alternate headline: man does job
critiquing the boss while the boss is on painkillers
Vastly underrated; properly rated
Previously: The Offense
My look back at Brian's epic 2011 football preview continues with the defense. This one got a lot more interesting than the offense, because despite all the warm fuzzies we felt from the GERG-to-Greg transition*, expecting a jump from the #110 total defense to #17 would have been outrageous. As in get-this-man-a-straitjacket outrageous.
Thankfully, the performance of the defense exceeded all reasonable expectations, and even most of the unreasonable ones. Let's peep last year's predictions, shall we?
*Not to mention the Tony-Gibson-to-Anyone-But-Tony-Gibson transition.
The move to three-tech won't be an issue [for Ryan Van Bergen]. He played it two years ago and when Michigan went to a four man front last year they stuck him back inside. He's now 290, a three year starter, and a senior. He's a good bet to crack double-digit TFLs and get some All Big Ten mention.
RVB actually ended up at strongside DE, which probably helped him lead the team with 12.5 TFLs. He ended up earning All-Big Ten honorable mention from both the coaches and media and graduating as one of the most beloved Wolverines in recent memory.
Demens will benefit from the move to back to the 4-3 under more than anyone save Craig Roh. With RVB and Martin shielding him from linemen he won't be in nearly as many hopeless situations where he's one-on-one with a guard He should be the team's leading tackler by a healthy margin and see his TFLs skyrocket from the measly 1.5 he managed a year ago.
Michigan's defense will probably be too bad to warrant much All Big Ten consideration, but honorable mention seems reasonable.
A year after inexplicably having to move past not just Obi Ezeh, but converted fullback Mark Moundros, on the depth chart at middle linebacker despite subsequently making it painfully obvious that he should've been the starter all along, Demens had his breakout season. He led the team with 94 tackles—second was Jordan Kovacs at 75—and saw his TFLs jump to a respectable five. Like Van Bergen, Demens was an all-conference honorable mention.
Even so, [Kovacs's] season was a step forward from obvious liability to "certainly not a liability." Even if he's a walk-on and even if he's obviously small and slow, he should continue improving. He'll be a little less small and slow with another year of conditioning. Being in a coherent defensive system should help put him in positions to make plays. His redshirt year was not spent on the team so he's not as close to his ceiling as your average redshirt junior.
He's not going to be Reggie Nelson. That won't keep him from becoming the first Michigan safety you only hate a little tiny bit since Jamar Adams.
This may still be underselling Kovacs, who took to competent coaching even better than expected and became the team's rock in the secondary, covering for his athletic limitations with usually-impeccable positioning. No, he's not Reggie Nelson, but I don't think you can find a remotely rational Michigan fan who harbors even the tiniest bit of ill will towards Kovacs. Michigan's shocking lack of big plays allowed—both against the pass and the run—can largely be attributed to his play; despite missing a game, Kovacs led the team with 51 solo tackles. He also notched 8 TFLs. All hail Kovacs.
I have the same optimism about this Johnson/Gordon combo that I had last year. This, of course, terrifies me. It seems unnatural to think an unproven Michigan safety could be competent. I like Gordon's agility and tackling, though, and while there will be rough spots early by midseason he should settle into that midlevel safety range like Englemon or Barringer.
This time around, the optimism regarding the free safety position was justified. Thomas Gordon had his share of struggles, especially late in the season, but for the most part he was quite competent. Around here, safety competence is a luxury on par with consistent placekicking.
Sacks almost double from 1.4 per game to 2.4. That would be a move from 98th to around 30th.
Michigan finished with 2.3 sacks per game. That put them at... 29th. Tip o' the cap.
Turnovers forced go from 19 to 27.
Brian's continued insistence that turnover luck would someday go Michigan's way finally paid off; the Wolverines forced 29 turnovers. It also helped that this defense actually tackled people.
EVERYTHING SEEMS WONDERFUL
YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW RIGHT THIS WOULD BE.
Morgan was the MGoBlog Sleeper of the Year based on a wide array of scouting reports that praise his instincts, lateral mobility, and toughnosed hard gritty gritness. I thought he'd have to cool his heels behind Demens for a couple years, but he may get on the field quicker than anyone expected.
No full credit simply because Mike Jones was projected as the starter at WLB, a fact I had completely forgotten about until I looked back at the preview. Morgan ended up playing in 12 games, starting seven (the first being in week two against ND), and finished fifth on the team in tackles.
If [J.T. Floyd] gets a lot better this year it's time to take the Gibson chatter seriously.
This wasn't really a prediction, but... yeah. Tony Gibson minus all of the points.
Beyond Talbott it's true freshmen, but at least there's a horde of them. Maryland's Blake Countess arrives with the most hype and should be the biggest threat to play. (Caveat: last year Cullen Christian arrived with the most hype.)
Points for mentioning Countess as the most likely freshman to see the field. No points for giving him one sentence when he took over the starting job by midseason, especially considering the Christian caveat. As you'll see, the hype that should've surrounded Countess went—justifiably, in the preseason—to Courtney Avery.
Not So Much
Healthy again and less abandoned in the middle of the defense, Martin's numbers should soar. Before the sprain Martin was on pace for 11 TFLs and 4 sacks; after it he got just a half TFL the rest of the year. While the front of the schedule is a bit easier, Martin had 8.5 TFLs and 51 tackles a year ago. Reasonable progression should have gotten him to 11. Add in further progression plus three DL coaches plus a bit more help on the line plus a free-roaming QB attack role and 15 to 18 TFLs plus a little more QB terror should be within reach. He should be All Big Ten. He might be better.
I hate that I have to put this prediction in this category, but here it is. While Martin was the best player on the defense, his numbers were hampered by having to play the nose; he finished with six TFLs and 3.5 sacks. Despite the lack of statistical production, Martin's efforts were recognized with second-team All-Big Ten honors. He also forced a pitch on a speed option. See you on Sundays, MM.
"Experience" was why [Will Heininger] got the nod; that experience consists of backing Brandon Graham up. In is time on the field he rarely did anything wrong; he rarely did anything right, either. He was a non-factor. As a guy spotting Graham from time to time that's cool, but as a starter or a guy rotating with another equally obscure walk-on that's a recipe for zero production out of a spot that should see its fair share of plays. If this spot averages out as a zero next year that's probably good—and that's not good.
The biggest swing-and-a-miss on the list. Heininger swapped spots with RVB and started all 12 regular-season games at five-tech DT before missing the Sugar Bowl with a foot injury. He exceeded all expectations of a walk-on raised in the shadow of the Big House, proving he could hold his own against Big Ten competition and be a positive force on the interior. After the season, Brian ranked him as the third most siginificant departure on the defense, behind only Martin and Van Bergen. While part of that is due to the remaining depth along the defensive line, I don't think anyone thought Heininger's absence would be felt in such a way.
Brink will play. After mentioning Heininger's experience he said Brink has "practiced very well, played well, been productive" and promised to rotate six guys on the line. Six is a weird number because it means one of Black, Campbell, or Brink is on the fringe. Given the lineups Campbell seems the most likely even though that seems unlikely.
If you're saying "who?" you're probably not alone (though you read this blog, so you probably aren't saying "who?"). Walk-on Nathan Brink was penciled in as the starting SDE at one point in the fall, earning much preseason praise for his unlikely rise up the depth chart. After garnering all that hype, however, he made almost no impact, recording just one tackle while barely seeing the field. He's a prime example of why you must take all offseason practice hype with a grain of salt, especially when said hype involves previously-unknown walk-ons.
We've yet to see the much of the pass-rushing skill that made Roh a top 50 recruit. He's displayed hints of the ability to zip past tackles before they know what hits them when suffered to rush the passer—there's a chance that when he puts hand to ground and is told to let it rip that he goes bonkers. Roh is the biggest X factor on the team. He could end up with anywhere from a half-dozen to twelve sacks.
Playing his third position in three seasons, Roh didn't quite go bonkers, tallying four sacks and eight TFLs. Roh's play still markedly improved from his previous two seasons, but he still hasn't lived up to the sky-high recruiting hype. Much of the blame for that can fall upon the shoulders of Greg Robinson and Co., and we'll see if one last position switch, this time to SDE, finally results in Roh producing double-digit sacks.
In high school, Ryan was an outside linebacker in an actual 3-3-5. As such, he spent a lot of time screaming at the quarterback from angles designed to make life hard for offensive linemen. That's not far off his job in the 4-3 under but it comes with a lot more run responsibility—the SLB has to take on blockers in just the right spot so that he neither lets the play escape contain nor gives him a lane inside too big to shut down. Expect to see him on passing downs but only passing downs this fall.
Ryan became a pleasant early-season surprise when he started against Western Michigan and made his presence felt by batting an Alex Carder pass that Brandon Herron would intercept and return 94 yards to the house. While certainly more of an asset against the pass than the run—his balls-to-the-wall approach was great on blitzes, but not always sound when keeping contain—Ryan proved that he was by far the best option on the strong side. Just one year later, all-conference honors are very much in play.
Assuming he's healthy, another year to learn the position and get bigger should see him improve on his previous form. There is a nonzero chance his earlier performances were not representative of his ability, but the smart money is on Woolfolk being at least average. It wouldn't be a surprise to see him go at the tail end of next year's NFL draft.
Troy Woolfolk's return from the exploding ankle of doom wasn't as triumphant as we all hoped. While he started ten games—six at corner and four at safety—Woolfolk never looked fully comfortable on the field and was supplanted at each position by a younger player (Countess at corner, Gordon at safety). It would be quite a surprise to see him taken in this week's NFL draft.
Courtney Avery busts out. Going into next year people are talking about him as an All Big Ten performer.
After showing much promise as a true freshman, Avery was the obvious candidate to grow into a big-time role as the team's top corner of the present and future. Instead, he started the first two games, then ceded that role to J.T. Floyd, Woolfolk, and eventually Countess. Avery was a solid nickel corner, and should reprise that role in 2012, but his progression wasn't as great as expected.
Craig Roh leads the team in sacks with eight.
Nein. Despite Michigan's impressive rise in team sacks, they were spread pretty evenly across both the D-line and the back seven thanks to Mattison's blitz-happy approach. Ryan Van Bergen paced the team with 5.5, with Jordan Kovacs actually tying Roh for second with four.
Michigan noses just above average in yardage allowed. Advanced metrics have them about 50th.
I know Brian has no complaints about being so hilariously wrong on this one. As noted above, the Wolverines finished 17th in yardage allowed, and they also shot up to sixth (faints) in points allowed. Football Outsiders's FEI metric ranked them as the #16 defense in the country. Despite watching every second of the 2011 season (usually twice), I still have a hard time not believing I'm the victim of an elaborate hoax or a drug experiment gone horribly awry. If you see me waking up in a gutter and GERG is still the defensive coordinator, please do me a favor and run me over with an SUV. Make sure to double-tap, please.
Molk as Rimington finalist: check, plus. Kelvin Grady's 30 catches: not so much.
Spring football is over, meaning we're entering the darkest days of the offseason, the times when college football bloggers must get creative (aigh!) and come up with something, anything, to post while hoping nobody on the team gets arrested (usually as a product of being as bored with the offseason as us).
This is one of those posts.
Last year, Brian went HAM with his football preview, churning out so much content that I ended up previewing Western lest the first game pass without comment. Now I get to look back on all of Brian's hard work, use hindsight as a crutch to make me look intelligent, and critique his predictions. It's up to you to decide whether it's coincidence that I'm doing this while he's rather incapacitated.
This review will be posted in three parts. Today, I'll look at the offensive personnel. Later, I'll tackle the defense (ooh, role reversal), then finally look at special teams and Brian's "stupid predictions," (his term, not mine). This first post was less fun than I expected; outside of some inflated projections for the wide receivers, Brian kinda nailed it when it came to the offense. BOO.
Koger's role will be up to him. He'll be somewhere between a B- and B+ blocker and will have opportunities to establish himself a major part of the passing game. Our sample size on his hands is still very small and the bad part is now two years removed and he's quite an athlete—his upside is high. I can't help but think he's been held back by things other than Rich Rodriguez's preferences, though. I'm betting on a good but unmemorable senior year.
I have a difficult time coming up with a better description for Kevin Koger's final Michigan season. He was a solid, but unspectacular, blocker who recorded 23 catches for 244 yards and four touchdowns. That was more production than he'd had under Rodriguez, but I had to check MGoBlue to see if he even earned All-Big Ten honorable mention (he did). My lasting memories of Koger will remain the insane catch against Western in 2009 and his battles with the dropsies the next year, along with his "KogerNotKroger" Twitter handle.
The Mouton comparison is ominous since we just watched that guy start for three years without getting any better, but Lewan hasn't suffered at the hands of poor coaching yet and won't in the future. This should be the year he drops the crazy hot girl act and establishes himself as an All Big Ten left tackle. He'll still be a little penalty-prone but it will be worth it.
Taylor Lewan earned second-team All-B1G honors from the coaches, honorable mention from the media, and generally was the team's best non-Molk offensive lineman. He still took a few dumb penalties, but not as many as he did in 2010. Again, spot on, old chap.
That is admittedly me trying to find a concern. David Molk is great. You can never tell which interior linemen are going to be up for postseason awards but I'll be incensed if he's not All Big Ten after a healthy year. I think he'll be a Rimington finalist.
See: picture at top of post.
Al Borges is going to do his damndest to keep Denard productive, upright, and beaming.
Check, check, and of course, check.
He'll give Denard a more sophisticated offense that he won't execute as well as Borges needs him to; he'll use Denard's legs but not quite as effectively as Rodriguez would have. These guys are good because they've spent a lot of time specializing in ways that make them successful. There is a necessary lack of efficiency once they get outside their comfort zones.
It was a near-impossible task for Denard to replicate his 2010 rushing production under Borges, especially since the coaches explicitly stated that wasn't at all the goal. He still finished as the team's leading rusher, broke the 1,000-yard barrier, scored 16 rushing touchdowns, and averaged over five yards per carry. As for the execution of the offense as a whole: yup, there were some efficiency issues. Yards/attempt, completion percentage, and passing efficiency all dropped, while interceptions rose to an unsightly 15. This prediction didn't exactly go out on a limb, but that didn't make it any less right.
Yards per carry drop quite a bit but nose above 5.
2010 YPC: 5.58.
2011 YPC: 5.15.
If [Junior Hemingway] can manage [to stay healthy] through the season he's going to end the year with a ton of catches. Even if the Michigan offense doesn't go full MANBALL right away continued development from Denard Robinson will make difficult pro-style throws that frequently target outside wide receivers more feasible; Borges's offense will make them more frequent. Combine that with Hemingway's main skill and there will be jump balls for the taking.
ALL OF THE JUMP BALLS. This piece of prognostication would've made it into the above category if not for this next bit:
If he can maintain his 18.5 YPC he'll challenge Roundtree for the most receiving yards on the team. Expect a bit under 1,000 yards from him.
Hemingway actually averaged a tic above 20 YPC and still led the team in receptions, but leading the team meant catching 34 passes for 699 yards. Junior did manage to stay healthy, which was nice, and then stole all of our hearts during (and after) the Sugar Bowl. Y U NO PREDICT HE STEAL OUR HEARTS, BRIAN?
Huyge's flexibility will allow Michigan to flip Schofield onto the field if anyone other than Molk goes down. He's likely to start a few games in preparation for a full time role in 2011… unless he rips the job away from Huyge right now.
Given the way Huyge's career has gone and the general vibe coming from camp chatter and Funk's public statements, that's a strong possibility. Huyge's never been much of a pass blocker and Michigan's offense is going to require quite a bit more of that as Robinson starts making more and more five and seven step drops.
This was right on in that a non-Molk OL (Ricky Barnum) went down with an injury, and Michael Schofield was the man to replace him. What Brian didn't see coming—and I don't think anyone predicted this—is that Huyge would remain at tackle while Schofield filled in admirably at left guard, keeping the job even after Barnum returned.
Tousssaint [extra 's' there, boss] seems to have that jittery short-range quickness that allows little guys to survive, even thrive, as they pick their way through the chaos.
I'm hoping he emerges as the guy. If he beats out a healthy Shaw he'll be well on his way to translating that tape to college, and I could get used to a jump-cutting Houdini with sprinter's speed. Toussaint is the offense's Roh: the wildcard. Anything from Mike Hart (except crappy :( ) to Mike Hart (except fast!) is possible.
No full credit here what with the significant hedging and the fact that Brian had Michael Shaw listed as the (tenuous) starter, even though that's because Brady Hoke flat-out said so before the season. Instead, Toussaint was the man all year, rushing for 1,041 yards on 5.6 YPC and surpassing all reasonable expectations in the process. Fitz's speed turned out to be more of the sprinter's variety than what he showed in his previous, injury-plagued season, and the jump-cuts were plentiful. He wasn't quite Mike Hart (except fast!); Michigan didn't need that with Denard playing quarterback. The potential is there, however.
Michigan finishes around 15th in FEI and other advance metrics. By yardage they drop to about the same spot; scoring offense increases from 25th to match.
Brian actually underestimated the offense in terms of the advanced metrics—9th in FEI—though successfully predicted that it wouldn't quite match the #2 rank of the previous year. Yardage fell to 42nd in the country, and scoring offense was 26th. The larger point remained true—the offense was quite efficient, but not quite at the level of 2010's spread-and-shred—but the raw numbers didn't quite match up.
Not So Much
Roundtree's production will drop this year as Michigan tries to get Hemingway and Koger more involved. He can't expect set the single-game receiving record every year. He'll still run neck and neck with Hemingway fro [sic] the most receiving yards on the team. [Ed-S: hey, I remember that vacation--it was nice]
Roundtree's production did drop, just more significantly than expected. With QB OH NOES mostly gone from the offense (and Roundtree flat-out dropping the one such opportunity I recall), he finished with just 19 catches for 355 yards, well behind both Hemingway and Jeremy Gallon on the stat sheet. Speaking of Gallon...
Entering his final season [Kelvin] Grady's best shot at extensive playing time is based on 1) a lot of three wide and 2) Roundtree playing mostly on the outside. In that situation he's the established veteran. He'd get a crack at screens and seams and whatnot en route to a breakout mini-'Tree year. More likely is a moderately increased role as Roundtree bounces inside and out with around 30 catches.
First, a sadface— :( —for the lack of screens, not to mention blitheringly wide-open seams. Now, Grady's final stat line: five catches, 75 yards. Brian did recover with a nice hedge—"It could go sour for Grady if Jeremy Gallon translates chatter into playing time"—especially since Gallon produced Grady's projected stat line: 31 catches netting 453 yards. Still, swing and a miss on which player would produce said stat line, and I'm really reaching for stuff to critique here
Denard rushes for 1200 yards. His interception rate falls significantly but is still not great.
Shaw claims the starting job to himself in week four, gets injured shortly after, and Toussaint takes over. Both are much better than Smith at making extra yards. At the end of the year they've all got somewhere between 400 and 800 yards.
Toussaint's rapid rise wasn't foreseen by Brian, who expected more of a backfield-by-committee, especially in the early going. Shaw never captured the starting job, appeared in nine games, and finished with 199 yards on 31 carries. That made Shaw a more effective runner than Smith, who had 298 yards on 50 carries, but both were surprisingly effective (6.42 YPC for Shaw, 5.96 for Smith, though obviously in limited action for both).
Hopkins creates windows other backs don't. When three yards and a cloud of dust is a win, he'll be in there.
Or he'll continue putting the ball on the ground—see: Denard's immaculate rushing TD against Notre Dame—and get relegated to fullback.