BOX FTW. That's right. He does. I think he even enjoys it.
"Terror." It's terror. Weird press conference interlude via Angelique Chengelis:
My favorite moment from Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez's press conference Monday was when my esteemed colleague, Larry Lage of the Associated Press, asked if Rodriguez was on the field before the game when the Wolverines do "the circle of death"?
Rodriguez smiled uncomfortably and then replied.
"Oh, yeah, circle," he said. "I speak politically correct here. What are you talking about? That's our team unity circle that we have. Wow, Larry. You can get in trouble for saying stuff like that.
"It's our team unity circle. We're out there for that."
Apparently Lage pressed it, claiming "Circle of Death" sounds more intimidating, for which he gets 46 points, only to get shot down. But it's not "circle of death." It's Circle of Terror, as coined by MVictors. And it is terrifying. Never forget how terrifying it is.
Stop looking at the cheerleaders for a second. I've given Gregg Easterbrook the business before, but never has so much ignorance about college football been encapsulated in a single sentence:
As TMQ noted last month, going no-huddle all the time is just another way to be predictable, plus leads to rapid three-and-outs that send the defense back onto the field; but going no-huddle once in a while creates the element of surprise. … Michigan surprised Notre Dame by going no-huddle for the entire game, but the key word is surprised.
Michigan, of course, hasn't huddled since Rodriguez's arrival, and virtually every spread team in the country eschews the huddle. Gregg Easterbrook is either that guy from memento or hasn't watched a Michigan game in over a year, which means he should probably not talk about them.
Wait, wait. Yesterday I noted the Mouton punch-type action and opined that I thought he should miss Eastern Michigan, but that if previous similar actions didn't draw sanctions he wouldn't. I forgot about these twin Irish incidents:
The latter was flagged, the former was not, and neither player was suspended by Charlie Weis. I don't recall any media attention in the aftermath of either, probably because the opposing coach didn't specifically note he wasn't complaining about it.
There's zero precedent for suspending a guy who didn't even get flagged, AFAIK, and Mouton would be rightly pissed off if he was the first. This from Mike Rothstein…
Whether it was a punch or not, Mouton should sit against Eastern Michigan
Editor's note: I asked Tim to ask about shading the coverage to Warren's side and about Renaldo Sagesse's play to date.
On the shade:
"You can do a lot of things. But if you rotate your defense to one side or the other, they can throw to the other side or they can run the football. I thought our defensive coaches had a pretty good plan. They [Notre Dame] made some plays and we didn't. Boubacar didn't have his best game, but he's a good football player, and he's a competitor, and I'm sure he'll come back and play better the next time"
"He played pretty well. He didn't get a lot of reps, but he's continuing to get better. He's a big guy that we need to keep progressing because we want to play him more. You know, Greg Banks is a guy that's played very, very well, and we're gonna get him more snaps because he's shown that he's a guy that we feel comfortable that we can give 20-30 snaps a game. And Renaldo, hopefully we can get him to the same spot."
So sounds like no thought to realigning the DL.
- Junior Hemingway practiced yesterday and looked pretty good. Hopefully he'll be moving around better today. He was wearing a green (limited contact) jersey.
- The OL Lineup Saturday will depend on David Moosman's progress. Moosman was wearing a red non-contact jersey and riding the stairmaster. They're trying different right side combinations. David Molk has played well so far, which is exciting because it's just his second year. There's 7-8 guys that will play on OL. Err on the side of caution with all injuries.
- On Jonas Mouton's "punch," Rodriguez said he didn't see anything that he thought was a penalty, and if something had happened, the refs would have called something. There will be no additional punishment.
- Eastern is an intense team, they have good fundamentals and blocking. They almost won their last game. They made a great improvement from week 1 to week 2, and they'll make the same progress this week. They're focusing on Eastern instead of ND. Hungry to prove themselves each week.
- Getting more players in. "Our plan... is to get more guys ready to contribute, and particularly the young guys... If they're not ready, we can't put them in there. It's not fair to them or the team."
- Talking to guys about sportsmanship. "Let me make it perfectly clear. No personal fouls will go unpunished (by the coaches)." It's emotional, and sometimes emotional things happen. Play between the whistles and play fair. Penalties can be due to lack of discipline, but the team is doing OK in that respect so far. Saturday didn't seem to be much chippier or physical than most games.
- Brandon Graham hasn't gotten too much more attention from the first teams than you'd expect. Notre Dame is a heavy max-protect team, so they would probably double him no matter what. He still got some good pressure, and made plays in the run game.
- Denard Robinson will not be a package guy. "We want him to continue to be an every-down quarterback." He can make all the throws, he's just still learning the offense. The college game is pretty complicated. In the walkthrough, Nick Sheridan seemed to be getting fewer reps than either Tate or Denard.
- Troy Woolfolk is very active, and has made some big plays, very fast. Safety is the right position for him.
- The walk-on tryouts went well. 2-3 guys will get asked to join the team for a couple weeks. Looking for a bit of athletic ability, size, or speed. If guys look good, their HS film will be evaluated.
- Vincent Smith is just a freshman, so blitz protection against TAH-NOO-TAH blitz was the main reason he didn't play against Notre Dame.
It's tiny and it's in the corner but it's something. (Via MVictors.)
ISO. I'm looking for an iPhone programmer for a startup project. Email me if you're interested.
WHOAH. Yes Forcier woo but hold on just a dang minute here:
It's only two games, but you would not be completely unreasonable to start worrying about Michigan as Penn State's main competition in the conference.
That's Black Shoe Diaries, and yes it would be completely unreasonable. A
five three-point loss to USC does not destroy Ohio State's status as a team that doesn't run out walk-ons on defense. Let's keep the increased expectations at the Alamo/Outback level, plz, lest Michigan failing to hit the BCS this year is cause for another round of "I'm not saying Michigan should fire Rich Rodriguez, but did you know he uses babies as fuel for his Hummer?" stories. This team still has huge problems on defense and the offense is currently held together by Forcier's insane magic, something that's probably going to lose Michigan a game or two when the freshman in Forcier bites back.
Also from that post halol:
If there's one thing Penn State and Michigan fans can get together on, it's Terrelle Pryor schadenfreude.
Quick kickin'. Tate Forcier's quick kick ended up downed at the four and it sounds like Michigan will be inclined to use it in similar situations in the future:
Forcier, Michigan's true freshman quarterback, doubled as a punter (and defensive back) for his high school team in California, and Wolverines coach Rich Rodriguez said Forcier worked occasionally on the skill during fall camp.
"He's very good at it," Rodriguez said.
Later in that article Rodriguez points out he won't call that on third down, which uh thanks for that clarification. Shades of Brian Griese and a much better alternative than Carr's well-loved fake-FG punt that hardly worked and often saw teams put a returner back anyway. Michigan hurrying to the line and threatening to go for it means no one can get back lest a fake happen.
Rising. I always like it when the assessments I make in UFR are echoed by other people, as it makes me think I'm not totally bats in said assessments. So here's a rising guy for the NFL draft after two games:
Donovan Warren/CB/Michigan: Warren, the Wolverines well-sized cornerback, seems to have his game back on track after a disappointing sophomore campaign. He broke up three passes during the victory over Notre Dame and was forceful helping to stop the run. The junior's game comes with a great amount of upside potential and should Warren consistently play at a high level, he will eventually move into the draft's initial 45 selections.
That would be just about perfect: an excellent season, a mid-second round rating, and a reason to come back to school.
What in the hell? Deadspin's gone downhill ever since Leitch (mostly) left but I didn't know they'd turned into an LSU message board:
Have you ever been to Auburn? No? Well, I have, and IT SUCKS! Which is why, in order to "attract" recruits, the program has to dispatch its illiterate boosters to harass the nation's top prep talent into signing with them.
I have been to Auburn, and I can say confidently that it sucks far less than "The Cajun Boy" and his post. Don't they pay people to write there? I don't understand.
Point of clarification. The Only Colors took some exception to gentle—you might say brotherly—ribbing at the bottom of Monday's game column:
1. To me, this [the press box announcer stating that the MSU-CMU score was an exception to "no cheering in the press box"] is a hell of a lot less defensible than MSU fans cheering on the HORROR. (That video, of course, being one which Michigan fans have alternately whined about and made fun of for two years now.) Fans aren't supposed to maintain any pretense of objectivity …
First, this isn't about defensible or not. What we are talking about here is talking, and the worst of it rises to "ha you lost." This blog has always been wildly in favor of press conference trash-talking from anyone from the pope on down. The whole "moment of silence/little brother/Mike Hart is short/pride comes before the fall" sequence was awesome. It raised the stakes in the rivalry to the point that OSU fans entering a tailspin of self-doubt, regret, and pining for Tate Forcier was only my third favorite thing that happened over the weekend. In no way do I disapprove of Dantonio taunting Mike Hart. In that spirit, press box announcer trash-talk adds fuel to the fire. Fuel is good until Ned gets involved.
Second, I don't know what he's referring to about the fans. I've never seen Michigan fans suggest State fans shouldn't enjoy The Horror—maybe the occasional dig at brahs wearing App St gear around, which is sad. But "pride comes before the fall" and "should we have a moment of silence?" are direct quotes from the head man and definitely deserve comeuppance mocking.
2. For our purposes, I'll assume that Freep writers weren't among those cheering. Still, how exactly does this square with the Michigan-fan meme/persecution complex that the lolmsm has effectively become an arm of the MSU athletic department?
I think that's restricted to the Free Press, FWIW. Also, the Michigan press box is full of your Ebling and (lol) Spartanmag equivalents too; every press box is divided between aloof observers and homers.
In summation: I can't complain about Michigan fans playing the comeuppins' card, especially when my team choked as badly as they did on Saturday. But, playing that card also forfeits the high ground they've staked out for themselves, as Dex from WLA essentially admitted. Welcome to the muck.
What high ground? We mock you for being dunderheaded nitwits who can't get into the country club, you accuse us of never getting laid. It's the circle of life. It's a circle.
Falcon punch? Jonas Mouton got a little pop on one of ND's offensive linemen on Saturday:
This is really weird. It looks like a punch, but on the complete tape Mouton just jogs away after it and in the second or two before the camera angle cuts the ND OL appears to get up like nothing happened. Contrast that to the reaction when Greg Mathews kicked an Oregon player. Slightly different. If there'd been any problems afterwards I'd think you'd suspend the guy—though Mathews didn't get a game for a far more blatant case of poor sportsmanship, nor did that Wisconsin punt scrub who twisted Breaston's knee—but no one seems to have a problem with it except Charlie Weis. I might sit Mouton down anyway. That's not likely if Robert Reynolds got all of a game for choking out Jim Sorgi.
Etc.: Old timers will remember unofficial MGoBlog editorial cartoonist Joel A Morgan; he's taken his stuff to Mustaches with Michigan. MfM wasn't just a one-off, by the way. They're around for the long haul. Michigan Monday is always more entertaining when we're not awful. LSUFreek tackles last weekend's game.
Note: video from last year is lightboxed; previous years will take you off the page.
A note before we start: this preview relies heavily on the defensive UFRs of last year, even more so than the offense did, because there’s a convenient numerical system that does a decent job of summing up a defensive player’s contributions. One caveat: the system is generous to defensive linemen and harsh to defensive backs, especially cornerbacks. A +4 for a defensive end is just okay; for a cornerback it’s outstanding.
|Jonas Mouton||Jr.*||Obi Ezeh||Jr.*||Stevie Brown||Sr.|
|Kenny Demens||Fr.*||JB Fitzgerald||So.*||Mike Jones||Fr.|
|Kevin Leach||So.*||Brandon Smith||Fr.*||Brandin Hawthorne||Fr.|
Here's where we have to start talking about the changes Greg Robinson hath wrought. In this defense there's a large distinction between the outside linebackers—"spinner" and deathbacker—and the inside linebackers. In this way it's more of a 3-4. Jay Hopson doesn't even coach the guys on the outside, he only gets the WLBs and MLBs. These guys will be operating off the line of scrimmage at all times and acting like conventional linebackers.
The outside guys are the hybrids, with the deathbacker somewhere between a defensive end and a linebacker and the "spinner"—a term that Greg Robinson claims does not exist—somewhere between a linebacker and a safety. On any particular play they could be tight to the line of scrimmage or dropped off. This helpful screenshot from diarist remdies should help clarify:
There's been a lot of debate on the blog about whether the base D is a 4-3 under or not; this alignment, for one, is pure 4-3 under. In any case, you can see the spinner and deathbacker at or near the line of scrimmage; Brown, if called to do so, can drop off onto the slot receiver. That's why he's on the strongside: to cover. I assume this will be the base formation against spreads, with adjustments for pounders.
Going into last year, Obi Ezeh was the Steve Schilling of the defense. Oh, hell, let me quote myself:
Sophomore middle linebacker Obi Ezeh was the Steve Schilling of the defense in 2007: a redshirt freshman pressed into the starting lineup before his time, he was unprepared and often bad. Now he’s the “veteran” anchor of a shaky unit, counted upon to improve massively.
Going into this year, Obi Ezeh is still the Steve Schilling of the defense: a two-year starter entering his redshirt junior year without having done much to distinguish himself and rapidly running out of upside. Schilling's got a fresh start and bonus round of practice hype based on his position switch, but Ezeh's not been so lucky. Though he's been showing up on some preseason All Big Ten lists, that's strictly a Matt Lentz phenomenon. Lentz entered his third year as a Michigan starting guard in 2005 with a ton of accolades; he left without even getting drafted. Winged helmet momentum sometimes carries meh players to lofty preseaon heights; Ezeh appears to be one of these folk.
There's a theme in the videos at right: the good ones usually involve Ezeh shooting towards the line of scrimmage on a blitz. The bad ones see him getting lost: see "hesitant, booted" or "suckered by PA" or "WHERE ARE YOU GOING"; the theme is clear here.
A lot of Ezeh's issues at right came in the Illinois game so let's check that game's UFR:
The first of Williams's crazy ninja ballfakes. This one suckers an unblocked Ezeh(-2) despite the fact Mouton is racing up into the same hole, beating a blocker to tackle the guy. … Ezeh(-1) fails to read this, hesitating long enough for the C to get out on him on the second level. … Ezeh(-2) took an upfield angle around a blocker [on a 57-yard screen touchdown]. … Problem: Ezeh(-2) overruns the WR as he cuts back since Mouton has forced him back upfield. He whiffs a tackle, allowing Illinois to convert. … Ezeh(-1.5) completely overruns the play, turning two yards into first and goal.
Now, Ezeh did have +8.5 scattered across that game but it was outweighed by a –12.5, which whoah. Most of the plusses came when Ezeh was permitted to attack the line of scrimmage immediately on a blitz or Illinois decided not to go with misdirection; you have to set people up sometimes, right? When they weren't doing that, they confused Ezeh. A lot.
Part of that was uncertainty about just what the hell he was doing. After I slammed Johnny Thompson for his performance in the Notre Dame game, high school coach and excellent diarist Steve Sharik came to his defense by way of blamin' Obi:
The mistake was by Obi Ezeh. By design, Ezeh is supposed to fast flow over the top and be outside of Thompson. If the back sees this and cuts back, he does so into the waiting arms of Terrance Taylor. Ezeh's used to the old way--which was played as you suggested. If you re-examine "bad iso 3," Ezeh is flat-footed instead of screaming over the top, which is what the scheme calls for. And that's why Thompson spilled the block again on the next play. The bad part is that Ezeh messed it up again.
It's not like Ezeh was the only one who had no idea what he was doing last year, but as the middle linebacker it's just way more apparent when you get lost because you're reading and reacting on every play.
Will it be better? Michigan, after all, has just switched schemes again. That will depend on Ezeh's increased experience giving him added flexibility and how much better Greg Robinson is compared to Scott Shafer at, you know, teaching people things. Everyone knows he's not David Harris but Harris didn't start until he was a redshirt junior; Ezeh will be one this fall. If he can just get his head on straight he should be average or slightly better.
will pop your lid
|Play action fail|
|Chasing down end around|
|Frowns: poor zone cover|
|Stands up FB, tackles|
|Stands up G, tackles|
|Improved coverage late|
|Destroys triple option|
The other starting spot is technically an outside linebacker position but the two spots are far more similar than WLB is to spinner/SLB so I'll slot Jonas Mouton here. Mouton's star was fading rapidly after he arrived out of California a top-50 recruit. Despite Chris Graham's persistent mediocrity, Mouton never threatened to start after moving from safety. And when Michigan opened last season, Mouton was behind two-star recruit Marell Evans.
Evans fell by the wayside when Michigan revamped its linebacker corps after the Utah un derneath coverage fiasco, paving the way for Mouton to chip in a +7 in his first extended game action against Miami Of Ohio (Not That Miami Of Ohio). Ah, but not so fast my friend:
Mouton was overrated by the numbers, IMO. I gave him credit for blitzing up into the heart of Miami plays over and over again; that credit should probably fall to Shafer and not Mouton. Overall, though, I did think he played well and was a major upgrade over Evans.
That he was. Evans fell into the background and hardly saw a defensive snap the rest of the season; Mouton dropped off from his dynamite debut into a series of performances that were only okay but promised better once Mouton found his feet. That he did. Amongst the debris of the Purdue disaster his "continued good play" was about the only positive I could find
The praise Mouton started picking up late last year in UFR is echoed by Hopson. No, scratch that. It is amplified considerably (further quotes in this piece from Hopson are all from this link):
I’ve been really pleased with Jonas. Jonas is a kid that has worked extremely hard. He’s a kid that’s an explosive player. He’s a kid…he’s my kind of guy. Jonas is a tough guy. He’s physical and we expect Jonas to make some plays for us. … I think he’s ready to have a big year. … I think he’s an NFL player all the way. I’ll sell him to anybody. I just love him.
This dedicated amateur concurs. Mouton's uptake last year was swift and by the end of the season he was easily Michigan's best linebacker. Chart? Chart.
|Wisconsin||6||4.5||1.5||Had a tough time against Wisconsin's mondo players and is still learning; potential is there.|
|Illinois||5||2.5||2.5||Was better suited to defend this offense than the more lumbering guys. BONUS: “solid day”|
|Penn State||7||6||1||Still terrible in coverage; turning into a good blitzer.|
|Michigan State||5.5||3||2.5||Stood up MSU's fullback time and again, clearly surprising MSU. ... pleasantly surprised by both OLBs in this game.|
|Purdue||5.5||3.5||2||The closest thing M has to a player in the back seven right now.|
|Minnesota||2||5.5||-3.5||Off day from him; was culpable on one of the GDCDs.|
|Northwestern||9.5||1.5||8||Monster day, best of his career. Really got freed up to attack and constantly shot past guys trying to block him.|
I could go through more of it but it's all the same in the comments: Mouton's an excellent, explosive blitzer and surprisingly stout when it comes to taking on fullbacks and even guards at the point of attack. He's still vulnerable to misdirection some and has coverage issues—though they weren't as severe as Ezeh's. He's got the athleticism to be a pass-rush threat and should get more capable in coverage this year. He'll be drawing easier assignments, for one, as Stevie Brown replaces Johnny Thompson in the lineup.
Mouton is poised for a breakout.
Backups and Whatnot
This is about the only spot on defense where there is reasonable depth. Two second-year players back up Ezeh and Mouton. Ezeh's primary backup is JB Fitzgerald, a sophomore who got special teams time a year ago. As a recruit, Fitzgerald was just outside the top 100 on the recruiting sites and has gotten the sporadic positive mention in practice reports and coach recaps. Hopson recently said that Fitzgerald is "really in a battle" for a starting job, and though that may be optimistic about his chances it says something about him that he's not just shoved into the background.
More from Hopson:
JB … knows both positions. JB is smart. He’s also very much like Obi. He is mentally sharp. He’s physical and JB is a competitor. He’s not going to give in. JB wants a job too. He’s going to work hard and I’m fortunate to have guys like that. … He might be a little bit further ahead at MIKE right now, but I probably practice him a lot more at MIKE right now.
He should be reasonably prepared should he be called upon, and his talent level seems high. He's probably the player outside the starting eleven you should be least terrified to see on the field.
Kenny Demens is a classmate of Fitzgerald's but got an injury redshirt last year after appearing on special teams in the first couple games. He wasn't a huge recruit or anything, but the practice buzz has been positive. He'll be Mouton's primary backup.
There is also converted safety Brandon Smith. Smith was a big recruit—about on par with Mouton, actually—who stayed at safety his first year mostly because Michigan had few other options. When it became clear he didn't have the speed to stay there in spring, he was moved to linebacker.
Hopson is very positive about him:
They have to have an awareness. … That’s the one thing that has impressed me about Brandon Smith, moving from defensive back. When you’re far away from the ball sometimes you have time and distant on your side, you have a little bit more time to decipher. Brandon came in and in two days, okay this kid has that ability. He can see right now. A lot of players are big, physical and fast, but they can't see all the stuff that a linebacker has to see. It is truly that natural instinct.
Question: Is Brandon Smith catching up?
Jay Hopson: “Yes, he really is. He is a kid that’s worked extremely hard. I see him making one more step every day."
Even so, it will take at least a year for Smith to get comfortable enough to be a viable option. If we see him this year the linebacking corps will look like a MASH unit. Look for Smith to idle away on the bench until Mouton and Ezeh graduate, then battle for a starting job as a redshirt junior. He should be a special teams mainstay.
|The Horror Begins|
|Frowns: Utah overrrun|
|PBU leads to int|
|Blanket in man|
|FROWNS: Blown post|
|FROWNS: Slant = TD|
|FROWNS: tackle whiff|
|FROWNS: flat fail|
|Actually appears to be a safety here|
I don't remember where I read this but it sounds like the sort of quote that must have been on a message board somewhere, penned by one of those insider-type folks. Wherever it was, it lodged in my head and won't leave. Here's a possibly apocryphal quote about Stevie Brown from Greg Robinson: "he's a hell of a lot better player where he is now."
For the love of God, let that be true. A brief tour of Stevie Brown's 2008 can be found at right, or you can just read this in-depth scouting report: ack.
Brown … seems hopeless. He was quiet for a few games, then returned with a vengeance in this one. Some guys just can't figure out how to play, and at this point it would be shocking if the light ever went on.
Oh and the Northwestern one:
that's quintessential Brown: poor angles and poor awareness of the situation on the field.
And some others but you get the point. Brown was a horror show at safety.
But he's no longer a safety and if you look at the few highlights at right that don't start with the word "frowns" you'll find the athleticism that made Brown a big recruit out of high school and some good examples of man coverage. If he's not the last line of defense and he's in a lot of man against tight ends or tailbacks coming out of the back and maybe a slot receiver or three, maybe this could be okay? It certainly addresses one of the dumbest traits of Scott Shafer's tenure as defensive coordinator: leaving dinosaur MLB Johnny Thompson on the field against spread teams and asking him to cover… well, anyone. At the very least, Brown is more suited for modern football than a guy with a neck roll. Who covered slot receivers. Argh! That's another post, though, and one for tomorrow.
Brown, for one, thinks his move is a good one:
“It’s been going well. It was a little different for me at camp having to actually hit the O-lineman and tight ends all day, every day. Thus far, it’s been fine. I’ve been able to adjust to it very well. Coach Robinson does a good job teaching it and I think it’s going to work out very well for me.”
I do too, but man that incident in the spring game where the Coner juked him out of his jock, combined with, you know, everything else in his history, makes me leery. I do think he'll be in position to make a lot of plays, and I love the flexibility and common sense of putting a virtual safety in a spot where he can blitz, play zone, or man up. I like putting him behind deathbeast Brandon Graham, which should make it harder for defenses to exploit his lack of size. And people get better as they age. Michigan's put Brown in a spot to maximize his assets and minimize his downside, and I kind of sort of think it will work out.
Backups and Whatnot
None with experience. Michigan brought in three safety/linebacker hybrid freshmen, though. No one's heard much about Isaiah Bell (recruiting profile) so far because IIRC he's been injured. Mike Jones (recruiting profile)is second on the depth chart after enrolling early; Brandin Hawthorne (recruiting profile) also enrolled early but is, for now, behind a walk-on. Jones will play in an effort to get someone ready for the spot once Brown graduates; Hawthorne and Bell are likely to redshirt.