"He makes it really easy on you as a coach because he has tremendous football instincts," Michigan tight ends coach Jay Harbaugh said. "Things come really naturally to him. He doesn't have to see things too many times. He has a good sense for how things should look and feel, and he's a tough, physical guy."
ulnar nerve; Vote_Crisler_1937 wanted me to make him look cool
An MGoUser with a college sports history who had a similar injury to the one Denard had emailed to give some perspective on what he's dealing with at the moment. It's below.
I am wondering about how Denard's nerve injury has affected his passing the last couple years.
Some background with my experience with the injury:
After 4 seasons of B1G baseball I had an ulnar nerve translation surgery. Until I had that surgery I had very extreme and unpredictable pain in my throwing elbow. There were days I could go 5 innings against Iowa, and days where after 9 pitches against MSU I hit two guys in the back because I suddenly had no ability to control the ball, eventually being unable to grip it, feeling constant shocks in my fingers and my forearm muscles compressing my bones like a trash compactor.
Some days I could not sit without biting my lip in a car or movie theatre because gently setting my elbow on the armrests was too intense so I imagine slamming it on the turf would have ruined my day as well. After the surgery, (16 week recovery so not an option for Denard) all of that was gone and my arm felt virgin again. literally, the first time I threw off a mound my accuracy was the greatest it had ever been and I hadn't thrown a pitch in 16 weeks! This injury is a chronic overuse injury that started early in my freshman year and became unbearable my senior year.
So my thought is that perhaps this injury is not at all new, and during the times it is really hurting Denard, again, times that are not so predictable, I would bet that it greatly hampers his ability to throw a football with accuracy. To the extent that the coaches are aware of it this can certainly change play-calling. Perhaps some of his arm-punts or Tacopants slings are a result of him feeling that familiar SHOCK as he releases the football. Though I guess I have never seen him rub his arm so then again maybe not.
I'm pretty sure this is a newly developed thing with Denard since if he'd had something similar last year, Michigan would have put him under the knife in the offseason.
I don't think it's affected his play much. When Denard has armpunted this year it hasn't been much of a surprise. When he's stepped into his throws they've been accurate. When he's gone all woogly not so much.
Yesterday's Picture Pages covered extensive confusion on Michigan's part as they tried to run basic isos against a basic defense but couldn't get the ILBs blocked, with a side of playcalls that leave guys alone in the hopes that accounting for end-around motion or the threat of an option play will draw players away from the actual threat.
A second major reason Nebraska had unblocked guys all over the place was blockers seeing a player shoot past them quickly and reacting. I've been doing this for a while now and this sort of thing has become one of my pet peeves. A blocker will see a defensive player run past them clean. They now have two options:
- Turn around and get that guy.
- Know—or at least hope—that wasn't your guy and find someone else to block.
Door A never works. They don't block the guy they missed, and they don't block anyone further downfield. When another blocker takes care of the aggressive player or the ballcarrier outruns him, the play is still screwed up because another defender is coming free.
This happened to Michigan on consecutive plays at the end of the first quarter. On the first, Michigan runs the veer from a 4-wide formation. Nebraska responds with two safeties at about ten yards and 5.5 guys in the box, as was their wont:
You can see the nickelback cheating off Dileo presnap, and he will come.
Remember earlier in the year when I was complaining that the linebackers didn't seem to understand that when the line slanted one way they should be moving against it since that is where the ball is likely to end up? This is an offensive version of that.
Dileo should know these things when the corner comes:
- Michigan is running the inverted veer.
- A blitzing corner is invariably the defense's force player—he contains and forces the runner inside.
- On an inverted veer the force player will be optioned off by the running back. The quarterback will have the ball going vertically.
So does he need to block the corner? No. Will he block the corner? Well, this post exists, so deduct for yourself.
Michigan snaps the ball and runs the veer. Barnum pulls. Here's the mesh point:
45 degrees from downhill—okay
The playside end is hugging the back of the tackle who's ignoring him. This is normally a give by Robinson, and Michigan has picked up some decent chunks early by giving. Denard pulls this time, which is good because that corner is coming to make the give a likely TFL. Nebraska made it easy by tipping that the nickelback was coming presnap.
Dileo should move to the next level, but he turns and starts pursuing the nickelback.
90 degrees! alert!
Argh. At this point the guy is gone, and even if Dileo makes contact there's a good chance he'll pick up a block in the back call. To add insult to injury, trying to block this guy you can't block is purposeless—he's already going to be optioned off.
- Barnum picks up the end.
- Schofield gets his free release and engages the MLB.
The coast is clear!
turned around: dead
Dawwwww, unblocked safety. Unblocked safeties.
Five yards, and Dileo comes back in at the end to go "dawwwwww."
If Dileo can cut that safety like Joe Reynolds did against State, that is six points. Even if the safety keeps his feet and contains, that's likely a first down.
[AFTER THE JUMP: dawwwww not again.]
Bowlettes [Updated for clarity]:
- Devin Gardner has been taking most of the snaps at QB this week. Denard is obviously limited during his recovery, but I think it's curious that Bellomy has gotten only "a couple," regardless of whether he's the No. 1 or No. 2 backup. You'd expect Gardner and Bellomy to split reps equally and compete for the top backup spot. Plausible explanation: Bellomy is also limited by some undisclosed injury. (I don't know for sure, but it's an educated guess.) Either way, it sounds like Gardner is the bona fide starting QB until Denard recovers.
- As of now, Denard is expected back for Saturday. Hoke says the final call on the quarterback situation will be made just before game time. If you have been paying attention to Michigan's football program over the last season and a half, however, you have surmised that Michigan is highly unlikely to make this kind of decision just before game time. That decision will probably be made very soon if it has not been made already.
- If the distribution of QB snaps (see above) and Michigan's track record for saying things that turn out not to be true (e.g. previous injury reports and recovery projections, most notably during the Nebraska game, "Michigan says Denard will return to the game in the second half ...") are any indication, I would guess the probability that Denard plays on Saturday is around 50%, maybe less. In the absence of real information though, anything is possible; I'm not optimistic, but I never am.
- Amara Darboh and Joe Reynolds have gotten the reps at receiver that Gardner is now missing.
“Thought we came out yesterday and had a really good practice. That’s good to see. We didn’t play as well as we’d like to. I think everybody understands that, but I think we’ve moved forward and did a lot of things as a team very well. Competed very well. We’re pretty physical with each other, which is always a good thing. You don’t have guys feeling sorry for themselves, so the intensity level was good.”
Can you talk at all about the division of snaps at quarterback?
“You know, I couldn’t give you an exact number, to be honest with you. You know, Denard took some, Devin took a lot, and then Russell took a couple.”
Will Denard play on Saturday?
“We’re planning on it.”
Does he have any physical limitations?
“Not really. Not right now. He’s better. It’s not all the way cleared up yet, but it’s better.”
Why can't Michigan run the ball without Denard? As with anything in football, the answer is "it's complicated" but against Nebraska the pendulum swung decisively towards an inability to block anything.
There were two primary ways in which things went unblocked, one of which we'll cover in two posts.
Ain't Nobody Trying To Block Important People
The first were either busts, play design errors, or combo blocking errors that left totally unblocked linebackers in the hole. A here's a third-quarter iso on the penalty fiesta drive that resulted in a field goal:
The highlighted guy is Nebraska's WLB. No one even tries to block him.
Unsurprisingly, this doesn't go well.
I'm not sure who this is on. I don't get the blocking. If Mealer releases directly downfield in the second frame in an attempt to get that WLB he does not have much of an angle and probably doesn't do much. I would expect Michigan to double that DT, leave Mealer behind on the DT, and then have Omameh pop off.
That doesn't happen. Did someone screw up? Is the play design bad? Is it Schofield moving to the second level poorly? Things are so confused I don't know.
If this was a one time thing you could chalk it up to a guy busting. It wasn't.
[AFTER THE JUMP: more unblocked guys! Like, so many you'll freak! They're coming out of holes in the ground like the Viet Cong!]
JUST RUN THE BALL
I know you've touched on this before, but why isn't Denard scrambling on at least 25 percent of our called pass plays? I mean, can't Borges just tell him, "If your first and second reads aren't immediately open, run"? It seems like a win-win situation. If guys are wide open, great. If not, the holes are likely to be bigger than on our usual designed QB keepers. I know Denard seems to have problems with this, but has Borges ever actually said this is a problem that they're actively working to remedy? I don't get it.
Nobody knows why, but it's just never happening. I'm sure they've attempted to remedy this in multiple ways, like:
- screaming RUNNNNN at him in practice when he should scramble
- screaming RUNNNNNN at him in games when he should scramble
- calling him at 3 AM and screaming RUNNNNNN at him
- popping out of oversized birthday cakes screaming RUNNNNNN [note: works on children]
- plopping down with despair and saying "I give up and welcome the sweet oblivion soon to follow"
Ain't happening. E-fact.
Student section celebration thing: can we carbon date this?
Regarding the whole rushing the field debate I have a question about the reverse: when the team runs over to party with the student section. You gave a list of when people rushed the field, but when was the first time the players ran over to the student section? I was in the band at the turn of the century (Boom. Old-timed.) and I don't remember that ever occurring. The first time I remember it happening was the Manningham TD against Penn State. Was that the first? When else can you remember it happening?
I do not actually know. 2005 Penn State sounds pretty good as a plausible start for that but I have this feeling it was more something that started in the RR era. I throw it open to readers: when did Michigan going over to the student section after home wins become a thing?
Funchess at WR?
My cousin brought up a scenario during the MSU game that I haven't seen discussed much: could Funchess move to WR next year if no one proves to be an adequate replacement for Gardner? He has proven that he has great hands, leaping and size. Along with this, if the idea is to give matchup issues for the defense, I see no bigger matchup problem than a 5'10" CB covering him. If he has blocking trouble, I don't see the sense in Ricardo Miller-ing him, but obviously I'm no coach. What say you?
For a guy like Funchess that's kind of a distinction without a difference. He's already lining up at WR in a lot of sets, and I imagine he'll continue to do so throughout his career. He is a flex tight end.
But Michigan shouldn't and almost certainly won't try to keep pounds off of him so that he's more of a downfield threat/WR guy instead of a tight end. He's already too big to be a guy who threatens CBs and safeties over the top, and he'll still be too fast for linebacker sorts to reliably cover. Bulking him up to NFL flex TE size—250, 260—makes him a more credible blocker and gets him more open when he does go out to catch passes.
Besides, Michigan's got a slightly smaller Funchess coming in. His name is Jaron Dukes. If there's a role for that on the outside he or Jehu Chesson can fill it.
[AFTER THE JUMP! MORE THINGS! ABOUT STUFF! /bradyhokeinjuryreport'd]
Formation notes: MSU's defense is very simple, with few substitutions or wacky formations. They spent most of the game in a 4-3 even with linebackers shaded to the slot. Like so:
Shotgun 2TE twins for M
They would go into an okie package with two deep safeties on passing downs:
Shotgun 3-wide for M
When Michigan split their WRs this was the preferred look:
Also shotgun 3-wide
MSU screwed their corners down into press man and walked their safeties up to about nine yards deep, ready to roar downhill at any run action. You won't get any bubble complaints from me in this game—it wasn't there.
This is "Ace Triple Stack" as a reminder:
Yes, throwback screen obvs.
Substitution notes: Few surprises here. Line all starters; TE rotation about as it has been. No RBs other than Toussaint and Smith made appearances; Gardner was not announced as a starter and got a lot fewer snaps than he has previously. Speculation is he's carrying some sort of injury. Joe Reynolds got his first snaps in a heated situation—all were runs. More about that later.
[……IS BEHIND THE JUMP! There are lot of embeds this week and I've gotten some complaints that UFRs bog people's browsers down—hmmm wonder why—so taking most of the junk off the front page should help in that regard.]