"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."
Cole and Clark impressed [Bryan Fuller]
Our annual attempt to glean useful things from the Big Ten's visit to fall camp is here. BTN analysts have a slight bias towards the positive, as Gerry DiNardo demonstrated before last season…
"When I saw them in the spring it was like a war at the line of scrimmage," BTN analyst Gerry DiNardo said. "It was what you imagine it looks like at Alabama and all the downhill teams."
…so take overall tenor with a grain of salt. As per usual, I've translated these from twitterese. This year only DiNardo and Dienhart are reporting; Howard Griffith is there but just hangin' out yo. Dienhart has an article and everything. If there's no link, it's from the article.
"Much like last year a team with more talent than most teams in the B1G. Recruiting rankings are accurate in most cases." –Dinardo
"Long hard physical practice—they got a ton of reps, often times splitting staff and team in half to get more reps." –Dinardo
Rep rep rep is good news, as when Michigan does show bits of practice the pace is often not inspiring. Anything that seems to be oriented towards making Michigan competent at speed is welcome.
"Like a lot of places offensive scheme is starting to be blend of more than one offensive philosophy." –Dinardo
As long as that's running a lot of inside zone from shotgun and under center, okay.
"Jumped out: Gardner, Norfleet, Charlton, Poggi, Speight, Cole, Ojemudia, Pipkins, Clark, Henry, Mone, Glasgow." –DiNardo
That's a pretty long list of guys to jump out at you. Speight's inclusion is a little weird since in another tweet he says that Morris and Speight are pretty even for the backup QB job. Mone is the only freshman mentioned. (Peppers had to miss this practice for class.)
[AFTER the JUMP: shortin' out and dyin', De'Veon Smith credit plea, naggers.]
News bullets and other important items:
- Delonte Hollowell has a cast on his hand and Ondre Pipkins was held out of two-a-days as a precaution.
- Shane Morris is the backup QB. They like the progress he’s made, but he’s the backup.
- Wilton Speight is competing with Russell Bellomy for the third-string QB job. Decision on whether Speight should redshirt will be made in a couple of weeks.
- The first team offensive line should be determined over the next week.
- May use by-committee approach to running backs, but they would like to have a featured back.
- Drake Johnson and De’Veon Smith are 1 and 1a on the RB depth chart, with Derrick Green at 2.
- Team is still searching for an identity, though Hoke wants it to be one that can run the ball and have toughness on both sides of the ball. Toughness was mentioned a lot today.
- Brian is probably going to have to eat a lemon.
“Good morning. I’m glad you’re here. Overall, we’re really happy with the progress we’ve made from spring. I think in the practices that we’ve had, we went two yesterday-- really good effort and good competition, which is what we’re striving for at every position but also offense versus defense, the kicking game versus the kicking game, all those things, we’ve come out and competed hard. Now we are not, as far as being a good football team yet. But the way they’ve come to work every day and what they’ve done, I think the identity of this team is still one that we’re developing and trying to develop. I think the team has invested themselves in a lot of ways in each other and in what we’re trying to get done. This next week is a grind and should be because you’ve got some double-day practices in there. We’ll scrimmage sometime during that time, during that week, trying to get reps and see what matchups we like as an offense and defense. Really looking into the situational football standpoint of it, how we match up and how we will match up during the course of the year. Excited about where we’re at knowing that we’ve got a lot of hard work that we’ve got to put into it. Staff-wise, player-wise, trainer-wise, manager-wise, everybody that’s involved. So from that standpoint there’s a lot of positives. From the standpoint of where we want to be, we’re not near that yet.
Can you say anything particular about any injuries that have occurred?
“You know,there are some guys who are banged up. Delonte Hollowell, he’s got a cast on his hand. As far as anything real major besides a couple guys we held out, Ondre Pipkins in two-a-day days, trying not to overwork him. We’re doing a lot with some of the GPS tracking that we’re into. I think the first time around doing all that stuff you’re trying to get some baselines and some data and all that and I think that’s helping us when we go out to practice.”
What can you tell me about your thought process through the kicking game this year? Special teams particularly, because you’re going to be seeing a lot of new faces. So what can you tell me, from long snapper to holder to PK…
“Yeah. Matt Wile has done a nice job in his career so far in the kicking part of it. Will Hagerup, it’s great to have Will back. He’s had a good camp so far. Kenny Allen is a young man who’s walked on here who’s worked really hard and is developing a little bit on kickoffs. He’s a very good punter. Snapper, Scott Sypniewski and Danny Liesman are two guys that are really competing there. Scott we brought in a year ago and were able to redshirt him, but losing Jareth Glanda, that’s a big loss but Scott’s done a nice job in that part of it. When you look at the return game there’s a lot of different guys. Norfleet’s really taken most of them but a guy like Freddy Canteen, a guy like Jabrill Peppers, some of those guys have a skillset that we think is pretty good. And the other part of that is having Drake Johnson back is a real plus.”
I’m curious to know how is the development of your wide receiver group going and the transition to a new offensive system?
“The wide receivers, I think, are learning every day. I think the pressure and the stress that we put on them and how we practice as a whole team but for those guys when you’re talking about formationally getting lined up and the different personnel groups and depending on what the quarterback sees and what he’s pointing and all that, I think they’re learning a lot there. I think with Devin [Funchess] and Jehu [Chesson], Amara [Darboh] coming back is a real plus for us. He’s had a real good camp so far. Again, it’s not like we’re in three weeks of it but he’s done a nice job. Freddy Canteen, I think all those guys, Bo Dever, Da’Mario Jones, all of them have improved. They fit what we’re doing. We’ve recruited them to fit what we’re doing offensively.”
[After THE JUMP: Jake Ryan, leadership, Gardner, and more.]
Penn State on the docket. Michigan goes to Happy Valley for their first-ever games against the nascent Nittany Lion program. As you might expect, Penn State is not particularly good. They're 4-17-1 on the season, 0-8 in the league, and have been outscored 35-13 in those eight games.
They've had some close outings, including one-goal losses to Minnesota and Boston College in January; they're still real bad. Not a huge surprise when they have zero seniors. Goaltending is a major issue, with both platoon-mates under .900; leading scorer Eric Scheid has a 10-5-15 line.
Michigan needs to sweep this series if they're going to maintain any hopes of winning the league. That door opened up a bit yesterday when Wisconsin beat Minnesota 2-1. Michigan can draw within six, or even three, points if they keep the Nittany Lions on the mat.
Hyman making a move. I'd pumped him up a bit earlier this year, but the points did not follow. Nowadays, though, Zach Hyman's centering a line that can be reasonably described as "his" and they are performing:
With Hyman centering the third line between freshman Tyler Motte and senior Luke Moffatt, the performance of all three players has quickly escalated. Hyman and his linemates combined for four goals in two games against Wisconsin last weekend and supplied high energy in the offensive zone.
Hyman scored one of those goals, a Kaleniecki special where he blasted in a rebound from the edge of the crease. He's been near-impossible to bump off the puck on the cycle all year and hopefully now he can maintain some scoring production over the rest of the season.
Firing, firing, firing. Via Five Key Plays, Zak Irvin making it rain:
Scouting Stauskas. NBA scouts, this video starts at 8:35. Before that it's just Golden Girls reruns.
It's time to eat (a low-carb diet high in protein). Derrick Green seems to have acquired the message about being smaller and nimbler, and is tweeting out pictures of how much he weighs.
my grind is never gone stop!! 220 by spring ball! Its time to eat 〽️ pic.twitter.com/qIghb24Ya6
— BaN€™〽️ (@DG2seven) February 5, 2014
May he reach 220 by spring and leave corpses in his wake in fall. But fun corpses!
Obligatory signing day articles. Did you know that not every highly-ranked recruit works out? Well, they don't. Also, sometimes low-ranked guys do. Now prepare for the parade of quotes from players and coaches saying they don't care about rankings. Are you prepared?
“I don’t put much stock in (the star-rating system),” Hoke said.
“I think it’s a joke,” Mueller said. “I believe there’s some talented guys, and it’s obvious to point out who the elite college football players are coming out of high school, but there are a lot of guys who get overlooked.
“I do not think it really does anything for any of the college coaches — the star system at least. The kids themselves and parents, it’s more of a headache."
Sorry. You cannot be prepared for that much quote. Anyway, annual article from newspaper about how recruiting rankings are not right every single time is matched by Matt Hinton's annual article in which he comes up with a new way to show that, yes, recruiting rankings are generally predictive.
It's a landslide. On the final count, the higher-ranked team according to the recruiting rankings won roughly two-thirds of the time, and every "class" as a whole had a winning record against every class ranked below it every single year. (The only exception came last year, when "three-star" teams came up short in head-to-head meetings with "one-star" teams. Otherwise, the hierarchy held across every line.) The gap on the field also widened with the gap in the recruiting scores: While "one-star" recruiting teams fared slightly better against blue-chip opponents than "two-star" teams, both groups combined managed a grand total of 19 wins over "five-star" opponents in 112 tries. Broadly speaking, the final results on the field broke along a straight line demarcated on signing day.
There are outliers, of course. Michigan is likely one in a bad direction, but Hinton only picked out those who are outperforming. They include most recent opponent Kansas State, which takes so many JUCOs they are near-impossible to rank reasonably, and Michigan State. Which sigh.
If you were really in charge you wouldn't have to keep saying you're in charge. This is, in fact, an article from this week:
Brady Hoke: I'm running Michigan football program, not Dave Brandon
This is from the press-conference-type substance. Speaking of that…
Usual PR debacles. The odd "press conference" that blew up into a bunch of finger-wagging once the Daily complained about not being there was less a press conference and more five requested one-on-one interviews crammed into a brief, mutual window:
“We did not hold a press conference (Monday),” Ablauf said Tuesday. “Five reporters requested to meet with Brady to discuss football topics, so we arranged this meeting about three weeks ago and set the meeting day and time over a week ago (prior to publication of the Daily story about Gibbons).”
But when five different reporters start tweeting out things Brady Hoke is saying, it looks like a press conference. And when you release the statement about the Gibbons thing that stands as the only thing you're going to say about that topic to five hand-picked reporters, that looks horrible.
Michigan actually did something about a sexual assault on campus that they didn't have to do—unlike, say, Florida State. That they managed to come out of that looking like they do is miraculously bad PR.
Unfortunately, it's not a surprise. This space has been sarcastically declaring "it's almost like the athletic department didn't think things through" jabs for the past year as one bad idea after another was rolled out and quickly rolled back. This is the culmination of the tiny debacles with noodles and seat cushions and the band going to Dallas and not preparing Mary Sue Coleman to speak in a situation with feedback. The same shitty attitude towards everyone outside of the Circle Of Trust from the past few years finally got applied to something important, and now Dave and company are receiving their just desserts.
Hopefully they'll learn something this time.
Uh-huh. The annual Detroit News Blue Chip list generally comes with at least one salty remark about Michigan or MSU, and this year's winner is MSU commit Nick Padla on Michigan:
They talked about tradition (but) I was thinking about the future.
The previous sentence also might have something to do with it:
They were recruiting me my 10th grade then kind of stopped.
Etc.: Enormous piles of NBA data could lead to a holy grail stat to end all stats, but it'll take supercomputers to produce it. Stat updates on Michigan's hockey recruits. Everything you ever wanted to know about Derrick Walton's efficiency leap.
As I sit here watching Missouri and Auburn roll up and down the field, with the only defense being turnovers, I'm wondering what can be done to curtail the wave of offense in football so that defenses have a chance again. Maybe people are fine with all of the offense, but it seems like it is so tough to play defense (get held on nearly every play, called one in 30 times) that I would love to see something to help even things up without drastically changing the game (such as 3 downs instead of 4 or having to go 15 yards for a first down instead of 10, etc.). I think I figured out a simple change that may help: with offenses spread out to make one on one match-ups all over the place, what if there is a rule that all of the offensive players have to line up between the numbers? This wouldn't be such a drastic change and it would allow defenses to be a little less spread out at the snap.
What do you think?
A loyal reader,
Despite the attempt to not seem drastic, that seems kind of drastic. That would affect a lot of teams from spread to, uh, concentrate. And I'm not even sure what the impact would be. If teams just stack two guys up at the numbers is that better or worse? It doesn't seem to have a huge impact. Apologies, but thumbs down.
If we're going to change football to slow down the offenses, my suggestion is to simplify and liberalize pass interference by making it a (nearly) arms-only offense. I can't stand it when a defender gets nailed for the WR trying to run through him; some of these back shoulder things are basically prayer ducks relying on the fact that the DB isn't looking and hoping he'll run over the DB. In the hypothetical world where I am king, whiskey is free and pass interference is a thing that can only happen when a defensive back uses his arms in an unfair fashion or blows a guy up early. No more of this stuff where the DB is running in a direction and the WR changes his path such that the DB is now impeding the WR. You have a right to your momentum. In exchange, offenses can have full NFL penalties for flagrant you-tackled-that-guy offenses.
Not that any of this will do much to slow down Auburn, which just runs and runs and runs and runs. They beat Alabama and their QB threw for 97 yards. They got outgained by 100 yards, but they also ran for 5.7 yards a carry against Alabama. It boggles the mind.
Moving Willie Henry?
OK, there are many candidates to play the DT next year, but few candidates to play NT if Pipkins doesn't come back strong after injury. You and others are very high on Henry at DT, but I haven't seen him mentioned at a possible NT. His weight and height look fine, but is there something about his build that makes him not well suited to play the nose?
Henry is a very plausible NT with his size and strength. Michigan lists him at 6'2", 306, which is about ideal NT size, and we've seen him throw away more than one OL this year. In an ideal world, Pipkins is full-go by late spring and playing well in fall camp, allowing Henry to continue doing his thing at three-tech.
But if that's not happening I bet we do see Henry slide over to the nose. Michigan's other options there are Richard Ash and redshirt freshman Maurice Hurst Jr, which doesn't sound too appealing. At three tech, Strobel, Poggi, and Glasgow are returning and Michigan has the option of bumping either Godin or Wormley down from SDE with Beyer the projected starter there.
A Henry move is 50/50 right now.
[After the JUMP: Smith vs Green, annual #1 jersey speculation, and evaluating a potential onside kick in The Game.]
Green was getting more PT for a reason. Was that recruiting hype? [Fuller]
FORMATION NOTES: Northwestern stuck to a 4-3 virtually the entire game, with pretty predictable rules as to how they would line up.
When Michigan aligned its strength to the short side of the field and had twins, NW would slide the LBs and play an even front. They would slide the LBs to the twins and shift their line to the strength of the formation when M aligned with their strength to the field.
When Michigan presented Ace, they would play a 4-3 under.
The primary exception to this was the redzone, where Northwestern played their safeties as extra LBs.
Five yards off the LOS and coming on the snap is why those two Derrick Green carries from around the ten ended up losing yards. The first one was actually blocked quite well.
Note that the way NW aligned consistently invited the bubble fake run game, as their corners played off and the slot LB had to respect the bubble. With a safety over the top those two guys removed three players from the box and left Michigan with seven on seven blocking opportunities without having to use the threat of Gardner's legs. It will still work if teams play Michigan like this; if they don't Michigan will have to find something else.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: QB, WR, and the OL were all as you would expect. Dileo seemed to return full strength in this one and this meant Jackson was removed. Paskorz got some early PT but it was Williams most of the way as inline blocky guy. The line remained Lewan/Bosch/Glasgow/Magnuson/Schofield save for some goal line plays on which Kalis game in at RG and weird stuff happened otherwise, like wing TE Taylor Lewan.
Running back was of course an overhaul, with Derrick Green getting the bulk of the work, De'Veon Smith becoming a 30% second, and Justice Hayes acting as a third down back sometimes. Joe Kerridge also got a few snaps as a running back in the shotgun on passes.
[After THE JUMP: wherein we seem relatively happy with nine points in regulation.]
Every time I post a play analysis these days there are a half-dozen people in the comments who mention that if player X did hard thing Y they are not prepared to do then the play would work. This has gotten to the point where I can explicitly prepare for such criticism and find them ignored, as in the most recent one, and find a diary on this site asserting that if player X did hard thing Y something would have worked.
This is extremely frustrating to me, because these are good-faith attempts to paint broader pictures of what I'm seeing down to down, game after game, year after year, as I try to figure out what Michigan football is doing. Various critics, most prominently Space Coyote, make a few small concessions and then go about explaining why play X was a good call and why it would have worked. They implicitly assert things like "Joe Kerridge in a ton of space should deviate from expecting Nebraska to use their slot LB as a force and ably block that guy when that LB believes the inverted veer is coming, has no need to respect the slot receiver because he is covered, and runs directly into Fitzgerald Toussaint."
I disagree with that. I have watched a lot of people play a lot of football and I think that's hard. I'm trying not to have a stance here; I am evaluating whether I think a thing is easy to do or hard and assigning a number to that feel. Coaches tend to think everything is an execution issue. Players should be able to do arbitrarily hard things. Some arrows on a diagram say this should work. Meanwhile I think there's a 10% chance for Kerridge to abort the plan and do anything with hell-for-leather blitzer and judge accordingly. Various guys dying on Borges Hill disagree.
I don't know what might be sufficient other than 175 yards against Nebraska to convince these guys that a poor offensive game plan can even exist, but here are various things that are normally too dull to post in a Picture Pages in which unblocked guys on blitzes obliterate Michigan runners for no or little gain.
These are representative of a larger slice of the game and a general feel that confirmed the Nebraska players' postgame assertions that they were expecting most of what Michigan threw at them. Tomorrow's Picture Pages will cover every play of the game, because this isn't going to work either.
Here is an iso. The slot LB is an eighth guy in the box and crashes down unblocked to tackle.
As this goes for three yards it qualifies as one of Michigan's best plays on the day on the ground. Three yards is not good on first and ten, and there was nothing Michigan could do about it.
Here is a zone play. Nebraska loads up and sends a blitz through a gap that Michigan doesn't pick up as Bosch ends up doubling with Lewan.
However, because of the blitz the only thing Bosch making a very good play to recognize and pick up the charging LB does is send Green to one of the two unblocked guys, either the backside guy ripping down the LOS without thought of checking the QB or a linebacker sitting two yards deep without anyone trying to get him, because Nebraska's blitz has prevented anyone from moving to the second level.
Here is a power play. Nebraska loads up with eight in the box and one deep safety and blitzes.
A Nebraska linebacker ends up shooting the gap behind the Bosch pull and meets Green in the backfield.
Michigan loses two yards and has third and eleven.
Oh for pants' sake.
The offensive line is not in fact overwhelmed here; they are not actually involved because Nebraska's blitz is perfect to destroy the inverted veer.
Items Of Interest
All of this is an execution issue, sure. For a given definition of execution, this is an execution issue. Michigan's hyper-raw OL should be able to block this. They should be able to deal with Nebraska switching gaps and blazing LBs to the point of attack. They should be able to block Nebraska's maniacal run-oriented loaded box. They would do this, if only they could execute.
Except the last one. And the first one. And probably the second and third.
Either you believe that players can be put in positions they can succeed or players are expected to succeed in the positions they are put in. I am in the former camp. The last few Borges defenders are in the latter camp. This entire season Space Coyote has been gamely explaining what should have happened on failed play after failed play without any thought to how difficult what should have happened is.
Players do not exist in a vacuum. Joe Kerridge is trying to block a guy in acres of space and that guy has the jump on him because he knows Funchess is covered, and he knows what Michigan's running. I look at that and I think "Jesus, I do not want to be Joe Kerridge there."
I am admittedly working from a hand-waving feel on this, but it's no worse a feel than whatever Space Coyote has gotten from doing whatever he does with whatever team at a totally different level of competition. I say Michigan puts their players in a spot to work miracles or die, and that this is on both the overall structure of the offense and the predictability of playcalls based on formations and down and distance. Space Coyote makes certain concessions to not seem totally insane and then goes back to hammering the fact that it's all execution.
Kerridge was put in a spot to fail, and did. I'm looking at the play and saying I believe there is a small chance that Kerridge can make a tough play in space; the guys in the comments think that because Kerridge could hypothetically have made a play none of this goes back to the folks in charge.
These plays. The above plays are no-chancers for the offense, because Michigan is running into the teeth of a defense stacked to stop the run and blitzing. In UFR lingo they acquired sizeable rock-paper-scissors minuses. In compensation Michigan got two screens which both got large RPS plus numbers, but the number of downs thrown away in this game running at a Nebraska defense that seemed to be in Michigan's head was alarming. When I add it up, I am guessing things will come out highly negative, and then people will cluck at me about that.
I won't deny that things are more likely to get put in the negative bin there when you have fewer options because you're not good, but in my opinion running plays you suck at into stacked boxes is a bad idea. So is the continued deployment of Toussaint as a pass blocker on plays that take forever to develop. That, too, is an execution issue, but it is nuts to expect him to block guys now, and the offense would be better served if he was used in a pattern or replaced by a fullback or something. Instead… he is not.
But yeah yeah, the expectation is for the position.