The nutty Michigan coverage isn't so much about Harbaugh as it is a signal to the Big Ten that Fox wants to party.
A coaching change can only do so much.
Michigan flashed their potential to turn the corner. De'Veon Smith had some punishing runs. Jake Butt couldn't be covered. Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson consistently got open. The alignment of Chris Wormley and Willie Henry looked like a stroke of genius at times. Jourdan Lewis locked down one side of the field. After an up-and-down first half, Jabrill Peppers looked like a five-star talent in the second. Blake O'Neill had that punt.
But the mistakes were numerous. Jake Rudock's first interception looked to be the fault of freshman slot receiver Grant Perry, who hitched when Rudock expected him to cut outside. The next two Rudock picks, both thrown in Perry's direction, looked to be the fault of the quarterback; the third proved especially costly when Utah's Justin Thomas jumped a throw to the flat and took it back 55 yards for a score, giving the Utes a late 24-10 lead. Rudock also missed a few open deep throws that could've changed the outcome of the game; he finished with an underwhelming 279 yards on 43 attempts and didn't tally his second touchdown until desperation time.
The errors weren't limited to Rudock. Michigan's second cornerback spot is far from settled; neither Channing Stribling nor Jeremy Clark stood out there. Joe Bolden missed a handful of tackles on slippery Utah running back Devontae Booker. The offensive line got manhandled in the run game, losing leverage and missing assignments. Smith offset many of his broken tackles by failing to hit the correct hole. Kenny Allen pushed a 44-yard field goal wide right, after which Jim Harbaugh could clearly be seen muttering "I should've gone for that."
There were flashes, chief among them Peppers' second-half TFLs and Jake Butt's spectacular third-quarter touchdown catch to briefly pull Michigan within seven.
But on the road against a decent team, Michigan simply made too many mistakes, big and small, to expect to come away with a victory. They'll be better than they looked tonight, there's little doubt of that. There'll also be rough patches. Home games against lesser teams lie ahead until BYU comes to the Big House, by which time the Wolverines should look more impressive.
At least there was Harbaugh, a sensible gameplan, and a solid outing from the defense. That's something to build on. If this turns out to be an anomalous performance from Rudock, this squad still could be very good. After all the offseason excitement, it's painful to wait through the development process, but even tonight it wasn't hard to see that the process is underway. It just might take a little longer than we had hoped.
|WHAT||Michigan at Utah|
Salt Lake City, UT
8:30 pm Eastern
September 3rd, 2015
|THE LINE||Utah –4.5|
|TELEVISION||Fox Sports 1/Fox Sports Go|
|WEATHER||mid 80s, partly cloudy, 10-20 mph wind|
It's here. It's finally here.
It's safe to say things are little different this year. Yes, Utah beat Michigan in 2014, but even by that early juncture in the season M fans certainly weren't saying "IT'S HERE" in tones normally reserved for Christmas Day or a particularly indulgent Amazon Prime order.
The Utes enter the game as the favorite, though the line has creeped down a point after holding at -5.5 for much of the offseason. Both teams should look substantially different than they did last fall. That bodes well for Michigan; we'll see how it goes for Utah.
Since we don't run a FFFF in the first week, Seth threw together a diagram of the Utah starters (click for big):
Booker, Norris, Dimick, and Hackett (seriously) qualify as dangermen.
Run Offense vs Utah
holes like this one would be quite nice [Fuller]
If the biggest loss for the Utes wasn't DE Nate Orchard, the nation's leader in sacks a year ago, it was up-and-coming defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake, who left for the same job at Oregon State during a tumuluous offseason. In Sitake's place steps John Pease, whom Kyle Whittingham coaxed out of retirement; Peace last served as Whittingham's defensive line coach from 2009-10. Whittingham is a defensive specialist, so the impact of the coaching shakeup may be minimal, but it's worth keeping in mind. They're also switching to a 4-3, though like Michigan's "3-4" the difference may be more semantic than anything else.
Peace inherits a strong front seven even without Orchard. While the Utes only finished 50th in rushing S&P+ last year, their worst performances came against spread teams, and Michigan is very much not one of those. They're anchored on the interior by sophomore DT Lowell Lotulelei, younger brother of Star Lotulelei, who's coming off an impressive freshman campaign. The other tackle spot could be a weak point; Filipo Mokofisi is a 285-pound sophomore with two starts to his name. Utah boasts a pair of playmakers at defensive end; Hunter Dimick (4.5 run TFLs) and Jason Fanaika (4.5 run TFLs as a backup) were overshadowed by Orchard last year, but both are good players in their own right.
The linebackers are both experienced and productive; all three starters are seniors. MIKE Jared Norris led the team with 116 tackles in 2014, with 13 of those coming behind the line (nine against the run). "Rover" Gionni Paul is something of a poor man's Darron Lee, a 225-pound linebacker who's comfortable making plays in space. "Stud" Jason Whittingham, nephew of the head coach, missed most of last season but played well in ten starts as a sophomore.
The departure of strong safety Brian Blechen, a longtime standout who tallied 45 solo tackles last year, could hurt the run defense, but the Utes appear to have a ready-made replacement. Tevin Carter was one of Utah's best defenders in the four games he was healthy last year and he'll step into his more natural spot at strong safety this season.
There aren't many obvious holes in Utah's run defense, but their mediocre performance last year suggests they can be worn down; as Bill Connelly noted, they got worse as games went on last year, and depth could be even more of an issue up front this season. If Michigan's offense can control the ball for long enough stretches to force the Utes to rotate, De'Veon Smith and the rest of the committee could be in for a solid night of work.
Key Matchup: Ben Braden vs. Utah's interior line. Braden had some trouble keeping leverage in the run game last year and the Utes have guys who can get under your pads and make you go places you don't intend. I'm expecting M's line to hold up pretty well, but if Braden has a rough outing it could submarine the run game.
[Hit THE JUMP for CAN I MAKE IT THROUGH THIS PREVIEW WHILE BREATHING THROUGH A PAPER BAG LET'S FIND OUT.]
By Heiko Yang, unplugged
Now that I’m more than a year out from my full-ish part time mgoblog duties, I think I can finally admit this: I suck at watching football.
Don’t get me wrong: I love physically watching football. I love watching it on TV, in the stadium, from the press box, and especially from the sideline, which I was lucky enough to do many times over the past few years. But that’s not the issue.
It's just that on any given play I like to pay attention only to whatever is most interesting, and usually that is the ball. This is precisely what you’re not supposed to do if you want to watch the game with any sort of sophistication, and realizing this tendency (and not really being able to help it) has been somewhat embarrassing. When Ace and I started covering Michigan games together, it didn’t take more than a few quarters to figure out who should handle the analysis.
From the Ohio State game in 2011, via the Live Blog:
That run went nowhere, but Lewan planted Shazier on the ground ten yards downfield.
— Ace Anbender (@AceAnbender) November 26, 2011
Damn, Ace. That was a great observation. You appreciated a relevant aspect of the play that was independent of where the ball ended up.
There's a guy wearing a Ghillie suit in the student section
— Heiko Yang (@Heiko25) November 26, 2011
Over the past year I’ve been learning how to be a doctor. One of the most difficult skills to acquire early on is the ability to assess a patient’s problems. There's a lot of data to consider, both relevant and distracting, when you want to fully understand the situation. You have to force yourself to stop watching the quarterback and the ball to instead systematically look at field position, down-and-distance, personnel, offensive formation, and defensive alignment, and once the ball is snapped you have to watch the how the offensive line blocks, how the defense blitzes or executes their run fits, how the receivers run their routes, how the coverage responds …
This analogy sounds ridiculous now, so I’ll stop. The point is that being an active observer, a description that I’ve found to describe good doctors as well as people who watch football at a high level, is hard work. In medicine, I have to work hard at this because I have a responsibility to fulfill. In football … for me, not so much. I never wanted it to feel like a responsibility, so I guess that’s why I never bothered to get better at it.
In a lot of ways I'm happy about this. After a work day that started at 4:30 this morning, I’m looking forward putting my brain on passive mode to enjoy the game for a few hours. No cortical function is required to cheer when the ball moves forward and boo when it does not. Plus there are so many things – Harbaugh! Peppers! Offense! Night game! Thursday?? Uniformz????? – to keep me tickled. I almost don’t care if Michigan wins or loses.
But you know what? Prognosticating based on little to no evidence is just another small liberty I can enjoy only in football, so what the hell:
Michigan 28, Utah 17.
by Nick RoUMel
Dave Brandon Answers Questions About the Upcoming Season.
I am very excited about Michigan's prospects. The oppressive feeling of embarrassment and hopelessness is gone, as surely as the Munchkins danced after Dorothy killed the Wicked Witch of the West. What do you think?
- Art S.
You simpleton. Just as those Munchkins remained short, your team will remain bad. Find another one to root for.
I'm a little nervous about the quarterback situation. Why won't Coach Harbaugh name a starter? Do you think it has anything to do with Shane Morris' concussion?
- Matt G.
What have you been drinking? Shane Morris did NOT have a concussion. Did you not read the press release that our marketing team issued in the middle of the night, after 48 hours of consulting medical manuals? It was a "probable sinus headache."
What do you think of Coach Harbaugh's pre-season antics? There's been a lot of great buzz created about this Michigan team. I'm excited.
Some coaches create more embarrassment than buzz. For instance, you don't see me running around shirtless at Toys "R" Us grand openings. I remain as dignified on the first day on the job, as I will when I eventually drive the stock price into the ground.
I don't know who to pick in this one. I truly believe we are much improved, but playing a tough Utah team on the road might be too much to overcome.
When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. You need to grow up. Michigan is going to get its ass kicked. I say, Utah 24-UM 20.
Now let me go back to running my toy company, please.
For the first time in years Sparty's walking into this season without a single elite guy in their secondary, but Cook + that OL should more than compensate [Eric Upchurch]
For those just joining us, this feature is the MGoBlog weekly roundtable. This week's question:
Who is Michigan's most underrated opponent? Who is the most overrated?
Underrated: Penn State. I guess this counts? Penn State might be all-over-the-place rated. But for the purposes of this content, Penn State might be the team that I am most worried about after the two rivals. We've previewed and speculated at length about their defense, which was fantastic last year. And they have possibly one of the most intriguing defensive players in the league in Anthony Zettel...who's obviously from the heart of Michigan (argh!). The question mark in Happy Valley is on the opposite side of the ball. Their offense has been 'Michigan minus one year' for the past couple of seasons, so we could be in line for a Michigan 2014 offense...oh. However, IF their O-line progresses and Hackenberg is more ceiling than floor, they have a couple of skill dudes who could make that team rather formidable. Speaking of NOT formidable, glance at their schedule. Arguably, the toughest non-conference game will be playing at Temple. There is a definite argument that they COULD anter the game against Michigan at 9-1. Maybe.
Overrated: Maryland. I've seen multiple outlets predicting this game as a Maryland lean with a 50/50 at best for Michigan. I just don't buy it (Yes, Colin...'buy' not 'bye'). Maryland lost their starting QB who was their top rusher AND passer, 4 WRs -including their top 2-, 60% of their OL which wasn't that great to begin with, and six of their starting front seven. So, if Will Likely can clone himself (and enlarge those clones) and the nation's best kicker can...yeah, I don't even know. I don't think their defense will be very good. Or their offense. I think Maryland could very easily have a rough year. If Michigan can't play well in that game, that will be troublesome.
Ok, that's it! I'm off to Utah!! HARBAUGHHHHHHHHHH!!!
[After the jump: We're bullish on States and things from Utah, bearish on Gophers and stuff]
Hello. You have made it to the end. This year's preview checks in at 42,835 words.
This Winter Hasn't Been So Rough. The bad man is gone, and a good one is here.
Quarterback. Dry white toast. Glorious dry white toast. He should really be named "Elwood," though.
Running Back. IT PUTS THE FOOTBALL IN THE HOLE OR IT GETS THE HOSE AGAIN
Wide Receiver. Don't spook the hamstring. In fact, don't even look at it. Or think about it.
Tight End And Friends. You have been moved to tight end as well.
Offensive Line. The nadir has passed. I swear.
5Q5A: Offense. The Harbauffense is, like its progenitor, tough and weird.
Defensive Tackle. Veterans, and good ones, but not huge ones.
Defensive End. Or buck linebacker. Whatever. Can they get to the quarterback?
Linebacker. Seniors have leadership, which is why they don't join biker gangs.
Cornerback. Half awesome, half frayed thread upon which defense hangs.
Safety. JARROD WILS /is hit by shoe
5Q5A: Defense. It's pretty much the same, except Peppers.
Special Teams. Aussie aussie aussie, field goal oy oy oy.
Podcast 7.0. Many people complimented the music selection, probably because I used a Beyonce breakup song.
Heuristics And Stupid Prediction. Could go a lot of ways. I've got 8-4 and "resembles football." Seeya, sludgefart.
Preview at 2.
Holding The Rope comes out of the bunker:
For the first time last year, I found myself getting up during game action to grab something from the kitchen. There was once a time when, once the game started, I did not move from my sitting spot, as if tethered to it for eternity or the end of the game, whichever came first.
Last year, during the Indiana game, I vaguely remember falling asleep during a portion of the third quarter. It was a long week and a dreary day, and even the surprising success of Ann Arbor's own Drake Johnson couldn't fend off a doze.
Maybe I was tired. Maybe I'm getting older. Maybe it was something else: indifference, a dissipation of pointless resolve.
GQ drops a major article on Harbaugh. Hell of a lede:
The Big House, when empty, rises on all sides in limestone gray, like the machine-carved rock walls of a Midwestern quarry; on game days, the sold-out stadium—a hundred rows high, 110,000 fans in maize and blue—becomes the fourth-largest city in the state of Michigan. Here on the field this last official day of spring, 230 high school quarterbacks tune in to a former quarterback and current head coach in a block-M ball cap and a pair of slack khakis, extra-wide. This is Jim Harbaugh, and this is his dominion.
I talked to the author, Daniel Riley, at Frita Batidos one day this summer. Frita being jammed most hours of the day and night, it was loud. Loud to the point I worried that nothing from his tape would be useful. I'm glad it was, because his article reminded me about this part of our conversation about Jim Harbaugh:
“What he says now about football,” Cook says, “is that it’s worth it.”
Football's taken a ton of shit over the past few years because it is dangerous. Harbaugh knows this. I know it. You know it. But I say that life is not lived all at the same rate. Some days and weeks and months shrink away to tiny motes; some hours and minutes and moments expand to fill your consciousness.
Nice high kick, got a little wind under it and he runs Howard back—time inflates, you can pluck a dragonfly hanging in mid-flight in front of you out of the air—LOOK AT THAT oh my goodness ONE MAN GOODBYE HELLO HEISMAN
Football is dangerous. It is dangerous to play, and it is dangerous to love. And it is worth it.