I'VE HAD JUST ABOUT ENOUGH OF YOU SONNY
Brennen Beyer won't forget that moment. Long after Al Borges is just a name from a past that may or may not haunt us as fans, the Canton native who stayed close to home will delight in telling his family and friends about the time he—a defensive end—scored a touchdown; he'll have the football to prove it, and the final score of the game will be largely irrelevant.
These moments have been frustratingly few and far between this season, especially this month; even in the shadow of defeat, however, they provide fleeting flashes of joy, even when we're doing our best to detach emotionally.
When Devin Gardner rolled out, couldn't reach the corner, then threw aside Tanner Miller like a defective Weeble-Wobble before hitting A.J. Williams for his first career reception—in the end zone, no less—my reaction wasn't to slump back onto the couch, muttering something about Al Borges's doomed waggles; it was "F*** YEAH, DEVIN." Maybe not so profound or eloquent, but damn if it didn't feel good.
Then Michigan lost, miserably, and I drove home in a funk. But they had their moments, and so did I.
[After THE JUMP, basketball moments.]
[No MGoQuestions because of Thanksgiving and ennui. Audio for the following transcription is courtesy of Chantel Jennings.]
“As far as last game, I was disappointed that we gave up that lead. That’s not what our defense tries to do. No matter what happens, we have to hold onto it. But moving forward, we’ve got to get this one.”
What kind of challenges does Braxton Miller give you?
“Braxton Miller is a great football player. I am very very impressed with his development. He’s becoming a complete quarterback. He’s not only a tremendous athlete but he’s got a very good arm and he’s making a lot of great decisions. I mean, he’s going to be a great challenge. That’s why they are who they are. He’s really done a great job.”
It is a media tradition to hammer at flailing coaches with frowny-face serious questions about how hard everything is on the players and coaches and such because they have to put up with this howling pack of fans. And I try not to get exercised about anything that comes out of that, just like I try to roll my eyes and move on at every article about a triumph in the face of The Critics. Coaches arrive at press conferences at one goal: to get out without saying something notable. When they do say something notable, it is a mistake.
But I'm pissed off anyway. Hoke fielded a question about what is going to be a sea of red in Michigan Stadium:
"You know, people are fickle," Hoke said. "That's just the way it is. That's the world we live in."
This is of course horseshit. It's horseshit on the level of "we need to run a pro-style offense so we can stop Big Ten offense," i.e., the greatest and grandest horseshit in all the world. Hercules is required to shovel this. The big reveal from the last 20 years of media development is that fans are the only people left who aren't fickle. They can't stop watching, and what's more they can't stop watching live with all those lovely commercials interspersed. Fans submit themselves until they have commercials memorized. Until they are legendary.
In all other areas of television consumption I go out of my way to avoid commercials, going so far as to not watch recent seasons of shows I like until they arrive on Netflix. It will be four years before I see the Patton Oswalt filibuster in context. This is why every time a rights deal expires, networks treat the newly single package of games like it's the last cabbage patch doll on Black Friday.
Meanwhile, the people in charge have decided to test the edges of that fandom with an explosion in ticket prices. Paul Campos:
Here’s the price of a regular admission (not student) University of Michigan football ticket over time.
(All figures are in 2012 dollars, rounded to the nearest dollar. I couldn’t find 1970 and 1980 so I substituted the nearest available year).
This year a seat on the 15 yard line is 129 dollars with the PSL, almost three times as much as it was in 2000 and almost four times as much as it was in 1990, in constant 2012 dollars.
Ryan Field was half Michigan fans, for some reason [Bryan Fuller]
In Michigan's specific case, they have beaten Ohio State once in the last nine years and are two-touchdown home underdogs. They are getting gouged on ticket prices in an unprecedented fashion. The athletic department has made it absolutely clear that it has no loyalty to them with "dynamic pricing" that only goes one way. Up.
There is a breaking point for even the most zealous fan. I'm the guy with the blog that's his career and I'm at mine. The only reason I am going on Saturday is because I would feel shame at not going. Absent the weird moral imperatives of fandom, I would be doing anything else. Like bowling, which I hate.
Everybody in blue in that stadium—and it will still be a majority, probably—is paying for the privilege of having their heart punched. Unlike you, they are not getting three million dollars to watch Michigan shuffle around like a syphilitic pig who thinks everything's a truffle. Collectively they are in fact giving you those three million dollars. Collectively they built the stadium you play in and the opulent locker rooms you dress in.
So take your "fickle" and shove it. Angry, sure. Impatient, sure. Because we are locked into this thing we do every week that we pretty much hate. We do so out of a sense of loyalty that the program goddamn well doesn't reciprocate with its 500 dollar waiting lists and worst access level in the country—the team that is going to stuff you in a locker on Saturday has open practices in front of the entire student section—and scheduling goddamned Appalachian State because the athletic director thinks it's cute. Any reasonable person would look at the recent history of Michigan football and go do anything else. We're here because we're locked in.
You? You've got a buyout.
It is not the fans' fault that this program is awful to be a fan of. It's not Rich Rodriguez's fault. Anyone who sells their ticket for whatever they can get—currently 60 bucks and dropping from 80 yesterday—is only making a logical decision to not get punched in the soul dong on Saturday.
I'll hate them all the same, but half out of envy this time. They are no longer mindless wallets. They don't give a crap if Brady Hoke calls them fickle, and don't write articles on the internet about it. They are logical people.
The reason Michigan Stadium is going to be half-red on Saturday isn't because of "the world we live in" except insofar as it contains a Michigan football team that people at Abu Ghraib wouldn't show prisoners.
Note: Most of of my long "here's a handy guide for Borges complaining" post got deleted. Here's a few bits of it.
So I did the thing where I update (finally) the UFR database, then self-UFR the last game because this damn column comes before Brian does the UFR for the latest one, and then I say things about all the things. Let's just cut to the things:
Yards per play (# attempts in parentheses) of normal downs by formation.
|Opponent||Shotgun||Ace||I-Form||Pistol||Tackle Over||Goal line||Total YPP|
|Central Michigan||6.7 (17)||7.7 (21)||7 (19)||3 (2)||-||1.5 (2)||6.8|
|Notre Dame||7.4 (14)||10.6 (22)||3.2 (13)||4.4 (14)||-||-||7.0|
|Akron||21.8 (11)||5.6 (19)||4.5 (18)||-1.8 (5)||-||-||7.6|
|Connecticut||5 (25)||2.8 (19)||1.8 (12)||3.5 (4)||-||4 (1)||3.6|
|Minnesota||6.1 (9)||4.9 (7)||1.7 (7)||-||5.8 (20)||-||5.0|
|Penn State||3.6 (16)||7.7 (22)||3.8 (9)||6.4 (7)||0.8 (11)||-||4.8|
|Indiana||7.2 (34)||14.1 (14)||8.8 (16)||4 (1)||11 (8)||-||9.2|
|Michigan State||5.3 (23)||7.4 (7)||1.8 (4)||0.1 (12)||-||-||4.0|
|Nebraska||4 (23)||0.3 (7)||1.8 (12)||6.3 (6)||-||0 (1)||3.1|
|Northwestern||5.4 (16)||4.7 (21)||5 (24)||11 (3)||-||-1 (2)||5.1|
|Iowa||2.7 (23)||1.2 (9)||5 (13)||4 (2)||-||-||3.1|
|Total||6.1 (33%)||6.7 (27%)||4.6 (23%)||3.6 (9%)||5.5 (6%)||0.8 (1%)||5.6|
What's left out are 2-minute drills, 3rd/4th down and longer than 6, and any short situations.
And yards per play by how spread, i.e. the # of receivers in formation, they got each game, with % of plays they lined up that way in parentheses:
|Central Michigan||2.33||1.5 (3%)||2 (3%)||8.1 (56%)||7 (33%)||-1.3 (5%)||-|
|Notre Dame||2.29||-||-0.8 (6%)||8.6 (59%)||5.5 (35%)||-||-|
|Akron||2.23||-||9 (4%)||5.5 (70%)||13.5 (26%)||-||-|
|Connecticut||2.33||4 (2%)||2.5 (7%)||2.9 (49%)||4.5 (43%)||-||-|
|Minnesota||1.70||2 (5%)||4 (35%)||5.4 (47%)||7.7 (14%)||-||-|
|Penn State||2.14||-||5.7 (14%)||5.2 (58%)||3.7 (28%)||-||-|
|Indiana||2.66||-0.5 (3%)||16.2 (7%)||9.7 (40%)||10.7 (23%)||6.5 (27%)||-|
|Michigan State||3.00||-||-8 (2%)||4.1 (26%)||4.8 (41%)||3.6 (30%)||-|
|Nebraska||2.47||0 (2%)||3.7 (6%)||0.5 (43%)||6.3 (41%)||1.3 (8%)||-|
|Northwestern||2.15||-1 (3%)||2.2 (8%)||4.9 (64%)||5.7 (23%)||18.0 (3%)||-|
|Iowa||2.91||-||-1 (2%)||3.6 (38%)||2.1 (30%)||3.8 (26%)||3.5 (4%)|
|All games||2.38||0.8 (2%)||4.6 (8%)||5.7 (51%)||6.2 (30%)||4.8 (9%)||3.5 (<1%)|
My base assumption was that when Michigan goes more spread they're putting the B+ receiving threat of Dileo, or the C+ receiving of Chesson on the field, and usually moving the C- blocking/D- receiving of A.J. Williams or Joe Kerridge off of it.
The Fetal Position Theory of Offense
However going to wider looks didn't seem to do much good against Iowa or Michigan State (that one at least M was behind for a good portion). That's because of a lot of things, one of those being that despite spreading it out, Michigan's been leaving those guys anyway. Both players are probably the best blockers of their position groups, but that's not saying much. Meanwhile they give up pretty much any threat of doing something other than blocking, and opponents have used that opportunity to tee off. Since neither is good enough to pick up a majority of those blitzes, there've been a lot of messes in the backfield as a result.
Iowa blew up Michigan's penultimate drive with back-to-back A-gap blitzes. On the first Kerridge was in to pass block and got lit up by the blitzer, who was immediately into Gardner. On the second they had Green in there and had him run a pattern that the defense ignored. With immediate pressure Gardner ignored Green and chucked a pass into an unready Funchess's back. That is progress, but the lesson is just doing the thing you ought to be good at doesn't fix the problem; you have to practice doing it as well.
But even when they do spread like a boss, there's a lot of things going wrong. Look that this play, the penultimate (so rare you get to use that word twice in a day) offensive one of the game for Michigan:
Starts at 0:53:38 if browser player isn't working.
There's so many ways to win here, but nothing comes of them.
1. There's bubble action. Though of course they don't throw it despite it being open because this isn't a check (Michigan's checks are only to ISO or the pistol speed option). And Funchess, not Gallon or—infinite ARRRGHHH—Norfleet, is still the designated bubble screen guy. Anyway with the safety deep and bailing, the bubble is 7-12 free yards if Michigan can recognize it and throw it, but that has to be built into the offense. The way Borges has been using the bubble screen is on called plays. It was cool that he threatened it out of a more open look—previously it seemed his capitulation to this one play was predicated solely on its usefulness for running from heavy sets. The way Rodriguez used—and the way Urban will deploy it against us on Saturday—is it was as an instant check to things opponents did to hamper his zone read game.
|Fuller captured one of the ultra-rare instances of a shotgun-Kerridge play that wasn't him blocking.|
2. Tipped zone blitz. That end spread out and the obviously blitzing linebackers suggests there's going to be a zone blitz pre-snap but there's just 6 seconds on the playclock at that moment so they don't really get to adjust to that. Still, this is a win for an outside run, since that DE is going to drop back and stand where a great block would normally deposit him.
3. Center and guard versus linebackers. This ought to be a win. Those LBs stunt their blitz a bit so that the first gets a 2-for-1 and the second can slice in free. By coming up pre-snap they made it harder for Glasgow to get off the combo and pick up his guy, but he just has to come off the double and take a half-step sideways to block that gap. Here's where agility in a spread center helps you, and where the lack of it hurts Glasgow, even when he knows what he's supposed to do.
4. Magnuson starts the play far to the playside of that tackle. That's a big advantage for the offense. The DT indeed slants into Mags, then chucks him and gets to the outside, totally blowing that advantage.
5. It's Devin Gardner and Fitz Toussaint in the backfield, so chances of a missed tackle are pretty good. However Gardner is at about 45% right now because he's been beat up so badly in the last few weeks, and Toussaint's pass blocking problems are part of what's inviting these interior blitzes, since the downside for the defense (having that guy violently cut to the ground while a receiver slants into the unoccupied territory) is unlikely from Michigan's offense.
Also Jackson's is hesitant with his block, and is set up to spring Funchess to the outside, so that nickel guy is going to be free to tackle after just a few.
So going to a spread isn't going to fix everything. The formation did give them more room and opened up the bubble, but Michigan can't access those yards because they come to the line too late to see anything in the defense and adjust to it, and hasn't practiced doing that. The defensive playcall made Glasgow's athleticism the key to the key block, but that's not Glasgow's strength. And crappy blocking elsewhere meant this play was still dead in four ways. Such is Michigan's offense. They're not all good at any one thing, and they don't do the things that some of them are good at, and the end result is a lot of plays where guys are forced to execute the things they're bad at.
The Little Bubble Package: Dead?
Here's how the Bubble-or-Run package has fared:
Iowa was crashing the backside SAM and had their safety ready to pounce on the bubble (even if Funchess didn't drop one). I think there's something you can do about that (dare I say rollout?). Running it against Northwestern was cool, but I would have expected Borges to know by now that's it's scouted and lead off with that third counter. Or add it to the scrap heap with the rest of the fancy things he's tried. I'm sure a picture pages is coming so I won't get further into it.
There are several lists circulating around out there so I decided to reach out to as many prospects as I could to confirm either that they will be in attendance or that they won’t be. Every name below I have personally confirmed their presence or absence. These lists are of course always quite fluid and even from places like Rivals or 247 there are constantly changes. I will post updates as the week progresses.
LB-Darrin Kirkland Jr.
Per Core 6 Athletes, 2016 Downers Grove (IL) South OT Erik Swenson committed to Michigan last night—yes, this is the pledge Brandon and others have been hinting at for the past couple days. Swenson is considered one of the top prospects in his class at this very early juncture; he visited Michigan for last summer's technique camp and the Notre Dame game, giving such glowing reviews of the school that he's long been thought of as a Wolverine lock.
Swenson is Michigan's first commit in the class of 2016. I guess I have to start deploying the "2016 recruiting" tag now.
|4*, NR OT||NR OT||NR OT||NR OT||NR OT|
As you can see, none of the four recruiting services have released rankings for the 2016 class; Scout named Swenson one of their initial four-star recruits—it's worth noting they only awarded six prospects five-star status—while Rivals named him as one of ten recruits to watch in the class and 247 placed him on a similar list of just six recruits; at this early stage, he's one of the most highly-regarded prospects in his class. Five-star status isn't out of the question by any means once his class gets evaluated more completely.
Swenson's listed measurables range from 6'5", 289 pounds (Rivals), to 6'7", 285 pounds (Scout and 247), with ESPN falling in between. Recent reports have listed him as large as 6'7", 290, and he's still just a sophomore in high school; dude is big.
Swenson has caught the eyes of scouts since he was in 8th grade and has started on the Downers Grove South varsity squad since his freshman year, so despite his youth there's actually a decent amount of scouting on him. Back in May, Illinois recruiting guru EdgyTim named Swenson first when discussing underclassmen to watch at the Rivals Chicago camp ($):
OT Erik Swenson (6-foot-7, 290 pounds) Downers Grove South 2016- just look at the sheer measureables and for a freshman in high school the overall size and potential of Swenson is off the charts. Now, this is NOT just your typical overhyped/overgrown kid who can't block the sun on a bright mid August day. Swenson showed last fall starting for the Mustangs that he's quickly becoming a technically savy blocker and is just getting better and better.
At that camp, Swenson was named the #2 performer($) among underclassmen despite being at least a year younger than most of his competition; Josh Helmholdt said Swenson was "raw in some of the technical aspects of the position, but he [played] light on his feet."
Participating against prospects as much as two years older than him at the Core 6 Big Man Camp, Swenson again impressed scouts, including 247's Steve Wiltfong:
Freshman offensive tackle Erik Swenson has all the tools to be highly recruited. At 6-foot-7, 285-pounds, he has a great frame, moves well, delivers a strong punch and held his own against the likes of [2014 Ohio State SDE commit Dylan] Thompson.
Swenson picked up his much-coveted Michigan offer later that month; the Wolverines were the second school to offer, following Illinois. That was before he even returned to Ann Arbor for June's technique camp, in which Allen Trieu said Swenson "continue[d] to show that he is ahead of his years."
By the time Swenson was named as one of Rivals's ten prospects to watch in the 2016 class in September, he'd picked up a couple more offers from top programs ($):
College coaches started getting excited about Swenson immediately after his freshman season, and he has already picked up offers from Illinois, Michigan, Notre Dame and Ohio State. Measuring 6-foot-5 and 289 pounds at the Chicago Rivals Camp Series presented by Under Armour last May, Swenson has all the tools of a dominant future left tackle. He plays light on his feet, can locate in space and is already showing the patience to not overextend. That is not to say Swenson is a finished product, but physically he has nothing limiting him from being an elite left tackle prospect.
Tim Sullivan made his way down to Illinois to watch Swenson in actual game action; he noted that Swenson has plenty of room to add weight, especially in his lower body, despite the fact that he's already 290 pounds with little bad weight on him, and came away very impressed with both his run- and pass-blocking ($):
Impressively, Swenson is equally adept at run blocking and pass blocking. He drives very well when the ball is run behind him (the game-winning touchdown run features him caving half the Morton defense, allowing some of his fellow blockers to clean up the remaining Morton players), and has a solid pass set without overextending himself.
Playing with a lower pad level was noted as an area for improvement, as it quite often is for young linemen.
Michigan appears to be getting a prototype left tackle with Swenson's huge frame and quick feet; if he improves from a technical standpoint—and remember, he's just finishing up his sophomore season—he could develop into a truly dominant lineman. That's certainly the goal, based on this quote from his father, the spectacularly-named Swen Swenson, to GBW's Josh Newkirk after Erik picked up his Michigan offer ($):
“Erik is a left tackle and it’s matter of dreaming of playing in the Big House, and falling in the footsteps of Jake Long and soon to be Taylor Lewan, who will probably go No. 1 in the draft next year if he stays healthy. Those are kind of hard footsteps not to want to follow, are they?” sail [sic] the elder Swenson.
Indeed, Swen. Indeed.
Swenson held offers from Notre Dame, Ohio State, Virginia Tech, Illinois, Northwestern, and Akron in addition to his Michigan offer, according to Rivals. Scout also lists an Oregon offer; 247 shows interest but no offer from the likes of Florida State, Iowa, Michigan State, Nebraska, UCLA, and Vanderbilt.
Downers Grove South has produced three players ranked three-stars or better in the Rivals era (2002-present), all of whom went to Illinois. That includes 2003 five-star OL Martin O'Donnell, a four-year starter at guard for the Illini and a first-team AP All-American as a senior; he decided to give up football after his college career due to injuries.
OL, no stats.
FAKE 40 TIME
None listed that I can find.
YouTube has highlights of a freshman Swenson, looking like anything but a freshman, in his first year as a varsity starter:
Single game cut-ups from this season are available on his Hudl page.
PREDICTION BASED ON FLIMSY EVIDENCE
Swenson is pretty clearly a left tackle prospect with a ton of potential; at this point in his development, that's about as much as I'm willing to project. His size, coupled with the fact that he's fared so well against older competition at various camps—not to mention as a starter from day one at the varsity level—bodes well for his ability to contribute at a relatively early stage when he reaches college. Michigan hasn't even finished recruiting offensive linemen for the 2015 class, so any conjecture about the depth chart is pretty worthless right now.
UPSHOT FOR THE REST OF THE CLASS
Ditto for this. Swenson will be one of the highest-rated recruits—and quite possibly the flat-out highest-rated—in Michigan's 2016 class; beyond that, there's still far too much left to unfold in the 2014 and 2015 classes to say much here.