to play football, not to play trumpet
10/8/2011 – Michigan 42, Northwestern 24 – 6-0, 2-0 Big Ten
Last week's picture pages focused on a two-play sequence in which Stephen Hopkins bulldozed a Minnesota linebacker on an iso, then pretended he was going to do the same on the next drive before running right past him for a long completion up the seam. If Michigan wasn't playing Minnesota the iso would have gone for a few yards and that sequence would have been the Northwestern game exactly: two halves, pretty much the same same thing, radically different results.
Half the first: this old bad thing again
It is not fun to be a Michigan fan seeing your past flash before your eyes when your team is going up against the spread offense. Three hundred yards and twenty-four points in the first half? I have seen this before. It ends with me in the fetal position muttering something about Armanti Edwards or Donovan McNabb or this exact Northwestern team blowing up the recordbook in 2000 in this exact stadium at this exact time. The only intelligible things in the moaning will be a bleated "Herrrrrrmaannnn" or strangled "Englissssssh."
I uncurled long enough at halftime to get a tweet out about how we were essentially getting Rich-Rodded to death. We'd heard about but rarely seen this kind of thing the last three years: Northwestern killed Michigan with bubbles they weren't aligned to defend and expertly used varying tempos to catch Michigan off guard much of the first half. This was the spread 'n' shred at full absorption, the kind of thing you can do when you are totally committed to one style of offense you know well.
That was influenced by these super-interesting Calvin Magee videos* in which he's describing the philosophy of the offense that just led a redshirt freshman everyone recruited as a receiver and his sidekicks to a BCS win over Georgia. I'm an hour and a half in and and it's mostly been Magee describing the various tempos WVU uses and breaking down various bubble screens.
This fresh in my mind, my experience of the first half was thus accompanied by a strong sense of déjà vu as the Wildcats bubbled and tempo-ed and aargh-safetied their way down the field. It was simultaneously the thing we'd always seen and the thing we never got to see. It was yet another reason to shake your fist at the Great Rodriguez Defensive Coaching Malpractice. It was unpleasant.
I envisioned Rodriguez sitting in the same room with Ralph Friedgen. Rodriguez watches the Michigan game; Friedgen watches Maryland. Mike Leach pops his head in from time to time. They are sipping cognac, smoking cigars, and laughing maniacally.
Half the second: this old bad thing again, happening to them
It is more fun to be a Michigan fan seeing your past flash before your eyes when the Rodriguez spread is the other team's and they are suddenly incapable of moving the ball while their defense is incapable of anything at all. Insert any of a dozen games over the last three years for comparisons. 2008 Penn State may be the canonical example.
The collapse of the Northwestern offense shouldn't be overstated. They only had four second-half drives that meant anything thanks to the offense executing this second half:
- 8 play, 80 yard TD
- 12 play, 80 yard TD
- 6 play, 47 yard TD
- 7 play, 28 yard FGA
- 9 play, 53 yard TD
This was a masterpiece for the time of possession fetishists. Northwestern opportunities were limited. (As an incidental bonus, Michigan also got 28 points while "keeping the Wildcats off the field." Funny how that works.)
In the aftermath you can't poke a newspaper-type person (and even the occasional blogger) not talking up adjustments. I'm not so sure the adjustment were brilliant. They consisted of telling Denard to stop throwing terrible interceptions and throwing Jake Ryan into the slot—hello heebie jeebies—so the Wildcats couldn't bubble Michigan to death. That accomplished, they waited for the turnover flood.
One sack, two of those turnovers, and a quarter-and-a-half later Michigan was already in rush-the-passer, kill-the-clock mode up 11 with nine minutes left. The first turnover should have been a first down conversion that pushed the Wildcats into Michigan territory; the second was an excellent strip by Thomas Gordon on a drive that had moved from around the Northwestern 20 to midfield.
The adjustment was not giving up the thing they shouldn't have been giving up in the first place and not arm punting directly at opponent safeties. Michigan was just better, no brilliance required. The second half bore that out.
The end result: 42 points despite three turnovers, 541 yards, 360 ceded, and a margin of victory over the Wildcats larger than any since 2004. The 2004 team was the last one Michigan team to smoke-and-mirror its way to a Rose Bowl—if that's really what a team one inch away from beating Vince Young really did.
As the weeks pass the questions fade. Michigan seems flatly better than everyone they play, no qualifiers necessary. This week the Spartans will test that theory. They are the mirror; this weekend blows away the smoke.
*[It's mostly football stuff but a couple of personality items:
1. Magee's showing a clip of a bubble they ran against Cincinnati and apropos of nothing says "the coach, I can't remember his name, is a really nice guy." Someone in the room says "Dantonio?" and he replies "Yeah, Dantonio. Nice guy." Wonder how Magee feels about him now—easy to think someone's a nice guy when you beat him 38-0.
2. Magee's describing a bubble against Georgia in their Sugar Bowl win as a pre-snap read he let White have because he "wants to let the kid grow." WVU ran two different bubbles, a pre-snap read based on alignment and a post-snap read with a full mesh point and an option afterwards if the QB keeps. By allowing White to make the read before the snap he's giving him more flexibility in the offense.
Rodriguez, in contrast, "isn't going to put his fate in the hands of a 19-year-old kid" and wants his QBs to "read it out" post snap all the time.
This particular bubble looked there pre-snap but wasn't actually because a desperate Georgia defense was plunging the safety down at it; WVU didn't have any PA off the bubble—hard to believe—at the time, something Magee said he regrets and they obviously fixed.]
Non-Bullets Of Inverseness
Yes we have no photos. Road game means we don't have a gallery, at least not yet. Mike DeSimone collects everyone's pictures weekly at his page.
Game theory bits. You will not be surprised that I was very much in favor of the fourth and one in the first half, especially given the state of Michigan's defense at that point and what we'd seen Northwestern do on D in their first few games. The result of that play and their ability to convert on the ensuing drive was the difference between going in down 24-14 and 24-7.
While the dominant second half made that touchdown irrelevant in the long run, the people who doubt the wisdom of that call are the same who ascribe a mystical power to momentum. If you're worried about giving momentum up by not converting you have consider the possibility of acquiring it by getting a touchdown, which in addition to being momentum-tastic is also worth seven points. For me, simple calculation: fourth and one near midfield against a team with an iffy defense and in possession of Denard Robinson. Go.
Also not a surprise: thumbs down to the field-goal attempt. I'd actually started arguing with my friend about it on second down. I was in favor of going on fourth and reasonable; he and others around me were in favor of kicking. My main rationale was that there's a huge difference between 18 and 11 (game over, especially with more time off the clock) and only a meh difference between 11 and 14.
We were having this as a hypothetically kicker-independent argument, but there seemed to be agreement that with Michigan's situation at that spot you go. If you had Nate Kaeding I could see kicking, but Gibbons has never made a field goal of 40 yards, let alone 48, and 4th and 5 is very makeable.
Even with the FG attempt I disagreed with, my "Brady Hoke is awesome on gameday" meter incremented a notch. On twitter someone said he tried to sneak Denard and a WR out with the punt team before the timeout, which if true is awesome. It means the TO was not hesitation but rather a trick being snuffed out and that even when the trick was foiled Hoke still went for it.
EPIC DOUBLE POINT STANDINGS, RETROACTIVELY APPLIED:
2: Denard Robinson (Notre Dame, Eastern Michigan), Brady Hoke (San Diego State, Northwestern)
1: Jordan Kovacs (Western Michigan), David Molk (Minnesota)
Almost went with Hemingway for the ND game since Hemingway didn't throw a bunch of interceptions but "WHAT?!" and "the game is ova" were tiebreakers.
Something I've never screamed before. "NICE BLOCK," I yelped a moment after Michael Shaw blew up Bryce McNaul with a cut block:
Thanks to terrible play by the NW MLB and what looks like a slant by the playside DT all Shaw had to do was meekly shove McNaul for Denard to burst into the secondary, but yelp == shoutout.
Hello Mr. Gardner. Gardner had another package in this game. I didn't like this one as much. It seemed too on-the-nose to run that jet sweep to Denard, then come back with a naked boot off it the next time you ran it. Michigan just executed a similar pattern against Minnesota, so NW was prepared. Above is the linebacker Gardner dodged en route to three yards.
And then there was that bit late in the game where Gardner came in. At first he was just handing off/getting the corner from the one, which is not that thrilling, but before that they brought him in to hit Jeremy Jackson on second and ten.
If Gardner can handle it future plays with both guys on the field should be less focused on Denard—maybe make that jet sweep fake and then drop back as per normal. Robinson is an option but not the only one.
Obvious waggle is inverted. On the Watson touchdown, the universe thought "waggle" when Michigan brought in an I-form big on second and goal from the nine. Michigan ran it to the short side of the field, breaking a tendency, and got rewarded for it with an wide open Steve Watson (who Denard nearly missed).
Bipolar OL. Maybe. Michigan couldn't run the ball but it occurred to me there was a strong possibility they got RPSed trying to run the spread against a team that knows it backwards and forwards. There seemed to be a lot of blitzing into places Michigan was trying to run.
So run problems exist. On the other hand, Denard had eons to find people to throw the ball to. Vincent Smith epic blitz pickups had something to do with that, as did Wildcat-fan-infuriating three-man-rushes, but so did the offensive line. So much so that this was a Freudian slip in a thread about the refereeing:
There was .. (Score:1)
also a rushing the passer on Drob that was never called. He was takled for a loss, in the third I believe, and while on the ground was hit by a second defender and then a third. That third defender had enough time to pull up but didn't. No call.
Borges seemed to agree with this blog's petulant complaining about rollouts, which were reduced. Northwestern got negative pressure on pocket passes and the rollouts that were called saw better protection as those edge blockers went hell-bent for the outside instead of hesitating. Michigan's currently first in sacks allowed [tiresome avalanche of caveats]; so it seems that Michigan's best option when it's going to pass is letting Denard sit back and survey. No one is getting near him.
The arm punting bit. Denard did throw three interceptions. This is less than ideal. One of those was a badly inaccurate deep ball into single-ish coverage; the others were WTFs. But the opponent line that Denard is basically a tailback at quarterback…
The long passes were underthrown jump balls that NU didn’t win. I am disappointed (but not surprised) that the secondary was not told to look for the ball once the receiver was 25 yards down the field. Throughout the year, most of Denard Robinson’s long passes have been underthrows that would be INTs if the defender looked for the ball. … At least 100 of those passing yards were 50/50 jump balls. the pass defense wasn’t great, but the defensive scheme in general limited most of Robinson’s runs and made him throw. … Denard has receivers that are willing to go up for the jump ball and bring it down (e.g., the Notre Dame win), and until teams can stop that, all Denard has to do is limit his wild throws to the opposition and get the ball into the general area of his receivers.
…has started to grate. Even with the turrible interceptions Denard still completed 65% of his passes for nearly 13 YPA. That is enough for him to far exceed Dan Persa's QB rating last game (177 to 131) when Persa completed 73% of his passes like he always does. And, like, 13 YPA. 48 and 57 yard bombs to Hemingway and Roundtree help, but Robinson being Robinson put those guys in single coverage.
And here's the thing. While the jump ball thing is a fair assessment of some of the deep stuff, remove his two longest completions and Denard still averaged 9.7 YPA. Chop out the two successful bombs—but not the INT or the Gallon overthrow—and Denard averaged almost a first down per passing attempt. Northwestern fans cannot talk crap about him in any fashion. Do terribly unfair things to his passing stats and he still pwns you. Teams with secondaries are another matter, but we are seeing Denard get back to being the fairly accurate guy he was last year.
When allowed to set and step into throws Denard can toss all kinds of stuff. As Borges gets his head around the things he can and cannot do his efficiency should improve, because he's got enough in his legs to compensate for the fact he's not Andrew Luck. Now, about those throws that make all of us want to die…
[Disclaimer: There's a difference between not thinking you can sustain an offense on downfield chucks into double coverage and back-shoulder fades to Jeremy Gallon and thinking a QB averaging 10 YPA even when you mutilate his stats unfairly is not a QB. Thank you for not needing this disclaimer.]
WTFs. I don't know, man. I think one of them was an attempted wheel route that was either badly disrupted or saw the guy fall down; in any case there was a safety right there so that was a very bad read. The other I have no idea. Hypothetically that could have been a massive WR bust, but I doubt it. I will look at these in UFR but I doubt I'll be able to tell much.
Shaw. If Tommy Rees's brain goes "FLOYDFLOYDFLOYDFLOYD" then Michael Shaw's goes "BOUNCEBOUNCEBOUNCEBOUNCE." It worked against a slow-ish Northwestern team cramming the box; kudos to Borges for making that switch.
Roundtree. Welcome back to the offense, kid. Totally thought you were Junior Hemingway on the long one.
Woolfolk. Again pulled for Countess. Obviously injured.
Johnson. Hoo boy, going to come in for some finger-wagging in UFR. His whiff on the Kain Colter TD was spectacular.
The West: open. It was going to be wide open when Nebraska was losing 27-6 to Ohio State, but even with that comeback there the Michigan-Michigan State game has the shape of a division championship game, doesn't it? Whoever wins it will be two clear of their instate rival with the most threatening other teams in the division already carrying losses. The winner of that game could lose once and probably be fine since Iowa is unlikely to sweep M/MSU/Nebraska and Nebraska similarly unlikely to do so against M/MSU/Iowa/PSU/Northwestern.
Michigan State would have a smaller margin of error since their remaining games against the East include an almost certain loss versus Wisconsin; Michigan wins this weekend and they become solid favorites.
As per usual, when I attend road games I usually can't get around to VOAV. Penance:
Postgame interview with the person of particular note:
ST3 goes inside the box score:
After starting slowly in the sack department, we picked up 3 last week and 4 this week, including a decapitation by Kovacs and a Wile E. Coyote style steamrolling by Will Campbell.
After giving up 297 yards in the first half, the defense settled down (and the offense controlled the clock for major stretches) limiting NU to 438 yards total for the game. A tad higher than my goal of 400 per game, but NU does have a good offense, I think everyone would agree. And they would have been held under 400 if the refs called holding penalties. More on that in the ref section, don’t neg me yet.
That 438 includes a 79 yard drive at the end of the game when Michigan was up three scores and just bleeding clock. If anything ever convinces you that advance stats are more real than the regular ones, that should be it. On 11 real drives—about an average game's worth—the Wildcats had 359 yards, which is about average. On the meaningless last one the Wildcats piled it on. Advanced stats will dump that last drive.
6-0 starts for Michigan are rare.
Most of my life (33 years) has been spent rooting for a Michigan team that would win most Saturdays, live in the national rankings, and stub their toe early in the season. 4-0 or better starts have only occurred 11 times in those 33 seasons:
4-0: '78 '96 '09
5-0: '85 '95 '99 '10
6-0: '86 '97 '06 '11
The starts to the last three seasons have been a stretch that Michigan fans have not witnessed since the dawn of the Carr era.
Media, as in files. Melanie Maxwell's gallery for AnnArbor.com. This thing was epic:
We should get a giant inflatable Wolverine head for the players to run out from under, except it should probably be, like, the comic book version, and then to make it even more rad we could shoot off some fireworks during the national anthem and this would make things electric.
Media, as in unwashed blog masses. If you are a true schadenfreude connoisseur, there is a Sippin' on Purple game thread that descends into self-loathing misery. I didn't enjoy it much except for the one post where the person said every time Denard takes off it terrifies them.
TWB on the good and bad. The Hoover Street Rag gets a head start on the MICHIGAN STATE IS THE BEGINNING OR END OF THE WORLD hype, which is deserved. Big House Blog provides cheers and jeers. TTB has bullets. One of them:
Kenny Demens had his best game of the year. Demens hasn't been as productive this year as I expected, but he's still been a solid player. This game was his best, though. He had 10 tackles, including a sack, and did a good job of chasing down wide receivers and crossing routes in space. A lot of middle linebackers (Obi Ezeh, for example) would have been left in the dust or would have missed the tackle on those smaller players, but Demens is so strong that if he gets his hands on someone, that person is going to the ground.
In five of Michigan's nine losses during the 2008 season, the Wolverines were either ahead or tied at the half. But during the subsequent two quarters, Michigan's offense crumbled and the defense wasn't good enough to prop the team up. Throughout the Rodriguez years, exponential in-game decline became a staple of the team's performance
Don’t you feel like, for the first time in a long while, that Michigan clearly has the advantage in coordinators? While there is room for improvement, it’s a blast to see Borges tinker around with Denard and Gardner, and the defense has rattled several quarterbacks this season and has clearly improved. The team seems to get better as the game goes on.
This Week in Unexpected Sentences from Lake The Posts:
the 'Cats two second half TOs and Denard Robinson’s unstoppable passing prove too much in blowout win.
Nationally, Holly Anderson on the second-half D:
The story of Northwestern being shut out entirely in the second half is one of repeated, eerily consistent, enormous drive-ending plays by the Michigan defense. A sack and an interception killed the Wildcats’ third-quarter drives; a fumble and a sack put paid to their first two fourth-quarter efforts, and the final Northwestern drive barely reached Michigan’s red zone before the clock ran out.
Iowan Adam Jacobi has quick hits on the game at CBS.
Media, as in badge-wearers. Fox Sports's resident officiating expert on the Kovacs/Persa decapitating:
Some face mask penalties an official should never miss. This is not one of them. When I watched this play in real time and even after the first replay, I did not think the face mask was grabbed. So many helmets come off, and often it has nothing to do with the face mask being pulled. In this case, however, the last replay indicated that Kovacs did grab the mask with his left hand. The referee, who is behind the quarterback, would never see this, and he is the only official who is watching the quarterback. It was a foul, but not all fouls can be seen. Coach Fitzgerald was penalized for running out on the field to argue, which is absolutely the correct call. You cannot let a coach come as far onto the field as Fitzgerald did to scream at the officials. It makes no difference whether there is a missed call. That cannot be allowed.
That's on point. It's clear on the replay that Kovacs did grab the facemask but you can't expect the official to see that. (Side note: Adding Pereira to their coverage of NFL and college sports was a brilliant move by FOX. He's great at giving an unvarnished take from the referee's perspective. In that same article he bags on the live-ball unsportsmanlike penalty the NCAA just instituted, but he also gives it to you straight when you are being a stupid fanboy.)
Pete Thamel has yet another Denard piece, but okay:
Koger’s favorite Robinson story is from when he was a freshman, and he bounded up and down outside a team huddle.
“Put me in coach, I run fast,” Robinson said repeatedly.
When Robinson overheard Koger relaying that story Monday, he blushed with embarrassment and tried to plead down some details. But early on, Robinson’s need to slow down was obvious.
“I was just thinking about it the other day — man, it’s going by too fast for me,” he said with a smile. “I don’t want to leave.”
eeeeeee /passes out
Junior Hemingway had a lime:
"It feels real good," receiver Junior Hemingway said of the six victories.
Let's have a real wool lime.
AnnArbor.com's Kyle Meinke says Michigan answered a lot of questions. True, but I don't think "can Michigan win without Denard Robinson?" was one of them. Tim Rohan on the dichotomy of Denard. Raftery on the receivers. Chengelis on going to EL.
Tim will spin out posts on his experience at Media Day over the first few days of the week, but right now how about a million embeds? Oh and this from the MVictors photo gallery:
"Please stop doing that, you're making me uncomfortable."
And then there's all the video Boyz n tha Pahokee and MGoVideo put in a non-browser-crippling format:
Denard Robinson (wsgs Mike Rosenberg and Mike Rosenberg's Tiny Afro!):
Several more after the jump.
Notes from Offensive Coordinator Calvin Magee's meeting with the press this morning (photo from file).
Motivation is not necessarily about the wingless helmets, everyone on the team has a fire lit under them, because they have competition for their spots.
The vocal leader of the offense varies. All the upperclassmen are starting to be. Schilling, Roundtree, QBs, Koger "I can name a lot now, I couldn't do that before."
It's Coach Rodriguez's decision whether anybody moves from offense to help fill the void left by Troy Woolfolk's injury. "I figured that might be an early question." The offense's goal is to get plenty of depth at every position, and Magee hasn't thought about any spot where the offense could give up a guy.
They've had situational scrimmages, but no full scrimmage yet. Offense is about the execution. Keys for that are making sure we take care of the ball, making good decisions, avoiding negative plays, converting 3rd downs, and sustaining drives. "When you have chances to make plays you make them. We had, I believe, a lot of missed opportunities last year. We need to take advantage of them." The team has been better at avoiding turnovers than in the past couple camps. "Attention to detail has been much better." Avoiding the chance for a turnover, not just the turnover itself, has been coached.
The coaches aren't watching more film than normal with so many unresolved position battles. They'd be doing it anyway to evaluate the backups, etc. Fun thing now is every position has competition, and everyone knows the competition is there, so the players are pushing each other.
On the scrape exchange: "We've been seeing that for about 5 years now." "We have some pretty good answers for that... We feel comfortable and confident in those answers, we really do." Unsurprisingly, he wouldn't get into specifics about what those answers are. [Ed.: This had to be Craig Ross's question. Tim confirms.]
The team is mostly third-year guys. They understand more of what is expected at this point. More people are running around knowing what's going on than the past couple fall camps. The guys who don't understand are a minority now. The guys that have been around providing great leadership.
Right now, they're are still in camp mode with giving reps, they haven't started preparing for the first opponent. Now is time to get guys into shape and learn fundamentals.
The main improvement in the defense is that they're flying around, having fun. Magee's not worried about them, he wants to execute his plays. Right now, he's worried about offense.
Not even thinking about redshirts right now.
Quarterbacks And Other Personnel, But Mostly Quarterbacks
Who will start at QB and RB? "You wish I would tell you that." They're excited about all three QBs. They're still days away from figuring that out [note: I don't think "days away" means something is happening soon. He used it to mean "not yet" a few times]
To evaluate the QBs, they look at making the proper progression reads, learning the offense, leadership, improving every day, decisions they make, making plays. A lot of guys are making plays in camp. The quarterback battle might be won by who can motivate better. Showing leadership by example is important, good body language, knowing we always have a chance. "It's not just in completion rates and all that stuff."
Thus far, they're only evaluating the overall performance of the quarterbacks. "All three bring quite a bit to the table... it'll be our job to figure out." There's no set deadline for deciding on a starter. They just want to decide soon enough to get players the reps they need to prepare for the first game.
Denard - have you been giving him reps anywhere else? "No." [editorialization: given Rodriguez's continued insistence that Denard would see snaps other places if he wasn't going to be the team's starting QB, throw this in the pile of "Denard will be the starter" fuel.] Denard has improved since year one with an overall understanding of the complete scheme. Run game and throw game. Having a spring under his belt. "Progressing the way a young quarterback progresses."
"Tate's been competing, playing, doing well." They all understand what's at stake for the team. All-in for the team. Does Tate have his wings back? "It's not for me to tell you that."
In the spring, Devin was good for a high schooler. He's been picking up more and more, and is gaining confidence.
At running back, "we're trying to figure out who's going to step forward." Put different guys with different groups. Competition still going strong. A couple days away from figuring that out. Vincent Smith hasn't lacked confidence yet coming off the knee injury. "I haven't seen anything that makes me discouraged."
Stonum - "He's been consistent, and dedicated, and is playing at a high level right now. We're hoping that continues into games." Staying healthy is important, and he's been consistent.
Some slot receivers could see action on the outside. Roundtree, Grady, Terrance Robinson, and Odoms, could all play inside and outside. Nobody is separating at outside WR yet because they're all so close. There will be 5-6 guys who can play both receiver positions.
All the young receivers have been impressive, but there's only one new WR (DJ Williamson) since spring. The older guys are bringing them along. Evaluation comes in scrimmages, etc. Now, they're just making sure everyone is fundamentally sound. Je'Ron Stokes is coming along. "He's about where you'd think a redshirt kid would be."
Schofield and Lewan are "competing their butts off. Much improved." You always worry that redshirts might not prepare properly because they don't expect to play - but that doesn't seem to be the case. Quinton Washington has been working hard as well.
The interior line has a lot more experience now. Schilling and Molk have played a bunch, and last year Patrick got some games inside. Naturally they'll get better with experience. They're becoming leaders, and helping younger guys along.
The media got a chance to talk to Michigan Offensive Coordinator Calvin Magee earlier today. Note from his press conference follow.
- There have been a lot of fun competitions to watch at every position. Nobody wins or loses a starting spot in spring football. Guys have the summer to improve their bodies, and position battles really take place in fall camp. The next five spring practices still give guys a chance to emerge.
- There have been a number of injuries that have given younger guys a chance to prove themselves this spring, specifically center (David Molk) and Outside Wideout (JR Hemingway and Je'Ron Stokes).
- As much of a jump in offensive production as there was from Year One to Year Two (from 109th to 59th in total offense, from 101st to 41st in scoring offense), Magee hopes there will be equal improvement between last year and Year Three. There is finally returning experience at important positions, and guys that have had three years in the system. They finally aren't starting fresh.
- The early enrollees are adjusting to the pace and physicality of college ball. The coaches need to keep reminding themselves that these guys are basically still high schoolers.
- Magee and Rodriguez have never butted heads about playcalling. When you gameplan the right way, you know going into a game what you're going to do. The only thing that can get frustrating is when the execution isn't good.
- South Florida first contacted Magee about applying for their head coaching job, not the other way around (Skip Holtz eventually won the position). Magee lived 15 years in Tampa, so he is familiar with the area, and actually graduated from USF while he was playing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Interviewing for the job was a good experience, but he doesn't really think about becoming a head coach that frequently, aside from a long-term career goal. He just worries about doing what he can at Michigan: "Man, we're about to do what we're supposed to do here." He didn't want to leave unfinished business in Ann Arbor.
- Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson are both getting time running with the 1s in practice. Now that they have game experience, the coaches are really working on their mechanics and fundamentals. Splitting time with the 1s gives both a chance to compete.
- Tate Forcier "played like a freshman" last year at times. He faced new coverages every week, and it takes time to teach a kid everything.
- Denard Robinson is learning the entire offense. They didn't plan to only have him run QB sweeps, etc., last year, but that's just what happened. He will have a much better comfort level with the offense this year, with spring practice, game experience, and film study.
- Devin Gardner has been good. He's very competitive, and he wants to compete with the other two guys right away. He's not going to sit behind them without doing everything he can to compete with them first. Magee would like to see him compete for the starting job in the fall, because it means that there are several viable options at QB. If he plays well enough to get onto the field, they don't have a problem not redshirting him.
- Experience at quarterback will give the coaches much more comfort with their play calls. They'll be confident with the entire playbook.
- The competition is heating up, and it's fun to watch. The coaches would love to have three or four options in the season. Guys who can play multiple roles within the offense give the team some flexibility.
- Mike Cox is a powerful guy, who is very physically talented. Last year, he maybe thought that it wasn't "his turn" yet, and he'd have to wait for Minor and Brown. The coaches had to make sure he realized that if he can compete and earn the job, it's his, no matter what. He's taken that attitude to heart this spring.
- Vincent Smith will be back in fall camp, competing with everyone else for a starting role.
- Fitzgerald Toussaint needs to keep learning the playbook, and he'll be good to go. He's done a good job with that so far.
- The coaches know what Mark Moundros is capable of, but with him moonlighting at linebacker this spring, it's given John McColgan a chance to get a lot of reps, and getting that experience in practice will really help him down the road.
Slots, Tight Ends, and Wideouts
- When they recruit slots, a lot of the guys can also play outside receiver positions, so they've moved there for spring with the injuries to Hemingway and Stokes. Roy Roundtree's "been mostly all outside right now." He was originally recruited as an outside receiver, so he can play both positions.
- Terrence Robinson is playing really well this spring. His first year, he was in a competition with Martavious Odoms for a starting spot, but got injured. A similar thing happened last year, which led to the emergence of Roy Roundtree. He's finally healthy, and can do a lot of different things.
- Jeremy Gallon is coming off a redshirt, and should have a chance to contribute at multiple positions. Like Odoms and Robinson, he's a very shifty guy, with a lot of ability.
- The tight end position has been really good to watch this spring. Magee isn't sure which of the two main guys (Kevin Koger and Martell Webb) is better. Webb is turning into a real team leader.
- The three redshirt freshmen coming up are very good. Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield showed their talent on the scout team last year, and it's fun to watch them compete in the offense. They are a little immature (though they weigh more than they look - they aren't far off from their target weights), but very competitive. Lewan has been playing left tackle, and Schofield right tackle. Quinton Washington had been doing well, but he's been a little banged up.
- David Molk's injury has given some other centers a chance to get reps. Rocko Khoury has been getting a lot of time, and Elliott Mealer is playing in there as well. They're building depth at center.
- Mark Huyge and Perry Dorrestein have "been fine this spring." It's their third year in the system, so they understand what the coaches want.
- Steve Schilling is playing as well as he ever has since this coaching staff has been in town. He's turning into a real leader on the offense.
- Last year, there were too many injuries to have any real competition on the offensive line. This year, it's much better, and the competition is fun to watch.
Historian! Haven't had a new one in a while from the great archivist of the internets. 1981 Minnesota; check it out if only for the totally sweet introduction:
Assorted Kiffybits. Have received some heat in the comments for my blanket assertion yesterday that Lane Kiffin was in some way responsible for the MASSIVE INSTUTUTION-WIDE CHEATFEST that USC undertook through the aughts, but I can't really understand why. In a time of major NCAA trouble you fire everyone and let the rest of D-I sort 'em out. Permanently cutting ties with anyone in a position to have observed or participated in NCAA violations is a bare minimum standard when you get hit with major sanctions. And USC isn't just bringing back any old assistant coach, they're bringing in a guy currently under investigation. It's indefensible.
The Michigan equivalent would be putting Perry Watson on Tommy Amaker's staff, or hiring Magee after firing Rodriguez because the NCAA came back with a major infraction from the practice stuff. Either move would be totally beyond the pale.
Side note: I don't really blame Kiffin for leaving, and think Tennessee's reaction has been hilarious. Kiffin didn't have any control over when the USC job opened up. Meanwhile, the chaotic scene in Knoxville when he left was testament to the college football fan's ability to delude himself about the guy in charge*. If I was a Volunteer fan this would be the happiest day in 14 months. Tennessee got off easy, and can now hire someone with a resume stronger than "hot wife, reptile brain."
This week in witch trials. Meanwhile, Kiffin's departure for his dream job has caused no end of hysterical reactions in the media. Sally Jenkins's painful "Chucky" comparison is the most tortured column—hiring Kiffin is easier than "hiring someone less illustrious"—I've come across, but there are many others. Here's old friend Jemele Hill "bringing the real"—seriously those were the words on the screen—about the situation:
Since college football fans are paying top dollar to attend these games and boosters are signing blank checks to bolster their athletic teams, they need reassurance they are supporting not only a winning program, but also a brand.
That's why college football programs have gladly backed up the Brink's truck for Bobby Petrino, Rich Rodriguez, Brian Kelly and Nick Saban -- all top-notch coaches whose combined lies could outweigh an ocean liner.
Leaving aside Rich Rodriguez, who has had all of two jobs in a decade, why does poor Brian Kelly get lumped in here? Kelly spent most of the last month of the season going out of his way to provide rambling non-answers to questions about Notre Dame just so he wouldn't get stuck having said something untrue. When the time came his public statement about it was "I am listening to Notre Dame." Even Rodriguez—less of a job-hopper than anyone on that list—issued a quote about being around West Virginia for a long time after his Alabama flirtation. Kelly walked around with a sign that said "Please Hire Me Notre Dame" for two months and still can't win.
Meanwhile, Jemele Hill jumped at the opportunity to bring the real at ESPN instead of hanging out at the Free Press. Physicians, heal thyselves.
*(Over/under on Ohio State blogs that repost this sentence for lol: 4.)
Correct. Michigan's former players are always asked about Michigan's current coach and most of them have the same answer. It acknowledges the difficulty in transition and expresses frustration at the current state of the program. Depending on how the phrase it, this can come off as attack or support. They're all basically saying the same thing—let's win this year plsthx—but they seem different. Victor Hobson shades towards the support side of things:
As a Michigan fan, it’s easy for me to sit back and say he is not taking the program in the right direction. As a football player, though, it’s easy for me to see that Rich has a different approach to winning than Lloyd Carr, which requires different personnel. Patience is the key to allowing the program to blossom once again. The dilemma is that Michigan is an extremely prideful university that isn’t used to losing, so I don’t know if that patience is going to happen.
South Florida. It's not quite official yet, but the word from a couple days ago that Skip Holtz was likely to be the guy at ECU is nearing it by the minute:
Holtz was contacted by USF athletic director Doug Woolard about the job Sunday and interviewed with USF officials Tuesday in Orlando.
A source close to East Carolina told the Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer on Wednesday night that a deal between Holtz and USF was close but not done yet. "But they're moving in that direction,'' the source said.
A deal could come as early as today; it sounds like this is all but inevitable. This leaves Calvin Magee at Michigan. Magee did talk to USF, but I don't think he interviewed formally.
They're back. Some of them. Michigan State's PREWB appears to be resolved by a number of additional departures from the team. RB Ashton Leggett, DE Jamiihr Williams, LB Brynden Trawick, and DT Ishmyl Johnson are out. All the receivers are back, as are a couple guys you've never heard of. The end result here is fairly satisfying: six guys out the door, including a couple probable starters next year, is a stiff price to pay. The other guys are "reinstated" and "on the team right now," though there remains the distant possibility that legal action will cause some of the other guys to pick up further suspensions (lasting, of course, until next year's Michigan game).
Meanwhile, State is getting Greg Jones back for his senior year—bad NFL draft grade?—so they've got that going for them.
Crater omission. Doctor Saturday ran down the top five "sharpest turning moments" of 2009 and touched on Notre Dame taking out Charlie Weis and Ohio State picking it up after Purdue. This guy was genuinely surprised to not see "Roy Roundtree tackled at one yard line." That's 90% blinkered homerism, but it certainly seemed that few teams took as radical a U-turn as Michigan did on that fateful goal line stand. They went from a team making totally satisfactory progress to a smoking crater hosting a civil war in the course of one replay review.
Etc.: Apparently the ridiculous Rodriguez-to-Tennessee rumors were serious enough for Angelique to debunk them with the help of RR's agent. RR talks to Andrea Adelson about 2010—bowl promised! Bacon runs down the top sports moments of the decade. UMHoops runs down a bunch of stuff; most interesting is that the Big Ten is the least free-throw happy of the BCS conferences. Also for God's sake don't look at the scatterplot.
We will carry him through the city of God on a golden palanquin, crying out "oh child of wonder, share with us your one true vision." If you're like me—a shiftless loner who can watch TV during the day and really likes the national soccer team—you no doubt remember the searing vision from last year's Italy-Brazil Confederations Cup matchup. Someone made an animated gif of it.
I know you will never stop watching that, and I'm sorry.
Holy cow. This will mark the second time in a week something interesting has been said by a West Virginia newspaper that had nothing to do with Rich Rodriguez. (Floating an apparently legit rumor that Chuck Heater is a potential Jay Hopson replacement was the other.) Imagine this alternate history as told by Mike Brey:
“Four or five years ago my athletic director called me in for a meeting and told me to be prepared. We’re going to the Big Ten,” Brey said, so matter-of-factly that you figured everyone knew about it.
But that really wasn’t the case.
No one knew that Notre Dame stood on the doorstep of jumping to the Big Ten a few years back. They knew they had the chance to go, that the Big Ten wanted them, but that were close enough that the Irish athletic director was calling coaches in and telling them to prepare for the move, that it was a sure thing … well, can you say Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College.
“It changed at the midnight hour,” Brey said, “but he was preparing me for that.”
I have no penetrating insights here. Just… wow. This will prompt even more Mike White shrines across ND Nation.
Another departure? Probably not. USF fired Jim Leavitt after he went Woody Hayes on one of his players and then lied about it extensively. This led to a number of articles floating Calvin Magee as a possible replacement, in which he'd "expressed an interest," albeit not publicly.
It looks like South Florida is going another direction, however:
Nothing could be confirmed late Monday, but speculation was heavy that the Bulls could be a match for Holtz, the son of a coaching great who has guided the Pirates to back-to-back Conference USA championships.
That's a non-entity of a statement there, but there's an article in the competing paper that says Holtz has been contacted by USF:
"I have gotten a call to find out if I had interest in talking to them,'' he said. "Obviously, there is interest from a standpoint of the league they play in, the Big East, and my parents live here in Orlando, my wife is from Port Charlotte. We would have four grandparents right there. There are a lot of positives to it. I think it's definitely an up-and-coming program so, yeah, there would be interest.''
It's rare to see a guy with a job make a public statement of interest and not get the gig. Michigan looks like it will hold on to Magee, then.
(HT: Orson as Spencer.)
Midterms. The NHL's Central Scouting Board has released their midterm rankings. Players of note for Michigan:
20. Jon Merrill, D, USA U18
50. Jacob Fallon, F, USA U18
75. Luke Moffatt, F, USA U18
98. Alex Guptill, F, Orangeville (2010 or 2011)
132. Kevin Clare, D, USA U18
170. Derek Deblois, F, Cedar Rapids, USHL (2010 or 2011)
(About Guptill and Deblois: It's uncertain whether or not they'll be on campus next year. They are eligible for this draft and usually that means they'll be on campus the season after they get drafted, but when they committed they were expected to be members of the 2011 class. Robbie Czarnik leaving opens up a spot for one, and it's possible they'll bring the other in early with the money they'd earmarked for (argh) Jack Campbell.)
Items of note other than "argh Jack Campbell": Merrill and Moffatt have dropped, Moffatt considerably. These are just North American skater rankings. Add in Euros and goalies and Merrill projects as a late first or early second rounder, Fallon a third-rounder, and Moffatt somewhere in rounds three to five. Moffatt was getting hyped as a possible top ten pick and a definite first rounder. That might be bad for their instant impact but better for the long term future of the program if they decide to stick around longer. Also a possibility: the CSB rankings, which can be wack, are a little wack.
On the other hand, Fallon keeps moving up and Clare is in a nice sweet spot for a stay-at-home defenseman who will be around for three or four years. The above-listed players and USHL D Mac Bennett are the entire class. Since Bennett went in the second round last year, that's impressive. Every player Michigan is bringing in next year is expected to be or has been drafted, and it seems likely the majority of the class will be off the board when the fourth round rolls around. If it makes you feel any better about this year, no one in State's current class is even on the list.
The timing on this is fantastic. So, yes, John Beilein got an extension after one of the most disappointing losses of his Michigan career, one that finally closed the door on all but the most insane Michigan fan's NCAA tourney hopes. Predictably, people were outraged on the radio. Predictably, Mike Rosenberg rushed to write an article that reads like "a Goofus and Gallant article with Goofus (RR) mostly standing just outside the frame" according to zingy MGoBoard poster wolverine1987.
Assorted e-pinions that, in retrospect, are directed at people who won't listen anyway:
- This was not decided after the season started.
- Yes, obviously David Brandon knew this was happening. Conspiracy theories about Bill Martin dropping a nasty present in Brandon's lap are transparently silly.
- The buyout is the thing that matters and I doubt that it increased significantly, if at all, should Beilein's tenure go the same direction Amaker's did. I think that point is moot—the NCAA bid will buy him enough time to get a full roster of his guys in and his history indicates that he'll be successful enough in the long run that he will likely retire a Wolverine. If it's not, though, a few hundred K here or there is not going to prevent Michigan from making a move.
- Short of massacring an entire village of Vietnamese peasants, Beilein is here for a long time, extension or no.
Etc.: Rivals recognizes the Big Ten's bowl season as basically on par with the SEC's and far better than anyone else's. CMU hires Michigan State assistant Dan Enos; Enos is regarded as Dantonio's primary recruiter guy. Should be some small help with in-state recruiting. Charles Woodson, your NFL defensive player of the year, extensively profiled by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.