landing spot. will be interesting to see how he does.
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]
|STRONG DE||Yr.||NOSE TACKLE||Yr.||3-TECH||Yr.||WEAK DE||Yr.|
|Chris Wormley||Jr.*||Ryan Glasgow||Jr.*||Willie Henry||Jr.*||Mario Ojemudia||Sr.|
|Taco Charlton||Jr.||Maurice Hurst||So.*||Matt Godin||Jr.*||Lawrence Marshall||Fr.*|
|Tom Strobel||Jr.*||Brady Pallante||Fr.*||Jabrill Peppers||Fr.*||Royce Jenkins-Stone||Sr.|
Whether Michigan's DJ Durkin defense is a 3-4 or a 4-3 is in the eye of the beholder. This beholder says it's a 4-3 under again with a weakside end who is a bit more likely to line up in a two point stance or drop into coverage than before. But he's still Dante Fowler, who's a dang end.
Adam did yeoman work with Royce Jenkins-Stone to get some kind of confirmation of this. First:
In your words, describe the Buck position in coach Durkin’s defense.
Hmm. Not quite specific enough.
Is it fair to say that it’s essentially a stand-up defensive end who can also do the things a linebacker might do?
Okay. Maybe we can get him to say more than one word at a time.
So you’re going to rush the passer and drop into coverage too?
“Yes, and I’m going to put my hand in the dirt, too. Just depends on the type of formation.”
/confetti drops from sky
So we'll leave these previews as they are. Michigan's running Mattison's defense from the first three years. It's not like any of the DTs are liable to be unmovable two-gap mountains anyway.
By the way, this is the most alarming bit of the defense, and it's not all that alarming.
WEAKSIDE DEFENSIVE END/"BUCK" LINEBACKER
Ojemudia is still learning how to smile [Eric Upchurch]
Michigan has no proven options and only one guy who's got much touted-recruit upside left, but they should have someone who's at least solid. Prepare thyself for the last Ojemudia Death Stare Compilation.
OJEMUDIA DEATH STARE 2015
MARIO OJEMUDIA is now a senior and is nominally ahead of the pack at WDE. This is going to be a platoon unless someone emerges; the bet here is that Ojemudia drives his coaches less crazy, especially early, and gets the most at-bats. He's seen the field on the regular for three straight years now, ascending to a starting spot once Frank Clark got booted. In that time he established that he's not the kind of tailback-leaping, OL-discarding athlete Clark was, but he's got his share of assets.
Ojemudia's a smart, disciplined player. He's excellent at splitting the difference on zone reads; by doing that he prevents them from escaping outside and remains relevant.
Multiple times last year he was the guy the zone is supposed to read and he made the tackle. That's good eats. Against Maryland he was heady enough to make a critical fourth and short stop when the Terrapins rushed to the line for one of those catch-you-off-guard QB sneaks. In general, whenever Clark would do something that caused his coaches to pull their hair out they'd throw Ojemudia out there for a bit and he would get that particular assignment correct.
Pass rush is the thing everyone is worried about. I neither can or want to dispel that entirely. Ojemudia did not have the same kind of impact Frank Clark did. (As the NFL reaction to Clark indicates, his stats badly underrated his play. Clark was robbed of a ton of sacks by poor lanes from the DTs and bad coverage by Blake Countess.) On occasion last year his lack of size and strength saw him blown down the line or pancaked in a way that Clark never suffered, because Clark was 280.
But he's not a total non-entity. He had 3.5 sacks and 7.5 TFLs; not a bad total for a guy who spent much of the season locked behind a really good player. When he did emerge into a starter he made a reasonable impact:
On Michigan's defensive linemen: "The best kid they had was the kid that took over for Frank Clark [Mario Ojemudia]. We knew next to nothing about him because he was only getting 10-15 snaps per game and wasn't doing much but he was really hard to block and was in our backfield a lot. …
"I don't know what the plan is for him this year but [Ojemudia] is the guy that I think can be really good."
Chatter has actually focused on the two other guys competing for this spot, and both of them will play. The most likely outcome here is a platoon featuring Exciting Guy and Boring Guy; I don't know who Exciting Guy is. I do know who Boring Guy is.
And that's fine. Ojemudia's kind of like a defensive end version of Jake Rudock. That's a worse deal at DE, were a "game manager" is just a guy who doesn't pressure the QB much. But it's not the worst thing.
[After THE JUMP: Ghostly promise and a large man]
Kyle, a lot’s been made about your maturity and now you’re in your third year here. Just talk about how you’ve grown and how you’re ready for this role as a leader.
Kyle Kalis: “I think a lot of it was the offseason condition. You know, we grew a lot as a team through coach Tolbert’s workouts and stuff, and a big thing not only personally but as an O-lineman and concerning my unit is coach Drev’s ability to coach us.
“He’s taught us stuff that we had no idea was even out there, and his experience, his vast knowledge of O-line play and the way you have to do it, the way you have to take that mentality every day has been huge for us. So that’s probably the biggest thing is coach Drev.”
I know that you guys are probably tired of the offensive line improvement talk, but last year it was said that the offensive line had improved. Do you feel that this season there is real, tangible improvement? Is this finally the year that the offensive line will come together?
KK: “Yeah. I mean, the past couple years we’ve been good. It’s just hard- it was hard to find…to look through the cracks and see us doing well. But this year I think as a team us being able to come together [and] have all the parts working together as a cohesive unit is going to be huge to not only be successful as a team, but also, you know, get the big guys some love. That’s the thing [is] you have to be successful as a team to let everybody have the spotlight.”
You mentioned the spotlight. Are there any guys out there that have impressed you? A lot has been said about Mason Cole. Talk about some of the guys who you’ve seen a lot of improvement from.
KK: “Yeah, Mason’s definitely…Mason’s Mason. He started all last year as a freshman. That’s huge. I mean, no one does that really anywhere, and so that’s huge for him. He’s improved a lot. Again, with coach Drev he’s been able to make some strides. Dave Dawson did really good. Tulley- Logan’s been doing really good. Blake’s [Bars] had a really good camp. A lot of guys have been really coming along and it’s been good.”
[After THE JUMP: More Kalis and Houma, plus Desmond Morgan and Chris Wormley]
DJ Durkin inherits a Michigan defense that’s both experienced and talented, with good depth in most position groups. Durkin has promised to mix up the fronts we’ll see this season, and he expanded on that while also talking about his pass rushers, linebackers, and more at Media Day.
[I jumped in while Durkin was in the middle of an answer]
“The thought is now we get into camp [and] a lot of it is now they’re hearing it for the second, the third, the fourth time of what we’re installing so you can master it and play fast.”
You talked at the beginning of spring about how you didn’t really know your team. What do you know about your personnel now?
“Yeah, I feel we know them much better. We had four-hour practices in the spring [so] we got a lot of reps with those guys. We saw them do a lot, so that’s a good thing. There’s not a lot of angst from me or our staff of ‘What’s this guy going to do in a game?’ or ‘[How will he] respond?’ We have, number one, experienced guys on defense for the most part. And then, like I said, we had really competitive practices in the spring where we put those guys in a lot of situations that they had to show what they could do so I feel like we have a good evaluation and awareness of where they’re at.
“And now it becomes let’s go into fall camp and see what guys come in with that right mindset and what they did over the summer, see how they prepared and go through it all over again and re-evaluate everyone and get ready for the first game.”
What are you most excited about for tomorrow and then fast-forwarding to September 3rd?
“Tomorrow, just getting out there. I mean, it’s one of those things that there’s a build up of it and when you finally get out there and hit that first period and start moving, it’s always…I don’t know. It’s one of my favorite times of the year. You just get that feeling like ‘Alright, we’re back out on the field.’ All this stuff is fun and everything but talking about it is not the same as going and doing it, so that’s what I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”
And then the opener?
“Yeah, the opener. I mean, wow, what a great test as an opener on the road in an environment that’s really loud. They’re into it; they’ve had great success there, especially recently, with their football program. So we’ll be tested right there, week one. Our guys know that, they understand that and we’re going to keep working towards that as we get through camp.”
[The rest after THE JUMP]
He tries to sic these guys on you if you ask a dumb question [Eric Upchurch]
News bullets and other items:
Shane Morris is ahead of the other quarterbacks, though Harbaugh said the competition will “rage on”
Harbaugh liked the way the defense performed, singling out the secondary and inside pass rush. He also thought Shane Morris and Amara Darboh did a nice job.
He said there’s room for improvement in receivers learning to catch contested balls, the running game as a whole, and outside pass rushing.
Gary Moeller and Lloyd Carr had a large part in designing the trick plays; Harbaugh said he was hands-off in that process
Harbaugh said the legal system has as much hanging over Graham Glasgow’s head as is possible, noting that it’s more than what the football program could do; it sounds like he won’t be suspended if there are no further incidents.
Players with long-term injuries noted were Joe Hewlett (unspecified), Mike McCray (surgery, not sure for what), and Michael Wroblewski (ACL).
Dennis Norfleet may play on offense, defense, and special teams in the fall
Your general takeaways from today? What did you like, what maybe obviously needs work still?
“Liked a lot of things. Mainly [the] thing I liked the most is we played a 40-minute game and there was no injuries that I could tell, none at least that aren’t the you-don’t-come-back-from-soon type, so I’m most pleased with that.
“There’s, uh, there’s- obviously the defense played extremely well. There’s been a lot of improvement in our secondary; that showed up again today. And pass rush, uh, pass rush is improving. Got some rush and push from our inside guys and we’ll continue to try and get the outside pass rush. That’s an area that we want to improve, especially when it’s a four-man rush, to be able to get pressure on the quarterback just with the four.
“I thought Shane Morris did a nice job. Amara Darboh made some nice catches and that’s an area that we need to keep working on, receivers that can make the catch when it’s contested, make the tough catch.
“Running game at times was okay. You know it’s not going to be real good in a spring game especially with the format that we had which was a draft, so offensive linemen are playing in different combinations than they’re used to. But overall we had the one fumble, we had the two turnovers, and with the interceptions but quarterback play I thought was good. Multiple errors [but] I thought it was good.
“To sum it all up I’m most pleased there weren’t any serious injuries today. Come out healthy, and that’ll propel us into April and May.”
I know it was just a spring game but for you to be back inside the Big House, what was it like for you personally?
“It was good. It was a great turnout, I thought. I mean, that’s a hundred-thousand-and-ten people seat stadium and to see that many seats filled was great. It really means a lot. Much appreciated. I know our players appreciate that, the turnout for the 2015 spring game. Added to it, you know. Really added to the atmosphere. Made it like a game. [I] don’t think of it just as a spring game, think of it as a game, and I know that our players had those feelings, those emotions of it being a game before the game and until they took their first hits so that’s something that’ll bode well for us.”
You had several players that were missing from the game: Taco Charlton, Mario Ojemudia, [Ondre] Pipkins. Are any of those long-term concerns or were they just players that were banged up?
“Yeah, we had multiple players that are working through something right now.”
Are any of them long-term, though?
“I’m not a doctor.”
“I did not get my medical degree at the University of Michigan.”
[After THE JUMP: Talkin’ about the ol’ depth chart]
[why take a new picture when there’s perfection in your file?]
"What can I answer?"
Can you just tell us about the whole process of staying? There was some uncertainty there about what your future was going to be and then talking to Jim…
"Yeah. Whenever there's a changeover the head coach will always hire who he wants to hire and I feel very fortunate to be able to stay at Michigan. You know I love Michigan and I feel very strongly about the players coming back and the guys in this program and I feel very strongly about Coach Harbaugh. I've known that family for a long time. It's just great to be back. That's the thing I'll say."
Were you exploring other options in that interim?
"I had a number of offers. Some in the NFL and things like that, but I made up my mind that if I had the opportunity I'd love to stay and I did, so I stayed."
Talk about this defense. You were excited about it growing last year but obviously this year–
"Well, I'll tell you what. One thing: DJ Durkin is doing a tremendous job, and I think the defensive coaches– It's exciting because you see some of the things we're doing, some of the kids with experience, some of the kids picking it up and it's exciting to see it moving forward. It's exciting to see the kids getting really coached and wanting to get coached and it's good."
Do you have a preference between the defensive line and linebacker, because you've coached both?
"Yeah, I've coached defensive line my whole life. You know, I started out as a D-line coach and I coached the line, oh, I don't know, if you figure– I'd hate to say how many years because that'd give up how many years I've been coaching, but I do know I've coached defensive line probably a lot longer than linebackers and I really like the defensive line. It's a place where I think technique and teaching [are important] and you can get guys to be better. You can make improvements there through technique and hard work so I'm excited to coach the D-line."
There's been a lot of talk of running some 3-4 defense this year, which you haven't done a lot of. Is that different for the defensive linemen?
"You know, we're exploring everything. We did that last year. We ran that last year, but what we're kind of doing on defense [is] trying to see what scheme fits the players we have, so we're pretty broad with what we're doing."
What has your working relationship been like with DJ Durkin and how are you guys kind of feeding off each other?
"Well, Coach Durkin and I are very, very close friends. We coached together a long time ago at Notre Dame. I traveled down there two years ago back to Florida to talk to him about what they were doing and he's done a great job wherever he's been. I've known DJ for a long time and I've always felt that he's a tremendous football coach. Some of the things that he's done at a young age at Florida is remarkable and I knew that, and that's why it's exciting to work with him. It's fun because were not just coaches together, we're friends and that's – I've always liked to be a part of something like that."
[After THE JUMP: Position buzz and 2-gap talk]
Who are some of your pass rushers, and talk about the standup outside linebacker.
"We've had a number of guys get nicked up and guys are really working hard. Our numbers are down on the D-line and they just keep working through it. I'm not going to single out anybody because they're all working extremely hard, and we won't know until into the season who our pass rushers are. I hope every one of them are. I think the one position, if I did single one out, that I'm really, really pleased with is the noseguard position. I think Glasgow and Mone and Hurst are doing a really, really good job. And the other positions are working hard also, I just– that's the group that really seems like they've got a lot of experience."
Is Willie [Henry] playing the nose too?
"No, Willie will be playing tackle and end."
You have a good relationship with these guys on defense already. Have you served as a liaison between the players and the staff?
"No, I haven't needed to do that. I think somebody else asked me that one time. These coaches are so experienced and there's no liaison necessary. I think when the kids are in their meetings and they're being coached by them, players understand right away when a guy who's coaching them is really doing a great job and is really sharp and I think these kids knew right away. I mean, how could you help but not? I talked about DJ and you've got Mike Zordich and Greg Jackson, who played 12 years in the NFL. He coached at the highest level and both of them have coached in the NFL. They are very experienced, very good coaches."
How about from the other end? Have any coaches come to you and said, 'Hey, this guy responds this way' or 'This guy plays real well in this technique'?
"No, it hasn't been– we all speak so freely in our meeting room that if somebody would bring up something about a player and I've seen it before or I haven't seen it before I'll just say that. I kind of have the luxury of having been with them so I'll just say, 'This kid really is a good player, he really is doing a good job,' and I'll say, 'He had signs of showing that before,' that kind of thing. They've done such a good job, in my opinion, knowing what each player's strength is and each player, what he needs to work on so it hasn't been that kind of thing."
You were pretty adamant last season about the experienced youth on this team and that it was coming. You're here this spring now: Have you seen it?
"I have. Yeah, I have. I've seen these kids working hard. I've seen them be a lot more mature. I mean, these practices are tough practices, and if you're a young kid you kind of maybe fold. There's times sometimes where that happens. I've been real pleased with our guys as far as stepping forward and just keep going, keep going. That shows experience."
You talked about coming back to finish what you guys started. Is that the message from you to the guys you're coaching? I mean, you recruited a lot of those guys.
"Yeah, I don't know if it's to finish because when you finish you say it's over. I just wanted to stay a part of what Michigan is and what Michigan will be and what Michigan has been forever and I think that's coming. I just want to be a part of that and I'm fortunate to be a part of it."
You've worked for a lot of different guys at all different levels, including Jim's brother. What's it like working for Jim? What are his unique traits?
"Well, he's just a very, very, very sharp coach. He's really, really intelligent. He's demanding. He's very businesslike. Every day you're going to work to get better. He expects his coaches to work hard. He expects his coaches to do their job. You don't win 49 games in the NFL in three years and not be a great coach. And he's always been that; you don't do what he did at Stanford and not be a great coach. And everywhere he's been he's just done a great job."
There's a lot of guys on the staff with NFL experience, whether it's playing or coaching. How are you seeing details of that applied to this spring practice?
"I think the one thing when there's a lot of experience in a coaching staff [is] you can make adjustments very easy and be able to teach it. Sometimes what happens if you don't have a lot of experience and there's adjustments to be made [is] you have to teach the coaches first and then the coaches have to teach the players but this staff, they have so much experience that they've done that. They say, 'Oh yeah, we've done this. We can get this done' and it's easy to make adjustments that way."
What have you seen from Chris Wormley so far?
"Chris Wormley is working really, really hard. He seems every day to be taking another step toward being the Chris Wormley that we recruited and the Chris Wormley that you were really expecting to see before he had the knee [injury], and I'm really happy with the way he's been working. He's been very physical. He's totally into it. He's been a leader by example. I'm get pleased with what Chris has done."
MGoQuestion: Are there guys on this line that can play two gaps or are you not really looking at 2-gapping this season?
"Well, I think in every defense you have to 2-gap sometimes, so it's nothing different. But it remains to be seen. There's not a lot of people that do play 2-gap."
You've run the show here defensively for the last four seasons. How difficult is that transition to not be-
"Not at all. Not at all. Not at all because, as I said, I really respect the guy I'm working with and the guys I'm working with, and I've done that for so long that sometimes you say it's kind of enjoyable just to take these four guys and see how good they can be. And I knew that when Jim hired me, there's only one coordinator and what he says we do and once you get that you say, 'Okay, my job is to go coordinate the defensive line and to do a great job with that.' And I've done it so long, I've had so many opportunities to do it that it's really just about seeing how good we can get this team."
[Note: Mattison and Greg Jackson’s availability overlapped, so this transcript isn’t complete. I switched over to Jackson’s huddle at this point and missed 1-2 minutes of Mattison.]