Among this year's great disappointments has been the understandable, but nonetheless depressing, regression of 2013 Michigan's two best defensive players. Jake Ryan looks lost at MLB. Blake Countess is now the third or fourth best cornerback on this roster. Both appear to be a direct result of the offseason decision to switch from Michigan's 4-3 under/zone defense to a jam-man, nickel/4-3 over base.
I'm sure Brian is going to cover Jake Ryan with a picture pages, so I thought I'd zoom in on a play that's demonstrative of what's happening with Countess, and how that's hurting the defense. This is the first of Rutgers's many 3rd down conversions. Michigan had a backside blitz on with the front seven and was playing man-high pass D. Rutgers ran a pick route from the trips tight formation:
This is a standard thing you do against man coverage. The Y receiver will run his route directly in the path of the cornerback trying to guard the outside (Z) receiver. It works just a like a perimeter screen in basketball: the pick man and the defender following him create a wall between the target and his defender…
Voila: easy pass…
…which is unfortunate because a certain Rutgers lineman blew his MIKE assignment and Jake Ryan was about to turn Gary Nova into paste. Jeremy Clark then compounded matters by setting up too far inside and turned it into a big play.
To a degree you might RPS this, because Rutgers called a pick route against man coverage, and Nova pointed right at the matchups to show his guys they had what they wanted. But the way Michigan's defense is supposed to work is for man-tight to be a base play, and there is absolutely a way to defend this pass with Michigan's defensive call… [jump] [also if you're at work maybe put your headsets on because you know what's coming]
The goal of Draftageddon is to draft a TEAM of Big Ten players that seems generally more impressive than that of your competitors. Along the way, we'll learn a lot of alarming things, like maybe Maryland is good? Full details are in the first post.
PREVIOUSLY ON DRAFTAGEDDON
- Everyone not grabbing dual-threat senior QBs grabs defensive linemen
- Seth takes Venric Mark in front of just about everyone
- Nothing terribly remarkable happens
- BISB takes all the guys I want
- A ridiculous amount of time is spent discussing the merits of one particular interior lineman from Rutgers
- WILDCARD TIME as Brian takes a quarterback despite already having a quarterback.
- Peppers drafted in WILDCARD TIME II.
- Someone drafts an Illinois defender! I know!
- BISB goes Maryland crazy, reminds us all that he has Kurtis Drummond eighty-five times.
ROUND 21 - PICK 2 (Ace): Darian Hicks, CB, Michigan State
O: QB Connor Cook (MSU), RB Ameer Abdullah (NE), WR Devin Funchess (U-M), WR Levern Jacobs (MD), SLOT Dontre Wilson (OSU), TE Maxx Williams (MN), LT Brandon Scherff (IA), LG Kaleb Johnson (RU), C Chad Lindsay (OSU), RT Tyler Marz (WI)
D: WDE Shilique Calhoun (MSU), SDE Andre Monroe (MD), NT Darius Kilgo (MD), DT Adolphus Washington (OSU), OLB Chi Chi Ariguzo (NW), OLB Matt Robinson (MD), CB Desmond King (IA), CB Darian Hicks (MSU), S John Lowdermilk (IA), S Jarrod Wilson (U-M), HSP Earnest Thomas III (IL)
ST: KR/PR Ameer Adbullah (NE)
Wears 2 and eats roses; must be Woodson [james brosher]
Ace: We're reaching the point in the draft when it's time to start gambling a bit; with this pick, I'm betting my imaginary cash money on Pat Narduzzi, the East Lansing Cornerback Factory, and Darian Hicks winning the starting job across from Trae Waynes.
The first two things don't seem like much of a gamble at all. The third may not be, either. Hicks saw some action as a true freshman last season, started and ended the spring as the starting field corner despite dealing with injury, was the first corner selected after Waynes in their spring game draft, and had their 247 outlet putting him under the secondary's "reasons for optimism" category—which somehow didn't just read "NARDUZZI"—after the spring ($):
Hicks, meanwhile, passed a host of players to see action as a true freshman last season and held on to his No. 1 spot at cornerback throughout spring ball. We don’t know what this secondary will look like without Jim Thorpe Award winner Darqueze Dennard, but at least we know who will take his place entering fall camp.
With Dennard and Waynes locking down the corner spots last year, no other corner did much that wasn't on special teams, so I went back to Hicks' high school film to see how he'd fit into MSU's aggressive defense. Considering he could do this as a high school junior, I think things will work out:
Hicks earned his MSU offer over a year before NSD 2013; the Spartans identified him early as a guy they really wanted in a class that had room for just one cornerback. His scholarship offer came directly from Mark Dantonio. Pat Narduzzi was his primary recruiter. That's good enough for me.
BISB: /Starts to snark Ace's selection of a guy who has played like 50 career snaps.
/Remembers, like, everything
[after the jump: somebody goes totally bonkers for Badgers, and not who you think!]
Despite being passive, Michigan was 23rd in INTs last year [Eric Upchurch]
Since Hoke has taken over, it seems the expectation / criticism has been largely focused on the offense. Since rich rod left the defense in shambles, hoke & mattison seem to have taken a bend don't break approach and largely been given a pass while they accumulate talent and experience. With most of the experience and talent on the defensive side of the ball this year, does the pressure to get it done and carry the team to victory shift?
I balk at the idea that someone needs to be "given a pass" after turning what was literally the worst defense in Michigan history into the #17 total defense in a year and improving to 13th the next year before dipping to 41st. FWIW, in yards per play terms the Mattison defenses are 46th, 25th, and 41st—a narrative of drastic improvement in year one, another step forward in year two, and then a step back.
I wish that step back hadn't happened, too, but the defense ended up collapsing once it was putting Richard Ash and Nose Tackle Jibreel Black on the field against the top rushing team in the country and then facing Tyler Lockett in a dismal who-cares bowl game they had approximately zero chance of winning once Gardner was ruled out.
Against the rest of the schedule, the defense was good enough to win. They could have carried Michigan to victories against Penn State (1.9 yards a rush, 6.8 per pass), Nebraska (under 300 yards total O), and maybe even MSU (16 points through 3 Q) if the offense was extant. People jumping on the D are a lot like people saying SHANE MORRIS COULD START YOU GUYS: they're letting the unprecedentedly terrible running game color their perceptions of the rest of the team.
That said, yes, last year's D was frustratingly passive and with Michigan returning almost everybody of note (departures from the two deep are limited to Black, the underutilized Quinton Washington, and both Gordons) it is time to take a step forward from passable to very good or great. The offense is not going to get where it needs to be in one year, so if Michigan wants to have the kind of season that makes people think Hoke should be back it's up to the defense to hulk up.
The rivals. We must beat them. Or not.
Can you talk me into a scenario where Michigan loses to both at MSU and at OSU this year and we call the season a success?
Let's step back for a second. There was a thread on the board about the recent Angelique Chengelis article in which she predicted a 10-2 record with losses to MSU and OSU. As always, the thread was split between people going "lol more like 2-10" and people responding to folks that say "I'll be happy with 9-3" with:
Is this what we are now? A program with fans that are "pleased" with mediocrity.
YES! YES, THIS IS WHAT WE ARE NOW. I mean… Michigan had that one 11-2 year that they acquired by shooting the moon six times. Aside from that, Michigan's gone 3-9, 5-7, 7-6, 8-5, and 7-6. And that last 7-6 doesn't really encompass the true face-crippling misery that was last season.
So, yeah, there are a ton of seasons that include road losses to the two teams that met in the B10 championship game last year that seem like a success. 10-2 is obvious. 9-3… sheeeeeeit, I would take any 9-3 record any way any how right now, no questions.
Would it suck to lose yet again to OSU and MSU? Yes! Yes, it would be a kick right in the plaster of Paris. But we're not in a place where we can turn up our nose at anything resembling a fun season. Just getting to a place where I can think "hey, this offensive line might be good next season" is a success. That necessarily comes with some wins, but except in pissy fan ways I'm not sweating who they come against.
Updated minutes for basketball.
It's go time for Derrick Walton [Bryan Fuller]
Can I get a prediction on next year's starting five?
Three and a half of the spots are pretty obvious. The three:
PG: Derrick Walton
SG: Caris LeVert
SF: Zak Irvin
C: Mark Donnal/Ricky Doyle
Michigan might be able to spare some minutes for Donnal at the 4 depending on how foul prone those gentlemen are. Freshmen bigs ten to be very foul prone, so… yeah.
Even PF is not that confusing: it'll be split between Kam Chatman and DJ Wilson. Chatman will also get minutes filling in for LeVert and Irvin; Spike will get 10-15 minutes; Bielfeldt will be in the 0-15 range depending on how the other guys perform and if he can actually hit some of those threes that Beilein says are unstoppable in practice.
My guess at the minute breakdown now:
PG: Walton (30) / Spike (10)
SG: LeVert (35) / MAAR (5)
SF: Irvin (30) / Chatman (10)
PF: Chatman (15) / Wilson (25)
C: Donnal (25) / Doyle (10) / Bielfeldt (5)
MAAR over Dawkins is just a guess. I do think it'll be one or the other by crunch time since Beilein favors short rotations. It is possible that one of the two redshirts.
That's very young and skinny up front—four freshman and Bielfeldt is your frontcourt—but I'd put Michigan's backcourt up against anyone in the conference no problem.
But what about The Process?
I've seen a few stories about how young Team 135 will be. They all highlight the small senior class, but never get into The Process's impact on the class. In my opinion, the 2011 recruiting class was a mess largely because Dave Brandon waited until January to fire Rich Rod (and then spent a couple of days actually firing him). By the time Hoke was hired, there wasn't much time to put together a class. In your opinion, how big of a factor was The Process on this year's senior class?
Don't forget the song-and-dance with the planes and four or five days spent in an apparent effort to throw people off the scent of the most Michigan Man choice available.
We'll never know for sure whether or not Rodriguez was a dead man walking going into the bowl game, but I've heard from multiple people on that disastrous trip that everyone thought he was. This led to a widespread breakdown in order and the performance-type substance Michigan put out there. If there was any chance he'd be back before it, there was zero after. Brandon didn't hang the man swiftly or extinguish the idea he'd be gone, so Michigan got a month and a half of limbo during which Blake Countess inexplicably signed up and nothing else happened in recruiting. Hoke walked into the following recruiting class:
- DEFENSE: DE Chris Rock, DE Brennen Beyer, CB Delonte Holowell, CB Blake Countess, CB Greg Brown, LB Desmond Morgan, LB Kellen Jones
- OFFENSE: OL Tony Posada, OL Jack Miller, OL Chris Bryant (Bryant did commit after Hoke was hired but had been favoring Michigan for months beforehand.)
To this he added in the two or three weeks available to him:
- DEFENSE: DE Frank Clark, DE Keith Heitzman, CB Tamani Carter, CB Raymon Taylor, LB Antonio Poole
- OFFENSE: TE Chris Barnett, RB Thomas Rawls, RB Justice Hayes, QB Russell Bellomy, K Matt Wile.
Both ends of that class are equally subpar. Hoke's ten late adds produced Taylor, Clark, and Wile. There's a possibility that Hayes or Heitzman will contribute at a decent level this year; that is meh.
Given what we've seen from Hoke since, especially before Michigan's offense descended into awful unwatchability, you have to figure he would have done much better with the extra five weeks. He almost certainly would have found a tackle to replace Jake Fisher—he may have in fact held on to Jake Fisher—and found a tight end who was capable of staying on a college campus for more than three weeks. They may have found a better fit at QB than Bellomy, whose main asset was his mobility. And they would have gotten a better idea about a few guys who weren't likely to stick—I'm thinking about Posada mostly, by the time signing day rolled around some people were skeptical about his commitment level—and grabbed a guy to fill out the OL numbers.
So… it was significant. There is a reason schools don't wait until January to throw guys overboard, and Michigan is suffering through that this year.
DEPARTURES IN ORDER OF SIGNIFICANCE
Black and Gordon are the only two starters departing. [Eric Upchurch and Bryan Fuller]
- DT Jibreel Black. Went from average-sized SDE to undersized three-tech to massively incredibly undersized NT over course of the season; effective pass rusher; clubbed by double teams a lot, especially late; NFL FA camp cut type.
- S Thomas Gordon. Inexplicably futzed with midseason as coaches were dissatisfied with him for reasons obscure to me; was that one touchdown on which he was a step late against MSU really that bad? Never a playmaker, but rarely busted large; a solid performer; coaches don't think they'll miss him, I guess.
- SAM Cam Gordon. Michigan's leader in sacks on the season, which says a lot about the Michigan pass rush, no offense Mr. Gordon; beat out first by Beyer and then by Ryan once he returned; did provide quality depth.
- NT Quinton Washington. Lack of utilization only explained by nagging injury, disease, or vampirism, assuming that really bright stadium lights also qualify in this version of vampirism. Like seriously they played Jibreel Black at NT over this guy after he was very good as a junior. Inexplicable. I guess they won't miss him much because they didn't play him?
- Nickelback/S Courtney Avery. Pushed out of corner rotation by freshmen; relegated to rotating in at safety, where he blew coverages because he played them like he was a nickelback. Missed a tackle on Braxton Miller spectacularly.
- SLB Jake Ryan. Was not the barbarian he was as a sophomore with just 4.5 TFLs in his eight games played, but came back from ACL tear in about three weeks so was probably not full-go. Michigan really needs him to return to his terrorizing ways as a senior.
- MLB Desmond Morgan. Better player than he's given credit for; had to deal with way too many free-releasing Gs who saw Michigan's DTs as no threat late; thumper; coverage was pretty solid, at least insofar as when someone tried to dump a ball over Morgan's head he was inches away from making a play.
- CB Blake Countess. Ruthlessly exposed by Tyler Lockett in bowl game; prior to that, largely avoided because when not avoided he was picking off six passes. When not put up against Tyler Lockett, very good, and as a redshirt sophomore. A step up would maybe put him somewhere in the vicinity of All Big Ten.
- CB Raymon Taylor. Targeted extensively; won some; lost some; four INTs of his own, most of them impressive. Run support a problem. Probably good! Probably.
- S Jarrod Wilson. Inexplicably benched midseason like Gordon, then explicably so in the OSU game because he had a huge cast on his hand. Not a playmaker, not a source of WHY DID YOU NO OUCH touchdowns, which is pretty good for a sophomore. Will be relied upon heavily in secondary with little experience other than his person.
- WLB James Ross III. Year lacked impact thanks to poor DT play in front of him; still second on the team in tackles with 85. Never going to be a big guy; needs the defense to shape itself around his abilities by having big ol' absorbers in front so he can slash. Prognosis: maybe.
- SDE Brennen Beyer. Impact rusher early in the year—at least in the context of Michigan's pass rush—faded later; when Ryan came back was shuffled from SAM to SDE, where he was wildly undersized. Hoping for a Roh 2.0 senior season.
- WDE Frank Clark. Total non-factor for first half of season, and just when everyone had given up turned it on and turned in a Tim Jamison-as-a-senior year with 12 TFLs and 4.5 sacks. Somehow became second team All Big Ten with those numbers and 43 total tackles; next year may deserve that.
- DT Willie Henry. When Willie Henry says he trusts a man as far as he can throw them, he means it as a compliment. Massively strong freshman alternated person-hurlin' with guys getting under his pads and blowing him up. Needs technique badly; if he gets it will be fantastic.
- NT Ondre Pipkins. Making some progress when he tore his ACL midseason, complicating many things. Can a very large man keep up the conditioning and recover in time to be effective by fall? Let's hope so.
- MLB Joe Bolden. Sophomore essentially a third starter behind Ross and Morgan; still tends to take hits rather than deliver them; blew a lot of coverages early in the season; figures to reprise role next year.
- SDE/DT Chris Wormley. Tall guy; made a few plays; mostly a nonfactor; freshman.
- An Enormous Pile Of Returning, Undifferentiated Defensive Linemen. Ojemudia, Charlton, Glasgow, Godin, Heitzman, etc.
WHAT'S NEW, OR CLOSE ENOUGH, ANYWAY
Pipkins and Henry are big boys. [Fuller]
A nose tackle! Probably. Also, more size. Michigan's line went from somewhat undersized to massively so when Pipkins went out and Beyer moved from SAM to SDE, giving you a line that often read: Beyer(250 lbs), Black (285), Henry (306), Clark (280). In retrospect, that was asking for it, and Ohio State gave us what we asked for.
Next year Black is out, replaced by some combination of Pipkins, Henry, Maurice Hurst, and maybe Richard Ash. If Henry does get drafted into the nose rotation, Godin and Wormley will probably man the three-tech at 300-ish pounds each. Beyer, meanwhile, will embark on the bacon smoothie diet Craig Roh did as he prepared to play his senior year as an undersized SDE, and while he's still going to be less than ideal at that spot he'll be a lot more plausible at 280.
Jabrill Peppers. Is it too much to hype Jabrill Peppers up as a potential program-changing dude? In year one, probably. But there's an obvious role for him on this defense: boundary corner. Michigan's DBs are generally tiny dudes, and the guys who aren't, like Channing Stribling, are skinny. Michigan could use a 210 pound corner, especially since that pushes Taylor to the nickel package, and that seems like a pretty good nickel package.
Someone next to Wilson. The greatest uncertainty on the defense is who takes over for Thomas Gordon. Josh Furman is an option after getting some playing time late last year; he does not seem like a good one. The other candidates:
- Delano Hill. Claim to fame is being in the middle of OSU fracas that got a couple of contributors booted. Supposedly a guy with a good understanding of safety; definitely a quality athlete.
- Jeremy Clark. 6'4" potential ballhawk will be a redshirt sophomore.
- Dymonte Thomas. Supposed lock starter after spring marginalized; blocked a punt in the opener and missed a tackle when forced into the lineup in the Nebraska game by Countess's concussion.
- Converted Corner. There are a lot of corners and one may get a look further back. Stribling and Reon Dawson are the most likely, because they're not 5'10".
It's nice to have four options instead of two, or one, or zero; there is no indicator who's going to get the nod. Something to watch in spring.
WHAT'S THE FIRST FOUR SEASONS OF BATTLESTAR GALACTICA
Veterans. I've piled the various returning DL into one bullet point and glossed over Channing Stribling and Jourdan Lewis; Michigan loses just two starters and three contributors while returning everyone else. They'll have three year starters at CB (two, in fact), LB (also two), and on the DL (possibly two, depending on how you classify Brennen Beyer).
Depth. Five guys go out the door, and in compensation Michigan gets to age 14 defensive linemen and welcome in Bryan Mone early. Michigan has a solid two deep everywhere on the line save NT, which is still in the air; they return three ILBs with a lot of experience; they may be bumping a senior three year starter to nickel depending on Peppers, and where do Lewis and Stribling go this year, let alone the two corners they redshirted a year ago?
WHAT'S THE LAST SEASON OF BATTLESTAR GALACTICA
Pass rush. Michigan was 70th in sack percentage (sacks / (passing attempts + sacks)) this year, which is worlds better than it felt like. It is still not good. A half step forward from Frank Clark gets him to 8 or 10, and then a full year of a healthy Jake Ryan adds another 5 or 6, and… actually, you're getting towards pretty good already there. There is the potential for this to move into the 30s, which would be a huge boost to every unit's pass defense.
Getting crushed by spread 'n' shreds. This post was going to be a lot sunnier before the last two games of the year, in which Michigan was bludgeoned. Before that they'd turned in a lot of good performances in which they gave up the ghost late. Their one truly bad performance was getting smoked by Indiana, and that was seemingly more for reasons of unfamiliarity and lack of preparation than out-and-out talent.
Then OSU and KSU laid waste. Now you go back and look at Northwestern clubbing Michigan last year only to lose on a Hail Mary and South Carolina's crew of 5'9" speedsters slicing up M's secondary as South Carolina used their QB to paper over the fact their OL couldn't block for their tailback. Or Ohio State putting up 34 in their lost 6-7 year. There seems to be a developing narrative of Michigan failing to contain spread-to-run offenses more often than not. For every 2013 Minnesota there are two 2011 Ohio States. I would say this is reminiscent of the Carr era, but Michigan would have to be a lot better for that to be true.
Getting crushed generally, up the middle. I want to move Henry to nose tackle in my mind, but then 3-tech becomes this jumble of Wormley/Godin/Strobel/Poggi and I'm not sure how confident I am in that. But then: can you rely on Pipkins, and who is your 0.5 starter at nose? Hurst? Ash? I don't want to move Henry out of the starting lineup, but I don't want him trying to play two positions, and I don't want a questionable Pipkins backed up by a freshman.
WHAT'S INEXPLICABLE JIMI HENDRIX
Are the corners actually good? Now we get to extend this argument about Taylor to a larger stage. PRO: between them the two starting CBs had ten interceptions, virtually all of them the impressive sort where the corner makes a play. No batted balls here. CON: Michigan was 49th in YPA allowed at 6.9. PRO: with a crappy pass rush and safety issues. CON: what safety issues?
I'll take 10 INTs and slightly above average pass defense with that pass rush and those huge chunks of yards Stribling and Lewis gave up because of phasing/gypsy issues. Yes, Tyler Lockett annihilated them. Tyler Lockett does that to everybody. Every-damn-body. Against mortals, I would expect Taylor/Countess to be a high quality pairing. But, you know… Lockett.
What about James Ross? He was supposed to be the bees' knees according to someone. Oh, right, me. He was kind of eh, his year bookended by passing spread after passing spread in which he was mostly dropping into zones effectively and injury. More than anyone else he was hurt by having Black and Henry as DTs, as those guys tended to dart into the backfield to do something and get all the credit or get blown up. In the first case there was a guy releasing into him free; in the second he had to try to pick around three guys moving the wrong way to make his read worth anything.
I think Ross will be good if Michigan can keep him clean.
Oh good another new safety. I hate new safeties.
MANDATORY WILD-ASS GUESS
Despite the alarming trend at the end of the year, the arrow does point up for this outfit, which loses very few contributors and has a ton of guys competing to break through into the starting lineup. There are something like five cornerbacks I'd be relatively confident to see on the field, which is 3-5 more than usual. The linebackers return almost entirely intact; the line does as well. They should be better—possibly a lot better.
The major looming issue is defensive tackle. The Pipkins injury was the worst possible one for the defense to suffer, as they have scant options right now a position on the field where you need at least 1.5 starters.
I don't think I can predict this is a top 10-ish defense without one elite DL, and I don't think I see that happening. Clark and Henry both have potential; I don't think either is going to truly blow up. But plenty of depth and experience everywhere should provide Michigan an opportunity to cut down on the mistakes significantly and ramp it up against everyone who can't just maul them on the line. How many teams will be able to do that… let's say two? Two.
I still think this is a unit that takes a leap forward next year. It's a leap forward from ten spots further back now, but a legit top 20 outfit is my median expectation.
Wot it sez up dere^. Despite the blowout nature we got a good look last Saturday at the various positions that Michigan will rotate this season. So I charted who was in at what spot for every play. The results (link to Google doc):
Here's your starting defense, with everybody in their base 4-3 under spots. I want to self-congratulate the MGoStaff for nailing the starting lineup in HTTV with the exception of free safety, since Avery, though out of the lineup, was nominally ahead of Wilson on the depth chart.
The corners lined up to the field or boundary; the line was usually aligned to the formation but then CMU usually aligned to the boundary anyway. The safeties were always lined up to the formation. They split who ended up the deeper guy; usually it was the field guy, and usually that was Wilson.
There was heavy rotation in the front four, an almost even three-man rotation in the linebackers, and the secondary stayed put until it was time to empty the bench. It was rotation, not platooning; guys would go in for a certain number of plays then come out. I charted 44 non-garbage (before 14:59 of the 3rd quarter) plays; rotations as follows:
[Jump for breakdown, nickel, garbage time]
Heininger Certainty Principle passed its first two tests with QWash and Campbell (Upchurch)
It’s our weekly roundtable to talk about things that Michigan fans—and by Michigan fans I mean just me—are obsessing about. In honor of the family road trips you just got back from, this week’s it’s a great big “Are we there yet?” In the game:
PRESS AGENT #4
SOCIAL MEDIA DIRECTOR #89
STATISTICAL ANALYST/THERAPIST #58
In 2011 Michigan was 6th in scoring defense, 17th in total defense, and 16th in defensive FEI. In 2012 Michigan finished 19th in scoring defense, 13th in total D, and 26th in defensive FEI. Do you consider that treading water, an expected fall given the DL graduations and tougher schedule, or a veiled improvement? And where do you see this trend going in 2013?
Seth: I admit this topic was a little brought on by panic after getting persistently torched in NCAA 14, which could just mean that Desmond Morgan is way better at playing as Desmond Morgan than I am.
Michigan didn't take a significant step back in 2012, which I would consider a victory. Replace WMU, SDSU, and Virginia Tech with Air Force, Alabama, and South Carolina, and you're gonna have a bad time. Factor in a regression to the mean on the fumble recoveries and the lack of Mike Martin, and those defensive numbers look pretty good to me. They actually gave up about 3 ppg fewer in conference in 2012 despite a tougher road/away split (though obvious BIG TENNNNN caveat applies). 2012 also felt more repeatable, though I have no objective means to demonstrate this.
I don't think 2013 is the Great Leap Forward, but I think we'll see continued progress. The numbers will probably look shinier if for no other reason than the easier schedule, but I'd bet on the defense being 'better' as well. The secondary will be more athletic, which should go a long way toward helping combat the 2012 struggles with spread teams. Hopefully Dymonte Thomas can indeed be deployed as the spread neutralizer. The ILBs will probably still have some struggles with the learning curve (and the training table), but last year's experience should lessen the pain. The meat of the schedule doesn't arrive until November, by which point Jake Ryan will hopefully be settling back onto his throne of skulls and flow. Questions remain on the D-Line, but Will Heininger. /Offers a small running back as a sacrifice to the Mattison. Praise be unto the Mattison. May his swag reign for a hundred seasons.
Mathlete: When I was preparing my pre-season projections, I compared the the 2013 Michigan defense profile to teams from the last several years, the nearest comparison, 2012 Michigan. In terms of production returning, recruiting profile and prior year performance this year's defense looks a lot like last year's squad. The turnover randomness could swing things a bit and with a strong group of underclassmen and Greg Mattison, there is certainly potential for upside.
The schedule should help mitigate the statistical rank downside risk, but if there was going to be a year where things took a step back, this looks like the only candidate. With that said, I don't see that happening. Defenses are a lot more stable and predictable in performance than offenses. Look at experience, look at recruiting profile, check to see that there are no stuffed animals on the sidelines and you should have a pretty good idea where your defense will end up. I rank this year's defense as the 10th most talented (based on age and recruiting profiles) in the country and they return nearly three quarters of their production from last year's squad. It appears we caught a break with the schedule and the timing of Jake Ryan's ACL tear with a Tommy Rees led Notre Dame offense the only major game he should miss. There is always a chance things don't turn out, but I don't see anything that says this year will be a major step back and if anything a few areas that could be signs that 2013 could be a step forward.
Seth: You guys keep denigrating my skills at videogame defense, as if you're not just mashing the "plow" button with Quinton Washington every play while trusting Gibson to run your defensive backs. To answer my question above, I thought Washington's emergence was very significant. The drop-off from Martin and Van Bergen to not them was going to be steep, and it happened but the linebackers improved to such a degree as to make it null. I blame the schedule and losing Countess early to any discrepancy (J.T. Floyd wasn't as solid against the Kenny Bells as he had been in 2011 vs. the big leapers). I also blame offensive regression for the difference in scoring D.
Things are still coming along. Other than Air Force—blessedly we don't face one of those again—the defense didn't have any game where they performed significantly below expectations. Mattison didn't like the Nebraska game but raise of hands who thinks that was on the D? Northwestern is a legitimately good offense, even when Trevor Siemian isn't turning into an unstoppable throw god.
I'm less concerned about who rotates in at 5-tech since there's a lot of meat for the meat god there, and Heitzman wasn't so bad last year. What worries me is what we'll look like early. Jibreel Black versus Notre Dame's offensive line, and Jarrod Wilson versus a Brian Kelly passing attack: those are what scare me. Wilson will be good one day but right now he appears to be a big dropoff from Kovacs and needs some starts in a bad way. Later in the year I think we'll have more faces appearing at the 3- and 5-tech rotations, with contributions from Wormley, Henry, Godin, Strobel, and backup options including a highly regarded true freshman, or the other Glasgow, or even some of that Washington-Pipkins action they keep denying. They'll be a much better defense when they face Ohio State than when Notre Dame comes to town; in the aggregate they’ll look better in yardage thanks to competition but tread water otherwise.
Blue in South Bend: I think having Countess back will be huge. I'd remind you that with him in the game, we held Alabama to a three-and-out (miniscule sample size National Champions wooooo). I do worry about whether Wilson can prevent the home run plays the way Kovacs did, but overall I do think the secondary will be a surprising strength of this team.
/Offers a second small running back to a dormant but extant Angry Michigan Secondary Hating God.
/Mashes "plow" button.
Anyway: I spent a large chunk of last offseason fretting about that fumble recovery rate and expecting something less than impressive as a result, and that was kind of borne out. Michigan did take a half-step back last season, because that's the kind of thing that happens when you go from Mike Martin to one guy with the vague hope of beating a blocker one on one (Jake Ryan). Michigan explored the outer limits of how good a defense can be when you have almost no natural pass rush or athleticism in the secondary. Turns out the answer is "actually not that bad, at least compared to the GERG years."
I think Michigan will get back that half-step this year. There appear to be two major upgrades in the personnel turnover: Countess replaces JT Floyd and James Ross functionally replaces Kenny Demens. While I spent the duration of Demens's career talking about his surprisingly good coverage, Ross should blow by him as a player right now. Floyd spent most of his career on the edge of getting bombed; though he managed to come through repeated targetings mostly okay the fact that every offensive coordinator on the schedule decided to spin that slot machine was indicative. Meanwhile, Frank Clark and Jake Ryan post-injury should adequately replace Jake Ryan.
I'm still not seeing a great defense what with no pass rush from the interior three guys unless Jibreel Black blows up in a way that would frankly shock me. I don't see how a 280 pound three-tech holds up in the Big Ten, don't see much production out of SDE, and while those spots were not exactly gangbusters last year, a lack of developed talent on the defensive line remains a problem.
2014 is when this can get nasty. Michigan returns 8 starters, losing only five guys off the entire two deep: Washington, Black, Cam Gordon, Avery, Thomas Gordon. They add Jabrill Peppers, and Hoke's first recruiting class will finally be ready to infiltrate the starting lineup in earnest. A senior will have--get this--been in the same system his entire career. Craig Roh just started weeping uncontrollably and doesn't know why. He suspects why, he always does, though.
LATE BREAKING Heiko: Well, I guess I'll put in my two cents.
/Doesn't receive change.
I love the defense. I get weirdly excited when Michigan's defense takes the field, because I love watching a well-executed stop take the air out of the other team. The comforting thing about the defense over the past couple years is that they always seem to get better as the game goes on. In Michigan's seven losses since 2011, how many of them can be blamed primarily on the defense (i.e. defense let the offense down)? Only one: the Outback bowl vs. South Carolina, where Michigan was playing without its top two corners and therefore got bombed by SC's receivers.
In fact I think watching the defense improve last year after losing Martin and Van Bergen was something I clung to after it became apparent that the offense was in for a season-long struggle against good teams.
Are we ready to expand the Heininger Certainty Principle to apply to the entire defense? I think so. In contrast to last year's interior OL and tailbacks, no part of the defense has failed to improve over the course of the season. We already know about the D-line, but the linebackers and secondary each had question marks about their viability also at one point or another. Remember when "linebacker hesitancy" was a thing? Or when everyone panicked after Countess's ACL injury? I mean, here we are in 2013, and it's like we knew all along about Quinton Washington and Desmond Morgan and Raymon Taylor. High five.
Maybe it's because I've been primed to consider any defensive competency the best thing ever (I came to Michigan in 2008), but I think we're already at a place where we can count on Michigan smothering most opponents. Depending on how quickly guys like Chris Wormley, Dymonte Thomas, and Jarrod Wilson get up to starter speed, it'll be a question of whether Michigan ends up in the top 10 or top 20, and I think most of us will happily take that.