who fails upward better: Whitlock, Kiffin, or Brandon?
This actually comes from UM football spokesman Dave Ablauf, but it's certainly news nonetheless. Redshirt freshman corner JT Turner has asked for (and been granted) his transfer release from the University of Michigan. The request was made yesterday.
Now, onto the GERG:
The biggest questions for the defense on the whole are "How much can we develop by September 4th? How far can we take this defense by September 4th?" The goal is to be an excellent defense at that time. Robinson: "I like our movement on defense." Team success will come down to how the coaches are able to utilize people on that side of the ball.
The main changes in the defense this spring came in the usage of terminology. They went to some of the terminology that the defensive coaches (all of whom have been with Rodriguez since the West Virginia days) were familiar with. This was a suggestion that Rodriguez made that Robinson immediately thought was a good idea. Robinson had to take on a lot more terminology, but he's been around the block a few times, and had to do it before, including moving from defensive line coach to offensive coordinator at UCLA over the course of one offseason.
The change worked well in the spring, and by now "it's pretty much second nature for everybody." Prior to the terminology switch, there was potential for some messages to get lost somewhere in the chain, but now everyone's on the same page.
Robinson has used 3-3-5 and nickel concepts throughout his career, including in the NFL. With the prevalence of spread offenses in today's game, there's a need for a more athletic group of midrange players.
Robinson really likes coaching the linebackers, and this year's crop in particular. Linebackers are "the glue of the defense" between the defensive line (the heart of the defense - pumping everything) and secondary. Being right in the middle allows Robinson to work with all position groups more easily.
There has been some change since spring, as the players have been through summer workouts. The coaches are able to get their full attention during the beginning of summer camp, because most of them aren't in school.
It's "too early" to single out any freshmen that have emerged as potential contributors. The team isn't even in pads yet. There are still some young guys that the staff feels good about.
Lots of guys came back from the summer in great shape. When asked how Will Campbell looks: "He's very handsome." Marvin Robinson "walks around the building looking pretty good." (Second GERG evaluation of a player's appearance. [Ed: I bet Will Campbell tells his teammates how awesome GERG's hair looks.]) Robinson is one of the freshmen who has intentions on getting onto the field right away.
The defensive line has plenty of experience. Craig Roh, Mike Martin, and Ryan Van Bergen, and Greg Banks (who has "played a good amount") were all singled out. Craig Roh is a good athlete. He can run, is a good pass rusher, and is also a smart player. His intelligence allows the coaches to give him a variety of responsibilities (of which a hybrid player has more) with confidence he'll be able to carry them out.
Obi Ezeh is working very hard. He has "good intentions" but is aware that he has a battle for a starting spot with Kenny Demens and Mark Moundros the other contenders. Robinson is a "real fan" of Jonas Mouton. He has the physical abilities, and can process information well. He really wants to up his game. Kenny Demens and Mike Jones are challenging for playing time. Jones was injured last year, which held his progress back.
Moundros was a good selection by his teammates as defensive captain, though the whole senior class is filled with leaders. It's easy to see why Moundros was selected, because he has great work ethic, he's smart, he's tough, he loves football, and has a giving mentality. When GERG first arrived at Michigan, he saw Mark Moundros and thought he might be a linebacker before being informed he was the team's fullback. The position switch will work well because "he has linebacker skills."
Kevin Leach, Floyd Simmons, Thomas Gordon, and Josh Furman are some of the players at safety/linebacker hybrid spots. That's a competitive situation, and far from a done deal yet. They're willing to give up a bit of size at the position as long as there's still physical play. Stevie Brown was a good example of this.
Jordan Kovacs is the guy who's taking first reps at his position right now. There's nothing set in stone this early, of course, and there hasn't been enough time for anyone to make a push for his job. He's the type of player who makes everyone around him better with his communication.
In the secondary, Woolfolk is the experienced guy, and they feel very good about JT Floyd "showing a lot of progress." His spring was good, and it seems like he had a good summer. Cameron Gordon is mature, and a hard worker. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean he's ever seen a live snap at this level. Vladimir Emilien and Jared Van Slyke have both gotten plenty of reps in practice, but even they don't have much game experience.
The backups at corner include two true freshmen, Cullen Christian and Courtney Avery, and walkon Tony Anderson. [Not sure if James Rogers was just an oversight, or if he's unlikely to contribute this year].
JT Turner - :glances at Dave Ablauf, Football Media Relations Guy: "I don't know what's going on there." [See top]
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.
The audacity of lacrosse. Run, don't walk, to Patrick Hruby's Page 2 article on Mike Legg's famous lacrosse-style goal. It's as told by the participants, with Hruby mostly staying out of the way and allowing Legg, Morrison, Turco, Victimized Minnesota Goalie, Berenson, and Guy Legg Learned It From tell the story:
LEGG: "We're in the playoffs, so I had been telling myself, 'Don't even think about it. Get that crap out of your head. Don't do anything silly. If there's even a half-open player, try to get the puck to him.'"
MORRISON: "I was sneaking into the point."
LEGG: "I looked around and didn't really see anybody open."
MORRISON: "All of a sudden, Mike leaned down and scooped it."
BERENSON: "I thought, 'Oh my God, he's going to try it.' I saw him shoot it 100 times in practice, just fooling around. I hadn't coached him into it."
It's 5000 words. Turco says "it took a long time for Mike's party to mellow out" at one point. It's epic. I suggest you peruse it, because you will enjoy it or find out you are a robot. (HT: MGoUser Blueintheface.)
While we're on hockey, AnnArbor.com scored an excusive interview with Berenson in anticipation of the Frozen Four (where Miami got what was coming to them, BTW). Let's skip over the "argh we won" bits:
Q: Considering all the disappointment that surrounded Michigan's football and men's basketball teams, do you think your team provided some ray of hope this year?
A: That's what people are telling me and that's what the last month of the season did for Michigan. That helped carry the torch high and gave a lot of Michigan fans pride in Michigan sports. You never know how your season is going to end, but ours ended - up until that last goal - on such an up note. It wasn't just one weekend. It was four weekends and it just kept picking up and people got into it. I think it was great for Michigan.
It sounds like they'll platoon Hunwick and Hogan like they did with Sauer and Hogan a couple years ago.
Further detail. Michigan's made its coordinators available over the past couple weeks and during the brief segments when they aren't admonishing fans not to get caught up in a wholesale scheme change (or "tweak" according to Greg Robinson) they're throwing out a few guys who seem to be developing. Greg Robinson dropped a couple names to Rittenberg yesterday, and not just Cam Gordon:
The competition at middle linebacker is really heating up between Obi Ezeh and Kenny Demens, who has come on strong this spring. "This is a dogfight," Robinson said. "And I like it. It's amazing when you have competition, how much the improvement comes."
The other Gordon, JT Floyd, and Teric Jones also get positive mentions; Justin Turner remains worryingly unmentioned. It's weird that Demens goes from buried behind a walk-on to pushing for a starting job over the course of a couple months, but I'll take it. If Demens can develop into a contributor Michigan's linebacker depth chart looks considerably less frightening.
On the other side of the ball, Calvin Magee's press conference was bulleted in this space a couple days ago. Here's a transcript for the detail oriented. And here's a pull quote:
“Terrence is really playing well this spring … I mean, really well,” said Magee. “Having Jeremy Gallon off his redshirt year, too, we have a number of guys I feel real comfortable about.
“Terrence is interesting, because Year one it was a competition. He just happened to get injured. Year two it was another competition with Tay Odoms, and he got dinged up again and missed some time, allowing Roy Roundtree to show his stuff.”
A lot of people, including yours truly, had written Robinson off after a redshirt freshman year in which he did nothing. Magee repeatedly emphasizing his breakout bodes well. If the guy can catch he's got some crazy moves.
Leverage. When the NHL instituted a salary cap as part of a massive revamp of their collective bargaining agreement, the end result appeared to be very bad for college teams hoping to keep their seniors around. It appeared that the rookie cap and service-time-based arbitration would combine with near-instant free agency for college kids who play out their eligibility to give give both player and team powerful incentive to sign before the prospect's senior year.
It hasn't quite worked out like that. TJ Hensick, Kevin Porter, Chad Kolarik, and Chris Summers have all stuck around for four years and it looks like Michigan will retain its 2011 seniors as well (knock on wood). While players still regularly sign early, it's not epidemic.
Why? Oilers draftee Riley Nash, a late first rounder who just finished his junior year at Cornell, provides an interesting case study. One: I didn't know that an entry-level contract is three years if you sign before your senior year but two if you sign after. You have the same opportunity to become an RFA no matter when you sign. Two: a college player has crazy leverage because he can play his final year and become a free agent immediately afterwards.
The end result of this? Mo' money. Mudcrutch has assembled a chart showing the amount of money late first rounders have signed for recently* and color coded it for easy pattern recognition. Orange are kids in college, purple juniors, and blue euros. I make it small in order to hit you over the head with the conclusion:
College kids (and Euros) get better bonuses because they have attractive options other than signing. Junior kids just go back in the draft, where they invariably get taken lower and paid less. The difference even clearer if you remove goalies. Goalies almost never play in the NHL during their initial contract and the top two junior players on the list are goalies.
If you squint hard or click for big you'll note some familiar names: Mitera, Summers, Cogliano, and Pacioretty all appear on the list, with Mitera and Summers—both seniors with the option to become free agents—hovering near the top of the list. Cogliano (sophomore) is a bit farther down and Pacioretty (freshman) is the last blip of orange on the chart. The upshot: unless a college player sticks on an NHL roster they don't lose much if any money by sticking around because their increased bonus leverage makes up for the relatively paltry AHL salaries they'd be pulling down. Instead of being a death knell for college seniors, the CBA actually provides some incentive for collegians to stay in school until they are NHL-ready.
Question: Summers has a two-year deal, but Mitera signed for three. Both waited until after their seniors years to do so. Why are the contracts different lengths?
UPDATE: Contract length is based on age. Mitera signed at 21, Summers at 22. When you're 22 the entry-level contract is two years. Thanks to emailer Brendan Baker.
*(There is a rookie cap that all almost all these contracts reach, but NHL teams can offer a wide array of bonuses if the want that are easily achievable by someone playing in the NHL.)
The final revamp. AnnArbor.com caught a Brandon appearance in which he said a number of interesting things, amongst them some more detail on what they plan to do to Crisler in the relatively near future:
“And then the third phase will be absolutely a complete remodel of the facility where you would potentially bust out the concourses and you would create the bigger circulation space,” Brandon said. “More restrooms, capacity, more amenities, better food service, maybe some kind of club-seating opportunities for those who are interested in that experience. Really making it a modern arena for the purpose of big-time college basketball. And that’s ultimately where we’d love to go with Crisler Arena because the program deserves that.”
This cannot happen fast enough.
Etc.: Big Ten baseball teams are operating a serious disadvantage because of restricted oversigning. This is less "cram the academically questionable in" and more "scramble for leftovers after unexpected signings".
Michigan Defensive Coordinator Greg Robinson met with reporters for about a half hour today. Notes from his press conference.
- The defense is moving exclusively to a 6-2-3 (a little April Fools Day humor(!) from Robinson).
- The "new" defensive scheme isn't that dissimilar to what the team ran last year. With the hybrids, there are a lot of different alignments possible. The only big change from last year is some of the terminology.
- The changes weren't an all-Rodriguez or all-Robinson decision. Everyone on the staff wanted to see certain things tweaked a bit, and their input went into it.
- Between years (and over the course of a year), things should always be evolving to match personnel, the opposing offense, and other factors. Coach Robinson is always open to adjustments.
- As he has repeated many times, Robinson's been around football long enough that there are very few schemes he hasn't tried. He ran 3-3 fronts with the New York Jets and the Denver Broncos. With the Jets, the scheme worked particularly well against the Buffalo Bills, who liked to spread the ball a bit.
- Robinson's overarching philosophy is to make the defense strong from the inside out. Having strong defensive linemen, linebackers, and deep middle players is important to that. Robinson also believes in the "weak link theory," that the weakest spot on the defense dictates how good a defense can be. Developing depth is very important to eliminating weak links.
Year One To Year Two
- There was a big emphasis last year on getting more speed on the field (i.e. Stevie Brown playing linebacker). That will continue this year.
- A few items about specific games from last year. The Michigan State game was a good defensive performance, aside from a couple breakdowns related mostly to inexperience. Same with the Iowa game, aside from two specific things that ended up being big plays for Iowa (and a third, less egregious one). The team played some good ball against Wisconsin, but they were pretty banged up, and had to play through that. The Ohio State game was a good performance to end the season, but not good enough because the team didn't win the game.
- The defenders are "absorbing" the defense just fine. The offense is adding a few wrinkles, so they're getting tested by some things they have seen before.
- There's a night and day difference from last spring to now in terms of Robinson's comfort and communication with the staff and players. He knows people's personalities so he can read them better, and the same goes for them knowing him.
- The outside world doesn't need to hear quotes from Robinson to be confident in the defense - they won't believe it anyway unless and until they see it on the field.
- There's a good chemistry mix with younger guys (particularly redshirt freshmen) playing with real enthusiasm. When they're surrounded with more experienced guys, it can be a great thing. The team has been putting in the work, and they understand the expectations. This youth movement didn't exist last year.
- The biggest concern is still a lack of depth. Last year, they didn't have 18-19 guys who were ready to play on defense, but they still had to sub in those seven or eight other guys. Hopefully they'll have that this year, but there are still 15 or 16 defensive guys who won't be here until fall, so you never know.
Coaching and Personnel
- Though Robinson had input, the hiring of Adam Braithwaite was ultimately Rich Rodriguez's decision. Braithwaite is very experienced, having been a coordinator (albeit of a D-3 school) in the past. He's worked with Rich Rodriguez in the past, and the entire coaching staff has confidence in him. He also will be an exceptional recruiter.
- Robinson has worked with inside linebackers a lot in the past, so coaching them this year is not a new experience. He didn't coach them last year because Hopson was already in charge of them. As for how they're doing this spring, it's too early (only eight practices so far) to talk position battles or anything like that. They have a couple experienced guys but quite a bit of youth.
- Losing Mike Martin for the spring will give other defensive linemen more reps, which will hopefully help them be more ready in the fall. Robinson would guess that Renaldo Sagesse and Greg Banks were probably some of the hardest-working players on the team in the offseason conditioning program. Banks is starting to show some true leadership on the team as well. Also on the defensive line, Will Campbell has matured a lot. Last spring he was still like a high schooler - and was probably thinking a bit too much about his prom.
- Floyd Simmons has been playing a lot at Stevie Brown's old position. Thomas Gordon and Mike Williams are new to that spot, though it is somewhat similar to the role Williams played last year. Jordan Kovacs is still playing that box safety spot.
- Cameron Gordon is playing a lot at the deep safety spot due to injuries to some other guys. Brandin Hawthorne has been getting some reps there as well. Gordon is raw on defense, but has a natural feel at defensive back, and they hope he can continue improving. He has a defensive temperament and is very tough.
- At the corner spots, Troy Woolfolk is very comfortable, and is playing well. He's much more settled than last spring, when they had to move him around a bit more. James Rogers has good length, but is somewhat new to the position after switching last year. People forget that JT Floyd is still a young guy who was just a redshirt freshman last year. He put in a lot of work in the weight room, and will have more experience this year as well. Justin Turner is still a work in progress. He's got a prototypical frame for the position, and JT Floyd is helping him learn the position.
I bolded this in the announcement about Adam Braithwaite's hire but failed to grasp its oddness and potential significance:
University of Michigan football coach Rich Rodriguez announced Thursday (Feb. 11) the hiring of Adam Braithwaite as the program’s safeties/outside linebackers coach. … Assistant head coach Tony Gibson will coach the cornerbacks and free safety position.
Your response in the form of a cat—which they should totally do on Jeopardy, BTW:
Braithwaite now coaches the safeties and the outside linebackers. Greg Robinson now coaches the inside linebackers, emphasis on the plural. Tony Gibson now coaches the cornerback and… uh… one safety position. What sense does it make? It makes none. It makes less sense if you believe the premium moderator folk who have been asserting that Michigan is in the odd habit of calling its deep safety "strong" and the guy who rolls up to the line of scrimmage on occasion "free."
So what the hell is going on here? First: however deeply screwed up Michigan's internal lingo about safeties is, my assumption is that the free safety is your deep-zone ballhawk and the strong safety is the guy who rolls up to the line as a semi-linebacker. It would be totally insane to give Gibson the guy at the line and some cornerbacks and Braithwaite one guy at the line and one guy in a deep zone. (Wags may joke here about Rodriguez's previous defensive hires. Take my defensive coordinator… please!)
So that means Gibson is the secondary coach and he is a man in charge of three people. Meanwhile, the outside linebackers coach has a safety or two. Hmm…
Now, I know what you're thinking: ack Donovan Warren is about to get an eight-yard screen in his grill. Or ack Andrew Quarless is about to run straight downfield untouched for a 60-yard touchdown. Or ack… well, we were all around last year. The walls have dents to prove it. The only thing you're not ack-ing is the defensive line. This is a digression.
The particulars of Braithwaite's hire indicate the eight-man front Michigan ran much the second half of last year was not an immensely unsuccessful attempt at emergency triage on a walk-on-laden matador defense but rather the intended base defense going forward. With so many bodies ticketed for Craig Roh's "quick" position, I don't think this presages a move to a straight 3-3-5 like West Virginia ran. The 4-4-ish set above is likely to be Michigan's most frequent alignment, with quick-as-linebacker sprinkled in as a changeup.
It's half 3-3-5, though. Aside from the disposition of the line and the middle linebackers, that's what it is. The secondary aligns like it's a 3-3-5. The "spinner," while technically a linebacker, was safety Stevie Brown last year and will be either Josh Furman, Mike Jones, Isaiah Bell—though he may have moved inside—or Brandin Hawthorne this year. All of the candidates were high school safeties tagged as tweeners except Hawthorne, who was a safety-sized defensive end. Last year the strong safety was Jordan Kovacs (tweener safety), Mike Williams (just a safety), or Brandon Smith (tweener safety), but this year it's likely to be Marvin Robinson, Carvin Johnson or Vlad Emilien: more high school safeties tagged as tweeners. The distinction between the OLB and safety is also in keeping with 3-3-5 principles: most teams have wacky names for the strongside (spur, spinner, ferret) and weakside safety types (hero, bandit, saber-toothed dragon) because they have different roles. As Jeff Casteel explained so elegantly on the incredibly expensive and totally useless (at the time) 3-3-5 DVD I bought, the weakside guy "gets his meat cooked"—does not have to deal with lead blockers—and the strongside guy "gets his meat raw"—oh God, that's Owen Schmitt and I weigh 210 pounds.
If I'm right, this is one hell of a bold experiment for Rodriguez. His ass is in the wind right now and last year's attempt to implement this was a flaming wreck unprecedented in the modern history of Michigan football. I'm not a coach but I do watch unhealthy amounts of college football and I don't think I've ever seen anyone try this 4-2-2-3 style of D—please correct me if this is not the case. It's a gamble.
[Update: Corrected. Virginia Tech does this plenty. Tyler Sellhorn:
Please don't freak out about the defensive changes. Mostly it seems like a move to VaTech's defense. The high school where I coach plays a very similar scheme to VaTech (visited Blacksburg twice to commune with Bud Foster and his staff) and has a similar scheme to what you are suggesting M is declaring.
I think the best terminology for the setup is the 4-2-5 is "multiple" meaning that most of the defensive calls are intended to trick the opposing QB/coaches at the snap. The OLBs are really more like SSs and rotate up and back based on d-call and opposition formation/personnel, and the "FS" is nearly an identical player who can roll down to play the OLB spot as well based on motion/personnel. Up front, lots of stunting (lining up in one gap, crossing into another), lots of gap exchanges, lots of rolling coverages where the OLB/SSs will drop into deep coverage. The scheme is sound. Maybe you should do your HTTV tape study this summer on 4-2-5/VaTech stuff?
The biggest reason teams use the scheme? OLB/SS away from two-reciever side/strong side plays tight behind backside ILB so that he can flow hard to action away, OLB/SS has what you have called the scrape exchange.
Two notes: "flowing hard to action ", whether it was away or not, is definitely what Michigan was doing with Jordan Kovacs when he was the box safety and Woolfolk was deep, and who was the other team hard after Josh Furman? Virginia Tech.]
On the other hand, going from year one in a system to year two will be a rare privilege for these Michigan defenders—it will be the first time in anyone's career other than fifth-year seniors this is the case—and I'm heartened that amongst the flaming wreck at the end of last year there was a semblance of a long-term plan. By God, they were terrible, but they were terrible with purpose. This passes as optimism for the 2010 Michigan fan.
Anyway, we'll find out in spring if my speculation here is correct. I think they've tipped their hand. I have no idea how it's going to work out but at least they're sticking to one thing for the first time ever-ever.
Side note on Gibson-related special teams bitchin'. I've seen or heard a lot of this over the past couple weeks, and have to provide a "dude wait what" to that, too. Michigan's coming off a year in which they finished third in net punting, 23rd in kickoff returns, 62nd in punt returns, and was 11 of 15 on field goals. Taken together, the metrics indicate one of the best units in the conference, if not the country. Critics are likely thinking of Michigan's persistent inability to field a punt in the Rodriguez era, Zoltan Mesko going blue screen of death on his rollout option punt against Michigan State, and a couple roughing the kicker penalties.
Those things do detract, but they're offset by the kickoff coverage—I can't remember a big opposition kick return—and a few punt blocks. Special teams were the least of Michigan's problems last year. They have to replace both specialists this year so there might be a hiccup. Even so, I'm baffled by special teams criticism outside of HOLD ON TO THE DAMN BALL issues that I think are a little fluky. (Yes, even now.)
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.