this may be of some local interest
Whereupon I make a unique preseason prediction for your amusement: The 2016 offense will be different
Football's almost here, folks.
It's at the point where I wonder if anything more can be said about this team. MGoBlog is in a starved frenzy. Millions of words have been written about a team that has yet to play a down of the 2016 season. Preseason predictions are as lofty as an undefeated regular season and playoff berth. So this is either the best possible time to throw out some content, or the worst. I guess I'll just live with what comes out of this.
FWIW, I hate making W/L predictions, namely because something crazy tends to happen that defies all logic. Key B1G matchups were won last season on freakish factors, from bad officiating to bad weather. Predictions can be perfectly logical and still not matter. But I do get premonitions, and while they're sometimes "X will beat Y", sometimes they're oddly specific in a not-nearly-as-satisfying way. So I might get some "why bother" reactions for this, but we're at the point where little else can be said about this team (you've probably seen over dozen W-L predictions if you haven't been living under a rock), and it occurred to me that I did come across something that hasn't been said yet. So FWIW, I'll put it here just in case I'm on to something. Probably not but we'll see.
Let's start with the premise that's about to be challenged. Everyone here (and elsewhere) is taking for granted that this year's offense is going to be an overall upgraded version of last year's, maybe some positional downgrades, but plenty of MANBALL and 4TE sets and Smith running through a roughin' toughin' line (year 2 Drevno uber alles) with plenty of Harbaugh/Fisch hijinks to keep defenses off balance. Now, just because the Internet goes "what's nuance?" I guess I have to point out that I don't expect a wholesale abandonment of those concepts. Harbaugh's preferences are clear; he likes to ram the ball down your maw if he can do it. So he'll certainly try, but not to the extent of losing games in the name of principle (may 2011 Iowa never happen again). But for what it's worth, here's a prediction that I daresay hasn't been made. . .
The 2016 offense is going to look significantly different from 2015, strategically.
I get that that sounds like it's saying something without saying anything, but unfortunately I can't think of a better way to phrase it. I hate soundbites, anyway, so I'll try to explain. Let's look at the starters from early in the 2015 season, as they stood, but with some hindsight as to where they really were:
WR: Chesson, Darboh, Perry
TE: Butt, Williams
OL: Cole, Kalis, Glasgow, Braden, Magnuson
If you remember, it took Rudock a while to get going. Perry was a true freshman and practically single-handedly lost us the Utah game. Rudock couldn't hit Chesson with the deep ball, Peppers couldn't be unleashed yet (new coordinator for the D as well), and as a result pass defenses keyed on Butt. So Harbaugh had to get the most he could from the run game, even though guard play was iffy. I mean, he likes to run, but this was a need. So what we got for about half a season was a very left-handed run game with Cole and/or Glasgow often pulling, and extensive use of the fullbacks. We saw Chesson's speed utilized in end-arounds and then threatened with fakes once that was on tape. We saw FB dive come back like it was in style, and plenty of screens.
Harbaugh didn't do this just to mitigate damage. He gets the absolute most out of what he has and what he saw was hey, I have a fast blocking WR and two good fullbacks, and I'm gonna use them. Also, Cole is great in space and (we didn't know it at the time but) Williams was a completely different player last season. I bolded all these players above as run game assets and you can see why he went with a FB-heavy MANBALL approach. It never went away even after Rudock heated up, but it wasn't just tendency. Every chance he could, he had the players doing things they were good at, even if that was limited at the time.
So with that in mind, let's look at the projected starters as of today, 8/23 (subject to change!!):
WR: Chesson, Darboh, Perry
TE: Butt, Bunting
OL: Newsome, Kalis, Cole, Braden, Magnuson
I'm not making any crazy predictions here; this should be news to no one. A freshman might surprise (Wheatley is particulary intriguing) but they all have uphill climbs. Now, that thing that bothered me about the way the preseason predictions have been going. I've maintained that Harbaugh is the ultimate SunTzuball coach. Why is everyone assuming he'll try the same thing with no regard to roster change? They are the same guys, for the most part, but many of them are now different players.
What's he going to do this year? To figure that out, and this may hit some nerves, I italicized the possible run liabilities in the starters. (If Speight starts, he's marked as a "liability" in that he can't threaten with his legs.) Not necessarily disasters, but guys who will struggle with consistency. Again, not saying they're bad; this is about getting the most out of this unit. Harbaugh's going to put the players in a position to succeed instead of ordering them to head-butt their way through a brick wall. Anyway, if the FBs can't block consistently. . . they won't. Henderson might be an X-factor here but he's not Kerridge or Houma, and Harbaugh used those guys because of who they are. And even against Florida, UFR showed the run game was largely Smith making something of a checked-out Florida D. Year 2 Anno Drevno duly noted, but I'm not the only one openly wondering if the O-line's close to its ceiling. We'll still run the ball, but I don't see us relying on it like the start of last season, largely because. . .
We won't need to! I bolded the pass game assets above, and that's almost all of them. (That includes most of the OL because as a unit they overall graded very good in pass pro -- Bosa was just something else and he's gone). Both QBs have spent over a year doing wax-on, wax-off in the Harbaugh-fu dojo. Smith is an excellent pass blocker. Perry's got his head fixed, and Chesson's blowed up from a guy Harbaugh had to use creatively to a guy who roasted Vernon Hargreaves crispy. Butt is a velcro-covered black hole for balls thrown his way. Add in guys like O'Korn or Peppers and the picture doesn't really change (maybe more RPOs). Add in Jourdan Lewis, Ty Isaac or Drake Johnson and the picture's even more pass-happy.
So, what will the offense look like, at least to start the season? I think we'll see more West Coast-ish, one-back stuff than expected, with Wheatley next to Newsome to shore up the left side if necessary. Darboh, Chesson, Butt and Perry will wreak havoc on back 7s, which will spook linebackers and open up the run game. You may see some Isaac/Smith or Johnson/Smith backfields for wheel routes, Smith doing his blitz pick-up thing and maybe moonlighting as a fullback. But mostly, I'm predicting that this offense -- until/unless guys like Poggi and Kalis get their targeting issues fixed anyway -- will be a pass-first unit.
Some things I have to disclaim because the Internet goes "what's nuance?":
1) No, we are not going to be one-dimensional. That's the last thing Harbaugh will allow. We all know he's going to do a ton of crazy stuff beyond the scope of this entry.
2) We're not abandoning the run either. We'll still see MANBALL and plenty of FB play, especially with comfortable leads. In close games, though, the pass unit will support the run much in the way the situation was reversed to start last season.
3) This is subject to change based on player improvement. If Poggi and/or Hill vastly improve their blocking in the submarine then I'll look stupid and I'll be fine with that, because that's only good news.
4) This isn't saying Poggi and Hill are bad. Please don't insinuate I'm saying that. This is more, we have excellent receiving options to open up holes in the defense, vs. the excellent fullback options and passing game challenges Harbaugh had last season. Poggi and Hill aren't competing against each other so much as who we have at slot and TE and we have some great options there. They'll play, but if Harbaugh needs points you might see more 3-wide and 4-wide looks. With O'Korn he might run zone read.
5) Probably not against Hawaii or UCF. They're not good so if the pass-first approach gets us to 21-0 in the first quarter and the defense shuts the door, Harbaugh might be content to MANBALL for 3 quarters en route a 35-3 glorified scrimmage. This prediction is more about his "go-to" offensive set.
Harbaugh puts players in positions to succeed, puts the best 11 on the field and understands constraint concepts well. Again, the run game won't be bad. But looking at what he has as of today, the passing game is so compelling that I just don't see Harbaugh -- a former pro QB and SunTzuball extraordinaire -- go all Lloyd Carr on it. If rolling out a pass-happy one-back set gets him more TDs than doing what worked last year he'll do that, and he's certainly got the personnel for it.
So you are aware, the OT Season officially comes to an end at midnight on the 27th of August, or one week before the first game as per tradition. There will be some cleanup of a preliminary nature starting before then, but it will be mainly background items and removing recent threads with, for example, numerous downvotes – basically subtle strategies to attempt to maximize the amount of football content before the actual deadline comes.
What does that mean for you? Veterans will know the answer, but for newer folks or infrequent visitors, here is your yearly reminder.
To start the ramp-down, however, at midnight on Friday, you may no longer post threads about your favorite shows, movies, books, music and so forth. Friday can be a transitional day for OT, giving people an opportunity to get their final OT threads in.
One further point, when we say “end of OT season”, it is more a “significant narrowing of scope” – in other words, not every single OT thread will be removed outright. What you must do, if you plan on posting such a thread, is provide a pretty damn good explanation of why it should stay (or the reason may be self-evident) – and yes, frivolous ones will be removed as always. As usual, there are usually narrow exceptions made for major breaking news of regional or national importance and a few other things and that’s what we mean here. Those are just a few examples of “allowable OT”. I realize some people would prefer a hard stop, but this is a community and we’ll consider things that might be of note to the community, even during the “non-OT” months. Such threads should be an EXCEPTION, and the onus is on the blogger to justify it.
A few things of note (non-comprehensive, of course – we reserve the right to throw other stuff out there too):
1) The Snowflake Rule will apply after games, but we will weigh threads individually and those which provide, for example, detailed analysis of a single series or play or video analysis will probably stay. Those threads which are mere hot takes that could easily fit into a snowflake thread will likely go. I understand why the Snowflake threads are not popular in many segments of the MGoPopulation, but there has to be a way to mitigate hot takes and make sure they don’t bury more worthwhile content. The whole point is to make sure the better user-generated content remains – we have some excellent football minds on the board and I really don’t want their contributions to be buried by your two paragraphs which amount to “that was awesome” or “that sucked” or what-have-you.
2) Having seen #1, please take care in general to consider carefully what you want to say if you’re going to create a thread. Search the first three pages of threads or so for similar threads – that’s typically what I use as a measuring stick for “redundant”. Most weekends in the season, three pages covers about 2 days of threads, or after a loss, about 30 minutes of threads. As for breaking news, make sure that you check the publish dates on articles – you can almost be assured that anything over an hour old has made it to the board barring a huge oversight (and sometimes, something does get overlooked). Normal rules on sourcing apply as well, so for example, be judicious with Bleacher Report, no Chatsports, and don’t post a whole Freep article out of spite – post a quote, link it, and give people the opportunity to avoid reading it.
3) DO NOT attack players or fellow MGoBloggers personally. Ad hominems are essentially your ticket to Bolivia or worse depending on the severity of the statement. I know people get emotional after games, but do try to run your initial reaction by your frontal cortex first for proper review. Criticizing play and strategy is fine, but basically bringing someone’s mom into it, if you will, is your way of telling the mods you no longer wish to be here. As you may have seen in the Mod Sticky as well, there will be a doubling down on efforts to promote a more welcoming environment around here too, so PLEASE check your choice of words and photos against those rules set forth in the sticky before posting.
4) Report potential infractions or questionable posts in the Mod Sticky with a link to the comment or thread. We will review them as soon as possible and dole out point deductions and so forth accordingly. If it is raining in La Paz, we will provide appropriate gear assuming we did not spend the money on beer first. If there is a delay in getting to an issue, remember that the mods have lives too, but if it is something that really should go, say, right now, tweet me at @LorneEC3 and I’ll address it right then or make a note to do it ASAP. Yes, I can’t stand the threads with “IBD” or “Moms please delete” in 40 different forms and posts either, so let’s try to mitigate that, eh?
5) Sunday (also Thursday and Monday) NFL threads will be allowed as usual. Pro sports events which are significant are fine as well (World Series, NBA or NHL coverage, etc…) – just not every bit of news like we get during the draft and free agency periods sometimes. I know people gripe about the amount of Lions coverage during the NFL season, but try to remember that a sizeable number of the active users on this site also live in Michigan. Do feel free to throw in some coverage of your own teams, if you so choose, but be selective due to OT restrictions.
6) Threads covering other college games should typically be OK, but do try to keep the tradition of “Saturday Noon Games Thread”, for example, on the weekends (and on Thursdays and Fridays when sometimes there is a significant slate too). The tradition of MACtion is absolutely OK even though ESPN has apparently all but killed it. If something noteworthy is happening in a particular game, a separate thread should be fine but detail the reason for breaking out of the open thread coverage.
I will let JustinGoBlue add whatever he feels is appropriate in the comments, but I thought I would get this out there in a prominent location to everyone now.
After the Big Ten scrapped the ridiculous “Leaders” and “Legends” division upon adding Maryland and Rutgers, Michigan found itself in the same division as its two primary conference rivals. Urban Meyer and Mark Dantonio have each won the East once en route to a playoff bid; Ohio State beat Alabama and Oregon to win a national title, while Michigan State was destroyed by the Tide. Michigan managed to hire Jim Harbaugh away from the NFL, and the division added a third elite coach, who turned things around at Michigan immediately.
The Buckeyes went on a crazy postseason run with third-stringer Cardale Jones to win it all in 2014, and their team was loaded with top-tier talent last season. They were the consensus pick to win the conference, but Michigan State went into Columbus without Connor Cook and managed to lock OSU down in a slugfest that left the Buckeye fans apoplectic with the playcalling. Since State came away with a win in Ann Arbor (the forces of the devil were working that night and I refuse to admit otherwise), the Spartans were the surprise winner of the East. Ohio State figured things out and took out their frustrations on Michigan and then Notre Dame in the bowl game. MSU / OSU / UM finished with a combined 31-3 record against other teams.
Meyer, Harbaugh, and Dantonio make the Big Ten East as competitive at the top as any other division in college football. This year, State gets both OSU and UM at home, while Michigan gets both rivals on the road. In terms of the general wax and wane of team quality from year-to-year, Ohio State and Michigan State are on the downswing from last year: OSU loses a ridiculous draft class (there were too many good players to list here, honestly), while MSU loses its star quarterback, best receiver by a mile, two All-American offensive linemen, and three of four defensive linemen (including an All-American). Michigan, by contrast, gets many of its best players back – the Wolverines have several elite position groups (receivers/tight ends, defensive line, and defensive backs).
None of those three teams lost to any of the other four teams in the B1G East (Penn State, Indiana, Rutgers, Maryland). James Franklin is 14-12 so far at PSU, Indiana is a chaotic gadfly but not much more, Rutgers became OSU Jr. and Maryland became UM Jr. after hiring those respective schools’ defensive coordinators. It’s a safe bet that it will come down to Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State – and the winner of the B1G East is the heavy favorite to win the entire conference. There’s a decent chance the division goes three-for-three in playoff appearances.
[team previews after the JUMP]
LAST WEEK: 2016 Schedule Wallpaper
It's time for more wallpaper. One of the biggest stories this offseason has been the switch from Adidas to Nike/Jordan. Earlier this month, we finally saw all the new apparel. After many years with Adidas, it was refreshing to see some new designs.
A few of the new designs really stood out to me, so I decided to convert them into wallpapers. These designs include the football/field graphic, "Wolverines Against the Nation," and the lightning bolt football icon. I also really like the new blue bumper and Maize Block M on the helmets, which can be seen in the first wallpaper.
I know a lot of people don't get excited about new apparel, but to me it signifies a new era. Michigan is being presented to the rest of the country with a fresh new look. Join them with these wallpapers.
NEXT WEEK: Harbaugh Wallpaper
This next guy came in on a mission, with a determination to prove himself on the biggest staqe in college football. Like all of the men I’ve written about, there was a personal experience I shared with the guy that left an impression that sticks with me 30 years later. This particular guy made a career of out-punching his weight and out-working the competition. He was a cornerback of average size and speed from a high school not known for churning out D1 prospects (other than he and his brothers). To stack the odds even further against him, he was a walk-on trying to stake a claim in a defensive backfield that featured Vada Murray, Corwin Brown, Tripp Welbourne, and David Key just to name a few. Many people would doubt him – including yours truly – but he wouldn’t let that keep him from reaching his goals of earning a scholarship and leaving his mark at Michigan. Before it was all said and done, I wouldn’t be the only fool to dismiss #6.
Todd Plate grew up less than an hour west of Ann Arbor in Brooklyn, Michigan. He played for a team that only won one game his senior year. In spite of that, he earned Class B All-State honors and was recruited by Army and a few D2 schools who offered partial/non-athletic scholarships. It was nice to have those options, but he wanted a bigger challenge. He grew up a fan of Michigan and wanted to see what he could do in Ann Arbor. Without a scholarship offer however, he had to make a choice between accepting grant-in-aid at a smaller school or pay his own way as a walk on. His dad offered to pick up the tab if that’s what his oldest boy really wanted. There were no guarantees other than Lloyd telling him he’d get an opportunity to prove himself. That’s all he needed.
Nearly every player pays their dues on the demonstration team (demo squad – pronounced “dee-mo). As you’re probably aware, the demo squad’s job is to emulate the formations and plays of the coming week’s opponent. It’s grueling work, sometimes painful, oft times thankless, but important nonetheless. It’s also where players learn to play college football. You cut your teeth on the demo squad while getting your ass kicked by older players – many of them all-conference, some of them all-americans. It's a year of hell, and for some (usually walk ons) it can last longer. Sometimest two, three, and even four years. If you remember in John Bacon’s book “Endzone”, John Wangler tells a story of how 5th year senior Jim Hackett motivated the rest of his troops to “give 'em a good look, guys. We have to get them ready for Saturday.” He was a career demo player who CHOSE to play a 5th year, knowing he wouldn't crack the two-deep. As I've said before, it takes a special player.
When I was a junior, I was starting my 3rd year on demo. I thought this kid with the chip on his shoulder and scar on his face was a little too cocky and unaware of his place on the team. He once told me, “I’m won’t be on demo next year, I can promise you that.” I said, “look man, nobody wants to be on demo, but everyone has a role.” He was adamant that one day he would start for Michigan. Yea. Right. “Good luck, I hope you do” as I walked away shaking my head at the young kid who clearly had no clue what he was up against. From that day to this, I never forgave myself for doubting the guy.
Todd’s plan was to shadow DB coach Billy Harris during every practice. He learned every position in the backfield, knew all the assignments, and was glued to Harris’ hip. Whenever one of the starters screwed up, Plate was right there when Coach Harris looked for a replacement. By his sophomore year, he was getting noticed and even earned a few snaps in a couple blowouts, though he still didn’t make the travel team. He bided his time on demo one more year and by spring, he worked his way into the conversation as a legit contributor to the defense. Every time he got on the field, he was in the right place to make a big play.
By the time the 1988 season got under way, Plate had broken through the ceiling and earned his first career start, as well as that coveted scholarship. His days on the demonstration team were most decidedly over.
As a senior, in the biggest game of the year, #3 Michigan faced #20 Ohio State in Ann Arbor with the Big Ten Championship and trip to the Rose Bowl on the line. Plate had solidified his spot as a starter at cornerback and seemingly proved all of his doubters wrong. He was part of a unit that helped win the Big Ten the year before and beat USC in the Rose Bowl. He would earn all-conference honorable mention. And yet, some people just didn't get the message. John Cooper and the Buckeyes needed a little more convincing.
"Our plan was to go at number six (Plate) all day," freshman OSU wide receiver Greg Beatty said. "It wasn't that we thought he was a sorry defensive back, just that he wasn't quite as good as their other guys. We picked on him, and he had a great game. It turns out, he was one of their best.”
Plate would have a day. Already with one interception in the first half (his career first), Ohio State would challenge him again with just a few minutes left in the game and trailing by 3. John Cooper told his team that they "had them right where we want them."
With the ball at midfield and the Buckeyes on a possible game-winning drive, they decided to pick on 6 again.
"I saw him waving his hands before the snap because he wasn't sure what coverage he was supposed to play," Beatty said. "I thought I was going to make the catch. I thought it was a great throw. The next thing I knew, the ball was in his hands."
His second interception sealed the victory and sent the Wolverines back to the Rose Bowl for the 3rd time 4 years. He would finish his career with FOUR Big Ten Championship rings and a 33-6-1 conference record (including 4-1 vs OSU) in his 5 years at UofM.
Todd also had the unique opportunity to play against his brother Scott who was a DB for Iowa. Scott was a 4 year letter winner and 3 year starter for the Hawkeyes. Scott would go on to play in the Canadian Football League and then coach at the high school level. His oldest son is currently a freshman receiver at Ball State University.
Sadly, life after football was a struggle. Concussions from football, a head injury suffered in an altercation, substance abuse, and the effects of CTE led to his sudden and tragic death in 2013. It was a devastating loss for the Plate family. “I miss him dearly" said Todd.
Todd, Scott, and Erick Anderson
Todd’s other brother Rick was a cornerback for Central Michigan and was a member of both teams that defeated Michigan State. He has one son who is a starting DB for Grand Valley and another who is committed to play linebacker at his dad’s alma mater.
After graduation, Todd began a long and successful career in the steel industry. He went to work for Al Glick at Alro Steel in Jackson. Al taught Todd the industry from the bottom up, and became a great mentor and friend. As he learned the business and paid his dues, an opportunity at Ryerson became available that moved him up the organization and put him through the Kellogg School of Business Management at Northwestern University. From there his career took off and today he’s the President and CEO of Tricon Wear Solutions in Nashville, Tennessee.
He’s married to his wife Heidi whom he met at the Michigan-Notre Dame game in 2009. She’s a MSU grad and is a school teacher in Tennessee. He has two children, the oldest who graduated from Western Michigan and a son who is a junior at Grand Valley.
When Todd’s not running his business, or participating in church activities, he’s just out....you know....setting multiple world records in drag boat racing. No big deal.
“My dad used to race when we were kids. I started racing as a hobby for me, my dad, and brothers to have some fun and compete” he said.
Like everything he’s done, he started at the bottom level and worked himself to the top. His first boat was in the 9 second/118mph bracket, then to the Blown Gas Hydro class at 5.95seconds and 195mph. The next step was Top Alcohol Hydro at 5.35 seconds and 225mph, and finally the Top Fuel Class where he went TWO HUNDRED SIXTY-ONE MILES PER HOUR in 3.49 seconds!!!
As you can imagine, it’s an extraordinarily dangerous sport, and with his new job responsibilities, he’s had to dial it back this season. “I figured I have burned 8 of my 9 lives and dodged some close calls."
Since the first day he stepped on the football field, to the last day of racing, and throughout his rise up the business ladder, Todd Plate has proven time and time again that he is a Leader and Best.
Those who stay….
Todd played from 1986-1990 and wore #6
His favorite restaurant in Ann Arbor is The Chophouse
The best dish he makes is Beef Tenderloin done on his Big Green Egg.
Obviously he’d allow his son to play football but it has to be tough under the circumstances.
[Ed-S: Bumped to remind you this diary is basically a front page feature]
So we’re back for another year of Michigan football, and with it another year of Best and Worst columns. For a number of reasons, chief amongst them increased work responsibilities and two kids under 3, I’m not sure how deep some of these columns will be this year. In years past I usually tried to knock out 5-6k words even during a bad game, since I felt like there were always storylines and discussion points. But now, if UM crushes Hawaii by 30 and we don’t see much, I’m (probably) not going to write 500 words comparing the win to the time the Rockers beat the Hart Foundation for the WWF tag titles but were never officially recognized because it was at a live show. Sorry.
As for this column, I’m going to attack the general themes of the offseason and the expectations for the year without necessarily diving into each position group. This is mostly due to the fact that (1) the vast majority of my information is from this site anyway, and I assume Brian and co. will have MUCH deeper articles in the coming weeks, and (2) I already read most of the recent HTTV and it would devolve to cribbing notes. As always, I welcome any and all comments (including ones that point out a much better writer at another site created the conceit of this diary series).
Best: Everybody’s Back*
I never know how to start these pre-season diaries, especially when it hasn’t been a particularly momentous off-season (and yes, I know that saying 2015 was “momentous” is like asking Mary Todd how the play was). But after almost a decade of upheaval and uncertainty, of a displaced legend, a dismissed vanguard, and a depressing totem of halcyon days, UM (seems) to be on a trajectory back to the top of college football with Harbaugh at the helm.
And in many ways, it shouldn’t be surprising; the last three coaches all embodied different characteristics of what fans hope makes Michigan “Michigan”. With Carr, you had a model of consistent, sustainable if-not-excellence-at-least-really-goodness. He led the team to their first title in half a century, mostly fought OSU to a draw, and held it all together with class and dignity. He had his flaws strategically (I think he still views mobile QBs as a fad) and definitely valued loyalty over competency with a lot of his staff, but he kept UM in the upper tier of college football when lots of other programs suffered various degrees of downfalls.
[After the JUMP: The story goes...]