simply did not have time to throw on many plays.
Bizarre, since Hart went for 99 against Iowa's fabulous front seven and broke 200 against Purdue's equally stout D. Michigan lost in Columbus because it yielded two huge, time consuming 90+ yard scoring drives and a Ginn punt return touchdown. Hart was kept under control early, but by the time Michigan got the ball back on offense later he was a nonfactor because of the score. I don't particularly remember Henne getting pounded, either. One sack by Donte Whitner, a strong safety, to 54 pass attempts doesn't exactly scream heavy pass rush generated by the line.
The defensive preview sticks to stuff like "they'll have Gabe Watson clog the middle" which is tough to dispute, but it slags Garrett Rivas pretty heavily, noting that he actually missed some field goals last year and therefore "every Michigan fan holds their breath when he trots on," which is just strange. I mean, dude was around for Brabbs/Neinberg/Finley, right? That was a severe breath-holding situation, that situation there. The Rivas, not so much.
Orr seems reasonably balanced--sort of the Buckeye side of the mgoblog would-dearly-like-to-be-reasonable-but-just-can't-make-it thing--but I mean, if he thinks this:
Is this a Big Ten championship-caliber offense? Probably. But only if the line gels, Breaston stays healthy and Hart lives up to his performances in the middle of the season, rather than his end-of-season struggles.
Then, uh, what does that say for Ohio State? Is Ohio State's offense a Motor City Bowl offense? Probably.
The Buckeyes are setting themselves up for a mighty fall. Expectations are ratcheting way out of control in Columbus. First the Herbstreit/Corso double kiss of death. Plus there's the Ozone's season preview, which has the Buckeyes going 11-0. Bucknuts.com has three separate predictions that all say 11-1 including the bowl game. People are apparently saying things like "the offensive poetry of Smith, Ginn, and Holmes" with a straight face. Totally mystifying to me, as I've discussed before. Maize and Blue glasses, perhaps, but 98th in offense, man! 98th! And that's no one-year blip. Tressel never had even an average offense at OSU. This is a contender? Maybe with a lights out defense, but they were severely vulnerable to the pass last year and look like they will be again. It's not totally out of the question OSU to have a really good year, but 7-5 appears closer than 12-0. Not that either of those events is likely.
Cue up Dora the Explorer again. Michigan hockey has received a third commitment for the 2008 season, again a forward from Honeybaked AAA, center David Wohlberg. TBarr reposts Paul Shaheen's Research On Ice email. The thread that sprung up around it is also worth perusing. NCAA recruiting guru Chris Heisenberg's new blog has some detail:
That means that all of the 2008 commitments are from Michigan natives. So, what gives? Well, the Michigan group of 1990s stood out during the Summer's Select 15 Festival, and their play there helped secure the scholarships. (Czarnik and Wohlberg also stood out at last year's Select 14 Festival.)
It's also of note that Michigan experiences the fiercest competition with the CHL--it's a total
That is one creepy monkey.
afterthought in Minnesota, Peter Mueller excepted, and not a huge priority out east (unless you can't read; Hi Keith Yandle!). The OHL has a number of franchises in the state itself and there's no high school hockey culture or local NCAA-feeder junior league to combat the Canadian menace. Jumping on these kids early is no more risky than waiting a year or two and watching the OHL get involved.
The 2008 class will replace the 2004 class, which consists in its entirety of forwards Chad Kolarik and Kevin Porter. Obviously 3 > 2; probably more are coming; obviously Red isn't expecting the whole of this year's class to make it to graduation. (Duh.)
Three commits from the same team over three years out in under a week. That must have been one hell of a Sesame Street Live trip.
A couple first-hand reports excerpted here for posterity:
On Indiana S Steve Brown:
have watched him the last two weeks and Col East has played probably there to toughest match ups all year. He is the reason they are 2-0.
Best player to come out of Columbus since Blair Kiel in 79. 3 TD tonight against Rivals Col North who are ranked #6 in 5A.
One rushing and two amazing receiving TD's. Caught one TD with one hand and juked an guy and scored. And then scored on an 20-30 yarder with one minute to go to take the lead.
This cat could play WR/CB or safety in college...He has awesome hands.
And 2006 CB/S recruit Ronald Johnson from poster murani:
Ronald and the Big Reds took on Grand Rapids Creston (well they are still playing) at Hackley Stadium.
Muskegon comes out on defense running what looks like a 46 defense and RoJo is playing FS. Muskegon stops Creston 3 and out showing although there are all new starters this year the talent is just as good. Creston punts to RoJo standing at about his own 30 yd line. RoJo precedes to juke 1 defender and head through a gap and towards the sideline, Creston players give chase and he jukes 2 more before battling into the end zone for a 70 yd punt return TD. After another 3 and out Muskegon takes over at their own 37 yd line. RoJo is playing WR and goes in motion getting the pitch then throws a perfect pass to the other WR for a 50-60 yd gain which would have resulted in a score if the WR had any real speed. Muskegon punches it in on 3 dive plays going up 14-0. Next defensive series RoJo still hasnt been able to be part of the action because his teammates won't allow Creston to get 2 yds running. This series is different, however, as RoJo comes up for run support and the runner is so scared of the impact he tries to go down before RoJo gets to him so RoJo only got a glancing blow. The defense holds and forces another punt allowing Muskegon to take over. Muskegon tries a couple passes to other WRs and get pretty good yardage yet drive appears to be stalled because of holding. Its 3rd and 11 from Muskegon's 36 yard line and RoJo is split to wide side of field in 1 on 1 coverage and i'm thinking "You can't be serious", the ball is snapped and RoJo (I kid you not) put a sick release move on the CB that left the CB not knowing where RoJo was and he precedes to go down the sideline and catches the ball for an easy pitch and catch TD. That move made me start to consider he reminds me alot of Mario Manningham as a WR and I definitely could see him starring in college as a WR. Next defensive possession its 1st and 10 and Creston throws and "fade and stop" pass to their 6'5" WR Javonne Augustus(possible Division 1 caliber basketball player) and he gets absolutely crushed by RoJo coming over from his FS position causing the ball to the dropped. The very next play RoJo comes up from his FS position in run support and CRUSHES the ball carrier. I am starting to be more and more in agreement with Josh that safety might be RoJo's best position on defense. Its 28-0 at this point in the game (8 minutes into 1st quarter). RoJo is best player on the field and the rest look like Division 3 recruits in comparison.
2 funny notes about remainder of 1st quarter: (1) Creston's QB has completely stopped carrying out his fakes on runs because he keeps getting hit on the fakes and so now he just hands it off and holds his hands up like he was being robbed. (2) Creston is so frustrated with moving the ball they have fake punted the ast 3 drives in quarter and still can't move the ball.
The 2nd Quarter sees Creston get on the board by throwing a misdirection screen for 70 yds after missed sack and runs for score the next play making it 28-6 and Creston finally has something to feel good about. Creston kicks it off and guess what? RoJo take this kickoff back 85 yds for TD after juking nearest man and hitting the seam completely leaving everyone in his dust.
RoJo finished first half with about 6 tackles and 3 TDs(Punt Return, Kick Off Return, TD Catch) and didn't play past 1st series of 2nd quarter. Muskegon was leading 42-6 at halftime and running clock when I left because I was told that RoJo and starters would only see action for first half of 3rd quarter if that much.
Sorry for the long report but made sure to write down plenty of notes. I'm going to try to get the game film to the mods so they can get it to Rivals and show you all just how impressive he was.
Also, LB recruit Quintin Patilla's team lost their opener 10-7. Patilla played well when he wasn't plagued with cramps.
Note: if anyone finds themselves at a game featuring a Michigan recruit and would like to send in a report, I'll post it.
(Check the scoop on this here. This is Part I. Check Part II here.)
(Right. The wonderful thing about this whole blogging phenomenon is that bloggers are not beholden to the neutral strictures imposed by journalism. This is both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness.
So. I am a Michigan fan from birth. I have two degrees from the school. In 1997 I wandered around the field after the OSU game, dumbstruck, childlike. If anyone I know gets married during the fall I will not only avoid the wedding, I will deliberately sabotage the marriage by any means necessary. Take what follows for what it's worth. Feel free to look upon this preview with a jaundiced eye. I have this pattern: "This is the year, man, 2003! AAAAARGH THE PAIN THE PAIN AAAAARGH. Ok. This is the year, man, 2004! It's the year! AAAAAAAARGH MY EYES ARE BLEEDING. This. Is. The Year. 2005."
But... this could be the year.)
Michigan fans are a remarkably pissed-off group considering
their our team is coming off back to back Rose Bowls. But you'd be pissed off too if you watched your team score 37 points without turning the ball over while featuring true freshmen at running back and quarterback and lost. You'd be apoplectic if you yielded two 90+ yard touchdown drives and those same 37 points to your biggest rival--one that finished the year 98th in total offense--in the last game of the regular season. And you'd probably have to make up words to describe how you felt if these things happened in back to back games. Here's a good one: "kerflanged." Or how about "excorpiated"?
So when you're kerflanged and excorpiated it's hard to feel good about your 9-3 season that ended at the Rose Bowl, even if the team overachieved a bit. Even if Henne and Hart are the most exciting Pokemon-collecting talents to roll through this town, like, ever. Even if you were treated to the unlikeliest, most fantastic comeback, like, ever. Even if there's more concentrated offensive talent returning, like, ever. Because seriously. Seriously. If quarterbacks weren't allowed to cross the line of scrimmage, Jim Herrmann would be a genius. As it is people think he's a loser with a stupid mustache who needs to be fired.*
*(Projection that does not necessarily represent the opinion of mgoblog... but doesn't not represent it either. Just sort of wishy-washy about the whole thing.)
So everyone says it's a tale of two units for Michigan this year. The offense has a surfeit of talent. It comes out the ears. There is a three-headed running back of Doom--HartMartinGrady. There's no Braylon but Breaston and Avant will be just as good when the focus of the passing game shifts to them. Backing the starters up is a cavalcade of top-100 reinforcements of all shapes and sizes. Tim Massaquoi and Tyler Ecker are the top tight end tandem in the conference. The offensive line should still be somewhere above "good" despite the loss of Jake Long. And then there's that Chad Henne guy, the true freshman who completed 60% of his passes, threw for 2700 yards, and had 25 touchdowns to 12 interceptions while still tooling around campus on his Big Wheel.
Wither the defense, of course. Wither indeed. Amazing how in a span of four games the defense went from one of the best in the country to the worst in the Bo-Mo-Llo era of Michigan football. Amazing how Ernest Shazor went from The Man to an out of position malcontent who left for the NFL draft early and signed as an undrafted free agent... with the Cardinals. Amazing how any quarterback with designs on crossing the line of scrimmage with malicious intent was instantly turned into Michael Vick. Amazing how Jim Herrmann kept his job.
Except, um... reality check: the defense finished 33rd in total yards. The offense finished 46th. The defense finished ahead of the offense in every category they measure except one: scoring. Before the unprecedented season-ending implosion of 37, 20, 37, and 38 points yielded Michigan's defense was supposedly carrying the intermittently explosive but understandably inconsistent offense. The season's highlights were the Ernest Shazor show: Shazor blowing through the line and stapling Laurence Maroney in the backfield, Shazor returning a pick for a touchdown against Miami, Shazor feloniously assaulting Dorien Bryant. Michigan had yielded 28 points to Notre Dame but that was heavily aided by a blocked punt and a series of second-half turnovers that set the Irish up with short fields time and again. No one else cracked 25. Only Minnesota and San Diego State(?) cracked 20.
Then the roof caved in. Shazor and Mundy went into full-fledged meltdown. The linebackers... look, I don't even want to talk about the linebackers. Suffice it to say that it's probably no exaggeration that the last four games of last year were the worst four-game defensive stretch in the billion-year history of the program. Combine that with un festival de Braylon, a general nuking of Northwestern and Breaston and Henne's superlative performances against Texas and the college football world's perception has inverted itself.
The reality of the situation is this: Michigan had a defense that was very good against teams that did not have mobile quarterbacks. Attempting to run in a conventional fashion was nigh useless. The pass defense wasn't great but it was certainly above average. Conversely, the offense was only sporadically effective. Michigan trailed Illinois at the half, was tied with Indiana, and had all of ten points until very late in the MSU game. Things were neither as grim as people believed them to be defensively nor as sunny as people believed them to be offensively.
The good news is that it's extremely likely both units will improve. On offense, seven starters return (removing Jake Long from the equation). The electric Steve Breaston steps into Braylon's shoes. There are excellent options at both open slots on the offensive line. The other gap is fullback--if you're pointing at that hole as a major problem with the offense, you're grasping at straws. There might be some trouble early in the year as Michigan finds the right combination of offensive linemen, but once it finds its footing and Henne gets comfortable spreading the ball around to the multiplicitous options available to him, Michigan will be cooking with blowtorch.
If history is any indication, Michigan's defense absolutely has to improve. Vijay at IBFC has been tracking the performance of Michigan's defense relative to the scoring averages of its opponents for years, and the 2005 performance was the worst in the Bo-Mo-Llo era by, like, a statistically implausible margin. The '98 defense was no more likely to replicate the '97 defense's magnificence than the '05 defense is likely to replicate the '04 defense's collapse. A defensive line featuring a couple first round picks, good players at the other positions, and massive depth is now coached by Steve Stripling, an actual defensive line coach. If they fulfill their potential they can cover up some shakiness in the back seven. It's not going to be a great defense, but it might not need to be.
Just tackle the quarterback, as Carr suggests. Please.
Unit By Unit
The last true freshman to start at quarterback for Michigan was Rick Leach. He turned out all right. mgoblog's favorite crutch when discussing Chad Henne is the following statline:
Player.......Att-Cmp Yards Pct TD Int Avg
QB #1........270-456 3331 59.2 24 10 12.3
QB #2........240-399 2743 60.2 25 12 11.3
Quarterback #1 is fifth-year senior (and first-team All Big Ten) John Navarre throwing to Avant, Breaston, and Edwards. Quarterback #2 is true freshman Chad Henne throwing to Avant, Breaston, and Edwards. Gape in wonderment. No doubt Henne was aided by the further development of the three receivers and Mike Hart taking pressure off the passing game, but Chris Perry won the Doak Walker during Navarre's final year... and did I mention Henne was a true freshman?
The common refrain amongst people feebly attempting to justify why Michigan won't be particularly good this year always contains the following sentence or something like it:
Henne won't be very good without Edwards, all he did last year was throw it up to him and then he went and got it. This year we will see what a looser [sic] he is.
This is what I am here to say: poppycock. Piffle. Trash. Garbage. It is true that Edwards was on the receiving end of quite a few bombs, and it's true that only Braylon Edwards could have caught about half of them. But on what planet did it all of a sudden become trivial to do this? (HT: IBFC)
The idea that the ability to toss those 'jump balls' to Edwards somehow doesn't count as a skill is ridiculous. When you throw the ball forty yards downfield and your receiver has an opportunity to catch it, that's a good throw. What Edwards provided was the ability to go to him even when he was covered, like in the Iowa game. He did not magically make Henne's throws more accurate. Where Braylon's loss will be felt will be in the frequency of those big plays. No one in Michigan history had his ability to catch the deep ball while covered, and no one on the team this year can replace that. But that's another section.
Good quarterback. Bad haircut.
So, yes, it's gone. Yes, Henne has to adjust to it not being there. He has to read defenses better, stop his occasional attempts to hit the open linebacker, develop better touch on his short passes, and throw balls with more accuracy. Without Braylon around he will have to move forward just to stand still statistically.
He will very probably do this. Two Chad Hennes played last year. High School Chad made bad reads and winged balls up into double coverages or the arms of linebackers playing pretty conventional zone defense. High School Chad took a ton of sacks because he couldn't figure out what to do. He was responsible for Michigan's offense starting the season with a definite limp.
What we saw in the Rose Bowl was someone who started emerging earlier in the year. Call him Tom Brady Chad Henne--no, scratch that. In honor of departed Indiana running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, what we got towards the end of the year was TomChad Brady-Henne. (And don't try to sell me this Henson-not so good at Michigan stuff, I was a Brady zealot from the very beginning. Ask Warren about the Orange Bowl... or don't, because that wouldn't be very nice.) He wasn't there all the time, but he's coming. TCBH, on his way to a stadium near you.
I submit that the doubters are correct in this: Henne must improve for Michigan to be a national contender. I am mystified that they think this improvement will not occur. There's naturally going to be a huge jump in familiarity and comfort between a kid months removed from prom night and a sophomore with 40-50 extra practices, 12 games of experience, and trips to Notre Dame Stadium, the Horseshoe, and the Rose Bowl under his belt. Michigan, Terry Malone, and Scot Loeffler have a proven track record of consistently improving quarterbacks from year to year. Not one has stagnated. John Navarre was transformed from ugly duckling into Actually Paid By The NFL by Loeffler's fairy dust. Impartial observers declare Henne's ceiling to be NFL-first-round-easy high.
So why, exactly, would Chad Henne plateau?
|Mike Hart||So.||Will Paul||So.*|
|Kevin Grady||Fo.||Obi Oluigbo||Jr.*|
|Max Martin||So.||Brian Thompson||Jr.*|
mgoblog is prepared to argue that Mike Hart is the best running back in the country. I'm content to lose that argument to Oklahoma and Minnesota fans and possibly draw it with a few others, but arguments will be had before yielding. Hart is an inexplicable combination of Barry Sanders and Jerome Bettis, a 5'8" marvel who can leave you grasping at air and then drive your teammate five yards from the point of contact before he is finally tackled (disclaimer: not a direct value comparison between two hall of famers and Hart, just a style thing).
Mike Hart is my non-sexual man crush.
Hart averaged 5.2 yards per carry despite his longest run being only 35 yards. That ugly 35 is the knock on Hart, his lack of breakaway speed. But as an engineer-type who loves me some statistics, I think that 35 underscores what a remarkable back Hart is. This is a player who averaged 5.2 yards per carry without any of those hugely distorting 80 yard runs. I realize that sentence sounds ominous, like I'm going to veer into some crazy diatribe about how 80 yard runs are actually bad because you "score too quickly," but stay with me. I promise no soy loco.
I will expound upon the topic of variance, expectation, and what statistics means for football strategy in general and Michigan in particular when I find the time to do so... probably the offseason. In brief: the more consistent a particular play is the better it is for the favored team. Mike Hart is an amazingly consistent back. He hardly ever lost yards--only 32 all year, and seven of those were the result of him getting buried by Matt Roth the instant he got a particular handoff. All of his yards coming on runs of 35 yards or less implies that Hart's median run was closer to the nation's leaders than his rushing average was. Hart also fumbled all of once last year, another low-variance tendency. He gets to the line and through it with consistency. He makes yards after contact on almost every carry. He never fumbles. He's the perfect back for Lloyd Carr, and if he just gets a teeny bit faster and turns one or two corners that he didn't last year, well, that 35 is going to be a distant, slightly humorous memory.
Even that lone fumble personified everything that is wonderful about him: he depantsed an Iowa defender and squirted ten yards downfield where he met Abdul Hodge at the Iowa seven yard line. Abdul Hodge, All American(-ish). Six yards later Hart was still on his feet, legs pumping against four Iowa defenders, when someone finally stripped the ball from him. Even though I am usually hugely pissed at turnovers of any sort in a game, all I could do there was shrug my shoulders and say "well, that was still pretty cool."
br />Michigan will rotate in sophomore Max Martin, a high-stepping Dickerson-ian runner and freshman Kevin "Event Horizon" Grady, one of the nation's top recruits a year ago. Martin is reported to be the best combination of size and speed in a Michigan uniform since Tyrone Wheatley and may get some Reggie Bush treatment this year, lining up in the backfield and then motioning out to pick up mismatches against linebackers. We'll see how much Martin's practice ability translates to the field. He has ball security issues, a major no no for any running back, and has heavy competition from the Lilliputians around him.
Grady is 5'8", 5'9" tops, just like Hart. Unlike Hart, he's 230 pounds of leg-driving, pounding power back. His low center of gravity and all around strength will make him one of the nation's toughest backs to stop in short yardage situations. Legend has it that in his first practice (Grady joined the team shortly before the Rose Bowl) he crushed all 11 defenders and went 140 yards carrying a half-dozen balls for the ever-rare sextuple-touchdown. He's reputed to be a blip to the hole and then a load once he's in it. He will play, and he'll smash some facemasks this year.
The one question mark in the backfield is at fullback. Kevin Dudley was the unsung hero of Hart's freshman explosion and Chris Perry's Doak Walker season and will be badly missed. Dudley pulverized linebackers. Compounding the difficulty here is the injury-forced retirement of Ryan Allison. Allison was getting buzz as a freshman but a nerve injury put an end to that and threw the fullback situation in disarray. Left over is a mishmash of players. Senior Brian Thompson split time with Dudley two seasons ago but was passed over by Dudley because his blocking is not up to par. He's a good receiver out of the backfield but Michigan figures to have plenty of receiving targets this year. Obi Oluigbo will probably enter the Northern Illinois game as the starter but the coaches moved redshirt sophomore defensive end Will Paul to fullback for a reason. The 264 pound Paul was a tight end in high school and certainly has the size to be an intimidating blocker. His move was announced officially just recently but he was rumored to be making the switch in the spring.
Wide Receivers & Tight Ends
|Jason Avant||Sr.||Steve Breaston||Jr.*||Tim Massaquoi||Sr.|
|Adrian Arrington||So.||Mario Manningham||Fr.||Tyler Ecker||Jr.*|
|Doug Dutch||Fr.*||Carl Tabb||Jr.*||Mike Massey||Fr.*|
Much will be made about Braylon Edwards and his record-setting abilities no longer being available to Chad Henne and the Wolverines, but the cupboard is far from bare. Michigan returns two receivers that would be national names already but for Edwards and his general impossibility.
Steve Breaston was nicknamed "Black Jesus" by funny but racially insensitive Michigan fans (I promise that it wasn't me) even before his '03 debut. The rumble coming out of spring practice that year was incessant: Breaston could not be caught by anyone. He was Anthony Carter playing in a pass-oriented offense. Nine times out of ten such practice buzz is wishful thinking, fanciful stuff spun out of the hopes and dreams of an expectant fanbase, but the Breaston hype was mostly justified. As a redshirt freshman the modest Pennslyvania native set a Michigan record for punt return yards in a season despite having three touchdowns called back on (maddeningly irrelevant) penalties. He also contributed scored rushing and receiving touchdowns, racking up 38 catches for 444 yards in the shadow of both Avant and Edwards.
The hype machine ratcheted up another notch for Breaston's sophomore season but a stress fracture in Black Jesus' foot brought an early halt to the festivities. Breaston still played, but the edge-of-your-seat magic had disappeared. Breaston looked ordinary, a Black John the Baptist at best. Until the Rose Bowl, that is, when a finally healed Breaston broke almost every kickoff he received to midfield and turned a twelve-yard crossing route into a sixty-yard touchdown, setting a Rose Bowl total yardage record of 315 in the process. You can call him a poor man's Ted Ginn if you want, but only because Ginn's probably been introduced to Mr. Such and Such.
The catch with Breaston is health. His electric freshman year was injury-free but a stress fracture in his foot, a broken finger, and various assorted leg issues severely hampered him in 2004. There are ominous reports of a "minor" hamstring issue that has held him out of some fall practices. Breaston is as vafer-theen as a chocolate mint and relies on his explosive cuts more than most wideouts--his health is both extremely precarious and vital for his effectiveness. The bottom line: if he's healthy he's going to blow up.
Yes, Virginia, this is a completion.
Starting opposite Breaston will be senior Jason Avant, who mgoblog has previously called a "black hole of a wide receiver." mgoblog still believes this. Avant's hands are amazing, as any Spartan or Wildcat fan could tell you. He doesn't have the goodbye-foolish-mortal burst that Breaston does, but he's stronger than any cornerback he'll face this year and can dictate what routes he'll run. Avant will act as the possession alternative to Breaston and excel at his job. Period. There's no flash and dash with Avant, just relentless work, tough over-the-middle route running and those inconceivable hands. He is good.
If you're one of those people who believes in clutch, well, Avant is clutch. The first two plays of Michigan's last-ditch touchdown drive against Minnesota were Henne-to-Avant bullets 15 yards downfield. On third and goal in the second overtime against Michigan State Avant leapt into the air, speared another Henne bullet, and managed to get a single foot in. I can't overstate how underrated he is. The nearest comparison I can make is to former Denver Bronco Ed McCaffery, who was totally unimpressive at all times but at the end of the year usually had 1,500 yards, a bunch of touchdowns, and like one dropped pass.
Past the two starters there is a cornucopia of untested talent. Four of the next five receivers on the depth chart were Rivals 100 selections. Sophomore Adrian Arrington, redshirt freshman Doug Dutch, and true freshman Mario Manningham are the leading candidates to be the #3 receiver. Arrington is tall and lanky, physically reminiscent of Tai Streets. Dutch and Manningham are smaller, dynamic players more in the mold of Breaston. Manningham, in particular, has built tremendous buzz following a pair of spectacular displays in Ohio All Star games over the summer. Each All-Star practice report from Buckeye partisans contained a muttered "we are going to regret losing Manningham." Junior Carl Tabb will also see playing time. Tabb is fast fast fast but apparently is struggling with the intricacies of route-running.
Antonio Bass didn't even make the above depth chart but was a top-50 recruit himself who Michigan insiders compare to--get this--"a bigger Breaston." Like a 6'2", 210 pound Breaston. Bass played quarterback in high school, like Breaston, so he'll probably take some time to learn the position. He also has some damage to his MCL. He may not play much but cha
nces are he'll get his feet wet this year.
Mormon to the rescue.
So that's seven wide receivers. But... there's more! Tight end Tim Massaquoi was All-Big Ten last year despite only making 18 receptions. His backup, Tyler Ecker, is almost as good as Massaquoi and will see plenty of time this year as Michigan finds creative solutions to its hole at fullback. I personally don't think Massaquoi is the best tight end in the league (give me Minnesota's Matt Spaeth), but he's up there, and so is Ecker, who has a couple of memorable catches to his credit--a critical catch in the 2003 Ohio State game and a 24-yard touchdown reception in the previously mentioned last-gasp drive where he gained the corner on a Gopher linebacker and rumbled Michigan into the lead. Redshirt freshman Mike Massey will probably get snaps as well. Freshman Carson Butler is a raw studly man-freak and will redshirt.
|Adam Stenavich||Sr.*||Adam Kraus||So.*||Ruben Riley||Jr.*||Matt Lentz||Sr.*||Jake Long||So.*|
|Mike Kolodziej||Jr.*||Leo Henige||Sr.*||Mark Bihl||Jr.*||Alex Mitchell||Fr.*||Cory Zirbel||Fr.|
|Tim MacAvoy||Fr.||Brett Gallimore||Fr.*||Grant DeBenedictis||Fr.*||Jeremy Cuilla||Fr*||Mark Ortmann||Fr.|
(note: every Michigan lineman since the beginning of time has redshirted. Just assume "redshirt" in front of all years unless "true" is specifically appended.)
Jake Long's ankle injury harshes mgoblog's summer long offensive-line buzz in a major way, but the Michigan line still appears to be neck and neck with Minnesota's and Michigan State's at the top of the conference. The duration of Long's injury is unconfirmed, but it's likely he's out for most of the year or even all of it, a shame because he's a budding star. A huge, mauling right tackle as close to the reincarnation of Jon Runyan as you're going to get, Long will be missed.
Neither of you get hurt, ok?
How badly he's missed depends heavily on junior Mike Kolodziej, who is now thrust into the spotlight. Kolodziej, aided by a house-fire that nearly killed Long, actually beat him out at the beginning of last year and started the first two games at RT before giving way. He then played LT for most of the Rose Bowl after regular starter Adam Stenavich urinated, uh, you know. Where you shouldn't. Which is most places. Kolodziej isn't the run blocker Long is but is very capable in pass protection and should provide 80-90% of what Long would.
Senior right guard Matt Lentz enters his third year as a starter. Lentz has some issues with pass protection but is an excellent run blocker.
Adam Stenavich,a candidate for the honorary Brooks Bollinger "Didn't You Graduate Eight Years Ago?" award, is the left tackle. Stenavich is entering his third year as a starter but isn't the All-American some people assume he is just because he's a longtime LT starter at Michigan. He's an above average run blocker but has major issues with high-end speed rush types like Matt Roth. Still, he's a second-team all-conference type, distinctly above average though besmirched with the one glaring weakness.
Left guard and center are still undecided. Junior Ruben Riley will definitely play one of the spots. Which one depends on who the other starter is. There are three candidates: senior Leo Henige, sophomore Adam Kraus, and freshman Alex Mitchell. Kraus is both a center and the leading candidate to win the open job. In that case Riley will remain at LG. If Henige or Mitchell wins the job, Riley will likely slide over to C. Henige has started on and off for the last few years when his fragile knees have allowed him to. Mitchell is the heir apparent to Matt Lentz but would probably be at least serviceable if pressed into service this year.
There are no experienced backup tackles but Riley was a RT until last year when he was shuffled into the starting lineup and couldn't be displaced. If another tackle injury occurs, it's likely that Riley will slide back to RT and Henige or Mitchell will draw into the lineup. Not the most comfortable situation in the world but Riley is a good player and should be all right.
Past those seven there's junior center Mark Bihl, who temporarily had the job last year before losing it in the Baas position switch. He's "competing" for the center job according to Carr and would probably be the third guy off the bench in a severe injury situation. It's anyone's guess who's after Bihl; hopefully we won't find out this year.
Offense in Summary
THERE IS NO OFFENSE LIKE THE DETROIT
OFFENSE BECAUSE THE DETROIT OFFENSE
IS PRONE TO MOVING WITH GREAT
CONSISTENCY AND NOT CEASING ITS
MOTION DESPITE ENCOURAGEMENT. BLEEP.
This is the year we find out about Terry Malone. In 2003, blessed with similar personnel, he assembled a dynamic offense that would have been undefeated rolling into bowl season but for two separate sets of special teams disasters that cost Michigan the Oregon and Iowa games. Now he has a panoply of skill position players unmatched outside of USC and a boy wonder quarterback who looks poised to sit down in front of the Michigan record book with a big eraser and a mind to do some rearranging. The offensive line should be very good--great is probably out of the question without Long--but the pieces for a deadly efficient, balanced offense are there.
Of note should be Michigan's relative imperviousness to injury. Every position group has at least one capable backup except offensive tackle, and even there Michigan has a decent contingency plan in Ruben Riley. There shouldn't be a major dropoff in production from the starters unless there is a Wrath of God/Iowa Running Back situation at a particular position group. Whereas the defense looks painfully vulnerable to injures to certain key players, the offense looks as much like Robocop as is possible in college football, though Long's injury blew off a sizeable chunk of armor.
There's a real possibility Michigan's offense will reach Sophistication Juggernaut levels this year, though they've already used one get-out-of-jail free card by pulling Kolodziej into the starting lineup. There are three keys:
- Henne. As I've mentioned before, Henne has to improve to stand still. There's every reason to expect that improvement to come; we've already seen him get most of the way. He has to maintain the performance level he achieved towards the end of the season first. Then he must improve upon it.
- Offensive Line Cohesion. The OL must work itself out and the tackles need to stay healthy. Michigan's lost the ability to just crush people off the ball and they won't regain it this year without Long, but if they can pass-protect well enough to let Henne explore his options downfield, the draw-blocking they used to great effect last year should provide for a good run game. Adding Kevin Grady will probably make them look quite a bit better on third and short, too.
Let it ride! Given the defensive disasters of yesteryear, Lloyd has to unleash the dogs on offense. Much has been made about Carr's tendency to shut down once he grabs a significant lead and let the opponent back into the game. People lambaste him for excessively conservative playcalling, a charge which has certainly been true in the past. But one thing it was in the past was logical, given the defense Carr usually had at his back. It isn't any longer. I believe that Carr realizes this and has moved to an offensive philosophy that is more open. Michigan no longer shows depressingly obvious down-and-distance tendencies. It uses a wide variety of formations and plays. It has increasingly become a passing offense. I feel a disturbance in the Force.
You are getting very sleepy,
Lloyd. You desire to drop a
hundred on Eastern, Lloyd.
My great hope is that Carr realizes he should try to score a touchdown on every drive and that the best way to do that is to let Malone do whatever the hell he wants. No "scoring too fast," no "protect the ball at all costs," no "let's leave those testicles at home, boys, no need for them on the road," just relentless Spurrier action. I think this is happening. It was hard to see last year through the haze of a freshman backfield that didn't know half the playbook, but I think that stupidest of cliches, killer instinct, may be poking his head out of his den, snuffling about, looking for his shadow. Don't scare him away, Lloyd.
Two out of three and we're blowing the doors off. This should be a top 20 offense nationally. Top 10 is not out of the question.
Continue to Part II here... if you dare!
More injuries: Redshirt freshman Grant DeBenedictis is out for the year with ACL damage. DeBenedictis is far down the depth chart. Michigan won't be affected by his loss unless something biblical happens to the OL. More directly relevant is Tim Jamison's situation. He has a sprained shoulder and will sit out the NIU game, though he expects to play against ND.
Quality Blog Work abounds. Ian from Sexy Results slams Scoop Jackson's flat ig'nant column on Jeff Kent's problems with certified nutballs Milton Bradley and Barry Bonds. Scoop thinks Kent is racist. Ian thinks Scoop is an elaborate hoax, something I have hypothesized my own self. Jay at BGS has a schizophrenic conversation with himself (and Marco) that's hilarious. Blogpoller Eagle In Atlanta got some pub in the AJC.
I went and saved the best for last: the unwieldly-named "Corporate Headquarters of the San Antonio Gunslingers" (henceforth known as "the CHQ") breaks down the announced Harris Poll votership more thoroughly than anyone, mainstream media or non-. Here it is: blizzam! There is also a comprehensive list of these voters and just who the hell they are. Stunning revelation 1A: There's a grand total of one voter with any connection to the big three in Florida, a perfect example of anti-America's Wang bias at its worst. RTWT.
Well, that's one way to set up a quality nonconference game. The owners of Bristol Motor Speedway have offered Tennessee and Virginia Tech $20 million each(AR, not worth it) to play a game on the infield. Questions abound: the track seats 170k. 40 million divided by 170k = $235.29 per seat to break even. Maybe you could get a big hunk of money from whoever ends up televising the game, but still... this seems totally unworkable. If VT backs out, can our
money-whoring fiscally minded athletic department get in on this action? We might be able to play an away game or two without seeing the stadium crumble into dust.
I know Penn State fans hate this guy, but he knows how to get on my good side. David Jones' take on the Huggins exorcism recently executed by Cincinatti ends like so:
[Huggins will land] Where he still won't have to wear a nice club tie and won't have to say all the right things. Where he won't have to be Jim Tressel.
Not that there's anything at all separating Huggins and Tressel other than a smart sweater vest and bleached teeth.
But a lot of people don't realize that, do they?
Woohaa. David Jones got you all in check. Tressel's Holtzian past at YSU seems to get glossed over more often than not. Dude is shady. (Cue Buckeye fans outraged at "ESPiN" in the comments section.)
Former Michigan forward Jerod Ward is joining the Bulls. Uh, the Yunnan Honghe Bulls of the Chinese Basketball Association. He was drafted in the third round.
I'm all for killing coachspeak but Bruce Weber might want to turn his meaningless platitude rating up. Weber on the Big Ten touring team that recently finished a five-game swing against Spanish professional teams 2-3:
Weber said he told a Big Ten representative not to call the team an "all-star" team because the talent level was uncommonly low. "At least our guys were talented and want to be players," Weber said. "But some of them- It was embarrassing."
Yow. Don't think he's referring to Michigan representative Ron Coleman, who dropped 22 in one game and was one of the team's leading scorers. It's not like he doesn't have a point--Michigan scrub extraordinare Amadou Ba was a recent rep--but you couldn't phrase that sentiment in more offensive fashion without exceeding the bounds of taste imposed by your local newspaper. Still preferable to "both teams played hard," though.
Zounds. The New York Times' prediction for national champion: Michigan, after defeating Louisville in the Rose Bowl.
Also, the Houston Chronicle has an article on the recruiting dead period text message epidemic currently going on. Bad Urban! No Pope soup for you!
So. This is what you can expect from mgoblog during football season:
Saturday: Very little. All home games and probably a couple away games will be attended, thus severely hampering blogability. There might be something late Saturday occasionally if I am around and, uh, sober. An away game against a bad opponent might get a liveblog, but the leading candidate for such an event, Northwestern, is a game I might attend. Away games against teams like Iowa and Michigan State will certainly not get a liveblog, for fairly obvious reasons.
Sunday: Also very little. I've committed myself to rewatching all games--even our 1-3 excruciating losses--the day after to attempt to get a sense of what happened and why. During this period I'll do something like a Dr. Z charting, but probably only focused on a couple key things.
Monday: A recap of the weekend's game. Probably a column type thing and then chart displaying stats and some explanation. Also the week's BlogPoll ballot.
Tuesday: BlogPoll released with some commentary. Roundtable also posted at some other BlogPoll site. Inseason roundtables will be bi-weekly and shorter, one or two questions max. I assume people will have a lot of other things to talk about during the season.
Thursday: Opponent preview, hopefully with a guest post from a blog dedicated to the opponent team. A reluctant prediction on it and several other games of consequence that I feel educated about.
Friday: A list of reasons why Michigan is better than the opponent in every conceivable way.
News will be interspersed. I fully plan on half-assing hockey coverage until football season ends; Yost Built should be your destination of choice for that. Basketball coverage will be likewise shaky. And, honestly, if they're terrible again this year I am not going to put a lot of time into it. I'm your typical awful fairweather Michigan basketball fan.
Coming up this week: Michigan preview blowout explosion! Later today: Part I of Huge Gigantor MichiPreview. Wednesday: Part II. Hopefully some time this week: a conversation between myself, Vijay from IBFC, and Joey from Straight Bangin'.
Question for readers: The "Game Thread" is sort of a thing that various blogs do with frequency. It's certainly possible that I could do a similar thing but I don't want said thing to A) be totally, embarassingly deserted or B) be full of the same sort of vicious bile Rivals messageboards often fill up with. So, would you like to see these things? Would you use them and fill them with measured bile?