DEPARTURES IN ORDER OF SIGNIFICANCE.
- QB Jake Rudock. Iowa transfer was a jittery mess for the first half and Andrew Luck Jr for the second. Cracked 3,000 passing yards with good efficiency and a solid TD/INT ratio; ended year by dicing up three top-ten pass defenses. Will be missed unless Harbaugh just Harbaughs himself another excellent QB, which is Harbaugh likely.
- C Graham Glasgow. Three year starter was always good even if it was near-impossible to tell without going into UFR-level depth. Stepped up as a senior and was, IMO, an All Big Ten-level performer. Michigan has a couple promising options to replace him; don't underrate his loss.
- TE AJ Williams. Went from symbol of the flaccid Hoke era to symbol of the player development Jim Harbaugh brings to the table. Improved his blocking immensely, quadrupled career receiving stats, was no longer a one-dimensional tight end who did not actually deliver on that dimension, blew guys off ball with consistency. I don't think I've ever seen a senior get that much better since… Bennie Joppru? Probably Bennie Joppru.
- FBs Sione Houma and Joe Kerridge. Treated as a unit. Solid to excellent blockers both with Kerridge a capable receiver and captain and Houma a promising mooseback capable of juking Florida linebackers. Normally a position met with a shrug these days, it's a much bigger deal under Harbaugh. Henry Poggi returns but hasn't touched a ball in anger yet.
- As of yet unknown attrition. Departures are on the way. Some of those will undoubtedly be on offense. Guys not playing at WR, RB, and QB are likely to be amongst the departures. None project to have significant 2016 roles unless the wild Rivals rumor about a starting OL not being asked back pans out. I'm skeptical about that.
- TE Jake Butt. 654 receiving yards a year ago with two-count-em-two drops all year. Blocking was finesse but relatively effective. Smoked touted Florida CB on route in bowl game. Should be nation's top receiving tight end and get that Mackey award he was inexplicably denied this year. A bit more oomph on the ground would be nice.
- OL Mason Cole. Emerged into a top-shelf run blocker in year two. Pass blocking was generally good but there were struggles against elite edge rushers like Yannick Ngakoue and Joey Bosa. Smart, technical player could get moved inside if Grant Newsome is Michigan's #5 OL.
- WR Jehu Chesson. Comparisons went from Stonum to Breaston to Manningham over the course of the season. Multi-use threat effective as a runner, blocker, and increasingly as a receiver. 764 yards and 9 TDs despite being chronically missed for the first half of the season, plus a KOR TD and a number of jet sweeps that went a long way. Has his shit together.
- WR Amara Darboh. Avant comparisons were on point, as he amply demonstrated on that catch. You know. That one. Solid intermediate threat with excellent hands and a large catching radius. Avant-esque. Like Avant. Reminiscent of Avant.
- RB De'Veon Smith. Nuclear-powered icebreaker back was frustrating much of the year but great against the Gators. If proverbial click has clicked and he knows where to go most of the time can be prototypical Harbaugh back. Superior blocker; may get drafted at fullback part-time a la BJ Askew.
- OLs Erik Magnuson, Kyle Kalis, and Ben Braden. All thrown into the same lump because they were more or less the same guy. All had their struggles, particularly the guards; all had their successes. All are likely to get incrementally better as senior returning starters, but it wouldn't be out of the question for one of them to get knocked out of the lineup if Kugler and Newsome emerge or Michigan picks up Texas grad transfer Jake Raulerson.
- FB/TE Henry Poggi. Last year's version of early AJ Williams. Had one catch for two yards, did not carry the ball, was a blocker and only a blocker. As a blocker he was generally effective when he made contact with a person. He failed to accomplish this with understandable frequency since he was flipped from the DL in spring. Should improve significantly in that department but must be more of a threat to have the ball.
- RB Drake Johnson. Michigan's quickest back by far but career has been limited by injury.
- RB/WR Jabrill Peppers. Oh right that guy. In year two under Harbaugh should emerge as a guy who gets ten touches a game on a variety of screens, sweeps, and straight-up runs and throws.
WHAT'S NEW, OR CLOSE ENOUGH, ANYWAY
O'Korn is generally considered the leader at QB [Fuller]
Probably John O'Korn. Michigan's QB derby is currently a five-way battle that will add a sixth contender in Brandon Peters and maybe a seventh if Harbaugh goes back to the grad-transfer well, but after a season of scout-team hype anyone other than Houston transfer O'Korn would be a moderate surprise.
O'Korn is the platonic opposite of Jake Rudock. He is Ryan Mallett, more or less, capable of throwing for 3,000 yards as a true freshman and equally capable of going full Hackenberg on WR screens in an increasingly frustrating situation and getting deservedly benched as a sophomore. He is a big, strapping fellow with good wheels who can uncork pinpoint 40-yard passes on the run. He threw an array of insane interceptions and made other mistakes in bunches at Houston, but given a year of understudy under Harbaugh both the natural maturation process and the coaching upgrade promise big things.
Half the running back rotation. This space projects that De'Veon Smith ends up absorbing most of the carries from the fullback spot and plays enough RB to remain Michigan's leading rusher. That will leave about half the total carries available. Peppers, Karan Higdon, Ty Isaac, and freshmen Kareem Walker and Kingston Davis figure to scrap over the remainder.
Only Peppers is a lock to get a bunch of touches, because he is Peppers. The rest could go anywhere; Michigan fans are hoping the freshmen step up immediately. It could happen.
An offensive lineman, maybe two. Grant Newsome is a heavy favorite to be the fifth starter on the offensive line after Michigan burned his redshirt midseason so he could be a sixth OL in heavy packages. Newsome is an ideal left tackle, though, and Michigan has an incumbent. Look for Mason Cole to move inside, as his run blocking is considerably ahead of his pass protection.
It is possible that Michigan could mix things up more extensively if they feel their best five includes Patrick Kugler or Raulerson, potentially bumping Mason Cole to guard instead of center. If that happens it's probably a good thing.
Receivers and blocky/catchy types past the Big Three. We're filing Grant Perry as "new" since he made little impact last year except in the first and last games. In the former case that impact was massively negative; in the latter a pleasant surprise. Perry, Drake Harris, Moe Ways, and tight ends Ian Bunting and Khalid Hill will compete to fill snaps vacated by Williams and the departing fullbacks.
Unless there's an injury none will emerge into prime targets; the goal there is for Michigan to have guys ready to step in when Darboh, Chesson, and Butt all depart after next year.
WHAT'S ROD STEWART 1976
The peripheral nature of most of the previous section's bullet points. Michigan needs to find a QB, an OL, and half a running back. They have less to replace than 95% of D-I programs.
Three Amigos 2016. Butt, Darboh, and Chesson are a receiving trio that might be on par with the famous Braylon/Avant/Breaston set. If Chesson continues his development he is a legit #1; Butt probably would have been the second tight end off the board if he announced for the NFL draft; Darboh is a circus-catch wizard and burly possession guy to move the chains. Nobody in the league is going to have a set of pass-catchers like that.
Continuity. Hey look Michigan has the same coaching staff for the second consecutive year, running the same offense. They have the same players running it, for the most part. This has been a rare treasure of late.
Experience. Michigan projects to have seniors start at eight of eleven positions, and one of the exceptions is Mason Cole.
WHAT'S ROD STEWART 2016
how much better can these gentlemen get? [Upchurch]
Blocking upside. I thought Michigan had two very good offensive linemen and three guys who were meh. One of the very good guys is gone; the three meh guys are all going to be redshirt seniors. I'm not sure how much any of them will improve. I mean, they should improve, but the kind of leap Cole took last year from meh to very good is unlikely.
Similarly, I don't think Jake Butt is suddenly going to be a murderous blocker. This doesn't feel like a run game that gets amazing unless it was really all targeting issues.
WHAT'S HEISENBERG ROD STEWART UNCERTAINTY
The O'Kornininging, or Speightininging, or Whoeverining. New quarterback is always a worry, albeit less so when Jim Harbaugh is his quarterback coach. O'Korn has all the tools you could want and seemingly went to Houston because he was wild and unrefined. He could be Ryan Mallett or he could be Ryan Mallett, if you get my drift.
Will the tailbacks be any good? I'd give that position group a D for the year. Kareem Walker may not be the quick fix everyone was vaguely hoping for when they heard the #1 back in the country was going to decommit from OSU and flip to Michigan. Recruiting consensus on Walker has dipped to the point where he's a good, not great prospect. (This might actually be good for Michigan given the track record of five-star backs in Ann Arbor.)
Smith and Johnson gave a glimmer of hope in the bowl game, enough to bump this from bad to dunno.
MANDATORY WILD ASS GUESS
It all hinges on INSERT QB HERE. If he comes in hot and we get a year of Late Rudock production this should be an offense that takes a major step forward. Whoever does get the job is going to have a terrific receiving corps, solid or better pass protection, and Jabrill Peppers hanging around.
The run game is a bit of a question mark still. Michigan has no slam-dunk back and probably won't see their OL take a quantum leap forward. Real improvement is likely, though. Michigan gets four OL back and will have continuity, plus both returning tailbacks who played in the bowl showed major improvement.
For context, Michigan finished 30th in offensive S&P+ this year, 43rd on the ground and 8th(!!!) in the air. They should be able to push the ground number up 10 to 20 spots, and if O'Korn hits the ground running and maintains that passing number—somewhat tough but he'll be operating in a friendly environment—Michigan should get into the top 20 teams statistically.
I'd say maintaining the passing production is unlikely, but a quick glance at Jim Harbaugh's track record with quarterbacks suggests it is anything but.
1/1/2016 – Michigan 41, Florida 7 – 10-3, 6-2 Big Ten, season over
[Ruby Wallau/Michigan Daily]
On television, passes over a certain length are leaps of faith for the viewer. The quarterback throws it. Then there's a second or two before the intended target comes into focus. In that second you hope the guy is open or covered, depending on the situation. Maybe sometimes if you're lucky just plain expect something good to happen. For most of the year Michigan's defense has given fans the right to expect something at least reasonably difficult in those moments.
The offense hasn't quite managed that, even after Harbaugh found the right way to scream-pound Jake Rudock midway through the season. Also Florida's secondary is House of Cosby, except with Jourdan Lewis. So Rudock flung it up and for a moment there it didn't look too good. The arc was a bit high, the ball hung a bit long. Despite the recent surge I felt a wave of trepidation as this ball's parabola swung back towards Earth.
And then Jehu Chesson panned into view. Just Chesson, because Vernon Hargreaves was standing at the twenty yard line with an enormous animated question mark over his head. Chesson caught an uncontested touchdown that Rudock had punted up short on purpose, and the slow-motion rout was on.
A few months ago Michigan trundled to another one of those losses against Utah that are all pretty much the same depressing football game. In it, Chesson burned a corner on a double move almost as badly as he did Hargreaves. He downshifted as he neared the endzone; Rudock tried to make the perfect pass and ended up overthrowing a sure thing by a couple yards.
That was a theme of not only his junior season at Iowa but the first half of this year: Rudock would try to hit the perfect pass every time, and often this was just out of his reach. That tendency continued; it combined with an unfamiliarity with the offense to turn Rudock from an efficient, if beleaguered, game manager into a guy who barely completed half his passes and couldn't hit 6 YPA against UNLV.
There wasn't anything to be done about this. Rudock was in Ann Arbor to spackle over a quarterback recruiting sinkhole of epic proportions, and if he didn't work out he didn't work out. A shrug is all you can muster if the stopgap is in fact a stopgap.
Then f(Rudock) = 2^x
Ain't never seen anything like that before. One day, Jake Rudock was scuffling through a depressing transition season. The next he was keeping Michigan afloat as the defense scrambled in the aftermath of Ryan Glasgow's injury.
The Chesson touchdown, while easy, was the culmination of Rudock's year. That closed the circle from the Utah game. Later Rudock would dump a 45-yard post route in Chesson's lap to put a cherry on top.
My preseason assessment of Jake Rudock—I said he'd have "a season like last year at Iowa except more efficient: 60% completions, 8 YPA, excellent TD/INT"—was looking somewhere between laughable and pitiful halfway through the year and well I'll be danged:
Rudock finished behind only Nate Sudfeld in passer efficiency in the Big Ten, averaged nearly 8 yards an attempt, had a 20:9 TD:INT ratio, and led the conference with a 64% completion percentage.
Rudock ended the year against the nation's #4, 5, and 8 S&P+ pass defenses. His line in those three games: 64/101, 63%, 7.9 YPA, 6 TD, 1 INT.
I am going to repeat that. Jake Rudock's line against three consecutive top ten pass defenses: 63%, 7.9 YPA, 6:1 TD-INT.
Give Jim Harbaugh your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, and he will turn them into NFL quarterbacks. Give Jim Harbaugh your disjointed messes, your pitiful morale, your nonsense rosters, and he will put on a hard-hat and create a ten-win team. I think we just got done with the glide path. Now for a rocket and a match.
Known Friends And Trusted Agents Of The Week
you're the man now, dog
#1 Jake Rudock completed his in-season renaissance with a stunningly efficient performance against a third-straight top-ten pass defense. He also ran for some yards and gave a polished post-game interview. Destined to be a backup QB in the NFL for the next ten years.
#2 De'Veon Smith went full Ricky Vaughn in this game, demonstrating a greatly improved ability to read the game in front of him and quickness possibly borne of a recovery from injury. PFF credited him with 11 broken tackles; he crested 100 yards against a fierce run defense.
#3 Jehu Chesson toasted Vernon Hargreaves crispy on a touchdown, caught a tough 45-yard post route, had a catch-and-run conversion on which he was pulling away from the Florida secondary before a safety chopped him down, had a spectacular over-the-shoulder reception on a play he also drew a flag on, and then had the best catch of his life on a throw that took him about six inches out of bounds. Do I hear Manningham 2.0?
Honorable mention: Chris Wormley and Willie Henry had terrific days on the DL and are excluded mostly because the offensive players had a much tougher matchup. Jarrod Wilson ended his boring Michigan career with a boring interception and we love boring safeties and will miss him. Kenny Allen hit a couple chip shot field goals, blasted a punt that would have probably been a 70 yarder had the endzone not intervened, and hit Vernon Hargreaves so hard on a kick return that he forgot to cover Chesson a bit later. Mason Cole and Graham Glasgow were terrific on the ground and equally good against the pass.
13: Jake Rudock (#3 Northwestern, #1 Rutgers, #1 Indiana, #3 Penn State, #2 OSU, #1 Florida)
9: Jourdan Lewis (#1 UNLV, #1 Northwestern, #1 MSU), Jabrill Peppers(#2 BYU, #2 Northwestern, #2 MSU, #1 Minnesota)
8: Chris Wormley(#2 Utah, #1 Oregon State, #3 Rutgers, #2 Penn State)
6: Jake Butt(#1 Utah, #2 Rutgers, #3 OSU), Jehu Chesson(#2 Indiana, #1 OSU, #3 Florida)
5: De'Veon Smith(#2 Oregon State, #3 BYU, #2 Florida)
4: Maurice Hurst (#2 Maryland, #2 Minnesota),
3: Ryan Glasgow (#1 BYU), Desmond Morgan (#1 Maryland), Amara Darboh(#1 PSU)
2: Ty Isaac(#2 UNLV), Willie Henry(#3 Utah, #3 MSU), 1: AJ Williams (#3 Oregon State), Channing Stribling(#3 UNLV), Blake O'Neill(#3 Maryland), Drake Johnson(#3 Minnesota), Delano Hill(#3 Indiana).
Who's Got It Better Than Us Of The Week
This week's best thing ever.
Gotta be that touchdown.
— Ace Anbender (@AceAnbender) January 2, 2016
Honorable mention: That post route. De'Veon Smith finds a backside cut. Drake Johnson reverses direction on that draw. Treon Harris's ludicrous interception. Willie Henry eats a dude. Sione Houma befuddles a linebacker.
Utah: Crazy #buttdown.
Oregon State: #tacopunts.
UNLV: Ty Isaac's 76 yard touchdown.
BYU: De'Veon Smith's illicit teleporter run.
Maryland: Jehu Chesson jet sweeps past you.
Northwestern: Chesson opening KO TD.
MSU: the bit where they won until they didn't.
Minnesota: form a f-ing wall.
Rutgers: Peppers as Denard.
Indiana: Delano Hill seals it with a PBU.
PSU: Jourdan Lewis breaks their back on a kickoff.
MARCUS HALL EPIC DOUBLE BIRD OF THE WEEK.
This week's worst thing ever.
There are eight months until the next game.
Honorable mention: Early defensive hiccups.
Utah: circle route pick six.
Oregon State: Rudock fumbles after blitz bust.
UNLV: Rudock matches 2014 INT total in game 3.
BYU: BYU manages to get to triple digit yards in the last minutes of the game.
Maryland: Slog extended by deflected interception at Houma.
Northwestern: KLINSMANN OUT
Minnesota: The bit where the lost it until they didn't.
Rutgers: KO return given up.
Indiana: run run run run run run run run run run run run.
PSU: OSU's WHAT ARE THOOOOOOSE gameplan against MSU.
OSU: the second half
[After THE JUMP: a run game! Three Amgios 2016.]
Everyone’s talking about Jabrill this week, so what’s it like for you having him on offense? What does he do for you?
“Well, he’s very explosive. You can see when he gets the ball he explodes and it’s a great option to have to be able to work him into the offense and an opportunity for a few plays on the offensive side of the ball. If he does or doesn’t, it’s nice to have that club in your bag.”
I know you don’t get a ton of time with him, but is he special in the way that he can not spend a whole lot of time with the offense and still pick things up?
“Yeah. I mean, he’s a football player, so he’s got that DNA that you can kind of tell once he fixes a problem- just special. Great football awareness.
“It’s really- dealing with him is like dealing with a pro football player. He just kind of looks you in the eye and takes what you’re telling him, understands it, and then puts it into action. He’s just got great football awareness and great football savvy. He’s a football player. I’ve said that before, so it’s exciting to have him.”
Do you customize the playcalling based on whether Drake Johnson or De’Veon Smith’s in the game?
“No, we don’t. No, we don’t. We feel like they all have strengths and weaknesses, but we just call the game as we call it and put those guys in the best opportunity up front and the receivers and the quarterback so no, we don’t like specifically say, ‘Hey, do this, do that.’”
What’s Jake’s [Rudock] status at this point?
“He was good yesterday. He threw the ball around, breaking the huddle. He looked good. Looked good to me.”
You expect him to play?
“Yeah, absolutely, yes. Really do.”
[After THE JUMP: “We’re changing this thing, and it’s going in the right direction and we’re really pleased with where we are.”]
Upon Further Review still has a sponsor. I'm late today so I'm just going to tell you that Matt's a good guy and did my loan and Seth's loan and everything was easy and professional. We are associating our name with his and that is something we are very comfortable with.
FORMATION NOTES: There was… nothing weird? Apparently not. Michigan did run different formations than they had much of the year, with a lot more ace sets and early-down gun. M was split about evenly between I-form of some type, ace, and shotgun.
Here is an offset I for some reason.
This has been your federally mandated pre-jump picture.
Oh, FWIW: this was NW's defense the whole day. 4-3 under for the most part with two rolled-up cover 4 safeties. The linebacker type guy to the bottom of the screen is actually a corner; NW has shifted the LBs to the field and are running an over on this snap.
PERSONNEL NOTES: OL and QB per usual the whole way. Kerridge returned at FB, getting most of the time in front of Houma. RB was a profusion of different guys. Smith early, then Higdon, Green, and a little bit of Isaac and Johnson. Those guys missed time for different reasons.
WR rotation was about as per usual except with more three-wide formations we saw significant amounts of Grant Perry for the first time since the opener. At this point it's clear the rotation this year is Darboh, Chesson, Ways, Harris, Canteen, and Perry. Canteen missed this game for an undisclosed reasons. (If Michigan is going six deep with three freshmen and no seniors, the writing is on the wall for guys not currently playing.)
[After THE JUMP: I drop bows on 'em? Ohhhhhhh probably short for elbows. Now I understand rapism.]
“Who’s kicking us off? No questions? Okay, great!”
Thoughts on Michigan State’s defense?
“They’re very good. They’re very good. They’re very fundamentally sound. They know exactly their assignments. They know where they’re vulnerable because they’ve run the same defense, or very similar defense, for so many years.
“I remember playing them in 2009 when I was at Minnesota, and looking back at that there’s so many similarities in regards to what they’re doing. Fun to see. Fun for the challenge, but they’re awfully good. They’re awfully good.”
Jake [Rudock] was kind of reticent to take any label: game manager, whatever type quarterback. How would you describe him and his style as a quarterback?
“Yeah, I don’t- I’m not a big fan, I guess, of that particular title. I think it does not give them the same credit. Sometimes you kind of lose that type of credit on that, but I don’t know. I think he does a very good job.
“He’s a good leader. He has been completing a lot of passes. He’s been smart with the football. He’s done a lot of things you would expect someone that’s a fifth-year player to do: be able to bounce back from a three-interception game opening night and play five games and throw three combined since then I think, and one of them was kind of a fluky play. So, I think he’s mature. I think he can make all the throws. I think he can make all the reads and just continue to lead our football team.”
Is Michigan State’s defensive line the best you’re going to face this year?
“Well, I don’t know. They’re good. They’re really good. I don’t know about the best or not the best. I feel like we’ve gone against some really, really good ones.
“I thought Utah’s defensive line was really, really good. I thought last week they created a lot of challenges for a lot of teams. I thought Maryland has a really good defensive line, so I don’t know. There are a lot of good defensive lines.
“Obviously this is a good football team we’re playing. We know that. It’s going to be a great challenge for our guys.”
[After THE JUMP: A great Steve Spurrier story]
I don't say this too often, but props, BTN. This time-lapse shot already looked great; then the director slowed it down for Jehu Chesson's kickoff return touchdown and the ensuing reaction. I could watch this all day.
Then again, Jim Harbaugh and his poor hat lurk after the jump, so...