This tweet would seem to confirm the fact that Dytarious Johnson won't be enrolling at Michigan this fall:
— Dytarious Johnson (@Dytarious__) June 19, 2016
That doesn't come as much of a surprise. Johnson didn't sign a LOI for what he described as a "transcript issue" on Signing Day. I'm not aware that LOIs have any academic restrictions—SEC schools will still sign-and-place guys who have little shot at qualifying—so that's a little odd. It seemed unlikely a player who did not sign had much of a shot at arriving on campus, especially since Michigan signed a couple of other guys who were rumored to have some work to do.
Michigan might circle back around to Johnson after a prep semester or year. Their 2017 linebacker recruiting implies that they won't; we'll see. We'd been assuming that Johnson would not be a member of the 2016 class so this doesn't change our projected 2017 class size or 2016 roster.
Last time out. Facing the suspension of Deandre Yedlin, Klinsmann flipped Fabian Johnson to the right and brought in Matt Besler as a left-back-type-substance. This looked weird on the surface. When soccer folk attempt to describe an overall tactical approach with a formation those formations are invariably symmetrical and identical in attack and on defense; neither of these things are true in practice. Besler barely ventured forward when the US had the ball; Fabian Johnson bombed up the right sideline all game. Both of these decisions were suited to their play, and the US played their best first half of the tournament. It was predictable but it put people in roles they were good at.
Things went nuts in the second half after red cards to each team. Jermaine Jones put a fist in the vicinity of an Ecuador player to even things up after Antonio Valencia got a second yellow card, turning what should have been a comfortable exercise in seeing out a game a man and a goal up into a frenetic finish. Klinsmann left Clint Dempsey on the field an inordinately long time, leaving the US with just seven guys trying to defend. This paid off with a goal, and then bit the US when Dempsey continued afterwards. Klinsmann also left on a number of US players on yellow cards and got his just desserts for doing so when an exhausted Alejandro Bedoya pulled an opponent back after getting beaten. He was issued a yellow that suspends him for this game. Steve Birnbaum would come on in the 93rd minute as a middle finger to common sense.
But they're here, in a semi-final against Argentina. This is an opportunity for history.
This dude 1) scores 2/3rds of a goal per game in the EPL, 2) comes off Argentina's bench
So… Argentina. The problem is that they're not just Messi. Throw a rock at the attacking players on Argentina's team and you will hit a cornerstone of one of the elite clubs in the world. A dude with 102 goals in 150 appearances for Manchester City comes off their bench. FIFA rankings blah blah blah; #1 does mean something.
After years of frustration they've finally figured out how to deploy Messi in the context of the national team: they tell him to do whatever he wants and try to run into useful places. Messi roams from sideline to sideline, from front to back, and is extremely difficult to mark out of a game as a result.
Their defense looks elite but is part a creation of their possession; they had a shaky period against Venezuela where the Rio Tinto outside backs were bombing forward and unsettling the D's organization. Venezuela hit a post, missed a penalty, and forced a couple excellent saves out of the Argentina keeper.
Argentina's back four is not to the standard of the rest of the team. They start Gabriel Mercado, a 29-year-old Liga MX player with just six caps, at one outside back spot. The other outside back spot is a Man U player who has trouble getting league appearances; Everton center back Ramio Funes Mori has been a bit iffy in this tournament. This is still Argentina we're talking about here but they're not overwhelming back to front like a Germany is. Those center backs are generally regarded as the weak links of the team, and a quick counter attack or successful overload could stake the US to a lead. Argentina is vulnerable to the kind of goals the US scored against Ecuador. The US can have a period of similar productivity, and maybe they have better luck.
Just one problem.
Wood is the man, and he's on the bench. Wood is a brutal loss since he's been maybe the USA's best player in this tournament not named John Brooks—he is capable of runs behind the defense and hold-up play, a complete forward the US hasn't seen since the brief moment when Charlie Davies was reaching his peak. While it came to little, Wood's tenacity and speed were most apparent on a run early in the Ecuador game that had no business turning into a shot but did nonetheless:
That is a guy who puts the fear of God into center backs.
Woods had two hockey assists in that game as his runs drove the opposition back to the mouth of their own goal and opened up space for crosses against a defense that had already spent a center back chasing him.* Davies was the last US forward to threaten like this. His activity became so integral to the USA's gameplan under Bob Bradley that Bradley not only brought but started Robbie Findley during the 2010 World Cup. Since Findley was a version of Davies with cement blocks for feet this was a mistake; it demonstrates just how dangerous and difficult to find a guy like Wood is for the US. (Except they've got another one playing in Seattle, but that's another post.)
Everyone assumes that the US will slide Zardes up top and try to get the same production. Zardes does match Wood's speed and endurance but Wood is super productive at finding space, something Zardes is erratic at. His first touch has been discussed to death for good reason; he's not likely to replicate Wood's production. The US is hoping he has a moment or two where it works out and he can apply his physical gifts. The other option is Chris Wondolowski, which: no.
*[Fancy talk for this is "running the channels." To execute this a center forward runs diagonally to the edge of the field, usually when the outside back is up the field. A center back generally gets pulled into an uncomfortable spot and the defense has to rotate to cover. Just like in basketball, a rotating defense is a vulnerable one. The second goal is a quintessential example of that activity.]
What now? Wood, Jones, and Bedoya are suspended for the semifinal. Losing the two central midfielders at the same time is rough but survivable since there are reasonable replacements; losing Wood is probably fatal for the USA's chances in a game where they don't figure to have much of the ball.
I'm operating under the following assumptions:
- The US will continue using Dempsey as a second forward under a true #9
- They will not be averse to asymmetry in the formation
- Darlington Nagbe made fun of Klinsmann's hair
Klinsmann has gone with all the old guys for his substitutions so far, frustratingly. Continuing that would be a major mistake. The Argentina back line had a lot of trouble with Venezuela's outside speed. Beckerman has just about reached his expiration date. I'd rather roll with a more athletic player there.
I would stick with the unbalanced formation the US used against Ecuador and slide Fabian Johnson up. You're going to need a moment of brilliance or two and Johnson is one of the likeliest candidates to provide that if he's allowed to play on the wing. It could look like this:
You could flip Pusilic in for Zusi but the chances of that seem very low.
FWIW, this is the formation most of the USA internet has arrived at. It lets Yedlin fly up the wing like Fabian Johnson did in the previous game and puts Johnson back at the spot that he excelled in this season for Gladbach. With Argentina down Angel Di Maria and Nicholas Gaitan they don't have a ton of width. Their outside backs don't get forward much; they don't do a whole lot of crossing. They had only 12 in the Venezuela game, and one of those was the ridiculous Messi assist from 40 yards out. All this means the US would do well to replicate their gameplan against Spain in the Confederations Cup: load up the middle and clear the crosses.
The gameplan with Beckerman looks something like this:
Nagbe has been more effective in the center of midfield in the last couple years of MLS play but this would be more or less fine. Other exotic options include dumping Dempsey for a 100% bunker, bringing in DM Perry Kitchen, and deploying Pusilic. None of these seem at all likely, but Klinsmann might Klinsmann.
Nagbe is critical because he is the USA's best bet to relieve pressure and get more of the ball. His exclusion has been somewhat reasonable to date; leaving him out in this game means both Zusi and Beckerman are playing and means the US is playing to survive a 90 minute onslaught and hope for the best in penalties. Given the situation Nagbe is a better defensive player than Beckerman. He would not fare as well in a defensive mid role but he doesn't have to play it, and Nagbe is a huge upgrade in both athleticism and ability to possess the ball.
This tournament is already a success. It's hard to imagine that the continual changes in both personnel and formation will persist going forward. The back five are just about set. Wood and Dempsey are your first choice forward pairing. Jones, Bedoya, Zardes, and Nagbe will battle for midfield spots. There's one slot in the first-choice 11 that is up for grabs based on performance (Zardes) and two that may have to be revisited due to age or continued problems with red mist (Dempsey and Jones). For a team that didn't start the same center back pairing since the assassination of Franz Ferdinand until the run up to this tournament that's a quantum leap forward.
Most of the questions concern backup spots now and even a couple of those (Jordan Morris, for one) have reasonable answers going forward. Outside back, as always, is the main area of concern.
Klinsmann still behaves like a man who's petrified people will see through the emperor's new clothes and is replacement-level at best, but… hey, replacement level! I can dig that!
Once again we are running our Big Ten preview with a fantasy draft gimmick. This serves three purposes: For you, it's a snarky, informative way to learn who's good in the conference; it cuts through bad hype and the murky waters of line play, and sets expectations for Michigan players against guys outside our biases.
For us the comments section never fails to be a sobering reminder that some of our wonky readership prefer having lives to infinite knowledge about Nebraska OL. For Brian, he gets to play Bo, turning his staff's natural competitiveness against each other to hone us into fine-tuned Big Ten football coverage machines. Summer vacation is for losers and Nick Saban.
Everyone drafts a team from available Big Ten players consisting of
- A QB, five OL, and six skill players on offense. Usually this breaks down in to a RB, three WR, a TE, and a wild card but things tend to get weird.
- 4 DL, 3 LB, 2 CB, 2 S and one wild card on defense.
- A punter and a kicker.
Standard serpentine fantasy draft.
Once three teams have filled a position group the final team must do so at most three rounds later. This is mostly intended to prevent someone from waiting on a QB until the end of the draft and occasionally results in hilarious things like "Nathan Scheelhaase goes in round 8".
Brian will make fun of me for taking a low-volume defensive player he will draft in the first round next year.
The winner will be the person with the most impressive team.
As randomly determined by RANDOM.ORG the order is
BiSB and Smoothitron are in the Slack thread to be spicy. Ace is on the clock.
Brian: JT Barrett is a much more reasonable selection this year.
BiSB: Over First Rounder Mitch Leidner?
Brian: I didn't say that.
BiSB: I mean, shit, sure… it's your funeral.
ACE: Round 1, Pick 1: Jabrill Peppers, Heisman Contender, Michigan
OFFENSE: WILDCAT Jabrill Peppers, RB Jabrill Peppers, WR Jabrill Peppers
DEFENSE: OLB Jabrill Peppers, CB Jabrill Peppers, NICKEL Jabrill Peppers, SS Jabrill Peppers
SPECIAL TEAMS: KR Jabrill Peppers, PR Jabrill Peppers
I strongly considered JT Barrett because of the dearth of proven quarterbacks, but…
…yeah, I’ll take the third-year, Don Brown-coached version of that guy.
[HEY READERS ARE YOU ENJOYING THIS SO FAR? SERIOUSLY. TRY THE JUMP IF YOU DON'T BELIEVE ME.]
Scouting Charles Matthews. Scout's Xavier site put together an uncommonly useful reel from Matthews's freshman year at Kentucky:
They don't cover some of the downsides, which comprise almost everything that can go in a Kenpom profile. Matthews had vanishingly small usage, turned the ball over a lot—although low usage will magnify TORate on a small number of TOs—and shot just 42% from the free throw line. All of these numbers have a low sample size, but it's clear Beilein has his work cut out for him developing the offensive side of Matthews's game.
Hudson destroys all comers. Pennsylvania's Big 33 game against Maryland was a few days ago*. Pennsylvania featuring an array of D-I talent. Most of the top guys from PA were there, including five-star PSU RB Miles Sanders, USC TE Cary Angeline, a half-dozen Pitt commits, and Slippery Rock DT Clark Wilford. Hudson blew these dudes out of the water. Hudson was the game MVP per the announcers (the organizers gave it to Sanders) and his coach raved about him to Chris Balas:
“He is an absolute freak,” Pennsylvania head coach Mike Matta of Downingtown East High said. “I didn’t look in advance to see if he’s a three-star, four-star, five-star or what, but I saw the film before the game, and when he got here … I can’t believe he got out of the state. Actually, I can’t believe everybody in the world didn’t make this kid a priority. There’s nothing he can’t do … and what he can do is just outrageous.”
Pitt partisans can only sigh and put weird commas everywhere at his escape:
Doing us all a favor, I'll get the Khaleke Hudson portion out of the way, first. If you watched the game, you undoubtedly understand the reference. "There's that number 21, again…" … seemed to be the only player on the field, tonight.
Various reporters we like… dang:
Khaleke Hudson is good. Damn good.
— Greg Pickel (@GregPickel) June 19, 2016
Khaleke Hudson just did amazing things on a punt return & it's going to get brought back, but I don't really care.
— Daniel Gallen (@danieljtgallen) June 19, 2016
Khaleke Hudson just tackled two Maryland players at the same time. #Big33
— 412-CFB-Recruiting (@MJsteelcityPitt) June 18, 2016
Hudson had a ridiculous punt return that was wiped out by penalty and thus not included in the clips VSN TV posted to YouTube.
*[Ohio dumped their traditional matchup in the Big 33 game because they kept getting housed, then tried playing Michigan, got housed a couple times, and has now given up entirely.]
Hawkins wobble: stand down? Brad Hawkins was recently the subject of a bunch of internet rumormongering based on the fact that he scrubbed his twitter page of any Michigan mentions and was not yet in the student directory—everyone else is accounted for. Ominous, but unless something drastic happened in the last few days it seems like it's a false alarm. Philly.com just named him their South Jersey player of the year, and the article to accompany the honor is pretty explicit about Hawkins's near future:
Hawkins has signed to attend the University of Michigan on a football scholarship. He plans to depart Friday for Ann Arbor to begin summer workouts.
Hawkins, who also is a strong student, stood outside the fence at Camden's football field at Farnham Park the other day and marveled at the speed with which his high school career had passed.
If he's not on campus by this weekend then you can start running in circles.
Man did I biff this one. The Swiss national team had a jersey blowout reminiscent of the various issues Michigan had a couple years back, and one of the infinite Swiss soccer players with an X in his name seriously outperformed yours truly when trying to snap back at the clothing company:
The shortage of action in France and Switzerland’s dull 0-0 draw in Lille on Sunday night prompted increased attention on deficient equipment, with Swiss kits tearing easier than paper and the winger Xherdan Shaqiri telling Blick: “I hope Puma does not produce condoms.”
Can't win 'em all. /kicks dirt
While the company in question here is Puma, the Only Incompetent Germans couldn't let a fiasco like this go by without getting involved:
Adidas were also left red-faced when one of their Beau Jeu footballs burst when Antoine Griezmann was challenged by Valon Behrami. One of Griezmann’s studs appeared to put a hole in the ball. The balls retail at £105.
Nike stuff will be available at Moe's in just under two months, everybody.
A minor fan revolt in Nebraska. Via GTP, the Cornhuskers made some news a few weeks ago when some Nebraska season tickets actually went on sale to the public. The local paper took the opportunity to interview some discontents in Lincoln. Nebraska has a get-in-the-door fee of 2500 that is causing a lot of people to balk:
Aaron says: “How many people out there are able to pony up a $2,500 donation per seat — or even $2,000 for seats in the east balcony? Drop that down to something people are more comfortable with and they’ll go in a heartbeat. The desire of fans to see NU play is still there, but the price of attendance has to be rationalized. (Shawn) Eichorst is no dummy, he’ll get it figured out.”
The rub is, these donations have been factored into the NU athletic budget for years. Take them out, or reduce them, and what fills the void? Scott has a thought:
“I can’t believe that the donations that would go away couldn’t be replaced by a $40 million Big Ten annual check.”
Scott also reminded: “In a previous century, considering the fact that 1) we were winning national championships, and 2) every game was not on TV, you could charge a donation to get tickets.”
This guy nails one of the worst feelings the Brandon regime imposed on Michigan fans:
“What really makes me hate the streak are those signs at the stadium: ‘Through these gates pass the greatest fans in college football.’ It’s a guilt trip from the A.D.’s office. ... Don’t tell me I don’t love my team just because I won’t fall for what amounts to ‘emotional extortion’ in an attempt to separate me from my cash in the name of preserving this farce of a streak. Like any relationship, it works both ways."
It's a harsh world when supporting the team that you love simultaneously makes you feel like a rube. College football is trending away from that somewhat with better nonconference schedules, but seemingly only because they have to. If Nebraska's having trouble selling out you know there's something afoot in the wider college football world.
ESPN holds on. The other half of the Big Ten package goes for some dollars as well:
ESPN will pay an average of $190 million per year over six years for essentially half the conference’s media rights package, according to several sources close to the talks. Two months ago, Fox Sports agreed to take the other half of the package for an average of $240 million per year. CBS Sports also has told the conference that it will renew its basketball-only package for $10 million per year.
This is stoking Nebraska fans' ire when they see that windfall and compare it to their pocketbooks. For the league itself it clearly separates the SEC and the Big Ten from the rest of the Power 5, for as much as that actually helps them compete. Survey says… not much. NCAA rules induce a lot of inefficient substitutions that can't overcome proximity.
I wonder if the Big Ten will sit on a big chunk of this money in case the landscape isn't as friendly in six years when these deals expire. At that point it'll be more clear what shape the new media landscape is taking and how much money they can spend without overcommitting to a model that could come apart.
The FOX deal gives them first choice of games, so expect a lot of Gus Johnson and Joel Klatt over the next few years. OSU/Michigan is headed to FOX.
2017 athletic budget items. Michigan is back to break even after some big deficits at the end of the Brandon tenure. The new Nike contract and the return of the International Champions' Cup are aids:
Budgeted corporate sponsorship revenues are projected to increase by $1.49 million due to a new apparel agreement.
• Budgeted facility revenues are projected to increase by $1.4 million due to a special event in Michigan Stadium following a fiscal year with no such events.
Manuel's approach to his budget is slightly different than his predecessor's:
"It's not my mindset to say we're going to use Michigan Stadium to make money," he said Thursday following his budget presentation to the Regents. "We want to look at opportunities where they exist, but I don't step in with a philosophy of, I want to use Michigan Stadium to drive more revenue."
It's fine to use Michigan Stadium to drive more revenue as long as that revenue isn't 1) bankrupting student organizations or 2) flooding commercial breaks at Michigan Stadium with ads for weddings. Extra events are a good thing.
Etc.: Michigan's top newcomer will be a HUGE SURPRISE TO YOU if you just arrived from space from 50 years in the past because of time dilation. NCAA might cut satellite camp window to ten days. That's a more reasonable restriction than zero. Satellite camps cost 0.02 percent of Michigan's athletic department budget. Pride comes before the fall.
Per Jeff Goodman, Michigan has picked up a wing:
Kentucky transfer Charles Matthews is headed to Michigan, source told ESPN.
— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) June 21, 2016
Matthews was a freshman at Kentucky last year, where he played sparingly. He'll sit out next year and have three left.
As a recruit he was #59 in the 247 composite and the #16 shooting guard; at 6'6" he could play the two or three at Michigan. His ranking dropped over the course of his recruitment from five-star territory (he was #17 on the composite at one point) to the mid four-star range. The most recent scouting report comes from his freshman year:
Good: Matthews has been a pleasant surprise this season finishing at the rim and along the baseline. With some development, he looks to be a valuable asset to the program in the years to come because of his length, athletic ability and defensive prowess.
Homework: Must continue to round out his game and become a more consistent outside shooter.
This is not a typical Beilein recruit. He's the platonic opposite of Duncan Robinson:
"Last summer, they tried to play him at point guard--that’s not what he is," Calipari said. "He’s a playmaker off the ball. He’s a slasher, he’s a finisher." … At 6-foot-6 and 175 pounds, Matthews possesses many of the qualities that Calipari typically covets: he's long, athletic, can get to the basket and has the ability to defend multiple positions.
"He's a tireless defender. He can guard multiple players … He can get to the basket anytime he wants but he could always become a better shooter," DeCesare said. "He needs to work on his free throw shooting."
Mathews is super athletic and defensively oriented, which will thrill Billy Donlon. He might be something of a bricklayer, which won't thrill Beilein. Beilein is renowned as a guy who can teach offense and shooting; this will be a test.
The 2017 recruiting board was updated heading into the weekend. Meanwhile, I'm taking off for vacation tomorrow and will be out until next Wednesday. Naturally, today's send-off roundup is one of the longest of the year.
D-Tackle Out Of Nowhere
— Chad Simmons (@ChadSimmons_) June 18, 2016
There was very good reason nobody saw Aubrey Solomon's commitment coming. Solomon didn't even initially plan on being in Ann Arbor last weekend; he was supposed to be on an unofficial visit to Alabama. He told Sam Webb that once he got to Michigan and found out he had an offer, things moved quickly from there:
“I came into Michigan not knowing that I had an offer,” Solomon said. “Once I found that out it really changed everything. Then seeing what they could do for me in the future, like 10-20 years after football, I just fell in love with it. It wasn't just football, it was ‘what would I do for the rest of my life after football?’"
Solomon credited Chris Partridge and Jim Harbaugh for convincing him Michigan was the place to be.
The commitment of Solomon's 2018 teammate, Otis Reese, came as far less of a shock; Reese had previously named Michigan as his leader and he has ties to the area—his older brother is a redshirt freshman receiver at Central Michigan. Reese described the scene when he and Solomon committed to Webb:
"(Solomon) was feeling it but he kind of shocked me,” said Reese. “I didn't know he was going to commit."
"Coach Harbaugh was on the phone with my mom and we were talking about my commitment. Aubrey got on the phone talking to his mom and he said he wanted to commit. It was just like the whole room was lit… full happy emotions. They were jumping around. Actually my receiver coach (who brought them up on the visit) and Coach Harbaugh traded shirts. Coach Harbaugh still has (Lee County) shirt on, and my coach has his on. It was just a happy moment and it was a blessing."
Michigan nearly added another commitment on the weekend. Three-star CT OT Andrew Stueber impressed the coaches at camp enough to pull in an offer, and in the aftermath Steuber told 247's Steve Wiltfong that Michigan is "the one to beat" in his recruitment. Based on what Sam tweeted over the weekend, it sounds like Steuber will join the class as soon as he can get his mom to campus.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the roundup.]