SPONSOR NOTES: We're going to Iowa thanks to Matt, and he's going to be tailgating prior to the game. If you're going, hit him up and stop by. We'll be around for a few hours before the game, traffic and weather willing.
In addition to being a gentleman replete with Michigan tickets, Matt is also a good man to know if you need a mortgage. It's striking that we actually get non-astroturfed comments about positive experiences with Matt not infrequently.
If you're buying a home or refinancing, he's the right guy to call.
FORMATION NOTES: Maryland switched between fronts a bunch, seemingly because they were trying to find anything that could possibly work. A 3-4 was their base set through the middle of the game; late and early they were mostly four-man fronts.
None of this went well. Here is an obligatory picture.
Michigan didn't do anything wacky with formations aside from some pistol stuff that is pretty standard at various places around college football.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: 59 snaps for the line before they were pulled on the final drive. Braden-Bredeson-Cole-Kalis-Magnuson for the third straight week; Kugler got two RG snaps after the Kalis personal foul. Butt and Darboh were close to omnipresent with 47 and 44 snaps; Chesson got 33.
De'Veon Smith usage surged to two-thirds of Michigan's snaps, with Ty Isaac limited to four. Evans and Higdon had 13 and 11. Peppers got four. Hill and Poggi continued to split FB snaps about down the middle. Asiasi, Bunting, and Wheatley all got around 20 snaps; Crawford, McDoom, and Harris got around 10.
[After THE JUMP: many, many touchdowns.]
Might be a broken record, but might that have been Wilton Speight’s best game, and could you talk about how he extended plays by sliding around in the pocket when he needed to?
“Yeah, that was…statistically, and just the eyeball, that’s the best half of football I’ve ever seen a Michigan quarterback play. I think the statistics back that up. Yeah, moving and throwing and accuracy and extending plays, all of the above. I don’t know how you play better than Wilton did. I think there was one throw that wasn’t a great throw. That was it. Other than that, it was a perfect game as a quarterback and that’s really tough to do.”
This team continuing to roll. How much more enjoyment do you get out of seeing these guys as the season progresses and you see the execution as it is each and every week?
“I enjoy it a lot. I really felt that the week of practice we had was outstanding, and then you, when you have a week like that where it seems better every week and the practices are really sharp and crisp, then you want to see that again on gameday. You feel like if you’re good in practice you’re going to be good in the game, and I thought our guys were great in practice this week and then they were great in the game, so that, get a lot of enjoyment from that.”
De’Veon Smith went over 100 yards. I know you talk a lot about liking how hard he runs. How’d he look to you today?
“He looked great. He really did. He was one of the big factors in our team’s success. We didn’t punt again in the ballgame. I don’t know if we’ve done that in the season—maybe one or two times. But it was, a big part was him. The yards he got after contact were real eye-opening, and he’s so tough to get down. Three touchdowns, but extending drives and contributing. We had a lot of first downs today, and he contributed to that in a big way.”
Clearly the scoreboard reflected it, but what was it like for you to coach against DJ Durkin, your former defensive coordinator, and what were the emotions that went into it?
“The normal emotions. Definitely a friend. Watch what he’s done at Maryland, he’s doing a fantastic job. And what he did for us, what he did for our football team—he was a great contributor to our ballclub.”
[Hit THE JUMP to find out what offended Harbaugh’s football sensibility and the football gods themselves]
Asiasi-asi! Oy! Oy! Oy! [Bryan Fuller]
Our weekly roundtable.
How are our pre-season predictions on new starters and heavy rotation guys holding up? Eligible players are anyone getting significantly more snaps this year than last.
I looked back through the last few defensive UFRs and he received increasingly more snaps, hovering around +1 while being relevant on only a few plays. After Clark got hurt Kinnel seemed to be the DB of choice to take his spot and shift others around as necessary. Kinnel has also been used on special teams and blocked a kick. While he's not going to be a starter just yet (hopefully), his work load should increase, and for the moment it looks like that will come without a drop-off. I'm not thinking that anyone ever has serious doubts about whether he could contribute on this team, but he's at least met expectations so far.
On the other end of the secondary spectrum appears to be Brandon Watson. He hasn't played a ton, but he definitely saw his snaps go up for the Hawaii and Colorado games. In the UFR he was -2 and -3, respectively, for those games. He was put in the slot against Colorado for the first couple of quarters and definitely looked overmatched. He's always been a guy who could potentially succeed if he got a good jam on a WR...however, when that does not happen, he looks lost in space. With Michigan's current and future set of CBs, its not looking like Watson will see too much extra time in close games, or not on defense anyway. It looks as if he could be destined for special teams duty for the long term.
[Hit THE JUMP for MGoBlog contributors trying very hard to find something that hasn’t gone right so far.]
Hello. This post is sponsored by XFINITY, which is a space company. They'd like to take you to Mars—
It's a cable company.
Ah, so it is. Good catch. Back in my day we had to watch television on big stone tablets, but if you're an on campus student you can sign up for free(!) streaming of live sports, including BTN, to any of your gadgets. Off campus students can get both TV and internet service for $79.99 a month with no contract. Non-students, also known as "sad adults," can check out what's described by XFINITY as the "immersive X1 system"—are we sure this isn't a space company?
Fine. Can check out the immersive X1 system here.
[NOTE! This section uses the UFR catch chart. Passes are rated on a three point scale for catchability. 3: routine. 2: challenging. 1: crazy. There's also a zero for times when the player was thrown to without any chance of a reception.]
This is a 1. [Bryan Fuller]
|Amara Darboh||Sr.*||Jehu Chesson||Sr.*||Grant Perry||So.||Jabrill Peppers||So.*|
|Moe Ways||So.*||Drake Harris||So.*||Jabrill Peppers||So.*||Chris Evans||Fr.|
|Eddie McDoom||Fr.||Kekoa Crawford||Fr.||Nate Johnson||Fr.||Drake Johnson||Sr.*|
Michigan returns the entirety of a receiving corps that was amongst the best in the country by the end of the year. Last year's preview issued both inside and outside receivers a "2" in one of a few posts that were insufficiently optimistic about Harbaugh player development. That was accurate for a bit what with Chesson's inability to get on the same page with Jake Rudock and Grant Perry's freshman deer-in-the-headlights start; by the end of the year Chesson was putting the Florida secondary to the sword and Perry was juking guys for touchdowns on the goal line.
I have no reason to put this in the post but refuse to delete it [Seth]
Chesson enters this year a player highly anticipated by NFL types, usually named one of the top five wide receivers in the country whenever someone deigns to put a list together. Meanwhile, Harbaugh has spent the last several months swearing up and down that Amara Darboh is the team's best receiver. Per anonymous Big Ten players they're kind of a big deal:
“two receivers that they have, I think they are arguably the best duo in the Big Ten.”
Also Jake Butt exists. Whoever ends up taking snaps at quarterback is going to have a good time.
OUTSIDE RECEIVER: OUT OF AFRICA, INTO ENDZONES
Time is rapidly dwindling for Tom Rinaldi's soft-focus feature on Michigan's all-African-refugee starting WR corps; it says here that by midseason their collective performance will demand one. I wish I could bet on things like this.
Let's start with JEHU CHESSON, whose single-season performance took off like no other Michigan receiver in recent memory. Last year's edition of this preview said it was "anyone's guess" who got receiver snaps other than Darboh and spent a big chunk of its time talking about Chesson's vicious run blocking. This was because Chesson was coming off a 14-catch season during which he was "imprecise" and had a Darryl-Stonum-like ability to turn reasonably well-thrown balls downfield into adventurous incompletions. Drake Harris was given nearly-equal billing based on a torrent of practice hype and a relative silence regarding Chesson.
A couple of games into the season it seemed like nothing much had changed. After the Oregon State game—in which Chesson failed to adjust to a deep ball and picked up a bad offensive pass interference call—I said he was "just not consistent enough."
Here began a parabolic upward curve that ended with The Assassination Of Vernon Hargreaves By The Nice Person Jehu Chesson. Entering this season Chesson is hyped as a potential first round pick by CBS, NFL.com, and Sports on Earth. That is some kind of trajectory.
The breakout came in two stages. Against Maryland he had his first career four-reception game. He brought in a couple quick posts despite getting hit on or actually before the catch and burst open on another couple deep routes. He was overthrown on one and couldn't bring in a tough over the shoulder catch on the second. The latter was on Chesson—he didn't take the fastest path to the ball because he misjudged its flight—but all was forgiven on an eyepopping end-around:
Over the next few weeks Chesson established himself as a regular, productive receiver. From the Maryland game to Rutgers five weeks later Chesson had 16 catches, exceeding his previous season high. The 66-yard touchdown you see above was trumped by a kickoff return touchdown against Northwestern. I started comparing him to Steve Breaston. Chesson had a ton of catch-and-run chunk plays last year thanks to his speed; against Northwestern he impressively got the corner on Anthony Walker, the fastest LB in the Big Ten:
"I really feel like Jehu has everything it takes to be a great player, a great pro player," Harbaugh said ... "The only thing he was missing was tracking the deep ball and making those deep ball catches."
The lasting memory of the Utah game was a sure touchdown just evading Chesson's fingertips because he slowed down. While I thought that was the right play since he'd burned his man by yards, the lack of comfort and communication between QB and receiver was costly. There was a drop or two in there as well.
Chesson was the beneficiary of the Indiana defense and Jake Rudock's late season surge. He went off for over 200 yards, 64 of which were on a telepathic Rudock strike between four defenders. But even if you provide an Indiana discount, this was a new level for Chesson. He adjusted to a Rudock punt downfield...
...and on fourth and goal he went up and secured overtime despite getting nailed by two guys. Yes, that was just Indiana, but Chesson added 100-yard days against both Ohio State and Florida to end the year. The Assassination Of Vernon Hargreaves By The Nice Person Jehu Chesson caught eyes nationally, and while yes it's nice that Chesson beat a top 15 NFL draft pick deep twice, for my money that wasn't even the best thing he did in that game. My vote goes to this incompletion:
Chesson also had a spectacular over the shoulder catch while getting interfered with. Reasonable people can disagree on which of the five spectacular things Chesson did against Florida is the best one, and there is your massive improvement in a nutshell.
How much of this was massive improvement and how much was simply being given opportunities Rudock was not affording him earlier in the year is unknown. You have to wonder what his season would have looked like with a locked-in Rudock from the drop. He wasn't any less open early:
Add in a few of those early bombs and expectations this year would be truly out of control.
Or possibly just plain accurate. Chesson has everything you want in an elite receiver. You can heap expectations on Chesson and he'll be fine with it. Chesson's an A+ dude committed to The Team The Team The Team:
Asked if he put in papers to seek information from the NFL draft advisory board this winter, Chesson nearly started laughing.
He says he's more focused on wrapping up his degree in May and finding a graduate program to enter for next year.
"Maybe it was naive, I don't know," Chesson said with a smile. "It's great to have individual success, but that's not where I get my happiness from. If I don't play and I see other guys being successful, that's great. If I feel I can help the team win, anyway I can help I'll do it."
His speed is unquestioned, and occasionally subject to absurd hype.
"People don’t realize just how fast Jehu is, said UM tight end Jake Butt. "He’s easily a 4.3 (40) guy. He might even run in the 4.2s in Indy.”
While that's only possible in the land of handheld stopwatches, Dane Brugler asserts that Chesson's a "loose athlete with galloping speed" and a "a legitimate fifth gear," and he's judging with an eye to playing in the NFL.
He's a terrific blocker. Chesson's proficiency in this department is such that you probably know what gif comes next...
...and there was little to no dropoff even as he emerged into Mario Manningham 2.0. Against Rutgers he wrecked a DE:
Michigan frequently motioned him closer to the tackle box and used him as a blocker against linebackers, generally with success. (They also lined him up as a tight end on occasion, but he almost never actually blocked in those cases.) He had 28.5 positive run points to just 8 negatives, and while a chunk of those positives were for what Chesson did with the ball in his hands every NFL scout goes out of their way to praise his work without the ball. ESPN:
Excellent effort as a blocker. Leaves it all on the field. Takes good angles and busts his tail to get into position. Big and strong enough to sustain blocks once in position. Throws his body around in order to make a block when he can't get into good initial positioning downfield. Love watching this guy play the game.
His hands are solid to good—36/38 on routine catches and 9/14 on challenging ones a year ago. He's 6'3". He's not a technician yet but if he continues on his current path it won't take him long to get there. (Brugler: "prone to body catches and needs to add polish to his route tree.") That's the last box to check.
His trajectory is straight up and he's got the physical and mental ability to scrape his ceiling. He's going to be great as long as someone's throwing it to him. All Big Ten and off the draft board by round two, it says here. The huge numbers required for postseason awards are probably off the table given the diversity of weapons Michigan has.
[After THE JUMP: Peppers! (Was addressed as a running back and is not in this post!)]
First, a little feelingsball
Spring games are notorious for being a little data amidst an ocean of noise, so as always take everything here with a grain of salt. And this section isn't even a concrete observation about a player, so doubly so here. But… my favorite thing that happened on Friday wasn't a play.
It was the aftermath of the two-point conversion, when the white team poured onto the field like they'd just won the Super Bowl and blue team coach Chris Partridge roared off the sideline to have a Harbaugh-level conniption fit at the ref.
A couple other coaches reacted similarly, if not as dramatically, as Partridge; the white team organized at midfield for a photo. Wyatt Shallman headbanged like there was no tomorrow. Drake Johnson collapsed in a heap.
Drake Johnson collapses on the field after his team gets stopped on a potential game-winning 2-pt. conversion. pic.twitter.com/Beyur1LaIW
— Dan Murphy (@DanMurphyESPN) April 4, 2016
I tweeted to Ace that he should title the recap "Controversial finish mars Spring Game ending,"* because that was funny. It's only funny because it's kind of true.
This is a different thing now. Last year's team was good but it was still caught between being a program that apologizes for a tent stake and a program whose DGAF levels are off the charts. Judging from the reactions of everyone involved on both sides, the all-competition-all-the-time ethos has sunk in. That more than anything else makes me anticipate the upcoming season.
This concludes your feelingsball portion of the program.
*[He did not, and I was all like ಠ_ಠ.]
[After THE JUMP: position by position breakdowns of what we learned on offense]
X spring tidbit so far that has you unreasonably excited about Y?
Brian: Well obviously I'm going to go with Ian Bunting making waves as an enormous skillet-handed dude. This is true to the spirit of this question because all we have is one tweet. But I like the tweet.
Bunting just snagged a fastball on skinny post with one hand. took it to the house. Drew raves from his teammates. Nice ball from malzone
— Sam Webb (@SamWebb77) March 1, 2016
Rivals recently had some team tidbits that oddly and explicitly trashed Bunting's ability. If that's accurate that makes me almost as much of a sad panda as Michigan ditching the spread punt, but it's unclear what that is even based on given the timing. Last year's offseason chatter—Morris is a real contender, watch out for Lawrence Marshall, this time Joe Bolden has put it together—had very little relationship with reality, so I'm hoping that gets put in the Big Bin Of Some Anonymous Guy Is Wrong.
I'm not even expecting Bunting to have a huge impact this year since he's a flex guy and one Jake Butt is still around, but I am hoping that we see him emerge into a clear heir apparent in preparation for a two-year run as an upperclassman. There isn't a tight end on the roster with quite the receiving upside of Bunting. I mean, maybe Gentry. But you know me and Ol' Skillet Hands.
[After the JUMP: more tweets that we treat as confirmation bias of good things]