9/25/2010 – Michigan 65, Bowling Green 21 – 4-0
It's been a long time since this has happened, but in the aftermath of a 721-yard outburst against a I-A opponent there's no grand emotional narrative arc to relate. Last year there was a sense of relief after the Western game; the Eastern game was a reminder that sometimes Michigan plays teams obviously worse than they are and beats the pants off them and isn't that nice but sometimes the quarterback goes down and that's not nice at all. The Bowling Green game was that minus a loss to a 3-9 MAC team the year prior—i.e., a pleasant nothing in which crappy special teams play was just an opportunity to rack up more yards on offense.
There was a bout of slight indigestion when it was 21-14, but in the aftermath of an offensive performance in which Michigan scored 9 touchdowns on 11 drives (and kind of scored two more on the drives that technically came up empty) complaining about that would miss the forest for the trees. I mean, Michigan took the admonition to "STOP KICKING THE DAMN BALL" from the preview literally. I can't even make yet another impassioned plea against I-AA games since Bowling Green is part of the MAC, as I did after last year's silly offensive yardage number. So let's just get to the bullets.
Well, one thing first: Tate Forcier seems pretty level-headed for a guy the internet spent most of eight months deriding as an immature quitter bound to transfer ten seconds after Denard stepped on to the field against UConn and he declared himself "out" in the aftermath.
Somehow he's still here. He could have gone. He could have put in his papers like LaLota or Turner and spent a redshirt year somewhere else and preserved a year of eligibility and had three years to compete on a two-deep that doesn't feature Denard Robinson. But he's here, picking up small children in #16 jerseys after going 12 of 12 and running around on broken plays despite being obviously gimpy.
TATE: "Hey, kid. The offense scored a touchdown on every drive I had a part in."
SMALL CHILD: "Hold me up higher so I can see Denard."
My fiancée starts rooting for the other team whenever they are obviously overmatched, something that happened seven minutes into Saturday's game. She made an exception when Forcier rolled on the field. After the game he said he loved Michigan and would never go anywhere. You can't blame him if that turns out to be untrue, but I hope he stays around. I've got a feeling Michigan is going to need him.
NON-BULLETS TOLD THE PUNTER TO GET SOME COFFEE
Denard. Fine. Jumping higher than mortals for no reason late in a blowout:
Would have liked to see him get a couple more drives and finish his day with 200 yards rushing on ten carries just on the off chance he leads Michigan to enough stunning shootout wins to hit up the Heisman ceremony with a serious chance to win, but the important thing is that he's healthy. If he doesn't stop doing this, however, I am going to die with worry.
Number two. IME, Forcier. Gardner was certainly impressive downfield but on first glance seemed to make a ton of mistakes running the zone read and even when he did get some room displayed a nasty tendency to cut everything outside like he's still in high school, turning 6-8 yard gains into 2-3 yard gains. Forcier was crisper despite his status as Michigan's nominal #3.
Devin Gardner redshirt conspiracy. Yes, I am a one man Rubicon when it comes to this: Forcier was warmly welcomed by the crowd and got another big cheer when he came off the field late, then spent the postgame press conference saying things about how he will never, ever transfer. If that is true, that could be huge for the 2014 Wolverines because it might provide an opportunity for Gardner to redshirt next year. I want my fifth year senior Gardner, dammit.
Have I been advocating for this publicly? Someone gave me a shout out on the twitters when Michigan debuted a punt formation featuring three returners, so I must have been crabbing for it at some point.
I've been grumbling vaguely about the necessity for a second returner in this space for a while, but when Michigan came out in their new punt return formation on Saturday I was livid at myself for describing exactly what Michigan should do against spread punt formations during my Thursday WTKA appearance… during the commercials. Doh.
Anyway, the situation:
- The spread punt formation has virtually erased punt returns.
- Spread punting is almost impossible to fake out of as long as you rush the punter and cover the outside guys on the line.
- A single punt returner is insufficient in an era of line-drive rugby kicks.
The response I suggested (in the commercials) and Michigan implemented exactly:
- Two cornerbacks line up over the outside guys and cover/block them.
- Six guys charge after the punter on every snap to prevent fakes and maybe block a couple punts.
- Three returners are spread across the field so that Michigan fields almost every punt and maybe gets a return or two.
A friend of mine also pointed out that since punt coverage guys are focused on the returners, not the ball, having multiple guys back there has the potential to confuse them. If the ball's coming down to Dileo and Gallon's moving upfield like he's going to field a short one, the coverage team has an unpleasant choice between splitting their duties between all three guys and teaching their guys to look up and find the ball, forcing them to take their eyes off their destination and possibly exposing them to killshot blocks.
The results in game one of the experiment were encouraging. Michigan fielded all but one punt and got some of those return things—what are they called—oh yeah—yards. Dileo looked as smooth as promised, fielding punts and making one or two guys miss before getting tackled.
I don't think Michigan can pull off the triple return threat against a conventional formation since it would be vulnerable to fakes, but against spread punt teams they should use it all the time.
The other thing I was advocating for was the deployment of a Wolverine Heavy package and we sort of saw one near the goal line. Koger and Webb lined up as H-backs, there was a tailback, and Michigan ground forward as you might expect. That's not quite Heavy, in which there are two tight ends, two H-backs, and no one in the backfield except a tank, but the flexibility provided by the H-backs should make short yardage hard to stop; I'd like it if M put one of the TEs on the line and brought in McColgan.
Corner what. The third and final thing Michigan debuted was a dime package in which the MLB and one of the DEs come off the field in favor of two additional cornerbacks on passing downs. JT Floyd dropped back to deep safety with Gordon; Kovacs stayed underneath. This also gets a thumbs up assuming the freshmen corners can cover people. This is not certain, but it's hard to imagine them being worse at it than Roh or Ezeh, no offense to either.
Here's a confusing thing: Cullen Christian has practiced with the ones in warmups two of the last three weeks. I thought he was going to start against Notre Dame because of it. But when Michigan brought in its dime it was Talbott and Avery getting the PT; Christian alternated some with Rogers. The first bit implies that Christian is the #3 corner; the second implies he's the #5. Maybe the freshmen have different responsibilities in the dime package and they're working the players in at different positions until they learn both.
Running back mess, verdict, no verdict. Shaw continues to look like the best tailback available. As long as he's running hard and finding the lanes, something he's done a much better job of lately, he's the #1 guy. Smith was okay but as the games pass it seems more and more indisputable that he's lost some burst after the ACL surgery and probably won't be full strength until 2011.
Of the four backups, Cox seemed the most impressive in limited time since Toussaint's runs came on vast, gaping holes in the line. Also, he got run down by a MAC linebacker. What's up with that, Fred Jackson? (A: he's still wearing a knee brace and is not 100%. People of twitter: I was joking.)
Preview: 2011. Late in the game we got answers to obscure personnel questions:
- What position does Brandin Hawthorne play? Spur.
- What position does Steve Watson play? Defensive end.
- Who is the primary backup at guard? Ricky Barnum.
- What's the deal with Kenny Demens? Oh, there he is.
Michigan also got a preview of its 2011 offensive line when Perry Dorrestein "got a hangnail or something." Taylor Lewan was entrenched at left tackle so Huyge came in to play on the right, and Michigan lifted Steve Schilling for Ricky Barnum. That is 99% likely to be your '11 starting OL down to the positions: Lewan-Barnum-Molk-Omameh-Huyge. They got lifted for backups on the next drive.
Quotes from after the game. Will update with photos when they're ready.
Injuries: "Denard seems to be fine, I know that's the first thing you're gonna ask." He'll get treatment and be fine after some rest and ice. No x-rays needed. He was moving around on it. Michael Shaw is "pretty much the same as Denard. Just a little bit sore." Perry Dorrestein is fine, just got "a hangnail or something on his toe."
Today was a good win, the team got better in all three phases. Defense was a little more aggressive than last week, offense controlled the game with the run. "Last week, we did not play well." Improved this week on defense and special teams especially. It was nice to get lots of guys in there, especially seniors.
Team is deeper on offense than last year. "Defensively, we're younger." Completely different years. "I think there's enough positive things that we can grow from and enough negative things that we can fix." The first goal is the B10 championship, everyone is 0-0 in the conference.
Offense didn't have to do a whole lot in order to move the ball, ddn't have to show a lot. Executed well.
All three QBs did well. Didn't think about putting Denard back in at half. "We were moving the ball whoever the quarterback was in there." Needed to just get a couple stops. "I wish he woulda stepped out before he got hit." Needs to scoot out when the touchdown isn't going to happen. "I thought all 3 quarterbacks were very efficient." Devin not as ready as Denard or Tate because he's a year behind. These guys are getting it. "All three of those guys have not hit their ceiling yet. Not even close." It's a tough deal because only one can play at a time. Denard and Tate both more comfortable seeing the field than last year. Seeing things like coaches see them, why a play did or didn't work. Tate maturity - "I'm impressed with a lot of our guys' maturity. There's a lot of progress."
RBs - "It started up front. I thought our line and our tight ends did a good job blocking." Made a couple mistakes, but it was nice to get lots of RBs experience.
Guys come in boys, leave 4-5 years later as "a man, a Michigan Man."
Could tackle better, hit a couple screens on us. Missed opportunities to make tackles. Played more aggressivley, not on their heels like last week.
A couple special teams penalties were frustrating. Would FG kicker have been Broekhuizen? "Maybe." Depending on length and hash.
Team knows Indiana is very good, they can't mail it in and win.
After last week, the players wanted to just return to playing good Michigan football. Different year than last year. "Everybody's playing for somebody." They play their hardest every Saturday.
Offensive skill guys didn't have any trouble with the rotating QBs, because it happens in practice. When Tate came in, he was shocked everyone was yelling his name. Denard - "I'm pretty sure he'll be back this week coming up - get some treatment on it." Roy is very confident whoever QB is. "Minus the MAs [missed assignments] and the penalties, we just keep rollin'."
Defense showed up today. "Wasn't like the slackin' last week." In practice, it was 11 hats to the ball, they did it today.
RVB is not really amazed at the offense's performance. They've been going toward that for the past year. Expecting to see them make plays.
"Absolutely" more focused than last week. Might have been reading too many press clippings coming into last week. "Circled the wagons and prepared this week like it was a bowl game."
The team used a little more 4-man rush to get to the QB this week. "Persistent, and keep coming after the Quarterback." Had pressures, finally turning them into sacks. As long as the QB is moving his feet, the throws become inaccurate. "If you sack him, it's prettier but you don't necessarily need it."
Better team chemistry this year. Team united, want to play for each other.
"Michigan is noted as a powerhouse in the Big Ten, and we have not lived up to that the past two years." Hungry to be successful in-conference this year.
"A lot of people say I'm not staying here, but I'm still here... I love Michigan, I love everything about it... I love Coach Rod, I love these fans, I love everything about Michigan football."
Felt good to be out there competing again. "Coach Rod just told me to be patient and stay ready." He was ready when his number was called. Coach Rod told him to be ready, he knew he would get in this week. Never know when your number's gonna get called, have to be ready to come in. "Coach Rod's the coach. I'm gonna let them make the decisions, and if they go with him, I'm gonna be right there, ready."
Felt almost ilke a first start again. Thanks the crowd and coaches. How can you not notice that the crowd was supporting him. "Crowd always motivates me. Because you just want to keep hearing that." Michigan has the best crowd in the country, and the team has to to keep them happy.
His injury isn't serious. "I got hit. I got a little dead leg." He'll be fine within a day or so. "I'm healthy, and as long as Denard gets healthy, I'll be happy still." Never 100% as a football player, have to play through a bit of pain.
Hard to wait when you played last year "Denard got the same question last year when I was the guy." Everyone is good enough to play, he'll let the coaches make a decision. No rust. Studied lots of film this week "It was easy out there." Had something to prove when he went out there. "That's what I heard." that he set a completion percentage record. Could have improved a couple things.
Treat every team like a threat. Cites App State. "Treat every game just like you're playing against Ohio State." hould be able to play this well every week. Should be able to have a lot of success this year.
Indiana gave the team a good game last year. Fun to go into away stadiums and have everyone against you.
Team executed better today. Did a lot of studying with good focus this week. Made sure they were focused to take advantage of opportunities.
"We just come out and just execute and make plays." Don't worry about what the opponent's doing.
Denard's injury made him think of his own knee injury, even though it didn't end up being as serious.
The offensive line: "They had a awesome game. Just the same, they're very consistent and always do their job up front." Lewan - "He's doing an excellent job. I was telling him that on a couple of runs."
"We have a lot of talent in the backfield, no doubt." Everybody does their part when their number is called. "We all look at it from... if one man falls down, the next man steps up."
Red zone mindset - "We gotta get in."
Performed better than last week. Pretty good outside of a few plays. This defense is always hardworking, taking positive steps toward learning more. Concentrated and wanted to get everything right today.
Prepared the same as last week, maybe a couple guys watched a little more tape. "I thought our preparation was consistent."
On BGSU's QB: "You know that's in his mind where he's already kinda out of his comfort zone." Backup QB is obviously going to be nervous coming into the Big House.
Impressed with offense? "Yeah. I love our offense. It's very dynamic and explosive."
"I really feel like we have 3 very good quarterbacks coming in that can all run our offense."
Lewan - "I heard he did pretty good. I talked to him after the game, and I'm just excited to see Taylor playing." Been playing against him in practice a few years now, likes to see him develop.
"This team is just so close. Everyone is everyone's friend."
Concentrating coming into Big Ten season. "We... we're ready."
You are feeling a sudden sense of well-being relative to two years ago.
If I had to summarize the thousands of words poured out into this space previewing the 2009 Michigan quarterbacks in a single sentence, it would be "they are going to be much better but probably still suck":
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.
And lo: Michigan's quarterbacks combined to throw 14 interceptions against just 15 touchdowns, fumbled probably a dozen more times, averaged a meh 7.2 yards per attempt, and singlehandedly sabotaged a surprisingly winnable 2009 edition of The Game. This was vast, vast improvement—the 2008 QBs combined to average 5.1(!!!) yards per attempt—and also pretty much sucked.
|Quarterback||Team||Year||Comp. %||Yards/Pass||TD %||INT %||Efficiency||Record*|
|Terrelle Pryor||Ohio State||2008||60.2||7.9||7.2||2.4||145.6||10-3|
|Tyrod Taylor||Virginia Tech||2007||53.7||6.9||3.7||2.2||119.7||11-3|
|Jimmy Clausen||Notre Dame||2007||56.3||5.1||2.9||2.5||103.9||3-9|
|Josh Freeman||Kansas State||2006||51.9||6.6||2.2||5.6||103.5||7-6|
|Reggie Ball||Georgia Tech||2003||51.7||5.7||2.9||3.1||102.8||7-6|
|Brady Quinn||Notre Dame||2003||47.2||5.5||2.7||4.5||93.5||5-7|
A tick behind Chad Henne isn't bad. And since Henne's receivers were current NFLers Braylon Edwards, Jason Avant, and Steve Breaston while Forcier's top target was a redshirt freshman who only started playing extensively at the tail end of the year—the senior "star" went undrafted—you could plausibly argue that the main difference between the freshman years of NFL starter Chad Henne and current sophomore Tate Forcier was the quality on the other end of the pass, especially since Forcier's YPA was superior. (Save your Baby Seal U protests: Forcier threw two passes in that game.)
To put the suck of '08 in perspective: '09 sucked but only because of the turnovers. The YPA average in I-A last year was 7.2, exactly what Michigan managed. A standard deviation was a yard. Michigan improved two standard deviations with a true freshman under center.
So of course everyone expects the guy who threw four interceptions in 31 attempts last year to start. This is Michigan, where things don't seem weird until the melting clocks drip PCP-tripping Gary Busey homunculi into swimming pools full of ham. We've seen stranger. Have you heard the one about the field goal that one of Michigan's players unblocked?
The Starter Right This Instant
Yeah: Denard Robinson. This is the part of the preview where I ignore the the guy with 281 attempts and 118 rushes in favor of the guy with the 31 attempts and 69 rushes because of an impressive spring performance, a bunch of practice reports, and some inflammatory comments from Troy Woolfolk. For the record, here they are again:
"Denard has been out there through the thick and thin and been out there all the time regardless if he's hurting," Woolfolk said. "And Tate, he tries to come out, but he's not as consistent as Denard is. And that's allowed Denard to jump a little bit ahead of Tate and I think that Tate's going to have to do a lot of work to catch back up to Denard in camp this year."
With Rodriguez and Steve Schilling essentially backing those up a couple days later and the general tenor coming out of spring practice, it seems clear that Forcier did not think his job was under threat, slacked off a bit, and has paid for it with his starting job. (Forcier: "I felt like I was working with the team, just not as much as I should have. Part of that is maturity." Rod Smith: "He didn’t come back in shape, and he’s competed as hard as any of the other guys.")
By now (and for now) this is assured. When Bruce Feldman was attempting to justify($) his out-there pick of Michigan as #25 on his preseason ballot, he deployed this conversation he'd had with Rodriguez:
Rodriguez is so fired up by the development of QB Denard Robinson, who is so dynamic he evokes memories of WVU great Pat White. Rodriguez says Robinson's presence and personality are similar to White's, and that Robinson is actually bigger than White was at the same stage. He doesn't quite play as fast as White did, but he will.
"Pat was so decisive," Rodriguez said. "He knew what he was doing. Pat was a fast player who played fast. Denard is a fast player who didn't play fast all the time, but I know he will play faster this year. He'll play faster and faster. He'll become more relaxed and calm executing the offense. There is a lot to learn, but at the same time, he is eager to learn it. And as he plays faster and his teammates play faster, we'll get a lot better."
Rodriguez added that the other two QBs Tate Forcier and Devin Gardner are very gifted too and will push Robinson, and if they overtake him, well, then the Wolverines offense should be in good shape.
We were at the point where the other two quarterbacks are "pushing" Robinson even before the fall scrimmage reports ("clear starter," "will absolutely start," "will be the starter") started rolling in. Perhaps more telling even than those rapturous reports was the substitution pattern: like David Molk, Mike Martin, and select other players too important to risk, Robinson saw his snaps limited. His time wasn't nearly as limited as that of the aforementioned duo—he had time to establish himself obviously the man before Forcier and Gardner mopped up during the last bit of the scrimmage—but the sign was clear. The competition is chasing.
I guess this is plausible. I mean, there's this:
Since that was done against the 1972 Pittsburgh Steelers it's pretty impressive. Yes, they had a 5'7" defensive tackle too.
So what does Michigan have in this guy? Anyone who attempts to tell you is having a moment of foolish arrogance. The guy who did this…
…also did this…
|has a lane|
|darts through this gap|
|easy QB draw|
|another one for TD|
|squeezes in for Iowa TD|
|a precious thing forever.|
|shoots into the secondary|
|six exciting yards|
|Iowa doom INT|
|underthrown DSU TD #1|
|fired it hard and high|
|okay Koger seam|
|zings one on the money|
…and was such an incredible neophyte that he never once ran the zone read despite its status as Rich Rodriguez's calling card and Robinson's ability to do that first thing above. Any program not digging out from a 100-year flood would have taken one look at the kid in fall practice and put so many redshirts on him that he'd be peeling the last one off right now. Michigan couldn't because its other quarterbacks were walk-ons or injury-prone freshmen.
The results were occasionally brilliant, sometimes promising, and frequently facepalm-worthy. In lieu of a full UFR passing chart here are all of Robinson's infrequent attempts rolled into one pretend game with around 30 attempts:
|Season||1||7||6 (2)||3 (1)||4||4||-||-|
That's three inaccurate screens and an 8/18 downfield success rate, which rivals Mallett's insane freshman performances, without even considering that four of those passes were terrible interceptions. This will not be news to anyone who saw Robinson play last year: he was in vastly over his head.
A guy that raw with that much speed has the ability to make a stunning improvement in a single offseason. And the above-linked spring highlights at least suggest that Robinson's improvement has indeed been stunning, especially since he followed that up with a similarly impressive performance in fall. He's added a non-insubstantial eight pounds to reach 193, and the offseason has come with a heavy focus on ending all the fumbling. Rodriguez:
“He looks to me physically bigger, and maturing physically,” said Rodriguez. “Mentally, he understands some of the concepts a lot better, which he should. I see his confidence continuing to grow. And he’s so eager to please and do well that he’s taking steps every day."
“There were a couple times today with ball security … even though they didn’t fumble, it wasn’t as good as we’d like,” Rodriguez said. “But you could see they were making a conscious effort to take care of the ball. Decision making, the same thing… they’re not just trying to force something in there."
This is the bit where I evaluate the player's strengths and weaknesses and offer up a projection for season stats and the like, but here the former is obvious and the latter a mystery. Robinson's radical improvement has come against Michigan's second and third strings, which are so thin as to hardly exist. How will he react when those seams are covered? How will he react when he gets pressure? Can he hold onto the ball when he's not playing two-hand touch? Run around, run around, don't know.
Let's take a wild-ass guess and ballpark it as Pat White, freshman edition. White was a redshirt freshman who split time with a pocket passer—Robinson is essentially the same thing. In 2005, White rushed for 952 yards at 7.3 a pop and completed 57% of his passes for 7.3 YPA, 8 TD, and 5 INT. Downgrade those YPA numbers 10-20% to take into account Michigan's presence in the Big Ten and that's your random guess.
Extremely Nominal Backup
Until about a week ago, virtually every scrap of talk about Tate Forcier this offseason had been negative. A quick scan of any Michigan message board will turn up a thread or four that someone in the Forcier family will screenshot and throw into the section of their personal site once embarrassingly named the "Hall of Shame" and subsequently nerfed to something less ambiguously bitchy and more clearly intended as motivation. The charges: Forcier is a douchebag. He's going to transfer. He's not going to get any better. He hasn't been going to workouts. He will pout when and if he doesn't play, destroying team chemistry. Etc. I've unpublished a couple around here.
How we got here from "Weapon of Choice" and Moxie Death Star is a matter of:
- lots of losses,
- Forcier's waning effectiveness as teams figured out they had to keep him in the pocket,
- Forcier's waning effectiveness after his shoulder was bruised/dislocated/LABRUM'D,
- five turnovers, many of them blithering, against Ohio State, and
- Let's Get Denarded in spring.
Still, the numbers on the above chart are just off future star status, especially when you knock Pryor and Griffin out for being athletic freakshows whose stats were inflated by the rarity of their throws.
Forcier didn't get a ton of help from his offensive line or receivers, either, which made a couple of his performances better than they looked. Michigan State provides a typical example:
You wouldn't know it because of all the pressure and the drops killing his stats, but Forcier had a spectacular day. His downfield success rate* was 71%, which is up there with Chad Henne's best game. Chad Henne's best games didn't come with game-killing overtime interceptions, sure. He made three and a half terrible decisions throwing the ball (with the half being the bomb to Koger) and some additional ones in the ground game.
But does anyone remember the "Sheridan Might Start!" meme? Will anyone own up to actually advancing that point of view? No? No.
After the great start (post ND: "two games in it looks like Tate Forcier has 99th percentile skill in accuracy on the run, pocket awareness, and (yep) moxie"), Forcier had a mid-season swoon with an implosion against Iowa in which his DSR fell to a bleah 50% that didn't take into account how "disastrous" some of the bad reads; the following week Forcier duplicated the 50% DSR performance against Penn State. He picked it up afterwards with a "decent" Illinois game and had "one of his best games" against Purdue before turning in a "good day" against a very good Wisconsin defense; though Ohio State didn't get charted I can tell you that his performance in that game was plain great except for the four awful interceptions, which is a weird thing to say but there it is.
So. By the numbers, both official and blogger-generated, his freshman season was promising. Unfortunately, the numbers aren't everything. Forcier made a ton of bad reads on the zone read and Michigan's rare option plays, one of which Burgeoning Wolverine Star documented in detail. Part of the reason he looked so ineffective on the zone last year was because he pulled the ball out too much.
Worse, the numbers capture Forcier's interceptions but not his massive fumble issues. Everyone remembers Tate gifting Ohio State the first touchdown of last year's game with a basically unforced fumble, and that was a problem all year. Illinois:
The fumbling issue remains a problem, though: Forcier was irresponsible with the ball and coughed it up twice, once on a QB draw he made a poor read on. Michigan lost one, causing everyone to turn the TV off. Hopefully this is a major point of emphasis in the offseason; Forcier can't be as careless with the ball going forward or the offense is never going to get off the ground.
The big downer was the fumble, which was a huge error on Forcier's part but also an understandable one since Purdue blitzed right into the option and Forcier was not prepared to deal with the corner there. He should have eaten the ball and taken the loss.
Robinson chipped in his share of mind-bending fumbles but Forcier, more than anyone else, was responsible for Michigan's crippling 13 fumbles lost.
But as training camp progressed, the Forcier vibe got better. Rodriguez:
“I’ve had quite a few talks with Tate and some of the other guys and said if you’re a true competitor, you’ll respond to it,” Rodriguez said. “So far he has. He’s responded … he’s not sulking and laying back. He’s working his way back and trying to prove himself.”
"Obviously he went through some adversity there with Troy's comments and the wings and all that stuff you guys know about." He's worked hard to prove himself, and show that he wants to be the team's quarterback. "I'm definitely gaining a lot of respect back for Tate," as are a lot of others.
With transfer and ineligibility rumors quashed and fitness levels approaching something the coaches consider reasonable, Forcier has bounced back and finds himself in position to play. Rivals has taken to using its insiders to talk him up like whoah, and while I don't share the point of view on offer there*, especially the lack of confidence in Robinson, it seems like his time with the third team is at an end. As I've asserted a thousand times before, the two sophomores are so different that Michigan has reason to play both, and can reasonably hope the platoon is greater than the sum of its parts.
What can we expect from Forcier's sophomore year? Beware linear projections. Way back in December, Ace took a look at a subset of those true freshman starters in the chart above and compared their sophomore performance to their freshman years. He found that sophomores improved their average yards per attempt by a full yard, completion percentage 5.5 points, and touchdowns by five. If you take those improvements and apply them to Forcier's freshman year you get ridiculous results: 65% completions, 8.5 yards per attempt, 20 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, and the #12 passer efficiency rating in the country.
That's totally not going to happen. Ace took a bunch of really terrible QBs who became decent to good and applied that transition to a decent quarterback, resulting in a projection that says Forcier will be the greatest sophomore QB of the past ten years, and by some margin: only Chris Leak's sophomore year rating of 145 is anywhere close to Forcier's projected 151. More realistically, the hope is for Forcier to cut down on the crippling turnovers by a third, add some more touchdowns, merely maintain his YPA—only Chris Leak significantly exceeded Forcier's freshman YPA as a sophomore—and add a point or two to completion percentage. Forcier doesn't have a long way to go to be a good quarterback, but that means his improvement in all things other than holding on to the damn ball will be incremental.
*(Chances there's some serious fuddy-duddy-ism going on there: high.)
And then after all that there's Devin Gardner. Gardner just came in for an extensive recruiting profile last week, so I won't rehash that when virtually nothing has changed in the interim. The executive summary: massive upside, raw, needs serious work on his throwing motion. I've also made my opinion on the redshirt issue clear:
Should have the luxury of redshirting with Denard's emergence into a viable option. Given Rodriguez's statements on the matter…
There is also freshman Devin Gardner, but Rodriguez said he wouldn't burn Gardner's redshirt if it was for a couple of plays a game.
…you'll probably see him on the bench unless both sophomores struggle. After that it's kind of hard to see him unseating an established junior, but they'll mix him in when given the opportunity; a lot of people have claimed he's going to be the starter as early as 2011, but I think he'll have to wait until he's a redshirt junior, at which point he should be Awesome Devin through and through.
Rich Rodriguez is not of a similar mind. He told the media Monday that Gardner was on the depth chart and would play. I'm still hoping that the two sophomores play well enough to keep him on the bench, if not immediately then by the time the Big Ten season rolls around, at which point Gardner can come down with a strained whatever and get that year of eligibility back.
So I find myself in an extremely bizarre position: Michigan had a semi-public scrimmage on Saturday that I and a few hundred others attended after donating to Motts or buying the big baller seats. If you've been on the internet since Saturday you've noticed probably dozens of reports on message boards, the diaries here, other blogs, and one local radio host's (pretty inaccurate) tweets. Also there's a highlight video from the official site:
But they specifically told myself, MVictors, Scout, Rivals, and Craig Ross that "nothing was to be reported" from the scrimmage. This worked as well as you might imagine, leaving us on the sidelines as everyone with a username throws vague information around. So here's a bizarre roundup of things other people said on the internets and in my inbox that doesn't involve personal reporting. This lion is caged.
Popular sentiment holds that Denard is the man:
looks comfortable, made some nice throws, seems in charge of the O. Wouldn't want to have to tackle him.
Unless something crazy happens between now and September 4, Denard Robinson is your clear starter at quarterback. The quarterbacks weren’t live today, but Robinson still managed to carve up the second-team defense (running the first-team offense, of course) with his legs and his arm. His made good decisions with the ball and his passes were on the money, and he took a QB draw 40+ yards to the house — only Denard makes that play, and he made it look easy.
He will absolutely start as he is clearly the leader on the team. He had the most energy during warm-ups, was the first one and the fastest one doing stretch drills, and was clearly the first-team QB of the day during the 'scrimmage'. He hit a nice 23-ish yard pass on a WICKED play fake to Grady. And then ran it in for another 25 or so on a QB draw, juking a DB as he went. Enough to even get the sidelines "ooh-ing".
Prior to seeing this scrimmage I was a fan of Tate and would tell anyone who asked, that Tate would be the starter. After watching the scrimmage, D-Rob will be the starter. He was much better in the pocket, made good decisions when faced with getting rid of the ball or being sacked with loss of yards, and his exchanges were very good. Think about some of the ball fakes that Juice Williams had. D-Rob isn't there yet, but he will be.
That longish pass was the a half-roll at about 2:00 in the highlights on which Robinson pulled up and nailed Terrance Robinson between the numbers and between levels in the zone. An emailer suggested that he wouldn't have believed it possible without the spring game. Also, at the end of practice they had the team run a lap around the field four times. It's "a little tough to tell" because each position group starts from a different place on the field, but 3 of the 4 times Denard was the first player on the team to finish. (Ray Vinopal seemed to win the last one.) That's "more a measure of endurance than speed."
Robinson actually got a lot less run than the other two quarterbacks, finding himself on the bench as Forcier and Gardner (and Jack Kennedy) alternated series late; when he did get on the offense would score quickly, further depressing his reps. To me that reads like the decision is already made and they are being somewhat cautious.
Conflicting reports on Gardner and Forcier. Ace's take:
Devin Gardner, running mostly with the twos, looked at times like a seasoned veteran, but he had a couple throws — including an ugly interception to Marvin Robinson — that reminded everyone he is just a freshman. His natural ability could lead to him seeing the field this year, but I think it’s safe to say he’s probably a year away from really pushing for the starting job. Really like his poise in the pocked and running ability, however, and it would have been interesting to see what he could have done if the quarterbacks were live. Tate Forcier started with the threes but saw snaps with the ones and twos as well — he looked solid throwing the ball, but made a couple poor reads on zone running plays.
Gardner came in for a lot of praise but a trusted observer in the inbox says "Gardner made a number of bad decisions under pressure." There that Marvin Robinson interception reminiscent of the slo-mo-nooooo plays last year; observer also cited a strong tendency for Gardner to panic and chuck off his back foot when blitzers got through. He suggested that in a scrimmage with more blitzing—it was exceedingly rare—Forcier would have probably looked clearly better than Gardner. While a few folk are saying there is "NO WAY" Gardner redshirts, TO thought he was at best even with Forcier and given that should watch from the sidelines. He made more big errors than anyone else.
In drills, Tate looked best, FWIW.
Hopkins was the name on everyone's tongue after a day spent running through arm tackles and showing surprising shiftiness. He "hit the holes and was a load to take down." Trusted Observer said he had a hard time picking out Hopkins before the scrimmage, as he looked like PJ Hill in the spring but after losing ten pounds and reshaping maybe a dozen others into muscle "now looks like a tailback" instead of a moonlighting fullback.
One negative note:
I didn't think Hopkins looked as great as everyone else did. Not a diss on his play - he ran very hard - but I didn't see the world beater others did. Much like the other scrimmages, all the RBs looked good, but none really stood out. We have options in Cox and Shaw. Though V. Smith, as reported, looks great - no noticeable effects from the injury.
Ace and others also noted that Vincent Smith seems 100% healthy; you can see him dance his way down to the two in the highlights above on one of his better runs on the day. TO said it looked like he was tentatively first team with Mike Shaw second but "both those guys fumbled and I wouldn't put much stock in that."
Mike Cox continued to show that he might be the best athlete amongst the running backs, but on two separate instances he caused Rodriguez to "lose it" by cutting way back against the grain, turning a modest gain into nothing by dancing at the line of scrimmage. On one "there was a gap on the frontside but he cut all the way behind the backside tackle," losing yardage and causing RR to chew him out; on the second "RR just dropped his headset in disgust."
Toussaint did not play due to an injury.
If you're looking at playing time in this scrimmage as a signal as to which freshmen wideouts will play, your "leaders in order" are Jerald Robinson, Drew Dileo, Jeremy Jackson, Ricardo Miller, and finally DJ Williamson. Yeah, Dileo, who looked "natural fielding punts and catching the ball in drills" despite being "fricking tiny." Robinson got a lot of playing time but "dropped everything."
As for the veterans, the nominal first team was the same it was in spring with Martavious Odoms spending a lot of time outside with Darryl Stonum; Roy Roundtree was in the slot but "did not play much" probably because "they know he's the guy." In his stead Robinson and Grady got most of the playing time, with Gallon around but "not doing much." Hemingway was on the second team with Stokes.
At TE, Koger, Webb, and Moore "seemed even," with Koger suffering a frustrating drop. Robinson added one, but otherwise the starting WRs caught everything that came their way. It was mostly underneath stuff, probably because of the open nature of the scrimmage.
Not much here. Molk was in a green shirt and played only sparingly (this was "precautionary"); Khoury was his backup and there were several poor snaps, two or three of which led to drive-killing fumbles. Huyge (left) and Dorrestein (right) were tackles on the first team OL. Lewan was on the second team and played beyond the whistle to the point where he got a personal foul. TO noticed Quinton Washington struggling badly in the post-practice runs, finishing last. Someone, possibly Elliot Mealer, spent practice on the bike with a red jersey. Barnum was a second-team guard and the third-team center.
Coaches kept yelling at Schofield to keep his pad level down.
TO says he spent most of the scrimmage watching the offense and didn't have much on the D. He did note that Mike Martin finished first easily in the DL group on the runs with Will Campbell lagging behind. Ace highlighted Jibreel Black, who looks like a quick contributor. Another emailer said "Martin is a beast" and didn't get much playing time for precautionary reasons:
“Defensively, Mike Martin has had a tremendous camp. We limited him yesterday because we know what he can do, but he’s been really good and probably our most consistent defensive player since camp started.”
Campbell seemed to be on the third team. Sagesse sat out with an injury, though he was in green, not red.
It does not seem like Martin is moving, so everyone figure out who Greg Banks's backup is.
That stuff about Moundros possibly starting looks accurate:
Moundros starts in the middle, looks like he's been playing there for a while. A run stuffer certainly. Middle zone coverage? Not enough data. Ezeh also stuffed the run and took on blocks at Mouton's spot. Roh will be a beast, but given almost all of the throws were short, his pass rush didn't have time to get home.
Not much else here. Ezeh played WLB with Mouton in green. Davion Rogers is "a twig."
Ack. Cam Gordon, from reports ranging from some guy…
Vlad will hit you, but we all knew that. Cam Gordon is going to be very good, I think. Big boy. He was in position to make two great tackles, but unfortunately didn't wrapup and was pulled off the field. Later returned with the 1's. Going to take some time
…to the coach…
“Yesterday probably wasn’t his best day practice-wise, but other than that he’s had a really good camp,” Rodriguez noted.
“We were in position to make plays - I was in position - but we didn’t wrap up,” Gordon said. “I think we were all a little excited, especially us young guys to show what we could do and we had a breakdown in fundamentals. But those are easily correctable mistakes.
“Something Coach [Tony] Gibson said to me after our scrimmage was, ‘Cam, every hit doesn’t have to be a big hit.’ That’s a key for me and for all the guys. Any tackle is a good tackle. I don’t have to level somebody because in the stat book they all count the same way. I’ll get better and we’ll get better.”
…did not have a good day. Corners… not much detail. There's this:
JT Floyd looks good, Rogers looks big. Teric Jones and Christian are your 2's. Talbott and Avery don't look undersized, and don't look overwhelmed. Again, hard to judge corner play given the nature of the throws. But Christian has a way of moving that reminds one of Woodson.
If only. Floyd was pulled early, again likely as a precaution. Robinson looks good, a "big hitter and good tackler." Mike Williams spent a lot of time playing spur, not doing much of note. A push for a job or a sure starter (Thomas Gordon) getting held out of a high-contact scrimmage?
No worries at punter, where Hagerup's warmups were "just like Zoltan." The section of the practice dedicated to the punt team saw the punts "go straight" and were actually returnable. All were fielded cleanly except one fumble from Terrence Robinson. Here, too, Dileo "looked like a natural," executing a fair catch with aplomb and fielding an array of kickoffs and punts cleanly.
Field goal kicking was limited, with just two attempts. Meram missed from around 40, Gibbons hit from around 35. Kickoffs landed from the 2 to 10, which is about average these days. Kickoff coverage must be run at half speed because every one was returned to about midfield and then blown dead.
Tim will spin out posts on his experience at Media Day over the first few days of the week, but right now how about a million embeds? Oh and this from the MVictors photo gallery:
"Please stop doing that, you're making me uncomfortable."
And then there's all the video Boyz n tha Pahokee and MGoVideo put in a non-browser-crippling format:
Denard Robinson (wsgs Mike Rosenberg and Mike Rosenberg's Tiny Afro!):
Several more after the jump.