add another item to the pile as to why this was a bad idea
(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?
(check out the philosophy/system behind the preview here. Also forgive this one for being somewhat less thorough... time weighs heavily on me at the moment and I figure shorting the Michigan preview is Not An Option.)
Wisconsin was the Enron of college football last year. It experienced an unprecedented stock explosion based entirely on smoke and mirrors and then imploded spectacularly at the end, leaving pissed off investors/cheeseheads wondering what happened.
Okay, okay, Wisconsin wasn't entirely built on mirrors. They had a defense that was spectacular, finishing in the top ten of every major category except rushing (scoring 6th, passing 7th, pass eff 5th, rushing 31st, total 9th). But the emphasis is on had. The entire defensive line is gone. Three quarters of the secondary is gone, including the talismanic Jim Leonhard. The linebackers... well, they're back, but they're lonely. Wisconsin's defense isn't going to plunge of a cliff, but it's not going to be a unit that can prop up an offense as terrible as Wisconsin's was last year.
So that ugly offense will have to improve significantly for the Badgers to replicate their 9-3 record from a year ago. That'll be a tough task. Anthony Davis is gone. Brian Calhoun should be an adequate replacement but there's no depth at tailback. John Stocco was awful a year ago. The offensive line has a couple good pieces but does not appear to be an intimidating unit as a whole. It would appear that the last year of Barryball is not going to be a vintage one.
Unit By Unit
Rating: 1. John Stocco was a mess last year and it would be surprising to see him make it through this year without getting in a serious quarterback controversy. I may have a distorted opinion of him due to limited viewing--Michigan did not play Wisconsin last year--but I can't understand how he's the starting quarterback of a program with a pulse. Stocco completed 52% of his passes and threw just 9 touchdowns to 7 interceptions. Wisconsin finished dead last in the Big Ten in scoring and passing offense and finished second to last in passing efficiency (the only team worse was the Penn State horror show). Nationally they were 103rd in passing and 99th in efficiency.
And the thing is, I kind of like Wisconsin's wide receivers. More on them later, but at the least they're competent. The line wasn't especially good but it wasn't especially bad, either. The reason that Wisconsin was totally impotent throwing the ball falls squarely on the shoulders of Stocco. He'll probably improve with experience, but Stocco has a long way to go. A really, really long way.
Predicting a quarterback controversy obligates one to discuss the backups. There are two. Sophomore Tyler Donovan is one of those (ugh) mobile types. He threw all of three passes last year but rushed for 117 yards on 11 carries. Redshirt freshman Bryan Savage is reputed to be more of a pocket passer. Neither had a bang-up offseason but chances are one or both will see the field at some point in the fall.
Rating: 3. Anthony Davis is gone but Colorado transfer (and Wisconsin native) Brian Calhoun is poised to step into Davis' diminutive and oft-injured but damned exciting shoes. Calhoun appears at first glance to be a lot like Davis, a slashing runner generously listed at 5'9" who has a lot of buzz but hasn't really managed to translate it to the field. Davis couldn't do it because of frequent injuries. Wisconsin has to hope desperately that Calhoun doesn't succumb to the same, because if he goes down their prospects immediately get very grim. Backup Booker Stanley is a big power back who goes down at the slightest hint of contact, a fundamentally useless runner who will give you exactly what the line gets you and no more. Last year he banged out 3 yards a carry and was replaced by fullback Matt Bernstein for long stretches of time. He's terrible.
Bernstein is an interesting player, a 270 pound fullback who became the primary ballcarrier against Penn State a year ago and pounded out over 100 yards. He's a thumping blocker and the best fullback in the Big Ten this year.
Wide Receivers & Tight Ends
Rating: 3. This is a consistently underrated group, probably because it is also consistently underutilized. Darren Charles is gone but the two starters--seniors Brandon Williams and Jonathan Orr--should be able to replace him; Charles only caught 25 passes last year. Orr burst on to the Big Ten scene a few years back as a freshman with 842 receiving yards, a Badger freshman record, but has been star-crossed to the max since then. Last year he only caught 13 passes. He needs to assert his authorita. Stocco needs all the help he can get.
Tight end Owen Daniels, a converted quarterback, is one of the more underrated players in the league. He caught 25 passes last year, averaged over 15 yards a reception, and was generally an excellent player when called upon. He isn't big enough to be a great blocker, but he's a solid collegiate tight end.
Rating: 3. A pastiche of highs and lows is the Badger line. Center Dominic Raiola and tackle Joe Thomas are both good players (Thomas is an excellent one) who are on the Lombardi watch list to open the season but there are questions at the other three spots, all manned by new starters. Two little-used fifth year seniors step into the guard positions and then there is a vast expanse of inexperience. The projected starter at right tackle, Kraig Urbik, is a redshirt freshman. There isn't a backup with a snap of playing time outside of sophomore Marcus Coleman. Any injury will very likely see true freshmen draw into the starting lineup.
Don't expect this unit to destroy anyone but the feebler defensive lines in the conference will yield to it. Pass protection might be a bit of an issue if Urbik struggles.
Rating: 2. Who knows? All four starters are gone, all were drafted into the NFL. There's good news--DTs Nick Hayden and Justin Ostrowski were a highly-sought recruits and could be stars eventually--and bad news--starting defensive end Jamal Cooper is 217 pounds; the entire line is composed of freshmen and sophomores; Ostrowski is injured and out "indefinitely." I'd be lying if I told you I could predict how effective this unit is. What I do know: like Iowa, Wisconsin is going to go through a lot of growing pains early in the season. Hayden's just a sophomore and the other DT is converted end Jason Chapman, a redshirt freshman.
The defensive ends are undersized, obviously. Cooper is lighter than some safeties. It's hard to imagine he'll be able to hold up against the run and he doesn't have Antaj Hawthorne next to him distracting linemen and longer. There's a lot of figurin' to do here, and the answers may not come until it's too late. This will be a year of major transition.
The one unit on the defense that returns relatively intact. Backup Josh Cribbs was lost because he OMG CAN'T READ, but everyone else returns. OLB Dontez Sanders is the headliner. He racked up 5.5 sacks and 10 TFLs a year ago. He's slightly undersized but is fast enough to slash past blockers and make plays in the backfield. Wisconsin's new DL will have to make sure he stays clean, though. A guy that size has a tough time shedding blocks. MLB Andy Crooks started intermittently as a freshman and is a sturdy run-stopper but has issues in pass coverage. He's not a big play guy. Strongside linebacker Mark Zalewski had 11.5 TFLs last season and is the favorite of the coaches.
A huge question mark. Three
starters depart and the returner, senior CB Brett Bell, tore his ACL in January. Bell has been a maddeningly inconsistent player to date, blessed with physical ability that made him a high-level recruit coveted by many but sometimes incapable of putting said physical ability in the right place at the right time. The ACL tear further throws his status into question. Players are notoriously slow to get right from those and Wisconsin will be leaning heavily on Bell to shut down the opponent's top receivers.
Senior Levonne Rowan, the nickelback a year ago, will start opposite Bell. Past him, however, there's almost no experience. Wisconsin will be relying on redshirt freshmen and a single sophomore, possibly far more than they would like if Bell can't get back up to speed or Rowan does not adapt to the starting role. Cornerback should be a nervous thing for Badger fans.
The safeties are both new. Walk-on superhero Jim Leonhard finally graduated and it's hard to envision the Badgers no missing him badly. Leonhard was small but an absolutely great player for the Badgers, a ballhawking, reliable, smart safety that made mgoblog compare him to Michigan safeties and thus want to cry whenever he made a big play, which was often. The new guys have all of eight tackles between them.
The theme here is massive inexperience. It's not wise to assume they'll be terrible--Alvarez has earned that, at least--but it's no wiser to think there won't be a moderate to severe dropoff here.
Rating: 2. Another place where Leonhard, who averaged 12.7 yards a punt return, will be missed. Brandon Williams was the primary kick returner a year ago, but was unthreatening. They've got to find someone, and it can't be Calhoun. Risking him in the high impact word of kick returning would be foolish when Stanley and his 3 YPC are the only replacements.
Rating: N/A. Mike Allen graduated but won't be dearly missed. It's mgoblog policy not to speculate on kickers, who are as reliable as communist teenagers.
When Wisconsin added Bowling Green to the schedule it didn't know what it was getting itself into. The Falcons have constructed a consistently strong MAC program and are coming in with an experienced quarterback who lit up every team he faced last year. This is going to be either a dogfight or a Falcon blowout. I'm leaning towards the latter. The rest of the nonconference schedule is manageable but there are two potential landmines: a game at North Carolina and a season-ending trip to Hawaii that Michigan State came home from last year seriously pissed off. There's no Timmy Chang, but the
Rainbows Rainbow Warriors Fightin' Whatevers have the sort of passing offense that will probably be effective against Wisconsin this year.
Wisconsin has the good fortune of missing Ohio State and Michigan State this year. The schedule opens with a home night game against Michigan, which has owned Barry Alvarez. If you believe the emotion of Alvarez's last year and the frenzied, drunk Madison night crowd will cause Lloyd Carr to go into a testicle-free shell, then you believe Wisconsin will stay within two touchdowns. Nothing about this Wisconsin team matches up well with the Wolverines. Two relative breathers against Indiana and Northwestern follow before a tough closing stretch versus Minnesota, Purdue, Penn State, Iowa (with a game against Illinois sandwiched somewhere in there).
Keys to the Season
Calhoun. Calhoun must prove himself a good-to-great running back and he must remain healthy or there's no telling the depths the Wisconsin offense could sink to. There's no backup. The offense line looks iffy. The passing game died about ten years ago. The defense won't be capable of bailing the Badgers out time and again like it did last year.
Dude that guy was named Erasmus. And he's gone. There is a real possibility that Wisconsin's pass defense falls off a cliff. There's an all-new defensive line, a shallow, fragile, inexperienced secondary, and no chance Wisconsin repeats its top-10 pass defense performance of a year ago. The difference between a respectable unit and a total disaster is the difference between a bowl and an ignominious season-ending loss to Hawaii, and it'll come down to how much pass rush the Badgers get. Last year they had a fabulous one--they'll need it again this year.
"Get your head out of your ass." I assume John Stocco heard that phrase or something semantically similar hundreds of times last year. It's hard to throw accurately with your head in your ass. Wisconsin is going to need radically improved quarterback play this year to compete, and none of the backups have distinguished themselves in any way. The Badgers brought in Paul Chryst specifically to improve their long-moribund passing game. He's got to play Loeffler here or the Badgers are going to be kicked in the head repeatedly.
Worst Case: Well, I've predicted it down below, basically. Wisconsin is not going to be good this year, and they open up with their wonky secondary against the wrong team in Bowling Green. There's a definite bottom tier in the Big Ten this year featuring Indiana, Illinois, newly-screwed Northwestern, and Wisconsin. Wisconsin isn't going to drop more than one of those games, and they'll win at least two out of conference. They'll be at least 4-8, cold comfort indeed.
Best Case: Calhoun stays healthy and Wisconsin puts together a typical Alvarez tank offense. The defensive line comes together quickly and the defense holds itself at a respectable level. Stocco becomes inoffensive. They're still not going to be great. There's too much inexperience and just plain badness at too many key positions for the Badgers to be much of a factor, but they could swing a 7-5 record if things come together.
mgoblog says... Wisconsin overachieved last year and is ripe for a major fall after losing the best parts of its team and returning the very questionable ones. John Stocco is one of the weakest starting quarterbacks in the Big Ten, prone to errant throws and bad decisions. Brian Calhoun will probably be pretty good but the line will have a weak spot or two and grinding, powerful touchdown drives will be few and far between. Wisconsin could live with that if Erasmus James and company were due back, but they aren't.
The Wisconsin D is due for a significant dropoff from last year, when the Badgers finished in the top ten in nearly every defensive category. Leonhard, Hawthorne, James, and Starks are all gone. Bielema and Alvarez have a history of putting together solid units, so you have to cut them some slack, but there's almost no chance the defense approaches last year's productivity in any way.
That's a recipe for disaster in this year's Big Ten, which is strong like bull. It's a recipe for disaster against Bowling Green, which has badass Omar Jacobs. Barryball's long and noble reign is probably going to end without a bowl. 5-7, 2-6 Big Ten, 8th place.
Desmond will become a permanent fixture on College Gameday this year as sort of a fourth-wheel analyst guy. I don't understand why ESPN thinks this is a good idea since his previous appearances on Gameday with Rocket "Raghib" Ismail have given me night terrors, but whatever. He can't be as bad as Mark May, the Smarminator. Also it will make for more entertainingly paranoid claims of Big Ten bias by teams nationwide.
Dear BWI Nutballs, Lyin' Lloyd Carr put Tim Massaquoi at tight end after he was asked to by none other than Tim Massaquoi:
Michigan gave him that shot. But after spring practice following his freshman year in 2001, Massaquoi, who chose U-M because of the success enjoyed by receivers such as Anthony Carter, Desmond Howard and Derrick Alexander, decided that the talent level at receiver was too great. He dropped by coach Lloyd Carr's office and proposed the move to tight end.
More on Massaquoi in today's News.
Also in the News, Angelique Chengelis displays the real bias of journalists:
Q. What has been the biggest disappointment for Michigan so far during this preseason?
A: No quarterback controversy. Who doesn't love one of those?
ME. Good God, woman, don't you remember the Henson-Brady days?
Leon Hall has snatched the pebble says MLive. Money quote:
"Before, I had goals set, but I didn't go after them so much.''
Deshawn Sims is well regarded by some dude at Scout, checking in at #11 in the country. Now if we could just get a point guard and a tall reboundy guy.
Rumors are circulating that the Pistons might break up their starting five by trading Rasheed Wallace to the Chicago Bulls for center Tyson Chandler and forward Andres Nocioni.
I have just found out on PistonsTalk.com that this rumor was made up by a 16 year old kid who regularly posts on there...
His name is Jayborne23...
Looks like Jayborne's rumor has come full circle lol.
Some of us should be getting paid by these journalists for the stuff we come up with...they just re-word posts and then print it as coming from a 'league source' :P
Jayborne23 posted on 8/23/2005 9:53:28 PM
HOLY S***, WAS I RIGHT?
Is Sheed for Chandler and Nocioni a real deal? Cause I sincerely made that s*** up. That hoopsworld article mentioned it. WHAT THE F***?
I just talked to one of my NBA sources. He said the Sheed-Chandler trade has not been discussed by the two teams. It won't happen. Sorry to get you so excited.
Ya fue desmentido, aparentemente fue un rumor iniciado por un pibe de 16 aÃ±os.
Did Anyone Die After Latest Pistons Rumor?
Let me see. What harm did writing the rumor cause?
Did someone jump off a building?
Did the Pistons shut down?
Did Rasheed Wallace read the blog and run into hiding?
No. None of this happened. What happened is some of you liked the rumored trade and debated it. And some of you did not.
I hardly think society has been altered.
The good news is this web blog [sic] is getting read. I know it has been quoted in [sic] other web sites, Tigers General Manager Dave Dombrowski is not thrilled with some of the stuff in here and geeks from around the country have used it to peddle female products and medicine to make you more user friendly to your women.
In the future if some of you are too stupid to differentiate between rumor and fact, then just turn the page.
There are some interesting posts on "GetALife.blogspot.com [sic]
Emphasis mine. I think PistonsTalk said it best: