“The player development is the main thing I like (about Michigan),” Williams said. “You can see that they develop their players. They get them in the gym and they work them hard. And their hard work pays off.”
THERE IS A FLAG ON THE PLAY
May not be reproduced without permission.
I'm very excited to unveil the first edition of THE BLOCKHAMS™, my new ongoing online comic strip featuring the illustrated exploits of a maize and blue family. As I've previously mentioned, THE BLOCKHAMS™ will run every Tuesday here on MGoBlog and every Thursday at its official home page at www.theblockhams.com
If you like what you see, be sure to visit the site to learn more about the cast and the premise of the strip itself, and bookmark it before you leave. As always, be sure to check out the site's awesome sponsors as well. And The Blockhams are also on Twitter at @theblockhams so be sure to follow to receive updates whenever a new strip publishes.
Finally, after some deliberation before Christmas I've chose to 'out' myself here on the blog, simply because this is my creation and I'm too proud of it to hide behind a user name and risk someone else claiming ownership. This strip will run for the foreseeable future and I wanted to do it right. So there it is, here I am, please respect the decision, etc.
Finally, as a gift on the official launch date of the series, I've decided to run a second strip that will publish later this afternoon on THE BLOCKHAMS™ home page. If you like what you've seen, be sure to check back later today at http://www.theblockhams.com for a look at what Christmas was like in the Blockhams home this year.
Thanks everyone and GO BLUE TONIGHT!!!
Arnett: free'd. Derek Dooley backs down from the torrent of terrible PR, grants DeAnthony Arnett a full release. Clearly he is transferring to either Michigan or Michigan State at this point. There's conflicting information out there about his eventual destination; Kyle Meinke says "everything he's hearing" is MSU; earlier in the week Sam Webb said essentially the opposite on GBW before this all went down. We'll find out soon.
CEASE PANIC. You probably weren't panicking about the prospect of a QB like Denard Robinson making an early exit for the pros, but he has submitted paperwork to be evaluated. Remain calm.
Michigan junior quarterback Denard Robinson has filed paperwork to the NFL Draft advisory board, but he made one thing very clear Friday morning.
He expects to return for his senior season.
"Oh yeah, I expect to be back," Robinson said. "That's it."
The mean streets of Whitehall. Seriously.
I just don't even know.
Winning more hearts and minds. Dooley's quest to piss off every high school football coach in the country continues unabated:
“Coach Dooley said there is a ‘possibility’ you might not be coming to Tennessee,” Henderson told the AJC. “He said you have two options: ‘You can stay committed to us, wait it out and see what other players do. Or you can de-commit and try to get some attention from other schools but that doesn’t mean you can’t come to Tennessee’ or whatever. He was very iffy about everything. He wouldn’t say anything concrete. He kept on using that word ‘possibility.’”
“I thought it was a bunch of crap. I guess if Tennessee is out there looking for other linebackers, then I can go find another place to go. Tennessee is where I wanted to go, and that’s where I’ve been loyal to ever since June. But it is what it is.”
Henderson spent six months committed to Tennessee and now has about a month to find another landing spot. Derek Dooley's pants are still stupid and Clay Travis claims he is incensed when people order Chick Fil A instead of hamburgers. This is almost certainly false but we're done fact-checking negative things said about Derek Dooley at this here blog.
Emerging youngsters (and a fifth year senior). Kevin Koger talks up a few members of the team he believes will make some noise next year. Your winners are Jerald Robinson, Thomas Rawls, and Darryl Stonum. Stonum:
"He's been great for the defense," Koger said. "He's embraced what happened and grown from it.
"They talk all the time about how great a look he gives them on defense. I was talking to [cornerback] J.T. Floyd yesterday or two days ago about how he got beat a couple times by Stonum. We've got a lot of guys giving great looks."
Borsething. AA.com's pictures of the year capture somewhat insane women's basketball coach Kevin Borseth tebowing in agony:
Tim Hardaway also features, because of course he does. There is an M-football-specific gallery as well.
Stauskas balling out. I linked the video from Nik Stauskas's impressive weekend, what with the assists and being more than a 6'6" shooter described as a country's best. Here they are frontpaged:
follows up with some impresssions from Rivals, Slam, Dave Telep, and the like:
Southborough (Mass.) St. Mark’s senior Nick Stauskas is the perfect replacement for the scrappy Novak. Like Novak, Stauskas plays with a huge chip on his shoulder and is willing to scrap it up a bit with opponents. Stauskas is also an excellent shooter with deep range, a flashy passer and a guy who takes the floor with a significant amount of confidence.
Currently ranked No. 79 nationally in the class of 2012, the four-star wing is part of an excellent Michigan recruiting class and he should be able to contribute right away.
He's still outside of the Scout 100, something their primary analyst has said will be fixed when they redo their rankings. It appears Michigan's 2012 basketball class will be three consensus top 100 four-stars. This is exactly what everyone expected last January.
There's an 18-minute reel of one game Stauskas featured in; it still doesn't have Stauskas missing a shot but does give you a fuller picture of his game. Has some work to do on defense.
We need to cram some more stuff on those jerseys.
NEEDS MOAR ITEMS.
With my office reopening for the first time since pre-Christmas it feels like the world's worst Monday. By 8:30 tonight it'll feel like Saturday. But the new 2012 calendar with the puppy photos says it's Tuesday, so COLUMN!
I thought with the Sugar Bowl tonight maybe it'd be helpful to go back through some of the spreadsheet-y Musedays from earlier this year and update to see if the conclusions maybe shifted through the year's progression. To sum up the updated talking points:
- Hoke is the best first-year Head Coach in Big Ten history, unless Ara Parseghian is.
- Mattison is more aggressive in selecting number of pass rushers than his predecessor but you'd be surprised to know he has changed his strategy dramatically over the course of this season
- Borges learned to shotgun with Denard and Co., then unlearned that, then re-learned that.
- Our defense is spectacular at stopping short situations.
10/4 – The Gary Moeller Effect
Premise: Coaches who take over a B1G team with Big Ten experience tend to do better than those who don't. So I compared a number of coaches of good memory against their predecessors, and overall.
Findings: Too much noise except the guys who had experience recruiting the Midwest seemed to have much more success than those who didn't.
Update: Another year made Dantonio and Bielema look better. 2011 Michigan's final SRS of 16.85 (pre-bowl) is about even with the Moeller teams of '93 and '94 (as well as 1999, 2000, and surprisingly 2006). Here's the Top Ten single year-to-year improvements (by Simple Ranking System, which is a measure of expected victory margin over a middling team) by a first-year coach in the Big Ten since 1953:
|Rank||Coach||School||Year||SRS||Previous Coach||SRS (Pre)||Change|
|1||Ara Parseghian||Northwestern||1956||8.57||Lou Saban||-9.95||+18.52|
|2||Brady Hoke||Michigan||2011||16.85||Rich Rodriguez||1.39||+15.46|
|3||Phil Dickens||Indiana||1958||6.13||Bob Hicks||-7.86||+13.99|
|4||John Jardine||Wisconsin||1970||9.09||John Coatta||-3.8||+12.89|
|5||Hayden Fry||Iowa||1979||7.26||Bob Commings||-5.5||+12.76|
|6||John L. Smith||MSU||2003||7.95||Bobby Williams||-2.67||+10.62|
|7||Mark Dantonio||MSU||2007||6.69||John L. Smith||-3.14||+9.83|
|8||Earle Bruce||Ohio State||1979||21.71||Woody Hayes||12.99||+8.72|
|9||Joe Tiller||Purdue||1997||8.49||Jim Colletto||-0.09||+8.58|
|10||John Pont||Northwestern||1973||4.52||Alex Agase||-3.5||+8.02|
Holy Uber Alleles Batman! Don't read much into this; the worst dropoff among 82 careers charted was Pat Fitzgerald in 2006. The rest of the Hall of Shame: Lou Saban (Northwestern '55), Gerry DiNardo (Indiana 2002), Tim Brewster (Minn 2007), Rich Rod '08, Gary Moeller (Illinois '77), Jerry Burns (Iowa '61), and for all the lolz, Luke Fickell. ALL the Lolz!
Jump for Mattison's aggression tendencies, the I-form vs. Shotgun numbers updated, and which Pink Floyd album best describes Michigan's 3rd and short defense
2013 athlete Jourdan Lewis excelled at cornerback, receiver, and kick returner for state champ Cass Tech in 2011, and his junior highlight tape (above) is just starting to make the rounds online. I had the chance to see him play a few times this past fall, and despite being teammates with 2012 Michigan commits Terry Richardson and Royce Jenkins-Stone, he was often the best player on the field for the Technicians.
Lewis, who is ranked as a four-star and the #232 overall player in the class of 2013 by 247Sports, currently holds one D-I scholarship offer—Toledo—but he's drawing interest from big-name schools such as Michigan, Alabama, Michigan State, Ohio State, Tennessee, and Wisconsin. I got the chance to talk to him over the break, and here's a full transcript of the interview:
ACE: First of all, congratulations on winning the state title. Can you take me through how the season played out for you, how you thought you did personally, how the team did overall, and how it felt to win a state title?
JOURDAN: Well, I think I did great for my junior year. I got some great momentum going into my senior year. It just feels really good to win the state championship.
ACE: I know you were playing a lot of defensive back and receiver, as well as returning kicks. How do you think that helped your development?
JOURDAN: I think it's a great help to play different positions because of the versatility factor and just to fit in to a program.
ACE: Do you have a preference of where you want to play in college, or is that to be determined?
JOURDAN: I don't know yet. I really don't know.
ACE: You had to step it up a bit towards the end of the year when your teammate, Terry Richardson, went down and was injured as you guys were playing at the end of the season and into the playoffs. Did that have a big effect on you, going from the number two corner to the number one corner?
JOURDAN: You know, I didn't really think of it like that, I just had to contribute to my team a little bit more.
ACE: At Cass, you obviously have a lot of talent winning the state title, and you got to play with Terry and Royce and Ruben Lile and a whole bunch of Division I prospects. What do those guys tell you about the recruiting process, and are Royce and Terry trying to point you in a particular direction at all considering where they're going to school?
JOURDAN: No, not at this point right now. They're all telling me to take it slow and just enjoy the moment. They know I'm just a junior right now, and I've got plenty of time to figure out where I'm going to school.
ACE: With your recruitment, I know you've got the Toledo offer in hand and you're in contact with a lot of schools. Which schools have you been in contact with the most right now?
JOURDAN: Well I haven't really been in contact with coaches, but I've been getting a whole bunch of letters from Michigan, Michigan State, Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi State.
ACE: Out of those schools, is there a particular school that stands out? Do you have a list of favorites, or is it still too early for that?
JOURDAN: It's early, but Michigan is going to be at the top, definitely.
ACE: How would a Michigan offer affect your recruitment in terms of a potential timeline? How would that change the outlook of your recruitment?
JOURDAN: I really wouldn't know right now. I'm just trying to hear from coaches.
ACE: Do you have any plans for any junior days or summer camps for the offseason?
JOURDAN: No, not yet right now, but I know I'm going to Michigan's junior day.
ACE: For people who are maybe unfamiliar with your game, what would you say are your main strengths, and what are you trying to improve upon for your senior year and the next level?
JOURDAN: My ability to make plays and my elusiveness, and my vision I guess. Also my enthusiasm to play the game, my heart. I think I'm going to need to get stronger and I'm trying to get quicker, too.
New Orleans, LA
January 3rd, 2012
|THE LINE||Michigan –3|
|TELEVISION||National on ESPN|
|WEATHER||It's a dome.|
Yea, and it came to pass that a matured Michigan blogosphere had a month to survey an opponent for a BCS game, resulting in a flood of content that makes a preview superfluous. But lo, here it is anyway.
Run Offense vs Virginia Tech
SS/rover/CB/nickel Fuller is doing this at or near the LOS
VT's season is frustratingly devoid of opponents comparable to Michigan. Trying to draw connections between Georgia Tech's flexbone triple option and anything else is foolhardy; no one else on the schedule had a run game better than average.
This is almost literally true. Once you get past the other Tech, the next ACC teams on national rushing lists are VT itself and Maryland, neither of which VT played. #54 Virginia is the next-most-intimidating rushing offense on the schedule. Their quarterback netted 20 yards on the year and as a team they rushed for a full yard less per carry than Michigan. Other than GT's Tevin Washington, Tajh Boyd is the only athletic-ish quarterback on the schedule; he finished the year with under 200 yards rushing. Michigan has Denard Robinson and the #12 rushing offense in the country.
So… like, we just don't know. But here are the conference numbers all the same:
That's pretty good. You don't finish 15th in rushing defense without a number of quality performances. OTOH, in VT's four games against quality backs they got ripped three times by Clemson (The Sequel), Miami, and Georgia Tech with only one quality performance to offset that. Will that D be good enough against something not quite entirely unlike Virginia? This is the land of fan confirmation bias espectacularrrrrrr. Certainties are few and hope makes one vulnerable.
Given the way VT plays defense it seems like conventional zone reads and trying to get the edge will be sidelights to keep the Hokies honest if they're not shelved entirely. When opponents run a read, VT sells out on the tailback and sends their WLB/SS/CB nickelback rover guy at the QB. There is some debate about how good Kyle Fuller an d other VT safety sorts are in space. I'm on the "pretty good" side of the fence; Ace is less enthused. We'll see.
Presumably that evidence will come after Michigan tries the obvious thing to try: running it down Virginia Tech's throat. The VT DL is comprised entirely of underclassmen; their nose tackle is a freshman. Michigan has the Rimington winner, four returning starters, and the #12 rushing offense. Whenever anyone looks at these guys they come away with the same impression. BWS:
Defensive tackles. Soft. They were put on skates most of the game. Michigan's offensive line should manhandle these guys.
…the defensive tackles both are shoved right out of the hole, and the linebackers just aren't there to pick up the slack—the middle of that defense looked soft all game.
I punted on the Duke game but have watched a couple more outings by the run D and agree; Georgia Tech B-back David Sims (essentially a fullback) ground out 32 yards on 8 carries right up the middle largely because his guys in the center of the line were getting push.
Observers generally trash the VT LBs as well, but I'm inclined to see what look like issues with overpursuit and block-eating as 1) playing Bud Foster's style of defense in which the backside is always covered by a member of the secondary and 2) not being done any favors by their defensive line. It's hard to rack up big tackle numbers when you're always fending off a lineman releasing into the second level directly.
The recipe for success here is threefold:
Crush the interior line. Make VT cheat to it. QB iso is the best way to keep VT from getting their numbers advantage and exposing those noobs up the middle.
Get Fuller blocked. This is not going to happen often but when you can do it Fuller does not react well—he's still basically a corner—and VT relies on the Fuller guy always tackling.
MAKE PLAYS in space. We have the technology. We can juke them.
This is strength versus strength here; Michigan is better proven against quality competition and has a major asset poised to strike at VTs main weakness.
Key Matchup: Denard in open space against Fuller. This will happen, and Fuller is going to make some tackles in the backfield. Denard is another world from anyone the Hokies have seen this year, however, and if he WOOPs the guy in the hole the nature of the Virginia Tech defense means there isn't likely to be anyone else close by.
Pass Offense vs Virginia Tech
In efficiency terms, VT's pass defense (15th) is almost equivalent to their run D even before you take the usual Hokie sack parade (2.9 a game, 12th) into account. SOS concerns are less of a problem here: UNC, Miami, and Clemson all finished in the same YPA ballpark M did. Tech against those opponents:
That's a lot worse than I expected.
Even so, this is where Borges will earn his money. Virginia Tech has quality athletes all over their secondary; Michigan has middling speed at receiver. Separation will be at a premium and zone blitzing will be frequent.
VT does run a lot of man and matchup zone concepts vulnerable to getting RPSed by, say, a veteran West Coast coordinator with a bunch of cool stuff in his bag of tricks. While Clemson OC Chad Wilson ground out a 23-3 win the first time around without much in the way of efficiency, the second go-round saw nearly 500 yards of offense thanks in part to plays like this where Wilson exploited the man/robber combos VT loves:
As Ace says, "oops." Tajh Boyd was 20 of 29 for 240 yards and three touchdowns and no INTs after a ND-era Denard performance in game one: 13/32 for 204 yards and 1-1 TD:INT.
This is going to be a scheme matchup where Michigan has to threaten with Denard's legs and break VT keys to get guys open. We've seen Borges pull out multiple flood concepts, that delay stuff with Hemingway, bunch concepts, a zillion throwback screens, and even some QB Oh Noes here and there. That variety deployed sensibly has the potential to expose some of the holes VT's aggression leaves.
One thing Michigan should probably not do much of is turn Denard's back to the line of scrimmage.
VT loves QB focused backside blitzes; Miami ended up handing off here but Duke was not so lucky on multiple occasions. Keep Denard in the gun and looking at those who would threaten him. There will be many of them coming from surprising places.
That is still a major concern. While Denard has flashed the ability to smoothly handle a blitzer up the middle over the last chunk of the season, the emphasis is on "flashed." Over the course of the season panic and bad decisions have been more common. A defense like this is going to test Denard's newfound ability to not throw multiple interceptions.
His late surge-type substance suffers from major sample size disclaimers. Setting aside the 21 attempts in the last 7 minutes of the Iowa game when Michigan threw the base offense out and Iowa's play was to bleed yardage, Denard threw 14, 16, 10, 18, and 17 passes the last five weeks of the season. His attempts have been largely comfortable ones in the context of the offense; his opportunities to throw interceptions have been massively restricted. If VT can expose him to crappy situations by shutting down the run game, there is a distinct possibility Michigan wakes the turnover demon.
Key Matchup: Borges versus Foster versus Denard's ability to figure out what's going on. We've seen plenty of hand-wavingly open dudes this year who have been ignored by Denard or Gardner in favor of fist-shakingly covered guys. If Borges can shake guys free Denard still has to find them and throw it to them.
Run Defense vs Virginia Tech
David Wilson is a scary tailback playing behind an iffy offensive line. When that offensive line can stalemate the opposition he slashes into and through the secondary. While I think highly of BWS's work, he cray if he thinks Wilson "doesn't have much speed" and isn't a damn good player. With Michigan's edge issues this year it will be a surprise if he doesn't bust someone to the ground en route to a 20 yard chunk.
Here we do have a couple of relatively close comparison points for the Michigan defense, which gave up 4.1 YPC over the course of the season. Miami and Virginia are very close to that average; BC and Clemson are a tenth or two worse. Those are the most comparable defense with conventional stats. In FEI Michigan (#17) is very close to North Carolina (#15). (FWIW, Clemson is 27, UVA 35, BC 41, Miami 67.)
Michigan should expect to give up about four and a half yards a carry with the bulk of the damage done by Wilson. If you think the Big Ten is significantly better than the ACC this year—something the Sagarin ratings believe and the Big Ten is busy disproving today, FWIW—you might downgrade that to Michigan's average.
That is the 1,000 foot view. From a matchup perspective, it seems like the interior of the VT OL is a weak spot that Michigan is well suited to exploit what with Ryan Van Bergen and Mike Martin hanging around in opponent backfields. Martin in particular has torn up substandard opposition in the back half of the schedule; he had a more even battle with Ohio Wesleyan's Mike Brewster in his last outing, but Brewster was a Rimington-finalist sort of guy. VT's interior line does not possess a similar player.
Ace highlighted the Clemson DTs' effectiveness in the ACC title game:
I noticed stuff like this against… like… Duke. Which is Duke. Wilson still ate up bunches of yards when he got to the outside and stiffarmed his way up to full rumble, but you've got to get there first. VT has shown some option and will undoubtedly try to find ways to avoid Martin's regular sojourns into the backfield. How Michigan handles that will go a long way towards determining who wins this matchup.
It is imperative that Van Bergen and Martin MAKE PLAYS; with Nate Brink out and Will Heininger likely sidelined Michigan will have to rotate Will Campbell and Quinton Washington at the three-tech spot. This weakens that slot and strips RVB and Martin of any possibility of relief. Expect a good deal of Michigan's nickel package with Ryan as a down lineman; VT runs three WRs out there most of the time.
Beyond Wilson there are two guys with more than a handful of carries. Senior Josh Oglesby is an uninspiring thudder averaging 3.7 YPC. QB Logan Thomas is 6'6" and relatively athletic; VT uses him on the inverted veer to pick up 5-8 mooseyards and deploys him as an automatic first down in short yardage. There's a big difference between third and one and third and two in this game.
Key Matchup: Ryan, Floyd, Countess, Avery, Kovacs, and other edge/alley defenders against Wilson in space. If Wilson's going to crack 100 yards it's going to come with two or three big chunk runs outside the tackles.
Pass Defense vs Virginia Tech
left bad. right good.
Logan Thomas is a huge dude with a big, accurate downfield arm. Think John Navarre, except driving around in a tank. When given time to survey he will set his feet and deliver strikes 15-50 yards downfield. On occasion he will throw terrible interceptions. This isn't a problem at the level Denard's errant throws are but it does exist.
Thomas's efficiency numbers are middling. He's 49th nationally; his YPA is slightly above average at 7.7. VT missed the three best pass efficiency Ds in the league but still played a ton of teams in Michigan's ballpark (37th). Results:
That is not much success against Clemson but good to excellent numbers against the rest of the reasonably good pass efficiency opponents. That may be because those teams all kind of suck. The datapoint we just got on Virginia (giving up 450 yards and 43 points to what was the nation's #104 offense) is not so encouraging for the ACC. Pay no attention to the Penn State behind the curtain or Braxton Miller going all Troy Smith last game.
The VT receivers aren't DeVier Posey and the threat posed by Thomas won't force Michigan into a one-off attempt to imitate Virginia Tech's defense, so hopefully the secondary will revert to its pre-OSU form in which big plays are rare and receivers are, like, covered and stuff. Thomas Gordon reclaims the starting free safety spot after Troy Woolfolk's torrid first half against OSU; he has been solid most of the year.
Even if that happens, Thomas has shown an ability to pinpoint seemingly covered receivers. Miami was totally horrible against the pass this year but 23 of 25 for 310 yards is eyepopping. The overall stats are misleading since Thomas's YPA is held down by VT's propensity for bubble screens. On actual pass plays he picks up big chunks.
Getting to Thomas is the best way to not get arcing deep balls rained on Michigan's face. While he has the raw arm strength to throw off the back foot, he is a large man with a long arm and slow delivery; he's not bad in motion but he's not lethally accurate.
Key Matchup: Martin/RVB/Roh/Ryan against the VT OL. While VT has not gotten much push up front, the line has kept Thomas clean much of the year. VT gives up just over a sack per game and that is with a ton of deep routes, a QB with a long delivery, and a healthy number of throws.
Virginia Tech's specialists.
This is a very strange thing to write in a preview about Virginia Tech, but after everything that's befallen the Hokies in the run-up to this game this probably should be a Michigan advantage. VT's first-string kicker got in jail and their second-stringer was sent home for missing curfew. The third string guy is all that's left; he was scheduled to take longer field goals tomorrow but now he's got everything. Brendan Gibbons isn't great shakes but he's at least got a decent track record under 40 yards this year.
At punter, meanwhile, Will Hagerup has struggled even when not immortalizing himself in the GIF seen round the world. He's still not a starting wide receiver, like Danny Coale. Coale will punt for VT tomorrow after their starter punted the Hokies into the triple digits. Coale's been surprisingly effective given the circumstances but has shanked a couple opportunities.
Returns… eh. VT and M are 99th and 100th in kickoff returns; they've been better on punts but both are still middling. While variance be variant, there's no reason to expect either return unit to have a huge impact on the game. Field goals and how far those punts travel will be bigger issues.
Key Matchup: Gibbons you have an advantage over the opponent?
first page of results for "Virginia Tech cat" for some reason
- Michigan gets stuck on the field for long drives; with the line down two guys M will be susceptible to tiring.
- Logan Thomas has time to throw downfield.
- Special teams is not an advantage for some reason. I know, weird.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- Molk goes dancing on underclassman chests.
- QB Oh Noes returns with authoritah.
- Denard gets past the filling safety.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 4 (Baseline 5; –1 for Third String Kicker And WR Punter, +1 for Aggressive Blitzing Defense Did Okay In M's Last Bowl Game, +1 for Secondary Just Imploded, Reminding Me Of 2006, +1 for David Wilson Is The Truth, –1 for The Truth Can Only Do So Much When He's Dodging Two Guys In The Backfield, –1 for There Is Denard, –1 for Massive Trench Advantage On Both Sides Of The Ball, +1 for General Bowl Game Paranoia, –1 for Hoke Uber Alles.)
Desperate need to win level: 8 (Baseline 5; +1 BCS Win So Sexy, +1 for Would Be Fourth Time Since 93 Michigan Loses Fewer Than Three Games, +1 for Preseason Top Ten Hype, –1 for Wait Actually That Sounds Like A Bad Idea, +1 for Makes Alabama Seem Like Way Less Of A Bad Idea, –1 for Meaningless Garbage Exhibition Designed To Bilk People Out Of Money, +1 for Winning Is Fun.)
Loss will cause me to... eat nothing but turkey for the next month.
Win will cause me to... squint at the returning members of the defensive line until they transform into a competent unit, proclaim Big Ten championship is on the table next year. Also enjoy life.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
It's tough to get a grasp on Virginia Tech given their schedule, which is 78th by FEI's estimation. They played no one in the nonconference. They got blown out twice by Clemson. They missed the other winning teams in the Atlantic division. Their best wins are over 8-5 Virginia, 8-5 Georgia Tech, and 7-6 North Carolina. They played one-score games with Duke and East Carolina. They have the shiny record and a lot of shiny stats, but against who?
You can say something similar about Michigan, which missed Wisconsin and Penn State and played in a terrible edition of the Big Ten. They check in 55th. These are not teams that enter the Sugar Bowl atop a mountain of skulls.
We do have more evidence that Michigan is really genuinely good at a thing, though. Michigan's rushing offense was shut down by MSU and Iowa this year thanks to snap timing, an inability to combat blitzes up the middle, and a bunch of runs from under center. When this was not happening they killed people. Assuming these things do not recur, Michigan should grind out a solid day on the ground. Quality rushing offenses have gone for big yardage in three of four opportunities against VT's young, small DL.
VT, on the other hand, has just come off a game in which an athletic interior line demolished their running game. I'm worried about turnovers and Logan Thomas testing Michigan's suddenly vulnerable secondary deep; I'm confident that Michigan has a major advantage along both lines. In a game that figures to be contested on the ground that should be enough. Michigan's tendency to turn the ball over is offset by the various third stringers and WRs kicking for Tech.
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Michigan outrushes VT by 75 yards.
- Denard passing attempts are under 20.
- VT's goofy kicker specialists don't hurt them, because that's life.
- Michigan, 25-18
Stopping Virginia Tech's offense means stopping RB David Wilson.
Brian has covered the most important part of scouting Virginia Tech—how they fared against Duke, of course—but I figured I'd check out the tape of their ACC title game loss at the hands of Clemson and see if I could come up with any further insight on the Hokies. To be honest, my notes look much the same as what Brian took away from the Duke game, but seeing Clemson dominate VT helped to solidify some of those impressions and create some new ones. So, for one last time in 2011, let's do this FFFF thing:
Spread, Pro-Style, or Hybrid? Spread, mostly. VT operates out of the gun most of the time, always with at least three receivers. They'll go under center in either the ace or I-form on occasion, and they'll usually run when that happens.
Basketball on Grass or MANBALL? VT loves to pull their guards to try to get RB David Wilson to the edge, so despite the spread offense, we get a MANBALL here. They'll also do their share of zone blocking, and the inverted veer is their short-yardage weapon of choice, so you will see a little bit of everything out of their run game.
Quarterback Dilithium Level (Scale: 1 [Navarre] to 10 [Denard]): Starting quarterback Logan Thomas stands at 6'6", 254 pounds, and while he's not the fastest guy out there, he's very good at using his size to find a way upfield. He's the Hokies best short-yardage option, usually keeping on the inverted veer and plunging ahead for yardage, and he'll also see his fair share of QB draws and scrambles. Thomas doesn't display the 3G-force cuts of Denard, or anything close, but he's good at finding a seam and getting upfield in a hurry—he won't break a lot of big runs, but he can eat up 5-7 yard chunks with regularity if he finds the space. I'll give him a 6.
Dangerman: Though he had an awful game against Clemson, rushing for just 32 yards on 11 carries, David Wilson (#4) is the best player on the Hokie offense—on the year he has 266 carries for 1627 yards (6.1 yards per carry) and nine touchdowns. Wilson has elite speed and surprising strength for a 5'10", 205-pound tailback, but his vision appears to be lacking—he's definitely got some Michael Shaw bouncebouncebounce in him. When he can get the edge, he's very dangerous. When he can't, as was the case against Clemson, he can be bottled up and contained. Still, he topped 100 yards in all but two games this season, so expect him to find some success in the Sugar Bowl.
Zook Factor: I did not notice Frank Beamer do anything Zookian. This should not come as a surprise.
OVERVIEW: Ideally (for them) Virginia Tech is going to find the edge with Wilson, get him eating up big chunks of yardage behind some pulling linemen—they love the POWER run—then unleash their play-action passing game with Thomas, a pretty accurate QB with a very strong arm. Most of VT's passes were either downfield strikes off of run fakes or quick hitters to the middle of the field out of the gun. I guess there's also a third category—panicked dumpoffs by Thomas when his O-line collapses, which occurred with regularity against the Tigers. The blitz will be key for Michigan, as not only is VT's line suspect, but Thomas often holds onto the ball too long and is very hesitant to throw downfield against a good rush.
The Wolverine defense will have to be sound underneath, as not only does Thomas love hitting quick slants, but he often dumps the ball off to Wilson when all else fails. While Wilson has suspect hands, he's very good in space, so making sure he's accounted for is a priority on any play, run or pass. Clemson was rather successful in this regard:
You may notice the total ownage of all things interior O-line on the above play. That was a theme. Let's skip right to the...
PLAY BREAKDOWN: I cut way too many videos from this game, so let's dive right in. As stated, offensive line looks to be a weak point for Virginia Tech, especially in the interior. Here's a miserably-failed attempt at running the inverted veer:
While that blocking wasn't terrible—that's mostly a great play by #40 on Clemson—the O-line can't get any sort of push, and that was a common thread throughout the ACC title game. This play also shows off another potential issue for VT, which BWS picked up on from watching them play Miami (YTM):
Ball security. This probably isn't a trend, but Thomas had a lot of trouble with ball security. He bobbled and fumbled one snap and failed to tuck the ball when he was pressured on another play and fumbled it. There was also another poor snap during the game that had to be recovered. I don't know if these are consistent problems, but they certainly were during this game.
I think we now have a trend. Thomas lost the above fumble after a review, and on several other runs he failed to tuck the ball away, nearly losing it a couple times when taking hits. Michigan's opportunistic defense should have more opportunities for turnovers when Thomas tucks and runs. As for VT's run game from under center, Clemson shut that down as well, again thanks to terrible blocking in the middle:
Mike Martin should be chomping at the bit to get after these guys, as they were bull-rushed into oblivion by the Tigers. Wilson doesn't help here, either, as he comes to a complete stop in the backfield instead of cutting to the backside—when a play breaks down and there's no chance to bounce it out playside, he looks pretty pedestrian. Despite lacking a run game entirely, however, the Hokies still managed to get a big play out of their play-action game:
Clemson had a lot of success by loading up the box and playing very aggressively against the run while playing one deep safety with man coverage, but this is the flip side—the defensive backs must be on top of their game, and they obviously slipped up here. Thomas does those Juice Williams-esque long play fakes and his deep throws are quite accurate. 'No duh' statement of the day: the safeties are going to have to play like they did the first 11 games of the year, because if they repeat their Ohio State performance, it could be a long night.
Thomas is at his best when he gets time in the pocket so he can wait on his first or second read to come open—if those aren't there, he's going to check down to the back—and hit those intermediate throws. His arm strength is not an issue:
That's a fantastic throw between two zones, albeit a slightly dangerous one. Thomas got picked off twice in the fourth quarter after the Hokies fell behind by 28—he'll force a couple passes into tight windows, and Michigan needs to be able to take advantage.
- VT has a solid group of receivers, but there's no one guy that stands out as particularly impressive. Senior Danny Coale and Jarrett Boykin both have over 50 catches and 700 yards, though they accumulate their numbers in differing fashion: Coale is quick and shifty—he also returns punts (and actually punts, more on that later)—and does a lot of his damage after the catch, while Boykin is a bigger target with great hands who is a solid possession guy but not a huge big-play threat. One guy to watch is Marcus Davis, who averages over 17 yards per catch.
- Right tackle Blake DeChristopher (#62) is a redshirt senior who garnered first-team All-ACC honors this season, but I wasn't impressed by him. He got beaten easily around the edge for a sack and had his fair share of issues in the run game as well. The Hokie line in general is not especially large, going 306-297-290-307-311 from left to right, and while the guards are athletic enough to pull, they don't have the strength to get a good push against a solid defensive front. Thomas had multiple passes batted down despite being 6'6" with a high release point—that's a pretty bad sign.
- The Hokies have what appears to be a decent backup option at running back in Josh Oglesby, who's runs with a very differing style from Wilson—he hits the hole hard and goes North-South until he runs into something. His numbers don't jump off the page, as he averaged 3.7 ypc on 90 carries this season, but if he finds a seam he can barrel into the secondary in a hurry.
Base Set? BWS pointed out that VT ran not only a base 4-3 against Miami, but also a 4-4 run stopping look, a 3-3-5 package used mostly for blitzing, and an Okie formation quite similar to Michigan's, though with less linemen dropping into coverage. Due to injuries to their linebackers, the Hokies have had to adjust a bit, and against Clemson they mostly played a very aggressive 4-2-5 with DB Kyle Fuller essentially playing linebacker. They'll still switch up their look frequently, but they're a bit limited because of their lack of LBs. A far better breakdown of all this is the now-frequently-linked Dr. Saturday post on the Hokie D.
Man or zone coverage? VT came out playing mostly man coverage—in large part due to their aggressive blitz schemes—but they'll throw out some zone coverage (and zone blitzes) to switch things up and confuse the offense.
Pressure: GERG or Greg? A whole lotta Greg. Virginia Tech brings at least one linebacker on practically every play, and they bring Fuller off the edge often—despite being a nominal defensive back, he's amassed 14.5 TFLs this season.
Dangerman: Fuller (#17 in your program, probably unranked in your heart if you're reading this blog). He's a terror off the edge, blowing up run plays without much help when coming on the blitz, and he's strong in man coverage—he held his own on the few occasions when he went one-on-one with Sammy Watkins. Fuller is also good tackler in space. If you forget his name between now and Tuesday, you'll quickly remember him as the guy making all the plays.
OVERVIEW: Bud Foster's defense is extremely aggressive, and while much of that is by design, it's also a necessity—the Hokie D-line and linebackers are thoroughly unimpressive, but their secondary is able to make up for a lot of that thanks to Fuller's blitzing and very sound coverage. Here's what I thought was an ideal two-play sequence for VT—the first play they rush four and force a throwaway despite getting no pressure, and they follow that up with a curveball zone blitz that catches Clemson off-guard and nearly nets a sack:
You can see Fuller (#17) blitzes here and actually draws a block from the left guard, opening things up for the other rushers to get pressure—he demands a lot of attention. As Brian noted after watching the Duke game, VT is very good in coverage—junior corner Jayron Hosley in particular—and that really lets them bring the heat without too much fear of the big play.
PLAY BREAKDOWN: That doesn't mean the defensive backs are perfect, however. Clemson found some success running the football and dialed up a perfect play-action bomb to Watkins in the third quarter. Corner Cris Hill, who starts when Fuller is playing his hybrid spot, gets absolutely torched on a double move here and there's no help behind him:
Hill wasn't the only player victimized in the secondary. VT runs a complicated scheme that mixes zone and man principles, and while that's confusing for the offense, it can also be tough on their own guys, as well. Clemson's first TD was the result of Fuller settling into a robber zone instead of playing man, and judging by the result of the play, I think it's safe to say he was supposed to pick this guy up:
Tech's run defense found a lot of success early when they were able to bring a ton of heat and flow to the ball—their team speed is a definite plus, and it's hard to get the edge against them using conventional runs when they're blitzing hard. Clemson was able to soften up the defense with multiple quick-hitting end-arounds to Watkins, however, and then they went to work on VT's undersized D-line. Here's Clemson breaking out of the shadow of their own end zone with a simple inside zone that their running back takes off-tackle:
The Hokie defensive ends all weigh in the 240-250 pound range, and in this instance backup Zack McCray (#95) is sealed to the inside while the linebackers both play passively and allow themselves to get blocked with ease. VT blitzes the nearside corner, but he can't get to the play in time, and Ellington waltzes into the secondary. That success would continue late in the game—here's a two-play sequence where Ellington picks up a big chunk on an inside zone before finishing off the drive with a power run off-tackle for a 30-yard touchdown:
On the first play, the defensive tackles both are shoved right out of the hole, and the linebackers just aren't there to pick up the slack—the middle of that defense looked soft all game. The next play is beautifully executed by Clemson, and I can't help but think that Denard could find some success on the edge if Borges dials up an outside run away from the inevitable blitz, especially if it's preceded by a successful run up the gut.
- This could be the game where the tunnel screen actually works for a big play. With VT's suspect linebackers and their propensity to bring 6-7 men on the rush, Michigan should be able to hit a receiver quickly and give him space to maneuver upfield. Tech gave a lot of cushion on the edge against Clemson, and the Tigers took advantage with some quick-hitting screens to Watkins that usually netted 8-10 yards.
- VT's safeties are very, very aggressive in run support, and they're solid tacklers at the line. Denard is going to have to establish himself as a reliable and accurate passer early, or the Hokies will be able to load up the box and tee off on the run. Hitting those quick timing routes that are so fundamental to Borges's offense will be paramount if Michigan is going to succeed against this defense. With all the blitzing, Denard is not going to have all day in the pocket.
- While the DBs are great in run support, I disagreed with Brian's assertion that they were all-around sound at tackling in space. They missed a few tackles on Clemson's receivers when they caught the ball in space—another reason why I think establishing a short passing game will be the key to Michigan's success.
- I flat-out wasn't impressed with the defensive line. Their DEs have some decent TFL numbers, but most of their plays in the backfield came when VT brought extra men—when rushing four, the Hokies got little push against the run and nothing resembling a pass rush. The DTs often got blown right back out of the hole. This shouldn't come as a huge surprise: The Hokies have a true freshman starting at DT surrounded by three sophomore starters, and the depth along the line is young as well—there isn't a single senior on the two-deep for Tuesday's game.
- One last note: Thanks to injuries and ineffectiveness, wide receiver Danny Coale also doubles as the punter. He's been surprisingly good, averaging 44 yards per punt on 12 attempts, and he had two 60-yard boots against Clemson that pinned them deep in their own territory. Coale also shanked a 28-yarder in his own end to help set up a Tiger score, so consistency may be an issue. With their top two kickers suspended for the game as well, things could get adventurous for the normally-great Tech special teams.