"The University of Illinois is also in turmoil. The university sports an Interim Chancellor, an Interim Athletic Director, and an Interim Football Coach; the game will be played at Soldier Field, making this an Illini Interim Home Game."
In preparation for Michigan's College Gameday-featured extravaganza against Ohio State on Saturday, I asked Sarah Hardy of Eleven Warriors a handful of questions about the Buckeye hoops squad. For a Buckeye, she provided some very insightful answers, which you can find below. I did a similar Q&A over at 11W; you can check that out here. Thank you to Sarah—who you can follow on Twitter @sarbucks—for taking the time to provide the OSU perspective on the game.
Other than free throw percentage (9th in the Big Ten), the Buckeyes don't appear to have a weakness. OSU's record supports this. Am I missing something?
Jon Diebler. Or, I should say, Ohio State is missing Jon Diebler. With him, this team could easily be undefeated. Instead, there’s no reliable outside shooter, and without that threat, it allows the defense to focus most of their efforts on Sullinger and, to a lesser extent, Buford. By forcing the opponent to account for him at all times, Diebler’s mere presence opened up the floor for his teammates.
Now, Ohio State’s most accurate three-point “specialists” are Sullinger (11/23) and Lenzelle Smith Jr. (19/47), neither of whom attempts enough treys to make a significant impact. That really levels the playing field against a team with less talent but one that can score from behind the arc with regularity.
I'd ask about the Michigan State loss, but the Spartans are about as different a team as possible from the Wolverines. Illinois and Indiana did manage to beat Ohio State. What did they do to make that happen?
The Illinois game was one of those situations that OSU falls victim to at least once a season: an opposing player (Brandon Paul in this case) turns into an evil sorcerer for the night, and no matter how closely he is guarded, his black magic will not allow him to miss.
Still, it was a close match throughout and it ultimately came down to Ohio State’s Achilles’ Heel: three-pointers. They hit just 5/15 from downtown while the Illini were 11/18 (the Dark Lord alone was 8/10). At the end of the game, Paul came through with key shots and no one for the Buckeyes stepped up to do the same.
Against Indiana, they again couldn’t close it out, but the circumstances leading up to those final minutes were different than in the loss to Illinois. Visiting Assembly Hall, where refs must have PTSD from the days of Bobby Knight, Ohio State was getting called for ticky tack fouls that ended up dictating the game. Sullinger and Craft were both in foul trouble early, and in the second half, everyone was too scared to play defense, so they gave up an unusual amount of easy baskets.
Also, the Bucks were uncharacteristically sloppy with the ball, especially Craft with a career-high six turnovers.
In the first matchup, Michigan effectively limited Jared Sullinger by playing a lot of zone, which is unusual for the Wolverines. Have other teams deployed this strategy with any effectiveness, or do you see that as a one-time occurrence? Do you think Sullinger bounces back in this game?
Against Minnesota on Tuesday night, Tubby Smith switched to the zone after the Buckeyes went on an early 20-0 run. After that, Ohio State finished the first half with 8 points on 2/10 shooting. I checked with one of our lead basketball writers at 11W, Chris Lauderback, and we agreed that the main reason they struggle against the zone is because they start jacking up 3s, often unsuccessfully.
In January when these teams met, the zone helped limit Sullinger to 13 points and 5 rebounds. He was also in foul trouble early, so I have to believe Beilein will employ it again. It’s Michigan’s best bet to counter against someone who presents the kind of matchup problems that Sully does.
However, if the Minnesota game was any indication, he will play better this time around against the Wolverines. On Tuesday, he notched 23 points and 8 rebounds and even when Andre Hollins tossed an inbounds pass off his crotch, he wasn’t as visibly frustrated as he was versus the likes of Michigan and Michigan State.
I think most Wolverine fans are aware of Sullinger, Aaron Craft, and William Buford as being the main stars for OSU. Who else should Michigan watch out for on Saturday?
Lenzelle Smith Jr. came up huge the first time these two teams met (17 points, 12 rebounds). He has that jack-of-all-trades quality that made David Lighty such an invaluable member of the Buckeyes for all his 20 seasons. Like everyone except Sullinger and Craft, Smith is not always consistent, but he will the ability to emerge when his teams needs him.
While Deshaun Thomas is still a gunner, his shot selection is better this season than last, when his sometimes poor decision-making cost him playing time. His defense leaves a lot to be desired, and he’s erratic from behind the arc, but he’s proficient around the basket, grabbing boards and putting back missed shots.
Although Matta has gone with a deeper rotation than in years past, there’s usually not a lot of production from the bench unless the game is a blowout. Lately, freshman Sam Thompson has been the first one off the bench. Similar to almost every other player on the roster, he needs to work on his jump shot, but he’s extremely athletic and can block shots, hit the glass, and throw down glorious dunks. Even other teams’ fans seem to enjoy his gravity-defying moments.
How do you expect the Buckeyes will try to neutralize Michigan's offense, which is mostly predicated on getting to the hoop with screen-and-rolls and creating open three-pointers?
Last week, Mark Titus wrote a Grantland article that discussed how Ohio State’s defensive weakness is defending ball screens. Depending on the opponent, Matta uses a variety of strategies, which sometimes leads to information overload. Then, the defenders become out of sync with one another. In that case, they’re most susceptible to allowing open 3s or easy layups.
Still, Ken Pomeroy ranks them #1 in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency. Matta will probably stick with the same strategy he used the first time against UM, when they only put up 49 points. He’s a simple Midwestern man, so for him, if It ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
I'll ask the same potentially-blasphemous question you asked me: If you could add one Wolverine to the Buckeye roster, who would it be?
I want to say Trey Burke, just so Michigan wouldn’t have him on the roster for another three years, but I don’t know where he’d play. While Aaron Craft does not have the same offensive production as Burke, I wouldn’t trade him for any other PG in the country. His inimitable defense means that Matta trusts him more than anyone else, so he doesn’t come off the floor much.
Really, what Ohio State needs is someone who is experienced and can make shots from long range. As difficult as this is to admit, and I may be ostracized from the OSU community for doing so, I guess I’d have to go with Zack Novak. He’s a senior utility man connecting on 43.3% of his three-pointers, and he’s stout on the defensive end, too.
Piggybacking off that last answer, do you think Thad Matta made a huge error by not recruiting Trey Burke? Note: Michigan fans will believe this regardless of your answer.
Again, I’d love it if Burke were wearing Scarlet and Gray, if only to keep him away from the Wolverines, but I don’t think Matta had much of a choice in the matter. There are only so many spots on the roster, and Craft, just a sophomore, is a four-year player. Shannon Scott pledged to become a Buckeye early on, and it wasn’t until after when Burke really started making a name for himself.
At this point, it’s hard to compare Scott and Burke because Michigan has asked the latter to do much more, and to his credit, he’s responded. In the offseason, Scott needs to work on his offensive game, and then maybe we’ll see him on the court with Craft more next year.
Even though he decided to play for The Team Up North, an epithet I guess we have readopted, I harbor no ill will toward Burke. He’s a hometown kid who probably would have played for Ohio State in a heartbeat. There was just no room for him.
Is there really any way you see Ohio State losing this game? What's your prediction, and how do you expect the game to play out?
Especially on the road, Ohio State is hardly infallible. Michigan absolutely has a chance of winning, particularly if they’re hitting their 3s because most likely, Ohio State won’t be able to counter from distance.
At Minnesota, Buford and Sullinger each came up huge, and while I’m not predicting 20+ points from them, I think both will score more than they did last time against the Wolverines. As for UM, I imagine they’ll also be more effective on the offensive side. Someone, probably Hardaway or Novak, will decide to shoot lights out.
Given that Michigan has a perfect home record this season and has played Ohio State tough in recent years in Ann Arbor, I’ll call a close game. A loss is certainly possible, but I already said something complimentary about Novak and I’d have to turn in my Buckeye card if I picked the Wolverines, too: Ohio State 66, Michigan 62
Via Craig Ross, impressions from the signing day press conference.
Kyle Kalis: looks like an initial shot at RT according to Darrell Funk. No particular reason, he might end up elsewhere, but my impression is that Funk thinks this might be the best place for him to push for PT this year.
OL recruits. Funk says without hesitation that these are the best four he has ever had in a class in one year. All are possible/plausible to get to the 320 pound range. All “are big and can run, bend, move and play hard.” Funk emphasizes the “bend” element, looking for big guys who aren’t stiff. Funk says none of these guys seems destined for center, but doesn’t rule it out.
Nature of Evaluation. I asked Funk and Mark Smith about the nature of evaluation of players. Both said that the process is collaborative. That coaches tend to watch film together and/or ask others about his impressions of a player. Funk says he isn’t trump on any player. If he likes a player he has to convince others on the staff. Sometimes he is looking at an OL and notices a DL and passes this along.
While the “area” recruiter might be the first contact with a player, by the time the recruiting is over a recruit will know the position coach and “just about every, sometimes every” coach on the staff.
The Staff. While I often felt there were some outliers on the RR staff (I could be wrong, but Shafer really seemed disconnected), these coaches seem quite tight, quite collegial. They like each other and Borges, Hoke, Mattison, Funk, Hecklinski, Smith, Jackson and Mallory seem very comfortable with the media. These are the ones I have talked to. Borges was teasing Hecklinski as they left the building together, calling him a “media darling, a rock star.” I really like Funk and Smith (the ones I have talked to most). They are very smart, articulate, comfortable answering dopey questions and thoughtful questions. Hoke made some effort to recognize Mark Snyder and Rosenberg (pretty sure it was Mike) and that seems like a pretty good idea to me.
AJ Williams. He is listed as a TE and I wondered about the “talk” that he will end up at tackle. I asked Funk. He was definitive. “He’s a tight end.” Funk said “he can catch the ball, but we really need help at the point of attack at the TE spot and he’s a guy who might have some opportunity to play right away.” The message was clear (a) we need help at TE now, especially in the run game, (b) we sure as hell hope this kid can step up there soon and (c) no, we don’t have any thought of moving him away from the TE spot.
LBs. Smith says Ringer and Bolden are ILB but all four have the capacity to play inside or outside.
Pickerington (OH) North tight end Jake Butt recently was named as the #96 overall prospect in the Rivals250, and he's seen his recruitment take off in recent weeks. Butt now holds offers from Michigan, Boston College, Duke, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, Northwestern, Purdue, Stanford, Syracuse, Tennessee, UCLA, and a handful of MAC schools while also generating interest from Ohio State, Notre Dame, and Wisconsin. I caught up with Jake this week to talk about his recruitment, top schools, and upcoming visit to Michigan:
ACE: How many offers are you up to at this point, and which schools have been in contact with you the most lately?
JAKE: I'm up to 18 offers, and the most contact I've been getting is from Michigan—I've gotten a lot of stuff [from them]—Tennessee, Northwestern, Purdue, Maryland, and Iowa.
ACE: You've said that Michigan was your leader in the past. If you had to make a top five right now, which teams stand out to you the most?
JAKE: My top five would have to be Maryland, Northwestern, Michigan, Tennessee, and Stanford. Michigan I'd say is my leader just because of the attention I've been getting from all the coaches, and they said I'm the number one tight end on their board. They've got the number one quarterback in our class committed, Shane Morris, he's a beast. There's just a lot of plusses going on with them. But it's still early, so it's all subject to change.
ACE: You mentioned Shane Morris. Has he been making his recruiting pitch at all to you, and if so, what's he telling you?
JAKE: Yeah, I've been talking to him a lot. He's got like 6,000 followers [on Twitter], so he'll tweet me and get all his little followers, Michigan fans, to really show their love. [They'll say] "I want to see you break records with Shane Morris when you go there," or "I want to see you catching touchdown passes from Shane," and stuff like that. I'm going to be going up [to Michigan] this Saturday and he's supposed to be there with some other recruits.
ACE: I know you've been to Michigan a couple times before. Is there anything specific you're going to be looking for this weekend?
JAKE: No, just kinda getting to know my position coach, Coach Ferrigno, a little bit better, spend a bit of time with him. Then get to see the campus, talk to some of the academic advisors, just kinda get a feel for what life is like up there.
ACE: You mentioned the coaches talking about using you as a tight end. I know with Michigan they use their tight ends in multiple ways. Do the coaches talk a lot about what your role would be like there?
JAKE: They said that they could use me at multiple position. They could use me anywhere from receiver, with a foot on the line, tight end with my hand down, or fullback even. They have a U-back and a Y-back, something like that, they have two different tight ends and they said I could play either, so I'll be playing both if I go there.
ACE: What else have the coaches been telling you when they're recruiting you?
JAKE: Different little things like "I can't wait to see you in the blue and gold," or "you'd look great in the winged helmet." They sent me an article about some of their top tight ends that they've had. Five different coaches have come down to the school, and I've talked to five different coaches by myself, too, so they're showing a lot of love there.
ACE: I've seen a concern among Michigan fans after you said the Wolverines were your leader, and that's with you not holding an Ohio State offer yet. Growing up as a Buckeye fan, if Ohio State were to come into play, how do you think that would change the landscape of your recruitment?
JAKE: You know, Ohio State is definitely a great school. They've got a lot of good things to offer. Urban Meyer is a great coach. That being said, there's a lot of great coaches out there and there's a lot of great programs out there. I like the fact that I got early offers and my early offers definitely stand out having thought of me on top of their list. I wouldn't worry about if from some of the fans's standpoint, I guess, because I'm going to pick my early offers over my late offers any day.
ACE: You just mentioned the early offers being important. When it comes down to making a decision, what else are going to be the main factors when you ultimately decide on a school?
JAKE: The early offers are kind of like a tiebreaker, it's not that big of a deal. Definitely academics is a big deal, having a good football program with a good tradition is a big deal. Then somewhere my parents want me to go. Someone told me that you want to pick a college where if you were to get hurt playing football, you can see yourself living there without football in your life, so that's another factor.
ACE: Other than coming up to Michigan this weekend, do you have any other planned visits or schools you'd want to check out?
JAKE: As of right now I don't. I'm just waiting for basketball season to end before I take other visits, but I'm going to have to get down to some schools because some schools won't give you an offer unless you show you're willing to make the trip down there, so I'll be going to some other schools too.
ACE: In terms of a timeline for when you'd want to get your recruitment wrapped up, do you know when that would be?
JAKE: Probably before next football season I'd like to get it done, but if not, I can wait until after.
ACE: How's basketball season going for you?
JAKE: Pretty good. I'm the leading scorer and rebounder for our team. I think I lead our team in steals, too, so it's going pretty good. Our team as a whole is kinda underachieving, but that being said, I set the bar high for us. I'm the only guy returning with experience right now. We had ten seniors last year, so we lost all of them, and those were our top ten guys other than me, I was the sixth man off the bench. We really don't have any experience coming back, but we're 11-8 right now and we've got a tough game coming up on Friday, too.
ACE: Just to go away from the football field and the basketball court for a second, what's one thing about yourself—whether it's a hobby that you've got outside of sports or whatever—what's something outside of sports that you think people would like to know about you?
JAKE: I'm a leader. I've been selected, not for sports, but for other activities, for leadership conferences. As a sophomore I was one out of four kids in our school that got to go to a leadership conference at Ohio State, and I got selected to a school leadership program called Sunny Side Up in our group where you have to get nominated by teachers other students from your school to go there. You get a three-day trip where you go down you get to do different things, leadership-building activities and such, so I got to do that.
ACE: It sounds like that would obviously translate well to the field and help you there.
JAKE: Yes, sir.
Dadeville (AL) DT Rod Crayton is coming off an extremely impressive junior season, and his recruitment is beginning to gain steam as a result. Standing at 6'2", 290 pounds, Crayton currently holds offers from Arizona, Auburn, FAU, Louisville, LSU, Memphis, Mississippi, Mississippi State, Penn State, and Washington State. He's one of several top-flight visitors who will be in Ann Arbor this weekend, and he's expecting to get some big news when he's on campus:
ACE: First of all, what schools have been showing interest in you lately?
ROD: LSU, Tennessee, Florida, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, FAU, Memphis, Louisville, Michigan, Penn State, Washington State, and Arizona, and also Auburn and Alabama.
ACE: Talking about Michigan specifically, have they offered you, and do you have any plans to come up and visit?
ROD: I'm visiting Michigan on Sunday. They tell me they have some good news for me when I come up there, so I'm expecting an offer.
ACE: Who are you talking to from Michigan?
ROD: Coach Montgomery.
ACE: When you come up to visit, what are you going to be looking for in terms of checking out the school?
ROD: I'm just going to see how it is. See the campus, see the coaches and get to know them a little bit. See how everything is up there.
ACE: Going back to your junior season, how do you think you performed on the field, and what kind of numbers did you put up?
ROD: I did pretty good. I had 162 tackles and 11 sacks.
ACE: If you had to scout yourself as a player, what would you say are your biggest strengths and what are you looking to improve for your senior season and the next level?
ROD: To improve, I have to stay low. My strengths are working with my hands, pushing back the pocket, and making plays down the line of scrimmage.
ACE: Do you know what schools you'd like to check out over the offseason?
ROD: I'm actually going to Penn State on Saturday, then Michigan on Sunday.
ACE: Do you have any idea in terms of a timeline of when you'd like to make a commitment?
ROD: That's not gonna be any time soon. I'm trying to [take some visits first].
ACE: What are going to be the main factors that you're looking for when it comes down to picking a school?
ROD: Somewhere where I feel comfortable at, where I've got a good relationship with the coach, and where I can play at—I want to go somewhere that best fits me.
In his recap of the Illinois game, Brian left a bit of a hint about what I should take a look at when watching film this week:
Michigan got a ton of fast break and secondary transition points; in the second half when Illinois was crashing the boards hard anything that didn't end up getting rebounded by the trees fell to a shorter faster Michigan player and the resulting transition opportunity was often an odd-man break. I'd be interested to see a breakdown of Illinios points off of offensive rebounds versus points in transition when Michigan actually got the board. I'd guess it would be a small advantage to Illinois, but not one that outweighs the benefits of going small to Michigan's halfcourt offense.
You know Brian; he puts the 'b' in subtle. Somehow managing to pick up on this, I took a look through the film at each of Illinois's missed shots, recording the result of the miss (offensive or defensive rebound), points scored off those misses, and how often a Wolverine rebound resulted in a fast or secondary break. Brian's assessment was pretty darn accurate.
Illinois second-chance points: 9
Michigan transition points directly following a defensive rebound: 9
The Illini, like Brian stated, went all-out on the offensive glass, coming up with 14 offensive boards (although two of those were "team rebounds" when Michigan knocked the ball out of bounds). I counted 18 defensive rebounds for the Wolverines—the box score shows one more; I think that came in the waning seconds—and had this breakdown of what they did with them:
Fast break: 4 opportunities, 4 points.
Secondary break: 5 opportunities, 5 points.
Michigan slowed pace and went into their half-court offense on the other nine rebounds; as you can see, half the time they were running after a miss. Here's a closer look at how Michigan pushed the pace off a miss. In this first frame, you see Illinois putting up an outside shot while the Wolverine have four players in good position to get a rebound:
Illinois ends up with three players either inside or directly next to the paint as Evan Smotrycz grabs the board. Before Smotrycz even hits the ground, everyone but Burke is charging up the court. Burke starts to flash to the middle of the floor in case Smotrycz needs an outlet:
Smotrycz turns and takes one dribble. This snapshot is taken right before he passes to Novak, whose feet you can see at the very top of the screen. Hardaway is already well down the floor, and Michigan has the numbers to run:
Novak gets the pass on the wing and heads to the middle of the floor, drawing in the Illini defense. Douglass trails and is wide open as Illinois is late to figure out matchups and making sure that Hardaway—who's behind the defense—is accounted for:
Douglass gets a wide-open look for three, though his shot draws iron. Still, Michigan is able to create a great look from distance by recognizing Illinois's aggressiveness on the offensive glass and countering. Full video of the play:
Douglass actually ended up with a second open look on the secondary break later in the half. On this particular play Michigan is really able to go full-bore as it's Burke who comes down with the rebound, enabling the other four players to head up the floor without worrying about who's going to handle the ball in the backcourt. Burke drives hard into the paint, catching Illinois off-guard and freeing up Douglass for a shot from the exact same spot as earlier. Unfortunately, he misses again, but it's still a nice play by Burke to create the shot:
In case you're feeling the need to complain about Stu—unwarranted, in my opinion, as he hit two of his other three shots while playing phenomenal defense on Brandon Paul (7 TOs)—here he is taking it coast-to-coast for a layup when he sees an opening in the Illini D:
While Michigan once again was dominated on the glass in their own end, they largely negated this advantage for Illinois by making them pay for crashing the boards. With Ohio State—a team that thoroughly destroyed the Wolverines in the rebounding category in their first matchup—next up on the schedule, Michigan will need to continue exploiting these openings created when the Buckeyes get too aggressive offensively.
So I hit up a Glazier Clinic last week. I'm not sure what the etiquette is about actually talking about this stuff since the atmosphere in the room was not at all similar to press conferences in which carefully evaluated non-statements are provided. For instance, at one point Greg Mattison said that "I've never seen such awful technique" than that of the defensive line upon his arrival.
Mattison didn't say anything offensive, but he was very blunt. If he knew someone would be posting about it on the internet he might not have spoken like that, which means I probably shouldn't be in the room. But being in the room was exceedingly useful for me as I try to figure out what people are supposed to be doing on the field. So here's a mostly paraphrased recap that I don't think anyone could possibly get mad at.
I also listened to an hour of Funk after Mattison was done; having missed two hours of table-setting and lingo I had a hard time grabbing anything that I could relate to you. FWIW, Funk's presentation was three hours of inside zone minutiae—I don't think we're dumping zone any time soon. Craig Ross took in the whole thing and provided a few notes that I'll post Friday.
Mattison. Very personable, obviously a veteran of the clinic circuit. At points reminded me of a folk singer in one and only one very specific way: after explaining this formation or this coverage or this defense, he would fire off some zingers, get everyone to laugh, and then continue with business. I can see why he's regarded as a great recruiter.
His interest in teaching was also clear. Occasionally it felt like it was a college class as Mattison asked the room what player X would be doing in a particular situation. That lent a lot of credence to his assertion that one of two primary reasons he came back to college was a desire to "influence young men—that's what we do." (Brady Hoke was the other.)
On message. Mattison kicked the session off with about 30 minutes describing Michigan's philosophy, goals, and motivational techniques before getting into Xs and Os. He started by talking about Hoke; that "the one thing Brady did was bring back what made Michigan what it is." Michigan hasn't been "one of those teams loaded with unbelievable stars" but plays fundamentally sound, tough defense with maximum effort. Etc.
There were then the usual bits about Hoke's "Years: 133, Championships: 42" call-and-response and a statement that the Sugar Bowl was "fine" but he would trade 100 of them for a Big Ten Championship. The rooms say "THE TEAM THE TEAM THE TEAM," of course. The program is on message.
Position switches. As I wrestled with how to handle this various coaches in the room told every-damn-body that Mattison said Brennen Beyer was moving to WDE and Craig Roh to SDE. This was explicitly stated. Adjust the wiki pages.
Helmets to the ball. A major theme: "loafs" are not tolerated and Mattison wants to see the jersey of 10 guys at the end of every play. When he catches a defensive lineman getting passed by another one he asks the kid how fast he is, and when they say "4.7" he says "well that guy must be a 4.3 then."
At the end of the session Mattison was discussing a corner blitz they didn't run much because the corners didn't come hard enough. One of the cut-ups was from the end of the third quarter against OSU. This play:
The coaches' film is a wider shot and emphasized the huge distance Floyd had to make up to catch Miller before the touchdown. Mattison took the opportunity to point out that this was an example of the corners not coming hard enough and gush over Floyd ("I love this kid") in general and specifically as an exemplar of the Michigan philosophy. Floyd's effort led to this:
And that led to a field goal.
Bonus: For those looking for a reason other than blind luck that Michigan recovered 80% of opponent fumbles this year, in practice all incompletions are live balls. Mattison credited this practice for getting players moving towards the ball at all times and being in position to scoop up live balls in actual play.
Technique a priority. This was a feature of both the general philosophical section and the chalk talk. Mattison did not select the cutups himself—that was delegated to a video coordinator—and didn't know exactly what would come up. This made for an interesting dynamic as he evaluated each play live. He repeatedly digressed from his main topic to note the footwork of his linemen: Van Bergen is getting distance with his first step. All of these guys have identical footwork. There was also a long discussion about why your rush end needs to start with his outside foot back when he gets a tight end to him*. Etc.
In the philosophical section he noted that Michigan was probably the only team in the country with a head coach who coaches a position, that nose guard. It was at this point he told the story about Hoke coming to him fuming, saying he "wasn't going to be one of those head coaches who just walk around" and demanding a position group. He took the nose. Zinger: "now… I question why he coached the best player on the team."
Here he also noted that everyone hits the sled every day and that this was not something the previous coaching staff did frequently, if ever. This is where the bit about "I've never seen such awful technique" came in. Pretty much the only thing negative Mattison said was about the state of the team he was handed. Everyone who's surprised raise their hand. That's no one.
The final bit on this: "don't go be a scheme coach, focus on technique."
*[The reason is the biggest threat to the rush end in this situation is getting reached and if the tight end flares out to do so that first step needs to be one that gains him distance, something you can't do while remaining square if your outside foot is to the LOS. Disagreement with this appeared to be a pet peeve of Mattison's.]
Big plays. Obviously a priority just from the play on the field. Section on this concentrated on the secondary, declared the biggest problem with big plays. Hates it when safeties "look like blitzing linebackers" when there is a pile. He wants a cup around the pile and safeties to make tackles at least six yards downfield.
Now, that doesn't mean Jordan Kovacs needs to make a tackle six yards downfield. In this context a safety is a player in a deep zone. This is most often the corners and Gordon/Woolfolk.
Rotation. This is a Hoke thing Mattison was skeptical about: Michigan rotates the entire defense on every play of practice. Run on—snap—run off. This is "not pretty" when your 21st and 22nd best defensive players are going up against the first team offense but builds conditioning and depth and was credited for "saving the team" in the Sugar Bowl when injuries whittled down available defensive linemen to dust. Think Martin and Van Bergen in the third quarter.
Goal line philosophy. To Mattison it's simple: one zone "you run perfectly" and an all-out pressure.
When they're backed up. Mattison asked the crowd to think of what they are thinking when they've got the other team backed up, and then said "how many of you are thinking 'don't give up a big play'?" Mattison's been there and tries to fight that. Now if you're backed up, "if we have a great run pressure, we're coming after your ass."
This goes here.
Not exactly a run pressure but Michigan is sending all five guys on the line there. "When you have a chance, when they're backed up, go after their ass."
Third down. "For us, we're gonna pressure." Mattison on the end of the Akron State game:
You saw the Ohio game, you probably thought 'this guy is the dumbest sonofabitch in the world' He turned a wide receiver loose against Ohio a couple minutes left in the game.
But we intercepted it on the next play. Did we win? Yes. So we were aggressive and we won. [laughter]
So they'll be aggressive come hell or high water, that's clear.
4-3 versus 3-4: THE FINAL WORD. "We'd be here for hours" if someone tried to argue him away from playing the 4-3 under. Said something along the lines of "if you've got that 330 pound nose tackle and your ends and your linebackers, okay, God bless you." I thought of Pipkins—what is Mattison going to do with a 330 pound nose?
Anyway, Greg Mattison will never run a 3-4. End of story.
4-3 under assertions from the man himself. These aren't too different than the things you'll hear about the under when you read up on it on the internet but just to confirm, the basis of the defense:
- Rush end: "The whole thing is predicated on the rush." Must be a great player, and athlete who can spill power (ie, get into a pulling guard and stop him in his tracks), drop into coverage, and win one-on-one battles with the tight end. All that and he's got to be a ferocious pass rusher. More similar to the SAM linebacker than the SAM is to the ILBs.
- SAM linebacker. Must not be outflanked either in the run or the pass game. Hugely important not to give himself up one for one on the edge. [Editor's aside: that's something we were talking about a ton early in the year. It got a lot better as the season progressed.]
- Inside linebackers. The usual: the mike has to be a little bigger, a little stronger, and the will has to be able to adjust to coverage outside of the box. An important difference between the two is the WLB has to be able to run vertically down the seam whereas the MLB can pass his guy off; IIRC this year the guy running down the seam was Demens, not Morgan. Adjustment based on Demens's surprising ability to stick with guys downfield?
- Nose tackle. Also hugely important. "You cannot win with a weak nose." We should start calling our incoming five star "No Pressure Pipkins" right now.
- Corners. "Corners are corners" but the field corner (Countess) is not involved with "heavy work" and usually just has to clean up plays that have been strung out. The boundary corner (Floyd) has to be a bigger guy better in run support. It's a seven man front; if you go eight you'd "better have a war daddy" at field corner because he's got to cover an outside receiver with little additional help.
Michigan does not align to strength but rather aligns to field—ie, if you're on the left hash the SAM will be to the wide side of the field and if you're on the right hash the SAM will be to the wide side of the field. You can flip your tight ends all around and Michigan won't flip in response. I assume the flipping from earlier in the year was a necessary evil as Michigan tried to get everyone up on the new system.
The most important thing. One of the line shifts Michigan runs is called "pirate technique."
Kyle Kalis. Mattison saw one of the St. Ed's guys and mentioned that Michigan had recruited a "real man" out that school, one that "may just maul some of our guys."
Jake Ryan. Mattison said Michigan was "blessed" at SAM linebacker—probably including Beyer in that assessment—and that Ryan was a major player. A major player they probably wished they didn't have to run out as a freshman, but a major player.
Mattison referenced a particular play against Nebraska on which he lined up on the wrong side of the field. I remember that but I don't think it was against Nebraska; there's no mention of it in the UFR. "Still a lot of coaching to do" with him but it's clear they think he has vast potential.
JT Floyd. As mentioned, Mattison seemed enamored with him. "Love that kid."
Desmond Morgan. Came up on a couple of clips where he ended up clubbing offensive linemen. Mattison said something along the lines of "think he'll hit you?" And "is that good or what? For a little freshman?" It is unknown whether he has ever said "freshman" without preceding it with "little."
Morgan tipped one of the blitzes they run; Mattison mentioned that he told Morgan he'd play three technique if he kept it up. This is a common threat, as…
Kenny Demens. …they literally did this with Demens, playing him at nose so they could have Martin run the blitzes he wasn't coming hard enough on. In contrast, the SAM (Ryan) was called out as a guy who does come hard.
Some secondhand reports that the implication was Demens's job is under threat have filtered out to premium message boards; I did not get that vibe.
Jordan Kovacs. Michigan's "down safety" or "close safety"—I'll stick with strong, FWIW—was "tremendous."
Departing DL. Heininger "really became a football player." Seems like they think they'll miss him. Van Bergen "really, really played" for M and Martin was of course the best player on the team.