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FORMATION NOTES: By this point the defense is pretty well established. We got a few glimpses at what Michigan intends to do against pro-style formations; this is a 4-4 with the line shifted over (to the strength of the formation), Ross at SAM, and Hill threatening off the weakside:
Wilson, the free safety, is about 20 yards downfield.
I'm calling the thing where they drop the buck off the line like so…
…"30 nickel buck" to distinguish it from an actual 3-3-5.
This is what I mean by "triple stack" on UNLV's part; Michigan is in their standard nickel even:
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: Line was close to the first two games with Henry/Glasgow/Wormley backed by Charlton/Hurst/Godin except that you could replace Henry in the starting lineup with Godin based on snaps played. Henry got cut a bunch on the backside of zones and didn't see much time in the middle of the game.
WDE/buck was the usual 70/30 split between Ojemudia and RJS.
Lawrence Marshall got in on the last drive, as did Brady Pallante.
Linebacker was the same; a little more James Ross at SAM in this game; Gedeon and Ross also got a couple drives as ILBs in the nickel.
Secondary saw the same rotation as per usual (Lewis/Peppers/Wilson/Hill with Stribling or Clark in the nickel) except that Wayne Lyons was the dime back. Brandon Watson got in on the last drive as well.
[After THE JUMP: defense crush]
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FORMATION NOTES: Michigan stuck mostly with its nickel even against a run-oriented spread team. At times either Peppers or Hill would line up as a WLB:
My deeply unsatisfying nomenclature for this was "nickel 4-3." I know this is a nonsense thing to say, but this is the world we live in.
I also don't like calling this a "3-3-5 nickel" since it's really just taking a DE and having him run at the LOS:
I need better lingo for that if you've got it.
M did this some with Frank Clark last year and they're continuing to do it with Ojemudia. I kind of get the idea, but execution so far has been weak.
Oregon State used a lot of H-backs and I designated those with "H" after whatever the formation is. This is Shotgun TE H for the Beavers. Michigan is an actual 4-3 here.
PERSONNEL NOTES: Much the same as the first game, with heavy rotation on the front that justifies the OR next to Matt Godin's name. He played both DE and DT and probably got as much time as either Henry or Wormley. Glasgow probably got the most snaps on the DL; Hurst appearances were infrequent. It was mostly Ojemudia at buck, with a reasonable number of RJS appearances.
Secondary was as in the first game: Lewis, Peppers, Hill, Wilson + Stribling/Clark. When they went to a 4-3 it was Stribling/Clark coming off the field instead of Hill. After Lewis went out it was Stribling and Clark. Dymonte Thomas got some snaps in the dime.
LBs were Morgan and Bolden with Ross coming in for 4-3 snaps; Gedeon and Ross both got a couple drives as ILBs.
[After THE JUMP: short is good]
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FORMATION NOTES: Michigan spent the entire game in nickel save for scattered snaps in a dime package with three safeties (Hill, Thomas, Wilson) on it. Their first drive they came out in an odd front featuring the buck as a standup end:
Either they weren't happy with the play there or it was just a stunt, because after the first drive Michigan spent most of the rest of the day with an even four-man front:
On occasion they'd do this or something similar with a standup end; this pinched formation saw a hard line slant that got Wormley through for one of his impressive penetration plays:
And that was about it. Michigan spent the entire game with one very deep safety—generally 15 or more yards off the LOS; sometimes they'd offer a two high look but they always came down with one or the other presnap.
PERSONNEL NOTES: Line was mostly Henry/Glasgow/Wormley/Ojemudia. Matt Godin got the most time of any backup, spotting both Wormley and Henry frequently and pretty effectively. Charlton played a reasonable number of snaps behind Henry as well. Maurice Hurst was mostly a passing down sub for Glasgow; he did get a few standard down snaps. RJS saw a little bit of time.
At linebacker it was mostly Morgan and Bolden. Gedeon got a drive; Ross got a couple. Secondary was Lewis/Peppers/Wilson/Hill 100% of the time and a mix of Stribling and Clark at the last spot. Thomas got some snaps in the dime package.
[After THE JUMP: battling a very spread out spread]
|STRONGSIDE LB||Yr.||MIDDLE LB||Yr.||WEAKSIDE LB||Yr.|
|James Ross||Sr.||Desmond Morgan||Sr.*||Joe Bolden||Sr.|
|Allen Gant||Jr.*||Ben Gedeon||Jr.||Jared Wangler||Fr.*|
|Jabrill Peppers||Fr.*||Mike McCray||So.*||Noah Furbush||So.*|
This is music to a new defensive coordinator's ear: Michigan sports an all-senior linebacker corps. All have started for multiple years, give or take a hand injury or benching here and there. They've even got a high-quality backup. Senior leadership is out of control, man!
Approximately the fourth-best* thing to happen to the 2015 team's chances over the last year was DESMOND MORGAN breaking his hand after the first game of the season. That didn't have much impact on where 2014 went; it gives this year's team a three-year starter to slot in the Jake Ryan-shaped hole at middle linebacker.
By this point you're probably tired of me extolling Morgan's virtues, and since he didn't do much last year other than fall behind Joe Bolden just long enough for me to eat a lemon this is going to be a rehash.
Morgan is a heady, athletic enough, stick-em tackler who's been yelling at the rest of the front seven to get in the correct spot for a few years now. He is your proverbial quarterback of the defense. That role will probably be lessened this year since the entire front seven consists of upperclassmen, but expect him to thwack Lawrence Marshall and maybe Mo Hurst should the need arise. Mike Spath got a great quote about Morgan's ability in that department:
On U-M's linebackers: "We played them two years ago and the guy that everyone seemed to listen to was [Desmond] Morgan. Those guys are invaluable. Everyone respects them.
"Last year, you didn't hear a lot of talk from the middle linebacker. I don't think Jake Ryan was a talker. He just wanted to do his own thing. He was very good at it, but he wasn't that guy in the middle of a defense that was taking care of the other 10 guys on the field."
When called into duty to make a tackle, he brings the wood.
During the 2014 Minnesota game he uncorked this ridiculous thing where he flew in on a blitz, had to leap over a guy, kept his feet, held up two blockers, and helped stuff a third and short.
When he's not making eye-popping plays he's keeping things going down-to-down. The one glimpse at him we got last year was enough for me to bring out a Picture Pages about Morgan's LB instincts.
Morgan found himself in a bad stop here, taking on a free releasing lineman in a bunch of space. He popped that OL back; the RB ran into said OL, and Michigan saved some yards.
When Jake Ryan faced the exact same situation later on that drive, he tried to make a spectacular play. His attempt to teleport around that OL was an instinct that served him well as a chaos-sowing SAM linebacker; when moved to MLB that instinct meant he didn't delay the back at all. Instead of six yards, Michigan gave up 11.
That's Morgan in a nutshell. He will hit guys hard and funnel back to his help and drop into his zone. He'll make it difficult for a QB to get a completion on him; he'll make it difficult for a running back to get YAC on him; he'll make it difficult for an OL to stay attached to him. He's not going to turn in Ryan's Tarzan plays, but you don't have to do that to be a great middle linebacker.
As David Harris demonstrated, MLB is a thinking man's spot. Harris was just about flawless with his reads, and his understanding of the game extended to ways to get off blocks without even taking them—one of his trademarks was in effect juking OL by momentarily fighting to one side of a block and then cutting back once the OL took a false step. Morgan had some moments like that a year ago:
Do that consistently and you get to be David Harris too.
Morgan's coverage is good. Very rarely does he vacate big tracts of land, as both Ryan and Bolden were prone to last year. He of course saved Michigan's bacon in the 2013 UConn game (for all the good that did them in the long run) with a leaping spear of an interception. Add it up and you get a 2013 UFR in extended, trying circumstances that looks like a guy who is on the verge of stardom:
|1||CMU||4||0.5||3.5||Crunch crunch bang bang|
|2||Notre Dame||7.5||4.5||3||Coped pretty well in coverage. Responsible for both EZ deflections.|
|3||Akron||6||3.5||2.5||Negative coverage number should be factored in here.|
|4||UConn||6.5||3.5||3||Saved the game.|
|5||Minnesota||11||3||8||First real test this year passed easily.|
|6||Penn State||9.5||4||4.5||Rough start, strong finish.|
|9||Nebraska||5||4.5||0.5||Blew one TFL big. Otherwise solid.|
|10||Northwestern||6||5||1||Drawn in by some misdirection.|
|11||Iowa||1||-||1||Pulled early with injury.|
UFR is tough on linebackers, so anything above zero is good. To consistently go over it over the course of a season, generally on heavy usage is very difficult.
The main drawback here is explosiveness. Morgan doesn't rack up TFLs and sacks; he's not great at getting to the quarterback on blitzes. (Run blitzes, on the other hand, he is excellent at, especially on short yardage.) He is not the kind of athlete that is going to make the NFL salivate.
But there are few guys I'd rather have on third and one. Morgan should reprise his 2013 with some incremental improvements. That would make him an All Big Ten level guy even if the lack of fancy stats prevents that from happening in real life.
*[Your top three are Dave Brandon late night email sessions, Harbaugh, and Jake Rudock's transfer.]
[After THE JUMP: seniors are made of leadership]
Kyle, a lot’s been made about your maturity and now you’re in your third year here. Just talk about how you’ve grown and how you’re ready for this role as a leader.
Kyle Kalis: “I think a lot of it was the offseason condition. You know, we grew a lot as a team through coach Tolbert’s workouts and stuff, and a big thing not only personally but as an O-lineman and concerning my unit is coach Drev’s ability to coach us.
“He’s taught us stuff that we had no idea was even out there, and his experience, his vast knowledge of O-line play and the way you have to do it, the way you have to take that mentality every day has been huge for us. So that’s probably the biggest thing is coach Drev.”
I know that you guys are probably tired of the offensive line improvement talk, but last year it was said that the offensive line had improved. Do you feel that this season there is real, tangible improvement? Is this finally the year that the offensive line will come together?
KK: “Yeah. I mean, the past couple years we’ve been good. It’s just hard- it was hard to find…to look through the cracks and see us doing well. But this year I think as a team us being able to come together [and] have all the parts working together as a cohesive unit is going to be huge to not only be successful as a team, but also, you know, get the big guys some love. That’s the thing [is] you have to be successful as a team to let everybody have the spotlight.”
You mentioned the spotlight. Are there any guys out there that have impressed you? A lot has been said about Mason Cole. Talk about some of the guys who you’ve seen a lot of improvement from.
KK: “Yeah, Mason’s definitely…Mason’s Mason. He started all last year as a freshman. That’s huge. I mean, no one does that really anywhere, and so that’s huge for him. He’s improved a lot. Again, with coach Drev he’s been able to make some strides. Dave Dawson did really good. Tulley- Logan’s been doing really good. Blake’s [Bars] had a really good camp. A lot of guys have been really coming along and it’s been good.”
[After THE JUMP: More Kalis and Houma, plus Desmond Morgan and Chris Wormley]
DJ Durkin inherits a Michigan defense that’s both experienced and talented, with good depth in most position groups. Durkin has promised to mix up the fronts we’ll see this season, and he expanded on that while also talking about his pass rushers, linebackers, and more at Media Day.
[I jumped in while Durkin was in the middle of an answer]
“The thought is now we get into camp [and] a lot of it is now they’re hearing it for the second, the third, the fourth time of what we’re installing so you can master it and play fast.”
You talked at the beginning of spring about how you didn’t really know your team. What do you know about your personnel now?
“Yeah, I feel we know them much better. We had four-hour practices in the spring [so] we got a lot of reps with those guys. We saw them do a lot, so that’s a good thing. There’s not a lot of angst from me or our staff of ‘What’s this guy going to do in a game?’ or ‘[How will he] respond?’ We have, number one, experienced guys on defense for the most part. And then, like I said, we had really competitive practices in the spring where we put those guys in a lot of situations that they had to show what they could do so I feel like we have a good evaluation and awareness of where they’re at.
“And now it becomes let’s go into fall camp and see what guys come in with that right mindset and what they did over the summer, see how they prepared and go through it all over again and re-evaluate everyone and get ready for the first game.”
What are you most excited about for tomorrow and then fast-forwarding to September 3rd?
“Tomorrow, just getting out there. I mean, it’s one of those things that there’s a build up of it and when you finally get out there and hit that first period and start moving, it’s always…I don’t know. It’s one of my favorite times of the year. You just get that feeling like ‘Alright, we’re back out on the field.’ All this stuff is fun and everything but talking about it is not the same as going and doing it, so that’s what I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”
And then the opener?
“Yeah, the opener. I mean, wow, what a great test as an opener on the road in an environment that’s really loud. They’re into it; they’ve had great success there, especially recently, with their football program. So we’ll be tested right there, week one. Our guys know that, they understand that and we’re going to keep working towards that as we get through camp.”
[The rest after THE JUMP]