Mason NEEDS this, Pistons, after all you've put him through
HEY TOMMY REES
CHECK IT OUT I'M ALL GONNA BLITZ YO
LOL LOOK HOW CLOSE I AM TO THE LINE
WHY IS EVERYONE LOOKING AT YOU?
HEY MAN… I'M NOT BLITZING BE COOL
LOL JK YES I AM. HEY… THAT GUY IS OPEN
IF I WAS NOT BLITZING I MAY HAVE BEEN IN THIS AREA
TOMMY REES IS A JERK
I HOPE HE THROWS A BALL BACKWARDS FOR NO REASON LATER
This happened a lot. Michigan would line up, show something unsound, and Rees would check into something that would punish the defense. Blue Seoul highlighted another instance where Michigan tipped its blitz:
Also a result:
Michigan would line up in its okie package on plausible running downs like third and five, which caused Rees to check to runs up the middle. With no linebackers and Mike Martin dropping into coverage these went for about 20 yards.
Hell, even when good things happened this was going on. Look at this dude on Kovacs's interception:
That is a 65-yard touchdown waiting to happen if Rees's brain isn't going FLOYDFLOYDFLOYDFLOYDFLOYDFLOYD. The difference between a great call and an idiotic call is Rees not being a true sophomore in his fifth start with deep man love for Michael Floyd.
Seriously. Michigan's defensive RPS is going to have huge numbers because Mattison is doing all sorts of crazy stuff. This defense is the philosophical opposite of the bland 4-3 cover twos of Iowa, Michigan State, and Wisconsin.
They show a bunch of different fronts, blitz from everywhere, don't bother to cover guys in the seam when there are no safeties… it's a freak show out there. Sometimes it works. When it doesn't it's ugly. ND's last touchdown is especially galling because Michigan had to know ND would see this massive bust on the Kovacs INT and check into "free seam touchdown" when Michigan checked to cover zero. In this instance there was at least a guy vaguely in the area, but they've got a lot to work on.
Blitzing is not such a good idea when you wave your hand and say "sir: I am blitzing." In the first half Michigan tipped their blitzes a lot. Matters improved when Hawthorne came in—I watched him blitz without so much as taking those anxious shuffle steps, let alone going LOL I'M AT THE LINE—but it's disconcerting to watch the Michigan defense freak out on a QB handclap so consistently. They should know by now that the clap often leads to a check, because the offense did that a ton last year.
So… where is Michigan's check after ND checks? You can't check all the time because then ND's check will be "let's change their play without changing ours" but you have to check some of the time, particularly early.
Avery could have done better here. He's beaten to the inside too easily and can't tackle on the catch. He is not capable of dealing with Mike Floyd. Not many are, but predictions in this space of a bust-out year are not off to a good start. It's early yet.
Not that it would have mattered: Avery can run his slant for Floyd and Eifert is still hand-wavingly wide open. Dude could have gone for 150 against us if Tommy Rees's brain wasn't going FLOYDFLOYDFLOYDFLOYD.
Another reason for worry. This defense is unsound. Does Mattison want it to be unsound because it makes Kovacs pop up for turnovers or does he have little choice in the matter because he's starting a walk-on (Heininger—Kovacs has graduated), a couple freshmen, and only 2.5 non-walkon seniors (RVB, Martin—Woolfolk is the half)?
I don't know, but I'm betting it's the latter. I am glad they've got a week to practice not leaving guys wide open all day. They're busting coverages every other play.
Opening remarks: “Um, that was an exciting football game.” Har har. “Oh, you do have a sense of humor.
"I thought both teams -- I’ve gotta give Brian and his staff and his kids a lot of credit. I thought both teams fought, and they fought for 60 minutes. It wasn’t pretty probably at times on both ends of it. But like I told our players, it’s great to win. There’s a lot to learn from this tape, but to go out there and play for 60 minutes and win the football game in the manner that we won -- our kids, I’m real proud. Terrence Robinson, on the last kickoff [with] two seconds left, watching him bust his butt to get down the field to try to cover it. There were other guys doing the same thing, but that’s the thing, as a coach, that you take away from your team.
“We had some adversity, they fought back. We never really got on track early in the game. Didn’t have any momentum, any rhythm, when you look at it from an offensive standpoint. And defensively, we didn’t start as well as we’d like. Played a little better there for a while, and then it was back and forth. We have a lot to look at and a lot to work on. It’s great to win, and it’s great to win for our seniors -- [it’s] the last time they play in this great rivalry. So now we move forward.”
Did you say anything to Denard after he threw the pick in the endzone? “We’ll look at it tomorrow, and he may have seen something there that was better than maybe it was. I never said anything to him -- unless it’s really a poor decision throw. I didn’t think it was a poor decision.”
Do you think this win creates momentum for the program? "I don’t know. I think there is momentum. I think you do gain some momentum, and I think for us, as a team, it will be a great learning experience. It’s amazing when you do play 60 minutes of football, meaning you do stay together as a team. You compliment each other and you lean on each other. That, for us, will be part of the teachings and part of the lessons from this football game.”
Why were receivers so hit-or-miss, and what allowed them to be able to make spectacular catches? "I think it’s just being a human being. I think we all have good days and bad days. We all maybe write something good one time and maybe something not so good the next. I’m sure that never happens in here.” Aw, shucks. "I’m not being sarcastic. Really.” You shouldn’t have. “But, in truthfulness, there were probably three balls early in the game, in the first half, maybe one in the second -- maybe four total -- that I think would have moved the sticks for us, would have given us some more momentum. We weren’t very good on third downs on either side. They were 8 for 14, which is good for them, bad for Michigan defense, and I think 3 for 9 when you look at what we were. There’s no explanation besides we have to do a better job concentrating and focusing and catching the ball.”
How much did it help to have beaten Notre Dame in similar fashion the last couple of years? “I’m sure it helps. I think it’s a great question for them. I think anytime you compete -- but at the same time every team is so different. Your seniors are different. Your leadership is different. Playmakers, to some degree, may be different. I think it’s a great question for them, if they had a little more juice at the end because of that -- I don’t know.”
[More after the jump]
Gratuitous video of the week: is obvious. Sorry about the weird audio delay. (Anyone know why compressing a ts file into a WMV would do this and how to fix it?)
Substitution notes: Massive in the front seven. After the first few plays there was no SDE; he was lifted for a safety. Martin, RVB, and Roh were frequently replaced by Heininger, Brink, and Black respectively. Campbell got a little time and didn't do well. The SLB alternated between Ryan and Beyer. MLB was Demens and Fitzgerald. Herron started at WLB and got most of the time; Mike Jones was the only other guy to draw in.
The secondary was consistent: Avery and Kovacs the whole way, Woolfolk until he got hurt then Floyd, Johnson after the first few plays until he was pulled in favor of Marvin Robinson late.
Formation Notes: Michigan's first few plays were in a 4-3, after which they lifted a defensive lineman for an extra safety (Johnson) and moved Gordon down to the nickel. Frequently they would put a nominal SLB, either Ryan or Beyer, in a three point stance as another down lineman.
As the game progressed, Michigan got more aggressive. This is what I called "Nickel press"—you can see the one deep safety with press coverage on the outside WRs and a 3-4 front. This was blitz-heavy:
And right at the end of the first half Michigan showed a something I called "Nickel eff it"…
…which was 11 guys within five yards of the line. This ended with Kenny Demens running straight up the middle at Carder both times it happened.
On passing downs we saw the return of Scot Shafer's "Okie" package, which is a two-deep shell behind a zone-blitzing 3-4 like so:
And that was it. Will be interesting to see what they do when ND tries to manball these guys.
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Rush||Play||Player||Yards|
|O26||1||10||Ace 3-wide||Base 4-3||Pass||4||Bubble screen||Woolfolk||6|
|Michigan comes out in a 4-3 with no one over the slot receiver and WMU probably has an auto-check into a bubble. I can't tell if what Woolfolk does is good or bad: he comes up hard and gets cut easily. He does force the WR inside of him—over him, actually. He manages to leap up and grab his ankles as he passes. Still a good gain. (RPS -1. I guess +0.5, tackling +1 for Woolfolk. ) Martin(+1) had torn through the center and hit Carder on a bubble screen. I be like dang.|
|O323||2||4||Shotgun 4-wide||Base 4-3||Pass||4||Hitch||Herron?||3|
|Soft corner from Avery means Herron is stretched horizontally. He drops into the inner route, opening up a short hitch near the sticks. Should have been seven or eight but Carder's throw was upfield, taking the receiver off his feet. RPS -1, cover -1.|
|O35||3||1||Power I||Base 4-4||Run||N/A||Iso||N/A||2|
|This was the chaos play Blue Seoul noted. They did get set eventually in a 4-4 with six guys on the LOS, including Kovacs and Herron and Demens as MLBs. They run at the gap in the shifted line between Martin and Roh, doubling both. Both hold up; Roh manages to slide inside the LT and restrict the hole but can't get any penetration. He's kind of being held but no way they call it. Herron (-0.5) reads the play maybe a hair late or is lined up too deep, meeting the FB at the first down marker instead of the LOS. That's a stalemate and the RB can fall down across the line in a heap of bodies.|
|O37||1||10||Shotgun 3-wide||Base 4-3||Pass||4||Bubble screen||Woolfolk||13|
|First DL backups in; I won't be able to track the comings and goings efficiently, I don't think. Doesn't matter here. Michigan again aligns to give the bubble and WMU throws it. Ryan(+1) is tearing out at it quickly and may be able to hold it down for minimal yardage but Woolfolk(-2) commits the cardinal sin of the bubble screen by losing leverage and letting the play bounce outside of him. Ryan still almost gets him on the sidelines but does not make the play; Gordon escorts him OOB after the sticks.|
|50||1||10||Shotgun diamond||Nickel||Run||N/A||QB draw||Martin||2|
|Intended to go off tackle until a Michigan stunt gets Ryan(+0.5) and Martin(+0.5) enough penetration that Carder has to cut behind everything into the unblocked Black and RVB recovering from a cut. RPS+1|
|M48||2||8||I-Form twins||Nickel||Pass||4||Deep hitch||Herron||12|
|Michigan is in a quarters zone that has four guys in short zones, or three guys in short zones and Brandon Herron(-2) running man coverage on a shallow crossing route, opening up a hitch between Gordon and Demens that should be exactly where he's sitting. (Cover -1) Martin stymied by a double; Black had fought through the RB's block to provide some token pressure. Still (Pressure -1)|
|M36||1||10||Shotgun empty TE||3-3-5 Nickel||Pass||5||Flare||Woolfolk||2|
|DL: Brink/Heininger/Black. Mike Patrick: “now they're back to more of a traditional look” instead of the odd stack they're in on this play. Michigan sends Ryan and Gordon and gets nothing, but this spooks Carder into a nothing dumpoff that Woolfolk(+1, tackling +1) reads and levels for no gain.|
|M34||2||8||Shotgun 2-back trips||3-3-5 Nickel||Run||N/A||Triple option dive||Demens?||9|
|Beyer in for Ryan. Unbalanced formation w/ covered slot. Michigan is ridiculously misaligned (RPS -2). Black charges upfield as the tackle releases and has to form up to respect the option. Beyer(-1) drops into coverage. Demens(-1) is originally lined up outside of the tackle and starts to come back inside but that just makes him a sitting duck: he's moving backwards as the OL impacts him and gives huge chunks of ground because of physics. Running back cuts behind him into gaping space because Beyer is still looking at the bubble screen.|
|M25||1||10||Shotgun 4-wide||Nickel||Pass||N/A||Tunnel screen||Gordon||1|
|This confusion might actually have helped M: they shift late with Woolfolk getting out on the outside receiver just as the snap is arriving. If they have an autocheck into this screen we may have dummied them into it. As a result the inside WR takes Woolfolk(+0.5), who does a good job to stand him up near the LOS, and the tunnel guy is running right into Gordon(+0.5). Gordon gets beat to the inside but slowly enough for the cavalry to rally. RPS+1.|
|M24||2||9||I-Form big||Nickel 4-3||Run||N/A||Inside zone||Demens||2|
|I think it's inside zone but might be wrong. Nickel personnel; Gordon as an OLB. RB takes the handoff to the side opposite to where the FB goes and will look to cut back. Martin takes a double and sits at the LOS. Gordon takes on G and gets annihilated but the RB cuts back. Probably a bad move. Demens(+2) is sliding playside, reads the cutback, and gets to the POA in a flash, making a diving tackle despite a lunge from the backside G, who fell trying to get out. He was supposed to be blocking Herron(-1), who ran so far to the playside that by the time the RB had cut back he'd passed Demens. I think RVB and Ryan are stunting and sort of think Ryan is doing a bad job but I'd like some outside opinions. This one is confusing.|
|M22||3||7||Shotgun 4-wide||Okie||Pass||5||Deep hitch||Gordon||14|
|Michigan sends five, dropping RVB and Herron. This gets Gordon(-1) in clean (RPS +1, Pressure +1), but he takes an angle too far outside and slips. He should be in the QB's face leaping at him and forcing him to bring this down. He's not so Herron is given the tough job of hauling ass across the field to hopefully cover the slot on the other side of the play. He doesn't, and he gets a (-1) for running away from the QB and letting the pass get over his head. He will do this better later. I have Picture Pages to show it. Cover –1.|
|M8||1||G||Shotgun 2-back trips||3-3-5 Nickel||Run||N/A||Triple option dive||Demens||1|
|They figure it out this time with men tight over the WRs and one deep safety in an obvious run-prevent D as discussed by Blue Seoul. This time Ryan(+1) blitzes at the snap and drives past the G into the path of the RB; cutback. Demens(+1), now properly aligned, hits the LT while moving forward and pushes him back this time. Black(+0.5) forms up and crashes after the handoff; he and Demens tackle (RPS +1)|
|M7||2||G||Shotgun empty TE||Okie||Pass||5||Hitch||Johnson||6|
|RPS -2; Carvin Johnson(-3) leaves Avery on an island with two receivers. Avery(+1, tackling +1), does as good a job as possible in the situation he's put in, splitting the WRs and smashing the short hitch they complete short of the goal line. Too bad, too, because the blitz had gotten Demens straight up the middle untouched. Johnson aligning properly might make this a sack.|
|M1||3||G||Wishbone||Goal line||Run||N/A||Iso||Van Bergen||0|
|RVB(+1) times the snap perfectly, shooting through the G assigned to him and nailing the FB at the two. RB hits FB. Martin has made a pile at the one and the delay allows the massive pile of meat to not end up in the endzone. Whoah: actually, they messed up the handoff and Carder followed it up. Same result.|
|M1||4||G||Power I||Goal line||Run||N/A||Iso squared||--||1|
|They get it this time by running everybody on their offense straight up the middle.|
|Drive Notes: Touchdown, 0-7, 7 min 1st Q.|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Rush||Play||Player||Yards|
|Jones in at WLB; they send him while dropping Roh. WMU picks it up and hits an out in front of Avery(-1, cover -1). No chance for the D to get there if it's going to be first read three-step stuff.|
|M48||2||3||Shotgun 3-wide||Nickel press||Run||N/A||Counter||Demens||25|
|Mattison is sick of this crap. Michigan goes into bump and run on the outside receivers and brings Kovacs into the box, leaving one-high. WMU gets a big gainer on a counter. Beyer(-1), unblocked on the backside, does not read the pull and rushes too far upfield. He's easily kicked out. That DE is critical on a power play like this; he needs to get into the puller and force a bounce or restrict the hole. He does neither. So it's a tough job for Demens against the pulling TE, but Demens(-2) pulls a Mouton by losing leverage. If he gets outside the blocker there's a decent chance RVB(+1) , who has given a little ground to get playside of his blocker, makes a great play to prevent this from going a long way. He'd have to do that because Johnson(-1) sucked up on the counter step and got lost in the wash. Picture paged.|
|M23||1||10||Shotgun 3-wide||Nickel||Pass||4||Tunnel screen||Gordon||-2|
|Gordon(+2) reads, attacks, and destroys.|
|M25||2||12||Shotgun 3-wide||Nickel press||Pass||6||Fly||Floyd||Inc|
|Demens's delayed blitz gets him in free(pressure +1, RPS +1) but I wonder if he didn't time it quite right. Another step and Carder is seriously harried. As it is he gets off an accurate deep ball on Floyd's guy, who's got a step. Floyd runs his ass off, starts tugging jersey early, and... I'll be damned. He strips the ball loose(+2, cover +1). That was textbook. Gibson -1.|
|M25||3||12||Shotgun 4-wide||Okie||Pass||5||Slant||Van Bergen||2|
|Van Bergen(+2) slants past the G before he can react and is up the middle on Carder before his receivers can even get to the sticks(pressure +2). Carder dumps it off on a little in at the LOS that takes the receiver off his feet; Kovacs(+0.5) likely had it covered for minimal gain anyway.|
|Drive Notes: Missed FG(40), 7-7, 12 min 2nd Q|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Rush||Play||Player||Yards|
|M47||1||10||Shotgun 3-wide||Nickel||Run||N/A||Yakety sax||--||3|
|Looks kind of like a QB draw but this is a busted play. RB thinks it's a speed option; Carder extends for a mesh point. Then he runs. Frontside has a totally unblocked Fitzgerald because of the bust; Carder cuts it back. There's room because Campbell(-1) gave a lot of ground fighting playside. Fitzgerald(+0.5) chases Carder around RVB, who held up to a double, and tackles with help from Ryan(+0.5). Ryan flew upfield and recovers with a flying squirrel tackle.|
|M44||2||7||Shotgun empty 2TE||Nickel||Run||N/A||QB power off tackle||Fitzgerald||6|
|Poop all around, I say! Campbell(-1) is blasted back by a double. He gives a couple yards and that's two too many. Roh(-1) runs too far upfield and almost doesn't have to be blocked; G peels at the last second when Roh finally starts coming down. Big hole. Fitzgerald(-2) doesn't read a single key ON A PLAY WITH PULLING OL and starts dropping into coverage, whereupon a TE cuts him. Carder's about to be one on one with Johnson for the endzone when Kovacs(+1, tackling +1) cuts him down after taking the exact right angle to get there.|
|Someone's got to win an individual battle here to prevent this from happening and no one does. Martin holds up to a double; Fitz takes the FB, and Herron(-0.5) hits the RB after a yard. I think he can get to the hole more efficiently.|
|This is tough for Avery since he's in press man. Hard to read this quickly. Herron would be the guy who could diagnos this early since he's dropping while looking straight at the QB; he reacts just as fast as Avery. Herron(-0.5) takes an angle a bit too far outside and allows the RB to spin through for an extra couple yards. Not terrible but he could have done better. Beyer did do a good job of recognition and helps tackle, FWIW. Tackling -1.|
|M29||2||3||Shotgun 3-wide||Nickel press||Penalty||N/A||False Start||--||-5|
|M34||2||8||Shotgun 3-wide||Nickel press||Pass||6||Improv||--||17|
|Michigan sends six and gets picked up (pressure -2) until Black(+0.5) worms his way through on a stunt. Too long; Carder rolls away from the pressure and hits a receiver. Kovacs(+0.5, tackling +1) is there immediately.|
|M17||1||10||Shotgun 3-wide||Nickel press||Run||N/A||Counter||Beyer||11|
|Beyer(-2) can't win for losing here: after getting burned by going too far upfield on the last counter he does squeeze down this time... way too far. He needs to thunder at the pulling guard and cut his ass to the ground in the backfield in a spot where the other lead blocker will run into the pile. Instead he just gets sealed and allows everything to bounce outside. Herron(-2) compounds matters by also getting sealed, not that it would have mattered much because Fitzgerald(-1) took a counter step and then got sliced to the ground on a cut block that also took out Johnson. Kovacs(+0.5) cleans up. It's like these guys don't have OL keys. Picture paged.|
|M6||1||G||Shotgun 3-wide?||Nickel press?||Pass||6||Out||Kovacs||2|
|Some technical difficulties. As we come back six guys are rushing Carder including Avery(!). Brink(+0.5) is running free (pressure +1). Carder dumps it off into the flat, whereupon Kovacs(+1, tackling +1) tackles immediately for little gain.|
|Ryan(+3) lined up as a standup DT next to Martin. He rips through the RG like he isn't there and leaps at Carder as he tries to get the ball out, deflecting it into the air. Herron(+2) makes the easy interception and then runs a long way for points. Should I give Ryan more here? I've never given more than +3 for any play. Picture paged @ TTB.|
|Drive Notes: Interception, defensive TD, 14-7, 7 min 2nd Q.|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Rush||Play||Player||Yards|
|O30||1||10||Shotgun 2-back trips||Nickel||Run||N/A||Triple option dive||Heininger||0|
|Heininger(+1) takes a double; Jones(+0.5) moves to fill quickly, causing the RB to hesitate as he nears the LOS. This is a bad idea, and Heininger(+1 again) eats him.|
|Looks like Carder is going to zing it on a hitch near the sticks that Mike Jones(-0.5) got a little out of position on; Heininger(+1, pressure +1) bats it down.|
|Blitz does not quite get home but RVB(+1) is pushing through the line just as the routes break; Carder has to throw to his first read. This is against Kovacs(+1), who is in good coverage(+1) against the outside guy as he breaks his route at ten yards. Carder's throw is downfield and the WR has to stab at it one handed; Kovacs hits him and breaks it up. Live I thought M got lucky here; on tape Kovacs's coverage is good enough to require a perfect throw. If this is just a little upfield he tackles short of the sticks.|
|Drive Notes: Punt, 14-7, 6 min 2nd Q|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Rush||Play||Player||Yards|
|O38||1||10||Shotgun 3-wide||Nickel press||Pass||4||Seam||Johnson||20|
|Zone blitz sees RVB drop into a short screen-killing zone. Blitz does not get home (pressure -1). It's hard to tell who's at fault for the seam coming open but if I had to guess it would be Johnson(-1, cover -2), who is the deep center in a three deep and is way late, overrunning the play. Floyd comes from the outside to tackle.|
|M42||1||10||Shotgun 3-wide||3-3-5 Nickel||Pass||3||Hitch||Van Slyke||7|
|Martin(+1) bowls over the center and then fights past the guard to get pressure(+1) up the middle pretty quickly on a three man rush. Van Slyke gets a chuck on the slot receiver, who sits down in between him, Herron, and Demens; he immediately tackles. (Cover -1)|
|Five man rush gets there(pressure +1) with at least two guys; Carder throws a quick out as Demens(+0.5) flies up the middle on a well-timed stunt past two guys doubling Martin. Johnson(-3) is late reading the little out and has already given up the first by the time he forms up; he then whiffs the tackle(-1), turning five yards into 15.|
|M19||1||10||Shotgun 3-wide||Nickel Eff It||Pass||7||Fly||Avery||Inc|
|Sends: house. Obviously something gets through(pressure +1); Carder chucks it deep to a fly route Avery(+2, cover +1) has step for step. He's right in the WR's chest as he goes up for the ball. WR leaps, then reaches out and low in an attempt to stab the ball. Avery rakes it out. Gibson -2. Demens(+1) leveled Carder, BTW.|
|M19||2||10||Shotgun 3-wide||Nickel press||Pass||6||Corner||Gordon||Inc|
|Demens(-1) comes on the same blitz untouched (pressure +1); Carder dodges him. He sets up and chucks it unsurprisingly, the corner route was long. Gordon(+1, cover +1) was step for step with the slot.|
|M19||3||10||Shotgun 3-wide||Nickel Eff It||Pass||7||Corner||--||Inc|
|Demens(+0.5) charging again(pressure +1); this time the corner is more open but Carder chucks it way long off his back foot. RPS +2 for this sequence, which clearly got in the QB's head.|
|Drive Notes: FG(36), 20-10, EOH|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Rush||Play||Player||Yards|
|O13||1||10||Shotgun 3-wide||Nickel||Run||N/A||Zone read counter||Martin||3|
|At first I thought this was a stunt by the DTs but not so much after I look at it a while; RVB(-1) just got bashed inside by a double while Martin(+1) read the G pull and fought through his downblock to flow down the line. Demens(+0.5) takes on that G about a yard past the LOS—not ideal—but does turn the play inside with an assist from Gordon(+0.5), who plunged down from the slot. Herron(+0.5) is about to tackle but Martin beats him to it.|
|O16||2||7||I-form 3-wide||Nickel?||Pass||N/A||Bubble screen||Floyd||3|
|Jebus, Michigan is begging for a bubble in its face on this play. There is one player within ten yards(!) of the twins side, that being JT Floyd. Autocheck to bubble is autochecked to, whereupon Floyd(+3) dodges a cut block and tackles the bubble by himself for three yards. (RPS -2.) Great play on an island.|
|Part II of “they can learn”: This is a very similar blitz and play to the previous Herron hitch that resulted in a first down. This time Herron's steps are better, as is his angle, and he's in position to make a play if he'd just look for the ball/get his hands up. He doesn't and Carder hits the small window provided. I guess Herron(-0.5), cover -1. Pressure -1 as well; Carder would have had time to go to a second read.|
|O26||1||10||Shotgun 3-wide||Nickel press||Run||N/A||Yakety snap||N/A||-2|
|Who knows what this was going to be; the snap is high and Carder manages to bat it forward to his tailback, but then he's submarined. I think it was going to be a QB power off tackle, FWIW.|
|O24||2||12||Shotgun 3-wide||Nickel press||Pass||5||Scramble||Kovacs||3|
|Carder's first read is a hitch around the sticks that Kovacs(+1) has dropped right into from a blitz position(RPS +1) and is bracketed over the top by Avery. Late movement and a blitz by Demens(+1) flushes Carder up in the pocket, where RVB and Martin combine to tackle after an eh gain. (Pressure +1, cover +1.) Picture paged @ BWS.|
|Avery(-1, cover -1) gets no chuck on the WR at the line in press and does not protect the sticks with his break despite having deep help; Carder hits his WR with a nice rhythm throw. Not horrible but you could do better.|
|O41||1||10||Ace 3-wide||Nickel||Penalty||N/A||Illegal Snap||--||-5|
|O36||1||15||Shotgun 3-wide||Nickel||Run||N/A||Inverted veer||Demens||1|
|Late shift sees Kovacs run down into the box as Herron blitzes. Herron is blown up by the RT, but that takes some time and prevents any release downfield. Beyer's upfield blitz convinces QB to hand off and takes the pulling G. Reason you run this is so that Beyer does one or the other, not both. The blitz means Kovacs(+1), who is now in the box, nails the FB near the LOS and turns it inside. Demens(+1) got a free scrape because of the blitz (RPS+1) and tackles with authorita.|
|Yeah, that play that instantly changed everyone's opinion of Kovacs? Four man rush. NT Heininger backs out and two guys take Brink; Kovacs, who has been backing out on these so far, lines up outside of Herron, who also comes, and adjust his route after a beat. This allows those two guys to occupy themselves with Brink and gives Kovacs(+3) a free run at Cader, which he takes LIKE A BOSS, depositing his helmet on the ball and knocking it free. Herron(+2) gets more credit this time for the presence of mind to scoop and score. Kovacs. Like a boss. Picture paged @ BWS as well.|
|Drive Notes: Defensive touchdown, 27-10, 9 min 3rd Q. Do you know what I love? The camera settles on Carder after this play; as this happens the replay hits the scoreboard and the stadium goes “OHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH." That is what I love.|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Rush||Play||Player||Yards|
|O37||1||10||Shotgun 3-wide||Nickel||Run||N/A||Jet sweep||M. Robinson||11|
|Marvin Robinson still in for Johnson. Here there are two keys. Black(-1.5) is unblocked and scoots upfield fast. He does not read the jet action until it's too late and runs by it without forcing the WR to orbit around him. He's never going to make this tackle but he can delay the opposition; he does not. By not blocking him WMU can double Demens, who read and flowed with aplomb but can't do anything about an OL and another dude blocking him. Gordon(+0.5) fills to the outside, forcing a cutback. Robinson(-1.5) is filling until a WR slices him to the ground. RB leaps over MRob and rumblestumbles for a first down.|
|O48||1||10||Shotgun 4-wide||Nickel||Penalty||N/A||False Start||--||-5|
|YOUR PARENTS ARE ASHAMED|
|This does go one high because Kovacs is sneaking down, kind of telegraphing his blitz. Martin moves left, taking the G, as Jones moves up the middle. RG shoves Martin and moves to Jones; RB shoots up the middle, leaving both Martin and Kovacs(+2) unblocked. Kovacs has the agility to cut inside Martin and nail Carder again. By the time this happens Martin is already peeling back to the LOS in case this doesn't work out. Kovacs has this, ese. (Pressure +2, RPS +1)|
|YOU SHOULD HAVE GONE TO MICHIGAN STATE LOL|
|Stunt seems harmful here as by the time the four rushers realize what their lanes are and what's going on the screen is already happening. Martin(-1) should read what it is faster, I think, and peel back. Avery(-0.5) comes up a bit too hard and lets things in front of him; safeties are way off. Jones(+0.5) gets hit by an OL but recovers to make a diving dodgy ankle luck tackle. Dangerous. Demens(-1) also slow reading. RPS -1|
|O43||3||15||Shotgun 3-wide||Nickel press||Pass||4||Out||Kovacs||Inc|
|Despite what Patrick says, blitz not actually coming; four guys. Martin backs out. Roh(+0.5) threatens to split a double and Ryan(+0.5) does the same, spooking Carder. Probably for the best since because of these things if Carder delayed Demens was going to annihilate him. Carder throws an out short of the sticks that Kovacs(+2) has dropped into and breaks up. Wasn't getting the first anyway. (pressure +1, cover +1) Picture paged @ BWS.|
|Drive Notes: Punt, 27-10, 6 min 3rd Q|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Rush||Play||Player||Yards|
|O37||1||10||I-Form tight||Nickel 4-3||Pass||4||PA Out||Ryan||Inc|
|Ryan(+2) swims past the LT like he's not there and gets in on Carder just after he gets the PA fake off (pressure +1), causing him to throw his out wide. Good thing. Either Avery(-1) or Herron had biffed his zone drop (cover -1) and this would be open. I think it's Avery, but your guess is as good as mine.|
|O37||2||10||I-form||Nickel 4-3||Penalty||N/A||False Start||--||-5|
|O32||2||15||I-form||Nickel 4-3||Run||N/A||Inside zone||Martin||4|
|Martin(+1) splits a double and threatens to tackle in the backfield, forcing a cutback. He just misses a TFL. Herron(+0.5) reads the backside cut and does fend off a free-releasing tackle to get to the RB and begin the takedown. Kovacs arrives in time to take him down.|
|O36||3||11||Shotgun 3-wide||Nickel press||Pass||6||Rollout out||Gordon||12|
|They're finally tired of getting destroyed by Kovacs and roll the pocket away from him. Martin(+0.5) and Roh(+0.5) still bust through blocks and force a throw (pressure +1). This is in front of Gordon(-1), who can't react quickly enough to tackle on the catch(cover -1) on a third and long, allowing the WR to fall forward for the first.|
|O48||1||10||Ace 3-wide||Nickel||Run||N/A||Inside zone||Beyer||9|
|Martin(+1) slants past the backside G, getting playside and rapidly flowing down the line in the backfield; Black(+1) also gets good position and helps close down the POA for what should be a TFL... if not for Beyer(-2) tearing after the QB on his boot fake and Herron(-1) not reacting to the cutback as quickly as I'd hope he would. May be harsh on Herron.|
|M43||2||1||Ace 3-wide||Nickel press||Run||N/A||Inside zone||Fitzgerald||4|
|A 3-4-ish look with press on the WRs leaves six in the box. Black(-1) gets banged inside as blitzers come from the edges, leaving a big hole for the RB. Fitzgerald(+1) takes on a block and bounces out to help contain, eventually making contact just past the sticks. MRob helps clean up.|
|M39||1||10||I-Form||Nickel 4-3||Run||N/A||Power off tackle||Brink||14|
|Brink(-2) at NT nailed inside, blown behind Heininger at DT. Really cannot give that much ground. Herron(-0.5) and Fitzgerald(-0.5) both have tough jobs and don't really do them, getting cut and not being able to slow the RB. This is really on the lack of impedance through the hole, though. Kovacs(-0.5) comes to fill and misses his tackle(-1); his angle did drive the RB into Gordon, who's angling back from his duties over the slot.|
|M25||1||10||I-Form||Nickel 4-3||Run||N/A||Yakety snap||--||0|
|Fumbled snap that M recovers.|
|Drive Notes: Fumble, 34-10, 3 min 3rd Q. Game is called on next drive.|
How was that?
That was kind of like watching last year's Michigan offense.
WMU's offense was like Michigan's offense last year insofar as they drove the ball down the field consistently but only got ten points because they missed field goals and shot themselves in the face with turnovers. The touchdown returns were a zesty bonus on top of the turnover sundae, but it was basically the same.
So we made Western look like Denard Robinson was their quarterback?
Er… not exactly. The Broncos had a distinct lack of explosion in their giddy-up, averaging just five yards a play. They were only on yardage parity with Michigan because of the two defensive touchdowns and their drives only got as threatening as they did because of some crappy special teams on Michigan's part.
- 16 play touchdown. Bad.
- Drive starts at midfield, basically, and after a long run we discussed earlier WMU is booted off the field. They miss a FG. Correctable.
- WMU drives from midfield to the Michigan ten, whereupon Herron INT TD.
- Three and out.
- Two-minute drive starts at 40 and gets to the Michigan 19 before Mattison goes blitz nuts. FG.
- WMU finally has bad field position (their 13) gets a couple first downs, and then Kovacs fumble TD.
- One first down, then punt.
- Drive starts at 40, moves to Michigan 25 before fumble.
Carder started off hot and Michigan's defense was a confused shambles for the first drive. After that it wasn't too bad.
How about that Herron?
Er, it's just that…
[Introductory section for new people and those who need reminding:
UFR points are handed out to players who seem to have a direct impact on the success or failure of a particular play. The system has historically favored linemen, who are put in a position to Make A Play frequently, and been tough on defensive backs, who have usually screwed up when they are in your picture. I can't fix that without putting a crippling amount of time into grading players not directly affecting the play and frankly I am an amateur, so I might not do it right. By focusing on the directly involved I can used Results Based Charting: I can hand out things based on the success of the thing that actually happened.
Points usually range from –3 to +3 with half-points available. When particularly incensed I have given out bigger minuses.
There are also four metrics:
- TACKLING: Points handed out for good open field tackles that cut down on YAC. Subtracted for whiffs that do not serve a purpose. (It's okay to whiff outside because you know there will be gang tackle when the guy cuts back.)
- PRESSURE: Points handed out for getting to the QB, subtracted for not getting there. As a general rule when the QB is not able to get to a second read that's a plus. If he's able to get to three that's a minus. Pressure is graded on a curve: it's easier to get a plus rushing three than rushing six.
- COVERAGE: Points handed out for covering a guy and subtracted for not doing so. Running a guy's route for him is a +2, being in position to do something about it is a +1. Usually you will have to be far enough away to allow YAC to get a –1. Huge minuses are possible here when you DON'T COVER THAT GODDDAMN WHEEL—ahem.
- RPS: "Rock-Paper-Scissors." This is a proxy for the coordinator battle. When Michigan does something that the opponent can't deal with, like blitzing Kovacs into the QB's chest, they get a plus. When they send seven and get a screen on their face they get a minus. End section.]
So I completely screwed up the RPS. The rest I'll vouch for.
|Van Bergen||5||1||4||Not as much pass rush as you might want but did get a litte push.|
|Martin||6||1||5||Not really seeing the criticism. He made a few plays in about a quarter and a half of time and was often dropping.|
|Roh||1||1||0||This, on the other hand, was disappointing.|
|Brink||0.5||2||-1.5||Blown up on a run late.|
|Heininger||3||-||3||Made a few plays on a second half drive.|
|Campbell||-||2||-2||This is not happening.|
|TOTAL||17.5||9.5||8||Uninspiring. Mitigating factors: heat, lack of 4th Q, zone blitzes, mega pressure number.|
|Demens||7.5||5||2.5||Kind of a rough start but played in odd conditions.|
|Herron||5||9.5||-4.5||Not good when ball wasn't finding him for touchdowns.|
|Ryan||8.5||-||8.5||Can really get to QB. Most consistent rusher on the day.|
|Fitzgerald||2||3.5||-1.5||Slow to react.|
|Jones||1||0.5||0.5||Not much to go on.|
|Beyer||-||6||-6||Highly irresponsible against the run. Doubt we see much of him this week.|
|TOTAL||24||24.5||-0.5||Schizophrenic day; will get better with more Demens, less Beyer. WLB a concern.|
|Floyd||5||-||5||One great play on a bubble, one endzone PBU.|
|Avery||3||3||3.5||Another endzone PBU but not so hot underneath.|
|Woolfolk||2||2||0||Mostly bubble action before injury.|
|Kovacs||13.5||0.5||13||Impeccable. Some of these points might belong to Mattison.|
|T. Gordon||4.5||2||2.5||I like him.|
|Robinson||-||1.5||-1.5||Also not much to go on.|
|Pressure||15||5||10||Alex Carder is still coughing up blood.|
|Coverage||6||11||-5||A lot of this was Herron, frankly.|
|RPS||10||9||1||A bit more on this later.|
I think that's mostly on point. While the corners gave up some short plays they coped well with the bubble and both had endzone PBUs. Our first tenuous suggestion that Tony Gibson may be an evil spy has been achieved.
Meanwhile, Carvin Johnson had a rough day that ended with him getting pulled for Robinson, Jake Ryan was excellent, about which more later, and Michigan got very little out of the WDE spot. I'm not that worried about RVB or Martin since they didn't get much action and still had a few plays to their name; extrapolated across an entire game they'll be fine.
And then there's Kovacs. That is a record-shattering performance for a member of Michigan's secondary and it is absolutely deserved. Kovacs led the team in tackles, only half-missing a couple of those. He led ballcarriers into other defenders, which is why Western had to go on long marches—they couldn't bust it past Kovacs. He annihilated Carder on two sacks, one of which produced a game-sealing fumble. While Mattison got him those runs at the QB, his execution was flawless. On the first, he had the agility to slash back inside of Herron and the technique to put his helmet directly on the ball. And he added two PBUs for good measure.
But he's a walk on and not very good.
Screw it: Kovacs is good now, no qualifiers. I have just doomed him to awful play against Notre Dame, but whatever.
What about that RPS?
Obviously that should not be right when the QB has been forced into two turnovers and has been eating linemen all day. I think Mattison was brilliant, at least as far as you can be against a MAC team, and have to adjust my grading to account for these "blitz" things he's introduced.
Yeah, how about those?
Last year I started tracking the number of rushers M sent at the quarterback because Greg Robinson kept sending three, which I defended as not totally insane at the time. Like everything else, it was totally insane.
The number of three-man rushes against WMU? One. That stuff about being aggressive that every defensive coordinator says? 100% valid. The really cool thing about being aggressive? Mattison is doing it while often getting seven guys into coverage by bringing zone blitzes.
This kind of stuff isn't anything new to NFL watchers or teams that deploy a non-GERG as a DC. But being able to do it well is a massive advantage because it makes life hard not only on the opponent's bodies but their minds. There were points in that game when Carder was just dumping the ball out of the endzone so Kenny Demens wouldn't hurt him so much, and Mattison confused the hell out of the Bronco OL.
Brandon Herron's two touchdowns make him awesome. /national award thingy guys
Er… no. I generously gave Herron four points for not dropping the world's easiest interception and doing the scoop and score on the fumble, and the fourth point is really just for running 100 yards without passing out. Outside of those plays in which other folks did the work Herron was –8.5 on the day.
A typical play follows. On it, Kenny Demens makes a tackle in the hole as Herron, who was lined up closer to the eventual hole, actually passes Demens halfway through the play:
That sort of slow reading was rampant.
Did anyone impress you, sourpants?
Apparently Jake Ryan can do what he did to a freshman walk-on in spring to backup JUCO MAC guard and an actual starting MAC guard, too. You've probably seen him rip through the line on the INT TD plenty but there was also this:
I have him down for a couple additional pressure and one hell of a debut. It sounds like Cam Gordon's out this weekend too; he might have lost his job by the time he gets back. Or maybe they'll move stuff around to get more production out of the WDE and WLB spots.
This was a very black and white game: Kovacs and Ryan were awesome.
The black: Herron makes me very worried about WLB, Beyer shouldn't have been on the field, and the lack of production out of WDE is alarming.
What does it mean for Notre Dame and beyond?
That nickel package is probably going to be on the field a lot against ND's passing spread. Rees is not mobile and they seem mistake-prone so we could see a fair share of helmets deposited in to ribcages in the backfield.
Downfield they'll chuck it up to Floyd a lot, which means Woolfolk will need to be back and healthy and he'll need some help. Though Avery and Floyd did well against Western, ND is a whole additional ball of wax. If Woolfolk does end up fully back—sounds like it—I wonder if Michigan will put all three corners in and drop Gordon back to the other safety spot. That will be key, as will getting a better performance out of WLB. And Craig Roh's got to step up.
Last time on Picture Pages we saw how hopeless n00b Brennen Beyer made life very difficult for Michigan on a 25-yard counter play Western ran in the second quarter. Poor linebacker play from Kenny Demens and Carvin Johnson contributed.
A bit later in the half, Western would go back to the well. How would Beyer react?
It's first and ten at the Michigan 17 on Western's third drive. They've taken the ball from the Michigan 47 to get here. Western comes out in the same look-ma-spread-in-shred formation and will run the same counter play they ran before. Michigan is again in an aggressive one-high press look:
A lot of backups are in. The DL is Beyer/Heininger/Brink/Black. LBs are Herron, Fitzgerald, and Johnson walking down into the box.
On the snap it's the same business, with the backside G and H-back pulling around. This time Beyer's got it figure out, though. You can just see his head popping out from behind the tackle who is releasing downfield:
All right, now we are in the business. Or not. You can read the title.
Beyer disappears in the above frame because he is making contact with the G at about the LOS. Also look at the linebackers. Fitzgerald has not moved; Herron is starting to run at the play.
Beyer has run inside and gotten sealed at the LOS approximately where the center started the play. The fullback sails outside no problem. Instead of making a pile he's just created a huge hole by removing any leverage available.
Meanwhile Fitzgerald is getting cut to the ground. He's hardly moved despite a guard pulling in front of his face, and thanks to that Johnson can't flow. Neither can Brink, who is giving ground to pursue but just gets cut.
Herron, for his part, is going to blow the leverage again…
…but it wouldn't have mattered much because there's hardly anyone behind him.
Kovacs cleans up again.
Video with dramatic pause:
Someone took Beyer aside and told him how he'd screwed up on the first power and what to do. If you look at the comments on the last one there is some debate about whether or not Beyer was absolved because of a blitz. I don't think that's entirely possible; if you're blitzing and no one's blocking you off the edge while the QB executes a mesh point you need to slow your roll and adjust. Beyer didn't; someone told him he should do that.
Beyer took that advice and overcompensated a la Cam Gordon playing safety last year. I'm still not sure if they were playing to squeeze or spill. I'm guessing squeeze. This is the cost of playing freshmen. This kind of thing will get better.
I do wonder why he's even on the field. If they're going to run a four-man line I'd rather have Brink and Heininger out there than Beyer, since at least they've played football in college before. I guess you have to chalk that up to the heat and the necessity to play the walk-ons on the interior, which means just terrible things about Ash/Campbell/Washington. If Cam Gordon returns next week it wouldn't surprise me to see Ryan in Beyer's role.
Yet more indecisive linebackers. A guard pulling is a dead giveaway as to the direction of the play and twice we see Michigan players not reacting to it at all. If they're not reading the G whatever they are reading is not giving them a heads-up quickly enough.
This may be four defensive systems in four years with three coordinators; it may be a talent issue. Demens suggests it's at least some of the latter. Either way, Fitzgerald sits entirely still until he's chopped to the ground by a Western OL, which eliminates not only him but Johnson and Brink thanks to the location of the block. Meanwhile, Herron has a tough job that he does poorly with, losing leverage on the play.
I assume days that aren't blistering hot will see Demens on the field for every snap, but if he's hurt we're screwed and WLB is a real problem. Herron had two touchdowns and is going to end up significantly negative on the day.
Heininger does not accomplish what RVB does. He gets sealed away and is trying to spin free when the LB-FB contact occurs; he's in no position to help if Herron turns it inside, which he doesn't because no one turns it inside ever. This may be a slight exaggeration born of frustration.
People are worried about the defense, and with good reason. The worrying bit isn't so much the best quarterback in the state averaging 5.9 YPA and being forced into two turnovers by getting clobbered, but rather Western Michigan running for almost 5 YPC with guards they picked up at a yard sale in Jackson.
I have good news and bad news about this. The good news: a major reason for these issues was a true freshman in his first game who made obvious errors. He fixed some of those errors. The bad news: he fixed those errors so hard he made the opposite error. More bad news: he wasn't the only culprit.
We're looking at two successful first-half counters run by the Broncos. Here's the first. It's second and two on the Michigan 47 on Western's second drive of the day. Western's all like "look, ma, I'm the 2010 Michigan offense" and Michigan brings out its aggressive one-high press man for the first time:
You see the 3-4 front with three tight corners. Kovacs is out of the picture deep. The slot "corner" is Thomas Gordon. The LBs from top to bottom are
Herron Jones, Johnson, Demens, and Beyer, with Roh/Martin/Van Bergen the DL. Your key players are the bottom three guys in the front seven: Beyer, RVB, and Demens.
A moment after the snap:
The tackle blocks down on RVB, leaving Beyer free to fly into the backfield. This is an Admiral Ackbar situation that Beyer is too pumped up on adrenaline and youthful stupidity to recognize. He's all like "gonna get me some QB."
Meanwhile, the RB is moving right, but check out that OL directly in front of the QB: he's pulling left. This is a counter.
A moment later Beyer is recognizing his DERP far too late. He's already three yards into the backfield and his momentum is stopped as he tries to change direction now that the QB doesn't have the ball. the pulling G is going to hammer him.
Not all is lost, though: Demens has read it and is moving into the hole. And you see a lot more of Van Bergen's jersey, don't you?
RVB has given about a yard but now has his helmet across his blocker. Beyer defeats the OG's block and would have a shot at a tackle if he hadn't flown upfield so fast. There's that lead blocker and a lot of room for Demens to close down but he could…
…just about turn it back inside to RVB, who has now totally defeated his block, or he could…
…turn into Jonas Mouton and lose leverage.
That's 25 yards before Kovacs can come up and save the bacon.
Video, with annotation!
I learned this from Spielman. There are two main ways to defend the power play: "squeeze" and "spill." Squeezing is getting into the guard upfield a bit so that the RB has to take it inside into a more restricted hole. Beyer would have to be a yard or two closer to the LOS and to the inside to be squeezing. From that spot he can make a play, or at least make it harder to burst outside that LB.
Spilling is kind of a scrape exchange type deal where the playside DE roars down the line at the pulling G and cuts his ass to the ground. This is intended to create a pile that takes out the other lead blocker and forces the running back to bounce outside, where a linebacker scraping over the top should clean stuff up. Beyer would have had to shoot directly at the G as soon as he reads the pull.
Obviously, he does neither and gets kicked out of a very large hole. If he's in the right position he's dealt with the block well enough to make a tackle. He's not.
Demens did Mouton it. He's got a tough job here with the fullback and a big hole, but letting the guy outside of you is a cardinal sin—unfortunately, one we're all too familiar with. If Demens gets outside that fullback WMU might get a big run anyway but "losing leverage" (the jargon) guarantees it.
Another quiet Van Bergen plus. This is the kind of thing I am talking about when I say RVB is good but the things he does often go for naught. Here he beats a downblock, which is tough, to show up in the hole and potentially rescue Johnson, who you may note ran ridiculously playside and ends up farther away from the play than double-teamed NT Martin. Demens loses the plot and Van Bergen's reward is just a UFR plus and a chase downfield.
Ugh Johnson. To reiterate: the guard directly in front of Johnson's face pulls and he ends up yards away from relevance.
Kovacs. He tackles. He does not not tackle. Here he sort of misses, but this was very rare. This may not hold up against Big Ten teams but there were plenty of opportunities for the Broncos to pick up a touchdown that they could not because Kovacs tackled them.
I hope nobody ever refers to Kovacs as a "walkon" ever again. Dude is a great football player!
"He's a guy that can get things lined up for you, and he's a tough guy, and he will go attack the football," Hoke said of the former walk-on. "He has a great deal of pride in his performance on a daily basis. He's one of those guys who has an urgency about getting to the football. I'm pleased with what he's done to this point. I would guess that he won't take a step backward."
Brandon Herron (on the fumble-TD):
"First of all, I want to thank Kovacs, but it was a call where we saw -- I can’t put it out there – but we made a check, and I ended up coming off the edge, and Kovacs got free. I don’t think the ball rolled my way. I think I went to go get the ball, and then just ran it into the endzone."
Made a check, huh? Okay, let's go to 16:15 and see who was doing the pointing…
… or don't and guess.
Kovacs entered the Michigan canon two years ago this week, when Michael Williams cramped up versus Notre Dame's two towers of evil, Michael Floyd and Golden Tate. His former coach:
"Here it is in crunch time, the second half of the game, they've got some of their four- and five-stars -- and they're really good players," said Rodriguez in his postgame press conference. "And then we got Jordan Kovacs, who was a school-start walk-on, second time. First time he didn't make it because he was injured, and he went and got his knee fixed. We told him to come back again to try out with the general student body, and not only does he try out and make the team, now he's in there playing at safety, in the middle of crunch time, national TV, against Notre Dame. To me, that's pretty special. I'm awfully proud of him."
Kovacs had his number called for three reasons. One, the position was under-recruited for several years prior, leaving only the starters, Steve Brown and Williams, as the only upperclassman safeties. Second, despite not having even played football since high school, his ball skills and tackling were such that he was clearly a better option than the freshman DBs. The third reason they called his number is GERG didn't know his name.
Since Kovacs took the job from Williams for good after the incident with the trolls in East Lansing, only 18 guys on BCS teams recorded more tackles. He's tied for 19th* according to NCAA stats (counting assists as 0.5) with the guy in this photo…
… whom Michigan fans, Notre Dame fans, and anyone who will listen to Notre Dame fans will tell you made this tackle.
|1||LUKE KUECHLY||Boston College||269||25||2.5|
|4||GREG JONES||Michigan St.||188||24||10|
|19||MANTI TE'O||Notre Dame||145.5||16||2|
How Kovacs and Te'o got to 145.5 tackles and fairly equivalent backfield stats are two very different stories. Te'o was a 5-star LB in the 2009 class. When Patrick Omameh isn't plowing him into safeties 15 yards downfield … (Compliance:
… he has been one of the best linebackers in the nation, using his uncanny combination of football sense, size, speed, athleticism, and power to shed blocks, pick through traffic, and run down plays. Kovacs meanwhile has used his stunning combination of just the first one to blow up screens and swings, and otherwise prevent 9 yard gains from turning into 40. Notre Dame's defense is designed to funnel every play into Moria, where the Balrog can clean up. Michigan's in '09-'10 was about a bunch of dwarves waiting around outside while the hobbit goes and burgles something.
This was true when they were freshmen in '09 and it's true now: the physical factors that made Te'o a star are the same that give Kovacs a ceiling not far from where he seems to be right now. He is still slower than an Indiana running back on a dead run (so it's a good thing his angles have markedly improved since freshman year). He's still too small to beat a block from a fullback or guard (so it's a good thing he can diagnose a play and get there before they do). And he's just not athletic enough to close off holes in the zone, so despite his reflexes there will always be a hole in a Cover 2 which accurate QBs can exploit. What you should appreciate about Kovacs is that almost nobody makes it as close to their ceiling as he has.
Kovac had a hell of a game against Western. Early on he ran down a few plays that might have gone for TDs on drives that ended in the Herron interception and the missed field goal. He was excellent in run support, made several key PBUs, brought pressure when called upon to blitz, and had that fumble/TD-causing hit heard even in the deep nether regions of the press box where Michigan banishes authors of unflattering books, and disturbed asshats.
Herron gets to do the talk show circuit this week as the blankety-blank defensive player of the blank and I don't want to take away from that, while Kovacs gets named to the watch list for this year's Scrappy White Guy Trophy they created for Harrison Smith. Here his adventure has come full circle, facing Notre Dame at Michigan Stadium, two years removed from having to remember his number is 32 not 22 because his coach can't remember his name is Kovacs not Cavanaugh. In a race to the open receiver or the hole where this year's feel-good walk-on stories have been crushed out of, Marvin Robinson might be better than Kovacs. But in the time before the snap, which may count more than we ever realized, I'd rather have Kovacs than Te'o.
Even Herron says the real defensive MVP of the Western game and maybe this season is the guy who's telling everyone where to be, the guy calling audibles that result in 14-point swings: the walk-on, making the most out of the skills and talents that only he possesses.