that makes one of us
What’s the secret to moving the ball against this Michigan State defense?
“Uh. Well, the first thing you have to make sure is you don’t give it to them. Same deal, because they’ve done a great job of feeding off turnovers, either creating opportunities for offense or literally scoring themselves, which is amazing how many times they’ve done that. So that’s the starting point. Take care of the football and minimizing the damage, if in fact there is damage. Making what could be a bad play not into a disaster. That’s number one. Number two is getting your bodies on their bodies, making sure your plays get started, so you give your skill guys a chance to do what they do best, whether it be in the open field or around the line of scrimmage. Those are really key points. If you’re getting hit in the backfield as soon as you hand the ball off, you’re not going anywhere, and they’ve done a lot of that.”
About three weeks ago I posted an article about which 2015 signal callers could be next in line for an offer. With no game to prepare for this week the coaching staff decided to travel the country checking in on recruits and I decided to do the same thing (from the comfort of my couch) with a focus on the quarterbacks.
I originally created a list of seven prospects consisting of Kevin Dillman, Nick Johns, Sheriron Jones, Kyle Kearns, Alex Malzone, Riley Neal, and Brady White. After a visit to the Indiana game I think Tyree Jackson could also be thrown into the mix at this point.
I was able to talk to each young man this weekend and see how often the coaches have been in contact with them, and try to gauge the interest level from the coaches, as well as from the recruits. In doing so I think I’ve identified a top tier of four targets on the quarterback big board.
Kevin Dillman – La Mirada High School – La Mirada, CA: The coaches have not been in contact with Dillman at all recently which is a bit surprising during a bye week that included traveling across the country as well as social media communication. He appears to be down the list as a secondary target.
Tyree Jackson – Mona Shores High School – Muskegon, MI: Jackson visited Ann Arbor for his first game experience against Indiana and had a great time which I reported here, but since his visit he has had zero contact with the coaching staff. He will continue to be a name to watch, but he also appears to be down the list a bit.
Nick Johns – Gonzaga High School – Washington D.C.: Johns told me that he speaks with Coach Mallory almost every day on Facebook. With so much contact I was curious as to what was discussed when they chat. “He just asks me what kind of team we are playing that week and what kind of defense they run. He tells me to try and identify our strengths and weaknesses against that team. He just tries to assess my football IQ.” Johns told me that Coach Mallory hasn’t exactly mentioned an offer yet, but Nick seems to feel pretty wanted based on how often they communicate. He did say that he would love to have an offer from such a great school like Michigan. I believe Johns is one of the top tier targets at this point.
Sheriron Jones – Rancho Verde High School – Moreno Valley, CA: Jones has not had any recent contact with the coaching staff at all and he even said that when he tries to call them, they never answer. That tells me that he is not a top priority at this time.
Kyle Kearns – Foothill High School – Pleasanton, CA: Kearns had a legitimate talk with Coach Borges on Wednesday evening that tentatively set up a “Wilton-Speight-like” visit in the Spring. “Coach Borges said that he plans to make it out this Spring to check me out. He talked about how they’ve only offered one guy and I’m a guy that he really likes. I see myself fitting in really well in his offensive scheme from what he told me.” I asked Kearns how he’d feel if an offer did eventually come and he simply said, “It would be huge!” He even flirted with the idea of committing on the spot if that did happen. “I can’t say I’d commit on the spot just yet. There are some other schools that I’ve built a strong relationship with and I don’t want to put the cart in front of the horse.” (He actually used that phrase. I like this kid.) Kearns talked about how attractive Michigan is with George Campbell and Damien Harris already in the fold for the 2015 class. “With Michigan getting a top running back and wide receiver for 2015 it makes the decision that much easier. Couple that with world class academics and the biggest stadium in football…man.” After talking with Kearns and hearing his very obvious interest and discussing his regular talks with Coach Borges I now believe he may be the front-runner for the next quarterback offer.
Alex Malzone – Brother Rice High School – Bloomfield Hills, MI: Malzone has set up a regular communication schedule with Coach Borges that involves him calling the offensive coordinator every Thursday night between 9 and 9:30 pm. Borges also made it very clear to Alex that he is in the top tier of quarterbacks being evaluated. With Malzone being right in Michigan’s backyard and understanding what it means to be the quarterback at Michigan, he is a very real possibility to receive an offer. I believe Malzone will continue to be evaluated and being a Michigander is an advantage that has helped him land in the top tier.
Riley Neal – Yorktown High School – Yorktown, IN: Neal has already been talking to Coach Borges quite regularly, also on Thursdays, for a few weeks now. They usually talk about his film, each other’s seasons, and just the general recruiting process. Neal and I talked about some other quarterbacks getting attention from Michigan and he was very informed about the entire situation. He knew of Dillman, Malzone, and Kearns and also that the coaching staff was evaluating his position right now, which tells me he is interested and intuitive when it comes to the process. He is in the top tier.
Brady White – Hart High School – Newhall, CA: From what most here have expressed about Brady White this will be an unfortunate update, but he has not been hearing from the coaching staff at all lately and didn’t once during the bye week. His interest in Michigan seems legitimate but he may be tough to lure from the west coast.
In conclusion I feel like the top tier of four targets consists of Nick Johns, Kyle Kearns, Alex Malzone, and Riley Neal. These four quarterbacks are in regular contact with the coaching staff and all express sincere interest in being recruited by Michigan. At first glance I thought Dillman, Jones, and White all hadn’t heard from the coaches simply due to the fact that they are all California kids, which can be problematic due to the time difference and the fact that those kids just don’t leave their geographic area too often. That notion is of course debunked by the fact that fellow California native Kyle Kearns may be atop the big board right now. After this week my list does, in fact, put Kearns at the top and looks like this (last time's ranking in parentheses):
- Kyle Kearns (2)
- Riley Neal (3)
- Alex Malzone (7)
- Nick Johns (6)
Others: Dillman (1), White (5), Jones (4), Jackson (NR)
This is not necessarily my wish list, this is just how I feel the big board may look somewhere in Schembechler Hall, based on frequency of contact, expressed interest from both sides, and skill-set for Borges’ system. It will be interesting to see how it all shakes out over the next couple of months.
“You know, it’s always an exciting week. Believe me. I think from campuses, both schools, both programs, the opportunity to play in a rivalry game that has a lot at stake obviously with us both in the same division, they’re an awfully good football team. I think they’ve come a long way from early in the same season as far as from an offensive perspective. I think Connor Cook has done a nice job. I think their whole offense has really taken off, and you can really see it. We pay attention throughout the year, but really their football team. Their defense is as good as any. That’s going to be a big challenge for us. Playing up in East Lansing is always a bit of a challenge. Any time you play away from home, that’s just part of it. Making sure as a team that our focus and discipline and all those things have to be spot on for us to go out and compete at our highest level. That’s what we need to do. We’re excited. It’s going to be a fun week.”
With how aggressive Michigan State plays, how do you get your team to embrace that level of physicality?
“Well you hope your team does the same thing. We’ve been inconsistent in that department, so they all know, the guys who’ve been here. I think there’s 27 of them who were there in East Lansing two years ago. It’s not a whole lot, but they understand that it’s a physical next five weeks, and it starts with the physicalness that Michigan State will play with.”
Can you talk about this game in the context of the Legends division title?
“Well number one it’s the passion for this football game by Spartans and Wolverines, something that as a coach or a competitor you understand that and you look forward to it. The other part of it, the piece of the puzzle, it is important football game when you look at where you want to be and where they want to be at the end of November.”
What are the areas you need to improve the most for this game?
“I think our special teams need to get better. I don’t think we’ve punted the ball as well as we need to. I don’t think we’ve covered at times the way we need to. Big plays defensively. Can’t give up those big plays, and you can’t have those lapses. From an offensive standpoint, you always want to be able to have a running game and count on the guys up front being physical at the line of scrimmage, and getting Fitz or whoever it might be in the backfield started.”
Michigan State likes to attack the middle of your offense and blitz their linebackers. Will you get a good test for how good your new guards are going to be?
“I don’t think there’s any doubt. I think those two guys – and the good thing is there’s nine other guys out there with them. Believe me, there’s other guys who will be there for the first time with more significant roles than maybe they were before. I think how we handle their defense, their front seven, how we get off bump coverage and all those things as tight as they play. Those are all things we’re going to learn. I’d like to know a little bit more before, but that’s not going to be the case.”
Will you know the identity of your team after this Saturday?
“I think it gives you a little bit of an idea. Will you know it for sure? I’m not sure. I think there’s no doubt that every part of this game from the offense and defense, every fabric, whatever it is, you’re going to find something out about your team.”
How do you get Devin Gardner not to try to do too much?
“Yeah. You can’t give the ball away. I think they lead the conference in turnover margin and those things. We’ve got to do a great job of taking care of the football. Great job in decision-making. I think a lot of it, and you asked specifically about Devin. A lot of it for a lot of guys is the fundamentals that you play with and the techniques, and not getting yourself off kilter with how you’re going to play.”
Can you talk about the run game and how important it is to run against them? They haven’t given up 100 yards to an opponent yet.
“Yeah. And if you watch them enough you know why. I think running the football opens up so much of your play-action game. I think that’s where offensively they’ve done a nice job. They’ve done a great job with pounding it in there with the power plays, the stretch plays, those kinds of things, and the play-action game has really helped from an offensive standpoint. I think it’s important for both of us to establish a running game of some sort.”
MGoQuestion: What have been the keys to Michigan State’s improvement on offense over the course of the season?
“I think their offensive line is better. I think they’re playing better together as a group. I think Langford is a back who’s very patient. I think he’s come on. I think the quarterback situation’s settled now, and there’s not who’s going to play, who’s not going to play?”
MGoQuestion: Given the propensity of their offensive coordinator to break tendency in rivalry games (e.g. Ohio State 2011), how do you prepare for that?
“Well you have to prepare for what they do, and most teams are going to have four base running plays, four base pass concepts. You’ve got to be a little bit different in some ways in how you call a game. But at the same time it’s the same plays, and getting all the looks you can at those plays is going to help you.”
Michigan State doesn’t like you very much. How do you feel about them?
“Well we don’t necessarily like them either. This isn’t an admiration society. It’s a great rivalry with two teams that are 45 miles apart? That might not be enough, but it’s what it is.”
It sounds like you’re hoping your players are physical rather than knowing that they’re going to be.
“Yeah, I would say this in answering that: I think there’s a lot of guys who have played a lot of snaps. They understand it. There’s some new guys, a couple true freshmen, that haven’t played in this magnitude of a game. But you look at the back half of our schedule, it’s all physical. Every game’s got to be a physical game. I think from that standpoint, yeah, there’s some guys who don’t know it yet. I think they’re learning. I think they’ve learned in the last couple practices.”
How uneasy does that make you feel, that you have to hope -- ?
“I’m not hoping. It’s not hope. I don’t know if hope’s the right word. I think it’s more of us educating guys who haven’t played in that environment.”
How would you compare and contrast this rivalry with the Ohio State rivalry?
“I think they’re both important.”
[Sorry everyone, my recorder crapped out on me while this was taping, so I’ll just write up a summary of important things that were said. As always, most of it was people trying to get Hoke to say something provocative or edgy, like “how tough is your team?” and “is this an important rivalry game?”]
- Team is better equipped to handle the tough road environment. Learned a lot from 2011.
- Gardner’s fundamentals have improved. Getting a couple snaps in East Lansing in 2011 was a valuable experience.
- Michigan has not changed game prep to simulate Michigan State’s “physicality.” Will continue to do prepare the same way.
- Jake Ryan could play more continuous snaps. Previously he was rotating in for three snaps and coming out.
- Memory from playing Michigan State in 1997? "Charles Woodson's interception."
- Drew Dileo’s status is questionable. Coaches will see if he can practice on Wednesday before making a decision on whether they will unleash The Threat.
Position: Wide Receiver
Ht/Wt: 6'4"/207 lbs.
Location: Paul VI High School – Haddonfield, NJ
Offers: UMass, Old Dominion, Rutgers, Temple
With the Michigan coaches being free of game-prep duties this week they have taken the recruiting trail by storm visiting states across the nation and checking in on recruits from dozens of high schools. Tuesday afternoon Coach Ferrigno dropped in on Irvin Charles while making a sweep through New Jersey. Charles was a very cool kid to talk to and seemed very flattered to be contacted by the Wolverine staff. I asked him how long the visit had been set up and he surprised me with his answer.
Man, I had no idea they were in Jersey. He ended up telling me they were on a bye week so. I had no clue they were coming, I just got called down to the office and he was there. It was cool. It was my first interaction with Michigan so I was definitely surprised.
Charles told me that the visit wasn’t very long but that he and Coach Ferrigno talked about as much as they could in the short time they were together.
We talked about my recruitment, my training, my football season this year and just some personal life questions. He asked me how my dad is, asked about my sisters, where I live and who I live with.
This is another common thread I hear from recruits, that the coaches take a genuine interest in the life of the young man outside of football. That sentiment always seems to go a long way and I believe it did with Charles as well, as he said Michigan is now very intriguing to him and he rates his interest level, “From a 1-10, a 9 for sure.”
Charles is built in the exact mold that the coaches seem to love in receivers. At 6’4” and 200+ his body type is a lot like Moe Ways and he plays strong on film. He’s not a burner but he runs well (4.73 Nike SPARQ) for his age and size.
You can check out the first four games of Charles’ season here.
Word of the day?
“Huh? Uh, let me think about that one.”
MGoPetulant: “Fake bubble.”
“… Okay. Questions.”
Will you keep the same five offensive linemen that you ended the game with?
“We’ll see. It’s going to be competitive, but those five guys did a pretty good job during the game. It’s going to get tougher. And we’re going to have to demonstrate some consistency. But if they can do that, they will be the five offensive linemen. But we’re not eliminating anybody. We still have some talented kids in the wings. We’re trying to keep this thing competitive. Do we want the five guys? Yes, we do. I’ll answer the question before you ask it. But that being said, we got to this point where we’re pretty functional now because we’ve kept it competitive. We don’t like doing it this way. We’d rather just have the same five from the beginning, but it hasn’t worked out that way.”
MGoQuestion: After looking at the film, did you think Kyle Bosch and Erik Magnuson an upgrade at the guard positions?
“I don’t know if they were an upgrade. They were an alternative, and they had a chance to prove what they can do. They didn’t do a bad job. Upgrade is a pretty strong word. I wouldn’t say that.”
“Obviously we’re not – I’m not – happy with the amount of points given up. The big plays, that’s not our defense. We’ve got some things we’ve got to get corrected. A lot of that is on me. That’s – any time something like that happens, you have to look at yourself, you have to look at the game plan, you have to look at what you had in. I think there are some things we could have done different. But we’ll get it corrected.”
Brady said guys were in position but didn’t execute. How much of it was scheme, and how much of it was execution?
“That’s always the case, but your job as a coordinator is you get guys in the right positions and they make plays. Either we haven’t practiced them enough – obviously that offense, the thing I was proud of and we made a really big deal of not getting our defense all out of whack because of the speed of it, and the speed of it was unbelievable. You had to be there to feel that.
"Throughout the game, if you watched and you saw, our guys were lined up and our guys knew where to be. You see other people play that and they’re running all over trying to get set and it looks like a circus sometimes. One of the touchdowns, the first one, the corner didn’t get the call. That’s what we stressed all week that that’s why they run that offense. To get just one guy to not get the call or to be sure of the call and they take advantage of it. That was one of them. Another one of the big plays, we’re right in position again, and it’s an interception, it’s no question it’s an interception, it turns into a touchdown. That I blame myself for. We have to work harder running to the football. We should have had five more guys around the football. We’ll get that corrected. There’s going to be plays like that that are going to happen. That’s where a Michigan defense runs to the football and stops it for a gain and you have another chance to play.
"For the most part I thought our kids, they hung in there. I think what they did at the end of that game shows that they believed. I mean, you’ve all been around teams before that folded in that kind of situation, but they didn’t. Thank goodness for the offense, which you knew was going to be your advantage against their defense -- our offense did a tremendous job of bailing us out, and that’s what happened.”