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]
Mission accomplished. They spent fifteen frickin' minutes talking about practice (practice!) on Sportscenter.
Michigan's first spring practice is receiving live coverage on SportsCenter. pic.twitter.com/b7LU9uIRHg
— Alejandro Zúñiga (@ByAZuniga) February 29, 2016
I mean, there are many missions. But this is one mission.
Also, Dick Vitale is there, I guess? He's putting it on periscope? This makes as much sense as anything else Harbaugh-related, which is complete sense and no sense all at once?
Also in brilliant moves that someone will try to ban. Player hours are limited. Coach hours are not. So why not maximize your ability to instruct by taking advantage of the latter:
Practice has two sessions... a maize & blue. Maize began at 8am and is done. One player said they're going to the beach a 1pm
— Sam Webb (@SamWebb77) February 29, 2016
That is twice the individual attention for each player. That might not be practical for every practice but when they're not in pads it's an obvious win, except I haven't heard of anyone else doing this so it's apparently not that obvious.
Roster items. Blake Bars and Damario Jones are off the roster and have left the program. Per Rivals, Bars is off to law school. Not sure what Jones's next stop is, but he announced he would grad transfer on Twitter. Pretty sure that the only player to leave the program without a degree this offseason is Brian Cole.
With those departures Michigan stands at 86 scholarships accounted for, plus walk-ons-you-really-expect-to-get-scholarships Kenny Allen and Ryan Glasgow. If Dytarious Johnson does end up enrolling they'd be at 87. I think that's pretty unlikely, as I can't remember a player who couldn't sign a letter of intent who managed to get to Michigan without a pit stop at a prep school. So Michigan needs to lose one more guy before fall.
There were a number of position switches and number changes:
- John O'Korn is wearing #8, so he doesn't conflict with Peppers.
- Chase Winovich is now listed as a defensive end(?!) because his career is designed to be that of an itinerant laborer. That may be a misprint or misunderstanding; Sam Webb tweeted that he was playing SAM. More on that in a bit.
- Freddy Canteen spent all his time at WR. This kind of bouncing back and forth without seeing the field is usually not a good sign for a player's future playing time. See: Ross Taylor-Douglas.
- Mason Cole took the first snaps as a center, with Newsome at LT.
- As Harbaugh mentioned earlier, Khalid Hill is playing FB and Zach Gentry is playing TE.
- Ty Wheatley Jr. is still a tight end. He is less enormous.
- Ahmir Mitchell is starting as a WR.
A coach roster item. Harbaugh confirmed the Brian Smith hire and said he'd coach safeties with Zordich remaining with cornerbacks. I was kind of hoping for that Viney dude but you have to let Don Brown make that call.
Cease ringing the Drake Harris injury klaxons. He missed practice today… with norovirus. He should be good to go for the next one. Webb says he's up to 185; was listed at 174 last year. (The roster as a whole has not been updated with new weights, thus the absence of a "phonebooks are here!" post.)
What is a linebacker, anyway? I'll be really interested to see how the defense configures itself during the spring game. Reports that Winovich is playing SAM don't mesh with the expectation that Taco Charlton will play WDE and Peppers will still be a nickel. Or, you know, something else:
Peppers worked a great deal w/ LBs today. If 1 practice is an indicator he'll play in the box even more this year. Time will tell of course
— Sam Webb (@SamWebb77) February 29, 2016
Those in possession of MGoCookies for remembering stuff will remember that a recent recruiting roundup pointed out that MI LB Antjuan Simmons was told he was being recruited as a SAM and then compared to, yes, Jabrill Peppers.
To me this implies that Michigan will be altering its defense to look more like the OSUs and MSUs and PSUs of the world. Those teams mostly run "quarters", which means they have two deep safeties. Varieties of this defense that roll the safeties close to the line of scrimmage often have a coverage-oriented linebacker called "star" who walks out over the slot. That's usually the strong side, thus he is a SAM linebacker… but not the kind of SAM linebacker Jake Ryan was. Same hybrid space player, different system around him?
O'Korn hype unabated. But first let's just marvel at this:
Ken Mastrole, a quarterback coach who has worked with Rudock and O’Korn, has described O’Korn as having “off-the-chart physical intangibles"
There is a reason the "intangibles" section of every preview is a picture of a cat.
Anyway, that's from an Angelique Chengelis article featuring O'Korn's parents:
“He’s been chomping at the bit, there’s no doubt,” his father, Gary O’Korn, said this week. “He had the right attitude coming in — ‘This isn’t taking a year off, this is a year to prepare.’ He’s done well and Michigan demands that. That’s not something you really have a choice, but mentally this was where you decide, ‘Am I going to go through the motions or put myself in position to get serious?’”
By all accounts it is the latter.
Important hair update. Reuben Jones is coming for De'Veon Smith's crown:
Hydration = pic.twitter.com/AG20TMKqjC
— Michigan Football (@umichfootball) February 29, 2016
Etc.: Dan Murphy article comes with Nick Baumgardner picture that captures his soul.
Via his instagram:
"Trust in the lord with all your heart and not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight" Proverbs 3:5-6 It's game day and I can't wait to watch my brothers ball tonight! I wish I could be there, but unfortunately I can't. I'll be back soon though, but in the mean time I know they will hold it down! Let's get it tonight, go blue 〽️
We have a little inside information here: it's not his hamstring and it's probably just a one-week issue.
Upon Further Review still has a sponsor.
Let me further emphasize the fact that pants are entirely optional when you go with HomeSure Lending. I mean, it's not like Matt has anything against pants. You want to go with pants, you go ahead. If you want to go with a mumu or board shorts or whatever, also fine. He can't see you. Also, excellent rates. He may have wanted me to emphasize that instead of the pants.
FORMATION NOTES: Michigan went heavier in this game. I did not this week but in the future I am going to start specifying H-backs like Butt in this shot:
While TEs lined up next to other TEs are often H-backs in the offense I'm going to reserve the H designation for either the above or instances where there is a tight end near the LOS but tucked inside the edges of the line.
Michigan also had an under-center version of the diamond formations that Oklahoma State and other spread teams started implementing a year or two ago:
Generally the diamond had a tailback with a tight end and the fullback in front of him. In fall camp there was the occasional rumble of these formations featuring all tailbacks. Not yet; that would be something they hold for a tenser outing, I think.
I had no idea what to call this goal line formation with the FB and RB next to each other.
And if I call something "tight bunch" this is generally what I mean:
That's a TE, FB, and WR in the bunch. Harbaugh loves throwing out buckets of formations with 2 RB, 1 TE personnel. In the Utah game this was very frequently a pitch sweep; Michigan broke that tendency in this game by running off-tackle- ish at the bunch.
FWIW, I am designating Houma and Kerridge as FBs and listing all other blocky catchy types as TEs.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: OL was the same as it was against Utah: Cole/Braden/Glasgow/Kalis/Magnuson. Braden got dinged and left for a play or two; David Dawson entered in his place. That's not a huge surprise but there were a couple rumbles that Blake Bars might be the first guy in the game. That may be the case if a tackle goes out; it's apparently not the case at guard.
QB Rudock; RB was Smith almost the whole way until the fourth quarter, when Isaac and Green got the stress-free time. Isaac did spot Smith at various times in the first three quarters.
WR was the same rotation between Darboh, Chesson, and Harris on the outside. Perry got less time but I think that was more an effect of playing a lot of tight ends than anything else. Moe Ways got scattered snaps as well.
At tight end, every available one played except Khalid Hill. No idea what's going on with him. Fullback was mostly Kerridge until late when Houma came in to impress us all with his running and hair; Kerridge reportedly had a stinger.
[After THE JUMP: we can has manballs?]
9/13/2015 – Michigan 35, Oregon State 7 – 1-1
AND YOU WILL KNOW HIM BY THE TRAIL OF DEAD [Eric Upchurch]
When Michigan got the ball back up 28-7 in the fourth quarter, the game was already over. Oregon State hadn't budged on offense since their first drive. If they were going to push towards making it a game it would have come after they intercepted Jake Rudock; instead they went nowhere and punted. That punt was waving the white flag, something Michigan fans have gotten used to over the last couple years.
Michigan took that flag and rammed it down Oregon State's throat. At one juncture they hit a bit of a snag and had to employ Ol' Skillet Hands Ian Bunting to get past the obstruction; afterwards it was smooth sailing. The end result was a 14-play touchdown drive featuring 13 runs and no trace of the Beavers' flag of surrender unless you want to count a palpably uncomfortable crimp in the Beavers' gait.
I used to think that was boring.
Back in the long long ago when "This Is Michigan" meant "this is an unstoppable factory of offensive linemen and tailbacks who will go too high in the NFL draft," they'd get the ball back from a reasonable team and proceed to do to the fourth quarter what time-lapse photography does to glaciers. It was a pleasant sort of boring, to be sure, but it was also a signal that the football had concluded. All that was left was to hear the muffled squeaks.
Part of the reason it was boring was that it was unsatisfying. I came of age during the Moeller era, when Michigan dropped four games a year, and except for the occasional deviation when Michigan had a killer defense(1997, 2006) games that featured boa constrictor drives like Saturday's were false positives. The most bonkers stat about the Lloyd Carr era is the one where the team was more likely to win if it entered the fourth quarter with a small deficit than a small lead, but #2 is that during Lloyd Carr's tenure Michigan finished in the top 30 in yards per carry once. You'd think a run game featuring Mo Williams, Steve Hutchinson, Jeff Backus, and Anthony Thomas would be able to crack the top 30 by accident. Not so much.
Carr's teams were consistently good and had an amazing knack for getting off the mat, but there was a persistent frustration in the fanbase. It felt like Michigan was not getting the most out of its talent. When Rich Rodriguez came in, he had three functioning offensive linemen, a freshman and a walk-on at quarterback, and freshmen everywhere else. That his 2008 team's ground game would have been one of Carr's better ones was evidence enough that the frustration was warranted.
So I was encouraged by the general splattening of a bad team; I was more encouraged by the fullback traps that saw Sione Houma thunder through the line trailing a wildfire of hair. Harbaugh's run game is diverse and weird. By the end of that game Oregon State didn't just feel physically beaten but also confused as hell.
You can't just line up and do the one thing you're good at a lot and expect to succeed anymore. Harbaugh doesn't do that. It can look like he's doing that, but his run game is closer to Paul Johnson's than Lloyd Carr's. Johnson is constantly tweaking his blocking schemes. If you stick to one pattern to defuse his flexbone option he will eventually send one of his guys in a different direction and all of a sudden there's a dude ripping down the sideline. Harbaugh uses all those tight ends because they give him the ability to add gaps where defenses don't expect them—and this goes double in an era when teams are increasingly reducing their options on the interior.
Michigan is on a long path to being both good and confusing. If the coach has a nuclear meltdown on the sidelines—because he's right about something—as an amuse bouche, all the better. Of course, it does not do to get ahead of ourselves. They're not going to be able to do this against top-end defenses right away. We saw that against Utah.
Saturday wasn't the opening credits to this year's movie. But as a preview of coming attractions it felt pretty pretty good.
Yet To Be Named Harbaugh-Themed Guys Who Did Good Award.
you're the man now, dog
#1 Chris Wormley deployed beast mode on a sack that was a yard or two away from a safety, had two or three other TFLs depending on what mood you catch the official scorer in, and generally nosed in front of an otherwise killer defensive line.
#2 De'Veon Smith spent most of the game picking members of the Oregon State back seven out of his teeth.
#3 AJ Williams had a 20-yard catch and, more important, was one of the key guys blowing the perimeter of the Oregon State defense off the ball. Really. I am all about how AJ Williams played in this game, pending UFR review.
Honorable mention: Pick just about any defender. The offensive line in general.
5: Chris Wormley(#2 Utah, #1 Oregon State)
3: Jake Butt (#1, Utah)
2: De'Veon Smith(#2 Oregon State)
1: Willie Henry (#3, Utah), AJ Williams (#3 Oregon State)
Who's Got It Better Than Us Of The Week
For the single individual best moment.
Oregon State offers Michigan a free touchdown by sailing a punt snap yards over the punter's head just before halftime. That this was the culmination of a series of mishaps directed by the angry gods of probability only adds to the mirth.
Honorable mention: Michigan's 13-run, 1-pass game-sealing drive. Ol' Skillet Hands trucks a defensive back for an important first down. Rudock finds Smith for a fourth and five conversion. Any of a half-dozen runs on which you will know De'Veon Smith by the trail of dead.
Utah: Crazy #buttdown.
Oregon State: #tacopunts
MARCUS HALL EPIC DOUBLE BIRD OF THE WEEK.
Wait: let's talk about this. Epic Double Bird is pretty epic. But is Harbaugh Meltdown epic? Should we change this? Let me know. Anyway:
This week's worst thing ever.
Michigan, already down 7-0 early, busts a blitz pickup. Jake Rudock has nowhere to go with the ball and gets blown up on the sack. He fumbles, Oregon State recovers, and a certain Brady Hoke feeling descends on events.
Honorable mention: Ridiculous missed Darboh endzone PI, the roughing the punter penalty that caused Harbaugh to go nuclear, most of Oregon State's opening drive.
Utah: circle route pick six.
Oregon State: Rudock fumbles after blitz bust.
[After THE JUMP: TOOT TOOT]