that's unfortunate, but at least the interest is there on both sides
That is a man who realizes he's home, at long last. The score may only be 7-0 in the waning moments of the game, the stadium may only be half-full, this whole thing may only be an exhibition, but it's impossible to repress that smile.
[Hit THE JUMP for the spring game in GIFs, and, yes, more Harbaugh.]
Previously: the offense.
hello [Patrick Barron]
This is the good part. There were a few folks trying to find the nearest available ledge after yesterday's post. I'm not sure if they're wildly optimistic about HARBAUGH and expect next year's team to be year four Stanford or if I came off too brutally negative. Either way, this post will be a lot sunnier.
It's not a 3-4. Unless Michigan was sandbagging in their spring game they are running a defense quite similar to last year's—at least as far as the front seven goes. We have great experience with paranoid coaches as Michigan fans and not once has a major structural shift in the defense been concealed in spring. Even last year under Sir Puntsalot Michigan went full man press and that was their defense until circumstances dictated otherwise.
So we'll run with the assumption that what Michigan put out there was about what they'll run. This game saw Michigan run a 4-3—actually more of a 4-4, but more about that later—almost all the time. They went so far as to deploy Royce Jenkins-Stone as a weakside end because they were all out of weakside ends outside of Lawrence Marshall.
They will mix fronts, as all teams do. It is not a radical departure from last year's approach. And that's a good thing.
There is a departure. That is…
A hybrid space player is here. The biggest difference between Mattison's defense and Durkin's is at safety. Under Hoke it was difficult to tell who was the strong safety and who was the free safety. That will not be the case this year, as Jabrill Peppers was operating as a lightning fast outside linebacker for big chunks of the game. He tattooed running backs in the backfield more than once.
Peppers barely left that location. When Michigan went to a nickel package they did so by bringing in an extra safety and leaving Peppers over the slot, where he nearly caused an interception by breaking on a quick slant to Bo Dever.
[@ right: Upchurch]
If you were worried that moving Peppers to safety would make him a peripheral player who mostly shows up when making a tackle ten yards downfield, don't be. The vision of Peppers provided on Saturday was one of Tennessee-era Eric Berry or Packers-era Charles Woodson: an all-purpose sower of havoc. Berry had 16 TFLs his final two years at Tennessee. Woodson evolved into an NFL Defensive Player Of The Year as something beyond traditional positional definitions:
“They’re playing a lot of nickel, you know the old split six, so an eight man front,” said Mornhinweg. “They’ve got a good cover man with [Charles Woodson] down there who’s a very, very good tackler, so they sort of invite you to run the football into that base type personnel group however they’re very good.”
While that would normally be a successful strategy, Woodson’s ability to defend the run as a slot cornerback gives the defense some teeth.
“They feel very comfortable with him playing in that, which really is like a WILL linebacker position, he’s a physical guy,” said Eagles head coach Andy Reid. “He has great speed. He’s a great blitzer, great blitzer. So that’s how they use him.”
Woodson acted as that triple threat:
Woodson is fast enough to get to the quarterback in a hurry, but still strong enough to defend the run. Most of all, he’s a highly talented cover cornerback.
That is Peppers's role. Michigan's "nickel" is a base package with a hyper-athletic WLB; its base set looks like an eight-man front with a guy in that front who can cover anyone on the field. The defense is designed around his uncommon abilities.
Hurst was a regular annoyance to Morris [Bryan Fuller]
Activate DT depth. One of the striking things about the roster is that I had no idea who got struck first when drafting the defensive tackles. Glasgow and Henry were starters last year but both Mone and Hurst flashed ability as backups; a year later everyone's back and Maurice Hurst is in your base every play.
As a recruit Hurst was regarded as a lightning quick first step above all, with questions about whether he could hold up. That makes him an ideal three-technique. Three-techs get more one on one matchups if the nose tackle absorbs doubles, and Hurst is a good bet to shoot into the backfield. That was the case on Saturday. Hurst was a regular entrant into the land where TFLs are made.
He was going up against Ben Braden and David Dawson at guard, neither of whom is established as a starter-level player on the inside. But Braden did start all of last year and Dawson was a well-regarded recruit; neither is a walkon; both have been around a couple years. He was slicing through those guys with regularity.
Henry did well for himself after the first snap and should maintain the starting job. That two-deep looks set to be a high quality platoon.
I am ready to respect your authoritah [Eric Upchurch]
Inside backers are ready to rip. With James Ross out and Royce Jenkins-Stone drafted at WDE, the third linebacker in most sets was an odd duck. It did not seem to matter much, because the ILBs were filling with abandon. I have long been a skeptic about Joe Bolden's ability to hit people hard, but I thought he looked great.
There has always been a hesitancy about his play that has caused things like third and two conversions when Bolden goes entirely unblocked; that feels like it's finally out the door. Bolden showed up in the backfield a ton and hit guys hard when he showed. If that is not a spring mirage that sets Michigan up excellently for fall. Desmond Morgan's return gives Michigan another hard-hitting, dead-stop-tackler with a ton of experience, and Ben "Inexplicably Not Redshirted" Gedeon is ready to be the guy who spots both starters so regularly that he is a virtual starter as well.
The third linebacker should be Ross if healthy. In this defense I wonder how much run he'll get. Michigan has gone from a team that resigns itself to a ton of 4-3 sets against spread personnel (remember Jake Ryan walking out over three WR sets?) to one downright eager to play nickel.
In any case, two senior linebackers is a luxury.
Questions. The pieces are there for an outstanding defense. In my mind there are four main questions:
- Can anyone rush the quarterback?
- Can they find a second man press cornerback?
- Are the safeties reliable enough?
- Will the offense sell them out too much?
The last question is beyond the scope of this post. Suffice it to say that the last two years the defense had a tendency to collapse late after the offense's millionth three-and-out of the game.
Let's try to address the others.
Marshall is a breakout candidate and a 2015 key [Fuller]
Can anyone rush the quarterback? Michigan has not had a standout pass rusher since… Brandon Graham? Jake Ryan had a year in there but then he blew out his knee and wasn't an impact player as a junior; as a senior he had a distinctly muted impact (2 sacks) as a middle linebacker*. Brennen Beyer led last year's team with 5.5; Frank Clark had 4.5; neither was the kind of edge terror that needs to be accounted for every play.
Prospects are dim for that guy to emerge this year. Lawrence Marshall, a highly-regarded in-state recruit coming off a redshirt, has gotten a lot of hype. It would be a meteoric rise to go from not playing to being a terror. Mario Ojemudia is what he is at this point.
Michigan's best hope might be Taco Charlton, who seems set to move back to the weakside end after a season spent on the strongside in a 4-3 over. Charlton has a package of athleticism that is unmatched; this is a point where the proverbial light might come on. A spring injury prevented a hype train from building up steam; he'll be a guy you hope starts opening eyes in fall.
The defensive tackles also offer some promise here. Glasgow offered little pass rush a year ago, but Hurst, Mone, and Henry could be plus gentlemen, especially if they're all fresh because they can rotate freely without much drop in production. And the havoc Peppers causes might open up opportunities for other guys.
Even so this seems like the biggest gotcha in Michigan's quest for an elite defense.
Can they find a second man press cornerback? Michigan wanted to run an in-your-face aggressive defense last year and did so until it became clear that this was exposing Blake Countess to Spock levels of toxic radiation. Jourdan Lewis thrived, though, and returns as Michigan's #1 corner. Is there someone around who can let Michigan go Teddy KGB on opponents?
The two main contenders here are Countess, a year wiser and receiving cornerback coaching from a couple gentlemen with a slightly better pedigree in that department than the departed Roy Manning, and Stanford transfer Wayne Lyons. Lyons started for large chunks of the year for a lights-out Stanford secondary; he was regarded as something of a weak link. He can be the weak link in the #2 defense in the country and I will find that acceptable.
I give the slight edge to Lyons here, as he is bigger and faster than Countess. The boundary corner slot beckons.
A darkhorse: Brandon Watson. The redshirt freshman spent some time at safety last year, which made no sense since literally the only thing he did in high school is line up with his facemask molecules away from the opposition and jam the hell out of them. He looked pretty good on Saturday.
Are the safeties reliable enough? Jarrod Wilson is probably fine. I thought Michigan's tendency to jerk him around because he gave a team a small window to hit a pass in was one of their worst qualities under Hoke. They played nonsense guys over him from time to time, seemingly out of pique, and the defense got worse. Anyway, he's back and he should be reliable to good.
The second safety is not really Peppers since Peppers is a destroyer-of-all-trades in or near the box. The second safety is the guy who comes in when Michigan goes to the nickel that we are all going to interpret as Michigan's base defense by midyear. That is some combination of Delano Hill, Dymonte Thomas, Jeremy Clark, and Tyree Kinnel. Clark and Hill are the favorites. The numbers there are reasonable; can they find a player?
*[A move that was way more bonkers than it seems in retrospect because of Morgan's injury. Michigan opted to move their only impact rusher to MLB when they had Bolden and Morgan at ILB.]
What do you know about your defense now that you didn't know six weeks ago?
"I think we have a pretty good handle on our personnel right now in terms of strengths and weaknesses of guys individually and I think as a unit, too. It's been a really good spring. We've had quite a bit of reps out there in practice, in four hour practices. I think the main thing that I figured out about our defense is that they are willing to work. The guys, they competed every day we've been out there and they've really put the time in."
You said you kind of have a feel for their strengths and weaknesses. Would you say what their strengths are right now?
"Yeah, no, not necessarily more than that. Like I said, I think our group is really willing to work. They’ve been great in terms of learning our scheme throughout the spring. They come to meetings prepared, they come to practice prepared. I think that anytime you've got a hungry group that way I think there's good things ahead."
You came out here about a month ago said you wanted to throw as much at them as you could and then sort of whittle it down from there. Have you started to figure out what you think is going to work?
"Yeah, we have a pretty good idea. Starting on Saturday and then today's practice we started to move that way and narrow it down and sort of hone in on some of the things we’ll be doing more of and they've really responded well to that, too. We probably got to a point there later in the spring where it was becoming overload for them, which was good. We pushed them to that limit and they saw we scaled back how they performed; a credit to them, They've grasped what we've thrown at them."
You said everyone would start with a clean slate. Who are the impact players?
"I think to name just a few guys – there are a lot of guys who really made strides throughout the spring. There are some guys we just pointed out the other day on film from day one of spring until now they've made huge strides. Lawrence Marshall is a guy who– he's a young guy, he's a freshman – the first two practices it didn't barely look like he could lineup. Now he's out there and he's playing really well for us. We expect him to help us. But there's a lot of guys. There's a whole group of guys that are veterans who’ve played a lot of football around here that have made those improvements as well. I just think that they're pushing each other really well and they’re in the mindset every day whether it's meetings or practice to come to get better."
You guys lost both ends. Who's at the head of the defensive ends this spring?
"We’ve got several guys playing there. Wormley's playing some end, I mentioned Lawrence, Royce Jenkins-Stone is playing some end, we've even moved Mo Hurst out there a little bit to play some end, so we've done a combination of a lot of things. I think one of the bonuses to what we do schematically is the concepts carry over in fit so we're moving guys in different spots so when you do get injuries, you get nicked up, that's part of football– we have some guys we can put in there."
[After THE JUMP: linebacker talk and your regularly scheduled batch of Jabrill Peppers questions]
News bullets and other items:
Desmond Morgan will be redshirted, allowing him to return next season as fifth-year senior
Jabrill Peppers was removed from the depth chart and will not “travel” with the team, but has not been ruled out for the season
The stake thing, according to Hoke, was not meant to disrespect anyone. Hoke called Dantonio to apologize for it.
Devin Gardner will start against Indiana
The team’s goals are still out there (because the new goal is to take it one game at a time and beat Indiana)
“Thanks for coming. Obviously we’re very disappointed in the outcome and the results last week. We came in as a team yesterday. We looked at it. We were critical constructively with each other about what we need to do. The opportunities that we had, because there were plenty of opportunities to make some plays on both sides and that's something that we weren’t very – executing the consistency with it, we need to be better. There's always a great emotion in a rivalry game. I think that always happens and we’re excited about the opportunity to have those rivalry games but win or lose you've got to move forward from them, and I think that's an important part for us with Indiana coming here for homecoming, with Tevin Coleman coming here as the leading rusher in the country. We have to play a lot better against the run defensively than we did the other day. One injury update: Desmond Morgan we're going to redshirt this year and then he'd be back as a fifth-year senior next year.
When you talk about consistency, you seem to hit a lot of the same themes each week. Is there something about the message to your team that isn't getting through?
“Well, I… one of the big things this week, which was a little different, was that we had seven drops and we haven't done that. We've caught the ball decently. When you look at it, and as you look at it as coaches, we're pretty much consistent on what is a drop and what's not but we had some opportunities. You move the chains, you have an opportunity to keep the flow going better. You also if you execute in those things you have a chance to change the mindset a little bit of how a guy calls defenses against you, and so those are the execution things that we've been pretty good [with]. Did we run the ball well enough? No. The offensive line was good enough, though, if we execute in some other areas.
On Saturday night you said you were going to think about what was going to happen with the starting quarterback. Have you made a determination there?
“Yeah, Devin will be our starter. I mean, Devin had some good throws the other day. Some of them we've got to come down with. And on the shovel pass, Justice gets knocked off. It's a timing play and so it looks like he flipped it to the linebacker, which is actually what happened, but we get knocked off on the shovel and so the timing of that. We've got to be better mechanically when we had the fumble. You get a fumble and then you fumble it right back. It was an opportunity that we had. But no, he'll be the starter.”
Talk about the run defense and what specifically has to get better team like Indiana that’s running the ball really well.
“Well, first let's go back so last week. Not that I don't want to talk about Indiana, but we've got to do a better job at the point of attack, and that was a disappointing thing. There were some double teams that we've got to hold on to a little better so the linebackers can run. At the same point, we missed some tackles and opportunities there, so from that standpoint we need to play a lot better and the same thing for Indiana. Block schemes are block schemes and we've got to do a better job of playing those.
[After THE JUMP: I’m askin’ bout practice]
News bullets and other items:
Hoke expects Devin Gardner to start against MSU, with Shane Morris now healthy enough to be his backup
Hoke identified zone coverage, the run game, and creating big plays as areas for improvement over the final five games of the season
Kyle Bosch will re-join the team in January after taking a leave of absence for personal reasons
Willie Henry could have played against Penn State if it was necessary
Hoke alluded to being past the point of making a decision regarding Desmond Morgan redshirting and was evasive when asked if he’d miss the rest of the season
The coaches go over negative highlights from around college football each week in team meetings
If you’re wondering why there were no MGoQuestions it’s because they were all about MSU, and I decided to save them for Monday since Hoke said the coaches are only in the preliminary stages of gameplanning
“Number one, thanks for coming out today. It was good to get a win. Obviously winning's an important aspect of what you do when you compete. The atmosphere, I think, in Michigan Stadium was unbelievable and I know our kids, the energy, they feed off that and it was through the whole game. It was loud when it needed to be loud [from] our students and our fans so we really appreciate that.
“Yesterday we had a shortened practice. We'll go a little longer today. Just fundamentals and techniques being the main emphasis. A little bit on our next opponent, Michigan State, but a lot of fundamental work because we've got some young guys who want to continue to grow and continue to get them as many reps as we can, and then you've got some older guys who've played a lot of football in seven games [over] seven weeks so you want to get them some rest when you can but at the same time try and get some of the early game planning stuff. And with byes, to get physically healthy is an important part of it as much as you can; you're never going to be all the way. And then we've got a great rivalry game with Michigan State.
‘So the other thing we’ll use the bye week for is recruiting. The other part of it will be for us to– for us as a staff to do some self scout with where you're at and what you've done so far and where you might want to change some details up and I think that's one thing Michigan State did – not Michigan State, Penn State, the other night when you look at some of the down and distance and formation things in the first half from an offensive standpoint. They had the bye week and I think they went in seeing that they needed to change up a little bit and I think they did that.”
Do you expect Devin [Gardner] to start at Michigan State?
“Yeah, I would. I think having Shane back and healthy also is a big part of it and as much as we are going to talk about injuries yeah, we expect Devin to be there.”
You've touched on this in the past, but what would you say is the biggest area of improvement in Devin since you've known him?
“I'd say as much as anything I think [it’s] his leadership. I think nowadays kids, not a lot of them have that natural leadership. And a lot of that is, and this is an opinion, I haven't studied this but they play so much AAU now. It used to be you go in a backyard or churchyard and you’d say [to] 10 guys, ‘Okay you're the captain of this team and you’re [the captain] of this,’ then pick. Now we have adults making decisions that I don't believe kids get to make and it doesn't help them grow and so that's just part of what I think. So it's a little tougher at times to help kids grow in that department.”
[After THE JUMP: more details on stuff summarized in the bullets]
A BYE WEEK TRADITION. UFRs Thursday and Friday on a bye week.
Compliance with the Dennis Norfleet Atomic Dog act of 2560.
Michigan WR Dennis Norfleet I'm gonna Be Your Dog forever! WOOF... http://t.co/z4acd4vtVX
— George Clinton (@george_clinton) October 14, 2014
I'M A BONAFIDE ATTENDER
At least let people prove they're bonafide. Michigan oversold basketball season tickets again. This time the sheer extent is lesser, as they've only sold 3250 tickets for 3000 seats instead of the 4500 last year, but they've again announced the rules after the tickets were bought… and you wonder if last year's policy reduced the number of people willing to buy this year. It's not like the team outlook is a whole lot different—Michigan was not expected to rampage through the Big Ten a year ago and looked a lot like a bubble team early.
IMPROVEMENTS FOR 2014-15 INCLUDE:
Fewer claim periods (only three vs. six last season)
Missed claimed game penalties will only affect the ability to claim in the 3rd and final claim period (vs. penalties in each claim period last season)
Students will have the ability to return up to three (3) claimed games up to 24 hours before a game to account for last minute plans (not available last season)
Electronic tracking of scanned tickets for confirmation of attendance (not available last season)
I get that attendance is an issue; this is all stick, no carrot, though. There's a core of attendees who were at every game last year. They should get to just have normal tickets since they've proved their bonafides.
OSU is facing a ton of cover zero. They are rushing for 4.9 YPC anyway.
Well… more time isn't going to fix things. Not that you need convincing of this but here are the boggling numbers Ohio State is putting up minus Braxton Miller:
Ohio State ranks second in the Big Ten and 12th nationally in total offense at 523.6 yards per game. The Buckeyes' 44.6 points per game are second in the Big Ten and fifth in the country. And redshirt freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett ranks third in all of college football in passing efficiency.
And that's with the one-off collapse against Virginia Tech when Bud Foster reached deep into the playbook to bring out Buddy Ryan's old bear fronts. Opponents are trying to replicate that success weekly now, and Ohio State has adapted quickly.
OSU's line is mostly new and a bit more experienced than Michigan's, but it's the smallest possible gap. Michigan has two fourth year players, two third year players, and a freshman for a total of 10 years already on campus. OSU is at 11. They've only got one senior. Meanwhile, their backfield consists of all second year players: JT Barrett, Ezekiel Elliott, Dontre Wilson, and Jalin Marshall are all sophomores or redshirt freshmen.
If you know what you're doing you can put together some killer offenses without piles of experience these days; the coaching gap between Michigan and Ohio State is vast.
Upcoming quarterbacks. Nate Sudfeld is out for the year for Indiana, which is a huge blow for them after both Cam Coffman and Tre Roberson left the program this summer. Indiana went from one of the most solid situations in the league to auditioning true freshmen they hoped to redshirt. Unless they catch lightning in a bottle that's looking like a win. Indiana's defense is so permeable even Michigan will go up and down the field on them. Iowa scored consecutive 60-plus-yard TDs. I mean.
Northwestern is also having some issues with Trevor Siemian:
Siemian went down against Northern Illinois and needed to be taken out of the game without putting any pressure on his leg. It turns out it was an ankle injury. It was clear that if there was a game the next week, he would not have played. He healed during the bye week, and although he was not 100 percent, he played against Western Illinois.
It appeared the injury was improving, but this week, Siemian was limping at times, and he had a massive ball of tape on his ankles.
Northwestern's policy is that Pat Fitzgerald will not discuss injuries in-depth. He will get as specific as "upper body" or "lower body."
Maryland has CJ Brown back after a wrist injury, FWIW.
Redshirts? Michigan won't talk injuries but a lot of people are reading bad things into this statement from Hoke's teleconference yesterday:
With five games remaining for the Wolverines (3-4 overall, 1-2 Big Ten), Hoke was asked if it is time to consider looking at a redshirt for Peppers.
"We would handle that when the time would come," Hoke said.
I'm not sure how he's supposed to answer that question with the usual level of vagueness without implying that a medical redshirt is possible, so I don't read too much into that. I have heard that the injury is severe enough that it's certainly on the table. How much does that mean if Peppers is still likely to be a three-and-out guy? Maybe not much.
Meanwhile, Desmond Morgan is also eligible for a medical redshirt if he does not return and that was broached:
"I don't think there's any difference (between Morgan and Peppers), it just depends on how guys progress," Hoke said. "Us not doing anything or doing something with (Morgan), yeah (we could)."
Is there a cutoff point you have to get to in order to make that decision?
"I think we're kind of by it, in some way," Hoke said. "I didn't say (he'd miss the season), (but) I think there's a lot of possibilities."
That would make sense, as Michigan's not doing anything this year and Morgan might prefer another crack at being a senior… especially if he thinks he's got a shot at the NFL.
The Orsoning. He came, he saw, he cackled madly like he was Walter White in Crawl Space while looking almost exactly like Walter White in Crawl Space, and he writes about it:
The normal Michigan crankiness involves the complaints that all fanbases spanning a wide age range involve: that they do not run the ball enough, that the stadium speakers play music too loudly and too frequently now, that someone's knees stick into your back in the cramped stands, even with the rows of empty seats visible here and there. We don't run the ball enough. Bo, sainted Bo Schembechler, would never, ever have let a team not run the ball like this.
Those are normal complaints, the kind of ideological complaints any fanbase has in variation. See "Any older portion of the fanbase wondering why they're playing hip-hop where there are children," or "Team raised on fierce offense and naked aggression gets saddled with a dullard defensive coach." That might be me talking about Florida, because it is. The point is that every fanbase is unhappy in its own unique key. When Alabama fans are unhappy, it is because a linebacker has just missed a tackle or because someone has unleashed the horror of a passing touchdown on them. When Michigan is unhappy, it is cold, someone is edging onto your seat cushion, and someone has just done something deeply unSchembechler-ish.
The abnormal grievances, the ones indicative of a real theological schism in the church of Michigan, come from the older gentleman standing up when Michigan takes a timeout -- with one second left on the clock in the first half and Penn State leaving for the locker rooms -- and yelling:
"HOKE! YOU IDIOTTTTTTTT!"
Grievances of that severity can't hide.
He did not mention a guy at Marlin Jackson's Go Blue Bowl tailgate asking Roy Roundtree to do his Donald Duck impression, but he got everything else.
Etc.: Orson talks Ann Arbor at about the ten minute mark in the latest Shutdown Fullcast. Everything is dappled, he says. Will Leitch on how Todd Gurley may as well GTFO without taking more hits before he can get paid.