B1G, if true
Football is back, and major props go to drum major—and Belleville native—Jeff Okala for nailing the traditional back-bend in his very first game:
I love that the BTN showed large portions of the pregame show; they had three(!) different camera angles of Michigan touching the banner. This one's my favorite:
Of course, I'm sure you want to see GIFs from the actual game. For Kyle Kalis and Devin Funchess setting their phasers to "kill", Taylor Lewan dominating with however many arms he pleases, epic ninja Hokepoint, and much more, read on below the jump.
The feeling was boredom, interspersed with brief moments of Norfleet-related anticipation that ended an ankle-tackle away from being actual excitement.
Boredom, in this case, was a great feeling—a pleasant return to normalcy for Michigan. A home opener against a directional Michigan school, a 50-point lead heading into the third quarter, a fourth quarter spent looking up numbers of various freshmen and walk-ons while fretting about burned redshirts; this is how it's supposed to go, fergodsakes.
The Wolverines got on the board before the Big House crowd even got a chance to see the much-anticipated new offense, as freshman defensive back Dymonte Thomas screamed off the edge to block a Central Michigan punt on the opening drive of the game; senior receiver Joe Reynolds scooped up the loose ball and took it 30 yards to give Michigan a 7-0 lead.
A muffed punt by Dennis Norfleet, recovered by Delano Hill at Michigan's seven-yard line, led to an inauspicious start for Devin Gardner; after his first pass of the season was dropped by Devin Funchess, he telegraphed a quick out to Drew Dileo, and CMU's Jarret Chapman jumped the route for an easy interception.
Michigan's defense held strong, though, forcing the Chippewas to settle for a field goal. Gardner was in fine form on the subsequent drive, picking up a first down with his legs, then buying time for Drew Dileo to find a wide open hole in the Central defense on a 3rd-and-4 for a 36-yard catch-and-run. On the very next play, Gardner stood tall in the pocket, couldn't find an open receiver, and waltzed untouched into the end zone for a 22-yard score (right, Upchurch).
From there, the Wolverines didn't look back. A 38-yard run on a Dennis Norfleet reverse set up a one-yard touchdown run for Fitz Toussaint, who looked back to his old self—aside from missing a couple open cutback lanes—in rushing for 57 yards on 14 carries. After another Gardner hiccup—an overthrow to Gallon that resulted in his second interception—led to a second Jason Wilson field goal, cutting the lead to 21-6, the redshirt junior quarterback roared back with an 11-play, 76-yard drive capped by a 16-yard touchdown pass to his favorite target, Jeremy Gallon. After Raymon Taylor jumped an Alex Niznak throw to the perimeter, nearly taking the interception back for a touchdown, Gardner finished the first half with a four-yard scoring run, again making his trip to the end zone look downright easy. Despite the pair of turnovers—and a punt block for a touchdown that didn't count towards the yardage numbers—Michigan held a 243-139 edge in total offense and a 35-6 halftime lead.
The onslaught didn't stop there. Michigan's opening drive of the second half featured a 45-yard play-action pass from Gardner to Reynolds; two plays later, Toussaint tallied his second score of the day from two yards out. After another quick defensive stop, freshman running backs Derrick Green and De'Veon Smith combined to run on each of Michigan's ten plays, including a 30-yard Green scamper on a zone stretch and the five-star's first career touchdown on a goal-line scrum.
Sacks by Brennen Beyer and Mario Ojemudia forced another three-and-out, and from there the backups took over. Freshman quarterback Shane Morris quarterbacked the next drive, completing a 36-yard pass to Devin Funchess before Thomas Rawls rumbled into the end zone from five yards out, giving the Wolverines a 56-6 lead as the third quarter expired.
The rest, as they say, was academic. The fourth-quarter monotony was broken briefly by a 36-yard punt return by Norfleet, who was one man away from scoring; a Morris interception on a tipped pass; and a forced fumble by freshman cornerback Channing Stribling just two plays later, recovered by Delonte Hollowell. That third play led to a 30-yard Gibbons field goal—his 14th consecutive make, tying a school record held by Remy Hamilton*—that gave the game its final margin: 59-9, Michigan.
Funchess sporting his new Ron Kramer Legacy jersey (Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog)
Aside from the two picks, Gardner looked like the superstar he's expected to be in his first year as the full-time starter, averaging 10.8 yards per attempt and rushing for 52 yards on seven carries; CMU couldn't keep him in the pocket and couldn't stop him when he escaped, including one play in which Gardner comically olé'd an awaiting defender hoping to hit him on the sideline.
His ESP-level connection with Gallon showed, as well; Gallon caught four passes for 47 yards and had a second touchdown catch wiped out when Taylor Lewan
wandered downfield illegally rode his donkey too far even from the generous blocking zone they give linemen on play-action these days. Funchess and Reynolds both impressed, as well, and while each left the game due to injury, those dings appeared minor. Brady Hoke said after the game that Funchess left the game due to a cramp (an unfortunately-placed one, given the rather sensitive area he clutched after his long catch), while there was no report on the status of Reynolds.
Defensively, Beyer was a consistent presence in the backfield as a lineman in Greg Mattison's nickel package, tallying a sack and another TFL. Cam Gordon, playing in place of the injured Jake Ryan, looked fantastic in tallying a pair of sacks among his 2.5 TFLs, lining up at both strongline linebacker and defensive end and playing both well. Desmond Morgan took to his new position as the MIKE with aplomb, leading the team with seven tackles despite heavy rotation in the front seven. While the much-balleyhooed Frank Clark recorded a lone QB hurry, his backup, Mario Ojemudia, came up with a sack and looked like a very solid option at weakside DE.
Of the true freshmen to see their first action—and there were many—it was Stribling who impressed the most; he was Michigan's field corner when they went into the nickel package, and while he gave up a couple catches, he showed off his playmaking ability by stripping CMU's Andrew Flory after one of those receptions. Linebacker Ben Gedeon also played well in his first career action, tallying four tackles; "The Freak" didn't look out of place at weakside linebacker.
The only major points of concern were Gardner's two picks—hopefully those can be chalked up to opening-game rust, as he otherwise looked like a Heisman candidate—and the play of the safeties. Jarrod Wilson and Josh Furman blew a couple assignments, though there's a good chance that neither is starting by mid-September—strong safety Thomas Gordon sat out the game for a "violation of team rules" and Courtney Avery could factor in at free safety when he recovers from knee surgery, hopefully in time for next week's game but more likely for Akron. The offensive line had its moments, good and bad; Al Borges called for a lot of zone running plays instead of asking for his two new guards, Kyle Kalis and Graham Glasgow, to pull; Kalis played a very solid game, featuring a bone-crushing body-slam on Gardner's first touchdown run, while Glasgow and center Jack Miller had their ups and downs.
Michigan's fans trickled out of the stadium throughout the fourth quarter, content that their team took care of a MAC opponent like Wolverines should: devouring them alive. There was little reason to stay, more competitive football games to watch, and celebratory beers to drink. Cheers to a new season, a 1-0 record, and zero heart attacks.
*If you've just woken up from a three-year slumber, this is somehow not a joke.
Season prediction by computers
I'm sure you've seen Brian Fremeau's FEI projections already. If I remember correctly, they had us at 8 wins last year...
This year it's 7 wins. :( To tell you the truth, there have been so many positive comments about Gardner, I was starting to get confirmation bias. Your thoughts?
Statistical preseason rankings are often lagging indicators since in an effort to be at all reflective of reality they have to not only take data from the previous year but the previous few. This means they predict what has happened before will happen again. Fremeau's Program FEI rankings look at the last five years. For Michigan that includes the entire Rodriguez era.
They are therefore useless in this case except insofar as the 2010 recruiting class is still with us. Or not with us, as the case may be. I don't put a ton of stock into computer projections, and in Michigan's specific case it's barely any.
Reading the Braden/Bryant tea leaves
What do you/MGoBlog staff think about Braden being shifted to back-up OT?
1. Braden couldn't pull or otherwise do the things they want from their their guards?
2. Bryant has proven himself as a potential starter/legit back-up?
3. Some of both,
4. Completely unclear
I lean towards 1 with a bit of 3. It's clear they wanted Braden to be the guy, clear that Braden is a physical monster who demands you try to start him as soon as he's off a redshirt, and also clear that he's not really a guard. Or at least it became clear. Otherwise he would still be competing there, and Glasgow would be competing at center, and the possibility that Bryant's radiator goes out midseason would be covered by the prospect of playing Braden.
HOWEVA, I do think Bryant has legitimately emerged as an option. For one, chatter. For two, they moved Braden back outside, seemingly permanently.
Legends patches. Merph.
19 coulda been a contendah
As three more players get their numbers exchanged for Legends jerseys this year, I shake my head and pine for what #19 could have meant for Michigan fans in three years. My buddy's #10 jersey is now Just Another Brady. Are the jerseys taking away from the chance for new players to carve out their own place in Michigan history?
One man's solution: Assign Legends jerseys (and maybe even some retired numbers?) on one game a year. Homecoming is an obvious choice- the alumni presence will appreciate the old numbers more. Let the players assert, through the first half of the season, who deserves to wear a Legends number, and since it's only one game a year, they don't have to give up their own. Thoughts?
Yes, they are taking away the ability for players to carve out their own number legacy. I was looking forward to seeing #19 on the field and thinking about Funchess, having tight ends want the #19, having a Funchess patch on #19, etc. Now that's not happening. Funchess can annihilate TE receiving records and go zeroth in the NFL draft and no patch. Ditto Gallon: guy was #10, and now he's just the latest guy to wear #21 for one year. (I actually mind the Avery move less, since he's not likely to be a guy you remember forever and sigh about. Rewarding a senior captain who isn't an out-and-out star with the fancy patch is a good thing.)
While your suggestion is an upgrade on the current situation, they should just issue legends jerseys like normal numbers to incoming freshmen. Maybe hold them out and hand them out to promising sophomores—Jake Ryan getting 47 early in his sophomore year is much different than switching a guy burned into your head as some other number. But just hand them out to kids who want them when they show up.
Getting overly precious about numbers is blowing them up, as can be seen with the effectively-retired #1. Players should get numbers and never change those numbers, and I miss handlebar mustaches and gangrene.
Ohio State: what to do?
Now that you've looked at some of the OSU game (and I assume managed to stomach some of the run plays again as well), what are your impressions of Borges's second half game plan.
My feelings have been, after watching it a couple times, that the game plan wasn't nearly as much an issue as execution. While some of the play calls didn't lend when to Michigan's abilities, basic execution (such as the interior OL managing to make an effective double at the point of attack so Michigan could pick up a single yard) far out-weighed the possibly poor play calling aspects of the game. Even Lewan struggled to execute regularly in this game IMO.
Again, while I freely admit the game plan and play calling was far from perfect, as with most cases, I think 9 out of 10 times it's execution that is the issue more so than what most fans see as an OC screwing it up with play calling. IMO, if there is any issue, it was the offensive coaches not getting the players up to a point where they could execute fairly simple tasks regularly. What's your take on the situation.
While execution was a major issue, Michigan had to know that was going to be a problem. The OL had been flailing since at least the Nebraska game. OSU had a front seven laden with players who were always going to overwhelm Michigan's interior line. So I was on-board with the three first-half running back carries. More than doubling that in the second half was foolish.
Also foolish: expecting that Ohio State would not cotton on to the fact that Denard could not throw. The third-down speed option was doomed since the free safety was plunging down at the slot. Meanwhile, Borges called a ton of pointless rollouts (remember that John Simon was out) that ended up as inaccurate passes as Gardner couldn't set his feet.
The argument about execution always gets my dander up, because you as a coordinator are responsible for putting your players in a position to succeed. Their ability to execute opens up some possibilities and closes off others, but—for instance—asking Denard Robinson to execute on naked bootlegs on which a player will always be in his face the instant he turns around is on you, the coordinator. You have to execute as well.
I think Borges's options were limited, but three things stand out:
- Refusing to run Gardner. He had three attempts. Michigan could have used the extra blocker on short yardage badly.
- Telegraphing second-half run plays with Robinson. You had to know that 19 of the 20 minutes at halftime were spent saying "DENARD CANNOT THROW".
- Incessant rollouts.
(And he got super lucky on Michigan's final drive of the first half, as he'd managed to turn a two minute drill into a 30 second drill in two plays… and then Denard stayed up.)
I've detailed why I think Borges's gameplans in three games in particular were atrocious (2011 Iowa, 2011 Michigan State, and 2012 Notre Dame) because they asked players to do things they weren't good, over and over again.
Borges's philosophy is about as opposed to Rodriguez's as can be, and that's fine. He has track records of very efficient offenses in his past. He will have them in the future. But his desire to do Borges things with players ill-suited to do them cost Michigan a couple games over the past couple years. The Ohio State game is probably not in that category… but it's debatable.
|Kicker||Yr||Punter||Yr||Kickoffs||Yr||Punt return||Yr||Kick return||Yr|
|Brendan Gibbons||Sr*||Matt Wile||Jr||Matt Wile||Jr||Dennis Norfleet||So||Dennis Norfleet||So|
|Matt Wile||Jr||Kenny Allen||Fr*||Brendan Gibbons||Sr*||Drew Dileo||Sr||Drew Dileo||Sr|
Oh man. Despite the season-long suspension of Will Hagerup, Michigan has depth at both kicker spots and moves Dennis Norfleet into both return jobs. Brendan Gibbons will aim for a top five spot in the history of Michigan kicker accuracy; Matt Wile has established himself as a consistent B+ punter (at least), and Wile's being pushed by a freshman who's been booming them since spring practice.
This could be good. As long as they cover someone and block someone. Right. That bit.
Gibbons year by year
If BRENDAN GIBBONS continues his meteoric rise at the same rate he's improved over the last two seasons he'll be 6/6 on 60+ field goals and win the Heisman. This… is not likely. But a Groza finalist spot actually is, or would be except for the fact that Brady Hoke hates field goals. (Woo!)
Let's review: as a redshirt freshman, Gibbons was 1/5 on mostly chip-shot kicks, paving the way for other kickers to be about as bad. Michigan all but abandoned the idea of kicking field goals longer than 30 yards, and when Hoke was hired the first thing on many people's minds is "they HAVE to get a kicker, right?"
Brady Hoke gave Gibbons a hearty back-slap, transferring a millionth of a percent of his confidence to the beleaguered freshman, and lo, the next season he was 13/17 with his clutch kick winning the Sugar Bowl. As a junior, his range improved and he hit 16 of 18 field goals, including a 52-yarder. In terms of basic accuracy his 2012 was the third-best in Michigan history, behind only John Carlson in 1989 and Kicking Competency Lopata in 2007—and Lopata's long that year was 42. (MGoBlue doesn't have a long for Carlson.)
In terms of advanced stats, Michigan's field goal efficiency was 12th nationally. (Matt Wile did help out by hitting 2 of 3 long ones.) That's even more impressive when you consider that it was held down by Brady Hoke's tendency to scoff at long field goals, pull out a slab of meat, tear off a chunk, and scream "GIVE ME A FIRST DOWN OR GIVE ME DEATH!"
I may be excessively enthusiastic about Brady Hoke's aggressiveness.
Anyway, Gibbons is all but automatic now. He's tied for ninth all-time in FG% at M despite the awful start; the Hoke version of Gibbons would be a solid #1 at 83%. He should press into the upper reaches of the record book with a season similar to 2012, except that kickers are weird and can implode at any time. Brady Hoke emanates calm, though, so that is not likely to happen.
And Michigan has a great backup option in MATT WILE, who nailed a 52-yarder himself in the bowl game. He's the starting punter and kickoff guy—he can just kick things, often a great distance. Even if Gibbons shorts out Michigan will be turning to a guy who they can expect success from. So yeah, I'm breaking out the 5 even if this means I'll be building a moat if things go wrong this fall. YOLO.
[After THE JUMP: Norfleet! Norfleet! Norfleet! (Matt Wile. Terrible punt coverage.)]
"How we doin'?"
Great. Are you game ready yet?
"Getting there, yeah. We're getting there. Now that we've kind of shaved it down to the guys that we think are going to participate in a game, that's always kind of when you start making a little bit more progress. You're not working with your third team guys all the time. You're working with the guys that are actually going to play in the game. You can start getting a little chemistry, and it starts going better."
You have six running backs on the depth chart. How many do you think will actually get carries?
"Who knows? I don't know. Fitz [Toussaint] is going to be our starting running back, and we're going to play it by ear. I don't have an answer to that question because Fitz is going to be the running back and we'll just see how things go."
Have you ever listed six guys at running back before?
"I think so. At one point I did. It may not have been at running back. Yeah, I'm sure I have, yeah. At some place I've been. That's a lot, though. I will say that."
"LITTLE AND DEADLY OR INEXPERIENCED AND TALL
MICHIGAN HAS IT ALL"
-Robert Frost, "Leaves Falling In A Wood"
|Jeremy Gallon||Sr.*||Jehu Chesson||Fr.*||Drew Dileo||Sr.||Devin Funchess||So.|
|Jeremy Jackson||Sr.*||Joe Reynolds||Sr.*||Dennis Norfleet||So.||Jake Butt||Fr.|
|Jaron Dukes||Fr.||Csont'e York||Fr.||Da'Mario Jones||Fr.||--||--|
They may not look like much on the football field or even at Benny's when you're making your customary scan for football players, but Michigan's mighty-mite wide receivers can play a little ball. This year they'll be joined by the vanguard of the Michigan receiving corps' future: enormous friggin' dudes.
Unfortunately, Amara Darboh checked out of the season with a foot injury, but there's enough here to provide Devin Gardner all the targets he wants.
FWIW, you might think there will be more opportunities for these guys to get their hands on the ball, with Robinson's departure, but Gardner averaged just over one attempt more per game than Robinson and Bellomy. He was more accurate, and should be more accurate still in year two, but that only adds maybe 30 catches to the 169 Michigan had a year ago.
[NOTE: though flex tight ends are listed above since they will fill some of the WR snaps they are addressed in the TE & Friends post, not here.]
Okay, I know that JEREMY GALLON is sporting a close-cropped hairstyle that blows this comparison up, but is that tradition? Does that fill your heart with a mixture of joy and despair at both the passage of time and the Gordian Knot that is the American inner city? NO. JEREMY GALLON STILL LOOKS LIKE SNOOP FROM THE WIRE GODDAMMIT.
Reality bows to sentimentality. Rule #1.
|hitches you to death…|
|hitch go hitch|
|can't stay close|
|…then gets over the top|
|against 'Bama even|
|gets drilled, hangs on|
|makes tough catches|
|leaps for corner|
|over the shoulder|
|productive on screens|
|Heiko's favorite play|
|houses it against Illinois|
|quicks make dudes miss|
When Gallon is not looking exactly like Felicia Pearson no matter what he does, he specializes in leaping over guys a half-foot taller than he is. Here's the full-season UFR receiver chart with departures excised:
[Passes are rated by how tough they are to catch. 0 == impossible. 1 == wow he caught that, 2 == moderate difficulty, 3 == routine. The 0/X in all passes marked zero is implied.]
Gallon was not only Michigan's most prolific receiver, he was amongst its most efficient. With a 25/25 mark on routine 3s last year he's averaging a drop per year since Brady Hoke came to town. While a 7/12 hit rate on 2s isn't great, the entire 2011 Michigan team came up with four circus catches, which Gallon almost matched by himself. Football Study Hall's WR targeting data has Gallon seventh of 41 qualifying Michigan receivers (2005-2012, 20 targets minimum) in yards per target, but that's not the whole story. For one: of the guys he is chasing is the 2011 version of himself. For two: at the top of the list only Mario Manningham approaches Gallon's 79 targets (he had 64). He was rather good.
Combine the frequency with which he was targeted with the number of yards you get per attempt and you have a credible case that Gallon's 2012 was the best Michigan receiver season since 2005*. FSH slams all the targeting data together in an attempt to come up with one receiver number to rule them all in a stat it calls RYPR; Gallon's 2012 leads Michigan receivers since 2005 and finished 14th nationally last year.
Pretty good. Then consider Gallon's yards per target leapt from 9.6 under Denard to 11.4 under Gardner at the same time his target rate shot up (33 targets in the first eight games versus 45 in the last five). Yeah. Full-season Gallon was one of the most efficient receivers in the country. Gardner Edition Gallon was an All-American. If you want it in the most basic numbers possible, average Gallon's production in the last five games and multiply by 13. You get 81 catches for 1330 yards. Why does that yardage number sound familiar?
who the hell is Jack Clancy and why have I never heard of him?
Oh. That's why.
So don't even ask. Jeremy Gallon is a legit #1 receiver and a lock for All Big Ten. His quickness means he's open on hitches all the time and once you get sick of that he shoots over the top:
In the redzone he is effective because his wiggle gets him open in tight spaces and he is wearing special rocket cleats:
He has a crazy mind-meld going on with Devin Gardner that only strengthened over the offseason. He is going to make any worries about wide receiver depth much less worrisome, because he's going to absorb 40% of Gardner's attempts. He's short, yeah. Okay. You got me there.
Gallon's going to be on that list of best Michigan receiving season at the end of the year, and the leading receiver in the league.
*[IE, 1 After Braylon. Would be fascinating to see where he ranks in here.]
[after THE JUMP: life after Darboh, the secret weapon, NORFLEET]