(click the little pics for previous entries)
We're talking about these seniors. And I figure now's as good a time as any to specify exactly what we're thankful for. It's not simply loyalty to an institution: that for its own sake can lead to otherwise good institutions looking the other way when their members do awful things (see: MSU, OSU, PSU, SEC). Except for an extremely abstract and debatable conceptualization of Michigan as a "good guys" program, what our seniors have done by sticking through the "least rewarding Michigan careers in decades" is not a good because of a higher universal cause it served.
Whom it served was themselves (for they did get degrees), their fellow teammates who stayed, and most importantly for our purposes, us. We thank them for this because Michigan football, for reasons we can't quite articulate without sounding at least a little bit foolish, is massively, massively important to us. And while you can debate whether Michigan's football is—relatively or absolutely—a beacon of morality, or whether caring this much about the athletic derring do's of 22-year-olds is a healthy thing, what nobody is debating is that this thing called Michigan could have become something much less than it is today, and that these seniors, these seniors, saved it.
JUNIOR-JUNIOR JUNIOR JR.
Kenneth Earl "Junior" Hemingway had his own personal angry X–hating god. Services were split on him, depending on whether leaping (tremendous) or speed (sub-mendous) was the high school scout's attribute of choice. Part of that disagreement was, as you probably guessed, because of an injury his junior season. At times in his Michigan career Junior was sidelined with a bum shoulder, sometimes mononucleosis, sometimes a pulled hamstring, sometimes a sprained ankle, sometimes a sprained knee, sometimes an "abrasion," and sometimes another bum shoulder. And sometimes…
The mono struck shortly after that tantalizing catch in '08. Hemingway wasn't allowed to go near his teammates, except his roommate Mike Williams, and even then they had to label their videogame controllers so as not to spread the Junior juju. That was Junior's low point, but the resulting medical redshirt did give him this season (he played as a depth guy in '07).
A National Honor Society member and academic achievement winner, as the story goes (I haven't confirmed this but it matches most students' experiences including mine) he earned enough credits before the end of the '08 season to qualify for "junior standing," meaning Junior spent three years (academically, chronologically, redshirt-) as a junior, which I find fascinating. Possessed of remarkable body control, when Hemingway was available he was Michigan's go-to possession receiver who got tons of YAC, some inexplicable, some simply inconceivable:
"Junior always wants to make big plays," [Denard] Robinson said. "I think he's one of the best receivers in the country."
The same year Hemingway arrived, Michigan's offense transitioned to a zone running scheme. While MANBALL likes centers with enough mass to move massive nose tackles out of the hole, the perfect zone center is a guy who's really strong but also really nimble and really smart. A zone center who can get playside of a DT who's lined up playside of him, and seal that guy off—this is called a reach block—has pretty much created an instant 6 yards for the offense. It is also the hardest block for any offensive lineman to make. I learned this in October of 2008, when somebody first said that David Molk is the best offensive player on the team.
I have a thing for short people. My wife is a generous 5'0. Desmond Howard made me a Michigan fan. When Mike Hart graduated I never thought another player could ever displace him as all-time favorite Wolverine. Because football is weird the guy who would was already on the sidelines.
At one point Molk was a 5'6, 175-lb high school freshman. Then he discovered the weight room and it was love at first lift. Whereas most of Michigan's on-hand interior guys were a terrible fit for Rich Rodriguez's spread 'n shred and Barwis's legendary weight room, this hit-loving, high-motor, high-attitude, high-academic, low-elevation lineman was born for it.
In 2008 Molk never missed a single offensive play. The ones where he reached some dude and Brandon Minor went RAGE-ing into the secondary were interspersed with plays where the whittle guy got tossed into the backfield by various Ogbu monsters and inadvertently kicking Sheridan in the dong (3&O). Molk responded by getting stronger, winning the Iron Wolverine Award as the best-conditioned Michigan lineman. By his sophomore year he was a Lombardi and Rimington candidate and Michigan's offense came alive. Then he broke a foot against EMU, Moosman moved to center, and the offense wasn't as good. Molk came back from the foot (and surgery) for the first series against Penn State and Michigan went 70 yards in the opening scoring drive that consisted almost entirely of 7-yard gains. During that drive Molk tore a ligament in his knee, God canceled Christmas, and all things that ever happened again were the bad things.
If you are concerned that Molk's impending graduation means the dong-punching will start again, this is not an unreasonable fear.
Molk did return in '10—said he: "It's been almost eleven months. Somebody is going to pay."—and was a Rimington finalist and First Team All Big Ten, leading the way for Denard Robinson's Heisman candidate year despite more injuries that Molk refused to talk about. The one we knew knocked him out in the 3rd play versus Iowa. That hurt the rest of the year, though you'd never hear that from Molk. Here's a snapshot of Molk from half-time of the Wisconsin game:
David Molk decided to pull himself up, and he wanted his teammates to come up with him. They were slumped in their stalls, ready to concede, when he stood up and marched around the room. "Hey, Michigan! Are we fucking scared? Because we're playing like it! We are all on our fucking heels. ALL OF US!
"We gotta drop our fucking nuts and MAN UP! We are NOT lying down! We are NOT scared! We will fight! We will FIGHT! And we will GET AFTER THEM!
"Everyone STAND UP! Stretch out! I mean it!"
"Get up!" Van Bergen said, and they did.
"We're gonna hit 'em in the fucking face," Molk said, "and they'll cry! They'll bleed! NOW LET'S GO!"
The offence went out and played the best half against the Badgers that Wisconsin saw all year. But the defense played the worst and Michigan lost 45-28.
Then Rodriguez was fired. Despite the accolades Molk's stature and the NFL's style didn't make a jump to the pro's likely. Not that Molk ever thought about it…
"A lot of thigns had to happen to go 3-9—not because of the coach, but because of the transition. Every guy who had a chance to leave, left. That tore our team apart. We lost starters, backups, you name it. There were only half of us left.
"We're a family. I love all you guys. No matter how much shit I give you—I love you. If we don't' stay together, we'll never make it. This program stays together. I don't want to see anyone leaving. If you do, we'll be crappy for three more years.
"I love Coad Rod. He did everything he could. But now it rests on us."
JUST JUMP ALREADY … (after the jump)
News bullets and other important items:
- Delonte Hollowell had his redshirt burned two weeks ago.
- There will be some rotation between Thomas Gordon and Troy Woolfolk vs. Illinois regardless of which one wins the spot in practice.
- Ricky Barnum still limited in practice. Hoke says he "will play," however.
Opening remarks: “I’m going to make a brief statement just regarding everything up at Penn State. One thing I can tell you, we have an utmost respect for what coach Paterno’s done on the field. It’s really a situation that’s obviously unfortunate, but it’s one that doesn’t affect us. We’ve got to worry about Michigan and the decision that we make in getting ready for this week and going to Illinois and winning a football game.
“Now practice yesterday was good. I like it. I liked how they competed. I liked how they came out, had a lot of energy, and they fought like heck.”
(more after the jump)
[No coordinator or Wednesday presser this week, fyi]
News bullets and other important things:
- We might be seeing more of Frank Clark, Brennen Beyer, and Raymon Taylor.
- Woolfolk and Barnum seem to be better.
- Lewan had an ankle injury but is expected back on Saturday.
- With Barnum back, there also will be competition at right guard (currently Patrick Omameh).
Opening remarks: “It was good in some ways to have a bye week. From a health standpoint, I think it always helps you a little bit, no matter where you’re at in the season, to get a little more rested. I think our guys did a nice job with that. I thought our practices on Tuesday, Thursday, and yesterday were at a high tempo. I think there was a lot of good teaching that went on. When you look at the fundamentals of where we need to improve: blocking, tackling, all those things that go along with football, I think that was good. We’ve got five guaranteed opportunities left that we need to focus on, and obviously this week is Purdue.”
Any new players cracking the depth chart? “Frank Clark [is] one that comes to mind. I think Blake [Countess] has been playing, but I think that helps. Raymon Taylor, when you look at it from that vantage point, that’s good for them to get a little more work in.”
When did you move on from Michigan State, and how fired up are you for Purdue? “Well, we did that on Tuesday. Tuesday was the first time we met together as a team. [We] went through the film, met after the film, went out and practiced, and moved forward.”
You put a lot of emphasis on the trenches. How are they doing by your assessment? “I would say we are not where we need to be with the consistency of how we want to play on both groups. I think there’s been times when, from an offensive standpoint, we blocked the line of scrimmage pretty well and created movement and the things that you want to do at the point of attack. And then I think there are times we haven’t blocked it as well. I would say the same thing on defense. I think Mike’s been very consistent. He’s played better and better every week when you evaluate what he’s done in the middle. I thought Will Heininger played a better football game a couple weeks ago. Maybe one of his better games. But the consistency of all four guys is something we need to keep striving for.”
Greg Brown left the team. Why, and have you ever had guys leave in the middle of the season before? “Greg is no longer part of our team, and yes. I’ve had guys leave.”
(more after the jump.)
Cannibalism is actually an improvement in their level of civilization. Add Eddie George to the long list of current and former Buckeyes bombing the program:
“It appears to me that Bollman is out there, he’s totally exposed,” George said. “It’s his offense to lose, and clearly he has no idea or concept what to do with them at this point.”
Blue Seoul described the MSU-OSU game as "fun to watch if you don't like either of these teams" and that is so true. It's more true for Ohio State, which was blithely running second and long draw plays as Michigan State run blitzed with nine guys in the box. "OY OY OY this worked with Troy Smith OY," Bollman thinks.
Crack journalism. Well done, Free Press, well done:
Michigan does not have a women's hockey program.
Time lapse. The Notre Dame game in time lapse photography:
The numbers. It's week six. FO's advanced stats maintain some preseason projections in them for another week or two, but they are increasingly based on events on the field and whoah:
Moving up four slots after bombing Minnesota probably means the formula does not yet comprehend how terrible the Gophers are—they did hang tight against USC and FEI ignores games against I-AA foes. Also it does not know just how goofy that ND game is.
Still, how are you doing, Stanford? U MAD?
Block MST3K. So this happened at the Hoover Street Rag:
In the not too distant future, Saturday A.D.
There was a guy named Jordan, not too different from you or me
He worked at Schembechler Institute, just another face in a maize jumpsuit
He did a good job cleaning up the place, but his bosses kinda liked him so they made him play in space
(Curse you GERG!)
We'll send him speedy runners, the best we can find
He'll have to stop, tackle them all as we monitor his mind
Now keep in mind he can't control when the games begin or end
He'll try to keep his sanity with the help of his D-Line friends...
D-LINE ROLL CALL!
Martin! (I'm Captain!)
Heininger! (Left side!)
Van Bergen! (Where've you been?)
Rooooooooooooooooh! (I'm sophomore!)
If you're wondering how he eats and breathes and other science facts
He's got a meal card and it's set on earth so you can really just relax
For Michigan Defense Theater 3000.
Either you have no idea what that is about or you are no longer reading this post.
Woolfolk comes in. I erroneously left Woolfolk out of the Monday game post talking about the guys who stayed through all this drama, as Rodriguez might say, but in the Michigan blogosphere there is always someone to pick up where you fell short:
And one wonders; why have the Wolverines normally injury prone players been relatively healthy this year while Woolfolk has been injured time and again? Bad Luck? Anger an old gypsy woman? Did the coaches use black magic to keep the guys healthy but the turnover was Woolfolk gets hurt instead? Did they find some D&D style Rings of Transference to transfer all injuries to Troy as long as everyone was wearing the rings? Not that I've ever played Dungeons and Dragons or anything. Like I don't have a level 17 Wizard named Tulmo Falconclaw just sitting around, so don't think that. I'm just guessing what nerds would say. FIREBALL!!
It gets even saner from there.
Etc.: Highlights from hockey's season opener. I was not aware that Michigan's first goal was not a lucky bounce but rather a beauty assist from Hyman. Also Hunwick flashes the glove. WAC "instant" replay takes 22 minutes. Cue Special K homer drooling.
News bullets and other important things:
- Troy Woolfolk is, once again, fine.
- Ricky Barnum didn't practice yesterday. He's questionable.
- Cam Gordon is practicing a lot better but still trying to work himself in.
- Brandon Herron is also fine.
- Team hasn't started tapering physicality of practices yet.
- No decision on Justice Hayes' redshirt yet.
- Hoke is being all weird about the punting situation, but Will Hagerup looks better in practice according to all observers named Angelique Chengelis.
“We got a new table. It’s rusty --” Rustic. “It’s rustic.”
Opening remarks: “We had a very good practice yesterday. I thought both sides of the ball we had a lot of energy. I thought it was physical -- how we want to be physical during the course of competing against each other. I thought that was good. I thought game-plan wise I think they responded well to those different things that you do, so it was good.”
Are you going to be less physical now than you were in camp to keep players healthy? “Not really. Not too much. Not right yet. As you get into the marathon that a season is, you may lighten up a little bit later, but this isn’t the time for us to do that.”
Was Troy Woolfolk able to do everything? “Yeah. I think I was asked Saturday, and Sunday he did everything. And he did eveything yesterday.”
Ricky Barnum? “I’m not saying he’s out, but he’s trying to take care of that ankle.” Is he practicing? “Not today. Er, not yesterday, let’s put it that way.”
How much is Cam Gordon practicing? “A lot. He’s just working himself back into it. He did some good things yesterday. I think he feels better.”
How difficult is it to stay intense and also pick up new schemes mid-season? “Well the schemes -- they’re new to a standpoint of how you want to tweak your base things to take advantage of an offense. From a defensive standpoint, most of the offenses are different, but I think when you look at a guy like Cam. He had a pretty good spring. What he did during the summer was pretty good from what I can tell. Fall camp, until he got hurt, he was fine. He’s a smart kid, so he’s in tune with everything that’s going on. Learns well. So for him it’s maybe not as difficult as it is for someone else.”
Brandon Herron? “He did everything. He’s fine. He’s 100%.”
Thomas Gordon said Will Campbell needs to get lower. What does he have to do to take that next step? “I’m glad Thomas is coaching him up. I really am. Thomas is right. Will just has to -- and this happens with a lot of guys who are big guys, and they’re big in high school where technique and fundamnetals are taught and they’re important, but it’s just one of those things where he’s got to play lower. He’s got to be more consistent with that part of it. His get-off the football is something he’s got to be conscious about and make good habits with.”
You say Mike Martin plays with great leverage. Is that what you want Will to do? “Well yeah. But Mike, when he has a bad play in there, it’s usually because his knees start to lock out and they don’t bring their feet with them. This is a good conversation because it’s D-line play and that’s what I like to talk about, so I can do this all day. But that part of it with Mike, I thought, last week he did his best job with it. Will did some real good things in there. And he’s improving.”
Craig Roh’s good performance two weeks in a roh (do you see what I did there?), is that a better sign than just seeing it for only one week/flash in the pan? “Well I think you always have to be guarded, and you always have to make sure the consistency you want from your players is there. Craig takes it very seriously when he works and he prepares from the mental side of it to the physical stuff that we do.”
Is it harder to build consistency with front four than with an individual when you’re trying to get max effort? “Well it starts with that individual pride and ownership of who that guy is. We talk about that quite often. And then there’s always a unit pride that you want to have. I always think, and we always think that kind of permeates through that unit.”
Is this team better suited to play against a mobile quarterback because of Denard? “It probably helps. I think our team, facing Denard and Devin both, and Russell Bellomy -- I mean, he’s a little slippery. So when you look at it that way, there’s some familiarity with what we do, which is kind of a great thing because of what we do with the spread part of it and out of the gun to what we do with the I-back stuff. I think it really helps us as a team.”
What do you tell your defensive linemen when you play against a running quarterback? “I think gap integrity is always important in part. The critical thing to me is you have to chase the rabbit. You have to stay after it through the whistle because you see a lot of those guys make plays on cutbacks and those kinds of things, and you have to be a part of the 11.”
Are you going to look at other Big Ten games any differently now that divisions are in place? “You know, I was asked that once before. I don’t think so. Maybe I need to go back and look at it. But within the framework of the divisional play and crossover play, I don’t see much difference.”
Depth is a concern, particularly in the trenches. How does that affect you during the year? “It affects you in practice. It does. Guys you have to bring up on both sides of the ball. Guys who might be fighting for two and three in there who are down. They have to go over, so you take a good look from your look teams. That’s one reason we do so much against each other. I started doing that when I went to Ball State because of the competitive nature of going ones on ones, twos on twos, and the speed and all those things.”
What’s the situation at nickel? Two weeks ago you had Raymon Taylor but then last game it was mostly Thomas Gordon. “We’ll use both. Raymon’s a young guy who’s learning. Thomas is more of a veteran, obviously. We’ll use both guys, though. I think they both are doing okay. Not quite what we need.”
Are there any other freshmen that haven’t played at all that still could? “Good question. I hate to count anybody out because you never know. You get guys twisted up and those kinds of things and you never know when that’s going to happen.”
Is it safe to say that Justice Hayes will redshirt? “I wouldn’t say that yet.”
What’s punting situation? “What do you guys think?” Angelique only saw a couple yesterday. “I think they were both punting well yesterday.” Would you say one has a leg up on the other? “Not yet. That’s pretty good, I like that. You’re giving him good material, Angelique.”
Are you a stats guy? Mattison said yesterday he’s not much of a stats guy. “Huh uh. Why?” Well Idunno … “No no no. I’m not asking you why. My point is … no. I mean, the only statistic that's important is the outcome and winning. So no.”
Mattison also said he wasn’t pleased with Jake Ryan down the stretch. Is that because there were some one-on-one situations he didn’t win? “Oh, I think that’s part of it. I think we have a high opinion of Jake, and at the same time we have to remember he’s a redshirt freshman. He can do some good things. He can make plays, and part of that is he runs around the field and plays with good effort. He’s always not doing exactly what Jake should do in the framework of the defense, but he has an opportunity, because he plays hard, to make up for those things. That’s contagious, a little bit, and he’s got to keep growing with everything that we do.”
Have there not been enough carries for Thomas Rawls for you to properly evaluate him? “I think we gave him a pretty good look during the course of camp. And then he got banged up a little bit. Fred does a nice job of rotating those guys through, number one, to keep them healthy. Because we do compete against each other. I think the second part of it is trying to see where guys are at.”
Are you resigned to the fact that Denard’s your lead back? “You could say that probably. But he carries the ball. I know that. But I don’t know if I’d consider him a back, personally.”
Borges said if he has two backs running for over a hundred yards combined, he can live with that. Do you agree? “Sure. Sure. I’m fine with that. And again I go back to the statistic that counts: Winning.”
9/24/2011 – Michigan 28, San Diego State 7 – 4-0
A long, long time ago now a Lloyd-Carr coached Michigan team was struggling through the 2005 season when they met Northwestern. A lot of throws to Tacopants (Jason Avant's 11-foot-tall imaginary friend) on both sides later, Michigan emerged with a 33-17 win and I embarked on one of the first of an endless procession of stat-nerd diatribes about the evils of punting.
You've probably heard it already: punting decisions have not kept pace with the increasingly offensive nature of the game, leaving coaches in a perpetual state of risk- and win-avoidance. Romer paper, Pulaski High, Mathlete chart. Etc.
In this particular Northwestern game, though, Carr went for it on fourth and five from the Northwestern 23, a decision I thought was too aggressive(!). When paired with a number of similarly aggressive calls from earlier that season, it seemed like a sea change for the old man:
In multiple cases he's made tough, correct decisions: going on fourth and goal from the one against Wisconsin, pounding it into the line twice against Michigan State, etc. Even when the strategy has backfired, he accepts the downside and persists in a more aggressive posture.
In context, the Penn State gaffe seems more like one last hit of that sweet Bombay Popsicle* snuck in-between rehab sessions than evidence of 1970s thinking taking hold. Lloyd Carr has checked himself in to the Betty Ford Center for Coaches Addicted to Low Variance. I wouldn't expect a flying-colors discharge any time soon, but he's made the first, biggest step.
*[I don't know either.]
That change lasted into the fourth quarter of that year's Ohio State game. Having acquired a two-score lead by converting a fourth and inches around the Michigan 40, Carr reverted to his primitive instincts at the crucial moment. With three minutes left from the Ohio State 40, he called for a wide receiver screen on third and ten. It gained six yards. With a two point lead, three minutes on the clock, no Ohio State timeouts left, and a fourth and four on the Ohio State 34, Carr punted. Ohio State drove for a touchdown; Carr would never again have the opportunity to kill a game against the Buckeyes.
In the moment, Carr choked. Six years on that single decision seems like the best way to explain why a lot Michigan fans found his tenure frustrating despite its high rate of success: the program was perpetually making poor decisions because a combination of fear and arrogance. Something could go wrong if you made a high variance decision, and Michigan could spit on expected value because This Is Michigan. See any game in which Michigan acquired an 18-point lead or the first half of the Orange Bowl for confirmation.
Carr coached like he had a kickass running game and killer defense no matter the facts, which was the difference between being a legend and a being a B+ coach who lost the battle with Tressel authoritatively. Hell, even Tressel blew games when he failed to adjust to the reality that sometimes his defense and special teams were not enough, and he ran roughshod over the Big Ten for nine years.
Part of the reason a segment of the Michigan fanbase (including the author) blew up at Hoke's hire is because it seemed to represent a return to that expectation-spurning 1970s decision-making.
Brady Hoke put a lot of those fears to rest by going for—and getting—the win against Notre Dame with eight seconds left. That decision was a no-brainer. If the field goal team had run out onto the field, I would have been livid. That was a test he passed, but it was one with a low bar.
On Saturday, Hoke sent out the punting team with about two and a half minutes left in the first half. It was fourth and two around midfield, and I was mildly peeved. It was not the percentage play, but I've watched a lot of football and it seemed too much to hope that even the rootin'est, tootin'est, eyepatch-wearingest pirate of a head coach would go for it. Needing more than a sneak and up fourteen in the first half, the world punts. My peevishness was directed at football coaches in general, not Hoke in particular.
And then an angel came down from the sky, and signaled timeout. Great trumpets erupted from the flagpoles, playing a fanfare as a golden staircase descended. Each of the steps was engraved with the names of World Series of Poker winners. Down from the clouds strode Doyle Brunson, clad in a jacket of hundred-dollar bills. And lo, Texas Dolly spaketh unto the people: "check-raise." Brady Hoke sent the offensive line onto the field.
This was a really, really good decision. Even if you don't believe the exact outlines of the Mathlete's calculations, it is not close: average offense versus average defense means the break-even line is around eight yards. This was not an average situation. Michigan had Denard Robinson against a pretty horrible run defense. And that number does not take into account the game situation. If Michigan gets the first down they are almost certainly robbing San Diego State of a possession. Punting gets you thirty, forty yards of field position. Getting the first down puts you in good position to score and is essentially another +1 in turnover margin. You need two yards and you have Denard Robinson.
stealing a joke from the internet: the guy on the right looks like he just looked into the Ark of the Covenant. via the News.
One speed option later Michigan was en route to the endzone and had essentially ended the game. Without that massively +EV decision they go into halftime up maybe 14, maybe 11, maybe 7 points. That ugly third quarter becomes the gut-check time most were predicting before the game. Maybe Michigan comes out on top (24-21, say). Maybe not. That didn't happen because when Michigan had its boot on San Diego State's neck, Hoke called Z 22 stomp right.
The Lloyd Carr example above shows we don't know that Hoke's going to do this consistently, that he'll stick to the non-pejorative MANBALL when the pressure is at its greatest, but so far so good. Even my doubts about Hoke's ability to math up in the waning moments of an Ohio State game are faint. When things go wrong he does not scowl or pout or throw headsets like Rich Rodriguez or Brian Kelly or Bo Pelini. He does not go on tilt. He calmly talks to guys about what in the hell they were thinking.
Hoke continues to leave best-case scenarios in the dust. Saturday night I watched Dennis Erickson punt on fourth and five from the USC 37 and thought "my coach would never do that." Then I watched Erickson chew out the punter who put the ball in the endzone because that's what happens when you punt from the 37 and thought "my coach would never do that."
That felt good. It felt invent-a-time-machine-to-assure-yourself-its-all-going-to-be-okay good. It feels like Michigan has finally learned how to gamble.
Boy do I want to play poker with certain people on the internet. Evaluating the decision has popped up on every Michigan message board. It's mostly been met with praise, but man, there are a lot of people who can't estimate and multiply out there. Maybe it's Carr Stockholm syndrome.
A reminder: anything on the MGoBlog photostream is creative-commons licensed, free to use for non-commercial applications. Attribution to Eric Upchurch, the Observer, and MGoBlog is appreciated.
Mark Huyge is delighted to be here. From the above SDSU photoset.
It's not quite the Molk death glare. It's more like Shifty-Eyed Dog.
Try to look at Mark Huyge ever again without having that play in your head.
That's a great question. Just as our rationality leads us to a belief in an objective reality, Kant believed there is an objective morality we can locate from the same process. The Categorical Imperative is an absolute, fundamental moral law on par with Minnesota losing to teams from the Dakotas. Things are either right or wrong—there are no gray areas, and context does not apply. You could call him the BJ Daniels of philosophy*.
*[Ten-cent summary of Kantian philosophy cribbed from Three Minute Philosophy, which is terrific. Philosophers wishing to quibble with my paraphrase of a comedic summary are invited to consider the moral consequences of their actions and also jump in a lake. USF fans wishing to WOO BJ DANIELS can skip to the latter.]
And the internet eeeed Countess. When Troy Woolfolk headed to the sidelines, all Michigan fans everywhere winced. When Blake Countess replaced JT Floyd in the third quarter, all Michigan fans everywhere prepared for the deluge.
It never came, and as a result everyone from my uncle to the internet to the newspapers are having little freakouts about Michigan's #4 corner. I am with all of you. The only thing stopping Countess from having a few PBUs or interceptions was Ryan Lindley's inability to throw the ball anywhere near the guys Countess had blanketed but Lindley targeted anyway.
For most of the third quarter I stopped watching the offensive backfield and started watching downfield coverage and while I won't be able to confirm this on the tape I think Countess was doing really well even when people weren't going after him. I'm with the rest of the internet when I suggest that Troy Woolfolk should take the Minnesota game off to recover from his multiple nagging injuries so we can see some more of the freshman.
I thought Avery did well, too. He had a third-down slant completed on him and was the DB victimized on the touchdown but in both cases he was right there tackling/raking at the ball. Is he doing something wrong I'm not perceiving yet? Because I think he's playing better than Woolfolk, who gave up some groan-worthy easy completions. (I don't blame him for allowing Hillman to bounce on one third down conversion because he was clearly held.)
Release the Martin. This week in the I-told-you-so files: Mike Martin is just fine. His good day last week was obscured by EMU never throwing and having quite a bit of success attacking away from him. Against SDSU he was nigh unblockable, bowling a veteran offensive line over backwards multiple times and drawing holding calls left and right. Craig Roh had two big plays and will show up doing little things when I do the UFR; Will Campbell had a couple of line-pushing plays. Hillman's YPC was still over five, so there are issues but I think a big chunk of them are localizable to…
Problems. So… everyone's talking up Jake Ryan, too. I'm with everyone in a general, long-term sense but a little less enthused about his performance on Saturday. One of the results of the first few weeks of UFRing/picture paging is that whenever the opponent tries to get outside I immediately focus on Ryan. Result from last week: three "aaargh Ryan" screams that no one in my section comprehended. He's still giving up the corner way too easy.
Also, there are two caveats to an otherwise encouraging performance from the secondary. One: Lindley and his receivers were flat bad as a group. Drops, bad routes, and bad throws artificially boosted Michigan's efficiency against him. Some of that was caused by pressure. Some of it was just a crappy opponent. Two: I wonder if Michigan's familiarity with the SDSU offense allowed them to beat the Aztecs' favorite routes into Michigan DBs heads.
Still, 5.3 YPA and actual depth at corner. +1 Mallory.
Offensive construction bits. Another week, another confirmation that running Denard is the offense. While I still groan whenever they line up under center, snaps from there were limited. I would really prefer it if they never ran I-form power on first and ten again, though. They've mixed in some inexplicably effective short play action so far; if they can't run that will probably dry up.
Things I liked: That screen to Smith. The essence of an RPS+3 is when three offensive linemen have no one to block for 30 yards. And then the much-discussed speed option debuted. I'd gotten a couple insider emails telling me it was part of the offense but thought it would be extremely bad form to publish that, so I'd been waiting. It was quite a debut.
I'm hoping we see Borges add wrinkles at the same rate Rodriguez did. He'll have to to keep the run offense ahead of the wolves. He's off to a good start.
via the Detroit News.
Tailbacks. I'm suddenly happy with Michigan's tailback situation after Vincent Smith made a lot of yards on his own, including the above touchdown where he kept his balance at about the five and managed to drag a safety into the endzone. There was also the zone play where he squeezed through a crack in the line it's possible literally no other D-I back would have fit through.
Toussaint, meanwhile, didn't have the yards Smith did but ran hard on the inside; I still like him best but understand if they're going to split duties between the top two. I feel bad for Shaw—maybe it's time to put him on kickoffs? He's got speed Smith does not.
The Denard question. So they did run a curl-flat. Denard went to the curl way late and threw his first interception. Not sure if that was schemed or just bad execution by the offense. If it's the latter that might be attributable to not running it over the offseason as Borges attempted to install his route packages, route packages that now seem like things Denard just can't do.
A three-point plan in an attempt to get Denard back on track:
- Stop throwing on the run.
- Provide some easy throws early—all hitch, snag—in an effort to get him calmed down.
- Develop some sort of counter-punch to the opponent getting all up in Denard's face on the rollout PA. A shovel pass?
Bending but not breaking. Michigan's giving up a lot of yards but not a lot of points. Frankly, some of this is luck. They are acquiring turnovers at an unsustainable rate. Not unsustainable for a mediocre defense, unsustainable for Michigan 1997. When the well dries up they'll do some more breaking.
The other thing is the secondary. Michigan's newfound ability to make plays on deep balls and Jordan Kovacs being stone-cold reliable (so far /crosses self) have erased cheap touchdowns for the opposition. WMU's touchdown came on a 15-play drive. ND touchdown drives went 7, 10, 7, and 4 plays. San Diego State's took six plays but started from the Michigan 38. The only quick drive Michigan's given up all year was ND's desperation drive, on which Michigan gave up chunks on purpose because of the time situation and then tried an NFL-style defense they weren't ready for and blew it. The longest touchdown other than that was the 16-yard pass Lindley hit in the third quarter.
Opponents have ripped off chunks on occasion, but they have not been handed free touchdowns. Michigan's at least making them earn it. That's a necessary first step on the road away from completely awful.
The next opponent. When Minnesota managed to hang with USC on the first weekend of the season they seemed like they might be more intimidating than your average Minnesota team. Then they lost to Not Even The Good New Mexico and North Dakota State and seemed even less intimidating than your average Minnesota team. Compounding matters: Jerry Kill is again out of commission with his seizure issue.
I did not VOAV this week for reasons of being spooked. Boyz In The Pahokee provided the usual bounty if you are jonesing.
ST3 goes Inside the Box Score:
Matt Wile. Wait, let me try that again. MATT WILE!!! Yeah, I think he was properly pumped up to play his Dad's team. Net yards per kickoff were 50 for SDSU and 49.2 for UofM. To be even on kickoffs is a win for us. Net yards per punt were 34.7 for SDSU and 43.5 for Michigan. To gain almost a full first down per punt is huge. Two punts were inside the 20, and two were 50+ yards. #82, Terrance Robinson had 2 ST tackles and did a great job as the gunner on punts.
Wile's just lost his punting job; if that allows him to improve his kickoffs and compete for the field goal job, Michigan's kicking could be one of those strength things by midseason.
Lordfoul's weekly Hoke for Tomorrow:
Michigan needs Hagerup back.Maybe Hagerup isn't the only answer. Wile's kicks are improving it would seem, both on KOs and punts, possibly because his nerves are settling down. Kickoffs regularly made it to the goal line and only 1 of 4 punts was returned for much while they averaged 49 yards per with a long of only 51(!).
Player participation notes from jtmc33.
You see that conch shell he's got in his hand? At some point in the first half he was talking into it like it was a cell phone. That is all.
Media, as in blog rabble. BWS hops aboard the Countess bandwagon and points out Denard can't throw.
MGoBlog : The Big Lebowski :: The Hoover Street Rag : The Hunt For Red October:
After the Notre Dame game, I tweeted very simply: "And the singing, Captain?" "Let them sing." The moment was too good to start worrying about the future. But at some point, the future arrives and you need to deal with it. How well prepared you are for that future plays a large role in how well you're able to handle it when the moment arrives. The non-conference schedule, particularly one played as four games at the start of the season should, theoretically, be a nice combination of challenges and the working out of kinks. Before the mission starts, you must know the capacity and capabilities of your crew.
Media, as in local newspaper. John Niyo on the defense, which is extant. Chengelis on the fact the team is not vintage. San Diego State had big pictures of their former coaches as signals. The Daily on RVB's Hillman chase:
Fifth-year senior defensive tackle Ryan Van Bergen caught Hillman from behind inside the 10-yard line and knocked the ball loose for the second fumble.
Try reading it this way: a 288-pound defensive tackle caught the nation’s second-leading rusher from behind in the open field — 30 yards away from the line of scrimmage.
Van Bergen got a block from fifth-year senior defensive tackle Mike Martin, but most of his help came from practice.
“But when it comes down to it, we have the most explosive player in the country in our backfield,” Van Bergen said. “We get to play against (junior quarterback) Denard (Robinson), so we’ve learned how to take angles at guys who have speed.
“I took off on my horse just thinking, ‘I’ve almost caught Denard before, maybe I can catch this guy.’ ”
“They were very emotional after the game, depressed, disappointed, upset, however you want to say,” said Long, whose team dropped to 3-1 after Saturday’s 28-7 defeat. “It was a very emotional locker room after the game and not in a good sense.”
They probably would have done a “poor job” of answering questions, Long said, so he kept them behind closed doors. “It’s my job to protect them,” Long said Sunday. “This is not pro football.” …
"The defense got shocked by the speed of especially one guy (Robinson),” Long said. “They got shocked by the strength they had up front and the speed of quarterback early in the game.”
• Offensively, Michigan is 13-for-13 on red-zone opportunities. It is one of 13 teams in the country to have scored on every trip inside the 20-yard line this year.
• Even better? The Wolverines have scored touchdowns on 12 of those 13 trips. That 92-percent touchdown rate trails only Texas Tech nationally.
One of the main arguments made in favor of Shotgun Forever is that red zone efficiency is not a stat that shows much repeatable skill year to year and that the huge chunks of yards Michigan picked up without, you know, scoring in 2010 would turn into points if you just left the damn thing alone (and got a kicker). The early returns are excellent.
National takes. Smart Football:
- Michigan 28, San Diego State 7. Brady Hoke’s new team faced his old team, and I’m still not sure, despite their 4-0 record, that we know anything about this Michigan football team. The defense seems to be improving under DC Greg Mattison, but they’ve been using so much movement and motion to cover up their talent weaknesses it’s unclear how the defense will fare against a polished opponent. And while the offense has found a better rhythm running a Rich Rodriguez-lite Denard Robinson attack — including Denard’s long TD run on the speed option — his passing line was abysmal: 8 of 17 for 93 yards, no TDs and two interceptions. He’s obviously uncomfortable in the new offense. He looked like a more polished and comfortable passer last year. I chalk some of this up to the fact that the very techniques he’s using are new, but he’s going to have to improve for UM to have success. That said, given Michigan’s favorable schedule — no Wisconsin and the easy part of the Big 10 schedule up next — we may not learn anything about Michigan until the last three weeks of the season, when they play Illinois, Nebraska and Ohio State.
No one else bothered. A couple weeks after puntosauring himself into a loss against Iowa State, BHGP documents Kirk Ferentz opening Iowa's game against ULM in a shotgun spread, demonstrating the Carr thing above perfectly.