i find this extremely interesting
A guest post from Craig Ross, who took in the coaches' clinic this year, as he does most years. If you're not sure what "technique" means or the basics of cover X defenses the UFR FAQ should be of some assistance.
Greg is not impressed, GERG
On a personal level Mattison is charismatic and impressive. I can’t imagine that he won’t be a absolutely great recruiter. His enthusiasm is manifest. He isn’t a defensive personality (I don’t mean football defense) in the slightest. Media guys kept asking him about his salary (incredibly rude, I thought) and he just said he didn’t want to talk about. Not mean. Not tired. Not nasty. Just matter of fact. But after the second “no,” these reporters got it.
Unlike GERG he has patience with questions, especially football questions. GERG wanted little to do with the press and had no patience with anything resembling a football question. [I asked whether he would be playing “one or two gap” a couple of years ago. He looked at me like I was crazy (maybe I am/was, probably the question was idiotic) but he responded (and repeated himself) with “Let’s just say by the end of the season you’ll be happy with our defense.” Uh, well, not exactly.
I don’t want to beat on GR. The media can be pretty awful and he had a right to some disinclination to talk about anything other than superficial sound bites. But even in coaching clinics he seemed loathe to talk about defensive structure, which he perceived as overrated (maybe he is right). His obsession was technique, notably tackling technique—stunning given what our defense did the last two years. But Mattison is a whole different deal. He gives smart questions their due. He gives sloppy questions more thought than they probably deserve. And, yeah, he isn’t above the ordinary sound bite to the ordinary sorta-non-question.
The Ravens were a 3-4 team until Mattison took over the defense. In 2009 he changed the Raven to a 4-3 look and there is every reason to believe he will attempt to mimic the success he had in Baltimore. Mattison’s overall philosophies are
- stop the run,
- take away the offense’s best receiver (I assume this means the D may tend to roll a bit to the best WR’s side of the field), and
- keep the defensive formations stable but mix pressures and coverages.
Mattison will run a 4-3 with some nickel as a primary defense*. He was adamant about four things.
- Martin (or any NT) will never play right over the center, zero tech, that he will be shaded into the A gap, even if slightly**.
- He always wants four guys down. Always. He said “If I have to limp in there we are playing 4 guys on the line.” (A couple of times in the spring game it looked like we had three guys down. Reviewed this. On play one he had Big WC at NT and Mike Martin standing up on the edge. Denard breaks the play for 55 yards. Of course, we did have 4 DL in the game so he didn’t violate his abstract principle. Also, as noted, against spread looks he went with three DL. [Ed: my impression was that these sorts of games were reserved for passing downs, when run soundness goes out the window and you're just trying to hassle the QB.])
- GM prefers (strongly) that the defense generally have the same look. He stated that his defense will not “stem” into different looks. That said, he wants the defense to have variations out of the singular defensive formation.
- As every coach on the planet says and means, he wants the D to pressure the QB.
Mattison stresses that he has been left with attentive kids. He talks about their seriousness, that they have behaved and been supportive of each other. Unlike Borges, who spent a lot of time looking at last year’s offense, Mattison claims he did not watch “one minute” of last year’s tape. (I wish I hadn’t.) There are two reasons for this. First, he didn’t want to bias his impressions of the players. He preferred that he and his staff make their own valuations, as opposed to those that accrued in a different system. Second, he was going to run a different system anyway. Looking to last year’s model wasn’t going to provide any information likely to have value.
This is a treacherous judgment—my understanding of the lingo may hamstring my perceptions—but it looks to me like Mattison will to use a 4-3 under as his base defense. The NT will be shaded into the A gap toward the TE, the defensive end in 5 technique but slightly shaded to the outside, and the SAM lining up near the LOS outside of the tight end, assuming there is a TE on the field. On the weak side the tackle will be in 3-tech and the rush end will shaded slightly outside of the offensive tackle***. Basically this:
I think Michigan will look like this a lot but the black “elephant”—the rush end for UM [ed: around here we called it Deathbacker when Greg Robinson was trying to use that guy as in coverage more]—might be a bit closer to the tackle. Mattison’s drawing also had the Mike (Middle LB) and Will (Weakside LB) slightly more shaded to the TE. In the diagram above the Mike has the strongside B gap and Will the weakside A gap. The Will just has to make sure his gap isn’t threatened and then can flow to the ball.
Coverage: The field (wide side) corner and safety will often play “quarters,” while the other safety will be responsible for half the field. [ed: This is also known as quarter-quarter-halves. It's a cover three that splits the field unevenly. Hit up this Smart Football post for more detail—look for the first diagram with color in it.] If there is a receiver to the boundary (short side) that corner will squat, but if there is no WR he may have a “fire” read, rushing the passer or having weakside run support.
A couple variants: A primary variation of this will be the DL all slanting to the weak side of the formation, the Mike and Will dropping into hook and curl coverage, with the corners and weakside safety splitting the field into thirds and the strong side safety having responsibility in the flat. Note that this comes out of the same 4-3 under look. I assume, on this choice, the Sam (Strongside LB) has edge integrity and the Mike and strong safety have primary run support to the play side.
Mattison didn’t mention the 4-3 over but they definitely played a bit of that in the SG. In that the NT shifts to a shade into the weakside A gap and the linebackers are more balanced. I have to look back at the tape some---pretty sure they played a bit of it, at least late in the SG.
It also looks like they will play some “Bear” defense, bringing the Will down into the gap between the End and the SAM. In such instances he said they will always be in man defense, they won’t try to zone. Mattison also stressed that “setting an edge” to the defense is always important and on their base defense that’s up to the Sam on the field side. He said this was “a huge deal.”
In terms of personnel note that Troy Woolfolk and JT Floyd were out in the spring, as was Kenny Demens. In a surprise Marrell Evans started with the ones (I didn’t know he was on the team until 10 days ago) in the Spring Game. Herron was there, too. Herron was shucked by Cox on his long run. I thought Evans played pretty well.
Tony Anderson and Avery both played pretty well at corner (or was this just the weakness in our passing game?) so with Floyd and Woolfolk healthy in the fall, there should be a lot of competition there.
In a huge surprise to me, I saw some really good play from Greg Brown—at corner—in the last Saturday scrimmage [ed: ie, the Saturday before the spring game]. This was mentioned by the coaches, so it is not a secret or my insanity. Brown did give up the TD near the end of the spring game but he was in great position and just misplayed the ball. Right now Carvin and Kovacs are running with the ones at safety, but Marvin Robinson is going to be a monster if he can learn the D. Parents of a player mentioned this to me, that Marvin had the chance to be awesome, once he steps up his understanding of the playbook. Josh Furman made a couple of plays but I didn’t focus on him so I can’t evaluate his play yet. Marvin made numerous big plays in the last weekend scrimmage.
The DL looks set with Van Bergen at DE, Roh at rush end, Big Will at the three tech and Martin at NT. However, Martin was moved around a bit in the SG so I have to look at the tape of that. Depth is thin, but I saw some good play from Black (inconsistent, but flashes), Wilkins (big plays in the SG) and the other Will (Heininger) who has been moved inside to NT.
The LBs were Jones (Will) and Cam Gordon (Sam) and I thought they did OK. Jake Ryan just stood out on the last scrimmage (with the 2s)—he made play after play—and he did the same thing in the SG. He was a way under the radar recruit but he really looks like he will be a player.
This was the worst defense in the history of the galaxy (maybe not universe, there may be a planet where some team was worse) last year so I am surprised by what I saw this spring. It was a more ordinary spring--- the UM defense making the offense struggle to get any run game going (except for Denard), though maybe two big plays were broken by the RBs. I predicted before the SG (based on the prior week’s scrimmage) that this would be an average or above average defense. I still think that. Something in the back of my head thinks it might even be an “almost good” defense but I suspect this is delusional. Now the coaches seem nervous. Mattison was unhappy after the SG but they sure seem ahead of anything I have seen for a few years.
*[Editor's note: given how much we saw Thomas Gordon in the spring game I'm guessing the nickel will be the base defense against spread looks.]
**[During the spring game it seemed like were pretty close to a zero technique at times, something he seemed to disavow. From the endzone, where I sat, there always seemed some shade. But on the Tivo of the game (from the side) of course, it seemed like we had a NT in zero tech every now and then. I reviewed it. Seems like this was when the offense was in a spread, when GM went completely odd with a 3 man front—as George Halas suggested against the single wing.]
***[Mattison is concerned that too many rush ends tend to get too wide as they attempt to speed rush the tackle. He thinks this is too easy a mark for an offensive tackle unless the end is a blur. He wants him closer to the tackle. He especially wants Craig Roh to not get too wide, allowing him to probe in either direction.]
The 4-3 is back, like it never sort of left and then really really left against Purdue and then came back and then altered into a slightly different version of itself and then mutated into a bizarre thing that was like the thing against Purdue but wasn't really because the person doing the mutating spent all his time watching his "Best of Just For Men Commercials" DVD. It will not suddenly be replaced by things that start with the number 3 and end with razorblades and pain. In the long term, this is delightful.
In the short term… eh… there might be some issues. This series is an attempt to fit Michigan's noses, ends, spurs, bandits, spinners, deathbackers, doombackers, dipbackers and frosting-covered gnomes into their new homes.
The defensive line appeared last week. This post covers linebackers, hybrids, safety-type objects, and, you know, whatever. There will not be a post covering the secondary since it shouldn't change much [Ed-M: he means in their job descriptions -- back away from the ledge...].
What we were forced to watch last year
God, who knows? Let's go back to that Wisconsin screenshot from the last post:
So. You've got Kenny Demens, the MLB, lined up about a yard behind the nose tackle. The nominal SLB, here JB Fitzgerald, is actually lined up to the weak side. The nominal WLB, Jonas Mouton, is lined up to the strong side and gets to line up a little bit deeper. Michigan compensates by drawing cornerback Courtney Avery into the box as a sort of Bieber-backer and half-rolling Kovacs down into the box. You can see Cam Gordon's feet to the top of the screen, covering the slot receiver.
Questions immediately pop to mind: why? what? argh? This was not really a 3-3-5, at least not one as run by Jeff Casteel. This was covered in an extensive picture pages after Penn State obliterated Michigan's defense in the game that was the beginning of the end, but it seemed like Michigan was keeping Demens in the same place in all formations. Here's 4-3 and 3-4 alignments:
Demens spent his year a yard or two back of a nose tackle, shaded to one side. Casteel MLBs lined up 5-7 yards deep and ran like demons to wherever the play is going; Demens got swallowed by unblocked guards through no fault of his own and left Michigan vulnerable to counter after counter.
And then in addition to the 4-3, 4-4, and 3-4 looks above we also got some glimpses of something that actually looked like a 3-3-5, except with two deep safeties and the MLB still too close to the LOS:
So the answer to the strangled yelps of misery was "Michigan ran everything… terribly."
Outside of Demens, Mouton spent the year as the WLB (apparently unless teams were putting twins to one side), where he ran down stuff, plowed fullbacks at the line, crushed blocks to make great individual plays, and lost contain over and over. The SLB was some combination of Craig Roh, JB Fitzgerald, and Obi Ezeh. All were confused, slow, prone to get lost in space, and ill-suited for the spot.
Further outside yet, Carvin Johnson, Thomas Gordon, and Cam Gordon split time at the spur with the larger Gordon seeming to lock down the position after his move from free safety(!). Yes, Michigan's starting free safety ended the year as essentially a strongside linebacker. Jordan Kovacs's role as a tiny weakside linebacker was actually more safety-ish than people thought it would be, but he still rolled down into the box plenty.
What we were forced to watch the year before
Michigan was a 4-3 under similar to the one above. Here's that shot from the 2009 Iowa game again. While the line isn't undershifted it does provide a canonical example of what the linebackers usually do in the system:
Now we're looking at the linebackers so note that Stevie Brown is lined up right outside of SDE Craig Roh, ready to take on a tight end. The other linebackers are at the same depth (five yards) lined up over the guards. Michigan's rolled SS Mike Williams into the box. Iowa ends up running a zone stretch right at Brown; he keeps contain and allows Mouton/Ezeh to flow over the top of Roh, blow up the fullback, and make a TFL.
There wasn't much else as far as the linebackers. Brown hung out around tight ends and slot receivers all year and the two MLBs were pretty much just MLBs. There weren't dudes at different depths, dudes moving all over the place, dudes playing 4-3 on one snap, 3-3-5 on another, 3-4 on another. The LBs lined up five yards deep over the guards, end of story*.
*[of course this is not literally true, but on the vast bulk of snaps this occurred.]
What can't possibly be quite as bad next year
Again, the assumption here is that Michigan is going to be running a 4-3 under similar to what they did in 2009. This assumption is an easy one to make since the head coach said it point blank. Details on what that means for the line—the "under" bit—can be found in the first post in the series.
As for what that means for the associated linebackers, look above. Against pro-style teams one linebacker will roll down to the TE side of the LOS and the other guys will hang out about five yards off the LOS.
What you need at each spot
To refresh your memory, here's an aerial view of a 4-3 under:
The strongside linebacker needs to be a magical athlete made out of beef and lightning who can take on a TE effectively, contain runs, and move out into the slot to cover little buggers. Oh and if he's an awesome pass rusher that would be cool too. So Lamarr Woodley except faster. Maybe Shawn Crable or Prescott Burgess. Failing that, teams pick one of two paradigms and make do:
Lumbering quasi-DE sort of like Roh who can take pressure off the SDE and do more than just force running plays inside of him when matched up against a TE.
A sort of super strong safety who may not be able to take on TEs except by setting up outside of them but is a fantastic tackler in space and a guy who doesn't have to come off the field when opponents go to spread formations.
When Greg Robinson wasn't denying its existence, the "spinner" was obviously concept #2. Stevie Brown had an excellent senior year doing that. Johnny Thompson was concept #1, and that burned Michigan badly. With passing attacks so effective these days most teams are moving towards #2. If you worried they'll go with #1, don't be: they don't have anyone on the roster who can plausibly be that guy.
The middle linebacker is a middle linebacker. In the under he has to expect more blocks since usually the bubble in the line is the guy lined up directly over him, so he has to be smart about where his help is and funnel guys back inside. Quick decisions and the quickness to get on the side the OL doesn't want you on are at a premium.
The weakside linebacker is a weakside linebacker. He's protected by the three and five tech, usually gets a free run at someone or another, and has to be an athletic tackling machine plus blitzer. Mouton, basically.
Or at least that's the book. In reality it's nowhere near that neat. The Iowa play linked above that shows Ezeh charging downhill at a zone stretch, getting outside of the fullback, and allowing Mouton to tackle is a canonical example of the responsibilities these guys have:
Everyone says the MLB is going to deal with a blocker and the WLB is going to have the play funneled back to him. This is what happens here. But in truth I think the differences between the two guys are overblown. On the losing contain play it's Mouton who needs to deal with a blocker and funnel back to his buddy. Plenty of times throughout the year it was Demens picking through trash to get to ballcarriers or Mouton thundering into a fullback at the LOS.
I think of the 4-3 under as something halfway between a 4-3 and a 3-4. The SLB and WDE are kind of versions of 3-4 OLBs—playmakers who can drop into coverage or blitz. The one-tech DT is sort of a version of a 3-4 NT. He doesn't need to control two gaps, but he's a big guy who needs to eat up two opponents. Etc. In a 3-4 the MLBs are interchangeable. That's not quite the case here but the two MLBs are more alike than different in the under, especially with all the shifting and motion teams employ in an effort to get you off balance and maybe force that WLB to take on a block or that MLB to run. Playing SLB is a different world entirely.
And since it seems silly to break out another post for one position that's changing, the strong safety wants to be Jordan Kovacs running a 4.5 at 220 pounds. What Kovacs did with Michigan last year will be about what the strong safety does next year—the "bandit" thing was overblown. Kovacs played plenty of deep half zones over the course of the season. He also rolled up to the line and blitzed, covered tight ends in man, etc. He was a strong safety on a team that was aggressive with its safeties.
Who goes where
Kenny Demens is the middle linebacker. Attempts to replace him with Obi Ezeh will be thwarted by a pucky band of kids ripping off the Mattison mask, etc.
On the strongside Cam Gordon is the clear leader after finishing the year as the "spur" in Michigan's 3-3-5. That is a very close analogue to the SLB in a 4-3 under. The guy next to you is still a strong, run-defending DE with a little more pop than a 3-4 end. You're still taking on tight ends against run and pass… unless you're getting dragged into the slot. Gordon's got the biggest frame of any Michigan linebacker, ballooning and buried Isaiah Bell aside, and can put on a lot of beef over the offseason to help him in his dual roles as tight end defender and roving punch-the-slot-in-the-face guy. He's got a season's worth of starting experience. He'll have to fight for it but he's got the edge.
This is where the linebacker who wasn't Demens or Mouton probably ends up competing, so seniors Brandon Herron and JB Fitzgerald are tentatively slotted as the competition. Neither has done much so far. Other options here include the other two freshmen spurs, but Thomas Gordon and Carvin Johnson might be needed elsewhere.
Michigan has a surfeit of options on the weakside, where Michigan's attempt to move to the 3-3-5 has left them with a zillion kinda-sorta safeties who can run and maybe, hopefully tackle. Pick any underclassman listed at strong safety on the depth chart by class and there's a 50-50 chance you'll see him competing at WLB in spring. Mike Jones was Mouton's primary backup and seemed to be the leader in the race to replace him, but one season-ending injury later he's just another guy with no experience. He joins Josh Furman and Marvin Robinson in that group. Also, this could be the landing spot for the little Gordon or Johnson.
Some of these guys are ticketed for safety, but we won't know which ones until spring. Robinson and Johnson bounced back and forth as freshmen; Thomas Gordon spent his redshirt year there before getting the call at spur last spring. If you put a gun to my head I'd say Johnson and his tackling win the job, but this could be any of a half-dozen guys.
At strong safety, heroic efforts will be made to dislodge Jordan Kovacs. They will fail. The effort will be provided by some combination of Robinson, Thomas Gordon, and Johnson.
Awkwardness Rating On A One To Rodriguez-Interviews-Hoke Scale
Like the defensive line, operating in a 4-3 makes fine sense for Michigan's personnel. Ironically, it's the exotic wing guys with funny names who fit most neatly in to the new scheme, since they'll be doing pretty much what they were doing before. The biggest adjustment will be from the two middle linebackers, except the two middle linebackers did just fine as 3-4/4-3 guys—Demens, in particular spent two years playing MLB in 4-3 under schemes before last year's experiment.
Really, anything but the 3-3-5, especially the Robinson version, should be better. Michigan had their best day as a rush defense against Iowa when they replaced Ezeh and ran—drumroll—various 4-3s and 3-4s most of the day. Iowa couldn't get anything Jibreel Black being a freshman or Jonas Mouton losing contain didn't give them.
When they went to the bizarre non-stack it allowed Evan Royster to go from massive disappointment to massive disappointment with his usual billion yards against Michigan. In doing so stripped Kenny Demens of the ability he showed in previous games and put a ton of pressure on Mouton to do the contain thing he doesn't do so well. I don't think I'll ever understand it.
After a year of being "multiple" and cratering Michigan needs to establish a baseline defense that might be predictable and medicore but at least gives everyone on the team an idea of what they do, and if Gordon develops they should be fine in the front seven save the scary lack of depth on the DL.
So the Indiana game was water torture interspersed with electric Japanese schoolgirl sex. The latter was great but the former was almost 75% of the game, and against teams with non-theoretical defenses a repeat will mean sad faces and rage. How likely is this? Eh… pretty likely at some point. But maybe not consistently.
Indiana is probably the most competent—and is definitely by far the most deployed—passing offense in the Big Ten. Last year Indiana was the only team other than Purdue to pass more than half the time. They did so at a 54% clip. This year they're up to 58% with the return of their entire passing offense, and that's despite a big chunk of the schedule being against tomato cans in which clock-killing runs are plentiful.
A look at Michigan's opponent and what they're likely to do to Michigan's secondary:
Pass Percentages: 50% in 2009, 40% in 2010.
Quarterback: Kirk Cousins, a
senior redshirt junior returning starter.
Last year's performance: Cousins split time with Keith Nichol, with the two combining to go 20/29 for 220 yards and two interceptions.
Last year's run/pass split: 49 rushes and 29 passes, though a number of the MSU rushes were QB scrambles.
Cousins had a strong junior year, finishing 25th nationally in pass efficiency. He seems to have made the incremental improvement you'd expect him to; this year he's 13th and in two games against actual opponents he completed about two thirds of his passes for about 250 yards with a solid or better YPA. He also threw three interceptions.
However, State is an old-school I-form heavy conventional offense that looks almost identical to Lloyd Carr's and they set up a lot of their passing yards by running play action. Cousins isn't going to come anywhere near 64 attempts and MSU isn't going to pass 75% of the time. How the run defense holds up against this is an open question, but that's not what this post is about.
MICHIGAN SECONDARY : OPPONENT PASS OFFENSE :: bunny : somewhat unreliable wood chipper
CHAPPELBOMB RATING: 4 of 5. Michigan State was balanced last year, and that was with a terrible running game. This year they've got a stable of impressive backs and somewhat iffy hands in the receiving corps, so the bigger threat is probably getting gashed all day on the ground. Hurrah?
Pass Percentages: 46% in 2009, 40% in 2010.
Quarterback: Ricky Stanzi, a senior returning starter.
Last year's performance: Found breathtakingly open tight ends but was erratic, going 20 of 38 for 284 yards and two TDs. Did deliver a Rick Six directly unto Donovan Warren.
Last year's run/pass split: 34 rushes, 38 passes. It should be noted that due to a Jewel Hampton ACL injury Iowa was thin at tailback oh wait that happened again this year except worse nevermind.
Stanzi's primary game of note this year was a 18/33, 278 yard 3TD-1INT game at Arizona where he was almost literally the Iowa offense. The Hawkeyes ran for 29 yards on 26 carries, and though plenty of sacks distort that the two tailbacks combined to average under 2 YPC. He was also efficient against PSU (16/22, 227 yards, 1TD-1INT) on a day when after a couple of quick touchdowns Iowa put it in neutral since they correctly believed Penn State could not score.
MICHIGAN SECONDARY : OPPONENT PASS OFFENSE :: raccoon : sports car with gore-smeared grill that spends a lot of time in the garage
CHAPPELBOMB RATING: 4 of 5. Stanzi may not be headed for NFL riches but he's been around the block and seems to have shaken his touchdown entitlement program. He's top ten in pass efficiency against a pretty decent schedule featuring Penn State, Arizona, and an Iowa State team that just won a Big 12 game (yay!!!). Here, it's the same story as Michigan State: they might be able to replicate it but the old-school coach is likely to split run and pass down the middle instead of letting fly most of the time.
And Now A Picture Of Denard For No Reason
Pass Percentages: 46% in 2009, 49% in 2010.
Quarterback: True freshman Robert Bolden.
Last year's performance: N/A
Last year's run/pass split: 40 runs, 27 passes as Darryl Clark had four touchdowns in just 27 attempts.
Surprise! Penn State's quarterback situation is terrible. The Nittany Lions are 103rd in passer efficiency. To be fair they've gone up against the brutal defenses of Iowa and Alabama, but Bolden threw two interceptions against Kent State and a pick-six against Iowa on a day when people say he could have thrown four or five.
Their offensive line is really hurting, the tight ends are all injured, and Penn State will probably avoid passing too much as long as it remains relatively close.
MICHIGAN SECONDARY : OPPONENT PASS OFFENSE :: eucalyptus tree : koala bear
CHAPPELBOMB RATING: 1 of 5. Penn State's offensive line gets more hypothetical by the day and now they're down to freshmen or wide receivers at tight end. Meanwhile, Bolden is talented but error-prone, the perfect thing against a Michigan defense that is pretty good at watching others succeed or fail without having much impact either way. Expect gentle chewing.
Pass Percentages: 40% in 2009, 33% in 2010.
Quarterback: Redshirt freshman Nathan Scheelhaase.
Last year's performance: N/A
Last year's run/pass split: 11 passes, 56 runs, dead kittens all over the state.
Illinois was already wildly run-biased but they've managed to slide further away from the mean despite graduating half-Desmond, half-duck quarterback Juice Williams. A man named Scheelhaase might sound like a 6'5" pocket passer with a background in soccer and the mobility of John Navarre, but he's actually a highly-rated dual-threat quarterback with FAKE 40 times in the 4.5 range. The play distribution makes some sense.
It also makes sense because in three games against I-A competition Scheelhaase's best outing is 8 of 16 for 70 yards against Northern Illinois. In his first start against Missouri he put up an amazing, amazing stat line: 9 of 23 for 81 yards, a TD, and three INTs. If Michigan gets shredded by Illinois it won't be in the air.
MICHIGAN SECONDARY : OPPONENT PASS OFFENSE :: confused goat : equally confused goat.
CHAPPELBOMB RATING: 0 of 5. If Michigan can contain one passing offense this year, it will be this one.
Pass Percentages: 54% in 2009, 47% in 2010.
Quarterback: Redshirt freshman Robert "Rob" Henry, at least until such time as Angry Purdue ACL-Hating God gets bored.
Last year's performance: N/A
Last year's run/pass split: 39 passes, 29 runs as Joey Elliot went for almost 400 yards.
Henry is Purdue's second-stringer, and to add injury to injury (to injury) he'll be operating without his top receiver, top tailback, and possibly his third option at WR if Justin Siller can't make it back from a badly sprained ankle. Information on him is limited. In most of a game against Toledo he was 17 of 31 for 140 yards, a TD, and an INT. He's probably not that good if he was behind Robert Marve to start the year, especially since he's apparently a much better runner.
MICHIGAN SECONDARY : OPPONENT PASS OFFENSE :: chicken : fox with three peg-legs and eyepatches over both eyes hyyyarrr.
CHAPPELBOMB RATING: 2 of 5. Purdue is still a passing spread but their offensive line is in shambles and by the time the Michigan game rolls around they might be starting Random Student somewhere.
Pass Percentages: 37% in 2009, 35% in 2010.
Quarterback: Senior returning starter Scott Tolzien.
Last year's performance: Fire and brimstone falling from the sky as Tolzien averaged 10 YPA on 24 attempts, throwing 4 touchdowns to one INT and causing me to swear bloody revenge on Jay Hopson. Yes, again.
Last year's run/pass split: 52 rushes, 24 passes.
This was a complete debacle last year, causing me to fear Wisconsin even after they almost blew it against Arizona State; I'm still swallowing hard at the idea of going up against them again. Tolzien was awful against MSU but very good against ASU. In the games against patsies he's been efficient… and seldom used… kind of like he was last year against Michigan.
MICHIGAN SECONDARY : OPPONENT PASS OFFENSE :: abdomen : scalpel
CHAPPELBOMB RATING: 4 of 5. Yes, this again: efficient senior game manager who carved up Michigan's crap defense a year ago and has a good shot at doing it again.
Pass Percentages: 36% in 2009, 40% in 2010.
Quarterback: Terrelle Pryor, junior returning starter.
Last year's performance: Did virtually nothing: 9/17, 67 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT.
Last year's run/pass split: 53 runs, 17 passes.
That line from last year might have been more interesting if Tate Forcier wasn't busy throwing the game ball at various members of the Ohio State pass defense. As it was OSU had the Tresselball on full throttle. This year Pryor's nuked the patsies (though he did throw a couple interceptions against Ohio) and been somewhat limited against real opposition. Take out a shovel pass to Dan Herron that went for 47 yards and Pryor was 11 of 26 for 186 yards against Miami, with 62 of those on a single bomb to DeVier Posey. Last week against Illinois Pryor had another epic Tresselball stat line: 9/16, 76 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT. Apparently it was windy or something.
While I can totally see that Posey bomb happening against Michigan, I'd rather this defense give up a big touchdown and then a bunch of nothing than get Chappelbombed.
MICHIGAN SECONDARY : OPPONENT PASS OFFENSE :: London : V1 rocket
CHAPPELBOMB RATING: 2 of 5. Tressel will probably Tressel it, leaving Pryor a spectator and runner most of the day. Also… wind or not, his stats are not indicative of a guy who anyone is going to put a game on in a Chappell sort of way. Doubt he even gets to 25 attempts against M.
This week's enormous concern is something of a surprise, as I got a ton of emails about how terrible defenses from 2011 to 2014 may or may not be. I'm a little more concerned about Indiana, Michigan State, and Iowa, but I just answer 'em:
Here's the problem as I see it for next year.
Proven folks, either this year or the past (at least 70+% of snaps)
7. T. Gordon
Possibly semi-proven by end of year - have played meaningful snaps with game still in balance (at least 20-30% of the snaps in a game)
1. J. Black
2. C. Johnson
3. B. Herron
The rest of the lot do not seem to be seeing the field in a meaningful way to be considered remotely ready to play next year at a high level. So by my count we will have 8 EXPERIENCED, 3 SEMI-EXPERIENCED, rest is anyone's guess.
I'm worried that next year will not be better unless some of these backups get much more meaningful game play.
I think you're overrating time on the field as a way to develop when it's 39 hours out of a year. I'm sure it accelerates things to get personal experience with how opposing offenses vary, but when you're not playing games eight months of 12 and even when you are you're spending far more time practicing and working out the bulk of a player's improvement must come from off-field activities. For the best example in the history of the world:
That did not happen because Robinson got on the field last year, it happened because he spent eight months with his eyes taped open, jamming football into them 25 hours a day.
The real question is "how much experience, playing or not, will Michigan have in the two deep?" The answer should be considerably more. In the secondary:
- Free safety will go from two freshmen to two sophomores(+2)
- Bandit gets Kovacs and Robinson back(+2)
- Cornerback will replace Rogers with Woolfolk and get the four other guys another year of experience(+3)
On the line:
- Martin and Campbell will be the two deep at DT, replacing Martin and Patterson this year (-1)
- RVB and Black will be back; Sagesse and Banks will be replaced by redshirt freshmen (-6)
- Roh, Herron, and Jones return (+3)
- Spur gets Johnson and Gordon back(+2)
- Ezeh, Mouton, and Moundros are replaced by Fitzgerald, Demens, and I guess Leach(-2) but maybe a freshman, redshirt or true.
That's a ton more experience everywhere except DE, where one starter will presumably be a true sophomore and the backups will be redshirt freshmen or senior guys with no profile (Heininger and Watson). That goes double for many spots since the difference between a freshman and a sophomore is usually much greater than the difference between a junior and a senior.
Attrition can blow this all up, of course, and has already cost Michigan a number of guys who would be entering upperclass years in 2011. If Mike Martin goes pro early, it could have the same effect on the D that Donovan Warren's departure did (though I bet a dollar Martin gets drafted).
I thought the D would be considerably better this year than last. It's still got a shot, but the personnel issues are bleeding into the Rodriguez classes and depressing the outlook.
Would it be fair or unfair to conclude that at this point Coach Rodriguez hasn’t grasped the difference in admissions from WVU to UM or is all this continued attrition in year 3 kind of random and hard to explain?
At this point most of the blame for the excessive number of Clearinghouse issues in the most recent class has to fall on Rodriguez. Four players bombing out in one class with a few more on the borderline (Terry Talbott and IIRC a couple others, though I couldn't find any confirmation in a cursory googling) is too many. Carr had the occasional Quintin Woods or Marques Slocum, but they were, you know, occasional. They weren't 20% of a desperately needed influx of defensive talent. And with Demar Dorsey still not enrolled at Louisville, it's clear that none of the borderline guys were denied admission based on anything other than their ability to get past the Clearinghouse; this is not a communication issue.
I can't blame Rodriguez for taking a swing at Dorsey but he can't be surprised when it doesn't work out. Meanwhile, picking up Davion Rogers when you probably could have gotten a guy with about the same rankings and a better chance of getting in is unwise, as is offering and accepting a commitment from Antonio Kinard when his grades are such an issue. (Conelius Jones is an odd case since when he committed his grade point was supposedly 3.7.)
I'm guessing that when Michigan blew up last year pickings got slim as players questioned how long Rodriguez would be around and opposing coaches used that uncertainty like a sledgehammer, and so the staff decided to take a few more longshots. Hopefully that won't happen this year if Michigan rides a wave of Denard hype to a decent bowl and enters 2011 with expectations Rodriguez will be around for the near (and possibly distant, robot-filled) future.
Speaking of a distant, robot filled future…
(1) We've been losing some players early this season to transfers / etc. How does this play into pre-season predictions about our defense regarding 2011 and onward? (I think we already have some evidence about this year will go...) Is it remotely possible or likely to have one of the big ten's best 3 Ds by, say, 2013 or '14? EVEN IF we can get a couple 5-star corner and defensive backs for next year, would that make much of a difference given the learning curve for all freshmen?
(2) I note Michigan's conspicuous absence over the last couple recruiting class rankings at ESPN. I am not the "sky is falling!" type, but is this a case of "WAAAAAAY to early to tell"—ie, fear not, RichRod will deliver in due time—or can we assume a worse-than-michigan-average recruiting class this cycle? Does it depend more than we'd like to admit on the # of wins this year? Or, the timing of those wins? It would be bad to start 5 or 6-0, only to finish 6-6, where the losses are more recent in recruits' minds on Feb 1 signing day...
1) This was mostly answered above. About a top three D in the conference: 2013 is a long way off—this year's freshmen will be seniors. Anything's possible that far in the future. I doubt Michigan will have an outstanding D that year if only because there aren't many guys in that row of the depth chart by class who seem like obvious stars, and Michigan already lost a lot of guys who would be towards the top of the depth chart.
2) The contrast between Rodriguez's first recruiting class and a half—the whole one was ranked in the top ten by most services, the half mostly four-star guys—and his most recent one is obvious. This makes me believe the 2010 class, which was decently ranked but lost too many guys to be top 15, is an effect of a 3-9 season and the never ending torrent of negative media attention that Michigan fans know and loathe; that would also explain a chunk of Michigan's merely okay start to the 2011 class. If RR establishes himself long-term we should expect Michigan's recruiting to jump back up to the Carr level.
But not in 2011. At this point in the year a lot of recruitments are already wrapped up or moving towards it, so success this year will have more of an impact on 2012. If Michigan secures RR's job they will pick up kids like Zettel and Hart who would have already committed if this was a normal year, but it will be tough to go from where they are now to the usual array of four-stars.
In sum: defense not great for a while, but you knew that. Have I told you about the Denard?
9/17/2010 – Michigan 42, UMass 37 – 3-0
Well… at least it wasn't as grim as it looked a with about a minute before halftime, when my head was in my hands and I could feel the cave feces covering my body as I wished for a merciful death. Maybe an albino salamander would crawl down my throat or something. Then the offense did a large number of very fast things and the defense managed to stop the UMass offense like once or twice and then they managed to not quite blow it at the end.
And so here we are. If you ever wanted to know what it would have been like if Michigan had made that field goal at the end of The Horror you have your answer: not at all good but approximately a trillion times better than the alternative. The stanktastic defensive performance was exactly what Michigan fans feared was going to happen after every defensive back within hailing distance of the two deep exploded, except worse. I kind of expected Wisconsin might put up 37 points on a series of long, grinding drives. Not so much a team that launched a stirring comeback to nip William & Mary.
That combined with the pratfall by UConn against Temple and Notre Dame's admittedly delicious overtime punking leaves an uncomfortable taste in the mouth. Last year around this time I was surveying the outlook after Michigan got significantly outgained by Indiana but escaped by the skin of their teeth. The game column was sarcastically titled "The Soaring Majesty!":
Since we didn't [lose], we should all just breathe a sigh of relief, recalibrate expectations back down a little bit, and move on. Michigan's not at a point where any win against any Big Ten team is one to freak out about. The freshmen quarterbacks remain freshmen and it's becoming clear that the defense has about the same raw talent level that last year's offense had. The only thing keeping them from plunging off a deep, dark cliff is the fact that no position on defense is as singularly important as quarterback is on offense.
Michigan didn't win a game against a non-seal opponent the rest of the year. It was this much fun: no fun.
This is the point where I take a finger, insert it into the collar of my shirt, and make an uncomfortable facial expression David Letterman has mastered and is impossible to Google. (What do you type, "Letterman shirt uncomfortable"? "Letterman neck trick"?)Just imagine you're wearing a tie and your boss has called you into his office during a period of right-sizing and you're a big vaudeville buff. It's like that.
It's like that because of the following facts:
- Jonathan Hernandez had 114 yards on 26 carries with a long of 15.
- John Griffin had 96 yards on 17 carries with a long of 19.
- Kyle Havens went 22 of 29 for 222 yards with a long of 19.
That is a complete demolition at the hands of a I-AA team without even blowing it big. UMass got two short fields when Michigan had a punt blocked and Cam Gordon fumbled an interception, but even dropping those out of the equation UMass drives went FG, punt, TD, punt, TD, fumble, punt, TD, INT; both of the short field drives started around the 25 and ended in Michigan's endzone. And at no point did they get a cheap touchdown due to a secondary implosion. They just ground down the field as if Michigan was the I-AA team. Given the level of competition, it's probably the worst defensive performance of the Rodriguez era, and that's saying something. If not for the Post-Apocalyptic Oregon Game we'd be reaching back to Bump's days to find something worse. The parallels to last year are scary.
I can tell you to look at the yardage and feel better, which still works for me to some extent. Michigan still didn't outgain a BCS opponent until the Purdue game in 2009 and they have a demolition of UConn to their name. I can tell you to look at what Purdue and Indiana and Illinois are doing and count to seven that way and then rely on someone else (MSU? Iowa? Penn State?) getting Denarded for the eighth win that would officially exceed expectations, and that helps too. I can point to Iowa's 2009 season, which started out with a one-point win over Northern Iowa in which the Hawkeyes were outgained and had to block two(!) field goals on consecutive plays to avoid the killer upset. Four games later Iowa survived 24-21 against Arkansas State; they ended the year by whipping Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl.
All of these things say football is weird and last weekend was probably an aberration and Michigan's defense will be bad but probably not that bad. But it's hard to shake the feeling of deja vu. We jumped out of a plane and went WOOOOOO because everything is fast and fun and now we're trying to ignore the feeling that the parachute might have transferred to West Virginia. Again.
But at least there's Denard, right? Right. The silver lining to all of this is that he's going to have insane stats because Michigan's got no choice. That's the ticket.
Pulaski time. This has been kicking around message boards and my head since I was annoyed that Michigan threw the ball on third and six early in the game and then whiffed another field goal: given the situation, should Michigan emulate that Arkansas high school team that never, ever punts? Consider:
- The offense is pretty awesome, making a successful fourth-down conversion worth more points than it would be if it was still 2008.
- The defense is pretty terrible, making the loss of field position from an unsuccessful conversion less of an issue than it would be with a defense more likely to stop the opponent. A good defense is more likely to get you the ball back approximately where you booted it from; Michigan's is likely to get you the ball back via kickoff.
- Will Hagerup spent the ND game shanking balls into the stands and dropped a snap against UMass, getting his punt blocked.
- The field goal kickers are 1 of 4 and Rodriguez is openly pleading for any student, clueless or not, to try out.
So… yeah. When the Mathlete did a study with his enormous database of plays he concluded that 1) your defense has no impact on the decision (something I disagree with) and 2) that if your offense is good the light is almost always green:
Maybe some of the Mathlete's assumptions are wrong there (he gives an across-the-board 10% increase in conversion percentage) but even an average offense should be going on fourth and medium anywhere near midfield; Michigan is looking considerably better than average.
I'm hoping Rodriguez starts playing with going on fourth down in mind. If anyone was ever going to test the limits of Romer-ian game theory it would be this Michigan team. It's NCAA '11 time.
Probably no need to get alarmed for next week at least. Bowling Green is 1-2 with losses to Tulsa and Troy with a win coming last week over Marshall. In that game, Marshall's QB chucked four interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns. MGoUser BGwolverine13 has some information on their season to date. It sounds like the starting quarterback will sit out this week after suffering a concussion, which is doubly bad for BG since their rushing offense is currently 111th nationally at 2.7 YPC.
Is it sad that we're talking about this? Yes.
Yeah, pretty much.
What happened? Michigan's first two opponents went down to defeat over the weekend, too, seriously damaging their value when it comes to projecting the future. You probably know what went down in the MSU-ND game, but UConn losing to Temple 30-16 hurts.
How did that happen? Well, the Huskies did outgain Temple by 34 yards. (WOO!) They went from 16-14 up to 27-16 down via a fumble return touchdown and a four-yard touchdown drive after a big punt return. Zach Frazer appears to be pure awful (4.8 YPA) and their defense grim in all phases. Temple RB Bernard Pierce had 169 yards on 26 carries and his long was just 38; UConn is not good.
Meanwhile, the ND-MSU game was as dead even as you would expect an overtime game to be. Michigan State ended up outgaining ND 477-461, with the final 29 yards for MSU coming on the trick play that's going to make TWIS so fun this afternoon. Notre Dame's defense was thoroughly gashed by land and sea, giving up 203 yards on 43 carries and allowing Kirk Cousins to complete 23 of 33 passes. ND ran Armando Allen just 13 times despite the fact he is very good and was picking up 5.5 yards a crack; Dayne Crist was 32 of 55 for a bunch of yards, one INT, and 4 TDs. The teams had 13 possessions each.
Conclusion? Michigan State is about Michigan's equal and the game will be a shootout nailbiter.
Goals met? On defense obviously none. On special teams obviously none. Jeremy Gallon is on a streak of five straight terrible decisions on difficult punts to field and should either be replaced or given a return buddy who hangs out ten yards in front of him and fields the crappy ones.
On offense, we did see the healthy and productive return of Junior Hemingway. Taylor Lewan got in and was reportedly mauling people, which okay I-AA team but still that's an encouraging sign when your freshman tackle gets in to replace a guy who's played well so far. And Michael Shaw put up some of those yard things that Denard always gets. We did not get to see Cox, Toussaint, or Hopkins, unfortunately. (Toussaint may still be injured. He dressed but was only participating in some drills before the game.)
The one important thing that Michigan seemed to establish is the existence of a Denard deep ball. UMass was playing tight man coverage most of the day and Denard went deep twice to beat it, hitting Kelvin Grady on a deep seam and Stonum on a fly route. Both balls were well thrown. If you add that to the rest of the stuff Denard can do, hoo boy.
A note on the interception: he had Roundtree open for a touchdown but did the same thing he did against ND where he threw the ball on a line, allowing a safety to come underneath it and deflect it to the guy running a step or two behind Roundtree.
Lloyd-ballin' it note. Hated the third and one iso to Vincent Smith, though not getting it wasn't Smith's fault since there was an unblocked guy tearing in from the edge. But the whole advantage of having a running quarterback is that you get that extra blocker, which seems most useful on third and one. Michigan should have a version of Gator Heavy where Koger, Webb, and whichever RB they think is the best blocker line up to the same side of the formation and they just Tebow their way forward.
The Hoover Street Rag tries to maintain calm:
Now, all of the said, consider, if you will, where a Michigan fan might be standing right now. Since September 1, 2007, you have seen your team play 40 games. In that time span as of this weekend, you have seen your team win as many games as they have lost. Twenty Saturdays up, twenty Saturdays down. Twenty times happy, twenty times sad. You have seen hope crushed in the waking moments of a new rising sun. You have seen hope's corpse taken out back and burned repeatedly. You've seen redemption come from unlikely sources. You've seen a cold night in Champaign. You've seen a darn near miracle in Orlando. You've seen a comeback like nothing you've seen before in Ann Arbor. You've seen another quarterback in orange and blue leave flame trails behind him like a time-traveling DeLorean. You've seen a walk-on save the Jug. You've seen a freshman led an unlikely comeback in a shootout. You've seen all hope die on four chances from the one. You've seen an invasion of red into the Big House. You've seen a sophomore do things we only thought that other teams did to Michigan. You've seen 20 wins and 20 losses.So maybe this is why Saturday's performance doesn't bother me. It was a win. The gap between "survives upset bid" or "gets a scare from an FCS school" and losing is a chasm visible from space. We've been on the other side of that chasm, or perhaps more accurately at the bottom of it.
"We were terrible on defense," Roh said. "We just didn't look like we were prepared to play and we didn't make adjustments during the game.
"I promise you'll not see another game like that from us again."
From Roh's lips to Tebow's ears.