***I was cooking/eating a pizza during the 2nd, so my attention to detail was not as high***
(Patrick Barron) This does not mean what you think it means
FIRST: Michigan actually generated a little bit of offense in the first period. They had 15 attempts at the net! Cooper Marody dangled into the crease, but was harassed from behind and couldn't flip the puck into the open net. They also tied Minnesota in total shots at 7. However, aside from Marody's adventure, nothing was from a particularly dangerous position.
SECOND: Ummmmmm, NOPE. 7 attempts. 3 shots.
- THIRD: Michigan scored 2 goals in the 3rd! The first career goal by Stevel Merl was just thrown at the net from the sideboards (and I bet Schierhorn wishes he had that one back). The second was a shot from the point by De Jong that Evan Allen redirected past Schierhorn. That was the correct play by De Jong and great hand-eye coordination from Allen. Great goal. Piazza also rang the post, later, almost tying the game. I was unable to get a shot chart from the 3rd, so I cannot give data on location and corsi number.
FIRST: Feelingsball says that Minnesota didn't look very sharp at all in the first period. They threatened a little early and then again late, but nothing very consistent. Michigan's defense allowed 3 attempts from inside the dots, but the remaining 10 came from a distance. That's a nice improvement, so far. Michigan did have a couple of bad DZTOs and had a couple instances where they struggled to exit the zone. However, sign me up for more of these periods, instead of some of the other periods I've seen, lately.
SECOND: Well, back to the usual. Shots from everywhere! They allowed 18 attempts on net and 11 of them were shots. That's not the worst I've seen this year, but it makes sense given how the period played out. Michigan has had poor 2nd periods lately (sorta a hottaek but not really). They've just struggled to clear and control the puck. The goal was called a goal on the ice and it stood. If it wasn't called a goal, I'm not certain it would have been called a goal.
- THIRD: The defense didn't surrender a goal in the third, except for the EN at the end. I was unable to get a shot chart from the 3rd, so I cannot give data on location and corsi number. I will chart the 3rd myself, tomorrow, for the season stats but that doesn't help this recap.
FIRST: Until just under a minute to go, there were no special teams in play. Unfortunately, after an unimpressive beginning to the PP, Vinni Lettieri throws a seemingly harmless shot at the net, just inside the blue line and it gets past Lavigne. It seemed that potentially Piazza screened him, and if he did, that just sucks. If not, it was a very soft goal.
SECOND: No Power Plays for M. They will start the third on one after Minnesota gets the extra penalty in the scrum after the 2nd. Michigan took 2 more penalties but they were successful in killing them off. Lavigne made a terrific save during the 2nd penalty. Minn: 1/3 M: n/a
- THIRD: Michigan draws 4 penalties, including the man advantage awarded after the end of the 2nd period. They did create a few dangerous opportunities and even hit the post. Score, they did not, however. While on their 1st PP, the Wolverines surrendured a breakaway in which a penalty shot was called and converted. Michigan took 2 more penalties in the 3rd and killed off both of them. Warren drew a shorthanded penalty shot and ultimately missed it. In the end, it would up being the difference. Not a great night on special teams.
FIRST: Hayden Lavigne started in net, tonight, and looked very sharp early on. Minnesota got a few chances but ended up getting very few on frame. Still Lavigne looked in decent position and made the correct situational plays. The goal was either dumb luck or stupidly silly...depending on if he saw it. My initial thought was Piazza screened him, but its tough to actually tell. If he was screened, oh well. It happens and just another great period from a Michigan goaltender. If he saw the puck, that one would be pretty bad.
SECOND: A great period for Lavigne, including a great PP save from the slot on a one-timer. The goal came through traffic and got tucked in the top corner. It was a laser. I don't think he saw that one and I doubt he would have had the time to react to it. Great shot. Outside of that, he's kept Michigan in striking distance.
- THIRD: Lavigne had a solid 3rd period, as well. The goal was a penalty shot. Other than that, he gave Michigan a chance in a game that they were severly outplayed. Minnesota didn't seem as sharp as last night, but they still created more than Michigan did and Lavigne made a solid case for why he should be in net. Saved 25/28 shots.
ODD MAN RUSHES
FIRST: Minnesota had a 2v1 that their pass got deflected. Other than that, nothing.
SECOND: Distracted by some pizza, but I did not catch any.
- THIRD: Minnesota had a breakaway in which Lettieri was pulled down during an M PP and awarded a penalty shot. He then scored on said penalty shot.
- OMRs not a major concern tonight. Obviously, the breakway on a PP is not good. But looking at the game overall, there are bigger concerns.
FINAL CORSI SCORE
I had (through 2 periods): Minnesota 31, Michigan 22
www.collegehockeynews.com had: Minnesota 49, Michigan 32
(Patrick Barron) This is a great photo!
FIRST: The goal was very nice. Allen rushed the puck in behind the net, Winborg continued it on and found a cutting Shuart in the slot with a one-timer. Shuart also out-raced a Gopher Dman to create a breakaway but could not convert. Sanchez also got in alone after a terrible Gopher turnover, but he missed the net, as well. Other than that...there was very, very little. Three fantastic looks and not much else.
SECOND: At one point, M was being outshot 10-1 in the period. About halfway through the period, Marody put in a great shift and got a couple of attempts and drew a penalty. That was about it for the 5v5 offense. They were killing some penalties, but these forwards are generally looking overmatched, regardless of which line is on the ice. They had a period corsi score of 5.
- THIRD: Michigan had trouble touching and controlling the puck all night long. Penalties didn't help that, but even 5v5 was not that much of a better scenario. Michigan tallied 6 attempts on net in even strength play. That is quite poor.
FIRST: I'm honestly not even going to wait for the shot chart for this. The defense was not good. Surprise! The last 2 goals came from unchecked attackers in the slot or in the crease (ugh, how??). Those are the most critial places to mark someone, I would guess. Also, on the first goal, Lohan just got whipped. Pitlick just went right by him. Not to mention the usual inability to clear the puck, exit the zone, etc.
SECOND: Once again, not great. Minnesota registered 17 5v5 attempts. The goal should again be tallied to the defense. Three guys surrounded the goal scorer but didn't exactly harass him. Also, obligatory defensive zone turnovers, failed clears, and the like. Ben Clymer described it as "Michigan's defensemen watching each other watch the puck." YUP.
- THIRD: The third period was much like the previous couple. M takes a couple bad penalties because they can't get the puck out of their own zone and are now tired from chasing pretty much the entire game. They also give up some great scoring chances that Nagelvoort managed to paper over. Minnesota registered 12 more attempts on net, totaling 52. That's not the worst number they have given up, but after the PP goal made it 5-2, the Gophers played a little safer.
- FIRST: Michigan did not draw a penalty. They did go to the box once and managed to negate the Minnesota PP. The Gophers did look very dangerous and got multiple good looks. Nagelvoort bailed Michgan out more than once on the one PK. Minn: 0/1 M: n/a
SECOND: Michigan finally drew their first PP thanks to the best M shift of the night, so far, from Cooper Marody. Kile had a snipe goal stolen by Schierhorn that would've tied the game. Calderone also had a very good look. The Wolverines couldn't capitalize, but looked good and created a few chances. Unfortunately, they also took 3 penalties, but miraculously did not cede a goal, yet. Minnesota missed quite a few great looks and Nagelvoort swept away a few more. Seems like its only a matter of time if M keeps up the parade to the box. Brendan Warren DID however score the easiest goal of all time as a Gopher Dman coughed up the puck LITERALLY in his own crease. So, yay gift shorties! Minn: 0/4 M: 0/1
- THIRD: Michigan drew a penalty late in the third and created a few more great looks but did not score. The game was also effectively over at that point, anyway. They did, however take 2 more penalties, including a 5 min major that got De Jong ejected and a triping during that 5 mins PP. Not surprisingly, Minnesota picked a corner around a screened Nagelvoort and finally got a ST tally. Some of these penalties were just loose play, others were the result of bad positoning. They do find a way to kill most of these penalties, but top notch goaltending and bad shooting luck are large contributors, it appears. Minn: 1/6 M: 0/2
FIRST: Well, 3 goals isn't good. He did manage to keep Minnesota off the board for the first half of the period, despite Minnesota getting great look after great look. The first goal seemed to be short-side, despite Lohan just getting toasted. The last 2 goals came on a tip from an unmarked attcker in the slot and an unmarked attacker in the crease. I can't put either of those on him. The weird thing is that I spent a large part of the first period thinking about how great Nagelvoort's position was and how many saves he made just to keep Michigan level in this game. Regardless, other than the first short-side goal, I can't ask for much more.
SECOND: I thought Nagelvoort had another solid period. The first half of the period was definitely tilted towards him and he made more fine saves. I can't put the goal on him as Sheehy was surrounded by Dmen next to the crease (but none of them were actually checking him) and he batted the puck out of the air past Zach. Not a great position to be in. If he makes that save, it would be an SC Top10.
- THIRD: Zach looked very good, again, in the third. He made countless saves on the penalty kill, including a few flat-out steals. The 5th goal came on a 5v3 that he could not see and hit a top corner. That's just a great shot. He was under siege all night and honestly did his part. With the amount of time M spent in the attacking zone (not much) and lack of tight defense Minnesota attacker faced, I'm not sure what else a goalie can be asked to do. He faced 45 shots. All 3 M goalies have .900+ save %s.
ODD MAN RUSHES
FIRST: I am watching on TV at home, but I did not see any. A couple that were close to 3v2s, but nothing that gave a decided advantage.
SECOND: I still didn't find any Minn OMRs.
- THIRD: There was one 3v2 rush for Minnesota. They got a shot but nothing too threatening. OMRs held in check, tonight.
FINAL CORSI SCORE
I had: Minnesota 52, Michigan 25
www.collegehockeynews.com had: Minnesota 52, Michigan 32
If you prefer to regard our beloved Meeechigan football teams through rose-colored glasses, then maybe you should stop reading here. Otherwise, if you have the intestinal fortitude to take a long, hard look in the cold light of day while the bombs fall around you, then by all means, keep calm and carry on.
Now that a couple of weeks have transpired since the Charlie Foxtrot that was the Orange Bowl, a consensus seems to have emerged that the root cause of many of Team 137's deficiencies is associated with the Offensive Line. Alas, this is not a new story, and the explanations as to how Michigan's OL has reached such a state are well documented. Nonetheless, some folks might still contend that the OL has improved under the tutelage of the new coaching staff, and any underperformance is simply a reflection of the available talent having maximized its potential. Maybe, but then again, maybe not.
Anyway, to get to the point of this post, Bill Connelly of S&P+ fancy stats fame now has available the 2016 season wrap-up metrics for OL performance. What's more, the same metrics are also available for the previous 2 seasons. So, after a bit of mousing around in the Excel, the following chart captures everything S&P you'd want to know about the OL's of Teams 135, 136 and 137:
To interpret the data, the pseudo-color scale is based on the ranking range of 1 to 128 (green = 1, yellow = 64, red = 128). Averages for the run-blocking and pass-blocking metrics are also calculated to give some sense of aggregate performance. The trend lines are keyed to the raw values, with green markers denoting the best performance values; red markers, the worst.
What these results show is a nearly wholesale regression in performance from 2015 to 2016, both in pass-blocking and run-blocking. All pass-blocking metrics have declined, with the PD Sack Rate being the worst over the past 3 seasons. As for run-blocking, SD Line Yards, Opportunity Rate and Power Success Rate are improved, but to start, SDLY and Opp. % couldn't have gotten much worse. On the other hand, Stuff Rate, PD Line Yards and Adjusted Line Yards all hit 3 year lows. In a nutshell, the OL shows qualified improvement in pass-blocking over Hoke's last season, but a general decline in the run-blocking metrics.
Just looking at the raw numbers is somewhat stunning in a few cases. A PD Sack Rate of 9.2% means that the QB is getting sacked about 1 in every 11 drop backs on passing downs. With that sort of sack incidence, it's no wonder the PD Line Yards are nearly the worst in the NCAA. Also, a Stuff Rate of 19.5% means that a TFL occurs on about 1 in every 5 rushing attempts. Poor damn Fitzgerald Toussaint has been replaced by poor damn Deveon Smith (and just nevermind poor damn Thomas Rawls).
To sum up, the bubble-gum-and-bailing-wire approach to installing an Offensive Line can only do so much and last so long. Talent, depth and experience make up the three-legged stool on which an Offensive Line Program is established. Alas, UM is still early in the process of building an OL Program. One or two five-star recruits do not an OL make, because like a chain, the OL is only as strong as its weakest link. A key injury can lead to disaster without depth to backfill and experience that can span the gaps.
Yours in football, and Go Blue!
Now that the season's over, it's a good time to catch up with some of the guys who played for Bo back in the 80s. I'll try to do this every Thursday but it's entirely dependent on the responses I get back. At this point, I don't have a subject for next week. LOL. Nice work, eh?
I have a couple college-aged kids so I'm vaguely familiar with the term "OG". Urban dictionary defines OG as someone who's "been around", "those true gangstas from back in the day that jacked ya and left nothing but your boxers and socks". I don't know about leaving you with nothing but your skivvies, but I do know this next guy was a legend. Don Brown would call him "a dude". Harbs would refer to him as a "Known Friend and Trusted Agent." He was the most unforgettable teammate I ever had. He was literally a man amongst boys: tough as tool steel and more loyal than a rescued dog. He would do anything for his team, could motivate you like nobody else, get in your ass for taking a play off, then have you falling on the locker room floor, laughing your ass off. I can still picture him standing there with his big bushy mustache and booming southern drawl, captivating everyone's attention.
I remember the first night of my very first camp. After dinner and meetings were done and we returned to our rooms, I almost called my parents to come get me. I was WAAAAY out of my league. I didn’t have a chance in hell of playing against guys like this. It was the most intimidated I had ever been. These were guys I watched on TV the year before. Half were high school All-American's and almost all of them were All-State. Who am I to even think I can play with them? Luckily I didn’t make that call because I would have missed spending a year on the same team as “Fried” (short for Bo's pet name for him - Kentucky Fried Chicken). We were only teammates for one season but he left an indelible mark on me (figuratively and literally).
This guy had his own term for an “OG” - Big Daddy Crow. I don’t know where it came from but he used it a lot when telling stories, and man, could this dude tell stories. I'm not 100% positive, but I'm pretty sure he coined the phrase. It was either him or Jim Scarcelli, I forget. Anyway, it was a term of respect. You were a Big Daddy Crow if you did something memorable. He finished a lot of his stories with “……(yada yada yada) like a Big Daddy Crow". Every time I think of that term - or look in the mirror* - it reminds me of our captain and the original OG, Doug James.
Doug came to the University of Michigan by way of DeSales High School in Louisville Kentucky where he played for head coach Ron Madrick. Although Louisville wasn’t exactly a recruiting pipeline to Ann Arbor, Bo was quite familiar with the Colts program. It’s where he found All-America offensive tackle and 3-time Super Bowl Champion, Bubba Paris.
Doug knew from an early age that he wanted to play for Michigan. In spite of never visiting the school nor ever stepping foot in the state, he told his dad when he was 13 that he would play college football in Ann Arbor. Doug first met Bo when he was a high school sophomore and he was paying a visit to Coach Madrick and Bubba. Two years later, Bo returned to Louisville to find his future captain. Desitiny and dreams were just about fulfilled. On Doug's official visit, Bo offered him a scholarship and told him, “You’re coming to Michigan. You’re a Michigan Man.” When Doug returned home, he told his folks and called Earle Bruce to cancel his visit to Ohio State.
Doug arrived on campus in the fall of 1980 as a defensive tackle. His hard work and talent earned him a spot on the travel squad, and he even got into a game – a 38-13 win over Cal. That season started out 1-2, but the Cal victory was the start of a 9 game winning streak that culminated with a Big Ten AND Rose Bowl championship - Bo’s first.
Despite playing in that one game, Doug was able to redshirt that season. As a redshirt freshman in 1981 he played 6 games at Nose Guard and 4 as Defensive Tackle. He missed the Purdue and Ohio State games due to a separated shoulder, but returned in time to play in the Bluebonnet Bowl victory over UCLA.
Prior to the start of spring ball in 1982, offensive line coach (and Doug's primary recruiter) Paul Schudel met with Doug and told him they were moving him to offensive guard – a position he hadn’t played since he was a freshman in high school. Without question, he went to work on learning the position and prepared to compete for a spot on the line. By the opening game of the 82 season, Doug was the starting Strong Guard (we used to flip the line back then). After just 4 games at his new position - 2W and 2L - Coach Schudel met with Doug again. This time, they were moving him to offensive tackle. Doug remembers telling his coach, “I don’t even know what I’m doing at guard.” It was just days before the Michigan State game and they wanted to change his position again. When he asked, “Will I start at tackle?” Schudel said he’d have to earn the spot. "Nothing is given". He played about half the snaps in the victory over State, and then got the start against Iowa and All-American defensive tackle Mark Bortz the following week. He finished the final seven games, including the Rose Bowl, as the starting tackle, on a line that included Rich Strenger, Tom Dixon, and Stefan Humphries – 2 All Americans, 1 All Big Ten, and all of them future professional football players. (Not to mention two eventual attorneys (Strenger and Dixon), and a physician. That has to be the smartest and most talented and starting offensive line in the history of Michigan football.)
In 1983, he finally got a chance to concentrate on just one position, starting all 12 games at tackle. He made it through the season healthy but the team failed to achieve its goal of a Big Ten title. They beat Michigan State and Ohio State but lost to Illinois for the championship. In the Sugar Bowl, they lost a hard fought game 9-7 to Bo Jackson and the Auburn Tigers. It wasn't how Doug pictured his career ending.
A few weeks after the season, Bo called Doug into his office for his customary post-season meeting with every player. During that meeting, Bo asked him to return for a 5th year. However, playing another season of football was not something Doug had considered. He made a promise to his high school sweetheart, Patty, that he would marry her once he graduated. With degree in hand, the future Mr.&Mrs. James had wedding plans. Bo had a dilemma. He wanted this extremely valuable player to return, but he was opposed to a married man on his squad. He was old school and he'd never allowed that before. It was deal breaker for Doug. After a little more conversation, Bo relented and the two shook hands. Doug would return as the first married man to play for Bo. As he was walking out the door, Bo had one more thing to say.
“Oh, by the way, we’re moving you back to guard.”
Son of a…………
The 1984 season started out great for Doug and the Wolverines. He was elected team captain, and the team just beat the defending national champion Miami Hurricanes, intercepting Bernie Kosar SIX times. But things would not go so well the remainder of the season. After a loss to Washington, we were 3-1 with close wins over Wisconsin and Indiana. The following week was the infamous game against Michigan State when Harbaugh broke his arm diving for a loose ball. We lost that game and 4 more after that, including the Holiday Bowl to eventual national champions, BYU. That season finished equally as bad for Doug. Following a poor performance against Purdue, he got tangled up in a pile during practice, dislocating his ankle and breaking his leg. His career at Michigan came to an unceremonious end.
All told, Doug finished his career with a 42-18 record, two Rose Bowls and participated in 5 total bowl games while playing 4 different positions.
In the spring of his freshman year, Mr “Play Any Position For The Team” was asked to add one more. Injuries had claimed THREE snappers during spring practice (Spring ball was a hell of a lot more grueling back then, even for the specialists). Doug was asked to step in. It was an experiment that would not end well. Two of Doug’s five snaps sailed over the punters head. As you might imagine, this displeased the old man. “KENTUCKY FRIED! You are screwing up my entire kicking game.” The next day, Doug had yet another meeting with Coach Schudel. This one was brief. “You’re fired .”
Another highlight of Doug’s career was sitting in the front row for Bo’s famous “The Team, The Team, The Team” speech.
Bo and Doug shared a very close relationship. When you are someone who is willing to switch positions without so much as a raised eyebrow, you endear yourself to the coaches. When you get to the point where you can exchange jabs with him, you know you’re in his good graces.
Bo used to tease Doug about his physique. “Fried, you have the worst body in the history of Michigan football.” One time, Doug replied with, “Well, if my body is so bad, why do I play so much?”
“Because I’m a hell of a coach.”
On another occasion, Bo told Doug, “James, you aren’t half the tackle I was.”
Doug shot back, “That’s because you had a better coach.”
/damn bro gif
With his football career over, Doug set out on life with his new bride and aspirations of doing sports broadcasting. He landed a job as a color commentary for the Michigan football games on WTRX in Flint. Back then, there was no dedicated radio “network” for the games. Several stations around the state carried a broadcast. As a matter of fact, both major Detroit stations – WJR and WWJ – each did their own broadcasts from the stadium. It was a crowded press box back then.
Since broadcasting games was seasonal employment, Doug needed a job for the remainder of the year. He got a tip from former volunteer assistant and college football legend Alex Agase to get into media sales and marketing. (Ags' sons were in the business). In 1986, WTRX hired Doug as a sales person and he's been in the business ever since.
After a couple years in Flint, he and Patty moved back to his hometown to take jobs at various startions throughout Louisville. While working his way up the ladder, he also did radio color commentary for Louisville football.
Then, in 2011, he was recruited to New York City to be the Director of Sales for legendary radio stations WBLS, Hot 97, and WLIB.
Steve Harvey and Doug in New York City
4 years later, he was hired as VP/General Manager for three radio stations in the Charlotte North Carolina market where he continues to work today.
Doug and Patty have been married for 32 years and have 3 daughters: Amanda works in Alumni relations at the University of Louisville, Beth is a training coordinator for St. Joseph’s Children’s Home in Louisville, and Katie is a singer/songwriter.
Doug and Patty are also involved in a number of charitable endeavors:
He serves on the Board of Trustees of Jewish Hospital St. Mary’s Healthcare
The board for DeSales High School
Chairman of the DeSales Foundation
Chairman of the Holy Rosary Foundation
Chairman of the Caritas Foundation
Board Member of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation
Board Member of the Kentucky Broadcasters Association
Chairman of the Radio Broadcasters Association
He received the Lifetime Service Award by the American Women in Radio and Television and was elected to the DeSales High School Hall of Honor in 2008.
He is the ultimate Michigan Man and the BIGGEST of the Big Daddy Crows.
Those who stay….
Doug played from 1980 – 1984 and wore #73
His favorite restaurant in Ann Arbor was Steve’s Lunch. It was a diner on South U. Doug also liked Rick’s Café but “I don’t remember eating there much.”
The best dish he makes is smoked chicken wings, chili, and mac-n-cheese
If he had a son he would let him play football but he wouldn’t let him start as early as he did (4th grade). "The rule changes, such as targeting, are good for the safety of the players. Injuries are part of the game and this is something you have to understand going in. Despite the fact that I had a lot of injuries and have aches and pains today, I still believe it was worth it."
John Wangler, Rich Hewlett, Jack and Jackie Harbaugh, Jeff Hewlett, Doug and Patty James tailgating at this year's Orange Bowl.
And now for the * explanation:
That is, indeed, a Big Daddy Crow tattooed on my arm. My poor wife and kids put up with me. It remains a mystery.
EDIT: Updated for 1/9
EDIT: Updated for 1/8
I'm proud to self-identify as a "mentally-ill" level recruiting observer. But I know many Michigan fans aren't nearly as interested as I am in covering college football's silliest of its silly seasons. Accordingly, I think it may be helpful to establish a recruiting board for more casual recruiting fans.
Just one note - anytime you see a numbered list below, it's ordered by the 247 Composite overall ranking.
Where Do We Stand in Terms of Numbers?
Currently, Michigan has 27 commitments and can expect to eventually sign a class with between 30 and 32 guys in it. This means we're getting into the final stretch.
Where Do We Stand in Terms of Quality, as of Today?
This class is going to be really really good, even if things don't break well for us down the stretch. We'll likely be ranked in the top five nationally with Alabama and OSU #s 1 and 2, and with Michigan alongside UGA and FSU in some order. It has the potential to be epic if things do break our way, in which case we'd likely be ranked #3 after Alabama and OSU.
If it's epic, that's good, because OSU's class is the thing legends are made of. It's an unusual year for recruiting in that respect - the top four or five recruiting teams are light years better than the middle-tier P5 recruiting classes. We're not catching Alabama or OSU under any circumstances, so let's hope to narrow the gap as much as we can.
How Many Early-Enrollees Are in This Class?
An unusually high number. Guys who have actually enrolled as of today include:
- C Cesar Ruiz
- WR Tarik Black
- S Jaylen Kelly-Powell
- DE Donovan Jeter
- DE Corey Malone-Hatcher
- OT JaRaymond Hall
- CB Benjamin St-Juste
- S J'Marick Woods
- FB Ben Mason
In addition, the following Michigan commits will early enroll and hit campus soon:
WR Donovan Peoples-Jones
CB Ambry Thomas
DT Phillip Paea, although his status as an EE is questionable
EDIT: Both Peoples-Jones and Thomas have enrolled. Paea seems unlikely to do so. This means that we're all set with early enrollees.
The fact that we could have
12 11 early enrollees at the end of the day is pretty significant for two reasons. First, an EE is more likely to play early (in statistical probability terms) than a player who arrives in the early summer and play in a college football game mere weeks later. Second, once a player is locked on campus you don't have to work to recruit him anymore. This frees up resources to focus on as-yet uncommitted targets and on keeping your non-EE commits in the fold. Recruiting ain't over until the final bell. Never forget this.
What Positions of Need Must Michigan Still Fill?
Depends on what you mean by "need." Michigan absolutely must sign at least one DT, and probably needs two. Michigan would very much like one more OT, and may reach to get one if space permits. We also could probably use another WR, although we won't reach down to the mid-three star range to get one if we miss on any of our top guys. We also seem interested in bringing in another CB for a reason that isn't clear to me but must be evident to the coaches. Trust them over me.
So Who Is Left on the Board?
Our top targets include five guys:
RB Najee Harris, whom you may have heard of once or twice
- DT Aubrey Solomon
- DT Jay Tufele
- WR Nico Collins
- LB Willie Gay
How likely are we to get each of these players? Harris is... well, nobody knows. Notably, he's also an EE, so we'll know with finality on Monday. Solomon is unlikely, but possible. Tufele is probably more likely than Solomon, but stil not very likely. Collins and Gay are in the same boat - widely rumored to be "silent commits" and long-time counted as "locks" in the class, rumors have circulated that suggests each of them may end up elsewhere (UGA for Collins and LSU for Gay).
Make no mistake - it's extremely unlikely we get all five of these guys. In fact, my read is that we have about a 50% chance to get one, and maybe have a 10% chance to get two. Anything more than that is wishful thinking. But all of these players are absolutely elite; Harris is the top-ranked player in the entire country, and Solomon is a five-star at an impact position. And Tufele, Collins, and Gay are all fringe Top 100 guys. Were we to somehow (and again, this won't happen) sign all five of these players, it would be the best Michigan recruiting class of all time by some distance.
After that, you have some backup options:
WR Oliver Martin has been an interesting recruitment. He was a really under-the-radar guy who exploded at The Opening, which is a big-time fall camp. Now he's a highly rated and regarded guy. For a while he was believed to be a Michigan lock, but then we sort of ran out of room at WR and we cooled on him. But with Nico Collins allegedly getting wobbly, there's a chance we'll reach back out to Martin. And with how lukewarm Martin has seemed about the other schools in the mix for his commitment (ND, MSU, Iowa), I think it's very possible that he'd end up in the class if Collins is out.
OT Mekhi Becton is an absolutely enormous big body with exceptional athleticism. He's also a hard worker. But there are concerns about how "tough" or "nasty" he is, which is more than just a virtue-signalling buzzword for a brutal position like offensive line. At this point I think Becton is a "next guy up" if literally any of our top five targets fall through and if OT Kai-Leon Herbert decommits as expected (people are "sour grapes-ing" this potential decommitment, by the way; I agree it looks like Herbert will decommit but we really, really don't want him to). Consensus opinion is that he's likely to come if we roll out the red carpet. The only other school likely in the mix for his commitment is UVa.
OT Toryque Bateman is another possibility. He's a little lower-ranked than Becton, and doesn't have Becton's sky-high potential. But his floor is a little higher too. Bateman wanted, at one point, to go to Michigan very badly. But we slow-played him back when we were in it for lots of higher-ranked guys. Will he answer the call if we turn to him now? I think he might. But Becton is higher on our priority list right now.
LB Ellis Brooks is an interesting name. He's a thick-legged kid without tons of sideline to sideline ability, but he's stout and a good run stuffer. He also showed up in a big way recently, and demonstrated superior athleticism than most people thought him capable of. I'm not sure where the optimism surrounding him is coming from, but most people now think that if Michigan actually pursues him he's possible to come on board. I think we'll turn up the heat if Gay turns us away and we meet our DT/OT need and still have room.
CB Brandon Sebastian is another guy people are talking about. He's currently a BC commit and teammates with Tarik Black, a current Michigan commit. I don't mean to be negative, but I don't really like his film, his ranking, or his offer list, and I don't see how CB is a remaining position of need. But Michigan feels differently supposedly and I'd trust the coaches more than me if I were you.
Finally, we have guys who people are talking about but who are extremely unlikely to be coming here:
- OT Isaiah Wilson - long time Michigan lean who was a suprise UGA flip; not happening
- OT/DT Tedarrell Slaton - seemed like a Michigan lean in the fall; may have grade concerns; definitely isn't coming here
- S Paris Ford - Reportedly wants Michigan badly but has mega off-the-field concerns; too bad because he's an elite recruit
- CB Elijah Hicks - Michigan would take him, but he's solid to ND after some initial waffling
- DT Rutger Reitmaier - same situation as Hicks, but with Oregon instead of ND
Who Else Do You Think We'll End Up With?
You're asking my personal opinion? I think
Harris goes blue (don't @ me), Collins stays with Michigan in the end, and then we get one of Becton or Bateman. I then bet we pick up some mid-three star DT nobody sees coming who is currently committed to a Nebraska/TCU/VT level P5 school (I don't know of any name in particular, but the need there is just so overwhelming). I would also guess we'll get one other "surprise commit" at OL, DT or CB. I also guess that OT Kai-Leon Herbert and one RB will decomitt, and I hope that decommit isn't current RB commit O'Maury Samuels. That would give us a class of 30 and we'd either end up ranked #3 or 4 in the final team rankings depending on how UGA finishes.
So, Harris isn't coming. Now what?
This probably doesn't change anything about Michigan's board. RB wasn't a position of need; Harris was merely such a great prospect that Michigan made him a priority until he boarded an airplane for Tuscaloosa. At least we went down swinging and were publicly associated with being in a dogfight for a top prospect.
Pay attention to current Michigan RB commit O'Maury Samuels in the coming days. His commitment is a little bit wobbly, reportedly, but retaining him in our class is now a critical need. He'll be visiting in January and hopefully we can shore him up then.
I almost didn’t write this one, but it’s the last game of the season so whatever.
Worst: A Terrible, Exciting Game
Man, that was a weird game. It was a “classic” in the sense it ended with a bunch of exciting, game-changing plays in the final couple of minutes, but for about 3 quarters it was pretty ugly. FSU’s defensive line dominated UM’s offensive unit, while UM largely bottled up FSU’s offense save for a couple nice plays by Cook and a 92-yard TD throw on busted coverage by Francois. UM had 23 yards rushing on 15 carries and 83 yards passing on 19 attempts in the first half. FSU was a bit better, but without that 92-yard bomb they had 85 yards passing on 6/14 passing and 78 yards rushing on 19 attempts despite Cook picking up 12 and 28 yards on successive carries on that first drive. The teams were a combined 3 for 15 on third down before halftime, and while for the game FSU only had 4 sacks and UM 2, both QBs were getting knocked around on a significant portion of their attempts. Speight was nearly beheaded a couple of times by Walker and Sweat, while Charlton probably moved a couple of Francois’s organs on a crunching sack in the 1st quarter.
It can’t be understated how badly the offense played in that first half. They somehow turned a 1st-and-goal on the 1 after Kenny Allen’s booming punt led to a fumble into a FG, then failed to score a TD on their only real sustained drive of the half after Butt was lost for the game with a rough looking injury trying to stretch for more yards. They couldn’t run the ball with any real success, particularly sideline-to-sideline, and yet they just kept setting downs on fire trying to get to the edge, usually resulting in a TFL. I wasn’t surprised UM had trouble running the ball, but at some point if you aren’t going to really try to throw deep or utilize play-action effectively, running the ball for a loss/minimal gains into 8-9 men is just being obstinate (not coincidentally, FSU finished this game with 15 TFLs [!!!]).
It also didn’t help that the first quarter took eons, as ESPN apparently had a mandate all game to stick as many commercials as possible into every pause in the action. This was a sixty-minute game that took nearly 4 hours to play and featured both an off-key national anthem AND whatever that halftime show was featuring a band headlined by one of the lesser Jonas Brothers lip-syncing and finger-syncing instruments for 5 minutes.
But adjustments were made in the second half, and UM slowly clawed their way back into this game. UM held FSU to 15 yards in that third quarter, including a pick-six that pulled UM within 5, and were plowing into the backfield with regularity. For the game, UM finished with 6 TFLs, five PBUs, and 5 quarterback hits. Cook ran for 145 yards, but it felt like a Barry Sanders-type game, where he was stopped a bunch of times for a loss or minimal gain (9 runs for 2 yards or less) and a couple long runs to offset (71 yards and 28 yards). Francois had 222 yards, but he threw the ball 27 times and picked up 137 of those yards on the 92-yard TD throw where someone got confused and let Murray go free, and a 45-yarder to Cook that was perfectly called to get McCray on Cook going down the sideline. People will look at the big plays and assume the defense played poorly, but this was a solid performance against a good offense (with an elite RB) while dealing with the loss of Peppers.
As for the offense, it got…slightly better. Speight missed open receivers all day and absolutely looked shell-shocked at times as FSU kept the pressure up with their front line. But as the game progressed, Michigan found ways to move the ball in the air, stringing together a FG drive to start the second half, then scored TDs on two of the next 3 drives after the McCray interception return. It all culminated with Chris Evans capping off the only real long run of the game for UM with a nice juke and dive to score the go-ahead TD with about 2 minutes left in the game.
And then…a kick returner ignored basically his whole team telling him to take a knee and returned the ball 66 yards. A couple plays later, Francois threw a great ball to Murray, who was covered by Lewis about as tightly as legally possible, and that was the game. The ensuing blocked kick and return by Metellus was bonkers and fun, but there was no way UM was going to move the ball 40-ish yards in 30 seconds subject to that pass rush to get into reasonable FG range. And before you rush to the comments, I initially thought FSU was offsides on 4th down but upon review it seemed pretty instantaneous, and in the heat of the moment it’s hard to fault the refs for letting the play go. I had a much bigger issue with the screen pass to Smith 2 plays earlier, for what it’s worth.
Worst: The One Where I Get Angry
I’ll get into some analysis below, I promise. But off the bat, a couple of things that, to steal a line, grind my gears (warning: bad words ahead).
1. ESPN talking about Jabrill Peppers every 30 seconds. Yes, he was a late scratch in this game, unexpectedly downed by a hamstring injury apparently suffered a couple days ago in practice. Yes, he’s a dynamic playmaker on defense and in the return game, and when the #4 Heisman trophy candidate (and oh lord is that a sore spot for some people online) can’t show up in a marquee game that should be noted. But my gawd, move on Steve Levy and Brian Griese. I don’t care what the voice in your ear from the control booth is saying, you are sentient human beings, you don’t have to repeat the same talking point for 4 fucking quarters. Hell, drag your dad back into the booth and flail around trying to shake hands again. Talk about the turf monster nearly taking out Renegade before the game. Talk about Jake Butt, also an All American, who apparently tore his MCL or ACL in this game and didn’t return. Talk about the actual game, as boring and disjointed as it was in the middle. Literally talk about anything except keep harping on an injury we’ve all acknowledged an hour ago. ESPN is already offensive with so much of their product over the years, but the in-game work always felt like the last bastion of competency. Not perfect by any means, but even guys like Spielman and Millen could provide some top-notch color and analysis during games. But about the middle of the 3rd quarter in this game, I just muted the TV because I was actively starting to hate Brian Griese, which is sort of amazing considering he led UM to their last national title and is generally a solid color guy.
2. Everyone who questioned Jabrill Peppers and him not playing/being on the sideline yesterday, you can all seriously fuck off. I mean, just fuck the right off. And before you say “oh, those were just trolls”, no they weren’t. Look at the comment boards here and the liveblog, you’ll see people calling him out based on nothing more than their own misguided, self-obsessed measurements of their own being and worth transposed on a college kid in a uniform trying to win a fucking “amateur” athletics competition sponsored by a second-rate credit card provider in a stadium branded by a shitty chain restaurant while dumpy old men in suits collect huge paychecks. First off, there were some who thought he was faking the injury or not playing to protect his draft position, because the idea of unpaid monkeys not dancing for your enjoyment is deeply unsettling. I mean, clearly this guy was all about protecting his draft stock, you numbnuts.
Then people started questioning his heart and dedication to his team because he was up in the booth and not on the sideline with his teammates, again without knowing one fucking thing about how the team was handling the situation. Then it came out Harbaugh ordered him to the stay up there because was so emotional and didn’t want to disrupt the sideline, as a human being with fucking emotions would likely be in what could be his last college game.
Peppers was devastated he couldn't play. Said Harbaugh told him to go to the booth instead of sideline. Had trouble holding back tears
— Bob Wojnowski (@bobwojnowski) December 31, 2016
Finally, there were those who came out and said Peppers was overrated and not that important to Michigan’s success, calling him a mediocre defensive presence because he doesn’t have a bunch of interceptions or whatever counting stat makes it easiest for you to disengage your brain and just let your slack jaw sway around for 10 seconds. You probably also think RBIs, pitcher wins, and points per game are the best way to determine award recipients, and that the QB with the most touchdowns every year should have the Heisman.
There is a part of this fanbase that loves to tear down UM players, and its fucking unbearable. Before Peppers it was Kalis, then Funchess and Lewan. Before that, it was Stevie Brown until his senior year. Then guys like Gabe Watson and John Navarre. The list goes on. That doesn’t mean you have to be a cheerleader or blindly optimistic, and it’s fair to criticize performance on the field. But good lord, the personal attacks, the concern trolling about how much that player “cares” about the team, all that shit, it’s depressing. There will undoubtedly be other players who come under fire in future seasons, but for whatever reason this particular response felt particularly offensive.
3. Florida State fans after a win. Again, it isn’t everyone, but I had friends who were UF and Miami (YTM) grads who warned me about this fanbase, but I figured they were just acutely aware because of the rivalry element. But man, for all the crap UM gets for being arrogant, front-runners, self-persecuted, etc., FSU has got to be right up there. On the Tomahawk Nation blog, one of the most-commented/popular articles, written after they won the fucking game, was complaining about ESPN not wanting to talk about all of FSU’s injuries leading into the game. Mind you, I agree ESPN spent too much time talking about Peppers as the game progressed, but that and the Butt injury happened basically during this game; Derwin James hasn’t played since September. It had been discussed a bunch of times leading up to the game. And ESPN mentioned Ermon Lane being out with a broken foot, and I thought Auden Tate (a guy with half of his production for the year coming in two games against Syracuse and BC) being out was noted as well. And then they trotted out Trey Marshall being ejected in the 4th quarter for fucking targeting Lewis on a punt return as something ESPN consciously decided not to cover because of some hair-brain omerta Bristol has against The ‘Noles. Guess what, you don’t get to play the “woe is our secondary” card when your player tries to knock a guy’s head off. Mind you, nobody seems to mention UM was down a starting left tackle and a top cornerback because those injuries happened long ago, or Perry being suspended because of his sexual assault charge, or that true freshman Josh Metellus basically replaced Peppers with little notice, and that’s how football works; you deal with depth chart issues when they happen. Losing two All-Americans in the same game is new and potentially game-altering to the current contest, unless FSU believes removing Dalvin Cook from this game before the first half was completed wouldn’t have changed the outcome.
But whatever, that’s understandable if you are a fanbase with a vocal component imbued with a persecution complex; UM absolutely has that. But then, good lord, are they sore winners. Bud Elliott on Twitter was bad but he’s also an FSU guy and recruiting analyst so it behooves him to point out the dual narrative that FSU is supremely talented yet also a scrappy underdog because for about 12 minutes in a game they played 3 true freshman in their secondary (caused because, again, guys got hurt 2 months ago and/or got booted for targeting). But the worst were all the little eggs and nameless avatars on Reddit going at it, because they inevitably confirm all their stereotypes: multiple discussions about the finer points of shed construction, questions about getting “back in the game” after they stopped selling weed a decade ago or how to stop using offensive slang for homosexuals and the mentally handicapped in mixed company, retweets of posts from Stormfront. I know UM fans can be obnoxious, but you win on a crazy sequence in the final couple of minutes and all of a sudden it’s “domination” this, “southern speed” that, “whambulance” that (and yes, all those words were originally misspelled). I mean, #FSUTwitter existed for a reason, and was atrocious at times during the whole Jameis Winston era, but still, it’s jarring in the moment. Just a bunch of people who absolutely feel the world is out to get their precious football team, history be damned if they deserved some scrutiny, and won’t rest until you are reminded of it.
Okay, good. That felt good. Moving on…
Worst: Offensive Offense
First off, credit to FSU’s defensive line – they were dominating in this game. For those who didn’t watch the game, here’s it in gif form:
UM struggled offensively for a lot of reasons in this game, but the biggest was guys like Sweat and Walker were unblockable for long stretches. Again, 15.0 TFLs is 4 more than MSU had in 2013 when UM rushed for –48 yards and we all wondered if blocking had been outlawed as “undignified”. And honestly, that probably undersells how dominant this performance was by the Florida State defensive line, as the two best runs of the game by Michigan required (a) Smith hurtling a defender to get all of 13 yards, and (b) Evans having to break like 2 tackles at the line to even get into the second level for his TD. Nothing came easy for Michigan’s offense, and while I absolutely believe some of that was due to questionable play calling, especially in the redzone, FSU imposing their will with extreme prejudice had a lot to do with that.
Nobody on the line played particularly well, but Bredeson was clearly a weak point FSU tried to exploit, repeatedly lining Walker over him and, not surprisingly, finding a lot of success. Kalis whiffed on a number of blocks as well, Cole struggled to get any push, and it started early when UM couldn’t score from the 1-yard line after the Thomas fumble recovery as Smith was driven back for a 3-yard loss and Speight was almost immediately under siege at every snap.
Issues in the redzone continued throughout the game. They set downs on fire trying to run the ball (on four redzone runs, UM recorded –12 yards), and the play calling was remarkably disjointed and/or conservative (depending on how much you felt the play calling changed when Butt got hurt) the closer they got to the endzone. I initially thought the issue was their unwillingness to throw fades and lobs to Darboh, Chesson, or a TE, but upon review it was more Speight just holding onto the ball. He had the one deep-ish thrown to Darboh that Amara caught but was just out of bounds, but otherwise those throws just never seemed to be made in the normal flow of the offense. For example, down 17-3 and inside the FSU 10, Speight missed 2 straight plays where he could have either gotten the ball to Darboh or even dump it off close to the endzone by instead held the ball way too long. Speight loosened up a bit in that second half and the passing offense opened up, but he never seemed wholly comfortable. Absolutely some of that was good coverage and Speight maybe sensing footsteps from an impending rush (even if the pocket was reasonably clean), but it was painful to watch this one-note offense bog down so close to the endzone. Say what you will about FSU’s offensive gameplan (I thought Fisher was trying way too hard to make Francois throw against UM’s corners instead of picking on the LBs/Hybrid spots), but they were much more effective close to the goalline both because they could run the ball with Cook but also because Francois got rid of the ball quickly.
As a microcosm for the running performance in this game, Speight had the second longest run of the day when he scampered for 17 yards on a “oh shit, gotta go” escapes in the 4th quarter. As has been a trend when Michigan runs into strong defensive fronts (see Iowa, OSU, and not FSU), the offensive line simply is overmatched on the ground. I thought Evans looked the best of the bunch, mostly because he could hit whatever sliver of holes existed and had enough speed and wiggle to eek out what yards were there. Smith was a load when he could get going, but throwing multiple swing passes to him and expecting that bus to get up to full speed against this level of athleticism on defense was a tall order, and it should come as no surprise 2 of his 3 receptions were for 0 and –3 yards as he was tackled almost immediately.
Apparently this is a trigger warning for people who find a white guy dressing up like a Native American war chief and throwing a flaming in the spear into the ground totally acceptable in 2017, but Michigan could have used Peppers on offense in this game. Not so much running Pepcat (unless they’d actually let him throw the ball), but as a playmaker in space, either on a sweep, a screen, even as a back. Just that hint of unpredictability, of game-breaking speed and elusiveness, might have been enough.
Meh: QB Competition 2017
I’ll go on record and say Speight was fine in this game. Not good by any means, but not nearly as bad as some people thought, especially given the fact he got virtually no help on the ground and was under siege from the opening snap. Throw out that final, desperate drive to end the game and he was 20/34 for 163 yards and a TD. The average yardage he faced on his 15 (!!) third down passes was 7.1 yards (by comparison, Francois only had to throw 4 times on 3rd down, though his average down-and-distance was 9.2 yards). Some of that was absolutely self-inflicted, but as with the OSU game, you can only expect so much out of the guy when he loses Butt and was sacked 4 times and hit countless other times. Francois was worse (9/27 for 222 yards, 92 of them coming on a single throw where Murray was blitheringly open), and he had maybe the best running back in the country to shoulder the load.
One thing that I still don’t know the cause of is the team’s inability to throw the ball downfield. Yet again, Michigan never found a way to take the top off the defense with a deep ball to either Chesson or Darboh, and outside of maybe 1 or 2 throws they barely seemed to try. Maybe there’s an injury to Speight’s shoulder or wrist, but you’d think we’d hear about it. Maybe it was a conscious decision not to minimize turnovers, but that just doesn’t seem to jibe with Harbaugh’s naturally-aggressive sentiments or his past history as a playcaller. Maybe the calls were made but not executed properly, or the receivers couldn’t get open, or some combination of it all. But they have to rediscover this element of the offense to be effective, especially if the running game and the offensive line remain underwhelming.
So my guess is Brandon Peters will be given every opportunity to compete for the starting spot next year. Speight has had a solid season but trailed off as the year progressed, and if the future is on the roster there’s no reason to make him serve as an apprentice because of seniority. Especially with a whole new receiving corps to break in as well, I wouldn’t be surprised if Peters gets a long look in the spring game. I still think Speight has the edge simply because his ceiling seems to be #2/3 QB in the league, and this conference is winnable with that level of play in the right games.
Best: Swan Song for the Defense
Up front, yes there were a couple “how did you enjoy the play otherwise, Mrs. Lincoln” plays to discuss, namely the 3rd-and-22 run by Cook, the 92-yard TD where somebody in the secondary had the wrong play (my guess is Lewis, but it was suggested that maybe Michigan was going zone and in that case maybe there were multiple breakdowns and Lewis just got the short end of the stick in terms of help over the top). FSU also had a great call on Cook’s long completion in the first half when he lined up outside and just ran past McCray down the sideline. Peppers probably sticks closer to him, but that’s the definition of an RPS win for the offense. But outside of those 3 plays, FSU had 163 yards on 59 plays, an average of 2.8 ypp. That’s a pretty solid performance against a team that averaged 6.5 ypp coming into the game, and whose only worse performance offensively was probably their blitzing at the hands of Louisville.
The game-winning pass to Murray over Lewis was just a great pass and catch; those happen against all corners. Lewis could have just as easily gotten a hand on it (as he had earlier when Francois tried to beat him deep) and the game would have probably gone to OT. Doesn’t change the fact that the secondary played a really solid game overall, and I’m already fearing that twinge in my gut whenever the camera jerks downfield on a thrown ball, as I can no longer assume the receiver will be blanketed. Still, to see Lewis go from just another slightly undersized Cass Tech corner into an All-American was a joy, as was Stribling going from the guy who phased out of reality against Allen Robinson to a second-team all conference recipient. Dymonte Thomas and Delano Hill also ended their careers well, with Thomas leading the team in tackles and PBUs in this game and Hill helped tamp down the FSU passing game (and I thought the PI he got called on for somewhat weak).
Considering Peppers was basically a gameday scratch, I thought Metellus filled in admirably. Cook was able to exploit the edge far more than I think he would have with Peppers on him, but for a true freshman making his first start, he didn’t turn into a liability. McCray had the game-turning pick-six after a nice play breaking on that pass, and while Cook beat him on that one deep ball he and Gedeon played their roles well enough to win. Yes, neither is an elite athlete, but they didn’t look overmatched out there.
As for the front line, in any other game they would have been the story. Taco Charlton was virtually unblockable in this game, as he has been for about a month, and hey, look, a team was actually called for offensive holding in this game, the first since Michigan played Illinois on October 22nd. Of course, there were half-dozen instances in this game (on both sides) where linemen just sat on defenders to slow them down, but I’ll take baby steps when it comes to calls like that. And I know FSU fans will point out that Cook had over 200 yards of total offense and scoff at the idea that he was “bottled up”, but again, down Peppers Cook had basically 2 big plays and not much else. Coming into the game, I’d take that, and it was largely due to guys like Wormley, Hurst, and Glasgow consistently getting penetration into the backfield. There’s obviously still talent coming back, but this was a championship defense if I’ve ever seen one.
Best: Kenny MFing Allen
Just bombing kicks all night, including the 61-yarder that Murray bobbled at the 1-yard line. For the game he averaged 47 yards a kick and consistently helped flip the field for Michigan. Plus, he nailed 3/3 on FG attempts, finishing the season on a 15-kick streak and further cementing how unpredictable college kickers can be. He’ll be missed.
Best: Quick Hits
Couple of quick points:
- I thought Harbaugh’s decision to go for 2 after the pick-six was debatable, since there was still so much of the game to go. At the same time, the offense hadn’t really worked at all up to that point, so you have to take points (and make it a FG game) if you can. It ultimately didn’t wind up mattering all that much because they got 2 on the last TD and, I assume, would have just kicked the extra point had they been up 2 instead of 1. I’m personally fine with it, but I can see why it wasn’t a slam-dunk call.
- I thought the pass interference call on FSU’s first TD drive was correct, but then later in the quarter Jake Butt was hit by a defender as he went up for the ball and the general arguments I heard were “a defender is allowed his space for the ball” and/or “it was uncatchable”. I buy the first more than the second, as the ball to Izzo was probably 4-5 feet above his head and was basically just as uncatchable, but a defender’s right to the ball doesn’t include hitting the receiver as you run toward the ball; some consistency is all I expect.
- Not having Peppers hurt immensely in the return game. There were so many of those line-drive kicks that he would have returned on the fly instead of Lewis’s (probably correct) decision to just catch and down the ball. In a game like this, those extra 10-15 yards on a couple of drives would have likely changed the outcome.
So that’s the season. 10-3, same as last year, ending on a bit of a down note but still a solid enough go of it. UM beat the Pac-12 South division champion by 17, the B1G West winner by 7, the B1G East winner by 39, stomped MSU, beat Rutgers by 78 points, and lost 3 games to ranked opponents by a combined 5 points and 2 of them when time expired/in OT. A lot of talent and experience needs to be replaced on this team, but there are players in the pipeline to do so, and there are enough pieces coming back that I don’t expect anything like MSU’s or Notre Dame’s 2016 seasons.
Don Brown’s defenses tend to improve mightily in year 2 and beyond, so one hopes that even with the substantial talent departure familiarity will offset that a bit. The defensive line won’t be stocked with All-Conference recipients as backups, but it should be solid and I expect Gary to make a huge leap forward in year 2, as will Hurst. I assume Peppers is gone, and Gedeon was solid for most of the year, but there is young talent at LB and I thought Bush showed solid improvement in limited snaps. McCray should have a good senior season as well. Losing Lewis, Thomas, Hill and Stribling will be a huge blow to the secondary, but if Clark comes back that gives you at least one semi-known commodity, and guys like Kinnel, Hill, Long, and Metellus all showed flashes on the field and/or in HS to give fans hope.
Offensively, I expect there to be heavy competition at QB, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Peters get starter-ish support going into fall camp. The offensive line needs to be figured out and, I’ll be honest, I’m not sure how many of those pieces are on the roster right now. I like to think some of the bad tendencies we’ve seen this year are just sort of baked into the formula after the transition away from Hoke, and that fresh blood will mitigate them, but we’ll have to wait and see. We saw in this game how a great back can paper over some mediocre blocking; there isn’t a Cook on this roster right now, but maybe Evans, Higdon, or Walker could make a semi-major step forward and at least give UM a threat in the backfield (I’m dubious right now, but it is a long offseason).
Next year’s schedule opens against Florida and has a couple scary road tests (@PSU, maybe @Wiscy), but they get both MSU and OSU at home at least.
I know some people are disappointed, but UM has now won 10 games for 2 straight years. The last time they did that? 2002 and 2003. The rebuilding is moving along, but it isn’t going to be instantaneous. Still, UM was a handful of plays away from an undefeated season, and if you had told me that after 2014 I’d have eaten a bag of lemons. Recruiting must close strongly and I assume it will, and then it’s on to 2017 and Jerry World.