"What (Michigan coaches) told me is that they're focusing on point guards right now, but if anything opens up, they'll definitely come back on and recruit me as hard as they were," said Towns
Opening remarks: “Um, that was an exciting football game.” Har har. “Oh, you do have a sense of humor.
"I thought both teams -- I’ve gotta give Brian and his staff and his kids a lot of credit. I thought both teams fought, and they fought for 60 minutes. It wasn’t pretty probably at times on both ends of it. But like I told our players, it’s great to win. There’s a lot to learn from this tape, but to go out there and play for 60 minutes and win the football game in the manner that we won -- our kids, I’m real proud. Terrence Robinson, on the last kickoff [with] two seconds left, watching him bust his butt to get down the field to try to cover it. There were other guys doing the same thing, but that’s the thing, as a coach, that you take away from your team.
“We had some adversity, they fought back. We never really got on track early in the game. Didn’t have any momentum, any rhythm, when you look at it from an offensive standpoint. And defensively, we didn’t start as well as we’d like. Played a little better there for a while, and then it was back and forth. We have a lot to look at and a lot to work on. It’s great to win, and it’s great to win for our seniors -- [it’s] the last time they play in this great rivalry. So now we move forward.”
Did you say anything to Denard after he threw the pick in the endzone? “We’ll look at it tomorrow, and he may have seen something there that was better than maybe it was. I never said anything to him -- unless it’s really a poor decision throw. I didn’t think it was a poor decision.”
Do you think this win creates momentum for the program? "I don’t know. I think there is momentum. I think you do gain some momentum, and I think for us, as a team, it will be a great learning experience. It’s amazing when you do play 60 minutes of football, meaning you do stay together as a team. You compliment each other and you lean on each other. That, for us, will be part of the teachings and part of the lessons from this football game.”
Why were receivers so hit-or-miss, and what allowed them to be able to make spectacular catches? "I think it’s just being a human being. I think we all have good days and bad days. We all maybe write something good one time and maybe something not so good the next. I’m sure that never happens in here.” Aw, shucks. "I’m not being sarcastic. Really.” You shouldn’t have. “But, in truthfulness, there were probably three balls early in the game, in the first half, maybe one in the second -- maybe four total -- that I think would have moved the sticks for us, would have given us some more momentum. We weren’t very good on third downs on either side. They were 8 for 14, which is good for them, bad for Michigan defense, and I think 3 for 9 when you look at what we were. There’s no explanation besides we have to do a better job concentrating and focusing and catching the ball.”
How much did it help to have beaten Notre Dame in similar fashion the last couple of years? “I’m sure it helps. I think it’s a great question for them. I think anytime you compete -- but at the same time every team is so different. Your seniors are different. Your leadership is different. Playmakers, to some degree, may be different. I think it’s a great question for them, if they had a little more juice at the end because of that -- I don’t know.”
[More after the jump]
|Junior Hemingway||Sr.*||Martavious Odoms||Sr.||Roy Roundtree||Jr.*||Kevin Koger||Sr.|
|Jeremy Jackson||So.||Jeremy Gallon||So.*||Kelvin Grady||Sr.*||Brandon Moore||Jr.*|
|Drew Dileo||So.||Jerald Robinson||Fr.*||Terrance Robinson||Jr.*||Steve Watson||Sr.*|
Yeah, I know the depth chart lists a fullback and crams the wideouts into two spots, but Al Borges keeps saying shotgun and wideouts and even Lloyd Carr rocked three-wide for much of his later period. The slot lives here, for at least another year or two. The slot lives on like whoah, actually: six of the nine guys on that depth chart can't get on the rides at Cedar Point, and one of the exceptions is the returning starter in the… slot.
So they're going to be short. And you should take the above depth chart with as much of a grain of salt as I did the official one and its lack of a slot and placement of Martavious Odoms on the third string. Any of these guys could pop up anywhere save Hemingway, Jackson, and Robinson, who are outside guys exclusively. It sounds like everyone is an outside guy now:
"The difference in this offense is there aren't really slot receivers as much as outside receivers — they play everywhere on the field and we move them around," Hecklinski said. "The switch is big because of all the little things asked of them - they have to convert routes, pick up checks and route changes and coverages."
That is a lot more complicated than what they did last year when the entire passing game was a constraint play. This is necessary to move the offensive forward. I'll discuss it more in the quarterback section, but when Denard's legs were removed from the equation on passing downs YPC dropped to an ugly 5.7—not much better than the 2008 disaster.
There are downsides to this. For example, in the two minute drill stuff after the punting demo Jeremy Gallon twice broke off option routes only to see the quarterbacks chuck it deep. There's going to be an adjustment period here. Roundtree:
“You have to have the timing down in this offense because if the timing is off, then the quarterback is off,” junior receiver Roy Roundtree said. “Our receivers want the ball, so we got to get open and keep the timing good for Denard.
Where is that timing at now?
“We’re getting there,” he said. “We still have two more weeks to get ready.”
Timing's always important and in the long term this passing offense will be more robust. I just hope we get plenty of last year's stuff in appropriate situations.
|like Marquise Walker|
|we totally planned this|
|drags a toe|
|also totally planned this|
|a back-shoulder leap|
|little high, no problem|
|cover zero in the alps|
|inexplicable yac knack|
|Purdue orbit step|
|Illinois Houdini act TD|
|tough to tackle|
|yac knack attack|
|not a replay of YKA|
Over the summer Junior Hemingway ventured into the heart of a South American jungle to perform an arcane rite that would free him of the injury jinx that's plagued him since his arrival Ann Arbor. It worked. It wrought a price on Martavious Odoms, but it worked. Hemingway hasn't been laid up with mono, an ankle sprain, a shoulder problem, or the Black Death in quite a long while.
If he can manage that 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.
That's convenient. That main skill is being enormous and jumpy. As the table says, he's like Marquise Walker. He's not a guy who's going to blaze past the secondary. There's going to be a corner in the vicinity. If it's going well they're going to watch Hemingway make the catch anyway. What you see at right emphasizes that theme: there's always a guy around, but he's often six inches too short to do anything about it.
A number of the catches are back-shoulder throws that don't necessarily seem intentional. If they aren't they might become so as Borges emphasizes a more sophisticated, they-tried-to-man-up-Crab passing offense.
The canonical example follows.
It might be a mirage conjured by playing next to Darryl Stonum for the last three years, but Hemingway does adjust to the ball in the air pretty well. He doesn't get a ton of separation, but his leaping/box-out ability is top shelf. He does do a good job of finding the ball and bringing it in.
He's also got this strange knack for picking up yards after the catch. He's a 230 pound monster who should get tackled on the catch every time, but this fails to happen with some consistency. There was that ridiculous touchdown against Illinois, for one. The highlights above have a few more examples.
Put the inexplicable YAC knack with his ability to snag downfield jump balls and good enough hands (he had four routine drops on 27 opportunities last year—not good—but snagged 3/5 circus attempts—very good) and you've got a solid Big Ten receiver. He'll see his production increase significantly. 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.
|quicks way past safety|
|will headbutt you|
|extended screen block|
|opens the corner|
|comes back to ball|
|wide open downfield|
|guy on his back no problem|
Martavious Odoms showed up way down the depth chart a few days ago. I'm not buying that. Hoke wants experience, toughness and blocking, and Odoms provides that. He's going to have to put a third wideout on the field, and Odoms is going to be #3 in snaps after Hemingway and Roundtree. So he's a quasi-starter.
He's probably way down the depth chart because his injury thing is becoming a problem. He missed the second half of last year with a broken foot, spent a big chunk of fall camp sporting a cast, showed up with his shoulder in a sling in a CTK episode, and apparently has another cast on now. In context it seems like his depth chart demotion is a health issue and he'll bubble up (HA!) when and if that gets resolved.
When on the field Odoms has been a reliable, unthrilling option. Odoms is from Pahokee, so he's small and would headbutt a goat if he thought it would get him two yards. His elusiveness is just okay—Roundtree and Hemingway probably have better YAC stats. His hands are good. Over the past two years he's 26/27 on routine catches, 7/10 on somewhat difficult ones, and 2/4 on very difficult ones. On the downside, his lack of height makes him a tougher target. Sometimes balls that Hemingway would grab zing way over his head.
The total package is a useful player but not one that's going to show up in the opposing team's gameplan. If healthy he'll at least double his 16 catches from last year; 45 is the guess here.
Jackson; Robinson (not that Robinson, or that one, or that one)
Since we've shuffled Roundtree off to his old position, there's only two guys bigger than a breadbox left. Jeremy Jackson is the one you've seen. The son of running backs coach and hyperbole enthusiast Fred, Jackson is a lanky, "lumbering" possession receiver who seems like the cream of the four-person WR recruiting class of two years ago. That's not a big hill to climb since DJ Williamson transferred, Ricardo Miller moved to tight end, and Jerald Robinson can't get on the depth chart.
He only managed four catches last year but at least they were all against Wisconsin and Ohio State. He'll see his involvement rise as Michigan spreads Stonum's catches around; 15 catches is as good a guess as any. Hope for reliable hands and an ability to get open thanks to his sizeable frame—a poor man's Avant is the goal.
Jerald Robinson also exists, but not on the depth chart. His recruiting profile makes him out to be a rangy leaper with good hands and some upside on deep balls. His omission from the depth chart was a surprise after the coaches and teammates had spent time talking him up:
“I feel like he’s going to get time,” Roundtree said. “I talked to him the other day, like, ‘Look man, this camp, you got to stay focused, don’t get down because your legs are sore. That’s supposed to happen.’ Jerald’s been having a great camp because he wants to learn and he wants to get better. He can play.” …
“Jerald doesn’t know how good Jerald can be,” wide receivers coach Jeff Hecklinski said. “There’s a lot of times where he’s really, really come along. It goes back to this is just a process.
“There’s some things he looks really, really good at, and there’s some things that we’re going to continue to work with him on.”
There were reports that Robinson did not Get It and may be in the process of doing so, FWIW. Hecklinski evidently thinks he has not fully acquired It and will wait to put him on the field until he has safely done so. He's a guy to look at for next year. Borges says "he seems like he has a future here," which is not a present here. He's just a redshirt freshman, after all.
Though the short guys are probably going to play outside as much as they do inside I'll cover them in the slot section.
Roy Roundtree is an eventful dude whether he's hand-wavingly wide open for a touchdown or dooming Michigan to turn the ball over by dropping the ball. Thanks to a massive game in the insane triple-OT Illinois thriller he finished as the Big Ten's second-leading receiver.
A large chunk of that is thanks to Denard's legs. There's a certain theme running through many of Roundtree's long receptions: desolation. When Denard catches the safety the resulting throw looks like post-apocalyptic football. Where is everyone? They're dead. Let's run through this tumbleweed-infested secondary.
That did not take a ton of skill on Roundtree's part.
But there is a reason he leapt off the bench during the 2009 Michigan State game and has been the favorite target of whoever's at QB since. For one, he's more slippery than you'd think. Michigan's recruited a horde of 5'9" YAC guys but it's Roundtree who gets targeted on bubbles. It's easy to see why:
|the worst waldo|
|blindingly wide open|
|Indiana oh noes|
|breaks wide open|
|safety just barely gets him|
|fourth down TD|
|gets crushed; hangs on|
|20 against UW|
|guy on his back|
|over the shoulder|
|jukes two different guys|
|smokes him on a juke|
|shakes CB for TD|
Odoms doesn't have much like that on his resume and Gallon is just a rumor. Roundtree's only competition is Hemingway's inexplicable YAC knack.
And his hands are pretty good despite the drops—four in 41 opportunities in the first 11 games last year. He gets targeted a lot. They could be better, sure, but I think everyone remembers them more because instead of converting a first down after Roundtree drops a ball Michigan immediately turned the ball over on three separate occasions. Those tend to burn themselves into your head. Hemingway had the same number of drops in 27 opportunities last year but you only hear about Roundtree's fumblefingers moments. Not that they don't rankle. It's just that I think our subjective memories are not 100% reliable in this matter.
If they move him outside he'll lose his spot as the designated hand-wavingly-open dude jetting past safeties. I think that would be a mistake since he's an easier target to hit than any the other options. When things opened up for the slot last year they often opened so wide that the only things that mattered were 1) how easy is it for Denard to hit him and 2) being faster than a tight end so no one catches him. Roundtree fit on both counts.
Meanwhile, moving outside may make him vulnerable to getting jammed at the line. As a slight guy who hasn't had to deal with that much in his career I can see that going poorly. A corner can get into him—under him—and disrupt his business. He's probably still the second best option out there in those circumstances; he's just not going to be as effective.
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 the most receiving yards on the team.
If there's one thing that is a must-recycle from last year's preview it's this stunning Kelvin Grady wallpaper:
DOWNLOAD NOW INSTALL NOW KEEP FOREVERRRR
|over the shoulder|
|gets nailed but hangs on|
|a bullet he snags|
|spins to catch it|
|lit up and hangs on|
|designated reverse guy|
|an alley outside|
|just outruns dudes|
I have no memory where that came from, unfortunately. I would like to find this person and see if they have excessively dramatic wallpapers for Nate Brink yet. I bet the text reads "on the BRINK of a REVOLUTION."
Anyway: Grady. He moved over from the basketball team and dropped a lot of balls two years ago, whereupon he was dropped from the lineup when Roy Roundtree burst onto the scene. When Odoms moved outside last year he got another shot and did surprisingly well with it. The hands issues disappeared—while he did have one routine drop on nine attempts he was six of six on more difficult stuff—as he became the designated reverse guy. By the end of the year it was a litte disappointing they hadn't used him more.
Entering his final season 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.
It could go sour for Grady if Jeremy Gallon translates chatter into playing time. Gallon came to Michigan with a ton of hype and a stunning resemblance to The Wire's Snoop…
Normally this would spell another year on the bench making people wonder what the big deal was all about. Stonum's suspension and the injury curse migrating to Odoms gives him an opening. If you listen to the coaches he seems to be taking advantage of the opportunity.
As a result he passed Odoms on the official depth chart, though this preview assumes that's because of injury. Perhaps more interesting is surging ahead of Jackson and Robinson, who are closer to the strapping downfield leapers the pro-style offense generally prefers. Gallon had seemingly fallen behind Jackson in particular late last year.
(Gallon's special teams contributions are covered in a separate section.)
Sophomore Drew Dileo is basically Wes Welker, of course. He had one catch for three yards a year ago and will probably have to wait another year for some of the small guy logjam to clear before he gets significant time. I can't understand why he's not returning punts since that's supposedly what he was recruited to do and Gallon has been maddening, but there are now two coaching staffs who have come to the same conclusion about the depth chart there.
Finally, Terrance Robinson's still around. He's been conspicuously absent from both press conference chatter and the depth chart. He's been passed by younger guys in Dileo, Gallon, and Jackson. He's probably not going to see time. Here's this catch he had last year, though.
Kevin Koger can't go twenty minutes without someone asking him if he's excited for an increased role in the offense as if he or Martell Webb weren't on the field for 80% of Michigan's snaps last year. The conventional wisdom holds that blocking ain't playin', apparently.
Koger did a lot of that last year and was effective but not stellar. Webb was clearly a superior blocker and was the preferred choice when Michigan got close to the goal line and things got hairy. While Koger was preferred in the passing game, it wasn't by much. His 14 catches were nine more than Webb's five.
Is that going to change this year? If they run the I-form a lot, maybe. That takes the slot off the field and makes the tight end the natural target in the seam areas that are so deliciously open because of Denard's running. I'm not sure how you get opponents to vacate those when you're under center (fake QB draws?), but if anyone can do it it's Denard. When Michigan's in the shotgun he'll have competition from Roundtree, et al., in those zones and it's clear Denard's comfort level is higher with 'Tree.
Koger's lack of participation in the passing game may be his own doing. Two years ago he started the season by making a series of ridiculous catches, then blew all that goodwill and more by catching just 7 of 11 routine opportunities. He was 9/9 last year on those, which helps but still gets him to 16 of 20 all-time— still worse than anyone on the team last year. If he's dropping stuff in practice the lack of attention is not related to the spread. I know there was that one year that Tim Massaqoui broke his hand and Mike DeBord kept throwing to him, but I choose to believe that little wrinkle was unique to The Avalanche.
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.
Moore; weird guy with weird hat and Watson
There are a couple scholarship options behind Koger but they're not particularly encouraging. Despite being a big time recruit, redshirt junior Brandon Moore has hardly been seen on the field outside of baby seal clubbings. Even if he did have a couple of quality options ahead of him on the depth chart, the third tight end should see snaps here and there if he's quality.
More ominous yet has been the total lack of buzz surrounding him in fall. Borges's only mention of the guys behind Koger was when he was directly asked about TEs other than the starter. The result:
I think Brandon Moore has done a nice job. He is still climbing if you know what I mean. He is getting better every single day and Steve Watson is a solid player. I think we’re pretty deep there. I think we’re pretty deep. Because Kog got hurt in the spring, those other guys got a lot of reps.
That seems to be something to file under coachspeak. We'll see; given Moore's physical talents he could surprise.
And then there's Steve Watson, who came in as a tight end, got moved to DE, linebacker, TE again, and then started playing FB—he appears on both depth charts. I imagine he'll get some time near the goal line as a threat out of the backfield and out of necessity when Borges feels the need for a big set. At this point it's hard to think he'll do much with it.
Ricardo Miller's the lone other TE on the roster. After moving from WR he's up to 234 pounds, which is far too little to see the field unless the roof caves in.
Apologies for the brevity of the updates, but I wanted to talk to a bunch of different people instead of going in-depth with anybody in particular.
Denard is adapting to the new offense well. He's getting the footwork down, and should be good to go by the start of the season.
Denard is looking forward to the opportunity to stay a little healthier this year, with less of a load carrying the ball on his shoulders.
Fullback John McColgan "is one of the toughest guys I've ever seen in my life."
The upperclassmen are the leaders in the backfield, but the young guys came in because they wanted to compete. Having a number of talented players back there makes everybody better.
Thomas has never had the opportunity to meet Mark Ingram face-to-face, but he really wants to. As a Flint guy, he really looks up to Ingram.
Even though Stephen had a couple fumbles last year, it was out of character for him. "I've never been a fumbler. I had maybe two in my whole high school career."
The new offense is a good fit for his skills, and he's looking forward to it.
The new offense is still going to put up points, because that's the goal of any offense. However, the pace will be slower to control the ball instead of running as many plays as possible, so scoring might drop a bit. That doesn't mean it's any less effective.
There are some differences for the wideouts going into the new offense, but it's nothing they can't adjust to.
There's definitely an emphasis on blocking for the wideouts in the new offense. If you can't or won't get out there and block, you won't play.
He's always had trouble being able to gain weight. He was on a similar diet as Ryan Van Bergen. The trick to gaining weight is to eat only the right things, but eat until you're full, and then just a little bit more. Sometimes, Taylor had to lie down in bed for a little bit after a meal and hope it didn't come back up.
It's exciting to be back down on the defensive line with his hand back in the dirt. "I don't want to worry about the past," but he's excited about the defense going forward.
It's been tough to play in a different defense every year, but again, he doesn't want to dwell on the past.
He had a relationship with Michigan's current coaching staff when they were at San Diego State. They had offered him a scholarship when he was a sophomore.
Matt had been planning to go to Boise State, but when Michigan hired the new staff, he set up a visit here. The plan was to head to Nebraska for a visit the following week, but he fell in love with Ann Arbor and committed to the Wolverines. Even though his visit was in January, the weather didn't bother him.
Jerald Robinson has great potential, and "doesn't know how good Jerald can be." He has good size and athleticism, and just needs to keep working hard to see that potential realized.
Jeremy Gallon has been impressive in fall camp. "Let's hope he keeps progressing."
The goal for the safeties is to not have a "second-best strong or free" safety, but have guys who are capable of stepping in at either safety position.
Jordan Kovacs is a tough, smart player, and that's what's helped him be a contributor here. That should continue going forward.
Thomas Gordon is performing well at nickel, and he's also trying to become a contributor at one of the safety positions. They want him to be able to do both roles. Troy Woolfolk is the same way: he's contributing at corner, but they also want him to have the ability to rotate in at nickel.
Thomas Rawls and Justice Hayes have really helped push the others at the position to improve, because despite being freshman "they're coming in here like they're sophomores." He's as happy with those two as he's ever been with a pair of freshmen. (Fred kept returning to the freshmen, regardless of what he was asked).
John McColgan is a solid option at fullback. He's doesn't have the skill set of Kevin Dudley (glorified lineman in the backfield) or Chris Floyd (who had plenty of ability with the ball in his hands). However, he's a very smart player, and will get some opportunities, including in the pass game.
The left side of the line is mostly set: Taylor Lewan at left tackle, Patrick Omameh at left guard, and David Molk at center. On the right side of the line, there are pretty much three players for two positions. Ricky Barnum (guard), Mark Huyge (tackle or guard), and Michael Schofield (tackle) have separated themselves from the pack.
You always worry about depth, but it is definitely a concern this year. They'll have just a couple backups on top of a "solid top six." They're addressing depth going forward with recruiting.
Cam Gordon is most impressive in his love for football, and his strong desire to improve his game and get better.
There are a lot of players on the defensive line who are versatile enough to play multiple positions. Craig Roh, Jibreel Black, and others could see a bit of time on the inside, even though they're primarily defensive ends.
Brennen Beyer and Frank Clark are some impressive freshmen. (Note: Seeing Clark, he was taller than I thought, but also much skinnier: he looked like the second coming of Davion Rogers - OK, maybe not that skinny. Still, it sounds like he'll have an opportunity to play this year).
Nothing will ever bring home how bizarrely intense people get about spring football than Orson's annual in-depth review of Florida's spring game. It's the closest he gets to being a conventional team blogger, a straightforward piece of analysis long enough to be a Marky Mark Mangino post livened up by Orson's tendency to call things a "boiled bag of rat innards". Orson is writing about defensive tackles. It is April and college football is bored.
Michigan's got one of those this weekend and these are the things I'll be extrapolating answers from the tiniest filaments of evidence about:
Is Can Have Tailback
Michigan's tailback last year was Denard Robinson and when it wasn't Denard Robinson it was people being enraged that Vincent Smith wasn't really fast or falling down past the line of scrimmage. This year some variety of pro-style offense will be deployed; having a tailback becomes significantly less optional.
- Vincent Smith, the 5'6" Pahokeean who was the leading non-Robinson rusher last year with 601 yards. He took 136 carries to get those—4.4 per—and struggled badly against anything approximating a good defense.
- Michael Shaw. Carlos Brown 2.0 averaged a full yard per carry more than Smith mostly because he got hurt after the Bowling Green game.
- Michael Cox. The Loch Ness Monster is reputed to be a stallion of a man capable of great feats. Unfortunately he is 50-50 to run towards the correct endzone on any given play.
- Stephen Hopkins. Hopkins had some fumbling issues and only ended up with 37 carries last year but his size made him an effective lead blocker for Robinson and his rushes promised a Minor-like downhill moose down the road. We're a bit further down the road and Hopkins's new head coach loves him some moose.
- Fitzgerald Toussaint. Toussaint has been vaporware in his first two years. Maybe he can stay healthy for the next twenty seconds.
There is also The Greatest Player In The History Of The World According To Two Jacksons. Thomas Rawls enters with the sort of hype you can only get by being a generic late-rising three star coached by Fred Jackson's son and recruited by Fred Jackson. Since he didn't enroll early we won't get to test the Jacksons' theory that Thomas Rawls encompasses the power of the sun and gently warms the earth each morning.
Looking for: A somewhat lighter, faster Hopkins with a grasp of what he should do. He's probably going to be the best back on the roster and he's now in a system that loves/needs a guy like him.
Fearing: Vincent Smith looks pretty much the same and still has a lock on the top TB spot. It's plausible that Smith's injury lingered into last season—remember he tore that ACL during the OSU game, so he had well under a year to get ready—and that he'll display a lot more speed and agility two years removed from it. If that's the case then maybe he can be a decent Big Ten starter. If he's still the same guy he was last year and he's still at the top of the depth chart and he's getting a lot of carries from the I when Denard could be doing something, guh.
Will only believe three games into the season: Cox as Herschel Walker. That guy is never going to play. He's a redshirt junior and couldn't get a carry last year even when half the tailback corps was injured and the rest was Smith and freshman Hopkins. And this is at tailback, the position where you can leap into the starting lineup on day one if, say, you're a human battering ram who runs like a gazelle. The only RB in recent Michigan history to get noticeably better late in his career was Chris Perry. Everyone else was the same guy they always were.
The Roundtree Question
What do you do with the Big Ten's second leading receiver when his production was predicated on the threat of Denard Robinson running and his position only sort of exists in the platonic ideal of a MANBALL offense?
The answer to this is probably "nothing." Borges said something about running a ton of three and four wide this season. Even if that's forced it sounds like Borges is going to roll with it, especially because his best wideout seems most comfortable in the slot—kinda need to have three WRs to have a slot—and the tight ends are sparse and stone-handed. Late-era Carr teams based out of three wide even after Steve Breaston had moved on to the NFL. Borges is more of a bomber than Carrbord and just spent a couple years running one of those "West Coast" offenses that throws damn near everything out there. So… yeah, expect three wideouts.
Okay, then, but the further question is: what will Borges do with the guy? Roundtree went nuts last year when the threat of Denard Robinson sucked safeties up and saw him stunningly wide open against Notre Dame and Indiana and Illinois and several other times besides. Can Borges run what he wants to run and surround Roundtree with nothing but grass?
Looking for: Michigan safeties to fail spectacularly because they can't decide whether to take Denard or stay back. If you can't do it to Michigan safeties you can't do it to anyone.
Fearing: Borges can't evolve the system to keep ahead of defenses and get those almost free touchdowns. I'm sure he can emulate QB Lead Oh Noes but Michigan had to keep re-arranging it to prevent safeties from showing up in the wrong place at the critical moment. Borges is a smart guy but his knowledge is in another arena. I'm not sure he'll be able to create as many opportunities with Denard's legs.
Will only believe three games into the season: Jeremy Gallon on the field.
Okay, You Run Power, But How?
Michigan ran POWER last year. They didn't run it much, but they did use it as a counter to the constant stretch action. It was fairly successful as a changeup. That move was part of the shift in Michigan's offense away from a true zone read to an odd QB-as-TB thing people called "QB iso" and didn't know what to do with—the AP put him on their All-America team as a "back." Like Rodriguez coming into DeBord's already extant stretch offense, Hoke is walking into a situation where his guys have some clue about what the new stuff is.
Unfortunately, we've seen bits and pieces of power plays run from under center in the practice videos that have invariably been stuffed. This is rock hard evidence it is not a good idea. So, like, what I'm saying is that if you've got Denard Robinson and you want to run power you might as well line up in the shotgun and run it with Denard Robinson, right?
A secondary question: how serious is Hoke about his distaste for zone running? He seems like a pretty hands-off guy when it comes to the offense, but if there's one thing he's stressed on that side of the ball it's that the team "will run power" and fullbacks will have their spine compressed and whatnot. This is something of a problem because Michigan has just completed the transition away from hampeople. Mike DeBord installed a zone stretch running game in 2006 and Michigan started recruiting to it. That first class was David Molk and Mark Huyge, now redshirt seniors.
Everyone recruited since has been either a relatively light and mobile spread OL or a prototypical left tackle. The prototype will be fine in any system; guys like Molk and Omameh and Ricky Barnum might not be. If Michigan spends the offseason putting beef on the interior line it might work out… or it might give them a bunch of tweeners not particularly good at anything.
Looking for: QB power.
Fearing: RB power.
Will only believe three games into the season: Michigan guards as effective drive blockers.
It was at last year's spring game that Robinson went from a freak show who should be moved to tailback to a freak show who should be in the Heisman running. He can't improve that much again without melting anyone who watches him, Ark of the Covenant style, but he was still pretty raw last year. He had bouts of drive- and game-crippling inaccuracy; he occasionally joined the Rex Grossman "f*** it, I'm going deep" club; he was restricted to a set of limited routes that teams adapted to as the leaves turned. He should progress. How much?
Looking for: Incremental improvement.
Fearing: Uncomfortable on drops and still prone to chucking slants well behind his receivers.
Will only believe three games into the season: hopefully that Denard Robinson can do anything.
Ankles are both good: "I'm at the health that I want to be right now." The week of rest has helped, and no hitting for a couple weeks should also do him some good. He expects to be 100% by bowl time. It's frustrating being injured, because you put in the work to be ready, "you got 12 opportunities a year... you're not able to play those minutes and those plays, it's rough." Getting to full strength is his priority. A lot of guys who were banged up have been getting a lot of treatment in the week off. "There's a very good chance for me to be feeling great for the bowl."
More practices will help the young team improve: "You improve any time you can get some work in. Whenever we get into practice or anything, we always make sure we're ready to work and get better."
Excited to play an SEC team. "It's big for me, it's big for the guys that I came in with that haven't gone to a bowl yet." It's rare for a junior to not have gone to a bowl game yet. Older players are excited to get back there. Michigan has a lot of contenders to win an eating contest, if there is one. Mike doesn't think he'd be one of them.
Mouton and Denard predicted wins at the banquet: "I would say that's just excitement." Everybody is just excited and anxious to practice, and to play in the bowl. "Jonas and Denard, probably just pure excitement. Just wanting to get down there."
Rodriguez job limbo: "That's not something I can control, or anyone on the team can control." The players are just worried about playing, and controlling what they can. "Whatever pans out, we're worried about the game."
Roh's move: "I know he feels a lot more comfortable being on the line." He played DE in high school, and wasn't as comfortable at linebacker. He's able to just play his game at DL instead of over-thinking.
Reaction of team to playing Mississippi State? "We was all pretty happy." Playing in a January 1 bowl game is exciting. "We're all happy with the Gator Bowl."
Playing an SEC team: "You always hear about the SEC speed, and the Big Ten is like slow and big muscle guys and SEC is the fast, athletic guys. In 2008 Michigan did a great job against Florida." Eager to prove that Michigan will be able to beat a good SEC team.
Exciting to play in his first bowl game. "Hopefully we can keep this going, keep the bowl game streak going, and get Michigan back to where it's supposed to be."
Taking the time in between the end of the season to heal up. "You don't want to go too hard." Worried more about sharpening skills than hitting each other. They know the whole playbook, they need to make sure they'll be able to execute well, "getting ready mentally more than physically."
Ankle is "pretty good," but he's still getting treatment. Should be 100% by bowl game. Against OSU "it was pretty tough. They tried to tape it up and do all kind of things." He was going to gut it out for the seniors no matter how much it hurt.
Denard deserved the MVP honor (though Darryl joked that he tried to vote for Troy Woolfolk). "Especially for a sophomore, so he's only going to get better. We're looking for big things from him his junior year, and big things in the bowl game" Denard should still be in the Heisman race.
In the bowl game, "I think you'll see how everybody played in the first few games," because they'll be much healthier. Everybody's rehabbing and should be fresh. "We'll be ready to go."
"No need to beat ourselves up. Might as well save it to beat up Mississippi State."
"Denard. Denard Robinson." for team MVP. Mike Shaw voted for himself as a joke, because he knew Denard was going to win it. "Everybody knew who was going to win it because of all the hard work he put in all season." There's still more room for improvement.
Denard's very humble every day. Always trying to learn something, trying to improve his game and his teammates. Even when he was getting mentioned for the Heisman, he was more worried about working on his game.
"I felt like I played great all year, but at times, lack of focus on the football." He knows he can play better than he showed in the last four games. He's only a sophomore, so he has the offseason to work hard toward a good junior year. "Trying to take off without the ball in my hands. Drops: I had several drops in this last game." Doesn't lack confidence, just needs to practice to fix it. "That's easily corrected. It's just up to me to really maintain that."
The team will work out to stay focused in the layoff. "When we do have practice, I'm sure pretty Coach Rod's gonna have us ready." It's helping people heal up.
It's nice to finally be playing in the postseason. "Watching bowl games? You know that really sucked bad. You really couldn't do nothing about it because of the season we had. Finally getting out there, getting ready to play Mississippi State, come January first, it's gonna be great. It's SEC vs. Big Ten and we're just getting ready to go in there and give it our all."
Chris Spielman's comments on how Jordan isn't good enough for Michigan: "I heard about it. It's nothing that I haven't heard before. Obviously it motivates me." Every player - especially walkons - motivated by outside comments.
Against OSU, the front 7 played pretty well "eventually I guess their running game just wore us down." They played hard though, and if they can continue that, the defense will be fine going forward.
Never been to a Michigan bowl game, even though he was a fan growing up. Remembers the Capital One bowl a few years back. Jordan was 1 year old last time Michigan was in the Gator Bowl.
His roommate spoiled the surprise yesterday by telling him it was the Gator Bowl. Excited to play an SEC team because they're supposed to be the best conf. All 4 of MSU's losses are to top-16 teams in the SEC.
"The first couple weeks, I think you've really gotta heal up, because it's been a long regular season." After a couple weeks of workouts, they'll start practicing, then preparing for Mississippi State specifically. "We can get back to fundamental football. We don't have to focus on Mississippi State as much right away." Can work on getting back to Michigan football and understanding team goals and individual roles, then worry about the opponent later.
Banged up a bit during football seaosn, because that happens to everyone. "We had a lift this morning, and I feel pretty fresh." Hit his high weight of the season, so a week off can help you heal up.
Ryan Van Bergen
"I voted for Mr. Shoelaces as well. He obviously deserved it, he broke all the records." He was unstoppable until he got injured. "He wasn't able to showcase how really spectacular he can be" at the end of the season.
Junior Hemingway made big plays against Indiana and Illinois, and could have been MVP. Roy Roundtree had a great Illinois game and a couple other fantastic games, but Denard was the guy who got the ball when they needed a play all year, so he's the MVP.
4-man front worked well against Ohio State: "I think that the 4-man front, we completely thwarted them the first half." He would guess that they run some 4-man fronts in the bowl.
Used to watch a lot of hockey, Red Wings v. Avalanche, excited for the Big Chill game. "I'm excited. I've never been in the student section at Michigan before. But I'll be there in the student section at the Big House, watching a hockey game."
Big Ten v. SEC: "I don't know if they're the conference to beat, but they're the conference that I'd definitely want to play against" to get the best test. SEC, Big Ten, maybe a bit of Pac 10 are the best conferences. Regardless of when it's played, those two conferences in a bowl are a big deal.
Nobody needs to worry too much about MSU yet. Focus on self, healing injuries, get in better shape, focus on fundamentals, and then 4 weeks in, you finally start worrying about the gameplan for Mississippi State. "If you focus on the opponent that long, you're just going to overlook self-improvement."
Media circulating talking about RR: "There's always something out there." RVB is in support of Coach Rod. Somebody around the program as long as Van Bergen has has, he's excited to get back to a bowl. "I would like to say that I want to be with Coach Rodriguez for the rest of my career."
"All people see is the stuff that goes on camera, that goes out to the television sets, and you can't understand what goes on at Schembechler Hall." RR is hard-working, and cares about his players "as much as any other coach in college football cares about his players." Wants them to succeed. "He's just a great guy, and when you recognize somebody that has those leadership qualities, that's somebody that you're going to wanna follow, and I think the whole team takes that attitude."
Voted for Denard as team MVP. "When he handed out the ballots, in my head I was saying 'do we even really need to vote?'" Denard getting hit hard every game, tough to keep that up. He persevered and was never out for extended time. "He's been through it, he's felt it, and next year it will be a little more natural to him."
OL MVP award: "It's a huge honor, definitely. To be rewarded for consistent play over three years is an honor." Proud to be a 3-time winner.
Really excited to be in a New Year's Day bowl game. Glad that OSU disappointment isn't his last game. Glad to get back to a bowl game for the seniors and want to start a new streak.
Feels like the Capital One bowl was a long time ago, but sometimes it seems like yesterday. Getting to a bowl game as a freshman helped him improve: "I think it was huge. Towards the end of my freshman year, I was struggling a bit." Having time off and able to worked on fundamentals and confidence helped him grow a lot as a young player. They can regroup mentally coming off a couple losses.
There's a long time between games, can't worry about MSU too early. First two practices are just getting back to fundamentals. Worry about the gameplan later, then "you go out there to win the game."
Big Ten and SEC are two of the top conferences. "It'll be fun to see how the two conferences compare" in the bowl matchups.
A few young offensive linemen will be ready to step up once Schilling graduates. Ricky Barnum got in a few plays at tackle against Ohio State "He's more fit at guard." Mealer's been playing a lot. Will Campbell has improved a bunch in the past couple weeks, and the bowl and spring practices might allow him to challenge for the job.
Happy to get to a bowl game, but the job isn't done. Every win from here on out is to improve bowl standing. "I think that's added motivation for us... We love our teammates, and our seniors mean a lot to us." Glad to send the seniors out with a bowl game.
Doesn't care where the bowl game is "as long as it's warm."
Hopefully the team can get wins in all three remaining games.
Denard is harder to understand in the huddle than Tate. You have to go by the signals, because otherwise you won't hear the right play.
"After those turnovers, we picked each other up, we didn't hang our heads." Molk was saying that they had a full 60 minutes to play - maybe not counting on the extra time. Have to keep spirits up after mistakes, because you can't go back and change that.
"When Roy first got here, he was an outside receiver with us." That summer, he put in the work to get bigger in offseason workouts. "He's still working hard, he was in the weight room today working extremely hard."
"I didn't know [about setting a record] until after the game when Dave [Ablauf, UM Associate Athletic Director] pulled me aside and said I had broke the single-game record." It amazed him that he had done so much. "In high school I had one, it was a playoff game that went into overtime and we won that. I think I had 15 catches for 2-something... It ain't nothing like playing here and breaking the record."
When he talked to his cousin yesterday, it sunk in that he had outdone a bunch of Michigan's historic wideouts.
Both quarterbacks are leaders of the offense, it doesn't matter which one is in. "I don't know man, we exploisove everywhere, we got threats everywhere at every position. If we play like we can play, I don't think nobody can stop us." Denard was still involved in the game despite injury. "He just told us that we gotta keep going." Even though he wasn't in, he wanted to give encouragement.
"I try to play everybody like it's my last." No special feelings for Purdue. "I think every time we play throughtout our season gonna talk smack to throw you off." The fast tempo offense doesn't give them a lot of chances to say anything. Committed to Purdue as a junior. Told RR "I don't think I'm going to West Virginia." Once he came to Ann Arbor, it opened Roy's eyes. "I think I made the right choice."
Came in weighing 152 pounds, now 178. In his first year on scout team "I'm like 'Man, they just killin' me.'" In the offseason, he hit the weights, made it his "best friend." Wants to get up to 185-190 "I'll get there man." Really embraced the offseason to get faster. "I'm willing to get faster."
"I just try to block out everything" once he's at study table or practice, he manages to get focused.
"Man, Junior is a great football player, man." Receivers just want to be the best once they hit the field.
On the #1 jersey: "I mean hey, I still gotta work for it... When it's time, it's time. Oh yeah, I want it."
Sense of relief after the last play. "It was exciting, and my heart topped a couple times, but we pulled it off." Good feeling to win in overtime. "It's a lot more emotions involved, and there's more at stake because you're invested so much already." Crossed his mind what it would have been like to be on the losing end. "Of course it's not something that would be pleasant."
Good emotional boost to win. Need to carry that forward into the coming weeks. It's good to clinch a bowl game, but they need to continue winning to earn spots in a better bowl. Everybody showed lots of emotion after the game because of the circumstances, not necessarily because it clinched a bowl.
Offense wants to continue clicking, and minimize the times when they aren't quite on the same page.
"Running on the field, I wasn't even sure Denard was out yet." Didn't notice until the huddle, when Tate gave the play. Easier to understand because Denard talks really fast.
Will Campbell "Big guy, he's a strong guy." He's making progress, learning the ropes on the offensive side of the ball. "He could be somebody that could help us down the road."
"We were aware that the investigations had wrapped up, and we didn't fully understand everything that was going on, but we were confident in our coaches... When things turned out in our favor, we were jut glad to hear it."
Ryan Van Bergen
Everybody excited for the sixth win "A lot of pressure off a lot of guys' shoulders." They're confident after a win, and are motivated going into next week. Ryan feels pressure lifted from his shoulders to be a team leader that got the team back to a bowl game.
On the final 2-point conversion, Michigan was running the same defense against the same offensive play that Illinois used to convert for 2 in the first quarter. They executed better and were able to get the win.
Defense played 100 plays, and they were exhausted "I literally had no more gas left in the tank." Were glad to end the game.
Defense can't be excited about giving up 65 points, but they played well off turnovers and from bad field position. "There's some things we definitely could have cleaned up, but I would say as a leader of the defense, we made some tremoundous strides last week."
Only two Big Ten wins is not acceptable to them, they need to keep going. More excited to play Purdue than he has been to play in a long time. Defense finally has a bit of swagger and attitude.
Purdue has good size on OL, but so has the rest of the Big Ten so far. "just excited about an opportunity, moreso to prove ourselves."
Defensive line improved with Roh on it. More pressure off the edges forced at least three holding calls. Didn't register many sacks, but were able to pressure Scheelhasse. "I really like when Mike [Martin]'s in the game." It opens up 1-on-1s because teams have to worry about handling him inside.
"It's early to speculate about the future" but the young guys that are getting experience now will be great in the future. "Next year, or two years from now, these freshmen, all of them are going to be veterans."
Forcing more TOs. "Disguising our coverages a little bit... getting around the football a little bit more." Now that they're making solid tackles, they need to get at the ball.
3rd downs: "We were highly motivated on third down. We talked about it all week. Something we were embarrassed about against Penn State." 3rd downs were the reason they didn't beat the Nittany Lions.
Ndamukong Suh's missed extra point: "I know I would have made that. There's no way I would have missed an extra point." Kicked in high school - long of 46. "If I got called upon, I would make an extra point for this team, for sure."