in town for free camps
Coverage is irrelevant. [Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog]
There was Devin Funchess, galloping through and leaping over the Appalachian State secondary. There were Derrick Green and De'Veon Smith, bursting through holes opened up by Ben Braden and Kyle Kalis. There was Devin Gardner, completing all but one pass. There was Dennis Norfleet, catching bubble screens and darting past defenders.
There was offense, making sense at last.
Sure, Michigan's 560 yards on 55 plays came against an Appalachian State team that went 4-8 as an FCS program in 2013, but the coherence and explosiveness of Doug Nussmeier's offense proved undeniable. Funchess more than earned his new #1 jersey, scoring on three of his seven receptions, including a spectacular leaping grab over two defenders in the back of the end zone. Gardner had no difficulty finding open receivers, connecting on 12/13 passes for 173 yards and those three TDs to Funchess before giving way to Shane Morris in the third quarter as the blowout continued unabated.
Green (15 carries, 170 yards, 1 TD) and Smith (8, 115, 2) became the first pair of Michigan running backs to crack the century mark in the same game since Carlos Brown and Brandon Minor accomplished the feat against a hapless Minnesota team in 2007. They found running room. This was to be expected against an undersized, overmatched ASU squad, but this was not to be expected because last year happened. The offensive line held their ground and then some, giving up just one sack and paving the way for 350 yards on 36 carries.
The production excited, but more than that it was the fashion in which Michigan got that production. Screens to Funchess and Norfleet* opened up both the running game and downfield passing. The emphasis on inside zone allowed the line to find their rhythm; after some early stuffed runs, they started opening up big creases, especially when Kalis entered the game at right guard in place of starter Joey Burzynski. Michigan got explosive plays—ten of their first 30 went for ten yards or more—and also showed that they could move the ball methodically; the first scoring drive, capped by a nine-yard touchdown to Funchess, covered 63 yards in nine plays.
De'Veon Smith displayed power and balance on his way to 115 rushing yards. [Fuller]
On the other side of the ball, the defense played up to their lofty expectations, forcing punts on each of ASU's first seven drives, including five three-and-outs. 171 of the Mountaineers' 280 total yards came on two second-half drives with the game well out of reach, as Greg Mattison liberally rotated through defenders. They came through on their promise to be more aggressive, playing lots of tight man coverage and putting ASU QB Kam Bryant under consistent pressure—Michigan's two sacks and four QB hurries don't tell the whole story.
The special teams even managed to chip in a scoring play, as Ben Gedeon caught a punt blocked by Mike McCray and managed to extend the ball just past the pylon to put U-M up 35-0 just prior to halftime.
Only two things came up as real concerns during the game. Jabrill Peppers missed the second half with an ankle injury; Brady Hoke confirmed after the game that his absence was precautionary, and he'll be back on the field next week for Notre Dame. Meanwhile, Jake Ryan looked uncomfortable at times at middle linebacker, getting overaggressive on run defense and allowing a big gain through the air when he didn't get enough depth on a zone drop. If your biggest defensive concern is Jake Ryan, however, your defense is in a very good place.
"We weren't competing against the score, we were competing against our abilities," Hoke said. At the very least, Michigan showed their ability to dominate inferior competition. They certainly drew up the blueprint for how they'd like this team to operate the rest of the year, too. Next week, we'll learn a lot more about just how far they've come.
For now, it's nice to sit back and enjoy a stress-free Saturday.
*Or "Little Fleetwood" as Hoke (accidentally?) called him in the postgame presser.
Game preview by Ace:
Forecast by MGoSoftball's daugter: Isolated showers are possible but not likely until about 4pm. Then they become more likely after 4pm. The kickoff temeperature 77F and 3pm temperature 81F
As always, the Liveblog Chaos Mitigation Post is your friend. Set to go at 11:30 AM.
by Nick RouMel
Bo was dead. Brandon was quite sure of that. The Wolverine coaching legend died in 2006, just before #2 Michigan was to play #1 Ohio State. They lost that game en route to a post-Bo record of 50-41.
Brandon was trying to fix that. He had done everything, from restricting student seating to proposing fireworks. Yet here his team stood, on the brink of what might be another mediocre season.
And there Bo stood. The Bo statue, that is, at the newly renovated Schembechler Hall. Brandon liked to come here, to gain wisdom from his mentor, when he was in crisis.
Bo had never moved before. Not his statue, anyway. Brandon squinted. Perhaps he was just tired. Kickoff for the Appalachian State game was less than twelve hours away, and Brandon’d had a long week. He rubbed his eyes and turned towards his car, to go home.
“Brandon! Drop and give me twenty!” It must have been Nussmeier. He was a cutup, that guy. Thought he’d be a studious type, but when he showed up for his first meeting in an Al Borges mask, they knew he was a joker.
Brandon turned and froze. It was not Nussmeier, but Bo who stood before him. “Let’s take a walk, Brandon.” Brandon had no choice.
It seemed as if the walk to the stadium took hours. It was daylight when they reached the tunnel. Brandon was compelled to run, and was surprised to burst onto the field to a deafening roar. Michigan Stadium was filled, and Brandon was bewildered.
“Where are the flyovers, Coach? The big video screens? How will people be able to watch the game - or see Beyoncé?” Brandon’s eyes fixed on the student section. He saw happy young people streaming in with friends, choosing their seats. Some were carrying quarter kegs with game tickets taped to them.
Brandon wheeled to Bo, and gasped. “They’re sitting where they want?!!!!”
Bo wasn’t there. He was on the sideline, barking at #85.
Brandon smiled at the memory. He had come out of South Lyon High School as a quarterback, but in three years under Bo, he played only a few minutes of one game as a defensive end. He once said, “It was the best thing that ever happened to me. I was the hot-shot kid coming out of high school with nine varsity letters, and I learned that didn't count for very much.” Bo’s defenses gave up a mere 83, 57, and 68 points in Brandon’s three years with the team.
“The team.” Bo jarred Brandon from his reverie, reminding him: “It wasn’t about you. Or anyone else. It was only ‘the team, the team, the team.’”
“Why do you say it three times?” Brandon asked. But the ghost was gone.
Brandon awoke. Had he dreamed? He remembered a football game, a glorious win, and Bo was carried off the field. The scene abruptly changed. There was a tiny college, that came to the Big House without fear. They blocked a field goal, and won. They beat the storied Wolverines. It was called, simply, “The Horror.” Brandon smiled. Wouldn’t it be nice to have people remember that again? He showered, dressed, put on his suit and tie, and whistled “The Victors.” It was game day.
There was no such thing as ghosts - and Bo was indeed dead. Brandon was certain of these things. Yet for some reason, he felt a chill as the jets roared over the stadium.
APPALACHIAN STATE 30, MICHIGAN 28
By Heiko Yang
It was a dark and stormy night, the best of times and the worst of times … and uh … beware the ides of March, quoth the Raven … Rosebud.
Sorry Nick, I can’t do it. You win. Except for the part where you predict a Michigan loss, which I will get to in a moment.
But first, hello! It’s good to be back. I took a hiatus from the blog after last season to defend my thesis and then start clinical rotations, but I am so happy that it’s finally football season again and that I get to continue writing a weekly Punt (or Counterpunt, because Nick is an overachiever and finished his creepypasta like a month ago because he’s weird). Third year of medical school has been both mentally and physically draining, and I’ve been looking forward to having something to look forward to, if you know what I mean.
It is a little weird being a fan again. Not that I haven’t rooted for Michigan since the beginning, but for the last three years I’ve been watching Michigan games from the press box and following the team as a member of the media -- someone who is more or less in the know but not encouraged to emote about things for fear of being unprofessional. The way I dealt with this was with wry humor: whenever something good happened, I laughed. Whenever something bad happened, I laughed. And when Michigan State happened last year, Ace and I sat in a car in East Lansing and had an inebriated contest to see who could come up with the saddest song ever. Anyway, there was never any cheering or booing in the press box, but by golly was there a lot of laughter.
I’m glad I don’t have to do that anymore. As a fan, and as a student, I finally get to wear one of those yellow t-shirts I got many years ago and show up to today’s game 15 minutes late and then cheer freely with all my friends in section twenty-whatever. I think I’ve missed this experience more than I know, because I don’t think there is anything more cathartic than yelling opinions like an idiot at people who can’t hear you.
Well, nothing except putting your opinions on the internet. So here are my opinions for today:
The offensive line will be fine. They will be limited all season by size and experience issues, but playcalling will put them in a position to succeed, and they will be no worse than a middling Big Ten offensive line.
I’m more excited to see Jehu Chesson and Freddy Canteen than I am Amara Darboh and Dennis Norfleet. This is not a knock on Darboh or Norfleet, I just have this feeling that Chesson and Canteen will be bigger playmakers from people who have been privy to Michigan’s practices.
Devin Gardner is going to be rusty. It’s to be expected for a guy working with a new O-line, playbook, and playcaller. And coming off a broken foot. He will be throwing the ball away more often than not. But here’s a bold prediction: his first past of the season won’t be an interception, like what happened last year.
I’d like to see if Greg Mattison switches between “over” and “under” defense. Michigan could easily accomplish this while leaving the same players on the field, and it would be an interesting wrinkle for teams preparing for primarily an “over” look.
Brennen Beyer is going to get a sack before Frank Clark does.
I wasn’t here for the HORROR pt 1, so I feel like I can say this freely without feeling like a kid who just said “bloody mary” five times in the bathroom at a slumber party: Michigan is going to win easily because of sheer athleticism and being mentally prepared to quickly stomp out any sign of … hey why did it get so chilly in here all of a sudden?
Sorry, I digress. A couple more opinions: Adam has been doing a fantastic job with the press conference duties. Keep it up, man! (But try not to get carpal tunnel!) Oh, and I miss Al.
Appalachian State 6, Michigan 42
Hello. You have made it to the end. This year's edition checks in at 43,424 words.
Memories Of Butter. Let's punch a cow until it gives us butter, because it's hard to remember the right way to do it.
Quarterback. Protect this man for great profit.
Running back. Emerge from the swamp and claim your birthright.
Wide Receiver. I will not compare Devin Funchess to Megatron… okay maybe just a little.
Tight End And Friends. Waiting for Budot.
Offensive Line. The catch.
5Q5A, Offense. The madness of last year and leaving it behind.
Defensive End. Secret Agent Clark is the key to the whole thing.
Defensive Tackle. We have the meat. We have the ogre. Unleash the meatogre.
Linebacker. Four starters for two and a half spots. I like 'em both.
Cornerback. In ur face jammin ur doodz
Safety. In this solitary case, Nickelback does not suck.
5Q5A, Defense. Making the case that this is the year to kick ass.
Special Teams. Hagerup leg cannon returns.
Podcast 6.0. We may still be recording this, it's that long.
Heuristics and Stupid Prediction. I say 9-3.
THE HORROR II
Previewed by Ace.
One of my favorite annual pieces is always Orson's season kickoff post. He outdid himself this year. I had the fortune to read it in my feed reader, which meant the GIFs embedded in the post just ran; on SBN their normally very wise GIF-handling software only runs them when you mouseover the image. This is unfortunate, as the gifs give the piece a wonderfully haunted air.
I wasn't really prepared for the last one.
I know I've been pissed off you guys about the increasingly aggressive moneychangers in the temple, but goddamn that is heartstopping. I want to go there again. I want to see the mountains in the background as the sun sets in the third quarter and feel that awe and privilege that this place exists and I have a reason to be here.
And now I feel like there is still something sacred out there, and that is why we all gravitated to this thing in the first place. The bowl goes up and up and it is just impossibly full of people. The thing in front of us is happening right now and I will remember this as glory or death until I've forgotten my own name. The thing is still in there. You just have to look a little harder these days. Rummage around. You'll find it.
Previously: Podcast 6.0. The Story. Quarterback. Running back. Wide Receiver. Tight End And Friends. Offensive Line. Defensive End. Defensive Tackle. Linebacker. Cornerback. Safety. Special Teams. Five Questions and Five Answers, Offense. 5Q5A, Defense.
The theory of turnover margin: it is pretty random. Teams that find themselves at one end or the other at the end of the year are likely to rebound towards the average. So teams towards the top will tend to be overrated and vice versa. Nonrandom factors to evaluate: quarterback experience, quarterback pressure applied and received, and odd running backs like Mike Hart who just don't fumble.
|Year||Margin||Int +||Fumb +||Sacks +||Int -||Fumb -||Sacks -|
|2007||0.15 (41st)||14||15||2.46(33rd)||14||13||2.17 (67th)|
|2008||-.83 (104th)||9||11||2.42(33rd)||12||18||1.83 (57th)|
|2009||-1.00 (115th)||11||5||1.83(68th)||15||13||2.33 (83rd)|
|2011||+0.54 (25th)||9||20||2.31 (29th)||16||6||1.38 (33rd)|
|2012||-0.69 (99th)||7||11||1.69 (69th)||19||8||1.38 (28th)|
|2013||+0.38(33rd)||17||9||1.9 (64th)||13||8||2.77 (109th)|
Michigan did very well in this category considering that sacks allowed number. Pressure equals turnovers, and Michigan suffered all of the pressure last year. Their INT rate dropped significantly despite that, though a big part of that was five picks on 22 attempts by Russell Bellomy and Vincent Smith that did not repeat.
Michigan's interceptions were largely built on the craft and ability of their corners, who return and are being pushed hard from behind. Pass rush should improve with a season of a healthy Jake Ryan and both defensive ends coming back; Michigan gets its QB back for his senior year; the line… welp. The line.
If Michigan can pass protect reasonably well they should expect to be on the positive side of this ledger, perhaps significantly. If they can't…
Position Switch Starters
Theory of position switches: if you are starting or considering starting a guy who was playing somewhere else a year ago, that position is in trouble. There are degrees of this. When Notre Dame moved Travis Thomas, a useful backup at tailback, to linebacker and then declared him a starter, there was no way that could end well. Wisconsin's flip of LB Travis Beckum to tight end was less ominous because Wisconsin had a solid linebacking corps and Beckum hadn't established himself on that side of the ball. Michigan flipping Prescott Burgess from SLB to WLB or PSU moving Dan Connor inside don't register here: we're talking major moves that indicate a serious lack somewhere.
Things that already happened like Funchess to WR, Brennen Beyer to DE, Braden to tackle, Magnuson to guard. Fret level: these already happened.
Various small moves associated with the change to an over defense. Fret level: minor. Michigan played a lot of over fronts last year and Brennen Beyer will be more comfortable in that front; the minor differences between WLB in an under and SAM in an over shouldn't be a problem for James Ross.
SAM Jake Ryan moves to MLB because over front. Fret level: moderate. It is a big change for a guy who was a terrific player at a spot Michigan no longer really has, and I worry it'll blunt his effectiveness.
SDE Keith Heitzman moves to TE because need blocking. Fret level: moderate. It makes sense because Michigan needs blocking desperately at TE and Heitzman was surplus to requirements at DE. I am just fretting because this reminds me about the TE blocking.
MLB Desmond Morgan to both ILB spots because Joe Bolden. Fret level: zero.
And that's it. Very stable. Shortest this section has been in a long, long time.
An Embarrassing Prediction, No Doubt
Worst Case Barring Extreme Injury Scenarios
The offensive line is a pile of doom that takes the offense down with it as Michigan experiences a near-replay of last year: Gardner does stuff to win games by himself sometimes, there is a star receiver, real defenses turn Michigan's rushing offense off. The defense is still better than last year, deeper and less prone to collapse against… uh, the best rushing offense in the country. Michigan gets swept in their three road rivalry games, drops the Penn State game at home, and loses another game somewhere on the schedule to finish 7-5.
The offensive line holds up okay, giving Michigan a functional rushing game that develops as the season goes along. One of the backs stepping up helps this a lot; the receiving corps is great; Gardner still gets put in too many long-yardage scenarios for the offense to be great.
The defense is lights out. Michigan beats up a depleted Notre Dame team in game two, sweeps the home schedule, beats a freshman JT Barrett in Columbus, and still loses to MSU to finish 11-1.
This will be a significant step forward for both units. That will not get the offense to anything better than tolerable except for two games in which Gardner and Funchess go nuts. The defense should be very good… at worst. This is put up or shut up time for those guys.
With special teams looking fine to good, the main issue is the schedule. It's tough to lose five games with it and tough to win ten. It is a lot easier now that Braxton Miller doesn't lurk at the end of the year, Northwestern is losing critical players weekly, and there is a possibility that Notre Dame will be down a number of players from an already wonky-looking defense, but it feels like there are a couple games in there that the offense will clunk away.
|8/30||Horror II||Must win|
|9/6||@ Notre Dame||Tossup|
|9/20||Utah||Lean to win|
|10/4||@ Rutgers||Must win|
|10/11||Penn State||Lean to win|
|10/25||@ MSU||Probable loss|
|11/1||Indiana||Lean to win|
|11/8||@ Northwestern||Lean to win|
|11/30||@ Ohio State||Lean to loss|
Wisconsin, Illinois, Purdue, Iowa, Nebraska
I've got 9-3. Before the Miller injury I would have said 8-4 was more likely than 10-2, but now… I think 9-3.
Previously: Podcast 6.0. The Story. Quarterback. Running back. Wide Receiver. Tight End And Friends. Offensive Line. Defensive End. Defensive Tackle. Linebacker. Cornerback. Safety. Special Teams. Five Questions and Five Answers, Offense.
1. CAN WE BE AGGRESSIVE MAN I JUST HAD EIGHT RED BULLS AND I'M FEELING RATHER AGGRESSIVE
I think so! I mean, if they're not radically changing their approach to defense they're doing the best job ever of faking it. They have been in the grill of receivers at the spring scrimmage, at both fall scrimmages, in the practices our insider got to check out, and at the coaching clinic. Either they've wasted a lot of time or the passivity we saw last year is out the window.
“We have a new scheme and a lot of in your face coverage … With this new style of play, let’s ball and see what we got. …
“Last year we were a little bit conservative," he said. "We have talent... let’s use it. You put your best against our best and let’s ride out -- lets go get it. That is the mindset that our coaches have instilled in us for this season. Our practices are more intense -- we go hard, we go faster, and our coaches are really pushing us more. It is not just for the starters but for the backups as well -- everyone is getting pushed and that is what we like about it."
This is not a situation where this is meaningless blather from a new defensive coordinator before he knows what he's got. Mattison knows his personnel and this is what he thinks they'll be best at. It's happening.
The upshot: a lot of man coverage, more man blitzes, many fewer cushions, and a lot of pressure both ways. This is in part a reaction to Michigan State's success with an aggressive, handsy secondary, and it will draw flags. Mattison:
We want to be so physical that it is going to happen… you’re going to get a penalty. That’s going to happen. As I mentioned, I think Coach Nussmeier… I think they might have thrown the ball 200 and some snaps this spring. We have officials every practice. I think in the spring we had a total of 20 interference penalties. …
An official calls (interference how many times?) Is he is going to call seven, eight, or nine times? It never happens. We would never let you do that. So why not be aggressive? The only reason you wouldn’t is if you’re worried about well, the coach may get mad at me if I get a penalty. You’re not going to be disappointed with the young man unless he did a stupid thing when he didn’t need to do it.
Michigan took some silly ones in both the spring and fall scrimmages, something that has been expressly tolerated so far. When the live bullets start flying that may not be so easy to let fly—some of the flags were completely unnecessary.
So it will be a work in progress. It is still a terribly exciting idea. We're coming at you.
[After THE JUMP: is this it? Is this the leap?]