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Ben, you guys looked like you worked pretty well together, you and Bredeson. Talk about that transition and how hard or easy it was and what you thought of it.
“I wouldn’t say hard or easy. It was different. Obviously I haven’t played tackle in a few years. Bredeson’s done really well as a freshman. He’s doing really well. Smart kid, knows what’s going on in the film room. I was very happy with his effort and very proud of him. We’ll see what happens. It was a fun transition. I always liked being a tackle, but whatever’s best for the team we’ll do that.”
Chris or Jourdan, you guys win 41-8 but you give up a late touchdown and you give up the long running play. How much does that help your coach Don Brown to be able to get in that film room and say, ‘Okay, here are some things we need to clean up’ and not to get too confident after a big win?
CW: “Yeah, I think we played pretty good as a defense as whole against Rutgers and Wisconsin and Penn State, going back a few weeks. We obviously know we’re a good defense, but at the end of the day there’s always things we can get better at, always things we can improve on as a D-line. And linebackers and secondary, obviously, as a whole. So, we’ll watch film today and see what we can do. Obviously want to stop those long runs, the late touchdown, but like I said, there’s things to get better at.”
Jourdan, Coach reemphasized every game’s a championship game, [and said] we prepare like we do for everybody. Especially for an in-state guy, does it take a conscious effort to control emotion when it’s a rivalry like this?
“I’m not really an overemotional guy. I really just love the game of football and always prepare for every single game like it’s my last. So, that’s what all of us do, especially on the defensive end of the ball. Not saying that Michigan State—not trying to slight them or anything, but it’s just another game, really, on the schedule.”
Ben, what’s this rivalry mean to you as an in-state guy?
“I mean, as everyone knows as a kid I was a hockey player, but when I first got to college and hearing about it from Taylor Lewan and Mike Schofield and Elliott Mealer and what the rivalry meant to them, it just kind of set the standard for what the rivalry is. At the same time, we’ve got to focus on this week just like we do every week. It’s just another obstacle we have to get across that’s going to take us to our end goal, and that’s just to win as many games as we can and be the best that we can and play the best of our game. So, I think as a team we’ve done really good at that this season and I’ve been really proud of the guys and how they handle every game.”
[More after THE JUMP]
What memories do you guys have of the last punt last year and the aftermath of how you felt?
CW: “Braden and I, I think Braden was on the field with me. We were on punt last year. Obviously it’s a devastating play. It’s a shock. You kind of scratch your head and say, ‘What just happened?’ It’s played on Big Ten Network probably once a week, so you flip through the channels and you see things like that. At the end of the day, we’re a new team. It’s a new season. We fixed some of the mistakes. You look at the past and you kind of say what can we do to get better, and that’s what we’re doing this week and each and every week going forward.”
JL: “It was a learning experience. We just corrected what happened on special teams and we move forward. Coach Harbaugh always talked about how we’re going to handle this better than any other team could ever handle it. So, he was right. We just go on and play the remainder of our games, and looking to this year, we’re just trying to go out there and execute in East Lansing.”
BB: “Yeah, looking at last year, like Chris said, we were out there on the field and I think Jourdan said it perfectly. You look at what happened and you move on and you focus on the next thing that you have, the task. Just like in life, if something goes wrong you look at it, you learn from it, and you move on. That’s all you can do.”
Two-part question. First, Jourdan, last year you and Aaron Burdbridge battled very aggressively against each other. When you look at Michigan State’s receivers with Corley, Madaris, Felton, is there any one guy that particularly stands out to you?
“No, they have a good corps. Those guys can get open and make plays. They’ve been doing it the whole year, so definitely go out there and just go out there and execute like I would any other game, [and] prepare as intensely as I would any other game.”
And for either you or Chris, their offensive line has lost some pieces, a young quarterback—how much do you guys think about that as far as a pressure point of the game, getting to a young quarterback, getting to a struggling offense?
CW: “Whether it’s a struggling offense or an offense that’s been dominating the whole year, we as a defense and Coach Brown’s philosophy is to be aggressive. Our goal each week is to hit the quarterback as many times as possible, get into their face, disrupt the pass, get pressures, get sacks, get knock-downs. As a defensive line that’s what we live for, so it doesn’t matter if they’re a first-round pick or a struggling offense. Our mentality is the same each and every week.”
Ben, what’s the biggest adjustment going back to tackle, and as a former hockey player, how much does your footwork in that sport translate to being an offensive tackle?
“I think with hockey it’s fast, there’s speed, and there’s always quick transitions, so the footwork of being out at tackle, things are faster and the guys are lighter and quicker and much more agile. Not saying the guys inside aren’t agile, just the general consensus is that everyone on the outside is faster. I think just having quick footwork and trying to get used to it. The game does change when you get to the edge, so my biggest adjustment is just getting used to the technique and the speed changes.
“And I’ve been working with Erik Magnuson a lot, just things that he’s brushed up on just to get things back under my feet because it’s been a couple years. Honestly, on Saturday I felt comfortable. Just got to keep looking at the little things, just like I would at guard: what did I do right, what did I do wrong, what do I have to keep improving and go from there.”
I know you said it’s just another game, but isn’t it important as seniors to start turning the tide on the rivalry games? This would be the first big step toward that.
JL: “It’s important for every game, so if we look at every game the same and intensely focus on every single game like it’s our last, then we’ll be undefeated. I mean, that’s the plan. That’s the ultimate goal is to go undefeated and not look at any game as one better than the other or one weaker than the other, to prepare like we have nothing else to prepare for. That’s really our mindset, that’s Coach Harbaugh’s mindset, that’s the defense, offense, special teams’ mindset and that’s really how we look at it. We can’t look at Michigan State as the end-all be-all because it’s not, because if we win the Michigan State game and lose the other games it really doesn’t matter about our tradition or our legacy.”
Going along the same lines, for Chris Wormley, the fifth-year guys are the only guys on this team that have the experience of a team win against Michigan State. Have you talked about that at all this week as far as the message and that kind of stuff like how to prepare?
“No, because especially me, I was out with the ACL so I didn’t even dress or suit up or anything like that. I don’t think we really knew what it meant to play in a type of game like this, knew what it meant to be in a type of situation like this as freshmen that didn’t play, so there’s not much to say. We’ve got to continue to work each and every day and come out with a win on Saturday.”
We were cheering so much when they brought out the train that we missed how cool the play design was that they ran with it. It’s not the most complicated play to break down, but it’s certainly the most fun I’ve had breaking one down.
Other than looking cool, the train formation does actually accomplish something. The defense is trying to figure out who’s got whom, but can’t actually line up and sort out the offense’s look until this weird huddle has broken. It’s hard to catch numbers with all those other dudes in the way. It might not even dawn on the defenders until the snap that all the skill position players are tight ends (or in the case of Hill, a quasi-TE turned fullback). The train doubles as a huddle—Speight walks up the line giving the playcall—but preserves a no-huddle offense’s confusion factor.
If you’re an opponent, you don’t have a lot of time to dissect the various shades of blocky-catchy. And down near the goal line you’re not going to have the luxury of playing cover 2, since any underneath dumpoff is a touchdown. With a weird formation, the simplest thing to do is call a man defense, and everybody line up in their spots.
Then Speight claps his hands to break the huddle, and everybody rushes to his spot.
[After the Jump: Why five tight ends, why mesh, and how the rule that spread teams proved unfair is also unfair for teams that run out lots of TEs and crossing routes]
The Five Tight Ends
Why tight ends? Other than tight ends love to hear there’s a program that runs a 5TE set, Harbaugh has a good reason: they’re wild cards. The train thing makes it hard but not too hard to figure out who’s who, but if they’re all tight ends it’s impossible to know who’s what. They could come out in a super-heavy formation and blast their way into the end zone, or in a five-receiver spread, or anything in between.
This formation is a trips 2TE, except with the three most blocky guys acting as receivers. You don’t see trips 2TE very often even against spread to pass teams. You see it in Hail Mary situations.
Again, it’s about confusion. The defense is thinking about matchups going badly as cornerbacks and linebackers and whatnot are matched against tight ends with varying degrees of blocking or catching skill. They’re trying to figure out what it all means. And the ball is snapped before they’re really sure. A thinking defender is not a reacting defender.
And getting the right matchup can make a play. Jake Butt versus a tiny cornerback or a linebacker who’s weak in coverage is an instant #Buttzone TD. Devin Asiasi blocking a defensive back could get your defender blown down into the other defenders’ paths to the ball. Pull the beef out of middle and you’ve got 200-pound dudes trying to stop a hammering panda. Hybrid players let you put odd skills in odd places. Of course they still have to execute with those odd skills to get a win from that.
This time the matchups were mostly for show. Wheatley ends up blocking a cornerback—that was fun—and Butt winds up in a footrace with a coverage-y linebacker, but that’s nothing you wouldn’t get if Michigan put three actual receiver-type things in the trips formation. Burly receivers.
And this play needs some quick reactions to stop. Mesh is the classic man-beater. The receivers run drag routes across each other, presumably with their man-to-man coverage trailing behind them. At the crossing point, the receivers pass, the coverage gets caught in the wash, and somebody’s open.
This close to the goal line they can also take advantage of college football’s extremely kind three-yard downfield blocking rule. After three yards from the line of scrimmage if you block a guy on a pass play it’s (supposed to be) pass interference. But inside three yards it’s blocking, even if the only point of the block is to interfere with a guy in pass coverage. In his Colorado FFFF Ace caught them running a “drag screen,” dispensing with the pretense of receivers passing each other and just having one guy block the man covering the other guy:
Wisconsin ran it against us too—on one Stribling managed to fight through the mesh and break it up; on the second a Wisconsin TE made a block five yards downfield, it wasn’t called, and Jazz Peavey got a 14 yard gain. Michigan downloaded it too:
Wheatley (turquoise route) is lined up on the trips side and will
block pick accidentally run into the cornerback who’s covering Butt (red route) coming the other way. The other three tight ends are coming inside to draw their defenders away from Butt.
If they do catch zone, those routes should find holes between them as the inside routes become a flood concept. Wheatley is down low, Asiasi is attacking the level between the LBs and safeties, Hill is crossing in the back of the end zone, and Jocz’s job is to find a spot to sit behind anything that gets run off by Hill and Butt. If they catch a blitz, Asiasi or Jocz’s routes are “hot”, i.e. they’re running basically slants and looking back for the ball (if neither’s open the ball gets thrown out of the endzone).
Is There a Way to Defend This?
The defense’s best hope, other than playing a game of chance with zone or blitzing, is to tie up the mesh receivers at the snap. If their routes are delayed, the mesh won’t happen at the right spot, and the pass rush has more time to get home against a five-man protection. If you can jam either drag guy on his release, it can put him off his route, creating space for defenders to slip between the mesh.
Illinois did try that here; they just failed, in part because the TEs ran good routes, and in part because the Wheatley assignment isn’t as reactive to timing—he’s blocking the cornerback on Butt, not trying to rub him off and get open at a specific spot. Here are the respective releases:
Michigan gave Butt some extra space by having him align in a bit of a Flex position, i.e. a couple of yards off the edge of the line. Butt’s first step was wide outside and he sold it so well the cornerback froze. The next step used that plant to jet inside and create the crucial cushion.
Wheatley had to deal with the SDE providing a chip before getting into his pass rush—that’s usual for a defensive end with a tight end releasing into him. Wheatley creates space to get into his route by getting off the line of scrimmage quickly, getting his arms across the shoulder of that DE, and using his size to bounce off without getting knocked into the wash or onto the ground.
Butt’s release was that of a good wide receiver; Wheatley’s was a great example of why size and hand development are important for effective tight ends. It’s questionable whether either would have been as good at executing the other guy’s release.
Behind Wheatley you can see the Illini linebackers (illinibackers?) Asiasi’s route crucially kept the SAM lined up over there inside. Even in Man 1, the linebackers will be playing short zones. As you can see the linebacker over Asiasi got his arm out to route Asiasi inside—if he gets behind the LBs then he’ll get open or get another guy open, but as long as he’s in front of the LB level he can be passed off. A good LB will route Asiasi inside, step down in his pocket until he gets to the next LB’s zone, then fire out to next threat.
Asiasi himself got an arm out and muscled the SLB back some. In the 2nd square below the SLB should see Butt coming across and let Asiasi take himself to the MLB. Instead he got caught up handfighting to prevent Asiasi from getting depth on his route, and didn’t react to Butt coming until way too late:
It’s still Butt versus a linebacker in acres, but it’s wide open because illinibackers.
[Justin K. Aller – Getty]
Over the last couple weeks, I packed up all my stuff and moved across the country; now that I’m settled in, this column’s back. Apologies for the hiatus.
We’ve passed the halfway point of the college football season and the playoff picture looks clear, for now. Of course, that’s liable to change quickly; the biggest result of the past week was a shocking Penn State upset over Ohio State keyed by a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown. Right now, it looks like Alabama, the Big Ten winner, Clemson, and Washington have the inside track for a bid to the playoff but there’s still plenty of football left to be played.
On to the weekend that was:
--- Perhaps OHIO STATE’s closer-than-expected win over Wisconsin should have been reason for concern, but they controlled the game against PENN STATE until the fourth quarter: the Nittany Lion offense woke up at the beginning of the period for a quick, 90-yard touchdown drive to pull the Buckeye lead down to 21-14, an OSU fumble set up a Penn State field goal to further cut the deficit, and then the blocked field goal – which came after OSU tried to rush its FG unit out for their kicker’s career-long attempt – provided the winning score with less than five minutes left. The game’s statistical profile suggested a comfortable Buckeye win (for example, OSU outgained PSU 413 to 273), but the Ohio State offense had a difficult time finishing drives and Penn State was somehow able to scrape together enough points to get the victory. By the end of the game, the PSU defensive front was dominating the Ohio State line, preventing JT Barrett from engineering a tying or go-ahead drive in the final moments. OSU still controls their destiny in the Big Ten (and probably in the playoff race), but this loss strongly suggests that this Buckeye team is a ways off of Urban Meyer’s usual standard. Of course, everything comes down to The Game on November 26th.
[More results from around the country after the JUMP]
--- WISCONSIN entered the weekend two games behind Nebraska in the Big Ten West standings; they couldn’t afford another loss and took care of business in an extremely stereotypical Big Ten slugfest victory, 17-9, on the road against IOWA. The Badgers missed some scoring opportunities in the first half – two missed field goals and a fumble inside the Hawkeye five-yard line – but the Wisconsin offense, the running game in particular, controlled the game. Of course, Wisconsin’s defense was the biggest reason for the victory: they held Iowa to just 4.6 yards per pass attempt and 3.5 yards per carry on the afternoon. Paul Chryst rotated between Alex Hornibrook and Bart Houston; Hornibrook received more snaps and threw a couple iffy balls, but narrowly avoided what would have been a critical turnover. NEBRASKA (which beat PURDUE at home after somehow trailing at halftime) travels to Madison next weekend for what could be a de facto division title game.
--- Elsewhere in the Big Ten West, MINNESOTA was able to eke out a home win over RUTGERS to improve to 5-2 on the season. A game-winning Emmitt Carpenter field goal notched the 34-32 win for the Gophers, who blew a 21-3 first quarter lead over the course of the game. Rutgers turned to new QB Giovanni Rescigno, who had an up-and-down afternoon and almost led the Scarlet Knights to their first conference win. NORTHWESTERN also defeated a Big Ten East foe; they leapt out to a 24-3 first half lead over INDIANA and held on to win comfortably despite not scoring in the second half. The Wildcats are quietly still in the division race after a terrible non-conference showing.
--- The other two game featured teams from the Mitten State who are on divergent paths. MICHIGAN clobbered ILLINOIS to get to 7-0; MICHIGAN STATE went on the road to MARYLAND and came away with a 28-17 loss after getting outscored by two touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Brian Lewerke, a freshman, got the start at quarterback for the Spartans after Tyler O’Connor was sidelined with injury; the once-vaunted MSU defense surrendered 247 rushing yards to a diverse Maryland ground game. The two hated in-state rivals face off in East Lansing on Saturday.
[Kevin C. Cox – Getty]
--- Entering the weekend, there were six SEC West teams ranked in the AP Poll, and the division gave us three ranked-vs-ranked matchups in Week 8. The headliner was a matchup of undefeated teams and the game went according to script: ALABAMA handled TEXAS A&M, 33-14. The Aggies actually took a brief lead in the third after a Trevor Knight touchdown pass to Christian Kirk, but the Tide responded with a touchdown drive of their own, added a defensive touchdown on a Jonathan Allen scoop-and-score, and eventually played most of the fourth quarter in garbage time. Alabama’s red zone offense was off its usual standard early as long first quarter drives ended in two field goals, but Jalen Hurts and company wound up turning in a solid day offensively against a great Aggie defense, though the freshman did throw two picks. This was the toughest game on paper left on Alabama’s schedule and even though they have to travel to a resurgent LSU squad in two weeks, the Tide are still overwhelming favorites to run the table and capture the one-seed in the playoff.
--- Speaking of LSU, the Tigers have responded well after the firings of Les Miles and Cam Cameron; they notched their best win of the brief Ed Orgeron era against DACOACHO’s former team, OLE MISS, at home, defeating them by a comfortable 38-21 margin. The game was tied at 21 at halftime, but the LSU defense stepped up in the second half and suffocated Ole Miss. The biggest storyline from the post-Miles era has been how well the Tiger offense has rebounded; a healthy Leonard Fournette made his return and LSU had a balanced attack, accounting for over 500 total yards against a decent defense. Fournette was the game’s star – putting up an obscene 284 yards on just 16 carries (and rushing for three touchdowns) – but Danny Etling has played well at quarterback for the Tigers, who look much more like the Top 5 team they were supposed to be, rather than the listless Miles squad that faltered through September. On the other side, Ole Miss now sits at 3-4 overall (1-3 in the SEC) and, even though they played Bama as well as anyone, will likely finish towards the bottom of the West.
--- The other ranked matchup was AUBURN vs ARKANSAS and it was a massacre: the Tigers rushed for 543 yards and seven touchdowns en route to a 56-3 victory over the Hogs. Perhaps no statistic better encapsulates how this game went – Auburn ran for 9.5 yards per carry, while Arkansas managed just 0.8. Gus Malzahn entered the season on the hot seat and – after losing two of the first three games (against quality opponents, to be fair) – has made an emphatic case for keeping his job. The remaining schedule for Auburn is pretty manageable outside of the season finale against Alabama; if the Tigers keep up their current development trajectory, that could be a competitive game. As for Arkansas, the Bret Bielema era hasn’t looked more untenable than it did this week and even though Bert has a significant buyout, the powers that be might be getting restless. They’re now 1-3 in the SEC and each loss came by at least three scores.
--- The SEC East was home to some bad football this week, mostly coming in non-conference action. MISSOURI surrendered 51 points to Middle Tennessee State at home and lost; SOUTH CAROLINA started a new quarterback, freshman Jake Bentley, and eked out a win on the road against UMass, 34-28; VANDERBILT started slow but eventually pulled away to take care of FCS Tennessee State. The biggest win of the weekend in the division came as KENTUCKY beat MISSISSIPPI STATE on a 51-yard game-winning field goal as time expired. After a scoreless first quarter, the teams combined for 78 total points and the Wildcats notched the East’s first win over the West in 2016.
[Ezra Shaw – Getty]
--- In what was easily the ugliest game of the weekend, COLORADO emerged victorious over STANFORD by the ridiculous score of 10-5. The Buffaloes missed three field goals, the Cardinal turned it over four times, and ultimately a late (intentional) safety by Colorado provided the final score. In his first game back from injury, Christian McCaffery was held in check by the impressive Colorado defense, but it was another horrendous performance overall from the Stanford offense – three picks from Ryan Burns and a general inability to move the ball doomed the Cardinal. Colorado ran for a healthy 4.6 yards per carry, but Sefo Liufau was held in check and the missed field goals left a ton of points on the board. In the end, it was an important win for the Buffs, who are tied for first place in the Pac-12 South; Stanford’s nightmare season has gotten even worse – they’ve lost their last three conference games by a combined score of 96-27.
--- Colorado is tied for the division lead with UTAH, who beat UCLA on the road in a 52-45 shootout. Despite being forced to play with backup QB Mike Fafaul, UCLA threw the ball 70 times – it was an insane line for Fafaul, who threw for 464 yards and five touchdowns… in addition to four interceptions. Utah was content to pound the ball on the ground with Joe Williams, who ran for 332 yards and four touchdowns on his 29 carries. Williams actually quit football due to injuries and returned a couple weeks ago – setting a school record for rushing yards on Saturday. The Utes will be hosting WASHINGTON this week; the undefeated Huskies defeated OREGON STATE with ease and will be upping the degree of difficulty substantially with a trip to Salt Lake City in what may be their toughest regular season fixture.
--- The other two games from Pac-12 action were very on-brand shootouts. WASHINGTON STATE went on the road to ARIZONA STATE and won 37-32; the Cougars threw the ball 58 times – for 398 yards and three touchdowns – but because of sacks, they actually finished with –52 yards rushing. ASU was forced to play its fourth-string quarterback because of injuries and had a late comeback effort thwarted when Wazzu was able to run out the clock. Mike Leach, who’d accused ASU’s Todd Graham of stealing signals, had a heated conversation with Graham during the post-game handshake. On Friday night, OREGON lost to CAL in a double overtime thriller, 52-49. After an atrocious first half, the Duck defense stiffened in the second but was unable to hold up in overtime; a new starting quarterback, Justin Herbert, threw for six touchdowns in a losing effort. Oregon’s now on a five-game losing streak.
[Ian Maule – Tulsa World]
--- Not to be outdone, by the Pac-12, the Big 12 provided us with one of the most ridiculous shootouts in college football history – OKLAHOMA beat TEXAS TECH in the Baker Mayfield revenge game, 66-59 (in regulation). Each team accounted for 854 yards of offense – combining for an NCAA record for total yardage in a game. Texas Tech QB Patrick Mahomes had a mind-boggling stat line in a losing effort: 52-for-88, 734 yards passing with five touchdowns and a pick, additionally, he also ran 12 times for 85 yards and two scores. Oklahoma – on the other hand – had a relatively balanced attack with Mayfield throwing for 545 yards and seven touchdowns and Joe Mixon running the ball 31 times for 263 yards and two scores. Both teams have excellent offenses, but needless to say, the defenses were atrocious. The Sooners have rebounded from a lackluster non-conference showing and are now 4-0 in conference play.
--- In other Big 12 action, OKLAHOMA STATE handled KANSAS and WEST VIRGINIA – which is still undefeated – took care of TCU in a game in which Mountaineer QB Skyler Howard threw for four touchdowns. The Charlie Strong era at TEXAS might be in its death throes, as the Horns lost to a not-very-good KANSAS STATE team to fall to 3-4 on the season.
--- The most consequential game of the week in the ACC happened on Thursday night; MIAMI went into Blacksburg and was handed a three-touchdown loss by VIRGINIA TECH in a game that effectively took them out of the ACC Coastal race – and because of an earlier win against North Carolina, the Hokies are now in the driver’s seat for a division title in Justin Fuente’s first season. Jerod Evans was excellent for Tech in the win over Miami, throwing for 259 yards and two touchdowns while adding almost a hundred more yards (and another touchdown) on the ground. The highlight of the game, however, came when fullback / tight end Sam Rogers threw a touchdown to fellow blocky-catchy guy Chris Cunningham on a trick play. Miami was twice able to cut the deficit to a single score but was answered quickly by a Tech touchdown drive each time.
--- Much of the conference was on a bye this week, but there still were a few other games. LOUISVILLE took on NC STATE after the Wolfpack’s near upset of Clemson and handled them easily, winning 54-13 (the game was 44-0 at halftime). The other two games featured road wins over some of the conference’s worst teams: NORTH CAROLINA beat VIRGINIA and SYRACUSE beat BOSTON COLLEGE.
So... how did that happen? Ohio State lost to Penn State over the weekend. You may not be aware of this so I will pause for your chortling.
All right. Done? No?
how bout now nvm
Okay. Now we can proceed. While OSU losing to Penn State, a team Michigan beat 49-10, has caused no end of merriment in the Michigan fan base*, there was an awful lot of flukiness in the PSU win. OSU outgained PSU by a wide margin, held them to under 300 yards of offense, and had a 64% win expectancy per S&P+. PSU made up the deficit with two huge special teams plays, the first a blocked punt that set up a field goal to pull them within four, the second a kick-six that turned an potential 7-point OSU lead into the three point deficit they'd lose by.
Normally I'd write those off as flukes not applicable to the Game, but Michigan has already blocked six kicks this year and has Jabrill Peppers sitting back there for any teams who want to get overly concerned about getting the punt off. Advantage: Michigan.
Meanwhile, PFF's evaluation contains some shocking stats about the OSU OL:
...the entire unit struggled in pass protection, surrendering a staggering 34 pressures between them, with RT Isaiah Prince accounting for almost half of those by himself. The spark of Curtis Samuel’s untouched 74-yard touchdown run and Marcus Baugh’s tackle-breaking exploits in the first quarter weren’t repeated in the final 25 minutes of the game.
And it could have been worse for OSU. Star Nittany Lion DE Garrett Sickels sat out the first half. This did not prevent him from racking up 2.5 sacks. A different PFF article has a different pressure number but it's still boggling: 28 pressures on 53 dropbacks. Taco Charlton and Chris Wormley are likely to do similar work. PSU's 28th in adjusted sack rate. Michigan is 4th.
A second major issue was an inability to get to Saquon Barkley near the line of scrimmage:
the Penn State offensive line set up Barkley with 41 of his 99 rushing yards before contact, and Barkley didn’t have to break any tackles while coming up just a yard shy of a 100-yard game. The star on the offensive line for the third straight week was RT Brendan Mahon, who dominated the Ohio State front on the ground, combining particularly well on double teams to blow the Buckeyes’ defensive tackles out of the middle of the play and disrupt the linebackers behind them.
Later in that piece PFF will advocate for OSU's backup DTs to play over the starters after PSU and Wisconsin gashed OSU up the gut repeatedly. I will repeat: PSU—THE Penn State University—gashed Ohio State up the gut. Penn State. That one. That team. The one with Paris Palmer in the starting lineup again. They got 8.2 yards per carry between the tackles. (Why on Earth they only gave Barkley 12 carries is completely inexplic—oh right James Franklin.)
OSU's run D looks fine statistically, but that's largely due to 4 TEAM rushes for a total of –43 yards. Those were three kneels from the gun and a yakety snap over the punter's head. Remove those and Penn State rushed for an even 5 yards a carry without a single broken tackle from Barkley.
Michigan looks like they have a significant advantage on both lines. I can't believe I'm saying that but here we are.
*[My favorite thing is OSU fans saying it was a ROAD NIGHT GAME since Vegas is now offering 40 points for home field advantage.]
In other OSU issues. Land Grant Holy Land notes that OSU doesn't get many explosive plays. It's Curtis Samuel and that's it. In a very James Franklin twist, Samuel had two carries for 71 yards against PSU. And as always, I recommend Ross Fulton's OSU breakdown.
Meanwhile in this week's matchup. It doesn't look good for MSU:
How is Michigan State going to move the football?
I'm not sure how else to headline this bullet point. If you look at the numbers -- what Michigan's done on defense and what Michigan State's done on offense -- you get a pretty simple result. Michigan State will have to completely change the way it runs offense, overnight, and Michigan's defense will have to take a massive step backward for the Spartans to move the ball with consistency.
For the year, 22.2 percent of MSU's offensive possession have reached the red zone (No. 117 nationally). Michigan's defense, meanwhile, has allowed offenses to reach the red zone on just 6.7 percent of their possessions. That's No. 1 nationally. Michigan State also ranks near the bottom nationally in number of possessions per game at 12.6 and near the bottom in average field position. MSU is No. 91 nationally in rush yards per game, Michigan's No. 4 nationally in rush defense. If numbers hold, this could be a great day for Michigan's defense and a long one for MSU's offense.
MSU's gotta hope that some long bombs get completed and LJ Scott can conjure something up himself.
Bill Connelly gets to talk about his numbers too. We've been doing it all year, and he joins the "holy crap, Michigan's defense in S&P+" brigade:
Def. S&P+ is presented in an adjusted points-per-game figure and is created from an opponent-adjusted mix of efficiency, explosiveness, finishing drives, turnover factors, and field position factors. Here are its top five defenses in the country:
5. Wisconsin (12.4 Adj. PPG)
4. Alabama (11.9)
3. Florida (11.3)
2. Clemson (11.0)
1. Michigan (0.8)
Yes, these numbers are adjusted for garbage time, so Jim Harbaugh’s general ruthlessnessisn’t giving the Wolverines an added statistical advantage.
Yes, these numbers are adjusted for opponent, though while Michigan’s schedule was supposedto be awful, it really hasn’t been; among Wolverine victims, Wisconsin is 10th in overall S&P+, Penn State is 16th, and Colorado is 17th.
Jim Harbaugh is crazy part infinity. SBN notes that Harbaugh does things without knowing what the score is. Deadspin gets into Harbaugh's inability to let that fourth-quarter spot go, and I make note of the latter mostly to highlight a couple of comments. One:
When Tomsula wouldn’t let anything go, you called him a hoarder and impounded his car.
He was my daughter’s micro-soccer coach when she and his kid were 4 years old. He couldn’t have been nicer, more mellow, or better liked by the kids. He adapts to every situation to be great at whatever it is.
I almost don't want to believe the latter.
Baumgardner pokes the bear. Cumong man:
No disrespect, Michigan State, but Michigan's focused on bigger things for 2016
That's probably worth a field goal, that headline.
Harbaugh is worth it. Financially, things are going swimmingly:
U-M's overall revenue in spectator admissions increased to $45.1 million during the 2016 fiscal year, compared to $41.9 million in 2015. The $3.2 million increase was primarily due to an increase in football ticket demand, according to the financial analysis, which was approved by the U-M Board of Regents on Thursday, Oct. 20.
In comparison, spectator admissions decreased $8.3 million in 2015 due to a decrease in football, men's basketball and ice hockey admissions.
Overall, the athletic department saw an increase of $7.8 million to its net position for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2016, which is up from 2015's $1 million overall increase.
He literally pays for himself, and that's before various other application/donation things get factored in.
RIP Drew Sharp, troll. People should memorialize the dead as they knew them. Much of the Detroit media has done so in the case of Drew Sharp, who passed away at 56 this Friday. Those who knew him say he was a great and funny guy whose button-pushing writing shouldn't define the man, and I won't dispute that.
However, much of the memorializing has bothered me because it skips straight over the lasting fact of Drew Sharp's career: he was an unrepentant troll. There is a certain genre of newspaper columnist or radio talking head that is relentlessly negative because that's the only thing he can do that gets a reaction, and Sharp was Detroit's version. (There's one in every city.) He didn't have readers. He had marks.
His cynicism was breathtaking, and this was never more clear than in the immediate aftermath of Michigan signing Demar Dorsey. Sharp correctly diagnosed that circus as desperation on the part of Rich Rodriguez, but for the wrong reason. Dorsey was nowhere close to qualifying and never came close, spending his career at various vagabond stops en route to a brief Arena League career. It's a sad story about kids who come up rough and can't make it out.
Or, if you're Drew Sharp, it's an opportunity to bash a teenager who ended up in trouble:
MATT SHEPARD: "He was timed with a 4.4—"
SHARP: "Avoiding police."
SHEPARD: "That happened when he was 16 and he was acquitted.
SHARP: "I wonder if that was because he was a high profile recruit. Hmm. I wonder. … OJ got acquitted. Being acquitted doesn't mean you're innocent."
That's the only thing he ever did that made me legitimately angry; the rest of it was eye-rolling at his transparent attempts to troll people. I only knew his writing, so I knew him as a man with contempt for everything and an utter lack of empathy.
Meanwhile his writing level and banter was barely above every message board's worst poster. Deadspin got its hands on a couple of his Brandon-esque emails some years back, and since those come through without the benefit of seven layers of editing they're the clearest picture of his talent as a writer.
Does the little baby need a pacifier?
Yeah, Detroit needs writers that makes excuses for the city and simply tell the idiots in this town just want to hear.
They've been doing that for 30 years in this town and that's a big reason why Detroit is swirling down the toilet.
Oh, I'm sorry...that's not a "happy feel good story" is it?
He had none. Drew Sharp's death is a loss to those who knew him. His career is his career, though, and shouldn't be viewed through sepia-tinged glasses. It says something that most of the newspaper obits start with "if you look past the thing he did every day for the last 30 years, he was a great guy." Mmmhmm.
Etc.: Nebraska regent reacts to players' kneeling protest badly. Nobody on the NTDP is a first round lock this year but two Michigan commits are candidates. Hockey also picked up a commit from D Mike Vukojevic, a potential first round OHL draft pick. Brendan Quinn on Xavier Simpson. Kill 'em with kindness. Also your DL.
If you asked me back in August where Ben Braden would play if he wasn’t at left guard, I probably would have told you tight end because, I mean, trains and things. I can guarantee that I wouldn’t have mentioned left tackle, yet that’s where Braden started on Saturday. He did a nice job in his first game on the outside, and after rewatching the game his smoothness working to the second level stood out. I found a play in one of the highlight videos where Braden flings a DE upfield before taking off and getting into a guy long enough for De’Veon Smith to get at least 10 extra yards, and I figured I’d ask him about it.
It’s hard to tell exactly from the camera angle, but it looked like he got his arm into you and then you were able to use that to push him past you. Is that what happened, and do you want him to make contact so that you can throw him upfield a little bit more?
“On that one I’m just trying to reach and get to him. It’s kind of whoever makes contact first but yeah, once you’re locked up with a guy you kind of feel how he’s moving and move off that. That goes for second level and the D-line as well.”
So there’s not one thing you want him to do so much as just feel the momentum and use it against them?
“Yeah. I mean, it depends on how the play’s designed, but yeah.”
What were you guys doing in the game that made that draw so successful?
“Practiced it a lot during the week. Tried to focus on little things. Like, talk with coach and say ‘What do I need to do to make this as fast as possible?’ It’s something we’ve had in our pocket for a while. Just working and trying to be the best I could during the week on it so when I got to the game it was natural.”
Conversely, what was their line doing that made it effective?
“They were a penetrating defense. We knew they were going to rush up the field and just kind of tried to play off that and use that to our advantage when we can, but you know, just try to prepare for it as best as possible.”
With them using the Tampa-2 as their base, when you released to the second level were you expecting that linebacker to be there, or when you were releasing were you just looking for a white jersey and somebody to hit?
“Well, that one I was kind of expecting him to kind of be in that general area, but it depends on our backfield and what we’re doing,”
What’s the most difficult aspect of blocking on the second level?
“Usually guys are quicker. You know, just trying to keep your feet moving up to the second level and staying on your block and moving your feet through your block once you make contact. A lot of guys like to kind of think about—they’re kind of thinking about it on the way up there and they’ll get there and once they make contact they’ll stop their feet. So, just trying to keep the little things moving once you get up there and practicing that and getting repetition at it so that way you can naturally do it.”
This is outside the scope of one play, but what’s the biggest difference between tackle and guard? Is it footwork or hand placement?
“Footwork’s a little different. Obviously things are on the edge. The speed is definitely different. Guys are defeinitely quick on the inside, but as far as general overall speed, you just see a lot more things that are going on [outside] as opposed to inside, where you’re working with the center or you’re working with a tackle. As a tackle you’re kind of more on an island.”
News bullets and other items:
- Chris Evans was concussed, and it’s too early in the week to tell his status for the game
- Not sure whether Braden at LT and Bredeson at LG will be the starting left side Saturday as Bushell-Beatty is very much in the competition
- You’re doing yourself a great disservice if you don’t read the whole thing for the discussion of where the refs spotted the ball after a play that left Michigan two yards short of the sticks on third down up 41-8; Harbaugh challenged, and the subsequent call was the worst he said he’s ever seen.
After watching the film, how’d that left side of the line hold up with the two Bens?
“Good. Real good. Yeah. Both played two of their best games. Yeah, good in protection, good in the run game, made the right calls.”
Is that something you think you’ll stick with this week probably?
“Yeah, we’ll see. Juwann Bushell-Beatty also is a huge factor.”
Talk about what Wormley gives you both as a leader and as a player. I think it was Chase Winovich who referred to him as ‘papa.’
“Really consummate…consummate…great football character, great human character. Really good leadership skills. Strong and makes well thought-out decisions. He’s equally as good on the football field. Just always been a rock-solid guy you like being around and somebody that you try to emulate his qualities. He’s a thinker and makes good decisions.”
Reading some of the players’ postgame comments from Saturday, they talked about last year how you kind of let the finish of the game sink in a little bit, but since then you guys have gone 11-1 over two seasons. Is that something where that kind of has fueled them since, or this week is it really going to come out in an aggressive form?
“This is a big game for us. Championship type of ballgame. Our preparations will need to be at their best. I don’t know much more to say about it than that. That says it all.”
[We need a rules expert after THE JUMP]
A play from Saturday that didn’t get talked about in here: Vaughn breaks out, Peppers runs him down and knocks him out, they don’t score on that. Is that kind of a play that you can teach from on effort and the ability it takes to make that play?
“Yeah, it was a great individual play by Jabrill. Really showed his speed. Yeah, there’ll definitely be things to teach off it from.
“I thought you were gonna bring up the spot on third down. I thought that was a play that wasn’t talked about much that…I don’t know if I’ve ever seen—I’ve never seen a worse call in the game of football. That just—after the replay to where you could spot it, that that play could stand. Wasn’t spotted a yard and a half further after it was replayed, I don’t understand. Somebody mentioned something about it after—”
“I mentioned it? Oh, I mentioned it. Yeah. [laughs] I don’t know. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more strange replay. I don’t know. Maybe there has been. But somebody said something about that if it doesn’t make the line to gain then—who said that? Wojo said that? Okay. Then they don’t re-spot it? Really. It’d be interesting if—so, you know, if a spot doesn’t make a first down then it stands wherever it was spotted. That doesn’t make sense to me because, okay, what if the official gets the yard lines confused? Maybe he misses it by five yards, or maybe he misses it by ten?”
Plus, obviously you might want to go for it if it’s fourth and inches instead of fourth and--
“Yeah, obviously, I mean just getting the right spot, that is reviewable. So he misses it by five yards but it’s not a first down then they would change and get the correct—? Or two yards? Or one?”
The challenge is is it a first down, not if it’s the proper spot.
“No, we’re challenging the spot. Yeah, it was there. I said, ‘It’s misspotted.’”
That’s the rule.
“That is the rule?”
I think, yeah.
[U-M SID] I’ll check it.
“Official gets confused, thought he went out on the sideline at the 35 but he really went out at the 30 and then you review that, even though it doesn’t make a first down, is that something that can be challenged? Yeah, my understanding of the rules and the review system is that it’s the spot, to get the correct spot. It’ll be interesting to see what the explanation is.”
I think they probably played it based off the score of the game at that point, don’t you think? That they just let it go because of the score of the game?
“Is that in the rulebook?”
Well, no, but that’s what they did.
“I haven’t come across that rule either. Maybe Wojo’s aware of it.”
You said in the spring that Amara Darboh was the best receiver, that he had elevated his game because Jehu gave him that incentive. Where do you think they stand right now, how do they play off each other, and how have you liked Amara’s play specifically so far this season?
“Amara’s been outstanding. He’s been…he’s been top of his game, ever improving, always improving. Just a real football player. Tremendous worker in practice. Jehu’s been the same. Both have been great players for Michigan Football, and is good the way they in a genuine, good-for-the-team way elevate each other’s games.”
Just curious, what are your thoughts on the job Mark [Dantonio] has done in East Lansing, specifically the six years, and then kind of connecting that to where you guys are going, it’s like two programs this season going in opposite directions: they’re struggling, you guys are at your highest point in about ten years. Just kind of curious your thoughts on what Mark’s done and the year that they’re having.
“Was there a question in there? Seemed like you were making a statement.”
What do you think of the job that Mark has done, and when you look at the struggles, it’s uncharacteristic.
“He’s done a great job. One of the best college football coaching jobs in the history of the game. It’s been at the highest level.”
What do you make of the struggles this year that they’re having?
“It doesn’t matter what’s happened before this week for us or for an opponent. It never does. It matters what happens on the gameday. We know the task in front of us. We know the challenge, and it’s up to us to get prepared for that game so we can go out there confident and execute and have a chance to be successful.
“They’re a very good football team. We know we’ll be tough to beat. We know they’ll be tough to beat. But in the meantime, we’ll get prepared for the game.”
Do you guys expect Chris [Evans] to be back this week?
“We’ll see. It’s a little early to know yet.”
Did he have a concussion?
“Yeah, anything like that is ruled a concussion. I think he’s doing good.”
Last year’s last play: you’ve said before you never want to be involved in a game where something crazy like that happens. Do you think about that play at all, that punt thing at the end of the game, or have you moved on completely?
You do think about it now and again?
“As you said, I was hoping to never be a part of a play at the end of the game, whether it was a Hail Mary or one of those lateralled ten times to beat you on a kickoff or a blocked punt, all those ways where defeat snatches a victory away at the very end. As I said, I was hoping to go my whole career without having that happen. Obviously that didn’t happen. I don’t know what the second part of your question was.”
Have you moved on from it?
“Yeah, I have. So yes to both.”
What makes Jourdan Lewis such a special player and how has he played since he returned from injury?
“So many things make him good. He’s just so on the details. He’s so on his preparation. It’s really important to him. Tremendous athlete. I mean, ridiculous instincts. He’s got speed, he’s got quickness, he’s got great hand-eye coordination, ball skills, physicality, he’s an excellent tackler, just…all those things are at the top of the list.”
And what level is he at since the return?
“He’s at the highest level. He’s continued to be an improving great player.”
You talk a lot about getting better every day and improving. Your defense has been so good. Where can they get better as you move on throughout the season?
“I think—I mean, that’s a great question. They’re playing so good. They’re…I mean, you just really have to give them a pat on the back right now. But it’s not time to take a victory lap. I guess that’d be the [message], just to keep going at the same relentless, intense pace that they have and approach that they’ve had to every game because we’re a little over halfway, at the halfway point. You don’t want to take a victory lap, but you do have to recognize that this defense is playing great football.”
What did you learn from that last-play scenario last year? I don’t know if it’s possible to prepare for every single scenario, like if your punter bobbles, fall on it, but what did you learn, if anything, from that?
“Several things, Larry. Several things.”
“Have the punter at the right depth, not be in a spread punt in that situation would be the two that come to mind.”
Maybe this is from when you were playing, but did you notice something different with guys who were in-state? You were coming from California but you had been here before. In this rivalry game, did the guys who were in-state guys approach it differently than guys who came from out of state?
“I mean, I used to think that. I used to think that when I was an in-state guy playing in this game, but then you realized that you approach all big games—or you learn, or you train yourself to approach all big games not differently.”
What’s the status of Grant Perry and the other guys who were suspended?
“They’ll be back practicing today.”
You say treat every game the same, don’t treat them differently. Does that have to be almost a special point of emphasis this week because it is such a rivalry game and such a big game, to not let your players get caught up in it as the week unfolds?
“It’s been an ongoing strategy for our football team to treat every opponent with respect, to treat every game as a big game, as a championship game. Just learned that that’s the best approach, in our opinion. Then when you’re in those tight games, when you’re in those pressure situations, you’ve already been there. You’ve already done it, because you’ve treated every snap that way through the course of the season. Just found it to be the best way to be focused and be loose at the same time in an attempt to have the most success.”
Matt Godin had a play where he got to the quarterback and hit him. Was that the correct interpretation of that rule, and as a quarterback, do you like that rule?
“I thought he was blocked into the player from where I was standing. So no, I didn’t think it was the correct interpretation of the rule.”
We got to see Kareem Walker dressed for the first time this season. Is there still a chance he’s going to play this year?
“Um, no. I think we’ll save the year. He’s practicing, doing a really nice job. You never know for sure. You don’t know what’ll happen with the depth at a certain position. Our intent would be to save the year for Kareem.”
Going back to not necessarily the punt, but Michigan State has and Dantonio has found all kinds of ways to win on the last play of the game. He’s had all kinds of mousetrap stuff, kind of trick plays. When you do prepare for that, how much of an emphasis is that knowing literally one play can decide it?
“Yeah, he’s one of the best. I’ve known him for years. You have to make your preparations accordingly.”