Erik Magnuson, Kyle Kalis, Jake Butt, and Chris Wormley
For the Ohio guys especially, is this the biggest game you’ve ever played in your career to date?
CW: “I think so. It’s #2 versus #3. It’s for a Big Ten championship berth. Big game.”
JB: “I second that.”
EM: “I’m not from Ohio.”
Pretty well documented the struggles the program’s had against OSU in the past 10 or 12 years. How important is it for you guys to end that and get Michigan [?]?
JB: “It’s not as important to win this game for what’s been going on in the past, what’s been going on the past 11, 12 years. Really, we just need to win this game for what we have in front of us right now, and that’s all we’re focused on is we have an unbelievable opportunity to go on the road and compete against a really good team. Everything’s on the line right now. Our whole entire season’s on the line, so we need to win the game for that reason.”
I have a similar question: to be a great rivalry both teams have to win, and that hasn’t happened. How much do you guys need to win not only for yourselves but knowing Michigan has lost 11 out of 12?
KK: “Again, I don’t think you can focus that much on the past, especially when it’s this type of game coming up. It’ll be a big game. We’re definitely going to put in the work this week to prepare ourselves for it. I can’t wait to go out there and just play with all the guys. It’ll be the last time we play together as a team in a regular season game against Ohio State, so it’s gonna be a lot of fun.”
[Guy identifies himself as being from a Columbus newspaper] The Jim Harbaugh we see, that we just saw about five minutes ago, would you guys know that side? How is that different from the Jim Harbaugh you see?
CW: “Compared to what you guys see?
EM: “Michigan reporters only.”
KK: “Yeah, no comment.”
EM: “I’m sorry, I’m just kidding. I think he’s probably very similar to what you guys see. He’s as real as they come. The media kind of paints a bad picture of him sometimes because of his antics like going after referees and stuff like that, but he’ll fight to the death for his players. He’s a player’s coach in that aspect and he’s somebody that you’d run through a wall for, but he’s pretty similar to what you see. In everyday life, that’s who he is.”
[Hit THE JUMP for a good Jabrill story and a lot on the personalities of great coaches]
Previously: Offense Part I.
SEASON PREVIEW TAKE: Jehu Chesson was given top billing as the preview went with on-field production and Chesson's trajectory over Amara Darboh's offseason hype, but both guys were declared real real good. Chesson was expected to be a complete WR and off the board in the first couple of rounds of the draft; I was skeptical about Darboh's ability to get deep on folks.
Grant Perry was projected to be a solid third option, and nobody knew anything about who would emerge from the backups. Eddie McDoom was given a shout.
NUMBERS AT THE HALFWAY MARK: A pile of blowouts and profusion of tight ends has made for uninspiring numbers. Seventeen different Wolverines have caught passes, including three different fullbacks and five different TEs. Meanwhile the starters have been on the bench for most of the second half in each outing.
Darboh has indeed emerged as the top wideout with 25 catches for 400 yards; his 9.5 yards per target is an impressive number, and he's on the end of a quarter of Speight's passes. Chesson has 15 catches for 231 yards and has had some iffy plays on balls downfield, though he's been hurt by bad throws. Chesson's also got seven carries for 44 yards.
Here ends significant WR contributions. Perry has six catches, McDoom three, and Kekoa Crawford one. McDoom's been a frequent jet sweep runner.
FEELINGSBALL: This is what happens when you're hammering almost all your opposition and your quarterback is struggling mightily in the two games (Colorado and Wisconsin) in which second-half passing won't be interpreted as a slap in the face. The wide receivers have been hamstrung by the situation.
It has been a mild disappointment that both starters have failed to high-point a number of passes that weren't perfect but were good enough to force a PI or result in a spectacular catch. On the other hand, WR blocking has been excellent on Michigan's many crack sweeps.
UP OR DOWN OR EH: This unit gets an incomplete.
SEASON PREVIEW TAKE: Jake Butt is the best receiving tight end in the country, Ian Bunting is set for a breakout, and look out for the Kaiju brothers, Ty Wheatley Jr and Devin Asiasi... but probably next year. Since we also cover all blocky/catchy types in that post, fullbacks Henry Poggi and Khalid Hill were both mentioned as potential X factors since they obviously had a lot of potential as blockers but had targeting or technique issues.
NUMBERS AT THE HALFWAY MARK: Butt had two inexplicable drops early and has since been Jake Butt. He's since recovered to post a 71% catch rate per S&P+, which is excellent, and 8.3 yards per target, also excellent for a tight end. His blocking was alarming to start but has settled in at "decent," which is a minor upgrade on last year. Bunting was playing a bunch but had not been featured; he's missed the last couple games with an undisclosed injury.
Meanwhile Hill and Poggi have grabbed the rest of the targets here. Hill's caught all eight balls thrown his way and is averaging the same 8.3 yards per target that Butt is. While some of that is scheme, Hill has made a couple of difficult catches.
FEELINGSBALL: Meanwhile in things that don't pick up numbers: blocking. Butt is a bit better than last year, and the fullbacks have improved a great deal. Hill has had a few spectacular blocks where he blows through a linebacker without slowing and then gets to a third level player; these don't show up except in UFR and PFF, where Hill is clearly preferred by both metrics. I've been more enthused about Poggi than PFF; he's cut out most of the targeting issues that plagued him last year.
Meanwhile, Asiasi has emerged over the last few games. Against Rutgers most big runs featured Asiasi moving a DL and then popping out to blast a LB or DB. He's got a combination of power and agility that make him effective against just about anyone a defense fields, and at nearly 290 pounds his upside in this department is considerable.
UP OR DOWN OR EH: Asiasi's emergence over the last few games as a plus blocker—as a blocker who could be a difference-maker—is the main reason this spot feels like an upgrade over expectations. Khalid Hill whacking guys has also been an unexpected positive. Butt's been about what you expect.
SEASON PREVIEW TAKE: Meh. Mason Cole was projected to be a very good player. Grant Newsome was fretted over, largely because Ben Bredeson was pushing him for the job. Ben Braden and Erik Magnuson were declared acceptable offensive linemen with little upside. Kyle Kalis was an infinitely frustrating mauler who blew assignments all the time, but was declared an X factor because if he could just figure things out...
NUMBERS AT THE HALFWAY MARK: OL don't have numbers.
FEELINGSBALL: The line has been acceptable. Newsome, the projected weak link, was exactly that before the knee injury that ended his season. He had some pass protection issues but was not a revolving door; on the ground he was an able puller and decent enough at the point of attack. Magnuson has somewhat exceeded expectations as he's combined with Kalis to be a powerful right side of the line. Pass protection issues have lingered for him, though. He's somewhere between some preseason NFL scouting, which saw him as a potential high pick, and my "eh, undrafted FA" take from the preview.
The interior has been about as good as expected but the star has been Kalis, not Cole. Kalis did indeed cut out the vast majority of the mental errors and round into the mauling five-star guard everyone wanted him to be immediately out of high school. Cole, however, has struggled against zero-tech nose tackles. (Michigan has played an inordinate number of 3-4s early in the year.) While I think Colorado's Josh Tupou is just that good, Cole's impact has been muted at C.
Braden has clearly and vastly outperformed Bredeson at LG to the point where the only explanation for Bredeson's playing time is injury.
UP OR DOWN OR EH: The guys who started the season were actually a slight upgrade on expectations because Newsome was not a problem. However, Juwann Bushell-Beatty has been shaky in relief. He's been beat on edge rushes a ton; he's taken holding calls; he's been iffy on the ground. He looms as a potential issue down the road, so this is a sad injury downgrade.
As with yesterday’s Harbaugh presser, the lovely people in Rutgers’ Athletic Communications department provided us with transcribed highlights of the players’ press conference for your perusal.
Michigan linebacker/defensive back Jabrill Peppers
On his performance: “Whenever you get the balls in your hands you just wanted to make something positive happen. Today God had his hand on me today on some of those plays. I just have to give it up to the blocking and the coaching scheme. They set the guys up in positions to excel so we just went out there and handled business today.
On his reaction of the score at the end of the game: “Just wow. I’ve never been part of a victory this massive. But you still have to handle it with class and just keep improving for the next week. You can’t stay on your high horse. Our game against Rutgers is over so we just have to prepare during our bye week for the game after that.”
On Juwann Bushell-Beatty and his performance: “I was really happy for him. I know that he’s battle a lot of injuries and some weight problems. I’ve been playing with him since high school so I’ve seen him grow into who he is today. For him to start in front of the home crowd; I know he went down early but he got back up and was able to finish out the game. I was really excited for him.”
On what keep them going even after going up big: “You know, there are no backups. Every time you’re out there you’re expected to play like you’re a starter. We don’t look at the scoreboard. We just want to impose our will as fast and long as we can. I think the younger guys are starting to adapt to that. It’s up to us the veterans to set up that foundation. I think they’re starting to buy in and trust the coaches. We tell them that you have to play like you want to win the game until you win the game. This is college football and crazy things happen. It’s just our mindset.”
[After THE JUMP: Gedeon, Evans, Magnuson, Hill]
SPONSOR NOTES: Was talking with Matt at the Marlin tailgate on Saturday when he broached the idea of buying one of those tailgate trailers with TVs and whatnot for next year. I am strongly encouraging this idea in the sponsor notes of the game column because then I can watch more of the noon games. Do it for your country, Matt.
In addition to being a gentleman replete with Michigan tickets and possibly a trailer, 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: Just a couple of oddities other than the train. This was "Ace 3-wide offset." As you can see, the back is... offset.
And Michigan lined up in that formation with Chesson at TE again. Here he is running down the middle of the field.
These formations get appended with "WR hide."
PERSONNEL NOTES: OL and QB as you would expect, with Bushell-Beatty replacing Newsome when he got hurt. Michigan went much more WR-heavy in this game, with around 60 snaps for both Chesson and Darboh out of 77 possible. Perry, Crawford, and McDoom combined for another 38; with Butt near-omnipresent that meant Michigan was without a fullback for about half the snaps.
Smith got about 50% of the RB snaps with Evans and Isaac splitting the rest; Peppers got five snaps, four as a wildcat QB and one as a slot. Asiasi got 23 snaps as the #2 TE with Bunting injured; Wheatley and Michael Jocz(!) got 3 and 2 snaps, respectively.
[After THE JUMP: come on ride the train.]
10/1/2016 – Michigan 14, Wisconsin 7 – 5-0, 2-0 Big Ten
I was scared once.
Let's dispense with the I ain't scurrred talk: football is terrifying and brings you to your knees and you can either admit this to yourself or embark on a life of chest-puffing Brandon stuff. Michigan hadn't won a game against a top ten team in 12 tries. When they're tied deep into the second half after spurning a pile of opportunities to make it a contest that's only kinda-sorta competitive you're goddamn right the idea they'd lose a game to a team that might as well have started drives on third and eight was bowel-shaking.
Anyway. Channing Stribling fell over and Alex Hornibrook heaved the ball at his receiver. It seemed long from the get go and turned out to be long, but you never know. As that mortar arched back towards earth my annoyance momentarily morphed into terror, because this was the kind of game where 7-7 is a war and 14-7 is a surrender. That ball clanged harmlessly to the turf. Wilton Speight's deep shot to Amara Darboh did not.
Hornibrook negotiated terms shortly thereafter, and hello it is October and it's hard to see a loss on Michigan's schedule until what's looking a lot like Football Armageddon II. Bill Connelly's fancystats have Michigan a two-touchdown favorite in every game before The Game, and it's not hard to see Vegas issuing double-digit spreads until then. This is the elite team it is supposed to be, even if someone needs to hit the field goal kickers with a frying pan until they remember to put it through the uprights.
This is because of the defense. Many expectations were piled upon it this offseason, and all have thus far been redeemed. You've seen it with your personal sensory organs. I have as well. I have seen other defenses, many of them, and the sense of serene calm when Michigan punts has only been matched by 1997 and 2006 in my experience. Michigan passes the eye test. They pass the scouting test. PFF has seven different Michigan DL with 100 snaps charted and a grade of 75 or above, which is bonkers.
And they pass the computer test. As of today Michigan is the #1 defense in S&P+ by a furlong and a half:
The gap between them and #2 Florida is bigger than the gap between Florida and #10 Washington. They are first or second in any capacity you'd like to name, and complaints about schedule strength start to ring hollow when Colorado is lighting up everyone they come across with a backup quarterback who netted –4 yards against Michigan and Wisconsin ends up with half the yards they did against LSU or MSU.
Michigan's supposed weakness on defense isn't one, and everything else is coming in at or above expectations. People used to say things like "punting is winning" and mean them as something other than shots at Kirk Ferentz. That's because football used to look a lot like Saturday's game: trench warfare punctuated with one or two seismic moments. I have an old feeling, and a good feeling, about this football team.
With Iowa playing competitive games against Rutgers and Indiana going toe-to-toe with Michigan State, thoughts inevitably turn to the roadblock at the end of the season. The team has to take things one game at a time. I don't. I can take them six or twenty at a time. I can know the names of a couple of large men in the 2019 class at Belleville, because it's never too early to think about 2023.
So. This defense and the great roadblock. One of those previous defenses had a fatal flaw. One did not. The 2006 defense had one and a half excellent cornerbacks and no nickel package. Leon Hall would go on to a long NFL career. Morgan Trent had a cup of coffee in the league. Michigan went up against an OSU spread offense with Chris Graham as their spacebacker. This was part poor roster construction and part horrendous gameplanning; Michigan was put to the sword by Troy Smith.
You'd think that's in the past now, but just last year a good, if depleted, Michigan defense entered the OSU game with a plan to do the exact same thing they'd done the rest of the year and got ripped for 300 yards on the ground, yet again. The failures linger and give you pause when you project down the road, especially since this does not seem like a rebuilding year for the Great Satan. Worry, worry, worry.
Still, Jabrill Peppers is not Chris Graham. Michigan just crushed a manball team without taking their 210 pound linebacker-type substance off the field. They are not running a defense that tells you which guy is not going to play the run presnap. They have survived the first five games with a just couple of injury scares on the defensive line. I am thinking Michigan might be able to punt a lot and win, even down in Columbus.
Known Friends And Trusted Agents Of The Week
you're the man now, dog
#1 Ryan Glasgow forced Channing Stribling's second interception by hitting Hornibrook as he threw and spent the rest of the day tossing UW's poor center to the ground, whether it was run or pass. He didn't rack up many counting stats because of the nature of the Badger offense but he's in line for a big-ass UFR grade.
#2 Kyle Kalis was a pile-mover in a game that needed to move many piles. Michigan's run game was decidedly right-handed in this one, and Kalis didn't have the protection issues Magnuson did. The repeated zone reads with Peppers were an impressive demonstration of Michigan's ability to shoot a very good defense off the ball.
#3 Jourdan Lewis was only targeted twice. One was incomplete. One has been photoshopped into a nouveau Jumpman logo. In addition to those two incidents, Lewis had two excellent plays in run defense that shut down Wisconsin attempts to get to the edge.
Honorable mention: uh, everyone on defense. Amara Darboh was the main target on Michigan's second touchdown drive.
5: Jabrill Peppers(T2, Hawaii; #3 UCF, #1 Colorado), Ryan Glasgow(#2 UCF, #1 UW).
3: Mike McCray(#1, Hawaii), Wilton Speight (#1 UCF).
2: Jake Butt(#2 Colorado), Ben Gedeon(#3 Colorado, #3 PSU), Kyle Kalis (#2 UW).
1: Delano Hill (T2, Hawaii), Chris Evans (T3, Hawaii, four-way T2, PSU), Chris Wormley (three-way T1, PSU), Maurice Hurst (three-way T1, PSU), Taco Charlton(three-way T1, PSU), Jourdan Lewis (#3 UW).
0.5: Mason Cole(T3, Hawaii), De'Veon Smith (four-way T2, PSU), Ty Isaac (four-way T2, PSU), Karan Higdon(four-way T2, PSU).
Who's Got It Better Than Us Of The Week
This week's best thing ever.
Speight bombs one over the top to Darboh for the winning points.
Honorable mention: The Lewis interception.
Hawaii: Laughter-inducing Peppers punt return.
UCF: Speight opens his Rex Grossman account.
Colorado: Peppers cashes it in.
PSU: Wormley's sack establishes a theme.
UW: Darboh puts Michigan ahead for good.
MARCUS HALL EPIC DOUBLE BIRD OF THE WEEK.
This week's worst thing ever.
For the second consecutive week this is a key piece being knocked out, probably for the season. Grant Newsome took a cut from a defensive back that resulted in a knee injury "as serious as a knee injury can be" and Michigan has to find out what they've got behind him now.
Honorable mention: Wisconsin scores an actual touchdown; any of three different makeable field goals go awry; Speight gets picked off; Michigan takes 34 consecutive penalties on special teams.
PREVIOUS EPIC DOUBLE BIRDs
Hawaii: Not Mone again.
UCF: Uh, Dymonte, you may want to either tackle or at least lightly brush that guy.
Colorado: Speight blindsided.
PSU: Clark's noncontact ACL injury.
UW: Newsome joins the ranks of the injured.
[After THE JUMP: one bushel of beets please]
Erik, three QB rotation. There wasn’t any talk of bringing in the fourth on Saturday?
“I think we’re saving that for Big Ten [season].”
You’ve been around a lot, you’ve played a lot of games, you know the guys. What have you noticed relationship-wise with the offensive line and with Wilton?
“The core of this group of offensive linemen were here last year, so it’s just another year of us playing together so you bond over that. Wilton’s been a part of the team for three years, so we’ve all been with him and everything like that so it’s not like we’re just becoming friends now. We’ve been friends and had a relationship for a long time.”
How much has your sense of responsibility escalated?
“Any time you’re a veteran or an older guy on the team you have a bigger responsibility to play big all the time and lead the younger guys. I mean, I think even if you’re Ben Bredeson or you’re me or whatever it is, you still have the same responsibility to play well.”
Mo, your thoughts on how the defense has played through three games, and how hard was it sitting out?
“I think the defense has been doing very well. We’ve put together a lot in a little bit amount of time with Coach Brown. I think there’s definitely a lot of room for improvement. There were some mistakes that we made throughout the game that I think are definitely correctable and things that we can avoid going on in the future.”
Talk about the line’s development as a protection group. Is it tough when the quarterback gets hit like Wilton did on Saturday?
“Yeah, you never want to see your quarterback get hit. Our goal going into every week is give up no sacks, so anytime that happens, especially during the game, it’s frustrating, but you’ve kind of got to throw it behind you and move on.”
[After THE JUMP: GOIN’ PIGGIN’]