TO THE HOT TAKE CANNON
That is a man who realizes he's home, at long last. The score may only be 7-0 in the waning moments of the game, the stadium may only be half-full, this whole thing may only be an exhibition, but it's impossible to repress that smile.
[Hit THE JUMP for the spring game in GIFs, and, yes, more Harbaugh.]
Podcast? Yes. We couldn't record it yesterday because of Easter obligations. We will tape it this evening. It should go up tomorrow.
Missed it? It's on the tubes.
Ours got more attention than normal because it was so early.
The Michigan offense in one picture [Patrick Barron]
Rome was not rebuilt from atomized dust in a day. It was not good, obviously. People will tell you that the defense is supposed to be in front of the offense at this juncture… but not that far in front. When they say that they mean something like "it was a little ugly and they only ran for like three yards a carry." They mean that the final score was 17-10 or thereabouts.
They do not mean that the only offense of the day will be Amara Darboh catching fades against Poor Damn Dennis Norfleet, a 5'7" guy who hadn't played defense in college until being tested there this spring. The overall feel was reminiscent of the legendarily terrible 2008 spring game, which I didn't even go to because it was held at a high school to facilitate Michigan Stadium's renovations and still remember as the first "oh shiiiii" moment in the Rodriguez era.
To some extent this was all expected. Michigan fans have been debating between a true freshman, a guy who had 3.2 YPA last year, and a redshirt freshman who did not play. They were going up against a defense that has been pretty good the last couple years (until collapsing in exhaustion at the end of games). It was never going to be pretty.
But did it have to be that ugly? Bler!
Quarterbacks: come on down Joliet Jake. Morris was anointed the #1 QB coming out of spring by none other than Harbaugh himself, and that seemed about right after the spring game. That it did so after Morris went 11 of 24 for 5.6 YPA would have me purchasing bags of dehydrated food, water purifiers, and shotguns if not for the 99% official transfer of Iowa starter Jake Rudock to Michigan. Rudock may not be a conquering hero… but he will probably feel like one.
Malzone, the great (if vague) hope going into spring, did not look ready to challenge for the throne. I'm not on board with the arm strength complaints just yet, as those seemed to be generated by a wide receiver screen Lewis tried to jump but did not, giving up a first down on 2nd and 19 (in this game the equivalent of 2nd and Canada).
I may come around in the near future. The constant short stuff was disappointing: even his attempt at a game-saving two minute drill featured five yard hitch after five yard hitch. He did have one nice dart downfield that Chase Winovich dropped…
a linebacker linebacks even when he tight ends [Bryan Fuller]
…but that stands out as just about the only attempt Malzone made to get the ball down the field. There were a lot of doomed WR screens in there. And that two minute drill… oy. They got about 20 yards before time ran out. This is a tradition I would like to leave in the past.
One thing I'll say in Morris's favor. He's got that fade down pat. One got intercepted because Darboh didn't wall off and extend away from a defensive back and a couple more got dropped; the rest save one were completions, and I think Morris ended up leaving that one short because he got hit. The rest were on the money, in that space outside the numbers and inside the sideline where the receiver has space to play with and can detach from the DB.
That's a good location to have down, by the way. It's tough to throw and thus tough to get to for a lot of defenses. Deep outs, smash routes, corners, and those fades all end up in that general area. It's the location on the field that is the reason NFL teams go cuckoo for cocoa puffs when they find a Mallett type. Morris can buy himself a lot of leeway if that throw is as consistently accurate as it felt like on Saturday.
a lot of this [Eric Upchurch]
Run game: I don't know. Ty Isaac was all but out (he's credited for one carry I don't remember), so the Malzone team's tailback was Wyatt Shallman (12 carries, 22 yards) with spot duty from Ross Taylor-Douglas*. Shallman is more of an H-back in college and it showed.
Meanwhile, both Ace and I assumed that Derrick Green had been mostly held out with an injury of his own only to find out that he and De'Veon Smith apparently split carries down the middle. It's just that Green's 7 went for 8 yards and Smith's 7 went for 50.
Smith had a sequence early in the second half where he ran tough and his offense started getting some actual time on the field. That ended with a fumbled exchange, because of course it did. Smith never fumbled in high school and hasn't done so in college yet so that issue is probably a freshman-QB thing more than anything Smith did wrong.
If Michigan knew Isaac was going to be limited they should have swapped Green over to the Blue team to get a better feel for the competition between those guys. Either way it was a good day for Drake Johnson.
*[who has now completed his tour of all the positions you can play on a football field and can turn in his punch card for a free bag of Combos.]
The one good run. Cole gets a good push on Henry, Kugler seals away, RJS and AJ Williams battle to a stalemate, Cole gets to the second level, and Smith makes a nice out-in cut to put the other linebacker on the wrong side of the hole:
gif via Ace
If Michigan develops holes on the regular I think Smith has an advantage because his ability to grind out another two or three yards will be valuable in the Harbaughffense.
L to R: back, under threat, trying out [Bryan Fuller]
OL depth chart hints. Glasgow was back and playing center as if he had not violated his probation; the program said he'd gotten through whatever punishment the program had deployed for him. If he keeps his nose clean that should clear him to resume playing center this fall.
Meanwhile Michigan tried out Logan Tuley-Tillman as the left tackle on the blue team, bumping Ben Braden inside to guard. LTT picked up three legit holding calls; even so that implies that he's getting a serious look and Braden may move or lose his job. Erik Magnuson playing right tackle for the Maize team is another indication that the tackle jobs are not secure.
A scholarship guy who might be looking at some writing on the wall is Dan Samuelson, who was healthy enough to make the roster but IIRC did not play much, if at all. With a couple walk-ons seemingly ahead of them they might be down for the count. Bars (who I omitted from the rosters post by accident did play, at guard:
He is 62 next to Kugler [Fuller]
If you made me guess right now I'd say that Erik Magnuson is Michigan's starting right tackle this fall and that guard slot opened up by the various line shifts is the most heated competition out there. But that's firmly in wild guess territory.
Wide receivers: do we have a problem? There were a number of ugly drops, none more so than Jaron Dukes batting a ball in his facemask directly skyward for an interception. Morris zinged it with unnecessary force, yes. That's still a worst case scenario for a receiver. Dukes had another sorta drop later and doesn't seem like he'll be pushing past the established guys this year.
Elsewhere: Darboh had a drop and a fade wrested away from him but recovered late to be the Blue team offense. Going up against Dennis Norfleet significantly compromises that accomplishment, especially since most of the plays were "throw it over that guy's head," but Darboh did display strong hands and an ability to track the ball in flight in a difficult situation. Some people can do that (Junior Hemingway), and some cannot (Darryl Stonum). Darboh is in the former category. Can he get separation from the likes of Jourdan Lewis? I don't know—one downside of this format.
Receivers other than Dukes and Darboh were playing with Malzone and barely got targeted on anything notable. This year's spring hype machine, Brian Cole, was not a factor until deep into the second half; Freddy Canteen made a couple of nice catches on balls outside the frame of his body. There was not a whole lot else to talk about.
There was a notable lack of separation for receivers going up against actual defensive backs. That could be bad; it could be an indicator that the secondary is going to be as lights out as we all hope. As per usual, we'll find out abruptly in fall.
Poor Damn Norfleet. In the aftermath Harbaugh talked Norfleet up as a guy who could contribute in all three phases. Nope. The act of moving a guy his size to cornerback is waving a white flag on his career.
I mean… maybe not. Harbaugh is weird and one of the specific ways in which he is weird is his predilection for flipping guys from one side of the ball to the other. This could be a Harbaugh whim that doesn't mean much about playing time down the line. But it probably means that Norfleet is kaput. We'll always have that
punt return touchdown to seal the Maryland game inane irrelevant block in the back by someone far away from you.
BEARD. This is not Elliott, right? This is some other spectacular beard just hanging out on the sideline?
This is one Brady Hoke tradition I'm glad we're keeping.
Doug, one more game this season. The offense…was it what you expected? Are you disappointed? Can you talk about the progress of the offense and what your expectations were at the beginning of the season and now heading into Ohio State, where you guys are 13th of 14 in total offense?
“Obviously our expectations are a lot higher than where we’re at right now. As I’ve touched on throughout the season you talk about individual improvement [and it] hasn’t necessarily led to total group improvement. Do feel good about the things that we’re progressing in. You talk about the ability to run the football. I believe in the last three we’re averaging like 207 yards a game or something like that rushing in the last three games. Really feel like that line’s starting to gel together. You talk about protection and the fact that we gave up two this week; one was an assignment error and we gave up one true sack on a zero blitz. We got caught by surprise. We’ve got to have a better plan down there as far as getting the ball out of our hands, and then a week ago we didn’t give up any sacks. The week before we had one coverage sack, so you talk about protection [and] I believe we’re substantially better there in the things that we’re doing.
“Talk about individual accomplishments and the development of Amara Darboh. I think [he’s] a guy that you look at what he’s done over the course of the season. A true left tackle, Mason Cole [and] his individual growth. We lose Derrick Green and see DeVeon step up and Drake step and what they’ve been able to [do]. Jake Butt coming off the injury has been limited a little bit in what he can and can’t do, but you go across the board you see a lot of individual accomplishments. Guys that are getting better, groups that are getting better. We still need to bring it all together and get to a complete game. We haven’t had that yet.”
What about point production, because it’s been a couple weeks since Devin’s had a touchdown pass?
“Well, I wouldn’t look at you’ve got to have a touchdown pass to say you’re successful. That, to me, is not defining success. Obviously throwing touchdown passes is a part of the game but if we’re going to run it we’re going to run it. You look at- like you said, we’d like to score more points. We need to score more points.”
What are the toughest venues in which you’ve ever taken a team to run an offense, because most would say Ohio State sees Michigan coming in and that’s going to be one of them?
“Well, obviously to go to the Horseshow to play in this football game is something special. Any time you play on the road and in situations where it’s going to be loud, where you know it’s going to be a hostile environment you’ve got to be prepared very well and you’ve got to be focused in and you’ve got to execute, and everybody’s got to be on the same page. There’s no margin for error.”
After the game Brady Hoke mentioned it was the first time Devin’s been healthy in more than a month. At this point is he still getting healthier, or in what ways can you use him differently now that you can run?
“You get to this point in the season and I don’t know that anybody gets healthier at this point in the season, and that’s one of the hardest things about playing this sport is that when you play at this level and type of conference we have here in the Big Ten and week in and week out have to go out and do it every week against the physical style of play we see it’s challenging mentally. And then like coach said Devin from the standpoint of his physical health had some ailments there, and we’ve gotten him relatively healthy. Obviously I don’t think anybody’s as fresh as they are week 1 of the season.”
[More after THE JUMP]
11/8/2014 – Michigan 10, Northwestern 9 – 5-5, 3-3 Big Ten
College football is for remembering. It stands alone in its brevity—even the NFL has you play your division-mates twice. Every year you play a team and then you have glory or death until next year. You can pick any game of remote interest and your friend will say "oh, THAT game" because it is also lodged in his brain.
This happens in other sports but as you add in more and more games, more and more of them are thrown down the memory hole. Hell, even last year's highly memorable basketball season has a number of events in it that I couldn't tell you anything about without looking it up. We beat Stanford? I guess we did.
In football the only things that disappear like that are the tomato can games. Others are notable only in the context of some guy's career. If I say "the Jerome Jackson game" you know it's that Iowa game Michigan won in overtime. "That one time Alain Kashama did something" was the Citrus Bowl win over Ron Zook's Florida. There are of course the titanic battles whose aftershocks rattle down the centuries, and depressing blowouts and fun blowouts and etc.
And then there's this game. This game will also rattle down the centuries, for… reasons. You will poke your buddy and say "hey man remember the M00N game," carefully enunciating the zeroes, and your buddy will either laugh or give you a sharp punch on the arm, depending on his mood.
Immortality comes in all kinds of ways.
FFFFFFFFFFFFFUUUUUUUUUUU [Bryan Fuller]
Well, I'm in this to be entertained. And I cannot deny that Saturday was highly entertaining.
By the time the teams had exchanged boggling turnovers at the end of the first half I was giggling. The field goal block sent me into chuckles. The fumble of off Funchess's hip got me up to a guffaw, and when Northwestern followed a boggling Gardner interception by going backwards 30 yards and punting into the endzone I had to lie down and remember to breathe.
It was disappointing when M00N ceased being a potential final score, but at least it came on a terrible error—a muffed punt. Anything skillful breaking the deadlock would have been unjust. My wife was peeved, because she is not a True Fan™ and wanted to see a 0-0 regulation. I kind of did, too. Not every day you see something like that.
It is every day that Michigan finds itself in a football game hardly recognizable as sports. When you bring up the M00N game to your buddy you will probably be making a point about the descent into unwatchable dreck that was the last two years of the mercifully short Hoke era.
This is Hoke's version of RichRod's gloriously futile 67-65 win over Illinois. Both games were narrow, pyrrhic victories over bad opponents punctuated by two-point conversion stops. Both showed off the abilities of the team's good unit against an overmatched opponent and the total lack of ability of the team's miserable unit. And both were the same kind of delirious fun that sees you wake up naked in a haystack the next morning, with no idea where you are or even what month it is. Or where your hair is.
Nothing about that Illinois game changed Rodriguez's trajectory, and this won't move any needles either. Michigan's been plunged into a disaster of their own making and shows no signs of climbing out. That they've encountered a couple of teams even more BIG TEN(!) than themselves of late says more about the league than this outfit. It's no surprise that the other two teams Michigan's beaten in Big Ten play faced off in one of the ugliest games of the year immediately before M00N.
At least we've got a symbol now. Any time anyone wants to reference how far Michigan's come since they led the nation in TFLs allowed and somehow got worse the next year just needs two letters and a couple zeroes.
[After THE JUMP: but what if Hoke wins out?]
FORMATION NOTES: Michigan debuted a Stanford-esque formation on which the entire world lined up across the front:
This had three tight ends (Williams, Kerridge, and Erik Magnuson, usually) and Funchess. I called it "Ace Errybody" because I feel we've forgotten about Antoine Dodson's raconteur status.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: OL as per usual, with Magnuson donning 81 to moonlight as a blocking tight end. Bo Dever got some late run at WR, seemingly after Norfleet was injured. RB actually started out with Hayes and then mixed Smith in; when both Hayes and Smith ended up dinged Johnson got his shot.
[After THE JUMP: precisely calibrating how fast our Drake Johnson roll should be.]
FORMATION NOTES: I didn't find anything particularly unusual from Michigan but I need something visual so here's a gopher annoying a rich incompetent person.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: Aside from Morris, the usual. Magnuson was out for this FWIW, and Green was still available.
[After THE JUMP: nothing you want to see.]