Peppers at 10, which seems low.
Something's been missing from Michigan gamedays since the free programs ceased being economically viable: scientific gameday predictions that are not at all preordained by the strictures of a column in which one writer takes a positive tack and the other a negative one… something like Punt-Counterpunt.
This is your editor speaking. As we prepped for the 2013 season, Punt decided that he wanted to hang up his spurs. This week he says goodbye to years of Michigan-related snark. As a kid growing up, I would eagerly seek out the free programs and flip to the back to take it in. Punt/Counterpunt opened my eyes to the fact that there was a different way to go about things than the one you found in the newspaper. They were an undeniable influence here. Thanks, Ken.
By Ken “Sky” Walker
August 31, 2013
I don’t remember exactly when I was first asked to write this column. I do know that I’ve been “Punt” for parts of three decades. During that time, I’ve been lucky enough to have covered the winning of a national championship in 1997. I was even more fortunate to not have written the column during the Rich Rodriguez era of Michigan football. Calling his hiring as the Wolverine’s coach a ‘misfit’ doesn’t begin to describe that debacle. However, Rich Rod did give Michigan fans the chance to be a part of The Denard Robinson Experience, so I guess we have to at least thank him for that.
Being able to experience college football from a journalist’s point of view has been a lot of fun. (Though calling myself a “journalist” is like calling Nicki Minaj a “conservative dresser”.) Over the years, this column has given me the opportunity to sit at the same table with any number of the Big Ten’s best players and coaches. While some have lived up to their greatness both on and off the field like Charles Woodson, others like Joe Paterno sadly weren’t the men we thought they were.
Being “Punt” has even brought me tiny taste of what being a celebrity must be like. From strangers calling out “Punt!” as I cross a street in town, to the guy at the rental car place giving me an upgrade because he was a fan of the column, it is at times a bit strange. Conversely, there was the guy who bent my ear for a whole half at an away game; convinced I could give him the heads up on getting into journalism (I made Counterpunt sit next to him for the second half).
Speaking of Counterpunt, this would be the point at which I should get in a few jibes at him. I don’t have it in me to truly trash the guy. There have been times when I read his column and didn’t have a clue as to what he was talking about. It’s as if the basic concept that this column should be in some way connected to football was beyond his grasp. But when the opportunity to write the column came along, he asked me to join him and for that I’ll always be grateful.
If it hasn’t become apparent by now, this will be my last column as “Punt”. I’ll be turning over the moniker to someone who has a younger, fresher viewpoint. I hope they have even more fun with it than I did. I want to thank Dave DeVarti for publishing “Punt/Counterpunt” originally and Brian Cook for resurrecting it. I hope that everyone who has read the column over the years has at least found it interesting, if not gotten some enjoyment from it. And since it’s my last prediction, why not go out big:
Michigan – 2013 Big Ten Champions – GO BLUE!
ACTUALLY, STILL PUNT
By Nick RoUMel
I’ll say it.
Nicki Minaj is a conservative dresser.
I say that with only a dim awareness that Nicki Minaj is an entertainer, and without full knowledge of said Nicki’s gender.
I say that because despite his modesty, Punt has indeed been a true journalist.
In a day where mainstream media of coverage often focuses on misdeeds, and sports writers go out of their way to put down the young men who play this game, Punt has covered the game. Since 1994, my friend, as you have forgotten.
In his first column predicting a 31-17 Michigan victory over MSU (actual score UM 40-MSU 20), Punt wrote about the rivalry:
Webster defines a rival as “a person or tries to get or do the same thing as another or to equal or surpass another; a competitor.” Having read this, I have to ask the question – does the series with MSU constitute a true rivalry? Well, it surely must be considered one by Spartan fans. After all, haven’t they been trying to "get or do the same thing" as the Wolverines on the gridiron for nearly a generation?”
While Punt has been a true Blue Michigan fan over the years, he was not afraid to go out on a limb, like his prediction that Ohio State would crush Michigan’s national championship hopes in our storied 1997 season:
“The Wolverine watched the scarlet and grey bandit soar off. He could only gnash his teeth, a scream choking in his throat. "It can’t end this way," he cried. "Is there no justice?"
I will always give credit to Punt for his ardent (and prescient) support of Tom Brady in 1999, when golden boy Drew Henson was job sharing. From October 2, 1999:
“Please, please, please just give the job to Brady! What else does the "San Mateo Matador" have to do to prove he’s worthy?”
One of the frustrating things in working with Punt was his refusal to pick against Michigan, leaving it to me to play the bad guy. He wrote in 2004:
“Counterpunt has accused me of being a "homer." He thinks I won’t pick against Michigan if I obviously think they’re going to win. Which, to a certain extent, is true.”
Referring years later to his 1997 pick of OSU to ruin Michigan’s undefeated season, Punt wrote:
“Would you have liked to be the one to pick against Michigan during the 1997 dream season? … Despite wrapping my column in the blanket of a fairy tale, I remained the object of scorn from many acquaintances, to the extent of it impacting on my enjoyment of the best season of Michigan football in my lifetime.”
The Michigan Football Guide stopped publishing in 2007, which was fitting as it was the season of the Appalachian State loss and some lean years thereafter. As Punt noted, we were mercifully spared the RichRod years. That would have been a difficult time to keep up our enthusiasm.
Writing for MGoBlog last year was been a welcome resurrection, and a fitting way for Punt to go out on top. We are grateful to Brian & Co. for giving us an opportunity to share this space with true students of the game. I am looking forward to working with my new partner, whose inside knowledge of Michigan football is far greater than my own, and who probably can even tell us Nicki Minaj’s gender.
As I now move into Punt formation, Ken “Sky” Walker, I salute you. Go Blue, my friend.
Michigan 42, Central Michigan 13
By Heiko Yang
Hello. If you enjoy reading big walls of ungrammatical text, you may be familiar with me as the guy who badgers the Michigan coaches about all the neat things they are reluctant to do. As Punt’s successor, you can call me “Spread Punt.”
I am deeply honored to be entrusted with upholding Punt’s journalistic excellence going forward. Free rental car upgrades are not truly free, after all. They are earned, and the humbling fact of the matter is that when Ken started earning his, I was still in ESL. Never mind that misinformed prejudices put me there in the first place and then subsequently kept me there for two more years. It was worth it. Becoming the new Punt is the end achievement in my quest to master the English language. Dr. McPherson (my second grade teacher had a PhD) would be so proud.
With this new great power comes great responsibility. Right now it is my responsibility to inform Counterpunt that Nicki Minaj is indeed a lovely young lady. So lovely you should probably turn SafeSearch on if you are at work, which I totally forgot to do just now.
Michigan 50, Central Michigan 9.
[ED: One of you is supposed to be negative! Argh. We'll work on this.]
Well. It's done. This year's edition checks in at 41,191 words. If you had that in the pool, congratulations.
THE STORY: ALL TOGETHER NOW
After a decade trying to find itself, Michigan points itself to the future, united.
Quarterback: I believe in Devin Gardner, so hard.
Running back: Also Fitz Toussaint. Not so much the other veterans, but have I told you about freshmen? They're all right at tailback.
Wide receiver: Yeah, they're short. So? They're damn good.
Tight end and friends: a panoply of blocky-catchy guys featuring one Devin Funchess, larger and ready to bust out.
Offensive line: It's like Ohio: rather good at the edge, increasingly depressing as you approach the center.
Questions and answers: Borges isn't perfect but he's probably good enough; reiterating Gardner squee.
Defensive ends: I do not think Frank Clark is going to be an all-wrecking force. Better, sure.
Defensive tackle: All hail QWASH. Three-tech dodgy, but deep.
Linebacker: If Ryan is Ryan, these guys will be lights out.
Cornerback: War daddy up, Mr. Countess.
Safety: Thomas Gordon, and then… well… hmm.
Questions and answers: Novacs, mitigating that, the importance of hybrid space players, serenity?
Special teams: a major strength if Michigan can just block and cover guys.
Podcast 5.0: Almost two hours of erudite chatter about socialism in the 19th century.
Heuristics and stupid prediction: Turnovers should be much better, only position shifts that are ominous at safety, 10-2 asserted.
Orson's season kickoff: "THE BUSINESS OF PROTECTION."
Holdin' The Rope: "Beginnings"
TEAM SPECIFIC HYPE
College football is a dichotomy of change and sameness. The players turn over at an alarming rate, even the most precocious slipping through our fingers almost before we've met them. But every year there's a Saturday where 110,000 file into a stadium Fielding Yost built, survey their view, hear the band, see the helmets, and think to themselves it's still here. All of it is still here. Thank God.
Life decays us all; the team is forever.
Previously here: Brian's turn to self-inflict carpal tunnel (aka the 'preview 2013' tag—if you haven't read through those by now, set aside a good ALL OF THE HOURS)
|WHAT||Michigan vs Central Michigan|
Ann Arbor, Michigan
|WHEN||3:30 pm Eastern, August 31, 2013|
|THE LINE||M -32|
|WEATHER||partly cloudy, around 80, 10% chance of rain|
Trollin' trollin' trollin'/Sparty LOL'in/This better not happen/To ussssssss
Run Offense vs Central Michigan
The good news for Central Michigan is they return four of their six starters up front (they run a 4-2-5 defense); the bad news is one of those starters is buried down at third on the depth chart at nose tackle—oh, and the Chips allowed 193 rushing yards per game last season, 93rd in the NCAA. Returning talent is good if it is talented; CMU's defense was not so talented in 2012.
The Chips return both linebackers, senior SLB Shamari Benton and junior MLB Justin Cherocci; the pair combined for 258(!) tackles last season, largely because the defensive line couldn't make plays—only two D-linemen cracked 40 tackles last season, and both have since graduated. Benton and Cherocci will be tasked with keeping five-yard gains from turning into big plays; their tackle numbers indicate they're pretty decent at doing so, though CMU's opponent rushing numbers (4.9 ypc before sacks removed) may tell a different story.
If Michigan can't get a traditional run game going against this team, it may be time to PANIC. Maize n Brew interviewed Hustle Belt blogger Ron Balaskovitz about the matchup, one that doesn't bode well for CMU given what their defense is designed to stop:
The problem for CMU when they face a team like Michigan, who wants to establish a power running game, is that CMU doesn't play a normal front seven. They play 4-2-5 defense that is designed to bend but don't break, and slow down the pass happy MAC offenses, so it leaves them vulnerable against power run teams. It doesn't typically blitz often, and relies on pressure from the front four, and lots of tackles by the linebackers. The linebackers are both back, and both had over 100 tackles last year, so the pressure rests squarely on the defensive line coming into this game.
Only one CMU defensive lineman, nose tackle Leterrius Walton, returns to his starting spot this year; last year's other starting DT, junior Jabari Dean, is now listed third on the nose tackle depth chart. CMU lists co-starters at both defensive end spots, and none of the four crack 250 pounds. Michigan should be able to control the game on the ground without breaking out much fancy stuff; if they struggle to do so, optimism for their chances against Notre Dame—and their beastly defensive line—drops several notches.
Key Matchup: Jack Miller and Graham Glasgow vs. The One Proven CMU Lineman. Actually, the non-proven ones, too. If Miller and/or Glasgow struggle to get a push against these guys, it does not bode well for the running game going fowards. I think I've made that rather clear.
[Hit THE JUMP for how do you give up that many passing yards to MSU? Also, a fearsome running back named Zurlon.]
Previously: Podcast 5.0, The Story, Quarterback, Running Back, Wide Receiver, Tight End and Friends, Offensive Line, Defensive Tackle, Defensive End, Linebacker, Cornerback, Safety, Special Teams. Five Questions: Offense, Five Questions: Defense.
The theory of turnover margin: it is pretty random. Teams that find themselves at one end or the other at the end of the year are likely to rebound towards the average. So teams towards the top will tend to be overrated and vice versa. Nonrandom factors to evaluate: quarterback experience, quarterback pressure applied and received, and odd running backs like Mike Hart who just don't fumble.
|Year||Margin||Int +||Fumb +||Sacks +||Int -||Fumb -||Sacks -|
|2007||0.15 (41st)||14||15||2.46(33rd)||14||13||2.17 (67th)|
|2008||-.83 (104th)||9||11||2.42(33rd)||12||18||1.83 (57th)|
|2009||-1.00 (115th)||11||5||1.83(68th)||15||13||2.33 (83rd)|
|2011||+0.54 (25th)||9||20||2.31 (29th)||16||6||1.38 (33rd)|
|2012||-0.69 (99th)||7||11||1.69 (69th)||19||8||1.38 (28th)|
Michigan's one year bounce was followed by a ruthless reversion to Rodriguez-era norms as Michigan's fumble recovery rate dropped to human levels and Denard threw a bunch of interceptions. Actually, Russell Bellomy made quite a contribution himself with four interceptions on just 21 throws. Vincent Smith also tossed one on his only attempt. That's quite an interception haul from 22 attempts.
Gardner's INT rate (3.9%) was not great, but it was a significant improvement on Denard and especially the random throws. If he'd taken all of Michigan's 318 throws he would have thrown 13 interceptions (actually 12.6), and one of his picks was a third-and-long chuck that became a virtual punt. Even if Gardner doesn't improve that INT rate Michigan can expect to drop a lot of interceptions.
Fumbles lost should stay at low levels as Taylor Lewan protects Gardner from blindside hits and low-fumble Fitz Toussaint gets the bulk of the carries. Robinson was a consistent source of fumbles, too.
That should get Michigan to about even, and then you'd hope increased pressure on the quarterback and a defensive backfield more oriented towards MAKING PLAYS would increase Michigan's crappy takeaway rate.
I'd guess Michigan is in a range from turnover-neutral to +0.25, but as always with turnovers they can do wacky things.
Position Switch Starters
Theory of position switches: if you are starting or considering starting a guy who was playing somewhere else a year ago, that position is in trouble. There are degrees of this. When Notre Dame moved Travis Thomas, a useful backup at tailback, to linebacker and then declared him a starter, there was no way that could end well. Wisconsin's flip of LB Travis Beckum to tight end was less ominous because Wisconsin had a solid linebacking corps and Beckum hadn't established himself on that side of the ball. Michigan flipping Prescott Burgess from SLB to WLB or PSU moving Dan Connor inside don't register here: we're talking major moves that indicate a serious lack somewhere.
WDE Brennen Beyer moves to SAM to cover for the Ryan injury. Fret level: none. Minor move and Beyer is competing with Cam Gordon to start until Ryan gets back for the meat of the schedule.
WLB Desmond Morgan moves to MLB so Ross can start. Fret level: negative? Morgan's more natural at MLB and the differences are minimal.
LT Ben Braden moves to guard and back, which leaves Michigan in a bit of a spot on the interior. Fret level: moderate. Michigan could use another bullet or two on the interior and obviously wanted Braden to grab the job.
CB Courtney Avery moves to safety, apparently to start. Fret level: severe.
This is actually a low level of motion, which is good.
An Embarrassing Prediction, No Doubt
Worst Case If Devin Gardner Is Healthy
The offensive line remains in shambles, though Kalis does bring a nastiness Michigan did not have previously. Any gains in the run game are offset by the loss of Robinson. Clark is JAG again, Ryan does not come back as Jake Ryan, and the pass rush remains stagnant as the secondary gets leaky. Gardner pulls out a couple of tough games; Michigan loses their other four and ends up 8-4.
Worst Case If Devin Gardner Gets Injured
Michigan isn't quite there. If Gardner is all that and if the offensive line is okay, they still don't get enough pass rush and safety play in one particular game that blows up a potentially undefeated season. 11-1.
Gardner's the man, Toussaint recaptures his glory, the offensive line is middling in the middle and great on the edges, Gallon blows up.
On defense, the line is a sold B+, the linebackers are good to start and great at the end of the season once Ryan gets his feet back under him. The secondary is solid but prone to giving up big plays.
Special teams is a hidden asset as some of the blocking issues get resolved, Michigan flirts with spread punting, and Norfleet brings some pizzazz to the return jobs.
Brady Hoke wins a game by going for it.
|9/21||@ UConn||Must win|
|10/12||@ Penn State||Lean to win|
|11/2||@ Michigan State||Lean to win|
|11/23||@ Iowa||Must win|
Wisconsin, Illinois, Purdue
Six games should be in the bag already, and road games against Penn State (freshman quarterback) and Michigan State (lost entire offense in the person of LeVeon Bell, four way QB duel) feature what should be immensely struggling offenses and solid defenses. Notre Dame, Nebraska, Northwestern, and Ohio State are where the season will be made or lost. Only one of those is on the road, that a quasi-road game against Northwestern in the Little Big House. It looks like 10-2. 9-3 is more likely than 11-1.
[Last year I predicted 9-3, which was a game off. I claim Nebraska as an unforeseeable event, though.]
Previously: Podcast 5.0, The Story, Quarterback, Running Back, Wide Receiver, Tight End and Friends, Offensive Line, Defensive Tackle, Defensive End, Linebacker,Cornerback, Safety, Special Teams. Five Questions: Offense.
Oh man that's brutal you just accidentally made me think about some combination of Novak and Kovacs that still doesn't have any eligibility you're a monster
It's bad you guys. I am admittedly super paranoid about this business. But you're a Michigan fan too. You are either super paranoid, 14, or not paying attention. In any normal situation I would be freakin' out you guys, and now you're telling me that the guy replacing Kovacs is either
the guy who couldn't play a deep half in the bowl game to the tune of 100 yards of doom, or
a 175-pound nickel corner who has never played safety in his life.
Excuse me while I eat balloon animals until my spleen ruptures.
Look… man, I am irrationally optimistic about Devin Gardner and the running backs and the receivers and even the offensive line. I am really into large portions of this team. And I cannot find any reason to not run around in circles perpetually about replacing Kovacs. God, I wish I could. God, I wish all sorts of things about Kovacs and his replacements. I just don't know man.
It should be Avery long-term, because you don't move a guy like Avery to safety unless you are just trying to get everyone aligned right on every snap and playing the right coverage. His main asset is experience. But Avery is hurt now, was hurt last year, and projects to always be hurt. The situation here is analogous to the one at left guard, where it seems like Michigan wants to play a guy they can't count on because of his injury history. The difference at guard is that they have another option good enough to go with. The tea leaves imply that that is not the case at safety.
Yeah, maybe it'll be okay. Maybe I'm making too much of limited snaps for Wilson and writing a guy off prematurely, but guys in the comments of the safeties section saying that the Avery move is a logical one to get your best four defensive backs on the field: you're these guys.
Hey, I'd love to be wrong here. I'd love to be more wrong about this than anything I have been wrong about, and hoo boy have I been wrong about some things.
[After THE JUMP: Papering over Novacs, and like I am so serene you guys. About other bits.]
1. Is Michigan about to be on the wrong side of history?
When Rich Rodriguez was hired at Michigan, Gary Danielson infamously predicted Michigan would be the last major program to move to a spread offense. Five years later, Michigan is shedding the spread as the NFL adopts it en masse. I am a spread zealot, no foolies, and while I may be influenced by factors like…
- Associating pro-style offenses with Mike DeBord, "the expectation is for the position," and opponents saying they knew exactly what was coming game after game.
- Psychic scarring from things like Donovan McNabb, Carlyle Holiday, The Horror, The Post-Apocalyptic Oregon Game, Northwestern 2001, and even Braylonfest.
- Denard Robinson!
…I've also watched an awful lot of football over the past eight years and there seems to be no substitute for the defense-wrecking ability to run with a guy who can throw, and give him the ability to make that decision after the defense commits.
'bout to get yards'd
These days the thing that's all the rage is packaged plays that give the quarterback the ability to pick from a number of simple options based on the alignment of a couple players, and not just on the college level: Doug Marrone and company got scooped back up by the NFL largely because they ditched a complicated pro-style offense for quick decisions that make the defense wrong every time. Tavon Austin is a 5'8" wide receiver who went 8th overall in the NFL draft. The Great Satan in Columbus has Denard but tall at quarterback.
Meanwhile, the idea that Michigan needs to run a rough-and-tumble offense to cope with the rough-and-tumble Big Ten is total horseshit. If you haven't noticed, the Big Ten sucks at football, Michigan is recruiting a billion times better than anyone except Ohio State, and Ohio State is a spread option team. If we accept the fact that you have to run power to defend power, isn't the corollary there you have to run the spread to defend the spread? Clueless spread outing after clueless spread outing through Carr's career certainly suggests that. I mean, Michigan was fortunate to escape a home game against Northwestern last year because they gave up 248 rushing yards and 10 YPA.
Add in Michigan's stubborn adherence to the increasingly archaic huddle and it does seem like there's a little bit of dinosaur in the program even if Brady Hoke is hip to Romer. Arguments in favor of the huddle include feelingsball arguments like "it helps your quarterback be a leader"; arguments against include Nebraska lining up with 25 seconds on the play clock and checking into an RPS +3 play once they saw Michigan in a man to man alignment:
Where did they get that call?
From the sideline after they got lined up with 25 seconds on the clock and Michigan showed man coverage with one high safety. That was not aww shucks luck. It's using the extra information the defense gives you to exploit it. Michigan, meanwhile, is usually still in the huddle with 18 seconds on the playclock and often scrambles to the line with no other option than running what's called no matter what the D shows.
It kind of sucks that Michigan doesn't seem to want to do similar things. You'd think every coach would love the opportunity to get whatever information they can before making a decision.
Michigan's not using these newfangled offensive innovations. They suck so much at varying tempo that you, reader, have screamed "WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" more than once in two-minute drills the last two years.
I love everything about Brady Hoke, but this is the one thing that makes me fret at night when I forget about Jabrill Peppers.
[After THE JUMP: DeBord is not Borges, Borges is not DeBord. Gardner confirm. Interior line muttering.]