What did you think of the secondary against Utah?
“We expected more higher energy out of our players and more competitive spirit. I don’t think- I think they went into the game playing more cautiously than just relying on what they learned in camp. And I know with our older guys, you know, Jarrod Wilson and Jourdan Lewis, they’re going to make a difference for this week. I know they’re going to make sure that we up the tempo this week in playing the defense in the secondary.”
Were you pleased with your corners in coverage?
“I was. I mean, I was. Can it be better? Yes, it can be much better. Same with the safeties. One thing, I don’t try to divide it. I think corners and safeties should all be together, so if the corners look good the safeties look good, if the safeties looks good the corners look good. The coverage overall, I thought it was fair. It could have been much better than what it was. The one thing we strive on is not letting up a big play and we pretty much gave up one big play in the game. Sometimes you can’t give up those plays, so I think we have to be a more aggressive defense in the secondary, which our defense allows us to do that. We just have to get it done.”
Did you feel like Jabrill kind of trusted his instincts a little more in the second half?
“I did. I did. Jabrill came out [and] I think it was more nerves rather than just playing, because this was actually his third game. You know, so he’s still really a true freshman. One of the things Jabrill I think has to do is just trust his instincts, because he’s really very instinctive. One of the things I think he has to do a lot more is just play within himself. He’s trying to get out there and use his speed rather than thinking about the game, and I think that’s what got him in trouble early in the first half. I think he’ll bounce back, just like all our guys will.”
At the start of fall camp Jeremy Clark was a safety and Wayne Lyons was at corner. What’s the reason for that swap?
“Well, we just felt that Jeremy Clark could bring a lot more to the table at corner because he’s long, he’s tall, he’s quick. You know, he could use his hands a lot more and he can run with the big guys, the big receivers in the Big Ten and we felt Wayne was more instinctive as a safety, and he plays in space a lot better back there in the middle of the field so that was one of the reasons we made that change.”
[After THE JUMP: Aggressively pursuing aggressiveness and Freddy Canteen the WR?]
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FORMATION NOTES: Michigan spent the entire game in nickel save for scattered snaps in a dime package with three safeties (Hill, Thomas, Wilson) on it. Their first drive they came out in an odd front featuring the buck as a standup end:
Either they weren't happy with the play there or it was just a stunt, because after the first drive Michigan spent most of the rest of the day with an even four-man front:
On occasion they'd do this or something similar with a standup end; this pinched formation saw a hard line slant that got Wormley through for one of his impressive penetration plays:
And that was about it. Michigan spent the entire game with one very deep safety—generally 15 or more yards off the LOS; sometimes they'd offer a two high look but they always came down with one or the other presnap.
PERSONNEL NOTES: Line was mostly Henry/Glasgow/Wormley/Ojemudia. Matt Godin got the most time of any backup, spotting both Wormley and Henry frequently and pretty effectively. Charlton played a reasonable number of snaps behind Henry as well. Maurice Hurst was mostly a passing down sub for Glasgow; he did get a few standard down snaps. RJS saw a little bit of time.
At linebacker it was mostly Morgan and Bolden. Gedeon got a drive; Ross got a couple. Secondary was Lewis/Peppers/Wilson/Hill 100% of the time and a mix of Stribling and Clark at the last spot. Thomas got some snaps in the dime package.
[After THE JUMP: battling a very spread out spread]
9/3/2015 – Michigan 17, Utah 24 – 0-1
I feel like I wrote this column already. In 2008, Michigan played a Utah team people expected would be pretty good. (They ended up very good, going undefeated, beating 'Bama in a bowl game, and finishing #2.) Michigan lost a somewhat close game. After, I used the then-skeletal luxury boxes as a metaphor for the team: under construction.
Michigan is still under construction. It has been under construction for going on eight years now. We brought in one company that insisted on turning half the building into pudding storage, and then it was a snake museum, and then a sand silo. Eventually the thing looked like the world's most totally rad Porsche hooked up to a pile of pudding, snakes, and quicksand. The next company fixed that at the same time they turned the rad Porsche into a Yugo full of clowns and if NEITHER OF THESE THINGS SOUNDS AT ALL LIKE A BUILDING YOU MAY BE ON TO SOMETHING THERE.
I also feel like I wrote this column already. Last year Michigan played Utah relatively even down to down, in fact outgaining the Utes, and lost because they were minus three in turnovers. This year they played Utah relatively even, outgained the Utes, and lost because they were (functionally) minus three in turnovers. Oh look, it's the game we play against Utah.
That there is a game we play against Utah that is a loss in which Michigan's offense spends much of its time armpit farting says a lot about the state of the program now, but you can go two paragraphs up if you'd like to relive that some more. You might. You're a Michigan fan. By now you must be into some pretty weird stuff.
The game wasn't quite the same as those other two. This one was less depressing. The first featured a walk-on at quarterback; afterwards it was clear that Michigan was going to struggle to maintain their bowl streak.
Last year was this game:
You know, the one with the downpour that everyone left during that was the end of Brady Hoke before THE END OF BRADY HOKE against Minnesota. The one with the ten-man punt return. The one with the column titled "By This Grainy Screenshot We Will Curse Thy Name."
So it wasn't that. Neither was it the grand debut of a Stanfordized Michigan. Despite the occasional media doofus retcon about Michigan fans being brought back to reality, nobody actually expected that in year one, and especially not game one.
I will admit was hoping they'd have a run longer than seven yards.
Not so much. Utah's burly front straight up whipped the Michigan offensive line. One replay of a failed third-and-short sneak featured Ben Braden getting moonwalked back into the quarterback. Mason Cole specialized in second-level whiffs. Kyle Kalis got dumped on his ass in the first half. Large creases were virtually nonexistent. Other than De'Veon Smith missing a cutback lane on second and three in the second half, lanes eschewed weren't obvious enough to induce groans.
They just could not cope with the defensive line, and that sounds like the most familiar thing of all. So we reset expectations again. Once more they have an offensive line working towards competency in a new system, and this will hold them back until such time as it doesn't anymore.
I wish I knew when that was going to be. It should be coming, as it always seems to for Harbaugh. It's hard not to be impatient when you've seen this all before. I have, and it's fine, I guess. I have faith that Jim Harbaugh is going to get there and everything will be wonderful and full of sprinkles topped with sprinkles. Yes, the struggle to the top is critical to the reward at the end. I would still like to fast forward to that bit.
Yet To Be Named Harbaugh-Themed Guys Who Did Good Award. #1 Jake Butt quickly established himself one of those WR/TEs that is basically Ertz/Fleener Voltron.
#2 Chris Wormley tore through the Utah line like it was made of tissue paper several times in the first half; by the second Utah had just about given up on trying to run Booker inside.
#3 Willie Henry also thundered his way through the line with frequency, pressuring Wilson and dissuading
Honorable mention: Amara Darboh had a bunch of catches and one unfortunately critical drop; De'Veon Smith looked like a guy who will be a nightmare if he gets gaps consistently; Jourdan Lewis shut his guy off; Jabrill Peppers erased screens.
3: Jake Butt (#1, Utah)
2: Chris Wormley (#2, Utah)
1: Willie Henry (#3, Utah)
Who's Got It Better Than Us Of The Week
For the single individual best moment.
Jake Butt skies over two defensive backs to bring in a spectacular #buttdown.
Honorable mention: Blake O'Neill drops a delayed punt at the two yard line. Wormley storms through the center of the line for a TFL.
Utah: Crazy #buttdown.
MARCUS HALL EPIC DOUBLE BIRD OF THE WEEK.
This week's worst thing ever.
Rudock throws a pick six in the general direction of Grant Perry, who was in the general direction of Rudock's two other picks.
Honorable mention: The two other picks. That 74 yard Utah punt. That Utah fumble that bounced directly to the only other Ute in a six-block radius.
Utah: circle route pick six.
[After THE JUMP: a much shorter bullets section than normal because usually I have an extra day to pull this all together, Thursday games are stupid]
|Boundary Corner||Yr.||Field Corner||Yr.||Nickelback||Yr.|
|Channing Stribling||Jr.||Jourdan Lewis||Jr.||Jabrill Peppers||Fr.*|
|Jeremy Clark||Jr.*||Brandon Watson||Fr.*||Wayne Lyons||Sr.*|
|Wayne Lyons||Sr.*||Terry Richardson||Jr.*||Dymonte Thomas||Jr.|
Peppers, and the nickelback spot in general, are addressed in the safeties section.
This is a spot of unexpected alarm. Michigan gets Jourdan Lewis back off an outstanding sophomore year and expected to pair him with either Blake Countess or Wayne Lyons. The winner of that battle was going to be a fifth year senior with a ton of experience and probably all right. Michigan was confident enough in the outcome of that battle to stick Jabrill Peppers at nickelback and never look back.
Fast forward to now and Countess is at Auburn, Lyons at safety, and the corner opposite Lewis is very much in flux.
But have I told you about Jourdan Lewis? And that the worst case here is probably just throwing Peppers out on the other side?
JOURDAN LEWIS spent a year watching balls scrape over his outstretched fingers.
The long outside completions were also a problem. Not the first one, as Lewis gave Akron's QB about a six-inch window, which he hit:
It's not perfect coverage—ideally Lewis forces the fade route closer to the sideline—but that's a one in a hundred throw from the QB.
He didn't like it much, so he went to the darkest parts of the swamp, seeking out the forbidden knowledge. He had heard Michigan State cornerbacks passed this way. The weird bronze scat they deposited in obscene patterns confirmed it. The hut loomed ahead.
In it, Lewis learned terrible and wonderful things.
When Raymon Taylor got hurt in the Notre Dame game, Lewis moved into the starting lineup. Lewis took a couple of quick pass interference calls—probably due to nerves more than anything else—and then locked down his spot. After ND I said he was "the best CB by some distance" despite the PI calls, and soon after that was not a remotely controversial opinion. Hell, after Lewis picked up a nice PBU in zone coverage Notre Dame decided they were done testing him:
…that was the end of targeting Jourdan Lewis. Literally. The only other UFR mention of him comes when he gets too deep on a zone and Golson dumps it off to a running back for profit. … Lewis committed two silly pass interference penalties on his first two tests and Notre Dame stopped targeting him three minutes into the second quarter.
With Will Fuller showing Blake Countess his own intestines the whole game that could have been interpreted as faint praise. Even if it was intended as such, by the end of the year it was clearly not.
That is Lewis against Michael Thomas, who Todd McShay has as the top available receiver in the upcoming NFL draft. That is probably ridiculous, but Thomas is a very large and leapy man who succumbed to swamp knowledge.
Here's Lewis against Leonte Caroo, the other popular pick for best wide receiver in the Big Ten:
Here's 6'5" Kyle Prater running a fade:
I've got more of these. Lots of them. Against Dres Anderson. Against anybody. Lewis would get beat from time to time because that happens to cornerbacks, but almost never deep and when opponents went at him he was alarming enough that even completions on him sent signals that maybe you should try the other guy.
By Big Ten Media Days, Lewis was on the receiving end of the best compliment a corner can receive…
On cornerback Jourdan Lewis: "Our receivers really thought he was pretty good. They said he got his hands on your really early in the route, but they were complaining to the officials all the time too because he never let go. He was messing with them the whole time. That's good if you can get away with it, but it'll probably cost you a couple flags every game also."
…bitching about interference. As a person who has done his fair share of bitching about interference, I can testify that means you have arrived as a cornerback.
This is the bit where I come up with problems, so: Lewis isn't the biggest guy. He could end up with his fair share of flags by the end of the year. There's not much else.
Are you worried that we might see a devolution similar to that of Countess? Doubtful. Countess went from a good, crafty zone corner to a guy exposed by man press coverage. Lewis excelled in that same scheme a year ago. As a bonus, the cornerbacks coach is not a former linebacker who'd never coached the position before.
Lewis just about maxed out expectations for him a year ago and doesn't have that much farther he can go without suddenly becoming Patrick Peterson. He should have another year like 2014, except now everybody knows about him and will avoid him more. Maybe he can aim for more interceptions—to go from a guy who is dangerous because he'll get a PBU to a guy who's dangerous because he will turn you over.
Either way, Lewis will be one of the best corners in the league.
[After THE JUMP: And now for something completely different.]
Via a Utah beat writer. I put it in a table. Returning starters are bolded.
|QB||Jake Rudock OR
|Alex Malzone OR
|RB||De'Veon Smith||Derrick Green OR
|Karan Higdon OR
|FB||Joe Kerridge||Sione Houma OR
|TE||Jake Butt||Khalid Hill OR
|WR||Amara Darboh OR
|WR||Jehu Chesson OR
|LT||Mason Cole||Logan Tuley-Tillman|
|LG||Ben Braden||David Dawson|
|C||Graham Glasgow||Patrick Kugler||Ben Pliska|
|RG||Kyle Kalis||Juwan Bushell-Beatty|
|RT||Eric Magnuson||Blake Bars|
|DE||Willie Henry||Taco Charlton|
|NT||Ryan Glasgow||Maurice Hurst|
|DT||Chris Wormley OR
|BUCK||Mario Ojemudia||Royce Jenkins-Stone||Lawrence Marshall|
|ILB||Desmond Morgan||Ben Gedeon||Mike McCray|
|ILB||Joe Bolden||James Ross|
|OLB||James Ross||Allen Gant|
|CB||Jourdan Lewis||Jeremy Clark|
|CB||Channing Stribling||Brandon Watson|
|FS||Jarrod Wilson||Delano Hill|
|SS||Jabrill Peppers||Dymonte Thomas OR
|K||Kenny Allen OR
|P||Kenny Allen OR
|LS||Scott Sypniewski||Andrew Robinson|
|H||Blake O'Neill OR
|KO||Kenny Allen OR
|KR||Jehu Chesson OR
|PR||Jehu Chesson OR
Uh, what? Part one. Willie Henry, strongside end, with Wormley back at DT. On the one hand, Henry has a lot of grrr arrgh pass rush upside. On the other, I thought he was better suited on the interior than Wormley for the reasons I posted today.
Uh, what? Part two. Channing Stribling is listed as the starter opposite Jourdan Lewis. This is odd for a number of reasons. One: Stribling didn't get a call last year even when Gary Nova was going off on Blake Countess. Two: we have heard nothing about him in about a year. Three: they moved Jeremy Clark to corner, and the assumption was that maybe that was not so much a good sign for Stribling.
If this is real, and all depth charts have to be looked at somewhat skeptically, I'm actually rather happy. Stribling looked about as good as Lewis as a freshman before evaporating.
Okay dot gif. The OR at QB. On the other hand, Smith had enough of the starting RB job that they didn't give him one at one of the most OR-tastic spots on the roster.
Poggi at FB. Weird. 266, reputed to be an inline blocking TE. Expected Hill and Poggi to be flipped. Good that Hill's done enough this fall to catch Harbaugh's eye.
No Drake Johnson. Still recovering from injury.
Grant Perry realness check. Good sign for his jitter and reliability that he's an option on returns.
The sweetest or. OR Drake Harris. I want to believe.
Ross an ILB backup and OLB starter. An indication that he will get snaps in the nickel.
“Well, everybody alright? I’m good. Who wants to start?”
You have a couple of players who are new to the position in Brandon Watson and Ross Douglas, though Ross Douglas has played it before. How are they adjusting to that change?
“They’re doing well. It’s a whole different deal for everybody. It’s a different defense, so everybody’s making a lot of adjustments but those two guys are coming along just like the rest of them.”
We’ve heard it said that you’ve played a lot more press coverage than they’re used to. How have they adjusted and how much work is that?
“It’s a lot of work. It’s a new total concept for the defense, for these guys who haven’t played- for Jourdan [Lewis] two or three years, for Blake [Countess] four years- so it is a new concept. It’s a whole new technique they’re learning so it’s taking time but they’re working their butts off. They’re working extremely hard at it and in time we’re going to get it done.”
Press was something they tried last year and did a little bit of it and struggled with it. Are you guys totally committed to it?
“Well, that’s coach Durkin’s defense, yes. So yes, we are totally, 100 % committed. We’ve just got to find the guys who catch on the fastest and handle the technique the best.”
Most cornerbacks are really excited about the chance to do that. Has that been the case here?
“Absolutely for us, and in recruiting they’re very excited to hear we’re aggressive on the outside and they want to see and hear what they’d have to do, so I think it will help us in that respect as far as getting some other corners in here.”
Can you talk about Lewis and Countess in particular and their ability to do that?
“Yeah, Blake’s an extremely hard worker. He’s very focused. Jourdan’s a natural at it. He’s probably our most natural corner for what we’re asking him to do. He does it pretty good but he’s still got some things to get better at because of the fact that it’s something they haven’t done all the time as far as last season goes. But those two are definitely, as far as technique-sound and even athletically and mentally, more experienced in that way.”
[After THE JUMP: Skills needed to play press, a transfer from Stanford confirmed-ish, and depth chart discussion]