“The player development is the main thing I like (about Michigan),” Williams said. “You can see that they develop their players. They get them in the gym and they work them hard. And their hard work pays off.”
Split out wide for most of the game, Devin Funchess set career highs in receptions and yards. [Photo: Bryan Fuller, MGoBlog]
After two ugly victories against overmatched opponents, Michigan entered their game against Minnesota with a reshuffled offensive line and a pressing need to placate the fanbase by not playing down to their opponent. After a slow start, they did just that, scoring 28 second-half points en route to a 42-13 homecoming victory.
The natives were restless during a plodding first half in which the two teams combined for just eight real drives (the Gophers ran out the last 1:25 of the half), due mostly to a 16-play, 75-yard march by Minnesota—during which they converted five third downs—that saw them tie the game at seven. That came after Jibreel Black forced a fumble by Gopher quarterback Mitch Leidner on the game's opening possession; James Ross recovered and the Michigan offense capitalized with six runs in six plays, covering 35 yards and capped by an eight-yard Fitz Toussaint touchdown.
The ensuing Gopher drive ate up most of the first quarter, allowing them to not only knot up the score, but keep it close for the rest of the half. This was "old time Big Ten football" in the worst sense—slow-paced, run-heavy, and not particularly effective. Four consecutive punts followed, and the heated battle for field position eventually went in Michigan's favor—after Matt Wile's 55-yard boot was downed by Dennis Norfleet at the Gopher one-yard line, Minnesota was forced to punt it away from the nine, and Drew Dileo took a line drive kick well into Gopher territory. Four plays later, Devin Gardner hooked up with Devin Funchess—who spent most of the game lined up at wide receiver—on a post route for a 24-yard touchdown with 1:25 left in the half. Fitting the general tenor of the game, Minnesota decided to forego any chance at points, running twice and carrying three timeouts into halftime.
If that seemed questionable at the time, it looked more so after Michigan drove 75 yards in nine plays to open the second half, bolstered by an improved running game and the emergence of Funchess, Giant Wide Receiver. The first four plays of the drives were runs of 14, 5, 8, and 9 yards; a 21-yard back-shoulder throw to Funchess set up a two-yard Derrick Green touchdown to cap the drive. The Gophers could only respond with a field goal to cut the Wolverine lead to 21-10; that would be the closest they'd get for the rest of the game.
Much of the credit for that can go to Funchess, who finished with seven catches for 151 yards—both career highs—and set up a late Gardner touchdown run with a 46-yard grab on the right sideline. Even though the numbers don't bear it out, the running game looked improved as well; though Michigan averaged just 3.2 yards per carry as a team, Fitz Toussaint (right, Upchurch) had an impressive 78 yards on just 17 carries, adding a second touchdown run from 12 yards out to give Michigan a 28-10 third-quarter lead that proved insurmountable. Chris Bryant, the new starter at left guard, proved adept as a puller, which allowed Michigan to run the play they'd like to (eventually) make their offensive identity: power.
Most importantly, considering the troubles of the last two games, Michigan didn't turn the ball over once, the first time they've done so since their 58-0 win over these same Gophers in 2011, Brady Hoke's first season at the helm. After looking flustered against UConn, Devin Gardner was very sharp, connecting on 13 of 17 passes for 235 yards and a touchdown while showing a calmness in the pocket that wasn't present in previous games. Gardner wasn't needed much as a runner, carrying the ball just seven times for 17 yards and a TD; in a game like this, that's just fine.
While the defense had trouble getting off the field on third downs, allowing Minnesota to convert on 8 of 15 chances, they were otherwise solid; the Gophers mustered just 281 total yards on 4.5 yards per play and couldn't score a touchdown after their second drive. The inside linebacker duo of Desmond Morgan and James Ross combined for 19 tackles, making it tough sledding for any Minnesota run up the gut. While the Wolverines had trouble covering Gopher TE Maxx Williams, who finished with 54 yards and a touchdown on five receptions, the rest of the Minnesota passing offense generated just 91 yards. While the Gophers missed a couple chances for big completions late, Michigan made up for that when Blake Countess stepped in front of a Leidner throw and returned it 72 yards to complete the scoring with just 1:19 on the clock. The biggest concern on that side of the ball going forward may be the health of nose tackle Ondre Pipkins, who was carted off the field with a left knee injury; he's a critical backup behind Quinton Washington.
Despite the close calls and consternation from the nonconference slate, Michigan now sits at 5-0 and 1-0 in the Big Ten, and after two harrowing wins over bad teams the Wolverines beat Minnesota in a wholly acceptable fashion—the slow pace masked a dominant effort until the game broke open late. In the end, Michigan scored five touchdowns on eight offensive drives, with the defense adding a sixth for good measure while forcing Minnesota to fight for every yard. It wasn't pretty in any aesthetic sense; the score, however, speaks for itself.
As told by Bo. MGoUser Don unearthed this piece of coaching film nostalgia explained by Bo himself:
These days you don't see defensive linemen go to the ground like that when doubled, because they're not 230 pounds anymore. The rest of it remains accurate to this day. Meanwhile, the NFL's hot new trend is Bo offense. Someday that guy's going to make something of himself.
Ten years ago. At some point in the third quarter something terrible happened in the Metrodome, causing me to reflexively go "aaaurrrgh" or something similar, and part of this was a frenzied hand motion that relocated my girlfriend at the time from the couch to the floor. Then Michigan won the game. Minnesota 2003, everybody!
The Star-Tribune delves into the crippling loss ten years on:
“If we win that game, the program is 100 percent different, no doubt about it,” said former quarterback Bryan Cupito, a freshman in ’03. “If we win that game, I would say the next five years of Minnesota football is completely different. I think that would have changed things in a big way.”
For one, flipping the result of that game would have created a four-way logjam at the top of the Big Ten standings with Michigan, OSU, Purdue, and Minnesota all at 6-2. That Gopher team had an unbelievable amount of talent in the run game—Thomas Tapeh, Marion Barber, and Laurence Maroney were all on that team—but they could not survive the John Navarre show in the fourth quarter.
“Once they started scoring touchdowns,” Utecht said, “that little voice kind of pops into your head like, ‘Oh no, please tell me this is not going to happen again.’ ”
Maroney and Matt Spaeth would at last get their revenge two years later when Jim Herrmann called the worst blitz ever in that weird game where they turned the clock off.
Say hello to more iso. Space Coyote breaks down the manballiest play of them all, iso:
While iso's not really something you can base your offense around it can acquire larger chunks when linebackers are shooting gaps like crazy (like ND was) or when you've got a numerical advantage with your QB. In normal situations it's a small gain. This is a good point:
With the move of Glasgow to center and the insertion of Bryant into the lineup at LG, it means a few changes may be in order. Bryant, less the fleet of foot and more the very large, squatty man that is more of a hitter and less of a reacher, probably indicates that Michigan will go to more of a traditional man blocking scheme. Add on that Glasgow isn't the quickest of players for the center position in a stretch run team, and it's likely that Michigan will be running less zone stretch and more gap blocking type activities (with the occasional inside zone mixed in).
What a bizarre shift, and one that should sap your enthusiasm for the new-look offensive line. They've been trying to do one thing a lot for four games and now that they've got Bryant the thing that makes sense is to dump all that preparation in the trash and hope to do something not quite entirely different. Bler.
Not sure why inside zone isn't something SC thinks will feature; me, it seems to makes sense with the personnel and the apparent zone focus of the offseason.
Talking with Chatman's people. People get all out of joint about the 247 Crystal Ball when it's wrong, as it was with Kameron Chatman*, but, you know, like, whatever. It's just, like, people's opinion, man. They should add a confidence rating so we can distinguish between "I will eat my hat if Malik McDowell does not end up at Michigan" and "if I could withdraw this prediction I would but since I cannot here is a blindfolded man pointing a gun." Chatman would have been the latter for us.
Beilein got the thing done in the usual way: identifying talent early and getting on it before anyone else did:
"The thing we liked about Michigan was, first and foremost, Michigan has been recruiting us the longest," Mr. Chatman said. "Coach (Beilein) has been in with us. Coach Meyer started his recruitment in July of 2012, and he’s been there since day one. From him going up to Long Beach Poly, checking out open gyms, staying in contact when Kameron couldn’t play — our relationship even started prior to that, and then to stick through it and even turn it up. In the spring and summer, Michigan’s interest was apparent all the way through."
It was not the guy you might expect that really caught the Chatmans' eyes:
"I think Kameron was very impressed with the development of Jordan Morgan and his story. Not necessarily coming in being the guy who could be forecasted to play in the Big Ten as a contributor but will possibly be a full-time starter this year and is also in graduate school. He’ll go on to be successful."
That's a guy with his eye on some unusual things.
*[Note that Ace and I are jointly operating the main MGoBlog predictotron there; I was the one who projected Chatman to Arizona, not Ace.]
Dominoes. Everything is happening right away in basketball recruiting:
- Michigan coaches visited IN SG James Blackmon Jr last night en masse, hours after Blackmon tweeted out "decision coming soon"; in the aftermath Bacari Alexander sent out something starting with "it's been real" but that he was returning to the guys already on the team to get practice going. Many internets have decided that this means something bad about Blackmon, but in context—Alexander tweeting out pictures of the jet he and the crew are flitting around in, another en masse visit to Grantham—I don't read anything into that.
- Speaking of WV PF Donte Grantham, he announces between Michigan and Clemson tomorrow at noon. Insiders are all over the place on who it'll be. Grantham just took an unofficial to Clemson and Michigan just descended on him with the whole staff; tea leaves are murky. A 50-50 proposition.
- There's no such uncertainty with CA PF DJ Wilson, who's visiting this weekend and should be offered, whereupon the universe expects an instant commit. Wilson's the lowest-ranked of the guys Michigan's after but as a 6'9" super-intelligent (he's got Ivy offers aplenty) shooter he's the sort of kid Beilein snaps up without thinking twice. If things get really crammed and Wilson is amenable he might take a prep school year, but with other BCS options and increasing interest that's asking a lot.
- MS SG Devin Booker takes his official this weekend, and while most feel he's ticketed for Kentucky now I'm saying there's a chance. As previously mentioned, one or the other may get pushed away from Kentucky when the first one drops. Any rumors about MSU getting in on Booker look pretty flimsy given a couple of Plan D offers Izzo just shot out to wing types.
Blackmon has a visit to UK set for the 18th; Booker set a tentative commit date of October 31st; he later took that back but that remains a reasonable timeline. Michigan's 2014 class should be full-ish by the end of the month.
HEY YOU'RE A JERK (you're right shhh). Don't talk about my sister like that, only I talk about my sister like that:
"I think he kind of just panics a lot," Minnesota safety Cedric Thompson told the Minneapolis Star Tribune in a story published Wednesday. "I think when he scrambles, he kind of just throws the ball."
Gardner will revert to old bad ways when pressured or rolling out, which is about 90% of his accuracy issues. Not like Cedric Thompson is going to benefit from this information, since Cedric Thompson is probably going to be eating paste as someone runs by him. (Cue Minnesota blog version of this bullet.)
Trying to make it big. The NYT on the BTN's adoption of college hockey:
“We’re in an investing phase, not in a moneymaking phase, with Big Ten hockey,” Silverman said. “The hope is, over time, that we can grow the sport so it can pay for itself and hopefully be an overall benefit to the network.
“We think it will bring in new viewers. We think it will help with our ratings. But we’re making a significant investment, and it’s not a short-term investment.”
They have nine consecutive doubleheaders on Friday nights, which is the reason you have no gametimes on your tickets. A lot of those are at 7 or 6:30, which might dent attendance. Hopefully Michigan can make it work, as the atmosphere inside Yost is still one of the main draws to college hockey even after its undeniably steady decade-long decline.
By the way, those UNH games that were inexplicably going untelevised have been picked up by Fox College Sports. That leaves the following games as the only untelevised ones this year:
- @ RIT (which is televised locally on what looks like a Time Warner channel like Comcast's)
- Michigan Tech, Friday Nov. 1
- @ UNO, Saturday Nov. 16
- @ Wisconsin, Jan. 11
- Wisconsin, Feb. 1
- @ Penn State, Feb 7
That's a quantum leap forward, especially with UNO and RIT offering live streams. This is how far the college-hockey-on-TV thing has come: even the USA game is set to be televised(!) on FSD.
Etc.: Inside the Western Michigan rainout decision. Ole Miss players heckle "Laramie Project" performance. This never happens at New Miss. This is not a humor article about craft beer, because it is the truth. Losing, faking, and recovering the Brown Jug. The 1930s were fun. Jon Falk honored.
FORMATION NOTES: UConn did some weird stuff. My lingo on these is probably bad but this was "5-1 nickel split" with a 3-4 front that has two OLBs flanking the line:
And I just gave up when this happened, calling it "5-4 30 front":
There was also a 5-3 30 front that had a deep safety.
This is "shotgun 4-wide tight" for M. You may note the weird tilt of Funchess:
As a rule I count a TE in a two point stance as a WR for purposes of naming a formation.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: The usual basically everywhere. Save one snap for Derrick Green when Toussaint was momentarily injured, Toussaint got every tailback snap. Butt was preferred to Funchess late when Michigan was running the ball. And it seems like Chesson is slowly absorbing snaps from Reynolds and Jackson.
All else was as before.
[After THE JUMP: points! yards! (none of those things)]
- Jake Ryan! Won't be back for Big Ten opener. Maybe by Penn State. "Mid-october" is the target.
- The only way Graham Glasgow gets moved to center is if there's a capable guard to replace him.
“Good practice today. Back to basics, I think that’s what most of us do during bye weeks, especially the first couple days. Fundamentals, being sound with technique, revisiting technique is always important. I think we did that. We had great intensity. The focus was very good.”
Are there guys that are going to rest this week?
“No. I mean, everybody’s participating, some at different levels than others. Taylor doesn’t need to be out there 30 plays in a practice -- I’ll just use him as an example. You’ll do some of that, but everybody’s doing work.”
For Taylor, has this season been an improvement for him?
“I think he’s playing pretty well. I think he’s been very good as a leader. I think he’s been good fundamentally and technique. I think he’s been pretty good.”
Has he been playing hurt?
“No, I don’t think so.”
Estimates are approximate. Michigan's spent maybe half of their snaps in the shotgun/pistol on running downs this year, running about five things: jet sweeps to Norfleet, QB draws, speed option, the inverted veer, and a kind of alternate to the inside zone called "belly" that Rich Rodriguez was fond of during his brief spell in Ann Arbor.
Oddly, Michigan hardly runs anything like a base play from the shotgun. They don't run the stretch, they don't run any iso or power type plays. There is a faint smattering of inside zone, but that's it, and that's not anywhere near established. In their first three games of the year I've got them down for three inside zone runs from pistol or shotgun; they went for a total of three yards. Nobody's cheating to a base run play against Michigan.
This allows opponents to tee off on the things Michigan is kind of good at. More importantly, it often seems like they're going up against opponents who are better drilled at defending modern offensive concepts than Michigan is at running them. Here's an example:
Michigan's in the pistol with Kerridge as a fullback, Williams the tight end, and both WRs to the field. It's first and ten. UConn responds by shifting their line to the strength (an "over" front) and aligning their linebackers about evenly with a safety rolled up over Williams.
Michigan wants to read the end to the bottom of the screen. That will allow Michigan to blast the playside end off the ball with a sustained double; Williams will head for the safety as Kerridge deals with the playside linebacker. If the end crashes, Gardner pulls. If he contains, Gardner keeps.
Snap. You can see Williams release, Lewan and Glasgow begin to bash the playside end off the line, and the frontside UConn LBs react to gaps that may need to be filled.
Gardner is now considering the end, who does what ends are supposed to do these days: try to split the difference so that they can be useful on a handoff and still contain the QB. Gardner's trying to figure out what to do about this:
(Note that Lewan and Glasgow are battering their guy inside effectively.)
Now, I think that's a pull. I gave Gardner a minus for that, because I want Gardner to test the edge against a defensive end who's standing at the LOS. But it's a gray area for the quarterback. The end is neither flat-out containing or crashing down; this is a situation in which errors are common.
At the decision point, Gardner gives. Kerridge is staring down two defenders, doesn't know which one to deal with, doesn't really deal with either but it doesn't matter because whoever he does in fact block is just going to funnel to his buddy.
Poor Damn Toussaint, 2013 edition.
That's a loss of two yards.
Items Of Interest
Remember the wheel route from the Notre Dame game? That's the opposite of this. Borges saw the wheel open, gave it a try once, and then pulled it out in a similar situation later for a big gain. Here Michigan just abandons these runs. How is this a similar situation? Like ND, UConn is playing this play in a certain way. If they play it in the same way again, you can alter what you're doing to bust it open. But Michigan hasn't done this, and so rarely does things that are misdirection that twitter blows up about it when they get five yards on it.
Arc, arc, arc, arc. Nebraska demonstrated the tweak against Michigan a couple years back on an almost identical play. Michigan shuffled Jibreel Black down, planning to contain with Kovacs on the outside. The fullback approached the end, and then…
Black could not recover in time to get out on Martinez, Kovacs got a guy in his face, and Nebraska ripped off a 23-yard gain.
Here it's a little different because the end does have contain on Gardner, but if Michigan pokes at that belly play again they can do something similar. Instead of having a true read it's a designated Gardner keeper on which Kerridge's job is to get outside and block whoever that contain guy happens to be, Michigan can burn the shuffle.
This is a paragraph of disclaimers and explanations. That's my thought process when I see things like that on the zone read, because that was Rodriguez's thought process. He probably forced defenses to create the shuffle a few years back when he started blocking backside ends trying to crash down and shooting Carlos Brown or Brandon Minor through the gaping hole scraping linebackers would leave. That burned scrape exchanges hard for a while, and then the cat and mouse game moved on.
Michigan is deficient at cat and mouse in the run game. I'm not trying to suggest that Michigan has to be a spread option team for their offense to work better; I am pointing this out because it remains my wheelhouse and it's a good example of the things Michigan doesn't do because they are a jack-of-all-trades offense that doesn't see how a defense is responding and do something to break it. Because to do that Nebraska thing above your fullback has to rep it and sell it, etc. It takes practice time.
Michigan's not thinking the zone game well at either the field level or the box level because they're not committed to it, and that extends to everything from stretch to power to iso.
Also maybe chalk that up as a missed read for Gardner. Because Michigan doesn't rep it consistently enough? I don't know. Has to be a consideration.
In other sad runs Michigan got out-schemed on. UConn was sending guys off the corner with frequency, but Michigan did not recognize it despite UConn tipping it hard. This inverted veer featured the dead giveaway of a safety moving down to line up directly over a wide receiver:
And on this one, how would you describe the playside corner's presnap technique? Is "right angle to wide receiver" a thing?
Michigan just gets lined up with 14 or so seconds on the clock and thus doesn't have much time to recognize what the defense is doing and adjust, like you saw Notre Dame and Akron do to Michigan's detriment several times. They're just eating bad playcalls. That's a natural consequence of spending 25 seconds in a huddle and not recognizing that one of the most common responses to spread stuff is to send extra guys off the edge.
None of this has anything to do with the offensive line. These are two TFLs and one miraculous Gardner escape wiped out by a Funchess holding call (which, BTW, ugh) on which the offensive line plays no part. The problems go deeper than their issues, which we'll get to later. This is Borges and to some extent Gardner—I don't know if he's got checks here—getting beat by the defensive coordinator. They got some back with the speed option, FWIW.
Who's up for a tedious 150 comment thread questioning whether it's worthwhile to read this? I certainly am! I hope there are content-free arguments. Let's make sure to ignore Ka'Deem Carey's 2000 yards last year when we're incensed at the idea Rich Rodriguez might be able to coach a run game.
"I just dropped back and did what I was coached to do, kind of read off his eyes and lo and behold he threw it that way so I was just trying to jump up and make the play on it." — Desmond Morgan
He made a play on it, to say the least.
[Hit THE JUMP for the best GIFs (from a very Michigan-biased perspective) from the UConn game, and make sure to vote for your favorite.]