"The University of Illinois is also in turmoil. The university sports an Interim Chancellor, an Interim Athletic Director, and an Interim Football Coach; the game will be played at Soldier Field, making this an Illini Interim Home Game."
Coverage is irrelevant. [Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog]
There was Devin Funchess, galloping through and leaping over the Appalachian State secondary. There were Derrick Green and De'Veon Smith, bursting through holes opened up by Ben Braden and Kyle Kalis. There was Devin Gardner, completing all but one pass. There was Dennis Norfleet, catching bubble screens and darting past defenders.
There was offense, making sense at last.
Sure, Michigan's 560 yards on 55 plays came against an Appalachian State team that went 4-8 as an FCS program in 2013, but the coherence and explosiveness of Doug Nussmeier's offense proved undeniable. Funchess more than earned his new #1 jersey, scoring on three of his seven receptions, including a spectacular leaping grab over two defenders in the back of the end zone. Gardner had no difficulty finding open receivers, connecting on 12/13 passes for 173 yards and those three TDs to Funchess before giving way to Shane Morris in the third quarter as the blowout continued unabated.
Green (15 carries, 170 yards, 1 TD) and Smith (8, 115, 2) became the first pair of Michigan running backs to crack the century mark in the same game since Carlos Brown and Brandon Minor accomplished the feat against a hapless Minnesota team in 2007. They found running room. This was to be expected against an undersized, overmatched ASU squad, but this was not to be expected because last year happened. The offensive line held their ground and then some, giving up just one sack and paving the way for 350 yards on 36 carries.
The production excited, but more than that it was the fashion in which Michigan got that production. Screens to Funchess and Norfleet* opened up both the running game and downfield passing. The emphasis on inside zone allowed the line to find their rhythm; after some early stuffed runs, they started opening up big creases, especially when Kalis entered the game at right guard in place of starter Joey Burzynski. Michigan got explosive plays—ten of their first 30 went for ten yards or more—and also showed that they could move the ball methodically; the first scoring drive, capped by a nine-yard touchdown to Funchess, covered 63 yards in nine plays.
De'Veon Smith displayed power and balance on his way to 115 rushing yards. [Fuller]
On the other side of the ball, the defense played up to their lofty expectations, forcing punts on each of ASU's first seven drives, including five three-and-outs. 171 of the Mountaineers' 280 total yards came on two second-half drives with the game well out of reach, as Greg Mattison liberally rotated through defenders. They came through on their promise to be more aggressive, playing lots of tight man coverage and putting ASU QB Kam Bryant under consistent pressure—Michigan's two sacks and four QB hurries don't tell the whole story.
The special teams even managed to chip in a scoring play, as Ben Gedeon caught a punt blocked by Mike McCray and managed to extend the ball just past the pylon to put U-M up 35-0 just prior to halftime.
Only two things came up as real concerns during the game. Jabrill Peppers missed the second half with an ankle injury; Brady Hoke confirmed after the game that his absence was precautionary, and he'll be back on the field next week for Notre Dame. Meanwhile, Jake Ryan looked uncomfortable at times at middle linebacker, getting overaggressive on run defense and allowing a big gain through the air when he didn't get enough depth on a zone drop. If your biggest defensive concern is Jake Ryan, however, your defense is in a very good place.
"We weren't competing against the score, we were competing against our abilities," Hoke said. At the very least, Michigan showed their ability to dominate inferior competition. They certainly drew up the blueprint for how they'd like this team to operate the rest of the year, too. Next week, we'll learn a lot more about just how far they've come.
For now, it's nice to sit back and enjoy a stress-free Saturday.
*Or "Little Fleetwood" as Hoke (accidentally?) called him in the postgame presser.
Obviously your first game is this week. Just your overall thoughts- the offensive line is always a topic and you guys have a lot of good competition at running back. Just your overall thoughts on what you’re expecting Saturday.
“Well, I think we’ve progressed. We talked about coming out of the spring and as we started fall camp it needed to be practice #16 for us and it was and we’ve gotten better each and every practice. Now, you’re not going to see it all of the time. We’re not where we need to be as a whole unit. We get it right in spurts. The biggest thing right now is to find consistency in performance across the board but like you said, the one thing we have been able to do is create competition across the board and we are getting better.”
Is there a spot where you see a lot of competition at? Or you said you guys have it in spurts, where are you guys lacking and where are you guys doing well?
“Well, I think across positions you can see it at every position and we find that we can do things very, very well when we do them well and we go in stretches where we play together and we play well together and then we’ll have either a unit or an individual break down and that’s the part about playing football and playing at a very, very high level. You’ve got to have consistency and everybody doing the right thing on every play.”
I don’t know if you’ve noticed but people are a little apprehensive of the offensive line and I wonder if your feeling from when you first got here until now, if that has changed and how much it’s changed because I assume you were somewhat apprehensive as well.
“Well, I’ve said it many times but there seems to be a focus on a unit on every team, a strength here or a weakness there. A lot of that’s perception, too. You talk about a quarterback position, for example. If a quarterback’s not being protected a lot of times it doesn’t look like he’s playing very well when at the end of the day it doesn’t really fall on the quarterback. When you look at an offensive line group there’s a lot of things that play into it. A lot of it has to do with the backs and the running game, making sure they hit the right hole, it has to do with the quarterback getting us into the right play so that we can get good angles for blocking schemes, it has to do with receivers winning at the line of scrimmage in press coverage so that the quarterback can get the ball out in time so that we’re not holding the ball so there’s a lot of factors that play into each and every group and that’s why it is a team game. Every unit we have takes pride in how they play and we all demand that each unit does their job and I wouldn’t expect anything less.”
We saw that Derrick Green is at the top of the running back depth chart. What did he do in the last week or two to put himself there and separate himself?
“I think it’s been the overall body of work through camp and everything we try to do. We tell the players there’s going to be evidence-based decisions by what you put on film and what you do on a day-to-day basis and Derrick continually progressed and he continues to progress. Like I said before, as an offense and even at that position we’re nowhere near where we need to be or where we want to be but as far as when you look at the process of getting better each and every day and how you approach the day and he’s just continued to get better each and every day. We’ve talked a lot about his weight as he came into camp and that’s been one of the biggest things. He looks like a different back.”
What are your thoughts about the wide receivers? It seems like that’s a position group of strength, a lot of depth there. Is there any particular guy that stood out to you or just your thoughts on the receivers?
“Well, obviously [Devin] Funch[ess], his production speaks for itself. Very, very talented player. Like we talked about, you want to create depth and competition at every position and we feel like we have a good talent base there. A lot of different guys that can do different things and the goal will be ultimately to keep guys fresh and put guys in the right position where they can make plays.”
[After THE JUMP: more on the running backs, Devin Gardner’s growth, and all aboard the Mason Cole hype train]
News bullets and other items:
Captains will be voted on after the Ohio State game, with seniors representing the team at each coin toss
The depth chart was released prior to the presser. Read Ace’s take on it here.
Injury update: Kyle Kalis is fully healthy, while Delano Hill is meeting with doctors this afternoon to determine whether he can play Saturday
Hoke raved about Devin Gardner’s progression on the field and as a team leader
Ty Isaac’s status is still uncertain; they’re waiting to hear back about the appeal
The freshman and sophomore classes have an edge to them. Hoke does not know that he has said edge.
Brady Hoke “Well,…” count: 12
[After THE JUMP: a mini scouting report on Appalachian State, Devin Gardner’s development, and the captain situation (or lack thereof) explained]
IT'S SUPPOSED TO BE THREE *YARDS* AND A CLOUD OF DUST
-This Preview, Last Year
IT'S SUPPOSED TO BE ANYTHING POSITIVE AND A CLOUD OF NOT EBOLA
|FEATURE BACK||Yr.||SHORT YARDAGE||Yr.||3RD DOWN||YR.|
|De'Veon Smith||So.||Derrick Green||So.||Drake Johnson||So.*|
|Derrick Green||So.||De'Veon Smith||So.||Justice Hayes||Jr.*|
|Drake Johnson||So.*||Wyatt Shallman||Fr.*||De'Veon Smith||So.|
How did Michigan's current tailbacks do last year? I don't know and they don't either. The situation on the line and Fitzgerald Toussaint sucking up a bunch of carries left Michigan relatively short on snaps to give anyone still around, and then when they got those snaps they were immediately drowned in a pile of opposition bodies.
This was especially bad since Michigan has almost exclusively recruited guys with tree-trunk legs who aren't going to put a Hart move on you. An anonymous opponent talks to Michael Spath at Big Ten Media Days:
"They needed to have a really quick, change-of-direction back, kind of like [Nebraska's] Ameer [Abdullah], but they had two guys that were similar size that were more like the big, physical type. Like Carlos Hyde, but they weren't as fast as Carlos, they didn't have the holes to run through, and they didn't have the vision."
Or that vision was wall-to-wall doom. The jury is emphatically out.
THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER-TYPE SUBSTANCE
Unless Ty Isaac gets his NCAA waiver, something that does not seem likely, Michigan only has four-ish tailbacks on the roster after Ross Douglas's sensible move to slot receiver. Three of those have drawn heavy mention through fall camp, and one seems to be the very tentative #1 back. (Or at least he did until they released the depth chart this morning, but Rome wasn't written in a day, people.)
HAIR ZOOM 2014 [Fuller. Nice resolution, bro!]
That is DE'VEON SMITH [recruiting profile], a ball of muscle Michigan won in a head-to-head battle with Ohio State. Smith had a bit of a Braylon Edwards in him last year… the Braylon who was infamously Not On The Same Page with Lloyd Carr early in his career. Smith was left off the travel roster in early November for obscure reasons—Hoke gruffly explained that "De’Veon didn’t travel because I took him off the travel team"—that turned out to be some major friction about playing time. Smith couldn't understand why he didn't have all of it and had a rep for expressing that point of view… let's say passionately.
It seems like that friction is in the past now. Reports have varied as to who is at the top of the tailback depth chart, but they have varied in who, if anyone, is 1B to Smith's 1A. The BTN guys said Smith was at the top when they visited practice; our insider thought Smith was clearly at the top of the depth chart; Hoke told the assembled media that Smith and Drake Johnson were the top two guys. Then he said Green was the top guy with Smith just behind, and then they were neck and neck. so… yeah. My Bayesian estimation is that Smith has a tiny lead that wouldn't even be worth mentioning except for the fact that I have to talk about someone first.
Given Brady Hoke's favorite word other than "well" and its total lack of applicability to the last couple editions of the Michigan ground game, these presser statements are almost a coronation:
"The one thing I know about De’Veon is he’s probably as tough a guy as I’ve been around. His identity is toughness. The way he practices, he’s a guy who can get dinged up but he’s still going to go, and he’s going to go, and he’s going to go."
I'm totally fine with this. I predicted Smith would emerge as the #2 back last year; I preferred him when asked in a mailbag after the season.
I am bullish on him because people complain about his speed, and I like Mike Hart. Speed is an overrated quality for tailbacks because 90% of the time they never approach their top end, and Smith brings a lot of Hart-like qualities to the table.
One is the fact that if you used a giant claw to extract De'Veon Smith from the tumbling melee of a football game, his legs would keep going. Turn him over: still going. Etc. From the Northwestern game:
I liked Smith's "leg churn," as faux NFL draft analysts like to say. He seems to have a knack for keeping his thighs moving as the pile forms around him.
That ability to keep his stride when being harassed was key for his big run against OSU, when he ran through two tackles without even acknowledging their existence.
And since Smith barely got a carry with any room to do anything last year the GIF I asked Ace to pull from Smith's highlight film is still a good representation of his assets:
The man has uncanny balance and the ability to run through tackles. In addition, Smith had a Hart-like aversion to fumbling through his high school career and didn't put one on the turf in his freshman year.
What Smith didn't show in year one was anything approximating Hart's ability to ghost out of tackles he had no right to avoid. Smith needs more help than Hart did and hopes to make it up by being bigger and more powerful once he gets going. That was a major problem last year and might be one again.
The broken record bit: any attempts to predict production here are seriously compromised by the massive question mark on the offensive line. I'm guessing Smith and Green platoon just about down the middle, with neither really emerging into a star; both are decent, and just decent.
[After THE JUMP: Mega-recruit now mega-hulk, the pass-pro brothers, God willing, and a belated appreciation of Vincent Smith.]
News bullets and other items:
- Jabrill Peppers at corner looks like it’s happening. For now he’s at nickel, but all evidence points to him eventually usurping one of the corner’s spots.
- Boo-boo watch: Kyle Kalis [back] and Ty Isaac [stinger] should be back Monday
- Derrick Green was the #1 running back heading into the scrimmage
- Expect to see lots of two (or more) tight end sets from the offense this season. /sighs
- Hoke was again impressed by Mason Cole
- The defense is ahead of the offense, which Hoke says is typically the case
- Starters on both sides of the ball should be figured out by Wednesday or Thursday
- Brady Hoke “Well, …” count: 11
"Number one, thanks for coming out. Thought it was a good atmosphere for our team to be in front of, environment, I think that's important. We probably went a little longer than I thought we would but I knew my math and plays and play count, I knew we'd go a little over and I think we did. There were some negative plays in there that we've got to still clean up. Some of it is up front and I really think some of it today- we've got to have better vision in the back and so from that standpoint offensively. From a defensive standpoint I thought they got after it. Too many penalties. The PI rules are going to be called, probably, a little closer in this league. We had a little bit too much, where a guy got grabbed too much or didn't move his feet well enough, those kind of things. But that's why you do what we did. Some negative plays with some penalties breaks your rhythm a little bit and you don't like that but we need to coach off of it, teach off of it, educate off of it and keep working forward. Can't complain about what these guys have done to this point, and we know we've got two weeks. This will be good to learn from for everybody and we'll start really focusing in Wednesday with Appalachian State."
You mentioned just getting them out there and getting them reps. How big do you think it is just for the freshman? They see the environment, they're here, was that kind of the main...
"Well, that's important. Then there are guys who are redshirt freshman or third-year sophomores who haven't played a lot but to get out, come down the tunnel – most of those guys, the only time they've been down the tunnel was on their visit or for games when they came as visitors and so going out there with that winged helmet on, going out there to have a big stake in what we're trying to get done I think is pretty significant. I think that helps."
Defense seemed to get the better of the offense in the running game. Have you seen more progress in the running game then we saw tonight?
"Yeah, yeah. The other night we ran the ball pretty well. Again, you can't play well one Saturday and not as well the next so there's another lesson of consistency there. Yeah, the defense I thought – and to be honest with you, they should. There's more veterans over there, more guys with game experience. I think defense always, to some degree, gets always a little ahead of the offense and it's been like that forever but we need to catch up offensively pretty fast."
You mentioned the vision of the backs you want improved but offensive line-wise, can you think of anything that's kind of keeping them from turning a corner?
"No, I don't think you can pinpoint anything particular. You've got to play with good leverage, you've got to be positive with your footwork, your hips have got to get down the field, and you've got to face blocks. I mean, it sounds easy but when you've got a defense that- we move a lot, we blitz a lot, it puts a little more pressure on them."
You mentioned on Sunday your primary depth chart at running back at that point without [Justice] Hayes. How's he been doing out there or how'd he do this week?
"Well, I think he's had a good week. Again, I don't know if any of them tonight in my opinion – again, this is without watching the tape but I think we've got to keep improving there and keep seeing things a little better."
You have two weeks to go. Your level of concern with the offensive line and the running game?
"Well, let me say this. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't concerned about all of our football team. You know, that's just being a coach. Do we need to improve still? There's no question about it. I think the running game, like I said, the other day we ran the ball pretty well."
[After THE JUMP: evaluations of the running backs, secondary, and more, and all the Jabrill Peppers talk that’s probably the reason you’re reading this in the first place]
Not to compare it to last year, but what is a Doug Nussmeier offense? What is this offense going to look like?
“We want to play physical. We want to establish an identity as a physical and explosive offense.”
How have the guys embraced that?
“I feel really good about the way that our guys have worked. The players have worked extremely hard, had a good summer with Coach Wellman and come to camp, like I said, really focused. They’ve had a good first week.”
How important is it to figure out who you are on the offensive line and let them gel? [Note: that’s my best guess as to the question. The audio was garbled.]
“Obviously the sooner you can answer that question the better off you’re going to be. It’s not just the verbal communication but it’s also the nonverbal communication that goes on there. It’s something that we’re working on. We’re looking at a couple different scenarios and combinations right now and we’ll settle on that soon.”
Is there pressure or excitement or both?
“You know, it’s all how you look at it. There’s always excitement and pressure’s what you put on yourself. For me, the expectation at Michigan is extremely high and that’s the way we want it. That’s why you coach at Michigan, that’s why you play at Michigan. You embrace it. There’s a lot of guys that have played in this program and coached in this program before that have set a standard and you want to be part of that and that’s why it’s a special place.”
The offensive line had its struggles last year and yet lost two NFL Draft picks. How can this line be better even without that group?
“Well, we’re really excited about the group we have—young players and they’re growing everyday with different things. They’re trying to focus in on certain things that we do every week so that they can really get good and, as you say, get better with repetition and so hopefully each week we’ll get better and better.”
Are you starting to see guys blossom because of the opportunity?
“I think Coach [Hoke] has said it many times, we’ve created some really good competition on our team. We’re getting better and deeper as far as creating competition at different position and we’re moving guys around to create competition, so you’d think that competition brings out the best in every player.”
Coach Hoke said today that Drake Johnson and De’Veon [Smith] are kind of a cut above the other running backs. What set them apart, those two in particular?
“Well, first thing when you talk about De’Veon is you talk about how physical of a player he is. He’s a tough, tough guy and really day in and day out he’s a guy that puts on his hard hat and brings his lunch pail. To me that’s the thing that’s stood out the most about him. Drake looks really explosive coming off the injury from last year, did a great job with rehab. Schmidty [Paul Schimdt, Head Trainer] and his staff and Aaron [Wellman] this summer, they’ve done a great job of getting him ready to go. And Derrick Green’s done some really good things. Justice does some good things also. There’s a group of guys there and we’re really looking for somebody to separate themselves from the group.”
Brady [Hoke] said he wants toughness to be the identity of this team. For an offense what does that mean?
“Talk about being physical, being physical at the line of scrimmage. That’s across the board. Our wideouts are going to be be physical players. We’re going to demand that from everybody on the offense.”
[After THE JUMP: offensive installation, Devin Gardner, and Jabrill Peppers?]