"Rodrick Williams Jr.'s 10-month old, 2-foot-long savannah monitor named "Kill" gets the RB some strange looks when they go for walks together."
Continued from yesterday's extended look at the offense.
Scheme vs. Fundamentals: Fight
If you ask about the 3-3-5 and pull the string on a Michigan coach, this is what you get:
"Too much has been made out of it, scheme-wise," Rodriguez tells Ryan Terpstra on ESPN 96.1. "I mean, a lot of people are saying we're doing this or that, but basically, what we're doing this spring more than anything else is fundamentally trying to get better – trying to tackle better, trying to be able to react to the ball better so we get more people around the ball."
Greg Robinson said much the same thing to Adam Rittenberg and reiterated that to the folks at the coaches' clinic: "The fundamentals of leverage and angle and how a player uses his eyes and hands is more important than any scheme." I'm sure if you bugged any of Michigan's position coaches they would robotically intone a similar paean to fundamentals.
To this I say: 50% bollocks! It's not that fundamentals aren't important. Anyone who saw the performance of Craig Roh and Stevie Brown relative to expectations last year knows that how you tackle, cover, and read the opponent is a huge part of a football team's suck or lack thereof. You can ask Florida State about that. But I interpret "too much has been made out of it, scheme-wise" as "I would not like to talk about the details here; let's focus on platitudes." Certain defenses have strengths and weaknesses and fit other players better or worse, and while a defense that is robotically efficient is probably going to be decent that will depend on how well the players fit into the scheme.
The line should be the strength of the defense again. Will Campbell is rounding into a load, a true NT who requires a double team and holds up against it most of the time. At other times he gets too high, but they're working on that and by fall they hope he can be an anchor in there. Van Bergen is a redshirt junior who played well in a tough spot as a starter last year and is at a more natural position where he's doing well. No one's 100% sure that Mike Martin is going to be the other DE—the coaches will try him at both spots in fall—but Campbell "needs to be on the field" and Martin is likely to be Michigan's best defensive lineman, so that's the logical spot.
Michigan would like to get Campbell down another 10 pounds or so.
At end, Banks is starting in Martin's absence. Rodriguez mentioned yesterday that they've moved Adam Patterson to the nose, which 1) just about spells the end of Patterson as a potential contributor and 2) hints that Martin is going to start in the spot Banks currently occupies. I can't imagine a 272 pound senior is going to get substantial playing time as a zero-tech NT. He may be a situation substitution in pass-rush situations, but I kind of thought they might move Martin back inside and let Banks or even Roh take a crack at a speed rush when that happened.
The backups here are pretty sketchy without the freshman reinforcements, but Anthony Lalota was a regular entrant into the backfield against the second-string offensive line. He's RVB's backup with Heininger out.
There were some concerns about Craig Roh, who's a great athlete going directly upfield but doesn't have the lateral mobility to shuffle a step or two one way and then re-route his body in time to avoid blocking angles or get a proper zone drop. He'll be blitzing a ton; Michigan will be vulnerable when the opposition is running misdirection and Roh is being asked to execute linebacker responsibilities. Think waggles, counters, reverses, that sort of thing. He has displayed an aptitude in one-on-one coverage, though. He tracked a Michigan State tight end down and raked a ball free last year in a matchup that you'd think heavily favors the receiver; there were a couple other instances where his ability to cover a guy downfield was a surprising bonus.
There didn't seem to be a whole lot of progress with Ezeh and Mouton, though it's hard to tell with the move to the new system. Their responsibilities have changed and there's a learning curve that anyone would have. Moving to the 3-3-5 should allow Mouton to blitz almost as frequently as Roh; this is Mouton's main strength.
A surging Kenny Demens has been held out the last few days.
Observer A is a major believer in Robinson, though, citing that Roh play and a few others as an example of Robinson's ability to coach up players in a short amount of time. He was in charge of Roh and Brown last year; this year he's got all three linebackers. Robinson himself believes Mouton could be a breakout player. Here is a classic Robinson-ism that will make Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician delighted: "We just need to get him to slow down to play faster." Mouton overruns plays because he's "too instinctive" and doesn't always follows his keys, as anyone who remembers his 5-minus 8-minus 3 lines in UFR can tell you.
I've been pretty positive about the idea of running Jordan Kovacs out as a box safety since he was a heady kid and solid tackler and in the 3-3-5 DVD I have that is no longer a wasted purchase, Jeff Casteel repeatedly emphasizes that those characteristics are by far the most important when it comes to spurs and bandits. As a bonus, as the weakside guy Kovacs has the luxury of playing in space (usually) unblocked, so his size won't be a major hindrance.
HOWEVA, discussions with Observer A made it clear that running a 1-high defense* constantly is a recipe for getting four verticals in your face time and again and that teams could force Michigan into a two-deep alignment by formation or playcall. Jordan Kovacs being a walk-on sort of guy, they will do this constantly until Michigan proves they can deal with it.
Why not just deposit Marvin Robinson or Josh Furman at this spot in fall? Think about it: the bandit has to roll up to the line of scrimmage and act as a force player in the 3-3-5. Force players are important. It's their job to funnel everything inside of them. (This is often called "leveraging the football.") If they screw up, the runner is outside everyone and loping for a first down. In pass coverage they have to read and drop into flat zones, play something called "flat buzz" that I'm not quite clear on yet, and generally act as a cover two corner would. So there's all that. Then the bandit will have to rotate back into a two-deep on occasion, play a deep third when they switch up coverages, blitz, respond to motion, etc etc etc. It's probably the most complicated position on the defense. Throwing a freshman in there is asking for it.
Kovacs is Michigan's best option at the bandit, but that doesn't necessarily mean he's a good option.
Spur is also sketchy. Mike Williams has plummeted down the depth chart and is now behind both walk-on Floyd Simmons and redshirt freshman (and scholarship possessor!) Thomas Gordon. Williams is healthy, FWIW. Gordon did get some daps/love/props from observers who thought he was aware and athletic enough to deal with the coverages he'll be asked to run—a "pleasant surprise"—but he's safety-sized and is going to be asked to play over a tight end. He's also a redshirt freshman. Simmons also made a few plays and might be an okay option as a backup.
Observer A evaluated this group of eight players as "slow, small, inexperienced, or injured." He didn't add "pick three," but my brain did. Michigan's got a couple of fantastic prospects for the future in Josh Furman and Marvin Robinson (plus Carvin Johnson), but a couple of painful years beckon before Michigan has any chance of getting a guy who has both athleticism and a clue on the field.
The combination of cluelessness and lack of crazy athleticism led to a couple plays were Michigan just ran a tight end straight down the seam without a bump and gave up 30-yard plays. Michigan has an adjustment they want to install, but they haven't done it yet.
*(A one-high defense has one safety in the middle of the field and is usually cover 1 or cover 3 unless the defense is playing a disguised coverage. A two high defense has two safeties approximately on the hashes and usually suggests cover 2 or 4.)
The three members of the secondary proper actually didn't scare Observer A very much. Woolfolk is pretty good, Floyd is improved—though he shared my skepticism he would ever be above average because of his speed deficiencies—and Turner, while rougher in drills, got the proverbial "just makes plays" endorsement. It's tough to tell a kid's playmaking rate based on limited observation, but the general impression I got was that Turner should be okay eventually. It seems logical that when the freshmen arrive, there might be some reshuffling with the spurs and safeties. Observer B also thought Turner "was OK."
James Rogers seemed to be doing well in drills, too. He's "beginning to learn the position," which is a sad thing to say about a
fifth year senior who's bounced around so much.
Cam Gordon is the guy at free safety, but you knew that.
Robinson's entire session at the coaches' clinic was on his tackling system, which is unusual in a couple ways: it uses different aiming points than conventional systems and doesn't ask the player to break down and wait for the ball carrier to arrive; you "shimmy" to the ballcarrier. It's also unusual because Robinson picked it up from a high school coach, something the old regime "wouldn't be caught dead" doing. Michigan's current group of guys seems far more likely to pick up an innovation being run by high schools or lower division schools than the old guys, who talked to the NFL and only the NFL, which is probably why they couldn't defend the option worth a damn for almost a decade.
Here's how Greg Robinson explains Braithwaite's hire:
Robinson used the new coach, Braithwhite as a demonstrator of technique. He said the “best demonstration” coach he ever saw in his life was Jim Colletto but he says that AB is every bit as good. The impression they give is that this guy was hired because a) he knows what he is doing and (b) he is great at demonstrating techniques to the players.
Observer B notes a difference between the offensive and defensive coaches: the offensive guys are "tireless" explaining and drawing their schemes, but it's hard to get anything out of Robinson. Where Robinson gets expansive is when it comes to the aforementioned fundamentals. There was a chalk talk in which Robinson spent a good deal of time illustrating the right way to do a "dip and rip"; Bruce Tall was also in the midst of an animated technique discussion that lasted two hours.
One of the best things about having a hybrid-laden defense is it minimizes situational substitutions in today's fast-paced modern football environment. You should be able to respond to whatever the offense throws at you without having crazy packages where non-starters get pushed into the lineup, and can adjust to bizarre formations (wildcat) on the fly.
Defense In Toto
I got a vastly different perspective from defensively-oriented observer than was provided by the posters here over the weekend. We're going to have to score some points. I think in objective "this is Michigan" terms the defense is going to be bad, but one of the main confusions batting about the internet at the moment is someone asking "is this defense going to be (as) bad (as last year)?" and someone answering "(in terms of what I have come to expect from years of watching Michigan play and taking that as a baseline) yes."
I had this same sort of foreboding Q&A with Observer A, but when I asked point-blank "will they be better" I got a pretty solid "yes," albeit with the caveat that the same guy thought they'd be considerably better than they were last year.
That doesn't mean the defense is in a spot where it will remind anyone of 2006, or even 2005. In the Saturday scrimmage the defense did well on the first couple series but "after that the carnage was brutal," with the offense moving the ball "almost regardless of what unit was facing what unit." You can get a hint of that in the quarterback stats provided by MGoBlue in the most recent Inside Michigan Football, which are 9/11, 9/12, 100 yards rushing, made a pony sort of things.
There aren't any walk-on punters who are serious threats to play; the best guys they currently have are averaging in the 30 to 35 yard range. This is Will Hagerup's job as soon as he steps on campus.
Placekicking will be an adventure. Brendan Gibbons has a big leg but is "erratic at best." Walk-on Justin Meram was the other kicker who participated in the scrimmage; he seemed accurate on short stuff but his range might top out at 40 yards on a good day.
A roundup of Spring Practice happenings, all of which should be taken only somewhat seriously. Steve Breaston was "Black Jesus" before he even set foot on Michigan Stadium turf. Patrick Omameh was instantly the star of Michigan's six-member line class despite his status as the least-heralded of any of them. Meanwhile, the warnings about future Bronco Dann O'Neill were immediate. On the other hand, Grady Brooks was supposed to be a ninja and Kevin Grady a ball of knives. Practice rumblings seem to have the same predictive power as recruiting rankings: far from infallible but equally far from useless.
Erm, so… yeah. I will believe this two to three years after I see it but apparently Denard Robinson is running with the ones a lot and looks "radically improved," according to one emailer. Forcier seems to have struggled in comparison. I'm a little leery of spring practice reports at all times and that goes triple when it comes to using a few spring practices to overrule what we saw in twelve games last year. The improvement Robinson would have to undergo—and the lack thereof from Forcier—to be a viable threat to start is vast. I'm filing this under "motivational tactic" for now. Jon Chait is on the "it could happen" side of the fence.
By all accounts, Gardner is considerably behind the two sophomores. If Denard is a capable QB this year his redshirt seems assured.
BONUS: here is Robinson running a long way, albeit with aid from crappy walk-on tackling.
I don't usually do this, but when you've spent a lot of time extracting the superfluous bits from AnnArbor.com's SEO-friendly headlines, this brings out your inner thirteen year old:
running backMike Cox closely this spring
Past the middle school bits is the picture of an emerging running back in Michigan's five-way spring derby. His high school coach hints at some of the practice reports coming from the usual sources:
“He’s tough as nails,” Driscoll said. “He’s very tough and they’re going to have a hard time with him because he’s a big guy that’s really fast. That’s the trouble. He’ll hit you, too. He’s not going to back down from anybody.”
Everyone else comes in for sporadic praise and criticism. There's no consensus on who might be emerging as a tentative (and largely ceremonial starter). Probably the biggest news is a lack of all-encompassing Fitzgerald Toussaint hype.
Wide Receiver And Tight End
With Junior Hemingway and Je'Ron Stokes out there's not much on the outside and Roy Roundtree has moved there intermittently in sets with Martavious Odoms and Jeremy Gallon at slot. When the outside guys return, Michigan will have three or four slots they'd like to work into the lineup.
Here's Odoms answering some questions:
Odoms remains an endearingly terrible interview, but the mention of more two-slot formations is something to pay attention to. Tight ends, like Toussaint, have been largely absent from the spring buzz thus far.
Jerald Robinson has been the most impressive freshman so far, but the outside receivers have been plagued by drops. Kelvin Grady has evaporated, for what that's worth.
On the offensive line, Schilling and Molk stand out to AnnArbor.com, which is not something I feel spectacular about since 1) Schilling is an established quantity entering his fourth year as a starter and 2) Molk is injured and not practicing.
Patrick Omameh is staying at guard for now, though I'm still holding out hope they shift him outside and let Ricky Barnum and Quinton Washington fight to the death for the spot. Four guys competing at tackle, two of them redshirt freshman and two of them upperclassmen who struggled badly in pass protection last year, is a sketchy situation. That has not come to pass, nor has either freshman pushed through into the nominal starting lineup.
I'm a little leery of a strapping 6'3", 208 pound kid who spent the brief duration of his Michigan career to date at wide receiver being the starting deep safety, but with Vlad Emilien out with a minor injury it's Cam Gordon who is the front-runner in the 2010 Grady Brooks Memorial Spring Hype Award chase. He comes in for mention by Rodriguez during a speech at a local football coaches' convention:
"Defensively, guys that have been impressive the last week or so, Kenny Demens, Cam Gordon, Craig Roh’s had a couple good days. Renaldo Sagesse, we were teasing him, Thursday he had the best practice since I’ve been here. I asked him what he ate for breakfast. I didn’t know if it was Canadian bacon or something, but he’s had a terrific spring."
It has been Gordon this, Gordon that at deep safety. This may be largely due to a lack of bodies. Justin Turner is practicing at cornerback, Vlad Emilien is injured, and the three guys who played the spot last year are either box safeties (Williams, Kovacs) or corners (Woolfolk). It's gotten to the point where Brandin Hawthorne, who was a high school defensive end (albeit a tiny one), is splitting time back there.
On the defensive line there's been a consistent stream of positives about virtually everyone. Sagesse, Campbell, and Banks all came in for specific praise from Robinson at today's press conference. Even longtime non-entity Adam Patterson is getting some praise at the defensive end spot he and Greg Banks are keeping warm for Mike Martin. Perhaps the biggest news is the Sagesse praise. If Sagesse is a legit option at DT, Michigan doesn't have to think about sliding Martin inside to platoon with Campbell. I think he will be. I like him in UFRs last year.
Demens, meanwhile, has been the only linebacker to get a fair share of practice hype. Ezeh and Mouton have not been mentioned; Roh comes in for praise as a 250 pound outside linebacker but that's not a surprise. I'm not sure what to make of that: Demens was behind a walk-on last year and didn't see the field even when Michigan was rotating their linebackers so they could yell at them better. His only appearances were on special teams and Michigan's goal line package. Maybe he's a guy who is aided significantly by the move to the 3-3-5? If his issues were mental this defense allows you to do a lot of blitzing and play downhill.
And then there's corner, where Justin Turner still lags behind JT Floyd. No offense to Floyd, but I think that gives everyone hives. Even if Demar Dorsey comes in and is lights out as a true freshman, he's a true freshman and having a hyped guy like Turner struggle to break into the starting lineup in a secondary this chaotic is not a good sign.
Also, Craig Roh coughs and answers questions:
(Odoms, Roh HT: The Michigan Faithful.)
Personnel notes: Leach started the game and got pulled after he busted an assignment on a third-and-five TE cross that turned into 56 yards and a backbreaking touchdown. Ezeh replaced him for the remainder of the game. Mouton started the game and got pulled after he busted an assignment on the first Purdue touchdown. Fitzgerald replaced him until he took a bad angle on a Bolden touchdown, at which point he was replaced by Mouton.
You might sense a theme here. It will be addressed later.
Other than that it was the usual: zero rotation in the secondary, Brown in on every play, regular rotation on the DL. Banks was out so Campbell was Martin's backup. I don't know if I saw RVB ever leave the game.
Formation notes: That thing where Michigan drops the MLB to safety depth, or near it, returned again. I'm calling this "Tampa Nickel":
The dude in the deep middle is Kevin Leach; you can see Kovacs just off the edge of the screen at the 35. My best guess here is that this is an attempt to replicate a Tampa 2 defense with a walk-on linebacker or Obi Ezeh, which necessitates starting him well back of where a middle linebacker would normally end up.
Michigan's also running some even fronts—I think:
Look at the alignment of the two DTs relative to the DTs in the shot above. In this defense, Brown acts as a nickelback and Michigan plays, or at least shows, two-deep with the safeties.
AAARGH Notes: argh.
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Play||Player||Yards|
|O20||1||10||Shotgun trips||Tampa Nickel(?)||Pass||Jailbreak screen||--||9|
|What the hell? [Ed: see above] Michigan has five guys in the box with Brown split out over to the trips side and Williams walked up outside of Mouton, who's lined up over the tackle. Leach is playing nine yards deep. Kovacs is 15 yards deep. Purdue throws a jailbreak screen on which Roh, who's dropping into coverage, reacts to. With both DTs sucking upfield Michigan has no one else in the area because Leach is 10 yards downfield. Leach recovers to tackle—barely—after making up the ground he gave presnap. The way this aligned Michigan had little chance to defend it. (RPS -1)|
|O21||2||1||Shotgun trips TE||4-3 under man||Run||Power O||--||30|
|Roh again dropping into coverage so he falls off the line of scrimmage attempting to cover the TE, who's moving out to block Leach. Leach is reading the play and manages to keep his feet as the TE dives at them, but is slowed and as a result the pulling guard gets an easy block on him. There's no one else on the corner. WTF? (RPS -1, Roh -1, as this must be some screwup on his part.) BTN says Troy Woolfolk is from “Suger Land, TX.” Really? Suger Land?|
|M49||1||10||Shotgun 4-wide||4-3 under||Pass||Hitch||Woolfolk||14|
|Woolfolk(-1) is backing out into a deep zone and reacts slowly to the short hitch Purdue is going for. He then overruns the play and turns this from five yards into 14. (Cover –1, tackling -1)|
|Mouton(-4) is in man on the tailback and decides man coverage is for losers. (Cover -4) I assume this is his bust because he got yanked; Mike Williams was also coming up on the TE Mouton decided to cover, and cover pretty well, actually.|
|Drive Notes: Touchdown, 0-7, 13 min 1st Q. Somehow they won't score more than a FG for the rest of the half.|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Play||Player||Yards|
|O23||1||10||Shotgun trips TE||4-3 under zone||Run||Power O||Fitzgerald||1|
|Michigan has flipped the line to the short side of the field, which happens to be the open side of the field, and is in zone coverage with Warren lined up over the TE. Purdue runs basically the same play they did on the last drive except with only one pulling guard. They double and down-block Graham. Warren hops out for contain and draws the pulling guard; Fitzgerald(+1) reads the play and shoots into the hole, tackling(+1) for a minimal gain.|
|O24||2||9||Shotgun Twins Twin TE||4-3 under man||Pass||Hitch||Leach||Inc|
|Yikes: looks to be a coverage bust with no one going with the TE hitting it up into the seam, but Elliot's already decided to come short. Ball is dropped; would have been six and an immediate tackle if caught.|
|O24||3||9||Shotgun 4-wide||4-3 under||Pass||Jailbreak screen||Fitzgerald||17|
|Fitzgerald and Williams do a great job of reading the play and attacking the LOS, giving Purdue no chance to block them. WR heads inside, right into Fitzgerald, who's just coming through a block and has his hands down; they collide and the RB runs through the contact. (-1, tackling -1); Roh(-1) can't make a diving ankle tackle attempt despite the slowdown and Purdue makes an unlikely third down conversion.|
|O41||1||10||Shotgun 4-wide||4-3 under||Pass||Fade||Woolfolk||30|
|Cover two and Purdue runs a play that attacks it with an out underneath holding Woolfolk(-1) as a receiver goes over the top; Williams(-1) can't get over in time. Ball is well underthrown, which gives Michigan a chance to make a play on the ball; they don't. (Cover -1)|
|M29||1||10||Shotgun trips||4-3 under||Run||Draw||Leach||4|
|Leach in a tough spot because RVB(-1) is stood up by the RG and eventually driven back, conceding holes to both sides of him. Leach picks one that he thinks Bolden is hitting it up into and gets it right; Bolden has to cut, and Leach(+1) manages to trip him as he runs by. Bolden falls forward for a bunch after contact but Leach did well in a lot of space in a tough situation.|
|M25||2||6||Shotgun trips||Tampa Nickel||Pass||Out||Woolfolk||Inc|
|This... thing again. Quick out open in front of Woolfolk(cover -1); dropped.|
|M25||3||6||Shotgun trips||3-3-5 stack||Pass||Scramble||Graham||1|
|Michigan shows a 3-man front with threatened blitzes from the linebackers, then drops out of it. Graham(+2) immediately pwns the RT and forces the QB up in the pocket; good coverage(+1) from the eight guys downfield allows Graham to come around from the back and tackle, though it doesn't go down as a sack because Graham hits him across the LOS. (Pressure +1)|
|Drive Notes: FG(41), 7-10, 7 min 1st Q.|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Play||Player||Yards|
|O19||1||10||I-Form Twins||4-3 under||Run||Down G||Leach||13 + 15 pen|
|Heininger doubled and removed from the play, leaving a pulling G and the FB on Leach and Brown. Brown heads outside for contain. Leach(-1) badly overruns the play, providing a quick cut-up for the RB when he could have slowed up, let Brown cut off the outside, and slowed the play down. I'm not sure what to make of Fitzgerald here, who might be a step slow, might have stumbled, but took on a block and shed it, but then couldn't make a tough tackle attempt at about five yards. This penalty is probably a bad one but definitely stupid... Williams(-1) knows he's right at the sideline and there's zero upside to hitting a guy who's running OOB.|
|O48||1||10||I-Form||4-4 under||Run||Rollout something||Brown||-4|
|This looks like a busted play as Elliott rolls out with a couple of lead blockers and his receiver goes to block some guys. Unless this is just a called bootleg run for Elliot without so much as a fake, which I find hard to believe. Brown(+1) does to a good job of containing, and Fitzgerald comes to tackle.|
|O44||2||14||Shotgun trips||Nickel even||Pass||Dig||Brown||13|
|Brown(+1, cover +1) right there on the play and has a swat at the ball but misses it. He's still there to make a tackle, though the receiver drags him for a few yards. Excellent coverage; Michigan made it tough this time. Graham did tear through late, but this is a pressure -1... Elliot could stand and fire.|
|M43||3||1||Shotgun trips TE||Nickel even||Pass||Bubble screen||Woolfolk||6|
|Tough to stop on third and one with Michigan loading the box and with only two guys on the edge here. Brown does a decent job getting out; Woolfolk(-0.5) was late reacting after the guy was clearly stalk-blocking him off the line; he does shed and force the player out of bounds.|
|M37||1||10||I-Form||4-4 under||Run||Draw||Van Bergen||4|
|Campbell in; Michigan stunts through the line(RPS +1), with Van Bergen(-1) coming through clean only to overrun the play and let Bolden through the hole he just came through. Bolden ends up tripping over the guy blocking Campbell.|
|M33||2||6||Shotgun empty 2TE||4-3 under||Pass||TE Out||Brown||3 (Pen -5)|
|Caught; Brown(+1, cover +1), in a cover-2 zone, lights up the TE as soon as he catches it. Illegal motion brings it back.|
|M38||2||11||Shotgun 3-wide||4-3 under||Pass||Wobbler||Leach||Int|
|Michigan gets a gift as Elliot gets time (pressure -1) against a three-man rush and finds someone to fire to. The ball flutters at it leaves his hand and is reeled in by Leach(+1).|
|Drive Notes: Interception, 10-10, 2 min 1st Q.|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Play||Player||Yards|
|O39||1||10||Shotgun trips TE||4-3 under||Run||Pin and pull zone||Graham||5|
|What? See the Smart Football link. Basically any covered OL blocks down and anyone else pulls around. Graham(+1) shucks his blocker and gets playside of him, shooting into the hole and delaying the running back. And I thought I was going to give a big minus to one of the linebackers here but it turns out that JB Fitzgerald is held by a Purdue OL—like the guy grabs him from behind, this one is no question—and thus can't get out to the corner. That turns this from zero to five.|
|O44||2||5||Shotgun 2-back||Base 4-3||Run||Triple option keeper||Graham||1|
|Refs miss a Purdue false start. Elliott pulls it out when he doesn't like the dive fake, but Graham(+1) is not crashing and gets out on Elliott, forcing him back inside; Graham and Fitzgerald combine to tackle(+1) for minimal gain. Pitch guy was covered too, so Elliott didn't make the worst read possible.|
|O45||3||4||Shotgun 4-wide||4-3 under||Pass||Corner||Brown||6|
|Line shifted as per usual but the LBs are off the line and tucked in; weird. Michigan blitzes; Graham tears around the corner and beats one blocker, forcing another to come out on him. Purdue is clearly trying to pick Warren and get the slant as a result; Warren(+1) does a fantastic job of coming under the pick and having this blanketed. Holding? Maybe, but not called. Brown(-1), however, reacts to that route when he's in man on the slot guy and leaves his little corner route open, so Elliot has another option other than “die because of Graham.” Tough leaping catch from the WR.|
|M49||1||10||Shotgun Twins Twin TE||4-4 under||Run||Zone read stretch||Leach||6|
|Unfortunate for Michigan as Purdue gets an inadvertent chop on Graham, who they tried to double but did not seal, because the guy coming off Graham dives to cut Leach(-1) and Graham trips over the mess, opening up a crease just before the play reaches the sideline. Leach went down hard and heavy to the cut block, allowing his blocker to take out two guys.|
|M43||2||4||I-Form||4-4 under||Run||Inside zone||Roh||-2|
|Michigan's got a line slant on that murders this dead(RPS +1), as Roh(+1) is unblocked on the backside and blitzes right into the path of the tailback before the offset fullback has a chance to do anything about it.|
|M45||3||6||Shotgun empty||4-3 under split||Pass||Jailbreak screen||Roh||Inc|
|Roh(+1) is either spying on this or reads it because he does not pursue the QB but rather holds up and occupies the LT, which prevents him from getting out and allows Fitzgerald(+1) to flow unimpeded to the receiver. Ball is dropped anyway. (RPS +1)|
|Drive Notes: Punt, 17-10, 11 min 3rd Q. What is this “punt” you speak of?|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Play||Player||Yards|
|O24||1||10||Shotgun trips bunch||Nickel under||Pass||Swing||Brown||3|
|Trips bunch set takes Brown out to them and he plays head-up on the guy on the LOS. Michigan drops into a zone; Purdue receivers attempt to run it off and hit the swing pass underneath; Brown(+1, tackling +1) makes a good open-field tackle to turn this into a meh play.|
|O27||2||7||I-Form Twins||4-4 under||Pass||Rollout||Woolfolk||16|
|This will be annoying for the rest of the game. Michigan in what looks like man on the outside receivers, playing pretty far off. It's not man, as Warren drops off into a deep zone and Woolfolk(-1) is supposed to have an outside zone. He ends up getting run off and leaves a 15-yard out wide open(cover -1). Roh was chasing Elliott down but fell as he tried to avoid a desperate cut from an OL, so there's no pressure(-1) on this.|
|O41||1||10||I-Form||4-4 under||Run||Power O||Martin||0|
|Martin(+2) darts between the center and an attempted down-block from the RG, coming under the pulling LG to tackle Bolden in the backfield with no help from anyone else. Bolden coughs the ball up but it falls right to him.|
|O41||2||10||Shotgun trips||Tampa Nickel||Pass||Hitch||Brown||5|
|Brown(cover +1, +1) is again right in the receiver's grill as he makes the catch and has a swipe at the ball for a PBU, but can't make it. He does tackle(+1) with help.|
|O46||3||5||Shotgun 3-wide||Nickel even||Pass||TE cross||Roh||Int|
|Warren spends the run up to this play leaping up and down trying to get other secondary members' attention. He does. Michigan runs a crazy zone blitz with both Roh and RVB dropping off the right side of the line into short zones; this gets Brown, blitzing off the corner, in clean (pressure +1, RPS +1). The zone drops from the DT end up covering(+1) the short options but Elliott gets a crazy accurate pass off that manages to find his tight end despite the tight end taking a detour around Roh after the ball was thrown. Tight end gets his head around late to find the ball almost there already and can't bring it in; Warren(+1) picks off the deflection.|
|Drive Notes: Interception, 24-10, 6 min 2nd Q.|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Play||Player||Yards|
|O18||1||10||I-Form Twins||4-4 under||Pass||Rollout deep hitch||Leach?||12|
|Part II of rollout extravaganza. No pressure(-1) on the corner and this seems like it's got to be a coverage bust from one of the linebackers because both Leach and Fitzgerald tear after the rollout, opening a lane for Elliott when Williams heads out for his flat zone. (Cover -1)|
|O30||1||10||Shotgun 2-back Twins||4-4 under||Pass||Bubble screen||Warren||3|
|Michigan man up on the corners and Warren(+0.5, cover +1) reacts to the bubble very quickly, getting in on it basically as the catch is made. Unfortunately he gets stiffarmed(tackling -1). Roh also overruns the guy as he cuts inside of Warren but the delays mean there are now five other Wolverines in the area and he can only get three.|
|O33||2||7||Ace Twins Twin TE||4-4 under||Pass||Rollout TE Out||Williams||7|
|TE pulls across with presnap motion and Purdue runs him into the flat, where he catches the ball in front of Williams for near first down yardage (cover -1, pressure -1, RPS -1).|
|O40||1||10||Shotgun 4-wide||4-3 under||Pass||Hitch||Warren||9|
|Warren is bailing out into cover-three and Elliott finds the hitch his coverage leaves open (cover -1).|
|O49||2||1||I-Form Twins||4-4 under||Pass||Rollout scramble||Brown||3|
|Still no one on the edge here (pressure -1) on the fourth rollout of the day. Leach does get a good chuck on the TE; he's covered; Brown has a guy in the flat(cover +1) so Elliot is forced to scramble up for the first down.|
|M48||1||10||Shotgun 3-wide||Nickel even||Pass||Fly||Warren||Inc|
|Warren(+1, cover +1) in great position. Ball is high and short so Warren doesn't have a play on the ball; leaping WR can only get one hand on it and it falls incomplete.|
|M48||2||10||Shotgun 4-wide||4-3 under||Run||Trap||Roh||3|
|Roh(+1) responsible enough here to not fly upfield as Purdue leaves him unblocked and pulls two OL around attempting to trap Michigan up the middle. He gets into a blocker and when Bolden cuts up—Leach(+0.5) had contain—Roh fights playside of the blocker, gets held pretty badly, and sort of tackles Bolden with his back. Help came from RVB and Graham.|
|M45||3||7||Shotgun empty||3-3-5 stack||Penalty||False start||--||-5|
|50||3||12||Shotgun 2-back||3-3-5 stack||Penalty||Delay||--||-5|
|Oops. Why does the clock keep running after penalties like this?|
|O45||3||17||Shotgun 2-back||Tampa Nickel||Pass||Hitch||Warren||6|
|Whatever. (Cover +1)|
|Drive Notes: EOH, 24-10.|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Play||Player||Yards|
|M19||1||10||Shotgun 3-wide||Nickel even||Run||Power off tackle||Brown||19|
|Ugh. Center actually pulls here as two guys double Roh and Purdue goes for the outside. Roh(-1) gets sealed really quickly and is both out of the play and not occupying a double. Brown(-1) comes down too far inside and gives up the corner; Leach(-1) is sliced to the ground by the TE coming off Roh, Williams(-1) overruns the play as it nears the sticks and turns it into a touchdown.|
|Drive Notes: Touchdown, 24-17, 13 min 3rd Q.|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Play||Player||Yards|
|O9||1||10||Shotgun trips||Nickel under||Pass||Hitch||--||8|
|Weird LB/secondary config. Purdue runs a three-step drop that finds a hole in the zone(cover -1) between Williams and Leach. Fitz got a free run, but it didn't matter. (Pressure +1)|
|O17||2||2||Ace Twins||4-4 under||Pass||Rollout throwaway||Graham||Inc|
|Graham(+1) tears through the line and is fast enough to get in on Elliott, forcing a throwaway. Good flat coverage from Brown(+1, cover +1)|
|O17||3||2||Shotgun Twins Twin TE||4-4 under||Pass||Hitch||Fitzgerald||6|
|Guy comes open underneath a zone and Elliott hits him quickly; immediate tackle. Excellent catch on a poorly thrown ball by the TE.|
|O23||1||10||Ace||4-3 under||Pass||Rollout hitch||Warren||6|
|Quick throw, not a long rollout, and Warren is there to escort out of bounds immediately. I'm not negging these quick throws with immediate tackles but I am getting cranky.|
|O29||2||4||Shotgun 2-back TE||4-4 under||Run||Zone read stretch||Martin||-2|
|Martin(+1) blows the center back, forcing Bolden to delay a bit to get around the disruption. Graham(+1) blows into the backfield as well, cutting off the outside and taking out two blockers. and Fitzgerald(+1, tackling +1) uses the delay and the lack of blockers to dart into the backfield and make a solid TFL.|
|O27||3||6||Shotgun 4-wide||4-3 under||Pass||Hitch||Fitzgerald||9|
|Four man rush is stoned (pressure -1) to the point where Elliot doesn't even have to worry about any issues, and Fitzgerald(-1, cover -1) sucks out of his zone, opening up a slant. Leach had the slot receiver; Fitz is busting a coverage here.|
|O38||1||10||Shotgun 3-wide||4-3 under||Run||Zone read stretch||Brown||16|
|Purdue motions in a slot WR to act as a second TE and Michigan does not react (RPS -1); Brown(-1) fails to get outside the slot guy and gives up the corner; Roh(-1) ends up spinning inside of the OT despite this run obviously going outside; Leach(-1) is indecisive and ends up getting blocked into oblivion. Bolden gets the corner and a bunch of yards.|
|M46||1||10||Shotgun 3-wide||Nickel even||Pass||Rollout corner||Kovacs||Inc|
|Kovacs(-1, cover -2, RPS -1) in man on this and that is a terrible matchup against a good Purdue receiver lined up in the slot. Elliott has the guy for at least 20 but throws it too far in front of him and the receiver can't make a tough catch.|
|M46||2||10||Shotgun 3-wide||Nickel under||Pass||Rollout deep hitch||--||14|
|This is more of a half-roll and there's max protect, but Michigan is still not getting anywhere near this guy (pressure -2) on a deep drop. Elliott has plenty of time to come to a second receiver, wait for him to get open, and fire in a pass to a tight window in front of Brown. Lot of time, still pretty covered receiver, no cover minuses. These rollouts are killing me.|
|M32||1||10||Shotgun 4-wide||4-3 under||Pass||Quick out||Brown||8|
|Brown(-1) has the flat here and instead attempts to cover a TE that is running into Leach's zone; Warren has a deep half and is not responsible. (Cover -1)|
|M24||2||2||Shotgun 4-wide||4-3 under||Run||Zone read keeper||Herron||6|
|Herron(-1) dives too far inside and gives up the corner. Pretty sure this isn't a scrape exchange; if it was Herron would not even think about responsibility.|
|M18||1||10||Ace Twins Twin TE||4-3 under||Run||Draw||Leach||3|
|Plays off the rollout stuff with it looking like a rollout and then the counter draw coming. Martin seems like he's about to come around his guy and make a tackle at the LOS but a hold prevents him; OL then gives the “I ain't doin' nothing” hands up thing and lets him go, preventing a penalty. Borderline; can see letting it go. Leach(+0.5) slices between a couple OL to make a diving, face-first, sketchy tackle attempt; Roh(+0.5) loops around on what is probably a stunt to provide enough Michigan jersey to cut off the hole.|
|M15||2||7||I-Form||4-3 under||Pass||Rollout FB Flat||Williams||5|
|Williams takes a step inside, biting on the run fake, but then gets out quickly to cover and tackle the FB flat immediately. No plus, no minus, eh.|
|M10||3||2||Shotgun trips TE||4-3 under||Run||Zone read stretch||Fitzgerald||10|
|Ugh. This is a game-losing play. Martin(+1) does great, slanting from the backside and taking two blockers directly into the path of Bolden. This play has to be dead now; a guy has occupied two blockers and delayed the RB. It's over, except Fitzgerald(-2) takes an angle way too far upfield and can only make a diving arm-tackle attempt on Bolden, which misses (tackle -1). Roh's stunted himself out of the area and the resulting mess prevents RVB from flowing; Ditto Kovacs, so Bolden gets into the endzone. Really, really should have been a TFL and a FG attempt.|
|Drive Notes: Touchdown, 30-24, 5 min 3rd Q. Onside kick gives it right back to Purdue. Spectacular execution by the kicker.|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Play||Player||Yards|
|O46||1||10||Shotgun trips||Tampa Nickel||Pass||Fly||Kovacs||54|
|Four man rush, a zone blitz, gets nowhere near Elliott (pressure -2) and so he can half-roll a bit and look deep, where Kovacs(-4) has completely busted on the only deep receiver on his side of the field; guy is so wide open that even a terribly underthrown pass doesn't prevent him from scoring. (Cover -4). Enormous bust. Walk-on freshman safety.|
|Drive Notes: Touchdown, FML, 30-31, 5 min 3rd Q.|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Play||Player||Yards|
|O42||1||10||Shotgun 3-wide||4-4 under||Pass||Bubble screen||Woolfolk||6|
|Michigan in a zone; Woolfolk(-0.5) is unblocked but reads it a little late and almost misses a tackle, allowing the receiver to make some YAC.|
|O48||2||4||I-Form Twins||4-3 under||Run||Pitch sweep||Graham||-3|
|Graham(+1) slants inside, meeting the playside G a couple yards in the backfield as he pulls; he drives the G back, forcing Bolden outside. Graham gets stiffarmed but his interior play has allowed Brown(+1) to finish the TFL after he got outside his blocker effectively.|
|O45||3||7||Shotgun empty||3-3-5 split||Pass||Hitch||Graham||Inc|
|Graham(+1) tears around the RT, flushing Elliott up into the pocket on a three-man rush (pressure +1) and forcing him to throw as he knows Graham is coming up for EXTREME VENGANCE behind him. Mouton(-1, cover –1) vacates his zone to chase Elliott, opening up a receiver for a first down; RVB(+1) is looping around and bats it down.|
|Drive Notes: Punt, 30-31, 1 min 3rd Q. You can tell what the coaches' reaction was to that Bolden touchdown: Fitzgerald out, Mouton in.|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Play||Player||Yards|
|O31||1||10||Shotgun trips||4-3 under||Pass||Jailbreak screen||Roh||1|
|Kind of a similar deal to a failed Michigan version of this earlier: Roh(+1) actually hooks the playside tackle, which prevents him from getting out to get a block; three Wolverines, including Roh, come in to crush the play. (RPS +1)|
|O32||2||9||Shotgun empty||Tampa Nickel||Pass||Scramble||Brown||4|
|Fake bubble to the slant Michigan likes to run except Brown(+1, cover +1) is not biting and Elliott has to look elsewhere, at which point Graham(+1) tears through on a three man rush and flushes him out of the pocket. Coverage remains good downfield so Elliot has to scramble; lot of short routes mean no one can peel off until he crosses the LOS. (Cover +1)|
|O36||3||5||Shotgun 2TE||Base 4-3||Pass||TE cross||Leach||56|
|Michigan sends six and plays man behind it; Leach(-4) is looking in the backfield and covering the wrong tight end because he's playing zone. This opens the tight end up wide open, and he grabs a short cross and turns it up for a huge gain. (Cover -4)|
I'm not sure why this lane opens up. Martin is slanting and slants from one side of the line to the left, coming around as if he's the DE on the opposite side of the line and dragging the RG with him; Graham does his usual tear-upfield-speed rush thing. Roh and RVB are slanting away from Martin; this results in a big pocket opening up and a major cutback lane no one is in because they're trying to cover receivers. I think Roh -1, RVB -1. Maybe Martin. Not sure. BTN analyst calls out Mouton, but he's in pass coverage on a guy who would otherwise be open, right? I dunno.
Hmmm. Official call: minus halves for the DLs, minus one for Mouton. Help here?
|Drive Notes: Touchdown, 30-38, 10 min 4th Q. Aaand exeunt Leach.|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Play||Player||Yards|
|O11||1||10||Shotgun trips||4-3 under||Run||Zone read inside||Roh||4|
|Martin(+0.5) holds up decently well, which causes a slowdown and allows Roh(+0.5), who's crashing from the backside, to come from behind and snuff this out. Pile then falls way forward. Martin holds up a little better and this can be 0.|
|O15||2||6||Shotgun 3-wide||4-3 under||Pass||Dumpoff||--||Inc|
|Graham(+1) starts the tear-around-corner-business and it looks like Elliott can step up into a pocket but I think he's spooked and decides to dump it off to the releasing RB, who drops an iffy pass. (pressure +1)|
|O15||3||6||Shotgun 3-wide||3-3-5 split||Pass||Hitch||Warren||5|
|Wow, close to a chop block as a guy Martin isn't expecting gets into his knees. C was not engaged but it was close. The chop indicates a pass that must get thrown immediately and indeed, Elliott chucks it in between Kovacs(+1) and Warren(+1)—very dangerous. Cover +1. Ball is caught but the TE is falling back upfield because of the tight coverage and ends up short of the first down.|
|Drive Notes: Punt, 30-38, 7 min 4th Q.|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Play||Player||Yards|
|O18||1||10||Shotgun Twins 2TE||4-4 under||Penalty||False start||--||-5|
|O13||1||15||Shotgun Twins 2TE||4-4 under||Run||Down G||Graham||4 (Pen -7)|
|Graham(+2) tears through a TE trying to down-block him and heads out to the edge, where he gets into both pulling blockers and is tackled to the ground, drawing a holding call. The result is a strung out play that Ezeh and Brown end up overrunning, allowing Bolden to pick up a few.|
|O6||1||22||I-Form Twins||4-3 under||Pass||Rollout comeback||Woolfolk||Inc|
|Elliott wants to go to the TE but Brown(+1, cover +1) has him covered and Elliott keeps rolling and rolling. He's late; as he reaches the sideline he chucks it to the other receiver, who Woolfolk(+1) has under control and makes a pass breakup on. (Pressure -1, cover +1)|
|O6||2||22||Shotgun 4-wide||4-3 under||Run||Trap||Roh||4|
|Roh(+1) slants inside the attempted trap block and gets in the lane, meeting the RB at the LOS. Bolden powers through for a decent gain, though... Roh needs some more weight.|
|Tape does not have this play. Abbreviated replay shows RVB(+1) the beneficiary of a coverage sack(cover +1)|
|Drive Notes: Punt, 30-38, 3 min 4th Q. Final drive for Purdue is not charted since it's an extreme run situation and not representative.|
How's the ichor?
Don't I ask the questions?
Just talk before I dispel you.
The ichor is dry and rubbery. If I attempt to stroke my luxurious goatee it comes off in little gooey balls that are faintly warm to the touch and smell like an oil slick with an otter drowning in it.
Dude, you are evil.
Not as evil as Michigan's linebackers. ZING!
Sigh. How about a special mailbag question?
Sure, what the hell, I just want to talk Cowherd.
Brian,Defensively, I don't understand. My biggest concern is not the big plays, but how they look. I understand we have three walk-ons playing significant time, as well as a freshman D-lineman. Mistakes will happen. What I am worried about is the ease of which we are beaten. I don't have a problem with Kovacs being outrun or Leach getting blocked. That is expected. I have a problem with completely blown assignments. To get beat on a fly pattern by a guy who is faster - acceptable. To get beat on a fly pattern because you were tackling the fullback when the wideout was your responsibility - unacceptable. That is where we are. It can't all be Rock-Paper-Scissors playcalling. It is coaching. They have got to get these kids in the right position. Williams total disregard for Juice responsibility is a perfect example. The coaches have got to figure a way to get through to him. Then if Juice breaks his tackle or fakes him out of his shoes, good job Juice. We don't even challenge our opponent to out execute us.In a nutshell, I can be patient with the offense. Improvement, youth, blah blah blah. I can't be patient with this defense, and I believe it is on the staff. Coach Rod will have some tough decisions to make this offseason. Don't know if Gerg is the answer, but position coaches should be feeling the heat.Just needed to vent. I want Rod here 5 years minimum. I hope his delegation of defensive authority doesn't doom him sooner.Go Blue!Jim Cunningham
I SORT OF TALK… like CAPTAIN KIRK… if he had DOWN'S SYNDROME.
|Graham||12||-||12||Killed all runs to his side; somewhat culpable for poor pressure metric but those were rollouts.|
|Heininger||-||-||-||Didn't record anything.|
|Roh||6||4.5||1.5||Extensive discussion below.|
|Herron||-||1||-1||Only contribution was blowing contain once.|
|Martin||4.5||0.5||4||Relatively quiet; not getting much pass rush this year.|
|Van Bergen||2||2||0||Not a major factor.|
|Banks||-||-||-||DNP, I think.|
|Sagesse||-||-||-||Also DNP, I think.|
|Campbell||-||-||-||Didn't do anything of note but did play.|
|TOTAL||24.5||8||16.5||Step back from usual effort, especially given the pressure metric below.|
|Ezeh||-||-||-||Nothing particularly good or bad on late cameo.|
|Mouton||-||6||-6||Did this in like a quarter of playing time.|
|Brown||9||4||5||Built to play his position against a team like Purdue.|
|Fitzgerald||3||4||-1||I am actually encouraged by his play.|
|Leach||3||8||-5||Basically even except for the monster bust.|
|TOTAL||15||22||-7||Is it a positive that this is positive but for the –8 on huge coverage busts? No?|
|Warren||4.5||-||4.5||The NFL wants you to stay in school.|
|Woolfolk||-||4||-4||Rough day in zones.|
|Williams||-||3||-3||I'll take it.|
|Kovacs||1||5||-4||Enormous bust #3.|
|TOTAL||5.5||12||-6.5||Better than against Illinois, I guess.|
|Coverage||15||24||-9||Did a good job when they remembered at all where they were supposed to be.|
|Tackling||5||5||0||I really need to definite this more precisely.|
|RPS||5||5||0||Still working on this, too.|
[A reminder: RPS is "rock, paper, scissors." Michigan gets a + when they call a play that makes it very easy for them to defend the opponent, like getting a free blitzer. They get a – when they call a play that makes it very difficult for them to defend the opponent, like showing a seven-man blitz and having Penn State get easy touchdowns twice.]
It's basically the usual: pretty decent on the DL, Graham destroys, Brown does well or okay, other linebackers and people in the secondary who aren't Warren make graves. Hidden in the raw numbers is the distribution: –12 in coverage and the above numbers goes to three separate enormous busts. If Michigan does not make those busts it seems reasonable to assume they hold Purdue to something like 10-14 fewer points. If they don't bust, there is the talent, it seems, to have an average defensive performance against Purdue.
The emailer is correct that it's the busted coverages and disaster that makes this defense a disastrous disaster of disastrous proportions. Is this "acceptable"? Well… let's rephrase that into something that's less vague and standoffish. How much of this is a reflection on poor coaching by position coaches on up to Rodriguez? How much should this deflate expectations about how well this team can play on defense going forward?
I can point you to any number of metrics that suggest there are plenty of reasons that Michigan sucks on defense for reasons other than coaching. Here's a new one:
Comparing Michigan's defensive upperclassmen [ed: 3rd, 4th, 5th year players; RVB counts] not only to Ohio State, Penn State, and Notre Dame, but to the rest of the conference as well...
Ohio State - 22
Northwestern - 21
Indiana - 19
Illinois - 19
Michigan State - 19
Penn State - 19
Iowa - 18
Wisconsin - 18
Minnesota - 17
Purdue - 15
Notre Dame - 15
Michigan - 12
The rest of the Big Ten averages 50% more upperclassmen on defense. We are dead last in the conference by a wide margin in terms of experienced defensive players.
Then you add in the defensive coordinator carousel—three in three years—and the wholesale changeover of position coaches last year and, like, doy: this just about has to be a bad defense. If it was even average it would be a miracle. The emailer dismisses the idea of youth being a factor; again, I have no idea how you can do that. The raw numbers defy you.
So it's bad and it should be bad. Is it worse than it should be considering the incredible paucity of not even talent but mere bodies on the team? I don't know. Assuming that a busted coverage is necessarily on a coach not getting his guys to go to the right spots is dodgy. It could just be that the guys they have to start are either not ready or just not that bright when it comes to football and would be mediocre backups on another team. Sometimes people just can't hack the mental side of the game no matter what.
So maybe it's on the coaches. That is a blindingly obvious possibility. But there are plenty of mitigating factors that suggest it is not necessarily the case. The only way we will find out is with more time. They've got to be a lot better next year or things will get ugly.
[Note: the criticism that Rodriguez forced various kids to get R-U-N-N-O-F-T is another show. Presumably, attrition will be normal in the future. Rodriguez's previous stop did not experience undue attrition after his transition. Going forward, Michigan can expect to get its numbers back into the pack here.]
On to specifics, maybe?
So what was with the rollouts?
Purdue was very clever. Remember this thirty-yard run?
That's run directly at Roh and RVB and linebackers because Michigan's aligning based on the hash these days and not the formation. So they've got a lot of open space if they can blow Roh off the line, which is pretty easy right now because he's a 220-230 pound true freshman. Here he's not blown off the line, he's tasked with coverage. and gives up the corner. Okay, that's not going to work. RPS –1 was born for this.
Later Michigan flips the line so that Graham is to the open side of the field:
That play picks up one because two guys have to take on Graham and Michigan is using someone else. On the first play of Purdue's third drive they run an outside zone like the 30-yarder to start, and Graham tears through it; a hold from Purdue gives them five yards but the play is basically blown up. Purdue picks up a big run later with Heininger in in an I-Form twins; it's clear that BG is the only thing keeping Purdue away from major gains outside the tackle. So it's the strong side for him.
Now Graham is away from the receiver side of the field on the formations above and the rollouts can take advantage of Roh not being Brandon Graham; the one rollout on which Michigan did get pressure was from Graham. Later in the game, Roh gets sealed away on a 19-yard touchdown by Bolden when Michigan puts Graham on the weakside and gets another excellent run when Roh comes inside a TE. (Plenty other folk—three—picked up minuses on that play but if that's run at Graham they are not likely to have much success.) Purdue made Michigan pick its poison.
Roh did some good stuff on slants and was responsible when he had an opportunity to overrun plays, which gives him that modest positive score above, but big minuses in pressure fall mostly on the shoulders of the DEs and when one of the DEs is Brandon Graham they fall mostly on the shoulders of the DE who isn't Brandon Graham. So if you apply a chunk of that pressure metric to Roh, you get a solidly negative day. I think that's a realistic take on is game and am going to incredible lengths to justify that assessment because apparently Roh's dad reads UFR, which is something I'd really rather not know. The eyebrow furrowing!
I THINK THAT'S TOTALLY FAIR
Shut up, imaginary Cowherd. Anyway, Purdue did a really good job of exploiting the true freshman defensive end in this game. I think Danny Hope has shown that he was an excellent choice for Purdue's coaching transition; he will be a success. Probably.
I know, man. Mouton busts huge on the first drive and gets yanked. Ezeh has already been yanked and so you've got a couple sophomores out there and you're thinking 'hey, maybe this is where they show their mettle, they're gamers' and then by the end of the game they've both busted huge and the nominal starters are back in and if you go back and chalk up the number of Purdue points that came directly from the linebackers not knowing WTF they are supposed to do you get something like 14. They are terrible, and it's all mental.
This is one spot on the field where I lean towards the torch and pitchfork crowd. It could just be a couple busts and no depth with any experience, but Mouton was better last year and the vast improvement from Stevie Brown stands in stark contrast… since he's coached by Greg Robinson.
Brandon Graham remains Brandon Graham. Also, Stevie Brown's short coverage was excellent all day and though he missed on a couple opportunities to get PBUs he made it very tough and was a sure tackler. I'm so happy we blew his redshirt on kickoff coverage.
Warren also turned in a good day; I know it looked like he was leaving a lot of guys open during the game but I am pretty confident that those were not his issues because he was a deep half in cover-two.
Pick an enormous busty guy: Mouton, Kovacs, Leach. And as discussed above, Purdue's game plan other than "hey throw it to that wide open guy" was focused on exploiting Roh's lack of size and experience.
What does it mean for Wisconsin and beyond?
Despite the re-insertion of the nominal starting linebackers at the end of the game I assume that the linebacker question is an open one for Saturday and probably until the UConn game next fall. I graded Fitzgerald out at a –1 despite the crippling poor angle on that Bolden run and he looked physically capable; I'm pulling for him because he's younger, seems less prone to implode, and hasn't made me want to die more than once or twice.
At middle linebacker, I think Leach is seriously mediocre at this instant but so is Ezeh; there are no good options there. He, too, is a sophomore with a lack of on-field experience, so he seems more likely to have a light go on than Ezeh.
At this point the line is basically status quo, as is the secondary. I thought Williams did okay after a monstrously poor day against Illinois. So there's that.
First, a request for assistance:
I don't know if you or any of your readers might be able to help, but I'm trying to find a recording of a song. I saw a poster for some sheet music at Mr. Stadium Laundry that contained a song called "The Michigan Drinking Song." From what I've been able to find from my Google searches, it was written around the turn of the century and was voted "Favorite College Song" in the 1905 Michiganesian and included in "The Michigan University Songbook" published in 1904. It was written by M.B. Cooper.
My friends and I find it hard to believe that there's no recorded version of this song, and if it's not too much trouble, we'd really like to find it. Thanks for any help you can provide.
I don't know if I can help, but may be a reader can?
Moving on to other matters:
Have you considered year-end awards for the best diaries, board posts, or other community contributions? If so, and if it happens this year, I’d like to nominate Misopogon’s “How Tate Stacks Up Against M QBs of 2005-2008” for best diary – because, you know, holy crap. In fact, maybe the award should be called the Misopogon?
That would be something the community should do, as it's community content. I'm not sure anything can be derived from the board since it moves so fast and has so many tiny posts, but some recognition for the fine diarists who provide a lot of value to the site is in order. After the season I'm planning to implement a subscription option where for a nominal monthly fee you can get rid of the ads, and if there's some sort of user-generated awards thing I'll throw some freebies out to the winners.
Are Roh and Kovacs outside linebackers in disguise? I know they aren't perfect fits, but given our lack of depth and GERG's willingness to move people around, do you think that the coaching staff is at least thinking about this a little?
Also, in the other football, will/should Dempsey start at forward now?
Roh: no. Roh is 230, maybe 240 right now and will add 10-30 pounds over the course of his Michigan career. He's a defensive end all the way and will probably be a four-year starter at deathbacker if he doesn't end up moving to Graham's spot. Kovacs: maybe. I don't know if I've kicked this around on the blog yet, but I have mentioned it on WTKA: I think Kovacs might move to the Stevie Brown SLB/nickelback/spinner position next year if they can find any freakin' safeties. I think that's unlikely given the depth chart at safety and the recruitment of Hawthorne/Jones to play the Brown spot, but if they move a couple guys and someone steps up it's at least a vague possibility. I think Kovacs's skills are well suited for what Brown's currently doing. They're better suited to that than they are the deep centerfield he's been playing; moving Woolfolk to corner has just sprung a different leak in the secondary.
Shameless answer to the irrelevant Dempsey question: absolutely. Dempsey is mostly a striker in the EPL and has done his best work with the Nats after late-game moves up top. The alternative is… um… Conor Casey? I'd rather see Holden or Torres on the field. Maybe that's because I missed the brace against Honduras. But, no, probably not.
After the 3-9 debacle last year, obviously recruiting wasn't going to be as impressive this year. But what do you think about the defensive recruiting (or lack there of) at key positions?
I know Michigan is in on a number of good cornerbacks including Cullen Christian, Tony Grimes, and Rashad Knight (Though Christian could play safety and Knight is being recruited as one), but it seems like the staff is recruiting too many "project" players who will switch positions in the coming years before they settle in. The fact of the matter is this team has no real free safety type (Woofolk moved to CB), and the primary safety commit, Marvin Robinson, is headed to the Stevie Brown/SAM linebacker position.
Also, the defensive line has a number of players who fit the Craig Roh mold (Wilkins for sure, Paskorz maybe?), but a lack of a real Graham-like DE. Talbott is a very explosive player who I think will be underrated. Couple that with Antonio Kinard as the only LB commit (have you seen our LB play?) does this concern you at all? I think it's important that the mgobloggers realize this staff is far from perfect and not every recruiting choice they make is perfect.
Moving players from one high school position to another is a fact of life, as high schools will often throw their best players at crazy positions in an attempt to take advantage of their athleticism. The craziest position to date is Brandin Hawthorne's existence as a high school defensive end. Ideally you'd like to see guys coming in who have experience at their chosen position, but it's not like those guys get a ton of great coaching in high school anyway, or have any idea what they can get away with when everyone around them is about as athletic as they are. Michigan is clearly not in an ideal situation.
I think you'll see (PA DE Ken) Wilkins end up at Graham's spot down the road. Graham is currently 270 pounds and Wilkins is already 240 in high school; he'll end up putting at least 20 pounds in his first couple years here, at which point the move will be obvious, and what you'll see is Michigan pick up a bunch of defensive backs—5 or 6—with the intent of putting everyone in a blender and figuring out where they fit later. Some position moves are scary; safety-to-corner isn't. The linebackers are a concern; if Michigan doesn't pick up both Furman and Olaniyan the class will be disappointing there. And I don't think they'll get both.
Obviously the staff is not "perfect," but neither is the opposite extreme accurate: Rodriguez is not going to bring in classes like this year every time out. When he had a full year to recruit and didn't have a 3-9 anchor around his neck, Michigan brought in the #6 recruiting class, one laden with four-star guys. Almost every one of the recruits Rodriguez picked up in the brief window he had to finish Carr's last class was highly rated by one service or the other. This year's an anomaly, and the class will probably finish at the tail end of the top 20, not coincidentally the same area Notre Dame's post-crater class ended up.
Some background on FBS teams being allowed to play FCS opponents.
Until 2005, schools could count only one I-AA game every 4 years toward becoming bowl eligible. Obviously, this only applies to schools that go 6-5, and has no effect at all on schools with any other record from 11-0 to 0-11.
Here is an October 2004 article about this issue that includes begging from the Southern Conference commissioner to allow one counter every year. Here is the decision in April 2005 where the NCAA decides to allow one I-AA game every year to count towards bowl eligibility, tied into an increase to 12 games.
It really seems like that 12th game was intended to be a game against a I-AA school. Unless I am mistaken, I recall some I-AA schools were threatening the NCAA with a lawsuit for limiting their scheduling options. I could not find a record of this, unfortunately. Maybe I am confusing this with the "exempt games" issue.
I don't think the NCAA has the power to say "only play other FBS opponents." They don't have that much control over in-season scheduling. The conferences can mandate this, but not the NCAA. The NCAA can only say "these games don't count toward bowl eligibility," but the FCS schools would fight that, and they would probably win.
I don't know if you find this interesting, but there has been a good deal of discussion of this point on mgoblog, and there seems to be some misunderstanding of what the NCAA can and can not do.
Mostly included for the interesting background. I disagree that the NCAA doesn't have the power to do what it wants here, as the two sets of schools exist in different divisions sponsored by the NCAA. You might as well say the NCAA doesn't have any power to regulate that D-I and D-II schools can't play each other. The NCAA sets limits on the number of games that can be played in all sports, provides exemptions for various things it would like to promote, and actually organizes the different divisions. I'm sure some I-AA teams could sue, but I find it hard to believe they'd win.
I posted a thread on this topic but wondered about your thoughts. Is it too early IYHO to classify the 2008 defensive recruiting class a disappointment? Although they are only in their second year, ideally (apart from Martin) some would be pushing the upperclassmen for playing time, and as we know they are not, in some cases falling behind walk ons. Thoughts?
IMHE, it is too early to classify the 2008 defensive recruiting class a disappointment. But it is not too early to look at it with trepidation because it seems like we'll be thoroughly concerned about it midway through next year. A brief dossier:
- Beasts: Mike Martin
- Contributors: Boubacar Cissoko, JT Floyd
- Idling away: Brandon Smith, Kenny Demens. UPDATE: Also JB Fitzgerald.
- Gone: Taylor Hill, Marcus Witherspoon
So… first of all, it was only seven guys in a class of 24, and two of them were gone about two weeks after class started. Two more are linebackers stuck behind a walk-on, two more are backup defensive backs in a very poor secondary basically behind a walk-on since their poor play necessitated the Woolfolk move, and Mike Martin is a beast. These guys are going to be juniors or redshirt sophomores next year and it looks like Michigan isn't going to get a whole lot out of them. Cissoko's come back from the brink and may yet develop into something, and maybe we can expect one of the linebackers to pick it up after Ezeh and Mouton leave, but the early returns aren't great outside of Martin.
UPDATE: Forgot about Fitzgerald, who's had a reasonable career path so far given that he was behind a couple of starters; he rotated in for Ezeh a bit last week.
9/5/2009 – Michigan 31, Western Michigan 7 – 1-0
Melanie Maxwell, AnnArbor.com
Towards the end of the third quarter, a guy in the row behind me started grumbling about Michigan's offense being boringly ground-based. By the fourth, cramped quarters had given way to roominess. After it was over, I was disappointed that Michigan's first-half outburst gave way to a near-scoreless second half and thought Michigan should have given the kids a little more rope via which to test their skills.
In short, it was a typical game against a MAC opponent. At least it was for a given, thoroughly inaccurate definition of "typical." Michigan's seldom had an easy time of it against anyone since the Carr era started flagging. MAC or MAC-ish opponents since 2004:
|2008||Miami Of Ohio(NTMOO)||W 16-6|
|2006||Ball State||W 34-26|
|2005||Northern Illinois||W 31-17|
|2004||Miami Of Ohio(NTMOO)||W 43-10|
Over last five years, Michigan has been just as likely to be in an actual game (6) with a supposed tomato can as the expected blowout (6). (I am counting the '07 EMU game as an actual one, as it was 16-14 halfway through the third; the others need no justification.) Hell, even in 2006—when Michigan was a Crable helmet hit away from driving to the national championship game—Ball State had first and goal with an opportunity to tie late in the fourth quarter. In no way is a 31-0 halftime lead typical in the recent history of Michigan football except against Notre Dame.
It was just a MAC team, but think of how good those words sound rolling off your lips. Just a MAC team. Couldn't be expected to cope with our freakishly accurate quarterback or our freakishly speedy quarterback or the zippy skill position players who seemed bountiful and endless. Couldn't be expected to cope with Brandon Graham or Craig Roh or Mike Martin. No chance. Just a MAC team with a quarterback who might go in the first-round of the NFL draft and four-fifths of its offensive line back. No chance.
Yes, okay, there remain plenty of concerns. There were folks that the MAC team could cope with. These were the backup quarterback—and think about how good it sounds to have the identity of that person be utterly uncontroversial, no offense to said backup—and any cornerback not named Cissoko or Warren. Oh and any defensive end not named Graham or Roh. Or… well, you get the idea. The defense is paper-thin and can fall off a cliff with a single injury. So can the quarterback position until such time as Denard Robinson develops into something a more than a beautiful freakshow.
But today there is a thread about Michigan on every opponent message board across the internet where some guy says "looks like all that extra practice paid off lol."
Last year, the Utah game was an opportunity to radically reassess Michigan's immediate future. It was far uglier than the final score, and I remember going on WCBN—which BTW I will be on at around 5 today—and telling the assembled folk there that the Notre Dame game would be "critical for bowl eligibility," whereupon we mused ruefully about how far Michigan had fallen in such a short period of time without anyone coming close to realizing how optimistic we still were.
The one piece of good fortune coming from that game was the handy metaphor:
Every rational thought in your head suggests that the whole walk-on or freshman-the-coaches-are-panicked-about at quarterback, the line of baling wire and the occasional confused chicken, and freshmen everywhere at the skill positions will combine to yield an offense worthy of Yakety Sax, but until you actual see the damn thing in action you can hold out hope it will be otherwise.
We have seen it in action. It could have gone better. At least we have an incredibly direct metaphor all around us:
This program is under construction with a completion date around 2010.
This program is still under construction, and the completion date is still 2010. But those shabby exposed girders are now sheathed in brick and lightning, shiny in the afternoon sun. As the season goes on we'll undoubtedly see the unfinished parts within brought to the surface. There's no insulation, and if you peer into the windows you can still see the girders that were plain to all last year.
For now, for right now, it's reassuring to look up and see a modern version of Yost on the way. Through controversy and people with ill-considered protests Michigan comes, echoing the past with a back-to-the-future offense and West Virginians in charge and beautiful brick arcs and, Angry Michigan BLANK-Hating God willing, a point per minute.
- Man, JT Floyd looked like he'd have no chance of ever being a legit Big Ten corner on that bomb. I watched him go from two steps ahead to two steps behind the Western WR and immediately shivered at the safety depth. Maybe I'm leaping to too many conclusions from one play, but I see a safety move in his future.
- Also, and you are going to hear this thought a half-dozen times in this space over the next week, but: man, that Western touchdown was a bummer for a lot of reasons but none more foreboding than its extreme resemblance to the one-man-route Golden Tate touchdown from last year's Notre Dame game. Cissoko's health and Michigan's ability to ignore the Notre Dame ground game will be key.
- Brandon Graham must be livid he doesn't have a sack. Or three.
- How dumb does last year's "Rodriguez refuses to adjust his offense" meme look now? Michigan used a thousand different formations, including intermittent deployments of the I-form and a heavy dose of 2 TE ace sets. He's been presented with solutions and has gone in search of the problem.
- You know, if Michigan compliance is right and they can release a detailed report about offseason activities that results in zero and Michigan does pull out of its steep dive, it's possible the Free Press will be directly responsible for dissolving the gap between Michigan fans and Rich Rodriguez, which would have to go in the Alanis Morrissette Ironic Hall Of Fame. (Note on the linked article: claims that students chanted "keep united" after the game, which would have been awesome if it was true. It wasn't, though: it was "beat the Irish.")
- No, none of the things in that song are ironic, which makes the fact that the hall of fame is named after her ironic. Obvs.
- I think everyone needs to go back into that thread posted by that guy who said Craig Roh would start and posbang him like whoah. Also, I was backing two recruits out of proportion to all reason this year: Roh and Vincent Smith. Remember this when the predictions I make in the future are all hilariously off base.
- Wait just one more before we return to your regularly-scheduled wrongness: I'm telling you about Drew Tate, man. That first touchdown, where Forcier moxied his way away from a defender and then signaled Hemingway to go deep, was vintage Tate. Hopefully it will be vintage Tate again.
- Similarly, Sheridan's interception was a perfect demonstration of the difference between the two QBs. With the safety pulled up, Sheridan actually had plenty of room to hit Mathews in the back of the endzone if he floated it a bit; instead he attempted to rifle it and the ball was undercut.
- I twittered this but if you weren't around: I saw someone carrying around a sign that said "In Rich And Staff We Trust." This is banner fail.
This this was interesting from Touch the Banner:
In the second half, WMU quarterback Tim Hiller started getting rid of the ball quicker. He found a rhythm and started hitting underneath passes to his receivers. Greg Robinson might be served well by disguising coverages on the outside, changing the look from cover 2 man to a cover 2 zone. Suddenly, instead of driving the cornerback off with his initial burst, that cornerback is sitting underneath the quick hitch to the outside. A couple well orchestrated disguised coverages might be just enough to make Hiller think twice, which would give Brandon Graham, Mike Martin, and the rest of the defensive line enough time to get to the quarterback.
Michigan's defense in the opener seemed very simple. There was little rotation down-to-down. Michigan went the whole way in the same 3-4/4-3/4-2-5 hybrid thingy, occasionally rotating in a backup on the defensive line (this was done per series, so the series Graham was out he was just out except for a couple of third downs, IIRC) and yanking Cissoko for Floyd once things got out of hand. Everyone else played almost every snap. So it seemed like Michigan wanted to get their guys doing a limited number of things well; I assume they'll expand on that as the season goes on.
Also, by the time Hiller got going the game was out of hand and I can understand the impulse to shelve the exotics with Notre Dame coming in next week.
The Diag asks if Kelvin Grady has stolen Odoms' job, which probably not but he seems a viable option. I was surprised Roundtree was invisible—only came in with the Conescrubs at the end—after his spring game; even Laterryal Savoy and James Rogers got more run.
Note: video from last year is lightboxed; previous years will take you off the page.
A note before we start: this preview relies heavily on the defensive UFRs of last year, even more so than the offense did, because 1) there are actual returning players and 2) there’s a convenient numerical system that does a decent job of summing up a defensive player’s contributions. One caveat: the system is generous to defensive linemen and harsh to defensive backs, especially cornerbacks. A +4 for a defensive end is just okay; for a cornerback it’s outstanding.
|Brandon Herron||So.*||Mike Martin||So.||Ryan Van Bergen||So.*||Brandon Graham||Sr.|
|Craig Roh||Fr.||Renaldo Sagesse||Jr.||Greg Banks||Jr.*||Adam Patterson||Jr.*|
|Steve Watson||Fr.*||Will Campbell||Fr.||--||--||Anthony LaLota||Fr.|
Three starters depart but the big guy is back: Brandon Graham returns as Michigan's best player and a serious candidate for post-season honors. Joining him is a wildly unbalanced collection of players. At nose tackle there are two hugely promising underclassmen. At defensive tackle there's a potentially solid starter and then Some Guy. And at a new position no one knows what to call, what it does, or who plays there there's virtually nothing.
With the changes, this preview is going to treat the defensive ends as separate entities. Defensive tackles remain bunched.
|Sam-owns against UW|
|Saves UW game|
|"Big time from frosh"|
Last year, Mike Martin had the luxury of playing behind two productive veterans. In his limited time, he impressed. Everyone expects he will be the breakout star on defense this year; expectations are higher for him than they are for even Mouton. But… well. Here's a bunch of praise and some trepidation wrapped into one package. It's from the Wisconsin game:
Man, Mike Martin is kind of sweet.
Yeah, man, he's kind of great as an interior pass-rusher already. I'm a little leery that he's going to be a true sophomore starter on the line next year just because he came in so in-shape that he's probably not going to improve drastically, and therefore his sophomore year will seem disappointing, but the kid should be gangbusters (yea, see?) as an upperclassman. Now about the other guys at DT…
Martin might slightly disappoint people who expect him to be 100% awesome right now, but people pegging him at 80% are probably going to see their expectations met.
As a recruit, Mike Martin was a slightly smaller version of immovable fireplug Terrance Taylor. Both were state champions in wrestling and powerlifting. Both were in-state. Both were defensive tackles at or near the tail end of top 100 lists. HOWEVA, on the field the two played very differently. Taylor is a bull of a defensive tackle who will get under your pads and shove you backwards; Martin is more of a penetrator. His high school highlights often saw him slice through the line and tackle like a linebacker, and last year much of his deployment was as part of Michigan's three-man line pass rush Okie package. You can see the penetration in the highlights at right, and that sort of activity was the reason Martin picked up a steady stream of 3-0-3 lines in UFR.
This is why I'm a mite concerned, though:
|Penn State||1.5||4||-2.5||A lot of negatives late when he was in as a 4-3 DT; unsurprising he took a beating from Shipley & Co; he's just a freshman.|
That was Martin's longest exposure as a true 4-3 DT and he suffered at the hands of Penn State's excellent, veteran line. This could be a blip that has no impact going forward. Martin was, after all, a freshman going up against fifth-year seniors, and good ones. And there could be considerable difference between the role he was asked to play in that game—absorb two blocks—and the one he'll be asked to play in the light, quick, slashing defense Greg Robinson has apparently installed.
This year, Martin will be the only true defensive tackle in the lineup and is backed up by a to-date anonymous Canadian and a true freshman. Even if that true freshman may be enormous and highly touted, Martin's responsibility takes a more severe uptick than anyone else's this year. He might struggle a bit early; by the end of the year he should be very good.
At the other spot, redshirt sophomore Ryan Van Bergen enters the starting lineup. Van Bergen was a moderately shirtless recruit—he was ranked at about the same level Will Johnson was—who spent his first couple years backing up Brandon Graham at strongside defensive end. Michigan's moved him to their three-technique defensive tackle, a position that's traditionally been occupied by the nimble penetrating sort of defensive tackle instead of lumbering goo-beasts.
So he might to be too out of position at his new spot; he was something of a DE/DT tweener as a recruit. He still is at 6'5", 275. And he'll be one on the field: multiple people from the coaches who pop up from time to time on this site to the Michigan coaches to Van Bergen himself have noted that RVB will flare out from time to time and act as a five-tech defensive end, either on passing downs or when Michigan flips the deathbacker to Brandon Graham's side of the field.
There's not a whole lot of data on RVB to be had, unfortunately, and he seems a little tall and light for the spot he's at. With few reasonable backups, chances are production here isn't much better than okay.
Backups and Whatnot
Unlike… uh… everywhere else on the defensive line, there are a couple reasonable backups here. True freshman Will Campbell is the one with the recruiting hype, and lord almighty:
Dude put in work after enrolling early. His rep is enormous, agile, and strong—he's not a five star for nothing—but deficient in technique in all the ways that 350-pound men who can hurl high school offensive linemen into low Earth orbit usually are. In short: he needs to learn how to play low. He'll get that opportunity, as he should rotate in for Martin frequently with an eye on maybe starting when Michigan goes bulky for games against ground-pounders like Michigan State and Wisconsin. (The assumption in this case is that Martin slides over to DT and Michigan goes with a more conventional 4-3 look.) His recruiting profile also exists if you want to hear an awful lot about a large man.
Campbell will probably have a freshman year much like Mike Martin's, where he rotates in frequently and mostly does well with the occasional "yep, that's a freshman" play mixed in.
Meanwhile, junior Renaldo Sagesse remains a mysterious entity locked on the bench his first few years after coming to Michigan out of Quebec. Yes, that Quebec. In Canada. He probably doesn't have much upside but there's no shame in behind behind Taylor, Johnson, and Martin and should provide functional depth.
Redshirt junior Greg Banks backs up Van Bergen; Banks has seen the occasional snap as part of the rotation but hasn't done much with them. If he can give RVB breathers without drawing attention to himself, that's a win.
Strongside Defensive End
|Snuffing a draw|
|Sack wsgs Mouton, Brown|
|Beats double to sack|
|Sack wsg Mouton|
|frowns: not infallible|
|Sack +3 Pressure +2|
The most striking thing from my tour of last year's defensive UFR was how preposterous Brandon Graham was. Here's his Big Ten season minus Ohio State (which did not get UFRed for obvious reasons):
|Wisconsin||10.5||1||9.5||+6 of this comes from two sacks late when he got to the QB on three-man rushes, killing one drive and damaging another.|
|Illinois||7||4||3||More effective in the run game than others, but was exploited a couple times.|
|Penn State||9||4.5||4.5||Best player on defense without question.|
|Michigan State||12||1||11||He backed up his prediction as much as he could.|
|Purdue||9.5||2||7.5||Would have had some sacks if anyone was ever covered.|
The note above points out that defensive linemen tend to do better than the back seven in UFR ratings but once you start getting into the 7.5, 8, 9.5, 10.5, 11(!) range that is elite, elite production. Graham's impressive statistics—10 sacks, 20 TFLs—back that up. Graham is an unquestioned star, a lock for All Big Ten, a probable first round NFL draft pick, and the team's best player.
What's more, Graham's production took a major step forward last year. As a sophomore, Graham was impressive but mostly as a pass rusher. He had 8.5 sacks but just one other tackle for loss and 15 tackles outside of that. Last year a newly slimmed Graham added 36 tackles on people other than the quarterback, fully ten of them behind the line of scrimmage.
The best way to see Graham's transformation into a complete terror is to compare Michigan State games. In '07 Michigan State turned its run game around by attacking a tired Graham in the second half, and he came in for some clucking:
He's got a -2 up there, by far his worst total of his career, and it was largely because he got booted out of the line by double teams frequently.
In '08 Graham unwisely guaranteed victory and then went about attempting to make that happen singlehandedly. An abridged run-game-only Michigan State UFR:
Graham crashes inside in an attempt to jam the play up and force it to bounce outside but ends up shoved past the play, opening up a small hole Ringer can squeeze through. … Graham(-1) needs to shoot inside on this to take out the pulling guard and the fullback, which would delay Ringer and force him to bounce it into unblocked players; instead he stays outside and the resulting carry goes for six yards.
That's it in a game where Javon Ringer ran 37 times. The rest of the UFR that isn't "oh look it's another mass of bodies play for 2-4 yards" is Michigan State running at Tim Jamison over and over and over and over. Michigan State had seen the film, and they didn't even bother with that side of the line.
As far as the passing game, just look at the numbers and the highlights to your right. Brandon Graham is a bad man.
Backups and Whatnot
There are none. The opening depth chart has walk-on Will Heininger actually ahead of redshirt junior Adam Patterson, which… wow. Patterson was a top 100 recruit in this day and is currently behind a walk-on who's younger than him. Michigan acquired an injury redshirt for Patterson after he missed most of last year, but will they actually offer a fifth year to him?
When that's the relevant question instead of "can he reasonably replace the best player on the team?" it's time to light a candle for Graham's various ligaments, tendons, bones, and so forth and so on.
|Ryan Van Bergen|
|Easy PSU sack|
AKA "quick" or "elephant" or any number of other things, the deathbacker and what he is has been discussed ad nauseum throughout the offseason. One final recap: the deathbacker is half man, half machine, half defensive end, half linebacker, and 200% awesome. Robinson's defense has the flexibility to flip him from weakside—where he operates as an out-wide dispenser of havoc with a practiced sack dance—to the strong, where he becomes a human shield for an undersized strong-side linebacker and general threat to penetrate into a running play. In spring practice, Michigan mostly used him as the latter in order to better single up terror defensive end Brandon Graham.
Your one and only option at this spot is redshirt sophomore Brandon Herron, who has not been heard nor seen from except on special teams so far. Herron was only a middling recruit—Nebraska was his best other offer—and wandered around a man without a position his first couple years. He, along with linebacker Marell Evans and tight end Steve Watson, were thrown in at the position during spring practice. Evans transferred and Watson's initial buzz gave way to the sort of radio silence that sees you drop behind a true freshman, about whom more later, leaving Herron the starter by default.
As you can tell by the decidedly non-action photo above, Herron hasn't seen much time on the field. The only pictures in Mike DeSimone's insanely comprehensive Michigan picture database that feature Herron on the field are fuzzy shots of the field goal block team. So… yeah. I've never seen the player in question play. I've never seen Michigan deploy the position in question. There's considerable debate as to what, exactly, this position is even going to entail when it hits the field. Any projection here is the purest guesswork.
Here's my guesswork: Herron hasn't seen action despite Michigan's paper-thin depth chart at linebacker the last couple years and has the position by virtual default. He wasn't a big recruit. He's getting talked up, but that talk has the distinct whiff of Johnny Sears. Remember that brief window before The Horror when Only Reasonable Corner Option Johnny Sears was getting talked up left and right? Yeah… about that.
Herron does have one thing going for him: his teammates were throwing around ridiculous numbers about weights lifted and pounds (235) and 40 times (4.4). You take FAKE physical attributes at your peril, though.
Backups and Whatnot
Good thing this positional preview is the last one to drop: this site's message board has an unconfirmed report that true freshman Craig Roh is actually going to get the start tomorrow. This would be bad, as it would thrust a true freshman who's been called "wiry" so many times that he bristled at it when someone dropped it at Media Day into the starting lineup, but it might not be that bad. Roh was a big-time recruit who picked Michigan over USC and many others, and I was ape about him when it came time to hit up his recruiting profile:
He should get immediate use as a situational pass rusher and could move into the starting line up by midseason. It might take longer but I don't think Evans, Watson, or Herron is going to keep him off the field for much more than a year.
Craig Roh DE (Michigan)
Straight baller that showed a Dwight Freeney spin on Kelley for a sack and sacked/tackled Russel Shepard in space. Had a handful of QB pressures over the course of the game. Rich Rod got himself a good one.
When Rodriguez started talking about how Roh will play immediately upon his arrival, the general tone of it was "…as a situational pass rusher." That's definitely in the cards, but I've been advocating the idea Roh will end up something more, and soon… I wouldn't be surprised if the unconfirmed report was true.
There is also redshirt freshman Steve Watson, who moved from tight end after it became clear his lack of athleticism would see him permanently buried behind Koger, Webb, and Moore on offense at a position that's strictly optional in the spread 'n' shred. As mentioned, there were some positive notes coming out of spring practice about him, but Roh quickly passed him. Watson's career arc looks like Coner on defense.