"I just dropped back and did what I was coached to do, kind of read off his eyes and lo and behold he threw it that way so I was just trying to jump up and make the play on it." — Desmond Morgan
He made a play on it, to say the least.
[Hit THE JUMP for the best GIFs (from a very Michigan-biased perspective) from the UConn game, and make sure to vote for your favorite.]
9/22/2013 – Michigan 24, UConn 21 – 4-0
I watched the UConn game with two diehards who happen to be in town from out of state. I'd spent large chunks of the past decade trying to get one of these guys to come over to watch Michigan games for the same reason he refused to do so: he experienced games on television as an emotional trial to be bested. I'm the same way, but talk only goes so far.
So there's four of us in the room when Devin Gardner takes off up the middle for a sixteen-yard touchdown on third and eleven. Michigan's up seven midway through the first quarter. No one does anything. There's no whooping or even a slight fist pump or a clap. We just stare at the television, internally relieved but marshaling our strength for the road ahead like international meth kingpins on the lamb.
It takes a special kind of paranoia to be petrified about a game like that against a team like that, but it was redeemed in full. The recent history of Michigan football* lends itself towards nuanced discussion of this particular vintage of terror, and this one was spicy and piquant with notes of Denard Robinson's role in 2009 Iowa and 2002 Utah, which ended 10-7 despite the Utah offense scraping together only 200 yards of total offense. The nose was full-bodied, redolent of 2010 Iowa, and 2010 Michigan State, and the first three quarters of 2011 Notre Dame.
The aftertaste was like filling your mouth with iron shavings and walking into a strong magnetic field.
One of the worst things from the worst things column last week was the familiarity of all this: struggles against mediocre competition that throw a wet blanket on your season after Michigan beats Notre Dame and gets all hyped up about it. To that you can add an even darker familiarity now, one that you may have been reminded of when ABC flipped to the end of the Texas-Kansas State game just in time to see Greg Robinson do a little dance of joy.
What is Michigan doing on offense? I don't know. They come in saying they're going to manball it up; they are largely prevented from doing so by Denard Robinson. They do dump the stretch play that had been Michigan's primary way of gaining yards on the ground for five years, when they have David Molk and Patrick Omameh and Michael Schofield on the interior of the line.
Denard's gone, as are Molk and Omameh; Schofield's at right tackle, a spot that's generally less important than those guard spots on stretch plays. So of course now is the moment when Michigan turns to the stretch as their base. They suck at that, unsurprisingly. They haven't run more than five stretch plays per year since Rodriguez left.
You could see the confusion last week, when guys were leaving first level defenders with easy paths to the backfield. Those plays against Akron were shockingly bad. You have a guy between yourself and the center, you deal with him before moving to the second level. Otherwise you die. Whether the issue there was the call or the execution, the underlying symptom is the same one that plagued Michigan's defense during the Rodriguez era: never settling on who you are and being terrible at everything as a natural consequence.
I mean, how insane is it that after two years with an offensive line entirely recruited to run the stretch they install it once Kyle Kalis is the right guard?
This is the second straight year Michigan has one of the worst running games in the country papered over by the fact that its quarterback can scoot for 40 yards without breaking a sweat. Toussaint can't see what's in front of his face sometimes. Neither can the line. While Toussaint showed his ability in open space on his touchdown, Michigan found itself behind the chains far too often against a defense that had just been ripped apart by Maryland. Michigan is looking up at North Texas, Tulane, and Florida Atlantic in TFLs allowed after four games. Michigan is 118th(!!!) of 123 qualifying teams in tackles for loss allowed.
Michigan lacks an identity, and once in a while they come out doing something completely different and disastrous (3-3-5 against Purdue; under center against Iowa). In this one, Gardner's inability to throw straight makes it impossible to judge the playcalling, but more ominous than the already-plenty-ominous dropoff of Michigan's quarterback is the persistent clown show on the offensive line. Any idea that the problems may have been fluky is now gone. This is Michigan, still: looking at the quarterback as the cause of and solution to all problems.
*[For a handy one-sentence review, let's go to the Hoover Street Rag:
Michigan is ALWAYS going to get an opponent's best shot, because if you beat Michigan, your name gets etched in history, next to the Appalachian States, next to the Toledos.
I am not sure if that is meant with ironic lilt or not. This is Michigan, fergodsakes?]
Also here is the bizarre Eminem-flavored opener.
Brady Hoke Epic Double Point Of The Week. The only truly good things that happened in this game happened on defense and there was one incredibly critical play that turned the game around. You know what it is already; you know it's about to be featured in the double fist pump, you know that Desmond Morgan is the man who made the play.
Honorable mention: Frank Clark, for sacking people frequently. Blake Countess, for seeming to be good at coverage. Fitzgerald Toussaint, for busting a much needed 35-yard touchdown en route to a 100 yard game that means I no longer have to predict 100 yard games for Fitzgerald Toussaint every week in the game preview.
Epic Double Point Standings.
1.0: Devin Gardner (ND), Jeremy Gallon (ND), Desmond Morgan(UConn)
0.5: Cam Gordon (CMU), Brennen Beyer (CMU)
Brady Hoke Epic Double Fist-Pump Of The Week. Michigan had just failed to convert a fourth and two, looked virtually incapable of driving the field against UConn, and trailed by seven points in the fourth quarter. UConn dropped to pass; Desmond Morgan dropped into a seam route, leap, speared the ball, and returned it to the UConn eleven yard line. One play later it was tied. Huzzah, Desmond Morgan.
Honorable mention: Frank Clark crushes UConn's inept right tackle for a critical sack on UConn's final drive. Gardner actually pitches on a speed option this time.
Epic Double Fist-Pumps Past.
8/31/2013: Dymonte Thomas introduces himself by blocking a punt.
9/7/2013: Jeremy Gallon spins through four Notre Dame defenders for a 61-yard touchdown.
9/14/2013: Michigan does not lose to Akron. Thanks, Thomas Gordon.
9/21/2013: Desmond Morgan's leaping one-handed spear INT saves Michigan's bacon against UConn.
[After the JUMP: PANIC and RUN AROUND SCREAMING.]
I'd planned on posting another Picture Pages this week from the Notre Dame game on the assumption that there wouldn't be much from the Akron game to discuss. Surprise! The good news—ish—is that this continues our discussion of where Michigan's line is.
This is another Toussaint lost yardage play that marks the last time Michigan's run their as-yet-unsuccessful counter to their zone game. ABC provided a slick closeup of events (the difference between doing this for an ABC broadcast and BTN one is enormous—viva ABC), so we'll get a zoomed-in look at goings-on.
ND's in an even front; Michigan has two tight ends. They'll pull Schofield as the rest of the line tries to sell another zone.
Michigan immediately runs into the problems that is Louis Nix, who either isn't buying or is just assigned to slant outside of Glasgow.
That's bad, that'll happen sometimes when you play Nix. As Nix surges upfield of Glasgow, Schofield sees him and knows he's got to deal with that lest Toussaint get swallowed in the backfield.
Glasgow violates the fake rule I made up by turning upfield. Schofield's coming, but he doesn't comprehend that he isn't totally screwed until…
Both guys go to Nix, leaving one of ND's ILBs unblocked. Toussaint makes things worse by trying to bounce around a rampant Nix, and gets chopped down.
That's a two yard loss.
Slow unnecessary for this one.
[After THE JUMP: Notre Dame faces the same problem, finds different results.]
This guy lost a bet. Don't gamble, kids.
Also a lost bet. A love poem to Tommy Rees from a Notre Dame fan.
The girls of St. Mary’s pray at your knees
Because you are not just Tommy Rees
You are QB1
Equal to the likes of Montana and Theismann and Stuhldreher
A symbol, a winner, an icon
Your droopy eyes, not of a stoner, but a leader
One who studies play books until 4 a.m.
A senior who now neglects parties and cops’ groins
You will now prevail
Don't gamble, kids.
The Harmon thing. Do be awesome, though.
Blowing the coverage open. One Foot Down talks about what went wrong for Notre Dame on the long Gallon touchdown.
Long story short, when Michigan motioned Funchess across the formation ND changed their coverage and freshman Jaylon Smith didn't change his despite changing his alignment in a way that suggested he got the call. He followed Funchess into the flat, opening up Gallon for a catch and run.
Not sure if that was specifically designed to test Smith's understanding of his checks, but that's what it did. It is a great example of the kind of things motion can do to a defense: you're testing their ability to adjust at little cost to yourself.
In other film business, Space Coyote takes a look at how Michigan got beat up on the DL when the Irish ran. I mostly agree, but he's a little harsh to Morgan in one instance. I thought the DL play in front of him opened up a cutback lane he had to fill.
Beyer ends up way upfield and Black tries to rip inside of the right guard, so there's a massive backside lane. Once it's clear the back isn't taking it he can't scrape because Wormley got blown up. Thus the crease. Morgan's in a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't situation.
None of this is particularly surprising with six in the box and no nose tackles on the field. I do wonder why Pipkins didn't get more playing time, as he seemed to do well with the snaps he got and there's no way he'd get as blown up as Wormley did on a couple of those plays.
Space Coyote also has a post at his own site on the passing combos that got Fitzgerald Toussaint open for that critical swing route and saw Dileo shake himself open for the final touchdown.
Stick a fork in an outlet. MSU running back Nick Hill:
“I think we’re very close to just being the electric offense we were in 2010, 2011,” Hill told the Spartan Sports Network. “Obviously, we struggled a little bit last year, but we’re right there. And I noticed it when we went through summer conditioning going into fall camp that the pieces are there, the players are there.”
Michigan State starts walk-ons at tight end and right tackle, has the worst receiving corps in the league, and is currently starting Connor Cook because pretending he's Denard Robinson is their best option. Nick Hill may have depth perception issues.
Injuries. AJ Williams is "questionable" and Courtney Avery still limited. I bet we don't see much of either this weekend—why risk it—but it sounds like Williams will be ready to go by the time Big Ten play rolls around. Gallon says he's fine.
In future opponent injury news, Minnesota loses spectacularly-named starting corner Briean Boddy-Calhoun for the year with an ACL tear. Kill said he was their best cornerback, so that's a blow. Jeremy Gallon cackles madly.
More Legends Jersey proposals. From HSR:
4). Jareth Glanda | #54 | Michigan LS 2010-2013
Move anonymously through two whole seasons of football without having your name mentioned, then catch a pass for a first down on a broken play during a bowl game.
Anyone who fumbles ten snaps should be given a red 15 patch reading Mallett.
Etc.: The House Rock Built's UFR of the fourth quarter is slightly different from mine, but spiritually the same. The Daily profiles Taylor Lewan.
FL C commit Ricky Doyle picks up a fourth star from ESPN, is now just outside their top 100. Practice video is a lot more exciting before the season. Fixing the NCAA rule book. New throwy-sticky ball turf. Michigan offers combo guard Donte Grantham. Adidas alternates worn by Arkansas State draw 15-yard penalties at the beginning of each half. A final look at ND.
8/31/2013 – Michigan 59, Central Michigan 9 – 1-0
oh yeah Kalis and Magnuson beardin' it up yo [Upchurch]
You may not remember this because of the recent history of Michigan football, but often after one-sided blowouts not against Notre Dame this space will throw up its hands at the idea of crafting an actual column and skip straight to bullets and highlights and whatnot. It's tough to narrate the emotional tenor of a humid August day against a team that never had a chance.
MY COLUMN ABOUT THIS FIFTY POINT WIN THAT MADE MY WIFE MAD BECAUSE SHE FELT BAD FOR THE OPPONENT
It was kind of boring, but on the other hand it was nice not to be terrified. It was hot and Dave Brandon smells like pee.
But, you know, at some point in the third quarter Michigan threw a second team offense out there, and it was thrilling. I know this is basically me saying "hello, I am freak. Freak talk now. Freak talk." But there it is. I actually felt excited when the second-team OL came out, possibly more excited than I had been for anything that was not Dennis Norfleet all day. Ben Braden was out there. Chris Bryant. Blake Bars. Erik Magnuson. Joey Burzynski. One walk-on (not four); no upperclassmen. The future. Magnuson even got in on the goal line and did well for himself.
Michigan loses Lewan and Schofield; they also get six more bullets in their chamber as the 2013 OL class comes off redshirts, chomping at the bit. The days when Michigan's depth chart reads "three to five guys, then a bottomless pit" are close to over. Might already be over.
On the other side of the ball the equivalent moment came too soon to even think about it: the second drive. Michigan threw four guys out there who hadn't played on the first drive, and switched up some linebackers, and I'm not sure fans who don't obsessively track the numbers of everyone in the game would even notice. They'd go three deep at many spots by halftime.
They'll graduate three of the 20 players in the front seven who saw the field, and nobody from the secondary. Because of suspension and injury in the safety corps, yeah. But still.
Take this depth chart. Stack the 2014 depth chart behind it. Put 2015 behind that. You can even go to 2016, probably, what with Michigan's 2015 class approaching halfway done already. What do you get?
An infinite conveyor belt of shark teeth. It's coming. Might be here already.
There's also a shorter BTN reel.
Eric and Bryan posted their galleries on Sunday. A season-opening reminder: all photos on the mgoblog photostream are Creative Commons licensed and can be used on your blog or twitter or facebook or whatever (just not sold). We just ask for a link back.
Meanwhile Roy Roundtree is pretty great y'all:
Brady Hoke Epic Double Point Of The Week. Difficult to pick any one person here since no one had more than four catches or 14 rushing attempts and Gardner threw two ugly picks in 15 attempts. Meanwhile on defense, the heavy rotation meant no one except Desmond Morgan had more than five tackles.
But… Cam Gordon looked good and his two sacks are the most statistically impressive achievement on the day. And Brennen Beyer only got credited for one sack but really had two, a sack/strip and then a plain ol' sack, both of which appear in the highlights above. On both he beat blockers. Gordon got his on (well timed, effective, finished) blitzes. Since everyone is feeling much, much better about Not Jake Ryan, Not Jake Ryan gets the nod.
Honorable Mention. Jarrod Wilson (for a guy who supposedly lost his job to Courtney Avery he was lights out); Jeremy Gallon (a couple tough catches amongst his four, and two touchdowns); Devin Gardner (okay, yeah, but Vince Young); Fitz Toussaint (looked goooood despite lack of stats); AJ Williams (provisional based on possibility he was caving in the outside of the CMU defense.)
Epic Double Point Standings.
0.5: Cam Gordon (CMU), Brennen Beyer (CMU)
Brady Hoke Epic Double Fist-Pump Of The Week. The blocked punt touchdown set the tone, showed us the crazy explosiveness of Dymonte Thomas (Heiko and Ace point out that he blocked it before it even hit the punter's foot), gave us some faith that special teams might be a real asset this season, and was a Heartwarming Moment when former walk-on Joe Reynolds scored his first touchdown. So that.
Honorable mention: Desmond Morgan embodies his description in the season preview with a textbook stick of Zurlon Tipton; Cam Gordon invades the backfield to make us all feel better about Not Jake Ryan; ditto Beyer; Derrick Green rips off a 30-yarder; Reynolds brings in a tough 50-yard catch.
Epic Double Fist-Pumps Past.
Burned redshirt watch
A first-game thing to do.
On offense: De'Veon Smith, Derrick Green, Csont'e York, Jake Butt, and Shane Morris.
All of these make sense to me. Playing one of the freshmen wideouts makes sense, one or both running backs could help Michigan win a game this year, ditto Butt, and Morris needs blooding.
On defense: Delano Hill, Jourdan Lewis, Channing Stribling, Dymonte Thomas, Taco Charlton, Ben Gedeon.
Despite previous complaints about burning either LB redshirt, if Gedeon is the backup WLB I'm fine with it. He appears to be. Everyone else is obvious save Jourdan Lewis, and even if that's a debatable decision M is still redshirting two corners this year and brings in Jabrill Peppers next year. I don't think they'll be moaning about a lack of a fifth year for Lewis.
Probably redshirting: All OL, Wyatt Shallman, Jaron Dukes, Khalid Hill, Da'Mario Jones, Reon Dawson, Ross Douglas, Henry Poggi, Maurice Hurst, Mike McCray. McCray is a bit of a surprise after the number change seemingly designed to get him on special teams with Dileo. I'm very much in favor of a redshirt to get some separation here. Everyone else is obvious save maybe Hill.
[Rest after the jump]
|STRONGSIDE LB||Yr.||MIDDLE LB||Yr.||WEAKSIDE LB||Yr.|
|Cam Gordon||Sr.*||Desmond Morgan||Jr.||James Ross||So.|
|Jake Ryan||Jr.*||Joe Bolden||So.||Royce Jenkins-Stone||So.|
|Brennen Beyer||Jr.||Mike McCray||Fr.||Ben Gedeon||Fr.|
Stupid ACL injuries wrecking everything… well… some things. Michigan loses Kenny Demens to graduation and Jake Ryan to cruel fate, but returns everyone else, adds Brennen Beyer from the stacked WDE spot, and welcomes two freshmen. They have a decent amount of experience, a decent amount of depth, and a ton of promise. James Ross figures to blow up; Desmond Morgan's improvement will be more incremental but now he's at a more comfortable position. Joe Bolden gives both a quality backup.
Even at the depleted SAM spot you've got a fifth year senior and true junior who Greg Mattison says are both playing like starters, and then Ryan is supposed to be back by mid-October… or sooner. Could be pretty good here.
These previews had previously split out the middle and weakside linebackers into their own sections, but the obvious interchangeability of the two spots (Desmond Morgan moves from one to the other, Bolden played both last year, supposed MLB Kenny Demens took the bulk of the TE-seam responsibilities) we're combining the two into an inside LB spot. Differences between the two spots exist, but are thin—according to Mattison, "inside is inside."
Morgan will hit ya [Upchurch/MGoBlue.com]
|hit and shed|
|gets in, gets upfield|
|sheds block, slows Bell|
|no more forward for you|
|comes from backside to tackle|
|kind of Ryan-like here|
|lost on counter|
|accepts a block|
|slashed to the ground|
|cut like a mofo|
|read and react|
|nerfs counter draw|
|takes on two blockers|
|sidles all the way|
|shuts down Martinez draw|
DESMOND MORGAN enters his third year as a starter by moving over from the weakside to the middle, as predicted by everyone in the world including myself. This is partly because James Ross demands entry into the starting lineup and partly because Morgan's skillset—thumpin'—was always more suited to the mike. Even when he was at WLB, it was Kenny Demens tasked with following tight ends down the seam. Morgan isn't quite a Sam Sword two-downs-and-out guy, but between he and Ross there's no question who you want dropping into coverage and who you want taking on fullbacks.
The best part of Morgan's game is how running backs stop when he contacts them. Morgan emerged into a bang-you're-dead tackler over the course of the year. Here he takes on a block, sheds it, gets an arm on LeVeon Bell(!), and robs him of most of his momentum:
Michigan would boot State off the field on the ensuing third and short. Having guys like Morgan around makes every first down a battle. Morgan also robbed a Minnesota power back of most of his momentum, amongst other events. Click play and HEAR FOOTBALL!
The guy is a brick.
After his first year this space criticized Morgan's hesitancy (mildly since he was a freshman), something that lasted through the first portion of last season. Michigan would slant the line and get gashed and I eventually pieced together a theory that the linebackers were uncomfortable predicting what would happen on that slant and late to the hole.
As the year progressed (and Washington and Campbell got more reliable with their angles), that tendency receded:
The linebackers are generally more decisive. The Demens see-gap-hit-gap-eat-soul is one part of it; also you can sense Morgan feeling the play behind that. He eases to the playside a bit to give him an edge on someone who might be releasing backside. He's reading the play through, and he shows up to help at the right spot. There's an air of "I am no longer a confused freshman" to him.
Morgan put a lot of previous worries about athleticism to bed last year as he got sideline to sideline effectively and made plays in space against tough customers like Taylor Martinez. Watching his read-and-explode is at times reminiscent of Jake Ryan. At times.
The UFR chart is reflective of this:
|Alabama||5.5||10||-4.5||And this was the best ILB play!|
|Air Force||8||10||-2||Faded late after strong start, thus setting up allfrosh.|
|Notre Dame||5||2||3||Solid tackling day, looked pretty athletic.|
|Purdue||5.5||3.5||2||Overshadowed with +2, is this real life?|
|Illinois||7.5||4.5||3||This is relatively bad!|
|MSU||9||2||7||Remember the athleticism worries with him?|
|Nebraska||11||4||7||Hit Y on leaping bat that became INT.|
|Minnesota||11||5.5||5.5||You stop when he hits you.|
|Northwestern||4||9.5||-5.5||Rough outing with blown assignments; Ross out there on critical last two drives speaks for itself.|
OSU not done, sorry. South Carolina not listed because it was impossible to tell who was who between Morgan and Bolden, and South Carolina ran the tailback five times anyway.
For inside linebackers, anything above zero is generally good. After getting 'Bama'd and having issues against Air Force's triple option, Morgan started a run of six straight positive games—some very much so.
Of course, a couple games after I proclaimed him a star in the Nebraska UFR he got edged and outran all day by Northwestern. Hey, he's just not the best guy to take on Venric Mark. It happens. Moving him to the middle should mitigate those issues.
In year three, Mattison believes that Morgan has the mental and physical ability to be top notch as long as he fixes one issue:
"He's so smart. He can make the checks, and he's strong. That allows him to be able to strike a blow, punch and get off blocks. One thing our linebackers have to work extremely hard on that was a negative for us was there were too many times they ran into blockers and didn't disengage. That's been a big emphasis."
Morgan got consistently better at this as the year rolled along. He's too much of a blue-collar guy to get the sexy TFL stats to be All Big Ten (also, Max Bullough exists) but he should be a consistently plus player who fends off Joe Bolden all year. He will be an asset.
[After THE JUMP: James Ross! Depth! Jake Ryan as Loki! Cam Gordon! More depth!]