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.
10/8/2016 – Michigan 78, Rutgers 0 – 6-0, 3-0 Big Ten
A first down is gained [Patrick Barron]
Like many a mysterious drifter who's spent the past seven years wondering whether to drink whiskey or bleach, I don't really want to linger on the past. But when Michigan plays at Rutgers and a play by play guy desperate to inject any intrigue into a man-versus-printer situation keeps bringing up the 2014 game, it's hard to get away. And when you're already inclined to think about the radical shift in Michigan's fortunes, running across an article titled "Brady Hoke discusses monumental loss" is game over, man. There's nothing for it.
So let's talk about it.
Entering week six in 2016, Michigan was 5-0, favored by 30, coached by Jim Harbaugh and athletically directed by Warde Manuel. Manuel has probably been about as visible as your average athletic director; in the aftermath of Dave Brandon he feels like a ninja with an invisibility cloak since I haven't thought about him much outside of a few interviews and the resumption of the Notre Dame series.
Exiting week six Michigan is a top five team that just beat Rutgers so badly that they're causing existential crises amongst Cable Subscribers fans. The Daily's Jacob Gase caught up with the stragglers in the student section and got a quote for the ages:
“I like these kinds of games where we’re losing by a lot,” Kasia said, “because if we get a touchdown in the last four minutes, everyone is so happy to have anything that it’s really exciting.”
Rutgers only got a touchdown briefly. When the referees took it away it was a sign that the cosmos itself had decided that they were emphasizing the "win with cruelty" bit of Jim Harbaugh's favorite dichotomy. Everything about a blowout so epic it broke records set just before the University of Chicago decided football wasn't for them was expected.
Two years ago Michigan left for Rutgers after a week of incompetence so sheer that there was a well-attended rally on the Diag demanding Dave Brandon's ouster. Shane Morris had just been probably mildly concussed, the coverup was worse than the crime, and Brandon's "my personality is to the best of my ability" media blitz ended with this:
A phalanx of athletic department staffers dragooned into wishing the team well as they departed. Brandon was front and center, naturally.
Upon arriving in Piscataway a person named Gary Nova bombed a secondary featuring Jourdan Lewis and NFL draft pick Blake Countess, a reigning first-team All Big Ten corner, for 404 passing yards. Michigan's featured pass rushers were current NFL stalwarts Jake Ryan and Frank Clark.
Brady Hoke had his cornerbacks coach install a press man system before the 2014 season. The minor flaw with this plan is that the cornerbacks coach was a linebacker who had never coached corners. This is how you lose to Rutgers.
I no longer know how you lose to Rutgers. There was no combination of parlous events that sees this game end up competitive, even vaguely so. The first time Rutgers crossed the first down line their quarterback was immediately crushed by Delano Hill, fumbling back behind the line to gain. The second time Rutgers crossed the first down line, deep into the fourth quarter, a Rutgers fan hugged it out with a Michigan fan. Various people on twitter bemusedly reported that ESPN's live win percentage tracker was stuck on 99.9%. My "harbaugh class" search started garnering hits early in the second quarter.
This was a blowout so comprehensive it went from boring to notable. And, yes, since two years ago this week I was posting The Kids In The Hall "Each Day We Work" sketch with the "there is no time off until I am crushed by the black hand" line and generally mooning about, it's worth noting that this is not that and that these are the rewards of finally getting some people in charge of things for a reason.
there is no time off until Rutgers scores [Barron]
Michigan's cornerbacks coach is now a guy who played safety in the NFL for a decade, their athletic director has athletically directed at two other schools prior to this stop, and Jim Harbaugh is the head coach. Reasons veritably abound.
College programs can be steady for decades at a time as long as the core remains, and then lurch wildly about when that thing no longer suffices. See post-Bear 'Bama, the current situation at Texas,—which is playing out exactly like Lloyd Carr/RichRod—the last 20 years of Notre Dame football, etc. Michigan is no different. (Ohio State was incredibly lucky that when Jim Tressel got himself fired, Urban Meyer just happened to be waiting around.)
Today is a fine time to reflect on the bad old days, as we stand amidst a fine red mist that used to be the Rutgers football program, and appreciate that they got fixed. "Each day we work" has a different meaning now. So too does having an average weekend. It means the other team averages 18 inches a play.
More at MGoVideo.
Known Friends And Trusted Agents Of The Week
you're the man now, dog
#1 (tie) Taco Charlton, Ben Gedeon, and Chris Wormley were first amongst equals on defense. Charlton had two insta-sacks. Gedeon ran over a running back for a sack of his own and had a Don Brown special TFL on which he crushed a guy five yards in the backfield. Wormley continues to crush all tight ends and had a sack that should not be possible.
#2 Jabrill Peppers did some defense things. He also should have had a punt return touchdown. He did have a 63-yard run on a broken play and two very easy wildcat touchdowns, one of which was supposed to be a throw.
#3 Devin Asiasi popped out on a cursory rewatch as an absolutely mauling blocker; virtually very big run Evans had was facilitated by Asiasi blowing one or two dudes out.
Honorable mention: everybody!
7: Jabrill Peppers(T2, Hawaii; #3 UCF, #1 Colorado, #2 Rutgers)
5: Ryan Glasgow(#2 UCF, #1 UW).
3: Mike McCray(#1, Hawaii), Wilton Speight (#1 UCF), Ben Gedeon(#3 Colorado, #3 PSU, three-way T1 Rutgers).
2: Jake Butt(#2 Colorado), Kyle Kalis (#2 UW), Chris Wormley (three-way T1, PSU, same vs Rutgers), Taco Charlton(three-way T1, PSU, same vs Rutgers).
1: Delano Hill (T2, Hawaii), Chris Evans (T3, Hawaii, four-way T2, PSU), Maurice Hurst (three-way T1, PSU), Jourdan Lewis (#3 UW), Devin Asiasi(#3 Rutgers).
0.5: Mason Cole(T3, Hawaii), De'Veon Smith (four-way T2, PSU), Ty Isaac (four-way T2, PSU), Karan Higdon(four-way T2, PSU).
Who's Got It Better Than Us Of The Week
This week's best thing ever.
Peppers takes off for the huge run that opened the floodgates.
Honorable mention: Everything that happened after the first seven minutes.
Hawaii: Laughter-inducing Peppers punt return.
UCF: Speight opens his Rex Grossman account.
Colorado: Peppers cashes it in.
PSU: Wormley's sack establishes a theme.
UW: Darboh puts Michigan ahead for good.
Rutgers: Peppers presses "on".
MARCUS HALL EPIC DOUBLE BIRD OF THE WEEK.
This week's worst thing ever.
A bonkers Jabrill Peppers punt return is called back for an extremely dubious block in the back penalty. I mean, for real. They never give a number because in their great shame they forget everything including the name, but the only thing that seems even slightly plausible is Delano Hill putting one hand (one hand!) on a punt returner who falls over in sheer awe of Peppers:
The only appropriate statement in that situation is "sorry sorry I'm trying to delete it."
Honorable mention: N/A.
PREVIOUS EPIC DOUBLE BIRDs
Hawaii: Not Mone again.
UCF: Uh, Dymonte, you may want to either tackle or at least lightly brush that guy.
Colorado: Speight blindsided.
PSU: Clark's noncontact ACL injury.
UW: Newsome joins the ranks of the injured.
Rutgers: you can't call back the Mona Lisa of punt returns, man.
[After THE JUMP: winning with cruelty]
SPONSOR NOTES: Was talking with Matt at the Marlin tailgate on Saturday when he broached the idea of buying one of those tailgate trailers with TVs and whatnot for next year. I am strongly encouraging this idea in the sponsor notes of the game column because then I can watch more of the noon games. Do it for your country, Matt.
In addition to being a gentleman replete with Michigan tickets and possibly a trailer, Matt is also a good man to know if you need a mortgage. It's striking that we actually get non-astroturfed comments about positive experiences with Matt not infrequently.
If you're buying a home or refinancing, he's the right guy to call.
FORMATION NOTES: Just a couple of oddities other than the train. This was "Ace 3-wide offset." As you can see, the back is... offset.
And Michigan lined up in that formation with Chesson at TE again. Here he is running down the middle of the field.
These formations get appended with "WR hide."
PERSONNEL NOTES: OL and QB as you would expect, with Bushell-Beatty replacing Newsome when he got hurt. Michigan went much more WR-heavy in this game, with around 60 snaps for both Chesson and Darboh out of 77 possible. Perry, Crawford, and McDoom combined for another 38; with Butt near-omnipresent that meant Michigan was without a fullback for about half the snaps.
Smith got about 50% of the RB snaps with Evans and Isaac splitting the rest; Peppers got five snaps, four as a wildcat QB and one as a slot. Asiasi got 23 snaps as the #2 TE with Bunting injured; Wheatley and Michael Jocz(!) got 3 and 2 snaps, respectively.
[After THE JUMP: come on ride the train.]
If you watch the video at the bottom of the post, you’ll see very quickly that third-down plays had not gone all that well for Michigan to this point in the game. Now, facing another third-and-long in the middle of the fourth quarter, Michigan was faced with another convert-or-punt situation should they choose to pass. Michigan went five wide and spread Wisconsin’s defense just thin enough for Speight to both have time to throw and to get the matchup he was looking for to his left. I started describing to Wilton the purpose of these posts, and as soon as I mentioned which play I wanted to talk about he was ready:
“That was probably the biggest play of the game, bigger than that touchdown throw, because that set that up. We hadn’t been as successful as we’d like to on third downs, but motioned out the running back and bumped the linebackers out a little bit, and I knew I was going to my left. Didn’t know if I was going to the inside or outside slant, but their linebacker dropped underneath the inside slant and I just ripped the ball to Darboh and he plucked it with his fingertips and dove with it for the first down. That was big time.”
What do you remember about their alignment before the snap?
“Yeah, I knew to not judge anything until our running back, De’Veon, motioned out. As soon as he motioned out, I kind of saw them bump and adjust exactly how we wanted to, so that’s right when I knew I was going to work the boundary. My eyes kind of lit up and I ripped it in there.”
On that topic, once you move De’Veon out, you see a safety comes down to cover Grant Perry, you’ve got Cichy split out wide, do your reads change based on those matchups, or do you have a very rigid progression you’re working through?
“Well, presnap when De’Veon went out there I said, ‘Okay, I’m going to my left. I’m going to work these two guys.’ Then it was just the progression. I start with the inside slant, and if that gets taken away I go to my outside slant. Darboh ran an incredible route, got spacing off of the corner, and made a play.”
As far as breaking down a defense, as soon as you see they’ve set, do you have a way you do that every time? Has Coach Harbaugh taught you to work through a certain way, like first read safeties, then linebackers, etc.?
“Yeah, yeah. Harbaugh and Fisch teach me that it’s a three to five second max of decision-making of what’s the front, where are the linebackers, what’s the secondary doing, are the corners over, is it one high, is it two high, are the linebackers cheating up, does it look like they’re blitzing, where’s the shade, stuff like that. So there’s a lot that goes through on a presnap, and it helps, though, when you know what’s going on.”
What do you remember seeing immediately after the snap? Was it the off coverage on Darboh?
“Yeah, off coverage on Darboh. I immediately saw someone sink underneath the inside slant, but I knew that window was going to be open on the outside slant. Yeah, it was a good play.”
It looked like a perfectly placed ball. On a five-yard slant like that, walk me through where a perfectly placed ball would be in terms of what the receiver wants and what you want.
“A little bit out in front, depending on where the corner or the defender is. If he’s right on his back, you like to put it right in his gut, right on his numbers. It’s a chest throw so the corner or the defender can’t get around it. He had a little bit of space so I wanted to lead him, and he likes catching things with his hands, so just let him do that.”
Ryan Glasgow and Amara Darboh
Can you talk about how the defensive performance today gave you the opportunity as an offense, particularly, to provide the end result?
AD: “Yeah, from the offensive standpoint, the defense kept getting three and outs and then kept helping us stay in the game. They didn’t let them score all half, so that gave us the opportunity to make a play at the end.”
Talk about the placement on the long touchdown pass.
AD: “Oh yeah, it was perfect. It was one-on-one coverage out there. The safety was in the middle, then I got inside my guy and Wilton put a perfect ball and I just had to run underneath it.”
This was your guys’ first true test of the season; this was the first time you guys played an opponent many people considered a contender in the Big Ten and also nationally. What does this win mean for you personally moving forward? How does your team improve from here?
AD: “I think it says a lot about our team. Wisconsin’s a very tough football team—very good defense, very good offense—and I think us beating this team says a lot about our character. It says a lot about the players on our team, but we need to focus on the games ahead, because this win doesn’t define our season.”
Ryan, it seemed like they were playing to get the ball back to the defense to win it. Was that kind of the message, it was your guys’ time to win the game?
“Regardless of what the offense does, we don’t want any other offense we’re playing to get a yard, get a first down, get a touchdown. So, regardless of what the offense does, we expect to win every game. We had a seven-point lead, which we think that’s enough for us to win a game on defense. Regardless of how many points they score, we feel like should win the game on defense.”
[Hit THE JUMP for more]
Lewis caught this, somehow. [Patrick Barron/MGoBlog]
A normal recap would probably fixate on Wilton Speight and Amara Darboh totally redeeming themselves. Jourdan Lewis did not make a normal play.
On Wisconsin's last-gasp fourth-and-ten, Lewis made an interception that ranks up there with Charles Woodson's against Michigan State. Yes, that one. Running full speed in man coverage against George Rushing, Lewis appeared to leap far too early on a deep shot down the middle. He hung in the air, kept his eyes on the ball, and plucked it backhanded out of the air, somehow pinning it against his body to keep it off the turf.
"I've seen Odell Beckham Jr. do that. It looked like that kind of play. The most impressive thing about it is he jumped a little early," said Jim Harbaugh. "He was able to hang in the air and make a spectacular play."
Was Harbaugh upset given Lewis could've improved M's field position by simply batting the ball down?
"I'm really glad [he caught it] because it was a spectacular, spectacular football play."
Field position be damned, Lewis's incredible play allowed Michigan to run out the clock in a stressful, mistake-filled one-score win.
Despite dominating the yardage battle, 349-159, the Wovlerines were locked in a 7-7 game midway through the fourth quarter. Three missed field goals, two by Kenny Allen and one by replacement Ryan Tice, were partially to blame for the tight score.
"We'll have a little kicking competition this week," said Harbaugh. "It'll be an opportunity for Ryan Tice. Hopefully we make them next time." He added that freshman kicker Quinn Nordin is injured, which explains his absence the last couple weeks.
Some of the blame also fell on Speight, who'd been scattershot for most of the afternoon and forced a ball to Jake Butt that got tipped and picked off to set up UW's only score, a perfectly thrown wheel route to Dare Ogunbowale. Darboh was also partially culpable after dropping a potential third-down conversion on M's opening drive of the fourth quarter.
On the very next Wolverine drive, all was forgiven. On first down from the Badger 46-yard line, Darboh got a step on corner Derrick Tindal down the sideline. Speight uncorked his best throw of the day, hitting Darboh in stride for the eventual winning score.
"It was perfect," said Darboh. "Wilton put a perfect ball in and I just had to run underneath it."
"I saw single-high one-on-one with Darboh." said Speight. "That's probably the best thing as a quarterback you can hear: one-on-one with Darboh."
Speight capitalized. That was all the defense needed. Two punts and Channing Stribling's second interception followed to give Michigan the ball with 3:24 left at the Wisconsin 45. Harbaugh clearly felt comfortable putting the game in the hands of Don Brown; the Wolverines ran three straight times, then Allen pinned the Badgers at the own eight-yard line.
"It was a game ball for Don Brown kind of a game," said Harbaugh.
Brown's defense finished the game emphatically. Jabrill Peppers stoned a swing pass to Ogunbowale for no gain on first down. Pressure from the D-line forced a low pass from Alex Hornibrook that Robert Wheelwright couldn't haul in on second down. Ben Gedeon raked the ball out of Troy Fumagalli's hands to force an incompletion on third down. Then Lewis did his combination Woodson/Beckham impression.
While self-inflicted errors made the score too close for comfort, Michigan survived their first truly tough test in their first game that was close wire-to-wire. It was tough to sit through. It also provided the opportunity for an all-time highlight.
I'll take it.