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Gonzaga (DC) senior Marcus Lewis is the #10 athlete on the 247 Composite, and this week he reaffirmed that Michigan leads Oregon and Miami in his recruitment. Given that news, this seemed like the right week to take a look at the tape of Gonzaga's 31-14 victory over Centreville, a nationally televised battle between the two top-ranked teams in the region, according to the Washington Post.
Lewis, who's being recruited as a cornerback by Michigan, didn't get many opportunities to show his ability in coverage, but he was a major factor in run support before exiting the game in the third quarter due to cramps, an issue that plagued both teams in the second half. In fact, Lewis—who plays both ways for Gonzaga—was originally intended to be the primary receiver on what turned out to be the game-sealing score:
As Reggie Corbin gingerly jogged back onto the field late in Gonzaga’s 31-14 win, he felt the same shooting pain in his legs that had sent Eagles teammate Marcus Lewis to the sideline, resulting in Corbin lining up in the flats instead of at his usual post in the backfield. Drawing back on the intense conditioning he and the Eagles had endured under first-year Coach Randy Trivers, Corbin mustered one more burst of speed, racing to the left before pulling in a pass that he took 48 yards to the end zone.
“All week, we had run that play for Marcus, but he was out with an injury, so the coaches told me to go run,” Corbin said. “At that point I was just numb to the situation and all the pain and focused on winning. I just ran the wheel route, made the catch and pushed down the field.”
Corbin, a three-star running back committed to Illinois, finished with 211 yards of offense and looked outstanding until he, too, succumbed to the heat and humidity.
[Hit THE JUMP for video highlights of Lewis and a quick breakdown of his game.]
Lewis is highlighted before each play; he's wearing #1 for the team in white, lining up at either safety or corner.
Apologies for the audio quality; the game sound disappeared when I converted the video and whatever YouTube did to the song I used was... not ideal. But I'm on a deadline and the video took 40 minutes to upload, so here we are.
Between Centreville's run-centric offense, their avoidance of Lewis (and downfield passing in general), and Lewis' early exit from this game, there's not a lot to go on here in terms of his coverage ability. Whether he was at safety or corner, Lewis mostly played a deep third, and he didn't get targeted with the exception of a couple passes completed underneath him. He could do a better job breaking down and tackling after the catch; he missed one pretty badly on a quick hitch.
On the two occasions when Lewis was in man coverage and had to respect the receiver's route, he looked good playing tight coverage at the line. Gonzaga didn't ask him to press, and it can be difficult for a corner to play close coverage without getting a jam, but Lewis did a very nice job of not buying any moves off the line; he stayed step-for-step with his man on both plays, neither of which ended up going his way.
I was very impressed with his run support. Lewis read plays quickly, took good angles to the football, and either tackled the ballcarrier—keeping yards after contact to a minimum—or smartly funnelling the play back to the pursuing defenders. He wrapped up well, and his size makes it very tough for high school skill players to escape his grasp.
Physically, Lewis very much looked the part. He looked every bit of his listed 6'1", 187 pounds, and he closed on plays with excellent speed. Lewis looks like he'd be a very solid free safety at the next level; he could also be a physical boundary corner, but I just didn't see enough of him in coverage to get a great read on his coverage ability. In a game that featured several top college prospects, Lewis stood out with his size, athleticism, and ability, even in limited action.
“Alright, let’s get going on this next one. Go ahead, start it right out.”
As far as pass rushing, your guys are getting there. Like Frank [Clark] said last week, they’re not always finishing the job but what’s your outlook on the pass rushing so far?
“Well, you know, I’m happy with their effort. I look at practice. I look at practice all the time and I believe that what you see in practice is what you’re going to see in games and, you know, the ball gets out quick a lot of times. You can’t judge a pass rush based on whether you get sacks or not. The thing that you want to look at is how many times were you hitting the quarterback and how many times are you getting to him. I was happy with how our kids worked. When I look at the film, one of the biggest things I always look for is effort. The effort and the technique that they’re being taught and I think in that game those kids up front worked very, very hard the whole game. Late in the game they were running to the football like they should. Late in the game they were going as hard as they could on the pass rush.
“There’s a couple times the ball got outside of us on a pass rush. The first thing that somebody always wants to say is, ‘Oh, he lost contain.’ You start having guys just run up the field outside to make sure the quarterback doesn’t get outside, you’ll never have a pass rush. That happened to be a quarterback that did a nice job of using his feet when a pass rusher was engaged in a blocker so to answer your question we’re getting better. We’re getting better at it and we’ll continually get better at it.”
You talk about effort and technique on film. What did you see out of Jabrill Peppers at cornerback along those lines?
“I think our entire secondary made strides this past week and I think they have a lot of pride and I think they didn’t enjoy what they saw the week before. We’re all about trying to fix it, make sure we’re competing every day and then get the guys out there that are going to compete and go after it. I think Jabrill showed during the week that he was working really hard at it and he did the same thing during the game.”
With Jeremy Clark, Brady touched on that he’s learned that the physical skills that will get you by in high school won’t work up here and getting his technique and fundamentals down. What have you seen from this year that’s sort of taken him to the level where he’s become a starter?
“Well, the thing- you said it exactly right. He has a lot of physical talent. He’s a great looking young man that can run, that plays hard, that’s a great kid. When you’re out there at safety in our defense things happen real fast, and you have to make sure you’re making the right checks. If you don’t, if you aren’t where you’re supposed to be you’re asking for something bad to happen to 10 other guys so I think that this is a learning process that he’s had to learn from. Jarrod Wilson has done a great job of showing him what he’s supposed to do and how he’s supposed to do it and I think he’s listened. He’s worked very hard at it and he’s just touching it right now. He’s not even close. He’s got time yet and I’m very pleased with how hard he’s working.”
[After THE JUMP: Mattison’s three keys to a good defense]
MGoQuestion: Coach, Brady said that Ryan Glasgow had as good a week of practice from a nose as he’s seen in a while. What are his strengths?
MGoINeedToSpeakUp: What are his strengths?
“Well, he’s a very intelligent young man. He’s a very prideful young man. He’s very strong. I mean, he’s 300-and-some pounds and he’s just a great example of that whole group. You could put them right behind each other and right with each other that they work really, really hard in practice and Ryan is a great example of a guy that last year maybe that wasn’t good enough at times. This year, that last ballgame I was so proud of him, just like Brady was. You could see that every play in practice he was trying to do it right and trying to get better and then good things happen in the game. He’s got a lot of great things going for him.”
A couple of quick changes put you in the hole. Held them to a field goal on one, [but] gave up a touchdown on the other. On the latter, is that sort of a teachable moment that it doesn’t matter what position you’re in?
“No question. That last one, the one they scored on, that’s us all the way. We lost contain. And it was a lost contain in something that you’re supposed to do and if you watch that play again, take a look at it sometime, Joe Bolden’s going to sack him for a 15-yard loss and still gets his legs with the guy running outside the pocket. If we keep him inside like we’re supposed to- it wasn’t even that it was a pass rush moment, it was a technique moment. If we keep him inside we’re sacking him there and we may hold them to no touchdown, which is our goal but we’ve got to learn from it and we did learn from it when we showed the film.”
Can you talk a little bit about Bryan Mone. I know it’s a small sample size but it’s a key position and he’s…
“Bryan- Ryan, again, Ryan Glasgow and Ondre [Pipkins] and you go right down through, Maurice Hurst, they’re all working extremely hard and he has a great attitude and great talent. I mean, the sky’s the limit for him and you don’t think he’s the youngest of all of them. He just got out of high school [and] all of a sudden he’s here starting for the University of Michigan, or playing a lot for the University of Michigan. He’s another one that every day he gets a little better. And it’s not too big for him. I got a feeling that this’ll be a big ballgame for him. Coming from Utah he’s probably played against a lot of those guys. We’re very pleased with Bryan.”
Back to pass rush, I wonder if you have some arbitrary rule or boilerplate rule about when the defensive ends are to level off or is that more holistic depending upon the particular drop?
“You always want to set, based on the type of quarterback they have, how many steps you take upfield before you level off. You see a lot of guys, especially in the NFL, where they’re 10 yards deep sometimes. The whole difference in the NFL in the pass rush you see there compared to college is is you could have nobody up front and the quarterback’s not going to take off scrambling. That’s a huge difference. In college if there’s an opening a lot of times that quarterback’s going to take off. So there’s that gray area or that real fine area where, ‘Do I want to be a really aggressive pass rusher’ or ‘Do I want to make sure that quarterback doesn’t run for yardage’? That’s why we try to get some games, you try to do some things inside to turn some guys loose. It’s a fine line.”
Utah’s averaging almost 60 points per game. Is this a measuring stick game for your defense, and what do they do that’s particularly challenging?
“I don’t know if it’s a measuring stick but it’s a big game. The next game’s always a big game. We’ve got so much that we want to accomplish on defense and this is the next game and it happens to be played against an offense that ranking-wise is tops in the country. They have the yardage, the points scored. They’re a very, very good offense and that’s what makes it a special game and a big game for our defense. It’s a challenge. The other thing you’re going to see in this game is their tempo is really, really fast. I mean, they’re close to Indiana-type tempo. You’re going to have to really be on your game to make sure you’re disciplined, that you get lined up, that you’re not lazy in getting set, all those type of things and so there’s a lot of things that this game brings to our defense to make sure we do what we have to do.”
Brady mentioned that there was a couple missed opportunities to create turnovers against Miami. Does that become a bigger focus against a team like Utah that can put up a lot of points?
“Well, I don’t know if it’s any bigger. Every time you have an opportunity to get a turnover you’ve got to get it, and we left one on the ground that we should have got and then we dropped one right in our hands that we should have got. Any time you play the league we play or the people we play, the schedule we play, you can’t leave turnovers on the ground. You’ve got to get them. I mean, those are so important to our team and so every one is that way.”
Coach, you talked about Utah’s tempo. How do you simulate that in practice? What do you do to prepare for that?
“We’ve always done a pretty good job of that here. First of all, our tempo is so much faster with coach Nuss. I mean, he can bring tempo now. We bring tempo in practice and it has through camp and summer camp, also. But the other thing we’ll do is we’ll have a system set up where you’re bringing a whole wave of guys at your defense every other play, so they’re not waiting to huddle. There is no huddle. The play’s over and we have to run back and another play goes. So we simulate exactly how it is, just with different players. Not like they do where they may keep the same players in there for three plays. We’ll go every play to make sure the speed is there.”
Do you have to shrink the playing group a little bit because of that uptempo offense and it can be difficult to sub, or are you able to do that when they sub their guys in?
“We will always try to have two groups, and really it comes down to who’s your best, whatever it is. Is it these guys who are your best group, or is it a sub or a dime or a quarter or whatever you go to. It’s got to be your best. You’re right, you can’t substitute. You’ve got to be able to keep that group in there and be able to do whatever you have to do with that group.”
You mentioned the work ethic of the defensive line this year. Have you noticed a change in Willie Henry’s work ethic and attitude from last year to this year? Brady Hoke kind of hinted at that last week.
“No question. It’s maturity. It’s not that we’ve worked them harder. It’s not that we’ve pushed them any harder. It’s when a young man that has played at a young age, and all of a sudden he’s a year older [and] it clicks in. He understands [that] ‘I can’t be as successful as I have to be if I don’t work hard’ and Willie’s been a perfect example of that. He’s worked extremely hard and good things are happening because of that for his play.”
With some of the injuries that you guys have had and kind of doing a little bit of piecemeal stuff, do you still think that there’s a large gap in terms of what you think this defense can be versus what you’ve seen thus far?
“The bar for me and for our defense is very high. If I were to say I was happy and satisfied with where we are that wouldn’t be the truth and it wouldn’t be the truth if you ask every one of our players. Where can we get to? I think a lot better. A lot, lot better. The players would say the same thing too. We just have to keep going every day and improving every day and when it’s all done let’s find out where that is. I am very, very pleased with the attitude of this defense. I’ve said this before and I’m going to say it again: they came out and worked extremely hard in this game, they tried to do everything we asked them to do, and they came in after the game, watched the tape, and saw what they could improved and that’s just what we’ll do each week and at the end I’m very excited about this group.”
I know you’re not a stats guy but you brought up the rush defense last week, and I think now you’re allowing 80 yards a game average rushing. Can you talk about that and third-down conversions and also red zone scores? That’s one area…
“I’m not a big stat guy. I think sometimes you can use stats to say, ‘Okay, this isn’t as bad as you think it is’ and that kind of thing. You have to, on defense, be a team that stops the run. You can’t be a great defense if you don’t stop the run first. The second thing you have to do is you’ve got to be good on third down. That’s always for forever on defense. And then I would say the third is something that we have to get better at, and I thought that we were heading in the right direction but we’ve got get some things cleaned up apparently, is the red zone. Thing about the red zone is you can play three great plays and all of a sudden do one bad one and it goes, ‘Oh, it was terrible.’ I think when you look at it we know where we’ve got to improve on that. That’s got to be the next big emphasis but stats are stats. The only stats we care about is let’s win. Let’s win, and if that happens then I’m the happiest guy in the world.”
Let's check in with Iowa City. Hell no they ain't happy after a narrow escape against Ball State and then the missed-it-TO-made-it sequence to lose to Iowa State for the ninth time under Ferentz. The ninth time!
borrowed from a great American pic.twitter.com/9APTZQtYLZ
— PlannedSickDays (@PlannedSickDays) September 16, 2014
It's kind of like Michigan if Brady Hoke was permanently unfireable. They're probably going to be okay-ish, they are frustrated with their archaic program (and Iowa is way more archaic than Michigan except when Iowa plays Michigan), fans would probably like to move on. But, uh, not happening:
If Iowa were to fire Ferentz for convenience, the school would continue to owe him 75% of his annual guaranteed salary for the remaining years in his contract. …
Ferentz’s base salary has climbed each year since 2010, hitting $2.07 million for the current season. It stays at that level for the next five years. Ferentz also receives supplemental income in the amount of $1.48 million per year, bringing his total salary up to $3.55 million per season. That means if Ferentz were fired at the end of this year, Iowa would owe him $13.3 million, to be paid in monthly installments between now and 2020. That amounts to
roughly $2.7 million per year.
And this is a guy arguing that Iowa can totally afford to dump him. It is possible. Charlie Weis is still getting paid by Notre Dame; the Irish offered him a total of 19 million to go do anything else. (All will be forgiven if one day Weis cites Foul Ole Ron as one of his inspirations.) It's just hard to see Iowa pulling the trigger given that they've put up with all the stuff they've already put up with from Ferentz so far, including the rhabdo event and going 4-8 more than a decade into your tenure.
And then there's the question facing Michigan fans who want a change: is there anyone out there who seems like a good idea? Or is it Terry Bowden sweepstakes time again?
Alabama will just tell you stuff. Because it doesn't matter if you get the kind of stuff that laymen will understand, Alabama's just like "okay here let's talk about it," which makes for interesting articles about the Tide facing a blizzard of screens in their early games against overmatched foes and how you go about dealing with that:
"When they're throwing fast, get your hands up," defensive end Jonathan Allen said. "If they throw a screen, you have to retrace. That's what really defeats the screen is when the linemen retrace and run to the ball. That'll really take away from the screen. So our job's just beginning as soon as he throws the ball."
This is not rocket science. It is part of a respectful-seeming conversation happening about football in front of the media that the media can then go use to write interesting stories, thus increasing the overall happiness around the program slightly.
And this is Alabama, home to the notoriously prickly Nick Saban. I can't imagine how frustrating it must be to be on the Michigan beat. I can count the multitudes who have fled.
Meanwhile at Michigan. The university's notoriously expensive FOIA department strikes again:
Michigan attempted to charge CBS $410 for a FOIA request looking for data into basic 4-year scholarship #'s. More than anyone else, by far
— Nick Baumgardner (@nickbaumgardner) September 16, 2014
The only two possibilities here are that Michigan is breaking the law or that they run the most inefficient FOIA office in the country, which implies things about the efficiency of the rest of the unduly-closeted operation. Either way this should change. If you end up talking to Schlissel ask him which possibility is the truth.
And yes more dead horse spread punt stuff but this answer is just …
Hoke asked about why he doesn't use the spread punt: "I've always been a pro style punt (coach). ... I really don't want to talk about it."
— Nick Baumgardner (@nickbaumgardner) September 10, 2014
Okay. What would you like to talk about?
One of the ultimate people in charge of things. Spencer Hall roasts Goodell and shows why the people in charge of things are just in charge of them:
Remember now what a blank social boffin the NFL strapped to its face to begin with: a Senator's son from a safety school who quite literally never worked anywhere else but in the sports job he got directly out of college. Roger Goodell's resume is a hollow blandishment of institutional servitude. He fought in the arbitration wars; he coordinated the events. Calendars were heroically arranged.
Do not expect that having a job means anything. Every great organization will one day hire the moron who will destroy them.
People in charge of coin tosses are just in charge of them. If you missed this from Saturday, whoah:
That's Texas electing to kick after UCLA deferred, the ref explaining this, and Texas's captains going "sounds good to me!" Shockingly, Charlie Strong did not kick them off the team immediately. I would have.
Apparently this happens about once a year? I could never be a coach. I would assume that things like brushing your teeth were outside of my purview and lose games because of it.
Also in CFB oddities. So this was a trick play:
"What should I do on this play to draw attention to myself, coach?"
"Have you seen Showgirls, son?"
"No. Unless the answer is supposed to be yes. Then yes."
"Son. I'm going to need you to flop around like an electrocuted fish like when Nomi—"
"How about I just fall over?"
"I am just going to fall over."
Arkansas threw at the "tackle", who was eligible, and two different guys on Miami intercepted the same pass. Should have flopped around like an electrocuted fish.
And the oddest oddity. Boston College ran for 452 yards against USC! That is not the grand total of Eagle rushing yards in all Boston College games against USC ever! It is one game from Saturday! What?
you could see the Eagles wear down USC's discipline and will with one play in particular, applied heavily over the course of the game: the zone read with a lead arc block by a tight end.
The common way this play is run is with the QB choosing to handoff or keep the ball. If he keeps, he's attacking the edge based on a read of an unblocked defensive end, with a lead blocker for him on the edge.
BC kept USC off balance with a bunch of other stuff; it was an arc block on the zone read keep that was the killer time and again.
Etc.: Matt Hinton's weekly has landed at Grantland, and is recommended. We don't feature because no one pays attention to 34-10 MAC games. That UGA-SoCar first down is the definition of margin of error.
Guy with name as difficult to spell as Coach K bombs Coach K. I don't really know why Paul George exploding is a big deal in this context; if not playing for USA he would have been doing something else that put his leg in danger.
Takeaway: offenses were so potent by the 1950s that teams would punt on normal downs to gain field position, and the opponent wouldn’t have a guy ready for this.
Michigan’s outmoded punt formation is a horse we’ve been beating since Hoke’s first year despite it being about as dead as, well, NFL-style punt formations in college football. In light of last week’s punt-o-rama first half I got a question from a reader asking if we’d actually explain what the difference is between them and why one is better than the other.
So yeah, let’s do that, with the foreknowledge that Hoke isn’t going to change no matter what we say or prove; this is so you’ll know what you’re seeing only.
Here’s the punt formation that Michigan uses:
Like all things in football there’s a hundred different names and minor variations on it but the gist has remained the same since a time before the word “pattern” was replaced with “formation.” It follows the same rules as normal downs: seven men on the line of scrimmage, four in the backfield, with the backs plus ends on the line counted as eligible receivers. Since the snapper has to concentrate on that he typically doesn’t figure into the punt protection scheme except as a bonus dude to get in the way or cover a lane. The O-line does the front-line blocking, with a couple of wingbacks to protect against an edge rush and an up-back on the “leg” (…of the punter) side to catch anything that comes through, like an RB in pass pro, reading inside-out.
This protection scheme has worked for two generations and remains pretty safe from all kinds of punt blocking attacks unless a block is blown. It packs guys in the middle and on the outside the blockers mostly just have to keep rushers from getting inside before the punt is off. The two “ends” (wide receivers, really) are gunners, releasing downfield on the snap to attack the returner before the ball arrives and he can set up his blocking.
The NFL still uses this formation because they have to:
During a kick from scrimmage, only the end men, as eligible receivers on the line of scrimmage at the time of the snap, are permitted to go beyond the line before the ball is kicked.
Exception: An eligible receiver who, at the snap, is aligned or in motion behind the line and more than one yard outside the end man on his side of the line, clearly making him the outside receiver, replaces that end man as the player eligible to go downfield after the snap. All other members of the kicking team must remain at the line of scrimmage until the ball has been kicked.
Translation: only the two outside guys can be gunners; everyone else on the punting team can’t release downfield until ball leaves foot. This was an attempt to cut down on injuries, figuring it’s best to keep as many collisions between high-speed NFL bodies to short range meetings in the backfield.
[After the jump: niche opportunity leads to adaptation]
College football doesn’t have this rule, and that’s why a different punt strategy could evolve:
The two most common names for this style are instructive. It’s “spread” because you wind up with guards lined two yards away from the snapper, and four “receivers” (ie gunners) instead of two. It’s “shield” because the key to it is setting up 900+ pounds of meat shield about five yards in the backfield, behind whom the punter can do his thing. From a personnel standpoint you are basically trading three fullbackian guys for two WR/DBs and an extra OL.
Why only college? Without the NFL’s two-gunner rule college teams are free to send as many dudes as they like toward the punt returner right on the snap. The only thing holding them back is having to block long enough to get the punt off safely against all fronts. So: how do you get more guys released? They tried various rugby-style things in the ‘90s, but the real winner was going to a defense-in-depth strategy that required two (!) fewer blockers to get the same (actually better) rate of preventing blocks. The only tradeoff is less opportunity to pull a fake pass; that happens so rarely it’s not much of a loss. In the pros, since you can’t send covered ends downfield anyway, might as well stay in a normal-ish offensive formation.
The key difference is how they block the A-gaps (the spaces between the center and the guards). In a shield punt the A gaps aren’t defended at the line of scrimmage. Rather you have three very large men—who can thus absorb a rusher without giving ground—standing about five yards back. They act like a gate: they line up with a space for the ball to be snapped, then close ranks. Those three guys are responsible for catching any defender that comes through the A gap, and keeping whatever else leaks through too far outside for them to get to the punter.
Provided they do their job—more of which than any coach would care to admit being to stand in the way and be large—there should be a nice 7-yard cushion behind them for the punter to step into and get the ball off. Provided the shield isn’t shoved backwards, in the time it takes for the defenders to engage then break through or around them, the punt will get off.
With the eye of the storm kept clear by that mechanic, the rest of the blocks are quick and need only widen the vectors of the non-middle attackers. The guards’ jobs in particular are to get inside the ends and shove them a yard horizontally; then they too can release downfield to join the punt coverage. The punter receives the ball about 12 yards behind the line of scrimmage, and those seven yards in front of him are his safety zone to step into; the punt release point is right behind the shield.
The only way to beat it is to swarm the shield. If you can’t figure out why this scheme scares coaches, look again at the five people on the line of scrimmage: there’s extra WRs on the line instead of offensive tackles. Until they could see it working at other schools, many a coach probably got to the point where you say “don’t block the DTs at the line” and walked out of the meeting.
Even if you told him a punt is your highest yardage offensive play.
If the defense packs more guys onto the line, you close up and put a hat on a hat, still leaving the three most dangerous attackers for the shield. If they have four attackers in the A gaps, the guard to that side will change his technique, blocking down on an inside guy to delay anything behind that block (the shield takes care of the DE). The result is twice as many gunners heading downfield at the snap to cover the punt.
To date defenses have yet to find a method of consistently getting pressure, even on an all-out 10-man attack, unless the blocking is screwed up or the punter doesn’t get the ball off in time.
Faking is a bit harder to do because you technically have two tackles (the covered inside WRs) downfield. NCAA refs let that go to extraordinary lengths when it’s lumbering dudes wearing numbers in the 70s; not so much when it’s a guy wearing 85 running downfield like it’s four verts. You’ll note when Michigan was a shield punting team we had the punter just run it.
There are variations. One tinker gaining popularity is to run it from an unbalanced line, blocking hat-for-hat on the side you’re punting to and saving the shield for the backside.
That’s an overload formation by the way, but it’s a good example of how the shield punt’s rules translate to the defense trying to get pressure:
The Y receiver just has to run across the formation and bang the DT to interrupt that whole side; four guys do get into the three-man shield, but the unblocked dude is the furthest out and therefore can’t cover the horizontal difference before the punt’s away. On the frontside, everybody blocked down—so long as they got a hat across the defender there’s no way that guy’s getting upfield fast enough to cover the punt.
How do you know it’s so effective?
Data (click bigs):
Nothing else—no rule change or game mechanic—has changed punting in this period except the spread of spread. Mathlete’s looked at it before too. The above were from data grabbed at ESPN. See trends? The likelihood that a punt will be returned has dropped 30%. Those that do get returned are getting 15% fewer yards. I split out the Power 5, since they’re generally working from the same pool of punters as the NFL, and watched the rate of their punt returns drop from the NFL normal to less often than the mid-majors, with their non-power legs, used to get.
Because it can protect the punter so successfully, and moreso because it can get so many tacklers downfield before the blocking, the spread punt has made successful punt returns a rare thing. We saw a case example of the spread punt’s efficacy last week in Ann Arbor. Miami (not That Miami) managed to get what seemed like the same value from their punts as Michigan despite their punter’s leg having a range that didn’t even get to Norfleet. Last week Michigan missed an opportunity on a muffed punt against ND precisely because they only had one guy downfield to challenge for it.
So why doesn’t Michigan do this? The best reason I’ve been able to come up with is maybe they don’t want to put any more on their offensive linemen right now? That is a bad reason; teams that have transitioned to the spread punt did so in a few practices and were effective at it. The real reason is probably that they want to be Alabama, i.e a pro team in college uniforms. Punt blocking isn’t all that hard; you just need to get in the way of interior rushers and delay the outside dudes. The biggest way to screw it up, from a coaching perspective, is to be the last program on the continent to adapt to a superior method.
Offensive line from the start of fall camp to now: where’s it come and in what ways have you seen it grow?
“I think the biggest growth’s been in the communication. I see our guys on a day-to-day basis getting more comfortable and getting better at communicating. We’ve talked about it still as a point of emphasis. I think it always will be. I think you see that in really good football teams. If you watch the line play, if you just watch the trenches and you watch an offensive line play for a really good offensive team you’ll see both the verbal communication that goes on and then all the stuff that happens after the snap with the nonverbal stuff and how they pass games [Ed: I think that’s what he said] and all that type of stuff. But pleased with where we’re at as far as our focus and where we need to go. Once again, consistency.”
As far as focus goes offensively moving the ball, are you frustrated? Sometimes it looks like you’re moving the ball well. There’s other times you’re not moving it at all. There’s other times where not moving it well at all is an understatement. Is there a level of frustration for you right now? Is this offense coming together as planned or is it behind schedule?
“I don’t—I guess that’s kind of a difficult question to ask. I don’t really understand.”
Are you frustrated? Is this offense where it should be in your eyes?
“No, I’m not frustrated at all. Shoot, you look out there at the field at times- I look out there during the game and when you don’t have Funch out there and you have Amara Darboh catching his first touchdown, Da’Mario Jones comes in and catches his first pass [which was a] big third-down conversion, you look at a true freshman left tackle, Devin in his third game in a new system, at times we’re playing Khalid [Hill] at tight end. You just look at the youth out there [and] there is going to be a growth process. Our kids have worked extremely hard and take great pride in doing things right. Now, has it been perfect? No. And do we have a long way to go? Yes. But the attention is there, the focus is there, the want-to is there and we’ve just got to continue to improve.”
Last week you mentioned infancy stages. For another baby analogy, would you say it’s crawling now?
“Well, we took another step. We took a step in the right direction. Still we know as a group the consistency’s got to be better but at times you see us do some things very, very well.”
[After the THE JUMP: Nussmeier summarizes the offensive strategy against Miami and gives his thoughts on tempo]
MGoQuestion: Against Miami the offense was far more under center than against Notre Dame, when I think you were in shotgun about 85% of the time. What was the thought behind that?
“Well, like I said before we’re going to try and devise a plan each and every week to give our guys the best chance for success, and when you look at Notre Dame when you fall behind in a game like that obviously sometimes it changes your backfield sets and some things you wanted to do. And there’s also different plays that maybe one week we feel better running out of maybe the pistol or shotgun than we do under center for various blitzes or things that we’re going to check or those type of things. So backfield sets, shotgun, under center will vary by gameplan.”
With Funchess being out, in terms of besides the obvious with him being able to score touchdowns and things like that it seems like one of his biggest attributes is as a bailout. If nothing’s really happening you can throw it up to him and let him hopefully make a play on the ball. When you don’t have a guy like that does it kind of set up the offense for…
Maybe that’s how mistakes can happen?
“I hope we’re not letting you coach the quarterback this week because we don’t teach just throw it up to Funch when things aren’t going well.” /laughs
I wouldn’t do that either. And I wouldn’t take the job.
“That was a good one there. I think the biggest thing [is] you can get played a little differently when you have a receiver of his caliber of play. It forces people to respect you on the perimeter. You get one-on-one matchups [and] it makes it awful difficult for people to play you that way whereas when you don’t have a guy like Devin it puts more pressure on the other guys, for sure, and you may see a little bit different box as far as the running game. You may get the extra hat down in there that maybe they don’t want to be so involved because they’re trying to get a double team on a receiver of his caliber.”
You always want to control the ball on offense but does that ramp up when you’re playing a team that loves to play uptempo and have a ton of possessions?
“We always say each and every week [that] we want to control the tempo on offense, whatever that may be. If we need to speed up and we want to play fast we want to be able to do that. If we need to slow down and take more time we need to do that. Now, I think you get in trouble when you start to look at your opponent and say, ‘If we don’t eat this much time on this drive…’ You’ve got to play aggressively and we’re going to aggressively take what the defense gives us each and every week.”
Is Jake Butt further ahead than you might have expected him at this point and what he’s able to do in the offense?
“I don’t know that I had an expectation for Jake. You just never know when a guy’s coming off an ACL. Knowing the quality of young man you’re talking about, the quality of character, just a phenomenal kid. His work ethic, his desire. I mean, from day one he said, ‘I’m going to have the quickest ACL recovery in history.’ When you know the kid nothing would surprise you. Obviously each and every day we’re trying to give him a little bit more. He’s a phenomenal football player and really looking forward to when he gets back to really being at full strength.”
How does he change when he is at full strength what you can call and what you can do inside your offense?
“Well, I think when you look at his ability to create matchups for you in the passing game and do some things like that. As you saw in the game we did a couple different things with him. He’s a guy that gives us another weapon on offense.”
Doug, after the turnovers there in the second quarter it seemed like you guys really made an effort to just keep the ball on the ground and pound it with Derrick a little bit. Was that one of those things that they were giving you or were you going to be careful because the offense was turning it over a little bit there?
“Well, I don’t know that anybody would say that after three games you’re minus-seven in the turnover margin [that] you’d feel good about where you’re at there. Obviously it’s been a point of emphasis [and] will continue to be a point of emphasis. We’re not going to play winning football if we continue on this pace so our guys understand that. We’ve got to get that corrected.
“As far as the gameplan goes, felt like we started fast. If you look at the flow of the game we get down there and put the ball on the ground in the red area. Second-and-three on the nine but we get three points to start. Defense does a great job, gets a turnover, [and] we go back and turn it into a touchdown and then we got into a little bit of shooting ourselves in the foot like we’ve talked about. As we came out [in the] third quarter [we] did not start as well as we’d like to in the second half. First two series were punts. Tried to dictate the run a little bit, and then I felt like our guys- you know, if you look at it, shoot, we averaged eight yards per carry I believe it was in the fourth quarter. Our guys really- when you look at how you want to play a game and you have the ability, if you’re going to run the football you’ve got to be consistent and you’ve got to stay with it. You can’t just- because you have a couple loss-yardage runs or because the run is not getting big chunks like you’d like or creating explosives you’ve got to stay with it, and I felt like we were able to do that.”
Coach, when you talk about explosives against good teams how much of that is on the running backs to break a tackle, make a safety miss, maybe stiff arm and are you getting enough of those?
“Well, you always try and get the back into the second level and we always talk about [with] the backs, when we get you into the second level of the defense you’ve got to make somebody miss. I think our wideouts have done an outstanding job in perimeter blocking but there’s always going to be one extra hat so we put it on the back: you get to the second level, you’ve got to make them miss.”
Doug, I’ve got two…
“Okay. You’re only allowed one.” /laughs
Is it fair to say Derrick’s your primary back right now? I mean, he’s double the carries I think DeVeon had.
“Well, I think Derrick did an outstanding job. DeVeon’s done a really good job too, and I think it’s just happened that way a little bit. Derrick is our starting tailback, he’s been the starting tailback. You know, I pointed out to our offensive team [that] Derrick had a phenomenal week of practice. Had his best week of practice last week and arguably had his best game of the year. The point to be made: how you practice is how you play. And just by chance, DeVeon’s done an outstanding job too and he’s going to get his touches.”
My other question is involving Devin Gardner and Shane Morris. A lot of people…you know the saying, “the backup quarterback’s always the most popular” and I didn’t follow your career carefully when you were played [but] are you familiar with that and what do you tell Devin? I imagine he’s not immune to hearing this stuff.
“Sure. You said it best. You know, the backup quarterback is always the most popular guy in town and Shane has done a tremendous job. I said leading up to the Notre Dame game [that he] had an exceptional week of practice. Had another great week last week. Continues to really get better and better and I believe Devin is too. You know, you look at Devin’s numbers and sometimes numbers can be misleading but you look at the numbers and you say the guy’s almost at a 69% completion percentage, he’s got five touchdowns, four interceptions. Yeah, a couple of errors that he’d like to have back and I’ve said it before, I’ve got to do some things better for him too. The one in the game the ball gets tipped, it gets tipped at the line of scrimmage so the trajectory takes off on him and it looks like it’s a bad throw but it got tipped. I think it’s unfair to say that this guy or that guy is the problem.”
Just because of Utah’s offensive numbers the conversation will be how they dictate tempo of play but [for] your offense how can you, maybe by sustaining drives and keeping them off the field a little bit, how can you dictate tempo?
“I’ve said it before. I don’t believe there’s ever been a direct correlation- I think when you look at pace of play and you look at snaps per game and yards per game I don’t know that you can draw a direct correlation between championship teams and the amount of snaps and the amount of yards they get. I don’t think there’s a correlation there and I don’t think every down’s created equally. We’ll continue to focus on the things we think are important: winning third downs, winning in the red zone, those type of things. And how are you doing with the snaps you’re getting?
Speaking of the backup quarterback, he had a couple balls dropped on Saturday but how’d he look to you in the game and has he consistently shown that ability to know when to tuck it away and run like he did on the one?
“I thought Shane did a really good job. Went in the game and we asked him to run the offense. You know, we didn’t back away from the way we were calling the game and he did a really good job and he continues to get more and more comfortable with the more snaps he gets.”
Utah has 11 sacks in two games. Your offensive line is still young. What do they have to do to be ready for this challenge and what have you told them to make sure they’re mentally and physically prepared?
“Well, Utah’s a very aggressive style of defense. Having been in that league and knowing Kalani [Fifita Sitake] and coach Whittingham, they do a great job and they’re going to be very aggressive in the way they approach the game so it’s going to be important that our guys really focus. We’re going to have to spend a lot of time this week in the film room making sure we’re understanding our protection schemes and how we’re going to block each and every look because they’re going to give us a bunch of different looks.”
News bullets and other items:
- There were no injury updates, because we aren’t going to talk about guys that didn’t play. Essentially, the word “injury” has been scrubbed from Hoke’s vocabulary.
- Matt Wile will be your short yardage punter, essentially because Will Hagerup kicks too hard.
- Ryan Glasgow had one of the best practice weeks Hoke has had from a nose tackle in a long time last week.
- Derrick Green had his best practice week last week.
- Jake Butt was held to a predetermined play count last week.
“Thanks for coming out. Saturday it was good to get back on the field and compete. It was good to win. The effort was very good from our team. We certainly always have things that we have to do better and we will do better but the hard-working aspect of it – thought some guys who stepped in to some critical spots gained some valuable experience and confidence. Excited for what they did.
“We had five minutes in the second quarter that would be five minutes we wouldn't like to have but I think coming through the adversity, coming out in the second half [the] defense shut them out. Offensively, I think we rushed for 7.9 yards per carry in the second half which is something that you want to do. I think from playing at home and the crowd, in the beginning of the fourth quarter their series that they had, it really had an impact. They had to call timeout. It's a fourth-down situation. They come back out, they false start, and then on the fourth-down play we get good get-off from our guys up front and get pressure and the ball is thrown out of bounds. But I think you can attribute that to the impact that it got a little louder. I'm on the field and I know you all aren’t and you could hear it so it was good and it made an impact.
”We've got Utah coming in this weekend. They are undefeated. Bye week last week. I think their second in the country in scoring offense. I think they average 309 throwing the ball, 268 running the football. Second or first in the country in tackles for loss and similar there in sacks. I think they have 11 in two games.
“I would say one thing we have to do a better job with in coaching it and executing it is the turnovers. We had a chance on Saturday to come up with three turnovers defensively. We got the one interception. We started fast as a team. First two drives on offense scored. First time defense was out on the field we got the interception but we had two other opportunities we need to capitalize on and then obviously communication on the pop kick. We need to do a better job from a standpoint of coaching it, the little things. Justice told me that he yelled ‘mine, mine, mine’ and Wyatt it just didn't hear him on that and that's something we've got to keep emphasizing as coaches. When you look at Devin’s interception, the ball was tipped at the line of scrimmage and that made it flow a little higher so it was outs of Jehu’s reach and then obviously Darboh makes a great catch, gets the first down and as he is putting the ball away and trying to secure it the guy knocks the ball out. But those three turnovers in a quick period of time you don't want to have but I think the way the kids and the team handled it was very positive. That's probably the longest opening statement in the history of college football right there."
A lot of people who focus just on the offensive line think that your guys are targeting better this year. Can you talk about that and just what you've seen?
"Yeah, I think that's one way of putting it. There were a couple plays where we didn't target as well that could have been huge plays. That's one thing, watching the film with the offensive staff and Doug and talking about it, I think the target areas are better. I think the leverage is more consistent. Not where we want it when you talk about pad level and then on a couple of the outside zone plays we for some reason a couple times targeted them as inside zone. Now, you get your MIKE counts, you get a lot of things going on and either the communication didn't come all the way out or we just had bad target areas."
[More after THE JUMP]
Your thoughts about how Jabrill played on the outside and is there a chance he returns punts in the future again?
"I think number one, there's a chance that that will happen. I think him and Dennis and Darboh have been the three guys that we've used most of the time. Obviously we went to the two return guys because of the rugby punts. One short and one a little deeper. Really having Fleet as the guy in control and having an experienced guy short, I thought it was important. I know Darboh hasn't had a lot of experience but he's been on the field, he's been in big games. We thought that was important to do. I thought Jabrill held up pretty well. I think it's a learning process every time he goes out, from leverage or playing bump or playing off or you’re playing middle third, whatever it might be. I think every time he plays he'll get better. He's very instinctive, which I think is a plus."
MGoQuestion: Jabrill was listed as a starter on the video board before the game but he didn't enter until the second quarter. Was there a reason that he didn't play in the first quarter?
"Well, depth charts are what they are, to be honest with you. We compete and challenge all the way through. He's had a great week. It's just the way how things went."
I was wondering if you could talk about Jeremy Clark and how you've seen him progress from the day he's got here to where he is now.
"You look at Jeremy's progress from his freshman year and he's always been blessed pretty well with physical attributes and I think his football knowledge continues to grow and that's what you need at that position back there. In high school some of those guys, they can kind of line up where they want and not because they’re undisciplined or anything like that but because they can make a lot of plays because they have ability and I think the competition that we play against week in and week out, adjusting defenses, going from one coverage to another coverage on a motion, all those things are things that I think he's really worked hard on."
Was Funchess able to practice yesterday?
"We won't talk about any of those guys who didn't play."
"Because I don't feel like it.”
Derrick Green had the majority of the carries on Saturday. He was demanding the ball. Should we expect to see more of him as a featured back going forward?
"We'd like to have one guy be featured but having a guy like DeVeon to go to is a big plus, and so we'll keep rotating guys through. He got the majority of the reps and you never know where that could change where DeVeon gets the majority of them."
You mentioned the turnovers. You’ve had two flurries [of them] in your past two games. Is there a pattern you’ve identified there at all or is there something you do to avoid those kinds of pockets [of turnovers] in games?
"I think… coincidence, I don't know. But on Devin’s, the guy tips the ball and just tips it enough to change the trajectory a little bit. Amara [was] trying to get the first down, trying to get more yardage but you've got to tuck the ball away. Probably the one on the kicking is the one where we've got to do a good job coaching through it but are we concerned about it? Yeah. We want to hold onto the ball and get more turnovers on defense."
Talk about Jake's [Butt] game on Saturday. Is he further along than you thought he would be at this point and what does he add to the offense and what can you do differently when he is fully healthy?
"Well, I think Jake gives you the best of both. He's a guy who can play the Y truly on the line of scrimmage and block and protect. He also can play some H-back because he can run well enough. We had him on a little bit of a play count, to be honest with you, and he played about what we thought we wanted him to and as he feels more comfortable – you know, he tells you he's fine so we'll see."
Jack Miller – what's the difference? Last year he had the job for four games and he lost it. What's the difference this year?
"I think as much as anything it's maturity. I think his maturity, how he's developed. I think the responsibility within this offense – I'm not going to say it's greater but I think there's more emphasis on that and I think that's helped him grow as a leader but also from a football intelligence [and] instinct part of it. I think that's as big a difference. He's finishing things more. He played well the other day. Didn't play perfect. Did some things that we would like for him to do better. There’s some things that he would like to do better."
You said on the radio on Wednesday with Brandstatter that if Glasgow is at center then Kalis is at right guard, so Jack does not flip out to the guard?
"We haven't [done that]. He has before, I'll put it that way, but we've not done that probably since camp a little bit."
You had Wile punt the last punt. Was that a decision based on how Will had punted before?
"Well, as much as anything if you remember Wile took all of the pooch punts a year ago and we tried to back up Will a little bit but Will’s got an awfully strong leg and it's one of the things that Matt was doing better were the pooches, and so at the end of the half we tried to move him back a little bit and still he had too much leg. I think some of that was a fundamental flaw in the punt itself."
When it comes to matching up with a high-scoring offense like this and some of the troubles you've had with generating turnovers and tackles for loss and things like that. Is that something you have to do against a team like that?
"Well, I think it helps. Turnover margins is one of the biggest indicators in the game of football either at the National Football League level or the college level in how you end up the season so I think all those things with Utah and the explosiveness they have offensively- that's always going to be a factor but I think it's a big factor in this game. I also really believe that special teams will be a big factor in this game.”
When you look back at the few games that you’ve played, is there something that you put your finger on as far as why there haven’t been especially tackles for losses?
“Yeah, and I’m not real down on that part of it. We had eight last week, tackles for losses, which is the most we’ve had in a year. I don’t think that’s been as much of a negative as, you know- you can look at last week and we had one sack but we had nine hurries. I’m sorry, nine hits on the quarterback and four hurries where he had to run around and throw the ball away or he lets the ball go and somebody got him to the ground, so we’re getting closer. Is it where we want to be? No.”
The tackles for losses with Utah: why are they getting so many? Is it just in their defensive front or are they blitzing a lot?
“Yeah, they’re a little bit of both. In the first two games probably haven’t blitzed as much as they would like to for one reason or another. I think we’ll see more of that. You know, when you get behind the sticks on third downs you know you’re going to get it. But I just think he’s [Kyle Whittingham] always been an aggressive coach. He’s a defensive coach. We played them twice at San Diego State and got embarrassed at their place one year, then played well the next year. But always physical and always aggressive.”
How much did your gameplans offensively without Funchess and defensively without a lot of guy, how much were they limited or adjusted without those guys?
“You know, I think to some degree. Defensively I don’t know how much it was an impact just because we got Jabrill back, which helped. Blake [Countess], I thought the way he practiced all week and even how he played in the game, it was how you like to see Blake play. He had a big third-down knock down on a slant. From that standpoint I don’t think it was limited.
“From an offensive standpoint Devin can be a mismatch. He’s a big target. I think some of the things we tried to do with Darboh and tried to do and did do with Darboh and Chesson were things that he normally does so you got a chance to teach some other guys a little bit more in the package. I think the one thing about what Doug does- you know, Joe Kerridge is your outside receiver when we went to some empty stuff so there’s a lot of different spots and a lot of creativity in what you’re trying to get from a defense.”
On Derrick Green, what do you think benefitted him more? Was it the weight loss or it seems like he’s seeing the field a little bit better…
“Well, I think again, he was a freshman a year ago. A true freshman. Came in not in good shape. Hurt his ankle, lost a bunch of reps, started to come around at the end of last year- I think him and DeVeon both. I’ll put them both in there. Really did a nice job in the weight room and spring football and winter conditioning. He’s gotten more reps, [he’s] seeing things better. I think it’s a combination and I think it’s also a little bit of a combination [because] the guys up front are creating some space.
Jake Butt gave an injury up on [Khalid] Hill after the game. Said he had a hamstring…
“Did he have a hamstring?”
Well, that’s what Jake said.
“Well that’s…” /stares
Can you at least give an idea when Desmond Morgan might come back from his injury?
You mentioned earlier that you coached against Kyle at San Diego State. We know the scores of those games but what do you remember about how they played. Is it the same?
“They’re a physical group. They’ve always had talent on the offense. Receivers, backs, quarterbacks were always pretty skillful. Big up front, the linemen. On defense [they’re] very active, very…pressured us a bunch at San Diego State.”
Do you expect more of the same?
“I do. I do. He’s got a new coordinator in Dave Christensen. Dave was the head coach at Wyoming so played him for two years. From an offensive concept, they’ve got some really good offensive coaches when you look at Dennis Erickson’s on that staff, Dave Christensen. There’s some guys who’ve coached a lot of ball.”
We saw a lot of Blake Countess on the inside receiver and Jabrill outside. Are you getting confident enough in what Peppers can do to continue that look?
“Yeah. It depends on some looks that we have. It depends some on if he’s playing the nickel or [if] he’s playing corner. We did more of that with Blake playing the nickel, trying to get Jabrill squared away at the corner position a little bit. Trying to help him out.”
You’re leading the Big Ten in total defense so far, though it’s a small sample size. Particularly against the run, how have you seen that group develop over the past three games and since fall camp?
“You’re right, it’s a very small sample group. I would say the compete and challenge that we talk about daily, those guys from the inside because of the depth that we’ve been able to recruit to, they know that every practice they’re fighting for time and they’re competing for time. I think that helps, that competition part of it. Ryan Glasgow practiced as well as I’ve had a nose practice in a long time last week and he played that way. And that group is a really tight group, which is neat to see.”
Being 2-1 you haven’t really put together a complete game yet. Does that give you a feeling of optimism for when this team does finally get going? Second, we talked about Notre Dame being a test game. Utah with their high powered offense- how do you look at this game?
“Well, I think you’re playing a team, number one, from the Pac 12 that obviously the Big Ten has had a great relationship with and we’ve played a lot of those teams in the past. They’re a football team that’s scored a lot of points [and] hasn’t given up many points. They’ve got good football players in skill positions. For us it’s about every day working hard and getting better. Whatever it is. If I’m a defensive lineman on a slant move or whatever it is, getting better at whatever it is. We’ve got to keep going to work every day and pushing each other and competing.”
With Utah I’m sure a lot of people still think of them as a Mountain West team because we’re in the midwest and what not. Can you describe where that program is in terms of the move to the Pac 12?
“You know, I can’t do that. I don’t know what they’ve had to go through, what they’re doing. Shoot, I better know what we’re doing at Michigan. As far as what kind of teams they’ve had, they’ve been very good football teams. They’ve been very physical football teams and very skilled football teams. I can tell you that part.”
“Thank guys. And gals.”