spoiler alert: i linked this
That is a man who realizes he's home, at long last. The score may only be 7-0 in the waning moments of the game, the stadium may only be half-full, this whole thing may only be an exhibition, but it's impossible to repress that smile.
[Hit THE JUMP for the spring game in GIFs, and, yes, more Harbaugh.]
Podcast? Yes. We couldn't record it yesterday because of Easter obligations. We will tape it this evening. It should go up tomorrow.
Missed it? It's on the tubes.
Ours got more attention than normal because it was so early.
The Michigan offense in one picture [Patrick Barron]
Rome was not rebuilt from atomized dust in a day. It was not good, obviously. People will tell you that the defense is supposed to be in front of the offense at this juncture… but not that far in front. When they say that they mean something like "it was a little ugly and they only ran for like three yards a carry." They mean that the final score was 17-10 or thereabouts.
They do not mean that the only offense of the day will be Amara Darboh catching fades against Poor Damn Dennis Norfleet, a 5'7" guy who hadn't played defense in college until being tested there this spring. The overall feel was reminiscent of the legendarily terrible 2008 spring game, which I didn't even go to because it was held at a high school to facilitate Michigan Stadium's renovations and still remember as the first "oh shiiiii" moment in the Rodriguez era.
To some extent this was all expected. Michigan fans have been debating between a true freshman, a guy who had 3.2 YPA last year, and a redshirt freshman who did not play. They were going up against a defense that has been pretty good the last couple years (until collapsing in exhaustion at the end of games). It was never going to be pretty.
But did it have to be that ugly? Bler!
Quarterbacks: come on down Joliet Jake. Morris was anointed the #1 QB coming out of spring by none other than Harbaugh himself, and that seemed about right after the spring game. That it did so after Morris went 11 of 24 for 5.6 YPA would have me purchasing bags of dehydrated food, water purifiers, and shotguns if not for the 99% official transfer of Iowa starter Jake Rudock to Michigan. Rudock may not be a conquering hero… but he will probably feel like one.
Malzone, the great (if vague) hope going into spring, did not look ready to challenge for the throne. I'm not on board with the arm strength complaints just yet, as those seemed to be generated by a wide receiver screen Lewis tried to jump but did not, giving up a first down on 2nd and 19 (in this game the equivalent of 2nd and Canada).
I may come around in the near future. The constant short stuff was disappointing: even his attempt at a game-saving two minute drill featured five yard hitch after five yard hitch. He did have one nice dart downfield that Chase Winovich dropped…
a linebacker linebacks even when he tight ends [Bryan Fuller]
…but that stands out as just about the only attempt Malzone made to get the ball down the field. There were a lot of doomed WR screens in there. And that two minute drill… oy. They got about 20 yards before time ran out. This is a tradition I would like to leave in the past.
One thing I'll say in Morris's favor. He's got that fade down pat. One got intercepted because Darboh didn't wall off and extend away from a defensive back and a couple more got dropped; the rest save one were completions, and I think Morris ended up leaving that one short because he got hit. The rest were on the money, in that space outside the numbers and inside the sideline where the receiver has space to play with and can detach from the DB.
That's a good location to have down, by the way. It's tough to throw and thus tough to get to for a lot of defenses. Deep outs, smash routes, corners, and those fades all end up in that general area. It's the location on the field that is the reason NFL teams go cuckoo for cocoa puffs when they find a Mallett type. Morris can buy himself a lot of leeway if that throw is as consistently accurate as it felt like on Saturday.
a lot of this [Eric Upchurch]
Run game: I don't know. Ty Isaac was all but out (he's credited for one carry I don't remember), so the Malzone team's tailback was Wyatt Shallman (12 carries, 22 yards) with spot duty from Ross Taylor-Douglas*. Shallman is more of an H-back in college and it showed.
Meanwhile, both Ace and I assumed that Derrick Green had been mostly held out with an injury of his own only to find out that he and De'Veon Smith apparently split carries down the middle. It's just that Green's 7 went for 8 yards and Smith's 7 went for 50.
Smith had a sequence early in the second half where he ran tough and his offense started getting some actual time on the field. That ended with a fumbled exchange, because of course it did. Smith never fumbled in high school and hasn't done so in college yet so that issue is probably a freshman-QB thing more than anything Smith did wrong.
If Michigan knew Isaac was going to be limited they should have swapped Green over to the Blue team to get a better feel for the competition between those guys. Either way it was a good day for Drake Johnson.
*[who has now completed his tour of all the positions you can play on a football field and can turn in his punch card for a free bag of Combos.]
The one good run. Cole gets a good push on Henry, Kugler seals away, RJS and AJ Williams battle to a stalemate, Cole gets to the second level, and Smith makes a nice out-in cut to put the other linebacker on the wrong side of the hole:
gif via Ace
If Michigan develops holes on the regular I think Smith has an advantage because his ability to grind out another two or three yards will be valuable in the Harbaughffense.
L to R: back, under threat, trying out [Bryan Fuller]
OL depth chart hints. Glasgow was back and playing center as if he had not violated his probation; the program said he'd gotten through whatever punishment the program had deployed for him. If he keeps his nose clean that should clear him to resume playing center this fall.
Meanwhile Michigan tried out Logan Tuley-Tillman as the left tackle on the blue team, bumping Ben Braden inside to guard. LTT picked up three legit holding calls; even so that implies that he's getting a serious look and Braden may move or lose his job. Erik Magnuson playing right tackle for the Maize team is another indication that the tackle jobs are not secure.
A scholarship guy who might be looking at some writing on the wall is Dan Samuelson, who was healthy enough to make the roster but IIRC did not play much, if at all. With a couple walk-ons seemingly ahead of them they might be down for the count. Bars (who I omitted from the rosters post by accident did play, at guard:
He is 62 next to Kugler [Fuller]
If you made me guess right now I'd say that Erik Magnuson is Michigan's starting right tackle this fall and that guard slot opened up by the various line shifts is the most heated competition out there. But that's firmly in wild guess territory.
Wide receivers: do we have a problem? There were a number of ugly drops, none more so than Jaron Dukes batting a ball in his facemask directly skyward for an interception. Morris zinged it with unnecessary force, yes. That's still a worst case scenario for a receiver. Dukes had another sorta drop later and doesn't seem like he'll be pushing past the established guys this year.
Elsewhere: Darboh had a drop and a fade wrested away from him but recovered late to be the Blue team offense. Going up against Dennis Norfleet significantly compromises that accomplishment, especially since most of the plays were "throw it over that guy's head," but Darboh did display strong hands and an ability to track the ball in flight in a difficult situation. Some people can do that (Junior Hemingway), and some cannot (Darryl Stonum). Darboh is in the former category. Can he get separation from the likes of Jourdan Lewis? I don't know—one downside of this format.
Receivers other than Dukes and Darboh were playing with Malzone and barely got targeted on anything notable. This year's spring hype machine, Brian Cole, was not a factor until deep into the second half; Freddy Canteen made a couple of nice catches on balls outside the frame of his body. There was not a whole lot else to talk about.
There was a notable lack of separation for receivers going up against actual defensive backs. That could be bad; it could be an indicator that the secondary is going to be as lights out as we all hope. As per usual, we'll find out abruptly in fall.
Poor Damn Norfleet. In the aftermath Harbaugh talked Norfleet up as a guy who could contribute in all three phases. Nope. The act of moving a guy his size to cornerback is waving a white flag on his career.
I mean… maybe not. Harbaugh is weird and one of the specific ways in which he is weird is his predilection for flipping guys from one side of the ball to the other. This could be a Harbaugh whim that doesn't mean much about playing time down the line. But it probably means that Norfleet is kaput. We'll always have that
punt return touchdown to seal the Maryland game inane irrelevant block in the back by someone far away from you.
BEARD. This is not Elliott, right? This is some other spectacular beard just hanging out on the sideline?
This is one Brady Hoke tradition I'm glad we're keeping.
“Everybody good? Yeah? Great. Who’s kicking us off?”
I’ll kick you off. It’s only been a couple of days but what have you seen out of your quarterbacks so far?
“Uh, well, right now we’re seeing progress. That’s, I think, the first thing we’re looking for is how they’ve picked up what we’ve asked them to do. We’ve seen them now- this is what, practice four? But it’s been 16 hours on the field so we’ve had a lot of repetitions and we’ve been able to do a ton of drill work with them and been able to watch them kind of pick up the system the best they can at this point. I think there’s some really good progress in terms of command at the line of scrimmage. I think there’s good progress in terms of understanding the offense. Now it’s a matter of slowing the game down for them, and that’s what our next step is.”
How do you slow it down?
“I would say that slowing it down comes from knowledge, number one. Number two, it comes from experience, and then three, it comes from some form of comfort level. Right now their knowledge in terms of what we’re asking them to do is still growing and it’s kind of not where we want it to be yet in terms of you’d love to always fast forward the process but right now the process is what it is. In terms of experience they have none in the system and the really don’t have much college football playing experience, but with us they’ve had four days of experience. And finally, as we continue to go through this process and give them opportunities I think we’ll see them continue to develop every day and that will slow the game down for them.”
You mentioned progress. How long of a road do they have to get where you want them to go?
“I think that we’re certainly in a situation where we don’t play for a while, so that’s good. We’ve got 11 more practices, so that’s really good, and then we’ve got a big summer where they can really grind themselves. I’m a huge believer in that philosophy of players coaching players. I think that it’s huge during this time of the summer when we’re not with them that they can really take what we’ve kind of coached them on and then help each other and really continue to develop one another. And then finally we have training camp and we have all of camp to get ready for opening day. So they’ve got some time and we’re going to use all of it, every second we can, to try and help them improve and be comfortable and then be able to go out there and put us in the best possible position to succeed.”
What are the differences you see in the three scholarship guys?
“Well, they certainly do have different skill sets. Wilton is a very large man He’s a big guy and he can see everything. He’s a pretty good athlete. Throws the ball well. He doesn’t seem to have had a ton of experience. I know Shane probably took more reps last year, I would guess, because he was probably the 2. I know he went in one game, two games, whatever and then played the year before also so he’s probably had some more practice reps than Wilt has but Wilt makes a lot of nice throws and is a good sized kid.
“Shane has a very strong arm, which everybody knows. He spins it well. He just has to understand that’s really not the most important thing. If you have a really strong arm you have a really strong arm. That’s what you have. So now it’s a matter of what can you do with it? How do you utilize it? So his skill set, you know, his arm strength is tremendous and he has really good- he’s very comfortable as a quarterback, so that’s fun to watch him in the huddle. He has really good command of what we’re asking him to do and Alex- Alex should be a senior in high school right now.
“I know my senior spring I wasn’t in college, so I know that he’s got a lot going on and he has handled it unbelievably well. He is like- he’s unbelievable in terms of his ability to not let things bother him, to be consistent, and to jump right back in and play the game. If a play doesn’t go right he’s right back in [and] ready for the next one. Short-term memory is phenomenal for a quarterback.”
[After THE JUMP: more honesty]
Doug, one more game this season. The offense…was it what you expected? Are you disappointed? Can you talk about the progress of the offense and what your expectations were at the beginning of the season and now heading into Ohio State, where you guys are 13th of 14 in total offense?
“Obviously our expectations are a lot higher than where we’re at right now. As I’ve touched on throughout the season you talk about individual improvement [and it] hasn’t necessarily led to total group improvement. Do feel good about the things that we’re progressing in. You talk about the ability to run the football. I believe in the last three we’re averaging like 207 yards a game or something like that rushing in the last three games. Really feel like that line’s starting to gel together. You talk about protection and the fact that we gave up two this week; one was an assignment error and we gave up one true sack on a zero blitz. We got caught by surprise. We’ve got to have a better plan down there as far as getting the ball out of our hands, and then a week ago we didn’t give up any sacks. The week before we had one coverage sack, so you talk about protection [and] I believe we’re substantially better there in the things that we’re doing.
“Talk about individual accomplishments and the development of Amara Darboh. I think [he’s] a guy that you look at what he’s done over the course of the season. A true left tackle, Mason Cole [and] his individual growth. We lose Derrick Green and see DeVeon step up and Drake step and what they’ve been able to [do]. Jake Butt coming off the injury has been limited a little bit in what he can and can’t do, but you go across the board you see a lot of individual accomplishments. Guys that are getting better, groups that are getting better. We still need to bring it all together and get to a complete game. We haven’t had that yet.”
What about point production, because it’s been a couple weeks since Devin’s had a touchdown pass?
“Well, I wouldn’t look at you’ve got to have a touchdown pass to say you’re successful. That, to me, is not defining success. Obviously throwing touchdown passes is a part of the game but if we’re going to run it we’re going to run it. You look at- like you said, we’d like to score more points. We need to score more points.”
What are the toughest venues in which you’ve ever taken a team to run an offense, because most would say Ohio State sees Michigan coming in and that’s going to be one of them?
“Well, obviously to go to the Horseshow to play in this football game is something special. Any time you play on the road and in situations where it’s going to be loud, where you know it’s going to be a hostile environment you’ve got to be prepared very well and you’ve got to be focused in and you’ve got to execute, and everybody’s got to be on the same page. There’s no margin for error.”
After the game Brady Hoke mentioned it was the first time Devin’s been healthy in more than a month. At this point is he still getting healthier, or in what ways can you use him differently now that you can run?
“You get to this point in the season and I don’t know that anybody gets healthier at this point in the season, and that’s one of the hardest things about playing this sport is that when you play at this level and type of conference we have here in the Big Ten and week in and week out have to go out and do it every week against the physical style of play we see it’s challenging mentally. And then like coach said Devin from the standpoint of his physical health had some ailments there, and we’ve gotten him relatively healthy. Obviously I don’t think anybody’s as fresh as they are week 1 of the season.”
[More after THE JUMP]
FORMATION NOTES: Michigan debuted a Stanford-esque formation on which the entire world lined up across the front:
This had three tight ends (Williams, Kerridge, and Erik Magnuson, usually) and Funchess. I called it "Ace Errybody" because I feel we've forgotten about Antoine Dodson's raconteur status.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: OL as per usual, with Magnuson donning 81 to moonlight as a blocking tight end. Bo Dever got some late run at WR, seemingly after Norfleet was injured. RB actually started out with Hayes and then mixed Smith in; when both Hayes and Smith ended up dinged Johnson got his shot.
[After THE JUMP: precisely calibrating how fast our Drake Johnson roll should be.]
When you’re grading film on Devin Gardner how much do the near-misses, the picks that maybe should have been, factor into that and how much do you talk about that?
“A lot. I mean, that’s always part of the evaluation. You want results but you’ve got to be process-oriented when you play the position. We’ve got to be on the right side of the field and have our eyes in the right place and our feet and timing and all that factors in, so any time we look at a pass play we look at all the factors that play into it whether it was a successful or not-successful play and why.”
Do you feel like you got away with a couple on Saturday?
“Well, I think there was a couple that I’m sure they felt like they should have had and obviously we look at it as well. Why were we there? Was it timing wrong or on the wrong side of the field, did we made a poor decision? The biggest thing is that goes back to communication and we talk all the time in our room [that] you’ve got to be open in communication because if I don’t know what he’s seeing then I can’t help him, so you’ve got to tell me what you see, what happened, what played out in your mind so now we can paint the real picture of what happened and get it corrected.”
How much extra does game performance count in terms of evaluation as opposed to practice? I’m thinking particularly in this instance of Drake Johnson.
“Well, I think obviously any time you play a game the goal is to play well and the best players in games are the guys you want to play. Now, that being said we evaluate practice every day. Guys challenge and compete and usually it’s very rare that you have a player that does not practice well that plays well.”
Does what he did give him maybe an extra look in terms of more snaps going forward?
“Well, I think that when you talk about Drake and what he accomplished it goes back to everything we talked about in the development of players and it’s kind of similar, it is very similar- I look back at where Derrick Green was at. We talked about right before he went down he had two very good weeks of practice and really kind of started to develop, and you look at Drake, once Derrick got injured the last two weeks he had two outstanding weeks of practice. Had the opportunity this week, did some great things, and [we’re] really excited about what he brings.”
To piggyback on what you were talking about earlier, how did Devin grade out? How would you evaluate him in that game?
“Devin did some really good things and he did some things we need to correct. Obviously 22/29, completed some balls, did some good things, two touchdowns, obviously the one interception we’d like to have back and there were a couple other decisions but he did some good things and he did some things that we corrected.”
[After THE JUMP: Talking about Drake, Darboh, and the Devins]