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.
This is simultaneously not even worth posting and a huge relief:
-- University of Michigan football coach Rich Rodriguez announced tonight (Thursday, Sept. 3) during the Inside Michigan Football Radio Show that true freshman Tate Forcier (San Diego, Calif./Scripps Ranch HS) would take the first snap at quarterback against Western Michigan on Saturday (Sept. 5) at Michigan Stadium.
Brown will start at tailback, Olesnavage at kicker. Minor is "expected to play."
Part two of the all-singing all-dancing season preview. Previously: The Story, 2009.
Once upon a time, the Edmonton Oilers—of whom I am a fan mostly because of Mike Comrie and Chris Chelios, but that's another post—did something right. At the advent of the salary cap era in the NHL they traded an array of prospects and spare parts to Saint Louis for Chris Freakin' Pronger and signed him to a five-year deal. They surrounded Pronger with an array of steady old hands and overachievers and then set about deploying the NHL's best defenseman en route to the Oilers' traditional position when the trade deadline rolls around: on the fringes of the playoffs, unsure whether to buy or sell. Ah, the Oilers.
They bought, shipping a first-round pick and conditional third-rounder to the Minnesota Wild for elderly platoon goaltender Dwayne Roloson, who was not and is not Marty Brodeur. A meaningless move and wild overpayment? Maybe for anyone else in the NHL.
When looking at save percentage relative to league, I use something I call relative save percentage. … I’ve got the numbers for every team since 1987-88; that’s 435 teams in all. Guess how many of those teams have put up a relative save percentage worse than the Oilers' 982.
Oilers blogger Mudcrutch—the statistically inclined fellow above—ended that pre-trade post above by muttering that it was "depressing to think how good this team could be with half-decent goaltending." When Roloson came in, he whipped out the Godfather references and declared the new guy would make the Oilers 12 goals better over the remainder of the regular season, a "ridiculous number."
He was right. The Oilers made the playoffs, charged through the Western Conference, and made the Stanley Cup finals. There they fell in seven games after Roloson was injured in game one, leaving Ty Conklin to commit one of the all-time worst gaffes in Stanley Cup history and be exiled from Canada forever. Conklin is currently a hobo living in Venezuela and definitely didn't latch onto the best organization in professional sports; Pronger would demand a trade ten seconds after the season ended. Edmonton's team has an average age of 12 and hasn't sniffed the second round since. But for one shining moment, a league-average goalie made all the difference.
I think you see where I'm going with this.
Nobody held out much hope last year when Rodriguez's top two options post-Mallett were a walk-on who was honorable mention All-Conference in high school and a guy who got beat out by a walk-on who was honorable mention All-Conference in high school. But even what little hopes were proffered (Sheridan "could be a non-liability who successfully keeps the heat off the other skill position players," said this blog) turned out to be wildly optimistic.
Nick Sheridan and Steven Threet set the bar for quarterback futility so high (low?) they shattered this blog's horrible-quarterbacking touchstone from years past: 1993. Brian Griese and Scott Dreisbach played Sheridan and Threet, respectively, en route to this:
Those numbers are ugly. They are also vastly better than what Michigan endured last year. I'll spare you the full horror show and just highlight the most important number, yards per attempt. Griese and Dreisbach averaged 7.1 YPA between them. Threet and Sheridan? 5.1. Even Tacopants—Jason Avant's eleven-foot-tall imaginary friend—was discouraged:
Dude, Tacopants is going to catch 400 balls this year.
No, because even he’s watching these sail over his head, and he can be whatever height he wants to be because he is made of dreams and snails and puppy dog tails.
So, yes, Michigan is staring down the barrel of a depth chart that features true freshmen at spots one and two, and people are pretty sanguine about that. Let's just embed this artifact one more time to reinforce why:
Tate Forcier, spring game, 11/14 for 130-ish yards, fifty more on the ground, five total touchdowns, complete failure to heave looping balls that nestle gently between the numbers of opposing defensive backs. Forcier was the easy winner of "Most Encouraging Development" after the spring game. You've heard, seen, and possibly cleaned up after it all before.
Normally this would be the section of the preview that discussed Forcier's performance to date, or in the event of a new starter, summarized the behind-the-scenes fawning and tried to take it down to a reasonable level. But every iota of information we have on Forcier's been hashed and rehashed in this space already. The executive summary:
Tate Forcier is the one who didn't get away, the one who was planning on committing even when Kevin Newsome and Shavodrick Beaver hadn't twirled their mustaches in dastardly fashion and tied Michigan football's hopes to the train tracks before effecting their getaways. His brother is my favorite Michigan player of all time who never played. He is a relentlessly trained quarterback prodigy ready to step in on day one—which was a month ago—and challenge Steven Threet for the starting job. God help us if he flames out.
Here's the world's most succinct scouting report($), via a story title from the Nebraska Rivals site: Forcier Equals Accuracy.
Two thousand other words await you at the link if you're interested in a recap and haven't already committed them to memory. (Which bad form, MGoReader, bad form. Downvote yourself in your heart.)
Forcier has been shaped to be a quarterback since he was a wee tyke. The younger sibling of two Division I recruits (who, it must be said, never actually played), Forcier is the smallest, most consistently drilled, and best mechanically. He's had college-level coaching for years on end now and should be considerably more prepared to play than your average freshman quarterback.
Since we have a general idea of what to expect in Forcier's specific case relative to other freshmen, let's examine what other freshmen thrust into the spotlight tend to do. Doctor Saturday's spent a lot of time this offseason pondering the direction of the Michigan program, and in one post he surveyed the brief, undistinguished recent history of true freshman quarterbacks. Stolen table coming atcha:
If you scanned that like I did your first reaction was "holy hell, Threet & Sheridan's YPA was well worse than everyone on this list except Jimmah." And yes, it's true. Taken as an aggregate, this random sampling of who-dats and future stars comes out to 6.7, a little worse than Dreisbach-Griese and vastly better than Threetsheridammit.
The upshot: freshman quarterbacks suck, but on average they suck far less than Michigan's two-headed monster of yesteryear. An average-for-a-freshman performance from Forcier will be a huge step forward for the offense.
Note also the tendency of spread—or at least mobile—quarterbacks to cluster at opposite ends of the spectrum. The #1, 2, 3, and 5 quarterbacks were all spread-ish, mobile-ish types. So were the worst, fourth-worst, and eh, maybe fifth-worst. In conjunction with Rodriguez's success with relatively inexperienced quarterbacks (Rasheed Marshall and Pat White at West Virginia) this looks like something of a theory: spread offenses lend themselves to early success as long as you have one-and-a-half talents. Williams, Ball, and Freeman did not. Williams and Ball couldn't throw worth a damn and Freeman was a Spread In Name Only quarterback shoehorned into a spread offense despite his inability to run.
But maybe as long as you're a polished, super-accurate short passer (Leak) or thrilling athlete (Pryor, Griffin), you can get away with your half-skill well enough. (Not having taken in much of a horrible Pac-10 team, I'm not exactly sure where Tuitama fits.) If spread quarterbacks are either surprisingly good for freshmen or horrible, the horrible ones tend to be undercoached, sushi-raw fast guys with the accuracy of a tommy gunner on amphetamines.
This is the precise opposite of Tate Forcier, long may he remain unbroken and functional.
Backups and whatnot
Everyone's hoping that incoming freshman Denard Robinson earns the out-and-out backup spot by the Big Ten schedule because the alternatives are Sheridan, about whom scroll up to the Conklin/Markkannen analogy, and David "Coner" Cone. Since Robinson just arrived a few weeks ago and didn't get the spring exposure Forcier did I've got nothing more to offer on him other than what got dumped out in his recruiting profile and what's been said about his crazy ninja speed by coaches and teammates.. The executive-executive summary: Pat White. Except maybe… faster?
Offensive coordinator Calvin Magee said Robinson is bigger than Pat White was when he came to West Virginia as a freshman, and quarterbacks coach Rod Smith said Robinson's speed compares favorably to White's.
“I don’t want to blow him up, but he’s fast," Smith said. "He’s fast. It’s fun to watch because when he breaks through - and I love Pat to death, but I’m not so sure this kid - he’s fast. They’re close."
His high school coach gets misty:
"Oh my god, Michigan is going to get an explosive, explosive quarterback," Taylor said. "He's a leader, he pushes his will to win on others. I've never seen a kid so competitive."
Stevie Brown on Michigan's jackrabbit:
“I remember one time Denard (Robinson) broke. When Denard opens up and runs there is nobody that is catching him. He hit a little seam, we lost contain on him and I think he probably hit 80 yards and it felt like five seconds.”
Question: Nobody in the Big Ten is catching him?
"I can't say that. I don’t really know how fast everybody is, but I doubt it.”
He is made of dilithium, and reports from practice are surprised at how accurate his arm is on short stuff.
Robinson will probably work his way into the offense in a version of the Feagin package from last year—ESPN will dub it the "Wild Dawg"—except he's actually capable of throwing so defenses will have to respect that.
I'd been hoping Forcier puts a stranglehold on the job and Robinson would end up redshirting in 2010 before emerging as a hyper-fast skill position player or cornerback, but given all the practice buzz you have to keep him around at QB until such time as he doesn't provide an element of explosiveness far beyond the alternatives. IE: Devin Gardner starts, which is still very much up in the air. This year he's the only thing standing between Michigan and…
Nick Sheridan. I nicknamed him DEATH just in time for the Minnesota game, where he proceeded to play sort of like a good, if physically deficient, Division I quarterback. It couldn't last, though, and Sheridan finished the year by going 8 of 29 against Northwestern and 8 of 24 against Ohio State. Across both games he totaled 148 yards. No offense to his work ethic or general standing as a person, but if he sees the field it's time to cower.
I know, I know, I know. He will probably play against Western and he's listed amongst the great wide ORs on the quarterback depth chart. But I refer you to the stats above and this blog's pre-jihad obsession with debunking the idea he will start. I won't belabor it further.
And this is probably the last time I'll get to use a sentence that's sat untouched in this preview since he matriculated, so prepare to shed a single tear: if David Cone sees the field something has gone very wrong.
Earlier: Practical Matters.
Tom has talked with the parents of a couple guys on the team. Mike Forcier, whose two elder kids have been at Michigan, Stanford, and UCLA:
"I haven't read the article yet, but I also haven't heard anything about over practice, or anything like that.
"I've had three sons in college football now, and they've all gone through the same things so far. Tate has been doing the same things as his brothers were at UCLA and Stanford."
Mike Schofield, the somewhat confusingly-named father of freshman offensive lineman Michael Schofield:
Michael came home a couple times to visit, and there was no one chasing him home to get back to practice. He played games at the dorms, they went to hospitals for sick kids, camps for special needs children, and none of that was in the paper.
They went to study halls a lot, and none of that was in the paper.
My youngest son went to Michigan's sports camp in June, and I said to Michael, "here’s your brother who gets to see and workout with your coach, who you can't even see until August." There were no coaches in disguise monitoring the workouts. The timing of this is terrible.
The worst part of all of this is that the reporters targeted the freshman, with misleading questions they can get them to say anything. I’m a fire chief, and I deal with the media. I don’t let my men deal with the media, because they can get them to say anything. They could make us sound like the worst station out there if they wanted to.
Without names, this article means nothing to me.