don't we all
IT'S SUPPOSED TO BE THREE *YARDS* AND A CLOUD OF DUST
-This preview, two years ago
IT'S SUPPOSED TO BE ANYTHING POSITIVE AND A CLOUD OF NOT EBOLA
-This preview, last year
IT PUTS THE FOOTBALL IN THE GAP OR IT GETS THE HOSE AGAIN
|FEATURE BACK||Yr.||SHORT YARDAGE||Yr.||3RD DOWN||YR.|
|De'Veon Smith||Jr.||De'Veon Smith||Jr.||Ty Isaac||So.*|
|Ty Isaac||So.*||Derrick Green||Jr.||Drake Johnson||Jr.*|
|Drake Johnson||Jr.*||Ty Isaac||So.*||Karan Higdon||Fr.|
This was a straight-up mess for much of last year. De'Veon Smith and Derrick Green had little idea of what functional blocking looked like (understandable after 2013) and a tendency to run at random. If—and this is entirely hypothetical—you were to rewatch some of these runs in detail you may—again, entirely hypothetically—find yourself reduced to screaming Happy Gilmore quotes about being too good for your home and then self-abasing because Happy Gilmore is a very bad movie enjoyed only by children and Ace. Hypothetically.
Late in the year Michigan tried out Drake Johnson and Justice Hayes and that went better, particularly with Johnson. Over the last four games of the season—Indiana, Northwestern, Maryland, and Ohio State—Johnson got the plurality of the carries and averaged 6.0 yards a carry to Smith's 4.7. Johnson had a reasonable day even against Ohio State, with 15 carries for 76 yards… and then he tore his ACL. Again. Sam Webb reported he only got fully cleared on Monday.
So it's back to those other guys, oh and Ty Isaac. Let's try it again, this time with coaching.
ARBITRARILY ORDERED TAILBACK CANDIDATE #1
HAIR ZOOM 2015 [Fuller]
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.
This year: ditto.
The first arbitrarily ordered running back is DE'VEON SMITH. Your author does admit that the order of this list may contain some meaning. He is of the opinion that Smith is the most Harbaugh-friendly of the guys currently on the roster.
At his best, Smith is a beefier version of Mike Hart. He's got great balance and generally feels like a nuclear-powered icebreaker.
If you're in an offense where the line consistently delivers you three yards, Smith's ability to bash out another two or three with his balance and power is hugely powerful. That turns third and medium into third and short or a first down. It radically changes the percentages you're working with. This is the kind of gentleman Harbaugh made some headway with at Stanford. Going over all my Smith clips from last year is an exercise in YAC YAC YAC, to the point where the times he doesn't scrape out something after contact come as a shock.
[After THE JUMP: Smith downsides and three other arbitrarily ordered guys.]
when in doubt, picture of Peppers [Upchurch]
Maybe 500 students gathered for an open-ish practice on Saturday. Approximately all of them were dragooned by local media. We got an inside report from MGoUser Crisler Spidey; the thread on the board has maybe a dozen different takes as well. Blockquotes without links in the rest of this post are snippets from Spidey*. He would like you to follow him on twitter.
If Jim Harbaugh's goal is to spawn the next generation of Michigan sports journalists, he's off to a good start.
*[Sometimes the combination of the internet, paranoid coaches, and football is just terrific.]
Ding dings and boo boos
Amara Darboh had his left pinky in a splint. Freddy Canteen had his right arm in a sling. Patrick Kugler was on crutches.
— Jake Lourim (@jakelourim) August 23, 2015
In order of concern: minor, middling, a bit worried. A finger issue should clear up by the Utah game and wouldn't prevent Darboh from playing in any case; a shoulder/arm thing could be something that heals quickly or not; crutches are generally not good.
- Jourdan Lewis was dressed but did not participate. With various dudes in injury-indicating red shirts I would assume that means Lewis is obviously a starter they'd rather try to find their second corner with live-fire reps.
- Tyrone Wheatley Jr was on crutches, but we knew that he had hurt himself already.
- Spidey* caught this subtle thing: "Brian Cole, Karan Higdon, and DaMario Jones were all in uniform, but wearing running shoes instead of cleats. They participated in some drills, but not the scrimmage."
- He also said Jarrod Wilson and Mike McCray were both in red no-contact jerseys but dressed.
- Drake Johnson didn't play.
I wouldn't freak about the rather long list of names here; this is the point in camp where they've just come off weeks of punishing two-a-days and are trying to get everyone in reasonable shape before Utah.
Rudock looked far and away the better player, hitting his receivers with consistency and even getting a good scramble from time to time. Morris looked like Morris, consistently bombing it over his receivers' heads.
Let me reiterate how much better Rudock was than Morris. This does not appear to be a very close race at all. Rudock was connecting with all of his receivers, especially Harris and Butt.
Rudock got the great majority of the snaps with the first unit. Described as more athletic than what might have been thought coming in.. "A guy who may not win the game but certainly won't lose it." Performed much better than Morris, especially when evaluated with regard to poise, delivery of ball to the right spots and working through progressions.
The difference must have leapt off the field to those in attendance, because many of these takes are emphatic. Most of the passing was quick rhythm WCO stuff, which plays into Rudock's strengths—he's very accurate.
Morris still has a rocket for an arm, and he overthrew senior wide receiver Jehu Chesson past the end zone and into the crowd.
"Same old stuff" was another take. Reports from camp have been more positive than those originating from Saturday's scrimmage, so it's possible the students just caught him on an off day.
Wilton Speight got time with the third team late.
Also, Zach Gentry is enormous. That is all.
De'Veon Smith was your tentative #1 with Ty Isaac rotating in behind him and Derrick Green getting time with the second unit. Ross Taylor-Douglas made a few appearances with the second team as well, so 1) that's what position he's playing today and 2) Drake Johnson does not seem full go yet.
Kerridge was the fullback; Chase Winovich was the second option there. Winovich lined up as an H-back in the spring game and would likely reprise that role; he's not going to be as effective as Kerridge is as a linebacker deterrent.
Wide receiver & tight end
With Darboh out Jehu Chesson and Drake Harris were the first team guys, which is an indicator that Harris is for real unless his hamstring betrays him again. It does not give us much insight into exactly how much hype we should buy into—if Darboh was playing and Harris was out there in front of Chesson that would be time to (gingerly, oh so gingerly) ring the cathedral bells.
The scrimmage also gave further confirmation that Grant Perry is the starting slot receiver and that Jake Butt is going to be relied upon heavily in the passing game. Moe Ways seems like the #4 guy at the moment.
Jake Butt and Ian Bunting were first team tight ends, and Khalid Hill and Henry Poggi were actually the second team tight ends.
No AJ Williams is notable since there weren't any reports he was injured. Also notable is that Bunting got a number of snaps in 2TE sets with the starters. If his ability as a receiver is enough to offset what I imagine is still some pretty iffy blocking at 245-ish, that is encouraging.
Asking anyone to interpret OL performance without the benefit of replay from field level is folly. Nobody tried. The one note of interest is that the OL was as expected (Cole-Braden-Glasgow-Kalis-Magnuson) the whole time until late, when Dawson replaced Braden for a bit. With Kugler out Dawson is likely your sixth OL no matter what… and Braden's the guy most under threat.
Spidey caught the second team OL, one with some switches from earlier:
2nd team O-Line was LTT-Dawson-Bars-Pliska-JBB.
Kugler was out, remember. Previously Bars had been repping at RT and Bushell-Beatty at RG.
1st team tackles were Ryan Glasgow and Matt Godin, with Mo Hurst coming in as well. Hurst played second team with Tom Strobel it appeared.
Interesting thing: seems to be that Willie Henry has moved to defensive end. He was playing opposite Mario Ojemudia. Chris Wormley also took snaps with the first team defensive ends. Second team was RJS and Taco Charlton.
That would be bonkers if that's long term. Godin received a reasonable amount of time and did pretty well with it in spots (he was disruptive against Northwestern), but moving guys away from defensive tackle after the Mone injury would be odd. Especially since that would boot Wormley to the second team. As experiments go this one doesn't seem likely to skip.
FWIW, it doesn't seem like the Henry move is indicative of an actual 3-4:
All even fronts on defense
— Zach Shaw (@_ZachShaw) August 23, 2015
We'll see how it shakes out. I do think Godin is a legit player. Strobel's presence on the two deep as a DT is a bit alarming since he's listed at 6'6", 270 and was recently bounced to tight end, which didn't take. For whatever reason he's played mostly DT at Michigan despite a build that strongly suggests SDE in an under, which is a spot at which Michigan could use some depth. Instead he's playing inside and they're goofing with Henry outside. I dunno man.
As expected: Ross, Morgan, Bolden. There were occasional dime packages on which Morgan was the only LB. Gedeon rotated in with the first team frequently.
With Lewis held out the starting corners were Channing Stribling and Jeremy Clark—possibly a reason that the passing game was much more effective than the run game. I'm not sayin', I'm just sayin'. Max Bultman paid attention to Clark and thought he was all right:
Clark covered Chesson most of the night and looked solid. He was never beat deep, but with Darboh out, he wasn't covering a true No. 1 outside.
Disposition of Peppers was the same as it was in spring:
Jarrod Wilson and Jabrill Peppers were the safeties, and on nickel packages, they pushed Peppers to nickelback, with Delano Hill coming in as another safety.
Second team secondary saw Keith Washington and Brandon Watson at corner, Wayne Lyons playing safety with Dymonte Thomas, and Terry Richardson at nickel.
Losing Blake Countess is going to rankle if Lyons isn't even playing cornerback. No idea what that says about anything. If things aren't going well they do have the option of moving Peppers to boundary and using Hill as a full-time starter. They clearly do not want to do that.
Reports on the kicking game varied. (As per the spring game, there were no punts.) Freshman scholarship kicker Andrew David did not make an appearance; walk-ons Kyle Seychel and Kenny Allen were either wobbly or fine. Bultman:
Senior Kenny Allen and sophomore Kyle Seychel both took field goals, but neither was very consistent. Seychel appeared to have the bigger leg, but his misses were also by a wider distance than Allen's.
Sounds like the Harbaughffense:
Formations were mostly under center with singleback or I-form, shifting the fullbacks and tight ends all over the place. Slot receivers were usually just tight ends who motioned out the slot.
That might be a reason Bunting got significant time. He is a threat split out.
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?]