I'VE HAD JUST ABOUT ENOUGH OF YOU SONNY
GOOD? I think probably yeah. [Bryan Fuller]
You know that basketball game column after the Wisconsin halfcourt shot game where I laid out a scenario in which Bo Ryan was the vanguard of the bug people from Rigel? I disclaimed any belief that was actually true but asserted that if it was, Wisconsin basketball would be exactly the same as it is today.
So… Al Borges's gameplan. Michigan came out throwing from the shotgun, and that caused me to tweet out that this newfangled offense looked a lot like the oldfangled offense. I didn't yet perceive that Michigan's first four handoffs to Toussaint were zone stretch plays, i.e. the very foundation of Michigan's offense under Rich Rodriguez. I'm pretty sure that Michigan ran fewer than four stretches all of last year. Al Borges isn't trolling me, but if he was nothing about Michigan's gameplan would have changed. (Bubble screens are now trolling Heiko.)
Evaluating the stretch is like getting back on a bike for me. It was also Michigan's base run play for the last two years of DeBord, so for the five formative years when I was learning to say more about runs than "that's a big ol' wad of bodies" the majority of plays I was looking at were stretches. I'm still much better at figuring them out than any other run play.
This is relevant in a credential-establishing fashion: I've seen a lot of these and now I'm going to say something that might be a little out there. I think Graham Glasgow might be quite good. He and Miller consistently crushed the playside defensive tackle on scoop blocks throughout these four carries, which is a good sign to begin with. And on one I think he did something advanced.
The setup: first and ten on Michigan's second drive of the game. They come out in a 2TE set with both TE's to the boundary—the boundary is the short side of the field. Central is in their standard 4-2-5 personnel.
Funchess motions to the top of the formation; Central slides to that side. The aggressive posture of the safeties likely indicates cover four, which sounds conservative but isn't really. For our purposes that means that either or both can charge hard at run action to his side.
On the snap, the telltale tilt of the center sideways that indicates a zone stretch. On inside zone the line goes more vertical, attempting to blow the DTs back with doubles. Here they're trying to shift their line a gap over.
Lewan immediately crushes the playside end inside, which is bad for defenders. Glasgow bangs the playside DT as Miller tries to scoot around him in time to pick him up when Glasgow leaves.
This is all working just fine. The situation:
- The end is bashed inside and has given up the corner. Toussaint will go outside.
- The backside DT is headed to the ground on a cut block.
- Miller and Glasgow have gotten some push on the playside DT and threaten to cut him off.
- Funchess is releasing downfield.
The issue is the red line. That is the middle linebacker on his horse, headed for the backfield.
Funchess is about to violate a fake cardinal rule of football that I made up: never turn upfield on a run play. When someone runs by you, they're gone. You may have screwed up, but you can't fix it by turning around. Go further downfield and hit someone else and hope to God it all worked out okay.
Well, go ahead and violate it.
And of course the thing is you can see in these stills that Graham Glasgow has seen this linebacker charging, disengaged from the scoop block on the defensive tackle, and successfully engaged him. That wasn't even Funchess's dude. Funchess can't feel the play like Glasgow did.
In the wider view you can see that Michigan has a a hat on a hat except for one guy:
That DT that Miller's handling gets sealed away:
The upfield guy is actually a linebacker Kalis is chasing. Miller has stepped around to get his helmet playside of the DT, though, which means he's done.
Toussaint hits the hole, getting hewed down by that filling safety as Funchess realizes his error, turns around, and tries to get downfield:
Glasgow's guy is on the ground. Safety tackles as Toussaint runs inside of the Jackson block; five yards is the return.
Items of interest
Man I like this play from Glasgow. I suspect this is a very bad player they're doubling here and blowing him up is no great accomplishment. Level of competition disclaimer applied. But as mentioned, I have seen an awful lot of zone stretches. It is very rare to see a guy with the speed of thought and fleetness of foot to both decide he needs to get on that guy right now and actually get there. That reminds me of David Molk.
I also liked Glasgow's immediate release on another stretch when Central's slanting away from the play:
That is decisive recognition of the fact that the DT has stepped away and he's free to climb to the second level. He goes out, he gets a block, he does not hang around wondering what he should do. It's not a miracle or anything; it is an easy thing to see a first-time player screw up. So far Glasgow has been consistently executing his assignments and throwing in flashes of serious promise like the play above. I don't think I could be any happier with his performance in this game so far.
That is a great, great sign. Obviously. It changes the entire tenor of the offseason competition on the interior of the line if Graham Glasgow is just good.
And he can pull! Should have sent a poet.
This was one play after Lewan pulled and ended up four yards behind the line of scrimmage. That is the fastest dang pull I've seen while doing this. This is saying very little, of course. Even so this is a good thing to see from a first-time starter at guard. He can zone. He can pull. He seems to be consistently executing his assignments. His skill level seems very high, and if he can physically match up with Notre Dame you should prepare for a barrage of Glasgow == Kovacs, "don't you dare call him a walk-on" stuff.
Funchess is still a work in progress. While he is trying his darndest with the blocking, he is just not a natural. Here he gets lost and blocks no one. Worse, on the second Gardner interception he does not pick up a guy that Williams is passing off to him, and that guy gets into Gardner's feet. As a result Gardner's throw is way long and intercepted. If Gardner understands the coverage and is trying to back-shoulder that throw, he could get a nice completion there, and FWIW he did mention that in the presser:
The next one, I got hit while I threw it, so it kind of went [farther than I intended], and you can kind of control that, but not as much as you'd like to. via Heiko
He did some good things with his blocking, but that wasn't a one-year reclamation project.
I do think this is an unnatural thing, for guys to let it go when dudes flash by them. But once you turn upfield you're done. If Funchess had gone 90 degrees and then continued downfield he probably still gets the block. It's not the thought he should take this guy that dooms him, it's how long he takes to decide that he actually shouldn't.
You're done now. The weirdest thing about these stretches was what happened on the end. He got obliterated inside by Lewan every time. That gave Michigan the corner easily. Bad player, surely. Also one unprepared for Michigan to run the stretch. I never saw that in the DeBord/RR days no matter who they were playing. Those guys were hauling ass to stay outside the tackle every time.
That's actually the easiest read in the book for a guy running the stretch. Rodriguez had three rules for the tailbacks that went by "bounce," "bend", and "blast." Bounce was the first one and that was simple: if the end gets sealed go to the corner ASAP. This was handled in about fifteen seconds because it never happens and if it does it's yards every time.
Why would they be running the stretch all of a sudden? Well, they seemed pretty good at it. Michigan was one block/step away from busting some long ones. It may be hard to remember this, but Jack Miller was a Rodriguez offensive line recruit more in the mold of agile bastard David Molk than someone that is going to excel at blowing guys off the ball. But I think the main reason is:
NOBODY fripperizes facemasks like the Notre Dame Fig Things
That's 322 pound Stephon Tuitt hanging with 340 pound Louis Nix, except this is probably a shot from last year's Michigan State given the background color. That's 15-20 pounds ago for each. Tuitt's backup is a somewhat touted redshirt freshman who is not Stephon Tuitt; Notre Dame lost Nix's backup to a season-ending injury and now the man behind him has a Notre Dame bio with an impressive set of accomplishments that happen to belong to Prince Shembo. Kona Schwenke is a senior with seven tackles to his name who was an obvious downgrade when Nix was out with the flu last year.
Stretch plays are good for getting rid of planetoid defensive tackles and making them run down the line in a futile chase to the ball. Notre Dame fans also apparently think their starters in the middle these days (Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese) are uninspiring plodders after the Temple game, so Michigan would like to make them run, too. Hypothesis: the stretch is something Michigan thinks will beat ND.
- Three boo boos. Devin Funchess's injury seems to be just an unfortunately located cramp. He'll be okay. We'll have to wait for further news on Drake Johnson and Joe Reynolds. [Update: Johnson out for season].
- Thomas Gordon will definitely be back next week. Hoke seems to have forgiven him for whatever his trespass might have been, though no details about whoaterenowhy.
- The blocked punt was something they game planned for. The whole team knew about it, so when it worked it was pretty exciting.
- Michigan planned to play up tempo the first few drives with their Nascar offense.
"One thing I really want to do is thank our students and our fans. It was really neat to see that student section in the maize and all that stuff when we went out for our warmups and it just kept building. I want to thank our students because it's fun when they're there. They make the atmosphere and the game fun."
Cam Gordon had a really good game. Talk about his play?
"Well Cam is a guy who has matured in a lot of ways in his time at Michigan. At receiver and then coming in and going to safety. The work ethic he has showed during the offseason, his leadership and his teammates. The motor that he plays the game with. He's a better technician. He's bigger, he's stronger. It's a credit to him and what Aaron Wellman does in the weight room. He's also an intelligent football player and can handle a lot of things well."
It was great to be back on the sidelines yesterday! Here are some photos from the game.
Cam Gordon (Upchurch)
Jarrod Wilson (Fuller)
Devin Funchess (Upchurch)
Devin Gardner (Fuller)
Here are links to our individual galleries if you'd like to see all of the photos.
The feeling was boredom, interspersed with brief moments of Norfleet-related anticipation that ended an ankle-tackle away from being actual excitement.
Boredom, in this case, was a great feeling—a pleasant return to normalcy for Michigan. A home opener against a directional Michigan school, a 50-point lead heading into the third quarter, a fourth quarter spent looking up numbers of various freshmen and walk-ons while fretting about burned redshirts; this is how it's supposed to go, fergodsakes.
The Wolverines got on the board before the Big House crowd even got a chance to see the much-anticipated new offense, as freshman defensive back Dymonte Thomas screamed off the edge to block a Central Michigan punt on the opening drive of the game; senior receiver Joe Reynolds scooped up the loose ball and took it 30 yards to give Michigan a 7-0 lead.
A muffed punt by Dennis Norfleet, recovered by Delano Hill at Michigan's seven-yard line, led to an inauspicious start for Devin Gardner; after his first pass of the season was dropped by Devin Funchess, he telegraphed a quick out to Drew Dileo, and CMU's Jarret Chapman jumped the route for an easy interception.
Michigan's defense held strong, though, forcing the Chippewas to settle for a field goal. Gardner was in fine form on the subsequent drive, picking up a first down with his legs, then buying time for Drew Dileo to find a wide open hole in the Central defense on a 3rd-and-4 for a 36-yard catch-and-run. On the very next play, Gardner stood tall in the pocket, couldn't find an open receiver, and waltzed untouched into the end zone for a 22-yard score (right, Upchurch).
From there, the Wolverines didn't look back. A 38-yard run on a Dennis Norfleet reverse set up a one-yard touchdown run for Fitz Toussaint, who looked back to his old self—aside from missing a couple open cutback lanes—in rushing for 57 yards on 14 carries. After another Gardner hiccup—an overthrow to Gallon that resulted in his second interception—led to a second Jason Wilson field goal, cutting the lead to 21-6, the redshirt junior quarterback roared back with an 11-play, 76-yard drive capped by a 16-yard touchdown pass to his favorite target, Jeremy Gallon. After Raymon Taylor jumped an Alex Niznak throw to the perimeter, nearly taking the interception back for a touchdown, Gardner finished the first half with a four-yard scoring run, again making his trip to the end zone look downright easy. Despite the pair of turnovers—and a punt block for a touchdown that didn't count towards the yardage numbers—Michigan held a 243-139 edge in total offense and a 35-6 halftime lead.
The onslaught didn't stop there. Michigan's opening drive of the second half featured a 45-yard play-action pass from Gardner to Reynolds; two plays later, Toussaint tallied his second score of the day from two yards out. After another quick defensive stop, freshman running backs Derrick Green and De'Veon Smith combined to run on each of Michigan's ten plays, including a 30-yard Green scamper on a zone stretch and the five-star's first career touchdown on a goal-line scrum.
Sacks by Brennen Beyer and Mario Ojemudia forced another three-and-out, and from there the backups took over. Freshman quarterback Shane Morris quarterbacked the next drive, completing a 36-yard pass to Devin Funchess before Thomas Rawls rumbled into the end zone from five yards out, giving the Wolverines a 56-6 lead as the third quarter expired.
The rest, as they say, was academic. The fourth-quarter monotony was broken briefly by a 36-yard punt return by Norfleet, who was one man away from scoring; a Morris interception on a tipped pass; and a forced fumble by freshman cornerback Channing Stribling just two plays later, recovered by Delonte Hollowell. That third play led to a 30-yard Gibbons field goal—his 14th consecutive make, tying a school record held by Remy Hamilton*—that gave the game its final margin: 59-9, Michigan.
Funchess sporting his new Ron Kramer Legacy jersey (Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog)
Aside from the two picks, Gardner looked like the superstar he's expected to be in his first year as the full-time starter, averaging 10.8 yards per attempt and rushing for 52 yards on seven carries; CMU couldn't keep him in the pocket and couldn't stop him when he escaped, including one play in which Gardner comically olé'd an awaiting defender hoping to hit him on the sideline.
His ESP-level connection with Gallon showed, as well; Gallon caught four passes for 47 yards and had a second touchdown catch wiped out when Taylor Lewan
wandered downfield illegally rode his donkey too far even from the generous blocking zone they give linemen on play-action these days. Funchess and Reynolds both impressed, as well, and while each left the game due to injury, those dings appeared minor. Brady Hoke said after the game that Funchess left the game due to a cramp (an unfortunately-placed one, given the rather sensitive area he clutched after his long catch), while there was no report on the status of Reynolds.
Defensively, Beyer was a consistent presence in the backfield as a lineman in Greg Mattison's nickel package, tallying a sack and another TFL. Cam Gordon, playing in place of the injured Jake Ryan, looked fantastic in tallying a pair of sacks among his 2.5 TFLs, lining up at both strongline linebacker and defensive end and playing both well. Desmond Morgan took to his new position as the MIKE with aplomb, leading the team with seven tackles despite heavy rotation in the front seven. While the much-balleyhooed Frank Clark recorded a lone QB hurry, his backup, Mario Ojemudia, came up with a sack and looked like a very solid option at weakside DE.
Of the true freshmen to see their first action—and there were many—it was Stribling who impressed the most; he was Michigan's field corner when they went into the nickel package, and while he gave up a couple catches, he showed off his playmaking ability by stripping CMU's Andrew Flory after one of those receptions. Linebacker Ben Gedeon also played well in his first career action, tallying four tackles; "The Freak" didn't look out of place at weakside linebacker.
The only major points of concern were Gardner's two picks—hopefully those can be chalked up to opening-game rust, as he otherwise looked like a Heisman candidate—and the play of the safeties. Jarrod Wilson and Josh Furman blew a couple assignments, though there's a good chance that neither is starting by mid-September—strong safety Thomas Gordon sat out the game for a "violation of team rules" and Courtney Avery could factor in at free safety when he recovers from knee surgery, hopefully in time for next week's game but more likely for Akron. The offensive line had its moments, good and bad; Al Borges called for a lot of zone running plays instead of asking for his two new guards, Kyle Kalis and Graham Glasgow, to pull; Kalis played a very solid game, featuring a bone-crushing body-slam on Gardner's first touchdown run, while Glasgow and center Jack Miller had their ups and downs.
Michigan's fans trickled out of the stadium throughout the fourth quarter, content that their team took care of a MAC opponent like Wolverines should: devouring them alive. There was little reason to stay, more competitive football games to watch, and celebratory beers to drink. Cheers to a new season, a 1-0 record, and zero heart attacks.
*If you've just woken up from a three-year slumber, this is somehow not a joke.
Let's talk about the guys we haven't talked enough about yet. The breakout kids. The unexpected boons. Our pantheon of heroes:
- Capt'n Seth of the Comma Police
- An Bender, Flyin' Ace
- The Heiko Kid
- The Blue Creature from the Bend
- Brett Thiessen (secret identity remains hidden)
- Coach Unpossible
Casey Stengel used to do this thing with the media where every year he'd point to a player on his team who wasn't already an established star (Gardner, Gallon, Lewan, Norfleet) and say "that guy is a lot better than people think." And that guy would have a really big year. Mentally (or mathematically if you're Mathlete) subtract John Q. MGoReader's expectation for the guys from your expectation for the guys this year, and tell us who's going to be surprisingly good?
BiSB: I'm on Team ACL this year. On the "breakout star" front, I'll go with BLAKE COUNTESS. I think a lot of people are expecting, or even hoping, that he'll come back
|Rev up the Countess hype again | Fuller|
approximately as he was as a freshman (which would still be pretty good), thinking his injury would offset whatever gains he has otherwise made. But we live in a world in which ACLs are repaired with unicorn dreams (or at least that's how Heiko explained it to me) and heal in six to nine months. Jake Ryan tore his five months ago, and is already running and doing lateral stuff. Countess is a full year removed, which in modern ACL years is "what, me worry?" I think on the conservative side we're going to get the Blake Countess we would have gotten in 2012, and on the upside we're looking at a guy who will compete with Bradley Roby and Darqueze "You Spelled Denard Wrong" Dennard for first team All B1G.
My "breakout contributor" guy is CHRIS WORMLEY, who also tore his ACL about a year ago. Heitzman is the starter at SDE, but Wormley can be a difference-maker. He's bigger and stronger than Heitzman, and already has a year in the system under his belt (even if a lot of that year was on an exercise bike). He'll get plenty of snaps anyway because of the depth at SDE and Mattison's love of DL rotation. He may never take over the starter label because Michigan doesn't really do the whole "roster update" thing, but I think by the end of the year he's the most effective guy at the position, and he'll be getting ~40% of the snaps.
Also, Norfleet will be the new Steve Breaston, by which I mean at some point a tight end will maddeningly refuse to pitch him the ball and as a result you will scream terrible terrible things to no one in particular.
Seth: NORFLEET IS ALREADY ESTABLISHED (else everyone would pick him)
[After the jump: NOT NORFLEET]
I'll miss you, #19.
|Joe Kerridge||So.*||Khalid Hill||Fr.||AJ Williams||So.||Devin Funchess||So.|
|Sione Houma||So.||Wyatt Shallman||Fr.||Jordan Paskorz||Jr.*||Jake Butt||Fr.|
Al Borges necessitates a change in season preview strategies. Previously folded into the wide receiver section, tight ends and close relatives have become so prevalent and diverse that they demand their own post and elaborate delineation of responsibilities. I have also snatched the fullbacks away from the tailback section to give a full spectrum of guys who aren't tailbacks or receivers who will see the field for Michigan this fall.
Your author's attempt to distill all the things he's heard about the guys listed above and put them into categories:
- FULLBACK: a man with a steel plated head runs into linebackers, gets two carries in his career, and has six catches. See: Kevin Dudley.
- U-BACK: A "move" tight end that motions all about, rarely lines up on the actual line of scrimmage, often goes from fullback to a flared spot or vice versa, and operates as more of a receiver than the fullback. Must be a credible threat to LBs; ends career with 40 catches. See: Aaron Shea.
- TIGHT END: Larger that the U-back, the tight end is a tight end who is actually tight to the end of the line. He comes out, lines up next to a tackle, helps him win blocks, and clobberates linebackers at the second level. He goes out into patterns as well, and may end his career with 40 catches himself. See: Tyler Ecker.
- FLEX: Sort of like the U-back in that he rarely lines up on the line of scrimmage itself, but if he motions away from his spot near the line, it's not to fullback but wide receiver. They get a billion catches and break Jim Mandich's record eventually. See: Devin Funchess is the only flex guy I can think of recently.
Complicating matters is the fact that many of the players listed above bleed into other positions: Houma, Rawls, and Shallman could be tailback-ish, Funchess and Butt will have their share of time with their hand in the dirt, tight to the end, and may even motion to fullback on occasion. In a Borges offense, things are not as they appear!
/tosses smoke bomb
Fullback is a spot where walk-ons are prevalent; Dudley mentioned above was both a walk-on and Michigan's finest linebacker eraser in the past 20 years, with only Chris Floyd offering competition. This year is no exception, as JOE KERRIDGE eased past converted tailback Stephen Hopkins last year to acquire a strong hold on the job. Judging from one of the sudden legion of shirtless photos players put on Instagram, if you encounter Joe Kerridge in the wild you should walk away slowly and hope you don't smell like salmon:
L to R: Sione Houma, Bobby Henderson, Joe Kerridge.
That plus the whole returning-starter bit should see Kerridge retain his role as Michigan's first choice when something absolutely has to die. In year one he was a little tentative, as you might expect, and there were a number of plays on which I though he was not reacting to the situation in front of him quickly enough to make an effective block. I'm still not clear on whether some of the suboptimal blocking on spread plays was because Michigan wasn't using newfangled arc blocking (ie: using your fullback or tight end to take out an exchanging linebacker and give your edge guy the edge) or because a freshman wasn't executing, but with the move away from spread elements, the job will be simpler: see man, make man wish he had taken up lawn darts.
Kerridge has a ton of potential. When he makes solid contact with guys, you can hear football:
That linebacker set up outside, Toussaint cut outside, and all the LB could do was fall over. He can bring the pain.
Kerridge had his inconsistencies. After three consecutive +3 games and a monster +6.5 against Illinois…
And Kerridge is racking up big numbers.
I may be giving him too much credit for standing up linebackers but to my eyes he really appears to be whacking them and providing the impetus for an improved under center run game. Those isos and such are
…he fell off into a bunch of games where he hung around 1 point. A large part of that was the Gardner transition; he also lost some playing time to Stephen Hopkins, who came back from injury and was given a shot to displace Kerridge. Kerridge did whiff some blocks. He got smoked for a sack in the bowl game, for one. And this inverted veer against State is something an experienced guy might decide to block the end on because otherwise there's no one else he can hit.
For a redshirt freshman it was a promising season. In year two the goal is to cut his failure rate in half and catch five passes. He'll be an interesting guy to watch in UFR. If Michigan really commits to MANBALL he could see some big numbers.
[After THE JUMP: Funchess, Williams, U-backs, we've got it all. Except upperclassmen.]