This is how Brady Hoke sees an 'M'. [Upchurch]
Recruits: if you are reading this, do not believe the man in the red/crimson track suit telling you that criticism of Brady Hoke or his staff means Michigan is going to lose him anytime soon. Those are very bad men who are likely to have you downsized to Southern Alabama or regularly featured in photographs and articles that highlight how bad you are at tackling. You also should pay no attention to bloggers who suggest you should ride pine until 2016 and that your future coach needs to win X amount of games until then to even be his coach. Also I shouldn't be talking to you.
Fifth-year seniors >>>>>>> freshmen on special teams. That's why I strongly disagree with the conclusions of AC1997's assessment of this year's redshirting, while appreciating the hell out of the diary (quick read, too). The only one he's mad about is Da'Mario Jones, while Bosch and York are "questionable." I know we did this recently in a roundtable but my take is different:
- Obviously play him: Smith, Butt, Gedeon. All were effective and needed.
- Not mad but needed a shirt: Shane—we've discussed this. Green but you kind of have to play five-stars. Bosch but chances are good there's still two decent 2017 starting guards out of Samuelson, Dawson, and Mason Cole and other 2014/15 recruits.
Me in 2017 is (probably) very upset about this. [Fuller]
- Mad: The safeties and receivers and here's our big disagreement. Dymonte Thomas and Delano Hill are perfect examples of the reason we have a tag about burning redshirts on special teams. Jones & York—Mathlete keeps telling us that returning experience at receiver is a strong indicator of a good offense and vice versa, and unless a receiver has a massive talent lead on the DBs trying to cover him WR effectiveness is about route running and blocking and reps reps reps.
- Pick ONE cursed freshman corner: Both Jourdan Lewis and Channing Stribling played, both were pretty good for freshmen, one was needed. Theory: Uber recruits tend to cast a shadow on recruiting their positions, so it's important to have good stocks ahead of them (see: Russell Bellomy/Shane Morris situation). Peppers doesn't fill a depth chart by himself, and if he really is Woodson reincarnate* he'll be gone to the NFL after winning the 2016 Heisman and then we're left with Whitley and Howard.**
At the risk of sounding like every NFL columnist who thinks every franchise needs to adopt the strategy of whichever team just won the Superbowl, the reason Michigan State and Wisconsin have been to Indianapolis twice apiece, despite recruiting classes that top out like our (mediocre-for-Michigan) 2011 haul, is because they redshirt almost everybody and keep them around.
It's a luxury of stable programs, and Michigan is still paying for not being one of those for the latter half of the 2000s. Denard would have been nice to have this year, obviously. How badly did you wish for Vincent Smith when the RBs were getting Gardner killed? How's Michigan's pass rush if you add fifth years from Roh and Campbell to it? Brandin Hawthorne could have let you put a shirt on Gedeon. Developed talent is good. Fifth year seniors are good. Leastways they're better than a marginal improvement in kickoff coverage for a team that rarely scores touchdowns.
*[Nobody is Woodson reincarnate. The thing about the greatest players in the history of the game is they don't grow on trees.]
** [I mean who wants 1998 Todd Howard starting? He's a true freshman. He's short. He doesn't know how to press yet. He's…he's right behind me isn't he?
Nope, he's over there by Brian.]
That's not what I expected. Okay, reader. Zoom out, cock your head sideways, and tell me with just a glance what you think this diary was about:
Turnover analysis? A deep look inside offensive stats? An estimated timetable for improvement? Nope: try a "when do we fire this guy" post.
Deep, statistical analysis to answer rhetorical fan questions that have simple answers not requiring statistics (Michigan isn't firing Brady Hoke anytime soon): these are my readers tag activated. Really it's a case of bad title—what he's doing is comparing Hoke's coaching stops to those of the most successful coaches in recent history, concluding that Michigan needs to win 20 games in the next two seasons (and probably a national championship) to have his name placed among that pantheon. Expectations are probably around 17, with the fanbase getting mighty grumpy if that number dips below 16.
Your regular etc. LSA tackles (ha!) the defense, which straddled the B+/A- line all year until it faced Miller-Hyde without its middle linebackers.
[After the jump: a very meta board]
Watch the birdie.
In my day freshmen appeared on the scene knocking down Bobby Hoying passes, shutting down Terry Glenn, and cleaving Eddie George. Then they'd switch to offense and fold Mike Vrabel in twain. What's the matter with kids today? The cast today:
- Ann-Margret as Brian Cook
- Dick Van Dyke as Seth Fisher
- Bobby Rydell as Ace Anbender
- Jesse Pearson as Brandon "Birdie" Brown
|Of the young linebackers, we've seen a lot of Bolden but not much from him. [Upchurch]|
It's an expectation (or a conceit) at Michigan that recruits follow a "track" of progression that should see them all-conference and worth drafting after four years in the program. Of the 2012 class and the few '13 guys who've seen action, who do you see as ahead of schedule, or worryingly behind?
Ace: I'm not even going to bother with the 2013 class because it's beyond too early to discuss their progression versus expectations; frankly, that's the case for the 2012 class as well, but they at least have a handful of guys who have broken through and seen extensive time.
Three players who are clearly ahead of schedule are Devin Funchess, James Ross, and Willie Henry. Funchess has gone from dangerous-but-terrible-at-blocking tight end to dangerous-and-oh-god-so-dangerous wide receiver, and he's got an NFL future even if his blocking never develops as much as we'd hope. Ross has had an up-and-down year but still has a stranglehold on the weakside LB starting job; he's a future all-conference player once he adds a little more weight to take on blocks—his instincts are already there. Henry's initial expectations weren't as high as the other two, nor has he played at their level consistently, but he's easily exceeded expectations for a late three-star pickup just by seeing the field and holding his own.
[Jump like a Funchess]
Unlike other UFRs you may have read, this one comes with about 20x the NORFLEET! Michigan kickoffs were on Tuesday. Here's kick returns.
Michigan's deep set is usually Gedeon, Houma and Rawls then Dileo as a lead blocker (sets up opposite side of the field in case it goes there), and Norfleet returning. Houma and Rawls double the first guy to arrive while Gedeon's job is to wall off the second arrival so there's a hole between them. Up high it's like everybody else: four guys start just past the 50, two on the 40. Their job is to run downfield, then find somebody to hit and sustain that block. I'm sure Space Coyote is going to have a name for this but here's what it looks like:
After his injury Drake Johnson was replaced by Ross (vs ND) or Furman (elsewise). They change it up a lot up front. When Funchess was hurt Jackson folded back there. Hayes and Chesson rotated in at times.
Ball arrives after the...
So I kind of misunderstood a direction by Brian when I said I wanted to address special teams—he wanted stats on dinosaur punting and I thought he meant UFR all the things he doesn't.
What sparked my interest was coffin corner kicking. NCAA moved the kickoff spot to the 35 and made touchbacks start on the 25 as in incentive to cut down on kickoff return (and ensuing concussions). Inadvertently (or maybe not) they took away the advantage gained by teams with big-legged touchback machines. To regain that advantage, schools that can recruit kickers are teaching them to put the ball higher and in a spot where returners have to field it but are likely to be swallowed short of the 25 after they do.
Against CMU I noticed Wile seemed particularly good at placing balls right in that deep left corner, the same thing I've done on every football videogame ever once I mastered the timing of the kickoff bar. This seems very hard to do in real life: you need to put the ball high enough to let your coverage get there but not deep enough that they let it go through the end zone, and far enough from the sideline that it won't go out of bounds, but far enough inside of the hash that you can use the sideline as a force defender. Do it well consistently and that's perhaps 50 yards of field position a game.
It's my first time UFR'ing these so gonna have to set some ground rules:
Points: Number of points given out reflects where the play ended up, figuring 1 point roughly equals 5 yards of field position, baseline: 25 yard line.
Glossary: The "From" column is where the kick originated, given as yard line then horizontal position ("L"=left hash, etc.). "Rtn" (return) is how far the returner ran it, "Rlt" (result) is where the ball's placed. "Tchbk" (touchback) means it's on the 25. "Corner L" means they kicked it from the left hash and try to have it come down near the goal line and relatively near the sideline; "Deep L" means they just kicked it deep along the hash mark. "Center" means they kick it toward the middle and come down the same.
Things: Note that Michigan typically kicks off from the left hash despite their right-footed kicker.
Okay, got a UFR macro reverse-engineered in Xcel. Got some torrents. Got a…oh, bolded, chart-demanding subconscious, you there?
Okay let's do this.
[After the jump]
|STRONGSIDE LB||Yr.||MIDDLE LB||Yr.||WEAKSIDE LB||Yr.|
|Cam Gordon||Sr.*||Desmond Morgan||Jr.||James Ross||So.|
|Jake Ryan||Jr.*||Joe Bolden||So.||Royce Jenkins-Stone||So.|
|Brennen Beyer||Jr.||Mike McCray||Fr.||Ben Gedeon||Fr.|
Stupid ACL injuries wrecking everything… well… some things. Michigan loses Kenny Demens to graduation and Jake Ryan to cruel fate, but returns everyone else, adds Brennen Beyer from the stacked WDE spot, and welcomes two freshmen. They have a decent amount of experience, a decent amount of depth, and a ton of promise. James Ross figures to blow up; Desmond Morgan's improvement will be more incremental but now he's at a more comfortable position. Joe Bolden gives both a quality backup.
Even at the depleted SAM spot you've got a fifth year senior and true junior who Greg Mattison says are both playing like starters, and then Ryan is supposed to be back by mid-October… or sooner. Could be pretty good here.
These previews had previously split out the middle and weakside linebackers into their own sections, but the obvious interchangeability of the two spots (Desmond Morgan moves from one to the other, Bolden played both last year, supposed MLB Kenny Demens took the bulk of the TE-seam responsibilities) we're combining the two into an inside LB spot. Differences between the two spots exist, but are thin—according to Mattison, "inside is inside."
Morgan will hit ya [Upchurch/MGoBlue.com]
|hit and shed|
|gets in, gets upfield|
|sheds block, slows Bell|
|no more forward for you|
|comes from backside to tackle|
|kind of Ryan-like here|
|lost on counter|
|accepts a block|
|slashed to the ground|
|cut like a mofo|
|read and react|
|nerfs counter draw|
|takes on two blockers|
|sidles all the way|
|shuts down Martinez draw|
DESMOND MORGAN enters his third year as a starter by moving over from the weakside to the middle, as predicted by everyone in the world including myself. This is partly because James Ross demands entry into the starting lineup and partly because Morgan's skillset—thumpin'—was always more suited to the mike. Even when he was at WLB, it was Kenny Demens tasked with following tight ends down the seam. Morgan isn't quite a Sam Sword two-downs-and-out guy, but between he and Ross there's no question who you want dropping into coverage and who you want taking on fullbacks.
The best part of Morgan's game is how running backs stop when he contacts them. Morgan emerged into a bang-you're-dead tackler over the course of the year. Here he takes on a block, sheds it, gets an arm on LeVeon Bell(!), and robs him of most of his momentum:
Michigan would boot State off the field on the ensuing third and short. Having guys like Morgan around makes every first down a battle. Morgan also robbed a Minnesota power back of most of his momentum, amongst other events. Click play and HEAR FOOTBALL!
The guy is a brick.
After his first year this space criticized Morgan's hesitancy (mildly since he was a freshman), something that lasted through the first portion of last season. Michigan would slant the line and get gashed and I eventually pieced together a theory that the linebackers were uncomfortable predicting what would happen on that slant and late to the hole.
As the year progressed (and Washington and Campbell got more reliable with their angles), that tendency receded:
The linebackers are generally more decisive. The Demens see-gap-hit-gap-eat-soul is one part of it; also you can sense Morgan feeling the play behind that. He eases to the playside a bit to give him an edge on someone who might be releasing backside. He's reading the play through, and he shows up to help at the right spot. There's an air of "I am no longer a confused freshman" to him.
Morgan put a lot of previous worries about athleticism to bed last year as he got sideline to sideline effectively and made plays in space against tough customers like Taylor Martinez. Watching his read-and-explode is at times reminiscent of Jake Ryan. At times.
The UFR chart is reflective of this:
|Alabama||5.5||10||-4.5||And this was the best ILB play!|
|Air Force||8||10||-2||Faded late after strong start, thus setting up allfrosh.|
|Notre Dame||5||2||3||Solid tackling day, looked pretty athletic.|
|Purdue||5.5||3.5||2||Overshadowed with +2, is this real life?|
|Illinois||7.5||4.5||3||This is relatively bad!|
|MSU||9||2||7||Remember the athleticism worries with him?|
|Nebraska||11||4||7||Hit Y on leaping bat that became INT.|
|Minnesota||11||5.5||5.5||You stop when he hits you.|
|Northwestern||4||9.5||-5.5||Rough outing with blown assignments; Ross out there on critical last two drives speaks for itself.|
OSU not done, sorry. South Carolina not listed because it was impossible to tell who was who between Morgan and Bolden, and South Carolina ran the tailback five times anyway.
For inside linebackers, anything above zero is generally good. After getting 'Bama'd and having issues against Air Force's triple option, Morgan started a run of six straight positive games—some very much so.
Of course, a couple games after I proclaimed him a star in the Nebraska UFR he got edged and outran all day by Northwestern. Hey, he's just not the best guy to take on Venric Mark. It happens. Moving him to the middle should mitigate those issues.
In year three, Mattison believes that Morgan has the mental and physical ability to be top notch as long as he fixes one issue:
"He's so smart. He can make the checks, and he's strong. That allows him to be able to strike a blow, punch and get off blocks. One thing our linebackers have to work extremely hard on that was a negative for us was there were too many times they ran into blockers and didn't disengage. That's been a big emphasis."
Morgan got consistently better at this as the year rolled along. He's too much of a blue-collar guy to get the sexy TFL stats to be All Big Ten (also, Max Bullough exists) but he should be a consistently plus player who fends off Joe Bolden all year. He will be an asset.
[After THE JUMP: James Ross! Depth! Jake Ryan as Loki! Cam Gordon! More depth!]
"Well, it's about time to start, isn't it? We're excited about it and can't wait to see what this defense plays like. I'm excited about how they've prepared, how they're working, and now we have to get that first game."
What has Channing Stribling done to put himself in position to play?
"Made plays in practice. Practiced very hard. Has picked up the defense quicker than a lot of freshmen. He's a very competitive young man. He's got good range. He's done very well."
He had good instincts in high school football. Have you seen that?
"The thing about him is he came from a very strong high school program. That high school program that he's from coaches like we coach. He understands that everything he does will be critiqued and coached and he moves onto the next one. That sometimes separates freshmen from when they play or don't play -- understanding the toughness and the scrutiny that they go under to make sure they're ready to play."