"Jim's a tough guy and you can see his personality is all over this football team," Fitzgerald said.
You're going to have to bear with me on the offensive UFRs this year. The last time I saw a traditional gap-blocked, regular-ol-QB offense for anything more than a one-game debacle was ten years ago. That was the first year I did UFR and most running plays of that sort were deemed "another wad of bodies" because I didn't know what I was looking at. Since then:
- Two years of Debord running almost nothing but outside zone
- Three years of Rodriguez running inside and outside zone with a little power frippery
- Two years of Hoke trying to shoehorn Denard Robinson into a pro-style offense, giving up, and running a low-rent spread offense
- Al Borges's Cheesecake Factory offense that ran everything terribly
- Doug Nussmeier's inside zone-based offense.
I've seen plenty of power plays. Most of them were constraints that could be run simply and still succeed because the offense's backbone was something else. The rest were so miserably executed that they offered no knowledge about what power is actually supposed to look like. I watched a bunch of Stanford but not in the kind of detail I get down to with the UFRs.
One thing that I am pretty sure I think is that the popular conception of power as a decision-free zone in which moving guys off the ball gets you yards is incomplete. Defenses will show you a front pre-snap. You will make blocking decisions based on that front. Then the defense will blitz and slant to foul your decisions and remove the gap you want to hit. If you do not adjust to what is happening in front of you then you run into bodies and everyone is sad.
What Stanford was great at was running power that was executed so consistently well that it was largely impervious to all the games defenses played. This requires linemen who are downblocking to think on their feet, maintain their balance, and stay attached to guys who may be going in directions they were not expected to. It requires everyone off the line of scrimmage (tailback, fullback, pulling G) to see what's in front of them and adjust accordingly.
Michigan did a bad job of this against Utah. They also got blown backwards too much, complicating decisions for the backfield. The latter was not a problem against a much weaker Oregon State outfit. The former was much better, and that's the most encouraging thing to take from this game.
Here's an example. It's a six yard run in the first quarter on which Oregon State sends a blitz that Michigan recognizes and thwarts. There's no puller on this play; I think it was intended to be a weakside iso that ends up looking not very much like iso because Michigan adjusts post-snap.
M comes out in an I-Form twins formation; Oregon state is in a 4-3 that shifts away from the run strength of Michigan's formation. They are also walking a DB to the line of scrimmage:
By the time Michigan snaps the ball this DB is hanging out in a zone with no eligible receiver while both WRs get guys who look to be in man coverage. This is not disguised well unless the highlighted player is Jabrill Peppers and can teleport places after the snap:
He's going to blitz and the DL is going to slant to the run strength of the line. Michigan will pick this up, and I wonder if they IDed the likelihood of this pre-snap. No way to tell, obviously.
On the snap both the FB and RB start to the weak side of the formation; you can see Erik Magnuson start to set up as if he is going to execute a kickout block on the defensive end:
With the blitz and slant from the Oregon DL that's not going to happen. Each Oregon State DL has popped into a gap. Kerridge is taking a flight path to the gap that would normally open between Magnuson and Kalis, the right guard, on a play without this blitz. Without the blitz the DE would be the force player tasked with keeping the play inside of him; Magnuson would have a relatively easy job as he and the DE mutually agreed on where he should go.
Here the DE threatens the play's intended gap. Magnuson can't do anything about that. The D mostly gets to choose what gap they go in, and it's up to the offense to roll with the punches.
Michigan does this:
A moment later Magnuson has changed his tack from attempted kickout to an attempt to laterally displace the DE using his own momentum. Kerridge has abandoned the idea of hitting the weakside B gap and is flaring out for the blitzer.
Now, this could be successful for Oregon State still. The slant got five Michigan OL to block four guys. Nobody got downfield; the slant got a 2 for 1. But their MLB has stood stock still for much of this play, and Magnuson ends up shoving his dude past the hash mark—+1, sir. This is a ton of space to shut down, and De'Veon Smith is the kind of back that can plow through you for YAC.
Smith fends off the linebacker with a stiffarm and starts gaining yardage outside; it could be a good deal more but Chesson misses a cut* and the DB forces it back, creating a big ol' pile:
Second and four sounds a lot better than second and eleven.
*[Drake Harris will later pick up a 15-yard penalty for a similar, but more successful cut block; the genesis of that flag is probably Gary Andersen doing some screaming at the official after this play.]
Items of interest
You don't get to pick the gap even if it's gap blocking. Defenses slant constantly, and often in a specific effort to foul the intended hole and pop the back out into a place where an unblocked guy can hit. Post-snap adaptation is a must for a well-oiled power running game.
Slants win if they suck away an extra blocker. I would be peeved at the MLB if I was Oregon State UFR guy. While Michigan adapts to the slant well enough to provide a crease for Smith, the blitz means Michigan had to spend a blocker on the defensive back and the MLB is a free hitter. He should be moving to this more quickly than he does.
Slants also tend to open up giant running gaps. Adjustments like the above will often lead to a defender running in one direction suddenly getting unwanted help from an OL. If the OL can redirect and latch on just about everyone is going for a ride here. Once Magnuson locks on and Kerridge targets the DB these are two blocks that are easy to win and Smith is going to have a truck lane.
Given how much space Smith has even a linebacker playing this aggressively who shows up in the gap might lose or get his tackle run through; Michigan's getting yards here, whether it's three or six or more if Chesson gets a good block.
In the past this site has seen arguments about whether meeting an unblocked safety at or near the line of scrimmage is a win for the offense or the defense. I have largely come down on the side of "that absolutely sucks," but when the hole is so big that the defender is attempting to make an open-field tackle it's a lot more appealing.
Michigan WRs need to be more careful with the cut blocks. You can cut a guy from the "front," by which the NCAA means the area from 10 to 2 on a clock. (Seriously, that's the way it's defined in the rulebook.) This was very close to a flag, and Michigan got one later.
I wish Michigan was running pop passes, as those are good ways to get defensive backs hesitant about running hard after plays like this. Maybe in a bit.
Kenny, when you first got here you were kind of thought more of as a punter. Did you ever think you'd be in the position where you'd be competing for and then winning this job as kicker?
Kenny Allen: "I've kind of always had it in the back my mind, but to be honest I didn't actually think that I would be pursuing the kicking job this much and then when the opportunity did arise it really started to become a reality."
How much in high school did you kick as well as punt?
KA: "I did everything in high school so yeah, it was kind of nice to get back to doing all three."
Kenny, how long did it take to settle into that role? Was it in the first game after you made some kicks?
KA: "Yeah, I think after the first game. After getting the first kick out of the way everything felt a lot easier. Kind of like a weight was lifted and then from then on everything was downhill, just smooth. Everything was a lot more comfortable."
Kenny, last week before the Oregon State game you got a full ride. Can you just talk about the timing of that?
KA: "Yeah, I’d say it's kind of ironic because I turned down a full ride from Oregon State coming out of high school, and then the week that we play them I’m put on scholarship here. So, it's just kind of nice to see that other people think I'm working hard and that I'm deserving of a scholarship. Yeah, it's nice."
[After THE JUMP: Allen, Blake O’Neill, Erik Magnuson, and Matt Godin]
back back back back not back (but there's another guy also back) [Bryan Fuller]
|Mason Cole||So.||Ben Braden||Jr.*||Graham Glasgow||Sr.*||Kyle Kalis||Jr.*||Erik Magnuson||Jr.*|
|Logan Tuley-Tillman||So.*||David Dawson||So.*||Patrick Kugler||So.*||Blake Bars||Jr.*||Juwann Bushell-Beatty||Fr.*|
It got better. It really did. The OL nadir is in the past. We can come out of the bunker and rebuild society now.
By any reasonable metric it in fact got a lot better. Michigan's YPC leapt 1.3 yards, going from 11th in a 12-team league to 8th in a 14-team one. If you only look at Big Ten stats Michigan is still 8th, and that's in the division that had the MSU, OSU, and PSU defenses. Sacks allowed had a near-identical improvement, going from barely better than Purdue to a spot in the respectable midsection of the conference. Advanced stats saw something similar. Michigan finished 50th in adjusted line yards*, 32nd in power success rate, and 72nd in adjusted sack rate. And that's with the running backs going the wrong direction constantly.
None of these numbers stand out, but neither do they linger in the seedy parts of the list next to Temple and Penn State and Louisiana-Monroe. They were average-ish. Most of the time they felt average-ish.
That's not a bad place to be with zero seniors and just two upperclassmen. While the unexpected departure of Jack Miller puts a small dent in the front's depth, his likely replacement, Erik Magnuson, is a redshirt junior who came in as a touted recruit and has a season's worth of starts to his name already. If you're willing to fudge a bit, Michigan has five starters back from that okay line. They've replaced Brady Hoke with Jim Harbaugh and Darrell Funk with Tim Drevno.
Could they be… good?
*[A stat that weighs the first few yards you get heavily and discounts long runs in an attempt to get a feel for how the line is doing.]
Cole coped [Eric Upchurch]
Rating: 3 of 5
Last year I gave this a 1 because Michigan was staring down a starting lineup consisting of a true freshman and a third-year guy who didn't even get a sniff during the chaos of 2013. They seemed to acquire these positions almost by default since the only other tackles on the roster were freshmen (redshirt or true) regarded as huge projects. Or they were starting at guard.
The 2014 edition of this post took a quick gander at what happened when football teams started freshman tackles. It was almost universally ugly. The best case scenario was Ole Miss, which deployed ultra-blue-chip Laremy Tunsil as a true freshman and was middling in both YPC and sacks allowed. All others trundled their way to seasons that were more or less disastrous.
Michigan was not disastrous last year. In what is certainly a first for offensive line projections in recent history, that prediction was pessimistic. MASON COLE, the true freshman, just about hit the top end of reasonable projections, those being:
The occasional freshman tackle can cope. I think Cole is one of those guys. But is he going to blow a guy off the ball and provide a big ol' lane at 292 pounds? Probably not. Our hope here is that Cole is a solid, agile pass protector in year one who is a meh run blocker.
Mason Cole coped. This is what that looks like in the run game according to UFR:
|App St||9.5||2||7.5||A fine debut|
|Notre Dame||4||2||2||Didn't seem overwhelmed at all.|
|Miami||8||5||3||Okay; also had one very bad pass pro.|
|Utah||3||2.5||0.5||Nice seal block ignored.|
|Rutgers||5||5||0||I'll take it.|
|Penn State||1.5||5||-3.5||Hull and Zettel bad matchup.|
|Minnesota||4.5||2.5||2||Overpowered a little but still okay day.|
|Indiana||3||0.5||2.5||Didn't mess anything up.|
It was rougher in pass protection, where I have had him for 16 protection minuses in 8 games. Those are worth about half a QB pressure/sack each. Otherwise things were pretty okay against non-elite defenses. Cole's debut season was… eh.
When it didn't go well, the usual reason was that Cole got blown backwards because he was a true freshman. These were the kind of things that were happening against Zettel and company:
This was a game in which Cole's inexperience and lack of big skrongness really hurt. Here Butt gets an excellent shoulder spear on Zettel, knocking him off balance. This should provide ample opportunity for Cole to step around and wall Zettel off, creating a crease Smith will hit trying to beat a safety for a big gainer. Instead Zettel comprehensively wins:
Cole got whipped on the Norfleet catch that put Michigan in position for the winning field goal; Michigan was fortunate that ball went to the WR instead of getting knocked anywhere.
Ennui prevented me from charting him against Joey Bosa, but I've gone back and rewatched the OSU game. Cole was okay. By the second half of The Game Ohio State decided that they should either blitz outside of Bosa and send him against the interior line (which only kind of worked) or have him go at Ben Braden (which very much worked). Don't get me wrong, Cole did get beat. It was a struggle; it was not one in which he was completely overwhelmed.
All of that is terrific for a true freshman. Cole grabbed the job, held the job all season, and played reasonably well. There has been not a whisper that he would go anywhere except for a blip during spring practice when he was playing center, that because Glasgow was suspended and Michigan was figuring out if he could play there a la Barrett Jones. All practice reports have held that he is a sure thing, greatly improved, etc. 247 heard this from multiple people in a 24-hour window:
Mason Cole has unsurprisingly established himself as a rock at the left tackle spot, and is primed to be the next great four-year starter to play the position.
Cole's added 13 pounds and should make a major leap in year two, what with the rare true-freshman-to-true-sophomore OL transition coupled with the general HARBAUGH.
That will probably still leave him short of dominant. Michigan's most recent really good left tackle, Taylor Lewan, took off in his third year. In year two Cole should slash the protection issues considerably and do okay against the better defensive ends in the league. A year like early Graham Glasgow—reliable, somewhat short on raw power—would set Cole up to be excellent as an upperclassman.
[After THE JUMP: four-ish additional returning starters who happen to be upperclassmen already]
Podcast? Yes. We couldn't record it yesterday because of Easter obligations. We will tape it this evening. It should go up tomorrow.
Missed it? It's on the tubes.
Ours got more attention than normal because it was so early.
The Michigan offense in one picture [Patrick Barron]
Rome was not rebuilt from atomized dust in a day. It was not good, obviously. People will tell you that the defense is supposed to be in front of the offense at this juncture… but not that far in front. When they say that they mean something like "it was a little ugly and they only ran for like three yards a carry." They mean that the final score was 17-10 or thereabouts.
They do not mean that the only offense of the day will be Amara Darboh catching fades against Poor Damn Dennis Norfleet, a 5'7" guy who hadn't played defense in college until being tested there this spring. The overall feel was reminiscent of the legendarily terrible 2008 spring game, which I didn't even go to because it was held at a high school to facilitate Michigan Stadium's renovations and still remember as the first "oh shiiiii" moment in the Rodriguez era.
To some extent this was all expected. Michigan fans have been debating between a true freshman, a guy who had 3.2 YPA last year, and a redshirt freshman who did not play. They were going up against a defense that has been pretty good the last couple years (until collapsing in exhaustion at the end of games). It was never going to be pretty.
But did it have to be that ugly? Bler!
Quarterbacks: come on down Joliet Jake. Morris was anointed the #1 QB coming out of spring by none other than Harbaugh himself, and that seemed about right after the spring game. That it did so after Morris went 11 of 24 for 5.6 YPA would have me purchasing bags of dehydrated food, water purifiers, and shotguns if not for the 99% official transfer of Iowa starter Jake Rudock to Michigan. Rudock may not be a conquering hero… but he will probably feel like one.
Malzone, the great (if vague) hope going into spring, did not look ready to challenge for the throne. I'm not on board with the arm strength complaints just yet, as those seemed to be generated by a wide receiver screen Lewis tried to jump but did not, giving up a first down on 2nd and 19 (in this game the equivalent of 2nd and Canada).
I may come around in the near future. The constant short stuff was disappointing: even his attempt at a game-saving two minute drill featured five yard hitch after five yard hitch. He did have one nice dart downfield that Chase Winovich dropped…
a linebacker linebacks even when he tight ends [Bryan Fuller]
…but that stands out as just about the only attempt Malzone made to get the ball down the field. There were a lot of doomed WR screens in there. And that two minute drill… oy. They got about 20 yards before time ran out. This is a tradition I would like to leave in the past.
One thing I'll say in Morris's favor. He's got that fade down pat. One got intercepted because Darboh didn't wall off and extend away from a defensive back and a couple more got dropped; the rest save one were completions, and I think Morris ended up leaving that one short because he got hit. The rest were on the money, in that space outside the numbers and inside the sideline where the receiver has space to play with and can detach from the DB.
That's a good location to have down, by the way. It's tough to throw and thus tough to get to for a lot of defenses. Deep outs, smash routes, corners, and those fades all end up in that general area. It's the location on the field that is the reason NFL teams go cuckoo for cocoa puffs when they find a Mallett type. Morris can buy himself a lot of leeway if that throw is as consistently accurate as it felt like on Saturday.
a lot of this [Eric Upchurch]
Run game: I don't know. Ty Isaac was all but out (he's credited for one carry I don't remember), so the Malzone team's tailback was Wyatt Shallman (12 carries, 22 yards) with spot duty from Ross Taylor-Douglas*. Shallman is more of an H-back in college and it showed.
Meanwhile, both Ace and I assumed that Derrick Green had been mostly held out with an injury of his own only to find out that he and De'Veon Smith apparently split carries down the middle. It's just that Green's 7 went for 8 yards and Smith's 7 went for 50.
Smith had a sequence early in the second half where he ran tough and his offense started getting some actual time on the field. That ended with a fumbled exchange, because of course it did. Smith never fumbled in high school and hasn't done so in college yet so that issue is probably a freshman-QB thing more than anything Smith did wrong.
If Michigan knew Isaac was going to be limited they should have swapped Green over to the Blue team to get a better feel for the competition between those guys. Either way it was a good day for Drake Johnson.
*[who has now completed his tour of all the positions you can play on a football field and can turn in his punch card for a free bag of Combos.]
The one good run. Cole gets a good push on Henry, Kugler seals away, RJS and AJ Williams battle to a stalemate, Cole gets to the second level, and Smith makes a nice out-in cut to put the other linebacker on the wrong side of the hole:
gif via Ace
If Michigan develops holes on the regular I think Smith has an advantage because his ability to grind out another two or three yards will be valuable in the Harbaughffense.
L to R: back, under threat, trying out [Bryan Fuller]
OL depth chart hints. Glasgow was back and playing center as if he had not violated his probation; the program said he'd gotten through whatever punishment the program had deployed for him. If he keeps his nose clean that should clear him to resume playing center this fall.
Meanwhile Michigan tried out Logan Tuley-Tillman as the left tackle on the blue team, bumping Ben Braden inside to guard. LTT picked up three legit holding calls; even so that implies that he's getting a serious look and Braden may move or lose his job. Erik Magnuson playing right tackle for the Maize team is another indication that the tackle jobs are not secure.
A scholarship guy who might be looking at some writing on the wall is Dan Samuelson, who was healthy enough to make the roster but IIRC did not play much, if at all. With a couple walk-ons seemingly ahead of them they might be down for the count. Bars (who I omitted from the rosters post by accident did play, at guard:
He is 62 next to Kugler [Fuller]
If you made me guess right now I'd say that Erik Magnuson is Michigan's starting right tackle this fall and that guard slot opened up by the various line shifts is the most heated competition out there. But that's firmly in wild guess territory.
Wide receivers: do we have a problem? There were a number of ugly drops, none more so than Jaron Dukes batting a ball in his facemask directly skyward for an interception. Morris zinged it with unnecessary force, yes. That's still a worst case scenario for a receiver. Dukes had another sorta drop later and doesn't seem like he'll be pushing past the established guys this year.
Elsewhere: Darboh had a drop and a fade wrested away from him but recovered late to be the Blue team offense. Going up against Dennis Norfleet significantly compromises that accomplishment, especially since most of the plays were "throw it over that guy's head," but Darboh did display strong hands and an ability to track the ball in flight in a difficult situation. Some people can do that (Junior Hemingway), and some cannot (Darryl Stonum). Darboh is in the former category. Can he get separation from the likes of Jourdan Lewis? I don't know—one downside of this format.
Receivers other than Dukes and Darboh were playing with Malzone and barely got targeted on anything notable. This year's spring hype machine, Brian Cole, was not a factor until deep into the second half; Freddy Canteen made a couple of nice catches on balls outside the frame of his body. There was not a whole lot else to talk about.
There was a notable lack of separation for receivers going up against actual defensive backs. That could be bad; it could be an indicator that the secondary is going to be as lights out as we all hope. As per usual, we'll find out abruptly in fall.
Poor Damn Norfleet. In the aftermath Harbaugh talked Norfleet up as a guy who could contribute in all three phases. Nope. The act of moving a guy his size to cornerback is waving a white flag on his career.
I mean… maybe not. Harbaugh is weird and one of the specific ways in which he is weird is his predilection for flipping guys from one side of the ball to the other. This could be a Harbaugh whim that doesn't mean much about playing time down the line. But it probably means that Norfleet is kaput. We'll always have that
punt return touchdown to seal the Maryland game inane irrelevant block in the back by someone far away from you.
BEARD. This is not Elliott, right? This is some other spectacular beard just hanging out on the sideline?
This is one Brady Hoke tradition I'm glad we're keeping.
News bullets and other items:
Hoke found out from Brandon that he would be resigning on Friday
Hoke will have a meeting with Hackett “sooner than later”
Peppers is getting better but isn’t where he needs to be, and Hoke said he’d “…have something soon” on the situation. Read between the lines and it doesn’t look good for Peppers returning to the field this season
Erik Magnuson “could” stay at TE, but he’s also first in at LT, LG, or RT if needed
Hoke referred to a Devin Funchess toe injury when talking about Darboh getting increased opportunities, so if you’re reading this congratulations, the universe somehow hasn’t collapsed into itself yet!
Hoke isn’t worried about his job. He says if you worry about it then you get distracted from the job itself, and that he’s never been worried about employment
“Thanks for coming. Number one, sorry I was late. I hate to keep you waiting. It was good to win last week. It's always good to win. That’s kind of redundant and obvious but for really how these guys of practice, how they prepare it's always good to be on the right side of the scoreboard when they do that. I thought when you look at how from both sides of the ball they played together it was truly a team win because we came over a little adversity. Defensively really thought guys played well up front. Tackles for loss I think we had 12 so the negative plays, that helped. Offensively 184 yards rushing, which is 5.3 I think it was per rush. Nice to see to be able to end the game to be able to possess the ball. They only had 53 or 54 defensive plays so opportunities weren't there because of time of possession. We did set up some short fields with the two fumble recoveries and that was very positive, but like anything else it's nice that you’re balanced and that's what we were but we've got another game on Saturday with Northwestern. We look forward to that. Came in and got some things done yesterday when you look at it more from a health standpoint but it's exciting to go to Chicago and play Northwestern.”
Has Erik Magnuson’s role change on an ongoing basis or was that something you did for one game because you were short?
“No, I think that something that we could stay with. Obviously it was we were short a little bit but he's a good athlete as far as a left tackle what he can do some things and I thought we put him in No. 81.”
Can you talk about the progression of your guards and how they’ve kind of gotten better as the year’s gone on?
“I think that’s- I think Kyle Kalis. A little concerned early in camp because he had a back issue that flared up and we were a little concerned about that but I think because a lot of it is his toughness and how he loves to play the game. I’ve been happy with him. He's going to get us a false start once a game it seems like, where we’ve got to do a better job and he's got to do a better job and he is, but the physicalness he’s played with has been good. I think Graham [Glasgow] over on the left side I think has been very good for us. I just think the development of all those guys has improved and Graham's played center a little bit at times.”
What is your reaction to Dave Brandon stepping down?
“Well, I think the one thing is I have a lot of respect for Dave and from a reaction standpoint he did a lot of good things for the University and now I'm really excited to work with Jim [Hackett].”
Have you met with Jim?
“I saw him after the game briefly. Just briefly.”
Did he talk to you about-
“No, it was just happy with the homecoming win, all that kind of stuff.”
Coaches are often tied to an AD. Does this make you any more concerned?
“You know, I've never been concerned about a job and I never will be because if I get concerned about a job then you get distracted from it. I threw brake drums on the assembly line for Dayton-Walther during the summer and I was never concerned because I knew I was going to outwork everybody. For this if I get distracted then I'm not being fair to those kids who haven't been distracted, so I've never, ever worried about employment.”
[After THE JUMP: bristling at player (under)development accusations and an ominous Peppers progress report you probably guessed weeks ago]
FORMATION NOTES: Hello tiny TEs. Michigan used a lot of formations where they would bring a wide receiver tight to the line to act as a blocker. Here's Chesson in what I called "pistol biggish," because it's only big-ish.
For its part, Miami ran an under front whenever presented with seven blockers for the opposition, and about 90% of the time brought a safety down late or just lined him up in the box.
This press look was not common.
Miami would roll that safety down before this snap, FWIW.
Michigan used a lot more under center stuff in this game. Under center stuff was approximately 55% of the offense after being maybe 20% against ND, and there were a lot of tight ends. Only about 40% of Michigan's snaps had 3 WRs, again way down from ND.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: Line static: Cole/Magnuson/Miller/Glasgow/Braden. I saw Kalis in for the last drive, and I thought I saw him earlier in the game live but either I missed it in the film review or my mind was playing tricks on me. 61/67 are not easy to distinguish. Burzynski got in at the tail end at left guard.
Gardner QB; RB mostly Green, with less Smith and Hayes relegated to third down duties and some late stuff. Johnson did not appear. Mo Hurst(!) got a goal line FB snap. Showy, but a dollar says Kerridge is more effective. At TE, Butt got a little bit more time but it was still mostly Williams and Hill, with Heitzman again appearing sporadically.
Without Funchess, Darboh and Chesson were the main guys at WR, with Norfleet marginalized with a ton of 2TE sets. Damario Jones got about as much playing time than Canteen, making the first catch of the game.
[After THE JUMP: yards, eventually, and yet more infinite RB discussion.]