there would have to be some to wash away
It was the best time I'd ever had at a Chili's. Nothing whatsoever distinguished it from an average visit to Chili's. The beer was light American lager. The chicken was a bit dry, the cheese the usual half-step up from stuff you'd get in a great red-labeled cube. The waitress was a cheerful slab of the Midwest, and the bill was perfectly reasonable. I grinned and laughed and fought off bouts of body-encompassing tiredness.
An hour or so before I'd sat in Notre Dame Stadium as everyone else filed out. Once they were gone the next twenty minutes were filled with intermittent bursts of laughter. Those weren't enough, so I punched my friend in the arm. The punching and the laughing were good, as they forestalled a short circuit.
When the band marched out, we thought that was our cue. I grabbed one of the souvenir mugs as we exited. When I got home I crudely carved "28-24" on it with a steak knife. It's in the closet. Our walk back was half-accompanied by the band. We met a goodly chunk of my family walking the other way, exchanged excited greetings, and then went about the business of getting out of town. We got to the Chili's just as the adrenaline wore off and the stomach reasserted itself.
A few minutes before everyone filed out Denard Robinson zinged a skinny post to Roy Roundtree on third down and finished the job himself. In the first half Robinson had snuck through a crease in the line, found Patrick Omameh turning Manti Te'o into a safety-destroying weapon, and ran directly at me until he ran out of yards.
He knelt down to give thanks, and that felt inverted.
The next morning sun poured through huge windows in Goshen, Indiana, as I collected items for that week's Video of All Varieties. I'll usually watch some but rarely all unless I'm trying to suck the marrow out of a particularly savory victory. Notre Dame 2010 was one of those. I watched Martin and Van Bergen and others talk in the tunnel afterwards. I watched the highlights, watched the presser, got to Denard, and…
So this thing you dared not hope for starts to coalesce just from the things that happen on the field, and then yesterday morning I was struck by a sense of profound gratefulness when I watched the MGoBlue video of Denard's postgame presser:
I love how he smiles all the time and wears his heart on his sleeve and goes "AHHHH" when someone mentions Roundtree blocking for him and seems about as amazed as everyone else as what he's doing. I love how he drops to one knee after he scores in a way that seems genuine in a way I couldn't comprehend until I saw it. I love that if you ask him he'll sign your forehead. I was going to let my skepticism overwhelm, to wait until it was obvious that 2010 was not going to be 2009, but I lasted two games. I'm in the tank again.
Though Denard turned out to be human (somewhat, anyway) I am still in the tank for him. This offseason a small child in New York City wrote Denard about what it means to be a leader and Denard sent a letter back with a picture:
I need this person to be successful. This is such a relief.
It's no secret I've been one discontent blogger ever since the Mississippi State game transpired. In retrospect a lot of my criticisms don't make sense. I thought Michigan should keep Rodriguez after the Ohio State game and fire him after the bowl; I ripped David Brandon for not firing Rodriguez before the bowl if he was going to do the deed. I knew Denard Robinson was the most awesome dude ever and I still assumed he'd transfer. When I interviewed people for the Tim/Tom opening I asked each of them if they disagreed with something I'd written in the past year or so and asked them to argue about it with me; seven of the ten sought tactful ways to remind me that I'd posted "We Are ND*" above the press release announcing Hoke's hire. One just said I'd embarrassed myself with my pettiness. This turned out to be less useful of a question than I'd hoped since by that point I agreed.
That discontent is an overreaction to a real thing. We're going to get the last great Rodriguez blowup in about a month when John U Bacon's Three And Out hits shelves. It's going to put an inbred culture on display. If Michigan doesn't learn from these three years they'll eventually find themselves right back where they were in 2008, obviously behind their greatest rival with nowhere to turn.
Meanwhile, the athletic department has done an about face from the open Rodriguez days back to a culture of paranoia. I kind of liked it when Rodriguez reached out in a futile attempt to win hearts and minds; now it seems we've returned to the days when the fans were tolerated at best.
In place of openness we get marketing. I am increasingly worried that Michigan is drifting towards the bread-and-circus model you see not just in pro sports but at Michigan State, Ohio State, and especially Penn State where the allegiance of the diehards is taken for granted and the fringes are courted with fireworks and rawk music. I fear the day that Brandon unleashes the fandom bread bowl upon us.
I hate that I hate parts of the stadium experience now and fear those moments will expand rapidly. Never has Notre Dame fandom looked so rational. In this environment there's a risk you disconnect from the program in small or large ways. I've talked to a lot of people for whom that's the case. I don't know—maybe it's just getting older.
Denard overwhelms all reservations. He is pure. He grew up poor in a place infinitely far away from the manicured lawns and Whole Foods of Ann Arbor but came to Michigan because they said he could play quarterback. He says he never thought about leaving when Rodriguez was fired. Michigan is never going to recruit anyone like him ever again.
And there are so many guys like him on the team: Vincent Smith, who is 5'6" and is featured in every insider email I get as the scrappiest grittiest toughest guy the coaches love. He's from Pahokee, which may not exist in five years and will never, ever have another kid commit to Michigan. Roy Roundtree and his Donald Duck impression. Ricky Barnum, whose mom was really sick when he was a freshman and who thought about transferring but stayed. Ryan Van Bergen, who committed to Carr and stayed through Rodriguez and wondered where the alumni had been the last three years. Craig Roh, who runs up and down the stairs in Haven Hall if he gets to class early. David Molk, who drops f-bombs in press conferences that no one minds. Taylor Lewan, who has a mustache tattooed on his finger to impress the ladies. Troy Woolfolk and his werewolf alter-ego. Jordan Kovacs, student-body walk-on. Kevin Koger, twitter handle "KogerNotKroger."
Lewan, Van Bergen
There are no Pryors here. Each of these guys has endured the last three years of crap more gracefully than the university or I have and is still here, trying to set right what started going wrong a long time ago. Whatever reservations I have about the program and its direction are overwhelmed by a fierce desire to see these kids win. Rodriguez may not have been able to keep half the kids he recruited, but the ones who stuck around… man. Denard is their king.
In the course of doing this every year I look at the previous year's preview; last time around I linked to a couple of fantastic pieces. You should read Orson's again just because you should. The piece by Brian Phillips on Pele and David Foster Wallace's Federer essay, though, is relevant to our interests.
In the midst of describing one of these Federer Moments where sport allows us to transcend the limitations of our own bodies, if only vicariously, DFW circles round to the cancer-stricken nine-year-old ceremonial coin-tosser at Wimbledon, William Caines. This is going to be one long blockquote without a paragraph break. I think it's important, though:
I’ve always wondered what Wallace meant by circling back around to talk about William in the middle of what is for the most part a genuinely happy-seeming celebration of Federer. The image of the cancer-stricken child seems to have no part, that is, in the enthusiasm that motivates the essay, and yet the edge of unease it introduces brings a powerful and not unreligious strain of skepticism into the pseudo-theology of Federer. Clearly no athlete and no delight in sport can answer the “big, obvious” question about what could possibly justify a tiny child suffering a devastating physical illness. If Federer is there to reconcile us to the fact of having bodies, Wallace hints, then the reconciliation he offers has limits and outside those limits is a large and unanswerable despair. I called the awareness of this despair “not unreligious” because while it may seem like a mere challenge to belief, a sort of renegade anti-Federer atheism, the feeling that seems to follow it into the essay seems to me to have more in common with the longing for bodily mortification that is often a weird corollary of profound religious experience. That is, if we begin with a sense that something is intolerably wrong, and the power of Federer or Pelé is to make us feel that that thing is actually right (or at least tolerable), then William introduces a larger sphere of consciousness in which we realize that the reconciliation was flawed and the thing is actually wrong and intolerable after all. But that second, larger wrongness, as I read it in Wallace’s essay, and this may be unfair, because again, William is only a tiny grain of doubt within what is generally a really positive piece of writing—that second, larger wrongness doesn’t stem from an apprehension that the reconciliation Federer offers is false, it stems from an apprehension that the reconciliation Federer offers is incomplete, that it doesn’t go far enough, it doesn’t stick. It only lasts a moment, and then you’re left not knowing when God will take you up again, which is an anxiety that actually bubbles up at times in the writings of the saints. And that seems to be a condition in which a heightened consciousness of mortality, one that may well express itself as a yearning toward suffering and breakdown, is hard to escape.
If we are being very generous and very convincing, DFW-level, Brian-Phillips-level convincing, this is Denard Robinson in the Michigan zeitgeist. Something is intolerably wrong and the Denard reconciliation is incomplete and we are going to have to accept that, like the Hart reconciliation was incomplete, and just take the Denard Moments as they are—as parts of an imperfect whole. Our compensation for the things that have happened is just this, the last few words of the thesis statement of the Federer article:
…just look at him down there. Look at that.
Tim's departure and SBN's takeover of the poll's maintenance means I can re-join the voting public without putting myself in the strange position of criticizing my own ballot.
So here it is. I won't go through the relatively chalk portions of the ballot but will explain large deviations between it and the AP poll:
Stanford was an ass-kicking machine last year that returns the best quarterback in the country, two potential first round picks on the offensive line, another at tight end, and most of the starters from a top 20 defense. Even if their talent level isn't quite up to par with the usual profile of a national championship contender, having Luck more than makes up for that. Most of the top ten have questions at the most important spot on the field.
I'm voting after their starting quarterback may or may not have kicked a marine in the head but probably might have did. Even if he didn't, Jordan Jefferson is terrible and always has been and LSU skated by last year on insane occurrences en route to the #86 yardage offense.
This is when it all caves in for the Mad Hatter.
I HATE BOISE STATE
Potatoes are overrated and I loathe putting teams that no one will know anything about so high up.
THE HOLGORSEN EFFECT
Blame Smart Football and EDSBS for my belief that Skulletor is the real deal and can install his system lickety-split at West Virginia. Thus I'm higher on WVU than the AP and slightly down on Oklahoma State.
WISCONSIN AND NEBRASKA AT THE EDGE OF THE TOP FIVE
The Big Ten's best teams benefit from the above three items and pass Texas A&M based on my belief that LSU wasn't really that good last year. LSU had a shiny record, though, and A&M beat them up, and therefore A&M is this year's designated Team Everyone Overrates Because Of A Bowl Game. Ole Miss says hi.
I AM SECRETLY DOUG GILLETT
I do have Georgia extremely high. Aaron Murray was secretly great last year; Isaiah Crowell can be an instant impact RB, and the defense returns seven starters as it enters year two under a new coordinator. Bounce coming.
Nathan Scheelhaase exploded towards the end of last year, going from a no-pass all-run guy to Denard Robinson junior. I think they'll get into that 8-4 range that teams at the end of the poll tend to.
TELL ME THAT I'M INSANE
They've moved the deadlines to Monday this year but if you tell me the insane things here I'll change them if I'm convinced.
UPDATE: People have told me I'm insane. Scheelhaase did not finish last year blazing except against terrible defenses and they've lost big chunks of their talent, so they're out. Not having South Carolina was an oversight, so they draw in. I've moved ND down a little and WVU up, as well.
As always, this will be in flames by week three.
So the open practice on Saturday was not much use. They spent most of the day punting or kicking or running kneel-down drills. By the tenth kneel-down the boredom was crippling and I wished they weren't having it at all. I'd be surprised if it returned for a third year. I kind of hope it doesn't since I have to be there if it exists.
They did run about ten minutes of two-minute drill at the end. Impressions follow.
Ricky Barnum is injured. He dressed but did not participate; he's got a big ol' brace on his left knee. He was out there so it's probably not too serious. He might miss a week or two. In his stead Schofield drew in at guard. They initially played him at RG, moving Omameh to the left. The two Gs swapped positions late.
Raymon Taylor was also banged up and held out.
New numbers are confusing. That is all.
I don't think Isaiah Bell was out there. There was no 34 in white (defense). Unless he's just switched to a new number that would be a sign he might not be on the roster much longer. Either that or he's hurt, but Hoke just said they were basically healthy.
Woolfolk did position drills but did not play in the two-minute drill, FWIW. Bellomy didn't take any snaps.
The defense has a three-man-line rush package. We're going to see a Shafer-style okie package on passing downs with three linemen, four or five linebackers and DBs hovering over the opposing OL. The D zone-blitzed like mad from that unit, often dropping guys like Mike Martin into zones. The O did a pretty decent job of picking the blitzes up but Roh got in for a touch sack and Denard had to scramble around a bit.
Denard had a hard time finding receivers. A few crisp rhythm throws, a lot of ball-patting, scrambling, and difficult sideline improv throws. Not sure if that's on him or the WRs. Gallon twice ran comebacks that the quarterbacks expected to be fly routes, so they've got some pro-style sight reading in the O. Not functional sight reading, but sight reading nonetheless.
There was only one running play, a QB draw on the first snap that went for eight or so yards and would have gone for more if they weren't playing touch.
Non-Hagerup punters are C- types. It's not going to kill Michigan to have Hagerup out; the punting will be sub-average until he returns.
Gibbons hit a 42-yard field goal to finish. The crowd went wild.
Under center: not so much. There was no under center. Part of that is the two minute drill, but the passing skeleton was a 3x1 four-wide shotgun set as well.
Gallon didn't do anything horrible returning punts. So we've got that going for us. I still think Dileo should get a shot.
There are some weird players on the special teams units. Gunners included Vincent Smith and Fitzgerald Toussaint; Hopkins and Shaw were on the kickoff team. Junior Hemingway was one of the upbacks on the punt team. That's all of our fragile offensive skill players save Denard.
What is wrong with this picture? (which Zoo Blue found on the Michigan Football Facebook page)
- Khoury in for Molk. Omigod something happen to Molk?!?
- Mike Martin's standing up, like a blitzing WILL
- Waitaminute: Khoury, Omameh…
- Is that a tight end in the backfield? Koger?
- Khoury, Omameh, …, Moore
- Hey, no right tackle. UNBALANCED!
Way to go board – follow the thread by ZB to pick this apart. And welcome to the new feature of Dear Diary: Things-That-Are-Awesome-From-the-Board-That-You-Might-Have-Missed-This-Week-And-Holy-Hell-Does-It-Need-a-Cleverer-Nickname. But first, to the diaries themselves, starting with a candidate for Diary of the Year.
This is Undefeated dream season of 1992's Ph.D. thesis to show which teams get the most bang for the buck out of their recruiting. Unlike other entries under the "recruiting is legit, yo" tag, the author whom I call "9-0-3" in my head takes into account expectation based on returning starters (especially at QB) and previous FEI performance versus recruiting class ranking. Of course Michigan is terrible:
The top schools in the B1G for outperforming expectations are Iowa, Nebraska, and Wisconsin. Whatever their methods, they have been successful turning 3 star recruits into 5 star players. Over the past three years, the worst B1G team relative to expectations is… Michigan, and that's despite last year's offensive leap. 2008, for a variety of reasons (including Tacopants), was an offensive disaster for Michigan, and 2009 was still below the model's expectations. Minnesota and Illinois round out the B1G bottom 3. Ohio State is right in the middle, mainly because it recruits so well and performs up to those expectations.
Go ahead and blame Greg Robinson. C'mon, you know you wanna!
He covers the regression angle pretty well – maybe do FEI percentile instead of rank. My other critique is what are you measuring: scheme effectiveness, development, talent evaluation, or a scouts' biases against recruits who don't live within 40 minutes of a Southwest Airlines hub?
You'll Be Hearing From Us
Highly aesthetic upper body-enhancement equipment / prizes for knowing things about football.
A week from now it'll be prediction this and prediction that and I'll eat a loaf of Lembas bread if we actually get through it without somebody proclaiming Michigan's going to run the table. Yet in the penultimate week of this memorable 2011 offseason, it got really kind of metttttta.
Last week Six Zero debuted the new MGoShirts for this year (see above).
Then Jeff introduced the Pick Six, a relic competition from an ancient Domer blog where you pick 5 teams you think will do well from the Top 25, plus one unranked. Originally there was no prize but eternal glory in the knowledge that you know more about football than other people, but then Brian offered some of those MGoShirts to the winners.
Brian made a rare diary appearance to announce we're gonna get pictures of things baby!
Best of the Board (needs clever name)
That photo above is just one of several Hoke: The Early Years shots dug up by Wolverine Historian after MGoShoe discovered the Hoke Points at Things site. This is just a sampling of the wonders to be found deep in the belly of the MGoBoard. Since the board is quite big and I can't read it all, feel free to let me know (misopogon at att dot net) if you come across anything 92% Pure Columbian Awesome or higher. Here's some highlights this week:
1: MICHIGAN STADIUM TO COVER 25 PERCENT OF PLANET BY 2060:* Bumped to a Diary, MGoPhotoRod personally interviewed Dave Brandon about the planned further expansion of the Big House. Radical adherents of traditionalism and democratic architecture, start your griping:
The specs include all-bleacher seating, which will rise up to enclose the spaces between the sideline structures to the scoreboard at a height that the scoreboard will appear as if it is "set into" the new seating area. The design would also make the seating appear like a second deck, as a concourse will be included in the new construction below the new seating.
I'm going to see it before I judge. Second deck like Joe Louis Arena wouldn't bother me, but a visually separated section for the proles I think would damage one of the most aesthetically nice things about Michigan Stadium, which is that unlike some places it doesn't make you feel like you're walking into an Orwellian novel. I doubt however it will look any different than the concourse that broke up the 'M'.
Anyway can people see from up there? I haven't sat up high since my freshman year when they built that stupid Halo, and from there the game just looked like a bunch of blue and yellow dots chasing a white and orange dot around the field.
* You know who's got the rest
2. PARKING: Speaking of the stadium, DIABEETUS got some info on where you'll put your car when they're all done.
3. WTKA SUMMARY: On a thread during the live broadcast of Brian's WTKA show, Bocheezu kindly summarized the first two of three segments. Bochee- you should totally make this a weekly diary.
4. BEERS AND BARS: Lamest thing ever that a group of college guys would totally come up with: Forming a club called "DBAAA" ie "Drinking Beer Around Ann Arbor." Here's a follow-up thread to Brian's foodie entry this week that's all about Ann Arbor-y suds.
6. PEP RALLY WILL INCLUDE AN OPPORTUNITY FOR YOUR BOSS TO FIRE YOU AGAIN: Tell Ablauf when it's time to do the Michigan/App State rematch in 2014, the "Old Wounds" game press release is already written.
Section 1 remembers when the Lions came to play in the Big House. Not the Nittany kind – the ones that people now use as an example for devastating interior rushing.
Last year Blazefire put his season preview to the theme of "American Pie," and it was almost as good as that "Bye Bye [Name of Fraternity Which Found a Particularly Hilarious Way of Getting Kicked Off Campus]" fwd circulating around umich.edu inboxes c.1999 that you now wish you'd kept. This year he outdid himself with Walk This Way:
…Singin’ “hail to the Victors”
at our Irish little sisters at the Big House
In the cool night air!
So we took a big chance, with a Hoke-y romance
Didn’t know if he was ready to lead,
Had us all gone foolin’, Yeah he took us for some schoolin’
Seems that he knew what he was doin ‘ indeed
Next week there's football.
(Newsy bits pulled out for easier digestion. Important stuff underlined for better clarity. [Ed: jk, I guess we're still bolding.])
Again, from not my file, but we'll get there soon.
- Gallon, Dileo, and Vincent Smith handling returns
- Odoms is healthy
- Starting O-line, from left to right: Lewan, Barnum, Molk, Omameh, Huyge
- Shaw starting RB, Fitz likely back-up (based on mention only)
- Thomas Gordon likely starting free safety, may play nickel along with Woolfolk
- Cam Gordon starting at SAM, no starter at WILL yet.
- Gibbons likely kicking FGs. Wile will kick off, also might punt.
- Started prep for Western Michigan two days ago.
Okay, on to the poetry.
General, aka fluff:
Footbawww. "It was really good to get up in the stadium, get up there and kind of go through our process on gameday, so guys get an idea what our expectations of mentally preparing for a game -- how you come out, where you go with your group to warm up -- all those things that we don't think about, but they're all organization things you've got to go through. We got to do that, we got to be in that locker room, go down the tunnel, and get a sense for playing in that great stadium."
Consistency. Toughness. Improving. "This was practice 23. We have six opportunities left. We have to keep grinding and keep improving as a team. There were some good things you saw on both sides of the ball, but at the same time we're a long way from where we need to be as a football team."
We need to stop false-starting. "We had a couple penalties today, two of them were composure and poise penalties. We had a full Big Ten crew working the scrimmage. It was a much lighter scrimmage than it was a week ago. Our composure and our poise -- we had a couple procedure penalties offensively that obviously don't help you. Instead of first and 10, you're first and 15 or you're second and 12 or whatever it might be. Those things bother you."
But we didn't fumble or throw INTs! "We took care of the ball pretty well. When you look at the ball security issues ... that's huge for us. We've been minus 32 in turnover margin the last three years. You can't play football that way."
What is the two deep? "I think there are things that are set. We'll do a good job of diving into the tape tonight and further some evaluations on guys. The corner position is hotly contested. I like how JT and I like how Troy have come back, but Courtney Avery and, oh, daggonit, uh..." Talbott? "Calvin! Yeah ... " No, Talbott. " ... Talbott is doing a good job. I just went blank... I'm good with numbers ... Number 18, Blake Countess is doing a good job. Greg Brown is playing well. There's great competition there."
How is health? "We're pretty good health wise." Nothing major? "No, no ... everybody's a little beat up." Tay Odoms? "He scrimmaged today. In fact, he's gone the last three days. He seems fine."
Return game? "Gallon -- both kickoff and punt -- has done a good job. I think Vince Smith in kickoff returns is a guy that would either be the off returner because he's not afraid to go hit somebody in the face, or return the ball. Dileo -- punt -- when you look at punts, you always want to make sure that guy first and foremost is going to be able to field the ball, and isn't scared. I think between those two right now we'll probably start that way."
How many plays did you run in scrimmage today? "We went 126 plays last week. If my count's right, we'll probably get 73-74 today."
How many 4th and 1s? "One."
Did you do anything situational? "We did black-zone coming out, trying to get a first down so you have room to punt and field position. We didn't put it on the 1-yard line. We had a bunch of shots last week at it, and that was a pretty phsyical deal. You're starting to get to the point where you want to get into game week."
Were you surprised by the transfers? "I think you're always surprised, but guys gotta do what they feel is right for them. This isn't for everybody here, and it never will be. They're great kids, and we wish them the best."
But you recruited them! "That happens."
Resolution at some positions, can you share? "Mike Martin's probably going to be the nose tackle. Denard's going to be the quarterback." Oh. Ha ha. "Koger's going to be the tight end. Molk will be center. Lewan will be the left tackle. Huyge will be the right tackle. Patrick will be the right guard, and Ricky will be the left guard. Running-back wise I think we'll look into his tape a little more, but Shaw's had a pretty good camp. Fitz has had a good camp. Safety-wise, Kovacs will be one of those safeties at our base, and I would think Thomas Gordon will be. Thomas is really having a tremendous camp. He had a tremendous summer, and that's why his camp was so good."
Whoa, wait, where did Gordon come from? You never talk about him. "I just think his whole attitude and how he approached the game of football, workin' out, all those things. He's really taken a conscious effort. He'll play some stuff in our nickel. Him and Troy, depending on what unit we have out, they're both playing some nickel. Thomas is basically a dime in another defense. There is a lot of learning that goes on, and he's done a really good job with it, and I'm proud of where he's at right now."
SAM and WILL: "Cam Gordon, I would think, is going to be the SAM. Jake is obviously pushing in there. Brennan Beyer has done a nice job for us. At the WILL ... I don't know yet. Mike (Jones) and Kenny Demens (?) have done a good job, but at the WILL, Hawthorne missed a couple days because of an ankle, and he's fighting his way back. Mike Jones is playing a little bit of both them, both MIKE and WILL. Freshman Desmond Morgan is a good football player. He's got a slight ham, so we held him out today. I don't know if we have a definite guy."
Kicking and Punting: "There's no doubt Wile will kick off. I think Gibbons has done a nice job. He's been accurate. [Ed-M: whaaah?] We did a lot of kicking again today. He's had a good camp. Wile has had a pretty good camp. I think Wile will probably punt, but Seth is a real good possibility there. I think that will probably be a decision made up Wednesday or Thursday to be honest with you."
But that's really late! "You can do that one late I think."
"They all have a real great mindset about their craft, and I like that about them. I don't know if I would have said that in the spring as much, but I think they all have worked hard at it. Every night they're evaluating their kicks because we film them a lot from all angles. You get a write-up from them, and some of them are a page, page-and a half about each kick and my plant foot and whatever it might be. I'm pleased that they're into football, let's put it that way."
You're a big tradition guy. What does it mean to be in stadium now? "Yeah it's always special to be in the stadium. We talk about that a lot, when we go up there, the expectation, how you play. We had one other date that we were going to be there, but we had the bad rain and the storm, so we had to stay indoors. We were at [Big Ten Championship site] Lucas-Oil Stadium indoors for that day because all those scrimmages are gamedays. And the championship is played in Lucas-Oil, so we had to go indoors, we just thought it was lucas-oil." (I think Hoke means that they were playing make-believe.)
Minus blitz, how is the pass rush? "Mike gets some good push. I think he is a guy that is aggressive enough, strong enough, pretty good technician in there to push the pocket. I think Jibreel has shown some life as a pass rusher, and Roh. Ryan's kind of a meat and potatoes guy. He works hard at it, and because of that, he'll have some good things happen."
What's your schedule the next two days? "We're going to have a very good mental practice tomorrow at the stadium. Probably about an hour and fifteen minutes. A lot of kicking, a lot of situational stuff. A lot of mental stuff. We'll do a two-minute at the end. We've started Western -- we started about two days ago on some of the switch personnel things, looking at them on both sides of the ball, and we'll have a couple of periods on Sunday. On Monday, they'll be off of meat," (No meat!?) "but there will be no practice for them. We're getting into the school-time schedule where we'll be off as far as practicing goes."
This is a personnel-oriented look at the season's opponents. The game-week previews will be more matchup based. Last year's stats are presented with projected starters in bold and departed players in italics.
|Northwestern Offense 2010|
|Yards Per Game||391.08||48|
|Points Per Game||26.38||63|
|Yards Per Play||5.40||70|
|Yards Per Pass||7.94||29|
|Yards Per Rush||3.64||91|
|Playcall Distribution||1.45 Rush:Pass|
Northwestern's offense was a one-man show last season, with quarterback Dan Persa accounting for 61% of the Wildcats' total yardage... despite missing three games (Denard accounted for 67% of Michigan's yardage; Persa was accounting for 76% for the Cats before he went down). If Northwestern is going to have success this year, they need to find other playmakers in the backfield to spread the ball around a bit more, especially with Persa coming off a serious injury.
Adjusting for sacks, NU called a pass for every 1.35 rushes, and if Persa is to be kept healthy, he's going to have to either pass or rush less. He's unlikely to have the same escapability as last year.
We're really tying the Dan Persa theme together here, as he was probably the player in the Big Ten that was most important to his team - yes, even moreso than Denard Robinson to Michigan. Coming of an Achilles injury is not easy to do, especially after just 10 months. That could mean some serious reps for backup Evan Watkins, who started the final three games for Northwestern last year - all losses.
|Northwestern QBs 2010|
|Northwestern QBs Rushing 2010|
Grade: 3.5/5. This grade is assuming non-full health for Dan Persa (Phil Steele give him that vote of confidence, naming Persa the league's 1st-Team selection at QB). His importance to Northwestern was magnified by exactly how bad his backups were in comparison. Since he's likely to be less of a rushing threat this year, it takes him down a notch. The experience from last year - unsuccessful though it may have been - is a positive going forward for the backups. If Persa was healthy, this would likely be a 5/5.
Despite their general ineffectiveness, a ton of different Northwestern backs got some experience last year. Mike Trumpy got by far the most run (second-most used back, Arby Fields, was by far the least effective), so I'm guessing he'll start again this year. There are three returning backs with significant experience.
|Northwestern RBs 2010|
|Northwestern RBs Receiving 2009|
Grade: 3/5. Having this much talent returning is a bright sign for Northwestern, even if they didn't have a lot of success on the ground last year. Trumpy was just a freshman last year and Fields just a sophomore, so it's reasonable to expect those guys to improve.
Jeremy Ebert was the Big Ten's most oft-deployed receiver, and turned that into the highest yardage total in the league as well. His #2, Sidney Stewart (younger brother of former Michigan DB Charles) is out the door, but plenty of Wildcats got game experience. Demetrius Fields should take over the #2 role, with Charles Brown stepping into a starting role. Drake Dunsmore got plenty of work (at "superback" in the NU offense) last year, but other than him, don't expect a ton out of tight ends.
|Northwestern Receivers 2010|
|Drake Dunsmore (TE)||40||381||9.53||5|
|Josh Rooks (TE)||5||24||4.80||1|
|Aaron Nagel (TE)||1||6||6.00||0|
|Northwestern Receivers Rushing 2009|
Grade: 3/5. Losing the #2 receiver probably hurts, but Northwestern spread the ball around plenty last season, so the players that will be expected to step up aren't exactly green. With the Big Ten's most-prolific receiver in the fold (though Phil Steele only projects him to the All-Conference second team), the young guys should be more than capable of picking up the slack. The one question mark is a lack of serious downfield threats - partially a product of a screen-heavy NU offense.
The Wildcats only lose right guard Keegan Grant from last year's starting lineup, but that may not be such a good thing, given how awful the front line was last year. NU gave up more sacks than any team in the conference, and they were in the "Minnesota-Indiana" cohort of rushing futility. NU should start three seniors this year, with Al Netter on the left side, Ben Burkett at center, and Doug Bartles taking over the RG position. Junior returning starters Brian Mulroe and Patrick Ward will play left guard and right tackle, respectively.
Grade: 3/5. The big hope for Northwestern fans here has to be that a line with very little personnel turnover will be able to build the chemistry to develop into a stronger unit. It really couldn't be a whole lot worse, as I shudder to think how terrible the line's performance could have been without Persa the whole year.
|Northwestern Defense 2009|
|Yards Per Game||426.15||97|
|Points Per Game||29.00||77|
|Yards Per Play||5.94||94|
|Pass Yards Per Game||241.15||95|
|Yards Per Pass||6.73||t-45|
|Sacks Per Game||1.23||104|
|Rush Yards Per Game||185.00||92|
|Yards Per Rush||5.15||110|
So, oddly, despite Pat Fitzgerald's reputation as a hard-nosed defensive specialist and all that entails, the Wildcats' defense was pretty bad. It was probably around the same league as Michigan and Minnesota in several areas.
So, what is Northwestern going to do to improve that? Getting to the passer and stopping the run were the two major weaknesses of the D, so stepping it up along the defensive front and linebackers is of the utmost importance.
The Wildcats' defensive line - weak though it may have been last year - returns three of four starters, and should have an opportunity for improvement. Vince Browne and Kevin Watt return for their senior seasons as bookends, and classmate Jack DiNardo will plug the middle. The only replacement is at the other defensive tackle spot, where Brian Arnfelt will replace Corbin Bryant. Northwestern also has a few players - most notably DEs Quentin Williams and Tyler Scott - who have a bit of experience and will play a role in the rotation.
|Northwestern Defensive Line 2010|
Grade: 3/5. It's hard to look past how bad Northwestern's run defense and sacking were last year when evaluating this unit. They should improve with three returning starters, but they have a long way to go to get out of the depths.
The Wildcats' top two tacklers from the linebacker position are out the door in Nate Williams and Quentin Davie, so there's some reshuffling to be done at the position. Bryce McNaul is the lone returning starter on the weakside. Junior David Nwabuisi is expected to fill the middle, while senior Ben Johnson will play the strongside. Sophomore Damien Proby is the only other player with significant experience anywhere other than special teams. Roderick Goodlow is coming off a mid-career redshirt thanks to a knee injury last year, as well.
|Northwestern Linebackers 2010|
Grade: 2/5. The linebackers weren't blameless for the issues I pinned on the DL, so losing the two most productive players from a weak unit isn't going to solve anything for Northwestern. The depth is also lacking in a big way. Any injuries could spell more doom (than already exists) for Northwestern.
Justan Vaughn is the only departing DB for the Wildcats, so there's a good chance the performance along the back is improved this season. Senior Jeravin Matthews should slide in to take his spot, with 4-year starter Jordan Mabin on the other side. The situation is a little murkier at safety, with Brian Peters a lock to start at one position, but three reasonable options at the other spot. I'm guessing Hunter Bates will play FS, allowing the enormous Peters (6-4, 215) to play closer to the line of scrimmage. David Arnold and Jared Carpenter both have a bit of starting experience, and could slot in at safety, as well.
|Northwestern Defensive Backs 2010|
|Brian Peters (SS)||60||4||3|
|Jordan Mabin (CB)||63||0||1|
|Hunter Bates (FS)||45||2||2|
|Jeravin Matthews (CB)||15||0||0|
Grade: 4/5. This is easily the strongest unit on Northwestern's entire team, with Phil Steele picking Peters to his 2nd-Team All-Conference defense and Mabin on the fourth team (though he was a 3rd-team performer in the Big Ten last year). There's also a few combinations that would result in four senior starters. Pass D was one of the few bright spots on NU's defense last year, and with even more experience, it could improve further in '11.
Stefan Demos - a recipient of the Brooks Bollinger Memorial Eighth Year Senior Award - has finally moved on, meaning that redshirt sophomore Jeff Budzien should become the new placekicker. Redshirt sophomore Brandon Williams will return for a second year as the starting punter.
|Northwestern Kicking 2010|
|Northwestern Punting 2010|
Grade: 2/5. Demos was never a superb kicker, so Budzien's inability to unseat him doesn't speak to any big upgrade there. In the punting department, Williams was steady last year, but not really very good. This should be an iffy unit.