Eleven months ago I used this space to discuss Michigan's crazy success in defensive short situations. That was brought on by a staggering performance against Illinois, at which point Michigan had stopped 15 of 27 3rd- or 4th-and-one situations, and 13 of 19 against real competition. This was up from stopping less than a quarter of such plays the previous two years, and almost as far above the going rate for all defenses.
This was huge. Getting one yard for any offense is far easier that stopping it for any defense—one good block can usually do it. Forcing a 4th down situation from 3rd and 1 or a turnover on downs on 4th and 1 is worth half a turnover or more. Jamie Mac addressed this further in his HTTV article, showing that the stoppage situation was affecting the happy margin between our yards-ceded defense and scoring defense as much as having a ridiculous year in turnover luck.
Michigan last year was really good at stopping the short stuff, but folks chalked it up to Martin and Van Bergen playing to their strengths and figured it was a blip. Except it wasn't just those guys. Here's last year's chart for short situations, through OSU:
|Ryan Van Bergen||6.5||0|
|Craig Roh (right/Heiko)||6||0|
|Campbell, Hawthorne & Heinigner||2.5||0|
|Black, Morgan, and Woolfolk||1||0|
|Herron and Beyer||0||-1|
Two thirds of Michigan's short-down production from last year returned (as did bad refs). Demens, Roh, Ryan, Kovacs, and Campbell were all key role players in that ridiculous shutdown rate, and if the UFR can be trusted, they weren't getting it just because of things the Team 132 seniors were doing.
This doesn't even count things like stopping Ohio State on 3rd and goal from the 2. Actually it doesn't count goal line situations at all, though 1st and goal from the 1 is as hard to stop as 3rd and 1 from the 40. So I revisited when updating the UFR database. Get ready to be happy (through MSU):
|Year||--FCS and MAC removed--||--All Opponents--|
|Stopped!||They got it :(||Stop %||Stopped!||They got it :(||Stop %|
It's still happening. It's happening more. We replaced Martin and RVB with Washington and Campbell, and if anything got better! And like last year Michigan's short defense seems to be getting tougher as the season goes on. Since Big Ten play started, the non-stops have read thusly: Purdue converting with 16 seconds left in the half while down 18, Illinois benefiting from a terrible spot, two plays where Bell was forced to cut back into the pile and just managed to squeak through, and one bust.
[After the jump, what's causing it, and the plays vs. State]
Michigan's best DL, DB, LB / Upchurch
The point of our "draft-o-snark" this summer was to be cute while previewing the great players in our conference and trying to show where the Michigan Men™ fit among them. Now mid-way through the season we look back on those picks to see how smart your MGoBloggers were, and more importantly who are really the best players in the conference. Offense lives here (and comments are now turned on—oops about that). Googledoc spreadsheet of the draft is here. Part II is here:
Tackles (Bolding my selections for All-B1G)
Who's Winning: The defensive line was weirdly easy to predict. Short and Hankins have indeed been the best two tackles in the conference, and both are still mentioned among first round NFL picks for 2013 (Hankins is considered among the best in the draft). We got a nice comparison between Short and Akeem Spence (caveat: conditions) over the last two games and got to see the difference between the two-gapping Short who needs to be planned around, and the active Spence who doesn't often blow something up alone. Beau Allen has been a problem for Wisconsin, but Heiko's guys have been playing well. Roh's contributions, as mentioned yesterday, have been the kind that don't show up in the stats. He has been Michigan's best lineman.
At rush end, Simon should have better numbers but teams are isolating him or picking on OSU's secondary before he can disrupt much; he's seen as a 3rd or 4th round pick, behind Gholston and Buchanan. Gholston hasn't been the cheap trick Brian made him out to be, as he and Marcus Rush have been about evenly productive for State, however Michael Buchanan has notably passed Gholston in stats and in the eyes of the draft gurus. From here there's kind of a precipice. Ra'shede Hageman, Brian's late sleeper pick, got some press and made some draft boards, but production-wise there were plenty better sleepers left on the board. LT2 is now a tight end; I'm not at all unhappy about this.
Guys we should have drafted: I had Indiana's 3T/5T Adam Replogle higher on my draft chart, then stupidly went for flash with Lawrence Thomas. Stupid stupid 40 tackles, 7 TFLs, 5 sacks, Indiana's entire defense stupid. Iowa's defense has been sneaky good since they entered Big Ten play, in large part thanks to the play of DE Joe Gaglione (above), a 5th year senior who had just 7 tackles before 2012; this year he has 35, among them 9 TFLs and 4 sacks. Northwestern's Tyler Scott, a 3T/5T tweener, is making an All Big Ten bid with 6 sacks (28 tackles) plus a winning smile and all the right words to make the conference elders say "what a nice young man." Scott is tied for the sack lead with Nebraska's Eric Martin, who has been somewhat less grandpa-friendly.
DL Standings: 1. (Sigh) Heiko, whom I have to give credit for getting better than expected out of all for guys, 2. Seth, 3. Brian, 4. Northwestern, 5. Indiana, 6. Nebraska, 7. Indiana State, 8. Ace
[LBs, DBs, and special teams after the jump]
DEPARTURES IN ORDER OF SIGNIFICANCE
Van Bergen and Martin, Heininger
- NT Mike Martin. Penetrating, active nose tackle a major factor in Michigan's massive improvement in run defense; forced a pitch on a speed option; late-season run was absolute dominance; backed up by air, hope, and freshmen.
- SDE Ryan Van Bergen. Crafty veteran and iron man was less explosive than Martin but not by much; turned in huge OSU game; consistent production in UFR even if the actual numbers aren't that amazing; backed up by walk-on.
- DT Will Heininger. Walk-on evolved from liability against MAC teams to solid, maybe even better than that, Big Ten DT; made a play or two every game after the nonconference schedule; replacement will be Will Campbell and the hope he can finally play some football.
CB/S Troy Woolfolk. Bounced from CB to S throughout career; basically a NEVER FORGET poster all to himself after series of injuries robbed him of all or much of his senior year twice; marginalized by injury and burned by Posey; did not start Sugar Bowl.
- JB Fitzgerald. Touted recruit never managed to see the field except on occasional snaps spotting Demens or playing DE under GERG.
- Brandon Herron. Scored two touchdowns against WMU and was never heard from again.
- Jared Van Slyke. Saw some snaps due to injury over the course of his career.
Kovacs, Ryan, Roh
- SS Jordan Kovacs. Never going to be a great deep half guy but the best damn tiny linebacker there's ever been; great tackling in space; great angles; huge part of Michigan's lack of big plays given up; best safety since at least Marcus Ray and probably further back.
- SLB Jake Ryan. Explosive edge athlete with a burst opponents are unprepared for; did get confused sometimes as a freshman; outstanding flow; nickel DE.
- WDE Craig Roh. Solid, but did not provide the explosive edge rush Michigan was hoping for. May end up moving to SDE, but his size and body type seemingly disqualifies him from that.
- CB Blake Countess. Touted recruit stepped into the starting lineup when Woolfolk was struck down and played very well; crappy edge tackling needs work; had tough close to the season against OSU and VT.
- CB JT Floyd. Resurrected his career and even turned in a big play or three along the way; jumped a route against Illinois to salt that game away; best technique amongst cover guys; still not that fast; also crappy edge tackling.
- MLB Kenny Demens. Ate a lot of blocks after move to new system; hopefully will get more decisive in year two; highly underrated cover guy; not much of a blitzer; may seem a lot better if the NT in front of him is a space eater instead of a penetrator.
- FS Thomas Gordon. Also a big part of Michigan's excellent big play prevention; largely exempted from secondary criticism after OSU game because he was not on the field for the worst of it; sweet-ass interception against EMU; probably a better fit at SS.
WLB Desmond Morgan. Wrested the job away from a couple veterans once he got healthy, whereupon he was okay for a freshman; problems in coverage; problems with misdirection; a big chunk of Michigan's outside vulnerability; will either improve or see someone yoink his job.
- Nickelback Courtney Avery. Diminutive but quality underneath cover guy; PBU and INT sealed OSU game; also a crappy edge tackler; fine option as a third corner.
- WDE Jibreel Black. Spotted Roh, could not take his job; may be a candidate to move to SDE if he can put on the weight; emergence of Frank Clark threatens to cut into playing time.
- DT Will Campbell. Alternates tossing his man into the quarterback with passive acceptance of blocks. Conditioning and effort an issue.
- WLB Brandin Hawthorne. Tiny safety-sized LB a man without a position after Michigan ditched the 3-3-5.
WHAT'S NEW, OR CLOSE ENOUGH, ANYWAY
please don't be our DT.
Most of the DL. YAYAYAYAYAYAYYYYYYYYY. The best unit on the team is strip-mined by eligibility expiration, leaving the next generation to… oh, right, the next generation doesn't exist. Fantastic.
Michigan's options at SDE are redshirt junior walk-on Nate Brink, who saw occasional snaps this year and was blown up on 80% of them, guys no one has seen or heard from like Jordan Paskorz, or true freshmen. At defensive tackle they've got two spots to fill and two guys who have seen meaningful snaps, Quinton Washington and Will Campbell. Kenny Wilkins and Richard Ash exist, Chris Rock will be coming off a redshirt, and there are some freshmen arriving. The most prominent is 330-pound tank/battleship/Hoke impersonator Ondre Pipkins.
I'll wait for you to finish retching.
All right! We retched it real good! Anyway. Massive dropoff is all but inevitable here. I'm betting Brink, Pipkins, and Campbell are your opening-day starters with Washington a guy who rotates in on the interior; Godin, Strobel, and Wormley will all play immediately due to necessity, leaping past Wilkins and Ash. Rock may also get some PT.
Nothing else. So we've got that going for us. Except…
Maybe WLB. Desmond Morgan is far from invulnerable at WLB, especially with Joe Bolden and Kaleb Ringer enrolling early. James Ross is extensively praised for his play identification ability and should be a candidate for early playing time. Teeny-tiny Antonio Poole is coming off a redshirt and is presumably less teeny-tiny.
That is a lot of guys vying for a single starting spot, many of them more athletic than Morgan at a spot that puts a premium on athleticism. Meanwhile, Kenny Demens is backed up by Mike Jones and more freshmen. Like Omameh, displacing him from the starting lineup provides an ancillary benefit by creating a quality backup where there is none already.
WHAT'S THE FIRST FOUR SEASONS OF BATTLESTAR GALACTICA
Sanity. O Mattison, without whom we are naught, yea, verily doth we bring these burnt offerings to your lustrous feet. May they keep your pecs jiggling as they command our forces to do something wondrous.
Experience. Michigan has it with eight starters back. For the first time since Carr's final season Michigan will go into the year running the same thing they did the year before. Run and tell that.
Depth at linebacker and quasi-linebacker. Michigan may have to pirate one of the three valid options at WDE to help out on the other side of the line but right now you can have decent confidence in any of Roh, Black, and Clark. At SLB, Ryan is a bust-out star, Brennen Beyer is coming off a freshman season with some promise and a role in short yardage, and Cam Gordon's still hanging around. In the middle, a flood of touted freshmen arrive to back up returning starters; Poole is also around.
Bending but not breaking. Kovacs and Gordon gave up vanishingly few big plays over the course of the season; both return.
WHAT'S THE LAST SEASON OF BATTLESTAR GALACTICA
The line, obviously. There's some talent there but if Michigan doesn't experience a massive backslide it's time to assume that Michigan's DL will be great as long as Hoke and Mattison and Montgomery are around.
okay, but what about, like, teams other than Western Michigan?
Getting to the quarterback. Roh did not blow up as we hoped and most of the options to replace other guys are ponderous. Campbell and Washington and Pipkins are going to be the sorts of guys who shove a couple dudes at the LOS on passing plays. Michigan got away with a lack of pass rush from the outside last year because a couple of their inside guys were great penetrators; next year Michigan needs their outside LB types (WDE and SLB) to MAKE PLAYS or opposing quarterbacks will be able to grow small businesses in the pocket.
Secondary athleticism. I love Kovacs with all of the hearts and think whatever athleticism he lacks is more than made up for by his smarts. At this point I'm not sure athleticism is even an issue. I can't remember the last time it came up in a game.
The rest of the secondary… we don't know about. Sometimes you're going to get burned over the top. When you have great recovery speed you can live. When you don't you die, which happened to Michigan time and again against Devier Posey. JT Floyd is much better but isn't likely to get a sniff from the NFL; Countess and Avery are faster but little buggers ill-suited to take on the Michael Floyds of the world. Thomas Gordon has decent to good speed; he still got burned over the top big time by Nebraska.
There are no blazers and the big guy in the secondary is almost kind of maybe outright slow. Yeah. So… could be an issue.
WHAT'S INEXPLICABLE JIMI HENDRIX
Can these coaches salvage the line? Tell me lies, baby.
How ready to play are some of these freshmen? If Bolden comes in and rips Morgan's job away from him that's probably good, but we're really talking about Ondre Pipkins, Chris Wormley, Tom Strobel, and Matt Godin here. Pipkins all but has to start from day one and two of the other three will be frequently-used depth guys.
Are the cornerbacks for real? They seemed fantastic over the first 11 games but the results against OSU and VT are alarming.
MANDATORY WILD-ASS GUESS
I'm torn. There is a case for a backslide despite returning eight starters. For one, the fumbles will not be as plentiful. For two, a lot of Michigan's weakness was covered up by Mike Martin being essentially unblockable the back half of the season and Van Bergen being so reliable. I'm worried that without those two, Michigan is going to have issues. In the best case scenario the new guys prevent OL from getting to the second level, making a lot of plays available for the linebackers that the linebackers might not make. I also don't see where the heat comes from.
But they do return eight starters and go from year one to year two in the same system. They seem pretty injury-resilient at spots that aren't Jordan Kovacs and bring in a lot of talented freshmen. They will be much older at just about every spot.
It's mandatory, though, so… yeah, they'll be worse. The lack of consistent pressure will be a year-long problem that exposes some of the issues in the secondary and the linebackers are not at the level they need to be to benefit from planetoid DL.
Sacks backslide into the bottom half of D-I after finishing 29th, total defense slides into the 30s, and the scoring defense does not repeat its top ten performance from a year ago.
Rimington: acquired. David Molk is your 2011 Rimington winner as the nation's best center:
I haven't watched every snap of every other center's career in detail, but I have watched Molk and I would have scoffed if he didn't win. Good move, Rimington award. The scoffing… you don't want this, son.
With the award and the first-team All-American status that goes with it, Molk will be one of the guys you randomly stumble across pages for on the Bentley site when trying to figure out all-decade teams. He'll show up in an endzone of Michigan Stadium at some point, grudgingly waving at the crowd. This makes me happy.
Future centers need not apply for the 2010s All-Decade team, by the way. Your application is as likely to be successful as Charlie Weis getting another head coaching—SKREEEEEEEEETCH
Carry on my Weighward son. So this happened:
I'm still waiting for Orson to email the Kansas AD asking "who are you and when did you think of this," thus exposing the brilliant hoax. Because that ain't real. Kansas did not just hire an old sociopath whose college tenure is spectacular failure at Notre Dame and leading the Florida offense into walrusball territory. They did not shell out three million a year for him. These are not things that happen without Batman villains intervening in the water supply.
In the unlikely event this is a real thing that really happened, Michigan needs to schedule an annual series with Kansas. That's how you create the future, by causing the media to reminisce about things that your fanbase remembers as awesome.
Weis II >>>>>>>> Horror II. EFACT.
And now a word from Orson.
YEAH THE REASONS YOU CAME HERE WHATEVER I DON'T CARE I ASSUME YOU CAME WITH A SKI MASK ON AND SHOULD LEAVE WITH ONE BECAUSE YOU STOLE MONEY AT NOTRE DAME AND YOU STOLE MONEY FROM FLORIDA AND NOW YOU'RE GOING TO KANSAS AND THAT MAKES YOU SOME KIND OF SUBTROPICAL DEPRESSION THAT GUSTS INTO PRESS CONFERENCES RAINS TURNOVERS ON AN OFFENSE AND THEN SUCKS THE CASH OUT OF THE AIR BEFORE BLOWING INTO THE NEXT STOP. WE BOUGHT THE MONORAIL. WE DIDN'T SEE A WICKED THING COMING THIS WAY. WE WROTE THE CHECK AND SAID SURE YOU SEEM TRUSTWORTHY PERSON WHO LOST TO GREG ROBINSON AT SYRACUSE ON YOUR OWN HALLOWED HOME FIELD.
THEN YOU LEAVE AND THAT'S GREAT. SERIOUSLY I WOULD HAVE THROWN BATTERIES AT YOU AT THE BOWL GAME. YOU THINK I'M JOKING BUT I'M NOT MY FRIEND JON SAID "I'M GOING TO THROW BATTERIES AT HIM" AND FOR ONCE THIS MADE SO MUCH EMOTIONAL SENSE TO ME. I WOULD HAVE FELT BETTER. MY HATE AND FRUSTRATION WOULD HAVE CHARGED THE BATTERY AND THEN LEFT ME IN ONE CATHARTIC JOLT IN A CLEAN TRANSFER OF ENERGY FROM ME TO THE BATTERY TO YOUR WORTHLESS CARCASS. I WOULD HAVE FELT BETTER EVEN WITH THE MISDEMEANOR ASSAULT CHARGE. I REALLY WOULD HAVE ESPECIALLY AFTER I WATCHED YOU MAKE UP THAT BULLSHIT PLAN FOR THE GEORGIA GAME AND WATCHED US DIE IN PERSON FOR THE ENTIRE SECOND HALF SERIOUSLY YOU OWE JOHN BRANTLEY SEVEN YEARS ON HIS LIFE.
And now let's reminisce.
"They're going to have to learn about us, OK? Let them try to stop a pro-style offense, which has multiple personnel groups and multiple formations. Let's see how they are going to do. They've had their advantage because I've come into recruiting late. Well, now it's Xs and Os time. Let's see who has the advantage now."
I wrote a thing after the above game with a photoshop Kansas fans may want to have handy.
The only wonder is that the media spent the better part of 2.5 years pumping him up as Weis E. Coyote, Certified Super Genius, largely because Weis spent every available moment telling the media that he and his ACME catalog of incredibly sophisticated devices were worth a foolproof touchdown every game. Somehow I doubt even Tyrone Willingham would have Notre Dame scoring -7 points per game.
The result of all these fantastic toys? Literally nothing. No touchdowns. No rushing yards. No hope.
No hope… no hope. [Kansas football flatlines.]
A witch! Find the witch! If you're wondering why the parents of former Michigan commits are telling recruiting reporters that their sons are qualified, yesterday Rivals claimed a current commit was not likely to make it past the clearinghouse and please don't speculate as to who, which worked as well as it always does: not at all. At least the Inquisition didn't last long. When Anthony Standifer decommitted soon after, two was added to two.
I'm not sure what the deal is here. Michigan's main competition for Standifer was Notre Dame, not often hot after kids who won't qualify. In the Trieu article above his mom doesn't sound mad, claiming it was a mutual breakup:
"Both parties have decided to go their separate ways."
So, whatever. For whatever reason Michigan is down one Standifer. This has two major impacts:
- Michigan probably wants another defensive back. Hot prospect is current PSU commit Armani Reeves, a four-star corner Michigan finished second for back when Penn State didn't have… events. He seems to be opening it back up; it appears M was ready to grab Yuri Wright even with Standifer in the class and would probably take both Wright and Reeves without thinking twice.
- If Michigan handled this poorly there could be some fallout with LaQuon Treadwell, the 2013 WR from Standifer's school who has visited multiple times and seems to favor M. FWIW, Ace has a report on that indicating it won't impact his decision.
And now: children who hate football. The father in the first one is kind of a jerk.
Try not to think of the latter one the next time Michigan loses a game.
The coming funpocalypse. Every report that BCS automatic qualifier status is probably gone further enhances the belief that BCS AQ status is probably gone. The bigger issue is if the cap on the number of teams per conference will be lifted, as that will determine who benefits from the AQ removal: Boise State or SEC #3? Actually, with Boise now moving to the Big East, they're hurt by this. They finally wrangle themselves an autobid just in time for them to go up in smoke. They have been trolled expertly.
Every report that an expanded playoff field is inevitable further enhances the belief that Jim Delany is a Centauri diplomat. Andy Staples quoting Stanford's AD:
"I happen to agree with my conference colleagues about the plus-one game," Stanford athletic director Bob Bowlsby said Wednesday. "I think it's inevitable at this point."
That's the Pac-12, man. With the Big 12 having their Okie State hissy, the SEC and ACC already on board, and the Big East able to calculate the chances of one of their teams ever getting in a two-team playoff, the Big Ten is about to be dragged into an arrangement they don't want. As I said, Delany should have thought about the slippery slope in 1998, not now.
In other quotes that make me pump my fist:
[After complaining about the Sugar Bowl, Kansas State AD John] Currie then said something that should strike fear into the hearts of overpaid, underworked bowl directors everywhere, because while Currie may be the jilted, angry one now, he isn't the only administrator who feels this way. "College football doesn't need the bowls like it once did to build the brand of college football," Currie said. In other words, the schools and conferences can stage exhibition games on their own at a far lower cost, increasing their profits and cutting the bowls out of the equation entirely.
YES THIS YES. The NCAA needs goofballs in yellow jackets in no way whatsoever.
Staples also discusses a potential split in D-I between haves and have-nots, something I either don't care about (if the split does not prevent you from scheduling lower division teams) or adore (if it does).
Well, maybe. Meinke starts the fretting about next year's defensive line with some quotes from defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery. This is the most interesting:
One question that likely will fester into fall camp: Will either Roh, who will be a senior fourth-year starter next year, or sophomore Jibreel Black be moved from weak-side to strong-side end to replace Van Bergen?
They both played well this season on the weak side, so splitting them could be a way of getting the best 11 on the field.
Montgomery's answer: "It could happen, but I’m telling you, Nathan Brink is going to be a good football player. To say anyone is going to pass him at five-technique (is premature)."
When Brink got hyped up in preseason camp, that was a sign the world was ending at the Will Campbell spot. When he immediately faded in favor of Will Heininger, that was a sign things were even worse than implied when one walk-on was in the conversation. And Heininger had some struggles early.
Then a funny thing happened: Heininger stopped getting beat up by Eastern Michigan…
If the rest of the line did this there'd be nothing. Unfortunately, this is Will Heininger's fate (second from the top in the first frame):
You can see the blue stripe. Roh has his helmet on it. Heininger ends up a yard behind it and sealed away. That middle frame is a butt-kicking, and the third frame is the result: two Michigan players with no hope of making a tackle.
…and settled into a brief period of anonymity before emerging into a pretty good player late in the year. Heininger has been consistently positive in UFRs since about the midpoint of the season, and while he's not Mike Martin or Ryan Van Bergen he's far more effective than folks like Banks and Patterson were last year.
This realigns our perceptions. Michigan has never been a place that could get mileage out of walk-ons like Iowa or Wisconsin, so the default assumption has been walkons == doom. In certain cases (say, inserting a freshman student-body walk-on into the starting lineup) that remains true. But if Brink fends off Roh and Black for a job at five-tech there's reason to believe he'll be able to hack it.
Given his brief windows of play so far he'll have to improve massively to get there, but, hey, Will Heininger.
This year, last year. Stolen from the depths of the internet, a man who goes only by "Jeff" posts Michigan's plays of X yards or more allowed this year and last year:
Plays of 80+ yards - 2010 3, 2011 0
Plays of 70+ yards - 2010 4, 2011 0
Plays of 60+ yards - 2010 7, 2011 0
Plays of 50+ yards - 2010 8, 2011 2
Plays of 40+ yards - 2010 15, 2011 6
Plays of 30+ yards - 2010 29, 2011 13
Plays of 20+ yards - 2010 64, 2011 41
Plays of 10+ yards - 2010 211, 2011 150
Note that these numbers include *all* plays of longer than 10+, 20+, not plays for 10-19 yards, plays for 20-29 yards, etc. - we didn't give up 7 plays for 70+ yards in 2010, we gave up 3 for 80-100 and 1 for 70-79.
That is slight improvement there. Safeties, safeties, safeties. The difference doesn't really kick into full force until you get to plays of 30 and 40 yards. Too bad the defense had a bit of a meltdown against OSU or that plays of >30 yards number would be ridiculously low.
Etc.: Video from the 1930s. Of Michigan Stadium. The Daily notes that there are two guys in lobster costumes in the student section calling themselves "Smotrycz's Lobstryczs," which is incredible. You men are heroes.
Are you glad you scheduled San Diego State? "Uh ... no."
How did this game turn into running Denard 25 times? Was that part of the game plan? “Uh, no, we don’t want to get him beat up. We’re going to play in a pretty physical league, so we have to make sure we get it out of the way. I thought Vince and those guys did a nice job. Vince and Touss’, did a good job running the football. It takes a toll on your body. He’s not the biggest guy in the world.”
How much of defensive struggle in the first quarter was them outscheming you vs. them winning the battle up front? “I think that the jet sweep, which is part of their offense -- it hasn’t been a huge part depending on different things that you watch game-wise, but I thought that was really where they hurt us early in the football game. But after the guys settled down and got used to where they tried to leverage you, they played pretty well.”
Can Vincent Smith be the lead back? “He ran the ball pretty well today. Until you analyze it, look at it, and really evaluate it, I would hate to say that.”
Thomas Gordon made two big plays. Talk about him, please. “Thomas had a really good summer, and it starts there [with] what he did with his weight and how he reported to camp. I think his attitude and Michigan football being important to him, and his teammates being important, and just the way he’s come to practice everyday, I’m really proud of him for doing those things. It’s paying off for him and paying off for us.”
Did the team seem flat early? “No -- [Eastern Michigan’s coaches] are good coaches too. I think they had a good plan. I think a lot of the movement and some of those things, they’re a little bit unconventional as it is from that standpoint. I thought they did a good job.”
What can you do to get passing game going? “I think we just have to be better with our feet. Setting our feet on some of our throws. That’s usually where it starts with our quarterback. We need to do a better job there. It would have helped with some possessions early in the ballgame, if we make a couple first downs.”
This is the third game you started slow on defense. Is there a way to combat that? “If there was, I think we would have tried to do that. We just have to execute some things better. There’s not a real answer to it besides we have to keep working on it and keep playing hard with it. Guys have to do a great job in practice, which they have. That part of our team has really made some good strides. It’s coming along.”
Can you talk about in-game adjustments to shore up defense? “You always have the things that you want to run from a defensive perspective. And there’s also things that may be on the fringe. We were pretty vanilla and pretty base today. But there’s a couple movements Greg called that helped us. A couple adjustments coverage-wise that helped us. More on the run support than the actually coverage.”
When it was 28-3, did you think about giving Devin some snaps? “Not really. I’ve been around this game a long time, and I never feel real comfortable until it’s :00 on the clock. We wanted to down and put the ball in the endzone, and unfortunately we didn’t.”
Assess how the defensive front did today. “I felt them a little more this week. I felt Mike, I felt Craig, and Ryan. I felt those three guys than I have.”
Running game -- what started clicking for you, and how big was it to have Vincent Smith to complement Denard? “It’s huge. I’m not going to sit here and tell you it’s not. The offensive staff came in at halftime, and said, ‘This is what we liked, this is how we’re want to align it formationally, this is how we need to tweak the blocking of it,’ and it went pretty well. Vince did a nice job. He made one cut too many on one run, but he did a nice job with his vision, and I thought Fitz did also.”
When you get a tailback going, what does it do for confidence of running backs as a whole? “They’re all very competitive. I also think they all want to play. But I think they also are very supportive of each other.”
Jibreel made a difference out there. Talk about him. “I think Jibreel’s played pretty consistent the last two games. I just didn’t feel him as much as I felt those other guys.”
Another big play by Kovacs on fourth-and-one. What happened? “It was a man coverage situation, and he was locked on that guy, and he did a tremendous job of beating the guy to the edge, to be honest with you. It’s something that Curt Mallory had worked with those guys all week.”
You’re off to a 3-0 start. This happened the last few years, too. Tougher opponents ahead. Cold shower? “Tougher opponents – I think they’re all tough. Believe me. College football – they’re all tough. Every game is such a from-the-neck-up football game. We’re a different team. I mean, yeah, we’ve been there, but we have to improve so much tomorrow when we look at the film and see, maybe we got out-leveraged here on this and why. There’s some urgency things when you’re setting up front, and guys getting lined up and all those things. Not getting technical, but we’ve got to go to work. I am not the funnest guy in the world like I am today, but Sunday to Friday, we have work to do.”
Second week in a row Gallon’s done some good things. Talk about him. “Well I think Jeremy’s another one of those guys who really, you could sense some things in his demeanor. Change in the spring. He had a really good summer, and good fall camp. He’s earning respect because of how he’s coming to work, how he’s playing.”
Denard had some problems passing. What do you want to see from receivers to help him out? “That one interception, that was kind of a bang-bang deal. I think Junior – if he comes back a little bit more, he maybe could have bodied the guy more and been in a better position. We’re pleased with our quarterback and I’m glad he’s at Michigan.”
You talked about Denard setting his feet. How hard is it to get him to set his feet when he loves to run so much? “I think it always is [hard] when you have a guy who can make multiple plays because of his athelticism. There’s no doubt that it’s a little more difficult. It is, and he’s done a nice job, and we just have to keep working, and he’s got to keep working on it and focusing and concentrating on that improvement in his game.”
Are Herron and Cam Gordon close to coming back? “Cam is real close, and so is Herron. I would think they’d both be ready next week.”
We didn’t see a lot of power runs today. A lot of spread instead. Is this by design or just playing more to Denard’s strengths as the game goes along? “It’s kind of what we’ve been since we started in the spring, to be honest with you. The quarterback power is still the power play, the read zone a little bit, and a couple things how we’re blocking that a little bit different depending on front. When we got I-backs today -- and Phil Snow’s a tremendous defensive coordinator, the guy has a tremendous pedigree -- he was going to load the box. That’s when we had a couple opportunities with some throws, because it’s all man coverage. You connect on those and the game changes a little bit.”
Thoughts on next game? “A guy from San Diego would ask that, wouldn’t he? I tell you, we have our hands full. That’s a very good football team, and a wel- coached football team, and a talented team. We’re going to try and get by the next 12 hours and then focus on that one.”
Glad you scheduled them? “Uh … no.”
Craig Roh got some stats today. Talk about him, too, please. “I thought he played more physical today. I thought he played with a little bit of a different mentality. He was aggressive. And you can really tell how he prepared all week he was going to do a great job for us today.”
Michael Schofield made an appearance -- what happened with Ricky Barnum? “His shoe came off. He’s got big feet. To get a big shoe on a big foot, sometimes it takes time.”
The way you guys end the game isn’t how you always start the game. What’s the deal? “I think it’s a little bit of both. I think both units, offensively and defensively … their respective coaches do a tremendous job of gathering information during possessions during the first half and coming in there as a group and each other’s room, taking some things out, putting some things in, making some adjustments, and relaying them to the kids so they can understand it. We [as coaches] can understand it all we want, but it doesn’t do us any good. If they understand it, then you’re going to make progress.”
When Denard struggles in the passing game, do you actively give him more carries to get him into rhythm? “I don’t know if we do that. I think your comfort level that you always want your quarterback to have is important, because he and the center and the only two guys that will touch the ball every play. Al looked at where we were and what we needed to do, and because we have worked on both styles so much, it’s easy to revert back and forth.”
1. How does the shift back to the 4-3 under fit the personnel?
left: stack no blitzy. right: 4-3, though an even 4-3, not the under
Better than the 3-3-5-type-substance but it's not going to be a huge difference. Fits:
- BETTER: Roh (LB/DE to WDE), Demens (MLB to MLB with guys in front of him)
- SAME: RVB(DE to SDE/DT), Martin (NT to NT), Heininger (DE to SDE), Gordon (spur to SLB), Jones (WLB to WLB), Gordon (FS to FS), cornerbacks
- WORSE: Kovacs (bandit to SS)
Craig Roh and Jibreel Black were men without a position last year. Though Roh actually help up pretty well when he moved to the DL late, he was still miscast as a DE in a three-man line. Black just got crushed. This year both will be playing weakside DE, where they can get after one tackle.
Kenny Demens will be shielded by two senior defensive tackles, allowing him to flow to the ball like he did against Iowa. Michigan set of small, quick WLBs is better suited for the 4-3 since it will be harder for opponents to get a hat on them.
The major negative is not finding a way to keep the two safeties near the LOS. Both are effective blitzers who are a little dodgy in a deep half.
2. How big is the coaching upgrade? Will the transition hurt more than it?
The Mathlete's numbers suggest a coaching change is a drag on the improvement of very bad defenses worth about eight spots. It seems flabbergasting that that could be the case for this specific situation, however. dnak438 found a GERG effect of approximately negative 30(!) spots. While you should take that with a grain of salt because the sample size there is extremely small, each grain adds to a pile threatening to eclipse the Schwarzschild radius. Going from Greg Robinson not running a system he knows to Greg Mattison teaching exactly what he's taught for a zillion years has to be a positive even in the short term.
What causes that drag? Probably a system change. How long has Michigan been running its current system? Six games. They've probably got more experience running the under than the 3-3-5.
Then there are the position coaches: Adam Braithwaite was a grad assistant promoted to LB coach without the usual stops at East Nowhere State. Tony Gibson was reputed to be mostly a recruiter. Bruce Tall seemed pretty good but in his place Michigan has Hoke, Mattison, and Jerry Montgomery. That's an upgrade across the board.
3. Why is everybody so suicidal when the personnel doesn't look entirely doomy?
doug karsch interviewing popular perception about the defense. via firstbase
Slap me for saying this but the starting lineup isn't that scary save for two spots: SDE, where walk-ons Will Heininger and Nathan Brink are backed up by Nobody At All, and WLB, where four cats are fighting in a sack. You know what they say about WLBs: if you've got four you don't have any.
The rest of the line is Martin, Van Bergen, and Roh. Demens is promising at linebacker and they've got a couple of good options at SAM. And the secondary isn't awesome but Avery/Woolfolk/Kovacs/Gordon looks like it could be below average, which will seem like heaven. This year's edition of "Are You Experienced?" sees Michigan move towards average. There's still a gap, but it's narrowing. The Decimated Defense series also sees its Michigan number creep towards sane.
So why is everyone, including myself, afraid of going 7-5 this year with just about everyone back everywhere?
Well, there's depth. Once you get past those starters its scary. There are three backups I wouldn't wince upon seeing enter on the field: Black, Jake Ryan, and Carvin Johnson. I guess Brink fits in there as well but only because he'd be spotting another walk-on. Everyone else on the line has been beaten out by Brink and Heininger, I have little faith in JT Floyd, and even if Marell Evans was injured at Hampton he's done little in four years of football. When injuries happen the dropoff will be severe. It won't even take injuries for the defensive line to wane in effectiveness. Modern football rotates the DL. Michigan has a choice between tired starters and ineffective backups.
Even so I still can't work up the same sense of bowel-crippling panic I had last year when I believed the secondary would tread "horrible, polluted, razor-blade-filled, despair-laden water." Let's poke around at
PROJECTED FRESHMAN CONTRIBUTORS
2010: Black, Gordon, Gordon, Johnson, Avery, Talbott
2011: Maybe Ash
2010: 4-3 under, 3-4, 3-3-5
2011: 4-3 under
RADICAL MIDSEASON SWITCH TO ENTIRELY DIFFERENT SYSTEM
2010: Third year running
2011: Hell no
2010: Rubbing a stuffed beaver in your face
2011: Navy SEAL tridents
Michigan wasn't just rocking an underclass two-deep, they were rocking a freshman-heavy two deep. This could work out! For a given definition of work out!
4. What is with Will Campbell? Isn't the situation at SDE just horrible?
Man, I don't know about Campbell. Maybe his center of gravity is just too high. Maybe he'll never learn technique in the same way Mike Cox can't remember to run into the hole.
The situation at SDE is caused by whatever it is with Will Campbell and will not be encouraging. Heininger was already a non-entity in the passing game and that was 28 pounds ago. And who the hell knows about Brink? I'm guessing Mattison is just trying to get that spot to hold up against double teams in the run game and will rely on Roh/Martin/Van Bergen to get the pass rush. If they can do that it's a win.
Can they do that? Why do I ask myself unanswerable questions?
Michigan will be much, much better this year. How much better depends on:
- The health of key, irreplaceable pieces. These are Martin, Demens, Van Bergen, and the starting corners.
- The improvement of last year's freshmen. Avery, both Gordons, and Black all have the potential to leap forward Darius Morris style.
- Nathan Brink. If Michigan's unearthed something here that not only makes SDE acceptable it means the guys he beat out are potentially serviceable.
- Craig Roh. He could be anything from Tim Jamison to James Hall.
The first bit is unknowable but I can hazard guesses on the latter three: two of the four freshmen above will be startlingly good. Two will be meh. I'm guessing Thomas Gordon and Avery are the former. Brink will not be as bad as everyone feared but that SDE spot is going to be averaging +2 for the season, which is bad. Roh will be in the 75th percentile of his range, a fringe All Big Ten guy.
When I wrote that the D should improve but "not enough" I didn't account for a GERG/RR effect that is real. They'll be better than 82nd in advanced metrics this year by a long shot.
Now, behold the greater-thans and less-thans!
- senior Mike Martin with ankles > Mike Martin
- junior Craig Roh playing his actual position >>> linebacker Craig Roh
- junior Demens >> sophomore Demens/Ezeh
- sophomore Cam Gordon > freshman Gordon/Gordon/Johnson
- Woolfolk >>> Rogers
- sophomore Avery >> freshman Avery/Floyd
- T. Gordon/Johnson >> Gordon/Vinopal
- senior RVB == junior RVB
- Kovacs == Kovacs
- Heininger/Brink == Banks
- Jones/Hawthorne/Herron/Morgan << Mouton
It's going to take two years to dig out of this hole completely but I think the defense will rebound more effectively than stats and conventional wisdom suggest.
Last Year's Stupid Predictions
Fumbles recovered double to ten.
Michigan recovered seven.
The secondary is actually better than last year's secondary because long touchdowns are less frequent. It will still be very bad.
First sentence: false. Second: true.
Mouton is much better, leads the team in TFLs and sacks, and is still incredibly frustrating.
Very accurate. Mouton led the team in tackles (117), was in a three-way tie for TFLs (8.5, Kovacs and RVB tied) and had two sacks. RVB (4) and Banks (3) beat him but not by much in a pathetic year for sacks.
Mike Martin is great and should get first-team Big Ten recognition, though he probably won't.
This might have actually transpired if he hadn't gotten laid up with high ankle sprains. Before he was chopped down against MSU he was playing very, very well.
Mark Moundros holds on to the starting MLB job all season.
Michigan manages a modest improvement in yards allowed, getting up to the 60-70 range nationally.
Not so much: Michigan dipped to 110th.
More accurate than anyone thought possible.
This Year's Stupid Predictions
- Courtney Avery busts out. Going into next year people are talking about him as an All Big Ten performer.
- Kenny Demens leads the team in tackles with Northwestern-MLB-type numbers.
- Brink is a legitimate player, better than Greg Banks was last year. The biggest source of pain on the defense is the WLB.
- Craig Roh leads the team in sacks with eight.
- Sacks almost double from 1.4 per game to 2.4. That would be a move from 98th to around 30th.
- Turnovers forced go from 19 to 27.
- Michigan noses just above average in yardage allowed. Advanced metrics have them about 50th.
- EVERYTHING SEEMS WONDERFUL