fair point that
WARNING: long post
THE BOYS OF SPRING
This is a story of and from the 1976 UM baseball season.
First, a little history.
Michigan baseball has a long tradition, being the oldest varsity sport, all the way back to that perfect 1866 team.
Which was 3 and 0.
Even winning two national titles, in 1953
"1953 University of Michigan baseball team (national champions)" by Rentschler's Studio (Ann Arbor, Mich.) - Bentley Historical Library, Item BBT1953 -- http://quod.lib.umich.edu/b/bhl/x-bbt1953/bbt1953. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:1953_University_of_Michigan_baseball_team_(national_champions).jpg#/media/File:1953_University_of_Michigan_baseball_team_(national_champions).jpg
The 1961 team won the Big Ten title, the first since the 1953 National Championship team, with sophomore Bill Freehan leading the way, but did not make it to the College World Series.
After Freehan left to be a Tigers Bonus Baby, the 1962 team finished second in the conference, but won the College World Series.
Don Lund then left as manager for another job in the athletic department and Milbry (Moby) Benedict took over as manager until 1979.
Though his teams finished second in 1964, 1965, 1967, 1971 and 1973, and third place five other seasons, Moby's teams did not win the Big Ten title until 1975, Michigan's first since the 1961 Freehan team.
The 1975 team finished 28 and 12 overall, 13 and 3 in the conference, losing the NCAA regional final in Ypsilanti 2-1 to a loaded Eastern Michigan team, featuring Bob Welch and Bob Owchinko on the pitching staff, future Tiger Pat Sheridan in the outfield, and two more future major leaguers.
1975 MVP starting pitcher Mark Weber returned, but #2 man Chuck Rogers was off to the pros and #3 starter Craig Forhan was off to UM law school.
The 1976 team was shooting for UM's first back-to-back conference baseball titles since 1944-45.
Following the 1976 season, Weber was named co-MVP with fellow starter Lary Sorensen, a junior, who entered the year with a 7 and 6 career record, and left after the season as a Milwaukee Brewers 8th round draft pick.
It was: “Sorensen and Weber and pray for bad weather”, along the lines of “Spahn and Sain and two days of rain.”
After the pair of Boston Brave starters went 8 and 0 over a 12 day span in early September, 1948, a newspaperman wrote:
First we'll use Spahn
then we'll use Sain
Then an off day
followed by rain
Back will come Spahn
followed by Sain
by two days of rain.
In the 1970s, Big Ten baseball scheduled conference doubleheaders on weekends, all 7 inning games. MSU was our travel partner, and Indiana was paired with Ohio.
Except, to close the season, we played single 9 inning games, home and home with MSU.
Games might be Friday- Saturday, or Saturday-Sunday, but, if the first date rained out, that was it, the visiting team moved on to the next town for the next day's doubleheader.
If the second date rained out, those games could be made up the following day.
The conference campaign commenced at perennial contender Minnesota, featuring All American shortstop Paul Molitor, with hard luck Weber losing the opener 1 – 0, dropping UM to 8 wins and 9 losses on the season.
Sorenson came on to win the nightcap, surrendering no runs, though the Gophers outhit the Wolverines 10 to 6.
On to baseball power Iowa.
UM struck for 14 runs in the opener for an easy 14 – 3 win, and Sorenson picked up another victory in relief in the 8 – 7 nightcap, for a sweep.
Michigan had home games scheduled the weekend of May 1 with Purdue and Illinois, but got in only one game, a 9 to 1 Weber win against Purdue.
Ohio State rolled into town on Saturday, May 8 for two scheduled games, Weber to start the first and Sorensen the second.
Michigan entered the weekend leading second place Iowa by ½ game.
Weber pitched a complete game, walking only one, striking out 3, allowing one earned run on 7 hits.
But the offense produced zero runs on three hits, and Ohio won 2 to 0.
Sorensen entered the nightcap with 6 wins and no losses for the season.
He walked two, struck out two, also gave up one earned run, on only 4 hits, yet Michigan blew a 2 nothing lead, and the game was tied at 2 going into the home half of the 7th.
Third baseman Dave Chapman (BA .309) opened the frame with a line single. Sub Chris Martucci was inserted as a pinch runner.
Second basemen Dick Walterhouse (BA ..328) sacrificed Martucci to second.
After designated hitter Bill Haslerig (BA ..307,yes, Clint's younger brother) was retired, cleanup batter Rick Leach (team leading BA .377) was walked.
First baseman “Boomer” Wasilewski (BA .248, but team leading 23 walks) was down in the count, one ball, two strikes, when he blasted a double over the left fielder's head, and his third game winning hit of the season.
Michigan wins, 3 – 2, running its conference record to 5 and 2, still good enough for first, over 8 and 4 Iowa, and Ohio's 5 and 3, going into Sunday's games with Indiana.
Wayne DeNeff covered baseball for the Ann Arbor News, and closed his story with:
“Michigan coach Moby Benedict hasn't had much luck trying to find third and fourth starters but has a couple of pretty good arms in sophomores Bill Stennet and Crag McGinnis and they're the likely starters against Indiana today.
“It would be a good time for them to get going” said the Michigan coach.”
Bill did start game one, and Wasilewski picked up where he left off, crashing a two run homer in the first inning, which turned out to be his fourth game winning hit of the year.
Stennet pitched into the 7th, when Weber relieved him after the inning started with 3 straight singles, for the only run the Hoosiers scored.
Weber threw 7 straight strikes to get the save; Stennet gave up only two hits and a walk in the first six innings, for his first and only conference win of the year.
So who would start game two?
McGinnis had only won Big Ten win, and that was over the Hawkeyes the second day of the conference season.
Like most Michigan athletes, Sorensen dreamed of being a major leaguer as long as he could remember.
But he put all that on the line, risking his arm, and his future, by telling Moby he could start again on Sunday, even after he pitched a 7 inning complete game Saturday.
The Wolverine bats finally came through, with a 6 run first inning, and 11 total runs on 15 hits.
Sorensen surrendered 3 runs in the 5th, but that was after an 11 to 1 Wolverine lead.
Moby said the plan was for Sorensen to go 3 or 4 innings, then another pitcher, then Weber, if needed.
He threw another complete game, allowing 4 runs, though only two were earned, to go with 5 hits and 4 walks, striking out 8.
Michigan ended the day 7 and 2 in the conference, ahead of 8 and 4 Iowa and 6 and 4 MSU, who had swept Ohio.
With the comfortable lead, and a true Michigan man pitching, no relief was necessary.
Michigan traveled to Wisconsin-Northwestern the next weekend, but the Badger games were rained out.
Weber's luck finally turned and he beat Northwestern 3-2.
It was Sorenson's turn to pitch well and lose, as UM outhit the Wildcats 4 to 2, but 3 Michigan errors contributed to a 2-1 Northwestern victory.
The next weekend was the home-and-home with the Spartans.
Sorenson again went for his 9th win, which would tie the all time single season record, in the first game at Michigan State, but got hammered 10 to 2.
Nevertheless, the Spartans were eliminated, as Minnesota split with Iowa to end the season at 12 and 6, the only team to actually play all 18 scheduled contests.
A Spartan win over us in the finale would put them at 8 and 4, in a percentage tie for first. They split their season series with the Gophers, but the next tie breaker was total runs scored, head to head, and Minnesota won that, 5 to 1.
In spite of an overall 18 win – 18 loss season, the Wolverines needed only to beat Sparty at home to clinch the conference crown, though MSU would still pass us in the standings if they won.
UM outhit Sparty 11 to 10, and each side made two errors, but Weber won easily, 11 to 3, for his team to repeat as champions with a 9 and 4 Big Ten record.
Sorensen and Weber combined for 7 of those 9 wins, pitching 147 and 1/3 of Michigan's 277 innings overall.
Weber finished the regular season with a win-loss record of 4 and 4, completing 7 of his 9 starts, 42 strikeouts to 21 walks, and a team leading 2.37 ERA.
Sorensen closed at 8 and 2, completing 6 of 11 starts, 46 strikeouts, 29 walks and a 2.64 ERA.
A reliever with less than 16 innings had an ERA of 2.87, and the rest of the staff was 4.50 or higher.
Michigan's 9 and 4 record put Minnesota in second place, ½ game back at 12-6,(38-11 overall record)
Indiana finished 3rd at 10-7, one game back, and Sparty dropped all the way to 4th, at 7-5.
1976 POST SEASON
The NCAA regional was again hosted by Eastern; for reasons known only to himself, Moby declined the opportunity.
Back in the day, there were 32 teams in the NCAA baseball tournament, 8 regional sites with 4 teams each. They usually put one in the Mid-East and one in the North East, the rest usually in the South and West. There was no formula for overall seeding. All the tournaments were double elimination, with the winners meeting in Omaha for the College World Series.
The then Hurons, 46 wins against only 16 losses on the season, (including a 4 – 0 record vs. the Wolverines) again beat us the on the first day, 6 to 0, Sorensen giving up only 5 hits while going all the way, but the Wolves managed only two Jim Berra hits off EMU ace Owchinko, who picked up win #11.
So, Michigan was forced into the loser's bracket on day two.
Weber shut out Southern Illinois , with their NCAA leading .360 batting average, 2 – 0, in the morning game.
After Eastern beat Illinois State, we faced Illinois State in the 3rd game of day two.
Michigan was down 4-2 in the bottom of the 8th, when junior Mark Grenkoski, 1 for 12 at that point in the tournament, smacked his first home run of the year, with two men on for a 5-4 Michigan win, Bill Stennet throwing a complete game.
So, another UM-EMU regional final was set up for day three.
Coming from the loser's bracket at 2-1, we had to sweep 2 and 0 EMU to win the regional, while they only had to beat us once.
As in 1975, we won the rematch, this time, 9 to 3. McGinnis started, but was pulled with one out in the second inning, having surrendered the 3 Huron runs.
Sorensen came in to throw 7 and 2/3 innings of shut out relief, surrendering only two hits, and finally nailing down win number 9.
It was not easy, as the Wolverines scored a run in the 8th to tie the game,and 6 runs in the top of the 9th to force the decisive second game of day three.
Moby came back with Bill Stennet, in spite of the 9 innings he threw just the day before.
Eastern answered with Owchinko, who at least had one day's rest after his shutout of us on Friday.
Their #2 starter, future NL All Star Bob Welch, had also tossed a shutout, on Saturday, but the Wolverines pounded him for 4 runs in less than one inning relief in that 9 to 3 win in the first Sunday game.
Stennet lasted into the 5th, but gave up a walk and 3 consecutive singles. Moby pulled him for Weber, who gave up only one hit, but wild pitched in a run in the 6th. Sorensen came in, again, to throw scoreless 8th and 9th innings, but Owchinko, after two hitting us Friday, three hit us Sunday, and, beat us, again, 6 to zip.
Those were days of the iron men of the mound, no worries about pitch counting.
18 shutout innings for Owchinko, on Friday and Sunday.
For Weber, 9 shutout innings on Saturday, and 3 more innings Sunday, giving up just one run.
For Bob Welch, a shutout Saturday, followed by a 4 run relief stint of less than one inning on Sunday.
And Sorensen. 8 inning complete game loss Friday, 5 hits but 6 runs allowed.
7 and 2/3 2 hit shutout innings for the win Saturday.
And the final two innings of the Wolverines season on Sunday, again, no runs allowed.
1976 did not boast the most talented team, outscoring its opponents overall just 180 runs to 178, hitting only 5 home runs for the entire regular season, and finishing in the middle of the conference in fielding.
But a team with heart, none bigger than the the co- MVPs, Mark Weber, and, Lary Sorenson, the starter who risked his arm and his future, for the team, when he threw back to back complete game victories one weekend in the spring of 1976.
Thanks to Debbie Gallagher of the archives staff at oldnews.org for finding Ann Arbor News stories, with box scores.
Barron – MGoBlog
If nothing else, Kam Chatman’s freshman season reinforced how impressive Glenn Robinson’s career was at Michigan. Chatman, like Robinson, was a highly-touted prospect who was expected to step in and play 30 minutes a night right away; unlike Glenn, Kam struggled mightily and never adjusted to the college game well enough to merit a spot in the rotation. While classmates saw increased minutes after Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton were injured, Kam slowly disappeared, unable to morph Beilein’s malleable “power forward” spot enough to fit his skills.
It was easy to buy in before the season – Chatman and a new big man (Donnal or Doyle) were expected to hold down the front-court, but Doyle, who was far less highly-recruited, outperformed Chatman easily. Beilein’s offensive system is mythologized and Chatman’s struggles can be explained away, but many other Beilein products have excelled at a young age and the four can be simplified to fit Michigan’s needs.
As a lefty at his size, Chatman is a natural fit for the the four – he operates from the right side of the floor (instead of moving left-to-right as a three like Manny Harris or a young Nik Stauskas, for example) and can theoretically cover all variations of the power forward: a swingman, a traditional post,or a designated space-and-shoot big. Michigan’s power forward position has looked different with different players: GRIII was essentially an outlet to finish around the rim, spacing the floor credibly enough to give Burke, Stauskas, and LeVert enough room to operate; Zack Novak was a fellow left-handed player who was basically a guard masquerading as a forward on defense. Unfortunately, Chatman never found a niche or a role, relegating him to the bench.
[Hit THE JUMP]
Disclaimer: My previews of non Big 10 teams are based on limited viewing of games of said teams from 2014 plus extensive reading of local and national previews of that team. I might be wrong in my assessment any one team or any specific unit of that team. But that's clearly doubtful. (!!) No, on a serious note I enjoy people who comment who live locally to these teams or is an opposing fan - helps us get a better perspective so if you are one feel free to add to the discussion.
I also write this with the assumption Jake Rudock is the starting QB as the matrix of possibilities is too great trying to predict things with Shane Morris as a starter.
The other OSU is going to suck this year. And most likely will really suck. UM could probably not have lucked into a better Pac 12 opponent and aside from a few P5s ala Kansas could not have found an easier warm up game in the Power 5 conferences.
June you were tantalizing...but you are wrong here.
The Beavers are basically the MSU of forty years pre Dantonio. A plucky team with limited depth that every so often puts together a good squad that gives big brother some troubles here or there and catches the national attention in "rivalry week" but otherwise operates in anonymity in a podunk town (keep in mind Oregon has only become a big brother the past 12-15 years). [Yes that was all 1 sentence] This is not one of those plucky years.
The team lost a NFL talent senior QB (who had a decent - not great - year by Pac 12 QB standards) and loses 9 of 11 starters off a near Indiana level defense (80ish in both FEI and S&P+ last year).
To borrow Brian's style: "Worry about 2015 prospects for UM if we are in in a dogfight anywhere past the 3rd ... err make it 2nd quarter. " "Be happy if Shane Morris or Gentry gets the entire 4th quarter."
Everyone clenches their butt (rightfully so based on our history) when we go visit a Pac 12 team or even if one shows up in AA but peeps this is a bad team. I'd be much more concerned if any of the other Pac 12 cellar dwellers were on the schedule: Washington State makes you deal with crazy Mike
Riley Leach and his offense, Cal Bears staged a decent 1 year turnaround and have one of the best kept secrets in the country at QB, Colorado - despite winning 0 Pac 12 games - actually has a fun as hell offense that makes what UM rolled out last year look like something from 1930 (I saw about 3 of their games last year for some reason). My biggest fear for UM in 2015 is keeping up pace with high scoring teams - so all those teams would worry me much more than Oregon State, even if those squads are highly flawed on defense. On top of that is a new staff, new coordinators, everything - even if I actually like their staff.
I have this Oregon State team as the 2nd easiest game on the schedule ahead (behind?) of only UNLV and behind Rutgers (who actually has a RB and some DL to worry about). I project them to finish last in their division (North) and could possibly have 0 to 1 wins in the conf.
With what I consider a better team, Oregon State started 3-0 and proceeded to go 2-7 the rest of the way when playing "real teams". This was a very Rich Rod 2008-2009 type of season. Their season highlight was pulling a massive upset over Arizona State at home in November. Probably their 2nd best achievement was playing Utah tougher than UM did at home (sigh), falling in 2 OT. But both those things happened at home - bad teams usually really suck on the road and Oregon State sure did. They narrowly beat a 4 win Hawaii team and 2 win Colorado team on the road but when playing anyone with a heartbeat this is what happened:
- @USC Lost 35-10
- @Stanford Lost 38-14
- @Washington Lost 37-14
They were a very bad road team and just an awful defense altogether - in their other 5 conf games they gave up 31, 29, 45, 39, 27, 47.
And they've lost 9 starters from that super cool defense. If UM cannot find a way to score 30ish on this squad it's going to be a long year.
The offense was basically Sean Mannion and his 3100 yds, 62% completion rate, 15 TD and 8 INT. The rush offense was ranked 110th in the nation. This was the lowest scoring offense in the Pac 12 at @ 25.7 ppg. Granted in the Big 10 that would make them the 5th best offense but I digress.
Mike Riley left for Nebraska and Gary Andersen arrived. Andersen is a good coach and he brought over Utah's DC (Kalani Sitake) who is also a good coach (who if he can turn around OSU's defense should be a head coach somewhere within 4 years). Unfortunately the talent is the talent and this is a true turnaround - it's going to take a few years.
Oregon State was the only team to not land a player on any of the first, second, or third teams when Athlon's released their preseason All PAC teams last month.
Along with 9 starters leaving from the defense, the best offensive players - QB Sean Mannion graduated. His backup decided to transfer. Leaving Oregon State to start one of 2 RS freshman or an unheralded true freshman. The UM game will only be career game 2 for whomever is a starter. The Beavers are also changing systems on offense from pro style to spread concepts - we remember how that worked out here in 2008.
They do return 9 starters from a quite pedestrian offense (50s to 70s in FEI, S&P+) however - but the most important position is a black hole at this point. They do return their leading rusher who plays football when not acting in Marvel movies - Storm Barrs Woods who is a SR and 3 year starter (766 yards, 6.3 yards per carry). #2 rusher Terron Ward graduated. I assume it's going to be Woods or bust for the Beavers offense to begin the year - and unless a QB really surges ... that may be the offense for the year. Andersen likes to run as does their new OC Dave Baldwin (via Utah State, formerly of Michigan State). I'd expect near 30 carries out of Woods vs UM as they try to protect that QB. Junior RB Chris Brown (NTCB) looks to be the primary guy to spell Woods as he got some nice spring buzz, and they also got in a JUCO transfer Tim Cook (NTTC).
JR Victor Bolden is a Gallon sized (5'9, 175 lb) flanker WR who had 800 yards on 72 catches (2/3rds of Mannion's passes last year!) and near TE sized (6'4, 235 lb) Jordan Villamin contributed 35 catches for nearly 600 yards; the latter appeared to be their big play man. So they do have some talent at WR - but will anyone get them the ball? Senior TE Caleb Smith is ok - 20 catches, 200 yards.
The OL returns a bunch but Football Outsiders ranked them 71st in the nation in "Adjusted Line Yards" - their measurement of OLs. UM was 50th and an injury wrecked BYU 18th by comparison. OSU gave up 36 sacks last year - tied for 102nd in the FBS.
As for the defense... welp. 9 starters gone including the top 6 leading tacklers. DT Lavonte Brunett (4.5 sacks) seems to the best returning player. CB Larry Scott also seems decent. Sitake runs a "hybrid" 3-4 so there is a transition from a traditional 4-3 to deal with as well.
OSU returns a solid PK but lost its punter and main return man.
This is the Opposite of Taysom Hill
Luke Del Rio had 18 attempts as a QB in 2014. He decided to not stick around. So the options at QB are 2 redshirt freshmen - Nick Mitchell or Marcus McMaryion or true freshman Seth Collins. Mitchell and McMaryion are your generic 800 to 1000th ranked 3 star type prospects. Collins was a 2 star. It seems like early enrollee Collins is the current presumed leader as he is the 1 QB who was recruited for this new system. Good luck with that.
Collins was a lightly recruited athlete who had committed to San Jose State before Andersen came calling. Once offered, he jumped on the chance right away and made it to Corvallis in time for spring camp. Once there, his athleticism, play-making instinct and "hair-on-fire" demeanor quickly resulted in him staking out the lead for the QB competition. Collins is hardly a finished product and will struggle against PAC 12 defenses to be sure. If Collins is the guy for Gary Andersen, I'd interpret that as an investment in the future kind of decision with this season being somewhat of a "throw away" on offense.
Of the 2 RS FR, McMaryion is more of the "spread guy".
Hopefully this is a coming out party for the front 7 at least in the pash rush department.
Analysis of Beaver Defense
UM rush off v OSU rush def - Adv: UM. Just nearly impossible to guage the Oregon State defense - while down the road I expect the Beavers to have a good defense with the combo of Andersen and Sitake this is not down the road - this is now. Should be a great game for UM to work on their run game after what will be a very tough Utah defense in week 1.
UM pass off v OSU pass def - Adv: UM. See comment above - Rudock is a 3 year starter and will be going against a bunch of green defensive players. One hopes one of the secondary WR guys gets some confidence this game and begins a breakout season to join Butt and Darboh as actual threats.
OSU rush off v UM rush def - Adv: Wash. If UM can limit the run game this should be a very ugly score line. That said I do think Woods does get his yards even as the Beavers break in a new playbook. UM rarely truly stuffs a good RB in MSU fashion - usually they can limit them to a good degree. It also helps when your HC benches a star RB (thanks Kevin Wilson). I don't expect any benching of Woods.
OSU pass off v UM pass def - Adv: UM. We have zero intelligence on the Beavers QBs as they haven't played a minute of a real game. Coming into the Big House in game 2 of their careers I don't expect much - Andersen and Baldwin will probably try to run nearly every 1st down and try to keep their QB in 2nd and 6 and 3rd and 3 situations. One danger zone is sleeping on Funchess sized Villamin - when your whole day is spent crowding the line you can fall into a lull and you have to assume OSU tries to throw over the defense a few times.
UM should win and win big. Even with all our questions on offense. The Beavers are an offense whose strength (running) plays into UM's perceived defensive strength. They look like they will probably be starting a true freshman in his 2nd game. And if not a RS FR who has never played. The returning offensive starters must learn a whole new offensive system and UM fans will remember how ugly that looked in 2008 at times. The defense should be Indiana-ish. Oregon State will be coming off a game hosting awful Weber State (2-10 last year) - that might be their highlight of the year with the Pac 12 going to a 9 game schedule. The Beavers should be stuffed in AA.
Hello all. With the slowing down of apparel threads - much to our collective chagrin - I thought I'd take some time to look at some of our opponents. I'll start with the team that intrigues me the most on the 2015 schedule - the BYU Cougars.
Last year around this time I pointed to game 4 vs Utah as the game on the schedule that could most dictate the direction of the 2014 season. UM at worst would be entering that game 2-1 (App State, Miami OH wins, ND loss) or 3-0 and then face - at home - a well coached Utah squad, a team that doesn't get much respect in the casual football fans eyes but is fundamentally sound, has a top 25ish coach, and is just a tough matchup. We know how that went.
While I will not point to BYU as much of a "make or break" game in 2015 because Harbaugh >>>>> Hoke and I expect UM to actually improve as the year goes by (novel concept around these parts the past 7+ years) this is one of 3-4 games that will swing UM anywhere from a 6-7 win team to a 9-10 win team. It also happens to fall into the same slot as last year's Utah game and again UM should enter no worse than 2-1 (UNLV, Ore State, @Utah). So it's a big game that the casual UM fan will count as a "very probable" win but serious CFB fans will see as a very problematic game. Frankly if Hoke was coaching I'd mark this as a near sure loss as I have this game tied with Minn as the 4th toughest on the schedule. #Harbaugh
BYU was on its way to a top 20ish type season with a 4-0 start, including a complete demolishment of Charlie Strong's Texas (41-7) in Austin. Now that Texas team had UM 2013 and PSU/Florida 2014 like offense but a very good defense - and was just undressed in Oregon v UM (Dennis Dixon like) fashion. Then their all everything dark horse Heisman candidate QB Taysom Hill fell to injury in game 5 and the season spun out of control for a while (0-4 but against 3 quality teams). BYU recovered to go 4-0 to finish out the season - depsite losing their main rb in November - before a crazy bowl game 2 OT loss. With that said Boise State was the only team that clearly outclassed BYU last year so a healthy Hill would have probably had BYU as a 10-11 win squad. Another reason not to underestimate this team.
Aside from Hill, top RB Jamaal Williams had a tough year - after missing game 1 due to suspension he came back to play only 4 games in a truly healthy state. This is not the BYU of your childhood (for you guys in your 30s/40s) - while they still throw a lot they are much more run oriented so losing their best RB (who happens to play QB) and their 2nd best rb was a lot to overcome. That said they found a nice backup QB who in the Big 10 (on paper) would probably have been the 4th or 5th best QB in the league. Somehow it is easy for other teams to develop QBs.... sigh.
BYU actually brings back a team with many similar strengths and weaknesses to its 2014 squad. But much healthier. Prolific offense with dynamic QB - stout run defense, horrid pass defense. Also after last year's defensive debacle in the bowl Bronco Mendenhall has deciced to take back the reins of the defense personally. I highly recommend Bill Connelly's fantastic preview here.
Now it is always difficult to compare an independent to a team in a P5 conference because the competition is not quite there but BYU would be very competitive in the 2nd tier of the Big 10 behind OSU and MSU IMO. While they all have different strengths and weaknesses I'd put BYU in the cabal with UM, PSU, Nebraska, etc. On any given Saturday any of these could beat the other - if they played 10 times the series would probably be 5-5ish or 6-4ish.
And wouldn't you know it - BYU plays 2 of those teams in the first 4 weeks. In fact BYU's September will be the toughest in the nation - road trips to UCLA, UM, Nebraska (3 of the best venues in sports!), sandwiched around a home game vs a resurgent Boise State who will be gunning for a legit undefeated season (and playoff berth) this year. (12-2 last year) This is a brutal start to the year on paper but all the P5 teams have issues - both Neb and UM are breaking in new coaches and have lost NFL talent on both the offense and defense and UCLA is breaking in a new QB - who might be a true freshman (Josh Rosen). In fact, the Boise State will be the team with the least questions that BYU faces early.
The elephant in the room - Taysom Hill
Fun fact: Taysom Hill was an original Stanford recruit....of Jim Harbaugh. He is that old (Mormon missions) that Jim could leave for the NFL for 4 years and return and still face a former recruit. Not so fun fact? Everything else I am about to write.
Forgive me for my PTSD when it comes to running QBs when it comes to UM. This guy just scares me and I envision him giving UM all the trouble in the world. From the McNabb's to Dixon's to Young's to Smith's to ... well I need not go on. There is a long and ugly history of mobile / running QBs single handidly destroying a UM defense. Let us hope Hill is not another name we add to this list.
Who is Hill most like? Take your pick - a "good day" for Braxton Miller, a "normal day" for college Tim Tebow, Drew Stanton with better wheels. The 2013 Taysom Hill was more easily defendable - he was a great runner who completed passes at a 53.9% clip (but still put up 3000 yards!) while running for 1300+ plus! (5.5 yard ave that INCLUDES sacks) Those are Denard Robinson like data points. Scary player but one you can defend with a quality defense.
The early 2014 Taysom Hill? Frightening - the completion % surged to 66.7% while the rushing yardage was consistent as 2013 both in total yards and average. If you exclude sacks Hill ran for 7.4 yards per carry! That is called a "non defensible" QB. You just hope he makes errors in the passing game. His main weakness is supposedly long distance throws but you can imagine how safeties have to cheat up to account for his running so he'll have wider windows to deal with downfield than the average bear. And it's not just his pure running that kills you - it's how difficult he is to bring down in a pocket - how many Troy Smith plays did we see year after year when we had him in our grasp on a drop back only to see his scamper for 8 yards on 3rd and 6? That's what a day vs Taysom Hill is all about. When I watch Hill highlights what I marvel at is his balance - guys constantly swipe at his legs and feet and he is able to maintain balance through that. It's impressive as hell. If you don't have 2 arms around him, you rarely bring him down. That's an issue.
I pro-rated Hill's first 4.5 games of 2014 over 14 games and measured v Tebow's senior yr. Hill would have thrown for more yards (albeit a lower yards per attempt). And Tebow never hit 1K+ yards rushing in a season, Hill already had 500 when he went down. (and again 1350ish the year before). Again you have to adjust for quality of competition but we are comparing Hill to one of the best CFB playes in the past 20 yrs. Hill's history is also well ahead of the rushing pace Braxton Miller ever put up. He good; real good. It will be a Saturday full of butt clenching when we are on defense.
(Do not watch the video below without the assistance of alcohol)
The rest of the offense
Disclaimer - some call me a pessimist, I call me a realist.
As I line up BYU's offense vs UM's offense I don't see a spot UM comes out ahead aside from TE. That sucks. Their top QB is dynamic top 10 in the country. Ours* is a solid high floor guy who lost his job. Their backup QB had stats similar to Connor Cook despite playing 4.5 games fewer and getting paltry preseason snaps as a sure #2 (2600 yards, 57% completion rate, 25 TD, 9 INT). Ours is [redacted for sanity]. Their top running back goes off for 5 yards per carry. Ours might have been the 5th string at USC. Or is currently recovering from a 2nd ACL. Their top WR had just under 1000 yards despite being thrown to by a backup QB 2/3rds of the year. Ours is a Carolina Panther. Their 2013 OL was one of the best in the country ranking # 7 nationally in adjusted line yards (Football Outsiders measure of OL) - then suffered a boat load of injuries in 2014 and despite playing tons of backups plummeted all the way down to...errr #18. Michigan - despite being mostly healthy in 2014 was #50. 2013? Just Funk off. Thankfully Football Outsiders only starting publishing the OL stat in 2014. But we have Jake Butt so take that BYU!!!! BYU's TE had 20 catches last year but is now in the NFL.
Long story short this is going to be IMO tied with MSU for the 2nd best offense UM plays in 2015. They have a stud senior QB, very good senior running back, and very good senior #1 wide receiver, with an experienced OL. This is exactly the type of offense (sans running threat at QB) which UM used to run out regularly in the 1990s. While Cook is a better pro prospect, Hill is a true dual threat which I utterly hate facing. I'd rather be dissected by a Hackenberg than play a Hill type. It's the one position that can take over a game - Devin did it here for us vs Notre Dame, Indiana, and even OSU 2013. With Jamaal Williams in the backfield you can't just concentrate on Hill as a running threat. And senior WR Mitch Mathews is no slouch with his 73 catches and 922 yards. BYU did lose its #2 receiver but return a few guys of the Darboh / Chesson ilk who had 200-400 type yard years. All this behind an OL that lost players to graduation but the bevy of injuries in '14 allowed 10 guys to start at some point last year so I would not expect a drop off. Also assume most of these OL guys are going to be 22 to 24 years old due to their missions.
Again this is an offense that destroyed Charlie Strong's Texas defense in Austin - a defense that was better than UM's by a good amount last year (#20ish on both FEI and S&P+ vs UM's #35-40ish)
Cumong man - you make them sound like Miami from the 1980s
Well we haven't talked about defense yet. And BYU does have a pros and cons on their defense. Pro is their rush defense. Per Connolly they gave up a national best 6 rushes of 20+ yards all last year. Overall they run defense ranked pretty similar to UM's but their ability to not give up huge runs is the main difference vs UM's. So you don't get big plays against their rush defense. Period. However their con is you can destroy BYU through the air. They ranked in the bottom 15 in pass yards allowed at 269.7 per game. BYU also does not have a great pass rush esp from their DL. They did move 260! lb OLB Bronson Kaufusi back to his original position on the DL late last year and apparently that is the place to keep him - he netted 7 sacks and 11.5 TFL. All other DEs combined for 2.5 sacks so that's an issue.
UM rush off v BYU rush def - Adv: BYU. UM's rush offense was solid vs MAC teams or when Drake Johnson ran late in the year. Otherwise it was mostly a meh year. And that was with a QB who was a running threat. While Rudock* has some mobility he is not going to have DC's game plan vs the run like Denard or Devin. So it means UM needs to be able to run using you know... running backs. A lost art here since Molk's 2011 squad. BYU has a UM like rush defense that does not give up big plays and UM hasn't done well against top 20ish rush defenses in years.
UM pass off v BYU pass def - Adv: UM. For UM to win this has to be a big win. Jake* needs a 250+ yd game IMO and the OL needs to have a good game in pass protect. Which shouldn't be TOO difficult considering BYU basically has 1 sack threat. Darboh needs a big game, Butt needs a big game and someone not named Darboh or Butt needs to emerge for balance in the pass game. BYU will score so UM needs to match that - and it's going to have to come via the air.
BYU rush off v UM rush def - Adv: BYU. This one is tricky because UM generally had a nice rush defense in 2014 when NOT playing badass rush offenses. Then Minn comes to town and makes UM rush defense look like tissue paper. MSU ran basically at will (I think they only threw 4x in the 2nd half). So let's compare to Minn. While Cobb was a better running back than Williams is, Hill is way better than Mitch Leidner. And BYU actually throws to non tight ends. Realistically speaking, Taysom Hill will probably be the best running back on the field that Saturday. So my worry here is how exposed the "stout" rush defense is when actually playing teams that excel at running. And with a QB who runs 7.4 yds per carry you have to give this to BYU. UM also lacks speed on the edges in their linebackers IMO outside of James Ross so I fear Hill getting outside the hashes and breaking off a 40+ type run. Or two.
BYU pass off v UM pass def - Adv: BYU. Pass defense was UM's worst unit last year. Peppers is there now but he is still a young pup and could be tasked with spying on Hill all game. The linebackers are going to be busy tasked with the run game and containing Hill as well so this is going to open up seams and the DBs will be asked to do a lot in relative isolation Until they prove they can (outside of Lewis) you have to be concerned.
Maybe it is oversimplying the bazillion words above but I see this game as QB v QB. If Taysom Hill has a great day I don't see UM winning. If he has a bad day, UM has a great chance. If Taysom Hill has a "normal day", Jake Rudock* needs to have a great game. UM needs to prove it can contain a dual threat QB, it can stop a strong rush offense and its pass defense has improved from 2014. Jake Rudock* is more than capable of carving up BYU's secondary. But he needs the OL to provide time, and he need some semblance of a running game to keep BYU from cheating to the pass all game. A secondary receiving threat not named Darboh or Butt emerging (Canteen? Ways? Cole? Chesson?) would be a big help for this game.
The path both teams get to this game is interesting. UM will face the complete opposite of BYU in Utah in game 1 - a special teams, defensive powered unit that has a ho hum offense (but a very nice RB). Then face one of the bottom three Pac 12 teams in Oregon State and then have an effective bye with UNLV. They will be enjoying the comforts of hope for 3 weeks. Meanwhile BYU will be going through a hell of a gauntlet traveling to Nebraska and UCLA and hosting a very good Boise State squad. You can look at this either as a pessimist or optimist - UM will have time to test some things and get players experience post Utah but will they be ready to match the intensity BYU will constantly forced to have through September? Will BYU stay healthy after playing two P5 teams and a top non P5 squad? Will they be mentally exhausted with the travel by then?
I expect a high scoring affair in the 30s as both defenses have areas to exploit and the opposing team has weapons to exploit those holes. I expect a lot of exasperation from UM fans as Hill makes "stick save" types of plays all day. If Rudock* has a 250+ yard passing type game I expect a game decided on a FG in the last minute - either way. Last line was UM favored by 6ish; it seems smart to take those points and expect a nail biter.
Silver lining? UM fans should be thrilled Harbaugh found little known Taysom Hill (3 star, #762 overall. #29 QB). Having a QB like down the road that would be a dream....right Victor Viramontes?
** I wrote this piece assuming Rudock is our starting QB. The variabilities of a Shane Morris start are far to broad to even forecast with the limited data points.
(Associated Press - 7/13/15) In an unprecedented conference call today, the entire 247 Top 50 of the 2017 men’s basketball recruiting class announced that Michigan would finish second in its recruitment. Speaking for the group, power forward Wendell Carter, Jr. of Atlanta said that Michigan combined “top-flight academics, player development, and recent success” to make it the consensus runner up for the entire Top 50.
“When you look at what they’ve done with guys like Trey Burke, Darius Morris, and Tim Hardaway, you know this is the place you want to very nearly go to school,” said point guard Trevon Duval of Newark, New Jersey. “I mean, in theory, they could take a guy like me and make me a top five pick.”
Today’s announcement came after the players met at various camps and realized they all held Michigan in equal esteem. Shooting Guard D.J. Harvey of Hyattsville, Maryland explained how it happened: “We all got to texting and realized, hey, Michigan and Coach Beilein have sent seven guys to the NBA despite having no McDonald's All-Americans. And it’s a near-Ivy League school too! Who wouldn’t want to strongly consider going there but then pick someone else? We decided we might as well get some of this recruiting craziness over with and announce today that Michigan will be our No. 2.”
When asked for more detail about how they came to almost choose Michigan, players pointed to the academic support provided on campus in Ann Arbor, the “offensive genius” of John Beilein, and even the recent addition of Nike as Michigan’s team apparel provider. A number of parents of the players, who were also available for interviews, said they trusted the integrity of the Michigan coaching staff more than any other staff they had encountered. Said one parent: “Their trustworthiness is a real selling point. I have no problem with my son using Michigan as a back-up.”
When pressed as to why they didn’t want to commit to Michigan, recruits mentioned the recent national success of teams like Duke, the NBA draft success of players from places like Kentucky, the cold weather in Ann Arbor, and in the case of one player, “I just threw a dart at a board, and it hit ‘Gonzaga.’” A handful of players also referenced jobs their parents recently obtained on the campuses of other schools, “transportation alternatives” that were not available at Michigan, and the apparent fact that there are many more lost wallets filled with $100 bills that no one ever claims on some campuses than there are in Ann Arbor.
Checking in on Beilein’s NBA Wolverines --
[Seattleites, I’m so sorry – y’all should definitely root against the Thunder. Maybe you’ll get the Bucks soon.]
In terms of aggregate on-court production, Mitch McGary’s Michigan career was disappointing. Mostly through no fault of Mitch’s – injuries and a highly controversial* NCAA suspension effectively ended his Wolverine career after the magical run to the national championship game as a freshman. After coming along slowly throughout the regular season (partially due to the presence of rock-steady Jordan Morgan) while showing glimpses of his absurdly singular enthusiasm, fluidity, and coordination, Mitch was a breakout star in the tournament: he averaged 14.3 points, and 10.7 rebounds (3.5 offensive, 7.2 defensive) while often looking like Michigan’s best player – even over national player of the year Trey Burke. Against VCU, he put up 21 points and 14 rebounds, only missing one shot; against Kansas, he thoroughly outplayed Jeff Withey—a senior center who’d won the Big XII DPOY award twice—to the tune of 25 and 14; he was critical in attacking Syracuse’s signature 2-3 zone and put up six assists and a points-rebounds double-double in a win. All as a freshman who’d played 8 minutes in Michigan’s regular season finale.
*read: insanely unlucky and totally bullshit
The basketball gods decided to smite him after he announced his intentions to return, and he only played eight games as a sophomore – never 30 minutes or more per game. The NCAA’s arbitrary bazooka of incompetence struck him down after landing on the “infantilizing and inefficient war on drugs crusade” tile and he pretty much wasn’t allowed to have a junior season.
So he entered the draft (he might’ve done so anyways) and the basketball gods decided to smile fondly on him again and nudged the Oklahoma City Thunder into taking him with their first round pick. Despite being snakebitten themselves over the last couple years, the Thunder—an organization known for its ability to discover and develop under-the-radar draft picks (like Serge Ibaka or Reggie Jackson)—are still a bona fide title contender and the best landing spot, by far, of any John Beilein product at Michigan.
* * *
They did win the game… on the road against third-ranked Michigan State
But even though Mitch was a great—elite, depending on if his health / conditioning cooperated—player at Michigan, that’s not why he ascended into Michigan hoops lore as a goofy cult hero.
An incomplete list of reasons as to why he did:
- Because he’s the type of center who decides to pull a Rajon Rondo fake en route to a pick-six layup.
- Because his bench celebration game was as strong as anyone else’s in the entire country (except for Andrew Dakich, potentially):
Because he’d dive all the way into Lake Michigan to save a ball in a blowout win at Northwestern:
- Because he’d set bone-crushing screens like this.
[More on Mitch and his new team after THE JUMP]