and... i like them? I think I like them.
Tate! The people have spoken and MGoUnderground has listened. The Tate shirt is available for purchase.
If you're interested in the details, Enjoy Life pretty much liveblogged his shirt purchase and washing. Everything is AWESOME. He cannot BELIEVE what a deal he got. CONSUME.
I really hope this is just random. If this sign is just random, it's funny. If it's an obscure sexual act—and these days punching BLANK almost always is—it's not:
There is, unfortunately, an Urban Dictionary entry for "Dolphin Punch" but there's only one and it seems obscure enough that unless it's this particularly house/frat that initiated the term they're literally talking about punching dolphins, which I approve of as a ridiculous fashion via which to express your disapproval. [Update: the house had a sign featuring a fist punching an incredulous dolphin, so it was literal. Good work, BOX.] Multiple emailers have mentioned that Drew Sharp—freshly returned to the local airwaves hoorah—spent a lot of time on WDFN the other day bemoaning this sign and others along the various frats and apartment buildings en route to the stadium. An emailer:
Drew Sharp was going on about how there were some "reprehensible" signs that he saw on the way to the game regarding Rosenberg. He said that he talked to unnamed "U-M officials", and was told that the Freep needs to understand that emotions get high when they write on a sensitive subject, and that their inaction was the first time that Sharp was embarrassed by his degree, blah, blah, blah, won't someone think of the children.
…So, I called in. I asked him and Matt Shepard where the signs were. Sharp hemmed and hawed, and it turned out that unsurprisingly, they were on private property (although one of them "might have been on campus"). They hung up on me before I could blast Sharp for what he is, but Jesus. No wonder the print media is dying- this isn't rocket science. Hell, even Shepard understood the First Amendment.
How is it that this man has a job that doesn't involve scrubbing something, but nothing too important?
While we're on the subject of, well, you know, Jay Bilas' latest insider piece argues along these lines:
If the allegations concerning Michigan are true, which would assume that the players making the allegations had a full understanding of what constituted countable and non-countable hours and what constituted voluntary and mandatory workouts, then Michigan is guilty of working too hard on football.
Which is nothing anyone hasn't heard—probably dozens of times—in the last two weeks. But Bilas has toned down the Amaker stuff after the Manny Harris elbow overreaction and remains one of the best analysts (alternatives: Vitale) in college basketball. Maybe Michigan fans can take him off the Enemies List?
And hey guess what now it's time to talk about Notre Dame. What the hell is Charlie Weis 1) talking about and 2) attempting to imply by this:
When Weis was looking at Michigan quarterback Tate Forcier, he said he couldn’t keep track of him because he said he bounced to four high schools in four years.
Forcier transferred from his original high school to Scripps Ranch after his freshman year, and then, you know, played at Scripps Ranch the next three years. Our source on this: Tate Forcier and his interview with Tom for Hail To The Victors 2009. Our hobo quarterback needs to grow a beard and get on the tracks, man, before all the other hobos laugh at him when he says he hasn't been to El Paso.
HOBO #1: You've got to go to El Paso.
FORCIER: I keep hearing that but I've never been. I mostly stick around Scripps Ranch High School because I'm the quarterback there.
HOBO #2: LOL wait till I tell Weis the exact opposite of this.
HOBO #1: Word. I remember our days at Our Lady. Remember what it was like to consider the vague possibility of touching a woman, even if she was the metaphorical embodiment of a religion and not actually, you know, a person?
HOBO #2: No.
HOBO #1: No, me neither.
FORCIER: Yeah… how about that. I'm going to take off, I have to go throw some ridiculously accurate passes. [leaves]
HOBO #1: 40 year mistake, that guy.
Hobo #1 revealed! It's Tommy Kilborn, sometime EDSBS guest columnist:
I certainly respect what the Nevada Wolfpack did, but they just couldn’t hope to keep up with the brilliant scheming by Charlie Weis and his offensive staff. The energy in the stadium was unreal! I saw several alums even stand during plays because they were so excited, though they did sit down quickly and courteously when the ushers came along to settle things down. You can’t blame them, ushers: Charlie Weis football in its full glory has that effect on people.
As always, Kilborn is a brilliant non-parody of Notre Dame fans. NDNation is going to look at you very sternly, Orson.
Speakin' of the hobo. Guy seems to have a good grasp of both train routes and defenses:
Mmmm talky QB porn. Also Rotel ad. I don't think I've ever even seen Rotel available in local supermarkets, but buy anyway. HOBO QB DIRECTS YOU TO.
Etc.: There is now a blog dedicated to Microsoft Paint as it relates to Michigan football. As you might expect, it is spectacular. Future expansion was part of the Michigan Stadium renovation plans. Mustaches for Michigan came off.
- Brandon Minor has been limited in practice, but he's been participating more than he did last week. From my personal e-observations, he was wearing a normal jersey, not a green (limited contact) one.
- Rodriguez didn't mention other injury news, but I did not see Junior Hemingway participate in the one drill I watched the wideouts do. It's highly possible I just missed him.
- There are no set plans for the QB rotation this week, other than Tate starting. They'll try to get Denard and Nick in there as well.
- On Notre Dame, Rodriguez said he thinks Clausen is a good QB - and thought the same last year as well. The Irish will try to beat you deep, and mix in a bunch of play action as well. They have a couple good deep threats and the secondary will need to be ready. Speaking of which, he was asked about the Donovan Warren penalties against Western. He couldn't explicitly say so, but it definitely seemed like he thought one of them was BS. Still, he wants the corners to be aggressive.
- Rodriguez felt turnovers cost the team the game last year (which, duh). If the team loses on Saturday, he wants it to be because Notre Dame was just the better team: "I don't want Michigan beating Michigan."
- Craig Roh's intelligence (he's a 4.0 student) has helped him be ready to compete at this level in just over three weeks. He has a high motor and intensity, and loves football. He came into the program very technically sound because he got good coaching in high school, and learned a lot by going to camps.
- Stevie Brown's move to linebacker has been a success. They moved him because they thought he'd be a good fit at the position, especially when the team plays against spread offenses. It gives the defense flexibility without subbing. There's more of a speed emphasis on defense, and there's been a national trend towards always having a nickel-type package on the field.
- An interesting question was asked about how Tate will respond in a game the first time he makes a big mistake (which he didn't do in the spring game or against Western). Rodriguez said he's not worried, because Tate is hard on himself after every mistake in practice, and tries to understand what he did wrong, and why it was wrong to learn for the future.
- Tate wasn't having his most accurate day throwing the ball, so hopefully that will be worked out by Saturday.
I live 10 miles from Scripps Ranch, but never got a chance to see Tate play down here. However, I do have an idea about the teams he's played down here and the teams he's playing up there, and after watching all the youtube clips I'm having troubling thoughts about the possibility that some linebacker might remove Tate's head from his shoulders early in the season. This makes our depth chart look like this:
- Next of Kin
- The Guy We Put In The Formation Because We Can't Direct Snap To The Other Team
What do you think of Tate's ability to avoid tackles, and more importantly, decapitation?
It will help a lot if Michigan ends up with a consistent counterpunch to the scrape exchange Western was running most of the day. Smart Football has a primer on the thing if you want detail. If you just want a sentence: on a scrape read the backside defensive end automatically crashes down on the TB and quarterback contain falls to a linebacker or, sometimes, a cornerback. Since the quarterback is supposed to read the defensive end, that means he'll keep the ball and then meet a linebacker, often in the backfield.
This is a frequent response to the zone read. Last summer, I UFRed the West Virginia offense against Rutgers and saw Schiano's guys do this on almost every play:
(Big original here.) This is a variant on the scrape where the backside DE is tasked with the gap on the backside and it confused West Virginia for a while until they started running the QB directly at it and busting Slaton into the open field. A lot of teams are going to play games with Michigan in an attempt to screw up their reads.
It's not good. Tate was keeping the ball a lot and then dancing past linebackers and corners for 3-5 yards.
You've already seen a couple of counter-punches. One is the backside veer that looks like a zone read but sees a fullback or h-back pull to wipe out the normally unblocked DE. The idea here is for the back to quickly hit the gap between the DE and the DT, as it's just been vacated by the scraping linebacker. Done properly, it sees a running back shoot immediately into cavernous space, as Brandon Minor did on touchdowns against Wisconsin and Purdue. (Viddler's finally really killed my account dead, so I can't bring it to you. Lo siento.)
The other counter-punch you've seen was deployed frequently against Western: the zone read to a bubble or long handoff. Unless the opponent is getting super-aggressive you'll usually see soft coverage behind the corner version of the scrape—it's basically a corner run blitz—and since the corner to your side is coming up to take you, the wideout over there tends to be wide open.
A more direct answer to your question: yes, I'm sure the coaches would rather have Tate throw and other people run. Rodriguez on the 23 carries his quarterbacks provided:
"That’s probably more than we’re accustomed to," Rodriguez said. "We probably gave more, particularly to Denard in the first game, just so they would get the experience."
That is likely to be their high water mark for the season, Forcier particularly.
Although I don’t think that recommending voluntary workouts makes them involuntary, the NCAA is probably going to come up with some new vague description of non-countable time. My question is that every D-1 coach since the beginning of time has used extra drills, runs, etc. as a requirement for disgraced players to earn their way back onto the playing field. If I recall correctly even the oft revered Lloyd Carr had Manningham do weeks of extra stadium climbs to make up for failing two drug tests. If there is any fallout from this probe will it change the way coaches administer in-house punishment from now on?
I don't know about Manningham and stairs, but it was public knowledge that Adrian Arrington had a strict 6-AM stairs regimen to get through if he was going to remain on the team after a couple of disciplinary instances.
A couple of people have mentioned this: these workouts are most definitely not voluntary, as the alternative is finding another school, and yet no one's ever brought this up. The only thing I can think of is that the Arrington punishment and other like things fit underneath the eight-hours-supervised a week.
This whole NCAA violations ridiculousness has made me miss the days of Carr's stern skepticism and distance with the media. Would Carr have let two freshman talk to the media so candidly? Will this cause Rodriquez to clamp down on which players are made available for interviews (what is the policy now?)? If the Free Press has to eat their words, what would be the ramification in the press corps for them?
Thanks and GO BLUE!
Since the freshmen were interviewed at Media Day, I don't think you'll see that access curtailed except to certain members of the media who abused it. More broadly, I know all player interviews have to be approved by the department and you might see the freshmen harder to get at in the future, especially if you are on the Enemies List.
The thing is: it's not like the freshmen here said anything that they shouldn't have. They merely described their summer conditioning activities. No "everybody murders" here, just a description of lifting and working on coverage and watching film. It wasn't even particularly candid. It was just a boilerplate description of activities every football program does. If there's someone at fault here, it's not them.
As to the Free Press ending up with zero after an investigation: the ramifications will be zero. They'll probably get an award anyway. No one at the Free Press is going to get a one-on-one with anyone associated with the program, again, but pulling credentials is a guaranteed media firestorm and who wants another one of those?
One question: Is it louder?
It didn't seem obviously louder except a few times when there seemed to be an echo, which implies that noise is getting reflected back into the stadium. It wasn't exactly a tense game, though, and Michigan Stadium doesn't get really loud unless it's called upon to do so. If Notre Dame has the ball for a key fourth quarter drive that's when we'll find out.
I should point out that other people think it's way louder, although I can't find that tab I thought I had open.
9/5/2009 – Michigan 31, Western Michigan 7 – 1-0
Melanie Maxwell, AnnArbor.com
Towards the end of the third quarter, a guy in the row behind me started grumbling about Michigan's offense being boringly ground-based. By the fourth, cramped quarters had given way to roominess. After it was over, I was disappointed that Michigan's first-half outburst gave way to a near-scoreless second half and thought Michigan should have given the kids a little more rope via which to test their skills.
In short, it was a typical game against a MAC opponent. At least it was for a given, thoroughly inaccurate definition of "typical." Michigan's seldom had an easy time of it against anyone since the Carr era started flagging. MAC or MAC-ish opponents since 2004:
|2008||Miami Of Ohio(NTMOO)||W 16-6|
|2006||Ball State||W 34-26|
|2005||Northern Illinois||W 31-17|
|2004||Miami Of Ohio(NTMOO)||W 43-10|
Over last five years, Michigan has been just as likely to be in an actual game (6) with a supposed tomato can as the expected blowout (6). (I am counting the '07 EMU game as an actual one, as it was 16-14 halfway through the third; the others need no justification.) Hell, even in 2006—when Michigan was a Crable helmet hit away from driving to the national championship game—Ball State had first and goal with an opportunity to tie late in the fourth quarter. In no way is a 31-0 halftime lead typical in the recent history of Michigan football except against Notre Dame.
It was just a MAC team, but think of how good those words sound rolling off your lips. Just a MAC team. Couldn't be expected to cope with our freakishly accurate quarterback or our freakishly speedy quarterback or the zippy skill position players who seemed bountiful and endless. Couldn't be expected to cope with Brandon Graham or Craig Roh or Mike Martin. No chance. Just a MAC team with a quarterback who might go in the first-round of the NFL draft and four-fifths of its offensive line back. No chance.
Yes, okay, there remain plenty of concerns. There were folks that the MAC team could cope with. These were the backup quarterback—and think about how good it sounds to have the identity of that person be utterly uncontroversial, no offense to said backup—and any cornerback not named Cissoko or Warren. Oh and any defensive end not named Graham or Roh. Or… well, you get the idea. The defense is paper-thin and can fall off a cliff with a single injury. So can the quarterback position until such time as Denard Robinson develops into something a more than a beautiful freakshow.
But today there is a thread about Michigan on every opponent message board across the internet where some guy says "looks like all that extra practice paid off lol."
Last year, the Utah game was an opportunity to radically reassess Michigan's immediate future. It was far uglier than the final score, and I remember going on WCBN—which BTW I will be on at around 5 today—and telling the assembled folk there that the Notre Dame game would be "critical for bowl eligibility," whereupon we mused ruefully about how far Michigan had fallen in such a short period of time without anyone coming close to realizing how optimistic we still were.
The one piece of good fortune coming from that game was the handy metaphor:
Every rational thought in your head suggests that the whole walk-on or freshman-the-coaches-are-panicked-about at quarterback, the line of baling wire and the occasional confused chicken, and freshmen everywhere at the skill positions will combine to yield an offense worthy of Yakety Sax, but until you actual see the damn thing in action you can hold out hope it will be otherwise.
We have seen it in action. It could have gone better. At least we have an incredibly direct metaphor all around us:
This program is under construction with a completion date around 2010.
This program is still under construction, and the completion date is still 2010. But those shabby exposed girders are now sheathed in brick and lightning, shiny in the afternoon sun. As the season goes on we'll undoubtedly see the unfinished parts within brought to the surface. There's no insulation, and if you peer into the windows you can still see the girders that were plain to all last year.
For now, for right now, it's reassuring to look up and see a modern version of Yost on the way. Through controversy and people with ill-considered protests Michigan comes, echoing the past with a back-to-the-future offense and West Virginians in charge and beautiful brick arcs and, Angry Michigan BLANK-Hating God willing, a point per minute.
- Man, JT Floyd looked like he'd have no chance of ever being a legit Big Ten corner on that bomb. I watched him go from two steps ahead to two steps behind the Western WR and immediately shivered at the safety depth. Maybe I'm leaping to too many conclusions from one play, but I see a safety move in his future.
- Also, and you are going to hear this thought a half-dozen times in this space over the next week, but: man, that Western touchdown was a bummer for a lot of reasons but none more foreboding than its extreme resemblance to the one-man-route Golden Tate touchdown from last year's Notre Dame game. Cissoko's health and Michigan's ability to ignore the Notre Dame ground game will be key.
- Brandon Graham must be livid he doesn't have a sack. Or three.
- How dumb does last year's "Rodriguez refuses to adjust his offense" meme look now? Michigan used a thousand different formations, including intermittent deployments of the I-form and a heavy dose of 2 TE ace sets. He's been presented with solutions and has gone in search of the problem.
- You know, if Michigan compliance is right and they can release a detailed report about offseason activities that results in zero and Michigan does pull out of its steep dive, it's possible the Free Press will be directly responsible for dissolving the gap between Michigan fans and Rich Rodriguez, which would have to go in the Alanis Morrissette Ironic Hall Of Fame. (Note on the linked article: claims that students chanted "keep united" after the game, which would have been awesome if it was true. It wasn't, though: it was "beat the Irish.")
- No, none of the things in that song are ironic, which makes the fact that the hall of fame is named after her ironic. Obvs.
- I think everyone needs to go back into that thread posted by that guy who said Craig Roh would start and posbang him like whoah. Also, I was backing two recruits out of proportion to all reason this year: Roh and Vincent Smith. Remember this when the predictions I make in the future are all hilariously off base.
- Wait just one more before we return to your regularly-scheduled wrongness: I'm telling you about Drew Tate, man. That first touchdown, where Forcier moxied his way away from a defender and then signaled Hemingway to go deep, was vintage Tate. Hopefully it will be vintage Tate again.
- Similarly, Sheridan's interception was a perfect demonstration of the difference between the two QBs. With the safety pulled up, Sheridan actually had plenty of room to hit Mathews in the back of the endzone if he floated it a bit; instead he attempted to rifle it and the ball was undercut.
- I twittered this but if you weren't around: I saw someone carrying around a sign that said "In Rich And Staff We Trust." This is banner fail.
This this was interesting from Touch the Banner:
In the second half, WMU quarterback Tim Hiller started getting rid of the ball quicker. He found a rhythm and started hitting underneath passes to his receivers. Greg Robinson might be served well by disguising coverages on the outside, changing the look from cover 2 man to a cover 2 zone. Suddenly, instead of driving the cornerback off with his initial burst, that cornerback is sitting underneath the quick hitch to the outside. A couple well orchestrated disguised coverages might be just enough to make Hiller think twice, which would give Brandon Graham, Mike Martin, and the rest of the defensive line enough time to get to the quarterback.
Michigan's defense in the opener seemed very simple. There was little rotation down-to-down. Michigan went the whole way in the same 3-4/4-3/4-2-5 hybrid thingy, occasionally rotating in a backup on the defensive line (this was done per series, so the series Graham was out he was just out except for a couple of third downs, IIRC) and yanking Cissoko for Floyd once things got out of hand. Everyone else played almost every snap. So it seemed like Michigan wanted to get their guys doing a limited number of things well; I assume they'll expand on that as the season goes on.
Also, by the time Hiller got going the game was out of hand and I can understand the impulse to shelve the exotics with Notre Dame coming in next week.
The Diag asks if Kelvin Grady has stolen Odoms' job, which probably not but he seems a viable option. I was surprised Roundtree was invisible—only came in with the Conescrubs at the end—after his spring game; even Laterryal Savoy and James Rogers got more run.
If you follow me on Twitter (@varsityblue), you probably got most of the info yesterday, but for those who don't, or who want it in a convenient format, here are the notes from yesterday's postgame press conference.
- The drama of the week heading into the game brought the team together as a family more than they already had been.
- Rodriguez told Tate that he didn't need to do too much himself. He's surrounded by athletes on the team, just get them the ball and let them make the plays.
- Tate's never gotten nervous for a game - "and I don't think I ever will."
- Tate has no Denard jealousy - in fact, playing two QBs substantially makes the Michigan team much harder for opponents to defend.
- Tate wasn't impressed by Denard's touchdown run - "I've seen him do it so many times in practice... it's typical for him to do that."
- Tate was surprised by the offense's big plays. He thought the offense would move it down the field - not get it all in one play.
- The first game against D-1 athletes didn't faze Denard. He's practiced against the guys on his own team, and knew what to expect
- Denard's athleticism makes it much harder for the opposing teams to prepare. There's even the potential to get both QBs on the field at the same time for some crazy stuff (see: Denard lined up at slot in second drive).
- Denard said college is a lot different from high school. On top of actual gameplay, the crowd was really loud.
- There's velcro on the inside of Denard's shoes to keep them on despite the lack of laces.
- As far as the QB competition, Robinson isn't too worried about who starts. He came here to compete for playing time at quarterback, and he'll continue to compete for playing time at quarterback.
- The coaches try to put a lot of pressure on the kids in practice, so that they won't get overwhelmed in games. (Hmm, sounds a bit like one Glenn Schembechler).
- There were a couple execution errors offensively, as well as too many penalties. Once those get worked out, hopefully the offensive will be able to move more consistently.
- The biggest key for Michigan's coaches in preparing for the season was to eliminate negative-yardage plays and turnovers. They did that for the most part, and they'll try to work on the penalties (which they aren't happy with, either).
- Rodriguez is still concerned with defensive depth. However, the defense looked pretty good in the first half.
- Rodriguez thanked the fans for supporting the team. In true Michigan coach fashion, he dropped the word "tremendous" about 5 times. As far as fans chanting his name, "They can say my name, but really, they're cheering for Michigan."
- Brandon Minor looked OK in warmups. He hopes Brandon can play next week, and he's confident that Junior Hemingway and Boubacar Cissoko will also be fine for next week. (Notes: From the sounds of it, Minor could have gone if the team really needed him. I think he was held out mostly as a precaution. If Cissoko isn't healthy for next week, God Help Us against Notre Dame).
- Craig Roh has a lot of talent, and should really contribute to the team this year.
- All 3 quarterbacks will continue to play (Note: I would say it's pretty clear who 1a, 1b, and 2 are at this point, though).
- The coaches knew Junior Hemingway could be this good. He showed it last year, but then got hurt and couldn't play most of the year.
- It was tough giving up the shutout in the fourth quarter. It would have sent a big statement in week 1.
- The team's been hungry all off-season to erase the bad taste from last year. The drama of the past week didn't change that, it only amplified it.
- Obi has seen Denard making crazy runs in practice, and it's good to see him do it against actual opposition. "It's not just me" that Denard can make look foolish.
- Notre Dame has a good QB and good offensive threats. Though most of the focus in practice to this point has been on Western, they'll jump straight into Notre Dame prep. The coaches will have a good gameplan against the Irish.
- It feels good to be healthy. It almost feels weird, like he's starting over again. It feels good to be out there with the team.
- It feels good to start the year putting the team's best foot forward.
- The offense is much better this year, because everyone is on the same page, and everyone knows what to do now.
- Hemingway himself says he could have played in the second half if needed. Sitting in the second frame was precautionary, and he'll be fine to go against Notre Dame.
Note: video from last year is lightboxed; previous years will take you off the page.
Was Tate Forcier immaculately conceived or what?
a chorus of seraphim, a light from above
It's not analysis to state that the Tate Forcier's ability to function as an honest-to-god Big Ten quarterback, or lack thereof, will have more impact on Michigan's 2009 season than anything else. It's just obvious.
Many bits have already given their lives to bring you thousands upon thousands of words about Forcier's quarterback boot-camp background, Michigan's quarterback situation last year, Rodriguez's offense vis-a-vis young starting quarterbacks, and then all of that stuff again in triplicate. If you've been paying attention even a little bit you know all this: shaped by homeschooling, his father, and Marv Marinovich, Forcier enters a veritable wunderkind in technique, accuracy, and—unfortunately—size. He's pretty shifty but not a human bolt of lightning. He occasionally tries to do too much. And so on.
The things I think:
- Forcier's high school career and spring game indicate great proficiency in many things Michigan lacked last year. The ability to throw a bubble screen and a seam. The consistent ability to exploit that step on a guy Michigan's offense is designed to create. A fairly decent running ability.
- Rodriguez's offense is as n00b friendly as these things get. Reading coverages is somewhat replaced with reading the defensive end or, in the case of a scrape exchange, the linebacker. There are a lot of short throws that don't require reads, either, and Rodriguez's previous young quarterbacks have been something between functional and quality.
- Forcier will get his head taken off and make some comical facepalm errors. He does scramble around too much and I can see the odd 20-yard sack in his future. Plus, the senior-year interception spike may be wholly attributable to a wretched offensive line but it also suggests that Forcier's more likely to Favre it than take a minimal loss and live to fight again. This will probably cost Michigan one close game they're in.
Forcier will be above-average for a freshman quarterback. This won't make him good, exactly, but it'll seem fantastic.
Which run offense is the real run offense?
One last time: Michigan's run offense over the second half of the season was above-average in five of six games, significantly so in three, and 25% better than you would expect from a hypothetical average team. Extrapolated over the course of a season, that would see Michigan rank #30 in rushing offense.
Is that a realistic picture going forward? I think it's more realistic than what preceded it, when Sam McGuffie was the primary back and the offensive line was in total disarray. With every lineman and the vast bulk of the carries over the second half of the season returning, you'd expect Michigan to at least tread water. More functional quarterbacking, both by land and air, should keep defenses less focused on the tailbacks. And Rodriguez, of course, has a history of mondo rush offenses. You'd expect the increase in proficiency to be greater than normal going from year one to year two.
This is going to sound hugely improbable, but you can see the hazy outline of a top 20 or even top 10 rushing offense in last year's numbers and the returning personnel. And though that sounds ridiculously optimistic, I can't find any factors arguing against the production Michigan found over the second half of the season other than the tendency of Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown to injure themselves in ways conventional and improbable.
Do I think that will happen? Not top ten. But there should be a major leap forward from last year's 59th. If you need any more evidence that Rodriguez knows what he's doing, this is by far the most remarkable stat in the last decade of Michigan football. Here's Michigan's yards per carry for every year available in the NCAA's online archive:
Last year's Michigan rush offense was above average given the dataset. Not much above average, but far from last and almost on par with the 2007 offense. This system works.
Will anyone emerge as a bonafide star amongst the mass of pass-receiving targets?
Michigan has a lot of options at receiver, with three or four guys on the outside, three in the slot, and two tight ends. All have the potential to contribute, but none seem likely to emerge into the death ninja deep threat that's seemed Michigan's birthright since Desmond Howard's time.
There are two guys on the roster with the sort of recruiting accolades and offers that would lead one to think they could be that guy, and both of them are sophomores: Junior Hemingway and Darryl Stonum. Stonum's been disappointing so far, though, and his freshman year was marked by a lot of balls that might not have been outright drops but were catchable incompletions. Hemingway's shown promise when not afflicted by injury, which was rarely. Both had a ton of offers and considerable recruiting hype (before Hemingway was dropped last second, anyway).
I think the answer here is "no." But the nice thing is that Rodriguez's offense has gotten along just fine without deep threats since it's so explosive on the ground. With Brown, Shaw, and Robinson all capable of turning in long touchdowns, Michigan can get its share of big plays even without the deep ball.
Not that it wouldn't be helpful. See Chris Henry's brief and trouble-strewn career, which was also paired with a remarkably high yards per catch.
Why did the offense fail so spectacularly in second halves? Could Barwis be something other than God?
I've guessed at the answer to this vexing question a couple times before, but it's worth reiterating:
Michigan is getting shut down because their offense is not diverse enough. They add in a new package of stuff, like the wheels against ND and the MINOR RAGE against Penn State, and it works for a while because it's new; then the opponent adjusts and that's gone; Michigan isn't consistent enough at any one part of their offense to force teams into uncomfortable situations as they try to defend it. This was the hope of Minor Rage after the Penn State game. It did not work out.
Michigan was able to catch opponents off guard with new packages several times. But they had such limited capabilities that they couldn't consistently make opponents pay for cheating to their new packages. Threet couldn't throw bubble screens and Sheridan couldn't throw much of anything. The receivers and quarterbacks couldn't make secondaries pay for coming up against the run. By missing second-level blocks, the offensive line did not make opponents pay when excellent play calls saw gaping holes open. It was easy to adjust to Michigan because everything they did was a variation on the one thing they could do.
This shouldn't be the case this year, at least not so severely. Michigan might be limited because they're forced to deploy a freshman quarterback but he's polished, came in for spring, and has a backup that gets the kind of MS Paint tribute you see at right. (MGoBlog: the home of all your MS paint fan art needs.)
I think we'll look back at Michigan's second-half offensive ineptitude as an aberration after the year.
It's a given that the offense will bounce up after finishing last year 109th in total offense and 99th in scoring offense. How far and how fast is yet to be determined.
The OMG top 20 rush offense hypothesized above is probably out of reach. I have zero good reasons for asserting this except maybe the vague idea that instead of getting aggressive against the run, 2008 opponents saw Michigan's clown car offense and decided to sit back and watch Michigan shoot itself in the foot. That happens to be total speculation I never bothered to write down in any of last year's UFRs and seems way less valid than "excellent second half performance from which literally everyone returns." I guess I'm asserting something in the 25-30 range. I guess.
The other half of the equation is far murkier. I'm leery about the pass protection, especially at tackle. There's no obvious go-to receiver and only one and a half plausible options for that role. Everyone except Greg Mathews and a couple of tailbacks is young, young, young. It'll be better, obviously, but the passing offense could finish anywhere from 70th to 30th and I'd be able to retroactively justify that finish.
I don't know… add it all together and this looks like a considerably above-average BCS offense with a true freshman at quarterback. So let's ding them and slot them in from 40th to 50th.
Last Year's Stupid Predictions
- CALL IT A PUSH: People are very excited about Martavious Odoms going into 2009, like Steve Breaston excited.
- OH GOD WHY IS THIS RIGHT: Sheridan starts off the starting quarterback, is replaced at some point, but ends the season as the guy.
- SET ASIDE: Junior Hemingway establishes himself a starter midseason.
- PUSH: The running back situation involves a mess of players; Minor, Brown, McGuffie, and Shaw all see 100 carries. Brown has the best YPC.
- WRONG: Michigan has a better offense in-conference than they did last year. (Ninth.)
- WRONG: Ricky Barnum ends up starting five or six games.
- REALLY REALLY WRONG: Michigan is around 50th in yardage.
This Year's Stupid Predictions
- Minor misses two games with injury [note: chalk!].
- People expect Vincent Smith to be the 2010 starter.
- Junior Hemingway is your leading downfield receiver (ie: Odoms is in the running but we aren't counting screens).
- Denard runs for 450 yards and throws about ten times.
- Michigan uses a huge multiplicity of formations on offense, debuting new stuff frequently and ending the year with a huge (hur) package.
- A two-back three-WR set is most common, though sometimes that third WR will be a tight end in the slot.
- As noted, Michigan finishes somewhere between 40th and 50th in total yardage.