Previously: Offense Part I.
SEASON PREVIEW TAKE: Jehu Chesson was given top billing as the preview went with on-field production and Chesson's trajectory over Amara Darboh's offseason hype, but both guys were declared real real good. Chesson was expected to be a complete WR and off the board in the first couple of rounds of the draft; I was skeptical about Darboh's ability to get deep on folks.
Grant Perry was projected to be a solid third option, and nobody knew anything about who would emerge from the backups. Eddie McDoom was given a shout.
NUMBERS AT THE HALFWAY MARK: A pile of blowouts and profusion of tight ends has made for uninspiring numbers. Seventeen different Wolverines have caught passes, including three different fullbacks and five different TEs. Meanwhile the starters have been on the bench for most of the second half in each outing.
Darboh has indeed emerged as the top wideout with 25 catches for 400 yards; his 9.5 yards per target is an impressive number, and he's on the end of a quarter of Speight's passes. Chesson has 15 catches for 231 yards and has had some iffy plays on balls downfield, though he's been hurt by bad throws. Chesson's also got seven carries for 44 yards.
Here ends significant WR contributions. Perry has six catches, McDoom three, and Kekoa Crawford one. McDoom's been a frequent jet sweep runner.
FEELINGSBALL: This is what happens when you're hammering almost all your opposition and your quarterback is struggling mightily in the two games (Colorado and Wisconsin) in which second-half passing won't be interpreted as a slap in the face. The wide receivers have been hamstrung by the situation.
It has been a mild disappointment that both starters have failed to high-point a number of passes that weren't perfect but were good enough to force a PI or result in a spectacular catch. On the other hand, WR blocking has been excellent on Michigan's many crack sweeps.
UP OR DOWN OR EH: This unit gets an incomplete.
SEASON PREVIEW TAKE: Jake Butt is the best receiving tight end in the country, Ian Bunting is set for a breakout, and look out for the Kaiju brothers, Ty Wheatley Jr and Devin Asiasi... but probably next year. Since we also cover all blocky/catchy types in that post, fullbacks Henry Poggi and Khalid Hill were both mentioned as potential X factors since they obviously had a lot of potential as blockers but had targeting or technique issues.
NUMBERS AT THE HALFWAY MARK: Butt had two inexplicable drops early and has since been Jake Butt. He's since recovered to post a 71% catch rate per S&P+, which is excellent, and 8.3 yards per target, also excellent for a tight end. His blocking was alarming to start but has settled in at "decent," which is a minor upgrade on last year. Bunting was playing a bunch but had not been featured; he's missed the last couple games with an undisclosed injury.
Meanwhile Hill and Poggi have grabbed the rest of the targets here. Hill's caught all eight balls thrown his way and is averaging the same 8.3 yards per target that Butt is. While some of that is scheme, Hill has made a couple of difficult catches.
FEELINGSBALL: Meanwhile in things that don't pick up numbers: blocking. Butt is a bit better than last year, and the fullbacks have improved a great deal. Hill has had a few spectacular blocks where he blows through a linebacker without slowing and then gets to a third level player; these don't show up except in UFR and PFF, where Hill is clearly preferred by both metrics. I've been more enthused about Poggi than PFF; he's cut out most of the targeting issues that plagued him last year.
Meanwhile, Asiasi has emerged over the last few games. Against Rutgers most big runs featured Asiasi moving a DL and then popping out to blast a LB or DB. He's got a combination of power and agility that make him effective against just about anyone a defense fields, and at nearly 290 pounds his upside in this department is considerable.
UP OR DOWN OR EH: Asiasi's emergence over the last few games as a plus blocker—as a blocker who could be a difference-maker—is the main reason this spot feels like an upgrade over expectations. Khalid Hill whacking guys has also been an unexpected positive. Butt's been about what you expect.
SEASON PREVIEW TAKE: Meh. Mason Cole was projected to be a very good player. Grant Newsome was fretted over, largely because Ben Bredeson was pushing him for the job. Ben Braden and Erik Magnuson were declared acceptable offensive linemen with little upside. Kyle Kalis was an infinitely frustrating mauler who blew assignments all the time, but was declared an X factor because if he could just figure things out...
NUMBERS AT THE HALFWAY MARK: OL don't have numbers.
FEELINGSBALL: The line has been acceptable. Newsome, the projected weak link, was exactly that before the knee injury that ended his season. He had some pass protection issues but was not a revolving door; on the ground he was an able puller and decent enough at the point of attack. Magnuson has somewhat exceeded expectations as he's combined with Kalis to be a powerful right side of the line. Pass protection issues have lingered for him, though. He's somewhere between some preseason NFL scouting, which saw him as a potential high pick, and my "eh, undrafted FA" take from the preview.
The interior has been about as good as expected but the star has been Kalis, not Cole. Kalis did indeed cut out the vast majority of the mental errors and round into the mauling five-star guard everyone wanted him to be immediately out of high school. Cole, however, has struggled against zero-tech nose tackles. (Michigan has played an inordinate number of 3-4s early in the year.) While I think Colorado's Josh Tupou is just that good, Cole's impact has been muted at C.
Braden has clearly and vastly outperformed Bredeson at LG to the point where the only explanation for Bredeson's playing time is injury.
UP OR DOWN OR EH: The guys who started the season were actually a slight upgrade on expectations because Newsome was not a problem. However, Juwann Bushell-Beatty has been shaky in relief. He's been beat on edge rushes a ton; he's taken holding calls; he's been iffy on the ground. He looms as a potential issue down the road, so this is a sad injury downgrade.
SEASON PREVIEW TAKE: Some concern generally overridden by Harbaugh's flawless track record as a QB coach and developer:
On one level, "who is the starting quarterback?" is the single most critical question about the 2016 Michigan Wolverines. On another level, eh, it'll be fine.
By the time the preview was published Speight was expected to start, and he has indeed started. The "expectations" section pointed out that Speight had just as much experience in Harbaugh's system as Rudock did even then, so a repeat of Early Rudock was probably not on the cards. On the other hand:
It's probably irrational to believe that the starter will be late-season Rudock. Despite Rudock's early struggles this is a guy who was a solid two-year starter at Iowa prior to his arrival. Speight has about two quarters of on-field experience, and O'Korn's season and a half ended in disaster.
...The end result should be somewhere near last year's outcome: 60% completions, 8 YPA, 2:1 TD-INT. The ride there should be far less turbulent.
I offered some clarification as I projected a new starter would be one of the most efficient QBs in the league: the Big Ten has no quarterbacks.
NUMBERS AT THE HALFWAY MARK: Close to preseason projections. He's at 62%, 7.5 YPA, and an 11-2 TD-INT ratio. The YPA is a bit off the target mark, but Speight's done a good job avoiding interceptions. He's also been fortunate that a number of throws against Wisconsin didn't get picked off. S&P+ has an "expected turnover margin" metric; Michigan is +6 on the season but expected to be +3; I'd imagine most of this is a gap between the number of PBUs the other team has gotten without picking the ball off.
Otherwise, fancystats are oddly enthusiastic, with S&P+ declaring Michigan the #26 passing offense thus far despite peripheral numbers that are mediocre. They do capture Speight's tendency to start slow:
Michigan has a spate of average-or-worse P5 passing defenses coming up (Illinois, MSU, Indiana, and Iowa are all in a band between 46th and 68th in S&P+, with Indiana(!!!) leading the way at 46) along with a good Maryland outfit (that is terrible at run defense, surprise) and the looming monstrosity that is Ohio State. The schedule doesn't uptick until the Game and whatever postseason Michigan arrives at; Speight should reach the end of the regular season with numbers at least equal to his current production.
FEELINGSBALL: It's hard to tell if we're genuinely disappointed in Speight's performance as a redshirt sophomore first-year starter or if we just don't have anything else to complain about. UFRs and PFF suggest the former, however. Speight's shown a couple of nice attributes—he's got excellent pocket presence and will find second and third reads—that are offset by spates of iffy accuracy, especially early.
This certainly doesn't feel like a passing offense on the verge of the top 25 nationally, and Speight stands out as the single biggest fixable problem Michigan has.
UP OR DOWN OR EH: I'd say this is a slight downgrade, because Speight's actually gone slightly backward from a strong start. The trajectory has been flat over the past few games, and he's increasingly unlikely to take off a la Rudock.
SEASON PREVIEW TAKE: De'Veon Smith was projected as the main man, flanked by Ty Isaac and Drake Johnson, the two veteran options. Smith was "a good bet to be Michigan's first 1,000 yard back since Fitz Toussaint" after a second half surge in 2015, but I did use "plurality" instead of "majority" when describing his workload.
Ty Isaac was expected to emerge after a rough 2015 largely based on practice hype and Harbaugh press conference pronouncements; I expected him to be the clear #2 and heir apparent. Chris Evans actually got quite a lot of airtime for someone listed as a backup to Jabrill Peppers at the "spread H" position I made up so I could shoehorn Peppers into the RB post, because the practice chatter about him had been nonstop.
Karan Higdon, on the other hand, was shoved in with the freshmen and mostly forgotten about.
NUMBERS AT THE HALFWAY MARK: Drake Johnson's recovery from the forklift thing was apparently exaggerated; he has not played. Smith has gotten the plurality of carries and might have a slight majority of snaps but it's a lot more even than we thought it would be preseason. This is partially because Michigan's been on the friendly end of a lot of blowouts; it is partially because the top four backs are all producing. The four milkmen:
- Smith: 61 carries, 5.5 YPC
- Ty Isaac: 53 carries, 5.5 YPC
- Evans: 48 carries, 8.3(!) YPC
- Higdon: 35 carries, 7.4 YPC
This is, how you say, unsustainable. Higdon in particular has been handed multiple offset draw touchdowns so easy that most readers of this blog could have picked up a first down on them. The fancystats that ignore garbage time have Michigan 21st as a rush offense.
FEELINGSBALL: Along with the linebackers this unit is the most pleasant surprise of the season. Smith has mostly picked up where he left off in the bowl game. There have been a few iffy cuts but those are the exceptions rather than the rule; he seems to have learned to press the hole and put himself in another gap. His pass protection may have fallen off a bit and he fumbled against Rutgers; otherwise he's been close to the best version of himself.
Meanwhile the other three guys are revelations. And yes, three. Since Isaac did little last year and nothing after his fumbles against Maryland this is actually three players bursting onto the scene, not two. And burst they have. Each guy brings a slightly different package of skills to the table. Isaac is huge and can weave from one hole to the next, stiffarming the first DB he meets into a pile of sludge. Evans is lightning quick and will turn five yards into 50 more consistently than other options—he's averaging 10.3(!) yards a play after he gets those first five, which is a bonkers number. Higdon is the best guy for a power play, a shifty guy who runs low to the ground and bounces off tackles.
All of them have looked like capable feature backs. Ty Wheatley's found some traction with his charges this year.
UP OR DOWN OR EH: Major upgrade. Michigan entered the season still a little suspicious of Smith and uncertain if there was anything high-quality behind him. Six games into this season Michigan appears to have four good to very good backs.
1 hour 49 minutes
LET THE CHILDREN BOOGIE! [Eric Upchurch]
A big thanks to our sponsors. The show is presented by UGP & Moe's. Shopping with them helps us and supports good dudes. Come by Moe's on North University on Friday nights this season as we debut a new tradition game nights tradition, a LIVE broadcast of MGoRadio!
Our other sponsors are also key in the expanding empire: thanks to Michigan Law Grad, Homesure Lending, Ann Arbor Elder Law, the Residence Inn Ann Arbor Downtown, and the University of Michigan Alumni Association.
QB: Still Speight by a nose, which means it's a tie. Good either way.
RB: A rougher, tougher unit. Peppers & Smith in a "Spread H" would be nifty
FB: Hit your targets!
WR: Chesson and Darboh then a big gap.
TE: BUTT!!! and a pile of good things
OL: Seniors at their ceilings. Cole to C is good but LT?
DE: Ridiculous athleticism, extraordinary strength, and yes, some Wormley.
DT: Step into the maw.
LB: Highly recruited, somewhat experienced seniors is a special kind of biggest concern
Peppers and Lewis: Pretty good.
Other DBs: Seniors. Also pretty good.
SPECIAL TEAMS (1:32:11)
Gonna miss you Baxter
"Bombs Over Baghdad" – Outkast (a preview tradition)
"Jumpman" – Future and Drake
"Starman" – David Bowie
"Across 110th Street"
THE USUAL LINKS
This week Michigan pulled in a commitment from another offensive lineman. That makes six for the 2013 class, with the possibility of a seventh, on top of four in 2012, on top of…well that's the point isn't it?
It's easy to point fingers […in the general direction of Tucson] for the dilapidation of M's o-line depth. Rodriguez did knowingly and willfully get too picky with his 2009 and 2010 recruiting, perhaps figuring the massive 2008 haul would tide him over until he was winning championships and could offer playing time and non-ridiculous uniforms to Oregon targets. The result was two great tackles in '09, just a center in 2010, and then much striking out in what was supposed to be the year of many Hobbis and Yruretagoyenas, the wanton whiffing exacerbated five times over by [the bad timing of…] The Process.™
A man cannot be faulted for the circumstances of his creation, and certainly Brady Hoke and co. have since done a bang-up job of finding large and talented young gentlemen willing to stand between us and the ill-begotten creatures that plague Big Ten defenses. That's not to say they'll be any good at it…yet. Like a basement full of wedding gifts without a house to fit them all, our future of wealth and comfort is all but promised but we wonder how long must we wait?
Answer: some time yet, sorry. I hate to bury the lede, so here's a great big spoiler. We're gonna have a little history lesson, and then you're going to find this:
Year in Program:
|Not on team||1||6||13||16||28|
|% Solid +||1.4%||9.5%||21.5%||33.8%||37.3%|
What the hell this is: It's me tracking the development of Michigan offensive linemen over the last 20 years based on how many years each has been in the program. It is subjective on the top and a bit accusatory in the middle and perhaps only a little bit useful on the bottom where I show things like just 1 in 5 of all the great centers and guards and tackles in two decades of Michigan recruiting end up ever becoming All Big Ten-level players. It seems to say that there's a lot that can go wrong between the gathering of the linemen and the deployment of the linemen.
It also says it takes time: in 20 years of OL recruiting just seven guys (Lewan, Molk, Long, Backus, Hutchinson, Jansen and Boren) were even ready to be okay starters by their second years in the program. If one guy from the 2012 class starts this year and is proficient, that's beating the odds; the chances of the 2012-'13 classes forming a proficient unit by 2014 are the chances of finding five NFL linemen in ten recruits.
A History of Michigan OL Recruiting, 1993-2011
I wanted to go back far enough to get a relatively large enough sample of Michigan offensive linemen and some idea of how a class of recruits matures into a line. Because this involved a lot of memory and subjectivity, I included my written impressions of all of these linemen below. That information was put into chart form to produce the above money chart.
For the years before Rivals-Scout these are general senses gleaned from Lemming, Prep Football Report, and one blogger's admittedly bad memory. They should not be trusted. From 2002 on it's an average of star rankings from Rivals, Scout, and after 2006, ESPN – positional rankings are composites of those available.
Also I'm going to ignore dudes who were defensive linemen for the majority and end of their careers because there's no way to say how good they would have turned out. They are: Will Campbell, Marques Slocum, Alan Branch, and Quinton Washington.
1993: Damon Denson (★★★★★) was Maurice Williams before it was cool, riding in on a wave of hype then wasting effectively two years (including burned redshirt) playing defensive line, having his eligibility run out just as soon as he was getting really good at donkey abuse. Unlike Williams he had a short and uneventful pro career. Zach Adami (★★★½) was a smallish three-year starter you could plug in anywhere who came in for one of those "your team won, here's some extra all-conference pins for your longtime starters" awards his senior year in '97. John Partchenko (★★★), and Joe Ries (★★½) never saw the field that I recall and neither made it to 5th years.
1994: Jon Jansen (right) (★★★★ as a TE) was also a great linebacker for Clawson. That athleticism plus his massiveness led to three years of starting, two All-B1G selections, and a long and productive NFL career. Noah Parker (★★★) was a small Floridian career backup at guard.
1995: Steve Frazier (★★★½) and Chris Ziemann (★★★★) were constant presences as injury starters on the '97 to '99 lines, both ending up okay-ish (Frazier's infamous snap over Brady's head in the '99 Illinois game notwithstanding) as 5th year seniors. Eric Moltane (★★★★) was an early medical loss, Jeff Potts (★★★) was buried on the depth chart.
[Pics of different dudes wearing 77, after THE JUMP…]