at least it's not just us?
al borges denard fusion cuisine
The option has always been about making a defender wrong about who has the ball, thus effectively blocking him. Since you don't have to actually block him this means you can take out a slavering rage-beast with even the daintiest of skill position players.
Rich Rodriguez's innovation was taking the hazard-laden option and turning it into a simple yes-or-no handoff. The read option makes a guy wrong without requiring a pitch, and without getting your quarterback lit up time and again. Pairing that with plays that stretch the defense across the field horizontally opens up the box, forces safeties down, and creates the kind of environments that see his teams run for nearly six yards a clip.
Borges and Hoke have a different outlook on football. Last year when the inverted veer was running riot over Ohio State, they were consistently blocking the guy a Rodriguez-style offense would consider optioned off.
This worked, but I wondered if it was working because Ryan Shazier was an injured freshman who was pretty horrible in that game. It's hard not to look at what's going on with Michael Schofield in this clip and not pine for the guy to move past the OSU DE and take on Ohrian Johnson, thus likely springing Denard for another huge gain.
Last year both myself and fellow guy who does the picture paging Chris Gaerig thought that this was an execution issue that would be hammered out given enough time, but Tyler Sellhorn, a high school OL coach who frequently emails me tips and corrections, thought this was a philosophical thing:
I think Schofield and Omameh were coached to block the DE. Hoke/Borges do not like leaving unblocked defensive linemen out there. A famous unattributed coaching axiom that I am sure that Hoke/Borges believe in is: "First level defenders cause fumbles, second level defenders make tackles." To me, this is the "MANBALL" component of M's "option" game. True power running game people think like that. I think that is the reason there have been fewer really long runs (the second level has been blocked less consistently this season).
This is one philosophical difference: RR's first thought always was, "How can we mess with the safeties to get big yards when we break through the line", Hoke/Borges first thought is "How can we mess with the DL so they are less aggro (in run and pass situations) and we don't ever have a negative play." Both work well as we have seen.
The consistency with which Michigan guys were blocking the supposedly option DL was a point in his favor. At first I thought the Alabama game was the point at which this was undeniable, but now I think Alabama was blocking Michigan, not the other way around.
Optioning Nobody #1
It's Michigan's first drive. They've picked up a first down with a (horribly spotted) flare to Smith and a third down conversion from same. They come out in a two-back, three-wide set. Alabama responds with its base 3-4 set, half-rolling a safety into the box.
Michigan will run the veer. They pull Barnum (1), use Hopkins(2) as a lead blocker, and block down on the front side. This leaves the Alabama defender (3) there unblocked… for now, anyway.
Hopkins. You are not flaring out, my man. You are doing something that isn't that.
At the mesh point, Hopkins (1) has contacted the "unblocked" Alabama defensive end. This means he is now blocked. (Science!) Hopkins is also blocked. They are mutually blocking each other. Neither can go forward very easily.
This happens really fast. The DE is doing this on purpose. His goal here is two-fold: one, to force the handoff, and two to pick off one of the lead blockers.
Barnum(2) is still pulling for the front side; since the guys blocking down have actually done a pretty good job of getting push he's got a lane. Denard(3) sees the DE underneath Hopkins and gives.
And now it's over. Hopkins has indeed eliminated the Alabama DE, and Barnum reaches the hole as Smith sprints outside. Also sprinting outside: the totally unblocked Alabama LB.
Michigan's got some other problems, too, as the playside DE came through the double on the playside when Kwiatkowski released—you can see Schofield hunched over in an "oops" way right at the LOS behind Barnum. Given Smith's angle and Barnum's this is only a further indicator that Schofield got hammered on Saturday, not an actual reason the play doesn't work.
And that's all she wrote.
Who did Michigan block with Denard's legs on this play? Nobody.
[After THE JUMP: oops they did it again :( ]
9/1/2012 – Michigan 14, Alabama 41 – 0-1
[ED: I retreated into humor; Ace, being there, didn't have that option, and wrote a thing that is closer to the game column thing than this.]
So I've spent a lot of time thinking about this, and have concluded that Michigan's biggest tactical error on Saturday night was not leaving Jerryworld ten minutes into the first quarter and wandering around Dallas until they'd had enough random encounters to go up several levels. Once Michigan had unlocked special abilities like Mystic Separation and acquired the Arm Of Elway, they could have returned to the field and resumed playing on a more even basis.
While this would take about three years and pose several logistical difficulties, there can be no debate this would have been a preferable to the solution Michigan's dunderheaded coaches decided on, viz., not running away at top speed apologizing profusely. By not fleeing to practice their skills on, like, bats and stuff, they ended up losing the game.
Worse, they ended up continuing the game, thus forcing a great many people to watch it. At no point did Al Borges deploy the EMP weapon he must have spent the offseason perfecting in lieu of figuring out what Denard Robinson is good at. So the broadcast continued unabated, except apparently in DC where DirecTV was on the fritz. (Wolverines in our nation's capitol: keep yourselves quarantined. You may be all that's left of us once the PTSD kicks in. You must continue to tell others of our sacrifice.)
As mentioned, a better strategy would have been to exit at top speed while splicing K-Pop videos into the feed.
One of 67,200,113 things that would have been preferable to watching football on Saturday night
But hey, I'm just a guy on the internet. Maybe I haven't thought this through. There are multiple strategies for successfully executing a game like Saturday's.
INVENT A TIME MACHINE. The classic. Go back to the point at which this game was agreed upon and describe to the decision-makers what the consequences will be. Unfortunately, in this case the only part of "nationally televised debacle on par with Chernobyl" that will be heard is "nationally televised," and nothing will change.
DRINK! Not working.
DRINK MORE! Nerft veruking erngerghf.
AFTER IT'S OVER, TELL PEOPLE YOU SUCK AND WILL PUT MORE SUGAR IN YOUR SAUCE. I'm not sure what the analog of putting more sugar in your sauce is but it's probably putting more MAN in your BALL down BY THE RIVER. This move was successfully executed by the guy who replaced the guy who only hears "nationally televised" at his old job and may be replicated here once the guy who only hears "nationally televised" has been safely quarantined in a relatively meaningless BS government job like governor.
Sorry, world, that you think we suck. We're going to try not to suck any more, and look, here's some guy who works for us. Very middle America, this guy. Puts garlic on the uniforms. How cool is that?
GO LIMP. Jesse Williams may believe you are rotten and wander off in search of salmon.
GIVE THE BALL TO A 5'8" SLOW GUY OVER AND OVER. Scratch this one.
The weird thing about doing this and being this age is that you feel stuck. I did not know I was doing this when I started doing it and have felt grateful for my continued obsession it as various other people ranging from 30-50 have reported back on their waning interest in Michigan football, previously their alpha and omega. There's nothing sadder than the thing you used to think is amazing.
What I felt on Saturday was an intense jealousy of Orson/Spencer, who had a child a couple years back and is having another one. We're getting there, but not quite yet due to PhD things. It would have been nice to have a child to look at halfway through the second quarter and know with 100% certainty that what I was looking at was just a game that did not really matter.
I know this, or at least knew it. (I do not know this and never knew it even a tiny bit.) Now that the career is the game it is hard to figure out what's a reasonable response from a human, what's my response, and what's my response augmented by the fact that I've doubled down on fandom. All of it seems out whack, and never more so than on Saturday when a guy I've met a half-dozen times now, mostly at NYC Alumni Club events, was there. He's one of those magical guys who somehow makes a career out of writing stuff for Spin and the NYT Magazine and magazines that start "New York" and may or may not have additional bits in their name. He's been pitching an article about me at these organizations. He was taking notes.
At halftime I bellowed "THAT'S BECAUSE YOU'RE NOT RUNNING DENAAAAARD" at the television. I knew that this was probably not wise with a man taking notes in the room, but only after I did it. There it was anyway. I'd already spent the entire first quarter telling myself not to say anything on twitter until the die had truly been cast.
So, I feel stuck, you know? I'm 33 now, the age when Jim McManus had his Age of Miracles and went to the World Series of Poker to write about it for Harper's, married and not disjointed and blessed by the cosmos. It's a hell of a football game to watch that makes you wish this stuff didn't have such a hold on you, but the first time I looked at the clock and boggled at how much time was left was in the first quarter.
It'll pass, I'm sure. It's just a hell of a football game to do that do you, to leave you blank and unthinking until you laugh in a way that frightens even you.
Bullets we need for this post so you can't use them, find others
The takeaway. DENNIS NORFLEET WOOOOOOOOOOO. He looked fast! And returned some kicks a moderate distance! And got lit up by Dee Hart! And Fred Jackson doesn't think he can play!
Some other stuff that's not about Norfleet for some stupid reason follows.
Obligatory uniform opinion. Highlighter yellow emphatically not getting fixed, so the shoulder things combine with the pants to give off a blinding aura. If that was the goal—maybe Alabama won't even be able to look at us!—okay. I'm guessing it's not. Meanwhile, Alabama just wears their uniforms because they're Alabama. Their brand seems to be surviving.
At least Michigan got the helmet numbers right, amirite?
Blown out. I debated just posting the Hoke presser and saying "Hoke's voice is all you need to know about this game."
Obligatory Borges stuff. Guh. The best thing you can say is that once you're down 31-0 you might as well get out of there without getting anyone hurt. When the opponents are saying stuff like this…
“I thought with the running back being out, I thought (Robinson) would’ve got more touches, because he’s a playmaker, he’s a good athlete, good player,” said Alabama linebacker Nico Johnson. “And I don’t know, it was a shock.”
…you totally outsmarted them. And yourself. Mostly yourself. Any hopes you may be harboring that this will all work itself out and Denard's legs will be the primary engine of the offense are looking pretty sickly at the moment. At least we've been here before, and Borges has retreated to plot anew. Usually he comes back with "hey, this guy can run."
The only rationale I can think of that makes any sense is that Borges believed flat-out that Michigan could not run at all and wanted an offense predicated on that. I don't know how much I buy that given Alabama replacing a number of starters and football coaches' general self-belief, but the numbers are clear. From Bill Connolly:
In 2011, Michigan ran the ball 74 percent of the time on standard downs (national average: 60 percent), 40 percent on passing downs (national average: 33 percent). Despite pro-style intentions, the Wolverines catered to Denard Robinson's strengths for the most part and kept things run-heavy, especially when Toussaint caught fire late in the year.
Against Alabama on Saturday, though, the gameplan was quite different. In the first quarter, Michigan ran just five times on 11 standard downs (45 percent) and just once in six passing downs (17 percent). These are Air Raid percentages.
If Robinson has 30 carries against Air Force I'll again descend into the Walter White laugh. (Spoilers, obviously.)
Would have been nice to see what Robinson could have become in an offense that catered to—or even bothered to use—his primary skill. (Everything else would have been terrible, of course.)
Yeah, yeah, Robinson had reads and could have kept the ball blah blah. Planning to get Robinson carries when Alabama's defense decides not to put a guy on him on the read option is not a winning strategy.
Gardner WR stuff. Gardner probably took more snaps at WR than anyone else and looked like a 6'4" version of Darryl Stonum from 2008. He consistently looked over the wrong shoulder on deep stuff and his routes were crap. But he scored a touchdown and could have had a couple more long gainers if he wasn't going up against yet another Alabama cornerback from hell. Gardner didn't get an opportunity to catch that opening slant thanks to that Milliner kid and had a few more potential long completions broken up by the Alabama secondary. Milliner raked one out; a few others never got there.
Once Gardner's away from a 6'2" junior who was a five star and the #2 CB in his class to Rivals, he'll do fine. Unlike Stonum 2008, Gardner did find the ball even if it looked ugly as he did so.
Roundtree. The first interception was debatably interference as Milliner shoved Roundtree to the ground on his route. Penalty or not, that sequence should make Roundtree's shortcomings as an outside receiver clear. He is not big enough, strong enough, or athletic enough to compete with standout corners. His assets are about as wasted as Denard's, though at least in Roundtree's case it's clear he's on the outside because of a lack of other options.
The ground game. Hard to get a grasp on anything, obviously. Michigan was overwhelmed; Toussaint would not have done much better. Aside from one Vincent Smith run that Alabama lost contain on, Michigan got jack on the ground. I can ask questions all day: why was Rawls going east-west? Why was misdirection hardly attempted? Did Michigan come into the game with more than one running play?
It doesn't really matter.
Bubble screens. They existed, and they got eight yards each, and they were Michigan's best plays that weren't chucking it deep. Gallon looked very good on both; there's no reason not to keep going to it when the defense is giving it to you.
In case of Lewan emergency. Move Schofield to left tackle (where he was pwned on his first play), Omameh to right tackle, and bring in Burzynski at right guard. In case of Lewan emergency, we are dead dead dead dead dead dead.
Defense. Ask again later. I stopped paying close enough attention to tell you anything interesting after the first quarter.
The Countess injury is of course a major blow; with Talbott out the door earlier their CB depth has gone from excellent to shaky before game two. Webb says($) expect Raymon Taylor to pick up the slack. The line was always going to get pounded. Somewhat disconcerting to see a lot of James Ross out there unless Michigan had also just packed it in and was screwing around with getting some experience.
Freshmen. Maize and Blue News has a comprehensive recap. Other than Ross (and NORFLEET) the most prominent freshman contributor was Jarrod Wilson, who stepped in as the free safety in the nickel package as Michigan moved Thomas Gordon down to nickel. Pipkins looked like he got some push on a few plays, too.
We did not see much from Chesson and Darboh, but if Roundtree keeps playing like he is that won't last.
Your winner for dumbest burned redshirt: Royce Jenkins-Stone.
Well, at least this isn't particularly unusual. Various recent Alabama scores:
- 2011 Citrus Bowl: Alabama 49, MSU 7
- 2011 Arkansas: 38-14
- 2011 Florida: 38-10
- 2011 Tennessee: 37-6
- 2011 Auburn: 42-14
- National title game: 21-0 over LSU, LSU never crosses midfield.
Other than Georgia Southern, no team has put up more than 14 points on Michigan since Cam Newton's Auburn outfit.
Michigan is getting Raped right now. I bet Jerry Sandusky is proud lol
Get your yuks in now.
At least it wasn't the most embarrassing thing to happen over the weekend. This GIF of Kentucky fans is destined to go head to head with Rollerblading Raptors Mascot someday:
Don't forget the guy in the bottom corner and the dude left hanging at the top right. This is a gif as complex and layered as Yankee Enthusiasts and will in time take its place in GIF Valhalla.
Inside the Boxscore returns:
Morgan had 8 tackles, but they were all assisted tackles, which epitomizes the game. In all of the one-on-one matchups, we lost. Bama was just more “-er” than us, bigger, stronger, faster, tougher. I avoided watching Bama last season because I hate that “ESS EEE SEE” crap, but there’s no denying how good they are.
As does Hoke For Tomorrow:
I turned off the TV after Bellamy's first career pass attempt/interception and made my way quietly upstairs to bed. The rest of the family (wife, 5yo son, 1yo daughter) had long since decided that a good night's sleep was a better option than watching Michigan get smeared across the turf in Texas. I didn't feel any bitter emotions really, mostly concern for the collective knees of Taylor Lewan, Blake Countess, and Brandon Moore. I guess the Rich Rod years knocked all of the conceited sense of entitlement out of me for real.
Hinton is gloriously reborn and his article is mostly about Alabama, because obviously. The bit on Denard:
That said, Denard Robinson did not look like a quarterback on the verge of turning the corner as a passer. On one level, it's hard to judge a guy who's being consistently hit and hurried by a defense as relentless as Alabama's, which seems to have an answer for everything on almost every play. But Robinson was well below the Mendoza line tonight in terms of completion percentage (11 of 26), and his two interceptions in the first half were about as ugly – and as costly – as they come.
The first he simply put up for grabs, recklessly lobbing a jump ball in the direction of a receiver who had already been shoved off of his feet and out of bounds by Tide corner Dee Milliner, who found himself all alone to gather in the pick; Eddie Lacy scored three plays, extending 'Bama's lead to 21-0. On the second, Robinson stepped up in the pocket and drilled the ball directly into the chest of linebacker C.J. Mosley, who jogged in for an icing score that pushed the lead to 31-0. In both cases, Robinson had no idea what he was seeing when he put the ball in the air, and seemed more interested in getting rid of it under pressure for the sake of getting rid of, whatever the cost on the other end. Michigan fans have seen that before; all indications tonight are that they'll be seeing it again.
I think that The Hoover Street Rag is not correct:
We have a choice as fans. We can sulk, we can lament, we can shake our fists in anger. But I don't think we will.
That would be nice.
In the second quarter, with Michigan trailing 24-0 and backed up inside their 10-yard line, Kirk Herbstreit was talking about Michigan's non-existant running game. The camera panned up to Al Borges in the coordinator's booth. After relaying the upcoming 3rd down play, Borges shook his head in disbelief and rubbed his face. It was the unmistakeable look of someone who had run out of answers, like working your way through a maze and finding only brick walls.
Al Borges deserves some blame, but not much. Michigan wasn't going to be able to run the ball in this game. I predicted that Michigan would rush for fewer than 100 yards; the final tally was 69, despite having one of the most electrifying players in the country at quarterback. Yes, Denard Robinson probably could have run the ball more, especially before he got dinged up. Would it have made much of a difference? Probably not. Where Robinson really could have made a difference was in the passing game. He had lots of open receivers early in the game, but he's just as erratic as ever in the passing game. He kept throwing deep (inaccurately), and completed just 11/26 passes. The offensive line did a decent job of pass blocking, but if Michigan has to rely on Robinson to win the game with his arm, they're going to struggle.
Erratic, maybe, but I saw a lot of accurate-enough passes that would have been complete if not for Dee Milliner and other members of the Alabama secondary.
Wojo wrote a column. Maize and Brew did a thing. MGoRecruiting returns from the dead to pine for the spread 'n' shred. MLive now TWIS-ing their own readers. Big House Blog is not thrilled with Brandon. Me, I say that whenever you can get less money to play thousands of miles from campus against a team that's signed an extra recruiting class of players over the last five years without getting a home game in return, you have to do it.
At least the server held up, amirite?
1. We're clear about this shotgun thing, right?
The number one question about last year's offense was how much it would play to Denard's strengths and how much it would settle into Borges's comfort zone. The answer was mostly the former. While the first real test against Notre Dame was a rocky one and Michigan's under-center experiment against Iowa—against a Hawkeye defense that had just been plowed for a game-winning touchdown by Minnesota—was an outright disaster, those were outliers in a season that saw Michigan hardly budge from its shotgun-oriented ways under Rodriguez. The Sugar Bowl was a big fat raspberry at the end of things, granted.
What they ran from the shotgun was a lot different, but when it came down to the most important game in Brady Hoke's career to date—Ohio State—Michigan's primary gambit was the single most prominent spread play in the game today: the inverted veer, which marries power blocking to spread principles and gets you a lot of carries where Denard is charging hard upfield. The result was 170 rushing yards, a 167 yard, 14/17, 3 TD, 0 INT day passing, and 40 points against Oho State.
That seemed to work pretty well, right?
This blog tracked Michigan's success in various formations all year, and it wasn't even a debate except when the opposing defense was entirely theoretical (think EMU). Against mediocre defenses, the shotgun was far superior. Against good defenses, the shotgun was far superior. Various examples:
- Michigan averaged 10.6 YPC from the gun against WMU, 6.8 from under center. (Note that all these numbers excise goal line and short yardage carries as distorting.)
- It was 7.5 gun, 2.3 under center against ND.
- It was 6.4 gun, 3.4 I, 2.3 ace against Iowa.
- It was 5.8 gun, 3.9 under center against Illinois, and before two garbage-time runs from Toussaint Michigan had –1 yards on 8 carries from under center. The blocking on those wasn't even good: "On the first he cut to the backside of the play on a power, which rarely goes well; on the second he had to dodge three tacklers on the backfield on an iso and bounce all the way to the sideline before finding open grass."
You get the idea. For the season Michigan averaged 3.9 YPC from the I and 6.7 from the gun. While ace (not that Ace) actually bested the gun's performance at 7.4 YPC, less than ten percent of Michigan's snaps were from that formation and they were heavily biased against good Ds—no ace snaps against ND or MSU, big chunks against Purdue and Iowa. One 59-yard Fitz run against Purdue explains most of that number, and that was some pretty inexcusable D combined with Fitz being awesome.
When the I worked it was usually due to opponents screwing up…
Three defenders to the left of center vs four blockers plus a FB = 8 yards
…or the tailback making chicken salad out of chicken despair, as in the clips from the Illinois game above.
SHOTGUN SHOTGUN SHOTGUN SHOTGUN SHOTGUNNNNNNNNN. Consider the line: Lewan, Mealer/Kalis, Barnum, Omameh, Schofield—all Rodriguez recruits who can move save the LG. Consider the QB: Denard. Consider the RB: Fitz Toussaint, space jitterbug. Consider the TEs: 404 file not found. Consider the FB: Stephen Hopkins, a guy who can reprise some of the MINOR RAGE if attention is drawn away from him and he's free to run straight at one guy. You've even got leftover RR slots in the WR corps. Just let it ride, man.
Next year is the year you flip over to your multiple pro-style whipsaw offense, next year when Denard is gone and maybe Toussaint heads for the draft and Kalis/Miller/Bryant is your road-grading interior OL and you've got TE depth and a panoply of different rushers for different situations. This year, stick with it and refine what works.
The spring game, which was almost all RR-at-WVU déjà vu 3WR 2RB shotgun set, indicates that's what the coaching staff thinks, too, as does the buzz I've gotten from The Fort. Now about using it a little more smoothly.
[after the JUMP: Borges fusion cuisine, yet more on DG at WR, stupid predictions.]
In case you've forgotten since last fall, FFFF is the weekly film breakdown of Michigan's upcoming opponent where I apply my (limited) knowledge of X's and O's—luckily, this week much of the technical brilliance is provided by Chris Brown.
College football fans should know a few things about Alabama: they're good (duh), they play a soul-crushing 3-4 defense, and they grind out wins with a glacial-paced zone running offense that's brutally efficient. I'll get into more detail below, of course, but that's the Cliffs Notes version if you hate to read. Given that it's the opening week of the season and Alabama is replacing several starters, this post will almost entirely focus on scheme; Friday's preview will go much deeper into their personnel.
Spread, Pro-Style, or Hybrid? Pro-style. Alabama mostly operates from under center, usually with either a fullback/H-back or second tight end on the field.
Basketball on Grass or MANBALL? Though the Crimson Tide offense operates in the spirit of MANBALL, they actually utilize a lot of zone blocking—the inside and outside zones are staples of their offense.
Quarterback Dilithium Level (Scale: 1 [Navarre] to 10 [Denard]): Even with sacks removed, quarterback A.J. McCarron rushed for only 70 yards on 19 carries last year. He's mobile enough that he could escape the pocket and possibly pick up a surprise first down, but not much more than that. I'll give him a 3.
Dangerman: QB A.J. McCarron. Alabama loses most of their top skill position players from last year, but McCarron is often overlooked as one of the better quarterbacks in the nation, largely due to their run-heavy attack and defensive reputation. As a redshirt sophomore last season, McCarron finished 25th in the country in passer efficiency (147.27) and 24th in yards per attempt (8.0), most impressively posting a miniscule 1.5% interception rate. McCarron doesn't wow you, but he's the perfect quarterback for 'Bama's system: the proverbial "game manager" who rarely makes a mistake.
Zook Factor: This is my measure of how often teams have horrible ideas like "let's punt on 4th and 3 from the opponent 35" and so on. While Alabama is hailed as a conservative paragon, they've been known to break that habit in a big way:
Of course, the reason this works so well is because Alabama normally takes the safe route; earlier in the same game, they punted on 4th and 1 from their 46 despite the presence of one Trent Richardson.
OVERVIEW: Alabama has a new offensive coordinator this year as former Washington OC Don Nussmeier takes over for new Colorado State head coach Jim McElwain. The general strategy should be the same, however, and if anything the offense could become even slower: according to Football Study Hall, the Tide—quite uncharacteristically—had a slightly faster pace than NCAA average last year, while Nussmeier's Washington squad plodded along at a 39.6% adjusted pace. Chart via Football Study Hall:
Alabama's hard-earned reputation as a run-first outfit doesn't manifest itself on standard downs (First downs, second-and-6 or less, third-and-4 or less); instead, it shows up in their far-above-average run percentage on passing downs (second-and-7 or more, third-and-5 or more). The Tide don't often find themselves in that latter category, however, as they led the nation in all three advanced statistical measures (S&P+, Success Rate, PPP+) on standard downs. In other words, they stay ahead of the chains and rarely find themselves in a situation where they need to pick up a big chunk of yardage.
[Hit the jump for the rest of the breakdown]
"Okay. Who’s going to break the ice?"
With Fitz out for a while, how quickly will you be able to identify your next No. 1 RB?
“Well we’re just going to the next guy. We’re not really changing anything. Thomas Rawls is going to be that next guy. Vince is going to do what he’s done, and on we go. I think the key to these situations from a game plan perspective is to try to make as little out of it, to make it as seamless as you can, and just go.”
What can you glean from the first few practices?
“Not much. I mean, what do you see? They’re just running around in shorts. Until somebody’s going to hit somebody and somebody’s going to do something, it’s really just kind of glorified aerobics in a lot of ways. I hate to put it that way, but you know, we have a few kids run pretty good. We’ll learn more today because we’re in half pads and we’ll learn even more towards the end of the week. To make any hard and fast assessments of where we are is really hard to do right now. It is. I’m not copping out, I’m just telling you this. We know more about the offense, but we kind of knew that before we even lined up. That part is better.”
Does that mean Vince is just a third down guy?
“No. Not necessarily. Vince is going to pretty much play the same role as he did a year ago, and that wasn’t always on third down. So he was in there sometimes to spell backs, and we’ll just see how it shakes out, but Thomas is going to get a good chance, and Vince is going to get a good chance. Justice Hayes is in the fold, too. So we’ll kind of see, and again these next few days -- not few days, but really this next week or so, when we start and the full contact takes hold, we’ll learn more about that situation.”
Have you talked much to Fitz?
“A little bit. As much as I ever do, ya know. ‘Hi Fitz, what’s going on, how ya feelin.’ Yeah, I mean. I talk to all offensive players at one time or another. But yeah, that’s about it.”
You’ve been around Rawls. What do you like about his style and what he brings to the table?
“He’s reckless. He runs with a demeanor that’s aggressive. Suffice to say, aggressive would be the best word -- he looks like he’s mad when he runs sometimes. But he’s a tough guy, and if you hit him you’re going to feel him, I promise you that. You are going to feel him, because there’s times when he’s just simply not interested in avoiding you.”
In your offense, how do you choose where to place your X and Z receivers? Does it make a difference?
“Yeah, it does make a difference, but optimal thing is you’d like to have a guy that plays the position. But the X receiver tends to draw a little more single coverage depending on the team. Some teams that’s not true, and he’s on the line of scrimmage most of the time, so he’s going to draw tighter press coverage, too, whereas the flanker’s not going to draw quite as much tight coverage. The X is a guy that’s got to be kind of rangy because he’s got to be able to get some jump balls. The Z does sometimes, too. The Z’s got to be a guy that moves around a lot more. He’s going to be in more formations than the X is, so he’s got to be on the ball with regard to that. But the skill set in terms of being able to catch, run, and jump, it’s very similar. But once we get them there we try and kind of fit the guys that look like they can handle those things I talked about better.”
What role do you envision Jeremy Gallon to be in?
“Pretty much more the same, with a little bit more seasoning, if that makes any sense. He’s a tough guy. He plays much bigger than his size. You just don’t see a lot of guys his height that can go up and get jump balls like he does. He’s a very good blocker. But what I’d say in answer to that question is that every phase of his game should be a little better simply because of his overall understanding of what we’re trying to do. But he’s a reliable kid, and the quarterbacks have faith in his ability to go get the ball. They know they’ll get his best effort every time he goes up. I would look for him as well as Roy, who’s really [had an outstanding spring] -- both of them have taken that next step. Now I hope we get some carryover once we start playing.”
How much do you think you can use Devin at receiver?
“Well, that’s going to be a lot by game plan, but we’re developing him at two different positions, and let me tell you that’s a challenge. For a kid to be an occasional player is one thing, but to be a guy that you’re really kind of splitting time with, that’s a challenge, but we’ll just see how that shakes out. That’s still kind of in the embryonic stages. As we go, we’ll decide how much of it we’re going to use.”
Do you expect to use him more at one position or another?
“He could -- it depends. I can’t commit to that because you don’t know. At the end of the day, maybe, but we’re trying to exploit every option at this point.”
Does the decision to play Devin at wide receiver mean you have more confidence in Russell Bellomy’s ability as a backup quarterback?
“Yeah. I have more confidence in all their abilities. Any way you cut it, Russell Bellomy’s going to have to take the next step, just like we’re asking everybody else to do. So yeah. I think that’s the key point. You have to develop three quarterbacks. At this point, anyway. Now once you get into the season and you decide how you distribute all that, you’re really working just with two quarterbacks, but we have to see how this whole thing shakes out. Right now we’re still an open book, but we do have some nice options, and right now that’s all you can ask for.”
Have you consulted any other coaches who have dealt with players splitting time between two positions?
“Uh, no not really. No, I tell you what we did do when I was at UCLA is we came here when [Michigan] had Charles Woodson. We came for a spring. Just curious because we had a kid there who we were talking about doing some of that stuff with. But that was different. It was a little different because Charles was playing in a defensive and offensive position. He had this completely different deal. You have to learn two different systems. But Devin’s … in the same system. Learning, hearing the same words all the time. But I can still remember doing that.”
Have you done this with many players in the past?
“A few. A couple over the years, yeah. One time or another you’re forced to do some of that. Sometimes you’re just short on depth, particularly when I coached lower levels when you didn’t have all the scholarships, you know. You had to have some kids that were versatile, so it was through necessity.”
“Oh god, I don’t even remember anymore. God I’d have to walk in the room -- I don’t remember.”
How hard is it for a kid to split time?
“It’s tough because there’s not that many reps. You get X amount of reps and you have to figure out how to get them those reps without killing them. It’s hard. It’s not easy to do.”
You said you’ll see “how it shakes out.” Can you determine that by the end of fall camp?
“Well we determine it before we get to a game situation because we have a game plan, right? You have to make some hard and fast decisions before you get to game time because you have to have a plan going into the game. You can’t do that experiment. And I will say this, too: once you get into the game, it better work out at least in part how you wanted it to, or you’re gonna have to make some adjustments, but at one point in time, we have to have an idea how many reps everybody’s going to play. You know what I mean? Not just him, but everybody -- where and when and what situations. That’s part of game planning.”
Does it help Devin that he’s practicing at two positions that have to work together so closely?
“I think so. Yeah I do.”
Are Devin and Bellomy 1A and 1B?
“No, Devin’s still the second quarterback. That part of it doesn’t change.”
Any impressions of the freshman receivers?
“Eh … nah. I ain’t doin’ it. Nah. I could [say], ‘This guy’s great, that guy’s great,’ then tomorrow you put pads on and go, ‘Oh my god.’ No. Ask me in a week and I’ll probably have a better assessment.”
Does Devin’s switch to receiver show off his athleticism more?
“Yeah. Yeah, and that’s why we did it. Some quarterbacks are quarterbacks and that’s all they are. We’re fortunate in that we have really a couple good quarterbacks that can probably play [receiver] … and he’s one of those guys. You know, he’s a big guy that can run and has good hands. So I mean it’d be bad coaching if he’d be standing next to me the whole game when you have a guy who can really help us. Last year we were pretty deep at that position so it wasn’t as critical, but I think this year he can play more of a part.”
Thoughts on offensive line chemistry?
“Eh, again, it’s just so hard to call, but I know that those kids worked their butts off in the offseason. They did. And they worked together as much as they could. I think that’s something that if it’s not there now, it’s going to come because I know how important it is to those kids.”
MGoQuestion: How do you evaluate the effectiveness of the deuce package, and will you consider using it again this season?
“Well I had my analyst do a -- I believe we were eight-point-something yards [per attempt]. I’m not sure exactly. I don’t have it in front of me, but it was good. And even the plays that weren’t good set up plays that were good. You know what I mean. There were guys we’d run a play that wouldn’t yield much, only to be set up by another play that did. It’s not always the play, sometimes It’s the residual effect of the initial play. So it was good. Now how much we use of it? I don’t know. That’s a game plan deal. As we get through the install and we see where we are, we’ll decide on that. But we’re not doing any of that stuff now. That’s not what we’re about right now. We’re about teaching the system and getting our valuations straight. And once we do that, then and only then will we start playing with some of the more I guess cute phases of our offense. I hate using that word. Why’d I say that.”
You mentioned starting Denard off a little too quickly with the pro-style concepts. How do you approach it this year?
“Well we have a lot better feel for what we are. You know what I mean. We knew Denard was a good spread quarterback. I mean, anybody could see that. It was a matter of how much he could do of what we’d done in the past -- because we were always going to have some of that in our offense. We decided that when we came here. We decided that when I took the job. So once we decided what percentages that was, then we could proceed accordingly. We have so much better feel for that now because we’ve been through a fall, a spring, we know basically how much we want to be of both. It’s different now. It’s different without a question.”
Can you make a determination on certain position battles -- like left guard -- by a certain date? Do you have a timetable?
“I would never put a date on it because it could change the day before the game, you know what I mean? But there is a point in time when you have to narrow the field down to how many kids you’re going to practice in scout teams. And that’ll be sometime within a couple weeks to the game -- within at least a week and a half to the game. We have not set that date yet, but at that time it’s fish or cut bait. You have to take the 18 to 20 players that you’re going to practice with every single day, then kind of go from there.”
You don't want to know what I had to do to secure that seat
The media day roundtable session took place just a couple of hours before Denard Robinson delivered his keynote address at the Big Ten Kickoff Luncheon. This meant, unfortunately, that in my half-hour at Denard's table the majority of the questions related to the speech, how he prepared for the speech, his nerves before the speech, his pre-speech nerves compared to his pre-game nerves, Kirk Cousins's speech, and so on.* What follows is my best effort at collecting relevant, non-speech quotes, as the speech did a decent job of speaking for itself.
Was timing something that got sacrificed last year somewhat because you guys were learning a new offense?
I think that did hurt us. Us not having timing, that was a key issue. My footwork, I was thinking so much that my footwork was everywhere; throwing off my back foot was one of the things I messed up a lot on. That’s what I’m trying to change this year, I’ve been doing that [during the] offseason and working on that timing. Now we’re not thinking about the offense because we know the offense and we have confidence in ourselves. We know the offense and now we have the opportunity to have success in the offense.
Was the problem that you were thinking about too many other things last year, especially early?
Yeah, earlier in the season I was still learning the offense, trying to get the basis of the offense. Towards the end of the season, that’s when it started coming along, because I was in the offense enough to know the offense.
MGoQuestion: Compared to last year, now that you’re more comfortable in the offense, do you expect to have more input into the game plan? Will Coach Borges give you more input in terms of which plays to call?
I think so. I think Coach Borges, he’s always open-minded, he always asks, “what do you think about this?” That’s the kind of guy he is. If I don’t feel comfortable doing something, he would ask me if I feel comfortable doing it. That’s just Coach Borges, that’s just his personality, that’s the way he coaches.
MGoQuestion: The offense really seemed to evolve last year as you got more comfortable and as Coach Borges got more familiar with the personnel. How would you say the offense changed over the course of last year, and where are you guys today compared to where you were at before last season?
I think we’re way past what we were before [last season]. We’ve built this chemistry in the offense and we feel confident and comfortable with the offense. When it comes down to making the reads and making the right checks and getting us into the right play, I think we all know how to do it now.
MGoQuestion: Schematically, were there changes that Coach Borges made once he got more familiar with your game and the rest of the offense?
He made little tweaks, but I feel like he made game plans, and whatever he’d feel would be successful, that’s what he used.
MGoQuestion: Do you expect this year to be any more or less involved in the running game than you were last year?
I don’t know, you gotta ask Coach Borges. If you want me to run the ball a hundred-some times a game I’ll run it. Whatever it takes for us to win, that’s what I feel anybody on our team would do.
When you’re watching a defense—let’s say it’s Alabama—what do you look at? When you’re, as a quarterback, studying a defense just casually … what do you look at?
You look at the coverage. I’m a quarterback, so I look at the coverage first. You want to see little hints that they give you, like if there’s a safety coming down, how far is the linebacker up to the umpire, how close the safety is to the umpire—if the safety is right on the umpire he’s probably coming, or he’s got to cover somebody, stuff like that. You might see the corner bail before his time, so you can tell that’s probably a [cover] 3 or 4, something like that. Just looking at what kind of coverage they’re in, if the corner is flat-footed or is he on his toes, little things like that you want to look at.
UNEXPECTED ANSWERS TO CORNY QUESTIONS
Did you ever envision in your wildest dreams ending up where you’re at today?
Oh, man, to be honest with you I didn’t. I didn’t know how far I’d go. I was just telling Kovacs and Taylor last night, in high school I didn’t think I was a D-I athlete, so now I’m here and it’s like it’s all a dream.
You didn’t think you’d be a D-I athlete?
Yeah, in high school I really didn’t. I really didn’t think that until I got my first offer from Florida my junior year.
*I've unearthed exclusive footage of this portion of the roundtable.