1. It can't get any worse, can it?
It can always, always get worse.
1A. But it's not likely to, right?
good night sweet prince [Heiko Yang]
No, it's not. Yes, even though Michigan lost both starting tackles to the NFL. It takes a special kind of panicked incompetence to end up with results like last year's Michigan. Al Borges's final D-I offense ran outside zone, then it ran power, and then it ran inside zone. It heaped all of the possible base plays you can run on an offensive line that had zero upperclassmen on the interior. It wasted essentially a month of practice time on the "tackle over" gimmick that was ruthlessly exposed by the first opponent that knew it was coming.
Michigan had 13 plays on which a tackle lined up next to another tackle. These plays were 11 runs that gained 8 yards (more than all of them on Toussaint's long run of the day, a 12-yarder), a seven-yard sack given up by Williams, and a scramble that gained eight yards. That is the product of three weeks of practice time and the futility there was only stopped by Lewan's injury.
Many of these plays could not be blocked by anybody, because Penn State was so aggressively overplaying run that they were in the gaps before Michigan could do anything about it.
Three guys for two blockers with the WLB meeting Bryant a yard in the backfield. If Kalis tries to pursue #40, the MLB, he blocks no one instead of an irrelevant guy. On second and one, a great PA down that a lot of DCs will just give you.
They got to the line of scrimmage with under ten seconds on the clock most of the time.
GET OUT OF THE HUDDLE.
Yes. In addition to all the things previously discussed, Michigan's offensive line is looking at Gardner with two seconds on the playclock. Michigan snaps it with zero already showing—probably not actually a penalty because there is a natural delay before the ump looks at the ball to see if it's still there—and slides their line against a four man rush with no tailback to pick up the DE:
That turnover is a tangible cost of Michigan's inability to get to the line with 20 seconds on the clock consistently.
It moved linemen around almost literally every game after the first four. It was dumb.
How did this happen to a guy who was rather successful at San Diego State? Panic strangled reason in multiple ways. Michigan is stuck on this picture of itself as its 1990s self, and Al Borges was openly contemptuous of the spread both in press conferences and off the record (not to me, but to multiple people who covered the program over the last few years).
So they played a tight end who couldn't block. I'm not talking about Devin Funchess, who was eventually thrust outside. I'm talking about AJ Williams, who had one catch for two yards a year ago and was no better at blocking than Funchess. They had to know this. It jumped off the screen to me, an amateur. But instead of doing something about it they just kept plugging along with him on the field, to the point where people trying to evaluate Taylor Lewan got frustrated:
…why in the HELL did Michigan keep a tight end to Lewan's side so damn much? He obviously didn't need the help. The quarterback was right-handed anyway (with bootlegs you like for the tight end to be lined up to the side of the quarterback's throwing hand), and they could have potentially had a wide receiver there instead of a tight end. It would've increased the chances of success on passing downs as well as run downs if you get the opposing defenses to spread themselves out. But is that what Michigan did?
Here is the scenario I saw time and time again. So you have a tight end helping before he goes out into his route. Lewan, who doesn't need the help any damn way, blocks the hell out of the edge rusher. But the rest of Lewan's buddies on the Michigan O-line aren't quite as, well, good as he is, so the quarterback is under pressure and ends up sacked.
I mean. This is a guy who said he "didn't want to get in a chess match" last year. They're playing chess anyway, man. If you want to try to win with checkers, you're gonna have a bad time. Yes, even if you've got 75 different colors. The full results were detailed after Borges's firing. It just did not work.
[After THE JUMP: Nussmeier the savior(?), offensive line the achilles heel, Gardner the legend(?), stupid predictions.]
File. Today was a blue polo day.
News bullets and other items:
Kyle Kalis’ back is fine, but Hoke cautioned that it could always flare up again
Jake Butt and Delano Hill will not play Saturday. Hill will likely be back next week.
Drake Harris and Ian Bunting could be redshirted
Ty Isaac’s hardship waiver was denied; Michigan appealed the decision last week
"Okay, everybody ready? You ready? Thanks for coming. We have 72 hours until we kick it off. We’re excited about that and I think that’s something that every team in this country -- you've been practicing against each other, you've been doing things against each other. Our preparation has been good. I think there's a couple of things we are trying to teach every day are the good habits that you want from a fundamental and technique standpoint and so that's a goal for us. A goal for us [is] to play fast and play physical every Saturday with consistency.
“Yesterday we had to come inside which we didn't really want to, but that storm kind of came through and put us back inside but we had a good practice. We have continually, and Nuss[meier] has done this, done wet ball drills every week even when we've been outside so if we can get in those conditions, which we have a good chance to all the time in the fall. But mental errors, we had a little bit too many of those. We want to make sure we clean those up today but it was a good physical practice. We've got to clean up some areas though when you look at some of the mental errors on both sides of the ball."
Are all openers special no matter who the opponent is?
"Yeah, I think anytime [because] you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Also, as you go out there you want to see what kind of team and where you're at. I think it's important that every week you get improvement from your team and so this will be a starting point obviously that we'll have this weekend."
Are Delano [Hill] and Jake [Butt] the only ones that you're still worried about from an injury standpoint?
"Jake definitely will not play. Delano won't play. I think he'll be ready next week."
What's Drake Harris' status?
"He won't play. He's back in practice now and he's missed a lot of football so there's a good chance he'll be a redshirt this year."
What's your timetable for naming captains for this game and how will you inform them?
"Well, I'm going to meet with the seniors again and [the] leadership group and we’ll name them sometime before the game."
Maurice wasn't on the depth chart…
"He's on there. He's got a good chance of playing for us. It's just, how many guys do you want to list?"
Talk about what you plan to do with the rotation there. Is it going to be quite a bit?
"Well, we're going to start with the guys who are out there, the guys who are first up on the list unless they absolutely don't practice like they need to. I'm assuming that won't happen. Then we'll really just take it how the game goes. There's a good chance that if you're looking at certain positions, especially the interior of our front, I think all those guys are going to play some football for us."
[After THE JUMP: Kyle Kalis’ injury, tight ends, and a Ty Isaac waiver update]
So I'm in Canada and I'm shopping for food and we're in the dairy isle and my friend laughs and says "no way." But yes, yes way. There is a margarine they are selling called Memories Of Butter.
This is an acceptable name for something only if dairy cows have been obliterated by whichever flavor of apocalypse comes home to roost. In between shifts at the sludge plant you smear Memories of Butter on your protein cube and weep silently when the child who doesn't know any better asks you what it was like during the Before Time.
In a world where there is butter, this is literally the worst possible marketing. The butter is three feet away. Once moved to action by the memory of butter, you can reach out and acquire butter. Our operative theory was that it was badly mistranslated from French, or at least there was something lost in translation. What that could possibly be we do not know.
And so: Michigan football. There is no quote more Memories Of Butter than this Gerry DiNardo exclamation about Michigan finally getting rid of that Denard Robinson guy:
"When I saw them in the spring it was like a war at the line of scrimmage. It was what you imagine it looks like at Alabama and all the downhill teams. It changes your entire program. Just like the spread makes your defense soft, the West Coast offense makes your defense tough."
That comes from a Mark "Stretchgate" Snyder article that is almost as embarrassing as the article that will follow him around until he dies:
Every spring and fall, the network analysts would attend a practice, try to absorb the flavor and make nice about the impact of an offense they knew didn't fit.
Then they strolled into Ann Arbor this spring and had to check their GPS — or their mirror to see if they rolled back a decade.
This was Michigan playing smashmouth football, the game's nastiest, purest form.
Michigan finished 11th in the Big Ten in sack-adjusted rushing, ahead of only Purdue, and was last nationally in TFLs allowed. A tub of margarine may well have made the two-deep on Michigan's "smashmouth" offensive line. It would clearly be the Free Press's best reporter.
Michigan football is a white tub proclaiming to be a memory of a feeling. It is on the shelf next to things that still provide dat mouthfeel tho. For everyone reading this Michigan basketball has provided the craved-for combinations of hope, joy, and even eventual, forgivable disappointment. For myself and a goodly hunk of the people reading this, USA soccer has also filled that void. But when we cleared the NBA draft and the World Cup, the cliff loomed ahead.
The dread was palpable. Dread. Unprecedented, but true.
How did we get here? Every year the fact that I declared 2005 the "Year Of Infinite Pain" becomes yet more ridiculous as we explore new avenues in not feeling real good about football, but I submit that 2013 was the worst football season I have ever experienced. 2005 just isn't even in the ballpark anymore; 2008 had an obvious explanation and novelty; 2010 was GERGtastic but man I can't get that mad at a season containing the 2010 Notre Dame game.
Why was 2013 the nadir? We've learned that it's worse—so much worse—to know that you have absolutely no chance to score points than to have absolutely no chance to prevent them. Ludicrous pointfests like 2010 Illinois and 2013 Ohio State are full of explosions, at the very least. Farting out a three-point loss with under 200 yards of offense is death on a field. There are tense, well-played defensive battles that are the football equivalent of pitcher's duels, and then there's 2013 Michigan: Don Kelly, the football team. (Except when they weren't.)
I kind of lost it as a result. By the end of the year I was giving up on UFRing anything and proclaiming that I was going to go bowling because the Big Lebowksi taught me how to sportsfan my best…
The movie is a series of unfortunate events culminating in the death of Donny thanks to the bullheaded stupidity of Walter, who doesn't want to give up his fifteen dollars to some nihilists. That Donny dies as an indirect effect of that decision is the capper: your desires and actions are futile; you are subject to the random capricious whim of a universe that doesn't care about anything and if it was going to care about something it absolutely wouldn't be you. I don't have to spell the rest out for you. Sports!
…and I remember watching the bowl game in this state of obligation. Worthless, stupid obligation. We had gone from infatuation to a bad 30-year-old marriage that will never end because no one can think of anything better to do.
In retrospect, all of that seems… on-point, actually. Semi-quitting and having public conniption fits at the folks who defended Borges looks like eminently defensible behavior, and that's coming from a guy who occasionally remembers certain actions in high school and has to quickly think of something else lest the eyerolling self-shame overwhelm.
This is where we are: when I got around to doing the Iowa UFR at the last possible moment, most people just asked "WHY?"
How do we get away from here?
Many of you aren't going to like my answer to this. It is: hold on to what we have and hope like hell. Transitions are awful. Michigan has suffered through two consecutive botched ones that left the roster in a state of strip-mined mid-majordom for the better part of a decade. The next one will either be run by Dave Brandon or an unknown person who has just arrived. With nothing approximating a terrific idea out there after Texas snapped up Charlie Strong, with zero reasonable, available Michigan Man™ options out there, the move appears to be to sit tight and hope.
And Brady Hoke does provide a good deal of hope. Seriously! His recruiting is bulletproof. He is the real William Carlos Williams. Michigan can suffer through the least tolerable season since the 1960s; he can lose three top-100 commits; Michigan State can win the Rose Bowl. None of this prevents him from locking down a class of consensus four-stars minus a kicker and an OL legacy. Save for the rare Skeeps suckerpunch or microfracture surgery, all of these players will arrive qualified and stick around until they've been definitively passed on the depth chart… and possibly beyond.
If these are the kind of positives that seem beneath This Is Michigan, well, yeah. This Is Michigan is fiction. This Is Michigan has rarely meant anything better than 9-3 since the 80s ended, and the program is now 1-5 against MSU and 2-11 against OSU since [insert year here]. They haven't had anything approximating a complete roster since 2006, and even that team was so desperately short on cornerbacks that Chris Graham spent much of Football Armageddon trying to cover a future first round pick WR.
This is were we're at: trying to figure out exactly which things we took for granted for 40 years are real assets and which are replaceable. For me, keeping guys around until they're good is not replacement-level performance—as much as I wish it was. And even if I think Hoke is set on 1997 Michigan as the endpoint of football as the sport mutates at breakneck speed around him, there are teams that make it work.
I just want something to work now. I just want something to sit on my tongue and dissolve into a salty heaven, like my father told me about in the long long ago. I may be of the mines and forever from the mines as we try to keep the engine that keeps us all alive running, but by God even a man of the mines has heard about grass, and the possibility of moving forward upon it for upwards of three yards at a time.
Let's find a cow. Let's punch it until it excretes butter. We may later find out that punching a cow until it leaks is not the optimal way to do these things, but that's for later. Now is for building a society like idiots who have only read about it in books.
Scrimmage video. Fan-based, so wobbly.
Perverse incentives create perverse results. It is of course completely nuts for Michigan to play Florida in Dallas. The stadium is smaller, the fanbases are far away, and the pageantry of college football is largely replaced with sterile NFL lawyer spaceship accoutrements. But people do it because they get the money.
After Wisconsin scheduled LSU in a goofy neutral-and-neutral situation, Jim Delany issued a memo that the Cedar Times Gazette has unearthed:
Delany’s letter, which was obtained by The Gazette, highlighted the league’s support for neutral sites provided at least half of the series occur within the Big Ten footprint and under the league’s television agreements. Delany wrote an arrangement would be “disapproved” if a Big Ten game was not designated as the home squad in at least half the games or if it was a one-game event that took place outside the league’s television umbrella. …
“We applaud and very much appreciate your efforts in doing so, as this should create value for your teams and fans as well as for our television partners and, therefore, for all Conference members. But please keep in mind the above policies that are important to all of us as we share collectively in the revenue generated by our televised games."
I'm not sure what "disapproved" means here. Could be "we will not let you do this"; could be "we will raise our mighty eyebrow at you but take no other action."
In any case the memo indirectly indicates why neutral site games are popular: the two teams participating can split the TV money between themselves instead of between themselves and Indiana and Purdue and a bunch of other teams that are not in fact playing. When there's a Jerryworld game, ESPN and Jerryworld get the rights and then give home-team-sized slices to both participants. The Big Ten doesn't like that.
The Big Ten can pound sand. Scheduling real games would be so much easier if the teams in them actually saw the benefits without having to leave campus. There is zero reason that a Michigan-Florida home and home should be less lucrative than a neutral site game for the people involved.
Thankfully it sounds like Michigan's trip to Jerryworld in 2017 will be their last, by league decree. It's for the wrong reason, but these days that's all you can hope for.
Hatch things. Good Morning America had him on:
I am going to judge you on your word. Big Ten coaches given one word to describe their teams!
Illinois’ Tim Beckman: Family
"Can you help me find them? I'm not supposed to be out after 7 PM."
Indiana’s Kevin Wilson: Cusp
That's not an adjective. The Hoosiers are not seeming particularly cusp this morn.
Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz: Developmental
Neither is this unless it's followed by "-ly disabled," but I like that Ferentz managed to be even more boring than boring. He's probably in a band called White Toast and that's one of their songs.
Maryland’s Randy Edsall: Hungry
Boring, and not in a fun Ferentz way. Boring in a boring way. Randy Edsall is in a band and their one song is "this is not a band it is just a boring man telling you to eat your vegetables."
Michigan’s Brady Hoke: Together
…now that our first round left tackle is gone
Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio: Committed
…pass interference and still weren't found out
Minnesota’s Jerry Kill: Hungry
This would be boring except for this video of Jerry Kill eating a tiny burrito:
Nebraska’s Bo Pelini: Exciting
Accurate. Nebraska is not great but they are a cat explosion waiting to happen.
Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald: Focused
…until the fourth quarter.
Ohio State’s Urban Meyer: Fast
Accurate, in fact tells you something about desired composition of team, relatively un-boring.
Penn State’s James Franklin: Perseverance
Again with the non-adjectives.
Purdue’s Darrell Hazell: Hungry
Would be boring but in this case I think Darrell Hazell may be saying that his players are literally hungry because they can't figure out which hole to put the food in. "NOT THAT ONE," Darrell Hazell screams for the third time today, "THAT ONE ISN'T EVEN A PART OF YOUR BODY."
Rutgers’ Kyle Flood: Hungry
wait why is this guy even listed
Wisconsin’s Gary Andersen: Youthful
Well… yeah. Joe Namath ain't walking through that door.
Meanwhile, Spurrier said "decent" because hail Spurrier. Mark Richt said "wow" for some reason. I ain't saying that Dave Brandon goes around wearing Mark Richt's skin. But I ain't saying otherwise, neither.
Would you say that your decisions are film and evidence-based? Hoke:
"The evidence for making decisions is on the film," Hoke said Saturday night after the team's public scrimmage. "It's evidence-based. Based on film."
No word on the moisture status of his upper lip.
Another "students are gone" article. This one from USA Today is standard-issue. It never ceases to amaze that athletic directors can say this…
"I don't think it's a targeted demographic problem; I think it's more of a (high-definition) TV, living room, leather couch problem and we have to give the people a reason to come to our live product," Washington athletics director Scott Woodward said. "It is something we're going to have to address and deal with."
…and then marvel at the fact that it's tough to sell tickets that have spiraled upward relative to inflation, nearly tripling since 2000. Surely there is an athletic director out there who can figure out why they might be having attendance problems. Take 2, and then take this other 2, and somehow we have to reach 4.
The article has another pile of lukewarm solutions that aren't going to fix much of anything. One thing that could help: stop treating students like enemies. Michigan gets the vapors when a student says the word "sucks" and tries to drown it out; the ushers in the student section are constantly harassing anyone who does anything that looks even slightly like liability. You've got a choice here: loosen things up and accept the fact that you're going to have slightly higher insurance premiums, or continue to turn off your future customers with adversarial relationships between students and your main point of contact with them.
[Via Get The Picture.]
Etc.: MSU WR MacGarrett Kings doesn't even get standard-issue one game DUI suspension. Notre Dame previewed by Paul Myerberg. An overview of where the various NCAA lawsuits stand. The Kessler suit is The Big One. I'm in a sidebar of this ESPN story on the state of Michigan. NOPE.
MVictors interviews Dan Dierdorf. Genuinely Sarcastic comes back for a post about Michigan football that naturally includes a section on Stalingrad. Notre Dame scandal is always a good opportunity to rip Notre Dame.
I'm in Turkmenistan. Seriously.
My name is Matan (Michigan '09) and I am a huge fan of MGoBlog. I am currently driving 10,000 miles from London to Mongolia in a beat up little car as part of a for-charity roadtrip.
A couple months ago (and two years ago), you posted a picture of the "Door to Hell" in Turkmenistan on the blog. We figured we'd put the Michigan flag on it and claim it for the MGoBlog community.
The second picture...well...when starring hell in the face, you might as well have some fun.
It's always nice when someone explains why we got that one hit from Turkmenistan. Papua New Guinea, you're next.
I am of the type that I really don't care about ANY info about the skill positions that is coming out of camp because it is pretty clear that this team will only go as far as the offensive line will take them. The chemistry issues on the team last season were well documented and some have been more specific and direct, that there were chemistry issues and a lack of cohesion on the O-Line. With that being said, is there any truth to this and may it be better for this team to have an entire O-Line with youth so that they collectively progress together?
That's a bit of a stretch. I'd think that having an older guy next to you who could explain why you screwed up would accelerate the learning process for the younger folk. Where that kind of thing might pay off is a year or two down the road; this year it's just going to add to struggles.
I've dismissed "chemistry issues" as they may apply to last year's line, but there's two kinds of assertion in that bucket and I'd like to disavow one but not the other. The one I think is pretty unlikely to have had a major impact: Taylor Lewan supposedly being a jerk. At worst this slowed the ability of younger linemen to progress, and probably not much.
However, if by "chemistry issues" you mean the offensive linemen not having a good idea of what the guy next to him is going to do, I very much buy that as an explanation for why Michigan couldn't get yard one on the ground. So what I can offer is this: if the line remains stable through the year and reps the same offense throughout they will get better as we go, and possibly much better. Their relative youth should mean they improve faster than older players.
Meanwhile, moving guys around is going to be less of an issue if Michigan does focus on inside zone as their base play. Positional responsibilities are a lot closer in zone offenses—nobody pulls, everybody frequently executes doubles that send one or the other OL to the LB level depending on what the player in front of you does.
Unfortunately they're probably going to start as a pile of suck. Judge them by what their pile looks like at the end of the year. Maybe it'll be okay!
[After THE JUMP: safety moves, a guy who is not taking this mailbag as seriously as he should, recruiting feels]
3/5 of the starting line for the opener? [Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog]
Brady Hoke held a presser this evening, and while Adam should have the full transcript up later, Brian asked me to do a quick rundown since this was a particularly newsworthy one. Let's start with—you guessed it—the offensive line, which seems to be taking form.
Mason Cole, Erik Magnuson, Jack Miller, Graham Glasgow and Ben Braden is likely your starting OL. per Hoke.
— Michael Spath (@Spath_Wolverine) August 14, 2014
That's from left to right, and confirms what Hoke said on the radio earlier today about Braden solidifying his spot at right tackle, with Mason Cole still holding strong at LT.
While Glasgow looks to be the starter at right guard, he's suspended for the opener; Kyle Bosch and David Dawson are competing to start against Appalachian State. As for concern that Kyle Kalis hasn't been mentioned much at all this fall, there's apparently good reason for his absence:
Sounds like Jack Miller's in position to start game one at center ... Right guard spot? Bosch and Dawson. Kalis' back is ailing.
— Nick Baumgardner (@nickbaumgardner) August 14, 2014
If Hoke is to be believed, Miller is in position to do more than just start the first game—according to the man in charge, Miller is outplaying Glasgow at center. That'd be great news, as it would allow Glasgow to work at guard—where he seems to be a better option than Bosch/Dawson—and let Miller provide an apparent upgrade at center over Michigan's most consistent interior lineman from last year (that is, admittedly, not a distinction worth throwing a parade over).
UPDATE: Per Angelique Chengelis, Hoke actually said that Kalis would be a starter—though one or both of them didn't specify where—if his back was healthy.
Hoke said Kalis has been held out w back (doesn't sound major), would be a starter. Miller has edge at center over Glasgow (out 1st game)
— angelique (@chengelis) August 14, 2014
That could mean Kalis would take over at left guard, Magnuson would slide over to left tackle, and Cole would move to the bench, or it could mean that Kalis would play right guard over Glasgow.
Michigan held a scrimmage on Wednesday, and in addition to Kalis, three other players were held out: Devin Funchess, Drake Harris, and Delano Hill. Harris is dealing with a hamstring injury, while Hill is reportedly two to three weeks away from returning from his broken jaw. No reason was given for Funchess' absence that I could find, so let's hope upon hope that it was simply "you're Devin Funchess, and we have no need to risk you."
Multiple spots are still up for grabs. Hoke praised the scrimmage performances of Derrick Green and Drake Johnson, while saying De'Veon Smith had a slow start. On the other side of the ball, Jake Ryan is the only linebacker who's locked down a starting spot.
Jabrill Peppers "has a handle" on playing nickel, so he's now getting some work in at cornerback. Given Michigan's depth there, that sounds very positive in regards to Peppers' development.
Adam will have the full transcript up at some point, but that should hold you over for now.