Denard Robinson and Vincent Smith
When you guys went exclusively to running in second half, how much of that was by design, and how much of that was your reads? Denard: “Reads. I mean, most of the time it was just reads, and that’s what happened.”
Why did that happen? How did this game turn into having to run the ball a lot in order to win the game? Denard: “We just go with the flow of the game, and what happens happened.” Smith: “The big guys up front, they did an excellent job of blocking, and we just took what the defense gave us. Eastern came out and played a good game of football.”
Vince, how many carries can you handle per game? Smith: “Whatever the team needs to win, I’m there. However many carries I need for my team to win, that’s how many carries I can handle.”
You had more than 100 yards rushing, which is usually really good for a running back. Is it intimidating that your quarterback has nearly twice that? Smith: “Not at all. We don’t even look at it that way. It’s whatever for the team. If we need the quarterback to score a touchdown [rather] than the running back -- we both compliment each other on the game.”
Can you comment on your slow start on offense and how important the 97-yard TD drive was? Denard: “We came out a little flat, but on the 97-yard drive, we picked up some momentum, and that kept us going the entire game.”
Does starting slow bother you? Denard: “We wanted to come out fast, and that’s what we’ve been focusing on everyday. Talking about coming out fast and getting off to a good start.”
Is there a reason? Denard: “No, there’s no reason. There’s no reason for it.”
Can you comment on Thomas Gordon’s 1-handed INT? Smith: “I saw it from the big screen. It was a great catch.” Denard: “When he first came in my freshman year I saw him do crazy stuff like that, so I knew he could do it.”
Can you breakdown the TD pass to Dileo, and can you talk about other throws today where you were off? Denard: “The pass to Drew Dileo. It’s a read, basically. I just read it out, and he came open and I gave it to him.”
Vince, do you feel like you have to prove you’re an every down back? Smith: “Just like I said, it’s all about the team. Whenever we needed a running back to step up when the game’s not going well, we feel like whatever for the team. Somebody’s going to step up and get the job done.”
How did you feel about your performance in passing game? Denard: “I mean, I always have time for improvement and room for improvement, so that’s the biggest room.”
Coach wanted to get tailbacks going. How big was it to get Vince going? Denard: “It was big, I mean, when he starts running well, they start crashing down on him, I can get the ball and read it out and get the ball and run some. When things like that start happening, it’s kind of hard for the defense to stop.”
What do you think you need to do better in passing game? Denard: “Come back on Sunday and come to work. Do everything coach tells me to do.”
Anything you want to address specifically? Denard: “We’ll see on film. Have to see the film first.”
Did you feel like you’re seeing the receivers and the passing lanes all right? Denard: “Oh yeah, oh yeah. We’ve been practicing for weeks, so I can see pretty good.” Looked to me like you were throwing behind guys a lot. “No. I don’t think -- no.”
Your numbers were like some games last year. Did you feel like last year or was it different? Denard: “I don’t know. I get caught up in the game, so whatever’s going on is going on.”
You had that one long run where you cut across the field. What did you see? Denard: “Which one are you talking about?” It was your longest run, I believe. It was 53-yarder or something? “I was kind of being patient. I thought ‘Tree was probably going to push the guy down or something. I should have just sped up and gotten up there and not taken the side.”
After the Notre Dame game, was it a little bit tough to get going in a noon game? Denard: “Everybody was just getting ready for the game. We had Kevin Koger in the locker room talking to us. We call him Hypeman86. We were just ready to go. We have another chance to play football, and that’s what we’ve been working on all summer.”
(more after the jump)
Are you glad you scheduled San Diego State? "Uh ... no."
How did this game turn into running Denard 25 times? Was that part of the game plan? “Uh, no, we don’t want to get him beat up. We’re going to play in a pretty physical league, so we have to make sure we get it out of the way. I thought Vince and those guys did a nice job. Vince and Touss’, did a good job running the football. It takes a toll on your body. He’s not the biggest guy in the world.”
How much of defensive struggle in the first quarter was them outscheming you vs. them winning the battle up front? “I think that the jet sweep, which is part of their offense -- it hasn’t been a huge part depending on different things that you watch game-wise, but I thought that was really where they hurt us early in the football game. But after the guys settled down and got used to where they tried to leverage you, they played pretty well.”
Can Vincent Smith be the lead back? “He ran the ball pretty well today. Until you analyze it, look at it, and really evaluate it, I would hate to say that.”
Thomas Gordon made two big plays. Talk about him, please. “Thomas had a really good summer, and it starts there [with] what he did with his weight and how he reported to camp. I think his attitude and Michigan football being important to him, and his teammates being important, and just the way he’s come to practice everyday, I’m really proud of him for doing those things. It’s paying off for him and paying off for us.”
Did the team seem flat early? “No -- [Eastern Michigan’s coaches] are good coaches too. I think they had a good plan. I think a lot of the movement and some of those things, they’re a little bit unconventional as it is from that standpoint. I thought they did a good job.”
What can you do to get passing game going? “I think we just have to be better with our feet. Setting our feet on some of our throws. That’s usually where it starts with our quarterback. We need to do a better job there. It would have helped with some possessions early in the ballgame, if we make a couple first downs.”
This is the third game you started slow on defense. Is there a way to combat that? “If there was, I think we would have tried to do that. We just have to execute some things better. There’s not a real answer to it besides we have to keep working on it and keep playing hard with it. Guys have to do a great job in practice, which they have. That part of our team has really made some good strides. It’s coming along.”
Can you talk about in-game adjustments to shore up defense? “You always have the things that you want to run from a defensive perspective. And there’s also things that may be on the fringe. We were pretty vanilla and pretty base today. But there’s a couple movements Greg called that helped us. A couple adjustments coverage-wise that helped us. More on the run support than the actually coverage.”
When it was 28-3, did you think about giving Devin some snaps? “Not really. I’ve been around this game a long time, and I never feel real comfortable until it’s :00 on the clock. We wanted to down and put the ball in the endzone, and unfortunately we didn’t.”
Assess how the defensive front did today. “I felt them a little more this week. I felt Mike, I felt Craig, and Ryan. I felt those three guys than I have.”
Running game -- what started clicking for you, and how big was it to have Vincent Smith to complement Denard? “It’s huge. I’m not going to sit here and tell you it’s not. The offensive staff came in at halftime, and said, ‘This is what we liked, this is how we’re want to align it formationally, this is how we need to tweak the blocking of it,’ and it went pretty well. Vince did a nice job. He made one cut too many on one run, but he did a nice job with his vision, and I thought Fitz did also.”
When you get a tailback going, what does it do for confidence of running backs as a whole? “They’re all very competitive. I also think they all want to play. But I think they also are very supportive of each other.”
Jibreel made a difference out there. Talk about him. “I think Jibreel’s played pretty consistent the last two games. I just didn’t feel him as much as I felt those other guys.”
Another big play by Kovacs on fourth-and-one. What happened? “It was a man coverage situation, and he was locked on that guy, and he did a tremendous job of beating the guy to the edge, to be honest with you. It’s something that Curt Mallory had worked with those guys all week.”
You’re off to a 3-0 start. This happened the last few years, too. Tougher opponents ahead. Cold shower? “Tougher opponents – I think they’re all tough. Believe me. College football – they’re all tough. Every game is such a from-the-neck-up football game. We’re a different team. I mean, yeah, we’ve been there, but we have to improve so much tomorrow when we look at the film and see, maybe we got out-leveraged here on this and why. There’s some urgency things when you’re setting up front, and guys getting lined up and all those things. Not getting technical, but we’ve got to go to work. I am not the funnest guy in the world like I am today, but Sunday to Friday, we have work to do.”
Second week in a row Gallon’s done some good things. Talk about him. “Well I think Jeremy’s another one of those guys who really, you could sense some things in his demeanor. Change in the spring. He had a really good summer, and good fall camp. He’s earning respect because of how he’s coming to work, how he’s playing.”
Denard had some problems passing. What do you want to see from receivers to help him out? “That one interception, that was kind of a bang-bang deal. I think Junior – if he comes back a little bit more, he maybe could have bodied the guy more and been in a better position. We’re pleased with our quarterback and I’m glad he’s at Michigan.”
You talked about Denard setting his feet. How hard is it to get him to set his feet when he loves to run so much? “I think it always is [hard] when you have a guy who can make multiple plays because of his athelticism. There’s no doubt that it’s a little more difficult. It is, and he’s done a nice job, and we just have to keep working, and he’s got to keep working on it and focusing and concentrating on that improvement in his game.”
Are Herron and Cam Gordon close to coming back? “Cam is real close, and so is Herron. I would think they’d both be ready next week.”
We didn’t see a lot of power runs today. A lot of spread instead. Is this by design or just playing more to Denard’s strengths as the game goes along? “It’s kind of what we’ve been since we started in the spring, to be honest with you. The quarterback power is still the power play, the read zone a little bit, and a couple things how we’re blocking that a little bit different depending on front. When we got I-backs today -- and Phil Snow’s a tremendous defensive coordinator, the guy has a tremendous pedigree -- he was going to load the box. That’s when we had a couple opportunities with some throws, because it’s all man coverage. You connect on those and the game changes a little bit.”
Thoughts on next game? “A guy from San Diego would ask that, wouldn’t he? I tell you, we have our hands full. That’s a very good football team, and a wel- coached football team, and a talented team. We’re going to try and get by the next 12 hours and then focus on that one.”
Glad you scheduled them? “Uh … no.”
Craig Roh got some stats today. Talk about him, too, please. “I thought he played more physical today. I thought he played with a little bit of a different mentality. He was aggressive. And you can really tell how he prepared all week he was going to do a great job for us today.”
Michael Schofield made an appearance -- what happened with Ricky Barnum? “His shoe came off. He’s got big feet. To get a big shoe on a big foot, sometimes it takes time.”
The way you guys end the game isn’t how you always start the game. What’s the deal? “I think it’s a little bit of both. I think both units, offensively and defensively … their respective coaches do a tremendous job of gathering information during possessions during the first half and coming in there as a group and each other’s room, taking some things out, putting some things in, making some adjustments, and relaying them to the kids so they can understand it. We [as coaches] can understand it all we want, but it doesn’t do us any good. If they understand it, then you’re going to make progress.”
When Denard struggles in the passing game, do you actively give him more carries to get him into rhythm? “I don’t know if we do that. I think your comfort level that you always want your quarterback to have is important, because he and the center and the only two guys that will touch the ball every play. Al looked at where we were and what we needed to do, and because we have worked on both styles so much, it’s easy to revert back and forth.”
Gratuitous Video of the Week: here's Will Campbell showing men of Thor who Thor really is:
More on him later.
Formation Notes: Michigan ran a lot of nickel against ND since ND ran a ton of three- and four-wide sets; this was usually an "even" front:
IE, both sides of the line are set up essentially the same way. You can see Thomas Gordon over the slot to the bottom of the screen.
When ND went to more conventional sets it was the 4-3 under. Here's an example you might recognize:
They also did their okie thing and nickel eff it, but you know about the latter from momentarily horrifying touchdowns.
Substitution Notes: much less rotation on the defensive line this time around. Roh and Black split time at WDE. Martin was almost always the nose. Van Bergen split time between three-tech and SDE, as did Heininger. Heininger also spotted Martin at the nose when he took a breather. Washington got in for a few plays; Campbell replaced Heininger late to excellent effect. Both were three-techs.
As you can see above, it seemed like Michigan had two different packages on the line:
- Pass rush: SDE Ryan / NT Martin / 3TECH RVB / WDE Black/Roh
- Run D: SDE RVB / NT Martin / 3TECH Heininger/Campbell/Washington / WDE Black/Roh Jake Ryan and Kenny Demens went the whole way at LB. The WLB was Desmond Morgan for the first four or so drives and then Brandin Hawthorne the rest of the way. Ryan also lined up at defensive end plenty when ND went to packages with lots of wideouts.
In the secondary it was mostly Avery and Floyd with Woolfolk rotating in from time to time. Kovacs and Robinson played the whole way at safety; Thomas Gordon got all but a handful of snaps as Michigan spent most of its time in a nickel package.
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Rush||Play||Player||Yards|
|O43||1||10||Shotgun 4-wide||Nickel even||Run||N/A||Inside zone||Morgan||11|
|Morgan starts and immediately gives up a play. Wood's headed straight up the middle of the field but Demens is there, unblocked. Martin(+0.5) was momentarily doubled and then gets the inside guy to release downfield. He then sets up inside of the G. That plus Demens means Wood has to cut outside of the Martin block and inside of Roh. Morgan(-2) fails to read the play quickly enough and does not get outside to stand Wood up in the hole. Have to get here if you're unblocked. If he's there Wood has nowhere to go and this is a no gain. Instead he's late, missing an arm tackle(-1) and sending Wood into the secondary for Kovacs to tackle.|
|M46||1||10||Ace 3-wide||Nickel even||Run||N/A||Power off tackle||Morgan||5|
|Heininger at the three tech with RVB at the five, except this is an even front with Roh on the strongside. Michigan slants its line away from the play; Roh(+0.5) shoots under the TE quickly enough to bang the pulling G. He's not far enough upfield to stop him cold but does slow him up and prevent him from effectively blocking Morgan. I am not entirely sure but I think Demens may have screwed up here—usually when you see a slant like this both linebackers will flow over the top behind it. Instead Demens goes straight upfield, getting knocked out by a tackle releasing downfield. HOWEVA, Gordon is blitzing off the edge so maybe Demens is doing what he should and it's Morgan who is making the error by not getting inside to bounce the play to his force help. So I just don't know. I think this is Morgan(-0.5) because of the blitz, and he did fall off the tackle(-1), but Demens(-0.5) also comes in for a wag of the finger.|
|M41||2||5||Ace twins twin TE||4-3 under||Pass||N/A||Waggle out||Floyd?||21|
|Looks like the same slant. Roh(-1) is left unblocked on the end, sees the TE pulling across the line, and crashes down the line at said TE. He gets chucked to the inside as he releases into the route. Rees has no pressure on the corner and finds Floyd wide open for a big gainer. (Cover -2, Pressure -2, RPS -1) Either on Floyd for going deep when he had help over the top or Gordon for not getting over fast enough. I'd be guessing.|
|M20||1||10||Ace twins twin TE||4-4 under||Run||N/A||Iso||Martin||11|
|TE originally spread out before coming in as an H-back over the gap between Martin and Heininger. Both linebackers flow to to the wrong side a step as the RB takes a counter step before cutting backside. Heininger(-1) was easily kicked out of the hole and sealed. Martin(-1) is slanting, I think, and also gets blown out of the hole. Morgan(-0.5) and Demens(-0.5) both get blown up by ND OL on the second level, and Wood just shoots straight upfield. Yuck.|
|M9||1||G||Ace twins twin TE||4-4 over||Run||N/A||Yakety snap||--||0|
|M9||2||G||Shotgun 4-wide||Nickel over||Run||N/A||Quick pitch||Black||2|
|Eifert split out. Slightly, Michigan shifted towards him in case there is funny stuff. Morgan telegraphs his blitz, Rees checks. He checks to a quick pitch outside that takes advantage of that blitz(RPS -1). Black(+2) is left unblocked and starts charging up at the quarterback; on the pitch he changes direction impressively, gets out on the RB, and manages to tackle(+1) just as Wood crosses the LOS. Terrific individual play.|
|M7||3||G||Shotgun 4-wide||Okie||Pass||7||Rollout out||Gordon||7|
|Michigan sends the house; Notre Dame rolls away from the pressure and towards the out route Riddick is running on Gordon; Gordon has to set up with inside leverage and has no real chance at doing anything with this. Cover -1, RPS -1.|
|Drive Notes: Touchdown, 0-7, 9 min 1st Q.|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Rush||Play||Player||Yards|
|O17||1||10||Shotgun 4-wide||Nickel under||Pass||4||Dumpoff||Morgan?||15|
|This director is very frustrating because his shots are all super-tight. You can see literally three yards downfield. Is this zone or man? I don't know. I believe it's zone given the reactions after the dumpoff. Problem: Morgan(-2, cover -2) takes off on a drag route as if it's man, opening up this stupid dumpoff for a big gain. No pressure(-1), either. On replay, definitely zone except for Morgan.|
|O32||1||10||Shotgun 3-wide||Nickel under||Run||N/A||Pin and pull zone||Martin||-3|
|Martin(+3) gets under the blocker assigned to him and shoots into the backfield for a TFL. Roh(+1) had set up outside in good contain position, removing any chance of a bounceout. Heininger(-1) got clobbered, though it didn't matter. RPS+1 for the slant.|
|O29||2||13||Shotgun 3-wide||Nickel even||Run||N/A||Power off tackle||N/A||16|
|Kovacs and Morgan telegraph a blitz; Rees checks out of it; Michigan does not check out of their blitz. The check is a power play to the strong side of the line, where there are two Michigan defenders and four blockers with the pull. RPS -2. Hopeless. Heininger(-1) makes things worse by getting destroyed. RVB(-1) flew upfield, opening a big hole. Demens is almost triple-teamed as a result. Wood can go to either side. Gordon has to keep leverage and heads outside; Wood cuts in. Robinson(-1) comes up hard, misses the tackle, and gets lucky that Wood is forced into Floyd.|
|O45||1||10||Shotgun empty||Nickel even||Pass||4||Out||Demens||6|
|Zone blitz sends Morgan and drops Black. This gets a free run for Morgan and does see Black cover Eifert effectively, but no RPS because ND has a hot route they hit. Demens is in man on Riddick; Riddick runs an out; he was lined up way outside of Demens; all Demens can do is tackle. It is possible Gordon was supposed to be in zone here but I think it's just a tough cover for Demens as Mattison tries to confuse ND.|
|M49||2||4||Shotgun 3-wide||Nickel even||Penalty||N/A||False start||N/A||-5|
|Why does ND always have at least two linemen with full-on Viking manes? I can't think of a team more likely to have hair sticking out of their OL's helmets.|
|O46||2||9||Shotgun 4-wide||Nickel even||Pass||5||Drag||Kovacs||11|
|Washington in. Morgan(+1) blitzes and gets in clean, lighting up Rees as he throws (pressure +2), but Demens has been run off (cover -1) underneath and a short crossing route is turned up for 8 YAC. This is not Demens's fault—he actually did a great job of passing Floyd off to the safety. Kovacs(-1) is the culprit I think; two ND receivers jumped inside and he was the nearest available defender.|
|M43||1||10||Shotgun trips||Nickel even||Pass||4||Bubble screen||Demens||8|
|Gordon(+1) does a great job of avoiding a cut block and is right there; Demens(-2) is flowing from the inside. He overpursues and lets Floyd back inside of him when the two of them had him pinned for a minimal gain. (Tackling -1)|
|M35||2||2||Ace twin TE||4-3 under||Pass||6||TE In||--||13|
|Morgan and Ryan blitz and are picked up(pressure -2). Once that happens it's an easy matter to find the hole in the zone. Kovacs and Demens were the guys nearest but this is on the blitz not getting close to home.|
|M22||1||10||Shotgun empty bunch||Nickel even||Pass||4||Slant||Morgan||14|
|Morgan(-1) again telegraphs his blitz, Rees checks, Michigan does not check, and it's easy as pie to throw it where Morgan blitzed from (RPS -2.) It's a matter of picking the wide open WR. Mattison getting torn apart so far. Kovacs(-1) misses a tackle(-1), ceding another half-dozen yards.|
|M8||1||G||Ace Big||4-3 under||Run||N/A||Power off tackle||Ryan||5|
|Michigan still slanting these. Unlike Roh earlier, Ryan(-1) does not get underneath his blocker. He's kicked out. The slant isn't helping Heininger but he gets annihilated(-1). Big hole. Morgan(-0.5) gets pancaked, but he wasn't done any favors. Held down by safety help near the goal line.|
|M3||2||G||Ace Big||4-3 under||Run||N/A||Iso||Black||3|
|Same play they ran for 11 yards on the first drive. Black(-1) blown out by a double. Martin(-1) fights to the wrong side of his blocker; Morgan(-1) again goes with the counter step and again gets pancaked in the end zone. Demens(-0.5) can't do much. This is easy, yo.|
|Drive Notes: Touchdown, 0-14, 1 min 1st Q.|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Rush||Play||Player||Yards|
|M39||1||10||Shotgun trips||Nickel even||Run||N/A||Trap?||Van Bergen||2|
|Hawthorne in. G pulls around Martin(-0.5) as the C kicks him upfield. Tough job to stay disciplined there but Martin could have done better. Hawthorne shoots the gap outside and misses but does get an arm on Wood, causing him to stumble. RVB(+1.5) fought inside a double and now gets in the way, forcing a spin; Demens(+0.5) and Kovacs(+0.5) converge to thump him down.|
|M37||2||8||Shotgun 4-wide||Nickel even||Pass||5||Out||Floyd||Inc|
|Zone blitz sees both DEs drop off as the MLBs blitz and Kovacs comes from way back. Rushers get picked up and Rees has a guy wide open on an out for the first (pressure -1, cover -1, Floyd -1), but instead of throwing it at the WR he throws it in the direction of Floyd five yards deeper. That's a letoff.|
|M37||3||8||Shotgun empty||Nickel even||Pass||4||Drag||Hawthorne||Inc|
|Hawthorne(+1) sent on the same blitz Morgan was earlier, but he doesn't tip it off, getting in free right after the snap (pressure +2, RPS +1). Rees chucks it in panic. General direction of a drag that probably won't get the first down; turfed. I have a new respect for giving free rushers +1s after watching Morgan earlier.|
|Drive Notes: Punt, 0-14, 14 min 2nd Q|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Rush||Play||Player||Yards|
|O14||1||10||Shotgun trips TE||Nickel over||Pass||5||Bubble screen||Gordon||22|
|Blitz from JT Floyd in the slot and ND bubbles right at it (RPS -1). Gordon gets a chuck in press man on Riddick, then disengages as Kovacs comes up. Riddick takes Kovacs. Gordon is now alone with Floyd on the edge. Floyd smokes him(-2, tackling -1) to the outside and turns a moderate gain into 20 yards.|
|O36||1||10||Ace 3-wide||Nickel over||Run||N/A||Power off tackle||Martin||0|
|RVB(+1) stands up to a double right at the LOS. This allows Martin(+1) to read the pull and pull himself, getting into the hole. Demens attacks and gets there at about the LOS; he turns it inside but I think he got bashed out the hole and would have given up a lane if not for Martin. Black(+1) set up, chucked the DE, and dove at Gray's feet as he passed—he's actually the first guy to tackle(+1). Well done all around by the DL.|
|O36||2||10||Shotgun 4-wide||Nickel even||Pass||5||Fade||Woolfolk||Inc|
|Hawthorne as a standup DE-ish thing and Ryan as an MLB. Blitz telegraphed? I don't remember this play. Survey says... yes. Ryan blitzes, Hawthorne drops into coverage, ND picks it up. Rees wants Floyd on a fade covered by Woolfolk. Woolfolk(+2) is step for step and uses his club to knock the ball away as it arrives. Robinson(+0.5) was there to whack him, too. (Cover +2)|
|Massive coverage bailout: the one that worked. ND rolls away from pressure that doesn't exist and still lets the backside DE roar in free. Rees has a timer in his head and needs to chuck it; he does. Kovacs(+3) backs out into a zone, reads the roll and the QBs eyes, and undercuts Floyd to intercept. Only problem: Eifert is wide open in the seam for a touchdown. Um (cover +1, RPS +1). I guess. Picture paged by dnak438.|
|Drive Notes: Interception, 0-14, 11 min 2nd Q.|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Rush||Play||Player||Yards|
|O24||1||10||Shotgun trips||Nickel even||Pass||4||Screen||Black||Inc|
|Black(+2) reads the screen, gets upfield, shoots out on the running back, and tackles him as Rees turfs the ball. (RPS +1, cover +1)|
|Michigan shows the okie package on second and long; Rees checks, Michigan does nothing, and even after it's like “they called a play where they think we have no MLBs,” they still drop Mike Martin into a zone like it's third and twenty. Black did try to stunt inside and get crushed to the ground, so that's a -1. Everything else is on Mattison here. RPS -3. Little chance to defend this. I do wonder if the draw defense here was supposed to be Fitzgerald plunging down the line from outside.|
|O44||1||10||Shotgun trips||Nickel even||Pass||4||Fade||Avery||Inc (Pen 15)|
|No question about this. Avery shoves Floyd OOB on a very catchable fade (-2, cover -1).|
|M41||1||10||Shotgun trips||Nickel press||Penalty||N/A||False start||--||-5|
|I bet they all saw “Thor” on opening night.|
|M46||1||15||Shotgun trips||Okie||Pass||5||Tunnel screen||Fitzgerald||3 – 15 Pen|
|Michigan drops a couple linebackers and sends five. The blitz prevents any ND OL from getting out just because they're getting blocked, essentially, and Fitzgerald(+0.5) just has to form up; RVB(+0.5) tackles from behind. RPS +1. Thor gets a personal foul.|
|Floyd on Floyd action. Floyd(+1, cover +1) has excellent, blanketing coverage on Floyd but the back shoulder throw is perfect and his hand is a half-second late. Floyd stabs a foot down and Floyd can't do much other than ride him out of bounds. Sometimes you just have to tip your hat. This is one of those times. That is hard. That is why Floyd (not our Floyd) is going to be rich in about nine months.|
|M36||3||In||Goal line||4-3 under||Run||N/A||Dive||Hawthorne||In|
|Linemen just fall all over each other, leaving Hawthorne(+1) to leap over the pile with beautiful timing and nail Wood in the backfield. Could be a stop but Wood does burrow for the first. Refs got this spot on the money.|
|M36||1||10||Ace twin TE||4-3 under||Run||N/A||Power off tackle||Heininger||5|
|Heininger(-2) crushed out of the hole. He has to take the double there; he does not. He gets sealed instantly and in one motion the T is out on Hawthorne. LBs have blockers in their faces. Demens(+0.5) sets up well and gets Wood to commit inside, then pops off and falls backwards and causes Wood to fall; Hawthorne(+0.5) had taken the hit and gotten playside. Not heroic work but they held this down without involving a safety despite both getting blocked.|
|M31||2||5||Ace trip TE||Base 3-4?||Run||N/A||Down G pitch||Demens||3|
|Ryan(-2) is on the edge against three freaking tight ends and doesn't try to not get sealed. He's not even slanting. He rushes straight upfield, gets sealed by Eifert, and doesn't delay the puller. Hawthorne(-0.5) is on the LOS inside of Ryan and meets the same fate. Hard to blame him. Floyd sets up outside to force it back; Demens(+2, tackling +1) is running his ass off to beat the blocker coming out on him and catch Wood. He does just as Wood tries to break outside of Kovacs(+0.5), who had taken on the last TE and gotten outside all textbook and stuff.|
|M28||3||2||Shotgun 3-wide||4-3 under||Penalty||N/A||Delay of game||--||-5|
|Brian Kelly thinks he's coaching basketball yo.|
|M33||3||7||Shotgun 3-wide||Nickel stack||Pass||4||Out||Avery||15|
|Avery on Floyd; I think Floyd pushes off here to get separation but there is no call. Avery -1, cover -1.|
|M18||1||10||Shotgun 2TE twins||4-3 under||Pass||5||Rollout dumb||Floyd||Int|
|Rees goes “FLOYDFLOYDFLOYD” and throws it to him despite Floyd having three defenders around him, one directly in front of him. JT Floyd(+2, cover +2) picks it off.|
|Drive Notes: Interception, 7-14, 5 min 2nd Q|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Rush||Play||Player||Yards|
|50||1||10||Shotgun 3-wide||Nickel even||Pass||4||Slant||Avery||12|
|Play action fake with a pull does suck Hawthorne(-0.5) out of position, but it's hard to not suck up given what's been happening. The bigger problem is Avery(-1.5, cover -1, tackling -1), who has no other threats than Floyd and would be fine if he just tackled on the catch here. He doesn't; Floyd breaks the tackle and turns five yards into a first down.|
|M38||1||10||Ace twins twin TE||Nickel even||Run||N/A||Down G pitch||Black||3|
|Black(+1) slants inside the TE assigned to him, getting into the backfield. He draws one of the pulling OL and cuts off the outside, forcing a cutback. The TE peels back to try to deal with him and then thinks better of it. Wood cuts inside the Black engagement and would be in trouble if Heininger(-1) hadn't been completely handled by one-on-one blocking. If Heininger is just okay here this is no gain. Instead he's crushed, leaving a gap. Hawthorne(-0.5) was cut as well but gets up crazy fast; Demens(+1) avoided his cut and fills to thump.|
|M35||2||7||Ace twins twin TE||4-3 under||Run||N/A||Iso||Heininger||2|
|Good fightback from Heiniger(+1.5) here. He takes a one on one block and gets playside. This is definitely not supposed to happen since the H-back is running straight at this gap. Heininger is there; H-back runs into him. He holds. Running back now hits the pile; he starts to yield a little bit. He's still taken on two blockers and forced a bounce. An unblocked Demens(+0.5) is in the right place to lead the tacklers.|
|Same thing that went for 20 on an earlier drive, with Martin backing out into a zone as ND runs a draw right at it. It's even worse this time as there is no one in the center of the field not dropping into a zone. RPS -3.|
|M21||1||10||Ace twin TE||4-3 under||Pass||4||Rollout throwaway||--||Inc|
|Good coverage(+2) causes Rees to throw it away as he nears the sideline.|
|M21||2||10||Shotgun 4-wide||Okie||Pass||5||Fade||Van Bergen||Inc|
|They back out the MLBs this time and send the DL plus the OLBs. RVB(+1, pressure +2, RPS +2) is instantly past the G assigned to him because of a poor pickup; Rees chucks a ball off his back foot that's not catchable. Eifert gives it a go, though.|
|M21||3||10||Shotgun trips||Nickel even||Pass||4||Slant||Gordon||Inc|
|Gordon(+2, cover +1) gets an excellent jam at the line and disrupts the route. I think this was destined for the slot but it could have been Floyd. Throw was less awful if it was the slot.|
|Drive Notes: FG(38), 7-17, 1 min 2nd Q. Greg Mattison's getting a little fancy here.|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Rush||Play||Player||Yards|
|O20||1||10||Ace twin TE||4-3 over||Run||N/A||Inside zone||Roh||4|
|Heininger out, Campbell in. I think Mattison knows Heininger has been getting manhandled. ND tries to run at Campbell; his(+0.5) response to a double is to burrow his way straight upfield. This does occupy two blockers for the duration of the play but I'm a little worried he went too upfield and didn't go down the line. This is still better than Heininger's output. Roh(+0.5) is also doubled and manages to split it after giving ground. This forces the RB outside, where Hawthorne can flow; Roh couldn't tackle but his penetration robbed the G of any ability to block Hawthorne. Would like Hawthorne to get to the hole quicker to hold this down a bit.|
|O24||2||6||Shotgun 2TE||4-3 under||Pass||4||Quick out||Floyd||7|
|Martin(+1, pressure +1) beats the center and threatens Rees up the middle. Doesn't matter because Floyd(-1, cover -1) is in the parking lot on a quick out for Floyd. Way too easy.|
|O31||1||10||Ace 3-wide||4-3 under||Run||N/A||Iso||Martin||19|
|TE as H-back and lead blocker. Martin(-2) is clubbed, getting hit by a single momentary double and then sealed away by one guy after the G releases downfield. RVB(-2) gets upfield and is pancaked. Linebackers really have no chance here. Floyd(-1, tackling -1) is in overhang mode; he misses a tackle near ten yards and Wood ends up picking up 10 more.|
|50||1||10||Ace 2TE twins||4-3 over||Penalty||N/A||False start||--||-5|
|I bet they're all drummers, too.|
|O45||1||15||Shotgun trips||Nickel even||Pass||N/A||Bubble screen||--||8|
|Tough to defend as aligned(RPS -1), with Woolfolk bailing out and Gordon trying to hold his ground at about five yards getting blocked. Gordon does force it back inside, where Demens and MRobinson tackle.|
|M47||2||7||Shotgun 2TE||4-3 under||Pass||5||Hitch||Floyd||6|
|Heininger back in; they've flipped him to SDE with RVB at three tech. Hawthorne blitzes and is picked up (pressure -1); Rees hits Floyd on a hitch near the sticks in front of Floyd. Floyd probably gets the first down if he doesn't fall, but he does fall, so he doesn't. (Cover -1)|
|M41||3||1||Ace twin TE||6-2 Bear||Run||N/A||Iso||Van Bergen||-2|
|Bear? Why the hell not. This is a line of six dudes across ND's line with the DL shifted one way and two linebackers lined up above SDE Heininger. Demens is the lone LB; Kovacs also ends up in the box at LB depth as Eifert motions in. RVB(+2) blows through his blocker and is into the backfield; Ryan(+1) blitzed untouched from the outside; Martin(+1) avoided a submarine block from the center and leapt into the path of Eifert up the middle, allowing Demens(+0.5) to charge through the gap unmolested and finish off the tackle RVB and Ryan started. RPS +3; big big stop.|
|Drive Notes: Punt, 7-17, 10 min 3rd Q|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Rush||Play||Player||Yards|
|O32||1||10||Shotgun trips TE||Nickel even||Run||N/A||Counter||Ryan||38|
|Man, we suck at counters. This one is tough as Michigan has just six in the box against six blockers. Ryan(-2) plunges down the line and get annihilated by the RT. He is gone, he is being shoved into Martin, game over for the DL. Hawthorne(-1) sucked up to the LOS and gave the C a great angle to block him. I would be interested to know why Mattison doesn't key on OL pulls. There's got to be a reason. Anyway, with Hawthorne and the DL out of the picture, Kenny Demens(+1) is one on one with the pulling OL in acres of space. He sets up inside, realizes Gray is going outside of him, gets out to force a slow-down and cut-back, then gets plowed. Valiant effort there. Marvin Robinson(-3) then turns ten yards into many more by losing leverage. Kovacs had this covered at the sticks if Gray does not get outside.|
|M30||1||10||Ace 2TE tight||4-4 under||Run||N/A||Inside zone||Ryan||0|
|Excellent work by the entire DL here, as they flow down the line in textbook fashion. Martin(+1) controls the center and drives him back, flowing. Campbell(+1) takes a double but stays playside of it and occupies both blockers for the whole play. Ryan(+2) dominates the TE assigned to him, not only driving him into the backfield two yards but shoving him into Martin's lineman; Woods has nowhere to go except up his blockers' backs. RVB took a double too; he gave ground but it didn't matter. Wood then puts the ball on the turf; Campbell recovers.|
|Drive Notes: Fumble, 7-17, 7 min 3rd Q|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Rush||Play||Player||Yards|
|O29||1||10||Shotgun 3-wide||Nickel even||Run||N/A||Power off tackle||MRobinson||24|
|Simply untenable, this. RVB(-2) shoots straight upfield. He does bump a puller and delay him, but he falls to the ground and is useless. Martin is on the backside and wasn't going to be able to do much but now he's totally out of the play. Black(-2) locks in with Eifert and then makes a critical error: instead of bulling him back and stringing the play out he attempts to disengage. He gets playside but gives up two yards of penetration and gets way too far outside in the process, now getting caught up with Hawthorne. Then he falls. Big cutback lane. Robinson(-2, tackling -2) whiffs so bad he hardly slows Wood, turning a nice gain into a huge one.|
|M47||1||10||Shotgun trips TE||Nickel under||Run||N/A||Inside zone||Black||0|
|Floyd(-1) telegraphs blitz, no check. ND runs away from it and might have a big gainer if they can get the edge sealed. This time Black(+2) stands up, chucks Eifert inside of him, and pops up on the edge a yard into the backfield, forcing a cutback. Martin(+0.5) has flowed down the line to cut off the immediate cutback and Demens(+0.5) comes in from behind to tackle.|
|Michigan sends Ryan and Kovacs from the outside while dropping Demens and Hawthorne back to linebacker depth. This initially fools the LT, who ends up having to chase Demens(+1) as he scrapes to the hole to tackle. Demens ends up missing the tackle because the OL blocks him in the back (refs -1); Martin(+0.5) set up well and came off a block to finish the tackle. Should have been two yards or negative ten, but that's life. RPS +1|
|M42||3||5||Shotgun trips TE||Nickel even||Pass||5||Rollout out||Floyd||16|
|Floyd(-2, cover -2) gets killed on this little rollout out. Giving up the first down is one thing. Getting so far out of position on a five yard out that you can't even miss a tackle until the safety comes up and the WR has to delay is another. Easy.|
|M26||1||10||Shotgun 3-wide||Nickel even||Run||N/A||Inside zone||Van Bergen||-4 (Pen +10)|
|M waits to tip its blitz until after the check, getting Gordon(+1, RPS +2) in off the edge on the playside. Michigan slants under the zone blocking and RVB(+1) gets through to tackle immediately on the cutback Gordon forces. Heininger(-1) erases all of that by yanking an ND OL by the jersey as he's cut to the ground.|
|M16||1||10||Shotgun 3-wide||Nickel even||Pass||5||Fade||Floyd||Inc|
|Floyd(+2, cover +2) in press here and stays step-for-step with Floyd on the fade, breaking it up as it arrives. Fade is not well thrown, which helps.|
|M16||2||10||Shotgun 3-wide||3-3-5 two deep||Run||N/A||Inside zone||Demens||1|
|Three man line with Ryan as a Crable DT; they send him and Demens at the same gap. ND runs away from it. Trouble? Maybe. Martin(+0.5) and Heininger(+0.5) flow away from the blitz against single blocking and hold up; Demens(+2) keeps his head up, reads the play, gets into his blocker, and then releases down the line to tackle.|
|M15||3||9||Shotgun empty||3-3-5 two deep||Pass||N/A||Drag||Van Slyke||15|
|Three man rush leaves Rees all day(pressure -1) but does force a checkdown. Slot WR is running in front of Van Slyke(-2, tackling -1), who's too far behind to do anything but make a desperation dive that does not bring the WR down. That's the first down; the TD is mostly due to a stellar block by an ND WR that cut off three guys.|
|Drive Notes: Touchdown, 7-24, 2 min 3rd Q|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Rush||Play||Player||Yards|
|O10||1||10||Shotgun 4-wide||Nickel even||Pass||5||TE out||Hawthorne||Inc|
|Herbstreit is now circling our telegraphed blitzes. Rees is still checking out of plays. This time it's Kovacs rolling up and blitzing; ND rolls away from it. Rees seems to have a WR open but goes to Eifert, who is blanketed by Hawthorne(+2, cover +2). Hawthorne comes over the top to break it up. Impressive.|
|O10||2||10||Ace twin TE||4-3 under||Run||N/A||Power off tackle||Hawthorne||8|
|Van Bergen(-1) is battered out of the hole but Ryan(+0.5) sets up right this time and Demens(+0.5) scrapes to hit the lead DE at the LOS. Narrow gap for the tailback that should be filled by Hawthorne(-1) but isn't because he shuffled to the LOS instead of flowing over the top and allowed the C to block him. Picture paged.|
|O18||3||2||Ace 3-wide||4-3 under||Run||N/A||Power off tackle||Hawthorne||-2|
|Same play. Michigan sends Hawthorne on a blitz this time. RVB(+2) shoots upfield, getting his blocker in trouble and picking off a pulling G. He is surging through both these guys two yards in the backfield as Wood approaches. Ryan(+0.5) again sets up well on the edge. Wood is going to try to bounce, which will test Ryan severely because Demens(-0.5) is not in position to bounce with him. Moot, though, as Hawthorne(+2) has zipped through the crack provided by the pulling G and tackles for loss. RPS +2.|
|Drive Notes: Punt, 14-24, 13 4th Q|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Rush||Play||Player||Yards|
|O40||1||10||Shotgun 3-wide||Nickel even||Pass||4||PA TE drag||Hawthorne||5|
|Rees goes play action and then finds his tight end for a moderate gain. Hawthorne tackles immediately. Pressure was getting-there-ish, coverage was okay, throw could have been better... this is average all around.|
|O45||2||5||Ace||4-3 under||Run||N/A||Inside zone||Campbell||2 (Pen -10)|
|Campbell(+1!) bowls over the backside G. RVB(+1) has cut through his blocking on the frontside, which forces a cutback. Campbell might have as shot at a TFL but is held, allowing the RB past; Demens(+1) reads and slices through a gap to make an ankle tackle as Wood gets to the LOS. Black(-1) got blown up and pancaked by Eifert on the backside, which is why this became dangerous.|
|O35||2||15||Shotgun 4-wide||Nickel even||Pass||3||Tunnel screen||Black||0|
|Hawthorne sent; Black drops off. Think Rees puts this too far outside but Black(+2) takes advantage. He's chucking a TE on his drop who turns into his blocker; Black shucks him and tackles Floyd at the line. (RPS +1, tackling +1)|
|O35||3||15||Shotgun trips||Nickel even||Pass||4||TE post||--||21|
|No pressure(-1) on a four man rush allows Rees to step up and sling it in a very small gap between Hawthorne and Demens(+1); this is good coverage(+1) that Rees beats with a fantastic throw. Demens was right there, man.|
|M43||1||10||Shotgun trips||Nickel spread||Run||N/A||Inside zone||Gordon||2|
|Hawthorne split out in man and I think this baits ND since it looks like Demens is the only LB. On the snap, Gordon blitzes and the line slants. RVB(+0.5) gets some penetration and Wood cuts back. Gordon(+0.5) is there to contain; Demens(-0.5) gets too far outside and doesn't provide a thump to hold this to one yard. RPS +1|
|M41||2||8||Shotgun 3-wide||Nickel even||Pass||5||Slant||Ryan||11|
|ND is taking a long time to get their plays called and M takes advantage, sending Gordon and Demens and dropping off Ryan. This is almost deadly. Rees hurries his throw and it's right at the zone Ryan(-1, cover -1) is dropping into except he's too far into the flat, so instead of going right to him it passes just by his outstretched hand. He drops properly and we could be talking pick six. (RPS +2)|
|M30||1||10||Shotgun trips TE||3-3-5 two deep||Pass||5||Slant||Woolfolk||8|
|ND runs double slants and Woolfolk(-1) is beaten to the inside; he does tackle immediately. (Cover -1)|
|M22||2||2||Shotgun 3-wide||Nickel even||Pass||5||Fade||Avery||Inc (Pen 15)|
|Kovacs rolls up; check. They take advantage of the man to man to take a shot at the endzone. Avery(+1, cover +1) is right in the WR's face as the ball comes in; it's low and to the outside and Avery can't do anything about the futile one-handed stab the WR makes, but it's a futile one-handed stab. Avery is hit with a terrible PI flag (refs -1)|
|M7||1||G||Ace twins twin TE||4-3 under||Pass||6||DERP||DERP||DERP|
|DERP. Michigan had blitzed and gotten Black(+1, pressure +1, RPS +1) in Rees's face so if this goes forward it's almost certainly getting batted anyway.|
|Drive Notes: DERP, 21-24, 6 min 4th Q|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Rush||Play||Player||Yards|
|M20||1||10||Ace twins||4-3 under||Run||N/A||Inside zone||Campbell?||3|
|Campbell does okay with a double but only okay and starts getting shoved back. ND RT releases downfield into... no one. Weird. I guess I have to give Campbell +0.5 since one of his guys was probably supposed to get Hawthorne. Hawthorne is now unblocked so he is headed to the frontside gap; Wood cuts behind. Demens(+0.5) and RVB(+0.5) combine to tackle.|
|M23||2||7||Shotgun 3-wide||4-3 under||Pass||4||Out||Woolfolk||6|
|No pressure(-1); easy throw for Rees as Woolfolk is in man. No minus here since it's a six yard completion with an instant tackle. That's kind of a win for the cornerback.|
|M29||3||1||Ace trips TE||6-2 Bear||Run||N/A||Inside zone||Ryan||-2|
|Credit could go to either Ryan or Campbell. Campbell(+2) destroys the RT. He gets under him and pancakes the dude. He dead. This constricts the hole and picks off the pulling TE. Wood has to take it inside slightly, where Ryan(+2) blazed past the other tackle on an outside blitz and took a perfect angle to Flying Squirrel Tackle Wood; Demens(+0.5) was there to clean up if necessary. Either Ryan or Campbell was enough to stuff this. Both and you look dominant. (RPS +3)|
|Drive Notes: Punt, 21-24, 2 min 4th Q|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Rush||Play||Player||Yards|
|O39||1||10||Shotgun empty||Nickel even||Pass||5||Fade||Floyd||Inc (Pen 15)|
|Hawthorne(+1, pressure +1) gets a free run at Rees so he chucks it to Floyd, Floyd(-2, cover -2) is beaten instantly and starts yanking the jersey in a desperate bid to not be an instant goat.|
|M46||1||10||Shotgun empty||Nickel even||Pass||3||TE In||Demens||12|
|All day (pressure -2) on a three man rush; Rees patiently waits until he finds Eifert for a first down. Demens right there to tackle.|
|M34||1||10||Shotgun trips||Nickel even||Pass||3||Rollout out||--||5|
|No pressure on the roll but lots of coverage(+1) in the area because of the extra defender means Rees has to check down for a few yards.|
|Miscommunication between QB and receiver means pass is nowhere near anyone. Blitz was just getting home.|
|M29||3||5||Shotgun trips||Nickel eff it||Pass||3||Seam||MRobinson?||29|
|This has to be a bust by someone but it's also hugely risky in an area of the field where you have another ten yards before you can really start bringing the heat. It must be Robinson(-2), but this is such a ridiculously hard thing to ask this kid to do that an RPS -3 is warranted. Picture paged by dnak438.|
|Drive Notes: Touchdown, 28-31, 30 sec 4th Q|
So how was that?
I don't know, man.
I sentence you to death!
I'm already a condemned man.
I sentence your face to death!
Great. So Michigan gave up 31 points and 513 yards on Saturday. They acquired four turnovers, only two of which could plausibly be declared forced—the two fumbles were just ND players dropping the ball—and one of the plausibly forced also featured a hand-wavingly open coverage bust. Without Notre Dame literally handing the ball to Michigan they likely score between 37 and 45 points. Yeesh.
There is one major mitigating factor: drives. Notre Dame had 13. That's a lot, even more than last year's opponents averaged (12.4) during a time when every other play was a long touchdown. It's still tough to be encouraged when the opponent threw for 8.1 YPA and ran for 6 YPC.
But Notre Dame's offense is really good!
This I buy. Eifert and Floyd are a hell of a receiving combo, their line consists entirely of veterans who Michigan would have loved to have, Brian Kelly is an established offensive super genius, and I love Cierre Wood. If Rees ever stops turning the ball over they could rack up some silly numbers. Big if given Rees's tunnel vision for Floyd, granted.
A quick glance at the schedule suggests the only offense that looks anywhere near as talented is at—ugh—Michigan State. If your line coming out of this game is "this is the most talented offense we'll face," I'm inclined to agree given the dodgy nature of the State offensive line.
And we got a lot better late!
Also true, but first let's get some context, let's get—
He does make an appearance.
Will Campbell chart.
SAY IT LIKE YOU MEAN IT
|Van Bergen||11||6||5||Two huge plays on third and short pull him above average.|
|Martin||9||4.5||4.5||Had one trademark slash for TFL, was otherwise kinda eh.|
|Heininger||2||8||-6||Consistently blown up by single blocking.|
|Black||11||5||6||Made a lot of plays on the edge.|
|Campbell||5||-||5||Please be real.|
|TOTAL||40||24.5||15.5||Decent but the "pressure" metric below is a downer.|
|Demens||13||4.5||8.5||Twelve tackles and few errors.|
|Ryan||6||6||0||Had some trouble holding up on the edge when asked to slant|
|Fitzgerald||0.5||-||0.5||About two plays.|
|Hawthorne||6.5||4||2.5||Alternated nice plays, coverage, with slow reads.|
|Morgan||1||7||-6||Yanked. Back problem time?|
|TOTAL||27||21.5||5.5||Can Hawthorne hold up?|
|Floyd||5||8||-3||Good PBUs deep, couldn't keep on the radar underneath|
|Avery||1||4.5||-3.5||Struggled, but PI unfair.|
|Kovacs||4||2||2||Less explosive day, rarely blitzed, but didn't get beat.|
|T. Gordon||4.5||2||2.5||I like him.|
|Robinson||0.5||8||-7.5||Lost leverage twice, blew deep coverage twice.|
|TOTAL||17||25.5||-8.5||FS play killing them.|
|Pressure||7||13||-6||Front four not getting anywhere.|
|Coverage||17||18||-1||Good deep in press man.|
|Tackling||4||10||-6||Very poor day.|
|RPS||22||18||4||Big recovery late with third and short stops worth +8.|
The defensive line generally emerged positive but throw in that pressure metric and it's a below-average day. No one is getting to the quarterback. Their big positives came when ND could not pick up third and short.
I struggled with what to do with plays like the Kovacs interception, on which I gave Kovacs a big plus and Mattison/coverage a small one. (Given Rees's rolling out the TE throw would have been tough.) The surprising net result: a positive RPS day after a lot of big minuses. That is due in large part to Mattison bringing out blitzes that stoned Notre Dame on third and short three times. Those are critical turning points that, according to the Mathlete, swung Michigan's run defense from –4 points above normal (PAN) in the first half to +4 in the second.
Would you like to debate the semantics of the word "sound"?
There's been some pushback (at BWS and also on twitter) on my declaration the defense is not "sound" after pointing out the various ways in which Mattison plus Michigan's inexperience yield a bunch of holes in the D. Some of this is my fault since I did not make it clear that when I was describing something as unsound it was the defense as a whole, not necessarily any individual play. I say this because of plays like this:
Is this a massive missed assignment that leaves essentially no one in the middle of the field? I suppose that's possible, but it doesn't sound like it:
Longer runs when Mike Martin dropped into coverage. How do you protect the middle of field? “The same blitzes that hit the quarterback from western -- [Notre Dame] obviously saw that and didn’t want that pressure to come at them, so what they did was check to a run whenever they saw that look. We have defenses that look exactly the same that are run defenses, and it’s the same thing. I called the pressure thinking it was pass, and in the back of my mind, I’m thinking I should have called the pressure for the run because maybe they’re going to do that, and sure enough they did do it. And the next one they ran it on third-and-seven. If a team’s going to run it on third-and-seven, you aren’t ever going to pressure if you’re worried about it. And some of the overloads on both sides -- they aren’t great run defenses.”
Sometimes Mattison runs sucky run defenses on second and ten. Sometimes he calls plays where there's no one deeper than five yards and would like a true sophomore in his first extended playing time to cover not only the deep middle but a seam route he's not even looking at. Sometimes he asks the WLB to run hash-to-hash with his back towards the QB and then do something about a seven-yard hitch. Are these plays sound? Maybe some of them are… on paper. In practice the kinds of zone blitzing Mattison uses give certain defenders massively difficult tasks.
Is that sound? Yes, technically, but only technically.
I don't have a problem with this, by the way, since it's the equivalent of taking over Michigan's 2008 offense. Do whatever you want. Caviar dreams appreciated.
Do we have a weakside linebacker?
I think we might. Desmond Morgan got a shot and looked like a true freshman. He tipped his blitzes, failed to scrape to the hole despite being unblocked, and had at least one instance in which he did the "I'm in man, everyone else is in zone" thing we saw too frequently last year and from Herron in the opener. Sad fugee faces.
Then Hawthorne came in, and while he had his errors he also flashed impressive coverage skills…
…and the ability to Ian Gold his way into the opponent's backfield:
[update: wrong video. fixed.]
The sample size is small but in retrospect that practice where everyone freaked out because Campbell wasn't starting, then breathed a sigh of relief because Brandin Hawthorne was in there at WLB so it couldn't have actually been the first team defense, was prescient. Hawthorne leapt to the top of the depth chart in the aftermath of his performance and will likely stick there until Northwestern, Michigan State, and Iowa test him down the road.
Do we have a three tech?
Come on, baby. It eventually became clear to Michigan's coaches that Will Heininger was a problem on the interior and they started rotating other options into the game. Quinton Washington got a few snaps and didn't do anything of note. Will Campbell, though, not only features in the above Gratuitous Video but a couple other instances where he all but threw Notre Dame offensive linemen into the ballcarrier. Here he's held!
By the end of the game he'd racked up a +5 with no minuses. This came a week after WMU lit him up and he got promptly yanked.
What changed? Michigan's scheme probably helped. Against WMU they ran a lot of three-man lines with a nose tackle and a couple ends. Against ND it was all four-man lines in which Campbell was the three-tech. That makes him harder to double and apparently allows him to chuck a three-hundred pound redshirt senior like he's Sam McGuffie.
This almost can't be real, so let's say it's not. Likely scenario: Campbell is making some progress but needs to be constantly reminded of his technique, applied in limited situations in which he can succeed, and gets tired really quickly.
Do we have a free safety?
No. Best hope there is for one of the corners to take over at nickelback and get Thomas Gordon back there.
Do we have a weakside defensive end?
Maybe, but it's not the one people expected. Jibreel Black didn't get any quarterback pressure on his own but he still racked up a nice day thanks to athletic plays like this:
He's chucking tight ends out of his face and holding up on the edge (usually) and may have passed Roh. Now about that pass rush…
Kenny Demens was probably Michigan's best defender on the day, and when Campbell and Hawthorne's powers combined on the final four drives Notre Dame averaged 3.3 YPC on twelve attempts.
Marvin Robinson lost leverage frequently and busted the final TD. Anyone covering Floyd on anything but a fly route was helpless, but that can't really be held against them. Morgan and Heininger were poor before being lifted.
What does it mean for Eastern Michigan and the future?
The next three weeks will be spent consolidating a starting position for Hawthorne, working out what Campbell's role can be, working on reducing the number of busts, and hopefully finding someone to play free safety. IME this has to be Thomas Gordon, so look for Blake Countess to begin rotating in as a nickelback so Michigan can develop the corner depth they'll want to keep Gordon at safety full time.
They could look okay by the end of that period. I'm extremely worried about the pass rush from the front four, though. I assumed that would be a strength and it has not been anything close. If they don't get more they'll be totally reliant on wacky blitz packages Michigan's transitioning defense clearly isn't doing a great job of executing. That will make for a rollercoaster.
Brandon Herron picked up a lot of minuses yesterday but it could easily have been Kenny Demens if he was the guy tasked with hauling ass to a far, far away zone coverage instead of making Alex Carder spit blood. He was given a tough job.
But he didn't execute that tough job, and we remain a results-based charting service. The good news is that he did get better at not executing his tough job. If you're looking for evidence that this coaching staff is better than the last one at teaching people how not to be terrible defensive players, here's some hope for you.
I found two plays that were exact replicas of each other. It's third down on one hash in both. WMU is in a four-wide shotgun while Michigan deploys its Okie package. Michigan will send wide-side blitzers and Brandon Herron will be directed to drop into a zone on the other hash—IE, run halfway across the field. WMU completes both passes, but Herron gets better.
Play The First
You are focused entirely on Herron, who is on the near hash in front of Demens, threatening blitz:
On the snap Heron pivots as Demens comes; RVB drops in to a short zone as Michigan sends five:
Herron crosses the hash marks three yards off the LOS:
Still three yards:
Now he's maybe three and a half yards deep and not even to the midway point as Carder cocks to throw the hitch to the slot.
Two other things to note:
- Gordon got a free run at Carder but slips as he moves in for a killshot. If he doesn't, he's likely to bat the pass or sack Carder.
- RVB is totally cutting off the other inside hitch, though his back is to the QB.
As the ball goes over Herron's head he's four or five yards deep, still not to the other hash, and not facing the quarterback:
Play The Second
This is going to be the exact same play by both teams. WMU runs the same all-hitch; Michigan runs the same zone blitz behind it. It's third and four on WMU's first drive of the second half. Herron is below the bottom hash this time.
As the snap reaches the QB Herron is pivoting…
…and on step two he's already got a yard of depth:
By the time the WR cuts off the route he's at the spot he was when the ball went over his head last time:
Important: this hitch is seven yards and the previous one was ten. The extra two steps the WR would take to get to the depth on the previous play would also get Herron all the way to the hash, whereupon he could give that WR the business. He's closer and a bit deeper earlier in the play.
You can see the improvement in the zone drop in the next frame, when the ball is halfway to the WR. Herron is right there:
Unfortunately he's had to run hash to hash with his back to the QB and never turns around.
First down again.
A primary disadvantage of zone blitzing is having to haul ass so hard you can't look at the QB. You can see this in RVB's drops both times, too: when you're dropping into a surprising zone far away from where you start the play in order to facilitate QB pressure you can't just shuffle backwards like a linebacker, keeping your eyes on the QB and the receivers in front of you. To even get in the area you have to turn your back to the world and then whip around when it seems like the right time.
This seems hard. (Todd Howard is nodding his head right now.) Certainly we don't see it happening on either of the plays above. This is probably easier in the NFL when everyone's more athletic—and it may be an argument for the fastest, whippiest WLB Michigan can throw out there.
If your zone blitz works the pressure you get is often coming from the same area the open guy is. On the first play Thomas Gordon is in free. If he keeps his feet he's got a great shot at batting the ball skyward. A guy leaping at the QB may cause a delay. In a normal blitz package this might not get you much, but with Herron rotating over lateness is dangerous for an offense.
It doesn't take much for late to be late. Carder is late on the second play. You can see that on the frame where he's in his throwing motion: the WR has already settled and is looking for the ball. If he's on time the argh about Herron not turning around in the next frame is considerably reduced.
If offenses execute perfectly there's not much you can do about them, but offenses do not execute perfectly and defense is all about giving little margin for error. Michigan did a much better job of that on the second play than the first.
They're learning. This is good and bad. You could see the confusion on the first drive, the big errors that got a little smaller as the day went along. But if we're looking for evidence that this year's coaching staff is more adept at doing things other than preserving their meticulous hair, we've got a couple examples.
- Thomas Gordon had ice wrapped around his right knee.
- Will Heininger had ice wrapped around both knees.
- Junior Hemingway had no ice wrapped around either knee.
- It's probably nothing.
Thomas Gordon reminds Will Heininger of Shawn Crable.
There's ice on your knee. Is that bad? "Nah, just a little tender. It's been a long, tough camp, but it's got some ice on it as a precaution. It's not serious."
How physical has camp been? "It's something that I've never been in before. It was pretty tough. We got through it, and I think it's going to make us better as a team. We came together this camp, and I'm really proud of what we did."
You were playing nickel a while ago, and now you're starting free safety. What happened/Congratulations? "They got me in a couple places. I'm just doing what the coaches have asked me to do over the summer and camp. I've lived up to my expectations and I'm ready to play this year."
What did you do to earn the start? "I think it's more outside of football, just being more dedicated to football and being a team player. Coming along as an individual off the field has really helped me on the field."
How hard did you work this summer? "This summer, (I worked hard) with the new weight staff and Coach Wellman. They're a really dedicated staff, and they put their work in with me and all the other players, and it helped me tremendously on the field as far as size and speed. I hope it transitions to the field, and I'm waiting to see what the effects are going to be during the season."
How have you changed physically? "When the old staff left, I was at 213 (pounds), but when the new staff came in I moved it up to 217, and that's a good thing. As far as being more explosive -- as a DB, (that) is real key, and that's what they helped me do."
Mattison talked about different looks, different schemes. How complex is this defense? "It's a lot of stuff you need to get a hold of, but you just take it one play at a time and just focus and key in on what you have to do. It's not that hard. It's simple -- the same techniques. We've just been on top of it as a group and in the film room everyday as a group."
You guys feeling confident? "Yeah we're real confident. All those guys back there: Kovacs, Troy, Carvin, Courtney, all of us. We're real confident with the game plan."
Did you not feel confident last year? "I was still comfortable last year. I think last year it was more for me getting my feet wet, more of a transition (than) this year. I know what it feels like to be in a game. I'm ready to step in."
Do you feel like the game is slowing down? "Oh yeah, it's way slower now. Last year was kind of like a blur out there. Now I see what's going on, and I really got a grasp and understanding of it."
Why will this year's defense be better? "Effort to the football. That's been the key our whole camp. It's effort to the football. If you mess up a play, it's always effort to the football and getting to the football that's the big key."
Is Western's QB going to be a challenge? "Oh yeah, most definitely. I think it's Crader? That's the kid. He can put the ball in tight windows, and he's a real good quarterback, and we gotta be in our p's and q's when we go against him on Saturday."
How much will you move around pre-snap to confuse him? "There will be a lot of movement because he's a real poised quarterback, and he has experience, but we still can disguise our looks and kind of get him confused, and I think that will play to our advantage."
What do you like about the free safety position? "I just like sitting back and seeing everything. It makes me feel like i'm a ballhawk. I haven't really played that since high school, (and) when I came in with Coach Rod, I was a spur. But now I'm back there and I feel natural back there, and that's a good thing."
Will Heininger, middle, reminds Thomas Gordon of this guy.
How do you feel about rotating guys constantly on the D-line? "We've rotated in the past, but I think Coach Mattison and Coach Montgomery really believe in keeping guys fresh. There's no point in going 80% to the ball. You go 100% until you can't. That's why you gotta have depth and guys who can play, and that's why we're lucky to have that."
So is it effective? "I think it's a great feeling knowing that you have someone that you trust to come in for you so that you can go 100% all the time. I know times in the past, Brandon Graham would just go forever until he was on empty. It's good to have guys that you can rotate. I think the strength in our D-line is depth and guys who can play multiple positions."
What would it mean to be a starter on Saturday? "Those things are nice, and being from Ann Arbor, I don't think there's much more you can ask for than playing for this school, but in the end, those are coaches' decisions, and I'm just excited to play for Michigan and get wins. That's what i'm excited for more than (being a) starter."
How good will it be to have a SAM linebacker helping you out in the 4-3 under? "Without getting into scheme too much, it's fun to have a big guy out there with you who you know is going to come down and lay the wood on the power or whatever."
What do you see in Western Michigan? Western has a good O-line -- a big O-line -- so I think we're excited to go against them and get back to physical football, and test ourselves against them."
What's the deal with the fight song from Hoke's office? "Coach Hoke said that everyday between 1:30 and 2:30 we're going to have that music blaring out of his office, and that's something he chose to do, and we love it. It's great. We have the best band in the country, so why not hear it?"
Mattison said something about giving the defense enough bullets. "When he says enough bullets, he means that he's never gonna put us in a situation where we can't defend something or we don't have an answer for something. I can't get too much into scheme, but that's what he's talking about, and I'm comfortable with our package."
What does "Michigan defense" mean to Mattison? Guys flying to the ball and celebrating when you get there, celebrating with each other. I think we do get it, and you get feelings of it during practice."
What does "Michigan defense" mean to you? "David Harris flying to the ball. Charles Woodson ... Crable knocking people out. Just all those guys bringing this physical, in your face, I'm gonna beat you, that kind of stuff."
What's your first recollection of Michigan football? "Tyrone Wheatley, when I was probably five years old, that was the first player I remember, and the first game I remember was Coach Carr's first game when we beat Virginia on the last play. I was watching TV at my friend's house. Unfortunately their family's Ohio
State fans, but I went crazy in their living room and didn't know any better at the time."
What's the best part of game week? "Can I say Saturday? First play on the field, smack somebody."
If there was ever a point when Junior Hemingway passed on the injury bug, this was it.
Do you feel like you need to stay healthy this season to prove to NFL scouts you're not made out of glass? "I think that's one of my goals for this season because the past seasons I haven't been able to finish the season or (play in the) beginning."
Is this offense as explosive as last year's? "Right now we've been working day in and day out ... just growing and molding, but I think we have the potential to be real explosive this year."
Is this the offensive you envisioned you'd play in coming out of high school? " ... You know ... Yes. Coach Carr had more of a pro-style (offense), then Coach Rod came in with the spread, but I just need to be adaptable to whatever."
So is this a hybrid offense? "Denard had a really big year in the spread offense. Just keeping some of those things ... some of those (plays) stick, so why not use them?"
Let's do some Western secondary scouting. "They have a real good defense. They have a real good secondary. They have one corner, Lewis Toler. They got him as one of the best DB's on the team -- All-MAC."
Why is Odoms third on the depth chart? "Everybody has been taking a lot of reps. Everybody's been getting the same number of reps, so that doesn't affect anything."
You talk to Darryl Stonum often? "Yeah. He's my roommate." Aha. "I just gotta be like a brother to him, (tell him to) just keep his head on straight and it'll be all right. We got his back regardless. Good thing is he's still on the team."
Previously: The Story.
The existential crisis that was last year's secondary has been the subject of emo rehash and frequently-updated "Never Forget" banners in this space for going on a year now. In mid-August of 2010, Troy Woolfolk did something strange and painful to his ankle and I—and I assume a good chunk of the Michigan fanbase—decided ankle-exploding time was drankin' time. Twitter archived the results; read from the bottom.
The headache I had the next morning did not subside until Greg Mattison was hired.
Woolfolk wasn't going to cure last year's secondary issues by himself but he was going to be a decent returning starter in a secondary without any other than Jordan Kovacs. Without him this section of last year's preview started "What's the point of anything?" because everyone left was either a freshman, walk-on, or JT Floyd.
After a deceptively promising start courtesy of the vast incompetence of Zack Frazer and Notre Dame's backup quarterbacks, the doom took hold. Everyone who saw a snap last year contributed to it but if we have to pick a single moment that best represents Michigan's 2010 secondary it would have to be this:
JT Floyd picking up a –3 against Penn State
That is how Matt McGloin tears you up for 41 points on nine drives. Let's never speak of this again.
While this year's secondary won't bring back memories of Charles Woodson, improvement is almost a given. It could be vast, even. Every contributor returns save James Rogers. Woolfolk is back and healthy, and there's a small horde of freshmen.
If you believe the message board chatter about Tony Gibson's coaching acumen, Curt Mallory is a huge upgrade. My favorite apocryphal story is that when Scot Shafer resigned he told Rodriguez he would take all the blame publicly if Rodriguez admitted to Shafer that Gibson was "the worst secondary coach in the country." Shortly after his resignation, Shafer did pop up in the News stating it was all his fault. Poppycock? Probably, but you can't rule it out.
Things are looking up. They could be okay. Not okay for Michigan, but okay for a mediocre Big Ten defense. They've got a cap—like everywhere on this attrition-wracked team the depth is a little scary. The starters still include a walk-on and the talent level as measured by stars is strictly second-rate. They haven't disproved that on the field, so expectations should be kept in check.
That there are any except doom is pretty cool. Bohemian Crapsody begone.
|Corner #1||Yr.||Corner #2||Yr.|
|Troy Woolfolk||Sr.*||Courtney Avery||So.|
|JT Floyd||Jr.*||Tony Anderson||Sr.*#|
|Terrence Talbott||So.||Blake Countess||Fr.|
[* = player has taken redshirt. # = walk-on.]
Woolfolk in T-Woolf mode
Unless something very depressing happens in the near future I will not need any power tools this year. Troy Woolfolk is healthy, and while he's probably not going to be All Big Ten he's fast and steady enough to get good reviews a couple of years ago when he split time between safety and corner. There is empirical evidence for this, and how: Woolfolk's absence from the safety spot marked the point the 2009 defense went off a cliff. Michigan went from giving up 23 points per game with Woolfolk at safety to 37 without.
Those reviews have moved from potentially ignorant bloggers to the head coach. Woolfolk was one of three defensive Wolverines to be named a starter by Hoke weeks before the season (Kovacs and Martin were the others) and is conspicuously first when Hoke talks about his corners:
"(Woolfolk is) is a guy who I think, as a senior, has taken some ownership and he's done everything," Michigan coach Brady Hoke. "J.T. is fighting. Courtney Avery is fighting, Terrence Talbott, they're all fighting with each other to see who's going to be the guy."
Mattison joined in as well:
What are your impressions of Troy Woolfolk? "I'm really, really impressed with a senior -- with a new staff, with a new system -- with a guy that comes out every day and says 'I'm going to do what you tell me to do, I'm going to do it how you tell me to do it, and I'm going to try as hard as I can to do it.' ... I think his technique is improving."
That bit at the end about his improving technique is a little ominous. Woolfolk's injury and position switches may leave him vulnerable to Morgan Trent-like deficiencies. The two are similar players: very fast, rangy corners who are tough to beat on a fade but can struggle when opponents are changing direction rapidly. Woolfolk's main advantage over Trent is want-to. Trent spent his senior year raging against the new regime and saw his play suffer. Woolfolk should have no such issues.
Assuming he's healthy, another year to learn the position and get bigger should see him improve on his previous form. There is a nonzero chance his earlier performances were not representative of his ability, but the smart money is on Woolfolk being at least average. It wouldn't be a surprise to see him go at the tail end of next year's NFL draft.
|juuuuust evades the fingertips|
|jars the ball free|
|comes up too hard|
|pwns a UW guard!|
Opposite Woolfolk the battle is on between sophomore Courtney Avery and redshirt junior JT Floyd. The bet here is that Avery wins that battle. Avery drew into the starting lineup last year when Floyd exited with yet another injury and seemed to outplay the guy he was replacing.
What he brings to the table is still up in the air. He was seeing spot duty relieving Floyd and Rogers even before Floyd's injury; he also split time with Terry Talbott when Michigan went to nickel and dime packages. In that role he was erratic. He wasn't good, per se. But in the tire fire that was last year's secondary he showed a little spark. This spark allowed other portions of the tire fire to spew ever more pitch black tar smoke into the observers face, yes. The spark remained.
Here's an erratic UFR that might not mean that much because he's a corner and his playing time was highly variable:
Zone vacancy II.
|MSU||-||-||-||Didn't register. Yay?|
|Iowa||-||5.5||-5.5||The whiff, the zone vacation, etc.|
|PSU||-||-||-||DNP, I think.|
|Illinois||3.5||0.5||3||Two key tackles.|
|Purdue||3||6||-3||Gave up the big screen.|
|Wisconsin||2.5||3||-0.5||Could have been harsher on him.|
It's not great, though a big chunk of his Indiana negative might have been erroneously given. The blogosphere ferociously debated whether a particular frustrating Iowa touchdown was mostly on the head of Kenny Demens or Avery and eventually decided it was kind of both but maybe probably mostly Demens. The UFR still registers Avery as the victim.
Given the circumstances—tire fire—he did well to not get hammered on a consistent basis. Try to judge him as a freshman by comparing him to his classmates: the highly-touted Cullen Christian was a blinking "throw at me" sign whenever he was on the field. Terrance Talbott was clearly behind. His main issue was playing zone coverage too aggressively, vacating his zone as he chased receivers across the field.
His quickness and aggressiveness bodes well. This is just Bowling Green (see also: the brief blip of Ray Vinopal hope) but Michigan hasn't had a corner who's able to recover like this in a while:
Avery's two years younger than Floyd and was healthy through the entirety of last year and spring practice. He played quarterback in high school; nagging injuries scuppered plans to play him both ways as a senior. He was just learning the rudiments of playing corner when he was thrust onto the field last year. Even if Avery and Floyd were close a year ago—something that is generous to Floyd—Avery should improve much faster than his competition. Avery has never seemed to "transparently lack the speed to be a Big Ten cornerback."
With practice buzz generally talking up Avery, it would be a surprise if he was not the starter. If not now, then by the Big Ten season. He should make a big leap forward in year two.
The primary backup and presumed nickel/dimeback will be the loser of the Avery/Floyd battle. This preview presumes that will be JT Floyd. Our last glimpses of him were against Penn State, when he turned in the coverage-type substance at the top of this post and a few other howlers. Here's one:
The game before that, it was Floyd who gave up slant after slant on critical third downs against Iowa. Even before that this blog declared his coverage "only brushes up against adequate."
|Iowa||2.5||11||-8.5||Oh my god the slants.|
|PSU||3||12||-9||Awful, awful, awful.|
Floyd was so overmatched as a redshirt freshman that Rodriguez and Robinson pulled him off the field, moved Woolfolk from his duties as a fairly effective free safety, and inserted Mike Williams to disastrous effect. Yeah, that could be another symptom of the insanity that ruled decision-making on the D these last few years. But unlike Kenny Demens's debut, Floyd's return to the field didn't make anyone think his removal was a mistake.
As you can see at right, Floyd started off well enough against the incompetent quarterbacks of the nonconference schedule. A number of whiffed tackles and Mouton-like angles against UMass were cause for concern. That concern bloomed, then metastasized in the Big Ten schedule.
|Nate Montana gift|
|breaks on to break up|
|reads and attacks|
|boxed out by Rudolph|
|sucks up on drag|
|allows Willis to drag him 15 yards|
First he was amongst the many Wolverines who were too confused or too slow to keep those four-yard Indiana routes from becoming eight. While he wasn't a major factor in the Michigan State game, he imploded against Iowa and Penn State.
In context it seems like his relatively benign Michigan State game was because the Spartans had even easier prey elsewhere on the field. And maybe Michigan protected him in favor of that prey. Remember the sinfully easy 41-yard touchdown Cullen Christian yielded? Yeah:
Why the hell is Cullen Christian the guy in man coverage on a receiver running a fly route? Why isn't it Floyd? Christian(-3, cover –3, RPS -2) is smoked crispy as he bites on an out and up gives up the touchdown. Roh was about to hit Cousins but no matter.
After that it was the elevator straight down and the injury. If he gets a lot better this year it's time to take the Gibson chatter seriously.
If there are injuries, options past the top three are dicey. With Floyd and Woolfolk held out of spring practice the starting cornerbacks were Avery and Tony Anderson, who's one of many walk-ons threatening for playing time. Anderson played ahead of Cullen Christian and Terrance Talbott; Christian transferred soon after. Talbott remains.
The hope is that's motivational or Talbott can accelerate past Anderson's spot on the depth chart as his scholarship-having self surpasses Anderson's walk-on ceiling. Talbott got sporadic time last year and was okay for a freshman. He got lost on zone drops and was a weak tackler, etc. The book on him…
The book on Talbott: short, smart, agile, excellent in coverage but needs a year or two to bulk up for college.
…seemed pretty accurate. He can be a contributor down the road… if he sticks with football. There were widespread rumors Talbott was off the team, by choice, for a period this offseason.
Beyond Talbott it's true freshmen, but at least there's a horde of them. Maryland's Blake Countess arrives with the most hype and should be the biggest threat to play. (Caveat: last year Cullen Christian arrived with the most hype.) Greg Brown [recruiting profile] enrolled early and was decent in the spring game. Those two feature on the first depth chart. Talbott does not.
The rest of the n00bs: Raymon Taylor [recruiting profile] is speedy, might not have the greatest change of direction, and got a fourth star from Rivals. Delonte Hollowell [recruiting profile] is yet another smurfy Cass Tech corner who can't be put on outside receivers; he'll probably have to wait for time to open up at nickelback. He is rooting hard for Thomas Gordon to win the safety job opposite Kovacs. Finally, Tamani Carter [recruiting profile] is probably a safety; as a guy Michigan hijacked from Minnesota it will be a bad callback to Ray Vinopal if he doesn't redshirt.
That's five dudes instead of three; if it turns out some of the guys ahead of them on the depth chart can't play the one who emerges as a contributor will probably be better than Talbott and Avery were last year.
|Free Safety||Yr.||Strong Safety||Yr.|
|Jordan Kovacs||Jr.*#||Thomas Gordon||So.*|
|Marvin Robinson||So.||Carvin Johnson||So.|
[* = player has taken redshirt. # = walk-on, or former walk-on]
Is it possible that last year's Michigan defense actually one-upped the safety horror on display in 2009? Yes. It was actually worse than even the situation that gave rise to this in last year's preview:
Their [Kovacs and Mike Williams's] powers combined in episodes like "Iowa tight ends are open by 15 yards," "We don't have a guy in the deep middle on third and twenty four," and "What would Juice Williams be like if he was an unstoppable 500-foot-tall robot?"
While the situation two years ago was never good it didn't drop off a cliff until Michigan moved Troy Woolfolk to corner. First Mike Williams and then Jordan Kovacs leisurely escorted opponents into the endzone for the remainder of the year, sure. But last year Michigan started out with this…
…and then pulled a similar switch by moving Cam Gordon to spur and inserting true freshman two-star Ray Vinopal. Vinopal wasn't quite as likely to take a terrible angle. Instead he was a 160-pound object in the way of Wisconsin's various house-sized Katamaris.
Artist's impression of Vinopal tackling Montee Ball
He also took some terrible angles. Kovacs was better but still kind of eh—he has not yet found that Iowa zen where the slow small white guy is always in the right place—and Michigan never got competent play from the other spot. Survey says increase doom panic victory 2010. And there was much rejoicing.
It can't be that bad again, right? I'm seriously asking this. Please, someone tell me it can't be that bad again. If no one else is willing to stand in front of that howitzer I guess it's up to me: they can't be that bad again.
|blasted all over|
|fends off the RT|
|shoots the gap|
|instant tackle on WR|
|tackles in the backfield|
|leaking out into the flat|
|capable zone coverage|
|almost a 95-yard Rick Six|
|not so smrt|
|inexplicably slows up|
It was already a foregone conclusion, but Brady Hoke explicitly confirmed that Jordan Kovacs will start for a third year this fall. He did so almost before anyone asked. The man once mistaken for Matt Cavanaugh by Greg Robinson is on track to becoming the first four-year starter at safety since
Jamar Adams [Ed-M: Marcus Ray ('95-'98). Adams's RS Fr year was Shazor/Mundy]
Unfortunately, thanks to the defensive implosion of the last three years this does not necessarily mean he is any good. Whether he is or not is a subject of heated debate wherever Michigan's starting secondary is discussed. His freshman year he was solid as a box safety. His instincts and tackling made him an effective force player and blitzer. Then the whole Woolfolk-to-corner thing happened and he got switched into a deep half role. To say he struggled was an understatement. Some UFR comments from that portion of his freshman year:
Just can't play a deep half.
Again burned as a deep half safety.
Enormous bust #3.
So that didn't go so well.
Last year Michigan tried to move him back into the box by switching to a 3-3-5 in which he was the "bandit" (a strong safety that spends his time on or near the LOS), but then they spent a lot of time in a two deep shell that saw Kovacs's deep limitations tested again. He did not pass with flying colors but thanks to his awareness and solid tackling was not the flaming dump truck the rest of the secondary was. It's not a coincidence that the new coaching staff has been talking him up. Hoke:
"He's a guy that can get things lined up for you, and he's a tough guy, and he will go attack the football," Hoke said of the former walk-on. "He has a great deal of pride in his performance on a daily basis. He's one of those guys who has an urgency about getting to the football. I'm pleased with what he's done to this point. I would guess that he won't take a step backward."
Kovacs did improve last year, and significantly. Kovacs went from deep half dead meat to "the king of moderate-moderate-0". In three different games (ND, BGSU, and Indiana) he had plusses that exactly offset his minuses; in four more (UConn, UMass, Iowa, and Penn State) he was just above or below breaking even. He was excellent against MSU…
…may have had his best game at Michigan. He's so reliable; on a day when Michigan couldn't find a tackle it didn't want to miss, Kovacs twice dragged down TEs in space to boot MSU off the field. Only one counted, unfortunately.
…but he broke down late, picking up negative days against Illinois, Purdue, and Wisconsin.
Even so, his season was a step forward from obvious liability to "certainly not a liability." Even if he's a walk-on and even if he's obviously small and slow, he should continue improving. He'll be a little less small and slow with another year of conditioning. Being in a coherent defensive system should help put him in positions to make plays. His redshirt year was not spent on the team so he's not as close to his ceiling as your average redshirt junior.
He's not going to be Reggie Nelson. That won't keep him from becoming the first Michigan safety you only hate a little tiny bit since Jamar Adams.
Thomas Gordon: prison abs, manages to look badass on last year's D
|sends the house|
|makes a solid TFL in some space|
|get outside his blocker|
|moves up into the gap|
|not brandon harrison|
|search and destroy|
The spot next to Kovacs is second to only weakside linebacker when it comes to mystery on this year's team. One candidate is sophomore Carvin Johnson, who had a plentiful helping of hype early and started in the spring game. The other is redshirt sophomore Thomas Gordon.
These two are familiar with each other since they spent last year duking it out with each other. The twist: they were doing so at Spur; Cam Gordon had locked down free safety. This year they're swapped.
The smaller Gordon has the advantage. He played at nickelback in the spring, swapping with the WLB on passing downs and covering slot receivers. He seemed well-suited for that spot. Moving him to safety signals some discontent with the options there, and since the move practice scuttlebutt has talked him up a bit more than Johnson. When Countdown to Kickoff flagged down DBs coach Curt Mallory he described the situation at safety like this:
It starts with Jordan right now. … He's done a great job, had a good two-a-days. Then we've got some younger guys in there. Thomas Gordon, I've been really pleased with how he's improved. [pause] And then with the two other guys…
That sounds like Johnson had eleven days to displace Gordon for Western Michigan. As of publication there's been no indication that switch has happened. Gordon was just named a starter by the WMU depth chart.
Gordon's 2010 was abbreviated. He started the season thanks to an injury to Johnson and played pretty well. Particularly impressive was his ability to roar off the edge without pulling a Brandon Harrison by zooming right by the quarterback. Gordon showed a knack for coming in at the fastest possible speed that would allow him to rope the QB to the ground, which accounted for many of his plus plays last year. Here's a good one against Notre Dame:
Outside of that it was minus half points here and there for poor coverage or missed tackles. He and Johnson displayed a knack for finishing his day with around three positive points and two negative ones. The spur was not a high-impact position either way last year until Cam Gordon switched to it and promptly got himself lost on flat zones he'd never been asked to play before.
Like Avery above, Gordon's ability to not be the most spectacularly flaming tire is encouraging. He came in with bler recruiting rankings but—again like Avery—he was a high school quarterback who got a Michigan camp offer and then did not play in his high school's secondary because of injury. He's beaten out some actual scholarship players and drawn praise from the coaches for his play. When I clipped something he did last year it was usually something positive.
I have the same optimism about this Johnson/Gordon combo that I had last year. This, of course, terrifies me. It seems unnatural to think an unproven Michigan safety could be competent. I like Gordon's agility and tackling, though, and while there will be rough spots early by midseason he should settle into that midlevel safety range like Englemon or Barringer.
Carvin Johnson does not like losing.
Curt Mallory wants his safeties to be interchangeable, so this will probably be a situation like offensive line where there's a line behind the starters and whoever the top backup is will come off the bench no matter who exits. That is likely to be Carvin Johnson. Johnson shouldn't feel too down: what small tea leaves we've gotten from the defense suggest he will be the first defensive back off the bench when Michigan goes nickel—in the Saturday punting demo he was on the field plenty as Thomas Gordon played nickelback in Michigan's third down package.
His season was even more abbreviated than Gordon's due to injury. I clipped three events from him last year:
- A bad zone drop against UConn
- An Indiana touchdown on which he was playing some sort of weird ILB and got crushed.
- A nice open field tackle on Rob Henry.
#2 won't be an issue if he's playing a deep safety; #3 is an asset that was promised by his recruiting profile. One… maybe not so much. Though people talk him up Michigan felt it necessary to move Gordon back, whereupon he won the job. He's probably a little unreliable at the moment.
Past Johnson there are actual scholarship(!) players who weren't(!) in high school last year. One is Marvin Robinson [recruiting profile], he of the obligatory OMG shirtless pictures…
…and that thing he did in the spring game where he ran with a slant pattern while Mike Cox was waving at him en route to the endzone. Practice reports on Robinson alternate tales of massive here-comes-the-BOOM-type hits and equally massive touchdown-ceding errors. If you hit up that recruiting profile you'll see a lot of skepticism he can play safety; last year he spent a good chunk of his time at WLB. That may be his long term destination.
For now he's behind Kovacs. He seems to be the second guy in the pecking order; Michigan will try to avoid using him until he has that consistency thing every coach ever but especially Michigan's keep harping on.
The final scholarship guy is Josh Furman. Furman's a bit like Avery in that he was almost exclusively an offensive player in high school. (He put up some Rawls-like games in the Maryland state playoffs.) Michigan managed to redshirt him last year, so his recruiting profile is about all we know. He's reputed to be super athletic, like six FAKES out of five 40 athletic, and will have a role on special teams this year. When asked about the safeties for CTK, Mallory mentioned Kovacs, Gordon, Johnson, and Robinson but not Furman. He's still a year or two away from seeing the field on defense.