Coaches' timeouts are worse. Basketball teams should get one, full stop.
In case you've forgotten since last fall, FFFF is the weekly film breakdown of Michigan's upcoming opponent where I apply my (limited) knowledge of X's and O's—luckily, this week much of the technical brilliance is provided by Chris Brown.
College football fans should know a few things about Alabama: they're good (duh), they play a soul-crushing 3-4 defense, and they grind out wins with a glacial-paced zone running offense that's brutally efficient. I'll get into more detail below, of course, but that's the Cliffs Notes version if you hate to read. Given that it's the opening week of the season and Alabama is replacing several starters, this post will almost entirely focus on scheme; Friday's preview will go much deeper into their personnel.
Spread, Pro-Style, or Hybrid? Pro-style. Alabama mostly operates from under center, usually with either a fullback/H-back or second tight end on the field.
Basketball on Grass or MANBALL? Though the Crimson Tide offense operates in the spirit of MANBALL, they actually utilize a lot of zone blocking—the inside and outside zones are staples of their offense.
Quarterback Dilithium Level (Scale: 1 [Navarre] to 10 [Denard]): Even with sacks removed, quarterback A.J. McCarron rushed for only 70 yards on 19 carries last year. He's mobile enough that he could escape the pocket and possibly pick up a surprise first down, but not much more than that. I'll give him a 3.
Dangerman: QB A.J. McCarron. Alabama loses most of their top skill position players from last year, but McCarron is often overlooked as one of the better quarterbacks in the nation, largely due to their run-heavy attack and defensive reputation. As a redshirt sophomore last season, McCarron finished 25th in the country in passer efficiency (147.27) and 24th in yards per attempt (8.0), most impressively posting a miniscule 1.5% interception rate. McCarron doesn't wow you, but he's the perfect quarterback for 'Bama's system: the proverbial "game manager" who rarely makes a mistake.
Zook Factor: This is my measure of how often teams have horrible ideas like "let's punt on 4th and 3 from the opponent 35" and so on. While Alabama is hailed as a conservative paragon, they've been known to break that habit in a big way:
Of course, the reason this works so well is because Alabama normally takes the safe route; earlier in the same game, they punted on 4th and 1 from their 46 despite the presence of one Trent Richardson.
OVERVIEW: Alabama has a new offensive coordinator this year as former Washington OC Don Nussmeier takes over for new Colorado State head coach Jim McElwain. The general strategy should be the same, however, and if anything the offense could become even slower: according to Football Study Hall, the Tide—quite uncharacteristically—had a slightly faster pace than NCAA average last year, while Nussmeier's Washington squad plodded along at a 39.6% adjusted pace. Chart via Football Study Hall:
Alabama's hard-earned reputation as a run-first outfit doesn't manifest itself on standard downs (First downs, second-and-6 or less, third-and-4 or less); instead, it shows up in their far-above-average run percentage on passing downs (second-and-7 or more, third-and-5 or more). The Tide don't often find themselves in that latter category, however, as they led the nation in all three advanced statistical measures (S&P+, Success Rate, PPP+) on standard downs. In other words, they stay ahead of the chains and rarely find themselves in a situation where they need to pick up a big chunk of yardage.
[Hit the jump for the rest of the breakdown]
|Jake Ryan||So.*||Kenny Demens||Sr.*||Desmond Morgan||So.|
|Cam Gordon||Jr.*||Joe Bolden||Fr.||Brandin Hawthorne||Sr.|
|Royce Jenkins-Stone||Fr.||Mike Jones||Jr.*||James Ross||Fr.|
It's step-up time for the linebacking corps. They return every contributor from a year ago and get freshman-to-sophomore transitions from Jake Ryan and Desmond Morgan. Kenny Demens, Cam Gordon, and Brandin Hawthorne are entering their second consecutive years in a sane defense for the first time in their careers and could/should see larger than average leaps in performance.
They will need to be much better. Mike Martin isn't going to bail them out on six plays a game anymore. Ryan Van Bergen isn't walking through that door. Ryan has to become an elite pass rush threat; Demens and Morgan need to take on blockers and funnel to help far more consistently than they did a year ago.
This is well within reach. Now about getting there.
|SLOWER THAN BLOCKS|
|eats MSU cut|
|eats OSU TE|
|eats him again|
|FASTER THAN BLOCKS|
|flow hard son|
|GOT SOME THUMP|
|Iowa FB denied|
|No Coker part 1|
|line to seam PBU|
In 2010, Kenny Demens was not Obi Ezeh, and this was enough. Expectations were sky-high for Demens in 2011 if only because he seemed so much better than Michigan's incumbent that he had to be pretty good. In retrospect, his somewhat disappointing output was always the likely outcome. Like almost everyone else on the defense, Demens had experienced position-coaching chaos and shifted from system to system on a semiannual basis.
Stepping into an entirely different coaching regime naturally meant hesitation, and hesitation was what we got. I put up this extremely scientific pie chart after Eastern Michigan put up 4.5 YPC despite throwing six times:
We'll talk about the Jake Ryan edge allowance below; here we're fixated on the big red thing labeled "hesitant linebacker play." This was the week after I'd watched Notre Dame's linebackers tear ass after anything that moved, so I may have had a view of proper linebacker play improperly biased towards running your balls off as soon as a guard gives you a direction.
I don't think so, though, as Michigan linebackers were exploited on the edge for much of the year. Blue Seoul captured a Kain Colter option TD in With Pics(!), and while I suppose Carvin Johnson, who Seoul criticizes, could have been more Kovacs-y on the play, he did follow the golden rule of leverage by keeping Colter well inside of him. It's just that there was no one to clean up afterwards:
Johnson's mistake should have been worth a few yards, but not enough for Northwestern to convert. Earlier he was unable to shut down an outside run that got turned up at the numbers:
He's even with Hawthorne, who was the backside LB, and well behind nose tackle Mike Martin in his attempt to shut the play down. This is because he took an angle upfield of a blocker on a perimeter run, which is one of those "you better make the damn play" decisions. Demens wasn't close.
Demens got a –4 in that game and was negative the next week against MSU as the Spartans pounded the edges and found Michigan LBs a step slow. Too often Demens did not do what Johnson is managing above, like on this Ed Baker run against MSU. Watch him eat a block and let Baker to the edge:
I know this is not an edge play, but it's symptomatic of the main issue.
You want edge biff? Edge biff.
State couldn't get out to the second level on Hawthorne and he is free. This is a quintessential example of what you hear about the WLB in the under: he often ends up the free hitter because of the configuration of the DL whereas the MLB has to take on a block. Demens takes on a block, loses leverage, does not funnel to his partner, and off Baker goes. This was 60-70% of all the complaining I did about the linebackers last year and my A-#1 bitch about Jonas Mouton. Michigan linebackers aren't good about keeping leverage. (Yet.)
Before and after that, Demens was pretty good between the tackles. He pounded ND for twelve tackles and a +8.5 and was consistently above average late in the year, picking up three straight +4s against Iowa, Illinois, and Nebraska before falling back towards zero in the OSU game. Late he started playing faster. His third-and-one stick of Marcus Coker was hands down Michigan's tackle of the year:
Yeah, Kovacs collapsed Alex Carder's lung. He did not stop that truck dead in its tracks. Demens was also the second key on that Braxton Miller rollout against OSU, tracking him to the edge and forming up at the right spot to allow Black to come from behind.
For Demens, it's about playing fast and going hard. Last year Mattison literally played him at nose tackle because he'd rather have Mike Martin blitz; Demens needs to go when he goes, and decide to go more quickly. That should be in reach. He'll be a solid run defender and decent down the seam, but a lack of raw athleticism probably sees him top out at a bit above average.
[hit THE JUMP for Bolden as Samson, Jake Ryan(!), and Desmond Morgan]
News bullets and other important items:
- 7 walk-ons got scholarships yesterday: SDE Nathan Brink, OL Joey Burzynski, LS Jareth Glanda, FB Paul Gyarmati, WR Joe Reynolds, QB Steve Wilson, TE Mike Kwiatkowski
- Still no decision on Fitz or Frank Clark
- Chris Wormley had his ACL surgery yesterday. It went well.
- If Fitz is out, there might be a running back by comittee situation. Super.
“Thanks for coming out. It’s always nice to visit with you. We’re getting a little closer to game day obviously. That’s probably an understatement. First thing I want to say is that we put seven guys on aid for the semester or for the year. They’re seven guys who have given a lot to Michigan and Michigan football. I think it’s only fair when we have them available at the time to reward those guys. Nate Brink and Joe Burzynski and Jareth Glanda, Paul Gyarmati, Kwiatkowski, Joe Reynolds and Steve Wilson are all guys that we wanted to make sure that we acknowledged. When you have the opportunity, every year’s different depending on what you have and what you’re going to do at mid terms and mid year and all that. We’re all happy about that. It’s an expensive dealing for some of them. Burzynski’s from Carlsbad or San Diego, California, out of state, and that’s -- you can imagine the price that he’s paying to be a guy who loves Michigan and wants to be part of Michigan football. That being said, that was fun. It was fun because we announced it in front of the rest of the team. There were hugs and kisses -- not kisses -- but hugs and excitement and all that kind of stuff. So that was good.
“Yesterday’s practice was okay. Not as sharp as we wanted, I wanted. We got a lot done, but at the same time you’re into a Tuesday. It’s a big workday. We’ve been working on Alabama for at least four days now. There’s a couple formation things, a little bit of communication from a defensive standpoint that we need to do a better job with. Still don’t have any decision for you on Frank or Fitz. You can ask me when I’m going to make that decision, and it’ll probably be before the game. It’s sometime before the game. With that, any questions?”
A note before we start: this preview relies heavily on the defensive UFRs of last year because there’s a convenient numerical system that does a decent job of summing up a defensive player’s contributions. One caveat: the system is generous to defensive linemen and harsh to defensive backs, especially cornerbacks. A +4 for a defensive end is just okay; for a cornerback it’s outstanding.
|STRONG DE||Yr.||NOSE TACKLE||Yr.||THREE-TECH||Yr.||WEAK DE||Yr.|
|Craig Roh||Sr.||Quinton Washington||Jr.*||Will Campbell||Sr.||Jibreel Black||Jr.|
|Nate Brink||Jr.*#||Richard Ash||So.*||Ryan Glasgow||Fr.#||Brennen Beyer||So.|
|Keith Heitzman||Fr.*||Ondre Pipkins||Fr.||Matt Godin||Fr.||Frank Clark||So.|
Okay okay okay. Breathe. Breathe in. Breathe out. Feel the lung expand and contract, and feel a calmness wash over you. Yeah. Calm. Calm.
Michigan lost three starters, may be starting a 280-pound three-tech, moved the only returning starter, and has a walk-on seriously pressing for playing time. If they're not starting a 280-pound three-tech, they're starting a 280-pound WDE. Will Campbell inherits a starting spot essentially by default.
No no no no. Calm. Callllm.
The big piece of news that hit when the Big Ten Network was let inside the velvet rope at Michigan practice was Jerry Montgomery naming Quinton Washington one of his starters instead of Brennen Beyer. This was followed up by a depth chart confirming this fact.
Clarity came Monday when Hoke made an appearance at the UM Club of Greater Detroit's kickoff dinner that I was at, waiting for the Q&A session with Greg Dooley and Angelique Chengelis. Hoke took questions, someone asked him about the defensive line, and Hoke gave a straight answer. To paraphrase: Michigan is planning on rotating six guys. Washington will be the nose in certain packages with Campbell at three tech and Black at WDE. In other packages they'll remove Washington and slide everyone down, inserting Beyer at WDE and going with Roh-Campbell-Black-Beyer.
Who's the sixth guy? You got me. I'd guess it's Nate Brink, but it didn't come up.
this year he'll totally live up to this image. really! (probably not really.)
This time we mean it, Will Campbell: it's now or never. The one-time five-star recruit is now a senior. He's been handed a starting spot by the graduation of three DL starters and Rodriguez's crappy recruiting. This makes everyone nervous because obviously.
There is some good news on this front. After a couple years in which Campbell appearances were all but guaranteed to draw this sort of commentary…
I'm not at the point where I can tell you the ten different things Campbell did to get blown four yards downfield, but I can blather on about pad level: man, pad level. Am I right?
…his cameos were fairly effective last year. He got limited snaps, of course, but only ended up negative against Iowa, when he got cut twice on big Coker runs. He had a +5 against ND, a +3.5 against SDSU, a +4 against Minnesota, and a +4 against Illinois, three of which came when he blew up a third and one by himself:
Unfortunately, these positives and highlights are all against the worst offensive lines on the schedule (and ND, oddly). Michigan didn't put him out there much against tougher competition; now they've got no choice.
"The most dramatic change I've seen in a body on our team is Will Campbell," said left tackle Taylor Lewan. "His body is transformed. He was a sloppy 350 and now he's a toned down 308 kind of guy. He looks real good. His conditioning shows it. You should see him run. He's like a gazelle. It's unreal. I think Will is going to do some special things this year."
Come on, baby. He's getting the full-court press from Michigan's three-headed DL coaching staff, and I wished and hoped my way to thinking he was a lot better this spring:
Last spring game guy was a lump who managed to not get blown off the ball most of the time and just about never did anything. During the year he was largely that with some nice plays mixed in, but too infrequently to be encouraging. In the spring game he had clearly progressed enough to actually beat his man to the gap more than once.
You know all those runs Rawls had where he had to abort mission and find another hole? Most of those were headed at Campbell. Since we got a baseline for Ricky Barnum in the time he got before his ankle injury last year—decent Big Ten player even then—that's a hopeful sign.
While that hasn't kept the coaches from grousing about things, their expectations are not my expectations.
Finding out that Campbell will flip between three tech and the nose is probably a positive tea leaf. Leverage has always been a problem, and at 6'5" he's never going to be a great burrower. Get him one on one and he can deposit folks on their butts. That is what he'll generally be allowed to do at the three. His ability to do that on passing downs is going to be a huge factor in how effective that line configuration is—three techs can get good rush, and Michigan's ability to get pressure out of the WDE spot is very much in doubt.
What to expect here is a mystery. My WAG: adequate play that's on average a few points to the good on UFR charts (which is average for DL, as it measures MAKING PLAYS more than not doing so). Maybe a fringe draft pick if Michigan is pretty lucky. I don't think he'll be worse than Heininger, and he was pretty decent by the end of the year.
[hit THE JUMP for the GREAT MYSTERY beyond the KEN OF MAN (and Craig Roh)]
PREVIOUSLY ON "MGOBLOG WRITERS DRAFT BIG TEN TEAMS SO YOU CAN NOW, FINALLY, VOTE FOR THE TEAM THAT HAS DENARD ON IT"…
Rounds 1-3: At Jim Leyland's lakeside mansion in Somerset, quarterbacks are divided.
Rounds 4-7: In the War Room of the Toledo Ramada Inn, Heiko is replaced by a mysterious stocky middle-aged man with a mustache.
Rounds 8-12: In the Presidential Suite of of the Ishpeming Red Roof Inn, a 1970 Fiat 500 assumes the commissioner's chair, rules all picks must get 30 mpg.
Rounds 13-17: In a Secret Submarine Headquarters Underneath the North Atlantic, iPhones apparently get zero bars.
Rounds 18-something whatever: Onboard the Voyager II Spacecraft at the Edge of the Solar System, quarterbacks are put through a series of zero-grav tests to determine if there is anything they can't do.
Weary and ignoring the complaints of abused livers, SETH, HEIKO, ACE, and something that looks like a lanky sheep dog emerge from a secret lair in the PHOSPHATE MINES of the PACIFIC ISLAND OF NAURU. They ask for your ballot…
Seth "Progress" Fisher/Heiko "Progress" Yang/Ace "Progress" Anbender/Brian "Progress" Cook
POLLS ARE NOW OPEN. Go vote!
The Final Snarkdown
BRIAN COOK AND THE FLYIN' ZOOKS:
OFFENSE: Nathan Scheelhaase (QB, ILL), Fitzgerald Toussaint (RB, M), LeVeon Bell (HB/FB, MSU), Jared Abbrederis (WR, UW), MarQuies Gray (QB/WR, Minn), Kevonte Martin-Manley (WR, Iowa), CJ Fieodorwicz (TE, Iowa), Taylor Lewan (LT, M), Ryan Groy (LG, UW), Matt Stankiewitch (C, PSU), Chris McDonald (RG, MSU), Jack Mewhort (RT, OSU).
DEFENSE: Ra'Shede Hageman (DE, Minnesota), John Simon (DE, OSU), Beau Allen (NT, UW), Akeem Spence (DT, ILL), Jake Ryan (LB, M), Desmond Morgan (LB, M), Denicos Allen (LB, MSU), Terry Hawthorne (CB, ILL), Bradley Roby (CB, OSU), Blake Countess (CB, M), Daimion Stafford (SS, UNL), Christian Bryant (FS, OSU)
I didn't mean to do this but I ended up with a Rodriguez spread'n'shred circa 2007 with a running quarterback, a damn fast outside back, and a fullback type who can rip off runaway beer truck touchdowns. The offensive line is a lot more POWER based but I figure that's fine since Auburn and others have made the inverted veer and related plays major spread drivers. Then you've got an array of excellent WRs with big catching radius: the deep threat (Abbrederis), the unstoppable guy on intermediate routes (Gray), and a promising TE.
The defense is Greg Mattison.
FINAL SNARKDOWN (by Heiko): Dear Brian: You know that red and gray plaid shirt you wear all the time? You should wear it less. Oh, something mean about his team? Ummmm... None of your QBs have a winning record. I've seen Desmond Morgan in person, and he's still really small and liable to get crushed by offensive linemen. And you drafted two LOLphers.
[The drafters still got some splainin' to do. For the rest of the roundtable, and which school had the most picks, and stuff, HIT THE JUMP.]