"He makes it really easy on you as a coach because he has tremendous football instincts," Michigan tight ends coach Jay Harbaugh said. "Things come really naturally to him. He doesn't have to see things too many times. He has a good sense for how things should look and feel, and he's a tough, physical guy."
Previously: Iowa Offense
Because I was just reminded that this picture exists, and it sums up the feelings about Michigan/Iowa for anyone without a serious rooting interest.
Now that Michigan is suddenly basing their running game on the inside zone with the overhanging threat of a bubble screen, my choice to break down Iowa's game against Northwestern has become oddly relevant to Saturday's matchup against the Hawkeye defense. In this one, the Wildcats were able to move the ball consistently on the ground (13 first downs rushing, 5.1 ypc with sacks removed) and struggled with any passes that weren't quick, short throws (six first downs, mostly on underneath throws, 4.1 ypa when accounting for sacks).
The Hawkeyes did what they do best: play bend-but-don't-break defense that keeps big plays to a minimum, and they got just enough from their offense to pull out a 17-10 overtime win. On to the breakdown...
Base Set? 4-3 over, though the Hawkeyes spent much of this game with five DBs on the field, lifting SLB Anthony Hitchens, to counter Northwestern's spread attack.
Man or zone coverage? Almost exclusively zone, with the notable exception of playing man the first few times Northwestern showed a 3x1 trips set. The Wildcats would motion the lone back outside of the three receivers. The man coverage worked well when Kain Colter targeted the man covered by outstanding cornerback B.J. Lowery:
There was significant confusion, however, when Northwestern went to the other side of the field, as the Hawkeyes flat-out failed to guard the slant thanks to some nice route design and poor recognition by freshman CB Desmond King (#14):
After this happened a couple times for first downs, Iowa adjusted to playing their usual Cover 2 against this look and Northwestern stopped utilizing it after a couple incompletions.
Pressure: GERG or Greg? Extremely GERG-ian. Iowa rushed more than four players on a passing down once, by my count, and often brought just three pass-rushers from a nebulous front while using MIKE James Morris as a spy with the option of coming on a delayed blitz. This specific wrinkle will be covered further in the play breakdown section.
When Iowa wasn't utilizing that particular look, they tended to rush four linemen with an obvious emphasis on maintaining their lane over getting to the quarterback against a mobile guy like Colter. The Hawkeyes had six sacks on the game; they netted just nine lost yards for Northwestern, as five of the six were coverage sacks in which Colter moved up in the pocket and tried to escape, only to get buried right around the LOS.
Dangerman: I was going to give this to WLB Anthony Hitchens, who tallied nine tackles (2 TFL), a sack, and a forced fumble while making several very impactful hits, including one that blew up a screen in Ryan-esque fashion, but then he bit hard on a play-action and subsequently gave up a wide-open touchdown in a critical situation.
Since I was torn between these two anyway, I'm going with Lowery, who recorded the PBU above and did an excellent job of tackling on the perimeter—that's very critical given Iowa's tendency to play soft zone coverage and rely on their corners to not leak yardage after short completions. He's far and away the team leader in pass breakups with 13 and also tops the Hawkeyes in forced fumbles with three. Northwestern didn't test him a whole lot—they only threw 14 passes all game and mostly stayed away from him—but when they did he made them pay, either by knocking the ball down or tackling receivers for minimal gains.
It's hard to emphasize enough how vanilla this Iowa defense is; they're going to sit back in zone coverage and dare opponents to beat them over the top for big plays. Northwestern only took a couple deep shots and their one long pass completion, a wheel route to H-back Dan Vitale, came on an inch-perfect throw that barely eluded Lowery's fingertips—and that still required Vitale to make a difficult over-the-shoulder catch on the run. Michigan has skill position players better suited to test Iowa deep. That doesn't mean it's going to be easy.
Starting up front, I thought the defensive line was the weak point of this Iowa defense. Though partly by design, they never got much push in the pass rush, nor did they hold up particularly well against the run—Iowa's linebackers rack up a ton of tackles in part because they're almost always the first guys to get decent contact on running backs. Out of curiosity, I tracked Northwestern's success on inside zone runs, and what I found supported this: the Wildcats amassed 69 yards on 14 inside zone runs (4.9 ypc) and gained at least three yards on all but one of them.
Of course, that also speaks to the sure tackling of their linebackers and safeties; the longest of those runs netted seven yards, and a three-yard gain ended with a lost fumble after a huge hit by Hitchens. The trio of Hitchens, Morris, and Kirksey at linebacker impressed; they rarely got out of their zones in pass coverage, while any run that got to them stopped upon contact. The best gains Northwestern got on the ground came on Kolter scrambles—usually up the middle as the DTs couldn't disengage; the DEs contained well—or quick-hitting runs to the edge, which included two speed sweeps by a motioning Vitale.
"A lot faster than you would think" is still not as fast as James White.
Safeties Tanner Miller and John Lowdermilk both did very well in run support and weren't tested at all in coverage; they flow downhill quickly and don't miss many tackles. The BTN play-by-play guy noted that Lowdermilk is "a lot faster than you would think," because he closes quickly and is white.
Lowery is obviously the standout corner; King, the true freshman starter across from him, did an impressive job of tackling for such a young player and didn't make any noticeable mistakes aside from the error in man coverage I pointed out above. Northwestern had inconsistent success getting first downs on hitches and crossing routes over the middle against Iowa's zone coverage; when those routes weren't open, Kolter was running around and usually taking a sack.
Michigan is going to have to find a way to consistently churn out yards in the running game, get receivers open underneath, and avoid turnovers at all costs; the difference between a solid offensive output and a poor one is going to come down to a few big plays going in one direction or the other, especially since the Wolverines haven't shown an ability to sustain drives via short-to-medium gains over the course of a full game. I don't think Iowa's defense is as good as the raw numbers suggest (#9 nationally in yardage allowed); their FEI rating of #46 passes the sanity test for me—they're decent, not great, and like Michigan under Mattison are able to cover up for a lack of playmakers on the line by executing basic schemes and getting solid, mistake-free play from the back seven.
Iowa showed this nebulous front on several third-and-longs in which they'd have just three linemen on the field, nobody would get set, and the front 4-6 players (including linebackers) would move around a lot before the snap:
The Hawkeyes almost always dropped eight men into coverage out of this formation; sometimes Morris would come on a delayed blitz, sometimes he'd rush right away, and in one instance they brought five rushers—on that play, Colter escaped the pocket and picked up a first down. That caused Iowa to mostly abandon this tactic in the latter stages of the game; early on, however, it got them a sack when Morris blitzed late and nobody on the Northwestern line picked him up:
While Northwestern didn't have too much trouble picking these rushes up otherwise, the concern here is that Michigan's offensive line ... well, you've seen enough missed assignments and blitz pickups to know the concern here. I wouldn't be surprised to see Iowa utilize this look often early in the game until the Wolverines prove that they can consistently identify and pick up rushers when they're moving around that much before the snap.
Missing out on potentially the #1 player in the country is never good but luckily for the Michigan faithful the coaching staff got back up and back on the recruiting trail. I’m sure the coaches felt like they took one on the chin when Da’Shawn Hand decided to commit to Alabama, but they wasted no time in trying to find an adequate replacement.
Less than an hour after Hand announced, the coaches extended an offer to Jhonny Williams. Williams is currently committed to Missouri but has been getting a lot of attention on the recruiting trail lately, most notably from Notre Dame and the in-state Wolverines. Williams hails from the tiny village of Berrien Springs in southwest Michigan, the village itself covers just over one square mile. The small school population and low level competition made for a late start in the recruiting game for Williams but on film his size, speed, and athleticism are very apparent. In his high school games and at 6’6” and 230 lbs. Williams stands out like a green hat with an orange bill.
Jhonny seems like a very well-rounded kid and that sentiment was easy to identify the first time I contacted him as he responded with a very business-like but polite text that read, “I’m not ready to comment on the recent events. I’ll let you know my thoughts when I gather them. I need time. Thank you.” I was able to catch up with him Thursday evening and he was much more open this time around.
What exactly is going on in your mind now that you have a Michigan offer? Well, I’m committed to Mizzou, but it was definitely an exciting thing to have that happen.
How seriously are you going to look into Michigan? Are you planning to take a visit? There’s a chance I will visit for the Ohio State game but nothing is scheduled yet.
I’ve read in some other places that a commitment flip is possible since you now have the in-state Wolverine offer. Did you grow up a Wolverine fan and is there any truth to that? (Laughs) I haven’t completely thought about that yet. I never really had a favorite football team growing up. I don’t really want to go into where I was born and raised but it wasn’t in Michigan anyways.
I was also able to find out that the coaches really haven’t been very aggressive toward Williams. He says that the coaches haven’t really called him much at all since the offer. He plans to make a decision by this time next week on whether he will visit for the Ohio State game or not (obviously since the game is next Saturday) and I think that decision will say a lot about how serious his interest in Michigan is. I will try to check in with him again in a few days to see if he has indeed made that decision.
Michigan jumped out to a 7-0 lead against an overmatched Long Beach State squad and, despite allowing the 49ers to hang around for much of the game, never really allowed it to be much of a contest, pulling away late for the critical KenPom cover. The Wolverines repeatedly exploited LBSU's attempts to play zone, shooting 14/30 from downtown; Nik Stauskas (24 points, 4/6 three-pointers) and Caris LeVert (20, 4/7) led the way offensively. Michigan will face the winner of tonight's game between VCU and Florida State (7:30 p.m. EST, ESPNU) tomorrow at 5 p.m. EST.
A few scattered thoughts from a 24-point win over a pretty bad team:
- At this point, there's no question who the go-to guy is on this team: Stauskas, the only player who can consistently create his own shot inside and outside the arc. He didn't just knock down spot-up jumpers; he had a nice step-back three with a man in his face, hit three of his four two-pointers, and repeatedly got to the free-throw line (6/8).
- LeVert obviously played a big role in this win, too, and he did it mostly by working his way into the middle of the LBSU zone and becoming a triple-threat: from there, he could pull up for a short jumper, continue working to the basket, or dish it to an open shooter. He finished 8/13 from the field with four assists and no turnovers, facilitating the offense as well as anybody on the floor. His ballhandling/passing could be the key in a potential matchup with VCU, since...
- Derrick Walton had a very up-and-down game. He knocked down 3/7 three-pointers, but missed all four of his two-point shots—IIRC, all on drives to the hoop in which he either anticipated contact or had his shot blocked. Spike Albrecht did a better job getting the offense going, and the team may need his steady hand at the point tomorrow if they're facing the HAVOC press of VCU. Walton did rebound very well, leading the team with seven boards; he had some issues defensively, however, especially contesting shots after switches—a better team would've capitalized more on some wide-open looks.
- Mitch McGary didn't have to do too much in this one; when he was out there, though, he made a major impact, hitting all three of his shots—including a flying one-handed putback off a miss by Glenn Robinson III—and pulling in four rebounds. It's pretty clear he's still working his way into game shape, but despite the back injury he's still starting from a better place than he was last year.
- Two major areas for concern from this game: Michigan did a very poor job of boxing out on defense, even though LBSU didn't always take advantage, and they still have a lot of work to do on their transition defense. These are little issues against bad teams that become very big issues against good ones.
- Wanderin' Jon Horford missed a three-pointer off the backboard in the first half. I thought you should know this, especially since he's making a bit of a habit of it. He also beat a 2-3 with a slick cut behind the back line of the defense for an open 8-footer from the baseline. More of the latter, less of the former, please.
The three different stat-trackers I tried during the game (SCACCHoops, CBSSports, ESPN) all have slightly different numbers, at least when it comes to offensive rebounds and minutes played. ESPN has the most readable box score, so I'll link that if you'd like to peruse more stats from the game.
TUBE NOTES: These are not tubes, but it's pretty much tubes.
FORMATION NOTES: Michigan defended spread stuff exactly like Northwestern did, leaving in a 4-3 and sliding their linebackers to the slot receiver. Since Northwestern was in a spread all the time, this was what they did all the time.
Cam Gordon over the first slot receiver, Morgan in the gray area over #3, Ross in the box.
When Northwestern went with two WRs to one side instead of three two LBs were in the box.
Michigan only went to 4-3 stuff when Northwestern went into goal line business.
Michigan kept two deep safeties most of the day, which was a change from Nebraska.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: Secondary was Countess and Taylor at corner with Stribling the third guy when Michigan went to the nickel, which was a lot less frequent. Gordon and Avery got most of the snaps at safety, with Wilson rotating in on occasion and Furman getting one drive, IIRC. He did not chart.
Linebacker the usual. Morgan/Ross/Bolden rotation at ILB, Ryan and Cam Gordon at SAM.
On the line, Beyer and Wormley rotated at SDE, Ojemudia and Clark at WDE. Black, Washington, and Henry got almost all of the DT snaps, with Black again mostly at NT. Glasgow got a few snaps, and Charlton got DT snaps in the nickel package.
[After THE JUMP: infinite clips of Mike Trumpy running for two yards.]
|WHAT||Michigan vs. Long Beach State|
|WHERE||Coliseo Roberto Clemente, San Juan, Puerto Rico|
|WHEN||5:00 pm EST, Thursday|
|LINE||Michigan -14 (KenPom)|
Long Beach State won the Big West regular-season title last year, then fell in the second round of the conference tourmanent to UC-Irvine before suffering a spectacular 112-66 defeat at the hands of Baylor in the opening game of the NIT. One could chalk that last game up to an off-night, but as it turned out the 49ers had some serious issues to work out; after the season, five players with eligibility remaining, including two starters, departed the program amid reports of serious turmoil within the team.
Three of those players had transferred to "The Beach", which contributed to the team's serious chemistry issues; head coach Dan Monson, faced with a smoking crater where there used to be a basketball team, brought in three new JuCo transfers this season in an attempt to put out the fire. Thus far, they haven't gelled, going 1-3 this season with the lone win against Division II Hawaii Pacific. They've lost away games against Arizona and Kansas State by 34 and 13 points, respectively, and dropped a one-point game at home against #155 Loyola Marymount.
Despite the massive turnover, two starters from last year's squad return. Junior point guard Mike Caffey is a turnover-prone high-usage player who tallies a good deal of assists and takes a lot of outside shots, which he hits a pretty middling rate: last season, he shot 42% from two and 33% from three. Senior forward Dan Jennings is a solid rebounder (especially offensively) and shot-blocker who's a decent finisher (52% shooting on all two-pointers last year) and a terrible free-throw shooter (46%).
All three other starters are incoming JuCo transfers, so we only have four games of data on them at this level. 6'3" guard A.J. Spencer is 10/16 shooting inside the arc and 0/6 from downtown with one assist to seven turnovers. Fellow 6'3" guard McKay LaSalle hasn't attempted a single two-pointer while going 7/27 from beyond the arc. 6'7" forward David Samuels has identical offensive and defensive rebounding rates of 11.3%; he's also shot just 7/26 from the field.
Key backups include two different players with turnover rates north of 30% (that's bad, m'kay) and two other players who've shot a combined 7/36 on the year. This team is not very good.
Hit the glass. The 49ers defense allows an astounding 40.2% offensive rebound rate, and that's without facing a Mitch McGary this season. Michigan has a Mitch McGary. This should go well.
Work inside-out. That defense has also let opponents shoot 58.3% from two-point range, and they only have one rotation player (Jennings, at 6'9") taller than 6'7". Again, it's time for McGary to go to work, which should open up plenty of opportunities on the perimeter.
Let them chuck. If you couldn't glean this from the individual player stats above, Long Beach State is pretty terrible at the whole shooting thing; their 23.3% mark from three-point range is 324th in the country. Small sample size issues apply to all of this, of course, but I'd be more worried about making sure someone gets a body on Jennings and Samuels than getting out of position to contest outside shots.
THE SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES
Michigan by 14
C’mon Fitz, Courage would have made the tackle there (Fuller)
1. The Six Factors
|Exp Score||Early Conv||Bonus Yds||Avg 3rd Dist||Adj 3rd Conv||Red Zone|
Field position kept Michigan alive in regulation and a strong day of early downs helped offset what we know to be an abysmal third down stretch. The defense posted outstanding numbers across the board, holding Northwestern below 40% on early conversions while still generating a lot of long difficult third downs and that Northwestern did a below average job of converting. Michigan’s offensive day wasn’t very good until overtime, but you can see more positive signs in their day than you can in Northwestern’s.
2. Individual Game Scores
QBs: Opp. Adjusted EV, Win percent added (National Rank)
Devin Gardner: –7, +30% (99)
Kain Colter: –1, +21% (72)
Trevor Siemian: –6, –19% (94)
Derrick Green: –1, –5% (139)
Treyvon Green: +1, +11% (71)
Mike Trumpy: +0, +1% (96)
Jeremy Gallon: +6, +48% (61)
Devin Funchess: +3, +17% (163)
Devin Gardner had his easily his lowest rated game of the season with only 285 yards on 55 plays (all numbers with sacks removed). He was +4.3 in overtime though, adding 34% to Michigan’s win odds in the period. Northwestern’s quarterbacks equaled the ugly numbers with Trevor Siemian being the worst performer with a –6 on the day. Derrick Green’s –1 isn’t great out of context, but considering Fitzgerald Toussaint’s numbers have been some of the worst in the country, moving close to average is a major step forward.
3. Game Chart
6. +19% Gardner hits Jake Butt for a TD to open overtime scoring
5. +21% Gardner hits Gallon to set up the fire drill FG attempt
4. +24% Gardner runs it in for the 2 point conversion
3. –27% Gardner loses a yard on the big 4th down call
2. +27% Gibbons hits from 44 yards to sent it to overtime
1. –35% Gardner sacked for a loss of 13 on the final drive
Amazingly in a game this close all six of the biggest plays came when Michigan had the ball. Four of them were positive and two were negative. Overtime was unique in that even though it was triple overtime, Michigan was always in control. Scoring touchdowns when you go first will do that for you.
4. Ron Zook Dumb Punt of the Week
Some coaches are really stepping up their dumb punt game with the regular season nearing its close. Kent St saw a 4th and 5 with a 15 point lead in the fourth. Usually not a bad situation to punt in other than they were so deep in Miami (NTM) territory that a 14 yard turned out better than a touchback would have.
Sean Kugler, father of Michigan freshman Patrick was in a similar situation at UTEP. It was a ten point lead in the third and the Miners were facing 4th and 7 from the FIU 30. It would have been a classic no man’s land situation at the 40, but at the thirty? That’s practically punting from the red zone. It did work out for the Coach Kugler as the punt was downed at the four and resulted in a safety on the next possession. Ultimately having FIU as an opponent was more important than fourth down strategy as UTEP picked up its second win of the year.
Of course the Dumb Punt of the week just can’t escape Big Ten country, or Ron Zook’s previous employer for that matter. Normally punting on 4th and 13 from your own 17 is an automatic response. But what if there are only five minutes left and you are only down 12 to the team with the nation’s longest winning streak? Just like Gary Andersen did as Wisconsin played Ohio State, Tim Beckman puckered up and punted. Hoping to get the old stop, score on-side score again combination for the win. The Illini defense did half of their job well, getting the ball quickly back into the hands of the offense, unfortunately it was after allowing a 2 play 60 yard TD drive. Illinois then went three and out and punted again before allowing a one play 55 yard TD, turning a 12 point upset potential into a 25 point no-contest. Once again, Tim Beckman is your Ron Zook Dumb Punter of the week.
Bonus Pointless Field Goal of the Week:
Future B1G member Rutgers, got pasted by Cincinnati last week but they managed to cover the –35.5 point line by kicking a short 36 yard field goal with 16 seconds left to cut the lead from 38 to 35. Rutgers, getting their B1G on a year early.
5. Where Have All the Big Plays Gone
One of the stats I have started tracking this year is bonus yards which are defined as any yards gained beyond achieving a first down. Gain 11 on 1st and 10, that’s one bonus yard. 3rd and 1 play goes for 50 yards, that’s 49 bonus yards. It’s a measure of big plays that captures both quantity and magnitude. Michigan’s big play offense has been up and down but downfield success has been disappearing as Big Ten play has progressed.
The Indiana game has been removed because there is no doubt at this point that the results of that game were more about Indiana’s lack of defense than our presence of an offense. The last three games have struggled to crack 100 yards beyond the line of scrimmage after four of the first six games have crossed 140 yards. You can see it in the UConn game as well as early turnovers forced Devin Gardner into a safe place.
As currently constructed, this is Michigan’s only chance at generating offensive output. The offensive line struggles have made drive crimpling lost yardage a regular occurrence. If Michigan is going to get the offense to hold up the defense at all, I think it’s going to have to come in the form of big plays downfield because 12 play drives just aren’t going to happen.
|Exp Score||Early Conv||Bonus Yds||Avg 3rd Dist||Adj 3rd Conv||Red Zone||Total Conv|
|Mich O||29.7 (24)||47% (38)||158 (37)||8.7 (125)||-3% (88)||4.9 (74)||70% (75)|
|Iowa D||24.3 (30)||35% (3)||115 (25)||6.2 (110)||-2% (39)||5.0 (58)||64% (14)|
|Iowa O||26.7 (64)||41% (85)||114 (96)||5.7 (4)||-3% (88)||4.7 (83)||70% (76)|
|Mich D||30.1 (106)||43% (34)||113 (22)||6.9 (73)||0% (67)||4.5 (25)||67% (28)|
QB EV (National Rank/B1G Rank)
Devin Gardner: +6.2 (13/2)
Jake Rudock: +1 (70/??)
Fitzgerald Toussaint: –3 (160/19)
Damon Bullock: –0 (85/11)
Mark Weisman: –1 (120/17)
Jeremy Gallon: +8 (7/1)
Devin Funchess: +5 (52/6)
Iowa: No receivers in top 250 nationally
I feel like this season has turned into a broken record. Michigan’s defense should be in position to hold an average offense to a modest score relative to field position and the offense will then be tasked with finding away to put some points on the board. That may or may not happen. Iowa’s offense is just like Michigan’s defense, bed but don’t break. They aren’t great at big plays or early conversions but they are outstanding at staying ahead of the chains and managing third downs.
Can Michigan’s offense generate any big plays? That is the question at this point. The idea of consistently stringing together first downs seems so failed at this point. Too many negative plays, too much lost yardage. If Michigan can regain its big play swagger then they should be able to score some points but absent of that it should be another ugly Big Ten slog of a game.
Iowa [7 field goals] Michigan [5 field goals and a safety]