The nutty Michigan coverage isn't so much about Harbaugh as it is a signal to the Big Ten that Fox wants to party.
Coverage is irrelevant. [Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog]
There was Devin Funchess, galloping through and leaping over the Appalachian State secondary. There were Derrick Green and De'Veon Smith, bursting through holes opened up by Ben Braden and Kyle Kalis. There was Devin Gardner, completing all but one pass. There was Dennis Norfleet, catching bubble screens and darting past defenders.
There was offense, making sense at last.
Sure, Michigan's 560 yards on 55 plays came against an Appalachian State team that went 4-8 as an FCS program in 2013, but the coherence and explosiveness of Doug Nussmeier's offense proved undeniable. Funchess more than earned his new #1 jersey, scoring on three of his seven receptions, including a spectacular leaping grab over two defenders in the back of the end zone. Gardner had no difficulty finding open receivers, connecting on 12/13 passes for 173 yards and those three TDs to Funchess before giving way to Shane Morris in the third quarter as the blowout continued unabated.
Green (15 carries, 170 yards, 1 TD) and Smith (8, 115, 2) became the first pair of Michigan running backs to crack the century mark in the same game since Carlos Brown and Brandon Minor accomplished the feat against a hapless Minnesota team in 2007. They found running room. This was to be expected against an undersized, overmatched ASU squad, but this was not to be expected because last year happened. The offensive line held their ground and then some, giving up just one sack and paving the way for 350 yards on 36 carries.
The production excited, but more than that it was the fashion in which Michigan got that production. Screens to Funchess and Norfleet* opened up both the running game and downfield passing. The emphasis on inside zone allowed the line to find their rhythm; after some early stuffed runs, they started opening up big creases, especially when Kalis entered the game at right guard in place of starter Joey Burzynski. Michigan got explosive plays—ten of their first 30 went for ten yards or more—and also showed that they could move the ball methodically; the first scoring drive, capped by a nine-yard touchdown to Funchess, covered 63 yards in nine plays.
De'Veon Smith displayed power and balance on his way to 115 rushing yards. [Fuller]
On the other side of the ball, the defense played up to their lofty expectations, forcing punts on each of ASU's first seven drives, including five three-and-outs. 171 of the Mountaineers' 280 total yards came on two second-half drives with the game well out of reach, as Greg Mattison liberally rotated through defenders. They came through on their promise to be more aggressive, playing lots of tight man coverage and putting ASU QB Kam Bryant under consistent pressure—Michigan's two sacks and four QB hurries don't tell the whole story.
The special teams even managed to chip in a scoring play, as Ben Gedeon caught a punt blocked by Mike McCray and managed to extend the ball just past the pylon to put U-M up 35-0 just prior to halftime.
Only two things came up as real concerns during the game. Jabrill Peppers missed the second half with an ankle injury; Brady Hoke confirmed after the game that his absence was precautionary, and he'll be back on the field next week for Notre Dame. Meanwhile, Jake Ryan looked uncomfortable at times at middle linebacker, getting overaggressive on run defense and allowing a big gain through the air when he didn't get enough depth on a zone drop. If your biggest defensive concern is Jake Ryan, however, your defense is in a very good place.
"We weren't competing against the score, we were competing against our abilities," Hoke said. At the very least, Michigan showed their ability to dominate inferior competition. They certainly drew up the blueprint for how they'd like this team to operate the rest of the year, too. Next week, we'll learn a lot more about just how far they've come.
For now, it's nice to sit back and enjoy a stress-free Saturday.
*Or "Little Fleetwood" as Hoke (accidentally?) called him in the postgame presser.
News bullets and other items:
Captains will be voted on after the Ohio State game, with seniors representing the team at each coin toss
The depth chart was released prior to the presser. Read Ace’s take on it here.
Injury update: Kyle Kalis is fully healthy, while Delano Hill is meeting with doctors this afternoon to determine whether he can play Saturday
Hoke raved about Devin Gardner’s progression on the field and as a team leader
Ty Isaac’s status is still uncertain; they’re waiting to hear back about the appeal
The freshman and sophomore classes have an edge to them. Hoke does not know that he has said edge.
Brady Hoke “Well,…” count: 12
[After THE JUMP: a mini scouting report on Appalachian State, Devin Gardner’s development, and the captain situation (or lack thereof) explained]
IT'S SUPPOSED TO BE THREE *YARDS* AND A CLOUD OF DUST
-This Preview, Last Year
IT'S SUPPOSED TO BE ANYTHING POSITIVE AND A CLOUD OF NOT EBOLA
|FEATURE BACK||Yr.||SHORT YARDAGE||Yr.||3RD DOWN||YR.|
|De'Veon Smith||So.||Derrick Green||So.||Drake Johnson||So.*|
|Derrick Green||So.||De'Veon Smith||So.||Justice Hayes||Jr.*|
|Drake Johnson||So.*||Wyatt Shallman||Fr.*||De'Veon Smith||So.|
How did Michigan's current tailbacks do last year? I don't know and they don't either. The situation on the line and Fitzgerald Toussaint sucking up a bunch of carries left Michigan relatively short on snaps to give anyone still around, and then when they got those snaps they were immediately drowned in a pile of opposition bodies.
This was especially bad since Michigan has almost exclusively recruited guys with tree-trunk legs who aren't going to put a Hart move on you. An anonymous opponent talks to Michael Spath at Big Ten Media Days:
"They needed to have a really quick, change-of-direction back, kind of like [Nebraska's] Ameer [Abdullah], but they had two guys that were similar size that were more like the big, physical type. Like Carlos Hyde, but they weren't as fast as Carlos, they didn't have the holes to run through, and they didn't have the vision."
Or that vision was wall-to-wall doom. The jury is emphatically out.
THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER-TYPE SUBSTANCE
Unless Ty Isaac gets his NCAA waiver, something that does not seem likely, Michigan only has four-ish tailbacks on the roster after Ross Douglas's sensible move to slot receiver. Three of those have drawn heavy mention through fall camp, and one seems to be the very tentative #1 back. (Or at least he did until they released the depth chart this morning, but Rome wasn't written in a day, people.)
HAIR ZOOM 2014 [Fuller. Nice resolution, bro!]
That is DE'VEON SMITH [recruiting profile], a ball of muscle Michigan won in a head-to-head battle with Ohio State. Smith had a bit of a Braylon Edwards in him last year… the Braylon who was infamously Not On The Same Page with Lloyd Carr early in his career. Smith was left off the travel roster in early November for obscure reasons—Hoke gruffly explained that "De’Veon didn’t travel because I took him off the travel team"—that turned out to be some major friction about playing time. Smith couldn't understand why he didn't have all of it and had a rep for expressing that point of view… let's say passionately.
It seems like that friction is in the past now. Reports have varied as to who is at the top of the tailback depth chart, but they have varied in who, if anyone, is 1B to Smith's 1A. The BTN guys said Smith was at the top when they visited practice; our insider thought Smith was clearly at the top of the depth chart; Hoke told the assembled media that Smith and Drake Johnson were the top two guys. Then he said Green was the top guy with Smith just behind, and then they were neck and neck. so… yeah. My Bayesian estimation is that Smith has a tiny lead that wouldn't even be worth mentioning except for the fact that I have to talk about someone first.
Given Brady Hoke's favorite word other than "well" and its total lack of applicability to the last couple editions of the Michigan ground game, these presser statements are almost a coronation:
"The one thing I know about De’Veon is he’s probably as tough a guy as I’ve been around. His identity is toughness. The way he practices, he’s a guy who can get dinged up but he’s still going to go, and he’s going to go, and he’s going to go."
I'm totally fine with this. I predicted Smith would emerge as the #2 back last year; I preferred him when asked in a mailbag after the season.
I am bullish on him because people complain about his speed, and I like Mike Hart. Speed is an overrated quality for tailbacks because 90% of the time they never approach their top end, and Smith brings a lot of Hart-like qualities to the table.
One is the fact that if you used a giant claw to extract De'Veon Smith from the tumbling melee of a football game, his legs would keep going. Turn him over: still going. Etc. From the Northwestern game:
I liked Smith's "leg churn," as faux NFL draft analysts like to say. He seems to have a knack for keeping his thighs moving as the pile forms around him.
That ability to keep his stride when being harassed was key for his big run against OSU, when he ran through two tackles without even acknowledging their existence.
And since Smith barely got a carry with any room to do anything last year the GIF I asked Ace to pull from Smith's highlight film is still a good representation of his assets:
The man has uncanny balance and the ability to run through tackles. In addition, Smith had a Hart-like aversion to fumbling through his high school career and didn't put one on the turf in his freshman year.
What Smith didn't show in year one was anything approximating Hart's ability to ghost out of tackles he had no right to avoid. Smith needs more help than Hart did and hopes to make it up by being bigger and more powerful once he gets going. That was a major problem last year and might be one again.
The broken record bit: any attempts to predict production here are seriously compromised by the massive question mark on the offensive line. I'm guessing Smith and Green platoon just about down the middle, with neither really emerging into a star; both are decent, and just decent.
[After THE JUMP: Mega-recruit now mega-hulk, the pass-pro brothers, God willing, and a belated appreciation of Vincent Smith.]
Not to compare it to last year, but what is a Doug Nussmeier offense? What is this offense going to look like?
“We want to play physical. We want to establish an identity as a physical and explosive offense.”
How have the guys embraced that?
“I feel really good about the way that our guys have worked. The players have worked extremely hard, had a good summer with Coach Wellman and come to camp, like I said, really focused. They’ve had a good first week.”
How important is it to figure out who you are on the offensive line and let them gel? [Note: that’s my best guess as to the question. The audio was garbled.]
“Obviously the sooner you can answer that question the better off you’re going to be. It’s not just the verbal communication but it’s also the nonverbal communication that goes on there. It’s something that we’re working on. We’re looking at a couple different scenarios and combinations right now and we’ll settle on that soon.”
Is there pressure or excitement or both?
“You know, it’s all how you look at it. There’s always excitement and pressure’s what you put on yourself. For me, the expectation at Michigan is extremely high and that’s the way we want it. That’s why you coach at Michigan, that’s why you play at Michigan. You embrace it. There’s a lot of guys that have played in this program and coached in this program before that have set a standard and you want to be part of that and that’s why it’s a special place.”
The offensive line had its struggles last year and yet lost two NFL Draft picks. How can this line be better even without that group?
“Well, we’re really excited about the group we have—young players and they’re growing everyday with different things. They’re trying to focus in on certain things that we do every week so that they can really get good and, as you say, get better with repetition and so hopefully each week we’ll get better and better.”
Are you starting to see guys blossom because of the opportunity?
“I think Coach [Hoke] has said it many times, we’ve created some really good competition on our team. We’re getting better and deeper as far as creating competition at different position and we’re moving guys around to create competition, so you’d think that competition brings out the best in every player.”
Coach Hoke said today that Drake Johnson and De’Veon [Smith] are kind of a cut above the other running backs. What set them apart, those two in particular?
“Well, first thing when you talk about De’Veon is you talk about how physical of a player he is. He’s a tough, tough guy and really day in and day out he’s a guy that puts on his hard hat and brings his lunch pail. To me that’s the thing that’s stood out the most about him. Drake looks really explosive coming off the injury from last year, did a great job with rehab. Schmidty [Paul Schimdt, Head Trainer] and his staff and Aaron [Wellman] this summer, they’ve done a great job of getting him ready to go. And Derrick Green’s done some really good things. Justice does some good things also. There’s a group of guys there and we’re really looking for somebody to separate themselves from the group.”
Brady [Hoke] said he wants toughness to be the identity of this team. For an offense what does that mean?
“Talk about being physical, being physical at the line of scrimmage. That’s across the board. Our wideouts are going to be be physical players. We’re going to demand that from everybody on the offense.”
[After THE JUMP: offensive installation, Devin Gardner, and Jabrill Peppers?]
Cole and Clark impressed [Bryan Fuller]
Our annual attempt to glean useful things from the Big Ten's visit to fall camp is here. BTN analysts have a slight bias towards the positive, as Gerry DiNardo demonstrated before last season…
"When I saw them in the spring it was like a war at the line of scrimmage," BTN analyst Gerry DiNardo said. "It was what you imagine it looks like at Alabama and all the downhill teams."
…so take overall tenor with a grain of salt. As per usual, I've translated these from twitterese. This year only DiNardo and Dienhart are reporting; Howard Griffith is there but just hangin' out yo. Dienhart has an article and everything. If there's no link, it's from the article.
"Much like last year a team with more talent than most teams in the B1G. Recruiting rankings are accurate in most cases." –Dinardo
"Long hard physical practice—they got a ton of reps, often times splitting staff and team in half to get more reps." –Dinardo
Rep rep rep is good news, as when Michigan does show bits of practice the pace is often not inspiring. Anything that seems to be oriented towards making Michigan competent at speed is welcome.
"Like a lot of places offensive scheme is starting to be blend of more than one offensive philosophy." –Dinardo
As long as that's running a lot of inside zone from shotgun and under center, okay.
"Jumped out: Gardner, Norfleet, Charlton, Poggi, Speight, Cole, Ojemudia, Pipkins, Clark, Henry, Mone, Glasgow." –DiNardo
That's a pretty long list of guys to jump out at you. Speight's inclusion is a little weird since in another tweet he says that Morris and Speight are pretty even for the backup QB job. Mone is the only freshman mentioned. (Peppers had to miss this practice for class.)
[AFTER the JUMP: shortin' out and dyin', De'Veon Smith credit plea, naggers.]
Joe Bolden hype comes in both unapproved and approved forms.
We had the fortune to get a practice report from a deeply anonymous person who wormed their way Inside The Fort, and here is what he or she or it reported, in my words:
Jabrill Peppers is mostly a nickel back but they are giving him a few experimental snaps at safety. While it seems like they are going to start him out there, as the season develops he may get more playing time when Michigan has four DBs on the field by taking that SS spot. Delano Hill's absence complicates things. He was leading at SS before he injured his jaw.
The alarming O-Line lineup tweeted out was at least temporarily a real thing. FWIW, that was Cole-Magnuson-Miller-Dawson/Glasgow-Braden. Kalis was not repping much with the first team. The slash-Dawson in that line above should be taken with a grain of salt—he looked another year or two away in one-on-ones.
That unit was not looking great even by early fall practice standards, so maybe they switch it up. Hoke told the assembled horde at Media Day that they hoped to settle on a top five by next week. They're still in experiment mode.
Jeremy Clark is your leader at SS with Hill sidelined. Brandon Watson is apparently #3 there until Hill gets back. Thomas did not get a mention.
Sigh… Joe Bolden seems to be for real. This is not bad for Michigan in general. It is bad for me because if Bolden starts the opener over a healthy Desmond Morgan I eat a lemon on the internet. But he's continued to get more time than Morgan. Jenkins-Stone is also getting a lot of time, but for whatever reason Ross was held out of this practice so that may be more about his absence than anything else.
Jourdan Lewis may be your best corner. He will push Taylor heavily; they're already splitting reps down the middle and Lewis is outperforming not only him but Countess.
Norfleet looked "f---ing great" and is the #1 slot. No, the insider is not me. I swear. Canteen is practicing both inside and out as they try to figure out their best configuration.
DeVeon Smith is the #1 back. Green and Hayes seemed running neck and neck for #2, with Drake Johnson the last serious competitor behind them. Hoke announced at media day that Johnson was 1b to Smith's 1a, so maybe they're seeing subtler things. Or Green is still on the motivation train.
While Ty Isaac looked pretty good, they're mostly running him with/against scrubs. That seems like an indicator they don't expect to get a waiver for him.
There is some zone read. FWIW. They ran zone read drills under Borges, too.
The defense is "crazy aggressive." They are serious about it, deploying a ton of press—just like the spring game—and using Peppers as a freelance sower of destruction on blitzes. Linemen are shifting frequently, giving the offensive line issues with pickups.
The defensive line should have good depth. Hurst and Wormley were both mentioned as seeming like starter-quality players, and the just-returned Pipkins was praised for his agility. He dominated one-on-one sessions and made some spin moves that seemed "impossible" for a guy his size. OL caveats apply.
Expect a lot of screens. Screens are the way you deal with a wobbly OL.