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[Photo: Press of Atlantic City]
Egg Harbor City (NJ) Cedar Creek WR Ahmir Mitchell chose Michigan over fellow finalist Ohio State
in a press conference this evening by having a dang plane fly over his hometown with a "GO BLUE" sign trailing off the back. While the Buckeyes reportedly didn't push hard for a commitment—they've got a numbers crunch of their own and several top-flight WRs interested in the 2016 and 2017 classes—Mitchell is far from a consolation prize; he's a strong four-star with the capability to contribute in all three phases of the game.
Mitchell is the 23rd commit in the 2016 class, the third from New Jersey (Brad Hawkins, Ron Johnson), and the second at wide receiver (Hawkins).
4*, #24 WR,
4*, #19 WR,
4*, 82, #31 WR,
4*, 94, #8 ATH,
4*, #7 ATH,
Mitchell's rankings on both Scout and Rivals fell recenty from ~50 overall and I don't think the 247 Composite has entirely caught up yet; he's still regarded as a very good prospect. He's the type of athlete who could easily shoot back into the top-100 range with a strong showing his senior season.
All four sites are in relative agreement on his size; they all list him at 6'3" and 195-206 pounds. He's got a Junior Hemingway type frame and he's a couple inches taller than Hemingway.
[Hit THE JUMP for scouting, video, and more.]
The free evaluation from Scout's Brian Dohn is representative of the general consensus on Mitchell's game:
EvaluationMitchell is a long and athletic, and gets down the field well. He has good hands and knows how to use his body to gain position against smaller defensive backs. He comes out of breaks well but needs to be a bit more precise in his route running. He is a tremendous competitor, and it shows when the ball is in the air. He high-points the ball, and doesn't mind going over the middle. He can be a possession receiver, or a big play guy. -- Brian Dohn
- Hands and Concentration
Areas to Improve
- Ability To Beat Jams
- Route-Running Skills
While the focus of Mitchell's recruitment has turned to his abilities on offense, he stood out on both sides of the ball at last year's PA Swag 7-on-7 tournament, per Dohn:
It didn't matter whether Mitchell lined up at wide receiver or defensive back: when the sophomore was on the field, everyone knew it. He already made our Top 10 defensive players, and he was also among the top offensive players. He mixed range with physicality, attacked the ball and did a nice job of using his long arms and body to gain separation down the field.
On defense, Dohn lauded him for his ability to react quickly, cover ground, and make plays on the ball.
This June, Mitchell displayed an improved ability to get off the line at the Rutgers passing camp, earning the #4 overall performer distinction from Rivals' Adam Friedman ($):
There are few players in the country that are comparable to Mitchell. His size, explosiveness, competitiveness and reliable hands were on full display on Saturday. Cornerbacks that tried to jam him at the line of scrimmage were quickly dispatched and errant passes were hauled in with ease. There was one pass that Mitchell hauled in with one hand between two defenders. He had to pin it against his body because the defender was holding onto his other arm.
Mitchell really stood out during the drill portion of camp, separating himself with explosive speed and he made a bunch of tough one-handed catches. He is a big receiver with a lot of ranginess and he can create space against most defensive backs. Mitchell was a little too quiet during the one-on-one session, but he still made some nice plays and had a strong showing throughout the day.
There are some inconsistent reports about Mitchell's top-end speed and separation ability. ESPN's evaluation notes some stiffness in his movement that's also apparent on film, though he's able to cover for those issues with his size and strength:
He is a power runner with an imposing get off. Can build to top speed a bit and is at his best with quick, one-cut diagonal breaking routes. Can struggle a bit to smoothly speed cut and get into and out of breaks fluidly on sharp breaking routes as he shows some tension in the hips. Must gather some when breaking down going into the top of his route stem. He is very physical in tight quarters and can muscle his way through coverage with strength using his arm length and frame to shield defenders from the ball.
They believe Mitchell's upright running style can make him look less athletic than he really is:
He has a unique gait that at times can make him look stiff with some lower body tightness. However, the more you watch him you realize that he makes things happen with the ball in his hands especially when he can quickly transition after the catch as he is a one-cut, slashing type of runner. He is far more elusive that he is sudden, fluid or laterally agile. He builds to top end speed and when you think he's going to get walked down, he will somehow pull away. He's as fast as he needs to be. he makes most of his big plays because at this level he is so difficult to tackle in the open field.
As you'll see in the highlights, one way Mitchell eludes defenders in the open field is with a mean-ass stiff arm. He also lines up at running back at times in high school. His ability to pick up yards after the catch, whether on screens or downfield, should be an asset.
Rivals explained Mitchell's recent backslide in the rankings—from #51 to #102, which still ain't bad—as the product of some untimely drops:
"Mitchell is one of the best athletes in the country and had a good performance at the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge, but from then until now hasn't been as good. At Ohio State's Friday Night Lights camp, Mitchell could get open with ease but had some problems catching the ball. More than anything, that's the most important part of being a receiver." -- Friedman
That's a big drop based on a pretty small sample of camp snaps, so hopefully Mitchell proves this fall those were an anomaly.
We'll end with a rather evocative film breakdown from IrishIllustrated's Tim Prister ($):
An aesthetically-pleasing athlete in full stride. Excellent length with swallow-the-football hands, a beautiful yet powerful running stride, and the agility to make twisting/turning catches while staying on his feet. Excellent balance. Gets to full speed quickly after making the catch. Shows quality ball skills with the ability to high-point passes, both as a receiver and a safety. A top-notch tracker of the football.
The areas for improvement note he's "not a 4.4 guy, but plenty fast" and concludes there's "nothing glaring to critique." Sounds good!
Mitchell holds offers from Boston College, Florida State, Michigan State, Ole Miss, NC State, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Penn State, Pitt, Rutgers, South Carolina, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Wisconsin, and several others.
Egg Harbor City (NJ) Cedar Creek plays in one of the smaller classification in New Jersey. Mitchell is easily the most touted recruit to come from the program; in the Rivals era (2002-), only two players—Arkansas WR Damon Mitchell (three-star 2013 dual-threat QB) and two-star 2015 UConn DT signee Felton Blackwell—have signed with FBS programs from Cedar Creek.
According to MaxPreps, Mitchell caught 47 passes for 872 yards (18.6 YPC) and 12 TDs, rushed for 241 yards and five TDs on 27 carries (8.9 YPC), completed his lone pass attempt for 60 yards, scored two touchdowns among his eight kickoff returns, and tallied 37 tackles and a pick—which, yes, he returned for a touchdown—as a junior. Not bad.
FAKE 40 TIME
Multiple sites list a SPARQ-verified 40 time of 4.69, which gets zero FAKEs out of five. That would seemingly confirm the consensus that he lacks elite top-end speed but has enough functional speed in pads.
Junior highlights, wsg mean-ass stiff arm:
Sophomore highlights and single-game reels can be found on his Hudl page.
PREDICTION BASED ON FLIMSY EVIDENCE
Mitchell will get a shot at early playing time. While Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson will both be seniors when he arrives on campus, no other returning receiver has made a significant impact on the field so far. Mitchell and Hawkins should both compete for a spot on the two-deep. When 2017 rolls around, the race for starting spots should be wide open. Mitchell could also make an early impact as a return man; his running style is well-suited to kickoff returns, where the key to breaking the big one is often shaking off a tackler while maintaining speed.
UPSHOT FOR THE REST OF THE CLASS
Michigan could be set at receiver with Mitchell and Hawkins on the outside and athlete Chris Evans in the slot. They could also grab one more; Florida three-star Keyshawn "Pie" Young has Michigan and Alabama as his top two, Paramus Catholic three-star Donald Stewart looked like an inevitable addition before his Stanford offer, and Michigan is creeping back into contention for Detroit King four-star Donnie Corley, who'd likely be a take no matter what.
As for the class as a whole, Michigan is now at 23 commits with 17 scholarships currently open. Between unrenewed fifth-year seniors, expected attrition as the depth chart becomes more clear at certain crowded position groups, and attrition from within the class itself—multiple recent class projections don't include LB Dele Harding—Michigan should have room for their current commits and 2-5 more.
Areas of need include tight end, WDE/BUCK, defensive tackle, and one more offensive lineman. Top individual targets include five-star NJ DT Rashan Gary, five-star CA OLB Caleb Kelly, four-star MD OG Terrance Davis, four-star TX OT Jean Delance, four-star TX DT Chris Daniels, four-star CO WDE/OLB Carlo Kemp, four-star ILB Devin Bush Jr., and four-star TX ILB Dontavious Jackson.
IT'S SUPPOSED TO BE THREE *YARDS* AND A CLOUD OF DUST
-This preview, two years ago
IT'S SUPPOSED TO BE ANYTHING POSITIVE AND A CLOUD OF NOT EBOLA
-This preview, last year
IT PUTS THE FOOTBALL IN THE GAP OR IT GETS THE HOSE AGAIN
|FEATURE BACK||Yr.||SHORT YARDAGE||Yr.||3RD DOWN||YR.|
|De'Veon Smith||Jr.||De'Veon Smith||Jr.||Ty Isaac||So.*|
|Ty Isaac||So.*||Derrick Green||Jr.||Drake Johnson||Jr.*|
|Drake Johnson||Jr.*||Ty Isaac||So.*||Karan Higdon||Fr.|
This was a straight-up mess for much of last year. De'Veon Smith and Derrick Green had little idea of what functional blocking looked like (understandable after 2013) and a tendency to run at random. If—and this is entirely hypothetical—you were to rewatch some of these runs in detail you may—again, entirely hypothetically—find yourself reduced to screaming Happy Gilmore quotes about being too good for your home and then self-abasing because Happy Gilmore is a very bad movie enjoyed only by children and Ace. Hypothetically.
Late in the year Michigan tried out Drake Johnson and Justice Hayes and that went better, particularly with Johnson. Over the last four games of the season—Indiana, Northwestern, Maryland, and Ohio State—Johnson got the plurality of the carries and averaged 6.0 yards a carry to Smith's 4.7. Johnson had a reasonable day even against Ohio State, with 15 carries for 76 yards… and then he tore his ACL. Again. Sam Webb reported he only got fully cleared on Monday.
So it's back to those other guys, oh and Ty Isaac. Let's try it again, this time with coaching.
ARBITRARILY ORDERED TAILBACK CANDIDATE #1
HAIR ZOOM 2015 [Fuller]
My Bayesian estimation is that Smith has a tiny lead that wouldn't even be worth mentioning except for the fact that I have to talk about someone first.
This year: ditto.
The first arbitrarily ordered running back is DE'VEON SMITH. Your author does admit that the order of this list may contain some meaning. He is of the opinion that Smith is the most Harbaugh-friendly of the guys currently on the roster.
At his best, Smith is a beefier version of Mike Hart. He's got great balance and generally feels like a nuclear-powered icebreaker.
If you're in an offense where the line consistently delivers you three yards, Smith's ability to bash out another two or three with his balance and power is hugely powerful. That turns third and medium into third and short or a first down. It radically changes the percentages you're working with. This is the kind of gentleman Harbaugh made some headway with at Stanford. Going over all my Smith clips from last year is an exercise in YAC YAC YAC, to the point where the times he doesn't scrape out something after contact come as a shock.
[After THE JUMP: Smith downsides and three other arbitrarily ordered guys.]
At his worst, Smith also feels like a nuclear-powered icebreaker. This is in fact a long run against Appalachian State, but it's the kind of long run that establishes why he's not likely to have many against high-level teams.
Should Smith ever be so fortunate enough to be a feature back for a team that is really good at running the ball, he's going to get caught from behind a lot.
That's fine if you're Mike Hart and you're generating so many of those yards yourself; when you patently lack Hart's ability to ghost out of TFLs it's a bigger issue. Meanwhile Smith took a while to get through holes, something that Michigan fans muttered about and then felt viscerally when Drake Johnson started zipping through them.
Last year's UFRs spent a lot of time on the tailbacks and Smith was ably summed up in game one:
Smith seems more ponderous into and out of cuts [than Derrick Green]. I like Smith's balance and ability to squeeze out 2-3 yards after contact with eerie Hart-like consistency. He should be Michigan's first option on short yardage, no question. In this game Green felt like the better combination of change of direction, size, and explosion, especially since Smith wasn't exactly perfect with his vision either.
There is a mention of poor vision in that blockquote. While Derrick Green was more frustrating in that department, Smith also caused some well-blocked plays to implode. One of them was notable enough to draw attention from outside the corners of the internet inhabited by wild-eyed Michigan fans eating each other:
Smith did fix that later with a decisive upfield cut for a good gain.
Unfortunately, that was not the end of it. Smith had a high-school-ish habit of trying to bounce things outside if things went poorly in front of him. And then sometimes he failed to bounce when the end was sealed inside with authority—something that's almost a guaranteed first down if the running back handles it right. His issue in this department was less severe than Derrick Green's; his performance was still substandard.
Hopefully a year of experience and an increasingly functional offensive line will allow Smith to develop in this department. For long sections of last year the running backs felt like guys who didn't know what they were supposed to be looking for on any particular play. Michigan imported a few guys who are really good at communicating that. The idea that one running back coach could be meaningfully better than another is something this blog has been skeptical of, but the reasons why this might be an exception are detailed in the next Arbitrarily Ordered Section.
As far as Smith goes, it feels like he needs a fully operational space station around him if he's going to be the super-efficient pounder that is in him somewhere. He was at his most effective against Northwestern, when he was able to slip through the line and utilize that power and balance to bludgeon the Wildcats.
One particular third and short conversion was whistled dead despite Smith still inching forward with two different Wildcats hanging off him like 300-pound Christmas ornaments.
Smith was much less effective in games where the offensive line was unable to give him that head of steam. Against MSU, PSU, and OSU he averaged just 2.8 YPC. Johnson was little used in the first two of those games but was at nearly five yards a pop against the Buckeyes. This was in part because Johnson didn't need holes to be as wide or last as long.
Smith's not going to turn –4 yards into 4 like Hart, but if you can deliver him just two yards downfield before he encounters resistance you're gonna have a good time. Harbaugh specializes in creating offenses like these… but maybe not in one year. Harbaugh would recruit Smith a thousand times over; he may not be ideal for this year's team.
It appears he's the best they've got. While most practice reports have been pretty noncommittal about the running back situation, the ones that do assert a leader assert that it's Smith. The recent student-only scrimmage confirmed that take. The exception in this department has been Rivals, which is relating takes from a ludicrously optimistic practice observer:
One practice observer described his effort thus far akin to Seattle Seahawks Marshawn Lynch, saying Smith has been in "beast mode" and that the coaches love his effort, determination and his ability to find the open holes.
Okay dot gif. Everyone else says he's a nose ahead of a pack that's not exactly running at breakneck speed. YMMV.
Reasonable expectations are hard to judge since Smith could lose the job in three weeks or grab on to it with vice grips; I think it's a platoon the whole way with Isaac and one of Green or Johnson; Smith gets a plurality of the carries, is better at finding the gaps because coaching, and maybe seems a bit like former Minnesota tailback David Cobb if we're lucky.
ARBITRARILY ORDERED TAILBACK CANDIDATE #2
The second arbitrarily ordered running back is DERRICK GREEN. Green, an uber-recruit, arrived on campus in 2013 having added some bad weight and proceeded to play like it. I mean, probably. It was hard to tell what any of the running backs would do in situations where they were getting tackled after the handoff. But did seem like he should have been meeting defensive linemen 2.5 yards in the backfield instead of 3.
Green set about correcting this in Public Humiliation Diet fashion, culminating in an instagram shot of the dude all hulked up.
Green went from 248 to 220, slashing his body fat percentage by two-thirds. Expectations were raised, and when Green tore through some truck lanes in the opener he did indeed seem pretty damn big, fast, and agile. This was a tantalizing introduction to New Derrick Green:
Dude had 15 carries for 170 yards, and after 2013 few Michigan fans were inclined to listen to anyone trying to put the brakes on with any "level of competition" business. It was clear that he had a change of direction and explosion he lacked as a freshman. He also occasionally displayed a Smith-like ability to run through tacklers.
Then, like everything else, it all went to hell against Notre Dame. Green (and to a lesser extent Smith) made a series of boggling cuts against the Irish to sabotage an offense that was already 97% shoes. This was probably the worst:
It had some competition. I get extra twitchy when the OL directly in front of your face do their job very well and you cut away from the hole they've made.
Green did not improve much in this department before his season was cut short by a broken clavicle. The difference in his stats between Michigan's two non-Power 5 opponents and the rest of his season leaps out:
- Versus ASU, Miami (NTM): 37 carries, 8.3 YPC.
- All others: 45 carries, 3.6 YPC.
"All others" consists of games against Utah (31st in rush YPC D), Notre Dame (60th), Minnesota (92nd) and Rutgers (120th). Green's truncated sophomore season was a grand disappointment. And sometimes you wonder if it's at all salvageable.
But what about coaching and HARBAUGH? That is the hope. It's a reasonable one. It's no secret that this here blog was highly frustrated with Fred Jackson. Over the last decade we've seen very little running back development, the extreme regression of Fitz Toussaint, and a parade of refugees suddenly get a lot better elsewhere. The best back since Hart was probably Brandon Minor, and while I like Brandon Minor that's damning.
Replace Jackson with Tyrone Wheatley and you may get an appreciable bump in performance. Normally I would downplay such a thing since RB is usually a spot where you have it or you don't, but we've got three recent datapoints (Mike Cox, Thomas Rawls, and Toussaint) in which a roster non-entity or opponent-sack-generator has left Michigan and found the NFL quite interested. Cox and Rawls had highly productive seasons at a lower level; Toussaint went direct to the NFL and stuck on the Ravens' roster. This may be a situation in which the differences in both positional and overall coaching can drive improvement.
Harbaugh can help Green in another way, as well: if Michigan ends up running a lot of power and other gap-blocked plays where Green is destined for a pre-determined gap, that could mitigate the vision issues that plagued his sophomore year. If Harbaugh and Drevno can consistently deliver Green three yards downfield his physical package entices once again.
Even that is not a panacea, though:
That is a nice gain if Green is patient enough to wait for his guard to give him a side of a block to go to, or sets up the LB with a juke, or just runs upfield at the big hole. Ditto this run against Utah where Green doesn't wait for Hill to even make contact before he decides where he's going.
Green was doing something completely unrelated to the blocking in front of him way too often last year, on all plays. There was no better example of that than Green cutting to the front side of a play with a fake end-around that 1) is supposed to create a backside lane that was there and 2) featured a spare cornerback to the frontside created by the end-around action.
It's one thing to blindly ram yourself into a hole that is supposed to be there and isn't. It's entirely another to blindly ram yourself into guys several gaps away from the location the play attacks.
But I mean hey Chris Perry, right?
Unless Green suddenly gets a lot better at finding holes he is likely to be relegated behind one to three other backs. No matter how much we scorn the previous coaching staff, things were so bad last year that I can't imagine he figures it out completely. Best guess is he gets 50 or 100 carries spread through the year and looks good on a few of them and not so good on a few more.
ARBITRARILY ORDERED TAILBACK CANDIDATE #3
The third arbitrarily-ordered running back candidate is DRAKE JOHNSON. Johnson is by far the least touted of all the available tailbacks, but by the end of last year a lot of people thought he was Michigan's best guy regardless of injury or or redshirt. I was not one of them at first, but it was harder and harder to deny as the season trundled to its conclusion even if he looked kind of like a flamingo when someone tackled him.
Johnson was at his best when he could find a gap and burst through it:
I don't think Smith gets through that gap and I don't think Green finds it. Johnson was also capable of a one-step redirect at speed that allowed him to slice through traffic, and late in the Indiana game he had a couple of impressive runs on which he found creases and blew through them.
In an effort to cover the most interesting bit of last year that came during the who-cares section at the end, I went back over Johnson's runs. The most notable thing: a lack of forehead-smacking cuts away from holes. The sample size is still low, but Johnson displayed by far the best vision of any of the available backs. When he was given a crease he generally went in it. It seemed like he understood what was likely to happen on an inside zone and what he should do about it:
Johnson's final run was his most impressive of the day:
The second level stuff is all well and good; I like the cut to get through the line a great deal. I have been waiting for a Michigan back to feel the development of a zone play and hit it in the right spot all year.
I completely disagree with Johnson's self-scout:
All told, Johnson was Michigan's most explosive rusher. He describes his style as "feral."
"If you throw a cat in the street, it's just going to run," he said. "It doesn't really have rhyme or reason. It just moves for whatever the situation is. That's how I run the ball."
He was a disciplined inside zone runner in a world where most of Michigan's backs looked like they had no idea what the playcall was.
Johnson lacked Smith's ability to power through ankle tackles and occasionally got the opposite of YAC, but he doesn't need the blocking to be as good as some of the other guys to make something of it. He's a candidate now, a serious one.
And then because the Michigan run game couldn't have nice things under Brady Hoke, Johnson blew out his ACL for the second time against Ohio State. He was a hair under five yards a carry at the time. That was spectacularly bad timing. Johnson missed the entirety of spring practice and was not fully cleared at the start of fall camp. He was only cleared Monday, and Harbaugh said his availability for Utah was questionable.
Effects from that ACL issue may linger for another month or two as Johnson gets used to having both of 'em again. As a result Johnson's 2015 may start off a lot like his 2014: the occasionally carry late in a game that's already decided as he tries to impress enough in practice to get on the field. His opportunities may be limited if the other guys perform.
If not, Michigan will take a swing with him again. Even if he does look like a flamingo sometimes.
Finally, this is your annual reminder that Drake Johnson was directly exposed to the fact that Fred Jackson cannot have his thirst quenched by anything.
ARBITRARILY ORDERED TAILBACK CANDIDATE #4
The fourth arbitrarily-ordered running back candidate is TY ISAAC, another uber-recruit. A five star to two sites and 54th overall in the 247 composite, Isaac was heavily pursued by Michigan earlier in the recruiting cycle that eventually brought them Smith and Green. He eventually decided on USC. One year later he was on his way out.
Playing time wasn't a problem, as Isaac appeared in every Trojan game and picked up a respectable 40 carries. Other reasons were likely more prominent: Isaac's mom had some complications with surgery that prevented her from travelling to see Ty's games; Lane Kiffin, the coach he committed to, got axed.
Often you should lower expectations for transfers since one of the major reasons kids move is because they aren't panning out. In Isaac's case he seems to have had a reasonable freshman year in a loaded backfield and moved for reasons other than a sudden realization he wasn't going to ever play.
Even so it would be reasonable to tamp things down a bit. He didn't hit the top end of his range by becoming a major contributor at USC immediately. I think the more conservative estimates (ESPN had him 122nd, 247 85th) of his talent are more realistic than the whiz-bang five star stuff.
That still leaves a highly intriguing prospect. Isaac is enormous for a tailback at 6'3". The average NFL tailback is 5'10"; Isaac is going to meet plenty of linebackers he outweighs. If you've got the time here's an unusually long (22 minute) senior highlight reel:
Isaac has quick feet on the inside and brings a lot of momentum with him when he hits players. He's also got reasonable long speed. He's not especially sudden and isn't going to dance past tacklers; his best assets are his size and his ability to make subtle changes in direction to slip into gaps in the line.
MGoVideo also has an every touch video from his freshman season at USC. In it, Isaac makes almost all the right cuts, gets upfield quickly for a guy his size, and runs over a number of defensive backs who can't calculate what mass times velocity implies for the upcoming collision in time to abort. He looks very solid. Allen Trieu:
"He was in a pretty loaded backfield," Trieu explains. "I thought his talent was evident though. He's big, the definition of deceptively fast, and ran more physically than I expected."
Isaac is also renowned as an excellent receiver. His high school team rarely deployed wide receivers, so when they did pass it was often Isaac getting into downfield routes after being lined up as a wingback. He looked more than competent. If you don't have time for 20 minutes of Isaac, here's two and a half in which Isaac is targeted as a receiver via Ace:
Highlight films emphasize the positive, yes, but a lot of people who have seen him in person came away thinking that he's got unusual skills in this department:
Very natural hands out of the backfield and won’t drop a pass. Runs really precise routes and is a mismatch against linebackers on third down.
Isaac can catch the ball extremely well, he’s great at putting his foot in the ground and making decisive cuts and he actually was one of the top performers in the open-field drill, a drill tailor-made for smaller backs. …may outgrow the position but has freakish ability.
One of the top moments from his freshman year was a dumpoff catch and run on which he dodged a linebacker and plowed through a number of flailing defensive backs.
So Isaac is a weird player. Most guys his size end up playing linebacker or even DE. If they play offense it's generally H-back. Isaac's rare athleticism allows him to remain a tailback, but if you think Harbaugh isn't thinking about moving him to half the positions a football team has you don't know Bo 2.0. This is going to be a major avenue for his playing time.
For one, Michigan needs a third down back. Neither Green nor Smith (combined career catches: 5) seems well suited for the role. Usually you want your third down backs to be little shifty guys because their lack of height helps 'em block and the shiftiness helps 'em squeeze out first downs, but Isaac is so big that he can block just fine at his height and also provide a downfield receiving threat. What he lacks in shiftiness he makes up for with the ability to swat DBs out of the way.
Isaac's versatility also opens up more of the kind of things Harbaugh loves to do with motion and formations. Would you be comfortable putting a linebacker on him if he lined up wide? With limited exceptions, no. Therefore Harbaugh can use him to get favorable matchups for other receivers. Therefore he will feature in packages where he is something between an RB, H-back, and WR. There were rumors that Michigan was experimenting with packages featuring all three healthy tailbacks simultaneously. Isaac's versatility is a major driver of that.
The catch is a lack of familiarity. Isaac missed the bulk of spring with a hamstring injury. This was a bad time for Isaac to get injured what with a new insanely competitive coach handing out "PLAYED 60" shirts for the guys who didn't miss a minute of spring. There were some dark mutterings that Isaac and Harbaugh weren't seeing eye to eye and that might precipitate a transfer.
Those appear smoothed over for the year but Isaac also missed significant chunks of fall camp with an assortment of nagging injuries. Harbaugh wants guys to play through those, and Smith hasn't missed a snap. To rise to the feature back spot, Isaac is either going to have to stick it out a bit better in practice or make the most of his opportunities early in the year. Chances of that are low.
I still expect that Isaac's skill set will find him a significant role in the offense. When asked about last year's scout team exploits, Kyle Kalis was effusive:
“I mean, he was bruising guys up. He was killin’ it. We were all like, ‘Oh, man, we cannot wait to see Ty!’ … He’s gonna be a threat.”
Isaac should prove himself a useful piece, and if he gets on Harbaugh's good side by becoming a practice warrior he has a shot at the top of the depth chart. His talent is evident.
GENTLEMEN BEHIND THE FOUR
WYATT SHALLMAN [recruiting profile] started for one of the teams in the spring game and told reporters assembled at Media Day that he was playing tailback, so we'll address him here. A former four-star recruit, a lot of people thought Shallman was best on defense but Michigan has kept him on offense through two administrations; Harbaugh didn't even move him when the gravitational pull of tight end required that high profile players at thin spots move over.
That's weird. It's more weird since Shallman's performance in the spring game was pretty bad:
the straight line is where he went; the dotted line is where he should have
With five other viable tailbacks it would seem it's past time to move Shallman to a blocky/catchy spot or WDE/buck. His prospects for time as a tailback are close to nil. Compounding matters: Shallman got hurt midway through fall camp. After some rumors it would be season ending it appears he'll be back after a week or two.
ROSS TAYLOR-DOUGLAS [recruiting profile] made an appearance at tailback in the student scrimmage, thus confirming that he was a tailback on at least that day. That he's hanging out there at his size instead of trying to fill Michigan's holes at slot receiver and cornerback is not a good sign for his prospects.
Finally, Michigan brought in Floridian KARAN HIGDON [recruiting profile] on Signing Day. Higdon is a compact, tough back who could factor in if things go pear-shaped. His best shot this year is to be a third down guy since nobody else on the roster is really shaped like one, but there has been total radio silence in re: Higdon for the past month. Expect a redshirt.
“Nice to see everybody. I just spent a nice 45 minutes over at the Weber’s with the M Club of Ann Arbor. Now I get to be here with you to follow that up. It doesn’t get any better!”
What have you seen from your offense so far, and what do you like about the competition?
“What I love about the competition is that…oh, where you talking about offense?”
“It’s been good. Intense competition, which it always is on a football team. There’s a great deal of honor and satisfaction to be one of the 11- a starter. Competition for those roles has been intense, as you would expect. Offensively, defensively, and on special teams.”
Any updates on the quarterbacks?
“I was informed that our competition for Thursday night’s ball game, Utah, would be sending us their official depth chart Monday, and in the interest of fair and healthy competition we will also send our official depth chart on Monday as well.”
Does that mean you’ll have made up your mind by Monday, or are you still hashing it out?
“Like a lot of positions there are some that are very close, some are closer than others, some are still being competed for, and some positions there’s individuals that are ahead. To give you an example, the kicking position is very tight right now and still playing out. At some positions it might continue into the ball game itself. Yeah. I think we’re getting a good idea of things, whether it’s even, close, or someone’s ahead at this point.”
Is it important for you to tell your QBs or team who that is so they can rally behind that one guy?
“To the team? Yeah, I think that’s something that’s been ongoing and that takes place.”
I don’t know if you-
“And they do. They do. It’s been a tight, close competition. Especially at that position.”
[After THE JUMP: “You can also say we really enjoyed each other’s company in a football fashion”]
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there’s been a lot of hype about this game and you and everything else. When you went into the “submarine” for a couple weeks did you accomplish what you wanted to accomplish? Was avoiding some of the hulabaloo part of your strategy, and do you think you accomplished it?
“I think it’s something that’s really particular to college football. Maybe in all sports in college, [but] maybe more so particular to college football in that coaches, players, staff being together, there’s a 20-hour-a-week rule that you can all be together. And in college football, August is not that time. You can be together all day, every day. Hourly, daily, weekly. It’s a time to forge a football team, and we wanted to and I think we did maximize every hour and every minute. You’re getting to know your team, and you’re doing that daily. We asked our team to work very hard this training camp, this fall camp, and I can tell you that they did that and that their focus was tremendous throughout the camp. You can also say we really enjoyed each other’s company in a football fashion. And I’m pleased with where we’re at.”
Have you determined which of your assistant coaches will be in the press box and which ones will be on the sidelines?
“For the most part. Again, still maybe deciding that, but for the most part I have a very good feel and understanding for what’s going to take place in the first game.”
But you don’t want to reveal which is which yet?
“I think we’re still…making it official…a certain layout…You’ll see Thursday.”
Can you just talk about your emotions leading up to the first game at your alma mater? Second part is, the responsibility and pressure you might feel to get this program turned around?
“It’s what we all signed up for. I hope that’s what everybody signed up for, because it’s here. This game has been on the schedule a long time. We knew it was coming. Big game Thursday night.
“It’s going to be watched by a lot of people. It’s the first game in college football that I’m aware of and the only other games that’ll be going on are NFL preseason games. Having had some experience playing and coaching in those games I understand people will probably tune in and then switch over to our game pretty quick.
“So it’s a big stage, and it’s a really good football team that has winning on their side. They’re a confident team, and they should be. Is it overwhelming? Ask our team the same thing and the answer is ‘no.’ You want to be at that table. You want to be at the big boy table…big persons table, better to say. There is another table. It’s over there in the kitchen. Hard to see from the big persons table. If somebody wants to go over there, nobody’s going to sit with them, but if they do…this is what we signed up for.
“This is what I signed up for and I know a lot of our players did. The way to answer that questions is that’s what you want. When we go into this game I think we’ll be very well prepared to play.”
Can you talk about the anxiety heading into your first game?
“Yeah, I always felt it’s better to have the anxiety now and the worry. It’s better to have it now than during the game, so you do everything possible to have your team prepared for the ball game. It wouldn’t feel like a game if you weren’t at that stage right now. Combing through everything. Just combing through every part of the game plan, planning it and getting the bugs out and making sure that way when you get into the ball game you can play fast without the worry. I think that’s the best way to approach it.”
Can you update us on the status of Bryan Mone and any other long-term injuries?
“Yeah, Bryan will be the long-term one. He’ll be out of this ball game and [there’s a] good chance he’ll miss the season.”
“He broke a bone in his lower leg. Freak play. Never seen it before in practice or games. Jabrill blocked a field goal attempt, and the ball came onto the defensive side, which shouldn’t be returned at all. Unfortunately that teachable moment came when one of our players ran around the edge and Bryan was trying to lead block for him and they got their feet tangled up, and then when Bryan went to the ground his toe came down at an inopportune angle and unfortunately a bone broke.”
Any other long-term injuries?
What has impressed you-
“Nick Benda and Anthony Dalimonte.”
“For the season, yes.”
What has impressed you about Jake [Rudock] and what has impressed you about Shane [Morris]?
“Both have been very, very impressive. Very competitive. Competitive demeanor. Every day is important to them, and I’d say that’s the thing that’s been most impressive about both of those youngsters is how important it is to them.”
You’ve been at a high academic institution, but how do you put into words what it means to be here at your alma mater? Can you compare the two jobs?
“I don’t like to compare things. I’ve always kind of thought that when you compare things- one job to another, one person to another- somebody gets diminished so I avoid that.”
This team has struggled to win on the road. What kind of approach do you take into road games to help them overcome some of those past issues?
“Number one, pack your defense. I think in any road situation…the other is just play well. Play good football [and] the same things lead to wins at home.”
As for when the depth chart, when that comes out will it definitively say who your quarterback is?
“I haven’t decided yet. But it will definitely say- [it will] rank the number one.”
So it will be ranked? In the past there’s been ‘ORs’ so you never know for sure.
“It’s a possibility.”
Has Drake Johnson been cleared?
“Hey, good question. Drake has been cleared and practicing. Haven’t decided whether he’s going to play in this ballgame, but he’s done a fantastic job. Getting bumped around in practice. Looks like a football, as you know maybe better than I do from watching him. We’re excited about him.”
Anybody missing this game due to discipline, suspension, anything like that?
“I don’t think we ever really talk about that. I’ll check and see if we do.”
Captains are [voted on] today, you said?
“They are. 1:30.”
Going to running backs, was there anything specifically you saw from Derrick Green or DeVeon Smith or Ty Isaac that- I know you aren’t naming people who are ahead, but was there anything that one of them did that prompted optimism on your part, specifically?
What was that specifically?
“Well, specific[ally], I think all three have done a good job. All three are in the rotation right now and getting carries. To me there’s probably one who’s doing the best job and all will play.”
When you look at Derek and DeVeon or Ty, I know you said you wanted to run a three-back system: are you closer to defining roles with them?
“Yes, we are. And again, that goes to the question of I’d really like to know what the other team’s roles are and how they’re defining them. That’d be useful information, especially since today is Thursday. Then you’ve got Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday to really know what somebody’s role is going to be on the other side. I think you can probably understand why I’d like that information, so I’d rather not give that information.”
But it is definite on your part?
“I didn’t say that. I said that it’s-”
But they’re defined?
“They’re all doing a good job and they’ll play.”
Drake Harris has been a guy who’s struggled with injuries. Can you talk bout how he’s progressed?
“Yeah, he has, Drake Harris has, done a really fine job. You’ll see Drake Harris on Thursday night, God willing and the creek don’t rise. He’s doing a nice job. He’s been really, really sharp. Really good. It’s important to him. He’s been healthy and he’s competing. Strong and good all camp, and we’re excited about him every day. He’s somebody that really from where we were in spring ball to where we now are…he’s one of those youngsters who’s going to make our football team better.”
Was the bunker-down mentality in camp for the element of surprise, or was it to help you come together?
“As I explained earlier, that’s the time that you have- the most time that you have with your football team the entire year. So the important thing was be together. Be around each other. We enjoyed that. We enjoyed each other’s company and got a lot of work done. We asked our team to do a lot of work and focus in on a lot of meeting time and they did it. They did it well. They did it real well, so it was a very productive time for our football team.”
With all the attention and discussion about the program over the past six months or so, how eager are you to actually go out there and actually play football?
“Well, unfortunately at the age I am and the eligibility remaining I’ll be standing over there on the sideline like you! Stepping in between the white lines, that’s reserved for the fighters, and it’s their time to do that. But getting them prepared for that, that’s the part we play as coaches…and very excited about that, contributing. You’re contributing in the competition.”
How has Jabrill distinguished himself this camp on defense, and how much has he worked on offense?
“Yeah, we said that was a possibility and that remains a possibility. Nothing wrong with the competition. That’s a possibility.”
How has he distinguished himself in camp?
“He’s been good. He’s been all the things that have been advertised about him. He’s a tremendous football player. A foot-ball player! He is that.”
Can I ask you to clarify something? There was a report that Michael Jordan reached out to you about this Jumpman/Nike deal. Is that true, and can you talk about that conversation?
“Yeah, my phone rang and it was a number I didn’t know and I said, ‘Hello?’ and I didn’t catch the whole name because just- you know, sometimes cell phones cut out or in half sometimes, so I got part of it. I said, ‘Excuse me? I didn’t get- the phone cut out. Who is this?’ And he said, ‘This is Michael Jordan.’ I said, ‘Come onnnn. Come onnnnn. Who is this really?’
“He said, ‘This is Michael Jordan.’ I said, ‘The real Michael Jordan?’ So yeah, that’s kind of how it went. But it was very cool. Sarah was very, very, very impressed that Michael Jordan called me.”
Is it going to be weird that that logo’s on a football uniform?
“It’s gonna be awesome.”
How will the quarterback decision be made? Will it be you, Tim, and Jedd? Who has the most input? Are they providing you with information and you’re making the decision, or how does that work?
“Who has the most input is the players, they themselves.”
Does Jedd have a certain level of input? Does he bring things to you and they you say this is what I want to do or is it collaborative between the three of you?
“Yeah, it would be that from here on, you know. The people I talk to is my coaching staff. I lean heavily on them and we do it as a team.”
to be the man you gotta recruit the man
It's a new era in all possible ways at quarterback. Michigan has exhausted their supply of raw passers with thrilling athleticism; they have also cast aside the previous coaching staff in favor of one in which the head coach is also the QB coach. He is one of the best in the country. Possibly the best.
In Harbaugh's tenure as a coach he…
- helped Rich Gannon(!) win the 2002 NFL MVP award,
- developed non-scholarship San Diego's Josh Johnson into a third-place finisher for the Walter Payton, the I-AA Heisman, and the first draft pick in school history,
- recruited and developed Andrew Luck,
- made Alex Smith look like a legit NFL QB just long enough for him to sign what some regard as the worst contract in the NFL, and
- advocated for, drafted, and developed Colin Kaepernick into a legit starting NFL QB when few thought he could make the transition from the Nevada pistol.
That is strike after strike after strike in not only player development but also talent identification. The contrast between Harbaugh and Al Borges*, who has still never seen a quarterback he recruited start as an upperclassman, could not be greater.
So when Harbaugh saw the state of the most important position in football at Michigan, it's no surprise that he reacted like Kirby. Harbaugh imported a grad transfer (Jake Rudock), a regular transfer (John O'Korn), a second quarterback recruit in 2015, and two recruits in 2016.
Only one of those guys is relevant to this preview: the graduate.
*[Doug Nussmeier has a good track record but only had a year in which it was difficult to make an impact. The only QB on the roster he is responsible for bringing in is freshman Alex Malzone.]
HE CAME FROM DEEPEST IOWA IN SEARCH OF RECEIVERS AND LOVE
Rudock was kind of a big deal at media day [Bryan Fuller]
JAKE RUDOCK will find at least one as long as he keeps his interception rate where it was last year.
Michigan's previous quarterback, Devin Gardner, turned into a turnover piñata sometime after his soul left his body for the third time. While it's hard to blame him much when his career seems like the kind of experiment that ends in a war crimes trial, the sheer quantity of errors he dished out over the course of last season will make a boring quarterback seem like a godsend.
Rudock is just what the doctor ordered in that department. Of the 100 quarterbacks with the most attempts last year, Rudock was 11th in interception rate. 1.4% of his passes got picked off last year. Gardner was dead last, with a rate almost quadruple Rudock's.
There is a cost associated with that, as any Iowa fan still capable of speech will tell you. This is it:
That is Jake Rudock's reputation: a boring boring boring game manager who idolized Brian Griese and dry toast growing up.
[After THE JUMP: Are Iowa fans wrong? Does Rudock have upside? Whither Morris?]
Iowa fans are not wrong about this. Rudock himself will own it:
"The biggest thing is, just taking what the defense gives you," Rudock said. "A lot of times, people want to air it out all the time. But if they're dropping four or five guys deep, you've got to take the sure completion and get the ball to the athletes. … If you don't have a completion, you throw it incomplete, you can't get a first down anyway."
He is owning it by acknowledging that the Iowa run game was irrelevant to opposition secondaries, which we'll get to more in a bit. But he is expressing his philosophy of football, one that is neither rootin' nor tootin'. A gunslinger he ain't.
This comes through watching him. It also shows up in numbers. Pro Football Focus is branching into college, and when they addressed Rudock they noted that his conservatism comes through:
Quarterbacks need to make challenging throws that beat good coverage to earn the highest grades, and Rudock only earned those grades on 3.7 percent of his passes. That’s less than what 90 other QBs managed (minimum 100 graded passes), and much less than the 6.3 percent posted by Michigan State’s Connor Cook.
How much of that is inherent to Rudock and how much of it is playing in the Iowa offense is the great unresolved question in both Ann Arbor and Iowa City.
Even if the most grumbly of Iowa fans will admit that Rudock is a solid, low-turnover game manager. If he is that, that is a massive win for Michigan. If Morris beats him out—at this point exceedingly unlikely—fine. He beat out a legitimate, decent starting QB. If Morris doesn't and Rudock goes out there and gets seven YPC and change while not turning the ball over, it's going to seem like heaven.
That seems a reasonable bottom for Rudock. There will be some issues with familiarity with the offense and his teammates, but Rudock's intelligence and diligence should mitigate those issues. When Iowa players were asked about Rudock at Big Ten media days, this was a typical response:
Iowa's Drew Ott says ex-teammate and new UM QB Rudock is smart "He’ll know the playbook, He’ll know exactly what to do in every situation."
— angelique (@chengelis) July 30, 2015
Rudock should pick up the system quickly enough.
At worst the unfamiliarity will offset the natural season-to-season improvement of most players and leave you with what you had last year, which was the third-most efficient* quarterback in the league. That may not be a magnificent accomplishment given the dearth of functional QBs in the 2014 Big Ten. It still figures to be a large upgrade even disregarding the coaching change.
Is there upside past that? Maybe. But first, transfer worries.
*[Conference only. He's fourth, falling behind Gary Nova, if you take the whole season into account. Since Nova leaps up from sixth because of things like Howard 38, Rutgers 25 I think conference-only stats are more realistic. Also worth noting that Rudock missed Iowa's game against Purdue, the #9 pass efficiency D in the Big Ten. Also that collectively the Big Ten quarterbacks were so very BIG TEN! last year.]
WHAT KIND OF MAN IN SEARCH OF RECEIVERS AND LOVE LEAVES IOWA, THE HOME OF BOTH?
One who got chased out by a coach worried about a transfer, ironically. Here's CJ Beathard's dad in the run up to Iowa's bowl game against the Volunteers:
"We'll see how the bowl game goes and then go from there," Beathard said in a phone interview Monday. …
"He's really hoping he doesn't have to transfer," Casey said. "I said (to him), 'Hopefully it'll be obvious in this game, one way or the other.' "
Beathard got the vast majority of the snaps as Tennessee obliterated Iowa. The 45-28 final doesn't do it justice: it was 42-7 until the start of the fourth quarter, when Beathard and company added a few meaningless touchdowns against Vol seniors, walk-ons, and parents. Rudock had just five attempts before the fourth quarter; Beathard was 6/16 for 50 yards before garbage time.
Normally this would be a situation in which the proverbial Open Quarterback Competition ensued. Wait, scratch that. Normally this would be a situation in which the QB who finished third in the Big Ten in passer efficiency played the whole bowl game and his backup patiently waited for his turn as a fifth year senior. This was not normal, for… reasons.
Coaches will generally wait for as much information as possible when there is a question about the starting QB because 1) duh and 2) it's tough to transfer two weeks into the semester. Kirk Ferentz did not do this. Kirk Ferentz issued a depth chart on January 8th, six days after Beathard turned in a performance reminiscent of Nick Sheridan on an off day. It had Beathard #1, no "OR":
Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz called it a starting point, but it feels more significant than that.
C.J. Beathard is listed as the Hawkeyes' starting quarterback over Jake Rudock on a depth chart released 30 minutes before the tipoff of Thursday's Iowa-Michigan State basketball game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
The release of a depth chart, so soon after a season, is not a common practice under Ferentz.
Jake Rudock understandably thought this was bullshit and transferred.
It is the opinion of this blog that that move will be understood as the beginning of the end of Kirk Ferentz at Iowa, except insofar as the last five years have been that. Kirk Ferentz all but extended his middle finger to Rudock because the father of an iffy quarterback one year younger threatened to bolt. If Rudock performs and Iowa does not (and Iowa has questions literally everywhere on offense) there's little short of a miracle that will save him in the aftermath.
In any case, a sane program would go into this season juggling the two QBs until such time as one seemed to be clearly better than the other. Iowa is in a period reminiscent of recent Michigan; they are not sane. It is more rational to look askance at the program than the man.
Speaking of the man…
WHAT IF YOU CAN TAKE THE IOWA OUT OF THE MAN?
The counterpoint to the boggling missed read above—and Rudock's Nebraska outing in general—was his performance once Iowa fell behind against Wisconsin.
Iowa-Wisconsin 2014 was a weird game that would feel intimately familiar to many Michigan fans. Wisconsin ran out to a big lead in an incredibly slow (8 possession!) game. Iowa looked inept to the point where the announcers were openly wondering about a QB change to the "more dynamic" Beathard, and then sometimes when you're on:
Rudock proceeded to nuke a good secondary for 10 YPA with a series of pinpoint throws. Chris Spielman dumped shade on the Iowa coaching staff for waiting that long to open things up the whole time.
As I said, intimately familiar. Kirk Ferentz is Lloyd Carr's clone even in 2015. Until Iowa was in trouble, Rudock's first down passes were five yard outs as the Hawkeyes endeavored to put together the world's longest drives.
Rudock was limited by the Iowa offense. Mark Weisman, the main tailback, had the fifth-lowest "highlight yards" average in the country last year. In a nutshell, that means that once Weisman got five yards downfield he was one of the worst players in the country at getting more. That led opposing safeties to play in the parking lot. Iowa's receivers consisted of an inconsistent but promising downfield threat (Tevaun Smith), a mediocre slot receiver (Kevonte Martin-Manley), and a fast guy who was terrible at football (Demond Powell). Martin-Manley, the most frequent target, had a meh 58% catch rate despite being targeted mostly short by a very accurate QB. In pass protection, the Iowa offensive line was reminiscent of 2013 Michigan—a couple NFL draft picks at tackle and a disaster on the interior—except Brandon Scherff was no Taylor Lewan. (They were better on the ground.)
As a result a lot of short throws were forced upon him by circumstance:
Some snaps were so doomed there was no throw available…
…and then his receivers dorfed more than their fair share. I counted seven drops in the Maryland game alone.
Whether 2015 Michigan is better at these things than 2014 Iowa was is an open question. It is likely to be answered "yes," because Harbaugh and recruiting. The line should be better; the running backs should be better (even De'Veon Smith, the ponderous option, had a highlight yard rate almost double Weisman); the coaching should be better. Wide receivers? Hmm.
At the very least Rudock shouldn't find the surrounding talent worse. Significantly better? Ask Drake Harris's hamstring.
WHAT I DID ON MY SUMMER VACATION INSTEAD OF COMPLAINING ABOUT A LACK OF PRESS CONFERENCES
I reviewed five of Rudock's seven Big Ten games (I couldn't find torrents for Minnesota and Indiana; he missed Purdue with an injury) in depth and watched Iowa-Iowa State a couple times. Three of those six games were flat-out excellent, as Rudock nuked Northwestern, Illinois, and Wisconsin. Maryland was a solid performance in trying circumstances. Rudock was hit on probably half his dropbacks as Iowa went empty against Maryland's very good pass-rush DL. Rudock was great for a half against Iowa State, then threw an interception on a wildly inaccurate ball and had a freakout on the next drive. He did lead the ensuing field goal drive that momentarily tied the game. Nebraska was rough; Rudock completed half his passes for 6 YPA.
Here's the scouting report I've assembled on Rudock in the course of doing these things.
He is super accurate. Rudock is at his best placing short and medium length balls directly on his receivers so they can continue running after the catch.
The number of times he misses or even takes his receivers off stride is extremely low. That results in downfield success rates like this:
[mouseover column headers for a description of the categories; + means a throw made under heavy pressure and * means a very bad version of a negative category.]
Those are very low IN counts for the number of throws he's making, and many of those are downfield balls on which that's understandable.
On longer passes he retains that accuracy. Pro Football Focus:
Rudock varies his speeds as appropriate, throwing his WRs open on touch passes and zipping them when it's called for. If he is kept clean and his guys can bust open on slants and seam routes Michigan will profit.
His turnover rate is low for a reason. True WTF throws are extremely rare. In six full games I saw three throws into defensive backs: interceptions against Maryland and Nebraska and a dropped one against Iowa State. There was one that was so inaccurate it caused a turnover.
Rudock's miniscule interception rate was in no way a product of fortune; he gave the opponent very few opportunities to make a play on the ball.
He is a smart guy capable of reading defenses and calling audibles. From the Wisconsin review:
Rudock has a sense for what's going on in the pocket. He got hit a number of times from the blindside in this game; each time he was moving up, probing to see if he could buy himself more time by improving his tackle's angle. He will think about running but if the window closes he will often go back to finding a receiver.
His football IQ seems high. When he IDed man press one-high coverage from Wisconsin, he checked into a wheel route from the slot that was extremely difficult to cover and nailed the throw.
This week on "why Jabrill Peppers is important"
The freakout against Iowa State saw him get happy feet and lose his vision downfield. This was a rarity. Rudock's movement in the pocket is usually productive and focused on getting the ball to a receiver.
His arm strength is okay. Iowa likes five yard outs because Greg Davis. These throws he has a tendency to either pull his receivers upfield or throw it so far to the sideline that his receivers cannot turn the ball upfield. A guy with the proverbial cannon can get those out there in time for some YAC.
Rudock does have the arm to get the ball there on a 15-yard out against college DBs just fine; he is not a plus in this category. He's adequate.
He's decently athletic. He won't be confused with Denard but he is not a statue. After removing sacks, Rudock had approximately* 51 carries at 5.8 yards a pop. Most of those were scrambles and the occasional QB draw. He's a guy you can run a little bit.
*[It was difficult to figure out exactly who suffered the 21 sacks Iowa gave up a year ago since Beathard played in a bunch of games. I concluded Beathard suffered 5 of them, FWIW.]
He's got a robotic approach. To my eyes Rudock's main weakness is a rigid approach to how he gets things done. By this point in the history of football everyone knows the back-shoulder throw. The famous "They Tried To Man Up Crab" play was seven years ago now. (I am old, and so are you.) Fans now expect that a QB throwing at an excellently covered WR is going to leave it short to his WR's advantage.
Rudock does not do that. In the games I reviewed he almost never threw a ball up for grabs. When his wide receivers weren't open, which was often, he tried to hit the six-inch window even perfect coverage leaves. Sometimes he'd just throw it where the guy was supposed to be even though there was no way the guy was going to get there.
It is notable that this approach got more severe as the season went along and Rudock's faith in his WRs dipped. It may be fixable.
Sometimes it really is checkdown city. As mentioned above, Iowa fans aren't wrong when they say Rudock can be too conservative. This from the end of the Maryland game was particularly egregious:
They got the ball back on their 20 with no timeouts and 59 seconds on the clock, whereupon their offense went:
- checkdown drag
- checkdown drag
- checkdown drag
- Rudock hit while throwing slightly inaccurate 15-yard curl that Powell drops
- three yard hitch in-bounds
- either a five yard hitch or five yard out that sees two Iowa receivers run into each other
For large parts of this game I could not tell whether Rudock was missing opportunities downfield or none existed; with a minute left and eighty yards to go that is horrendous.
I think Iowa fans overstate this tendency. There were a couple games in which the director provided a lot of shots of downfield coverage. Most of those revealed that when Rudock didn't throw long it was because he didn't have a throw to attempt.
Again, part of this goes back to the wide receivers and the offense. Play action with Mark Weisman is never going to cause a safety to freak out. Other than the big missed opportunity at the top of this piece I didn't see many glaring misses; it was coverage all the way down.
You still want your QB to understand the game situation and adapt to it, and sometimes you just want him to throw a fade at a covered guy anyway. Jeremy Gallon says hi.
If Jake Rudock is the exact same guy he was last year that's a major win for Michigan. While Rudock was finishing third in the league in passer efficiency, Devin Gardner was struggling to 9th. Shane Morris, the presumptive starter without Rudock's transfer, was definitively behind Gardner after the Minnesota game. Rudock can improve 0% and still be a middling Big Ten QB. This is a godsend.
I think he's got more upside than that. (I also thought Devin Gardner was going to kill it, so… yeah. Keep that in mind.) When I went looked at Rudock's 2014 I saw a guy who was doing reasonably well in a difficult situation.
Michigan will hopefully present him with less of one. The receiving corps plays to his strengths, what with a slant merchant in Darboh and a tight end it's going to be a real good idea to throw to. If Grant Perry is immediately functional as a move-the-chains option that is also right in Rudock's wheelhouse. The run game should be more threatening to the secondary than one featuring a fullback. The offensive line could round into being legit good.
Rudock's not going to challenge Connor Cook or Ohio State QB Du Jour for All Big Ten but he should lead the pack following, depending on how broken Penn State still is. YPA should tick up to 7.6 or 8 with a similar number of interceptions, maybe some extra touchdowns, and a 50/50 shot he gets drafted late.
no reason to drop this
"I think I can win the starting job because I have the mentality to do so," Morris said during a break in the Michigan A4 Aerial Assault camp put on by Harbaugh at the University of Michigan. "Right now, it's my job to lose. Working hard, fighting off any competitors that are trying to take it away from me."
Unfortunately for his chances, while Rudock was somewhere between average and good for Iowa, Morris was going 11 for 32 for 2.8 YPA with zero touchdowns and two interceptions in extended outings against Utah and Minnesota. The charts are boggling.
He had a long, long way to go then, and likely still does. And if that wasn't bad enough:
— Detroit News Sports (@detnews_sports) August 19, 2015
Gerry Dinardo is of course the man who said this* before the 2013 season:
"When I saw them in the spring it was like a war at the line of scrimmage. It was what you imagine it looks like at Alabama and all the downhill teams."
That is a kiss of death.
Morris will soldier on all the same. His spring game performance was mildly encouraging given his 2014, but only mildly so:
Morris was anointed the #1 QB coming out of spring by none other than Harbaugh himself, and that seemed about right after the spring game. That it did so after Morris went 11 of 24 for 5.6 YPA would have me purchasing bags of dehydrated food, water purifiers, and shotguns if not for the 99% official transfer of Iowa starter Jake Rudock to Michigan.
The large bulk of that yardage was acquired by throwing fades to Amara Darboh at 5'7" wide receiver Dennis Norfleet. The interception he threw was not on him—Jaron Dukes knocked a bullet to his hands skyward—but Morris didn't show much other than his ability to consistently place the ball where it should be on those fades:
One thing I'll say in Morris's favor. He's got that fade down pat. One got intercepted because Darboh didn't wall off and extend away from a defensive back and a couple more got dropped; the rest save one were completions, and I think Morris ended up leaving that one short because he got hit. The rest were on the money, in that space outside the numbers and inside the sideline where the receiver has space to play with and can detach from the DB.
That is a very good spot to be able to hit consistently. It alone won't be anywhere near enough to unseat Rudock.
After a brief flurry of Morris optimism this fall (Rivals: "He's playing with an edge to his game, and is displaying the competitive fire that is winning over coaches") things settled back to pre-camp expectations, and then literally every student who offered an opinion after the open fall practice said it was Rudock by a mile.
Morris should stay in front of any chasers for the #2 job this year, and then he'll get another crack as a senior. You can't write him off as long as he can do this…
…and now he's got a QB coach who has many reclamation projects to his name. If anyone can rescue Morris's 2.8 YPA it's Harbaugh.
*[That article, titled "How Michigan football returned to its smashmouth roots," is the single most incorrect thing ever written. You, the reader, should return to it whenever you feel overwhelmed by a task. Bask in its glow, thinking "no matter how badly I screw this up, it will not be nearly as bad as this 600 word newspaper article."
The article will inspire generations to give it a shot. Whatever it is. Paragliding with a homemade paper-mache wing: at least it's not "How Michigan football returned to its smashmouth roots." Carpe diem, baby.]
Malzone, O'Korn, Gentry, and Speight
Nobody past Morris will see the field except in an emergency. ALEX MALZONE [recruiting profile] was everyone's spring fave-rave until everyone saw the spring game. In it, Malzone looked a lot like an overwhelmed freshman. He's not that big and not that fast and needs to be ruthlessly efficient to perform. His upside is a lot like Rudock. A redshirt beckons, but he did get a shout-out from 247 as the second-best guy in fall camp. If Rudock gets hurt he seems in line for some snaps.
There was some chance that enormous, fast ZACH GENTRY [recruiting profile] would put himself in vague contention this year, but that hasn't happened. That is no surprise since Gentry played against New Mexico competition and requires time and polish. He has the highest upside of anyone on campus.
As a person who Al Borges thought could be a college QB, WILTON SPEIGHT [recruiting profile] is carrying a scarlet B around. He's big and supposedly has a big arm; thanks to his spring injury nobody has seen snap one from him. He might see some garbage time snaps (if there are any) since he's already had his redshirt.
Finally, transfer JOHN O'KORN seemed like a weird take a few months ago after losing his job at Houston midseason. He has reportedly looked excellent in informal summer workouts. O'Korn has to sit this season out; he'll be a redshirt junior in 2016, gunning for a vacant job. He's a guy to keep an eye on after being named the AAC rookie of the year in 2013.
"DARK DAYS," PUP
August. Thrice-accursed August.
Back when I had a commute and a job that didn't have anything to do with Michigan football, there was a feeling that hit me at some point in August. An unseasonably cool day might set it off. The sound of a light plane trundling along. An unbidden memory. A random association. Anything.
You probably know it, or at least remember it. For college football fans who get 11 12 maybe 13 days a year of the most important thing in the world it was the feeling of cresting the last dune and seeing a glittering city on the horizon.
Only college football makes you wait so, so long. The NFL has been in swing for a couple weeks now and will go until February. Also, it is the NFL: the Dave Brandon of sports. Most other sports barely have offseasons. There is nothing more irritating than the baseball reporter exclaiming "pitchers and catchers report!" thirty seconds after the World Series ends. Baseball would like some space. Baseball cannot breathe, baseball fans. Baseball would like to see other fans, but baseball is stuck with you because it is baseball.
College football annihilates you and leaves you. Then it comes back.
When that feeling hit me I wanted to fast-forward through the nothingness of thrice-accursed August and get back to living. Since this proved impossible I turned to the next best thing: my Michigan Marching Band CD, A Saturday Tradition. (At this point in time, CDs were conveniently small places to put music. Millennials may recognize them as "coasters.")
I kept it in my car, and when that feeling hit me I put it in for my morning commute and turned it up as loud as my janky old-school Jeep Cherokee would go without turning the music into blaring smears. This was not that loud. Most of the time I'd skip back to the entry cadence after Hawaiian War Chant in an effort to maximize the ROCK METALLLLL in my veins.
At one point the AC broke on the Cherokee for the same reason the last lemming jumps off the cliff. I had to blaze my way to Novi with the windows rolled down precisely enough to churn hot air around the car without blowing my face off… while I had that feeling. So the janky speakers in my janky car were literally turned as far up as possible to mitigate the wind noise. I started slamming the roof of the car with my palm at some point. Probably Temptation. I couldn't type very well that day.
"Pitchers and catchers report." Cumong man.
That feeling left me. As much as you try to insulate yourself from the changes wrought by turning Michigan football into your job, when you have a 50k word deadline in late August every year the start of the season ceases to be something you would like to fast forward to. Precious, precious August. Each day a treasure.
It did not help that about as soon as I stopped having a commute (they said "you don't seem to be working very much"; I said "thank you for taking so long to notice") Michigan started beating anticipation for the season out of its fans. This was a gradual process, of course, but I thought Michigan might go 8-5 in the first year of Rodriguez and I don't think I've predicted double-digit wins since. Michigan has generally underachieved even the modest expectations placed upon it. Denard and the Sugar Bowl year provided a momentary respite; the overall mood of Michigan fans has been on a steady downward trend since Football Armageddon. Since the day Bo died.
By the time 2013 happened things were already balanced on a knife edge, and there was no question which direction they went after. Last year's Story is blunt:
Michigan football is a white tub proclaiming to be a memory of a feeling. It is on the shelf next to things that still provide dat mouthfeel tho. … when we cleared the NBA draft and the World Cup, the cliff loomed ahead.
The dread was palpable. Dread. Unprecedented, but true.
Even that post proved to be wildly optimistic ("Brady Hoke does provide a good deal of hope. Seriously!"). Since anything that accurately projected Michigan's 2014 season would have induced a visit from Homeland Security I'm fine with that; I was not fine with, you know, everything else.
In that I was not alone. Michigan executed what is to my knowledge the only war against an athletic director in history. Those who weren't incensed were gone. Collectively, we were just done. You know how long it takes to get there? Brady Hoke doesn't; you do. We were about to lose our religion.
That sounds melodramatic, but when presented with a Maryland game in which the Big House was maybe 75% full and the prospect of Dave Brandon staying until April and keeping Brady Hoke around, and… well, I don't know. That kind of program murder has never been attempted. That it was at all possible was the culmination of a thousand different things. It doesn't matter now.
I had that feeling again, out of nowhere. It stopped me dead in my tracks; I knew what it was and it still brought me up short.
We have an alarm that plays a bunch of songs I pile into a playlist every few months or so. The pile is deep and if you're busy doing things you may not notice a song for weeks. I had just finished a post and was walking to some point or another in my house and I heard this song that I'd used on the podcast back in March after the season and it was just like
the light will falter and will fade
and in the darkness we'll say
this winter hasn't been so rough
oh it was cold but still IT WASN'T COLD ENOUGH
to freeze the blood beneath my spine
and at least I survived
And man. Upbeat pop-punk isn't supposed to do that do you.
I recommended PUP on Twitter shortly after that podcast by calling them the Japandroids—a relentlessly peppy indie band that mostly deals in WOO and is still good—that sang about the apocalypse largely because of this song. And then I forgot about it despite the fact that it was playing most mornings.
But yes. We survived. At the crucial point, various bits of the thing that is collectively Michigan booted Dave Brandon and went and got Jim Freakin' Harbaugh. Many bits played parts in this, from the student government going hard in the paint on Lochdogg, to the students mad enough to protest, to tie-buyin', Harbaugh-conspirin' Todd Anson, to Jim Hackett and his hipster dad outfits, to Jamie Morris and all the lettermen making sure Harbaugh knew how much he was wanted.
Things were bad, man. Ruinously bad. Seven-plus years of infighting and mismanagement and ego had Michigan at the edge of something truly disastrous. But in the depth of winter there was something invincibly Michigan. The place still means something other than a number in a spreadsheet despite the best efforts of the previous gentleman in charge to change that.
I mean, look at this guy.
He made them make a hat. It is the Bo hat. A block M like that has not been seen in many a year and Jim Harbaugh went to someone and he said "I want this hat and no other hat" and they made it for him. When they asked him at Big Ten Media Day about this job they got one of those honest Harbaugh answers that come out of nowhere sometimes:
“It’s more than personal. I grew up there as a youngster, went to school there as a student athlete in college and now back coaching. Can’t screw it up. I have to do good."
Then he told them he had the same path to work that Bo did and the exact sequence of streets involved.
The thing after "Dark Days" was "Bombs Over Baghdad." I used that on the season preview podcast this year for probably the third or fourth time because it's just… it's just itself, man. I had a conversation once with Spencer Hall of EDSBS, a longtime Atlanta resident, and he told me that the day that song came out you could go anywhere in the city and it would be playing. When it was over, it started again. It was instantly part of Atlanta's DNA.
Harbaugh is part of Michigan's DNA, arrogant and weird and irascible and unable to suffer fools. The Bo drips off him. And he is good. So damn good. His goal after coaching is to die. He is of Michigan; now he is Michigan. I thought about that, and Atlanta suddenly having a national anthem, and about how it wasn't cold enough yet, and about Jim Harbaugh's Bo hat. I put on A Saturday Tradition. I turned it up.
I turned it up all the way.
It's gonna get hairy out there. I foresee SUVs parked on top of each other, four to a stack. The lady on top of the stack has had too many wine coolers and is waving a kebab around threateningly.
Avoid certain doom at the hands of kebab wielders by reserving your spot ahead of time with Park 'n' Party. PnP has organized the parking situation around the stadium so that you can get a season pass at one of the many lots nearby. Eliminate pre-game worries; park next to friends so that when they have too many wine coolers they brandish their kebabs elsewhere.
If you've got an Event with an Expense Account attached to it, you are a lucky dog. Also Park and Party has many suitable places with attached man-caves with TVs and fancy block M brick patios.
There's a button midway down the right sidebar that will take you to their site if and when you need to secure your future attendance against ravenous hordes of people with tiny metal sticks with undercooked mushrooms on them. Or you could click on the links.
Kebabs are terrible. As tailgate food. I'm sure there is a way in which they can be good. They are terribly ill-suited for tailgating. Watch Joe disprove this spectacularly next week.
Your move, Ohio: a continuing series. One of Pluto's moons was lovingly shaped by the solar system as an homage to the great state of Michigan:
Hydra, on the right, is a dead ringer for the lower peninsula. No word yet on which of Pluto's more obscure moons looks like the UP. Probably the one with Houghton on it.
DAY 53. They said they captured it. They lied. Remain stuck in the FXB. Bodies of the innocent piled up outside the door. Smell of putrefaction overwhelming, but intermittent. There it is again. The door is open. Another poor soul attempts to make a break for it. The sounds of his failure are familiar by now, the horror of it distant, the boredom present.
Incredibly, I hear a lecture on aerodynamics going on somewhere above me. If I had the energy I would scream at these people. Scream bloody murder. Scream that the only aerodynamics that remain relevant in our lives are those that will take us from the top of this building to the street below.
Unless, of course, its maw intercepts us.
I do nothing. Above they drone on about lift ratios. Outside, Satan's final victory over Earth.
You may be waiting for your doom in the FXB but at least you didn't do this. A new challenger appears in the Worst AD Ever competition:
In December 2011, Kansas was strongly considering tabbing Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn to be its next head coach. … Malzahn had never been a college head coach, and neither had [Mark] Mangino before he arrived in Lawrence. Yet Malzahn was the O-coordinator for Auburn as the Tigers stunningly went 14-0 and won the 2011 national title, and Mangino coordinated Oklahoma’s national championship offense shortly before landing the Kansas job.
For Kansas, the Malzahn match made too much sense. But in a defining decision, the Jayhawks changed course in the final moments and opted to go with the biggest name they could get.
That happened to be Charlie Weis.
This year, Kansas has 64 scholarship players and will be paying Weis more than they pay their actual coach. The Weis phenomenon remains one of history's most inexplicably fascinating periods.
Wherever you go. Hey, I've been some of these places.
Endzone Brandon's Lasting Lessons. Bacon did an hour-long interview with Drew and Mike that is fascinating. Drew and Mike did extensive homework and focus in on a lot of the key areas of the book; at times they ask direct questions about things Bacon can't respond to because no one would go on the record. Some things that I think aren't even in the book leak out:
- Brandon would make comments about personnel during his film-watching sessions—possibly even outright suggestions. Even if this the most benign version possible, it's so bad. Imagine your boss sitting down with you and saying "Devin's not doing so well." Now you are in a lovely pickle.
- If I read the thing about how Brandon's entourage would call ahead to hotels to make sure they had someone to open his car door, I must have blanked it out in an effort to defend myself from my brain's reaction to… that. Ditto that Brandon turned down private planes that were too small.
- Bacon thinks that Schlissel may have been inclined to wait until the end of the academic year before deciding what direction to go at AD, until that was suddenly no longer tenable. That would have been bad.
There's more that I can't remember off the top of my head. Eleven Warriors has an excerpt from the wild 42-41 OSU game.
Iowa fans on Rudock. Going to be fascinating to watch what happens at both Michigan and Iowa this year, particularly if Rudock outperforms CJ Beathard. BHGP is in the midst of its season preview content; their roundtable spends a question considering the departed:
Will Iowa fans miss Jake Rudock?
Adam: Not unless Beathard gets injured. Iowa fans saw two full years of Rudock. He’s a known quantity, and it was mostly a substandard quantity. If Rudock outperforms Beathard this year, it’ll likely be more of a referendum on Iowa’s and Michigan’s coaching staffs than on their quarterbacks. …
Patrick: Absolutely, because if there’s two things Iowa fans love, it’s a backup quarterback and the guy they let get away. The narrative changes have already begun, and will only get worse if Rudock is successful at Michigan or Beathard struggles. The vitriol directed at Rudock last season, most of it undeserved, will be completely forgotten the second that Beathard checks down to a two-yard out route or throws a horrible interception to the sideline.
Those are the two extremes of what's about a 50/50 split. If Rudock does seem significantly better, the fallout from Iowa City will be vicious.
The answer is yes. Look, kid, everything in life comes with a cost.
As pediatric cardiologist Dr. Ronald Grifkas howed 10-year-old Ivan Applin the wire-framed device that would be used to fix the holes in his heart, the Toledo fourth grader had just one burning concern.
“He asked if the Michigan doctors were going to make his heart love University of Michigan instead of Ohio State,” his mother Jennifer laughs.
When you grow up you'll be thankful for the switch. You'll put liquids in your cooler and remove them without any unfortunate encrustations upon them. You might have a law degree you're actually able to pay off!
Butch TD, 1979. Via Dr. Sap:
Love how Ufer immediately knows that's a program record.
Also, a 1980 feature on Gary Moeller from Michigan Replay:
Etc.: Surprise! Alabama's Cost of Attendance figure shoots up. Michigan ranks high in the pernicious and generally useless university rankings that have increasingly driven colleges to ridiculous measures in order to rank well, so they've got that going for them.
Spike was the most efficient pick and roll player in the Big Ten last year, albeit on relatively low usage. Via Steve Lorenz, Gus Johnson wanted to name his daughter after Bo. That's a new one.