Taylor on an island [Upchurch]
Brian forwarded me a mailbag question regarding where Michigan's defense is getting attacked through the air, i.e. are there certain coverage areas that have been particularly weak? It took me most of a day to chart every passing play; the resulting post is rather straightforward. Consider this your bye week from my logorrhea.
Data are here.
What I tracked:
1) Where the ball starts (hash or center). If the tackles lined up inside the hash it was "center"
2) Which zone it was thrown to, on a telephone keypad grid. 1, 4, and 7 are around the numbers to the sideline; 2, 5, and 8 are the area around the opposite hash to the wide side only, and 3, 6, and 9 are down the middle.
If a ball was on the line I always erred to the zone closest to the quarterback. This makes sense if you imagine a player covering Zone 6 will be responsible for carrying a player through that zone, and would be in better position to defend that pass than a guy over him.
3) Which side (strong or weak) of the defense. I noted "Strong" as wherever the SAM lined up in 4-3 sets and where Countess lined up in nickel sets. Once or twice this conflicted with the offense but it's better this way for identifying which players are being targeted.
Weakside/boundary players, usually: R.Taylor, Wilson, Ross/Bolden, Beyer (as WDE) on nickel, Clark on 4-3.
Strongside/field players, usually: Countess, C.Gordon, Beyer (as SAM) on 4-3, Clark on nickel, T.Gordon, Morgan/Bolden, Stribling/Hollowell/Lewis/Avery.
Sacks, throwaways, scrambles, and other such events that took the emphasis on coverage were excised. I couldn't reward those things which occurred because coverage was good enough to make them happen so keep that in mind as you read.
Mac Bennett's projected partner: also Mac Bennett
|Mac Bennett||Sr.||Mike Downing||Fr.|
|Kevin Clare||Sr.||Brennan Serville||Jr.|
|Mike Szuma||Jr.||Nolan De Jong||Fr.|
ALSO: Mike Chiasson (Jr), Spencer Hyman (Fr), Kevin Lohan (Fr)
THIS IS WHERE IT GETS STICKY. The simultaneous departures of Jon Merrill and Jacob Trouba leave Michigan's blue line in a spot that is icky at best. While they've got a couple of NHL draft picks incoming, there's a major difference between Trouba, a top ten pick who is going to make the Jets this year, and Mike Downing, a fourth-rounder who Billy Powers says is "a bit skin and bones" at the moment.
But let's start with the nice bit. MAC BENNETT returns for his final year in a winged helmet wearing the C. He toned his game down last year when he found himself paired with Trouba, eschewing the puck-rushing style he flashed his first two years so that he could be a more reliable defensive partner for a dynamic player. He still put up points at an encouraging rate until he was hewn down in the disastrous 5-1 loss to Bowling Green that seemed to be the last straw for Red. He returned a month later on the second pairing—Merrill's return bumped him—and performed ably down the stretch. Miraculously, his +/- was zero on the year. Despite all his talent, Trouba did not fare nearly as well in that (admittedly wonky) stat.
This year, Michigan needs him to be Trouba, and all-phases crusher who sucks up shift after shift. If Red is ever going to throw over his policy of relatively even time, this is the year. Bennett should be logging Jack Johnson-in-Columbus time, playing all three phases and attempting to shut down the opposition's best on a nightly basis. Powers provided some Fred Jackson-level reassurance when he talked to the Canadiens' official site:
“Mac Bennett will be a dominant college defenseman [this season]. We expect him to be the most dominant offensive and defensive defenseman in the Big Ten. There are no ifs, ands or buts about it,” added Powers. “Every night, there will be someone in the building who will say – ‘That No. 37 is special’.”
Powers also said he's an “elite skater with incredible explosion and incredible endurance"; that latter quality should be put to the test.
Expect a resurgence of the offensive flair Bennett showed his first couple years, because it's not coming from anywhere else on this defense corps and whoever ends up pairing Bennett will be shot if he so much as thinks about getting up ice.
Now, who partners with Bennett? Your options are all frightening on some level. The primary contenders:
- The aforementioned MIKE DOWNING, who has promise and offensive upside but saw his stock drop significantly in his final year of junior and needs to fill out.
- Senior KEVIN CLARE, who provides zero offense (0-2-2 last year, 12 shots), was –9 last year in just 19 games, and was scratched for the final 14 because of disciplinary issues.
- Junior BRENNAN SERVILLE, who seems like he should be more of an offensive defenseman of only because he tends to give you hives with his decisions but is as bereft as Clare is in the points department (1-2-3, 21 shots) and was scratched for 11 games himself last year. But I guess he was +3? Woo?
I'm going with Downing, mostly because I cringe at the idea of Clare or Serville on a top pairing and haven't seen the freshman yet, but I could also see the job going to Clare, since Downing has some offensive upside in his game:
"He carries the puck well out of the zone and makes good decisions on when to hang on to it or move it ahead. Sees the ice well in transition and has a pro pass. He is willing to mix it up, especially when defending down low. He is also very good at moving the puck on the power play. He has a good, hard shot that he gets through to the net, but can and will fake his shot and make a quick pass to the open man. He is not afraid to jump to an open hole on the offensive attack to create scoring chances. He will need to show all of this with more consistency for the next level."
Michigan may want to split those two guys in an effort to have a puck-mover on the ice for most of the game. Clare's just going to sit back, break up plays, and try to get the puck out of the zone, and if he's out there with a lesser guy that could result in spells of uncomfortable pressure.
As for Serville, I'm in full confirmation bias mode with him in which I magnify every mistake he makes. But I'm aware of it and I'm still nervous about having him in a major role. He was a draft pick a couple years back and defensemen take time, etc etc etc. I'll be pleasantly surprised if he makes a significant step forward.
[After THE JUMP: at least they've got a ton of third pairing guys?]
This space mentions all the time that in Mattison's defense the usual end/tackle distinction for the four guys on the defensive line is not a good representation of how similar or interchangeable those guys are. The nose stands alone; the SDE and 3TECH are kind of the same player, and the WDE and SAM are kind of the same player.
A primary reason for this is that Michigan runs a ton of defensive plays on which the SDE/3T and WDE/SAM switch roles. These are so common that they have a mascot around these parts: Slanty The Gecko, who was inexplicably the first Google hit for "line slant football" a ways back. This is another Slanty post.
I've covered this ground before, but to reiterate: a slant is an aggressive defense designed to get penetration as offensive linemen are surprised by the gap the defender tries to fill. This can lead to unblocked defenders—and big cutback lanes. Unless the offensive line makes the on-the-fly adjustment they lose a blocking angle at best, and then you've got a free hitter… as long as your linebackers understand what's going on in front of them and present themselves at the spot they should.
I'm revisiting this because the UConn game provided a look at what happens to the WDE when the playcall asks him to become the SAM. Both of these plays are Frank Clark-centric; as is often the case, this means one is good, one is bad.
The Good Part
First quarter, second and four on the UConn 29. they come out in four-wide. Michigan shows five in the box with linebackers over the slots.
That safety is a bit of a giveaway that Michigan will bring Beyer off the edge.
On the snap, Michigan does send Beyer; simultaneously UConn sends a slot guy in motion, threatening a jet sweep.
One of the primary goals with a slant is to confuse an offensive lineman expecting one assignment executing that either against air or a guy who he really can't block. Here that's going to be the right tackle. Henry, our last arrow to the bottom of the screen, is going to head outside immediately on the right guard; he needs to get upfield and be the force player.
Clark will "fold" back after taking a step past the line of scrimmage to get the right tackle to commit.
[After THE JUMP: it's like origami except someone gets buried at the end.]
- Jake Ryan is practicing!
- There may be a change on the offensive line!
- DaMario Jones might contribute on offense!
- Derrick Green might get more snaps!
“First thing I want to talk about a little bit is this weekend you saw a lot of the ‘Cure MD’ patches that all the coaches [wore]. The organization has been at the forefront with the cure. We obviously didn't play, so we'll have our patches this weekend, and we certainly want to raise awareness of MD. It affects a lot of children all across the country.
“On the Football side we had a very good week. We got a lot accomplished as a team. I know we as a staff felt that way. I know the players felt that way. In the practices that we had and the fundamental work that we had in all areas at every position. The intensity and the competitiveness was very good. We’re excited to start the Big Ten season. We’re excited to play in the oldest trophy game there is in the Brown Jug with Minnesota. We have a lot of work to do, as you all know. We’ll continue to do that throughout the week.”
MICHIGAN DROPS THE PUCK on Sunday in an exhibition against Waterloo to kick off their 2013-2014 hockey campaign; things get real serious real fast after that as BC comes in for the season opener proper on Thursday the 10th. While I can't go into as much detail as I do with football, a conveniently-timed bye week provides a window in which to properly preview hockey, something I'm not sure I've ever done.
say hello to your next two-year captain, Andrew Copp
The following is a fanciful line chart that will be wrong from day one in many respects, and even more wrong when Red runs his line through a blender four times. But you've got to try:
|LEFT WING||YR||CENTER||YR||RIGHT WING||YR|
|Alex Guptill||Jr.||Andrew Copp||So.||Boo Nieves||So.|
|Phil Di Giuseppe||Jr.||JT Compher||Fr.||Derek DeBlois||Sr.|
|Tyler Motte||Fr.||Travis Lynch||Jr.||Luke Moffatt||Sr.|
|Evan Allen||Fr.||Justin Selman||So.||Zach Hyman||Jr.|
ALSO: Andrew Sinelli (Jr), Alex Kile (Fr), Max Shuart (Fr)
I call him mini-Copp
CENTER. The theory here is that a year after Michigan struggled with leadership everywhere they will prioritize guys who give maximum effort on every shift and build the team around a core of hard-ass centers. Andrew Copp is obvious. Copp was handed the reins of the top line halfway through the season and almost singlehandedly turned the attitude of the team around. Copp worked his ass off, inspired Alex Guptill to great heights, and finished the year with something of a scoring flourish. He's still developing after a career as a high school quarterback made hockey a part-time pastime, and his freshman year was good enough to draw the attention of the NHL after being passed over a year ago. If Michigan can make good on the promise of their late season run this year and for the next few, Copp will go down like Ortmeyer or Hagelin.
Meanwhile, every scouting report on incoming freshman JT Compher goes out of its way to praise Compher's compete level and two-way play:
Compher's NTDP coach Don Granato summed it up pretty well in Compher's hometown newspaper: ""Anything intangible, as far as an attribute, that I’ve mentioned, he’s a 10."
The phrase "two-way forward" is often the polite cliche for a player with not a lot of offensive talent, but in Compher's case, it's not used in a derogatory fashion. Compher is one of the rare skilled players that exhibits the same effort and enthusiasm without the puck that he does with the puck. He's a tenacious, sometimes nasty, defender that makes life difficult for opponents. His compete level all over the ice is among the best in the draft.
Despite not having awesome size or speed, Compher led the NTDP in PPG last year. He is ready for a lot of responsibility, probably right now. Billy Powers isn't even being coy about it:
J.T. is a guy who really has a lot of tools. He’s being talked about a lot as a defensive, third-line forward type but there’s some offensive potential there as well, and we think that will flourish in college. We see him as a power play, penalty kill player right from the start, and he’ll manage a line as a center in our top six.
If you thought one Copp was rather nice, two Copps will be like heaven after suffering through last year.
[After THE JUMP: actual rather a lot of depth.]
The Peter Principle Has Its Limits...
...those limits include allowing 62 points to Arizona State, apparently. (Photo: USA Today)
USC fired Lane Kiffin upon his return to Los Angeles after the Trojans fell 62-41 at Arizona State, their seventh loss in the last 11 games. The method? Coooooold bloooooded.
Lane Kiffin remained on the bus when a #USC administrator blocked the gate and stopped bus, asking Kiffin to step off
— InsideUSC (@InsideUSC) September 30, 2013
Lane Kiffin told bus to stay but adminisrator told driver to go to #USC with Kiffin's briefcase still on the bus
— InsideUSC (@InsideUSC) September 30, 2013
Pat Haden then fired Lane Kiffin in parking lot at Landmark Aviation at LAX. A football staff member then got sent to USC to get briefcase
— InsideUSC (@InsideUSC) September 30, 2013
The InsideUSC feed is a font of Kiffin schadenfreude; the players are just as happy as the admistrators to get rid of him, it appears. When you're done enjoying that, it's time to address the truly important question: how does Kiffin's firing affect Michigan's recruiting?
In all likelihood, not a great deal. Kiffin's firing at this juncture not only boosts USC's morale for the rest of the season—more importantly, it gives them a jump start on reeling in a big-name replacement, and the Trojans program carries enough cachet that the list of potential successors is quite distinguished. USC may experience a dip in recruiting efforts while they wait to find the right replacement; if they hire a coach worthy of the program—and I'm assuming they will—then they should be back to full speed for the 2015 class. Those in need of an example of how this works at powerhouse programs need only look at Michigan's recruiting efforts once Brady Hoke got to recruit for a full cycle.
There is, however, an opening in the 2014 class, as USC is one of the schools competing with Michigan for CA ATH John "JuJu" Smith—the childhood USC fan had already read the tea leaves, per 247:
Similar to five-star Adoree’ Jackson, Smith is one of the most highly recruited uncommitted prospects out west and is a five-star prospect that could play either side of the football. Also similar to Jackson, Smith is a major USC priority and hails from a talent factory at Long Beach Poly.
“I already knew it was coming. So it doesn’t change anything until they do something.”
Smith seems to have cooled on USC since Kiffin's job security came under serious question; while the right hire could get the Trojans right back in the mix, there's a real chance that he heads out of state, with official visits already lined up to Alabama, Michigan, Notre Dame, Ohio State, and Oregon. UCLA is also in the mix. Pulling blue-chip recruits out of California is never easy, but Michigan's done so before, and Smith is actually in contact with one such player who hails from the same high school, per The Wolverine's Andy Reid ($):
"Michigan hasn't offered a kid from Poly since Donovan Warren. I'm the one that's next. I've talked a bit to him, good kid. Just saying the name 'Donovan Warren' is like saying Michigan right off the bat at Poly."
That's a good sign, as is Michigan getting Smith's final official visit. With such fierce competition for his signature—look out for Oregon, as Smith cancelled an Ole Miss official to get them on his schedule—and five visits to go, his recruitment could go in just about any direction; that includes USC if they make the right hire at the right time.
[Hit THE JUMP for Wilton Speight's thoughts on Da'Shawn Hand, a wrapup of Michigan commit performances from last weekend, and more.]