a terrible blight on our fine country
Previously: Podcast 7.0. The Story. Quarterback. Running Back. Wide Receiver. Tight End And Friends. Offensive Line. Defensive Tackle. Defensive End. Linebacker. Cornerback. Safety. Special Teams. 5Q5A: Offense.
1. So what is this defense again?
Last year Michigan moved from the 4-3 under they deployed in Mattison's first three seasons in Ann Arbor to a 4-3 over. DJ Durkin seems set to return Michigan to a defense that's going to seem a lot like Mattison's earlier outfits. Whether you call this a 4-3 under or a 3-4 is mostly a semantic issue. However, it's one that's driving me nuts every time a writer for the Wolverine talks about Michigan's forthcoming 3-4 transition.
The disconnect here appears to be based on one spot, the "BUCK". Many, many teams have a fancy name for their weakside end. It often designates a guy who is a LB/DE hybrid:
"Watching film on Dante (Fowler) and experience this position has been a ton of fun," he said. " The BUCK is like the hybrid on the field. You're sometimes standing up and sometimes have your hand in the dirt. Wherever you're at at that position, you're expected to make plays. You gotta get to the quarterback as quickly as you can and make tackles."
Durkin apparently calls his fancy spot the "buck linebacker." Therefore 3-4. Durkin's buck linebacker last year was 6'3", 260 pound Dante Fowler. Fowler almost always rushed the passer from a three-point stance. Sometimes he would drop into coverage or fold back into a run fit.
In this he is exactly—exactly—like what Michigan did with Frank Clark in the under. We even have a mascot for this, Slanty The Gecko. Slanty was inexplicably the first hit in Google Image Search for "line slant football" and has featured in multiple posts that describe Michigan's nominal weakside end going SYKE LINEBACKER MORPH and dropping back as the SAM plunges willy-nilly into the defensive line. Here is an example:
According to Mattison, Michigan did this on maybe 40% of its snaps from a 4-3 in his first year at Michigan. I'd say the BUCK concept is that only more so, but I don't think it can in fact be more so.
To me the real distinction between a 3-4 and a 4-3 is in your interior line. Are your guys planet-shaped gentlemen? Do you have Louis Nix? You're probably running a 3-4. Do you have Ryan Glasgow? You're probably running a 4-3. People will talk about multiple fronts, and Michigan will run multiple fronts. All of those will be efforts to confuse the offense as they inject their DTs into gaps and get penetration.
The upshot: this is not a big change, if it's even a change at all. It is a nomenclature tweak.
[After THE JUMP: additional strategically located Peppers talk.]
1. I bet you're mad because this isn't a spread offense amirite?
I am a spread zealot, it's true. However, I am not crazy. Therefore I am happy that Jim Harbaugh is the coach at Michigan no matter what offense he wants to run.
Meanwhile, the Harbauffense is not a spread but neither is it the old style "expectation is for the position" offense. Harbaugh's offense has a certain reputation…
…and it does live up to that. It goes beyond that. Whereas the late Carr offenses tended to drive one thing into the ground over and over until it settled into a 3.4 YPC groove, Harbaugh loves to troll defenses with constant motion, trap blocking, and—yep—spread elements.
The Sugar Bowl demolition of a Virginia Tech team that a year later would hold Brady Hoke's first team under 200 yards of offense is the canonical example of the motion. Stanford shifted, and shifted some more, and continued shifting until grand cracks developed in VT's run fits.
That relies on the opponent screwing up because of your shifts and is not always going to happen… but it does sometimes. After Stanford had blown it open, Harbaugh deployed a play that I've used at various MGoEvents over the past few months. At each it plays like stand-up comedy:
They practiced that, and then used it as a middle finger.
[After THE JUMP: building Rome, explosions, Rudock]
|Kicker||Yr||Punter||Yr||Kickoffs||Yr||Punt return||Yr||Kick return||Yr|
|Kenny Allen||Jr*||Blake O'Neill||Sr*||Kenny Allen||Jr*||Jabrill Peppers||Fr*||Jabrill Peppers||Fr*|
|Kyle Seychel||Fr*||Kenny Allen||Jr*||Andrew David||Fr||Jehu Chesson||Jr*||Jehu Chesson||Jr*|
No coaching upgrade on the team is steeper than special teams. Under Brady Hoke and Dan Ferrigno, Michigan featured adequate kicking and terrible everything else. Their usual MO was one blocked punt against an early tomato can, archaic punt coverage that was terrible even with 11 guys on the field, and return units that did little except take penalties when Dennis Norfleet finally managed to escape from ravenous packs of defenders.
John Baxter's Fresno State teams led the country in blocked kicks over the course of his tenure there—one that overlaps with Virginia Tech at its Beamerball peak—and in his only year at USC took their special teams units from nowhere to 2nd and 4th in the country in blocked punts and kicks, respectively. Special teams is a low data, high variance enterprise but if anyone's got the track record to suggest he's going to make an impact, it's Baxter.
Now about that scholarship kicker…
The holder becomes the holdee [Fuller]
This is looking hairy all of a sudden. Scholarship freshman ANDREW DAVID was immediately dumped well down the depth chart, and Michigan must turn to the walk-ons that populate any D-I team's kicking roster. One, KENNY ALLEN [hello post], was the heir apparent at punter until John Baxter rolled into town with an Aussie in tow; the other, KYLE SEYCHEL, is a redshirt freshman who fans didn't even know was on the team until fall camp.
Reports out of said camp have been worried. Those coming out of the open practice were mixed, but guys who had been around for more than a few attempts were disquieted. There are reports Michigan is reconsidering their decision to forgo a scholarship guy in the 2016 class. That is not a good sign. Neither is that OR on the depth chart.
"I dunno, is kicker" is always a valid thing to say about kickers you have not seen much of; in this case I'm just hoping for a guy to bang them in from 40 yards and in.
wait isn't this guy in twilight or something [Eric Upchurch]
The OR is much more welcoming at this spot. Things are looking just fine at punter despite the departures of both Matt Wile and Will Hagerup. Allen has been booming punts in practice for a few years now, and during the Hoke era we saw a lot of punts in practice.
And then there's that imported Aussie. BLAKE O'NEILL [g'day mate post] comes from a land down under where small children carry around football-shaped objects to punt at anything they run across that is poisonous. Everything in Australia is poisonous. (Yes, especially the koalas.) When the survivors reach adulthood, the resulting skills are impressive:
Asked if the 6-foot-2, 215-pound kicker is the type of special teams player who can change a game, Baxter nods, saying, "He's that."
"Listen," he continued, "if you put a trashcan out there 40 yards, he can usually hit it, OK? He's as accurate, and in some cases more accurate than, the quarterbacks."
O'Neill's first year in college football was last year, when he did this at Weber State:
O'Neill finished sixth nationally (Football Championship Subdivision) in punting during the 2014 season at Weber State. He played in all 12 games and averaged 44.1 yards per punt, setting a single-season punting average record for the Wildcats.
O'Neill tallied 62 punts for 2,737 yards with a long of 74 yards. He boomed 18 punts of 50-plus yards and notched 25 boots inside the opposition's 20-yard line. O'Neill ran for a first down on a fake punt and tossed a completion for a first down on another fake.
Are you ready for some punting highlights? Woo!
AUSSIE PUNTS: SKY TERRITORY sounds like a Chuck Norris movie
Not sure if he's going to be able to do the thing where he idles for a couple seconds before he punts at at D-I level, but Michigan now has a special teams coach with a terrific track record. If he can make it so, it will be so.
O'Neill can rugby punt with either foot and his directional kicking skills in the video above are creepy, Orin Incandenza-level stuff. Real life Blake O'Neill probably isn't going to be good as a fictional punter who is the highest paid player in the NFL. Probably.
[After THE JUMP: gratuitously placed Jabrill Peppers highlights designed to make you click through mooohahaha]
Last year I told you to bet on Beckman, which was correct... in a sense
I thought a fourth kid had put me into full-fledged retirement, but apparently there are few of you degenerates out there who still think this is good advice to put your [theoretical] dollars behind. Here it is, your 2015 Stock Watch.
Before we get into this season, the annual transparent review of the prior year’s predictions:
I may not be sold on Tim Beckman, but my numbers are high on [no longer] his Illinois team this year. 762 out of 1,000 scenarios run have the Illini exceeding their projected 4.5 wins this year, with over half putting Illinois in line for a bowl bid.
A big ball of mediocre. Even more pronounced than the Big Ten, I have everyone but BC (over 4.5 wins) within 1.2 games of the Vegas win total. On top of that, 9/14 teams are predicted between 3-5 and 5-3 in conference.
The Pac 12
the numbers like Cal a lot more and Colorado a lot less than the projected win totals.
One of my biggest sells of the season are the Spartans with only 5.5% of simulations seeing the Spartans exceed their 9.5 win projection.
The model is predicting about 9 wins and a virtual tie with Oklahoma, right behind predicted frontrunner Baylor.
After picking Tennessee to breakout in previous years, the model has given up on the Volunteers this season, along with Les Miles’ LSU squad. Two teams projected to overachieve, are league favorite Auburn, which despite a brutal schedule, the model pegs at 10.5 wins, a full 1.5 wins above Vegas along with the rebuilding Kentucky Wildcats.
2015: The Season At Hand, and Other Obvious Subtitles
Buying one, selling the other Pac-12 opponent
Every year in the offseason I test my preseason prediction model, tweaking the coefficients to match the model with the most accurate prediction. Usually it’s just a small move here or there, not really amounting to much. This year I looked at a new variable I called MVP effect. MVP effect looks at the points per play for all QBs and RBs on an offense. Each players’ PPP on their carries+passes is compared versus what the PPP for the team on all other players. This is the gap. The gap is then multiplied by the numbers of plays that the player was responsible for to get their total contribution. I plugged in the MVP stat and took out any stats dealing with returning QBs+RBs and saw a 2.3% reduction in total offense prediction error, and a 2.0% reduction in total error. A pretty big jump for a well-established model. This is part of the reason you’ll see some of these teams as buys or sells.
Return a lot of key pieces on offense and the defense was pretty bad and just hired a new head coach who’s not too bad at coaching that side of the ball.
Selling: Virginia Tech
I know they were young last year, but it’s been a long time since this was a good offensive team and don’t know that the defense can get them over 8 wins.
Buying: Illinois, again
See 2014 notes. For the second straight year they have a 50/50 shot at a bowl game. And they don't have Beckman. Congrats Illini fans?
Selling: Indiana, Wisconsin
See the MVP effect. Tevin Coleman is gone and who is going to generate the Indiana offense? Corey Clement will surely pile up the stats again, but there was a big gap between Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement in PPP and I can’t see the QB play making up the difference. The West is thoroughly mediocre but I have serious doubts about Wisconsin’s ability to stay above the fray.
Selling: West Virginia, kind of TCU
Like Virginia Tech, I don’t see how West Virginia is getting past 8 wins. I think TCU will be good, my season simulations have them as the 3rd most likely team to reach the playoff. The problem is that they are the least talented team in the top ten and despite massive productivity last season, I think Trevone Boykin is due for some serious regression. Definitely a chance I am wrong on TCU but I think they have the most downside risk of any of the major preseason contenders.
Buying: Oregon St
Here’s the MVP effect working in reverse. Sean Mannion was not good for the Beavers last year and now he is gone. A redistribution of the offense should bode well for Oregon St.
Michigan’s other Pac-12 opponent falls on the other side of the ledger. I don’t think Utah was as good as their record last year and another team who is going to fighting uphill in terms of talent for most of their schedule.
Going back to the Malzahn well one more time. Elite talent, elite offensive scheme. 8.5 wins is very doable, even with a tough schedule.
Selling: Arkansas, kind of Texas A&M
Arkansas’s weird season last year has been well documented as several services have vastly overcorrected heading into 2015. Taking the over on 8 wins means you are predicting the Hogs to go at least 5-3 against the SEC West schedule. A&M has a weird setup. Like A&M there is a lot of potential and risk on the roster, I don’t think A&M win total is that far off (they’re the only team on this list where my pick is within 1.5 games of Vegas) but at +200 on the under, sign me up.
Last year I brought in one of my favorite heuristics: your national champion will be on the short list of most talented, experienced rosters. It is now 11 straight years that the national championship has ranked in the top 10 for roster talent (recruiting rankings adjusted for age) and 9 of 11 where the winner has been top 4 on at least one side of the ball. Last season OSU paid at 25/1 by checking in at #4 overall and top 4 on offense.
Here are this year’s top 10 with Top 4 O/D noted.
- Ohio St (O/D)
- Michigan (O/D)
- Alabama (D)
- USC (O)
- Auburn (O)
- Florida St (D)
- Notre Dame
My season simulations have Baylor, TCU, Oregon and Michigan St all with good shots at making the playoff (and odds much higher than several of the teams on this list). It’s not impossible that one of those four wins it all, but it would be the first time in a long time that it’s happened.
Will this one simple trick turn your under achieving team into a contender?
My model loves talented, under-achieving teams (see Texas, Michigan) and it has had some of its biggest misses on teams like this. Michigan will be a big test this season. There are two general ways it can go, depending on what your underlying opinion of the team is.
1. Brady Hoke was a terrible evaluator and developer of talent and the talent Michigan has on paper is a mirage and it’s going to take a couple years to get back on top.
2. Brady Hoke was just a terrible coach and the talent on roster is there, but as yet untapped, especially on offense. It’s less about a Harbaugh turnaround than it is about a loss of Hoke and anything from Harbaugh is gravy this year.
I tend to side with #2. It’s hard to believe that all the talent on the roster were misses. Add to that the defense was pretty good already and you have an opportunity waiting to be exploited and the perfect coach to do so. All preseason predictions tend to take last year’s record as status quo, adjust for the general consensus of returners versus departures and everyone ends up in roughly the spot they started it, adjusting for maybe a game or two in the standing.
If there is ever a case to throw out last year’s record as a starting point it’s this situation. A veteran team, low hanging fruit on turnovers and special teams, a proven defense and an offense that has talent but not production and a coach who has excelled on that side of the ball.
Put me down for 9 wins and a 1-1 record against Michigan State and Ohio State. It’s optimism, it’s the model, it’s the hope that #4 will get decent quarterbacking out of the team and the rest of the team can showcase the talent and experience they have on paper.
we have very reasonable expectations [Fuller]
|Free Safety||Yr.||Strong Safety||Yr.||Nickelback||Yr.|
|Jarrod Wilson||Sr.||Jabrill Peppers||Fr.*||Jabrill Peppers||Fr.*|
|Dymonte Thomas||Jr.||Delano Hill||So.*||Wayne Lyons||Sr.*|
|Wayne Lyons||Sr.*||Jabrill Peppers||Fr.*||Dymonte Thomas||Jr.|
So, JARROD WILSON…
Never be too proud to recycle a joke, I say. I know what you animals want. You want the man I've listed on half the depth charts in this preview, most of them at least semi-seriously. You want…
HYBRID SPACE PLAYER: NICKELBACK WITHOUT THE NICKELBACK CONNOTATIONS, YOU KNOW, THE BAND, BOY DOES THAT BAND SUCK THEY'RE JUST NOT GOOD AT MUSIC OR BEING ALIVE
Everyone all together now: the hybrid space player is a reaction to the spread offense. He must be a triple threat, capable of blitzing, playing the run, and covering. He is very very important. They made Charles Woodson into a hybrid space player right before he was the NFL's defensive MVP, because the NFL is basically a passing spread league:
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.
Michigan State's lack of appropriate HSPs last year led their defense to get torched by every decent spread they came across, because said spreads would put their #1 receiver in the slot and run 'em at MSU's inexperienced safeties, who were not cornerbacks. This has been your hybrid space player preview review.
So… JABRILL PEPPERS [recruiting profile]. This is a man that has been hyped to the moon. Tellingly, his coaches aren't trying to put the brakes on. They have in fact shoveled on a little more coal. Harbaugh in spring:
"He’s been A-plus, he really has, all spring. He was just out there taking reps. … A lot of times a guy’ll get in the front of a drill, which he would do, but he would go through the repetition of the drill and I’d see him back in the front again and then again. It’s like, ‘Hey, come on. Jabrill Peppers isn’t taking every rep in these drills.’ But that’s the kind of youngster he is."
Harbaugh again in this fall:
"He's been good, he's been all the things that have been advertised about him. He's a tremendous football player."
The spring game indicated that Michigan had in fact built its defense around him playing HSP/nickel/whatever:
Under Hoke it was difficult to tell who was the strong safety and who was the free safety. That will not be the case this year, as Jabrill Peppers was operating as a lightning fast outside linebacker for big chunks of the game. He tattooed running backs in the backfield more than once.
Peppers barely left that location. When Michigan went to a nickel package they did so by bringing in an extra safety and leaving Peppers over the slot, where he nearly caused an interception by breaking on a quick slant to Bo Dever.
That was the plan last year as well, but even before he got hurt Michigan was forced to adapt. Press coverage was a disaster in the Notre Dame game and Raymon Taylor was out, so Peppers was delployed as a boundary corner in the Miami (Not That Miami) game. (That's a spot he may resume if things don't go well with Stribling and Clark; he has been repping there a bit this fall.)
Miami did people wishing to have any useful scouting from Peppers's freshman year a favor by going at him over and over again on the usually-sound principle that freshmen seeing their first extended action should be slow-roasted until they can be pulled apart with forks. That didn't go the way the Redhawks thought it might.
They did get one completion on him, that a bullet skinny post against zone that Peppers still got a rake in on. His first extended playing time looked pretty damn exciting, and then his knee locked up and it was goodbye season. There are a ton of fascinating counterfactuals from the last year of Michigan football; "what if Jabrill Peppers is healthy?" is one of the best. Does he end up the starting running back halfway through the season? Does Michigan lose to Rutgers? (A: no.) Does Brady Hoke eke out his job at 7-5?
Anyway. That's in the past.
Also in the past is his high school scouting, but other than a bunch of talk and those clips above it's all we have to go on. Also it is fun to revisit, so let's revisit it.
"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."
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]."
And this player comparison is a damn good one.
"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.”
That remains the mission. Be Eric Berry. Or Woodson. Judges will accept either.
I know it's a lot to heap on a dude who's barely seen the field but every indicator from the program is that this gentleman is the real deal both on and off the field. He will start living up to the hype this year.
[After THE JUMP: how many shoes are you wearing stop throwing them]
Hey look, we're not so depressed about the expected outcome of every game as to give up on the weekly score-guessing contest for stuff again. Harbaugh!
How this works again:
- Readers predict the final score of a designated game by placing a guess in the comments, preferably in the format of [M score][hyphen][Opp score], for example "41-30" or "35-31 Michigan", or "28-24 Go Blue", or "38-0 Harbaugh!" etc.
- The three guys who read this part holler at people who post in a different format
- First five people (by timestamp) to post a particular score have it.
- If you got it right, I contact you for an address by your MGoBlog account email, and you give me some time to get that to you.
- If nobody got it right or I don't hear from the winner(s) we push it to next week or let it go.
About Last Time:
This Week's Game:
@Utah on a Thursday night and I'm not even mad.
And on the Line:
FIVE!!! That is 5/cinco/1-2-3-4-5 copies we have to give out this week to five different winners. So here's the deal: this time you can choose the same score as someone else did, because the closest five to the final score get copies of
Endzone Brandon's Lasting Lessons.
This is the Dave Brandon book, with the How Harbaugh Happened story to finish it. I'll save the deep stuff for my upcoming review of it, and Bacon never puts it this way, but the gist of the story is how the organism that is Michigan athletics contracted NFL disease then fought it off. The thing about it is Bacon talked to everybody! Groups of former players from different eras, the leaders of the students, the bloggers, the program insiders, the old guard, the university's leaders, and yes, the people inside both Martin's and Brandon's athletic department when Michigan skewed into its tangent.
Contest fine print: One entry per user. First user to choose a set of scores wins, determined by the timestamp of your entry (for my ease I prefer if you don't post it as a reply to another person's score--if you do it won't help or hurt you). Deadline for entries is 24 hours before the start of the game. MGoEmployees and Moderators exempt from winning. The algorithm finds the winners as it chooses. The algorithm is self-correcting. The algorithm is back! This is not the algorithm. But it will be again soon.