in town for free camps
1. It can't get any worse, can it?
It can always, always get worse.
1A. But it's not likely to, right?
good night sweet prince [Heiko Yang]
No, it's not. Yes, even though Michigan lost both starting tackles to the NFL. It takes a special kind of panicked incompetence to end up with results like last year's Michigan. Al Borges's final D-I offense ran outside zone, then it ran power, and then it ran inside zone. It heaped all of the possible base plays you can run on an offensive line that had zero upperclassmen on the interior. It wasted essentially a month of practice time on the "tackle over" gimmick that was ruthlessly exposed by the first opponent that knew it was coming.
Michigan had 13 plays on which a tackle lined up next to another tackle. These plays were 11 runs that gained 8 yards (more than all of them on Toussaint's long run of the day, a 12-yarder), a seven-yard sack given up by Williams, and a scramble that gained eight yards. That is the product of three weeks of practice time and the futility there was only stopped by Lewan's injury.
Many of these plays could not be blocked by anybody, because Penn State was so aggressively overplaying run that they were in the gaps before Michigan could do anything about it.
Three guys for two blockers with the WLB meeting Bryant a yard in the backfield. If Kalis tries to pursue #40, the MLB, he blocks no one instead of an irrelevant guy. On second and one, a great PA down that a lot of DCs will just give you.
They got to the line of scrimmage with under ten seconds on the clock most of the time.
GET OUT OF THE HUDDLE.
Yes. In addition to all the things previously discussed, Michigan's offensive line is looking at Gardner with two seconds on the playclock. Michigan snaps it with zero already showing—probably not actually a penalty because there is a natural delay before the ump looks at the ball to see if it's still there—and slides their line against a four man rush with no tailback to pick up the DE:
That turnover is a tangible cost of Michigan's inability to get to the line with 20 seconds on the clock consistently.
It moved linemen around almost literally every game after the first four. It was dumb.
How did this happen to a guy who was rather successful at San Diego State? Panic strangled reason in multiple ways. Michigan is stuck on this picture of itself as its 1990s self, and Al Borges was openly contemptuous of the spread both in press conferences and off the record (not to me, but to multiple people who covered the program over the last few years).
So they played a tight end who couldn't block. I'm not talking about Devin Funchess, who was eventually thrust outside. I'm talking about AJ Williams, who had one catch for two yards a year ago and was no better at blocking than Funchess. They had to know this. It jumped off the screen to me, an amateur. But instead of doing something about it they just kept plugging along with him on the field, to the point where people trying to evaluate Taylor Lewan got frustrated:
…why in the HELL did Michigan keep a tight end to Lewan's side so damn much? He obviously didn't need the help. The quarterback was right-handed anyway (with bootlegs you like for the tight end to be lined up to the side of the quarterback's throwing hand), and they could have potentially had a wide receiver there instead of a tight end. It would've increased the chances of success on passing downs as well as run downs if you get the opposing defenses to spread themselves out. But is that what Michigan did?
Here is the scenario I saw time and time again. So you have a tight end helping before he goes out into his route. Lewan, who doesn't need the help any damn way, blocks the hell out of the edge rusher. But the rest of Lewan's buddies on the Michigan O-line aren't quite as, well, good as he is, so the quarterback is under pressure and ends up sacked.
I mean. This is a guy who said he "didn't want to get in a chess match" last year. They're playing chess anyway, man. If you want to try to win with checkers, you're gonna have a bad time. Yes, even if you've got 75 different colors. The full results were detailed after Borges's firing. It just did not work.
[After THE JUMP: Nussmeier the savior(?), offensive line the achilles heel, Gardner the legend(?), stupid predictions.]
…more day till the scrimmage that's a week till football [SI]
21 versus 1. Three weeks before the season is when I start getting amped. Three weeks is that it-doesn't-feel-that-far spot when you realize you have that thing this weekend, and you get next weekend, and after that the weeks have numbers.
I had this question posed last night: Who's the most exciting player you've ever watched?. Obvious first candidate was Denard. Then the people old enough to remember Carter were like "It's Anthony Carter hands down!" Nobody bothered to listen to my feelingsball about when you'd scan a Grbac ball's trajectory, hoping, and then you'd see it was in fact Desmond, and that moment you realized you are once again about to be treated to things that happen when Desmond Howard interacts with a football. No, I am told: that was AC. With 21 you feel it coming; when it's 1 you can almost touch it.
Playing time. HELLO to a 10-pound baby-in-South-Bend (not actually in South Bend). Bry_Mac's (2nd) kid joins mine, Fuller's, and Schnepp's to round out MGoBlog's huge 2014 class. That should close out the year in MGoOffspring.
Tickets are going cheap. You may have noticed a slight reorganization of the menu bar this week:
We're partnering with TiqIQ this year. They're an aggregator so they'll pull listings from a bunch of secondary markets plus direct from the box office. The current schedule will link to tix. The nice part about them is they have a free, Facebook-based fan exchange (SellerDirect) we can incorporate into the spreadsheet. Hopefully that should clear up some of the security problems the open google doc had. Right now the App State tix are going for $27; the Miami (NTM) are $23 and Maryland is $30. #thisseasonman.
2013 in Gifs. Drkboard is now Red_Lee. Last year he was giving us a spectacular gif per game until everyone switched those off, and those are collected in one diary. Along with, well… Well since the point has already been made and bandied about how the fanbase feels about the AD we've been making a conscious effort to save the griping for gripes. Also the free, open scrimmage a few weeks ago was very appreciated by the hardcore fans who attended, despite the abandoned attempt to get people to register for it. We're trying to be good, but you know what: it's the day before an opening game that only an insane person would schedule, and the gif guy makes it so easy to be bad! Compromise: it's after [the jump].
|Kicker||Yr||Punter||Yr||Kickoffs||Yr||Punt return||Yr||Kick return||Yr|
|Matt Wile||Sr||Will Hagerup||Sr*||Kenny Allen||So*||Jabrill Peppers||Fr||Dennis Norfleet||Jr|
|Alex Mitropoulos-Rundus||Jr*||Kenny Allen||So*||Matt Wile||Sr||Dennis Norfleet||Jr||Raymon Taylor||Sr|
MATT WILE finally ascends to the starting job at kicker after a patient three-year apprenticeship while filling in at punter and kickoff specialist. We have very little to go on when it comes to field goals; he's spent the last couple years as the long-range specialist, hitting 50% from ranges such as 48, 49, and 52 before hitting a couple chip shots in the bowl game.
Kickers are weird and I can't predict kickers, because you can't predict molecules of air. That said, Wile will probably be fine. He's done a lot of kicking-type activities that didn't include field goals over the course of his time at Michigan and he's been consistently effective. Once you get past the bare physical minimums, consistency is your watchword and lifeblood; Wile has that. As the kickoff guy last year he eschewed blasting 'em through the endzone, instead trying to leave them high, short, and to one sideline. That ended up not being a great idea, but it wasn't because of Wile. That effort speaks well to his ability to put footballs in specific places after they come off his foot and is the closest thing to analysis you can get for a kicker no one has seen.
This section very well could have been "dunno; is kicker," I know. He should be fine to very good. But is kicker, dunno.
Unlike last year, Michigan is short on options after Wile. JJ McGrath transferred to Mississippi State this offseason, leaving previously obscure walk-on ALEX MITROPOULUS-RUNDUS as the second option. He was not real good in the closed spring scrimmage; when they brought him out to kick a few field goals he missed a bunch in a row. It got to the point that when he hit one it felt like a bronx cheer erupted from the rest of the team. Viva Wile.
[After THE JUMP: Norfleet! Peppers! I hope they matter!]
As is MGoTradition, I'm writing the preview for the opener instead of Brian, who's probably
cackling with glee that he won't be blamed for any potential jinx in recovery from crippling carpal tunnel after typing up tens of thousands of words previewing this season. We'll be on our normal schedule, with Brian taking care of the preview, next week.
|WHAT||Michigan vs Appalachian State|
Ann Arbor, MI
August 30th, 2014
|THE LINE||M –34.5|
PBP: Beth Mowins
Analyst: Joey Galloway
|TICKETS||Still available for the low, low price of $27|
|WEATHER||mid to high 80s, windy, possible T-storms, 80% chance of rain|
Right: Appalachian State's new alternate logo is very, uh, Appalachian? Also very MS Paint. Also named Victory Yosef, which is just wonderful.
This is not a vintage Jerry Moore, FCS-title-contending Appalachian State squad, for a couple reasons. The legendary Moore is no longer ASU's coach—he retired after the 2012 season and was replaced by former Mountaineer quarterback Scott Satterfield. More importantly, ASU just wasn't very good in 2013, going 4-8 (4-4 Southern Conference) as a member of the FCS and losing 45-6 to a Georgia squad that had lost much of their offensive weaponry.
Now they've joined the Sun Belt, moving up to FBS play, and their radio announcer is looking for them to be competitive... in 2015:
App State announcer David Jackson on U-M radio show said 2015 is the year the Mountaineers should compete in all weeks in FBS level.
— Mark Snyder (@Mark__Snyder) August 27, 2014
Cripes, I'm deathly afraid to say anything here. You sure you don't want to take this one, Brian? No? Well, here goes nothing...
Run Offense vs ASU
Starting at nose tackle, a small bear.
ASU transitioned to a 3-4 defense last season, and the results weren't pretty up front. The Mountaineers ceded over 220 rushing yards per game at an even 5.0 YPC—and they actually fared marginally better against Georgia (127 yards on 4.2 YPC) than they did against their FCS brethren. Heading into this season they have to replace their most disruptive run defender, DE Adam Scott (NTAS), who led the team with 8.5 TFLs in 2013.
Only two players among the starting front seven on this year's depth chart finished the 2013 season as a starter—DE Deuce Robinson and ILB John Law—and ASU's two leading tacklers are gone. After injuries forced their hand, 330-pound behemoth Tyson Fernandez (pictured above) made a late-season switch from guard to nose tackle, started two of the final four games there, and now sits atop the two-deep (apologies, two-deep).
In addition to lacking experience and production, the front seven is quite undersized for a team running a 3-4 defense. Here are their listed starters up front:
- DE Deuce Robinson: 6'5", 260 lbs.
- NT Tyson Fernandez: 6'2", 330 (the obvious exception here)
- DE Ronald Blair: 6'4", 275
- OLB Kennan Gilchrist: 6'2", 210
- ILB John Law: 6'2", 235
- ILB Brandon McGowan: 6'2", 235
- OLB Kevin Walton: 6'0" 185 OR OLB Rashaad Townes (6'2", 205)
That is not a large group, especially on the edges—Walton is actually a converted safety. Simply put, if Michigan has trouble establishing the run against these guys, it will be a long season.
Key Matchup: Center Jack Miller vs. Fernandez. While Miller's had his issues executing his assignment, what's held him back most in his college career has been his size/strength. If he can hold up against a 330-pounder, that would ease some concerns about his ability to hold that job once Graham Glasgow returns to action.
[Hit THE JUMP for a totally reasonable prediction accompanied by totally reasonable, paralyzing fear.]
|Free Safety||Yr.||Strong Safety||Yr.||Nickelback||Yr.|
|Jarrod Wilson||Jr.||Delano Hill||So.*||Jabrill Peppers||So.*|
|Jeremy Clark||So.*||Dymonte Thomas||So.||Blake Countess||Jr.*|
|Reon Dawson||Fr.*||Brandon Watson||Fr.||Dymonte Thomas||So.|
[* = player has taken redshirt. # = walk-on]
So, JARROD WILSON…
Okay, okay, Jarrod Wilson after the jump. Now…
ok, you're out of shoes, right
I've been talking about hybrid space players for years now, projecting that Michigan would acquire one of these important gentlemen since about a year after that, and resigning myself to yet another repurposed 5'9" corner four games into every season since. Two years ago:
The thing that kept me from playing nickel a lot last year – the nickel has to be able to blitz. He has to be able to change the math … some guys can blitz and some can’t.
Michigan didn't have that guy, and their defense was solid, but conservative.
Now… now Michigan has a hybrid space player. Sound the trumpets. Unfurl the banners. Roll the carpet forth unto the unworthy ground so that our prince can walk upon maize and blue! Fetch… fetch the Woodson comparison. Yes, from the vaults.
ATTACK OF THE CLONES [Fuller]
And so forth and so on. As to why Michigan is deploying its most hyped recruit ever at a spot historically reserved for a not-quite-starting cornerback on passing downs, let's revisit last year's preview:
The ideal nickelback is a corner/safety/linebacker hybrid who can cover slot receivers, blitz like a mofo, and fend off blockers to make tackles in space, and in the increasingly spread-oriented world of football they are essentially starters. This does not just apply to college football:
NFL offenses are identifying the nickel corner as a key part of any defense. “This varies from defense to defense, but the amount of your sub package that you play nowadays — because we’re seeing more three wide receivers on the field — your inside player is going to play as many, if not more plays,” Capers says. “You could be in some form of your sub defense two-thirds [of the time].” The number Hayward throws out is 75 percent; Whitt says 80. No matter the math, the point is that the nickel cornerback is as much a “starter” as any other spot in the defensive backfield.
The QED here: that's an article on second-year player Casey Hayward, who replaced Charles friggin' Woodson as the Packers' nickel. In his time at that spot, Woodson picked up a Defensive Player of the Year award. The best nickels double as outside corners when teams are in a base package; others are just really important fifth defensive backs.
SI followed that Grantland article up with one this year asserting that the nickelback has risen in prominence as the NFL's "key battles move to the slot":
Teams ran base (with four defensive backs) 48 percent of the time in 2011, 45 percent in '12 and 40 percent in '13. Nickel sets increased from 40 to 44 to 49 percent over that same three-year span.
College is gradually following a similar pattern. One of the main reasons Michigan is moving to the over defense is that they were in it like half the time last year anyway, because that's how you have to respond to spread offenses. However, the motivations are somewhat different. In college if you get spread out there's a better than even chance they are spreading to run, an innovation still mostly on the sidelines in a league where you can pick the 30 most accurate passers in the world and whoever the Browns have this year.
But the idea remains the same: triple threat.
"To play nickel now? I think it's really hard. You have to play the two-way go [option routes in which the receiver can turn inside or outside based on coverage] inside the numbers, you have to be able to tackle, and you have to be able to blitz. And blitz is a technique, just like playing man-to-man or running routes. You need practice at that. You can't run in there straight up and down like a pencil, or you'll get decapitated. Because as the nickel, sometimes you blitz, and the tackle is set up on you. How do you beat him? You've got to get him back on his heels -- you set him up, almost like a basketball player driving to the hole.
You have to cover, you have to play the run, and you have to murder the quarterback. Come on down, JABRILL PEPPERS [recruiting profile].
Since Peppers is a true freshman, and since he is Jabrill Peppers, I can't tell you anything you don't already know if you've read that profile. Selected, mouth-watering highlights:
"Peppers is a rare athlete with potential to be great at the next level. He is one of the most talented players I have ever seen at the high school level. At 6-foot-1, and 205-pounds, Peppers has college ready size to go with un-matched speed and explosiveness."
This one is particularly apt given Peppers's spot in the defense:
"…could play four to five different positions and excel at them. He is a strong running back. He is as fluid as a good corner. He hits like a linebacker. He could play safety. You could honestly take him and put him in an outside linebacker position and he would flourish.
USC coach: "Holy s---, that's him? I've only seen two players in high school with a body like that and both of them are named Peterson [Adrian and Patrick]."
Scout's Scott Kennedy gets a gold star for his player comparison:
"I think his impact on the game [would be maximized by] letting him roam around a little bit and freelance and let him play – an Eric Berry style of safety where they would walk him up. I mean, Eric Berry had 15 tackles for loss. He is that kind of a player. Eric Berry, I thought, was maybe the best player in college football a couple of years ago.”
Eric Berry was a nickel in college. People didn't quite know it at the time because everyone was just inventing the idea of putting your most badass guy there, but he was a nickel. He's a nickel in the NFL, acquiring 3.5 sacks in 2013 and going to the Pro Bowl every time he's been healthy.
That is the mission. Be Eric Berry. Or All Pro Charles Woodson, of course.
Can Peppers do it right away? I'm supposed to equivocate about freshmen here. I won't. He's got the size, he's got the speed, and he's blazed his way to the starting lineup essentially on day one. Sam Webb:
I know the Jabrill Peppers is hyped enough already but the word he is the real deal. You saw the pictures so you know where he is physically. But it’s the non-stop motor and tenacity that just put him on another level from most freshmen. … It’s often hard to keep expectations of freshmen subdued, but it’s especially hard when they’ve been as good as advertised in practice. They all say he is young and has a lot to learn, but also say he is as good as advertised.
I'm sure there will be some busts as he gets situated in the defense. That should be the primary issues. Go time: now.
[After the JUMP: the actual safeties, you shoe-throwing maniac.]
|Boundary Corner||Yr.||Field Corner||Yr.||Nickelback||Yr.|
|Blake Countess||Jr.*||Raymon Taylor||Sr.||Jabrill Peppers||Fr.|
|Jabrill Peppers||Fr.||Jourdan Lewis||So.||Blake Countess||Jr.*|
|Delonte Hollowell||Sr.||Channing Stribling||So.||Dymonte Thomas||So.|
Michigan returns their entire cornerback corps and adds Jabrill Peppers, which is kind of amazing. The top guy on the depth chart is… uh… well, it is one of four guys. Which is amazing.
This happened a lot. [Bryan Fuller]
I guess we'll start with BLAKE COUNTESS, because he's first alphabetically. Countess was on the Michigan Star Corner track after emerging as a freshman starter, and then he blew his knee up in the 2012 opener against Alabama. One medical redshirt later, Countess returned with a bucket of hype (Jabrill Peppers has a firetruck) and just about made good on it.
Countess's six interceptions were the most by a Michigan corner since Todd Howard in 2000 and are in a multi-way tie for third all time (Tom Curtis had 10 in 1968; Charles Woodson had 8 in 1997), and he led the way for a good pass defense that got little help from its pass rush and was so dissatisfied with its safety play that it started swapping them around midseason.
So why does it feel like he's been kind of a disappointment? One Tyler Lockett facecrushing will do that to you.
Countess was also just about run off the field by Devier Posey as a freshman and one of the reasons people are so hype about Freddy Canteen is that he pulled the same on Countess. He seems more vulnerable than a star should be.
But this feeling is probably not an accurate feeling. I mean, six interceptions, and again these were earned. He is a crafty gentleman well versed in baiting a quarterback to throw the deeper route in cover two only to pop up, twirl his dastardly mustache, and make off with the
dame ball. His pick at the end of the first half of the Notre Dame game was the thing preventing the later Gardner pick six from being a face-melting event:
"I thought Blake Countess was tough to play against. He's not real physical but he's one of those guys that knows what he does well and what he doesn't. And he sort of lulled us to sleep. We kept thinking that we could go at him and I think that's what he wanted because he stepped in front of two balls, picked one, and we didn't throw at him very much after that."
Opponents hate quarterbacks who feel dangerous to throw against. Countess was definitely that. If he feels like a disappointment that's because our expectations were way too high. I admit some guilt in this department. Post-Indiana:
Other than that he was probably the best guy out there. I said he'd gotten burned in the game column, but the longer Wynn touchdown was not on him. It was more on Wilson and a defense that was vulnerable to that particular play given how they aligned. He got a PBU on a corner route that was straight out of pressing Michael Floyd and living; he was close enough to bother IU receivers; he is pretty good. He's not the crazy star we thought he'd be, at least not yet.
Pretty good is pretty good for a redshirt sophomore. Countess still has considerable upside. He's got two more years in the program—prepare for him to be the Big Ten's Brooks Bollinger Memorial 8th Year Senior next year—and had his quality 2013 despite an injury that required offseason surgery:
"It was lower abdominal pain," Countess said. "(I was somewhat limited), but I played through it. Just movement. Speed. Things like that. Not anything that you guys could probably recognize, but I didn't feel like myself completely on gamedays or throughout the week.
"I had a decent season last year, but it was definitely something I voiced to my coaches and trainers."
Countess probably won't be as prolific in the interception department; he should continue getting incrementally better; if the injury issue was a real problem he could even get to that Leon Hall level. It says here that he remains a bit short of that, and plays at a second-team All Big Ten level.
[AFTER the JUMP: no Peppers, he's in the safeties. BUT LOTS OF GUYS EVEN SO!]