"The University of Illinois is also in turmoil. The university sports an Interim Chancellor, an Interim Athletic Director, and an Interim Football Coach; the game will be played at Soldier Field, making this an Illini Interim Home Game."
News bullets and other important items:
- Brandon Moore and Stephen Hopkins still have unclear injury status. They may or may not play Saturday.
- The staff is wearing the Chuckstrong t-shirts on the way to the stadium.
“Uh, thanks for coming. Good practice yesterday. Liked how we’re preparing right now. I think the intensity level hopefully will be the same today from an offensive standpoint. I think talking to Al, they got a lot of good work done yesterday. Defensively, I’d say the same thing. I think both coordinators were pleased. I mean, not happy, but pleased with the preparation that we have.”
Were the practices as good as they were last week?
“Uh, I think it was comparable. I think coming off the bye week and not playing for a week, I think you always have a little more intensity it seems like. I think they’re comparable.”
News bullets and other important items:
- Desmond Morgan will play on Saturday and will start.
- Richard Ash and Stephen Hopkins are likely to play.
- Brandon Moore and Brennen Beyer are out.
“Thank you for showing up. I think we had a very good practice yesterday. The tempo was good. The learning was good. I think we played fast and we competed well against each other, so that’s a good sign. I think we’re excited, obviously, to play in a great venue and play great rivalry game. It started in 1887 and [we’ll] continue it and go from there.”
Does the intensity ebb and flow with the varying strength of opponents over the past few weeks or is it consistent?
“You’d like to have it consistent. I can’t say it’s always been consistent, but you’d like the consistency be there every week so you can improve.”
Has it been consistent?
“It’s been decent. I think it was very -- a little more intense, but we’ve been talking about that a lot. The intensity and your focus and your concentration is at a higher level. Your speed of playing the game’s at a higher level. So I think that part of it has been good.”
News bullets and other important things:
- Desmond Morgan and Richard Ash should return this week. Stephen Hopkins seems probable, Brennen Beyer is questionable, and Brandon Moore will be out.
This filter is called "file."
“Thanks for coming. It was good to win on Saturday, obviously. We have a lot that we need to keep doing better. I think we did some things better than we did a week before, but we’re still growing as a team in a lot of ways. We have to improve every week if we want to be the team that we want to be. So we just have to keep making progress from fundamentals, from techniques, everywhere across the board, do a better job up front on both sides of the ball. You’ve heard that many many times before, and you’ll probably continue to hear it. That’s where the game is played, and that’s where it starts, and for us going on the road playing a Notre Dame that’s 3-0 and has played very well -- they’ve been in tight games. They played in East Lansing well, they had a tight game with Purdue, won the football game at the end, so you look at them as a team and their front seven on defense is playing real well together. Disruptive. And offensively I think Everett Golson has done a nice job running the offense, managing it, a lot of tight ends involved, and they’re a good football team. We’re going to have our hands full, and we need to get a lot better as a football team.”
Brady Hoke, before he was cool.
Three games in, what about your team is developing well?
“Um. It’s a really good question. I think, uh, we’re progressing a little bit in the two areas that are the most concerning, and that’s up front defensively and up front offensively. I don’t think we’re close to where we should be and where we need to be, so we’ll go back to work and keep working it. I like the attitude our team's had and how they’ve come to work, but I think for us to meet the expectations that we have, we have to get a lot better.”
How would you assess how your offense ran the two-minute drill?
“I thought once we knew we were getting the ball back, we wanted to go, and they did a nice job with it. I’m not going to recite every play to you, but I thought we were good with the timeouts when we took them and what we needed to do.”
How important was it to come out of this game without any injuries? Did you have any reservations about playing Denard when you were up 49-13?
“Well we wanted to play another series, and this is all about trying to get the mindset of a team and the mentality to win a championship, and keeping the offense together was a big part of that, and letting them finish. I don’t know if we got any boo boos today, but we’re having one of those years where a lot of guys are getting dinged up.”
How would you assess Fitz and the running backs?
“I think he did okay. I think we’re a little - there were a couple times where I’d like to see him stick his foot in the ground and be more vertical with some stuff.”
Status of Desmond Morgan and Stephen Hopkins?
“They should be back next week.”
What’s the issue with Morgan’s head?
“Uh, a head thing. I don’t know what they classify him as. Sometimes you just get dinged.”
Is this a type of game that you needed to have before getting into the brunt of your schedule?
“We would have taken any win.”
What did you see from the offensive line today?
“Oh I didn’t think we moved the line of scrimmage as well as we needed to.”
What do you need to see from them in order to accomplish that?
“Well we better play with better leverage, and we better combination block better when we’re doing that, and we better finish.”
Would you contemplate shaking up the starting lineup?
“I think you willl evaluate like you always do.”
Vincent Smith had a couple touchdowns. How did he play?
“Vince is a guy who whenever you call his number, he’s pretty much going to perform. It’s not surprising. When you look at what he’s done for Michigan football and how he comes to work every day, it’s not surprising.”
You don’t sound like a coach that has won by 50 points. Are you disappointed? Can you give an assessment of where you’re at?
“I think we’re getting a feel, but these kids have worked hard, and they’ve worked hard throughout -- since last January, and they have high expectations. It’s our job to be honest and be real and push them to where they can meet those expectations. I told them the same thing I told you. It’s great to win. But if we want to win the Big Ten championship, we need to improve a lot in a lot of areas, and they start up front on both sides of the line of scrimmage.”
What kind of gains can you make from a game like this?
“Well, there’s always a team morale factor, and being able to play a lot of guys, a lot of guys who have worked hard, a lot of guys on the look teams, them having the ability to play in this football team in from of 100,000 family and friends, I think that’s great. That’s what you want to happen. The other gains are not just for those guys who got that opporunity but for us as a team to improve. The kicking game, on offense, and on defense. Turnovers -- we’ve been terrible, terrible, of creating turnovers. If we don’t start creating turnovers, we’re going to get beat because we need to give more opportunities to our offense. Running the football and defending the run. I think they were seven of 17 on third down -- UMass was. We had some opportunities to make some stops and we didn’t make them. I’m either answering your question or I’m rambling …”
Are you at the point where you’re a little frustrated with the offensive line?
“I’m not frustrated with them. I wasn’t frustrated before with them because I know how hard they go to work and how much work they put into it. At the same time we have to do it better. So, frustrated? I’m not frustrated. I like the offensive line. It’s my favorite part of the football team because of the work they do. I put a lot of pressure on them. We put a lot of pressure on them, just like we do with the defensive line. But if your’e going to be good at football, you better be good at your offensive line and your defensive line.”
How important is it to find a playmaker on offense other than Denard?
“That’s a big part of it, and that’s why we need to block better in the traditional run plays with the running back. I think there’s some playmakers on the offense, at receiver, at tight end. Devin’s a guy who -- he’s a freshman, he’s still got a lot to learn, but he’s a playmaker. We have to find more, but trying to get your running back to be a playmaker is blocking at the point of attack.”
It’s very clear you’re not happy with the run defense.
“I think you are to some degree. They had four senior offensive linemen who were pretty good football players. Mike Cox was a scholarship athlete here at the University of Michigan. Mike, when there’s a hole there, he runs it pretty well. Totally? Probably not, when you get into a power running team.”
So were you pleased?
MGoQuestion: It looked like Matt Wile was varying the angle and direction of his kickoffs. Was that part of the plan, and what were you hoping to accomplish with that?
“Yeah we were trying to, just like everything else, your kicking game -- we felt that the first two ball games, we didn’t play as well as we needed to. The Alabama game we had three blocks in the back on kick returns that kills you. And then last week, we didn’t think we were consistent enough. Part of that is trying to place the ball on kickoffs. He did the pooch punting because he had a little pineapple kick -- I don’t know what they call it, that’s what I call it -- but he does it pretty effectively. Yeah we were trying to spread the ball a little bit.”
Drew Dileo. Nice surprise?
“Drew is not the biggest the cat in the world, but he’s a got a heart that’s huge, and he loves the game of football. Every day Drew comes out and we ask him to do a lot, and he does it well for us. So it’s not surprising.”
Rating: 4.5 of 5.
|Fitzgerald Toussaint||Jr.*||Stephen Hopkins||Jr.||Vincent Smith||Sr.|
|Thomas Rawls||So.||Sione Houma||Fr.||Justice Hayes||Fr.*|
|Drake Johnson||Fr.||Joe Kerridge||Fr.*||Dennis Norfleet||Fr.|
|FOR THE LOVE OF GOD GET THIS MAN A SLIPPERY JERSEY|
|MAKES YOU MISS|
|jukes three Gophers|
|cuts all the way back|
|stop and go six|
|ONE CUT AND GO|
|finds a gap on power|
|simply outruns Purdue|
|hits the edge vs UNL|
|NOT SMITH AS A BLOCKER|
|crappy cut block|
|find a man, man|
|WILL MISS A CUT OR TWO|
|wrong side of Schofield|
Fitzgerald Toussaint spent his first couple years at Michigan as china in a bull shop, laid up with various injuries that prevented his considerable talent from seeing the field. This did not prevent Fred Jackson from calling him both "Mike Hart but fast" and "Chris Perry but fast." God bless Fred Jackson.
In 2011 his bones and joints mended as Thomas Rawls's failed him at an inopportune time and Toussaint was thrown into a three-way battle with Vincent Smith and Mike Shaw for the starting job, one that last year's edition of this post hoped (and predicted) he would win:
Toussaint 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. … Anything from Mike Hart (except crappy :( ) to Mike Hart (except fast!) is possible.
Bumps and bruises continued to dog him (he missed the ND game and his inexplicable two carries against MSU almost has to be injury related) but Toussaint actually delivered on Jackson's hyperbole.
He kind of is Mike Hart, but fast:
"full on Hart déjà vu," I said
Juking in a phone booth was Hart's specialty. Toussaint has that and sprinter's speed. As a bonus, he didn't fumble in 187 carries last year. He only lacks Hart's pile-pushing doggedness.
After the inexplicable MSU game, he blew up. His first 20-carry game was the next week against Purdue; he smoked five different Boilers on his signature run of 2011…
…and ended up with 170 yards. The offense imploded the next week and took Toussaint with it, but after that he laid waste: 192 yards against Illinois, 138 against Nebraska, and 120 against Ohio State. (Then the offense imploded again.)
At season's end Toussaint had become Michigan's first 1,000 yard back since Hart and at 5.8 YPC its most efficient since Tim Biakabutuka was going ham on Ohio State in 1995. When he wasn't going off during his second half surge, it was because the walls were coming down around him and there was nowhere to go.
He is legit. He runs between the tackles, finding a crack and jetting straight upfield when it's there. He is a decisive cutter with good vision. When it's not there he can stutter-step and bounce outside. Once in the secondary his change of direction often leaves safeties flapping in his wake. If there's a downside it's a spotty blocking record and not much activity in the passing game (just six catches a year ago), but those are things that Michigan can fix as time goes by.
Toussaint would enter 2012 with a rock-solid lock on the job but for that offseason DUI, which should see him miss the Alabama game. (That assumption may be dubious given the depth chart, but I'm still guessing he gets the standard one game DUI suspension.) That gives Thomas Rawls a crack at the job, and the two subsequent games should be comfortable enough that Toussaint will get eased back into the lineup. By the time ND rolls around, he should resume his place as the feature back.
Toussaint's raw numbers won't reach Hart levels because of the suspension, the guy next to him in the backfield, and the potential emergence of Rawls, but a replica of last season beckons, plus 40 or 50 carries. He'll be All Big Ten caliber even if he doesn't get on the list.
[hit THE JUMP for the rest of the cast of characters.]
When it came time to interview players at yesterday's media day, it wasn't hard to pick out which players would draw the biggest crowds. Denard Robinson, of course, was the center of attention. Thomas Rawls, thrust into the spotlight due to Fitzgerald Toussaint's legal troubles, fielded questions about stepping into the starter's role. Devin Gardner talked about taking snaps at wide receiver. Lewan and Campbell and Kovacs never had to look far for a reporter. Pick a paper and you won't have to look far to see their stories.
Instead of jumping into the fray around Denard or Rawls or Gardner, I thought my time would be better spent getting quotes you won't see anywhere else. So, I tracked down long snapper Jareth Glanda and fullback Stephen Hopkins for some one-on-one interviews, and the results are below:
How did you get into snapping? Was it something you did to get a spot on a college team or did you just pick it up?
When I played offensive line in youth ball, one of our line coaches ... it was just something that he taught me and I did through youth ball, I did through high school, and eventually with the help of Coach Fracassa at Brother Rice I was able to get a walk-on position here. It was something I learned early and I was able to earn a spot at a major school doing it.
When did you realize that you'd be able to make it onto Michigan's team through snapping? Was that something you realized when you started?
Absolutely not. It was something that I learned and I did because I was lucky my coach taught me what to do. I tried to teach myself different things as I progressed, but it was never something I'd think I would be doing at a school like Michigan. It was just one of those skills that I had that I could do; I played offense, and then I was able to do that too. It was something I was able to do.
Going to Brother Rice, did you grow up a Michigan fan?
I grew up a Michigan fan. I played hockey too, so I was a Michigan football fan and a Michigan hockey fan. A guy from my hometown of Rochester Hills, Peter Vanderkaay, we watched him in the Olympics. So yeah, I grew up being a Michigan fan.
Obviously, Tom [Pomarico] was also playing last year, and he's gone. You're taking on a little more responsibility. How have you handled that so far?
I was able to take on the field goal and PAT position last year. Through spring ball I've been working harder on the traditional punt; I have to block after I snap, which is something I was struggling with but I made some improvements in spring ball. Curt Graman is the same year as me, it's his fourth year too, we've been competing during fall camp and during spring ball with the punts and he's been pushing the competition with the field goal snaps, too. It's always good to get competition in practice and during those live reps it's important, too.
You mentioned blocking as something that was a little different in the long snap versus the short snap. What other technical differences do you run into between punts and field goals?
On a punt we snap it 14 yards, a field goal is seven. You have a smaller area that you want to put the ball when you snap PATs and field goals. The velocity of the ball might be a little slower so the holder can control it; with the laces on the PATs it always helps the kickers to be out. Punters like it in the hip or in the chest area. Punts, I'm not looking at the punter, I'm looking forward. PATs I'm always looking at the spot I want to snap. It's different, but it's the same. They both have their difficulties and similarities.
Do you have a greater comfort level with the short snapping because that's what you were doing last year?
I got a lot more reps, obviously, with the PATs and field goals. I've been working with Drew Dileo, he's the holder, and Brendan Gibbons, especially on those left-footed kicks—the left-footed kicks are different from the right-footed kicks with the holder's position. I'm definitely getting more reps; you always feel more comfortable with the more practice you get. I've been trying to get a lot more punt reps in practice on the sidelines with Curt and the rest of the punters. I feel like I've improved on that as well.
Can you take me through a typical practice day for you? You guys are kinda off to the side doing your own thing, right?
Yeah. Most of the time we work with each other. We coach each other; I've learned a little bit about kicking, I can help some of the kickers and punters. Seth Broekhuizen has helped me with different aspects of punt snapping and blocking and PAT snapping. At the beginning of practice we'll have a specialist period. Outside, we snap punts, we get that on film, PATs and field goals from different spots, about five or ten minutes, that's pre-practice. During practice, it depends on the day, if we're working on punts, if we're working on half-line or full-line punts; field goal period is towards the end of practice, maybe we get some live reps with different rushes depending on who we're playing that particular week. All the other time is spent on the sidelines or in Oosterbaan trying to get our own work and trying to get as many reps as we can so we can improve.
With kickers you always hear about guys having their own routine before they go on, they're getting in the zone or whatever. Is it the same for a snapper where you've got to get that kind of singular focus before you go out there?
Yeah, you definitely can't be—whether it's a big game or not, you can't get all hyped up, you've got to stay focused. I know during games I'm down on the sideline, kind of where the O-line sits; that's where Gibbons is, that's where the kicking net is for them to warm up. You try to stay focused, you try to get some reps on the sidelines. It's not always easy to get some warmup snaps for field goals because Dileo is usually playing some offense, but you stay focused and try to stay in the game and stay ready.
Can you take me through the play against Virginia Tech last year? Obviously, that didn't go as planned. Do you guys practice when something goes wrong, do you practice the scramble afterwards?
Yeah, if there's a bad snap or a bad you, you have guys in a route and different fire calls and backup plays like that. Then you have called fakes depending on what that PAT or field goal block team is doing in a particular week, you try to scheme some different stuff. On that play, we had a fake going and it didn't go as we planned. Drew just tried to throw the ball up and I was lucky enough to make the catch on that one.
Can you tell me your thought process on that play? It looked like you had to throw a block in there and the ball just kinda ended up...
Yeah, I knew Drew was rolling out to the right, and I tried to block some guys who were flowing that way. Then I saw the ball come over my head. It went off the guy's helmet and right into my hands, right into my hands. It was crazy how that happened.
Were you worried at all, being an ineligible receiver, about touching the ball illegally?
That was my first thought. If you ask Will Campbell, [I asked], "Was that okay? Was I supposed to make that catch?" It was off the helmet, so... I was worried about being downfield and all that, but it worked out for our team.
With the punters, you've got Matt [Wile] pushing Will [Hagerup] a little bit for the starting job. What do you see out of those two guys?
All the guys are competing. Matt Wile, Will Hagerup, we've got a new guy, Kenny [Allen], Kenny's in here, and they're all working each other and they all push each other. When a guy sees another guy doing well, they grab me and they want to get more snaps out during practice. The competition is great, during spring ball and during fall camp watching film upstairs, seeing what each other is doing. When the games start, it'll be the best for us.
Long snapper is a position where you're usually flying a little bit under the radar, if you're hearing your name it's usually because something went wrong. You got a little bit of attention last year after the Sugar Bowl. Was that a bit of an adjustment to all of a sudden be in the limelight and get that attention?
Yeah, it was a little strange. I had a feeling that I would have to answer some questions. But I'm back to doing what I do, flying under the radar again. It's a new season and that was a long time ago, so I've got to focus on improving on the punt snaps and keep working the field goal snaps so we can win the Big Ten championship this year.
You made the move to fullback last year and that obviously was a transition. Now that you've been there do you have a much greater comfort level with the position?
I'm getting there. Since I didn't have any reps [at fullback] other than in-season reps, definitely there's a lot of things I'm learning, little things I'm learning to get better at the position so I can play like a Michigan fullback this year.
What was the greatest adjustment for you going from halfback to fullback?
When you're a running back, you don't really shy away from contact, but at the same time you're not trying to get tackled. At fullback, you're looking for the contact; you've got to be the initiator, you've got to be the devastator. That's a big change, but I think I've adjusted pretty well.
Do you enjoy the physical aspect of it now?
I do, I do. At first it was taking some time to get used to, and now I actually really enjoy it, beating my man on a block and driving him back and doing those things I'm supposed to do.
Coach Jackson mentioned you possibly taking snaps at both halfback and fullback this year. Have you been doing work at both?
I probably always will work at both. Running back is my preferred position and I'll always be able to play that a little bit; that'll probably never change.
With Fitz's availability in question right now, do you feel ready if called upon to step up and take more carries?
Yeah. I'm a fullback, I play fullback, but at the same time I'm still a running back. I'll be ready if my number is called.
Coach Jackson mentioned B.J. Askew as a guy that you remind him of as a running back who made that transition. Is that a guy that you maybe look to, and have you talked to any former players about the switch?
I really haven't. I thought about during this camp trying to reach out and see what they'd have to say, some advice for someone in the same position, so I'm probably looking to do that. But I've seen some film on [Askew], he's obviously a really good player, he played in the league for a long time.
Askew was very good catching balls out of the backfield. Is that something that you've been working on?
Yeah, this summer I've been working on my hands, and in this spring I felt like I'll get more chances to show that part of my game. I'll be ready to do that as well.
Fumbling was a little bit of an issue. What have you done to work on holding onto the ball better?
It's crazy because I was never someone who ever fumbled before I got to college, ever. Then it happens once, and sometimes it gets in your mind or whatever, but you've got to let it go and relax and do fundamentally what you've been taught—that's what I'm working on. So far, so good.
Is that something—you know, it's one or two fumbles and you might get that reputation, where maybe it doesn't reflect your actual ability...
...is that something that's mentally tough to get over?
Yeah, definitely, because I've never really been accused of that. I was always someone you could trust to always keep the ball secure. It didn't really affect me too much, I just had to go and show that it wasn't me.
In your position group, there's a lot of different types of running backs, with Fitz and Rawls and Hayes and Norfleet and Smith. Do you like the collection that you guys have in terms of their versatility?
Yeah, we have a really talented group of running backs. Whoever's number gets called on September 1st is going to be ready.
It seems like that may very well be Thomas Rawls. What do you see out of him?
He's learning still, he's young, but he's also really talented—very physical, runs really hard, runs angry. I like what I see out of him as well.
Alabama is a tough first test. Does that add a little bit of an extra edge when you're getting ready for the first game?
Absolutely. Respect to all of our opponents, even Western Michigan last year, but this is the defending national champions, so every time you get on the field you know you've got to get better because you know they're getting better.
You get to go back home for this one [Hopkins hails from Flower Mound, Texas]. How big of an effect does that have on your excitement for this game?
I mean, the game itself is huge enough, but to make things better for me I get to play in front of my hometown, basically. It's going to be a great experience and a great opportunity as well.
Have you been to Cowboys Stadium or will this be a first for you?
Actually, my senior year, for playoff games we played there twice, so I've seen it and played in it twice.
Have teammates been asking you about what it's like to play there?
Yeah, they have. Besides the Big House, there's probably no other place I'd rather play.