When I was thinking about the plays Jake Butt made on Saturday, the one that immediately came to mind was a third-down conversion on a drag route that he caught with one hand and locked in with two fingers. That shallow route ended up being Michigan’s second-longest pass play of the evening, and as you’ll read below, a lot more went into that than just catching and running. As always, the video is at the bottom of the post and can be slowed down to 0.5x 0.25 speed if you open in Youtube and change the settings in the bottom right corner; I highly advise you watch the play slowed down.
What was the first thing you noticed when you lined up?
“I knew there was a wider guy outside of Ian [Bunting]. I was running a shallow route, Ian had a corner route, so first thing I’m thinking about is my release, whether or not I’m going to be able to get inside that backer or whether I’m going to have to take a longer route.
“Saw that, read I can get inside of him, but I saw I think they had two backers in the box; one of them kind of carried Ian vertically and I saw another linebacker that was eyeing the quarterback, and I knew he’d have to pick up my shallow, so I knew I was either going to have to sit it down or continue running. I saw he was flat-footed and staring at Wilton so I thought I could pass him up.
“I knew we had a post-wheel combination on the other side that was gonna carry those guys out of the way, so if I could just get past him I’d have a little bit of extra space. Did that, Wilton put the ball where only I could get it, and honestly, for a second there he put his hand in front and I couldn’t see the ball. I just kind of trusted where it would be. Caught it and then just tried to get as much as I could after the ball.
“I saw another guy running and I saw Desmond King down the sideline. I wanted to stiff arm him, and in the process of stiff-arming him I got my legs taken out a little bit. Big third-down play for us and big conversion.”
After you catch the ball and you’re turning the corner, as you said, you’ve got a guy trailing you and King in front of you. When you’re looking at King and trying to get upfield, what are you looking at? Are you looking at his hips or his shoulders or his pursuit angle?
“I could see his eyes, the way he stood up initially. Usually when guys stand up that’s so they can get ready to go low and take out your knees. But I had my hand on the one guy stiff-arming him, otherwise I would have tried to lower my shoulder and truck-stick him a little bit. I knew he was taking out my knees, but I just stiff-armed him and got as many yards as I could.”
Is that guy who’s trailing to the right a consideration or are you mainly looking at the guy upfield and trying to make a move on him?
“You kind of have to consider him just because they’re converging on you a little bit. I knew—I thought if King wasn’t there or came a little bit later, I would have shedded that other guy, but in the process of shedding him I had to lower and they kind of did a good little gang tackle there.”
To step back for a second, as you release and you’re getting into the drag, that’s when you know the middle linebacker is going to cover you? Postsnap?
“Yeah. The way their defense plays, someone’s going to have to carry a crossing route there. With him eyeing Wilton, he would feel me running across and I knew I could just reduce my route a little bit so he wouldn’t have an angle to intercept it and then Wilton just kind of put it on the money and I turned it up from there.”
Since this is an interview about one play, what’s the single most memorable play for you in your career here?
“Oh, shoot…let’s hope it hasn’t happened yet.”
News bullets and other items:
Harbaugh saved timeouts because he planned to use them after second and third down and get the ball back with about 35 second to play; Iowa converted the third down.
There were 10 guys on to block the field goal because they started with 12 guys and there was a miscommunication in the huddle about who was supposed to come off the field.
Any more on Wilton Speight?
“We’re gonna know more--It’s gonna depend just on how he feels.”
And can you talk about Jeremy Clark? Has he had the surgery, and have you guys started the petition at all with him for the sixth year?
“Yeah, he’s doing good. Surgery was successful and it’s a process. Where he is in the process is gathering the information, making a case. Soon.”
With Wilton, when do you think you’ll have to know to make a decision on him and is it a game-time decision at this point?
“Could be. As I said, when we’ll know is based on what the doctors say and how Wilton’s feeling, what he’s able to do during the week in terms of practice, etc.”
And it’s his shoulder?
“As I said, we’ll make that determination with the doctors and with Wilton.”
Do you at least know if there’s anything structural or is it just a soreness thing? Have you been able to determine that yet on Wilton?
“Um…as always, per our principle we don’t like to speak specifics.”
If need be, John O’Korn, have you seen enough of him in practice to be confident in him?
“Yes, yeah. Yes. John, Shane [Morris]. I especially would anticipate today, the next couple days at least, that they’ll get the majority of the reps. It’ll be good practice for them, but they’ve both had extensive practice time through the course of the year and yes, we are confident they will do a good job.”
[After THE JUMP: running-into-the-kicker calls, the program’s momentum when Harbaugh arrived, and praise for Indiana’s defense is definitely a thing now]
John O'Korn to the forefront [Eric Upchurch]
Per a source, Wilton Speight has broken his collarbone and is out for the remainder of the regular season. Depending on the exact nature of the issue it is possible he could return for the bowl game.
FWIW, when Tony Romo broke his collarbone last year he was projected to be out eight weeks, and was supposed to be out 6-8 after collarbone surgery in May. Speight had a bad collarbone break in high school—that's why he's a year older than most of his class—and may be in line for a similar surgery.
Michigan will almost certainly go with John O'Korn in Speight's stead; in scattered snaps this year he's 13/18 for 114 yards and two TDs. O'Korn's mobile enough to incorporate some designed QB runs, so we've got that going for us.
There are portions of my audio where I couldn’t hear because of the reverberations of Iowa folks celebrating, so I pieced together what I could.
What was happening with the offense tonight? Seemed like it was misfiring.
“Not enough—we didn’t make enough plays to extend drives and get first downs. Missed some deep throws. Close. Just…you know, give Iowa credit. They tackled, they blocked, they played a very good football game. So, congratulate them and move on.”
How about your defense? They stood tall pretty much the whole game, it seemed like. Stribling had a big interception. Talk about what
“Yeah, they—I thought they played well most of the ballgame and it was a low-scoring, hard-fought football game.”
Did you think with the facemask, I didn’t see it, but did you see it from your field position?
“I didn’t see it either.”
Did you get any explanation?
What did you tell your team after this game?
“Big things and every little thing isn’t going to go our team’s way or anybody’s way. Every little thing doesn’t always go your way, and we’ll make—to make it a win you’ve got to make it that way. We didn’t do enough to make it that way tonight.”
[After THE JUMP: more words]
Talk about where your group is right now and how pleased you are with their progress.
“Really pleased with where we’re at. Simple thing that we talk about as a group is just getting better every week, and I think the last three or four weeks we’ve been better and looking to continue that moving forward.”
What does it mean to have somebody at the top of the all-time tight ends list in terms of receptions. I know Jake was excited about it.
“Yeah, really excited. The whole group was really thrilled for him, which says a lot about who he is as a teammate in the room and just in general on the team. Guys being happy for his success says a lot about who he is. And understanding the work he puts in, how he approaches every day. It’s not really surprising. It’s just what you expect of a guy who puts that much into it.”
Jabrill got so many opportunities on punt return early in the year and seemed like there was one or two every game he was a step away from breaking. Is there something in the last couple weeks that’s different in the way they’ve been blocking you guys or adjusted to something?
“Uh, well, shoot, I think against Maryland they only punted a couple of times, which is unusual for a game like that. Then both times there was excellent hang time on the ball and great location on the punt, so credit to them. That’s how it goes sometimes. There’s things you can do to neutralize a great returner. It’s really all in the punter’s hands. And then not having as many opportunities is the other part of it. I think those things kind of go in cycles and hopefully we’ll see a few more opportunities down the stretch.”
Jim talked a lot about Kekoa’s blocking, then he did, too, last night. How much do you work with the wide receivers on blocking? Is that you or is that Jedd?
“None for me. I can’t take any credit for those guys. Jedd and Drew [Terrell] and Ryan Nehlen and the other guys, they do a nice job working with them. Really seen a lot of progress from those guys.”
[After THE JUMP: Kenny Allen’s kicker swagger, running the program like an NFL team, and differences in utilizing tall vs. short TEs]
Is it hard to be anything but elated with your group at this point in the season?
“Yeah, I think so. I think if you ask any team in the country they’d like to be sitting at 9-0 and our ranking, so yeah, we’re happy but certainly not satisfied. There’s work to be done.”
How about your position group?
“Playing well. I think we had a little bit of a slide in the Michigan State game. Other than, I think they’ve learned from it and are moving on.”
What’s the key or you guys in the short-yardage situations, in the red zone, to be as effective as you have?
“Well, I think in short yardage it’s just gap integrity. Guys in front have to stay in their gaps, linebackers have to stay in their gaps, the secondary fits and fills where needed, so that’s very important in short yardage. Then red zone is something we work day in and day out, starting on Monday all the way through Friday. That’s an area we hit every day, so it’s important in the game and you have to practice it.”
You talked about Channing [Stribling] in run support earlier in the year. Have there been some teaching moments the past few weeks?
“Well, yes, absolutely. The Michigan State game is a big teaching moment. He realized it and he knew he was wrong and he fixed it. That’s important. Just gotta keep building on it. That’s what he has to do.”
How do you fix that, exactly?
“You work at it. In practice we do some tackling drills, and we have some nice talks about it, too.”
[After THE JUMP: who is mini-Jourdan, more on run support, and talking about tunnel screen defense]