in re: is GRIII on a tear
Sinestral: Ross, Ryan and Clark|Bryan Fuller, MGoBlog. Dextral: Bill Walsh
First, a Chag Sameach to my fellow tribesmen and a Happy Turtleversary to the wingnuts.
We now continue with the Bill Walshian rundown of the 2013 roster. Since Michigan's offense and defense schemes are kindred spirits of the great 49er teams of the '80s, I've found it somewhat useful to re-scout Michigan's players on the same factors that the legendary coach used to evaluate his draft picks. How do we know what Walsh drafted on? Well wouldn'tchya know it, he provided it in a 1997 article for Pro Sports Exchange that Chris Brown (Smart Football) discovered.
Bruce Smith/ James Hall / Frank Clark by Upchurch
Walsh Says: 6'5/270 or 6'3/245 depending on type. It's complicated so I'm going to spend some extra time here. His DE descriptions bounced between what you want from 3-4 DEs, which is the 3- and 5-tech in Michigan's defense, and pure pass rushers. Ultimately Michigan's WDE is closer to the pass-rush-specialist-who-stops-runs-too job description of a Walshian 3-4 weakside linebacker than a blocker-sucking interior DL, so they go here with the LBs. Speed and quickness are now very much in play:
Must have explosive movement and the ability to cover ground quickly in three to five yards of space. The ability to get your shoulder past the shoulder of the tackle. This makes for a pass rusher. With that there is quickness because it sets up a lot of other things.
From the outside linebackers description we get this:
These pass rushing outside linebackers must have natural gifts, or instincts for dealing with offensive tackles who are up to 100 pounds heavier. Quickness is only part of it. They must know how to use leverage, how to get underneath the larger man's pads and work back toward the quarterback. And he must be strong enough to bounce off blocks and still make the play.
The rush DE needs to have some finesse. This site never misses an opportunity to knock on Will Gholston so I'll do that: Gholston has more than enough explosion and strength, and is an excellent tackler but the big hole in his game is he doesn't get leverage or bounce off blocks. This is why State deployed him mostly SDE this year while Marcus Rush was the premier pass rusher. Walsh says it's all the same if you can push a tackle as go around him, but being an okay jack of all trades here isn't as valuable as being super disruptive at one or the other.
Overall strength is important. You don't have to be a Mike Martin beastmonster in the weight room but a WDE has to be strong enough to not get turned by the tackle. This is also a technique issue though it's not a skill that needs years to develop—a big sophomore year leap is expected at this position as the kid gains weight, strength, and the footwork and balance to be able to keep his shoulders pointed toward the football.
As echoed in Mattison's statements in 2011 regarding WDEs, Walsh calls his rush DEs "the substance off the defensive team" since their ability to put pressure on the quarterback can make or break a defense. This is why great DEs are at such a premium in today's NFL.
The last piece is willpower, which in scouting parlance becomes "high motor." WDEs typically get rotated a lot because they burn a gazillion calories on each play. Because this spot is supposed to win 1-on-1 battles and kill plays himself, success on the second and third moves can make a huge difference.
Walsh's Favorite Wolverine: If James Hall and Larry Stevens had a baby, and that baby came out 6'5/260 and immediately ate the doctor. Michigan just hasn't had the freaks here unless you count Woodley and I'm saving him. Stevens didn't have the sacks but generated hurries. And Hall: because he's 6'2 every scout from the early recruiting years to modern NFL trade talkers underrates him, despite consistent production at every level. Hall is second (to Graham) in career sacks and 6th in TFLs among Wolverines and was the 1997 team's secret weapon. Both guys were often extolled for their virtues under the hood.
What to look for in a Scouting Report: EXPLOSIONS! I know I said this for SDE but even more so. You know these guys on sight because the innate quickness and strength makes them terrors against high schoolers. Skipping over the blue chips (or like Ra'Shede Hageman who would have been a blue chip if he accepted Florida's offer to play DE rather than Minnesota's offer of tight end) 3-stars who shine seem to have athletic tickmarks or the proverbial motor. I noticed some of the big performers from high school All-American games (Ray Drew, Alex Okafor, a million dudes who went to Florida) tend to fare well—about the worst among Army game standouts of yore was Victor Abiamiri, who was still pretty good. The pushers had ridiculous squats (Simon's was 700!)
What you can learn on film: How fast he gets into the backfield, adjusted for competition. You're looking for that quick burst. The great ones just look completely unblockable—like the guy blocking him doesn't seem to have any leverage.
What could signal bust potential: Size. Rivals tends to put its favorite DEs at "SDE" for this reason. If you browse through the five-stars you generally find two categories: high-effort guys who were early contributors and are or are on track to be NFL draft picks at defensive end, and Pierre Woods/Shawn Crable-like linebackers whose recruiting profiles said they would grow into Jevon Kearse. There's a reason they called Kearse "the freak."
How our guys compare: Frank Clark and Brennan Beyer are the two sides of the WDE coin. This refrain from MGoBlog is becoming tiresome but Beyer seems the stronger and more responsible one and Clark is the greater X-factor. We overplay this; both would still fall more into the finesse side than, say, John Simon, and both seem to top out as useful but not stars.
Ojemudia is kind of a James Hall but more akin to Shantee Orr. Where James Hall was small but had the size to stand up to a good shove when needed, here you have a dude with explosiveness and great hands for pass rushing but is going to be dead meat if doubled and run at, and is therefore best deployed as a 3rd down or [blank]-and-long specialist.
Early enrollee Vidauntae "Taco" Charlton, who's already 6'6/265 on Michigan's spring roster, is the closest thing to Walshian dreams. On film though a lot of times you just see him blowing something up because they didn't block him, and though this probably had a lot to do with being way bigger than high school tackles in Central Ohio he didn't play with much leverage after the snap. The reason for all the Tacoptimism is he blew up the camp circuit. He probably still needs a year to work on technique since he spent most of high school in a 2-point stance. Warning: he doesn't check the motor box.
[Linebackers, after a leap.]
This goes out to all those young linebackers out there who have given me your letters of intent:
♪ There was Bell, and a Hill, but I never saw them playing
No I never saw depth at all, 'till there was you.
There were safeties who gained weight, and a JUCO straight from Butler
But they were no Obianna Ezeh, 'till there was you.
Oh there were walk-ons, and converted fullbacks, they tell me,
And sweet freshman "Spinners," and Roh at "Quick"…
There was Ken-ny Demens, and a plush-toy Castor face-wash,
But no other linebackers at all, 'till there was you.
Till there was you! ♫
Linebacker depth: EXTANT!
This is Part III of the thing where I go over the depth chart and predict what will happen if the starter at any given position is hurt for an extended period of time in 2012: Who goes in?, What's the dropoff?, How do things shuffle?
And this time, there's goods here. There's depth in the SAMs and the WILLs and the MIKEs and the macks and the rovers. Whatayatalk whatayatalk: Where'd-we-get-it? With a Greg who knows the territory! With the jacks from the buckeyes, and the bucks from the mitten, and ROLBs from the overlooked, redshirted, 3-star, buck- and spart-passed over huckleberry bin. Whatayatalk, whatayatalk. Ya can talk, ya can talk, ya can bicker ya can talk, ya can bicker, bicker, bicker, ya can talk all ya want, but it's different than it was!
Quickly again. Photos are all by Upchurch unless otherwise noted. Ratings are given in Saturn-punting Zoltans. Think of them like stars except more heavenly. Five is an all-conference-type player (Denard to Kovacs); four is a guy you'd call "solid" (RVB to Demens); three is an average B1G player (Morgan to Hawthorne); two is a guy with a big hole in his game (freshman Kovacs); one is trouble with a capital T, and that rhymes with P, and that stands for Poole.
SAM (Strongside Linebacker):
In case of emergency: Jake was a revelation last year as a redshirt freshman who as the season progressed kept giving the coaches less and less excuse to yank him. The nature of his position, which rotates often, and the nature of his cavalier game make it hard to quantify the effective difference of an injury here. By design he's the most replaceable guy on the defense; by the magnitude of his effect when he's in the game, there are few, if any, guys on the team who you'd less like to lose. He was far from perfect—his problems holding the edge led to some ugly things in the Northwestern-Michigan State part of the year—however there were also those times when a "running" quarterback would see this crazy freshman coming inside the edge blocker and think to himself "oh I'm so going around that idiot," only to end up flat on his back 20 yards in the backfield. Nothing was more satisfying to a fan base recovering from Passive 3-3-5 syndrome than seeing this crazed high-necked Viking bellowing something unintelligible at fast-retreating Logan Thomas.
Heiko took this
Cam Gordon is the nominal backup, and since the freshman who played ahead of him last year (Beyer) has made the move to WDE, you would imagine the onetime receiver, onetime epitome of ethereal spring optimism at free safety, and onetime 3-3-5 spinner will have finally settled into a useful something. He spent most of last year with a back injury that gives us precious little information on what he might become. So is C.Gordon a junior stunted by position switches, bad fundamental coaching and injury who's now ready to erupt, or a guy with bad fundamentals doomed to be remembered for that one time he was badly cast in the hero role of a box office flop?
What you want are his credentials for a position that rotates like a train of traveling salesmen; what I've got for you is a barbershop quartet of coaches singing songs about him. One thing they don't say is "platoon." Despite his safety pedigree and safety frame versus Jake Ryan's oft hand-down deployment, the coaches haven't indicated Gordon is a situational backup. The SLB in this defense is supposed to be more like a WDE than the other two linebacker spots, and Cam is not that. On the other hand he seems tailor-made for the side-job of the SLB: covering the guy in the slot.
So I'm saying if Ryan goes down, Michigan probably goes with Gordon and eases off the gas a bit, leaning less on pressure and more on coverage from the position. The real drop-off won't be too severe, as there are other guys who can blitz if the SLB becomes more coverage-oriented, and there are rush options extant. The apparent drop-off will feel like when we lost Marcus Ray—the defense is still the defense but that sense that somebody's about to lose an important body organ will be appreciably depreciated. You'll see Gordon plenty either way.
In case of dire emergency: Well like I said this position rotates. Don't know what will happen with Clark, but if he's in at WDE that means Brennan Beyer can easily reprise his 2011 role over here. Mario Ojemudia could be pressed into service. And any of the freshmen linebackers could end up here. Of the four, I picked Royce Jenkins-Stone as the SAM since Bolden already seems to be the two-deep man at Mike, and Ringer was here for spring practice at Mike, and scouting reports say Ross is a coverage-y WLB-type, while RJS has been described as a raw, blitz-loving knife. That's an SLB. It'd be best if he redshirts to learn how to be the second-most aggressive guy on the defense (WDE is the first) while holding the edge.
MIKE (Middle Linebacker):
In case of emergency: Responding to my size chart in last week's article, TSS started a thread about how Demens, who's listed at 248 on the spring roster (which is a copy of last fall's), has significantly more beef than the rest of the linebacking crew. The image above seems to reject the notion that he's the Carl Diggs among the Brackinses; the variability charts for the 2012 linebackers say he's huge (right, via TSS). So I checked the average listed size for a Michigan contributing linebacker since 1993, and it says he made big:
|2nd (Sophomore or RS Fr)||236||228|
|3rd (Junior or RS Soph)||246||232|
|4th (Senior or RS Junior)||248||233|
|5th year Senior||252||238|
Most of our starters played over 240 in their 4th or 5th years. Over 230 is where it seems the contributors need to be. And when you look at the depth chart for 2012 there are exactly three dudes who seem likely to fit that description:
|Kenny Demens||248||Jake Ryan||230||Desmond Morgan||220|
|Joe Bolden||230||Cam Gordon||222||Brandin Hawthorne||214|
|Mike Jones||224||Royce Jenkins-Stone||215||Antonio Poole||212|
|Kaleb Ringer||219||James Ross||209|
Knock-knock … Orange … yada yada … you have Joe Bolden, the 2012 recruit I am most giggity about, and for good reason. He had the kind of performance as the starter (Demens was wearing that club you see above) in the spring game that makes even the cautious prognosticators say "I think we have something here." Then they pull out the David Harris comparisons.
There's nothing I can really add to the recruiting profile or the lofty expectations except to focus on what he brings to the table right now. That is a guy with freshman-grade Kovacsian play-diagnosis skills that must be tempered by "is a true freshman," plus a lot of range and athleticism that must be tempered by "is probably not strong enough yet to get off blocks." I don't think Demens should be worried about losing his job this year unless he's banged up, however in that eventuality Michigan has something between what Desmond Morgan was last year and a freshman Manti Te'o on hand, and should be just fine. Orange you glad!
In case of dire emergency: The phrase "Who? MIKE JONES!" had a very short meme life on the MGoBoards, and it is the considered hope of every Michigan fan that it should never become the headline of an MGoInjury Roundup or uttered without irony inside Michigan Stadium ever. Before the injury that ruined his 2009 coaches were suggesting he might displace Mouton; alas that seems to have been motivational spring hokum. More hype/hokum was Mattison saying he's an unstoppable speed rusher. We saw Jones a bit while Michigan was killing clock against Minnesota and he looked, um, safety-ish. There is a job for a safety-ish linebacker in this defense—the Will—but there are so many other slight LBs on this roster that tripping the 220-something wire puts you into the mix at middle. I would think before we see Jones start, Morgan would slide down to MLB and Hawthorne become the full-time WLB. While time is running out for Jones, he's not ignorable.
WILL (Weakside Linebacker):
In case of emergency: You can argue about the stars being low for a sophomore whom I already said was at 3 stars when starting as a true freshman—that was at the end of last year and I expect Des should still be improving exponentially as this season goes on. I also predict this year you'll start seeing more Jake Ryan in him, since everyone from recruiting analysts to coaches have raved about grittiness, something we haven't had the opportunity to see much of just yet. If our next Eckstein McGritsalot loses that opportunity, the safety net is the the safety-like Brandin Hawthorne.
If you have the opportunity to give the coaches one suggestion for 2012, please join the MGoCrusade to have Hawthorne deployed as the WLB when Michigan goes to nickel. Until Morgan emerged in the second half of last year, Hawthorne had lain tenuous claim to defense's most open position. Brandon Herron, the beefy Yang to Brandin's Yin, dropped out of the race after the double-fumble touchdown rally and has graduated. Hawthorne was excellent in coverage, knifed into the backfield for a key stop against Notre Dame, and displayed Pahokeeian speed to all parts of the field … except when a blocker came near.
For you Tiger fans, Hawthorne is the Ramon Santiago of this defense. He is great at what he does, but playing him every down is going to expose his weakness against the run. So what does happen if Des goes down? It's probably Joe Bolden, but with more Hawthorne appearances.
In case of dire emergency: Trouble with capital T, rhymes with P, stands for…oh actually we don't know what we have in Antonio Poole except his name lends itself well to the Music Man theme. Really he's a redshirt freshman who was ignored by Rodriguez but picked up quickly by Hoke. His recruiting profile lists abilities of play diagnosis, tackling, and translating of the Facebook pages of CRex's in-laws. Third on the depth chart is where you'd want a redshirt freshman to be. Anyway if you see Poole that means he's better than expected, or that "dire emergency" includes the MLB depth chart too. Same goes for James Ross, who was at one point the highest rated linebacker of the 2012 uber-haul, and may yet have a long career beside Bolden (Orange!), however he's listed in the vicinity of 200 lbs. and would probably benefit from a redshirt more than Ringer, who was here for Spring ball. Since redshirting a consensus high 4-star is a luxury we haven't had around the linebacking parts in some time, I suggest we take advantage of it.
On the fumble return, "I was thinking 'scoop and score' like you talk in little league." Patterson was encouraging him during the runback. Was exciting to be able to score.
It's a learning experience to be in his first year on the field. Helping the team was the goal all along, and he's glad to be able to do that.
Position change is good for him because it's good for the team "I'm a football player and I want to play, nothing to it but that." Everything is coming at him faster at the new position, and the field is a bit more compacted. Being physical is his biggest strength. It's not confusing to switch positions for the third time. He's just a football player and loves being on the field.
Wisconsin: "They have some pretty good backs, the o-line is big. We'll see how it looks this week." When they put up 83 on Indiana, his only thought was "that's a good team." "They put up 83 against Indiana, not against us."
The defense's attitude has changed. "'I don't care attitude' - in a positive way" has been the defense's calling card for the last two weeks, and they'll continue with it. If the opponent gets a big play, they have to move on and not care.
Found out he was going to start within minutes of the beginning of the game. Was excited to get his first start. "It's was kinda hard to relax, but you know." There have been points where he wondered if he'd ever get the opportunity to start. Was motivated to prove himself. Filling in for Mike Martin "It's a lot of pressure." Need to step up when he goes down, even though it might be tough to fill his shoes.
Going through the coaching transition: "I feel like it's an experience that's really prepared me for my future and for life." They aren't that different, but this staff is a lot more intense.
When Cam Gordon was returning the fumble for a TD,"I just kept trying to tell him 'keep going, keep going.'"
Team will be focused to prepare for Wisconsin. "Wisconsin always has a big offensive line, and they always have a good offensive line." You respect them, but the goal is to prove you can compete with them. "You also come in with the mindset that this is going to be a very physical game."
Wisconsin scoring 83 against Indiana has motivated the M defense to make sure they don't have a bad performance themselves.
On the defense: "I really feel like the swagger is getting there. Every game we play is a stepping stone." The defense is developing, and they learned this weekend what they can do if they play up to their potential.
"To go out there and to win these next to games is very motivating." Trying to show what they can do, and improve bowl status.
"If the team ever needed me anywhere, I would do it. That was my whole mindset." He's going to get his degree, and to play football and get playing time is just an extra benefit to that.
Since the Illinois game, the defense has been more loose, and they're translating it to the field. "It's a good way to go into the game. Our swagger and everything about our defense got a lot better, and it's perfect to go into the Wisconsin game."
Not worried about Wisconsin's 83 points against Indiana "I guarantee you they're not going to score 83 points on us." Wisconsin is a powerful team, but Indiana backed down a bit at the end, and Michigan won't do that, they'll fight to the finish.
Will miss running through the tunnel after doing it the last time this weekend.
"I hope they throw the ball my way a little more, I haven't seen much action lately." Wants the chance to build up some stats. You just had two interceptions: "Yeah, FINALLY."
"I've seen Courtney grow a lot even when JT was there." He'll be a great player in the future and has stepped up. Vinopal has stepped up in a tough position. Talbott and Christian have also done a really good job as true freshmen.
"We need this Ohio State win bigger than anything. That's something we've been waiting on, and our focus will be on that really soon. We've gotta take on Wisconsin first."
Main difference between Carr and Rodriguez eras is a major step up in the conditioning.
Lots of memories about touching the banner, etc., excited to have one more time to do that. Wants the seniors to leave with a win.
The change in coaching staffs has made for an unexpectedly interesting experience. "Hopefully this is the year that Michigan turns the tide." Ohio State "That's the big one obviously, and they've got us however many 6 or 7 years in a row." Winning in Columbus would set the program up for years to come.
Ryan Kerrigan is a great player. "We weren't running the ball very well, and got into third and long." That allowed Kerrigan to get after the QBs a bit more.
"The energy has been there the last two weeks" for the defense. Even though they struggled a bit, they want to prove themselves again at the end of the season.
Wisconsin is always tough against the run. Michigan is coming off a poor rushing performance against Purdue, so they'll need to be back on their game to have success.
There are keys to victory for every week, and ball security is on the list every week. "You can't win games with turnovers. The last two we were lucky to come out of there with a win."
It's always important to take care of the ball, especially against a grinding team like Wisconsin.
It's impressive that Wisconsin could put up 83 points. "I didn't really think much of it. Obviously Wisconsin's a great team, but it didn't make me scared or anything."
Important to send the seniors out with a win in their final home game. Glad they were able to get to a bowl game for those guys. "We all wanna win, for them it might be a little more important."
Denard responds well, even after he makes mistakes.
"We're not content with anything." Want to win the last two games. "We're gonna go and and we're gonna fight in those two games."
Tries to stay ready for the occasion when he gets the ball on the reverse, but isn't begging for it to get called.
Different receivers prefer different routes, but it's their job to work them all in practice. "If you're in that position, and they happen to call the play and you've gotta run that route, you're gonna run that route."
11/6/2010 – Michigan 67, Illinois 65 (3OT) – 6-3, 2-3 Big Ten
At the risk of convincing everyone that the first impossibly apropos moppet was fiction, let me tell you about this impossibly apropos moppet a few rows in front of me.
He was about ten. He was wearing a number seven jersey and when he took his hat off for the national anthem his hair was staticky. Before the game he was hopping up in down in an attempt to burn off nervous energy, and when Michigan ran out to touch the banner his mind was blown. He exclaimed "this is so AWESOME" as only a ten-year-old boy can. The words forced themselves out in self defense—if they hadn't the pressure would have given him an aneurysm. I know what that excitement is like. I remember getting a Nintendo.
I can't imagine what his mind is like four fighter jets, three overtimes, 132 points, and one last-play win later. He's probably sitting at his desk right now, mouth slightly ajar and drooling, involuntarily twitching out the words "so" and "awesome" as the rest of the class learns to count to 15 in Spanish. Plans to put him on ritalin have been temporarily shelved. His father has been asked "what did you do to the boy?"
The father can only shrug and say "talk to Ron Zook, Rich Rodriguez, and Greg Robinson."
What can you say about a game like that? You can say it was entirely appropriate for Special K to play the Bed Intruder song. Yes. Michigan and Illinois just went Rasputin on that barn. They burned it, then they napalmed it, then they nuked it, then they shot up the radioactive wasteland for the hell of it, then they poisoned a flat expanse of glass with holes in it, then they dug it up and threw it into the river for it to drown. And then it was halftime.
While the kid was getting the football equivalent of heroin in his eyeballs it seemed like the rest of the stadium was strangely muted once it became clear that touchdowns were more like baskets than goals. Any individual event was far less important in a game that would last until mid-day Sunday.
I was with them. I still remember thinking "that's 30% of the points we need to win" after Michigan's first touchdown in the 2006 Ohio State game. I was raised on three yards and a cloud of dust, and while I could not be more grateful that Michigan's offense now has run plays beyond "zone left" and "zone right," this style of football is all frisson. It piles up and up and up. It's amazing, but when you're not ten your mind only has so much to give before it gets complacent. Things don't build up, they just happen. So when Roy Roundtree scores on the first play of the game you're happy but you're also wondering how they're going to blow it.
The answer was "in all ways possible with a special emphasis on running back wheel routes." But they kept setting things right until Jonas Mouton leapt over a cut block and Craig Roh stunted inside and Nathan Scheelhaase finally had nowhere to go but down. My reaction to this was very strange. After feeling dampened most of the day I cracked and hugged my fiancée—making her annual pilgrimage—long and hard and relieved. So relieved.
This team isn't good at all but I love it. If Craig Roh gets to class early he runs up and down steps in his spare time. Roy Roundtree does a Donald Duck impression and wakes up hungry. Tate Forcier's gone from sulking on the bench and "out" to leaping around like a madman after leading a comeback win over Illinois and coming somewhat close to the same against Iowa. And then there's Denard, and the most put-upon man on the planet, and I just want them to succeed because it will make them happy.
A lot of sports fandom does degenerate into rooting for you in that sad Nick Hornby way. While I'm not anywhere near sports Buddhism, more and more prominent among the millions of reasons I want Michigan to win is because of how it will validate all this crap they have to put up with.
Even if that goes with the territory at Michigan, what's gone on the last three years long ago crossed the line from disappointed and upset to nastily personal, on everyone's part.
Almost everyone, anyway. After the game we're walking up the bleachers and the kid's right in front of us, trying to show his father his hand. His father seems to acknowledge the hand, but not enough for the kid's taste. "I'm never washing this hand again," he says. "Denard gave me a high five." He wears an Adidas wristband like the players. He doesn't care about anything other than Michigan won and I touched Denard and this is awesome. I think about White Noise, a Don DeLillo book I don't actually like that much* about the paralyzing fear of death driving middle aged academics literally insane, and how the only moments of respite in the book are thanks to the presence of an infant named Wayne or Warren or something.
So Saturday was awesome, and this is my favorite bad team ever, and goddammit I'm going to their nondescript bowl.
*(The moment in American literature when ironically capitalizing marketing messages to assert that the background radiation of advertising has become our national discourse has mercifully passed—David Foster Wallace got away with it a few times but only just, and not always.)
Non-Bullets, Amazingly Long
Head injuries. Michigan's bombing Illinois with Denard and pulls him because of a headache and some concussion-like symptoms in a game that is almost make or break for Rich Rodriguez's career. And he could even see:
"Certainly for his safety, you're not going to put him back out there," Rodriguez said. "I'm not a doctor, so I can't tell you where he is, but he had a smile on his face and he was talking, but obviously, you're going to be precautionary.
"Anytime you get hit there and you've got some headaches, you're going to watch that."
Is there anyone who's been unfairly demonized more than him? "Win at all costs." Right.
(HT: the Wolverine Blog.)
Skill position contributions. My takeaway from the offense other than "duuurrrr" was that's what it looks like when the skill position players are adding yards of their own. Vincent Smith made a lot of great glide cuts on the zone stretch, spun through a couple tackles, and had his best day as a runner at Michigan. Junior Hemingway's sideline rain dance created another touchdown from 15-20 yards, and Roy Roundtree was finding epic YAC. That's something we've been missing most of the year save for Stonum's screen touchdown against UMass, which is UMass and was not the #15 defense in the country entering the game.
Stretching it. Speaking of the stretch: it came back. Michigan had gone almost exclusively to an inside run game earlier in the year, and that worked well enough, but I think part of the issue with getting Denard some zone keepers has been that move away. The stretch makes it tough on the backside defensive end because if he's going to tackle the tailback on a cutback he has to flow down the line hard. On all the inside zone stuff Michigan's been running he can hang out and do whatever and still have a decent chance of making a play. That's why Michigan has been blocking the backside guy all year and probably why I'm always a little frustrated by Denard never keeping the ball.
They brought it back for Illinois and I'm pretty sure what I'll see in the UFR is an ass-kicking day from David Molk. On Michigan's last touchdown they went to the stretch on second and goal from the five. Corey Liuget, who is an all-conference type of player, shot into the backfield; Molk walled him off and eventually sent him to the ground. There wasn't a hint of a hold on the play, but a frustrated Liuget did the flag motion thing to the referee and just stood there exasperated as Michigan celebrated a touchdown that came on a gaping hole from the five because Liuget had just gotten owned.
The stretch also seemed to revitalize Vincent Smith, who had the opportunity to make darting cuts past traffic and find the creases as they developed. I'll be interested to see how it holds up on film.
End of half game theory stuff. Reverse on the kickoff was a beautiful playcall because in that situation if you get hammered for a loss you can probably just run the clock out. A perfect time for that call and one that got Michigan in scoring position with a minute on the clock. That's a win.
In retrospect, the decision to kick was not so much. I didn't think about this at the time so I'm not blaming anyone else for not thinking about it either, but with Michigan's defense and 42 seconds (IIRC) on the clock the argument for going for it is a lot stronger than it would be with 12, because if you get it you're robbing Illinois of the opportunity to get that last possession in. Even if you don't get it, most coaches will just head to the locker room if they get the ball on their own 15.
Defensive moves. While the defense remained horrendous, it wasn't nearly as horrendous as it was against Penn State (and Matt McGloin did just bomb Northwestern for 35 points despite Robert Bolden playing the first two series, so that performance was only 90% completely awful). PSU had 41 points on nine real drives; Illinois had 45 in regulation on 16, many of which started in advantageous field position after Michigan turnovers and one Hagerup punt from his endzone.
Moving Craig Roh back to defensive end seemed to pay immediate dues, but Michigan kept flipping between three and four man lines with the fourth guy on the line either Obi Ezeh or JB Fitzgerald. Illinois ran right at that and had good success—that was the setup on the first and twenty option that went the distance, though I'm pretty sure the culpable party there was Mouton. Anyway, Cam Gordon looked a lot better in his second game at spur and you can tell the difference in tackling technique between him and Ray Vinopal—Vinopal uses his arms. Sweet.
Gordon looks like a much better fit as his current position. He was surprisingly adept at blitzing—he'd get the edge on the Illinios tackle and come around to flush Scheelhaase a few times.
Demens, yo. Another thing that will have to wait for the tape but: I'm pretty sure Kenny Demens had a great game unless he blew a lot of coverage (which is possible). The number of runs that were heading outside the tackles for what looked like big gains until they were suddenly cut down by Demens after he cut through a block seemed like it was around a half dozen.
Not a controversy but not a clear cut thing either. I was thinking this myself but Adam Jacobi already wrote it and blockquoting is easy:
Forcier is clearly not Denard, but the fact remains that Forcier is good enough that he should be spelling Robinson periodically throughout Michigan's game regardless of Robinson's health. Michigan has two starting-quality quarterbacks, and as Robinson's accumulation of minor injuries demonstrates, they clearly need to use them! It's just up to Rich Rodriguez to use both on his own terms, rather than waiting for Robinson to get knocked out of the game first.
The frequency of Denard Robinson dings has seen Forcier enter most games this year, with extended relief appearances in the fourth quarter of the Iowa and Illinois games. When Forcier comes in Michigan generally punts quickly (or Forcier yakety saxes an unforced fumble). Forcier gets his feet under him a bit later and things are fine. It may be time to put Forcier in on the regular, say two or three drives a game. This would reduce wear on Robinson, have Forcier ready to play each week, throw defenses a curveball, and lessen the chances a desperately-needed Forcier lights out for somewhere else after the season. The offense doesn't seem quite as good when Tate's in there but the difference isn't vast and the benefits are tangible.
Special K, I hate you. The level of odiousness from Special K was exceeded by a factor of 100 on Saturday when he played "Let the Bodies Hit the Floor" and "Down with the Sickness." We've gone from minor league hockey to WWE. Thanks, Special K. This is the no-BS one thing that makes me think the Brandon era will be something other than a success: he hasn't taken this guy and put him in stocks on the diag.
Some photos from an Illinois guy. AnnArbor.com has an extensive collection as well.. Purdue blogger guarantees victory over Michigan. The Hoover Street Rag riffs on A Better Son/Daughter. Doc Sat's take:
If for some reason you were kidnapped by maniac who forced you at gunpoint to make sense of Michigan's roller-coaster season in 12 words or less, you'd probably settle for something like this: The offense is unstoppable. The defense is horrible. Denard Robinson got hurt.
If you hadn't seen a single one of the Wolverines' first eight games, that would pretty much bring you up to speed coming into today, except for one minor detail: Against a string of respectable competition over the last month, you could also add "Wolverines lose."
And a random video of the Michigan drumline:
There's another one on the tubes as well.
An finally, Maize n Brew headline:
Hallelujah!!!! Holy S@#%
Notes from Rich Rodriguez's Monday meeting with the press. Photo from file.
Mike Martin is going to be OK this week. "He's our best defensive... one of our best defensive players period. One of the best in the league when he's healthy." Other people need to be able to step in.
Perry Dorrestein should be able to practice by tomorrow. "Michael Shaw and maybe even Fitz Toussaint, we'll see if he can get back in the mix there." Will Heininger will be more in the rotation this week. "You'll probably see him more likely playing going forward."
Cam Gordon is now the starting Hybrid [Ed-M: Spur], backed by Thomas Gordon. Ray Vinopal is the starting Free Safety, backed by Carvin Johnson. "I thought the personnel moves defensively, I think were good for us in the short term and the long term." Cam Gordon more comfortable closer to the ball. Vinopal did "ok" for his first time out there. Staff is trying to figure out a unit that can get some stops, part of it is just getting them to play better.
There haven't been changes to the defensive coaching staff. "No. I've just met with the defensive staff the last couple hours, and we talked about some of our issues and talked about what to do to get ready for Illinois." "Y'all don't deal with rumors do you?" Everyone is frustrated, but it's always a collective effort, win or lose.
He'll be spending more time on defense this week, because the more inexperienced players over there might need more coaching. Injuries will affect lineups, different packages. "We have what we have." If there was somebody else there who could help, he'd be contributing by now. "I have a critical view of everything, every coach, every player, everything in our program every day... That's what head coaches do, you evaluate everything with everybody every day."
"Schemes are way, way overrated as far at 4-3, 3-3-5." There's no front that does or doesn't work in a particular league. "It's the execution of the schemes. We've gotta coach the schemes the right way, we've gotta execute the right way." They'll try moving Craig Roh around a bit. Laughed when he heard rumors of defensive staff changes.
"They're a big screen-draw team." They hadn't done much of it with their fullback yet. Defensive recognition wasn't great on that, partially experience. "When an experienced player gets hurt [Mike Martin] - I'm not making excuses - whether you put a senior, junior, or freshman in there, when a guy hasn't played a lot of football, it's different."
"That was one of the positives of the game, is I thought Denard played pretty well." They were close to breaking a couple big ones. He landed on his hip the one time, but was able to come back from it. "His shoulder was better. It's good, but it's not 100%."
Speech to defense at the start of fourth quarter was just a pump-up one, nothing particular schematically.
Personal foul call? "Well, I don't want to get in trouble here. There's some plays I'll send in and get clarification on the rule." Turn in a few plays every week "there's a few more this week."
Illinois - Not a rebuilding year, because they returned plenty of good athletes this season. "They're playing at a very high level right now - probably playing their best football." One of the more athletic teams in the league and that Michigan has played in the last two years. Illinois is playing with confidence.
Illinois has a bit of a rhythm, their young quarterback is playing well for them. They have really athletic guys.
Illinois has a similar offensive scheme to Michigan, it may help the defense be prepared for it. It'll be different to do it live, because they don't tackle Denard in practice.
Goods drive at the game (Gates 2 and 8) to send to troops and families in Afghanistan. Tim Horton's is donating 720 pounds of coffee to send as part of it. Team will be wearing a flag on the back of the helmets. The American flag will be embroidered on the coaches' hats (not the Adidas ones from the Sep. 11 game).
Some of the D problems aren't going to get fixed overnight, etc. "Not just the freshmen, we've got a lot of inexperienced players playing defensively." There is a bit of improvement at this point, but not to the amount that they need.
"We've gotta get faster and more athletic defensively." That was painfully obvious from the film.
"I don't have any grand magic wands to wave [at the defense] and all of a sudden they're going to be playing better." Spending more time with the D is something he's done a few years in the past. If it was an easy fix, he'd have already done it.
Talking about defensive turnovers gained "We're almost like next to last in the country." They're trying to improve that by making sure they get guys in the right positions, working on recognition, aggressiveness. "If it doesn't work out, don't go in the tank the rest of the game."
3rd and long conversions: "If it was jut one particular thing, it would be easier to solve... or one particular guy." It's always something different. They need to look at doing enough third-down work in practice, already doing more than they've ever done.
"We're playing OK offensively, but I think we can play even better when we have more of a rhythm." Defense getting opponents off the field will help establish that rhythm.
"When you play a whole bunch of freshmen in the secondary, do you want to play a lot of man coverage or cover-0?" Need to find a balance with inexperience. Took a couple chances against PSU, and got beat.
Stop a slide like last year? "I don't have to think about it. Everybody else writes about it." People want to focus on the negative, because it sells papers. Team is better offensively, team is closer as a group, making strides in classroom and weight room. Young men are growing up. The wins and losses are bad, but there's more to it than that.
"These guys that are playing young and inexperienced from now, they're going to be experienced a year or two from now. I'm not happy, but I'm optimistic."
"Nobody's happy we've lost the last three games. We're still five in the good and three in the bad." People can't walk around moping, just need to learn from the mistakes, be mad for 24 hours, and start working on the next game.
Turnovers "I thought we were really pretty good at it most of the year." Denard used the bye week to go back and remember to have his eyes in the right spot. "Denard threw one ball he'd like to have back that could have been intercepted," and Hopkins had the fumble, but it was good other than that.
Defensive scheme change help? "we're gonna try." Trying to simplify some, but still give them the opportunity to be aggressive without exposing the secondary.
"I'm not sticking my head in the sand... we know what we have, we know what we've gotta have, and we'll try to fix that going forward."
On Will Campbell and Quinton Washington:
"We made a couple moves with some big guys, some backup linemen. Quinton Washington was a backup lineman; we moved him to nose guard. We kinda traded Will Campbell over to offense, where I think he's going to be a natural offensive guard. After a week and a half I think both of those moves will probably stick for now. I think Will's got a future at guard, I think Quinton Washington's got a future on the D-line."
On the secondary:
"We moved around Cam Gordon. We wanted him to learn—well, he played the deep safety, we wanted him to play the safety up tight. That was a process; he was able to do that. We got Ray Vinopal and Carvin Johnson some more work at the deep safety position to get some flexibility. We have Marvin Robinson, who's been a safety, playing a little bit of linebacker for us. He can help us in nickel packages."
On the D-line:
"We moved the D-line around a little bit as well."
Brandstatter asked "are these kids going to play?" and Rodriguez sayeth:
"Oh, yeah. You'll see Carvin Johnson and Vinopal playing. Ray is at the same position anyway, but it's a new position for Carvin. You'll see Cam Gordon playing more at both safety positions where as before he was just playing one. I don't know if Will is ready yet at offensive line or Quinton at defensive line but we tried to get them as prepared as we could for this ball game. We'll see what happens."
Obviously they saw the issues with Gordon had persisted too long and are trying to get some better play out of the FS position right now. Also, Cam's going to threaten Kovacs's job—could be a run/pass split there—and Robinson will probably displace Demens in nickel and dime packages.
Campbell's not going to play unless a bunch of people go down on the interior line, but Washington might. This would be alarming. It might not be much more alarming than seeing anyone other than Martin at NT.