I thought that myself when I read that article that talked about a Data Scientist(tm)
GOOD? I think probably yeah. [Bryan Fuller]
You know that basketball game column after the Wisconsin halfcourt shot game where I laid out a scenario in which Bo Ryan was the vanguard of the bug people from Rigel? I disclaimed any belief that was actually true but asserted that if it was, Wisconsin basketball would be exactly the same as it is today.
So… Al Borges's gameplan. Michigan came out throwing from the shotgun, and that caused me to tweet out that this newfangled offense looked a lot like the oldfangled offense. I didn't yet perceive that Michigan's first four handoffs to Toussaint were zone stretch plays, i.e. the very foundation of Michigan's offense under Rich Rodriguez. I'm pretty sure that Michigan ran fewer than four stretches all of last year. Al Borges isn't trolling me, but if he was nothing about Michigan's gameplan would have changed. (Bubble screens are now trolling Heiko.)
Evaluating the stretch is like getting back on a bike for me. It was also Michigan's base run play for the last two years of DeBord, so for the five formative years when I was learning to say more about runs than "that's a big ol' wad of bodies" the majority of plays I was looking at were stretches. I'm still much better at figuring them out than any other run play.
This is relevant in a credential-establishing fashion: I've seen a lot of these and now I'm going to say something that might be a little out there. I think Graham Glasgow might be quite good. He and Miller consistently crushed the playside defensive tackle on scoop blocks throughout these four carries, which is a good sign to begin with. And on one I think he did something advanced.
The setup: first and ten on Michigan's second drive of the game. They come out in a 2TE set with both TE's to the boundary—the boundary is the short side of the field. Central is in their standard 4-2-5 personnel.
Funchess motions to the top of the formation; Central slides to that side. The aggressive posture of the safeties likely indicates cover four, which sounds conservative but isn't really. For our purposes that means that either or both can charge hard at run action to his side.
On the snap, the telltale tilt of the center sideways that indicates a zone stretch. On inside zone the line goes more vertical, attempting to blow the DTs back with doubles. Here they're trying to shift their line a gap over.
Lewan immediately crushes the playside end inside, which is bad for defenders. Glasgow bangs the playside DT as Miller tries to scoot around him in time to pick him up when Glasgow leaves.
This is all working just fine. The situation:
- The end is bashed inside and has given up the corner. Toussaint will go outside.
- The backside DT is headed to the ground on a cut block.
- Miller and Glasgow have gotten some push on the playside DT and threaten to cut him off.
- Funchess is releasing downfield.
The issue is the red line. That is the middle linebacker on his horse, headed for the backfield.
Funchess is about to violate a fake cardinal rule of football that I made up: never turn upfield on a run play. When someone runs by you, they're gone. You may have screwed up, but you can't fix it by turning around. Go further downfield and hit someone else and hope to God it all worked out okay.
Well, go ahead and violate it.
And of course the thing is you can see in these stills that Graham Glasgow has seen this linebacker charging, disengaged from the scoop block on the defensive tackle, and successfully engaged him. That wasn't even Funchess's dude. Funchess can't feel the play like Glasgow did.
In the wider view you can see that Michigan has a a hat on a hat except for one guy:
That DT that Miller's handling gets sealed away:
The upfield guy is actually a linebacker Kalis is chasing. Miller has stepped around to get his helmet playside of the DT, though, which means he's done.
Toussaint hits the hole, getting hewed down by that filling safety as Funchess realizes his error, turns around, and tries to get downfield:
Glasgow's guy is on the ground. Safety tackles as Toussaint runs inside of the Jackson block; five yards is the return.
Items of interest
Man I like this play from Glasgow. I suspect this is a very bad player they're doubling here and blowing him up is no great accomplishment. Level of competition disclaimer applied. But as mentioned, I have seen an awful lot of zone stretches. It is very rare to see a guy with the speed of thought and fleetness of foot to both decide he needs to get on that guy right now and actually get there. That reminds me of David Molk.
I also liked Glasgow's immediate release on another stretch when Central's slanting away from the play:
That is decisive recognition of the fact that the DT has stepped away and he's free to climb to the second level. He goes out, he gets a block, he does not hang around wondering what he should do. It's not a miracle or anything; it is an easy thing to see a first-time player screw up. So far Glasgow has been consistently executing his assignments and throwing in flashes of serious promise like the play above. I don't think I could be any happier with his performance in this game so far.
That is a great, great sign. Obviously. It changes the entire tenor of the offseason competition on the interior of the line if Graham Glasgow is just good.
And he can pull! Should have sent a poet.
This was one play after Lewan pulled and ended up four yards behind the line of scrimmage. That is the fastest dang pull I've seen while doing this. This is saying very little, of course. Even so this is a good thing to see from a first-time starter at guard. He can zone. He can pull. He seems to be consistently executing his assignments. His skill level seems very high, and if he can physically match up with Notre Dame you should prepare for a barrage of Glasgow == Kovacs, "don't you dare call him a walk-on" stuff.
Funchess is still a work in progress. While he is trying his darndest with the blocking, he is just not a natural. Here he gets lost and blocks no one. Worse, on the second Gardner interception he does not pick up a guy that Williams is passing off to him, and that guy gets into Gardner's feet. As a result Gardner's throw is way long and intercepted. If Gardner understands the coverage and is trying to back-shoulder that throw, he could get a nice completion there, and FWIW he did mention that in the presser:
The next one, I got hit while I threw it, so it kind of went [farther than I intended], and you can kind of control that, but not as much as you'd like to. via Heiko
He did some good things with his blocking, but that wasn't a one-year reclamation project.
I do think this is an unnatural thing, for guys to let it go when dudes flash by them. But once you turn upfield you're done. If Funchess had gone 90 degrees and then continued downfield he probably still gets the block. It's not the thought he should take this guy that dooms him, it's how long he takes to decide that he actually shouldn't.
You're done now. The weirdest thing about these stretches was what happened on the end. He got obliterated inside by Lewan every time. That gave Michigan the corner easily. Bad player, surely. Also one unprepared for Michigan to run the stretch. I never saw that in the DeBord/RR days no matter who they were playing. Those guys were hauling ass to stay outside the tackle every time.
That's actually the easiest read in the book for a guy running the stretch. Rodriguez had three rules for the tailbacks that went by "bounce," "bend", and "blast." Bounce was the first one and that was simple: if the end gets sealed go to the corner ASAP. This was handled in about fifteen seconds because it never happens and if it does it's yards every time.
Why would they be running the stretch all of a sudden? Well, they seemed pretty good at it. Michigan was one block/step away from busting some long ones. It may be hard to remember this, but Jack Miller was a Rodriguez offensive line recruit more in the mold of agile bastard David Molk than someone that is going to excel at blowing guys off the ball. But I think the main reason is:
NOBODY fripperizes facemasks like the Notre Dame Fig Things
That's 322 pound Stephon Tuitt hanging with 340 pound Louis Nix, except this is probably a shot from last year's Michigan State given the background color. That's 15-20 pounds ago for each. Tuitt's backup is a somewhat touted redshirt freshman who is not Stephon Tuitt; Notre Dame lost Nix's backup to a season-ending injury and now the man behind him has a Notre Dame bio with an impressive set of accomplishments that happen to belong to Prince Shembo. Kona Schwenke is a senior with seven tackles to his name who was an obvious downgrade when Nix was out with the flu last year.
Stretch plays are good for getting rid of planetoid defensive tackles and making them run down the line in a futile chase to the ball. Notre Dame fans also apparently think their starters in the middle these days (Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese) are uninspiring plodders after the Temple game, so Michigan would like to make them run, too. Hypothesis: the stretch is something Michigan thinks will beat ND.
Wot it sez up dere^. Despite the blowout nature we got a good look last Saturday at the various positions that Michigan will rotate this season. So I charted who was in at what spot for every play. The results (link to Google doc):
Here's your starting defense, with everybody in their base 4-3 under spots. I want to self-congratulate the MGoStaff for nailing the starting lineup in HTTV with the exception of free safety, since Avery, though out of the lineup, was nominally ahead of Wilson on the depth chart.
The corners lined up to the field or boundary; the line was usually aligned to the formation but then CMU usually aligned to the boundary anyway. The safeties were always lined up to the formation. They split who ended up the deeper guy; usually it was the field guy, and usually that was Wilson.
There was heavy rotation in the front four, an almost even three-man rotation in the linebackers, and the secondary stayed put until it was time to empty the bench. It was rotation, not platooning; guys would go in for a certain number of plays then come out. I charted 44 non-garbage (before 14:59 of the 3rd quarter) plays; rotations as follows:
[Jump for breakdown, nickel, garbage time]
Oh, Cool, We Get To Root For The Blue Guys Again
It's a very odd experience to have Cass Tech playing a marquee game and not have several Michigan commits/targets to root for wearing green and white, but that was the case on Friday night when the Technicians—featuring OSU commit Damon Webb and MSU commit Jayru Campbell—took on a Southfield squad starring Michigan pledge Lawrence Marshall and top Wolverine target Malik McDowell. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to attend due to a family matter (all is well, don't worry), but there was plenty of coverage to round up from Cass Tech's 18-14 victory.
Maize & Blue News has cut-ups of McDowell (#67 in white), who finished with five TFLs in a very impressive performance in his first game for Southfield—an especially good sign given the greatly increased level of competition compared to what he faced in his first three years of high school:
This was Marshall's first game after tragically losing both his father (complications from diabetes) and grandfather (heart attack) within the last two months; TomVH has the full story of Marshall using football as his refuge while going through such a difficult time. Despite those trying circumstances, Marshall had a very impressive game; here's Lorenz on his performance ($):
Marshall was another player who impressed consistently. He still has difficulty disengaging blocks at points, but was very impressive physically and did not look even the slightest bit slower after putting on about 30 pounds since this time last season. He never quits on a play, and made a couple backside pursuit tackles that may have prevented Cass Tech touchdowns. He looked great.
McDowell, meanwhile, earned the nod as top defensive performer of the entire Prep Kickoff Classic from Rivals's Josh Helmholdt ($):
McDowell was named by Rivals.com as one of 10 class of 2014 players who needed to step it up in his senior season, and in the first game he did just that. Detroit Cass Tech fields one of the biggest offensive lines Southfield will see all season and it sent double teams at the 6-foot-7, 290-pound defensive lineman all night long, but it didn't matter. McDowell lived in the Cass Tech backfield, registering five tackles for loss. He was making plays sideline to sideline, showing a great motor.
The major questions surrounding McDowell after three years at Detroit Loyola centered on his motor and whether he could dominate against high-level competition; the early returns on both fronts are obviously quite good. His ability to play both inside and outside on the line could be very valuable if he ends up at Michigan given Greg Mattison's proclivity for moving players around depending on the situation.
Cass Tech's major standout was 2015 RB Mike Weber, who scored two touchdowns and had another brought back due to a penalty. While it's unclear if Michigan will have room for him in their class with Damien Harris already on board, Weber told Scout's Josh Newkirk that he's still got U-M under consideration ($):
While Michigan already has a running back Damien Harris committed in its 2015 class, Weber said he’s still looking at U-M as an option and he isn’t afraid of a little competition in Ann Arbor.
“I’ll go compete anywhere,” Weber said. “If I want to go there and it’s a good fit for me, I don’t care how many running backs go there -- I’m going to try to beat them all out.”
Weber visited for the Central Michigan game and enjoyed seeing several of his former high school teammates on the field, per Steve Lorenz ($). Michigan, Michigan State, and Tennessee are the three schools currently standing out for him; there's a large overlap between his top schools and those of 2015 teammate Joshua Alabi, who told Scout's Mike Wilson that he and Weber share a top two ($):
“Me and Mike, we liked Tennessee,” he said. “That’s our number one, but our number two is both Michigan State, so it’s kind of like even. … We were planning on going to Tennessee’s first night game, so whenever that is.”
Alabi's quotes about the rest of his top five—Michigan, Ohio State, and Wisconsin—indicate that the Wolverines are still under consideration, and may in fact have a good shot if they seriously pursue him:
Michigan: Michigan, that’s a home school. Who wouldn’t want to play for Michigan? If I wind up there, it would be a blessing.”
Michigan State: “With Jayru Campbell, he just committed there so I wouldn’t mind going there with me, Mike and Jayru. We were planning on all going to one school, so that could work out.”
Reading into quotes from high schoolers is a dangerous exercise, but that sure looks to me like Alabi is hoping for a spot to open up. At this point (even with an offer out) I think the coaches are in wait-and-see mode, and Alabi reportedly didn't impress with his play on Friday.
[Hit THE JUMP for the full roundup of Michigan commits in action, including Damien Harris posting mind-blowing numbers, a look at the Rivals250 Watch List for 2015, and more.]
- Boo boo watch: Joe Reynolds "feels better each day." I don't know what that means. Courtney Avery is "close" to being able to play.
- Derrick Green is second on the depth chart.
- Brady Hoke thinks depth charts are silly.
- The Michigan-Notre Dame rivalry is a pretty meaningful one, yeah.
- Interior line did pretty okay.
- Erik Magnuson has gotten stronger to earn playing time.
- Missed tackles vs. CMU were not so much the issue on defense. Cupping the ball was.
“Thanks for coming out. I know some of you would rather be on a boat on a lake, but it's football season so you don't have that opportunity. You know, as far as last weekend, I was pleased we won the game. At the same time there was a lot of things that we talked about as a football team, as a staff, that we can do better. There’s a lot of work. There’s no excuse for some of the penalties we had from a coaching standpoint and a playing standpoint. We had a couple returns that Dennis [Norfleet] did a nice job on, but obviously were canceled out. The turnovers -- can't have three turnovers. We lost five games a year ago, and we had 18 turnovers in those five games.
“From a defensive perspective, we got two turnovers, but we need to get more. There were a lot of good things, but for us to be a championship football team, we have to do a much better job in how we play. I thought the tempo in the first half and a little bit of the second quarter from an offensive point of view wasn't really what we needed. I think they got a rhythm and they started to do some very good things. Obviously Devin [Gardner] has a great ability running with the football and throwing the football, so I think he helped us a ton some times in there. When we settled down a little bit, we got into the run game pretty well. I thought the defense stood up well in some sudden change situations. We got to play a lot of guys. There were 11 true freshmen and 14 redshirt freshmen who played in the football game. So that was good because they need the experience.
“As you know and I know, this is a different week. It's a great rivalry game that's been played starting in 1887. It's a great rivalry game, and it's always a lot of fun. The atmosphere here, if you were here for the first night game, the second one should be just as fun. So with that, any questions?”
Noted author and man about town John U Bacon has just published a book, as you probably know from the excerpt that hit this space last Friday. John's been kind enough to give us the same opportunity he did when Three And Out came out: ask the man questions about things most people know nothing about because they haven't been inside a bunch of programs.
After Michigan, Bacon added Northwestern, Penn State, and Ohio State to his list over the course of putting together Fourth and Long, which means he's probably the only journalist with any basis to compare the Midwest's power programs. I've got a bunch of questions for him, but we thought we'd let you guys take a crack because crowdsourcing is always interesting.
So: what do you want to know about?
An hour and 22 minutes.
Gardnerpicks, offensive line talkin', I mention Norfleet's near-catch from Morris twice, Gardner as Vince Young, Fitz lookin' good. Taylor Lewan's name is pronounced correctly... sometimes.
All the rotation. Clark vs Beyer vs Ojemudia. Linebackers. Channing Stribling. Jarrod Wilson and Josh Furman.
Norfleet, Kenny Allen and what that means about the stability of the program. Punt blockage.
TALKING BIG TEN WITH JAMIEMAC
Big TENNNN? Big Ten. The entire league looked crappier than they should—Nebraska gives up 600 yards to Wyoming, Michigan State's offense is DOA, even Northwestern gets outgained by Cal. Purdue. Big Ten.
"Across 110th Street."
"Gardening at Night," REM.
"History Repeating," Propellerheads f/ Shirley Bassey. Because BIG TENNNN.
The usual links: