Martavious Odoms, Greg Mathews, Carson Butler's Meathead Lawyer, and Carson Butler
Though you could somewhat reasonably grade this position "incomplete," the preseason sunniness…
Despite the early departures of Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington to the NFL, Michigan has stockpiled a considerable amount of talent at wide receiver and tight end and the dropoff shouldn’t be severe. There will be a dropoff, though, as no one on the roster save maybe Darryl Stonum can hope to replicate Manningham’s explosive deep routes, and Stonum is just a freshman.
…was obviously too sunny. Greg Mathews starred as Jason Avant 2.0:
The upside here is Jason Avant, a reliable guy on a variety of short routes with outstanding hands and the strength to get off a jam. (We haven't actually seen the outstanding hands, yet, as Mathews has been reliable but unspectacular in the catching-stuff category, but Avant's reliability was only a theory before Braylon left.)
Toney Clemons, Junior Hemingway, and Darryl Stonum were all mentioned on the outside. This was wrong as hell:
Normally the most optimistic projection for Stonum’s freshman year would be something similar to that turned in by Mario Manningham—27 catches, 433 yards, 6 touchdowns—but the early enrollment should help him see the field earlier and more frequently. Forty or even fifty catches is not out of the question.
No, this did not happen. I didn't fall for the LaTerryal-Savoy-is-starting bait, though, saying "the bet here is that once Hemingway’s injury and Stonum’s inexperience subside so will Savoy’s prominence on the depth chart."
In the slot, Martavious Odoms was declared the man. This was not a tough call since Michigan had zero other oompa-loompas on the team with functioning appendages. The praise came in on the high side:
Unlike many guys Odoms' size, he's always been a receiver, and few players can claim to have the extensive in-game experience he has. Practice reports have been universally positive, praising his hands, toughness, silky-smooth moves and ability to make the first tackler miss. I go back to what a Floridian high school football veteran and Friend of Blog told me unprompted when Odoms committed:
He's a tough SOB. Small cat, really tough, will remind you of Steve Smith. Very, very fast. I'm a huge Martavious Odoms fan, you'll love him.
Watch out for him; this is one of those guys you see named “Moss” playing for Miami and think to yourself "goddamn why can't we ever have kids like that?" Practice reports are very encouraging; he sounds like a Steve Breaston if Breaston had been a natural-born receiver. He’s listed as the starter in the slot for Utah. You will see plenty of him.
At tight end, Carson Butler was declared to have "the potential to be ridiculously good as long as he’s not asked to block anyone ever" and the preview basically threw up its hands:
I have no idea what to expect out of Butler this year. He could be an All-American caliber performer (he’s unlikely to get enough catches to be an actual All-American) in a contract year for him. He could lose his job in week two.
It was door #2 for Butler. Backup Mike Massey got a thorough "meh":
In three years of sporadic onfield action, Massey hasn’t done much except almost make a couple of spectacular catches. He was the tentative starter last year until the injury in the Northwestern game. He seems totally average, a guy who will catch the balls he should and make most of the blocks he should but excel in no way whatsoever.
Kevin Koger, meanwhile, was declared likely to receive "a smattering of snaps in preparation for a starting job next year."
Well, that happened, I guess
It's hard to judge this group on their own merits when balls were so often whizzed (or floated) well over their heads and a series of wide receiver screens against Minnesota qualified as the most competent series of passes over the whole season. Receivers without quarterbacks are ornaments, and the stats bear this out.
So do the comments on the UFR receiverchart.
No drops; few opportunities to do so. One good catch from Koger.
Mostly fine, with no routine drops. Not many opportunities.
An okay day, with the one big drop from Stonum that would have provided Michigan a (likely meaningless) touchdown late in the fourth quarter.
Not much to go around, really, with the 0/2 in Clemons' 2 category the biggest issues. It's hard to blame Clemons for either, really, but I think Avant makes those catches. Or Mathews, actually.
You get the idea. Not enough data so I make big.
In the slot, the job was Odoms' as soon as Robinson went down. He quickly proved to be Michigan's most versatile and reliable receiver, catching a wide variety of bubble screens and having good success on wheel routes until opponents figured out that that was about the only thing Michigan's passing game had going for them. He still ran a bunch of routes that weren't quite right and dropped a few balls, most notably in the horrible frigid pounding death rain that suffused all things during the Northwestern game. That game also featured a series of increasingly spectacular Odoms fumbles.
Those fumbles and his general absence during the Ohio State game have soured many folks on Odoms going forward; projections that Robinson or incoming recruit Jeremy Gallon will wrest the job away are common on the internets, but Odoms is going to have a lot of experience on both those guys, both of whom were primarily high school quarterbacks. He remains the heavy favorite to be the top slot guy this fall.
On the outside, Mathews was a constant and basically lived up to expectations. In tough conditions against Notre Dame he came through with a couple excellent catches and was a razor-thin review away from a circus catch touchdown. Later against Minnesota there was this note:
Also note that Mathews is the only guy to have hauled in any "1s" so far this year (other than Butler, who no longer plays offense); he's the guy with the hands.
He's not electric and he doesn't dust people by five yards but most programs would be perfectly happy to have him as their possession go-to guy.
As for the other guy on the outside, well… Clemons ended up Odoms' backup in the slot because of the Robinson injury. Hemingway had a promising start but was shut down by mono on top of his shoulder and ankle injuries. (Yes, this blog has considered changing Angry Michigan Safety Hating God's name to Angry Junior Hemingway Hating God.) Stonum was a starter much of the year but dropped a lot of balls, picked up a DUI arrest, and was generally disappointing. The real answer to "who is Michigan's second outside receiver?" was "nobody." If pressed further you'd have to go with Stonum's 14 catches and one touchdown.
At tight end, Butler quickly played himself out of the starting job, moved to defense midway through the season, was rumored to have challenged Rodriguez to a fight, and "entered the NFL draft," by which we mean "was basically kicked off the team." If Butler has a future in doing athletic-type things, it's as a heel professional wrestler. Just ask cruiserweight champion That Kid Who Wants To Borrow An Iron.
Also, poor Mike Massey. It's not like he ever did anything positive in his time on the field, but whenever he had the opportunity someone else had to go and screw it up:
[Against Northwestern] Mike Massey was targeted three times, all of them uncatchable. This is the Golden Law of Mike Massey: whenever he is open for a touchdown, the ball will be overthrown. Mike Massey could be open by ten yards against OSU and the quarterback will throw it so high it hits a bird.
Massey's career expired with nary a catch his final year. He has a future as a stockbroker or something, I guess, so it's not too bad.
Your unexpected King of the Royal Tight End Rumble was actually Kevin Koger, who reeled in… uh… six catches. But one of those was a touchdown, so that's cool.
2009, And Beyond
Despite a bevy of transfer rumors, the whole gang is scheduled to return in 2009. Greg Mathews is what he is: a quality possession receiver who's not going to stretch many defenses. Mathews in a nutshell:
That's one-on-one press coverage against a crappy Minnesota cornerback. He gets very little separation, forcing him to make a spectacular catch, which he does. Ideally he'd be a #2 receiver on a good team; on this one it looks like there is no true #1.
Other contenders on the outside are Stonum, who did not have a Manningham-esque freshman campaign, Hemingway, Clemons, and possibly James Rogers or a freshman. At this point most hopes are pinned on Hemingway, who looked like the sort of explosive leaper who can catch himself some downfield jump balls, and by God Michigan can throw a downfield jump ball with the best of 'em. The other hope is that Stonum gets a lot better and fast. At this point I don't think much is expected from Clemons or Rogers. Joining the fun this year is redshirt freshman Roy Roundtree, who's supposed to be a twig-sized version of Mathews.
In the slot, Odoms returns. He'll be joined by Robinson and Jeremy Gallon, the Apopka single-wing quarterback and star of Army All-American practices. Having multiple slot threats should improve performance from the spot, as in four-wide packages two can show up at the same time, forcing the defense to defend against screens on both side of the field. If Odoms is hurt or not performing someone can step in for him.
At tight end, Koger returns and should/may/could have help from redshirt sophomore Martell Webb, who played some as a true freshman before wholly disappearing last year, and redshirt freshman Brandon Moore, who could end up anything from a hulking 6'6" receiver to an offensive tackle.
Everyone returns, so production should be better, but unless Stonum takes a great leap forward or Gallon is just ridiculous it looks like a corps closer to the just-okay 2005 unit, which had Avant and Breaston but no real deep threat.
On first glimpse the idea of hiring a man who says things like "it can maybe snowball into something that can catch fire" after he cratered a traditionally respectable-or-better program seems pretty dumb. I said so myself. But Rodriguez done did it anyway, so it's time to talk ourselves into it, or at least try to.
A Syracuse-oriented reader opines:
As a member of the Orange Nation, I can state that the Greg Robinson years were hard and lean. In part, that was due to a growing talent deficit that Pasqualoni left behind. Coach P's numbers look impressive until one takes into account the fact that SU went into a pretty serious decline after Donovan McNabb graduated. He was running on empty by the time he left.As for Robinson, his teams proved to be maddeningly inconsistent and just plain bad. By all accounts, he was a decent guy. His players never quit on him. But he was not up to the head coaching task. As a DC in the college game, he might be better judged by his last 2 years at SU (when, I think, he handled most of the defensive coordinator's job) and his 1 year at Texas. SU's defense improved the past two years but was still pretty bad.Would he fare better with others handling the recruiting and with a better talent pool at Michigan? Probably. Would he be much different from Jim Hermann or Ron English? Who's to say?Coming from the Big East, he and Rich Rod might have an affinity that would work at Michigan. But that seems a pretty risky move for a team that just went 3-9 and had its worst defensive season in program history. . . .
As noted in the above-linked MGoBlog post, Robinson's last two years at Syracuse were pretty atrocious, and the evidence from his brief Texas posting (via Varsity Blue) does not suggest competence above and beyond:
|Year||Total D||Rush D||Pass D||Scoring D|
That's about par for the course at a school that regularly out-talents all but one or two opponents a year. A couple commenters noted that my dismissal of his year at Texas was a bit harsh since a guy who turns in a really good defense when blessed with more talent than his competition is likely to find it nice and comfy at Michigan.
Point taken. Texas fans seem to remember Robinson fondly, at least. Various posts in highly positive thread on Hornfans:
He is a good guy and a good pick-up for UM. … I thought he improved our D when he was here. … Good hire. Our D definitely improved while he was here, and no doubt he was helped a lot by Tomey. I loved Robinson's sideline demeanor. That. as much as anything else, reminded me how great it is to have fired up coaches roaming the sidelines. … I think he will do a great job at Michigan.
Also Texas coaches and players. Angelique gets fawning quotes from Mack Brown…
"They're (U-M) getting one of the best defensive coordinators in the country," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "Greg's a high-energy, creative, hard-working guy who has had success at both the NFL and collegiate levels. He's a veteran coach with a wealth of knowledge who the players really respond to."
…and Derrick Johnson, Texas' horrifying, bolo-punching linebacker demon from that 2004 team:
"He's a players' coach who is very patient with his players and works well with everyone," Johnson said. "He knows how to get his point across about what he expects and has you prepared for everything on game day. ... He was great for Texas."
HOWEVA, the defense Robinson inherited was pretty good and he held it at that level for a year. He didn't build anything up or (probably) have to coach anything up and that data point seems less relevant than the three disastrous years at Kansas City that preceded it or the four disastrous ones at Syracuse that followed it. Longtime college DC Carl Reese preceded Robinson and this guy followed him…
…suffice it to say that being Texas' defensive coordinator isn't the hardest job in the world. (Side note: Texas had better hope like hell the current guy is a bit better in the head job than the two men who preceded him.)
This table, on the other hand, was totally omitted from the first go-round on Robinson:
|Year||Total D||Rush D||Pass D||Scoring D|
After a ramp-up year that's (almost) four consecutive years in the top ten in total defense in the NFL. At the very least that indicates some level of competence.
So… what do we have? A guy who performs with talent and doesn't without it. Yeah, Greg Robinson and every other coach on the planet. This causes Orson Swindle, writing as someone named "Spencer Hall," to muse on fate at TSN:
Greg Robinson, fired Kansas City defensive coordinator, former Texas coordinator, and complete failure of a head coach at Syracuse, is firmly at fate's mercy now: he's the new defensive coordinator at Michigan, a move that has some Michigan fans near seppuku and others merely sighing and shrugging their shoulders. It would be very, very easy to pronounce this as a stillborn HR move from the start, a mistake taking a flyer on a guy who while good when surrounded by obvious, glaring talent -- see his successful stint in 2004 at Texas -- can be very, very bad, as anyone who saw his work at Syracuse can attest.
The whole fate thing weighs heavily on any Michigan fan contemplating Mallett or Pryor or the circumstances that led to David Cone being one of two scholarship quarterbacks on the roster. If Rodriguez had walked into a viable dual-threat quarterback, or even just a viable single-threat one, his still toddling regime at Michigan would be far less precarious. Michigan's hope here is that Robinson was a product of his circumstances, and while he may be very, very poor at assembling advantageous circumstances for himself that won't be a problem where the four-stars flow in from the sea.
Orson, for his part, says that Michigan's "considerable talent on defense"—er?—combines with the mediocrity of the Big Ten and provides "good odds for a happy outcome." I'm less certain, but since I have a good friend who hired that guy on a coin above I'm very familiar with the process that gets you to "hey, this isn't so bad!"
Barwis' final employment agreement with WVU, drafted in July 2005, said Barwis is to pay WVU a $50,000 buyout for terminating his contract without cause by the university. Sources said university officials are now looking to collect, but a lawsuit is not presently in the works.
That's right: West Virginia Buyout Wrangling with its sidekick, Accompanying Hysteria. I can't wait for the newspaper column describing the vast damage this upcoming dispute will do to the university's reputation.
(HT: Big House Blog.)
Close but no dice. One of the common anti-playoff arguments is basically "The Cardinals." IE: one of the costs of a playoff is that sometimes it throws away the much more reliable results gathered from a regular season of 16 or 162 games and gives you the Cardinals, be they the 9-7 variety from Phoenix slated to participate in the upcoming Super Bowl or the 83-78 variety from St. Louis that won the 2006 World Series.
Such champions are not particularly fulfilling, and they throw the whole playoffs thing into doubt. Get The Picture applies this to college football:
Make the postseason pool big enough and you’ll get your Cinderellas every year, in one form or fashion. Statistical anomalies mean more in the postseason. But some of that success, while inspiring in the short term, often winds up being little more than a mirage. That’s a helluva tradeoff for a diminished regular season.
This is an accurate complaint when leveled at the 12th best team in a league of 32 clawing to the championship or a system which throws away 162 games in which you're doing stunningly well to win 62.5% of them in favor of brief, near-random playoff series. It is not when applied to college football, for the following reasons:
- Any playoff field would be dramatically more restricted than that of most professional leagues. There are about 120 D-I college football teams, and even if you toss out 50 or so as not serious contenders (ie, most of the MAC, CUSA, Sun Belt, WAC, and Mountain West) an eight-team playoff contains approximately the same percentage of teams as a four-team NFL bracket would. The Cardinals problem does not occur in a world where the entire bracket is Pittsburgh, Tennessee, New York, and Carolina.
- Any reasonably-constructed CFB playoff champion has, basically by definition, the most impressive resume. College football programs play so much creampuff and have so few opportunities to play real teams from any other conference that a three-game win streak over elite competition—coupled with losses from the rest of that elite competition—would render the playoff result un-controversial. IE: even if the playoff was mere exhibition with no official bearing on who gets a crystal football, the playoff winner would virtually always be voted #1 anyway, especially if lower-seeded teams have to play on the road, auto-bids are not handed out to weak conferences, and the field is constructed with byes.
As an example of #2, put together any reasonable pre-bowl eight team field from this year (1 Oklahoma, 2 Florida, 3 USC, 4 Texas, 5 Penn State, 6 Utah, 7 Alabama) take your worst-case #8, which this year would be Cincinnati (other contenders: OSU, Boise, Texas Tech) and give that worst-case scenario road wins over any three of the above teams. You've assembled the best resume in college football.
The Cardinals issue does not apply to college football. It, perhaps alone amongst American sports, would have a much more legitimate champion every year if it had a playoff.
(BTW: European soccer has a great compromise where there are no playoffs—except for the last promotion slot in lower leagues—but there are, simultaneous to the regular season, a number of single-elimination knockout competitions of varying prestige.)
Basketballin'. I'm late on this, but, yes, the regents gave preliminary approval to a 23 million dollar basketball practice facility to be built adjacent to Crisler. Beilein boilerplate:
"Having our coaches' offices, strength training, video theatre, training room and practice court all connected to Crisler Arena will only enhance student-athletes' development and our efficiency as a staff," Beilein said. "Having consistent practice times will assist players academically in terms of scheduling their classes and allowing them to choose any major of interest to them. We are obviously thrilled with the positives this new facility will bring, and appreciate the support of President Mary Sue Coleman, and the hard work of Bill Martin and Mike Stevenson in making this project become a reality."
Martin's forging ahead with the project despite not having a major donor:
"We want to get this done, so we're getting the word out that we're going for it," Martin said, saying a practice facility is overdue. "I couldn't wait any longer. We don't have a major donor for this project, but the regents all understand the value. I'm pleased we're able to move on this."
That's a commitment to the basketball program, and yet another chunk of Martin's legacy salted away. When he steps down as athletic director he'll have quite a list of accomplishments to point to, especially if (when) Beilein and Rodriguez work out.
It's like a laser. Smart Football considers Curtis Painter and Purdue's notable inability to do anything against actually good teams in the waning years of the Tiller administration, and in doing so reiterates a theory from 2006:
The offense has arguably become the opposite of an equalizer, it has become an amplifier: if you are talented you can really rack up the points because no one can cover Vince Young, Ted Ginn or the like one-on-one, but if you're not, you just get sacked and no one gets open.
Extremely prescient, and you're already replacing Vince Young with Nick Sheridan in your head and possibly trembling. In this we might have a general theory about why the first year of Rich Rodriguez has been such a disaster every time: it's not like Dantonio's caveman offense that shortens games and, even when bad, isn't bad quickly. The spread, when bad, is bad fast, allowing more time for the opponent to implode your head.
Well, we could be. For some reason, Varsity Blue just tackled Dan Wetzel's column comparing Michigan and Alabama from October. They attempt to tamp down expectations, which is good. Because for Michigan to be "this year's Alabama" they would have to improve their record by 4.5 games, which would get them from 3-9 all the way to 8-5.
Suffice it to say this would probably not be met with the hosannas Nick Saban has received in his second season. Also, Alabama QB: senior multi-year starter. Michigan QB: either sophomore Steven Threet or a true freshman. Or a suicidal kitten.
Getting out of this hole is going to take some digging.
Etc.: The NYT finally has their ombudsman tackle the ridiculous Jamarcus McFarland article. Texas blogs, as you might expect, are not impressed.
1/20/2009 – Michigan 58, Penn State 73 – 13-6, 3-4 Big Ten
How's this for some trenchant analysis you can't get anywhere else: that was brutal. Let us never discuss it again.
Moving forward, the last two games have blown whatever margin of error Michigan had in their effort to make the tournament. Even if you assume wins home and away against Northwestern and away against Iowa—potentially dodgy but absolutely necessary to make the tourney—you have to find three wins in these games to get Michigan to .500 in conference:
Home: Penn State, Michigan State, Minnesota, Purdue
Away: Ohio State, Purdue, Minnesota
Is that doable? I don't know anymore. Maybe they can split with Minnesota and beat Penn State and home. Then it's a matter of getting really hot in one other game and stealing it. It won't happen when the team shoots 2 of 15 from 3-point range in the first half. Would that get Michigan in? If they beat UConn, obviously. If they don't that leaves them at 19-12 and fifth or sixth in the #2 league in the country, so yeah.
I guess the question is: will the team shoot as horribly as they have in the future? There's no chance they all grow three inches by Tuesday, and even if they did that would probably throw off their coordination significantly. You're going to see Michigan continue to get crushed defensively. Against Illinois (and, I guess, Ohio State) Michigan was overwhelmed by height that took away their inside game—Sims, their inside game, was 7 for 27. Against Penn State they weren't overwhelmed by height and still got crushed in the paint and on the offensive glass. This is the Beilein system taken to extremes, and that's understandable given the composition of the team. This was expected to be an NIT team for a reason.
I've been beating this drum since the Indiana game: it's been clear for a while now that the Duke and UCLA wins raised the profile of and expectations for the team disproportionately. Struggles against a wide array of very bad teams and near-implosions against Indiana and Savannah State didn't have the same impact because "a win is a win"* and all that, leading to a lot of irrational exuberance.
Welcome to the crash.
- UMHoops: "The numbers don’t lie, Michigan shot 39.3% from the field and 16.7% from behind the arc tonight. Michigan has shot over 40% just twice in the last 10 games after shooting over 40% in 7 of their first 8 (the only game under 40% was the win over UCLA). At the end of the day winning basketball games comes down to making your shots. It doesn’t matter whether they are two point shots or three point shots; an open shot is an open shot."
- Beilein: “We had some great looks early, couldn’t hit any of them, and had a chance to get out early enough on them because we played good defense on them early. But we couldn’t make any shots. Once they got it going in the second half it was lights out.”
- Don't really have much other than "yeeaaargh" on this one.
- I would like to point out that everyone would take this if magically given the option at the start of the year. I was hoping for slightly above .500 and an NIT bid, and that was before it became clear the Big Ten is way, way better than it was last year.
- I want Manny Harris to commit a charge per half the rest of the season.
*(For the past, yes. For the future, no: past performance is a better predictor of future performance than past results.)
Game at nine, show slightly earlier, let's get ready to rumble. The Wolverine Liberation Army hosts.
Two reliable sources are reporting that Greg Robinson is indeed the guy at defensive coordinator; unless there's an unexpected derailment an official confirmation should come sometime soon. (Bonus, ethically dubious confirmation can be found at Maize 'n' Brew, which relays some goings-on at the premium sites.)
I've said my piece on Robinson already—in a word: yikes—and am pretty skeptical of the hire. However, I am not a football coach or even that familiar with Robinson's work except in a macro "holy God what happened to Syracuse?" sense. Rich Rodriguez is, and he's basically gambled his career on his future performance. All hail Gamblor!
Also: Michigan might not be done searching for coaches. LBs coach Jay Hopson is apparently searching for a job closer to home, further proving that nothing escapes Mississippi's inexplicable gravitational pull.
Yes, this would make it a seriously uphill battle to retain the services of either non-enrolled DT commit.