fair point that
Gentleman, scholar, walrus.
With the Michigan State game just a few days away, you should all be familiar with the excellent blog The Only Colors—if you're frequenting, say, the RCMB instead of reading their content, you're not doing yourself any favors. I asked TOC's Heck Dorland (posts feed/Twitter) to do a scheme-centric Q&A and he went above and beyond with his responses; what follows is a remarkably in-depth look at how State operates on both sides of the ball and what it means for this weekend.
With the notable exception of the Purdue game, it appears that the offense has moved from complete incompetence to something resembling average. Have there been any significant schematic changes or is the improvement more a product of finding the right personnel?
I'd love to say that this happened:
*Dave Warner blows the dust and cobwebs off an old scroll and unfurls it*
“Uh, does anyone in here read... um...”
“That's Hurrian,” says a voice.
*everyone turns to look at Jim Bollman*
“What? I've been an 'Offensive Coordinator' who's not allowed to call plays for like, a decade now. What do you think I'm doing up there, calling my own plays and then comparing them one-by-one to Dave's plays, slowly nourishing a grudge with every play that I out-coordinate him? Hell no, I've spent the last two weeks polishing up the rough edges in my Aramaic. Anyways, it says something about six verts and a deadly curse...”
But that story would be an lie, as six verts is highly illegal. What mostly happened is the latter guess, MSU's guys either got better or got replaced by better guys behind them as this season has wore on.
A corner/go combo route; on this one, the go was obviously open.
If I had to identify a specific X's and O's change, I'd say most significant is how MSU has evolved to deal with man to man and one high safety/eight man box looks that tormented them in weeks one and two. This year MSU's passing game has been noticeably more willing to run various 'combo routes' (curl/corner, corner/post, corner/go etc.) against man-to-man than previous coordinators Roushar and Treadwell. Particularly effective vs these one high/man-to-man looks have been corner/go where MSU causes the CB to vacate on the go route and hit usually a tight end on the corner route towards the vacated space 15-20 down the sideline and corner/post where the outside receiver and slot receiver will mesh with the goal of freeing up the post over the middle, again, about 20-25 yards down-field. If you look at MSU's highlight reels since the YSU game, most of the big passing plays are coming against 8 man fronts, which was not true against WMU and USF.
[For the rest of the Q&A, hit THE JUMP. You should really, really read this.]
Michigan's 2014 basketball recruiting will either just about wrap up or flail about like a demon-god with two of its favorite psuedopods hacked off tomorrow when Devin Booker and James Blackmon, Jr., both announce decisions.
Michigan was long thought the favorite for Booker, a 6'5" shooting guard out of Mississippi, despite his dad's status as a Missouri program legend. That had a lot to do with his mom, who lives in Grand Rapids and supposedly has been enthused about Michigan for a while. His final five:
Booker, rated the No. 18 player in the Class of 2014 by ESPN, has publicly narrowed his choices to Kentucky, Michigan, Michigan State, Missouri and Florida. However, Kentucky, Missouri and Michigan are believed to be the favorites for his signature.
Michigan led, then everyone piled on Kentucky once they offered, and everyone's still on Kentucky despite a late move by Missouri, which hosted him for an official on the 19th immediately followed by an unofficial.
Kentucky folk remain confident; a random internet poll on the local paper's website favors Missouri, with Michigan running at 11%. Booker announces at 4PM.
James Blackmon Jr.
Blackmon's also dropping Thursday, publicly down to a similar list of IU, Michigan, MSU, Kansas, and UK. Blackmon's done a full tour of those schools after his decommitment from Indiana, and after some Michigan chatter things seem to have swung back to UK, heavily. His dad played there.
I guess the hope on both of these recruitments is that people don't really know what's going on with either kid, like they didn't have much of a read on Kam Chatman. That does not seem to be the case, unfortunately. These opinions about both picking Kentucky are of the Strong Take variety.
Blackmon announces at halftime of the Troy-ULM game on ESPNU.
Michigan's likely okay at the 2 even if they strike out tomorrow, which it seems the world expects. Stupid UK's stupid inability to get their plan A targets. Caris LeVert will be back, and Nik Stauskas should be. Even if Stauskas does leave for the NBA, Michigan can back up LeVert with a few minutes a game running two points or going big with Kam Chatman or Zak Irvin.
Michigan does project to have two open slots entering the spring signing period, and would probably like to use one and bank one, which would make the 2014 class two (open plus the graduation of Jon Horford) plus whatever attrition there is in the next two years, NBA or otherwise.
Obviously, the guy on everyone's radar is NV by way of Australia PF Jonah Bolden, who debuted with a splash at the Adidas Nations tournament, likes Michigan (his dad's from Flint) and is an excellent stretch four fit for Beilein's system. He's spending his final year of high school at Findlay Prep in Las Vegas, where Michigan has recruited before, nearly reeling in OSU redshirt freshman-to-be Amadeo Della Valle. It'll take a while for Bolden to get all his academics ironed out what with the transfer, but Michigan would almost certainly go after Bolden in earnest once that's settled.
Fellow Australian Dante Exum, a 6'6" fellow skyrocketing towards the top of NBA draft boards, was 50-50 between entering the draft and college as of late August and had Michigan in a top five with Indiana, UNC, Kentucky, and Oregon. That's a longshot for a lot of reasons.
If the big guns don't come through, Michigan will scour locally for another LeVert type: tall, young for his grade, late-rising.
[I'm behind on the Mattison presser transcript. It will be posted this evening.]
- Drew Dileo is still questionable to return this week.
- No turnovers.
- Stop the run.
- Be physical.
- Don't commit penalties.
“Good practices so far this week. Gonna have a really good one today. Got outside, did a little more crowd noise, trying to recreate the atmosphere, which you never can totally. You play on the road in this league, especially at certain places, it’s a hostile environment. Communication’s going to be particularly important on both sides of the ball.”
If you were granted a wish on both sides of the ball, what two things would they be?
“Taking care of the ball from an offensive perspective. That’s something high up there that is something that is important. You just look at games during the year, you look at NFL games, the turnover margin is so critical. Defensively, I think the transition – we’ve got to stop the run. Langford’s had three very good weeks. Overall with him and the other backs, they are 100-and-some yards a game. Might be close to 150 with the way they’ve been playing.”
Michigan State has a pretty good defense, as you may have heard, and this deep into Michigan State having pretty good defenses there's nothing you can say about it other than "I wish that was not the case." There is some Bud Foster action going on in East Lansing.
Let's review what went down the last two years, in an effort to figure out what Michigan's looking at and what they might do in response.
The trash tornado game. With winds howling around Spartan Stadium, Borges put the game on the arms of Robinson and Gardner and got little in return.
Shotgun or under center? This was almost entirely a shotgun game, and when Michigan went under center it was to throw. Setting aside the disastrous fourth-and-inch from the nine on which Michigan went goal line play action and Brandon Moore didn't block his guy, Michigan saw five snaps from the I-form (two more were penalties, one on each team). One of these was a pitch to Toussaint for four yards. The others were throws. The first was a wild, jinking 15-yard touchdown scramble for Robinson on Michigan's first drive; the others were a sack, a one-yard throwback screen, and an incompletion to Hopkins in the flat off play action.
First down approach? 16 passes, 11 runs. Not that it really mattered. Michigan got a 34-yard touchdown when Roy Roundtree broke a tackle on a slant. They had one other good gain, a 29-yarder acquired when Robinson ignored two open guys, threw at Hemingway as a linebacker was undercutting him, and threw it high enough to get over the LB but short enough for Hemingway to grab it—a lucky fluke. Their other first-down passes acquired a total of –3 yards.
Running was no better, with 36 yards on their 11 attempts. Four of these were Denard's (18 yard total), which boggles. Michigan had 27 opportunities to run Denard Robinson on first down and did it four times. But that's not really relevant with Gardner, who's much more of a dual-threat.
What worked? Virtually nothing. That one long completion where Roundtree beat a tackle in cover zero was the longest play, Denard's should-have-been-pick-six was #2, and #3 was a double A gap blitz on which Vincent Smith was hit in the backfield but managed to pop through a tackle. Breaking tackles to get more than five yards is no way to live.
The rest of it was Robinson running around: a scramble, a jet sweep, a run-around improv throw, a jet stretch, and a QB draw were Michigan's most successful plays outside of the aforementioned.
Was it really as bad as all that? Yes and no. Borges did rip open the MSU defense for several plays that should have been big gains only for his quarterbacks to throw it at covered guys.
Spielman's faith that Robinson would have found the open guy is probably optimistic, but inserting a clearly overwhelmed Gardner was a huge tactical misstep, as he blew multiple opportunities to gash MSU. This in turn may have led to the WR move, which in turn led to the Nebraska game, which… let's stop the counterfactual history of the Michigan program before our heads go numb.
On the downside: Michigan had no answer for MSU timing their snaps, both with double A blitzes and plain old running at the quarterback. This was maddening since it had just happened the year before; there were no adjustments. And they relied on Brandon Moore, who had seen virtually no meaningful snaps in his career, on that deadly fourth down. When that guy doesn't execute, you share in the blame for putting a guy who'd never seen live bullets in a stressful situation. But he's a tight end, and all tight ends must tight end even if they obviously can't tight end.
Wurrfle furffle torghern furfen. Michigan abdicated without really trying here. See: 4 first down Denard runs. The constant snap issues were a coaching issue, not a toughness one. Ditto the thing where Molk put his head up a nanosecond before the snap and had to figure out which of the two linebackers he was going to block and which one he was going to let scream up the middle unmolested.
[2012 and 2013 after the jump]
Watch the birdie.
In my day freshmen appeared on the scene knocking down Bobby Hoying passes, shutting down Terry Glenn, and cleaving Eddie George. Then they'd switch to offense and fold Mike Vrabel in twain. What's the matter with kids today? The cast today:
- Ann-Margret as Brian Cook
- Dick Van Dyke as Seth Fisher
- Bobby Rydell as Ace Anbender
- Jesse Pearson as Brandon "Birdie" Brown
|Of the young linebackers, we've seen a lot of Bolden but not much from him. [Upchurch]|
It's an expectation (or a conceit) at Michigan that recruits follow a "track" of progression that should see them all-conference and worth drafting after four years in the program. Of the 2012 class and the few '13 guys who've seen action, who do you see as ahead of schedule, or worryingly behind?
Ace: I'm not even going to bother with the 2013 class because it's beyond too early to discuss their progression versus expectations; frankly, that's the case for the 2012 class as well, but they at least have a handful of guys who have broken through and seen extensive time.
Three players who are clearly ahead of schedule are Devin Funchess, James Ross, and Willie Henry. Funchess has gone from dangerous-but-terrible-at-blocking tight end to dangerous-and-oh-god-so-dangerous wide receiver, and he's got an NFL future even if his blocking never develops as much as we'd hope. Ross has had an up-and-down year but still has a stranglehold on the weakside LB starting job; he's a future all-conference player once he adds a little more weight to take on blocks—his instincts are already there. Henry's initial expectations weren't as high as the other two, nor has he played at their level consistently, but he's easily exceeded expectations for a late three-star pickup just by seeing the field and holding his own.
[Jump like a Funchess]
Forget defense, this Concordia player was just trying to get out of the poster pic.twitter.com/2EbUZzsOvN
— Dustin Johnston (@DJPhotoVideo) October 30, 2013
There's your game in a nutshell. Michigan ran rampant over an undersized and overwhelmed Concordia squad, and the visitors only made matters worse by insisting on running a full-court press for much of the game. This, unsurprisingly, did not go well.
Stat lines of importance:
Glenn Robinson III: 33 points, 8/9 2P, 4/6 3P, 5/5 FT, 3 rebs, 4 asts, 2 stls, 1 TO
Nik Stuaskas: 23 points, 5/5 2P, 2/3 3P, 7/7 FT, 3 rebs, 3 asts, 1 block, 1 steal, +103(!!!)
Caris LeVert: 16 points, 6/6 2P, 1/2 3P, 1/3 FT, 4 rebs, 10(!) asts, 3 stls, 1 TO
Derrick Walton: 11 points, 2/3 2P, 2/4 3P, 1/2 FT, 4 rebs, 4 asts, 4 stls, 1 TO
Scattered thoughts from a rote exhibition blowout—Concordia caveats very much apply:
- Michigan opened with a starting lineup of Albrecht, Stauskas, Robinson, Morgan, and Horford; Beilein played two bigs for lengthy portions of the game, and it's clear he's serious about incorporating that in a major way even without the services of Mitch McGary, who watched from the sideline in a (pretty sharp) suit.
- Derrick Walton looked every bit the part of a starting point guard. He pushed the pace well, displayed impressive hands on defense, and had a nice balance of looking for his own shot and creating open looks for others.
- Caris LeVert may be gunning for that point guard spot himself. He dished out ten assists to just one turnover, confidently got to any spot on the floor he wanted, and finished strong at the rim on multiple occasions. Again, it's Concordia, but he looked very capable of living up to the sky-high practice hype.
- Also in the good sign department: Glenn Robinson couldn't miss from the field, whether contested or not, and he also dished out four assists while picking just the right spots to get aggressive.
- Nik Stauskas remains Nik Stauskas, which is quite nice.
- Zak Irvin scored a quiet ten points on seven shots, displaying a nice shooting stroke while also showing off his defensive prowess; his combination of length and quickness gave Concordia a lot of problems. That goes for the team as a whole, as well; we saw the "nobody shorter than 6'6" lineup with LeVert running the point, and it was dominant defensively (even more so than the rest of the lineups).
- One thing that I think will hold up regardless of opponent: Michigan is looking to run off of every defensive rebound, and with good reason. The outlet passing from the bigs—and also the guards—was impressive, leading to a ton of easy fast break buckets. With a pass-first guard like Walton leading the break, the team looked unstoppable in transition—this is a very athletic team that can finish at the hoop.
- Mark Donnal appears headed for a redshirt; he didn't enter the game until the score was 111-36 with 5:38 left, and most of his time was spent alongside the walk-ons.
I can't bring myself to write much more about such a meaningless game; I'll say that, even accounting for the opponent, just about everything that could go well went well. The shooting was obviously great (30/41 from two, 11/22 from three), the team moved the ball around very well without turning it over (26 assists, 6 TOs), and the Wolverines were effectively aggressive on defense. Yes, there's good reason this game didn't count; that doesn't mean there isn't reason for optimism after seeing Michigan perform with such brutal efficiency.