Michigan needs to fill another offensive coaching position. Per multiple reports Tyrone Wheatley Sr. has accepted the Jaguars running backs coach job—yes the one where he gets to spend all day with Denard Robinson ahh now you understand! Here’s Rapoport, who had it earlier than most:
As the #Jaguars wait for an OC, they have hired Tyrone Wheatley as the team's running backs coach.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) January 17, 2017
Wheatley coached with new Jags HC Doug Marrone at Syracuse and followed Marrone to the NFL’s Bills in 2013 and 2014. When Marrone parted ways with Buffalo Michigan scooped up their old running back star, signing Wheatley to a two-year contract. It was assumed at the time that Wheatley would leave after that if a better job came along.
Returning to the League probably does help Ty move forward with his career, since it’s been no secret that Wheatley would like to eventually run a unit or a team. If running backs coach for Jacksonville’s NFL team seems like a lateral move to Michigan fans, it’s probably not as much to NFL GMs. With no OC signed as of yet, it’s also possible Wheatley could be more involved in the offense there than he was at Michigan.
One of Michigan’s best recruiters (he departs ranked 7th nationally on the 247 recruiter rankings) and a living legend in his own right from his playing days, it’s a loss for Michigan, if not an entirely unexpected one: Wheatley was recently interviewing for the Western Michigan head coaching job. For many reasons—former Michigan star, Denard, expanding Harbaugh coaching tree, universally acknowledged good person—we wish him the greatest success.
Running backs coach is reputedly easier to replace that most positions, though recent experience in Ann Arbor demonstrates the importance of a good one. Mike Hart, who’s served as running backs coach at EMU and WMU and is currently in that role at Syracuse could be one candidate. Thomas Wilcher, the longtime head coach of Cass Tech, is also available. Harbaugh might even look at someone who isn’t a former Michigan running back. His track record says whoever it is will be good.
The Defense, For A Given Definition Of The Term
Slicing through M's defense with little resistance. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]
Do you have a stick? Throw it. Congratuations, you have hit a horrifying Michigan defensive stat.
The Wolverines may have pulled out a victory against a Nebraska team playing without its only viable post player, but they didn't do it by solving any of their problems on defense; the Huskers scored 1.21 points per possession, a hair below the average performance against M's defense in conference play. Michigan is now 185th in adjusted defensive efficiency; their worst finish under John Beilein was 120th in his first year in Ann Arbor.
Through five conference games, Michigan has the worst Big Ten defense by 8.9 points per 100 possessions; B1G opponents are making 52.7% of their twos and 55.3%(!!!) of their threes—and they're rebounding 34.7% of their misses. Michigan is great at not fouling and above-average at stealing the ball; they're somewhere between below-average and terrible at everything else.
Dylan has a post today that goes into further, gruesome detail on Michigan's defense, with one area of focus being the collapse of their pick-and-roll defense:
Michigan’s pick-and-roll defense has completely fallen apart. In the last six games, the Wolverines have allowed .986 points per possession (including pass outs) in the pick-and-roll game. Compared to seasonal numbers across Division I, that would rank 336th nationally.
Only the first half of the Nebraska game is available on the YouTubes, which is probably for the best. This actually came out better than I expected and it's still far from good:
The issue, as Dylan mentions in his post, doesn't appear to be the scheme; no matter how Michigan approaching defending the high screen—usually either with a soft hedge or ICE technique—they're allowing baskets because of individual player breakdowns. Passes into the post, like in the first play, are too easy to make. Blown rotations, like in the second, lead to wide open three-point attempts. Michigan commits the cardinal sin of allowing the P&R ballhandler to split the hedge at the 0:34 mark, something that occurred at least once more in the second half.
They did a little better towards the end of the half, as you can see in the video, but I also forgot to include this abomination:
It was more of the same in the second half. There are two common threads: Michigan has zero rim protection, which allows opponents to attack without fear, and their help/rotation off the ball is awful. I grew up on the suffocating team defense of the mid-aughts Pistons. This is the opposite of that. The problems are so widespread that it's impossible to suggest one or two solutions that could turn things around.
[After THE JUMP: That said...]
1/13/2017 – Michigan 2, Minnesota 5 – 1-4 Big Ten, 8-10-1 overall
1/14/2017 – Michigan 2, Minnesota 4 – 1-5 Big Ten, 8-11-1 overall
Here are Michigan's shot margins since December started: –10, –19, –9, –16, –16, –20, –35, –19. The good news, such as it is, is that Michigan managed to win two of those games. One was against Michigan State in overtime. The other was a 2-1 win against Wisconsin before two ENGs. Michigan got outshot 35-19. This is not just bad. This is astoundingly bad.
If you prefer a grizzled hockey veteran offering up the eye test, color guys at both games this weekend were clearly upset—even depressed—about what was going on in front of their eyes. On the Minnesota-centric Fox Sports North broadcast, Ben Clymer said that "this just wasn't the same Michigan team" they're used to seeing. He was probably feeling the same way I was, having just seen the season's most exciting series—Michigan-Minnesota on the big ice—reduced to a methodical execution. I've felt that way about Michigan State, of late. It is not the same when Ryan Miller is a faint memory and the present day is all pratfalls.
I didn't catch who the BTN guy was on Friday, but I think it might have been alum Sean Ritchlin. If so his extended lament about Michigan's complete lack of a defensive system bites even deeper. No matter who it was, you don't often see that kind of pointed criticism from announcers. Usually they default to talking about how young a team is, which, yep, happened a bunch on Friday.
This is the wrong age-related malady to cite. It's inescapable now: Red Berenson's in the twilight of his career and has hung on too long.
The slide has been gradual but it's also been a long time coming. The last Michigan team that felt truly elite was the 2007-08 squad that made the Frozen Four and was downed by Nickelback and Creed in the semis. The 2010-11 team that made the national title game was driven by Sean Hunwick's absurd save percentage. The semi against North Dakota saw Michigan outshot 2 to 1; it felt worse than that. It felt like being hunted.
Hunwick barely got them to the tournament the next year and they broke the streak the year after; in the five-years post Hunwick their conference record is 44-41-8. Last year's incredible pile of talent got them to the second round of the tourney, where they were once again outshot 2 to 1 by North Dakota. Michigan hasn't played an even game against the artists formerly known as Sioux in over a decade. Now they can't play an even game against anybody.
It's never been this bad; the arrow has been pointing this direction for a long time.
Now what? I don't know. I hope there are some tough conversations that take place and there's a new coach next year. I worry that won't happen because the narrative around the program often doesn't make any sense.
If you've paid close attention over the past few years you've seen Berenson throw Andrew Copp under the bus after his NHL departure. (Copp played 77 games his rookie year.) You've heard the rumor that Red stayed on another year because Warde Manuel asked him to. Even if this is true, Berenson could have said three words—"hire Mel, bye"—and resolved this impasse.
You'd think this would be the end of the road, but since the end of the road should have come a few years ago and did not there is a chance this will continue. You see it when a coach becomes synonymous with a program and nobody can tell him it's over. Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden are the prime exemplars. Those regimes had upward blips that were just enough ammunition to say "he's still got it" amidst a steady long-term decline, and ending them was either a nasty fight (Bowden) or only triggered by something unthinkable (Paterno).
I think the hockey program is unlikely to dig out without a new coach; I think a nasty fight might be necessary despite Mel Pearson hanging around; I don't know if Manuel has the stomach for a nasty fight, especially at a program that doesn't drive the revenue bus. At some point a football coach has to go because of the financial imperatives. That is not the case in hockey.
Maybe this is just a one year thing, as they say it is, and a new era can start next year. But I've been hearing that a change is imminent for seven years now. I'm worried it won't happen, and that's the thing that sucks most of all: Red Berenson, the guy who created Michigan hockey out of whole cloth, might keep damaging his legacy by returning. Time makes beggars of us all.
Derrick Walton, who called a players-only meeting last night, led M's late charge to close out a much-needed win. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]
If Michigan's players think John Beilein is the problem, they aren't showing it. Last night, in preparation for today's must-win game against Nebraska, Derrick Walton called a players-only meeting at the team hotel.
"The coaches don't need to say so much," said Walton. "We talked about this last night as a team at the players meeting last night. They make the calls. They make the adjustments. They make the subs. It's on us to make the plays out there."
"As Coach [Beilein] says, there's a point where he can only say so much. It's up to us to make plays and get stops."
The defense may have remained abominable, but with the offense hitting on all cylinders and the team's two seniors coming up big down the stretch, Michigan made just enough plays and got just enough stops to get their second Big Ten win.
Both teams showed little ability to stop the other. Moe Wagner exploited Nebraska's nonexistent pick-and-pop defense to score a career-high 23 points, making four-of-six three-point attempts. When the Huskers finally adjusted to the pick-and-pop, Derrick Walton took over, hitting three second-half three-pointers from virtually the same spot on the floor before icing the game on the line on his way to 20 points. On the other end, Michigan had no answer for Tai Webster, who scored a game-high 28 points on 12-for-20 shooting, operating off the high screen.
Defense: optional. [Campredon]
While the Wolverines never trailed, it was a tight game throughout. Michigan's lone double-digit lead, after a Wagner triple early in the second half, lasted all of one possession. Each time they threatened to blow the game open, Nebraska hit back, usually with a drive from Webster. After a quiet first half, Husker guard Glynn Watson Jr. kept them within striking distance late, scoring 20 of his 22 points in the second half. With his best half of play since the SMU game, however, Walton—with some help from fellow senior Zak Irvin, who made all seven of his second-half free throws—kept the Huskers at bay.
"That consistency is what we're both trying to get for [Walton]," said Beilein. "That's what he's capable of."
DJ Wilson was the fourth Wolverine in double-figures, needing only seven shots to get his 11 points, and Duncan Robinson came off the bench to hit a couple critical shots. As usual, Michigan took excellent care of the ball, and they forced some timely turnovers that proved to be the difference.
"Going forward, I think, a meeting like that, where you see guys so passionate about wanting to win—[we] really did it justice tonight," said Walton.
"There's only so many games left."
#46 Michigan (11-6, 1-3 B1G) vs
#86 Nebraska (9-7, 3-1)
Ann Arbor, Michigan
|WHEN||2 pm ET, Saturday|
Michigan -8 (KenPom)
Michigan -8 (Bovada)
PBP: Wayne Randazzo
Analyst: Stephen Bardo
To nobody's surprise, Michigan is no longer in the field in the Bracket Matrix, and the majority of the brackets that include them haven't been updated since the Illinois debacle.
Tomorrow's matchup with Nebraska looked a whole lot better a couple months ago, prior to M's defensive collapse and the Huskers' unexpectedly stong start in conference play. KenPom has Michigan as an eight-point favorite; their 76% chance to win is the highest projection for any game on the rest of the schedule—yes, even including M's trip to Rutgers. Both sides probably feel the line should be closer than that, even though Nebraska must deal with the loss of their best post player, Ed Morrow. The betting sites have yet to weigh in. [UPDATE: Michigan -8, just like KenPom. The Morrow injury probably played a big factor in that line.]
It's hard to overstate how much Michigan needs to win this game. Heading into the Kohl Center next week at 1-4 in the conference would be a nightmare scenario.
THE LINEUP CARD
Projected starters are in bold. Hover over headers for stat explanations. The "Should I Be Mad If He Hits A Three" methodology: we're mad if a guy who's not good at shooting somehow hits one. Yes, you're still allowed to be unhappy if a proven shooter is left open. It's a free country.
|G||5||Glynn Watson||So.||6'0, 175||80||23||111||Not At All|
|Excellent three-point and free-throw shooter, not a great finisher. Top-50 in steal rate.|
|G||0||Tai Webster||Sr.||6'4, 195||88||27||106||Not really|
|Big, aggressive point guard shoots 51/33/72 with high FT rate.|
|G||11||Evan Taylor||Jr.||6'5, 206||48||14||88||Very|
|Inefficient, low-usage scorer with high turnover rate. Defensive specialist.|
|F||15||Isaiah Roby||Fr.||6'8, 214||33||18||83||Very|
|Good shot-blocker, otherwise struggling. One of a few options to replace Morrow.|
|F||12||Michael Jacobson||So.||6'9, 230||63||17||97||Very|
|Good offensive rebounder, poor finisher. Usually a PF but could play C with Morrow out.|
|F||10||Jack McVeigh||So.||6'8, 215||48||15||96||Kinda|
|Stretch four type shooting 36% on twos and 30% on threes with little rebounding.|
|F||2||Jeriah Horne||Fr.||6'7, 222||22||19||108||Not really|
|Just A Shooter™ type is making 10/30 on threes, 9/14 on twos.|
|C||32||Jordy Tshimanga||Fr.||6'11, 275||24||23||83||Very|
|Big impact on boards, only shooting 34%. Frequently in foul trouble.|
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the preview.]
DEPARTURES IN ORDER OF SIGNIFICANCE.
- CB Jourdan Lewis. Two-time All-American has case for second-best cover corner in school history. Various excellent stats, none better than this: over his last two years throwing it in the dirt and throwing at Jourdan Lewis were equally productive in terms of QB rating.
- DE Taco Charlton. Rampant in the second half of the season against both run and pass and destined for the first round of the draft. Charlton was the rare WDE to play at 280 pounds and gave Michigan's run defense oomph it will miss even if his replacement keeps up the pass rush productivity.
- SAM Jabrill Peppers. Massively overrated nonentity will be mysteriously drafted in first round this April and have decade-long NFL career. Absence in bowl game went completely unnoticed and did not pave the way for almost all of Dalvin Cook's yards.
- NT Ryan Glasgow. Robot Viking finally started getting appropriately rated as a senior, when he was again an excellent penetrator and disruptor of all things run and pass.
- SDE Chris Wormley. TE obliterator and utterly steady; maybe a hair less than explosive. Pass rush not a huge strength, but that went unnoticed since everyone else was picking QB out of their teeth. Elite run defender capable of playing inside or out.
- CB Channing Stribling. Outstanding year in coverage; if he was any easier to hit with a completion than Lewis it was a narrow thing indeed. Run support an Area For Improvement, as they say. Should still go early in the NFL draft, as he's a legit 6-foot.
- Safeties Delano Hill and Dymonte Thomas. Close to interchangeable, so addressed together: capable of deep zones and slot coverage, these two kept Jabrill Peppers out of coverage almost all year. Tremendous luxury to be able to do that and flip 'em on motion. Thomas did bust a few times for big plays (most prominently against UCF and FSU), but as safety tandems go this might be tops in recent Michigan history.
- ILB Ben Gedeon. Sideline to sideline ILB who couldn't carry wheel routes downfield. Consistent tackler who showed up in the right spot almost every time; took on blocks with aplomb and shed them with authority. Lack of playing time early in career got more inexplicable every game.
- DT Matt Godin. Played well enough early in the season, when Hurst was laid up with a minor injury, to maintain that status for the duration. Was solid in his role; provided little pass rush but effective run defender. Least productive rotation DL by some distance but still meaningfully positive per PFF.
get in his belly [Fuller]
- DT Maurice Hurst. Technically not a starter but whatever man. Per PFF, the most productive interior pass rusher in the nation. Huge grades to both them and this sites UFR; with serious uptick in snaps should have breakout senior year and contend for AA status.
- ILB Mike McCray. Resurrected career after long-term injury threatened it and was about 80% revelation. Superior blitzer, tough customer on the inside. Struggled to contain edge runs for much of the year; late improvement in that department.
- CB Jeremy Clark. Injured in game four and Michigan will try to get a sixth year for him. If that comes through Clark is a bolt of experience in a secondary that will otherwise have almost none. Lost his starting job to Stribling but started anyway since Lewis was out for the first three games; has a year of solid starts under his belt and should be a draftable guy.
- DE Rashan Gary. Snaps limited by guys in front of him; impressive and productive when he did get on the field. Physical potential limitless, and should take The Leap as a sophomore.
- DE Chase Winovich. Crazy productive pass rusher who'd show up for a handful of snaps in big-time games and come away with a sack anyway. Per PFF had 27 pressure events in 277 snaps, which is almost precisely the same rate at which Charlton racked them up. Run D occasionally wobbly. Potential breakout player.
- DT Bryan Mone. Second straight injury-plagued year. As a result barely got over the 100-snap threshold that we're using to distinguish "new" from "what's left." Struggled when he did get snaps much of the year, hopefully because he was not 100%. Flashed ability against OSU.
- FS Tyree Kinnel. Promising safety candidate was dimeback for much of the year and did well in that role. Had a couple of Kovacsian TFLs where he'd fly up from outside the picture to kill a guy dead. Coverage, which was reputed to be a strength when he was a recruit, didn't get tested.
- CB Brandon Watson. Nickel corner was beat with some regularity when tested. Doesn't seem to have much upside.
WHAT'S NEW, OR CLOSE ENOUGH, ANYWAY
dread level: rising [Patrick Barron]
Everything! Almost everything, anyway. The DL has some guys who have established a certain level of performance, to the point where only one of them is even sort of "new," that a redshirt junior who would be old except for terrible injury luck.
Dudes flanking McCray. Devin Bush figures to draw into the starting lineup next to McCray since he was the clear #3 ILB last year. That should push the bulkier McCray to MLB and give Bush WLB. Hopefully that would allow McCray to focus more on getting vertical instead of lateral. Bush is very much a spread ILB.
Meanwhile at SAM/Viper(!!!), many different things could happen. Josh Metellus and Jordan Glasgow got Don Brown praise for their work at Viper(!!!) during bowl practices; Noah Furbush is a more traditional LB option at the spot; Khaleke Hudson still seems like a perfect fit as an emphatically box safety; if Michigan can get Willie Gay, recruiting types report that he is an instant impact player.
Either all of the secondary or all but one guy in the secondary. Michigan has a ton of cornerback talent pushing through at a spot where you can get by decently on athleticism. Safety has guys with scattered snaps a year ago and really needs a couple of players to come through.
WHAT'S ROD STEWART 1977
omar comin' [Fuller]
Still the defensive line. Michigan graduates all four starters but this is very much a reload situation, not a rebuild. Michigan figures to start:
- Maurice Hurst, who produced just as much as last year's top starters in 60-70% of their snaps. He is going to be elite.
- Rashan Gary, who was +13 in about 300 snaps as a true freshman and is a holy lock to be real good as the #1 recruit in the country.
- Chase Winovich, who would be coming off a double-digit sack season if he had as many snaps as Charlton, in his first year as a WDE.
- Bryan Mone, who had a series of injury struggles the last two years but flashed his ability on a critical third and short stop against the Buckeyes.
Those guys are very much in contention for the best line in the conference.
Probably cornerback? If Michigan gets Clark back that's a veteran who will be of interest to the NFL as a Sherman-type jumbo CB; I thought he was a B+ guy in 2015 and should get better if allowed to return. Surely Michigan can find Lewis 2.0 from the pile of recruits in shiny wrapping paper they've accumulated.
Don Dang Brown. Brown lived up to the hype and then some. Michigan LBs totaled 43 TFLs as he solved problems with aggression; Michigan is at or near the top of any defensive metric you care to look at. While the copious talent had a lot to do with that, those guys were around last year and Brown still just about halved S&P+'s expected points allowed metric from 13.7 to 7.7.
While there's going to be some regression, Brown's defenses tend to take a year before kicking in to high gear. Increased familiarity with the system should help mitigate the personnel losses.
WHAT'S ROD STEWART 2017
Is Kemp ready to play? Is anyone? [Fuller]
Defensive line depth. Seven different guys saw 250+ snaps last year, with Bryan Mone getting 117 of his own. Four of those guys are gone. There is a shortage of gentlemen ready to step in. This site constantly says that nose tackle is a spot with two starters. Starter #2 at NT is...?
DE is probably fine. Between Reuben Jones, Carlo Kemp, Lawrence Marshall, and Ron Johnson Michigan can find a couple guys to spell the starters. The only DT on the roster other than the projected starters is Mike Dwumfour, a middling three star coming off an injury redshirt. Michigan's bringing in a ton of DT types in this recruiting class but even if they get a top guy like Jay Tufele or Aubrey Solomon, relying on a true freshman in the two deep is alarming. Michigan might have no choice but to move Gary to DT.
Going from Peppers to Not Peppers. The silver lining of his absence almost certainly costing Michigan the Orange Bowl is that I don't have to spend much time explaining why Peppers's departure will be costly. Yes, he tended to go on a ride when he got blocked. Michigan was delighted to take that tradeoff if it meant that you could not outrun Michigan's front seven with Usain Bolt.
WHAT'S HEISENBERG ROD STEWART UNCERTAINTY
Safety. You know, I'm almost sanguine about safety these days. After a solid decade of safeties topping out at "eh, he hasn't set his head on fire" and frequently dipping into "welp, he set his head on fire again," Michigan's on a run of guys who are actual positives. It is at this moment that we must have maximum vigilance, for this is when Angry Michigan Safety Hating God loves to strike.
Michigan clearly likes Kinnel. Unfortunately they have few alternatives; it looks like both Hudson and Metellus are tracking towards hits, but are both of those guys box safeties who you don't want to see in deep coverage? I dunno. Mental issues for a couple of true sophomores could pop up as well.
Outside linebackering. Bush will probably be at least all right and could verge on good by the end of the season. SAM/Viper(!!!) could see just about any level of performance and it wouldn't be much of a surprise.
MANDATORY WILD ASS GUESS
What looks like another excellent starting DL and cornerbacks that should pick up the departed's mantle without too much trouble is a good baseline to work from. And while the unit is going to be young—just three seniors are currently projected in the starting lineup—it isn't going to be troublingly so. The only spots at which freshmen are likely to contend are backup DT and maybe somewhere in the secondary.
So while they aren't going to be this year's outfit, which was neck and neck with Alabama for the nation's best, neither are they going to drop off to average. Unfortunately, this is not a fully Harbaugh-ized program so there are some sore spots at which one injury could radically reshape the outlook—someone please wrap the DL starters in cotton until fall—so I reserve the right to repeal the prediction if the wrong guy goes down, but this should be a top 15 S&P+ defense and top 20-ish in YPP and the like.