The nutty Michigan coverage isn't so much about Harbaugh as it is a signal to the Big Ten that Fox wants to party.
|WHAT||WMU @ Michigan|
|WHERE||Yost Ice Arena
Ann Arbor, MI
|WHEN||7:35 PM Fri/Sat|
|THE LINE||College hockey lines, junkie?|
|TELEVISION||Friday: Comcast Local
(Friday replay: noon
Sat on NHL Network)
hey, baby, what do you say we go back to my place and become not terrible at hockey?
Record. 15-7-10, 9-6-9 CCHA. The Broncos fired Jim Culhane in the offseason and, like Notre Dame after firing Dave Poulin, immediately got a lot better after canning their long-term incompetent. After years and years of hanging out in the basement with Bowling Green with one of the nation's worst goals against average, the tie-happy Broncos are in a tier by themselves after conference leaders Michigan, Notre Dame, and Miami. They're the only team other than those three to have a positive goal differential in conference(+9). They're fourth in conference, three points clear of Ferris and six clear of the massive pack of basically .500 teams.
Of course, that might have something to do with the Broncos insanely back-loaded schedule: their last three weekends are against Michigan, Miami, and Notre Dame with five of six on the road. Last weekend was the Miami series, in which Western got a tie and a loss.
Previous meetings. No meetings this year. If you're looking for a gauge of how they've done against Michigan-esque competition, WMU swept ECAC power Union, split an earlier home and home with Notre Dame, and is 0-2-2 against Miami. They are dangerous.
Dangermen. There isn't a ton of danger on the roster, but senior center Max Campbell has 13-12-25 against just four penalties and freshman Chase Balisy has 11-16-27 against just four. After those guys it's an array of players with seven or fewer goals.
Unlike Michigan's last few opponents, Western does have a threat from the blueline in sophomore D Matt Tennyson. Tennyson has 7-9-16 and will be someone to look out for on the power play, where he's scored six of his goals. That leads the team.
Defense and goalie and whatnot. The fruits of firing Jim Culhane in one handy table, this detailing the career of starting goaltender Jerry Kuhn:
Kuhn is a 24-year old who has scuffled along doing not much over the course of his career as Riley Gill's backup.Gill was talented, but by the end of the year he'd been covered in enough rubber to [ANALOGY REDACTED] as WMU slid towards an eight-win season. This year Kuhn started on the bench behind Nick Pisellini, a Quinnipiac transfer, until he struggled and got injured, allowing Kuhn to Hunwick his way into the starting lineup.
So here's the thing about WMU: Pisinelli has a horrible .899 save percentage. Gill had a very good .923. Pisinelli's GAA is a half-goal better than Gill's was last year. Kuhn's 2.09 is on pace to set an all-time record for WMU as the Broncos—of all teams!—have cracked the top ten in scoring defense despite getting half of their goaltending from last year's version of Bryan Hogan. Jeff Blashill should be a slam-dunk CCHA coach of the year*.
Also you should regard the Bronco defense corps with respect no matter how alien this is. Their best guy is sophomore Luke Witkowski, a Lightning draftee (sixth round) who leads the team in +/- with +12 and penalty minutes with 46 (all minors). He's a big thumping stay-at-home sort who keeps a live bass in his room and has an outstanding hockey mullet. Watch to see if WMU tries to match him up with anyone in particular.
*[Culhane's best-ever CCHA finish in 11 years: fifth. Winning seasons: three. Last year: 8-20-8, 4-17-4 CCHA]
Special teams. This is another Blashill miracle:
|PP For / G||4.7||4.3|
|PP Ag / G||4.2||4.5|
Western never has an advantage in power plays. Unfortunately for the Broncos they're not doing much with that advantage. They've got the 42nd-ranked power play—actually worse than Michigan's—and their penalty kill is slightly below average. The two teams are tied at 81.2 percent. This looks like a push, with Michigan's slightly less depressing power play cancelling out Western's probability of getting more PP time.
Michigan Vs Those Guys
Prepare for more of the same. This looks like another grind it out weekend where the newly assembled checking-plus-Scooter-domination line matches up against the team's top threats and hopefully allows the two scoring lines to outpace Western's second and third lines. Earlier in the year Balisy and Campbell weren't on the same line, but I can't find anything recent and assume that they're on the same one now. If not, the Hagelin line will probably match up with WMU's secondary scoring line.
Outscore with Moffatt/Wohlberg/Treais. They've been playing pretty well and they'll be up against bottom-six guys from Western. Michigan's main advantage is this line on the ice five-on-five.
DEFLECTIONS TO GLORY. What the bold said.
The Big Picture
The top of the CCHA is mired in a three-way tie for ninth in the Pairwise that Notre Dame wins on tiebreakers. Michigan can split their final four and enter the CCHA playoffs still in the at-large zone but it'll be scary if they do so. Winning three will at least see them tread water, and they'll enter the CCHA tourney a solid two seed if they get all four.
In other games, you should root hard for Ohio State and Lake Superior, both of whom are just below the new, stupid TUC cliff. Problem: they play each other this weekend. Lake Superior follows that up with Miami. OSU gets Ferris State. Since getting Lake State over the hump seems impossible, hold your nose and root for the Buckeyes. Getting that 3-1 record back in Michigan's TUC calculations would be big. Also root against MSU this weekend as they take on Alaska—Michigan does not want the Spartans sweeping their final four and entering the CCHA tourney with a shot at a .500 RPI. MSU closes with awful BGSU and will get to the magic number by winning their final four games.
The "usual root against anyone in Michigan's proximity" also applies: UNH, ND, UNO, UMD, Wisconsin, etc.
Rock Mocked. Are you up for some uncomfortable fun made at Tate Forcier's expense?
That's the hockey team's Mock Rock thing. The marching band won with the football team in second, says AnnArbor.com's Jeff Arnold in an article that emits the faint whiff of sarcasm. Selected highlights:
The band registered a string of six perfect 10.0 scores following a flawlessly choreographed routine … The two top finishes pulled away from the pack of other performances that ranged from the ridiculously creative Pokemon (men's and women's lacrosse) to the wildly entertaining "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" (men's swimming); an act that ended in a speedo-inspired tribute to Michael Jackson.
Generic overwritten newspaperese or bitterness at drawing the short straw? We'll never know. I have no idea if the thing was actually entertaining or not since I was watching the basketball game.
In related news, here's an autotuned David Moosman snorting his phone.
Morris benching explained. You were probably saying something along the lines of "aaargh where Morris" with nine minutes left in the game. Even if he had done something wrong he was sitting on seven assists and one turnover at the time—he wasn't exactly a loose cannon. In the aftermath both Beilein and Morris are saying it was nothing except fatigue:
“I caught my breath,” Morris said. “They did a good job of pressuring the ball, and I was guarding McCamey as well. The coaches noticed I got a little bit tired and then when they took me out, we got on a little run before they separated again, but I felt rejuvenated when I came back in the game.
“It was the most rest I’ve gotten.”
Nothing to see here. /barbrady
Draft incoherence. The rejuvenated Bylaw Blog is admirably willing to say certain NCAA regulations don't make any sense, whether it's the NLI or the NCAA's willingness to let drafted kids play as long as they're not basketball (or I guess football) pplayers:
it is a violation to go through a draft if you decided you want to be in it. But it isn’t a violation in some cases if you are drafted and then attempt to negotiate the greatest possible compensation for your athletic skills. And it isn’t a violation to attempt that negotiation in order to enter the draft.
The fact that this is unfair to some student-athletes is secondary. Most important is that entering a professional draft is not sufficient evidence that you want to give up your collegiate eligibility. Entering a draft and deciding any contract offered would not be worth leaving college is no more or less an indication of a student-athlete’s intent to professionalize themselves than deciding a contract offer is not sufficient to leave college and enter the draft in the first place.
I'm not sure what harm would be done by allowing NBA teams to draft underclassmen, work them out at camps and whatnot, have them play summer league, and then send them back to school. Players wouldn't have a do-or-die decision to go pro or not and talented players might stick around another year or two. You'd also get some extra interest from NBA fans tracking their prospects.
That post also contains a discussion about NCAA president Mark Emmert's recent "over my dead body" statement about paying players. These things kind of go hand-in-hand. If paying players is a bridge too far I don't see why the NCAA can't allow players to sign with an agent or take some non-ludicrous amount of money from a pro team that's drafted them. Right now a major source of NCAA corruption comes from agents funneling money to players in the hopes of signing them; allowing kids to sign and take a bit of money wouldn't increase the amount of compensation they're getting.
Amateurism is all well and good if you can actually enforce it. If you can't—and it seems pretty clear that's the case—you should probably repeal Prohibition, make some reasonable concessions, and make your setup a little bit less hypocritical without actually spending any money yourself.
Morons on the loose, except no longer loose. You have probably heard that someone poisoned Auburn's trees at Toomer's Corner, then called into the Finebaum show to brag about it. The Auburn folk I follow on twitter and in my RSS feed spent yesterday pointedly not advocating the wholesale destruction of Tuscaloosa, which proves they're better people than I am. I'd be on the warpath. Here he is:
He was rapidly arrested because he is named "Harvey Almorn Updike" and lives in Dadeville—a town of approximately four people I drove through once en route to the Auburn-LSU game I attended—and told the radio he was "Al from Dadeville." This goes here.
Unfortunately, it's too late for this incident to remove his genes from the pool—he's got kids named "Bear" and "Crimson."
Q: is this literally the worst possible thing a single fan could do to a rival fanbase? I think so. I can't think of another tradition that's so treasured and so vulnerable. You could cut off Bear Bryant's head* and they'd just put a new one on. It's metal. You could kill Uga, but Uga dies every year and they just keep making new ones. The trees are unique: iconic symbols of the university that can expire but don't do it on the regular.
The worst thing is it's not even clever. Boo, Alabama man. Boo.
Etc.: Grant Wahl is running for FIFA president. He's got my nonexistent unimportant vote. More on the first of the 30-for-30 style documentaries about Michigan football. Hockey's senior day is Saturday—a rare opportunity for students to be there. Yost fluff.
Buchtel High School is home to two big time prospects and good friends in WR Corey Smith and DB Jarrod Wilson. Both are Ohio kids who just happen to be playing for former Michigan running back Ricky Powers. Both of them are starting to pick up some momentum in their recruitment, and Corey talked to me about the latest with Michigan.
TOM: What have the coaches told you about an offer? Are they planning on offering you?
COREY: Jarrod [Wilson] got his offer today, and I talked to Coach Mattison and he wants to sit down with me and talk about everything before they offer. He wants to talk with me about whether I fit on offense or defense, and then we'll talk about an offer.
TOM: When are you guys going to sit down and talk?
COREY: I'm going up there Sunday [for the Best of the Midwest combine] and I'm going to try to stay an extra day, stay until Monday to meet with them. Jarrod will be up there, too.
TOM: What are your plans with your recruitment. You and Jarrod seem close, are you guys trying to go to the same school?
COREY: We're going to the same school, 100%. I don't know where we're going yet, but we're going to the same school.
TOM: How does Michigan play into that?
COREY: We both have very high interest in Michigan. Michigan is definitely in the top 10 with Ohio State, Tennessee, MSU, Nebraska, Georgia, North Carolina, Penn State, Illinois, and UCLA.
TOM: I know your coach is former Michigan player Ricky Powers, what has he told you about Michigan?
COREY: Coach likes to joke and say you lose your emotions when you go up there, you can't control your emotions. I went up there last year for the Michigan State game, so I've been there before.
TOM: How do you see your recruitment playing out? Are you guys going to wait to make your decision?
COREY: Yeah, we're probably going to wait until the Under Armour All American game to announce.
2/16/2011 – Michigan 52, Illinois 54 – 16-11, 6-8 Big Ten
Bear with me: if Michigan's basketball season was a hockey game, last night's basketball game was a really good scoring chance blown when you're down one with five minutes left. At that point you write the game off, because that was it. Objectively, your chance of winning hasn't changed much, if at all, but it feels like a door just closed.
Michigan's NCAA tournament hopes aren't much worse than they were 24 hours ago. Since Kenpom loves Illinois and Michigan outperformed expectations, its season prediction hardly moved. The evaporation of Michigan's 16% chance of winning in Champaign was made up for by significant positive moves in Michigan's four remaining games. But if Michigan's watching the NCAA selection show with a jaundiced eye, thinking about what could of been, they'll be thinking about ball after ball clanging off rims in Assembly Hall.
God, did anyone else scream horrible profanity at the world in general at that point in the second half when Zack Novak set up for yet another wide open three pointer that bashed the front of the rim? It's one thing if Michigan's firing awkward, contested threes deep in the shot clock and another when open look after open look isn't even close to going down. What's Stu Douglass—before yesterday a 40% three point shooter—supposed to do when he's standing still with the ball in his hand and no Illinois player within three feet? Shoot. He shoots, and this goes horribly, and Michigan still almost pulls off a statement win* and we're left to wonder what would have happened if they had just been miserable from three instead of abominable.
And then there's this: 4-28. That's what Michigan shot against Kansas in a game that went to overtime. Sometimes basketball makes you want to punch a wall even when you're in the bonus on the road with 14 minutes left in the half.
In the long view Michigan exceeded expectations again, if slightly, and has managed to stay in games even when threes aren't available or falling. Hope for next year increments slightly again. Right now, argh.
*[Statement is "hey, seriously guys we're on the bubble, seriously." That qualifies for the 335th-most experienced team in D-I]
Non-bullets that do not go in at all ever
Bruce Weber: not so much. That was a terribly coached basketball team that let Michigan hang around despite their inability to throw the ball in Tim Doyle's bad nickname repository by making inane turnovers and taking terrible shots. I'd be pretty upset if I was an Illinois fan. They are huge, veteran, talented, and headed for a second-round matchup with a one-seed.
Tim Doyle: not entirely horrible. I still cringe at "The Butterfly" and believe we should start calling Doyle "The Argyle Sock" in retaliation, but after listening to Stephen Bardo fire out two hours of inane cliches I appreciate Doyle a bit more. Anyone wondering what the hell Michigan could do to stop Tisdale from catching the ball two inches from the basket got some great analysis when Doyle pointed out that Zack Novak was way too far from the guy throwing the entry pass—far enough away that the guy could chuck a chest pass.
Doyle needs to realize his bid to nickname Michigan's point guard has failed and start using an outrageous Russian accent when he makes his Rounders references, but I'm slowly warming to him.
The rack: terrifying. Illinois's length started bothering Michigan immensely towards the end of the first half. After getting a couple shots blocked and seeing a couple others altered beyond recognition, Michigan players were extremely hesitant to take driving lanes and started settling for meh midrange stuff. Morgan was the lone exception, which was good—he was productive in the second half—and bad—a couple of the shots he put up were poor decisions early in the shot clock. Still mostly good.
This tendency had its worst expression on the back-to-back possessions late where Douglass and Morris both took step-back jumpers from the women's three point line. Those were bad shots for a lot of reasons, and it's hard to imagine either of them getting launched against, say, Penn State.
Final shot. Saw some e-complaints about Smotrycz not driving to the hole on Michigan's final possession but don't understand them. Smotrycz may not have been lighting it up from three but he also got blocked when he tried to go to the hole that one time and is not shooting a great percentage from inside the arc. Help defense would have arrived, and time's running down. You get an open three to win and you're a 38% shooter I think you should take it.
Bit before the final shot. The look on Beilein's face as he called timeout after Michigan had run 17 seconds off the clock when a two-for-one opportunity was staring them in the face was not exasperated enough, but for it to be exasperated enough he would have had to break the laws of physics. File under "young team" unless it happens again.
Seriously, make a shot. I have nothing useful to add. Just argh.
Mets Maize. Best bit:
Morris and Hardaway Jr. leadership dynamic. At this point, it's pretty clear they're the leaders of the team but it was interesting to watch them communicate between whistles. At one point, Morris yelled at Hardaway Jr. to "chill out". Unfortunately, they just never got on the same page: Morris with at least a half dozen forced penetrations without a single pass in the half court set, Hardaway Jr. hesitant to pull the trigger, pump fakes and generically drives and kicks. Early in the 2nd half, there was an awkward, back-and-forth turnover-fest by both teams that resulted in Tim Hardaway Jr. trying to push the ball, getting it stolen and an Illini cherry-pickin' jam on the other end.
As UMHoops pointed out on the twitters, Illinois has the best eFG% defense in the league for a reason—and Michigan let it get to them.
Dylan also points out that this was Michigan's best defensive game in a while:
Lost in the offensive struggles is the fact that this was Michigan’s best defensive game in Big Ten play. Michigan held Illinois to .90 points per possession and more impressively just .73 per trip in the second half. Michigan was abused by the high-low in the first half but made the right adjustments to negate Illinois’ size advantage in the second half. Illinois posted an eFG% of 48% – 56% on twos & 22% on threes – and only attempted 9 free throws on the game. Most importantly, Michigan did a great job on the defensive glass, grabbing 76% of Illinois’ missed shots.
A chunk of that was due to Illinois's troubles from three, but those rebounding numbers are impressive against a huge team. Michigan's moved up to 41st in defensive rebounding. (The one major misstep from Doyle and the PBP guy last night was repeatedly claiming Michigan was not a good rebounding team. They're well above average defensively; they get zero offensive rebounds but the overall gap is small. They're about average.)
Certainly Michigan is a game to worry about on paper. But the reality is that they're sloppy on offense, they take too many quick shots, they don't value the ball and they play multiple defenses, none particularly well.
Michigan is 19th nationally in turnover margin, 321st in pace, still 19th nationally in turnover margin, and plays 95% man with the occasional 1-3-1 possession. That's amazing.
|WHAT||Michigan v. Illinois|
8:30 PM EST
February 16th, 2011
KenPom: 16% W
|TELEVISION||BTN (Eric Collins, Tim Doyle)|
As I said in Monday's The Path, every game this season is The Most Important Game of the Season Until the Next One. Michigan needs every win they can get from here on out. This one is of particular importance because it's an opportunity for a road win against an RPI top-50 opponent. Winning this game takes the chances at an NCAA tournament bid from "a nice longshot" to "actually possible."
Losing it doesn't doom the chances at a bid, but it makes them unrealistic. They would need at least a couple upsets in their last five games. This is a can't miss any opportunity at one.
If you need an explanation of the stats, check out Ken Pomeroy:
|Michigan v. Illinois: National Ranks|
|Category||Michigan Rank||Illinois Rank||Advantage|
|Mich eFG% v. UI Def eFG%||48||26||I|
|Mich Def eFG% v. UI eFG%||181||40||II|
|Mich TO% v. UI Def TO%||25||193||MM|
|Mich Def TO% v. UI TO%||239||98||II|
|Mich OReb% v. UI DReb%||313||192||II|
|Mich DReb% v. UI OReb%||39||156||MM|
|Mich FTR v. UI Opp FTR||341||99||III|
|Mich Opp FTR v. UI FTR||64||302||MMM|
|Mich AdjO v. UI AdjD||48||19||I|
|Mich AdjD v. UI AdjO||77||28||I|
Difference of more than 10 places in the national rankings get a 1-letter advantage, more than 100 gets a 2-letter advantage, more than 200 gets a 3-letter advantage, etc.
The stats are daunting, and I'm going to add another to the mix: Michigan is #231 nationally in effective height (this happens when you play 6-4 Zack Novak at the 4 spot), and the Illini are #1. Like Michigan, they start a tall point guard in 6-3 Demetri McCamey, but unlike the Wolverines, they have a 7-footer and a pair of 6-9 players in their starting lineup.
Against other tall teams, Michigan has had some struggles (Minnesota is #7 in effective height), but also exceeded expectations (Syracuse is in the national top 40). It's hard to say whether the height difference played a role in the Minnesota loss, as that game was at the end of Michigan's poorest stretch of play on the season, but it's certainly not a good indication that they'll handle size well. Another thing to be antsy about: the Wolverine bigs have had trouble avoiding fouls. That could spell doom in this game.
As for the tempo-free stats, a lot of Michigan's numbers - particularly shooting the ball - have been trending upward lately, so they are probably playing a little bit better than the season-long or even conference-only stats indicate. On the other side, the Illini are slumping (HT: UMHoops), so who knows which team is actually playing better at this point in the year?
Thanks to Mike Rothstein of AnnArbor.com for pointing this out yesterday: only two of Michigan's players (Stu Douglass and Zack Novak) have ever played in Illinois's Assembly Hall. Two years ago, the Wolverines were pounded 66-51 on the Illini's home court. In last year's only meeting, Darius Morris went 1-7 from the field and recorded a 3-2 assist-turnover ratio in a 44-51 Wolverine loss at Crisler Arena. Novak had a decent game, but Douglass went 0-8 from the floor.
UMHoops's Joe Stapleton has video from yesterday's Darius Morris/Jordan Morgan and John Beilein press conferences. It doesn't come across in Joe's video, but I though Morris seemed very zen about things, FWIW. Dylan previews the game - and points out that Michigan's D is on the upswing in addition to the shooting improvement. Mike Rothstein previews the game for AnnArbor.com.
Michigan is a hungry team at this point, and they know the opportunity that's in front of them. That said, there is more to winning basketball games than hunger. Height throughout the roster is often one of them. I think Darius Morris will win the statistical battle against Demetri McCamey, but at least one of Michigan's big men will foul out. Illinois escapes with a win against Michigan, right around the expected spread. 73-65, Illini.
The 4-3 is back, like it never sort of left and then really really left against Purdue and then came back and then altered into a slightly different version of itself and then mutated into a bizarre thing that was like the thing against Purdue but wasn't really because the person doing the mutating spent all his time watching his "Best of Just For Men Commercials" DVD. It will not suddenly be replaced by things that start with the number 3 and end with razorblades and pain. In the long term, this is delightful.
In the short term… eh… there might be some issues. This series is an attempt to fit Michigan's noses, ends, spurs, bandits, spinners, deathbackers, doombackers, dipbackers and frosting-covered gnomes into their new homes.
The defensive line appeared last week. This post covers linebackers, hybrids, safety-type objects, and, you know, whatever. There will not be a post covering the secondary since it shouldn't change much [Ed-M: he means in their job descriptions -- back away from the ledge...].
What we were forced to watch last year
God, who knows? Let's go back to that Wisconsin screenshot from the last post:
So. You've got Kenny Demens, the MLB, lined up about a yard behind the nose tackle. The nominal SLB, here JB Fitzgerald, is actually lined up to the weak side. The nominal WLB, Jonas Mouton, is lined up to the strong side and gets to line up a little bit deeper. Michigan compensates by drawing cornerback Courtney Avery into the box as a sort of Bieber-backer and half-rolling Kovacs down into the box. You can see Cam Gordon's feet to the top of the screen, covering the slot receiver.
Questions immediately pop to mind: why? what? argh? This was not really a 3-3-5, at least not one as run by Jeff Casteel. This was covered in an extensive picture pages after Penn State obliterated Michigan's defense in the game that was the beginning of the end, but it seemed like Michigan was keeping Demens in the same place in all formations. Here's 4-3 and 3-4 alignments:
Demens spent his year a yard or two back of a nose tackle, shaded to one side. Casteel MLBs lined up 5-7 yards deep and ran like demons to wherever the play is going; Demens got swallowed by unblocked guards through no fault of his own and left Michigan vulnerable to counter after counter.
And then in addition to the 4-3, 4-4, and 3-4 looks above we also got some glimpses of something that actually looked like a 3-3-5, except with two deep safeties and the MLB still too close to the LOS:
So the answer to the strangled yelps of misery was "Michigan ran everything… terribly."
Outside of Demens, Mouton spent the year as the WLB (apparently unless teams were putting twins to one side), where he ran down stuff, plowed fullbacks at the line, crushed blocks to make great individual plays, and lost contain over and over. The SLB was some combination of Craig Roh, JB Fitzgerald, and Obi Ezeh. All were confused, slow, prone to get lost in space, and ill-suited for the spot.
Further outside yet, Carvin Johnson, Thomas Gordon, and Cam Gordon split time at the spur with the larger Gordon seeming to lock down the position after his move from free safety(!). Yes, Michigan's starting free safety ended the year as essentially a strongside linebacker. Jordan Kovacs's role as a tiny weakside linebacker was actually more safety-ish than people thought it would be, but he still rolled down into the box plenty.
What we were forced to watch the year before
Michigan was a 4-3 under similar to the one above. Here's that shot from the 2009 Iowa game again. While the line isn't undershifted it does provide a canonical example of what the linebackers usually do in the system:
Now we're looking at the linebackers so note that Stevie Brown is lined up right outside of SDE Craig Roh, ready to take on a tight end. The other linebackers are at the same depth (five yards) lined up over the guards. Michigan's rolled SS Mike Williams into the box. Iowa ends up running a zone stretch right at Brown; he keeps contain and allows Mouton/Ezeh to flow over the top of Roh, blow up the fullback, and make a TFL.
There wasn't much else as far as the linebackers. Brown hung out around tight ends and slot receivers all year and the two MLBs were pretty much just MLBs. There weren't dudes at different depths, dudes moving all over the place, dudes playing 4-3 on one snap, 3-3-5 on another, 3-4 on another. The LBs lined up five yards deep over the guards, end of story*.
*[of course this is not literally true, but on the vast bulk of snaps this occurred.]
What can't possibly be quite as bad next year
Again, the assumption here is that Michigan is going to be running a 4-3 under similar to what they did in 2009. This assumption is an easy one to make since the head coach said it point blank. Details on what that means for the line—the "under" bit—can be found in the first post in the series.
As for what that means for the associated linebackers, look above. Against pro-style teams one linebacker will roll down to the TE side of the LOS and the other guys will hang out about five yards off the LOS.
What you need at each spot
To refresh your memory, here's an aerial view of a 4-3 under:
The strongside linebacker needs to be a magical athlete made out of beef and lightning who can take on a TE effectively, contain runs, and move out into the slot to cover little buggers. Oh and if he's an awesome pass rusher that would be cool too. So Lamarr Woodley except faster. Maybe Shawn Crable or Prescott Burgess. Failing that, teams pick one of two paradigms and make do:
Lumbering quasi-DE sort of like Roh who can take pressure off the SDE and do more than just force running plays inside of him when matched up against a TE.
A sort of super strong safety who may not be able to take on TEs except by setting up outside of them but is a fantastic tackler in space and a guy who doesn't have to come off the field when opponents go to spread formations.
When Greg Robinson wasn't denying its existence, the "spinner" was obviously concept #2. Stevie Brown had an excellent senior year doing that. Johnny Thompson was concept #1, and that burned Michigan badly. With passing attacks so effective these days most teams are moving towards #2. If you worried they'll go with #1, don't be: they don't have anyone on the roster who can plausibly be that guy.
The middle linebacker is a middle linebacker. In the under he has to expect more blocks since usually the bubble in the line is the guy lined up directly over him, so he has to be smart about where his help is and funnel guys back inside. Quick decisions and the quickness to get on the side the OL doesn't want you on are at a premium.
The weakside linebacker is a weakside linebacker. He's protected by the three and five tech, usually gets a free run at someone or another, and has to be an athletic tackling machine plus blitzer. Mouton, basically.
Or at least that's the book. In reality it's nowhere near that neat. The Iowa play linked above that shows Ezeh charging downhill at a zone stretch, getting outside of the fullback, and allowing Mouton to tackle is a canonical example of the responsibilities these guys have:
Everyone says the MLB is going to deal with a blocker and the WLB is going to have the play funneled back to him. This is what happens here. But in truth I think the differences between the two guys are overblown. On the losing contain play it's Mouton who needs to deal with a blocker and funnel back to his buddy. Plenty of times throughout the year it was Demens picking through trash to get to ballcarriers or Mouton thundering into a fullback at the LOS.
I think of the 4-3 under as something halfway between a 4-3 and a 3-4. The SLB and WDE are kind of versions of 3-4 OLBs—playmakers who can drop into coverage or blitz. The one-tech DT is sort of a version of a 3-4 NT. He doesn't need to control two gaps, but he's a big guy who needs to eat up two opponents. Etc. In a 3-4 the MLBs are interchangeable. That's not quite the case here but the two MLBs are more alike than different in the under, especially with all the shifting and motion teams employ in an effort to get you off balance and maybe force that WLB to take on a block or that MLB to run. Playing SLB is a different world entirely.
And since it seems silly to break out another post for one position that's changing, the strong safety wants to be Jordan Kovacs running a 4.5 at 220 pounds. What Kovacs did with Michigan last year will be about what the strong safety does next year—the "bandit" thing was overblown. Kovacs played plenty of deep half zones over the course of the season. He also rolled up to the line and blitzed, covered tight ends in man, etc. He was a strong safety on a team that was aggressive with its safeties.
Who goes where
Kenny Demens is the middle linebacker. Attempts to replace him with Obi Ezeh will be thwarted by a pucky band of kids ripping off the Mattison mask, etc.
On the strongside Cam Gordon is the clear leader after finishing the year as the "spur" in Michigan's 3-3-5. That is a very close analogue to the SLB in a 4-3 under. The guy next to you is still a strong, run-defending DE with a little more pop than a 3-4 end. You're still taking on tight ends against run and pass… unless you're getting dragged into the slot. Gordon's got the biggest frame of any Michigan linebacker, ballooning and buried Isaiah Bell aside, and can put on a lot of beef over the offseason to help him in his dual roles as tight end defender and roving punch-the-slot-in-the-face guy. He's got a season's worth of starting experience. He'll have to fight for it but he's got the edge.
This is where the linebacker who wasn't Demens or Mouton probably ends up competing, so seniors Brandon Herron and JB Fitzgerald are tentatively slotted as the competition. Neither has done much so far. Other options here include the other two freshmen spurs, but Thomas Gordon and Carvin Johnson might be needed elsewhere.
Michigan has a surfeit of options on the weakside, where Michigan's attempt to move to the 3-3-5 has left them with a zillion kinda-sorta safeties who can run and maybe, hopefully tackle. Pick any underclassman listed at strong safety on the depth chart by class and there's a 50-50 chance you'll see him competing at WLB in spring. Mike Jones was Mouton's primary backup and seemed to be the leader in the race to replace him, but one season-ending injury later he's just another guy with no experience. He joins Josh Furman and Marvin Robinson in that group. Also, this could be the landing spot for the little Gordon or Johnson.
Some of these guys are ticketed for safety, but we won't know which ones until spring. Robinson and Johnson bounced back and forth as freshmen; Thomas Gordon spent his redshirt year there before getting the call at spur last spring. If you put a gun to my head I'd say Johnson and his tackling win the job, but this could be any of a half-dozen guys.
At strong safety, heroic efforts will be made to dislodge Jordan Kovacs. They will fail. The effort will be provided by some combination of Robinson, Thomas Gordon, and Johnson.
Awkwardness Rating On A One To Rodriguez-Interviews-Hoke Scale
Like the defensive line, operating in a 4-3 makes fine sense for Michigan's personnel. Ironically, it's the exotic wing guys with funny names who fit most neatly in to the new scheme, since they'll be doing pretty much what they were doing before. The biggest adjustment will be from the two middle linebackers, except the two middle linebackers did just fine as 3-4/4-3 guys—Demens, in particular spent two years playing MLB in 4-3 under schemes before last year's experiment.
Really, anything but the 3-3-5, especially the Robinson version, should be better. Michigan had their best day as a rush defense against Iowa when they replaced Ezeh and ran—drumroll—various 4-3s and 3-4s most of the day. Iowa couldn't get anything Jibreel Black being a freshman or Jonas Mouton losing contain didn't give them.
When they went to the bizarre non-stack it allowed Evan Royster to go from massive disappointment to massive disappointment with his usual billion yards against Michigan. In doing so stripped Kenny Demens of the ability he showed in previous games and put a ton of pressure on Mouton to do the contain thing he doesn't do so well. I don't think I'll ever understand it.
After a year of being "multiple" and cratering Michigan needs to establish a baseline defense that might be predictable and medicore but at least gives everyone on the team an idea of what they do, and if Gordon develops they should be fine in the front seven save the scary lack of depth on the DL.