1. Is Michigan about to be on the wrong side of history?
When Rich Rodriguez was hired at Michigan, Gary Danielson infamously predicted Michigan would be the last major program to move to a spread offense. Five years later, Michigan is shedding the spread as the NFL adopts it en masse. I am a spread zealot, no foolies, and while I may be influenced by factors like…
- Associating pro-style offenses with Mike DeBord, "the expectation is for the position," and opponents saying they knew exactly what was coming game after game.
- Psychic scarring from things like Donovan McNabb, Carlyle Holiday, The Horror, The Post-Apocalyptic Oregon Game, Northwestern 2001, and even Braylonfest.
- Denard Robinson!
…I've also watched an awful lot of football over the past eight years and there seems to be no substitute for the defense-wrecking ability to run with a guy who can throw, and give him the ability to make that decision after the defense commits.
'bout to get yards'd
These days the thing that's all the rage is packaged plays that give the quarterback the ability to pick from a number of simple options based on the alignment of a couple players, and not just on the college level: Doug Marrone and company got scooped back up by the NFL largely because they ditched a complicated pro-style offense for quick decisions that make the defense wrong every time. Tavon Austin is a 5'8" wide receiver who went 8th overall in the NFL draft. The Great Satan in Columbus has Denard but tall at quarterback.
Meanwhile, the idea that Michigan needs to run a rough-and-tumble offense to cope with the rough-and-tumble Big Ten is total horseshit. If you haven't noticed, the Big Ten sucks at football, Michigan is recruiting a billion times better than anyone except Ohio State, and Ohio State is a spread option team. If we accept the fact that you have to run power to defend power, isn't the corollary there you have to run the spread to defend the spread? Clueless spread outing after clueless spread outing through Carr's career certainly suggests that. I mean, Michigan was fortunate to escape a home game against Northwestern last year because they gave up 248 rushing yards and 10 YPA.
Add in Michigan's stubborn adherence to the increasingly archaic huddle and it does seem like there's a little bit of dinosaur in the program even if Brady Hoke is hip to Romer. Arguments in favor of the huddle include feelingsball arguments like "it helps your quarterback be a leader"; arguments against include Nebraska lining up with 25 seconds on the play clock and checking into an RPS +3 play once they saw Michigan in a man to man alignment:
Where did they get that call?
From the sideline after they got lined up with 25 seconds on the clock and Michigan showed man coverage with one high safety. That was not aww shucks luck. It's using the extra information the defense gives you to exploit it. Michigan, meanwhile, is usually still in the huddle with 18 seconds on the playclock and often scrambles to the line with no other option than running what's called no matter what the D shows.
It kind of sucks that Michigan doesn't seem to want to do similar things. You'd think every coach would love the opportunity to get whatever information they can before making a decision.
Michigan's not using these newfangled offensive innovations. They suck so much at varying tempo that you, reader, have screamed "WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" more than once in two-minute drills the last two years.
I love everything about Brady Hoke, but this is the one thing that makes me fret at night when I forget about Jabrill Peppers.
[After THE JUMP: DeBord is not Borges, Borges is not DeBord. Gardner confirm. Interior line muttering.]
First some housekeeping things:
One: Meet the new tshirts:
The chicken one is a LIMITED EDITION we're printing just for this game, since afterwards there won't be any more of the cluckers around to show it to. We will be collecting orders and shipping out on 9/3. After 9/3 we will print limited run extra but then when we are out we are out, so get on that now. Also recommended: bringing rubber chickens to that game (we're not responsible if they get confiscated.)
Two: Reminder: Next Friday at MGoTailgate (on Berkeley across from the stadium), free beer, meet Marlin Jackson and others, learn things, be social.
On with the show.
There are just…
…and-a-half hours until Michigan football. As such the users have gone into their regular pre-season epic content production mode. Let's just get right to it starting with Diarist of the Week and personal favorite MCalibur.
Wait, first let's do Things You're Not Allowed to See. The first rule of Fall Camp is what happens in Fall Camp stays in Fall Camp, unless some dude spills the beans to his friend and he puts it in a diary and we confirm things like Garder==awesome, Fitz==awesome, Butt==feasible in a Funchess-last-year kind of way, OL looks like 1997's, DL depth charts are deep, Wilson is still learning, kicking==good.
Also the first rule of Mott Scrimmage is what happens at Mott Scrimmage stays at Mott Scrimmage (unless someone writes it up as a Diary that pretty much saw everything I saw). Speaking of scrimmages reshp1 went and UFR'd everything from the scrimmage featured in Countdown to Kickoff last week.
Also also the first rule of Camp Michigania is what happens at Michigania is really boring and I don't want to hear it. Anyway I can already see everything you did because it's on your kid's activity bling:
Yes, Lizzie has been cited for improper logo use and will serve a three-game 'timeout'
Wait, Lloyd? Okay I'm sorry; tell me tell me tell me tell me!!!! Now on to MCalibur.
[…after the jump. Also after the jump: Gardner footwork analysis, Dave Brandon's rape noodle, and other stuff]
|Free Safety||Yr.||Strong Safety||Yr.|
|Courtney Avery||Sr.||Thomas Gordon||Sr.*|
|Jarrod Wilson||So.||Josh Furman||Jr.*|
|Jeremy Clark||Fr.*||Delano Hill||Fr.|
[* = player has taken redshirt. # = walk-on]
Well, here it is. Michigan has lost Jordan Kovacs and the replacement derby has gone about as poorly as it could have. Jarrod Wilson was the guy they wanted to take the job and has not done so; Michigan moved a 5'9" slot cornerback back to safety because they had more faith in that guy knowing the defense than Wilson, and then that guy got hurt in a way that is not the way that he is perpetually hurt.
So… yeah, at least we'll have a good perspective on how valuable Jordan Kovacs was?
LET'S PULL THE BAND-AID OFF FIRST. The free safety slot is currently a competition between JARROD WILSON [recruiting profile] and COURTNEY AVERY that has gone to Wilson by default early because of arthroscopic surgery for Avery. Avery's only supposed to miss two games.
This preview projects that Avery will be the starter upon his healthy return, for various reasons. These are mostly about Wilson, so I guess we'll address him first. When Michigan moved him into the starting lineup last year in the bowl game, pain followed. Unless the entire rest of the defense was wrong on, Wilson was the culprit on a 70-yard South Carolina pass…
Wilson is on the numbers at the 40. He is supposed to be offscreen(!) to the right
…and the game winner…
it's called CENTER field
…in situations where it was just flat-out blowing simple centerfield assignments. We've made a lot of allowances for freshman whatsit in these previews, but Wilson hasn't done anything positive so far—literally. The only thing he charted on last year before infinite minuses in the bowl game was a critical, legit pass interference penalty on Tyler Eifert in the Notre Dame game. (That was third and goal. Ouch.)
And then there's the late move. When it leaked into the media, Hoke was of course asked about it:
MGoQuestion: What does Jarrod Wilson have to do to solidify his spot at safety?
"He's got to have production."
MGoFollowup: Have you been worried about his lack of production?
"No, we just think that we have good competition and there's guys having some production. He's got to have more."
This is terrifying because at safety, "production" means not doing things like those pictures above. Compounding the terror somewhat is that Wilson enrolled early and should be less raw, more familiar with the defense, etc.
You can hold onto this, I guess?
Do you have an idea who might start Saturday at this point?
"You know, I think Jarrod [Wilson]'s had a nice last two weeks of fall. I think the pressure that was put on him by other guys ... Josh Furman's improved. I would say Jarrod probably."
Does that make you feel good? If so, give me some of your enjoyment.
Okay, okay: Wilson does have some experience and safety is not a kind spot for freshmen. As a recruit, his frame and size got him a lot of nice offers, including Penn State, Notre Dame, and Stanford. Kovacs said he'd picked the defense up fast last year…
“He’s come in and picked up the defense really, really well. That’s one of the things he’s got the football smarts and as a defensive back you really need that,” Kovacs said. “Don’t get me wrong, there are things he needs to get cleaned up and improved on, but I’m definitely impressed with how much he’s progressed and how good of a ballplayer he is as a senior in high school. He has a lot more time here and I expect big things in the future.”
…and while that doesn't seem… you know… true, we are extrapolating from limited data here to wave our doomy fingers of doom. It could work out! Yeah!
[After THE JUMP: Courtney Avery trying to come back, Thomas Gordon definitely doing so, and dodgy depth.]
Remember that Mattison is back and Ryan should be [Fuller]
Ed-Seth: Before every season a million prognosticators will tell you how the coming year shall unfold. Among these, usually the most accurate are those by the gamblers, for it is they more so than bloggers who ply their trade by ruthlessly excising their biases. Of these oddsplayers, our go-to guy is jamiemac of Just Cover Blog. For this reason I asked him to give us his own preview of the things that concern us, and he asked me to put pretty pictures in it, for it is at pretty picturing that we bloggers truly excel.
Football Study Hall riled up the Michigan base earlier in the week with their pessimistic projection of 7-5, 4-4. That would be a disaster. We're all anticipating much better after all. My simple expectation alone is make it to the Ohio State game controlling our own fate in the division. It's a lock that I would use up my allotment of FIRE HOKE ROD jokes on twitter if the season spirals towards that record.
But I'm don't come to bury the math. I do come to mention their projection puts them on the opposite side of the betting community. Over at 5Dimes.com, the Wolverines have moved to betting favorites in the Legends Division race after spending portions of the summer behind Nebraska and Michigan State. Michigan is chalk at +220 odds, followed by Nebraska, +290; Michigan St, +300; Northwestern, +325; Iowa, +1500; and Minnesota, +2900.
|How quickly they forget what I look like
in pads. [Upchurch]
There are reports that the Over 8.5 wins on Michigan has become one of the most popular bets of the summer. Another sign is simple point spread movement in favor of Michigan on the various Games Of The Year boards. Seven of the 10 Michigan games offered this summer have seen an adjustment based on Michigan action coming into their coffers. Take a look at the shifts:
vs Central Michigan: Opened, -26; Current, -31.5
vs Notre Dame: Opened, pick 'em; Current -3
vs Minnesota: Opened, -15; Current, -17
at Penn St: Opened, -2.5; Current, -3
at Michigan St. Opened, +3; Current, +2.5
at Northwestern. Opened +3; Current, -3
vs Ohio St: Opened +6; Current, +4
Some of those movements aren't that significant. But in five of those games, the line has shifted at least two points, including in the two most important home games of the season. In the case of the Northwestern game, the Wolverines have gone from underdogs to chalk. One line did move against Michigan, it's November road game at Iowa where Michigan opened as -10.5 favorites only to see the number come down to -9.5. Two lines have stayed the same the whole way through: -4 vs Nebraska and -12 at UConn, the latter line continuously balanced by Heiko throwing his MGoWages on the Huskies. Probably. Maybe. WOTS, at least.
[More good things after the jump]
|Boundary Corner||Yr.||Field Corner||Yr.||Nickelback||Yr.|
|Blake Countess||So.*||Raymon Taylor||Jr.||Blake Countess||So.*|
|Channing Stribling||Fr.||Delonte Hollowell||Jr.||Dymonte Thomas||Fr.|
|Terry Richardson||So.||Jourdan Lewis||Fr.||Courtney Avery||Sr.|
The headliner here is the headliner last year, frozen in carbonite: BLAKE COUNTESS. Countess was Mattison's prophesied War Daddy at field corner, and then he got blocked on a punt return in the first game. That blew up his ACL and ended his year.
A year later, Countess is back to full health—he could have gone in spring if it wasn't, you know, spring—and ready to fulfill the promise he had a year ago. But that doesn't mean I've got anything on Countess that I didn't a year ago, save the occasional coach quote.
What I had last year: Countess started on the traditional Michigan Star Corner track, getting into the second game as a reserve corner and emerging as a starter halfway through the season. In six starts, Countess had six PBUs; he was named to various freshman All-American teams. As a freshman he manned up on Marvin McNutt pretty well:
The downside was the Ohio State game in which he was no match for Devier Posey on one of OSU's three long touchdowns. That'll happen when you're a freshman.
Despite that, even then he was Michigan's best corner. Anonymous Big Ten receiver:
On the cornerbacks: "Two years ago, they had a kid [Blake Countess] that was different. He played with a swagger and just seemed to attack every ball thrown his way. Last year, he wasn't out there, and it made my job a lot easier because I could use both sides of the field. Their corners were good, but they didn't go after the ball. They just wanted to stay between our receivers and the big play."
Countess seems to have had no problem reclaiming his starting spot and should resume the star corner track he was on before injury intervened.
[After THE JUMP: Taylor! Depth! Special Nickelback section!]
Overkill Is Underrated
You've seen the run. You've seen it twice. You've seen it a thousand times. You've seen the picture pages. Now let's see the analysis; 247's JC Shurburtt gives his take on where Michigan should play cornerback/safety/tailback/receiver/savior Jabrill Peppers, per Steve Lorenz ($):
"We think he's probably as good or better at defensive back, but there aren't a lot of teams that want to test him in that manner, so there's not as big of a sample size," he said. "That doesn't mean he won't turn out to be Patrick Peterson or Jimmy Williams, but those guys are exceptions to the rules and because of the unknown factor, it's hard to project him higher on defense [than running back]. We saw Peterson, for example, in high school cover and cover and cover some more. There was no doubt about it. With Peppers, we just don't know. What does it for me, though, and why I say offense is this- if he's a safety (which I think he will be- and probably one of the best in college football from the moment he steps on the field if that's what happens), then you have to think Michigan will have or can go find other great safeties."
Shurburtt goes on to say that Peppers is a more "electric and dynamic" running back than Derrick Green or De'Veon Smith (no argument here), and that's why the Wolverines should play him on offense—go for the Auburn-under-Borges embarrassment of riches strategy.
I think Shurburtt is hampered here by a lack of knowledge of Michigan's defensive depth chart, as I read the last part of the above blockquote and thought, well, they have these two great running back recruits—and another coming in Damien Harris, an explosive big-play threat—and much less certainty at safety (and corner, as well), so Peppers could help the team out more in the defensive backfield. The difference between Peppers and Green/Smith/Harris is probably not going to be as great as the difference between Peppers and his competition at safety or corner, and that's no knock on Michigan's defensive backs—the talent level at running back is just getting a little ridiculous.
Then there's the fact that an all-world safety—or a lockdown corner—is more rare and valuable than even a great running back, and I think Michigan is doing the right thing by planning to start Peppers on defense. Plus, it's not like they won't let him see a few snaps on offense, not to mention as a returner, and putting the ball in his hands just a few times a game may be enough for him to make the desired impact on the scoreboard while still being a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks. I'd rather see him paired with Dymonte Thomas at safety for every defensive snap, or locking down half the field across from Blake Countess or Raymon Taylor or Channing Stribling, than getting 10-15 touches a game in a running back platoon, especially since he should still get his hands on the ball anyway a la Charles Woodson.
Regardless, this is, like, the best of problems. Hoke über alles. Swag Mattison fo' life. Etc.
Speaking of Finding Safeties...
Michigan appears much less likely to do so in the 2014 class after telling PA S Montae Nicholson—long thought to be a very likely candidate to end up in the class—that they're no longer actively recruiting him because (and this part strikes me as odd) injuries have affected the numbers for this class, per The M Block. Unless Courtney Avery's injury is much more serious than expected, or the coaches aren't telling us about a season-ender for another player—even for The Fort, that seems unlikely—then I'm not sure what's really going on, because the current listed injuries shouldn't affect next year's scholarship count.
Sam Webb posted on The Victors Board($) that Michigan hit a numbers crunch, and while they're not currently pursuing Nicholson they're still leaving the door open if the scholarship situation changes—though, given Nicholson's impression that he's essentially being dropped, it could be tough to get back in the race. Webb also debunked a rumor that Nicholson's situation was affected by any changes in 2015 defensive back recruiting; there was a Twitter rumor going around this week that five-star junior corner Minkah Fitzpatrick was transferring to Paramus Catholic, Jabrill Peppers' school—and that was taken as a good sign for Michigan—but that transfer isn't happening.
At this point, it looks like Michigan's 2014 class will wrap up with Da'Shawn Hand and Malik McDowell, and they'll try to grab a safety if another spot opens up or one of those two players goes elsewhere. With Nicholson looking to make an earlier decision, that could mean Michigan's top priorities at safety are now CA ATH JuJu Smith and OH S Erick Smith, who are planning to choose later in the recruiting cycle; by then, Michigan should know if they've got the space to take another defensive back.
[Hit THE JUMP for the latest on Leonard Fournette's official visit plans, game film (finally!) of Freddy Canteen and Brandon Watson, unoffered four-star juniors coming out of the woodwork with plans to visit, and more.]