this week in unintentionally grim-sounding recruiting headlines
I want to start with a quick apology for missing last week. I was on afternoons, ticked about losing the game at the Joe and PISSED abouit the fiasco that was scheduled for last Saturday.
On with the show. Week 21:
Froday February 13
6:30 #55 Wisconsin @ #38 Ohio State
7:00 #20 Penn State @ #36 Michigan State
7:00 #15 UMass-Lowell @ #44 Mass
7:00 #54 Brown @ #42 RPI
7:00 #40 New Hampshire @ #3 Boston College
7:00 #8 Bowling Green @ #41 Ferris State
7:00 #21 Colgate @ #16 Harvard
7:00 #17 St. Lawrence @ #13 Quinnipiac
7:30 #19 Vermont @ #11 Boston College
7:30 #10 Providence @ #35 Notre Dame
8:00 #21 St. Cloud State @ #5 Minnesota-Duluth
8:30 #9 Denver @ #2 North Dakota
8:30 #25 Western Michigan @ #4 Nebraska-Omaha
9:00 #12 Michigan @ #13 Minnesota
9:00 #58 American International @ #51 Air Force
9:30 #7 Miami @ #48 Colorado College
11:00 #6 Michigan Tech @ #49 Alaska-Anchorage
11:00 #1 Minnesota State @ #32 Alaska
- Penn State travels to East Lansing trying to hold onto their Top 2 spot in the B1G standings (Top two seeds get first round bye in Tournament). Both teams play a defensive style of hockey with Penn State throwing anything and everything at the net in the offensive zone. Hildebrand will be in for a tough matchup against one of the top scoring players in the country (Casey Bailey). PSU should win both of these games this weekend and pick up 5 to 6 points but as we all know from the Duel in the D MSU just needs to block shots and play their crappy style of hockey and get lucky offensively.
- UMass-Lowell needs to rebound from a very tough stretch of games and keep themselves in the tournament picture. Lowell winning helps Michigan marginally as Michigan has played and beaten them this season.
- New Hampshire (a team Michigan holds a winning record against) goes on the road against a top five team in Boston University (a team that holds a winning record over Michigan). The odds of NHU pulling off this upset aren't good but if it were to happen it would help Michigan's RPI.
- Denver at North Dakota provides us with a top 10 matchup that could lead to Denver falling enough that Michigan could leapfrog them if everything goes our way (UND and Michigan sweep)
- Michigan @ Minnesota is the top series in the B1G. It is a matchup of top 15 teams (in the Pairwise rankings). Michigan needs to win at least one to boost their ranking back into the range where they are competing for a favorable seed in the tournament (being swept will hurt chances of at-large bid so much so that I think they'd need to win out). My prediciton for this series is that Michigan picks up 4 points (a win and shootout loss that counts as a tie in NCAA's eyes).
- 2 top ranked teams travel out to Alaska for series this weekend which always causes me a little concern.
Saturday February 14
6:00 #20 Penn State @ #36 Michigan State
7:00 #55 Wisconsin @ #38 Ohio State
7:00 #44 Mass @ #15 UMass-Lowell
7:00 #3 Boston University @ #40 New Hampshire
7:00 #18 Yale @ #42 RPI
7:00 #19 Vermont @ #11 Boston College
7:00 #8 Bowling Green @ #41 Ferris State
7:00 #33 Clarkson @ #13 Quinnipiac
7:00 #27 Cornell @ #16 Harvard
8:00 #12 Michigan @ #13 Minnesota
8:00 #9 Denver @ #2 North Dakota
8:00 #10 Providence @ #35 Notre Dame
8:00 #21 St. Cloud State @ #5 Minnesota-Duluth
8:00 #25 Western Michigan @ #4 Nebraska-Omaha
9:00 #58 American International @ #51 Air Force
9:00 #7 Miami @ #48 Colorado College
11:00 #6 MIchigan Tech @ #49 Alaska-Anchorage
11:00 # 1 Minnesota State @ #32 Alaska
Other Key Games:
- Wisconsin travels to Columbus in a matchup of the bottom 2 teams in the conference. Ohio State winning would be better for Michigan as we still have a road game down there and the B1G can't afford to have another team drop in the rankings. Wisconsin being so bad means its actually best for the conference if they lose out as they can't really climb in the Pairwise enough to help anyone.
- Ferris State has two shots to knock off a Top 10 team at home which would help Michigan's RPI.
- Boston College, who is currently ranked one spot ahead of Michigan hosts a hungry Vermont squad who are sitting just outside of the top 16. Vermont winning a game or sweeping will result in a great chance for Michigan to jump into the top 10 if they take care of business.
3 Things Michigan "NEEDS"
- A split on the road at Minnesota is crucial for a shot at a 2 seed going forward and obviously a help in the B1G standings
- Ohio State needs to sweep Wisconsin on home ice
- UMass-Lowell sweeping Mass and getting their season back together.
With the news of Peppers and Morgan getting a medical redshirt, it got me thinking about who of our current players saw action as true freshmen, and whether or not in hindsight it was a smart decision. I left out players who played as true freshmen but ultimately received a redshirt at some point (Morgan, Darboh, Peppers, Richardson).
Shane Morris (Jr): Was thrust into the backup position in 2013 for multiple reasons (Bellomy injury, no QB in 2012 class). He saw time stepping in for Gardner when he lost his helmet, and started the BWW Bowl. He was not redshirted out of necessity, and laregly based on what we saw this year, he could have used an extra year of development.
Derrick Green (Jr): Was the top rated RB in the '13 class. Started to show flashes towards the end of the season once his conditioning improved. Was the backup for most of the season, and started a few games at the end. His experience seemed to help him as he looked pretty promising this season at times before injury. Based on that, it was probably the right decision.
DeVeon Smith (Jr): At the beginning of 2013 season it didn't make much sense to burn his redshirt as he was behind Fitz, Drake, Green, Rawls, and Hayes; and we did not take a RB in the 2014 class. He saw pretty much exclusive special teams duty until later in the season. Looked like our best RB against OSU and ran with more power than Green. That experience seemed to help him out of the gate this season as he competed for the starting spot; eventually getting it after Green's injury. At the time burning his redshirt didn't make a whole lot of sense, but now with Isaac and the glaring evidence that Smith is who he is (good short yard back who runs with power but lacks speed) it isn't detrimental that he burned his RS.
Freddy Canteen (So): Massive-hype out of camp about him. Saw some time at WR making little impact. Too early to say whether or not he should have RS this past season.
Damario Jones (Jr): Appeared to be the WR with the most upside from our not-so-exciting class of '13 receivers. Did not contribute on offense. Only time his name was called was when a punt bounced off his leg vs UCONN and when getting a personal foul vs MSU. Jones doesn't appear to be a major contributor, so it is tough to say whether or not a redshirt would have made much of a difference.
Dennis Norfleet (Sr): Brought some excitement to our KR game as a true freshman, but ultimately didn't have too much of an impact as a true frosh. Dileo/Gallon could have done what he did in the return game in '12. Should have redshirted
Jake Butt (Jr): Strong production as a true frosh. Saw increased duty once Funchess moved to WR.
AJ Williams (Sr): Saw time at TE as frosh being used primarly as a blocker. Has been underwhelming in 3 seasons so far. At this point, he is who he is, and a RS would not have probably made much of a difference.
Mason Cole (So): Played exceptionally well for a true frosh at LT. Appears to be headed for All-B1G in the coming years.
Mario Ojemudia (Sr): Lack of depth led for him to have to play in the rotation back in '12 even though he was extremely undersized. Looking at DE depth it would be nice to have him as a RS Jr right now.
Taco Charlton (Jr): Same as Ojemudia. Would be nice to have him as a RS So now, but lack of depth led to him playing (sometimes quite well) as a true frosh.
Bryan Mone (So): Made an impact as true forsh. Appears to have a bright future ahead.
Ondre Pipkins (Sr): Another highly-touted recruit who saw quite a bit of action in his first season. Injuries have played a major part in his career.
James Ross (Sr): Rotation LB as true frosh. Showed a lot of potential (which he hasn't really improved on a whole lot in the past two seasons)
Joe Bolden (Sr): Same as Ross. Showed potential as freshman, has turned out to be a solid LB.
Ben Gedeon (Jr): Showed flashes as a true frosh, but looking at our LB depth, would be nice to have him with 3 yrs of eligibility left.
Royce Jenkins-Stone (Sr): To be honest, I don't remember him even seeing the field at all in '12. Should have redshirted.
Jourdan Lewis (Jr): Rotation CB in '13. Experience appeared to help him a lot for '14.
Channing Stribling (Jr): Like Lewis, saw quite a bit of PT as frosh in '13. Seemed to show flashes of potential. Playing time diminished this season.
Delano Hill (Jr): Only memorable moment from playing in his freshmen season was throwing a punch at an OSU player. Should have RS.
Dymonte Thomas (Jr): Super-hyped player out of HS. Made next to no impact as a frosh. Hard to believe he is a junior now.
Jarrod Wilson (Sr): Saw some time backing up Kovacs in 2012. Looking at how thin our depth is at Safety after this year, and judging by the minimal impact he made as a freshmen, it would be nice to have him as RS Jr now.
I know this is all hindsight, but I thought it was interesting to see how many of our players saw action as true freshmen, and how in some cases their contribution was minimal. I think with a largely upperclass team this year, we will not see as many true frosh playing this season, and hopefully as we move forward.
This week, I decided on a short diary outlining the probability of various scenarios in remaining games using the estimated probabilities provided at Massy Ratings. As you know, there are six games left, so there are sixty-four possible outcomes for the remainder of the season at present.
What that means, of course, is that looked at individually, many scenarios have similar chances of happening, but there are a few that stand out as more likely than others, although again none are good bets at this particular point. As for ones that currently stand out (if you can call it this – I wouldn’t):
1) 2-4, with the wins coming against Northwestern and Rutgers – 9.805%
2) 1-5, with the sole win being Rutgers – 8.695%
3) 3-3, beating MSU, Northwestern and Rutgers – 7.397%
4) 2-4, with wins against MSU and Rutgers – 6.559%
Conversely, there are some which are seemingly in statistical dreamland:
1) 4-2, with the losses being Northwestern and Rutgers – 0.060%
2) 5-1, with the sole loss being Rutgers – 0.068%
3) 3-3, with wins against Illinois, Ohio St. and Maryland – 0.080%
4) 4-2, with losses to Michigan St. and Rutgers – 0.090%
As you might have guessed, the opposite of the most likely scenarios are in fact the least likely in this case. Is this cumulative probabilities based on remaining wins:
Yes, at present it is more likely based on these numbers that we run the table than only losing to Rutgers down the stretch. One thing that came up, however, when I did one or two such diaries for football is that there is an assumption here that the outcomes are independent, and that’s for ease of calculation here, although Massey’s model does account for the interconnected nature of the season somewhat, as I recall.
So, looking ahead and pretending we beat Illinois – the picture would change only slightly. We would still would stand a decent excellent chance of going 3-2 or 2-3 in the remaining five games, ignoring changes to other teams’ numbers just for ease for a second. The individual scenarios above would see their relative likelihoods increase, but it would be approximately the same top and bottom four (some slight alterations allowing for eliminated scenarios), barring other changes.
NSD is over and it's basketball season, so of course I'm going to post a very belated and unprofessional football "analysis". But hey, the basketball team is rebuilding and spring practice is still weeks away so here goes.
I pored over Seth's "Run Fits" column partly because of the Harbaugh hype and partly because I wanted -- confession of selfishness here -- vindication of my indictment of Borges. If I'm right in comparing Borges' "27 for 27" to Black Adder's portrayal of Field Marshal Haig (clip since taken down), then Harbaugh should be the opposite, MANBAUGH be damned. I definitely enjoyed the read and agree with every bit of Seth's analysis, but I kind of saw things a bit differently. Harbaugh has this reputation for being an XXXTREME MANBALL coach, and the reason is far from inexplicable. Just a glance at his formations screams old-school, smash-mouth, 3-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust SPARTAAAA:
Thing is, these offenses are notorious for being predictable in an era of S&C parity. So why does it work? Granted you can just re-read Seth's tactical breakdown, but I wanted to examine this offense from a more strategic perspective, so I took another look at Stanford's 2011 Orange Bowl. First, the opening five drives:
Naked bootleg LEFT* for 11 yards
Tailback flat route for 6 yards
I-form run stuffed behind LoS
I-form pass blitzed, Luck rolls right and turfs it
I-form play-action blown up, Luck runs OOB
I-form quick pass to TE complete for 6
Pistol, go route caught OOB
Fake punt stuffed
I-form run left for 4
Pistol PA screen pass for 1
Pistol, out route + YAC for 20
I-form DOOM** left for 60-yard TD.
I-form run stuffed
I-form run left stuffed
1-back under center pass derped, safety
I-form run left for 5
I-form run right for 3
1-back under center pass to TE for 4
I-form off-tackle DOOM left for 26
I-form off-tackle left for 4
Wildcat right stuffed
Pistol 4-wide, 25-yard pass TD to TE
*Luck is right-handed, so I think VT was caught flat-footed.
**Seth explain this in detail but it's so much fun I'll say it again: Stanford shifted into an unbalanced formation, motioned the TE and then pulled the RG, launching well over a half ton of meat at VT's back seven.
Here's the rub: A stereotypical "MANBALL" team with a right-handed QB typically has a run-blocking RT and pass-blocking LT, sending the TE, FB, RB and a puller to the right side of the formation to create a meat avalanche. Stanford handed off three times in the first three drives, and while they were technically strongside runs, none of them went right. How is this an "XXXTREME MANBALL" team? The answer is, it isn't. Hoke is MANBALL. DeBord is MANBALL. This is what I refer to as SunTzuBall:
"Hence that general is skillful in attack whose opponent does not know what to defend."
I'm not a coach, but if I was one, this would be my philosophy. Don't settle for predictable. Don't even take what the defense gives you. Make them think, "Ogod I don't know what's coming." (Edit: Got a bit flippant here.) Every OC says they want that, but some are better at poker than others.
This was NOT a bunch of brutes mindlessly slamming into each other, or even coached to "execute" mindlessly slamming into each other. Harbaugh's offense looks like MANBALL but is actually balanced. I don't think Harbaugh does anything to dissuade the perception; he wants people to think they're cavemen. His assistants will blather on about being a "physical" team and show that I-form heavy all day until your safeties are 6 yards off the LoS, but he's not going to give you what you want. If he runs the ball 10 straight times, it's not because he's willing it to work; it's because you're doing the damage to yourself:
"For should the enemy strengthen his van, he will weaken his rear; should he strengthen his rear, he will weaken his van; should he strengthen his left, he will weaken his right; should he strengthen his right, he will weaken his left."
The keys here are misdirection and mismatches. Borges tried to create misdirection but was downright infantile at it; Nuss used constraints but didn't exploit mismatches. In modern offenses overall, the "spread" is such a generic term that it hardly means anything anymore, but to pick on one aspect, the slotback is a mismatch against linebackers and safeties. It's tough for defenders who bulk up against the run to keep pace with a shifty slotbug in space. Combined with the zone read and the O-line splits, the essence of a spread is that heavy guys aren't quick. As Seth points out, MANBALL is the opposite: multiple TEs and a FB put the secondary in a bind because the defense doesn't have enough meat to go around. The defense compensates with speed, getting to the point of attack before the play can develop, but this means they have to act fast and make decisions faster. That's easy when the OC kindly gives you what you want, but MANBAUGH is none of that nonsense.
Here's Some Rope, Now Hang Yourself
With that in mind, let's look at a particular play in the second half of the Orange Bowl (jump to 1:33:38). Up 19-12 late in the 3rd quarter, Stanford is pinned on their own 3-yard line and shows their classic I-form. Unlike in the first half, the TE motions to the right side. The situation calls for a conservative play and the formation is MANBALL to end all MANBALL. VT's defense had been torched several times, but also scored on a safety and otherwise kept Stanford in check. So they're wary of strongside runs, but they're not scared of Stanford imposing their will, toughness, physicality, blah blah blah any of that stupid crap we've heard for the last four years. Nope, they're champing at the bit to swarm whatever gap that FB is going. Marecic is going to eat helmet. The ghost of the still-living Borges is blushing with pride. Only problem?
It's the wrong read. In the mic'd up clip at 1:21, Harbaugh's yelling "backdoor". Harbaugh knows VT is overplaying (also mentioned in MGoPodcast 6.15, 9:00-11:00), but I don't think Taylor is even reading this -- they're deliberately running a bait-and-switch. On the snap, the FB runs strongside and VT follows. Marecic is working his way outside and can't find a gap. Even the RB's track is initially to the right, but (I think) this is a feint because after the mesh he immediately cuts around Luck -- no bounce -- and past the edge blocker (LT?) who casually escorts his defender into the mosh pit to create a gap even the legendary Yoh Momma could fit through:
The result is a 56-yard run. The next play Stanford again shows a heavy formation, then tosses the first of three long TD passes to the TE. VT does not have enough defenders to stop everything Stanford's throwing at them, and it's game over.
"If he sends reinforcements everywhere, he will everywhere be weak. Numerical weakness comes from having to prepare against possible attacks; numerical strength, from compelling our adversary to make these preparations against us."
Space Coyote will probably be the first to point out that fundamentally, these are all plays available to a conventional "pro-style" offense, and I don't dispute that. The killshot was just a backdoor cut. We can also digress into an argument about execution, and I do have my thoughts on that as well (might post them later). But to stay on point, I don't consider Harbaugh's plays "exotic". The ball still goes in any direction available to a venerable pro-style offense. The important aspect is that, contrary to his MANBALL reputation, he doesn't "impose his will" or use some plays only as constraints to "keep defenses honest", but do him a favor and go right on telling people that. His strategy is physically less stubborn and mentally more vicious. He doesn't pound his head against brick walls or even take what you give him. He gets inside your nightmares, and if MANBALL is your bogeyman then he'll happily wear that mask.
Jamie Moyer is a retired MLB pitcher who reignited his career in his mid-30s by inverting his approach. A formerly washed-up power pitcher, his repertoire wasn't different from his peers -- fastball, curve, changeup. But whereas most "power" pitchers try to blow by hitters with a fastball to set up off-speed "out" pitches, Moyer realized he was terrible at that. So used his changeup to set up his fastball en route to sub-4 ERAs in 7 of 8 of the most home-run happy seasons in MLB history, culminating with a 3.27 ERA and 21-7 record in 2003. That is an elite season, and he did it in the boomstick American League, and he did it at age 40 with an 85mph fastball.
As I've said here and there, "3 yards and a cloud of dust" was not a conservative offense; it was an aggressive approach during a bygone era based on the premise that overwhelming talent can turn a predictable run into a sure thing. There was no need to do anything else. Today, it's the "washed up" power pitcher. Except in rare cases, you can't get away with it. You can't dare everyone with fastballs down the middle any more than you can run into a stacked box over and over again. Stanford didn't. They didn't overpower anyone with their roster of 2- and 3-star recruits. It's not imposing will, toughness, blah blah. Their "MANBALL" was the football equivalent of an 85mph heater thrown from a 40-year-old arm with veteran sagacity and exquisite precision. Harbaugh is the Jamie Moyer of the pro-style offense. That fastball may be 85mph, but you won't be able to hit it because he's smarter than you.
With the hiring today of "Mama" it seems the potential exists for 5th year senior Stanford DB Wayne Lyons to be headed to A2. Until today I was trying to figure out why a (mostly) starter for a very good defense, at a great academic institution, with great weather, in a good conference, playing for a staff who develops defensive players well - would uproot his life for 1 year, but it now makes sense.
Anyhow here is a little I unearthed. Unlike Michigan football, Stanford football is not rich with blogs and website covering every little breath so it was not easy to find too much. RuleofTree - their SBNation blog - which I found a lot of good info on their prior coaches, and Kevin Hogan is my main source of all things Lyons ... and even then there were basically 2 stories remotely related to him this fall
Also I only cared about what I could find the past 2 years - what he was ranked in HS means absolutely zilch. (He was the 6th best rated S if that matters to you) I do hope S.C./Magnus can look at his film and offer their own scouting reports. There is not much (positive) on his NFL prospects in terms of scouting but that is a harsh bar, and again the # of sources is limited - whereas I could find 15 opinions on Blake Countess quite quickly.
Stanford bio here. 6'1, 193 lbs.
Best as I could tell working backwards is Stanford had a first year DB coach this year and Lyons - despite starting in 2013 - was not a top line starter. While a competent player he sounded like a starter by default perhaps paralling to a guy like Raymon Taylor. A decent college player but one apt to make mistakes and who has holes in his game.
His 2013 to 2014 journey actually sounds a lot like James Ross III if we ignore the position. Ross I believe was the 2nd leading tackler in 2013 (Lyons was the 5th in 2013 for Stanford), and saw his playing time eradicated quite badly, partly due to formations that focused more on nickelback rather than 3 LB sets and partly due to (????). Lyons had a similar falloff in that he was a part time starter - 7 games started as a senior. A blurb from ROT blog writer Jack Blanchat:
....his college career thus far has been more average than stellar. If this is indeed Lyons' final year at Stanford, perhaps he is looking for a starting opportunity after being forced to split time at cornerback this fall. Under first-year defensive backs coach Duane Akina, Lyons appeared to grow as a player, but some costly lapses may have forced Akina to restrict his playing time.
Blanchat was a bit more kind in his end of year wrapup of Stanford football writing in December:
Alex Carter was fantastic, Wayne Lyons finally took a leap, and Jordan Richards was great against the pass and the run. The only weak spot from time to time was Zach Hoffpaiur, who has never been particularly natural in coverage. (But he was good at stopping the run as a nickel corner.) I think Duane Akina proved to be an asset to the Stanford coaching staff right away, and I think the added physicality from this unit was attributable to his coaching philosophy. The fact that he finally got Wayne Lyons to break through his plateau was most impressive to me.
So the positive is Lyons seemed to make some progress from a plateau. The negative is the writer seemed amazed by it. And even with that progress he was still forced to split time.
One other thing to keep in mind was the other CB in Stanford's system was Alex Carter who apparently is good enough to declare early for the draft as he has. So it seems Lyons (or other CB on field that Lyons lost playing time to) would be the target of opposing QBs). But other than that Lyons was surrounded by a lot of talent - while Stanford fell off record wise their ills were mainly on the offensive side of the ball. So he has no excuse of playing in a weak defense and not getting help.
I am going to put 2 scouting reports to end this and again keep in mind these are just individual opinions, and 1 is very scathing but to each their own - again I hope Magnus and S.C. can come and offer their views, not that we want to sugarcoat his abilities but the more views on him the more of a complete picture we get.
First, Walter Football with an updated view of him in 2015 v last year:
2/7/15: Lyons had 30 tackles with three passes broken up and zero interceptions in 2014. He didn't impress against USC and struggled versus Notre Dame. Teams generally targeted Lyons instead of throwing at Alex Carter.
5/30/14: Lyons has good size and strength on the edge while also being a special teams contributor. The junior totaled 69 tackles with two passes broken up and an interception in 2013. To rise in the rankings as a senior, Lyons needs to show the speed and athleticism to cover speed receivers. He was beaten too often last year and allowed too much separation.
Second... and again this a random Lions blog from last July... but it doesn't sound too different than Walterfootball - just more detailed...
At 6’1” 195, Wayne Lyons has size on his side as a cornerback prospect. Stanford utilized him exclusively on the right side, rotating out with senior Barry Browning last year. Lyons is entering his second season as a starter in 2014. His first did not go as planned.
Lyons was often picked on when receivers could expose his poor athleticism and technique. The Michigan State game is the prime example. Lyons’ hips are too stiff in transition. His footwork is sloppy in and out of his backpedal as well. Receivers who can quickly enter his comfort zone can get him spinning in circles and gain big separation out of breaks. He will then extend his cushion to inappropriate lengths to make up for it.
Though he has two interceptions a season ago, both against Notre Dame, Lyons doesn’t have great ball skills and isn’t often in position to play the ball in the first place. That means his size doesn’t become a benefit enough. Getting physical with receivers is the equalizer for him as with most technically challenged cornerbacks.
For Lyons to become a viable prospect at all, he must stop stumbling around the field in coverage, make his backpedal and leveraging more consistent, and tighten his space with receivers. He’s a senior prospect who still needs to master the basics.
So that's what we have - sounds like a guy who had a new coach come in last year, helped improve his game at least modestly but even with that was losing starting time to other guys. And his running mate in the CB backfield left early for the NFL. So these things also make sense as to why he would leave Stanford in his 5th year, other than Mama coming home.
Projected role on UM: With Lewis locked down at 1 corner, and Peppers apparently moving to S there is a vacancy at the other CB. Lyons sounds a lot like a taller Raymon Taylor - he is serviceable and a good 1 year stop gap which hopefully Stribling can push hard in his 3rd year and RS FR Brandon Watson can also push. (Some might say Blake will be the other corner - could very well be - but I'd rather just see him be the nickel). The defensive coaching at Stanford is generally very good so would not expect some quantum leap due to subpar coaching.
The past week has been quite a whirlwind in relation to Karan Higdon. It started however, nearly 2 years ago with a brief conversation with Coach Singletary. I told him about Karan and how he'd be one to watch more or less. I sent a few emails regarding his recruiting profile that seemed to be lost in the shuffle. At that time Derrick Green was being recruited and Hoke was on a tear. After a few months I took the lack of response as them not wanting to recruit Karan. By that juncture several middle level SEC offers were starting to roll in and in the coming months Karan's offer sheet grew to be fairly formidable. Karan even collected an offer from South Carolina, which was a school with many family ties and one he really loved growing up. There didnt seem to be a connection however with his recruitment there for whatever reason.
In-state schools like FSU and Florida began to show genuine interest and Karan began to do well on the camp circuit. FSU was very close to offering this time last year. A log jam at the 5ft10 190lb back position was the reason why he was not offered at FSU. They simply needed bigger framed backs to compliment what was already on the roster. Karan committed to USF initially in an effort to stay home as he is the central figure in his family and viewed as a sort of pillar. Staying close to home allowed him to be close with his mother and younger brothers amongst other things. It became apparent quickly that he was going to simply be bigger than USF.
Iowa entered the picture and did everything right. Coach Chris White and Kirk Ferentz were first rate the whole way through. In fact Chris, stayed through the heat of a pair of our practices and watched Karan. That is not usual practice as most coaches don't hang around August and September practices in our 90+ degree weather. Karan would take an official to Iowa and fell in love with the blue collar style and the people. Everything with Iowa was genuine. Karan virtually shut down his recruitment at that juncture. He had interest from many bigger schools but offers from Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, USF, Arizona, Duke, South Carolina and of course Iowa. Karan was content with Iowa and just turned his focus on doing everything to help our team win games. We were struggling a bit and Karan was battling with being in a situation where he felt like he cared more than many others on the team.
Through the last month of the season Karan began to really dominate posting several 200 yard games including a 260 yard performance against our hated rival Sarasota High.http://youtu.be/2UKQSs4KC3U Karan actually had 150 yards worth of runs called back due to holding calls that I still feel were awful and would have broken our school record with over 400 yards. All water under the bridge, as we wound up winning 33-7. At this point Notre Dame and Florida began to creep back into the picture. Duke was attending games and really making Karan their number 1 priority. Throughout December and January the attention from Notre Dame and Florida really picked up. Notre Dame especially. They wound up offering over the phone and Karan didn't feel the connection with the RB coach. I told him that ND was certainly worth thinking about but at that juncture Iowa seemed like a really good fit and opportunity to play right away. http://youtu.be/FhoSMHYpqfo I remained very pro-Iowa as I envisioned Karan being a great fit for the B1G in general. The B1G has produced so many great backs and the linemen are simply top notch.
This all brings us to last week. In addition to coaching the defensive backs with my coaching mentor Jim Anderson, I also coach JV basketball with Coach Fro at Riverview and Karan's younger brother Kavon happens to be our backup point guard. After a tough loss to North Port, Karan came up to my truck as I was preparing to pull out. It was unprompted but not out of the ordinary as he and I have developed a truly unique relationship over the years. He is everything that you could hope for as a young coach and the type of kid and athlete you would want your son to grow up and be like. A star that isn't afraid to share his shine with others. We shared a joke or two and I asked him how he felt with his recruitment and if he was still solid as I figured he was. He gave me a look and sort of let out a breath through his teeth. I could tell that his head was swimming a bit and the pressure of signing his life away was beginning to mount. I told him that Iowa was a great school and that he was in good shape. He then began to tell me that Florida and Notre Dame were still in pursuit and that it was making him think a bit about his recruitment.
Upon Hearing about ND and UF still in the picture, I simply asked him, if he would be interested if Michigan would take another look. When we first spoke about Michigan in 2013, he expressed genuine excitement at the thought of being recruited by Michigan. He told me yes and I said that I would resend his recruiting profile to the football office as I had done 3 times over the past 2 years. I told him that I would catch up and we went our separate ways. On the drive home i thought about the new staff at Michigan and the recruiting situation. I had long thought that Karan could be a fit at Michigan and despite my love and affinity to The Florida State University, where I played my college football, I always knew that Michigan is a truly elite opportunity and one where a true student-athlete like Karan could flourish. On that drive home is the first time in over a year that I really thought that it may be worth a shot to send his stuff out again and see what happened.
I woke up at 830am the next morning, which is odd because I work midnights, coinciding with my day coaching schedule. I immediately called the Michigan football office and spoke with a secretary. I told her that there was a running back in Sarasota that may be worth a late look and she advised me to send and email with his profile. I sent his recruit profile and his HUDL highlights. I was contacted almost immediately afterwards and spoke with Chris Singletary. The first thing he asked was what type of kid is Karan and what his grades were. The next step was simply sending his transcripts. Singletary was professional and thorough. Thursday and Friday passed without hearing a peep. Saturday morning I was awoke by a text from Karan that coach Jim Harbaugh had called him and offered him. Jim Harbaugh....the guy who was just the hottest name in all of coaching. It was shocking to me to be honest. Everyone was shocked.....and then everything started spinning.
Karan initially declined the offer to take a visit as he was skeptical about the last minute nature. After speaking with his mother and fighting off pressure from elswhere to not take the visit, he was convinced to at least see Ann Arbor. He never took any of his other 4 visits. He never had anything to compare Iowa to. Iowa was obviously not pleased at the thought of the visit and by many accounts rightfully so but at the end ot the day myself and our staff were in his corner to at least find out about Michigan. "Michigan is hard to pass up", professed one of our coaches. We haven't had a kid get offered by Michigan since David Baas. David Baas turned out to be a Super Bowl winning lineman. Karan decided to take the visit and that last minute flight plans were stormed together...and I do mean stormed. Karan had been interning that morning and had to make it from Venice back south to North Port to gather his belongings just to scoot back up to Sarasota where were going to convene to get him to the Tampa airport. The flight was arranged at 115 and left at 345. Karan was at work in Venice at 115.....yeah. This was nearly mission impossible.
We arrived at the airport 42 minutes early at 303pm. Karan made it through the kiosk with his boarding pass and at that juncture i had to move my car from the flight arrival drop off area. I told him to call if anything arose and let me know when he was boarded. I left the airport on a sort of natural high. As a coach your kids become almost like...well your kids. We had worked hard to at least present this opportunity for him. I viewed it as one that would either inspire him to take a hard look at Michigan, or solidy his heart with Iowa and give him concrete piece of mind about being a Hawkeye.
At 342pm I recieved a call. He told me that a bottle of lotion resulted in him being held up for 15 minutes at the security check point. He rushed his bag together and forgot about the lotion. Karan got to his gate at 342pm.....2 minutes after they closed the doors. Karan pleaded with the attendant and watched his flight standing by still connected to the walk way from inside the terminal. Karan plead with the attendant and I spoke with her on the phone. Protocol was followed and I tried as best I could to calm a pretty heartbraking situation. I advised Karan to hold tight and just be easy. "No worries bud". At ths point it felt as if maybe it wasn't meant to be. I turned around and doubled back 40 minutes to pick him up. The Michigan coaching staff handled this in harmonic stride, "We will get over the hurdles" (Coach Harbaugh) and he was able to book a 520am flight for the next morning and execute a true day trip. A 530pm option was available but it had a first class connection through Atlanta and first class flights are non-permissable per NCAA rules. On the way back I received a call from Kirk Ferentz, he was understandably frustrated and we spoke about the situation for a about ten minutes after he had already spoken to our Head Coach prior to me. Our biggest concern as a staff was Iowa throwing heat at Karan. We made sure that they did not and Iowa directed their frustration at the nature of Karan's last minute recruitment to Michigan. It was understandle and I did feel Kirk's sentiment. He was honest and real. He is a good football coach and I would've had no issue with Karan playing for him. None of us would've. At this point i wondered if Karan even wanted to go anymore. I picked him up at the airport where he was clad in Maize and Blue. As I picked him up I joked that he had at least looked good in the colors, if only for a few hours. He got into my truck and we laughed off a growingly frustrating situation.
Karan got in the car with a look of determination on his face. It was kind of wierd to be honest. He looked at me and said, "I'm still going coach." That was that and that decision was supported by his family. I had prepared to advise him that taking a day trip wouldn't be so bad even though it wasn't ideal. I prepared to explain to him why the piece of mind was so important on Wednesday. I knew from looking in his eyes on Tuesday night, that he was not 110% set on Iowa. It was the first time in a few months that I had thought that. On the way back we talked about the situation. I told him that both schools were good options and that Iowa was a place where he would certainly see that field faster. I owed him that honesty. I told him that Iowa was a solid school and put out solid NFL talent. They had done things right and there was simply nothing negative for me as a coach to say about them. Michigan is just Michigan. I told him about what it was like to be there on gamedays and about the tradition. I told him abou the greatest rivalry in all of sports. I told him that a Michigan education was a life decision and not a 3-4 year decision. I also told him that Iowa could present a tremendous opportunity for him as a student athlete. I kept things as nuetral as possible to not taint the situation but I did not hold back about what Michigan was. The last "snaffu" in relation to the flight was the fact that we were looking at a possbility of Karan getting snowed in until Monday. The Michigan staff could have no contact with him after the dead period and this meant that Karan may be stranded without shelter or food. That was was quickly remedied with a phone call with some loving relatives of mine and they offered to put him up for a night in an emergency situation. I put Karan's mother on the line with my relatives to ease the discomfort of that possibility and took the "stranger" element out of the situation. Karan's mother was on board with our emergency plan and Karan was determined to see Michigan.
The next morning Karan made his flight and was picked up by coach Wheatley. The two immediately hit it off and Karan was genuinely impressed by Tyrone. The visit went quickly but effeciently and I never asked for details. Karan was able to spend time with Coach Harbaught and see the campus and facilities. He was able to see the Big House. That night he returned and said the visit made his decision very tough. In my gut I felt that he was going to stick to Iowa. I spoke with his mother on Monday and checked on her as she was very stressed. The parents go through even more than the recruits because they are relegated nearly powerless in the end. I spent Sunday night celebrating some Tom Brady heroics and shaking my head at Pete Carroll's play-calling. I also looked up the stats academically on Michigan and Iowa. No bias.....just raw stats. Like Iowa having an 86% freshmen retention rate for instance. Like Iowa putting out 22 current NFL players and Coach Ferentz having won COY in the B1G 3 times. I put the enrollment data on the table....college town populations. Numerous data points free of bias.
I presented the facts to her on Monday. At the end I told her that Iowa was a great oppotunity and that Michigan was a special place and had a lot to offer. I told her that relationships are very important and she agreed that relationships were the biggest thing holding her back on Michigan. I told her that Karan Higdon is exactly what Michigan strives for in a "Michigan Man" and that he would be loved if he decided to go there. There was no hiding the fact that Chris White and Kirk Ferentz held the advantage with relationships. They earned that with their hard work. I told her that Karan should pick the SCHOOL that he loved the most. He should go with his heart. Karan's mom explained that she had already ordered the Iowa Hawkeye shirts for the announcement and went to put the number on them when Karan called her that Monday. She said he sounded confused and that it was odd because the night before he had said that he was going to stick with Iowa. I was not made aware of that and applied no pressure to know to be honest. Karan told her on that conversation that he had seen 4 Michigan plates and flags on the way to his internship. The power and sprawl of Michigan was starting to surface to him and he was looking for signs. "I don't know mom!" His mom smiled as she told me this and she said that at that moment her gut feeling on Michigan was born. Until then she had thought that it was simply Iowa and that Michigan was a tool to solidify the choice more or less. I told her that in case of an emergency selection of Maize and Blue that I would have no problem lending out a couple of hats and tshirts I've collected a bunch over the years and it was an obvious alternative to purchasing a second lot of college gear. She laughed it off. I told her of Coach Butch Wade, who is a good friend and teacher/ basketball coach at Riveriview High School. That evening I made him aware of the situation and told him that he should at least speak with Karan about the decision. Coach Wade did just that on Tuesday morning.
Tuesday morning I got a text from Mom that said "Have some Michigan Gear on Standby" . So i put together a nice Maize and Blue care package and delivered it on the off chance. In my heart I still beleived that Iowa was going to be the choice. I honestly thought that Michigan was the better choice and one that would set him up for life but the playing time and relationships built with a quality group of men at Iowa really made me think that they would win out in the end. I refused to tell him where I thought he should go on the off chance that he would listen and allow me to sway the biggest decision of his life. Karan didnt answer any texts or phone calls on Tuesday. He went radio silence. I sent him a text message with a picture of IOWA taking the field and one of Michigan taking the field to touch the banner. I told him that he was a special kid and that God had a plan for him. I told him that he couldn't go wrong with either choice and to pray on it and go with his heart. My mission in this whole ordeal was to provide as many quality opportunites to Karan as possible. The Michigan opportunity is one that came up ironically just in time and I made sure that he knew about what Michigan means. I made sure that he knew what the brand meant and the magnitude of the opportunity. I owed it to him to be honest about Michigan. I owed it to him to give Michigan a fair opportunity to earn his services. My biggest fear was him regretting his choice in the years after Wednesday. I also was honest about what an great opportunity Iowa presented. I did both of those things and laid down Tuesday night with a sort of restless piece of mind. I didn't sleep much to be honest.
I did not get a hint or a hunch on Tuesday or Wednesday morning. There were no clues. Karan went radio silent. Karan is a very mature young man and this was not uncommon for him to focus when it was called for. On Wednesday the crowds gathered and after nearly 200 people piled in to watch the announcement there was a sort of quiet anticipation. Karan made his way wearing all black through the court yard. His head was tucked into his neck as if he had a bar bell on his back with his squat max on it. He walked with a quickened and miitant pace. He had two hats in his hands. One Iowa. One Michigan. He looked me in my eyes as I shook his hand and embraced him. In his eyes I saw determination. I still didn't quite know but Iowa would've been my guess. He looked very focused and walked in and took his seat. We went through our announcements until he was the last one left. There was obvious anticipation and his mother was a nervous wreck. She was shaking and fiddling and honestly looked near tears. She really didnt know and neither did I. The only one that knew was our Head Coach- Todd Johnson, who was doing the speaking.
After a few kind words, Coach Johnson paused and announced, "And we are all looking forward to Karan playing this fall in the Big House for the University of Michigan!" Karan let out a breath and a smile emerged from inside of him. Karan put on a Block M Michigan ball cap with the words "Beat Ohio" on the side of it. He had a look of determined joy on his face as the place erupted. There were chants of Go Blue and an electricity in the air. If you were ignorant to it prior to, you would understand in that moment the Power of Michigan. Pictures were taken and interviews were conducted. The weight had been lifted an it felt amazing as a coach to see a young man make a tough decision and make the right one. Michigan is a truly elite opportunity that you cannot pass up. It's a "Life Decision". In a moment with him I asked him "why Michigan?" He told me that, "It was all God's plan. God doesn't come when you want him, he comes when you need him and he's always on time". There were no funny hat games or clever tweets. Just a mature young man making a "business decsion" with the help of faith. I'm not an emotional man. At that moment I realized what just happened and what Karan had just done for his life. I shed a couple of tears and stared at the tile floor for a moment. What seemed like "Mission Impossible" just a few days prior was now just Michigan. A kid from humble means in Sarasota Florida was going to have the opportunity to not only add to Michigan's historic athletic legacy, but to share Michigan with his family and himself for a lifetime. That was a truly powerful moment.
Karan's story is a pretty cool one. His drive and motivation is elite. Karan IS coming to "Play School" and he is also coming to bring some "Juice" to Michigan's football program. Michigan was a challenge for him and one that he couldn't live without excepting. He isn't afraid of depth charts or Rivals Ratings. He knows that what he does in the classroom, weight room and practice fields will determine what he does in the Big House. The hardest part of this entire ordeal for Karan was telling Kirk Ferentz that he wouldn't be coming to play for him. In the 36 hours leading up to the decision, he didn't eat or sleep much. He felt like he was letting Kirk down. The pressure that is placed upon this kids is underestimated to be frank. Looking back at it I think all of us feel a little bit of pain for Iowa and their staff. They worked hard and it truly ate Karan up to make the phone call to Kirk Ferentz in the end, telling him that he was going to Michigan. Overshadowing that discomfort is the excitement of where Karan is going. Karan turned to his faith in the end and his faith, not a coach, directed him to Ann Arbor. He searched for signs in the final 36 hours and they were overwhelmingly colored Maize and Blue. I can't wait to see this young man grow and mature as a student-athlete in one of the greatest atheltic and academic enviornments in the world. He is going to make fans of many of you. You don't know it yet but just wait on it. The recruiting services have done a job, categorizing and limiting him. He's read every review and projection. Karan Higdon was never meant to be placed in a box and told what his limitations are. He is a talented over-achiever with heart and character surpassing his physical ability. This kid was built to be a Wolverine.