I'VE HAD JUST ABOUT ENOUGH OF YOU SONNY
The ever-loquacious John Bacon gave me 6k words on the following questions about Three and Out that seemed to touch on most of the questions provided in the comments and via email. As per usual, we'll split that into two posts, the second of which will run tomorrow. Unfortunately, the answer to "why Greg Robinson?" turns out to be "I don't know, either," but some things are just unexplainable.
The book seemed reasonably two-sided once things got to Michigan. The WV stuff is more one-sided -- just Rich's POV. Did JUB see anything that supported WV's position in those 'negotiations'/lawsuits?
As stated in the book, then-Governor Joe Manchin and former A.D. Eddie Pastilong did not respond to repeated requests for an interview. Ousted WVU president Mike Garrison entertained the idea, and I went so far as to send him several questions in the hopes of encouraging him to cooperate. We talked on the phone a couple times, and at one point he asked if I was for or against Rich Rodriguez. I told him I simply wanted to find the truth. He declined, saying he couldn’t answer the questions if he didn’t know where I stood. That seemed odd—it seems to me you either know what happened and what you think about it or you don’t—but that’s his decision.
I don’t think their silence left much out, however, because we were able to get five other central figures to speak freely, and on the record—and in each case, at considerable personal risk. Ike Morris owns an oil and gas company in Glenville, WV; Dave Alvarez is the president and CEO of a construction company in Meadowbrook, WV; Paul Astorg owns a Mercedes Benz dealership, and Matt Jones owns a handful of convenience stores, both in Parkersburg. Don Nehlen, the former West Virginia head coach, is now a spokesman for the coal industry. None of them have ever been Michigan boosters, but all have been long-time boosters for the Mountaineers, before, during and after the Rodriguez era. They are all private businessmen who depend on their reputations to be successful. They have a deep knowledge of West Virginia football politics, with close ties to all sides, and had no incentive to do anything other than throw Rodriguez under the bus and extoll West Virginia’s leadership. None of them had anything tangible to gain by speaking to me on the record, with a lot to lose. Yet they all did.
So, while I would have liked to get the above three people on the record, the people I spoke to answered every question I had, on the record, which I believe gives the reader almost everything they need to know about what happened in West Virginia.
As for the lawsuit, I assume the reader is referring to the buy-out provision in Rodriguez’s West Virginia contract. While Rodriguez maintained that the president, Matt Garrison, had promised him they’d cut it in half if he wanted to leave, which the above subjects confirmed, the contract was nonetheless legally binding. West Virginia University was well within its rights to sue for all four million, which Michigan and Rodriguez ultimately acknowledged, and paid.
2) LLOYD CARR
If JUB had to make a guess as to what caused in the great Carr switcheroo (from making first contact with RR to the continuous cold shoulder), what would it be? And does JUB think Carr informed the Freep investigation?
Before I delve into this, I’ve noticed some confusion over the timeline in some of the posts I’ve seen. Clarifying the sequence of events should clear up a lot of this.
On Monday night, December 10, 2007, Rodriguez received a call from Lloyd Carr, which marked the first direct contact Rodriguez had from someone representing Michigan. (Rodriguez was my source, and his recollection of it was consistent in a handful of accounts over a couple years.)
On Tuesday, December 11, Lloyd Carr told Bill Martin that Rodriguez would be a good candidate. This marked the first time someone within the department had made this suggestion to Martin, according to Martin himself, whose recollection of the conversation was also consistent over several interviews.
On Friday, December 14, Rodriguez met with President Coleman and Bill Martin in Toledo, and agreed on the basic tenets of a potential agreement.
On Sunday, December 16, the deal was finalized, via phone and fax.
On Monday, December 17, Rodriguez met Lloyd Carr outside the Junge Center for a brief handshake, on his way in to his first Ann Arbor press conference, where he would be named Michigan’s next coach.
After Rodriguez returned to Morgantown that day to start packing, Coach Carr met with his team a day or two later for a suddenly scheduled morning meeting, and offered to sign the transfer papers of anyone who wanted to leave. This has been corroborated by over a dozen people in the meeting room that day – both staffers and players – plus the Big Ten compliance office, Bill Martin, and Judy Van Horn, who spoke on the record about the day and its aftermath. The reporting of these events is air-tight.
It’s important to note, looking at this timeline, that all this occurred before Carr got to know Rodriguez, and before Rodriguez met with any of Carr’s assistant coaches or players. Thus, the idea that Carr offered to sign his players’ transfer forms only after he became concerned about how Rodriguez would treat his assistants and players is hard to believe. For whatever reason, before Rodriguez had met any of those people, Carr had made up his mind to help his players transfer.
Until Coach Carr speaks, I can’t say why he called the transfer meeting. (As stated before, I made repeated requests to interview him at his convenience. While he declined to respond, I have since confirmed there is no question he received my requests and made a firm decision not to reply.) But I can say that he definitely did call the transfer meeting, that it was a premeditated decision—based on Draper’s call to compliance to have the forms and personnel ready to process the anticipated flood of requests—and it occurred before Rodriguez met any of his assistants or players.
Yes, I have a theory as to why, but it’s just that. Some have suggested that it’s my job as a journalist to fill in the blank with my best guess, but I believe the opposite is true: it’s a journalist’s job not to do so. If my theory proves wrong, it would unfairly influence public opinion, and might be difficult to reverse. (I’ve seen this happen frequently during the past three years.) Until Carr decides to answer such questions, I am going to let the facts above stand, and the readers can come to their own conclusions.
Carr’s speaking on these issues might help his cause, but as we’ve seen with other subjects who were interviewed for the book, it might not. If Carr had simple, innocent answers to the questions above, it would not be hard for him to find friendly journalists in the local media happy to communicate his message, directly or indirectly, as he has done in the past. To date, he has not attempted to do so.
[CARA, Shafer, Robinson (Denard and Greg), and the emotional stability of Rodriguez post-jump.]
Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges has spent much of the season with his name as candidates for other jobs. First was the head coaching position at New Mexico, which eventually went to Bob Davie. Then, it was a potential replacement for Charlie Weis as Florida's offensive coordinator. On Tuesday, Borges said he isn't interested.
"No," Borges said. "This is Michigan, [fergodsakes]. In the noble words of someone we all know and love.
En route. Six Zero has a treat for you in the new year.
Molk will headbutt you. This is a literal thing if you are Jack Miller.
After each of Michigan's coin tosses this year, senior center David Molk would march to the sideline and find freshman center Jack Miller for his pregame ritual: headbutting.
"I like Jack," Molk said earlier this season. "He doesn't like it. He always says it's OK if he knows it's coming. ... I'll just kind of run up to him and grab him, and slam my head into him."
I hope they're wearing helmets when this transpires but wouldn't bet my life on it. Also, JB Fitzgerald has spent his career at Michigan evangelizing the superiority of shoe polish over eyeblack.
All too easy. Michigan has hired another coach, so it's time for another round of Fisk The Creepy Lech, this time with an assist to some guy at Ball State whose butthurt is exceeded only by his knowledge of identity phenomenologies. Yes, it's time once again for Gregg Easterbrook to complain about literally every college coach who's taken another job:
TMQ Readers Know Too Much: I wrote that Kevin Sumlin has joined the ranks of weasel coaches who walk out on their promises the instant dollar bills are waved; then listed Nick Saban, Rich Rodriguez, Randy Edsall and Bobby Petrino as other prominent weasels.
Justin Bauserman of Indianapolis writes, "Brady Hoke belongs among the ranks of weasel coaches. First he walked out on his own alma mater, Ball State, without even coaching in the 2008 International Bowl after the team's terrific 12-1 season. His walkout essentially doomed his team to a loss in the bowl. Hoke broke his promises to Ball State in order to sign a lucrative five-year contract at San Diego State. When more money was waved by Michigan, Hoke walked out on his SDSU deal after just two seasons. How long before Michigan fans rue the day some NFL team offers him more, and he breaks his promises and bolts again?"
San Diego State must have been shocked when Hoke took the Michigan job. Hoke had gone to great lengths to conceal his ultimate goal.
When Weber interviewed Hoke for the SDSU job in late 2008, Weber said he asked Hoke, “How do you see this position at San Diego State fitting in with the arc of your career?”
“He said the end of that arc was head coach of the University of Michigan,” Weber said. “I don’t think I’d want a coach who didn’t have that kind of aspiration.”
Only his closest confidants had any idea of his ultimate destination.
I don’t pretend to know Brady Hoke very well, but I know that his father was a college teammate of Bo Schembechler at Miami University, and that the Wolverines’ crusty Patron Saint became a mentor during Hoke’s eight-year apprenticeship in Ann Arbor. I know how much the place means to him.
And he made sure that he was going to get paid tons of money.
Hoke has left San Diego State to coach football at Michigan, and his deliberations might not have spanned a nanosecond. He accepted the job before money was mentioned, and later said he would have walked to Ann Arbor as a condition of employment.
Easterbrook's complaints about coaches taking better jobs are always dumb, but going after Hoke is a new bar. In this department, anyway. The whole head-injuries-and-jews thing probably still takes the cake.
[Via the board.]
They're onto us. Arizona's Greg Byrne has adapted to the realities of the internet era:
Fly commercial. I know, who flies commercial with a private jet at his disposal? No way. These days, though, it's just too easy to track the tail numbers of private planes online. In this case, Byrne hopped on a flight that stopped in Denver (Couldn't get a nonstop? Really?) before heading to Detroit. In fact, Byrne was spotted in Denver, and news quickly hit Twitter that he was no doubt there to grab Colorado State's Steve Fairchild after his thrilling 3-9 season in Fort Collins.
By doing this and using Wire-style burners Byrne managed to keep his hire so secret that I'm still not sure who Arizona's head coach is.
General bowl-lol update. West Virginia is struggling to sell its 100 dollar Orange Bowl tickets because Stubhub has comparable seats for 19 bucks. WVU blogs note the bowl is spending some of the money it steals from the schools on a cruise for "40 FBS athletic directors and six conference executives."
The Orange Bowl is a nonprofit.
Elsewhere, Village Voice Media burns the whole system to the ground in an extensively-researched piece that ran in weeklies nationwide:
The ticket scheme alone leaves schools awash in red ink. Virginia Tech lost $400,000 on last year's trip to the Orange Bowl — despite getting $1.2 million from the ACC. Though Auburn claimed last season's BCS crown, financial records show it still lost $600,000 — even after a $2.2 million bailout from the Southeastern Conference.
Some bowls have also found a way to scam schools on hotels. Since the bowls usually arrange lodging, athletic directors assume their "friends" are negotiating the best group deals. But that's not always the case.
Under Junker's rule, the Fiesta Bowl required schools to purchase 3,750 room-nights at about $200 a pop. According to the contract, the schools had to pay whether they used them or not.
But what Junker wasn't telling his "friends" was that he'd arranged a side deal with the Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau. In exchange for funneling teams to Scottsdale resorts, the city's tourism arm agreed to kick the Fiesta Bowl $8.2 million over the 20-year pact, according to a contract discovered by the Arizona Republic.
The whole thing is recommended. It's a comprehensive rundown.
Calling Smotrycz’’s rebounding numbers a year ago “underwhelming” would be kind. They were disdainful for a player that stands 6-foot-9. The same Evan Smotrycz that rebounded like a guard a season ago is suddenly the second best defensive rebounder in the Big Ten.
Rank Player Team Ht Wt Yr DR% 1 Jared Sullinger Ohio St. 6-9 280 So 33.3 2 Evan Smotrycz Michigan 6-9 235 So 23.4 3 Draymond Green Michigan St. 6-7 230 Sr 23 4 Meyers Leonard Illinois 7-1 245 So 22.9 5 Ryan Evans Wisconsin 6-6 210 Jr 21
*Removed Trevor Mbakwe (knee surgery) from the fifth slot.
You can try to discount that as an artifact of Michigan's style but I don't think the argument works. Michigan has played almost entirely man to man and has reaped benefits from Smotrycz's enormous rebound-pinchers. Opponents are only grabbing 27.6 percent of their misses. The national average is 32.6. Michigan is a good defensive rebounding team and Smotrycz is one of the primary reasons.
He's also shooting better than 50% from three. If he can just stay on the floor…
Etc.: If you're wondering why on Earth Michigan signed up for a home and home with Bradley, it was probably had something to do with Bradley hiring Beilein's son. Angry Iowa Running-Back-Hating God is never sated. OSU react roundup from Rittenberg. Coastal Carolina fired the dogs and cats guy (who was actually a fairly successful coach) to hire a billionaire. Boo, Coastal Carolina. Boo.
Golden Bobcats fans are doing the rending of garments, blaming of the media, and ritualistic voodoo poking of Gene Smith after their idiotic AD sacrificed the relevance of the 2012 season on the altar of a 6-6 team's Gator Bowl. They're sad. They should be grateful Columbus isn't a smoking crater.
The rest of us should be pissed. Doctor Saturday lays out the case for this being a frustratingly weak penalty:
The accusations against Ohio State involved at least nine players, the head coach and an Ohio State booster, none of whom denied the charges. (See below.) Not only did the starting quarterback and other Buckeye stars accept cash and prizes from multiple third parties: Coach Jim Tressel knew they had accepted cash and prizes from multiple third parties, and actively covered up the fact for an entire season while they won him another Big Ten championship. (Per the NCAA, Tressel "had at least four different opportunities to report the information, and his failure to do so led to allowing several football student-athletes to compete while ineligible.") Once that game was up last December, Tressel proceeded to cover up the coverup while the same players went on to win the Sugar Bowl.
The response was hardly a slap on the wrist. But compared to the book the committee threw at USC for lesser offenses, it is… well, it's a significantly smaller book: A one-year bowl ban as opposed to two, nine suspended scholarships as opposed to thirty. …
The double standard is obvious enough. And the reason is just as clear: The NCAA is significantly less concerned with actions that is with reactions.
Now that everything's sunk in, it is weak. Exceedingly so. It only seemed like a pleasant surprise yesterday because the OSU athletic department had been lying to anyone who would listen about the severity of the sanctions forthcoming. Five players ineligible play an entire season and the NCAA doesn't even issue the two-for-one scholarship penalties that seem like a bare minimum. A head coach making a mockery of the NCAA's enforcement process but no lack of institutional control. This is one of the ways in which a university can demonstrate a LOIC:
A head coach has special obligation to establish a spirit of compliance among the entire team, including assistant coaches, other staff and student-athletes. The head coach must generally observe the activities of assistant coaches and staff to determine if they are acting in compliance with NCAA rules. Too often, when assistant coaches are involved in a web of serious violations, head coaches profess ignorance, saying that they were too busy to know what was occurring and that they trusted their assistants. Such a failure by head coaches to control their teams, alone or with the assistance of a staff member with compliance responsibilities, is a lack of institutional control.
Here there is no deniability and yet the university didn't even get a failure to monitor charge until the NCAA found a no-show-job check stub in Terrelle Pryor's bank account. Ohio State escaped. USC got hammered based on one photo.
I have no idea why. Hinton goes on to make the case that the NCAA's double standard arises from a cooperative OSU administration contrasted against the defiant Trojans. That's rapidly solidifying into the conventional wisdom, seemingly because it's the only possible explanation. There's just one catch: it's not true. This was USC's institutional response:
Since the allegations surfaced, USC has been working closely with the NCAA and the Pac-10 in an attempt to get to the truth.
Working in conjunction with the NCAA and the Pac-10 — we have already interviewed approximately 50 people and spent many hundreds of hours investigating these allegations. We have no idea how long this investigation will continue — and no one is more anxious to bring this process to a conclusion than we are — but we remain committed to getting to the truth.
USC has participated in every interview — except those few from which we were excluded. Our exclusion from these interviews mainly stemmed from demands from those making allegations against our student-athletes, insisting that no one from USC be present.
We have cooperated and worked together with the NCAA and Pac-10 every step of the way during this process and we intend to continue to do so.
The bluster about jealousy and whatnot happened, IIRC, after the sanctions were announced.
Compare that to Ohio State's pathetic reaction to the Tressel violations that eventually got the guy a five year show-cause penalty: a two game suspension that they modified to five before hiring an adult to consult with them about the likelihood the NCAA would not burn Jim Tressel to the ground. They eventually fire-resign-retired Tressel. By the time they did it was clear someone had sat them down and told them there was no way they would be able to keep him employed. Firing Tressel wasn't a choice. Tressel fired himself by lying about the eligibility of five athletes four separate times. OSU deserves no credit for taking a step they knew they'd have to take. They were so disgusted by his actions that they had him talk to the team before the Michigan game. Meanwhile, Smith went with the Garrett taunt in July:
"I'll be shocked and disappointed and on the offensive," Smith said, if the NCAA adds punishments that cause students or the school to lose money. "Unless something new arises from where we are today, it'll be behavior (from me) you haven't witnessed."
If you can parse out a more compliant athletic department between the two you are a black belt in hair-splitting.
"If you set the bar with USC," asks Holmes, "and how the NCAA came down hard when they had one assistant coach [Todd McNair] and one player [Bush] involved and here you have the head coach and half of the team is allowed to play when the head coach knew they were ineligible and they only lose nine scholarships? That's mind-boggling." …
"The definition of lack of institutional control is when your head coach is covering stuff up to facilitate guys being able to play," Holmes said. "The head coach is in charge of everyone. Tressel was caught and he knew all this was going on. Also how did those guys play in that bowl game? This is unbelievable. They were all lying."
Either you're burning a corrupt culture to the ground for half a decade or more (USC) or you're letting them get on with it after a single year of mild penance(OSU). So much for "high profile players need high profile compliance."
I guess I shouldn't be surprised that the NCAA is not entering a new era of penalties stiff enough to dissuade cheaters of the massive, rampant, no-deniability variety. But I am.
As expected, Michigan got their second receiver for the 2012 class today when Ladue (MO) Horton Watkins WR Jehu Chesson committed to the Wolverines, according to multiple outlets. Michigan was in desperate need of two receivers in this recruiting class, and with the addition of Chesson and Amara Darboh, Brady Hoke and Co. can focus on landing some big-name targets at other positions. Here's the skinny on Chesson.
Chesson (in blue) with the stiff-arm [Photo credit: Doug Miner/Patch.com]
|3*, #82 WR||3*, #89 WR||
The four services agree that Chesson is 6'3" and around 180 pounds—he's a little skinny but has a very solid frame for a wideout. As for Chesson's skills, they're mostly in agreement as well, pegging him as a middle-of-the-road three-star. ESPN and 247Sports are a little higher on Chesson than Rivals and Scout, listing him around the 50th-best WR in the class instead of down below 80. Considering the other receivers this staff has pursued, it's safe to say they consider Chesson to be a sleeper.
Let's start with Allen Trieu's evaluation over on Chesson's Scout profile page:
Tall, lanky receiver who can go up and get the ball. Snatches it easily out of the air, but lets too many underneath passes get into his body. Great natural athlete with good leaping ability and straight line speed, but is not an elusive guy after the catch. Must add some bulk and strength, but is tough and willing to go over the middle and make catches.
The added bulk and strength stuff is standard fare for a high school recruit, especially one with Chesson's lanky frame. "Great natural athlete" is always nice to see. Here's what ESPN—who rated him the highest of the four services—has to say ($):
Comes off the ball with explosion and a nice stride. Gets into routes quickly and can eat up cushion with an imposing charge upfield. He has some value as a vertical target due to his frame/speed combination, but we are not convinced he is a great speed guy rather a competitive one. He can really elevate and adjust to the jump ball. Positions himself nicely and will high point the ball with good extension. Has flashed the ability to make the spectacular grab look easy and can make the acrobatic grab in a crowd. He consistently catches the ball well and wastes little time getting upfield to make things happen. Can adjust and pluck on the move on poorly thrown balls. He is pretty sharp as a route runner underneath ... Chesson is not quite as crisp at the intermediate levels ... He has the skill set and fluidity to be sharper. After the catch Chesson shows strength and some wiggle to not only make you miss, but also stiff arm and lower his shoulder to power through would be tacklers. He is not a huge homerun threat in space, but given his size he is pretty nifty and can gain valuable YAC and move the chains.
It's interesting that ESPN questions his speed considering his track exploits, more on which later, but the rest of this is quite promising. There seems to be general agreement that he's got good hands, needs a little work on technique, and is more of jump-ball threat than a guy who's going to break a big play on a short pass. As for that track stuff, here's a nice tidbit from a recent article by Tim Sullivan ($):
The physical abilities are certainly there. The 6-3, 185-pound Chesson has the size to outmatch defensive backs, though he will add weight and strength before contributing at the college level. He also possesses great speed as a high school receiver. He was the state champion in the 300 meter hurdles as a junior, and has run a time of 37.44 seconds - good for No. 34 in the country among high schoolers in 2011.
"I think the thing at our level that he does is before you even line up, he creates some matchup problems because of his height and length," Tarpey said. "He's got real long arms, he does a great job of catching the ball away from his body. I think that's a nice thing so teams planning for us definitely had to account for him."
Despite flying low on the recruiting radar, Chesson has had good showings at summer camps in Coral Gables, Gainesville, and St. Louis. Here's Rivals national analyst Keith Niebuhr after seeing Chesson perform at the Nike camp in Miami ($):
STRENGTHS: Chesson made a splash Sunday in Coral Gables by running crisp routes and catching seemingly every pass thrown in his vicinity. He's tall and lean, was quicker than most receivers on hand, and got in and out of his breaks quite well. A hurdler in high school, his leaping ability showed up often during position drills.
WEAKNESSES: Because Chesson is a bit wiry, getting stronger is a must so college corners can't push him around at the line of scrimmage.
So, it seems we've got a tall wide receiver with good-to-great speed and solid hands who needs some work on strength and fundamentals. Chesson sounds like a player who could really excel with some good coaching and conditioning. To be honest—and I say this without trying to sound like I'm wildly biased towards Michigan, as I haven't been afraid to be critical of recruits in the past—I'm having a hard time figuring out why he's rated so low when reading these evaluations.
Chesson's offer list, outside of Michigan, falls in line with his recruiting rankings. The other two finalists for his services were Iowa and Northwestern, and he also held offers from Akron, Bowling Green, Cincinnati, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Oklahoma State, and Purdue, according to Rivals. Scout also lists a UCLA offer and interest from Florida. Oklahoma State and Iowa have had a lot of success with receiver recruiting, so it's nice to see those teams on his offer list, but Michigan obviously stands out as his best offer.
In his junior season, Chesson caught 53 passes for 605 yards and 11 touchdowns. I can't seem to track down any senior year stats, but I'll update this if I can find them.
FAKE 40 TIME
Rivals lists Chesson as running a 4.5, and he claims he ran a 4.54 while camping at Florida ($). Considering his ability on the track, I'll give that a two FAKEs out of five.
Junior year highlights (if you're at work, might want to turn your sound off):
If you have a Scout subscription, they have senior year highlights stuck behind a paywall.
PREDICTION BASED ON FLIMSY EVIDENCE
Chesson is a tough recruit to figure out, and I haven't had the benefit of seeing him play live. He looks promising on film, he's got great size (with the expectation that he adds some weight), he's fast, and he can catch—to me, he seems like at least a high three-star or four-star recruit. His rankings and offer list, however, say otherwise, and it's not as if he's never set foot at a camp or played in an area where there's no media exposure.
I'm going to go ahead and presume, with a more polished receiver in Darboh also arriving in 2012, that Chesson takes a redshirt year. As a redshirt freshman, he'll then be battling for playing time with Jeremy Gallon, Jeremy Jackson, Drew Dileo, Jerald Robinson, and Darboh (along with the freshmen in the class of 2013). Only Gallon has really proven that he can be a starter, and he's a better fit in the slot, so it's certainly conceivable that Chesson starts contributing in just a couple years.
That all depends on his development, and it's tough to project a player based on highlight reels. I could see Chesson becoming a great deep threat, and I hate to make such a lofty comparison, but the closest player in terms of style that I can think of is Braylon Edwards after watching his film. At the same time, Chesson obviously needs development, and with Michigan in on some talented receivers in the class of 2013 he could get buried on the depth chart if that doesn't happen quickly. This statement is full of duh, but really anything is possible here. I will go so far as to say I expect him to see the field at receiver if for no other reason than that he possesses a skill set unlike anyone on the roster and the team is so thin at receiver after next season.
UPSHOT FOR THE REST OF THE CLASS
Michigan is now down to four remaining open spots in the 2012 class, and things are starting to come into focus for those final spots. It's very clear that Michigan is looking to add at least one offensive lineman and one cornerback—and it's possible at both those positions that they'll take two players if the opportunity arises—and they'll likely take a tight end as well. The last spot will likely be a 'best player available' situation out of the recruits at O-line and DB unless a running back jumps into the mix.
As for who those players will be, that's an entirely different matter. The Wolverines are after several high-profile offensive linemen, including Josh Garnett, Jordan Diamond, Alex Kozan, Evan Boehm, Zach Banner, and Jeremiah Poutasi. It seemingly changes by the day which one or two of those prospects Michigan has the best shot at, so venturing a guess at this point is likely an exercise in futility. As for corner, Michigan is in good shape with Yuri Wright and appear to have a decent shot at flipping Armani Reeves from Penn State if he decommits. Options appear limited at tight end, but chances look to be solid with Sam Grant, high school teammate of Kyle Kalis. At running back, Bri'onte Dunn is no longer an option, nor is Greg Garmon or Wes Brown, but the coaching staff is taking a strong look at former Notre Dame commit David Perkins, a four-star whom most teams are recruiting as a linebacker. As always, there's a chance the coaches unearth an as-of-yet undiscussed recruit to fill the final spot or two—we'll just have to see. At the very least, the need at receiver has been filled.
Talking turkey (HA!) with The Key Play, a Virginia Tech blog of some renown.
It looks like VT's vaunted special teams are mediocre or worse this year. What's with the net punting under 34 yards? Blocks, fumbles, a bad punter? Has VT made its usual complement of the gamechanging special teams plays that might not show up in the conventional numbers?
The starting punter going into the season, Scott Demler, had a lower back injury from his freshman year in 2008 that compromised his leg strength. Beamer went with him early, but it became clear he could not do the job. Beamer turned to true freshman Michael Branthover who has tremendous leg strength, but is woefully inconsistent with his drop due to inexperience with two-step punting. When he became so erratic that it threatened to cost them games, Beamer turned to receiver Danny Coale, who has kicked much better, but it has limited his touches in the passing game.
The Hokies were blessed with an outstanding return game the last two seasons. Beamer decided to benefit from Hosley and Wilson as returners, and taking field position, rather than blocking kicks. This season, the Hokies have been poor with their blocking on kickoff returns, and teams have kicked away from Wilson to Tony Gregory, who is in replacing an injured Dyrell Roberts.
On the punt return, every team has rugby and directionally punted away from Hosley. It has neutralized any attempt to block kicks (although the Hokies got a hand on punt versus Clemson that the ACC officials said never happened), but the Hokies have often benefited from a short field.
David Wilson: scary dude. What are his strengths and weaknesses? If you had to compare him to a back familiar to Big Ten fans who would that be?
Wilson has Michael Bennett-like speed, he set all sorts of Tech records in the weight room, and is a very tough runner. At times, he looks to make the big play rather than the smart play. If you need three and he has a small hole, he will still look to bounce, causing a large number of plays that would result in first downs to go backwards. He doesn't have Ryan Williams's field vision, and he looks for lanes going towards the sideline, rather than finding the cutback lane. That running style has caused the Hokies to abandon much of their one-back zone plays. At the same time, the kid runs really hard, and can make chicken salad out of garbage.
How did Clemson hold Wilson to 36 yards on 11 carries in the championship game?
Simple. The Hokies could not run up the middle because the inside of the o-line was dominated, so much so that Clemson moved both of their safeties up like 3-4 outside linebackers. Aside from Logan Thomas on designed runs, the Hokies have found their success running outside. If you take that away, they have been hesitant to even try up the middle.
Thomas is not as natural of a runner as Newton, nor as quick. However, they have similar builds and Thomas is a much better thrower at this point in his career. When asked to, Logan is essentially the Hokies' power back. On third and short, he is getting the ball. I think the 32 yards per game is misleading. He was not used as much against weaker teams, and he has taken a bunch of sacks in close games. He has delivered a highlight-reel-worthy steamroll on at least one guy every game this year. (Here is much more on Thomas.)
How is the passing game? Who are the dangerous guys?
If Michigan plays cover 3 or soft man, they are screwed. The Hokies have struggled against effective press coverage. They run a ton of deep combo routes, and bubble screens. Other than the bubble screens, most of their patterns involve all the receivers going deep, so they take time to develop.
Chris Drager has been effective on short curl routes from the tight end spot. Jarrett Boykin tends to be effective on double move posts and deep curls, but even with humongous hands he is good for one drop a game. Danny Coale is an outstanding blocker, and has a knack for always getting open, but Logan Thomas can miss him while looking deep. Marcus Davis has the speed and jumping ability to be a tremendous deep threat, but he is a poor blocker and terrible route runner. DJ Coles is physical, outstanding at blocking and catching the ball on screens, and he probably is the best Hokie receiver running after the catch. His route running could be sharper. He was the Hokies' best player against Clemson in the ACC Championship.
Virginia Tech's had a weird season, blowing out a pretty decent Virginia team 38-0 and putting around that much on Miami and GT but struggling against some of the worst teams on the schedule in a 17-10 win against ECU and a 14-10 win against Duke. What's the deal with the offense? Is it really that schizophrenic?
I think the offense was erratic due to matchups. If the Hokies could not run outside the tackles, or if the opposing team took away short throws and could rush the passer, the Hokies struggled.
On defense, I'm sure we're going to see a lot of eight man fronts. How has VT done against spread option teams this year?
The defensive ends will crash on the dive, leaving Robinson one-on-one with either Kyle Fuller (right, #17) or Tariq Edwards. [ED: Edwards is a linebacker, Fuller a S/LB hybrid actually listed as a CB on the VT roster because he is basically a corner. Fuller may be the only corner to ever rack up 14.5 TFLs. VT's defense is weird and aggressive.]
The Hokies defense dominated the four offenses that played the same style as Michigan (Appy State, ECU, Marshall, and Arkansas State), but none have Michigan's talent.
Do you think VT will blitz Robinson or lay back for him to make a mistake? (I think I know the answer to this one, but...)
They will blitz him.
Who should Michigan look out for on defense? Who is your insane undersized pass rusher du jour?
Kyle Fuller is one of the best open field tacklers I have seen in college football. He started the season at corner opposite Jayron Hosley, but moved to Whip linebacker after starter Jeron Gouveia-Winslow was lost for the year and his backup Alonzo Tweedy suffered a high-ankle sprain/didn't play well. Senior corner Cris Hill comes off the bench to replace Fuller at corner. Expect a lot of "nickel personnel" out of our 4-3 looks and scheme. The Hokies will use robber coverage and show man to bait Robinson, then jump routes from zones.
Once the Hokies got into the meat of the ACC schedule, aside from UVa, they could not generate pass rush from just the front-four. Sophomore James Gayle was the guy most of us thought would be the next big time defensive end at Tech. He's an athletic freak and won the Excalibur Award, the highest honor in the Hokies' strength and conditioning program. He has 7 sacks in 12 games, but has been hobbled by a sprained left ankle since Miami.
What makes you nervous about the game? What gives you confidence?
A possible lack of focus makes me nervous, and if we were in the Orange Bowl, again, I'd be even more anxious. More often than not bowl games are won by the team who wants it more. Being that it's Michigan's first BCS game since the 2007 Rose Bowl, and they're coached by a new staff looking to make their mark, I have to believe they're going to be super focused. At least more than the team who has only missed out on the BCS once in the last five seasons.
What gives me a little confidence is that I'm wrong a lot. After getting crushed by Clemson, the Hokies thought they'd finish out the season against an irrelevant SEC team in the Peach Bowl. Ho-hum. Then the Sugar Bowl came along and raised them up. (I went there.) The players and coaches are extremely excited for the game and matchup. They have a real second chance, an opportunity to end the season on a big stage with a win against a ten win team.
I'll take the Hokies in a close game.
Does VT actually jingle keys? If so, can we start a movement to redirect the scorn Michigan gets for that activity to its proper place? Michigan used to but hasn't in five or so years.
"The Key Play.com" /coughs
I don't think I've ever heard any opposing fan in Lane, on the road, or in a bar hate on us for that. I guess they never get tired of saying, "go win a national championship." [ED: Why do we get so much guff for it, then?]
Have you been able to regain your focus for the bowl?
“Yeah, I think so. We’ve have five or six very spirited practices, and they haven’t been clumped together so much that the kids have gotten tired. We kind of have a philosophy with bowl practices that we’re not going to practice real long anyway, so yeah, I think they’re pretty good that way.”
You’ve talked about quarterbacks taking a year or so to be comfortable with your system. Was that last game with Denard as close as it’s going to get before next season?
“Yeah. He’s getting there. The last game -- the last couple games, really Illinois to a degree, too, other than a turnover or two … but yeah, I think he’s catching on. He’s doing pretty much what every quarterback I’ve had in the first year has done. He started a little slow. Again, I said this before, is our passing game is so different from what they’ve done. There were going to be pains because there always is. He’s starting to absorb the concepts and be able to understand what we want, and it’s showing up at the end more than it did earlier.”
Is there something specific you’re looking at with Denard in terms of development going into the bowl game?
“Same stuff as always. Fundamentals. Fundamentals and basic understanding of route structure, timing the routes, it’s always the same, and it’s always a work in progress in the first year, but we’re further -- much further now than we were when we started.”
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