"The University of Illinois is also in turmoil. The university sports an Interim Chancellor, an Interim Athletic Director, and an Interim Football Coach; the game will be played at Soldier Field, making this an Illini Interim Home Game."
Because of the essential nature of Michigan’s non-conference season this year, there are clearly demarcated games of consequence – the type of significant data points that help create a team’s resume come March. Michigan has five consequential dates on the non-conference schedule (barring a significant upset loss): Xavier, UConn, Texas, North Carolina State, and SMU. With tonight’s win on the road – the first true road contest for the Wolverines this season – U-M pulls its record to 2-2 in those big non-conference games with another road game coming up next week.
Even though the Wolfpack have largely disappointed so far this season (currently ranked 63 in Kenpom, down from 41 pre-season), but most of their short rotation of players was present for the NCAA tournament upset over one-seed Villanova and Sweet 16 run last season. As we continue to see more of this Michigan team, it’s apparent that the team has responded well from its two early losses: the Wolverines controlled the game against Texas and built on that performance with what could theoretically wind up as one of its best road wins of the season in Raleigh against NCSU.
Early on in the game tonight, both teams struggled to find their shot from the field, but Derrick Walton was important in keeping Michigan’s offense afloat as they settled in; after about the ten-minute mark of the first half, U-M went on to outscore NCSU by a 27-15 margin – 3 three-pointers by Duncan Robinson in quick succession and a few nifty Moritz Wagner buckets keyed one of Michigan’s best offensive stretches of the early season. An injury to Walton thankfully doesn’t appear to be too serious but Michigan certainly missed his presence in the second half.
The Wolverines extended that lead to 15 with 14 minutes remaining, but NCSU was able to finally exert its size advantage inside and chip away at the lead; nine points from Caleb Martin helped cut the lead to 50-46 at the under-eight timeout. Still, much like in the Texas game, two assists from Caris LeVert on consecutive possessions to set up threes from Robinson and Zak Irvin helped put the lead into a much more comfortable margin – again, it was LeVert making plays with the ball in his hands down the stretch to preserve a Michigan win.
* * *
In Michigan’s games against quality opponents, tonight’s win over NCSU stands out on the defensive side of the floor – in its first three contests against Xavier, UConn, and Texas, the Wolverines ceded 1.25, 1.14, and 1.16 points per possession; tonight, it was just 0.96. Part – well, most – of that was due to frigid shooting from the Wolfpack (15-41 on two-point field goal attempts and 4-17 on threes); the only thing keeping them in the game was 16-18 free throw shooting from NCSU players other than BeeJay Anya.
Michigan didn’t turn in one of its best offensive performances: perhaps if Derrick Walton hadn’t have gotten injured, it would have been, but a characteristically “Beilein” offensive profile carried U-M to a victory anyways – the Wolverines virtually ignored the offensive glass, avoided turning the ball over, and won the game with their field goal percentage. This game was unique in that Michigan didn’t exactly shoot the ball well from three (7-20 as a team), but absolutely eviscerated the NCSU defense for easy two-point looks, mostly around the rim, that led to 61% shooting from two.
After the Xavier and UConn games, it seemed as if Michigan was far from asserting its identity in games; it turns out that significantly easier (but still fairly decent) competition was all that U-M needed.
Caris LeVert is playing at an All-American level right now; a combined 34 points + rebounds + assists is a testament to his all around ability. It wasn’t a great scoring night for Caris but he made plenty of impact elsewhere – his vision (as well as Zak Irvin’s) made up for the loss for Michigan’s starting point guard and LeVert’s activity on the defensive glass was a nice adaptation in the wake of Walton’s injury. Late free throws helped inflate his point total, but regardless, it was a great performance from Caris, the types of which we have come to expect.
Outside of Duncan Robinson, Michigan shot just 2-13 from three – the type of “live or die by the three” randomness that discourages three-point attempts in general; Michigan had one its shooters get hot and Robinson wound up with five three-point makes, singlehandedly salvaging the team’s performance from behind the arc. Robinson is now 20-33 (61%) from three on the season and looks like one of the best shooters in the country.
As for North Carolina State’s personnel, it was Caleb Martin and Cat Barber leading the way scoring-wise for the Wolfpack: they combined for 35 of NC State’s 59 points. Two of their three big men – Abdul-Malik Abu and Lennard Freeman – combined for just two points; credit should go to Michigan’s inexperienced bigs for erasing bigger, older counterparts in a matchup that didn’t look great on paper.
It’s clear that Spike’s not completely healthy after two off-season surgeries. He was thrown into the mix when Walton went down against NCSU, but might not be a part of the three guard rotation moving forward. Right now, Michigan’s rotation tentatively looks like:
- GUARDS: Walton, LeVert (Abdur-Rahkman as #3)
- WINGS: 2 of 3 among Irvin, Robinson, Dawkins
- BIGS: Doyle, then Wagner, then Wilson (perhaps only if needed?)
Even with a core player out, Michigan was able to escape Raleigh with a win. LeVert stepped up in the second half and Irvin, who still hasn’t been shooting well, managed to create some offense for others regardless. Robinson hit his threes tonight and Dawkins didn’t. Ricky Doyle was perhaps better defensively than Wagner tonight – Moritz may be the more appealing long-term option and showed some more flashes tonight (including a quick spin from the high-post into a one-dribble dunk that just roasted BeeJay Anya).
Here's the Advanced Statistics Schedule Rundown for U-M as of the end of Week 13, which is more or less the final week notwithstanding some movement due to championship game results. Iowa is still included, for woulda-shoulda-coulda reasons, but is lined-out, because that's just reality rearing it's ugly head.
To add some value, some potential bowl opponents have been included in the list. You'll notice they're all from the SEC, and here's why. The CFP & Rose Bowl will take the top 2 B1G teams, and #3 probably goes to the last of three NY6 at-large spots (?), where the top 3 are MSU, Iowa and tOSU, in no particular order. Next with a 10-2 record is Northwestern, which would put it in the Holiday Bowl. This leaves U-M and Wisconsin at 9-3 to be assigned by B1G officials to either the Citrus or Outback Bowls, both of which have tie-ins with the SEC in the #3 and #4 pecking order, respectively. Yes that's right. The #3/#4 SEC picks get matched with the #5/#6 B1G picks, so there's an artifact of institutionalized SEC bias right there.
In reality I think the #3 SEC would probably get an at-large NY6 spot, so that might offset the selections by one spot. So, taking a quick look at the SEC standings, it looks like the #3 to #6 picks might be Georgia, Ole Miss, LSU (should be 9-3, not 8-3, due to a cancellation) and Tennessee. Plus Florida, because they're widely regarded as overrated. Those 5 are included in the rundown. Here's your embiggable chart:
In the S&P+ ratings, M still managed to improve its standing in offense again over last week's results, moving from #40 to #34, while MSU climbed from #29 to #26. Meanwhile, after having sandbagged the entire season, OSU soared from #24 to #13. Curiously though on S&P+ Defense, M held onto its #2 spot. This belies any rational explanation other than perhaps the defense started out well, and then collapsed quickly into garbage time. The rating did erode by 1.2 points from 11.7 to 12.9. OSU maintained its #8 spot and improved its rating by 1.4 points, while the MSU defensive moved up from #21 to #18 by improving its rating by 0.7 points. Overall, M dropped by only 2 spots to #6, while OSU moved up one from #5 to #4. Despite finishing the regular season undefeated, Iowa's overall S&P+ ranking remains unchanged at #29, while MSU moved up 3 spots to #11. Only now after the season is complete is M not favored in all of its games by S&P+ metrics, and that would be against OSU, who is a 0.4 point favorite. Meanwhile, the S&P+ favorite for the B1GC is MSU -5.0.
As for the FEI Ratings, U-M’s Special Teams dropped back from #14 to #16. The roughing the punter and the touchback would seem to explain that downturn. The next closest teams are Iowa and OSU at #33 and #40, respectively. As for MSU and PSU Special Teams ... they continue to wallow in the lower echelons.
FEI warmed slightly regarding M's offense, which improved its rating and rank to #35, thanks yet again to a gutsy three quarters of Jake Rudock. MSU dropped in rank from #19 to #21 despite a demolition of PSU, but yet, piling on 21 points late tends to not improve S&P+. OSU’s season-long sandbagging operation is once again manifest in its leap in FEI Offense from #38 to #28. On the other hand, Iowa dropped back from #24 to #30. Too bad a matchup of Rudock and C.J. Beathard in the B1GCG didn’t work out.
Carrying on with the trend from last week, and further quantifying what was witnessed on field in Ann Arbor last weekend, the most alarming aspect here is the FEI Defensive numbers, which sees M continue retrograde movement from #11 to #19, but also a decline for OSU from #8 to #10. MSU popped up from #24 to #21, as did Iowa's defense from #44 to #36. As such, the FEI and S&P+ characteristics for offense are largely congruent, but the same can’t be said for the Defense ratings.
FEI Overall rankings show M dropping from #10 to #16, while OSU climbed from #9 to #5, and MSU held on at the #6 spot. Iowa climbed back up from #24 to #18.
Rolling the S&P+ and FEI numbers together, Connelly & Fremeau come up with the F/+ Combined Ratings, in which M finally drops out of CFP range from #4 to #11, while OSU slips in at #4 and MSU advances from #10 to #8. Iowa inched up from #25 to #24.
Last but not least are the Football Power Index (FPI) ratings from ESPN. Here M reversed last weeks trend, dropping 1.6 points and 3 places to #19, while OSU moved further into CFP placement at #3, with a 1.5 point better score. As for MSU and Iowa in the B1GC, they are ranked #14 and #26, respectively, with a point spread of MSU -4.7 on a neutral site.
Looking ahead to potential bowl game matchups, the advanced stats are mixed. S&P+ favors U-M in all matchups except against Ole Miss, whereas FEI and FPI see U-M as an underdog against all opponents except Georgia.
Yours in football, and Go Blue!
I have nothing new to say about Michigan's loss to OSU on Saturday. Sometimes you eat the bar, and sometims the bar eats you, as the movie says. And sometimes the bar shoves your face into the mud and pees on you and tell you it's going to steal your wife and then eats you.
But sometimes you come back quickly. And that is the point of this post. Below are
three two instances of Michigan being flat-out whooped by a team and then beating that team a season later. I don't mean to suggest that the circumstances in question are identical to those faced by the current football team with respect to OSU, but hopefully they're close enough that readers feel a little better.
I humbly suggest that those feeling down (everyone, I assume) consider the following:
Turnaround No. 1: On January 1, 1992, Michigan lost 34-14 in the Rose Bowl to Washington, who was then named national champion in the coaches' poll. In those days, Michigan rarely met a team who was inarguably better than them, but Washington left no doubt who was superior. Desmond Howard - and this was his Heisman season - had one catch. Washington outgained Michigan 404-205 (404 yards was a lot in the old days). Washington's receiver, Mario Bailey, even did this after he scored:
Insult was added to injury. And we were left with an entire offseason to be down about the Huskies' domination.
But a year later, Michigan beat Washington in the Rose Bowl 38-31 despite having lost Howard to the NFL. That Washington team was not as good as they were the year before, but they were still the Pac 10 champs and the No. 11 team in the country per the AP even after losing to the Wolverines. Michigan also maybe got a bit better (their final AP ranking would improve from No. 6 in '91 to No. 5 in '92), but there was no major shift in talent for either school. Yet a team that squashed Michigan like a proverbial bug wasn't good enough for a more-seasoned Wolverine squad a season later.
Turnaround No. 2: On March 7, 2010, Michigan basketball (men's team) played at the Breslin. They were down 32-14 by the end of the first half and lost 64-48. Neither Manny Harris nor DeShawn Sims could crack double digits in scoring. The team shot 35% from the field and was out-rebounded by nine - and none of these statistics capture the hopelessness that I felt during that game. It was like watching a boa constrictor choke a golden retriever to death. You'd like the dog to survive, but you know the he's just not built to get out of that sort of thing.
On January 27, 2011, Michigan headed back to MSU to face All-Big Ten guard Kalin Lucas and the Spartans. Having lost Harris and Sims, Michigan went into the game knowing they'd have to rely on Darius Morris, freshman Tim Hardaway, Jr., and these guys:
(I don't know why there is no space between the photo and the gif. I'm no bronxblue with this stuff.)
Likely all but the really young among us remember what happened. Zack Novak started out hot - he'd hit six threes in the game - and politely suggested that the Wolverines could win the f-ing game if they stayed fired up (see above). Stu Douglass later knocked down a three-pointer to seal the win off a feed from Morris, and the Wolverines prevailed 61-57. I'm still not sure how Coach Beilein & Co. pulled that off, because it didn't make sense to my non-expert eyes. And it was all the more fun for being so unexpected.
Conclusion: I was going to do one of these for the '08 and '09 Notre Dame games, where Michigan went from being fairly pathetic in South Bend in '08 to beating the Irish in '09 despite the fact that ND had Michael Floyd, Golden Tate, and Jimmy Clausen (who, say what you will, was a 2nd round pick in the NFL draft). But everyone gets the idea, and I need to eat dinner.
Sometimes you seem to be very far away from being able to beat a rival, and sometimes you beat them the next year anyway. I offer the above to suggest that the Wolverines may not be as far off from beating OSU as it seems right now. Sometimes minor shifts in talent happen, your team gets a little older, your little-recruited leader has a You shall not pass! moment, and you finally kill the damn bar.
Another season is nearly in the books and it's a good time to take a look back at prior classes that make up the bedrock of the 2015 Wolverines. We all get excited about 'crooting!!! and the 2012 class was supposed to be the base of a team that was going to take out Bama ...what with an incredible array of OL and LBs. Not so much. In fact, those were 2 of the 4 position groups along with rb and QB that have mostly haunted UM the past few yrs.
Below I have the 2012 recruiting class shown by original rank per 247 compositive (which rolls together all the services into 1 measure) and then a re-rank I did on how those players actually should have been ranked. This is a good time to analyze them as many will run of eligibility in a month, and 1 already was an early entry so we have a great body of work for them all.
This was Brady Hoke's first full class and came on the heels of the class that shall never be mentioned again (2010), and the hybrid class of 2011 that was part rr and part hoke.
2012's class was light years ahead of 2010 and quite a bit ahead of 2011 but certainly did not live up to its billing as #6 national rank. There were a lot of the usual misses any class will have but where UM really missed out in this class is finding a good group of guys who challenged for conference honors. When laid out side by side with OSU's similarly ranked class and MSU's lesser class (sigh) you see the differences in stark contrast.
Here are my more granular designations as I did not want to just stick to generic "4 star" or "3 star" because a high level 4 star ranked #75 should add more value than a borderline 4 star near #300. Just the same as a high end 3 star ranked #400 should be able to add more to a team than someone ranked #850.
|5 = top 35||Braylon Edwards, Jake Long||Nationally elite, top 3 at position in nation|
|High 4 = top 150, excluding top 35||Mike Martin, Jake Ryan||1st/2nd team Big 10, top end multi year starter|
|Low 4 = 151 - 350||Ryan Van Bergen||Borderline conf honors candidate, very good multi year starter|
|High 3 = 351-500||Fitz Toussaint||Competent Big 10 player who starts at least a year|
|Low 3 = 501-1000||Will Campbell||A contributor in 2 deep, maybe some starts|
|2 = >1000||Just a guy||Special teams only / gets garbage time vs MAC teams|
|1||Most of 2010 class!||"Bust"|
Original Ranking out of HS
|Name||Adj *||HS *||+/-|
Note - Column 4 is how many "steps" above or below a player was from their HS rank upon re-rank. For example if a player was ranked out of HS as a "high 4" but in reality is a "high 3" he gets two dashes meaning he was 2 levels below expectation. And the opposite for vice versa - if ranked "high 3" out of HS but plays like a "high" 4 he gets two +.
* I believe these players have a strong chance to upgrade their ranking with a strong rs sr year.
** Left program early
Caveat - yes, every reader won't agree with me on every ranking so countless "you ranked Desmond Morgan too low!!!" comments won't add much to the discussion.
Discussion Points - talk of peers
First let's give Brady Hoke credit for one thing - player retention. It is rare to have a class with this many players and have only 1 (Kaleb Ringer) leave the program early. It will be very different in the Jim Harbaugh era. We also didn't have any career ending injuries in this group so that's another positive - Hoke could recruit generally healthy people? So yeah we have that.
Before we get into individual player discussion let me put a framework out there on why UM is lagging its peers at a granular level using a position group. Forget the OL guys which are obvious - we had two top 100 HS OL which rather than being stars are "servicable"...including "THE MOST college ready guard we've seen in a decade!!". But let's talk linebackers which I think is a more nuanced discussion and where the gap between MSU/OSU player development and UM's (up until this year lies).
OSU is our peer in recruiting so the first discussion point revolves around them. They have 3 absolute studs in their LB core all coming from different parts of the recruiting ranks. McMillan is a top 35 player, a 5 star - he is developing as expected ala Peppers rather than "busting" or performing well below expectationa ala Pipkins... or borderline 5 stars such as Green and Kalis. So you get a 5 star and he delivers - a nice concept. I think we should follow this philosophy of OSU.
The other 2 guys are more interesting. Joshua Perry is in this same 2012 class - he was ranked 131 in the nation, well behind Bolden... and bookmarked by James Ross and Royce Jenkins-Stone. Basically you could throw those 4 in a bottle, shake it around, and you should in 4 years have 4 quite similar players coming out the other end. Not so much.
Perry is about to be a very highly drafted NFL player. Meanwhile we have 3 guys in the same class with similar rank out of HS that are eh...."competent Big 10 starters, with a hope of being a UDFA or 7th round pick type for some of them". One of those 3 barely played his first 3 years and only as a reclamation project under Harbaugh had any contribution. Now you do not expect to go 3/3 necessarily but we had three top 150 LBs and none matched Joshua Perry. I think we should follow the philosophy of OSU where top 150 recruits are college stars.
Then you go to Darron Lee. Lee was ranked #633 in the nation. He is a "Peppers level" talent who if he declares early after his rs so year is going to be drafted mid to late in the 1st round per many mock drafts. So it goes without saying the Buckeyes "lucked out" here or just did a great job with this guy.
But comparing those 3 vs our 3 and you have 3 "sideline to sideline guys" who wreck havoc and are athletes of high level. And we had the same sort of guys out of HS.... if not better on average.
As for MSU LBs (which probably will be the best crew in 2016 in the Big 10) it's the normal low to mid 3 star guys who look like world beaters often (not always this year as they had a shit DB core to compensate for). Ed Davis? Detroit kid - ranked #587. A beast last year (and every year he played UM) and was projecting to be their best LB. Darien Harris - ranked #619. A beast this year. These 2 guys flow to the ball well, and get there with violence. Bullough? ranked #570. Not as good as his bro but a good effective MLB. So that would have been your starting 3 for MSU if healthy - a bunch of mid 3 stars who "feel" a lot more rangy, fast, and violent than our 3 LBs who came out of HS vastly more regarded and top 150. Even reschke who was ranked near #200 and is a youngin feels more effective than our guys right now. He has really popped the last 4-5 games this year incl v UM. It was startling to see how fast MSUs LBs were vs OSU (and yes the excellent MSU DL helped) compared to our guys. And how well they wrapped up and physically whomped on OSU. This has become a regular routine now at MSU, rinse wash repeat in development of those defensive players and I look forward to the upcoming time we can say the same.
Speaking of rankings our best LB is probably Desmond Morgan who was a sub 1000 recruit and has played way over his level. But our big 3 LBs in 2012 were "misses" insofar as being the type of players OSU and MSU has. This should have been a stellar crew of LBs that was the strength of the D based on HS ranks. Of course this was a chronic situation across the board in the Hoke era. Which we are still trying to escape the gravitational pull of.
I write this section not to fellate our 2 peers but to give a comparison ....and also to frame why certain players are a "3H" in my rerank and not "4L" or "4H" which those with maize glasses on will feel I graded too low.
Discussion Points - About Us
At a 40K point of view this class was "solid" in terms of putting out players to get UM to be a competitive team but lacking enough of the high end stars to get UM past "competitive". These stars would be re-ranked 4H (high 4s) while conference stalwarts - what I deem 4L (low 4s) - are also lacking. Out of 25 players, we had four who I'd put into those 2 categories. That's bad. Especially when 15 players out of HS were in those 2 categories of "top 350" nationally. Even accounting for the normal losses of player to attrition, bust, injuries you should get 8-9+ top end players out of 15 ranked so high. That didn't happen in this class.
Further the far right column tells the tale ... the more "++" you get the more you outperformed your HS rank. The more "--" you get the more you underperformed. Flat means you came in as expected. UM had way way way too many "----" in 2012.
I did asterisk 3 players in particular as I could see them jumping 1 category with a big 2016 - Chesson, Clark, and Wormley. So still TBD on those guys in particular.
Sidebar: "How could you rate Wormley so low!???!" Again what is a 4H? That's a 1st/2nd team All Big 10 who is a bonafide conf star. Wormely flashes that but is not consistent. Wormley is not quite there - some games he looks like a "5" and others you barely hear from him. Joshua Perry is a 4H, Wormley is not there yet. But he should be in a year.
Similarly I see Chesson potentially getting to the 4 star level based on how he ended this year - until mid season this year he was a blocking demon who could not track long balls well but was fast - so nice potential but production lagging. Now more recently, he is looking like a potential #1 next year if he can extrapolate those last 3-4 games. Darboh on the other hand I see as a possession type wr with generally good hands although he muffed a few vs OSU; I don't see the same ceiling there.
So again, for a lot of these players their grade is complete as they graduate. But a few can still improve. Even with said improvement this was not the #6 class ...nor near it.
Let's look at the top of the re-rank board.
Funchess was a potential stud who was left out to dry with a PTSD QB and his own reported lack of "go get em". Scary to think what he could do in a Pac 12 or Big 12 offense. Still he was enough of a physical freak to compensate and had 1.5 great yrs at a very high level. He'd be a guy ranked 50-75 out of HS if we could do it all over again. (original #260)
Henry was the only massive outlier in this class ala in Jake ryan mode. He was the lowest rated recruit in the class at #944. That is borderline 2/3 star. If memory serves he was also a guy who committed in the last week of signing period. Thankfully. He looked quite good in 2014 with some serious flashes but injuries and lack of consistency hurt him. This year he started relative quietly but was working thru a bit of a position switch and the back 2/3rds of the year was the 1st or 2nd best DL guy along with Glasgow.
Wormley (discussed above - potential to be a 4H next year) and Wilson round out our guys that are borderline all conference candidates at this point IMO. Jarrod Wilson is not an athletic freak and doesn't make many wow plays as Brian says but unless you are Ed reed I don't want to notice my safeties much. He is a guy I imagine we won't realize what he contributed until we see some busted plays next year down the middle. I have him as a low 4 and that's what his recruiting pedigree would project him to be.
But those are our 4 "really good" players in this class - again the #6 class in the country. We fell short in many places.
Let's talk guys who more or less did what was expected.
Outside of Wilson I have Ben Braden, Drake Johnson, and (thanks to Harbaugh) Sione Houma in this category of matching HS ranking. Braden was a high 3 star player and you expect to get solid if not spectacular production out of that rank including at least a year starting - Ben is giving us that. He was an athletic marvel who needed polish; thankfully Drevno has some Pledge(tm). Drake has been injured often but was a low ranked recruit at least in a Michigan world at #936. Much like Henry that is borderline 2/3 star. All you ask is for a contributor at 2 deep with that rank and we got it. Houma was probably a "2" in the re-rank at this time last year as a special teams guy who was parked behind Kerridge, a walk on. But "The Flow" has picked it up this year, especially the back half of it and sort of is a Will Campbell type in terms of coming on late in his career to be a solid citizen.
Let's talk about guys outperforming HS rank a bit.
I really only have 2 guys here - Chesson and Clark. And both could improve on that more next year. Both were in the 500 to 600 range or the top end of the "low 3" star range. Chesson should be a low 4 next year or..... if all falls correctly might sneak into high 4 if he can truly put it all together with a QB that finds him enough. As for Clark I like him maybe more than the Mgo community seems to. Yes he doesnt turn his head around enough but you rarely see him get depanted and he always seems to be near where he should be. It's a new position for him and experience will only help at this very difficult spot on the field. A year ago at this time he was a 1 or 2 star in my re-rank - a safety who basically plays against App State and then gets benched. He has been one of the few massive reclamation projects in this class and if he improves on that next year could really be a boon to the defense.
Let's talk about the 8 guys ranked in the top 150 out of HS.
By and large this was a disappointing group relative to expectation. This should be an area littered with future 2nd thru 4th round NFL draft picks, and 1st/2nd team All Conference players. Even accounting for busts & injuries there should have been 5 very high level players here - frankly I only count Wormley as projecting to be that.
The 2 OL were discussed above but "THE MOST college ready guard in decades" is a guy who struggles often in year 3 of starting - yes it's been 3 years. (2013/2014/2015) Has he made some improvement ? Yes. But if he played for Illinois you wouldn't be surprised or see him as an outlier on that team. I have Kalis as a "competent Big 10 player" aka a high 3. Instead of being #49 in the country he is more like that generic guy in the 400s.
Magnuson has had some injury issues (2014) but likewise started on that awful 2013 line for long periods and is starting in 2015. He doesn't stand out in any way. Again coming in at #83 in the country he should be tracking for conf honors and be a stalwart. Instead - like Kalis - he is a guy if we re-ranked today would be a generic decent OL guy in the 400s. Both these guys - as a floor - should be "Michael Schofield types".
Ondre Pipkins to me was the Dennis Norfleet of MGoboard - far too adored relative to production. I never saw "it" from him even when he was healthy. Now I don't expect the world out of a true freshman DT but when Mone played in a similar role I noticed Mone - I rarely noticed Ondre his freshman year. Then when he was healthy at the start of his SO year - he was "just a guy" to me. Probably if healthy he was a competent plugger type but difficult to tell - I felt like he would have been passed by both Mone and Glasgow and been 3rd string and marginalized even if healthy. Hence the low 3 star (which is a wide range between 500 and 1000) - a huge variance from him #60 HS rank. If only he played as well as he impersonated Brady Hoke.
Bolden is Bolden man. "It is what it is" is the trademark of his legacy. On paper this guy is everything you want in terms of attitude but it is just not there on the field. Seeing him hit and bounce off Elliott last Saturday repeatedly just said it all. He is a decent Big 10 player but again should be found on the roster of an Illinois rather than Michigan. Nowhere near his top 100 rank.
The story of one James Ross is a confusing tale. He shot out of the cannon as an undersized true freshman and was an immediate starter who piled up tons of stats. You sit there and think "put on 15 lbs, come back as a SO and we have ourselves a prime time 1st team Big 10 player in 2 years". It just never worked out from there. Production fell off as a SO, weight gain didn't come easy and then he was marginalized by the Mattison crew as a Jr as UM went mostly to a 2 LB lineup with Jake and Bolden. He did finally put on some lbs as a Senior but once again was sort of marginalized with a lot of 5 DB sets. If you had asked me post freshman year I'd have a high 4 projection on Ross in due time, but in the end I could only give him a high 3 - well below par for the 115th ranked player in the nation.
Royce Jenkins-Stone was a re-ranked 1 star bust a year ago at this time. Thankfully #Harbaugh and we have a Will Campbell type player now who did nearly nothing for 3 years and then came on to have a functional senior year. Now if Mario had been healthy he might have still fallen to a 2 as he would not have played much injuries gave him an opportunity at a new position and mostly did a solid job from all accounts. Not a game changer but not someone who kills you when he is out there. Enough to move him from a 1 to a low 3. But again way below expectation (#139) as he and Ross were expected to be book end OLB stars for this program.
We end this group with Terry Richardson. Look every class has a bust or three so not going to hate on Hoke for this - it happens. While undersized I don't find that an excuse - you see some bad ass small corners who at least contribute in some fashion (Ty Mathieu, Will Likely, that short dude from OSU 15 years ago who had a long NFL career whose name I can't recall off top of head). This was the biggest bust in the class ..."he had a Bama offer!!"
Talking the low 4s out of HS
Generally I think the guys in this group and the guys in the high 3s are what marks the difference between top programs with elite development vs the masses. This is where guys like Dantonio ply his trade. UM had a mixed bag in this class with Funchess popping out to the upside and Tom Strobel being the big miss. The rest of the group is generally ok-ish but again - not the type of upside development you need to be a top tier program. Multiple guys in this group should be significant "plus players".
Norfleet - I am not going to get into that deep. I was surprised at his ranking actually considering his lack of speed and lack of a college position. Maybe HS evaluators thought he was a slower Sproles or could be a slot wr. I don't know - I never saw it with this guy but I know he is loved by some segments of the fanbase due to "always just "missing breaking one all the way!!!" If re-ranked no way this is 1 of the top 200 players in the country - I have him in the 500 to 1000 range as a low 3 star.
Darboh was touched on above. He is a solid #2 wr I suppose but I'd like to see him make make the regular catches more often. He has some spectacular grabs but not only in the OSU game but a few others he had some misses that were pretty routine catches. He is not an elite athlete so he can be your possession type guy. He was probably ranked 100-150 spots too high out of HS but is a competent Big 10 starter.
I would have liked to see a full year out of Mario. We won't ever know what he could have been this year but with so much attention on Henry, Glasgow, and Wormley I imagine he would have benefited from a lot of 1 v 1s. Hard to judge him as he was a backup behind an above average guy in Clark for years but I had him as a high 3 star in the re-rank.
AJ Williams was on the way to bust category until #Harbaugh. He was probably the exact opposite of Norfleet a year ago - one of the least liked UM players by the Mgo community. Hands of stone ...1 catch in his career, etc. While not a guy who knocks your socks off now and still quite overrated out of HS, he became a competent Big 10 player his senior year. Just nowhere near HS expectation.
Strobel was the 2nd big miss in this class and again - it is going to happen. This one was a head scratcher as he was listed as a DT most of his career despite seeming undersized. Maybe it was very apparent to the staff(s) he did not have the edge explosion you want in an end early in his career but for coaches who had Keith Heitzman as an edge rusher you'd think Strobel could at least get a try on the outside D-line as a backup guy. Instead he was just a non contributor. Until our 8th nose tackle got hurt this yr he was playing backup OL somehow ...until getting a chance vs Indiana and being obliterated.
Misc and Sundry Dudes
A few guys left here. Godin is Godin. A decent backup Big 10 player; 3rd string for us - probably could be 2nd string for some lower end Big 10 teams. He was ranked a bit too high out of HS as a top 400 player IMO but is a solid backup type who I have as a low 3 star in rerank (again thats a vast range btw 500 and 1000 and he probably would sit somewhere in the 500-700 range). Ringer transferred out early and best as I can tell has not had much impact at lower levels of football - so he was very overrated at #424 out of HS. Blake Bars is in the Strobel category - from all accounts a nice guy (often see him visiting kids at the hospital) but just never found a way to even get into the 2 deep even during the hell of the 2013 OL. I gave Gant a re-rank of 2 stars instead of 1 because I *think* he gets some play on special teams? If I am wrong on that he goes to a 1. I would be surprised if Bars and Gant (along with a few others higher on the page) are here for their 5th year as they seem destined for Heitzman treatment.
And there it is.
We'll take a look at the 2013 class (#4 in the nation) a year from now but my early preview from a curosry scan is it will look a lot like this class - a few stars in Butt and Lewis and a whole lot of disappointment mixed in with decent Big 10 performers but not the type that gets you to within 2 iterations of OSU. These 2 classes - 2012 & 2013 - were supposed to be the base of NC contending teams. "It is what is is."
The week leading up to The Game saw Michigan fans unite around the tragedy of a family losing their 5 year old son to DIPG, an inoperable brain cancer. When I saw the picture of Chad's father holding his son's lifeless body, I cried. I am emotional just thinking about it now. When I hear about parents suffering the death of a child, two memories from my childhood return.
When I was in sixth grade, a girl in my gym class collapsed in the parking lot and died. She had a condition that we later started referring to as, "that Hank Gathers thing." It was so sudden. One day, she was pretending to be a horse, running around at recess, and the next day, her parents were dealing with the thought of burying their daughter. We dedicated our yearbook to her, tried to heal, and move on with the knowledge that life is fragile so you should treasure every day, every moment. I didn't know her very well, but even now, 33 years later, I can picture her galloping around the parking lot, full of life and energy.
The next year, I found out that a girl in my class had leukemia. I knew her better as we were the two best math students in our class and were selected to participate in an accelerated math program. As such, we spent time together studying in the hallway, separated from the rest of the class. She was tall, blond-haired and blue-eyed, with long tan legs. I was smitten, but I don't think she noticed me or knew me as anything more than the geek she had to learn math with. Her illness dragged on for several months. She was hospitalized for a time, and then during the spring of our 7th grade year, she too, passed away. Given time to prepare for the eventuality of the situation didn't make things any easier. For the second year in a row, we dedicated our yearbook to another fallen classmate, tried to heal, and move on. Today, when I think of her, I think that she could have been the world's first Fields Medal winning supermodel.
In 1989, the movie, "Dead Poets Society" was released in theatres. In the movie, Robin Williams played an eccentric English teacher who exhorts his students to seize the day, "CARPE DIEM!" in Latin. It was rather fashionable at the time for people to exclaim, "carpe diem," as a reminder to make the most out of life. Williams' character quoted Thoreau, saying,
I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life
"Suck out the marrow," that was such a powerful image at the time. Williams, who outwardly gave the impression of a person full of life, later took his own life after losing a battle with depression.
What does all this have to do with a football game, a rather lousy one at that? Not a whole lot, admittedly, but this was the last game of the regular season, so it does seem like an appropriate time to take a step back and reflect upon our lives and our choices. This season will be remembered as Harbaugh's first as Michigan's head coach. But it will also be remembered for #ChadTough, and hopefully for all those good moments we shared as a community, from Chesson's back-breaking kick return against Northwestern to the defense's rallying together to stop Minnesota and Indiana at the goal line. For Jake Rudock going from the team's weak spot to it's strength, for Tacos and Peppers and an Aussie punter showing us how it's supposed to be done. I don't regret all the time I spent watching and writing about this team. What has made this season better than others of recent vintage is not the record. It's that my son has started to share my enthusiasm for Michigan football. Shared moments are so much more fulfilling, meaningful, and memorable, and so I say to Team 136, thank you. Your yearbook photo will be one that I remember for a long time.
(Thoreau's quote continues, "to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life." Frankly, I think Thoreau was a bit overrated. Who would want to live like a Spartan?)
Burst of Impetus
* It's hard to remember that this was a 4 point game going into halftime. Michigan started off the game playing well with two decents drive that combined for 17 plays and 71 yards. Neither ended up in points, but we were winning the field position battle. After Michigan stopped Ohio State on 3rd and 10, their two drives had combined to gain 27 yards on 9 plays. And then we ran into the punter, but the official called a "roughing the kicker" penalty that gave Ohio State a first down. They capitalized. Instead of grabbing the momentum, we gave OSU new life and they took advantage.
* I don't give burst of impetus awards for halftime adjustments because I don't know what happened at halftime, but something sure did. Ohio State scored quickly on their first drive and controlled the rest of the game as if RichRod, Hoke, and Gerg had combined to coach the second half. Perhaps, a team that had been running on fumes for the past few weeks finally hit empty on the old gas meter, and that was that.
The Two Jakes
* The Jake Hardock mind meld came to a conclusion on Saturday. Or would that be Jim Rubaugh? When I was mentoring under a soon to be retired engineer at work, we held monthly, "brain dump" meetings where my mentor would attempt to pass on his knowledge to me and another engineer one experience at a time. These were the types of things you don't learn about in text books. As I wrote above the link, Jake Rudock went from being the team's weak spot to it's strength after one season under Harbaugh's tutelage. Imagine what a QB can do with 4 or 5 years learning from Harbaugh. The future is bright.
* Jake Rudock was extra talented in his accuracy, going 19 for 32 (59.4%) for 263 yards (8.2 YPA). He completed one TD pass to Jehu Chesson.
* Jake Buttttt caught 5 passes for 54 yards.
NFL Route Tree Runners
* Jehu Chesson led the receivers with 8 catches and 111 yards. His blocked punt shows up in the boxscore as a 14 yard punt for Ohio State's "TEAM."
* Darboh finished with 4 catches for 68 yards. The refs let Ohio's DBs play very aggressively against him and that hampered our first half drives. By the second half, he figured out how to get open but by then it was too late.
* Jabrill Peppers led Michigan with 29 yards on 7 carries. It's not a good sign when a starting defensive player leads the team in rushing. I trust Harbaugh and his assistants to correct this situation going into next season.
* I will drink a lemonade if De'Veon Smith is not the starting fullback next year.
* Sione Houma ran 3 times for 12 yards.
Tacos and Peppers
* Ohio State's top three tacklers were it's three linebackers. This is even more impressive considering Michigan was spending most of the day passing the ball. Their linebackers were making plays against the run and the pass. Ours were not.
* Each one of our four main linebackers (Bolden, Gedeon, Ross and Morgan) should have had an extra tackle, as I saw each one of those guys miss a tackle on an Ohio State running TD. If we had held them to FG attempts instead of TDs, the final score would not have looked so bad.
* In the dot, dot, dot categories (the ones that show up as dots instead of zeros) Ohio State had 3 TFLs, 2 FFs, 1 INTC, 4 BrUps, 2 Sacks, and 5 QHs. Michigan had 3 TFLs, one 2 yard sack, and 1 QH. That's it. After filling up the boxscore all year with dot, dot, dot stuff, especially BrUps, Michigan had almost nothing to show. It's as if we implemented a brand new defense the week before the biggest game of the season and expected the players to perform as if they had been playing it the whole year long. It's as if we watched MSU throttle Ohio State's offense the week before and said, let's do the exact opposite of that. The second half meltdown of the defense was Gergian in it's inexplicability. Someone put the ooga-booga on the defense.
* We actually ran more total plays than Ohio State did, 72-69. There were 26 assorted special teams plays comprising 15.6% of the total.
* The only ST plays of consequence were the punt we downed at the 6, the punt we just barely failed to down at the 1 inch line, the roughing the punter penalty, and a nice Lewis kick return that was negated by a Michigan holding penalty.
* First downs were much closer than the final score would indicate, 25-20 for Ohio State. Yes, after being held to 5 first downs by MSU, they accumulated 5 times that many against us. Three OSU first downs came via penalty.
* I thought OSU's weakness was their passing game. We had a defensive game plan that allowed them to get by only throwing 15 times. Inexplicable.
* Third down conversions were 7 of 13 for them and 9 for 18 for us. Again, these stats don't jibe with a 29 point drubbing.
WHAT ARE THOOOSE?
* Before the game, my brother told me he had a ticket in row 2. I spent some time looking for him during the sideline shots but never saw him. After the game, I found out why as he texted me a photo from his seat. Turns out he was sitting behind Big Nut. I saw Big Nut at the game, but he blocks out the sun (or brother, as the case may be) and everything else behind him. My brother, Michael Thomas (NTMT) who had two less receptions than OSU's Michael Thomas, reports that Big Nut was quiet and polite, but it wasn't great sitting behind him because he never sat down and he had that stupid doll on his helmet for the whole game. No one will ever accuse Big Nut of not sucking the marrow out of life, but who wants to go through life as a Big Nut?
[Photo Courtesy Michael Thomas (NTMT)]
Worst: A Predictable Ass Kicking
Since the start of the year, what has felt so different about this season versus the last couple was the competence displayed by the coaching staff and the players on the field. Michigan didn’t always win the games they could have (witness Utah and MSU) and sometimes underperformed even in those they did (see IU and Minnesota), but in totality they never seemed out of their league against anyone on the schedule.
That all kind of changed against OSU. I’m not talking about pride or effort, questioning the heart of the coaches or the players, or anything as myopic and reductive as the crap you see posted on message boards and on talk radio. No, what happened in this game was UM’s coaches and players finally ran into an opponent that they just couldn’t hang with, one with too much talent and too much continuity to give UM a puncher’s chance. In past years when Brady Hoke had a couple of close calls, OSU would make the dumb plays, take the dumb penalties, give UM life with bad turnovers and poor coverage.
On the one hand, it is hard to be that surprised how the game played out. OSU has looked disinterested basically all season; they haven’t really been challenged by a team until MSU, and honestly never seemed to “care” about anyone they faced until UM. Last week against MSU you saw a team that figured it could roll over the competition again with minimal effort (especially with Cook out), and had they put in even 50% of the effort game planning last week as they clearly did this one, they’d have run MSU off the field. But for the first time all year, OSU found itself behind the eight ball, no longer in control of their destiny to defend their title or even win the conference, and that seemed to awaken them from their stupor, and UM felt the brunt of it. Hell, they did the same thing last year after the VT loss, obliterating almost everyone they ran into along the way to the championship.
On the other hand, it was jarring to see just how far UM was behind OSU in terms of talent at key positions and how those deficiencies limited what could be implemented. The one thing you could say about Brady Hoke is that the man can recruit; of course, in both those years OSU recruited a tad better. And when you dig into those classes, you see a lot of higher-ranked players who either aren’t on campus or simply failed to develop into the types of players UM needed. This isn’t an indictment of these players because in most cases they did the best they could at UM, but when you are trying to compete with a Goliath you can’t miss nearly as often as UM’s has with their best shots.
Still, it’s not that OSU is demonstrably better than UM across the board; the talent gap actually doesn’t seem nearly as pronounced as in seasons past even though the score would make you think otherwise. But where OSU trumps UM, they trump them definitely; disruptive pass rushing and running back jump out, as does linebacker play. Add those up, and a game that was sorta-close at halftime (ignoring the fact that OSU had already started carving UM up on the ground and UM had played keep away a bit with their 10 points by bleeding clock on drives of 14 and 11 plays) got out of hand quickly.
I read people calling for UM to change their defensive gameplan, commit more against the run and dare Barrett to beat them in the air. I agree in concept, but my counter is – where are those players going to come from? This isn’t a game where more bodies equals better results, like Plants vs. Zombies. All year the LBs have struggled against teams that spread them out and force quick, athletic decisions; if there was someone on the roster who was better than the guys at that you’d figure they would have played by now. And with Glasgow out, there is limited depth at tackle, which further limits how you can respond. Sure, the coaching staff will deservedly come under fire for some of their second-half adjustments (trying to go with a 3-man front is always ludicrous against OSU), but at some point it isn’t that you got RPS’ed moreso that you only had two fingers left and all you could throw are scissors against a couple of really angry rocks.
Depth has been an issue for this team all season, but they mostly papered it over with dominant defensive line play and very good secondary coverage. At least, that was until Glasgow went down. With him out of the lineup, IU had their way on the ground, and the blueprint was set for how to crush UM up front with zone runs and tempo. That isn’t to say the outcome would have been different with guys like Glasgow and Ojemudia in the lineup; OSU looked pissed off and out for blood, and when they play like that there isn’t a team in the country they can’t murderball.
Offensively, the lack of a rushing attack this past month has weirdly been both a blessing and a really terrible curse. On the one hand, it helped push Rudock out of the shell he was in to start the year, leading to some great numbers: 67% completion, 1,296 yards, 9.2 ypa, 11:2 TD:INT ratio over the past 4 games. Butt cemented his status as one of the best TEs in the game, and both Chesson and Darboh emerged as plus receivers with even more room to grow next year in this offense. But it also meant UM was held to 87 and 57 yards rushing against PSU and OSU respectively, and failed to crack 4.0 ypc against non-Chaos teams since early October. It got so bad that the leading rusher in this game was Peppers, running mostly gimmick plays in addition to his role as an anchor of the defense. For a team with (purported) recruiting stars in that backfield…well, I’ve said it for weeks now.
So yes, UM lost to the three teams you kind of expected they would (Utah, MSU, and OSU), and how they lost this last game leaves a sour taste in everyone’s mouth. But there was demonstrable progress this season, and even with UM going to MSU and OSU next year it’s hard not to be optimistic about their prospects against both clubs (though obviously OSU looks to be farther away). And with a bowl game to go, I expect to see this team to learn from this loss and, with the return of a couple of injured players, end the year on a high note. But with MSU likely making a run to the CFB playoffs and OSU getting bragging rights for N-1 times in the last N games, this wasn’t a banner day for the season.
Best: Rudock to the Rescue or
Worst: Of Course THIS is How It Ends
This sounds like a bit of a broken record at this point, but Jake Rudock kept UM in this game as long as he could. With a non-existent running game and an offensive line that had a lot of trouble holding back the homogenized Ohio Brobarians at the edges, it fell on Jake Rudock to keep UM’s offense matriculating down the field, and for three quarters of the game he did. His numbers weren’t spectacular, but he completed about 60% of his passes for 263 yards, at 8.2 ypa and a TD with no interceptions. He found Chesson and Darboh in tough windows, and in the first half was largely responsible for UM’s drive-saving 8/11 rate on 3rd downs. In total, of UM’s 20 first downs, Rudock was responsible for 14 of them (13 in the air, one on the ground). This team probably wasn’t going to win this game regardless of how well the offense played, but it would have been even uglier without Rudock at the helm.
And all game, Rudock was performing under fire, especially as OSU started to stretch their lead out and it became clear that UM wasn’t even going to try to run the ball on most downs. Bosa finished with a sack, a forced fumble, and 2 more QB hits, along with numerous other pressures, and it was his hit that injured Rudock’s shoulder and may have ended his season. Even before that, Rudock was getting hit with a ferocity that felt unsustainable, including on one seemingly-designed QB run where he was sandwiched by two OSU defenders while Drake Johnson (amongst others) seemed to either be running the wrong route or missing guys to block.
I’ve never been great at identifying offensive line issues in the moment, but it was glaringly obvious both in this game and all year that UM’s offensive line is miles behind the best defensive lines in this conference, and I’m not sure how much scheming they can do to compensate for it. There were bad penalties, bad blocks (including on a screen to Smith that was blown up because of complete whiffs by both UM offensive linemen – Braden was one for sure who just dived at the legs of the defender and totally missed - on that side of the play), and an overall inability to even maintain the line of scrimmage down-to-down. It’s a “veteran” unit in terms of years and starts, but it is clearly one in need of a talent injection, and with Rudock gone next year they’ll also have to be breaking in a new QB, which will bring all of the attendant issues with cadence, timing, and playcalls.
But that’s for another day. I do hope Rudock’s shoulder isn’t injured severely enough to keep him out of the bowl game, both because that would significantly improve UM’s chances at a 10th win and, perhaps more importantly, give him an opportunity to cap off a pretty successful 1-year run at the helm of UM. I said last week that Rudock was a playmaker in that he always puts UM in a position to succeed, and against the best team he’ll see this year he didn’t disappoint. It’s a credit to both him and Harbaugh’s mentoring that I can say that after how the year started, and I genuinely hope there’s another chapter in this story.
Worst: The Ghost of Fred Jackson Lingers
I said it above, but without Peppers this team doesn’t crack 40 yards on the ground running the ball, and the non-Rudock runners who got carries in this game are a (possibly) injured De’Veon Smith, a FB, and a guy who’s (again, probably) still recovering from the second ACL surgery of his college career. Guys like Green and Isaac, expected to be contributors at the bare minimum this season, faded so far into the background that it’s hard to even make out their silhouettes. You have to imagine there will be a shakeup in the RB corp, if for no other reason that Harbaugh will be inclined to give anyone new a chance to show they are better than the incumbents. But after sorta-bludgeoning teams to start the year, the rushing offense fell off a cliff, and it hasn’t totally been due to breakdowns in the offensive line. I mean, I know the competition took a step up once the conference slate kicked off, but to go from averaging 4.8 ypc the first six games to 3.25 ypc in the last half, and even that number is goosed by playing IU, is downright stupefying.
And while they’ve faced some stout units against the run, it isn’t like any of them were the ‘86 Bears or even the ‘97 Wolverines. PSU gave up 227 yards to NW, 241 to Maryland, and 188 to MSU, while OSU coughed up 203 to MSU, 253 to Maryland, 195 to PSU, and even 104 to Rutgers. I don’t want to bang the drum on the old Hoke chestnut of “execution”, but it can’t all be a lack of talent. I mean, it’s been a meme around these parts that Fred Jackson was high on hyperbole and a bit lower on actual talent identification and development, but it continues to amaze me that UM hasn’t had a competent, consistent running back for nearly a decade (you’re mileage may vary with Brandon Minor and Fitzgerald Toussaint). Prospects seem good that Harbaugh and co. will correct for this deficiency soon, but it isn’t a stretch to say that UM’s season was largely sunk by the inability of the team to consistently get even a modicum of yards on the ground.
Best: People Can Catch the Ball
Before the season, a major concern offensively was the ability for this team to move the ball vertically through the air. Devin Funchess, the single biggest reason UM struggled in 2014 and probably also why you can’t find your keys*, was drafted by the Carolina Panthers and proceeded to ruin THEIR season as well, and he took the vast majority of last year’s passing game with him. There was buzz that Darboh would take the next step forward based on a solid 2014, but I was dubious given the fact a large amount of his production came against Miami (NTM) and IU and he lacked the type of speed and agility necessary to get separation in coverage. Similarly, Chesson had speed for days but also had 1 receiving TD to his name despite getting semi-consistent playing time for 2 years. Jake Butt looked to be a stud, but unless you are Tyler Eifert or a TE under Jim Harbaugh (oh wait…) you probably weren’t going to be a great lead option in a passing game. There was optimistic talk about guys like Moe Ways and Drake Harris maybe stepping into those lead roles, or Grant Perry emerging as a weapon given his prolific HS stats and early playing time. But I wasn’t optimistic about this team even matching last year’s pedestrian numbers.
And yet, after 12 games UM’s passing attack is the undeniable strength of the offense, and is poised to be even better next season after a summer of Harbaugh seasoning and (one hopes) an emergence of a starting QB sooner than a month before kickoff. Darboh still can’t get much separation against good DBs, but he compensates with solid hands and the type of power that makes WRs screen works. Chesson leads the team in TDs with 8, has proven his ability to not only take the top off the defense but also make tough catches in traffic, and his sometimes-maligned hands and route-running have been rectified. Jake Butt is, well, one of the best TEs in UM history, and I have to expect that he’ll only improve on a breakout season. And the playcalling, once the bane of any sane UM fan’s life, has finally put these players in positions where they can be successful, with Harbaugh and co. liberally relying on WR screens to get the ball in space and introducing the #Buttzone to the world as a way to punish any team that believes it can stop UM’s TE with a single defender.
There’s still a game to go this year, but I’m already excited about how this offense will look next year with a new QB, presumably one who’ll have some time to get in sync with these receivers before the years starts. It’s still a unit without a true #1 talent, but right now I’m not sure there is a more complete receiving corp in the league, and they should only be better in 2016.
* So I was told on this site.
Worst: Whither Glasgow, Whither Tackling?
Everyone knows when the rush defense changed from one of the best in the nation to one that would give up over 300 yards twice in 3 weeks - it was when Ryan Glasgow went down against Rutgers with a pectoral injury, and since then UM hasn’t really been able to find a suitable replacement. It doesn’t help that they’ve faced two up-tempo teams in IU and OSU that love to wear tackles down and spread defenses out to put pressure on the LBs to make tackles in space, but UM has been gashed so consistently that Glasgow’s absence is unmistakable.
At some point, you’d have hoped the defensive line and/or coaches would figure out how to compensate more effectively, especially after what felt like a steady diet of zone stretches by IU and zone reads being a staple of OSU’s offense. The team played around a bit with different alignments, even going with 3 linemen for a stretch, but nothing seemed to do much good, as OSU averaged 6.8 ypc and both Elliott and Barrett averaged over 7 ypc. I’m sure there were edges that were held in this game, but I’d be damned if it made a difference. The wheels sorta fell off once OSU got new life on that roughing-the-kicker penalty followed by the first of Elliott’s long runs of the game. In near-direct symmetry to UM’s pass-first, pass-second offense, OSU picked up 18 of their 25 first downs on the ground, and probably could have had more had they not called off the dogs a bit late in the 4th quarter.
I know people want to say that OSU’s rushing game will be more tractable when Elliott is gone, but they still have Barrett and a cavalcade of talented runners in that backfield. I mean, dropping 200+ yards on UM isn’t new for OSU. Meyer is a lot of very nasty, negative things, but he is also a damn fine offensive mind, and his rushing attack isn’t going anywhere. UM seems to be recruiting the type of tackles that can help disrupt the run, and Elliott is truly one of the best RBs in OSU’s history. So there is hope that with mere mortals, UM will have a better chance at slowing them down. Still, it behooves UM to figure this out sooner rather than later, or I’m guessing this won’t be the last time we see Buckeyes running around, over, and thru the UM defense, Glasgow or not.
Worst: The Three Amigos (In Space!!!)
So yeah, not a banner day for the linebackers. I’m sure the UFR will go into excruciating detail about exactly when, where, and how often tackles were missed, gaps were lost, and assignments misread, but everyone kind of knew that if OSU got to the second level in this game it would get ugly. Morgan is a lot of things, but athletic sideline-to-sideline isn’t one of them, and a couple of times he just couldn’t get to Barrett or Elliott before they found the hole. Based on the tackle numbers it would seem like Bolden and Gedeon were more involved in the game, but watching it live it felt like Morgan was identifying the plays quicker but typically just sacrificed himself to take on a blocker. This was a terrible matchup for him, though, and I’m guessing it’ll show under more scrutiny.
I’m not going to rant about Bolden because (a) Brian will probably do that, and (b) I don’t feel qualified to score him based on an initial view. But if history is a predictor of future outcomes, I’m guessing a lot of his team-leading tackles were because he was late to the play (witness 7 of his 9 tackles were assisted) and that a decent chunk of OSU’s success getting through gaps on the stretch were due to missed assignments. It felt like both Bolden and Gedeon struggled to flow to the point of attack, and that a lot of Barrett’s runs were due to someone not sticking with him on exchanges. But again, it wasn’t like anyone in the LB group covered himself in glory, so I’m not trying to single anyone out as the root cause for 300+ yards on the ground.
Next year UM will have to replace both starters (and sorta-starter Ross) with Gedeon and assorted unknowns, which is pretty terrifying. I do wonder if at least some of the issues with this season’s performance were due to residual gunk from the previous coaching regime, but you look at the depth chart and you only have 5 guys on campus now who were recruited for 3 spots, and, well, that ain’t a good thing. Those worries are for another day, I guess, but…
Best(?): They Didn’t Throw the Ball A Lot
In a game in which J.T. Barrett really didn’t have a reason to throw the ball, credit should go to the secondary for, I don’t know, making that slightly less appealing? Barrett had basically two long completions, both of which of the Shrug Emoticon variety. The first was his TD throw to Jalin Marshall, who had Jeremy Clark draped over him and basically caught the ball off of Clark’s body. The second long throw was to Thomas late in the game, and it was with Lewis trailing a bit but still a pretty tough catch on the run. Beyond those two balls, nothing got open downfield even when OSU tried to use play action. And Lewis helped out with a nice sack on Barrett that helped stop the Buckeyes on their first drive, and his PI was the type of “it ain’t racing without some rubbing” football that gets called every game just to keep you honest defensively.
I also thought the safeties played well. Nothing really beat them deep, and Thomas made a nice tackle in space to stop Barrett when he broke containment. Hill and Wilson also played pretty well, though by design they were usually tasked with stopping a freight-train Elliott after he bowled over a couple of defenders. The fact Hill, Wilson, and Thomas had more solo tackles than the 3 LBs is not great, Bob, but it does give me some hope that even with less boring safeties than this season it won’t be a major source of frustration next year with Thomas and Hill playing deep.
Meh: Everything Else
- Some people seemed bothered by OSU trying to score late in the game, especially when it seemed like they were going for some record (if Holly Rowe is to be believed, somebody in the OSU coaches’ box asked her how many yards Elliott had before sending him out again). Honestly, I’ve always been a proponent of “if you don’t like them scoring, make them stop” philosophy of defense, and so if Meyer and co. want to run up the score against a rival then so be it. The fact they cared about a rushing stat that will only be relevant to them always strikes me as silly (the trade-off is potentially hurting your best player during a blowout), but whatever. That’s a non-issue to me.
- In terms of UM settling for FGs on drives that went deep into OSU territory, I was more bothered with the second one than the first. When UM kicked the first one, the score was 7-3 and it felt like a game that might be close to the wire. But on the second one, UM is down 28-10 at the start of the first quarter, and while it’s a 3-score game either way, I’d MUCH rather get a TD there and figure out the FGs later than grab the somewhat-meaningless 3 points and still be down 15. Hell, had they scored a TD I’ve have gone for 2, as you basically have to score 3 TDs either way to win, and it would have galvanized the fans and players a bit to punch on in. But that’s way more feelingsball than it should be, but if you throw it all into the NFL 4th-down calculator it doesn’t demonstrably change the win probability (it is 4% if you go for it, 3% if you kick the FG), but in a rivalry game it seems weird to play for the safe option down 18.
- As for the “invasion” of OSU fans and them chanting whatever stupid things they do when see each other outdoors, so be it. Fans pay for tickets, and if season ticket holders didn’t want to come to the game and OSU fans got ahold of those seats, so be it. This is one of the most storied rivalries in college football history, hell in sports, and so if you can watch your team demolish the other at their place, spell your state loudly and proudly if it makes you happy. And this isn’t some jaded UM elitist saying it; I care way more about who wins on the field than who wins in the stands, but if your team crushed UM then I guess you have “earned” the right to chant. Just don’t hurt yourself trying to jump back on that bandwagon with the rest of the Juggalos after last week.
- I’ve heard some fans (mostly OSU and MSU ones) chirp that this season is going to be just like Hoke’s in 2011, which showed a promising era that cratered a couple years later. Well, one of the things I’ve been tracking is turnover margin, as that 2011 season featured one of the best in recent history for UM, which helped cover up some deficiencies on both sides of the ball. By comparison, this year UM has one of the worst margins, mostly due to recovering 2 opponent fumbles all years. With turnovers, especially fumble recovery, being mostly random, the progress shown this year is probably even more impressive than it looks specifically because it’s come against much “luck”. Now, if you want to see some some teams that MIGHT find next season a bit more challenging if they can’t reproduce seemingly-unsustainable TO margins, look no further than the B1G title game.
Nothing, nada, zip, zilch. I suspect UM will be playing somewhere in Florida on New Years, which is a nice coda to a first season under Harbaugh. I’ll probably do another of these diaries for that game, but just in case not I want to thank everyone who has stuck around reading these this year. It’s been a blast to follow this team for the first year, and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading these as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them.