that's unfortunate, but at least the interest is there on both sides
Items of admittedly flimsy substance:
Lots of Rawls. Thomas Rawls is the tailback in most of these sets; Hayes does not appear and Toussaint only gets buried on a flare screen. Rawls mostly gets buried himself. Maybe he's just an excellent vehicle via which to express defensive competence.
Morgan is all over the place. He goes sideline to sideline to thump Rawls on one moderately successful run and generally looks like Michigan's best linebacker. Again, it's one thing to go sideline to sideline against Rawls and another on Toussaint or Smith. Morgan still brings the wood.
Line bits. You can see Chris Bryant acting as the RG on a play where Miller is snapping to Gardner: second unit. Hypothesis: Michigan thinks Mealer can really hack it all of a sudden and is placing the usual pressure on Omameh's job. Either that or they're just getting Bryant some snaps at both guard spots so he's comfortable at either one in case of an injury. There has been a little buzz about Graham Glasgow, the second-team left guard, as well—unrelated to a tandem bike, even.
Also, your second string NT is currently Richard Ash. Not much of a surprise, sure.
Edge defenders. On the play where Gardner escapes Frank Clark pressure to bomb a pass to Jeremy Jackson in the back of the endzone it's the second team OTs—walk-ons—getting smoked. The player coming in from the bottom is redshirt freshman Antonio Poole, which strikes me as odd. He's presumed to be playing WLB, so if he's coming at the left tackle he's either engaged on a seriously long journey from blitz to the quarterback or he's practicing at MLB. (Or SLB, I guess, but I doubt it.)
Adding to the oddness of that play: it really looks like the guy trying to recover on Jackson is #35… Joe Bolden. I am confused about that defense.
Slant. Dime? Denard throws a slant to Gallon immediately in front of Terrence Talbott, who's on the field with Kovacs, Avery, and Countess. People have been talking Talbott up in the recent insidery posts across the web, and that is first-team run he's getting. Michigan seems to have enough depth at corner to consider some dime packages in third and long.
BUBBLE?!?! IS THIS A BUBBLE SCREEN TO DILEO?
AL BORGES IS CAPTURED AND HIDDEN SOMEWHERE IN THE MOUNTAINS OF AFGHANISTAN. WE LAUNCH OUR RESCUE AT 0600 SATURDAY.
Black appearance. Looks like Morgan and Black blow up the next play, one of those spring counters Michigan busted out against Minnesota for an unknown reason. Omameh gets beat, which I'd look at as a good sign since we know Omameh is a pretty good Big Ten player, one who has more trouble with strength than quickness. Black's being talked up as a quick penetrator.
Vincent Smith iso from the I. Zero yards. #sameasever. We get a glimpse of Cam Gordon rotating in with the ones on this play, which is good to see after he vanished last year. Smith does dance into the endzone a couple plays later on a power from the gun with #99 blocking—yeah, Michigan's rotating in a fullback wearing 99 now. Meet Paul Gyarmati.
On that play the second team is in. Poole gets on the wrong side of a pulling Barnum, which prevents Bolden from making a tackle. Then a safety I can't identify whiffs as he tries to fill. Bryant doesn't actually end up blocking anyone. Bolden's reaction time was impressive there: if Poole knows what he's doing that's going to be a thump for Bolden at or near the LOS.
Mmmm Denard. Next play is a QB power on which Barnum pulls. The TV always tells me that's a rare thing that can be of great utility to an offense. Barnum gets well downfield and crushes Morgan to the inside, opening up a lane Denard hits for six. Not Morgan's fault. I wish we'd see Demens doing some of the stuff Morgan is in these clips.
…and Morgan gets beat easily on the next play for a Vincent Smith dumpoff TD.
BONUS TAKE: From Maize 'n' Blue Nation.
NOTE: it proved impossible to communicate what OL coaches were like without swearing more than I usually would in a post not about backboards in the immediate aftermath of last year's Wisconsin game. Keep children and the mad away from this post.
Faced with a difficult choice between seeing the head coach give his stump speech and talk about defensive line coaching and Al Borges talking about creating a play sheet and Michigan's passing concepts, I split the difference: one hour each. If I'd known I was going to get an excellent event recap from the Hoke presentation in my inbox that night I would have gone 100% Borges, but better to have it 3/4ths covered than half.
The emailer's notes follow. I was in the room for the first half of this and will interject some asides where appropriate; first a few general impressions from me.
loafs = bad; offensive line coaches, basically
My first exposure to the football coaching subculture was sometimes fascinating, sometimes boring, and full of swearing.
To a certain extent all football coaches emphasize the same things, and they tell you about these things every time. I get it: "loafs" are not tolerated. They are to you as scrubs are to TLC. [blank stares] I would like to move on from this because I have never tried to teach anyone and do not understand that without relentless consistency you do not get the results you want. Football coaches know you would like to move on but the relentless consistency is so ingrained in their nature that they can't help themselves.
Hoke was the most explicit example of this amongst the coaches I've seen over the past couple weeks. His presentation is on proper defensive line technique* and he says "I respect guys who just get into football and won't do all that philosophy stuff," he does a large section on philosophy stuff, and then sort of apologizes for it—only sort of because Hoke has a friendly bravado to him. Very few coaches can escape it.
Most of those guys are offensive line coaches. In a field of insane, profanity-prone sticklers for detail, OL coaches stand out. Collectively they have an air of weary acceptance. The best way to communicate this: a couple of the guys who presented in Grand Rapids have their own OL-specific clinic. Their logo is a mushroom because they're "kept in the dark and eat shit all day."
Funk was the first OL coach I took in so I didn't know how much of an exception he was. He may be the most businesslike individual I've ever perceived. No jokes, no swearing, just explanations.
What Funk shares with the other guys is an arcane language that's half signing, half jargon, half grunting, and I know that adds up to more than 100%. Jets consultant Jim McNally spent an hour talking about where a center's first step should be against a one-technique. He'd put his foot somewhere, say that was horseshit, put his foot somewhere else that you could just perceive was different, and tell you that this would prevent the motherfucker lined up across from you from putting you in a world of shit as long as you did six dozen other things right. But then some other motherfucker would put you in a world of shit some other way so you had to STEP [GRUNT] in this other particular way. A ballet eventually emerged in this quarter-full room as McNally scribbled his hieroglyphics on an overhead projector: step, grunt, swear. Step, grunt, swear. And so on.
So… yeah. Offensive line coaches.
*[Again it's worth mentioning here that Hoke is an outlier amongst head coaches. He still coaches a position. Meanwhile, he seems to have relatively little input on the coordinator-level duties. He is high and low and nowhere in between.]
Brady Hoke commands a room. I'd been in The Presence once before, when The UM Club of Ann Arbor invited me to be a panelist for their season kickoff Q&A. He started off with the same call and response he gives the team:
He then jovially mocks you for being meek little things and asks you to do it again. It's probably the oldest motivational/attention gathering technique in the history of man. He did it to the infinite coaches in the room by saying "GOOD EVENING" until the response was involved enough for him to continue. He does this with the team, obviously.
Over the course of the hour I took in he grabbed a half-dozen people out of the crowd to demonstrate certain things, told everyone to get up and actually get in a stance—this did not work well since the room was packed—and used a former Ball State player he called by a stereotypically defensive line nickname I forget as a proficient dummy. He got his points across, kept attention to him, and tossed off laugh lines with the casual air of a guy in complete control of a room. Which he was. As I noodled on my phone in certain other talks, Hoke's charisma became a more notable thing.
A couple days later eight four-star recruits would agree.
Now on to the email report.
Last night I had the opportunity to hear Coach Hoke speak for 2 hours at a Glazier Clinic in Grand Rapids. Hoke took the first five minutes to talk a little program philosophy and motivational stuff, he then launched into a very detailed 110 minute talk about D-Line rules/technique/drills/responsibilities. I thought I would share some various bullets from the night.
Roh move. Although already mentioned on the Blog, Craig Roh is definitely moving to the 5 tech! Coach hit on this a couple times while discussing drills. Seemed to hint at Beyer and possibly Ryan moving to WDE?! [Hint means he mentioned these guys as he was discussing WDE position...again nothing for sure, but just passing along info.]
[ED: I assume Ryan isn't moving to WDE. He probably gets mentioned amongst them because the SLB has a lot of responsibilities similar to the WDE. At the previous clinic Mattison mentioned that M has a defense in which the SLB and WDE essentially swap responsibilities that they ran 80 times last year. As always, SLB and WDE in the 4-3 under aren't that different. Also Ryan was a DE in the even-front nickel package last year.]
Campbell. Big Will came in for a little praise for his size and strength and it sounds like he is a "tremendous" individual, but Hoke didn't make you feel great about Will's chances to contribute at a high level.
Jake Ryan. Came in for some high praise as Coach Hoke called him "an unorthodox football player" and also said he will be a key to the success of the defense here at Michigan. They showed the clip from the Sugar Bowl where Wilson tries to bounce at the goal line and runs 20 yards backwards then Ryan cleans up.
This was one of two late-season plays on which Ryan's shocking upfield acceleration resulted in a big loss. A Taylor Martinez zone read keeper that ended up a TFL was the other.]
Hoke smiles and says, "That's just fun, isn't it?" Hoke went on to tell a story about a connection to the Ryan family and that Jake was interested in SDSU, but Hoke and his staff there never offered. He then said something to the sound of, "times like this make you feel like a fool, glad we got him now!"
Obviously. Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen came in for high praise as men who worked hard and set the tone as important Seniors on team #132. RVB was credited as one of the smartest players on the team, Hoke then said, "Mike is really strong!" That received a roar of laughs. (Quick side note: Hoke is a great comedian and has a natural feel for comedic timing. [ED: It's true. He called a guy up to the front of the room to get in a stance, started adjusting him, and then asked if his feet were square. The demonstrator said "more or less"; Hoke repeated it in just the right way and got a roaring laugh from the room. Comedy without a punchline is hard.])
Hoke talked specifically about Martin not getting enough push earlier in the year and how, once he was attacking more, he was unblockable.
Nathan Brink got a lot of love from Coach Hoke. He said, "he is a limited athlete, but a tough sucker." Maybe he can add some valuable depth?
Desmond Morgan received some high praise. However, every time they showed D-Line clips from game film, Des seemed to be out of place or getting killed! Coach Hoke talked about his smarts, strength, and instinct.
[ED: Morgan fared better in the clips from the Mattison session. I figure the bad bits are freshman being freshmen and they expect he'll be a lot better this year. Morgan will not go easily into the night what with the new kids around.]
Quinton Washington got some love from Coach. He talked about his strength and good feet. The only set back for Quinton is he is a "pincher bug!" Meaning he doesn't get his hands inside and get extension. With three D-Line coaches on staff, you have to get technique right or you will not see the field. He said "we need Quinton to get this right before September 1st!"
Stories and Comments
Cross is boss
The McNabb game. Coach Hoke talked about the 98' Syracuse game and mentioned that, "you guys know a guy by the name of Donovan McNabb? He is just a little bit of good!" He went on to say, "I told Coach Carr that I take all responsibility for the loss." Hoke talked about the fact that he didn't prepare his linemen properly and he let them down. Some of this is coach speak, but he is so effectual with his speaking that I felt like he let me down too. It was salt in the wounds man, salt in the wounds.
[ED: This was presented in the context of returning nine starters from the 1997 defense, which you may remember as pretty good. Hoke was discussing the algorithm he has his players go through to get to the ball and how he thought his guys had it down after '97; now he teaches it every year without fail. Again we got back to coaches repeating everything for a reason.
Jabs. Hoke kept throwing out light hearted jabs at his assistants. Gave you the feeling that these guys really like each other and work well together.
[ED: as I tweeted out, Borges was talking about how few people were in his clinic and Hoke was telling him "no one cares about offense" before they went on. In actuality both sessions were packed to the gills.]
T-Bone. I was surprised by how detailed he was in all the drills/technique portion. One of his GAs from Ball State was in attendance, so he had "T-Bone" come up and be his personal dummy for the night. Hoke repeatedly gave this guy huge shots on every demonstrated punch and extension. T-Bone was tough, but by the end, he was grimacing each time. I only include this to show how much Hoke is still a D-Line guy at heart. He can't hold back and was working up a sweat demonstrating this.
[ED: T-Bone. Of course.]
Ohio. Following the clinic someone was asking him a question about the "Akron State Golden Bobcats" and this gentleman used the full given name of that said team. Quickly Hoke corrected him and said, "You mean Ohio?" questioning which team the man meant. I know it might seem played up with the whole "Ohio" thing, but that little interaction made me a bit more proud that he is our coach.
Tremendous. Overall, there were 11 counts of "tremendous."
I was very much on the fence about Coach Hoke until his introductory press conference. Then I remained skeptical throughout the summer and even fall. After getting to witness this talk on a Thursday night in February with a bunch of overweight D-Line coaches, I am thankful that he is our coach. You can see why Mattison wanted to coach with him.
So that's Hoke.
So I hit up a Glazier Clinic last week. I'm not sure what the etiquette is about actually talking about this stuff since the atmosphere in the room was not at all similar to press conferences in which carefully evaluated non-statements are provided. For instance, at one point Greg Mattison said that "I've never seen such awful technique" than that of the defensive line upon his arrival.
Mattison didn't say anything offensive, but he was very blunt. If he knew someone would be posting about it on the internet he might not have spoken like that, which means I probably shouldn't be in the room. But being in the room was exceedingly useful for me as I try to figure out what people are supposed to be doing on the field. So here's a mostly paraphrased recap that I don't think anyone could possibly get mad at.
I also listened to an hour of Funk after Mattison was done; having missed two hours of table-setting and lingo I had a hard time grabbing anything that I could relate to you. FWIW, Funk's presentation was three hours of inside zone minutiae—I don't think we're dumping zone any time soon. Craig Ross took in the whole thing and provided a few notes that I'll post Friday.
Mattison. Very personable, obviously a veteran of the clinic circuit. At points reminded me of a folk singer in one and only one very specific way: after explaining this formation or this coverage or this defense, he would fire off some zingers, get everyone to laugh, and then continue with business. I can see why he's regarded as a great recruiter.
His interest in teaching was also clear. Occasionally it felt like it was a college class as Mattison asked the room what player X would be doing in a particular situation. That lent a lot of credence to his assertion that one of two primary reasons he came back to college was a desire to "influence young men—that's what we do." (Brady Hoke was the other.)
On message. Mattison kicked the session off with about 30 minutes describing Michigan's philosophy, goals, and motivational techniques before getting into Xs and Os. He started by talking about Hoke; that "the one thing Brady did was bring back what made Michigan what it is." Michigan hasn't been "one of those teams loaded with unbelievable stars" but plays fundamentally sound, tough defense with maximum effort. Etc.
There were then the usual bits about Hoke's "Years: 133, Championships: 42" call-and-response and a statement that the Sugar Bowl was "fine" but he would trade 100 of them for a Big Ten Championship. The rooms say "THE TEAM THE TEAM THE TEAM," of course. The program is on message.
Position switches. As I wrestled with how to handle this various coaches in the room told every-damn-body that Mattison said Brennen Beyer was moving to WDE and Craig Roh to SDE. This was explicitly stated. Adjust the wiki pages.
Helmets to the ball. A major theme: "loafs" are not tolerated and Mattison wants to see the jersey of 10 guys at the end of every play. When he catches a defensive lineman getting passed by another one he asks the kid how fast he is, and when they say "4.7" he says "well that guy must be a 4.3 then."
At the end of the session Mattison was discussing a corner blitz they didn't run much because the corners didn't come hard enough. One of the cut-ups was from the end of the third quarter against OSU. This play:
The coaches' film is a wider shot and emphasized the huge distance Floyd had to make up to catch Miller before the touchdown. Mattison took the opportunity to point out that this was an example of the corners not coming hard enough and gush over Floyd ("I love this kid") in general and specifically as an exemplar of the Michigan philosophy. Floyd's effort led to this:
And that led to a field goal.
Bonus: For those looking for a reason other than blind luck that Michigan recovered 80% of opponent fumbles this year, in practice all incompletions are live balls. Mattison credited this practice for getting players moving towards the ball at all times and being in position to scoop up live balls in actual play.
Technique a priority. This was a feature of both the general philosophical section and the chalk talk. Mattison did not select the cutups himself—that was delegated to a video coordinator—and didn't know exactly what would come up. This made for an interesting dynamic as he evaluated each play live. He repeatedly digressed from his main topic to note the footwork of his linemen: Van Bergen is getting distance with his first step. All of these guys have identical footwork. There was also a long discussion about why your rush end needs to start with his outside foot back when he gets a tight end to him*. Etc.
In the philosophical section he noted that Michigan was probably the only team in the country with a head coach who coaches a position, that nose guard. It was at this point he told the story about Hoke coming to him fuming, saying he "wasn't going to be one of those head coaches who just walk around" and demanding a position group. He took the nose. Zinger: "now… I question why he coached the best player on the team."
Here he also noted that everyone hits the sled every day and that this was not something the previous coaching staff did frequently, if ever. This is where the bit about "I've never seen such awful technique" came in. Pretty much the only thing negative Mattison said was about the state of the team he was handed. Everyone who's surprised raise their hand. That's no one.
The final bit on this: "don't go be a scheme coach, focus on technique."
*[The reason is the biggest threat to the rush end in this situation is getting reached and if the tight end flares out to do so that first step needs to be one that gains him distance, something you can't do while remaining square if your outside foot is to the LOS. Disagreement with this appeared to be a pet peeve of Mattison's.]
Big plays. Obviously a priority just from the play on the field. Section on this concentrated on the secondary, declared the biggest problem with big plays. Hates it when safeties "look like blitzing linebackers" when there is a pile. He wants a cup around the pile and safeties to make tackles at least six yards downfield.
Now, that doesn't mean Jordan Kovacs needs to make a tackle six yards downfield. In this context a safety is a player in a deep zone. This is most often the corners and Gordon/Woolfolk.
Rotation. This is a Hoke thing Mattison was skeptical about: Michigan rotates the entire defense on every play of practice. Run on—snap—run off. This is "not pretty" when your 21st and 22nd best defensive players are going up against the first team offense but builds conditioning and depth and was credited for "saving the team" in the Sugar Bowl when injuries whittled down available defensive linemen to dust. Think Martin and Van Bergen in the third quarter.
Goal line philosophy. To Mattison it's simple: one zone "you run perfectly" and an all-out pressure.
When they're backed up. Mattison asked the crowd to think of what they are thinking when they've got the other team backed up, and then said "how many of you are thinking 'don't give up a big play'?" Mattison's been there and tries to fight that. Now if you're backed up, "if we have a great run pressure, we're coming after your ass."
This goes here.
Not exactly a run pressure but Michigan is sending all five guys on the line there. "When you have a chance, when they're backed up, go after their ass."
Third down. "For us, we're gonna pressure." Mattison on the end of the Akron State game:
You saw the Ohio game, you probably thought 'this guy is the dumbest sonofabitch in the world' He turned a wide receiver loose against Ohio a couple minutes left in the game.
But we intercepted it on the next play. Did we win? Yes. So we were aggressive and we won. [laughter]
So they'll be aggressive come hell or high water, that's clear.
4-3 versus 3-4: THE FINAL WORD. "We'd be here for hours" if someone tried to argue him away from playing the 4-3 under. Said something along the lines of "if you've got that 330 pound nose tackle and your ends and your linebackers, okay, God bless you." I thought of Pipkins—what is Mattison going to do with a 330 pound nose?
Anyway, Greg Mattison will never run a 3-4. End of story.
4-3 under assertions from the man himself. These aren't too different than the things you'll hear about the under when you read up on it on the internet but just to confirm, the basis of the defense:
- Rush end: "The whole thing is predicated on the rush." Must be a great player, and athlete who can spill power (ie, get into a pulling guard and stop him in his tracks), drop into coverage, and win one-on-one battles with the tight end. All that and he's got to be a ferocious pass rusher. More similar to the SAM linebacker than the SAM is to the ILBs.
- SAM linebacker. Must not be outflanked either in the run or the pass game. Hugely important not to give himself up one for one on the edge. [Editor's aside: that's something we were talking about a ton early in the year. It got a lot better as the season progressed.]
- Inside linebackers. The usual: the mike has to be a little bigger, a little stronger, and the will has to be able to adjust to coverage outside of the box. An important difference between the two is the WLB has to be able to run vertically down the seam whereas the MLB can pass his guy off; IIRC this year the guy running down the seam was Demens, not Morgan. Adjustment based on Demens's surprising ability to stick with guys downfield?
- Nose tackle. Also hugely important. "You cannot win with a weak nose." We should start calling our incoming five star "No Pressure Pipkins" right now.
- Corners. "Corners are corners" but the field corner (Countess) is not involved with "heavy work" and usually just has to clean up plays that have been strung out. The boundary corner (Floyd) has to be a bigger guy better in run support. It's a seven man front; if you go eight you'd "better have a war daddy" at field corner because he's got to cover an outside receiver with little additional help.
Michigan does not align to strength but rather aligns to field—ie, if you're on the left hash the SAM will be to the wide side of the field and if you're on the right hash the SAM will be to the wide side of the field. You can flip your tight ends all around and Michigan won't flip in response. I assume the flipping from earlier in the year was a necessary evil as Michigan tried to get everyone up on the new system.
The most important thing. One of the line shifts Michigan runs is called "pirate technique."
Kyle Kalis. Mattison saw one of the St. Ed's guys and mentioned that Michigan had recruited a "real man" out that school, one that "may just maul some of our guys."
Jake Ryan. Mattison said Michigan was "blessed" at SAM linebacker—probably including Beyer in that assessment—and that Ryan was a major player. A major player they probably wished they didn't have to run out as a freshman, but a major player.
Mattison referenced a particular play against Nebraska on which he lined up on the wrong side of the field. I remember that but I don't think it was against Nebraska; there's no mention of it in the UFR. "Still a lot of coaching to do" with him but it's clear they think he has vast potential.
JT Floyd. As mentioned, Mattison seemed enamored with him. "Love that kid."
Desmond Morgan. Came up on a couple of clips where he ended up clubbing offensive linemen. Mattison said something along the lines of "think he'll hit you?" And "is that good or what? For a little freshman?" It is unknown whether he has ever said "freshman" without preceding it with "little."
Morgan tipped one of the blitzes they run; Mattison mentioned that he told Morgan he'd play three technique if he kept it up. This is a common threat, as…
Kenny Demens. …they literally did this with Demens, playing him at nose so they could have Martin run the blitzes he wasn't coming hard enough on. In contrast, the SAM (Ryan) was called out as a guy who does come hard.
Some secondhand reports that the implication was Demens's job is under threat have filtered out to premium message boards; I did not get that vibe.
Jordan Kovacs. Michigan's "down safety" or "close safety"—I'll stick with strong, FWIW—was "tremendous."
Departing DL. Heininger "really became a football player." Seems like they think they'll miss him. Van Bergen "really, really played" for M and Martin was of course the best player on the team.
DEPARTURES IN ORDER OF SIGNIFICANCE
Van Bergen and Martin, Heininger
- NT Mike Martin. Penetrating, active nose tackle a major factor in Michigan's massive improvement in run defense; forced a pitch on a speed option; late-season run was absolute dominance; backed up by air, hope, and freshmen.
- SDE Ryan Van Bergen. Crafty veteran and iron man was less explosive than Martin but not by much; turned in huge OSU game; consistent production in UFR even if the actual numbers aren't that amazing; backed up by walk-on.
- DT Will Heininger. Walk-on evolved from liability against MAC teams to solid, maybe even better than that, Big Ten DT; made a play or two every game after the nonconference schedule; replacement will be Will Campbell and the hope he can finally play some football.
CB/S Troy Woolfolk. Bounced from CB to S throughout career; basically a NEVER FORGET poster all to himself after series of injuries robbed him of all or much of his senior year twice; marginalized by injury and burned by Posey; did not start Sugar Bowl.
- JB Fitzgerald. Touted recruit never managed to see the field except on occasional snaps spotting Demens or playing DE under GERG.
- Brandon Herron. Scored two touchdowns against WMU and was never heard from again.
- Jared Van Slyke. Saw some snaps due to injury over the course of his career.
Kovacs, Ryan, Roh
- SS Jordan Kovacs. Never going to be a great deep half guy but the best damn tiny linebacker there's ever been; great tackling in space; great angles; huge part of Michigan's lack of big plays given up; best safety since at least Marcus Ray and probably further back.
- SLB Jake Ryan. Explosive edge athlete with a burst opponents are unprepared for; did get confused sometimes as a freshman; outstanding flow; nickel DE.
- WDE Craig Roh. Solid, but did not provide the explosive edge rush Michigan was hoping for. May end up moving to SDE, but his size and body type seemingly disqualifies him from that.
- CB Blake Countess. Touted recruit stepped into the starting lineup when Woolfolk was struck down and played very well; crappy edge tackling needs work; had tough close to the season against OSU and VT.
- CB JT Floyd. Resurrected his career and even turned in a big play or three along the way; jumped a route against Illinois to salt that game away; best technique amongst cover guys; still not that fast; also crappy edge tackling.
- MLB Kenny Demens. Ate a lot of blocks after move to new system; hopefully will get more decisive in year two; highly underrated cover guy; not much of a blitzer; may seem a lot better if the NT in front of him is a space eater instead of a penetrator.
- FS Thomas Gordon. Also a big part of Michigan's excellent big play prevention; largely exempted from secondary criticism after OSU game because he was not on the field for the worst of it; sweet-ass interception against EMU; probably a better fit at SS.
WLB Desmond Morgan. Wrested the job away from a couple veterans once he got healthy, whereupon he was okay for a freshman; problems in coverage; problems with misdirection; a big chunk of Michigan's outside vulnerability; will either improve or see someone yoink his job.
- Nickelback Courtney Avery. Diminutive but quality underneath cover guy; PBU and INT sealed OSU game; also a crappy edge tackler; fine option as a third corner.
- WDE Jibreel Black. Spotted Roh, could not take his job; may be a candidate to move to SDE if he can put on the weight; emergence of Frank Clark threatens to cut into playing time.
- DT Will Campbell. Alternates tossing his man into the quarterback with passive acceptance of blocks. Conditioning and effort an issue.
- WLB Brandin Hawthorne. Tiny safety-sized LB a man without a position after Michigan ditched the 3-3-5.
WHAT'S NEW, OR CLOSE ENOUGH, ANYWAY
please don't be our DT.
Most of the DL. YAYAYAYAYAYAYYYYYYYYY. The best unit on the team is strip-mined by eligibility expiration, leaving the next generation to… oh, right, the next generation doesn't exist. Fantastic.
Michigan's options at SDE are redshirt junior walk-on Nate Brink, who saw occasional snaps this year and was blown up on 80% of them, guys no one has seen or heard from like Jordan Paskorz, or true freshmen. At defensive tackle they've got two spots to fill and two guys who have seen meaningful snaps, Quinton Washington and Will Campbell. Kenny Wilkins and Richard Ash exist, Chris Rock will be coming off a redshirt, and there are some freshmen arriving. The most prominent is 330-pound tank/battleship/Hoke impersonator Ondre Pipkins.
I'll wait for you to finish retching.
All right! We retched it real good! Anyway. Massive dropoff is all but inevitable here. I'm betting Brink, Pipkins, and Campbell are your opening-day starters with Washington a guy who rotates in on the interior; Godin, Strobel, and Wormley will all play immediately due to necessity, leaping past Wilkins and Ash. Rock may also get some PT.
Nothing else. So we've got that going for us. Except…
Maybe WLB. Desmond Morgan is far from invulnerable at WLB, especially with Joe Bolden and Kaleb Ringer enrolling early. James Ross is extensively praised for his play identification ability and should be a candidate for early playing time. Teeny-tiny Antonio Poole is coming off a redshirt and is presumably less teeny-tiny.
That is a lot of guys vying for a single starting spot, many of them more athletic than Morgan at a spot that puts a premium on athleticism. Meanwhile, Kenny Demens is backed up by Mike Jones and more freshmen. Like Omameh, displacing him from the starting lineup provides an ancillary benefit by creating a quality backup where there is none already.
WHAT'S THE FIRST FOUR SEASONS OF BATTLESTAR GALACTICA
Sanity. O Mattison, without whom we are naught, yea, verily doth we bring these burnt offerings to your lustrous feet. May they keep your pecs jiggling as they command our forces to do something wondrous.
Experience. Michigan has it with eight starters back. For the first time since Carr's final season Michigan will go into the year running the same thing they did the year before. Run and tell that.
Depth at linebacker and quasi-linebacker. Michigan may have to pirate one of the three valid options at WDE to help out on the other side of the line but right now you can have decent confidence in any of Roh, Black, and Clark. At SLB, Ryan is a bust-out star, Brennen Beyer is coming off a freshman season with some promise and a role in short yardage, and Cam Gordon's still hanging around. In the middle, a flood of touted freshmen arrive to back up returning starters; Poole is also around.
Bending but not breaking. Kovacs and Gordon gave up vanishingly few big plays over the course of the season; both return.
WHAT'S THE LAST SEASON OF BATTLESTAR GALACTICA
The line, obviously. There's some talent there but if Michigan doesn't experience a massive backslide it's time to assume that Michigan's DL will be great as long as Hoke and Mattison and Montgomery are around.
okay, but what about, like, teams other than Western Michigan?
Getting to the quarterback. Roh did not blow up as we hoped and most of the options to replace other guys are ponderous. Campbell and Washington and Pipkins are going to be the sorts of guys who shove a couple dudes at the LOS on passing plays. Michigan got away with a lack of pass rush from the outside last year because a couple of their inside guys were great penetrators; next year Michigan needs their outside LB types (WDE and SLB) to MAKE PLAYS or opposing quarterbacks will be able to grow small businesses in the pocket.
Secondary athleticism. I love Kovacs with all of the hearts and think whatever athleticism he lacks is more than made up for by his smarts. At this point I'm not sure athleticism is even an issue. I can't remember the last time it came up in a game.
The rest of the secondary… we don't know about. Sometimes you're going to get burned over the top. When you have great recovery speed you can live. When you don't you die, which happened to Michigan time and again against Devier Posey. JT Floyd is much better but isn't likely to get a sniff from the NFL; Countess and Avery are faster but little buggers ill-suited to take on the Michael Floyds of the world. Thomas Gordon has decent to good speed; he still got burned over the top big time by Nebraska.
There are no blazers and the big guy in the secondary is almost kind of maybe outright slow. Yeah. So… could be an issue.
WHAT'S INEXPLICABLE JIMI HENDRIX
Can these coaches salvage the line? Tell me lies, baby.
How ready to play are some of these freshmen? If Bolden comes in and rips Morgan's job away from him that's probably good, but we're really talking about Ondre Pipkins, Chris Wormley, Tom Strobel, and Matt Godin here. Pipkins all but has to start from day one and two of the other three will be frequently-used depth guys.
Are the cornerbacks for real? They seemed fantastic over the first 11 games but the results against OSU and VT are alarming.
MANDATORY WILD-ASS GUESS
I'm torn. There is a case for a backslide despite returning eight starters. For one, the fumbles will not be as plentiful. For two, a lot of Michigan's weakness was covered up by Mike Martin being essentially unblockable the back half of the season and Van Bergen being so reliable. I'm worried that without those two, Michigan is going to have issues. In the best case scenario the new guys prevent OL from getting to the second level, making a lot of plays available for the linebackers that the linebackers might not make. I also don't see where the heat comes from.
But they do return eight starters and go from year one to year two in the same system. They seem pretty injury-resilient at spots that aren't Jordan Kovacs and bring in a lot of talented freshmen. They will be much older at just about every spot.
It's mandatory, though, so… yeah, they'll be worse. The lack of consistent pressure will be a year-long problem that exposes some of the issues in the secondary and the linebackers are not at the level they need to be to benefit from planetoid DL.
Sacks backslide into the bottom half of D-I after finishing 29th, total defense slides into the 30s, and the scoring defense does not repeat its top ten performance from a year ago.
Programming note: Tomorrow will be somewhat lighter than usual but the Game waits for no man, so expect a UFR, an interview with Laquon Treadwell, and probably a UV type thing, along with Midweek Metrics. The timing of these things may be all wacky because of family obligations but UFR should be up relatively early. Recruitin' hits Friday.
Formation notes: The usual 4-3 under against plays with two guys blocking in the backfield and nickel against one or zero. They had a couple snaps in what looks like a 3-4:
This only came out a couple times and may just be a tweak to get the WDE in a pass drop. They didn't passively two-gap anything.
As for Nebraska, they spent some time in the shotgun above, ran a lot of pistol…
…and on their late touchdown drive they ran some I form pitches and broke out the flexbone:
Gratuitous okie shot:
Top to bottom: Kovacs, Martin, Van Bergen, Morgan, Roh, Demens, Ryan.
Substitution notes: Michigan is all but settled. Secondary is Countess/Floyd/Kovacs/Woolfolk with Avery coming in for nickel plays and Gordon subbing in for Woolfolk from time to time. Kovacs missed the rest of a drive after his immensely fake injury; Gordon came in for that as well.
At linebacker, Demens, Morgan, Ryan 95% of the time with occasional snaps for Brennen Beyer spotting Ryan.
On the line, RVB, Heininger, Martin, Roh most of the time with scattered snaps for Black and Campbell. Brink had a very brief cameo; when they got to the nickel they lift Heininger and put Ryan's hand down.
Last year this section would be discussing the 16 position changes made at midseason.
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Rush||Play||Player||Yards|
|O40||1||10||Pistol 3-wide||4-3 under||Run||N/A||Zone read keeper||Roh||5|
|Roh(-0.5) isn't far enough upfield on this to prevent a keeper from being a good choice so Martinez pulls and heads for the sideline. He's not going Clark here—he does run out on the edge—but he could have done better. Floyd(+0.5) comes up quickly to escort OOB after a modest gain. He didn't have to beat a block because the WR was anticipating the inside zone.|
|O45||2||5||Pistol 2TE||4-3 under||Run||N/A||Speed option||Ryan||-5|
|Ryan(+1) on the edge here. He does a good job of getting width and forming up on the LOS, forcing a pitch that Gordon(+0.5) and Kovacs(+0.5) seem to have contained w/ some help from Countess. We don't find out because the pitch is crappy and fumbled. Demens(-1) got cut to the ground alarmingly.|
|O40||3||10||Pistol trips||Nickel even||Pass||3||Comeback||Floyd||Inc|
|M flips Ryan and Martin and then backs Ryan out into a spy zone. Martin is one on one with the LT and gets decent pressure; Martinez throws. Floyd(+2, cover +2) is step for step with the WR and has as good of a chance to catch it as his opponent, but it's not well thrown and hits the ground.|
|Drive Notes: Punt, 0-0, 12 min 1st Q|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Rush||Play||Player||Yards|
|O9||1||10||Pistol 3-wide||Nickel even||Run||N/A||Zone read keeper||Ryan||11|
|Ryan(-1) is in better position than Roh and is a bit faster on the edge and so almost tracks Martinez down before he can get to the LOS but stumbles a bit. Floyd(-1) has a tough job but ends up sitting a few yards downfield with a WR trying to block him; his move to tackle is late and futile. Could have shot upfield to force it back to Ryan. Martinez is on the sideline and picks up a first down.|
|O20||1||10||Ace twin TE||4-3 over||Run||N/A||Inside zone||Martin||-3|
|Second TE is an an H-back spot over the strongside tackle. Martin(+3) annihilates the center and eats Burkhead in the backfield; RVB(+1) had beaten a block by sliding inside and was there to help clean up; Demens(+0.5) and Heininger(+0.5) also slid past blocks to make this a gang tackle in the backfield. RPS +2; Mattison got all the backfields. Worthy of screenshotting at BWS.|
|O17||2||13||Shotgun 2-back||Nickel even||Pass||5||Quick out||Countess||5|
|Mattison sends five, dropping Ryan into a short zone and sending Morgan hash to hash as Demens(+0.5) and Avery(+0.5) come. They time it well and get in on Martinez(pressure +1), forcing a quick throw that Countess(+1, cover +1) is there to tackle on. RPS +1.|
|Roh gets a free run but forms up, afraid of overruning Martinez and opening up a scramble. Not sure how I feel about that. Martin(+0.5) is coming around to hit from behind as Roh decides to close; Martinez still gets the ball off without issue. It's a seam to a TE lined up in the slot that Demens(+2, cover +2) is running step-for-step with. He never gets his head around but when the receiver goes for the ball he gets his arm in the dude's chest and breaks it up. Example of NOBODY CARES coverage tech. RPS +1.|
|Drive Notes: Punt, 0-0, 6 min 1st Q|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Rush||Play||Player||Yards|
|O35||1||10||I-Form||4-3 over||Run||N/A||Pin and pull zone||Morgan||8|
|Heininger(+1) and Roh(+1) do a great job of slanting outside their guys and absorbing the two pullers. Burkhead has to cut back, which he can do because Martin(-1) got sliced to the ground a la Campbell, Morgan(-2) overran the play, and Demens(-1) ate a block well downfield. Morgan is running free here and should chop this down at the line even with the two guys who got blocked; instead this is a good gain.|
|O43||2||2||Ace 3-wide||Nickel even||Run||N/A||Inside zone||Morgan||3|
|Martin(+0.5) beats his man to the inside and threatens to tackle for loss. RVB manages to fight through a double and falls at the feet of the RB, causing him to leap; Morgan(+1) takes on a block and comes through it to tackle the leaping Burkhead. He still picks up the first, but good play from Michigan. If RVB can keep his feet this is a minimal gain.|
|O46||1||10||Pistol Diamond||4-4 nickel||Pass||N/A||PA post||Gordon||54|
|M very confused, w/ motion up to and including the snap. Avery in the box functioning as a sort of playside LB. UNL goes with the same sweep fake Blue Seoul picked out in their game against OSU and sucks the linebackers up. Floyd(-3) is beaten and tries to tackle the WR; Thomas Gordon(-3, cover -5) sucks up way, way too much and we've got a Worst Waldo situation on our hands. Gordon and Countess wiping each other out is very yakety sax but ultimately irrelevant; this guy wasn't getting caught. RPS –1… Michigan got beat here but there was a deep safety on the play who biffed. Not really on the coordination.|
|Drive Notes: Touchdown, 10-7, 1 min 1st Q. Denard screen INT sets up next drive.|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Rush||Play||Player||Yards|
|M34||1||10||Pistol 3-wide||4-3 under||Run||N/A||Speed option||Martin||-5|
|Mike Martin(+3), who is the nose tackle—THE NOSE TACKLE—forces a pitch on the speed option. He leaves the backside guard in a crumpled heap as he does so. Demens(+1) is flowing hard from the inside and Kovacs(+2, tackling +1) beats the WR to the outside. Burkhead has no choice but to try to bounce it. Kovacs puts him down.|
|M39||2||15||Pistol 3-wide||Nickel even||Pass||N/A||Tunnel screen||Van Bergen||Inc|
|Van Bergen(+1, pressure +1) leaps to bat it down. Roh(+1, cover +1) had dropped off and impeded the WR so this was either incomplete or dead anyway. RPS +1.|
|M39||3||15||Shotgun empty||Okie||Pass||4||Tunnel screen||Demens||5|
|Demens(+1, tackling +1) and Martin(+1) combine to tackle here; Demens was dropping into a convenient short zone and Martin peeled back from pure pass rush.|
|Drive Notes: FG(52), 10-10, 12 min 2nd Q|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Rush||Play||Player||Yards|
|O18||1||10||Pistol offset||4-3 under||Run||N/A||Zone read keeper||Kovacs||16|
|FB and TE in this pistol set. Kovacs rolls down late and Nebraska does what I've always wanted M to do: FB comes down like he's going to attempt to kick out the DE. Black forms up to take the hit, expecting that he will have to get the backside gap on a handoff while Kovacs takes the QB. FB then jukes outside and gets a great block in space on Kovacs, opening up the edge. Martinez gets the edge and a big gain until Floyd vaguely forces him OOB. RPS -2; opposite of a Zook RPS. I do need to minus Kovacs(-1) for getting thoroughly owned on the block. Picture paged.|
|O34||1||10||Shotgun 3-wide||Nickel even||Run||N/A||Jet sweep||Countess||23|
|Roh does a mediocre job of stringing this out but it's not too bad. Morgan flows out hard and while he gets chopped he drew the attention of a blocker and this allows Gordon a free run at the ballcarrier. Unfortunately Countess(-3) executes the cardinal sin, losing leverage and letting the guy outside. There is a bit of a hold here; it shouldn't have to come to that. That turns the play from a decent 4-6 yard gain, assuming a Gordon tackle, into a big play.|
|M43||1||10||I-Form twins||4-3 under||Run||N/A||Down G||Beyer||0 (Pen -10)|
|Unbalanced. Total OL ownage by the DL. Beyer(+2) gets into his blocker in a good position, causing the pulling G to run into his block. RVB(+1) comes under his blocker and takes out the fullback. Martin(+1) destroys the C and flows. Burkhead has to bounce; an unblocked Demens(+1) scrapes and flows to tackle for nothing. Beyer's guy picks up a holding call to compound matters.|
|O47||1||20||Pistol 3-wide||Nickel even||Run||N/A||Zone read keeper||Ryan||-7|
|Ryan(+2) sets up on the edge well; Martinez makes a mistake by pulling. Even so he seems shocked by Ryan's upfield acceleration. Ryan tackles five yards in the backfield... Martinez escapes. He's still doomed. Martin(+0.5), Gordon(+0.5), and Avery(+0.5) are the effective pursuit. The missed tackle actually costs Nebraska two yards. (No minuses for missed tackle attempts that effectively end plays.)|
|O40||2||27||Pistol 2TE||Nickel even||Pass||4||Scramble||Ryan||2|
|Martinez with good time; he goes to two reads and finds nothing (cover +2, pressure- 1). At this point he bugs out; Ryan(+1) comes off a block to tackle just as he passes the LOS.|
|O42||3||25||Pistol 3-wide||Nickel even||Pass||4||Scramble||Martin||6|
|First read not there; not really enough time to get the necessary depth by the time Roh(+0.5) and Martin(+0.5) flush Martinez. He scrambles, which like whatever. Demens(+1, tackling +1) does a good job to cut his gain down in space. (Cover +1, Pressure +1)|
|Drive Notes: Punt, 17-10, 3 min 2nd Q|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Rush||Play||Player||Yards|
|O32||1||10||Shotgun 3-wide||Nickel even||Pass||4||TE out||Martin||Inc|
|Martin(+2, pressure +2) through the line instantly, forcing a quick throw. He's got a TE in front of Demens for a modest gain; dropped. Coverage push. Decent coverage on a short route.|
|This is a pass but Martinez bugs out immediately, scared of the pressure. Kovacs comes up to shove him out after a modest gain. RPS +1 for Martinez happy feet.|
|This is the same blitz that Kovacs annihilated Alex Carder on in the first game of the year but Ryan(-1) screws it up by not ducking inside a la Kovacs. This gives Martinez a couple seconds when he should rightly be taking a helmet to his chest. Coverage(+2) is good, at which point the unblocked dude is relevant even if he took a crappy path(pressure +1) and Martinez bugs out into the arms of RVB(+1). RPS +2.|
|Drive Notes: Punt, 17-10, 1 min 2nd Q. This first half is the long touchdown, one good RPS play, a freshman screwup, and jack else.|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Rush||Play||Player||Yards|
|O20||1||10||Shotgun 3-wide||3-4 base||Run||N/A||IVSO||Gordon||9|
|IVSO = inverted veer speed option. Nebraska runs the veer; Martinez keeps and Burkhead gets in a pitch relationship. Martinez heads to the line where Demens(+1) takes on a lead blocker and is reaching out to tackle along with Martin(+1) who did his usual jet through the line. Morgan(-0.5) reads it late and Gordon(-1) sucks in when he needs to have the pitchman. This is a Cool Play and therefore that is a little less harsh than I would otherwise be; Michigan does have this on film so it shouldn't be a total mystery. Beyer(-1) also could have helped out on the pitchman instead of sucking in. RPS -1.|
|O29||2||1||Shotgun 2-back||4-3 under||Run||N/A||Inverted veer give||Demens||16|
|Campbell in for Martin. Nebraska runs the veer at a two WR side and there is no contain, so give. RVB is optioned off. Now four blockers on three M defenders. Ryan(+0.5) does a good job of getting the edge, pushing his man back and forcing the play inside the hashes. Demens(-2) is cut to the ground way too easily; Abdullah is breaking past the secondary and threatening a big gainer one on one with Floyd when Kovacs manages to ankle tackle him. RPS -2; Nebraska attacked the perimeter here and by optioning RVB got a big numbers advantage.|
|O45||1||10||Pistol offset||4-3 under||Run||N/A||Zone read belly||Morgan||4|
|Inside zone blocking with the FB headed to the back. Morgan(+1) makes a good read this time and cuts backside to tackle; Gordon was creeping down and is also there. Burkhead gets a couple YAC.|
|O49||2||6||Shotgun 2TE||4-3 under||Run||N/A||Inverted veer keeper||Martin||0|
|Two playside DL are slanting outside so Martinez keeps. This looks pretty dangerous as Demens is left backside and gets swallowed on the second level but Heininger(+1) gets sufficient penetration to narrow the lane here and Martin(+2) beats the center and flows down the line to nail Martinez at the LOS. Morgan(+0.5) had gotten outside his blocker and may have been some help; he got held but it wasn't relevant at that point.|
|O49||3||6||Shotgun 3-wide||Okie||Run||N/A||QB draw||--||1|
|Nebraska had it big time as M has three guys to one side and just one to the left of the center. That's three free blockers against air. Martinez inexplicably runs to the side where RVB and Martin are to get tackled. Let off. Martin(+0.5), RVB(+0.5), I guess. RPS -1. Hypothetical Nebraska UFR just gave Martinez -3.|
|Drive Notes: Punt, 24-10, 8 min 3rd Q|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Rush||Play||Player||Yards|
|O26||1||10||Shotgun 3-wide||4-3 under||Run||N/A||Inverted veer keeper||Van Bergen||1|
|Martinez keeps when he should give; there is no contain up the field and Abdullah will be running at blocked guys on the edge. As a result, RVB(+0.5) gets inside and forces Martinez away from his blocking, as he alters the pulling G's path. This makes him useless and gives Demens(+0.5) a free run. Martin(+1) has beaten a block and also enters the picture; Ryan(+1) blew the slot receiver up with an explosive burst and there are four guys converging on Martinez at the LOS.|
|O27||2||9||Pistol 3-wide||Nickel even||Pass||4||Hitch||Floyd||Inc|
|Martinez is a little late here and the ball gets out as the WR is turning. He's got a crap arm so the ball floats, allowing Floyd(+2, cover +2) to jump it. It's two yards short of the WR or this is a pick six. Floyd tries to dig it out; he cannot. Normally I would give a jump like this three but this was easy pickings.|
|O27||3||9||Shotgun 3-wide||Okie||Pass||4||Skinny post||Avery||Inc|
|Martinez has time but happy feet also; he starts scrambling up in the pocket despite decent blocking. RVB comes off a blocker to force a throw, which is to a post route Avery(+2, cover +2) has dropped right into. He's in the WR's chest as the ball arrives; WR awkwardly backs off and bats the ball skyward; it falls incomplete. RPS +1; no routes open.|
|Drive Notes: Punt, 31-10, 4 min 3rd Q. Bad punt and good return sets the next drive up deep in M territory.|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Rush||Play||Player||Yards|
|M31||1||10||Ace twins||4-3 under||Pass||4||PA seam||Woolfolk||Inc|
|Time(pressure -1); Martinez throws too early to a guy who Woolfolk(+2, cover +2) has blanketed; Woolfolk bats it down.|
|M31||2||10||Shotgun 4-wide||3-4 base||Pass||4||PA improv||Martin||12|
|Play action inverted veer catches M slanting away from the play and is either a brilliant call based on inside knowledge or damn lucky. Either way, Campbell(+1) and Martin(+1) slant through the OL and force Martinez to scramble. As he nears the sideline he chucks a ball you're certain is doomed that a WR plucks out of the air on the sideline. Well played? I guess. If they're going to do this, fine. Pressure +1.|
|M19||1||10||I-Form Big||4-3 under||Run||N/A||Down G pitch||Morgan||7|
|Roh(+1) doesn't get sealed; he flows out onto the edge with his blocker and drives him back, picking off the fullback. Kovacs(+0.5) is the outside guy and he maintains leverage inside the numbers, forcing Burkhead into a narrow crevice without a lead blocker. Morgan(-2) has no job but to flow to this (on a pitch) and has help behind him; he slows, actually briefly stops, and by the time he resumes his path outside he's too late to crush Burkhead at the LOS like he should. Floyd(-0.5) comes up and makes a dodgy ankle tackle that gives Burkhead a few extra yards.|
|M12||2||3||I-Form Big||4-4 under||Run||N/A||Down G pitch||Kovacs||2|
|Beyer/Ryan package. Looks like the exact same play but it develops differently; RB just runs into the back of blockers this time instead of trying to get to the edge. Beyer(-0.5) is cut to the ground on the edge; he does contain. Morgan(-1) is again late in case there's a cutback when the entire defense is behind him, which gives Nebraska some yards despite the lack of a FB again; Kovacs(+2, tackling +1) thunders down into the hole and crunches Burkhead after two yards, setting up third and short.|
|M10||3||1||I-Form Big||4-4 under||Run||N/A||Down G pitch||Kovacs||2|
|Seems to want to go inside since the FB does, taking out Morgan. Burkhead doesn't like that pile at the LOS and bounces outside since Beyer(-1) gives up the edge. He gets in the backfield but he does not maintain outside leverage. Bounce available and taken; Kovacs(+1, tackling +1) again shoots down to the LOS at great speed to tackle, but he can't prevent the first.|
|M8||1||G||Flexbone||4-3 even||Run||N/A||Outside toss||Beyer||5|
|One of the flexbacks goes in the looping motion flexbacks do and takes an outside toss pitch. Gordon(+0.5) keeps the edge well; Beyer(-1) is chopped to the ground by a WR. Demens(-1) took a block and got blown into the endzone; this would near the goal line but for the pursuit of Martin(+0.5) and RVB(+0.5).|
|M3||2||G||Shotgun 2-back||4-3 under||Run||N/A||Inverted veer triple pitch||--||3|
|Tip of the hat. RPS -1. Picture paged at BWS, because someone had to do it.|
|Drive Notes: Touchdown, 31-17, 1 min 3rd Q|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Rush||Play||Player||Yards|
|O25||1||10||Shotgun trips||Nickel even||Pass||4||Hitch||Demens||7|
|In front of Demens(-0.5, cover -1); WR falls down or would have a YAC opportunity.|
|O32||2||3||Shotgun trips||Nickel even||Pass||4||Sack||Morgan||-1|
|Mild zone blitz sees Roh drop off and Morgan(+2, pressure +2) sent. Morgan does not get a free run; he gets the RB blocking him. He deftly steps around and threatens to sack, forcing Martinez up into the pocket, where Ryan(+1) peels off a block and steps up to sack.|
|O33||3||4||Shotgun 4-wide||Nickel even||Pass||4||Sack||Demens||-1|
|Zone blitz is picked up; Martinez has happy feet again and scrambles into Demens(+1) and Ryan(+2), the latter of whom rakes the ball out for Michigan to fall on.|
|Drive Notes: Fumble, 38-17, 7 min 4th Q. Michigan scores on the next play and it's garbage time. Charting stops. The starting D does get the next drive but Taylor Martinez forced to throw is bloodsport, not useful.|
So… this happened two weeks in a row. Something approximating total domination.
It did. It's almost as if one-dimensional teams who can't throw and only have one receiver, if that, are totally screwed against this defense.
Does this remind you of anyone?
Was it as dominating as it seemed?
Almost. When Nebraska picked up yards I found myself not irritated with players or frustrated with the defense's playcalling but, well, like this.
I was annoyed because WTF was that? About half of the negative RPS points in this game I'm not even mad about. When that wasn't happening Michigan was strangling them.
The one issue that may have made things look a little better than they were were Taylor Martinez errors—give or keep, run into Martin and Van Bergen or away. Nebraska had some openings they failed to take advantage of. But not many.
So are we legit? Legitimately legit?
I still have a slight fear of what happens in the event Michigan goes up against a truly good offense. I don't see any of them on the schedule save Notre Dame, against whom Michigan struggled. Iowa is okay, MSU is okay, Nebraska is okay.
But dang, man, put them up against anything short of excellent and you're dead meat. Some of the issues from earlier in the season may be an effect of not having Mike Martin performing at an insane level.
Insane level you say?
You have to see this—
Note that a paucity of plays charted—only 40—means you should multiply numbers by about 1.5 to get an average day's work. I am going to work on something that fixes this variability for next year.
|Van Bergen||5.5||-||5.5||The usual production adjusted for time on field.|
|Martin||18||1||17||No foolies. I mean, the guy forced a pitch on a speed option.|
|Roh||3.5||0.5||3||Didn't get much action his way and is frequent dropper in blitz packages.|
|Heininger||2.5||-||2.5||Has established himself an asset.|
|Clark||-||-||-||Garbage time only.|
|Black||-||-||-||Don't blame him for the Martinez run.|
|Campbell||1||-||1||Also crushed face.|
|Morgan||4.5||5.5||-1||Still a bit slow reading plays.|
|Demens||9.5||5.5||4||Three straight +4s. Surprisingly good in coverage for MLB.|
|Ryan||8.5||2||6.5||First real impact game.|
|Beyer||2||3.5||-1.5||Nebraska went after him in the 4-4 package and got rewarded.|
|TOTAL||24.5||16.5||8||Improvement here is palpable from beginning of year.|
|Floyd||4.5||4.5||0||Two route jumps, one big error.|
|Avery||3||-||3||Excellent coverage on a post.|
|Woolfolk||2||-||2||Joined PBU party.|
|Kovacs||6||1||5||Some excellent tackling.|
|T. Gordon||1.5||4||-2.5||As guilty, potentially moreso, as Floyd on the long TD.|
|Countess||1||3||-2||Lost leverage on big run.|
|Van Slyke||-||-||-||Garbage time.|
|TOTAL||18||12.5||5.5||Check the coverage.|
|Pressure||9||2||7||Doesn't even count lets kill Martinez time|
|Tackling||5||-||100%||I can't even remember a broken tackle.|
|RPS||9||8||1||Ain't even mad.|
So you're probably like "LOL WUT MIKE MARTIN" and yeah. I cannot emphasize enough that he forced a pitch on a speed option. I don't… I…
…I mean… how does that even happen? Just look at the crumpled heap the backside G is in.
I should have checked whether the above statement is the literal truth or not. Martin's day is in the UFR hall of fame.
Jake Ryan candle count?
Getting up there. If 16 is the maximum number of candles Jake Ryan can have I'd say he's gone from a 4 or 5 early in the year to 10 around now. He's already made about as much improvement as he will over the rest of his career. This does not mean he's going to top out at not awesome. When Taylor Martinez pulled on first and 20 late in the first half Ryan had sucked in a bit and you could make a case he made the right read, especially with a WR forming up for a pitch relationship outside.
Then Ryan leapt on his face.
That is great technique combined with great athleticism. He even cleverly misses the tackle to induce Martinez to give up another two yards. ("All in the game," he tells Martinez afterwards.)
Ryan with another couple candles is All Big Ten.
Did we all get too excited about Floyd last week?
Maybe a little but I'm not that down on the guy when he jumps two different routes in the same game, one of which would have been a pick six if Martinez throws it well, even if he did get sucked up on play action and help give up the long one.
Yeah, help. IME, Thomas Gordon is as much or more at fault since he is in a deep centerfield role and biffs hard.
That is not cover zero. Watch Countess on the other side of the field give up inside position on the post; he expects deep help and has none because Gordon's gone. If Gordon does not bite harrrrrrrrd on the play action this is much more difficult and possibly not a touchdown even if complete. Floyd blew it; Gordon blew it harder.
Anyway, Floyd isn't perfect. One big mistake in 11 games makes him good, though.
[SIDE NOTE: apparently Worst Waldo has not entered the vernacular here yet. An explanation: a Worst Waldo play is one like the above on which the receiver is the worst Waldo ever because he's the only one in the frame (or at least would be if the throw was any good). Some receivers, like Manningham, can generate these on their own. Usually it's the effect of a bust or a secondary overreacting to play action.]
What of Morgan?
Morgan is about where Ryan was halfway through the season. This makes sense because he's had about half the playing time and was reportedly laid up with a nagging injury of some variety. As a result he's still missing some plays available. When Nebraska started their pitch series on their final touchdown drive Michigan had the first one thumped but for #44:
While he's clearly getting better, linebacker hesitancy remains an issue with the D that may bite them if they ever face a team that can throw again.
By the way, the back to back pitches here are a great way to contrast the fill skills of Floyd (above) and Kovacs:
Floyd is bad, Kovacs elite.
What's the point of those wacky pass defense formations that have Martin as a quasi-linebacker?
I was wondering this myself, and then the answer came to me when Nebraska decided they would
get Martinez killed try to make the score look nicer. When he is a delayed blitzer many teams will treat him like a linebacker, which means deploying the running back to block him. Here's how well that works:
This is also a reason Michigan's okie package flares him outside the tackle, I'm guessing.
Martin. The secondary as a whole except for that one play—take out the cover –5 on that one and the day is 17 to 1 positive, which is nuts. Ryan, RVB… take your pick, really.
Floyd, sort of, and Thomas Gordon. Basically for that one play.
What does it mean for the Game?
Michigan's tackling in space will get a test against Miller, who's liable to say "eff it" and do whatever he wants as soon as his first option is not there. What's more, Michigan's defensive line is going to see their level of competition take a big step forward.
I know OSU fans just grunted derisively at this statement, but it's true. When not snapping it into his ass, Mike Brewster is an NFL prospect at center worlds better than the fools Martin has been pwning the last three weeks. Ohio State has shown it can move guys off the ball with frustrating regularity and we may see our Will Heininger renaissance disappear into some frustrating Dave playcalls. Michigan's linebackers have been iffy at getting off blocks and will continue to be iffy this weekend.
In the air? If Posey doesn't blow up they aren't moving the ball except in erratic chunks that won't make drives. Michigan's blitz packages seem like a perfect fit here; if Miller gets spooked and scrambles there are usually seven guys in coverage. Michigan can go with a delayed blitz/spy package without making too many compromises downfield.
OSU's not going to get crushed like the last two opponents. It is not possible. They are going to have a hard time moving down the field without hitting big plays, of which there will be a couple. Miller's a scary dude like that and Posey may provide some deep passing OSU has not had to date.
After the biff by Gordon on the deep pass I'm not sure I'm totally comfortable with him in that role. Woolfolk may be less prone to breaking down and I expect to see him most of the day. Kovacs will be roving around the box for 60 minutes.
11/12/2011 – Michigan 31, Illinois 14 – 8-2, 4-2 Big Ten
In a distant place a long time ago they played a football game in a dark and remote land. The opposing team's coach was a confused person who thought he had a pretty good team. Michigan scored a couple touchdowns but couldn't put the game away; at some point during the second half the confused coach's confused offense finally put together a touchdown drive to narrow the game, and I felt… irritated. Annoyed. Peeved.
This was a strange feeling to have about a suddenly close football game Michigan should have put away already, because every damn game Michigan lost against teams not named Ohio State could be described as "a suddenly close football game Michigan should have put away already." Despite this I was not casting about for pearls to clutch or pre-perforating my garments for easy rending when the time came. I was worried about the stats. This was odd.
Then: near interception, four-yard out, incomplete, incomplete, ballgame. Instead of a roar there was but a flat, damp squeak as Michigan landed the final clubbing blows and emerged from the lion's den with a rug in tow. There are no arguments about this game. No two seconds, no questionable heels or holding calls or other fantasies about if this or that. There is no "if". Michigan has still not been threatened this year. No opponent has moved the ball except when fortunate or permitted to. Its dominance is unquestioned by the foes it leaves battered in its wake. Sometimes -- and I know this is hard to believe -- seven points is a very large lead indeed.
Yeah, that game.
Of all the magical things that Greg Mattison has done since arriving in Ann Arbor for a second tour of duty, making me think about the 2006 Michigan defense a year after… that is hard to top.
2006 happened a century ago. I looked it up. The top songs were "I Want A Girl (Just Like The Girl Who Married Dear Old Dad)" and "Down By The Old Mill Stream." Long-distance communication was conducted by banging rocks together and hoping to startle a pigeon in a way that communicated "happy birthday" instead of "everyone is dead of typhoid again lol." Football games were played between competing sawmills and textile factories; a strict limit of two cattle per offensive line was still controversial. People in Alabama were accused of over-bovining. Craggy men who remembered the invention of writing like Joe Paterno, Jim Tressel, and Lloyd Carr roamed the sidelines. People did not reflexively talk about real good times.
2006 was a long time ago. The ten-volume history of the intervening century is a narrative of relentless, soul-crushing decline on defense.
This summer the UM Club of Greater Detroit invited me to their kickoff dinner. There I sat on a roundtable with Greg Dooley of MVictors and Angelique Chengelis of the Detroit News as various guys with nametags peppered us with questions.
These things always have a pattern: I start out nervous because I'm just this guy, really, and there's a chance someone asks "why should we listen to you?" Since my response is necessarily "I have this blog… it's on the internet!" it's not a question I look forward to. These concerns are a little more pressing when the room is full of people who look like they still get newspapers home-delivered.
But the questions remain hypothetical because I start talking about these things and it turns out that doing what I do on a weekly basis fills your head with esoteric knowledge about all things. Denard Robinson was 84th of 100 qualifying quarterbacks last year in interception percentage. That sort of thing is just in my head, ready to be dispensed. After my head pops open and I start depositing THE KNOWLEDGE like the world's least appetizing Pez dispenser, there is a groove of confidence.
I mention it because there was one question from an elderly gentleman with a pleading edge I still remember. It was about the defense and why anyone would think it would get better. I was already on the record that this was an eight or nine win team; Dooley and Chengelis were pessimists. They cocked their heads and passed the mic.
I said that if you had only watched every play from the last three years over and over you would know. You would not know but feel the mass incoherence, the week-to-week changes, the insane personnel decisions (Demens, Roh as a LB, moving Woolfolk to corner in 2009, Cam Gordon as FS). That if you felt this thing having a guy the Ravens had coordinating their defense could only result in instant, massive improvement. At the very least they would have a plan*.
Though I believed it, as I was saying it it seemed like a reckless thing to tell people. If…that, or anything like it, happens again people will remember someone told them it was going to be all right, and then it wasn't. I hoped I wasn't telling them about the rabbits.
This was the point last year where everyone wrote off JT Floyd. It was the logical thing to do.
Twelve months later Floyd is holding AJ Jenkins to five yards a target and jumping a short route for a shoulda-been pick six for the first time since… God. A century ago. Time is working funny again. Greg Mattison has a phonebooth time machine he sent the secondary back to Charles Woodson's childhood in; they have emerged with ZZ Top beards, children, and skills.
This is a foundation for the future. Wrapping this motley crew of walk-ons, freshmen, people who were totally incompetent last year, Mike Martin, and Ryan Van Bergen into a top 20 defense is a QED achievement no matter the quality of the opposition. The level of coaching required to go from that to this is a constant Michigan can build its program on.
Last year the quality of the opposition didn't matter. Matt McGloin had the above to throw at, and he did. This year Michigan has been average at worst after Mattison figured out he didn't have Ed Reed. Some days they stroll off the field and if you squint you can just convince yourself the last century never happened. You can envision a future where Michigan isn't wondering about its place in the world.
*[Then I told everybody that Denard Robinson's turnover rate would drop like a stone. One out of two isn't bad. ]
There's also the Illinois POV. In their world Illinois wins 14-0 in a thrilling game lasting exactly 1:30. Parkinggod highlights miss the first drive thanks to ESPN sticking with the PSU press conference, but prove that Michigan's everything-is-wonderful POV still goes ten minutes.
Meanwhile, Desmond Morgan is fabulous.
Borgeswatch. 95% thumbs up. As it transpired I was frustrated with the lack of play-action after Illinois started selling out on the run game, but I forgot about the wind. I much prefer that to being reminded about it every 40 seconds like we were against Michigan State. I wonder if Scheehaase's propensity to wing it wide on Jenkins out cuts was due to the wind. While he's not the most accurate guy in the world he seemed particularly off Saturday.
It may have taken two harsh wakeup calls but at least Borges got the message. Run/pass breakdowns in the three windtastic road games against teams with secondaries:
- MSU: 39 passes, 28 runs
- Iowa: 21 passes, 28 runs*
- Illinois: 16 passes, 47 runs
The Gardner package also went away after its momentum-killing outing last week.
A large chunk of getting that play distribution was getting the running game to work. I don't know all of how or why that happened yet, but giving Toussaint the ball 27 times instead of two is part of it; using enough outside runs to get creases on the inside zone is part of it; making Denard a threat is part of it.
While Denard only managed 3.5 YPC on his 11 attempts it's hard to imagine what turned the #15 rush defense** into Swiss cheese if it wasn't Illinois paying too much attention to 16. This was clear on the first drive of the game. Watch the free safety who would be tackling Toussaint after ten yards but for one Denard Robinson:
By the time that dude realizes Denard does not have the ball Toussaint is gone. A similar screwup does not happen if Michigan is operating from under center.
Since I'm usually at games I'm not often able to participate in the internet zeitgeist to the extent I was the past couple weeks. Last week I was in line with everyone being real mad. This week I was surprised by the amount of heat Borges was taking for stuff that wasn't his fault at all. When Denard fumbles and Michigan misses a field goal or Huyge gets destroyed by Mercilus and Denard doesn't see the guy coming right at him, that's not on the OC. The reasons Michigan didn't score touchdowns in this game seemed to be out of Borges's hands.
*[Not counting the final three drives. I did move the two sacks, the fumble, and one Gardner scramble. I made similar adjustment to the other two games; they may be off by one or two but you get the idea.]
**[15-ish. Illinois's sacks distort that. Still a very good unit.]
Fourth and one. The 5% thumbs down, very down, was the fourth and one from the Illinois one yard line. If you're not willing to throw it when you spread them out and they don't spread out…
…I don't think you can do the wacky thing. Those guys to the top of the screen are late arriving and have no idea what they're doing. If you're going to swinging-gate them like this you've got to be able to take advantage of what they give you.
That fourth and one continues a couple trends: speed option and Borges getting cute. I wouldn't have minded it if they had lined up in one of those massive Tebow sets and tried something like this, but going without so much as a tight end in this spot is asking for trouble. The snap didn't help but I don't think it mattered much.
The immediate aftermath. Hoke calmly pointed his defense onto the field:
You are experiencing an unusually calm sensation. Which reminds me:
EPIC HOKE DOUBLE POINT OF THE WEEK. I'm terribly sorry that I inaugurated this thing and then immediately forgot about it. It returns this week because of one man being so ridiculous I thought I should have some sort of special award… oh wait I do.
Your Illinois winner: JT Floyd. AJ Jenkins may have gotten his requisite eight catches for 100 yards but Scheelhaase had to work for it. At one point they showed some Jenkins stats and noted that he had five catches… and fourteen targets. According to Adam Jacobi he ended with eight on 20. That's 5 YPA throwing to a guy who may be the best WR in the Big Ten.
Even that undersells Floyd's day. The deep ball that took Jenkins's stats from mediocre to decent was zone coverage in the middle of the field Floyd was not directly responsible for (and it came after Scheelhaase was given all day). When involved Floyd was all over double moves and jumped a third and short pass for the interception that sealed the game with a little help from Gardner and Odoms.
Even Magnus thought he was "okay for once." WHAT MORE CAN ONE MAN DO?
Honorable mentions go to Al Borges (for his gameplan and getting in on the pointing his ownself), David Molk, and Fitzgerald Toussaint.
RETROACTIVE EPIC HOKE DOUBLE POINTS.
- Michigan State: Ryan Van Bergen, for being the only person to have a good day. HM: None.
- Purdue: Fitzgerald Toussaint, for making the tailback spot a plus for the first time in forever. HM: Mike Martin.
- Iowa: Mike Martin, for being GET IN THE CAR Mike Martin. HM: David Molk.
EPIC DOUBLE POINT STANDINGS.
2: Denard Robinson (Notre Dame, Eastern Michigan), Brady Hoke (San Diego State, Northwestern)
1: Jordan Kovacs (Western Michigan), David Molk (Minnesota), Ryan Van Bergen (MSU), Fitzgerald Toussaint (Purdue), Mike Martin (Iowa), JT Floyd(Illinois).
Weekly bubble bitchin'. Only Ron Zook could send his team out with two deep safeties and three guys tight over WRs against a team that hasn't run a bubble all year:
That's nuts. That's one reason you have that play in the playbook. If they take it away by alignment they've opened something else up. Usually not by putting five guys in the box—that's a Zook special.
What I really meant by posting "We Are ND" after Hoke hiring. I meant that we'd ride a soft schedule to an iffy BCS berth and get our faces crushed. If Michigan wins out—obviously a big if—that could happen. A 10-2 Michigan team will be second in the Big Ten pecking order since everyone other than the champ will have three losses.
Michigan will then be in competition with…
- Boise/Houston. Houston's 11th in the BCS standings and will get an autobid if they remain in the top 12. Boise's actually a spot in front of the Cougars still. One or the other will get a bid. All they have to do is finish in the top 16 since the Big East winner is going to be below them.
- Alabama/LSU/Arkansas. The SEC will get a second bid.
- Stanford/Oregon. If those two win out Stanford will probably get a bid.
- ACC runner-up: a two-loss Clemson or Virginia Tech.
- Oklahoma or Oklahoma State.
Michigan's a lock to beat out a team coming off an ACC championship loss, but one-loss versions of Stanford or Oklahoma State would be tough—Jerry Palm has an all-at-large matchup of those two teams right now. If OU loses Bedlam that would also be tight.
Not making it would be just as well. I'd be happy playing Georgia in one of the infinite Big Ten/SEC matchups. I like nine wins and I cannot lie.
Special teams: actually a positive. FEI's not the only advanced stat rankings system purveyed by Football Outsiders; there's also one called F+. Last week F+ integrated special teams data for the first time; Michigan dropped from 17th to 25th. The special teams… eh… not so good.
This week they were. Matt Wile put five kickoffs in the endzone, Jeremy Gallon averaged 15 yards on four actual punt returns, and the missed field goal was off by about a foot. The only downer is Will Hagerup's persistent mediocrity. He averaged under 35 yards a kick and Michigan is now 112th in net punting. Even if you exclude all the coffin corner stuff from the MSU game he's averaging just 37.7 yards a kick. Wile was doing significantly better during Hagerup's suspension.
Unfortunately, it's likely Gallon's momentary renaissance and the Wile bombing are effects of the opponent and the wind. Illinois's punting is also in the triple digits.
Derp du jour. Seeing some revival of the "we can't run Denard because he won't last through the season" meme, which… like… guh. He's missed a series last week and the last quarter and a half this week because he banged his hand on a pass-rusher's helmet. Twice. The first time he was back in after a series. The second time he could have come back in if necessary. Cancel the spread offense.
Denard's lasted through the bulk of the Big Ten season and with Nebraska and Ohio State left on the schedule, restricting his carries in case he gets hurt is nuts. What are you saving him for?
BONUS: Devin Gardner did two things and Michigan's offense went from racking up yards (and shooting itself in the foot) to not doing the former (and getting short fields). There is no QB controversy. If Michigan makes a 39 yard field goal and Borges doesn't get too cute on the goal line it's 24-0 at halftime and we aren't having this conversation.
Let's stop talking about this.
A permanent feature. Hoke on his decision to go from the one:
Michigan reached the Illinois 1-yard line in the second quarter and went for it on fourth down. Robinson lost 4 yards on the play.
Hoke was asked if going for it in that situation will be the norm. "Pretty much," he said. "And the defense bailed me out."
Desmond Morgan decleater. Don't hate me but I thought that was a missed cut by the RB, who had a lane outside the block. /ducks
dnak puts the defensive performance in a graph (graph):
Left axis is as a percentage of historical worst—ie, last year. That's right: Michigan's scoring defense is brushing up against '06.
Inside the Box Score on Martin going uber:
Mike Martin lead us with 9 tackles. That’s right, an interior defensive lineman lead us with NINE tackles. I’m going to miss that guy. He also got half a sack and 2 QHs. Roh also had 2 QHs. We were QH’ing Scheelhaase all game long.
That's three straight games he's crushed the opponent. Moving towards what we all thought he'd be this year. Too bad it will be tough to crack the All Big Ten team with Short, Still, and Worthy also tearing up offensive lines.
Hoke for Tomorrow brings yet another reason to laugh at Ron Zook:
Ron Zook is a bad coach, this is known. It is remarkable how bad he is though, when looking at his record after bye weeks. Over the past 4 seasons (2008-2011) Illinois has had 6(!) bye weeks, with two in both 2009 and 2010. Their record following these bye weeks? 0-6:
2008: Lost to Penn St 38-24
2009: Lost to OSU 30-0, Lost to Cincinnati 49-36
2010: Lost to OSU 24-13, Lost to Fresno St 25-23
2011: Lost to Michigan (woot!) 31-14
That is epic fail. Ron Zook should be fired.
Bye weeks aren't actually helpful, but come on.
2010:: Total: 8, Scoring: 25, FEI: 2
2011:: Total: 40, Scoring: 37, FEI: 17
Our youthful inexperience has been replaced by transitional inexperience - so we still are inconsistent and turnover-ridden.
The FEI is most indicative I think - we went from an O with the potential to be great (if we had any kind of ST and D) to one that is just very good. I think after Borges was hired, this is sort of where we expected to be offensively - a step back, but not disastrously.
2010:: Total: 110, Scoring: 107, FEI: 108
2011:: Total: 16, Scoring: 5, FEI: 17
Mattison == Awesome. Last year, I said that I thought our D played worse than the personnel. Nevertheless, even if they were being outcoached by say, twenty teams in FEI, and the extra year of experience is good for another twenty teams - Mattison still improved the baseline by about 50 ranks. The defense is now as good as the offense.
Keep in mind that FEI adjusts for schedule strength so a realistic benchmark for an average BCS offense is not 60th. I just chopped out all the non-BCS teams and an average offense is 48th. That's actually lower than I would have guessed. Unfortunately for Michigan, their lack of success has been highly concentrated.
Unwashed blog masses. Via Adam Jacobi, Junior Hemingway scored an imaginary touchdown:
Ron Zook can probably make this happen.
Illini blog A Lion Eye has a habit of taping himself when things are actually going on. This seems like a bad idea in general and for an Illinois fan in particular, but it is entertaining. A partial transcript:
So there's two twenty-four left. We just got the ball back down… what is it… 31-14? And I… I really have… I'm like "oh, what's my emotion? What am I going to record?"
Uhhhhm… dead inside? That doesn't sound right. But it's kind of a… I don't know. I guess the only way to describe it is—oh, and a sack.
I recommend the whole thing not necessarily for the schadenfreude (of which there is plenty) but because it's reassuring that we're not jaded. You may think you're jaded after the last century, but you have no idea. I mean: "I'm just normal right now."
The HSR decides to quote F. Scott Fitzgerald a lot:
"Life is essentially a cheat and its conditions are those of defeat; the redeeming things are not happiness and pleasure but the deeper satisfactions that come out of struggle."
I think we can all agree that yesterday's game was a classic example of "left wanting". Though Michigan had a two score lead, on the road, against a team that considers Michigan its arch-rival*, it still felt like all of the missed red zone opportunities were going to come back to haunt Michigan, because we're taught that when you don't put the boot on the throat, it will cost you. Except, it didn't.
Refs. They obviously made a decision to only call holding if the offensive lineman actually removed the jersey of rusher. And on the play where Avery picked up the ball and scored the touchdown, they made three bad mistakes on a single play. The unholy trinity: 1. It wasn’t a fumble in the first place, that’s somewhat forgivable. 2. If it was a fumble, Avery was clearly on the ground (and thus down) when he picked it up, but they gave him a touchdown. 3. They didn’t adjust the clock after the play was reversed, should have been 19 or 20 seconds left instead of 14.
Hoke even complained about #3 and got nowhere. That is almost inevitably a call the refs give coaches.
My first impression was one of doom and gloom, but, the more I think about it, maybe it's not so bad. Michigan put up 31 against a formidable defense, more than any other Illinois opponent save Northwestern (qualifier: yeah, those are some bad offenses on their schedule, but it's all relative at this point). This is of course not even mentioning the inopportune turnovers and the Illini's general inability to move the ball, additional reasons to not feel so bad about things. Obviously you can't just take turnovers out, but Michigan could have very easily scored in the 40s, on the road, against a pretty good defense.
There was a lot of the doom and gloom on the internets, which I don't get. Michigan failed to put up 24 in the first half on the #6 defense in the country by shooting itself in the foot. While that's frustrating, it is so much worse to have a performance like Iowa where the offense is neither scoring nor moving the ball. Sometimes bad things happen. Michigan outperformed Illinois's yardage average by 80 despite playing in adverse conditions.
BWS is eeee Mattison:
Mattison is installing this defense a lot like Rodriguez or Borges installed their offense. Week by week, Mattison introduces a new formation or coverage scheme to the defense--usually only one. Early in the season, it was a basic stunt move intended to overwhelm one side of the offensive line. Against MSU, he debuted an A-gap zone blitz. Purdue: nickel blitz. Iowa: crowding the line of scrimmage. Michigan's base defense is a 4-3 under, man-coverage look that Mattison can slowly and effectively build upon. While he doesn't go back to the cookie jar in later weeks, the hope (and my expectation) is that when Michigan plays Ohio
State, they'll have an arsenal of blitzing plays that can be deployed in unison, creating a defense that is as unpredictable and consistently effective as the constantly tweaked offense under Rodriguez.
Mainstream media type persons. The Daily's Stephen Nesbitt gets a a slice of life from the field:
As Floyd started crossing the turf toward the tunnel to the visitor’s locker room, he saw Illinois wide receiver A.J. Jenkins approaching him. The receiver-cornerback duo had battled all game long.
Floyd pulled up at the goal line.
“Heck of a game, man,” Floyd told the All-American wideout. “I think you’re a heck of a talent.”
Jenkins, in his orange No. 8 jersey, gave a big smile and tossed the same compliment back at Floyd — Michigan’s No. 8.
“Make sure you go get the rest of the (defensive backs) and give them some trouble the rest of the season,” Floyd said as he stepped away.
Chengelis on the diverse and sundry contributions:
Senior defensive lineman Mike Martin led the team with nine tackles. Linebackers Desmond Morgan and Kenny Demens had eight and seven tackles, respectively, and senior Ryan Van Bergen had 2.5 sacks.
Safety Jordan Kovacs forced a fumble, and Thomas Gordon made the recovery, his fourth of the season, and cornerback J.T. Floyd made a pivotal interception in the fourth quarter on a third-down play at the Michigan 40-yard line. He returned it 43 yards and Michigan converted into a touchdown to make it, 24-7.
That is many contributions. Kovacs's in particular was a MAKE PLAYS moment, putting his head on the ball after Michigan had found its line creased and forcing a turnover. That fumble was forced in a way that some of the previous ones haven't been.
Daily on Mattison's reaction:
“That was a Michigan defense,” Mattison said like a proud father figure, admitting it for the first time all season. “They played as hard as they could, they did whatever they had to do. Without a doubt, that was a Michigan defense.”
The Michigan football team had just won the game on defense, holding Illinois to 30 yards, including minus-14 first-half rushing yards, before ultimately allowing 14 points and just 214 yards of offense en route to a 31-14 victory on the road.
“They’re Michigan Men,” said an emotional Mattison. “We talk about it all the time, that there’s a standard at Michigan and you’ve got to live up to that, and you're judged by it. We haven’t come to that final point where you win the game on defense, and we said, ‘This is your last away trip to do it.’ I couldn’t be more proud of this group of guys.”