somehow we're only 124th
Molk as Rimington finalist: check, plus. Kelvin Grady's 30 catches: not so much.
Spring football is over, meaning we're entering the darkest days of the offseason, the times when college football bloggers must get creative (aigh!) and come up with something, anything, to post while hoping nobody on the team gets arrested (usually as a product of being as bored with the offseason as us).
This is one of those posts.
Last year, Brian went HAM with his football preview, churning out so much content that I ended up previewing Western lest the first game pass without comment. Now I get to look back on all of Brian's hard work, use hindsight as a crutch to make me look intelligent, and critique his predictions. It's up to you to decide whether it's coincidence that I'm doing this while he's rather incapacitated.
This review will be posted in three parts. Today, I'll look at the offensive personnel. Later, I'll tackle the defense (ooh, role reversal), then finally look at special teams and Brian's "stupid predictions," (his term, not mine). This first post was less fun than I expected; outside of some inflated projections for the wide receivers, Brian kinda nailed it when it came to the offense. BOO.
Koger's role will be up to him. He'll be somewhere between a B- and B+ blocker and will have opportunities to establish himself a major part of the passing game. Our sample size on his hands is still very small and the bad part is now two years removed and he's quite an athlete—his upside is high. I can't help but think he's been held back by things other than Rich Rodriguez's preferences, though. I'm betting on a good but unmemorable senior year.
I have a difficult time coming up with a better description for Kevin Koger's final Michigan season. He was a solid, but unspectacular, blocker who recorded 23 catches for 244 yards and four touchdowns. That was more production than he'd had under Rodriguez, but I had to check MGoBlue to see if he even earned All-Big Ten honorable mention (he did). My lasting memories of Koger will remain the insane catch against Western in 2009 and his battles with the dropsies the next year, along with his "KogerNotKroger" Twitter handle.
The Mouton comparison is ominous since we just watched that guy start for three years without getting any better, but Lewan hasn't suffered at the hands of poor coaching yet and won't in the future. This should be the year he drops the crazy hot girl act and establishes himself as an All Big Ten left tackle. He'll still be a little penalty-prone but it will be worth it.
Taylor Lewan earned second-team All-B1G honors from the coaches, honorable mention from the media, and generally was the team's best non-Molk offensive lineman. He still took a few dumb penalties, but not as many as he did in 2010. Again, spot on, old chap.
That is admittedly me trying to find a concern. David Molk is great. You can never tell which interior linemen are going to be up for postseason awards but I'll be incensed if he's not All Big Ten after a healthy year. I think he'll be a Rimington finalist.
See: picture at top of post.
Al Borges is going to do his damndest to keep Denard productive, upright, and beaming.
Check, check, and of course, check.
He'll give Denard a more sophisticated offense that he won't execute as well as Borges needs him to; he'll use Denard's legs but not quite as effectively as Rodriguez would have. These guys are good because they've spent a lot of time specializing in ways that make them successful. There is a necessary lack of efficiency once they get outside their comfort zones.
It was a near-impossible task for Denard to replicate his 2010 rushing production under Borges, especially since the coaches explicitly stated that wasn't at all the goal. He still finished as the team's leading rusher, broke the 1,000-yard barrier, scored 16 rushing touchdowns, and averaged over five yards per carry. As for the execution of the offense as a whole: yup, there were some efficiency issues. Yards/attempt, completion percentage, and passing efficiency all dropped, while interceptions rose to an unsightly 15. This prediction didn't exactly go out on a limb, but that didn't make it any less right.
Yards per carry drop quite a bit but nose above 5.
2010 YPC: 5.58.
2011 YPC: 5.15.
If [Junior Hemingway] can manage [to stay healthy] through the season he's going to end the year with a ton of catches. Even if the Michigan offense doesn't go full MANBALL right away continued development from Denard Robinson will make difficult pro-style throws that frequently target outside wide receivers more feasible; Borges's offense will make them more frequent. Combine that with Hemingway's main skill and there will be jump balls for the taking.
ALL OF THE JUMP BALLS. This piece of prognostication would've made it into the above category if not for this next bit:
If he can maintain his 18.5 YPC he'll challenge Roundtree for the most receiving yards on the team. Expect a bit under 1,000 yards from him.
Hemingway actually averaged a tic above 20 YPC and still led the team in receptions, but leading the team meant catching 34 passes for 699 yards. Junior did manage to stay healthy, which was nice, and then stole all of our hearts during (and after) the Sugar Bowl. Y U NO PREDICT HE STEAL OUR HEARTS, BRIAN?
Huyge's flexibility will allow Michigan to flip Schofield onto the field if anyone other than Molk goes down. He's likely to start a few games in preparation for a full time role in 2011… unless he rips the job away from Huyge right now.
Given the way Huyge's career has gone and the general vibe coming from camp chatter and Funk's public statements, that's a strong possibility. Huyge's never been much of a pass blocker and Michigan's offense is going to require quite a bit more of that as Robinson starts making more and more five and seven step drops.
This was right on in that a non-Molk OL (Ricky Barnum) went down with an injury, and Michael Schofield was the man to replace him. What Brian didn't see coming—and I don't think anyone predicted this—is that Huyge would remain at tackle while Schofield filled in admirably at left guard, keeping the job even after Barnum returned.
Tousssaint [extra 's' there, boss] seems to have that jittery short-range quickness that allows little guys to survive, even thrive, as they pick their way through the chaos.
I'm hoping he emerges as the guy. If he beats out a healthy Shaw he'll be well on his way to translating that tape to college, and I could get used to a jump-cutting Houdini with sprinter's speed. Toussaint is the offense's Roh: the wildcard. Anything from Mike Hart (except crappy :( ) to Mike Hart (except fast!) is possible.
No full credit here what with the significant hedging and the fact that Brian had Michael Shaw listed as the (tenuous) starter, even though that's because Brady Hoke flat-out said so before the season. Instead, Toussaint was the man all year, rushing for 1,041 yards on 5.6 YPC and surpassing all reasonable expectations in the process. Fitz's speed turned out to be more of the sprinter's variety than what he showed in his previous, injury-plagued season, and the jump-cuts were plentiful. He wasn't quite Mike Hart (except fast!); Michigan didn't need that with Denard playing quarterback. The potential is there, however.
Michigan finishes around 15th in FEI and other advance metrics. By yardage they drop to about the same spot; scoring offense increases from 25th to match.
Brian actually underestimated the offense in terms of the advanced metrics—9th in FEI—though successfully predicted that it wouldn't quite match the #2 rank of the previous year. Yardage fell to 42nd in the country, and scoring offense was 26th. The larger point remained true—the offense was quite efficient, but not quite at the level of 2010's spread-and-shred—but the raw numbers didn't quite match up.
Not So Much
Roundtree's production will drop this year as Michigan tries to get Hemingway and Koger more involved. He can't expect set the single-game receiving record every year. He'll still run neck and neck with Hemingway fro [sic] the most receiving yards on the team. [Ed-S: hey, I remember that vacation--it was nice]
Roundtree's production did drop, just more significantly than expected. With QB OH NOES mostly gone from the offense (and Roundtree flat-out dropping the one such opportunity I recall), he finished with just 19 catches for 355 yards, well behind both Hemingway and Jeremy Gallon on the stat sheet. Speaking of Gallon...
Entering his final season [Kelvin] Grady's best shot at extensive playing time is based on 1) a lot of three wide and 2) Roundtree playing mostly on the outside. In that situation he's the established veteran. He'd get a crack at screens and seams and whatnot en route to a breakout mini-'Tree year. More likely is a moderately increased role as Roundtree bounces inside and out with around 30 catches.
First, a sadface— :( —for the lack of screens, not to mention blitheringly wide-open seams. Now, Grady's final stat line: five catches, 75 yards. Brian did recover with a nice hedge—"It could go sour for Grady if Jeremy Gallon translates chatter into playing time"—especially since Gallon produced Grady's projected stat line: 31 catches netting 453 yards. Still, swing and a miss on which player would produce said stat line, and I'm really reaching for stuff to critique here
Denard rushes for 1200 yards. His interception rate falls significantly but is still not great.
Shaw claims the starting job to himself in week four, gets injured shortly after, and Toussaint takes over. Both are much better than Smith at making extra yards. At the end of the year they've all got somewhere between 400 and 800 yards.
Toussaint's rapid rise wasn't foreseen by Brian, who expected more of a backfield-by-committee, especially in the early going. Shaw never captured the starting job, appeared in nine games, and finished with 199 yards on 31 carries. That made Shaw a more effective runner than Smith, who had 298 yards on 50 carries, but both were surprisingly effective (6.42 YPC for Shaw, 5.96 for Smith, though obviously in limited action for both).
Hopkins creates windows other backs don't. When three yards and a cloud of dust is a win, he'll be in there.
Or he'll continue putting the ball on the ground—see: Denard's immaculate rushing TD against Notre Dame—and get relegated to fullback.
DEPARTURES IN ORDER OF SIGNIFICANCE.
Molk, Huyge, Koger
- C David Molk. Rimington winner, four year starter, epic team glue guy, man whose body does not narrow in its transition from shoulders to neck.
- RT Mark Huyge. Not great but consistently unkillable long-term starter who graded out well as a senior and must be replaced by exactly one person.
- TE Kevin Koger. Did not see production increase significantly from RR years; capable of circus catches and routine drops; decent but not spectacular blocker; zero depth behind him.
[serious worry stops here]
- WR Junior Hemingway. Fairly ponderous leaper with inexplicable YAC knack; decent hands; should be replaceable if Darryl Stonum makes it back. Given the lack of swift action to boot after Stonum got pulled over, I assume that is the case. In the event Stonum is dismissed Hemingway moves up to #2.
- WR Martavious Odoms. The very first slot ninja; missed big chunks of the season due to injury and lack of trust from the coaching staff but came on late; mountain goat with arms; Jeremy Gallon is basically Odoms except quicker.
- TE Steve Watson. Used mostly as a blocker. Was okay at it.
[slight worry stops here]
- RB Michael Shaw. BOUNCE BOUNCE BOUNCE BOUNCE
- WR Kelvin Grady. Infrequently targeted slot receiver will be ably replaced by an expanded role for Drew Dileo.
- FB John McColgan. Lost his job to Hopkins mid-year.
- WR Terrance Robinson (maybe). Has a fifth year available but will have to earn it as a gunner on punts.
- RB Michael Cox (in all probability). Fifth year available, but highly unlikely to get it since he can't remember which endzone to run at.
Robinson, Lewan, Fitzgerald
- QB Denard Robinson. Oh my gawd.
- LT Taylor Lewan. Should be the first of two first-team All Big Ten years.
- RB Fitzgerald Toussaint. Will put himself in the conversation for best back in the league.
- RT (presumably) Michael Schofield. Established himself a quality Big Ten OL despite playing out of position at guard. Will likely shift over to tackle, his natural position, because there ain't no one else to play it.
- WR Roy Roundtree. Converted to outside WR and saw production collapse as Worst Waldo plays on which he acquired free 50 yard touchdowns evaporated; still managed some deep balls; should be reliable B+ option as a senior.
- WR Jeremy Gallon. Diminutive guy with extensive quicks; throwback screen merchant; seemingly good hands; cloaking device available.
- OG Patrick Omameh. Struggled early and still too light for Michigan's long term desires; improved his ability to pull by the end of the year.
- OG(?) Ricky Barnum. Won the left guard job over Schofield, who proved an able contributor once Barnum went down with injury; graded out decently before that; may move to center.
- RB Vincent Smith. Uninspiring runner; fantastic pass blocker; also a throwback screen merchant. Third down back.
- FB Stephen Hopkins. Fumble issues threatened to bury him on the bench before midseason shift to FB; tailback-ish agility serves him well; quality option; may have extensive role next year thanks to lack of TEs.
WHAT'S NEW, OR CLOSE ENOUGH, ANYWAY
One Of Three Guys On The Interior Line. The world assumes Schofield is the heir apparent at right tackle. This is a good assumption since the list of scholarship non-freshman, non-Lewan tackles on the roster reads "Michael Schofield." That paves the way for one and a half new starters on the interior.
The half is all but certainly Barnum, who had a few starts early in the season before ankle issues took him out of the lineup. He will start at center or guard, in all likelihood. Candidates for the one include:
- Redshirt freshman Chris Bryant, a 350-pound mauler who needs to trim down if he's going to get on the field.
- Redshirt freshman Jack Miller, a 260-pound dancer who needs to bulk up if he's going to get on the field.
- True freshman Kyle Kalis, a five star reputed to be college-ready like a mofo. Moved to guard at the Army game and seems to acknowledge his long term future is on the inside.
- Redshirt senior Rocko Khoury, the long-presumed replacement for Molk who snapped some balls not so well when suddenly pressed into service against VT. Khoury has a start against Iowa in 2010 to his credit but the buzz is he is not a preferable option.
- Redshirt senior Elliot Mealer. Mealer was a utility guy deployed after Barnum's exit whenever Taylor Lewan needed a limb reattached. He is useful depth but seems likely to be passed by one of the above on the depth chart.
Losing Molk is brutal but finding a serviceable replacement from one of the above three seems likely.
Someone at tight end. With two departures and a bad gamble in last year's recruiting class the only tight ends on the roster are redshirt senior Brandon Moore and redshirt sophomore Ricardo Miller. Moore supposedly has stone hands; his main contribution to last year was blowing his assignment on Michigan's ill-fated fourth and one attempt versus Michigan State. Miller is a converted WR who needs to add 20 pounds if he's going to press for playing time.
Reinforcements will come from two or three freshmen; 280 pound AJ Williams is probably the most pret a porter. He's big, you see, and Devin Funchess is not. Williams spent his senior year of high school impressing people at tackle and is likely to be more of a sixth offensive lineman than a dynamic receiver.
Stonum being indie
Sort of Darryl Stonum, maybe. The WR corps gets a one for one replacement on both of its departed slots and may/should/could return Darryl Stonum, who was suspended for the 2011 season after his second DUI. His latest legal trouble consists of driving to a probation meeting, which may or may not move Hoke's needle.
If he's back, Michigan gets its most physically gifted WR, someone who can beat you over the top and could have an explosive final season on the end of Al Borges's copious deep balls. Or he could be another version of what he's been most of his career: an athlete who doesn't really know how to play WR. Stonum's availability and play is the biggest wildcard on the 2012 offense.
WHAT'S ROD STEWART 1972
Senior Denard, you'd think. Robinson panicked and reverted against the swarming VT defense; before that he'd put together a solid second half as he began to understand the offense and maybe possibly got healthy. With another year in the system he should improve on his throwing numbers.
Tailback, probably. Fitzgerald Toussaint is for real as long as he's healthy and Vincent Smith is a quality third down back. Depth still looks hairy.
The starting tackles. Lewan was impenetrable this year and Schofield had a strong debut at guard. Dollars to donuts they're the best bookends in the conference.
Going from year one to year two with the same coaches. Everyone was a freshman last year. Now they've got some sophomores.
WHAT'S ROD STEWART 2012
Tight end. After a couple years playing with Koger and Martell Webb it appeared that Rodriguez had come around on the idea of tight ends, as he recruited a half-dozen over the course of his last year at Michigan. Unfortunately, he struck out on all of them. When Hoke came in he grabbed Arkansas decommit Chris Barnett without checking into the guy; he was gone before his first fall camp ended.
With Koger and Watson out the door, this leaves very little at a position Borges loves. Fifth-year-senior-to-be Brandon Moore's most significant contribution to the 2011 season was busting his assignment on Michigan's ill-fated fourth and one against Michigan State; he's the only tight end on the roster now. To bolster that depth Michigan will bring in two or three in the fall and I bet you a dollar a defensive lineman with a Z in his last name finds himself on the other side of the ball this spring.
This does not mean things can be expected to go well here.
Offensive line depth. Rodriguez's 0-fer on the OL two years ago really begins to squeeze in 2012. The interior will probably be fine, with three of Khoury/Mealer/Bryant/Miller available to spot any starters that go out. Five-star freshman Kyle Kalis turns out to be 6'4" and is talking about how much he likes guard; plugging him in there will probably not be a disaster.
It's at tackle where there is a terrifying cliff after the starters. Past a couple of guys who could end up bookending the All Big Ten OL there is nothing but walk-ons and true freshmen. Michigan's best bet in the event of an injury to Lewan or Schofield is probably flipping Barnum or Omameh outside.
Gamebreakers at WR. Stonum, Roundtree, and Gallon isn't the worst unit Michigan's run out at WR in the past decade or so but it's no Edwards, Avant, and Breaston. Stonum's breakout junior year was only a breakout relative to his underclass performance: 49 catches for 633 yards.
WHAT'S HEISENBERG ROD STEWART UNCERTAINTY
Will Borges go with the flow? This blog spent most of the summer demanding a shotgun-exclusive offense that incorporated Borges's passing trees with some of the power blocking Hoke could not stop talking about. By the end of the year that's basically what we got en route to what was probably Michigan's best-ever offensive performance against the Indianapolis-Fort Wayne Mad Antz. The numbers, helpfully recompiled by Seth* after that game, are stark:
|Formation||Pass YPA||Run YPA||Total YPA|
The Ace numbers are a small sample and are heavily dependent on Fitzgerald Toussaint's long jet in the Purdue game, FWIW.
When Michigan runs from the shotgun, holy pants. Downshifting into the I-Form may be appropriate for short yardage situations and as a change of pace, but that's all it's good for, especially when you consider that Michigan's ripped their tough closing slate for 5.5, 4.5**, and 6.4 yards a carry without dropping into the I for much more than goal line duty. As I said in the OSU game recap, by the end of the year it kind of seemed like the transition costs of moving from Rodriguez to Borges were zero.
So that worked better than anyone expected it to after Michigan learned a couple of harsh lessons. Q: will they accept that verdict in 2012 or try to change it? Despite the clear advantages of running from the shotgun in 2011, it's clear where Borges wants to take the offense long-term. With a lot more BEEFCAKE on the interior line it could work better… but…
[thousand word rant about removing Denard's legs from the equation]
…in the EYE with a FORKING FORK.
How much will Denard progress? It became less about accuracy late in the year and more about just knowing where to go with the ball. His default action when he doesn't know what to do should be take off; instead it's unleashing the deep-ball dragon. Michigan has to find a way to not completely bog down against elite defenses, because a quick glance on the schedule shows quite a few that promise to approach that level.
Will the real Toussaint injury vulnerability please stand up? Brionte Dunn has cast his lot with Test Drive U, leaving Michigan with a non-obvious answer to "what happens if Toussaint is injured?" It could be Vincent Smith but Toussaint's emergence has reminded us all of what a nice bonus it is to have a playmaker at tailback. Thomas Rawls comes Fred Jackson approved, for what that's worth. Justice Hayes is coming off a redshirt year with a lot of recruiting hype… that said he was a great fit for a spread.
MANDATORY WILD ASS GUESS
Static yardage-wise, more under center stuff I'll loathe, significantly reduced interceptions from Denard, about the same with less tendency to get totally shut down by top tier Ds. A slight upgrade overall.
*[Is it as much of a relief to everyone else that you no longer have to figure out how to pronounce "Misopogon"?]
**[Nebraska; these totals were depressed by a lot of predictable Michigan plods into the line in the fourth Q. Seth's numbers only include the first three quarters in games closer than 18 points, FWIW, which slashes out big chunks of Minnesota.]
(Compare to yesterday's)
We're talking about these seniors. Yesterday was the Class of '08 plus Grady, players who either committed to Rodriguez or at least had time to break their commitments to Michigan after the coaching change. The level of commitment to the program by those guys may have been unparalleled in Michigan history but for some of their fellow seniors from the Class of 2007. This is Part II. It's running long still and I have family in town so the last four guys will have to be a Part III. Anyway, 2007…
This class committed to 'Lloyd Carr's University of Michigan' while the Wolverines were riding the best defense in the country to 3 points shy of playing for the National Championship. Their careers began by watching, redshirted, as The Horror obliterated every shred of mysticism the program had, yet they stuck by Michigan. They stuck by Michigan when their coaches and systems were replaced, stuck by Michigan when outsiders trashed the program and some insiders were actively trying to sabotage it. They stuck by coaches they hadn't chosen, right up until those coaches were shown the door. Then they met with their teammates, told their story, and made sure that when another staff came through the door, everyone would stick by Michigan.
It would be ungracious to not mention some of their classmates who stayed until their health or eligibility ran out: Renaldo Sagesse, a bonhomme Quebecois and one-time 20-year-old freshman. Secret weapon Martell Webb, a blocking tight end whose great contributions to the 2010 offense went largely unremarked. Michael Williams, maligned in these parts as only bad underclassman free safeties can be, who had to choose between the best years of his football career or having a functional brain the rest of his life. And James Rogers, a positional vagabond who finally went wherever he was very needed indeed. And some of the walk-ons like John McColgan, Jered van Slyke, Zac Johnson, Tony Anderson, and Tom Pomarico who've had to earn their roster spots (and some, scholarships) from three different coaching staffs. What follows is the story of eight more guys like that, again in reverse order of length of commitment.
Will Heininger had a story written about him once in the Daily by the inimitable Joe Stapleton. Will was the kid in Michigan gear who became the teenager who knew more about the team than the lifer sitting next to him, who gave up a likely career in baseball to walk on to the team of his dreams. As a redshirt sophomore Heininger beat out scholarship upperclassmen like Sagesse, Greg Banks and Adam Patterson to be the first guy rotated in when Brandon Graham needed a breather. With Graham in the NFL a 2010 starter role was in his grasp, but then Heininger tore his ACL at the end of Spring Practice. He missed the first 10 games of the season, but fought his way back on the field, albeit not yet fully back to form, for Wisconsin, Ohio State and the Gator Bowl.
Finally this year he earned the starting job as a utility D-lineman, over guys like Jibreel Black and Will Campbell. While doing all of this Heininger has been named Academic All-Big Ten every year since '08, and has been nominated for his third Big Ten Distinguished Scholar award.
My Papi, my grandpa, I like to have his initials or his name somewhere on me. My tape, or something like that, during the game to see him always …He’s from Columbus, but he’s a Michigan Man. He’s the biggest influence on my life and he passed just this past spring. He’s a great man and he’s part of the reason I’m here. He’s always out there watching over me."
Brandon Herron was a project*, a Texas (same school as TWoolf) kid built like a safety who played defensive end and projected as a linebacker. He had good athleticism but was consistently listed as something less than 200 which your mind rounds up to 200. He was raaaaaaww.
Raw freshman often don't pan out even if they're recruited by a competent coach for their specific skillset, and that coach then spends five years drilling a single system into the player's brain. Herron didn't have that; he was an afterthought classmate-of-a-recruit body in a "NEED LINEBACKERS LIKE WHOA" class, given first to Steve Szabo (the guy who spoke for Carr's assistants in Bacon's book, now EMU's LB coach), then to Jay Hopson, then to GERG. Other than an ankle injury for a chunk of 2010 his career was a lot of "contributed on special teams."
Herron kept plugging along, even when his name hardly popped up in the carousel of "Which weakside linebacker impressed Mattison today?" of this spring and fall camps. Then on Opening Day 2011 versus WMU he was suddenly the starter and proceeded to score two defensive touchdowns (one a 94-yarder that still stands as the most significant swing play of the year). Those won him a handful of national defensive player of the week awards (UFR of that game revealed his play was really just so-so). Then he got hurt, and fell back behind Hawthorne and the freshmen and his career was cooked.
When Kovacs sacked the quarterback and he forced the fumble, we saw something in the offense so we made a check, which led me to come off the edge so it opened up a hole for him to get through. [The WMU OT] he kind of brushed me off, he didn't really pick me up, so I just kind of went around, then [breaks into huge smile] heard the hit, saw the hit, and saw the ball on the ground, and just went out there, and next thing you know I'm running towards the end zone.
*BONUS: The 'Hello:' article for Herron has their coach saying "I really believe he's a safety" about Woolfolk, and Brian saying 'not gonna happen.' Oh hindsight.
When Coaching Change the First happened, the offensive line was already one year into transitioning from MANBALL blocking to zone. The tackles were senior All Everything Jake Long, Mt. Alex Mitchell, and a collection of eh man-blocking dudes. Redshirting was one of just two offensive linemen (and sole tackle) recruited in 2007, and to be honest the 6'6, 280, two-star obscure guy whose next-best offer was Ball State was more someone's backup plan than a system diamond they'd uncovered. So came Mark Huyge. Brian wrote him off as "Unlikely to ever play extensively."
Huyge sat buried on the depth chart for a few years grumbling about having to puke for Barwis instead of down pizzas for Gittleson, took some padded LSA classes with some of the other dissatisfied guys from the Lloyd era, then watched as successive RR jackrabbits displaced him and finally transferred to Someplace Division II College Tech. That's about how it went, right Mark?
Well, he could have done that. What Huyge did do was embrace the new staff, lifted his way up the depth chart against established returning starters, and by 2009 was Schofielding his way into whatever guard or tackle spot was available. Every time a guy like Omameh in '09, Lewan in '10, or Schofield in '11 emerged to finally displace him, Huyge would manage to either fend that guy off, or pop up to displace the next weakest starter on the line. He's never been spectacular, never threw a safety into Manti Te'o or killed a donkey, but he's been in there, so much now that when he's not there next year I'll be sorely missing him.
Had Michigan got any of the OTs they were after in '07, Huyge would probably have committed to Brady Hoke, then seen Hoke take off for SD State. So when the old staff entered and the new one came, Huyge 'grabbed the helm' as a senior leader and oft team spokesman. He was one of the seniors who organized the "don't anybody bail on your teammates" meetings that held the players together in the darkest days of last winter.
Oh and somewhere in there Huyge also managed to take a thousand bus trips up to North Campus; he'll walk in December with a degree in naval architecture and marine engineering, then marry his fiancee. That must have been what the second star from Scout was for.
“It’s going to be a big one next week. We’ll enjoy this one for a little bit, but the whole emphasis starting back in January when these guys got here was this game coming up. We’ll be really looking forward to them, and we’ll be ready.”
Tomorrow (sorry it's taking so long): Hemingway, Molk, Watson, Woolfolk, RVB.
For a few weeks now people have been asserting that Denard Robinson has not been right. I wasn't sure what to make of those complaints since we didn't really get to see him in the open field much. After Nebraska, the answer appears to be "speed just fine, thanks" even if Lavonte David did hack him down on a couple of potential big gainers.
But, yeah, I do think something isn't right with Denard. That is not necessarily injury. Against Nebraska I've had more "argh" moments in re: Denard running than I've had in a long time. There was this:
That's a scramble on Michigan's botched end-of-half drive on which Denard, presented with a massive hole straight upfield, tries to bounce outside and gets tackled for a three yard gain—in bounds. Michigan ended up getting nothing here when making the really obvious cut (Denard knows the corner will be keeping leverage as his top priority) sees them set up with a first and ten near field goal range or better.
There was this on a play where Martavious Odoms came in motion to be a pitch man:
Denard handed off there when Nebraska had one guy containing two on the edge; Hopkins thumped straight ahead for three yards. Robinson keeps showing up in the run minus category because he's not pulling when the corner opens up like whoah.
Even when Denard did pull he made some inexplicable decisions. Here's one.
It's first and ten on the Michigan something or other and Michigan is in some variety of formation. So is Nebraska. I'm not entirely sure what they are because the director in this game comes from the Michigan Stadium Replay Guy school of framing where everything is a super tight closeup. I assume Michigan is in a standard three-wide set. You can see the slot to the bottom of the screen; M will have a WR on the line outside of him. The other guy could be in a trips formation below or to the top of the screen away outside.
Nebraska appears to be in a straight nickel with a safety as support.
Michigan runs a basic inside zone read, leaving the backside guy unblocked and flaring Koger out.
The above is the mesh point. Robinson is reading the end. The end is square but he is in shuffle mode.
What's shuffle mode?
Remember that period in 2009 when Carlos Brown or Brandon Minor would slam up the backside of the line and run untouched into the endzone? That was Michigan's response to various games defenses were playing with the backside end. The shuffle is the DL's response to that response. He is protecting the soft spot behind the backside tackle that the zone read often causes. He's not really containing the QB, though he's a lot more useful on a keeper than someone screaming down the line. He's more of an RB defender.
Michigan's started seeing this because they brought back the RR H-back inside zone where there is a guy cracking back on this DE.
On the next frame Robinson has just pulled it:
Denard Robinson is Denard Robinson. Koger has flared out to seal the playside linebacker. There is no slot to the top of the screen. Robinson is about to run to the corner for a billio—
I SAID, ROBINSON IS ABOUT TO RUN TO THE COR—
Robinson does run past Meredith and David but Huyge can't extend his block on that defensive end, and that defensive end…
…eats Denard after a two yard gain.
Items of interest
Yeah, this is kind of the same thing Scheelhaase did last week. You know, this:
The difference between the plays is that Scheelhaase screwed up his read and pulled when the defensive end was upfield in a QB contain mode. It was a plan B, one that worked. Here Michigan's plan A is "Denard in a race with a defensive end going the other way." That's a good plan. Let's try that.
It does almost work, but Huyge isn't great and he loses his guy. If Michigan sustains that block they get a decent gain.
Note the difference in the defensive ends. Clark is not shuffling down the line. He's a couple yards further outside and a yard in the backfield. Meredith is at the LOS and tucked in behind a Michigan OL. That should be enough to get Denard the corner but…
Denard seems hesitant. I don't know what the deal is. Unless there's something outside the frame that's relevant—not likely—it's really weird that Robinson wouldn't just run outside. Feel the panic in this linebacker:
That is a man going "oh shiiiiiiii" in slo-mo. He's done and Denard pops outside the DE and is dealing with that safety. Maybe he gets five yards. Maybe he gets ALL OF THE YARDS.
In recent weeks it seems like he's been less of a north-south guy. In this game he is way less of a read threat than he needs to be. In just the first half of last week's game you've got the above three plays, a speed option on which Denard cuts all the way to the backside of the line to little effect, and three or four seemingly obvious pull reads he's missed.
It is possible the reads aren't actually reads, but given what Borges has said it seems like they are. I'm not sure we've seen him pitch on the option yet, though. Is it really an option, or is it just a decoy?
The picture painted is of a guy who's thinking, not reacting.
Too much cram cram. This is a downside of not having a true base offense, I think. Lacking reps on all these things, Denard makes mistakes. If the speed option is just another way to run a QB stretch that's because they don't rep the option enough to be comfortable with the pitch. If they miss a bunch of keep reads it's because they're not repping it enough to make that clear to the quarterback.
Remember that last year Michigan largely dumped the read option in favor of just running Denard. This isn't a regression, it's Denard trying to do something he might not have been very good at last year. That plus an entirely new passing offense means there's a ton on his plate.
We've seen progress in the passing game. They may be emphasizing that since it turns out handing the ball to Toussaint isn't that bad of an idea even when it's a bad idea. Hopefully Michigan can get some of this corrected over the next week because Denard left a lot of yards on the field even when Lavonte David wasn't tackling him by his ankles.
Martavious Odoms and Denard Robinson
Denard, did you have any idea that this kind of performance was in you guys today?
Denard: “Oh yeah. We play as a team and came out like we did. Of course, oh yeah.”
Martavious, can you talk about battling back from the slow start due to injury and the feeling of catching that touchdown?
Odoms: “It felt great. I got my chance. Coach called a good play. Denard threw the ball and I caught it.”
Denard, how important was field position for you guys?
Denard: “That’s the thing. We played as a team, and that’s what we needed. We got everybody executing. Those three teams [were] executing.” Were you just more comfortable today? That was probably your best game in a while. “Oh yeah. Everybody felt good today. The offensive line gave us time to do what we had to do and [gave] the running backs holes to run [through].”
Denard, can you talk about what you saw on the Odoms TD?
Denard: “Me and Martavious had a race, what, two years ago? So I saw that he can run, and he went right past the defenders and I put it in the air.”
What happened in that race?
Odoms, to Denard: “… What happened?”
Denard: “You have to tell them. You have to tell them.”
Odoms: “No, you should tell them.”
Denard: “Ah … he beat me. He got a win there. He got a win.”
Martavious, Denard gets a lot of scrutiny about his arm, but can you talk about his perfect throw from the 50 to the back of the endzone?
Odoms: “Yeah a lot of people doubt his throwing because he can run so well, but when he needs to throw and make a play, he gets the job done.”
Your reaction to the “Beat Ohio” chant in the fourth quarter?
Odoms: “I knew it was coming. I was prepared for it.”
Denard: “We have to celebrate this one first. Tomorrow we’ll be on Ohio.”
Denard, you had the chance to talk to Lavonte David. What did you guys have to say?
Denard:“I told him to keep going and have a great rest of the season.”
Fitz had another great game. Can you talk about how he’s grown in the past four weeks?
Denard: “I mean, I knew he was a physical running back, and once he gets into an open field he can make guys miss and run the ball. I think he’s been ready. He just had a couple injuries.”
Was any part of Nebraska’s defensive play a surprise to you?
Denard: “I mean, it’s always a little surprise, but we kind of adjusted -- coach adjusted well and called some great plays, and we executed.”
Denard, today you matched Tom Brady’s 35 career touchdown passes. Thoughts?
Denard: “Oh I didn’t know that. I’m not a big stats guy, so I’m going out there having fun with my team, so that’s the biggest thing.”
Looking at where the season started to where you guys are now, especially given the expectations externally, how does it feel to be 9-2 heading into the Ohio State game?
Denard: “I can’t tell you how it is outside, because inside I know everybody in here knew we could have a great season this year, that we would go and do some special things this year. That’s the biggest thing everybody knew. We worked hard all offseason and that’s it.”
How big was the roughing the kicker penalty in terms of momentum?
Denard: “Oh that was big. The offense we knew we had to take care of the ball and do what we had to do.”
Martavious, did you feel like you were close to breaking a long run?
Odoms: “Yeah, I think I was really close to breaking through. There’s always the guy that I don’t see that so happens to trip my leg or hit me.”
Was this the best special teams performance you’ve had in a long time?
Odoms: “I wouldn’t say that.”
Is there another game that stands out more?
Odoms: “Um … not really. I mean, I feel like on special teams we really take pride and Coach Hoke takes pride in special teams. People just go hard on special teams and [in] regular play. I think special teams is a really big part of the game. It’s most of the game, really.”
Denard, did you appreciate the crowd counting down the play clock when the scoreboards weren’t working in the first quarter?
Denard: “Yeah, that was the biggest thing. I was supposed to send someone as soon as I walked in about it (Ed: I think that’s what he said. Denard was speaking Florida here.) I mean, I appreciate the fans helping us out because we really needed it. Shout out to the fans and I hope they’ll be ready next week.”
Denard, you can win 10 games, beat Notre Dame, Nebraska, and maybe Ohio State next week, but you can’t play for the Big Ten title. Can you talk about the good vs. bad of that?
Denard: “We can only control what we can control, so that’s the only thing we worry about. We worry about playing Ohio next week.”
Martavious, have you ever seen Terrence Robinson make a hit like that in practice? Can you talk about the emphasis on special teams?
Odoms: “We have some pretty fast people on our team, and Terrence Robinson is one of them. He does a great job on special teams getting down there. We knew if he gets down there he can make a hit, and that’s what he did.”
Denard, can you talk about cashing in our your opportunities today compared with last week when you were unable a couple times?
Denard: “We still think we had missed opportunities today, too. We have to still grow and start putting the ball in the endzone when we need to.”
Can you talk about the momentum going into the Ohio State game that may not have been there the past couple years?
Odoms: “Like Denard said, everybody knows what next week is. We’re just going to enjoy this one and prepare for next week when the time comes.”
Denard: “I feel the same way. We have to enjoy this win and tomorrow we’ll be preparing for Ohio.”
Do you feel this is the highest level you’ve played at in years?
Denard: “Not that Michigan has played at.”
Since you guys have been here.
Odoms: “I mean, games are up and down so you really can’t tell if you played at your highest level. When you feel like you played at your highest level, you go watch film and you didn’t do so well. Can’t really say.”
Is the team playing as well as it has since you’ve been here?
Denard: “You could say that because all three of the teams are playing well.”
Mark Huyge and Fitzgerald Toussaint
You guys held the ball for 40 minutes. How important was that?
Huyge: “Yeah I know for a fact that our defense plays better when they have a limited amount of time on the field. I didn’t know we held the ball for 40 minutes. It’s a good deal. Uh, yeah. It’s great when special teams can contribute like they did. I swear every time we’d come off the field and sure enough we’d be right back on with a quick turnover or a three-and-out. It’s a good deal.”
Both of you guys heard about the “Blackshirts” defense and watched them on film. Were they as advertised?
Toussaint: “I would say it was a very physical game, but we prepared all week for this game and we knew what was coming and we expected everything we were given.”
Huyge: “It was very physical up front. The main thing was that we knew we had to be physical throughout and just try to wear them down. With the time of possession, I think that helped.”
Can you talk about how the running game has evolved from the start of the season?
Toussaint: “I would say a little bit more execution. Up front the guys handled their business. We prepared for these moments, and that’s what happened.”
How much did the turnovers help your psyche today?
Huyge: “It’s great. I mean, we can get turnovers and even though you’re on the bench and you don’t expect it, I’ll take it any day of the week. Just to be able to run out there with great field position as an offense, we know we have to get it done once we get down in there.”
Hoke has said this is the most well-rounded game you’ve played. What’s the cause of that?
Toussaint: “I would have to say it’s more teamwork. Organize the team and focusing mainly on unity.”
Huyge: “Yeah, execution. Just executing on every play and in all three phases.”
Why is that better now than earlier in the year?
Huyge: “Maybe just time. More games, get more experience.”
Thoughts on “Beat Ohio” chant? Also, the fact that fans are calling them Ohio rather than Ohio State?
Huyge: “It’s going to be a big one next week. We’ll enjoy this one for a little bit, but the whole emphasis starting back in January when these guys got here was this game coming up. We’ll be really looking forward to them, and we’ll be ready.”
Re: Denard, there’s a lot of criticism about his quarterbacking. Can you talk about his game today as a runner and a passer?
Huyge: “Well Denard … I love playing for Denard. I really do, because I know in the run game he makes stuff happen all the time. In the pass game, he can pull the ball down and run, too. When he threw that ball to Martavious Odoms in the endzone there, that was a great throw and a great catch. That was something that we need.”
Mark, how much confidence does this win give you going into next week?
Huyge: “Well, it does give us a lot of confidence. In the past -- and I don’t want to bring up the past -- but past seasons we haven’t been playing well in November. It’s very important to be playing well at the end of the year. It’s a definite boost for sure.”
In the last couple weeks, you’ve really gotten the ground game going. How does that change the offensive scheme?
Toussaint: “I wouldn’t think it changes any schemes. It’s just the way we prepare and the guys up front execute.”
After you lost to Michigan State, guys like Mike Martin and Jordan Kovacs said this year was different and there would be no second-half collapse. Why was it different?
Huyge: “I think it’s just an emphasis of getting better every week, where improvement was the key. You had to put the one behind that you lost and the fact that that was our main goal was to get better. We knew if we got better in November we’d be playing better football, and that’s obviously what’s shown.”
Molk said Monday that last year the philosophy on offense was “score score score” because the defense couldn’t stop anyone. How does the success of defense change how this offense operates?
Huyge: “It gives us more confidence, that’s for sure, that we know that if we do mess up or have a three-and-out, we can rely on our defense to make plays. Obviously they’ve been doing that all season, and special teams, too. That was huge.”
Senior legacies and rivalry games -- what does Saturday mean for that legacy?
Huyge: “It’s a big one. It’s a big one for all of us seniors, and I’m really looking forward to it.”
Either of you guys catch yourself peeking at that countdown clock?
Toussaint: “Everyday. Everyday.”
Huyge: “You walk in that building it’s right there.”
Toussaint: “It’s right in your face. Can’t miss it.”
Do you guys do anything related to beating Ohio State throughout the year?
Huyge: “Yeah the emphasis is definitely on Ohio. When we bring it up in meetings, we talk about it everyday.”
You might not have been aware, but the power was out in Michigan Stadium. (surprised laughs) Could you hear the crowd chanting the play clock? Did it affect you guys not being able to see the play clock on that side of the field?
Huyge: “Well after the first little mishap, I think Denard didn’t know which ref had the signal that was making the calls, but yeah, you could hear it, 'Five, four, three, two,' and I’m like, 'Snap the ball … snap the ball …' ”
Mike Martin and Jordan Kovacs
Mike, can you talk about Ryan Van Bergen’s impact the last few weeks?
Martin: “Yeah, he’s stepping up. The whole line up front is doing a great job of communicating and executing. Ryan does a great job on the vocal side of things. Helps us execute, and we all do a great job echoing the call so we can all play tough.”
How much did you focus on stopping the option?
Martin: “Yeah that was one of the main focuses we had during the week. Preparation was key and talk about that everyday on our team. Beginning Sunday to Monday watching film and getting looks from our scout team -- they did a great job. So I feel like we prepared well and it showed on the field.”
Anything you saw on film that made you think you could do certain things?
Martin: “You know, a few things -- coach does a great job of tweaking things week to week and giving them a different look on our side of it. For us to be able to execute and attack them differently with keeping in mind how dangerous they are on the perimeter with the option and everything, that was big for us.”
You’ve played in the first night game, now first game against Nebraska. In games like this, is it important to make a statement, or is it more like “another game, another win?”
Kovacs: “I mean, coming into the game we knew it was going to be a big game, both [teams] coming into the game 8-2. We want to make a statement every time we take the field. We knew it was going to be a big game, and we played pretty well in all three facets of the game, and we earned this one, so we’re excited about it.”
Hoke says this is first time you’ve played in all three phases. Why are you peaking now this late in the season?
Kovacs: “I just think we’re all starting to click. Defensively, we’re gaining some confidence every game. We’re improving every game. The offense did a nice job of complementing us. They did a good job of holding onto the ball and making some big plays when they had to. They moved the chains on third down, which always helps. And you can’t say enough about the special teams. Any time you cause two turnovers, it’s kind of tough to lose a game like that. I think you have to take your hat off to those guys. Offense, special teams, and defense played well. There’s a few plays we’d like to take back, but we’re always looking to impove, but we’re excited about next week.”
You’re allowing three touchdowns fewer per game this year compared with last year. You’re basically the same players. How does that happen so quickly?
Martin: “It’s always going to be in the back of your mind, but this is a new year. Really our mindset has just completely changed 360. This senior group, and this team, they learned when coach Hoke and the staff came that we were going to have to buy in. It really started from our winter conditioning, summer conditioning, fall camp, all those different phases leading up to the season, and now it’s showing with our focus and our dedication to this team and this coaching staff. We know we’re getting better, but the season is far from being over. We still have a lot of work to put in, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Kovacs: “Just to piggyback off that question, it’s guys like Mike and Van Bergen stepping up and being great leaders for our defense and for our team as a whole. But the same time I think our offense helps us out a lot. Anytime you’re not on the field as a defense, they can’t score too many points on you, so I think they do a great job holding the ball and moving the chains. They aren’t doing that hurry-up tempo anymore, so I think that’s really helped us out.”
After the Michigan State game, you talked about being out-physicaled and out-toughed. Is that what you did to Nebraska’s offense today?
Kovacs: “We knew that they were going to be a physical team, and that the tougher team, the more physical team, was going to win this game. To a certain extent, I think we played pretty physical, but like I said, there’s always some lapses and always some plays that you’d like to have back. I think that’s still an area that we need to improve on everyday.”
Jordan, can you talk about how huge this win is for this program, and where does it rank in your career?
Kovacs: “This was a big win. Huge. I can’t stress that enough. Like I said, we knew it was going to be a big game coming in. I think that this is the best win that we’ve had since I’ve been on the team just because it’s so late in the year. I don’t think that we’ve ever had a game this late in November that really meant as much as this one. I think it was a big for us. We played well in all facets of the game, and it was a fun win. I guess we’re looking forward to next week.”
Mike, how different will this week feel knowing that you’re on par/favored going against Ohio State for the first time since forever?
Martin: “Yeah, well, like I’ve said before, the mindset of this defense and this team is on a whole n'other level this year. We’ve had young guys step up. We’ve had great leadership with the seniors. A lot of juniors and the underclassment have gotten a lot of time. It’s really just putting all those pieces together knowing that we can play Michigan defense and Michigan football for a full 60 minutes. That’s what you need to win football games, because you can’t start a game out strong and not finish it. We’ve done those things before, and it’s never worked out. I feel like we’ve improved as a team each week, and we have to make sure we take a positive step for this week coming up.”
Can you talk about the pride that special teams players take in their job since most of them are backups? Also, their impact on this game?
Kovacs: “I think all special teams players take a lot of pride in that facet of the game because a lot of those guys don’t play on offense or defense so that’s their contribution to the game. I think a handful of them are walk-ons as well, so they’re excited to get out there and play in the Big House and wear that winged helmet. I think they played great today. They made a huge impact and caused some turnovers, and I think they won us the game.”
“Beat Ohio” chant ftw. Thoughts?
Martin: “We all know what next week has in store for us and this program. That’s the end of November, that’s the deal. This stadium, this team, and all of us, we’re just going to enjoy the win tonight, but tomorrow get focusing on Ohio, and that’s something that we’ve done each week for every single team. This is a huge game for our legacy as a team, for this senior group, for team 132. We just have to make sure we finish the season out the way we want to, the way we’ve envisioned the whole season.”
Jordan, you’re an Ohio guy. What does this game mean to you?
Kovacs: “I think that as the game winded down the last minute and a half, and we were kneeing the ball, I think that everyone was thinking that in the back of their heads, like, ‘All right. This was a big win, but it’s on to the next one.’ We’re excited about it. Like Mike said, this was a huge win today. We’re going to enjoy it for the next few hours, and then we’re going to come in tomorrow focused and ready to improve and ready to get after Ohio.”
Is it different going into the Ohio State game this season than in years past?
Martin: “I believe, especially as we progress through this season, this team has taken major positive steps. It’s showed every single week we’ve made an improvement. We know what our capabilities are as a team. We know [that if] we play together, play as a team, that good things are going to happen. We have to complement each other.”
Is there any extra punishment this week if you slip up and say “Ohio State” instead of “Ohio”?
Kovacs: “Not that I know.”
Martin: “I don’t know. This week’s going to be an intense week. I don’t know if any of you media want to come to practice. I don’t think you guys will be able to make it. This will be a good one.”
Mike, can you talk more about shutting Nebraska down on the perimeter?
Martin: “We knew how dangerous they were, the weapons that they had, Martinez and Burkhead. We knew we had to attack them a certain way. We took advantage of the strengths that we have on our side of it. I believe we did a great job with executing. We had a few plays here and there that we wish we could have had back. That’s something that we have to improve on and we will do that, but overall I feel like we did a great job executing.”
Did you feel like you were successful in accomplishing what you set out to do when the first half ended and Burkhead didn’t have very many yards?
Martin: “I have no clue what he had at hafltime, but I knew that we were playing together and we were playing hard. We were having fun playing defense and playing Michigan defense. We knew we had another half at that point to play. You clock in for 60 minutes, you have to make sure you finish them all out.”
What does it mean that this week will be intense? How much more intense than normal?
Martin: “Everyone knows how big this game is. From our side of it, from the other side of it -- that’s what makes it such a great game, because of how much time’s put in, how much it means to each program, and really playing this great game of football in the month of November. Can’t get better than that. This week has to be one of our best weeks of preparation, period. That’s what it needs to be.”
Can you talk about last night’s team meeting? You were tweeting photos.
Martin: “Today we honored the armed services for everything they do. We’ve embodied and embraced some of their principles and things that they believe in on their team. You can never compare it -- what those guys do is something that is just amazing, but accountability and the different essences of teamwork are something that we adopted, so they visited us, talked to our team, really gave us a few words of wisdom, and it meant a lot. They gave us a couple of their tridents that represent the U.S. Navy Seals. That’s something that represents what they embody. That meant a lot to us as a team.”
Just to follow up, from “Beat Ohio State” to “Beat Ohio” -- is that something you immediate adopted because of your head coach? Is “Ohio State” forbidden?
Kovacs: “That’s what he calls them, so that’s what we call them.”
Can you talk about the uniqueness of Greg Mattison’s defensive scheme?
Kovacs: “He brings an unbelievable scheme. Obviously he was coaching with the Ravens before and he’s established an NFL defense here. I think that we do a pretty good job disguising and giving them a bunch of different looks and giving the quarterback something to think about. But at the same time I think our D-line has really been playing great so far. They really help us out on the back end. You can’t tip your hat off enough to those guys up front.”
Mike, has it hit you that this is your last time preparing to play at the Big House?
Martin: “That’s something that I’ve been thinking about for the past few weeks here. That’s why you have to take each day for what it is. It means a lot. You always tell those younger guys it’s going to fly by. You never listen, though. I didn’t listen. But this is huge for our program, for our seniors. Really I thought about my last time having clam chowder at the Campus Inn, because that’s the D-line’s favorite thing to eat on Friday. This is going to be huge, and we have to work hard this week.”
You know the drill by now: always Denard's legs always. Michigan went away from using Denard's legs as a threat against Iowa and suffered through a day where their tailbacks averaged 3.6 yards an attempt. Against Illinois virtually every play saw Michigan threaten a Denard run, often with the additional threat of a triple option from a motioning slot receiver or fullback Stephen Hopkins
Additionally, Michigan brought back Rodriguez's old offset H-back formation. This allowed Kevin Koger to either flare backside and open up the designed cutback runs Toussaint had success with or attack the frontside of the play on QB draws and the like. This stretched Illinois out and gave Toussaint some extra creases.
Toussaint's 65-yarder on Michigan's second play demonstrates both of these changes. It's second and ten after the NT jumped he snap on the first play and Denard missed a keep read on a triple option. Michigan comes out in a formation that could be a shot from any of the last three years but for the WR tight to the line at the top of the screen, who isn't actually a WR but is TE Steve Watson. Illinois responds by shifting its linebackers to the field and half-dropping the free safety.
There are five second level defenders on this play: the three linebackers, the overhang corner, and the rolled-up free safety.
On the snap Koger starts to head backside. The slot LB charges on an exchange as the backside DE comes in unblocked:
By the mesh points defenders one and two are dead on a handoff.
CAUSE OF DEATH, DEFENDER 1: Scrape exchange designed to contain threat of a Denard keeper; Koger's backside block.
CAUSE OF DEATH, DEFENDER 2: Drop into zone designed to combat the threat of a mesh point oh noes play-action pass (that still does nothing to combat a bubble screen or quick out by Hemingway.
Denard sees the DE containing and hands off. Koger comes backside to prevent #1 from running down the line and making the play from behind. Defender three is blitzing up the middle…
…he manages to get through the small gap beween Huyge and Omameh but the two guys combine to slow him down long enough for Toussaint to hit the hole.
CAUSE OF DEATH, DEFENDER 3: Blitz picked up by Huyge and Molk.
The Illinois line creases between Schofield and Molk. With the Illinois line clearly slanting to the playside this is mostly thanks to Molk controlling the NT well enough to prevent him from getting upfield. This defense is clearly designed to get Fitz cutting to the backside of the play; Molk's block means he doesn't have to.
By the time Fitz is hitting the line, the gap is obvious.
When he's two yards past it Illinois is done.
CAUSE OF DEATH, DEFENDER 4: General uselessness of one guy in twenty yards of space against a blocker; need to maintain leverage.
CAUSE OF DEATH, DEFENDER 5: Derp. He's containing Denard Robinson, who doesn't have the ball and was never going to have the ball on this play, or he's anticipating a cutback that he doesn't wait to see develop.
Toussaint gets tackled by his shirt tail because that's what always happens to Fitzgerald Toussaint.
He manages to pick up another 15 yards after the initial contact, but someone needs to get Fitz a slippery jersey.
Items Of Interest
Denard's legs: all threaty and stuff. The zone read fake eliminates one linebacker, which helps the run game but isn't a miracle. When Michigan operates from under center they still eliminate a guy because all defenses leave backside ends for potential bootlegs.
Where operating from the shotgun helps Michigan is with defender #2, who has to back out into a short zone because of the threat of a quick seam over the top. The quick PA ability of the spread 'n' shred means any linebacker who sucks up and reacts is DOA.
This is enough to put Toussaint one on one with a safety. Since that safety derps it's one on none. That's a third player the threat posed by Denard in the gun eliminates. That's their starter and fourth-leading tackler, by the way. Don't know what it is about Illinois safeties and massive breakdowns on Michigan's first possession but I like it.
Molk's block: key. Illinois is slanting the line hard and trying to funnel the play back to their backside blitz. If Fitz has to cut behind Molk that blitz may or may not get home. Since he's got a crease to the side where the Illinois line slanted it has no chance.
This isn't entirely up to Molk. Zone blocking is frequently about taking the guy where he wants to go, then taking him past that point. You can see on the replay that the backside DT is slanting, then stops, then tries to extend as Fitz hits the hole. He waves an arm at him but can do no more.
If the NT pushes hard to the playside Molk is tasked with kicking him past the point he wants to end up at; with the MLB handled by two guys Fitz likely has a cut either way. But not getting blown up/shoved back/chucked provides the crease.
Flinging Koger backside: nostalgic. Michigan also did this with Hopkins when they aligned with two backs. This is likely because of a heavy dose of plays like this where Illinois takes a quick linebacker and shoots him down the line.
A few years ago Calvin Magee said he'd worry about the guy crashing from the end "when he makes the play" on stretches; Illinois's goal with this exchange is to make the guy left unblocked a quicker player with a running start. On inside zones blocking the backside guy is mandatory because all possible creases are in the danger zone.
The bubble: screamingly open here. The slot LB will blitz as the MLB drops into coverage, so… yeah:
On this play the threat of the seam still eliminates the linebacker that the bubble usually forces out of the box*. I am still in favor of at least throwing a few bubbles because they will pick up big chunks if the defense plays like this.
I'm in favor of them generally because they put pressure on the defense by restricting the ways they can align without either getting 8 yards in their face or playing games that end with Worst Waldo passes. I mean, by the snap there isn't a guy on the field with a prayer of defending a slot bubble here.
*[When it doesn't it's forcing a safety either to the line or into a dangerous game of jumping the bubble route and opening up wide open bombs.]