to play football, not to play trumpet
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.]
“Nice to see everybody. I just spent a nice 45 minutes over at the Weber’s with the M Club of Ann Arbor. Now I get to be here with you to follow that up. It doesn’t get any better!”
What have you seen from your offense so far, and what do you like about the competition?
“What I love about the competition is that…oh, where you talking about offense?”
“It’s been good. Intense competition, which it always is on a football team. There’s a great deal of honor and satisfaction to be one of the 11- a starter. Competition for those roles has been intense, as you would expect. Offensively, defensively, and on special teams.”
Any updates on the quarterbacks?
“I was informed that our competition for Thursday night’s ball game, Utah, would be sending us their official depth chart Monday, and in the interest of fair and healthy competition we will also send our official depth chart on Monday as well.”
Does that mean you’ll have made up your mind by Monday, or are you still hashing it out?
“Like a lot of positions there are some that are very close, some are closer than others, some are still being competed for, and some positions there’s individuals that are ahead. To give you an example, the kicking position is very tight right now and still playing out. At some positions it might continue into the ball game itself. Yeah. I think we’re getting a good idea of things, whether it’s even, close, or someone’s ahead at this point.”
Is it important for you to tell your QBs or team who that is so they can rally behind that one guy?
“To the team? Yeah, I think that’s something that’s been ongoing and that takes place.”
I don’t know if you-
“And they do. They do. It’s been a tight, close competition. Especially at that position.”
[After THE JUMP: “You can also say we really enjoyed each other’s company in a football fashion”]
- Sione Houma had a procedure done and will be recovering over the spring. He’s expected to be back for summer conditioning and fall camp.
- Khalid Hill and Drake Johnson are also injured and not participating in spring practices.
- The first practice went well; Harbaugh thought the whole day was great “with a capital G.”
- The coaching staff is still in the process of asking questions themselves; how to get better, what scheme fits the personnel, what players fit what position, etc.
- Harbaugh said nothing has been determined as far as players switching positions, so take the initial depth chart with a massive grain of salt.
- Harbaugh declined to comment on freshman ineligibility
“I have no opening statement. I wasn’t expecting a press conference. If anybody has any questions I’d be glad to attempt to answer them.”
How’d it go?
“Good. You know, it’s good to start. Feel like when you start you have- you can lay down a benchmark of where you are and it gives you a place to go forward from. It gives you a place to improve from [and] things to get better at.”
Talk about how you go about building competition in practice with some of the things you implement.
“Uh…some of the things we do to build competition? I mean, it’s football. It’s a very competitive sport.”
Are there things you do to encourage guys to…
“I’m sure there are. I’m sure there are. I don’t really have that list in front of me right now.”
You said you wanted to find out what their intent was in winter conditioning. Were you pleased with some of the results?
“Yes. Team’s in very good shape. Kevin Tolbert and his staff did a very nice job and the fellas did a nice job. You could see that throughout practice that the team’s in good condition and that gives us a fighting chance.”
Do you know how much of an install you want to do this spring versus just evaluating the guys and getting a feel for the team? Do you know how you’re going to balance that at this point?
“We’ll do both.”
How long is the evaluation process going to be?
“Daily. Every day there’ll be an evaluation process on every player in every drill. That’s on-going. That’s always.”
[After THE JUMP: the first day of spring practice, or New ThanksBirthMas]
[Note: there were no microphones for media so I can’t get the questions verbatim from my recording. Instead I’ve gone with the gist of the question.]
“Thank you. Good to see everybody. Thanks for coming out today. Exciting day for us as a football program, for the families, and for the youngsters who work so hard to earn a football scholarship and to see that hard work come to fruition today is a very exciting day. We’re very pleased with our class. Very proud, really, and I think everybody that loves Michigan is going to be proud to call these youngsters their own.”
On how difficult it is to come in late in the recruiting process:
“It wasn’t difficult. It was a real joy. It was a real pleasure. Just the things that I learned about some of the players that were already committed under coach Hoke and his regime, and they did a tremendous job.
“You talk about some of those guys- Andrew Paul David. And his confirmation name is John, if you were wondering. Andrew Paul John David. You pretty much got the gospel covered right there. Grew up a Michigan fan. Great love of Michigan.
“Tyree Kinnel, somebody who was handed a Michigan football at birth, was committed here.
“Also, John Runyan Jr. I was told he wore a Michigan onesie when he was a year old.
“People have a love and passion for Michigan football. Grant Perry’s another who recently committed here and signed today. Grew up and Mark’s dad- Mark was a record-setting receiver in the state of Michigan. Over 13 records. But he grew up like me, Grant did. In the shadow of Michigan Stadium, getting autographs from football players and basketball players, dad was a coach. Mark was telling me that he’d bring Grant to practice and as a seven-year-old he always found a way to get a helmet, be running routes, [and] doing amazing things with the football at every practice that he went to. A winner. That’s what I’m really excited about in this class. Those two things; a lot of youngsters that have a real deep desire to be at Michigan and have won, and in Grant’s case he’s won at everything he’s ever done going back to little league baseball, basketball, and football, including three state championships at Brother Rice along with Alex Malzone, who’s also in our class.
“Did I tell you Andrew David was a really good short stop? Heck of a baseball player, too.”
[After THE JUMP: the pickle quote]
11/30/2014 – Michigan 28, OSU 42 – 5-7, 3-5 Big Ten
In one of last year's season preview posts I wondered if Michigan was going to end up on the wrong side of the war after Hoke's hire. I got piles of crap for this take from people waving Stanford anecdotes around. I think a lot of people read "pro style can't work" when what I'm saying is "it's clearly less likely to." I'm not going to turn my nose up at Jim Harbaugh no matter what he wants to run. Wing-T? Yes, sir.
Anyway: the crux of that argument was that if you think running a spread makes your defense soft when you have to play Wisconsin, the corollary to that is that if you're not preparing for spread elements daily you will struggle when you go up against them. For the most part this held true during the Hoke era (if I say "tempo" you will dive under a couch), and never more so than against OSU.
Statistically, Michigan has had a defense somewhere between good and terrific under Greg Mattison. Ohio State looks at that and says naw:
- 2011: 34 points, 376 yards, about two feet from another 70 yards and game-winning points.
- 2012: 26 points, 396 yards. A decent performance, year one of Meyer.
- 2013: 42 points, 526 yards. An obliteration.
- 2014: 42 points, 416 yards. Seven of those points are via a defensive TD.
These were all slow games featuring a lot of running and a lot of Michigan dawdling. This year's version of The Game had just nine OSU possessions, which is the practical minimum. Anything played at a Pac 12 pace would have been ugly.
Michigan had a vaguely acceptable performance once in four years, and two of those games featured freshman OSU quarterbacks who weren't even supposed to be the starter preseason. Hell, this game featured an eighty yard drive led by the third string QB.
The whole "Big Boy Football" thing is all the more galling since OSU has consistently ground Michigan into paste without bothering to throw the ball much. OSU QBs have thrown an average of 20.5 passes against Michigan in the Hoke era, and I'd guess about a half of those were screens and easy stuff in the flat. With most of the rest downfield bombs, OSU's offense avoids turnovers while simultaneously being lethally efficient. If the spread does get your QBs hurt more often—something that's been hard to confirm with numbers—that's not something that has affected Ohio State. Cardale Jones came in and sealed the game.
OSU is running twice as much as they're passing against Michigan and averaging 6.1 yards a carry. These are Rodriguez-at-WVU type stats, the kind that blew me away when I was looking at his track record after his hire.
The funny thing about the Danielsons of the world is that they're old school RUN THE DANG BALL types, but they manage to sidestep the fact that forcing the defense to account for a running quarterback is the best way to run the ball. I can think of no better way to make this point than a chart from back in 2008 that compared Michigan's YPC in year one of Rodriguez to the previous seven years of Lloyd Carr:
Threet and Sheridan and no linemen and they still ended up above average. Michigan would easily top 2006 from 2009 to 2012. Lloyd Carr could talk about running the ball. His teams couldn't do it, at least not well.
I want to run the ball. I want to run an offense that doesn't ask the QB to make complicated reads, but rather asks him to make a decision about one guy. Hoke was a mistake for a thousand reasons, but prime amongst them was his "we're gonna run power" crap after he'd never been able to do that anywhere else.
Michigan spent the 2011 game running the inverted veer wrong and they still put up 40; that this had no impact on his approach speaks volumes about Hoke's lack of quality as a coach. Bo made the shift to a modern passing offense when he had to. Saban is grudgingly moving in that direction: I was watching the Iron Bowl on Saturday and Herbstreit made multiple references to how Alabama was now a no-huddle team. They found themselves down multiple scores in the second half and ripped off five straight TDs in short order.
The game moves; move with it or die. Michigan chose hidebound traditionalism on the field and whiz-bang idiot modernism in the pageantry. The former is a natural reaction after you get burned. The latter is a natural consequence of hiring a pizza marketer.
But can we learn? I would like to learn. Rich Rodriguez blew it here, and he learned. He dumped his defensive staff, got Jeff Casteel back, and is headed to the Pac-12 championship game with a freshman QB after having beaten Oregon in back-to-back years. This is our opportunity to do something right this time.
Unfortunately, Michigan's current coaching staff is going on recruiting visits today when they should be taking a day with a bottle of scotch before polishing up the old resume. I have no idea what they're supposed to say on these visits.
RECRUIT: Aren't you guys getting fired?
COACH: Almost certainly.
RECRUIT: So why are you here?
COACH: I'm like a corpse still twitching. Held in this hellish no-place, I pine for my soul's release and reincarnation as the offensive coordinator at a D-II school.
COACH: You said it.
Florida knows what's going on; Tulsa knows what's going on; Illinois knows what's going on. Michigan doesn't. Comparisons to Nebraska are invalid. Michigan's not 9-3, and no one is going to be blindsided by Hoke getting axed.
Poke the Russia Today outlet in the Michigan e-sphere and you'll hear that it's about Doing Right By The Staff and that it's about Keeping The Pressure Off Harbaugh; neither of these explanations make any sense. That coach doesn't want to be on that visit. He wants to be looking for another job. Harbaugh speculation does not start with, or even focus on, Michigan in NFL circles.
I can't see a reason to drag it out, but here we are, dragging it out. The guy in charge may be competent but he has no track record. We're stuck here hoping this guy is actually qualified and that things turn out for the best. Maybe it will. Forgive me if I have a tendency to look on everything this department does as a mistake.
That's' going to be a tough habit to break, but here's a suggestion: act like a collection of people instead of a committee for once and acknowledge that there's no good way for this to go down. The first major Brandon warning sign was when he infamously took two days of meetings to fire Rich Rodriguez when that was a fait accompli.
[After THE JUMP: offensive line ups and downs, clock lol, etc.]
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]