As you may have noticed in today's game column, I'm trying a new format for GIFs: gfycat, which load faster, have much better quality, and allow you to do stuff like speed up or slow down playback if you click through. I hadn't switched over before because uploading and tagging was cumbersome; now the program I use has integrated that entire process. Today's post mostly features the old format as I do a test run with a few gfycats. If all goes well, I'll do the complete switchover next week. Feedback is encouraged.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the Maryland game in GIFs.]
11/5/2016 – Michigan 59, Maryland 3 – 9-0, 6-0 Big Ten
It actually wasn't any of the deep shots that really caught my attention. It was a slant to Darboh. Play action, linebackers suck up and recover, too late. Wilton Speight fired a rifle shot into Darboh's hands that allowed him to continue without breaking stride. I thought oh no, I have to say this is happening, because that was approximately the sixth eyebrow-cocking throw of the afternoon.
So. This is happening. Here is that column I couldn't write earlier this year. I am writing it now, after three games in which Speight has averaged 12 yards an attempt, after various stats have rejiggered themselves into eye-popping arrangements three-quarters of the way through the college football regular season, after Jim Harbaugh asserted that Jabrill Peppers wasn't the only Michigan player who deserved your Heisman consideration and was met with thoughtful recalibration instead of laughter.
You've seen it with your own eyes on spins out of the pocket and inch-perfect deep balls as Speight continues to refine the high school version of himself into a cross between John Navarre, Ben Roethlisberger, and a production of Swan Lake staffed entirely by bears. At one point Speight scrambled for a touchdown and did some sort of insane flying ballerina move as he crossed the goal line.
wheeeeeee this is fun I didn't know I could move faster than a koala
Your eyes are like "did I just see that" and your spleen is like
I DON'T KNOW!
YOU'RE THE LOOKING PART!
I JUST SIT HERE AND GET NERVOUS SOMEONE'S GOING TO PICKLE ME!
because spleens are like that man. Just venting, like Jim Harbaugh failing to get an extra yard on review after picking up second and thirty-four.
BALDERDASH [Eric Upchurch]
Since your eyes are clearly not up to the task of confirming or disconfirming what the hell is happening at the most important position in football, here are some numbers. They are rather optimistic given that said eyes spent half the season worrying Speight was going to sink Michigan when crunch time came around:
- Speight's 8.9 YPA leads the Big Ten by almost a half yard and is 11th nationally.
- His 15-3 TD/INT ratio is second in the Big Ten to JT Barrett (21-4).
- His passer rating is now five points clear of Perry Hills for best in the league and is 14th nationally.
- He's fifth nationally in ESPN's QBR metric, which accounts for rushing yards and SOS.
- S&P+ now has Michigan's passing attack third(!) in the country.
That latter measure filters out garbage time and attempts to adjust for schedule strength. For that to be an improvement on the raw numbers is rather something. A major reason is that they've played S&P+'s #3 (Wisconsin), #8 (Colorado), and #15 (Penn State) defenses. They got lucky with Penn State's linebacker issues, but Michigan kept Garrett Sickels in check just fine during that game and he was rampant against OSU.
Speight was again mostly clean in this game but hardly noticed pressure except to spin out of it and make something productive of it, whether it was a bomb to Chesson or a seven-yard scramble that is probably still ongoing or finding the guy who blew the protection for a first down. His receivers certainly help. But this was a game where he lost a fifty-yard completion to an offensive pass interference call and still posted ludicrous numbers.
Is Wilton Speight elite? I don't know, man. This is a considerable improvement from "lol no" before the bye week and is trending in a spectacular direction. His last 72 attempts are elite, and with every game he moves towards a simple "yes." This is the second straight year a Michigan quarterback has muddled around for half a year before an exponential explosion in competence.
In addition to all the other ways Jim Harbaugh is a difference maker as a head coach he has this. There is no better quarterback coach in football. Every one of his charges exceeds expectations. Often when he or they move on the player in question never recaptures his form. Is Wilton Speight elite? Ask again later. Is Jim Harbaugh elite? Cumong man, that's not even worth asking.
This team no longer feels like an elite defense with an offense scraping by, a la 1997. With Speight dropping bombs on all comers, it feels like... I have no idea. No Michigan team in my experience has spent an entire season bombing everyone they come across. Michigan has three top fifteen wins and the only reason any of those was within three scores was Kenny Allen having a miserable day against Wisconsin. You'd have to go back to the 70s to find a Michigan team that can end almost every game it plays in the first half.
Bo never managed to complete his task, because his quarterbacks were never state of the art. Jim Harbaugh emphatically does not have this problem. Ohio State? Bring 'em on.
Known Friends And Trusted Agents Of The Week
you're the man now, dog
#1 Wilton Speight had the greatest first half in the history of Michigan football quarterbacking, per statistics and Jim Harbaugh. He finished with an absurd 15 yards an attempt and is now the Big Ten's clear leader in passer rating and YPA; he also ran(!) for a touchdown that he finished with weird ballerina flair(!!!).
#2 Jourdan Lewis never gets on these lists anymore because for the most part nobody is trifling with him. A hat tip to Maryland for multiple shots down the sideline resulting in 3 PBUs, zero completions, and one uncalled OPI.
#3 Taco Charlton almost literally does not show up in the box score. He got a half sack and no other tackles. Do not let this color your opinion of his game: dude was on fire, repeatedly hammering into the backfield when Maryland ran inside and getting pressure on just about every dropback only for his friends to clean up most of it.
Honorable mention: Jehu Chesson had a breakout game with 112 yards; Jake Butt is now Michigan's all-time leader in receiving yards from a tight end; Deveon Smith managed 6 YPC with a long of 14, which is super hard to do; Maurice Hurst was a constantly disruptive presence; Ben Gedeon had three TFLs and did an excellent job on the edge.
10: Wilton Speight (#1 UCF, #1 Illinois, #3 MSU, #1 Maryland)
9: Jabrill Peppers(T2, Hawaii; #3 UCF, #1 Colorado, #2 Rutgers, #2 MSU)
5: Ryan Glasgow(#2 UCF, #1 UW).
3: Mike McCray(#1, Hawaii), Ben Gedeon(#3 Colorado, #3 PSU, three-way T1 Rutgers), Amara Darboh(#1 MSU), Jourdan Lewis (#3 UW, #2 Maryland), Taco Charlton (three-way T1, PSU, same vs Rutgers, #3 Maryland).
2.5: Karan Higdon(four-way T2, PSU, #2 Illinois).
2: Jake Butt(#2 Colorado), Kyle Kalis (#2 UW), Chris Wormley (three-way T1, PSU, same vs Rutgers),
1: Delano Hill (T2, Hawaii), Chris Evans (T3, Hawaii, four-way T2, PSU), Maurice Hurst (three-way T1, PSU), Devin Asiasi(#3 Rutgers), Ben Braden (#3 Illinois).
0.5: Mason Cole(T3, Hawaii), De'Veon Smith (four-way T2, PSU), Ty Isaac (four-way T2, PSU).
Who's Got It Better Than Us Of The Week
This week's best thing ever.
The throwback bomb from Peppers to Speight to Chesson was entirely unnecessary, entirely awesome, and caused a purported journalist to descend into a hissy fit.
Also a great throw on a route that's not as open as it could have been on a trick play.
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.
Rutgers: Peppers presses "on".
Illinois: TRAIN 2.0.
MSU: lol, two points.
Maryland: very complicated bomb.
MARCUS HALL EPIC DOUBLE BIRD OF THE WEEK.
This week's worst thing ever.
Either Channing Stribling whiffing on a reverse he'd put himself in great position on or Mike McCray getting juked and edged by Lorenzo Harrison, because both of those incidents confirmed issues from the Michigan State game and indicated a weakness in this defense.
Honorable mention: Maryland breaks the shutout with a field goal; Speight turfs a bubble screen to Peppers that would probably have scored; Michigan gets stuffed on fourth and short; that one time they almost punted.
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.
Rutgers: you can't call back the Mona Lisa of punt returns, man.
Illinois: They scored a what now? On Michigan? A touchdown?
Michigan State: a terrifying first drive momentarily makes you think you're in the mirror universe.
Maryland: Edge defense is a confirmed issue.
[After THE JUMP: Happy Maryland fans.]
Jake Butt, De’Veon Smith, Delano Hill
Jake, just talk about what [the TE receiving yards record] means to you and how Wilton’s been playing here down the stretch.
“Yeah, Wilton had an unbelievable game again today. He just keeps coming through for us when we need him most extending plays, breaking tackles, and then finding guys downfield. He’s doing a hell of a job for us, and it’s great to see [from] Wilton because without him—you need a great quarterback to succeed the way we are and Wilton’s doing a great job for us.
“As far as the record goes, it’s hard to even take in. At such a historical program like this, to be up there as the number one guy—and I want to get the touchdowns and receptions now, too, but I just want to give credit to my teammates more than anything, honestly. It’s a collective effort. It’s not a one-man record, it’s a collective effort: the O-line, the receivers, the running backs, the coaches, the defense, special teams. It’s not a one-man job, so credit to those guys.”
Kind of going off that, ‘The team, the team, the team’ attitude is starting to really show itself more and more as Jim’s been here and as you guys continue through the season. Today’s another effort. De’Veon, when you look around at the guys in the locker room after the game, what’s that moment like? What is that signal that ‘Guys, we got this going and we’re really rolling right now.’ Do you feel that way?
“Definitely. We all believe in each other. We believe in our defense, and I know for a fact when I look in my huddle I believe in every single one of those guys and they believe in me. It’s just a great feeling, and after we get a win we go in there and high five each other, give each other hugs…there’s no feeling like the feeling we have right now, and I’m not going to take it for granted.”
[More after THE JUMP]
Whether passing or running, Wilton Speight dominated the air. [Bryan Fuller]
Dominance is the new normal, and this team knows it.
"There's no feeling like the feeling we have right now, and I'm not going to take that for granted," said De'Veon Smith, who rushed for 114 yards and three scores on only 19 carries.
"The yards he got after contact were real eye-opening. He's real tough to get down," Jim Harbaugh said, in perhaps the understatement of the season thus far.
Even with that production, Smith accounted for a mere fraction of Michigan's total output. That total: 660 yards on an even ten per play and a few more entries in the program record book. Wilton Speight broke a school record with 292 passing yards in the first half; he'd surpass his career high less than five minute into the third quarter. Speight finished with 362 yards and two touchdowns through the air and added a ten-yard scramble capped with a leap into the end zone.
"Statistically and just the eyeball, that's the best half of football I've ever seen a Michigan quarterback play," said Harbaugh. "Moving and throwing and accuracy and just extending plays, all of the above. I don't know how you play better."
"There was one throw that wasn't a great throw. Other than that it was a perfect game."
"Wilton had an unbelievable game today," said Jake Butt. "He keeps coming through for us when we need him most."
Butt made some history himself. On a five-catch, 76-yard day, he surpassed Jim Mandich as Michigan's all-time receiving leader among tight ends. Butt said it was "hard to take in" that he broke Mandich's record.
"You talk about [Ron] Kramer and Mandich, [Eric] Kattus, some tremendous tight ends have come through here. I know I'm leaving some out," said Harbaugh. "Most catches, most yards for a Michigan tight end is a great accomplishment."
Jehu Chesson, meanwhile, had a bounce-back game, hauling in five catches for 112 yards and one of the easier touchdowns he'll ever have when Maryland let him slip behind the defense. That was a bit of a theme; Michigan's first score came when Amara Darboh was all alone on a post route, and when the backups took over, Kekoa Crawford found himself similarly forsaken and caught his first career touchdown for the final score of the day.
Harbaugh was "bewildered" by the call marking Chris Evans short of the end zone. That's one word for it. [Eric Upchurch]
For the offense, there was little to complain about, save a couple calls that didn't go Michigan's way. Drake Harris had a long catch negated by a ticky-tack offensive pass interference call, and Chris Evans got marked just short of the goal line after a spectacular juggling catch and weaving run through the Terrapin defense.
"It offends my football sensibility in all ways that he didn't get a touchdown," said Harbaugh, who threw his hat several yards in the air after the call. "I think that would offend the football gods, as well."
Michigan mostly didn't need offensive contributions from Jabrill Peppers, but they got an early highlight when Peppers took a pitch, then threw it back to Speight, who launched a 40-yard bomb to Chesson. Peppers had a couple carries for 19 yards and added another TFL to ever-rising tally on defense. Asked after the game if he was trying to bolster Peppers's Heisman candidacy with "flashy" plays on offense, Harbaugh said he's simply utilizing Peppers as he should be utilized.
"It's just happening organically. It happens au naturale. He just does so much," said Harbaugh. "It doesn't have to be a forced thing. Au naturale." With a chuckle, Harbaugh added that his quarterback should perhaps be under consideration for the Heisman, too.
Whether on offense or defense, Peppers's contributions are "au naturale." [Fuller]
Despite holding Maryland to 367 yards, there were some worrisome moments for the defense. The Terps had a clear gameplan to test Michigan on the edge with outside runs and tunnel screens, and those plays found success—Mike McCray and Channing Stribling, in particular, had tough games holding trying to hold those plays down. Maryland nearly had a touchdown on a tunnel to DJ Moore at the very end of the first half, but Dymonte Thomas kept the play in front of him long enough for McCray to chase him down from behind; the clock expired with the Terps on Michigan's one-yard line.
Those deficiencies will get plenty of attention over the weeks to come, and Ohio State's coaching staff surely took note. That shouldn't totally overshadow an otherwise dominant outing from the defense, though. Maryland averaged just 2.7 yards per carry; the non-screen passing game was non-existent; the Wolverines had three sacks and ten additional TFLs. As in seemingly every other contest this year, Michigan knocked the starting quarterback out of the game, and Caleb Rowe was a clear downgrade from Perry Hills—he threw two interceptions to Delano Hill that Hill deemed "gifts" after the game.
A road night game at Iowa awaits. While that looked like a huge test entering the season, it now appears to be another golden opportunity for Michigan to make a statement to not only the conference, but the entire country. They're two more dominant outings away from having everything to play for in The Game.
Don't take it for granted.
SPONSOR NOTES: Matt reminds me that there is some chatter that the Federal Reserve could finally raise rates in the near future, which would be bad for your mortgage.
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: Michigan broke out the 'bone a couple times:
That is a bonafide flexbone. One of these snaps was a jet sweep, the other a trap that coulda shoulda worked in the fourth quarter but for McDowell blowing Cole up.
Pistol diamond with MSU in their very standard arrangement:
4-3 over, two safeties sitting at 8-10 yards, on damn near every play.
Late MSU did split their LBs and blitz them as they threw the kitchen sink at M in an attempt to get the ball back.
But it was mostly "here we are running quarters."
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: Starting line with the Braden/Bredeson left side for the second straight game, Speight your QB. Peppers got six wildcat snaps and one as a WR; Morris got thee QB/FB snaps. JBB got five snaps as a TE-type substance.
Darboh led the way at WR with 54 snaps; Chesson had 40 and Harris, Crawford, and McDoom got the scattered remainder. Poggi and Hill again split FB snaps about down the middle. Smith got 60% of the RB snaps with Higdon and Evans splitting most of the rest; Isaac was only used on four snaps, three of them sweeps.
Butt got 57 snaps as the primary TE; Asiasi (31) and Wheatley (18) also got significant action. Bunting was briefly on the field as well.
[After THE JUMP: three quarters of up and down the field followed by (correct) turtle time.]
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.